Ethics News

News: Church and State

 

>> = Important Articles; ** = Major Articles

 

>>Religious Restrictions or Religious Censorship? (FN, 031223)

>>It’s The Winter Solstice, Charlie Brown! (Ann Coulter, 030924)

**Supreme Court Rules Mojave Desert Cross Can Stay (Christian Post, 100429)

**The Separation of Church and State Debate (townhall.com, 100312)

**Court: School ‘Not Unreasonable’ in Barring Bible Reading (Christian Post, 090602)

**Fellowship Banned for Requiring Voting Members Be Christians (Christian Post, 090303)

**Calif. Court: Christian School Can Expel Students Over Lesbian Behavior (Christian Post, 090129)

**Separation of Church and State - a Mere Mantra, Not a Wall (Free Congress Foundation, 060412)

Control of schools at stake (Globe and Mail, 970902)

Supreme Court: Religious Clubs Can Meet at Public Schools (990000)

Court to reconsider ban on Bible story in classroom (Washington Times, 990601)

Reticent Canadian Bible Society breaks silence to back school prayer (Ottawa Citizen, 990804)

Supreme Court allows Indiana to keep Good Friday as a state holiday (CNN, 000306)

Scout-Bashing School districts across America are being pressured to kick the Boy Scouts out of federally funded public schools (NRO, 010606)

Court Refuses to Review School Minute-of-Silence Law (Foxnews, 011029)

Mom: Daughter in Pledge Case Worships God  (Foxnews, 020712)

Mother of Girl in Pledge of Allegiance Lawsuit Wants ‘Under God’ Kept (Foxnews, 020805)

Mom Sues for $1.5 Million After School Rejects Son’s Letter to Jesus  (Foxnews, 020805)

Keep Your Laws Off My Judiciary: The wars against Bush’s judges (National Review, 010518)

Florida atheists challenge angels on lawn of City Hall (Washington Times, 021205)

Alabama Chief Justice Files Appeal in Ten Commandments Monument Ruling (Foxnews, 021210)

School bans Christmas, but OK with Halloween (WorldNetDaily, 021219)

Christmas in America becomes battleground (WorldNetDaily, 021214)

School bans saying ‘Christmas’ (WorldNetDaily, 021213)

‘Day of the Dead’ event outlives lawsuit (WorldNetDaily, 021031)

District sued over Islam studies (WorldNetDaily, 020702)

‘God’ booted from ‘God Bless America’ (WorldNetDaily, 021220)

Lawsuit May Redefine Discrimination on Campus (Foxnews, 030107)

Bush Reaffirms References to God in Pledge, National Motto (Foxnews, 021113)

Putting Religion Back in School (Weekly Standard, 030219)

Atheist Group Challenges Alabama Governor’s Bible Study (Foxnews, 030303)

Court ruling ends threat to religious schools’ funds (Washington Times, 030303)

Teacher’s Aide Contesting One-Year Suspension for Wearing Cross to School (Foxnews, 030423)

Church-State Debate Begins Anew in Schools (Foxnews, 030609)

Texas Seniors Fight for Prayer Rights (Foxnews, 030930)

Arguing the Pledge: A look at how the arguments against the Pledge of Allegiance are shaping up for the Supreme Court (Weekly Standard, 031022)

Moore Could Become Spokesman for Religious Monument Movement (Foxnews, 031114)

High Court to Tackle Church-State Case (Foxnews, 031128)

“You Can’t Say That”: Canadian thought police on the march (NRO, 031202)

Majority OK With Public Nativity Scenes (Foxnews, 031209)

Christian References a No-No at Public Schools (FN, 031224)

North Carolina County Approves God Resolution (FN, 040106)

The Ten Commandments In The Public Square (Free Congress Foundation, 031118)

Ten Commandments Return to Ala. Courthouse (FN, 040205)

Supreme Court to Take Up ‘Under God’ (FN, 040324)

Holy Discrimination!: The Supreme Court approves religious discrimination (NRO, 040301)

Commandments Redux (Tongue Tied, 040531)

Christians look to form ‘new nation’ within U.S. (WorldNetDaily, 040524)

Supreme Court Dismisses ‘Pledge’ Case (FN, 040614)

Supreme Sidestep: Court upholds Pledge on a technicality (NRO, 040615)

Canadian Government bans Bibles for newcomers (National Post, 040717)

Covert Carolina religious war (WT, 040718)

Is Declaration of Independence unconstitutional? (WorldNetDaily, 041123)

Thanksgiving—To God, Not To Secularist Revisionists (Free Congress Foundation, 041125)

Giving Thanks to Whom, Exactly? (Christian Post, 041124)

Conservative, Liberal Lawyers Resume Christmas Clashes (CNSNews.com, 041129)

House Passes Resolution on Boy Scouts (Foxnews, 041120)

Students Free to Thank Anybody, Except God (Foxnews, 041122)

High court tackles crucial Commandments case (WorldNetDaily, 041209)

Judge’s Robe Bears Ten Commandments (Foxnews, 041215)

Italy Court Rules Against Challenge to Remove Crucifix from Classrooms (Christian Post, 041215)

Pledge protester faces recall vote (Washington Times, 041221)

The faith debate in America (Washington Times, 041223)

In defense of the Scouts (Washington Times, 041202)

Federal judge rules for Nativity display (WorldNetDaily, 041215)

‘Pledge atheist’ sues to block Bush prayer (WorldNetDaily, 050107)

A Study of Court Cases on Religious Symbolism in the State (Christian Post, 050111)

Atheist sues to ban hand on Bible (Washington Times, 050108)

Politically Correct Prayer—The Secular Left Goes Berserk (Christian Post, 050108)

Court Rejects Challenge to Inaugural Prayer (Foxnews, 050115)

Religious References Pervade D.C. (Foxnews, 050126)

Bush sending a mixed message to the black community (townhall.com, 050201)

Prayer eyed in Virginia schools (Washington Times, 050216)

Virginia bill OKs prayers by Christians (Washington Times, 050301)

High Court Mulls Ten Commandments Displays (Foxnews, 050302)

DeLay weighs in on Texas Supreme Court case (WorldNetDaily, 050302)

Court prepares to settle Ten Commandments dispute (USA Today, 050302)

Favorable Rulings Anticipated for Ten Commandments (Christian Post, 050302)

Thou Shalt Make No Sense: Commandments and confused jurisprudence (National Review Online, 050304)

Recall Election Over Pledge Of Allegiance Reinstated (WorldNetDaily, 050303)

Bible slays killer’s death sentence: Jury consulted Old Testament while deciding man’s fate (WorldNetDaily, 050329)

Teacher rejected because kids at Christian school: Wins discrimination suit after application for vice principal nixed (WorldNetDaily, 050329)

Resurrection Day 2005 — The ultimate sacrifice (townhall.com, 050325)

The judicial fight against God and the people (townhall.com, 050330)

Hating the “Religious Right” (Weekly Standard, 050331)

Freedom in the pulpit (Washington Times, 050318)

Thoughts (townhall.com, 050407)

Religion under a secular assault (Washington Times, 050413)

Why Bush threatens secularism (Washington Times, 050414)

Believers aim to ‘reclaim’ America (Washington Times, 050415)

Purging religious influence (Washington Times, 050419)

The Bible, the Death Penalty, and Legal Nonsense in Colorado (Christian Post, 050418)

The Blue Angels? The U.S. Air Force Academy is targeted by secularists. (Weekly Standard, 050505)

Bibles banned on playgrounds: Legal group challenges restriction on student activity during recess (WorldNetDaily, 050512)

Student sues after Bible study banned: Claims principal abruptly interrupted discussion during recess (WorldNetDaily, 050603)

Two Decisions, Two Worldviews — The Ten Commandments Cases (Christian Post, 050628)

Majority of Teens Support “Under God” in Pledge (Christian Post, 050711)

Christian Prayer Allowed in Delaware School Board (Christian Post, 050817)

The ACLU, the Courts and the Boy Scouts (Free Congress Foundation, 050804)

Court Upholds Constitutionality of Ten Commandments Display (Christian Post, 050821)

Focus on the Family Exhort President Bush to Repeal New Air Force Guidelines (Christian Post, 050906)

Court sides with 5-year-old after school censors Jesus: School’s suppression of kindergartner’s artwork may violate constitutional rights (zwsn, 051020)

Faith-Based Prison Fellowship Trial to Test Church-State Limits (Christian Post, 051024)

Supreme Court Allows ‘In God We Trust’ to Remain on Gov’t Building (Christian Post, 051115)

Abraham Lincoln’s Thanksgiving (Weekly Standard, 051128)

Court Allows Church to Rent Space in Public Schools (Christian Post, 051126)

Feelings trumping rights (townhall.com, 051129)

Christian Clubs File Suit Against Universities Over Jesus Confession (Christian Post, 051130)

1st Amendment ‘doesn’t create church-state wall of separation’: Court whacks civil-liberties group, OKs Ten Commandments display (WorldNetDaily, 051221)

Bronx church wins 10-year court battle: Right to use school called biggest access victory in 2 decades (WorldNetDaily, 051118)

Georgia Lawmakers Propose Bible Study Course (Christian Post, 060119)

Judge Orders San Diego to Remove Cross (Christian Post, 060506)

Va. Megachurch Wrestles with County Over Theological Classes (Christian Post, 060616)

Mention God? Don’t you dare (Townhall.com, 060621)

Valedictorian sues Nevada school for cutting off Christian speech (WorldNetDaily, 060713)

Yearning to Be Free: How Much Freedom is Left? (Christian Post, 060704)

Ohio Gov. Signs Law Requiring Schools to Display God Mottos (Christian Post, 060718)

Separation of Church and State Not Possible in Africa, Faith Leaders Say (Christian Post, 05069)

Court: Illinois University Must Reinstate Christian Group (Christian Post, 060711)

Christmas ‘ban’ prompts Supreme Court petition: Policy allows recognition of Ramadan, Hanukkah, but not Christian holiday (WorldNetDaily, 060824)

Court favors Christian literature on campus: District had barred students from distributing pro-life, religious material (WorldNetDaily, 060829)

Battle won for students’ free-speech rights: School confirms censorship of expressions of Christian beliefs will stop (WorldNetDaily, 070116)

Federal Judge Rules for Christian Club in School District Case (Christian Post, 070129)

Britain overrules Church on gay adoption law (National Post, 070129)

Laus Deo: Crossing the line at William and Mary. (National Review Online, 070131)

The Inside Man: William & Mary’s new president tries to get rid of a cross on campus. (Weekly Standard, 070131)

12 Students Suspended for Praying at School (Christian Post, 070305)

William and Mary College Reaches Compromise to Returns Cross to Campus Chapel (Foxnews, 070307)

Jr. College Coach Resigns After Religious Signs Removed (Christian Post, 070401)

Judge: District Can’t Ban Student Faith Fliers (Christian Post, 070403)

Third Grader Barred from Singing Christian Tune at Talent Show Gets School’s OK (Christian Post, 070424)

Colorado Student Files Lawsuit Over Commencement Speech That Mentioned Jesus (Foxnews, 070831)

School Recognizes Christian Group Following Lawsuit, Landmark Ruling (Christian Post, 070523)

Judges Overturn Ban on School Board Prayer (Christian Post, 070727)

Top Pentagon Officers Face Discipline for Endorsing Christianity (Christian Post, 070826)

Freedom of religion, Christianity go together (townhall.com, 070825)

Court Affirms Memorial Crosses Convey Secular Message (Christian Post, 071121)

High Court Urged to Hear Commandments Case (Christian Post, 071122)

Lawsuit Alleges Military of Unconstitutional Religious Activities (Christian Post, 071223)

Federal Judge Prohibits School Vote on Graduation Prayers (Christian Post, 080314)

Court Orders University to Recognize Christian Fraternity (Christian Post, 080731)

Judge Approves ‘God’ Banners in Classroom (Christian Post, 080910)

Christian Broadcasters Face ‘Dark Clouds’; Affirm Commitment to Preach (Christian Post, 090210)

Supreme Court Turns Down Challenge to Jury’s Use of Bible (Foxnews, 090420)

Judge: Schools Can Hold Graduation in Church (Christian Post, 090603)

Christian Educators, Legal Group Take Action Against Anti-Religious Order (Christian Post, 090705)

The Cross of Christ is Not a Secular Symbol (Christian Post, 091007)

Christian Legal Group Hits $100 Million Mark in Pro Bono Work (Christian Post, 091016)

UCLA Allows Student to Thank Jesus at Graduation (Christian Post, 090606)

Evangelical Group Banned From Tulsa Housing Projects, Chapter Leader Says (Foxnews, 090608)

Penn State Students Poke Fun at T-Shirt Cross ‘Controversy’ (Christian Post, 091030)

U.K. Teacher Suspended after Offering to Pray for Student (Christian Post, 100105)

Teacher wins major victory for God in school (WorldNetDaily, 100302)

Shirley Dobson Dismissed from Lawsuit against National Prayer (Christian Post, 100303)

‘God’ in Pledge, National Motto Ruled Constitutional (Christian Post, 100312)

National Anthem Causes Stir on Christian College Campus (Christian Post, 100420)

Judge: Natl Day Of Prayer Unconstitutional (Foxnews, 100415)

Religious Freedom Under Fire (Christian Post, 100505)

Conn. School District Sued Over Megachurch Selection (Christian Post, 100511)

Conn. School Board Bows Out of Graduations at Church Battle (Christian Post, 100604)

Conn. School Board Resumes Church Graduation Battle (Christian Post, 100610)

Ban on Ky. Commandments Displays Upheld by Federal Appeals Panel (Christian Post, 100610)

 

 

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>>Religious Restrictions or Religious Censorship? (FN, 031223)

 

LOS ANGELES — This week as Christians prepare to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, Fox News Channel will be looking at the many ways the principles and symbols of Christianity are disappearing from public life and examine the causes and consequences.

 

Burning the flag is considered free speech; erecting crosses as roadside memorials is not. The FCC allows the “F-word” on television, but thanking God at a high school graduation is a no-no. And some schools freely dispense condoms to kids, but pencils that read “Jesus loves little children” were confiscated from a first-grade class in Virginia.

 

Some, like “War on Christianity” author David Limbaugh, say the list of examples is long and is evidence of an undeclared cultural war on the religion.

 

But those on the other side of the battle, like Elliot Minceberg of People for the American Way, point to the Constitutional separation of church and state as the reason behind keeping religion out of public life.

 

The truth is, the Constitution doesn’t explicitly discuss separating church and state. Instead, what it does say is that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof ...,” which means that, unlike in England, the United States decided not to form an official national religion, nor can the government interfere with the practice of any religion.

 

In fact, in 1789, in the days after Congress passed the First Amendment, it declared a national day of prayer.

 

Still, the number of bans on public displays of Christianity continue to grow. And while those symbols may have little value alone, many Christians fear that taken as a whole, that kind of intolerance will wind up creating not freedom of religion but freedom from religion in this country.

 

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>>It’s The Winter Solstice, Charlie Brown! (Ann Coulter, 030924)

 

DAVID LIMBAUGH’S new book, “Persecution: How Liberals Are Waging War Against Christianity,” will make you cry for your country. (But don’t pray for your country if you’re anywhere near a public school!) Released this week, Limbaugh’s copiously researched book documents how the courts, the universities, the media, Hollywood and government institutions react to any mention of Christianity like Superman recoiling from kryptonite, Dracula from sunlight, or Madonna from soap and water. His straight, factual narrative of what is happening in our public schools makes you wonder how much longer America can survive liberalism.

 

In a public school in St. Louis, a teacher spotted the suspect, fourth-grader Raymond Raines, bowing his head in prayer before lunch. The teacher stormed to Raymond’s table, ordered him to stop immediately and sent him to the principal’s office. The principal informed the young malefactor that praying was not allowed in school. When Raymond was again caught praying before meals on three separate occasions, he was segregated from other students, ridiculed in front of his classmates, and finally sentenced to a week’s detention.

 

Before snack time in her kindergarten class in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., little Kayla Broadus held hands with two of her classmates and recited this prayer: “God is good, God is great, thank you, God, for my food.” The alert teacher pounced on Kayla, severely reprimanded her, and reported her to the school administration. In short order, the principal sent a sternly worded letter to Kayla’s parents advising them that Kayla was not allowed to pray in school, aloud or with others.

 

The school board then issued a triumphant press release crowing about its victory over a kindergartner praying before snack time. Thus was creeping theocracy in Saratoga Springs stopped dead in its tracks! Kayla’s mother brought a lawsuit, winning Kayla the right to pray out loud. But she was still prohibited from holding hands with others while she prayed. Hearing the G-word in kindergarten might interfere with the school’s efforts to teach proper sexual techniques in the first grade.

 

Thanks to the vigilance of an alert teacher at Lynn Lucas Middle School outside of Houston, two sisters carrying Bibles were prevented from bringing their vile material into a classroom. The teacher stopped the students at the classroom door and marched them to the principal’s office. (Maybe it was just the sight of public school students carrying a book of any kind that set off alarm bells.) The sisters’ mother was called and warned that the school intended to report her to Child Protective Services. When the mother arrived, the teacher threw the Bibles in the wastebasket, shouting, “This is garbage!”

 

In another display of tolerance at Lynn Lucas Middle School, school administrators snatched three students’ books with covers displaying the Ten Commandments, ripped the covers off, threw them in the garbage, and told the students that the Ten Commandments constituted “hate speech.” (Also, it would be insensitive to expose the Ten Commandments to students who had never been taught to count to 10.)

 

After the massacre at Columbine High School, students and families were invited to paint tiles above student lockers. The school district had taken all reasonable precautions, immediately deploying an army of secular “grief counselors” with teddy bears to descend on the school after the attack. Nonetheless, some students painted their tiles with “objectionable” messages, such as: “4/20/99: Jesus Wept” and “God Is Love.” This would not stand: The school removed 90 tiles with offending religious messages.

 

A federal court upheld the school’s censorship of the religious tiles. Of course, Columbine school officials had earned a measure of deference after having inculcated such a fine sense of morality in their students that two boys could walk into school one day and stage a bloody massacre. You don’t argue with a track record like that.

 

Not all mentions of religion constitute “hate speech.” In Tupelo, Miss., school administrators methodically purged all Christmas carols of any religious content – and then led the children in a chant of: “Celebrate Kwanzaa!” At Pattison Elementary school in Katy, Texas, Christmas songs are banned, but students are threatened with grade reductions for refusing to sing songs celebrating other religious faiths.

 

In New York City, the chancellor of the Department of Education prohibited the display of Nativity scenes in public schools, while expressly allowing the Jewish menorah and the Islamic star and crescent to be displayed. Some would say that was overkill inasmuch as New York City is already the home of the world’s largest public display built in commemoration of Islam: Ground Zero.

 

Between issuing laws prohibiting discrimination against transgendered individuals and running up a $38 billion deficit, the California Legislature mandated a three-week immersion course in Islam for all seventh-graders. A “crash course” in Islam, you might call it, if that weren’t so ironic. Students are required to adopt Muslim names, plan a trip to Mecca, play a jihad game, pray to “Allah, the Compassionate” and to chant “Praise to Allah! Lord of Creation!” They are encouraged to dress in Muslim garb. Students are discouraged, however, from stoning girls at the school dances, abusing their “Jew” math teachers or blowing up their classmates.

 

A popular student textbook, “Across the Centuries,” treats the Inquisition and Salem witch-hunts as typical of Christianity, but never gets around to mentioning the Muslims’ conquest of Spain, the Battle of Tours, or the execution of Jews in Qurayza. Or 9-11.

 

There is no surer proof of Christ’s divinity than that he is still so hated some 2,000 years after his death. Limbaugh’s “Persecution” covers it all in staggering, heartbreaking detail. His methodical description of what is happening in our public schools alone will call to mind the hate speech banned in Columbine: “Jesus Wept.”

 

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**Supreme Court Rules Mojave Desert Cross Can Stay (Christian Post, 100429)

 

The Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that the 75-year-old war memorial cross in the Mojave Desert of California can remain in place.

 

In a splintered 5-4 ruling, the justices said “the constitution does not oblige government to avoid any public acknowledgment of religion’s role in society.” They also said the lower courts did not take enough consideration to the fact that the government has decided to transfer the land where the cross is erected to private ownership.

 

Congress had authorized in 2004 the transfer of the one acre of land under the cross to the Veterans of Foreign Wars in exchange for five acres of land elsewhere to avoid constitutional concern regarding religious symbols on public land.

 

“Passive displays like the World War I Memorial, the Ten Commandments, Nativity scenes, or statements like the National Motto do not force anyone to participate in a religious exercise and, thus, do not establish religion,” commented Mathew Staver, founder of Liberty Counsel, in response to the high court’s ruling.

 

“It (Mojave cross) stood as a memorial to the heroes of World War I,” he added. “Removing this memorial would be an insult to our war veterans.”

 

The VFM, a private organization, erected the 8-foot cross in 1934 with a plaque stating, “The Cross, Erected in Memory of the Dead of All Wars.” Another plaque read, “Erected 1934 by Members of Veterans of Foreign Wars, Death Valley Post 2884.”

 

In 2001, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit on behalf of Frank Buono, a former National Park Services employee, against the Mojave Desert memorial. A district court and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled that the cross and the land transfer violated the Establishment Clause and ordered it removed.

 

The cross has been covered in a plywood box since 2002.

 

While the Supreme Court overall supported the decision that the cross stay, six of the nine justices wrote separate opinions about the Salazar v. Buono case.

 

Justice Anthony M. Kennedy announced the court’s decision and gave his opinion, which Chief Justice John Roberts Jr., and Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, and Samuel Alito Jr. agreed with in part. All but Thomas wrote separately.

 

Justice John Paul Stevens dissented along with Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor, and Stephen Breyer, for various reasons.

 

“Americans want memorials to our nations’ fallen heroes protected,” said ADF Senior Counsel Jordan Lorence, in a statement. “Congress was doing just that when it transferred the land under this memorial to the veterans’ group that cares for it.”

 

ADF and Liberty Legal Institute are among the organizations involved in the Defense of Veterans’ Memorials Project that seeks to defend America’s veterans’ memorials in the courtroom.

 

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**The Separation of Church and State Debate (townhall.com, 100312)

Christopher Merola

 

On Thursday, March 11, 2010, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which is the most liberal court in the history of the United States, upheld as constitutional the phrase, “One Nation Under God,” found in the Pledge of Allegiance, as well as the phrase, “In God We Trust” on our currency. The Ninth Circuit rejected two legal challenges by the rabid atheist, Michael Newdow.

 

Newdow is the same atheist that sued over the Pledge of Allegiance in 2002 and won his case at the 9th Circuit at that time, only to have the Supreme Court in 2004 tell him he lacked legal standing to file the suit, as he did not have custody of his daughter for whom he was filing the suit.

 

In this recent case, Newdow was making the claim that the phrase, “One Nation Under God,” disrespected his own religious beliefs. Yet, the 9th Circuit rejected his suit this time. The Pledge is constitutional,” said Judge Carlos Bea, who wrote the majority decision. Bea said, “The Pledge of Allegiance serves to unite our vast nation through the proud recitation of some of the ideals upon which our Republic was founded.”

 

When the 9th Circuit of Appeals, which is the most frequently overturned circuit court in our nation’s history, a court that has been overturned by the US Supreme Court several times in one day, actually upholds references to God as constitutional, it gives more credence to the fact that our Constitution is not a living document.

 

You may recall that in November and December of 2008, I submitted two articles on the topic of the Separation of Church and State to Townhall for the purposes of clarifying just what that phrase truly means, and just what the First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States truly states. In spite of the 9th Circuit’s recent ruling, the errors, falsehoods and misinterpretations of the First Amendment still continue.

 

Take for example the recent case of Poway United School District of San Diego, California. In January of 2007, math teacher Bradley Johnson was ordered by the school district to remove two patriotic banners from the walls of his classroom as the banners mentioned God. The school district claimed that Johnson’s banner violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.

 

Some of the phrases on the banners were actually the same phrases recently upheld by the 9th Circuit, like “In God We Trust,” and “One Nation Under God.”

 

I like how Bradley Johnson’s attorney put it: “Mr. Johnson doesn’t proselytize to his students. These banners are patriotic expressions. None of them are from any religious text. None of them are from the Bible or the Koran. They’re right out of historic significance. That’s the reason why he put them up.”

 

Some students claimed that Johnson’s banner made them feel uncomfortable. Maybe so, but that does not mean that the banners violated the Establishment Clause found in the First Amendment. The Constitution does not mention a right to not feel uncomfortable. Free speech often is uncomfortable; but in the name of the First Amendment we must sometimes tolerate what is uncomfortable.

 

Think about common everyday occurrences where we must endure feeling uncomfortable in the name of free speech. You may feel uncomfortable when you hear your neighbor swear or use colorful language to describe a situation. You may even feel uncomfortable when reading the newspaper and viewing an ad for a racy movie. Nevertheless, as long as we are not forced to engage in behavior we do not approve of, no law has been broken.

 

In America, liberty requires we tolerate feeling uncomfortable in order to allow the free expression of ideas to abound. This is precisely why Bradley Johnson won his court case after suing the Poway United School District of San Diego, California. Federal District Court Judge Roger T. Benitez ruled on February 26, 2010 that the Poway Unified School District violated Johnson’s constitutional rights as found in the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution, as well as Article I of the California Constitution.

 

According to the Thomas More Law Center, which represented Johnson in court, the school district tried to remove Johnson’s banners but had no problem allowing the posting of a 35 to 40 foot string of Tibetan prayer flags with images of Buddha. The school district also had no problem with the posting of a banner of Hindu leader Mahatma Gandhi’s “7 Social Sins,” or a poster of Muslim leader Malcolm X, along with a poster of Buddhist leader Dalai Lama. The double standard was more than obvious. Banners and posters of other religious leaders were tolerated, while the two banners posted by Bradley Johnson were censored.

 

Judge Benitez said in his ruling: “That God places prominently in our nation’s history does not create an Establishment Clause violation requiring curettage and disinfectant for Johnson’s public high school classroom walls. It is a matter of historical fact that our institutions and government actors have in past and present times given place to a supreme God.”

 

Benitez went on to say: “Fostering diversity, however, does not mean bleaching out historical religious expression or mainstream morality. By squelching only Johnson’s patriotic and religious classroom banners, while permitting other diverse religious and anti-religious classroom displays, the school district does a disservice to the students of Westview High School and the federal and state constitutions do not permit this one-sided censorship.”

 

One-sided censorship. Judge Benitez hit the nail on the head. The school district had no right to practice selective tolerance for one brand of ideas at the expense of another. Unfortunately, this selective tolerance has become a common occurrence in America today. I know this all too well having faced similar discrimination during my undergraduate and post-graduate studies.

 

It seems that some of the liberal elite, whether they are in the media or the academic arena, practice a form of “intolerance in the name of tolerance,” as I like to call it. By claiming that banners like Johnson’s were somehow intolerant, the school district demonstrated intolerance towards Johnson in the name of a selective tolerance towards others. It is a completely upside-down argument.

 

How can we truly practice tolerance if we single out those with whom we disagree? Tolerance was designed to allow people with whom we do not agree to coexist along side us. However, today’s politically correct version of tolerance is not really tolerance at all, as demonstrated by the Bradley Johnson case.

 

So just how is it that some on the political left get away with practicing intolerance in the name of tolerance? How does the meaning of intolerance get twisted to mean tolerance?

 

The practice of changing the common semantically understood meaning of words as a political tactic goes back to the Communist Party of the USA (CPUSA), which was formed in 1919. Not long after forming, the CPUSA soon began using a political tactic called psycho-politics, where the changing of the meaning of words, over time, can change the perception and the subsequent behavior of some people’s reactions to those words.

 

While it has taken many decades for our nation to get to the point where tolerance for references to God are viewed as intolerance, the San Diego school district where Johnson is employed proves that psycho-politics can be very powerful over time.

 

Think back to my first two articles on this topic. What we see is a clear case of psycho-politics put into practice when Justice Hugo Black, an FDR appointee and member of the Ku Klux Klan, changed the meaning and purpose of the First Amendment of the Constitution.

 

In Everson vs. Board of Education (1947), the Supreme Court took upon itself a presupposed right to redefine the meaning of the First Amendment. Justice Black and the other FDR appointees to the Supreme Court simply hijacked a phrase used by President Thomas Jefferson, “separation of church and state,” found in a letter he wrote to the Danbury Baptist Association (1802). The FDR stacked court ruled that the freedom of religious expression in the public square was actually a violation of the separation of church and state, even though this phrase is not found in the US Constitution.

 

In true psycho-politics style the freedom of religious expression was reinterpreted as a violation of the First Amendment. This upside down interpretation of Jefferson’s phrase, which, once again, does not even appear in the Constitution of the United States, is precisely why Bradley Johnson had to go to court to win back his First Amendment liberties.

 

Let’s not forget, Johnson’s banners did not coerce the worship of a deity or religious figure. The banners did not in any way ask the students to pray or read a Bible scripture. The banners simply showed time-held phrases we all see everyday like, “In God We Trust.” Yet, this was somehow looked upon by the Poway United School District of San Diego as a violation of the Establishment Clause found in the First Amendment. Meanwhile, religious statements such as Tibetan prayer flags with images of Buddha, a banner of Hindu leader Mahatma Gandhi’s “7 Social Sins,” a poster of Muslim leader Malcolm X, and a poster of Buddhist leader Dalai Lama were not seen as a violation of the Establishment Clause.

 

Another example of intolerance in the name of tolerance.

 

Thomas Jefferson stated in the Declaration of Independence that the American people are “…endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights...” That means our rights do not come from government; they come from God and cannot be changed. If our rights came from government, then the government could easily take them away. You know, that just might be the end game of those who practice intolerance in the name of tolerance.

 

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**Court: School ‘Not Unreasonable’ in Barring Bible Reading (Christian Post, 090602)

[KH: But readings from the Quran will be allowed]

 

Though individuals have the right to identify and practice their religion in school, public school officials should be given latitude “within a range of reasonableness” in deciding what might be deemed as a school-approved promotion of a religious message, a federal court of appeals ruled Monday.

 

And when officials at the Marple Newtown School District in Philadelphia barred the mother of a kindergartner from reading a passage in the Bible for a “show and tell” exercise, they acted in a way that was “not unreasonable,” the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals stated Monday in affirming the judgment of the District Court two years ago.

 

When Culbertson Elementary School student Wesley Busch asked his mother to read from his favorite book, the Bible, in front of classmates as part of the class’s “All About Me” assignment, school officials told his mother, Donna Kay Busch, that reading the Bible to the class would be “against the law . . . of separation of church and state.”

 

The school’s principal, in particular, said he determined it improper to read from the Bible because he believed “reading that to kindergarten students is promoting religion and it’s proselytizing for promoting a specific religious point of view.”

 

“The public school setting may implicate the Establishment Clause, especially where public authority undertakes or is reasonably perceived to have undertaken to give one religious belief official approval or approval over other religious beliefs,” Anthony Joseph Scirica, chief judge of the appeals court, wrote on behalf of the appeals court Monday.

 

“And this tension is particularly vexing in a public school where attendance is compulsory and moral and social values are being developed along with basic learning skills,” he added. “In seeking to address that tension, elementary school administrators and teachers should be given latitude within a range of reasonableness related to preserving the school’s educational goals.”

 

Notably, however, Scirica did state that mother’s reading of the Bible to a kindergarten class should be permitted, “especially sublime verses from the Book of Psalms” – namely Psalm 118:1-4, 14 from the King James Bible.

 

“In this sense and for many, the conduct is benign and the message inspiring,” he wrote.

 

Judge Thomas M. Hardiman, meanwhile, wrote in his dissenting opinion that he believed the school went too far in this case in limiting participation in “All About Me” week to nonreligious perspectives.

 

“As the District Court properly noted, Donna Busch was denied the opportunity to read the story her son chose because it expressed a religious viewpoint, rather than a secular one. This plainly constituted viewpoint, not subject matter, discrimination,” he wrote.

 

But in the end, the court determined that the school’s actions did not violate the

Establishment Clause because they were motivated by a permissible purpose to comply with the Establishment Clause; they do not evidence hostility toward Wesley’s faith; and they are not excessively entangled with religion as Busch suggested.

 

“For the foregoing reasons, we will affirm the judgment of the District Court,” the court stated.

 

The court ruled 2-1 in favor of the Marple Newtown School District.

 

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**Fellowship Banned for Requiring Voting Members Be Christians (Christian Post, 090303)

[KH: see what is coming!]

 

A Christian fellowship group that has been on the Wright State University campus for over 30 years was denied registration as a student group this year for its faith-based policies.

 

Representatives of Campus Bible Fellowship, which ministers to students at secular colleges, reported that they were turned down by school officials earlier this year when they tried to re-register the group.

 

The Office of Student Activities at the Ohio-based university named two reasons for the denial, according to CBF representatives.

 

First, CBF refused to adopt university-mandated nondiscrimination language in its membership requirements that would have forced the group to nix a requirement that voting members maintain religious and behavioral standards.

 

Second, Wright State objected to the requirement in CBF’s constitution that voting members “accept Jesus Christ as their personal savior” and subscribe to the group’s articles of faith.

 

The group, which primarily emphasizes Bible study, has not been able to meet on the campus since and has turned to a civil liberties group for help.

 

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), which defends First Amendment rights – including religious liberty – on college campuses, has written a letter to university’s president, calling for an immediate reversal of the ban on the Wright State CBF chapter.

 

“A Christian group has the right to be Christian, a Jewish group has the right to be Jewish, and a Muslim group has the right to be Muslim,” said FIRE President Greg Lukianoff.

 

“Courts have affirmed this principle time and time again,” he added. “It is shocking that in a free society, public universities like Wright State still don’t seem to understand or respect this crucial component of religious liberty.”

 

The Feb. 12 letter from FIRE to Wright State President David R. Hopkins cited a federal legal precedent setting forth the principle that “if Wright State is to allow expressive organizations to exist on its campus at all, it must allow religious organizations to exist, to define their missions, [and] to select their own members.”

 

According to FIRE, the university’s attorney Gwen Mattison had informed a FIRE representative over the phone that the ban would be lifted for the remainder of the academic year. However, when FIRE wrote in an e-mail, attempting to confirm the details of the phone conversation, Mattison dismissed the details as “incorrect.”

 

The decision to ban CBF, said FIRE, goes against Wright State recognition procedures.

 

“It is understood that some student organizations may be created for the purpose of deepening the religious faith of students within the context of a denominational or interdenominational grouping, and that some student organizations may be created for the purpose of perpetuating a national cultural tradition,” states a Student Handbook on student activities.

 

“Where these purposes are clearly stated in the constitution or bylaws of a student organization and appear to be reasonable, a student organization may be granted recognition through customary procedures as an exception to this policy,” the handbook reads.

 

Robert L. Shibley, FIRE’s vice president, said the university should repeal its decision before the matter ends up in court.

 

“It makes no sense for the university to force a group that exists to communicate its version of the Christian message to accept voting members or leaders who reject that very message,” said Shibley.

 

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**Calif. Court: Christian School Can Expel Students Over Lesbian Behavior (Christian Post, 090129)

 

A California appeals court ruled this week that a private Christian school has the right to expel two students over an alleged lesbian relationship that was in violation of the organization’s “Christian Conduct” rule.

 

In a 3-0 ruling, the Fourth District Court of Appeals upheld California Lutheran High School’s right, as a private, religious organization, to use religious criteria in making admission and discipline decisions.

 

The school is not a business enterprise, the appeals court ruled on Monday, and therefore not covered in the state’s Unruh Civil Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

 

“The school’s religious message is inextricably intertwined with its secular functions,” wrote Justice Betty A. Richli in the appeals court opinion. “The whole purpose of sending one’s child to a religious school is to ensure that he or she learns even secular subjects within a religious framework.”

 

The appeals court ruling relied on a 1998 California Supreme Court decision that allowed the Boy Scouts to exclude gays and atheists. The Boy Scouts of America, which had faced similar discrimination charges, did not have to comply with the state’s anti-discrimination law because it was a social organization, the state High Court had ruled.

 

The Riverside County-based school had expelled the two girls, then 16, for having a “bond of intimacy” that was “characteristic of a lesbian relationship.”

 

In 2005, a student had reported to a teacher that the girls said they were in love with each other and referred the teacher to the girls’ MySpace pages. One girl indicated she was bisexual on her MySpace page, while the other said she was “not sure” of her sexual orientation. The school’s pastor said that when he confronted the girls over the suspected lesbian behavior, the girls admitted they had hugged and kissed each other and told other students they were lesbians.

 

The school’s pastor suspended the two girls but the directors of the school later expelled them.

 

The two students, who were only identified in court documents as Jane Doe and Jane Roe, sued the school for violating state anti-discrimination laws.

 

Court documents show that the school has a policy of refusing admission to homosexual students and its “Christian Conduct” rule provided that a student could be expelled for engaging in immoral or scandalous conduct, whether on or off campus, including homosexuality.

 

The girls were expelled for “conducting themselves in a manner consistent with being lesbians,” said John McKay, attorney for California Lutheran, according to the Los Angeles Times. He noted that the girls never disclosed their sexual orientation during the litigation.

 

McKay said the school’s mission statement is to educate students based on Christian principles.

 

The Association for Faith-Based Organizations (AFBO), a coalition of over 830 California Christian schools, had sought to intervene in the case to protect its member schools’ First Amendment right to make admissions decisions and disciplinary decisions consistent with their religious beliefs.

 

Members of AFBO include California private religious schools, such as Biola University, The Master’s College, Point Loma Nazarene University, and Simpson University, that have religious admissions criteria substantially similar to Cal Lutheran and require their students to abide by rules prohibiting all forms of extramarital sexual conduct.

 

Attorneys with Christian Legal Society’s Center for Law & Religious Freedom and the Alliance Defense Fund had filed a motion to intervene on behalf of AFBO. The court denied the request since it decided in favor of the school.

 

“Christian schools should be able to make admission and discipline decisions consistent with their religious beliefs.  The Court of Appeal’s decision preserves that right for Christian schools in California,” said CLS litigation counsel Timothy J. Tracey.

 

“The court understood that this right would be violated if Christian schools were subjected to liability under California anti-discrimination laws for expelling students who engage in homosexual conduct.”

 

The Cal Lutheran case is not unique. Four years ago, a 14-year-old girl was expelled from a Ontario Christian school in California because her parents were lesbians. The school’s admission policy states that at least one parent cannot engage in immoral practices such as cohabiting or engaging in a homosexual relationship.

 

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**Separation of Church and State - a Mere Mantra, Not a Wall (Free Congress Foundation, 060412)

 

By Marion Edwyn Harrison, Esq.

 

As Easter approaches, it’s a propitious time to think about the supposed wall separating church and state. Perhaps goaded by a secularist media, huge numbers of people actually believe the Constitution provides such a wall. To the contrary, it’s a mantra - that is, something of a mystical formula of invocation or an incantation, well fed by the secularist media and some innovative and anti-religious judges.

 

Anti-religious and, more particularly, anti-Christian, rhetoric, spurred on by certain 20th Century jurisprudence, has transformed the rather precise prohibitions of the Constitution’s Establishment and Free Exercise Clauses into a nationwide net with the potential of snaring everything that ever so arguably pertains to religion or morality. The result is that the America of the Founding Fathers, dedicated to God in a Christian (and sometimes merely deist) context, from the last half of the 20th Century has become a secular society, eschewing religion in general and Christianity in particular. This secular society inexorably is the breeding ground of immorality.

 

In this brief piece one cannot so much as summarize, much less explain, the late 20th Century dénouement. However, a few words about the persistently misused slogans of “separation of church and state” and “wall of separation” might be interesting.

 

The First Amendment is concise. Its entire text regarding religion reads:

 

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof. . .

 

The phrase “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion” commonly is referred to as the Establishment Clause. The phrase “Congress shall make no law . . . prohibiting the free exercise [of religion]” commonly is referred to as the Free Exercise Clause.

 

The plain meaning is clear. In the 18th Century, when the Constitution and, soon thereafter the First Amendment, were proposed and ratified, most voters in our new country were English or of English descent. England had “an establishment of religion” (as it still does, if now in a nominal sort of way — namely, the Church of England) and so did many European countries and several of the colonies which were about to become, or had just become, States of the Union. (Neither Congress nor courts attempted to abolish State churches. Jefferson, in his Second Inaugural, March 4, 1805, acknowledged State authority to promote religion. Thus, the First Amendment simply prohibits the Feds from establishing a national state church. The Supreme Court, by an interpretation of the Fourteenth Amendment, has applied the First Amendment to the States, so the prohibition now also applies to the States.)

 

Alas, the courts sometimes find nothing simple. The prescient 19th Century French writer, Alex de Tocqueville, in 1840, observed, and prophesied, that in our country political questions become judicial questions. So the courts, masterfully, if arcanely, have rewritten the Establishment Clause and the Free Exercise Clause.

 

The focus of these few comments is limited to the phrases “separation of church and state” and “wall of separation” because they are used so frequently, so erroneously and, regrettably, so successfully.

 

The clearer history of the two is that of the “wall of separation” phrase, which the Supreme Court botched in 1947, Everson v Board of Education, the beginning of a continuing judicial downhill slide.

 

The “wall of separation” purported requirement derives from Thomas Jefferson, who was in France as a diplomat when James Madison proposed, and Congress debated and enacted, the First Amendment. Jefferson had no direct role, probably none at all, because none is recorded and, given the fact it took a couple of months for mail to cross the Atlantic, it is hardly likely he had even an indirect role.

 

Jefferson wrote the phrase fourteen years after Congress approved the First Amendment, and in an informal letter at that. It seems beyond doubt that nobody had in mind the Jeffersonian metaphor fourteen years before he wrote it and there is scant evidence of anybody’s having latched on to it for anti-religious purposes until the mid 20th Century. Jefferson himself may have been, and generally is considered to have been, one of the more brilliant among the Founding Fathers, itself a classy group. However, it’s worth remembering that Jefferson also flirted with deism, meaning that, although technically an Anglican/Episcopalian, he avoided organized religion, believing in a more mechanical and nonmessianic God. Deism, of course, was popular in some late 18th Century European “Enlightenment” circles but it never made much headway in the founding years of this Republic and certainly was shared by few Founding Fathers of substantial influence. Even Jefferson, author of the Virginia Statute of Religious Liberty, never formally espoused deism.

 

It follows, therefore, that, except to the extent latter-day courts have built it, there is no “wall of separation” between church and state.

 

A key fact, as the late Chief (then Associate) Justice William H. Rehnquist wrote in 1985, no First Amendment debate participant

 

. . . [E]xpressed the slightest indication that [he] thought the language [which was approved], or the evil to be aimed at, would require that the Government be absolutely neutral as between religion and irreligion. The evil to be aimed at, so far as those who spoke were concerned, appears to have been the establishment of a national church, and perhaps the preference of one religious sect over another; but it was definitely not concerned about whether the Government might aid all religions evenhandedly. . .

 

On the same day the House of Representatives first voted the present First Amendment religion language, there was a side debate about a resolution asking President George Washington to issue a religious Thanksgiving Day proclamation. Those who led the debate in favor of that Federal exercise of religion also voted for the Establishment and Free Exercise Clauses and, of course, President Washington issued the proclamation, specifically mentioning “prayer” and “Almighty God. . .” Second President John Adams and Fourth President James Madison issued similar Thanksgiving Day proclamations. Jefferson did not but, in declining to do so, never cited the Establishment Clause, the Free Exercise Clause or any supposed wall. The First Amendment Congress did all kinds of things to promote religion - religious dedication in the Northwest Ordinance, Christian education for Indians, Christian chaplains for the House of Representatives and Senate.

 

Noted 19th Century scholars correctly pointed out that the Founding Fathers believed in the promotion of religion, that they merely wanted to avoid a state church or any other favoring of one Christian denomination over another (and, if they had thought about it, one religion over another). In other words, the object was to avoid favoritism and compulsion, nothing more.

 

While the Supreme Court in the later 20th Century has embellished the wall of separation notion, the practical effect has been to nullify most Federal, State or local attempts, however indirect, to benefit religion or even basic morality (whether or not considered “natural law”). Think about what’s forbidden or challenged: school prayer; school vouchers; display of anything remotely religious upon public property (however financed); equal funding of books, bricks or equipment to all schools; equal grants to hospitals; governmental or private rules against, or educating about, abortion; assisted suicide; so on. Indeed, as this writer writes, his grandchildren are on “spring break” - don’t mention that forbidden phrase “Easter vacation.”

 

Who knows what some court will hold or what the anti-religious, anti-morality crowd will advocate next? Whatever it advocates, we don’t need more stonemasons building walls based upon historical fiction.

 

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Control of schools at stake (Globe and Mail, 970902)

 

Newfoundland heads to polls

 

ST. JOHN’S -For the second time in two years, Newfoundlanders go to the polls today in yet another round in the long and bitter battle over who should control the province’s school system.

 

For the government, the referendum is a gamble that the vote will settle once and for all a dispute that has continued for three decades, including the advice of two royal commissions, endless negotiations, parliamentary debate, a constitutional amendment and challenges in the courts.

 

For the Christian churches, particularly the Roman Catholic one, the vote is a desperate attempt to salvage power and influence that has lasted here longer than elsewhere but is now waning, as it has in the rest of the Western world.

 

The ballot asks voters to approve a new constitutional amendment that would permit some religious observances and courses about religion in schools, but would eliminate particular denominational religious instruction and end all church control over the school system.

 

The issue has divided Newfoundlanders since a royal commission 30 years ago criticized denominational control of the education system —which gave seven churches the right to hire and fire teachers, set curriculums, decide on admissions and appoint school trustees.

 

If Premier Brian Tobin’s Yes forces win the vote, as most observers expect, the Catholic Church and other denominations will have no future role in the school system they created.

 

Although seven churches currently have a recognized role in the school system, it is the Catholic Church —the largest denomination in Newfoundland, with 37 per cent of the province’s population —that has most vigorously opposed government attempts at reform.

 

The Anglicans and four smaller church groups have actually supported the reform plans, leaving only the Catholics and the Pentecostals, who account for about 6 per cent of the population, in opposition.

 

So, in Corpus Christi Church in the west end of St. John’s during masses last Saturday and Sunday, Rev. Kevin Molloy told followers that theirs was a fight to preserve the role of the family against the incursion of the state.

 

[Result: The control of schools was taken from the church.]

 

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Supreme Court: Religious Clubs Can Meet at Public Schools (990000)

 

The Supreme Court had good news for the Good News Club Monday.

 

In a 6-3 decision, the justices ruled that a New York public school district must allow the Christian youth club to hold Bible study meetings on school grounds after school, in spite of the district’s argument that it was unconstitutional government endorsement of religion.

 

Justice Stephen Breyer, usually a moderate-to-liberal vote on the court, joined the five most conservative members in partial support of the religious club’s request. Justices John Paul Stevens, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and David Souter dissented.

 

The Constitution’s First Amendment protects free speech and the free exercise of religion, but it also bars government establishment of religion.

 

The Milford School District in upstate New York had argued that allowing the club to hold what school officials called “the equivalent of religious worship” at the school would amount to a school endorsement of Christianity over other religions.

 

The Good News Club said the school was discriminating against it based on its views, which the majority of justices agreed was true.

 

The youth group’s members range from age 5 to 12, and its meetings include Bible stories, prayers and teaching children to “give God first place in your life.” The club has met at a local church since the school denied its 1996 request to use the school building after 3 p.m. on school days.

 

The Supreme Court has long wrangled with the question of religion in the public schools. The justices banned organized prayer during class hours in the early 1960s, and in the past decade banned clergy-led prayer at high school graduation ceremonies and student-led prayer at high school football games.

 

But the court also ruled in 1993 that a New York public school must let a religious group use its building to show Christian movies during evening hours.

 

In cases involving the use of public money for church-run schools, the justices allowed taxpayer-funded computers and remedial help by public school teachers at religious schools.

 

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Court to reconsider ban on Bible story in classroom (Washington Times, 990601)

 

The federal appeals court in Philadelphia has agreed to decide if a first-grader’s free-speech rights were violated when his teacher forbade him from reading a Bible story to his class.

 

Eight months ago, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit agreed with a lower-court ruling that teacher Grace Oliva did not violate Zachary Hood’s rights when she kept the Catholic student from reading the Old Testament story of Jacob and Esau in front of his classmates.

 

The boy’s presentation, taken from his favorite book of Bible stories, did not mention God or the Bible and was cleared by his mother as appropriate material for an assignment designed to highlight his reading proficiency. The teacher, who called the story “a prayer,” did allow Zachary to read it to her alone.

 

Two weeks ago, after attorneys for the Hood family petitioned for a rehearing, the same appeals court reversed its previous decision and took up the case again. A decision is expected within a month.

 

The Bible story episode was not the first time Zachary’s expression of faith had been squelched. A year before, a teacher’s aide at Haines Elementary School in Medford, N.J., where Zachary also attended kindergarten, took down a picture of Jesus that Zachary had drawn as part of an art assignment to capture something for which the youngsters were thankful.

 

The boy’s teacher, who was absent when it was removed, later put the artwork back up on the wall, but moved it to an area away from the drawings of his classmates.

 

Both actions prompted Zachary’s parents to call school officials and complain. When they received no satisfaction or apology after the reading-assignment dispute, they filed suit in 1996, claiming their son had been the victim of discrimination and the school had violated his constitutional rights.

 

The case continues to draw national attention to the thorny issue of exactly which religious-based materials are acceptable and which constitute a violation of the mandate of separation of church and state for public schools.

 

“The school is trying to hide behind an erroneous reading of the Constitution, saying that Zach reading his story would be the equivalent of official school prayer,” said attorney Eric Treene, who represents the Hood family on behalf of the Becket Fund, a nonpartisan, interfaith public-interest law firm in Washington, D.C.

 

Zachary, now 9 and in the third grade at another school, remains hurt over the incident, but is determined to move on despite the continued media glare, his mother said. She also said she will press forward, even if it means going all the way to the Supreme Court, because the issue is important for all children and society.

 

“To say to a young child that something is wrong with your religion is wrong,” she said. “Kids today are hungry for faith and looking for adults to show them direction. My son was just living his faith with the book.”

 

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Reticent Canadian Bible Society breaks silence to back school prayer (Ottawa Citizen, 990804)

 

Campaign launched to restore ‘God’s word’

 

The Canadian Bible Society says special interest groups are robbing Christians of their right to read the Bible and pray in public school classrooms.

 

“It seems that if some object to it, then none can do it,” says the society’s national director, Rev. Greg Bailey.

 

In a letter sent to church leaders across the country yesterday, Mr. Bailey encouraged them to follow his lead and lobby politicians to “restore God’s written word, the Holy Bible, to its rightful public exposure.”

 

Mr. Bailey said the last straw for him was last week’s decision in Saskatoon in which a human rights tribunal upheld non-Christians’ complaints of discrimination and recommended public schools ban Bible readings and the recitation of the Lord’s Prayer.

 

Mr. Bailey said Saskatoon is one of the last cities in the country where children are allowed to hear Bible readings and recite the Lord’s Prayer in school. “This could be the death blow if we don’t do something about it,” he said.

 

But he said there are many other signs, including a ban on the word “Jesus” at last fall’s memorial service for victims of the Swissair crash, that suggest Christians are being discriminated against by public officials. “Human rights also need to be offered to Christians and not just to non-Christians.”

 

“Freedom of religion is currently being legislated and adjudicated only in terms of freedom from religion,” he says in his letter to Canada’s major Christian groups.

 

Mr. Bailey said the Bible Society is not suggesting Christians challenge earlier court rulings in provinces like Ontario, Manitoba and British Columbia, where provincial regulations requiring the recitation of the Lord’s Prayer were struck down on the basis they infringed upon the right to freedom of religion.

 

Instead, the Bible Society hopes church leaders and concerned Christians will write to Prime Minister Jean Chretien and every provincial premier to persuade them that “injustice is being done.”

 

“It’s an injustice because we are a country that is based on the rule of the majority, yet small, special interest groups are driving the agenda,” said Mr. Bailey, who is an Anglican priest.

 

“I’m not suggesting we fight in court. I’m suggesting we fight at the ballot box,” he said.

 

Bernie Farber, executive director of the Ontario region of the Canadian Jewish Congress, said the Bible Society’s position runs contrary to the thinking of almost every provincial government, board of education and mainstream church in Canada.

 

“It is time for the Bible Society to enter the 21st century and realize Canada is not what it was 100 years ago,” said Mr. Farber.

 

“All the (Saskatoon) decision does is join with the rest of the country in finally ensuring that children of all faiths are treated equally,” he said.

 

The Bible Society has been distributing Bibles in Canada for almost 200 years, and Mr. Bailey said the society has rarely, if ever, ventured into politics.

 

“Parliament’s business is politics; my business is Bibles,” he said. “But we’re recognizing that at the end of this century, another task lies before us: encouraging the use of Scripture.”

 

Mr. Bailey said he decided to step into the debate because the human rights of Christians are being ignored in the courts, in the schools and in government.

 

“The rights of the Christian community (are) being lifted from us. If we don’t put up a protest, those rights will disappear into history.”

 

Mr. Bailey said Christians’ needs are not being met in the country’s schoolrooms and political leaders must find a uniquely Canadian solution that would allow the needs of all faiths to be met. “The solution is not to remove something like the Scriptures from the public forum, but to make sure that the needs of others are addressed,” he said.

 

Mr. Bailey said the majority of Canadians consider themselves Christians, even if many rarely attend church. Where there is a clear majority of Christians, school boards should be allowed to authorize teachers to begin the day with prayers and Bible readings, he said.

 

He said banning the Bible reduces the possibility of children being exposed to higher ideals, like the qualities of love, mercy and the Ten Commandments, and “will contribute to the propagation of still more atrocities from troubled individuals” like the recent high school shootings in Littleton, Colorado, and Taber, Alta.

 

“Taken to the extreme, banning any form of Bible use in public might also lead to the eventual banning of works such as Shakespeare’s plays, which contain hundreds of scriptural quotations and allusions,” said Mr. Bailey.

 

But he said the rights of non-Christians must also be respected. Where the population allows, he suggested Muslims might gather in one classroom for prayers, and Jews in another, while non-believers could gather for brief spiritual reflections of their own.

 

Bruce Clemenger, national affairs director of the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, said his organization has long advocated that schools include some spiritual element in a way that allows for Canadian diversity. He said that can be done through an opt-in system, with different offerings in different classrooms, or through a rotation of readings or prayers from different faiths.

 

Other Christian groups, like the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, said they are studying Mr. Bailey’s suggestion.

 

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Supreme Court allows Indiana to keep Good Friday as a state holiday (CNN, 000306)

 

WASHINGTON (AP) — Indiana’s designation of Good Friday as a state holiday survived a Supreme Court challenge Monday.

 

The justices, without comment, allowed the state to continue giving its employees that day off, a practice begun in 1941. They rejected an appeal that said the holiday designation violates the constitutionally required separation of church and state.

 

Monday’s denial of review was not a surprise. The court in January rejected a challenge to a Maryland law that requires the annual closing of all public schools on Good Friday.

 

An Indiana taxpayer, Russell Bridenbaugh of Bloomington, contended that his state’s practice improperly advances or promotes the Christian religion.

 

Good Friday, always two days before Easter, is the Christian holiday that commemorates the crucifixion of Jesus. But lower courts ruled that Indiana officials have several legitimate, non-religious reasons for treating that day as an annual holiday.

 

Lawyers for Bridenbaugh told the court that at least 14 other states have laws making all or part of Good Friday a legal holiday. They are California, Delaware, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, New Jersey, North Carolina, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Wisconsin.

 

Some of those laws have been struck down after being challenged in court.

 

After Bridenbaugh sued in 1997, a federal magistrate threw out the case without a trial. A three-judge panel of the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the dismissal last July, by a 2-1 vote.

 

A separate panel of that same appeals court previously had struck down the Illinois law that provided for school closings on each Good Friday.

 

Indiana’s main purpose in designating the state holiday is to provide a long spring weekend, the appeals court panel found.

 

“Indiana does not celebrate the religious aspects of Good Friday; for Indiana, the holiday has absolutely no religious significance. To Indiana, Good Friday is nothing but a Friday falling in the middle of the long vacationless spring — a day which employees should take off to rejuvenate themselves,” the panel said.

 

The dissenting judge said the state should not be allowed to choose Good Friday as the spring holiday every year. But the two-judge majority noted that the designation gives state employees a three-day weekend “during a time which typically involves travel, shopping, cooking and family gatherings.”

 

Bridenbaugh’s appeal said the panel wrongly found that Good Friday has been “secularized” by its linkage to Easter, which for Christians commemorates Jesus’ resurrection but also is associated with the Easter bunny and egg hunts.

 

“Good Friday is a purely religious holiday,” the appeal contended.

 

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Scout-Bashing School districts across America are being pressured to kick the Boy Scouts out of federally funded public schools (NRO, 010606)

 

Republican Senate leader Trent Lott recently said there is “something liberating about being in the minority” because Republicans will be “freer to advocate positions and amendments [they] really think should be adopted.” Perhaps now they can come out in favor of supporting the Boy Scouts.

 

One of Lott’s first challenges will be to pass an amendment to the education bill that blocks federal funding to anybody who would deny the Scouts their First Amendment rights on the grounds they won’t let gays become scoutmasters. “We are going to fight for this amendment,” a Lott spokesman told NRO.

 

“School districts across America are now being pressured to kick the Boy Scouts of America out of federally funded public-school facilities. Why? Because the Boy Scouts will not agree to surrender their First Amendment rights; they will not accept the radical Left’s agenda,” said Jesse Helms, sponsor of the Boy Scouts of America Equal Access Act.

 

Ever since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Boy Scouts have the constitutional right to exclude gays as members and scout leaders, at least nine schools have excoriated the Scouts for their beliefs, or threatened to ban the group from their premises. In Broward County, Fla., the school board voted unanimously to ban Scouts from using schools and centers for meetings, after deciding that the Scouts had violated a board policy prohibiting discrimination. The Scouts sued the Broward County school board and eventually won their case in a U.S. district court. The court ruled that by allowing other private groups to use their facilities, Broward schools had created a “limited public forum” and stood in violation of the First Amendment by trying to stop the Scouts. Similar threats to ban the Scouts have surfaced in Los Angeles, New York, Minneapolis, Seattle, and Worchester, Mass. In Madison, Wis., policies granting the Boy Scouts access to public schools have not been formally changed, but the city has issued a resolution harshly criticizing the Scouts and threatening their expulsion.

 

Although Democrats overwhelmingly supported retaining the Boy Scouts’ charter status last year, the Human Rights Campaign, an equal-rights group for gays and lesbians, has been lobbying furiously against the amendment. The “gratuitous” amendment is nothing but “punishment in search of a problem,” HRC’s David Smith told NRO. “Whatever they are trying to accomplish with this amendment is already been protected in the First Amendment of the Constitution.”

 

The Boy Scouts amendment passed the House by a voice vote last month, and is expected to pass in the Senate. The amendment is “very simple,” said Tennessee Congressman Van Hilleary. “The amendment is designed to stop the wasteful cycle in litigation and harassment. If one allows for an open forum for other groups to meet, it is only fair to allow equal access to the Boy Scouts.” Does no space exist in America’s public schools for an organization that teaches boys the values of personal integrity, reverence, and patriotism?

 

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Court Refuses to Review School Minute-of-Silence Law (Foxnews, 011029)

 

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court responded to a lawsuit over school moments-of-silence Monday with the legal equivalent of clapping its hands over its ears and yelling, “I can’t hear you!”

 

By turning down without comment an appeal from those who claim Virginia’s minute of silence is an unconstitutional government encouragement of classroom prayer, the state’s law stands as is for now, with no immediate options for opponents to challenge it.

 

The minute-of-silence law passed in 2000 makes it mandatory for Virginia’s 1 million public school pupils to spend 60 seconds quietly, and specifically lists prayer as one silent activity they might choose.

 

The law’s preamble states its purpose as assuring that “free exercise of religion be guaranteed within the schools.”

 

The state argued the law does not violate the separation of church and state because children may meditate or stare out the window for 60 seconds if they choose, so long as they are quiet.

 

But the American Civil Liberties Union wrote that, “although the statute permits students to engage in other forms of silent or meditative activity during the time period set aside in the classroom, the statute was enacted specifically to facilitate and encourage school prayer at that fixed time.”

 

The ACLU argued that the appeals court ruling cannot be reconciled with a 1985 Supreme Court case that struck down a similar moment of silence law in Alabama. In that case, the high court found that the state was placing an official imprimatur on classroom prayer.

 

At least four other states, Nebraska, Nevada, Tennessee and West Virginia, have laws like Virginia’s, which both require the silence and link it to prayer or religious observance. Several other states have laws mandating schoolday silence but without an express mention of prayer.

 

In Virginia, the ACLU’s lawsuit on behalf of seven students and their parents failed in lower federal courts. A divided three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals found the law constitutional because students may choose for themselves how to spend the silent time.

 

“The act does not require students to do anything or say anything or hear anything,” Virginia Attorney General Randolph A. Beales wrote in asking the court to reject the ACLU’s broader appeal. “It does not require them to make any gesture or acknowledgment. It only requires them to stay in their seats, to remain silent and not to distract their classmates.”

 

The Virginia law replaced one in place since 1976 that allowed schools to observe silence if they choose. Fewer than 20 schools districts statewide did so.

 

The justices banned organized prayer during class hours in the 1960s, and classroom display of the Ten Commandments in 1980. In the past decade the court has banned clergy-led prayer at high school graduation ceremonies and student-led prayer at football games.

 

But the court also ruled in 1993 that a public school must let a religious group show Christian movies in the building, and ruled in 1995 that a public university could not deny funding to a Christian publication. The justices have also allowed taxpayer-funded computers and remedial help by public school teachers at religious schools.

 

In June, the court ruled that if the Boy Scouts and 4-H can use a public school as a meeting hall, a children’s Bible study class can, too.

 

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Mom: Daughter in Pledge Case Worships God  (Foxnews, 020712)

 

SAN FRANCISCO  — The California schoolgirl whose atheist father successfully sued to have the Pledge of Allegiance declared unconstitutional has no problem with reciting the pledge, her mother said Thursday.

 

“I was concerned that the American public would be led to believe that my daughter is an atheist or that she has been harmed by reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, including the words ‘one nation under God,”‘ said the mother, Sandra Banning, in a statement. “In our home we are practicing Christians and are active in our church.”

 

Banning, of Elk Grove, has never been married to Michael Newdow, the third-grader’s father, a Sacramento physician and attorney who is representing himself.

 

It was her first public comment since the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with Newdow that the words “under God,” inserted by Congress in 1954, make the pledge an unconstitutional endorsement of religion.

 

The San Francisco court based its June 26 ruling in part on Newdow’s claim that the girl was “injured” by being forced to listen to others recite the pledge at the Elk Grove Unified School District.

 

Banning, who declined through her attorney to be interviewed, has full custody of the child, which Newdow also is challenging in court.

 

But Newdow said in an interview Thursday that he also has the right to determine how she’s brought up.

 

“This is MY issue. I have a right to send my child to a public school without the government inculcating any religious beliefs. I’m saying I’M injured,” he said.

 

Some legal experts said the mother’s revelation that the girl herself willingly recites the pledge in class could cast doubts on the legitimacy of the case, giving the court grounds to dismiss it or send it to a lower court to weigh the allegations.

 

Courts can only hear cases in which there is an injured party, and if there is no injury there is no grounds for a case, said Rory Little, a Hastings College of the Law professor who follows the 9th Circuit.

 

“The federal courts can’t address anything unless it’s a case of controversy,” Little said. “You have to have injury.”

 

Legal precedents also allow for cases to be reopened, even at the appellate level, if the legal standing of the plaintiff suddenly becomes an issue.

 

Banning, who has hired lawyers in part to explore intervening in the case, said she hopes her efforts will lead to a reversal of the appellate ruling.

 

She said her daughter “expressed sadness” after the ruling.

 

“Because of her response and the potential impact of this case on her life, I have the responsibility as her mother to speak out, to set the record straight or clear up any misrepresentations,” she said.

 

Newdow said that taking an 8-year-old to church doesn’t mean the girl is choosing to be religious — and at any rate, it doesn’t matter what the child believes.

 

“The main thrust of this case is not my daughter, it’s me. A parent of a child has a right to send a child to a public school without the government introducing religious dogma, period.”

 

Newdow said the girl is also injured, because the pledge interferes with her right to freely express her beliefs “without the government intruding religious beliefs upon her.”

 

In its opinion, the 9th Circuit panel noted that Newdow asserted his daughter is injured when compelled to “watch and listen as her state-employed teacher in her state-run school leads her classmates in a ritual proclaiming that there is a God.”

 

The court has put its decision on hold to allow for appeals. Paul Sullivan, the wife’s attorney, planned to file papers saying Newdow misled the judges.

 

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Mother of Girl in Pledge of Allegiance Lawsuit Wants ‘Under God’ Kept (Foxnews, 020805)

 

NEW YORK — The mother of the schoolgirl named in the Pledge of Allegiance case asked a court Monday to keep the words “under God” in the pledge.

 

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in June that the words “under God” make the pledge unconstitutional. The court was acting on a lawsuit filed by the 8-year-old girl’s atheist father.

 

On Monday, the girl’s mother, Sandra Banning, filed a court motion seeking to intervene in the case. If the court will not allow that, she asks that references to her daughter be taken off the lawsuit.

 

In the court motion, Banning said she wants her daughter to be able to recite the pledge, exactly as it stands, as part of her education. Banning said neither she nor her daughter believe there is anything wrong with reciting the words “under God” in the pledge.

 

Banning, who has had sole legal custody of the girl since February, said she and her daughter are Christians and believe in God.

 

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Mom Sues for $1.5 Million After School Rejects Son’s Letter to Jesus  (Foxnews, 020805)

 

BROOKFIELD, Ohio — Phillip Vaccaro considers Jesus his best friend.

 

So to him, Jesus seemed perfect for a writing assignment the 7th-grader got this spring in his language-arts class in Brookfield, Ohio: write a friendly letter to someone who dramatically changed his life.

 

But his teacher didn’t like his choice of correspondent.

 

“She told him he could not write that letter because Jesus wasn’t a real person — that he didn’t exist,” Phillip’s mother, Peggy Koehler, said.

 

“How dare they throw their atheistic values upon my child?”

 

But the attorney for the school district said the class assignment was to prepare a letter and mail it to someone else, with the hope the students would get a response. In the attorney’s words, it would be difficult to get a written reply from Jesus.

 

Phillip’s mother isn’t buying it. So she has filed a $1.5 million lawsuit against the school district, claiming her son’s constitutional right to freely express his religion was violated because he wasn’t allowed to write to Jesus.

 

The Brookfield School District denies infringing upon Phillip’s rights.

 

“It was also suggested that the letter could be addressed to a pastor, priest or church,” the school attorney wrote in a statement to Fox News.

 

Not according to Koehler.

 

“From the very beginning of this, their stories have changed over and over again,” she said.

 

After the disputed assignment, Phillip’s mother pulled him out of school, and he failed all his classes. He wants to attend a different school next year.

 

“What do (I) think Jesus would think about what has happened to (me)? I hope he’s proud of me. And on my side,” he said.

 

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Keep Your Laws Off My Judiciary: The wars against Bush’s judges (National Review, 010518)

 

Ms. Ann Coulter is also a syndicated columnist

 

As part of the ongoing war preparations for the next Big One — the battle over the courts — liberals have been denouncing President Bush for injecting politics into the process. They insist they oppose his court nominees across the board, actual and potential, because Bush is engaging in “ideological politics” with the judicial selection process.

 

Thus, the New York Times recently ran an article by a Stanford history professor plaintively pleading for an independent judiciary, asking: “(W)hat happens to that concept when the appointments process becomes an extension of ideological politics by judicial means?”

 

Apparently, the way to stop politicizing the courts is for conservatives not to interfere with liberals politicizing the courts. Roll over and let liberals keep their invented “constitutional rights.” These include the constitutional right to privacy (the right to stick a fork in a baby’s head), the Flynt Amendment (prohibiting all speech except that which is pornographic, blasphemous, or criminal conduct), and the historic separation of church and state (requiring that religion be stamped out of the schools, the courts, the public square, and the churches).

 

The problem with the professor’s argument is that it’s not “the appointments process” that uses “judicial means” to engage in ideological politics. Only the judiciary can use “judicial means” to do anything. The appointments process is just the appointments process. The way to keep politics out of the courts is to keep politics out of the courts. A good start would be for judges to issue rulings grounded in the Constitution rather than the latest ACLU circular.

 

Here is how some of Bill Clinton’s judicial appointments avoided politicizing the courts by closely following the language of the Constitution.

 

Judge Diane Wood, the centrist judge Clinton put on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit, found that failure to provide a prisoner with a smoke-free environment constituted cruel and unusual punishment. Another centrist Clinton choice, Judge Robert Henry of the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals held that it was cruel and unusual punishment for the state to deny sex-change hormone treatment for a transsexual prisoner.

 

Before Clinton promoted him to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, District Court Judge Richard Paez struck down a law against aggressive panhandling at ATMs, outdoor cafes, and other specified public places. Los Angeles had passed the law after a man was stabbed to death when he refused to give a beggar 25 cents. Under the ordinance, violators were to be given a formal warning, then a fine. Only third offenses would rank as so much as a misdemeanor. Judge Paez ruled that the law was an unconstitutional restriction on free speech in violation of the Flynt Amendment.

 

As a sitting federal judge, Judge Paez denounced Proposition 187, the California initiative that barred illegal aliens from receiving state-funded benefits, calling it “discrimination and hostility” against the “Latino community.” Paez evidently uses “Latino community” as a synonym for “welfare queens.” He also denounced Proposition 209, the California anti-discrimination initiative that tracks the language of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, calling it an “anti-civil rights initiative.”

 

Another Clinton centrist, Judge M. Blane Michael on the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals, has concluded that judging employees on the basis of “performance” constitutes discrimination. That’s really true.

 

In response to feminist squawking at Virginia Commonwealth University — a school with no history of gender discrimination — the university ran a regression analysis proving that female faculty were paid less than male faculty. To reach this result, the analysis had to exclude merit as a factor in the analysis (e.g., number of scholarly papers published, years teaching since earning Ph.D.). Only by excluding merit did an “unexplainable” gap miraculously appear between female and male faculty’s salaries.

 

VCU responded to the injustice by awarding an across-the-board pay raise to all women faculty — including at the school of nursing where there were no male faculty members who could possibly have been gypping the women all those years.

 

Male professors at VCU sued the school for gender discrimination and, not surprisingly, won. But Clinton centrist Judge Michael dissented from the 4th Circuit’s opinion on the grounds that even IF the salaries could be justified on the basis of performance, “the only appropriate conclusion to be drawn is that performance factors improperly favor one sex over the other.” Merit is a male concept.

 

Good thing the ABA was involved in the process. Otherwise judicial selection might have been political.

 

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Florida atheists challenge angels on lawn of City Hall (Washington Times, 021205)

 

A Florida city placed two angels on the front lawn of City Hall despite complaints from an atheist organization over its use of religious Christmas decorations.

 

Wildwood City Council unanimously voted Nov. 25 to display the angels after Greg McDowell, the Florida director of American Atheists, threatened legal action in a Nov. 13 letter to Mayor Ed Wolf if the central Florida city used the Christian symbols as decorations.

 

“Last year, while driving through Wildwood, I noticed that along with other ornamental displays, your beautiful, new City Hall had angels outside on the lawn,” Mr. McDowell said. “Angels are without question a religious symbol, and must be omitted this year and in the future.”

 

Mr. McDowell said displaying religious decorations at City Hall opens a “Pandora’s box” for any group — from the Ku Klux Klan to Wicans — to put up a display.

 

American Atheists is an organization that works for the civil rights of atheists and promotes the separation of church and state.

 

Mr. McDowell said the United States and Florida have laws forbidding excessive governmental entanglement with religion. Mr. McDowell said he considers the two angels excessive.

 

“Angels are a concept of Christianity,” Mr. Barrier said.”Churches and temples own plenty of land to display all the decorations they want.”

 

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Alabama Chief Justice Files Appeal in Ten Commandments Monument Ruling (Foxnews, 021210)

 

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Chief Justice Roy Moore filed notice Tuesday in federal court that he will appeal a judge’s order that he remove a monument to the Ten Commandments from the rotunda of the Alabama Judicial Building.

 

“Federal district courts have no jurisdiction or authority to prohibit the acknowledgment of God that is specifically recognized in the Constitution of Alabama,” Moore said in a statement announcing the appeal.

 

Moore’s spokesman, Tom Parker, read the statement at a news conference Tuesday in front of the 5,300-pound granite monument.

 

U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson’s order found the monument violates the Constitution’s ban against government establishment of religion and gave Moore 30 days to remove it.

 

One of Moore’s attorneys, Phillip Jauregui, said part of the chief justice’s appeal would be based on the argument that Thompson did not have jurisdiction.

 

But an attorney for the Southern Poverty Law Center, Richard Cohen, said plaintiffs would win again on appeal.

 

“I think what we heard today echoed of George Wallace,” Cohen said. “He said the federal courts have no authority to order him to do anything Alabama law doesn’t require him to do. Whatever views Moore has about this, federal law is supreme.”

 

The notice of plans to appeal to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta was filed in federal district court in Montgomery.

 

Moore moved the monument into the rotunda in the middle of the night on July 31, 2001, with a film crew from Coral Ridge Ministries documenting the event. Moore, a conservative Christian, attracted national attention as a circuit judge in Gadsden when he refused to remove a wooden Ten Commandments display from a courtroom wall. During his campaign for chief justice, Moore was often referred to as “The Ten Commandments judge.”

 

A lawsuit was filed in October 2001 by the Southern Poverty Law Center, Americans United for Separation of Church and State and the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of three Alabama lawyers who said the monument violated the constitution.

 

During a weeklong trial in October, Moore testified that he believes the Ten Commandments to be the foundation of American law. He said he installed the monument, which also includes quotations from historical figures, partly because of his concern that the country has suffered a moral decline over the past 40 or 50 years as a result of federal court rulings, including those against prayer in public schools.

 

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School bans Christmas, but OK with Halloween (WorldNetDaily, 021219)

 

‘Twas the week before Christmas and all through the class, a storm was stirring over Christmas present, and Christmas past.

 

The rhyme may sound trite, but the complaint is real from a San Diego mother who has been told by school officials she can no longer read a Christmas story to her daughter’s class, despite having the green light in recent years.

 

“I’m very upset with it,” Patrice Reynolds told WorldNetDaily. “I feel that my kids and other kids are being cheated and deceived. This is history, just like George Washington.”

 

For the past several years with the consent of the Del Mar Union School District , Reynolds has been going into one of her four children’s classes to read and discuss how her family celebrates Christmas at home. She brings a Nativity scene, and sometimes a children’s Bible or storybook to aid in discussing family traditions.

 

But when she called to schedule a presentation this year in her daughter Grace’s fourth-grade class at the Sage Canyon School, she was rejected, with the teacher telling her even instructors were not permitted to wear jewelry with a Christmas theme.

 

“They didn’t say you can’t do it because it’s a religious topic, but that’s their basis,” said Patrice’s husband Rob, a civil litigation attorney. “Not allowing anyone to talk doesn’t promote diversity, it promotes intolerance. Schools promote and talk about alternative lifestyles that are damaging, then are intolerant of your point of view.”

 

Sage Canyon School , serving kindergarten through sixth grade, opened in September 2000, and has an enrollment in its third year of approximately 600 students in 29 classes.

 

On its website, it shows both teachers and students participating in another well-known holiday with religious connotations – Halloween. Kindergarten teachers are dressed up as witches in one photograph, and costumed students are shown listening to a classroom reading in another.

 

“You can’t allow discussions of certain holidays and ban discussion of others,” says Gary Kreep, executive director of the United States Justice Foundation, a conservative legal-action foundation which is reviewing this case. “It’s a violation not only of California law, but also the U.S. Constitution.”

 

Neither Sage Canyon’s principal, Jeff Swenerton, nor the district superintendent, Tom Bishop , returned repeated requests for comment, but the district did provide a fax of its policy regarding recognition of religious beliefs and customs.

 

According to the policy:

 

* Special school events, assemblies, concerts and programs must be designed to further the board-approved curriculum and may not focus on any one religion or religious observance;

 

* School employees are permitted to teach about religious holidays but are not permitted to celebrate religious holidays during school hours;

 

* School employees may not endorse, advance, or inhibit a specific religion;

 

* The use of religious symbols is permissible as a teaching aid or resource. Religious symbols may be displayed on a temporary basis provided that the symbols that are displayed are examples of the cultural and religious heritage of the holiday.

 

“It’s perfectly acceptable to discuss holidays,” Kreep said, “just not in a proselytizing fashion. Many school districts believe they’re above the law; their arrogance just amazes me.”

 

The San Diego case comes on the heels of several Christmas-related battles across America last week involving government venues:

 

* As WorldNetDaily was the first to report , a first-grade teacher in Sacramento Co., Calif., said her principal has prohibited instructors from uttering the word “Christmas” in class or in written materials;

 

* a school superintendent in Yonkers, N.Y., banned, then unbanned, holiday decorations that contained religious themes more than the generic “season’s greetings”;

 

* and a federal lawsuit was filed against New York City schools claiming the district’s policy “unlawfully discriminates against Christians” because it “prohibits the display of [Christian] Nativity scenes” in public schools during Christmas, while it “expressly permits and encourages” the display of the Jewish Menorah and the Islamic Star and Crescent during certain religious holidays and observances.

 

Rob Reynolds is now considering whether any legal action is necessary after his wife’s denial in southern California.

 

“This is starting to annoy me,” he said. “It’s the straw that broke the camel’s back, I’m not gonna let it go.”

 

Meanwhile, in yet another anti-Christmas incident, the city of Tillamook, Ore., has ordered the removal of a lighted Nativity display from a drive-up coffee outlet, because the business’ property is leased out by the city.

 

“It appeared to be a conflict between church and state,” City Manager Mark Gervasi told the Headlight-Herald newspaper.

 

Gervasi was acting on a citizen’s complaint, and figures of Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus were gone by the next day.

 

Cheryl Hall, the owner of High Tide Espresso Drive-Thru, won’t fight the decision, stating she chooses her battles carefully. She had posted the display in memory of her infant grandson who died last February.

 

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Christmas in America becomes battleground (WorldNetDaily, 021214)

 

Every December, a call goes out from the nation’s pulpits to “put Christ back into Christmas,” but growing numbers of Americans – including fundamentalist Christians – are claiming Jesus Christ had nothing to do with the holiday, and news items from across the country this week indicate that the U.S. has become the new battleground for Christmas.

 

Cases in point:

 

* A first-grade teacher in Sacramento Co., Calif., says her principal has prohibited instructors from uttering the word “Christmas” in class or in written materials;

 

* A school superintendent in Yonkers, N.Y., banned, then unbanned, holiday decorations that contained religious themes more than the generic “season’s greetings”;

 

* New York City schools are being sued for alleged discrimination against Christians;

 

* and atheists reposted their vandalized winter solstice sign in the Wisconsin Capitol, as they declare “Christians stole Christmas” from ancient pagans.

 

All this comes on the heels of a national survey indicating just over a tenth of Americans today believe Jesus Christ of Nazareth is the focus of Christmas, with almost nine out of ten people saying the holiday has become less religious.

 

Are atheists correct that the very day set aside by hundreds of millions across the world to honor the birth of their Savior is merely a relic of sun worship? And if it is, why would some schools ban it? And even if today’s holiday traditions have their roots in heathen practices, should Christians who wish to be true to their faith take part?

 

Sign of the times

 

“The real reason for the season is winter solstice,” proclaims Annie Laurie Gaylor, co-founder of the Madison, Wis.-based Freedom From Religion Foundation which re-erected its atheistic message Monday in the rotunda of the state seat of government.

 

After six years on display, her placard had been damaged last December by an unknown assailant, and has since been repaired.

 

The front of the sign states: “At this season of the winter solstice may reason prevail. There are no gods, no devils, no angels, no heaven or hell. There is only our natural world. Religion is but myth and superstition that hardens hearts and enslaves minds.”

 

The back reads: “State/Church: Keep them separate,” and carries a little caveat, advising “Thou shalt not steal.”

 

The 23-by-30-inch billboard was OK’d as part of Wisconsin’s seasonal display which also features menorahs, angels, and what appears to be a giant Christmas tree more than two stories tall.

 

“We call it a ‘holiday’ tree,” said Brian Hayes, deputy secretary for Wisconsin’s department of administration. “We’re trying to be sensitive to [the public].”

 

That politically correct terminology comes despite the dismissal of a lawsuit last year where the message content of items adorning the state tree had been challenged, yet it’s indicative of the thought-conscious age of the 21st century.

 

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School bans saying ‘Christmas’ (WorldNetDaily, 021213)

 

Veteran teacher dumbfounded by order precluding mention of holiday

 

At a time when Americans of many faiths – and even no faith – gear up to celebrate Christmas this year, a first-grade teacher in Sacramento Co., Calif., says she’s been ordered by her principal not to utter the word “Christmas” at school.

 

The 24-year education veteran, who wishes to keep her name and the school anonymous at this time, claims she and two fellow instructors were told that use of the word “Christmas” in the classroom or in written materials was now prohibited.

 

“She was dumbfounded!” says Karen Holgate of the Capitol Resource Institute, a pro-family public-policy center based in Sacramento. “This is the first time you can’t use the word.”

 

The ban apparently only affects teachers, not students. The instructor contacted CRI, to find out if the school had the right to prohibit its mention.

 

According to Holgate, the second-year principal’s “out of the blue” mandate was handed down Monday during the discussion with three first-grade teachers. One of them didn’t agree with the policy, but agreed to go along with it. Another stated that Christmas should not be discussed in class anyway.

 

But the third teacher was stunned by the pronouncement, as she’s been delivering a “Christmas around the world” program for more than two decades. The teacher also explains to children how Hanukkah and other holidays are celebrated in other nations.

 

“She’s so discouraged now,” says Holgate, “she doesn’t know if she wants to keep on teaching. ... People need to stand up to all these wackos. It’s nuts!”

 

The CRI says California standards not only allow for the Bible and religious topics to be mentioned in the classroom, but teachers are encouraged to discuss their social and cultural relevance.

 

As WorldNetDaily previously reported, other schools in the Golden State are having students pretend to be Muslims, simulating jihads with a dice game, while others pupils celebrate the “Day of the Dead” by creating altars to honor deceased loved ones or family pets.

 

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‘Day of the Dead’ event outlives lawsuit (WorldNetDaily, 021031)

 

Judge rules classroom observance of ‘ritual’ poses no ‘irreparable harm’

 

Fourth-graders at a California public elementary school will commemorate dead relatives and pets in class today in observance of “El Dia de los Muertos,” or “Day of the Dead,” after a judge ruled yesterday the activities represent an acceptable “cultural event” and pose no “irreparable harm” for students.

 

In a hearing devoid of all basic procedure, Sonoma County Superior Court Judge Raymond Giordano rejected a motion by the United States Justice Foundation, or USJF, filed on behalf of a concerned parent to stop the three-day series of activities planned for the 9-year-olds at McNear Elementary School in Petaluma, Calif.

 

Judge Giordano rendered his decision through a court clerk without a court reporter present, without hearing oral arguments and before case pleadings were filed, according to the public-interest law firm.

 

“I think he rubber-stamped what the district wanted,” USJF litigation counsel Richard Ackerman told WorldNetDaily. “You’ve got a network of politically correct leaders in this area and no judge is going to step on any local agency even though this ruling is inconsistent with United States Supreme Court and 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decisions,” he said.

 

As WorldNetDaily reported, although administrators and teachers at McNear modified the planned social studies lessons, they chose to ignore a “cease and desist” letter sent by USJF.

 

According to an Oct. 11 letter sent home to parents, students were slated to “celebrate” the traditional Meso-American holiday by putting together altars with “symbolic items” and were to be bringing in a picture of a deceased family member, friend or pet in accordance with the traditional “ritual.”

 

According to the written handouts provided to parents, the traditional “Day of the Dead” celebration is a “ritual event in which the spirits of dead loved ones are invited to visit the living as honored guests” and reflects the ancient Aztec belief that death is a part of life. As the handouts describe, “families often set up ofrendas or altars, bearing pictures, lighted candles and traditional items including marigolds, bread, fruit, and favorite foods of deceased family members.”

 

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District sued over Islam studies (WorldNetDaily, 020702)

 

Students pretend to be Muslims, pray to Allah in classroom simulations

 

While the whole country debates a controversial court ruling declaring “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance unconstitutional, a federal lawsuit filed in another California court last week seeks to stop a public school from having its seventh-graders pray to Allah.

 

On behalf of parents and four children, the Thomas More Law Center filed suit against the Byron Union School District and various school officials to stop the use of the “Islam simulation” materials used in the Excelsior Elementary School in Byron, Calif.

 

As WorldNetDaily reported in January, the public school students at Excelsior pretend to be Muslims, wear robes, simulate jihads via a dice game, learn the Five Pillars of Faith and memorize verses from the Koran in classroom exercises as part of a World History and Geography class that’s being taught to seventh-graders all over the state. The class is included in the state’s curriculum standards required by the state board of education. These standards outline what subjects should be taught and will be included in state assessment tests, but don’t mandate how they’re to be taught.

 

The Islam simulations at Excelsior are outlined in the state-adopted textbook “Across the Centuries,” published by Houghton Mifflin, which prompts students to imagine they are Islamic soldiers and Muslims on a Mecca pilgrimage. The lawsuit also alleges students were encouraged to use such phrases in their speech as “Allah Akbar,” which is Arabic for “God is great,” and were required to fast during lunch period to simulate fasting during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan.

 

“While public schools prohibit Christian students from reading the Bible, praying, displaying the Ten Commandments, and even mentioning the word ‘God,’ students in California are being indoctrinated into the religion of Islam,” said Richard Thompson, chief counsel for the national, public-interest law firm. “Public schools would never tolerate teaching Christianity in this way. Just imagine the ACLU’s outcry if students were told that they had to pray the Lord’s Prayer, memorize the Ten Commandments, use such phrases as ‘Jesus is the Messiah,’ and fast during Lent,” he added.

 

According to Thompson, “Although it is constitutional for public schools to have an instructional program about comparative religion or teach about religion and utilize religious books such as the Bible in courses about our history and culture, the Byron Union School District crossed way over the constitutional line when it coerced impressionable 12-year-olds to engage in particular religious rituals and worship, simulated or not.”

 

While the international public-interest law firm The American Center for Law and Justice presses Excelsior to permit students to opt out of the course, contending it violates students’ First Amendment rights, the Thomas More suit and one being prepared by the Pacific Justice Institute take issue with the course materials, including the textbook, which is used in public schools throughout the state and in districts across the country.

 

The Pacific Justice Institute, a nonprofit legal defense organization, mounted its challenge to the textbook earlier this year on behalf of concerned San Luis Obispo parent, Jen Schroeder, who noticed her son’s textbook “had a distinct bias toward Islam over Christianity.” Schroeder subsequently launched a campaign to raise awareness, posting a content analysis of the textbook on her website.

 

“There’s so much in that textbook that I find offensive – both the Islam and the Christian sections,” Schroeder told WND. While presenting a “white-washed version of Islam,” Schroeder asserts the textbook goes out of its way to depict Christianity in a negative light.

 

“In the textbook, there is a large three-column block titled ‘Understanding Religious Persecution,’ which blames Christians exclusively for persecuting others and forcing beliefs, when in fact there have been more Christian martyrs than any other religion,” said Schroeder.

 

As WorldNetDaily reported, Middle East scholar Daniel Pipes echoed Schroeder’s complaints in a New York Post column, calling the 558-page textbook an example of “the privileging of Islam in the United States.”

 

Pipes assailed the “covert propagation of Islam” in the textbook: “Everything Islamic is praised; every problem is swept under the rug.” Pipes also complained the textbook promotes Islamic doctrines as objective fact and presents a distorted image of Muslims: “Jihad, which means ‘sacred war,’ turns into a struggle mainly ‘to do one’s best to resist temptation and overcome evil.’”

 

“We must guard what is planted in our hearts and in our sons’ hearts,” Schroeder told WND. “California has been planting some big seeds for Islam while hardening hearts toward Christianity through the Houghton Mifflin textbooks. ... John Walker Lindh is the fruit of California’s efforts. He was a young impressionable child, just as my son is. How many more John Walkers before we stop promoting Islam in public schools?”

 

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‘God’ booted from ‘God Bless America’ (WorldNetDaily, 021220)

 

City forces removal of word from memorial to 9-11 victims

 

A Tennessee firefighter has removed a memorial to the fallen heroes of 9-11 from the lawn outside a local firehouse because the city government forced him to remove the word “God” from the three-word tribute on the display: “God Bless America.”

 

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Lawsuit May Redefine Discrimination on Campus (Foxnews, 030107)

 

A federal lawsuit filed on Dec. 30 will determine whether Rutgers University can de facto ban Christian student groups. It may set national policy.

 

On campuses across North America, Christian student groups are being ordered to either accept leaders who violate their beliefs or lose the official “recognition” that allows them access to university funding and facilities.

 

The universities say the groups’ exclusion of gays and non-Christians from leadership roles is sexual and religious discrimination. The groups reply that their membership is open to all but their leaders must hold certain beliefs or the group will cease to be Christian.

 

Civil libertarians add that the non-exclusion requirement violates both freedom of speech and freedom of association. Moreover, the universities are targeting the leadership of Christian groups while allowing gay, feminist and minority groups to determine their own leaders as well as membership.

 

One student commented that his university’s “Women’s Resource Center” holds “a vast array of events” from which he is explicitly barred from attending. “I was asked to leave meetings ... because my presence as [a] straight white male was unwelcome.”

 

In recent months, the debate has heightened.

 

At Tufts University near Boston, a Christian Fellowship was placed on probation in October. At the same time, Central College in Pella, Ill., debated whether to strip InterVarsity Christian Fellowship of official recognition. In both cases, the proximate cause was the group’s refusal to allow homosexuals to serve as leaders.

 

At Harvard , a grant to the Harvard-Radcliffe Christian Fellowship was postponed while administrators assessed the group. The associate dean stated that requiring leaders to share the Christian beliefs was discrimination.

 

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill agreed. In December, three Christian organizations were ordered to remove discriminatory language from their constitutions or have their recognition revoked. In the wake of national criticism, the University backed down.

 

Rutgers is standing by its suspension of the InterVarsity Multi-Ethnic Christian Fellowship (IVMECF). The Christian group isn’t budging either. Its lawsuit against Rutgers is being financed by the Alliance Defense Fund , which supports religious organizations who conflict with government policy. David French — the attorney representing IVMECF — bluntly states: “You can’t have a leader of a Christian group not be a Christian. That’s nonsense.”

 

Given that Rutgers is a state university — as are most of those involved — its actions may also violate its responsibility to respect the constitutional rights of students.

 

Several court precedents have found that freedom to exclude is part and parcel of “freedom of association.” Although that phrase does not occur within the Constitution, Supreme Court decisions have protected freedom of association as an aspect of the First Amendment’s protection of speech, assembly, petition for the redress of grievances, and the establishment of religion.

 

The protection applies especially to “expressive” organizations — that is, to groups dedicated to a specific message or point of view.

 

For example, in the 1984 decision Roberts v. United States Jaycees , the court found that the ability to determine membership was essential to “expressive” organizations. Otherwise, black rights groups could be shouted down by white members, Jewish anti-defamation groups could be disrupted by Nazis. Freedom of assembly and free speech would be de facto denied.

 

But does the First Amendment protect groups with open memberships, which impose leadership restrictions?

 

The most relevant case is probably Dale v. Boy Scouts of America , decided by the Supreme Court of New Jersey in January 2000. This case addressed whether the Boy Scouts — an organization with relatively open membership — could terminate a gay scoutmaster. By a narrow margin, the court found that groups should not be forced to include people who would significantly damage “the group’s ability to advocate public or private viewpoints.”

 

Being forced to include non-Christians in its leadership would certainly affect IVMECF’s religious mission. Indeed, French claims that universities are conditioning access to campuses “on compliance with an anti-discrimination position that essentially tears the heart out of the religious nature of the group.”

 

Ironically, a victory for Rutgers might be more devastating to its politically correct policies than a defeat. If Rutgers successfully argues in court that no organization with “discriminatory leadership” can be officially recognized, then it may be required to impose that same standard on every organization — especially those with discriminatory membership as well:

 

Feminist groups on rape and sexual harassment might have to admit males. Gay groups might have to welcome straight members. And, as many males and heterosexuals have discovered, a significant number of those groups viciously discriminate in both membership and leadership.

 

The key difference between such groups and IVMECF is honesty. Every group must submit its bylaws and constitution for review before being officially recognized. Politically correct groups include the standard non-discrimination language of the university, and then act in an exclusionary manner. Christian groups are refusing to lie. And, so, they are “derecognized.”

 

If Rutgers wins, all student organizations may have to apply the non-discrimination standard not merely in words but in deeds as well. Or be disbanded. Simply by going to court, the IVMECF has won ... whatever the verdict turns out to be.

 

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Bush Reaffirms References to God in Pledge, National Motto (Foxnews, 021113)

 

WASHINGTON — President Bush signed into law on Wednesday a bill reaffirming — with a slap at the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals — references to God in the Pledge of Allegiance and national motto.

 

Bush signed the legislation without comment. It reinforces support for the words “under God” in the pledge, and for “In God we trust” as the national motto.

 

The measure was approved unanimously in the Senate and drew just five no votes in the House. Congress rushed to act after the federal appeals court in California ruled in June that the phrase “under God,” inserted into the pledge by Congress in 1954, amounted to a government endorsement of religion in violation of the constitutional separation of church and state.

 

The legislation faulted the court for its “erroneous rationale” and “absurd result.”

 

The new law also modifies the manner in which the Pledge of Allegiance is to be delivered by stating that, when not in uniform, men should remove any nonreligious headdress with their right hand and hold it at the left shoulder, the hand being over the heart. Previously, the standard dictated that “any headdress” be removed.

 

Those House members voting against the bill, all Democrats, were Barney Frank of Massachusetts, Michael Honda and Pete Stark of California, Jim McDermott of Washington and Bobby Scott of Virginia. Four House Democrats — Gary Ackerman and Nydia Velazquez of New York, Earl Blumenauer of Oregon and Mel Watt of North Carolina — voted present. [Note: All Democrats]

 

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Putting Religion Back in School (Weekly Standard, 030219)

 

The Bush administration fine-tunes religious rights in public education.

 

EVERY SO OFTEN, news is made that tells a story larger than first appears. That happened earlier this month when the Education Department issued a four-page document titled “Guidance on Constitutionally Protected Prayer in Public Elementary and Secondary Schools.”

 

The document drew restrained interest from the media, probably because half of it was a dry statement of familiar constitutional principles and the other half was an attempt to apply those principles to particular situations. The document looked like the sort of thing that only school administrators and lawyers might read. Yet the guidance is the latest chapter in a story that involves much more than the public schools.

 

For most of our history, such a document—the work of the federal government—would have been unthinkable. The First Amendment provides that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” Not until the 1940s were the religion clauses applied to the states. Before then, the states could do with religion as they pleased. Washington had no power to provide states and their agencies—such as the public schools—any guidance on religion.

 

Once the Supreme Court applied the religion clauses to the states—in cases decided in 1940 and 1947—there was little doubt the justices would be asked to assess the constitutionality of state-sponsored school prayer and Bible readings. And in 1962 and 1963, the court struck down those activities. The school prayer decisions were among the most controversial in the court’s history. Constitutional amendments to overrule or amend them were proposed time and again. None succeeded. Nor did the court, despite changes in personnel, change its mind.

 

In the early 1980s came reports that schools were halting religious expressions by students that couldn’t be reasonably construed as state-sponsored. You can understand why schools were doing that, for lower courts had issued rulings extending the original prayer decisions in ways hostile to the free exercise of religion.

 

In 1984, Congress responded by passing the Equal Access Act. It says a school must abide by an equality principle if it wants to keep receiving its federal funds. Thus, if the school allows at least one student non-curriculum-related club to meet on its premises during non-instructional time, it may not refuse access to student religious groups. The school has to treat all such groups equally.

 

The Bush guidance makes clear that teachers also have rights: They may meet with each other for prayer or other religious purposes before school or after lunch—so long as they aren’t acting in official capacities. The guidance embraces a basic First Amendment principle: Government speech endorsing religion is forbidden, but private speech endorsing religion is protected.

 

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Atheist Group Challenges Alabama Governor’s Bible Study (Foxnews, 030303)

 

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Alabama Republican Gov. Bob Riley has incurred the wrath of ardent church-state separationists for offering early-morning bible study classes to his staff.

 

“He is a political panhandler for public piety,” said Larry Darby, Alabama state director of American Atheists. “He’s using the machinery of government to promote the concept that God is necessary in government. It’s not.”

 

Riley attended regular prayer meetings while serving as a representative in Congress. He said he can’t understand why bringing the tradition to the Alabama governor’s office is creating controversy.

 

“This country was set up on the principle that everyone had the right to worship as they saw fit,” Riley said. “What the Constitution says is government should never forbid the practice of religion or interfere in the practice of religion.”

 

Riley started offering bible study classes shortly after taking office Jan. 20. A Southern Baptist, he holds classes with senior staff and Cabinet members each Tuesday morning. Other staff members hold their own Wednesday morning class. Both sessions take place before normal working hours and staffers say no state business is discussed.

 

“This is something that I think my Cabinet enjoys,” Riley said. “It’s something that means a lot to me. But it is strictly voluntary and will continue to be.”

 

Last Wednesday’s meeting was attended by 11 of Riley’s 55 regular staff members. Participants say this is proof no one is being pressured to attend.

 

Catholic and Protestant ministers have presided over previous sessions and staff members say they plan to invite a rabbi to an upcoming meeting. But Darby insists that as long as the governor is involved, the bible study amounts to “prayer bullying,” and favors some religions over others.

 

Tongue-in-cheek, Darby added, “I hope to be notified when the first Wiccan offers some sort of chant ... and I would really like to see this state accept some Islamic fundamentalists offering their prayers in the governor’s office.”

 

The debate over bible study in the governor’s office is just the latest battle over the separation of church and state in Alabama.

 

Roy Moore, the state’s chief justice, is currently appealing a federal judge’s order to remove a Ten Commandments monument from the state judicial building.

 

Even some of the plaintiffs in the monument case acknowledge there is nothing illegal about the governor holding voluntary bible classes.

 

Legal or not, Darby insists religious study in the governor’s office blurs the line separating church and state. But Riley and staff members say the U.S. Constitution protects the religious practices of all Americans, including those in government.

 

“How did we get to this point?” Gov. Riley asked rhetorically. “How did we get to the point that today it’s controversial to come together at a bible study?”

 

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Court ruling ends threat to religious schools’ funds (Washington Times, 030303)

 

Opponents of financing church-affiliated colleges with tax-exempt municipal bonds have conceded defeat. They say they no longer have a prayer of stopping it in the courts.

 

Officials of Americans United for Separation and Church and State, and Americans for Religious Liberty (ARL), both of which brought lawsuits against such practices, say they believe such bonds for “pervasively sectarian” schools now pass muster in federal courts.

 

The last straw was a little-noted Supreme Court action last week when the justices ended the 12-year lawsuit, filed by Americans for Religious Liberty, to strip David Lipscomb University’s tax-exempt status for $15 million in city-sponsored industrial revenue bonds.

 

The school, affiliated with the Churches of Christ, used investors’ money to build a library, convert the old one to offices, add athletic facilities and landscape its campus in Nashville.

 

“It shifts our battle to legislatures and the state courts now that the Supreme Court won’t intervene even at David Lipscomb University,” says Edd Doerr, executive director of the ARL. “That’s probably the most pervasively sectarian school in the country, and if we can’t win there, I don’t know any other case we would ever win.”

 

Lipscomb faculty must be members of the Church of Christ, and the school requires daily chapel attendance and religious instruction for all students.

 

“It’s kind of a losing proposition even to bring these cases anymore,” agrees Rob Boston of Americans United. “If the court approved vouchers, it’s very unlikely they would declare an indirect form of aid [such as bonds] to be a violation.”

 

Lawyers for the colleges agree. “I think they’re correct. I think this is now a dead issue,” says Bradley MacLean, who won the school’s case and in doing so fulfilled his own 1999 prediction that the attack on Lipscomb University would bring a far-reaching change in the application of the law.

 

“The 6th Circuit Court of Appeals decision which the Supreme Court refused to review is the clearest statement yet that in these industrial development bond cases the religious affiliation or orientation of the school is simply not relevant,” Mr. MacLean says.

 

In 2000, Americans United and the American Civil Liberties Union supported the Rev. Barry Lynn’s challenge in the Virginia Supreme Court to a $55 million state College Building Authority bond issue for Regent University of Virginia Beach, which wanted to use the money to expand its Alexandria facility. The university prevailed.

 

Ten years earlier, the challengers had won a Virginia high court decision against Liberty University at Lynchburg, arguing that Liberty, a Baptist school, gave admission preference to Christians and made chapel mandatory.

 

A Philadelphia bond lawyer who asked not to be identified says the sporadic battles did not sour investors on such bonds, and he predicted they now will be more popular because “deals that were more in the gray area didn’t get done.”

 

Mr. MacLean says more bonds already are in the works for Lipscomb and similarly situated schools across the nation. The high court’s decision lifted a cloud over Lipscomb, which would have been liable to reimburse investors by more than $3 million if the tax exemption had been lifted.

 

Opponents of the bonds contended a 1976 Supreme Court opinion bars governments from subsidizing “pervasively sectarian” institutions. On June 28, 2000, however, the Supreme Court said the state of Louisiana may grant parochial schools money for materials that have no overt religious purpose, such as computers.

 

That 6-3 decision, written by Justice Clarence Thomas, said the ruling “buried ... this doctrine, born of bigotry [against Catholicism].” In June 2001 Columbia Union College in Takoma Park, affiliated with the Seventh-day Adventist Church, won a 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that ended its distinction as the only religious college in Maryland locked out of a 30-year-old state program of educational grants.

 

Three Catholic colleges were included in Maryland’s Sellinger grant program, but Columbia Union was excluded.

 

About 80% of American college students attend state-supported schools, 10% attend church-related schools and 10% attend secular private institutions.

 

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Teacher’s Aide Contesting One-Year Suspension for Wearing Cross to School (Foxnews, 030423)

 

GLEN CAMPBELL, Pa. — A teacher’s aide is challenging her one-year suspension without pay for wearing a cross necklace, which officials say violates a Pennsylvania Public School Code prohibition against teachers wearing religious garb.

 

“I got suspended April 8, 2003, for wearing a cross to work and not being willing to either remove it or tuck it in,” said Brenda Nichol, 43, of Indiana County.

 

Officials at ARIN Intermediate Unit 28 wouldn’t comment on Nichol’s case specifically, but said their employee handbook is based on the school code and prohibits all employees from wearing religious garb. ARIN supplies teachers aides and other services to 11 school districts and two technical schools in Armstrong and Indiana counties.

 

Nichol acknowledges she was told of the prohibition as far back as 1997, and was warned twice since March that wearing the necklace was cause for suspension. Under the school code, she could be fired for a second offense.

 

“I think the public needs to know that there is a code out there that is against our freedom,” Nichol said. She has enlisted the help of the American Center for Law and Justice, a Virginia-based public-interest law firm founded in 1990 by Christian broadcaster Pat Robertson. The group plans, but has not yet filed, a federal court lawsuit.

 

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Church-State Debate Begins Anew in Schools (Foxnews, 030609)

 

MEDFORD, N.J. — A new Bush administration policy that has made it possible for students to express their religious convictions is facing challenges from activists who say the new rule violates the Constitution.

 

The policy, dubbed by some as “Zach’s rules” after a young New Jersey boy whose family fought the restrictions, allows students to express their religious beliefs in homework, artwork and other written and oral assignments, and calls on teachers to judge and grade on academic standards and without discrimination.

 

“At last, we finally have ‘teeth’ in the guidelines that supposedly have governed school policies since the Clinton administration,” said Seamus Hasson, president of the Washington-based Becket Fund for Religious Liberty.

 

The “Guidance on Constitutionally Protected Prayer in Public Elementary and Secondary Schools” went into effect in March as part of the No Child Left Behind Act. The rules instruct schools to show “neither favoritism nor hostility against religious expression,” including at graduation ceremonies and assemblies.

 

Local schools must certify, in writing, that they don’t discriminate “against student prayer or religious speech” in order to receive federal dollars under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. The federal education secretary can bring enforcement action against schools that don’t comply, including taking federal funds away from delinquent schools.

 

Opponents call it blackmail.

 

“At a time when state revenues are dwindling and public schools are cash strapped, it’s unconscionable that the Bush administration would bully schools in this manner,” Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, wrote in an April letter to directors of every state school agency.

 

Hasson is a former attorney for the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, where his responsibilities included advising the Reagan administration on church and state issues. Earlier this year, his organization settled a lawsuit brought on behalf of Zachary Hood, the policy’s namesake.

 

In 1996, Zachary drew a picture of Jesus on a poster and wrote “Thankful for Jesus” for a kindergarten class Thanksgiving assignment. His school in Medford, N.J., took it down from a hallway display.

 

A year later, he chose his favorite Bible story from his beginner’s Bible to read out loud in class, but school officials wouldn’t let him read it.

 

“They all made it feel like religion was a bad thing,” Zachary told Fox News.

 

“Discriminating against religion is very un-American and very wrong,” said Zach’s mom, Carol Hood.

 

“If Zach’s rules had been in place when Zach first wanted to read from his beginner’s Bible, he would have been allowed to without any question,” said Hasson.

 

As for Zachary and his mom, they say they feel vindicated, and vow to continue to express themselves religiously, whenever they feel it’s appropriate.

 

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Texas Seniors Fight for Prayer Rights (Foxnews, 030930)

 

BALCH SPRINGS, TEXAS  — Don’t mess with senior citizens in Texas. One group is fighting back against city officials who ordered them to stop doing what they’ve been doing at a public senior center for 20 years — praising God.

 

“We want to have our prayer, we want to have our gospel music, we want our minister to be able to come and bring a devotional,” senior center member Marcy Green said.

 

After three members of the center complained, city officials told the seniors they could no longer conduct group prayers over their meals, sing gospel music or hold weekly inspirationals given by one of their members — a preacher.

 

“It was definitely being used as a delivery system for a religious doctrine, a fundamentalist doctrine,” said Patricia Cook, one of the members who complained.

 

Liberty Legal Institute, representing the seniors who want the right to religious freedom in their center, is filing a federal lawsuit claiming the city has violated their clients’ constitutional rights.

 

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Arguing the Pledge: A look at how the arguments against the Pledge of Allegiance are shaping up for the Supreme Court (Weekly Standard, 031022)

 

JUSTICE ANTONIN SCALIA won’t participate in the Pledge of Allegiance case, which the Supreme Court last week accepted for review. Justices typically don’t explain their recusals, and Scalia didn’t say why he took himself out of Elk Grove School District v. Newdow.

 

The code of conduct for federal judges says that a judge should avoid public comment on the merits of a pending case. Last summer Scalia publicly criticized the Ninth Circuit for ruling in Newdow that the Pledge is an unconstitutional establishment of religion since it describes the nation as “under God.” Michel Newdow, the self-professed atheist who brought the case, cited the Justice’s remarks in a filing last month that questioned Scalia’s impartiality.

 

Maybe Scalia decided that his comments were grounds for recusal. Yet he might not have taken himself out of the case if he thought his vote would be needed to break a 4-to-4 tie. Scalia may know which way Newdow will go—though the rest of us, on the outside straining to see in, obviously don’t. But one can hope for the right outcome, and surely there are at least five Justices—indeed, there should be eight—prepared to reverse the Ninth Circuit.

 

The Supreme Court will consider two questions. The first is whether Newdow has standing to challenge his daughter’s school district (Elk Grove, in California) over its policy of having teachers lead students in reciting the Pledge.

 

When he initiated his case in 2000, Newdow claimed standing “as the father of a child attending the state’s public schools.” But the matter has proved more than a little complicated. Newdow and the mother of their daughter never married. The daughter lives with the mother, who wants her daughter to say the pledge. The mother’s wishes are important because she has sole legal custody. Or at least she did until last month, when a California court gave Newdow joint custody. The implications of that decision for his standing in the pledge case are as yet unclear, since the opinion detailing what “joint custody” will mean is still being written.

 

Right now, the Ninth Circuit’s view of Newdow’s standing is the one before the Supreme Court. And the Ninth Circuit says, in effect, that Newdow has standing even if his daughter’s mother has sole legal custody. Why? Because she still would have “no power . . . to insist that her child be subjected to unconstitutional state action”—action by which the child is told that “her father’s beliefs are those of an outsider, and necessarily inferior to what she is exposed to in the classroom.”

 

The complicated standing question would interest especially Scalia, and were he not recused, the oral argument would probably yield notable exchanges on the issue between the Justice and Newdow, a lawyer who is representing himself. Scalia’s recusal likely means, however, that the Court’s interest in the standing question will wane and that the Justices will reach the substantive question of whether having students recent the pledge is unconstitutional.

 

Actually, that should be an easy one for the Court. Sixty years ago it held that public schools may not compel students to recite the Pledge of Allegiance. Elk Grove (like every other public school district in the country) passes that test, since no student is forced to say the pledge.

 

As for the ostensibly unconstitutional words, “under God,” which Congress added in 1954, the issue here is how they should be analyzed. Agreeing with Newdow, the Ninth Circuit lifted “under God” from the pledge and held that the prepositional phrase contains a profession of religious belief.

 

But surely it is wrong to understand “under God” in isolation. The pledge needs to be taken in its entirety. As such, it is still a pledge to the flag and the republic for which it stands, still a patriotic statement and not a religious one (compare, say, the Apostles Creed), the words “under God” accomplishing the congressional intention of affirming the role of religion in the life of the nation. That role traces back to Lincoln at Gettysburg (“that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom”) and, not least, to the Declaration of Independence (“endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights”).

 

The Ninth Circuit is famous for extreme applications of Supreme Court precedents. It went to extremes in Newdow, and it has in effect invited the High Court to affirm its extremism. Surely—would that the recused Scalia could tell us!—it won’t. But if it does, expect that the bipartisan movement to amend the Constitution and declare the pledge just fine will be swift—and successful.

 

Terry Eastland is publisher of The Weekly Standard. This column originally appeared in the Dallas Morning News.

 

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Moore Could Become Spokesman for Religious Monument Movement (Foxnews, 031114)

 

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore’s ouster over his monument to the Ten Commandments could elevate him as a national spokesman in a growing movement to put religious displays back into public settings.

 

A state judicial ethics panel threw him off the bench Thursday after he repeatedly insisted he would not obey a federal judge’s order to move a 2-ton block of granite from the courthouse rotunda.

 

Moore said he plans to continue the fight that has made him a darling of fellow conservative Christians.

 

“I consider myself a man who has upheld his oath and done what I had to do to keep the Constitution of Alabama, the Constitution of the United States as the rule of law,” Moore said Friday on NBC’s “Today” show.

 

Moore had three years remaining on his six-year term. One of his lawyers, former Supreme Court Justice Terry Butts, said he expects to appeal the decision to the Alabama Supreme Court.

 

Moore also has said he will unveil proposed legislation next week to rein in the power of federal courts.

 

“You will hear from me again when it comes to the right to acknowledge God,” Moore had told cheering supporters on Thursday, shortly after the ethics panel’s decision.

 

Gov. Bob Riley said Friday he would not appoint a replacement until Moore has exhausted his appeals.

 

Hiram Sasser, a lawyer with the Liberty Legal Institute of Plano, Texas, thinks Moore will continue to be an important figure in the fight. Sasser said he believes there are similar cases with a better chance of getting a favorable ruling than the politically charged Alabama case.

 

“I think a lot of people had taken the idea that this was a lost cause,” said Sasser. “We believe there’s a way to win a Ten Commandments case.”

 

Sasser said he would encourage Moore to galvanize support by “taking a hard look at our courts.”

 

The state of Texas had argued that the granite Ten Commandments monument at the state Capitol in Austin was more historical than religious. Unlike the marker Moore installed after he took office in 2001, the Texas monument was at the Capitol for about 40 years before its legality was challenged.

 

On Wednesday, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans ruled that the Texas monument was not an unconstitutional attempt to establish state-sponsored religion. The decision upheld a lower court ruling.

 

Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, said he does not believe the Supreme Court has much interest in the Ten Commandments issue. He said one reason is that the facts are different in all cases.

 

“It would be difficult to find a case to answer all the questions,” he said.

 

Lynn said he believes the Supreme Court is comfortable with its current position that the Ten Commandments “is inherently religious and can’t be promoted in public places.” He also believes Moore’s national popularity among conservative Christians will wane.

 

“Folk heroes sometimes wear thin in a short period of time,” he said.

 

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High Court to Tackle Church-State Case (Foxnews, 031128)

 

OLYMPIA, Wash.  — Joshua Davey’s hard work and good grades won him a state scholarship, but his ambition to be a minister denied him the money. Now, his legal challenge has become another U.S. Supreme Court battle over the separation of church and state.

 

Davey’s case, set for oral argument on Tuesday, pits Washington state’s tough ban on using public money for religious purposes against the federal Constitution’s guarantee of freedom of religion.

 

A ruling in Davey’s favor could overturn similar prohibitions in as many as 36 other states.

 

Davey — who has since abandoned his ambition for the ministry in favor of Harvard Law School — started the fight as a bid to use as he saw fit a state-funded scholarship he won fair and square.

 

“From my perspective it was very unfair and kind of arbitrary,” said Davey, who sees the policy as disrespectful of the good he might have done society as a minister. “I was being told that that value wasn’t important and wasn’t worth the state’s money.”

 

In 1999, Davey of Spokane, Wash., qualified for a Promise Scholarship, a state-funded program for high-achieving students of modest means. But when Davey, a devout Christian, decided to study for the ministry at Northwest College in Kirkland, Wash., he was told he couldn’t use the scholarship.

 

The Washington Constitution bans the use of public money for religious instruction, and the state argues that policy did Davey no harm.

 

“The government’s decision not to fund the exercise of a fundamental right does not infringe that right,” Solicitor General Narda Pierce wrote in the state’s brief to the court. “Washington’s decision not to subsidize religious instruction to implement its state constitutional policy of separation of church and state does not infringe Davey’s right to seek a theology degree.”

 

In 2000, Davey sued in federal court to overturn the policy, arguing that the rule violated his right under the U.S. Constitution to practice his religion freely.

 

Last year, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed, finding that the state had no compelling interest in limiting what Davey could study using the scholarship.

 

But the case is about more than the scholarship money — less than $3,000 that’s on hold pending the high court’s ruling. Even without the money, Davey went on to graduate from Northwest College with honors this spring with a degree in religion and philosophy.

 

“It’s all about the principle,” Davey said. “When you look at the cost of a four year college education, it’s not that much money. I ended up taking out additional loans and working more outside of school than I had intended to do.”

 

From the start, Davey’s case was argued by the American Center for Law and Justice — a law firm founded by the Rev. Pat Robertson — and championed by other advocates of weakening the barriers between church and state.

 

Among the issues at stake: similar scholarship programs around the country, and school-voucher systems that let students use taxpayer money to pay tuition at private schools.

 

“If we prevail, governmental programs that have a religious disqualifier would be suspect,” said Jay Sekulow, the center’s chief counsel. “You’re not going to be able to target out religion or religious activities any more.”

 

Various advocates for the barrier between religion and government have weighed in on the case, essentially using a states’-rights argument: the state constitution trumps the U.S. Constitution’s guarantee of freedom of religion.

 

“A grand total of 37 states prohibit spending tax dollars on clergy training,” said the Rev. Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State. “That’s the way it should be in a country that believes that religion is voluntary and should be paid for by its supporters.”

 

But players on the other side — including several states — point out the irony in that argument, which in past years was used to defend various kinds of racial discrimination in the South.

 

“To defend a practice of state-sponsored religious discrimination is not just ironic in its parallel to erstwhile Southern anti-civil right rhetoric, it is antithetical to the core purpose” of the U.S. Constitution,” Alabama Attorney General Bill Pryor wrote in a friend-of-the-court brief.

 

The court’s ruling, which likely won’t come for months, will be a follow-up to last year’s landmark opinion upholding school voucher programs. Also on tap, an appeal from the Bush administration over the phrase “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance recited by school children. An appeals court ruled that it amounts to unconstitutional government promotion of religion.

 

==============================

 

“You Can’t Say That”: Canadian thought police on the march (NRO, 031202)

 

I’ve had the good fortune of spending this past month on the road promoting my new book about how anti-discrimination laws are eroding civil liberties. At the end of a recent talk about the book, an audience member asked whether I believe that freedom of expression is really at risk in the United States from laws meant to aid women and minorities. The heart of my response is, “Look at what’s happening in Canada. If we don’t watch out, we’re next.”

 

The decline of freedom of expression in Canada began with seemingly minor and understandable speech restrictions. In 1990, the Canadian supreme court upheld the conviction of James Keegstra, a public-high-school teacher, for propagating Holocaust denial and anti-Semitic views to his public high-school students, despite repeated warnings from his superiors to stop. Keegstra was convicted of the crime of “willfully promoting hatred against an identifiable group,” which carries a penalty of up to two years in jail. Criminalizing hate speech, the court stated, was a “reasonable” restriction on expression, and it therefore passed constitutional muster.

 

Two years later, the same court held that obscenity laws are unconstitutional to the extent they criminalize material based on sexual content alone. However, any “degrading or dehumanizing” depiction of sexual activity — including material that the First Amendment would protect in the United States — was deprived of constitutional protection to protect women from discrimination.

 

Even the most zealous advocates of freedom of expression often feel uncomfortable defending the right to engage in Holocaust denial or to propagate degrading pornography. But, not surprisingly, the inevitable result of allowing these initial speech restrictions has been the gradual but significant growth of censorship and suppression of civil liberties across Canada.

 

In many cases, the speech that is suppressed conflicts with the Canadian government’s official multiculturalist agenda, or is otherwise politically incorrect. For example, the Canadian supreme court recently turned down an appeal by a Christian minister convicted of inciting hatred against Muslims. An Ontario appellate court had found that the minister did not intentionally incite hatred, but was properly convicted for being willfully blind to the effects of his actions. This decision led Robert Martin, a professor of constitutional law at the University of Western Ontario, to comment that he increasingly thinks “Canada now is a totalitarian theocracy. I see this as a country ruled today by what I would describe as a secular state religion [of political correctness]. Anything that is regarded as heresy or blasphemy is not tolerated.”

 

Indeed, it has apparently become illegal in Canada to advocate traditional Christian opposition to homosexual sex. For example, the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission ordered the Saskatoon Star Phoenix and Hugh Owens to each pay $1,500 to each of three gay activists as damages for publication of an advertisement, placed by Owens, which conveyed the message that the Bible condemns homosexual acts.

 

In another incident, after Toronto print-shop owner Scott Brockie refused on religious grounds to print letterhead for a gay-activist group, the local human-rights commission ordered him to pay the group $5,000, print the requested material, and apologize to the group’s leaders. Brockie, who always accepted print jobs from individual gay customers, and even did pro-bono work for a local AIDS group, is fighting the decision on religious-freedom grounds.

 

Any gains the gay-rights movement has received from the crackdown on speech in Canada have been pyrrhic because as part of the Canadian government’s suppression of obscene material, Canadian customs frequently target books with homosexual content. Police raids searching for obscene materials have disproportionately targeted gay organizations and bookstores.

 

Moreover, left-wing academics are beginning to learn firsthand what it’s like to have their own censorship vehicles used against them. For example, University of British Columbia Prof. Sunera Thobani, a native of Tanzania, faced a hate-crimes investigation after she launched into a vicious diatribe against American foreign policy. Thobani, a Marxist feminist and multiculturalism activist, had remarked that Americans are “bloodthirsty, vengeful and calling for blood.” The Canadian hate-crimes law was created to protect minority groups from hate speech. But in this case, it was invoked to protect Americans.

 

A great deal more censorship in Canada seems inevitable. For example, British Columbia’s extremely broad hate-speech law prohibits the publication of any statement that “indicates” discrimination or that is “likely” to expose a person or group or class of persons to hatred or contempt. The Canadian thought police are on the march. Hopefully, it is not too late to stop them.

 

— David E. Bernstein is a professor of law at George Mason University and the author of You Can’t Say That! The Growing Threat to Civil Liberties from Anti-Discrimination Laws.

 

==============================

 

Majority OK With Public Nativity Scenes (Foxnews, 031209)

 

An overwhelming majority of Americans supports allowing nativity scenes on public property. However, a smaller number — but still a clear majority — thinks if Christian holiday symbols are placed on public property that other religious symbols, such as a Jewish menorah, must also be displayed.

 

The latest FOX News poll finds that fully 87% of Americans say nativity scenes should be allowed on public property and only nine percent disagree. The poll, conducted by Opinion Dynamics Corporation, also finds 61% believe that if Christmas symbols are displayed that symbols from other religions should also be included. Less than a third of Americans (28%) approve of displaying Christian symbols on public property without recognizing other religions.

 

Almost all Americans celebrate Christmas (96%), while five percent say they celebrate Hanukkah and two percent the December holiday of Kwanzaa. [Kwanzaa is a 7 day festival celebrating the African American people, their culture and their history. It is a time of celebration, community gathering, and reflection. A time of endings and beginnings. Kwanzaa begins on December 26th and continues until New Years Day, January 1st.]

 

Polling was conducted by telephone December 3-4, 2003 in the evenings. The sample is 900 registered voters nationwide with a margin of error of ±3%age points.

 

1. Which of these late December holidays do you celebrate? (Multiple responses allowed)

 

1. Christmas

96%

2. Hanukkah

5

3. Kwanzaa

2

4. (Other/Refused)

1

5. (None)

1

 

2. Around this time of year, there is talk about whether holiday decorations on public property should include a nativity scene. Some say nativity scenes should not be on public property because this violates the separation of church and state. Others say it is acceptable for nativity scenes to be on public property because they are part of the historical celebration of Christmas. What is your view — should nativity scenes be allowed on public property, or not?

 

 

All

Dem

Rep

Ind

1. Yes, should be

87%

84%

94%

82%

2. No, should not be

9

12

5

14

3. (Not sure)

4

4

1

5

 

3. If Christmas nativity scenes are placed on public property, do you think a Jewish holiday symbol, such as a menorah, and other religious symbols must also be displayed or can Christmas decorations be displayed even if symbols from other religions are not?

 

 

All

Dem

Rep

Ind

1. If Christmas symbols are displayed,other religions must also be recognized

61%

61%

63%

58%

2. Christian symbols can be displayed without recognizing other religions

28

25

29

30

3. (Not sure)

11

14

8

12

 

4. If schools in the United States recognize the Christian holiday of Christmas, should they also be required to recognize the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah and the African-American holiday of Kwanzaa?

 

6. Do you think it would be a good idea or a bad idea to ban all religious holidays from schools in the United States?

 

 

All

Dem

Rep

Ind

1. Good idea

10%

12%

7%

14%

2. Bad idea

84

81

88

81

3. (Mixed)

3

4

2

4

4. (Not sure)

3

3

3

2

 

==============================

 

Christian References a No-No at Public Schools (FN, 031224)

 

DALLAS — The debate over what role religious — and especially Christian — symbols play in public life extends beyond what gets placed on government property to the nation’s public schools.

 

A New York City school allowed a Hanukkah menorah and the star and crescent of Islam to be displayed on school property as historic symbols, but banned a nativity scene because it was deemed religious.

 

Elsewhere, prayers have been stopped at school football games and one Seattle high school student had his state-sponsored college scholarship stripped when officials discovered he’d be majoring in theology.

 

Critics say kids shouldn’t be silenced when they try to express their Christian faith or pursue an interest in religion. But proponents of such measures argue they’re important for ensuring the classroom doesn’t become the church pulpit.

 

==============================

 

North Carolina County Approves God Resolution (FN, 040106)

 

KINSTON, N.C. — Lenoir County commissioners unanimously approved a resolution recognizing God as the foundation of the country’s heritage, though leaders of the county’s largest town refused to consider a similar measure.

 

The Lenoir County Board of Commissioners passed a resolution Monday acknowledging the supremacy of God and that America was built on trust in him. Later Monday, the Kinston City Council declined to consider it.

 

The resolution originated in Greene County, Tenn., where that county’s commission unanimously approved it in September.

 

It states that 90% to 95% of those who wrote and signed the Declaration of Independence believed in God and freedom of worship, but never intended to separate God and government.

 

“The board is trying to express that the country was founded on freedom of religion,” county commission Chairman Oscar Herring said. “But we need to emphasize that we do have a God above us, and we need to publicly say so.”

 

The resolution states: “Our government was founded upon a trust in God that began when our Founding Fathers proclaimed in America’s first official document, our Declaration of Independence, that our rights to ‘life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness’ were not given to us by government, but by God ‘our Creator,’ the ‘Sovereign Judge of the Universe.”‘

 

It was brought to the Lenoir and Kinston governments by Kinston businessman Ted Sampley. City officials refused to explain to him during the meeting why they wouldn’t discuss the matter, saying their practice is to respond to citizens’ concerns by letter.

Sampley said he wants the resolution to spread to other counties, as it has in Tennessee, and to the state level.

 

He said the resolution’s wording avoids the question of separation of church and state.

 

“The 1st Amendment (of the Constitution) says nothing about the separation of church and state in that sense,” Sampley said. “It says that Congress shall make no law restricting the practice of religion. This doesn’t say you have to believe in God. It’s recognition of a historical fact.”

 

==============================

 

The Ten Commandments In The Public Square (Free Congress Foundation, 031118)

 

Washington, D.C. - Jill S. Farrell, Director of Communications for the Free Congress Foundation, gave the following speech in at the National Press Club yesterday defending the Ten Commandments’ place in the public square. Jill said:

 

“The Restore the Commandments Project may be the last opportunity to demonstrate to the Congress and the Administration and even the Judiciary that we are serious about America being a nation based on the Judeo/Christian understanding of morality.

 

“We make no apologies for supporting the basis for our nation. For those who would say that our Judeo/Christian tradition is on a par with other religions we ask that the record be examined.

 

“Though imperfect - and at times severely flawed - the United States of America has a better record than anywhere else on the planet of treating her people with the dignity of having been created in the image and likeness of God. People are free to practice their own religion in their own way.

 

“Religious intolerance and religious persecution are generally symptoms of a society in deep turmoil. The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom posts “Countries of Particular Concern”. Among the usual suspects are China, Sudan, and North Korea where the restriction of religious freedoms is assuredly only one of a whole host of human rights violations regularly perpetrated.

 

“Thankfully, America has not fallen to those levels, but the “Rule of Law” itself will deteriorate without the support of religious ideals. Ben Franklin, that likeable skeptic, speculated: “If men are so wicked as we now see them with religion, what would they be if without it?”

 

“The Ten Commandments should be posted - both in schools for students to follow, and in courtrooms for citizens and the judiciary - as a deterrent to unethical behavior. The Commandments can be a reminder that gives people of all ages and backgrounds the strength to act responsibly and morally. “We are living in a time when the world seems to be at war with its Creator and the battle cry is, ‘Don’t interfere with my good time.’ Genuine happiness and authentic joy is being abandoned for temporary thrills and life altering spills. The carnival barkers of societal decay are flooding in through modern ‘entertainment’. Our jails and hospitals are filled with broken promises and shattered dreams.

 

“Many in our society seriously misunderstand what God intended when he gave us His instruction manual. For instance, theft destroys the basis of trust needed in a civil society. Adultery destroys families and casts chaos into future generations. The morality expressed in the Ten Commandments reflects the nature of the universe. These are words of wisdom from the manufacturer. They simply say: for best results, do it this way.

 

“Many critics have argued that the sight of the Ten Commandments may offend people of other religions, but that’s an extremely weak argument. (I’m usually offended whenever I watch TV on the public airwaves!) People who enter the courthouse do not have to acknowledge or respect the Ten Commandments. America’s antagonistic courts are, in effect, endorsing agnosticism, atheism and humanism over a school of thought and a wealth of beliefs and practices that have brought us through the last several thousand years! This is not just a matter of changing horses in mid-stream, it is just jumping off and diving, alone and unguided, into the unforeseeable rapids.

 

“There are about 4,000 monuments to the Ten Commandments in city and county courthouses across the United States. Look at the Speaker’s dais in the House of Representatives and on the wall of the Supreme Court. To be honest and consistent, we would have to strip every monument from every public building in America. Then justice will not only be blind, but it will be naked as well.

 

“Our plaques of the Ten Commandments are not “graven images” that we wish to see worshipped. They should hold the exact meaning, no more and no less, for which they were intended - as the simple, visual reminders of the principles on which all of Western Civilization is founded.”

 

——

 

1. “Men, in a word, must necessarily be controlled either by a power within them or by a power without them; either by the Word of God or by the strong arm of man either by the Bible or the bayonet.” — Robert Winthrop (former speaker of the House)

 

2. “If we and our posterity shall be true to the Christian religion, if we and they shall live always in the fear of God and shall respect His Commandments . . . we may have the highest hopes of the future fortunes of our country . . . but if we and our posterity neglect religious instruction and authority, violate the rules of eternal justice, trifle with the injunctions of morality, and recklessly destroy the political constitution which holds us together, no man can tell how sudden a catastrophe may overwhelm us that shall bury all our glory in profound obscurity.” — Daniel Webster (early American educator and Secretary of State)

 

3. “Let us humbly commit our righteous cause to the great Lord of the Universe. . . Let us joyfully leave our concerns in the hands of Him who raises up and puts down the empires and kingdoms of the earth as He pleases.” — John Hancock (President of the Continental Congress)

 

4. “Not until I went to the churches of America and heard her pulpits aflame with righteousness did I understand the secret of her genius and power. America is great because she is good and if America ever ceases to be good, America will cease to be great.” — Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America

 

5. “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.” — President John Adams

 

6. “And let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion . . . reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.” — President George Washington (Farewell Address)

 

==============================

 

Ten Commandments Return to Ala. Courthouse (FN, 040205)

 

MONTGOMERY, Ala.  — The Ten Commandments are back in the Alabama Judicial Building, this time in an exhibit that opened Thursday and features seven other historical documents.

 

The display stands just across the rotunda from the spot once occupied by a 5,300-pound granite monument to the commandments that cost Roy Moore his job as chief justice in November.

 

The new display is intended to be permanently based in the rotunda, though it will be sent to county courthouses around the state upon request, said acting Chief Justice Gorman Houston.

 

Houston said the idea for the display arose after Moore’s monument was wheeled into a storage room at the judicial building Aug. 27. But he said it was not a response to the federal court-ordered removal, and Moore was not consulted about it.

 

The new display includes the Ten Commandments as one of many sources of Western law, an arrangement that courts have found permissible.

 

Attached to a black Velcro background about 10 feet long and 8 feet tall are photocopies of the oldest known manuscript of the Ten Commandments, the Magna Carta, the U.S. Constitution and other documents. A 31-page booklet containing the text of all eight documents is in the display.

 

The exhibit is similar to one Gov. Bob Riley put in the Capitol about two weeks after Moore’s granite monument was removed.

 

Moore, who was ousted by a judicial ethics panel for refusing to obey the federal court order to move his monument, said the display is a capitulation to civil liberties groups that sued to remove his monument.

 

“First, they hid the word of God in a closet, and now they tried to hide it among other historical documents. Neither is an acknowledgment of God, and they know it,” Moore said.

 

Richard Cohen, president of the Southern Poverty Law Center, one of three organizations that sued to have Moore’s monument removed, said the new display seems acceptable.

 

“Unlike Moore’s monument, it does not appear to have the purpose or effect of promoting religion,” Cohen said.

 

Houston said he formed a committee a month or two ago to look into creating the exhibit, and that he and others donated all the money needed for the display.

 

The committee that approved the exhibit was headed by Justice Jean Brown and included Attorney General Bill Pryor and representatives of the State Archives, State Historical Commission and both state appellate courts.

 

==============================

 

Supreme Court to Take Up ‘Under God’ (FN, 040324)

 

WASHINGTON — Americans overwhelmingly want the phrase “under God” preserved in the Pledge of Allegiance, a new poll says as the Supreme Court examines whether the classroom salute crosses the division of church and state.

 

Almost nine in 10 people said the reference to God belongs in the pledge despite constitutional questions about the separation of church and state, according to an Associated Press poll.

 

The Supreme Court was hearing arguments Wednesday from a California atheist who objected to the daily pledges in his 9-year-old daughter’s classroom. He sued her school and won, setting up the landmark appeal before a court that has repeatedly barred school-sponsored prayer from classrooms, playing fields and school ceremonies.

 

The pledge is different, argue officials at Elk Grove Unified School District near Sacramento, where the girl attends school. Superintendent Dave Gordon said popular opinion is on their side — but that’s not all.

 

“It’s not a popularity contest. If something is wrong, it should be corrected. No matter how many people support it,” he said. “The argument that ‘under God’ in the pledge is pushing religion on children is wrong on the law. It’s also wrong from a commonsense perspective.”

 

God was not part of the original pledge written in 1892. Congress inserted it in 1954, after lobbying by religious leaders during the Cold War. Since then, it has become a familiar part of life for a generation of students.

 

The question put to the Supreme Court: Does the use of the pledge in public schools violate the Constitution’s ban on government established religion?

 

Michael Newdow, the father who filed the lawsuit, compared the controversy to the issue of segregation in schools, which the Supreme Court took up 50 years ago in Brown v. Board of Education.

 

“Aren’t we a better nation because we got rid of that stuff?” asked Newdow, a 50-year-old lawyer and doctor arguing his own case at the court.

 

The AP poll, conducted by Ipsos-Public Affairs, found college graduates were more likely than those who did not have a college degree to say the phrase “under God” should be removed. Democrats and independents were more likely than Republicans to think the phrase should be taken out.

 

Justices could dodge the issue altogether. They have been urged to throw out the case, without a ruling on the constitutional issue, because of questions about whether Newdow had custody when he filed the suit and needed the mother’s consent.

 

The girl’s mother, Sandra Banning, is a born-again Christian and supporter of the pledge.

 

Absent from the case is one of the court’s most conservative members, Justice Antonin Scalia, who bowed out after he criticized the ruling in Newdow’s favor during a religious rally last year. Newdow had requested his recusal.

 

The case is Elk Grove Unified School District v. Newdow,

 

==============================

 

Holy Discrimination!: The Supreme Court approves religious discrimination (NRO, 040301)

 

The Supreme Court last week got two propositions badly confused. States do not have the obligation to subsidize anyone’s constitutional rights, but until now, it was also true that states could not discriminate on the basis of faith in the allocation of general benefits.

 

In Locke v. Davey, the Court approved overt religious discrimination. That the Court’s opinion excludes religious believers, notwithstanding the Constitution’s express guarantee of the free exercise of religion is surely ironic given that it has so recently and so casually manufactured constitutional protections for those who wish to engage in homosexual sodomy or display virtual pornography on the Internet.

 

The state of Washington’s Promise Scholarship was a general benefit program available to everyone meeting academic merit standards, except, as it turns out, Joshua Davey, and others like him, who wanted to study both secular and religious subjects. In Joshua’s case, he sought to combine business and pastoral ministry.

 

That a public law in 2004 discriminates on its face against religious believers is extraordinary enough. That seven justices thought this was perfectly fine is disheartening. The Supreme Court admitted that including religious students would not offend the “no establishment” clause. This is obvious since including religious students on evenhanded terms with everyone else could not reasonably be construed as an establishment of a church or an endorsement of a student’s particular faith choice.

 

If keeping church and state separate does not justify such blatant discrimination, what does? Not much. Washington does have a state constitutional provision that “no public money...shall be appropriated for or applied to any religious worship, exercise or instruction....” College study of theology may well be such instruction, but merely reciting the state provision hardly supplies a federal constitutional answer when the paramount law of the land prohibits states from passing any law “prohibiting the free exercise of religion.”

 

Here, the Court not only begged the question, but disregarded precedent. For example, the Court had previously held that a state legislature couldn’t just exclude clergymen from its state assembly or employ municipal laws to selectively prohibit religious practices. While the Court tries to distance itself from these settled matters by saying these were criminal or civil penalties, not merely an exclusion from benefits, that is a distinction without a difference — especially given the pervasiveness of government programs in all of our lives.

 

Surely the Washington State cannot now decide that clergymen, or perhaps all religious believers, can be excluded from workman’s compensation, or health or disability funds. Only time will tell, but Justice Scalia in dissent thought there no limiting principle in the opinion to prevent it. Moreover, it is fair to assume that the opinion will be readily waved about to slow the expansion of school choice or the role of highly effective faith-based social services.

 

Largely unexamined in the case was the fact that state constitutional provisions explicitly discriminating against religious participation in public programs exist in 37 states, and were a product of a nativist, anti-Catholic movement in the 19th century associated with the political movement of the so-called “Know-Nothings.” Were the discriminations of the present day to be more clearly premised upon the bigotry of the past, the Court might yet reach a different conclusion. Let’s hope so: Abraham Lincoln wrote: “When the Know-Nothings get control, [the Declaration of Independence] will read ‘all men are created equal except Negroes and foreigners and Catholics, a fact that so disgusted Lincoln that he surmised that “when it comes to this, I shall prefer emigrating to some country where they make no pretense of loving liberty.”

 

In the end, the only explanation Washington could give for disadvantaging students of faith was because it wanted to do so. By anyone’s constitutional calculus that should be an inadequate basis for denying an express constitutional right. It is far less than even a pretense of religious liberty.

 

— Douglas W. Kmiec is chair and professor of constitutional law at Pepperdine University. He a is former constitutional legal counsel to Presidents Reagan and Bush.

 

==============================

 

Commandments Redux (Tongue Tied, 040531)

 

An Alabama chamber of commerce employee has been fired after refusing to remove a lapel pin featuring an image of the Ten Commandments, reports The Associated Press.

 

Christopher Word of the Hoover Chamber of Commerce said he started wearing the pin in January and was asked to remove in a couple months later. When he refused, he said, he was accused of making “political statements” on the job and removed from his post.

 

“The reason for my firing was that my principles were different than someone’s opinion,” Word said. “I lost my job for standing up for what I believe in.”

 

==============================

 

Christians look to form ‘new nation’ within U.S. (WorldNetDaily, 040524)

 

Same-sex marriage called last straw prompting plan for 1 state to secede

 

Calling the approval of same-sex marriage in Massachusetts “the straw that broke the camel’s back,” a group of Christian activists is in the beginning stages of an effort to have one state secede from the United States to become its own sovereign nation.

 

“Our Christian republic has declined into a pagan democracy,” says Cory Burnell, president of ChristianExodus.org, a non-profit corporation based in Tyler, Texas. “There are some issues people just can’t take anymore, and [same-sex marriage] might finally wake up the complacent Christians.”

 

Burnell is leading the charge for a peaceful secession of one state from the union, and after originally considering Alabama, Mississippi and South Carolina due to their relatively small populations, coastal access, and the Christian nature of the electorate, Burnell says South Carolina has been selected as the target location.

 

The plan initially calls for at least 12,000 Christians willing to be active in political campaigns to move to the Palmetto State.

 

“We’re not an invading force, we’re reinforcements,” Burnell tells WorldNetDaily, saying it would be a waste to move to liberal-minded states such as Massachusetts, New York or California where conservative votes would be diluted.

 

According to the ChristianExodus website, which is slated for a major relaunch next month, “Christians have actively tried to return our entire land to its moral foundation for more than 20 years. We can categorically say that absolutely nothing has been achieved. If you disagree, consider this:

 

* Abortion continues against the wishes of many states

 

* Children may not pray in our schools

 

* The Bible is not welcome in schools except under strict federal guidelines

 

* The 10 Commandments remain banned from public display

 

* Sodomy is now legal and celebrated as ‘diversity’ rather than perversion

 

* Preaching Christianity will soon be outlawed as ‘hate speech’

 

* Gay marriage will be foisted upon us in the very near future

 

“All these atrocities continue in spite of the fact that we now have the ‘right’ people in places of power. Indeed, the occupant of the White House is a professing Christian. The U.S. attorney general is believed to be a devout Christian. ‘Conservatives’ control both Houses of Congress, and Republican presidents appointed seven of the nine Supreme Court justices.”

 

The idea of moving thousands of people to affect the voting in one state is not new. As WorldNetDaily has previously reported, the Free State Project has goals of restoring certain personal liberties and limited government – but without seceding from the union. Last year, a group of 4,500 libertarians decided New Hampshire would be the best state.

 

Burnell, a math teacher and cell-phone dealer, stresses he’s not looking for bloody battles that took place in the American Revolution and the Civil War, but is rather seeking a “political divorce.”

 

“It’s got to be different today,” he says. “It has to be peaceful, brokered.”

 

But he admits if the federal government decides to use military force to stop the effort, “Then it can’t happen.”

 

Already a dozen people are actively working on the project, and some 1,500 by e-mails of support have been received.

 

If all goes according to plan, Burnell is hoping to have a constitutional convention by 2014, with a president of the new nation – still to be known as South Carolina – elected in 2016, which is also a presidential election year in the U.S.

 

He says the nation would be founded on Christian principles, and the people writing its constitution would have to hash out details to safeguard it as a Christian republic.

 

For now, Burnell prefers to shy away from specifics on the precise laws governing the country.

 

“Independence first, details later,” he says.

 

==============================

 

Supreme Court Dismisses ‘Pledge’ Case (FN, 040614)

 

WASHINGTON — “One nation, under God,” will remain, at least temporarily, in the Pledge of Allegiance, the Supreme Court ruled Monday, saying a California atheist could not challenge the patriotic oath.

 

But whether or not the pledge recited by generations of American school children is an unconstitutional blending of church and state was not directly addressed at the procedural ruling.

 

The court said the atheist could not sue to ban the pledge from his daughter’s school and others because he did not have legal authority to speak for her.

 

The father, Michael Newdow, is in a protracted custody fight with the girl’s mother. He does not have sufficient custody of the child to qualify as her legal representative, eight members of the court said. Justice Antonin Scalia did not participate in the case.

 

“When hard questions of domestic relations are sure to affect the outcome, the prudent course is for the federal court to stay its hand rather than reach out to resolve a weighty question of federal constitutional law,” Justice John Paul Stevens wrote for the court.

 

Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist agreed with the outcome of the case, but still wrote separately to say that the Pledge as recited by schoolchildren does not violate the Constitution. Justices Sandra Day O’Connor and Clarence Thomas agreed with him.

 

The high court’s lengthy opinion overturns a ruling two years ago that the teacher-led pledge was unconstitutional in public schools. That appeals court decision set off a national uproar and would have stripped the reference to God from the version of the pledge said by about 9.6 million school children in California and other western states.

 

The case involved Newdow’s grade school daughter, who like most elementary school children, hears the Pledge of Allegiance recited daily.

 

The First Amendment guarantees that government will not “establish” religion, wording that has come to mean a general ban on overt government sponsorship of religion in public schools and elsewhere.

 

The Supreme Court has already said that school children cannot be required to recite the oath that begins, “I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America.”

 

The court has also repeatedly barred school-sponsored prayer from classrooms, playing fields and school ceremonies.

 

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said the language of the First Amendment and the Supreme Court’s precedents make clear that tax-supported schools cannot lend their imprimatur to a declaration of fealty of “one nation under God.”

 

The Bush administration, the girl’s school and Newdow all asked the Supreme Court to get involved in the case.

 

The administration had asked the high court to rule against Newdow, either on the legal question of his ability to sue or on the constitutional issue. The administration argued that the reference to God in the pledge is more about ceremony and history than about religion.

 

The reference is an “official acknowledgment of our nation’s religious heritage,” similar to the “In God We Trust” stamped on coins and bills, Solicitor General Theodore Olson argued to the court.

 

It is far-fetched to say such references pose a real danger of imposing state-sponsored religion, Olson said.

 

Newdow claims a judge recently gave him joint custody of the girl, whose name is not part of the legal papers filed with the Supreme Court.

 

The child’s mother, Sandra Banning, told the court she has no objection to the pledge. The full extent of the problems with the case was not apparent until she filed papers at the high court, Stevens wrote Monday.

 

Newdow holds medical and legal degrees, and says he is an ordained minister. He argued his own case at the court in March.

 

The case began when Newdow sued Congress, President Bush and others to eliminate the words “under God.” He asked for no damages.

 

The phrase “under God” was not part of the original pledge adopted by Congress as a patriotic tribute in 1942, at the height of World War II. Congress inserted the phrase more than a decade later, in 1954, when the world had moved from hot war to cold.

 

Supporters of the new wording said it would set the United States apart from godless communism.

 

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Supreme Sidestep: Court upholds Pledge on a technicality (NRO, 040615)

 

“One nation, under God, invisible....”

 

Perhaps we all remember the day those mysterious words we memorized by rote suddenly started to make sense. Republik. Forwichit. InDIvisible. After years of incantation, the concepts finally crystallized into a powerful statement encapsulating the core principles of our country.

 

One man tried to take that experience away. Michael Newdow, whose daughter attended public school in California, challenged the recitation of the pledge of allegiance as a violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment because it contains the words “under God.” Today, though, public-school superintendents across the country can relax. The Supreme Court did not declare school pledge recitation unconstitutional. But it didn’t exactly settle the question either.

 

In the long-awaited opinion, Elk Grove Unified School District v. Newdow, the Supreme Court unanimously reversed the Ninth Circuit’s ruling that reciting “under God” in public schools violated the Constitution. (Justice Scalia did not take part in the case.) Although the justices disagreed on the reasons for reversal, they all agreed that the Ninth Circuit got it wrong.

 

The majority held that Michael Newdow lacked standing to bring the case. Standing is a legal term meaning that the person making a complaint before a court must have experienced harm as a direct result of the action challenged that the court has the power to redress.

 

Here, Newdow sued on behalf of his daughter, a public-school student. But, Newdow’s daughter is a Christian who has no objection to the pledge and the girl’s mother, who did not agree that her daughter should participate in the suit, has exclusive legal custody. Under the Supreme Court’s interpretation of California’s domestic-relations laws, Newdow has every right to instruct his own child about his religious beliefs, but he does not have “a right to dictate to others what they may and may not say to his child respecting religion.” So, because the Supreme Court found that Newdow lacked the legal authority to make the constitutional argument, it dismissed the entire case.

 

Chief Justice Rehnquist, Justice O’Connor, and Justice Thomas would have found the recitation of the pledge constitutional, including the words under God. As the chief correctly observes, the mere presence of the words “under God” is not a religious exercise.

 

The Supreme Court has repeatedly said that mere mentions of God in a patriotic context, such as “In God We Trust” on the currency or “God Save the United States and this Honorable Court,” differ from prayer and Bible reading — quintessential religious exercises. And, from the time of the Founding, our presidents have regularly invoked God in official speeches. Even Justice Brennan, that great champion of separation of church and state, stated in a concurring opinion to Abington v. Schempp, a case finding a school’s daily Bible reading unconstitutional, that

 

The reference to divinity in the revised pledge of allegiance, for example, may merely recognize the historical fact that our Nation was believed to have been founded “under God.” Thus reciting the pledge may be no more of a religious exercise than the reading aloud of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, which contains an allusion to the same historical fact.

 

The “under God” question turns on coercion versus exposure. No one may coerce public-school children to recite the pledge — the Supreme Court said that was unconstitutional back in 1943 in West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette. The Supreme Court has also held on several occasions that forcing public-school children to participate in prayer or Bible reading violates the Establishment Clause. But here, the question is simply whether a public school may expose the child to the words “under God” in the pledge while the child stands silently during the objectionable portion. If we allow ceremonial religious expression in other contexts, the pledge should be treated the same.

 

So, for now, school children may continue struggling to decipher “liberty and justiss frall” each morning. But, given Newdow’s success in the Ninth Circuit, we’ve not seen the last of this issue. By dismissing the case on a technicality, the Court has left the door open for another challenge, and another challenger will no doubt emerge. In a country that espouses “liberty and justice for all,” eradicating even bare mentions of God by the state seems an unreasonable restraint.

 

— Susanna Dokupil is an attorney and writer in Houston. She has a M.A. in church-state studies from Baylor University.

 

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Canadian Government bans Bibles for newcomers (National Post, 040717)

 

The federal government has told the Canadian Bible Society to end its 50-year tradition of offering the New Testament to new Canadians at citizenship ceremonies because doing so is inconsistent with Canada’s promotion of multiculturalism.

 

Citizenship and Immigration Canada said it received complaints from participants who felt the Christian scriptures were being imposed on them, a charge the society denies.

 

“They say this is about freedom of religion, but the government is actually curtailing freedom of religion,” said Reverend Phyllis Nesbitt, the society’s national director.

 

The 200-year-old interdenominational Christian organization will appeal Ottawa’s ruling that it stop setting up tables stacked with commemorative Maple Leaf-embossed Bibles at citizenship ceremonies.

 

The organization has been giving away about 60,000 of the small Bibles a year. The practice started when volunteers from the organization brought the books to the docks welcoming immigrants who landed at Halifax’s Pier 21 in the 1950s.

 

Rev. Nesbitt said she received a letter last month from Michael Simard, a senior citizenship judge, saying Canada is a multicultural nation in which freedom of religion is guaranteed under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and that allowing one type of holy book to be made available at citizenship ceremonies detracts from that message.

 

Her group was never advised about the complaints, she said. Privacy rules prevent the government from disclosing how many people expressed concerns.

 

Since 1998, Ottawa has prohibited the Canadian Bible Society from mingling with ceremony participants. Volunteers used to be able to make presentations during the ceremonies and walk into crowds of families to hand out the books, but under a formal agreement with the government, the society agreed Bibles would only be presented on request.

 

The distribution of holy books was stopped because Ottawa could not ensure all faith groups were present to offer their holy books to the 150,000 immigrants and their guests who take the oath of citizenship each year, a spokeswoman for Citizenship and Immigration Canada said.

 

“The citizenship ceremony is not a venue for promoting specific religious beliefs,” Maria Iadinardi said.

 

“Given all the strife in the world, we want to ensure that our citizenship ceremonies are as inclusive as possible.”

 

She said the federal department cannot be seen as supporting one religion over another. “Unlike other countries, our oath does not make people pledge allegiance to any god.”

 

Participants used to affirm the citizenship oath with their right hand on a Bible, but that practice was abandoned years ago. Currently, they can either raise their right hand in the air or bring a holy book of their choice to use.

 

Rev. Nesbitt says her organization should not be singled out because it is the only one to attend the ceremonies. Any faith group was free to set up a table as well, she said.

 

A Muslim organization attended several ceremonies handing out copies of the Koran when she was a minister working in Halifax.

 

“I don’t know why they stopped coming,” she said.

 

“They had the right if they wanted to, just like we did.”

 

She used to bring 30 to 40 Bibles to the Halifax events and about two-thirds of them would be taken.

 

Rev. Nesbitt says she is not looking for a public fight with Ottawa and will follow the government’s orders after the appeals process has been exhausted.

 

She has advised the organization’s volunteers and donors to write letters to their MPs urging them to lobby Judy Sgro, the Citizenship and Immigration Minister, to change the government’s position, as well as hand out Bibles to newcomers from other countries.

 

And since the government has said no to Bible distribution at citizenship ceremonies, her organization has started to receive more requests for the Christian scriptures from high school students.

 

“We want the Bible to be presented to people however it happens,” Rev. Nesbitt said.

 

“There are certainly more ways to present the Bible than in citizenship ceremonies.”

 

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Covert Carolina religious war (WT, 040718)

 

In my career as a professor, I have noticed college administrators often try things in private they could never defend in public. That is why publicity is usually the best remedy when college administrators abuse their authority.

 

Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis probably put it best when he said “Sunlight is the best disinfectant.” But Louis Brandeis never met the current administration at UNC Chapel Hill. After being sued and embarrassed in the court of public opinion in 2003, there is now credible information indicating the UNC administration is waging a new underground war on religious organizations, all in the name of diversity and tolerance. The behavior of the administration now indicates it is knowlingly violating the law and trying to conceal that fact from the public. Of course, it is the public that is unwittingly funding the administration’s illegal assault on religious liberty.

 

For those who do not recall, efforts to sue UNC began in early 2003, shortly after the university threatened to freeze the funds of numerous religious organizations (mostly Christian) unless they allowed any student to join as a voting member of their organization. That rule applied even if the student was of a different religion or if the student was an atheist.

 

At least one organization was told in 2003 it must allow students opposed to its orthodox religious beliefs to hold elective office. Another group was told that its constitution could not say the group subscribes to a “belief in God.”

 

After threats of litigation by more than one organization and media exposure in many columns and books, it appeared the university had decided to respect the constitutional rights of students in campus religious organizations.

 

Indeed, it appeared the university finally understood that the First Amendment rights of freedom of association and freedom of religion trumped the student handbook’s diversity clauses. Unfortunately, such optimism now appears misplaced.

 

Recently, I received information the president of a Christian organization at UNC met with Jonathan Curtis, the administrator in charge of recognizing student groups, last September. The meeting was convened to discuss the group’s concerns about the application for recognition.

 

The president of that group claims he offered to submit the application with an addendum objecting to its provision prohibiting discrimination based on religious affiliation. In other words, he wanted to form a Christian group that was actually comprised of Christians.

 

The group president alleges Jonathan Curtis told the group that if they turned in an application by which they did not intend to abide, he would take them to Honor Court for lying to a university official. This threat was issued just three months after the UNC administration was exposed for lying about the scope of their harassment of student religious organizations.

 

One of those lies included a denial they had been threatened with a lawsuit by a Christian organization after the original controversy broke out in January. That initial controversy was between the university and Intervarsity Christian Fellowship.

 

After Mr. Curtis threatened the group with Honor Court hearings, the president claims he asked for an explanation in writing. He reports Mr. Curtis said he needed to check with the legal department first and then would e-mail the group. They report no e-mail eveer was sent to them.

 

Then, just before Christmas, the group noticed that their Web access was gone.

 

When the president met with Curtis again last February, he was told the group was no longer recognized. In other words, the Christian group was derecognized without a paper trail.

 

In March, the group’s president went to the Student Activities Funds Office (SAFO) to conduct a transaction. According to him, Mr. Curtis was there and told the SAFO director to cancel the group’s account due to its recognition status.

 

Freezing the funds of student groups and banning them from meeting on campus is serious. It is something UNC once did in a manner that was illegal but, fortunately, was fully documented by its internal records. Now it is something the university does illegally and without documentation.

 

In other words, UNC once trashed religious liberty in the name of diversity. Now the university trashes both religious liberty and due process in the name of diversity.

 

This new information reminds me of another UNC controversy in 2002. In that case, the administration rightly fought efforts to stop it from using a controversial book called “Approaching the Koran” in its summer reading program.

 

After the controversy was resolved, Chancellor James Moeser stood in front of the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., reading e-mails from people he said were threatening academic freedom at UNC. One email said, “You are doing the work of Satan, and you will surely perish in the lake of fire.” After Mr. Moeser read that email he declared, “All of this because we asked our students to read a book.”

 

But now the public knows the rest of the story. Back then, UNC administrators simply posed as defenders of the Constitution against a wave of religious zealotry. In reality, they have long violated the Constitution in the name of religious zealotry. That is, if you consider diversity to be a form of religion. I certainly do.

 

I guess this whole episode is a testament to the power of free speech after all. Sometimes a little sunlight shows a “rebel with a cause” is really a bigot with an agenda.

 

Mike Adams is the author of “Welcome to the Ivory Tower of Babel.”

 

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Is Declaration of Independence unconstitutional? (WorldNetDaily, 041123)

 

School district sued for censoring founding documents, state constitutions

 

In a season typified by lawsuits against manger scenes, crosses and even the words “Merry Christmas,” a California case is taking the “separation of church and state” one step further – dealing with whether it’s unconstitutional to read the Declaration of Independence in public school.

 

Attorneys for the Alliance Defense Fund filed suit Monday against the Cupertino Union School District for prohibiting a teacher from providing supplemental handouts to students about American history because the historical documents contain some references to God and religion.

 

“Throwing aside all common sense, the district has chosen to censor men such as George Washington and documents like the Declaration of Independence,” said ADF Senior Counsel Gary McCaleb. “The district’s actions conflict with American beliefs and are completely unconstitutional.”

 

Patricia Vidmar, principal of the Stevens Creek School, reportedly ordered the teacher, Stephen Williams, to submit his lesson plans and supplemental handouts to her for advance approval. Aside from Williams, a Christian, no other teachers were subject to the advance-screening requirement, says the ADF.

 

Just what documents did Williams submit that were deemed unfit for the school’s students?

 

“Excerpts from the Declaration of Independence, the diaries of George Washington and John Adams, the writings of William Penn, and various state constitutions,” said the public-interest law firm representing Willliams.

 

“Less than 5% of all of Mr. Williams’ supplemental handouts distributed throughout the school year contain references to God and Christianity,” McCaleb said. “The district is simply attempting to cleanse all references to the Christian religion from our nation’s history, and they are singling out Mr. Williams for discriminatory treatment. Their actions are unacceptable under both California and federal law.”

 

California’s Education Code does allow “references to religion or references to or the use of religious literature … when such references or uses do not constitute instruction in religious principles … and when such references or uses are incidental to or illustrative of matters properly included in the course of study.”

 

The case, Stephen J. Williams v. Cupertino Union School District, et al., was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, Oakland Division.

 

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Thanksgiving—To God, Not To Secularist Revisionists (Free Congress Foundation, 041125)

 

On and off through Jewish and Christian history there have been feasts to honor Almighty God and to tie in a particular event (for example, the Hebrew Feast of Tabernacles) — in an agrarian world, not uncommonly a successful harvest, without which people starved. Our unique American Thanksgiving began in Autumn 1621, approximately one year after the November 21, 1620 MAYFLOWER Pilgrim — not Puritan — arrival at a point in Massachusetts we now call Plymouth Rock. Only 56 of 102 Pilgrims survived the trans-Atlantic voyage and initial “New England” (as we now term the geography) winter.

 

Forty-one Pilgrims, including my eight-times great-grandfather, George Soule, on November 11, 1620, had signed the Mayflower Compact, text following. Inasmuch as the 1621, more or less first anniversary, Feast was a three-day, continual if not continuous, informal affair, he undoubtedly participated in the eating and praying. Of course, many celebrations lasted, on and off, several days — e.g., a Jewish wedding in the early New Testament era.

 

In a letter dated December 11, 1621, Edward Winslow, also a Mayflower Compact signer, described the recently concluded event:

 

Our harvest being gotten in, our Governor [William Bradford, also a signer] sent four men on fowling, that so we might after a more special manner rejoice together, after we had gathered the fruit of our labours. They four in one day killed as much fowl [but no modern turkey — sorry] as, with a little help beside, served the Company almost a week. At which time, amongst other recreations, we exercised our arms, many of the Indians coming amongst us, and amongst the rest their greatest king [sic], Massasoit with some 90 men, whom for three days we entertained and feasted...

 

As a Virginian, it behooves me to mention a 20th Century Virginia claim that the first American Thanksgiving was held in December, 1619, on the Berkeley Hundred, Virginia. (Irrelevant tidbit: William Henry Harrison, 9th President, was born in Berkeley Plantation, 1773, subsequently built on part of the site.) As a mere student of history (B.A., University of Virginia) and probably a typical cross-examining lawyer, I do not find the documentation sufficient convincingly to support the claim of a formal event at that time and in that place (with apologies to the late distinguished historian Virginius Dabney, who viewed the possibility otherwise). However, were there one, it, too, would have been the manifestation of believing Christians honoring God while concurrently commemorating a successful harvest and the first anniversary of their landing ashore.

 

That’s the point. The Atlantic shores were settled in the 17th Century by believing Christians, albeit many of them in canonical, doctrinal or liturgical dispute with the Church of England. By and large short on formal schooling, they knew much of the Bible and in varying measures were strong in faith.

 

Although Thanksgiving as an observed day apart faded for some time, until the recriminations — some, accurately, would say desecrations — of rather recent secularists, no objective observer would deny the juxtaposition of God and Thanksgiving Day. Thus, President George Washington on October 3, 1789 in the City of New York, then the new and first United States Capitol City, issued his Thanksgiving Proclamation, citing the duty to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God. The Continental Congress similarly had proclaimed in 1782. President Abraham Lincoln on October 3, 1863 formally proclaimed the establishment of Thanksgiving Day — and again with clear and unmistakable reference to “the gracious gifts of the most high God...” Presidents subsequently have followed suit.

 

When realistic it always is preferable to close a paper upon an affirmative note. Before doing so, one cannot fail to allude to the historically unsound, philosophically negative and just plain ornery declamations, denials and proscriptions of some of the contemporary secularist — translate, anti-religious and largely anti-moral — crowd, especially in some public schools. It’s historically and pragmatically counterproductive enough to live with ascending judicial revisionism and misinterpretation of the Establishment Clause — say, from Everson v Board of Education (1947) erratically forward — but now one must cope with the secularist militants in growing numbers of public schools, as elsewhere.

 

The fact is, kiddos of America, our founders — and for many of us, our progenitors — were men and women of faith and courage: Anglicans, Calvinists, Hugenots, Lutherans and other Protestants of varied stripe from much of Europe and the British Isles, as well as Catholics, Jews and later Orthodox, worshiping God, fighting for freedom, building the new America.

 

So Thanksgiving, although not a liturgical holiday, is an occasion to acknowledge God’s providence and the material and nonmaterial blessings it brings. (If you aren’t keen on turkey as we know it, take solace in the fact that the Pilgrims didn’t eat it either.)

 

Here’s the text of the Mayflower Compact:

 

IN THE NAME OF GOD, AMEN. We whose names are underwritten, the loyal subjects of our dread sovereign Lord, King James [I], by the grace of God, of Great Britain, France [sic] and Ireland King, Defender of the Faith, etc.

 

Having undertaken for the glory of God, and advancement of the Christian faith and honor of our King and Country, a voyage to plant the first colony in the northern parts of Virginia [sic], do by these presents, solemnly and mutually in the presence of God, and one of another, covenant and combine ourselves together into a civil body politic, for our better ordering and preservation and furtherance of the ends aforesaid; and by virtue hereof to enact, constitute and frame such just and equal laws, ordinances, acts, constitutions and offices, from time to time, as shall be thought most meet and convenient for the general good of the Colony; unto which we promise all due submission and obedience.

 

IN WITNESS WHEREOF we have hereunder subscribed our names at Cape Cod, the 11 of November... Ano. Dom. 1620.

 

[Forty-one signatures.]

 

Marion Edwyn Harrison is President of, and Counsel to, the Free Congress Foundation; and a Life Member, Society of Mayflower Descendants.

 

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Giving Thanks to Whom, Exactly? (Christian Post, 041124)

 

America’s most congested travel season is now underway as millions of people are headed home to celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday weekend. These days, the holiday signals the beginning of the extended Christmas season, and even though an official Thanksgiving observance has long been a familiar part of our American culture, the substance of the observance is very much in question.

 

Political correctness has entered the picture, with many public schools observing “Turkey Day” festivities while others erroneously explain that the Pilgrims celebrated the first Thanksgiving in order to thank the Indians for sharing agricultural advice and provisions. While most Americans probably have a sufficient historical background to know that the first Thanksgiving was not celebrated as an opportunity to express gratitude to the native Americans, the fact remains that for many, there is no clearly identified referent for their gratitude.

 

In other words, while most citizens have at least a vestigial understanding of the fact that Thanksgiving Day is intended as a focal opportunity to thank God for His many blessings to us, the God worshipped—and thanked—by millions of people bears little or no resemblance to the God of the Bible. As a matter of fact, conversation about the holiday is likely to reveal that many people have no transcendent referent in mind at all. Just listen to those who speak about their reasons for being “thankful” without revealing to whom their thanks is directed. In some sense, it may be that a good many individuals think of giving thanks as some form of self-therapy, with gratitude identified more in attitudinal than theological terms.

 

Of course, we should expect something like this level of confusion in a country that includes millions of persons who claim to believe in God without any specific idea of who that God is.

 

In some sense, thankfulness runs against the American grain in the first place. We are a people marked by exaggerated notions of self-sufficiency and pride. No author has captured the essence of this particular twist in the American character as well as Tom Wolfe. In Bonfire of the Vanities, Wolfe introduced us to Sherman McCoy, a Wall Street “Master of the Universe” who thinks himself in absolute control of his destiny, until his entire world starts to fall apart. Similarly, in A Man in Full, Wolfe introduced us to Charlie Crocker, a prototypical tycoon of the 1990s, complete with his private jet and customized wife. These characters point to something now pervasive in our national psyche—an exalted sense of confidence in ourselves and the arrogant confidence that we can take care of our own needs, direct our own future, and make the world meet us on our own terms.

 

This dangerous sense of self-sufficiency is exactly what Jesus condemned in Luke 12:16-21, when He told of the rich man whose astoundingly abundant crops led him to plan to build bigger and bigger barns in order to hold his bounty. Jesus depicts this arrogant man as saying to himself: “Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years to come; take your ease, eat, drink, and be merry.” That was not the final word, however, for God responded to him, “You fool! This very night your soul is required of you; and now who will own what you have prepared?”

 

A spirit of thanksgiving is the best antidote to a false sense of self-sufficiency. In giving thanks to our Creator, we admit that we cannot take care of ourselves, protect ourselves, or even direct our own lives in a competent manner. Our every breath is a divine gift, and “thanksgiving” is not so much a day on the calendar as the honest and urgent expression of a heart shaped by the knowledge of who God is and what He has done for us.

 

In his Thanksgiving declaration of 1863, President Abraham Lincoln said, “It has seemed to me fit and proper that God should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged, as with one heart and one voice, by the whole American people.”

 

We have come a long way since 1863, and we must recognize that Americans will not commonly acknowledge the one true and living God “with one heart and one voice.”

 

Nevertheless, Christians must see this day as a reminder that we must demonstrate, inculcate, and commemorate Thanksgiving in our daily lives. While we are thankful for our families, for material blessings, for national security, and for the abundant gifts God has given us, we must be supremely thankful for the salvation accomplished by our Lord Jesus Christ and for the blessed hope grounded in the one true God.

 

While that spirit of thanksgiving and gratitude should be a part of our Christian discipleship every day of our lives, there is something good and wholesome about Christian families gathering together to express thankfulness through special observance, celebration, and festivities. Let’s make sure the world knows to whom we are thankful and why. May God grant you and your families a wonderful and blessed Thanksgiving.

 

_____________________________________________

 

R. Albert Mohler, Jr. is president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky.

 

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Conservative, Liberal Lawyers Resume Christmas Clashes (CNSNews.com, 041129)

 

Often referred to as the “Christmas Tree wars,” the annual clashes are about to resume between lawyers from pro-Christian groups on one side and attorneys determined to keep any religious references out of public life on the other side.

 

The conservative Alliance Defense Fund (ADF) reports that it has notified more than 3,600 school districts nationwide about the rules regarding the school-sponsored celebration of Christmas. It’s part of the ADF’s Christmas Project, initiated last year.

 

Seven hundred attorneys will be available “to combat any attempts to censor the celebration of Christmas in schools and on public property,” according to an ADF release.

 

ADF President Alan Sears explained that his group thinks many public school administrators misinterpret the laws about “separation of church and state” and overstep their bounds in preventing religious expression.

 

“The phrase ‘separation of church and state’ is not in the U.S. Constitution,” Sears noted, “but because of the fear, intimidation, and disinformation groups like the ACLU promote, many public officials and educational leaders mistakenly believe it is their duty to silence Christian religious expression.”

 

The ADF, which states that its goal is to “aggressively defend religious liberty,” issued a pamphlet to the school districts with answers to seven questions that school administrators might have about their power and responsibility during the holiday season.

 

The answers rely on court decisions to answer questions about what can or should be censored and why.

 

“No court has ever ruled that the Constitution requires government officials to censor Christmas carols, eliminate all references to Christmas, or silence those who celebrate Christ’s birth,” the pamphlet states.

 

“The bottom line,” according to the pamphlet, is that, “It’s okay to say ‘Merry Christmas,’ regardless of the legal threats from the ACLU and its allies.”

 

Paul Silva of the American Civil Liberties Union responded to CNSNews.com by email, first stating that “this is generally not the sort of thing we comment on,” but then adding that the ADF pamphlet has “many misstatements.”

 

“We actually defended students who were punished for distributing candy canes with religious messages during Christmas season last year,” Silva said, referring to one point in the ADF release that he said implies that the ACLU was opposed to those students.

 

Rob Boston of Americans United for Separation of Church and State told CNSNews.com that schools should be careful about accepting advice from the Alliance Defense Fund.

 

“The ADF has an agenda that’s trying to promote ... more religious activity in public schools,” Boston said. “And what they’re telling schools may or may not be true.”

 

He said administrators should “get something from a more objective source” like the attorneys affiliated with their state’s department of education.

 

Boston said he has not read the pamphlet that the ADF is sending to schools, but added that it’s more important to pay attention to what the courts have decided. “What the courts have said is that the use of religious symbols in a public school classroom must have a legitimate educational purpose,” Boston warned.

 

If symbols are being displayed to “celebrate the religious aspect of a holiday or to promote religion,” it would violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, he added — that “Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion ...”

 

The First Amendment also mandates that Congress make no law “prohibiting the free exercise” of religion.

 

However, the Americans United website argues that “Public schools have no right to usurp parental authority by imposing religion on schoolchildren.” While it concedes that students in public schools “have the right to pray on their own in a non-disruptive fashion, and schools may teach about religion as a part of objective instruction,” it states that “mandatory prayer, Bible reading or other religious activities sponsored by public schools are fundamental violations of the right of conscience.”

 

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House Passes Resolution on Boy Scouts (Foxnews, 041120)

 

WASHINGTON — The House on Saturday commended the Boy Scouts and condemned legal efforts to limit government ties to the group because of its requirement that members believe in God.

 

A nonbinding resolution, passed by a 391-3 vote, recognized the 3.2 million-member Boy Scouts for its public service efforts. But the main thrust of the debate was what the House Judiciary Committee chairman, Rep. James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., said were the “strident legal attacks” on the group.

 

The Pentagon agreed last week to tell U.S. military bases around the world not to directly sponsor Boy Scout troops. The warning resulted from legal challenges to government relations with a group that bans openly gay leaders and compels members to swear an oath of duty to God.

 

The American Civil Liberties Union and others say that direct government sponsorship of such a program amounts to discrimination.

 

The Pentagon’s ruling does not prevent service members from leading Boy Scout troops on their own time. Also, Boy Scouts still can meet on areas of military bases where civilian organizations are allowed to hold events.

 

Rep. J.D. Hayworth, R-Ariz. said the ACLU’s challenge was a “nuisance lawsuit” and he was urging Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld to reconsider the Pentagon’s position.

 

“Scouting values, military values, citizenship values, a respect and reverence for a creator are not a violation of the doctrine of church and state,” said Hayworth, who was an Eagle Scout.

 

The measure’s sponsor, Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., said Congress would work “to defend the Boy Scout’s ability to continue the fine work that they have done for nearly a century.”

 

Voting against the resolution were Democratic Reps. John Dingell of Michigan, Barney Frank of Massachusetts and Lynn Woolsey of California.

 

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Students Free to Thank Anybody, Except God (Foxnews, 041122)

 

ANNAPOLIS, Md. — Maryland public school students are free to thank anyone they want while learning about the 17th century celebration of Thanksgiving — as long as it’s not God.

 

And that is how it should be, administrators say.

 

Young students across the state read stories about the Pilgrims and Native Americans, simulate Mayflower voyages, hold mock feasts and learn about the famous meal that temporarily allied two very different groups.

 

But what teachers don’t mention when they describe the feast is that the Pilgrims not only thanked the Native Americans for their peaceful three-day indulgence, but repeatedly thanked God.

 

“We teach about Thanksgiving from a purely historical perspective, not from a religious perspective,” said Charles Ridgell, St. Mary’s County Public Schools curriculum and instruction director.

 

School administrators statewide agree, saying religion never coincides with how they teach Thanksgiving to students.

 

Too much censorship can compromise a strong curriculum, some educators said.

 

“Schools don’t want to do anything that would influence or act against the religious preferences of their students,” said Lissa Brown, Maryland State Teacher’s Association assistant executive director. “But the whole subject of religious toleration is a part of our history and needs to be taught.”

 

Brown, a former social studies teacher, said she was surprised to hear schools aren’t teaching about the Pilgrims’ faith in God.

 

Teaching about a secular Thanksgiving counters the holiday’s original premise as stated by George Washington in his Thanksgiving Day proclamation: “It is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor.”

 

Such omissions also deny the Pilgrims’ religious fervor in the celebration of Thanksgiving, as related by Harry Hornblower, an archaeologist who spent years researching the history of the holiday.

 

According to the Web site Plimoth.org, dedicated to Hornblower’s research, the Pilgrims “fell upon their knees and blessed the God of heaven who had brought them over the vast and furious ocean.”

 

Thanksgiving, the site said, derived from their belief that “a series of misfortunes meant that God was displeased, and the people should both search for the cause and humble themselves before him. Good fortune, on the other hand, was a sign of God’s mercy and compassion, and therefore he should be thanked and praised.”

 

But researchers like Hornblower aren’t mentioned in classrooms. “We don’t focus on religion, because it is not a part of our curriculum,” said Sandra Grulich, Cecil County Schools’ elementary school curriculum coordinator.

 

Opponents of censorship worry that by omitting such religious material from lesson plans, educators are compromising their students’ education.

 

“School administrators need to get a backbone,” said Joel Whitehead, president and lawyer at the Rutherford Institute, a constitutional rights defense organization. “We are in real danger of throwing out cultural heritage in our country if we don’t know what Thanksgiving is really about.”

 

Mentioning that the Pilgrims were Puritan is about as close as most administrators are willing to step to integrate religion into their curriculums.

 

“We mention they were Puritan but students usually just understand that they had a belief system and not much more than that,” said Carol Williamson, Queen Anne’s County Schools’ associate superintendent.

 

Thanksgiving is usually taught as a part of social studies and emphasizes cultural immersion.

 

“The Pilgrim Story is read in Spanish and English,” said Alfreda Adams, principal at Mills-Parole Elementary School in Anne Arundel County where 70 Hispanic students attend. “We make sure that we celebrate all cultures.”

 

The Mayflower, Pilgrims, Native Americans become enduring symbols to students before the two-day hiatus they are granted each year to spend time with their families.

 

“In elementary school we learned that the Pilgrims came to the Indians and they all had a feast,” said Emmanuel Cobington, 13, a seventh-grader at Annapolis Middle School.

 

Emmanuel said his teachers never mentioned that the holiday was religious, but he added that he learns about different denominations in some of his classes.

 

“We learn about different religions like Judaism and Christianity in our social studies classes,” he said.

 

Whitehead advocates for more classes like Emmanuel’s and says it is harmful to students when administrators censor curriculums for fear of offending someone.

 

“Education is inevitably going to offend someone,” said Whitehead. “We need to get beyond being politically correct, or everything will be glossed over.”

 

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High court tackles crucial Commandments case (WorldNetDaily, 041209)

 

Supremes receiving full briefing on issue for 1st time in history

 

In a case that could change how courts address religion’s role in public institutions, two public-interest groups filed briefs asking the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn a ruling that declared a Ten Commandments display in Kentucky unconstitutional.

 

Mathew D. Staver, who will argue the case as lead counsel in February, is asking the high court to reconsider the so-called Lemon test formulated by then-Chief Justice Warren Burger in 1971 to determine when a law has the effect of establishing religion.

 

Burger’s test said, “First, the statute must have a secular legislative purpose; second, its principal or primary effect must be one that neither advances nor inhibits religion; finally, the statute must not foster “an excessive government entanglement with religion.”

 

Staver’s brief argues for a new objective test that comports with history and which “should respect our religious heritage by distinguishing between real establishments and permissible acknowledgments of religion.”

 

“There is a big difference between an establishment of religion, which the Constitution forbids, and governmental acknowledgments of religion, which the Constitution permits,” said Staver, president and general counsel of Florida-based Liberty Counsel.

 

The case marks the first time the Supreme Court has received full briefing on the Ten Commandments, according to Staver.

 

The court’s ruling, expected in June, will “affect every Ten Commandments display in the country and may well set the future course for other governmental acknowledgments of religion, like the Pledge of Allegiance,” he said.

 

The American Center for Law and Justice also has filed a brief, which notes courts – including the Supreme Court – have recognized the foundational role of the Commandments in the development of the country’s legal system.

 

The Supreme Court building itself has three depictions of Moses and/or the Ten Commandments, the ACLJ points out.

 

The Kentucky case involves two courthouses in Pulaski and McCreary counties – which displayed the Ten Commandments, the Declaration of Independence, the Magna Carta, the Bill of Rights and other historical documents – and Harlan County, where the school board created a similar display. The Harlan exhibit includes a limited public forum where the community can post additional historical documents.

 

The displays began with the Ten Commandments alone. They later were changed to include some historical documents with excerpted religious quotes. The displays then were altered to include other historical documents in their entirety.

 

Because the displays originated with only the religious document, however, Judges Eric Clay and Julia Smith Gibbons agreed they were unconstitutional. They contend the original religious purpose was not altered by later adding historical documents.

 

Senior Judge James Ryan dissented, Liberty Counsel said, stating court precedent established that displays could be altered to include a broader education purpose even if the original purpose was solely religious. He also argued the displays were constitutional, and he criticized the court for not taking seriously the school exhibit, which allows the community to post any historical document.

 

Currently, four federal circuit courts and one state Supreme Court hold that displays of Ten Commandments are constitutional, while three federal circuit courts have ruled them unconstitutional.

 

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Judge’s Robe Bears Ten Commandments (Foxnews, 041215)

 

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — A judge refused to delay a trial Tuesday when an attorney objected to his wearing a judicial robe with the Ten Commandments embroidered on the front in gold.

 

Circuit Judge Ashley McKathan showed up Monday at his Covington County courtroom in southern Alabama wearing the robe. Attorneys who try cases at the courthouse said they had not seen him wearing it before. The commandments were described as being big enough to read by anyone near the judge.

 

Attorney Riley Powell, defending a client charged with DUI, filed a motion objecting to the robe and asking that the case be continued. He said McKathan denied both motions.

 

“I feel this creates a distraction that affects my client,” Powell said.

 

McKathan told The Associated Press that he believes the Ten Commandments represent the truth “and you can’t divorce the law from the truth. ... The Ten Commandments can help a judge know the difference between right and wrong.”

 

He said he doesn’t believe the commandments on his robe would have an adverse effect on jurors.

 

“I had a choice of several sizes of letters. I purposely chose a size that would not be in anybody’s face,” he said.

 

The case raised comparisons to former Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore, who was removed from office in 2003 for refusing to remove a Ten Commandments monument from the rotunda of the Alabama Judicial Building in Montgomery.

 

Moore said Tuesday he supports McKathan’s decision to wear the Ten Commandments robe.

 

“I applaud Judge McKathan. It is time for our judiciary to recognize the moral basis of our law,” Moore said.

 

Powell said if he loses his case, he expects the judge’s wearing of the Ten Commandments robe to be part of an appeal.

 

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Italy Court Rules Against Challenge to Remove Crucifix from Classrooms (Christian Post, 041215)

 

An Italian high court ruled Wednesday that state-run schools were fully entitled to hang crucifixes in their classrooms, rejecting a legal challenge raised by a non-Christian Italian citizen.

 

According to the Independent Online news agency (IOL), Soile Lautsi, whose two children regularly attend a school in northern Italy’s Veneto region, had argued that the crucifix on display there violates the principle that the state should be neutral when it comes to religious matters.

 

Italy’s Constitutional Court, however, effectively rejected the challenge by arguing that the plaintiff was not entitled to raise the issue in court.

 

Although church and state are officially separated in Italy, a 1923 regulation issued during Benito Mussolini’s Fascist rule and never repealed states that a symbol of the crucifix should hang in every classroom and courtroom in the country.

 

IOL reported that in recent years, the representation of the cross on which Jesus died has become the subject of a heated debate in Italy as Muslim groups and non-Christians seek its removal from state schools.

 

Last year, a judge in central Italy sparked outrage by ruling in favor of an Islamic activist and ordering that a crucifix be removed from the classroom of the state-run elementary school attended by his two sons.

 

The judge’s verdict was eventually overruled amid widespread protests in the overwhelmingly Catholic country.

 

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Pledge protester faces recall vote (Washington Times, 041221)

 

ESTES PARK, Colo. — Voters in this woodsy mountain village will decide soon whether to recall a member of the town’s Board of Trustees who refuses to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance.

 

David Habecker, a two-term member of the board, faces a Feb. 15 recall vote after drawing the community’s ire for refusing to stand because he objects to the phrase “under God.”

 

He said the wording violates Article VI of the U.S. Constitution, which states that “no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.”

 

“This makes the Pledge a religious test for public office,” said Mr. Habecker, who works as a building designer. “It’s establishing a requirement for people who want to run for this office: You have to be religious. You have to believe in God.”

 

Trustee Lori Jeffrey-Clark said Mr. Habecker shocked many voters and other trustees with his decision. During a September meeting, Mr. Habecker announced that he would no longer take part in the Pledge until Congress or the courts removed the words “under God.”

 

“We were just kind of stunned. We had no idea he felt this way or that he had this sensitivity,” said Mrs. Jeffrey-Clark, a retired Navy officer.

 

The seven-member, nonpartisan board began reciting the Pledge at the start of meetings in May at Mrs. Jeffrey-Clark’s request. For the next three months, Mr. Habecker stood and joined the other trustees.

 

The recall effort followed shortly after Mrs. Jeffrey-Clark took her 10-year-old nephew and his Cub Scout troop to a September board meeting to fulfill a civics requirement.

 

“I told the Scouts that Mr. Habecker has a First Amendment right to make a statement by sitting down during the Pledge,” Mrs. Jeffrey-Clark said. “But I also have a right as a citizen to make a statement. So I told him that I was disappointed with his action, that it offended me and that I wanted my vote back.”

 

Her husband, Richard Clark, organized a group that gathered signatures from 246 registered voters. The town of 5,500 requires 218 signatures for a recall. The Feb. 15 ballot also will include names of candidates seeking to replace Mr. Habecker if the recall succeeds, although so far no one has signed up to run.

 

Mr. Habecker said he initially recited the Pledge at meetings, but that “it just didn’t feel right.” He decided to do some research on the Constitution, and when he came across Article VI, Clause 3, “it was like a light bulb going off,” he said.

 

“Once you know something is wrong, you need to stop doing it,” he said.

 

Ideally, he said, the other trustees would respect his protest by ignoring it. But his critics argued that Mr. Habecker was the one who pushed the issue into the spotlight.

 

They said that Mr. Habecker also has publicly criticized President Bush and religious conservatives. He recently took a swipe at the YMCA of the Rockies, which operates a nearby conference center and cabins, for “hiding behind the cross,” Mrs. Jeffrey-Clark said.

 

“He’s making a personal protest while sitting as an elected official on the board,” said Mr. Clark. “This is the disrespect he’s showing to his constituents.”

 

The issue has energized the community and fueled worldwide debate on a host of conservative and atheist Web sites alike, such as FreeRepublic.com and the ChurchofCriticalThinking.com. Each side says it has received numerous phone calls and e-mails in support of its stance, and letters on the subject are running regularly in the Estes Park Trail Gazette newspaper.

 

The recall is the first in the 87-year history of Estes Park, better known for its pristine forests and large, free-roaming elk population than its politics. Located about 70 miles northwest of Denver, the community sits adjacent to Rocky Mountain National Park.

 

The town’s other claim to fame is the elegant Stanley Hotel, which inspired the 1980 Stanley Kubrick movie “The Shining,” starring Jack Nicholson.

 

Mr. Habecker, who has served on the council for 13 of the last 20 years, is no stranger to tight races. In one election, he and his opponent finished tied, and he won his seat on a coin toss.

 

He plans to fight the recall, but his critics predicted that his electoral luck has run out.

 

“We as Americans are taking a stand. Let the people’s voice be heard,” Mr. Clark said. “The silent majority has had it.”

 

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The faith debate in America (Washington Times, 041223)

 

The debate about faith in America today represents a critical juncture in the nation’s story. The outcome may determine whether America will go down the route of secular humanism that Europe has long since tread, or keep religion a vibrant element in the public square and in the life of citizens.

 

There are a range of faith issues alive in America today: the role of Christian values in the presidential election, President Bush’s important faith-based initiative, public use of religious symbols, the identity of the Christmas season, the role of the Ten Commandments in our understanding of justice, and our response to the rise of popular Islam. These are a few of the faith issues that the Europeans just don’t get.

 

In Europe, professing faith in public seems to cause an embarrassing shuffling of feet or a sneering response that we have moved beyond doctrinal matters, in the same way that adults do not believe in Santa Claus.

 

In this spirit, Europe has ensured God is left out of the new constitution, only churches that preach a social gospel are listened to, scandals in the church are the only high-profile stories, and minority religious groups are either listened to out of fear or met with complete incomprehension.

 

In Britain this contrast is made clear by attempts being made to pass a law banning incitement to religious hatred, which has caused English comedian Rowan Atkinson, aka Mr. Bean, to lead the defense of the right to freedom of speech, which includes the right to insult religion. The new laws would pave the way to repealing the law of blasphemy, so you can be as insulting as you like about Jesus, and introduce a law defending religious groups against attacks on them, as long as it’s not Christian, presumably.

 

The philosophical basis to this European rejection of faith is the resounding confidence in the faith of secular humanism, which seeks to keep religion in its place as a sociological phenomenon. The beliefs of religious groups are seen as essentially marked by the same cultural blight, and can be treated as boiling down to the same ethical injunctions to be nice people. Religion is perceived at best as a means by which all roads lead to the same God, or at worse is a delusion and a denial of humanity.

 

Let us test this by looking at Jesus, the birth of whom many of us are preparing to celebrate. To secular humanism he was the Gandhi of his day. To Judaism he was a heretic. To Muslims he was a prophet in the line of prophets leading to the seal of the prophet Mohammed. To Christians he is the revealed Son of God. These are mutually different ways of understanding Jesus, and ultimately they cannot be reconciled.

 

The importance in faith matters is not to try and gloss over these differences, but to recognize that the way in which believers understand the world through the prism of their faith is very much at odds with other faiths, including the faith of secular humanism. The art is not to deny the differences, or culturally seek to sanitize them, but to strive to live with our differences.

 

Religious difference has a long and bloody history, which is an indictment on humanity’s grasp of God rather than a reason to reject God. We need to recognize that it is our weakness that leads us to condemn the beliefs of others. One nation under God is a way to keep both God and differences as part of a tolerant America, and leave God to do the condemning.

 

The Reformer Martin Luther loved to tell the fable of the dog running along a stream with a bone in its mouth. Caught by the surprise of seeing its own reflection in the water, the dog dropped the bone into the water, thus losing both the bone and the reflection. This is a fable that resonates with the current debate in America, and we ought not to lose the reflection of faith in our society.

 

What the faith debate in America should determine is whether the nation will continue to recognize that it is one under God, not a purely secular humanist construct. Perhaps we need to take a step back and, like the great Oxford don C.S. Lewis, realize that it is not God who should be in the dock in this faith debate, but humanity. Now, there’s a thought for Christmas.

 

David Cowan holds two degrees in theology from Oxford University, and was a Lutheran chaplain to students in Cambridge, England.

 

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In defense of the Scouts (Washington Times, 041202)

 

First the Pentagon plans to send away the Boy Scouts. Then Defense Secretary (and Eagle Scout) Donald Rumsfeld promises he won’t allow that. Now Congress is making noises about backing up the Scouts with legislative protection. A growing number of legal scholars think the arguments against the Boy Scouts of America no longer stand scrutiny, and we’re heartened to hear it.

 

Trouble for the Boy Scouts began with a lawsuit filed in 1999 by the American Civil Liberties Union. The ACLU argues that the Pentagon is wrong to allow military sponsorship of Scout troops because Scouts are required to pledge belief in God. To the ACLU, that’s religious discrimination. The ACLU argues further that since military bases sponsor about 400 Boy Scout units and spend $2 million annually to support Boy Scout jamborees, the government is guilty, too. The ACLU wants to evict the Boy Scouts from military bases. This would constitute discrimination against the Boy Scouts of America, not by them, but this does not impress the ACLU.

 

Things took a turn for the worse in mid-November, when a group of Pentagon lawyers reached a settlement that would have prevented military bases from sponsorship. Congress cried foul. That’s when Mr. Rumsfeld stepped in. “The Department of Defense takes great pride in its longstanding and rich tradition of support to the Boy Scouts of America,” he wrote to a group of congressmen, and vowed that Boy Scouts would be allowed to stay on the bases. Now Republican leaders in the Senate plan to codify these ties.

 

The best news of all is that the ACLU’s interpretation of the First Amendment provision “that Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof” — sometimes characterized as the “separation of church and state,” and the basis for the ACLU’s argument — is eroding in legal circles. There’s growing belief that the framers of the Constitution never intended this clause to compel absolute separation of church and state. Philip Hamburger, a legal historian at the University of Chicago, argues that the separation doctrine was actually a late-nineteenth-century fabrication of anti-Catholic nativists. The clause itself says nothing about separation. Read it again: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” That implies neutrality toward religion, not absolute separation. Neutrality means that the Boy Scouts, like any civilian group that uses the bases, is only subject to law and to the approval of appropriate military authorities.

 

Nevertheless, we urge the Senate to follow through to shore up the Boy Scouts’ ties with military bases. The House should promptly follow. The ACLU lawyers should not be allowed to dispose of wholly constitutional associations like those between the Boy Scouts and the military.

 

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Federal judge rules for Nativity display (WorldNetDaily, 041215)

 

Town must allow Christian scene in public venue during this season

 

A federal judge ruled today a Florida town must allow a display of the Christian Nativity this season.

 

U.S. District Court Judge Cecilia Altonaga granted a temporary restraining order requiring the town of Bay Harbor Islands to allow a Christian resident to display the Nativity alongside existing Jewish menorahs.

 

Altonaga said Snowden had shown a substantial likelihood of success on free speech and equal protection claims in her ongoing case and allowed her to set up the display on Causeway Island, which leads to her town.

 

A local synagogue’s Menorah has been displayed each holiday season since December 2001.

 

Richard Thompson, president and chief counsel of the Thomas More Law Center, which is representing Snowden, said he was pleased with the judge’s quick response.

 

“This is a great example of what can happen when Christians stand up for their right to celebrate Christmas in public,” he said.

 

Town attorneys argue the Menorah can be displayed because it is a secular symbol and not a religious one, unlike the Nativity.

 

Prior to today’s ruling, Bay Harbor Islands attorney Craig B. Sherman told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel he believes the town will prevail.

 

“All the town’s holiday decorations are in compliance with applicable law,” he insisted.

 

Altonaga also ruled Snowden had shown a substantial likelihood of success that the town had violated the Establishment Clause in 2001 through 2003 by displaying only Jewish religious symbols, to the exclusion of Christian symbols, during the December holiday seasons.

 

For the past several years, Bay Harbor Islands has adorned the lampposts lining its main street with Jewish religious symbols of menorahs and Stars of David and has allowed a Jewish synagogue to display its 14-foot Menorah on Causeway Island, the most prominent public location at the entrance of Town.

 

But every request by Snowden to display Nativity scenes purchased with her own money was denied by town officials, the lawsuit said.

 

Last year, the Law Center filed a similar lawsuit against the town of Palm Beach, Fla., for its refusal to respond to repeated requests to display a Nativity alongside town-sanctioned menorahs.

 

A federal district court judge acknowledged the importance of recognizing religious holidays and ordered Palm Beach in May to treat all religious symbols equally.

 

In New York City, a federal lawsuit is challenging the city’s display of the Jewish menorah during Hanukkah and the Islamic star and crescent during Ramadan in more than 1,200 public schools while barring Nativity scenes during Christmas.

 

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‘Pledge atheist’ sues to block Bush prayer (WorldNetDaily, 050107)

 

Seeks to prevent ‘Christian religious acts’ at inauguration

 

Atheist activist Michael Newdow, known for his attempt to remove “under God” from the Pledge, has petitioned a federal court to prevent the Bush administration from “engaging in Christian religious acts” related to the president’s upcoming inauguration.

 

Pointing out that two ministers, Rev. Franklin Graham and the Rev.Kirbyjon Caldwell, prayed at Bush’s first inaugural ceremony in 2001, Newdow says the Inaugural ‘05 website indicates the president will chose a minister to “deliver an invocation” before he takes the oath of office Jan. 20.

 

Rev. Louis P. Sheldon, chairman of the Traditional Values Coalition says it’s “appalling that Christians are being singled out by Mr. Newdow for this sort of harassment.”

 

“If any other religious group was being targeted for demotion to second-class citizenship, the ACLU and the liberal lobby would be shrieking,” he said in a statement. “Today, they watch silently as a court considers taking another step towards barring the free and public exercise of religious beliefs.”

 

Sheldon’s group and other similar organizations are sponsoring a Christian Inaugural Eve Gala to celebrate the beginning of Bush’s second term.

 

He said Newdow “should be ashamed for seeking this injunction against his fellow citizens. We, as Americans, need to awaken and deal with these threats to religious liberty, cynically disguised as ‘civil liberties’ defense.”

 

“This is the day we have been warning America would come,” he said.

 

Earlier this week, Newdow renewed his Pledge of Allegiance battle.

 

Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected his case because he did not have legal standing to represent his daughter, who is under sole custody of her mother.

 

Tuesday, however, Newdow filed a complaint in federal court in Sacramento, Calif., with eight new co-plaintiffs, seeking to remove “under God” from the Pledge on the grounds it violates the so-called “separation of church and state.”

 

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A Study of Court Cases on Religious Symbolism in the State (Christian Post, 050111)

 

In recent cases around the nation, the role of symbols of faith have come under question. There are two clauses of the First Amendment in the Bill of Rights cause controversy in the issue of government to religion: the Establishment Clause and the Free Exercise Clause.

 

The Establishment Clause was intended to prohibit the government from declaring and financially supporting a national religion, as was the case in many other countries at the time. However, it is less clear if the Establishment Clause was meant to prevent the federal government from supporting Christianity in general. The narrow interpretation argues that the First Congress that proposed the Bill of Rights prayed to open the legislative assembly and voted to apportion federal dollars to establish Christian missions in the Indian lands. The broader view of the clause point Thomas Jefferson and James Madison who suggested establishing “a wall of separation” between church and state.

 

In 1947, in Everson v Board of Education, the Supreme Court began to rule on this issue. In his majority opinion Justice Black wrote Constitution maintains a “wall of separation” between church and state, however, the aid would serve the secular interest in getting kids safely to schools.  The case is noteworthy for its extensive discussion of the purposes of the Establishment Clause, and for the fact that all nine justices agree that the clause was intended to do far more than merely prohibit the establishment of a state religion.

 

In 1970, Aronow v United States found that “In God We Trust” to be compatible with the establishment clause. The decision stated, “It is quite obvious that the national motto and the slogan on coinage and currency ‘In God We Trust’…is excluded from First Amendment significance because the motto has no theological or ritualistic impact … it has ‘spiritual and psychological value’ and ‘inspirational quality.’”

 

1973’s Anderson v. Salt Lake City Corp. found a granite monolith inscribed with the Ten Commandments and other symbols representing God and Christ to be primary secular in nature and therefore constitutional.

 

The Supreme Court decided in 1983 in Marsh v. Chambers that legislative prayer is constitutional based on historical usage. Chief Justice Warren Burger wrote that the Continental Congress opened its sessions with prayer in 1774, during the years of the nation’s founding. “Clearly the men who wrote the First Amendment Religion Clause did not view paid legislative chaplains and opening prayers as a violation of that Amendment, for the practice of opening sessions with prayer has continued without interruption ever since that early session of Congress,” he stated.

 

In the 1984 Lynch v Donnelly, a crèche included in an annual Christmas display was constitutional. Justice O’Connor concluded that the crèche did not violate the establishment clause and the crèche must be viewed in light of its setting, which included nearby traditional Christmas displays like a Santa Claus house, reindeer and a sleigh, a Christmas tree, lights and carolers. The Supreme Court viewed the crèche in the context of the Christmas season and noted that “the display depicts the historical origins of this traditional event long recognized as a National Holiday.”

 

Four states have mottos referring to God. Ohio’s motto was challenged. “With God All Things are Possible” is a direct quote from Matthew 19:26. In 2001, the court found the motto to fit within “ceremonial deism” because it “is merely a broadly worded expression of a religious/philosophical sentiment that happens to be widely shared by the citizens of Ohio.”

 

In March 2002, a federal court in Pennsylvania ruled that a plaque of the Ten Commandments placed on the exterior of a courthouse was unconstitutional. Three months later, the Court of Appeals reversed the decision because there was no evidence that the county had endorsed any religion using the plague. For example, it hasn’t taken any action involving the plaque since its erection, and the county never held a ceremony to commemorate the anniversary of the plaque or installed lights to draw attention to it at night. To a reasonable observer, the plaque would be a part of an historic monument and not as an endorsement of religion.

 

Many cases were challenging the display of the Ten Commandments, and the district court noted that, “When, the Ten Commandments are an incidental or essentially inconspicuous part of a larger secular display or are integrated within a larger secular goal, Courts generally find a secular purpose and, thus, no violation.”

 

In May 2003, Court of Appeals ruled that a Georgia court clerk’s seal that included an outline of two stone tablets with Roman numerals I through X did not violate the establishment clause. The seal’s small size (one inch in diameter), and also the presence of other symbols in the seal (a sword, something the court found to be “among the most recognizable symbols of the secular legal system”), led the court to conclude that its use does not violate the establishment clause.

 

In recent legal action, courts in Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Utah and Wyoming have allowed the Ten Commandments to be displayed on public property and consistent with the Supreme Court’s concept of ceremonial deism, the phrase, “under God” in the Pledge was upheld based on historical usage in 1992. The 2003 case, Newdow v. United States, the Supreme Court voted along the same lines.

 

The general view has been that religious expressions in government is not unconstitutional because of historicity and the fact that the expressions are not used to promote state religion.

 

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Atheist sues to ban hand on Bible (Washington Times, 050108)

 

The California lawyer who tried to have the phrase “under God” removed from the Pledge of Allegiance now wants to legally prevent President Bush from placing his hand on a Bible while being sworn in at his inauguration.

 

Michael Newdow, an atheist doctor and lawyer from Sacramento, has filed a complaint and a motion for preliminary injunction in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, seeking to remove prayer and all “Christian religious acts” from the Jan. 20 inauguration.

 

Mr. Newdow, 50, asserts that the presence of Christian ministers who pray publicly at the inauguration, Christian songs and the swearing of the oath of office while a president places a hand on the Bible violates the establishment clause of the First Amendment.

 

Such practices turn people “into second-class citizens and create division on the basis of religion,” he said yesterday.

 

“It is an offense of the highest magnitude that the leader of our nation — while swearing to uphold the Constitution — publicly violates that very document upon taking his oath of office,” Mr. Newdow wrote in his Dec. 17 filing. “The demands of strict scrutiny have not been met, and defendants must be enjoined from their planned religious activities.”

 

The Constitution does not require the new president to place his hand on a Bible while repeating the oath. The tradition has been kept since George Washington — with the exception of Theodore Roosevelt, who did not use a Bible when he took the oath after President William McKinley’s 1901 assassination.

 

The Revs. Franklin Graham and Kirbyjon Caldwell delivered Christian invocations at President Bush’s 2001 inauguration. Inaugural organizers have yet to announce who will pray this year, but they confirmed there will be an invocation and a benediction by ministers chosen by the president.

 

The White House and the Presidential Inaugural Committee, which is one of three inaugural organizational bodies, declined to comment on Mr. Newdow’s actions but a response to his filing was due yesterday.

 

A hearing in the case is scheduled for Thursday, Mr. Newdow said.

 

Mr. Newdow’s efforts are “part of a march toward removing every vestige of religion from American public life,” said Jay Sekulow, chief counsel for the American Center for Law and Justice, a D.C.-based public interest law firm.

 

“There is a progressive move toward secularism that we’ve got to combat pretty aggressively,” he said.

 

The center is filing an amicus brief in support of the defendants in this case..

 

The legal debate centers on two Supreme Court cases — Marsh v. Chambers in 1983 and Lee v. Weisman in 1992.

 

The argument in favor of prayer at the inauguration is based on the establishment of chaplains in Congress at its inception, before the Bill of Rights was passed prohibiting any “law respecting an establishment of religion.”

 

When the presence of chaplains in the Nebraska state legislature was legally challenged in 1983 by Ernest Chambers, a Nebraska lawmaker, the Supreme Court ruled against him, saying the practice had a “special nook” because it was a long-standing practice to have government-paid chaplains.

 

“The Supreme Court has given its constitutional blessing, so to speak,” said Mr. Sekulow. “We should not lose our history and the religious underpinnings it is founded on.”

 

However, Mr. Newdow makes a distinction between prayer in government chambers and prayer at a presidential inauguration.

 

“This is the most important public ceremony we have in our public existence, the inauguration,” he said. “This is public, not just for” lawmakers.

 

The presence of Christian influence and prayer, Mr. Newdow said, have forced him to contemplate not using his ticket to the inauguration because he does not want to feel like “an outsider.”

 

Mr. Newdow filed a similar suit in the San-Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals last year. The court threw out the suit, calling it “futile” and said that Mr. Newdow had not suffered “a sufficiently concrete and specific injury,” the Associated Press reported.

 

Mr. Newdow first became a national figure when he argued before the Supreme Court last March to remove the phrase “under God” from the Pledge of Allegiance. The court dismissed his case on the grounds that he could not represent his 10-year-old daughter, who is in the custody of his ex-wife and believes in God.

 

In addition to his quest to remove Christian activities from the inauguration, Mr. Newdow has renewed his quest to remove “under God” from the pledge by filing a new suit in California federal court on behalf of eight other parents.

 

Mr. Newdow is a licensed minister of atheism, though he says he and members of his Internet church worship nobody. He says church members instead encourage a way of thinking.

 

“Question everything,” said Mr. Newdow, summing up his worldview. “Be honest. Do what’s right. Stand up for principle.”

 

When asked how to determine what is right, Mr. Newdow said, “I use my brain.”

 

Mr. Newdow states in his complaint that he “sincerely believes that there is no such thing as god, or God, or any supernatural force.” On the contrary, he believes “supernatural” is an oxymoron. “Thus, plaintiff denies the existence of God.”

 

The Rev. Louis P. Sheldon, chairman of the Traditional Values Coalition, said Mr. Newdow’s filing marks “the day we have been warning America would come.”

 

“Mr. Newdow should be ashamed for seeking this injunction against his fellow citizens,” he said. “We, as Americans, need to awaken and deal with these threats to religious liberty, cynically disguised as ‘civil liberties’ defense.”

 

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Politically Correct Prayer—The Secular Left Goes Berserk (Christian Post, 050108)

 

Michael Newdow is at it again. The California atheist, best known for trying to get the words “under God” removed from the Pledge of Allegiance, is now trying to make certain that no one prays at the inauguration of President George W. Bush later this month—at least no one on the program.

 

Acting as his own lawyer, Newdow filed two separate suits in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California. One suit is yet another attempt to secularize the Pledge of Allegiance, the other suit is his effort to prevent the delivery of prayers in the course of the official presidential inaugural ceremonies. In his filing, Newdow charged that the prayers offered at the 2001 inauguration made him feel like a “second-class citizen.”

 

According to Religion News Service, Newdow referred to himself when he argued, “He—like all Americans—has a right to view his government in action without being forced to confront governmental endorsement of religious dogma with which he disagrees.”

 

The U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia has scheduled a hearing on the case for January 14. Just last year, Newdow lost a similar effort when a previous case was thrown out when a court ruled that he lacked standing. You can’t accuse Newdow of giving up easily.

 

In this suit, Newdow argues that prayers offered at official government ceremonies are categorically unconstitutional. As an atheist, he is offended by any prayer, offered in any words, by any person on a government platform. His case isn’t likely to get anywhere, given the previous court’s ruling that he lacked standing to bring the suit. Then again, given the activist bent of some federal judges—who knows?

 

But if Michael Newdow wants to ban prayers altogether, others just want to make sure that the 2004 inauguration will feature less “exclusionary” prayers than those offered at the 2001 ceremony. What made these folks so upset?

 

As expected, the inaugural ceremonies for President George W. Bush in 2001 opened and closed with prayer. Unexpectedly, the prayers ignited controversy and unleashed a firestorm of histrionics from the secular left.

 

Franklin Graham, evangelist son of Billy Graham, and Kirbyjon Caldwell, a leading Houston pastor, had the temerity to pray as Christians—even invoking the name of Jesus Christ. Are you shocked? Is this not what President Bush had in mind when inviting these persons to pray? Is this not what we should expect from two Christian ministers?

 

Evidently not, so far as the watchdogs of secularism and political correctness are concerned. The leading salvo came from Alan Dershowitz, the vituperative law professor from Harvard. Dershowitz was outraged by the prayers, and accused the Bush administration of subverting the Constitution. There can be no “official sectarian prayer,” avowed Dershowitz. “That is what the 1st Amendment is all about, the very first act by the new administration was in defiance of our Constitution.”

 

Prayer in defiance of the Constitution? Well, rally the militia and unleash the ACLU! Did Dershowitz mean to be taken seriously? It would appear so. Furthermore, he represents a growing antagonism to all genuine religious expression in the public square.

 

Dershowitz was not alone. Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United—a liberal group that advocates a strict separation of church and state—called the prayers “inappropriate and insensitive.” The New Republic magazine claimed to speak for “Americans of good will” who deny “that God has any place at all in the rituals of this open society.” The magazine referred to the prayers offered by Franklin Graham and Kirbyjon Caldwell as “crushing Christological thuds.” Well, one man’s thud is another man’s thunder.

 

First, let’s set the record straight. The prayers offered by Franklin Graham and Kirbyjon Caldwell did not constitute any state establishment of religion. They prayed as Christians ought always to pray, and their prayers followed in a proud inaugural tradition.

 

Given the outcry from Dershowitz and company, you might think that Jesus had never been invoked in an inauguration ceremony. This is hardly the case, as prayers in the name of Jesus have been a staple of inaugurations past—including the inaugurations of John F. Kennedy and Bill Clinton. Billy Graham has been a participant in such ceremonies for decades, and no one is surprised when he prays in Jesus’ name.

 

The sad fact is that for some time the secular left has been attempting to eradicate all genuine religious expression from public life. According to the legislators of political correctness, it is allowable only to offer “non-sectarian” prayers. Of course, a nonsectarian prayer is not a prayer at all. Are we supposed to address our public prayers to the great “To Whom it May Concern?”

 

Several years ago, the National Conference of Christians and Jews (in keeping with their desire to be nonsectarian, the group is now known only as “The National Conference”) suggested guidelines for praying in public. Such opportunities call for general prayers, according to the guidelines, and allow “persons of different faiths to give assent to what is said.”

 

Accordingly, there is no mention of any God in particular. The group suggested alternatives like, “Our Maker” or “Source of Being.” Suggested closing phrases included “Hear our Prayer” or “May Goodness Flourish.” To that we would suggest, “You must be kidding.”

 

These suggestions are an equal insult to all religions. A Christian ought to pray as a Christian, whether in public or private. The same is true for Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, Unitarians, or any others. Prayer to a general deity is an offense to faith, and calls for “non-sectarian” prayers betray a misunderstanding of prayer itself.

 

Professor Dershowitz holds to a rather extreme view of the Constitution—but to a downright bizarre view of prayer. Does he really believe that a Christian, a Jew, a Muslim, and a Buddhist can join together in the same prayer? The Buddhist does not even believe in a personal deity.

 

Dershowitz’s fervor on this issue is especially perplexing, given the fact that he identifies as a Jew by tradition, but as an agnostic in belief. What kind of prayer would complement his brand of Jewish agnosticism? Perhaps a prayer to the non-existent God?

 

A Christian minister who prays non-Christian prayers betrays the Gospel. A Jew should be expected to pray as a Jew, and a Muslim as a Muslim. The same is true for all religions and their believers. This is the true promise of the 1st Amendment, and the true fulfillment of religious liberty.

 

The Constitution guarantees freedom to exercise religion—not to hide behind a mask of generic religiosity. As former senator [and current Ambassador to the United Nations] John Danforth once stated, authentic prayer “is almost by definition sectarian prayer.”

 

This can be a hard pill to swallow. Those offended by hearing the prayers of other religions had better get used to it. Freedom for Christians to pray Christian prayers is also freedom for Muslims, Buddhists, Sihks, and all others to pray in accordance with their own beliefs. Anything less is sham religion and hollow constitutional promises.

 

William Willimon, now the United Methodist Bishop of North Alabama, once commented that he had tried for a time to pray non-sectarian prayers, but he stopped this experiment when a student told him that he “sounded less like a Christian minister and more like a crew member on the starship Enterprise.”

 

The secular left is never bothered by New Age prayers to the “Force” or the “Source.” They erupt only when a sincere believer of a particular faith prays a particular prayer in his or her particular way—and in public, of all things.

 

If Michael Newdow is successful in his litigation, there will be no prayers at this month’s presidential inauguration. If Alan Dershowitz and his band of secular ideologues have their way, the public square will be swept clean of authentic religious expression. When that happens, it will be back to the catacombs for Christians.

 

_________________________________________

 

R. Albert Mohler, Jr. is president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky.

 

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Court Rejects Challenge to Inaugural Prayer (Foxnews, 050115)

 

WASHINGTON — A federal judge on Friday rejected a challenge brought by atheist Michael Newdow to stop the invocation prayer at President Bush’s second inauguration.

 

On Thursday, Newdow told U.S. District Judge John Bates that having a minister invoke God in the Jan. 20 ceremony would violate the Constitution by forcing him to accept unwanted religious beliefs.

 

But one day later, Bates ruled that Newdow wouldn’t get far in his legal challenge and noted the absence of a “clearly established violation of the Establishment Clause.”

 

Click here to read the Memorandum Opinion in Newdow v. Bush (FindLaw pdf).

 

“Moreover,” the judge said in the ruling, “the balance of harms here, and particularly the public interest, does not weigh strongly in favor of the injunctive relief Newdow requests, which would require the unprecedented step of an injunction against the president.”

 

The government had asked the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia to dismiss the current lawsuit, saying the invocation had been widely accepted for more than 200 years old.

 

The court on Friday said it doesn’t have the power to order the president not to speak at his own inauguration and the act of ordering the president not to permit an invocation and benediction — which Newdow sought — would be one and the same.

 

Newdow argued he would be harmed as someone attending the inauguration by being forced to listen to sectarian and specifically, Christian, prayer. The court said that harm is simply too small to warrant its involvement in the matter. Also, the court said Newdow really doesn’t have the legal standing to make this request since he sued over inauguration prayers in 2001 and lost that case in two federal courts.

 

Appearing on FOX News’ “Hannity & Colmes” late Friday, Newdow continued to trumpet his cause. He said that reciting prayers at the inauguration violates the rights of atheists because it undermines equality.

 

“How can you say it’s equal to say to some people that they have to listen to other people espouse religious dogma in the name of the government?” he said.

 

After his first inaugural legal attempt, Newdow became famous in 2002 for his unsuccessful attempt to remove the phrase “under God” from the Pledge of Allegiance.

 

Two ministers delivered Christian invocations at Bush’s inaugural ceremony in 2001, and plans call for a minister to do the same before Bush takes the oath of office again next week.

 

In court this week, Newdow argued that the prayers violate the constitutional ban on the establishment of religion.

 

“I am going to be standing there having this imposed on me,” Newdow told the court by phone on Thursday. “They will be telling me I’m an outsider at that particular moment.”

 

Newdow also argued that taxpayer-financed inaugural ceremonies cannot be a platform for “the coercive imposition of religious dogma,” adding that the president intended to “use the machinery of the state to advocate his religious beliefs.”

 

Bates questioned both sides vigorously at Thursday’s two-hour hearing, but said he doubted a court could order the president not to include a prayer when he takes the oath of office.

 

“Is it really in the public interest for the federal courts to step in and enjoin prayer at the president’s inauguration?” Bates asked.

 

Bates also questioned whether the lawsuit should be thrown out because the San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled last year that Newdow did not suffer “a sufficiently concrete and specific injury” when he opposed prayers from being recited at Bush’s first inauguration.

 

Newdow said his case is different this time because he actually has a ticket to attend the inauguration. He said being there live is different than four years ago, when he planned to watch the ceremony on television.

 

Justice Department lawyer Edward White scoffed at that claim, saying the issues in the two cases are the same and that Newdow still has not shown how he would be injured by hearing the prayer.

 

In an interview published in Wednesday’s Washington Times, Bush, who converted from Episcopalianism to Methodism and prays daily, tried to dispel perceptions that he is advocating his beliefs or imposing them on anyone.

 

“I think people attack me because they are fearful that I will then say that you’re not equally as patriotic if you’re not a religious person. I’ve never said that. I’ve never acted like that,” he said.

 

Inaugural references to God date back to George Washington’s inauguration in 1789. Christian prayers within the ceremony began with Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s second inauguration in 1937.

 

Government attorneys defending the continued use of prayer said in court papers that “there is no reason to reverse course and abandon a widely accepted, noncontroversial aspect of the inaugural ceremony.”

 

In court Thursday, they added that Supreme Court precedent allows state legislatures and Congress to open each workday with prayer.

 

Newdow countered that legislative sessions are quite different from taxpayer-financed public ceremonies.

 

A large part of next week’s inaugural ceremonies is being paid for with private donations, though the federal government is picking up the tab for construction of the viewing stands and security.

 

In 2002, the 9th Circuit ruled in Newdow’s favor concerning the “under God” phrase in the Pledge of Allegiance. It agreed that the phrase, added to the Pledge in 1954, was an unconstitutional blending of church and state.

 

In June 2004, however, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the decision on a technicality, essentially sidestepping the core issue.

 

It said Newdow could not lawfully sue on behalf of his elementary school-aged daughter because he did not have custody of the girl and because the girl’s mother objected to the suit.

 

Newdow re-filed the Pledge suit in Sacramento federal court earlier this month, naming eight other plaintiffs who are custodial parents or the children themselves.

 

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Religious References Pervade D.C. (Foxnews, 050126)

 

WASHINGTON — Atheist Michael Newdow failed in his bid last week to remove prayer from President Bush’s inaugural ceremony, but his complaint is unlikely to be the last in an effort to remove references to religion from the public discourse.

 

From U.S. currency to government buildings, there are myriad examples of what some say is an inextricable link between the U.S. government and God.

 

The Lincoln Memorial at one end of the nation’s capital includes President Lincoln’s second inaugural address, which makes six references to God in 700 words, shorter than an average news article.

 

Also in the memorial is a quotation from the Gettysburg Address, in which Lincoln said, “This nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom.”

 

The Washington Monument includes a bible in its cornerstone. The Supreme Court has the Ten Commandments inscribed in four places. The Library of Congress, White House and Jefferson Memorial all have references to God.

 

The Declaration of Independence, in which the colonies separated themselves from England, includes the phrase: “We are endowed by our creator with certain inalienable rights.”

 

But the Declaration of Independence is not a legal document governing the country. That’s left to the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, the latter of which outlines a basis for the separation of church and state.

 

“Whenever government tends to touch religion it tends to degrade it. It compromises it. Real vitality comes from separating those institutions of government from those of religion, not combining them,” said Rev. Barry Lynn, head of the organization Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

 

But former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, who has revived the debate in a new book about the role of religion in the creation of the U.S. government, asked secularists what they think the Declaration of Independence meant when it spoke of “our creator.”

 

“The America historically that has existed for over 300 years is an America in which the concept of the creator, the concept of providence, the concept of divine intervention has been very real,” said Gingrich, who authored the book “Winning the Future: The 21st Century Contract With America.”

 

Gingrich points out that the Capitol Building has the word “God” carved into its walls and painted on its entrances. Some artwork in the Capitol contains images of bibles and angels. Gingrich also mentions that the U.S. House was used for church services until after the Civil War.

 

However, Lynn said that’s not the point.

 

“Clearly, there are many religious references on buildings across Washington, D.C., and no one is trying to sandblast them off. They are part of the history of the country. But as we enter this new century, what we ought to be doing is becoming increasingly concerned about the diversity of religious and nonreligious opinion,” he said.

 

Already, steps are being taken toward removing religious references from new construction of public property. The newest monument on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., is dedicated to World War II. On it is a partial quote from a speech by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. The end of the speech, where Roosevelt says “So help us God,” is omitted from the engraving.

 

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Bush sending a mixed message to the black community (townhall.com, 050201)

 

Star Parker

 

President Bush pitched Social Security reform, his priority issue going into his second term, to a group of black pastors convened at the White House this past week. The pastors, in turn, praised the president for a major program of his first term _ the faith-based initiative.

 

For sure, the president is sending a mixed message to the black community regarding his idea of the role of government in our society. With Social Security, he’s talking about ownership and less government. The faith-based-grant program, on the other hand, amounts to a significant expansion of government.

 

The faith-based initiative was born of good intentions. The most successful social service programs in the country are those affiliated with religious institutions. These are programs that provide services such as counseling, child care, drug rehabilitation and the like. Why shouldn’t such programs be eligible to compete for federal funds when the same funds pour into government-sponsored, and far less successful, secular programs?

 

Attempts to enact faith-based legislation in the last Congress faltered, and the administration, by executive order, set up offices to administer grants through federal agencies.

 

In 2003, $1.17 billion in federal grants were made to faith-based institutions.

 

The Bush administration has used the faith-based initiative as a selling point in the heavily Democratic community of black churchgoers. The pastors, of course, have been paying attention. As the saying goes, “Money talks.”

 

Unfortunately, the president’s program, in its current form, is truly a case of good intentions gone awry. The grant concept is deeply flawed and I predict that the organizations getting these federal grants will in short order start looking like the same government programs we were trying to get away from.

 

For starters, the circular logic is compelling. Faith-based programs are successful because they are faith-based. If in order to get federal funding the services must be delivered devoid of the faith component, what exactly is a faith-based initiative? We serve up the doughnut on condition you only get the hole.

 

My own life was changed by a coming to faith. I cannot imagine what a faith-based service would be if its central component was not religion. Surely, a religious service provider can conceivably deliver child care without talking about religion. But think about the contorted behavior we can expect. Like wondering if saying “God bless you” when a child sneezes will jeopardize your grant.

 

But more fundamentally, federal grants will change the way churches think about how to serve their communities. Time, energy and creativity will no longer be focused on coming up with creative solutions to problems but on how to structure programs to qualify for grants. Even now, as the welfare-reform time limits are running out on millions of single women with children, their pastors are busy attending seminars on how to apply for federal funding.

 

On the grant-decision-making side, we know it will be impossible for these decisions to take place independent of politics. It’s the nature of politics that money and favors go hand in hand.

 

This whole thing is of particular concern to me regarding its impact on the black community. Many of our problems today stem from the destructiveness of the welfare state and government dependency. The black church has been our pillar of strength. Why would we want to lean that pillar up against government for support?

 

I believe the president is a man of genuine interest; however, there are better ways in which the objectives of the faith-based initiative can be achieved without the corrosive influence of government grants.

 

One approach, which is already starting to be done to a limited degree, is vouchers. This allows individuals to choose what program they want.

 

In conjunction with this, provide tax credits for supporting these institutions. This gets government out of the way and lets the marketplace truly work between private funders and organizations competing for funds.

 

The president could encourage community leaders to step forth to help mobilize funds for local faith-based institutions. In the last presidential campaign, for instance, the Republican Party raised upwards of a billion dollars through a pure grass-roots fund-raising effort. Why should such efforts be limited to politics?

 

In its current form, the faith-based initiative will succeed only in strengthening faith in government. It’s bad for blacks and for all Americans. Let’s hope we can move beyond this.

 

Star Parker is president of the Coalition on Urban Renewal and Education and author of the newly released book ‘Uncle Sam’s Plantation.’

 

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Prayer eyed in Virginia schools (Washington Times, 050216)

 

RICHMOND — Lawmakers want to amend the state constitution to open schools and other public places to prayer and other religious activities.

 

Delegate Charles W. Carrico Sr. said the amendment is needed because there is a growing effort to silence Christians.

 

“I’m tired of hearing when you walk into a school you cannot profess your beliefs because you may offend someone else,” the Grayson Republican said.

 

Mr. Carrico, a retired state trooper, said he tried to use the Old Testament story of David and Goliath to inspire a group of students bound for the high school prom to avoid sex, drugs and alcohol. A parent filed a complaint against him, he said.

 

He noted his amendment does not require people to participate in prayer, and said the state will not create any official school prayers.

 

The amendment will be heard Monday in the Senate Courts of Justice Committee. The amendment passed the House last week on a 69-27 vote. If it passes the Senate, it would go to voters in 2006. Both chambers are controlled by Republicans.

 

The amendment would allow prayer and other professions of “religious beliefs, heritage and traditions” on public property, including schools.

 

It is already legal for Virginia schools to allow time for silent prayer and to allow religious student clubs to meet during non-instructional time.

 

The Rev. C. Douglas Smith, executive director of the Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy, said the amendment is not a “prayer issue or religious issue,” and said he believes it is unconstitutional. “There is no question in anyone’s mind there are volumes of case law that would render this null and void immediately,” Mr. Smith said. “It puts at risk the constitution’s hundreds of years of history which have sought to protect religious freedoms.”

 

The amendment was up for consideration yesterday in the Senate Privileges and Elections Committee, but senators referred it to the Courts of Justice Committee at the request of Sen. Kenneth W. Stolle, the Virginia Beach Republican who is chairman of that committee.

 

The panel quickly voted 8-5 to refer the amendment to Mr. Stolle’s committee.

 

“Clearly, with all its freedom-of-religion and First Amendment implications, this belongs before the Courts Committee,” Mr. Stolle said.

 

Backers of the amendment said they’re hopeful, but critics predict it will be difficult to get the amendment out of a Senate committee that historically has been unwilling to tinker with the state’s Bill of Rights. With no companion bill in the Senate, a defeat before Mr. Stolle’s committee early next week would kill the measure.

 

Mr. Carrico said he was disappointed his amendment was not heard yesterday, but said he has “faith” it will pass.

 

“It has just as good a chance there as anywhere else,” he told reporters.

 

Mr. Smith said he believes the amendment will be found unconstitutional in that committee, since “some of the Senate’s best legal minds” are members.

 

Debra Gold Linick, assistant director of the Jewish Community Relations Council, opposes the measure because she worries her 6-year-old daughter, Rebecca, will one day have religious views imposed upon her in the classroom.

 

“We don’t need prayer in schools during instructional time,” Ms. Linick, a Fairfax County resident, said yesterday. “We don’t send our kids to public schools to get a religious education.” The debate in the House was one of the more passionate this session.

 

“You shouldn’t have to check your deeply held beliefs at the door of the courthouse, at the door of the Statehouse or at the door of the schoolhouse,” said Delegate Bill Janis, Goochland Republican.

 

The amendment would affect the religious freedom guarantees created in the 1786 Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, authored by Thomas Jefferson and James Madison.

 

House Majority Leader H. Morgan Griffith, Salem Republican and a big fan of Jefferson, voted for the amendment, even though he said he hates “tinkering” with his idol’s words in the state constitution.

 

Several Democrats opposed the measure to say government should not be involved in religious matters.

 

“I am a cross-wearing, church-choir-singing, mission-trip-going, pledge-paying Christian,” said Delegate Kristen J. Amundson, Fairfax County Democrat. “But let me be clear “ this legislation is either unnecessary or unconstitutional.”

 

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Virginia bill OKs prayers by Christians (Washington Times, 050301)

 

Members of municipal bodies in Virginia will be able to say Christian prayers just before the beginning of their official meetings under a measure the General Assembly unanimously approved this session.

 

The measure, sponsored by Delegate Robert D. Orrock Sr., creates a period for “meditation” immediately before an official government body is called to order. The measure also allows local government officials to invoke the name of Jesus Christ and say sectarian prayers without violating the separation of church and state.

 

Mr. Orrock said the prayers will be protected by free-speech laws.

 

“Under the First Amendment, you can say whatever you want to say,” the Caroline Republican said. “It’s a minor modification of a long-standing practice.”

 

The American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia opposes the bill.

 

Kent Willis, executive director of Virginia’s ACLU, said the bill would allow local governments to circumvent a recent ruling by the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals that prohibits sectarian prayers at the start of meetings.

 

“Unconstitutional prayers will appear to be constitutional,” Mr. Willis said.

 

Last year, the 4th Circuit Court unanimously ruled that the practice of town council meetings beginning with a prayer that includes references to Jesus in South Carolina was an unconstitutional government advancement of a single religion.

 

The ruling came after a Wiccan high priestess sued the town council of Great Falls, S.C., because its leaders refused to lead prayers that didn’t invoke a single religion or to allow members of different faiths to lead the prayers. The woman, who regularly attended the meetings, had said she was ostracized for refusing to stand and bow her head during the Christian prayers.

 

The ruling also led council members in Culpeper, Va., who for decades allowed local ministers to give prayers, to start their meetings with a moment of silence in August when they were advised that those leading the prayers should avoid any references to Jesus.

 

Mr. Orrock’s measure is headed to Gov. Mark Warner. Yesterday, the governor’s staff said the measure is under review. Mr. Warner, a Democrat, has a month to review all the bills approved by the state legislature.

 

If the governor signs the measure, any governing body in Virginia will be able to give sectarian prayers before a meeting officially begins.

 

Mr. Warner also can propose an amendment to the bill or veto it. The Republican-controlled legislature will consider his vetoes and amendments April 6.

 

The issue came up over the summer when a council member in Fredericksburg, Va., opened a meeting with a Christian prayer. His actions drew criticism from some local residents and the ACLU.

 

Critics argued that the prayers gave the impression that the government prefers one religion over others. The ACLU said it violated the 4th Circuit Court ruling, which applies to legislative bodies in Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, and the Carolinas.

 

Fredericksburg City Council member Hashmel C. Turner Jr., who is an associate minister at the First Baptist Church of Love, defied the court’s ruling and continued to lead a prayer that mentioned Jesus. After further criticism, Mr. Turner stopped giving the prayers.

 

Mr. Turner said yesterday with the legislature’s actions, he will now ask the council to put his name back on the rotating list of members who pray before meetings.

 

“It seems like there is victory in the air,” he said.

 

Mr. Orrock said he disagrees with the 4th Circuit Court ruling, and that he hopes his bill clarifies the issue for municipal bodies. His bill does not dictate the type of religion that can be used in prayer.

 

He said his bill says that officials can begin a meeting immediately after the word “Amen” is uttered.

 

Before each daily session, the Virginia General Assembly has an opening prayer, delivered by clergy from each member’s district on a rotating basis. Those delivering the prayers are advised to stay nonsectarian and avoid political speech.

 

Last month, a lesbian pastor scolded the legislature during her opening prayer. The Rev. Debra Peevey, pastor of the Journey of the Heart Ministries in Reston, said legislators were using their power “not to lead or to guide but to harm gay and lesbian citizens.”

 

Her prayer irritated many lawmakers.

 

Delegate John A. Cosgrove, Chesapeake Republican, told the Associated Press he was frustrated by Miss Peevey’s prayer.

 

“It’s interesting — we’re told not to pray in Jesus’ name, but this is OK?” he asked.

 

==============================

 

High Court Mulls Ten Commandments Displays (Foxnews, 050302)

 

WASHINGTON — More than a year after an Alabama justice lost his job over a Ten Commandments display, the U.S. Supreme Court is revisiting the politically thorny issue for the first time in more than two decades.

 

The court, which in 1980 ruled that religious displays did not belong in public schools, will now decide if displays on government property also violate the First Amendment. Specifically, the justices will consider a Ten Commandments monument in Texas and framed copies of the Commandments in two Kentucky courthouses.

 

Protesters braved a chilly night in Washington on Tuesday for candlelight vigils. Rallies for both sides of the issue were under way on Wednesday. More than 50 groups have filed “friend-of-the-court” briefs weighing in on the issue.

 

Ten Commandments monuments are common in town squares, courthouses and other government-owned land around the country. At issue is whether they violate the First Amendment ban on any law “respecting an establishment of religion,” or simply represent a secular tribute to America’s legal heritage.

 

The question has sparked dozens of heated legal battles, including that of Roy Moore. He lost his job as chief justice a year ago after defying a federal order to remove a 5,300-pound Ten Commandments monument he had installed in the state courthouse.

 

While the cases strictly involve Ten Commandments displays, a broad ruling could define the proper place of religion in public life — from use of religious music in a school concert to students’ recitation of “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance. A decision is expected by late June.

 

The Bush administration, which sided with a California school district last year to keep “God” in the Pledge, is now joining Texas and Kentucky officials to back the Ten Commandments displays.

 

“Countless monuments, medallions, plaques, sculptures, seals, frescoes, and friezes — including, of course, the Supreme Court’s own courtroom frieze — commemorate the Decalogue. Nothing in the Constitution requires these historic artifacts to be chiseled away or erased,” writes Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott in his court filing.

 

Erwin Chemerinsky, representing a homeless man suing to have the Texas display removed, countered: “The government’s symbolic endorsement of religion is most obvious from the content of the monument itself. In large letters, the monument proclaims ‘I AM the LORD thy God.’”

 

Ten Commandments displays are supported by a majority of Americans, according to an AP-Ipsos poll. The poll taken in late February found that 76% support it and 23% oppose it.

 

In the Texas case, Thomas Van Orden lost his lawsuit to have a 6-foot granite monument removed from the state Capitol grounds.

 

The Fraternal Order of Eagles donated the exhibit to the state in 1961, and it was installed about 75 feet from the Capitol in Austin. The group gave thousands of similar monuments to American towns during the 1950s and ‘60s, and those have been the subject of multiple court fights.

 

Two Kentucky counties, meanwhile, hung framed copies of the Ten Commandments in their courthouses and added other documents, such as the Magna Carta and the Declaration of Independence, after the American Civil Liberties Union challenged the display.

 

While one lower court found the Texas display to be predominantly nonreligious because it was one of 17 monuments in a 22-acre park, another court struck down the Kentucky displays as lacking a “secular purpose.” Kentucky’s modification of the display was a “sham” for the religious intent behind it, the Cincinnati-based 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled.

 

The last time the Supreme Court weighed in on the issue was 1980, when it struck down a Kentucky law requiring Ten Commandments displays in public classrooms. Since then, more than two dozen courts have ruled in conflicting ways on displays in various public contexts.

 

Justices have outlined several different tests in recent years to determine their constitutionality:

 

—secular purpose; was there religious motive?

 

—endorsement; do they show a government neutrality toward religion?

 

—coercion; do they place impermissible pressure, such as school prayer?

 

—historical practice; are they part of the “fabric of our society,” such as legislative prayer?

 

The Supreme Court frieze, for instance, depicts Moses and the tablets as well as 17 other figures including Hammurabi, Confucius, Napoleon and Chief Justice John Marshall. Because it includes secular figures in a way that doesn’t endorse religion, the display would be constitutional, Justice John Paul Stevens suggested in a 1989 ruling.

 

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DeLay weighs in on Texas Supreme Court case (WorldNetDaily, 050302)

 

WASHINGTON House Majority Leader Tom DeLay said today that there is no constitutional guarantee of separation of church and state. He said that as the Supreme Court prepared to take up a case challenging the display of the Ten Commandments on the Texas Capitol grounds.

The Republican from Sugar Land, Texas, says — quote — “I hope the Supreme Court will finally read the Constitution and see there’s no such thing, or no mention, of separation of church and state in the Constitution.”

 

The First Amendment of the Constitution says “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof ...”

 

Some argue the amendment prohibits activities such as prayer in school and the Ten Commandments monument at the Texas Capitol. But others interpret it more narrowly, saying the founding fathers intended it to prohibit the government from setting up a single denomination as the country’s official religion.

 

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Court prepares to settle Ten Commandments dispute (USA Today, 050302)

 

WASHINGTON (AP) — As the Supreme Court prepares to settle conflicting rulings about whether the Ten Commandments can be displayed at courthouses and on other government property, there is little ambiguity about the issue among the public.

 

An Associated Press poll conducted in late February found 76% of Americans say such displays ought to be allowed.

 

On Wednesday, the Supreme Court was to consider whether a 6-foot granite Ten Commandments monument on the grounds of the Texas Capitol and two similar displays at Kentucky courthouses cross the line of separation between church and state.

 

Lower courts have split on the issue. The high court is being asked to decide the issue once and for all. A ruling is expected by the end of June.

 

The last time the court dealt with the issue was 1980, when justices banned the posting of Ten Commandments in public schools. That case also was from Kentucky.

 

The Bush administration has asked the court to allow the displays while the American Civil Liberties Union is among those calling for their removal.

 

Past polling has found majority support for the general concept of separation of church and state. That sentiment is not always reflected when people are asked about specific cases.

 

Support for the Ten Commandments displays was strong among most groups in the AP poll of 1,000 adults conducted by Ipsos-Public Affairs Feb. 22-24. The margin of sampling error was plus or minus 3%age points.

 

Older adults were more likely to feel the Ten Commandments should be allowed on government property. People with only a high school education or some college were more likely to favor allowing the display of the Ten Commandments than those with college degrees.

 

People in the Midwest and South were more likely than those in other regions to favor allowing such displays.

 

“The Ten Commandments are religious, but they’re also a good guide on how to live your life,” said Maureen Jones, a grandmother from the Detroit area. “I’m not religious, but I don’t think there should be a big deal made about it.”

 

But Marvin Knudson, a retired businessman from Stevenson, Ore., said allowing such displays on government property worries him.

 

“We need to be cautious as to what is implied in this,” he said. “I am concerned about the government making no law about the establishment of religion.”

 

==============================

 

Favorable Rulings Anticipated for Ten Commandments (Christian Post, 050302)

 

The Supreme Court heard oral arguments for two landmark Ten Commandment cases on Wednesday, amid prayer vigils and rallies supporting the public display of the sacred texts. And while the decisions are not due until June, Christian leaders at the courthouse anticipated victories for the critical cases, which may very well determine the future of all forms of religious expression in public life.

 

“You can never tell, but based upon today, I think we’re going to see a decision that will be favorable,” said Mathew Staver, president Liberty Counsel, who argued in for The Decalogue in the Kentucky case. “It went well. I think the interesting thing is that the Justices’ questions indicated the majority of them were not interested in removing the Ten Commandments from public grounds.”

 

Rev. Rob Schenck, president of Faith and Action, who attended hearings on both the Kentucky and Texas cases, agreed that the Justices seemed in favor of the displays.

 

“I am very encouraged by what I heard in the arguments in the courtroom, partly because of the line of questions asked by the Justices,” said Schenck. “There were justices I would never have predicted who seemed to express a growing anxiety over the challenge against religion and religious symbolism in our culture.

 

“I think the justices felt the prospects of pulling the Ten Commandments out of the ground and off of the walls just seemed like an extreme outcome that would make the government seem hostile against religion,” continued Schenck.

 

Schenck, whose group organized a successful prayer rally for the displays on Tuesday night, took note of specific instances where the Justices spoke out against religious hostility.

 

“Justice Antonin Scalia actually said to the lawyers arguing to support the Ten Commandments that the monuments are religious in nature but there’s nothing wrong with that. [Scalia] said religion has played a very important role in the development in our laws, and governments derive their authority from God, so that shouldn’t be a problem. He said the Commandments are not sectarian and that it is very broad, and I think most of the justices agreed with him.”

 

“Even the most liberal members of the Court, Justices [David] Souter and [John Paul] Stevens, were tempered in their remarks,” said Schenck. “Stevens, who I’d expect to be the most negative on these cases, was tempered in his questions and he did not appear to think the displays should be pulled out.”

 

“And then there were the positive statements by Justices [Anthony] Kennedy and [Stephen] Breyer, who said that by denying the option of the Ten Commandments, the government would send the symbol that religion is not welcome.”

 

Staver agreed that the Justices seemed to reluctant to “secularize” the landscape of our nation.

 

“I think it was a little bit of a surprise that Justice Breyer suggested that he was not opposed to the monument, and Justice Kennedy also,” said Staver to the Christian Post on Wednesday. “It was pretty clear where Justice Scalia stood on the issue, and it was good to see those kinds of questions coming form this Justices.”

 

According to Staver, the worst case scenario for the Kentucky case is for it to return to the lower court for litigation.

 

“The worst case for Kentucky is for it to get sent back for litigation,” said Staver. “The worst case is not going to mean losing on the larger issue of the Ten Commandments – at least not after what I saw today.”

 

Meanwhile, Schenck explained that while all seemed positive in regards to the specific cases, the larger war to secure the role of religion in public life had just begun.

 

“This is only one more battle in a much larger war to secure our concepts of God and the role of religion in our national public life,” said Schenck. “And while we are optimistic, we have no time to relax. So this is the time for Christians who really care about our country to be both seen and heard.

 

“This is one of the most critical issues of our time and this is not the time to sit out. We need to be fully engaged and be ready to inform others.”

 

==============================

 

Thou Shalt Make No Sense: Commandments and confused jurisprudence (National Review Online, 050304)

 

The Supreme Court has just heard oral arguments in two cases — one in Kentucky, the other in Texas — involving the display of the Ten Commandments, thus opening another act in the long-running absurdist drama known as “Supreme Court Establishment Clause Jurisprudence.”

 

The First Amendment says that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.” Throughout most of American history that has been taken to mean — oddly enough — that government can’t establish a religion. It is the Supreme Court in recent decades that has taken this straightforward admonition and made it an impossible-to-understand mess. So the other day Justice David Souter mused aloud whether a display of only the last five commandments — so much for honoring your mother and father (No. 4) — might be constitutional in a way that a display of all 10 is not.

 

A better question is: If a Ten Commandments display establishes a religion, exactly what religion is it? Is it Judaism? And if so, Orthodox or Reform? Or is it Christianity? If so, Roman Catholic or Protestant? If the latter, is it Lutheran, Episcopal, Presbyterian, or something else? Maybe Seventh-day Adventist? If government has gone to the trouble of establishing a religion, shouldn’t all of us know which one? Or is this just another case of government’s notorious bureaucratic inefficiency? It meant to establish a religion, but memos got crossed somewhere and it couldn’t agree on its fundamental tenets?

 

The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty argues in an amicus brief, reasonably enough, that government is always going to reflect the culture around it, and therefore acknowledge the varied religiosity of America. New York City marks a tree in Tompkins Square Park the “Hare Krishna Tree.” In Hawaii, the federal government has bestowed special status to the Pu’ukohola Heiau Temple in honor of the war god Kuka’ilimoku. The United States Capitol displays a monument of the Roman goddess of Liberty, and yet countless millions of nonpagans have visited the Capitol without lodging any objection.

 

Indeed, the alleged harm of Ten Commandments displays is attenuated to the point of nonexistence. The Texas case came about because in 2002 a homeless man named Thomas Van Orden — on his way to idling the day away at the State Law Library — noticed the display on the grounds of the Texas state capitol. As it happens, Van Orden has a law degree (is this an over-lawyered country or what?). With nothing else to do with his time, he sued. The display had been up since 1961, and in 40 years, no one in Texas had noticed the state was trying to establish a religion.

 

But Van Orden got his day in the Supreme Court, because the Court lives by a commandment of its own: “Thou shalt make no sense.” Long ago it rejected any clean standard for interpreting the establishment clause, opting for a confusing morass instead. The 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has said “[t]he uncertain contours of these Establishment Clause restrictions virtually guarantee that on a yearly basis, municipalities, religious groups and citizens will find themselves embroiled in legal and political disputes.” Uh, yeah.

 

As near as anyone can tell, the Court’s standard for constitutionality is whether a reasonable observer would conclude that government is endorsing religion as a general matter. Even by this standard, the Kentucky courthouse displays should pass muster. They include eight other documents, such as the Declaration of Independence and the Magna Carta. If this display is illegal, the Supreme Court will be making illicit any governmental acknowledgment of the influence of “ethical monotheism” — as law professors Gerald Bradley and Robert P. George put it — on the foundation of America.

 

The Texas case is dicier, since the display isn’t quite so clearly part of a historical statement. Expect tangled 5-4 decisions in the two cases that do little to clarify anything. The Ten Commandments are one of Western culture’s great symbols of law. In its arbitrary and erratic jurisprudence, the U.S. Supreme Court has become a symbol of the opposite.

 

— Rich Lowry is author of Legacy: Paying the Price for the Clinton Years.

 

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Recall Election Over Pledge Of Allegiance Reinstated (WorldNetDaily, 050303)

[Kwing Hung: The pushing back by Christians!]

 

Habecker Refuses To Stand During Pledge At Town Board Meeting

 

DENVER — It will now be up to the voters to decide whether an Estes Park trustee gets recalled for not reciting the Pledge of Allegiance.

 

David Habecker sits while others stand for the Pledge of Allegiance.

 

A federal judge lifted an injunction Wednesday, ruling that the recall election can take place.

 

Trustee David Habecker has refused to stand and say the pledge at Town Board meetings because of the words “under God.” He said it’s against his beliefs and that made some voters push for a recall.

 

“I do not believe that this book, that this God, that this country is under that God. I believe the framers of the Constitution had a separation there,” said Habecker. “You know what people’s opinion is? It’s the Constitution of the United States. It is the constitution of Colorado and it is all the rules and ordinances of Estes Park.”

 

“His action as a personal protest is not what we want as a representative. He’s taking a personal stand as an elected official,” said Richard Clark, who is pushing for the recall. “We the people believe that his actions and his verbage do not represent us as citizens for a responsible government.”

 

SURVEY

 

Should a town trustee be recalled because he refuses to stand up and say the Pledge of Allegiance during Town Board meetings?

Yes. 78%

No. 22%

 

The Town Board meets next Tuesday night to set a date for the recall election. It could happen as soon as March 22.

 

The pledge was added to the trustees’ agenda early last year.

 

Several months later, Habecker said he would stay seated because of his constitutional rights to free speech and freedom of religion.

 

Habecker, who’s served on the Town Board for 12 years, said he doesn’t oppose the meaning of the pledge, and considers himself a patriot.

 

Habecker said he just objects to the words “under God” because they exclude some beliefs. He also said religious references have no place in an official town meeting.

 

Board members who launched the recall effort say voters have lost confidence in Habecker’s ability to represent citizen’s patriotism and “common decency.”

 

The board began reciting the pledge before meetings at the suggestion of Trustee Lori Jeffrey-Clark, calling it a way to show respect for the country during wartime.

 

Habecker sued the town and others in January to try to stop the recall election.

 

During a hearing in Denver on Wednesday, U.S. District Court Judge Edward Nottingham said Habecker has certain rights, but citizens also have the right to petition to recall him. He also said the town remained neutral during the recall process.

 

Habecker’s attorney says he probably won’t appeal the ruling.

 

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Bible slays killer’s death sentence: Jury consulted Old Testament while deciding man’s fate (WorldNetDaily, 050329)

[Kwing Hung: Does it mean that Christians cannot be a juror?]

 

The Colorado Supreme Court has overturned a convicted killer’s death sentence because jurors brought Bibles into the jury room and wrote down and quoted passages from the Old Testament during deliberations.

 

Robert Harlan will serve life in prison without parole after being convicted and sentenced to death in 1995 for the kidnapping, murder and rape of a 25-year-old woman and the attempted murder of a woman who came to her aid.

 

Casino waitress Rhonda Maloney was driving home from work when Harlan forced her car off the road and raped her.

 

The victim escaped and flagged down a passing motorist, Jaquie Creazzo. The “good samaritan” was driving Maloney to a police station when Harlan gave chase and fired at her vehicle.

 

Creazzo was struck by a bullet and paralyzed in the attack. Harlan then pulled Maloney from the car and fled. Her body was found a week later.

 

The jury recommended the death penalty, but defense attorneys challenged the sentence after discovering several of the jurors brought Bibles into the jury room.

 

As WorldNetDaily reported, although jury members, who were sequestered in a hotel during the period of their deliberations, were not exposed to newspapers and other media coverage, court officials didn’t remove the Bibles from jurors’ rooms.

 

The defense argued allowing jurors to refer to religious works while deliberating was improper because they are not part of Colorado law, the Associated Press reported.

 

Two Old Testament verses from Leviticus were particularly problematic, claimed the defense. One read, “fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, as he has caused disfigurement of a man, so shall it be done to him.” The other: “Whoever kills an animal shall restore it, but whoever kills a man shall be put to death.”

 

Adams County District Judge John J. Vigil, who admitted Harlan’s crimes “were among the most grievous, heinous and reprehensible” he had ever seen, ruled the death penalty “must be imposed in a constitutional manner” and vacated the sentence.

 

The state of Colorado then appealed the ruling to the state Supreme Court.

 

“The Supreme Court finds that it can no longer say the death penalty verdict was not influenced by passion, prejudice or any other arbitrary factor,” the court said in a 47-page ruling.

 

The court said Bible passages, including the verse that commands “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth,” could lead jurors to vote for death.

 

Prosecutors argued jurors should be allowed to refer to the Bible or other religious texts while deliberating and reaching a verdict.

 

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Teacher rejected because kids at Christian school: Wins discrimination suit after application for vice principal nixed (WorldNetDaily, 050329)

 

A federal grand jury punished a public school superintendent for rejecting a vice-principal applicant because she refused to remove her children from a private Christian school.

 

The jury unanimously said the constitutional rights of Karen Jo Barrow were violated and ordered former Greenville, Texas, Independent School District Superintendent Herman Smith to pay back wages of $15,000 and $20,000 in punitive damages.

 

“This is truly a victory for every teacher and administrator in America,” said Kelly Shackelford, chief counsel for Texas-based Liberty Legal Institute. “The jury sent a strong message that this type of behavior is not permitted within school districts.”

 

Barrow claimed she was denied the opportunity to interview for the job because Smith insisted she remove her children from Greenville Christian School.

 

The teacher said she would use the awarded money to fund college scholarships for Greenville ISD and Greenville Christian School graduates who pursue education degrees.

 

Shackelford argued “American children are not children of the state. They’re the children of the parents.”

 

“One of the most fundamental rights every parent has is the right to decide how to bring up and educate their children and whether they want to put them in a Christian school, public school or whatever school they feel is best for their own children,” he said.

 

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Resurrection Day 2005 — The ultimate sacrifice (townhall.com, 050325)

 

Mark Alexander

 

“The Hand of providence has been so conspicuous in all this, that he must be worse than an infidel that lacks faith, and more than wicked, that has not gratitude enough to acknowledge his obligations.”

—George Washington

 

Christ’s Resurrection, appropriately celebrated each year as the dormant season of winter yields to new life in spring, reinforces our belief that life can arise miraculously from the hard darkness of apparent death. This Easter 2005, our nation is still at war, and our warriors are still arrayed against those who would do us harm. Yet we see hopeful signs. Those we have liberated are rising courageously and are determinedly learning the complementary arts of self-government and self-defense.

 

We acknowledge the sacrifices of our service members who put themselves at risk to protect us in various ways. When in defense of our liberties they lay down their lives in battle, we say they have given the ultimate sacrifice — and we often honor them with a cross to shelter their graves.

 

One such memorial stands on a hill overlooking San Diego in Southern California, where a 43-foot cross adorns a 170-acre parcel of land that was dedicated to public use in 1916 as “Mt. Soledad Natural Park.” The Mt. Soledad Memorial Association was formed in 1952 with the following mission: “To enhance and preserve the Mt. Soledad Veterans’ Memorial honoring those veterans who have served our country during times of conflict and to educate the general public about service to our country and the sacrifices that veterans make to preserve the freedoms we enjoy as Americans.”

 

The redwood cross which first stood at this site was replaced by a wood and stucco cross in 1934, but windstorms took it down in 1952. The War Memorial Cross currently standing atop Mt. Soledad (the third such emplacement there) dates back to 18 April 1954, when the monument was rededicated to World War I, World War II, and Korean War veterans during an Easter Sunday ceremony. Another storm of sort is now threatening to take down that cross, but this one is led by atheist Philip Paulson and his litigators.

Paulson’s lawsuits have traversed the courts for a decade and a half. Rebuffed in turn by the courts and by the citizens of San Diego — who have voted overwhelmingly to maintain the Mt. Soledad War Memorial intact — Paulson fought on. He finally hit pay dirt when the notorious 9th U.S. Circuit Court reversed en banc an earlier three-judge panel that had upheld as constitutional the sale of the memorial to the Mt. Soledad Memorial Association. On 20 November 2004, Congress passed HR 4818 (P.L. 108-447), which was then signed into law by President Bush. The law includes a provision by San Diego Congressional Reps. Duncan Hunter and Randy Cunningham, which authorizes the federal government to acquire the entire war memorial should the city of San Diego deed over the property.

 

Two weeks ago, the San Diego City Council voted along party lines to refuse the transfer of the intact memorial to become a national parkland property, thus concluding that they would rather cut down the Cross than preserve the entire war-memorial’s integrity.

 

The citizens of San Diego, in response to this egregious act of the City Council, are circulating a referendary petition for voter signatures, requesting that the March 8th decision be repealed or put to a public vote. More than 30,000 signatures are required within the month.

 

In challenging activist-atheists who wish to raze all religious symbols from public life (erroneously citing the First Amendment and Thomas Jefferson’s “Wall of Separation”), we have often asked, “If you truly believe in atheism, why does any religious symbol, which you take as meaningless, matter at all?” As for the courts that take these cases seriously, we ask the following: On what constitutional basis do atheists have standing to sue? Are atheists granted standing under the view that atheism is a religious faith constitutionally guaranteed free-exercise rights? If so, then what “free exercise” of atheism is hampered by permitting those holding other faiths to practice their beliefs freely in public observances? What acts are required of atheists to remain atheists in good standing, which are restrained by the presence of others engaging in acts consonant with their own religions? Are atheists so weak-minded that the mere propinquity of those of other beliefs causes them to lose their faith?

 

However, if atheists have standing because atheism is properly understood as a religion, then why is their demand that it be the only officially permissible public practice not itself a constitutionally banned establishment of atheism as the government’s official religion? Either godlessness is or isn’t a religious faith. To our way of thinking, either atheists cannot legitimately sue on religious liberty grounds, or atheism itself must be as constrained as other faiths. Alas, endless recourse to the courts surely seems to be characteristic of godlessness!

 

Indeed, that was one lesson from the earliest Christian commemoration of Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday. Jesus was brought before three tribunals, none of which had legitimate cause and jurisdiction to try him, much less convict him of any sentence — and most especially not a sentence of death. He was first seized in the Garden of Gethsemane and hauled before members of the Sanhedrin at night, without proper procedures under Jewish law.

 

Jesus was transferred into judicial custody of the Roman rulers under the governor of Judea. He was then sent to King Herod, as Jesus was from Galilee. None of these courts found him guilty under their proper laws. And when Jesus was returned to the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, “he took water and washed his hands before the multitude, saying, ‘I am innocent of the blood of this just Person’.” And yet Jesus was crucified.

 

Historically, recognition of Christ’s Resurrection, as with Christ’s birth, has coincided with various pagan rites. Scholars variously attribute the name “Easter” to derivation from Eostra (a Scandinavian goddess of dawn or spring) or Ostern (a Teutonic fertility goddess), both pagan figures honored at festivals celebrating the vernal equinox. Eostra is one of many similar names of Euro-Mediterranean pagan goddesses, with the form Ishtar most often associated with the region around the Euphrates River in Mesopotamia. Traditions associated with these festivals include the Easter rabbit, a symbol of fertility, and Easter eggs, painted with the bright colors of spring, signifying growth and new life.

 

The Christian holiday builds on the traditions of the Jewish festival of Passover, or Pesach (the derivation of Pascha, another name for Easter), celebrating the deliverance of the Israelites from bondage in Egypt.

 

Victor I (c. 189 - 98) standardized Easter to a Sunday holiday, and in 325 the Council of Nicaea set Easter’s date in relation to the paschal moon. The Gregorian calendar correction of 1582 placed Easter as the first Sunday after the full moon following the vernal equinox, falling between 22 March and 25 April.

 

Unfortunately, as with Christmas, modern American secularists have endeavored to replace the substance of Resurrection Sunday with hollow commercialism associated with ancient pagan rites, to the ultimate detriment of our liberty. Indeed, our Founding Fathers understood that American liberty is only secure in the context of our Judeo-Christian heritage. Among others, John Adams observed, “Statesmen...may plan and speculate for Liberty, but it is Religion and Morality alone, which can establish the Principles upon which Freedom can securely stand. ... Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.” Nevertheless, our country’s elite culture and courts grow increasingly hostile to religion and morality, as the protracted fight over the Mt. Soledad War Memorial Cross attests.

 

The scriptural admonition is always to consider the essential nature of each thing. Jesus queried, “...if the salt loses its flavor, how shall it be seasoned? It is then good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men.” (Matthew 5:13). And earlier, Israel’s King David asked, “If the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do?” (Psalm 11:3). We may similarly question today, “If the courts have become unjust, how shall justice ever be restored?”

 

The Mt. Soledad War Memorial has stood as a tribute to the ultimate sacrifice and the Ultimate Sacrifice — always both. The Cross shelters memorial plaques honoring veterans of many faiths. Its dedication at Easter 1954 demonstrates that Christians revere it as a beloved symbol celebrating belief in eternal life. But if we as a nation are denying ever-greater liberties, how can we claim God’s blessings on our land and His continued favor in battle with those who wish to overcome us?

 

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The judicial fight against God and the people (townhall.com, 050330)

 

Ben Shapiro

 

On Monday, March 28, the Colorado Supreme Court thrust into sharp relief the battle against traditional morality being waged by both state and federal judiciaries across the nation. In a 3-2 decision, the Colorado Supreme Court declared that Robert Harlan, a convicted murderer, had to be given a life sentence instead of the death penalty recommended by the jury because jurors leafed through a Bible for moral guidance during the sentencing phase of the trial. This, the majority stated, violated a jury proscription against viewing outside material:

 

The judicial system works very hard to emphasize the rarified, solemn and sequestered nature of jury deliberations... Jurors must deliberate in that atmosphere without the aid or distraction of extraneous texts.

 

This is inane. The judge who presided over the Harlan trial instructed each juror to make an “individual moral assessment” in determining whether Harlan should receive the death penalty; Colorado law dictates that jurors be instructed to consult their own personal morality before making such decisions. Many of the jurors obviously believed personally in Biblical morality. Viewing a Bible is nothing more than consulting a moral compass in which you believe. As the court’s dissenters wrote:

 

The biblical passages the jurors discussed constituted either a part of the juror’s moral and religious precepts or their general knowledge, and thus were relevant to their court-sanctioned moral assessment… In so holding, the majority puts death penalty jurors in an impossible bind; jurors are instructed to make the ultimate decision about life or death based on their individual moral assessment — so long as their individual moral assessments are made from memory.

 

Is this decision really as arbitrary as all of this, or is there something deeper lurking beneath the surface? When the legalese is stripped away from this decision, all that is left is strident opposition to Biblical morality. The real point of the majority’s decision was far simpler than mumbo-jumbo about extraneous texts. The point, as they articulated it, was this:

 

Some jurors may view biblical texts like the Leviticus passage at issue here as a factual representation of God’s will. The text may also be viewed as a legal instruction, issuing from God, requiring a particular and mandatory punishment for murder. Such a ‘fact’ is not one presented in evidence in this case and such a ‘legal instruction’ is not the law of the state or part of the court’s instructions.

 

The Bible is a legal and factual text that dictates a code of morality — a code of morality that the Colorado courts explicitly require the Biblically-minded to consider. It is this superior code of morality , not legality, that the court dislikes. The Court’s obfuscation of the issue by equating Biblical injunctions with Colorado statute is silly at best; if the Bible’s statutory implications were taken at face value by the jurors, they would have to vote to acquit, seeing as how there were not two eyewitnesses to the Harlan crime (Deuteronomy 17:6).

 

In reality, this decision signals a cosmic shift in the way the American judicial system works. It used to be that moral judgments were to be made by the people. These judgments were usually articulated via legislation by elected legislatures. In Colorado, moral judgments in criminal cases are explicitly left to the people in the form of the jury.

 

Now, however, the roles have been reversed. Judges have become the ultimate moral arbiters, while the people are barred from making collective moral decisions. While the Colorado Supreme Court rips jurors for using the Bible as a source for morality, judges have no qualms about looking to “extraneous texts” to impose their morality on the rest of us: Just view the United States Supreme Court’s recent decision in Roper v. Simmons, where the majority cited “evolving standards of decency,” and then proceeded to justify its own standard of decency by referring to international law. Or how about Lawrence v. Texas, where the majority decided that the Constitution guarantees a right to sodomy based on blasts of hot air from Justice Kennedy: “The petitioners are entitled to respect for their private lives. The State cannot demean their existence or control their destiny by making their private sexual conduct a crime”?

 

And so the people are prevented from bringing their moral beliefs to bear, while the elites on our benches legislate their morality for the rest of us. These judges don’t just want to prevent Americans from bringing their Bibles into jury rooms; they want to prevent Bibles from entering voting booths. In one sense, the Colorado Supreme Court is right — the Bible is authoritative. But it’s certainly a better authority than the subjectivism espoused by our judges.

 

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Hating the “Religious Right” (Weekly Standard, 050331)

 

Should people of faith also be allowed a say in the law-making process?

 

THE TERRI SCHIAVO TRAGEDY has been seized on by long-time critics of the “religious right” to launch attack after attack on the legitimacy of political action on the basis of religious belief. This attack has ignored the inconvenient participation in the debate—on the side of resuming water and nutrition for Terri Schiavo—of the spectacularly not-the-religious-rightness of Tom Harkin, Nat Hentoff, Jesse Jackson, and a coalition of disability advocacy groups.

 

The attack has also been hysterical. After Congress acted—ineffectively, it turned out—Maureen Dowd proclaimed that “theocracy” had arrived in the land. Paul Krugman warned that assassination of liberals by extremists was not far off. And the Internet frenzy on the left was even more extreme.

 

Into the fray came former Missouri Republican Senator John Danforth, an ordained priest, and much admired man of integrity. In yesterday’s New York Times, Senator Danforth blasted the control that he asserts is now held over the Republican party by religious conservatives. Danforth specifically criticized the congressional action on behalf of Schiavo, a proposed Missouri bill that would halt stem cell research, and concerns over gay marriage.

 

All of these charges—from the most incoherent to the most measured—arrive without definition as to what “the religious right” is, and without argument as to why the agenda of this ill-defined group is less legitimate than the pro-gay marriage, pro-cloning, pro-partial-birth abortion, pro-euthanasia agenda of other political actors. Danforth’s position is, apparently, that the agenda of the left on these matters ought not to be resisted, which means that it will

be enacted. “For politicians to advance the cause of one religious group,” Danforth intones, “is often to oppose the cause of another.” That is inescapably true. To come to the defense of the unborn, as Senator Danforth correctly notes he always did during his legislative career, is to oppose abortion on demand. To come to the aid of the Christians in Sudan is to oppose the wishes of the Muslims who sought their destruction. Every political conflict is a choice between competing moral codes.

 

So Danforth’s essay is really a poorly-camouflaged complaint that his positions on stem-cell research, gay marriage, and Terri Schiavo are not the positions of the Republican party. It is fair for him to try and persuade people to endorse his positions but it is wrong and demagogic to attempt to question the right of people of faith to participate in politics. That is certainly what Dowd, Krugman, and others want to accomplish, and although Danforth asserts that “I do not fault religious people for political action,” the intention of his essay is to encourage the Republican party to reject the efforts of religious people to influence the party’s agenda.

 

There is little chance that George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, Bill Frist or Dennis Hastert are going to heed Danforth’s advice. But a strain of thought is developing that the political objectives of people of faith have second-class status when compared to those of, say, religiously secular elites. Of course, not only would such a position have surprised all of the Founding Fathers, it would have shocked Lincoln and Reagan, too.

 

The speed with which issues that excite the passions of people of faith have arrived at the center of American politics is not surprising given the forced march that the courts have put those issues on. It was not the “religious right” that pushed gay marriage to the center of the public debate; it was courts in Hawaii, Vermont, and Massachusetts. It wasn’t the “religious right” that ordered Terri Schiavo’s feeding tube removed; it was a Florida Supreme Court that struck down a law passed by the Florida legislature and signed by Governor Jeb Bush which would have allowed Terri Schiavo to live. And it isn’t the “religious right” that forced the United States Supreme Court to repeatedly issue rulings on areas of law that would have been better left to legislatures.

 

These and other developments have indeed mobilized new activists across the country, many of who see a vast disparity between what they believe ought to be public policy and what is becoming that policy by judicial fiat. They have every right to participate in politics, and they can be expected to refuse to support elected officials who ignore their concerns.

 

Attempts to silence them, marginalize them, or to encourage others to do so are not arguments against their positions, but admissions that those positions represent majorities that cannot be refused a place at the law-making table.

 

Hugh Hewitt is the host of a nationally syndicated radio show, and author most recently of Blog: Understanding the Information Reformation That is Changing

Your World. His daily blog can be found at HughHewitt.com.

 

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Freedom in the pulpit (Washington Times, 050318)

 

On Oct. 19, 1960, Martin Luther King and 52 others were arrested in Rich’s Department Store in Atlanta for refusing to leave a table in its Magnolia Room restaurant. On Monday, Oct. 24, the 52 “sit-ins” were released.

 

But King was sentenced to four months at hard labor and sent to Reidsville State Prison. His pregnant wife, Coretta, was terrified King would never leave that rural prison alive.

 

Told of the situation, John F. Kennedy placed a call to Mrs. King, and Robert Kennedy telephoned the judge who had ordered King to Reidsville. The next day, King was released on bail.

 

Relief in the black community, especially in the South, was immense. King’s father, a renowned Baptist preacher who had come out for Richard Nixon on religious grounds, now endorsed Kennedy. “Because this man was willing to wipe the tears from my daughter’s eyes,” said the senior King, “I’ve got a suitcase full of votes, and I’m going to take them to Mr. Kennedy and dump them in his lap.” Writes Theodore H. White, chronicler of presidential campaigns,”Scores of Negro leaders, deeply Protestant but even more deeply impressed by Kennedy’s action, followed suit.”

 

Black pastors told the story from pulpits. Outside their churches, pamphlets describing the episode were distributed in the millions on the Sunday before the election. The shift of the black vote to Kennedy probably decided the election of 1960.

 

Yet, had King, which assuredly he did, told his congregation that Sunday what the Kennedys had done and what he proposed to do — take a “suitcase full of votes” to the Democratic nominee — his Ebenezer Baptist Church should have, under IRS. law, lost its tax exemption. As should have every church in the South whose pastor endorsed Kennedy from the pulpit that Sunday.

 

That is the absurdity in the IRS tax code that Rep. Walter Jones of North Carolina has set about to abolish.

 

Under The Houses of Worship Free Speech Restoration Act of 2005, the IRS code would be amended to permit priests, pastors and rabbis to express their “personal views on political matters or elections for public office during regular religious services, so long as these views are not disseminated beyond the members and guests assembled together at the service.”

 

Sunday services at black churches where candidates like Bill Clinton and John Kerry are embraced by preachers and pastors would be legal under U.S. law. But, so, too, would sermons from the pulpit by Catholic priests and Christian pastors who told congregations that abortion is the slaughter of the innocent, that homosexual marriage is an abomination, and they should vote for the candidate, be it George Bush, who will oppose them.

 

What are we doing muzzling our religious leaders, who, like the prophets of old, have been ordained by God to hold rulers to account?

 

America was founded by men and women who sought religious freedom. The Bill of Rights begins with a command: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech.”

 

How in such a land can we permit federal agents of the IRS to monitor speech in churches and punish priests or pastors or rabbis who speak truth to power by telling their congregations that some men and women are standing up for morality, while others are not. What kind of country have we become, when men and women who take vows to God thereby lose their rights?

 

The power to tax is the power to destroy. How did the power to destroy churches whose preachers tell their congregations the truth as they see it — that some politicians are advancing God’s Kingdom, while others are violating God’s commandments — end up in the hands of the IRS? Because LBJ put it there.

 

He had not intended, too, but in 1954, an election year, LBJ was bedeviled by tax-exempt groups who were pointing out the alleged Communist connections of some Texas liberals. LBJ had inserted in the IRS code a penalty loss of tax exemption for any organization whose leaders endorsed or opposed the election of a politician. His amendment was not intended for churches, but it bound them just the same.

 

Separation of church and state means churches do not dictate state policy and the state does not dictate church teaching. It does not mean rulers have immunity from condemnation or praise.

 

As Bishop Michael Sheridan of Colorado Springs argues, Catholic priests have a duty to declare “moral principles, including those pertaining to the social order, and to make judgments on human affairs to the extent that they are required by the fundamental rights of the human person or the salvation of souls.” If Congress cannot get free the houses of God, the obstructionists, whoever they are, should get a hiding — from every pulpit in America.

 

Patrick J. Buchanan served in the Nixon, Ford and Reagan administrations.

 

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Thoughts (townhall.com, 050407)

 

Jay Bryant

 

Today is Thursday, and I’m sure I should be really upset about that, but I’m not.

 

It’s the religious thing, you know. Separation of church and state, disestablishmentarianism and antidisestablishmentarianism and all that.

 

I mean some people get really upset about A.D. Anno Domini. They’ve gotten so upset they refuse to countenance the term and insist on changing the language, so that the years starting with 1 are now called C.E., for “common era,” which strikes me as just awful, even if you concede that there should be a change.

 

There is, I believe, nothing whatsoever common about the era stretching from 1 to now, and onward as far as the eye can see, as they used to say about the deficit. If you’re going to change things, at least come up with something worth changing to.

 

But of course, the main thing is that you ought to just leave it alone, let it slide, cool it. Your Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, animist or atheistic beliefs are not being imperiled here.

 

Any more than they are by Thursday – Thor’s Day, named in honor of the Norse god of thunder, who rode around in a chariot drawn by two goats and wielded a mighty hammer called Mjollnir. Thor was a big, bad axe god, barbaric and nasty – the kind of god Joseph Stalin might have been willing to pray to.

 

Three other days are also named for Norse gods. Wednesday is named for Odin, or Woden, as it is sometimes spelled, who may have been Thor’s father, but, hey, the way they carried on there in Valhalla, who can be sure? Tuesday is for Tir, or Tiw, the god of justice, who (Wouldn’t you know?) wasn’t as popular or powerful as the others, but got a day anyway, and Friday is for Freyja, the goddess of love and beauty, who had a pet cat, although some sources claim it was named after the god Frigg, Odin’s wife.

 

How come the atheists never protest this stuff? For that matter, how come the Christians, Jews, Muslims, etc don’t protest this stuff? What an outrage, having to endure a tribute to foreign deities four days a week?

 

And how, in America, with its Constitutional tradition of freedom from religion, can the government be allowed to put out document after official document dated with these religion-infected names? Why, I’ll bet today’s Congressional Record says, Thursday, April 7 right there on the top of the first page of both the House and Senate sections.

 

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Religion under a secular assault (Washington Times, 050413)

 

By Julia Duin

 

Special Report: First of three parts.

 

Oral arguments were to begin before the U.S. Supreme Court on one of the most litigated questions in American law: Should the Ten Commandments be displayed on government property?

 

Outside, protesters sang hymns and held up signs proclaiming “The 10 Commandments: The way to live your life.” A few feet away, a larger group clustered around Ellen Birch, a member of American Atheists, who describes herself as a descendant of Thomas Jefferson.

 

“A favorite claim of fundamentalists,” she told anyone listening, is that America is “indebted to the Bible and Christianity for our laws.”

 

Not so, Miss Birch says.

 

“State support of a religion leads to corruption within both government and religion,” she says, adding that Jefferson himself said, “The wall of separation between church and state was absolutely essential in a free society.”

 

The clash of cultures, between spiritual and secular America, was on full public display.

 

Secularists such as Miss Birch cite Jefferson’s wall in their fight to exclude God from public life, proposing to ban creches at city hall, Christmas carols in public schools, graduation prayers at colleges and grace over meals at military academies — as well as the more than 4,000 stone and concrete testaments to the Ten Commandments across the country.

 

They’re part of a network of organizations that shares logistics, troops, board members and funding sources and includes radical feminists, humanists, atheists and liberal Jewish and Christian groups. Four organizations furnish most of the leadership.

The oldest and best-known is the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), whose Kentucky chapter is a plaintiff in the two cases before the Supreme Court. The others are Americans United for Separation of Church and State, People for the American Way (PFAW) and the Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF). The latter two filed friends-of-the-court briefs in support of the lawsuits.

 

Monumental argument

 

Lawyers argued the two cases — Van Orden v. Perry and McCreary County, Ky. v. ACLU of Kentucky — in a Supreme Court chamber surrounded by engraved images of the Ten Commandments.

 

The carved Commandments on the grounds of the Texas Capitol in Austin is excessive, Duke University Law School professor Erwin Chemerinsky argued on behalf of Thomas Van Orden, a homeless, disbarred lawyer.

 

“It’s the most powerful and profound religious message that this court has ever considered on government property,” Mr. Chemerinsky said. “Here you have a monument that proclaims not only there is a God, but God has dictated rules of behavior for those who follow him or her.”

 

The justices appeared unimpressed.

 

“I don’t know whether that’s any more profound or ultrareligious than the prayer the chaplain gives every day in the House,” Justice Anthony M. Kennedy said.

 

Several justices noted the frieze overlooking the chamber depicting Moses with the two tablets upon which the Bible says God proclaimed His laws to the Israelites. But the frieze, Mr. Chemerinsky argued, includes 17 lawgivers besides Moses, and American society is too fragmented to agree on a single source of divine revelation.

 

“Imagine the Muslim or the Buddhist who walks into the [Texas] State Supreme Court to have his or her case heard,” he said. “That person will see this monument and realize it’s not his or her government.”

 

Justice Antonin Scalia injected a little humor, saying, “Probably 90% of the American people believe in the Ten Commandments, and I’ll bet you probably 85% of them couldn’t tell you what the 10 are.”

 

Though many Americans cannot recite the Ten Commandments as set out in the books of Exodus and Deuteronomy, an Associated Press survey in February found that 76% of the 1,000 people polled approved of displaying them on government property.

 

Opponents say such displays violate the establishment clause of the First Amendment to the Constitution: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

 

The intent, scholars say, was to protect Americans from an imposed state religion, guaranteeing the right to worship God however they pleased.

 

‘Dirty little secret’

 

The ACLU, Americans United, PFAW, FFRF and their allies have filed hundreds of lawsuits since the 1960s on the grounds of “separation of church and state.” The phrase, which Jefferson first used in a letter to an association of Connecticut Baptists, appears nowhere in the Constitution.

 

A federal appeals court, citing the “separation” concept, barred a cross on federal land in the Mojave Desert. The San Diego City Council voted March 8 to remove a 43-foot cross atop the Mount Soledad War Memorial, ending a 15-year battle with an atheist backed by the ACLU. A lawsuit by Michael Newdow, another California atheist, to remove the phrase “under God” from the Pledge of Allegiance was dismissed by the Supreme Court on a technicality in June.

 

The faithful accuse the “anti-Christian soldiers” of disproportionately targeting Judeo-Christian symbols while ignoring other religious symbols.

 

In 2003, the ACLU urged the National Park Service to remove plaques inscribed with Bible verses from three overlooks at the Grand Canyon but did not protest the names of park buttes — Brahma Temple, Vishnu Temple, Shiva Temple, Osiris Temple and others — commemorating Hindu and Egyptian deities.

 

ACLU President Nadine Strossen says her group correctly ignored the rest.

 

“Most people would not see those as religious, but as religious art,” she says in an interview. “Would a reasonable observer see those as a government endorsement of religion? If it’s such an exotic religion that most people wouldn’t know what the symbol is?”

 

Ms. Strossen declines to characterize her religious beliefs. She describes the ACLU as supported by “rabbis, ministers, priests and other religious leaders who recognize that government involvement is as dangerous to religion as it is to a diverse, pluralistic society.”

 

Litigation and protest has split communities, sometimes inviting sectarian hard feelings. School districts across the country have banned Christmas carols, Nativity scenes and — in Texas — even the traditional Christmas colors of red and green at a holiday party in an elementary school.

 

“I blame my fellow Jews for the situation,” columnist Burt Prelutsky wrote in the Los Angeles Times last year. “When it comes to pushing the multicultural, anti-Christian agenda, you find Jewish judges, Jewish journalists and the American Civil Liberties Union at the forefront. The dirty little secret in America is that anti-Semitism is no longer a problem in society — it’s been replaced by a rampant anti-Christianity.”

 

Religious roots

 

The Alliance Defense Fund (ADF), a group that advocates religious liberty, advances the view that Christianity is singled out for challenges.

 

The ADF, founded in Scottsdale, Ariz., in 1993 by leaders of 30 conservative Christian organizations, tracks “anti-Christmas” cases filed by the ACLU. Alan Sears, its president, argues that the ACLU uses the courts to make policy.

 

“The future of America,” he says, rests on legal battles mounted against the ACLU.

 

His group organized a “Christmas project” last year, writing instructions on what schools legally can and cannot do to mark the holiday, then sending the list to 6,740 school districts.

 

“The pendulum has swung so far into this notion of being able to remove only the Christmas holiday because that might hypothetically offend someone,” ADF staff attorney Joshua Carden says. “People are sick of it.”

 

Polls typically show that poor countries are more religious than rich. America is the exception. A Gallup survey of 1,001 adults in late March, for example, shows that 84% identified “with a Christian religion.”

 

The nation’s history is steeped in religious faith. Christopher Columbus thought his sail to the unknown New World in 1492 was a divine calling, and colonists framed the Revolutionary War in religious terms, referring to themselves as “God’s elect.” The British were the “anti-Christ.”

 

The Declaration of Independence acknowledged the Judeo-Christian deity in appealing to “Nature’s God,” “Divine Providence” and “the Supreme Judge of the world.”

 

Every presidential inaugural speech since George Washington’s in 1789 either has invoked God or referred to religious faith. By 1830, Alexis de Tocqueville, the French author of “Democracy in America,” declared that in this raw nation religion had become “indispensable to the maintenance of republican institutions.”

 

These institutions came under duress during World War I, second only to the Vietnam War as “the most unpopular war in American history,” Samuel Walker wrote in his book on the ACLU, “In Defense of American Liberties.”

 

In the tumultuous years that followed the end of World War I, pacifists, anarchists, socialists, communists and suffragettes joined to fight what they regarded as the evils of industrial capitalism and government repression of free speech.

 

Birth of the ACLU

 

Roger Baldwin, a member of the Industrial Workers of the World, a Chicago-based radical labor group, founded the ACLU. He was a Unitarian, a denomination that believes in God but not in the divinity of Christ.

 

When Mr. Baldwin refused to join the military in 1918, he went to prison for a year as a conscientious objector. Soon after Mr. Baldwin’s release, on the second anniversary of the Russian Revolution, U.S. Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer jailed thousands of anarchists and labor activists for suspected communist activities.

 

A month after 249 foreign-born activists were deported to Russia in December 1919, Mr. Baldwin organized the ACLU. The group’s early causes included defending John Scopes, arrested in Dayton, Tenn., in 1925 for teaching the theory of evolution in defiance of state law.

 

“The ACLU was the legal arm of militant labor,” says Bill Donohue, founder of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, whose 1980 doctoral thesis examined the group. “From the beginning, they were tied to the politics of the left. It was hard-core left. They justified Stalinism.”

 

Mr. Baldwin visited Stalin’s brutal police state in 1923 and 1927 and praised it in a book, “Liberty Under the Soviets.” But he disassociated himself from communism when Stalin signed a nonaggression pact with Nazi Germany, and the next year, the ACLU expelled its top communist board member, Elizabeth Gurley Flynn.

 

Mr. Baldwin had made his peace with the U.S. government when he resigned as ACLU director in 1949. In fact, two years earlier Gen. Douglas MacArthur appointed him as consultant on civil liberties in Japan and Korea. He continued espousing left-wing causes until his death in 1981.

 

The ACLU courted controversy during the 1950s and ‘60s, even defending the American Nazi Party. When the Nazis planned a march in the heavily Jewish Chicago suburb of Skokie, Ill. in 1977, the ACLU went to court in support of their right — however abhorrent — to do so. The decision cost the organization $300,000 in donations, and its membership plunged from 275,000 to 200,000. Such longtime allies as the American Jewish Congress deplored ACLU involvement.

 

Skokie was home of the largest U.S. concentration of Holocaust survivors, and many Jews saw the march as insulting the memory of the 6 million Jews exterminated by the German Nazis. Aryeh Neier resigned as executive director of the ACLU and described the dilemma of majority will and minority rights in his 1979 book, “Defending My Enemy.”

 

“The alternative to freedom is power,” wrote Mr. Neier, who was born in Nazi Germany. “If I could be certain that I could wipe out Nazism and all comparable threats to my safety by the exercise of power, perhaps I would be tempted to choose that course. But we Jews have little power. As a Jew, therefore, concerned with my own survival and the survival of the Jews — the two being inextricably linked — I want restraints placed on power.”

 

Mr. Neier, now 78, assumed the presidency of liberal philanthropist George Soros’ Open Society Institute in 1998, a New York-based foundation that describes itself as promoting pluralism in democratic societies.

 

Mr. Neier’s fear of a powerful majority imposing its will on a nonconsenting minority moved the ACLU to oppose mandatory school prayer in the 1962 Supreme Court case Engel v. Vitale and oppose Bible reading in public schools as well in 1963’s Abington v. Schempp. It was paired with the more famous case, Murray v. Curlett, filed by atheist Madalyn Murray O’Hair.

 

The Supreme Court’s rulings in all three cases, Mr. Walker wrote in his ACLU biography, “completed the process of disestablishing Protestantism as the nation’s unofficial religion.”

 

Making a mark

 

Faith in all forms of authority underwent severe tests during the cultural ferment of the 1960s and ‘70s.

 

“The ACLU saw freedom of religion as something they wanted to put their mark on,” the Catholic League’s Mr. Donohue says. “They take the strict separationist position: ‘The more we are separated from religion, the better off we are.’ “

 

With $48 million in annual revenue, the ACLU, now with 400,000 members in 50 state affiliates, counts $125 million in net assets. It gave $57,830 to Democratic candidates last year, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. The largest contribution ($18,730) went to John Kerry. No ACLU money went to Republicans.

 

The ACLU’s Ms. Strossen argues that separating church and state is in the interest of American pluralism.

 

“Many people with deeply held religious beliefs don’t want the government to interfere by having government sponsorship,” she says. “We have the most religiously vibrant country in the entire world, and all observers say the reason for it is the First Amendment with its nonestablishment clause.”

 

What of ACLU members themselves?

 

“We have people of all denominations in the ACLU,” Ms. Strossen says. “On the [83-member] national board alone, there are several ministers. The vice chairman of the national advisory council is a Catholic priest.”

 

This vice chairman is the Rev. Robert Drinan, a liberal Jesuit professor at Georgetown University who served in Congress during the 1970s and as an adviser to the Kerry presidential campaign. But when Father Drinan was dean of the law school at Boston College from 1956 to 1970, he accused the ACLU of magnifying the establishment clause to the detriment of religious liberties.

 

Conservative critics of the ACLU argue that it continues to use such tactics. Some of these critics have formed their own organizations to contend against it, beginning with the founding of the Moral Majority in 1979 by the Rev. Jerry Falwell.

 

Mr. Falwell and other Christian conservatives, buoyed by Ronald Reagan’s election as president in 1980, mounted bids in 12 states to reintroduce school prayer. Alarmed, the ACLU ran an ad in the New York Times proclaiming, “If The Moral Majority Has Its Way, You’d Better Start Praying.”

 

In 1990, the Rev. Pat Robertson, the religious broadcaster, founded the American Center for Law and Justice to challenge the ACLU in the courts.

 

Ms. Strossen brushes aside the relevance of personal faith to the organization’s goals. “The only beliefs we have,” she said of ACLU members, “are pro-civil liberties beliefs.”

 

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Why Bush threatens secularism (Washington Times, 050414)

 

By Julia Duin

 

Special Report: Second of three parts.

 

The weekend before President Bush’s second inauguration, 60 humanists, atheists and ethical culturalists gathered at a hotel just off Dupont Circle for an “emergency meeting” organized by the American Humanist Association.

 

“The situation is now as bad as we’ll ever see it,” Roy Speckhardt, the group’s deputy director, says afterward.

 

He predicts that Mr. Bush’s evangelical Christian views would be folded into government policy on judicial appointees, abortion, social services and other issues.

 

“A slim [election] victory is being interpreted as a mandate on moral issues, so we are concerned,” Mr. Speckhardt says.

 

One of the 20 organizations represented at the pre-inaugural strategy session was a group from Madison, Wis., called the Freedom from Religion Foundation. Group founder Anne Nicol Gaylor, 78, unable to attend because of failing eyesight, sent son-in-law Dan Barker in her place.

 

The foundation is the mom-and-pop operation among the four main organizations — the others being the American Civil Liberties Union, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, and People for the American Way — that are leading the legal battles to push God from the public square and create a nation in man’s image.

 

In 28 years, Mrs. Gaylor’s foundation has filed about 25 lawsuits in addition to complaints that never made it to court. An early victory halted the 122-year history of prayers at University of Wisconsin graduation ceremonies in 1976 because of a complaint lodged by Mrs. Gaylor’s daughter, Annie Laurie Gaylor, then a student. She is now the co-director of the foundation with her husband, Mr. Barker. In 1985, their group managed to stop the university football team’s pre-game prayers.

 

“Sometimes all you have to do is complain,” Mr. Barker says. “It’s better that way, and cheaper. She asked the school why there’s prayer, and they said, ‘Gee, why is there?’ “

 

Christianity and other religions are essentially harmful, in the view of the foundation, which claims 5,000 members, most of them atheists who make small donations.

 

“There is complete scorn on the part of the current administration as to the separation of church and state,” the elder Mrs. Gaylor says in an interview. “There has never been any less respect in Washington for church-state separation, even though church-state separation is one of the things that made our country possible in the first place.”

 

Many Christians and others of faith, however, see a growing threat that Mrs. Gaylor and her allies are intent on loosing the nation from its Judeo-Christian moorings.

 

Building the wall

 

On New Year’s Day 1802, President Jefferson wrote a letter to a Connecticut association of Baptists that would change American judicial history and define the boundaries of religious freedom.

 

“I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should ‘make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,’ “ Jefferson wrote, quoting the First Amendment.

 

“Thus,” he continued, “building a wall of separation between church and state.”

 

Although not part of the Constitution, those concluding 10 words are considered by many Americans to be authoritative on the subject. Jefferson’s letter celebrated religious liberty, yet the courts have cited his “wall” to bar faith and its forms from government, including schools, public parks and buildings.

 

The nation’s third president sought to reassure the Danbury Baptist Association of Connecticut, representatives of a minority denomination that refused to conform to the established Congregationalist and Episcopal churches. He actually intended his letter to convince the Baptists that a state-established church would not trample their beliefs.

 

Jefferson’s phrase did not enter the lexicon of constitutional law until 1879, when Supreme Court Chief Justice Morrison R. Waite quoted it in Reynolds v. United States, in which Mormon polygamist George Reynolds argued that the First Amendment allowed him to commit bigamy. The Supreme Court used the wall metaphor to explain that the Constitution was not meant to support specific Mormon practices.

 

In 1947, Justice Hugo L. Black resurrected “the wall of separation between church and state” in writing for the majority in Everson v. Board of Education, a New Jersey case asking whether the state should subsidize bus service for Catholic children in parochial schools.

 

“That wall must be kept high and impregnable,” Justice Black wrote. “We could not approve the slightest breach.”

 

The high court nevertheless upheld the state subsidy. This infuriated many Baptists, who traditionally have been among the strongest supporters of separation of church and state. They regarded the decision as favoring Catholics.

 

In 1947, Joseph Dawson, executive secretary of the Baptist Joint Committee on Public Affairs, founded Protestants and Other Americans United for the Separation of Church and State.

 

More than 50 years later, with the named shortened to Americans United for Separation of Church and State, the organization campaigns from its Capitol Hill offices against what it views as entanglements of religion and government.

 

Beliefs versus policy

 

Americans United prevented the Rev. Pat Robertson’s Virginia Beach-based Christian graduate school, Regent University, from receiving $30 million from the sale of state construction bonds.

 

One of the group’s several complaints last year to the Internal Revenue Service cited a pastoral letter from the Catholic bishop of Colorado Springs, in which he urged Catholics to vote for pro-life candidates. Other complaints targeted rallies in Pennsylvania and Ohio churches for Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry.

 

Americans United vigorously protested when Congress and Mr. Bush intervened in hopes of preventing the starvation death of Terri Schiavo, the brain-damaged Florida woman whose plight focused the nation’s attention on end-of-life issues before her death March 31.

 

Even so, the group’s executive director, the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, a minister with the United Church of Christ, among the most liberal Protestant denominations, maintains genial relations with conservatives. For four years, Mr. Lynn was co-host, with conservative commentator Oliver North, of a show on the Christian radio network Salem Communications. He is on the board of the American Civil Liberties Union and a regular analyst on Fox News.

 

“I do have very, very traditional religious beliefs,” Mr. Lynn says. “Many people are surprised by that. That is something that’s very much a part of who I am, but that shouldn’t be a part of what government is.”

 

Mr. Lynn is not easily painted as an “anti-Christian soldier.” Government bans on abortion first galvanized him. As a freshman at Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pa., in the late 1960s, he discovered that his roommate had taken a girlfriend out of the country to terminate her pregnancy.

 

“All of a sudden, I realized that religious groups had now dictated what rights a woman has to make an intimate moral decision on her own,” Mr. Lynn says. “And that was what triggered me, worrying about what damage it does for our country’s fabric to have religious decisions guide a country’s policy.”

 

Mr. Lynn took issue with references to God and faith in Mr. Bush’s inaugural ceremony and address in January and with the fact that only Christian clergymen participated.

 

“An event that is billed as a celebration for the entire nation should include everyone, even those who profess no faith,” he says. “This inaugural sent a message that in order to be truly American, you must also be religious.”

 

Mr. Lynn took umbrage at remarks that the president had made a week earlier in an Oval Office interview with editors and reporters of The Washington Times.

 

“I don’t see how you can be president without a relationship with the Lord,” Mr. Bush said, discussing the role of his personal faith in his public office.

 

“It offended many people because it seemed to suggest that as a matter of principle ... he thought he really couldn’t be president, he couldn’t imagine a person who was Muslim or Jewish who didn’t have the Christian Lord as his leader,” Mr. Lynn said Jan. 17 on “MSNBC Reports.”

 

Another guest on the show, Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, teased Mr. Lynn.

 

Mr. Bush’s comment “didn’t offend three-quarters to 80 to 90% of Americans,” Mr. Land said. “Barry Lynn is in an extreme secularist minority and he’s running around with his hair on fire, and nobody’s noticing.”

 

Hollywood glitz

 

Television and film producer Norman Lear, together with Barbara Jordan, the former Democratic congresswoman from Texas, founded People for the American Way in 1981. Their purpose, according to their mission statement, was “to counter the growing clout and divisive message of right-wing televangelists, including Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson and Jimmy Swaggart.”

 

Mr. Lear hired lawyer and lobbyist Anthony Podesta — whose brother, John, would become President Clinton’s chief of staff — as the founding president. The group, based in Southern California, made TV specials to spread its message as well as to fight efforts to return prayer to public schools and remove the theory of evolution from biology textbooks.

 

Hollywood celebrities were enlisted as board members, among them actor Alec Baldwin and songwriter Marilyn Bergman. The board also drew from the religious left, including the Rev. Robert Drinan, a Georgetown University professor and former Massachusetts congressman. President Ralph G. Neas, who declined to comment for this article, has identified himself as a Catholic.

 

“We have a different vision of religious freedom; we just don’t want the government pushing it,” says Elliot Mincberg, the group’s vice president and legal director. “We think when it comes to religious free exercise, the Constitution says the government should get out of the way.”

 

David Horowitz, who edits the idiosyncratic conservative Web site frontpagemag.com and is a former leftist, insists that People for the American Way “was organized as an anti-Christian group.”

 

“On their Web site, they smear the [Christian] religious right,” Mr. Horowitz says. “Why not the Jewish right? Why not the Muslim right?”

 

“Right Wing Watch” on www.pfaw.org does take note of some secular groups, but conservative Christians are the prime targets.

 

Mr. Mincberg lists three conservative Jewish organizations as troublesome: Toward Tradition, Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations and Agudath Israel of America.

 

“We’ve done plenty of battle with them as well,” he says, “but it’s the Christian right that’s been out there much more aggressively.”

 

Focus on the Family founder James Dobson is viewed as a major menace.

 

“If you had to pick one person who has the most power and influence nationally, you might pick him,” Mr. Mincberg says.

 

People for the American Way criticized Mr. Robertson’s 1988 presidential run; opposed the Supreme Court nominations of Robert J. Bork in 1987 and Clarence Thomas in 1991; and sponsored a 1998 advertising campaign against President Clinton’s impeachment. More recently, it started a $5 million advertising campaign to pressure Senate Republicans to back down on reforms of filibuster rules that would hasten confirmation of Mr. Bush’s judicial nominees.

 

According to the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonprofit research group, the Lear organization’s political action committee gave $177,802 in the 2004 election cycle, 98% of it to Democratic candidates, party committees and leadership political action committees.

 

The group’s political action committee, Voters Alliance, donated a total of $42,500 to 18 Democratic House candidates and $54,000 to 15 Democratic Senate candidates. The largest contribution: $10,000 to the losing campaign of Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle.

 

‘Out of a hat’

 

The Freedom from Religion Foundation issued a press release Sept. 13, 2001, calling the September 11 attacks by Islamist terrorists “the ultimate faith-based initiative.”

 

The release went on: “Religion is not the answer, it is probably the problem.”

 

And: “Prayer had its chance on September 11 and it failed.”

 

September 11 “should have clinched the idea this is a naturalistic universe,” group leader Mr. Barker says. “To stand by and do nothing makes God an accomplice. If He exists, why are we worshipping this monster?”

 

The fight against God and for abortion rights appear intertwined for Mr. Barker’s mother-in-law, Mrs. Gaylor. She was born in 1926 in Tomah, Wis. A biography posted at the group’s Web site, www.ffrf.org, says her mother died when she was 2 and her father, a farmer, found religion “embarrassing.” She graduated as an English major from University of Wisconsin in 1949 and was married the same year.

 

After raising four children, Mrs. Gaylor, in 1972, founded the Women’s Medical Fund, which has helped 14,000 poor women obtain abortions. In 1975, she published a book “Abortion Is a Blessing.”

 

A friend, Anne Treseder, identifies the motivation behind Mrs. Gaylor’s anti-religion activism in a letter dated that year: “She told me that after much soul-searching she had concluded that a woman’s right to reproductive freedom, and to basic civil rights, would never be realized as long as religious dogma played such a huge role in government policy.”

 

Mrs. Gaylor decided she needed the backing of an organization, so she began her foundation with three members in 1976.

 

“It was almost a joke,” says Mr. Barker, 55. “Anne just wanted to complain to the media about prayers in public meetings. People asked her what her group was. So she pulled the name out of a hat.”

 

Mrs. Gaylor’s husband and children helped her build the organization with offbeat publicity stunts. In 1983, the group posted pink-and-black signs on buses in Madison, Wis., calling the Bible “a grim fairy tale.”

 

‘Fighting back’

 

Besides eliminating public prayer at the state university, her successes include ending Good Friday’s status as an official state holiday in 1996; banning taxpayer subsidies (in the form of free Internet connections) to private schools in Wisconsin in 2001; and removing a Ten Commandments inscription from public land in Milwaukee in 2002.

 

Mr. Barker draws a distinction between the “public square,” which he defines as anything owned by the government, and the “public sphere,” where points of view are expressed.

 

“We think the government should be neutral — not advancing nor hindering religion — in the public square,” he says. “In the public sphere, we are free to express our points of view.”

 

Mr. Barker says he decided he was an atheist in 1983, about 20 years after he says he became an evangelist at 15. He began to question his faith, he says, after serving as a Quaker, independent charismatic and Assemblies of God pastor and after performing missionary work in Mexico.

 

Mr. Barker moved to Wisconsin to work for Mrs. Gaylor’s foundation, marrying Annie Laurie Gaylor in 1987 and joining the family cause. A piano player who has accompanied Pat Boone and other Christian artists, he now recasts old hymns in humanist terms with titles such as “You Can’t Win with Original Sin” and “God-Less America.”

 

Julaine Appling, executive director of the Family Research Institute in Madison, Wis., frequently contends with the Barker organization. Most of its energy is spent challenging Christians, Ms. Appling says.

 

“When they go after religion, they go after Christianity aggressively,” she says. “I don’t see them going after other religions.”

 

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Believers aim to ‘reclaim’ America (Washington Times, 050415)

 

By Julia Duin

 

Third of three parts.

 

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — The 5,200-pound slab of granite bearing a replica of the Ten Commandments rests in isolated splendor, set off by red and blue nylon sheets, on a flatbed truck parked on the front lawn of a church.

 

It’s not just any church, either. Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church is a signature evangelical congregation in southern Florida — its gleaming white, 303-foot steeple visible for miles around.

 

This same Ten Commandments monument was famously installed by Roy Moore, then chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, in the rotunda of the Judiciary Building in Montgomery in the summer of 2001.

 

Justice Moore’s monument is something of a piece de resistance in the renewed effort by Christians and others of faith to preserve the place of the Almighty in the public square.

 

On this February day, the Commandments in granite is a top attraction of the annual “Reclaiming America for Christ” conference that drew 942 faithful to Coral Ridge Presbyterian, also stop No. 130 on the monument’s nationwide tour. During breaks, conferees surround the slab, taking pictures and admiring the Bible verses and patriotic quotes inscribed on all four sides.

 

They recall the federal court order in 2003 that the monument be removed because it violates the Constitution’s prohibition “against the establishment of religion.” They talk about how fellow justices had to sue to remove the defiant Justice Moore — whom they consider a godly man — from office.

 

Inside the palm tree-ringed church, Richard Land, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission for the Southern Baptist Convention, preaches on “A God-Blessed America: How It Could Happen and What It Could Look Like.”

 

Loosed from its biblical moorings, Mr. Land tells the assembly that “a pagan America” can only become home to a legion of ills: harvests of fetal tissue and eggs from women’s bodies, marriage redefined as any union with a variety of partners, single-parent families as the norm, a low age of consent for child-adult sex, hard-core porn on television.

 

Change will come when “a certain percentage of American Christians known only to God humble themselves and pray,” Mr. Land says. “He will lean over from heaven and pour out a blessing, not only on Christians, but on non-Christian and Christian alike.”

In such a “God-blessed America,” he says, streets and schools would be safe, divorce and illegitimate children would be rare, and the elderly would live with their families and not in nursing homes.

 

“In an American society that preaches Judeo-Christian values, rooted in biblical theology, not all will be Christian, but they can at least live according to [shared] values,” Mr. Land concludes.

 

The conference, designed to energize Christian activists, is the work of the Center for Reclaiming America (CRA), an eight-year-old public-policy group founded by Coral Ridge.

 

For two days, participants hear the words of rising stars in the politically active arm of American evangelicalism. One is the Rev. Rick Scarborough, former pastor of First Baptist Church in Pearland, Texas, and founder of Vision America, which seeks to involve pastors in public policy debates.

 

“All God is waiting for is for the church to show up,” Mr. Scarborough says, in a message that earns him a standing ovation.

 

Standing firm

 

This series has examined the legal battles against religion in public life waged by a network of organizations that includes humanists, atheists and radical feminists as well as liberal or secular Jews and Christians.

 

The clashes highlight a growing determination of religious conservatives to stand firm for the Judeo-Christian principles of the nation’s founding. People of faith are confronting the gathering tide of secularism and a coarser culture in a variety of ways.

 

A loose coalition of evangelical Protestants and conservative Catholics worked for President Bush’s re-election in 11 battleground states, helping to make “moral values” a front-burner topic. Such activism is an essential part of any campaign to “reclaim” America “from those who have used the courts primarily to divorce America from her moral heritage,” CRA spokesman John Aman says.

 

“We won the White House on pro-family values,” explains Gary Cass, the group’s new executive director, “but we’re losing in the courts” on those same values.

 

But, he adds: “Since the late 1980s, the conservative movement has become more organized, better funded and more sophisticated. We’re not going away. There is too much at stake for our children and grandchildren.”

 

Mr. Cass, 48, moved to Fort Lauderdale last summer to add some muscle to the Center for Reclaiming America after pastoring churches in the San Diego area, serving on a school board there and recruiting evangelical Christians to run for office.

 

His group’s Web site, www.reclaimamerica.org, is loaded for action. A string of petitions ranges from “Defund Planned Parenthood” to “Free Our Churches.” The latter refers to a bill before Congress that would allow religious organizations — including pastors — to support or oppose political candidates without losing their tax-exempt status. Elsewhere are pleas for donations, lists of rallies and details on reaching Congress.

 

Another feature of the Web site is “A Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing,” an expose of the American Civil Liberties Union illustrated by a photo of a snarling wolf. The copy describes ACLU-inspired lawsuits and the organization’s “war against religion.”

 

The center last summer formed a lobbying group, Liberty’s Voice, to be based in Washington and go head to head with the ACLU in disputes over religious liberty.

 

The group hopes to put a policy activist in 12 regional offices across the country. Another goal is to field activists in every congressional district, beginning with the key Electoral College states of Florida and Ohio.

 

Mr. Cass says his goal this year is to raise $2 million, including $1.2 million to finance the lobbying group and three other initiatives: media outreach, an online campaign called National Grassroots Alliance and a think tank, the Strategic Institute.

 

‘Intellectually engaged’

 

The Strategic Institute, with a staff of five analysts, expects to enter the debate on pornography, homosexual activism, the creation-evolution divide and “life” issues such as abortion and stem-cell research. First to sign on is Kelly Hollowell, 40, a Virginia Beach patent attorney who taught bioethics at the University of Richmond and Regent University in Virginia Beach.

 

The National Grassroots Alliance began in 2001 as a lobby for Senate confirmation of John Ashcroft as President Bush’s first attorney general. It now has an e-mail list of 400,000 names. Over two days in late February, 107,000 of them appeared on an online petition appealing for Florida Gov. Jeb Bush to save the life of Terri Schiavo, the brain-damaged Florida woman who would die of starvation March 31 after her husband successfully sought to have her feeding tube removed.

 

R. Albert Mohler Jr. is doing his part from Louisville, Ky., as a leading American evangelical and president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

 

In the past three years, Mr. Mohler dramatically increased his output of Internet and radio commentaries and newspaper op-ed pieces on topics such as stem-cell research, same-sex “marriage,” human cloning and the definition of the family.

 

“There was an entire constellation of issues that demanded attention,” Mr. Mohler, 45, says in an interview. “I wanted to mobilize Christians to become intellectually engaged and politically aware.”

 

Across the country, evangelicals are forming a potent alliance, says Diane Knippers, president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy, a watchdog group in Washington that monitors the religious left.

 

“Not just evangelicals, but Catholics, too, have some political clout and are getting respect,” Mrs. Knippers says. “Some people in the Democratic Party are having to pay attention to us. They’ve realized they’ve overlooked an important constituency. A lot of people think it’s wrong to have an entirely secularized society, with no room for acknowledging God.

 

“There’s a quiet determination to draw the line,” she says. “The religious left is all smoke and mirrors. In terms of the religious landscape right now, the initiative is ours.”

 

Christians in court

 

Modern Christian legal activism got its start in 1982, when a 36-year-old lawyer named John Whitehead founded the Rutherford Institute.

 

Mr. Whitehead’s initial investment was $200; he now operates with a $2.5 million annual budget. He asks a network of more than 500 lawyers to work pro bono on one case a year involving religious liberties.

 

“When I first started Rutherford, there was no cohesive litigation strategy,” Mr. Whitehead, now 58, says from his home in Charlottesville. “A lot of these Christian lawyers thought, ‘Would Jesus go file a lawsuit?’ and they were debating this issue constantly.

 

“My main emphasis was [that] even if you lose, litigation often has great education value.”

 

The Rutherford Institute gained new prominence in 1997, when it helped Paula Jones file a sexual-harassment and discrimination lawsuit against President Clinton.

 

Its recent court victories include decisions allowing prayer and other religious expression at the Alamo in Texas and permitting an 11-year-old Muslim girl to wear a head covering to an Oklahoma public school.

 

Another Virginia lawyer, Jay Sekulow of Virginia Beach, started going to court in the mid-’80s on behalf of religious liberty and the rights of Christians.

 

Today Mr. Sekulow, 48, is chief counsel for the American Center for Law and Justice, a DC-based constitutional law firm. The Rev. Pat Robertson, the religious broadcaster, founded the center in 1990 as a Christian answer to the ACLU.

 

Mr. Sekulow successfully argued several cases before the Supreme Court to protect the free speech of pro-life demonstrators and allow public school students to form Bible clubs on campus.

 

The pivotal shift in strategic momentum for the center, Mr. Sekulow says, came when he stopped arguing from the establishment clause of the First Amendment that he views as guaranteeing free exercise of religion. He began arguing instead on free speech grounds against religious discrimination.

 

Both lawyers say they are optimistic, though cautious, about the future of religious liberties.

 

The country is seeing a “growing, strong, serious movement” of Christians, Jews and Muslims who are open and uncompromising about their faith, Mr. Whitehead says, even if that could spark a “backlash” in the public square.

 

Mr. Sekulow says much rides on the outcome of the “constitutional showdown” in the Senate over Democratic filibustering of President Bush’s judicial nominees.

 

“This is going to impact every cultural issue we have right now because of the increased role the courts are taking,” Mr. Sekulow says. “The next month is going to be the key month.”

 

Joining forces

 

Separating church and state is in the interest of American pluralism, ACLU President Nadine Strossen argues. “Many people with deeply held religious beliefs don’t want the government to interfere by having government sponsorship,” she says in an interview.

 

“I fear the removal of the Judeo-Christian foundation of our society,” Dennis Prager, a conservative Jew, wrote in his syndicated column after the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted last May to remove a tiny cross from the county seal because the Southern California ACLU threatened to sue. “This is the real battle of our time, indeed the civil war of our time. The left wants America to become secular like Western Europe, not remain the Judeo-Christian country it has always been.”

 

Binyamin Jolkovsky, editor of the Web site JewishWorldReview.com, argues that the ACLU and other civil liberties groups act counter to Jewish principles in efforts they depict as protecting minority religions.

 

“Jews who take their Judaism seriously don’t want God taken out of the public square,” Mr. Jolkovsky says.

 

A loose network of conservative Protestant, Catholic and Jewish groups coalesced during the 2004 election season not only to send Mr. Bush back to the White House but to add Republican seats in both the House and Senate.

 

Shortly afterward, the Rev. Jerry Falwell, who founded the Moral Majority in 1979, announced that he would restart his pioneering organization to take on new challenges.

 

Mr. Falwell is re-entering the fray after a reawakening over the past decade of a theologically conservative movement in which religious groups quietly help, advise and emulate each other.

 

In early March, for instance, the Thomas More Law Center in Ann Arbor, Mich., a Catholic answer to the ACLU, sent out a fundraising letter that, with a few minor changes, could have come from the Center for Reclaiming America.

 

“America’s greatness lies in our Christian roots,” the letter reads. “To a great extent, the key to maintaining those Christian roots depends on the ability of the [Catholic] Church and our bishops to proclaim the truth on the great moral issues of our time. Our enemies at the ACLU and elsewhere know this as well.”

 

The move to counter the secular left also has the attention of Christian leaders who are black. Some brokered first-time alliances during the recent election season with white evangelicals over the issue of same-sex “marriage.”

 

The Rev. Harry Jackson of Hope Christian Church in Lanham joined other black pastors in Los Angeles in February to announce a “Black Contract With America on Moral Values,” with the goal of promoting socially conservative legislation.

 

“Some of us in the evangelical community have been painted as mean-spirited and inarticulate,” Mr. Jackson told 153 evangelical leaders during a March 10 gathering at the Hart Senate Office Building. Disarming such perceptions is simple, he said, adding: “The black community, with its needs, would team with the white evangelical community, with its power. We can change the way America thinks about religion.”

 

From his vantage point in Louisville, Ky., Mr. Mohler agrees that more Americans are mobilizing against secularism but also has a warning.

 

“Some on the left are negotiating a way to use Christian language while keeping their liberal commitments,” he says. “Evangelicals need to be more sophisticated in terms of looking past the language to what proposals are being offered.”

 

Mr. Mohler intends to alert his audiences to such hidden hazards.

 

“Whether it’s too little or too late is yet to be seen,” he says. “Millions of Americans are awakening to the fact that something significant has happened in American society and unless they do something, the very future of the American experiment is threatened.”

 

• Staff writer Jon Ward and researcher John Sopko contributed to this report.

 

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Purging religious influence (Washington Times, 050419)

 

Liberal legal culture frowns on religion. The notoriously liberal Colorado Supreme Court is exemplary. The core message of its ill-reasoned decision in People v. Harlan (March 28) is that relying on religious law or teachings in determining the death penalty’s appropriateness as a punishment taints the verdict as prejudicial or irrational.

 

Accordingly, Justice Gregory J. Hobbs Jr. writing for a 3-2 majority, invalidated a death sentence for first degree murder because jurors might have been influenced by biblical passages prescribing “eye for eye, tooth for tooth” and commanding obedience to civil authorities. In other words, the free exercise of religion carries a price in Colorado — the risk of disqualification from jury service where moral yardsticks are pivotal to punishment.

 

Click to Visit

 

In 1995, a Colorado jury convicted Robert Harlan of first-degree murder, two counts of attempted first-degree murder, two counts of second-degree kidnapping, and assault. The jury unanimously agreed death was the proper punishment, a moral judgment pivoting on aggravating and mitigating circumstances introduced by the prosecution and defense. In deliberating on the death penalty, jurors consulted neither extrajudicial facts nor law at variance with jury instructions of the trial judge. The latter emphasized that jurors must resist a decision based on a “passion, prejudice or other irrational or arbitrary emotional response against Robert Harlan.”

 

One or more jurors sought to inform their moral consciences by reference to the Bible. It was brought into the jury room, and the following was examined from Leviticus 24:20-21: “Fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, as he who has caused disfigurement of man, so shall it be done to him. And whoever kills an animal shall restore it, but whoever kills a man shall be put to death.” Leviticus champions a retributive punishment untroubling to imposing the death penalty — for example, the execution of Timothy McVeigh.

 

The jurors also consulted Romans 13:1: “Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities for there is no authority except from God and the authorities that exist are appointed by God.” The passage simply reinforced the obligation of the jury to adhere to the death-penalty instructions of their governing authority — the trial judge.

 

The presence of the Bible in the jury room was unworrisome. A juror’s education might as easily have entailed memorization of the respective passages from Leviticus and Romans. They could have been recited to co-jurors with passion and conviction. Indeed, well educated adults — whether believers, agnostics, or atheists — routinely master the death penalty teachings of the Old Testament, the New Testament, the Holy Koran or the Bhagavad-gita and would bring that learning into the jury cloister. But that would not threaten theocracy. Secular law builds on moral principles inculcated by religion. Thus, Moses and the Mosaic Code are celebrated in the magnificent building of the U.S. Supreme Court.

 

Justice Hobbs insisted the precepts of Leviticus and Romans constituted extraneous evidence that had not been admitted by the trial judge. But beliefs about right and wrong are ideas, not evidence. It would be preposterous, for instance, to censure a juror for memorizing Pope John Paul II’s or Mahatma Gandhi’s moral opposition to the death penalty on the ground inadmissible evidence had been smuggled into the juryroom. Neither a lobotomy nor amorality should be a prerequisite for jury service.

 

Justice Hobbs erroneously maintained that juror consideration of Leviticus and Romans might have influenced the decision for death in lieu of a life sentence to the prejudice of Harlan. Both teach morality fully consistent with the jury’s instructions and are common to both believers and nonbelievers. Not a single juror testified that the biblical passages required them to vote for death or risk damnation. A juror might have voted for capital punishment because retribution and obedience to civil authority as taught in the Bible were thought proper moral guides in punishing first degree murder. But a defendant is not entitled to disqualify jurors who subscribe to those legally legitimate guideposts.

 

Justice Hobbs absurdly asserted that his reasoning with regard to the Bible cast no cloud over jurors who have mastered religious texts for recitation during jury deliberations: “We do not hold that an individual juror may not rely on and discuss with the other jurors during deliberation his or her religious upbringing, education and beliefs in making the extremely difficult ‘reasoned judgment’ and ‘moral decision’ “ [in death penalty cases]. ... The written word, [however], persuasively conveys the authentic ring of reliable authority in a way the recollected spoken word does not.”

 

The contrary is true. Memorization of entire passages entails intellectual labors that make the moral message indelible. Oratory in recitation, moreover, moves more than the written word. Compare Winston Churchill’s electrifying addresses during World War Ii with the dry prose of the Atlantic Charter.

 

In sum, the anti-religious principle of Harlan categorically condemns a juror whose morality is informed by religion. God is dead, at least in the chambers of the Colorado Supreme Court.

 

Bruce Fein is a constitutional lawyer and international consultant with Bruce Fein & Associates and the Lichfield Group.

 

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The Bible, the Death Penalty, and Legal Nonsense in Colorado (Christian Post, 050418)

 

The Colorado Supreme Court recently upheld a lower court’s decision reversing the sentence of a murderer who had been given the death penalty. Why? Because the jurors were found to have consulted the Bible in reaching their decision.

 

In this case, the issues of secularism, legal principles, and moral reasoning come into conflict, only because a slim majority on Colorado’s highest court found that when jurors consult the Bible, they violate the legal requirement that jurors should follow only the instructions of the court itself. In its own way, this decision by the Colorado Supreme Court demonstrates this nation’s growing allergic reaction to any claim that morality and moral reasoning should be rooted in the Bible.

 

The facts of this case appear simple enough. Robert Harlan was convicted of kidnapping a waitress, Rhonda Maloney, and later raping and murdering her. At some point in the commission of Harlan’s crime, Maloney escaped and caught the attention of a passing motorist, Jaquie Creazzo. Eventually, Harlan shot Creazzo, leaving her paralyzed. He then murdered Maloney in an act of extreme violence and brutality.

 

After his conviction, the trial court jury was given instructions concerning the sentencing phase of the trial. Colorado law—in contrast to the law of other states—specifically instructs jurors that they must arrive at an “individual moral assessment” in making their decision regarding the death penalty. In the end, the jurors voted unanimously for the death penalty. Months later, an investigator working for Harlan’s defense attorneys interviewed jurors about the nature of their deliberations. In the course of these interviews, some jurors indicated that Bibles had been brought into the jury room during deliberations and that at least some jurors had mentioned specific texts as relevant to the decision the jurors faced. In the Colorado Supreme Court’s written decision, the court found that evidence adduced at the trial court’s hearing shows that at least one juror brought a Bible, a Bible index, and handwritten notes into the jury room and shared information from the Bible with other jurors. Further, the court found that “these extraneous materials contained a passage commanding the death penalty for murderers and another instructing obedience to civil authorities.” Lastly, “these passages were pointed out by at least one juror to another juror before the jury reached its unanimous verdict imposing the death sentence.” The trial court later concluded “that use of the Bible in the jury room to demonstrate a requirement of the death penalty for the crime of murder could influence a typical juror to reject a life sentence for Harlan. Therefore, the trial court found that Colorado’s legal standards require reversal of the jury’s death sentence verdict in this case.”

 

Prosecutors appealed the trial court’s findings and the case eventually found its way to the Colorado Supreme Court. On March 28, that court—in a 3-2 decision—decided, “we can no longer say that Harlan’s death sentence was not influenced by passion, prejudice, or some other arbitrary factor.”

 

This sharply divided court produced a decision that apparently sets legal principles and moral reasoning on a collision course. Colorado law offers protections to defendants in capital cases, requiring that a death sentence not be influenced by the very “passion, prejudice, or some other arbitrary factor” that at least three Colorado Supreme Court jurists were willing to see in the use of the Bible in jury deliberations.

 

Again and again, the court’s decision documents the fact that the trial court instructed the jury that it was to base its decision in the sentencing phase on the evidence provided in the case and “nothing else whatsoever.” The judge actually instructed the jury that it was to rely upon absolutely no knowledge or moral reasoning not presented in the limited context of the trial. “I just want you to come to this court focused on this case ready to listen to the evidence in this case and to base your decision only on evidence that you get at this trial, nothing else whatsoever,” he instructed. Just before opening statements in the trial began, the judge admonished the jury with these words: “Your purpose as jurors is to decide what the facts are, and your decision must be based solely upon the evidence presented in this courtroom.”

 

During the trial, the jurors were sequestered and cut off from media coverage, not only of this specific murder case, but of all legal issues. Furthermore, they were isolated from telephone and other communication devices and were allowed to speak with family members only when an officer of the court was present.

 

After reaching its guilty verdict, the jury was then assigned the task of deliberating the appropriate sentence. With this crime, the two possible sentences were life in prison without chance of parole and the death penalty. According to Colorado law, any verdict imposing the death penalty must be unanimous, and the jury was again instructed that it “must not base its decision on passion, prejudice, or some other arbitrary response.” Beyond this, the judge did instruct the jury that “it could consider mercy or sympathy for Harlan based on his allocution statements.”

 

In the judge’s instructions to the jury concerning its death penalty deliberations, specific instructions unique to Colorado were presented to the jury. “This consideration involves a process in which you must apply your reasoned judgment in deciding whether the situation calls for life imprisonment or the imposition of the death penalty. You must still all make a further individual moral assessment of whether you’ve been convinced beyond a reasonable doubt that the death penalty instead of life in prison is the appropriate punishment.” Finally, the court instructed: “You should attempt to arrive at a reasoned judgment as to whether you have been convinced beyond a reasonable doubt that the mitigating factors do not outweigh the aggravating factor or factors.”

 

Note clearly that the jurors were told that it was their responsibility to “make a further individual moral assessment” concerning the death penalty in this precise case. How are jurors to make that “individual moral assessment?”

 

In sequestering the jury, the court had carefully eliminated access to the media, removing televisions and radios from the hotel rooms where the jurors were housed. Telephones and other means of communication were also removed. But the court did not remove copies of the Bible, placed in the rooms by the Gideons chapter.

 

According to the court’s written decision, “Several jurors studied Bibles Friday night in their hotel rooms, looking for passages relating to capital punishment and a citizen’s duty to obey the law, and took notes on the location of particular passages.” One juror “took notes on two passages.” The first passage was Leviticus 24:20-21 and the second was Romans 13:1. The Leviticus passage includes the instruction, “Thus the one who kills an animal shall make it good, but the one who kills a man shall be put to death.” Romans 13:1 reads, “Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God.”

 

According to the record, at least one juror brought a Bible into the jury’s deliberation room on Saturday morning, and at least one copy of the Bible “contained a study index with which a reader could locate passages on particular subjects.” At some point, one juror showed another juror “the Bible text from Leviticus commanding the death penalty for murder, as well as the Romans text.” Shortly thereafter, the jury returned a unanimous verdict that imposed the death penalty on Robert Harlan.

 

When an investigator working for Harlan’s defense counsel discovered the use of the Bible in the jury’s death penalty discussion, his attorneys immediately filed a “Motion to Vacate the Death Sentence Due to Jurors Use of the Bible During Penalty Phase Deliberations.”

 

The trial court later held an evidentiary hearing and determined that the death penalty verdict must be vacated. In its own decision, the Colorado Supreme Court upheld the trial court’s action and stated, “We can no longer say that the death penalty verdict was not influenced by passion, prejudice, or some other arbitrary factor.”

 

In explaining its decision, the Colorado high court indicated that it had adopted an “objective test” for determining whether or not prejudice had entered into the jury’s deliberations. “The relevant question for determining prejudice is whether there is a reasonable possibility that the extraneous information influenced the verdict to the detriment of the defendant,” the decision stated.

 

Note clearly what this court decided. The Colorado Supreme Court has decided that the very fact that one or more jurors consulted the Bible in the course of making the “individual moral assessment” that was its assignment invalidated the jury’s unanimous action. In other words, the Bible was labeled as the very kind of “extraneous information” that is likely to illicit passion and prejudice on the part of jurors. The court concluded “that there is a reasonable possibility that the Bible material introduced into the jury room could have influenced a typical juror to vote for the death penalty instead of a life sentence, to Harlan’s obvious detriment.”

 

In an interesting twist, the court explicitly found that the Bible was “extraneous” to the case and that for a juror to bring the Bible or to take handwritten notes from the Bible “was improper and constituted misconduct.” The high court ruled that, since the Bible had not been directly introduced at the trial as evidence, it could not be consulted by jurors in making their own moral assessment of the death penalty. This flies in the face of the fact that the defense had made an explicit reference to the Bible in pleading for mercy in Harlan’s sentencing phase. In a bizarre misapplication of the text, Harlan’s attorneys apparently argued that as God had extended mercy to Abraham after Abraham had come close to killing his own son, so the jury should extend mercy to Robert Harlan. Of course, the attorney’s argument is a complete misconstrual and misunderstanding of Genesis 22:1-18, but the key point is that the defense counsel made an explicit appeal to the Bible in the first place.

 

Did not the witnesses who gave sworn testimony in this case place their hand upon the Bible and repeat the oath, pledging to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, “so help me God?”

 

The majority opinion in this case attempted to make a distinction between the Bible as a written authority and the knowledge of the Bible some jurors may have possessed and from which they may have drawn insight during the jury deliberations. “The written word persuasively conveys the authentic ring of reliable authority in a way that recollected spoken word does not,” the majority decided. Further, “Some jurors may view biblical texts like the Leviticus passage at issue here as a factual representation of God’s will. The texts may also be viewed as a legal instruction, issuing from God, requiring a particular mandatory punishment for murder. Such a ‘fact’ is not one presented in evidence in this case and such a ‘legal instruction’ is not the law of the state or part of the court’s instructions.”

 

Lest the majority’s point be left unclear, the decision included this straightforward sentence: “In a community where ‘Holy Scripture’ has factual or legal import for many citizens and the actual text introduced into the deliberations without authorization by the trial court plainly instructs mandatory imposition of the death penalty, contrary to state law, its use in the jury room prior to the penalty phase verdict was prejudicial to Harlan.”

 

Two justices joined in a dissenting opinion, accusing the court’s majority of elevating “form over substance” and violating the right of jurors to make the very “individual moral assessment” that was charged as their responsibility.

 

In a sweeping dissent, these two justices rejected any claim of juror misconduct in this case. “Although the jurors were advised of many things which they could not do during the course of their deliberations, the jurors were never told to refrain from consulting the Bible or other religious material.” Beyond this, the dissenting justices accused the trial court of overestimating “both the nature of the extraneous information and the jurors’ use of that information, making conclusions from these overstated facts which are simply not supported by the record.”

 

More importantly, these justices found “no reasonable possibility that the jurors’ exposure to a biblical passage instructing them to follow Colorado law was prejudicial to Harlan.” The majority opinion “exhibits a complete lack of faith in the jury system and in the jurors who uphold that system,” the dissenting justices declared, adding that the majority had engaged in “second guessing those jurors’ abilities to follow the law in spite of and because of their religious backgrounds.”

 

The dissenting opinion also ransacked the majority opinion’s distinction between the written and remembered forms of the biblical text. “However, by choosing to define the written version of these commonly known biblical passages as ‘a higher authority,’ the majority elevates form over substance. Many people know large parts of the Bible by heart and can quote certain passages verbatim with persuasive alacrity, particularly when the ideas in those passages are as widespread and generally known as those referenced here. It is without doubt that a juror may relate passages of scripture from memory during deliberations, and that such recitation would not even be considered extraneous, much less prejudicial. It makes little sense, therefore, that the exact same passage in written form is somehow enshrined with an authority that the spoken or remembered passage lacks.”

 

From the vantage point of history, it may be that the most important effect of this decision is not the reversal of the death sentence in this particular case, but the chilling signal it sends throughout the court system. The Colorado Supreme Court has effectively decided that the Bible, in written form, is a prejudicial document that is judged to be detrimental to the cause of a defendant who may face the death penalty. The jurors who are assigned responsibility to arrive at an “individual moral assessment” are now told that they cannot use the very text that, for vast millions of Americans, constitutes the very basis of morality itself.

 

This case represents a direct assault upon freedom of conscience and religious liberty. For, if the logic of this ridiculous decision controls, jury deliberations will be reduced to secular reasoning based upon secular texts as imposed by a secular authority. Every concerned American should quickly arrive at an “individual moral assessment” regarding that precedent.

 

_____________________________________________

 

R. Albert Mohler, Jr. is president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky.

 

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The Blue Angels? The U.S. Air Force Academy is targeted by secularists. (Weekly Standard, 050505)

 

Barry Lynn is the top guy at Americans United for Separation of Church and State, and a cartoonish presence on talking head television, ever-ready to declare the imminent threat of theocracy in the land. It should come as no surprise to anyone, then, that the organization Lynn leads last week leveled a series of very serious charges against almost everyone at the United States Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado. The report, available here in PDF, is among the worst examples of McCarthyism since Joe McCarthy stood up on February 9, 1950, and declared that “I have here in my hand a list of 205 that were known to the Secretary of State as being members of the Communist Party and who nevertheless are still working and shaping the policy of the State Department.”

 

Lynn and his gang of wreckers are not rooting out Reds, of course, but something far more dangerous in their eyes: evangelical Christians, from the Commandant of Cadets General Johnny Weida to the head football coach Fisher DeBerry to Air Force “Chaplain of the Year” Major Warren Watties.

 

The “report” from Americans United’s legal director and assistant legal director concludes with the breathless and bold-typed exclamation: “We have concluded that both the specific violations and the promotion of a culture of official religious intolerance are pervasive, systemic, and evident at the very highest levels of the Academy’s command structure.”

 

Unfortunately, the acting secretary of the Air Force quickly established a task force

to investigate the report’s allegations before considering whether the group issuing it was worthy of trust on such a matter, whether the specific charges can be considered to have risen to a level worthy of further investigation, and whether the appropriate response might not have been a demand of Americans United for their sources before launching such a high-profile, well, we can’t quite call it a “witch hunt,” can we?

 

Even a cursory review of AU’s “report” reveals it is built on multiple levels of undocumented hearsay. Over and over again the phrase “we have been informed” introduces an allegation of misconduct, or “we have received a host of reports” leads to a serious charge. There are zero footnotes and zero affidavits attached to the report. Not even amazing charges such as the assertion that “General Weida has established a system of code words that he shares with evangelical Christian cadets in order to provide them with opportunities to proselytize others in the Cadet Wing” raised eyebrows with the acting secretary. When Barry Lynn’s staff charges “egregious violations of the Establishment Clause,” the Pentagon should know that this is like Peter crying wolf for the ten thousandth time.

 

Lynn’s zealots could be expected to claim that their “sources” could not be revealed for fear of retribution, but offers of third party review by non-Air Force experts would have at least guaranteed career officers who have served this country for decades would have been spared this legitimization of purple charges already being carried like a virus into the mainstream media.

 

It is still not too late for Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld to act to assure that the officers and cadets of the Air Force Academy are not subjected to an unnecessary inquisition prompted by a band of hard-left ideologues. There are times when the fever swamp deserves to be called just that, rather than credited with an authority or objectivity they have never earned and certainly don’t deserve in a context that sees them sliming real public servants.

 

Put the task force on hold, and ask for the back-up. If there are credible assertions, determined as such by credible third parties skilled in Establishment and Free Exercise Clause doctrine, then quietly empanel an investigation. Asking “how high” when Barry Lynn says jump is a terrible decision.

 

Hugh Hewitt is the host of a nationally syndicated radio show, and author most recently of Blog: Understanding the Information Reformation That is Changing Your World. His daily blog can be found at HughHewitt.com.

 

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Bibles banned on playgrounds: Legal group challenges restriction on student activity during recess (WorldNetDaily, 050512)

 

An elemenatary school principal who barred students from reading the Bible during recess after a complaint from parents is violating the Constitution, according to a public-interest law firm challenging his actions.

 

In a letter to the Knox County School District in Tennesee, the Alliance Defense Fund declared the principal of Karns Elementary School is on “shaky constitutional ground.”

 

“The Constitution does not prohibit Bibles during recess; it prohibits the wholesale banning of Bibles during recess,” said Charles Pope, the ADF-allied attorney who wrote the letter to the district.

 

“A school official cannot tell a student that he can’t bring his Bible to school or study it with friends during non-classroom time,” Pope stated.

 

According to ADF, 10-year-old student Luke Whitson used his regularly scheduled recess time to read the Bible with a few friends on his school’s playground. After receiving a complaint from a parent, the principal reportedly ordered the students to stop their activity, put their Bibles away and cease from bringing them to school.

 

“There are no ‘age discrimination’ allowances in the First Amendment of the Constitution,” said ADF Senior Counsel Joseph Infranco. “The law protects these students the same as it protects all students.”

 

Infranco said children “have rights of speech and association during their non-instructional time, and the school may not curtail those rights because of their age.”

 

Whitson’s parents sought legal assistance from Pope, who contends “the law as it pertains to this situation is well settled.”

 

“Students may have religious discussions and Bible study during non-instructional time,” he explained in his letter. “The school district should immediately issue a statement addressing the unconstitutional actions and policy and alerting all personnel to permit Luke and other similarly situated students to exercise their constitutional rights.”

 

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Student sues after Bible study banned: Claims principal abruptly interrupted discussion during recess (WorldNetDaily, 050603)

 

A 10-year-old elementary school student filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against district officials for barring students from reading and discussing the Bible during recess.

 

Luke Whitson and his parents, represented by the Alliance Defense Fund, claim Principal Cathy Summa at Karns Elementary School in the Knox County district in Tennessee violated constitutional rights by stopping a playground Bible study.

 

The lawsuit alleges: “Principal Summa abruptly interrupted certain fourth-grade students while they were in the midst of a Bible discussion during recess, demanded that they stop their activity at once, put their Bibles away and from that point forward, cease from bringing their Bibles to school.”

 

The lawsuit, filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court, asks for an injunction against the school system to prevent employees from “banning or threatening to ban religious expression in the form of Bible reading and discussion during recess time.”

 

Summa insists she did not ban Bibles from school and the Knox County district, through a statement by Superintendent Charles Lindsey, said the principal objected to Bible study at recess, which school officials do not consider “free time.”

 

Lindsey emphasized students can have Bible study groups “outside the classroom environment.”

 

But ADF attorneys, who say school officials have given only an “evasive” response through the media, contend recess is “non-instructional time regardless of how the school system tries to characterize it after the fact.”

 

“The Constitution says ‘yes’ to Bible reading and discussion outside of class time,” said ADF Senior Legal Counsel Nate Kellum.

 

Whitson’s parents, according to ADF, were unable to resolve the matter with the principal and contacted district officials via legal counsel.

 

The district failed to respond, ADF claims, leaving the Whitsons with no choice but to file suit.

 

ADF says officials also didn’t answer the central question in their news release.

 

“Simply, that question is: May a couple of students get together and talk about the Bible on the playground at recess? The district sidesteps this core issue,” Kellum said.

 

Summa and other school and district officials have stated in media interviews that students may only read and discuss the Bible before or after school.

 

“This is not a constitutionally sound policy,” Kellum contended. “Recess has long been regarded as non-instructional time, and students may read or discuss a wide range of literature — including the Bible — during such periods.”

 

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Two Decisions, Two Worldviews — The Ten Commandments Cases (Christian Post, 050628)

 

The U.S. Supreme Court handed down its long-expected decisions on the public display of the Ten Commandments on Monday, producing more confusion than clarification in the process. Before the day was out, the nation’s High Court had handed down two decisions, represented by eight separate opinions from nine justices. At the end of the day, the real winners were the lawyers, who can look forward to a tidal wave of litigation in the aftermath of these confusing decisions.

 

The cases originated in Kentucky and Texas, and the particulars of the two cases differ in significant ways—at least according to a majority of the justices. In Kentucky, two counties had moved to display the Ten Commandments, along with other documents, in 1999. Controversy quickly ensued, and lawsuits were filed claiming that the displays represented an unconstitutional establishment of religion. In Texas, a monument that included the text of the Ten Commandments had stood for 40 years on the grounds of the Texas Capitol. The original plaintiff in that case charged that passing by the monument with the Ten Commandments represented a violation of his own constitutional rights.

 

Both decisions saw the Court divided five to four, though some justices switched sides from one case to the other. The Court ruled that the Kentucky displays must be removed, since those particular displays were, the justices argued, the result of a religiously motivated purpose. The Texas monument was allowed to stay because the justices ruled that this particular monument did not represent an unconstitutional establishment of religion. Taken together, the two decisions sent a decidedly mixed signal. Adding further confusion, the Court asserted that displays including explicitly religious texts, such as the Ten Commandments, must be scrutinized on a case-by-case basis. Thus, the lawyers are likely to be busy for many years to come.

 

The justice who played the deciding role in both decisions was Justice Stephen Breyer. Writing a concurring opinion in the Texas case, Justice Breyer argued that legal judgment was required in the “difficult borderline cases” that rest on particular facts, rather than generalized principles. In other words, Justice Breyer argued that the judges must use their own judgment and intuition in order to determine whether or not a particular display violates constitutional principle.

 

Oddly enough, Justice Breyer asserted that the “determinative” issue in the Texas case was the fact that four decades had passed “in which the presence of this monument, legally speaking, went unchallenged.” He compared this to the Kentucky case, in which controversy had emerged even before the documents had been displayed.

 

Justice Breyer’s legal theory merits closer scrutiny. The obvious problem with his argument is the fact that he would be unwilling to apply the same theory in similar cases. His thesis is that many years of no controversy indicates, by his “legal judgment,” that the expression or display serves a secular purpose. What about school prayer? Public prayer was allowed in public schools for many decades—far longer than the Texas monument has existed—and yet Justice Breyer would be very unlikely, to say the least, to argue that a long period lacking in controversy in that case should be similarly interpreted.

 

Elsewhere, Justice Breyer argued: “In certain contexts, a display of the tablets of the Ten Commandments can convey not simply a religious message but also a secular moral message (about proper standards of social conduct). And in certain contexts, a display of the tablets can also convey a historical message (about a historic relation between those standards and the law)—a fact that helps to explain the display of those tablets in dozens of courthouses throughout the Nation, including the Supreme Court of the United States.”

 

A similar argument seemed to serve as something of a foundation for the seven other written opinions.

 

In his majority opinion in the Kentucky case, Justice David Souter ventured into psychology. Holding that the Kentucky displays were unconstitutional, Souter wrote: “We hold that the counties’ manifest objective may be dispositive of the constitutional inquiry, and that the development of the presentation should be considered when determining its purpose.”

 

The county governments’ “manifest objective” is thus a matter of the Court’s interpretation, along with “the development of the presentation.” This means that the Court—at least as represented by its majority—considers itself competent to judge the motivations of the parties involved, even though this may have no bearing upon the actual nature of the display.

 

As usual, Justice Antonin Scalia was scathing in his dissent. In his dissenting opinion released in the Kentucky case, Justice Scalia argued that the Court’s argument “that the government cannot favor religious practice is false.” Furthermore, he argued that the majority’s opinion “extends the scope of that falsehood even beyond prior cases,” and that “even on the basis of the Court’s false assumptions the judgment here is wrong.”

 

Scalia’s argument reaches far beyond the Kentucky and Texas cases. He holds that the Court has developed an open hostility to religious expression that warps its constitutional interpretation. Furthermore, he argues that this is a recent and unfounded development.

 

“Nothing stands behind the Court’s assertion that governmental affirmation of the society’s belief in God is unconstitutional except the Court’s own say-so, citing as support only the unsubstantiated say-so of earlier Courts going back no farther than the mid-20th century,” he asserted.

 

As he continued, Scalia argued that the Court’s “brain-spun” test for religious establishment has left a wake of confusion. The justice argued that “the Court has not had the courage (or the foolhardiness) to apply the neutrality principle consistently.”

 

In a devastating passage, Scalia points to the root of the problem with the majority opinion. “What distinguishes the rule of law from the dictatorship of a shifting Supreme Court majority is the absolutely indispensable requirement that judicial opinions be grounded in consistently applied principle. That is what prevents judges from ruling now this way, now that—thumbs up or thumbs down—as their personal preferences dictate. Today’s opinion forthrightly (or actually, somewhat less than forthrightly) admits that it does not rest upon consistently applied principle.”

 

Groups on both sides of the controversy claimed some form of victory. Jay Sekulow, chief counsel for the American Center for Law and Justice [ACLJ] expressed satisfaction that the Court had allowed the Texas monument to stay. “It is very encouraging that the Supreme Court understands the historical and legal significance of displaying the Ten Commandments and moved to protect thousands of monuments now in place across America,” he said. At the same time, he expressed lament that “the High Court’s decision in the Kentucky case is likely to create more questions and confusion in this area of church/state law.”

 

The liberal group People for the American Way [PAW] claimed victory, pointing to what it described as an “affirmation of the constitutional principle of government neutrality toward religion.” People for the American Way Foundation President Ralph G. Neas said: “While we disagree with how the Court applied that principle to the facts in Texas, we are very pleased that that Court has rejected efforts to dismantle church-state separation.” The American Civil Liberties Union [ACLU] released a statement arguing that the Court’s decision in the Kentucky case “contains some of the Court’s most powerful language in years on the question of the government’s role in religion and society.”

 

In the end, the two decisions settled very little. The Court established no clear test for determining the constitutionality of Ten Commandments displays, and the contorted and shifting arguments contained in the various written opinions offer what can only be described as contradictory principles. The decision threatens to unleash a virtually endless torrent of lawsuits and court challenges to displays that contain any religious symbols or content.

 

Sadly, the decisions seem to represent an extension of secularism as America’s established faith. It is hard to disagree with Justice Scalia when he asserts that the Kentucky decision “ratchets up this Court’s hostility to religion.”

 

Regardless of the Court’s arguments, no serious person can deny that the Ten Commandments are foundational to the Western system of law. The foundation of our legal system was not established in the Upanishads, the Bhagavad Gita or the writings of Confucius. Modern Western civilization emerged from an explicitly Christian context, and the Ten Commandments—representing the law as handed down by God—were understood to undergird the law as established by men and governments.

 

The public display of the Ten Commandments is no substitute for the church’s responsibility to teach and preach the Word of God and to bear witness to the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. Of all people, Christians must understand that our allegiance to the Ten Commandments is not based in a secular principle, nor do we admire the Ten Commandments for their secular content.

 

Nevertheless, we must understand that these decisions, taken together, represent more government hostility toward religious expression—even in the form of a public acknowledgement of the historical influence of the Ten Commandments. We won’t have to wait long to see where the Court will go from here—even more Ten Commandments cases are already on the way.

 

______________________________________________

 

R. Albert Mohler, Jr. is president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky.

 

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Majority of Teens Support “Under God” in Pledge (Christian Post, 050711)

 

More than 80% of teenagers think the words “under God” belong in the Pledge of Allegiance, according to a new study released by the American Bible Society.

 

The June 12-17 survey found that 82% of 12-17 year-olds support the pledge, 9.1% are “not sure” and only 8.5% do not.

 

Furthermore, exactly 63% of the teens polled said they think about the words “under God” while they are reciting the pledge; 37% said they do not.

 

The results provide a snapshot of teenagers’ opinions about the separation of church and state.

 

On the subject of prayer in school, more than 70% of American students believe they should be allowed to pray in school, while only 10% are against it. Just over 17% said they were “not sure” about the issue.

 

More than two-thirds - 66.6% - said they think about God “every day.”  Almost 16% said they only think about God “during bad times” such as an illness or personal tragedy, 6.5% said only when they are in a house of worship, and 6.1% said only on religious holidays such as Christmas and Easter.  Only 5.1% answered “never.”

 

Some 82% of teens surveyed also think that the words, “In God We Trust,” belong on U.S. currency, while only 6% of those polled said they do not; 12% were not sure.

 

When asked how they feel about the singing of God Bless America at sporting events such as basketball and baseball games, 83% think it’s okay, while a mere 2% do not; 15% said it doesn’t matter one way or the other.

 

The American Bible survey was completed online, in partnership with Synovate/TeenNation. The teens were randomly chosen across the contiguous 48 states.

 

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Christian Prayer Allowed in Delaware School Board (Christian Post, 050817)

 

A judge in Delaware ruled that a Christian prayer before the start of local school board meetings is legal, quoting a legal precedent that the practice is “deeply embedded in the history and tradition of this country.”

 

The Christian prayer issue was just a small part of a civil rights lawsuit brought on by a family with a son in the Indian River School District. The prayer matter was dismissed early this month by the judge, though the suit against members of the district alleging other religion related issues will continue. The case is still in the pre-trial phase.

 

U.S. District Judge Joseph J. Farnan Jr. quoted the opinion from the 1983 Supreme Court decision of Marsh v. Chambers, which concluded that the opening of a session of the legislature and other deliberative public bodies with prayer is not a violation of the Establishment Clause.

 

Farnan quoted from the earlier decision, writing that “There can be no doubt that the practice of opening legislative sessions with prayer has become part of the fabric of our society. To invoke Divine guidance ... is simply a tolerable acknowledgment of beliefs widely held among the people of this country.”

 

Farnan wrote, “In light of this precedent, the Court cannot conclude that prayer is not part of legitimate, legislative processes”

 

The suit against the district had stated that school board members had specifically opened meetings in “the Lord’s name” and “in the name of Christ,” according to court documents.

 

Reacting to the decision, the staff attorney for the National School Boards Association, Tom Hutton, told the News Journal of Delaware that the organization did not have a strong view on the matter either way. However, he said that the Association recommends that schools boards use a “moment of silence” instead, as a way to prevent causing offense to some members of the community.

 

American Civil Liberties Union attorney Thomas Allingham, who supported plaintiffs in the case indicated that the decision would be appealed and believed that they would be vindicated, according to the News Journal.

 

In its website, the ACLU states it believes that “any program of religious indoctrination — direct or indirect — in the public schools or by use of public resources is a violation of the constitutional principle of separation of church and state and must be opposed.”

 

In court documents, the Dorich family, one of several plaintiffs brining the case against members of the Indian River School Board, stated that it had been persecuted and sometimes threatened for having raised objections to the prayers. They stated that the family eventually moved because of the actions.

 

Included in the suit, which is still pending, were also allegations the Indian River is improperly promoting Christianity and violating non-Christians’ rights. Allegations included statements that prayers were regularly offered during school events, including graduations and dinners, adding that school members participated in a Bible club during school hours.

 

An attorney for the Indian River school district was “encouraged” by the partial decision regarding Christian prayers.

 

“I was a little surprised the court made that ruling in this opinion because it probably wasn’t absolutely necessary. It was not something we pressed in that motion,” said attorney John Balaguer. “We’re encouraged by that.”

 

While prayer initiated by school officials in public schools is illegal, the ACLU argued in the suit that the school board meetings are school functions and that prayer before the meetings was therefore improper, as some rulings maintain.

 

Other court decisions agree with Farnan’s view that the school board is a legislative body similar to state legislature, thus allowing prayer.

 

The ruling also dismissed the school board members as individual defendants, meaning that their personal finances and homes are no longer on the line.

 

Both parties are scheduled to hold court-mandated mediation talks to attempt to end the case before it proceeds to the trial phase.

 

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The ACLU, the Courts and the Boy Scouts (Free Congress Foundation, 050804)

 

While growing up I was a proud member of an organization that emphasized the importance of honesty and “being clean in thought, word and deed.” We vowed to serve God and our country. If you think that this organization’s philosophy is non-controversial you are sadly mistaken. We live in an era of Political Correctness. The beliefs and values that our society broadly embraced when I was a member of Boy Scout Troop 77, chartered by Holy Trinity Catholic Church of Racine, Wisconsin, are now endangered.

 

Unfortunately, our federal courts often make decisions that assault our country’s most cherished beliefs and values. Many of the nation’s 3.2 million Boy Scouts and 1.2 million adult members must be hanging their heads low right now. A recent ruling by U.S. District Judge Blanche Manning in Chicago indicates how much our society has declined in understanding the difference between paying homage to God and the intermingling of church and state. Winkler v. Chicago was brought by the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois on behalf of Methodist Minister Eugene Winkler, Rabbi Gary Gerson and others. Thanks to their misunderstanding of the separation of church and state, as well as that of Judge Manning, the Pentagon cannot use federal funds to support future National Boy Scout Jamborees such as that held last month.

 

The argument in this case is not that the Pentagon transfers money allocated for weapons systems to the Boy Scout Jamboree. It is that the Pentagon uses federal funds to support the event of an organization that develops our youth and acknowledges God. According to the plaintiffs and the ACLU, the Pentagon violates a fundamental stricture requiring the government to be “neutral” in religious activities although the Pentagon is authorized by Congress to support the Boy Scouts of America. The Boy Scouts of America (“BSA”) is a non-denominational youth organization that seeks to make young men good citizens. It does require Boy Scouts to affirm a belief in God, or any God for that matter.

 

[Liberal] Methodist Minister Eugene Winkler insisted, “Government must be neutral because we are a nation of many religious views – as well as those who do not practice a religion. The expenditure of $7.3 million by the Pentagon or an organization that requires young people to affirm a belief in God – and the simultaneous exclusion of secular organizations from this benefit – undermines that principle of neutrality.”

 

The ACLU argued that the money expended by the Pentagon is “alarming” because BSA distributes to Jamboree attendants a guidebook that lists a prayer book as “required personal camping equipment.” BSA also distributes “Duty to God,” a booklet suggesting daily prayers that could be said during the Jamboree. What the ACLU so aggressively protests is indoctrination but this is much ado about nothing. Devout Boy Scouts will use the prayer books and be sincere in the thoughts they express to God. Most will be sincere in what they say and do. Some Boy Scouts will not be so sincere, perhaps not even say the prayers at all. That is for God to judge.

 

Judge Manning in the earthly court – the U.S. District Court – incorrectly interpreted the Constitution. The First Amendment does not call for separation of church and state; it says “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” BSA does not favor any religious denomination; the organization truly is non-denominational. This was clarified in the motion for summary judgment filed on behalf of the Department of Housing & Urban Development. In the motion, HUD sought to have the judge issue a ruling without a trial because the arguments of the plaintiffs, Reverend Winkler and Rabbi Gerson, were baseless. The motion said:

 

While a Boy Scout accepts an obligation to do one’s “duty to God” and to be reverent, BSA leaves the implementation of the Scout’s religious beliefs up to the Scout and his family. …BSA encourages members to practice their religious beliefs as directed by their parents and spiritual advisors…Boy Scouts leaves sectarian religious instruction to the member’s religious leaders and families, does not require its members to attend or participate in any sectarian religious ceremony, welcomes young people of all religious backgrounds, and in fact includes members of every religious denomination as well as those who affiliate with no organized religion whatsoever. …While many religious organizations “charter” Scouting units, BSA prohibits them from requiring boys who belong to other denominations or faiths to take part in or observe their religious ceremonies.

 

The Department of Justice has not decided whether to appeal this case. Millions of Americans who care about an organization that promotes wholesome values in our country’s young boys have a vested interest. They should hope the Department would not let this egregious ruling go unchallenged.

 

Congress has a role to play, too. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, M.D. (R-TN) introduced the Support Our Scouts Act (S. 642) to guarantee that Scouts shall have fair and equal access to all public facilities and forums. Senator Frist’s bill would amend the Housing and Community Development Act to prohibit any state or local government from discriminating against any youth organization such as the Boy Scouts or its affiliates.

 

A bipartisan group of Senators co-sponsored the bill, which the Senate recently approved as an amendment to the Department of Defense Authorization bill (S. 1042). Senator Frist emphasized how “proud” he was that his amendment received bipartisan support. The battle will continue within the House/Senate conference committee on the DOD authorization bill.

 

The ruling in this case reaffirms the need to place judges on the federal bench who are committed to interpreting the law, not actively re-writing it. The Pentagon’s support of the Boy Scout Jamboree does not establish a religion and surely does not violate the First Amendment.

 

Many similar decisions, based upon the personal prejudices or gross misinterpretations of a judge, recently have been handed down. At risk, due to such activist-driven rulings, are beliefs and values that have united us as a country.

 

When the BSA finds itself in legal hot water because it wants its members to honor God this is not the America that I knew growing up. In my youth acknowledgement of our faith and our country’s Judeo-Christian heritage was common and accepted practice. Our country has lost its moorings and too many Americans of Christian and Jewish heritage willingly have abandoned the faith that held their forbearers in good stead.

 

Our nation’s youth are too complacent, taking for granted what has been given them. They mistake Hollywood and sports celebrities as accomplished, not only in their performances on stage and on screen and on the playing field but in their lifestyles. Glitz outshines living a life that truly honors God. The Boy Scouts challenge our young men to set higher goals and higher standards for themselves, including belief in God.

 

A Federal Judge has told the Boy Scouts that belief is unacceptable because the government must be “neutral.” Millions of Americans do understand the importance of faith. They are not “neutral” when recognizing God and do not put a denominational stamp on faith. A Boy Scout may believe in his country but his belief in God instills real mettle in that conviction.

 

Paul M. Weyrich is Chairman and CEO of the Free Congress Foundation.

 

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Court Upholds Constitutionality of Ten Commandments Display (Christian Post, 050821)

 

A federal appeals court upheld the public display of a Ten Commandments monument in a Nebraskan city park on Friday, in the first Ten Commandments case following recent rulings by the U.S. Supreme Court.

 

The 10-2 decision of the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a ruling last year from one of the court’s three-judge panels that said the Ten Commandments monument in the City of Plattsmouth, Neb., must be removed.

 

“The decision of the Court of Appeals is a perfect and sound application of the law set by the nation’s highest court earlier this year in Van Orden v. Perry,” said Francis Manion of the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), which argued the case on behalf of the City of Plattsmouth. “Like the Supreme Court, the Court of Appeals recognizes that a public display of the Ten Commandments can have historical and legal significance and does not violate the Constitution in any way.”

 

According to the ACLJ, the court’s decision relied heavily on the Supreme Court’s Van Orden decision, which held that the display of the Ten Commandments on the grounds of the Texas state capitol was constitutional.

 

Writing for the majority in the Plattsmouth, Judge Pasco Bowman noted, “Given [the] rich American tradition of religious acknowledgements, we cannot conclude that the City’s display of a Ten Commandments monument violates the Establishment Clause—particularly in light of the Supreme Court’s decision in Van Orden.”

 

Bowman recognized that the Plattsmouth monument “makes passive—and permissible—use of the text of the Ten Commandments to acknowledge the role of religion in our Nation’s heritage.”

 

“This case proves once again that the Ten Commandments can be publicly displayed in a manner consistent with the Constitution,” said Jay Sekulow, chief counsel of the ACLJ, in a statement on Friday. “The Court of Appeals reasserts today what the Supreme Court has consistently held: that religion is closely tied to our history and government.”

 

Plattsmouth’s Ten Commandments monument is one of hundreds donated to cities and counties around the nation in the 1950s and 1960s by the Fraternal Order of Eagles, a national social, civic, and patriotic organization.

 

Plattsmouth, a town of 7,000 some 20 miles south of Omaha, received its five-foot-tall, three-foot wide granite monument in 1965.

 

In addition to the text, the monument is prominently marked with two Stars of David, which are symbols of the Jewish faith. It sits in Memorial Park.

 

The initial lawsuit, which was filed by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of an atheist resident of Plattsmouth, alleged that the monument failed to maintain a proper separation between church and state.

 

Lawyers for Plattsmouth, however, argued that the monument was simply a gift, not an endorsement of religion. They also argued that the monument was protected by the First Amendment’s guarantee of religious freedom.

 

On Feb. 19, 2002, U.S. District Judge Richard Kopf of Lincoln rejected the city’s arguments and said the monument “conveys a message that Christianity and Judaism are favored religions.”

 

Two years later, on Feb. 18, a three-judge panel of the appeals court reviewing Kopf’s earlier ruling upheld the decision, stating that the monument’s “message is undeniably religious.”

 

The ACLJ, which focuses on family and religious issues, had asked the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to review the earlier ruling.

 

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Focus on the Family Exhort President Bush to Repeal New Air Force Guidelines (Christian Post, 050906)

 

Focus on the Family called on millions of its members to contact President Bush to repeal the new Air Force Guidelines concerning religious tolerance.

 

Two day after the Air Force issued new guidelines on public displays of faith, Focus on the Family posted an article on its website titled, “Air Force Religious-Expression Guidelines Called ‘Hypocritical,’” which urged readers to contact President Bush and request freedom of religious expression in the Air Force.

 

“I’m concerned that the environment is not friendly to free expression of religion,” said Tom Minnery, Focus on the Family’s vice president of public policy, to Colorado’s Rocky Mountain News. “We want to be sure that the president hears that a lot of people are concerned about this, and that should help the Air Force cadre apply these principles fairly and constitutionally.”

 

The new religious tolerance guidelines, issued on Aug. 29, concern many Christians because they keep soldiers, who face life-threatening situations, from encouraging each other through daily sharing their faith. Public prayer and religious expressions are discouraged except under “extraordinary circumstances,” such as “mass casualties, preparation for imminent combat and natural disasters,” according to the guidelines.

 

“Academy cadets are trained to render the ultimate sacrifice, and should be encouraged to grapple with life’s ultimate meaning, not harassed when they do so,” says Tom Minnery, Vice President of Government and Public Policy at Focus on the Family Action.

 

Lt. Col. Bob Maginnis, a retired army officer, said in a interview with Focus on the Family, “We’re in a time of war. We’re currently under unusual circumstances and have been since 9/11, and I think it is unfortunate that the Air Force has stamped on religious freedom and told commanders that they should chill any effort to express a faith in God, given that we have young men and woman that are dying every day on the battlefields.”

 

Minnery adds, “You know, we shouldn’t have to get to a point where there is a disaster and bodies are lying before us before we invoke the name of God in a public way. And yet, that’s the direction the Air Force seems to be going.”

 

The Colorado Springs Air Force had undergone an investigation regarding religious intolerance in the month of May after the academy was accused by the Americans United for Separation of Church and State of imposing evangelical Christian beliefs on its cadets. The 16 member investigation team found “no overt, systemic religious discrimination against non-Christians at the Colorado Springs, Colo. Facility,” according to CitizenLink.

 

Christian organizations other than Focus on the Family are also voicing their protest against the new guideline, which will suppress religious freedom of expression of those in the military.

 

“To say that you can only have prayer in extraordinary circumstances I think is hypocritical,” comments Mat Staver, President of Liberty Counsel. “And certainly not consistent with our Founding Fathers and George Washington — our first general and first president.”

 

Focus on the Family is currently taking steps to reinstate freedom of religious expression in the Air Force by calling upon concerned Christians to contact President Bush and urge him change the new Air Force guidelines.

 

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Court sides with 5-year-old after school censors Jesus: School’s suppression of kindergartner’s artwork may violate constitutional rights (zwsn, 051020)

 

Officials at a New York state school may have violated the constitutional free-speech rights of a kindergarten student who included an image of Jesus in his homework assignment, according to an appeals court decision.

 

The three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit in Manhattan remanded the case back to a federal district court Monday for further consideration.

 

Antonio Peck, who attended Catherine McNamara Elementary School in Baldwinsville, N.Y., as a kindergarten student during the 1999-2000 school year, included an image of Jesus and other religious elements in a poster created in fulfillment of a homework assignment on the environment.

 

The student reportedly was expressing his belief that God was the only way to save the environment.

 

School officials rejected one version of the poster and then obscured a portion of the second version when it was placed on display at an assembly, citing concerns over its “religious” nature.

 

Liberty Counsel, a Florida-based public-interest law firm, filed suit over the second poster.

 

“To allow a kindergarten poster to be displayed for a few hours on a cafeteria wall, along with 80 other student posters, is far from an establishment of religion,” said Mathew D. Staver, president and general counsel of Liberty Counsel. “To censor the poster solely because some might perceive a portion of it to be religious is an egregious violation of the Constitution.”

 

The case was funded by the Arizona-based Alliance Defense Fund from 1999-2003.

 

The second version of the poster depicted a robed, praying figure of Jesus, a church with a cross, people picking up trash for recycling, children holding hands around a globe, clouds, trees, a squirrel and grass.

 

In its opinion, the 2nd Circuit panel said the district court “overlooked evidence that, if construed, in the light most favorable to Peck, suggested that Antonio’s poster was censored not because it was unresponsive to the assignment ... , but because it offered a religious perspective on the topic of how to save the environment.”

 

In 2000, the federal trial court ruled the school had the right to censor the poster because of “church and state” concerns. In March 2001, a unanimous federal court of appeals reversed the decision and sent the case back to the trial court.

 

Last year, the same federal trial court again ruled for the school. Liberty Counsel noted the 2nd Circuit joined the 9th and the 11th Circuits in holding that viewpoint discrimination is forbidden, even in the public school classroom context.

 

However, the 1st and 10th Circuits hold that viewpoint discrimination in the public school context is permissible, making it likely the Peck case will end up in the Supreme Court.

 

Staver said, “I’m elated with the decision. Now Antonio will have his day in court. The school humiliated Antonio when the teacher folded his poster in half so that the cutout drawing of Jesus could not be seen.”

 

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Faith-Based Prison Fellowship Trial to Test Church-State Limits (Christian Post, 051024)

 

The constitutional legality of a biblical rehabilitation program for prison inmates in Iowa will be the focus of a trial in a U.S. District Court today in Des Moines, which could set an important court precedent for the future of faith-based initiatives in the nation.

 

The program, known as the InnerChange Freedom Initiative, is sponsored by Prison Fellowship Ministries – a ministry founded by Charles W. Colson, who converted to Christianity while in prison over the Watergate scandal in the 70s. The suit is being pressed by Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, which alleges that partial funding by the state of Iowa for the program violates the constitution.

 

The program’s organizers contend that prisoners are interested in spirituality and that for reasons of religious freedom, they should be able to “pursue a changed life through their faith” and be allowed to use the available resources.

 

“Rehabilitation, successful reentry into society, and reduced recidivism rates are long accepted goals of government,” InnerChange said in a statement released on Oct. 20. “Non-profits, faith-based or not, that can provide a service that meets these goals should be allowed to do so.”

 

The Rev. Barry Lynn, [comments by Kwing Hung: a very bad person waiting for horrific Judgment] who heads Americans United for the Separation of Church and state, believes that the case will ask important questions about what should be allowable under law under what he terms “so-called” faith-based programs at the state and national level

 

“Can the recipients of tax dollars make their hiring decisions based upon religion?” Lynn said, according to the Des Moines Register. “In this case, we alleged that InnerChange will not even permit people to volunteer to help in the program unless they pass a kind of religious litmus test.”

 

Currently, the InnerChange Freedom Initiative operates under a contract with the Departments of Corrections in Iowa and works with local churches and volunteers to carry out its inmate reform program.

 

The president of Prison Fellowship Ministries said that that the purpose of the program is working to reduce the number of inmates who return to prison and that anyone can participate in the program regardless of their religious beliefs.

 

“We make it clear that this is a faith-based program based upon the teachings of Christ, but we also make it clear that anybody is welcome in,” said Mark Earley, the group’s president, according to The Des Moines Register.

 

The case is expected to last 12 days, ending on Nov. 8. However, District Judge Robert Pratt is expected to take the non-jury case under consideration, issuing a ruling at a later time.

 

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Supreme Court Allows ‘In God We Trust’ to Remain on Gov’t Building (Christian Post, 051115)

 

The Supreme Court allowed the phrase “In God We Trust” to remain on a North Carolina government building after declining to review a case brought forward by lawyers who said the inscription was unconstitutional.

 

The case involved 18-inch block letters prominently displayed atop the Davidson County Government Center in Lexington, N.C. The letters had been paid for by donations from churches. The name of the building, in smaller letters, was the only other writing on the face of the building, according to court documents.

 

“In this situation, the reasonable observer must be deemed aware of the patriotic uses, both historical and present, of the phrase ‘In God We Trust,’” ruled the lower court, according to the Associated Press.

 

The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals had previously ruled that the lawsuit did not pass the commonly used test to determine if there is a violation of the Establishment clause in the First Amendment of the Constitution.

 

Plaintiffs opposing the inscription in the Lambeth v. Board of Commissioners of Davidson County case failed to show the three common objections: that there was no legitimate secular purpose to the display, that it had the effect of endorsing religion, or that it created “excessive entanglement” between the government and religion.

 

The case was filed by Charles F. Lambeth Jr. and Michael D. Lea who practice law in the Government Center.

 

George Daly, an attorney from Charlotte N.C. for the plaintiffs had argued that the “In God We Trust” phrase is the national motto but “also a religious creed, a statement of communal religious belief,” according to AP.

 

The phrase “In God We Trust” was first placed on coins in 1865. In 1854, it was adopted as the national motto by an Act of Congress. Other places where it can be seen in Government are inscribed above the chair where the speaker of the House of Representative sits. It is also above the entrance to the U.S. Senate Chamber.

 

Another court case involving the “In God We Trust” phrase has may soon begin. Michael Newdow, an atheist from California, says he intends to file a suit to remove the phrase from all U.S. currency. Newdow is also suing to remove “under God” from the pledge of Allegiance.

 

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Abraham Lincoln’s Thanksgiving (Weekly Standard, 051128)

 

FOUR THEMES FLOW TOGETHER AT one of the most remarkable points in American history—the evening when Abraham Lincoln for the last time proclaimed a national day of thanksgiving. It was April 11, 1865: two days after the Civil War ended with Robert E. Lee’s surrender at Appomattox; four days before the president was murdered. Our national Thanksgiving Day is a good time to remember the president who had more to do with the institution of Thanksgiving and the actual practice of thanking God than any other, and to recall his last public speech.

 

On that misty April evening, the world had a rare glimpse of the symbolism of a powerful prophecy literally fulfilled, if only for a few moments. The brilliant “city on a hill” that the 17th-century Puritan settlers spoke of seemed embodied in Washington, as the capital sprang to life in a blaze of gaslight. The president spoke of the nation’s long-sought victory in terms not of triumph but of reconciliation, and of the nation’s debt to God.

 

Some of Lincoln’s friends and admirers, recalling that night, remembered the president as if he were Moses looking “into the Promised Land of Peace from the Pisgah summit,” as one of them, the journalist Noah Brooks, wrote. Lincoln like Moses stood at the very brink of the promised land he would never enter. (It’s hard not to see Lincoln as the greatest religious figure this country has ever produced.)

 

Thanksgiving itself is theme number one. In 1621, the Pilgrims celebrated the famous first Thanksgiving at Plymouth. Many other days of thanksgiving were proclaimed by American colonial governments. President George Washington decreed one for the new nation in 1789, and another in 1795. Thanksgiving was celebrated intermittently after that until Lincoln declared a national Thanksgiving Day on the fourth Thursday of November, 1864, and this time the holiday stuck.

 

Lincoln’s devoutness grew throughout his life; when he spoke of God, he never spoke pro forma. In his message proclaiming that November 1864 Thanksgiving, he said that the Lord “has been pleased to animate and inspire our minds and hearts with fortitude, courage and resolution sufficient for the great trial of civil war.” And he prayed for the “blessings of Peace, Union and Harmony throughout the land, which it has pleased him to assign as a dwelling-place for ourselves and for our posterity throughout all generations.” The Biblical language is typical of Lincoln. Like many Puritan-minded Americans, he thought of his country as a new promised land.

 

Thanksgiving has been celebrated annually ever since. But the day of thanksgiving Lincoln proposed in his last public speech that final April of his life was a bonus, over and above the annual observance.

 

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Court Allows Church to Rent Space in Public Schools (Christian Post, 051126)

 

Religious groups may rent spaces in public schools for meetings just as other organizations can, a federal judge ruled recently.

 

The decision by Judge Loretta Preska of the Federal District Court in Manhattan, N.Y., allows the evangelical Bronx Household of Faith church to rent space in a public school for four hours every Sunday.

 

“The government may not treat activities that are similar to those previously permitted as different in kind just because the subject activities are conducted from a religious perspective,” Preska wrote in her court opinion.

 

The case of The Bronx Household of Faith v. New York Board of Education ended with the judge’s decision, which was handed down on Nov. 16 following a decade-long battle by in the courts.

 

The Board of Education in New York City did not want the church’s presence in the school, saying that it did not want to be affiliated with a particular religion and that the church’s presence violated the separation of church and state. The district said it would immediately appeal the ruling.

 

“We are concerned about having any schools in this diverse city become identified with any particular religious belief or practice,” said Lisa Grumet of the city’s law department, according to the New York Times.

 

In 2001, the Supreme Court had ruled in the case of Good News Club v. Milford Central School that religious teachings on school campuses did not differ from similar secular lessons on morality and character development.

 

The judge, however, citing cases in recent years, ruled that the government would become excessively entangled with religion if it were to go about trying to differentiate how secular and religious moral teachings differed.

 

“This ruling is big news because New York has fought this concept of equal access and is one of the last government entities resisting what the Supreme Court has said,” said Jordan Lorence, a lawyer with the Scottsdale, Ariz.-based Alliance Defense Fund, according to the New York Times. ADF, which was founded for the purpose of “aggressively defend religious liberty,” represented the church.

 

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Feelings trumping rights (townhall.com, 051129)

 

by David Limbaugh

 

Did you hear about the University of Wisconsin — Eau Claire (UWEC) banning resident assistants (RAs) from leading Bible studies in their own dormitories? That’s the subject of my latest e-mail blast from the ever-vigilant Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE).

 

This outrageous, indefensible assault on Christian religious liberties provides a perfect opportunity for the church-state separation crusaders to prove they’re really devoted to religious liberty, as they claim. Let’s see if they protest.

 

An UWEC official sent RAs a letter forbidding them from leading Bible studies because students might conclude that such RAs were not “approachable.” Don’t laugh. Violators, warned the letter, would be subject to disciplinary action. Of course, the letter also purported to prohibit Koran and Torah studies, but it appears such studies were not even at issue.

 

“Wall of separation” advocates insist their primary goal is to prevent government from promoting religion. The “wall,” they say, is what has been responsible for our nation’s unparalleled religious liberty.

 

But the only wall of separation the Framers erected, via the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, was that prohibiting the federal government from establishing a national church or religion. Why? Because a compulsory, state-supported religion would stifle religious liberty, an evil the Framers’ ancestors sailed the Atlantic to escape. The thrust of the Establishment Clause was to promote religious freedom.

 

Not content to stop there, the Framers also included the “Free Exercise” clause, which expressly forbade Congress from making any law prohibiting the free exercise of religion. Clearly, then, the focus of the first two clauses of the First Amendment to the Constitution is religious liberty.

 

Church-state separation zealots have often selectively applied their wall of separation. They have consistently screamed bloody murder at any whiff of Christianity in the public square, especially when there is the remotest suggestion that government is merely countenancing Christianity (far from endorsing it). But they’ve sat idly by as the state has outright endorsed other religions or worldviews or their values.

 

It is mostly Christianity and its values (and perceived intolerance) they oppose, not the state endorsement of religion. I suppose if you could ever force them to be honest with themselves, they would grudgingly concede the point, while justifying it on the basis that Christianity, with its pervasiveness in this country, is the only religion whose dominant influence (and very nature) jeopardizes our tradition of religious liberty. (Of course, that is absurd on its face, since America is the freest nation in history largely because of its Christian roots.)

 

In their zeal to honor the wall of separation between state and Christianity with the ostensible goal of promoting religious liberty the secularists have trampled on that very liberty. That is, by twisting the Establishment Clause beyond recognition, they have, in many cases, emasculated the Free Exercise Clause.

 

This has happened most prominently in public schools, where in their mania to prohibit the state (the public school) from endorsing religion, they have suppressed the free exercise rights of the students. For example, schools sometimes forbid references to Christ by commencement speakers, because they apparently believe that to permit students to voluntarily exercise their religious freedom or expression is tantamount to the state endorsing the Christian religion.

 

But the state is no more endorsing the Christian religion by permitting the valedictorian’s reference to Christ than the government is endorsing my convincing arguments in this essay by not infringing on my freedom to express (and publish) these profundities.

 

In the case of UWEC’s ban on RA-led Bible studies, if we give the school the benefit of a huge, unwarranted doubt, we could conclude that it wasn’t specifically targeting Christianity, since it nominally applied the ban to other religions.

 

But either way, it is still grossly infringing on the free exercise rights of its RAs and its students, all in the interest of avoiding any appearance of “unapproachability” on the part of the RAs.

 

You see, the presumption often adopted by our cultural elite is that Christianity is, on its face, intolerant. Doesn’t everyone know that any RA who would lead a Bible study is less approachable, especially to members of other religions?

 

In the name of protecting all hypersensitive students’ non-existent constitutional right to be free from the slightest discomfort at the hands of the state (most of which anticipated discomfort is likely a figment of the imagination of those paranoid about Christianity), this university has chosen to violate the most important right our Constitution does guaranty: religious liberty.

 

The only “separating” usually being done by the fabled “wall” is the severance of religious liberties, mostly Christian, from the Constitution.

 

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Christian Clubs File Suit Against Universities Over Jesus Confession (Christian Post, 051130)

 

Christian students from four Christian clubs filed a civil rights lawsuit on Wednesday against two California universities, claiming that current rules discriminate against their groups, denying them benefits such as school funding and meeting spaces.

 

University administrators say that to recognize clubs requiring that members profess faith in Jesus would violate state law. An attorney for the students says that the university is violating their right to association under the First Amendment.

 

“All student groups have a right to elect officers and members who share that group’s values or belief system,” said Jeremy Tedesco, a litigator with the Alliance Defense Fund, according to news release.

 

The case could have a wider impact. Both universities being sued are run by the Board of Trustees of the California State University system, which includes 23 campuses across the state. Universities across the country have similar policies.

 

Ohio State University , one of the largest public colleges in the country, changed its non-discrimination policy in response to a suit filed by the Christian Legal Society last year. At the University of North Carolina at Chapel-Hill, the administration would not change its policy but the suit, moved forward by the Scottsdale, Ariz.-based ADF succeeded in obtaining a preliminary injunction that allowed a Christian fraternity to exclude homosexuals.

 

San Diego State University, along with California State University, Long Beach were the two campuses sued on Wednesday. An SDSU spokesman says that state law prevents it from recognizing the students.

 

“The California education code holds us accountable for making sure we don’t recognize institutions or students organizations that limit membership on the basis of race, religion or national origin,” SDSU spokesman Jason Foster said according to KGTV in San Diego.

 

He indicated that other clubs on campuses such as the Muslim Student Association welcome students of different faiths and the Japanese Student Association accepts students of all races.

 

Tedesco illustrates his point by saying that a vegetarian club would not be required by the school let meat eaters or hunters lead their group.

 

“The ultimate impact of this policy will be to either eliminate Christian clubs from campus or dilute them to the point where they are no longer Christian,” he said.

 

The plaintiffs in the California cases are Every Nation Campus Ministries at SDSU and Cal State Long Beach, as well as Alpha Gamma Omega and Alpha Delta Chi, a fraternity and sorority at SDSU.

 

Three of the groups require that members profess faith in Christ and live according to a biblical code of conduct. The other only requires its leaders to do so. Each group prohibits sex outside of marriage between a man and a woman.

 

The suit by ADF could be the first of more lawsuits to come as part of its “University Project,” which seeks to defend Christian student groups across the country against discrimination from campus officials.

 

The case is Every Nation Campus Ministries et. al v. Achtenberg, et. al. and was filed with the United States District Court for the Sourthern District of California.

 

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1st Amendment ‘doesn’t create church-state wall of separation’: Court whacks civil-liberties group, OKs Ten Commandments display (WorldNetDaily, 051221)

 

A U.S. appeals court today upheld the decision of a lower court in allowing the inclusion of the Ten Commandments in a courthouse display, hammering the American Civil Liberties Union and declaring, “The First Amendment does not demand a wall of separation between church and state.”

 

Attorneys from the American Center for Law and Justice successfully argued the case on behalf of Mercer County, Ky., and a display of historical documents placed in the county courthouse. The panel voted 3-0 to reject the ACLU’s contention the display violated the Establishment Clause of the Constitution.

 

The county display the ACLU sued over included the Ten Commandments, the Mayflower Compact, the Declaration of Independence, the Magna Carta, the Star Spangled Banner, the national motto, the preamble to the Kentucky Constitution, the Bill of Rights to the U. S. Constitution and a picture of Lady Justice.

 

Writing for the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals, Judge Richard Suhrheinrich said the ACLU’s “repeated reference ‘to the separation of church and state’ ... has grown tiresome. The First Amendment does not demand a wall of separation between church and state.”

 

Suhrheinrich wrote: “The ACLU, an organization whose mission is ‘to ensure that ... the government [is kept] out of the religion business,’ does not embody the reasonable person.”

 

The court said a reasonable observer of Mercer County’s display appreciates “the role religion has played in our governmental institutions, and finds it historically appropriate and traditionally acceptable for a state to include religious influences, even in the form of sacred texts, in honoring American traditions.”

 

Francis J. Manion, counsel for the ACLJ, argued the case before both the 6th Circuit and the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Kentucky.

 

“This is a big victory for the people of Mercer County and Kentucky generally,” Manion said. “For too long they have been lectured like children by those in the ACLU and elsewhere who claim to know what the people’s Constitution really means. What the 6th Circuit has said is that the people have a better grasp on the real meaning of the Constitution; the court recognizes that the Constitution does not require that we strip the public square of all vestiges of our religious heritage and traditions.”

 

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Bronx church wins 10-year court battle: Right to use school called biggest access victory in 2 decades (WorldNetDaily, 051118)

 

After 10 years of legal battles, a federal court ensured a Bronx church has the right to rent space at a public school for its Sunday worship meetings.

 

The congregation’s attorney, Jordan Lorence, hailed the decision as “the biggest victory for equal access cases in two decades.”

 

Judge Loretta Preska of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York issued a permanent injunction yesterday barring the Board of Education of the City of New York from refusing to rent space to the Bronx Household of Faith.

 

As WorldNetDaily reported in 2002, the district objected on grounds that worship services on school property violate the Constitution’s Establishment Clause, which says “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.”

 

Lorence, senior counsel for the Alliance Defense Fund, said people of faith “ought to be able to rent and use public school facilities just like everyone else.”

 

“It’s a simple, common sense principle that took over a decade and multiple court rulings for the New York City school board to understand,” he said.

 

In her opinion [pdf file], Preska said the board’s position that its policy against the church “does not amount to unconstitutional viewpoint discrimination is astonishing in light of the Supreme Court’s clear holding in Good News Club.”

 

In the 2001 case Good News Club v. Milford Central School, the Supreme Court declared a school’s denial of access to an after-hours Bible club unconstitutional.

 

Prior to that ruling, Preska had decided in favor of the district, but ADF brought the case back to her court, using the Supreme Court decision as precedent.

 

“Almost everyone in America but the public school system of New York City understands that the government doesn’t endorse everything it allows,” Lorence said.

 

He called it “the biggest victory in two decades for churches that simply want the same access to public facilities that other organizations have.”

 

Yesterday’s ruling made permanent Preska’s temporary injunction in June 2002. The school board appealed that decision to the U.S. 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals in New York City, but the request was denied in 2003, allowing the church to continue meeting at the school.

 

The church, founded during the “Jesus movement” in 1971, sought a larger meeting space in 1995 when it grew to about 90 members and could no longer fit in the substance-abuse rehabilitation facility it had used since its inception.

 

With no similar community facilities in the neighborhood, the congregation began to inquire about neighborhood public schools.

 

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Georgia Lawmakers Propose Bible Study Course (Christian Post, 060119)

[KH: what? Democrats? finally some good ones.]

 

Lawmakers in Georgia proposed an elective Bible literacy course on Wednesday, stating that the course would be constitutional.

 

Senate Bill 437 would authorize the state school board to approve a high school course teaching about the Bible’s influence on literature, art, culture and politics, promising a “nonsectarian, non religious academic study.”

 

The course would “be taught in an objective and nondevotional manner with no attempt made to indoctrinate students as to either the truth or falsity of the biblical materials.”

 

State Sen. Doug Stoner (D-Myrna), who co-sponsored the bill, said that from Shakespeare writings to the Rev. Martin Luther King’s “Letter From a Birmingham Jail,” students would be aided by knowing the Bible.

 

“If you’re not familiar with those biblical references, you miss a lot of what the letter’s meaning was,” Stoner said.

 

The bill does not suggest a particular book or curriculum but senators who spoke about their proposal on Wednesday had copies of a book called “The Bible and Its Influence” published last year by the Bible Literacy Project. A competing organization called the National Council on Bible Curriculum in Public Schools (NCBCPS) has criticized the book for passages it says are critical of Christian doctrines.

 

If the idea for the new course moves forward, it would be up to state education officials to pick the reading materials, AP reported.

 

Current laws in Georgia allow for local school systems to create classes for studying the Bible or other religious states without approval from the state school board or the legislature, according to AP.

 

Sen. Kasim Reed (D-Atlanta) said that the class was being introduced through legislation instead of local school boards to protect local systems from facing legal challenges alone, AP reported. The state Attorney General’s office would defend the course if necessary.

 

Maggie Garrett, a lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia, said it was possible to teach about the Bible in constitutional ways but added that it was difficult. She suggested that one way to improve the bill would be to add other religious texts, AP reported.

 

She noted that some parents could object to the course even if it was carefully worded.

 

“Parents don’t want to send their kids to public school to have an interpretation of the Bible taught that may not be their interpretation of the Bible,” Garrett said.

 

However State Sen. Tim Golden (D-Valdosta), who also helped introduce the bill, emphasized that the course was necessary.

 

“As a history major, I understand very clearly the impact the Bible has had on society,” said Golden, according to AP.

 

“It’s had a huge impact.”

 

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Judge Orders San Diego to Remove Cross (Christian Post, 060506)

 

SAN DIEGO (AP) - After a 17-year legal battle between the city and a self-described atheist, a judge has ordered San Diego officials to remove a giant cross from a hilltop park or start paying $5,000 a day in fines.

 

Defying the order is something cash-strapped San Diego can ill afford. Its pension fund is more than $1 billion in debt, the federal government is investigating, and there’s been talk of bankruptcy.

 

Still, Mayor Jerry Sanders said he would ask the city attorney to appeal.

 

U.S. District Judge Gordon Thompson Jr. on Wednesday gave the city 90 days to comply with a 1991 injunction forbidding the cross on public property.

 

“It is now time, and perhaps long overdue,” the judge wrote.

 

The 29-foot-high cross was dedicated as a memorial to Korean War veterans in 1954 on a hilltop that towers over seaside La Jolla.

 

Philip Paulson, an atheist and Vietnam veteran, has been challenging its placement on city-owned parkland since 1989. He declined comment on the ruling Wednesday, but his attorney, James McElroy, said he hoped city officials would finally back down.

 

The city has tried to sell the half-acre beneath the cross to a nonprofit association that maintains the surrounding memorial walls. But federal judges have repeatedly blocked the sale, saying the transactions were designed to favor a buyer who would keep the cross in place. The U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear the city’s appeal in 2003.

 

A city-sponsored referendum asking permission from residents to sell the property failed in 2004. The next year, 75% of the voters approved a referendum to transfer the land to the federal government, but a Superior Court judge ruled that measure to be an “unconstitutional aid to religion.” The ruling has been appealed.

 

City Attorney Mike Aguirre acknowledged Wednesday that continuing the court battle would likely be futile, but Mayor Jerry Sanders said he would the city attorney to aggressively pursue a stay of the injunction.

 

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Va. Megachurch Wrestles with County Over Theological Classes (Christian Post, 060616)

 

WASHINGTON – Leaders of McLean Bible Church in McLean, Va., may take Fairfax County to court over the right to hold theological classes at its campus after the county rejected the church’s request to allow classes without requiring special exception including public hearings before the county Board of Supervisors.

 

The Fairfax County Board of Zoning Appeals rejected the church’s request last week, upholding a prior county ruling that the theological classes violated the current approved zoning for the church, reported The Times Fairfax County community newspaper on Thursday. The classes are part of a college-level religious education program that church leaders assert is part of their ministry.

 

“The county is intruding on the church’s religious practices,” Stuart Mendelsohn, McLean’s attorney, said. “This is a critical part of the church’s education program.”

 

“The county has no business saying we can’t have the classes,” he said. “We believe that similar approvals have been granted to institutions like William and Mary.”

 

The classes are taught in conjunction with Capital Bible Seminary and about 100 people a week attend the classes compared to 10,000 people who attend service throughout the week. Therefore, Mendelsohn said the classes make up a “very minor use” of the church.

 

However, county officials said that because the classes are offered in partnership with an accredited institution, the church is functioning as a college and as a result requires a special permit.

 

The church’s attorney believes that if the church wants to continue to hold classes, the next option is taking Fairfax County to court.

 

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Mention God? Don’t you dare (Townhall.com, 060621)

 

by Ben Shapiro

 

Brittany McComb, valedictorian of Foothill High School in Clark County, Nevada, stood up at her graduation and began to speak. A few paragraphs into her speech, school administrators cut off McComb’s microphone. She didn’t tell a dirty joke. She didn’t curse. She didn’t insult her classmates or her teachers. Brittany McComb committed the egregious sin of attempting to thank God and Jesus. “I went through four years of school at Foothill and they taught me logic and they taught me freedom of speech,” McComb stated. “God’s the biggest part of my life. Just like other valedictorians thank their parents, I wanted to thank my lord and savior.”

 

The American Civil Liberties Union, which seems more intent on curtailing important liberties than protecting them, praised the school’s decision. Nevada ACLU general counsel Allan Lichtenstein explained, “There should be no controversy here … It’s important for people to understand that a student was given a school-sponsored forum by a school, and therefore, in essence, it was a school-sponsored speech.” The school district stood by the school’s decision, suggesting that McComb’s speech entered into the realm of “preaching.” “We review the speeches and tell them they may not proselytize,” said district legal counsel Bill Hoffman. “We encourage people to talk about religion and the impact on their lives. But when that discussion crosses over to become proselytizing, then we tell students they can’t do that.”

 

Welcome to the federal judiciary’s America, where simple expressions of thanks to God in commencement speeches are banned for fear of state-sponsored religion. Let’s assume McComb’s speech offended some attendees at the graduation. Let’s even assume McComb proselytized, and wasn’t merely expressing her gratitude to God and Jesus. Finally, let’s assume the school district, by allowing McComb’s speech, would have been promoting her message.

 

Here’s the question: So what?

 

The Constitution provides no right to be free from public expression of religion. The relevant portion of the First Amendment reads: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” The basic idea is this: There should be no national religion, because establishment of a national religion would necessitate shutting down other religions. The idea that the First Amendment bans all public reference to God or Jesus is absurd. As former Chief Justice William Rehnquist famously wrote in his (SET ITAL) Wallace v. Jaffree (END ITAL) dissent (1985), “It seems indisputable from these glimpses of Madison’s thinking, as reflected by actions on the floor of the House in 1789, that he saw the Amendment as designed to prohibit the establishment of a national religion, and perhaps to prevent discrimination among sects. He did not see it as requiring neutrality on the part of government between religion and irreligion.”

 

There is no right to be free from public expression of religion, but there (SET ITAL) is (END ITAL) a Constitutionally protected right to free exercise of religion. Brittany McComb was chosen to speak not because she was religious, but because she had a 4.7 grade point average — and it is none of the school district’s business whether she chooses to invoke God, Jesus or Zeus (though history indicates that the ACLU would fight for her right to invoke Zeus).

 

The federal judiciary is noticeably more open to obscenity than religion. Laws barring public obscenity have been struck down on the grounds that passersby may “effectively avoid further bombardment of their sensibilities simply by averting their eyes.” (Cohen v. California, 1971) The very mention of God, by contrast, crushes all resistance, according to the federal judiciary.

 

In fact, the judiciary is noticeably more open to irreligion than religion; those who propose neutrality between religion and irreligion willfully ignore the fact that state-sponsored irreligion remains the dominant mode of expression in many state-sponsored activities. State schools routinely preach the moral acceptability of sexual promiscuity and homosexuality — but the ACLU and its buddies on the federal bench are always there to protect schoolchildren from a classroom display of the Ten Commandments.

 

McComb wasn’t the only one disappointed by the school’s decision. Four hundred graduates and their families jeered as the school cut the microphone. Aside from the precious few Michael Newdows of the world who feel that the name of God merits complete and total redaction, the rest of the country jeers along with them. Unfortunately, the federal judiciary is averting its eyes.

 

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Valedictorian sues Nevada school for cutting off Christian speech (WorldNetDaily, 060713)

 

LAS VEGAS (AP) - A high school valedictorian who had the plug pulled on her microphone as she gave an address referring to Jesus Christ sued school officials Thursday, saying her rights to religious freedom and free speech were trampled on.

 

Brittany McComb, 18, was part way through her June 15 commencement address to some 400 graduates of Foothill High School and their family members when a school worker cut off the sound system.

 

“God’s love is so great that he gave his only son up,” she said, before the microphone went dead. She then continued without amplification, “...to an excruciating death on a cross so his blood would cover all our shortcomings and provide for us a way to heaven in accepting this grace.”

 

A video released by the conservative legal group backing the suit, The Rutherford Institute, shows McComb speaking soundlessly after her microphone was turned off while some in the audience chanted “Let her speak!” and stood and applauded.

 

McComb’s suit, filed in the U.S. District Court of Nevada, names the principal, assistant principal and the employee of the school in Henderson who pulled the plug.

 

McComb said she was warned that her speech at The Orleans hotel-casino would be cut off if she did not follow an approved script that deleted references to Christ and invitations for others to join the faith. But she memorized the deleted parts and said them anyway.

 

“In my heart I couldn’t say the edited version because it wasn’t what I wanted to say,” she told The Associated Press. “I wanted to say why I was successful, and what inspired me to keep going and what motivated me. It involved Jesus Christ for me, period.”

 

Clark County School District spokesman Dave Sheehan said district lawyers had not seen the lawsuit and were unable to comment on it.

 

School District lawyer Bill Hoffman has said previously that the school was following 9th Circuit Court of Appeals rulings that have obligated districts to censor student speeches for proselytizing.

 

Allen Lichtenstein, lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada, said the school appropriately followed the appeals court’s decisions.

 

“Proselytizing is improper in school-sponsored speech at valedictorian graduations,” he said, adding the ACLU had sued in the past to ensure proselytizing was prevented at school-sponsored events.

 

John Whitehead, president of the Charlottesville, Va.-based Rutherford Institute, called the incident disturbing.

 

“If you know history, go back and look at some of the regimes that pull plugs, it starts with Nazi Germany all the way up through,” he said.

 

Whitehead noted this case differed from others involving the vetting of valedictorian speeches because the microphone plug was pulled as McComb veered into unapproved text. Students in other cases had accepted editing of religious content, he said.

 

“What makes a great constitutional case? Great facts,” he said. “Just what happened here is going to drive this case forward.”

 

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Yearning to Be Free: How Much Freedom is Left? (Christian Post, 060704)

 

By Chuck Colson

 

The Fourth of July - a day on which we celebrate our liberty - is a good time to ask, what is the state of religious freedom today?

 

Let’s see. In New York last month, the owners of a private skating rink were warned by the state’s Division of Human Rights to stop holding a Christian skating event on Sundays. It allegedly discriminated against non-Christians.

 

In Iowa, as part of his ruling against Prison Fellowship and the InnerChange Freedom Initiative, a federal judged grossly mischaracterized the orthodox beliefs of evangelicals (such as the bodily resurrection of Jesus). He said these beliefs are hostile to “many Christians.” Then he ordered the InnerChange program in Iowa shut down.

 

And in Boston, Catholic Charities was recently forced out of the adoption business because it would not, for doctrinal reasons, agree to place children with homosexuals.

 

This hostility towards religious practice would have shocked America’s Founders. They understood that freedom is a gift of God, made possible only when societies recognize God’s authority.

 

Two hundred and thirty years ago, our Founders bravely declared their independence in one of the most eloquent documents ever written, the Declaration of Independence. It was a ringing call to freedom - not only for the American colonists, but for people the world over. But what few remember is that our IN-dependence declared that day is predicated on our DE-pendence upon God.

 

The Declaration’s first lines refer to “the Laws of Nature and Nature’s God.” The Founders also declared their “firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence.” And in the most stirring lines of this document, they wrote, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

 

But these truths are far from being self-evident to many elites today. For 50 years, they’ve tried to scrub religion out of public life. Even to speak of God’s authority is deemed intolerant.

 

This is madness. Thomas Jefferson, himself a Deist, understood that political independence could rest only upon human dependence upon a higher authority, whatever one might call that authority - God, or Providence, or the Almighty.

 

Today we are engaged in a clash of civilizations and a noble mission in Iraq, not to conquer, but to liberate - to give Iraqis what President Bush calls “God’s gift of human freedom.” But we cannot export something we don’t have. If we don’t see freedom as God’s gift, we will have great difficulty establishing free societies around the world - or, for that matter, hanging onto our own freedom. As Rodney Stark writes in his brilliant book, THE VICTORY OF REASON, our ideas about democracy and equality stem from the Christian understanding of man created in God’s image.

 

And that’s why freedom has flourished only in those societies where citizens have embraced Judeo-Christian understandings of human dignity and God-given rights.

 

We do have much to celebrate and be grateful for this Fourth of July. But we must also be vigilant and defend against attacks on religious freedom that could undermine the very liberty we celebrate.

 

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Ohio Gov. Signs Law Requiring Schools to Display God Mottos (Christian Post, 060718)

 

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Despite constitutional concerns, Gov. Bob Taft signed a bill last week requiring all public and community schools to display any donated copies of the national and state mottos — “In God We Trust” and “With God, All Things Are Possible.”

 

Both mottos have withstood court challenges suggesting that their use in official government contexts violates the clause on separation of church and state in the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

 

However, a legislative analysis of the bill questioned whether displaying the mottos in schools would be equally successful in court.

 

“It is not known, however, whether courts would uphold the required display of the mottoes in public schools where they would be seen regularly by young children,” the Legislative Service Commission reported in its analysis for lawmakers. “In the past, the Supreme Court of the United States has distinguished between religious expression involving impressionable children as opposed to adults.”

 

After a failed attempt in 2004, the Ohio House again passed the bill last June and sent it to the Senate. Senate President Bill Harris initially declared it as low on his priority list, but he put it up for a vote that succeeded in May.

 

Taft’s signature came the same day the bill arrived on his desk.

 

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Keith Faber, a Celina Republican, requires public schools, including charter schools run by private entities using state money, to display copies of the mottos if they are donated in a classroom, auditorium or cafeteria. An earlier version of the bill required display in every classroom in the state.

 

Moms for Ohio, a small political-action committee that mostly promotes conservative causes, pushed the bill as instilling the right values in children.

 

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Separation of Church and State Not Possible in Africa, Faith Leaders Say (Christian Post, 05069)

 

WASHINGTON – African religious leaders exclaimed before the U.S. Congressional Human Rights Caucus Tuesday evening that it is not possible to separate church from state in Africa.

magnifier Enlarge this Image

 

“In the African tradition, religion is a very integral part of our culture. So it is not easy to simply place things in compartments; ‘this is the religious part [and] this is the secular part,’” said South Africa’s Professor Maake Jonathan S. Masango. “Some scholars have said that Africans are incurably religious. You cannot separate him from his religion; he carries it in his heart, he carries it in his walkman, he carries it even to his examination room.”

 

As part of The Interfaith Summit on Africa hosted by Church World Service (CWS), more than 45 high-level African faith leaders convened in Washington for dialogue on how U.S. government policies can best meet the major challenges facing the continent. The congressional briefing was held ahead of a three-day conference that includes workshops and presentations by well-known pastors, heads of NGOs (non-governmental organizations), and U.N. and U.S. officials.

 

Masango, who represents the United Presbyterian Church in Southern Africa, continued to explain the intricate history of the importance of faith in African history and culture.

 

“In traditional African society, the village traditional ruler is also the chief priest of the community and leads the village in religious ceremony,” said the professor. “For us, it is difficult to talk about a separation between the secular man and the religious person.

 

“Religion is used to bring the community together; religion becomes the judicial system of the people; and religion becomes the basis instilling discipline in the community. That was the structure even before modern civilization came in…and so for us, [we think it is] quite a disservice to the growth and development of the community when we hear about these very strict separations.”

 

Mohammed Mahdi Shehu, national secretary of the Bridge Builders Association of Nigeria, voiced his support of the South African professor’s response to a question posed by a member of the Human Rights Caucus.

 

“In Africa, there is a direct nexus between government and religion and that cannot be wished away,” proclaimed Shehu. “Anybody wishing that away should go and read the history of religion and read the history of Africa and read the history of humanity.”

 

During the delegation’s address to the caucus, the Rev. John L. McCullough, executive director and CEO of Church World Service, highlighted that Africa is the most underdeveloped continent in the world and African religious leaders should not be “sidelined” in discussion about African issues but rather be “recognized as persons who have a substantive contribution to make in the discourse on human rights and oppression of people as they seek to live their lives in what, in our perspective, God intends for us.”

 

McCullough summarized the concerns to be addressed during the Interfaith Summit including poverty, water, natural resource, displaced persons, food security, and the role of women in society.

 

“There is a recognition that the needs are so fundamental, so basic, it doesn’t require $37 billion dollars,” said McCullough, referring to the recent donation of Warren Buffett, the world’s second-richest man, to The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. “Using $5 million dollars and using it much more effectively will achieve a far greater good than simply throwing money at a problem.

 

“So from the perspective of this community, it is of utmost importance to try to find the ways and means for policymakers such as those in the United States to have a direct engagement with the people to really be able to hear from the people what they understand to be their most basic needs, and to hear their ideas about how the crisis and the situation they confront can be resolved.”

 

Other high-level African Christian leaders present were His Holiness Abune Paulos, patriarch of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church; the Most Rev. Njongonkulu W.H. Ndungane, Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town, South Africa; and Rt. Rev. Dr. Nyansako-ni-Nku, president of the All Africa Conference of Churches which is made up of 135 churches with a population of about 130 million Christians.

 

“Today, you are all to listen to us because we live in the problem,” said Paulos, following the delegation address to the Caucus. “So everything that we say is something useful for your own decisions.”

 

Masango, who also believes church and state cannot be separated, concluded, “Actually, it is not very possible in a traditional African society” to separate church and state.

 

“And we have realized, unfortunately, when we have traveled to the West where this has been fully applied, that it has led more to the decline of modern person and we don’t think it is something good for us to imitate,” he said to the applause and laughter of the African religious leaders and U.S. Human Rights Caucus members.

 

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Court: Illinois University Must Reinstate Christian Group (Christian Post, 060711)

[KH: Some judges think that Christian group cannot exclude non-Christians but feminist university courses can exclude males.]

 

CHICAGO (AP) - A federal appeals court ruled Monday that an Illinois university must reinstate a student group that had its status revoked over its requirement that members pledge to adhere to Christian beliefs.

 

The ruling reverses a lower court decision that denied the group a preliminary injunction re-establishing its status while the lawsuit proceeds.

 

The Christian Legal Society sued Southern Illinois University in 2005 after the school revoked the group’s registered status, meaning it no longer could use the university’s facilities or name and was ineligible for school funding. The group claimed the university’s decision violated its First Amendment rights to free speech and free exercise of religion.

 

The university said the society’s requirement that members adhere to basic Christian beliefs violates the school’s affirmative action policy as well as a Board of Trustees policy stating that student organizations must follow all “federal or state laws concerning nondiscrimination and equal opportunity.”

 

But in its ruling Monday, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals said the university “failed to identify which federal or state law it believes (Christian Legal Society) violated.”

 

Messages seeking comment were left after business hours Monday for university general counsel Jerry Blakemore and Christian Legal Society attorney Casey Mattox.

 

Mattox has said the university began looking into the chapter’s requirements after a student who never attended a Christian Legal Society meeting read about its policies in a law journal and brought them to administrators’ attention. No student was denied a membership or leadership position within the group because of his or her religious beliefs, he said.

 

Christian Legal Society, based in Annandale, Va., is a nationwide association of more than 3,400 Christian lawyers, law students, law professors and judges with chapters in more than 1,100 cities across the country, according to its Web site. The university’s chapter had fewer than 12 members, Mattox said.

 

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Christmas ‘ban’ prompts Supreme Court petition: Policy allows recognition of Ramadan, Hanukkah, but not Christian holiday (WorldNetDaily, 060824)

 

A petition has been submitted to the U.S. Supreme Court asking the justices to repair damage done by a lower court in a ruling that allows the display in public schools of menorahs and star-and-crescent symbols, but not Christian symbols.

 

At issue is the policy of the New York City public schools that encourages the display of “secular” symbols such as the menorah at Hanukkah and the star and crescent symbol at Ramadan, but bans the Nativity at Christmas because of its religious meaning.

 

Nativity

 

The Thomas More Law Center said the offending policy was instituted by the public schools in New York City, and then approved by a sharply divide opinion from the 2nd U.S. Court of Appeals.

 

And Law Center staff lawyer Robert Muise told WorldNetDaily that a logical, constitutional resolution of this case at the Supreme Court level could impact dozens, maybe hundreds, of other cases.

 

“If you went back to what the founding fathers intended, you wouldn’t have these endorsement tests of religious displays. All of these would be non-issues,” he said. Thus, there wouldn’t have to be lawsuits over various Christian, or other, symbols that appear in schools, on T-shirts or on money.

 

That’s because the founding fathers, by their formal acknowledgement of God in foundational documents, showed they recognized God, they just didn’t want the state to set up a church, he indicated.

 

He said the majority opinion in the New York case shows just how far afield lower courts have drifted, and how much they need guidance in the area of Establishment Clause jurisprudence. The original clause is just a few words – that Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.

 

Yet it takes 152 pages to justify displaying menorahs but banning Nativities, he said.

 

“Many federal courts are using the contrived endorsement test to cleanse America of Christianity,” said Richard Thompson, president of the Law Center. “This unprincipled test allows judges to impose their ideological views under the pretext of constitutional interpretation.

 

“Thus,” Thompson said, “The majority opinion says it is legitimate to discriminate against Christians in the largest public school system in the country, with over one million students enrolled in its 1,200 public schools and programs. The Supreme Court needs to review this case.”

 

The city school policy expressly allows the menorah to be displayed as a symbol of the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah, and the star and crescent to be displayed as a symbol of the Islamic holiday of Ramadan.

 

But it expressly bans any crèche or nativity display as a symbol of Christmas.

 

Two of the three judges on the 2nd Circuit panel ruled that concept is constitutional.

 

But in a 46-page dissent, Circuit Judge Chester A. Straub said the policy “fails” under the Constitution.

 

“It is my view that the policy of the New York City Department of Education to arrange for the children to celebrate the holiday season in schools through the use of displays and activities that include religious symbols of the Jewish holiday of Chanukah and the Muslim commemoration of Ramadan, but starkly exclude any religious symbols fo the Christian holiday of Christmas, fails under the (Constitution).”

 

The Law Center had challenged the system-wide ban on behalf of Andrea Skoros and her two minor children, who attend public schools in New York.

 

‘Now that Justice O’Connor, the author of the endorsement test, is no longer on the Court, and with the additions of Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Alito, two conservative Justices, we are hopeful that the Court will accept this case for review and use it to abandon its ridiculous, anti-Christian jurisprudence,” Muise said.

 

The law center noted that several justices on the Court at this point already have been critical of the same issue.

 

“The unintelligibility of this Court’s precedent raises the further concern that, either in appearance or in fact, adjudication of Establishment Clause challenges turns on judicial predilections,” said Justice Clarence Thomas.

 

In the petition, the Law Center said the New York policy also creates a hostility towards Christianity.

 

“The Constitution does not require complete separate of church and state; it affirmatively mandates accommodation, not merely tolerance of all religions, and forbids hostility toward any,” the Law Center said.

 

“I find it clear that the current policy and displays violate the Establishment Clause insofar as a reasonable student observer would perceive a message of endorsement of Judaism and Islam and a reasonable parent observer would perceive a message that Judaism and Islam are favored and that Christianity is disfavored,” Straub wrote.

 

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Court favors Christian literature on campus: District had barred students from distributing pro-life, religious material (WorldNetDaily, 060829)

 

A federal court of appeals unanimously struck down a Florida school board policy barring students from distributing religious literature on campus.

 

Represented by the public-interest group Liberty Counsel, student Michelle Heinkel of Cypress Lake Middle School in Fort Myers had sought permission to distribute religious and pro-life literature about the “Day of Remembrance,” set aside to remember unborn children killed by abortion.

 

But Superintendent James Browder of the Lee County School District denied the request, citing a board policy prohibiting students from distributing literature that is political, religious or proselytizing.

 

The next year Heinkel repeated the request – this time joined by Nate Cordray, a student at Riverdale High School – and was turned down again.

 

A federal district court upheld the policy, but the court of appeals found it unconstitutional.

 

In its unanimous decision, the upper court ruled that the policy’s ban on all political and religious literature was an unconstitutional content-based restriction. The court also ruled the policy gave too much unrestricted discretion to school officials to deny speech.

 

Erik Stanley, chief counsel of Liberty Counsel, pointed out public school students have a right to free speech outside of class sessions. “A school’s desire to squelch speech because of discomfort with the message is unconstitutional,” he said.

 

Liberty Counsel’s founder and chairman Mathew Staver, who argued the case before the district court and on appeal, said “religious and political speech are twin sisters, without which we have no freedom.”

 

“Public schools may ban obscenity and libel, but religious and political speech does not stop at the schoolhouse door,” he said. “Banning religious speech sends the wrong message that religion is taboo or second class, which proposition neither this court nor the Constitution is willing to tolerate. Educators need education about American history and the Constitution.”

 

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Battle won for students’ free-speech rights: School confirms censorship of expressions of Christian beliefs will stop (WorldNetDaily, 070116)

 

One of the high schools profiled in a WND report about educators censoring free speech because of its Christian and pro-life content has recanted, and now will allow the distribution of those messages on the same basis as other messages, according to a law firm involved in the disagreement.

 

Lawyers for the Alliance Defense Fund said Penn Cambria high school and Penn Cambria School District officials have decided that messages including those relating to the student-led Pro-Life Day of Silent Solidarity, a project of Stand True Ministries, now will be treated as other communications within the district.

 

There’s also progress in two other cases in Virginia and New York, but no final resolutions yet, ADF Legal Counsel Matt Bowman told WND.

 

As reported earlier, officials in the Penn Cambria school in Cresson, Pa., had erected bans to free speech when 16-year-old sophomore Sarah Hollen wanted to take part in Stand True’s “3rd Annual Pro-Life Day of Silent Solidarity.” Along with classmates and outside of instruction time, she wanted to silently distribute fliers containing text advocating against abortion.

 

Before classes began, the librarian had told her to get permission from an administrator. Since Principal Kathy Nagle was not in her office, she approached Assistant Principal Ernie Fetzer and was given permission to hand out fliers during non-class time.

 

However, during third period classes, Nagle summoned the students into her office and ordered them not to hand out any fliers – or to wear tape over their mouths in a symbolic gesture, because it was too controversial and “might start a fight.”

 

She objected to the anti-abortion content, and rescinded the assistant principal’s approval to pass out leaflets, and then insisted that fliers must be authorized by her two weeks prior to an event.

 

The principal had told Hollen that even outside of class, she would not be allowed to wear the tape that read, “Ask My Why I’m Not Talking,” even though the school earlier had allowed similar demonstrations by other students on other issues.

 

The ADF, which filed a complaint over the restrictions, now has announced that the school has changed its position.

 

“First Amendment rights are not null and void for students on a public school campus. The U.S. Supreme Court made that clear in the Tinker v. Des Moines ruling nearly 40 years ago,” said ADF Legal Counsel Matt Bowman. “We are pleased Sarah will now be entitled to the same privileges enjoyed by other individuals and groups on campus.”

 

The settlement of the action by the ADF brought on behalf of the students will prevent the school from banning fliers because they are too controversial, as the principal previously told the students. Instead, the ADF said, the school may screen only for obscenity or content not protected by the First Amendment, and the school must respond to requests within 24 hours.

 

Students also may distribute fliers before school, at lunch and after school, and they now will have equal access to launch a pro-life club on campus to hold events similar to other student clubs.

 

ADF attorneys had cited the school for censoring student speech “because of its content and viewpoint, selectively targeting her speech for prohibition … thereby violating the equal protection clause of the Fourteen Amendment.”

 

The case was just one of several brought around the nation by the ADF on student complaints their speech was being censored by school officials around the pro-life day because of its Christian content.

 

“Students don’t shed their rights at the schoolhouse door,” said ADF-allied attorney Tom Marcelle of Albany, N.Y. “The Supreme Court, on more than one occasion, has said that the First Amendment applies to students. As long as the speech is respectful and not disruptive of the school, the students are allowed to engage in it.”

 

Approximately 1,400 middle school and high schools participated in the national pro-life day of silence. Many passed out leaflets between classes, wore pro-life t-shirts and duct tape over their mouths with the word “Life” written on it.

 

“It’s such a great thing that students are willing to stand up for things they believe in,” Brian Kemper, president of Stand True, told WND. “Especially when, for the most part, it is such an uncool thing to do. We are seeing an upswing of more students who are pro-life. It is such a positive message – standing up for life is a positive thing.”

 

More information and photos can be found on Stand True’s Silent Day website.

 

Another case that was settled earlier came at Northeast Senior High School, Pasadena, Md. There school officials had banned Hilary Humphrey from distributing and posting fliers promoting the “Day of Silent Solidarity” on campus.

 

Northeast Senior High School policy states that students and student groups are allowed to promote activities after obtaining permission from school officials. Despite the rules protecting student speech, school officials deemed Humphrey’s anti-abortion leaflets to be “inflammatory” and refused to allow them. But they changed position and agreed to allow Humphrey and other pro-life students to promote their event after hearing from the ADF.

 

Other cases where a resolution is pending include:

 

Gowana Middle School, Clifton Park, N.Y.: A 13-year-old eighth grade student at Gowana Middle School took extra precautions to ensure that he would be able to participate in the Oct. 24 event. More than a week prior to the day, his mother courteously phoned Shenendehowa Central School District’s superintendent to notify the administration of her pro-life son’s plans to distribute leaflets containing text advocating against abortion, wear a message-bearing t-shirt and duct tape over his mouth as symbolic expression. The boy even went so far as to obtain special permission from each of his instructors so they would not feel that he was disrupting class with his silent expression.

 

On the morning of Oct. 24, the boy passed out leaflets on the bus, and several more students who were impressed with his efforts decided to join him in peaceful protest.

 

However, Gowana Middle School’s principal Jill Bush stopped the pamphlet distribution in its tracks when she summoned the students to her office that morning. She insisted they turn their clothing inside out, remove the tape from their mouths and toss it into the garbage along with their fliers. Principal Bush then made a public announcement over the intercom informing students that they would not be permitted to take part in the activities and demanded anyone who had received a flier to immediately forfeit the literature to school officials.

 

One of the students politely informed Bush of their First Amendment right to peacefully express their views. She agreed to allow them to remain silent without the red “life” tape, but said they would not be allowed to tell anyone why.

 

“Students shouldn’t be thinking about issues like that at your age,” she reportedly said.

 

The administration has previously allowed others to engage in peaceful forms of expression, regardless of controversy. In the past, the middle school students have been allowed to distribute literature and wear clothing with questionable statements.

 

“Historically, [Gowana] students have worn shirts ridiculing the president, ridiculing the war in Iraq and poking fun at religious beliefs,” Marcelle told WND. “She can’t just determine that Roe. v. Wade and the country’s abortion policy are off limits.”

 

Bowman told WND that discussions about a resolution have begun.

 

Millbrook High School, Winchester, Va.: A senior named Andrew Raker distributed leaflets and wore a t-shirt that said “Some Choices Are Wrong” and “Abortion Is Forever” to school. He also wore a symbolic red armband displaying the word “silenced.” The following day, principal Joseph Swack objected to the content of his speech, forbidding him to pass out fliers because other students might consider them to be religious.

 

The principal also said Raker would be required to cover or remove offensive clothing if students complained. Raker said he was interested in starting a “pro-life” club, but Swack expressed concerns that students might also begin a “pro-choice” club.

 

“Andrew called us and we wrote a letter to the principal explaining to him that he can’t restrict speech on this basis,” Bowman told WND. “The school wrote back to us and denied that the principal said any of this. They said that he could wear his t-shirt and start a club, but he can’t hand out literature. They announced new rules that are nowhere to be found in the student handbook or on the school or school district’s website.”

 

Bowman said a recent hearing on the dispute indicated the judge would be favorable to the idea of including Christian speech within the category of free speech, but a resolution hadn’t been made final.

 

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Federal Judge Rules for Christian Club in School District Case (Christian Post, 070129)

 

Lawyer: Christians are not second-class citizens

 

KANSAS CITY, Kan. - A southeast Kansas school district must give a Christian club the same access to school facilities that other groups receive, a federal judge has ruled.

 

The Pleasanton School District has been allowing the Fellowship of Christian Athletes club to meet at Pleasanton High School before and after classes and to post signs announcing its meetings.

 

Kristie McKee, a mother of three students in the district, filed suit claiming the district was denying the club the rights and privileges that had been granted to other noncurriculum clubs.

 

U.S. District Judge Carlos Murguia agreed. In an order Friday granting McKee’s motion for a preliminary injunction, Murguia noted the privileges and access the school has granted to other noncurriculum groups, such as the photo club and the prom planning committee.

 

McKee has two children at the high school who are members of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes club. Her other child is a kindergarten pupil who hopes eventually to be a member of the high school club, according to court documents.

 

Attorney Terelle A. Mock of Topeka, representing the school district, argued at Friday’s hearing that the high school sponsors only student groups that are related to the curriculum. She said the restrictions on the Fellowship of Christian Athletes club were unrelated to its status as religion-based.

 

The McKees’ attorney, Joel L. Oster of Leawood, said they were excited about the ruling.

 

“Equal access means equal access, and the FCA (Fellowship of Christian Athletes) should not be discriminated against just because they want to have a Christian club,” Oster said after the hearing.

 

Despite the district’s claims, Oster said this case was about religious issues.

 

“The message we want to get out there is that Christians are not second-class citizens,” Oster said. “... They are entitled to their views, and they are entitled to free expression of those views.”

 

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Britain overrules Church on gay adoption law (National Post, 070129)

 

LONDON - Britain will not exempt Catholic adoption agencies from new anti-discrimination laws which the Church fears could force them to place children with gay couples, Prime Minister Tony Blair said on Monday.

 

The adoption agencies will be granted a transition period, until the end of next year, to adjust to the new law, he said.

 

“Everyone is agreed that, above all, the interests of the child and particularly the most vulnerable children, must come first,” Blair said in a statement.

 

“I believe we have now found a way through that achieves this and which all reasonable people will be able to support.”

 

Church and state have been locked in confrontation since Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, head of the Catholic Church in England and Wales, called for Catholic adoption agencies to be exempted from a new anti-discrimination law.

 

The Cardinal said after Blair’s decision: “We are of course deeply disappointed that no exemption will be granted to our agencies on the grounds of widely held religious conviction and conscience.”

But he did appreciate the decision to impose a transition period. “This debate has raised crucial issues for the comon good of our society,” he said in a statement.

 

The Equality Act outlaws discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation in the provision of goods, facilities and services.

 

Murphy-O’Connor argued that to force Catholic agencies to place children with gay or lesbian couples went against the Church’s teachings.

 

He said the law could force the agencies to close, putting 4,000 children awaiting adoption at a disadvantage.

 

The leader of the world’s 77 million Anglicans, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, and the Muslim Council of Britain supported the Catholic Church, forcing Blair to choose between backing gay rights and offending religious groups.

 

Blair concluded he would not excuse Catholic adoption agencies that receive public funds from the new anti-discrimination law.

 

“I support the right of gay couples to apply to adopt like any other couple,” he said.

 

Blair had initially leaned towards the Church view, but came under pressure from lawmakers in his own party to reject the exemption, according to media reports.

 

Blair’s Communities Minister Ruth Kelly, a prominent Catholic, was also reported to be in favour of an opt-out, raising questions about whether she could be forced to resign if the Catholic agencies were denied an exemption.

 

But Kelly told Sky News on Monday she completely supported Blair’s compromise.

 

The 12 Catholic adoption agencies in England and Wales handle around one third of all voluntary sector adoptions.

 

Despite a similar reaction to an equal rights law on adoption in the United States, so far Catholic adoption agencies in only two cities have shut.

 

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Laus Deo: Crossing the line at William and Mary. (National Review Online, 070131)

 

By Newt Gingrich & Christopher Levenick

 

Christmas came and went this year with what seemed, mercifully, like less than the usual yuletide clamor over menorahs, crèches, and Christmas trees. There was, to be sure, some controversy here and there, but for the most part the holidays were marked less by heat than by warmth. Welcome as that relief may be, however, it should not obscure the regrettable fact that the relentless secularization of public life continues unabated.

 

Take, for example, an incident unfolding in Williamsburg, Virginia, at the College of William and Mary. The College, founded by British royal charter in 1693, is the second-oldest university in the United States. Its campus boasts the magnificent Wren Building, reputedly designed by England’s greatest architect, Sir Christopher Wren. Within the building, there is a gorgeous, walnut- and pine-paneled chapel, with an altar that has been graced for decades by a simple brass cross.

 

Until, that is, October of 2006, when Gene R. Nichol, William and Mary’s newly appointed president, ordered its removal. Nichol made the decision unilaterally, without consulting students, faculty, or alumni, and now admits that he “acted too quickly.” He moved with such haste, he later explained, because he feared that the Cross “sends a message that the Chapel belongs more fully to some of us than to others.” Even though the Cross could have been removed on request, its presence could give the impression of institutional favoritism, leading some to believe that “there are, at the College, insiders and outsiders.”

 

This line of reasoning bears the unmistakable influence of former Supreme Court justice Sandra Day O’Connor, whose major contribution to church-state thinking centers on her concept of endorsement. (That Nichol would invoke O’Connor is not particularly surprising; O’Connor is the new Chancellor of William and Mary, and Nichol — a former law dean — has praised her work in glowing terms.) “Endorsement,” according to O’Connor, “sends a message to nonadherents that they are outsiders, not full members of the political community, and an accompanying message to adherents that they are insiders, favored members of the political community.” Nichol’s decision to remove the Wren Cross obviously relies on O’Connor’s logic, at times even borrowing her specific turns of phrase.

 

Unfortunately, the “endorsement test” has proven itself a decidedly unhelpful legal criterion. It is indeterminate, bordering on arbitrary, because it focuses primarily on subjective perceptions; its first consideration is not how the law actually treats people, but rather how people feel they are treated by the law. Taken to its logical conclusion, the endorsement test leads to the rule of the perpetually aggrieved, a tyranny of the easily offended. O’Connor herself was forced to confront this unpleasant reality when Michael Newdow claimed, persuasively, that the inclusion of the words “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance amounted to a governmental endorsement of religion. Unwilling to face the logic of her principle, O’Connor hedged. Evidently some endorsements of religion are more equal than others.

 

So too with the Wren Cross. A strict application of the endorsement test would require not just a stripping of the altar, but a shuttering of the chapel. After all, if the presence of a Cross in the chapel signals that non-Christians are less than full members of the community, then the presence of a chapel on a public campus must similarly signal that non-believers are somehow outsiders. Again, some endorsements of religion appear more equal than others.

 

But the non-endorsement principle is, if anything, made even worse when it is taken out of the courtroom and adopted as an administrative rule of thumb. It leads administrators like Nichol to make unpopular and unnecessary decisions, based solely on a nebulous impression that offense must somehow be taken. (Needless to say, that impression need not be encumbered by anything so trifling as evidence.) Such was certainly the case at William and Mary. A review of documents under Virginia’s Freedom of Information Act has revealed that Nichol received exactly one letter of complaint about the Wren Cross. In contrast, over 10,000 people have signed an online petition seeking its restoration.

 

The controversy at William and Mary is one of Nichol’s own creation, based on vicarious offense taken in the service of arbitrary principle. He would have been better served to heed the counsel of O’Connor’s former colleague, the liberal Supreme Court justice Stephen Breyer. Breyer has recently come to understand that, whatever else may be said of the matter, the Constitution intends to diminish the possibility of religious conflict. Those who needlessly disturb the peace are thus at direct odds with its purpose; tearing down long-established religious symbols is therefore as unacceptable as needlessly erecting new ones. To be sure, Breyer’s idea leaves much to be desired as a legal principle. But, as a practical administrative rule of thumb, it makes a great deal of sense, offering us all a moment of relief, as welcome and rare as a quiet Christmas.

 

— Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich is a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and author of Rediscovering God in America. Christopher Levenick is the W.H. Brady Doctoral Fellow at AEI.

 

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The Inside Man: William & Mary’s new president tries to get rid of a cross on campus. (Weekly Standard, 070131)

 

by Cesar Conda & Vince Haley

 

THE 400th ANNIVERSARY of Act One, Scene One of American history will be celebrated on April 29, 2007.

 

On that day in 1607, English colonists, who ultimately settled at Jamestown, first landed at the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay near Virginia Beach. In one of their first acts, they erected a cross to give thanks to God for safe passage across the ocean. The settlers called the place Cape Henry, and every year the raising of this cross is commemorated. A memorial cross of granite was erected on the site in 1935 by the Daughters of the American Colonists and is part of the Colonial National Historic Park, administered by the National Park Service. Today, a representation of the Cape Henry Cross is found on the seal of Virginia Beach, a city understandably proud of its heritage.

 

Four hundred years after the raising of the Cape Henry Cross, the symbol is under assault in Virginia. In the face of this attack, many political leaders across the Commonwealth, including Governor Tim Kaine and Rector Michael Powell, of the College of William & Mary, have been largely silent. Apparently they are poised to accept a radical argument about the appropriateness of the public display of crosses offered by the new president of William and Mary. If accepted, this argument will directly and logically lead to the repudiation and dismantling of the historic Cape Henry Cross, and other important crosses in Virginia.

 

THIS GLOOMY FUTURE has its origins at the College of William and Mary located in Williamsburg. Founded in 1693, William & Mary is the nation’s second oldest university. Last year, the institution hired a new college president, Gene Nichol. Among President Nichol’s early acts was his decision last October to order the removal of the 18-inch cross from atop the altar table in the school’s 275-year-old Wren Chapel. A gift from the neighboring Bruton Parish Episcopal Church—the same church that William & Mary’s first president, the Reverend James Blair, presided over in the 1690s—the cross had been a fixture on the Wren Chapel altar for the last 70 years.

 

Nichol’s dictum has created a public backlash. An online petition to return the cross has garnered over 10,500 signatures. Dozens of op-eds and letters to the editor have filled local and Richmond newspapers. Williamsburg’s Virginia Gazette editorialized last week “enough already,” and urged the restoration of the cross.

 

BUT WHY DID NICHOL decide to remove the cross in the first place? Nichol wrote that over the 18 months he has been president, a number of members of the William & Mary community complained that the display of the cross is “at odds with [William and Mary’s] role as a public institution.” Nichol went on to cite these same community members as suggesting that the cross “sends a message that the Chapel belongs more fully to some of us than to others. That there are, at the College, insiders and outsiders.” [emphasis added].

 

Nichol’s explanation is curious because the language he attributes as coming from community members is the same language ACLU staff attorneys use in letters and lawsuits when they attempt to remove religious symbols from the public landscape.

 

Take for example Connecticut ACLU staff attorney Sam Brooke’s December 2006 explanation as to why the ACLU objects to a Connecticut high school holding graduation ceremonies in a local Baptist church while its football field was being renovated: “It unequivocally tells Christian students . . . that they are ‘insiders, favored members of the political community; those who are of different religion, or no religion at all, are told that they are ‘outsiders’”. [emphasis added]

 

Then there is New Mexico ACLU staff attorney Peter Simonson in September 2005 explaining why the cross in the Tijeras village (population 474) logo is wrong: “Religious minorities cannot be made to feel like outsiders.”

 

Utah ACLU staff attorney Mark Lopez commented in August 2003, with respect to ongoing ACLU litigation against Salt Lake City, on why it is wrong for the Mormon Church to place restrictions on behavior on a section of its property that includes an easement for the city: “When government shows a preference for one religion it sends a chilling message to non-adherents that they are outsiders, and not full members of the community.”

 

That President Nichol would hear concerns about the Wren Cross translated into the insider/outsider language of the ACLU is not surprising. Nichol had been actively involved with the ACLU in three different states for more than 20 years, first as an ACLU chapter president in North Florida, then as a member of the ACLU state boards in North Carolina and Colorado.

 

What is surprising is that Nichol would use his perch as college president to advance a secularizing agenda.

 

Normally, when the ACLU seeks to remove religious symbols, it must either file, or threaten to file, a lawsuit. But if a leader of a public institutions shares the ACLU world view, one can dispense with the bothersome exercises of litigation and persuasion. Instead, they can achieve their ends by administrative fiat.

 

If Nichol’s decision is not reversed by the William & Mary Board of Visitors—led by Rector Michael Powell—at its next meeting on February 8, the secularizing implications for both William & Mary and Virginia will be clear. If the presence of the cross in the 275-year-old chapel unacceptably creates insiders and outsiders for Nichol, then surely the historically Christian Wren Chapel itself must do the same.

 

Indeed, Nichol has already called the chapel’s continued existence into question. In a recent speech before the College community, Nichol responded to the outcry over his cross removal order by creating a “presidential committee” to examine the role of religion in public universities and to report back to him at the end of the semester. One of the questions Nichol charged his committee with is “[h]ow does one square the operation of an historic Christian chapel with a public university’s general charge to avoid endorsing a particular religious creed?”

 

Perhaps it has not occurred to Nichol that having a long-time ACLU activist leading a review of religion at public universities is, itself, something of a hard conflict to square.

 

SHOULD WILLIAM & MARY’S Board of Visitors punt on the issue, then the task of righting this outrage will fall to Virginia’s Democratic governor, Tim Kaine. What will he make of the Wren Chapel controversy? And if he deems President Nichol’s move to be prudent, will Kaine see to the removal of the altar cross from the University of Virginia’s school chapel? What about the school chapels at Virginia Tech and James Madison?

 

What about the other crosses across the Commonwealth? There is a cross atop the ceremonial mace of the Virginia House of Delegates that is presented by the sergeant-at-arms in the House chamber. It remains there each day until the House adjourns. The City of Norfolk likewise has a cross-adorned mace. As, coincidentally, does the College of William & Mary. For that matter, the logo of William & Mary’s new Mason School of Business also has, naturally, a cross on its top. Where will it end?

 

THESE WORRIES are not far-fetched. For example, the ACLU is currently litigating for the removal of the century-old cross atop Mount Soledad near San Diego. In 2004, the ACLU successfully forced the dismantling of a cross from federal land preserve in the Mojave Desert. Also in 2004, the ACLU successfully threatened to sue the County of Los Angeles if it failed to remove a tiny cross in the city’s logo (the L.A. County Board caved in a 3-2 vote, deciding to avoid the costs of a lawsuit).

 

Four hundred years ago, the Jamestown colonists waded ashore at Cape Henry and erected a cross in thanksgiving. Today, Gene Nichol, along with his ACLU allies, are working to push them back into the sea. We know the lengths to which the ACLU and its adherents will fight to erase America’s historic memory by seeking the removal of crosses and other religious symbols from our public square. What is much less certain is to what lengths other citizens and their leaders will go to stop them.

 

Cesar Conda and Vince Haley are 1983 and 1988 graduates, respectively, of the College of William & Mary. Conda and Haley are leaders of SaveTheWrenCross.org. Conda is also a member of the College of William & Mary’s Washington D.C. Advisory Council.

 

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12 Students Suspended for Praying at School (Christian Post, 070305)

 

A dozen students attending Heritage High School in Vancouver, Wash., located on the state’s southern border, were suspended on Friday for praying at school.

 

Ten in the group were suspended for ten days while two received one-day, in-school suspensions for holding a morning prayer meeting. The group has now sought out legal assistance.

 

“This situation underscores the ignorance of school officials regarding the constitutional rights of students,” said Liberty Counsel President Anita L. Staver in a statement. Liberty Counsel is a nonprofit litigation, education and policy organization dedicated to advancing religious freedom.

 

According to the group’s statement, the affected students had met together a few weeks ago to initiate a school prayer club. They were refused by the school’s vice principal, Alex Otoupal, who explained that they could not meet in a private room.

 

The individuals, who met for about two weeks before 7 a.m., decided to pray in the school cafeteria, instead, where an alleged Satanist student complained to the school office. The area was considered to be a well-trafficked area, and the prayer meeting supposedly would disrupt education.

 

The prayer group was instructed by the vice principal to go and pray outside rather than in the cafeteria. The students persisted in praying in the lunch room, however, because of the inclement weather outside. As a result, they were suspended for ten days.

 

“It is absolutely outrageous that the school allowed one Satanist student to exercise a heckler’s veto over the other students’ speech,” said Staver.

 

She also noted, “Most of the students who were suspended are immigrants from Russia. We must show them that America is still the land of the free. School officials must immediately reverse the suspensions.”

 

The group was given brochures about the rights and responsibilities regarding prayer in school before the suspensions. They could pray in school as long as they had a club advisor.

 

“This is not about prayer,” explained Ann Sosky, principal of the 2,400-student high school, in the Oregonian. “They can pray, but they have to follow procedure.”

 

The twelve students will be assisted by Legal Counsel in an attempt to resolve the matter.

 

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William and Mary College Reaches Compromise to Returns Cross to Campus Chapel (Foxnews, 070307)

 

WILLIAMSBURG, Va. —  A compromise announced today will permanently return a brass cross to the chapel at the College of William and Mary in a prominent display rather than its previous altar post.

 

The compromise was offered as a recommendation by a panel comprising alumni, students and others formed by President Gene Nichol in response to outcry created by his decision to remove the cross.

 

“This has been a challenging task for the committee, but it has produced a compromise that allows for permanent display of the cross in the chapel, while remaining welcoming to all,” Nichols told the Associated Press.

 

“We knew our short-term mission was to come up with a proposal that would allow this college to come together and move forward as a community. We are confident this recommendation accomplishes that goal. We now look forward to examining the broader question of the role of religion at a public university,” said Alan Meese and James Livingston, co-chairs of the Committee on Religion in a Public University, which produced the recommendation, in a joint public statement reported by the school’s newspaper, The Flat Hat.

 

In November, Nichol told the college’s Board of Visitors that he ordered the 18-inch brass cross to be removed from the post where it stood since 1940 because it “sends an unmistakable message that the chapel belongs more fully to some of us than others,” reported The Flat Hat.

 

Some College of William and Mary alumni began holding back donations until it was permanently restored. Competing online petitions were initiated with more than 17,792 people having signed their names a petition condemning the decision at www.savethewrencross.org, started by 1988 graduate Vince Haley while more than 2,136 students, alumni and others signed a document supporting the cross removal at www.thepetitionsite.com.

 

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Jr. College Coach Resigns After Religious Signs Removed (Christian Post, 070401)

 

ALEXANDER CITY, Ala. (AP) — Central Alabama Community College baseball coach Don Ingram resigned after the school removed two signs bearing religious messages from the outfield fence.

 

The 8-foot by 12-foot signs, sold to sponsors for $1,000 apiece, were taken down after the community college received complaints because of their religious nature.

 

An individual paid for a sign reading “John 3:16” that was sponsored by the school’s Fellowship of Christian Athletes chapter. The second sign, sponsored by Prospect Baptist Church, read: “True success is finding out what God wants you to do, then doing it.”

 

“I resigned because I will not compromise my commitment to my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ,” Ingram said in a letter mailed to his latest signing class. He added that he didn’t fault school administrators for the decision.

 

Ingram had coached the Trojans for the past eight years. He will remain as coach and athletic director until his contract expires on Aug. 31. He will then serve as an ex-officio member on the board choosing his replacement.

 

CACC president Linda McGuirt ordered the signs removed on March 1. She cited Alabama State Board of Education policy stating that, “The use of facilities shall be compatible with the philosophy, functions, and objectives of the institution.”

 

Dr. Amelia Pearson, provost and dean of instruction, said the outfield fence of a public institution wasn’t the appropriate place for such messages. She said defending against a potential lawsuit wouldn’t be the proper use of public funds.

 

“We appreciate his position on this and he appreciates ours,” Pearson told The Alexander City Outlook in a story Thursday. “It’s a very amicable situation. He’s not hostile towards us and we’re not hostile toward him in the slightest. He just felt like that’s what he needed to do.”

 

Ingram, a member of Prospect Baptist Church, said he felt like he needed to take a stand for his beliefs.

 

“I just felt like in this situation, God was pushed back and that’s not a position he needs to be in,” Ingram said.

 

“We have to be willing to stand up for what is right. That’s why I’m taking this stance.”

 

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Judge: District Can’t Ban Student Faith Fliers (Christian Post, 070403)

 

SYRACUSE, N.Y. (AP) - A school district violated a fourth-grader’s constitutional rights to free speech and equal protection by refusing to allow her to distribute “personal statement” fliers carrying a religious message, a federal judge has ruled.

 

The Liverpool Central School District in upstate New York based its restrictions on “fear or apprehension of disturbance, which is not enough to overcome the right to freedom of expression,” Chief U.S. District Judge Norman Mordue wrote in a 46-page decision Friday.

 

“School officials had no right to silence Michaela’s personal Christian testimony,” attorney Mat Staver said Monday.

 

Staver is executive director of Liberty Counsel, the Orlando, Fla.-based conservative legal group that represented Michaela Bloodgood and her mother, Nicole.

 

Liverpool school district lawyer Frank Miller said the school district was studying the decision and “reviewing its options.”

 

According to the family’s 2004 lawsuit, Nicole Bloodgood tried three times to get permission for Michaela to pass out the homemade fliers to other students at Nate Perry Elementary School. The flier, about the size of a greeting card, started out: “Hi! My name is Michaela and I would like to tell you about my life and how Jesus Christ gave me a new one.”

 

Bloodgood’s requests to school officials said that her daughter, now a sixth-grader, would hand them out only during “non-instructional time,” such as on the bus, before school, lunch, recess and after school.

 

The lawsuit noted that Michaela had received literature from other students at school, including materials for a YMCA basketball camp, a Syracuse Children’s Theater promotion and Camp Fire USA’s summer camps.

 

Liverpool officials said at the time there was “a substantial probability” that other parents and students might misunderstand and presume the district endorsed the religious statements in the flier, according to the lawsuit.

 

“The court cannot say the danger that children would misperceive the endorsement of religion is any greater than the danger that they would perceive a hostility toward religion as a result of the district’s denial,” Mordue wrote.

 

Nicole Bloodgood said Mordue’s decision vindicated her daughter and set a strong precedent for protecting students’ free speech rights.

 

“It’s taken 2 1/2 years to get justice ... but our prayers were answered,” Bloodgood said.

 

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Third Grader Barred from Singing Christian Tune at Talent Show Gets School’s OK (Christian Post, 070424)

 

A third grade elementary student who was initially barred from singing one of her favorite Christian songs at a local talent show was able to perform the song last week after a letter was sent to school officials explaining the student’s right to religious speech.

 

For the talent show at Mount Scott Elementary School in Portland, Ore., Kelli Bobst gave her rendition of “God’s Love is for You” on Thursday after receiving aid from Liberty Counsel – a Christian legal group that promotes religious freedom.

 

“Student-initiated speech endorsing religion is fully protected by the Constitution,” commented Mathew D. Staver, founder of Liberty Counsel and Dean of Liberty University School of Law, in a statement. “It is unconstitutional to eliminate Christian viewpoints from a school talent show or any other time where secular viewpoints are permitted.”

 

The problem began when the young girl auditioned for the school’s talent show with “God’s Love is for You.” She was then told by her music teacher that she could not sing that song unless other religions were mentioned in it as well.

 

When the mother, Karen Bobst, heard this, she confirmed the statement with the music teacher, and found out that other children were also banned from singing Christian songs. In response, she contacted Liberty Counsel to see if the action was warranted.

 

The legal group then sent a letter to the principal of the school as well as the superintendent of the North Clackamas School District to explain students’ rights to share their religious expression. The letter defended that students choosing their own material for a talent show could not have their material banned based on religious content, because it would violate the constitutional rights of those students.

 

“The free speech right of students is not that difficult to understand,” added Staver. “Common sense and the Constitution both compel equal treatment of Christian viewpoints.”

 

Bobst then went on to sing “God’s Love is for You” at the school event with the school’s permission. In addition, another student who had been turned away was able to sing “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands.”

 

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Colorado Student Files Lawsuit Over Commencement Speech That Mentioned Jesus (Foxnews, 070831)

 

DENVER —  A student who said she was told she wouldn’t get her diploma unless she apologized for a commencement speech in which she mentioned Jesus has filed a lawsuit alleging her free speech rights were violated.

 

The school district contends its actions were “constitutionally appropriate.”

 

Erica Corder was one of 15 valedictorians at Lewis-Palmer High School in 2006. All were invited to speak for 30 seconds at the graduation ceremony. When it was Corder’s turn, she encouraged the audience to get to know Jesus Christ.

 

Corder had not included those remarks during rehearsals.

 

Corder’s lawsuit, filed Monday in U.S. District Court, said Principal Mark Brewer told her to prepare a public apology or she would not receive her diploma. She was still allowed to graduate.

 

The lawsuit said Brewer would not give Corder her diploma until she included a sentence saying, “I realize that, had I asked ahead of time, I would not have been allowed to say what I did.” Corder received her diploma after complying.

 

The school district released a statement Wednesday saying officials reviewed Corder’s case when it happened in 2006 and also met several times with Corder and her parents.

 

“While we are disappointed that this matter has resulted in litigation, we are confident that all actions taken by school officials were constitutionally appropriate,” the statement said. “As a result, we intend to vigorously defend the claims. Beyond that, it is the district’s policy not to comment on pending litigation.”

 

Brewer, who now works for Douglas County schools, declined to comment Wednesday.

 

Corder is represented by attorneys affiliated with Liberty Counsel, an Orlando, Fla.-based group that says it is dedicated to advancing religious freedom.

 

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School Recognizes Christian Group Following Lawsuit, Landmark Ruling (Christian Post, 070523)

 

Southern Illinois University (SIU)’s law school in Carbondale, Ill., has agreed to recognize a Christian student group following a recent lawsuit.

 

A settlement was reached last week between Christian legal group Alliance Defense Fund (ADF), which was acting on behalf of the Christian Legal Society (CLS), and SIU officials stating that the university would accept the leadership policies of the student group, which it had condemned before. As a result, CLS will now be officially recognized.

 

“Every student group has the right to ensure that its leaders and members support its mission; religious student groups should be treated no differently,” explained Casey Mattox, litigation counsel for CLS’s Center for Law & Religious Freedom, in a statement. “This settlement ensures CLS at SIU will enjoy all of the rights and benefits enjoyed by other law school organizations.”

 

CLS, a national grassroots network of lawyers and law students, and ADF attorneys had taken the school to court in April 2005 after the college had revoked the group’s registration as well as the associated benefits that come from being fully recognized.

 

SIU officials pulled their support for CLS because of the student association’s “Statement of Faith” and social morality standards for voting members. The school administrators felt that the policy was discriminatory in terms of both religion and sexual orientation, which went against the college’s affirmative action policy.

 

In July 2006, the case then went to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit, which ruled that the school must recognize the chapter while the case was still pending. The court also explained that the association would most likely win the lawsuit, noting that SIU’s policy violated First Amendment rights of free speech. Furthermore, CLS’s policy on sexual misconduct outside of marriage was not ruled as “sexual orientation” discrimination.

 

SIU and CLS decided to reach a settlement as a result.

 

“[The] settlement can be highly credited to the 7th Circuit’s decision in this case,” added Mattox, “a landmark ruling for the rights of religious student organizations on college campuses.”

 

As part of the settlement, SIU administration has also agreed to create a $10,000 scholarship fund for “deserving” SIU law students. CLS will administer the fund.

 

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Judges Overturn Ban on School Board Prayer (Christian Post, 070727)

 

A Louisiana school district that has been riddled with religious lawsuits got some backing Wednesday after a panel of judges overturned a decision that had formerly barred them from opening their meetings with prayer.

 

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit ruled that the Tangipahoa Parish School Board – which has had five religious-related lawsuits brought against it in the past 13 years – could not be held accountable for an “offended observer” and has the right to have voluntary prayer at their meetings.

 

According to attorneys from the faith-based legal group Alliance Defense Fund (ADF), the decision severely undercuts the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which has been filing the suits, in their use of the Establishment Clause.

 

“The court today has delivered a serious blow to the ACLU by affirming that the far left can no longer bully its way into court without any proven, concrete injury,” explained ADF senior legal counsel Mike Johnson in a statement. Johnson presented the oral argument on behalf of the school board defendants on May 22.

 

“Simply claiming that one is ‘offended’ by religious speech or symbols is not enough to spark a federal case,” he added.

 

For several decades, the Louisiana school board has opened all their meetings with prayer. But in October 2003, the ACLU sued the board on behalf of an anonymous plaintiff, claiming that the practice offended him.

 

After it went to trial, a decision was made in February 2005 by federal district court judge Ginger Berrigan, who also happened to be a former state president of the ACLU. In the ruling, she called for the board to permanently cease the prayers, because she argued that it was violating the plaintiff’s rights under the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.

 

Following the situation, attorneys from ADF and their co-counsel from the law firm Adams and Reese filed an appeal, and the court granted their request.

 

After looking over the case, the 5th Circuit judges decided to overturn the district court’s opinion, with a majority statement explaining that it “spares this court from issuing a largely hypothetically-based ruling on issues of broad importance to deliberative public bodies in this circuit and beyond.”

 

The board members will now be able to resume their prayers at meetings.

 

“The practice of opening public meetings with prayer is and always has been lawful and appropriate,” added Johnson. “The Constitution does not ban citizens or elected officials from invoking divine guidance and blessings upon our public work.”

 

Other lawsuits that ACLU attorneys have brought up against the Tangipahoa Parish School Board include allowing the evangelical group Gideons International to hand out Bibles during school hours and allowing a “pizza preacher” who distributes pizza and teaches Christianity during lunch.

 

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Top Pentagon Officers Face Discipline for Endorsing Christianity (Christian Post, 070826)

 

Seven high-ranking officers, including four generals, could face discipline for what the Pentagon considers their promotion of Christianity.

 

The Pentagon inspector general found the seven officers to be engaged in misconduct when they appeared in a promotional fundraiser video for the evangelical group Christian Embassy three years ago, according to OneNewsNow.

 

Christian Embassy was founded by the late Dr. Bill Bright of Campus Crusade for Christ and ministers to diplomats, government leaders and military officers. The ministry holds prayer meetings each Wednesday morning at the Pentagon.

 

The officers were said to be in uniform at the Pentagon when they expressed military approval and support of the evangelical ministry in the video, according to The Associated Press.

 

The report said none of the officers asked for or received approval from superiors and recommended “appropriate corrective action” to be considered against them, according to AP.

 

A retired Army officer who had also attended the Christian Embassy Wednesday prayer meeting believes it’s hypocritical for the Pentagon to consider disciplinary action against the officers.

 

“There have been others in very senior positions, both in and out of uniform, who have gone to some of these Islamic centers and have bent over backwards to accommodate Islamists,” said retired U.S. Army Lt. Col. Bob Maginnis to OneNewsNow Friday.

 

He pointed to the Deputy Secretary of Defense Gordon England who in early June joined the dedication of a new Islamic prayer center at the Quantico Marine Corps Base.

 

“[A]s far as I’m concerned, [he was] giving tacit endorsement of Islam just by his presence and making a formal visit,” said Maginnis. “And if he can’t tolerate a few generals and admirals stating, because they’re Christians, they think it’s a good idea that you promote Bible studies and Christian speakers into the Pentagon, I find that hypocritical and certainly an unfortunate circumstance.”

 

Maginnis thinks that the group Military Religious Freedom Foundation might be behind the pressure to investigate the officers.

 

“This is an ACLU-type hit on the Pentagon insisting that the inspector general conduct an investigation to get to the bottom of whether or not generals improperly used their influence with regard to a particular ministry,” he said.

 

The officers currently still face potential discipline for violating ethics rules by helping Christian Embassy.

 

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Freedom of religion, Christianity go together (townhall.com, 070825)

 

By Bill Sali

 

A few years ago, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that “God” has no place in the Pledge of Allegiance. More recently, anti-Christian activists have made significant headway in their effort to take Christ out of Christmas, even convincing people to replace the Christmas tree with the religion-neutral “holiday tree.”

 

Closer to home, in Canyon County, a vocal handful of people even protested a little tiny cross on the county seal, even though the seal provides an accurate illustration that is entirely representative of the community. Opponents of Christianity and faith in general are working overtime to sell their incorrect notion that our sacred freedom of religion means our country is supposed to be free from religion.

 

Some people say it is wrong for me to speak in defense of the importance of Christianity’s role in our country’s founding and it continuing significance to the life of our nation. They think it is wrong for me to say that Christian values and Christian principles have guided America from its inception and will continue to serve our country in the future.

 

Everyone is entitled to an opinion and to the freedom to express it. But I am not embarrassed by my conviction that Christian beliefs have been essential to our country’s well-being, and those of you who agree with me have no reason to be ashamed, either.

I’m also a disappointed that my comments in support of Christianity and religious freedom have been taken out of context as insulting people of other faiths. People on my staff have diverse faiths, as do people throughout Idaho.

 

It is sad when desperate politicians pull statements out of context to score political points and degrade public discourse by doing so. I have taken a solemn oath to defend the rights of my constituents of all faiths so that they will remain free to practice their respective religions in this country.

 

But by my oath I did not give up my freedom of speech that allows me to express my belief in the importance of Christian faith to our nation’s heritage and future. I believe very strongly that Christianity has made and continues to make our country strong and that the God of the Bible has blessed our country and offers us His divine protection. Others may argue just as strenuously that their particular religion - be it Hinduism or Buddhism, Islam or Vodooism - makes this country great, and they are free to do so. I won’t agree with that assessment, but I will defend their right to practice their faith and share their opinion publicly. Freedom of speech and freedom of religion are pillars of our constitutional government.

 

None of this distracts me from working to reform Congress and get our government back to basics: Low taxes, a powerful national defense, a limited role for Uncle Sam in the lives of our fellow citizens and a well-functioning immigration policy. Reforming Congress will go along way toward getting our nation back on track. But no amount of reform will help unless we remember and adhere to the principles that started our country and made it great. Those principles - human dignity, justice and liberty - are rooted in Judeo-Christian teaching. To disregard that teaching is to undermine the very foundations of our liberty, which we only do to our great peril.

 

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Court Affirms Memorial Crosses Convey Secular Message (Christian Post, 071121)

 

A federal judge ruled Tuesday that memorial crosses erected along Utah highways to honor fallen state troopers communicate a secular, non-religious message and do not violate the Constitution.

 

U.S. District Judge David Sam ruled in favor of the Utah Highway Patrol Association (UHPA), which was facing a lawsuit from American Atheists Inc. over 13 memorial crosses.

 

In a 28-page opinion, the judge said he found “no Establishment Clause violation of either the First Amendment of the United States Constitution nor Article I of the Utah Constitution.”

 

Sam stated in the ruling that he agreed that the memorial crosses which American Atheists sought to remove deliver a secular message that a patrolman died or was mortally wounded at a particular location.

 

He also added, “It is not the place of law or government, using Establishment Clause jurisprudence, to exhibit hostility toward religion.”

 

Attorney Barry Hodge of the National Legal Foundation, who represented the UHPA, praised the ruling.

 

“This ruling demonstrates that a small group of atheists with an agenda cannot determine how the families of Utah troopers can honor their dead,” said Hodge in a statement Tuesday.

 

“It’s ridiculous that a small group of offended atheists would seek to stop the families of slain troopers from honoring their loved ones as they see fit,” stated Byron Babione, senior legal counsel of Alliance Defense Fund, which also represented the defendants.

 

In the ruling, the court rebuffed plaintiffs’ arguments that the placement of crosses on state land constituted an endorsement of religion by the Highway Patrol Association.

 

“The undisputed facts and evidence before this court demonstrate that no public money or property was appropriated for or applied to any religious worship, exercise or instruction as a result of the UHPA memorial cross program,” wrote Sam.

 

According to ADF, the memorial crosses were not paid by taxpayers and were constructed by volunteers and materials donated by local businesses.

 

“Furthermore, as stated above, the UHPA is not a religious organization so any incidental support offered to this program by the State Defendants cannot be construed to be ‘support of any ecclesiastical establishment,’” the judge added.

 

Each of the 12-foot crosses feature the UHP logo, the name and badge number of the trooper and a plaque reading a biography of the fallen trooper.

 

Salt Lake attorney Brian Barnard, who represented the Atheists, contended that the cross “undoubtedly symbolizes the death of a Christian,” reported the Salt Lake Tribune.

 

He said his clients would support an American flag or a tombstone to mark their death to mark the deaths of troopers instead and plan to appeal the decision to the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals.

 

UHP Lt. Lee Perry, president of the UHPA, told the Salt Lake Tribune that the group’s intent was never “to push religion off on anyone,” but honor a debt to the troopers’ families.

 

“One of our missions is to take care of the widows and orphans of fallen troopers,” said Perry. “We want to let the families know they are still part of the department. They are not here physically, but they are always in our minds.”

 

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High Court Urged to Hear Commandments Case (Christian Post, 071122)

 

A Christian legal group asked the U.S. Supreme Court Tuesday to review and overturn a lower court decision that ordered a Utah city either to allow a non-mainstream religious group to erect its monument next to the Ten Commandments or to take down all monuments.

 

The American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) said it filed a Petition for Writ of Certiorari in the case of Pleasant Grove City v. Summum with plans to file a similar petition in a second case involving Duchesne City in Utah. The legal group is representing both cities in the cases.

 

In both cases, the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Summum, an obscure religious movement that began in 1975, had a right to free speech and could demand the city to erect its private “Seven Aphorisms” monument in the city parks because cities already displayed Ten Commandments monuments.

 

The governments in both cities elected to remove their Ten Commandments monument rather than allow Summum to erect its Seven Aphorisms monument.

 

ACLJ chief counsel Jay Sekulow said the petition will give the High Court a chance to “rectify a lower court’s very twisted interpretation of the First Amendment.”

 

The legal group argued in the petition that the federal appeals court made a serious error – confusing government speech with private speech.

 

While private speakers have the right to use government property to speak, said the petition, a monument donated to the government would render it government property.

 

“Any communication thenceforth is government speech,” continued the petition.

 

“The government has to be neutral toward private speech, but it does not have to be neutral in its own speech,” commented Sekulow.

 

Summum attorney Brian Barnard said he doubts the Supreme Court will hear the case, the Desert Morning News reported.

 

He said the federal appeals court decision is similar to one it issued in a 2002 case against the city of Ogden, which prompted city officials to remove a Ten Commandments display donated by the Fraternal Order of Eagles from city property and relocate it onto private property nearby.

 

The 10th Circuit decision will stand if the Supreme Court declines to review the case.

 

“If a government entity allows one group to erect a permanent monument in a public park expressing religious beliefs dear to that group, other groups should be allowed to display similar tenets of faith,” Barnard said.

 

Barnard is also involved in other cases challenging “religious” symbols across the state. On Tuesday, he lost a case in which he represented a group of atheists seeking to remove memorial crosses erected by the Utah Highway Patrol Association to honor fallen patrolmen. The judge upheld that the purpose and the context of the crosses displayed along state highway were secular.

 

In his statement, Sekulow said the Supreme Court needs to “bring an end to a dangerous interpretation of free speech and equal access.”

 

“This ruling, if left unchecked, would ultimately force local governments to remove long-standing and well established patriotic, religious and historical displays,” he said.

 

“The ramifications of this flawed decision go well beyond Utah and affect every American city and town.”

 

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Lawsuit Alleges Military of Unconstitutional Religious Activities (Christian Post, 071223)

 

A watchdog group said it recently uncovered evidence that bolsters its federal lawsuit alleging violations of religious freedom in the military.

 

The Military Religious Freedom Foundation claimed the photos and videos of religious activities support accusations made in a suit against the military for pressuring soldiers to adopt fundamentalist Christian beliefs.

 

The material was gathered from Fort Riley in Kansas, the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo., and Fort Jackson, S.C.

 

Evidence cited at Fort Riley included a display outside the military’s police battalion’s office with a quote from conservative columnist Ann Coulter saying, “We should invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity.”

 

Another photo from Fort Riley shows the book A Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam for sale at the post exchange.

 

At Fort Jackson, a bible study program entitled “God’s Basic Training” is reportedly held by Campus Crusade for Christ’s military ministry. Among the new evidence disclosed, another photo shows soldiers involved in the ministry posing with a rifle in one hand and a Bible in the other. Troops dressed in uniform also appear in a promotional video for the ministry.

 

“These astonishing and saddening evidence which our foundation is making public today only further buttress our lawsuit,” said Mike Weinstein, president of the foundation, according to The Associated Press.

 

A spokeswoman for Campus Crusade for Christ said the ministry officials haven’t reviewed the evidence and declined to comment.

 

Weinstein helped Army Specialist Jeremy Hall, an atheist, file the lawsuit in September in U.S. District Court in Kansas City against several members of the Defense Department for violating Hall’s religious freedom.

 

One defendant, Major Freddy Welborn, was accused of threatening Hall, who is now stationed in Fort Riley, with military charges and blocking his re-enlistment after the plaintiff held a meeting of atheists and non-Christians in Iraq.

 

The lawsuit also names Defense Secretary Robert Gates as a defendant, charging him with permitting a culture in the military that imposes Christian teachings upon soldiers and tolerates anti-Semitism.

 

Officials at the bases cited in the evidence have denied any intent to force a religious belief on troops.

 

A spokesman for Fort Riley said they would be reviewing the allegations.

 

“Command at Fort Riley takes the Army value of respect very seriously,” Major Nathan Bond told Military.com. “The things you have mentioned to me, if they are true, do not seem in line with the Army values of respect, and we will look into it.”

 

A survey last year by the Military Times newspaper reported that 80% of troops felt free to practice and express their religion in the military.

 

This is the first case Weinstein has filed against the military. In 2005, he filed a suit on behalf of his son alleging the Air Force Academy, where his son was a cadet, pressured non-Christian students to attend Christian meetings. A Pentagon investigation found no overt discrimination at the academy and the suit was dismissed.

 

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Federal Judge Prohibits School Vote on Graduation Prayers (Christian Post, 080314)

 

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — A federal judge has prohibited the Round Rock school district from allowing students to vote on whether to have prayers at graduation.

 

The ruling by U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks is included in an agreement reached by the school district and Americans United for Separation of Church and State. The Washington-based group sued the school district in August on behalf of six parents and a former student.

 

The suit was prompted by a majority of seniors at McNeil, Round Rock and Stony Point high schools who decided to have prayers at their graduations. Most students who cast ballots at Westwood High School voted against an invocation at commencement.

 

In its petition, Americans United said prayers at a school-sponsored event violated “the boundary between church and state that is necessary in a pluralistic society.”

 

Sparks’ judgment forbids the school district from holding any election or vote by students to have a prayer, benediction, invocation “or other religious communication” in any graduation unless the U.S. Supreme Court rules in future cases that such votes can be held.

 

Sparks dismissed the suit against the school district.

 

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Court Orders University to Recognize Christian Fraternity (Christian Post, 080731)

 

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit ordered officials at the University of Florida to recognize a Christian fraternity, which had filed a lawsuit for discrimination.

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Judges from the federal appeals court in Atlanta issued the injunction on Wednesday, ordering the school to officially acknowledge Beta Upsilon Chi (BYX), or Brothers Under Christ, a 23-year-old fraternity currently allowed on at least 20 other campuses nationwide. The fraternity will be able to operate as an active “on-campus” student organization at the university this coming fall.

 

“This ruling is encouraging to the young men of Beta Upsilon Chi at the University of Florida, but more importantly it makes a strong national statement that the rights of religious freedom and free association must be respected by universities,” said Brett Williams, board member of Beta Upsilon Chi.

 

Christian Legal Society and Alliance Defense Fund attorneys filed a discrimination lawsuit against school officials last year after the fraternity was denied official student organization status because university rules bar religious discrimination. Beta Upsilon Chi requires its members to be Christian men as its purpose is to establish “brotherhood and unity among college men based on the common bond of Jesus Christ.”

 

“The 11th Circuit seems to understand that Christian student groups cannot be singled out for discrimination. The right to associate with people of like mind and interest applies to all student groups on a public university campus,” said Litigation Counsel Timothy J. Tracey with Christian Legal Society’s Center for Law & Religious Freedom, in a statement.

 

“We are confident that the court will not allow the University of Florida to continue to deprive BYX of this right by forcing the group to abandon its identity as a Christian men’s organization.”

 

The lawsuit claims that without official recognition, the fraternity cannot receive official benefits given to other groups, including access to meeting space and the ability to advertise and recruit members on campus.

 

BYX appealed to the 11th Circuit when the district court denied a preliminary injunction to the fraternity. The lawsuit is currently under appeal in Florida.

 

In a similar case in December 2006, the University of Georgia agreed to recognize the Christian fraternity after a lawsuit was filed.

 

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Judge Approves ‘God’ Banners in Classroom (Christian Post, 080910)

 

SAN DIEGO — A San Diego federal judge has upheld the free speech claim of a Christian math teacher asked to take down classroom banners with the words “God” and “Creator.” Westview High School teacher Bradley Johnson filed a civil rights claim against the Poway Unified School District after he was told the banners promote a “Judeo-Christian” viewpoint.

 

The seven-foot banners include “In God We Trust” and “All Men Are Created Equal, They Are Endowed By Their Creator.”

 

Judge Robert Benitez on Friday refused to dismiss the case, saying the banners provide “healthy exposure” to diverse ideas. He also said the banners aren’t religious but rather historic and patriotic.

 

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Christian Broadcasters Face ‘Dark Clouds’; Affirm Commitment to Preach (Christian Post, 090210)

 

The nation’s largest association of Christian media professionals is sending a strong message to Washington, making clear their intention to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ regardless of what government restrictions there may be in the future.

 

“The day has come when we need to say, ‘We will preach the gospel of Jesus Christ whether some government makes it illegal to do so or not,’” affirmed Dr. Frank Wright, president and CEO of the National Religious Broadcasters, during a press conference this past weekend.

 

Since Saturday, thousands of NRB members have been gathering in Nashville for the association’s annual convention – the world’s largest gathering of Christian broadcasters. The event draws participants ranging from A-list Hollywood producers and award-winning talk show hosts to overseas broadcasters and small-town pastors for four days of networking, fellowship, training, and product scouting.

 

Though every year religious broadcasters have been faced by looming threats including the Fairness Doctrine, hate crimes laws, and the Employment Non Discrimination Act, this year the “dark clouds on distant horizons” feel like they are much closer for many with Democrats dominating the government’s legislative and executive branches and as some experts predict the appointment of two or three new Supreme Court justices over the next few years that may shift the judicial branch toward the left.

 

“[W]ith the change in the political landscape, and the domination of the Congress of the United States and now with the change in the White House, the domination of the administration and the administration agencies, we are facing a new day,” said Wright on Saturday, according to Christian Web News.

 

“And we’re facing a day that is going to be challenging for us to continue to maintain the ability of Christian broadcasters to freely proclaim the Gospel,” he added.

 

With threats now looming more closely, Wright announced the NRB’s unanimous decision to adopt a Declaration of Unity in the Gospel in order to re-affirm what the NRB is and what it stands for.

 

He read the entire declaration to the convention later that night, stating “We declare our deeply held belief that religious liberty is the cornerstone of any truly free society and commit ourselves to work within the bounds of our nation’s laws to defend and preserve it.”

 

But, as the declaration concluded, “We fully accept our charge to faithfully obey the command of Christ to preach the gospel even if human governments and institutions attempt to oppose, constrain, or prohibit it.”

 

Following the reading of the declaration, Wright called on all those present to affirm their agreement with the declaration by standing – which all convention attendees did as they broke out in unanimous applause.

 

Established in 1944, the National Religious Broadcasters is an association of over 1,400 organizations dedicated to spreading the Gospel through electronic media.

 

Its annual convention, which was held Feb. 7-10 in Nashville this year, is touted as a “must attend” on the broadcast industry’s calendar and is the largest internationally recognized event of its kind.

 

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Supreme Court Turns Down Challenge to Jury’s Use of Bible (Foxnews, 090420)

 

HOUSTON —  The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday turned away a challenge from a Texas death row inmate who claimed his constitutional rights were violated by jurors who consulted a Bible.

 

In the appeal, Khristian Oliver’s defense said jurors reviewed a biblical passage stating that a murderer who used an iron object to kill “shall surely be put to death.” Jurors were deciding whether to sentence Oliver to death for shooting and bludgeoning his victim with the barrel of a gun.

 

The court previously has said jurors should base their verdicts only on evidence presented in the courtroom.

 

State and lower federal courts upheld Oliver’s death sentence, despite testimony that some jurors in the Nacogdoches County case consulted the biblical passage.

 

The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals last year said jurors wrongly used the Bible but said there wasn’t enough evidence to show they were prejudiced when they decided to send Oliver to death row in 1999.

 

Oliver’s lawyers asked the Supreme Court to review the case, and the high court Monday refused.

 

“It’s a big disappointment,” attorney Winston Cochran said. “With a life at stake, I think they needed to be a little bit more open-minded.”

 

Oliver, 31, from Waco, was condemned for the slaying of Joe Collins, 64, during a March 1998 break-in at Collins’ rural East Texas home. Three of Oliver’s companions received prison terms ranging from five to 99 years.

 

At issue was a passage in Chapter 35 of Numbers which, in the New American Standard Bible, reads: “But if he struck him down with an iron object, so that he died, he is a murderer; the murderer shall surely be put to death.” Some translations refer to the weapon as an “iron rod.”

 

Collins was shot and then struck with the barrel of a gun, which Cochran said could be likened to an iron rod.

 

Prosecutors had argued there never was an implication jurors voted based on Scripture or had any kind of religious discussion.

 

Defense lawyers interviewing jurors after Oliver’s capital murder trial discovered jurors had had Bibles with them. But at a hearing, jurors gave differing testimony on whether there was one Bible or several present and on what their purpose was. One said any reading from the books came after they had reached a decision.

 

“There is contradictory evidence regarding whether the jurors’ consultation of the Bible occurred before or after the jury reached its decision,” the 5th Circuit said in its ruling in the case. It said that Oliver’s appeal failed to present clear evidence that the Bible’s use “had a substantial and injurious effect.”

 

Collins was slain when he returned to his home to find Oliver, then 20, and 16-year-old Benny Rubalcaba inside. Two other companions were waiting outside.

 

As Oliver and Rubalcaba tried to run away, Collins got a rifle and shot Rubalcaba in the leg. Oliver fired his pistol at Collins, then grabbed the man’s rifle and beat him with it. Evidence showed Collins was shot five times and suffered multiple skull fractures.

 

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 Judge: Schools Can Hold Graduation in Church (Christian Post, 090603)

 

Two public high schools in Wisconsin can hold their graduation ceremony in a church auditorium this weekend as planned after a federal judge denied a motion for a preliminary injunction.

 

On Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Charles N. Clevert Jr. denied the motion of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, which argued that a graduation at the auditorium of Elmbrook Church in Brookfield would be “extremely uncomfortable” for some students.

 

 “Public school graduations should always be held at locations where all families feel welcome,” said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. “This decision fails to respect all students and the Constitution.”

 

Judge Clevert, however, said most people would not view the Elmbrook School District’s decision to hold its graduation at Elmbrook Church as an endorsement of the megachurch’s beliefs and that any offense suffered by unwilling attendees does not amount to a violation of the Constitution.

 

“A ceremony in a church does not necessarily constitute a church ceremony,” Clevert said during a three-hour hearing last week, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

 

AU Senior Litigation Counsel Alex J. Luchenitser, who argued the suit before Clevert on May 29, said Tuesday that his group would appeal the ruling to “stop schools from forcing students to go to church in order to graduate with their classmates.”

 

“We are optimistic that higher courts will declare this practice unconstitutional in the future,” he stated.

 

AU had filed the lawsuit on April 22 on behalf of graduating senior and several families in the district who have remained anonymous with the court’s approval.

 

Following Tuesday’s noon ruling, Elmbrook Schools Superintendent Dr. Matt Gibson announced to seniors of Brookfield East High School and Brookfield Central High School that graduation practices and ceremonies will be held as planned at the Elmbrook Church Auditorium.

 

Brookfield East will hold its graduation ceremony on Saturday at 11 a.m. followed by Brookfield Central on Sunday at 2 p.m.

 

Elmbrook Church in Brookfield, 14 miles west of Milwaukee, is a non-denominational megachurch with an auditorium that seats up to 3,200 people.

 

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Christian Educators, Legal Group Take Action Against Anti-Religious Order (Christian Post, 090705)

 

A Christian legal group has filed a motion to intervene in a lawsuit that resulted in an anti-religious and allegedly unconstitutional consent order against a Florida county school district.

 

Liberty Counsel filed the motion on behalf of Christian Educators Association International (CEAI) this past week, insisting that the overly broad consent order against the Santa Rosa County School District essentially bans all employees from engaging in prayer or religious activities, whether before, during, or after school hours.

 

“Neither students nor teachers shed their constitutional rights at the schoolhouse gate,” stated Mathew D. Staver, founder of Liberty Counsel and dean of Liberty University School of Law.

 

“Not only does the ACLU want to strip public school employees of their rights to free speech while working, the ACLU is now arguing that they lose their rights after work and off campus. Public school employees are not required to abandon their faith to feed their families,” he added.

 

It was in August 2008 that the ACLU filed the complaint against the School Board for Santa Rosa County for the district’s alleged sponsoring of prayer at school events, orchestrating of religious baccalaureate services, and proselytizing of students during class and extra-curricular activities.

 

In response, the school district attempted to settle the suit by joining with the ACLU and presenting the court with a consent order that “permanently enjoined” school officials from “promoting, advancing, endorsing, participating in, or causing Prayers.”

 

Without any legal argument or briefing, the judge signed the order, which also bars school officials from “orally express[ing] personal religious beliefs to students during or in conjunction with instructional time or a School Event.”

 

“The Court’s order, based on the defendants’ own admissions, will help ensure that public school officials do not inject their personal religious beliefs into the students’ education,” said Daniel Mach, director of litigation for the ACLU’s Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief, after January’s ruling.

 

Liberty Counsel, however, argues that the order is so broad that it unconstitutionally infringes on the rights of teachers, administrators, and students.

 

“The ACLU’s consent order broadly defines prayer, school events, and school officials so that employees who bow their head or fold their hands, pray over meals during their lunch, or voice agreement with another’s religious discussion at any time on school property or at any school event can be found in contempt of court,” the legal group reported.

 

“When private third parties use school facilities for after-school religious events or church services, no district employee on his or her own private time may participate or communicate agreement in any prayer or religious discourse, even if he or she is attending the event voluntarily, outside of school hours,” the group added.

 

As a result, Liberty Counsel decided to represent faculty, staff and students of the school district – particularly certain members of the CEAI who are employed by the Santa Rosa County School Board and are opposed to the unconstitutional Consent Order.

 

On behalf of CEAI, Liberty Counsel will argue that the consent order is too broad and thus unconstitutional.

 

“The terms of the consent order violate the free speech and free exercise rights of CEAI members, both in their capacities as employees of the School Board and as private citizens,” Liberty Counsel reported. “The order also forces CEAI members to infringe upon the rights of students and other third parties.”

 

Established in 1953, CEAI is a nonprofit religious association whose mission is to “serve the educational community by encouraging, equipping and empowering Christian educators serving in public and private schools.”

 

The Santa Rosa County School District, located in northwest Florida, consists of 18 elementary schools, 7 middle schools, 6 high schools and 4 specialty schools.

 

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 The Cross of Christ is Not a Secular Symbol (Christian Post, 091007)

 

By R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

 

A looming constitutional crisis now hangs over the Mojave National Preserve in California, and the stage is set for a constitutional battle at the U.S. Supreme Court. The story is a bit convoluted, but the issue at stake is a cross erected by the Veterans of Foreign Wars at Sunrise Rock in the Mojave Desert. The VFW erected the cross in 1934 as a memorial to the dead of World War I. Sixty years later, that piece of property became part of the Mojave National Preserve, which is under the supervision of the National Park Service. That sets up a legal battle that arrives at the U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday.

 

The cross, just six and a half feet tall, is now covered with plywood. The Ninth Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals ruled that the display of the cross is an unconstitutional establishment of religion. An appeal of that decision now goes before the nation’s highest court — and the eventual ruling could have sweeping effects.

 

The Supreme Court’s rulings in similar cases have bred nothing but confusion. In recent years, for example, the Court has held that a display of the 10 Commandments in Texas meets constitutional muster while a display of the same 10 Commandments in Kentucky is unconstitutional. The very fact that the Court accepted this case may indicate that it intends to clarify the confusion it has itself spawned.

 

The Mojave cross became the focus of legal action in March 2001, when Frank Buono, a former assistant superintendent of the preserve, filed suit to demand that the cross be removed from government land. Buono, a Roman Catholic, claims that he is not offended by the cross as a religious symbol but by the fact that it stands as part of a national preserve. He claims to be offended because the National Park Service will not remove the cross and that other religious groups are not allowed similar displays.

 

In an attempt to resolve the issue, the National Park Service transferred the property on which the cross stands to private ownership. Nevertheless, lower courts have found that this does not represent a satisfactory solution in light of constitutional questions.

 

The case before the Supreme Court, Salazar v. Buono, raises very few new issues. For this reason, many observers expect that the Court’s majority must intend to send a message as they rule on this case. If so, the Court could finally declare its unwillingness for the legal system to be used as a means of constantly challenging any religious symbolism on government property or under government supervision. If it does not rule in this direction, the stage could be set for an avalanche of legal claims against everything from the language on our coinage to the text of the Pledge of Allegiance.

 

In a brief submitted to the Court, lawyers for the American Center for Law & Justice made the following observation:

 

This case is only the most extreme example of a phenomenon that has plagued the federal courts for the past three decades. Ideologically motivated citizens and public interest groups search out alleged Establishment Clause violations, almost always in the form of a passive religious symbol or display of some sort, and make a federal case out of offense at the display. The basis for standing is typically that the religious display offends the sensibilities of the plaintiffs. The offense may be characterized as an affront to religious values, or as one in which plaintiffs feel stigmatized as political or community outsiders. But the sum and substance of the injury is that the display bothers the plaintiffs.

 

This raises one of the central constitutional questions faced by the Court: Is being offended or bothered by a display sufficient cause to be granted standing for a federal lawsuit? As numerous observers have recognized, the only claims accepted by the courts in this regard are those related to religious expression or symbolism. “Offended observer” status is a legal disaster. There is no end to the reasons why any citizen may be offended at any time by any display, language, or symbolism. If the Court does not put an end to this argument, the floodgates will be opened for a virtual flood of similar claims.

 

After all, the Mojave display is hardly unique in this respect. Far more visible is the Argonne Cross in Arlington National Cemetery, for example, or the Memorial Peace Cross in Bladensburg, Maryland.

 

Arguing for the retention of the display, lawyers for the government are expected to argue that the Mojave cross is constitutional because it represents a secular symbol intended to honor those who died in the nation’s service in World War I.

 

At this point, Christians should pay particular attention. While the government’s lawyers try to press their case, Christians should reject any argument that presents the cross as a secular symbol. There is nothing remotely secular about the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. Arguments for the constitutionality of religious language and symbolism based in the supposedly secular character of the speech or imagery may win in the courtroom, but the arguments are devastating to authentic belief.

 

Of all people, followers of the Lord Jesus Christ must be the first to insist that the cross is a symbol of Christian faith, pointing directly to the cross on which Christ died as our substitute. The cross must not be reduced to a generic symbol of death and the memory of loved ones.

 

Salazar v. Buono is a case worth watching. The eventual outcome of the case may set a direction for Establishment Clause challenges in decades ahead. Yet, the arguments presented in this case may be just as important as the eventual decision handed down by the Court. Even as the government’s lawyers present the arguments they believe will best serve their cause, Christians must serve the cause of Christ.

 

In this case, this means that we must defend the integrity of the cross as the preeminent symbol of Christian belief. As the Apostle Paul would remind us, we must frame our arguments carefully and never compromise the meaning of the cross. The cross is about Christ’s atonement for sin. We must never be even the slightest bit unclear about the meaning of the cross, lest it be robbed of its power.

 

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 Christian Legal Group Hits $100 Million Mark in Pro Bono Work (Christian Post, 091016)

 

A Christian legal group this week announced it has donated more than $100 million worth of pro bono ligation work towards defending religious liberty in the United States and elsewhere.

 

Launched in 1994, Alliance Defense Fund recorded more than half a million hours of legal work without compensation which added up to over $100 million. The group has over 1,300 Christian attorneys.

 

“We are truly grateful for the generous and selfless service provided by our dedicated allied attorneys in the battle to protect and win back our religious liberty both home and abroad,” said ADF Senior Counsel Glen Lavy, who is also vice-president of alliance coordination and funding.

 

The alliance usually takes on cases related to religious freedom, the sanctity of life, and marriage and the family. It was launched by the late Bill Bright, founder of Campus Crusade for Christ; James Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family; the late D. James Kennedy, founder of Coral Ridge Ministries; the late Larry Burkett, founder of Crown Financial Ministries; and other Christian leaders and organizations.

 

“In just 15 years, ADF-allied attorneys have helped stem the receding tide of religious liberty within and beyond America’s borders,” said Lavy. “Opposing legal organizations that have made a habit of undermining these freedoms are now having a more difficult time combating the resurging wave of constitutional rights being reclaimed through the selfless actions of these highly skilled volunteer lawyers.”

 

Last month, ADF announced it received a $9.2 million grant to defend religious speech and expression at universities and colleges. An undisclosed family had matched funds raised by ADF, resulting in a combined total of nearly $20 million going towards ADF’s University Project.

 

The legal Christian group highlights that in over 40 cases brought against public universities, it has never failed to gain policy changes or other positive results for students and professors.

 

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UCLA Allows Student to Thank Jesus at Graduation (Christian Post, 090606)

 

The University of California in Los Angeles has responded to media pressure and agreed to allow a graduating student to thank Jesus in her personal statement.

 

UCLA student Christina Popa claimed the school’s Department of Molecular, Cell and Developmental Biology was denying her freedom of speech when she was told by Pamela Hurley, a faculty adviser, that she would not be allowed to mention “Jesus” in her graduation remarks.

 

The adviser had told Popa in an e-mail exchanges this week that it was against the MCDB’s department policy to allow specific religious references based on the principle of separation of church and state.

 

Hurley, the person selected to read aloud students’ personal statements at the department’s commencement, informed Popa that she would instead read the reference to “my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” as simply “God.”

 

In response, Popa launched campaign on Facebook that received the support of 1,500 people in a matter of days.

 

Gordon Klingenschmitt, the former Navy chaplain who was fired over a dispute involving a public prayer he gave in Jesus’ name, also rallied behind the UCLA student. He created an online petition asking UCLA officials to allow Popa to mention “Jesus” in her “Words of Wisdom” statement and issued a press release on the matter, which he then sent the university’s chancellor and provost.

 

On Friday, a UCLA spokesperson sent Klingenschmitt a statement saying that the school had reviewed its procedures and would read the statements as originally submitted by the students.

 

“The reading of ‘words of wisdom’ at the UCLA Department of Molecular, Cell and Developmental Biology involves graduating students’ submission of a short message to be read onstage at Commencement by a member of the University Administration,” read UCLA’s statement. “Because the reading is by the University, not the students, to avoid the appearance that the University was advocating one religion over the other, guidelines were established so that messages would not include references to particular religions.”

 

“The department and the University support the First Amendment and in no way intended to impinge upon any students’ rights,” continued the statement.

 

“Thus, upon review, and recognizing that the intent of the ceremony is for all students to have a chance to say something at graduation, the department will continue to make clear to the audience that the statements are the personal statements of each student and will read statements as originally submitted by the students.”

 

Klingenschmitt welcomed the UCLA’s response, saying media pressure helped them come to their senses.

 

“If the university has indeed repented and will read Christina’s statement as originally submitted, then this is a great victory for religious liberty,” Klingenschmitt told The Christian Post on Saturday.

 

“It proves that we don’t always have to go to court and sometimes just a little media pressure can force administrators to recant from their anti-Christian policies,” the former Navy chaplain stated.

 

He said only one question remains: “Will Hurley obey her superiors and read the words as originally submitted?”

 

According e-mail exchanges with Popa, Hurley had objected to the “Jesus” reference, citing the “sheer diversity of religious beliefs” of people at the school and saying she was uncomfortable with reading such a reference at the commencement.

 

Popa, however, responded that university meant “unity among diversity.”

 

“It makes me very sad that my freedom of speech would be censored when it comes to my beliefs,” Popa wrote in a reply e-mail to Hurley. “The fact that I cannot thank Jesus (or someone from another religion) because of school policy shows me that UCLA officials do not understand what diversity and respect really means.”

 

In the last e-mail Hurley sent to Popa, according to the Facebook posting, the faculty adviser stated the department’s policy and the Official Words of Wisdom Disclaimer before capping off with this retort:

 

“If you prefer, Christina, I can read none of what you wrote.”

 

Hurley did not immediately respond to a request by The Christian Post for comment.

 

While things have worked out for Popa, a former Colorado high school student who has been fighting a legal battle to defend her right to invoke Jesus during a 2006 graduation speech was not so fortunate.

 

On May 29, a federal appeals court dismissed Erica Corder’s claims that high school officials violated her free-speech rights by screening her graduation speech and forcing her to issue a formal apology after tweaking her valedictorian speech to include mention of Jesus.

 

Liberty Counsel, which is representing Corder in the case, plans to appeal the case to the Supreme Court.

 

“No high school or college graduate should have to renounce Jesus Christ as a price of their high school or college diploma,” said Klingenschmitt, who actively defends public prayers in Jesus’ name. “Jesus is not an illegal word. We should not be ashamed to speak his name in public.

 

“For any government to demand that we apologize for speaking the name of Jesus is to impose their illegal nonsectarian religion upon us,” he added. “They are shoving their nonsectarian religion down our throats, not the other way around.”

 

According to UCLA’s Commencement Web site, the Molecular, Cell, & Developmental Biology Graduation will take place Saturday, June 13, starting at 9:00 a.m.

 

Popa originally wanted the following statement read:

 

“‘I want to thank my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. I also want to thank my father who passed away 3 years ago, for teaching me to always do my best and thus motivating me to pursue the sciences. I want to thank my mother for supporting me in school as well as my sisters and brother for encouraging me and my friends for making college fun.’ I plan to work in a research lab or become a dietician.”

 

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Evangelical Group Banned From Tulsa Housing Projects, Chapter Leader Says (Foxnews, 090608)

 

A Christian evangelical group that works to improve the lives of underprivileged children says it has been prohibited from conducting Bible study classes in public housing projects in Tulsa, Okla., potentially violating a Supreme Court ruling that upheld religious groups’ right to the use of public institutions.

 

For more than 70 years, the Missouri-based Child Evangelism Fellowship has worked with underprivileged kids, not only to convert them to Christianity, but to improve their lives through education and after-school activities. In one program, fellowship missionaries visit prisons and sign up inmates’ children for Bible study programs in an effort to keep them from winding up in jail themselves.

 

And for more than two decades, the fellowship has hosted a religious-themed summer program in Tulsa’s tough housing projects, designed to keep children from falling victim to the temptations of drugs and crime.

 

But recently, the fellowship was told that it was in violation of a long-standing policy prohibiting religious instruction on public housing property, said Larry Koehn, who heads the organization’s chapter in the city.

 

“They said they have a policy now whereby we can’t come in and talk about God or Christ,” Koehn said. “We can come in and play games and talk about moral things, but we can’t mention the name of God.”

 

Koehn said he was informed of the decision by Youth at Heart, a non-profit company that administers recreational programs for the Tulsa Housing Authority. A company representative said she had been told to refer all calls about the evangelical group to the housing authority.

 

Chea Redditt, the housing authority president, declined to comment when reached by phone. She later issued a statement saying that religious groups had been present on housing authority property for some time, and those decisions were left to the resident associations at each complex.

 

Subsequent attempts to get housing authority officials to explain whether the evangelical group would be allowed back into the projects were unsuccessful.

 

Koehn said he didn’t know why the fellowship was being forced out after 20 years. He said Youth at Heart said the rule has “always been in effect, but it’s just never been enforced.”

 

Mathew Staver, founder of the Liberty Counsel, a Florida-based law firm specializing in religious cases, said he will file a lawsuit in federal court against the housing authority if the fellowship isn’t allowed back in.

 

“The rules are fairly straightforward,” he said. “Some people dig their heels in and don’t want to deal with it.

 

“There is a mistaken notion if you allow equal access to a religious group, you’re violating the Constitution.”

 

The Supreme Court ruled in 2001 that religious groups are afforded the same right as any other citizens’ group to use and meet in public institutions, including schools and government buildings.

 

“Prior to that, sometimes they were and sometimes they weren’t,” Staver said. “There’s still litigation that happens, even though that ruling should have resolved 98% of all issues.”

 

The evangelical group in Tulsa hosts summer and after-school programs at a number of housing projects around the city, Koehn said. During each one-hour session, about 20 minutes is devoted to a Bible reading, with the remaining 40 minutes devoted to games and other activities.

 

“Then at the end, there’s an opportunity for the children to respond to an invitation to accept Christ as their savior,” he said.

 

Koehn, 58, who has been working in Tulsa as a missionary with his wife since the mid-1980s, said he has encountered similar resistance before.

 

“Last fall, one of our schools said we couldn’t hold a club after school for the same reasons,” he said. “I contacted the Liberty Counsel and they wrote a letter to the school board explaining equal access, and they let us in.”

 

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Penn State Students Poke Fun at T-Shirt Cross ‘Controversy’ (Christian Post, 091030)

 

A T-shirt design that was intended to foster school spirit on the campus of Penn State University has become a center of media-brewed controversy that will likely fizzle out before ever catching fire.

 

The design, which was selected this year by Penn State students out of about two dozen entries, was created as part of an annual Penn State tradition, during which students don white clothing for a designated football game and fill their 107,282-seat stadium to capacity, thus “whiting out” supporters of the opposing team.

 

Made by Penn State senior Emily Sabolsky, this year’s winning design appeared on the official 2009 “White Out” shirts, which hit the shelves of the university’s bookstore ahead of this year’s “White Out” game against the University of Iowa.

 

Though the two-side design looks innocent enough, to some, the combination of the vertical blue stripe running down the center of the shirt’s front side along with the words “Penn State” cutting across the vertical beam appeared reminiscent of a cross.

 

And to a handful of students, the seemingly religious imagery on the shirt was reason enough to file complaints with the university and even to organizations such as the Anti-Defamation League, which in turn contacted Penn State officials.

 

According to Bill Mahon, vice president of university relations, six people have voiced their objections to Penn State over the shirt design while around 30,000 shirts have so far been sold.

 

Despite the small number of complaints, the school’s newspaper and even Fox News picked up on the story and brought the alleged controversy into light to the surprise of many Penn State students.

 

In the responses that followed, a vast majority of students who weighed in on the issue were either supportive or indifferent of the shirt design, including the president of the Penn State Hillel, who told the student-run Collegian newspaper that her group of Jewish students was not going to complain.

 

“I don’t think we have a right to say what [the university] should or shouldn’t be doing,” Michal Berns said, though she confessed that she does believe the shirt design does look like a cross.

 

In three letters that appeared in the Collegian on Monday, students further expressed how laughable the current controversy is and how it’s been blown out of proportion.

 

“While driving through Centre County, I saw power poles shaped like crosses. Advice to Allegheny Power: You’d better change your design before someone is offended,” wrote Penn State alumnus David Dimmick.

 

Recent graduate Steve Edling also mocked the current controversy, suggesting sarcastically that it was time to protest that all lowercase t’s be immediately stricken from campus as well.

 

“From this day forth, the words ‘Penn State’ shall be in all caps or never written at all, because crosses belong at Notre Dame and nowhere else,” he wrote.

 

Current Penn State student Nick Mangus, meanwhile, stated that one of the reasons why he left his home state of Virginia was “to distance myself from sheer amount of politically-correct shenanigans.”

 

“Seriously, grow up. Quit making yourselves look like loud-mouthed extremists,” he wrote.

 

Despite having received complaints, Penn State spokesman Mahon told Fox News that the 2009 “White Out” T-shirts will not be pulled from store shelves and that six complaints “is not a controversy.”

 

Penn State student Devon Edwards, who blogs on nittanywhiteout.com, also noted how the “issue” is actually a non-issue that it wasn’t an issue until last week.

 

“I don’t know a single person, Jewish, Christian, atheist, or anything, who objected to this shirt on religious or moral principles, or who took offense to it,” the student blogger wrote Monday.

 

“Honestly, I think it’s basically people just trying to stir up controversy over something that’s ridiculous,” he added, quoting the letter written by Mangus to the Collegian.

 

As Edwards noted, there are around 40,000 students at Penn State, an alumni association with close to 150,000 members, as well as countless other Penn State fans scattered across the country.

 

Penn State’s stadium, Beaver Stadium, is largest in the United States, the largest in North America, and the third largest in the world.

 

On the less controversial side of this year’s “White Out” T-shirt, it states “Don’t be intimidated ... It’s just me and 110,000 of my friends.”

 

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U.K. Teacher Suspended after Offering to Pray for Student (Christian Post, 100105)

 

A Christian home-visit teacher in the United Kingdom was suspended by her company after she offered to pray for one of her sick students.

 

Olive Jones, 54, had given math lessons to a 14-year-old girl who suffers from leukemia at the student’s home. In November, Jones spoke about miraculous healings and offered to pray for the girl in the presence of her mother.

 

When the mother, Stephanie Lynch, said that the family is non-religious, Jones said she dropped the issue. Jones thought she left that day on good terms with the family, but hours later her company, Oak Hill Short Stay School and Tuition Service, called her and told her that the mother had filed a formal complaint against her.

 

Her employer told her that her offer of prayer could be seen as “bullying.”

 

Unlike Jones, Lynch said she had repeatedly asked the math teacher to stop “preaching” to her daughter. Lynch also said her daughter was “traumatized” and “deeply upset” by Jones’ visits, especially after the math teacher said that young people go to heaven after they die to comfort the student whose close friend had died.

 

“The sessions with Mrs. Jones became increasingly traumatic and we decided it was not appropriate for this woman to come to my home,” Lynch recently told U.K.-based The Telegraph.

 

Jones, however, said she was shocked to hear the parents had problems with her sharing of her Christian faith with their daughter.

 

“I simply wanted to encourage them to be open to prayer but if they did not want to then I would never force it down their throat,” Jones said in defense, according to BBC.

 

The suspension comes after recent equality and diversity laws in the United Kingdom that call public servants to “promote” equality and “respect” diversity.

 

Jones said she is neither angry with her employer, who is just trying to interpret the new equality and diversity policies, nor bitter towards the mother, who is just doing what she felt was right. Rather, Jones is upset with the politically-correct system in the United Kingdom under which someone cannot even mention their faith.

 

“I am amazed that a country with such a strong Christian tradition has become a country where it is hard to speak about your faith,” Jones said.

 

Since Jones works only part-time for the Oak Hill Short Stay School and does not have a contract with the company, she was released by her employer immediately after the complaint was filed. The home-visit math teacher expressed fear that the incident has left a “black mark” on her name and character and will make it difficult for her to find other employment.

 

“If I had done something criminal, I believe the reaction would have been the same,” she said.

 

Defending the teacher is the Christian Legal Center.

 

“Whatever you think of the facts, the reaction here is totally disproportionate,” said Andrea Williams, an attorney and the director of the Christian Legal Center, according to the Telegraph. “Mrs. Jones was a supply teacher for almost five years we are looking at what legal remedy we have to seek a reinstatement or damages.”

 

Williams maintains, “This is clear discrimination on the grounds of faith.”

 

The Oak Hill School service said it is setting up an interview with Jones to further investigate the incident.

 

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Teacher wins major victory for God in school (WorldNetDaily, 100302)

Judge scolds district for trying to scrub America’s Christian heritage

 

A federal judge in California has handed down a scathing ruling against a school that required one of its teachers to remove signs celebrating the role of God in American history from his classroom walls.

 

As WND reported, math teacher Bradley Johnson had banners hanging in his classroom at Westview High School in San Diego, Calif., for more than 17 years with phrases like “In God We Trust” and “All Men Are Created Equal, They Are Endowed by Their Creator,” only to have the principal order them torn down during the 2007 school year.

 

But Johnson filed a lawsuit alleging the order a violation of his constitutional rights, and the teacher has now been rewarded with a court victory and a powerfully-worded ruling.

 

“May a school district censor a high school teacher’s expression because it refers to Judeo-Christian views, while allowing other teachers to express views on a number of controversial subjects, including religion and anti-religion?” posited U.S. District Court Judge Roger T. Benitez in his judgment. “On undisputed evidence, this court holds that it may not.”

 

He continued, “That God places prominently in our nation’s history does not create an Establishment Clause violation requiring curettage and disinfectant for Johnson’s public high school classroom walls. It is a matter of historical fact that our institutions and government actors have in past and present times given place to a supreme God.”

 

The judge further reprimanded the school, stating that while teachers at the district “encourage students to celebrate diversity and value thinking for one’s self, [they] apparently fear their students are incapable of dealing with diverse viewpoints that include God’s place in American history and culture.”

 

The older of Johnson’s two signs, which had hung on his wall without complaint for 25 years, measured 7 feet by 2 feet and contained the words “In God We Trust,” “One Nation Under God,” “God Bless America” and “God Shed His Grace On Thee.” The second banner, posted eight years after the first, quoted the Declaration of Independence by including the phrase, “All Men Are Created Equal, They Are Endowed by Their Creator.”

 

Johnson, the Westview High School teacher ordered to remove his educational banners

 

Though the district permits other teachers to hang Buddhist, Islamic and Tibetan prayer messages on their classroom walls, Johnson was nonetheless told to take his banners down.

 

Richard Thompson, president and chief counsel for the Thomas More Law Center, a not-for-profit law firm dedicated to the defense of religious freedoms, commented on the case.

 

“Many school officials exhibit hostility towards our nation’s Christian heritage. Yet, these same officials see no problem in actively promoting atheism or other religions under the guise of cultural diversity and tolerance,” said Thompson, whose firm filed the lawsuit on Johnson’s behalf. “Hopefully, Judge Benitez’s decision will help put an end to this double standard. It is the responsibility of our public schools to educate students on the crucial role Christianity played in our nation’s founding.”

 

The charge of a double standard was not lost on Judge Benitez.

 

“Fostering diversity,” Benitez ruled, “does not mean bleaching out historical religious expression or mainstream morality. By squelching only Johnson’s patriotic and religious classroom banners, while permitting other diverse religious and anti-religious classroom displays, the school district does a disservice to the students of Westview High School, and the federal and state constitutions do not permit this one-sided censorship.”

 

And in response to the school district’s claim that Johnson’s patriotic banners might make a Muslim student, for example, uncomfortable, Judge Benitez stated, “[A]n imaginary Islamic student is not entitled to a heckler’s veto on a teacher’s passive, popular or unpopular expression about God’s place in the history of the United States.”

 

The ruling prompted Robert Muise, the Law Center senior trial counsel handling the case, to comment, “It was refreshing to read an opinion that does justice to our nation’s history, rather than rewrite it.”

 

The judge concluded in his ruling that Johnson was entitled to a declaration that the school violated his constitutional rights and ordered the district to pay nominal damages of $10 per defendant and Johnson’s attorney’s fees and costs. Benitez also ordered the school district to allow Johnson to immediately re-hang the signs.

 

The Law Center reports Johnson returned the displays to his classroom walls late last week, on the same day the ruling was handed down.

 

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Shirley Dobson Dismissed from Lawsuit against National Prayer (Christian Post, 100303)

 

A federal judge on Tuesday dismissed all claims against Shirley Dobson, the wife of Focus on the Family founder James Dobson, in a lawsuit challenging the National Day of Prayer.

 

Shirley Dobson is chair of the National Day of Prayer Task Force and was among the names listed by the Freedom From Religion Foundation in a lawsuit filed in October 2008.

 

“Prayer proclamations are a long-established and cherished American tradition going back to the Founding Fathers,” said Alliance Defense Fund senior legal counsel Joel Oster.

 

ADF attorneys represented Dobson.

 

“The lawsuit against Mrs. Dobson was based on the ridiculous argument that a private citizen can violate the law by praying, and it is just another example of one radical organization’s allergic reaction to anything involving God,” Oster continued. “FFRF is showcasing to America that its true agenda is not to just silence the government, but private citizens, as well.”

 

FFRF argues that the Constitution was “written to be a godless document” and challenged the federal law designating a National Day of Prayer and requiring a National Day of Prayer Proclamation by the U.S. president. The Wisconsin-based group maintains that government-issued proclamations encouraging citizens to pray are unconstitutional.

 

Besides Dobson, the FFRF lawsuit also targets President Barack Obama. The case against the president is still ongoing. The court has stated, however, that it cannot stop future presidential prayer proclamations from being issued.

 

The current lawsuit is being heard by the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin. It was filed during the last administration but is now named Freedom From Religion Foundation v. Obama.

 

The annual prayer event was created in 1952 by a joint resolution of the United States Congress, and signed into law by President Harry S. Truman. In 1983, the National Day of Prayer Task Force was founded to express the Judeo-Christian view. Shirley Dobson became chairman of the NDP Task Force in 1991 and has held the position ever since. Vonette Bright, co-founder of Campus Crusade for Christ with her husband Bill Bright, was the NDP Task Force’s first chairman, and remains the co-chairman.

 

The next National Day of Prayer is scheduled for May 6, 2010.

 

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‘God’ in Pledge, National Motto Ruled Constitutional (Christian Post, 100312)

 

A federal appeals court on Thursday upheld the constitutionality of references to God in the Pledge of Allegiance and on national currency.

 

The pledge does not constitute an establishment of religion, Judge Carlos Bea wrote for the majority in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. “[T]he Pledge is an endorsement of our form of government, not of religion or any particular sect.”

 

The three-judge panel ruled 2-1.

 

“The Pledge of Allegiance serves to unite our vast nation through the proud recitation of some of the ideals upon which our Republic was founded and for which we continue to strive,” Bea stated in the opinion.

 

The lawsuit was brought by Sacramento atheist Michael A. Newdow, along with three parents and their children, who argued that the phrase “under God” was “sectarian religious dogma” and interfered with the patriotism and unity the pledge was meant to engender.

 

They also contended that the two words endorsed the “religious notion that God exists” and thereby created a “societal where prejudice against atheists … is perpetuated.”

 

In a separate lawsuit, Newdow argued for the removal of “In God We Trust” from U.S. currency.

 

The court panel also rejected the national motto challenge in a 3-0 ruling, stating that it is patriotic and ceremonial, and not religious.

 

Newdow said the rulings sent the message that: “To be a real American, you believe in God, and the judiciary unfortunately sometimes can’t be trusted to uphold our constitutional rights when you’re a disenfranchised minority,” as reported by the San Francisco Chronicle.

 

The American Center for Law and Justice, meanwhile, was “extremely pleased that the appeals court rejected yet another attempt to re-write history.”

 

“The fact is that it always has been our position that while the First Amendment affords atheists complete freedom to disbelieve, it does not compel the federal judiciary to redact religious references in every area of public life in order to suit atheistic sensibilities,” stated the ACLJ, which filed an amicus brief in the national motto case representing nearly 50 members of Congress. “We’re delighted to see the appeals court reach that conclusion with both the National Motto and the Pledge.”

 

The same appeals court, though a different panel, had caused uproar in 2002 when it ruled in favor of Newdow the first time he filed suit against the Pledge of Allegiance. The U.S. Supreme Court, however, reversed the decision in 2004 on technical grounds.

 

This second time around, a federal judge in 2005 sided with the atheist in declaring the pledge unconstitutional. But on Thursday, the new appeals court panel ruled to uphold the pledge.

 

In the opinion, Bea pointed out that the plaintiffs and the dissent focused solely on the words “under God” in isolation, stripped of all context and history.

 

Under Supreme Court law, however, Bea said the panel examined the Pledge of Allegiance as a whole, not just the two words the plaintiffs found offensive.

 

“In doing so, we find the Pledge is one of allegiance to our Republic, not of allegiance to the God or to any religion. Furthermore, Congress’ ostensible and predominant purpose when it enacted and amended the Pledge over time was patriotic, not religious.”

 

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National Anthem Causes Stir on Christian College Campus (Christian Post, 100420)

 

Demonstrations of protest and of support were passionate but peaceful Tuesday when a Mennonite college in Indiana played the national anthem for the first before a sports event.

 

Though debates over Goshen College’s decision to play the national anthem sparked strong sentiments from both sides in the days and weeks before the historic day, they remained – for the most part – civil.

 

That’s not too surprising for a school whose founding denomination - Mennonite Church USA – is known for its pacifism.

 

“Goshen College is a special place,” the school’s president, Jim Brenneman, told the press Tuesday after the anthem was played for Goshen’s doubleheader against Siena Heights University.

 

“It’s more than a college,” he continued. “It’s an academic think tank, an international change agent, a Christ-centered, spirit-filled community, and it’s home to a whole new kind of peace movement.”

 

Though some may find the controversy over the playing of the national anthem a trivial one, for Goshen College, it was a “complex issue.”

 

“The crux of the matter has to do with our relationship with God and with our country,” explained Brenneman. “We are asking ourselves such questions as: how should faithful Christians order their allegiances? How do we celebrate the freedoms and opportunities of this country and still challenge injustices that also exist in our midst? And how does a church college retain its historic peace heritage while welcoming an increasingly diverse student body from other traditions?”

 

Though Goshen College has maintained a distinctive Christian Mennonite environment since its founding in 1894 as the Elkhart Institute, today, only 55% of the students are Mennonite.

 

And so many on campus have no objection to flying the flag or playing the anthem.

 

Still, there are many students committed to pacifism whose parents or grandparents were conscientious objectors of Goshen’s decision and who grew up with a deep suspicion of patriotic observances.

 

Some faculty also stood against the decision, but were careful to “give witness to the loyal dissent” present on campus.

 

“We are deeply saddened by this decision and believe it is in significant tension with our Anabaptist identity and core values of Christ-centeredness, compassionate peacemaking, global citizenship, servant leadership and passionate learning,” wrote some 30 Goshen faculty members in a letter last month to the Goshen College President’s Council, which decided in January to allow the college’s Athletic Department to play an instrumental version of the national anthem prior to some sporting events beginning in the spring.

 

“Although some of us signing this letter feel strongly that the decision should be reversed, we wish to focus our energies on balancing this new practice with ways we can engage others around our core values and ‘peace by peace’ distinctive,” they added, before offering some suggestions on how to ensure that Jesus’ teaching on peace remained at the forefront.

 

One suggestion, which was put into action Tuesday, was to follow up the anthem with a reading of the Prayer of St. Francis, which begins with asking the Lord to “make me an instrument of your peace.”

 

“In addition to the above proposal, we strongly affirm the Board of Overseers’ recent call for structured dialogue and prayerful discernment around differing viewpoints, and their plan to review this decision in June 2011,” the faculty added.

 

Having seen the response from both all sides of the debate, Goshen President Brenneman expressed gratitude to God on Tuesday for how things have turned out so far, saying that at the heart of making peace in this country and in the world is people’s ability to listen to each other and respect each other’s views.

 

“I am committed to retaining the best of what it means to be a Mennonite college, while opening the doors wider to all who share our core values,” he said in conclusion. “And I invite others to join us at Goshen College as we make peace in all of its forms, even with the national anthem.”

 

Presently, among the five colleges that the Mennonite Church USA provides denominational oversight to, three now play the national anthem before sports events – namely, Goshen College; Bluffton University in Bluffton, Ohio; and Bethel College in North Newton, Kan.

 

Two, meanwhile, still refuse to play the national anthem - Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisonburg, Va., and Hesston College in Hesston, Kan.

 

The 110,000-member Mennonite Church USA also provides oversight to two seminaries in the United States - Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary in Elkhart, Ind., and Eastern Mennonite Seminary on the campus of Eastern Mennonite University.

 

The Mennonite Church USA represents the largest group of Mennonite Christians in the United States.

 

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Judge: Natl Day Of Prayer Unconstitutional (Foxnews, 100415)

 

The National Day of Prayer, honored in the United States for more than a half-century, is unconstitutional, a federal judge in Wisconsin has ruled.

 

In a 66-page opinion issued Thursday, U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb said the holiday violates the “establishment clause” of the First Amendment, which creates a separation of church and state.

 

“I understand that many may disagree with that conclusion and some may even view it as a criticism of prayer or those who pray,” Crabb said in her opinion. “That is unfortunate. A determination that the government may not endorse a religious message is not a determination that the message itself is harmful, unimportant or undeserving of dissemination.”

 

The opinion comes in a case filed by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, a Wisconsin-based group of self-described “atheists” and “agnostics.”

 

Crabb said her ruling is based on “relevant case law,” and it does not prevent religious groups from organizing prayer services or prevent the President from discussing his views on prayer.

 

“The only issue decided in this case is that the federal government may not endorse prayer in a statute,” Crabb said.

 

The Justice Department would not say whether it expects to appeal Crabb’s ruling.

 

“We are reviewing the court’s decision,” a Justice Department spokesman said.

 

Within hours of the ruling, the ranking Republican on the House Judiciary Committee urged the Justice Department to “immediately” file an appeal.

 

“The decision undermines the values of religious freedom that America was founded upon,” Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Tex., said in a statement. “What’s next?  Declaring the federal holiday for Christmas unconstitutional?”

 

Crabb said the ruling would not have any effect until any appeals are exhausted.

 

She insisted her ruling was not a judgment on the value of prayer.

 

“No one can doubt the important role that prayer plays in the spiritual life of a believer,” Crabb said in her opinion. “In the best of times, people may pray as a way of expressing joy and thanks; during times of grief, many find that prayer provides comfort. Others may pray to give praise, seek forgiveness, ask for guidance or find the truth. ... However, recognizing the importance of prayer to many people does not mean that the government may enact a statute in support of it, any more than the government may encourage citizens to fast during the month of Ramadan, attend a synagogue, purify themselves in a sweat lodge or practice rune magic.”

 

The National Day of Prayer was first established by Congress in 1952, with a more specific date for the holiday set in 1988. It is now observed on the first Thursday in May.

 

Smith said he can “assure” Americans that “Congress will do everything in its power to protect the National Day of Prayer.”

 

On the holiday last year, President Obama issued a statement saying Americans have always “come together in moments of great challenge and uncertainty to humble themselves in prayer.”

 

“In 1775, as the Continental Congress began the task of forging a new Nation, colonists were asked to observe a day of quiet humiliation and prayer,” the statement said. “Almost a century later, as the flames of the Civil War burned from north to south, President Lincoln and the Congress once again asked the American people to pray as the fate of their Nation hung in the balance.”

 

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Religious Freedom Under Fire (Christian Post, 100505)

By Dr. Tony Beam

 

Congress established the very first National Day of Prayer on July 20, 1775. The war with England was in its infancy with the battles of Lexington and Concord barely in the history books. The original proclamation began:

 

“This Congress, therefore, considering the present critical, alarming and calamitous state of these colonies, do earnestly recommend that Thursday, the 20th day of July next, be observed by the inhabitants of all the English colonies on this continent, as a day of public humiliation, fasting and prayer; that we may, with united hearts and voices, unfeignedly confess and deplore our many sins; and offer up our joint supplication to the all-wise, omnipotent, and merciful Disposer of all events….”

 

The next proclamation when President John Adams declared May 9, 1798 as a “day of solemn humiliation, fasting, and prayer,” with people of all faiths being encouraged to pray, “that our country may be protected from all the dangers which threaten it.” The United States was locked in an undeclared naval war with France and fear gripped many American hearts as victory was in doubt.

 

On March 30, 1863, the United States was busy going about the business of tearing itself apart over slavery and states rights. President Abraham Lincoln issued a proclamation that stated, “the awful calamity of civil war, which now desolates the land, may be but a punishment, inflicted upon us, for our presumptuous sins.” The proclamation declared a day of “national humiliation, fasting and prayer,” hoping that God would restore, “our now divided and suffering country to its former happy condition of unity and peace.”

 

The current incarnation of the National Day of Prayer was approved by both houses of Congress and signed into law by President Harry S. Truman on April 17, 1952. The official proclamation called on the American people to, “turn to God in prayer and meditation.” In 1972, the National Day of Prayer Committee was created which soon gave birth to the National Day of Prayer Task Force. In 1988, a bill was introduced in Congress fixing the National Day of Prayer on the first Thursday of May. The bill passed and was signed into law by President Ronald Reagan on May 5. Upon signing the bill, Reagan said, “On our National Day of Prayer, then, we join together as people of many faiths to petition God to show us His mercy and His love, to heal our weariness and uphold our hope, that we might live ever mindful of His justice and thankful for His blessing.”

 

The National Day of Prayer has a rich history and heritage. How sad it is in our politically correct age that we are no longer spiritually tolerant. The controversy generated by the Pentagon’s disinviting Franklin Graham and the entire National Day of Prayer Task Force is both un-American and unnecessary. Graham has expressed his opinion on the danger of embracing the teaching of Islam concerning jihad and the death of infidels. Not once has he or anyone on the National Day of Prayer Task Force suggested that Muslims be excluded from First Amendment protections against the prohibiting of the exercise of their religion.

 

The same First Amendment to the Constitution which prohibits Congress from making any law that establishes a particular religion or prohibits the free exercise thereof also protects Franklin Graham’s right of free speech to express his opinion about Islamic fundamentalism.

 

But in our politically correct age, the criticism of Christianity is welcomed while the truth claims of Christians are under constant fire. Muslim Clerics and Islamic fundamentalists can rail against Christianity without fear of reprisal. Yet Christians are often singled out as being bigoted, homophobic, hatemongers who are ruining our national hedonistic party.

 

Last month, a federal judge from Wisconsin struck down the National Day of Prayer, ruling that it violates the constitutional ban on government-backed religion. Judge Barbara B. Crabb called the statue “an inherently religious exercise that serves no secular function.” Again, the First Amendment, while forbidding Congress from establishing any one religion forbids Congress from doing what Judge Crabb believes she has the right to do…. prohibit the free expression of religious convictions. Since the National Day of Prayer does not elevate one religion over another it does not violate the First Amendment. Joel Oster, senior legal counsel for the Alliance Defense Fund said, “The National Day of Prayer provides an opportunity for all Americans to pray voluntarily according to their own faith and does not promote any particular religion or form of religious observance.”

 

Douglas Laycock, a University of Michigan Law School professor said, “Judges have never been absolutists in these establishment clause cases. If they were they would tell the president to stop issuing Thanksgiving proclamations and tell the Treasury Department to take In God We Trust off of our money.”

 

America is a country that recognizes the “freedom of” not “freedom from” religion. While we recognize and respect an individuals right to reject belief in God, the vast majority fervently defends the right to publically express belief in God. People can be free from religion if they choose but they cannot demand that those of us who believe should lay aside our beliefs so they can be free from religion

 

We are a nation of over 300 million people. Fully 92%say they believe in God. Another 85% believe in heaven and 82%believe in miracles. The religion police will have to lock up over ninety-percent of the country if their crusade against free religious expression is successful.

 

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Conn. School District Sued Over Megachurch Selection (Christian Post, 100511)

 

Americans United for Separation of Church and State, the American Civil Liberties Union, and the ACLU of Connecticut have filed a lawsuit in federal court over a public school district’s decision to hold this year’s graduation ceremonies in a Christian megachurch.

 

The groups, which filed suit Wednesday on behalf of two Enfield High School seniors and three parents, are charging that the Enfield Public Schools’ decision to hold their graduation ceremonies at First Cathedral in Bloomfield “excessively entangle[s]” the district with religion and is – for a number of reasons – in violation of the Establishment Clause of the Constitution.

 

“Public school students have a right to attend their graduation without feeling like they’re taking part in a religious service,” says the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. “The use of a church for this important milestone is clearly inappropriate.”

 

The American Center for Law and Justice, which is defending the district, however, insists that the use of First Cathedral, also known as the First Baptist Church of Hartford, does not constitute a violation of the Establishment Clause.

 

It says the main reason the Enfield School District chose to hold graduation at First Cathedral was financial. The church, ACLJ argues, is $8,000 to $40,000 cheaper than holding graduations at comparable facilities – a claim that AU rejects.

 

The Baptist megachurch also reportedly provides “the best amenities,” including ample seating and parking, advanced audio visual capabilities and “general comfort for graduates and their families.”

 

Furthermore, student support for the cathedral venue was found to be very strong. Student Board of Education representatives from both Enfield and Fermi High School stated that, after polling their fellow classmates, the vast majority wanted graduation to be held at the church. Also, students at both high schools signed a petition in support of the church venue.

 

“The law in this area is clear and well established and the United States Supreme Court has decided numerous cases involving public schools and the Establishment Clause,” says ACLJ Senior Counsel Vince McCarthy, representing the school district. “Once again, those seeking to marginalize religion in America have turned the clearly secular use of a religious building into needless litigation.”

 

According to the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.” The prohibition, through the Due Process Clause of the U.S. Constitution’s Fourteenth Amendment, applies to the official acts of local governmental entities, including public schools.

 

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Conn. School Board Bows Out of Graduations at Church Battle (Christian Post, 100604)

 

The board of education in Enfield, Conn., voted Thursday against appealing a federal judge’s ruling barring two high schools from holding graduations at a church.

 

In a 5-4 vote, board members decided not to file an appeal. They subsequently voted to hold the ceremonies at the schools later this month.

 

The decision shocked Vincent McCarthy, the attorney with the American Center for Law and Justice which was representing the Enfield school district in the case. He was looking forward to arguing the case more fully in the court of appeals and said they had a good chance.

 

“In this case, the court simply got it wrong,” the ACLJ senior counsel said in a statement. “There need not be a constitutional crisis simply because a religious facility is used for a clearly secular purpose.”

 

On Monday, U.S. District Court Judge Janet C. Hall ruled that Enfield and Fermi High Schools could not use First Cathedral for their graduation ceremonies because it was an unconstitutional endorsement of religion.

 

She said the megachurch was “overwrought with religious symbols” and holding graduations there would convey the message that certain religious views are embraced by Enfield Schools and others are not.

 

A lawsuit had been filed against the school district by Americans United for Separation of Church and State and the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of two Enfield High School seniors and three parents.

 

“Public school students have a right to attend their graduation without feeling like they’re taking part in a religious service,” the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United, had argued.

 

The school board had initially voted in January to hold graduation ceremonies at the respective schools. But in April, board members determined that First Cathedral provided “the best location within the budget.”

 

Rather than appeal the case, board member Judith Apruzzese-Desroches said she wanted to move on and establish a graduation site.

 

“We need to get it done. We need to provide something for these students who are graduating,” she said, according to the Hartford Courant.

 

Board chairman Gregory Stokes, however, felt the board made a mistake by not continuing with the appeal.

 

Many students and parents who attended the meeting Thursday were also dissatisfied with the vote.

 

Andrew Silva, this year’s valedictorian at Enrico Fermi High School, told the local Courant that the issue has always been about the number of seats, not religion. Disappointed with the board’s decision, Silva still hopes they can hold the ceremony at an off-campus site.

 

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Conn. School Board Resumes Church Graduation Battle (Christian Post, 100610)

 

The Enfield Board of Education in Connecticut decided Tuesday night to re-enter a court battle over holding graduations at a church.

 

Just days after voting not to appeal a federal judge’s ruling barring two high schools from holding graduations at First Cathedral, the board reconvened for a re-vote and chose to rescind its previous action.

 

“If we don’t appeal it, we’re somewhat saying we acknowledge or validate that opinion,” said Greg Stokes, chairman of the board, according to NBC Connecticut.

 

Last week, U.S. District Court Judge Janet C. Hall ruled that Enfield and Fermi High Schools could not use the megachurch for their graduation ceremonies because it was an unconstitutional endorsement of religion.

 

She said the megachurch was “overwrought with religious symbols” and holding graduations there would convey the message that certain religious views are embraced by Enfield Schools and others are not.

 

When the board voted against appealing the ruling, attorney Vincent McCarthy of the American Center for Law and Justice, which is representing the Enfield school district, was shocked.

 

He said they had a good chance in winning the case.

 

According to McCarthy, a member of the school board requested another vote to “clarify the options” and to “ensure they have considered all options and are giving the students the best possible outcome.”

 

The board will file an expedited appeal with the U.S. 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals in New York. Meanwhile, the June 23 and 24 graduation ceremonies for the two high schools are scheduled to take place on school grounds.

 

The lawsuit against the school district was filed in May by Americans United for Separation of Church and State, the American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Connecticut on behalf of two Enfield High School seniors and three parents. They argued that holding graduations at a church “excessively entangle[s]” the district with religion and violates the Establishment Clause of the Constitution.

 

Board member Judith Apruzzese-Desroches, who voted against filing an appeal, expects a long battle and argued that they should instead be focusing on the delivery of education, as reported by the Hartford Courant.

 

But board chairman Stokes said he has heard overwhelming outcry from the community against holding graduations at the schools.

 

“We listened to what the folks wanted us to do in this community,” he said, according to the local Courant.

 

Enfield and Fermi High Schools used First Cathedral for their previous graduation ceremonies, as construction was being performed on the schools’ athletic fields. The board chose the church again this year because it provided “the best location within the budget.”

 

Other schools in the Hartford-area have also held graduations at the megachurch.

 

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Ban on Ky. Commandments Displays Upheld by Federal Appeals Panel (Christian Post, 100610)

 

A federal appeals court panel has upheld a permanent injunction against three displays of the Ten Commandments at local courthouses in two Kentucky counties.

 

Wednesday’s 2-1 decision by the panel of the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals found that the purpose of the displays in McCreary County and Pulaski County was religious, rather than educational, and therefore violated the Establishment Clause.

 

“Plaintiffs have established that they suffered a constitutional violation and will suffer continuing irreparable injury if the violation continues,” Judge Eric L. Clay wrote in the opinion of the court.

 

“The fact that Defendants seek to minimize the residue of religious purpose does not mean that Plaintiffs do not suffer continuing irreparable injury so long as the display remains on the walls of the county courthouses. Thus, there is no adequate remedy at law, and Plaintiffs have demonstrated that they are entitled to a permanent injunction,” he added.

 

In 1999, McCreary County and Pulaski County erected framed copies of the Ten Commandments for display in their courthouses, resulting in a lawsuit shortly after by the American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky.

 

The ACLU of Kentucky, on behalf of its members in both counties and individual residents, maintained that the displays’ purpose and effect were to endorse religion in violation of the First Amendment’s establishment clause.

 

The counties, in response to the suit, removed the displays and initially appealed the injunction. They later dropped their appeals, however, after obtaining new counsel.

 

Several months after removing their displays, the counties posted new displays that featured historical documents as well as the Ten Commandments.

 

District Court Judge Jennifer Coffman, in response, ruled that the latest displays were likely unconstitutional as the displays’ history showed that the defendants’ purposes were religious, not secular, and because the displays’ effect was to endorse religion.

 

The judge therefore enjoined the third incarnation of the Ten Commandments displays, prompting the defendants to appeal the preliminary injunction.

 

Following Wednesday’s ruling, Liberty Counsel Founder Mathew Staver, who argued for the counties, announced that the battle “is far from over.”

 

“The Ten Commandments are part of the fabric of our country and helped shape our laws. They are as much at home in a display about the foundations of law as stars and stripes are in the American flag,” he stated. “The Founding Fathers would be outraged that we are even debating the constitutionality of the Ten Commandments.”

 

In Liberty Counsel’s announcement Wednesday, the Christian legal group pointed to the dissenting opinion of Judge James L. Ryan, who recommended a rehearing in front of the full Sixth Circuit panel of judges.

 

“Perhaps the panel’s decision in this case, taken together with this court’s decisions in ACLU v. Mercer County … and ACLU v. Grayson County … will move our court to reconsider en banc what my colleagues have held today, from which I strongly dissent,” the judge wrote, referring to other Ten Commandments cases.

 

In noting this, Liberty Counsel vowed to appeal.

 

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Students at Lincoln Memorial Told to Stop Singing National Anthem (Foxnews, 100809)

 

A group of high school students attending a conservative leadership conference in Washington, D.C. said they were ordered by a security guard to stop singing the national anthem during a June 25 visit to the Lincoln Memorial.

 

“They told them to stop singing,” said Evan Gassman, a spokesman for the Young America’s Foundation. “I was taken aback. You wouldn’t expect a display of national patriotism to be censored.”

 

U.S. Park Police confirmed that the students were in violation of federal law and their impromptu performance constituted a demonstration in an area that must remain “completely content neutral.”

 

“The area they were standing in and singing is an area that is restricted for this type of activity,” said Sgt. David Schlosser. “The United States Park Police is absolutely content-neutral when it comes to any sort of demonstrations in these areas.”

 

Schlosser explained that performances, regardless of content, are banned to “maintain a contemplative and reverent area for the Lincoln Memorial, for the other guests and visitors.”

 

The incident occurred on June 25 as students were taking a monument tour of the nation’s capital. The decision to sing the national anthem at the memorial was a spur of the moment event, according to Shawn Balcomb, of Richmond Hill, GA.

 

“We got maybe two lines in and a police officer came over and he was yelling,” Balcomb said in a telephone interview. “He quieted us down.” Balcomb, 17, said the officer told the group they were being too loud. “I was dumbfounded,” he said.

 

“I didn’t realize there was something wrong with singing the national anthem.”

 

Schlosser said the students would have been in compliance had they moved approximately 25 steps from where they were standing.

 

“It’s not the content of their activity – that being the national anthem – it’s the location,” he said. “A couple steps and it would have been no problem whatsoever.”

 

Instead of doing as they were instructed, Gassman said the students resumed the song – an impromptu form of civil disobedience.

 

“If their idea of civil disobedience is singing the national anthem, then so be it,” Gassman said. “Let them disobey.”

 

YAF posted video reportedly shot just after the alleged encounter with the security officer. It shows students loudly singing the anthem.

 

“That’s the most offensive thing out of all this,” he said.

 

“They really did not provide the students a reason,” said Gassman. Balcomb, who is a high school senior, said they didn’t intend on creating a ruckus – they just wanted to show their patriotism.

 

“It’s not like we sounded great or anything,” he said.

 

“We just wanted to pay respect to our nation – in our capital.”

 

Schlosser, who commended the students on their musical ability, said the students were not cited and to his knowledge no report was filed.

 

“We need to make certain that all other visitors that don’t want to be a part of that or just choose to be tourists are able to do so in the same light that probably President Lincoln wanted – which is completely content neutral,” he said.

 

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Va. School Principal Rebuked Over ‘Candid’ Response to New Christian Club (Christian Post, 100902)

 

A middle school principal who sought to avoid controversy over the formation of a Christian club on campus created some when he sent an e-mail to his staff warning them against supporting or participating in religious activities while they are involved with students.

 

The e-mail from Principal Don Curtis was widely circulated Wednesday to parents, students, and members of the local community though its intended audience was teachers at Wilson Middle School in Fishersville, Va.

 

In the e-mail, Curtis wrote in a “candid style” that many interpreted as belittling and threatening toward his staff.

 

“There are students attempting to organize a ‘Fellowship of Christian Athletes’ organization here at school,” he wrote. “As I trust common sense and your elementary knowledge of the law should remind you, the Constitution includes an amendment that expects ‘The government will not establish any religion.’

 

“This means teachers can’t support or participate in religious activities while in the official role of teacher,” he added before venting his frustration.

 

“Perhaps I could find better words here,” Curtis wrote, “but to be honest, this is so basic that I’m a bit frustrated I’m having to remind employees to not get involved with religion at school, other than its presence as a body of knowledge, for example in social studies.”

 

The principle then went on to tell his staff that they can be as religious as they want when they’re not in their official role as a teacher, which he said “starts anytime you’re involve with students.”

 

“Please check with me or your attorney if you need clarification so I can avoid termination proceedings for those of you that don’t believe me or wish to test this concept. I’m being somewhat of a smart a&*, but I trust ‘You’re feeling me!’” he exclaimed.

 

After the principal’s e-mail got out, The Rutherford Institute, a conservative legal group, sent Curtis a letter warning him against creating a hostile workplace environment toward religion and discriminating against religious student groups such as the FCA.

 

The legal group said it had been asked by “several members of the community” to intervene following the e-mail’s circulation.

 

In the Sept. 2 letter, John W. Whitehead, president of the institute, informed the principal of his misrepresentation of the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause.

 

“While the First Amendment does prohibit the government from establishing religion, it likewise prohibits the government from exhibiting hostility toward religion, interfering with the free exercise thereof, and discriminating against expressive activities based on the religious viewpoint of the expression,” Whitehead explained.

 

“Actions by school officials that demonstrate hostility toward religious organizations undermine the very neutrality that the Establishment Clause was intended to foster,” he added, referencing the case of Rosenberger v. Rector & Visitors of the Univ. of Va.

 

As Whitehead pointed out, teachers and other school employees are allowed to be involved with religious student groups if that involvement is not for purposes of administration or oversight.

 

“By intimidating teachers, through threat of termination, into refusing to provide the same types of administrative assistance to the FCA as are made available to other student groups, you are denying a fair opportunity to the FCA and discriminating against it,” he noted.

 

That said, Whitehead encouraged Curtis to “correct the impression conveyed by your e-mail that the budding FCA group should be shunned by your staff.”

 

“Such messages are not only directly contrary to the spirit of the First Amendment and the Equal Access Act, but they also tend to leave hurtful, lasting impressions upon the students who absorb them,” he concluded.

 

The Rutherford Institute, located in nearby Charlottesville, Va., is a civil liberties organization that provides free legal services to people whose constitutional and human rights have been threatened or violated.

 

Each year, the legal group handles over 1,000 requests for legal assistance.

 

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Students Suspended for Giving Bible-Verse Donuts to Teachers (Christian Post, 100920)

 

Parents and members of a local church in Roswell, N.M., were visibly upset during a Roswell School Board meeting where attendees discussed the recent suspensions over Krispy Kreme donuts with Bible verses.

 

More than 200 people attended the meeting on Tuesday to voice disapproval for how the school was treating its Christian students, according to NBC’s local affiliate KOB TV station.

 

“You’re supposed to represent the people,” said Pastor Troy Smothermon of the Church on the Move in Roswell, according to KOB. “But before you got in this lawsuit, I would have hoped you would have at least taken the time to find out what was going on in your school system that you represent.”

 

Prior to the donut incident, the school was already sued by the families of students for violating their freedom of speech. Christian students that are part of an area-wide religious youth group called Relentless Roswell, which is a ministry of the Church on the Move, had in January distributed fetus dolls with a Bible verse and contact information for a local pregnancy resource center attached.

 

Goddard High’s assistant principal had announced over the public address system that the students are not to distribute anything without approval or risk disciplinary actions. Some students were held in detention because of the fetus doll incident.

 

A female student said she was planning to commit suicide on the day she received the fetus doll because of a past decision to have an abortion, according to Liberty Counsel, which filed the lawsuit against the school on behalf of the families and students. But the scripture on the doll said, “You are fearfully and wonderfully made,” and helped save the student’s life, both physically and spiritually.

 

In addition to the fetus dolls, Relentless Roswell members have also passed out decorated rocks and candy canes to fellow students, chicken salad lunches to teachers, hot cocoa to students and faculty, and helped janitors with trash after lunch without incident.

 

The most recent clash between the Christian students and school officials occurred Sept. 3 after students left boxes of Krispy Kreme donuts with Bible verses in teachers’ lounges. At least four students were suspended.

 

Sheila Bejarano, whose 16-year-old son was among those suspended, asked, “My son was showing kindness … and he was punished? What did my child do that was so wrong?” as reported by The Associated Press.

 

Students had to make a nearly six-hour round trip to get the donuts because the closest Krispy Kreme store was in Texas.

 

“Some teachers are worried about their students giving them bullets, and this school suspends students over a Bible verse!” said Mathew Staver, founder and chairman of Liberty Counsel. “It is outrageous that the Roswell school officials are mean to those students solely because they are hostile to their Christian faith.”

 

Officials of the Roswell Independent School District declined to comment, saying they cannot discuss details because of the pending litigation.

 

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ACLJ Scores Two More for On-Campus Religious Freedom (Christian Post, 101021)

 

Over the past week, the American Center for Law and Justice scored two new victories for religious freedom on campus without having to set foot in a courtroom.

 

In the latest victory, announced Monday, the Christian law firm said Mann Middle School in Colorado Springs, Colo., agreed to allow a 7th grade student to wear a small cross on a chain on campus without having to conceal it.

 

Two weeks earlier, the school had announced that all students wearing religious jewelry would either have to conceal it or remove it because some people in school are “offended” by the display.

 

The announcement prompted Cainan Gostnell, a 7th grader at the school, to stop wearing his cross because he feared being punished by the school.

 

Shortly after, Cainan and his mother contacted the ACLJ, which sent a letter to the school arguing that Cainan has the right to continue wearing his cross on the outside of his clothing under the First Amendment.

 

“Cainan’s cross is a form of symbolic speech,” ACLJ Senior Counsel Edward L. White wrote in the Oct. 8 letter.

 

“Moreover, even if students or staff members are ‘offended’ by the religious messages expressed by the wearing of such jewelry, that is an insufficient reason for the school to prevent Cainan and others from wearing religious jewelry in school,” he added.

 

Accordingly, the school responded to the ACLJ, saying “Cainan may continue to wear and display his cross at school.”

 

“We are pleased the school district understands and agrees that Cainan’s religious expression in school is protected by the First Amendment,” commented White after receiving a letter from the school’s attorneys. “Without question, censoring a student’s religious expression and speech is a violation of the Constitution.”

 

Three days before the victory in Colorado Springs, the ACLJ was hailing the conclusion of another religious freedom case – one related to a public university student in Alabama.

 

According to ACLJ Chief Counsel Jay Sekulow, the law firm was contacted some time ago by the student, Michala, and her mother, Marlene, after Michala’s musical theater class required her to participate in a performance that included two songs that Michala strongly objected to on religious grounds – one that used God’s name in vain and one that declares that the Bible is not necessarily true.

 

Although Michala (whose last name ACLJ withheld) raised her concerns with her professor and the department chair and requested an accommodation due to her religious beliefs, she was told that she only had three options. Michala would either need to take part in the performance, refuse to participate and fail the course, or withdraw from the course. If Michala failed or withdrew, her scholarship would be in jeopardy.

 

After being told by several individuals that there was nothing that could be done, Michala and her mother contacted the ACLJ, which provided her with a legal argument to present to the dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, whom she would later meet. With that, the university agreed to accommodate Michala’s religious beliefs by waiving the requirement that she take that particular course and allowing her to withdraw from the course without having to forfeit her scholarship.

 

“The school changed their course of action and started to work with us. They even assured us that the professors involved would be professional and not treat Michala punitively,” Marlene informed the ACLJ in a thank you note to the ACLJ.

 

While the ACLJ applauded the school (the name of which was also withheld) for taking steps to accommodate Michala’s faith, the law firm noted that such accommodation is not as common on public university campuses at it ought to be.

 

Furthermore, ACLJ and other Christian law firms have noted how religious freedom is frequently misunderstood and consequently trampled upon by school officials who are either ignorant of the law or fearful of offending the American Civil Liberties Union, which is notorious for its efforts to remove anything religious from the public square.

 

According to a recent poll by the First Amendment Center, most Americans (61%) can name the freedom of speech as a right guaranteed by the First Amendment. But only 23% is able to name the freedom of religion as among the First Amendment rights.

 

Notably, however, while low for a nation where over 80% identify with a religion, the mark for freedom of religion was the second highest among the other First Amendment rights (after freedom of speech) and was the highest recorded by the First Amendment Center for that right since it began its annual poll back in 1997.

 

With First Amendment issues frequently popping up, the ACLJ makes itself available free-of-charge to provide advice, assistance, and legal representation as an organization that focuses on constitutional law and “is specifically dedicated to the ideal that religious freedom and freedom of speech are inalienable, God-given rights.”

 

The Washington, D.C.-based legal group’s stated purpose is to educate, promulgate, conciliate, and where necessary, litigate, to ensure that those rights are protected under the law.

 

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$1K Offered to Find ‘Separation of Church and State’ (Christian Post, 101026)

 

Tea Party Campaign Manager Jonathan Moseley has offered $1,000 to find a the exact phrase “separation of church and state” in the U.S. Constitution, asserting that a wall of “separation” violates the constitution’s mandated protection of religious expression.

 

Moseley, Christine O’Donnell’s primary campaign manager, has resurrected her Oct. 19 debate question to question the public over reliance on the expression “separation of church and state.”

 

“Despite the left’s attempt to amend the U.S. Constitution by simply repeating [separation of church and state] over and over again, the phrase cannot be found in the United States Constitution,” he said in a statement.

 

Instead, Moseley said, the constitution affirms Americans’ right to free religious speech. Practicing separation of church and state, a statement not found word for word in the constitution, infringes on the real meaning of the constitution, Moseley maintains.

 

“Any rule that makes religion or religious people unwelcome in any place or any aspect of American life is a violation of the ‘free exercise of religion’ guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment,” he said.

 

In recent years, religion has become an unwelcomed part of public schools, government buildings and even the American currency.

 

“It’s not politically correct to be a Christian anymore,” said Rutherford Institute President John Whitehead.

 

Christians argue that the Constitution’s Establishment Clause, which proclaims “Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion,” is being misconstrued from its original intent. Bruce Hausknecht, judicial analyst of Focus on the Family’s Citizen Link, said the clause was originally meant to prevent the establishment of a national religion or denomination.

 

“The original understanding of the Establishment Clause was to keep the federal government from establishing a national religion, or more particularly from choosing between the various Christian denominations and elevating it to a national status,” said Hausknecht.

 

The clause is now commonly interpreted to mean that religion should be separated from the public sphere. Hausknecht blames this misinterpretation on the adoption of the phrase “separation of church and state.”

 

“Bad metaphors make bad law, and the unfortunate ‘separation’ metaphor became the battle cry of secular organizations to beat school districts, local governments and other governmental entities over the head with threats of lawsuits for even giving a passing nod of accommodation to religion,” he said.

 

Most recently the Freedom From Religion Foundation cited legal precedents established on the “separation of church and state” definition of the Establishment Clause to persuade schools in the Hamilton County, Tenn., school district to end prayer at sporting events and graduations.

 

“It’s constitutional according to the Supreme Court, but if you studied the founding fathers, it wouldn’t be,” said Whitehead.

 

FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor, meanwhile, stated, “We think it’s worthwhile to protect our secular government.” She maintained that the separation of religion from government-funded programming and institution is necessary to protect America from becoming a religious state.

 

“If people are unhappy, they are unhappy with the Constitution,” said Gaylor.

 

But Hausknecht contends that if the original meaning of the Establishment Clause were being enforced today, it would “free people of all faiths to practice their religion in their everyday life, to speak about it, and live their lives in accordance with it, free from government interference.”

 

In an earlier debate this month at Widener University Law School, O’Donnell, a Tea Party Republican running in Delaware for a U.S. Senate seat, questioned Democratic challenger Chris Coons, asking “where in the Constitution is the separation of church and state?” She posed the question after Coons said teaching creationism in public school would violate the Constitution.

 

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Atheists Lose Another ‘God’ in Pledge Battle (Christian Post, 101115)

 

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit upheld the constitutionality of the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance in New Hampshire’s public schools.

 

The decision on Friday by the three-judge panel dealt another blow to atheists who have made several attempts to strike down the pledge and the inclusion of the words “under God” as unconstitutional.

 

The Freedom From Religion Foundation filed a lawsuit in 2007 on behalf of two parents whose three children were attending public schools. The parents are atheist and agnostic.

 

They challenged the New Hampshire School Patriot Act which requires that the state’s public schools authorize a period during the school day for students to voluntarily participate in the recitation of the national pledge. The act allows students who choose not to participate to stand silently or remain seated and to respect the rights of those pupils electing to participate.

 

After a court dismissed the atheists’ lawsuit, FFRF filed an amended complaint the following year, arguing that the state act violates the Establishment Clause, despite the voluntary nature of student participation in the pledge. The group argues that the schools’ pledge practices are religious because the pledge itself is a religious exercise in that it uses the phrase “under God.”

 

Chief Judge Sandra Lea Lynch wrote in the opinion that by design,