Vol. 20 No. 8 - Published by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc. -
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Moore Saga Continues
Below is a summary of events following the tardy removal on Aug. 27 of the 5,280-pound granite Ten Commandments marker from the Judicial Building in Montgomery, Ala. It was unlawfully placed there by Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore.
Revealing the climate in Congress is the July 25 vote of 260-161 to block federal money from being used to enforce the court order. This is similar to a 1997 vote, when 295 members of the House passed a nonbinding resolution supporting Moore's crusade to place Ten Commandments on public property.
The State Constitution provides for removal, suspension without pay, and censure of a judge who has violated "a canon of judicial ethics, misconduct in office, failure to perform his duties," as well as suspension, with or without pay, of a judge who is physically or mentally unable to perform duties.
Georgia Decalog Suit Filed
The American Civil Liberties Union filed a federal lawsuit on Sept. 16 to remove a parchment inscription of the Ten Commandments from the hallway of the Barrow County Courthouse in Winder, Ga.
Officials put the 3-by-4-foot framed display in the courthouse a year and a half ago. In early September, some 1,000 Christians, including failed presidential candidate Alan Keyes, rallied in support of keeping the bible edicts in the courthouse.
Public Prayer Divisive
A federal judge ruled in August that prayers to a specific deity are unconstitutional, ending Christian prayers in Great Falls, La. The town council is appealing the decision, the result of a lawsuit taken by Wiccan high priestess Darla Kaye Wynne.
First the good news . . . The school board in Manatee County, Fla., agreed in mid-August to end a decades-long practice of beginning meetings with the Lord's Prayer.
Unfortunately, they announced they will open meetings with a "nondenominational invocation" by rotating members of the clergy.
Pity Regimented Texas Students
Public school students in Texas not only have to recite a mandated religious Pledge of Allegiance, but must follow it with a pledge to the Texas flag, followed by standing for a 60-second moment of silence.
The new law went into effect this fall (except for some unfortunate Texas students who started school as early as Aug. 4--in order to have extra time to cram for state-mandated testing adopted under Gov. Bush).
One of the law's onerous provisions is the requirement that a Texas flag be present in every classroom. The San Antonio Express News reported that the Northside School District would spend about $50,000 to buy flags and flag holders. Another onerous provision requires that students bring a note from home in order to be excused from the pledges.
"If you want children to love country and state, teach them to honor their flags. If you want them to value a power higher than their own, provide them with a minute to reflect, meditate or pray," said sponsor Sen. Jeff Wentworth.
"Sixty seconds is a long time, especially for the four-year-olds," one school official pointed out.
Fox TV "Wholly Without Merit"?
A federal judge in Manhattan dismissed a lawsuit against satirist Al Franken by Fox News, which tried to block him from using Fox News' self-descriptive phrase "fair and balanced" on the cover of his book, Lies, and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right.
U.S. Dist. Judge Denny Chin ruled on Aug. 22 that the motion was "wholly without merit, both factually and legally," prompting former Saturday Night Live writer Franken to suggest that Fox News adopt those words as its new motto. Chin told the company it needed to learn how to take a joke, and should fight for the First Amendment, instead of "trying to undermine it."
Atheist Sues over Uniforms
The mother of two grade-school boys is suing the Penns Grove-Carneys Point Regional School District over a policy that permits children to opt out of wearing required uniforms if they get a note from a rabbi, pastor, or imam.
When Sherrie Wilkins, an atheist, sent her boys to school last year without the red-white-and-khaki uniform, they were sent home. Wilkins objects to uniforms, saying they hinder creativity, freedom of expression and symbolize militarism.
Her federal lawsuit filed in late August in Camden, Penn., cites the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution.
School Supt. Joseph A. Massare said: "Atheism is not considered an organized religion, and there's nothing, as far as we know, that says the uniform would go against their beliefs." Last year, only one Muslim girl, out of the district's 2,500 students, was exempted from the requirement.
The executive director of the ACLU's Central New York Chapter went on record telling the Syracuse newspaper on Sept. 1 that the words "In God We Trust," above the judge's bench in Fulton City Court, are "secular."
Said Barrie Gewanter: "It's a more secular statement. It's a statement that there's a higher law that we must obey. It's a tradition with our court system that's not tied to a religious belief."
Charles E. ("Mr. Clean") Bennett, 92, Florida's former House member who sponsored the 1955 legislation to put "In God We Trust" on all currency, died in September. "At the base of our freedom is our faith in God and the desire of Americans to live by his will and his guidance. As long as this country trusts in God, it will prevail," he said from the House floor.
He told the New York Times in 1991, "I'm not a brilliant person . . . I've never been accused of being a genius."
Keep Kindergarten Secular
The Third U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in September that kindergartners and first-grade students do not have a First Amendment right to distribute religious gifts to other students during a school-sponsored party.
"To require a school to permit the promotion of a specific message would infringe upon a school's legitimate area of control," wrote Chief U.S. Circuit Judge Anthony J. Scirica, in Walz v. Egg Harbor Township Board of Education.
The unanimous three-judge panel affirmed the dismissal of a suit brought by the mother of a boy prohibited from distributing pencils bearing the message "Jesus Loves the Little Children." He was also barred from giving away candy canes with a message bearing "several symbols for the birth, ministry and death of Jesus Christ."
Scirica said the school's restrictions worked to prevent proselytizing speech that would be at cross-purposes with educational goals and could appear to "bear the school's stamp of approval."
October 2003 Excerpts