Vol. 21 No. 3 - Published by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc. -
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South Carolina Permits Affirmations
The South Carolina Supreme Court ruled on March 15 that state citizens do not have to swear a mandatory oath to God in order to serve on a jury. Circuit Judge Marc Westbrook was wrong to dismiss a Lee County juror who would not agree to say "so help me God" when taking the oath, the court ruled. Robert Woodham, who is not religious, challenged the law.
North Carolina Judge Bars Oaths
Dist. Judge James M. Honeycutt sent a letter to local officials in March requesting that they remove religious references--including oaths that end in "so help me God" and a traditional "blessing"--in courtrooms where he presides.
In an increasingly diverse culture, Honeycutt said the burden should not be on nonChristian individuals "to speak up and request an oath that does not mention God or use the Christian bible."
Honeycutt is one of nine judges presiding over court sessions in four counties, including Davidson County, where signs reading "In God We Trust" are posted on government buildings. Two Thomasville men filed suit in federal court last summer to challenge the signs.
Honeycutt said the reform will allow him to swear in people of diverse beliefs at the same time.
Salvation Army Sued Over Discrimination
Eighteen current and former employees, with the help of the N.Y. Civil Liberties Union, are challenging religious discrimination by the federally-funded Salvation Army. Their lawsuit, filed in February, is hailed as a direct challenge of the Bush Administration's faith-based policies.
The Salvation Army branch receives more than $50 million in government money annually, but now requires employees working with children to reveal their religious affiliation.
The Salvation Army forces employees to sign a form saying they must "preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ," state all the churches they have attended in the last decade, and authorize their pastors to reveal information from private communications. They also have to acknowledge that the Salvation Army is a branch of a Christian church.
"If you don't sign the form," Major Gary W. Miller told the Chronicle of Philanthropy, "you decide you don't want to work here."
Idaho Rejects Decalog Bill
An Idaho State Senate committee in late February rejected a bill to display the Ten Commandments and other documents in the Statehouse.
Chile Defies Church, Legalizes Divorce
Chile became the last country in the Americas to legalize divorce, after a nine-year fight. The long-awaited bill passed its final hurdle on March 11 to applause in Chile's lower house. It will go into effect in six months.
The Church had launched a TV campaign and lobbied vociferously against the bill. Congr. Maria Antonieta Saa, of the Party for Democracy, who introduced the divorce bill in 1995, said "the first force to deny and resist is the Catholic Church."
Portugal Keeps Abortion Ban
The Parliament of staunchly Roman Catholic Portugal, by a slim majority, tabled bills to legalize early-term abortion, or place abortion laws up to referendum. Abortion is allowed only in cases of rape or serious health risk up to the 12th week of pregnancy.
Portugal rivals Poland and Ireland in having the most restrictive laws in Europe. Agence France-Presse reported that roughly 11,000 Portuguese women were hospitalized last year after illegal abortions, with five reported deaths.
Way Cleared to Bar Boy Scouts
By refusing on March 8 to hear an appeal by the Boy Scouts of America in a Connecticut case, the U.S. Supreme Court cleared the way for state and local bodies to refuse government benefits to Boy Scouts because of its anti-gay policy.
Scouts complained that the state was "punishing" the group by excluding it from a fundraising drive among state employees. Officials argued the boys' group holds anti-gay views shared in common with "religious organizations to which most Americans belong."
Boy Scouts unsuccessfully insisted that private groups have a right to public handouts and to "maintain and adhere to their convictions on moral or religious issues without being selected for disfavored treatment at the hands of government."
Divisive Prayer in Tennessee
Visiting minister Clifton Fox opened a state Senate session in March with a controversial prayer for "innocent babies and innocent mothers," minutes before debate started on a proposed antiabortion constitutional amendment.
Fox also prayed that senators be protected from "civil liberty lawyers and lobbyists against life."
The senate opens each session with a prayer by a "minister of the day," who is cautioned to keep invocations nonpolitical.
Iraqi Constitution Mixed Bag
Iraq's temporary constitution reserves 25% of the seats in the interim government for women. This is under the 40% quota sought, but far better than the 14% representation by women in the U.S. House.
The March 1 constitution will be in effect some time through 2005, when a permanent constitution is scheduled for adoption. It also stipulates that Islamic Law (Sharia) will be one of several sources for law, but not the only basis.
The Governing Council established Islam as the official religion of Iraq, calling Sharia a "source of legislation," which is a compromise over proposed language to ban any laws contravening Islam. Last December, the council had voted to replace civil marriage with religious control of all family law, a huge step backward for Iraqi women, whose protests modified the language.
Louisiana Schools Test Patience
The old saw that there will always be prayers in school so long as there are tests took on a different flavor in New Orleans recently. Teachers at Samuel J. Green Middle School revealed a definite lack of confidence in their own teaching abilities in handing out a prayer to students taking a standardized test in March. The prayer, replete with grammar and punctuation mistakes, read:
"I receive your help faith, knowing that through you I shall do valiantly, for you are the one who treads down my enemies."
Joe Cook, executive director of ACLU of Louisiana, asked Supt. Anthony Amato to investigate and halt any school-sponsored religious exercises throughout the district.
Moore Presidential Planned Bid?
Deposed Alabama Supreme Court Justice Roy Moore is being courted by the religious right to run for president. Moore, who commands $10,000 per appearance, is on a national speaking tour, raising money for his "appeals." He lost a court battle at the Supreme Court level to keep his job and an illegal Ten Commandments in the Alabama Judiciary Building.
Moore claims he won't run until his "appeals" are exhausted.
Seattle Timespolitical reporter David Postman, in covering a recent appearance by Moore, wrote that "he has the trappings of a candidacy, including a following," a "stump speech," "ushers with red, white and blue buckets," and $50-a-pop photo-ops.
"Unborn Act" Anti-Biblical
The so-called "Unborn Victims of Violence Act," also called the "Laci and Conner's Law," passed the U.S. House on Feb. 26 and the U.S. Senate a month later. It would permit federal prosecutors to charge assailants with two separate crimes for injuring or killing a pregnant woman and her "unborn child."
What would the bible say about such politicking?
Exodus 21:22 would explicitly reject it. The Mosaic teaching orders that if two men are fighting and hurt a pregnant woman, causing miscarriage but no other harm to her, that man shall be punished by a fine only. He is not to be put to death for causing a fetal miscarriage or stillbirth, as is the law for a crime ending in the death of a person.
"Constitution Restoration Act" Introduced
"The Constitution Restoration Act" was introduced in February, reportedly drafted by a minion of TV evangelist Pat Robertson. It would bar the Supreme Court from having jurisdiction over any matter relating to "acknowledgment of God as the sovereign source of law, liberty, or government." Sponsors include: Sens. Robert B. Aderholt, Lindsey Graham, and Zell Miller.
Feds Give $1.1 Billion to "Faith-based" Groups
The federal government doled out more than $1.1 billion in "competitive grants" to religious organizations in fiscal year 2003, according to White House figures released on March 9.
Five agencies reviewed 140 competitive grant programs.
Big increases were reported by the Departments of Health and Human Services, and Housing and Urban Development. HHS gave $568 million in grants to 680 faith-based groups in 2003, a 41% increase in the number of recipients, and a 19% increase in money from the previous year.
HUD reported $532 million in grants to 765 faith-based groups--an 11% increase in funding and a 16% increase in recipients.
The Justice Department granted $51 million in competitive grants, Labor gave $11 and the Education Department $7 million.
These partial figures did not include funding of religious groups through block grants to state and local governments.
Bush, who could not pass most of his faith-based initiatives through Congress, enacted the change through executive fiat.
Bush Addresses Faith-based Groups
Pres. Bush preceded the kick-off of his re-election campaign in Los Angeles in March by stopping to address 1,200 ministers and religious workers at a regional conference, hosted by the White House Office of Faith-based and Community Initiatives.
"I'm here to thank you . . . for hearing that call. Actually, I shouldn't be thanking you. I should be thanking a higher power for giving you the call."
Washington Post reporter Mike Allen called the appearance "a milestone for Bush's re-election campaign," saying he "drew repeatedly on the vocabulary of the pulpit."
Bush referred to his own Christian faith and his heavy drinking days, according to the Post. He maintained his faith-based initiative honors the separation of church and state. "You can't, if you're a faith-based organization, say, 'Only Methodists allowed.' You know, you can say, 'All drunks are welcome.' "
Bush Addresses Evangelicals
President Bush addressed the convention of the National Association of Evangelicals in Colorado on March 11 via satellite, telling them:
"You're doing God's work with conviction and kindness."
He enumerated his "compassionate conservative" agenda, including halting late-term abortion, banning gay marriage, opposing federal funds for the "destruction of human embryos for stem-cell research," and giving religious charities more federal funding to deliver social services. He also promised to continue fighting to put nominees on the judicial bench who will not "legislate from the bench."
"All of you know the power of faith to transform lives. You're answering the call to love and to serve your neighbor. Our laws should welcome and encourage your good works. We should never discriminate against faith-based charities."
Private Prison, Ministry Join Hands
The nation's largest private operator of prisons announced in March it will team up with a prison ministry to forge a prototype of "faith-based rehabilitation" nationwide.
Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) and the Chicago-based Institute in Basic Life Principles will co-sponsor a program in eight CCA correctional facilities, involving 1,000 inmates. The institute claims to already be in 60 jails and prisons nationwide.
The plan is to expand to all 64 CCA jails. CCA is the sixth-largest operator of prison facilities, working in 20 states and the District of Columbia. Public money pays CCA for running prisons.
John Lanz, CCA's director of "faith-based initiatives," told the Washington Times (March 16) that new residential faith-based programs will run for four months in jails and six months in prisons. He claims the program will be open to all and will not require or encourage religious conversion. Prisoners will be given 732 hours of faith-based activities, with "optional worship services and study groups."
Catholic Charities Must Cover Contraception
A California law that entitles women to birth control coverage in employee drug plans doesn't discriminate against church-affiliated agencies such as Catholic Charities, the California Supreme Court ruled on March 1.
The 6-1 ruling upheld the 4-year-old law. "Catholic Charities remains 'free to express its disapproval of prescription contraceptives and to encourage its employees not to use them" so long as it treats male and female employees equally," said Justice Kathryn Werdegar. The ruling applies to 1600 employees of Catholic Charities and 52,000 employees of Catholic hospitals. Direct church employees are exempted from the law.
The change in law came about after Viagra was immediately picked up by medical insurers in 1996, while systematically denying birth control pills to female recipients. Catholic Charities challenged the state law, which applies only to prescription coverage.
Other states that have passed similar legislation are: Arizona, Connecticut, Delaware, Iowa, Georgia, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Missouri, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Rhode Island, Texas, Vermont and Washington.
The sole dissenting vote was from Justice Janice Rogers Brown, whose nomination by Pres. Bush to fill a vacancy on the U.S. Court of Appeals in D.C. has been stalled.
Death by Bible Verdict
The California Supreme Court ruled in February, in a 4-3 vote, that two jurors who consulted their pastors and the bible on the morality of the death penalty did not taint the death verdict in a capital case. The judges said there was no evidence that the Kern County jury was prejudiced by exposure to religious doctrines in favor of capital punishment.
"We are unwilling to ascribe to any perceived stereotype that jurors who receive advice from Christian spiritual leaders, or are exposed to biblical passages, per se, suffer a diminished sense of responsibility for their penalty verdict," wrote Justice Janice Rogers Brown for the majority.
Two jurors in a 1993 trial admitted they sought religious confirmation for the death penalty. One was referred by her pastor to the Book of Numbers, and the other to the same passage by her husband. One of them copied the pro-death penalty passage and shared it with the jury. The dissenters issued an outraged response.
Ohio Faith-Based Plans
Ohio Gov. Robert Ehrlich Jr. appealed to religious leaders on March 23 to oppose an amendment to the budget by the Senate restricting grants of federal funds for faith-based charities. Sen. Patrick J. Hogan, vice chair of the Budget and Taxation Committee, disagreed that the amendment would prevent funding for religious charities. Ehrlich is seeking to create the program by executive order, bypassing legislative approval.
Fabricator an Evangelical Christian
Jack Kelley, formerly a star reporter with USA Today, who resigned in January after admitting he fabricated many of his sensational stories covering war and terrorism, is a proud evangelical Christian.
USA Today turned its own investigative team on Kelley's stories, finding major fabrications and plagiarisms. Kelley told Christian Reader magazine: "God has told me to proclaim truth." Kelley is on the faculty of the World Journalism Institute, whose mission is "presuppositional reporting. . . from a (sic) unapologetic Christian point of view."
Inmates Labor for Church
A revelation that Texas inmates at the Denton County Jail cleaned, mowed and labored at Sheriff Weldon Lucas' church for two years has caused consternation. The inmates, who helped renovate the Oak Grove United Methodist Church, were given days off of their sentence for each day worked.
Departmental policy restricts labor to county projects.
Critics say the sheriff, who recently faced a felony charge in another matter, broke the law. Lucas is retiring at the end of the year.
April 2004 Excerpts