Protecting the constitutional principle of the separation of state and church
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Freethought Today

Vol. 21 No. 2 - Published by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc. -
March 2004

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State/Church Bulletin

In a surprisingly strong 7-2 decision written by Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, the U.S. Supreme Court on Feb. 25 ruled that the state of Washington may deny a taxpaid scholarship to a college student studying to become a minister. States, the court added, may prohibit such aid even when money is available to students for any other studies. Thirty-seven states prohibit such public funding for religious education.

"Training someone to lead a congregation is an essentially religious endeavor," wrote Rehnquist. "Indeed, majoring in devotional theology is akin to a religious calling as well as an academic pursuit."

The decision bodes well for the Court's view on faith-based funding. Dissenting were Scalia and Thomas.

The U.S. 8th Circuit Court of Appeals voted 2-1 on Feb. 18 that it is impermissible to erect a Ten Commandments monument in a public park. The appeals court upheld a lower court, which earlier ruled that a Ten Commandments monument in a city park in Plattsmouth, Neb., is unconstitutional.

"Although several of the Commandments have secular applications (not stealing comes to mind) the monument presents even these rules with a religious tenor because their putative source is 'the LORD thy God,' not the City of Plattsmouth or the courts or another secular source," wrote Judge Kermit Bye.

"It is one thing for Plattsmouth to say one should not steal; it is quite another for Plattsmouth to say there is a God who said, 'Thou shalt not steal.' "

The lawsuit was brought on behalf of an atheist in Plattsmouth by the ACLU.

The 8th Circuit now joins the 6th, 7th, and 11th U.S. Circuit Courts of Appeals in finding Ten Commandments displays on government property unconstitutional.

The Virginia House of Delegates passed a resolution on Feb. 16 by a 70-30 vote along party lines, urging Congress to allow states to decide whether to display Ten Commandments monuments.

Del. Robert Brink, D-Arlington, called the resolution "an embarrassment to the House, to the General Assembly and to the commonwealth," calling it an example of Republicans "throwing a little red meat to its political base."

A paper display of the Ten Commandments went back into the Alabama Supreme Court building in early February, along with copies of the code of Justinian, the Magna Carta, the Mayflower Compact, the Declaration of Independence, and constitutional provisions. Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore lost his job for sneaking a two-ton granite version into the rotunda.

Private money paid for the display, which is designed to travel to other Alabama courthouses. The display was unanimously approved by the Alabama Supreme Court.

U.S. Education Secretary Ron Paige called the National Education Association teachers union a "terrorist organization" at a private meeting with governors at the White House on Feb. 22.

A religious critic of the secular, public school system he oversees, Paige said: "The NEA is a terrorist organization." He apologized a day later, calling it a "joke."

Pres. George W. Bush endorsed a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage on Feb. 23: "Marriage cannot be severed from its cultural, religious and natural roots without weakening the good influence of society."

Bush criticized San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, who directed the city on Feb. 12 to grant marriage licenses to same-sex couples, who numbered more than 3,200 over a 9-day period.

"Activist courts have left the people with one recourse," he said, urging Congress to immediately pass a constitutional amendment. Only United Church of Christ and Unitarian-Universalist denominations officially bless same-sex partnerships.

Bush's budget proposal for 2004 would fund a $50 million national pilot program for children to attend religious and other private schools at federal taxpayers' expense, beginning Oct. 1.

Similar requests in 2003 and 2004 were quashed, with the exception of a $14 million voucher program in the District of Columbia that will pay out $7,500 per year for 1,700 students.

The Bush Administration on Feb. 24 announced its $15 billion, five-year plan to fight AIDS globally will start with $350,000 in grants to religious and humanitarian groups. Bush will give $9 billion to care for orphans and encourage abstinence, fidelity and condom use in "focus" countries, including Botswana, Ethiopia, Ivory Coast, Kenya, Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria, Rwanda, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia, as well as Haiti and Guyana.

Critics charge the plan reduces U.S. aid to ongoing Global AIDS Fund programs, will set up parallel, redundant or competing programs, and excludes China, Russia, India and Asia.

Pres. Bush appointed Alabama Attorney General William Pryor to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals during a recess of Congress in February, after the extremist's nomination had stalled in Congress. Pryor was one of Judge Roy Moore's most ardent supporters. At a rally for Moore in 1997, Pryor said: "God has chosen, through his son Jesus Christ, this time, this place for all Christians--Protestants, Catholics and Orthodox--to save our country and save our courts."

Last year, in a brief before the Supreme Court, "states rightist" Pryor compared homosexual acts with "necrophilia, bestiality, child porn, incest, and pedophilia."

Bush earlier sneaked arch-conservative Charles Pickering onto the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Both men will serve until January 2005.

More than 60 influential scientists, including Steven Weinberg and 19 other Nobel Laureates, signed a statement on Feb. 18 accusing the Bush administration of systematically distorting scientific facts to promote political ideology on the environment, biomedical research, nuclear weaponry and health. The Union of Concerned Scientists' 38-page report charges that the administration censors and suppresses reports by its own scientists, stacks advisory committees with unqualified political appointees, and disbands government panels demonstrating independent thought.

The report alleges administration misrepresentation on global warming, censorship of a report on climate change, distortion of findings on the emission of mercury from power plants, and suppression of objective information about condom efficacy.

Former President Jimmy Carter said the campaign to remove "evolution" from Georgia school curriculum is an embarrassment.

"As a Christian, a trained engineer and scientist, and a professor at Emory University, I am embarrassed by Supt. Kathy Cox's attempt to censor and distort the education of Georgia's students," he said on Jan. 30.

Of equal embarrassment should be the vow by Georgia House Minority Leader J. Glenn Richardson to introduce a bill requiring all 159 Georgia County courthouses to display the Ten Commandments. Richardson, at an annual Georgia Bar Media Conference, called the separation of church and state "a fable."

The Ohio State Board of Education, ignoring a plea from the National Academy of Sciences, gave preliminary approval on Feb. 11 to a 10th-grade biology lesson implicitly promoting "intelligent design," the latest permutation of creationism.

"It's a sad day for science in Ohio," said Patricia Princehouse, who teaches biological evolution at Case Western Reserve University. Scientists predict a court challenge if the lesson plan receives final approval.

France's lower house of parliament voted 494-36 on Feb. 10 to ban students from wearing Islamic headscarves, large crosses, and Jewish skullcaps in public schools. Pres. Jacques Chiraq promoted the bill to protect France's secular traditions. The Senate is expected to pass the law in March.

Guy Coq, author of a book about French secularism, explained in a New York Times column (Jan. 30, 2004):

"More than ever, in this time of political-religious tensions, school secularism is for us the foundation for civil peace, and for the integration of people of all beliefs into the Republic. . . . European democracies are multireligious. They no longer have a base of common religious tradition. Instead, they are constructing social guidelines built around ethical, universal values like justice and liberty of conscience."

The Elk Grove School District in California is sending two students to hear the Supreme Court's oral arguments over Michael Newdow's challenge of the district's use of "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance. Officials sponsored an essay competition, awarding two students with opposing views. Amanda Everett, who supports Newdow, wrote in her winning essay: "Kids who might choose to be silent during 'under God' risk being judged and treated differently by their peers."

At least 16 "friend of the court" briefs from a diversity of groups have been submitted in support of Newdow, including one by the Foundation (see Jan/Feb 04).

Newdow will be arguing his case before the U.S. Supreme Court on March 24.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Feb. 23 dismissed Michael Newdow's lawsuit seeking to abolish clergy-led prayer at presidential inaugurations. The 3-judge panel issued an eight-sentence order saying Newdow did not suffer "a sufficiently concrete and specific injury." It also ordered that he could not revive his lawsuit in a lower court "because amendment would be futile." Newdow challenged Christian prayers by Rev. Franklin Graham at Pres. Bush's 2001 inauguration.

The principal of a Milwaukee school supported by public vouchers bought two used Mercedes last October for about $65,000, after cashing about $642,000 in state aid. David A. Seppah, principal of Mandella School of Science and Math, owes the state nearly $330,000 for more than 200 "inappropriately" cashed checks. The checks were made out to families whose children never attended the private school. He failed to pay most of his employees or landlords since October. The school was shut down.

Wisconsin is spending $75 million this year to send 13,000 low-income children to 106 private schools, most of them devoutly religious.

A 5-year study by the Public Policy Forum in Milwaukee found that schools in Milwaukee's voucher program are required to report virtually nothing about their success, failure or operations. Researchers Emily Van Dunk and Anneliese Dickman, in their report, "School Choice and the Question of Accountability: The Milwaukee Experience," write that parents have no way to measure the schools.

Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano, one of the 1,500 people who attended the most recent White House regional meeting to promote federal funding of faith-based groups, announced she may open a state office to help religious groups grab federal money.

The White House's Faith-Based Office took its show to Phoenix in mid-February with officials from seven federal departments in attendance. Faith-based groups do not have to agree to nondiscriminatory hiring policies in order to receive federal funds. They do not even have to be incorporated as a secular nonprofit group.

The Salvation Army of Greater New York, which receives $70 million in state and city funds, recently ordered that employees be reminded that the "core mission" is not just social services, but spreading the Gospel. Employees working with children must disclose their church affiliations, and promise to obey the Army's religious mission for children. Job descriptions call on applicants to "preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ and to meet human needs in His Name without discrimination."

The New York Times reported in February that the "effort has stirred a mini-rebellion among some longtime employees." A high-ranking administrator has filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. He reported that an Army official announced at a meeting that anyone refusing to sign revised job descriptions proclaiming the church's mission would be fired.

Sixty percent of the $120-million-a year budget for the Greater New York Division's social service agencies comes from government sources.

The national Salvation Army received a bequest of $1.5 billion in January to build or enhance 25-30 community centers, including a "place of worship," from Joan B. Kroc, widow of McDonald's founder. Army officials say the money will be used for "educational and spiritual purposes," not social services.

"Everything that we do is related to our ministry, and is in fact our ministry," said Maj. Guy D. Klemanski, second in command.

The Salvation Army lobbied the White House to exempt it from gay discrimination laws. The New York Civil Liberties Union is asking city and state officials to audit the New York branch, contending the division may be violating city and state contracts prohibiting religious discrimination.

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County contracts with the Salvation Army in the Panama City area to monitor misdemeanor probationers has been challenged by Kevin Wood, a Methodist. He filed an appeal last year in circuit court after he was sentenced to probation under the supervision of the Salvation Army Correctional Service. The Salvation Army, a branch of the Universal Christian Church, has 30 offices in Florida providing supervision for 26,000 probationers.

The School Board of Manatee County, Fla., is being sued for its decades-long violation of beginning meetings with the Lord's Prayer. In August, the board voted to replace the Lord's Prayer with clergy-led invocations to head off a lawsuit by a couple. Their guidelines call for prayers that don't endorse a "particular sect or creed of religion." But Steven and Carol Rosenauer contend the invocations have been largely Christian. One minister read the Lord's Prayer at his Oct. 20 invocation.

Baptist ministers who have been meeting with public school students during their lunch breaks for 17 years were told in January to cease and desist by school officials in Bullitt County, Ken., south of Louisville.

March 2004 Excerpts