Vol. 21 No. 7 - Published by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc. -
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Florida Vouchers Struck Down
The Florida State Appeals Court ruled on Aug. 16 that a state law moving students from "failing" public schools to private religious schools at taxpayer expense is unconstitutional.
The 2-1 decision by the 1st District Court of Appeals upheld the August 2002 trial court ruling by Judge William Van Nortwick, determining the law violates state/church separation and a provision in the state constitution banning the use of tax dollars for religious schools.
The law, the first of three Florida school voucher laws, was passed in 1999 by Gov. Jeb Bush. Challengers included the state teacher's union, the Florida PTA, the League of Women Voters and the NAACP.
8th Circuit Nixes School Prayer
A school district may not offer prayers at mandatory staff meetings, the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on Aug. 24. The appeals court said the U.S. District Court in Little Rock was correct to issue an injunction against prayers during staff meetings at the DeValls Bluff School District. The circuit court ruled that prayers are inappropriate, regardless of whether the teacher who complained about them is present. The case was brought by Steve Warnock, an art teacher.
4th Circuit: Can't Invoke Jesus
Invoking Jesus Christ in a prayer to open monthly meetings of a town council violates the establishment clause of the First Amendment, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on July 22.
Wiccan Darla Wynne challenged the practice of the town council of Great Falls, S.C., in 2001. The 4th Circuit affirmed the August 2003 injunction by a district court, barring the council "from invoking the name of a specific deity associated with any one specific faith of belief." Great Falls has deleted a reference to Jesus in prayers since the 2003 federal court ruling.
Opening prayers do not necessarily violate the First Amendment, but scheduling time for quiet reflection doesn't give a legislative body license to advance its religious views in preference to all others, the circuit court ruled.
In early August, the town, joined by the Attorney General of South Carolina, asked for a rehearing.
The 4th Circuit ruling applies to all government meetings in South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia and Maryland. Among those defying the order was the Rev. E.T. Jones, who gave a public prayer in Jesus' name at the Aug. 10 meeting of the Orangeburg Consolidated School District 5 Board of Trustees, S.C. Chairman Melvin Crum opened the meeting by saying they would "forego the prayer tonight," but Jones prayed publicly anyway, and was later chastised by Crum.
In mid-August, police confirmed that Wynne, returning from dinner out with a friend, discovered her 8-year-old African gray parrot beheaded, with his heart cut out and a note attached, "You're next!" There have been a string of break-ins to her home in the town of 2,200.
Boykin Violated Pentagon Protocol
Lt. Gen. William G. ("Jerry") Boykin violated Pentagon regulations by appearing to give religious speeches about terrorism in his official capacity at churches, according to a 10-month Pentagon investigation by the deputy inspector general. A report, which was not released but was described to the Washington Post on Aug. 19, concluded that Boykin failed to make clear that he was not acting in an official capacity when he portrayed the war on terrorism in religious terms.
Boykin spoke at 23 religious-related events, most at Baptist or Pentecostal churches, beginning in January 2002. He was in uniform for all but two of the events.
Boykin made such inflammatory statements as saying, about a 1993 battle against a Muslim warlord in Somalia: "I knew my God was bigger than his. I knew that my God was a real God and his was an idol."
He told a religious group in Washington that Islamic extremists hate the United States "because we're a Christian nation, because our foundation and our roots are Judeo-Christian."
Boykin said Muslims hate America because it "will never abandon Israel," linked "Satan" to the terrorists and said God put George Bush in the White House.
Although the investigation recommended "appropriate corrective action" by the Acting Secretary of the Army, the fact that Boykin consulted military attorneys in advance who saw no problem was a "mitigating factor."
Last year, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld praised Boykin's record and refused to discipline him.
Judge: Bible Must Go from Texas Court
Officials in Harris County, Texas, were ordered by Federal Judge Sim Lake on Aug. 10 to remove a bible from a monument outside the civil courts building, which was erected by The Star of Hope mission in 1956.
"The court concludes that the purpose of the bible display is to encourage people to read the bible. What other purpose could there be for prominently displaying an open bible in an illuminated case tilted toward passers-by in a heavily frequented plaza in front of the main entrance to the courthouse?"
Lake said the county should show religious neutrality and "not be seen as endorsing Christianity."
Real estate broker and attorney Kay Staley sued the county last August, and called the ruling a "wonderful day to rejoice in religious freedom and religious diversity." Staley received a letter threatening her life on Aug. 20, including a photocopied map showing the street she lives on, with the message: "We know where you live. We have your address. It should be an easy shot." The FBI was asked to test the envelope for saliva.
In late August, Lake rejected an effort by the Star of Hope mission to belatedly join the lawsuit. The 5th Circuit on Aug. 24 granted a request by the county to allow the bible to remain during the appeals process.
Honor Thy First Amendment
Supt. Greg Thompson of Humansville, Mo., was put on leave without pay in August for posting the Ten Commandments in a student cafeteria and vowing not to follow federal law.
Thompson placed the 11 x 14 inch plaque soon after he was hired six years ago. Resident Carrie Roat filed a federal lawsuit in March against the violation as well as prayers at athletic banquets. In July, the school district in the town of 950 agreed to pay Roat $45,000, to stop displaying religious symbols and stop officials from leading students in prayer. Court approval is pending.
Christian Teacher Files Lawsuit
Second/third grade teacher Barbara Wigg filed a federal lawsuit in June against the Sioux Falls School District, S.D., saying her rights are being violated by not allowing her to lead an after-school religious club on school property after school.
Wigg is certified by the Child Evangelist Fellowship (CEF) to teach at Good News Clubs after-school classes. The ministry won a Supreme Court ruling two years ago saying their religious clubs could meet directly after school on school property. CEF claims more than 1,300 Christian clubs are operating on public school property, including in five Sioux Falls elementary schools for an hour a week.
The school cites "excessive entanglement" and the "appearance the school is endorsing the plaintiff's religious beliefs," and called her lawsuit "without merit." She is being represented by a religious right legal organization.
Public Dislikes Church in Politics
Republicans and Democrats are equally opposed to political parties using church rosters for political purposes, according to a poll by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, released on Aug. 24.
Two-thirds surveyed said Catholic leaders should not deny communion to liberal Catholic politicians, 51% said church leaders should express views on political matters and 44% said they should keep out of politics.
Nearly two-thirds (72%) agreed a US president should have "strong religious beliefs." The nationwide poll of 1,512 adults found that 52% found the Republican Party "religion-friendly," 40% found the Democrats likewise, and 34% called Dems "religion-neutral."
Gay Marriage Updates
Amendments to ban gay marriage, being promoted and subsidized by conservative churches and church groups, are expected to be on the ballots of 10 or 11 states in November. On Aug. 3, voters in Missouri overwhelmingly (71-29%) approved such a ban.
The issue will be kept off the Michigan ballot, after a state board voted along party lines in August to reject the initiative. A judge in Louisiana ruled on Aug. 20 that a proposed constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriages and civil unions was unconstitutional and must be taken off the Sept. 18 ballot.
On Aug. 4, King Co. Superior Court Judge William L. Downing struck down a law limiting marriage to heterosexuals in Washington State. The decision was stayed pending review by the state Supreme Court.
Religious Tiles OK'd
U.S. District Judge Paul Roseblatt ruled in early August that a Scottsdale couple must be permitted to use the words "God bless" on commemorative tiles by the Paradise Valley Unified School District for a school fundraiser.
The school, concerned about the separation of church and state, rejected tiles inscribed "God bless Quinn" and "God bless Haley" (the Seidman children), but accepted a tile saying "In God We Trust."Privacy Lawsuit Settled
A mother who sued the Rocklin Unified School District in 2001 about the use of a "God Bless America" sign on the marquee of Breen Elementary School, Calif., reached an August settlement over her charge of invasion of privacy.
The suit alleged a violation of privacy when the school district posted Rena Lowry's letter complaining about the religious sign on the bulletin board at school.
The district's insurance company will pay $3,000 to Rena Lowry's child.
In an address to the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary on Aug. 24, televangelist Jerry Falwell told the students "to vote for the Bush of your choice," and that "The vision is world evangelization." He announced that his new law school will train legislators and judges "who can help bring this nation back to God and back to the faith of our fathers."
"We're a nation under God, built on the Judeo-Christian ethic," Falwell added, according to Associated Baptist Press.
September 2004 Excerpts