The tendency to promote the majority faith is strong, and the court’s decision could be taken by some as an invitation to do only the minimum to respect other beliefs. And that’s too bad, because such practices honor neither the Constitution nor the Golden Rule.
USA Today editorial board, disagreeing with the Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision in Town of Greece v. Galloway that allows sectarian prayer
USA Today, 5-5-14
The East [High School] students I talked to couldn’t be distracted from homework any longer, and this “nontroversy” did not interest them. But one of my anonymous sources had this to offer: “It’s not about patriotism; it’s about religion.”
Reporter Catherine Capellaro on two students who allegedly substituted “peace” for “God” while saying the Pledge of Allegiance over the intercom in Madison, Wis.
For many years the country had quieted down after the initial shock of the ruling . . . and people agreed [separation of church and state] was a good thing and went on with their lives. Somehow, with the rise of the Religious Right and evangelical Christians, the issue has bubbled back to the surface in a real way — a threatening way, in my opinion.
Ellery Schempp, plaintiff in Abington Township v. Schempp, in which the Supreme Court in 1963 banned prayers and bible reading in public schools
Rochester Democrat & Chronicle, 4-7-14
For a lot of people, religion is the little lie that people believe so they can believe the big lie of justice, mercy and fairness.
Chris Kluwe, agnostic and former Minnesota Vikings punter, who was basically forced out of pro football for supporting marriage equality
Salt Lake Tribune, 4-19-14
Rather than wrestling with ways to make the invocations meet the letter of the law, we strongly urge the council to discontinue the spoken invocations.
Newspaper editorial, “Dropping public prayer was right call,” on settlement of a lawsuit in FFRF’s favor against the city council in Pismo Beach, Calif.
San Luis Obispo Tribune, 4-18-14
Readers of The Blade come from many faiths and no faith. Atheism is one element in religious orientation, and it shouldn’t be ignored just because atheists say there is no God.
TK Barger, religion editor, defending a news feature on Camp Quest, “Readers criticize religion page story on atheist camp”
Toledo Blade, 3-30-14
Some of us feel some of these televangelists have taken advantage of the fact that churches have little regulation by government and few reporting requirements.
Paul Streckfus, tax attorney and editor of the Exempt Organization Tax Journal, “Can a Television Network Be a Church? The IRS Says Yes”
National Public Radio, 4-1-14
This is an attempt to reclaim a word [atheist] that has been turned negative.
Julia Bruce, president, Harvard College Humanists, Agnostics and Atheists, on “Atheist Coming Out Week”
Harvard Crimson, 4-2-14
The simple fact of the matter is that prayer belongs in churches and in homes. It does not belong in government meetings. Perhaps the Christians will show a little charity to those of us who don’t agree with their views and separate their beliefs from the government business at hand.
Roy Birk, Glen Burnie, Md., letter to the editor, “An atheist’s view of public prayer”
Baltimore Sun, 4-13-14
I just had to keep my mouth shut about being an atheist at those meetings. I felt dumped on when I mentioned it. Like I wasn’t really a member of their club.
George S., participant in one of two secular 12-step programs delisted by Alcoholics Anonymous for being God-free in Vancouver, B.C.
Vancouver Sun, 4-3-14
I know his beliefs. When he ran one of his commercials he said, “I need your prayers” and I asked, “When did you get religious?” He said, “When I needed votes.” He broke out the religious card, and he’s about the most nonreligious person I know.
Heath Peacock, on U.S. Rep. Vance McAllister, R-La., who was caught on tape passionately kissing Peacock’s wife, a staffer for McAllister, who is married with five children
I want us to be a community that really gives back. I don’t want it to be just a big Sunday party, I also want it to be something outside of that.
Helen Stringer, atheist executive director of Kansas City Oasis, a freethought group that features live music and discussions every Sunday
Religion News Service, 4-11-14
The human wreckage he leaves behind him gets to file out of court. Where’s their rehabilitation program?
Australian Judge Frank Gucciardo, on the victims of serial predator priest Frank Klep who walked out of Klep’s presentencing after he was convicted of molesting 15 schoolboys from 1973-84
Sydney Morning Herald, 4-3-14
On the issue of religious symbols on public property, Gaylord Dean Smith of Wisconsin wrote: “I strongly believe that religious freedom should be protected under the First Amendment, but I don’t think that includes allowing religious symbols on government property. Violation of the separation of church and state is a slippery slope. The Mount Soledad cross has been a bone of contention for many years and constitutional litigation often takes many years. I hope that the cross is removed (not blown up) and moved to welcoming private property, where it belongs.”
Reader comment on “Crosses Spark a Constitutional Fight”
Wall Street Journal, 4-15-14
When the song ends, the congregation sits. [Pastor Mike] Will prays, then begins his children’s sermon, even though not one of the dozen in church this particular Sunday is younger than 50. Will, 53, is almost always the youngest in the room. “That doesn’t mean that the children aren’t here,” he tells them. “They’re just not easy to see. We all have a child inside of us.”
News story, “Columbia pastor balances two Sturgeon churches with declining memberships”
Columbia Missourian, 4-18-14
What happens when a student asks, “Wait, how is salvation supposed to work? God came to Earth to sacrifice himself — to himself — to save humanity from being punished — by himself?” Pity the teachers stuck in this impossible spot.
Scott Rhode, Alaska radio news anchor/reporter, “Teaching the Bible: Careful What You Pray For”
In a historic match-up of papacies past and present, Pope Francis and emeritus Pope Benedict XVI will honor Popes John XXIII and John Paul II in the first-ever canonization of two popes.
Associated Press news story
A young man has been fatally crushed after a statue erected in honor of Pope John Paul II in northern Italy fell on top of him. Marco Gusmini, 21, died instantly and a second man was taken to hospital after the 100-foot sculpture fell on top of him.
News story, “Pope statue collapse called bad omen”
Irish Times, 4-25-14
“If the Supreme Court won’t uphold the Constitution, it’s up to us — it’s up to you” is the Freedom From Religion Foundation’s homily in response to the high court’s May 5 ruling approving sectarian prayer at official government meetings. The ruling is a personal blow to the stature and rights of U.S. nonbelievers and non-Christians, as well as to secular government.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Town of Greece v. Galloway that governments can not only host prayers, those prayers can be pervasively sectarian: “To hold that invocations must be nonsectarian would force the legislatures that sponsor prayers and the courts that are asked to decide these cases to act as supervisors and censors of religious speech.” First Amendment champion Ellery Schempp, FFRF Lifetime Member from Massachusetts, who began the protest that led to a landmark 1963 U.S. Supreme Court ruling against recitation of the Lord’s Prayer in public schools, emailed on the day of the ruling: “FFRF is vital after the awful Greece decision. This is why we need FFRF!”
FFRF, the nation’s largest association of freethinkers, with more than 20,000 atheist and agnostic members nationwide, has responded to the hostile court ruling by announcing a “Nothing Fails Like Prayer Award.”
The award will be given to citizens who succeed in delivering secular “invocations” at government meetings. The individual judged to give the “best” secular invocation will be invited to open FFRF’s annual convention with said “invocation,” receiving an all-expenses-paid trip to FFRF’s 37th annual convention at the Los Angeles Biltmore and an honorarium of $500.
Linda Stephens, the atheist plaintiff in the Greece challenge brought by Americans United for Separation of Church and State, is a longtime member of FFRF, who became a Lifetime Member following the ruling. Both she and co-plaintiff Susan Galloway will be named Freethinkers of the Year and accept the award at FFRF’s convention Oct. 24-26. (See more, back page.)
Justice Anthony Kennedy, considered the “swing vote,” not only voted in lockstep with his four ultra-conservative Catholic brethren but wrote the Greece ruling.
“Once again, the lopsided conservative majority has proudly announced that it is on the wrong side of history,” commented FFRF Co-President Dan Barker, quipping about Kennedy: “It don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing.”
The one silver lining in Kennedy’s decision was this reference: “The town at no point excluded or denied an opportunity to a would-be prayer giver. Its leaders maintained that a minister or layperson of any persuasion, including an atheist, could give the invocation.”
“Freethinkers: It’s time to crash the party, to ask for equal time to give our own atheist homilies and freethought invocations at local board meetings,” said Annie Laurie Gaylor, who, with Anne Nicol Gaylor, cofounded FFRF in the late 1970s to successfully protest prayers at their local governmental meetings.
Already, a member of FFRF in Greece has received permission to give an atheist homily before the city meeting in July.
Government prayer remains one of the most common complaints FFRF receives from its members and members of the public.
Gaylor noted that despite the approval of sectarian governmental prayer by five Supreme Court justices, government bodies are not required to open with prayer. “We’d like to see secular citizens flood government meetings with secular invocations that illustrate why government prayers are unnecessary, ineffective, divisive, embarrassing and exclusionary of the 20-30 percent of the U.S. population today that identifies as nonreligious, as well as of other non-Christians,” Gaylor said.
FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel, who suggested the award, notes that many of our nation’s most influential founders opposed governmental exercises of religion, including revolutionary Thomas Paine, Thomas Jefferson, who refused in his two terms to issue days of prayer, and James Madison, fourth president and primary architect of the Constitution and Bill of Rights.
Secular invocations for the contest could be sincere and eloquent, such as state Rep. Juan Mendez’s invocation before the Arizona House last year, for which he won FFRF’s Emperor Has No Clothes Award. You may wish to “invoke”secular “founding fathers,” your own life philosophy or take a more facetious route (think Flying Spaghetti Monster). The goal is to represent the nonreligious point of view and show that government bodies have no need of a prayer to imagined gods, or religion or superstition, to govern. The answers won’t come from above and government needs to be guided by reason.
“Government officials need to get off their knees and get to work,” said Barker, adding, “Be a Paine in the government’s Mass.”
FFRF plans to make the contest an annual event until the Greece decision is overturned. All eligible secular invokers will receive a certificate suitable for framing, and FFRF will post the invocation on its website.
Read full contest rules at:
For “inspiration,” download a free copy of Barker’s songs “Get Off Your Knees and Get to Work” (from FFRF CD, “Adrift on a Star”) and “Nothing Fails Like Prayer” (from FFRF CD, “Beware of Dogma”) at FFRF’s website (select CD, then scroll play list to find free downloads): ffrf.org/shop/music/.
Read various early May FFRF blogs about the ruling, at ffrf.org/news/blog/.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation has ended all prayer before the city council in Pismo Beach, Calif., with a settlement reached April 15. That victory has become all the sweeter following the Supreme Court’s unfortunate May 5 decision “blessing” sectarian governmental prayer. (See related story, this page.)
FFRF’s victory will hold, since the lawsuit was brought in state court and did not invoke federal law.
Following the filing of the lawsuit, the Pismo Beach City Council, which had dug in its heels after locals complained about its prayer practice, surprised observers by totally capitulating to FFRF requests. The council voted to stop all prayers at official meetings and to abolish a city chaplain position that had anointed a Pentecostal preacher to intone long sermons to begin meetings.
FFRF and Dr. Sari Dworkin, a Pismo Beach resident and FFRF member, sued the city Nov. 1, 2013, in Superior Court in San Luis Obispo, alleging the official prayers and chaplaincy violated the California Constitution.
Before each council meeting, city Chaplain Paul Jones or one of his religious substitutes delivered a Christian prayer. Prayers often included egregious factual mistakes, including manufactured theocratic quotes attributed to America’s founders. Jones’ prayers pressured citizens to live a Christian or biblical lifestyle, to vote for “righteous” leaders and make decisions that “honor” his god.
The city agreed to pay the plaintiffs nominal damages and attorney fees totaling about $47,500 and to end the practice of praying at meetings and abolish the chaplain position. The settlement carries the force of law and will be accompanied by a court order.
“This is a significant victory that FFRF intends to build on,” said FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor.
Pismo Beach established an official city chaplaincy in 2005 and appointed Jones to the post. He’s affiliated with the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel, which emphasizes “speaking in tongues.”
Jones delivered 112 of the 126 prayers scheduled by the council between Jan. 1, 2008, and Oct. 15, 2013. All but one of the 126 prayers was addressed to the Christian god.
FFRF warmly thanks local plaintiff Sari Dworkin, litigation attorney Pamela Koslyn and FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel, who built the solid case. Seidel transcribed many of the prayers and joked that such work was “cruel and inhumane” for an atheist attorney. Atheists United of San Luis Obispo and its members helped initiate the lawsuit.
FFRF will receive $27,000 for Seidel’s services and plans to recycle the fees to go after other California governmental prayer.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation's talented graphic design intern, Sam Erickson, a student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, has designed a number of images for FFRF members to utilize in protesting the Supreme Court's Hobby Lobby ruling. Some of them are already up on FFRF's Facebook page and Twitter account.
Sam is also president of UW-Madison's Atheists, Humanists & Agnostics campus group.
Please feel free to use the images in educating about the harm of the court's decision. FFRF has taken the lead in calling for the repeal of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), the basis for the ruling that puts the religious beliefs of corporate employers over the conscience and rights of women workers to choose their own forms of birth control.
Click image to open high resolution PDF
A full-page ad in The New York Times protesting the Supreme Court's Hobby Lobby ruling June 30 is being sponsored by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, a national state/church watchdog representing over 20,000 nonbelieving members. It's expected to run in the front news section Thursday, July 3.
Featuring an arresting portrait of birth control pioneer Margaret Sanger, whose motto was "No Gods — No Masters," the ad criticizes the "all-male, all-Roman Catholic majority" on the Supreme Court for putting "religious wrongs over women's rights."
FFRF had previously submitted a friend of the court brief written by noted First Amendment scholar Marci Hamilton, urging the Supreme Court to declare the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) unconstitutional. Christian entrepreneurs running large chains challenged the contraceptive mandate of the Affordable Care Act, contending their corporate "religious rights" were violated under RFRA if their women employees chose forms of contraception the company owners disapproved of because of their religion.
"Allowing employers to decide what kind of birth control an employee can use is not, as the Supreme Court ruled, an 'exercise of religion.' It is an exercise of tyranny. Employers should have no right to impose their religious beliefs upon workers," reads the ad.
"Dogma should not trump our civil liberties."
FFRF has taken the lead in calling for the repeal of RFRA.
"None of our civil rights, established after decades and decades of struggle and education, will be safe until RFRA is overturned," commented Annie Laurie Gaylor, FFRF co-president. She called the Supreme Court decision "outrageous and untenable."
View the ad here.
"By enacting RFRA, Congress went far beyond what this Court has held is constitutionally required." — Justice Samuel Alito
It was all over by page 2 of the Supreme Court's decision yesterday favoring the fundamentalist Christian owner of Hobby Lobby Stores and the Mennonite owner of Conestoga Wood Specialties.
Justice Samuel Alito, joined by his ultra-conservative, Roman Catholic brethren, actually wrote these jaw-dropping words:
"[W]e must decide whether the challenged HHS regulations substantially burden the exercise of religion, and we hold that they do. The owners of the businesses have religious objections to abortion, and according to their religious beliefs the four contraceptive methods at issue are abortifacients. If the owners comply with the HHS mandate, they believe they will be facilitating abortions."
These fanatical businessmen believe some forms of the birth control pill and IUD are abortifacients (substances inducing miscarriage), despite the science, the reality, the amicus brief of the College of Obstetrics and Gynecology and 21 other medical professional groups thoroughly debunking this misrepresentation.
Steeped in Catholic disapproval of contraception, much less abortion, Alito and his four brethren probably also prefer to make believe that an IUD is an abortifacient. But even if Alito didn't agree with the plaintiffs, he ruled that what matters is not reality, but whether a religious person "believes" even in the face of reality that a fiction is a fact.
The decision was decided on the basis of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, passed in 1993, which held that the federal government is prohibited from taking any substantial action that "substantially burdens the exercise of religion," unless it's the least restrictive means of serving a "compelling government interest." RFRA actually refers to "persons" in the law, but under the Citizens United line of "reasoning," for-profit corporations are now people, and seemingly have religious feelings to offend.
Alito warns that if the corporations flouted the Affordable Care Act's contraceptive mandate, they could "pay a very heavy price, as much as $1.3 million per day, or about $475 million per year, in the case of one of the companies. If these consequences do not amount to a substantial burden, it is hard to see what would," he adds.
Yet he gives no truck to the fact that, for instance, Hobby Lobby did not seek a "grandfather clause" for its health care coverage, as was its right as a company that was offering coverage prior to the AFA. Clearly, they blew it, but Alito won't admit this.
He also gives short shrift to the argument of his "sisters" on the Supreme Court — Ginsburg, Kagan and Sotomayor — who pointed out during oral arguments that if the companies didn't want to comply with the law, they could forgo providing health care benefits and instead pay the appropriate tax (erroneously referred to by the companies' attorneys as a "penalty").
Alito even admits in his decision that perhaps this would cost the companies less money than providing health care. But he claims that Health and Human Services didn't mention this in its briefings, so the court's not allowed to take that into account.
Most damning, Alito admits: "As we have seen, RFRA was designed to provide very broad protection for religious liberty. By enacting RFRA, Congress went far beyond what this Court has held is constitutionally required."
Even Alito admits RFRA goes "far beyond" what is required. The Freedom From Religion Foundation so far is the only group actively sounding the alarm about RFRA. Our brief, written by distinguished attorney Marci Hamilton, was the only amicus brief submitted before the high court stating the obvious: that Hobby Lobby is relying on a statute enacted by Congress that' unconstitutional.
While clearly this Supreme Court isn't going to overturn RFRA, Alito's own words should give Congress impetus to repeal a law that is being used to deny true religious liberty in the name of phony religious liberty. Excessive "liberty" is otherwise known as "license" — or religious privilege.
Lost in the meaningless verbiage of Alito's ruling is the decision's human toll. He and his Catholic cohorts may care about ova, but the rest of us care about real women. We thought the battle to access at least contraception was largely won by the late 1960s (even though many teenagers, and women in rural counties served only by Catholic hospitals and clinics, are still fighting for this right). But fundamentalists and conservative Catholics are working in concert now, not only seeking to overturn Roe v. Wade (1973), but apparently Griswold v. Connecticut (1965).
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg's dissent gets real. "It bears note in this regard that the cost of an IUD is nearly equivalent to a month's full-time pay for workers earning the minimum wage."
When women cannot control if and when they become pregnant, how many pregnancies they carry, they can ultimately control very little about their lives. It's no coincidence that women reentered the workforce in huge numbers during the second wave of the feminist movement after the birth control pill had been introduced and Comstockian laws declaring contraceptives to be "indecent articles" were overturned, leading to routine access to contraception as part of good medicine.
The backlash against contraceptive access is part of the same old song and dance led by patriarchal religions worldwide: kinder, kirche, küche. Keep women barefoot and pregnant. Control the means of reproduction and you control women, as Gloria Steinem has oft stated.
The high court has ruled that contraception — the right to plan families and avert unwanted pregnancies — is not necessary for women's health. One in four U.S. women died due to pregnancy or childbirth in the 19th century. It is a lie for the Supreme Court to aver that birth control is not preventive medicine. The court is practicing reckless medicine without a license.
We cannot let a male, Catholic, ultra-conservative majority on the court turn the clock back a century. Join FFRF in working now for the most practical remedy for this pernicious decision — the repeal by Congress of RFRA.
None of our civil and human rights, established after decades and decades of struggle and education, will be safe from the reach of religious bigots until RFRA is overturned.
Photo: Christopher Johnson, "A Better Life: 100 Atheists"
Today, in a heated 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court held that for-profit corporations can exercise their so-called religious conscience in order to restrict employees' access to contraceptives. The ruling in Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc., absurdly holds that the contraceptive coverage granted by the Affordable Care Act creates a "significant burden" on a corporation's free exercise of religion.
How could this be? This Alice in Wonderland ruling is based not on the Constitution, but on the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), a statute. This statute was adopted by Congress and must be repealed by Congress.
The main justification for this decision is the Supreme Court's holding that RFRA protects Hobby Lobby from the generally applicable rules of the Affordable Care Act.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation's amicus brief by noted state-church attorney Marci A. Hamilton (joined by groups advocating for the rights of victims of religious abuse), was the only brief before the Supreme Court that argued that RFRA is unconstitutional. Our important brief points out that RFRA "accords religious believers extreme religious liberty rights that yield a political and fiscal windfall in violation of the clearest commands of the Establishment Clause."
A public outcry is in order. FFRF needs your help to tell Congress that RFRA is a bad law that must be repealed.
Today's decision is both dangerous and unprecedented. During oral arguments, counsel for the government, Solicitor General Donald Verrilli, noted that a decision in favor of Hobby Lobby would be "the first time under the Free Exercise Clause or under RFRA in which [the Supreme Court] or any court has held that an employer . . . may be granted an exemption that extinguishes statutorily guaranteed benefits of fundamental importance."
Today's ruling ignored the rights and needs of thousands of female Hobby Lobby employees, and millions of women nationwide who work at for-profit corporations. Women workers must not be at the mercy of employers who happen to be religious fanatics who want to intrude into private reproductive decisions that are none of their business. Rather than protecting women workers' right to health care and women's freedom of conscience, the Court has turned its back on them in the name of "religious liberty." This is untenable.
This damaging decision opens the floodgates for corporations, interested only in increasing their bottom line, to claim religious objections to a variety of generally applicable laws. The Court arbitrarily claims its decision would not necessarily allow a corporation to claim a similar religious objection to blood transfusions, vaccines, or mental health services, or create a religious right to discriminate on the basis of sex, sexual orientation or race. But very obviously, the ruling creates mischievous precedent that will haunt the next generation of litigation.
Please immediately call, email and write:
Demand that your representatives in Congress uphold women's rights over religious wrongs, and restore some semblance of fairness to our corporate system, by repealing RFRA now.
Use your own words if possible, or cut and paste any of the wording below. Always identify yourself as a constituent. (Also see FFRF's statement on the Hobby Lobby ruling for more arguments.)
I am writing as your constituent to urge you to take action in the wake of the Supreme Court's unprecedented decision in Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. Please take action to repeal the misguided Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which has been used to decide that a corporation trumps the civil and reproductive rights of women workers to choose their own form of contraception.
I'm dismayed and frightened by the implications of this decision, which puts the personal religious views of corporate executives above the rights of tens of thousands of employees. Corporations are not people and a corporation cannot practice religion. Yet the Supreme Court has ruled that the access to contraceptive coverage granted by the Affordable Care Act creates a significant burden on a corporation's free exercise of religion. The decision is completely divorced from reality!
The main justification for this outlandish decision is the Supreme Court's holding that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) protects Hobby Lobby from the generally applicable rules of the Affordable Care Act. Regardless of Congress's original intent, RFRA has become an untenable law. It carves out vast exceptions to neutral laws that only certain religious sects can claim. In the corporate context, this provides an unfair competitive advantage to any corporation willing to claim that it has a religious objection to a regulation.
Employers should not have a right to deny fundamental rights to employees in the name of "religious liberty." Please introduce or sign onto a bill to repeal RFRA immediately.
Today marks a turning point in the struggle to uphold the First Amendment to our Constitution. FFRF needs your help more than ever. This is a call to you, and to ask you to reach out to those you know. Please forward this email and encourage others to join us.