Outreach & Events
Cheers Newdow Wins Two Requests Justice Antonin Scalia shocked legal observers in mid-October by complying with plaintiff Michael Newdow's request to recuse himself from hearing the challenge of "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance. Newdow had filed a motion suggesting that Scalia needed to recuse himself, because of Scalia's remarks on the lawsuit to the Knights of Columbus earlier this year. The Catholic group campaigned in 1954 to add the words "under God" to the pledge. A 4-4 deadlock would affirm the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeal's ban on the religious reference in nine states. In December, Newdow won a second rarely-granted request: the right to argue the case himself before the US Supreme Court. Newdow, who has a law degree, has represented himself throughout the lawsuit, but works as an emergency room physician. Sandra Banning, the mother of Newdow's 9-year-old daughter, opposes his lawsuit. She is being represented in the Supreme Court by former solicitor general and Whitewater counsel Kenneth Starr. Court Nixes Colorado Vouchers Colorado's new law forcing 11 school districts to offer vouchers to subsidize religious and private-school education was found unconstitutional on Dec. 3 by a Denver judge. District Judge Joseph Meyer III ruled that the law violated the state constitution--not by violating state/church separation, but by stripping local school boards of local control over education. Moore, Georgia Decalog Removed Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore was removed from office on Nov. 13 by the state Court of the Judiciary half-way through his 6-year term for refusing to obey a federal court order. Moore had refused to comply with an order to remove a Ten Commandments monument from the rotunda of the state courthouse. Presiding Judge William Thompson said the 9-member court had no choice in its decision: "The chief justice placed himself above the law." A federal judge in November ordered Haberham County, Ga., to remove displays of the Ten Commandments from the county courthouse and swimming pool. US Dist. Judge William O'Kelley in Gainesville, Ga., ruled that the display had an "unambiguous religious purpose." Italian Crucifix Downed "The presence of the symbol of the cross shows the will of the state to put Catholicism at the center of the universe as the absolute truth," Judge Mario Montanaro ruled in a case in L'Aquila, Italy, decided in late October. A Scots immigrant Adel Smith, who converted to Islam in 1987, sued over the classroom crucifix on behalf of the Union of the Muslims of Italy. States Eschew Faith Funding Less than half of the states have followed the federal government's push to fund religious groups, according to a study released in November by the Rockefeller Institute of Government at the State University of New York. Only 15 states have administrative initiatives to promote funding. Only eight states have passed legislation to incorporate so-called "charitable choice" language into state law. New Zealand Secularism Progressive New Zealand Member of Parliament Matt Robson has proposed replacing a parliamentary prayer with a statement reflecting the secular status of the House, and the "diverse and multicultural" nature of New Zealand. The prayer, a paragraph litany ending "through Jesus Christ our Lord," was adopted in 1854. Even then it was controversial, Robson maintains, because a third of MPs opposed it. Robson describes himself as a "rationalist and humanitarian." Religion Going Postal A Jewish Veteran and the Connecticut Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit in October suing the US Postal Service for permitting a church-run post office to distribute Christian materials along with stamps. The Full Gospel Interdenominational Church operates the main post office in downtown Manchester, Conn. Women Sue Polygamists Mary Ann Kingston, 22, who was forced to become the 15th wife of her uncle at age 16, has filed a civil lawsuit seeking more than $110 million from her family and the 242-member Kingston polygamy clan near Salt Lake City. Kingston's father, who beat her unconscious when she tried to leave the marriage, and her husband were both convicted of crimes. Arizona Sen. Linda Binder, whose district includes the polygamous Colorado City, endorsed civil lawsuits as a way to seek justice. "You have to cut off the head of the snake," she recently told the Arizona Republic. "And that's the money. There are estimates that the [fundamentalist] church has $400 million. I'd love to see the victims get that money to educate and relocate the women and children, give them a fresh start in life. The men up there are fat and happy, smiling. They've got all the women they want, all the sex, and the government pays for their children." A group of former wives from Colorado City and the sister community in Bountiful, Canada, are preparing class-action lawsuits against the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Jeers Towey Disses Pagans Jim Towey, director of the White House Office of Faith-based and Community Initiatives, dissed pagans during a White House-sponsored online chat Nov. 26. When asked if pagan groups should receive the same consideration as any other religious group applying for government funds, Roman Catholic Towey replied: "I haven't run into a pagan faith-based group yet, much less a pagan group that cares for the poor! Once you make it clear to any applicant that public money must go to public purposes and can't be used to promote ideology, the fringe groups lose interest. Helping the poor is tough work, and only those with loving hearts seem drawn to it." Faith-based Funding Flood The Commercial Appeal reported on Dec. 6 that the US government awarded a total of $163.5 million in faith-based grants in 2002, and $191.5 million in 2003. Christ Community Health Services of Tennessee recently received a 3-year public grant of nearly $2 million. Co-founder Dr. David Pepperman told a newspaper: "I do this because it's what I feel called by God to do. Here, we're able to take a medical situation and turn it into a spiritual opportunity." The Boston Globe reported (Dec. 5, 2003) that the federal Compassion Capital Fund has distributed about $75 million since 2001 to faith-based charities, and that the president is budgeting $100 million for fiscal year 2004. White House faith czar Jim Towey says new regulations are making ministries eligible for $65 in additional government contracts. Through administrative fiat, Bush has broadened the "charitable choice" provision of the 1996 welfare law to apply to billion-dollar social service programs at four federal departments. Religious groups are mainly exempted under Bush's decree from federal laws forbidding discrimination in hiring. Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy G. Thompson announced in December a website offering "one-stop shopping for information on applying for all federal grants": "NewGrants.gov." The Boston Globe reported on Dec. 1 that so far, 27 "social ministries and 22 community groups" in the Boston area have received close to $1.6 million in shared public assistance. The Black Ministerial Alliance of Greater Boston also just received a grant of $2 million to "build up the capacity of the church and community groups serving at-risk youth." BMA and its partners, the Emmanuel Gospel Center and the Boston Ten Point Coalition, also will direct where $4 million in federal funds through the United Way of Massachusetts Bay goes, in individual grants averaging $30,000. The Bush Administration presses on with Jim Towey's slip-of-the-lip promise to "level the praying field," planning its ninth White House-sponsored regional conference in Tampa in January. Religious and community participants are offered free lunches, encouragement and hand-holding advice on applying for federal funding for religious social services. About two-thirds of participants at the recent conference in Memphis were African-American, leading to speculation that Bush, who received only 8% of the black vote in 2000, is actively courting it. Faith-based Swimming Pools? Free Will Family Ministries, Tenn., is expecting to receive a $600,000 windfall from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, thanks to Bush's faith-based initiative. Floods in 2001 damaged the childcare facility's campus, destroyed buildings at the Oaks Conference Center and Camps, and damaged an administration building. The church is planning a new "activities building" with a basketball court and climbing wall, a new 25-by-50-foot swimming pool and water slide, and eight new lodge rooms, reconstruction of two bridges, a new computer "mother board," and the addition of a wall and fireplace to the "large log tabernacle used for assemblies," reports the Greeneville Sun. House Passes DC Vouchers The US House of Representatives on Dec. 8 passed a bill creating a $14 million-a-year program for public-funded vouchers for DC children to attend religious and private schools. On a 242-176 vote, the House approved a $328 billion spending bill that includes private school tuition for at least 1,700 low-income DC students. The Senate is expected to act on the bill next year. Also passed in the mammoth bill was $400,000 for abstinence education, and $250,000 for the "Best Friends Foundation," an abstinence group founded by William J. Bennett's wife, Elayne G. Bennett. Ten Commandments Approved The 5th US Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the presence of a Ten Commandments marker on the capitol grounds in Austin, Texas, is constitutional. In a mid-November decision, a 3-judge panel ruled against Thomas Van Orden, a homeless man who sued to remove the 6-foot-tall red granite monument donated to the state by the Fraternal Order of Eagles in 1961. Darwin Day Underway Planning is underway for Darwin Day, an international celebration of the life, work and influence of Charles Darwin on the anniversary of his birth, Feb. 12. Check out http://www.darwinday.org/ for more information on Darwin Day programs, as well as many activity suggestions and resources. Ed Schempp, 1908-2003 Supreme Court state/church victor Ed Schempp, 95, died in New Hampshire on Nov. 8, "surrounded by the beauty of nature," writes his son Ellery. The father/son pair launched the landmark lawsuit, Schempp v. Board of Education, ridding public schools of devotional bible readings. In 1956, Ellery protested the mandatory bible reading by reading from the Koran. After he was reprimanded, his father filed suit. Ellery was dropped from the suit after he graduated from high school. Madalyn Murray's later, similar case out of Maryland was joined with the Schempp case before the Supreme Court, with the high court reserving the bulk of its opinion for the Schempp case. The Supreme Court issued an 8-1 ruling on June 17, 1963, barring mandatory bible reading in public schools, which followed its 1962 decision barring prayer. "In the relationship between man and religion, the state is firmly committed to the position of neutrality," Justice Clark wrote Schempp. Ed was a longtime member and honorary officer of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, and was featured in the FFRF film, "Champions of the First Amendment." A native Philadelphian, Ed took over his father's hardware business as a young man, and later worked in electronics. He was active in Unitarianism and peace groups. Ed Schempp is survived not only by the enduring legacy of his major court victory, but by his wife of 69 years, Sidney, and their children Ellery, Roger and Donna. Nothing Fails Like Prayer A 3-year study by cardiologists at Duke University Medical Center in North Carolina disclosed that heart patients who were not prayed for recovered from surgery at the same rate as those who were prayed for by strangers. The study, the largest scientific experiment on prayer and released by Duke in mid-October, received scant US attention, but was widely reported by British press. For three years, 750 patients awaiting angioplasty were recruited for the experiment. Patients were randomly selected by a computer whether to be the subject of intercessory prayer by 12 prayer groups. Hospital staff, patients and relatives did not know who was being prayed for. Prayer groups included nuns in a Carmelite convent in Baltimore, Christian moms, Sufi Muslims, Buddhist monks in Nepal, British doctors and medical students in Manchester. Subjects were even prayed for via email appeals to Jerusalem placed at the Wailing Wall. An analysis found no significant differences in the recovery and health of patients.