Late in March, I drove up Miami Avenue, a heavily traveled street that connects a residential area with downtown Venice, Fla., and was startled to see 15 ugly 2x3 foot red-white-and-blue signs on a grassy strip directly adjacent to the curb. The strip, part of the city right-of-way, was in front of the First Baptist Church of Venice. The signs proclaimed "Proud to Be an American," "Pray for Our Troops," "God Bless America," "Pray for Our President," and last but not least, "Jesus the Supreme Commander."
During the ten years since I retired after 30 years as a trial lawyer, constantly knocking heads with judges and other lawyers, occasionally using spare time to cross swords with the religious majority (e.g., suing the city to stop its annual city hall Christmas pageant, harassing the local Catholic Bishop with my bullhorn when he tried to conduct an outdoor mass at an abortion clinic), I have mellowed somewhat, learning to enjoy the peace and quiet of retired life. So I tried to ignore the signs for a week. I rationalized that if only the church had planted its tasteless signs across the narrow sidewalk on its own property, the aesthetic nuisance would be almost as bad though not unconstitutional. But Miami Avenue was a convenient route to local businesses, and after being increasingly annoyed by the signs for a week I decided to take some action.
On March 31, I went to City Hall and checked with the zoning department, where I was informed that a permit issued by the city manager was required before placing signs on a right-of-way. The applicable ordinance, which exempted yard sale and political signs, required that an application be submitted at least ten days before the signs went up, and that a $25 application fee was payable unless waived by city council for a nonprofit organization.
I went directly to the office of City Manager George Hunt, who is well known to be a very religious Catholic, and asked to see the Baptist Church permit. His secretary produced a handwritten application for a permit that had been faxed to City Hall by the Baptist preacher. Hunt had marked it "OK," entering the date (3/26) and his initials, immediately faxing it back to the preacher as a permit.
"What about the ten-day waiting period?" I asked.
"I didn't think it was necessary," said Hunt.
"Let me see a receipt for the fee."
"I waived it," he replied.
I went home and typed a letter to Hunt advising that the permit was invalid and demanding that the signs be immediately removed from the right-of-way. I also pointed out that all of the signs except "Proud to Be an American" violated the state and federal constitutions by displaying religious slogans on city property. I also prepared and delivered a letter applying for a permit for signs stating "Religion Is Superstition," "Prayer Is a Waste of Time," and "There Is No God," to be placed on Miami Avenue. I enclosed a check for $25. The not-so-funny fun began.
Interviewed by a reporter on the afternoon of April 1, appropriately enough, Hunt glibly and quite falsely stated (let's make that clear--it was a black lie) that he had considered the signs to be political and thus exempt from the permit requirement.
"We didn't issue them a permit," said Hunt. "'We granted them permission for them to display the signs because we saw them as political."
Yeah? Well if the signs were political his permission wasn't needed, and better yet, why did he show me the dated, initialed sketch when I asked to see a permit?
Answering my demand for removal of the signs on April 3, Hunt built a bigger if not more plausible lie, advising that when I was in his office on March 31 he had forgotten that on March 26 he had decided the signs were political and exempt. But give George credit for lying impartially. He returned my check, saying that he considered my signs to be political as well. It seems that for many Christians, what passes for logic can be every bit as irrational as religious beliefs. And apparently the primary purpose of the Ten Commandments, including the one dealing with bearing false witness, is to decorate court houses and public schools, and not to provide ground rules for life. I sent the check back to him.
I attended the next city council meeting on April 8, and read a brief statement accusing Hunt of illegally issuing the permit to the Baptists and then lying about it, and asked Council to revoke the permit.
Operating with the divine guidance solicited by the clerk, who serves as chaplain and opens each meeting with a prayer, council members gave me blank looks. They did nothing. They didn't discuss the matter with Hunt, or ask him any questions, or ask the advice of the city attorney, who is afraid of his shadow and speaks only when spoken to. I could have stayed outside and addressed my comments to a lamp post.
By this time Hunt had decided my signs were not political after all, and issued a permit just as he had for the church, dating and initialing my letter application. The letter specified that my signs would be on Miami Avenue, and he did not strike that, but he did put "on site" next to his initials which he may have meant to limit my signs to the right-of-way in front my house on a quiet residential street.
I chose to ignore that ambiguous and improper attempt to limit my rights, and on Sunday morning I planted my signs in front of the First Baptist Church. They were promptly uprooted. Having now had my Irish stirred up, I planned my revenge for Easter Sunday. The Baptists habitually conduct a sunrise service in a public park at the Venice Jetties, a pass from the bay to the Gulf, while another group prays at the City beach parking lot. I had never interfered with these flagrant church-state violations, probably mostly because they took place at 6 AM and I'm getting lazy in my old age. But annoyed as I was, I got up at 5 AM on Easter, went down to the airport and cranked up my Cessna, and, perfectly within the law, flew up and down the beach at an altitude of 500 feet, barely offshore, almost directly over the Jesus-praising early-risers, wasting some gas by pushing in the throttle and jacking up the RPMs to make a little extra noise.
Then I went home, put a sign with big block letters--"THERE IS NO GOD"--in the side window of my car and parked it with the doors locked alongside the curb directly across from the front door of the Baptist Church. I am happy to say that the Baptists were well-behaved, not keying my VW Beetle, but they did leave it covered with religious tracts and prayer notes.
The church permit had been good for three weeks, expiring at midnight on April 16. The signs were still there the next morning. But by that time, City Hall and the Baptists had had their fill of me, and when I complained to the code enforcement officer, the signs were off the right-of-way in a few hours, though a few of them, including "Jesus the Supreme Commander," were set up across the sidewalk on church property.
The low-class tent revival creationist variety of Baptists have taken over the Southern Baptist Convention since I was brought up in the First Baptist Church of Gainesville, Ga., where we managed to get through Pearl Harbor and 31Ú2 years of global war without defacing church property with garish, tasteless signs.
Charles Cheves, a retired attorney, has been a member of the Freedom From Religion Foundation since 1984.
Our country is based on the idea of liberty and equality. Yet every day millions of American students declare the foundation of our country to be something else entirely: a single God. Although "God" may be considered in many different ways, it is undeniable that the phrase "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance is biased toward a particular religion. This phrase transforms the Pledge of Allegiance into a contradiction against itself. A nation cannot simultaneously be "under God" and provide "liberty and justice for all." Belief in a certain God should not be a prerequisite for liberty and justice in this country. Religion-specific ideas are not a part of our national government, and they should not be a part of our pledge to it.
The Pledge of Allegiance was not always such a contradictory statement. Until 1954, it was merely a declaration of belief in the founding values of our country. As such, the pledge was a tribute to the ideas of the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, the Gettysburg Address, and other American documents, rather than just to a piece of colored cloth.
Then the Knights of Columbus helped spread the addition of "under God," until it was finally adopted nationally. President Eisenhower explained his support of the addition by saying, "In this way we are affirming the transcendence of religious faith in America's heritage and future." But religious faith has never been the predominant characteristic of America; in fact, many of the first American colonists attempted to escape the requirements of their religions. By including God, the pledge now supports the beliefs of only one part of the American populace. In a country dedicated to the ideal of freedom, including that of religion, God has no place in a nationwide declaration of patriotism.
The addition of "under God" to the pledge has not gone uncontested. In June of 2002, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the Pledge of Allegiance was unconstitutional because of those two words. According to the court, the inclusion of God violates the First Amendment's Establishment Clause because it implies that the national government endorses Christianity.
As Judge Alfred T. Goodwin wrote, "A profession that we are a nation 'under God' is identical, for Establishment Clause purposes, to a profession that we are a nation 'under Jesus,' a nation 'under Vishnu,' a nation 'under Zeus,' or a nation 'under no god,' because none of these professions can be neutral with respect to religion." This is exactly the problem with the Pledge of Allegiance as it exists today. It is impossible to allow for freedom of religion when students across the country declare the nation the realm of one particular God.
Many argue that the pledge is not a constitutional violation because it is not mandatory for all students to recite it. It may be voluntary, but schools still present the idea of "one nation under God" as their official position. Most students, rather than attempting to fight against the statement that God prevails in this country, simply recite the pledge because it is easier. Even if they do not actually say the pledge, students are often required to stay silent and stand while the rest of the class recites it. This forces even dissenting students to respect the school recitation of the pledge.
As the 9th District appeals court stated, "Although students cannot be forced to participate in recitation of the pledge, the school district is nonetheless conveying a message of state endorsement of a religious belief when it requires public school teachers to recite, and lead the recitation of, the current form of the pledge." The environment created by the schoolwide statement of the pledge results in an "unacceptable choice between participating and protesting" for the students, according to the appeals court. Despite the legal ability of students to remain silent, the Pledge of Allegiance in reality forces most American students to state the superiority of one religion.
All across the country, students repeat the Pledge of Allegiance day after day, many not even thinking about the words they say. Yet for the significant portion of students who do not believe in the Christian God, the pledge is a contradiction of everything America is supposed to signify. For the Hindi students, the Buddhist, the students of every conceivable religion or of no religion at all, the pledge is not simply a salute to a set of values and the flag that stands for them. It is an admission that their beliefs are not truly welcome in this country. It is a negation of the founding principles of America. It is a national endorsement of Christianity, which is precisely what the First Amendment forbids. It is a Pledge of Allegiance to a religion. The removal of the words "under God" from the pledge is necessary to make it truly a pledge of allegiance to a flag and to a country.
Gilene is a graduate of Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, Va. Her special interests are dance and music. She plays oboe, percussion and piano, and has been dancing since she was four with ballet her "main love." She will be attending Yale University.
On June 27, 2002, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals made what could be considered the most controversial ruling of a federal court since Brown vs. the Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas. In a 2-1 ruling, the court declared that the phrase "under God" amounted to a government endorsement of religion. In the months that followed, public outrage ruled the airwaves of radio and television. School children began to recite the pledge every morning, a practice abandoned long ago in many schools across the nation. Even the House chamber of the United States Congress was filled to capacity for the morning recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance, a ritual usually greeted by an empty chamber and gallery. Amidst all the outrage and protest, however, a very interesting question was raised. Could the court actually have been correct? A quick glance at the Constitution says the answer is "yes."
According to the First Amendment of the United States Constitution, "Congress shall pass no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free practice thereof." The Establishment Clause is clear in its intent. The government shall in no way promote or fund any religion, lest a theocracy overtake the nation. Yet on June 14, 1954, Congress passed a law that added "under God" to the Pledge of Allegiance. The passing of the bill was to be a slap in the face to the "godless" Soviet Union at the height of the Cold War. Yet at this crucial time in our history, America overlooked one of its founding principles. By adding the words "under God" to the Pledge of Allegiance, the United States Congress had effectively passed a law respecting all monotheistic religions. The Pledge of Allegiance, as it stands today, does not represent polytheists in our nation and totally neglects atheists and their beliefs. This encompasses literally millions of American citizens.
In the wake of the court's ruling, the nation rose up in protest. We watched as people across the nation slandered the Ninth Circuit Court. Editorials filled local papers, including the one in my hometown of Beaumont, Tex., urging the Congress to act. In a true testament to the failure of public education in this country, a high school student wrote an editorial in the Beaumont Enterprise bashing the court by saying, "How can the court rule this way when it is clearly not the will of the people?" She goes on to ask how this is an example of a true democracy. Had this student known anything of what makes this nation a "true democracy," she would have known that the United States has an independent judiciary that doesn't answer to the people, but to the Constitution and to the Constitution alone. Writing for the majority, Judge Alfred T. Goodwin explains this in the following excerpt.
". . . judges are by constitutional design insulated from the political pressures governing members of the other two branches of government. We are given life tenure and a secured salary so that, in our unique capacity to 'say what the law is,' Marbury v. Madison, 5 U.S. (1 Branch) 137, 177 (1803), we may decide constitutional issues without regard to popular vote, political consequence, or the prospect of future career advancement."
Political correctness has become the tragedy of our legislative and executive branches of government. Too many times our elected officials appeal to their constituents rather than to the demands of our Constitution.
This country has seen vast changes since the days of Madison and Jefferson. Despite their most valiant efforts, politics and popular opinion, no matter how unconstitutional, now reign over the nation as the most powerful authorities governing our lawmakers. Luckily, our court system is immune from this virus, which plagues the halls of Congress and the Oval Office. The independent court system is one that will not forget the idea that the government of the United States should be free from religion, a notion long forgotten by time.
Russ is a graduate of Hamshire-Fannett High School in Texas. He will attend the University of Texas at San Antonio. His special interests are government, politics and public policy. He plans to major in political science and communications and to attend law school.
Every Memorial Day in the elementary schools of my hometown all the students rise up in the auditorium and recite together the Pledge of Allegiance. Almost all the students, that is. There are some who stand silent as the words "I pledge allegiance to the flag. . ." echo through the auditorium. Most of those who stand mute are temporary residents, citizens of foreign nations who wish not to pledge allegiance to the United States. Others simply do not yet know the words to the pledge. When I was in elementary school, there was another group of dissenters, a group of just one member. This was a group of Americans, a group that knew the words, a group that was just as patriotic as anyone else in the room. And yet this group also did not speak, for this was a group of atheists.
Standing alone in this category, I was aware that the Pledge of Allegiance is an important sign of patriotism and is a longstanding tradition of the United States of America. The Constitution is also a document of patriotism, also a tradition to be upheld. Unfortunately, since the McCarthy era of the 1950s, these two traditions have been in conflict with one another. With the fear of communism at its peak in 1954, the Congress of the United States added the words "under God" to the pledge. This phrase does not belong in our Pledge of Allegiance.
Using the words "under God" in an attempt to protect the country from the "heathen Soviets," Congress undermined one of the most important values of American life, that of separation of church and state. The First Amendment to the United States Constitution states, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion." Certainly adding "under God" to the Pledge of Allegiance indicates a belief in the existence of such a being and, therefore, the phrase should not be supported by the government.
But the illegality of "under God" is hardly the only problem with it as a part of the Pledge of Allegiance. The pledge is something that children across America are required to recite in classrooms every day. The idea of a monotheistic God is thereby thrust upon all children, opposing the beliefs not only of atheists and agnostics, but also of children from families following polytheistic eastern religions. Why send children the message that they cannot be patriotic and believe in Krishna at the same time? A child's beliefs should not be based on what is said in the Pledge of Allegiance.
Not only do the words "under God" suggest the existence of a monotheistic god to children, and everyone else for that matter, they also suggest that the United States is an inherently religious nation. Nothing could be further from the truth. Although the vast majority of citizens of the United States are religious, one of the most important aspects of being an American is respecting and accepting all religious beliefs. As Americans we were horrified when we saw the women of Afghanistan forced to wear traditional Muslim clothing whenever they left the sanctuary of their homes. We cringed when we learned that the fundamentalist government did not allow television for religious reasons. We fail to realize, however, that every time the Pledge of Allegiance is said we are pressured into acknowledging a religious government.
There are those who argue that the words "under God" have some sort of traditional significance. To dispel that notion it is necessary only to look at the date when the phrase was added--1954. 1954!
Under God" is about as traditional as Burger King (founded that very same year, as a matter of fact). The founding fathers could do without "under God" just as easily as they could without onion rings. If anything, it is traditional to not include "under God" in the pledge. Besides, the tradition of separation between church and state is far more important than three syllables--just save us all some breath and take the phrase out!
So why not save the breath? Why not save the Bill of Rights? Why not save our freedoms? It is not right for a patriotic citizen of the United States of America to have to remain silent during the pledge or else risk sacrificing freedom of religion. It was a choice that I was forced to make each year in elementary school, as my patriotism and my atheism were played against each other in an unwelcome, and equally unnecessary, conflict. At every Memorial Day assembly I knew that I remained quiet not because I hated my country but, standing in the school auditorium hearing the chorus of voices recite the pledge in unison and feeling the quizzical eyes of others staring at me, the oddly silent American, I could never quite rid myself of the eerie feeling that because I was an atheist, my country hated me.
A graduate of Brookline High School, Mass., Kurti will attend Boston University in the fall. His interests include law, philosophy, computers and history. He plans to major in philosophy.
In 1892, Francis Bellamy wrote a flag salute for a quadricentennial Columbus Day celebration and called it the "Pledge of Allegiance." His intent was to crystallize the best and most basic ideals of the United States. Drawing from Webster's and Lincoln's speeches about the indivisibility of the nation and from Jefferson's Preface to the Declaration of Independence, he wrote: "I pledge allegiance to my Flag and to the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all." Bellamy concisely stated our country's guiding principles.
Over the years, two changes have been made to Bellamy's original pledge. In 1924, the words of the pledge were altered to read "the flag of the United States of America"--over Bellamy's objections.
In 1954, the phrase "under God" was added. Religion was enjoying a resurgence during the post-World War II era. The president at the time--Dwight D. Eisenhower--had only just joined a church in 1953. After the horrors of war, most Americans were ready for a more optimistic outlook on life. Television commercials proclaimed, "The family that prays together stays together"; ministers preached about God's forgiveness in lieu of the fire-and-brimstone sermons of the past; and religious radio and TV shows were becoming popular.
In addition, there was a widespread distrust of the communist U.S.S.R.--an atheistic society. President Eisenhower was promising to contain this new threat to the God-fearing and democracy-loving world. But this religious renaissance was not all-inclusive. While many shared Eisenhower's delight that ". . . millions of our school children will daily proclaim . . . the dedication of our Nation and our people to the Almighty," our country was too religiously diverse for everyone to have shared in the jubilation.
In 2002, Michael Newdow of California filed a case against the United States, Congress, California, and two school districts and their officials because he did not want his daughter being taught religion in school. A lower court threw his case out. The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of Newdow. Justice Goodwin, writing for the majority, stated that "to recite the pledge is not to describe the United States; instead it is to swear allegiance to the values for which the flag stands: unity, indivisibility, liberty, justice and--since 1954--monotheism."
But 24 hours later. the court put its decision on hold. The circuit court's ruling raised the hackles of state representatives, U.S. senators, and the president, who could not understand the offensive nature of "one nation, under God." As President Eisenhower said in 1954, "Recognition of the Supreme Being is the first, most basic expression of Americanism. Without God there could be no American form of government nor an American way of life." His contemporary, Rev. George M. Docherty, held that while the First Amendment separated church and state, that separation should not also be "a separation of religion and life."
The whole purpose of keeping our government secular, however, is to ensure religious freedom for all of our citizens. The inclusion of "under God" in our pledge validates only those people adhering to a monotheistic belief system. Even then, the term "God" may be deemed unsatisfactory by those who have a different moniker for their Supreme Being.
The Pledge of Allegiance represents a commitment to our country and not to a religious doctrine, vague as it may be. The theological aspect of the current pledge obscures its initial, essential purpose. Bellamy himself was a former Baptist minister and could easilyhave included a reference to God. The fact that he chose to focus solely on our nation as a secular entity reinforces the point that the pledge was not intended to have religious overtones. One of the most dearly held founding principles of our country was the separation of church and state. The pledge we make to our country's ideals should certainly honor that separation.
Our American form of government was called a "Great Experiment." Few people thought it would survive--even George Washington had his doubts. Yet here we are 227 years later, still striving to be Lincoln's nation "of the people, by the people, for the people." We have all disagreed with the actions of our leaders and fellow citizens at one time or another, but when we recite the pledge together we are united in a shared hope for our future. We are united by a love for our country and for the freedom it offers us all to live our lives as we choose in harmony with those around us. The belief in those qualities of liberty and freedom is what binds all U.S. citizens together. Liberty both defines and unites us--free speech, freedom of the press, freedom to peaceably assemble, freedom to petition the government, and freedom of religion. We have the freedom to worship as we see fit, praising one god, many gods, or no god at all. This freedom should be reflected in our pledge.
Before writing this essay I had never given much thought to the Pledge of Allegiance. After reading about its history and considering Bellamy's intentions, I realized how significant the pledge can be in reminding us of all the virtues this country struggles to embody. "I pledge allegiance to my Flag and to the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all."
Bellamy's words are both powerful and personal in their original, unadorned state. The United States of America is the most diverse country in the world and it seems fitting that such a simple statement so well expresses the one allegiance that is universal to us all: not fealty to any particular dogma, but devotion to the country we share.
Aubrey is a graduate of Conlara School, Ann Arbor, Mich. She is most passionate about acting, singing, and her family and friends. She enjoys dancing, reading, and "leaving long voice-mail messages." She will be attending Tisch School of the Arts at NYU this fall, where she will major in drama.
Following the U.S. Supreme Court's 6-3 decision decriminalizing sodomy, Christian Broadcasting Network's "700 Club" host Pat Robertson urged viewers to pray for the retirement of three justices. He said the ruling "has opened the door to homosexual marriage, bigamy, legalized prostitution and even incest."
"We ask for miracles in regard to the Supreme Court," he prayed over the air on July 14. "One justice is 83 years old, another has cancer and another has a heart condition. Would it not be possible to put it in the minds of these three judges that the time has come to retire?"
He apparently was referring to Justice John Paul Stevens, born in 1920, and possibly Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who had cancer surgery in 1999. Justice Sandra Day O'Connor has also had cancer. But the identity of the justice with a heart condition was unclear.
Robertson's "clarification," issued on July 17, insisted he was not singling out any particular Supreme Court justices:
"I don't care which three, I mean as long as the three conservatives stay on. There's six liberals, so it's up to the Lord. I'm not telling God what to do. I'm just saying, 'Lord, help us.' "
Robertson's 21-day "Operation Supreme Court Freedom" is eerily similar to a 1986 campaign. Robertson told a National Right to Life convention in June 1986 that antiabortionists could look forward to that "wonderful process of the mortality tables" to change the court composition.
That summer, Rev. R.L. Hymers, Jr., pastor of a large fundamentalist Baptist congregation in Los Angeles, urged his congregation to pray for the death of Justice William Brennan. (See Alma Cuebas' whimsical cartoon from that era, above.) He later prayed for the "repentance, death or retirement" of five justices who voted that a couple could withhold medical treatment in the "Baby Doe" case.
Pat Cleveland, director of the Alabama Freethought Association, a Foundation chapter, opened this year's "glorious fourth" Independence Day celebration.
The annual 4th of July bash at Lake Hypatia Freethought Advance, near Talladega, Ala., was the perfect spot to celebrate the appellate court ruling handed down earlier that week against Alabama Supreme Court Justice Roy Moore. The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Moore must remove the 5,200-pound Ten Commandments monument he had installed in the rotunda of the Alabama Supreme Court building by stealth.
A packed house of about 200 freethinkers, representing about half of the states in the nation, attended the 2-day event sponsored by the Alabama Freethought Association. Events were held in the Lake Hypatia Freethought Hall and the surrounding tranquil lakeside grounds, which the Cleveland family opens to participants and campers.
Above: the "antigodville vaudeville" team of Steve Benson and Dan Barker, following a standing ovation for their Lake Hypatia performance of "Tunes 'n Toons." Steve is a Pulitzer Prize-winning daily editorial cartoonist and Dan is "staff musician" of the Freedom From Religion Foundation. The one-of-a-kind show weaves topical editorial cartoons with musical parodies for a pointed look at religion and freethought in the news. The talented pair is at work on a revised show scheduled for the 26th annual FFRF convention in Washington, D.C., on Oct. 11. (See back page for details and registration form.)
A slate of speakers alternated with leisure and camping activities, a poetry reading led by Ilene Sparks, Ala., and a suspenseful freethought trivia quiz directed by Clark Adams, Nev. Michigan Foundation member Kristine Danowski took top honors for her impressive repertoire of freethought knowledge. Other presenters included Charleston Gazette editor-in-chief James Haught, W.V., speaking on the history of "Holy Horrors," author Kimberly Blaker, Mich., American Humanist Association president Mel Lipman, Nev., and Hemlock Society director Faye Girsh, Colo.
June and July were banner months for the advancement of gay rights in North America. In a sweeping 6-3 decision on June 26, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned sodomy laws banning consensual sex between same-sex adults.
"The petitioners are entitled to respect for their private lives," wrote Justice Anthony Kennedy. "The state cannot demean their existence or control their destiny by making their private sexual conduct a crime."
A fierce dissent by Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, and Chief Justice William Rehnquist, read from the bench by Scalia, called the decision evidence that the court "has taken sides in the culture war." Scalia, a conservative Roman Catholic, wrote that the court "has largely signed on to the so-called homosexual agenda."
Senate majority leader Sen. Bill Frist, R-TN, said after the decision he supports a proposed constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, the so-called "Defense of Marriage" act.
The U.S. victory followed a ruling by a British Columbia court that B.C. gays and lesbians have an immediate right to marry.
A landmark 3-judge panel in the province of Ontario ordered Parliament to broaden its definition of marriage to include gay men and women. Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien pledged in June to make gay and lesbian marriage the law of the land.
Courts in three provinces have now ruled that laws against gay marriages violate the country's Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Ontario and British Columbia have fully legalized gay marriage. Quebec has approved "civil unions."
A coalition of church groups, including Roman Catholic, evangelical Protestant and Muslim, announced in July they would try to challenge provincial court rulings to the Supreme Court. The Catholic Church has spearheaded the anti-gay crusade. The Vatican announced a worldwide campaign against gay marriage on July 28.
Canada has become the third nation in the world to sanction gay and lesbian marriage, joining the Netherlands and Belgium.
Cat & Mouse at Grand Canyon
Three bronze plaques inscribed with biblical passages at scenic overlooks in the Grand Canyon were removed, then reinstalled by the National Park Service in July.
The bible plaques were returned to the Hermit's Rest, Lookout Studio and Desert View scenic overlooks at the South Rim, pending "review." The ACLU raised concerns in February over the constitutionality of the plaques, placed 33 years ago by the Evangelical Sisterhood of Mary. Each cites a verse from the Book of Psalms. The group's founder said they were fashioned to "honor God" for making the Grand Canyon.
The U.S. Interior Department, which initially announced that the plaques were inappropriate, would not comment on why they were reinstalled.
Bush "Faith-based" Plan
A contingent of congressional Democrats and leaders in the Congressional Black Caucus denounced President Bush's "faith-based initiatives" as discriminatory.
Bush touted the scheme to African-American urban leaders on July 16: "We ought not to fear faith," Bush told 100 inner-city pastors in Washington, D.C. "I believe freedom is God's gift to every individual."
Black leaders held a press conference objecting to a Republican bill to allow pervasively religious preschool programs to receive federal Head Start funding while maintaining the right to discriminate in employment.
The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force condemned Bush's faith-based plan in June, for permitting public-funded service providers to discriminate in hiring on the basis of sexual orientation.
God Talks to Bush?
According to Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas, who met with President George Bush in late June during ceasefire negotiations, Bush told him:
"God told me to strike at al Qaida and I struck them, and then he instructed me to strike at Saddam, which I did, and now I am determined to solve the problem in the Middle East. If you help me I will act, and if not, the elections will come and I will have to focus on them." Source: Ha'aretz (Israeli periodical), June 24, 2003
Faith-Based Drug Czar
National Drug Control Policy director John Walters in July announced a national drive to enlist faith-based youth groups in anti-drug programs.
The "drug czar" kicked off the campaign with a visit on July 12 to Tulsa, Okla., where he met with Christian and Muslim representatives. Jewish leaders, unable to attend because of the Sabbath, endorsed the program in writing, according to Associated Press.
The agency published a brochure, "Pathways to Prevention," encouraging ministers to work anti-drug messages into sermons, and suggesting that youth leaders lead prayers on the subject. For more on the "faith-based anti-drug effort," go to: www.theantidrug.com/faith and www.whitehousedrugpolicy.gov.
11th Circuit Vanquishes Moore
A 3-judge panel of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on July 1 that a 5200-pound Ten Commandments marker placed in the state Supreme Court rotunda by Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore is unconstitutional. The appeals court upheld a lower court ordering removal of the bible edicts.
The appeals court, based in Georgia, now joins the 6th and 7th appellate circuits in ruling against the Ten Commandments. The 10th Circuit has recently ruled that a government body displaying the Ten Commandments must permit controversial or unpopular groups and religions equal access.
Judge Carnes, joined by Chief Justice Edmonson and Judge Story, observed that if they adopted Moore's position:
"Every government building could be topped with a cross, or a menorah, or a statue of Buddha, depending upon the views of the officials with authority over the premises. A creche could occupy the place of honor in the lobby or rotunda of every municipal, county, state, or federal building. Proselytizing religious messages could be played over the public address system in every government building at the whim of the official in charge of the premises. However appealing those prospects may be to some, the position Chief Justice Moore takes is foreclosed by Supreme Court precedent."
Moore plans to appeal.
House Slaps 11th Circuit
The U.S. House of Representatives voted 260-161 on July 23 to withhold any funds that could be used to enforce a recent federal appeals court ruling declaring the Ten Commandments unconstitutional in Alabama's state judicial building.
Rep. John N. Hostettler, R-IN, claimed that Congress could use its power over federal spending to prevent enforcement of the ruling, and the 2002 ruling by the 9th Circuit holding the words "under God" to be unconstitutional in the Pledge of Allegiance.
Third Circuit OK's Decalog
The 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on June 26 that a Ten Commandments plaque placed in 1920 on the outside wall of the Chester County Courthouse, West Chester, Penn., is constitutional.
The appeals circuit denied that there was a religious purpose in posting a Protestant version of the unabridged commandments, followed by verses from the New Testament.
The lawsuit was filed by the ACLU on behalf of members of the Freethought Society of Greater Philadelphia, a Foundation chapter directed by Margaret Downey. Principal plaintiff is Sally Flynn. The appeals court overturned a March 2002 federal court ruling finding that the plaque was inherently religious and improper for display at a government building.
The courthouse, built in 1846, is on the National Register of Historic Places. The court ruled that the bible edict may remain for "historic preservation."
The shocking decision calls the Ten Commandments "a significant basis of American law and the American policy" and accepts the verdict of a commissioner that "the Ten Commandments on the wall of the Courthouse symbolizes civilization."
The ruling attacks the Lemon test (requiring a government act to have a secular purpose), quoting Supreme Court Justice Scalia. Scalia compared Lemon to "some ghoul in a late-night horror movie that repeatedly sits up in its grave and shuffles abroad, after being repeatedly killed and buried." Judge Becker said the presence of "no smoking" and "no skateboarding" signs also mitigate the violation.
Kansas Decalog Moved
A Ten Commandments monument in front of the Wyandotte County Courthouse, Kansas City, Kan., was moved to the lawn of a nearby Catholic church following a 8-0 vote on July 24 by the local board of commissioners. Several members of Individuals for Freethought, a student group at Kansas State University, testified in favor of removal, according to Foundation student member Keiv Spare.
The action was taken by the Unified Board of Commissioners of Wyandotte County and Kansas City, Kan., following a threat by the local ACLU to sue to remove it.
"At a time when we're trying to save money any way we can and lower taxes, it just seems to be a prudent decision to make," said Commissioner Kelley Kultala.
Utah Decalogs Moved
Seven Ten Commandments monuments on public property in Utah, which were donated by the Fraternal Order of Eagles, have been removed this spring.
The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals recently ordered that public bodies must accept displays of alternate messages if they retain Ten Commandments monuments on public property. Monuments have been removed from public land in Ogden, Salt Lake City, Murray, Tooele, Roy and Provo.
Borgota Eschews Gideons
The Borgota Hotel Casino & Spa, a $1.1 billion resort that opened in Atlantic City, N.J., this summer, broke rank from other casinos by refusing the Gideons' request to place bibles in its 2,002-room hotel.
Borgata spokesperson Michael Facenda said rather than choose between the Mormon, Hebrew, Christian, Greek and other bibles, they will keep rooms bible-free: "The small percentage that we talked to who do have an interest in having it [a bible] available brought their own anyway," he added.
The casino is starting a small library of religious and philosophical books for patron use. The Borgota accepted the donation of the Foundation's hardback publication, Women Without Superstition, No Gods - No Masters, an anthology edited by Annie Laurie Gaylor.
Statement of the Case
The Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag was first created in 1892, in celebration of the 400th anniversary of Columbus's "discovery" of America. After a subsequent half century of widespread unofficial adoption, Public Law No. 622, 56 Stat. 380 (June 22, 1942) took effect, codifying the Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America (hereinafter "the Pledge"), which read:
I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.
Of note is the fact that there is and was nothing religious in that 1942 version of the Pledge. Twelve years later, however--claiming that, "Our American Government is founded on . . . the belief that the human person is important because he was created by God," H.R. 1693, 83rd Cong., 2nd Sess. (1954), and that "The inclusion of God in our pledge therefore would further acknowledge the dependence of our people and our Government upon the moral directions of the Creator," Ibid.--Congress amended the Pledge. Thus, in an act that did nothing but add the two purely religious words, "under God," to the preceding prose, Congress altered the Nation's sole Pledge so that it now reads:
I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all. Pub. L. No. 396, 68 Stat. 249 (hereinafter "Act of 1954").
That version of the Pledge is currently codified at 4 U.S.C. ¤ 4.
Petitioner Newdow is a citizen of the United States, entitled to all the protections of the Constitution. He is also an atheist, who adamantly denies the existence of any supreme being, and who finds the notion that his government espouses the contrary religious view at all--much less as part of its only Pledge of Allegiance--to be deeply offensive and injurious. Accordingly, citing the First Amendment, he filed suit in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of California on March 8, 2000, challenging the current version of the Pledge. Seeking only declaratory and injunctive relief, he asked the district court, among other things, "[t]o declare that Congress, in passing the Act of 1954, violated the Establishment and Free Exercise Clauses of the United States Constitution," and "[t]o demand that Defendant, the Congress of the United States of America, immediately act to remove the words 'under God' from the Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag as now written." Original Complaint
Newdow set out numerous grounds for standing. Chief among these was his personal right to join his fellow citizens in pledging allegiance to his country's flag --and all it stands for--without having to confront offensive religious dogma. With a (simply wonderful) daughter in elementary school, Newdow attends meetings of the local school board. Because those meetings invariably begin with a recitation of the now-religious Pledge, Newdow named the school board and its superintendent as defendants, contending that their use of the Pledge constituted a governmental endorsement of a specific religious belief--i.e., the belief that there exists a god--and thus turned him into a "political outsider."
Struck by the fact that his tax dollars are employed to further the religious message of the current Pledge, Newdow also claimed that he had taxpayer standing, detailing how both (California) state and (Article I, section 8) federal tax monies are used. Additionally, because the State of California specifically declares that the daily recitation of the now-religious Pledge of Allegiance is a proper patriotic exercise in which public school teachers may lead their students (California Education Code ¤ 52720)--and because the Elk Grove Unified School District ("EGUSD") has promulgated a rule requiring recitation of the Pledge in elementary schools (AR 6115)--Newdow claimed standing on the basis of his right as a parent to have the public schools refrain from inculcating his child with any religious ideology. . . .
Reasons for Granting the Petition
. . . Perhaps nowhere can the creative genius of the framers be as readily appreciated as in the Establishment Clause. Realizing that religion is unique in its ability to cause divisiveness and persecution, those who drafted the body of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights--and the citizens who ratified both of these magnificent documents--broke from a long tradition of associating religious belief with civil authority. That the framers intended to completely disassociate these two arenas can be seen by the fact that--after considering numerous iterations--the final wording of the clause is as broad as can be imagined: "no law respecting an establishment of religion."
That this dissociation would also include the disassociation of God and government also seems manifest. To begin with, as was noted early on in our history:
We formed our Constitution without any acknowledgment of GOD; without any recognition of his mercies to us, as a people, of his government, or even of his existence. The Convention, by which it was formed, never asked, even once, his direction, or his blessing upon their labours. Thus we commenced our national existence under the present system, without GOD. [Address by Yale Seminary President Timonthy Dwight, July 23, 1812]
Thus, for instance, the Preamble to the Constitution of the United States is devoid of any reference to the Almighty. Despite the fact that "so help me, God" commonly concluded the oaths of the era, the only oath specified in the Constitution omits those words. Similarly, of the eleven colonies with religious test oaths of some variety, five had proscriptions aimed in some way at atheists. Yet in Article VI, clause 3, the framers employed language as totally prohibitory as that in the Establishment Clause: "[N]o religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States."
. . . Under Supreme Court Rule 10(c), it is appropriate for the Court to grant certiorari when "a United States court of appeals has decided an important question of federal law that has not been, but should be, settled by this Court." The meaning and extent of the Establishment Clause's protections is certainly an "important question of federal law." This is especially so when the issue under consideration has caused as much divisiveness and rancor as has occurred in the case at bar.
Both the United States and the Elk Grove Unified School District have argued that it is untenable for the Nation to have an official Pledge that bears conflicting messages dependent upon venue. With this Newdow agrees. Of interest is that even in presenting their arguments, the correctness of the Ninth Circuit's ruling--and the pervasiveness of the myopia that exists when religious matters are at hand--is demonstrated. The Elk Grove defendants wrote:
Significantly, this decision will result in substantial disruption of the daily lives of the school children in the EGUSD, as well as those attending public schools within the jurisdiction of the Ninth Circuit. These school children will find it necessary to reconcile why they are prohibited from willingly reciting the Pledge as a daily patriotic exercise when the public school children in the rest of the country are permitted to say the Pledge.
What they fail to appreciate is that the argument, of course, works both ways, and one could at least as reasonably write:
Significantly, this decision will result in substantial disruption of the daily lives of the school children outside the jurisdiction of the Ninth Circuit. These school children will find it necessary to reconcile why they are forced to endure religious dogma espoused by their public school teachers during a daily patriotic exercise when the public school children in the Ninth Circuit are provided with the protections guaranteed by the First Amendment.
Unfortunately, this failure to see both sides of a religious issue is not limited to the parties. For instance, despite the enormous public outcry engendered by the ruling in this case, the chief argument of the panel dissent was that the effect of the intrusion of the religious words, "under God," in the Pledge upon atheists is "de minimis." Thus, we see again the foresight of the framers, who recognized that even federal judges could be oblivious to their religious biases. Removal of the two religious words from the Pledge certainly raises no constitutional issue; yet there was a virtually unprecedented response when the Ninth Circuit stated that needed to be done. That Judge Fernandez could observe that response and then persist in contending that the insertion of those words--which no one can deny at least raises a First Amendment concern--is de minimis seems extraordinary.
Moreover, although the defendants have based their arguments on the effects of the Pledge on school children, the importance of the matter to atheistic adults cannot be overemphasized. To be sure, "[t]his Court's decisions have recognized a distinction when government-sponsored religious exercises are directed at impressionable children who are required to attend school, for then government endorsement is much more likely to result in coerced religious beliefs." Wallace v. Jaffree, 472 U.S. 38, 81 (1985) (O'Connor, J., concurring). However, "impressionability" is not the only parameter of concern. The aggravation, disgust and outrage of being turned into "political outsiders" and second-class citizens--generally unrecognized by children--is extensive to the disenfranchised adult citizens who find themselves despised and ridiculed due solely to their religious beliefs. Government, of course, has no duty to overcome private biases. But it may no more strengthen, encourage or even condone antipathy based on matters of conscience than it may do these things based on matters of race. "Private biases may be outside the reach of the law, but the law cannot, directly or indirectly, give them effect." Palmore v. Sidoti, 466 U.S. 429, 433 (1984).
Only forty-nine percent of Americans would vote for an atheistic candidate. In the constitutions of at least eight states, there still exist provisions that deny atheists the right to hold public office and/or testify in a court of law. Although politicians are subject to ruin for even tangentially discriminatory references regarding gender, majority religion or race, blatant offenses against atheists are not even acknowledged.
The Pledge of Allegiance served its patriotic purposes perfectly well for sixty-two years prior to Congress's passage of the Act of 1954. Accordingly, with strict scrutiny required for intrusions of religious dogma into government, a compelling interest was required before the words, "under God," could have been permissibly interlarded. That interest has yet to be enunciated.
The majority of American citizens may take great pleasure in having their religious beliefs reflected in their government. That, however, is precisely what the Establishment Clause exists to prevent, and Newdow respectfully requests that this Court take this case to reinforce that fact.
. . .
(3) Article III Standing
Although standing in Establishment Clause challenges should be easily determinable according to the parameters previously set forth in Valley Forge Christian College v. Americans United for Separation of Church & State, 454 U.S. 464 (1982), difficulties still arise. The need for further clarification in this arena also supports granting this Petition. The Court of Appeals found that Newdow has standing as a parent, and therefore limited its standing analysis to that one realm. Newdow, however, has always believed that he primarily has standing in his own right. In fact--without minimizing the personal harm that occurs when one's child is inculcated with religious dogma while attending the public schools--the harm to an adult who is turned into "second-class" status on the basis of his religious persuasion is at least as severe.
(a) Outsider status
The Court has repeatedly stated that no American citizen should be turned into a "political outsider" due to his or her religious beliefs. . . . Since the inception of this case, Newdow has argued that he, himself, has been turned into an "political outsider" by the intrusion of the religious words, "under God," into the Pledge. Furthermore, like millions of his religious brethren, Newdow is forced to confront offensive religious dogma any time he wishes to join his fellow citizens in pledging his allegiance to the flag. This is an outlandish offense that needs to be examined under a strict scrutiny analysis. With both the District Court and the Defendants having accepted Plaintiff's claim that he has been made to feel like an "outsider" due to the governmental acts challenged in this case, the burden of proof has shifted to the government. Unless it can be shown that there is a compelling interest in "giving sectarian religious speech preferential access to a forum close to the seat of government (or anywhere else for that matter)," [Capitol Square Review & Advisory Bd. v. Pinette, 515 U.S. 753, 766 (1995] the Court should take this opportunity to announce once and for all that, in this country, every religious view will be protected by "the most demanding test known to constitutional law." City of Boerne v. Flores, 521 U.S. 507, 534 (1997).
(b) Equal Protection
This is an equal protection case where atheists such as Newdow--unlike those of the majority theistic religious persuasion--are unable to join their fellow citizens in pledging allegiance to the Nation's flag without being confronted with offensive religious dogma. . . .
The petition for a writ of certiorari should be granted. Americans of every religious persuasion should be accorded equal respect, and the uniqueness of the Establishment Clause--and its relevance with respect to governmental immunity--should be addressed. Finally, the Court should detail the requirements for standing, which have caused tremendous confusion in the lower courts.
Respectfully submitted, MICHAEL NEWDOW, Pro Se
he Freedom From Religion Foundation awarded Roger, Pat and Melody Cleveland its "Emperor Has No Clothes" Award on July 4, 2003, at the Lake Hypatia Independence Day celebration. It is hosted annually by the Alabama Freethought Association at the Clevelands' park grounds in rural Alabama. (Pat and Roger are married, and Melody is Roger's sister.)
In presenting the golden statuette on behalf of the Foundation, Freethought Today editor Annie Laurie Gaylor noted that it was the Alabama Freethought Association which took the original successful lawsuit challenging Judge Roy Moore's courtroom Ten Commandments. The Association was joined by Gloria Hershiser, and the case was only thrown out by the state high court on a bizarre technicality.
"Roger, Pat and Melody dreamed of a freethought 'advance, not retreat,' right in the buckle of the bible belt," said Annie Laurie.
"They deeded the land for the Lake Hypatia Freethought Hall to the national Foundation, which raised funds for the building. The second installment, the auditorium, was dedicated in 1999. Lake Hypatia Freethought Hall was built and is such a success, because of the confidence we all feel in the Clevelands and their judgment, stewardship and vision.
"The Clevelands also had the wonderful idea of inviting the national Foundation to place its Atheists in Foxholes monument here, the ideal spot.
"They generously open their beautiful land and lake to hundreds of freethinkers from all over the country. That is authentic Southern Hospitality!
"The Alabama Freethought Association, which they founded and which is the Foundation's longest-lasting chapter, has worked invaluably as an umbrella organization of atheists, agnostics and other freethinkers to keep church and state separate in Alabama.
"The Clevelands, in publicly espousing this most significant cause, embody the small child in the fairy tale who says, 'But the emperor has no clothes.'"
The Foundation also singled out George Whatley, M.D., for his vital help to the chapter and the Foundation, and Bill Teague, "master engraver extraordinaire."
"Pansy" candies (pansies, from the Latin and French word for "thought," are a traditional freethought emblem) were distributed to volunteers Ilene Sparks, the freethought master gardener; Rachel Doughty, an activist and chapter officer; chapter activists Hank and Alice Shiver; and newsletter editor Patsy Ann Pitts.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation has named its major winners in the 2003 high school essay competition. Contestants this year were asked to submit short essays about why "under God" does not belong in the Pledge of Allegiance.
Aubrey Sinn, a new graduate of Conlara School, Ann Arbor, Mich., received the Blanche Fearn Memorial Award, with a $1,000.00 prize. Ms. Sinn, who will be attending the Tisch School of the Arts in New York City this fall, placed first for her essay, "For All the People."
Second place of $500.00 was awarded to Kurti Monnier, for his essay "'Under God' Should Go Under." He graduated from Brookline High School, Mass., and is enrolled at Boston University.
Two students tied for third place, receiving $250.00 each: Russell Hargraves, for "A Notion Forgotten by Time," and Gilene Young, for "The Incongruity of the Pledge of Allegiance." Russell graduated from Hamshire-Fannett High School, Texas, and will be entering the University of Texas at San Antonio. Gilene, a graduate of Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, Va., will be attending Yale University.
Additionally, the Foundation has awarded Honorable Mention prizes of $100.00 each to 12 high school grads who will be entering college this fall. Excerpts of their essays will appear in Freethought Today.
Winning Honorable Mentions are:
Hagop E. Bouboushian, Corsicana, Texas; Michaela Bronstein, Seattle, Wash.; Carmen Byrd, Charlotte, N.C.; Emily Gundlach, Davenport, N.Y.; Adam Katrick, Zanesville, Ohio; Luiza M. Goncalves, San Jose, Calif.; Sanjay Gopinath, Oak Hill, Va.; David Leuszler, Stone Mountain, Ga.; Jason Lindgren, Oak Park, Calif.; Sam Marcellus, Port Washington, N.Y.; Kathryn Morrison, Marlton, N.J., and Joshua Parry, Roanoke, Texas.
The annual high school first-place award is named for the late Blanche Fearn, who was a Foundation officer and benefactor, who ardently believed in lifelong learning, although she did not have the opportunity to attend college. A firm proponent of the separation of church and state, she had protested prayers at her public school in New York City as a teenager.
Next year's topic and guidelines will be announced by the Foundation in February 2004, when they will be posted at our website www.ffrf.org/essay.html.
Federal District Judge Barbara B. Crabb of Madison, Wis., issued a resounding 41-page opinion on July 14 in favor of the Freedom From Religion Foundation and 22 local plaintiffs, who are challenging a Ten Commandments monument in a city park in La Crosse, Wis.
To read a major excerpt of the ruling, go here.
The City of La Crosse is debating whether to appeal the ruling, with emotions running high. Mayor John Medinger opposes an appeal. The City has until mid-August to decide whether to appeal. Foundation counsel Jim Peterson described Crabb as one of the least overturned federal judges in the circuit.
The lawsuit revisited a case first filed by the Foundation in 1985 on behalf of its La Crosse member Phyllis Grams, now deceased, which Judge Crabb dismissed for lack of standing in 1987.
Freedom From Religion Foundation staffer Dan Barker stands in front of the awkwardly-fenced Ten Commandments in Cameron Park, La Crosse, Wis.
Crabb's current decision acknowledged the standing of the impressive list of plaintiffs, including atheist and agnostic Foundation members, a Catholic man, Jewish women, and some Unitarian-Universalists. Most attested that they felt it necessary to avoid Cameron Park and shopping in the area because the presence of the bible edicts on city property causes them distress.
When the Foundation sent a letter last year warning that it would sue the City if it did not remove the monument, the council passed a resolution to keep the marker "in its present location by any and all means available to the City," including working with religious-right organizations.
After the Foundation filed its lawsuit last July, the City of La Crosse responded by selling a tiny parcel of the small park to the Fraternal Order of Eagles, which had originally donated the tombstone-like monument in 1965. The board refused to consider an offer by the Foundation to buy the plot of land for fair market value, or the Eagles' original offer to house the monument on their own property across the street from the park. Offers by local churches to host the monument on their private property were also refused.
"The law of this circuit compels a conclusion that defendant violated the establishment clause when it displayed a monument of the Ten Commandments on public property without a secular purpose for doing so. Furthermore, defendant's sale of a minuscule portion of the park to the Eagles in order to preserve the presence of the monument proves rather than extinguishes defendant's endorsement of the monument's religious message," wrote Crabb.
In a pivotal finding, Crabb declared the sale of part of the park to be unconstitutional, concluding "there was no reason to sell the land other than to maintain the location of the monument."
". . . a court must look at the entire context of the sale to determine whether the sale demonstrates a preference for religion. . . . a defendant sold a very small parcel of land in the middle of a park to a pre-determined buyer for the purpose of preserving one religious message in the park."
"Neutrality means more than just changing the name on a deed . . . Under defendant's view of the law, [Alabama] Chief Justice Moore [who just lost a similar case before the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals] would be permitted to display the Ten Commandments in his courtroom so long as he could convince the state to sell a tiny portion of the courthouse to a private party and erect a disclaiming sign."
". . . it is respect for religion, not hostility toward it, that is the animating principle behind the establishment clause. The First Amendment guarantees persons of all faiths that the government will treat them with equal concern and respect. Individuals must feel free to choose their own paths in their search for ultimate meaning. By prohibiting the government from favoring those who believe over those who do not, the establishment clause helps protect the rights of Christians, Jews, Buddhists, agnostics, Muslims and atheists."
A magistrate refused the Foundation's request last year to protect the confidentiality of the lawsuit's initial two plaintiffs, a married couple. When her husband died unexpectedly, remaining plaintiff Sue Mercier agreed to be named publicly as a plaintiff, if the Foundation could find additional plaintiffs so she would not be alone in the community. In the lawsuit's most dramatic moment, an outpouring of sympathetic offers came into the Foundation office. Foundation member Hank Zumach, who signed up as a plaintiff, spearheaded a campaign to recruit additional plaintiffs.
"We gratefully acknowledge and thank our 22 La Crosse plaintiffs for standing up to support the First Amendment in this small community," said Foundation president Anne Gaylor.
Although headlines and letters to the editor in the La Crosse Tribune have been dominated by news of the court victory, most plaintiffs say they have taken little flak. One of the plaintiffs received two threatening phone calls. Another received some on-the-job harassment after the lawsuit was filed, which was stopped by supervisors.
The Foundation office has received some predictably unfriendly emails and phone calls, and its sidewalks were chalked with religious graffiti (see photo below) the day after the opinion was handed down. The Tribune printed a letter from the wife of a local police officer about "our annoying problem with the Freedom From Religion pests," saying others should "help squash those pesky insects."
Some local plaintiffs told the Foundation they had acquaintances come forward after the lawsuit was filed, actually expressing disappointment that they were not part of the lawsuit. A "save the Ten Commandments" lawn sign campaign had lost steam, until the ruling was handed down.