A three-judge panel in the Third Circuit Court of Appeals will hear oral arguments tomorrow in a challenge to a Ten Commandments monument in front of a Pennsylvania school. The Freedom From Religion Foundation and Marie Schaub, who is a parent of a student, appealed a district court decision last year ruling they didn't have standing to bring the case against the New Kensington-Arnold School District.
FFRF asserts that parents and students who have been impacted by the display of the Ten Commandments monument have standing to challenge it. In its brief, FFRF points out that the plaintiffs were forced either to have "contact with an unwelcome religious exercise" or assume the burden of avoiding such contact. The plaintiffs had encountered the 6-foot, 2,000-pound monolith while attending school events prior to enrollment. Schaub ultimately refused to enroll her child at the high school because of the the prominent monument in front of the school.
"Parents and students who have been injured by a school's religious practices must have access to the courts," said FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. "We look forward to this case proceeding so that the school will be welcoming to nonreligious students," added Gaylor.
"The first commandment alone, dictating which god students must worship, is reason enough to rule that the New Kensington school district has no right to impose it on students and their parents. In our secular nation, citizens are free to have any god that they like, as many gods as they like — or none at all," Gaylor added.
Last year, a similar federal court challenge by FFRF and local parents and students ended with a court decision in FFRF's favor and removal of an identical Ten Commandments monument from a junior high school in nearby Connellsville Area School District.
The argument will be before Judges Smith, Hardiman, and Schwartz in Pittsburgh. Attorney Marcus Schneider will argue the case for the plaintiffs and Attorney Charles Woodworth will represent Americans United and several religious organizations in support of the plaintiffs.
Contact your Representatives today!
Please take a moment to contact your U.S. representative to urge their support of the Do No Harm Act, introduced today in Congress. FFRF applauds U.S. Reps. Bobbie Scott of Virginia and Joe Kennedy of Massachusetts for their leadership in seeking to reform a law that has protected religious privilege, at the expense of religious freedom.
The Religious Freedom Restoration Act, known as RFRA, is a super-statute that effectively amends every other federal law, including laws meant to protect citizens from unfair treatment. The Do No Harm Act would limit which laws RFRA applies to. For instance, RFRA would no longer allow believers to be exempt from the Civil Rights Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Violence Against Women Act, laws that require employers to provide wages and other compensation, or laws that require coverage for any health care item. The bill, if enacted, could undo damage by the Hobby Lobby decision by the Supreme Court in 2014. That decision allows employers and for-profit corporations to deny women workers contraceptive coverage on the basis of religious offense.
FFRF fully supports the adoption of this commonsense amendment. Religious freedom is already protected under the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The Do No Harm Act will bring us one step closer to restoring true equality, by preventing discrimination in the name of religious belief.
Contact your congressional representative today to voice your support for the Do No Harm Act. Personalize your statement if possible, or feel free to cut and paste the wording below.
I am writing as your constituent and a nonreligious citizen. For far too long, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act has been used not as a shield to protect the rights of underrepresented religious minorities, but as a sword. It has been used by the Religious Right to discriminate against women, LGBT individuals, religious minorities and the nonreligious. RFRA has become a legal loophole that allows for any person or corporation to discriminate in the name of religion.
That is why I ask you to become a cosponsor of the newly introduced Do No Harm Act, an act that would curb the damage RFRA is causing across the country. The Do No Harm Act is a commonsense bill to limit which laws RFRA applies to. For instance, RFRA would no longer allow believers to be exempt from following the Civil Rights Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Violence Against Women Act, laws that require employers to provide wages and other compensation, or laws that require coverage for any health care item.
Statement by the Freedom From Religion Foundation
The Freedom From Religion Foundation welcomes the introduction today of the "Do No Harm Act" to amend the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, known as RFRA. FFRF applauds U.S. Reps. Bobbie Scott of Virginia and Joe Kennedy of Massachusetts for their leadership in seeking to reform a law that has protected religious privilege, at the expense of true religious freedom.
Scott and Kennedy contend that RFRA is being used as a weapon against liberty rather than as a shield to protect religious freedom. RFRA has been invoked to undermine Civil Rights Act protections, limit access to healthcare, and refuse service to minority populations.
The bill would limit the use of RFRA in cases involving discrimination, child labor and abuse, wages and collective bargaining, access to health care, public accommodations and social services provided through government contract.
Scott said the law, since being adopted in 1993, "has been misconstrued as allowing the sincerely-held religious beliefs of one person to trump the civil rights of others."
"The right of Americans to freely and fully express our faith is sacred in this country," said Kennedy. "But in order to guarantee that liberty for every citizen, our system must ensure that my religious freedom does not infringe on yours or do you harm."
FFRF has been calling for the repeal of RFRA since the Supreme Court's disastrous Hobby Lobby decision in 2014. That decision permitted for-profit corporations to invoke religion to deny women workers contraceptive health coverage. Along with leading RFRA critic Marci Hamilton, FFRF filed an amicus brief seeking RFRA's repeal.
RFRA is a super-statute that effectively amends every other federal law, including laws meant to protect citizens from unfair treatment. The Do No Harm Act would limit which laws RFRA applies to. For instance, RFRA would no longer allow believers to be exempt from the Civil Rights Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Violence Against Women Act, or laws that require coverage for any health care item. The bill, if enacted, could undo some of the damage caused by the Hobby Lobby decision.
"Religious freedom is already protected in our nation. That protection is called the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution," said Annie Laurie Gaylor, FFRF co-president.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation wants a number of illegal Los Angeles public school religious clubs to be investigated.
Last September, FFRF had drawn the Los Angeles Unified School District's attention to an unconstitutional bible club (the TRUTH Club), run by football coach Jesse Montes, at Sun Valley High School. The club is still operating with Montes' involvement, according to the school's website. FFRF received no response to its original letter.
Now, FFRF has learned that there is a Christian Club convening every Friday at Chatsworth Charter High School. It is organized by Garrison Polsgrove, youth pastor at the Shepherd Church. (See image.) Polsgrove reportedly brings in free food to incentivize attendance, leads students in prayer, reads from the bible and delivers sermons. He has also been permitted to attend the school's open house to represent the Christian Club to community members and parents. Teachers have also participated in the meetings and promoted the club to students. FFRF Legal Fellow Madeline Ziegler contacted the school district in mid-May.
The Equal Access Act prohibits school staff and outside adults from being involved in religious clubs. Religious clubs must be legitimately student-led, with school staff present only in a supervisory capacity and no outside adults in regular attendance. Staff also may not encourage students to attend religious meetings.
"School employees may not run or even participate in religious clubs in public schools, nor can they promote religious clubs or invite students to attend," FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel wrote to LA Unified School District Counsel David Holmquist in September. "Staff participation in religious activities at school leads any reasonable student to see the club's religious message as sponsored by the school."
FFRF asks that the school district investigate both the Christian Club and the TRUTH Club. If the allegations are confirmed, the two clubs should be disbanded and the teachers involved appropriately disciplined.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation is dedicated to the separation of state and church, with 23,700 members nationwide, including more than 3,000 in California.