Freethought Today · Vol. 23 No. 2 March 2006

Published by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc.

State/Church Bulletin

Notre Dame Subsidy Litigated

The 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in January heard an appeal regarding $465,000 in tax money from the federal government to train Catholic school teachers. Notre Dame's attorney argued that even if the money violated the separation of church and state, the money has all been spent, so the court should toss the complaint.

That's ridiculous!" said federal appellate Judge Richard Posner, according to coverage by the Chicago Sun-Times (Jan 11, 2006). Posner wrote the decision in January reinstating the standing of the Freedom From Religion Foundation to proceed with its federal lawsuit against the creation of the White House Office of Faith-based Initiatives.

"What if Congress said, 'OK, we love Valparaiso University, so we're going to make Lutheranism the national religion of the United States and we're going to give a billion dollars to the Lutheran Church and the Lutheran Church takes the billion dollars and builds lots of nice churches. All the money is spent before the ACLU brings its suit. Are you saying . . . the Lutheran Church could keep all their buildings?"

"Yes," responded Notre Dame attorney Michael Carvin.

"That's ridiculous. It's such an offense to common sense," Posner responded.

The ACLU is charging that federal money went directly to religious purposes and should be paid back.

"This is basic restitution law--unjust enrichment. You follow the money to the person who's holding this illegal money and you make him cough it up," said Posner.

Air Force Capitulates

The Air Force capitulated to Christian groups on Feb. 9 by weakening its already weak guidelines on religious expression. The guidelines now state that superior officers may discuss faith with subordinates, and chaplains can't be required to offer nonsectarian prayers.

The original guidelines, issued in August after a religious scandal at the Air Force Academy in Colorado, had discouraged public prayers at routine events, and personal expressions of faith by superior officers.

A Christian campaign included a nationwide petition and radio alarms by Focus on the Family, based in Colorado Springs, and a letter to Pres. Bush from 72 members of Congress urging him to permit chaplains to pray "in Jesus' name."

Cut from four pages to one, the guidelines now emphasize the Free Exercise Clause over the Establishment Clause. There are no restrictions "where it is reasonably clear that the discussions are personal, not official, and they can be reasonably free of the potential for, or appearance of, coercion."

School Halts "Intelligent Design"

Frazier Mountain High School in rural California agreed in mid-January to stop teaching a philosophy class promoting "intelligent design," as part of a court settlement. A group of parents sued El Tejon Unified School District for offering "Philosophy of Design," a course taught by a fundamentalist minister's wife.

Dems Push Bible Classes

Democrats in Georgia and Alabama have introduced bills authorizing school districts to teach courses based on a textbook, The Bible and Its Influence, a largely laudatory work produced by the ecumenical Bible Literacy Project. The proposal to teach public high school students about Jesus and the bible was approved 50-1 by Georgia senators in early February.

The Democrats admit they are openly competing for votes with Republicans by "talking about our faith."

Alabama Rep. Ken Guin, a sponsor of a bible curriculum bill, told The New York Times (Jan. 27, 2006): "We have always had to somewhat defend ourselves from the national Democratic Party's secular image, and this is part of that."

Interestingly, Georgia State Sen. Eric Johnson, a Republican, told the Times: "Their proposal makes them modern-day pharisees. This is election-year pandering using voters' deepest beliefs as a tool."

The Bible Literacy Project's textbook is competing with one produced by the openly evangelical National Council on Bible Curriculum in Public Schools, based in Greensboro, N.C. Its attorney, Stephen M. Crampton, charged that legislation mentioning The Bible and its Influence by name "is suggestive of some backroom deal cut with the publishers."

Public Mission Funding Fades

A lawsuit challenging tax funding to rebuild California mission churches was withdrawn "without prejudice" on Jan. 17 by Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

Congress passed a $10 million authorization measure in the fall of 2004 to repair 21 mission churches throughout California, all of which are owned by the Catholic Church and 19 of which have active congregations.

Americans United filed suit in December 2004. The federal government filed motions to dismiss the case, since no taxpayer money had been given.

"It looks like we've won this case without going to trial," said Ayesha N. Khan, AU's legal director.


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