Freethought Today · Vol. 22 No. 7 September 2005

Published by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc.

State/Church Bulletin

Pledge Law Upheld

A 3-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on Aug. 10 that a Virginia law requiring public schools to lead a daily recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance is not an unconstitutional promotion of religion.

The suit was filed by Mennonite Edward Myers, of Sterling, Va., objecting to the phrase one nation under God" in a public school setting.

The 4th Circuit panel said the pledge is a "patriotic exercise," not an affirmation of religion similar to a prayer.

"The problem is that young school children are quite likely to view the pledge as affirming the existence of God and national subordination to God," said Myers' attorney, David Remes.

In her reluctant concurrence, Judge Diana Gribbon Motz noted "a pledge to a country 'under God' might be regarded as religious activity."

Ten Commandments Downed in Tennessee

A Ten Commandments framed plaque was removed from the Monroe County Courthouse, Tenn., in late July, in compliance with the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in June.

County Mayor Allan Watson announced he complied "with regret." The display was placed in 1999 and was paid for with tax money.

Watson predicted that someday, if George Bush's court nominee John Roberts is confirmed, the issue might be revisited with a different outcome.

Pulling Out Religious Stops

John Scrushy, the former CEO of HealthSouth--the nation's largest provider of outpatient surgery, diagnostic and rehabilitative healthcare services--was acquitted in July by a jury in his home of Birmingham, Ala.

Following the verdict, he intoned: "I want to give all the glory to God."

Scrushy, fingered by five financial officers who pleaded guilty to cooking the books in the $1.4 billion fraud case, hustled a prayer group to show up every day of his trial. He abandoned his white suburban church and joined a mostly black congregation, wooing black jurors. He bought airtime so that he and his wife could appear every morning on a half-hour local TV show, often inviting black ministers as guests.

Scrushy was estimated by the U.S. Securities and Exchange to have made nearly $300 million from the suspected fraud, while underlings were punished.

Bible Curriculum Creates Stir

Controversy over the July decision by the Grand Prairie school board, Texas, not to offer an elective bible class, "The Bible in History and Literature," has drawn attention to the religious stealth campaign of the National Council on Bible Curriculum in Public Schools to enter public schools.

The school board in Odessa, Texas, voted in April to add the bible study course to its 2006 high school curriculum. According to the bible group, Odessa is one of 312 school districts in 37 states, including 52 school districts in Texas, that offer its devotional course.

The group's website, BibleInSchools.net, proclaims: "The Bible was the foundation and blueprint for our Constitution, Declaration of Independence, our educational system, and our entire history until the last 20 to 30 years."

Course materials are available only through the website's bookstore for $150 under a heading, "Keeping Christian Dollars in Christ's Kingdom."

The Texas Freedom Network commissioned Mark Chancey, professor of religious studies at Southern Methodist University, to evaluate the curriculum.

He found, for instance, the curriculum claims "not one [archaeological artifact] has ever been discovered that ever contradicts or denies one word, phrase, clause, or sentence of the Bible. It (the curriculum) always affirms and verifies the facts of the Biblical record."

It even absurdly claims NASA recorded evidence of a day missing in time, in confirmation of the bible passage saying the sun stood still.

Administration Has Theological Beliefs?

Brazilian officials charge the Bush Administration has harmed scientific credibility in its demand that countries accepting help from the U.S. Agency for International Development explicitly condemn prostitution.

In July, Brazil decided to forgo up to $40 million in American funds to fight AIDS. The United States is pushing the so-called ABC approach ("abstinence, being faithful, and controlled use of condoms") in Bush's 5-year, $15 billion program to combat AIDS.

"We must remain faithful to the established principles of the scientific method and not allow theological beliefs and dogma to interfere," said Pedro Chequer, director of Brazil's AIDS program, in an interview with The New York Times.

Brazil budgets $400 million a year for its AIDS program, which has been praised as the most successful program in a developing country. Since 1990, Brazil's AIDS rate has dropped nearly in half.

"Prostitution exists everywhere in the world, including the United States, and we have a commitment to work with this group and respect them," Chequer added.

Bush Announces Faith Summit

In addition to the many White House faith-based conferences training churchs on how to get government grants, the White House will hold a summit next spring encouraging corporations and foundations to give more money to churches and religious charities.

Bush announced the summit in late July while meeting with 17 leaders of black churches and groups--traditional Democrats whom he has been courting with faith-based promises. Representatives of the NAACP, which has a strong position in support of the separation of church and state, pointedly were not invited.

The White House complained that 17% of corporate foundations have written policies banning or restricting donations to religious groups. Many religious groups discriminate in hiring practices and services.

Bush Library "Faith Based"

Pres. Bush announced in August he plans to place his presidential library at a church-affiliated college in Texas.

Faith-based Agriculture?

The U.S. Department of Agriculture in August gave the state of Arizona $832,343 so the state could "partner" with the Roman Catholic Diocese of Phoenix to set up additional sites for seniors and others to sign up for food stamps.

The Department of Economic Security will fund the Foundation for Senior Living, a corporation affiliated with the diocese.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture gave five other "faith-based" grants: New York City ($945,000), Minnesota ($911,900), Tennessee ($800,000), Maryland ($938,057) and Michigan ($566,143).

"The federal government will not discriminate against faith-based organizations, and neither should corporate America," Bush said.

Cadet Leader Not Promoted

The U.S. Senate in August shelved plans to promote controversial Air Force Academy Brig. Gen. Johnny A. Weida to major general.

Weida was the second ranking officer at the Colorado academy, plagued by longstanding complaints of official Christian proselytizing of cadets.

Weida was cleared in June by the Air Force inspector general's office of six of seven accusations of improperly pushing his religion. Such "cleared" incidents included telling cadets in June 2003 they were accountable first to God, and urging students and staff to pray. He also taught cadets a Christian chant, perceived as a call by some cadets to convert others. That incident is still being investigated.

"Justice Sunday" Intimidation Tactic

The Christian telecast from a Nashville megachurch to churches and religious stations on Sunday, Aug. 14, was explicitly organized to muzzle (Democratic) questioning about the personal and religious views of the Supreme Court nominee.

John G. Roberts is a Roman Catholic who went to a Catholic prep school, attends weekly mass at an antiabortion church, has written antiabortion briefs for previous presidential administrations, and is married to an antiabortion activist who has done pro bono work and served on the board of "Feminists for Life."

"We are going to be vigilant to make sure that there is not this religious litmus test imposed," said organizer Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council.

" 'Are you a Catholic? Do you really believe what the Catholic church teaches?' These kinds or things shouldn't be part of the discussion," said Perkins said in an interview before the electronic rally.

Participants included Rep. Tom DeLay, majority leader; James Dobson, of Focus on the Family; Chuck Colson, Watergate felon and prison ministry entrepreneur, and Phyllis Schlafly, Roman Catholic anti-ERA crusader.

The first "Justice Sunday" in April promoted the "nuclear option" to end filibustering against extremist Bush judicial nominees, who were piously described as "people of faith" being discriminated against by Democrats. The intimidation apparently worked, as Democrats capitulated and soon approved Bush's three most extreme religious-right nominees to lifetime judicial appointments.


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