Freethought Today · Vol. 27 No. 9 November 2010

Published by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc.

State/Church Bulletin - November 2010

Paper: City meeting ‘resembled a church’

The Rowlett [Texas] Lakeshore Times started an Oct. 21 story with this: “The council chambers resembled a church Tuesday as Christians showed up to support the council’s decision to continue an invocation despite recent challenges from the Freedom From Religion Foundation that the council was in violation of the Constitution. FFRF sent a letter to Rowlett Mayor John Harper in August asking that the council immediately stop having invocations at their meetings.”

FFRF Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert wrote the letter on behalf of a Rowlett resident who objected to citizens being asked stand for prayers that regularly invoked “Jesus’ name” at council meetings.

Pastor Kason Huddleston of Pray Rowlett told the council Oct. 19 that it shouldn’t “listen to a minority that is not even in our state.”

The paper also reported these comments to the council:
Rita Blanco: “Our budget is in a surplus because we are a city that prays. We gotta keep on praying.”
Larry Morgan: “God blessed us with four consecutive years without a murder. That is the power of prayer.”
Allen Gregory: “I have been a pastor for 30 years and I have been thinking this through. If prayer didn’t work, why we would do it? On Feb. 4 of 2004, my cardiologist told me I should not be here. I had a blood clot the size of a quarter go through my heart. I had people praying for me. Prayer works, and if it didn’t, I would not be here today.”
Fred Witzell: “We urge you strongly to tell these busybodies to butt out of our business, to stay out of Texas and stay out of Rowlett. Take that letter that they wrote, wad it up, throw it in the trash can and be done with them.”
Mayor Pro Tem Todd Gottel: “It is certainly overwhelming to know that God is alive in our city. Thank you for your attendance tonight.”

SCOTUS rejects appeal from Christian schools

The U.S. Supreme Court rejected an appeal Oct. 12 from Christian schools that want the University of California System to grant college-prep credit for high school courses with solely religious content.

The justices, without comment, denied a hearing to the Association of Christian Schools International, thus upholding federal district and appeals court rulings which said UC hadn’t unfairly barred religious viewpoints in setting academic standards.

One evaluator testifying for UC, for example, detailed an English literature course that did not require students to read novels or plays, but instead offered an anthology titled “Classics for Christians.” Some biology texts taught students to reject any scientific evidence that contradicted the bible.

U.S. government sides with religious schools

Acting U.S. Solicitor Gen. Neal Katyal argued Nov. 3 on behalf of the Obama administration before the U.S. Supreme Court in support of an Arizona law that that gives individuals tax credits up to $500 for contributions to groups that pay tuition for students in private schools. More than 90% of the money goes to religious schools, said challengers in two related cases, Arizona Christian School Tuition Organization v. Winn and Arizona Department of Revenue v. Winn.

Katyal joined Arizona in defending the law and further argued that no one had legal standing to challenge it in court.

“The brief they filed is the same that would have been filed by the Bush administration,” said Erwin Chemerinsky, dean of the University of California-Irvine School of Law. “There is no reason for the Obama administration to get involved in this case, let alone to take the conservative position that there is no standing.”

Voter had to swear affirmation on bible

Lindsay Granger detailed on her blog what happened when she voted Nov. 2 at Trinity Baptist Church in Fairmount, Pa.: “I had to lay my palm on the good book and state my name and address before I was allowed to sign my name in the voting log and enter the booth. They called it an affirmation. I call it creepy.”

Voters can be required to sign an “affirmation” if they are listed as inactive or there are questions about their address.

“If anything, I should swear on a Constitution or something,” Granger wrote. “Voting is a civic responsibility, not a religious one.”

Bob Lee, voter registration administrator, said bibles have long been included in polling-place supplies and are used to swear in election workers before the polls open. Granger shouldn’t have been asked to swear on a bible, he said.

How about that ‘eye for an eye’?

A Texas appeals court on Oct. 7 upheld the Woodland Christian Academy’s policy requiring employees to use biblically based mediation to settle disputes. Monica Weibust had sued, claiming the employment agreement she signed was invalid and unenforceable.

The clause says: “The parties to this agreement are Christians and believe that the Bible commands them to make every effort to live at peace and to resolve disputes with each other in private or within the Christian community in conformity with the Biblical injunctions of Matthew 18:15-20.”

The contract also calls for Christian conciliation if mediation fails, but bars lawsuits except to enforce an arbitration decision.

Cross-burning teacher settles with parents

John Freshwater, a Mount Vernon, Ohio, public school science teacher accused of burning a cross with a Tesla coil on a student’s arm, has settled a suit with the family. Numerous other charges in the case involve Freshwater wearing his Christianity on his sleeve in class.

The settlement, which the court must still approve, involves a $300,000 payment by Freshwater’s insurer to Stephen and Jenifer Dennis “for mental pain and other damages suffered.” A separate payment of $150,000 will purchase an annuity for their son, Zachary Dennis.

The School Board earlier agreed to pay $115,000 to the Dennises for legal fees and $5,500 to their son. The board also agreed to provide training to staff on religion in public schools.
Freshwater’s appeal of his firing has dragged on for months with a final decision pending. “We have already spent our life savings and have pledged our farm to get to the truth,” he said. “It is better to leave the money on the table than to take the bible off of my desk.”

Oklahoma sharia ban could backfire

Were Oklahoma voters who passed a ballot initiative Nov. 2 to amend the state constitution to forbid state judges from considering international or Islamic law called “sharia” too clever by half? It appears so to some.

Rick Tepker of the University of Oklahoma Law School thinks the measure is “a mess” with unknown implications until it’s challenged. “Many of us who understand the law are scratching our heads this morning, laughing so we don’t cry,” Tepker told CNN. “I would like to see Oklahoma politicians explain if this means that the courts can no longer consider the Ten Commandments. Isn’t that a precept of another culture and another nation? The result of this is that judges aren’t going to know when and how they can look at sources of American law that were international law in origin.”

David Narcomey, business owner and member of the Seminole Nation, said the law “could blossom into a major threat to the sovereignty of our Indian nations.”

Two other law professors expressed reservations. Taiawagi Helton sees First Amendment problems by singling out one religion. Peter Krug, who specializes in international law, said Oklahoma businesses that deal with companies overseas also could feel the side effects.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations filed a lawsuit Nov. 3.

U.S. District Judge Vicki Miles-LaGrange issued a temporary restraining order Nov. 8 that blocks implentation of the law pending results of a Nov. 22 hearing.

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