Freethought Today · Vol. 27 No. 10 December 2010

Published by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc.

State Church Bulletin Dec 10

Tree of Knowledge denied holiday spot

There’ll be no Tree of Knowledge this December at the Historic Chester County Courthouse in West Chester, Pa. Members of the Freethought Society of Greater Philadelphia (an FFRF chapter) and supporters gathered Dec. 4 at the courthouse to protest the county’s decision.

The county voted not to allow private groups to have display space on the lawn. The county will decorate instead with displays that include a nativity scene, menorah, Santa and holiday train.

The freethought group, founded by Margaret Downey, for several years has decorated a tree with covers of freethought books about religion such as The God Delusion by Richard Dawkin.

“The ousting of the Tree of Knowledge from the grounds of a government building is un-American,” Downey said.

Appeals court upholds godly Texas pledge

The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in October upheld 3-0 a U.S. District Court judge’s ruling in Croft v. Perry that the godly Texas Pledge of Allegiance is constitutional.
Four Dallas-area parents sued to have “under God” removed from the pledge that’s recited daily by public schoolchildren: “Honor the Texas flag; I pledge allegiance to thee, Texas, one state under God, one and indivisible.”

Until the Legislature changed it in 2007, the Texas pledge was godless.

Ark Encounter of the worst kind

Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear, a Democrat, told the Louisville Courier-Journal on Dec. 9 that in order for a creationist theme park to get up to $37.5 million in public funds, operators can’t discriminate in hiring based on religion.

Answers in Genesis, which runs the Creation Museum near Petersburg, Ky., will operate the $150 million Ark Encounter after completion, employing about 900 people. Cost of the interactive 500 foot by 75 foot wooden ark alone is pegged at $24.5 million. [The Tower of Babel price is anyone’s guess.]

When the project was announced in November, developer Cary Summers was asked about a “statement of faith” like the one required for Answers in Genesis employment. “We’re wrestling with that right now,” Summers said.

Mike Zovath of Answers in Genesis indicated the park will include dinosaurs, “but not live dinosaurs.”

Numerous objections have been raised. “A private company can build a theme park about the bible, but the government shouldn’t be using its money to advance religion.

That’s what’s unconstitutional about this,” said Erwin Chemerinsky, University of California-Irvine law professor.

“It’s wrong to force people to pay tax dollars to support religions they don’t belong to,” Chemerinsky said.

Beshear, at a Dec. 1 press conference, announced his delight over a theme park “designed to bring to life the various stories and places in the bible.”

Falwell group backs public Commandments

The conservative Christian Liberty Counsel, founded by the late Rev. Jerry Falwell, filed a petition for certiori Oct. 27 with the U.S. Supreme Court, asking the court to consider a case involving “Foundations of American Law and Government” displays, which include the Ten Commandments, in courthouses in McCreary and Pulaski counties in Kentucky.
McCreary County v. ACLU of Kentucky was first argued at the U.S. Supreme Court in 2005. In a 5-4 decision, the court upheld a preliminary injunction against the Ten Commandments in the display. The Supreme Court sent the case back to the lower court for a full trial. Since 2005, Foundations displays have been ruled constitutional by three other federal appeals courts.

Liberty Counsel’s petition also asks the Supreme Court to overturn the Lemon test, which determines whether a law is permissible under the Establishment Clause.

Liberty University’s challenge to the new health care law was dismissed Nov. 30 by a Virginia judge. U.S. District Judge Norman Moon ruled that the law requiring individuals to buy health insurance and employers to buy coverage for employees was legal under the Constitution’s Commerce Clause.

Maryland board pledges to pray

The newly sworn Board of Carroll County Commissioners in Westminster, Md., unveiled its “10 Governing Philosophies” at a press conference Dec. 8, reported the Carroll Eagle.

“It is important for us to set a direction, and we have worked collectively on this,” said Commissioner Doug Howard.

No. 6 on the list: “Affirmation of Our Values: This Board of County Commissioners will open its meetings with the Pledge of Allegiance followed by a prayer.”

Faith-based groups get stimulus millions

A Dec. 3 story in Politico said faith-based groups have received about $140 million from the $787 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

Castleton United Methodist Church in Indianapolis bought a heating and cooling system. St. Laurence O’Toole Catholic Church in Laramie, Wyo., installed new windows in its school. Christian Churches United of the Tri-County Area, Harrisburg, Pa., spent its $120,000 on food and shelter for homeless people.

“It kind of fell from the sky, and it was unbelievable that we had this much extra money,” said Jackie Rucker, Christian Churches executive director.

Obama “took what President Bush did and has expanded it,” said Rev. Larry Snyder, Catholic Charities USA president.

Politico searched the database at Recovery.gov and found that Catholic groups got the most ($90 million), followed by Protestants ($45 million) and Jewish groups ($6 million).

‘Family’ group denied legal standing

A judge denied the Minnesota Family Council’s intervention in a suit challenging a law barring same-sex marriage. Three same-sex couples sued the state earlier this year, arguing the 1997 law violates the state Constitution.

“The Council’s alleged injuries would occur solely due to its sincerely held belief that principles rooted in its interpretations of religious texts are best for the well-being of children and families, and that marriage only between one man and one woman accords with these principles,” wrote District Court Judge Mary DuFrense (PDF). “The Court certainly understands that the Council feels strongly about the social issue of same-sex marriage. Strong feelings, however, do not establish a legal interest in a lawsuit.”

Rev. James Dobson’s Alliance Defense Fund is allied with the council.

Douglas Benson, executive director of Marry Me Minnesota, praised the ruling and said “it ensures that our case will be decided on its merits, without the interference of anti-gay ideologues.”

I’ve had people come in and want to talk about Jesus Christ and I’ve had people come and say, “Where are those diamond earrings? I want to buy them for half off.”
Larry Falter, LTD Jewelers, Superior, Wis., on his store’s “Second Coming Sale”
Minnesota Public Radio, 11-30-10

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