Freethought Today · Vol. 28 No. 5 June July 2011

Published by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc.

State/Church Bulletin June July 2011

Appeals court evicts churches from schools

A 2-1 decision June 2 by the 2nd Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in Manhattan overturned a lower court ruling that let the Bronx Household of Faith hold services in a public school.

The ruling lifted an injunction preventing the school district from enforcing its policy that prohibits outside groups from renting school facilities for “religious worship services, or otherwise using a school as a house of worship.” The congregation had been meeting in New York’s P.S. 15 since the rule was first enjoined in 2002.

The state Department of Education said it’s reviewing how to implement the decision. The city said it has no intention of immediately evicting the groups. “We are very pleased with the court’s decision today in this longstanding case, which, reversing the lower court, upholds the Department of Education’s policy not to allow public schools to be used for congregational worship services,” said City Attorney Jane Gordon. “The Department is quite properly concerned about having any school in this diverse city identified with one particular religious belief or practice.”

“Jews and Muslims generally cannot use school facilities for their services because the facilities are often unavailable on the days that their religions principally prescribe for services,” Judge Pierre Leval ruled. “At least one request(ed) to hold Jewish services (in a school building used for Christian services on Sundays) was denied because the building was unavailable on Saturdays. This contributes to a perception of public schools as Christian churches, but not synagogues or mosques.”

Leval also took issue with the evangelical church’s membership. “Bronx Household acknowledges that it excludes persons not baptized, as well as persons who have been excommunicated or who advocate the Islamic religion, from full participation in its services,” Leval wrote.

Annie Laurie Gaylor, FFRF co-president, said that among the top complaints FFRF gets is churches using tax-supported public schools as their primary place of worship. “The low rental prices amount to taxpayer subsidy of worship. Huge religious banners, planted on public school property on weekends, are sometimes left up nearly permanently. We have had complaints about used diapers left in classrooms and school swimming pools routinely used for baptisms. Public school names are used in advertising and fliers with no disclaimers.”

Groups fight Colorado school voucher plan

Three civil liberties groups filed suit June 21 in Denver District Court challenging the Douglas County [Colo.] School District’s voucher plan that gives private schools public money, the Denver Post reported.

Mark Silverstein, American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado legal director, said the group intends “as soon as possible” to ask the court for an injunction to stop the voucher payments.

“We all support the right of parents to send their children to private schools,” Silverstein said. “The issue is they cannot do so with taxpayers’ money.”

Plaintiffs include Americans United for Separation of Church and State, Interfaith Alliance of Colorado, a rabbi, a United Church of Christ pastor, Douglas County’s library director and several parents.

The district’s “Pilot Choice Scholarship Plan” allows up to 500 vouchers of $4,575 each for private schools. Of the 19 schools approved for participation as of June 21, 15 are religious in nature.

School vouchers boost parochial schools

In May, Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels signed the nation’s most expansive school voucher program into law. The School Scholarships Act authorizes up to $5 million in vouchers. Daniels also signed another bill expanding charter schools.

Families who qualify for vouchers can get up to $4,500 for grades 1 through 8. There’s no limit on high school. It caps the number of scholarships at 7,500 for the 2011-12 school year, 15,000 for 2012-13 and no limit thereafter.

Vouchers will start being accepted this fall at eligible nonpublic schools. Luke Messer, executive director of School Choice Indiana, said that churches that couldn’t afford to open their own schools may reconsider now that parents can get vouchers.

Idaho school’s bible as textbook case heard

In Nampa Classical Academy v. William Goesling, a private school seeks to overturn a decision by the Idaho Public Charter School Commission that bans use of the bible as a primary text.

A federal judge upheld the commission’s decision, and on June 8 the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals heard arguments. The school is represented by the Alliance Defense Fund, an evangelical law firm.

The state argued that use of scripture promotes one religious view over another by focusing on certain denominational versions of the bible. The academy has closed due to financial troubles but is in the process of refiling its application to operate.

Wisconsin expands voucher program

Gov. Scott Walker signed a two-year budget in June that expands the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program to schools in Milwaukee County outside the city and to the Racine Unified School District. Efforts to include Green Bay schools in the program were defeated. However, districts in midsize cities like Green Bay could come into the program in coming years as their demographics change.

The law also loosens income and other restrictions that previously limited the number of participants and the schools they could attend.

State Superintendent Tony Evers said the public school system is under attack. “To spend hundreds of millions to expand a 20-year-old program that has not improved overall student achievement while defunding public education is morally wrong.”

Kansas gov pushes faith-based Out4Life

Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback wants to match every inmate leaving state prison with a faith-based mentor, the Wichita Eagle reported June 20. Brownback spoke at an Out4Life conference sponsored by Watergate felon Charles Colson’s Prison Fellowship Ministries.

Partners in Brownback’s “Mentoring 4 Success” program include the state Department of Corrections, Prison Fellowship, Reaching Out From Within and Spiritual Advisors. Out4Life (“The State of Reentry”) has also launched in Louisiana, Arkansas, Tennessee, Georgia, Michigan, Minnesota, Arizona, Ohio, Texas, Virginia, Oregon and California.

End sought to Amish buggy break

The Kentucky Court of Appeals unanimously denied a petition June 3 from nine Amish men cited for failure to have slow-moving-vehicle symbols on their buggies. Senior Judge Ann O’Malley Shake wrote that the men’s religious rights could not infringe on the public safety and sent the case back to Graves County Court, The Associated Press reported.

Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Scott Robbins said he will ask at an Aug. 25 hearing for the citations to be enforced. If the men refuse to pay the $25 fines and $138 court costs per violation, they could be jailed for up to six months for contempt. They’re represented by American Civil Liberties Union attorney Bill Sharp of Louisville.

The Old Order Swartzentruber sect contends the orange emblem is too worldly and that the shape could be construed to represent the trinity. They want to instead use reflective tape and lanterns after dark. Several other cases are pending.

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