The Freedom From Religion Foundation filed a federal lawsuit March 26 challenging the Pennsylvania House declaration of 2012 as “The Year of the Bible.” The House resolution exhorts citizens everywhere and government officials to “study and apply the teachings of the Holy Scriptures.”
FFRF is suing on behalf of its 599 Pennsylvania members, including 41 named state members, as well as its chapter, Nittany Freethought. The suit was filed in U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania. Defendants are state Rep. Rick Saccone, author of the resolution, Parliamentarian Clancy Myer and Chief Clerk Anthony Frank Barbush.
“FFRF’s membership includes individuals residing in Pennsylvania who have had direct and unwanted exposure to the Year of the Bible Resolution and the hostile environment created thereby as a result of the official declaration of a state religion by the Pennsylvania Legislature,” notes the legal complaint. Members include “individuals [who] oppose governmental speech endorsing religion because they are made to feel as if they are political outsiders.”
The bible “contains violent, sexist and racist models of behavior that FFRF members find personally repugnant and which potentially could encourage persons who rely on them to act in a manner harmful to them and others.” HR 535 sends a message of Christian endorsement and disparagement to nonbelievers.
“We heard an outpouring of indignation over this state-sanctioned religion. We’ve never had so many members volunteer to be part of one of our lawsuits,” commented Annie Laurie Gaylor, FFRF co-president.
The complaint names FFRF members: Carl H. Silverman, Justin Vacula, Charlie Miller, Steve Brungard, Michele Grant, John Kelley, Daniel Gallagher, Joyce McChesney, Neil Miller, Heather Miller, Steve Barry, Ryan Foster, Tom Melchiorre, Bob Schachner, Dan Reiff, Harry Geedey, Daniel Matesic, Karl Best, Nicolas Posey, Andrea McCormick, Thomas Johnson, Chuck Berry, Jim Phynn, Erin Kowal, Phillip Lichtenberg, Len Frankel, T. Alexander O’Hare, David Mullinax, Scott Rhodes, Ed Avery-Natale, Wayne Trotta, Frank McGovern, William Wisdom, Stephanie Strazisar, John Murray, Lanny Silks, Bruce Baldwin, Susan Hanna, James Billere, Regis Sabol and Patrick Hughes.
The resolution was sneaked into the agenda for a vote without debate Jan. 24, the day it was introduced, and was included with a group of “noncontroversial resolutions.” It passed 193-0. Several House members later apologized for voting “aye” without realizing its content.
The resolution falsely claims the “word of God” and “biblical teachings inspired concepts of civil government.” A sponsor, Rep. Jerry Stern, even claims the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause doesn’t apply to the State of Pennsylvania!
The complaint quotes Jonathan Malesic, associate professor of theology at King’s College, who said HR 535 “flies in the face of Pennsylvania’s history,” given its founding by William Penn.
“HR 535 improperly proclaims the bible to be ‘the word of God,’ . . . the Pennsylvania House of Representatives has no such authority or right to determine what is ‘the word of God,’ or if there is a ‘word of God,’ or if there is a ‘God’,” maintains FFRF. Our nation is not founded on religious belief or a bible, but upon “a secular and godless Constitution, which grants sovereignty not to a deity or a ‘holy book,’ but to ‘We the People.’ ”
FFRF asks the court to find that HR 535 violates the Establishment Clause, to order defendants to discontinue further publication and distribution of HR 535, to declare that public officials in Pennsylvania are indeed subject to the Establishment Clause, to declare that the theocratic principles of the bible do not constitute the ”official, preferred or endorsed religion” of the state, and to declare that the government is not “Judeo-Christian.”
FFRF v. Saccone was filed by attorneys Lawrence M. Otter, Doylestown, Penn., and Richard L. Bolton, Madison, Wis., on behalf of FFRF. U.S. District Judge Christopher C. Conner, who was appointed in 2002 by President George W. Bush, was assigned the case. Conner notably has ruled against the Affordable Health Care and Patient Protection Act.
Read the legal complaint at: