ICLU Sells Out Again?
For the second time, the Indiana Civil Liberties Union has "settled" a lawsuit challenging the presence of Ten Commandments in a courthouse by agreeing to permit the biblical listing alongside other "historic" documents.
The display at the Washington County Courthouse in Salem, Indiana, will include King John and the Magna Carta, Thomas Jefferson and the Bill of Rights, and Moses with the Ten Commandments.
The Nov. 30 settlement was reached after 400 people, including Reform Party vice presidential candidate Ezola Foster, rallied outside the courthouse in October. A state law took effect July 1 allowing local governments to post the commandments with displays of "other historical documents."
Still in court is an ICLU lawsuit to prevent the placement of a decalog on state capitol grounds. U.S. District Judge Sarah Evans Barker issued a preliminary injunction in July barring placement of the monument. In mid-November Barker also ordered the removal of the capitol monument from the courthouse lawn in Lawrence County, where bible backers had placed it temporarily.
The Utica Town Council is in the process of approving the biblical decalog for its town hall.
Moment of Silence Upheld for Now
Virginia's controversial new law mandating a moment of silence in public schools was upheld by a U.S. District judge in October, and remains in effect while opponents appeal the ruling. Ten students and their parents are challenging the law. Virginia Attorney General Mark L. Earley, a gubernatorial candidate, vows to defend the law before the Supreme Court if necessary.
Reason Prevails in West Virginia
West Virginia State Superintendent David Stewart announced in early November that the state Board of Education is not likely to consider Gov. Cecil Underwood's request for a resolution to post Ten Commandments in West Virginia schools.
In September, Underwood, facing re-election, wrote a letter to the Board demanding that it "immediately" consider the proposal. Underwood was defeated by U.S. Rep. Bob Wise.
The superintendent said such a resolution would only invite a lawsuit, not "assist the learning process."
Scouts Sue Broward County Over Cut-off
The Boy Scouts filed a lawsuit on Dec. 4 against Florida's Broward County School Board for barring the group from school property due to the Scouts' ban on gays.
The South Florida Council and national headquarters asked the U.S. District Court in Miami for an injunction to keep the district from evicting 57 Scout troops and Cub packs. The Board voted unanimously on Nov. 14 to give the Scouts 30 days' notice, contending the Scouts breached a contract.
Expelled Girl Settles Lawsuit
A teenage girl expelled from Orchard Street Christian School in Elsmere, Ky., last year for being sexually active reached an out of court settlement announced in December. Her lawsuit argued that the school discriminated against the 15 year old because "boys are not expelled . . . for being sexually active, nor does [the school] improperly and voyeuristically make inquiry of male students regarding their sexual activities."
Important 9th Circuit Rulings
--- A 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco overturned a death sentence for convicted murderer Alfred Sandoval in November, ruling the prosecutor's argument to the jury that the death penalty is sanctioned by God denied him a fair trial.
--- In October, the court rejected an appeal by Christian students to fuse a valedictory speech with an invocation at graduation ceremonies in Oroville High School, California. Upheld was a June ruling by Judge Lawrence K. Karlton saying the Constitution gives no one a right to proselytize before a captive school audience.
Oregon School Abuse Halted
Oregon school officials in Molalla put a stop in November to regular cafeteria visits over the past year by a youth pastor involving up to 100 students a week in its middle and high schools.
They posted police guards at the entrance of the middle school to keep out Church of the Nazarene pastor Jason Rhoads, telling him any attempt to enter the schools would be trespassing. The action was taken after parents of a middle school student complained recently that their child was pressured to participate in a youth group affiliated with the Church of the Nazarene.
A critic noted that if ministers are given carte blanche visitation rights, then the schools would have to allow equal access to a communist, a gay rights organizer or a Scientologist.
Religious Concert Nixed in Illinois
Religious songs are being limited in an upcoming holiday assembly at the high school in Fenton, Illinois, after objections last year by a Muslim senior to the program of mostly Christmas carols and religious music.
"Our holiday assembly cannot be predominately religious and it cannot advance any particular religion. We have to be sensitive to our diverse student population," Superintendent Alf Loan told the board of education in late November.
After student Sabina Navsariwala wrote a letter to her school newspaper saying she felt hurt and alienated by the music, she was harassed at school, according to the Daily Herald.
No Faith in These Police
The Providence police department in November announced a new program to bring a "nondenominational, faith-based" approach to community relations, dubbed PRAYER.
The notion came to patrolman Gregory W. Bolden in a dream, reported the Providence Journal, and gained the support of the police chief and scandal-ridden Mayor Vincent A. Cianci, Jr.
"I think it's about time that somebody in government recognized that there is a God and that He is in charge," said a supporter, Rev. Marlowe V.N. Washington.
Texas School Violations Multiply
--- Jewish parents charged in November that two Texas middle schools in the Fort Bend School District are illegally promoting religion. Frank Levy and Hillary Goldstein said the district promoted after-school prayer meetings this fall, posting flyers featuring crosses. They noted that one teacher's computer screen saver displays the words "Jesus Christ" and that Jewish students were required to bring notes from rabbis in order to miss school Oct. 9 to observe Yom Kippur.
--- Duncanville High School is permitting a retired pastor and former bible college professor to teach bible studies. At least 200 Texas schools offer such classes. The Freedom From Religion Foundation sent detailed objections of the proselytizing nature of such classes to the TEA in the past.
Teachers Banned at Prayer Service
Teachers at Murrieta Valley High School in Riverside, Calif., will no longer be allowed to participate in the annual "See you at the Pole" September prayer observance.
The principal in late November barred the teachers from attending future student worship services, after the Anti-Defamation League complained that the teachers' presence gave the impression of school endorsement.
Religious Visas Fraudulent?
Three government agencies have criticized a special immigration program for religious workers as a fraud-ridden mechanism for ministers to get green cards for congregation members. The religious worker visa was established in 1990 to provide 5000 special admission visas a year for ministers and those in religious vocations. Congress voted twice to extend the program.
In a summer hearing before the House Judiciary Committee on Immigration, Congress' General Accounting Office (GAO) testified it found the program rife with abuse. In one case, a pastor had filed 450 visa petitions covering more than 900 people, falsifying records.
"Evidence uncovered by the INS suggests that some of these organizations exist solely as a means to carry out immigration fraud," said Jess Ford of the GAO.
John Brennan, director of visa services for the State Department, testified that "consular officers are presented with claims that a variety of seemingly mundane jobs with no clear traditional religious function are religious occupations because they are somehow related to the overall work of a religious organization."
"You Will Go to Hell"
"If you lie, you will go to hell," a Cook County judge warned two little girls testifying in his courtroom, according to a Chicago Sun Times expos? on Nov. 2.
Judge James T. Ryan once detained a woman in court until she soiled herself, and fined a woman giving birth for speeding to a hospital.
Diane Tuzzolino, a Mount Prospect mother, said the judge told her children Karyn, 12, and Kara, 8, who were testifying on a small claims dispute, that "You realize if you lie, you will go to hell."
Faith-Healing Parents Convicted
The State Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, in a 7-0 decision issued on Nov. 28, upheld an involuntary manslaughter conviction of Dennis and Lorie Nixon of Altoona, who let their 16-year-old daughter die in 1996 from complications of untreated diabetes. Shannon died at home of severe dehydration with a blood sugar level that was 18 times normal, as her family prayed, read from the bible and coated her body with oil.
The Nixons, who were sentenced to two and a half to five years in prison in 1997, have been free during their appeals. They belong to a Blair County branch of the Faith Tabernacle Church, and have 11 other children. Another child, Clayton, died at age 8 in 1991 from a treatable ear infection.
Canadian Creationist Lampooned
The contrast between theopolitics in the United States and Canada became evident in October, when conservative Stockwell Day, who unsuccessfully challenged Canadian Prime Minister Jean Cretien, was lampooned in the Canadian press for being a creationist.
"Day Admits Creationist Views" was the page 1 headline of the Montreal Gazette in October. The nation was shocked that Day believes humans were planted full-grown in the Garden of Eden and that, if dinosaurs existed, they ambled around with Adam and Eve.
"It's kind of freaky, being in denial about fossil evidence and carbon dating," Phillis Rosseau, a Canadian pharmaceutical researcher, told the Boston Globe.
"Fathers Count" Masks Religion
The U.S. House, by a 238-93 vote, passed the "Fathers Count" bill in November, ostensibly to promote fatherhood in low-income families by expanding job training and supportive programs.
Although a lengthy debate over the separation of church and state took place, the bill passed without an amendment barring federal funds from going directly to churches.
Cleveland Voucher Program Struck
A three-judge panel of the Sixth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled 2-1 on Dec. 11 that a Cleveland voucher program using tax money to support religious schools is unconstitutional.
Nearly 4,000 Cleveland students attend private schools, most of them religious, using publicly funded vouchers worth $2,250 each.
"To approve this program would approve the actual diversion of government aid to religious institutions in endorsement of religious education, something 'in tension' with the precedents of the Supreme Court," the appeals panel wrote.
The Ohio Supreme Court initially invalidated the voucher program because of the way it was passed by the Ohio legislature, but upheld the program itself as constitutional. After the Ohio legislature approved the program in compliance with the Ohio Supreme Court, the voucher scheme was declared unconstitutional by a federal judge.
Voucher watchers are speculating that the Cleveland case is headed for a showdown at the U.S. Supreme Court, which thus far has not accepted appeals on the issue. There are currently only four expected votes against it: Souter, Stevens, Ginsberg and Breyer, with O'Connor considered a (very dubious) swing vote.
The only other ongoing voucher programs in the country are in Florida and in Milwaukee, where the Catholic-dominated Wisconsin Supreme Court basically ruled that the state constitution was dead when it approved a scheme siphoning up to $5,236 per voucher to poor students in Milwaukee. Currently, 9,936 students are receiving vouchers there to attend private schools, two-thirds of them religious. In Florida, fewer than 100 students are enrolled in a voucher program that is also the subject of continuing legal challenge. The Cleveland program is expected to continue for at least the rest of this school year.
Student-Led Prayer Litigated
The Louisiana affiliate of the ACLU plans to file a federal lawsuit against the Beauregard parish school board for allowing student-led prayer. The district sent letters to parents asking their children to participate in a "Partners in Prayer for Schools" program in which churches adopt classrooms to pray for.
Nebraska Antigay Action Litigated
The ACLU Nebraska will challenge the constitutionality of Initiative 416, approved by 70% of Nebraska voters on Nov. 7, amending the state constitution to prohibit legal recognition of same-sex marriages or civil unions. A coalition of religious denominations, including fundamentalist Protestant, Mormon and Catholic, funded the campaign to enact the antigay measure.
Religious Freedom for Parking Lot?
A Catholic church ordered by a borough to shut down a parking program because it was an illegal business in an area zoned for private residency is now appealing that ruling under the newly passed federal Religious Land and Institutionized Persons Act of 2000.
St. Martin of Tours Roman Catholic Church, New Hope, Penn., was raking in up to $50,000 a year by offering weekend tourists parking for a "$4 donation" in its 88-car lot.
"Our ability to praise God through the good works of our fellowship and stewardship programs has been shackled by the denial of the use of our parking lot," the church maintains.
A lawyer representing neighbors who oppose the scheme questioned how "sending patrons of the parking lot to the bars and restaurants at all hours of the night in New Hope is a religious freedom unless they're going into the bars to pray."
Too Little, Too Late?
A libel suit has been filed by State Sen. Lewis Long, a Democrat, against the Oklahoma Christian Coalition for falsely claiming that he voted to repeal laws against sodomy and bestiality. Long lost his election by 270 votes.
In 1994, the Legislature updated its criminal code, removing sodomy and bestiality from certain sections, although both acts remain crimes under other sections. The Christian Coalition and a coalition of GOP legislative candidates have since used the issue to slam opponents. In Long's case, the Christian Coalition compounded the error because Long actually voted against the criminal code update.
After the Christian Coalition issued a belated apology, the Tulsa World editorialized on Nov. 22:
"The Christian Coalition's after-the-fact apology is as phony as its voter guides."
Eugene Bars Xmas Trees
Eugene, Oregon's city manager is adhering to a ban on Christmas trees in most city work places, based on the fact that Christmas trees are symbolic of a religious holiday. The Statesman Journal reported that Jim Johnson has affirmed his decision that Christmas trees not be displayed in public lobbies, break rooms and other space shared by city employees.
Scouts Hurt United Way
City employees in Tempe, Arizona, contributed less than half of what they gave last year to United Way, after a controversy about the antigay policy of Boy Scouts of America. Tempe workers donated $42,794 this fall, compared to $89,400 last year.
Interim City Manager John Greco proposed in late September to remove Boy Scouts from the city's United Way pledge forms. In October, Tempe's openly gay mayor, Neil Giuliano, backed off after the proposal created a firestorm of protest. The city's volunteer coordinator told the Arizona Republic in December that the Scout controversy "kind of soured" city workers on the campaign.
Catholic Chair Bad Precedent
The University of California at Santa Barbara has approved a $4.2 million fundraising goal to endow a ""Catholic chair" for Catholic studies at the public school.
About 20 local Catholics are raising private money to endow the chair in the name of Virgil Cordano, a Franciscan priest who pastored the Santa Barbara Catholic Mission.
If successful, the scheme would make the Santa Barbara university one of the few in the country with a Catholic chair.
Making Religion the Villain
Looking for solstice gifts for children?
Try a trilogy by British children's author Philip Pullman ("The Man Who Dared Make Religion the Villain: A British Author's Trilogy, Great Adventures Aren't Pegged to the Great Beyond," New York Times, Nov. 6).
Pullman espouses a "radical view of religion that may well hold the most subversive message in children's literature in years," says the Times.
Pullman has just completed The Amber Spyglass (Knopf), the last in a trilogy, following The Golden Compass and The Subtle Knife. The story is about a boy and a girl from different worlds "who grapple with profound philosophical questions of existence while having amazing adventures," according to Sarah Lyall of the Times.
The 53-year-old former school teacher, Lyall writes, "has created a world in which organized religion . . . is the enemy and its agents are the misguided villains."
Pullman explicitly views his books as an alternative to C.S. Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia.
"When you look at what C.S. Lewis is saying," Pullman told the Times, "his message is so anti-life, so cruel, so unjust." Pullman, raised Protestant in Wales, became an atheist as a teenager.
Washington Post reviewer Michael Dirda favorably compared Pullman's second book to children's classics in the genre, adding: "Pullman's book is more sheerly, breathtakingly all-stops-out thrilling than any of them."
Pullman has also written a quartet of adventure stories set in Victorian London for older children.
Going to God
The New York Times (Nov. 1) reported on the plight of "Turkish Women Who See Death as a Way Out" of religion-inspired repression, citing the following cases:
--- A 22-year-old woman throwing herself from the roof of a 7-story building after being beaten by her parents for wearing a tight skirt.
--- A 20-year-old woman hanging herself after giving birth following an arranged marriage.
--- A mother of five, age 30, hanging herself in the family barn. Her 65-year-old husband shrugged off the suicide by saying: "It was her time to go to God.
ICLU Sells Out Again?