Circuit Approves Jesus Motto
The full 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on March 16 that Ohio's New Testament motto, "With God, all things are possible," is permissible, overturning a 6th Circuit 3-judge panel and a lower court ruling declaring the motto unconstitutional.
The 9-4 decision said that because the state does not attribute the quote to its source, Jesus, it is therefore acceptable. The motto, adopted in 1959, is found on official stationery, tax forms, and now a bronze plate in a sidewalk entrance to the Statehouse.
The U.S. Senate Finance Committee on March 13 approved a legislative package, Affordable Education Act of 2001, with an amendment letting parents open tax-free $2,000 savings accounts for children's K-12 education expenses--including religious-school tuition. President Clinton had twice vetoed similar legislation.
Teachers' unions called the scheme "back-door vouchers," saying it would drain tax dollars from public schools to subsidize families who already can afford private schools. Bush has proposed allowing families up to $5,000 per child for K-12 school expenses.
Utah: No Clergy Malpractice Suits
The Utah Supreme Court on March 16 banned lawsuits over allegations of clergy malpractice, unanimously upholding a trial judge's decision to dismiss a child rape victim's lawsuit against the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. All five judges are Mormon.
The victim said her bishop and stake president were negligent over her plea for help after being sexually abused at age 7 by a teenaged church member. They counseled her to "forgive, forget and seek atonement," later referring her to an unlicensed counselor who advised her not to call police.
Colorado Follows Suit?
The Colorado House Judiciary Committee voted 7-6 to send a bill to the full Senate limiting grounds on which sexual assault victims may sue churches, despite two hours of emotional testimony by victims and their advocates in late February. Witnesses included Mary Moses, who won a $1 million judgment against the Colorado Episcopal Diocese over sexual misconduct by a bishop who counseled her. "I will wear an invisible scarlet letter for the rest of my life," she told the committee.
"Under this bill the church asks to be exempted from the damage they cause," said Joyce Seelan, an attorney who represented a family victimized by a pastor.
Jehovah's Witnesses Scandals
A recent examination by the Louisville Courier-Journal of Jehovah's Witnesses court cases in Maine, New Hampshire and Texas shows that the confidential church disciplinary process may be allowing molestation to continue.
Church members and the public are put at increased risk by common secretive practices and a belief that reporting on members' suspected crimes breaches church confidentiality. Jehovah's Witnesses require either the offender's confession or at least two witnesses to the offense. Church policy allows "repentant" molesters to continue evangelizing door to door.
The newspaper began investigating church policy after the resignation of a western Kentucky church elder who objected to the practices. William H. Bowen resigned Dec. 31 as chief elder of the Draffenville congregation: "I refuse to support a pedophile refuge mentality that is promoted among bodies of elders around the world. Criminals should be ousted, identified and punished to protect the innocent and give closure to the victim."
Catholics Lobby against Healthcare
The Roman Catholic Church in New York State is demanding a "conscience clause" be adopted by the state legislature to exempt religious organizations opposed to birth control from any law mandating contraceptive coverage. The "denial clause" would exempt social service organizations, hospitals and Catholic-affiliated colleges, many of which receive public funding.
Mississippi Thrusts God on Students
Mississippi Gov. Ronnie Musgrove signed a law on March 23 mandating that public schools display "In God We Trust" in classrooms, cafeterias and auditoriums.
"Our nation was founded as a godly nation and we put it on our money," Musgrove declared. The law, which the ACLU has threatened to challenge, will take effect July 1. It requires the slogan to be displayed on a framed background of at least 11-by-14 inches. Although no money was appropriated to pay for the slogans, the American Family Association plans to donate 32,000 "In God We Trust" posters.
A related bill, HB 220, was introduced in Tennessee to amend the state flag by adding "In God We Trust" on a perpendicular bar of blue. Rep. John Windle claims the "public welfare requires it."
Senate Chaplain Amasses Power
Senate Chaplain Rev. Lloyd John Ogilvie has expanded his ministry with an unprecedented mix of public and private monies, according to a Feb. 21 report in the Wall Street Journal.
Ogilvie uses donations from a Christian group to purchase copies of his own books to distribute to the Senate. His writings sell in the Senate gift shop. He is lobbying to create a "Faith and Freedom" stairwell running up to what the Journal calls "his handsome new Capitol offices," which used to house the Senate library.
The founding fathers "believed in the separation of Church and State. They did not believe in the separation of God and State," Ogilvie wrote the Senate Rules Committee leadership about his proposal.
Ogilvie holds lunchtime bible series, mainly funded by a nonproft group whose mission is the "propagation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ," advertising his sessions with colorful posters.
Although Senate rules forbid such conflicts of interest as Ogilvie receiving royalties for the sale of his books at the Senate, he has received royalties, which a publisher told the Journal were an "accounting error."
Patron Trent Lott, GOP leader, helped Ogilvie distribute a bound copy of the chaplain's prayers as a "keepsake" after Clinton's impeachment trial. Asks Journal reporter David Rogers, "Has Mr. Ogilvie become more than the chaplain was meant to be? . . . [he is] living proof of how muddy those lines [between church and state] already have become in Congress. . ."
Milwaukee Vouchers Expanded?
Wis. Gov. Scott McCallum's state budget would expand eligibility for the Milwaukee voucher program, the only court-approved scheme in the country permitting tax money to pay for parochial education. His proposal would permit low-income children, the intended recipients, to continue to receive public money for private school tuition even if their parents' incomes rise 185% above limits. The program, with 9,638 students, costs $49 million this year. Voucher schools receive $5,326 per student this year.
In related developments:
A Lutheran group plans to build a government-funded Lutheran school to "proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ" in Milwaukee's poverty-stricken Metcalfe Park area. The overt use of the voucher program to build a congregation, as well as the backers' frank admission that the gospel-proclaiming school could not begin without tax funding, has brought scrutiny to the proposal. The plan is to open a school next fall and expand it into a church.
Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice John Wilcox agreed in March to pay a $10,000 fine and accept responsibility for the illegal actions of his campaign, settling one of the state's most egregious corruption cases. A "nonpartisan" get-out-the-vote group illegally spent $200,000, mostly from out-of-state school voucher advocates, to promote Wilcox. After winning, he voted to uphold Milwaukee's controversial voucher program in 1998, which funnels millions of tax dollars to religious schools. The state elections board filed civil charges in 2000.
Michigan: A bill was recently introduced to force teachers to call evolution an unproven theory and to include references to "competing theories" in class lessons, including the claim that life is the result of a creator. State Rep. Robert Gosselin, R-Troy said, "The whole theory of something coming out of nothing is, to me, incomprehensible."
Arkansas: A committee of the legislature recommended on March 20 that the "theory of evolution" be banned from textbooks: "Do you believe you were descended from a monkey? If we teach kids that they were descended from monkeys, don't you think they'll act like monkeys?" asked Rep. Denny Altes.
North Dakota: The Senate voted in February to approve a bill allowing schools to display the Ten Commandments in classrooms as part of an exhibit of "historical documents." The House approved legislation permitting school boards to allow voluntary classroom prayers to be led by a teacher or student.
Nothing More Divisive than Prayer?
Florida: Mixing prayer and politics at a city council meetings in Melbourne invoked criticism after Rev. Richard Beyer ended his Jan. 9 invocation by thanking God that George W. Bush won the election because Clinton had vetoed a bill banning so-called "partial birth" abortions. The city code requires an invocation. Controversy has also dogged prayers before the Cocoa Beach city commission, who asked local ministers to stop using "the Lord's name," in vain. They continue to do so.
Maryland: Blessings in the name of "Jesus the Lord" before the Montgomery County Council have created controversy since last fall. The Washington Post reports that virtually every meeting of the Fauquier county board of supervisors begins with an invocation of Jesus. The Anne Arundel county board meetings often start with the Lord's prayer. The Fairfax Board of Supervisors opens with a moment of silence, rejecting an experiment with prayer in the early 1990s, and the D.C. Council also avoids religion.
Minneapolis: A Jewish car salesman fired after questioning his boss' Christian proselytizing recently filed a lawsuit for religious discrimination in U.S. District Court under the Minnesota Human Rights Act and the U.S. Civil Rights Act. Ira Chemers said his boss opened all management meetings with prayers to Jesus Christ, and, shortly before firing him in February 2000, said: "I want everyone in this organization to be Christian."
Circuit Approves Jesus Motto