Following the U.S. Supreme Court's 6-3 decision decriminalizing sodomy, Christian Broadcasting Network's "700 Club" host Pat Robertson urged viewers to pray for the retirement of three justices. He said the ruling "has opened the door to homosexual marriage, bigamy, legalized prostitution and even incest."
"We ask for miracles in regard to the Supreme Court," he prayed over the air on July 14. "One justice is 83 years old, another has cancer and another has a heart condition. Would it not be possible to put it in the minds of these three judges that the time has come to retire?"
He apparently was referring to Justice John Paul Stevens, born in 1920, and possibly Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who had cancer surgery in 1999. Justice Sandra Day O'Connor has also had cancer. But the identity of the justice with a heart condition was unclear.
Robertson's "clarification," issued on July 17, insisted he was not singling out any particular Supreme Court justices:
"I don't care which three, I mean as long as the three conservatives stay on. There's six liberals, so it's up to the Lord. I'm not telling God what to do. I'm just saying, 'Lord, help us.' "
Robertson's 21-day "Operation Supreme Court Freedom" is eerily similar to a 1986 campaign. Robertson told a National Right to Life convention in June 1986 that antiabortionists could look forward to that "wonderful process of the mortality tables" to change the court composition.
That summer, Rev. R.L. Hymers, Jr., pastor of a large fundamentalist Baptist congregation in Los Angeles, urged his congregation to pray for the death of Justice William Brennan. (See Alma Cuebas' whimsical cartoon from that era, above.) He later prayed for the "repentance, death or retirement" of five justices who voted that a couple could withhold medical treatment in the "Baby Doe" case.
Pat Cleveland, director of the Alabama Freethought Association, a Foundation chapter, opened this year's "glorious fourth" Independence Day celebration.
The annual 4th of July bash at Lake Hypatia Freethought Advance, near Talladega, Ala., was the perfect spot to celebrate the appellate court ruling handed down earlier that week against Alabama Supreme Court Justice Roy Moore. The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Moore must remove the 5,200-pound Ten Commandments monument he had installed in the rotunda of the Alabama Supreme Court building by stealth.
A packed house of about 200 freethinkers, representing about half of the states in the nation, attended the 2-day event sponsored by the Alabama Freethought Association. Events were held in the Lake Hypatia Freethought Hall and the surrounding tranquil lakeside grounds, which the Cleveland family opens to participants and campers.
Above: the "antigodville vaudeville" team of Steve Benson and Dan Barker, following a standing ovation for their Lake Hypatia performance of "Tunes 'n Toons." Steve is a Pulitzer Prize-winning daily editorial cartoonist and Dan is "staff musician" of the Freedom From Religion Foundation. The one-of-a-kind show weaves topical editorial cartoons with musical parodies for a pointed look at religion and freethought in the news. The talented pair is at work on a revised show scheduled for the 26th annual FFRF convention in Washington, D.C., on Oct. 11. (See back page for details and registration form.)
A slate of speakers alternated with leisure and camping activities, a poetry reading led by Ilene Sparks, Ala., and a suspenseful freethought trivia quiz directed by Clark Adams, Nev. Michigan Foundation member Kristine Danowski took top honors for her impressive repertoire of freethought knowledge. Other presenters included Charleston Gazette editor-in-chief James Haught, W.V., speaking on the history of "Holy Horrors," author Kimberly Blaker, Mich., American Humanist Association president Mel Lipman, Nev., and Hemlock Society director Faye Girsh, Colo.
June and July were banner months for the advancement of gay rights in North America. In a sweeping 6-3 decision on June 26, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned sodomy laws banning consensual sex between same-sex adults.
"The petitioners are entitled to respect for their private lives," wrote Justice Anthony Kennedy. "The state cannot demean their existence or control their destiny by making their private sexual conduct a crime."
A fierce dissent by Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, and Chief Justice William Rehnquist, read from the bench by Scalia, called the decision evidence that the court "has taken sides in the culture war." Scalia, a conservative Roman Catholic, wrote that the court "has largely signed on to the so-called homosexual agenda."
Senate majority leader Sen. Bill Frist, R-TN, said after the decision he supports a proposed constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, the so-called "Defense of Marriage" act.
The U.S. victory followed a ruling by a British Columbia court that B.C. gays and lesbians have an immediate right to marry.
A landmark 3-judge panel in the province of Ontario ordered Parliament to broaden its definition of marriage to include gay men and women. Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien pledged in June to make gay and lesbian marriage the law of the land.
Courts in three provinces have now ruled that laws against gay marriages violate the country's Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Ontario and British Columbia have fully legalized gay marriage. Quebec has approved "civil unions."
A coalition of church groups, including Roman Catholic, evangelical Protestant and Muslim, announced in July they would try to challenge provincial court rulings to the Supreme Court. The Catholic Church has spearheaded the anti-gay crusade. The Vatican announced a worldwide campaign against gay marriage on July 28.
Canada has become the third nation in the world to sanction gay and lesbian marriage, joining the Netherlands and Belgium.
Cat & Mouse at Grand Canyon
Three bronze plaques inscribed with biblical passages at scenic overlooks in the Grand Canyon were removed, then reinstalled by the National Park Service in July.
The bible plaques were returned to the Hermit's Rest, Lookout Studio and Desert View scenic overlooks at the South Rim, pending "review." The ACLU raised concerns in February over the constitutionality of the plaques, placed 33 years ago by the Evangelical Sisterhood of Mary. Each cites a verse from the Book of Psalms. The group's founder said they were fashioned to "honor God" for making the Grand Canyon.
The U.S. Interior Department, which initially announced that the plaques were inappropriate, would not comment on why they were reinstalled.
Bush "Faith-based" Plan
A contingent of congressional Democrats and leaders in the Congressional Black Caucus denounced President Bush's "faith-based initiatives" as discriminatory.
Bush touted the scheme to African-American urban leaders on July 16: "We ought not to fear faith," Bush told 100 inner-city pastors in Washington, D.C. "I believe freedom is God's gift to every individual."
Black leaders held a press conference objecting to a Republican bill to allow pervasively religious preschool programs to receive federal Head Start funding while maintaining the right to discriminate in employment.
The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force condemned Bush's faith-based plan in June, for permitting public-funded service providers to discriminate in hiring on the basis of sexual orientation.
God Talks to Bush?
According to Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas, who met with President George Bush in late June during ceasefire negotiations, Bush told him:
"God told me to strike at al Qaida and I struck them, and then he instructed me to strike at Saddam, which I did, and now I am determined to solve the problem in the Middle East. If you help me I will act, and if not, the elections will come and I will have to focus on them." Source: Ha'aretz (Israeli periodical), June 24, 2003
Faith-Based Drug Czar
National Drug Control Policy director John Walters in July announced a national drive to enlist faith-based youth groups in anti-drug programs.
The "drug czar" kicked off the campaign with a visit on July 12 to Tulsa, Okla., where he met with Christian and Muslim representatives. Jewish leaders, unable to attend because of the Sabbath, endorsed the program in writing, according to Associated Press.
The agency published a brochure, "Pathways to Prevention," encouraging ministers to work anti-drug messages into sermons, and suggesting that youth leaders lead prayers on the subject. For more on the "faith-based anti-drug effort," go to: www.theantidrug.com/faith and www.whitehousedrugpolicy.gov.
11th Circuit Vanquishes Moore
A 3-judge panel of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on July 1 that a 5200-pound Ten Commandments marker placed in the state Supreme Court rotunda by Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore is unconstitutional. The appeals court upheld a lower court ordering removal of the bible edicts.
The appeals court, based in Georgia, now joins the 6th and 7th appellate circuits in ruling against the Ten Commandments. The 10th Circuit has recently ruled that a government body displaying the Ten Commandments must permit controversial or unpopular groups and religions equal access.
Judge Carnes, joined by Chief Justice Edmonson and Judge Story, observed that if they adopted Moore's position:
"Every government building could be topped with a cross, or a menorah, or a statue of Buddha, depending upon the views of the officials with authority over the premises. A creche could occupy the place of honor in the lobby or rotunda of every municipal, county, state, or federal building. Proselytizing religious messages could be played over the public address system in every government building at the whim of the official in charge of the premises. However appealing those prospects may be to some, the position Chief Justice Moore takes is foreclosed by Supreme Court precedent."
Moore plans to appeal.
House Slaps 11th Circuit
The U.S. House of Representatives voted 260-161 on July 23 to withhold any funds that could be used to enforce a recent federal appeals court ruling declaring the Ten Commandments unconstitutional in Alabama's state judicial building.
Rep. John N. Hostettler, R-IN, claimed that Congress could use its power over federal spending to prevent enforcement of the ruling, and the 2002 ruling by the 9th Circuit holding the words "under God" to be unconstitutional in the Pledge of Allegiance.
Third Circuit OK's Decalog
The 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on June 26 that a Ten Commandments plaque placed in 1920 on the outside wall of the Chester County Courthouse, West Chester, Penn., is constitutional.
The appeals circuit denied that there was a religious purpose in posting a Protestant version of the unabridged commandments, followed by verses from the New Testament.
The lawsuit was filed by the ACLU on behalf of members of the Freethought Society of Greater Philadelphia, a Foundation chapter directed by Margaret Downey. Principal plaintiff is Sally Flynn. The appeals court overturned a March 2002 federal court ruling finding that the plaque was inherently religious and improper for display at a government building.
The courthouse, built in 1846, is on the National Register of Historic Places. The court ruled that the bible edict may remain for "historic preservation."
The shocking decision calls the Ten Commandments "a significant basis of American law and the American policy" and accepts the verdict of a commissioner that "the Ten Commandments on the wall of the Courthouse symbolizes civilization."
The ruling attacks the Lemon test (requiring a government act to have a secular purpose), quoting Supreme Court Justice Scalia. Scalia compared Lemon to "some ghoul in a late-night horror movie that repeatedly sits up in its grave and shuffles abroad, after being repeatedly killed and buried." Judge Becker said the presence of "no smoking" and "no skateboarding" signs also mitigate the violation.
Kansas Decalog Moved
A Ten Commandments monument in front of the Wyandotte County Courthouse, Kansas City, Kan., was moved to the lawn of a nearby Catholic church following a 8-0 vote on July 24 by the local board of commissioners. Several members of Individuals for Freethought, a student group at Kansas State University, testified in favor of removal, according to Foundation student member Keiv Spare.
The action was taken by the Unified Board of Commissioners of Wyandotte County and Kansas City, Kan., following a threat by the local ACLU to sue to remove it.
"At a time when we're trying to save money any way we can and lower taxes, it just seems to be a prudent decision to make," said Commissioner Kelley Kultala.
Utah Decalogs Moved
Seven Ten Commandments monuments on public property in Utah, which were donated by the Fraternal Order of Eagles, have been removed this spring.
The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals recently ordered that public bodies must accept displays of alternate messages if they retain Ten Commandments monuments on public property. Monuments have been removed from public land in Ogden, Salt Lake City, Murray, Tooele, Roy and Provo.
Borgota Eschews Gideons
The Borgota Hotel Casino & Spa, a $1.1 billion resort that opened in Atlantic City, N.J., this summer, broke rank from other casinos by refusing the Gideons' request to place bibles in its 2,002-room hotel.
Borgata spokesperson Michael Facenda said rather than choose between the Mormon, Hebrew, Christian, Greek and other bibles, they will keep rooms bible-free: "The small percentage that we talked to who do have an interest in having it [a bible] available brought their own anyway," he added.
The casino is starting a small library of religious and philosophical books for patron use. The Borgota accepted the donation of the Foundation's hardback publication, Women Without Superstition, No Gods - No Masters, an anthology edited by Annie Laurie Gaylor.
Statement of the Case
The Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag was first created in 1892, in celebration of the 400th anniversary of Columbus's "discovery" of America. After a subsequent half century of widespread unofficial adoption, Public Law No. 622, 56 Stat. 380 (June 22, 1942) took effect, codifying the Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America (hereinafter "the Pledge"), which read:
I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.
Of note is the fact that there is and was nothing religious in that 1942 version of the Pledge. Twelve years later, however--claiming that, "Our American Government is founded on . . . the belief that the human person is important because he was created by God," H.R. 1693, 83rd Cong., 2nd Sess. (1954), and that "The inclusion of God in our pledge therefore would further acknowledge the dependence of our people and our Government upon the moral directions of the Creator," Ibid.--Congress amended the Pledge. Thus, in an act that did nothing but add the two purely religious words, "under God," to the preceding prose, Congress altered the Nation's sole Pledge so that it now reads:
I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all. Pub. L. No. 396, 68 Stat. 249 (hereinafter "Act of 1954").
That version of the Pledge is currently codified at 4 U.S.C. ¤ 4.
Petitioner Newdow is a citizen of the United States, entitled to all the protections of the Constitution. He is also an atheist, who adamantly denies the existence of any supreme being, and who finds the notion that his government espouses the contrary religious view at all--much less as part of its only Pledge of Allegiance--to be deeply offensive and injurious. Accordingly, citing the First Amendment, he filed suit in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of California on March 8, 2000, challenging the current version of the Pledge. Seeking only declaratory and injunctive relief, he asked the district court, among other things, "[t]o declare that Congress, in passing the Act of 1954, violated the Establishment and Free Exercise Clauses of the United States Constitution," and "[t]o demand that Defendant, the Congress of the United States of America, immediately act to remove the words 'under God' from the Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag as now written." Original Complaint
Newdow set out numerous grounds for standing. Chief among these was his personal right to join his fellow citizens in pledging allegiance to his country's flag --and all it stands for--without having to confront offensive religious dogma. With a (simply wonderful) daughter in elementary school, Newdow attends meetings of the local school board. Because those meetings invariably begin with a recitation of the now-religious Pledge, Newdow named the school board and its superintendent as defendants, contending that their use of the Pledge constituted a governmental endorsement of a specific religious belief--i.e., the belief that there exists a god--and thus turned him into a "political outsider."
Struck by the fact that his tax dollars are employed to further the religious message of the current Pledge, Newdow also claimed that he had taxpayer standing, detailing how both (California) state and (Article I, section 8) federal tax monies are used. Additionally, because the State of California specifically declares that the daily recitation of the now-religious Pledge of Allegiance is a proper patriotic exercise in which public school teachers may lead their students (California Education Code ¤ 52720)--and because the Elk Grove Unified School District ("EGUSD") has promulgated a rule requiring recitation of the Pledge in elementary schools (AR 6115)--Newdow claimed standing on the basis of his right as a parent to have the public schools refrain from inculcating his child with any religious ideology. . . .
Reasons for Granting the Petition
. . . Perhaps nowhere can the creative genius of the framers be as readily appreciated as in the Establishment Clause. Realizing that religion is unique in its ability to cause divisiveness and persecution, those who drafted the body of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights--and the citizens who ratified both of these magnificent documents--broke from a long tradition of associating religious belief with civil authority. That the framers intended to completely disassociate these two arenas can be seen by the fact that--after considering numerous iterations--the final wording of the clause is as broad as can be imagined: "no law respecting an establishment of religion."
That this dissociation would also include the disassociation of God and government also seems manifest. To begin with, as was noted early on in our history:
We formed our Constitution without any acknowledgment of GOD; without any recognition of his mercies to us, as a people, of his government, or even of his existence. The Convention, by which it was formed, never asked, even once, his direction, or his blessing upon their labours. Thus we commenced our national existence under the present system, without GOD. [Address by Yale Seminary President Timonthy Dwight, July 23, 1812]
Thus, for instance, the Preamble to the Constitution of the United States is devoid of any reference to the Almighty. Despite the fact that "so help me, God" commonly concluded the oaths of the era, the only oath specified in the Constitution omits those words. Similarly, of the eleven colonies with religious test oaths of some variety, five had proscriptions aimed in some way at atheists. Yet in Article VI, clause 3, the framers employed language as totally prohibitory as that in the Establishment Clause: "[N]o religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States."
. . . Under Supreme Court Rule 10(c), it is appropriate for the Court to grant certiorari when "a United States court of appeals has decided an important question of federal law that has not been, but should be, settled by this Court." The meaning and extent of the Establishment Clause's protections is certainly an "important question of federal law." This is especially so when the issue under consideration has caused as much divisiveness and rancor as has occurred in the case at bar.
Both the United States and the Elk Grove Unified School District have argued that it is untenable for the Nation to have an official Pledge that bears conflicting messages dependent upon venue. With this Newdow agrees. Of interest is that even in presenting their arguments, the correctness of the Ninth Circuit's ruling--and the pervasiveness of the myopia that exists when religious matters are at hand--is demonstrated. The Elk Grove defendants wrote:
Significantly, this decision will result in substantial disruption of the daily lives of the school children in the EGUSD, as well as those attending public schools within the jurisdiction of the Ninth Circuit. These school children will find it necessary to reconcile why they are prohibited from willingly reciting the Pledge as a daily patriotic exercise when the public school children in the rest of the country are permitted to say the Pledge.
What they fail to appreciate is that the argument, of course, works both ways, and one could at least as reasonably write:
Significantly, this decision will result in substantial disruption of the daily lives of the school children outside the jurisdiction of the Ninth Circuit. These school children will find it necessary to reconcile why they are forced to endure religious dogma espoused by their public school teachers during a daily patriotic exercise when the public school children in the Ninth Circuit are provided with the protections guaranteed by the First Amendment.
Unfortunately, this failure to see both sides of a religious issue is not limited to the parties. For instance, despite the enormous public outcry engendered by the ruling in this case, the chief argument of the panel dissent was that the effect of the intrusion of the religious words, "under God," in the Pledge upon atheists is "de minimis." Thus, we see again the foresight of the framers, who recognized that even federal judges could be oblivious to their religious biases. Removal of the two religious words from the Pledge certainly raises no constitutional issue; yet there was a virtually unprecedented response when the Ninth Circuit stated that needed to be done. That Judge Fernandez could observe that response and then persist in contending that the insertion of those words--which no one can deny at least raises a First Amendment concern--is de minimis seems extraordinary.
Moreover, although the defendants have based their arguments on the effects of the Pledge on school children, the importance of the matter to atheistic adults cannot be overemphasized. To be sure, "[t]his Court's decisions have recognized a distinction when government-sponsored religious exercises are directed at impressionable children who are required to attend school, for then government endorsement is much more likely to result in coerced religious beliefs." Wallace v. Jaffree, 472 U.S. 38, 81 (1985) (O'Connor, J., concurring). However, "impressionability" is not the only parameter of concern. The aggravation, disgust and outrage of being turned into "political outsiders" and second-class citizens--generally unrecognized by children--is extensive to the disenfranchised adult citizens who find themselves despised and ridiculed due solely to their religious beliefs. Government, of course, has no duty to overcome private biases. But it may no more strengthen, encourage or even condone antipathy based on matters of conscience than it may do these things based on matters of race. "Private biases may be outside the reach of the law, but the law cannot, directly or indirectly, give them effect." Palmore v. Sidoti, 466 U.S. 429, 433 (1984).
Only forty-nine percent of Americans would vote for an atheistic candidate. In the constitutions of at least eight states, there still exist provisions that deny atheists the right to hold public office and/or testify in a court of law. Although politicians are subject to ruin for even tangentially discriminatory references regarding gender, majority religion or race, blatant offenses against atheists are not even acknowledged.
The Pledge of Allegiance served its patriotic purposes perfectly well for sixty-two years prior to Congress's passage of the Act of 1954. Accordingly, with strict scrutiny required for intrusions of religious dogma into government, a compelling interest was required before the words, "under God," could have been permissibly interlarded. That interest has yet to be enunciated.
The majority of American citizens may take great pleasure in having their religious beliefs reflected in their government. That, however, is precisely what the Establishment Clause exists to prevent, and Newdow respectfully requests that this Court take this case to reinforce that fact.
. . .
(3) Article III Standing
Although standing in Establishment Clause challenges should be easily determinable according to the parameters previously set forth in Valley Forge Christian College v. Americans United for Separation of Church & State, 454 U.S. 464 (1982), difficulties still arise. The need for further clarification in this arena also supports granting this Petition. The Court of Appeals found that Newdow has standing as a parent, and therefore limited its standing analysis to that one realm. Newdow, however, has always believed that he primarily has standing in his own right. In fact--without minimizing the personal harm that occurs when one's child is inculcated with religious dogma while attending the public schools--the harm to an adult who is turned into "second-class" status on the basis of his religious persuasion is at least as severe.
(a) Outsider status
The Court has repeatedly stated that no American citizen should be turned into a "political outsider" due to his or her religious beliefs. . . . Since the inception of this case, Newdow has argued that he, himself, has been turned into an "political outsider" by the intrusion of the religious words, "under God," into the Pledge. Furthermore, like millions of his religious brethren, Newdow is forced to confront offensive religious dogma any time he wishes to join his fellow citizens in pledging his allegiance to the flag. This is an outlandish offense that needs to be examined under a strict scrutiny analysis. With both the District Court and the Defendants having accepted Plaintiff's claim that he has been made to feel like an "outsider" due to the governmental acts challenged in this case, the burden of proof has shifted to the government. Unless it can be shown that there is a compelling interest in "giving sectarian religious speech preferential access to a forum close to the seat of government (or anywhere else for that matter)," [Capitol Square Review & Advisory Bd. v. Pinette, 515 U.S. 753, 766 (1995] the Court should take this opportunity to announce once and for all that, in this country, every religious view will be protected by "the most demanding test known to constitutional law." City of Boerne v. Flores, 521 U.S. 507, 534 (1997).
(b) Equal Protection
This is an equal protection case where atheists such as Newdow--unlike those of the majority theistic religious persuasion--are unable to join their fellow citizens in pledging allegiance to the Nation's flag without being confronted with offensive religious dogma. . . .
The petition for a writ of certiorari should be granted. Americans of every religious persuasion should be accorded equal respect, and the uniqueness of the Establishment Clause--and its relevance with respect to governmental immunity--should be addressed. Finally, the Court should detail the requirements for standing, which have caused tremendous confusion in the lower courts.
Respectfully submitted, MICHAEL NEWDOW, Pro Se
he Freedom From Religion Foundation awarded Roger, Pat and Melody Cleveland its "Emperor Has No Clothes" Award on July 4, 2003, at the Lake Hypatia Independence Day celebration. It is hosted annually by the Alabama Freethought Association at the Clevelands' park grounds in rural Alabama. (Pat and Roger are married, and Melody is Roger's sister.)
In presenting the golden statuette on behalf of the Foundation, Freethought Today editor Annie Laurie Gaylor noted that it was the Alabama Freethought Association which took the original successful lawsuit challenging Judge Roy Moore's courtroom Ten Commandments. The Association was joined by Gloria Hershiser, and the case was only thrown out by the state high court on a bizarre technicality.
"Roger, Pat and Melody dreamed of a freethought 'advance, not retreat,' right in the buckle of the bible belt," said Annie Laurie.
"They deeded the land for the Lake Hypatia Freethought Hall to the national Foundation, which raised funds for the building. The second installment, the auditorium, was dedicated in 1999. Lake Hypatia Freethought Hall was built and is such a success, because of the confidence we all feel in the Clevelands and their judgment, stewardship and vision.
"The Clevelands also had the wonderful idea of inviting the national Foundation to place its Atheists in Foxholes monument here, the ideal spot.
"They generously open their beautiful land and lake to hundreds of freethinkers from all over the country. That is authentic Southern Hospitality!
"The Alabama Freethought Association, which they founded and which is the Foundation's longest-lasting chapter, has worked invaluably as an umbrella organization of atheists, agnostics and other freethinkers to keep church and state separate in Alabama.
"The Clevelands, in publicly espousing this most significant cause, embody the small child in the fairy tale who says, 'But the emperor has no clothes.'"
The Foundation also singled out George Whatley, M.D., for his vital help to the chapter and the Foundation, and Bill Teague, "master engraver extraordinaire."
"Pansy" candies (pansies, from the Latin and French word for "thought," are a traditional freethought emblem) were distributed to volunteers Ilene Sparks, the freethought master gardener; Rachel Doughty, an activist and chapter officer; chapter activists Hank and Alice Shiver; and newsletter editor Patsy Ann Pitts.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation has named its major winners in the 2003 high school essay competition. Contestants this year were asked to submit short essays about why "under God" does not belong in the Pledge of Allegiance.
Aubrey Sinn, a new graduate of Conlara School, Ann Arbor, Mich., received the Blanche Fearn Memorial Award, with a $1,000.00 prize. Ms. Sinn, who will be attending the Tisch School of the Arts in New York City this fall, placed first for her essay, "For All the People."
Second place of $500.00 was awarded to Kurti Monnier, for his essay "'Under God' Should Go Under." He graduated from Brookline High School, Mass., and is enrolled at Boston University.
Two students tied for third place, receiving $250.00 each: Russell Hargraves, for "A Notion Forgotten by Time," and Gilene Young, for "The Incongruity of the Pledge of Allegiance." Russell graduated from Hamshire-Fannett High School, Texas, and will be entering the University of Texas at San Antonio. Gilene, a graduate of Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, Va., will be attending Yale University.
Additionally, the Foundation has awarded Honorable Mention prizes of $100.00 each to 12 high school grads who will be entering college this fall. Excerpts of their essays will appear in Freethought Today.
Winning Honorable Mentions are:
Hagop E. Bouboushian, Corsicana, Texas; Michaela Bronstein, Seattle, Wash.; Carmen Byrd, Charlotte, N.C.; Emily Gundlach, Davenport, N.Y.; Adam Katrick, Zanesville, Ohio; Luiza M. Goncalves, San Jose, Calif.; Sanjay Gopinath, Oak Hill, Va.; David Leuszler, Stone Mountain, Ga.; Jason Lindgren, Oak Park, Calif.; Sam Marcellus, Port Washington, N.Y.; Kathryn Morrison, Marlton, N.J., and Joshua Parry, Roanoke, Texas.
The annual high school first-place award is named for the late Blanche Fearn, who was a Foundation officer and benefactor, who ardently believed in lifelong learning, although she did not have the opportunity to attend college. A firm proponent of the separation of church and state, she had protested prayers at her public school in New York City as a teenager.
Next year's topic and guidelines will be announced by the Foundation in February 2004, when they will be posted at our website www.ffrf.org/essay.html.
Federal District Judge Barbara B. Crabb of Madison, Wis., issued a resounding 41-page opinion on July 14 in favor of the Freedom From Religion Foundation and 22 local plaintiffs, who are challenging a Ten Commandments monument in a city park in La Crosse, Wis.
To read a major excerpt of the ruling, go here.
The City of La Crosse is debating whether to appeal the ruling, with emotions running high. Mayor John Medinger opposes an appeal. The City has until mid-August to decide whether to appeal. Foundation counsel Jim Peterson described Crabb as one of the least overturned federal judges in the circuit.
The lawsuit revisited a case first filed by the Foundation in 1985 on behalf of its La Crosse member Phyllis Grams, now deceased, which Judge Crabb dismissed for lack of standing in 1987.
Freedom From Religion Foundation staffer Dan Barker stands in front of the awkwardly-fenced Ten Commandments in Cameron Park, La Crosse, Wis.
Crabb's current decision acknowledged the standing of the impressive list of plaintiffs, including atheist and agnostic Foundation members, a Catholic man, Jewish women, and some Unitarian-Universalists. Most attested that they felt it necessary to avoid Cameron Park and shopping in the area because the presence of the bible edicts on city property causes them distress.
When the Foundation sent a letter last year warning that it would sue the City if it did not remove the monument, the council passed a resolution to keep the marker "in its present location by any and all means available to the City," including working with religious-right organizations.
After the Foundation filed its lawsuit last July, the City of La Crosse responded by selling a tiny parcel of the small park to the Fraternal Order of Eagles, which had originally donated the tombstone-like monument in 1965. The board refused to consider an offer by the Foundation to buy the plot of land for fair market value, or the Eagles' original offer to house the monument on their own property across the street from the park. Offers by local churches to host the monument on their private property were also refused.
"The law of this circuit compels a conclusion that defendant violated the establishment clause when it displayed a monument of the Ten Commandments on public property without a secular purpose for doing so. Furthermore, defendant's sale of a minuscule portion of the park to the Eagles in order to preserve the presence of the monument proves rather than extinguishes defendant's endorsement of the monument's religious message," wrote Crabb.
In a pivotal finding, Crabb declared the sale of part of the park to be unconstitutional, concluding "there was no reason to sell the land other than to maintain the location of the monument."
". . . a court must look at the entire context of the sale to determine whether the sale demonstrates a preference for religion. . . . a defendant sold a very small parcel of land in the middle of a park to a pre-determined buyer for the purpose of preserving one religious message in the park."
"Neutrality means more than just changing the name on a deed . . . Under defendant's view of the law, [Alabama] Chief Justice Moore [who just lost a similar case before the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals] would be permitted to display the Ten Commandments in his courtroom so long as he could convince the state to sell a tiny portion of the courthouse to a private party and erect a disclaiming sign."
". . . it is respect for religion, not hostility toward it, that is the animating principle behind the establishment clause. The First Amendment guarantees persons of all faiths that the government will treat them with equal concern and respect. Individuals must feel free to choose their own paths in their search for ultimate meaning. By prohibiting the government from favoring those who believe over those who do not, the establishment clause helps protect the rights of Christians, Jews, Buddhists, agnostics, Muslims and atheists."
A magistrate refused the Foundation's request last year to protect the confidentiality of the lawsuit's initial two plaintiffs, a married couple. When her husband died unexpectedly, remaining plaintiff Sue Mercier agreed to be named publicly as a plaintiff, if the Foundation could find additional plaintiffs so she would not be alone in the community. In the lawsuit's most dramatic moment, an outpouring of sympathetic offers came into the Foundation office. Foundation member Hank Zumach, who signed up as a plaintiff, spearheaded a campaign to recruit additional plaintiffs.
"We gratefully acknowledge and thank our 22 La Crosse plaintiffs for standing up to support the First Amendment in this small community," said Foundation president Anne Gaylor.
Although headlines and letters to the editor in the La Crosse Tribune have been dominated by news of the court victory, most plaintiffs say they have taken little flak. One of the plaintiffs received two threatening phone calls. Another received some on-the-job harassment after the lawsuit was filed, which was stopped by supervisors.
The Foundation office has received some predictably unfriendly emails and phone calls, and its sidewalks were chalked with religious graffiti (see photo below) the day after the opinion was handed down. The Tribune printed a letter from the wife of a local police officer about "our annoying problem with the Freedom From Religion pests," saying others should "help squash those pesky insects."
Some local plaintiffs told the Foundation they had acquaintances come forward after the lawsuit was filed, actually expressing disappointment that they were not part of the lawsuit. A "save the Ten Commandments" lawn sign campaign had lost steam, until the ruling was handed down.
Colorado Coalition Fights Vouchers
A coalition of parents, teachers' unions and civil rights groups filed suit on May 20 challenging Colorado's new law permitting low-income students at "unsatisfactory" public schools to attend parochial or private schools at taxpayer expense.
Colorado is the first state to enact such a program since the Supreme Court gave school vouchers the green light last summer. The lawsuit, filed in Denver County district court, invokes the Colorado constitution, which forbids public money from supporting schools "controlled by any church or sectarian denomination whatever."
Groups fighting the law include People for the American Way, Colorado branches of the NAACP, the American Jewish Congress, the American Federation of Teachers, the National Education Association, the ACLU and Americans United for Separation of Church and State.
VMI Prayers Unconstitutional
The 4th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a lower court ban on prayers before evening meals at the Virginia Military Institute.
"In establishing its supper prayer, VMI has done precisely what the First Amendment forbids," ruled a unanimous 3-judge panel on April 28. "Put simply, VMI's supper prayer exacts an unconstitutional toll on the consciences of religious objectors," wrote Robert B. King.
Attorney General Jerry W. Kilgore vowed to appeal the ruling to the entire appeals court, saying prayers are "part of the fabric of our country."
A Vicar We Could Like
Hundreds of villagers in Taarbaek, Denmark, demanded the reinstatement of Thorkild Grosboel, 55, after he was suspended in June by the state Lutheran Protestant Church for not believing in a god. Grosboel recently told a newspaper that "there is no heavenly God, there is no eternal life, there is no resurrection."
Although about 85% of the population belongs to the state church, only 5% regularly attends church services.
Firefighters Fight Chaplain Corps
Six California firefighters filed a lawsuit this spring seeking to end the chaplain's corps of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Prevention, saying the evangelical minister who runs the corps improperly injects Christian religious faith into a government organization.
The two-year-old corps replaced a longstanding peer-counseling program. Of the first 52 people to join the chaplain's corps, all but two are Christians wearing crosses on their uniforms.
The litigants, who refer to themselves as "the Satanic Six," include a Baptist, an Episcopalian, a Christian Scientist, a Jew and a rationalist agnostic. They allege that wearing religious insignia while on duty is only a short step from proselytizing fellow firefighters. They want the corps disbanded and are asking that no religious language be used at ceremonies.
Federal Courts Hijacked?
Pres. Bush's many nominees to the federal courts include such controversial choices as:
James Leon Holmes, an Arkansas lawyer who wrote in 1997 that a wife is to "subordinate herself to her husband" and likened abortion rights activists to Nazis.
William Pryor, 11th Circuit nominee, whose record as Alabama attorney general is antiabortion, anti-state/church separation, antigay, and pro-"states' rights." He is best known for rallying on behalf of Judge Roy Moore to promote government prayer and the Ten Commandments. In 1997, he said: "God has chosen, through his son Jesus Christ, this time and this place for all Christians to save our country and save our courts."
Dennis Cook, 6th Circuit Court, who has a record of not upholding enforcement of fair employment laws, and is a member of the Federalist Society. Confirmed May 5.
Carolyn Kuhl, 9th Circuit nominee, who argued in favor of overturning Roe v. Wade and granting tax-exempt status to Bob Jones University, and dismissed a claim by a woman whose doctor invited a drug company representative to witness her breast exam without her consent.
Charles Pickering, 5th Circuit nominee, who voted for a constitutional amendment to outlaw abortion and against state-funded family planning as a Mississippi senator, and was critical of the Voting Rights Act.
John Roberts, D.C. nominee, who argued in favor of a gag rule barring doctors working in buildings receiving federal funding from mentioning the option of abortion, and supported Operation Rescue. Approved by Judiciary Committee in May.
Claude A. Allen, 4th circuit nominee, 42, described as a campaign pitchman for U.S. Sen. Jesse Helms, and who once accused a Helms opponent of having links "with the queers."
Study: Faith-based Not Better
A study released in May by researchers at Indiana University-Purdue University in Indianapolis found no proof that religious charities do a better job of providing social services.
Studying 2,830 people who went through religious and secular job training programs in two Indiana counties, the researchers found no difference in job replacement rates or starting wages between secular and religious programs. However, clients of faith-based groups worked fewer hours on average and were less likely to receive health insurance.
The study is based on the first two years' data in a three-year project funded by the Ford Foundation.
Unveiling Photo ID's
Florida Circuit Judge Janet C. Thorpe ruled on June 11 against the request by converted Muslim Sultaana Freeman to keep her face veiled for her state driver's license photograph. Thorpe said "having access to photo image identification is essential to promote" the state's "compelling interest in protecting the public."
Freeman, whose case was brought by the ACLU of Florida, wears a black niqab that shows only her made-up eyes. When she was arrested in 1998 on a domestic battery charge, she and her husband cited religious reasons for hindering child welfare workers, who were investigating bruises on twin foster children under their care. The twins were removed from the Freeman home.
Women Fight Veil
Sheikh Mohammed Al-Fartousi, Baghdad's most powerful Shiite cleric, announced on May 23 he would impose a "hand of iron" in enforcing a new fatwa banning alcohol, closing cinemas, and veiling women.
More than 1,000 Shiite protesters marched in Baghdad on May 19 against the American presence in Iraq and supporting the influential council of Islamic clerics.
As ayatollahs compete for authority and influence, Iraqi women are begging for freedom and a chance to live without wars and embargo. "I want to move freely, live a joyful life out in the open," a hairdresser told the New York Times in May. "I don't want a government of religion."
Similarly, clerics are pushing for the veil in Afghanistan. A council of Islamic scholars recently urged Afghan women to wear the hijab, "and it shouldn't be too tight," said Fazil Ahmed Manawi, deputy chief of the Supreme Court.
A prime minister in Pakistan's Islamist-ruled North West Frontier Province submitted a bill in May proposing that all women be forced to wear head-to-toe veils, known as "purdah," in public. "It is the order of Allah, in his holy book the Koran, that all women should be veiled," said Pir Mohammad Khan.
Historic Churches Get Tax Money
Interior Secretary Gale Norton announced on May 27 that the nation's historic preservation program "will end a discriminatory double-standard" and make churches eligible for federal subsidy.
She announced that the first church to receive federal grant money for refurbishment will be Old North Church in Boston, where the two lanterns were placed to signal Paul Revere that the British were coming. The 280-year-old church, which is still active and has a congregation, will receive $317,000 in public money to repair and restore windows and "make it more accessible."
HUD Permits Discrimination?
The Bush Administration stepped up its campaign to allow religious groups receiving federal housing aid to discriminate against employees on the basis of religion.
"If an organization considers it important to hire within their religion, we don't think the federal government should substitute its judgment for theirs," said Frank Jimenz, chief of staff to HUD Secretary Mel Martinez.
Six HUD programs have regulations that can be changed administratively.
The nondiscrimination policy of two other HUD programs--the Community Development Block Grant Program and HOME Investment Partnerships Program--is in the statutes and may only be repealed by Congress.
In January, HUD proposed allowing religious groups and churches to apply for federal funds to erect and refurbish buildings where religious activities are held, so long as social services are also provided.
In early May, the House passed a bill reauthorizing a job training program which removed a provision prohibiting religious grantees from workplace religious discrimination. The Workforce Investment Act provides $6.6 million in job training and services at government centers serving more than 19 million people.
Religious Head Start
A House panel voted on June 12 to approve a bill letting federally funded preschool programs refuse to hire teachers based on faith.
The House Education and Workforce panel on education reform voted to exempt religious groups from the bill's anti-discrimination clause.
"Faith-based organizations cannot be expected to sustain their religious mission without the ability to employ individuals who . . . practice their faith, because it's that faith that motivates them to serve," said sponsor Rep. Mike Castle, R-DE.
The bill, creating a pilot program in eight states to overhaul Head Start, is regarded as the first step in dismantling the 38-year-old program.
Baptist Feet Firmly in Mouths
About 7,000 believers convened in Phoenix in mid-June for the notorious annual Southern Baptist Convention, which announced an initiative to "liberate" gays from homosexuality via Jesus.
Showcased was former Muslim-cum-Baptist minister Rev. Ergun Caner, who told delegates: "I went from worshipping a false, dead idol to knowing the one true living sovereign Lord."
Rev. Jerry Vines, who at last year's gathering infamously called Muhammad a "demon-possessed pedophile," received a standing ovation for his sermon denouncing the "culture of perversity" and for positing that "All religions are not equally true."
Previous conventions have attracted ridicule for boycotting Disney, for issuing a booklet in 1999 saying "Hindus are living in the hopeless darkness of Hinduism," and for such pronouncements as "God almighty did not hear the prayers of a Jew."
Hundreds of Canadian kindred spirits the same week gathered outside Ontario Superior Court in Toronto, to protest the June decision by the Ontario Court of Appeals to legalize same-sex marriages.
Evangelist Ken Campbell, B.C., told 600 demonstrators:
"We believe that SARS will cease when the AIDS parade is cancelled. Lord God have mercy on this city and upon the nation."