Freethought Today · June/July 2012

Published by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc.

State/Church Bulletin

Town ditches prayer before judge’s order

Vermont Superior Court Judge Martin Maley ruled June 2 that the town of Franklin may not start its annual town meeting with prayer. Town resident Marilyn Hackett sued to block the prayer in March. The town decided not to have a prayer before the judge had ruled.

“The hardship on the Town is small — it can no longer include a prayer in town meeting — while the hardship on Plaintiff if the Court fails to grant the injunction is great — continued violation of her constitutional rights,” Maley wrote in issuing a permanent injunction.

Hackett teaches in Richford, where she said she is harassed by teens daily, reported the Burlington Free Press. “They say ‘I love Jesus. God bless you, Miss Hackett. God save you, Miss Hackett.’ The only thing I can hope for is that years from now they’ll remember that there was an adult who stood up for her point of view.”

VTDigger.org quoted Hackett: “Every year they gaveled the meeting to order and anyone who didn’t want to listen to the prayer could step outside. My response to that has been: ‘I’m not the one breaking the law of the land. I’m not the one who should be asked to leave.’ ”

N.D. freethinkers win Commandments ruling

The 8th Circuit U.S. Appeals on May 25 reversed a lower court decision by a federal judge dismissing a lawsuit by opponents of a Ten Commandments monument on city property in Fargo, N.D. The appeals panel ruled 2-1 that the Red River Freethinkers lawsuit should be allowed to proceed.

The freethinkers group alleged a constitutional violation because the city gave the monument a religious purpose in voting three years ago to keep it.

Appeals court: Town prayers too Christian

The 2nd Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals ruled May 17 in Galloway v. Town of Greece that Greece, a suburb of Rochester, N.Y., didn’t make a good-faith effort in seeking non-Christians to participate in town meeting invocations.

The Associated Press reported the town violated the constitutional ban against favoring one religion over another by opening nearly every meeting over an 11-year span with prayers that stressed Christianity. The appeals court overruled a lower court’s judgment against two female plaintiffs. The lower court decided other faiths weren’t intentionally excluded.

“The town’s process for selecting prayer-givers virtually ensured a Christian viewpoint,” ruled the three-judge appeals panel.

The town and the Alliance Defense Fund both announced they would appeal. Linda Stephens, a member of FFRF, is principal plaintiff.

Baltimore abortion rights take hit

A Baltimore ordinance requiring a Christian “pregnancy center” to post notices it offers only “limited services” that exclude abortion referrals and birth control violates its free speech rights, a federal appeals court in Richmond, Va., ruled 2-1.

Plaintiffs included the Pregnancy Center, which has two locations that promote abstinence and bible studies with prenatal classes.

Judge Robert King dissented, calling the decision “indefensible” and adding “these proceedings have thus followed a course more fitting a kangaroo court than a court of the United States,” reported Bloomberg News.

King cited evidence that the centers engage in “deceptive practices” that create health risks for women.

High court denies free exercise certiorari

The U.S. Supreme Court on June 29 denied certiorari in other cases involving challenges to the Patient Protection and Affordable Health Care Act, reported Religion Clause. The petition in one of the cases, Seven-Sky v. Holder, had raised a free exercise challenge to the ACA.

The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals held that the appellants had “failed to allege facts showing that the mandate will substantially burden their religious exercise.”

‘In Jesus’ name’ ruled out in Charlotte

The Charlotte-Mecklenburg [N.C.] Police Department has asked its chaplains to make prayers nonsectarian, the Charlotte Observer reported June 21.

“This is not in any way an effort to demean anybody’s Christian beliefs,” said Maj. John Diggs. “It’s to show respect for all the religious practices in our organization. CMPD is not anybody’s church.”

If a chaplain is uncomfortable with nonsectarian prayer at an event, Diggs said a replacement will be found. The department has about 2,000 employees.

Churches can use New York schools

New York can’t refuse to allow religious groups to use city public schools for worship services, U.S. District Judge Loretta Preska ruled June 29 in a lawsuit brought by Bronx Household of Faith.

The dispute dates to 1995, when the Bronx Household of Faith sued the city for allegedly violating the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment by denying it use of a school while giving other community groups access to campuses for their activities.

The U.S. Court of Appeals in Manhattan sent the case back in February to Preska, who had temporarily allowed the church to keep meeting at the public school. Bloomberg News reported Preska made that permission permanent, saying the regulation that allows community groups to use public schools for activities outside normal school hours, while banning their use for religious services, violates the First Amendment.

“We strongly disagree with the district court’s view of the facts, including its finding that the high rents in New York City require the government to provide religious organizations government-subsidized space for purposes of worship,” said Jonathan Pines, deputy chief of the general litigation division of New York’s law department, in a statement. He said the city will appeal.

Ellwood City looks at holiday lottery

The Borough Council in Ellwood City, Pa., where FFRF has repeatedly challenged a nativity scene in front of the Municipal Building, voted 4-3 June 18 to further consider an ordinance that would institute a lottery system to determine the content of holiday displays.

The Beaver County Times reported that any borough resident or taxpayer could submit a permit application. If no resident applied, it would be opened up to outsiders.

With multiple applicants, the borough would hold a lottery to pick one applicant, who would get to choose the display.

Marisa Bunney, who chaired a study committee, opposes a lottery. “My fear is that somebody is going to be picked in the lottery and not put up the nativity.”

North Dakotans not so worried about religious freedom

A so-called religious freedom amendment on the North Dakota ballot that stated “Government may not burden a person’s or religious organization’s religious liberty” was defeated June 12. Results were 107,680 (64%) NO and 60,465 (36%) YES.

Bishop Samuel Aquila of the Catholic Diocese of Fargo was on the sponsoring committee.

“It would be different if people’s rights were being trampled,” said Tom Fiebiger, chairman of North Dakotans Against Measure 3. “The average North Dakotan has the same religious liberties they have always had and will continue to have.”

Missourians to vote on prayer Aug. 7

Missouri voters will decide Aug. 7 on a constitutional amendment guaranteeing the right to pray in public places. The amendment reaffirms that students can pray privately in public school, but it would not allow the schools to hold class prayers, Reuters reported. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1962 that school-initiated prayer amounted to establishing religion in public schools in violation of the Constitution.

The amendment also says students could not “be compelled to perform or participate in any education assignments or presentations” that violate their religious beliefs.

The prayer amendment passed 126-30 in the Missouri House and 34-0 in the Senate.

Anti-gay churches pass plate in Maine

As many as 200 Maine churches passed the collection plate on Father’s Day to fight a November ballot initiative legalizing same-sex marriage.

Protect Marriage Maine has been in contact with about 800 churches across the state. Denominations include Catholic, Methodist, Baptist, Pentecostal, Nazarene, Church of God, Wesleyan, Evangelical Free, Advent Christian and others.

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