The Trump administration is once again exploiting the current global crisis, using the next COVID-19 relief bill, to expand its school voucher agenda and subsidize religious schools.

Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos has announced plans to divert taxpayer money to private (almostly exclusively religious) schools if public schools are not able to safely open for in-person education.

Congress must intervene to stop the Trump administration from taking advantage of the pandemic to defund our public education system at a time when public schools face huge expenditures to improve safety and access.

Please contact your senators TODAY and urge them to demand that the next COVID-19 relief package includes provisions to bar public money from going to private schools.

DeVos’ assault on public education, which she once referred to as a “dead end,” is rooted in her personal interest in promoting religious schools. This betrayal of the secular public school system was thoroughly aired during her confirmation hearing, but she was nevertheless confirmed by the same senators who are now considering giving her this sweeping power to undermine public school funding. Please help sound the alarm on this attempt to force American taxpayers to bankroll religious education.

WAYS TO TAKE ACTION

1. Click on the red “Take Action” link below to use our automated system to contact your senators today. Feel free to use or adapt the talking points provided. Personalized messages are always the most impactful!

2. Contact your senators on social media and share your opposition to Trump and DeVos’ latest attempt to use the next COVID-19 relief bill to divert public funds to religious schools.

TAKE ACTION

 

Church Mask

The Columbus City Council should remove its exception for houses of worship from mask-wearing requirements, urges the Freedom From Religion Foundation.

The City Council passed an ordinance on July 6 requiring that masks be worn in public, including in most public facilities, but exempted religious entities such as churches. FFRF is strongly objecting to such an exemption, which flies in the face of science and the public welfare.

“The Supreme Court has long held that the Establishment Clause ‘mandates government neutrality between religion and religion, and between religion and nonreligion,’” FFRF Co-Presidents Dan Barker and Annie Laurie Gaylor write to Columbus City Council President Shannon G. Hardin. “Exempting religious facilities from the City Council’s mask ordinance violates this basic stricture.”

Since the beginning of this pandemic, houses of worship have repeatedly been shown to be hotbeds for spreading COVID-19. In one Texas church alone, 50 congregants and staff members, including the pastor and his wife, recently have tested positive to COVID-19. That church, Calvary Chapel of San Antonio, reopened in May and even though ushers, greeters and leaders of the children’s ministry wore face masks, about half of the congregants did not. Pastor Ron Arbaugh says he regrets announcing that congregants could hug one another. One-third of all coronavirus cases in a California county’s first outbreak were traceable to a single church congregation, for instance. The numbers were even larger elsewhere. As Reuters reported: “South Korea announced thousands of coronavirus cases in the space of only a few days in late February. The surge in cases centred mostly around one main cluster from a church in Daegu city.”

These numbers make sense, FFRF points out. Many religious facilities are uniquely susceptible to spreading the disease and should be held to at least the same mask-wearing standards as similar secular facilities. Worship services usually require people to sit together in an enclosed space for an extended period of time to share a communal experience. Even when conducted under social distancing measures, this type of gathering creates a high risk of coronavirus transmission. Mask-wearing policies are guided by clear science: The more people who gather, the more viruses spread. Masks significantly mitigate that spread.

Governments already regularly place limits on worship gatherings that jeopardize public health, FFRF emphasizes. For instance, the government prohibits churches from cramming too many people into a building in violation of fire codes and also requires that church buildings comply with necessary building codes. The congregants’ right to gather and worship is limited by the government’s need to protect those congregants from being trampled to death and the community from a fire. Requiring masking due to a pandemic is even more crucial.

“Bestowing an exemption on places of worship puts an entire city’s population potentially at risk,” adds Gaylor. “Columbus officials should refrain from engaging in such religious pandering at the expense of public health.”

The coronavirus makes no exemption for religious facilities; Columbus’ response to the virus must do the same.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a nationwide nonprofit organization with more than 32,000 members and several chapters across the country, including over 800 members and a chapter in Ohio. Its purposes are to protect the constitutional separation between state and church, and to educate the public on matters related to nontheism.

Additional Info

  • videolink https://www.courthousenews.com/treasury-reveals-big-firms-that-got-millions-in-virus-loans/

Additional Info

  • videolink https://religionnews.com/2020/07/07/willow-creek-life-church-among-churches-that-received-millions-in-ppp-loans/

Additional Info

  • videolink https://friendlyatheist.patheos.com/2020/07/07/the-u-s-government-gave-nearly-10-billion-in-forgivable-loans-to-churches/

Additional Info

  • videolink https://friendlyatheist.patheos.com/2020/07/08/supreme-court-religious-schools-are-all-but-immune-from-discrimination-lawsuits/

1The-ArkEncounter

The infamous Ark Encounter in Kentucky, the $100 million boondoggle meant to prove that the bible is literally true, has taken in more than $1 million in taxpayer dollars earmarked to stimulate the COVID-impacted economy. Worse, even after receiving these taxpayer funds, the ark park has badgered the faithful to donate to the park to help it survive the pandemic.

Ken Ham, the chief proselytizer who heads the biblical theme park and its associated businesses, fundraised for donations to “help sustain the core AIG ministry during the coronavirus situation.” He even sent an email fundraiser claiming that the donations would “cover costs such as recalling furloughed staff,” raising over $1.1 million in this way. (The Paycheck Protection Program, the governmental scheme under which Ham received his money, restricts use of the forgivable loan explicitly to ensure employees would not be laid off, and for expenses such as utilities.)

“Even for Ken Ham, that is stunning hypocrisy,” says Freedom From Religion Foundation Co-President Dan Barker, a former evangelical pastor.

Public money has always floated Ham’s boat. In an open letter released shortly before the inauguration of the Ark Encounter, Ham plainly stated the motivation behind opening the park:

Our motive is to do the King’s business until He comes. And that means preaching the gospel and defending the faith, so that we can reach as many souls as we can . . . millions of souls will hear the most important message of all . . . a message of hope from the holy, righteous Judge who, despite our sin, wants us to spend eternity with Him!

Ham has repeatedly reinforced this statement. In a 2018 blog, Ham wrote:

The whole purpose of building these attractions was evangelistic . . . if we just presented evidence for creation and the flood, there was no point in constructing these venues. … I would see no point in having an apologetics ministry like Answers in Genesis if we weren’t proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ. . . . AiG is an evangelistic, biblical-authority ministry.

FFRF has famously filmed a commercial, which exposed the state/church problems, at the beached monstrosity. Without government subsidies, Ham’s venture would long ago have shipwrecked. Public money — “We the People” — should not be taxed to pay for Ham to spoonfeed absurd creationist myths to children.

%250 %America/Chicago, %1980

Ron Darling

Written by

"I’m not a formal religion type of person so I can’t say that I pray for Doc [Gooden]. But I do meditate and wish him the best."

Additional Info

  • Alphabetical Name Darling, Ron
  • Quote Attribution Darling, on former teammate Dwight "Doc" Gooden's ongoing drug addiction problems (northjersey.com, Jan. 26, 2017)
  • Compilation Credit Compiled by Bill Dunn

 

The U.S. Supreme Court in its decision today lamentably has blessed the Trump administration’s expansion of exceptions to contraceptive coverage for religious reasons.

In Trump v. Pennsylvania, and its companion case “Little Sisters,”a five-judge majority of the court ruled that the Trump administration may have a free hand in permitting employers and private universities to opt out, without notice, of the Affordable Care Act’s contraceptive mandate, which requires employers to offer preventive care, including prescription contraception for women. A district court judge ruled against the Trump administration’s move and issued a preliminary injunction against the rule coming into effect. That decision was upheld by a three-member panel of the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. A Catholic order of nuns, the Little Sisters of the Poor Saint Peter and Paul Home, was permitted to intervene in the case and argue that the mere act of signing an Affordable Care Act waiver violates their religious freedom and the Catholic view that birth control is a sin.

The Supreme Court decided that the Trump administration had the authority to massively enlarge the contraceptive care exceptions and that its process for doing so was not procedurally improper.

“We hold that the Departments had the authority to provide exemptions from the regulatory contraceptive requirements for employers with religious and conscientious objections. We accordingly reverse the 3rd Circuit’s judgment and remand with instructions to dissolve the nationwide preliminary injunction,” writes Justice Clarence Thomas in his majority opinion that was joined by four other justices.

The majority found that the Affordable Care Act granted broad authority to the Health Resources and Services Administration “to define preventative care and screenings and to create the religious and moral exemptions.”

Justice Elena Kagan, joined by Justice Stephen Breyer, filed a concurring opinion that leaves some hope that the expanded contraceptive exemptions may not survive further review. The case was remanded for further proceedings, which will allow the states of Pennsylvania and New Jersey to show that the new exemptions were “arbitrary and capricious.” As noted by Kagan, “That issue is now ready for resolution, unaffected by today’s decision.” One concern raised by the parties is that the Trump administration rules provide exemptions to contraceptive coverage to publicly traded companies, which will be difficult to justify.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, joined by Justice Sonia Sotomayor, dissented out of a concern about women’s rights and the intent of the Affordable Care Act to guarantee comprehensive care.

“The original administrative regulation accommodating religious objections to contraception appropriately implemented the Affordable Care Act and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act consistent with Congress’ staunch determination to afford women employees equal access to preventive services, thereby advancing public health and welfare and women’s well-being,” Ginsburg writes. “I would therefore affirm the judgment of the Court of Appeals.”

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is strongly disturbed by the majority judgment.

“This is a disheartening decision that will enable an attack on reproductive rights,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “Employers should not have free rein to deny women workers much-needed contraceptive care. This is discriminatory and unacceptable.”

The state/church watchdog had signed on to a brief before the court, as part of a diverse assortment of groups, contending that the Trump administration was breaching the First Amendment in allowing certain religion-based exemptions from required birth control coverage.

FFRF has also long advocated for the repeal of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which is what provides the underlying basis for the Supreme Court’s ruling today, and its ruling in the Hobby Lobby case. These decisions demonstrate the need for Congress to take action and to finally repeal this act.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, the largest national association of freethinkers, has more than 32,000 members and several chapters all over the country.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is decrying today’s unwarranted expansion of a religious exemption by the U.S. Supreme Court as a blow to the rights of employees everywhere.

“The Supreme Court is allowing religious employers a broad opportunity to discriminate against employees. Their workers now will have less protection under civil-rights laws,” says Dan Barker, FFRF co-president.

The consolidated cases of Our Lady of Guadalupe School v. Morrissey-Berru and St. James School v. Biel dealt with the “ministerial exception” to civil rights laws, which allow religious organizations to fire their “ministerial” employees for any reason — even because of race, sex, religion, age, national origin, etc. Today’s ruling, which dealt with the firing of two teachers at different Catholic schools, harmfully expands this exception under the guise of the religion clauses of the First Amendment.

“When a school with a religious mission entrusts a teacher with the responsibility of educating and forming students in the faith, judicial intervention into disputes between the school and the teacher threatens the school’s independence in a way that the First Amendment does not allow,” Justice Samuel Alito writes for the 7-2 majority opinion.

In a strong dissent, Justice Sonia Sotomayor, joined by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, points out the potentially dire societal consequences of the ruling.

“The court is not only wrong on the facts, but its error also risks upending antidiscrimination protections for many employees of religious entities,” she states. “Recently, this court has lamented a perceived ‘discrimination against religion.’ (Espinoza v. Montana Dept. of Revenue) Yet here it swings the pendulum in the extreme opposite direction, permitting religious entities to discriminate widely and with impunity for reasons wholly divorced from religious beliefs. The inherent injustice in the court’s conclusion will be impossible to ignore for long, particularly in a pluralistic society like ours.”

A bit of background: Agnes Morrissey-Berru, who is not a practicing Catholic, sued her employer, the Our Lady of Guadalupe School (based in Hermosa Beach, Calif.) for age discrimination, when the school failed to renew her contract after 16 years as a full-time teacher. Kristin Biel, who was a full-time teacher at St. James School in Torrance, Calif., filed charges for disability discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission after her dismissal while being treated for breast cancer. (Biel since died, with the case continuing under the aegis of her widower, Darryl Biel.) Morrissey-Berru and Biel argued they did not serve as ministers, but as teachers. Both had won the right to pursue their discrimination suits before the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Under today’s ruling, other employees who were never designated as ministers or considered themselves to be ministers will potentially lose legal protection. FFRF is concerned that religious organizations will continue to press the boundaries of the ministerial exception in order to shield themselves against secular anti-discrimination laws.

“Organizations are already attempting to circumvent civil rights laws by gaming the ministerial exception, and this decision will make it easier for them to do so,” says FFRF Senior Counsel Patrick Elliott.

In an amicus brief filed before the court in March, FFRF had asked the high court to reject such overbroad firing practices. FFRF’s brief was unique in warning the court that adopting the test preferred by the defendants would have an immediate, devastating impact on the civil rights of more than 1 million health care employees — a point that is even more pertinent now than when the brief was filed. FFRF partnered with fellow amicus curiae American Medical Women’s Association to get this on the record. Approximately 15 percent of all U.S. hospitals are Catholic-owned, while employing many staff who are not Catholic, with an additional 4 percent of hospitals operated by other religious organizations.

Sotomayor’s dissent reiterates this point, noting that more than 100,000 secular teachers may be put at risk. She adds, “And that says nothing of the rights of countless coaches, camp counselors, nurses, social-service workers, in-house lawyers, media-relations personnel, and many others who work for religious institutions.”

In granting religious entities such overbroad leeway, the Supreme Court has inflicted grievous harm by denying equal justice under the law.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, the largest national association of freethinkers, has more than 32,000 members and several chapters all over the country. FFRF Attorneys Patrick Elliott, Sam Grover and Brendan Johnson prepared its brief.

FFRF is a non-profit, educational organization. All dues and donations are deductible for income-tax purposes.

FFRF has received a 4 star rating from Charity Navigator

FFRF is a member of the Secular Coalition for America

FFRF privacy statement