Rhode Island prayer banner decision appealed

The Associated Press reported May 14 that seven people are plaintiffs in an appeal of a federal judge’s decision ordering removal of the prayer banner from Cranston West High School in Rhode Island. Three are Cranston West students, three are graduates and one is from North Providence.

The Cranston School Committee has agreed to pay half the $150,000 legal costs the city was ordered to pay the ACLU, which represented Jessica Ahlquist, the student who contested the banner in her school auditorium. She’s received a student activist award and $10,000 from FFRF.

Superintendent Peter Nero said the banner, which was glued to the wall, was removed March 3 at a cost of about $2,500 and is stored in an undisclosed location. It took 11 hours to sandwich it between two plywood boards and carve around the boards to extract a 4-foot by 8-foot slab of sheetrock.

Jessica and her family are still being threatened. She made public a letter she received in April:

“The cops will not watch you forever. We will get you good. Tell your little asshole sister to watch her back. There are many of us, ‘Crusaders,’ we have a better [sic] pool going to see who gets you first! Your fuckin old man better move or keep you locked up if you know whats good for you. We know where he works, what kind of cars you have + the plate numbers of the cars. Get the fuck out of R.I. you bitchin whore. You are nothing more than a sex-toy of a slut. Maybe you will gang-banged before we throw you out of one of our cars. WE WILL GET YOU — LOOK OUT!”

Arizona religious bills signed into law

Ariz. Gov. Jan Brewer signed a bill May 11 to let religiously affiliated employers exempt contraceptive services from employees’ health insurance plans. The new law will apply exclusively to those entities whose religious beliefs are central to their operating principles, and for whom providing coverage for contraception could pose a moral conflict or religious objection.

The law expands the definition of a “religiously affiliated employer” to include any organization whose articles of incorporation explicitly state a religious purpose, and whose religious beliefs play a fundamental role in its function.

Brewer also announced she has signed a bill that expands the “conscience clause” so that pharmacists, physicians and other health care workers won’t lose their professional licenses for denying services on religious grounds.

The Associated Press reported that proponents admit there are no known incidents of “faith-based discipline” in Arizona. Republican Sen. Steve Yarbrough, bill sponsor, said it’s “fundamentally wrong” that if “you don’t affirm the particular lifestyle, then your license is going to be at risk.”

[Editor’s note: Yarbrough must believe that women having reproductive choice, even in cases of rape or incest, is a “lifestyle.”]

Brewer signed a bill into law April 17 to let public high schools offer an elective bible course called “The Bible and Its Influence on Western Culture.” Guidelines say the course must address the influence of the bible on laws, history, government, literature, art, music, customs, morals, values and culture.

Arizona is the sixth state to allow such a course.

Georgians can choose plates praising God

Nontheists will subsidize believers starting July 1 in Georgia, when new license plates with an “In God We Trust” option become available.

All plates are being replaced by a new design. The free “In God We Trust” sticker replaces the county of residence designation.

Kansas board shies from sectarian prayer

The Reno County Commission, Hutchinson, Kan., directed legal staff to draft a new prayer policy despite pleas to continue a long tradition of mostly Christian prayer to open meeting, the Hutchinson News reported May 8.

The board agreed to seek clergy to offer nonsectarian prayers, but if no one is available, to ask for a moment of silence of have a commissioner lead the prayer.

Florida board allows adult-led prayer

The Clay County School Board, Green Cove Springs, Fla., voted 3-2 on April 19 to allow prayer on school grounds by outside groups. First Coast News reported that all adults must give name, address and birth date 10 days in advance so a background check can be done. Prayers have to end 30 minutes before the school bell. The organizer has to provide insurance coverage for every person attending.

Pastor Ron Baker’s insistence on praying on school grounds drove the new policy. Baker said he will hold prayer events one foot off school property every morning. FFRF had complained, prompting the school district to shoo Baker away. Then the district reneged.

“I was convinced from the beginning we’d find some unity in this to protect the rights of our students, who always have the right to have prayer at the school,” said Superintendent Ben Wortham.

Noted FFRF Co-President Dan Barker: “This is predatory conduct involving adults praying at school as small children arrive.”

Parents ‘privatize’ so graduates can pray

Students and parents at Lakeview Public High School in Columbus, Neb., thumbed their noses at the Constitution again this year by opening and closing the May 13 graduation ceremony in the school gym with prayer.

ACLU of Nebraska has been contesting the prayers since 2001. To get around the law, graduations are organized and sponsored by parents, who rent the gym ($150 this year). The printed program and an announcement said the graduation was “private” and “not sponsored by Lakeview Community Schools.” Attendees were asked to stand for prayers.

“People who don’t have religion, we respect them by not making them pray, and then they can respect us by just sitting there in silence and they don’t have to pray,” senior Aysha Janssen told KTPM News.

Mojave cross allowed back on mountain

The latest decision in an 11-year court battle over a Latin cross called the Mojave cross on federal land in the desert near Baker, Calif., came April 23. U.S. District Judge Robert Timlin signed an order allowing the cross to return to Sunrise Rock, where it was first placed in 1934 and branded as a war memorial.

The ACLU sued in 2001. After Congress in 2003 approved a sham “public for private” land swap with the pretense that the cross would no longer be on public land, the legal wrangling continued. The case went to the U.S. Supreme Court in 2010, when a 5-4 decision said the cross could stay but sent it back to lower courts to review the land swap.

Timlin’s order said the National Park Service will transfer the title for the one-acre public parcel the Barstow Veterans of Foreign Wars Post in exchange for five acres of donated land near Cima.

The Park Service will fence the site, with visitor access, and post signs saying it’s private land. A plaque will say it’s a veterans memorial.

Gideons get booted by Ontario school

Christian bibles and materials from all religious groups are banned in the Bluewater School District in Chesley, Ontario. The 8-3 vote by district trustees April 17 ended more 60 years of free bibles distributed by Gideons International to fifth-graders.

“We cannot include everyone’s God, so we should not allow any,” trustee Fran Morgan told the Owen Sound Sun Times.

“This is a secular school system,” said trustee Marg Gaviller. “There are lots of other opportunities for people to get their bibles.”

Freedom From Religion Foundation