FFRF sues over Pennsylvania 'Year of Bible'

FFRF filed suit challenging a declaration by the Pennsylvania House that 2012 is "The Year of the Bible." FFRF brought suit on behalf of its 599 Pennsylvania members, including 41 named state members, and its chapter, Nittany Freethought. The federal lawsuit was filed March 26, 2012, in U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania. Defendants are State Rep. Rick Saccone, author of the resolution, Clancy Myer, House Parliamentarian and Anthony Frank Barbush, House Chief Clerk. “FFRF's membership includes individuals residing in Pennsylvania who have had direct and unwanted exposure to the Year of the Bible Resolution and the hostile environment created thereby as a result of the official declaration of a state religion by the Pennsylvania Legislature,” notes the legal complaint. Members include “individuals [who] oppose governmental speech endorsing religion because they are made to feel as if they are political outsiders.” The bible “contains violent, sexist and racist models of behavior that FFRF members find personally repugnant, and which potentially could encourage persons who rely on them to act in a manner harmful to them and others.” HR 535 sends a message of Christian endorsement and disparagement to nonbelievers. “HR 535 improperly proclaims the bible to be ‘the word of God,’ . . . the Pennsylvania House of Representatives has no such authority or right to determine what is ‘the word of God,’ or if there is a ‘word of God,’ or if there is a ‘God’,” maintains FFRF. Our nation is not founded on religious belief or a bible, but upon “a secular and godless Constitution, which grants sovereignty not to a deity or a ‘holy book,’ but to ‘We the People.’ ”

FFRF asked the court to find that HR 535 violates the Establishment Clause, to order defendants to discontinue further publication and distribution of HR 535, to declare that public officials in Pennsylvania are indeed subject to the Establishment Clause, to declare that the theocratic principles of the bible do not constitute the ”official, preferred or endorsed religion” of the state, and to declare that the government is not “Judeo-Christian.”

U.S. District Judge Christopher Conner on Oct. 1, 2012, dismissed the case, ruling House officials had legislative immunity, but chastened House officials for "premeditated pandering" and expressed alarm that the resolution passed unanimously. Conner wrote: "At worst, it is premeditated pandering designed to provide a reelection sound bite for use by members of the General Assembly. But regardless of the motivation . . . its express language is proselytizing and exclusionary. . . . The court is compelled to shine a clear, bright light on this resolution because it pushes the Establishment Clause envelope behind the safety glass of legislative immunity."



Legal complaint 
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Motion to Dismiss 

Plaintiff's Opposition to the Motion to Dismiss
Defendants' Reply Brief

 

Order

 

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