FFRF sues over Pennsylvania’s ‘Year of the Bible’

The Freedom From Religion Foundation today filed a federal lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the Pennsylvania House’s declaration that 2012 is “The Year of the Bible,” which exhorts citizens and government officials to “study and apply the teachings of the Holy Scriptures.”

FFRF, based in Madison, Wis., is the nation’s largest association of freethinkers (atheists and agnostics) with more than 17,500 members nationwide. FFRF challenges the House Resolution on behalf of its 599 Pennsylvania members, including 41 named members in the state of Pennsylvania, as well as its chapter, Nittany Freethought.

The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania. FFRF names as defendants State Rep. Rick Saccone, author of the resolution, Clancy Myer, House Parliamentarian and Anthony Frank Barbush, Chief Clerk of the Pennsylvania House.

“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 FFRF’s 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.

The legal complaint names FFRF members: Carl H. Silverman, Justin Vacula, Charlie Miller, Steve Brungard, Michele Grant, John Kelley, Daniel Gallagher, Joyce McChesney, Neil Miller, Heather Miller, Steve Barry, Ryan Foster, Tom Melchiorre, Bob Schachner, Dan Reiff, Harry Geedey, Daniel Matesic, Karl Best, Nicolas Posey, Andrea McCormick, Thomas Johnson, Chuck Berry, Jim Phynn, Erin Kowal, Phillip Lichtenberg, Len Frankel, T. Alexander O’Hare, David Mullinax, Scott Rhodes, Ed Avery-Natale, Wayne Trotta, Frank McGovern, William Wisdom, Stephanie Strazisar, John Murray, Lanny Silks, Bruce Baldwin, Susan Hanna, James Billere, Regis Sabol and Patrick Hughes.

“We heard an outpouring of indignation over this improper state action. We’ve never had so many members volunteer to be part of one of our lawsuits,” commented Annie Laurie Gaylor, FFRF co-president. Pennsylvania membership was appalled and offended by what FFRF’s complaint calls the “exclusive endorsement of the bible and its teachings as constituting the state-sanctioned religion of Pennsylvania.”

Saccone, principle author, said of HR 535 that as “not only Pennsylvania but the United States, continues to face great tests and challenges, we must look to our faith in God and the Holy Scriptures.” The controversial resolution was introduced as a “noncontroversial resolution,” allowing the House to vote without debate as part of a bundled group of resolutions on the same day it was introduced, Jan. 24, where it passed 193-0.

FFRF factually contests the resolution, which claims the “word of God” and “biblical teachings inspired concepts of civil government.” Another sponsor, Rep. Jerry Stern, claimed the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause doesn’t apply to the State of Pennsylvania, even though its guarantees apply equally to state citizens under the 14th Amendment.

FFRF noted the passage of HR 535 “is particularly ironic in Pennsylvania, . . . which was founded as a refuge for those seeking religious tolerance by William Penn.” The complaint quotes Jonathan Malesic, associate professor of theology at King’s College, who said HR 535 “flies in the face of Pennsylvania’s history.”

“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’.”

FFRF’s legal complaint notes 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 asks the court to find that HR 535 violates the Establishment Clause, to order defendants to discontinue further publication and distribtion 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.”

The lawsuit was filed by attorneys Lawrence M. Otter, Doylestown, Penn., and Richard L. Bolton, Madison, Wis., on behalf of FFRF. FFRF v. Saccone has Case No. is 3:02-at-06000. FFRF drew U.S. District Judge Christopher C. Conner, who was appointed in 2002 by President George W. Bush, and who notably ruled against Obama’s Affordable Health Care Act.

Freedom From Religion Foundation

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