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Freethought Today · Vol. 27 No. 5 June/July 2010

Published by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc.

State/Church Bulletin

S.C. city seal, prayers bring complaint

The Freedom From Religion Foundation sent a letter of complaint May 24 to Mayor Brad Burnett of Woodruff, S.C., to object to sectarian prayers at council meetings and religious symbols on the city’s official seal.

The seal, which is worn on city employees’ uniforms and adorns vehicles, has the word “Church” under a Latin cross. (The city promotes its 1787 founding at the location of “The Church of Christ on Jamey’s Creek.”) The seal also depicts “School” and “Commerce.”

Patrick Elliott, FFRF staff attorney, said any claims of historical significance “do not relieve the city of its constitutional obligations.”

City Manager Stephen Steese told the Woodruff City Bulletin it would cost “in the tens of thousands [of dollars]” to replace the seal.

God ‘in every city hall in America’

The Ontario [Calif.] City Council voted June 1 to put “In God We Trust” in a semicircle above the city logo in council chambers.

Councilman Alan Wapner wasn’t surprised the vote was unanimous. “I knew they support God.” The estimated $375 cost will come from private donations, he said.

A group called In God We Trust America, which started in Bakersfield, is pushing to get the words displayed “in every city hall in America.” About 70 cities, almost all in California, have signed up so far. FFRF protested the action in Ontario and many other cities.

Kentucky ban on commandments upheld

A federal appeals court upheld a 2008 district court ban barring two Kentucky courthouses from including the Ten Commandments in a display that featured several religious and government documents.

In a 2-1 vote June 9, the 6th U.S. Circuit Courts of Appeals in Cincinnati ruled the permanent injunction that banned McCreary and Pulaski counties from allowing the displays can remain in place.

The displays, called “Foundations of American Law and Government,” also included the Bill of Rights, Magna Carta and Star-Spangled Banner.

In his 2008 ruling, U.S. District Judge Eric Clay said the counties could not provide a “valid secular purpose” for the displays.

The Christian Liberty Counsel said it would appeal the ruling.

Idaho judge: No charter school bibles

A U.S. district judge on May 18 dismissed Nampa Classical Academy’s suit against the Idaho Public Charter School Commission and other state officials. The school sought to use the bible and other religious texts for “historic and literary qualities” in classes but was turned down by the state.

The commmission has also announced its intent to revoke the school’s charter, citing a lack of financial stability. A vote on the revocation was tentatively set for June 24.

The Alliance Defense Fund, an Arizona-based group of Christian lawyers, announced it will appeal the bible decision.

State funding for cross challenged

A $20,000 state grant to help restore the 11-story Bald Knob Cross of Peace near Alto Pass, Ill., is being challenged by Chicago atheist Rob Sherman.

Restoration costs on the 50-year-old Christian cross on Bald Knob Mountain are estimated at $550,000.

Sherman said June 2 he’ll sue if the state doesn’t ask Friends of Bald Knob Cross to return the money. He sued in April to stop $2.3 billion in unconstitutional grants to religious groups from the $31 billion capital spending bill.

South Dakota pastor endorses from pulpit

From the pulpit May 16 at Liberty Baptist Tabernacle, Rapid City, S.D., Rev. H. Wayne Williams urged the congregation to vote for a Republican state senator running for governor. Two days later, Americans United filed a complaint with the Internal Revenue Service that the pastor violated federal tax law, which bars political endorsements by tax-exempt groups.

Williams told the Rapid City Journal that his church claims its tax-exempt status under the First Amendment, not from an IRS regulation. “I fear God. I fear God’s laws. I don’t fear man’s laws.”

Later, he told the Washington Times he “would welcome the history of my Baptist forefathers in going to jail over these issues.”

SCOTUS denies appeal from Boy Scouts

The U.S. Supreme Court let stand a lower court ruling May 3 by refusing to review a decision that barred the Boy Scouts from leasing city-owned parkland in San Diego.

U.S. District Judge Napoleon Jones Jr. ruled in 2003 that San Diego acted improperly when it leased 18 acres of camp space in Balboa Park to the Scouts because the group is a religious organization. Jones said the lease violated federal law that prohibits the government promotion of religion.

Newdow wants rehearing on godly oath

Michael Newdow filed a petition June 9 with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit requesting a rehearing in the case of Newdow v. Roberts, which challenges use of “so help me God” in the presidential oath of office and sectarian prayers at inaugurations.

U.S. District Court Judge Reggie Walton ruled in March 2009 that all plaintiffs lacked standing (FFRF is a plaintiff). The appeals court upheld Walton in May 2010.

In the petition, Newdow wrote: “The panel majority’s opinion in this case conflicts with Marbury v. Madison (1803), and every subsequent decision where standing to challenge an executive branch action was deemed to exist due to an alleged abrogation of an individual’s vested right.”

Newdow also said, “By ruling that such an action is not redressable in this case, the panel majority has opened the door to far-reaching abuses by eliminating one of the most important safeguards against unchecked governmental power.”

Prayer-free Christian kept off bike ride

A St. Paul, Minn., man said he wasn’t allowed to ride in this year’s annual 500-mile bike tour around North Dakota because he protested a prayer said before a turkey supper last year on the tour, which receives state funds.

Morgan Christian, 54, is a nonbeliever and Freedom From Religion Foundation member who had ridden the three previous years. After he contacted officials about the prayer, he got a letter from the bike tour committee telling him he wasn’t welcome back.

FFRF has complained on Christian’s behalf to the state agency.

‘Judges for God’ rejected by voters

Four Christian lawyers in California all lost their bids June 9 to oust four San Diego Superior Court judges.
Incumbent judges Lantz Lewis, Joel Wohlfeil, Robert Longstreth and DeAnn Salcido handily beat the conservative attorneys, who are part of a movement called Better Courts Now. Craig Candelore, Larry “Jake” Kincaid, Bill Trask and Harold J. Coleman Jr. were backed strongly by pastors and opponents of abortion and same-sex marriages.

“We believe our country is under assault and needs Christian values,” Candelore said before the election. “God has called upon us to do this only with the judiciary.”

Bonnie Dumanis, San Diego County district attorney, endorsed the incumbents. “Any organization that wants judges to subscribe to a certain political party or certain value system or certain way of ruling, to me, threatens the independence of the judiciary.”

Conn. graduations won’t be in church

The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Hartford, Conn., denied a request June 14 to immediately review the town of Enfield’s request to hold June 23-24 graduations for two high schools at the 3,000-seat First Cathedral Baptist Church. A District Court judge earlier ruled the church ceremonies were unconstitutional and issued a temporary injunction May 31.

The appeals court said since the school district already had decided to hold graduations on campus after the church venue was challenged, it would not take the case. District Judge Janet Hall is expected to hear the full lawsuit before next year’s graduation plans are set.

Teacher fired for ‘fornicating’ will sue

Jarretta Hamilton was fired as a fourth-grade teacher at Southland Christian School in St. Cloud, Fla., after the school found out she was pregnant when she remarried in 2009. The issue surfaced when Hamilton, a widow with five children, applied for maternity leave.

“Jarretta was asked not to return because of a moral issue that was disregarded, namely fornication, sex outside of marriage,” said Principal Jon Ennis.

Hamilton said she is suing. Ed Gay, her lawyer, said one of the grounds for the suit is invasion of privacy, due to the school telling parents details of the case.

Judge: Commandments OK, aphorisms not

U.S. District Judge Dale Kimball ruled June 3 that Summum — a Salt Lake City gnostic Christian group — can’t place its Seven Aphorisms monument in a Pleasant Grove, Utah, city park that has a Ten Commandments marker.

The judge said Pleasant Grove has displayed the Ten Commandments “for reasons of history, not religion.”
Summum’s aphorisms involve psychokinesis, vibration, rhythm, cause and effect and gender. No. 5, for example, says: “Everything flows out and in; everything has its season; all things rise and fall; the pendulum swing expresses itself in everything; the measure of the swing to the right is the measure of the swing to the left; rhythm compensates.”

The U.S. Supreme Court unanimously rejected Summum’s argument in 2009.

Cartoon copyright Don Addis. All rights reserved.

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