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Freethought Today · December 2013

Published by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc.

State/Church Bulletin

Religious music flap brings hate mail

Kathleen Williams, superintendent of the Wausau School District in Wisconsin, was subjected to a spate of threatening, mostly anonymous, phone calls and emails after the district limited the amount of religious music that holiday programs could have.

Some were full of invective and obscenities, Williams told the Daily Herald. One person called her at home and said she had a lot of trees in her yard and “wouldn’t I [Williams] look good hanging from one.”

Williams added, “The classic irony to me, is that all this ugly email, hoping I’m hurt, all is in the name of Christ.”

A motion at the Nov. 11 school board meeting to require Williams to write a letter of apology to the community failed 7-2.

She said the intent of the music review procedure was not to quash Christmas but to ensure all students felt comfortable in participating in music programs, whether they are Christian or not.

FFRF Staff Attorney Patrick Elliott sent a letter Oct. 10 to explain to the board why religious music in public schools is problematic. FFRF also sent an action alert urging area members to tell the board that the music curriculum shouldn’t make religion its primary focus.


Mass. taxes paying for church rehabs

Ten residents of Oak Bluffs, Mass., suing to block the town from using taxpayer money to restore stained glass windows at Trinity Methodist Church, were thwarted by Superior Court Associate Justice Richard Moses.

Moses ruled against the motion for a preliminary injunction, saying “there has been an insufficient showing of a likelihood of success on the merits.” Notice of the decision was mailed Nov. 25, reported the [Martha’s] Vineyard Gazette.

Oak Bluffs voters approved the $32,000 outlay at the April 2013 town meeting. The funds will come from the Community Preservation Act,

The town opposed the injunction, claiming the practice is common statewide: “The Massachusetts Historical Commission has funded at least 12 rehabilitation and restoration projects of historic churches since 2002.”


Religious ‘Friends’ back discrimination

Oregon gay marriage opponents announced Nov. 21 they’ve filed a proposed ballot measure to let businesses refuse to provide services at gay ceremonies that violate owners’ religious beliefs. 

“We are deeply concerned that even Oregon elected officials are becoming hostile toward religious freedom,” Teresa Harke of Friends of Religious Freedom told The Oregonian. Harke is also communications director for the Oregon Family Council, a group opposing the proposed initiative to legalize same-sex marriage.

Jeana Frazzini, executive director of Basic Rights Oregon, said in a statement that “while we are all entitled to our religious beliefs, those beliefs don’t entitle any of us to discriminate against others, or disobey laws that are already in place to ensure that everyone is treated equally.”

Rachel Cryer and Laurel Bowman of Portland filed a complaint with the labor commissioner in August against Sweet Cakes by Melissa. Bakery owners Aaron and Melissa Klein have said they don’t want to provide services for same-sex weddings because of their religious beliefs.

In November, Hawaii and Illinois became the 15th and 16th states to legalize same-sex marriages. Twenty-nine states still have constitutional amendments banning them, and ballot challenges for 2014 and 2016 are being readied in Oregon, Arizona, Colorado, Michigan, Nevada and Ohio.


UCoR sues Pittsburgh for ad rejection

The United Coalition of Reason filed a lawsuit Nov. 26 against the Port Authority of Allegheny County, Pa., for initially accepting and then refusing to run $5,700 worth of bus ads in the Pittsburgh area that would have said, “Don’t believe in God? You are not alone.” The ads were scheduled to run from Dec. 12, 2011, to Jan. 11, 2012.

“We tried to support the Port Authority by buying ads,” said Nicole Currivan of Pittsburgh CoR. “I take the bus to work every day in my personal effort to support them. But we also want to be treated with the same fairness, dignity and respect as other groups. We just want the Port Authority to run our ads. We want nonbelievers to know they’re not alone.”


Judge won’t block church graduations

U.S. District Judge Ross Anderson Jr. denied a motion Dec. 3 for a preliminary injunction to block Greenville County schools in South Carolina from holding events in places of worship and allowing student-led prayer. Anderson said the American Humanist Association’s allegations made “a mountain out of a mole hill.”

According to the Greenville News, the judge also told an AHA attorney that “with all due respect and apologies,” he’d never heard of the Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit founded in 1941.

The suit was filed Sept. 4 on behalf of John and Jane Doe and their minor child after Mountain View Elementary in Taylors held graduation in the chapel of North Greenville University, a Christian school. Two student speakers were asked to write a prayer for the ceremony, according to the suit.


Will Satanists get Capitol monument?

The New York-based Satanic Temple has asked state officials in Oklahoma to be allowed to submit designs for a monument to honor “the historic/literary Satan” to be placed near the Ten Commandments display at the Oklahoma City Capitol, The Associated Press reported Dec. 8.

Temple spokesman Lucien Greaves said one design involves a pentagram and another would be an interactive display for children. He estimated the cost at about $20,000.

A privately funded, $10,000 Ten Commandments marker was placed at the Capitol in 2012. The American Civil Liberties Union of Oklahoma is suing to get it removed.

Brady Henderson, ACLU-Oklahoma legal director, said the best solution would be to ban all religious displays. “But if the Ten Commandments, with its overtly Christian message, is allowed to stay at the Capitol, the Satanic Temple’s proposed monument cannot be rejected because of its different religious viewpoint.”


Cake OK for dog marriage, not gays 

Judge Robert Spencer of the Colorado Office of Administrative Courts ruled Dec. 6 that Masterpiece Cakeshop in Lakewood unlawfully discriminated against David Mullins and Charlie Craig by refusing to sell them a wedding cake.

Masterpiece owner Jack Phillips allegedly told the couple that selling them a cake would be against his religious beliefs.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado said the decision noted evidence that Phillips was willing to take a cake order for the “marriage” of two dogs but not for the commitment ceremony of two women, and that he would not make a cake for a same-sex couple’s wedding celebration “just as he would not be willing to make a pedophile cake.”

Sara Neel, ACLU staff attorney, said, “Masterpiece Cakeshop has willfully and repeatedly considered itself above the law when it comes to discriminating against customers, and the state has rightly determined otherwise,”

Religious assemblies stopped in Miss.

The American Humanist Association and the Rankin County [Miss.] School District have settled a lawsuit filed in April over allegations that high school students were forced to attend a religious assembly. In a court filing Nov. 22 in U.S. District Court in Jackson, the school district agreed to comply with its Religion in Public Schools Policy adopted in July.

The suit was brought on behalf of a 16-year-old Northwest Rankin junior. A video provided to The Associated Press purportedly of the assembly showed a student talking about the role Jesus has played in his life. The suit described assembly presenters as representatives of Pinelake Church, the largest Southern Baptist church in Mississippi. The church denied taking part in the assembly.

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