USAF Freethinkers Club wins validation
The Freethinkers Club at the U.S. Air Force Academy, which sponsored “Ask an Atheist” days, did not violate any rules and can maintain display tables and offer information to interested persons at its annual fair, academy officials announced March 19. The group is an authorized cadet club.
Military.com reported the school’s announcement came after seven cadets, faculty and staff members contacted the Military Religious Freedom Foundation.
Religious plates win Wisconsin vote
Both houses of the Wisconsin Legislature approved a bill to issue special “In God We Trust” license plates. The bill passed 91-0 in the Assembly and 30-2 in the Senate (opposed by Democratic Sens. Fred Risser and Mark Miller. Risser, 86, of Madison, is the longest-serving legislator in the U.S., first elected in 1956.)
FFRF has taken issue with the godly plates since September and sent an action alert to Wisconsin members. Staff Attorney Patrick Elliott noted in his testimony at a public hearing: “Legislators are elected to represent all citizens, including those who do not believe in a monotheistic god or any gods. Both supporters and opponents of the bill recognize that ‘In God We Trust’ is a religious statement.”
Gov. Scott Walker hadn’t signed the bill at press time.
Judge’s religious bias hit again
A unanimous three-judge panel of the Oklahoma Court of Civil Appeals on March 21 reversed a decision by Oklahoma County District Judge Bill Graves that denied a name change from James Dean Ingram to Angela Renee Ingram after Ingram’s gender reassignment surgery.
The Associated Press reported it’s the second name-change case in the last two years in which the appeals court has reversed Graves. He earlier rejected a change from Steven Charles Harvey to Christie Ann Harvey. In both cases, he cited specific bible passages as justification for denial.
Graves, a former Republican state lawmaker, told the AP he’s very disappointed. “We can’t change our sex, the way God made us. These things are really counterfeit.”
After being term-limited, Graves was replaced by current GOP Rep. Sally Kern, who has called homosexuality a greater threat to the U.S. than terrorism.
Ingram was represented by the ACLU of Oklahoma.
Salvation Army to pay $450,000 in suit
The New York Civil Liberties Union announced court approval March 18 of a settlement in Lowe v. The Salvation Army in which the plaintiffs will receive $450,000 in damages and attorneys’ fees to two plaintiffs.
Reuters reported that the decade-old federal suit involved now-former employees who alleged the charity pressured them to follow its religious mission while they worked on government-funded projects.
The Salvation Army’s Greater New York division also agreed to provide employees of its government-funded services with a document saying it won’t ask about their religious beliefs or make them adhere to religious policies.
The suit was filed in 2004 after the administration of former President George W. Bush made it easier for churches to get federal money for so-called faith-based initiatives. The greater New York division currently has more than $188 million in government contracts to provide social services and nearly 300 employees are paid with public money.
Board backs veto of church subsidy
Milwaukee Common Council members voted 13-1 on March 4 to sustain Mayor Tom Barrett’s veto of a resolution giving up to $5,000 to the Retail Christian Network for a breakfast at the International Council of Shopping Centers convention in May in Las Vegas.
The Journal Sentinel reported that Barrett felt there was no public purpose to spend tax dollars to finance RCN’s year-round ministry or to support Higher Call, its parent organization based in Franklin, Tenn.
Idaho kills bill on faith healing
Idaho House leaders denied a hearing on a bill to address the number of children who die because their parents choose faith healing and not medical assistance for religious reasons, The Associated Press reported.
Judiciary Committee Chairman Rich Wills said Feb. 26 he was told by House Speaker Scott Bedke that the bill wouldn’t be brought up.
Democratic Rep. John Gannon had proposed changes to state law in the wake of dozens of deaths of children whose parents belong to the Followers of Christ in southwestern Idaho. Similar deaths from treatable conditions have occurred in Oregon, the Followers’ home base.
Home schoolers lose but stay anyway
The U.S. Supreme Court denied certiorari March 3 in Romeike v. Holder. The 6th Circuit earlier denied asylum to a German evangelical Christian family seeking to stay in the U.S. because of Germany’s ban on home schooling, reported Religion Clause.
The appeals court ruled in May 2013 that the Romeikes didn’t have a “well-founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion,” as U.S. immigration law requires.
However, on March 4, the Department of Homeland Security granted the family “indefinite deferred status” to stay in the U.S., according to Fox News.
The Romeikes moved to Morristown, Tenn., in 2008 after facing fines and risking loss of custody of their children for refusing to send them to a state-approved school in Germany. The family was granted asylum in 2010 based on religious freedom grounds, but the Obama administration appealed the decision and won.
Soledad cross groups seeks certiorari
In Mt. Soledad Memorial Association v. Steve Trunk, the association announced March 4 it will seek Supreme Court review of a lower court ruling that the 29-foot-tall cross must be moved out of a public park in San Diego, Calif. Trunk is an FFRF “foxhole atheist” member and award recipient. The cross has been the subject of litigation since 1989.
The association, which is represented by the evangelical Liberty Institute, contends a Christian cross looming over the 1954 war memorial has no religious significance and somehow honors all of the 3,300 veterans whose names are on memorial plaques, even non-Christians and nonbelievers.
State pushes bible as ‘official’ book
Louisiana Rep. Thomas Carmody, R-Shreveport, introduced HB 503 in the House to declare the bible as the official state book, KTSB reported. FFRF has formally complained about the constitutional violation to state officials.
“The official state book shall be the Holy Bible, published by Johannes Prevel . . . which is the oldest edition of the Holy Bible in the Louisiana State Museum system,” the legislation says. The Prevel bible was published in the early 16th century.
The legislation also proposes that the state’s motto should be changed to read: “A state, under God, united in purpose and ideals, confident that justice shall prevail for all of those abiding here.”
The session started March 10. In a March 3 online Times-Picayune poll, 62% of respondents said the bible should not be the state’s official book.
on governor’s desk
The Georgia Senate gave final passage March 12 to a bill that authorizes placing a Ten Commandments monument at the Capitol. The bill passed the House 138-37 and the Senate 40-10.
The bill prescribes placement of a “historic granite monument” depicting the preamble to the Georgia Constitution, a line from the Declaration of Independence and the Ten Commandments. Private funds would be used.
Some Democrats said they voted “no” because such a law won’t survive a constitutional challenge. “The state doesn’t necessarily need to endorse private individuals and their expenditure of money in supporting their own religion,” Sen. Steven Henson told a television reporter.
Gov. Nathan Deal hadn’t signed the bill as of press time. FFRF sent an action alert to members March 14 urging them to tell Deal to veto the bill.
Arguments heard in commandments case
A federal judge heard arguments March 11 on whether a 6-foot-tall, 3,000-pound Ten Commandments monument in front of City Hall in Bloomfield, N.M., is constitutional. The American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico filed the suit against the city on behalf of two plaintiffs who practice the Wiccan religion.
Attorneys for the city contend that “private parties” paid for the monument under a 2007 city resolution that lets members of the public “erect historical monuments of their choosing,” reported the Albuquerque Journal.
The Alliance Defending Freedom, which calls itself a “legal ministry,” is defending the city.
“This is not a free speech case,” plaintiffs’ attorney Andrew Schultz said during opening arguments. “It is a case of government speech.”
wins relief in court
A federal district court on March 14 ordered the Sabine Parish School District to refrain from unconstitutionally promoting or denigrating religion. The consent order came after the ACLU of Louisiana sued on behalf of C.C., a sixth-grader of Thai descent and a practicing Buddhist.
School officials allegedly told C.C. that Buddhism was “stupid,” suggested he transfer to a school with “more Asians,” incorporated prayer into class and nearly every school event, hung a portrait of Jesus over the main entry and participated in a number of other activities that blatantly violated the separation of church and state, said the ACLU’s Heather Weaver.
In February, C.C.’s mother was accosted while doing yard work, Weaver said. “Three people wearing KKK-type white hoods drove by her and shouted, ‘You fucking nigger Asian-loving bitch.’ ”
According to the ACLU, C.C.’s science teacher, Rita Roark, repeatedly told students that the Earth was created by God 6,000 years ago, that evolution is “impossible” and that the bible is “100 percent true.”
The court order also mandated in-service training for school staff on their First Amendment obligations.
Jail won’t stop her
The Carroll County commissioners in Baltimore must stop opening meetings with sectarian prayers, a federal judge ruled March 25 in granting a preliminary injunction, reported the Baltimore Sun.
U.S. District Judge William Quarles Jr. said commissioners can continue to pray at meetings but can’t refer to deities linked to any specific faith.
Plaintiff Bruce Hake, a Catholic immigration attorney, sued last May after commissioners started taking turns saying a prayer. “It’s un-American to impose one flavor of religion on people,” Hake said.
Local resident Neil Ridgely and the American Humanist Association were co-plaintiffs with Hake.
Two days later, reported the Carroll County Times, Commissioner Robin Bartlett Frazier opened the board’s budget meeting with a prayer containing references to Jesus Christ, Lord, our Father, merciful Father and the Holy Spirit. She said she’s willing to go to jail to fight the injunction.
“If we cease to believe that our rights come from God, we cease to be America,” Frazier said. “We’ve been told to be careful. But we’re going to be careful all the way to communism if we don’t start standing up and saying ‘no.’ ”
Tenn. bill boosts
The Tennessee Legislature on March 24 passed the Religious Viewpoints Anti-Discrimination Act requiring schools to let students express their religious views in class, at assemblies, over the school’s P.A. system and at public events such as graduation, the Baton Rouge Advocate reported.
The legislation, which passed 90-2 in the House and 32-0 in the Senate, must be signed by Republican Gov. Bill Haslam to become law.
“An evangelical student, for example, could preach the gospel during a science class, or ‘witness’ during English,” said David Badash of the New Civil Rights Movement, an online journal. “Attacks on LGBT people and same-sex marriage are automatically protected under this bill, offering anti-gay students a state-sponsored license to bully. And of course, a student could claim they worship Satan and subject their classmates to that ‘religious viewpoint’ as well.”
Oklahoma state Rep. Sally Kern has co-sponsored a similar bill with the same title. It received unanimous House passage (with 13 absentions) in February and was referred to the Senate Education Committee as an “emergency” bill.