The Freedom From Religion Foundation is legally questioning a Texas judge's courtroom religiosity.
FFRF yesterday submitted a brief to the Texas attorney general's office concerning the constitutionally suspect courtroom prayer practice of Montgomery County Justice of the Peace Wayne L. Mack. The brief argues that Mack's underlying court chaplaincy program is also illegal. It refutes the arguments filed by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick in support of Mack and supplements the arguments made against Mack by the State Commission on Judicial Conduct.
In its brief, FFRF details how two separate complainants contacted the organization to report that they felt coerced by Mack into participating in prayer. Despite their personal objections, both joined in "out of fear that nonparticipation would prejudice the judge against them and affect their social or professional standing."
FFRF argues that Mack's courtroom prayers are historically unsupported, divisive and a clear violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. While Patrick contended that the prayers were similar to legislative prayer upheld in the U.S. Supreme Court decision Town of Greece v. Galloway, FFRF asserts that courtroom prayer does not enjoy the same tradition that the Supreme Court used to justify legislative prayer in Greece.
FFRF maintains that Mack's court chaplaincy program also violates the Constitution. The brief charges that Mack "has created an inherently religious program designed to promote his personal religious views by ministering to traumatized people at scenes of death and proselytizing citizens obligated to appear before him in court."
FFRF's brief also notes a conflict of interest that the attorney general's office must address before issuing an opinion on the courtroom prayers. The office recently hired two attorneys from First Liberty to high-ranking positions, even though First Liberty defended Mack's courtroom prayer before the State Commission on Judicial Conduct.
"Government officials and Texas citizens should be able to rely on attorney general legal opinions," notes FFRF Staff Attorney Sam Grover in the brief. "It would be a disservice to the public for the attorney general to issue opinions that merely reflect the desires and biases of those who serve in that office."
FFRF is continuing to pursue all legal avenues to put an end to Mack's unconstitutional and unwarranted religious zeal.
A Michigan school district has tightened its rules for a religious school club due to a complaint from the Freedom From Religion Foundation.
A local community member had informed FFRF that First Priority, a religious club that meets during lunchtime at Tri County High School in Howard City, Mich., was regularly attended or led by local pastor George Bolivion. School music teacher Allison Petriella reportedly promoted the club in her classes, encouraging students to participate, sometimes telling them they should take a club flyer because they "need Jesus."
FFRF Legal Fellow Ryan Jayne stressed to the school district the problems with this situation.
"District employees who promote religious clubs during the school day violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, which prohibits government sponsorship of religious messages," Jayne wrote to Tri County Area Schools Superintendent Allen Cumings. "The Equal Access Act, which allows the First Priority club to form, requires that 'employees or agents of the school or government are present at religious meetings only in a nonparticipatory capacity.' Any school religious clubs must be bona fide student clubs that are both student-initiated and student-run."
The school district recently responded to FFRF that it's taking care of the organization's concerns.
Staff members will be allowed to participate in the club only as monitors and will be restrained from promoting the club, Marshall W. Grate, legal counsel for Tri County Area Schools, informed FFRF. Outside individuals, such as pastors and ministers, will be prohibited from attending the clubs during schools hours. And the club will not be allowed to meet during lunchtime, unless the school district formally designates that period as a time for non-curriculum clubs to meet.
FFRF Co-President Dan Barker is heartened by the assurances.
"Public schools should not be seeing such breaches of the constitutional barrier between state and church," he says. "We're gratified that Tri County Area Schools is taking active steps to repair the wall."
The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a state/church watchdog organization with 23,700 nonreligious members nationwide, including more than 600 in Michigan.
A Texas police department has removed a biblical reference from its uniform patch soon after the Freedom From Religion Foundation complained.
The Diboll Police patches had sewn on them "Matt[hew] 5:9," which reads, "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God."
"In a phone call Monday morning, Diboll City Attorney Jimmy Cassels confirmed that the patches did not follow the Supreme Court's opinion on the matter of separation between church and state," local television station KTRE recently reported. "On April 12, Cassels received a letter from the Freedom From Religion Foundation. The letter stated several Texas residents had filed complaints with the organization about the patches."
FFRF Staff Attorney Sam Grover had emphasized in the letter how the biblical allusion contravened the law.
"A biblical quote on city of Diboll property, including police uniforms, violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment," Grover wrote in his letter to Cassels. "Including a biblical reference on law enforcement uniforms endorses religion over nonreligion and Christianity over all other faiths."
Cassels grudgingly agreed with FFRF.
"Whatever your logo or emblem or saying is, it can neither advance nor inhibit religion," Cassels told KTRE. "Personally I may not agree with it but the Supreme Court dictates the laws we have to live by."
Ironically, the city is now instead emblazoning "In God We Trust" on the police patches.
FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor is happy that Diboll is removing the biblical reference, but is concerned about the substitution.
"We're glad that Cassels saw reason, even if reluctantly so," she says. "However, there's no reason to still display a religious slogan, especially a Johnny-come-lately, divisive quote that excludes nonbelievers."
The Freedom From Religion Foundation is dedicated to the separation of state and church, with 23,700 nonreligious members nationwide, including almost 1,000 in Texas.