The Freedom From Religion Foundation cautiously welcomes a Texas city's decision to deed a piece of public land with a cross to a church, but is skeptical about the terms of the sale.
The Port Neches City Council is selling a portion of Riverfront Park containing a 10-foot Latin cross to the First United Methodist Church for $100. FFRF had written letters to Mayor Glenn Johnson in November and January objecting to the cross on public property as an unconstitutional government endorsement of religion.
FFRF calls the City Council decision to divest itself of a religious symbol a victory for the separation of state and church, but it is concerned about details of the land sale. It says that the issue needs to be investigated and monitored further. The low sale price raises concerns that the church was given preferential treatment, and a close watch needs to be kept, it says, on how the church's plot will be differentiated from the adjacent taxpayer-funded park.
FFRF is skeptical that the city's motives are secular, given that the community outcry against FFRF's complaint was led by Mayor Johnson. He showed up at a rally held by supporters of the cross in November and spoke against FFRF's "attack" on "our cross," vowing, "We may lose ... but I'm just telling you this: When we come out of the fight, [FFRF] will have two black eyes, a broken leg, and a broken arm. ... And we may look worse, but they'll know they have been in a fight."
So, FFRF is not fully satisfied with the outcome.
"The City Council's move does show the local government fully well realizes that you can't have religious symbols on public land," says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. "However, the means by which the city divested itself of the cross raises concerns."
FFRF Senior Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert, who wrote the letter to Johnson last year, has similar sentiments.
"The action to remove the Christian symbol from the public park is certainly a step in the right direction," she says. "FFRF will be looking into the details of the land sale to ensure the law was followed. If it is determined that the sale did not go through the proper process and the purpose was to save a religious symbol, then it's not a closed case."
The Freedom From Religion Foundation is dedicated to the separation of state and church, with 23,800 members nationwide, including almost 1,000 in Texas.
Freedom From Religion Foundation Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor deplores the recently passed Oklahoma bill that will make it a felony for doctors to perform abortions.
Bill supporters openly acknowledge the measure is ultimately aimed at overturning Roe v. Wade., the U.S. Supreme Court's 1973 decision legalizing abortion nationwide.
Gaylor notes that FFRF would not exist were it not for the fact that she and her mother, the late Anne Gaylor—an early abortion-rights advocate—realized the only organized opposition to abortion is religion-based. "The fight for contraceptive and abortion rights in the state of Wisconsin in the late 1960s and early 1970s opened our eyes to the harm of religious dogma ever being enshrined in civil laws affecting women," she says.
Bill sponsor state Sen. Nathan Dahm has made public statements that "life begins at conception." That claim is based on a religious idea of ensoulment, which is "not a fact, but is based on faith," Gaylor adds. FFRF has run a series of full-page newspaper ads recently, including in Tulsa last Sunday, pointing out that the bible is not actually anti-abortion.
Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin (an anti-abortion Republican) has until Wednesday to sign the bill into law or to veto it. She needs to do the correct—and constitutional—thing to protect women's rights in her state.
*Update: FFRF welcomes Fallin’s veto on Friday afternoon of the egregious bill. Even someone as staunchly conservative as Fallon realized that the Oklahoma Statehouse had stepped way over the line.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation condemns the recent maneuver in the House to defeat a measure protecting gay rights.
An amendment by Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, D-N.Y., to uphold an executive order barring discrimination by federal contractors was defeated 213-212 after a dramatic floor fight. Democrats shouted "Shame! Shame!" as seven Republicans switched voters under pressure by House Speaker Paul Ryan. "The federal government shouldn't stick its nose in this business," Ryan remarked.
Maloney's amendment, attached to a defense policy bill, would have prevented the use of taxpayer dollars to violate President Obama's executive order barring discrimination.
FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor says the unfortunate faith-based funding initiative, in which religious entities may compete as federal contractors without having to create secular aims, is resulting in grants to groups that openly discriminate both in policy and hiring against LGBT citizens.
The faith-based funding initiative enacted by President George W. Bush has blurred the line between state and church, Gaylor notes. "Where public money goes, public accountability should follow, but churches and religious groups want to feed at the public trough while playing by their own rules," Gaylor adds.
Gaylor observes that adding sexual orientation as a protected class to the Civil Rights Act is long overdue. "The secular community and all who revere civil rights must pressure Congress to pass the Equality Act," Gaylor concludes.