The Freedom From Religion Foundation is welcoming a Mississippi county's decision to remove a courthouse display of the Ten Commandments.
Officials in Itawamba County made the move in response to a recent letter from the national church/state watchdog.
"The Ten Commandments display violates the Establishment Clause of the Constitution," FFRF Staff Attorney Patrick Elliott stated in the Jan. 27 letter. "The religious message of the Ten Commandments is obvious. By placing this display directly inside the county's governmental offices, the county is unmistakably sending the message that it gives the display its stamp of approval."
Elliott added that the government's biblical display was striking a blow against religious liberty, forcing taxpayers of all faiths—and of no faith—to support a particular expression of worship.
On Monday, Feb. 1, county supervisors agreed to modify the presentation, according to news reports.
"The Supervisors of Itawamba County have been notified that the present display of the Ten Commandments by itself is a violation of U.S. Supreme Court ruling," says an officially released statement. "After consulting with legal counsel, the present display of the Ten Commandments will be replaced with the national motto of the United States of America, 'In God We Trust.'"
FFRF appreciates the supervisors' decision to get rid of the Ten Commandments, but voiced concerns about the substitution.
"We're pleased that the County's unconstitutional Ten Commandments display will be removed from the courthouse," says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. "But it's regrettable that the county supervisors sought out another religious statement to replace the Ten Commandments. Elected officials should not use their government position and government buildings as a place for promoting their religious views."
Gaylor noted that "In God We Trust" was adopted as a Johnny-come-lately motto at the height of the Cold War, and that it isn't even accurate, given the fact that more than a quarter of the U.S. population today identifies as nonreligious. "To be accurate, it would have to say 'In God Some of Us Trust,' and wouldn't that be silly?"
FFRF has a national enrollment of 23,000 nonreligious members, including in Mississippi.
Contact your state representative!
Do you remember the Supreme Court's Hobby Lobby decision that allowed for-profit corporations to exercise their so-called "religious conscience" in order to restrict employees' access to contraceptives? Have you been watching the legal battles over cake decorators and municipal clerks who want to be able to discriminate against gay couples in the name of "religious freedom?" Now a bill is making its way through your West Virginia legislature that would afford legal protection to any person (or any corporation) who chooses to discriminate or otherwise break the law in the name of their personal religion.
Senate Bill 11, the misleadingly named "Freedom of Conscience Protection Act," is meant to exempt religious citizens from generally applicable laws and effectively legalizes discrimination in the name of god. This bill would extend the Supreme Court's infamous Hobby Lobby decision to West Virginia. The bill currently sits in the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Essentially the proposed bill will tie the state's hands, nullifying any neutral, generally applicable law that conflicts with a person's or corporation's religious beliefs—unless that law is "essential to further a compelling governmental interest" and is "the least restrictive means" of furthering that interest. This is an extremely high bar for a law to meet, especially as religious groups increasingly use the cry of "religious persecution" to further their political agendas.
Contact your state senator or members of the Senate Judiciary Committee today to voice your strong opposition to SB 11. Personalize your statement if possible, or feel free to cut and paste the wording below.
I am writing as your constituent and a West Virginia taxpayer. I oppose SB 11, the so-called "Freedom of Conscience Protection Act." It would exempt any person or corporation from all generally applicable laws if they claim a religious objection. When the legislature designs a law to apply to everyone, it does so for good reasons. SB 11 applies a blanket exemption to all laws, rather than requiring the legislature to deliberate over the merits of a specific religious exemption. This bill would create a legal loophole for any person or corporation who wishes to discriminate in the name of religion.
The Constitution already protects the free exercise of religion. This bill is simply a tool to legalize discrimination. The federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act, on which SB 11 is based, has already damaged the rights of women to obtain contraceptive coverage. I would hate to see West Virginian businesses use this law to discriminate against gay people, atheists and religious minorities, or any other minority group.
SB 11 would also be bad for business. In 2014, Arizona Governor Jan Brewer, a Republican, vetoed Arizona's version of this bill after high profile protests from citizens and corporations opposed to discrimination, including the Arizona Super Bowl Host Committee and Apple. And last year Wal-Mart expressed opposition to a RFRA bill in its home state of Arkansas because, the retail giant stated, the bill would sanction discrimination against gays and lesbians, which runs counter to the company's core beliefs. Codifying this law in West Virginia is simply bad policy.