Freethought Today · Vol. 27 No.1 January February Combined Issue 2010

Published by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc.

State/Church Bulletin - Jan. Feb. 2010

Commandments Up Against the Wall

A federal appeals court OK’d hanging a copy of the Ten Commandments on a courthouse wall after an eight-year absence in Leitchfield, Ky. The ruling by the 6th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, released on Jan. 14, overturned a district court ruling.

The Grayson County News-Gazette said the singing of “God Bless America” and “Amazing Grace” accompanied the rehanging event. A three-judge panel ruled the document could be part of an exhibit called “Foundations of American Law and Government,” which included the Mayflower Com­pact, Declaration of Independ­ence, Magna Carta, Bill of Rights and other documents.

Judge Karen Nelson Moore dissented, calling the claim by county officials that the display was for educational purposes “a sham.”

Religious Child Care Loses Case in Pa.

A state appeals court ruled the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare can regulate religious child care facilities. The court in January upheld the agency’s 1997 order closing St. Elizabeth’s Child Care Center near Allentown. Judges said the Catholic facility failed to establish that regulations would interfere with its free exercise of religion and that “its prior restraint argument consists of vague and speculative assertions.”

“This decision upholds our belief that every facility, regardless of affiliation, should be held to the same quality standards to protect the health, safety and development of our children,” Public Welfare Secretary Harriet Dichter told The Associated Press.

In 1997, inspectors discovered 20 children were in a St. Elizabeth’s facility that lacked state certification and issued a cease-and-desist order.

Godless Iowa Oath Irks Legislator

An Iowa legislator wants to change the state Constitution to require lawmakers to say “so help me God” when being sworn into office. Rep. Dawn Pettengill, R-Mount Auburn, said using the oath without God in it is “offensive” to her.

“There are issues worth fighting over, and there are issues that are not. As far as I’m concerned, it’s not a big deal,” said House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, D-Des Moines. “Whatever the membership is comfortable with.”

Group Gets Cut of ‘Choose Life’ Plates

Should an antiabortion group get $15 of each $25 processing fee to buy “Choose Life” specialty license plates in Virginia?

So far, Heartbeat International, a Christian group that operates “pregnancy resource centers,” has gotten at least $10,000, reported The Washing­ton Post on Jan. 20.

Critics charge that the state and Heartbeat aren’t vetting individual clinics to see if they’re actually doing what they claim in order to be eligible for the money. A NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia investigation found that 38 of the 52 pregnancy centers didn’t have medically trained or supervised staff and that two-thirds provided “some degree of medically erroneous information.” The report said 16 trained volunteers went undercover to more than two dozen pregnancy centers and posed as women worried they were pregnant.

“When you’re telling women who are scared about unintended pregnancies that condoms have holes and abortions cause cancer, it’s a public health threat,” said Emily Polak, NARAL deputy director.

Colleges May Set Credit Standards

A federal appeals court in January upheld a lower court ruling that the University of California doesn’t discriminate against Christian schools by refusing to accept academic credit for certain courses in religion and ethics.

“As a university, one of UC’s ‘essential freedoms’ is to ‘determine for itself on academic grounds . . . who may be admitted to study,’ ” the 9th Circuit opinion said. “UC exercises that freedom by reviewing high school courses to ensure that they adequately prepare incoming students for the rigors of academic study at UC.”

The Association of Christian Schools International, Calvary Chapel Christian School and five of its students had appealed a district court ruling that UC’s admission policy was constitutional.

Bible Handout Scotched in Tenn.   

For the second time in two years, Wilson County (Tenn.) Schools have agreed to stop bible distribution by Gideons International at elementary schools.

A couple had sued, with help from the American Civil Liberties Union, on behalf of their fifth-grade daughter, “Joann Doe.” According to a news release, “Joann Doe’s teacher called each row of students forward to receive a bible [from a basket in the school gym] but told them taking a bible was not mandatory. However, every student did take a bible, including Joann Doe, who said she feared being ostracized if she did not.”

The principal had introduced Gideons representatives and told students how she’d gotten her first bible years ago and how important it was. After returning to class, Joann’s teacher told them to write their names in the bibles.

The school agreed in January to pay plaintiffs’ attorney fees up to $5,000.

Calif. Mayor Stops Preacher’s Prayer

Mayor Mike Siminski of Lompoc, Calif., stopped Rev. Rob Kee’s invocation in November at a City Council meeting when Kee said, “the only true God, as defined in the bible. . .” Siminski explained why in a Lompoc Record op-ed:

“To me, guidelines on prayer during public meetings are firm. Sectarian beliefs cannot be advanced. I took the reference to ‘the only true God, as defined in the Bible,’ as admonishment of those who believe God is defined in other holy books, tradition or in individual conscience.

“On becoming mayor, I swore to uphold the Constitution. This includes the broad scope of laws, directives and rulings of our government system. I do not believe I have the right to pick and choose.”

Vegas Prayer Seen As Big Gamble

The City Council in Las Vegas, N.M., unanimously voted down a proposal by Mayor Tony Marquez in December to open meetings with prayers. Marquez said he thought it would help city officials “get along better.”

Councilman Andrew Feldman warned that the city would have to be careful to recognize all religions with such prayers. Otherwise, he said, the city may face lawsuits.

Personhood Petition Barred from Ballot

A Nevada District Court judge rejected a “personhood” initiative petition from a Christian antiabortion group as too vague. “There is no way the average person can understand the effect of this petition,” Judge James Russell said at a January hearing.

Personhood Nevada President Olaf Vancura said his group will appeal to the state Supreme Court. The initiative drive is part of a national movement by PersonhoodUSA, which is trying to overturn Roe v. Wade. Moves are under way in 30 states to change laws or pass constitutional amendments that say all persons, including fetuses, are human beings.

Christian Centurions Lose in Court

The U.S. Supreme Court declined to review a Wisconsin appeals court ruling that held the Milwaukee County sheriff violated the Establishment Clause when it invited representatives of the Fellowship of the Christian Centurions to speak at mandatory employee meetings.

The fellowship was formed in 2006 by Elmbrook Church, an evangelical body.

Sheriff David Clarke Jr. invited Centurions to make a presentation at a departmental leadership conference, which all deputies with the rank of sergeant or above were required to attend, as well as other mandatory meetings. Two deputies — a Catholic and a Muslim — objected and sued.

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