Freethought Today · Vol. 26 No. 7 September 2009

Published by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc.

State/Church Bulletin Sept. 09

Charter School Denied Bible Text

The Idaho Public School Charter Commission has denied a request by the Nampa Classical Academy to use the bible in its curriculum.

The Alliance Defense Fund had backed the startup school’s effort. In a memo to the commission, the ADF claimed the bible would be used as a historical document and not to teach religion.

Commission lawyer Jennifer Swartz had raised concerns that the Idaho Constitution bans the use of religious texts in a public school, no matter if it’s used in a religious or secular manner. The academy has about 550 students. Headmaster Val Bush said students would also explore several versions of creationism as part of their studies.

Iowa District Mulls Religion Electives

Public school students in Spencer, Iowa, may be able to take classes as soon as November on the bible in history and literature, as well as elective courses in creationism and arguments against evolution.

It’s part of a “religious liberty policy” the school board is considering and would be Iowa’s first such policy. Community focus groups will meet to give the board input. District Attorney Steve Avery told the board any such curriculum “needs to be very broad brush,” and according to the Spencer Daily Report, further suggested that it cover many religions, multiple versions of the bible and possibly throw in a chapter on evolution to balance it out.

IRS Dropping Case Against Pastor?

An unspecified procedural glitch has caused the Internal Revenue Service to suspend its case against Rev. Gus Booth of Warroad (Minn.) Community Church for endorsing John McCain from the pulpit in 2008.

The IRS letter to Booth said the case is on hold due to a “pending issue regarding the procedure used to initiate the inquiry.” The letter was mute on what the “pending issue” might be. The IRS said it may “commence a future inquiry” when it sees fit.

Booth vowed to keep preaching about politicians. “I plan to give an election sermon every year.”

In one sermon last year he said: “Both Hillary and Barack favor the shedding of innocent blood and the legalization of the abomination of homosexual marriage. We need to vote for the most righteous of candidates. The most righteous is John McCain.”

Grant Goes to Study Role of Religion

The San Joaquin County (Calif.) Office of Education was awarded a $1 million federal grant to develop a curriculum to teach the role of religion in U.S. history. Two other counties and Cal State-San Bernadino are part of the three-year program.

Teaching about religion in public schools can be a delicate matter, said school administrator Gary Dei Rossi. “Often the teachers shy away and don’t teach it.”

Illinois OKs $11M For Church Groups

Ill. Gov. Pat Quinn has signed a 996-page spending bill that includes more than $11 million for religious groups. The actual amount isn’t known because some of the names of grant recipients are acronyms or otherwise unclear.

Some that are clear: $150,000 for a cabin at Camp Chi, a religious summer camp in the Wisconsin Dells run by the Jewish Community of Chicago; $250,000 to renovate Friendship House of Christian Service, Peoria; $150,000 for a conference center at Muhammad’s Holy Temple of Islam, Chicago; and $700,000 for St. Malachy School, Chicago and $25,000 for the National Conference of Synagogue Youth, which encourages “passionate Judaism through Torah and tradition.”

Faith-based Grants For 9 Questioned

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder is reviewing nine federal grants made to faith-based groups and approved as earmarks by Congress in 2008.

The grants include $490,000 to the Detroit Rescue Mission Ministries, which includes bible studies and Christian proselytizing; $1.13 million to Grace College, Winona Lake, Ind., for a campus building used for religious activities; $282,000 to World Impact St. Louis (“ministering Christ’s love in the inner city”); $282,000 to the Denver Rescue Mission, which offers religious programming; and $210,000 for New Hope Academy Teen Challenge, Factoryville, Pa., a self-described Christian boarding school with an addiction treatment program which is Christ-centered.

Fargo Aims to Ax Freethinkers’ Suit

The city of Fargo, N.D., is seeking dismissal of a lawsuit by the Red River Valley Freethinkers. The suit challenges a Ten Commandments monument which has been outside City Hall since 1961. The city says the freethinkers lack legal standing. The freethinkers propose a sister monument that says, from the 1897 Treaty of Tripoli, “The Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion.”

Senators Sponsor D.C. Vouchers

Sens. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., Susan Collins, R-Maine, and George Voin­ovich, R-Ohio, have introduced a bill to reauthorize the federally funded District of Columbia private school voucher program

The controversial program was originally funded for five years and has expired. Pushed through Congress by President George W. Bush, it passed the House of Representatives by one vote.

U.S. Foreign Aid Goes to Fix Mosques

The U.S. Agency for International Development spent $325,000 to repair four mosques in Fallujah, Iraq, its inspector general said in July. USAID argued that most of the money went to repair facilities that provided jobs, social services, food and other basics for the needy.

The Boston Globe reported that from 2001-05, 98% of USAID faith-based funds went to Christian groups. Gary Winter, legal counsel, said the agency is eager to reach out to Islamic moderates.

Atheist Groups Get Bus Ad Approval

The Indiana Atheist Bus Campaign has dropped its lawsuit after a Bloom­ington bus company decided to allow an ad that says “You Can Be Good Without God” on buses. But IndyGo, which operates Indianapolis buses, won’t accept the ad. (FFRF is starting a new bus ad campaign soon; read details in October’s Freethought Today.)

In Des Moines, Iowa, it was on and off and on again for a similar ad on city buses. Iowa Atheists & Freethinkers sponsored one with white clouds against a blue sky and the words “Don’t believe in God? You are not alone.” The campaign is part of a national effort by Washington D.C.-based United Coalition for Reason.

Freethinkers Oppose Council Prayers 

The City Council’s new policy on prayer before council meetings in San Marcos, Texas, passed unanimously Aug. 4 but doesn’t meet constitutional muster, according to Freethought San Marcos.

The new policy says invocations are “deemed to be a constitutional form of government speech rather than private speech” and that the city will make “a concerted effort to include clergy from all faith traditions.” The city clerk will now set up a list of rotating clergy instead of the ministerial association. If clergy doesn’t show, city employees can’t fill in, but a moment of silence is permitted instead.

The policy skirts the real issues, Foundation Member Lamar Hankins of Freethought San Marcos said in a column. He thinks the council chose only the one part of the Supreme Court case Marsh v. Chambers that it liked and ignored the rest. Nothing in the new policy addresses the repeated use of Christian prayers that invoke Jesus, Hankins said.

In the debate before the council vote, resident Terry Blackstone ended his comments by reciting the first verse of the hymn, “What a Friend We Have in Jesus.”

House Bans Prayer, Senate Doesn’t

A month after his prayer was rejected by the state House, Rev. Gerry Stoltzfoos prayed in Jesus’ name before the Pennsylvania Senate: “For those of us who are Christians, we pray in Jesus’ name.”

In June Stoltzfoos was asked to submit his prayer in writing to the House to ensure it didn’t contain political statements and was nondenominational. But because it ended in “Jesus’ name,” it was rejected. Stoltzfoos then opted out. Later he was invited to pray in the Senate and accepted. He said the House has now changed its policy and won’t ask for prayers to be submitted ahead of time.

House Speaker Keith McCall’s chief of staff said the office has been swamped by calls and letters calling McCall a “Jesus hater” and suggesting that staff members “burn in hell.”

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