Freethought Today · Vol. 28 No. 9 November 2011

Published by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc.

State/Church Bulletin November 2011

Attorney questions school flier policy

Ellen Davis, attorney for the Graham County [N.C.] School Board and Andrews Board of Aldermen, has advised officials that it’s time to review school policy on sending religious materials home with children. “Schoolchildren are a captured audience,” Davis told The Andrews Journal in a Nov. 9 story. “Someone is always coming to principals, and it’s hard for principals to tell a minister you can’t send home a religious flier.

“The policy allows just general community information [to be sent home], such as if there’s food drive, but not if it’s co-mingled with ‘Come to our church service at 7 p.m.,’ ” Davis said.


ACLJ health care challenge denied

On Nov. 9, a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled against the American Center for Law and Justice, a legal group founded by Rev. Pat Robertson, in its challenge of the health care law signed by President Barack Obama. The suit alleges the law violates the religious freedom of those who choose not to have insurance because they rely on God to protect them from harm, The Associated Press reported.

“That a direct requirement for most Americans to purchase any product or service seems an intrusive exercise of legislative power surely explains why Congress has not used this authority before — but that seems to us a political judgment rather than a recognition of constitutional limitations,” Judge Laurence Silberman, an appointee of President Ronald Reagan, wrote in the court’s opinion.

Oral arguments on the 2010 law before the Supreme Court are expected to be heard in March, with a decision in June.


Court upholds anti-gay funeral picketing

A panel of the 8th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in Omaha struck down a Nebraska law meant to keep protesters like Westboro Baptist Church members several hundred feet away from funerals or memorial services.

The Oct. 20 ruling came in an appeal of a lawsuit filed by Shirley Phelps-Roper, daughter of Rev. Fred Phelps. Members of the Topeka, Kan., church believe U.S. troop deaths are punishment for tolerance of homosexuality. The suit followed Phelps-Roper’s arrest in Bellevue during a 2007 protest at the funeral of a National Guardsman.


Sacramento freethought gets no proclamation

California Gov. Jerry Brown’s refusal to sign a proclamation noting the Sacramento Freethought Committee’s 10th annual Freethought Day, which took place this year on Oct. 23 at the McGeorge School of Law at the University of the Pacific, didn’t sit well with freethinkers. Former governors, including Arnold Schwarzenegger, had signed similar proclamations.

“We’re very disappointed. This is a slap in the face,” said David Diskin, organizer of Sacramento Freethought Day and an FFRF member. “He supports the National Day of Prayer but not a day that celebrates separation of church and state.”

The Sacramento Bee reported that an empty frame sat next to signed proclamations. FFRF Co-President Dan Barker was among the speakers at the event.


Court allows Tennessee secular display

In order to settle a lawsuit, Johnson County, Tenn., has agreed to display Ralph Stewart’s display on state/church separation in the “public forum” area of the courthouse in Mountain City.

Stewart, a “Gung Ho” FFRF member, sued to have his posters displayed after he wasn’t allowed to place them near a Ten Commandments plaque that was ostensibly part of a display on the history of American law. The posters are titled “On the Legal History of the Separation of Church and State” and “The Ten Commandments Are Not the Foundation of American Law.” The latter contains the statement, “The primary source of American law is the common and statuary law of England, NOT the Bible and NOT Christianity.”

The settlement was announced Nov. 10. It includes a $75,000 payment to Americans United for Separation of Church and State and $1 to Stewart.

The Associated Press reported that Stewart said he’d rather just have the county remove the Ten Commandments.


Utah highway crosses lose again in court

The U.S. Supreme Court denied certiorari Oct. 31 in Utah Highway Patrol Association v. American Atheists Inc. and a companion case, thus refusing to hear an appeal of a 10th Circuit appeals court ruling that said Utah violated the Establishment Clause when it let the State Patrol put crosses on public land as memorials to members killed in the line of duty.

Justice Clarence Thomas wrote a 19-page dissent to the denial of certiorari.


When Irish skeptics’ eyes are smiling

Reuters reported Nov. 4 on Ireland’s decision to close its embassy to the Vatican, calling it “stunning” and “a huge blow to the Holy See’s prestige.”

“This is really bad for the Vatican because Ireland is the first big Catholic country to do this and because of what Catholicism means in Irish history,” said a Vatican diplomatic source who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Cardinal Sean Brady, head of the Irish Catholic Church, expressed profound disappointment. The closure will save Ireland more than $1.7 million a year.

The Vatican has been a sovereign city-state since 1929.

The country took another step away from the church with the inauguration Nov. 11 of Michael D. Higgins, 70, who sworn in as Ireland’s ninth president. Higgins has vowed to remove prohibitions against atheists and agnostics running for president.

His swearing-in included a humanist element, alongside the traditional religious ones.


31 sentenced for Hindu-Muslim violence

A court in India imprisoned 31 people for life after finding them guilty Nov. 9 in the deaths of 33 Muslims, who were burned alive in a building in 2002 in retaliation for the deaths of 60 Hindu pilgrims in a train fire.

More than 1,000 people, mostly Muslims, died in three days of riots after the train fire, which Hindus blamed on Muslims.


Limo drivers deliver for Schuller’s wife

An email request for the Crystal Cathedral congregation in Garden Grove, Calif., to drop off meals for Rev. Robert Schuller’s ailing wife Arvella brought “mixed feelings of outrage and sadness,” according to a Nov. 3 Orange County Register story.

The email asked for meals to be left for three to four weeks at the church’s Tower of Hope for the Schullers’ limo drivers to pick them up at designated times.

Member Bob Canfield got the email. “These are millionaires who have limos and chauffeurs. Why in God’s name would they want the congregants to deliver meals? It’s ludicrous.”

The message asked for low-sodium items and for fruit, meat, soup and egg dishes such as quiches.

The church has filed for bankruptcy, and documents show the Schullers received almost $10 million from the church’s endowment fund. “They’re still being chauffeured around in limos,” Canfield said. “We, the congregants, have nothing.”


Faith-based ‘family planning’ gets contract

The Shelby County [Tenn.] Commission voted 9-4 on Oct. 17 to award the contract for low-income, family planning services to faith-based Christ Community Health Services, a setback for Planned Parenthood, the Memphis Commercial Appeal reported. Planned Parenthood performs abortions but Christ Community doesn’t and won’t refer women to facilities that do.

Jeff Drzycimski, a Catholic deacon and one of several abortion opponents who spoke before the vote, said, “We want our tax dollars not to fund Planned Parenthood, not to fund the killing of children.”

Planned Parenthood spokeswoman Joan Carr called the decision “political pandering. It is unfortunate that politics trumped people’s needs.”

Mary Phillips, 24, testified that Christ Community’s services sometimes come with a “sermon.” She said she’d told that “If only my relationships with people and God were right, I would have fewer health problems.”

Shelby County will get $1.3 million in grants for family planning.


Oregon faith healers get prison sentences

Dale and Shannon Hickman, Oregon City, Ore., were sentenced Oct. 31 to 75 months in prison and three years’ for the faith-healing death of their infant son. The Hickmans, both 26, belong to Followers of Christ Church. They were convicted of second-degree manslaughter. They have two surviving children, ages 7 and 4 months.

David Hickman was born two months prematurely in 2009 and lived less than nine hours. Experts testified he had a 99.9% chance of surviving with medical care.

Judge Robert Herndon called the attending unlicensed midwife, who was not charged, “the most dangerous person in Clackamas County.”


Christian college forces anti-gay pledge

Shorter University, a Southern Baptist college in Rome, Ga., is making its 200 employees sign a “personal lifestyle pledge,” WSBTV Atlanta reported Oct. 26.

Employees sign a promise to reject homosexuality, premarital sex, adultery and other nonbiblical behavioring.

One employee told the Georgia Voice newspaper that the pledge has some fearing “witch hunts” on campus. “We now will live in fear that someone who doesn’t like us personally or someone who has had a bad day will report that we’ve been drinking or that we are suspected of being gay,” said the male employee.


Fetus dolls more trick than treat

A lot of parents at a Halloween event in Loganville, Ga., attended by 3,000 children, were none too happy at an anti-abortion group for handing out rubber fetus dolls to trick-or-treaters, the Walton Tribune reported Nov. 6.

“A man handed one of the so-called toys to my 3-year-old grandson. He asked what it was. The man that handed it to him told him, ‘This is a 12-week-old fetus. This is what you looked like in your mommy’s belly,’ ” said John Ramsey. “There is a time and place for everything. This event for handing out candy to small children was not the time or the place.”

Marti Wood said she was “shocked and appalled. . . . Hopefully this is something that will be considered for next year so the children won’t worry about someone putting a fetus in with their candy.”

Organizer Joshua Edmonds, senior pastor of Project:Ignite Global Ministries, said “the children love to look at these models and hold them.”

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