Freethought Today · Vol. 29 No. 1 January/February 2012

Published by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc.

State/Church Bulletin January/February 2012

SCOTUS denies appeals in prayer cases

The U.S. Supreme Court on Jan. 17 refused to give government bodies more freedom to open sessions with prayers by denying to hear appeals in a North Carolina case — Forsyth County v. Joyner — and a Delaware case, Indian River School District v. Doe.

Religion Clause summarizes the first case: “The 4th Circuit, in a 2-1 decision, held that the prayer policy of a county commission violated the Establishment Clause even though the policy was neutral on its face. All congregations in the community were invited to send a religious leader to lead an invocation at one of the commission meetings. As implemented, however, 80% of the prayers referenced Jesus and no non-Christian religious leader ever offered the invocation.”

In the Delaware case, justices left intact a 3rd Circuit decision that barred prayers at Indian River School Board meetings in Selbyville. The three-judge panel likened the meetings to school graduations, which the Supreme Court said in 1992 couldn’t be a forum for organized prayer, unlike legislative invocations.

Anti-evolution bills pushed nationwide

Oklahoma Senate Bill 1742 is the sixth anti-evolution bill of 2012, according to the National Center for Science Education. Two bills each in New Hampshire and Missouri and one in Indiana have also been filed.

The Oklahoma bill requires the state Board of Education to help teachers and administrators promote “critical thinking, logical analysis, open and objective discussion of scientific theories including, but not limited to, evolution, the origin of life, global warming, and human cloning” on request of local school districts. The bill also lets teachers “use supplemental textbooks and instructional materials to help students understand, analyze, critique, and review scientific theories in an objective manner.”

In a Durant Daily Democrat column, Sen. Josh Breechen, R-Coalgate, wrote: “I have introduced legislation requiring every publicly funded Oklahoma school to teach the debate of creation vs. evolution using the known science, even that which conflicts with Darwin’s religion.”

High court upholds ministerial exception

On Jan. 11, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously upheld the right of religious organizations to hire and fire clergy and other mission-related employees without government interference.

In Hosanna-Tabor v. EEOC, the court ruled that employees hired to carry out the mission of a religious organization are barred by the First Amendment from suing over employment discrimination. It marks the first time the court has endorsed the so-called ministerial exception to employment protections that has generally been accepted by lower courts.

The case involved a Lutheran teacher who sued for wrongful dismissal.

Gov. Beshear rejects hospital merger

Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear said he opposes the planned merger of the University of Louisville Hospital, Jewish Hospital & St. Mary’s HealthCare, and Saint Joseph Health System. Beshear has concerns about religious influence on care at the state-owned university facility exerted by Catholic Health Initiatives, the parent of Saint Joseph, which would have owned 70 percent of the proposed 14-hospital network, the Chronicle of Philanthropy reported Jan. 3.

Illinois Catholic charity doesn’t extend to all

Catholic Charities in Springfield, Ill., said Jan. 9 that it will transfer its foster care staff, foster parents and children to other child welfare agencies because of a state law that gives same-sex couples the right to seek civil unions, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.

Illinois oversees the foster care system but contracts 80% of cases to private agencies, many of which are faith-based.

Catholic agencies refuse to license same-sex couples in civil unions as foster parents and say the law impinges on their religious freedom. That’s discriminatory against gays and lesbian, the state says.

Tim Kee, a teacher in Marion, said he was turned away by Catholic Charities three years ago when he and his longtime partner tried to adopt a child. “We’re both Catholic, we love our church, but Catholic Charities closed the door to us. To add insult to injury, my tax dollars went to provide discrimination against me,” Kee told The New York Times.

County funding for Jesus Fest contested

The ACLU of West Virginia sent a letter Dec. 20 to the Harrison County Commission objecting to the $2,000 per year county funding each of the last five years for Jesus Fest in Clarksburg. They call a religious event aimed at promoting Christianity.

The commission is studying the issue, Commissioner Ron Watson said the Charleston Daily Mail.

Jesus Fest organizer B.K. Vanhorn said the county funds others festivals. “And you don’t have to be a Christian to come to Jesus Fest.”

Iowa faculty stops sham biblical course

A proposed course titled Finance 290X: Biblical Insight into the Management of Business/Organization at Iowa State University in Ames was canceled after faculty members objected, the Iowa State Daily reported Jan. 16.

Professor Roger Stover proposed the course last semester, pointing to companies such as Chik-fil-A and Hobby Lobby, which “openly display their use of spiritual and often Christian principles in their organization.”

“This is a public institution where we can teach world religion, but we can’t promote it. This class was promoting it and looking at it through one evangelical perspective,” said Warren Blumenfeld, a professor in the department of curriculum and instruction. “This was basically a Sunday school course where the students are getting university credit, and what that does is it lowers the standards of our university.”

Indiana judge OKs religious vouchers

Indiana Superior Court Judge Michael Keel upheld the state’s school voucher law Jan. 13, rejecting arguments that the largest such program in the nation unconstitutionally uses public money to support religion.

Keele ruled the program is constitutional because it gives scholarship vouchers to parents and doesn’t directly fund schools. The Associated Press reported that Indiana State Teachers Association President Nate Schnellenberger said opponents will keeping fighting the law.

Florida prayer bill advances in Senate

The Florida Senate Rules Committee voted 12-2 on Jan. 23 in favor of Senate Bill 98 allowing school boards to adopt policies “allowing the use of an inspirational message, including prayers of invocation or benediction, at secondary school commencement exercises or any other noncompulsory student assembly.”

The legislation specifies that “the purpose of this act is to provide for the solemnization and memorialization of secondary school events and ceremonies, and this act is not intended to advance or endorse any religion or religious belief.”

The bill further says inspirational messages will be given by students and school personnel may not participate. Benjamin Stevenson, ACLU of Florida, called the bill unconstitutional political theater. “Legislators will score political points at the expense of school boards that actually implement such a policy and are left to defend it in court.”

FFRF wrote letters and sent action alerts on what it called a mischeif making and unconstitutional proposal. See our news release:

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