Freethought Today ·

Vol. 29 No. 2

March 2012

Published by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc.

State/Church Bulletin March 2012

States disguise bible courses as literature

The South Dakota House and Senate passed a nonbinding resolution encouraging the “academic study of the bible in South Dakota public schools.” It passed the House 58-8 and the Senate 25-10.

“It sends the message that other religious texts are not as important as the bible, which I think is probably a dangerous path for us to start down,” said Sen. Angie Buhl, D-Sioux Falls.

Sen. Tom Hansen, R-Huron, also opposed it. The state should let “the church regulate church things,” he said.

The Arizona House voted 42-15 on Feb. 21 to let high schools offer elective courses on “critical evaluation and examination of the Bible as a literary work.”

House Minority Leader Chad Campbell, D-Phoenix, opposed the bill, predicting a constitutional challenge.

Georgia, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas already have laws allowing such classes.

A New Hampshire bill sponsored by Rep. Jerry Bergevin appears to be dead, the Concord Monitor said Feb. 22. The House Education Committee 17-0 to table a bill mandating bible study in all schools.

“The holy bible is the bedrock of Western civilization. Love it or hate it, it’s in every aspect of humanity,” Bergevin, R-Manchester, said earlier.

Such resolutions and/or laws aren’t genuine efforts to honestly explore and investigate the bible, said Andrew Seidel, FFRF constitutional consultant. “Under the Constitution, the bible may be permissibly taught as literature in public schools, so why are legislators pushing these laws? Because they know that, in practice, many of these classes will not be an academic study of literature but another chance to emulate the tobacco industry and ‘get ’em while they’re young.’

“That’s why FFRF’s mission is so important,” Seidel said, “Schools aren’t necessarily going to police themselves and toe the appropriate constitutional line. Teachers will do as the legislature intends and inculcate rather than educate, and FFRF will be there to fight for the Constitution and the rights of those schoolchildren.”


Ariz. voucher ruling has wide implication

On Jan. 26, Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Maria del Mar Verdin rejected arguments by the Arizona Education Association and other groups that the state’s new “empowerment scholarships” violate a constitutional provision which specifically bars state aid to private and parochial schools.

The ruling paves the way to make vouchers available for all of the more than 1 million children now in public schools, the Arizona Daily Star reported.

The plan Verdin upheld is relatively small and is designed for special needs students. Sen. Rick Murphy, R-Glendale, said that after legal hurdles are overcome, he wants the program to become the template for students statewide.

Virginia judge enjoins county prayer

U.S. District Judge Michael Urbanski issued a preliminary injunction Feb. 3 in Jane Doe v. Pittsylvania County, Virginia, barring the Board of Supervisors “from continuing its present practice of routinely opening its meetings with Christian prayers” and “from invoking the name of a specific deity associated with any one specific faith or belief in prayers given at Board meetings.”

Urbanksi also ruled the plaintiff can no longer proceed as Jane Doe but must use her real name in the case filed on her behalf by the ACLU.


Ruling only affected Bronx Household

The 2nd Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals clarified on Feb. 17 that a district judge’s Feb. 16 temporary restraining order stopping New York City from enforcing its policy of evicting churches from public schools applied to only one congregation, the Bronx Household of Faith.

About 50 religious groups worshipping in public schools have been given eviction notices by the city. The state senate passed a bill in February to overturn the appeals court decision evicting church worship from schools.


Court: Bad manners got Christian fired

A federal appeals court on Feb. 7 ruled against a woman who claimed she was fired as a counselor at the Centers for Disease Control because of her Christian beliefs.

Marcia Walden refused to counsel a woman in a same-sex relationship and referred her to another counselor, saying that her “personal values” prevented her from helping the woman.

The Atlanta-based 11th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in Atlanta ruled Walden was fired for the manner in which she handled the referral, not because of her beliefs, and that the CDC feared she would continue that behavior.


Maine bill funds religious schools

On Feb. 9, Maine Gov. Paul LePage and state Education Commissioner Stephen Bowen revealed details of a bill that would remove a ban on public money going to religious schools.

“For some families that are struggling financially . . . to be able to get some help with tuition to come to a Christian school would be very very helpful,” said Bangor Christian School Headmaster Jim Frost. “It would help us with our student enrollment.”

“[T]he state has a responsibility to provide a public school system,” said Chris Galgay of the Maine Education Association, “that’s what the Constitution says. It doesn’t say anything about private schools, religious schools. We have choice . . . that’s a parent’s choice . . . but it’s not the taxpayer’s responsibility.”


Indiana creationism bill dead, for now

Indiana House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, procedurally killed a creationism bill by moving it to the Rules Committee, ensuring it won’t be voted on this session, the Indianapolis Star reported Feb. 14. The Senate had passed the bill 28-22 to let schools teach alternate theories of evolution.

“I felt, given the fact that we have a U.S. Supreme Court case that appears to me to be directly on point, that this is a fight that really should not be fought at this point,” Bosma said.


Middle school student loses prayer case

A principal in Craryville, N.Y., didn’t violate a student’s First Amendment rights when he told her to omit religious sentiments from her speech at a “moving up” ceremony, a federal judge ruled Jan. 23. The speech ended with, “As we say our goodbyes and leave middle school behind, I say to you, may the LORD bless you and keep you; make His face shine upon you and be gracious to you; lift up His countenance upon you, and give you peace.”

U.S. District Judge Gary Sharpe ruled that the applicable judicial standard was Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier, which lets schools censor speech for legitimate educational reasons. The plaintiff wanted Tinker v. Des Moines School District applied, which held that school can censor only if speech will cause “substantial disruption” or infringe on others’ rights.

Sharpe said use of school funds and equipment made the event school-sponsored.


Court deals blow to U.K. council prayer

Formal prayer at council meetings in England and Wales were banned by the High Court in London after it ruled in a test case brought by an atheist councillor and the National Secular Society, the Irish Times reported Feb. 11.

The court said prayers at the monthly Bideford Town Council meeting were not lawful. The National Secular Society’s Keith Porteous Wood said it was pleased at the court’s “clear secular message,” adding that all council meetings should be “equally welcoming” to all councillors, religious or not.

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