Hawaii settles suit with freethinkers
Mitch Kahle, FFRF member and 2011 Freethinker of the Year recipient, has settled his lawsuit for $100,000 for being dragged out of the Hawaii Senate gallery for protesting prayer by lawmakers.
The state agreed to pay Kahle and Kevin Hughes, who videotaped the incident, to drop the suit. Both were roughed up by Capitol security in April 2010.
“We’re pleased with the settlement, primarily because it sends a message to government that peaceful protest cannot be treated violently,” Kahle told Honolulu Civil Beat on March 13.
The Legislature is moving two identical bills to create an “offense of disrespect” of the House and Senate for “disorderly or contemptuous behavior,” including “making loud, boisterous, or incessant shouts” and “refusing to be or to remain seated on orders from the sheriff or sergeant-at-arms.”
Kahle, head of Hawaii Citizens for the Separation of State and Church, calls SB 3026 the “Stop Mitch Kahle Bill.”
SCOTUS denies cert for bible as text
The U.S. Supreme Court declined on March 26 to review the Idaho Public Charter School Commission’s 2009 ban on religious texts.
The 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals held that because Nampa Classical Academy was a publicly funded charter school, it would could not use the bible as a textbook in a secular history class. The Alliance Defense Fund, a Christian legal group, denounced the decision.
Judge rules against Okla. school vouchers
Tulsa County District Judge Rebecca Nightingale struck down an Oklahoma law March 28 requiring public school districts to fund private-school scholarships for students with special-needs on grounds it violates the Oklahoma Constitution.
Thirty-eight of the 40 schools eligible for funding from the scholarships are specifically Christian, attorneys from both sides agreed.
Virgin on surfboard barred from beach
The California Attorney General’s Office issued an opinion March 7 that the Encinitas City Council could not enter a long-term agreement with the creator of “Surfing Madonna” to put the mosaic at the entrance of Moonlight State Beach due to the constitutional “no preference” clause.
The council had decided last May that it was “guerrilla art” that constituted graffiti and could be seen as endorsing religion. Artist Mark Patterson’s work depicts the Virgin of Guadalupe on a surfboard.
“Because the image of the Virgin of Guadalupe is central to the mosaic, an objective observer would conclude that Parks wished to convey a message related to that potent symbol of Catholicism. And even if the message is one protecting the oceans, it is the Virgin who is starting the message,” wrote John Saurenman, a senior assistant attorney general.
High court to decide Indiana vouchers
The Indiana Supreme Court will hear a direct appeal of a Marion County judge’s ruling that Indiana’s school voucher program is constitutional.
Judge Michael Keele ruled in January the Choice Scholarship Program, which uses state tax dollars to pay tuition at private, often religious, schools is legal.
About 4,000 Indiana students had their private school tuition paid for by tax dollars this school year.
Biblical view of Constitution blasted
The Baltimore Sun reported Feb. 23 that Carroll County commissioners asked employees to attend a seminar on the Maryland Constitution led by conservative pastor David Whitney, a lecturer for the Institute on the Constitution. He bases lectures on the biblical view of American law and government.
Neil Ridgely, a former county department head, questioned the need for an $800 course “with a religious twist.”
“This is an outrageous misuse of public funds and an insult to the intelligence of county employees,” he said. “The commissioners could have used the county attorney to give it for free.”
Florida students set to get ‘inspirational’
Florida Gov. Rick Scott signed a bill March 23 that lets schools set policies allowing students to deliver “inspirational messages” at school events.
David Barkey, Anti-Defamation League religious freedom counsel, criticized the law. “Our public schools are for all children regardless of their religion, but this law could require children as young as 5 to observe prayers to Allah, Buddha, Jesus or other faiths contrary to their religious upbringing at mandatory student assemblies.”
During debate, the Orlando Sentinel reported, Rep. Charles Van Zant, R-Keystone Heights, said, “Before we removed inspirational messages, the No. 1 problem was talking out of turn.”
Rep. Jeff Clemons, D-Wellington, read from the “Aryan Satanic Manifesto” and asked Van Zant if that would be considered “inspirational.”
Van Zant replied, “That would be the students’ prerogative because of our constitutional freedom of speech.”
School religious fliers OK’d by judge
U.S. District Judge A. Richard Caputo upheld his initial decision that let an 11-year-old hand out religious fliers at her Pennsylvania school. The fliers invited classmates to a Christmas party at her church, the Legal Intelligencer reported March 12.
Caputo reiterated he applied the right legal standard — Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District — in his 2011 ruling instead of the forum standard in Morse v. Frederick. The latter allowed punishment of an Alaska student who held up a sign saying “Bong Hits 4 Jesus” at a school function.
Tinker v. Des Moines said schools can only control students’ speech that materially disrupts classwork, creates substantial disorder or invades the rights of others.
6th Circuit rejects bible-study appeal
The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Nashville ruled March 20 that a Tennessee fourth-grader’s rights weren’t violated by the school principal who stopped Luke Whitson from holding bible study at recess in 2005.
Principal Cathy Summa stated she felt that “an organized activity of this type . . . that is stationary or physically static in nature defeats the real purpose of recess. The purpose is to give students an opportunity to have some physical activity during the school day.”
A jury in 2009 ruled in favor of the school district. The parents appealed. The 6th Circuit agreed that errors were made but ruled the errors were harmless.
Prayer compromise at food bank?
Community Provisions of Jackson County in Seymour, Ind., came under fire in mid-March for asking clients if they want to pray before receiving food. That led the agency that distributes federal food items to take back several pallets of food.
The national Emergency Food Assistance Program states that no religious service or teachings can be required to receive service. But on March 26, the Indianapolis Star said all parties were mulling a proposal to have volunteers wait until recipients get food before asking them about praying.
“It really wasn’t a case of anyone objecting to them praying,” said Cindy Hubert, president of Gleaners Food Bank of Indiana. “It is just that it can never be a requirement to get food. It can’t even be perceived that way.”
Shades of Scopes for Tennessee schools
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam said April 2 he will “probably” sign a bill derided by critics as the “monkey bill” for attacking evolution.
The bill, sponsored by Rep. Bill Dunn, R-Knoxville, and Sen. Bo Watson, R-Hixon, requires all administrators and educators to work to teach “scientific subjects” such as “biological evolution, the chemical origins of life, global warming and human cloning” as “scientific controversies.”
Both houses also passed a bill that authorizes replicas of certain “historically significant” documents, such as the Magna Carta, Declaration of Independence and Ten Commandments, to be placed in local government buildings.