Appeals court nixes Wis. church graduations
The Elmbrook [Wis.] School District illegally held graduation ceremonies at Elmbrook Church, the 7th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals ruled 7-3 on July 23. Symbols in the church, including a giant cross on the wall, conveyed a message that government was endorsing a particular religion, the court ruled in a 2009 suit bought by Americans United for Separation of Church and State.
“[The decision] ensures that students in Wisconsin will not be forced to enter an intensely religious environment as the price of attending their own high school graduation, a seminal event in their lives,” said attorney Alex Luchenitser, AU associate legal director.
Court denies challenge to hate crimes law
The 6th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals on Aug. 2 upheld a lower court’s ruling that denied a 2010 claim by three Michigan pastors and the American Family Association of Michigan that the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act hampered their religious obligation “to state clearly the immoral nature of homosexuality” and “to publicly denounce homosexuality, homosexual activism and the homosexual agenda as being contrary to God’s law and His divinely inspired Word.”
“The Act does not prohibit Plaintiffs’ proposed course of hateful speech,” wrote appellate Judge James Gwin wrote.
Courts rule against reproductive rights
Women’s reproductive rights took hits in July in three court rulings cheered by the Religious Right. Phoenix federal Judge James Teilborg upheld an Arizona law banning all abortions starting at 20 weeks after a woman’s last menstrual period.
The New York Times reported the law “defies binding Supreme Court precedent that prevents states from banning abortions before a fetus can survive outside the womb, which generally occurs at about 24 weeks.” Teilborg also embraced questionable claims about when a fetus can feel pain.
• Denver U.S. District judge issued a temporary injunction stopping the Obama administration from requiring a secular ventilation and air-conditioning company to provide employees with contraceptive coverage.
The Times noted, “There is no constitutional precedent for individuals, much less corporations, allowing them to violate generally applicable laws because they may have a religious objection. Conversely, the company’s claim that its owners or officers have a First Amendment right to impose their personal religious beliefs on the corporation’s employees is groundless.”
• The 8th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in St. Louis upheld 7-4 a 2005 South Dakota law requiring doctors “to misinform women seeking an abortion that they face an increased risk of suicide and suicidal thoughts” if they have an abortion, the paper reported.
Zoo removes Commandments after protest planned
The Oakland [Calif.] Zoo removed a Ten Commandments monument July 25, days before a planned protest by the East Bay Atheists and Atheist Advocates of San Francisco. The 6-foot-tall marble sculpture has been on zoo property since 1965 when the area was a state park.
Joey Piscitelli, Martinez, told the San Jose Mercury News that the removal wasn’t a coincidence. “They wanted to thwart the demonstrations and keep this out of the public eye.”
Court: Mennonite B&B can’t bar gays
A Mennonite-owned bed-and-breakfast in Grand Forks, B.C., discriminated against a gay couple from Vancouver by refusing them a room, the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal ruled July 17.
Brian Thomas and Shaun Eadie were each award $4,500 in damages and expenses.
Riverbend B&B owners Les and Susan Molnar, members of a Mennonite church, argued they were exercising their right to religious freedom in the sanctity of their own home.
Florida county sued over 10 Commandments
Bradford County commissioners in Starke, Fla., are being sued by American Atheists for refusal to remove a Ten Commandments monument from outside the courthouse in Starke.
The county asked the group that put the monument there, the Community Men’s Fellowship, to remove it “immediately,” but the group refused, reported News 4 in Jacksonville.
FFRF sent a complaint letter May 14 to the commission.
“The county doesn’t have the ability to move it without accruing a very substantial cost in doing that,” said County Attorney Terry Brown. “So somebody needs to pay for it, and it doesn’t need to be the taxpayer.”
Faith-healing conviction upheld in Oregon
An Oregon appellate court upheld the 2009 conviction on July 11 of Carl Brent Worthington, a member of the Followers of Christ Church, for second-degree criminal mistreatment in the death of his 15-month old daughter. The girl died of sepsis and bacterial pneumonia from an untreated cystic mass.
Worthington and his pregnant wife, Raylene, were acquitted on manslaughter charges. She was also acquitted of criminal mistreatment. He was sentenced to two months in jail and five years’ probation.
Church graduations costly for Conn. school
The Enfield [Conn.] School Board voted 6-3 on July 18 to settle a suit challenging the school system’s practice of holding high school graduation ceremonies in a church.
“No students or their families should feel like outsiders at their own graduation ceremony,” said Daniel Mach, director of the ACLU Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief, the Hartford Courant reported.
The district agreed to hold no more graduations in church. Its insurance provider will cover up to $470,000 in settlement costs. The exact amount of the settlement wasn’t revealed, but plaintiffs’ legal fees are about $1 million.
Ohio high court takes creationist teacher’s case
The Ohio Supreme Court voted 4-3 on July 5 to hear Mount Vernon science teacher John Freshwater’s appeal of his 2011 firing for pushing Christianity and creationism in the classroom. Freshwater alleges his rights to free speech and academic freedom were violated. The first complaint against him surfaced in 2008.
Religion Clause blog reported that the court granted review on two issues: Could he be fired if the board didn’t clearly indicate what materials or teaching methods were unacceptable, and did the mere presence of religious texts from the school library and/or display of a patriotic poster can justify his firing?