Freethought Today · September 2012

Published by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc.

State/Church Bulletin

Embryonic stem cell research upheld

In Shirley v. Sebelius, the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia upheld a lower court decision Aug. 24 throwing out a suit that challenged federal funding for embryonic stem cell research. Opponents claimed the National Institutes of Health was violating the 1996 Dickey-Wicker law that prohibits taxpayer financing for work that harms an embryo.

The Washington Post reported a three-judge panel unanimously agreed with a lower court judge’s dismissal of the case. This is the second time the appeals court has said that the challenged federal funding of embryonic stem cell research was permissible.


D.C. court backs contraceptive mandate

In Wheaton College v. Sebelius, the District of Columbia federal district court on Aug. 24 dismissed for lack of standing and ripeness a challenge by Wheaton College in Illinois to the mandate issued under the Affordable Care Act requiring group health insurance policies to cover contraceptive services for women.

Religion Clause reported that “Because the Department of Health and Human Services has announced a one-year enforcement safe harbor for nonprofit groups whose religious beliefs are violated by the mandate, the court concluded that Wheaton does not face imminent enforcement action.” 


Wisconsin board OKs SCOTUS appeal 

The Elmbrook [Wis.] School Board voted 5-2 on Aug. 21 to ask the U.S. Supreme Court to decide if the district violated the Constitution by holding graduation ceremonies from 2000-09 at Elmbrook Church.

The vote came after a July 7th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals court ruling that reversed a decision to not hold the district liable, reported Brookfield Now.

The case was brought by Americans United.


Air Force officially bars proselytizing 

Shortly before retiring as Air Force Chief of Staff, Gen. Norton Schwartz issued a document that included what NBC on Aug. 22 called the first time the Air Force has “laid down the law on religious proselytizing by leaders.”

Included in the 27-page Standards of Conduct directive are:

Government Neutrality Regarding Religion. “Leaders at all levels must balance constitutional protections for an individual’s free exercise of religion or other personal beliefs and the constitutional prohibition against governmental establishment of religion. For example, they must avoid the actual or apparent use of their position to promote their personal religious beliefs to their subordinates or to extend preferential treatment for any religion. Commanders or supervisors who engage in such behavior may cause members  to doubt their impartiality and objectivity. The potential result is a degradation of the unit’s morale, good order, and discipline.

2.12.1. “All Airmen are able to choose to practice their particular religion, or subscribe to no religious belief at all. You should confidently practice your own beliefs while respecting others whose viewpoints differ from your own.”

Mikey Weinstein of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, was unimpressed by the directive, calling it “a belated response to MRFF’s continual exposure of [Schwartz’s] scandalously nonconfrontational approach to the Christian extremist predators within the USAF who flout their oath to support and defend the U.S. Constitution.”


Hawaii judge rules against gay couples

U.S. District Court Judge Alan Kay ruled Aug. 8 against two Hawaii couples who want to get married instead of entering a civil union. Kay sided with Hawaii Health Director Loretta Fuddy and Hawaii Family Forum, a Christian group that was allowed to intervene in the case.

The women, Natasha Jackson and Janin Kleid, argued they need to be married  to get certain federal benefits. Co-plaintiff Gary Bradley wants to marry his foreign national partner to help him change his immigration status. Appeals are planned.

Religious lobbies have opposed marriage equality in Hawaii.


New hearing for pregnancy center case

The full 4th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals on Aug. 15 ordered a new hearing in the case of Baltimore’s truth-in-advertising ordinance requiring crisis pregnancy centers to post signs saying they don’t provide or make referrals for abortion or for comprehensive birth control services. 

The order struck down a June decision voiding down the ordinance, the first of its kind in the nation. A Dec. 6 hearing date was set.

The Center for Reproductive Rights joined the city of Baltimore to defend the ordinance in June 2010 against a lawsuit filed by the Archbishop of Baltimore and a local parish.


Rehearing ordered for Florida decalogue

The 11th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals ruled Aug. 15 that a 5-foot-high Ten Commandments statue could stay at the entrance to the Dixie County Courthouse in Cross City, Fla. A lower court ordered the granite monument removed in 2011.

The American Civil Liberties Union first sued in 2007 on behalf of a “John Doe” client. The 11th Circuit ruled that U.S. District Judge Maurice Paul failed to consider conflicting evidence on whether Doe has standing to sue, the Wall Street Journal reported. The case goes back to Paul’s court.


Russian PM: Free Pussy Riot Oct. 1

A judge sentenced three members of Russian feminist punk band Pussy Riot to two years in jail Aug. 17 for staging a protest against President Vladimir Putin in Moscow’s main Orthodox cathedral, an act Judge Marina Syrova called “blasphemous.”

Syrova found the women guilty of hooliganism motivated by religious hatred, reported Reuters. Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, 22, Marina Alyokhina, 24, and Yekaterina Samutsevich, 30, stood watching in handcuffs in a glass courtroom cage.

The Associated Press reported Sept. 12 that Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said the women should be freed when their cases are appealed Oct. 1. “In my view, a suspended sentence would be sufficient, taking into account the time they have already spent in custody.” 

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