In The News

No Bill Of Rights For Alabama?

Alabama Gov. Fob James declared in July that the Bill of Rights do not apply to states in matters of establishing religion. James, who won national notoriety for vowing to call in the "National Guard" if the Ten Commandments are removed from the Alabama courtroom of prayerful Judge Roy Moore, is now defying the jurisdiction of the U.S. Supreme Court. The governor filed various motions in July seeking an Alabama court to "overrule" or ignore years of Supreme Court precedent against school prayer.

The Governor made the motions before U.S. Circuit Judge Ira DeMent, in asking him to dismiss his order invalidating a 1993 state law promoting school prayer.

James' motion claimed that the First Amendment does not apply to the states, essentially negating the Fourteenth Amendment. That amendment was passed after the Civil War to guarantee that the Bill of Rights extends to state as well as federal citizens.

On July 30, DeMent denied the motion, writing that "the law is unequivocal; the protections of the First Amendment have, by the Supreme Court of the United States, been made applicable to the State of Alabama through the Fourteenth Amendment. See, e.g., Cantwell v. Connecticut, 310 U.S. 296 (1940).

"Finally, it is perhaps the most fundamental tenet of our judicial system that the Supreme Court is the ultimate arbiter of Constitutional interpretation. This principle was firmly established in 1803 when the Supreme Court decided Marbury v. Madison and was reaffirmed just over a month ago in City of Boerne v. P.F. Flores. This principle is not only important to the orderly operation of our judicial system; it lies at the heart of the judicial branch's role as a 'check' on the other branches of our government. The Governor's invitation to ignore the Supreme Court's interpretation of the Fourteenth Amendment threatens to erode this principle and, consequently, poses a serious threat to our system of democratic self-government."

The ineducable James issued a statement the next day insisting that "the U.S. Supreme Court usurps authority which does not belong to it under the Constitution . . . and sets an example of lawlessness for other courts to follow. Because the Justices personally disapprove of prayers in the schools and the posting of the Ten Commandments, they have tried to amend the Constitution to prohibit such things. The Constitution gives no power of amendment to the Supreme Court, and the Justices are no more above the law than are Presidents or other constitutional officials."

When Foundation staff member Annie Laurie Gaylor debated James' counsel, Bill Grey, during an August 26 telecast of Fox News Network's "Hannity & Colmes," the governor's spokesperson continually stated that the guarantees of the First Amendment do not apply to Alabama citizens!

(Thanks to Pat Cleveland for supplying copies of legal statements.)

Moore Named in Ethics Probe

Judge Roy Moore of Etowah County, Alabama, was named in a July 27 ethics complaint questioning his receipt of travel expenses and donations to cover "legal fees."

At least $100,000 has been raised for Moore's "defense fund" in the last two years. His photo is displayed at an internet site raising money by selling videos and replicas of the Ten Commandments. Moore contends his speaking appearances are "educational," therefore he can accept travel expenses.

Washington Governor Proclaims "Freethought Week"

Governor Gary Locke of the State of Washington recently proclaimed Oct. 6-12th as "Freethought Week."

That proclamation, requested by freethinker John M. Davis, was modified from wording suggested by Foundation member David Schreiber and the Freedom From Religion Foundation. The first "Freethought Day" was suggested for October 12, 1992, the 300th anniversary of the cessation of the Salem Witch Trials. The trials were ended by a declaration of Gov. William Phips of the Massachusetts Bay Colony on October 12, 1692, declaring "spectral evidence" inadmissible in court.

Since 1992, several Foundation members have been successful in asking mayors, city councils and governors to honor that date, "as there have been many formal proclamations for religious holidays, weeks of prayer and bible reading, but never a special observance of reason, freethought, and the constitutionally-mandated separation of church and state."

A copy of the original wording of the proposed proclamation can be obtained by writing FFRF, at P.O. Box 750, Madison WI 53701.

Why not plan to ask a public official in your area to proclaim "Freethought Week" in 1998?

"Piety" Creates Prison Security Risks

A federal judge backed the Iowa State Penitentiary's decision to crack down on faith behind bars, saying some worship rites and special privileges posed a security risk. U.S. District Judge Charles Wolle rejected the assertions of several inmates who claimed they are Jewish and should be allowed to worship as Jews.

Prison officials became suspicious when there was a surge in the prison's Jewish population, suspecting inmates were manipulating the system to garner privileges.

Inmates professing Judaism demanded large amounts of fruits for Jewish celebrations, which prison officials believe were being fermented to process a crude alcohol, or the right to possess a prayer shawl, which could be used to strangle people.

Faith In The Federal Workplace

President Bill Clinton issued a sweeping 13-page memo on August 14, 1997, giving guidelines for the expression of "faith" by federal workers.

Clinton told a gathering of religious leaders, "These guidelines will ensure that federal employees and employers will respect the rights of those who engage in religious speech, as well as those who do not."

Religious groups such as the National Council for Churches, Center for Law and Religious Freedom and American Jewish Congress, as well as People for the American Way, were invited to help write the guidelines.

Clinton's order requires federal agencies to allow workers to engage in "personal religious expression" and to "reasonably accommodate" holy days, even if that creates a hardship for the agency. It prohibits agencies from discriminating on the basis of religion, and bars federal workers from using their official positions to campaign for or against religion. Any rules already in place at federal agencies, such as a ban on posters, are not repealed by Clinton's order, and workplace efficiency must not be jeopardized by the expression.

Dismayingly, the broad guidelines, which were not published on-line or readily available as of the Freethought Today deadline, appear to send a double-message. The guidelines permit workers to freely discuss their beliefs at work or even proselytize other workers, provided the co-workers do not object (and we all know what that will mean). Details will follow in the October issue.

Three years ago, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission abandoned guidelines against religious harassment in the workplace, after churches and Congress protested.

Good Reason To Boycott Wal-Marts

A New Braunfels, Texas, teen wearing a controversial T-shirt was arrested at a local Wal-Mart in July while buying school clothes. After an employee apparently summoned police, the teen was charged with disorderly conduct because his shirt had a drawing of a naked woman and an inverted crucifix on the front, with some "profane" language on the back referring to Jesus.

The seventeen-year-old boy spent the night in Cornal County jail before posting $112 bail. Prosecutors drop-ped charges against him in mid-August.

New Twist On Overtime

Michael Last, 49, filed a grievance through his United Public Workers Union in July against Hawaii County officials for paying overtime when he worked the past four Christmas holidays at a sewage treatment plant in Hilo.

Last, an atheist, said neither civil service rules nor state law requires him to take extra pay. Last has always volunteered to work on Christmas Day, but considers he "was being forced to take advantage of the citizens of Hawaii by accepting overtime."

Robertson'$ Family Value$

In a deal which should net him $126 million, Christian evangelist Pat Robertson announced in mid-June that Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. will buy half of the Family Channel.

Although the deal is set for $1.9 million, Robertson owns roughly 3.6 million shares of the International Family Entertainment, Inc., which he will sell to Fox Kids (half of which is owned by News Corp.) for $35 a share--netting him $126 million overall.

Robertson will continue to host "The 700 Club" for at least five years and will remain co-chair of International Family.

The sale must first pass muster with the Justice Department and the FCC.

Financial Allegations Against Baptist Prez

Although the St. Petersburg Times reported (Aug. 27, 1997) serious allegations against Rev. Henry J. Lyons, National Baptist Convention USA president, the denomination decided at its annual meeting on Sept. 1 to drop all investigations against Lyons.

The minister is accused of spending the church's money on expensive purchases, illegally lobbying Congress on behalf of Nigeria's military ruler without registering as a foreign agent, and giving his close personal friend $440,000 in church money. Baptist Convention PR director Bernice Edwards, a previously convicted embezzler, spent at least $187,000 of that church money for a luxury house, a Mercedes-Benz and a time-share unit for herself and Lyons.

In July, Lyon's wife, Deborah, was charged with trying to burn down the $700,000 house acquired with church funds, accusing him of adultery. The board of the 8.5-million-member church, the nation's largest African-American denomination, heard the charges of adultery but voted to keep Lyons as president. However, Lyons fired Edwards.

Lyons had given Edwards a $75,000 "commission" for a $225,000 deal made with General Motors, which paid the denomination to display cars at the church's annual meetings. She received $365,000 from a "deal" with Globe Life and Accident Insurance Co., which bought a mailing list from the church. Another employee of the convention, Rev. Frederick Demps, has reportedly been cutting lucrative deals with corporations.

Since the convention appears to be condoning Lyons' use of church money for personal gain, it is vulnerable to a challenge of its tax-exempt status by the IRS, according to Stetson University Prof. Richard Gershon.

Bride Beheaded For Dishonoring Family

An Egyptian woman, 25, was beheaded by her father in mid-August for dishonoring the family by eloping without parental approval.

Marzouk Ahmed Abdel-Rahim carried the freshly severed head down a dusty neighborhood street in Cairo, claiming "regained honor" to onlookers before surrendering to police.

In a village 40 miles north of Cairo, another man was arrested in mid-August for dousing his daughter, 19, with fuel and setting her on fire for secretly marrying a suitor whom her father rejected.

Activists say scores of women are killed or beaten every year by their fathers, brothers or husbands for actions deemed to dishonor the family, including premarital sex, going outside without a veil or being seen publicly with a man who is not a relative. There are no official figures of honor-related deaths of women in Egypt because many are described by their families as accidents.

Leading Egyptian feminist writer Nawal Saadawi told the Associated Press that men sometimes use family integrity as an excuse to abuse women, or view daughters as saleable property. In traditional Islamic marriages, a groom gives a dowry to his in-laws.

Faith-Healers Charged In Death

A faith-healing couple in Philadelphia, Penn., have been charged in the July death of their 22-month-old hemophiliac son.

Dean and Susan Heilamn were arrested in mid-August on charges of involuntary manslaughter and endangering the welfare of a child. Their son, Dean "Michael" Heilman, died from blood loss after cutting his foot in the family's backyard on July 7. He bled for 19 hours before dying in his mother's arms.

Eschewing medical treatment, members of Faith Tabernacle rely on their pastors to anoint the sick and pray, based on bible teachings.

At least nine Pennsylvania children of Faith Tabernacle members have died of treatable illnesses since 1983.

High Court Backs Boy Scouts

The U.S. Supreme Court on August 12 rejected an appeal by 10-year-old Mark Welsh, an Illinois agnostic barred from a suburban Chicago Cub Scout pack three years ago.

In a one-sentence order, the justices left intact a lower court ruling saying Boys Scouts of America is not subject to a federal law prohibiting discrimination in places of public accommodation. The 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago had ruled that the group may discriminate.

Mark, at age 7, was handed a flyer by his public school teacher saying "any boy may join" the Tiger Cubs. But when he and his father, Elliott Welsh, went to the orientation at a public school, they were handed a paper demanding a signed declaration of religious principles. Mark was denied membership and left the meeting in tears.

Elliott Welsh, who won a landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision permitting him conscientious objector status as a nonbeliever, is an honorary officer of the Foundation.

NOW Versus Promise Keepers

At its national convention in Memphis, TN, in mid-July, the National Organization for Women announced a campaign against the Promise Keepers, a seven-year-old evangelical men's group.

"The Promise Keepers talk about men taking responsibility, but what they mean is taking charge," said NOW president Patricia Ireland.

NOW members passed a resolution declaring Promise Keepers to be "the greatest danger to women's rights," and announced the development of a NOW "action kit" to use in publicizing the group's "deceptively innocuous" agenda.

Religious Landlord Loses Appeal

The U.S. Supreme Court rejected an appeal in late June by a California landlord who cited her religious beliefs in refusing to rent to unmarried couples.

Without comment, the justices left intact a California Supreme Court ruling that said Evelyn Smith violated a state fair-housing law.

Catholic Group Blasts ABC Show

The arch-conservative Catholic League has demanded that ABC's new TV show about a priest, "Nothing Sacred," be yanked from the fall schedule.

The not-too-realistic pilot episode had Father Ray openly questioning the existence of God, praying to blues music, counseling a pregnant youth to follow her own conscience and declaring a moratorium on confessions about sins of the flesh. Having a lustful past, the priest faces sexual temptations in his present situation. He has an atheist on his office staff and a feminist nun who includes "Our Mother" in her version of the Lord's prayer.

The show is scheduled to air Thursday nights at 7 p.m. against NBC's hit show "Friends."

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