State/Church Bulletin

ACLU Challenges God On Statehouse

The Ohio chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union filed a federal lawsuit in early August requesting that the state motto--"With God, all things are possible"--be declared unconstitutional because it promotes Christianity.

The motto, adopted in 1959, paraphrases a quote from Jesus Christ found in the Gospels of Mark and Matthew.

Ohio Tax Commissioner Roger Tracy, who has the motto printed on state tax forms, said: "I've been waiting for these First Amendment banana-heads to sue. In America, we believe God exists."

The Capitol Square board unanimously approved a plan in December to engrave the state seal and motto outside the Statehouse. The suit seeks to block the placement of the motto on Capitol Square Plaza or any other part of the Statehouse grounds and its future use as a state motto.

Creationism Disclaimer Illegal

A federal judge ruled in mid-August that reading a disclaimer about creationism before teaching public school students about evolution violates the separation of church and state.

U.S. District Judge Marcel Livaudais ruled against Louisiana's Tangipahoa Parish School Board, striking down policy requiring the disclaimer, which says, in part, that the teaching of evolution is "not intended to influence or dissuade the biblical version of creation or any other concept."

"While encouraging students to maintain their belief in the Bible, or in God, may be a noble aim, it cannot be one in which the public schools participate, no matter how important this goal may be its supporters," Livaudais wrote.

Evolution Disclaimer Adopted

A Pennsylvania school board agreed in July to stamp the following disclaimer inside seventh-grade science textbooks that explain evolution:

"Section 7.3 describes the theory of evolution. The theory of evolution includes ideas about origin and development of life which have not been conclusively proven. Scientists continue to make new discoveries which change their ideas about the theory of evolution."

School District Must Pay For Prayer Case

A federal judge ordered Mississippi's Pontotoc County School District in early June to pay $144,200 for attorney's fees in a school prayer lawsuit last year.

Lisa Herdahl, along with the American Civil Liberties Union and People for the American Way, sued the district in December 1994 because Herdahl's children were subjected to Bible classes and student-led intercom prayers at the North Pontotoc Atten-dance Center.

Last June, U.S. District Court Judge Neal Biggers ruled the student-led intercom prayers were unconstitutional.

Judge Rules Against Commandments

South Carolina Circuit Judge R. Markley Dennis, Jr., ruled in early August that the posting of the Ten Commandments by the Charleston County Council violates the Constit-ution and must come down.

Three Charleston residents filed suit in July to block their county council from posting the Ten Command-ments in its chamber. The council voted 9-0 to erect the biblical passage.

Court OKs Special Sect School

A federal appeals court ruled in mid-August that a Minneapolis school district may operate a one-room elementary school for members of the conservative Brethren Christian sect, which opposes computers and other technology.

The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in a 2-1 decision that U.S. District Judge Michael Davis, of St. Paul, erred when he ruled that the school was unconstitutional a year ago.

To accommodate several Brethren families, the Wabasso School District agreed in 1993 to help reopen a closed Vesta elementary school, which a member of the sect purchased, by providing teachers and course materials. The Minnesota American Civil Liber-ties Union sued in 1994, saying the arrangement violated state/church separation.

Scientology Texts Proposed For School

The Los Angeles School Board has been approached with a proposed 100-student charter school that would use reading textbooks written by Scientol-ogy founder L. Ron Hubbard.

A California teacher/Scientologist wants to set up the school in suburban Tujunga. The state education department recently gave preliminary approval to five of the Hubbard texts.

The nation's second largest school district, with 660,000 students as well as 14 charter schools, is freed from most state and local curriculum requirements but is still publicly funded.

Bidders, De Facto, Win Cross Battle

In a public auction in July, the land on which the huge concrete Mount Davidson cross stands was sold for $26,000 by the city of San Francisco.

The Council of Armenian-American Organizations of Northern California beat out two other bidders for the one-acre parcel and monument, which had been the subject of legal debate since 1990. Civil-rights advocates filed a constitutional challenge arguing that the cross, on public land, represented government endorsement of Christianity.

In January, the U.S. Supreme Court let stand a ruling that the 103-foot-tall cross atop the city's highest mountain violated the state's constitutional ban on government preference for religion.

The sale is not final until approved by the San Francisco Board of Sup-ervisors and city voters in November.

Mixed Nativity Decisions

A municipally-owned holiday display consisting of a nativity scene, Hanukkah menorah and Christmas tree was nixed in June by the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals.

Jersey City, New Jersey, and Mayor Bret Schundler appealed an earlier ruling calling the display an unconstitutional establishment of religion.

But a federal appeals court recently upheld the Syracuse, New York display of a nativity scene in a downtown public square during the Christmas season. The donated creche has been put on display for more than 20 years.

Juvenile Court Judge Promotes Religion

Louisiana Juvenile Court Judge Lawrence Lagarde Jr., of the New Orleans Parish Juvenile Court, reportedly keeps a crucifix on his courtroom wall and has been known to invite prosecutors and defense lawyers to join him in prayer, seeking "divine guidance," before rendering a verdict.

A photo of Lagarde with a "Thou Shalt Not Kill" sign leaning against his bench appeared in the July 22, 1997 edition of The New York Times.

State Pays For Zealot Officer's Abuse

A Washington couple was awarded $172,000 in a civil lawsuit against a zealous state trooper who used his authority to try to keep the woman from having an abortion in 1994.

Trooper Lane Jackstadt was acquitted of criminal charges, but in late 1995, he was fired for trying to force religion upon others.

Hasidic Community Still After State Aid

Although rebuffed twice by the courts, New York state is still attempting to give the Hasidic Jewish community state aid to set up its own religiously-segregated school district for disabled students. A revised bill reauthorizing the aid was sent to Gov. George Pataki in early August.

The Orthodox Kiryas Joel community, about 50 miles north of New York City, speak and write in Yiddish, practice segregation of the sexes, wear distinctive clothing and follow a strict schedule of prayer and religious study.

The Court of Appeals ruled in May that the latest incarnation of the special education district violated the constitutional separation of church and state. The U.S. Supreme court invalidated the 1989 state legislation which created the district.

Guidelines Set For Church Schools

The Education Department issued new guidelines in late July detailing how school districts nationwide should comply with a recent Supreme Court ruling that allows public school teachers to offer on-site remedial help to students attending parochial schools.

Guidelines state: that only public employees may offer the remedial help, which is federally funded through Title I; that teaching assignments in parochial schools must be made without regard to religious affiliation; that any classroom used to deliver Title I instruction to parochial students cannot contain religious symbols, and that public teachers cannot participate in the school's religious activities.

The Supreme Court's 5-4 decision on the issue overturned a ruling it had made 12 years ago forbidding public employees to teach inside parochial schools through the Title I program.

Hospital Merger Violates Rights

The University of Connecticut Board of Trustees voted in late July to postpone its decision to join with a Roman Catholic hospital in creating a new ambulatory-care center catering to Catholic teachings.

Women's groups and the state Attorney General questioned the legality of the public university's adherence to Catholic teachings. The Center would deny women certain forms of birth control--such as abortions and tubal ligations. Men could still obtain office-visit vasectomies.

In a letter to the chief executive officer of Dempsey Hospital, State Attor-ney General Richard Blumenthal warned it to be "cognizant of the duty of all health care providers to make medical procedures equally available to all men and women."

Blumenthal wrote that, as a public institution, the university cannot sponsor an organization that upholds a specific religious doctrine.

Additional Info

  • byline: By Shelly Johnson

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