Freethought Today · March 2013

Published by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc.

State/Church Bulletin

Governor eyes dropping parish exemption

On Jan. 30, the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation published an analysis of Gov. Deval Patrick’s FY 2014 tax proposal, reported Religion Clause. “Among the 44 personal exemptions and deductions the governor proposes eliminating from the state income tax is the exemption for the rental value of parsonages provided to members of the clergy. It is estimated that the elimination of the parsonage allowance will increase state revenues by $2 million to $2.5 million.”

FFRF filed a suit in federal court in 2011 to challenge the parish exemption, which gives preferential tax benefits to “ministers of the gospel.” U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb ruled last Aug. 29 that FFRF had standing to challenge the 1954 law.


Resident successful
in stopping prayer

Ricky Smith, Danville, Ky., stated publicly he’s the person who met privately with Boyle County Judge-Executive Harold McKinney about Judeo-Christian prayers at public meetings. As a result, county magistrates voted to change the invocation to a “moment of silence.”

Smith, 46, was profiled in the Jan. 27 Central Kentucky News. He’s lived in the county all his life.

“Being expected to pray just to be a part of local government is not going to work for me, nor would it work for Jews, Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, pagans or Wiccans,” Smith said.

He’s also tried unsuccessfully several times to meet with Danville’s mayor about prayers at city commission meetings. Although he worked behind the scenes, Smith was “outed” online. He’s had a few harassing phone calls. “They’re getting downright mean,” Smith said. 

“I’ve become a better person since I realized I was an atheist,” Smith told the paper. “I am much more tolerant now.”


Iceland boosts secular groups’ status 

Iceland’s parliament, the Althing passed a law Jan. 30 giving secular groups the right to apply for equal legal status with religions.

“For the first time in Icelandic history, the government recognizes and guarantees equality between secular and religious life stances,” said Hope Knutsson, president of Sidmennt, the Icelandic Ethical Humanist Association. The law also provides that newborn babies will no longer automatically be registered into the religion of the mother, but rather according to the religious or life stance registration of both parents, and only if the registrations match.

Sidmennt members said it’s a human rights violation for government to be involved at all in registering people’s religious affiliations. The Evangelical Lutheran State Church enjoys special legal and financial status in Iceland.


Christians continue
war on yoga

The National Center for Law & Policy, a law firm focusing “on the protection and promotion of religious freedom, the sanctity of life, traditional marriage, parental rights and other civil liberties,” is suing the Encinitas [Calif.] Union School District for its Ashtanga yoga program. NCLP President Dean Broyles, is representing plaintiffs who have children in the district.

“This is frankly the clearest case of the state trampling on the religious freedom rights of citizens that I have personally witnessed in my 18 years of practice as a constitutional attorney,” Broyles said.

The lawsuit alleges that the yoga program, which includes two 30-minute classes per week, is pervasively religious, with roots in Hindu, Buddhist, Taoist and metaphysical beliefs and practices.

“We’re not teaching religion,” said Superintendent Timothy Baird. “We teach a very mainstream physical fitness program that happens to incorporate yoga into it. It’s part of our overall wellness program. The vast majority of students and parents support it.”


Misguided Virginia
bill appears dead

Sen. Bill Stanley “reluctantly” sent his resolution ensconcing prayer rights in the Virginia Constitution back to committee Feb. 5, where it likely will die, reported the Richmond Virginian-Pilot.

Stanley claims a constitutional amendment is necessary to preserve Virginians’ “right to free exercise of their religion as they see fit in public and private places.”

The newspaper said the amendment would ensure the right to pray on government property and allow clergy to pray before public boards. It specifies public school students are free to express religious beliefs in prayer as well as assignments and would exempt them from doing assignments which violate their beliefs.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia said the amendment is unconstitutional.


Appeals court denies girl’s prayer claim

The U.S. 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals on Jan. 30 denied a 2010 free speech claim by a New York eighth-grader who was barred from including a religious blessing during her school’s Moving-Up ceremony. According to Religion Clause, “the court concluded that the ceremony was a school-sponsored expressive activity and that the student’s speech would be perceived as being endorsed by the school.”

In a deposition, the girl said some of her classmates weren’t religious.
“[I]t’s my job to talk about God and see if they like it. In God’s word, it says that I should — well, I was put on this Earth for a purpose and my purpose was to talk about God and try to get as many people to follow him.”


Two cities tie for
‘least bible-minded’

The American Bible Society, partnering with the Barna Group, has identified America’s most “bible-minded” cities, based on “highest combined levels of regular bible reading and belief in the bible’s accuracy.”

Most bible-minded was Knoxville, Tenn. Tied for “least bible-minded” were Providence, R.I., and New Bedford, Mass.

Others in the top 10 “most” category (in descending order): Charleston, W.Va.; Huntsville, Ala.; Roanoke/Lynchburg, Va.; Charlotte, N.C.; Springfield, Mo.; Jackson, Miss.; Birmingham, Ala.; Chattanooga, Tenn.; and Shreveport, La.

Others in the top 10 “least” category (in descending order): Buffalo, N.Y.; Cedar Rapids, Iowa; Phoenix, Ariz.; San Francisco; Boston; Hartford/New Haven, Conn.; Portland, Maine; Burlington, Vt.; and Albany, N.Y.

FFRF’s home base of Madison, Wis., was No. 56 in the “least” category. [We wuz robbed!]

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