Freethought Today · May 2013

Published by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc.

State/Church Bulletin

Board member resigns over meeting prayer

Leonard Pryor resigned May 3 from the Rockingham County Board of Education in Eden, N.C., citing the board’s consideration of opening its meetings with a prayer.

“We took an oath of office to support the Constitution of the United States, and it is my opinion that recent motions and topics of discussion could subject Rockingham County schools and its individual board members to the threat of lawsuits in the future,” he wrote.

The school board starts meetings with a moment of silence, but in April a member asked the board to consider opening with a prayer. On April 22, Pryor threatened to walk out if a vote was held that night.

With Pryor off the panel, the board voted 7-3 on May 13 against opening with prayer.

“Our forefathers recognized the danger in having a government endorsing any particular religion,” board Vice Chairman Hal Griffin said. “We are a government body.”


Hell breaks loose in wake of ‘fetus dolls’

The Roswell, N.M., School District didn’t violate five students’ rights by stopping them from further distributing “fetus dolls” with an anti-abortion message, the 10th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals ruled 3-0 on April 8.

School administrators could have reasonably forecast that the two-inch rubber dolls would cause a disruption at two high schools, Education Week reported.

The students belong to an evangelical youth group called Relentless. In January 2010, they planned to distribute some 2,500 rubber fetus dolls at school.

At Goddard High, about 300 dolls were given to students before administrators shut down the distribution. “Meanwhile, some students tore the small heads off the dolls and bounced them around classrooms like rubber balls. Some students used the dolls to plug toilets, while a few of the dolls were covered in hand sanitizer and lighted on fire. And other students found lewd uses for the rubber dolls,” the story said.

A Roswell High security officer called the distribution a “disaster.”

Doll distribution “would likely merit First Amendment protection outside the school context,” the court said. “Inside the school walls, however, we must consider whether the expression was, or was reasonably forecast to be, disruptive.”

In school, “the government has a compelling interest in protecting the educational mission of the school and ensuring student safety,” the court ruled.


Top Louisiana court kills private vouchers

Louisiana’s Supreme Court has ruled that the funding method for a private school tuition voucher program pushed through the Legislature last year by Gov. Bobby Jindal is unconstitutional. 

A 6-1 decision May 7 upheld a state district court ruling that the state constitution forbids using money earmarked for public schools in the state’s Minimum Foundation Program to pay for private school tuition. 

The Jindal administration has pushed on with the voucher program, despite the previous court rulings. Roughly 8,000 students have been approved for vouchers in the coming school year. It remains unclear how the program will be funded, now that use of the MFP money has been struck down.


Judge dismisses suit
by Islamophobes

U.S. District Judge Patrick Duggan dismissed a lawsuit in Detroit on May 14 against Wayne County law enforcement by three members of the Bible Believers, who alleged their First and 14th Amendment rights were violated when they denounced Islam at last year’s Arab International Festival in Dearborn.

The American Freedom Law Center, representing the plaintiffs, said in a press release it will appeal to the 6th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals and will take the case to the Supreme Court if necessary, the Dearborn Press and Guide reported.

The group claimed law enforcement didn’t protect them when they were being pelted with debris by angry festival-goers. Defendants’ attorney Nabih Ayad said the plaintiffs’ rights weren’t violated because they were agitating children and were a threat to public safety.

Duggan wrote in his ruling that the Bible Believers wore T-shirts or carried banners with messages like “Only Jesus Christ can save you from sin and hell,” “Turn or burn” and “Jesus is the way, the truth and the life. All others are thieves and robbers.”

One Bible Believer carried a pig’s head on a stick. Video shows group member Ruben Chavez, aka Ruben Israel, shouting through a megaphone, “Your prophet is nothing but an unclean swine. Your prophet married a 7-year-old girl. Your prophet is a pedophile, and your prophet teaches you not to believe in Jesus as the Christ.”


‘Jesus rifles’ quashed again by Army

The U.S. Army has ordered soldiers at Fort Wainwright, a base near Fairbanks, to remove references to bible verses on their weapon scopes, the Alaska Dispatch reported April 23.

Michigan-based defense contractor Trijicom supplied the scopes, which referenced John 8:12 and Second Corinthians 4:6 near the serial numbers.

Army spokesman Matthew Bourke told Fox News that Trjicom agreed to remove all bible references from future deliveries. The company’s scopes on so-called “Jesus rifles” first raised concerns in 2010 when Trijicom delivered them with inscriptions to the Army and Marine Corps.


Florist sued for
denial of services

The ACLU of Washington has filed a discrimination suit in state court against Arlene’s Flowers, Richland, Wash., for failing to sell a Kennewick male couple flowers for their wedding.

State Attorney General Bob Ferguson also announced April 9 his office has filed a consumer protection lawsuit against Arlene’s. The suit alleges that Arlene’s owner Baronelle Stutzman told longtime customer Robert Ingersoll on March 1 that she couldn’t sell him flowers for his wedding “because of [her] relationship with Jesus Christ.”


Nebraska school board silences prayer 

Prayer at the start of Kearney [Neb.] Public Schools Board of Education meetings is unconstitutional, the board was told by its attorney, according to a story in the Kearney Hub.

“We’ve received information from our school attorney and were told, I quote from our attorney, ‘We advise against such practice as courts have determined that school board prayers are unconstitutional,’ ” board President Tim Higgins said at the April 8 meeting.

Board member Dave Glover told his colleagues that they took an oath to abide by the Constitution when taking office. “I would find it difficult for us to support a practice that has been deemed to be unconstitutional.”

Board member Doug McCarty suggested a moment of silence instead of prayer. “My personal beliefs can’t affect what is right and best for the schools.”


Mandate challenges mostly on hold 

In Ave Maria University v. Sebelius, a March 29 decision, a Florida federal district court dismissed on ripeness grounds a challenge by a Catholic university to the Affordable Care Act’s contraceptive coverage mandate, Religion Clause report. The court said in part:

“The crux of Defendants’ ripeness argument is that they are in the process of amending the challenged regulations to accommodate religious concerns and that they have represented that they will never enforce the regulations in their current form against Ave Maria or any similarly situated entity. Ave Maria concedes that it is eligible for a temporary enforcement safe harbor.”

According to the Christian Post, many of the 53 cases filed by religious institutions have been rejected in court because the rules of the mandate have yet to be finalized.

Also on March 29, the 10th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals granted Hobby Lobby’s petition for an en banc hearing on whether to halt enforcement of the mandate requiring coverage for emergency contraceptives such as the “morning-after pill.”


Tax money questioned for rabbinical school

Beth Medrash Govoha, an all-male, Orthodox Jewish rabbinical school in Lakewood, N.J., was awarded $10.6 million in taxpayer funds in April for a new library and academic center, among the highest designated for a private institution.

A Newark Star-Ledger analysis showed the college persuaded Gov. Chris Christie and lawmakers to make last-minute changes to the $1.3 billion funding bill to get the school on the list. Rabbi Aaron Kotler heads the school and traveled with Christie to Israel last year. 

Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver, D-Essex, said she’s concerned about tax dollars going to a college with admission standards she said resemble a “religious test.”

The funding bill made private schools like Catholic Seton Hall University, with open admission, eligible, but excluded “any educational institution dedicated primarily to the education or training of ministers, priests, rabbis or other professional persons in the field of religion.”

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