Freethought Today · June/July 2013

Published by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc.

In the News

Same-sex rulings upset Religious Right

Religious forces opposed to same-sex marriage and civil unions lost twice in U.S. Supreme Court decisions announced June 26. The court struck down the 1996 federal Defense of Marriage Act on a 5-4 vote, with the majority opinion written by Justice Anthony Kennedy. The court’s DOMA decision immediately provides full federal benefits to same-sex couples in states that have legalized gay marriage.

In a 5-4 ruling written by Chief Justice John Roberts, the court paved the way for same-sex couples to marry in California by leaving intact a 2010 lower-court ruling that struck down the state’s 2008 voter-approved ban known as Proposition 8.

California Attorney General Kamala Harris urged the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals to lift the stay on the injunction against Proposition 8 and allow same-sex couples to marry “as quickly as possible.”

Rev. Steve Jones of the Missionary Church in Fort Wayne, Ind., said in a statement: “[A]s followers of Christ, Christians are conscience-bound to declare marriage as the union of one man and one woman, no matter what the courts or legislatures may say. Defending the truth is more important than personal popularity.”

U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., also issued a statement: “Marriage was created by the hand of God. No man, not even a Supreme Court, can undo what a holy God has instituted.” 

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee tweeted that because of the rulings, “Jesus wept.” He later added, “5 people in robes said they are bigger than the voters of CA and Congress combined. And bigger than God. May He forgive us all.”


Texas school appeals bible banner ruling

The Kountze Independent School District in Kountze, Texas, filed an appeal May 28 of a state district judge’s ruling that cheerleaders can hold banners with bible verses for football players to run through.

The Associated Press reported the district wants the appeals court to clarify Judge Steve Thomas’ four-paragraph ruling in May. District lawyer Tom Brandt said the cheerleaders’ legal advocates “are reading into the court’s decision [free speech] rights that just aren’t there.”

FFRF started contesting the banners in September. After receiving FFRF’s letter, the superintendent ordered cheerleaders to stop holding the banners. The cheerleaders, represented by a Religious Right law firm, then sued the school district.

FFRF was not a party to the suit but filed an amicus brief.


Churches upset at
BSA gay policy

The Boy Scouts of America, headquartered in Grapevine, Texas, will start accepting gay Scouts, much to the chagrin of some churches. Of the roughly 1,400 voting members of the BSA’s National Council who voted May 23, 61% supported the proposal drafted by the governing Executive Committee. The policy change takes effect Jan. 1, the Associated Press reported.

Gay Scout leaders (and atheists) will still be barred.

“We are deeply saddened,” said Frank Page, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive C. “Homosexual behavior is incompatible with the principles enshrined in the Scout oath and Scout law.”

The Assemblies of God said the change “will lead to a mass exodus from the Boy Scout program.” Texas Gov. Rick Perry said he was “greatly disappointed.”

On American Family Radio’s “Focal Point With Bryan Fischer,” the host commented, “BSA no longer stands for the Boy Scouts of America. It now stands for the Boy Sodomizers of America.”

The AP also reported that Baptist Pastor Greg Walker, Helena, Ala., said the troop that has been meeting at his church will no longer be allowed to.

KING-TV reported that Fr. Derek Lappe, pastor of Our Lady Star of the Sea Catholic Church in Bremerton, Wash., is cutting all ties with BSA Troop 1501. Steve Rinehart, an Eagle Scout and supporter of Scouts For Equality called Lappe’s stance “very unfortunate and downright sad.”


Wis. city turns
down bible tabling

The Conservancy Lands Committee of the Middleton [Wis.] City Council voted unanimously May 22 to deny a request from Rev. Ted Krajewski of Calvary Gospel to set up an information table in the conservancy “to establish and grow an extension work in the Middleton/West Madison area. One way we can do this is by offering free home Bible Studies through Bible surveys.”

In FFRF’s May 21 letter to the committee, Staff Attorney Patrick Elliott urged rejection of the request. “On its face, it is apparent that the ‘survey’ is really used for the purpose of recruiting church members and proselytizing. We are unaware of any other organizations that have been granted broad access to table at the conservancy, let alone for months at a time, as the church is requesting.”

During discussion, committee members said granting permission would set a bad precedent. City Administrator Mike Davis recommended denial. Staff noted that one chapter of the ordinance establishing the conservancy specifically barred such uses.

“I’ve got chapters and verses, too,” Krajewski said lightheartedly right before the board voted.


High court to hear
N.Y. prayer case

The Supreme Court agreed May 20 to hear Town of Greece, NY v. Galloway, a case in which a federal appeals court ruled in 2012 that the Greece Town Board’s use of almost exclusively Christian prayers violated the Establishment Clause.

Alliance Defending Freedom appealed and is supported in briefs by 49 mostly Republican members of Congress and 18 state attorneys general.

Americans United for Separation of Church and State is representing the two women who challenged the prayers, Susan Galloway and Linda Stephens. The court will hear the case in its next term, which starts in October. 


Prayer plaintiff
gets legal standing

In Doe v. Franklin County, a Missouri court decided June 7 that the plaintiff, who attended county commission meetings, has standing to sue the county and Presiding Commissioner John Griesheimer, who regularly started meetings with Christian prayer instead of the scheduled moment of silence, reported Religion Clause.

The court also refused to dismiss the suit against Griesheimer on the basis of legislative immunity because the content of the prayers didn’t relate to “deliberating or passing any law.”


Groups challenge ‘Peace with God’ judge 

Judge Edith Jones of the 5th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in New Orleans came under fire for public statements that blacks and Latinos are more violent and that the death penalty lets inmates “make peace with God.”

A killer is “only likely to make peace with God and the victim’s family in that moment when the killer faces imminent execution,” said Jones, 64, in a lecture. She was appointed to the federal bench by President Ronald Reagan.

A complaint filed June 4 by several civil rights groups alleged Jones violated judicial ethics. D.C. Circuit Chief Judge Merrick Garland will appoint a committee of appellate and district judges from the D.C. Circuit to recommend whether Jones should be sanctioned and to what extent.


Prayer gets boost in Louisiana schools  

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal signed a bill June 17 which lets students, faculty, parents and religious community leaders to gather for prayer on school grounds during “noninstruction” times. It passed both legislative houses unanimously. According to the bill:
“Upon the request of any public school student or students, the proper school authorities may permit students to gather for prayer in a classroom, auditorium or other space that is not in use, at any time before the school day begins when the school is open and students are allowed on campus, at any time after the school day ends provided that at least one student club or organization is meeting at that time, or at any noninstructional time during the school day. A school employee may be assigned to supervise the gathering if such supervision is also requested by the student or students and the school employee volunteers to supervise the gathering.

“Any school employee may attend and participate in the gathering if it occurs before the employee’s work day begins or after the employee’s work day ends. Any parent may attend the gathering if the parent adheres to school procedures for approval of visitors on the school campus. The students may invite persons from the community to attend and participate in the gathering if other school organizations and clubs are allowed to make similar invitations. Such persons shall adhere to school procedures for approval of visitors on the school campus.”


FFRF’s home base among ‘least religious’

Provo-Orem, Utah, is the most religious of 189 U.S. metropolitan areas surveyed by Princeton, N.J.-based Gallup throughout 2012, with 77% of respondees classifying themselves as “very religious.” After Provo-Orem in the top 10 came Montgomery, Ala., Jackson, Miss. (64%); Birmingham-Hoover, Ala. (56%); Huntsville, Ala., Holland-Grand Haven, Mich., Greenville-Mauldin-Easley, S.C., Augusta-Richmond County, S.C./Ga., Ogden-Clearfield, Utah (55%); Little Rock-Conway, Ark., Baton Rouge, La., and Hickory-Lenoir-Morganton, N.C. (54%).

Burlington, Vt., and Boulder, Colo., were the least religious (17% identifying as “very religious”). Rounding out the top 10 were Manchester-Nashua, N.H., Portland-Biddeford, Maine (22%); Santa Rosa-Petaluma, Calif. (23%): San Francisco-Oakland-Fremont, Calif., Eugene-Springfield, Ore. (24%); Boston-Cambridge-Quincy, Mass. (25%); Bremerton-Silverdale, Wash., Albany-Schenectady-Troy, N.Y., Springfield, Mass., and Madison, Wis., (26%).

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