Freethought Today · October 2013

Published by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc.

State/Church Bulletin

Ahlquist not invited
 to mural unveilings 

Cranston High School West in Cranston, R.I., has two new inspirational reminders to students to replace the prayer banner that addressed “Our Heavenly Father” and sparked a 2011 federal lawsuit because it was in the auditorium in a public school.

To celebrate its 50-year reunion, the Class of 1963 gave the school a 5-by-10-foot mural, which was unveiled Sept. 21 at an invitation-only event, the Providence Journal reported. A similar-sized display contains the “School Creed,” also couched in nonreligious terms. Cost of the replacements was about $2,000.

“Foster an atmosphere of good will and respect,” the first line says. “Affirm our efforts to conduct ourselves with honor,” reads the next. “Learn from our achievements and mistakes,” says the third. Four more first words (Choose, Overcome, Nurture, Strive) complete “FALCONS,” the school mascot.

“The community is healed,” said Janice Bertino, Class of ‘63. “There is no more controversy.” [FFRF wonders if Ms. Bertino was wearing rose-colored glasses.]

The Rhode Island affiliate of the American Civil Liberties Union sued successfully on behalf of Jessica Ahlquist, a 16-year-old atheist student at Cranston West, to get the prayer banner removed. FFRF later awarded $13,000 to Jessica for her activism. She was not invited to the unveiling event.


“Faith, hope and charity” are intertwined on the city seal of Deland, Fla.

Rabbi wants cross
off city’s seal

Rabbi Merrill Shapiro, president of the Flagler County, Fla., chapter of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, wants the Christian cross off the city of DeLand’s official seal, Fox News Orlando reported.

The cross makes non-Christians feel “like second-class citizens,” Shapiro said. “This is an intrusion of religion into the world of government.”

DeLand City Attorney Darren Elkind said in a Sept. 9 letter to Americans United that the seal doesn’t promote Christianity. He said the seal can be traced back to the city’s incorporation, when its founders chose symbols of “faith, hope and charity” for its seal.

“Nothing in the history of the city’s seal suggests that it was adopted to promote any particular religion or even religion in general,” Elkind claimed.


Suit filed to stop chapel graduations

The American Humanist Association filed suit Sept. 4 in U. S. District Court on behalf of John and Jane Doe and their minor child Jill Doe to stop Mountain View Elementary School in Taylors, S.C., from holding graduation in the chapel of North Greenville University, a Christian school. The suit also seeks an end to inclusion of school-sponsored prayers at future events.

The graduation was held May 30 at the university, which has a logo with the words “Christ Makes the Difference.”

The suit alleges that prayers recited by graduates were solicited and approved by school administrators and were explicitly Christian, said a press release from AHA, which warned school officials in June that a suit would be filed unless corrective action was taken, a step the school district refused to take.

Kansas board sanctions student prayer

The board of Unified School District No. 480 in Liberal, Kan., voted unanimously to sanction student-led prayer at activities in the district. The board “spontaneously” added the prayer item to the agenda near the end of its Sept. 23 meeting, reported the High Plains Daily Leader.

Board member Nick Hatcher said he’s “struggled with” the lack of prayer at school activities. “We do live in a democratic society, and I personally feel like our community would support that decision, regardless of the rest of the world.”

The district stopped having prayer several years ago at events like football games. The new policy will let students use school public-address systems for prayer.

Superintendent Paul Larkin urged caution: “We can have student-led prayer, but if we turn away certain groups — if you have someone who wants to serve up a prayer or a thought that isn’t the mainstream thinking — you’re going to have a problem. The thing to do is take it to [board attorney] Mr. Yoxall and get some advice.”

Board member Tammy Sutherland-Abbott said she saw no need to wait for legal advice. “We can make a board decision, as long as it’s student-led, to support prayer. I’ll make that motion. I’m gonna do it.”

The motion passed 7-0. FFRF has formally complained.

Hate group head gets La. appointment

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal in late September appointed Tony Perkins, president of the evangelical Family Research Council, to the state Commission on Law Enforcement. The appointment, confirmed by the state Senate, lets Perkins weigh in on grant awards, officer training standards and regulation of law enforcement statewide.

FRC has been certified as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center for its homophobic stance on gay rights issues.

Perkins served in the state House from 1996 to 2004. Before that he was a TV news reporter and reserve police officer. He was suspended in 1992 from the reserve for failing to report an illegal conspiracy by anti-abortion extremists to his superiors. 

Churches appeal ban on cross display

A coalition of churches in Evansville, Ind., that wanted to install a display of Christian crosses along four blocks of the city’s downtown riverfront is appealing a federal judge’s July 31 order permanently blocking the display, the Evansville Courier-Press reported Aug. 29.

The churches filed a notice of appeal with the 7th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in Chicago. In June, West Side Christian Church was given permission by the city’s Board of Public Works to install 31 6-foot-tall crosses to be decorated by vacation bible school pupils for display from Aug. 4-18.

Two Evansville residents, represented by the ACLU of Indiana, challenged the display. FFRF sent the city an open records request for its policies but dropped the request after the judge barred the display.

Catholic school grant unconstitutional

A $1.5 million grant that the 2013 Hawaii Legislature agreed to set aside for a Catholic school is unconstitutional, said a Sept. 3 memo from Deputy Attorney General Randall Nishiyama to Senate President Donna Mercado Kim.

The grant for Kalihi’s Damien Memorial School violates a provision in Hawaii’s Constitution prohibiting the state from contributing public money to private schools, Nishiyama said.

Civil Beat reported that the Catholic school’s subsidy is one of about three dozen nongovernmental capital improvement projects worth roughly $32 million that the Legislature agreed to allocate. Damien was the only school to receive such a grant.

Mitch Kahle of Hawaii Citizens for the Separation of State and Church said the grant was stopped due to “the hard work of many people, including FFRF. We put public scrutiny on this unconstitutional grant and it’s gone.”


Indian atheist wins higher pay fight

Sanjay Salve, an atheist and secondary school teacher in Nashik, India, has won a long battle with the school, which had refused to remit to Salve scheduled pay raises since 2008 because he refused to take part in religious prayers.

The school informed the division bench of Mumbai High Court that Salve, 41, is eligible for the higher pay scale and will be allowed to stand without folding his hands during prayers, The Hindu reported Sept. 20.

Salve teaches English and has been employed by the school since 1996. The controversy started in 2007 in the playground, Salve said: “As students began their prayers and pledge, I remained standing as I was, my hands behind my back. Everyone else was praying with folded hands. My action was spontaneous and not intended as a revolt. I just stood there, wondering why I should pray to the god of a religion which I do not follow.” 

He told the “furious” headmaster that “I am an atheist and cannot participate in prayers to any god, that such compulsion violates the Constitution.”


Atheism, humanism make Irish inroads 

Up to 16,000 primary school students in Ireland will receive instruction for the first time about atheism and humanism as well as religious belief systems starting in 2014, The Guardian reported Sept. 26. Educate Together operates 68 multidenominational primary schools nationwide.

Students could be reading texts such as Richard Dawkins’ The Magic of Reality, according to Michael Nugent, co-founder of Atheist Ireland. “There will be a module of 10 classes of between 30 to 40 minutes from the ages of 4 upwards,” Nugent said. “It is necessary because the Irish education system has for too long been totally biased in favor of religious indoctrination.”

Jane Donnelly, an Atheist Ireland member and parent of two secondary students, said after she opted her daughters out of religious education classes, they were told to go to the library and find a philosophy book to read. “The range of philosophy books was very limited, so I sent them to school each day with a copy of Dawkins’ The God Delusion to read.”

The 1937 Irish Constitution states that “All powers of government, legislative, executive and judicial, derive, under God, from the people.” It further states that “The State acknowledges that the homage of public worship is due to Almighty God. It shall hold His Name in reverence, and shall respect and honour religion.”

The Catholic Church controls more than 90% of Ireland’s 3,200 primary schools, although the taxpayers, not the church, pay the bills for schools the church controls.

Educate Together schools deliver an ethical curriculum that is based on human rights and equality, and fosters appreciation of human diversity, said CEO Paul Rowe. “It includes themes of moral and spiritual development, ethics and the environment. Children are enabled to explore all the main belief systems, both theist and nontheist.”

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