Cat & Mouse at Grand Canyon
Three bronze plaques inscribed with biblical passages at scenic overlooks in the Grand Canyon were removed, then reinstalled by the National Park Service in July.
The bible plaques were returned to the Hermit's Rest, Lookout Studio and Desert View scenic overlooks at the South Rim, pending "review." The ACLU raised concerns in February over the constitutionality of the plaques, placed 33 years ago by the Evangelical Sisterhood of Mary. Each cites a verse from the Book of Psalms. The group's founder said they were fashioned to "honor God" for making the Grand Canyon.
The U.S. Interior Department, which initially announced that the plaques were inappropriate, would not comment on why they were reinstalled.
Bush "Faith-based" Plan
A contingent of congressional Democrats and leaders in the Congressional Black Caucus denounced President Bush's "faith-based initiatives" as discriminatory.
Bush touted the scheme to African-American urban leaders on July 16: "We ought not to fear faith," Bush told 100 inner-city pastors in Washington, D.C. "I believe freedom is God's gift to every individual."
Black leaders held a press conference objecting to a Republican bill to allow pervasively religious preschool programs to receive federal Head Start funding while maintaining the right to discriminate in employment.
The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force condemned Bush's faith-based plan in June, for permitting public-funded service providers to discriminate in hiring on the basis of sexual orientation.
God Talks to Bush?
According to Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas, who met with President George Bush in late June during ceasefire negotiations, Bush told him:
"God told me to strike at al Qaida and I struck them, and then he instructed me to strike at Saddam, which I did, and now I am determined to solve the problem in the Middle East. If you help me I will act, and if not, the elections will come and I will have to focus on them." Source: Ha'aretz (Israeli periodical), June 24, 2003
Faith-Based Drug Czar
National Drug Control Policy director John Walters in July announced a national drive to enlist faith-based youth groups in anti-drug programs.
The "drug czar" kicked off the campaign with a visit on July 12 to Tulsa, Okla., where he met with Christian and Muslim representatives. Jewish leaders, unable to attend because of the Sabbath, endorsed the program in writing, according to Associated Press.
The agency published a brochure, "Pathways to Prevention," encouraging ministers to work anti-drug messages into sermons, and suggesting that youth leaders lead prayers on the subject. For more on the "faith-based anti-drug effort," go to: www.theantidrug.com/faith and www.whitehousedrugpolicy.gov.
11th Circuit Vanquishes Moore
A 3-judge panel of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on July 1 that a 5200-pound Ten Commandments marker placed in the state Supreme Court rotunda by Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore is unconstitutional. The appeals court upheld a lower court ordering removal of the bible edicts.
The appeals court, based in Georgia, now joins the 6th and 7th appellate circuits in ruling against the Ten Commandments. The 10th Circuit has recently ruled that a government body displaying the Ten Commandments must permit controversial or unpopular groups and religions equal access.
Judge Carnes, joined by Chief Justice Edmonson and Judge Story, observed that if they adopted Moore's position:
"Every government building could be topped with a cross, or a menorah, or a statue of Buddha, depending upon the views of the officials with authority over the premises. A creche could occupy the place of honor in the lobby or rotunda of every municipal, county, state, or federal building. Proselytizing religious messages could be played over the public address system in every government building at the whim of the official in charge of the premises. However appealing those prospects may be to some, the position Chief Justice Moore takes is foreclosed by Supreme Court precedent."
Moore plans to appeal.
House Slaps 11th Circuit
The U.S. House of Representatives voted 260-161 on July 23 to withhold any funds that could be used to enforce a recent federal appeals court ruling declaring the Ten Commandments unconstitutional in Alabama's state judicial building.
Rep. John N. Hostettler, R-IN, claimed that Congress could use its power over federal spending to prevent enforcement of the ruling, and the 2002 ruling by the 9th Circuit holding the words "under God" to be unconstitutional in the Pledge of Allegiance.
Third Circuit OK's Decalog
The 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on June 26 that a Ten Commandments plaque placed in 1920 on the outside wall of the Chester County Courthouse, West Chester, Penn., is constitutional.
The appeals circuit denied that there was a religious purpose in posting a Protestant version of the unabridged commandments, followed by verses from the New Testament.
The lawsuit was filed by the ACLU on behalf of members of the Freethought Society of Greater Philadelphia, a Foundation chapter directed by Margaret Downey. Principal plaintiff is Sally Flynn. The appeals court overturned a March 2002 federal court ruling finding that the plaque was inherently religious and improper for display at a government building.
The courthouse, built in 1846, is on the National Register of Historic Places. The court ruled that the bible edict may remain for "historic preservation."
The shocking decision calls the Ten Commandments "a significant basis of American law and the American policy" and accepts the verdict of a commissioner that "the Ten Commandments on the wall of the Courthouse symbolizes civilization."
The ruling attacks the Lemon test (requiring a government act to have a secular purpose), quoting Supreme Court Justice Scalia. Scalia compared Lemon to "some ghoul in a late-night horror movie that repeatedly sits up in its grave and shuffles abroad, after being repeatedly killed and buried." Judge Becker said the presence of "no smoking" and "no skateboarding" signs also mitigate the violation.
Kansas Decalog Moved
A Ten Commandments monument in front of the Wyandotte County Courthouse, Kansas City, Kan., was moved to the lawn of a nearby Catholic church following a 8-0 vote on July 24 by the local board of commissioners. Several members of Individuals for Freethought, a student group at Kansas State University, testified in favor of removal, according to Foundation student member Keiv Spare.
The action was taken by the Unified Board of Commissioners of Wyandotte County and Kansas City, Kan., following a threat by the local ACLU to sue to remove it.
"At a time when we're trying to save money any way we can and lower taxes, it just seems to be a prudent decision to make," said Commissioner Kelley Kultala.
Utah Decalogs Moved
Seven Ten Commandments monuments on public property in Utah, which were donated by the Fraternal Order of Eagles, have been removed this spring.
The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals recently ordered that public bodies must accept displays of alternate messages if they retain Ten Commandments monuments on public property. Monuments have been removed from public land in Ogden, Salt Lake City, Murray, Tooele, Roy and Provo.
Borgota Eschews Gideons
The Borgota Hotel Casino & Spa, a $1.1 billion resort that opened in Atlantic City, N.J., this summer, broke rank from other casinos by refusing the Gideons' request to place bibles in its 2,002-room hotel.
Borgata spokesperson Michael Facenda said rather than choose between the Mormon, Hebrew, Christian, Greek and other bibles, they will keep rooms bible-free: "The small percentage that we talked to who do have an interest in having it [a bible] available brought their own anyway," he added.
The casino is starting a small library of religious and philosophical books for patron use. The Borgota accepted the donation of the Foundation's hardback publication, Women Without Superstition, No Gods - No Masters, an anthology edited by Annie Laurie Gaylor.
Cat & Mouse at Grand Canyon