NYC public pool discrimination opposed
FFRF is objecting to gender discrimination at a New York public pool.
At the Metropolitan Pool, owned and operated by the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation, there are women-only hours on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays. The hours were temporarily eliminated but were brought back under pressure from N.Y. Assemblyman Dov Hikind.
Hikind claims that the Parks Department is being "culturally sensitive" in allowing women-only swimming sessions. But in actuality, it is catering to a tiny segment of the population whose religious tenets require separation of the genders for such activities: the Orthodox Jews. By being "culturally sensitive" to one group, the Parks Department is being culturally insensitive to everyone else, and is depriving men access to the pool at certain times. This sends a message to all non-Orthodox Jews that they are outsiders.
FFRF is asking that the women-only hours at the Metropolitan Pool be discontinued.
"In catering to the religious desires of a portion of the population, New York City is ignoring the U.S. Constitution," says FFRF Co-President Dan Barker. "The city cannot bend and twist the law to accede to the political clout of one group."
NASA asked to withdraw religious grant
FFRF wants NASA to revoke a grant in excess of $1 million to a Christian-focused religious institute.
In May 2015, NASA's astrobiology program awarded $1.108 million to the Center of Theological Inquiry for "an interdisciplinary inquiry on the societal implications of astrobiology, the study of the origins, evolution, distribution, and future of life in the universe." Center Director William Storrar stated at the time, "The aim of this inquiry is to foster theology's dialogue with astrobiology on its societal implications, enriched by the contribution of scholars in the humanities and social sciences."
The principal thrust of the grant is theological — and therefore religious. And though ostensibly ecumenical, the Center of Theological Inquiry is "rooted in Christian theology," according to its website. NASA is giving money to a religious organization to determine how the possible future discovery of extraterrestrial life might impact Christian theology and religious beliefs.
The grant is patently unconstitutional, FFRF asserts. Government-funded scientific studies of theology create state-church entanglements.
Then there is the issue of use and misuse of scarce taxpayer dollars. The utilization of a significant amount of tax money to determine how theology — by definition a faith-based belief system — might respond to speculative future scientific discoveries is wasteful for two reasons.
First, religion deals in matters of faith, not fact, and faith-based arguments inevitably boil down to arguments that cannot be settled by appeal to empirical evidence. Second, history shows that religion does one of two things when presented with scientific discovery: denial or incorporation of the fact as "evidence" or "proof."
FFRF alarmed about Tennessee school
FFRF is alarmed about multiple constitutional violations occurring in a Tennessee high school.
A Christian club called FISH meets every Friday during lunch at David Crockett High School in Jonesborough. An employee at the high school, Jerry Day, leads this group. Community church members frequently attend these meetings, and they bring fast food to entice students to attend. FISH meetings include Christian songs, prayers and other Christian content. Guest speakers from fourteen local churches often speak, as well. Teachers also reportedly participate, sometimes leading prayers with students. Under the federal Equal Access Act, religious clubs must be student-led with no involvement from school staff or outside adults.
Members of a Christian group called Young Life also frequently enter the school shortly before school starts in order to pass out fast food biscuits and proselytize to students. Part of Young Life's mission is "sharing the truth of God's love with adolescents."
Additionally, there is a bible verse displayed on the high school's website. The David Crockett Lady Softball team webpage includes the following: "Philippians 4:13 — I can do all things through him who gives me strength."
FFRF wants school tie-up to end
FFRF is asking for an end to an unconstitutional tie-up between a Wisconsin school district and a parochial preschool.
In Beaver Dam Unified School District, 3-year-old public school students with developmental delays are often sent to private preschools. FFRF's complainant, who has an eligible child, was offered only one choice: a Catholic school, St. Katherine's, whose preschool is named God's Little Miracles. To quote the school itself, its "program is based on the theme 'Thank you, God.'" Materials the complainant received from a Beaver Dam Unified School District teacher contained many religious references and images.
The teacher reportedly assured the FFRF complainant that the God's Little Miracles program does not involve religious instruction. But the materials show that this is not the case.
From the name itself to the pervasive nature of religion in its goals and teachings, God's Little Miracles is not an appropriate place for a public school to send children for learning. Thecurrent policy is especially egregious, with a captive audience of impressionable 3-year-olds with developmental delays.
FFRF is requesting that the Beaver Dam Unified School District cease any partnership with St. Katherine's, unless and until it completely revamps its program to make it totally secular.
Catholic Church's 'vote shaming' denounced
FFRF condemns the Catholic Church targeting Pennsylvania legislators who have shown support for stronger child sex-abuse laws.
Of 195 members of the Pennsylvania House, 180 recently voted in favor of a bill designed to prevent those accused of sexually abusing children from claiming legal immunity due to the existing statute of limitations. Church leaders have singled out specific legislators and publicly humiliated them for backing the bill.
The archdiocese recently printed bulletins and had its priests call out legislators by name from the pulpit in order to stir up opposition against the bill. As the bill moves forward to the Senate Judiciary Committee, the message is clear: Oppose this child sex-abuse bill or face the church's wrath.
"It's outrageous that the church would go to such lengths to kill this bill," says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. "The Catholic Church has systematically protected sexual predators from legal authorities for decades while claiming to have children's interests at heart. If the church were really concerned about victims of sexual abuse, it would be doing everything in its power to support this bill."
Under the proposed House Bill 1947, victims would have until they are 50 years old to seek legal redress.
Violations aplenty at charter school chain
FFRF is raising red flags about a publicly funded Texas charter school chain.
Newman International Academy, which has frequently breached the constitutional wall separating state and church, operates a number of charter schools in Texas. In August, it is opening up yet another one inside Walnut Ridge Baptist Church in Mansfield. The charter school sponsor is Saint Servers International, a Christian organization run by the Rev. Lazarus George, who is the husband of Newman International Academy founder Sheba George.
Sheba George is an ardent evangelist. On a website for her proposed Newman George College, George explains that she has a "longing for the strongest spiritual revival the world has ever known." It appears that George's desire for a spiritual revival has warped her treatment of Newman International Academy in constitutionally impermissible ways.
The Academy also promotes and endorses religious events in its schools and on its website.
Its 2015-2016 calendar includes a school holiday on March 25 for Good Friday, an explicitly Christian holiday, a See You at the Pole event that the Academy described as "a day committed to global unity in Christ and prayer for this generation," and a schoolwide assembly for the National Day of Prayer.
Publicly funded charter schools, like public schools, have a constitutional obligation to remain neutral toward religion, FFRF points out.
Church property should be taxed
FFRF is trying to make sure that a Madison, Wis., Catholic congregation pays its fair share of taxes.
The state/church separation watchdog group filed an amicus curiae brief in Dane County Circuit Court to support the city of Madison levying taxes on property that the St. Raphael's congregation owns. The church sued the city last year to recover more than $98,000 in taxes it paid in 2014 on a downtown Madison lot assessed at more than $4 million.
FFRF asserts in its brief that since the property is vacant and merely being held for future development, it does not qualify for a tax exemption under Wisconsin law.
The lot was once the site of St. Raphael's Cathedral, destroyed by fire in 2005, as well as a dilapidated school building that was purchased by the church in 2011 and torn down in 2012. Because the conjoined lot was vacant, the city began taxing the property in 2012. That prompted the church to add a "Way of the Cross" walking path on the lot later that year.
Staff Attorney Patrick Elliott highlighted the lack of use of the property in FFRF's brief and questioned how St. Raphael's could retain an exemption while it was really just hanging on to the lot as a future site of a $50 million cathedral.
FFRF opposes religious grants
FFRF wrote the Sussex County Council on Feb. 9 regarding a $10,000 grant to Delmarva Teen Challenge, a religious ministry that purports to help drug addicts by converting them to Christianity. The money was used for a fundraiser for the religious group.
On June 21, the council voted unanimously to award $2,500 from Councilman Samuel Wilson's discretionary grant account to Grace-N-Mercy Ministries, a Christian church in Greenwood, "for youth camp expenses." In its grant application, the ministry stated that the grant would be utilized for expanding its summer youth camp, which "combines the social recreation and team building activities of a traditional summer camp with the faith-based principles of a vacation bible school."