Freethought Today · September 2016

Published by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc.

FFRF state/church complaints

N.H. House should discontinue prayer

FFRF is urging the New Hampshire House of Representatives to end its tradition of starting sessions with a prayer.

On Feb. 4, Peter Chamberland, pastor of Granite State Baptist Church in Concord, prayed, "Lord, through every situation, that You would protect our children through the great drug crisis that goes across our state, both those that are born and the unborn, that You would watch over them."

However, when the prayer was published in the House Journal, the portion of the prayer dealing with abortion was redacted. House Clerk Paul Smith stated that prayers were not supposed to be political and that prayers printed in the House Journal were edited for such content. But New Hampshire law requires clerks of the House of Representatives to "keep a true and fair record of all proceedings."

Even nonsectarian prayer excludes the 23 percent of Americans who identify as nonreligious, FFRF emphasizes. The exclusion is compounded when a majority of prayers are sectarian (to Jesus) or a majority of the officiants are of one religion (Christianity). Such prayer creates acrimony, turns believers into political insiders and minorities into political outsiders in their own community, and confers unconstitutional governmental preference not just for Christianity over other faiths, but also for religion over nonreligion.

FFRF asks that Chamberland's prayer be published in the House Journal in its entirety. Additionally, the organization urges the House leadership to take this opportunity to discontinue the practice of scheduling prayers to open sessions.

FFRF objects to religious school logo

FFRF is protesting a blatantly religious school district logo in North Carolina.

The logo of Madison County Schools (headquartered in Marshall) contains a triangle with the word "God" at the top and a surrounding square that includes "spiritually" as one of four traits.

Former Superintendent Ronald Wilcox designed the logo more than a decade ago and told the Asheville Citizen-Times in 2014, "It just sums up the culture here and what we believe." The logo is widely used throughout the district and is prominently featured on the official website. FFRF had earlier written to the school district two years ago about the logo but did not receive a reply.

It is no defense that religion is just one element on the logo, FFRF asserts, citing past court rulings on the issue. It warns Madison County Schools that continuing use of the logo poses a serious liability problem for the school system, since earlier this year FFRF won a judgment against the Chino Valley Unified School Board in California in a challenge to its unconstitutional religious practices that resulted in an award of more than $200,000 in costs and attorney fees.

Christian university scholarships decried

FFRF is challenging an Ohio town's scholarship program for a Christian university.
Grove City is offering its residents scholarships to attend Ohio Christian University's local campus, at the Grove City Church of the Nazarene, as part of the Grove City Higher Education Investment Program.

The campus is located inside a megachurch and many of the institution's degrees and courses are heavily infused with Christianity. But even seemingly secular options have a lot of religion in them. Students who pursue a B.S. in nursing are taught to deliver "holistic Christian care," while students who pursue an associate's degree in business or human services must take a core of "Bible/Christian worldview classes."
City-funded scholarships from Grove City for attending Ohio Christian University thus violate both the U.S. and the Ohio Constitutions.

"The Ohio Constitution prohibits compelling taxpayers to fund religious education," FFRF Legal Fellow Ryan Jayne writes to Grove City Council President Roby Schottke. "And the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment strictly prohibits the government from advancing religion."

The U.S. Supreme Court has struck down grants to parochial schools when there is a possibility that the funds will be used to advance religion, FFRF informs Grove City. The Supreme Court has also upheld statutes that prohibit public aid to students pursuing degrees in theology. Private universities that offer no truly secular degrees are not entitled to participate in government funds, FFRF asserts.

FFRF wants cross removed from park

FFRF is asking a Texas town to remove a huge cross from a public park.

A large Latin cross is displayed at the entrance to Swenson Park in Spur, Texas. It overlooks the town and can be seen by passersby.

The government's permanent display of a cross on public land is unconstitutional, FFRF informs the mayor. It unabashedly creates the perception of government endorsement of Christianity and conveys the message to non-Christians, including the 23 percent of Americans who are not religious, that "they are not favored members of the political community," to quote the U.S. Supreme Court. The cross has an exclusionary effect, making non-Christian and nonbelieving residents of Spur political outsiders.

FFRF is requesting the city of Spur to immediately take steps for the removal of the cross or its relocation to a private site.

This year alone, FFRF has twice gone to court over similar violations. In April, it sued the city of Santa Clara in California to remove a large cross from a public park. And in May, it filed a suit against Pensacola, Fla., to challenge a 25-foot-tall cross in a public park.

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