All posts from “Church-state”

May 5, 2011

After Court Gives OK, Christians Mark National Day of Prayer

Supporters marked the 60th annual National Day of Prayer on Thursday, just weeks after a federal appeals court dismissed a suit that challenged the law creating the day as unconstitutional.

Focus on the Family founder James Dobson spoke of the "poignant moment" for the annual gathering on Capitol Hill after a federal court last year had cast uncertainty about future observances.

"Millions of people prayed, and many of them here in this room, and God heard and answered prayer and here we are today!" said Dobson, husband of Shirley Dobson, chairwoman of the National Day of Prayer Task Force.

Joining other events in churches, on military bases and at courthouse steps across the country, about 400 people prayed for relief from natural disasters and thanked God for the capture and death of al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden.

"We are blessed to have the best military and the most sophisticated weaponry in the world," Shirley Dobson said. "They put their lives on the line to assure that justice was done."

President Obama, who discontinued his predecessor's annual observances at the White House, nonetheless issued a proclamation under the 1988 law that says the president shall designate the first Thursday in May as the National Day of Prayer.

Continue reading After Court Gives OK, Christians Mark National Day of Prayer ...

April 28, 2011

Panel Cites Egypt for Religious Freedom Violations

A religious freedom watchdog panel has added Egypt to its list of the worst violators of religious liberty, citing attacks on Coptic Christians that occurred surrounding the downfall of former President Hosni Mubarak.

“The Egyptian government engaged in and tolerated religious freedom violations both before and after President Hosni Mubarak stepped down on Feb. 11,” said Leonard Leo, chairman of the bipartisan U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, which released its report Thursday.

“In his waning months, religious freedom conditions were rapidly deteriorating and since his departure, we’ve seen nothing to indicate that these conditions have improved.”

Members of the independent commission also continued their criticism of the Obama administration for not making religious freedom a higher priority.

“President Obama’s administration has yet to break from the practice of previous administrations of keeping the issue of religious freedom on the margins of U.S. foreign policy,” the report states.
Leo acknowledged the recent confirmation of the Rev. Suzan Johnson Cook as the new ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom and said he hopes it will lead to “meaningful actions” in the near future.

Commissioners, who are appointed by the president and members of Congress, listed a total of 14 countries that they recommend the State Department designate as “countries of particular concern.” The department currently lists eight such countries, a number that remains unchanged since President George W. Bush left office.

Countries on the State Department’s list include Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Uzbekistan.

In addition to Egypt, USCIRF says the list should also include Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan, Turkmenistan and Vietnam.

State Department spokesman Evan Owen differed with the commission’s analysis, saying his department issues reports on both religious freedom and anti-Semitism, and now has special envoys for both areas. He said the department will consider USCIRF’s recommendations as it weighs updating its list of the worst violators of religious freedom.

“It’s a long process and with the appointment of an ambassador for religious freedom, we expect it to be a more streamlined process in the future,” he said.

April 14, 2011

National Day of Prayer Ruling Overturned

A federal appeals court today ruled 3-0 that dismisses a lawsuit against the National Day of Prayer. The decision overturns last year's ruling by U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb that ruled that the National Day of Prayer is unconstitutional.

The 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the Freedom From Religion Foundation did not have standing to bring the lawsuit against President Obama. "But unless all limits on standing are to be abandoned, a feeling of alienation cannot suffice as injury in fact," the court said in its opinion.

President Truman signed into law in 1952 a Congressional resolution establishing a National Day of Prayer. The Justice Department had appealed Judge Crabb's decision.


March 2, 2011

Supreme Court Sides with Westboro on Funeral Protests

The Supreme Court has decided that Kansas-based Westboro Baptist Church is protected under the First Amendment when they protest at military funerals, the Associated Press reports.

The court had picked up the case last May. Westboro pastor Fred Phelps leads his church members in funeral protests, suggesting that military deaths are punishment for the country's tolerance of homosexuality.

Here's an excerpt from the majority opinion from Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr.:

Speech is powerful. It can stir people to action, move them to tears of both joy and sorrow, and - as it did here - inflict great pain. On the facts before us, we cannot react to that pain by punishing the speaker. As a Nation we have chosen a different course - to protect even hurtful speech on public issues to ensure that we do not stifle public debate. That choice requires that we shield Westboro from tort liability for its picketing in this case.

Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. dissented alone. "Our profound national commitment to free and open debate is not a license for the vicious verbal assault that occurred in this case," he wrote.

Here's more coverage so far from The New York Times, the Kansas City Star, the Wall Street Journal, and Scotusblog.

January 24, 2011

Hawaiian Senate Ends Daily Prayers

A unanimous voice vote spikes potential challenge over "decidedly Christian" invocations.

Hawaii’s state Senate is the first state legislature in the United States to end the practice of daily invocations, the Associated Press reported on Friday.

The decision stems from a discussion that began late last summer, when the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) sent a letter to the Senate. The ACLU passed on complaints it had received about the Senate having opened with "decidedly Christian" prayers, complete with "references to Jesus Christ."

"Prayers that invoke specific aspects of one religion or denomination risk an impermissible entanglement of church and state," wrote Daniel Gluck of ACLU Hawaii.

Earlier in 2010, Senate security had forcibly removed Mitch Kahle, the leader of Hawaii Citizens for the Separation of State and Church, after he verbally objected to the April 29th invocation. A District Court judge found Kahle not guilty of disorderly conduct.

In September, the Senate convened a three-person committee to examine the issue. The state attorney general's office advised them that the prayers would not likely survive a court challenge. When the 2011 session convened on Wednesday, the Senate opened with its first and last invocation this year, a Hawaiian-language "song of prayer" from Hawaiian singer Danny Kaleikini (one of a number of entertainers who performed that day).

The next day, in a unanimous voice vote, the Senate ended the prayers. The only opposition came from the 25-member body's one Republican, Sam Slom of Diamond Head. Slom recommended making the prayers voluntary instead of eliminating them entirely. "I think it's important that we stress the need that as smart as we may be, as intelligent as we may be, that we can still call on someone higher to help us and guide us," he said.

While some commentators hail the decision as a victory for separation of church and state, the Alliance Defense Fund argued, "Governments should take a stand for this cherished historical practice."

January 20, 2011

Who is My Brother? Alabama Governor Apologizes for Remarks

Robert Bentley served as governor of Alabama for only a few hours before he stepped into controversy. Bentley spoke to an audience at Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church following his inauguration Monday. He spoke on his responsibility as governor to serve all people in Alabama, regardless of race or party. Ironically, his comments resulted in misunderstanding and conflict, according to the Birmingham News:

There may be some people here today who do not have living within them the Holy Spirit, but if you have been adopted in God's family like I have, and like you have if you're a Christian and if you're saved, and the Holy Spirit lives within you just like the Holy Spirit lives within me, then you know what that makes? It makes you and me brothers. And it makes you and me brother and sister.

Now I will have to say that, if we don't have the same daddy, we're not brothers and sisters. So anybody here today who has not accepted Jesus Christ as their savior, I'm telling you, you're not my brother and you're not my sister, and I want to be your brother.

Shortly after making his remarks, Bentley clarified his statement. His office released a statement that said, “The governor clearly stated that he will be the governor of all Alabamians - Democrat, Republican and Independent, young, old, black and white, rich and poor.”

His statement was theologically correct, said Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission.

"It shows a startling naivete," Land told Julia Duin. "If I were governor of a state, I'd never voluntarily say that."

Bentley did not retract his statement, but he did apologize if his words offended people of other faiths.

"I will never deny being a born-again Christian. I do have core beliefs and I will die with those core beliefs, but I do not want to be harmful to others. And I will die if I have to defend someone else's right to worship as they choose,” said Bentley.

Continue reading Who is My Brother? Alabama Governor Apologizes for Remarks...

January 7, 2011

Grassley Asks ECFA to Lead Independent Inquiry

The national commission will examine churches' financial practices.

Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, has asked the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability to head an independent commission that will obtain feedback about the financial practices and oversight of churches and religious groups nationwide.

The goal is to help determine best practices and changes that encourage compliance with federal tax laws and maintain financial integrity within the religious community while avoiding new laws mandating such behavior. But those involved say it’s too early to tell how the commission’s work will affect any changes—or whether it can prevent new laws—and how long it will take.

In a press conference called this morning in Washington, D.C., ECFA leaders outlined requests made by Grassley, who yesterday released his final report of a three-year inquiry into the financial activities of six high-profile media ministries. The issues to be explored “could potentially affect every house of worship and every member of the clergy in America,” said Michael Batts, an ECFA board member who will chair the special commission.

This blog post continues at Your Church's blog, a sister publication of Christianity Today.

January 6, 2011

Grassley Investigation Ends with No Penalty for Televangelists

Sen. Chuck Grassley's investigation of televangelists finished with no penalties for the pastors who did not cooperate and found no definitive instances of wrongdoing, the Associated Press reports.

Grassley (R-Iowa), who launched the investigation in 2007, released the report at the end of his tenure as the ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee.

Two of the targeted televangelists — Joyce Meyer, based in Missouri and Benny Hinn, based in California — told Grassley that they have made changes in how they govern their ministries or set compensation.

But four of the televangelists would not provide full information about their finances. Some questioned whether Grassley had the authority to conduct the investigation. Others accused him of violating their religious freedom.

Grassley's staff said in the report that they did not issue subpoenas to further the investigation because witnesses feared retaliation if they spoke out publicly and the Finance Committee did not have the time or resources to enforce the subpoenas.

The televangelists who did not provide full information included Kenneth and Gloria Copeland, Bishop Eddie Long, Creflo and Taffi Dollar, and Randy and Paula White. See more of CT's previous coverage here.

And in other television news, Ted Haggard is getting his own reality project on TLC called Ted Haggard: Scandalous. The one-hour special will debut on January 16, according to Entertainment Weekly. In 2006, a male escort had alleged that Haggard had paid him for sex and drugs, leading him to step down as president of the National Association of Evangelicals and as senior pastor of New Life. started St. James Church in Colorado Springs last May.

April 22, 2010

Graham: Army Rescinded Pentagon Prayer Invitation

Franklin Graham said in a statement provided to Christianity Today that the Army has rescinded its invitation to participate in a Pentagon prayer service on the National Day of Prayer.

On Tuesday, the Military Religious Freedom Foundation objected to Graham's invitation, saying his past description of Islam as "evil" offended Muslims.

Army Col. Tom Collins told the Associated Press that the invitation was from the Colorado-based National Day of Prayer Task Force, which works with the Pentagon chaplain's office on the event. Graham issued the following statement:

“I regret that the Army felt it was necessary to rescind their invitation to the National Day of Prayer Task Force to participate in the Pentagon’s special prayer service. I want to express my strong support for the United States military and all our troops. I will continue to pray that God will give them guidance, wisdom and protection as they serve this great country."

Graham said in an interview with Fox News this morning that Muslims are "enslaved" by their religion.

"I want them to know that they don't have to die in a car bomb, don't have to die in some kind of holy war to be accepted by God. But it's through faith in Jesus Christ and Christ alone," Graham said. "I love the people of Islam but their religion, I do not agree with their religion at all. And if you look at what the religion does just to women, women alone, it is just horrid. And so yes, I speak out for women. I speak out for people that live under Islam, that are enslaved by Islam and I want them to know that they can be free."

Graham is president and CEO of Samaritan's Purse and the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.

October 22, 2009

Senate Passes Hate Crimes Bill

The Senate approved legislation today that broadened the definition of federal hate crimes to include attacks based on sexual orientation. The Senate voted 68-29 to approve the measure attached to a $680 billion defense bill.

The bill has frustrated several conservative Christian groups who feared that pastors would see repercussions from the law. The latest version of the bill included new language that explicitly protected an excused person’s free exercise of religion.

Scholars and activists have disagreed over whether a minister could be prosecuted, if he or she preached against homosexuality and a parishioner would later commit a hate crime against someone for being gay.

Continue reading Senate Passes Hate Crimes Bill...

August 12, 2009

Virginia Jail Agrees to Stop Censoring Religious Mail

A Virginia jail will stop censoring religious mail after protests from civil rights organizations that clerks had turned Bible-quoting missives from an inmate's mother into tattered strips of paper signed "Love, Mom."

Rappahannock Regional Jail authorities agreed to change the policy after receiving a letter signed by the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, the Rutherford Institute, Prison Fellowship, the Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy, the Friends Committee on National Legislation and the American Civil Liberties Union.

Prisons may block writings that pose security threats, including hate speech and X-rated images, but must allow access to otherwise religious materials, according to several court rulings and federal law.

"They can't treat religious materials like a knife or drugs or pornography," said Eric Rassbach, national litigation director for the Becket Fund.

Continue reading Virginia Jail Agrees to Stop Censoring Religious Mail ...

May 7, 2009

Debating the Day of Prayer (Update)

President skips ceremony but defends National Day of Prayer in court.

The National Day of Prayer, held annually on the first Thursday of May, is today generating not just supplications to heaven, but wrangling on earth. The Obama administration, in a departure from its predecessors, is marking the day with a statement but not the President's attendance at a ceremony. Meanwhile, some religious groups and others are criticizing the President for stepping back from involvement. However, the administration and some Republican lawmakers are defending the constitutionality of the observance by fighting atheists in court.

Here is the text of the President's proclamation:

Continue reading Debating the Day of Prayer (Update)...

March 3, 2009

Supreme Court Declines Case of Praying Football Coach

The U.S. Supreme Court has turned down an appeal from a high school football coach who was banned from bowing his head during student-led team prayers.

Without comment Monday, the nation's highest court ended Coach Marcus Borden's efforts to overturn a township decision that as a public employee, Borden cannot mix religion with his work as a coach.


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The high court's decision leaves intact a federal appeals court's April decision that Borden's desire to bow his head and take a knee during team prayer is an endorsement of religious activity at a public school.

Neither Borden, who has been the football coach at East Brunswick High School since 1983, nor his attorney, Ronald Riccio, could be reached for comment.

Borden has been fighting for the right to bow and kneel in prayer with his team since November 2005, when he filed a federal lawsuit arguing the school district's regulations were overly broad. He won a U.S. District Court ruling in July 2006 in which a judge decided those rules were unconstitutional, but that decision was reversed at the appellate level.

Continue reading Supreme Court Declines Case of Praying Football Coach...

March 3, 2009

Pennsylvania Buys Bibles


bible.jpg

The Pennsylvania state General Assembly spent $13,700 this year on 220 Bibles and other religious texts for legislators for taking oaths, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports.

All but seven of the 203 House members received one, with 72 picking the New American Catholic Bible, making it the most popular choice.

State Rep. Chris Ross (R., Chester) got a copy of the Quran. He said yesterday that he took the Jan. 6 oath on his own Bible, but ordered the Muslim holy book because he had always wanted to read it.

State Rep. Dan Frankel also got a Quran, but it was an ordering mistake. He traded it in for another copy of the Torah - the sixth he has received from taxpayers since first being elected in 1998.

After it was announced that President Obama would use Abraham Lincoln's Bible, Noreen Malone wrote for Slate about how after Grover Cleveland, it turned into BYOB, where presidents would often bring a family Bible.

(h/t Howard M. Friedman)

February 17, 2009

Student Sues over Gay-Marriage Speech

A student in California is suing Los Angeles City College, saying his professor reacted inappropriately to his speech in class against same-sex marriage, Gale Holland writes for the Los Angeles Times.

Student Jonathan Lopez says his professor called him a "fascist bastard" and refused to let him finish his speech against same-sex marriage during a public speaking class last November, weeks after California voters approved the ban on such unions.

When Lopez tried to find out his mark for the speech, the professor, John Matteson, allegedly told him to "ask God what your grade is," the suit says.

Lopez is represented by the Alliance Defense Fund, sued unsuccessfully to stop the release of the names and addresses of Proposition 8 donors, who said they had been harassed during the weeks of demonstrations after it passed.

Holland writes that the case tests the balance between free speech and offensive speech, and it's all part of "the emotional aftermath of Proposition 8."

January 12, 2009

By Any Means Necessary?

Civic debate seems to be turning ugly in America. After the pro-marriage Proposition 8 was passed in California, angry gay-rights activists vented their fury on Mormons and Christians, who publicly opposed marriage by homosexuals. Pro-life activists have long experienced social marginalization at the hands of pro-choice organizations and their sympathizers in the mainstream media, according to the final article by the late Richard John Neuhaus. And now Jews in the Chicago area are facing the wrath of vandals responding to Israel's Gaza invasion. "This touches a raw nerve," Rabbi Zvi Engel of Congregation Or Torah in Skokie said, responding to "Death to Israel!" slogans and other provocations on area synagogues. "You have to remember, in our congregations, there are people who remember this happening in Europe" at the start of the Holocaust. Even in America, where freedom of speech is enshrined as a core value, many seek to win debates in the public square by any means necessary.

December 31, 2008

Atheists File Suit to Block Inaugural Prayer

Led by a California atheist who has tried to remove the phrase "under God" from the pledge of allegiance, a group of atheists filed suit in federal court Tuesday (Dec. 30) to block prayers and mentions of God at President-elect Barack Obama's inauguration on Jan 20.

Michael Newdow, joined in his complaint by 11 atheist and humanist groups, filed similar, unsuccessful suits in 2001 and 2005, when President Bush was sworn in. He has also tried to remove the reference to God in the pledge of allegiance, arguing that it constitutes an illegal government endorsement of religion.

The suit names Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts, who will swear in the new president, as well as California megachurch pastor Rick Warren and the Rev. Joseph Lowery, who will deliver the invocation and benediction, respectively, and other inauguration planners.

By adding the words "so help me God" to the oath of office, as Supreme Court chief justices and presidents have done since at least 1933, Roberts would "infuse the inaugural ceremony with purely religious dogma," the atheists charge. The atheists also object to the place of the Bible in the ceremony -- Obama has asked for the copy used by Abraham Lincoln in 1861 -- and the delivery of opening and closing prayers.

The atheists are not suing Obama, however, because he, "like all other individuals, has Free Exercise rights," the suit says, referring to the Constitution's protection of religious expression. The problem would come if Roberts "prompts" Obama to recite the phrase, according to the atheists.

"The use of sectarian prayer and religious phrases during the inauguration not only violates a clear reading of the First Amendment, it serves as a justification for the breach of church-state separation in other areas," said Bob Ritter, staff attorney for the Appignani Humanist Legal Center, the legal arm of the American Humanist Association.

Warren's inclusion in the ceremony has also been criticized by liberals, particularly gay rights groups, who object to his vocal denunciations of same-sex marriage.

In a video sent to members of his Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif., Warren fired back at his critics, accusing them of "Christophobia" and "hate speech," according to Associated Baptist Press.

"Some people feel today that if you disagree with them, then that's hate speech," Warren said. "If you disagree with them, you either hate them or you're afraid of them. I'm neither afraid of gays nor do I hate gays. In fact I love them, but I do disagree with some of their
beliefs."

December 23, 2008

GSUSLVSU, and so does the driver of this car

In South Carolina, a district court has temporarily halted the production of state-sponsored license plates that declare "I Believe" and feature an illustration of a cross superimposed on a stained-glass window.

In Vermont, meanwhile, an appeals court is mulling whether a vanity plate featuring John 3:16, the verse about Jesus saving the world, should be permitted on that state's roads.

And in Arizona, a court has ruled it's OK to give residents the option of having the words "Choose Life" on state plates.

The question is no longer, "What Would Jesus Drive?" Now, it's more likely to be, "What's on his license plate?"

Across the country, the small metal plates affixed to car bumpers have become the latest battleground for church-state disputes and questions of free speech.

"It's hard to draw a line between what is government speech and what is private speech when it comes to license plates," said Charles Haynes, senior scholar at the First Amendment Center in Washington. "Some people want to use their license plate to proclaim their beliefs and that puts the state in an awkward position because if they allow one message then they have to allow others."

The South Carolina case is one of the more unusual -- and overt -- examples of religious speech on a license plate. The "I Believe" phrase and accompanying artwork were adopted unanimously by the state legislature, prompting a lawsuit by the Washington-based Americans United for Separation of Church and State on behalf of Unitarian, Jewish and Christian clergy and the Hindu American Foundation.

"I know some may quickly label this as an anti-Christian suit and I don't think that that's what is at issue," explained Suhag Shukla, legal counsel for the Maryland-based Hindu group. "It was more the state endorsement of religion, and such a blatant endorsement of religion."

U.S. District Judge Cameron McGowan Currie sided with the religious groups in a Dec. 15 opinion, halting distribution of the plates while the legal process continues.

"... (J)ust as a reasonable, objective observer would likely conclude that the state of South Carolina was promoting tourism with the Web site address 'Travel2SC.com' on its standard-issue plate," she wrote, "that same observer could reasonably believe the state is promoting Christianity through its legislatively-created and DMV-designed and marketed `I Believe' plate."

Beth Parks, a spokeswoman for the South Carolina Department of Motor Vehicles, said the state has complied with the preliminary injunction, which directed the department to remove advertising about the plate from its Web site.

"The people who submitted the $5 pre-paid application ... are receiving refunds," she said.

Beyond disputes over state-sanctioned specialty plates, Vermont driver Shawn Byrne is waiting for an appeals court to decide if he can use letters and symbols on his own vanity plate to spread the gospel. He hopes to put "JOHN316," "JN316" or "JN36TN" on his vehicle.

"Everybody knows when they're driving down the road and they see a vanity plate that this person behind the wheel is speaking, not the state," said Jeremy Tedesco, an attorney with the Arizona-based Alliance Defense Fund, who defended Byrne at a Dec. 8 hearing.

Already, courts have permitted individuals to speak through specialized plates with messages to "Choose Life" sponsored by organizations such as the Arizona Life Coalition.

Arizona officials had initially rejected a "Choose Life" license plate, but the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said that policy amounted to viewpoint discrimination. In October, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal by Arizona officials. More than a dozen states offer "Choose Life" plates and more are considering them.

Continue reading GSUSLVSU, and so does the driver of this car...

December 3, 2008

Atheists Sue Over Ky. Law Tying Homeland Security to God

The American Atheists have sued the commonwealth of Kentucky after learning that a law requires the state's Office of Homeland Security to declare its reliance on God for safety.

The New Jersey-based atheist group filed suit Tuesday in a Kentucky court seeking a ruling that a 2002 law stating that "the safety and security of the Commonwealth cannot be achieved apart from reliance on God" is unconstitutional.

The atheists are particularly concerned about a 2006 law that calls for the divine-reliance wording to be spelled out on a plaque at the entrance of the state's Emergency Operations Center.

"It's part of the law to publicize that God is necessary for homeland security," said David Silverman, spokesman for American Atheists. "That's part of the law and it's patently unconstitutional. It's so offensive, not just from an atheistic point of view but from an
American point of view because these people are trying to bring the
religious debate into homeland security."

The laws were both sponsored by Democratic delegate Tom Riner of Louisville, Ky., who also is a Southern Baptist minister.

"It's a frivolous lawsuit that American Atheists has launched to attempt to censor and suppress the publication of a key law that acknowledges divine providence," said Riner, pastor of Christ is King Baptist Church.

He said the laws did not get much attention when he sponsored them. But he's getting attention now, and the state is being sued, after the Lexington News-Leader wrote a story about them in late November.

Jay Blanton, a spokesman for Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear, said he couldn't comment on the specifics of the lawsuit but added: "There's a law in place and it's our intent to follow the law."

December 2, 2008

Zoo Drops Creation Museum Partnership

The Creation Museum and the Cincinnati Zoo have broken up a partnership after the zoo, which receives public support through a tax levy, received angry calls and e-mails.

Dan Horn of The Enquirer reports that a ticket deal offered $25.95 tickets to both the zoo Festival of Lights and the museum's Bethlehem’s Blessing, which features a live nativity and the streets of Bethlehem.

Adelle M. Banks writes this story for Religion News Service:

The Cincinnati Zoo has dropped a business arrangement with the nearby Creation Museum after it received numerous complaints about a joint Christmas promotion.

Officials at the museum expressed disappointment that their plans to offer a reduced price on a package of tickets to both attractions had ended after less than three days.

"I am ... personally saddened that this organization I esteem so highly would find it necessary to back out of this relationship," said Ken Ham, founder and president of the museum in Petersburg, Ky. "At the same time, I have learned that the zoo received hundreds of complaints from what appear to be some very intolerant people, and so I understand the zoo's perspective."

The Cincinnati Enquirer
said zoo officials found themselves embroiled in a debate between creationists who support the museum and evolutionists who oppose it after agreeing to a deal that would reduce entry to the zoo's "Festival of Lights" and the museum's "Bethlehem's
Blessings."

"It's not about us endorsing them or them endorsing us," said Chad Yelton, a spokesman for the zoo, told the newspaper. "That's wasn't the intention of anything we were doing."

December 2, 2008

Organization and City Clash over Billboard

The Freedom From Religion Foundation has responded to a removal of the organization's billboard promoting a world without religion. Not surprisingly, they're suing Rancho Cucamonga and the city officials who encouraged the billboard operator to take it down:

"It does appear that the city was engaging in this officious intervention and has violated our free speech and our establishment clause rights," said foundation co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. "They used their intimidation powers against the billboard company, I believe."

The billboard, which bore a stained-glass motif and the Wisconsin-based group's name and Web address, went up around Nov. 13 and was taken down a week later, Gaylor said.

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles, seeks compensatory and punitive damages from Rancho Cucamonga.

The foundation contemplated suing the billboard firm, General Outdoor Co., which violated a two-month contract. The group, however, said it didn't want to antagonize billboard companies. The foundation is more focused on state involvement in religion, Gaylor said.

"It's much more serious for the government to censor than for private entities to censor," she said.

To be sure, religion is ensconced in Inland Empire public life - not just presidential elections. I've mentioned before an article I wrote when I was at The Sun about how local government's were responding to a court decree that they not open municipal meetings with prays that invoke a specific deity. Praying to God was deemed OK. But Jesus or Allah or Buddha - that's off limits.

But there is no way to prevent it, and many city officials have no interest in doing so.

(Originally published at The God Blog.)

December 1, 2008

Law Requires Kentucky's Homeland Security to Credit God

A Kentucky lawmaker is frustrated that the state's Homeland Security office doesn't currently mention God in its mission statement or on its website.

John Cheves of the Lexington Herald-Leader writes:

Homeland Security is ordered to publicize God's benevolent protection in its reports, and it must post a plaque at the entrance to the state Emergency Operations Center with an 88-word statement that begins, "The safety and security of the Commonwealth cannot be achieved apart from reliance upon Almighty God."

State Rep. Tom Riner, a Southern Baptist minister, tucked the God provision into Homeland Security legislation as a floor amendment that lawmakers overwhelmingly approved two years ago.

As amended, Homeland Security's religious duties now come before all else, including its distribution of millions of dollars in federal grants and its analysis of possible threats.

November 21, 2008

Court orders Arizona to allow `Choose Life' license plates

A federal court has ruled that the Arizona License Plate Commission must approve an anti-abortion group's "Choose Life" specialty license plate.

The Arizona Life Coalition applied for the specialty license plate in 2002, but the Arizona License Plate Commission, which oversees the requests, rejected its application.

Attorneys with the Alliance Defense Fund (ADF) and the Center for Arizona Policy filed a suit in September of 2003.

Pro-life groups shouldn't be discriminated against for expressing their beliefs," ADF senior counsel Gary McCaleb said.

Last January, the 9th U.S Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the commission had violated the Arizona Life Coalition's First Amendment right to free speech by rejecting its application. The commission appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court to reverse the decision, but the high court refused to hear the case.

In a decision issued Nov. 19, U.S. District Judge Paul G. Rosenblatt ordered the commission to convene by Jan. 23 and approved the license plates.

"Many other groups have been allowed to participate in the Arizona specialty plate program. The commission had no legitimate reason to selectively exclude this group," McCaleb said. "We're pleased that the plates will soon be available to the public."

The "Choose Life" license plates are available in at least 19 states, according to Choose Life, Inc., a Florida-based non-profit that waged a six-year legal battle to make Florida the first state to offer the plates.

South Carolina, which offers a "Choose Life" plate, will soon start making "I Believe" license plates that feature a cross and stained glass window. Those plates are already the subject of a legal challenge by Jewish and Hindu groups.