Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Americans United Urges Attorney General to Act On Unlawful ‘Earmark’ Funding Of Nine Religious Institutions

Americans United Urges Attorney General to Act On Unlawful ‘Earmark’ Funding Of Nine Religious Institutions

Church-State Watchdog Group Asks U.S. Department Of Justice To Cut Off
June 24, 2009

Americans United for Separation of Church and State today asked U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to terminate or investigate nine federal grants awarded to faith-based groups that proselytize and that discriminate in hiring.
In the 2008 fiscal year, Congress approved earmarks that directed the U.S. Department of Justice to award grants to these religious organizations. The Department of Justice, under the Bush administration, approved the constitutionally dubious funding without conducting anything more than a cursory review.

Now Americans United, in a letter to Holder, has asked for that Bush-era decision to be reversed.

Read the full press release at

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Stand Up for Justice

In Kentucky there lives a very brave woman named Alicia Pedreira. Alicia reminds us here at Americans United that our fears about the "faith-based" intiative are not abstract or based on paranoia. They are very real.

In 1998, Alicia was hired by the Kentucky Baptist Homes for Children as a youth counselor, a job that she trained for and dreamed of for years. During her job interview, she informed KBHC - an organization that receives public funding for its work with troubled children - that she is a lesbian, but was told that it wasn't an issue.

Six months later, KBHC officials saw a picture of Alicia and her partner taken at an AIDS charity walk. And despite the excellent performance reviews she had received for her work, the institution did an about-face. It fired her, claiming that her "admitted homosexual lifestyle is contrary to Kentucky Baptist Homes for Children core values."

complete at:

Monday, June 8, 2009

Oklahoma Religious 10-Commandment Monument Unconstitutional

Brandi Simons / AP
A federal lawsuit is seeking the removal of the Ten Commandments from the grounds of the Haskell County courthouse in Stigler, Okla.

June 8, 2009
Ruling Prevents Government From Co-opting Religious Symbols, Church-State Watchdog Group Says

American United for Separation of Church and State today praised a federal appeals court for striking down a government display of the Ten Commandments in Haskell County, Okla.

Reversing a lower court, the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously declared unconstitutional the eight-foot-tall religious display, which was erected at the local courthouse in 2004 after a campaign by a local minister and his supporters.

“This decision should send a clear message to politicians and religious leaders: Thou shalt not mix church and state,” observed the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. “Our courthouses should focus on the Constitution and civil law, not religious law.”

Americans United, which filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the Green v. Haskell County Board of Commissioners case, noted that the monument displays the Protestant version of the Commandments and that it contains the text of the Mayflower Compact on the other side.

The appeals court traced the history of the monument, noting that commissioners frequently invoked religious language in defending it. One commissioner said, “I’m a Christian, and I believe in this. I think it’s a benefit to the community.”

The appellate panel, composed of three George W. Bush appointees, ruled that most people would perceive the display of the monument and the battle to keep it up as religious efforts.

“We conclude, in the unique factual setting of a small community like Haskell County, that the reasonable observer would find that these facts tended to strongly reflect a government endorsement of religion,” wrote the court. “In particular, we find support for this conclusion in the public statements of the Haskell County commissioners.”

Lynn said the court made the right call.

“The display of religious documents like the Ten Commandments properly belongs to religious leaders, not government officials,” he said. “I hope county officials have learned an important lesson about launching ill-considered religious crusades.”

Lynn noted that Oklahoma legislators recently passed a law calling for a display of the Ten Commandments on the grounds of the state capitol. In light of this ruling, he said, lawmakers might want to reconsider the wisdom of that action.

Americans United is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.

complete at:

Read the Appeal's Court Decision here:

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Americans United Expresses Disappointment Over Court Ruling Allowing Public School Graduations In Wisconsin Church

June 2, 2009
Decision Is Loss For All Students And The Constitution, Says AU’s Lynn
A federal judge today ruled that a Wisconsin public school district can hold high school graduation ceremonies in a church.

Americans United for Separation of Church and State, which sponsored the litigation to stop this practice of the Elmbrook School District in Brookfield, Wisc., expressed regret over the decision.

“Public school graduations should always be held at locations where all families feel welcome,” said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. “This decision fails to respect all students and the Constitution.”

U.S. District Judge Charles N. Clevert Jr. denied a preliminary injunction ordering the school to move this year’s June 6 and 7 graduation ceremonies to a secular location.

School officials made plans to hold the commencement ceremonies for Brookfield Central High School and Brookfield East High School at Elmbrook Church, an evangelical Christian mega-church in suburban Milwaukee.

AU filed Does v. Elmbrook Joint Common School District No. 21 on behalf of a graduating senior and several families in the district on Apr. 22. The plaintiffs, who have remained anonymous with the court’s approval, were extremely uncomfortable attending graduation at the church, given its religion-permeated environment.

At previous Elmbrook Church graduation ceremonies, graduating seniors received their diplomas in the church’s sanctuary on a dais beneath an immense cross, which is nearly 20 feet tall and 10 feet wide. On their way into the sanctuary, students had to pass religious displays and symbols in the church’s lobby and passageways, such as portraits of Jesus and quotations from the Bible. Bibles and hymnals lined the pews where parents and students had to sit.

In addition, plaintiffs felt unwelcome at the church because it teaches that non-Christians like the plaintiffs – and even some denominations of Christians – will suffer eternal torment in Hell. The church also says homosexuality is “not an acceptable lifestyle” and is “contrary to God’s will” and attacks atheists as people “who think they are smarter than God.”

The church’s Web site even condemns TV talk show host Oprah Winfrey for promoting “a spirituality that is at fundamental odds with the historical biblical faith.”

“Graduation should be a joyous occasion for all students and their families,” said AU Senior Litigation Counsel Alex J. Luchenitser, who argued the suit before Judge Clevert on May 29. “We’re disappointed that students in these schools will have to submit to a religious environment, where they continuously face an enormous Christian cross, as the price of attending their own graduations.”

Added Luchenitser, “We will continue our fight to stop schools from forcing students to go to church in order to graduate with their classmates. We are optimistic that higher courts will declare this practice unconstitutional in the future.”

AU submitted documents to the court showing that there were at least 11 secular venues in the area that could accommodate the graduation ceremonies, some of which are used by other local high schools. As of the May 29 hearing, six of those venues were still available for the June 6 and 7 graduations, including the Wisconsin Exposition Center, which can seat 4,000 people.

The complaint and preliminary injunction papers in the lawsuit were drafted by Luchenitser and AU Madison Fellows Elizabeth J. Stevens and Jef Klazen, in conjunction with AU Legal Director Ayesha N. Khan. James H. Hall Jr. and F. Thomas Olson of the Milwaukee civil-rights firm Hall Legal, S.C., are serving as co-counsel in the case.

(Students and parents of students in the Mukwonago School District, which also holds graduations at Elmbrook Church but is not currently a defendant in the lawsuit, are encouraged to contact Americans United at if they object to the church graduations.)

Monday, June 1, 2009

Killing Of Dr. George Tiller Is ‘Affront To Every Moral System Imaginable,’ Says AU’s Lynn

June 1, 2009

Killing Of Dr. George Tiller Is ‘Affront To Every Moral System Imaginable,’ Says AU’s Lynn

Americans United for Separation of Church and State today deplored the murder of a Kansas doctor nationally known for his work on behalf of women’s reproductive rights.

Dr. George Tiller was shot dead Sunday morning while serving as an usher at Reformation Lutheran Church in Wichita, Kan.

“The murder of Dr. Tiller is an affront to every moral system imaginable,” said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, Americans United executive director. “He had worked relentlessly to preserve the guarantee that women could make their own medical and ethical decisions. Our deepest sympathies go to his family, friends and patients.”

Tiller, who provided abortions to women with problem pregnancies, has been the target of a vicious – and sometimes violent – campaign by extreme Religious Right activists who want to ban all abortions in keeping with their doctrinal mandates.

Levitating Over The Church-State Wall?

The May 2009 issue is available online:

Levitating Over The Church-State Wall?
Hollywood Celebrities, Ex-Beatles Join Forces To Push Transcendental Meditation In Public Schools