Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Copenhagen Declaration on Religion in Public Life

Copenhagen Declaration on Religion in Public Life

June, 2010


Sectarian Prayer At Delaware School Board Meetings Violates Church-State Separation, Groups Tell Appeals Court

June 29, 2010

Indian River School District’s Christian Invocations Violate Constitution, Civil Liberties And Religious Organizations Say

A Delaware school board’s practice of opening its meetings with Christian prayers violates the constitutional separation of church and state, seven religious and civil liberties groups have told a federal appeals court.

A friend-of-the-court brief filed with the 3rd U.S. Circuit of Appeals yesterday says a federal district judge got it wrong when he ruled in favor of sectarian invocations before meetings of the Indian River School District’s board.

Groups signing the brief include Americans United for Separation of Church and State, the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Delaware, People For the American Way Foundation, the American Jewish Committee, the Union for Reform Judaism and the Hindu American Foundation.

The Rev. Barry W. Lynn, Americans United executive director, said public school boards have a responsibility to obey the Constitution and respect diversity.

“Public school boards,” said Lynn, “serve students of many different faiths and some with no religious affiliation at all. School board meetings, which are often attended by students, should not feature invocations that leave some students out.”

A federal district court upheld the school board’s prayer policy, noting that the Supreme Court in its 1983 Marsh v. Chambers decision allowed Congress and state legislatures to open their meetings with prayer.

But the seven organizations said the Marsh ruling does not apply to school boards. Public schools serve impressionable children, the groups say, and the high court has repeatedly barred school-sponsored efforts to pressure students to pray.

Even if Marsh did apply to school boards, the brief argues, the Indian River school board policy would still be unconstitutional because the prayers are sectarian. The high court’s 1983 decision focused on nonsectarian invocations before the Nebraska legislature.

The friend-of-the-court brief in Doe v. Indian River School District was written by Americans United Legal Director Ayesha N. Khan and attorney Michael A. Blank, in consultation with Dan Mach and Heather Weaver of the ACLU.

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.

friend-of-the-court letter in pdf file:

complete at:

Monday, June 28, 2010

Americans United Applauds Supreme Court Ruling Against Discriminatory Religious Club At Law School

June 28, 2010

Church-State Watchdog Group Says High Court Was Right To Rule Against Christian Legal Society Affiliate

Americans United for Separation of Church and State praised today’s Supreme Court ruling upholding a policy at Hastings College of the Law that prohibits school-subsidized student clubs from engaging in religious discrimination.

“This decision is a huge step forward for fundamental fairness and equal treatment,” said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United.

Continued Lynn, “Religious discrimination is wrong, and a public school should be able to take steps to eradicate it. Today’s court ruling makes it easier for colleges and universities to do that.”

The case concerns a student chapter of the Christian Legal Society (CLS) at Hastings, a division of the University of California. The club sued the San Francisco school after it was denied official university recognition and funding.

Hastings administrators said the CLS chapter violated school policies by denying membership and officer positions to non-Christians, gays and others who run afoul of CLS’s faith statement. (Although the club was denied official recognition and access to student activity fees, it was still permitted to meet on campus and advertise its events.)

In a 5-4 ruling, the Supreme Court held that Hastings is within its rights to apply a non-discrimination policy to the Christian Legal Society.

“Simply stated, the Christian Legal Society sought to ignore rules that every other group complied with,” Lynn said. “The organization sought preferential treatment simply because it is religious. I’m pleased the court said no to that.”

AU filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the Christian Legal Society v. Martinez case along with the American Jewish Committee and the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, asking the high court to rule against discrimination.

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.

pdf file SCOTUS ruling:

pdf file AU amicus brief:

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Americans United Urges Senate Panel To Question Kagan On Church-State Views

June 23, 2010

Watchdog Group Expresses Concern About Kagan’s Record On Religious Liberty And Civil Rights, As Well As Funding Of Religion

Americans United for Separation of Church and State today urged the Senate Judiciary Committee to question Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan about her views on crucial religious liberty issues.

In a letter to Committee Chairman Sen. Patrick Leahy and ranking minority member Sen. Jeff Sessions, Americans United asked senators to question Kagan about specific records stemming from her service in the Clinton administration and her testimony to the Senate during her confirmation hearing as solicitor general.

Read the letter in PDF at this link:

Kagan, AU insisted, should be asked whether religious liberty claims outweigh civil rights protections and under what circumstances government can fund religious groups.

The Rev. Barry W. Lynn, Americans United executive director, said he hopes the committee accepts its responsibility to question Kagan on her church-state perspective.

“It is imperative,” said Lynn, “that senators ask Kagan about her stance on religious liberty. We have carefully researched her record, and there are issues that raise concern. I think she should have the opportunity to clarify exactly what her views are.

“Religious liberty should not be used as a sword to override civil rights laws that protect all Americans,” Lynn continued, “and the government should not use taxpayer dollars to fund religion. That’s what the Constitution mandates, and I hope Kagan shares that perspective.”

Confirmation hearings for Kagan are scheduled to begin on Monday.

AU pointed to specific incidents from Kagan’s record:

■In August 1996, while working for the White House, Kagan expressed dismay about a California Supreme Court decision that required a landlord to rent an apartment to an unmarried couple – in accordance with California civil rights law – in spite of the landlord’s religious objections. Kagan said the court’s decision to say that the civil rights law did not substantially burden the landlord’s religion was “quite outrageous” and encouraged administration intervention.

■In May 1999, Kagan advised Vice President Al Gore’s staff not to mention the Religious Freedom Restoration Act in a speech, because this law and a follow-on bill in Congress had sparked conflict between religious liberty advocates and the LGBT community. Kagan said she was the “biggest fan of [the measure] in the building” but insisted that mention of the bill could cause political problems and explained that the White House was trying to seek some kind of agreement between the communities.

■In 1995, Congress passed a major welfare reform bill that included “charitable choice” provisions inviting religious groups to offer publicly funded social services with fewer constitutional and civil rights safeguards. The Department of Justice wanted to add a provision barring funding of “pervasively sectarian” organizations as part of a technical corrections package. Kagan wrote in a memo that the Justice proposal didn’t make it into the package and the Department of Health and Human Services “isn’t arguing. Neither am I.”

■In 1997, Kagan commented on a Clinton proposal to subsidize volunteers working with religious groups. In her memo, she acknowledged that the legislation could at “the very least” include partnerships with programs that are not pervasively sectarian, but that she would like to find legislative language that “stretches the envelope still further.”

■As a clerk for Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall in 1987, Kagan wrote a memo about government funding for religious groups to offer instruction about adolescent sexuality and pregnancy. She asserted that “when the government funding is to be used for projects so close to the central concerns of religion, all religious organizations should be off limits.” Yet when asked about that memorandum during the 2009 Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on her nomination to be solicitor general of the United States, Kagan described the rationale in her memorandum as “the dumbest thing I’ve ever read.” She later said the memo was “deeply mistaken” and “utterly wrong.” She noted, however, that “the use of a grant in a particular way by a particular religious organization might constitute a violation” if the funds were used to fund “specifically religious activity.”

Concluded AU’s Lynn,
“Kagan may simply have been carrying out what she perceived to be the policy of the administrations she worked for. These may not have been her personal opinions. One way or the other, however, we need to know what her church-state philosophy is.”

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.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

IRS Should Investigate South Dakota Church That Endorsed Gubernatorial Candidate,

IRS Should Investigate South Dakota Church That Endorsed Gubernatorial Candidate,

June 10, 2010

Watchdog Group Says Baptist Pastor’s Pulpit Endorsement Violates Federal Tax Law

Americans United for Separation of Church and State today filed a complaint with the Internal Revenue Service about a Rapid City, S.D., church whose pastor endorsed a gubernatorial candidate during a church service.

The Rev. H. Wayne Williams, pastor of Liberty Baptist Tabernacle, endorsed state Sen. Gordon Howie, who was seeking the Republican nomination for governor. Williams’ May 16 endorsement from the pulpit was reported in a press release by the Howie campaign and in the Rapid City Journal.

“This church is tax exempt and may not intervene in elections,” said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. “

In a letter to the IRS today, Lynn outlined the case against Liberty Baptist. He noted that Howie’s campaign issued a press release on May 18 trumpeting the endorsement. In that press release, Williams stated, “I have no fear of the I.R.S.”

The Williams endorsement was also reported by the Journal on May 23.

In addition, an Americans United staff member called Williams to discuss the matter on June 8. During that conversation, Williams confirmed his in-church endorsement and asserted that his church is not accountable to the IRS.

Lynn said such flagrant disobedience of the law should not be ignored.

“Pastor Williams is thumbing his nose at the Internal Revenue Service,” said Lynn. “The facts are not in dispute, and the IRS should take action.”

Americans United runs a special program called Project Fair Play. The project aims to educate clergy and citizens about the requirements of federal law and the ban on politicking by tax-exempt entities.

As part of the project, Americans United files complaints to the IRS about houses of worship and religious non-profits that flout the law.

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.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Connecticut Schools' Plan To Hold Graduations In Church Is Ruled Unconstitutional

Ceremonies Must Be Held In Nonreligious Venue Following Challenge By Americans United and ACLU

May 31, 2010

ENFIELD, CT A federal judge has declared that the Enfield Public Schools' plan to hold high school graduation ceremonies at a Christian church is unconstitutional, and has ordered the school board to find an alternative venue. The graduation plans were challenged in court by Americans United for Separation of Church and State, the ACLU of Connecticut and the American Civil Liberties Union.

The complaint pointed out that there are many secular facilities in the area that the Enfield Schools could use, including a number that compare favorably to the cathedral in terms of cost, size and distance from Enfield. At least three of those facilities have been holding open the June 23 and 24 dates of the graduations for the Enfield Schools just in case the venue needed to be changed.

"The court's ruling will ensure that no student or parent has to choose between missing their own graduation and being subjected to a religious environment of a faith to which they do not subscribe," said Americans United Senior Litigation Counsel Alex J. Luchenitser.
"It is unconstitutional and wrong for a school district to subject students and families to religious messages as the price of attending graduation."

The groups brought the legal action on behalf of two Enfield High School seniors and three of their parents. The lawsuit challenged plans to hold commencement at First Cathedral, a Bloomfield church replete with religious signs and symbols, including at least three large crosses that could not be covered or removed for graduation.

"We are pleased that the court has found that holding a public high school graduation ceremony in an overtly religious setting is inappropriate when comparable secular facilities are available," said Andrew Schneider, Executive Director of the ACLU of Connecticut. "The Enfield Schools' plan to hold the ceremonies in a church created an unnecessary divisive atmosphere for what should be a positive and inclusive event for all students."

Read the full press release at