Monday, February 27, 2012

Second Annual Hot-Button Debate

 graphic from
For Immediate Release
OKC Chapter of Americans United for Separation of Church & State
Monday, March 5, 2012
Contact: James Nimmo, Communications Chair, 405-843-3651 james. nimmo @ gmail. com
OK Americans United 2nd Annual Hot Button Debate – 
Teaching Intelligent Design

What:    OKC Chapter of Americans United 2nd Annual Hot-Button Debate - 
“Intelligent Design should be taught in public school science classrooms".
When: Thursday, March 15, 2012, 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.
Where: Oklahoma City Community College, 7777 S. May, OKC, OK  
Parking Area "D" - Entrance "CU1", Rooms CU2 and CU3
Who: OKC Chapter of Americans United for Church & State and the public!

(OKLAHOMA CITY)  The Oklahoma City chapter of Americans United for Separation of Church and State will host its second annual hot-button debate on Thursday, March 15, 2012, from 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. The event debating the resolution  "Intelligent Design should be taught in public school science classrooms," will be held on the campus of Oklahoma City Community College (OCCC), 7777 S. May, in Rooms CU2 and CU3.

James Nimmo, OK-AU Communications Chair said, "One task of Americans United is to offer educational opportunities for hot-button issues involving First Amendment state/church separation.  All Americans are free to exercise their private beliefs with others who share them.  However, to impose those private beliefs, through the power of law or with tax money, on others who have different beliefs is not in the spirit or the letter of the First Amendment."

Event debater Abbie Smith will be voicing opposition to the resolution: "Intelligent Design should be taught in public school science classrooms".

Ms. Smith is a graduate student studying the molecular and biochemical evolution of HIV within patients and within populations. She also studies epigenetic control of endogenous retroviruses (ERV). Smith has a BS in Biology from Truman State and is currently finishing her Ph.D in Microbiology and Immunology at Oklahoma University.

Debating in favor of the resolution will be Dr. Steve Kern of Olivet Baptist Church in Oklahoma City.  Dr. Kern was in the opposing position at the 2011 debate where the resolution was whether the United States was established as a Christian nation.  Dr. Kern is married to Oklahoma State Representative Sally Kern.  For more information visit www. olivetbaptistokc. com

Intelligent design parallels, but is not identical to creation science. It is the view that there is scientific evidence to support the Biblical Genesis account of the creation of the earth and of life.

Event moderator will be Rev. Jim Shields, board member of the Interfaith Alliance of Oklahoma.  This debate is a free educational public event and all are invited to attend regardless of religious, political, or scientific viewpoints.

Recommended parking is at Area “D” - Entrance “CU1” - Rooms CU2 and CU3. 

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. 

For more information about the Oklahoma City Chapter of Americans for Separation of Church and State please visit or contact  James Nimmo at 405-843-3651.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Constitutionally Separate

Photo of Jefferson's draft of letter to the Danbury Baptists

Church-state separation language in state constitutions is under fire.
by Rob Boston

Heads up, residents of Oklahoma: There’s a move afoot to strip your state constitution of its strong language protecting separation of church and state.

Rep. Jason Nelson, an Oklahoma City Republican, has proposed a ballot initiative that would ask voters to remove Article 2, Section 5, of the state constitution. This just happens to be the part of the constitution that separates religion and government.

Oklahoma, like a lot of states, has very specific church-state language. The provision in question states, “No public money or property shall ever be appropriated, applied, donated, or used, directly or indirectly, for the use, benefit, or support of any sect, church, denomination, or system of religion, or for the use, benefit, or support of any priest, preacher, minister, or other religious teacher or dignitary, or sectarian institution as such.”

Nelson and his allies want to remove this provision to clear the way for voucher subsidies for religious and other private schools. The Rules Committee has already passed House Joint Resolution 1081 by an 11-1 vote, and now it faces a vote in the full House.

Americans United is speaking out and has written letter to state officials, urging them to oppose the change.

Those of you outside of Oklahoma should be concerned as well. Across the country, state constitutional church-state provisions are under attack. In Florida, the issue will appear on the ballot this November. Proponents there tried to rig the language to make the change sound benign. Americans United and its allies stopped that, but that vote goes on.

Americans United is working to defend church-state provisions in Georgia, Alaska and Missouri. The problem could surface elsewhere.

In 2002, the U.S. Supreme Court let us down when it upheld Ohio’s voucher plan aimed at the city of Cleveland. Since then, advocates of church-state separation have relied on state constitutional provisions to knock down vouchers in some states.
The right wing has seen these victories and realizes that state constitutions are an important second line of defense in protecting taxpayers from mandatory support for religion. Their answer is to attack those provisions.

The irony is rich. The Religious Right, which so often claims to revere tradition, is willing to trash the basic freedoms found in state constitutions to promote its goal of taxing everyone to pay for the religious education of a few.

Stay alert. This is a nationwide problem. Your state may be next.

OK GAZETTE: Evolving debate

Our OKC chapter of Americans United is following this bill because it introduces the Trojan horse of intelligent design/creationism into public school science classrooms.

Our chapter president, John Loghry is quoted in the story.

"Seems like it comes up a little watered-down this time,” Loghry said. “They seem to be learning from mistakes. They said it’s not about intelligent design, but it is. Introducing this really puts us on a slippery slope."
Loghry said measures such as SB 1742 are not new, nor is their opposition.
Genesis is not science and does not need to be history,” he said. “A great amount of people know the Genesis story. They also know it’s not historically correct. And there are other creation myths that are outside of intelligent design. School should be securely sacred from religion.”
You can read the complete story here:

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Ding, dong, the bill is dead--Indeed they do appear to live in the land of Oz

No matter how Indiana lawmakers tried to modify the bill, there was no getting around the fact that it was blatantly unconstitutional.

Ding, dong, the bill is dead, the creationism bill is dead!

Indiana House Speaker Brian Bosma has decided to table legislation that would have mandated the teaching of “creation science” in public schools. The bill had passed the Indiana Senate, albeit with a modification requiring the teaching of other theories on the origins of life on Earth from several religions, including Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism and Scientology.  

The problem was that no matter how Indiana lawmakers tried to modify the bill, there was no getting around the fact that it was blatantly unconstitutional.

Did Bosma have a change of heart and realize that creationism has no place in public schools? Nothing of the sort. He simply realized that a little thing called the U.S. Supreme Court was in his way.  

“It seemed to me not to be a productive discussion, particularly in light that there is a United States Supreme Court case that appears to be on point that very similar language is counter to the constitution,” Bosma said, according to the Indianapolis Star. “It looked to me to be buying a lawsuit when the state can ill afford it.”

Bosma is, surprisingly, correct on both those points.

The U.S. Supreme Court has been very clear on “creation science.” In the 1987 case of Edwards v. Aguillard, the justices struck down a Louisiana law requiring the public schools to teach creationism alongside evolution. The law’s intent, the court said, was to promote the teachings of certain religious denominations.

Lawsuits definitely aren’t cheap. An attorney for the city of Cranston, R.I., estimated recently that taking a lawsuit over a public school prayer banner to the Supreme Court would cost around $700,000 for the entire process.   

In spite of the many reasons to abandon the creationism bill, which has been introduced multiple times by Sen. Dennis Kruse, we will probably see it again next year. Kruse has analyzed the makeup of the Supreme Court and he thinks the justices are ready to overturn Edwards v. Aguillard.   

“We have five pretty decent Supreme Court members who have been ruling pretty conservative on a lot of different things and they might have had a different ruling,” Kruse said, according to the Star.

That seems unlikely. Justice Anthony M. Kennedy isn’t usually on board with the promotion of religion in public schools, and even conservatives like Chief Justice John G. Roberts and Justice Samuel A. Alito might think creationism in public school science classes goes too far. Even if Kruse had a point, it would still cost the state of Indiana a lot of money to re-litigate the issue. If Indiana can’t afford the lawsuit this year, what makes Kruse think the state will be able to afford it next year?

Kruse seems to be obsessed with “creation science,” and he needs to give it up already. He has lost the fight. Besides, there is important legislative work to be done, which is where his focus needs to be.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Religious Liberty Does Not Grant A License To Deny The Rights Of Others, Americans United Tells Congressional Panel

Church-State Watchdog Group Argues Against Sweeping Exemptions For Religious Groups In Health Care Law’s Birth Control Mandate

February 16, 2012

Religiously affiliated organizations do not have a religious liberty right to deny their employees birth control coverage in health care plans, Americans United for Separation of Church and State told a congressional panel today.

In written testimony submitted today to the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United, rejected arguments by conservative activists that private employers have a “conscience” right to tailor health care plans to meet their theological beliefs.

“Women – not their employers – should be allowed to make decisions about their healthcare and their religious beliefs,” Lynn wrote in the testimony. “A woman may not share the religious beliefs of their employer or practice religion in exactly the same way her employer does. It is the woman’s right to exercise her religion freely and make her own decisions about reproductive health, even if she is employed by an organization that holds a different position on these matters.”

Lynn warned that broad exemptions based on religious belief could result in employees being denied vital services.

“For example, an employer who works for an individual who believes the Bible proscribes blood transfusions could be denied coverage for that life saving procedure or services related to the procedure,” reads the testimony. “An employee who, in this tough job market, takes a job with an individual who opposes traditional medicine for religious reasons could be denied insurance that covers any service or item beyond prayer therapy. And, an employee who works for an adherent of Scientology could be denied most psychiatric services.”
Lynn’s written testimony noted that the birth control regulations promulgated by the Department of Health and Human Services exempt houses of worship. They cover only religiously affiliated entities such as hospitals, church colleges and social-service agencies. These agencies, Lynn noted, receive substantial taxpayer support and hire people from many different theological perspectives.

Under a compromise announced last week, religiously affiliated organizations do not have to pay directly for birth control. The costs will be shouldered by insurance companies, which will offer contraceptive coverage to women who want it. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and right-wing groups have denounced the compromise.

Lynn called the new rules reasonable.

“The separation of church and state means that the government will not force one religious view or doctrine upon the people,” Lynn’s testimony observes. “Expansion of the Obama compromise, however, would allow one particular religious doctrine to govern our public health policies at the expense of the health, safety, and religious conscience rights of the women they employ.”

Concludes the testimony, “The religious exemption compromise attempts to strike a balance and not promote the private interests of one religion over the conscience of employees. This rule allows women – not their employers – to make decisions about their healthcare and their religious beliefs.”


At a hearing today on “religious liberty” issues before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) mentioned Americans United Executive Director Barry W. Lynn, whom he suggested had been invited to appear as a witness.

The hearing examined issues related to a recent regulation issued by the Department of Health and Human Services to require religiously affiliated institutions to provide health care plans that include coverage of contraceptives to employees.

Americans United wishes to clarify the matter of Lynn’s appearance. Democrats on the panel originally contemplated asking Lynn to testify as their witness, but they ultimately decided to invite a female law student to represent them, asserting that the hearing should include a woman participant. Republicans on the committee, however, refused to allow her to appear.

Lynn issued the following statement:

“I was open to testify at today’s hearing, but I understand and support the minority’s decision to ask a woman to take part because this issue would affect women's access to contraceptives and the right to conscience. I appreciate that I was given the opportunity to provide written testimony. I am disappointed, however, by the imbalance on the panel and the lack of women's voices on an issue that has terrific impact on them. When the claim of ‘conscience’ by large religions collides with that of an individual woman, it is her right to make her own moral decision that must be saved.”

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.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Americans United Commends Obama Commitment To Birth Control Access, But Questions Continuing Political Power Of Sectarian Lobbies

Catholic Bishops, Religious Right Shouldn’t Get Veto Over Federal Health Care Policy, Says AU’s Lynn

February 10, 2012

The Obama administration’s continuing commitment to birth control access is commendable, but powerful religious and political forces are still trying to roll back women’s health care rights, says Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

The White House announced today that access to birth control will remain an important part of the health care reform plan. But some revisions to the plan will be made to meet the concerns of religiously affiliated institutions.

Said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, Americans United executive director, “I am glad that the president is still seeking to ensure that women have access to birth control, but Americans need to know that this battle isn’t over. Powerful sectarian lobbyists and their allies in Congress are still pushing to deny individual freedom.
“Right-wing members of Congress are pushing bills that would interfere with Americans’ access to birth control,” Lynn continued. “Americans who believe in individual freedom and church-state separation must make their voices heard.”
Added Lynn, “In a nation that separates religion and government, it is wrong to let the Catholic hierarchy and the Religious Right write laws that impose their theology. American women, including the 98 percent of Catholic women who have used birth control, have every right to be outraged by the disproportionate political influence of the handful of men who run the Catholic Church and the Religious Right.”

Lynn said he is also concerned that Americans not buy into the idea that individual religious freedom should give way to the interests of wealthy religious corporations.
“Church hospital systems and church-affiliated universities are big business,” Lynn said, “but that doesn’t mean they should override the rights of individual Americans. Why should the alleged ‘conscience rights’ of big religious corporations trump the legitimate conscience rights of individual Americans?”
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.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Oppose SB 1742

SB 1742 Is Another Attempt to Introduce Religion Into Science Classrooms

Although a seemingly innocuous term, “strengths and weaknesses” has been co-opted for decades by groups promoting the teaching of religion in the classroom. It is just one of many euphemisms, such as “teach the controversy,” “full range of scientific views,” “critical thinking,” and “evidence for and against,” used to undermine students’ learning about evolution. And implying that there is a scientific controversy around evolution, as this bill does, is just plain false.

Evolution “is the only tested, comprehensive scientific explanation for the nature of the biological world today that is supported by overwhelming evidence and widely accepted in the scientific community.” Thus, arguments that students should learn about “fundamental weaknesses in the science of evolution are unwarranted based on the overwhelming evidence that supports the theory” and will only harm students’ education. Science education policies, like SB 1742, which perpetuate the teaching of non-science with deceptive phrases like “scientific critique of the theory of evolution,” allow creationists to continue to make non-scientific attacks against evolution.

Religion Should Be Taught By the Family, Not In Science Classrooms

Science is “limited to the search for natural causes to explain natural phenomena.” The goals of science are narrow: Science cannot provide “‘ultimate’ explanations for the existence or characteristics of the natural world . . . [and it] does not consider issues of ‘meaning’ and ‘purpose’ in the world.” Rather, many people seek these important answers in religion.
Only families get to decide what religious beliefs they will teach to their children. And for many, disparaging evolution in order to promote creationism conflicts with their beliefs. Therefore, because “[f]amilies entrust public schools with the education of their children, but condition their trust on the understanding that the classroom will not purposely be used to advance religious views that may conflict with the private beliefs of the student and his or her family,” courts are “particularly vigilant in monitoring” whether religious beliefs are taught in public schools.

The Result of this Bill Will Be Costly Litigation

SB 1742 mischaracterizes the current status of legal challenges to the Louisiana law, upon which this bill is modeled. It is true that the Louisiana law has not yet been invalidated – but that is only because there has not been a facial challenge to the law. The Louisiana law – like SB 1742 – invites discussion of religious beliefs in the science classroom. The creationist strategy in this bill is an attempt to skirt the U.S. Constitution and federal court rulings prohibiting the teaching of creationism in public schools. The federal courts, including the U.S. Supreme Court, have consistently and repeatedly held that creationism in all its variations cannot be taught in public schools. Thus, when there is a challenge, either to the law itself or to its implementation, it will invariably be struck down after costly litigation.

Barbara Forrest, Understanding the Intelligent Design Creationist Movement: Its True Nature and Goals 19-22 (May 2007), available at

Nat’l Acad. of Scis. & Inst. of Med., Science, Evolution, & Creationism 53 (2008) (emphasis added), available at

Id. at 52.

Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District, 400 F. Supp. 2d 707, 735–36 (M.D. Pa. 2005). Americans United served as co-counsel in this case.

Id. at 735.

Edwards v. Aguillard, 482 U.S. 578, 584 (1987).

See Epperson v. Arkansas, 393 U.S. 97, 106 (1968) (striking down a state statute prohibiting the teaching of evolution in public schools, and explaining that “the First Amendment does not permit the State to require that teaching and learning must be tailored to the principles or prohibitions of any [religion].”); see also Edward, 482 U.S. 578, 591 (1987) (invalidating a Louisiana statute requiring the “balanced treatment” of evolution and “creation science” in the public schools and declaring the law unconstitutional because its “preeminent purpose . . . was clearly to advance the religious viewpoint that a supernatural being created humankind.”); see also Freiler v. Tangipahoa Parish Bd. of Educ., 185 F.3d 337, 348 (5th Cir. 1999) (striking down an oral disclaimer casting doubt on evolution and referring to “biblical” alternatives); Peloza v. Capistrano Unified Sch. Dist., 37 F.3d 517, 522 (9th Cir. 1994) (holding that a science teacher was properly required by his school district to teach evolution and refrain from discussing his religious views); Daniel v. Waters, 515 F.2d 485, 491 (6th Cir. 1975) (striking down statute requiring schools teaching evolution to devote equal time to other theories, including Biblical account of creation).

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Americans United Applauds Federal Appeals Court Ruling Against California’s Proposition 8

Americans’ Civil Rights Should Not Be Subject To Whims Of Religious Majorities, Says Watchdog Group

A federal appeals court made the right call today in striking down California’s Proposition 8, says Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

In its Perry v. Brown decision, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against Proposition 8, a measure that withdrew the civil marriage rights of same-sex couples in the state.

“No American’s right to marry should be subjected to a veto from aggressive and well-funded religious groups,” said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United, which filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the case. “Our nation is a democracy, not a theocracy. Our laws should reflect equality and fairness, not discrimination and intolerance.”
Added Lynn, “Opponents of same-sex marriage have been unable to muster any arguments other than it offends their theology. We have a secular government, and dogma should not and cannot be transformed into law.”

In a November 2008 referendum, voters narrowly approved Proposition 8, a ballot measure that revoked the right of same-sex couples to obtain civil marriages. The referendum was dominated by lavishly funded political front groups representing the Roman Catholic bishops, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the Mormons) and fundamentalist Protestant churches.

Americans United asserts that powerful religious interest groups must not be allowed to change civil marriage laws to reflect their doctrinal teachings.

Americans United filed its friend-of-the-court brief jointly with the Howard University School of Law Civil Rights Clinic. It notes that historically opponents of marriage rights for slaves and interracial couples argued that such unions were a threat to the social order and the institutions of marriage and family. Opponents also claimed that such marriages violated their interpretation of the Bible.

Observes the brief, “Even though reliance on religious doctrine as the basis for public policy is as improper today as it was in the days of anti-miscegenation laws, today opponents of marriage between two persons of the same sex use (their) Biblical interpretations to suggest that homosexuality is unnatural because it is against God’s will. Indeed, like their anti-miscegenationist counterparts, opponents of marriage for same-sex couples almost always attempt to clothe their arguments in literal and selective interpretations of the Bible.”

Today’s ruling is certain to be taken to the U.S. Supreme Court.
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.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Religious Employees of a Church Cannot Sue

WASHINGTON (AP) — In a groundbreaking case, the Supreme Court on Wednesday held for the first time that religious employees of a church cannot sue for employment discrimination.

But the court's unanimous decision in a case from Michigan did not specify the distinction between a secular employee, who can take advantage of the government's protection from discrimination and retaliation, and a religious employee, who can't.

It was, nevertheless, the first time the high court has acknowledged the existence of a "ministerial exception" to anti-discrimination laws — a doctrine developed in lower court rulings. This doctrine says the First Amendment's guarantee of freedom of religion shields churches and their operations from the reach of such protective laws when the issue involves employees of these institutions.