Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Watchdog Group Tells Court That Public Has Right To Question Bishops’ Restrictions On Program To Help Sex-Trafficking Victims

Watchdog Group Tells Court That Public Has Right To Question Bishops’ Restrictions On Program To Help Sex-Trafficking Victims

Oct 24, 2012

When the federal government lets a church group impose religious doctrine on a publicly funded program, taxpayers have the right to take the matter to court.

That’s the viewpoint put forward by Americans United for Separation of Church and State in a friend-of-the-court brief filed with the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals today.

The appeals court is considering a case in which the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) in 2006 gave the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops control over a program that helps sex-trafficking victims. The bishops’ conference then denied funding to other social service agencies unless they promised not to use the public dollars for abortion or contraceptive services.

The American Civil Liberties Union challenged the arrangement, saying it violated church-state separation and denied essential services to trafficking victims.

link to friend-of-the-court brief---

A federal district court ruled in the ACLU’s favor, but now the bishops’ conference and HHS are claiming that the case should be thrown out because taxpayers have no “standing” to bring matters like this into court.

Said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, Americans United executive director, “It is an outrage that the federal government allowed a church group to deny essential public services to hurting people on religious grounds. It would compound that outrage if concerned citizens were not allowed to bring this violation into court.”

In 2011, the federal government discontinued the bishops’ control of the program, but the lawsuit, ACLU of Massachusetts v. Sebelius, is still being argued and crucial church-state separation issues remain at stake.

The Americans United brief filed today asks the appeals court to uphold taxpayers’ right to challenge government grants that violate church-state separation.

“Ensuring that religion is supported privately, not by public funds, was a principal goal of the Founding Fathers when they included the Establishment Clause in the Bill of Rights,” the brief argues. “The arguments made by [the bishops’ conference and HHS] here would eviscerate that goal by closing courthouse doors on taxpayers who seek to vindicate it.”

In addition to Americans United, the brief was signed by the Anti-Defamation League, the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty and Hadassah, The Women’s Zionist Organization of America.

The brief was authored by AU Associate Legal Director Alex J. Luchenitser and Steven Gey Fellow Randall Maas (2012 law school graduate; not admitted to any bar), in consultation with AU Legal Director Ayesha N. Khan.

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, October 23, 2012

American History, Politics And The Religious Right

“As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion…” – Treaty of Tripoli , ratified by the Senate, June 7, 1797

The sheer number of people who are ignorant about the precepts, concepts and motivation behind the founding of the United States is mind-boggling. The lack of understanding about the purpose behind the American Revolutionary War is equally astounding.

They do not understand why we endured those bloody battles, the reasons we decided that we could no longer be part of the Monarchy of United Kingdom or why the Founding Fathers felt it mandatory to dissolve our connection with Britain’s history of repeated violations to the basic human rights of those under it’s rule at the time.

Contrary to what many believe, the American Revolution was not about taxes alone and it had nothing at all to do with establishing a Christian nation. As the Declaration so aptly states, it was about being deprived of such things as the benefits of trial by jury, for taking away our charters, abolishing our most valuable laws, and fundamentally altering the forms government without any input from the people. It was about the Crown suspending its own legislatures and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate in all cases. It was about the ability of the Monarchy to wage war on it’s own citizens and, without reservation, to plunder our seas, ravage our coasts, burn our towns, and destroy the lives of our ancestors without any judicial or legislative regulation.

Instead of recognizing the Declaration of Independence as an important document stating our insistence to individual freedom and a government of the people, by the people and for the people, it has been relegated by the religious right as a weapon to promote their desire to bring the United States back to a form of government that is almost identical to the one we originally fought so hard to be free of.

The sole purpose of the Declaration was to “dissolve the political bands,” not to set up a religious nation. Its authority is based on the idea that “governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,” which is contrary to the biblical concept of the Theocracy that the Religious Right seek to impose upon us.

Fundamentalist Christians work hard to convince us that the founding fathers intended to establish this country on “biblical principles.” History does not support this. Many of the men who signed the Declaration were not bible-believing Christians. This is reflected in the eventual adoption and ratification of the document that actually governs us, the US Constitution, which is a secular document that very purposely begins with “We the people” and does not contain any mention of God or Christianity. It should also be noted that the author of the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson, was a Deist who was vehemently opposed to orthodox Christianity and all things “supernatural.”

“I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should ‘make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,’ thus building a wall of separation between church and State” - Thomas Jefferson

The famous “wall of separation” quote that Thomas Jefferson wrote in a letter to the Danbury Baptists in 1802 also includes the statement that, “the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions.” Our government has no right to promulgate religion. The Supreme Court and lower courts have used Jefferson’s “wall of separation” phrase repeatedly in major decisions upholding neutrality in matters of religion.

The continued efforts of many secularists to remove the phrase “Under God” from the Pledge of Allegiance are very patriotic and true to the principles that our country was founded upon. Those words did not appear until 1954, under McCarthyism, which was not one our finest hours. Likewise, “In God We Trust” was absent from paper currency before 1956. Our original motto, chosen by John Adams, Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson was “E Pluribus Unum” (Of Many, One) and was meant to celebrate plurality, not theocracy.

The United States of America is not one nation under God, but one nation under a Constitution. The fact that a majority of our citizens are Christian does not make us a Christian nation. On constitutional matters, there is no “majority rule.” The majority has no right to tyrannize the minority on matters such as race, gender, or religious belief (or the lack of religious belief) and the wisest policy is the Constitutional one – neutrality.

The religious right are being decidedly unpatriotic in their quest to drive us back toward the Theocracy that our revolutionary soldiers spilled gallons of blood to be freed from. They are behaving like petulant, spoiled children and are blinded by their own ignorance. They seem to have forgotten that the “due process” clause in the Fourteenth Amendment assures no public official may violate the human rights embodied in our Constitution. At every level, the government must respect the separation of church and state.

Nobody is deprived of worship in America. Tax-exempt religious organizations are everywhere and the state has almost no say about private religious beliefs and practices.

Our laws are based on the humanist principle of “justice for all.” The religious fanatics are ignoring history, law and fairness in their efforts to turn America into the Christian nation that it never was. They would like nothing more than to deny the constitutional freedoms that are guaranteed to all Americans, including non-Christian religious minorities and unbelievers.

What the religious right refuses to acknowledge is that history shows only harm coming from the uniting church and state. The actions of the religious right are mirroring the tyranny of the eighteenth century British Monarchy, which only prove that ignorance of history results in its repetition. I find it ironic that the United States and the United Kingdom are slowly swapping ideologies. I know of many non-religious ex-patriots who have fled the United States due to being persecuted by the religious right for sanctuary in the United Kingdom. We are becoming more and more religious while the UK is becoming more and more secular humanist.

It cannot be stated emphatically enough or often enough that the United States of America has never been a Christian nation, nor was it founded on Christian or Biblical principles. It would do good for all of us to remember that the privileges we enjoy as citizens do not come from religion or any deity, but are guarantees that are set forth in our secular constitution.

There is no room in our government for the arrogance of religious belief. It clouds judgment, divides our citizenry, promotes hatred, thwarts scientific discovery, denigrate the human condition, is an affront to the collective of human intelligence and spawns bigotry, discrimination and inhumanity. When religion and government become one, the results are poisonous. Religious belief is not conducive of a free society where everyone is equal under the eyes of the law, and it was this truth that prompted the American Revolution (conspiracy theories, notwithstanding).

Americans United Urges IRS To Investigate Texas Church That Urged Votes For ‘The Mormon, Not The Muslim’

Church-State Watchdog Says Church Marquee Constituted Illegal Election Intervention

Oct 23, 2012

A Texas church that posted a marquee message urging people to “vote for the Mormon, not the Muslim” violated federal tax law and should suffer the consequences, Americans United for Separation of Church and State told the Internal Revenue Service today.

Ray Miller, pastor of the Church in the Valley in Leakey, Texas, posted the message on the church’s marquee. The full message read, “VOTE FOR THE MORMON, NOT THE MUSLIM! THE CAPITALIST, NOT THE COMMUNIST!”

Pictures of the sign have appeared on several news website and other sources. Miller told a Texas television station that he displayed the sign because “he feels strongly about the election.”

“This sign is a blatant attempt to intervene in a political campaign,” said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. “I urge the IRS to crack down on this over-the-top law-breaking.”

ABC News reported that the sign “was an obvious reference to President Barack Obama, who conservatives say is a secret Muslim even though he says he is a Christian and attends church with his family.” The “Mormon” reference is to Gov. Mitt Romney, a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

In a letter delivered to the IRS today, Lynn requested an investigation of the matter.

“Miller may indeed have strong feelings about the election, but that does not give him the right to use his tax-exempt church to endorse a candidate,” Lynn wrote to IRS officials. “In fact, Miller’s actions are a clear and flagrant violation of the law.”

Added Lynn, “Millions of Americans are aware that this church has openly violated the law, and many of them are asking what the IRS intends to do about it. Failure to act will only spur more houses of worship to ignore the law.”

Federal law prohibits 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organizations, which includes houses of worship, from intervening in elections.

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, October 18, 2012

Federal Appeals Court Declares “Defense of Marriage Act” Unconstitutional

Federal Appeals Court Declares “Defense of Marriage Act” Unconstitutional

concluding paragraph--

Our straightforward legal analysis sidesteps the fair

point that same-sex marriage is unknown to history and

tradition. But law (federal or state) is not concerned with

holy matrimony. Government deals with marriage

as a civil status--however fundamental--and New York has elected to

extend that status to same-sex couples. A state may enforce

and dissolve a couple’s marriage, but it cannot sanctify or

bless it. For that, the pair must go next door.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Richard Dawkins Asks Katherine Stewart a Question

Moderator's note:  Katherine Stewart appeared at our Chapter's 2012 Spring Dialogue.

Richard Dawkins Asks Katherine Stewart a Question

Richard Dawkins asks Katherine Stewart, the author of 'The Good News Club: The Christian Right's Stealth Assault on public schools.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Radical Rally: Religious Right Meets In Philadelphia To Demand ‘Christian Nation’


Pat Robertson really believes Jesus would scream at women entering abortion clinics, bash gays and watch Fox News.
A number of Religious Right groups held a rally in Philadelphia over the weekend to remind everyone that when it comes to religion, they’re right and the rest of us can go jump in the lake (of fire).

Headlining the event was TV preacher Pat Robertson of the Christian Broadcasting Network. Pat is now 82 but still pours on the crazy on a regular basis on his “700 Club.” After I wrote The Most Dangerous Man in America?: Pat Robertson and the Rise of the Christian Coalition in 1996, I considered issuing a type of annual supplement of every intolerance or insane thing Robertson said. I had to abandon the project when I realized I wouldn’t have time to do anything else.

An estimated 8,000-10,000 people attended the event on Independence Mall.
Here’s Bro. Pat’s money quote: “I don’t care what the ACLU says or any atheist says, this nation belongs to Jesus!”

Let’s deconstruct that a little bit. What Robertson is really saying here is that the nation belongs – not to Jesus – but to an interpretation of Jesus and his teachings favored by Christian fundamentalists.

There is quite a difference between those two concepts. I travel a lot for Americans United, and have had the privilege of meeting lots of different types of people over the years. AU members believe lots of different things about theology, and our membership spans the spectrum from atheist to devout believers of every stripe.

The Christians I’ve met also run the gamut and represent dozens, if not hundreds, of denominations. They include Catholics and a rich diversity of Protestants.

These folks believe in their faith as strongly as Robertson believes in his. They support separation of church and state and would never dream of trying to impose an officially “Christian America.” But if they did, it would look a lot different than the Christian America Robertson and his allies seek.

The Christians who align with AU are often animated by a sense of social justice. That is, their faith motivates them to work for racial equality, women’s rights and gay rights and to speak up for the least among us. They combat poverty, stand up for the oppressed around the world and demand equal access to opportunity for all.

All of that is anathema to the Religious Right. That movement is obsessed with restricting, not expanding, rights, so they obsesses over things like legal abortion, same-sex marriage, the role of religion in public life, the teaching of evolution in public schools and so on.

I’ve often thought that the moderate and liberal Christians I’ve met at AU gatherings and other forums wouldn’t even recognize Robertson’s Jesus. Pat’s Jesus is a bootstrap capitalist, and I suppose the Virginia Beach televangelist really believes his Jesus would scream at women entering abortion clinics, bash gays and watch Fox News.

The Jesus of liberal Christianity, who spoke constantly about caring for the poor and the downtrodden, is nowhere to be found in Robertson’s “Christian nation.” That’s because Robertson and his followers don’t seek a nation that “belongs to Jesus.” They seek a nation that belongs to a band of far-right would-be theocrats whose views come straight out of the Middle Ages.

One more thought on this rally: During Robertson’s speech, a man who obviously had some issues began screaming something about Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney. Robertson told the man to be quiet because “this is not political.”

Not political? The event was co-sponsored by groups like the Family Research Council, a wholly political entity that does nothing but shill for the GOP, and was described as 40 days of prayer that culminates – you guessed it – on Election Day. Yet it’s not political.

The fact is, everything the Religious Right does these days is political. This movement long ago elevated politics over prayer and ballots over the Bible. If these groups are praying for anything, it’s for a GOP victory in November.

Most Americans are not as gullible as Pat’s flock. We know what he and his cronies are after, and we realize that their vision of a Christian nation would leave millions of Americans out in the cold.
That’s why we – Christians, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, atheists, etc. – work together to make certain Pat’s dream never becomes our nightmare.