Wednesday, January 30, 2013

American Workers’ Access To Birth Control Must Not Be Subject To Employers’ Religion, Says Americans United


Church-State Watchdog Group Urges Appeals Court To Uphold Obama Administration’s Contraceptive Mandate

American workers’ access to birth control should not be subject to their employers’ religious beliefs, Americans United for Separation of Church and State has told a federal appeals court.
In a friend-of-the-court brief, Americans United urged the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to uphold the Obama administration’s contraceptive mandate, which requires most businesses to provide workers with a health insurance that includes no-cost birth control.
Several businesses, represented by Religious Right legal groups, have filed lawsuits contending that they have a religious liberty right to refuse to comply with the mandate, a federal regulation issued in conjunction with the Affordable Care Act.
Americans United disagrees.
“The decision to use birth control must rest with the individual,” said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, Americans United executive director. “We simply can’t have a health care system in which Americans’ access to contraception varies depending on where the boss goes to church.”
The case, Newland v. Sebelius, concerns a Colorado firm called Hercules Industries that manufactures heating and air conditioning equipment. The company’s owners say they have religious objections to artificial contraceptives and are arguing that a 1993 federal law, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, frees them from providing it to employees, even indirectly.
Americans United says the company has misconstrued the law. In the brief, AU argues that the firm’s owners don’t suffer a substantial burden because some employees might choose to use birth control.
“An exemption for [Hercules’ owners] would significantly burden Hercules Industries’s employees – many of whom do not share Plaintiffs’ religious beliefs – by making it more difficult, and sometimes impossible, for them to obtain contraception,” asserts the brief.

The brief goes on to assert, “[Hercules owners] have every right to refrain from using contraception and to attempt to persuade others to do the same. But once they enter the secular market for labor to staff their secular, for-profit corporation, they may not force their religious choices on their employees, who are entitled to make their own ‘personal decisions relating to marriage, procreation, contraception, family relationships, [and] child rearing.’”
The brief was drafted by Americans United Legal Director Ayesha N. Khan, Senior Litigation Counsel Gregory M. Lipper, and Madison Fellow Ben Hazelwood.
Other groups signing the brief are Women of Reform Judaism, the Hindu American Foundation, the Union for Reform Judaism and the Central Conference of American Rabbis.
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.

Program for Legislative Preview

You can view the text of these and any other bills you'd be interested in by going to and just type in the bill number, i.e. HB nnnn or SB nnnn.

You can locate any bill introduced for this year's session by clicking on the Legislation tab at the top of the website at  then making the appropriate selection.

The other tabs give you information about many of the functions and public access to important committee membership roles, committee meetings, and contact information about all the legislators.

We will have a limited supply of paper copies of the small sampling of introduced bills we've selected for this year's Preview.  Over 1,100 were introduced in the Senate and over 1,300 in the House.  Live video is available when the Senate and House are in session as well as some committee meetings.  Review the  website for details.

The Belle Isle Library is wi-fi ready so feel free to bring your online devices.  No library card is needed.

The sponsoring legislator's name below is hot-linked so you can see more information about him or her.

Americans United for Separation of Church and State
Oklahoma City Chapter,
Fourth Annual Legislative Preview
Saturday, February 2, 2013
Belle Isle Public Library, 5501 N. Villa
Oklahoma City, OK
10:00am to 12:00pm
---Separating Fact from Emotion---
James Nimmo, communications chair
How a Bill Becomes a Law—or Not
John Loghry, chapter president
State of the State


SJR 31 – A Joint refer to the people...a proposed amendment to the Oklahoma Constitution, prohibiting discrimination or penalization for refusing to provide certain health insurance coverage if it is contrary to religious or moral beliefs;
Sen. Bill Brown, District 36
Aimee Breeze, chapter vice-president

HB 1456 – Religious viewpoint anti-discrimination act An Act relating to schools; creating the Religious Viewpoints Anti-discrimination Act; requiring school districts to treat student expression in certain manner; Rep. Mike Reynolds, District 91

SB 175--An Act relating to rape ...which relates to the definition of rape; modifying definition; Sen. (Mrs.) A J Griffin, District 20
Damion Reinhardt, chapter treasurer

HB 1025 --An Act ...creating the Protection of Human Life Rep. Mike Reynolds, District 91
HB 1029-- An Act...creating the Personhood Act of 2013 Rep. Mike Reynolds, District 91
Mike Fuller, immediate past president

SB 758--An Act relating to school curriculum; creating the Oklahoma Science Education Act;...providing for the creation of a school environment that encourages the exploration of scientific theories; allowing teachers to help students analyze certain scientific strengths and weaknesses; Sen. Josh Brecheen, District 6

HB 1674 --An Act relating to schools; creating the Scientific Education and Academic Freedom Act;...directing State Board of create certain environment within schools; permitting teachers to help students understand certain information about scientific theories; disallowing State Board of Education...from prohibiting teachers from helping students understand certain information about scientific theories; providing for evaluation of students based on understanding of course materials; prohibiting penalizing of students for holding certain position on scientific theories; prohibiting certain construction; stating intent; directing State Department of Education to provide certain notification; directing superintendents to disseminate certain information; Rep. Gus Blackwell, District 61
Chas Stewart, chapter secretary

Friday, January 25, 2013

‘School Choice Week’ Promotes Vouchers, Undermines Public Schools, Says Americans United


Religious/Private Schools Have The ‘Choice,’ But Want Taxpayers To Foot The Bill, Says AU’s Lynn

Sectarian lobbies and right-wing interest groups are waging war on the public school system, and “National School Choice Week” is part of that effort, according to Americans United for Separation of Church and State.
From Jan. 27-Feb. 2, pro-private school forces are sponsoring hundreds of events around the country that supposedly promote “effective education options for every child.” In fact, civil liberties advocates say the real goal is enactment of voucher schemes that undercut public schools and subsidize religious and other private schools with taxpayer dollars.
Event sponsors include the Heritage Foundation, the National Catholic Educational Association, the American Legislative Exchange Council and Betsy DeVos’ Alliance for School Choice.
Said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, Americans United executive director, “No one should be fooled. This is a carefully orchestrated propaganda exercise to promote voucher aid to religious and other private schools.

“This isn’t about ‘choice,’” he continued. “It’s about diverting taxpayer dollars from the public schools to private schools that are free to discriminate and indoctrinate. With vouchers, it’s private school authorities, not parents, who have the choice.”
Lynn noted that aggressive voucher crusades are expected in legislatures in Tennessee, Texas, Mississippi, North Carolina, Alaska, Indiana, Maine and other states.
Lynn said repeated studies have shown that voucher students perform no better academically than their public school counterparts, yet sectarian and ideological interests are still demanding that taxpayers subsidize private school tuition.
Voters in 24 state referenda have overwhelmingly rejected proposals intended to divert public dollars to private schools.
For more information about the myriad problems with vouchers and other “school choice” schemes, visit AU’s special Web page: voucherFAIL
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.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Free Screening: The Revisonaries

AOK will be hosting our first ever film screening.
Thanks to the generous donations of several AOK members, we were able to purchase the rights to show this film, and bring it to you free of charge.

"The theory of evolution and a re-write of US history are caught in the crosshairs when an unabashed creationist seeks re-election as
chairman of America's most influential board of education."

The UCO Constitution Hall can be found inside the Nigh University building. That building is the largest building on campus, and is designated as building 34 on the map in the link below. Enter through the east entrance.
Parking is free on the lots just east of the building.

Please join us at the UCO Constitution Hall Theater for The Revisionaries.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Americans United, ACLU Challenge New Hampshire State Funding Of Religious Schools

Schools Organizations Say Tuition Tax-Credit Program Violates New Hampshire Constitution

Three civil liberties organizations filed suit today in Strafford County, N.H., Superior Court to challenge a statewide tuition tax-credit program that would subsidize private religious schools.
Americans United for Separation of Church and State, the New Hampshire Civil Liberties Union, and the American Civil Liberties Union sued on behalf of eight plaintiffs, including clergy, public education advocates, and parents of public school children. They assert that the Education Tax Credit Program would divert taxpayer funds to religious schools in violation of the state constitution.
The program allows businesses to reduce their tax liability by receiving an 85 percent tax credit in exchange for donations made to K-12 scholarship organizations, which will pay for tuition at religious and other private schools.  Since there will be no state oversight of the schools receiving scholarship monies, religious schools will be able to use the funds for religious instruction, indoctrination and discrimination.
The Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, said, “This is just a backdoor voucher scheme. Whether it’s through a traditional voucher or a tax credit, the result is the same:  Taxpayers are subsidizing religious instruction.”
Alex J. Luchenitser, associate legal director at Americans United and lead counsel in the case, added: “This program is an attempt to circumvent the law, and it is doomed to fail. The New Hampshire Constitution plainly bars this cockamamie scheme.”
Barbara R. Keshen, staff attorney for the New Hampshire Civil Liberties Union, further explained: “A robust respect for the separation of church and state is vital to protecting the religious freedom of all New Hampshire citizens.  That’s why our state Constitution contains several provisions intended to prevent this type of program.”
The program, passed by the New Hampshire legislature last year, took effect on January 1, 2013.  It allows up to $3.4 million in tax credits to be claimed in the first year and $5.1 million during its second year.  It provides for additional increases in tax credits for subsequent years. The lawsuit asks the Court to declare the tax-credit program unlawful and block the State from implementing it.
Heather L. Weaver, staff attorney for the ACLU Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief, said, “The New Hampshire program is similar to other tax-credit programs proposed across the country.  These troubling programs cannot be allowed to stand because they erode bedrock religious liberty principles.”
The plaintiffs in Duncan, et al. v. State of New Hampshire include public education advocate Bill Duncan, United Church of Christ minister Richard Stuart, retired public school librarian Ruth Stuart, state legislator Rebecca Emerson, public school teacher Charles Rhoades, and retired Unitarian Universalist minister Homer Goddard.
In addition to Luchenitser, Keshen and Weaver, the attorneys representing the plaintiffs include Americans United Legal Director Ayesha N. Khan and Steven Gey Fellow Randall Maas (admitted in Massachusetts only, supervised by Luchenitser), as well as ACLU Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief Director Daniel Mach.
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, January 12, 2013

Fourth Annual Legislative Bill Preview

Americans United for Separation of Church & State
Oklahoma City Chapter
Fourth Annual Legislative Bill Preview
Saturday, February 2, 2013
10:00am to noon
Belle Isle Library, 5501 N. Villa, OKC
Between Penn & May on NW Highway
Presentation and Discussion of Bills Impacting
Your Right to Freedom of and From Religion
More information: James Nimmo

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Obama Signs Defense Authorization Act Including Religious-Freedom Exemption

clip  Section 533 of NDAA requires the Armed Forces to accommodate the religious principles of all members of the military. In the right hands, that would just mean allowing service members to practice the faith of their choosing—as they currently can.

In the wrong hands, though, it could be used as a weapon: The American Constitution Society for Law and Policy claims Section 533 is “unprecedented, sweeping, and could invite dangerous claims of a right to discriminate against not just lesbian, gay, and bisexual service members, but also women, religious minorities, and in the provision of health care.”

We can thank Rep. Todd “Legitimate Rape” Akin for 533, by the way: the House Armed Services Committee approved an amendment to NDAA he pitched that specifically required beliefs  “concerning the appropriate and inappropriate expression of human sexuality” to be accommodated.

Full story here:


Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Time For A New Hobby?: Craft Company Seeks Right To Make Moral Decisions For It Employees

Time For A New Hobby?: Craft Company Seeks Right To Make Moral Decisions For It Employees

Religious liberty gives you the right to make decisions for yourself, not others.

If you’re into crafts, scrapbooking, home improvement or even building model kits, you might be familiar with Hobby Lobby. The nationwide store chain sells a variety of products for fans of these and other pastimes.

What you might not know is that Hobby Lobby considers itself a religious enterprise. Its mission statement lays it right out. The firm’s goal is, “Honoring the Lord in all we do by operating the company in a manner consistent with Biblical principles.”

This wouldn’t be a problem in many cases. But Hobby Lobby has decided that its business plan of glorifying God is in conflict with federal law. And it has decided it has a right not to follow that law.
The fight is over the so-called “contraceptive mandate.”

You might recall that under the Affordable Care Act, most companies are now required to adopt a health insurance plan that includes no-cost birth control. The thinking was that since so many Americans use birth control (and birth-control pills have uses beyond preventing pregnancy) it is essential for good public health to include it in employee plans.

Houses of worship are exempt from the mandate. But firms like Hobby Lobby are not. After all, selling craft kits and acrylic paint is hardly a religious endeavor. The firm employees thousands of people all over the country, and all of them will lose an essential health service if Hobby Lobby prevails in court.

Things are not going well for the firm so far. A federal appeals court refused to grant the company an emergency order exempting it from the mandate. The company took the matter to the U.S. Supreme Court. Since this is a preliminary skirmish, the issue landed before Justice Sonia Sotomayor, not the entire court. Sotomayor rejected Hobby Lobby’s request for an injunction.

Just to be clear: This was preliminary legal battle over an injunction. Courts ruled that Hobby Lobby must comply with the mandate while it continues to pursue its legal claim in court. The case isn’t over.

And how did the firm react to this? It issued a statement vowing to ignore the law.

“They’re not going to comply with the mandate,” Kyle Duncan, general counsel of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, a Catholic-oriented legal group that is representing Hobby Lobby, said in a statement. “They’re not going to offer coverage for abortion-inducing drugs in the insurance plan.”

Under the law, companies that refuse to comply with the provisions of the Affordable Care Act can be fined. In Hobby Lobby’s case, the fines could exceed $1 million per day.

I say bring on the fines. Hobby Lobby exists to sell arts and craft supplies. Many of its employees, I would guess, are getting by on minimum wage. They have every right to a comprehensive health plan, one that leaves the decision of whether to use birth control where it belongs – in the hands of the individual.

The owners of Hobby Lobby obviously feel strongly that use of birth control is immoral. That’s fine. They should never be forced to use it. But they want more than that, much more. They want the right to make that decision for everyone in their employ. They seek the legal right to impose their religiously based view of birth control on those who don’t share it; they want to impose it on people who could very well be harmed by their inability to access contraceptives.

To Hobby Lobby’s owners, this is “religious freedom.” It’s not; it is a distortion of that principle. Religious liberty gives you the right to make decisions for yourself, not others.

The issue of the contraceptive mandate remains active in the federal courts. Last week, an appeals court, also acting on a request for an injunction, ruled in favor of a religious employer.

As the cases bubble up to the appeals court level, we might start to see more clarity from the courts. Americans United recently filed an amicus brief in case pending before the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, advising the court not to grant a Missouri mining company the right to impose the owner’s religious views on employees.

Many legal observers believe this matter could end up at the Supreme Court. Perhaps so. It hasn’t yet, and until it does, firms like Hobby Lobby are expected to obey the law. If they won’t, if they believe they have some sort of divine right to make decisions for others, they had better be prepared to bust out their checkbooks.