Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Mad Over Marriage

Mad Over Marriage: Religious Right Responds To Today’s Supreme Court Rulings

This is not a good day for the Religious Right.
You could say that the American Family Association (AFA) isn’t pleased about today’s Supreme Court rulings on marriage equality.

By a 5-4 vote, the high court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), meaning that same-sex couples who are lawfully wed in states with marriage equality will have access to a range of federal benefits. This is a pretty big deal.

The court also dealt with a legal challenge to California’s Proposition 8, a ballot initiative that banned same-sex marriage. The case was dismissed on procedural grounds. Most legal observers believe the practical effect of this will be to restore same-sex marriage to the Golden State.

In short, this is not a good day for the Religious Right.

Check out this tweet from Bryan Fischer, resident theocrat-in-chief at the Tupelo, Miss.-based AFA: “With the DOMA decision, we have ceased to be a constitutional republic. The words “We the people’ are now meaningless.”

Fischer then followed up with this gem: “The DOMA ruling has now made the normalization of polygamy, pedophilia, incest and bestiality inevitable. Matter of time.”

Fischer’s boss, Tim Wildmon, issued a statement that read in part, “We are deeply saddened by today’s decision to not only allow but encourage same-sex marriage in our country – a country that was founded on biblical principles. We mourn for America’s future, but we are not without hope.”
Wildmon added, “The homosexual lobby and agenda is running rampant across America, and is even pervading our elementary schools….Now, we must warn against the coming persecution, the barrage of criticism and the aggressive action of the homosexual agenda to indoctrinate and change the thoughts and convictions of Americans to accept this lifestyle as the new normal.”

Out in Arizona, the Alliance Defending Freedom also has a case of the grumpies: “This effectively means we will no longer have a national definition of marriage,” carped the group in a statement. “The federal government may now be required to accept any legal definition of marriage that a particular state invents.

This leads to many unanswered questions, new government burdens, and consequences that we will have more to say about in the coming days and weeks ahead as we analyze and further unpack this disappointing decision.”

Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, attempted an outrageous spin.
“While we are disappointed in the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down part of the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), the court today did not impose the sweeping nationwide redefinition of natural marriage that was sought,” Perkins said in a statement. “Time is not on the side of those seeking to create same-sex ‘marriage.’ As the American people are given time to experience the actual consequences of redefining marriage, the public debate and opposition to the redefinition of natural marriage will undoubtedly intensify.” (Dude, what polls are you looking at?)

Even the Christian Coalition (yep, that group is still around) got in on the act. Roberta Combs, president of the group, issued a petition supporting “traditional marriage” that reads in part, “[T]he Court has put state marriage laws at risk as well as the religious liberties of tens of millions of America’s Christians….The simple fact is that liberals cannot get their way at the ballot box, so they try to push their radical agenda through our nation's courts by convincing judges to overturn the will of the American people.”

The Liberty Counsel, a project affiliated with Jerry Falwell Jr.’s Liberty University, has been dilatory in getting out a statement. But earlier this week, the group opined, “No matter what the Supreme Court decides, the battle over marriage will continue. This is the defining culture line.”

I actually kind of agree with Liberty Counsel on that one. This is a defining line – and the Religious Right is on the wrong side of it.

Today’s rulings won’t be the last word on this matter. The Religious Right is pledging massive resistance. Recently, dozens of luminaries from that movement came together to sign a statement asserting that any high court ruling backing marriage equality would be illegitimate.

“As Christian citizens united together, we will not stand by while the destruction of the institution of marriage unfolds in this nation we love,” asserts the statement. “The Sacred Scriptures and unbroken teaching of the Church confirm that marriage is between one man and one woman. We stand together in solidarity to defend marriage and the family and society founded upon them. The effort to redefine marriage threatens the proper mediating role of the Church in society.”

The statement is a tad unclear about what these groups plan to do (hold their breath until they turn blue?) but concludes darkly, “[M]ake no mistake about our resolve. While there are many things we can endure, redefining marriage is so fundamental to the natural order and the true common good that this is the line we must draw and one we cannot and will not cross.”

Americans United sees it differently. We’re pleased that the narrow religious views of fundamentalist Christians won’t govern civil marriage law. At the same, we’ve pointed out repeatedly that no houses of worship anywhere will be forced to provide a ceremony for a same-sex couple. That sounds like real freedom to us.

If the polls are right, the Religious Right appears to be on the losing end of this battle. But it’s pretty clear that these groups don’t intend to go down quietly. Brace yourselves; I see plenty of turbulence ahead.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Citizenship Confusion: You Don’t Have To Join A Church To Become An American

Citizenship Confusion: You Don’t Have To Join A Church To Become An American

No one is required to make any type of religious affirmation to receive U.S. citizenship.
There has been a lot of talk lately on social media networks about a woman named Margaret Doughty.

Doughty was born in England but has lived in the United States for 30 years. Recently, she filed paperwork to become a naturalized citizen and ran into a bit of a problem: The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) in Houston initially denied her request for conscientious objector status because Doughty is an atheist and not a member of a recognized pacifist church.
She was told to submit a letter on “official church stationery” proving that she is “a member in good standing” of a church that opposes the bearing of arms.

To back up a bit: Naturalized citizens are required to swear a citizenship oath that includes a promise to “support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic” and to “bear arms on behalf of the United States when required by the law.”
Members of pacifist religious groups (such as Quakers) are routinely given an exemption from the vow to bear arms. Doughty is a pacifist but she’s also an atheist, so obviously she was unable to submit a letter from a religious group attesting to her belief in non-violence.

She should never have been asked to submit such a letter. It’s a long-established principle in the law that conscientious objection can’t be limited only to those who hold religiously based objections to war. The issue came up during the Vietnam War, resulting in a Supreme Court opinion in which the court ruled that those whose opposition to war derives from a “sincere and meaningful belief” that is akin to a belief in God also deserve an exemption from compulsory military service.

The good news is that Doughty will be able to become a citizen without joining a church. The office of U.S. Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-Texas) intervened on her behalf, and the USCIS withdrew the demand and told Doughty that her application for citizenship has been approved.

I’m glad Doughty’s issue was resolved, but there seem to be some larger problems with the naturalization process that cry out for attention. Since 2005, Americans United has had to write to the Immigration and Naturalization Service four times on behalf of people who were told they had to say “So help me, God” to take the oath of citizenship. (They don’t; it’s optional.)

Just last week, I took a call from a woman going through the naturalization process who ran into the same problem. I asked our attorneys to help her out.

Americans United and other groups can usually get these matters resolved by writing letters to the appropriate officials. In fact, our attorneys are currently preparing a letter to INS officials about the Doughty case in the hope that we can keep this from happening again.

We shouldn’t have to keep sparring over this issue. By now it should be clear that no one is required to make any type of religious affirmation to receive U.S. citizenship.
For some reason, that message is not getting through, even to officials and staff members at the INS. It needs to.

Friday, June 21, 2013

From the Desk of Barry Lynn

From the Desk of Barry Lynn

The United States Supreme Court recently announced it will hear an Americans United case that challenges government-sponsored, clergy-led sectarian prayers before meetings of the town board in Greece, New York.

It will be the first time the Supreme Court has weighed in on this issue in 30 years!

And if the justices rule the wrong way, it could set a terrible nationwide precedent.

You can help Americans United build the strongest argument possible by renewing your membership today!

AU took on the case in Greece in 2007 because what was happening there was an affront to many residents and a blatant violation of the separation of church and state. For years, local officials began their government meetings with prayers that were almost always Christian.

Local residents felt like second-class citizens in their own community but couldn’t get the city government to listen. When they asked Americans United to help, I knew we couldn’t say no.

Since then, battle lines have been drawn. AU represented the plaintiffs. Opposing us was the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), a wealthy and powerful Religious Right legal group founded by TV and radio preachers that signed on to represent the town.
  Americans United lost the first round but won on appeal, leading the ADF to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Now that the case is before the highest court in the land, we have to do all we can to bring it to a successful conclusion. AU’s legal director, Ayesha Khan, will personally argue this case before the Supreme Court.

Americans United urgently needs your renewed help to build up the resources that this effort will require.

This case is going to involve countless hours of work for AU’s dedicated legal team. They’ll be involved in research to frame the best possible arguments, lining up allies to stand with us by filing amicus briefs before the court, and engaging some of the country’s leading legal minds on this issue. And it comes at a time when our resources are already stretched thin.
Please renew today! Your continued support will ensure that AU has the funds it needs to support this lawsuit and our vitally important efforts to keep the church-state wall strong.
Let me be clear about one thing: This was not “voluntary” prayer in Greece. These prayers were offered as part of the official meetings of the town. Members of the town board could have engaged in truly voluntary prayers before the session got under way, but they insisted on making these public pronouncements of faith.

What's more, the governmental prayers were almost always Christian. In fact, during one 9-year period, every single one of the town’s prayer-givers was Christian.

You read that right: every single one! And over the 18-month period before the case was filed, almost 90 percent of the prayers were overtly Christian, referencing “Jesus Christ,” “Jesus,” “Your Son” or the “Holy Spirit.”

The town board was choosing sides on religion. They were sending a message: We have a favorite religion. It’s this one. If it’s not yours, too bad!

If the U.S. Supreme Court allows this, you can bet that there will be communities large and small all over America that will decide to adopt their “favorite religion” as well. A gaping hole will be blown in the wall of separation between church and state.

With your renewed help, Americans United will have the resources we need to present the best possible case to the Supreme Court to ensure that neither conservative Christianity, nor any single religion, becomes enshrined as a de facto state-supported faith.

Please renew as generously as you are able, so Americans United can craft the most powerful argument possible to make sure the Religious Right’s dream world doesn’t become our nightmare.

With thanks,

Oklahoma License Plates Become Targets of Lawsuit

Supporters of religious separation--

A lawsuit has recently been re-instated allowing a Methodist minister to sue Oklahoma to remove the Rain Arrow Warrior representation from the state's license plates.

At first glance we thought the Rain Arrow Warrior lawsuit was a satirical look at religious belief. However, the objection raised by Mr. Keith Cressman is still highly ironic and a prime example of hypocritical, clouded thinking. If Mr. Cressman were truly concerned with the depiction of religious symbols in government functions and tax-paid services he would expand his lawsuit and be objecting to the use of "In God We Trust" on currency, coins, postage stamps and public buildings, including the Oklahoma Capitol north lawn with its recently added Ten Commandments monument privately funded by the family of Rep. Mike Ritze.   Prayer is frequently used to begin many public meetings, inevitably a prayer to a Christian deity.

Mr. Cressman can not honestly pick and choose which religion can be favored.   His Christian bible commands him to pray in private according to Matthew, chapter 6.

Mr. Cressman refers to the statue depicted on Oklahoma licence plates as pagan. How little he knows of history. Every cycle of civilization finds that the preceding society's religious beliefs to be quaint, irrelevant, and pagan.

People who hold truly sincere religious beliefs would not want government to interfere in their devotions.  Nor would they want to impinge on the beliefs of others who hold differing points of view. This strategy is the basis of the First Amendment of the Constitution--it is not the job of government to give its stamp of approval to any religious worship.

Mr Cressman is headed in the right direction, he just hasn't gone far enough, yet.

Here is a link to an earlier story by Gregg Horton that appeared on Huffington Post.

Barton Backs Down: ‘Christian Nation’ Corrects Bogus Statements

Barton Backs Down: ‘Christian Nation’ Advocate Corrects Some Of His Bogus Statements About U.S. History

No matter how many times Barton tries to correct his mistakes, several damaging facts will remain. He has no training as a historian (his sole degree is a bachelor’s in Christian education from Oral Roberts University) and his gross misstatements are well documented.
Faux historian David Barton, a “Christian nation” advocate who made a name for himself by peddling pseudo history to gullible Religious Right audiences, has come under fire of late for distorting the truth or flat out making things up. So what’s a bogus scholar to do? In this case, correct some old errors.

Back in 2007, Barton headlined a tour of the U.S. Capitol on behalf of Religious Right advocacy group the Family Research Council (FRC). FRC made a video of that tour, in which Barton made numerous false and misleading claims about the Founding Fathers and the supposed “Christian origins” of the United States.

The video received over 4 million views on YouTube, but that high visibility may have backfired on Barton and the FRC. So outrageous were some of Barton’s claims, that 34 Christian historians and social scientists asked FRC to pull the video from YouTube, said Warren Throckmorton, a professor at Grove City College, a conservative Christian institution in Pennsylvania.

Throckmorton said FRC admitted Barton’s errors, and made the video private. Barton then corrected some of his previous comments by placing new audio in the old video, Throckmorton added.
Barton posted the updated video on his WallBuilders website this week, and because Throckmorton has made it something of a mission to debunk Barton, he compared Barton’s 2007 statements with his newer ones. He concluded that the pseudo scholar has made progress toward the truth, but quite a bit of distortion still remains in Barton’s version of history.

For example:
  • Barton claimed in 2007 that 29 of the 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence had degrees from Bible schools or seminaries. In the updated video, Barton said 29 signers were educated at schools founded to train ministers.
Throckmorton’s take: “This narrative is more accurate and is a significant admission concerning a claim for which Barton has frequently been scrutinized.”
  • In the first video, Barton said: “Most people have no clue that [Thomas] Jefferson started a church in the Capitol.” In the new video, Barton said: “Jefferson helped start a church in the Capitol."
Throckmorton’s take: “Jefferson attended the Sunday meetings but there is no evidence that Jefferson had a role in starting them.”
  • In 2007, Barton stated that Congress printed the first English language Bible in America for use in schools. In the new version, he says Robert Aitken printed the first English language Bible in America with congressional approval.
Throckmorton’s take: “Barton continues to say Congress intended the Bible to be used in schools; this is false. Congress had nothing to say about using the Bible in schools.”
  • The first time, Barton claimed Congress wanted paintings in the Capitol that tell “the Christian history” of America. The second time, he said the paintings show “important Christian events from the history of the United States.”
Throckmorton’s take: “Other paintings in the Capitol do not have any religious significance; the common theme is the depiction of events of political importance.”

While there is still significant misinformation in the video, as Throckmorton noted, it’s progress. That’s about all you can reasonably expect from the likes of Barton.

But no matter how many times Barton tries to correct his mistakes, several damaging facts will remain. He has no training as a historian (his sole degree is a bachelor’s in Christian education from Oral Roberts University) and his gross misstatements are well documented.

Now that even Christian scholars are exposing Barton for what he is, hopefully it will only be a matter of time until his career as a phony historian is over.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

AU Warns Ohio School Board To Keep Creationism Out Of Science Classes


Church-State Watchdog Group Says Springboro School Officials Risk Million-Dollar Mistake If They Bring Religion Into Coursework


Attorneys with Americans United for Separation of Church and State today sent a letter warning members of the Springboro, Ohio, Board of Education not to attempt to introduce creationism into the curriculum.
The board in late May began deliberating a proposal to include so-called “controversial” issues for classroom discussion. These include “[s]ex education, legalization of drugs, evolution/creation, pro-life/abortion, contraception/abstinence, conservatism/liberalism, politics, gun rights, global warming and climate change and sustainable development.”
According to Americans United, the policy appears to be little more than a thinly veiled attempt to sneak creationism, which is based in biblical fundamentalism, into public schools.
Any public school contemplating teaching creationism might as well just hang up a giant banner that reads “Sue Us Now,’” said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. “Courts have been very clear about this: creationism is fundamentalist religion, not legitimate science, and it has no place in science classrooms.”
In their letter to the Springboro Board of Education, AU attorneys listed several federal court rulings against creationism in public schools. A copy of the letter was also sent to Superintendent Todd Petrey.
“The U.S. Supreme Court and the lower federal courts have consistently and unequivocally held that religious views on the origins of life, such as creationism, ‘creation science,’ and ‘intelligent design,’ cannot lawfully be advanced in the public schools as alternatives to the scientific theory of evolution,” reads the letter.
Attorneys with Americans United played a key role in litigating a 2005 case against a public school district in Dover, Pa., where the school board voted to add “intelligent design” to the curriculum. AU’s letter notes that the case had negative consequences for the community.
“In the end, the Dover Area School District lost the case, had its attempt to teach intelligent design struck down, was ordered to pay the plaintiffs a million dollars in attorneys’ fees, and became an embarrassment to the community in the local, national, and international press,” asserts the letter.

“What is more, all the members of the school board who supported including intelligent design in the curriculum were voted out of office.”
The letter, signed by AU Legal Director Ayesha N. Khan, Associate Legal Director Alex J. Luchenitser and Staff Attorney Ian Smith, requests a response within 30 days.
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 11, 2013

ADF’s Latest ‘Pulpit Freedom Sunday’ Is Just A Distraction

Much Ado About Nothing: ADF’s Latest ‘Pulpit Freedom Sunday’ Is Just A Distraction

This latest installment of “Pulpit Freedom Sunday” is nothing more than a distraction. It has nothing to do with “religious liberty” and everything to do with the ADF’s agenda.
Sunday was my 30th birthday, and the Religious Right got me a pretty rotten gift – the latest installment of the so-called “Pulpit Freedom Sunday.”

As you may recall, “Pulpit Freedom Sunday” was created in 2008 by the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), an Arizona-based Religious Right legal outfit founded by right-wing radio and television preachers. The ADF says it has encouraged pastors to give sermons “that present biblical perspectives on the positions of electoral candidates.”

But what the ADF really wants is for at least some of those participating pastors to endorse or oppose a candidate for public office in violation of the Internal Revenue Code prohibition against political intervention by 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organizations. Churches, like other nonprofits (including Americans United), may not use their financial resources or personnel to take sides in partisan campaigns.

The ADF hopes a church will lose its tax exemption, which would offer an opportunity to challenge the church electioneering prohibition in court. The problem for the ADF, however, is that federal courts have already upheld the tax code’s prohibition against campaign intervention, and the IRS has been almost totally silent on this issue for years.  [emphasis added]

So what is a proactive Religious Right group to do? It seems the ADF is now encouraging churches to rally around issues rather than candidates, as was the case on June 9. On one of its resource websites, the ADF asked clergy to “join thousands of your fellow pastors by preaching biblical Truth about God’s design for marriage.”

That’s all perfectly fine as far as the IRS is concerned. No house of worship has ever been barred from discussing social or political issues, so nothing that happened on Sunday defied the tax code as long as candidates were not endorsed.

That’s an inconvenient truth for the ADF, which not only wants to fight marriage equality, it also wants to confuse the public about what religious organizations can do in the political arena. The ADF would like you to think that pastors are being completely “muzzled” by the tax code, so it’s pretending that clergy are somehow taking a brave stand by speaking against gay marriage. There’s nothing brave about it – no one risked his church’s tax exemption by discussing marriage issues last weekend, and that’s all there is to it.

Unfortunately some people have been misled by this latest ADF stunt, which surely sought to capitalize on the ongoing IRS scandal in which some organizations seeking tax exemption under Section 501(c)(4) were targeted for Tea Party or other conservative affiliations.

As it turns out, even that scandal is somewhat overblown. According to Martin A. Sullivan of Tax Analysts, the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration, which is responsible for IRS oversight, found that 82 percent of organizations with “Tea Party,” “Patriots,” or “9/12 Project” in their names that were audited between May 2010 and May 2012 “had indicators of significant political campaign activity in their application files.” Therefore, the Inspector General said, these groups “would have been properly selected for additional scrutiny” even if the IRS had been using activities-based criteria rather than going off of names or policies. (Full disclosure: I used to write for Tax Analysts).

We have been asking the IRS to step up and investigate churches that violate federal tax law, as many certainly have done. But this latest installment of “Pulpit Freedom Sunday” is nothing more than a distraction. It has nothing to do with “religious liberty” and everything to do with the ADF’s agenda.
I hope that the public can see through this latest ADF ploy and that others will continue to put pressure on the IRS to enforce the prohibition against real church politicking.