Saturday, July 27, 2013

Americans United Hails Appeals Court Ruling Protecting Employee Access To Contraceptives


Church-State Watchdog Group Says Owners Of Secular Corporations Have No Right To Impose Their Theology On Workers

Church-State Watchdog Group Says Owners Of Secular Corporations Have No Right To Impose Their Theology On Workers

A federal appeals court today upheld an Obama administration regulation requiring most secular companies to include no-cost contraceptives to employees in health insurance plans, rejecting arguments by sectarian groups that the policy infringes on religious freedom.
Americans United for Separation of Church and State hailed the ruling.
“Interpreting religious freedom in a way that allows for-profit corporations to make moral and medical decisions for their workers stands that principle on its head,” said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. “This court made the right call.”

Added Lynn, “The religious beliefs and practices of the owners of this company are in no way infringed because some of their workers might choose to use birth control.”
The case, Conestoga Wood Specialties Corporation v. Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, concerns a firm in East Earl, Pa., that manufactures wood cabinets, doors and other products used in home construction and remodeling. The firm’s Mennonite owners say including birth control in its health-care plan would burden their Christian beliefs.
The U.S. 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals rejected that argument, holding that Conestoga, as a for-profit corporation, does not exercise religion.
“We simply conclude that the law has long recognized the distinction between the owners of a corporation and the corporation itself,” wrote Judge Robert Cowen. “A holding to the contrary – that a for-profit corporation can engage in religious exercise – would eviscerate the fundamental principle that a corporation is a legally distinct entity from its owners.”

The lawsuit is one of several that have been filed challenging the contraceptive mandate of the Affordable Care Act. Most of the cases are being sponsored by Religious Right legal groups and are supported by the Roman Catholic bishops.
Americans United filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the Conestoga case, urging the appeals court to uphold the mandate.
“The court's decision prevents companies from imposing their owners' religious beliefs on their employees,” asserted Gregory M. Lipper, senior litigation counsel at Americans United. “It frees employees to make their own medical decisions. And the precedent protects a range of federal laws – designed to help workers and prevent discrimination – from attack by for-profit corporations."

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, July 23, 2013

Constitutional Bully?

Constitutional Bully?: La. School Board Member Must Learn Religious Freedom Is No License To Discriminate

Religious freedom is an extremely important right that is enshrined in the Constitution. But that concept cannot be turned into a club and used to attack others – metaphorically or literally.
It’s frustrating when a single misguided public official tries to hijack an otherwise reasonable governing body, and that’s almost what happened last week when a school board member in a Louisiana jurisdiction attempted to cut discrimination based on sexual orientation from an anti-bullying policy.
The Orleans Parish School Board was considering some very minor changes to its policy against bullying, which says that a whole slew of bad things won’t be tolerated. These include discrimination based on race, religion, gender/sexual orientation and the like; the policy also defines bullying and mandates teachers to monitor and report bad behavior.
Not many people would take issue with something like that. Apparently board Vice President Leslie Ellison isn’t most people.
Back in 2012, the New Orleans Times-Picayune said, she argued that charter schools should be able to exclude gay students as part of their right to “religious freedom.”  This makes no sense, of course, because charter schools are public institutions.
This week, Ellison along with board member Cynthia Cade, said the parish anti-bullying policy shouldn’t be so clear cut. The Times-Picayune reported that Ellison went on to claim that banning discrimination based on sexual orientation would necessitate teaching 5-year-olds about gay sex.
Ellison was also asked at one point during the meeting how she feels about church-state separation. Her response? “There is no such thing.” No surprise there.
At one point, the debate turned ugly. Another board member, Seth Bloom, who happens to be gay, said to Ellison, “I just find it perplexing that certain minorities seek protection for certain minorities but not for others.”
Ellison, who is African American, replied, “This has nothing to do with being black. I can't change my blackness at all.”
So not only is Ellison a budding theocrat who seems to have a blasé attitude when it comes to bullying certain groups of people, she also makes claims about homosexuality that have absolutely no basis in fact or reality.
Ultimately the anti-bullying policy was left alone, as Ellison and Cade lost on a 5-2 vote.
This debate was a pretty sad turn of events for a school board that recently voted to keep religion out of science classes, but at least the majority didn’t go along with Ellison’s narrow-minded agenda.
The Religious Right has been saying for years that “religious freedom” should grant the faithful exemptions from all sorts of laws, and this anti-bullying debate is just one of many examples.
Religious freedom is an extremely important right that is enshrined in the Constitution. But that concept cannot be turned into a club and used to attack others – metaphorically or literally.   
We can never allow religion to be used as an excuse to bully. That’s not something we at Americans United will ever tolerate. Fortunately most of the Orleans Parish School Board seems to feel the same way. 

Monday, July 22, 2013

This is the year for elections to the OKC chapter.

Cartoon courtesy of

Dear friends, supporters, and newcomers to Americans United for Separation of Church and State,

This is the year the Oklahoma City area chapter will have elections for president, vice-president, secretary, and treasurer.

The details of time, date, and place are being developed now and the current officers will notify our list as soon as possible.  We know for sure it will be late September or early October.

We want to announce the elections now so that those interested in a leadership position can prepare.

Naturally, officers are required to be members in good standing and can do that by joining on the national AU website by using this link-- 

Additional information about AU and its important work supporting the First Amendment's freedom of religion, speech, press, and association can be found  Let me remind you that Americans United is NON-Partisan and NON-Denominational.  It's sole purpose is to protect all citizens's right to freedom of region and from religion in the public square.

Jim Nimmo, communications chair,

Thursday, July 11, 2013

School and Church Combo Flunks Test

Poor Partnership: Federal Court Derails Tenn. County’s Relationship With Christian Academy

A partnership between a Tennessee public school and a Christian academy flunks a constitutional test.
It’s a sad fact of life that some youngsters get into trouble in school. They might cut class, get involved with alcohol or drugs, start fights and so on. Sometimes public school officials find students like this too disruptive to keep in the classroom.

What should be done with such kids? If your response is, “Send them to a Christian academy at taxpayer expense,” that’s the wrong answer.

In Jefferson County, Tenn., local education officials decided to try that. A federal court has just told them to stop.

Jefferson County used to have an alternative school to serve troubled young people. But money got tight, and the county decided to shut it down. Officials then began contracting with Kingswood School, a private school in a nearby county, to take on the job.
Kingswood isn’t tied to any particular church or denomination, but its Christian mission is clear. The school’s website states that it “provides to displaced children a Christian home-like environment where every effort is made to develop in each child a personal faith in God, in himself, and in his fellowman.”

The school goes on to say that it focuses on “fostering personal and spiritual growth” and adds that each student “will have benefit of participation in a mainstream interdenominational church through the Kingswood Campus Minister at the A.E. Wachtel Chapel on the Kingswood campus…. No child placed in the care of Kingswood will ever be made to feel compelled to adopt the doctrine of a particular denomination or church. Within this context, each child will develope (sic) his or her own chosen church or denominational affiliation for worship.”

Kingswood vows that it will help a youngster grow “in his or her spiritual and religious life.”
Whatever led education officials in Jefferson County to believe that a school like this could operate as an adjunct to the public system? It clearly cannot, as U.S. District Judge Thomas W. Phillips wrote.

“The average student that attended Kingswood would arrive on campus and see a church within the grounds,” Phillips observed. “She would then see an intake staff member who was also an ordained minister. After intake, the student would attend secular classes, but would take home report cards branded with Christian language and symbols. In order to progress though the level system, she would need to have her parents routinely sign and return Family Feedback Forms that also contained Bible verses. If she visited Kingswood’s website, she would be greeted by the phrases ‘Christian environment’ and ‘Christian education’ among others. Benefactors would receive fundraising correspondence that contained Christian references and iconography, and assemblies would be held in the campus church.”

Added Phillips, “[T]he facts plainly establish that Kingswood is a religious institution – a fine institution – but an institution that should have never sought to operate a public alternative school as part of its ministry. The appearance of governmental endorsement of the Christian faith is too pronounced and non-believers, or students of a different faith, would likely feel divorced from Kingswood, a well-intentioned, but overtly-Christian school.”

The judge is right. It looks like Kingswood does some good work with young people. But the school does it within the context of the Christian faith. That makes it an inappropriate partner for a public school system.

Rather than ship kids off to a Christian academy, perhaps educators in Jefferson County should reopen the alternative school or design a new program that serves all young people in need, no matter what they think about God and religion.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

False Choice: Wisc. Private Schools Are Happy To Take Tax Money But Don’t Want Certain Students

False Choice: Wisc. Private Schools Are Happy To Take Tax Money But Don’t Want Certain Students

Private schools (most of which are religious) are happy to take all of the taxpayer money they can get their hands on. But they don’t want any accountability, oversight or regulation.
Supporters of school voucher schemes love to throw around the world “choice.”
“You’ll get to send your child to the school of your choice!” they blare. To a lot of people, it sounds good. After all, everyone likes having choices, right?
Unfortunately, all of the rhetoric in the world doesn’t do you any good when it comes to vouchers because you don’t really have the choice. The private school does. Many of those schools will simply choose not to admit your child.
Some parents in Wisconsin are learning that the hard way., a project of the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism, recently took a hard look at vouchers in the Badger State, specifically how students with learning disabilities and other challenges are faring in private schools.
The answer is not too well – because the private schools taking part in the voucher program mostly refuse to serve them.
The author of the piece, Rory Linnane, interviewed Milwaukee resident Kim Fitzer, whose daughter Trinity suffers from medical and behavioral issues.
Fitzer used a voucher worth $6,442 to enroll Trinity in Northwest Catholic School for kindergarten during the 2011-12 academic year. In March of 2012, the school expelled Trinity, citing “continuing behavior issues” – but it kept the money.
Not surprisingly, Trinity ended up in a public school. There she was enrolled in a program designed to meet her special needs, although the school didn’t get any extra money to help her.
This has been a problem with just about every voucher plan in the country. The private schools (most of which are religious) are happy to take all of the taxpayer money they can get their hands on. But they don’t want any accountability, oversight or regulation. Furthermore, they demand the right to deny admission to or expel students as they see fit.
“The problem with the voucher program is that it cherry-picks which students it’s going to take,” Rep. Cory Mason, a Racine Democrat, told WisconsinWatch. “That’s not really a public education system, when you’re not opening it up to everyone and giving everyone a chance to participate.”

Jane Audette, a social worker at Hawthorne Elementary School, a public school located just one block away from Northwest Catholic, noted that every year Hawthorne ends up enrolling several “cast-off” students from Northwest Catholic and other private schools who are in need of special-education services.
“What has happened over and over with Northwest Catholic is they will tell a parent, ‘Your child needs more than we can give your child, so we suggest you go down the street to Hawthorne,’” Audette said.
Wisconsin’s voucher program is currently limited to Milwaukee and Racine. In Racine, schools taking part in the “choice” program reported enrolling a grand total of one student with a disability. By contrast, the Racine Unified School District reports that about 18 percent of its students have disabilities.
The situation has gotten so bad that the American Civil Liberties Union and Disability Rights Wisconsin are suing the state. Their complaint asserts, “The voucher schools tend not to admit or accommodate students with disabilities.”
The complaint cites an anonymous parent who sought to enroll her son in Messmer Catholic Schools in Milwaukee. The boy needed speech therapy, and she was told not to even bother; he’d have to get that in the Milwaukee Public Schools.
Incredibly, under Wisconsin’s voucher law, private schools get to keep half of the voucher as long as a student is enrolled on the third Friday of September. They get to keep the entire amount if the student is enrolled on the second Friday in January.
You can guess what happens: Students with disabilities are enrolled in private schools and then kicked out once those deadlines are met and the check is safely in the bank.
“We have seen that children with behavioral issues are signed into a voucher school, and once they get past the third Friday – the Kodak moment for determining headcount – there’s a phenomenon that occurs that students are no longer able to participate in the private school,” said Gary Myrah, executive director of the Wisconsin Council of Administrators of Special Services, a group that represents special-education professionals.
Vouchers have a lengthy history in Wisconsin. When the program first took hold in the early 1990s, Americans United and other groups warned that private schools would demand tax funds and resist any attempt to hold them accountable. That is exactly what is happening. Yet legislators refuse to do the right thing and put some brakes on the program. In fact, they are expanding it statewide.
For Trinity, the story has a happy ending. She’s taking part in a special program in her public school and is doing well. About 10 weeks from now, a new flock of special-needs kids will likely be unceremoniously tossed out of “choice” schools despite the vouchers their parents have in hand.
We can only hope they manage to land on their feet as well.