Americans United has successfully foiled plans by a county council in Washington state to hand over thousands of taxpayer dollars to a Christian fundamentalist group that targets young children for conversion.
Americans United sent a letter Monday to officials on the Pierce County Council warning them that their proposal to give $7,000 to Child Evangelism Fellowship (CEF) could result in legal action.
According to KING-TV 5 News in Seattle, the grant, which would have given CEF funds to be used for space rentals at local fairs, was added to the county’s proposed 2014 budget at the last minute. Council member Jim McCune seemed to believe that CEF’s services could somehow help “at-risk” youth, the news station reported.
Just what services does CEF provide, you may wonder? Nothing of a secular nature, that’s for sure.
On its website, CEF describes itself as a “Bible-centered worldwide organization that is dedicated to seeing every child reached with the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ, discipled and established in a local church.”
The group runs several ministries both nationwide and internationally that are targeted at children; it also trains ministers and distributes Bibles.
Based in Warrenton, Mo., CEF is controversial because of programs it runs in many public schools after hours. Critics say the organization zeroes in on young children and seeks to lure them into an extremely conservative form of fundamentalist Christianity. CEF is so intent on converting youngsters to fundamentalism that it has produced “wordless books” aimed at children who don’t yet know how to read.
Read more at the Military Religious Freedom Foundation.
Original article and resignation letter: Why I Don’t Want to Be a West Point Graduate
I do not wish to be in any way associated with an institution which willfully disregards the Constitution of the United States of America by enforcing policies which run counter to the same. Examples of these policies include mandatory prayer, the maintenance of the 3rd Regiment Shield, awarding extra passes to Plebes who take part in religious retreats and chapel choirs, as well as informal policies such as the open disrespect of non-religious new cadets and incentivizing participation in religious activities through the chain of command.
How would a prayer at city council meetings in California hold up if the invocation mentioned Tom Cruise or Scientology, a 9th Circuit judge asked.
“What if someone has an objection, not to Jesus Christ, but to Abraham or Mohammed or Martin Luther, Confucius, Buddha?” Judge Diarmuid O’Scannlain asked. “I mean we can make a long list, Tom Cruise and Scientology. Where do we draw the line?”
The judge put the amusing hypothetical to a lawyer fighting the recitation of prayers referencing Jesus at the start of every city council meetings in Lancaster, Calif.
Shelly Rubin and Maureen Feller filed suit over the practice in 2010, but a federal judge in Los Angeles ruled last year that the prayer survived the test laid out by the Supreme Court in 1983.
Claims about a prayer that makes a single reference to Jesus would require the court to analyze the content of the prayer, but that is barred under Marsh v. Chambers, according to the court.
“Because plaintiffs do not even claim the April 27 invocation was ‘exploited to proselytize or advance any one, or to disparage any other, faith or belief,’ this court cannot properly perform such an analysis,” U.S. District Judge Dale Fischer wrote.
Rubin and Feller’s attorney, Roger Diamond of Santa Monica, fine-tuned the claim last week before a three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit.
Saying that a pre-meeting invocation is fine, generally, the plaintiffs say that Lancaster violated the establishment clause by more commonly choosing Christian prayers over those of other denominations.
“In a period of about a year, and the council meets every two weeks, 20 prayers were given in the name of Jesus Christ,” Diamond said. “If it were an isolated situation then we might have a different case.”
He added that the appeal does not challenge an isolated event, but rather a city practice that led to repeated references to Jesus Christ.
The judges split 7-3 on Monday in favor of the plaintiffs.
“Regardless of the purpose of school administrators in choosing the location, the sheer religiosity of the space created a likelihood that high school students and their younger siblings would perceive a link between church and state,” according to the 34-page lead opinion authored by Flaum. “That is, the activity conveyed a message of endorsement.”
High school graduations are ubiquitous in American life - a compulsory school event for all practical purposes - a factor that heabily increases the chances that non-Christian attendees would feel like outsiders to a favored religion, the court said.
“True, the district did not itself adorn the church with proselytizing materials, and a reasonable observer would be aware of this fact,” Flaum added. “But that same observer could reasonably conclude that the District would only choose such a proselytizing environment aimed at spreading religious faith … if the district approved of the church’s message.”
A church environment could also coerce students to accept Christianity, the judges found.
“The only way for graduation attendees to avoid the dynamic is to leave the ceremony,” Flaum wrote. “That is a choice … the establishment clause does not force students to make.”
In November 1991, the Supreme Court heard argument in Lee v. Weisman, on the question of whether a prayer recited by a member of the clergy at a public high school graduation violated the constitutional separation of church and state. The vote after argument was 5 to 4 to allow the prayer. Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist gave the opinion-writing assignment to Justice Anthony M. Kennedy.
Some months later, Justice Kennedy sent a note to Justice Harry A. Blackmun, the senior justice on the dissenting side. He had changed his mind, Justice Kennedy said; the argument against allowing the prayer was the better interpretation of the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause. Justice Blackmun, now the senior justice in the majority, had the prerogative of reassigning the opinion. He told Justice Kennedy to keep writing.
When the 5-to-4 decision to prohibit graduation prayers was finally announced on June 24, 1992, it was huge news. From today’s perspective, it may not sound like a big deal. But Lee v. Weisman was one of the hot-button cases of the 1991 term, perhaps second only to Planned Parenthood v. Casey, the abortion case that challenged the continued validity of Roe v. Wade.
President George H. W. Bush was running for re-election, and having put both David H. Souter and Clarence Thomas on the Supreme Court, he was eager to show the religious right that he was the rightful heir of his predecessor, Ronald Reagan. His solicitor general, Kenneth W. Starr, made the unusual move of filing a brief asking the court to take the case, even though as a legal matter the federal government’s interest in the outcome was far-fetched. As an administration official explained to me at the time, the strategy was to provide a vehicle for Justice Souter to declare himself lowering the church-state barrier (a profound misjudgment of this Yankee Republican, who voted with the majority).
The Bible has thousands of passages that may serve as the basis for instruction and inspiration. Not all of them are appropriate in all circumstances.
The story of Saul and the Amalekites is a case in point. It’s not a pretty story, and it is often used by people who don’t intend to do pretty things. In the book of 1 Samuel (15:3), God said to Saul:
“Now go, attack the Amalekites, and totally destroy all that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys.”
At the tender age of 16, Jessica Ahlquist has already endured more verbal abuse than most people experience in a lifetime.
A high school student in Cranston, Rhode Island, Jessica has been taunted and threatened at school, targeted by an on-line hate campaign, and called “an evil little thing” by a state representative on the radio.
Her crime? She asked school officials to remove a “school prayer” banner from the auditorium of Cranston West High School. Addressed to “Our Heavenly Father,” the prayer banner was presented to the school by the class of 1963 and has been affixed to the wall as a mural ever since.
At the school committee hearing to consider the issue, public outrage turned the meeting into a religious revival. Angry citizens lined up to proclaim their allegiance to God, quote the Bible, and condemn Jessica to hell.
“If you take the banner down,” one woman testified, “you are spitting in the face of God.” Another banner supporter warned: “You can’t vote to take this down and say that you’re standing with God.”
After the school committee bowed to public pressure and voted to keep the banner, Jessica’s father (supported by the American Civil Liberties Union) filed suit on her behalf.
On January 11, U.S. District Judge Ronald Lagueux ruled in Jessica’s favor and ordered the banner removed. It was an easy case. For over 60 years, the U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly held that promotion of religion by public school officials violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.
“When focused on the prayer mural,” wrote the judge, “the activities and agenda of the Cranston School Committee became excessively entangled with religion, exposing the committee to a situation where a loud and passionate majority encouraged it to vote to override the constitutional rights of a minority.”
Undeterred, supporters of the prayer banner are holding a “prayer rally” this week to urge the school committee to keep fighting.
Jessica may be in the minority in Cranston, but she’s in good company as the latest in a long line of Rhode Island dissenters - beginning with the state’s founder, Roger Williams.
Williams, who was himself verbally attacked, was banished from Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1635 for objecting to the entanglement of religion and government that, he believed, corrupted both.
He founded Rhode Island as the first government in history with no established religion and a commitment to protect liberty of conscience for every person. As a deeply religious Christian minister, Williams vowed to put an end to centuries of oppression and coercion by erecting what he called “a wall or hedge of separation” between the “Garden of the Church and the Wilderness of the World.”
Ed Brayton over at Dispatches From the Culture wars has been holding an interesting conversation regarding several myths about the US as a “Christian Nation” with one of his commenters, I recommend that you punch out and go read the whole thing.
In the comments on a previous post there has been a conversation about separation of church and state and the Christian Nation myth that is worth moving up here to its own post. All comments in blockquotes are from commenter James Goswick, coupled with my responses.
Then why did the framers allow prayer in schools and themselves pray in Jesus’ name? Obviously, modern separation doctrine is wrong.
They didn’t allow prayer in schools; they had nothing at all to do with public schools at the time. The establishment clause did not originally apply to the states at all. The states were even free to have official churches and many of them did. That changed with the passage of the 14th amendment.
How could the framers design a secular govt. when the States mandated Christianity for office holders:
Because they were designing a federal government, which had almost no power over the state governments at the time. The federal government was explicitly secular and religious tests for office were specifically forbidden at the federal level.
We have previously discussed how leaders in both the United States and Europe have focused on atheists and secularists as one of the greatest threats facing the free world. Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.) seemed to take this to a new level in arguing this week that if the nation did not reaffirm ‘In God We Trust’ as our national motto, we are inviting anarchy and accepting that we are nothing but ‘worm food.’
Of course, the motto has only been embraced since 1956 and we seemed to do pretty well through the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Moreover, not having a motto based on the recognition of faith does not mean that we are a country of faithless citizens. Indeed, there are plenty deeply religious secularists.