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When Lyrics (and 8-year-olds) Proselytize? E-mail
Written by Don Byrd   
Thursday, 15 June 2006
Last week I posted on the NJ lawsuit surrounding an after-school talent show in which an elementary school girl was denied the right to sing the song of her choice, "Awesome God." Her cause has been joined by both the Allied Defense Fund and the ACLU. The school official maintains it's not the religious nature of the song that is problematic, but the explicitly proselytizing elements of the lyrics, and the disturbing imagery. Today's Christian Science Monitor has more:
The US Supreme Court has not directly addressed the issue of religious speech at the elementary school level. The justices have allowed students to use public school classrooms for religious meetings after school, but they have also struck down the offering of a student-led prayer prior to high school football games in Texas. The Frenchtown case falls somewhere between those two decisions, analysts say. Judge Chesler must decide whether letting the girl sing "Awesome God" would be a school endorsement of a particular religious outlook in violation of the First Amendment's "establishment clause," or merely be a recognition of the girl's right to express her faith under the "free speech" and "free exercise" clauses.
On a mostly irrelevant point, my favorite note comes at the end, in which it is explained that other acts deemed inappropriate for youngsters included a scene from Macbeth, and Jon Bon Jovi's "You Give Love a Bad Name", keeping this talent show from being, no doubt, the first ever variety show to combine those to bits of artistry.
 
"Keen Interest" E-mail
Written by Don Byrd   
Wednesday, 14 June 2006
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice spoke at the Southern Baptist Convention and, among other things, said that spreading freedom around the world means promoting religious liberty as an essential democratic value. Associated Baptist Press' Rob Marus reports:
"Human dignity is not the grant of governments. ... It is God's endowment to all humanity." Some people throughout the world are denied that dignity regularly by poverty, by the lack of political and religious freedom and by human trafficking and other forms of subjugation, she said, and those situations are ultimately in America's best interest to ameliorate. "These are tragedies, but they are also threats in the making," Rice said. The United States has a keen interest in promoting religious freedom abroad, stopping oppression in places like Darfur, fighting AIDS and poverty and ending human trafficking worldwide, because oppression, poverty and suffering produce instability, she asserted.
 
Muslim Women Seek Integration Into US Culture E-mail
Written by Don Byrd   
Wednesday, 14 June 2006
Via Religion Clause, USAToday has a story about the growing number of female Muslim Americans who are requesting accommodation for their religious beliefs, specifically the principle that dictates women without head covering should not be seen by men. Sadly, the issue (even within the Muslim community) would seem to be less about whether its possible or appropriate for businesses and institutions to make accommodations, and is more about whether Muslims risk significant "backlash" for even asking. From my point of view, I would have hoped the discussion--whatever conclusion is reached--could be about weighing the burdens and benefits in accommodating religious exercise, not about hatred and acrimony.
 
"In God We Trust" E-mail
Written by Don Byrd   
Wednesday, 14 June 2006
...still the national motto, after a US District Court judge dismissed Michael Newdow's complaint in a ruling Monday. The decision by Judge Frank Damrell, which says essentially that 9th Circuit precedent (Aronow v. US) is on point, and constrains him from any other outcome on the issue of an Establishment Clause violation (not that he sounds eager to reach any other conclusion), is here. As for Free Exercise, the Judge concludes:
Plaintiff's Free Exercise and RFRA claims arise from his assertion that the motto is blatantly religious. Because the national motto has been held to be secular in nature, there is no proper allegation that the government compelled plaintiff to affirm a repugnant belief in monotheism.
The AP story is here.
 
E-mail
Written by Don Byrd   
Tuesday, 13 June 2006
Alaska is being sued to prevent a bill that would enhance a religious property tax exemption to include teacher housing. Not only does this exemption protect only religious entities--a common property tax exception--in this case it may only apply to a single religious institution. The AP reports:
The Anchorage Baptist Temple appears to be the only religious organization in the state that currently benefits from the exemption, said Steve Van Sant, state assessor. City officials say they are still assessing its potential impacts. In an e-mail to the Associated Press, Glenn Clary, a pastor with the Baptist church, described the lawsuit as harassment and an attack against all religious institutions. He said the bill merely clarifies existing law.
 
China--US House Squabble over Religious Liberty E-mail
Written by Don Byrd   
Tuesday, 13 June 2006
Yesterday, the US House of Representatives passed 3 resolutions condemning China: one marking the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square demonstrations, and 2 involving ongoing religious persecution and a lack of religious liberty. China's response: who, me?
The resolution "constitutes a gross interference in China's internal affairs," said Jiang Yu, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman. "We express strong dissatisfaction and firm opposition." Jiang said the passing of the resolution was a "groundless accusation and attack against China's religious and human rights." ... China maintains tight control over all religions. Those who practice Falun Gong, a banned spiritual movement, or who attend underground Protestant or Catholic churches routinely face detention, harassment and sometimes imprisonment.
 
FL: Supreme Court Hears Sales Tax Exemption Challenge E-mail
Written by Don Byrd   
Monday, 12 June 2006
Orlando Sentinel
A sales tax exemption for religious items and publications including Bibles should be declared unconstitutional, a lawyer for a Wiccan group told the state Supreme Court on Friday. ... Kevin Shaughnessy, representing The Florida Catholic and The Florida Baptist Witness, and Deputy Solicitor General James McKee said the Wiccans lack legal standing to challenge the exemption because they are not harmed by it. Both also argued it does not violate the First Amendment because certain nonreligious publications, although not all, also get the same tax break. "It encourages freedom of speech," Shaughnessy said. The state has avoided potentially unconstitutional religious entanglements by letting retailers decide which items qualify for the exemption, McKee said. [Plaintiff attorney Heather] Morcroft contended the state cannot avoid legal responsibility that way.
 
Newdow and the Pledge, Part 2 E-mail
Written by Don Byrd   
Monday, 12 June 2006
In 2004, the Supreme Court overturned the controversial Pledge of Allegiance decision by th 9th Circuit, maintaining that attorney/client Michael Newdow lacked the standing to bring the suit. Since then, he has been hired by 2 parents to revisist the effort to challenge "under God" in public school recitations of the Pledge. In a new column, Howard Bashman considers whether the 9th Circuit is bound by its previous decision on the merits, as a federal district court has ruled. His opinion, in a word? No.
 
Faith-Based Funding and Social Services E-mail
Written by Don Byrd   
Monday, 12 June 2006
Now that faith-based funding has become a reality--and is gathering a gradual acceptance--the dilemma long predicted by opponents is starting to take shape: where do we draw the line? And how do we police the murky middle where social services become religious programs? Today's Christian Science Monitor reports on the Iowa prison decision in terms of this dilemma, and while this ruling may mark a moment of resistance, pushing back against a practice that has gone unchecked, the line has clearly moved in recent years.
The trouble has been a growing ambiguity about what is and isn't acceptable, and almost no monitoring of activities once the grants have been made. "They say 'here are the rules' and make the grants, but I think there's a lot of 'don't ask, don't tell' going on," says Ira Lupu, a law professor at George Washington University. The legal line can be ambiguous: A program that offers a meal and includes a voluntary grace would most likely be acceptable, he says, but the programs that deal with some sort of religious character transformation are problematic. "That's where you cross the line, if the government is paying for it." Though Mr. Bush's faith-based initiative, first announced in 2001, has never received congressional approval, the program has been expanded through executive order, and Bush recently announced that federal funding to religious groups grew to $2.1 billion last year - about 11 percent of the total funds awarded to community groups.
Previous posts on the Iowa decision arehere, here, and here.
 
NYTimes Weighs In E-mail
Written by Don Byrd   
Sunday, 11 June 2006
Yesterday's NYTimes entered the discussion over the potential impact on religious liberty of same-sex marriage. Following last week's Chicago Tribune, which presented competing evaluations of the prevalent argument that an impending "train wreck" threatens religious freedom, the Times piece begins:
Is same-sex marriage on a collision course with religious liberty? It wasn't surprising that before the constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage died in the Senate this week, several senators supporting it raised that danger. But when highly respected legal experts on civil liberties, including ones favoring same-sex marriage, raise the same possibility, their concerns cannot be dismissed as partisan debating points.
Meanwhile, Professor Sunstein [quote in both stories) makes an observation that sounds like good sense to me: that what is at stake is not so much new legal territory, but the promise of a political "intensification" of the careful balancing act that church-state jurisprudence already regularly visits.
 
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New Hampshire Supreme Court Debates Aid to Religious Schools Program
The New Hampshire Supreme Court last week heard oral arguments in a challenge to the state's tuition tax credit program. Businesses in the state are receiving tax credits for paying private school tuition through a scholarship incentive program. Because many of those funds are going to ...
 
New Police Commissioner Abandons NYPD Muslim Surveillance Program
A new police commissioner in New York has brought new policies. William Bratton put an end to the Demographics Unit, an undercover surveillance operation controversial for targeting Muslim communities, including maintaining files on individual houses of worship. (The BJC and others last yea...