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Weekend Wrapup E-mail
Written by Don Byrd   
Sunday, 18 June 2006
Religion News Service's Daniel Burke offers a report on Judge Damrell's decision throwing out Michael Newdow's most recent challenge to "In God We Trust." The Washington Post says that religious minorities in Iran are seeing increasing levels of harassment. In The Revealer, Nicole Greenfield analyzes the role departing Bush advisor Michael Gerson played in infusing the President's rhetoric with the language of religion. In The Las Vegas Sun, the AP reports on a decision by officials at Foothill High School to cut off the mike of a valedictorian's commencement speech when the student speaker veered off of prepared remarks and began speaking about Christ in a way that was deemed "proselytizing." (via Religion Clause)
 
Denial Of Treatment Case Will Be Heard E-mail
Written by Don Byrd   
Thursday, 15 June 2006
The California Supreme Court will hear the case of a lesbian denied infertitility treatment because of the religious beliefs of the doctors. The San Francisco Chronicle reports:
The case should clear up "confusion in the public mind about whether religious beliefs excuse discrimination,'' said attorney Jennifer Pizer of the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, which represents Benitez. "This is a significant problem for gay people.'' Attorney Robert Tyler of the Alliance Defense Fund, which represents the clinic and two physicians who refused to treat Benitez, said the case will decide the extent of a person's right "to exercise your faith as a Christian without being forced and compelled to do something that would violate your religious beliefs.''
That this one case will "clear up" that issue may be a bit optimistic, but this should be an important case to follow.
 
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.
 
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Louisiana Legislator Pulls State Book Bill
On second thought, Louisiana State Representative Thomas Carmody has decided to end his bid to make the Holy Bible the official state book, just ahead of a scheduled vote of the House yesterday. The Times-Picayune has more: The bill had become a distraction, he said. ... Initially, ...
 
Details will Determine Propriety of New Public School Bible Curriculum Offering
Hobby Lobby founder Steve Green has already made a name for himself in the world of constitutional law by bringing the contraception coverage lawsuit the U.S. Supreme Court will decide later this year. But if he has his way, he may have an even bigger impact through his public school Bible c...