Published by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc. FFRF.org

In the News (October 2019)

Vol. 36 No. 08 October 2019

Court: Pa. House can bar nontheists from prayers

The 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Aug. 23 that it’s constitutional for the Pennsylvania House of Representatives to ban guest chaplains who don’t believe in God or a higher power from delivering opening invocations at its meetings, reversing a district court decision last year. A group of freethinkers, represented by Americans United for Separation of Church and State, sued members of the Pennsylvania House in 2016 over its theists-only policy for guest chaplains, arguing that it violates the Constitution’s Establishment Clause.

Judge Thomas L. Ambro, who wrote the 2-1 majority opinion, claimed that because prayer presupposes a higher power, “only theistic invocations can achieve all the purposes of legislative prayer.”

Americans United called the ruling discriminatory and “disturbing.”

The majority opinion shows a preference for people who believe in God while “sending a message of exclusion and even scorn to nontheists,” said Rob Boston, a senior adviser for the group.

Pence says ‘The bible stays’ at VA hospital

Vice President Mike Pence told his supporters “the bible stays,” when discussing the New Hampshire veterans hospital display that is now part of a federal lawsuit.

The display at the Manchester VA Medical Center features a bible carried by a prisoner of war during World War II. The bible became the subject of a federal lawsuit filed in May by U.S. Air Force veteran James Chamberlain. He claimed its presence violates the Constitution’s Establishment Clause. The Military Religious Freedom Foundation, which seeks to prevent the United States Armed Forces from showing favoritism toward any religion, also denounced the display.

Young Americans driving shift in religion, patriotism

Religion, patriotism and having children are seen as less important than they were 21 years ago, a shift driven largely by the changing views of younger Americans.

A new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll showed significant differences from the poll in 1998.

In the earlier poll, Americans listed hard work, patriotism, religion and having children as their top priorities.

Forty-eight percent of Americans cite religion as very important, a 14-point decrease from 21 years ago. Younger Americans again drove the decreasing value. Sixty-seven percent of Americans over the age of 55 cite religion or belief in God as very important, compared to 30 percent of Americans age 18 to 38, based on the poll.

Sixty-one percent of Americans in the new survey list patriotism as very important to them, a 9-point drop from 1998.

45% of students: No to ‘In God We Trust’ on money

Nearly half of U.S. college students think the motto “In God We Trust” should be removed from U.S. currency.

Of the 1,001 students who took the survey, 53 percent said it should remain and 45 percent said it should be removed.

Two-thirds of Democrat respondents are in favor of removing the motto, while only 6 percent of Republican respondents said it should go.

The poll was conducted for The College Fix by College Pulse, an online survey and analytics company.

Ruling upheld over Mormon sect

The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals on Aug. 26 found that Colorado City, Ariz., and Hildale, Utah, had conspired with sect members to advance the objectives of Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, a radical offshoot of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.

Federal authorities alleged the towns were operated as an arm of the sect, took orders from church leaders about whom to appoint to government jobs and that town employees assisted sect leader Warren Jeffs, who is now serving a life sentence in Texas for sexually assaulting girls he considered brides, when he was a fugitive.

City tries crowdfunding for ACLU legal bills

Bloomfield, N.M., owes $700,000 to the ACLU after running out of appeals trying to defend an illegal stand-alone Ten Commandments monument outside a municipal building.

The city budget in 2019 called for paying $233,000 to the ACLU. The city chose three annual payments over a one-time in-full payment.

But now, the city asked its residents to help cover the remaining cost ($467,000). Brad Ellsworth, the city’s finance director, set up a GoFundMe campaign to cover it. As of mid-September, the campaign had raised less than $2,000 of the $467,000 goal (or less than 4/10ths of 1 percent of their goal).

Appeals court: Kentucky owes for Davis fiasco

The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled recently that the state of Kentucky is responsible for paying nearly $225,000 in court costs and attorneys’ fees after former Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis broke the law when she refused to sign marriage licenses for same-sex couples.

In 2017, she lost her appeal, saddling the Kentucky taxpayers with about $225,000 in legal fees. Gov. Matt Bevin said earlier this year that Davis, not the taxpayers, had to pay the fee.

A district judge ruled in 2017 that the couples suing for marriage licenses clearly prevailed and that the state of Kentucky must pay their fees and costs. The 6th Circuit agreed.

Nonreligious weddings rise in Northern Ireland

The demand for humanist wedding ceremonies has risen dramatically since they were legally recognized in Northern Ireland a year ago.

About 180 couples are expected to have a humanist wedding in 2019, up from 60 in 2018 and an average of about 10-15 a year before that.

Northern Ireland and Scotland are the only parts of the United Kingdom where humanist ceremonies are legally recognized. Before 2018, couples could have a humanist wedding, but had to have a separate ceremony at a register office in order to be legally married.

City may hold lottery for holiday displays

After a few years of wrangling, the Bethel, Conn., Board of Selectmen voted to permit any group to put up its holiday display outside the municipal building after applying for a permit. 

But if there are more applications than spaces available, the city would hold a lottery, which would include all applicants.

Only Bethel residents or organizations are permitted to apply and the area reserved for the display must not exceed one-third of the total square footage of the square.