U.S. District Judge John G. Heyburn II, who joined nine other federal and state courts in invalidating bans on recognizing same-sex marriages performed in other states:
while “religious beliefs … are vital to the fabric of society … assigning a religious or traditional rationale for a law does not make it constitutional when that law discriminates against a class of people without other reasons.”
Couldn’t have said it better ourselves: this is one of the guiding principles of separation of Church and State. If a law has no secular rationale, then it should not be on the books. Laws with religious rationale belong in religious institutions, and should only apply to those institutions and those who agree to belong to them, as long as they don’t affect the freedom and rights of anyone on the outside.
Across the country, legislators are proposing bills that would violate Separation Of Church And State
South Carolina State Rep. Wendell Gilliard wants children to pray in public schools. A bill he has introduced would require teachers to initiate time for prayer every morning. “The compromise would be to have the students to pray to whomever they want to,” the Charleston Democrat said. “If they want to do away with teachers conducting the prayer that would be fine with us.
The essential part of the bill, the important part, is putting prayer back in school.”For those who don’t care to participate, Gilliard has a solution: They can leave the room and wait outside.
Sen. Gilliard doesn’t seem to feel that this is a problem, in spite of the fact that it will isolate and divide students, make those who don’t participate in the majority religion feel rejected and not part of the community, and force teachers, who are agents of the state, to initiate prayer in what is supposed to be a place of education.
Children can already pray at school if they feel so moved, as long as they are not disruptive to the educational process. Why do some legislators feel the need to force it to happen?
See the article for more examples of proposed bills that would violate church/state separation, why they are unhealthy for everyone (religious or not), and what you can do about it.
Minnesota friends and AU members: find your caucus. Attend.
The major party caucuses are tomorrow, Tuesday Feb 4th, and there are fewer better ways to participate in your democratic form of government than attending… other than actually, you know, *voting*. It’s where the agenda for the parties is set at the local level.
To provide further incentive, we have received 3 emails today from right-wing fundamentalist groups urging their members to attend in order to push their major agenda items for this year, and all of them call for passing resolutions to reduce church and state separation, including:
- Gutting the Safe Schools bill by allowing bullying if the bully is “expressing a sincerely-held religious belief”
- Pushing through laws that allow people to deny services to same-sex couples (or anyone else) based on religious objections to their lifestyles
- Pushing laws that make abortions harder or impossible to get in MN, regardless of the impact on women’s health, the viability of the fetus or exceptions for abuse and rape, thanks to religious definitions
Does that sound like an agenda you want to see promoted, or given to your local politicians as the supposed will of the people they represent? Then please attend your local caucus, and make sure the agendas YOU want to see, those that support separation of Church and State, are the ones that are represented.
Find your local caucus at this link.
See you there.
Tennessee congressman Rep. Scott DesJarlais (R-TN) called it “unfortunate” that religious freedom laws recently passed in Tennessee allow religious freedom for religions he doesn’t happen to be very fond of. From this article:
“Unfortunately the Tennessee Religious Freedom Act, passed by the TN General Assembly, may have played a key role in allowing this cemetery to be approved,” the two-term representative wrote. “There is a difference between legislation that would protect our religious freedoms and legislation that would allow for the circumvention of laws that other organizations comply with on a daily basis.”
The problem is exactly that: there is no difference. The only difference DesJarlais seems to refer to is that, to him, “our” religious freedoms means “our Christian beliefs”. Therefore if a different religion uses “religious freedom” as an approach to “circumventing laws”, it’s bad, but when a Christian group does it, it’s fine. He seems to be joining the large group of legislators who call for passing “religious freedom” laws, but then express complete surprise when these laws are used by people of faiths that are different from their own.
This is why Americans United for Separation of Church and State opposes so-called “religious freedom” laws that do nothing but allow religious belief to be used as a flimsy excuse to not comply with the law of the land, whether it’s about a cemetery or women’s healthcare.
From AU’s Press Release:
The National Coalition for Public Education (NCPE) says it’s unfortunate that “National School Choice Week,” which takes place Jan. 26-Feb.1, so heavily promotes private school vouchers as a positive choice for America’s students.
Vouchers don’t provide equal access to high quality education or set high standards and accountability. Instead, study after study has found they are ineffective, lack accountability to taxpayers and strip students of rights otherwise provided in public school.
While public school choice options are also highlighted during this week, pro-voucher proponents use this week to bash traditional public schools and promote unconstitutional funding schemes that undermine these schools’ ability to effectively educate every student they must serve.
“Parents and students have no real choice under these plans,” said Maggie Garrett, legislative director at Americans United for Separation of Church and State and co-chair of NCPE. “The choice of whether to admit a child rests wholly with private schools and the people who operate them.”
Read the rest of the press release here.
When a person takes a position within government, you expect that their motivation will be to uphold the Constitution, the (secular) laws with which we order our society, and some recognition that we live in a pluralistic country with many differences of opinion and hundreds (if not thousands) of religious perspectives.
In this case, we have a person who has taken a position in order to impose their religious opinion on the other people in his state. Obviously he recognizes that there are those whose opinions differ from his: after all, there are a couple of thousand newly married people in his state of Utah that disagree with him strongly on whether their marriages are valid. Gene Schaerr, a Washington, D.C. partner at the law firm Winston & Strawn, cites his personal religious beliefs as the rationale behind his decision to quit his job and become the lead counsel on the State of Utah’s case against marriage equality.
When law is based on religious belief and has little or no secular validation, all freedom of religion suffers. It’s quite telling that the reasons he gives for taking on the case have nothing to do with any of the reasons the State of Utah has put forward to defend their position.
In several articles recently we have seen details on the case of Little Sisters of the Poor, an order of Roman Catholic nuns that is challenging requirements for many employers to provide health insurance coverage for birth control or face penalties under the new health care law. In this particular case, the nuns are not required to provide birth control coverage, and neither is their insurance company. But the Little Sisters are claiming that merely the act of certifying that they are not required to provide coverage goes against their freedom of religious expression: they feel that the certification itself (a form that merely informs the government and the Little Sister’s insurance company that they are claiming exemption from the requirement) is too burdensome, even though signing it will not enable any other company to provide contraception coverage to their employees.
It would be interesting if the government changed the law so that merely registering as a religious non-profit organization would trigger the exception, since the results would be exactly the same. However, if the organization decides not to sign that registration, they would lose their tax-exempt status. As it stands right now, the Little Sisters (and multiple other organizations) have been granted injunctions against the law so as to not have to pay the associated penalties until the issues are resolved.
ThinkProgress: article here. “Unlike the Hobby Lobby case, where a business owned by people with religious objections to birth control is suing to avoid having to provide contraceptive coverage to their employees, there is no question in the Colorado case that the plaintiffs do not have to provide birth control to anyone. Every single one of the plaintiffs in the Colorado case qualify for a religious exemption to the birth control rules — indeed, the federal government admits as much.”
New York Times: article here. “The Little Sisters “need only self-certify that they are nonprofit organizations that hold themselves out as religious and have religious objections to providing coverage for contraceptive services,” the administration said in a brief filed with the Supreme Court by the solicitor general, Donald B. Verrilli Jr.”
Americans United: article here. “At the end of the day, this isn’t about religious freedom. It’s really about the Catholic hierarchy and fundamentalists trying to deny birth control to as many people as possible simply because they don’t think it’s morally right.”
RH Reality Check: article here. “In short, religiously affiliated nonprofits like Geneva College requested and received a mechanism to opt out of a mandate in the name of religious freedom, but are now claiming that using said mechanism also violates their religious freedom.”