It’s a simple lesson that seems difficult for some people to understand: once you open up a public, taxpayer-funded space for the expression of one opinion on religion, you have to open it up for all. Just as religious groups would complain if an atheist organization were given free space to communicate their ideas inside a government building while rejecting theirs, atheists have the right to use public space that has been provided to religious organizations. If you allow one viewpoint and one viewpoint only, then you are promoting that viewpoint while suppressing others. It’s not the role of government to decide whose viewpoint is appropriate to be expressed and which is not.
But Michigan seems to need a reminder:
Since 2009, the city has allowed a local church group to run a prayer station in which volunteers distribute religious pamphlets, offer to pray with passersby, and discuss their religious beliefs with people who approach the station. The lawsuit filed today does not seek to have the prayer station removed, but instead asks the court to order the city to treat believers and non-believers equally.
For those who assume (incorrectly) that Americans United only supports atheistic viewpoints, that last sentence is important: it’s not that non-believers should be treated better or have more rights than believers. It’s that ALL viewpoints should be treated equally by the government, since the government is representing all of us, regardless of religion or lack thereof. This helps protect ALL religious views and forms of expression.
Today, the Senate will vote on the “Not My Boss’ Business Act.” It’s an important first step to fixing the damage the Supreme Court caused in Hobby Lobby–and here’s how you can take action.
On June 23, the House of Representatives passed S. 1044, “The World War II Memorial Prayer Act of 2013,” which calls for the installation of a plaque or inscription with a prayer at the World War II Memorial in Washington DC.
One of the main themes of the World War II Memorial is unity. Adding a prayer to the memorial, however, introduces something about which many Americans disagree: religion. America’s military, like the nation itself, is extraordinarily religiously diverse. Our veterans, like our currently serving troops, come from many different religious traditions and some follow no spiritual path at all. Adding a prayer that represents some—but not all—veterans and members of the military defies the theme of unity and leaves many unrepresented.
Keeping a separation of church and state in this case would better serve religious freedom and truly represent and honor all veterans. There was no need to take extraordinary steps to reopen the design of the memorial 10 years after its dedication to add a prayer, especially when the monument already acknowledges that faith was important to many soldiers during the war.
The 12 Representatives who took a stand against this bill deserve to be thanked, so this is your chance to thank them. Minnesota Rep. Keith Ellison was one of only twelve representatives to vote against it and we’d like to encourage people to thank him for his vote. If you have members or friends who may live in his district, please consider forwarding the alert to them if you haven’t already. And, if your Representative voted for the prayer to be added to the memorial, please remind him or her that the government should honor the principle of church-state separation in order to best honor all of our veterans.
To find out how your Representative voted and to send him or her a follow-up message, enter your info at this site!
A ruling on the Hobby Lobby case currently before the Supreme Court is expected on the very last day rulings are supposed to be coming out: June 30th. In brief, the court is ruling on a case brought by the owners of Hobby Lobby (a crafting supplies store) asking to be exempted from the ACA requirement that their employee’s health insurance plans include contraceptive care coverage. The exemption is requested for religious reasons. If the Court sides with Hobby Lobby, they would be granting the right of freedom of religious expression to a corporation for the first time.
Rev. Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, discussed some of the possible consequences of a ruling in favor of Hobby Lobby in this article for Forbes magazine.
“Scientology-believing employers could insist on non-coverage of its nemesis, psychiatry,” he said. “Jehovah’s Witness-owned corporations could demand exclusion from surgical coverage, under the theory that so many of such procedures require the use of whole blood products forbidden by their faith.”
Consequences could include making it legal for a private employer to fire an employee for being a single parent, or even because their personal religion forbids them from associating with people of other religions. What particularly bothers people who oppose such a result is that Hobby Lobby’s health plan used to cover contraceptive care: it wasn’t until the passage of the ACA that it became a religious issue. In addition, Hobby Lobby’s pension plan invests in companies that produce the contraceptive care products that they claim to be opposed to.
One to watch.
A denial of cert (meaning the Supreme Court declined to hear the case) came out today (6/16/2014).
Americans United for Separation of Church and State today hailed the U.S. Supreme Court’s announcement that it will not hear an appeal of a lower court’s ruling striking down a Wisconsin school district’s use of an evangelical megachurch to hold commencement ceremonies.
“There was no need for the U.S. Supreme Court to take this case,” said Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. “The matter was resolved correctly by the court of appeals. This case should serve as a warning to public schools that it’s not appropriate to hold important ceremonies like graduation in a religious setting.”
Justices Scalia and Thomas dissented on the denial of cert, which gives a pretty clear indication of what their ruling would have been on the case, and explains how they intend to rule on any future separation of Church and State issue. Not exactly a surprise, but it does signal that they intend to leverage Greece v. Galloway to the hilt in order to gut any separation cases.
…is because otherwise you end up spending your tax dollars on having government representatives presuming to lecture you on whether you are going to Hell or not, on believing the “right way” and how to act according to their personal interpretation of Scripture. Is that really what you want your government to be doing?
Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) saw fit to spend his allotted time during the House Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on the Constitution and Civil Justice grilling Rev. Barry W. Lynn, Americans United Executive Director on his personal theological views. He made quite clear in his comments that he felt anyone who didn’t believe exactly the way he did about religion was going to hell:
“So, you do not believe somebody would go to Hell if they do not believe Jesus is the way, the truth, the life?” Gohmert pressed.
The pastor argued that people would not got to Hell for believing a “set of ideas.”
“No, not a set of ideas. Either you believe as a Christian that Jesus is the way, the truth, or life or you don’t,” Gohmert shot back. “And there’s nothing wrong in our country with that — there’s no crime, there’s no shame.”
“Congressman, what I believe is not necessarily what I think ought to justify the creation of public policy for everybody,” Lynn explained. “For the 2,000 different religions that exist in this country, the 25 million non-believers. I’ve never been offended, I’ve never been ashamed to share my belief. When I spoke recently at an American Atheists conference, it was clear from the very beginning, the first sentence that I was a Christian minister.”
See the video here
Rep. Gohmert’s is definitely not the kind of attitude towards religious expression we want in our legislatures, let alone our country. And is it really the best use of our government’s resources to spend time lecturing religious leaders on how to believe, and telling them they don’t think they are “true Christians”?
“The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals will hear arguments in the case in coming weeks. And when its judges deliberate Michigan’s ban, they should do so with the Constitution, not a fundamentalist interpretation of the Bible, in mind. Johnson, Evans and their peers may believe the debunked notion that America is a Christian nation, and that extending civil rights to same-sex couples deviates from some mythological fundamentalist national character.
“But those beliefs don’t have any basis in fact, and they shouldn’t influence the court’s ruling. This coalition has failed utterly to present any secular argument against same-sex marriage. Instead, it’s repeated the Religious Right’s favorite talking points, as if saying a thing often, and with passion, can somehow make it true.”