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Wadena, MN: Nativity scene on city park grounds to come down

After complaints from the FFRF the Wadena city council voted to remove a nativity scene from a city park last week.

Mayor George Deiss says for as long as anyone in Wadena can remember the nativity scene has been displayed at Burlington Northern Park. It used to be in the band shell, but was moved to the heart of the park last year and caught the eye of a resident.

“They were offended that we had put it out on city property,” Deiss said.

We would suggest that the issue is not about being offended, it’s about the promotion of one particular religion by a government entity.  That’s no so much about “offense” as it is about “unconstitutionality”.  When courts find that a particular action by the government is unconstitutional, we don’t describe the cause of that finding to be a response to someone being offended.

He argues the display is not about religion.

“When something is put up that many years it becomes a tradition to the city,” he said.

To claim that a nativity scene featuring the birth of the principal religious figure in one religion is somehow not religious seems to be a rather bizarre claim, but one that is not atypical when this type of issue arises.  In addition, the “it’s a tradition” response is not a great defense either: “we’ve always done it this way” says nothing about whether we should indeed be doing it this way in the future.

The national chapter of AU sent a letter to the city council in Wadena to address this issue, and we are pleased to see it get resolved.

Have you heard of similar issues in your town?  Americans United is here to help: send us an email at

Thanks to an AU member JH who sent in the link to this article.

Supreme Court news: religious objections to birth control will come before the court

Big news on the Supreme Court front today, on continued challenges to the Affordable Care Act because of religious objections to a law that should apply equally to all.

Today, the high court agreed to hear seven cases, including Roman Catholic Archbishop of Washington v. Burwell and Little Sisters of the Poor Home for the Aged v. Burwell, that concern challenges brought by religiously affiliated institutions. Although the plaintiffs are not required to include birth control in the insurance plans that they provide to their employees, they object to their employees receiving that coverage from a third party.

To be clear, the plaintiffs do not have to include nor pay for birth control for their employees.  They only have to sign an affidavit indicating their religious opposition to including this birth control, and the third party will provide it to their employees at no cost.

But this is somehow still seen as a burden on their religious freedom.

Americans United says that objection is baseless, and seven of eight federal appeals courts have agreed and rejected such claims.  We will see what the Supreme Court has to say.

Senator Hatch and a misunderstanding of church/state separation

Looks like the “War on Christmas” myth is rearing its head again… ’tis the season, after all.

It’s one of the arguments that Senator Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) used in his speech on Nov 4th on the Senate floor as part of his speech addressing… well, nothing really related to Senate business, but apparently it’s a big enough deal that he feels the need to spend time discussing how church and state separation is just another example of religions being persecuted in the US today.

And he also raises the myth of “no prayer in schools”.  Sen. Hatch needs to actually go to a public school one of these days and provide us some documentation on how these kids are forbidden from praying, because they seem to be doing fine without his help, especially before math tests.  He just needs to make sure he doesn’t force any of the kids to pray, because as a public official, that wouldn’t be appropriate.

“The erroneous wall-of-separation doctrine has narrowed the role of religion in public discourse, fueling the view that religion is a private matter rather than a fundamental precept of American civil society”

See, one’s religion IS a private matter, Senator: one in which the government generally has no say other than to make sure you are not infringing anyone else’s rights (and no one is infringing yours) while practicing it.  When you talk about a “fundamental precept of American civil society”, the concept you are really thinking about is “religious freedom”, which the concept of separation of church and state is there to protect.

One person can free Kim Davis…

…and that’s Kim Davis herself.

See this link for an article from AU’s very own Rob Boston on how the KY county clerk has chosen the path of martyrdom rather than comply with the law.

On the anniversary of Engels v. Vitale (1962)

It’s the 53rd anniversary of the Supreme Court 6-1 ruling in “Engels v. Vitale” from 1962, which declared that forcing children to recite a prayer in public school was unconstitutional.
Contrary to what critics of this ruling say, this does not mean that “prayer is illegal” or that the ruling “took prayer out of public schools”. Children are still free to pray whenever and wherever they want, in the manner prescribed by their beliefs (and not that of their teachers) as long as they are not being disruptive to the learning process that is the purpose of the school… NOT indoctrination into a particular religion. But they can’t be coerced or forced into praying, regardless of their religion or lack thereof, and their teachers cannot require any practice of any religion.
It was a ruling that supported freedom of religion, since the families who brought the lawsuit were concerned about government officials mandating the style, manner, timing and language of a personal form of worship. Ultimately the Justices concurred.
Also going through the courts at the time, and to be decided almost a year later, was the Abington v. Schempp case in which laws in multiple states that mandated Bible verse reading in the public schools were also declared unconstitutional. Lest you think that this practice was open-minded towards religion and religious beliefs, a student named Ellery Schempp kicked off the lawsuit process by reading from the Qu’ran instead of the Bible, for which he was ejected from class. The book “Ellery’s Protest” presents the story of that action and lawsuit, and is a great read if anyone (local!) wants to borrow it.

ACT NOW: Tell Your State Senator: Oppose SB 2158 and Protect Civil Rights in Minnesota!

MN Action Alert

SB 2158 would open the door to discrimination.

Protect Civil Rights in Minnesota.

Tell Your Senator to Vote NO on SB 2158!

The Minnesota Senate recently introduced SB 2158, a bill that purports to protect “freedom of conscience,” but actually threatens the civil rights of Minnesotans. It opens the door to individuals, small businesses, and government employees to use religion as an excuse to discriminate against others.

This bill would allow religious entities, for-profit small businesses, and government employees to refuse to provide services, accommodations, facilities, goods or privileges for any purpose related to the solemnization, formation, or celebration of any marriage that is not between one man and one woman.

SB 2158 is designed to also allow businesses like florists, bakers, or photographers to refuse to provide their services for weddings to which they have personal religious objections. As a result, this bill could trump existing state and local non-discrimination laws prohibiting discrimination against same-sex individuals. This kind of discrimination is the very reason Indiana received enormous backlash when it initially passed its “religious freedom bill” that would have allowed religion to be used as an excuse to discriminate. Make sure Minnesota doesn’t receive that same criticism.

Not only that, but SB 2158 could provide a blanket exemption for all government employees to refuse to perform or issue marriage licenses in the name of religion. Government employees are paid by the taxpayer and should serve all people equally and fairly. Instead, this bill would allow government employees to treat some couples differently and discriminatorily.

Act now: Please contact the members of the Senate Judiciary Committee here and tell them:

“Please oppose SB 2158. This bill would allow discrimination against Minnesotans by allowing anyone, including small businesses and government employees, to refuse to participate or provide services in a marriage ceremony or celebration under the guise of religious freedom.  Vote NO on SB 2158 and protect civil rights and religious freedom in Minnesota!”

Some thoughts from inside the Supreme Court today

From AU’s Rob Boston, who was inside the Supreme Court listening to today’s arguments on same-sex marriage.

See his comments here.

The audio from today’s proceedings has already been published and is available here in two parts.


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