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Reminder: board meeting and discussion, Tue Nov 5, 7pm

November 2, 2013

A reminder: our monthly board meeting and public discussion will be on Tuesday Nov 5th, at the Larpenteur Estates Party Room at 1280 Larpenteur Ave W, St Paul, MN.   The board meeting starts at 6:30pm, and the discussion starts at 7pm.  More details are available here.

We are into a new school year, and with that we see a whole new series of challenges to separation of church and state. Americans United depends on its membership for visibility and awareness of potential church-state separation concerns: you are our eyes and ears. As members, we are looking to you to help inform us of any issue concerning church-state entanglement that bothers you and requires our attention, so that we may provide support and address the issue. We would like to invite you to discuss the issues and ask any questions during our next open discussion meeting, on Nov 5th at 7pm, after the monthly board meeting at 6:30pm. The meeting will be held at 1280 Larpenteur Ave., in the party room at Larpenteur Estates: park in the rear of the complex, walk to the gap between buildings near the East end of the complex, and signs will guide you to the party room.

What type of issues are we looking out for? Examples include:

  • Taxpayer support for religious schools: this includes “vouchers” and similar programs, as well as charter schools that are primarily or significantly religious in nature, and tax credits, subsidies or other financial assistance. Any program that redirects taxpayer money toward schools that have religious requirements is problematic, and may be an unconstitutional subsidy of religion.
  • Promotion of religion in public schools: this can include official prayers in school or at school events, posting of religious banners, icons or symbols for non-educational purposes, prayers, any official school organization, activity or policy that promotes religious membership or makes non-members feel excluded from school activities and school resources being made available exclusively to particular religious groups to the exclusion of others, be they religious or otherwise.
  • Public school curriculum changes: we have seen many attacks on the curriculum in the past few years, with special focus on undermining evolution and crippling sex education in order to address religiously based objections. Also, watch for changes to textbooks in order to promote sectarian positions, as well as religious handouts; while the study of religions is acceptable, the promotion or evangelization of one religion is not.
  • “Faith-based” initiatives: programs in which taxpayer money is funneled into religious organizations (and only religious organizations) in order to provide social services. While we are strong believers in charity and social services, and support the ability of churches to provide these services, we believe that they should be using their own resources to do so through voluntary contributions of their faithful, and not unfairly burden taxpayers that do not share their religious beliefs. Any action that “partners” the government with a religious group and provides them with funds to help promote their own religious agenda under the guise of social services should be considered unacceptable, and is potentially unconstitutional.
  • “Pulpit politics”: as a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, Americans United is prohibited from endorsing or opposing candidates or political parties. By the same token, so are religious organizations that are tax-exempt. In the last few years we have seen several actions taken by religious groups to challenge this (e.g. “Pulpit Freedom Day”), actions that we consider a violation of tax law. Listening to partisan political speeches, being solicited for campaign contributions and getting instructions about whom to vote for on election day are not activities that belong in the church.
  • Sectarian prayers at government meetings: while it is acceptable for government meetings to start or conclude with a non-sectarian, non-exclusive prayer, all religious viewpoints must be given an opportunity for expression and participation. If only one narrow set of viewpoints or religious beliefs is represented while others are discouraged or not allowed, this is an unconstitutional promotion of religion. This is the subject of the Greece v. Galloway lawsuit that will be presented soon before the U.S. Supreme Court.
  • Ensuring fair treatment of minority religions: the First Amendment prohibits the state from promoting any religion, but also from suppressing any. This is especially important when it comes to religious groups with smaller memberships, who may not get the respect and fair treatment other religions do.

If you are aware of these issues occurring in your local community, you can let us know by contacting the Minnesota Chapter of Americans United for Separation of Church and State at info@mnau.org, or visiting our website at http://mnau.org

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