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Jewish groups, many others, join in effort to define laws affecting religions in U.S.

January 13, 2010 Leave a comment

NEW YORK (Press Release)–The role of religion in American life continues to be a subject of national discussion and debate.  The Anti-Defamation League (ADL), which has always been at the forefront of issues surrounding religious expression in America, has joined with a diverse group of organizations in a statement about the current state of the law regarding religious expression in the United States.

The document, Religious Expression in American Public Life: A Joint Statement of Current Law, attempts to clearly set an accurate understanding of the current state of the law.   It does not focus on what the law should be, but rather what the law is today.

“This effort brought together diverse groups from across religious and political spectrums – many of whom are more comfortable competing in the courtroom than cooperating on a project,” said Deborah M. Lauter, ADL Civil Rights Director.

“The law of religion in American public life is an unusually complex subject, shrouded in misinformation and misunderstanding, and which is often discussed while emotions are running at their highest,” she said. “By explaining the law as clearly and simply as possible, this important work will help reduce tension when questions concerning a wide range of topics arise, including religious holiday displays, religion in the military and religion in the classroom.”

While the drafters of the document often disagree about how the law should address issues regarding the intersection of religion and government, the project aimed to build a common consensus on what is legally permissible, not necessarily what is desirable.

ADL was actively engaged as a member of the drafting committee led by Melissa Rogers, Director, Wake Forest University Divinity School’s Center for Religion and Public Affairs.

The document is organized around a series of questions on the role of religion in public life.  Among the issues explored:

  • May religious groups and people participate in the debate of public issues?
  • May religious groups inform public policy?
  • May the government require individuals to pass a religious test in order to hold government office?
  • Are persons elected or nominated to serve as government officials required to place their hands on the Bible when making oaths or affirmations?
  • Does the First Amendment place restrictions on the political activities of religious organizations?
  • Are individuals and groups permitted to use government property for religious activities and events?

The document was drafted by a committee made up of legal experts, academics and representatives of national civil rights organizations, including American Center for Law and Justice, American Jewish Committee, American Jewish Congress, the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty, the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, the Freedom Forum First Amendment Center, the Islamic Networks Group, the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, the Sikh Council on Religion and Education, and the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America.

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Preceding provided by Anti-Defamation League

Conservative legal group files suit to permit judge to display 10 Commandments in courtroom

December 18, 2009 2 comments

WASHINGTON, D.C. (Press Release)– The American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) – dedicated to the defense of constitutional liberties secured by law – on Thursday filed its brief with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit on behalf of Ohio Common Pleas Court Judge James DeWeese urging the court to clear the way for the Judge to display a poster in his courtroom that includes the Ten Commandments as part of an exhibit on legal philosophy.  The ACLJ is asking the appeals court to overturn a federal district court ruling from October that declared the poster unconstitutional and issued an injunction prohibiting its display.

“For nearly a decade now, the ACLU has been trying to silence Judge DeWeese’s expression of his legal philosophy,” said Francis J. Manion, Senior Counsel of the ACLJ who is representing Judge DeWeese in the case.  “That philosophy, which holds that a society’s legal system must rest on moral absolutes as opposed to moral relativism, and that abandonment of moral absolutes leads to societal breakdown and chaos, is the same philosophy that was held by the founders of this nation. To say, as the ACLU does in this case, that a judge may not espouse such a view because it is ‘religious’, is to adopt an erroneous and timeworn interpretation of the First Amendment that is not based on the words, the history or the Founders’ understanding of the Constitution.”

At issue is a poster designed to illustrate Judge DeWeese’s legal philosophy. The poster features two columns of principles or precepts intended to show the contrast between legal philosophies based on moral absolutes and moral relativism. The judge used a version of the Ten Commandments as symbolic of moral absolutes, and a set of statements from sources such as the Humanist Manifesto as symbolic of moral relativism.

In a brief filed Thursday with the federal appeals court, the ACLJ contends the ACLU lacks legal standing in the case, that the lower court erred in determining that the display violates the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution and violates articles of the Ohio Constitution, and contends that the Judge’s display is protected by the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment.

The brief contends that Judge DeWeese’s display is constitutional.   “Neither DeWeese’s discussion of the contrast between legal philosophies based on moral absolutes as opposed to moral relativism, nor his use of the Decalogue as a means to illustrate that contrast bespeak a constitutionally problematic religious purpose,” the brief argues.  “Moreover, a reasonable observer of the poster would view the poster as a statement about legal philosophy, morality, and ethics, not theology or religion.”

And the brief argues that failing to permit Judge DeWeese from displaying his exhibit infringes on his constitutional rights.  The brief contends:  “Judges not only have the right, but are positively encouraged by the Code of Judicial Conduct, to write, speak, lecture, and teach concerning the law, the legal system, and the administration of justice.  DeWeese’s poster falls well within acceptable boundaries of judicial freedom of speech.”

“The reasonable observer in DeWeese’s courtroom, given all of the various factors discussed above — knowledge of the forum, the physical setting, the specific individualized words of the poster itself — is far more likely to see the display as what it is intended to be: a personal expression of a personal opinion of an individual who works for the government, rather than a statement of official policy being made by the government,” according to the brief.

The ACLJ brief was filed with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit in Cincinnati, Ohio in the case of ACLU of Ohio v. Judge James DeWeese. You can read the ACLJ brief here.

This case is just the latest episode in the ACLU’s crusade to rewrite our nation’s history and heritage – purging any references of our country’s Judeo-Christian roots.  The ACLU filed its first case against Judge DeWeese in 2001.

Led by Chief Counsel Jay Sekulow, the American Center for Law and Justice is dedicated to the defense of constitutional liberties secured by law and is based in Washington, D.C.

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Preceding provided by the American Center for Law and Justice

‘Right’ to discriminate on campus is dubious at best

December 14, 2009 Leave a comment


By Bruce S. Ticker

PHILADELPHIA– So, a religious group for aspiring attorneys claims the right to discriminate. A law school refuses to accept the organization if it will not accept gays and other so-called heathens. The victims of this group’s discriminatory policies are unlikely to seek membership in this organization.

There is a joke in here somewhere. Correction: We can assemble a rollicking monologue out of this that writes itself. It is nonetheless a grave matter when an organization discriminates against any group since Jews and others could ultimately be affected.

In San Francisco, a public law school withdrew recognition of a chapter of the Christian Legal Society as a school organization because of its refusal to comply with school policy barring discrimination against religion, sexual orientation and related grounds.

If the society complies, Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco – part of the University of California – would allow it to use meeting space, bulletin boards and other school services as it does for 60 existing student groups.

However, the society will only permit students to become voting members or assume leadership positions if they affirm the group’s orthodox Christian beliefs and disavow “unrepentant participation in or advocacy of a sexually immoral lifestyle,” according to The New York Times. That would include “sexual conduct outside of marriage between a man and a woman.”

The society sued for its right to discriminate and was rebuffed last March by the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in San Francisco. On Monday, Dec. 7, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear the society’s appeal.

Filing a lawsuit is an instinctive action for an attorney, one would think. Actually, a responsible attorney would not attempt to violate the policies of its host to begin with.

Ironic that an anti-gay group would organize in America’s homosexual capital. Then again, these law students will be challenged by a test of temptation to rival their bar exams.

Obviously, the very people who are not welcome by the society would have no perceptible reason to join, so there does not seem to be any likely possibility of a problem.

There is the principle, of course. It is a public university, and therefore the school leadership cannot permit discrimination. The Rev. Barry W. Lynn put it this way: “Groups that wish to engage in discrimination should not expect public subsidies.”

Lynn is executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, which filed a brief in support of the law school’s case.

Especially, any law school student who would join a discriminatory organization is making a categorical argument for why they should pursue another line of work.

The legal system was created to allow the pursuit of justice on the basis of the law and the facts of a given case. The Christian Legal Society bases its policies on its interpretation of the Bible. Its beliefs are far removed from more liberal Christian denominations.

The pursuit of justice must inherently be flexible. An attorney, like any professional, must be imaginative and aggressive, and not let an unconfirmed philosophy get in the way of a good case.

To paraphrase Groucho Marx, I would not hire an attorney who would join an organization like the Christian Legal Society.

“Christian” lawyers have their employment opportunities. Some will get jobs with conservative organizations and Republican politicians. They will win some religious-oriented cases; there are times that they have been in the right. The Bush administration’s Department of Justice was filled with “Christian” lawyers.

Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas are among the “Christian” lawyers named to the U.S. Supreme Court by recent Republican presidents. Many from this mold were recommended and/or confirmed to lower court judgeships.

That does not make them quality attorneys.

The Christian Legal Society is no poor victim. This is the second time that one of its chapters filed legal action to challenge their college host’s policies. Their pockets must be fairly deep if they can afford to file lawsuits.

Law schools are supposedly training grounds for men and women to play by the rules. An organization that discriminates does not play by the rules. That makes them dangerous.

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Ticker is a freelance writer based in Philadelphia

Rutherford Institute asks U.S. Supreme Court to permit instrumental ‘Ave Maria’ in school ceremonies

December 9, 2009 Leave a comment

WASHINGTON, DC (Press Release)–Voicing the concern that arts education in the public schools is in danger of being sanitized of any art with remotely religious themes or inspiration, The Rutherford Institute has asked the U.S Supreme Court to weigh in on a case in which public school officials banned the performance of an instrumental arrangement of Franz Biebl’s “Ave Maria” at a high school graduation simply because the superintendent feared it might be religious.

In asking the Supreme Court to hear the case of Nurre v. Whitehead, Institute attorneys point out that the school’s ban was tantamount to an unreasonable restriction on free speech because no religious lyrics would have been included in the performance.

A copy of the Nurre petition is available here.

“Schools cannot ban performances and restrict students’ right to free expression simply because they fear those forms of expression might have some minimal connection to religion,” said John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute. “The censorship in this case involves political correctness run amuck, with art and student expression sacrificed to a heckler’s veto that seeks to sanitize even the remotest vestige of religion from public life.”

In 2006, members of the senior high woodwind ensemble at Henry M. Jackson High School in Snohomish County, Wash., elected to perform an instrumental arrangement of German composer Franz Biebl’s “Ave Maria” at the school’s graduation ceremonies. School officials had adopted a custom of allowing the senior members of the high school’s top performing instrumental group, the woodwind ensemble, to choose a song from their repertoire to perform as a farewell during graduation ceremonies. Previous selections included “On a Hymnsong of Philip Bliss,” a popular composition based off the hymn “It is Well Within My Soul.” Thus, having previously performed “Ave Maria” at a public concert, Kathryn Nurre and the other seniors in the wind ensemble unanimously chose to perform it again at their graduation ceremony on June 17, 2006.

The senior members proposed to perform Biebl’s piece instrumentally; no lyrics or words would be sung or said, nor did the senior members intend that any lyrics would be printed in ceremony programs or otherwise distributed to members of the audience. However, despite the absence of lyrics, the superintendent of Everett School District No. 2 refused to allow the ensemble to perform “Ave Maria” at their graduation ceremony, allegedly because she believed the piece to be religious in nature. The ensemble was then instructed to select a piece for graduation that was entirely secular in nature.

Attorneys for The Rutherford Institute filed suit against the school district in June 2006 on behalf of Kathryn Nurre, a member of the high school woodwind ensemble. In a 2009 dissenting opinion, Circuit Judge Milan Smith expressed his view that Nurre’s First Amendment rights were violated and his fear that the decision could lead “public school administrators to chill–or even kill–musical and artistic presentations by their students . . . where those presentations contain any trace of religious inspiration, for fear of criticism by a member of the public, however extreme that person’s views might be.”

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Preceding provided by the Rutherford Institute

ADL backs Wiccan’s right to sue California prisons

December 1, 2009 Leave a comment

NEW YORK (Press Release)–The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) urged a federal appeals court to allow a Wiccan religious leader to have his day in court to pursue a religious discrimination case.

A Wiccan clergy member challenged as unconstitutional a policy of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation that limits paid clergy positions to members of five religions, not including his faith. A court denied him the right to bring the lawsuit on the grounds that he was not the correct party to do so.

Deborah M. Lauter, ADL Civil Rights Director, issued the following statement:
At a minimum, the plaintiff in this case deserves his day in court to challenge a discriminatory practice. He applied for a job and was told that, because of an exclusionary California policy, he was ineligible. That makes him the appropriate party to challenge the policy and it is puzzling why the trial court refused to hear his case.

In addition, as a taxpayer he should have had the right to challenge the use of government funds that favor certain religions over others. The court’s decision to restrict that right is an affront to fundamental American principles of religious liberty.

The case, McCollum v California, is before the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.  ADL joined several organizations in filing an amicus brief.

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Preceding provided by Anti-Defamation League

Out of court settlement reached in case of school prohibiting church flyers

November 25, 2009 Leave a comment

FORT MYERS, Florida (Press Release)— Alliance Defense Fund attorneys have reached a favorable settlement with the Collier County School Board on behalf of a local church barred from participating in a flier distribution program open to other community groups.

In June, ADF attorneys filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of Cypress Wood Presbyterian Church after school officials rejected its request to include fliers promoting an upcoming Vacation Bible School for children in the flier program.

“Churches shouldn’t be discriminated against for their beliefs,” said ADF Senior Legal Counsel David Cortman.  “We commend the district for its quick actions to end the unconstitutional exclusion of religious materials and allow all community groups to participate equally in the flier distribution program.  Far from barring schools from including religious fliers in such programs, the First Amendment actually prohibits schools from favoring certain viewpoints over others.”

Cypress Wood Presbyterian Church contacted the district’s Community Request Office to inquire about participating in the flier distribution program, which allows non-profit community groups to send written materials home with students.  The church was advised that the district “did not allow religious events to be promoted” but that the church should submit its proposed materials anyway.

After submitting its materials, the church received no response.  The assistant superintendent later informed the principal that the fliers would not be distributed.  As part of the settlement, however, the school board agreed to revise its policies prohibiting religious organizations from distributing materials through the school flier forum.

ADF-allied attorney Roger Gannam of Jacksonville assisted with the lawsuit, Cypress Wood Presbyterian Church v. The School Board of Collier County.

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Preceding provided by Alliance Defense Fund, a Christian legal advocacy group

Christian legal group tells ‘rules’ for Christmas in schools

November 20, 2009 Leave a comment

SAN DIEGO–The Rutherford Institute, a Charlottesville, Virginia-based-group which defends Christian religious practices in First Amendment cases, has issued “The Twelve Rules of Christmas” opining for Christians what kind of Christmas activities U.S. courts have found to be legal.

Because church and state issues frequently affect the Jewish community, San Diego Jewish World  here reprints the “rules” as a matter of interest to our Jewish community.  We do not take any position on the accuracy of these “rules.”

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The Twelve Rules of Christmas®

(Compiled by attorneys for The Rutherford Institute)

Unfortunately, Christmas has become a time of controversy over what can or cannot be done in terms of celebrating the holiday. In order to clear up much of the misunderstanding, the following twelve rules are offered:

  1. Public school students’ written or spoken personal expressions concerning the religious significance of Christmas (e.g., T-shirts with the slogan, “Jesus Is the Reason for the Season”) may not be censored by school officials absent evidence that the speech would cause a substantial disruption.1
  2. So long as teachers are generally permitted to wear clothing or jewelry or have personal items expressing their views about the holidays, Christian teachers may not be prohibited from similarly expressing their views by wearing Christmas-related clothing or jewelry or carrying Christmas-related personal items.2
  3. Public schools may teach students about the Christmas holiday, including its religious significance, so long as it is taught objectively for secular purposes such as its historical or cultural importance, and not for the purpose of promoting Christianity.3
  4. Public school teachers may send Christmas cards to the families of their students so long as they do so on their own time, outside of school hours.4
  5. Public schools may include Christmas music, including those with religious themes, in their choral programs if the songs are included for a secular purpose such as their musical quality or cultural value or if the songs are part of an overall performance including other holiday songs relating to Chanukah, Kwanzaa, or other similar holidays.5
  6. Public schools may not require students to sing Christmas songs whose messages conflict with the students’ own religious or nonreligious beliefs.6
  7. Public school students may not be prohibited from distributing literature to fellow students concerning the Christmas holiday or invitations to church Christmas events on the same terms that they would be allowed to distribute other literature that is not related to schoolwork.7
  8. Private citizens or groups may display crèches or other Christmas symbols in public parks subject to the same reasonable time, place, and manner restrictions that would apply to other similar displays.8
  9. Government entities may erect and maintain celebrations of the Christmas holiday, such as Christmas trees and Christmas light displays, and may include crèches in their displays at least so long as the purpose for including the crèche is not to promote its religious content and it is placed in context with other symbols of the Holiday season as part of an effort to celebrate the public Christmas holiday through its traditional symbols.9
  10. Neither public nor private employers may prevent employees from decorating their offices for Christmas, playing Christmas music, or wearing clothing related to Christmas merely because of their religious content so long as these activities are not used to harass or intimidate others.10
  11. Public or private employees whose sincerely held religious beliefs require that they not work on Christmas must be reasonably accommodated by their employers unless granting the accommodation would impose an undue hardship on the employer.11
  12. Government recognition of Christmas as a public holiday and granting government employees a paid holiday for Christmas does not violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.12

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    Preceding provided by the Rutherford Institute