Thursday, November 1, 2012

N.Y. City Contests Church Services in Public Schools

The N.Y. City Education Department doesn’t charge rent to the civic groups that use its schools. The Bronx Household of Faith has taken advantage of the free space to hold worship services in P.S. 15 since 2002.

The N.Y. City Education Department does not want churches to conduct worship services in its public schools. It has tried to eject Bronx Household and other churches.

The church has sued to stay. It has taken the case up and down the court system so many times, that U.S. District Judge Loretta Preska called her June 2012 ruling Bronx IV. Preska decided in favor of Bronx Household, and N.Y. City appealed to the U.S. 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals.

An amicus brief supporting the City said Preska’s ruling “suggests that the Board cannot constitutionally withdraw a subsidy that it never voluntarily provided in the first place, but was instead forced to grant by the district court, because some New York City churches have effectively become ‘hooked’ on the subsidy.” Americans United for Separation of Church and State (AU) filed that amicus brief.

In the case of Bronx III, the church argued that the U.S. Constitution’s Free Speech Clause gave it the right to worship in a public school. In 2011, the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed, and Bronx Household sued again (Bronx IV). This time Bronx Household claimed the City’s ban violated the church’s U.S. constitutional right to free exercise of religion.

Preska backed the church. She reasoned that N.Y. City landlords charge such high rents, that the loss of free meeting space would unconstitutionally burden the church’s religious practice. She held that the City could justify such a burden only if the U.S. Supreme Court had specifically banned the worship services as an unconstitutional establishment of religion.

That is, if the U.S. Supreme Court had not forbidden public schools to subsidize worship services, then the U.S. constitution required them to do it.

Preska also asserted that the ban itself established religion, because the City would entangle itself in a church’s affairs when it considered which activities were worship services.

The N.Y. City Bar Association’s amicus brief responded to that claim. It said the Appeals Court already “explicitly has held that the regulation at issue does not foster impermissible entanglement with religion.”

The Bar’s brief says the District Court itself established religion, when it enjoined the City’s regulation. A government action establishes religion if it has the purpose or effect of advancing religion, or if it excessively entangles government with religion.

The brief says the District Court’s injunction has a religious purpose, because its “sole function is to permit religious worship services where none would otherwise take place.”

“The Injunction improperly advances religion.…requiring the City to permit worship services in its schools.…”

“Allowing religious worship in the schools under the Injunction creates excessive entanglement with religion.…the City will be forced to respond to, among other things, complaints about the churches’ proselytizing activities, to monitor church literature to ensure proper disclaimers, and to use excessive caution in issuing permits.…”

The case is Bronx Household of Faith v. N.Y. City (IV).

Gov. Vetoes Ethnocentric Special Ed. Bill

On June 21, the last day of the N.Y. State legislative session, without public notice or discussion, legislators passed a special-education bill that discriminated among children on religious grounds and funded religious schools.

When the friends of public education, including MCPEARL, found out about it, we forcefully urged Gov. Andrew Cuomo to veto the bill and he did.

In June, the Westchester Journal News reported, “Orthodox Jewish groups, which often advocate for parents to be able to choose insular private schools for their children, played a key role in crafting and lobbying for the bill.”

At least one of the bill’s supporters has a strange notion of public education.

The Wall Street Journal interviewed Rabbi Naftuli Weiss, who runs the Jewish Center for Special Education in Brooklyn. “Of particular concern to his families, Rabbi Weiss said, was the moral dangers that could come from integrating his students with other cultures—with revealing dress and violent games and media. ‘It’s a killer for them to see and hear what’s going on,’ he said.”

The bill was deceptively phrased, so hurried legislators at the end of a session could miss its implications.

It required school districts to consider “any possible impact differences between the school environment and the child’s home environment may have on the ability to receive a free appropriate public education. Such determination shall include documentation as to whether these factors would affect the child’s ability to learn.” [italics added]

The bill authorized parents who didn’t like a school district’s decision to sue for religious-school tuition payments.

Of course, school officials should consider the parents’ opinions. The tricky words were any possible and documentation. If parents think their child might possibly learn better among his or her co-religionists, what documents could a district produce in court to prove the parents wrong?

The Westchester Journal News reported that State Senator Suzi Oppenheimer, former chair of the Senate Education Committee, voted for the bill “because it was part of a group of supposedly ‘non-controversial’ bills. “Once she realized the bill’s goals, she said, she decided to write to Cuomo that he should veto it.”

According to the N.Y. Times, “the bill’s chief Assembly sponsor, Helene Weinstein of Brooklyn, issued a statement vowing to ‘continue the fight,’ suggesting she would try to muster the two-thirds majority required to override the veto.” The Times article continued, “James Cultrara, education director of the New York State Catholic Conference, said that if the veto were not overriden, supporters would push for a new version of the bill…to win over some opponents.”

MCPEARL urged the governor to veto the bill. We also wrote to Monroe County’s state legislators and asked them to press for a veto.

In answer to our letter, Assemblyman Mark Johns wrote that he had voted against the bill, because it would place an excessive burden on public school districts.

The following State Senators from Monroe County voted for the bill: Alesi, Robach, Gallivan, and Ranzenhofer. Senators Nozzolio and Maziarz voted against it. The following Monroe County Assemblymen voted for the bill: Hanna, Bronson, Morelle, and Gantt. Assemblymen Reilich, Johns, and Hawley voted against it.

The bill probably violated the N.Y. Constitution’s Art. XI, Sec. 3, which says, “Neither the state nor any subdivision thereof, shall use its property or credit or any public money, or authorize or permit either to be used, directly or indirectly, in aid or maintenance, other than for examination or inspection, of any school or institution of learning wholly or in part under the control or direction of any religious denomination or in which any denominational tenet or doctrine is taught.…”

AU: Districts May & Must Ban Grad Prayers

Americans United for Separation of Church and State (AU) wants the U.S. 2nd Circuit Appeals Court to rule that school districts have a duty as well as a right to cut a prayer from a student’s graduation speech.

“It’s my job to talk about God and see if they like it,” said a Taconic Hills, N.Y. middle-school student called A.M. As co-class president, A.M. got to give a speech at her public school’s Moving Up Ceremony in 2009. She wanted to close her speech with a prayer, but her principal and superintendent said no.

She obeyed, and her mother sued in U.S. District Court, claiming that the school had violated her daughter’s U.S. constitutional right to free speech.

Judge Gary Sharp said the school had a right to censor A.M.’s speech, because it took place at a school sponsored event, was reviewed by school officials, and was therefore the school’s speech.

AU wants more. In a 2012 amicus brief, it says, “Amicus urges the Court to craft its opinion with one eye on the effect it may have on districts and parents who want to bring prayer back into schools by using students to deliver prayers at school events. The court should be careful not to suggest any roadmap for any such efforts, and should be mindful of the concerns of parents and students of minority faiths and beliefs who fear attempts by the majority to impose its religion upon them in the public schools.…”

The case is McKay v. Taconic Hills.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Creationist Teacher Sues for Job

Former science teacher John Freshwater sued the Mt. Vernon, Ohio School District to get his old job back.

In August, Freshwater told the Ohio Supreme Court that,

1. He had a U.S. constitutional right to teach whatever he chose in his eighth grade public-school science classroom; and

2. The Mt. Vernon school district showed unconstitutional hostility to religion when it ordered him to dispose of the religious display in his classroom.

In 2011, R. Lee Shepard of the Ohio Education Department had advised the Mt. Vernon School District to fire Freshwater, and it took his advice. Shepard wrote, “John Freshwater was determined to inject his personal religious beliefs into his plan and pattern of instruction of his students.…Freshwater’s instruction included ‘evidence against evolution’…based, in large part, upon the Christian religious principles of Creationism and Intelligent Design.” Shepard’s report followed hearings that took place, on and off, for two years and involved more than 80 witnesses.

After Mt. Vernon fired Freshwater, he sued the district in state court. He lost in the trial and appeals courts. In 2012, he appealed to the Ohio Supreme Court, which took the case.

The Rutherford Institute, a Religious Right legal group, backs Freshwater.

Mt. Vernon replied, “Freshwater is not a private citizen when teaching in a classroom.…His teaching becomes ‘government speech.’ That speech may violate the Establishment Clause; when it does, and Freshwater refuses to stop the violation himself, the Board has every right to remove him from the classroom and cure the violation.”

The National Center for Science Education (NCSE) submitted a brief in support of Mt. Vernon. It offered an exhaustive history of creationism, explaining its religious and anti-scientific character. NCSE appended a whole book on the subject by the National Academy of Sciences.

In its brief for Mt. Vernon, Americans United for Separation of Church and State (AU) stressed the wider goals of Freshwater’s backer. The brief says, “Freshwater seeks nothing less than to have this Court bless the teaching of religious beliefs in Ohio’s public schools.”

AU emphasized that Mt. Vernon had a U.S. constitutional duty as well as a right to halt Freshwater’s advancement of religion.

The case is Freshwater v. Mt. Vernon.

School Can Require Empathy Lesson

Jennifer Keeton wants to be a school counselor. She enrolled in a counseling program at Augusta State University in Georgia.

In June, U.S. District Judge J. Randall Hall wrote that Keeton “ascribes absolute truth to the proposition that homosexuality is an immoral lifestyle choice rather than an immutable state of being, and she endorses a universal moral prescription against homosexual conduct.…

“According to Keeton, her opinions regarding homosexuality derive from her Christian faith.”

Keeton planned to impose these views on her clients. Keeton’s teachers assigned her a remedial project to increase her “multicultural competence” and “understanding and empathy” toward homosexuals.

Keeton viewed the assignment as a punishment for her religious beliefs. She felt that “The entire process sought to change her beliefs—not just regarding homosexuality but also the transcendence of her biblical convictions—and to force her to affirm viewpoints Defendants prefer.”

One of her teachers explained, “The alteration of beliefs that [faculty] were looking for is that Miss Keeton would no longer believe that her views should be shared by other people.”

Keeton refused the assignment, and she was dropped from the program.

She sued in U.S. District Court, seeking a return to the program without doing the remedial assignment. She claimed that the assignment violated a variety of rights under the U.S. Constitution’s Free Speech and Equal Protection Clauses.

The American Counseling Association (ACA) accredits counselors for public schools. It accredits only those who adhere to its code of ethics.

The code requires counselors to serve their clients without imposing their personal values. Therefore, public university counseling programs teach students to abide by the code. If aspiring counselors feel they can’t set aside their personal beliefs on the job, their teachers provide remedial programs for them.

The Judge Hall rejected Keeton’s claims one by one. He said the faculty had a right to dismiss her. He ended, “When affairs of the conscience ripen into action…government is granted leave to regulate on behalf of certain public interests, including education and professional fitness.”

The case is Keeton v. Augusta.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Monroe County NY: Candidates, School Vouchers

MCPEARL (Monroe Citizens for Public Education and Religious Liberty), a Monroe County, N.Y. coalition, strives to keep public funds for public schools only.
In election years, MCPEARL seeks the views of major-party candidates running in Monroe County about public funds for nonpublic schools. This year, we asked state legislative candidates, “Should N.Y. State provide state income tax credits and/or tuition vouchers for children who attend nonpublic elementary and secondary schools, including religious schools?”
“If you would rather consider a particular bill than answer the general question, please tell us, do you favor N.Y. Senate Bill 01436, which would give a state income tax cut of up to $500 per child, per year to low-income families who pay tuition at elementary or secondary schools?”

N.Y. State Assembly Candidates

District 133: Nojay, Weaver
One letter, two emails, and thirteen telephone calls drew no answer from Bill Nojay, Republican.
Randolph Weaver wrote, “No.”


District 134: Reilich
In 2010, the spokesperson for William Reilich, Republican, said his voting record showed that he was for vouchers. In 2012, Reilich has no Democratic opponent.


District 135: Johns, Koon
Mark Johns, Republican, wrote, “If the Assembly presents a companion piece of legislation to Senate Bill S1436 I will support it because I feel that an income tax credit of $500 per child would greatly benefit low-income families.
David Koon, Democrat, wrote, “I have always been against state taxpayer dollars going to non-state schools. The answer is NO!!!!”


District 136: Morelle
Joseph Morelle, Democrat, wrote, “I do not support state income tax credits or tuition vouchers for children who attend nonpublic elementary or secondary schools.” No Republican opposes Morelle.
District 137: Gantt
One letter, two emails, and four telephone calls elicited no answer from David Gantt, Democrat. No Republican opposes Gantt.


District 138: Bronson, Vazquez
Harry Bronson, Democrat, wrote, “I believe that this legislation would undermine a fundamental tenet of our public policy, that we provide a sound public education to our children.”
One letter, one email, and seven telephone calls extracted no answer from Peterson Vazquez, Republican.


District 139: Hawley
Stephen Hawley, Republican, wrote, “With deficits every year the idea of new tax credits would be difficult to implement from a fiscal point of view, with that said I am not in favor of supporting this legislation.” No Democrat opposes Hawley.


N.Y. State Senate Candidates

District 54: Nozzolio
In 2004, Michael Nozzolio, Republican, said, “In the past I have supported proposals to implement education vouchers in New York State.” No Democrat opposes Nozzolio.


District 55: Hanna, O’Brien
One letter, one email, and six telephone calls evoked no answer from Sean Hanna, Republican.
The campaign manager of Ted O’Brien, Democrat, wrote, “Ted does not support providing state income tax credits and/or tuition vouchers for children who attend nonpublic elementary and secondary schools, including religious schools.”


District 56: Robach
In 2008, Joseph Robach, Republican, co-sponsored a similar tax-credit bill. In 2012, he said his position had not changed. No Democrat opposes Robach.


District 59: Gallivan
The spokeswoman for Patrick Gallivan, Republican, wrote, “Senator Gallivan, in the past, has supported funding for non-public schools and is not opposed to supporting educational choices for students.” No Democrat opposes Gallivan.


District 61: Ranzenhofer, Rooney
Michael Ranzenhofer, Republican, said, “There should be some sort of voucher assistance for nonpublic education.”
Justin Rooney said that tax credits were appropriate, but he would not be for tuition vouchers.


District 62: Maziarz, Witryol
George Maziarz, Republican, co-sponsored the tax-credit bill, S01436.
Amy Hope Witryol, Democrat, wrote, “I’m not in favor of new tax credits for private schools.”


Monroe County Candidates for U.S. Congress

This year, MCPEARL asked candidates for U.S. Congress, “Should the federal government provide income tax credits and/or tuition vouchers for children who attend nonpublic elementary and secondary schools, including religious schools?”
“Alternatively, if you would rather consider particular program than answer the general question, please tell us, should Congress re-enact the federal Opportunity Scholarship Program (OSP), a tuition voucher initiative in the District of Columbia?”
Below are the sorry results of our inquiry.

District 25: Brooks, Slaughter
One letter, one email, and six telephone calls drew no answer from Maggie Brooks, Republican.
Louise Slaughter, Democrat, voted to end the District of Columbia voucher program.


District 27: Collins, Hochul
One letter, two emails, and nine telephone calls elicited no reply from Chris Collins, Republican.
A spokesman for Kathy Hochul, Democrat, said, “We didn’t want to dive into that issue at this time.”

Candidates: School Vouchers, N.Y. & U.S.

MCPEARL (Monroe Citizens for Public Education and Religious Liberty), a Monroe County, N.Y. coalition, strives to keep public funds for public schools only. In election years, MCPEARL seeks the views of major-party candidates running in Monroe County about public funds for nonpublic schools.

Candidates for U.S. Senate from N.Y. State

Gillibrand, Long
Kirsten Gillibrand, Democrat, voted against a bill to revive a federal tuition voucher program—the Opportunity Scholarship Program (OSP)—in the District of Columbia.
In June, the Adirondack Daily Enterprise reported that Wendy Long, Republican, “said she supports vouchers to let parents decide where to send their children to school.”


Candidates for U.S. President

Obama, Romney
Barack Obama, Democrat, opposed the reauthorization of the District of Columbia tuition voucher program.
In June, the New York Times reported that Mitt Romney, Republican, “as president, would seek to overhaul the federal government’s largest programs for kindergarten through 12th grade into a voucherlike system. Students would be free to use the $25 billion in federal money to attend any school they choose—public, charter, onine or private.”

Friday, June 15, 2012

Worship Services Back in NY City Public Schools

In 2011, a U.S. Appeals Court said N.Y. City could constitutionally eject the Bronx Household of Faith from P.S. 15 in the Bronx.
In February 2012, U.S. District Judge Loretta Preska let it back in.
The church has taken its case up and down the court system so many times that Judge Preska called the 2011 Appeals Court decision Bronx III and her February ruling Bronx IV.
In Bronx III, the church argued that the U.S. Constitution’s free speech guarantee required N.Y. City school to host worship services on the same basis as other expressions of opinion.
The U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed. It characterized a worship service as a unique activity, different from other expressions of opinion.
Judge Pierre Leval wrote,“The prohibition against using school facilities for the conduct of religious services bars a type of activity. It does not discriminate against any point of view.”
In Bronx IV, the church made new claims. It said N.Y. City’s ban violated the U.S. Constitution’s guarantee of free religious exercise and its injunction against government establishment of religion.
Judge Preska thought the church made good points. She let Bronx Household and other churches continue to worship in public schools, at least until she handed down a decision. N.Y. City appealed, and the Appeals Court let the churches hold worship services in the schools until Preska rules, no later than June.
The Second Circuit will decide the city’s appeal before schools reopen in the fall.
Free Exercise of Religion
In Bronx IV, the church reasons as follows.
The city burdens the church’s constitutionally guaranteed free exercise of religion by excluding worship services from its schools.
In Bronx III, the Appeals Court approved the exclusion because the city reasonably thought worship services in public schools unconstitutionally established religion.
The church now argues that the city’s reasonable opinion dies not justify the burden on the church’s free exercise of religion.
N.Y. City could justify the burden only if the U.S. Supreme Court had specifically banned the worship services as unconstitutional establishment of religion. The High Court has not ruled on the issue.
In other words, if the U.S. Supreme Court has not forbidden public schools to host worship services, then the U.S. Constitution requires them to do it.
Establishment of Religion
In Bronx III, the church said approval of N.Y. City’s policy would require the court to define the phrase worship service.
Judge Guido Calabresi disagreed. He wrote, “Once an applicant says that what it wishes to do is worship, no inquiry into whether the…activities actually constitute worship is required.”
Following the Appeals Court’s Bronx III decision in N.Y. City’s favor, the city asked those seeking meeting space in public schools whether they would hold worship services.
Pastor Brad Herzog of Reformation Presbyterian Church refused to answer. He said he did not know how the board defined worship services.
Lorenzo Arnoldo of the city’s Education Department took the bait and defined Herzog’s list of Sunday activities—Bible study, prayer, singing, and fellowship—as worship. Arnoldo refused the church a permit.
In Bronx IV, Bronx Household’s lawyers say N.Y. City unconstitutionally established religion when Arnoldo defined Herzog’s activity list as worship.
The case is Bronx Household of Faith v. N.Y. City (IV).
Valuable Precedent
In May, in the case of Galloway and Stephens v. Town of Greece, the same Judge Calabresi who upheld N.Y. City’s policy in Bronx III struck down the Greece Town Board’s opening prayers. His reasoning will provide a valuable precedent when the Second Circuit Court of Appeals decides Bronx IV. Read all about it in the article headed Town of Greece Case May Aid NY City Schools.
N.Y. State Bill to Keep Churches in Schools
In response to Bronx III, the N.Y. State Senate passed a bill requiring N.Y. City schools to host religious worship services. Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver blocked its passage in the Assembly, at least temporarily. Judge Preska’s restoration of the churches to the public schools has suspended action on the legislation. Read all about the bill in the article headed Bill to Make NY City Schools Host Worship Service.

Town of Greece Case May Aid NY City Schools

In May 2012, the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals stopped the Greece Town Board’s official prayers, because they affiliated the town with Christianity.
The suit, Galloway and Stephens v. Town of Greece, had nothing to do with public schools, but the court’s reasoning may help to get worship services out of N.Y. City public schools.
Writing for a unanimous panel, Judge Guido Calabresi said a “practice that, however well-intentioned, conveys to a reasonable objective observer under the totality of the circumstances an official affiliation with a particular religion violates a clear command of the Establishment Clause.” 
Courts have used many terms to describe what government must not do with respect to religion. It must not promote, advance, endorse, sponsor, entangle, or prefer religion. Judge Calabresi relied on two U.S. Supreme Court precedents against government affiliation with religion.
A N.Y. City church, the Bronx Household of Faith, has held Sunday worship services for twelve years in N.Y. City’s P.S. 15.
Reasonable, objective observers might well think the school affiliated with a particular religion.
N.Y. City has tried repeatedly to eject Bronx Household and other churches from its public schools. In response, Bronx Household has sued the city, claiming a U.S. Constitutional right to worship in public schools.
In 2011, a Second Circuit panel ruled in favor of N.Y. City. The opinions didn’t mention affiliation.
In a comment on the decision, Senior Counsel Jane Gordon of the N.Y. City Law Department referred to the affiliation problem.
She said the Education Department “was quite properly concerned about having any school in this diverse city identified with one particular religious belief or practice.”
The same Judge Calabresi who stopped government affiliation with religion in the Town of Greece wrote and voted in favor of N.Y. City in the 2011 Bronx Household decision.
In January 2012, the Bronx Household of Faith returned to U.S. District Court with additional U.S. constitutional claims. Obliging Judge Loretta Preska let the churches stay in the schools, at least until she decides the case.
All parties expect the District Court losers to appeal to the Second Circuit. The Appeals panel can then call upon the Greece Town Board precedent against government affiliation with religion.
Judge Calabresi clerked for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black, a heroic defender of church-state separation. Justice Black wrote the U.S. Supreme Court decision against N.Y. State’s classroom prayer, Engel v. Vitale, 50 years ago.

Bill to Make NY City Schools Host Worship Service

The N.Y. State Senate has passed a bill requiring N.Y. City public schools to host worship services.
The bill passed in response to a 2011 U.S. Appeals Court decision upholding a N.Y. City policy against worship services in public school buildings.
The plaintiff church, the Bronx Household of Faith, appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, and the High Court refused to take the case.
Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver blocked the Senate bill in the Assembly, at least temporarily.
In January 2012, Bronx Household returned to U.S. District Court with additional claims, and District Judge Loretta Preska let congregations continue to worship in public schools while she considered the claims.
Action on the proposed legislation has paused during the renewed litigation, so we have time to express our opposition to the Assembly bill, A8800.
If you feel inclined to send a ready-made letter, try this.
Honorable John Doe
N.Y. State Assembly
Albany, New York 12248
Dear Mr. Doe,
Please oppose bill #A8800, which would REQUIRE N.Y. City public schools to house religious worship services.
The N.Y. City Education Department has this policy: “No permit shall be granted for the purpose of holding religious worship services or otherwise using a school as a house of worship.”
Jane Gordon, senior counsel of the N.Y. City law Department, explained that the city “was quite properly concerned about having any school in this diverse city identified with one particular religious belief or practice.”
The U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld the policy.
A8800 would overturn that reasonable policy. Please oppose bill #A8800. Thank you.
Sincerely yours,
Your Name
To Identify Your N.Y. State Assembly Member
Take the following steps to learn the name of your N.Y. State Assembly Member.
1. Google N.Y. State Assembly.
2. Click Assembly Members.
3. Click Member Search.
4. A dialogue box will appear. Fill it in.
5. Click Submit.
6. Your Assembly Member’s name will appear, with a link to his website. If you want to send your message by email from the website, click on the link.
7. When the website appears, look for the word Contact. Click on it.
8. Your Assembly Member’s email address will appear. Click on it. His email form will appear.
Willing to Write Other Officials?
Well-informed persons recommend letters to Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Governor Andrew Cuomo.
You can write to Cuomo at NYS Capitol Building, Albany, N.Y. 12224. If you prefer to send him an email, google his name, and a link to his website will appear. Enter the website, click on Contact, and his email form will appear.

Prayer Comes Off Wall

“The ACLU is going to win solely because of the fiscal condition of Cranston,” said school board chairman Andrea Ianuzzi, according to Reuters.
Student Jessica Ahlquist, backed by the ACLU, sued to get rid of a prayer posted on the auditorium wall of her high school in Cranston, Rhode Island.
In January, U.S. District Court Judge Roland Lagueux told school officials to remove the prayer.
In February, the Cranston School Committee decided not to appeal.
Ahlquist’s attorneys have asked Cranston for $173,000 in legal fees, reported the Associated Press.
Cranston’s lawyer, Joseph Cavanaugh Jr., said a defense all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court would cost an additional $500,000 in legal fees.
Since the loser pays the fees, Cavanaugh’s prediction implicitly acknowledged that Cranston would lose on appeal.
The case was Ahlquist v. Cranston.

Would-Be Counselor Won't Counsel Gays

“Surely,…the ban on discrimination against clients based on their religion…does not require a Muslim counselor to tell a Jewish client that his religious beliefs are correct,” wrote Judge Jeffrey Sutton in January for the unanimous U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals.
Counseling student Julea Ward had refused on religious grounds to counsel patients about same-sex relationships. When her teachers at Eastern Michigan University could not change her mind, they expelled her. She sued the university, claiming religious discrimination.
The U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals sympathized with her stand. It sent the case back to U.S. District Court to discover whether her teachers had in fact acted from religious bias.
Commenting on the decision, N.Y. Times columnist Mark Oppenheimer pointed to “the role of the counselor.…Is it to affirm the client’s beliefs, or to offer support and guidance, even to clients whose practices one may find distasteful or morally wrong?”
Oppenheimer wrote, “Daniel Mach, a lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union,…said that the canons of the profession rightly put the needs of clients ahead of the sensibilities of counselors.”
Eastern Michigan contends that Ward violated the code of the American Counseling Association (ACA) which accredits counseling programs. If Eastern Michigan had graduated Ward, it would have risked its accreditation.
The Alliance Defense Fund, a Religious Right legal group, represents Ward. In this and a similar case from Georgia, the Religious Right challenges the power of the ACA.
The student newspaper at Eastern Michigan quoted Ward’s lawyer, Jeremy Tedesco, “What we’re seeing is public universities and these associations like the American Counseling Association that adopt these codes of ethics, is those groups starting to interpret the code of ethics in professions that gerrymander people of faith out of the profession completely.”
The case is Ward v. Polite.

Bill to Let Tax-Exempt Groups Back Candidates

Since 1954, a federal statute has forbidden tax exempt organizations, including houses of worship, to endorse or oppose candidates for public office.
The Religious Right wants churches to campaign for candidates. Members of Congress have repeatedly introduced bills to exempt houses of worship from the law, but they have failed.
The most recent version, H.R. 3600, would allow all tax-exempt groups to campaign for or against candidates.
If you think tax-exempt groups should not campaign for or against candidates, please tell your representative. If you would like to send a ready-made message, try this.
        Dear Rep. Doe,
Please reject H.R. 3600, which would allow tax-exempt organizations to campaign
        for or against candidates.
Sincerely yours,
Your name
To Identify Your Congress Member
If you know your zip code plus four, you can take the following steps.
1. Google U.S. House of Representatives
2. Click on Find Your Representative.
3. A dialogue box will appear. Enter your zip code plus four. Click on Find Your Rep By Zip
4. Your representative’s name will appear.
5. Click on the picture of an envelope. Your representative’s contact page will appear. You will see an email form. You can write your letter there. Somewhere on the page, you will see the address of your representative’s local office. If you want to send a letter by U.S. mail, use the local address. Congress’ mail service has never recovered from the anthrax scare several years ago.
To Learn Your Zip Plus Four
Call the U.S. Post Office, 1-800-275-8777 or
1. Google zip code plus four
2. Click on Lookup
3. A dialogue box will appear. Fill it in. Click Find.
4. Your zip code plus four will appear.

Judge Nixes Oklahoma Vouchers

In March 2012, an Oklahoma State District Court declared a state voucher program in violation of the Oklahoma Constitution.
Judge Rebecca Nightingale did not explain her ruling. In an order several days later, she allowed the voucher program to continue while voucher-seeking parents appealed to the Oklahoma Supreme Court.
The Oklahoma constitution says,
“No public money or property shall ever be appropriated, applied, donated, or used directly or indirectly, for the use, benefit, or support of any sect, church, denomination, or system of religion, or for the use, benefit, or support of any priest, minister, or other religious teacher or dignitary or sectarian institution as such.”
Oklahoma’s Jenks and Union School Districts filed the suit.
The Tulsa World reported, “Jerry Richardson, the school districts’ attorney, noted that of the 40 private schools approved to participate in the scholarship program, only two were not affiliated with a church or religion.
“He also argued that the law doesn’t place any restrictions on what the private schools may do with the state funding.
“‘If the religious institution wants to spend every dollar on proselytizing, the Act doesn’t address this,’ Richardson said.”
The case is Jenks v. Spry.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Republican Candidates' Views: School Prayer, Vouchers, Creationism

Official Prayers in Public Schools
Newt Gingrich is a former Majority Leader of the U.S. House of Representatives. When a federal judge in 2011 forbade graduation prayer in a Texas school district, he proposed to abolish the court.
In 2005, U.S. Representative Ron Paul introduced a bill to remove “any claim involving the policies of any…government relating to the free exercise or establishment of religion” from the jurisdiction of federal courts.
In 2008, he wrote, “Issues like prayer in schools.…were never meant to be decided by federal judges.”
Former U.S. Senator Rick Santorum has not talked about school-sponsored prayer. A search of the internet found several sites that say he favors it, but they report no comments or votes.
In 1994, Mitt Romney said, “Local school districts…could not endorse specific religious beliefs or prayer in schools.” As Governor of Massachusetts in 2006, he said, “We ought to allow…graduation ceremonies…the ability to recognize the Creator.”
Tuition Vouchers for Nonpublic Schools
Santorum said, “The government.…force [parents]…to turn their children over to the public education system and wrest control from them.…That has to change.” He voted in favor of a voucher program in 2001 in the U.S. Senate.
Gingrich said, “We’d be far better off if most states adopted a program of the equivalent of Pell Grants for K-through-13, so that parents could choose where their child went to school, whether it was public, or private, or home-schooling.…”
Ron Paul favors credits against the federal income tax bill for tuition paid to nonpublic schools. He opposes federal tuition vouchers. He voted against the federal voucher program for Washington, D.C.
In 1994, as a candidate for U.S. Senate, Romney pledged to vote for a means-tested federal voucher program. As Governor of Massachusetts, he favored vouchers in principle, but he did nothing to promote them.
Creationism in Public-School Science Classes
Santorum wanted the 2001 federal education bill to require intelligent design creationism in science classes. The conference committee rejected his proposal, but included it in the conference report.
In 2005, Santorum said, “I’m not comfortable with intelligent design being taught in the science classroom. What we should be teaching are the problems and holes…in the theory of evolution.
In 2007, Paul said, “I think it’s a theory…the theory of evolution, and I don’t accept it as a theory.
The same year, Gingrich said, “Evolution certainly seems to express the closest understanding we can now have.…I believe evolution should be taught as science.”
Also in 2007, Romney said, “I believe that God…created the universe. And I believe evolution is most likely the process he used to create the human body.…Science class is where to teach evolution.”

N.Y. City Can Ban Worship Services in Schools

In December, in the case of N.Y. City v. Bronx Household of Faith, the U.S. Supreme Court allowed N.Y. City to bar worship services in public schools.
“We view this as a victory for the city’s school children and their families,” said Jane Gordon, senior counsel of the N.Y. City Law Department.
She said the Education Department “was quite properly concerned about having any school in this diverse city identified with one particular religious belief or practice.”
In June, the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals had upheld the city’s rule against worship services in public schools. Bronx Household appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, and the Court refused to take the case.
In early February, the N.Y. Senate passed a bill requiring N.Y. City public schools to house religious worship services. Assembly Majority Leader Sheldon Silver opposes the corresponding Assembly bill.

Judge Nixes R.I. Prayer, Quotes Roger Williams

The Cranston, Rhode Island School Committee defended its prayer on the ground that it had been glued to the wall for a long time and therefore had historical value.
“No amount of history and tradition can cure a constitutional infraction,” rejoined U.S. District Court Judge Ronald Lagueux
In January, he told officials at Cranston West High School to get rid of a prayer posted on an auditorium wall since 1963.
In letters 3 inches tall and 2 inches wide, the prayer reads,
School Prayer
“Our Heavenly Father,
“Grant us each day the desire to do our best, to grow mentally and morally as well as physically, to be kind and helpful to our classmates and teachers, to be honest with ourselves as well as with others, help us to be good sports and smile when we lose as well as when we win, teach us the value of true friendship, help us always to conduct ourselves so as to bring credit to Cranston High School West.
In 2010, complaints led the School Committee to consider removing the prayer, and atheist student Jessica Ahlquist testified in favor of removal then and in 2011.
Audience members reviled her. For instance, one woman said, “If people want to be Atheist,…they can go to hell.” Two speakers said Ahlquist should be charged with a hate crime.
In March, the School Committee voted to keep the prayer. Ahlquist and her father sued, backed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).
Judge Lagueux wrote, “After Plaintiff’s comments before the School Committee, and particularly after the lawsuit was filed, Plaintiff was subject to frequent taunting and threats at school, as well as a virtual on-line hate campaign via Facebook.”
Judge Lagueux found that “The holding in Stone v. Graham compels the court’s ruling.” In the case of Stone v. Graham, the U.S. Supreme Court ordered a school district to remove copies of the Ten Commandments from school walls. 
Lagueux quoted the case, “If the posted copies of the Ten Commandments are to have any effect at all, it will be to induce the schoolchildren to read, meditate upon, perhaps to venerate and obey, the Commandments. However desirable this might be as a matter of private devotion, it is not a permissible state objective under the Establishment Clause.”
The Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution forbids government advancement of religion.
Judge Lagueux praised Jessica Ahlquist, “Plaintiff is clearly an articulate and courageous young woman, who took a brave stand, particularly in light of the hostile response she has received from her community.”
He concluded his decision with a quotation from Roger Williams, Rhode Island’s seventeenth century founder, a champion of religious liberty, and himself a victim of religious persecution.
Here is the quotation:
“There goes many a ship to sea, with many hundred souls in one ship, whose weal and woe is common, and is a true picture of a commonwealth, or human combination, or society. It hath fallen out sometimes, that both Papists and Protestants, Jews and Turks, may be embarked on one ship; upon which supposal, I affirm that all the liberty of conscience I ever pleaded for, turns upon these two hinges, that none of the Papists, Protestants, Jews, or Turks be forced to come to the ship’s prayers or worship, nor compelled from their own particular prayers or worship, if they practice any.”

Florida Faces Voucher Struggle

The Florida’s Constitution forbids tuition vouchers for religious schools.
Floridians will have to struggle to keep that provision.
In November 2012, the following item will appear on the ballot.
“RELIGIOUS FREEDOM.—Proposing an amendment to the State Constitution providing that no individual or entity may be denied, on the basis of religious identity or belief, governmental benefits, funding or other support, except as required by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, and deleting the prohibition against using revenues from the public treasury directly or indirectly in aid of any church, sect, or religious denomination or in aid of any sectarian institution.”
When the legislature passed the proposed amendment, it included a misleading ballot summary. Hoping to knock the amendment off the ballot, voucher opponents challenged the questionable language in state court. Judge Terry Lewis agreed that the summary misled, and he suggested the version above. The Florida Attorney General adopted the judge’s version, and the proposed amendment stayed on the ballot.
The voucher opponents objected to the title, Religious Freedom. They said the title implied that the amendment would increase religious freedom; but, it would in fact decrease religious freedom. If it passed, the state could compel taxpayers to promote religious opinions they rejected.
The judge disagreed. He said, “The section of the constitution sought to be amended is, in fact, titled Religious Freedom. The subject matter of the proposed amendment clearly deals with this subject.”

Oklahoma School Boards Defy Voucher Act

In 2010, the Oklahoma legislature passed an act to pay the tuition of disabled children in nonpublic schools, including religious schools.
The U.S. Constitution bars government support of religion.
However, the U.S. Supreme Court allows governments to launder payments to religious schools by passing them through the hands of parents.
A public official writes a check for a tuition payment to a parent, but the check can be cashed only after the parent endorses it to a private school.
The Oklahoma law instructed local school districts to administer the program.
Four districts resisted.
“The voucher system that was put in place is going to be taking significant money from public schools,” said Cathy Burden, Superintendent of the Union, Oklahoma School District.
“It not only isn’t in the best interest of all children in our public schools, it violates the tenets of our state constitution,” she told the Tulsa World in September.
The Oklahoma constitution says,
“No public money or property shall ever be appropriated. applied, donated, or used, directly or indirectly, for the use, benefit, or support of any sect, church, denomination, or system of religion, or for the use, benefit, or support of any priest, preacher, minister, or other religious teacher or dignitary, or sectarian institution as such.”
As of November 2011, the state had approved 42 private schools to get cash via vouchers, and 40 were religious.
In April 2011, voucher-seeking parents sued the four dissident school districts in federal court. The Jenks and Union school districts countersued and asked the court to declare the law unconstitutional.
In August, the state legislature tried to avert the suit. It transferred administration of the program from school districts to the state education department.
The federal judge advised the parents to claim their vouchers from the state education department.
She told the school districts to take their constitutional complaint to state court.
In September, Jenks and Union asked a state court to find the vouchers unconstitutional.
In November, the parents dropped their suit.
Douglas Mann, the school districts’ lawyer, said he viewed the parents’ withdrawal as a victory, but the districts’ constitutional challenge will continue in state court.
The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, a Religious Right legal group, backed the suit of the voucher-seeking parents.
As Jenks Superintendent Kirby Lehman told the Tulsa World, the Becket Fund’s agenda is to obtain taxpayer funds for religious education.

Wisconsin Shrugs Off Duty to Voucher-School Kids

By means of vouchers, tax-raised funds pay the bills for many religious schools, but public officials disclaim responsibility for the civil liberties of the students in those schools.
If courts held governments responsible for the practices of the schools they fund, those schools could not promote religion.
Therefore, voucher opponents have a stake in a Wisconsin suit that asks the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) to enforce the civil rights of disabled children who want to enroll in Milwaukee voucher schools.
Disability Rights Wisconsin (DRW) says the state has not required the schools to provide services to children with disabilities and has created a program that segregates and isolates those children.
In September, the DOJ started the investigation with 22 questions for the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction (DPI).
In answer after answer, the DPI disclaimed responsibility for the schools’ conduct.
Here are some sample questions and answers. MPCP stands for Milwaukee Public School Choice Program and IDEA stands for Individuals with Disabilities Act.
Q. “Please provide copies of all…materials DPI has sent to participating MPCP schools related to…obligations under…the IDEA …?
A. “Because none of these laws apply to the schools participating in the MPCP,…no…documents have been sent to them.…
“Q. Please describe whether and how DPI tracks data regarding application, enrollment, retention, outreach, disenrollment, transfer, and suspension or expulsion, of children with disabilities in MPCP schools.
“A. .…the statute governing the MPCP neither authorizes DPI to request nor requires schools participating in the MPCP to provide the…data.…Therefore, it is not collected.”
DRW and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) back the suit, Disability Rights Wisconsin v. Wisconsin.