Religious Liberty
An American Heritage

August 2003

  1. Strong Disagreement over the Date of an Archeological Dig
  2. Veterans Still Fight for the Mojave Cross Memorial
  3. Graduation Prayer on Trial in the Courts after Three Years
  4. Prayer Questioned at Two Military Institutions
  5. Principal in Trouble for Urging Prayer in School
  6. Singing Banned at Graduation to Avoid A Spiritual Ballad
  7. World History Teacher Sued for Teaching about Religion in History
  8. Colleges Face an Association Crisis
  9. Cross Necklace Costs Teacher's Aide Her Job
  10. Fund-Raiser Is Delayed Due to Religious Symbols on Memorial Markers
  11. University Study Shows Newspapers Weak on Religious Accuracy and Context
  12. A Local Christian Wins Right to Use Public Room for Meeting on America's Religious Heritage
  13. Preacher Vindicated for Preaching the Truth
  14. Young Boy's Courage to Speak about His Faith Leads to a New Federal Policy for Free Speech
  15. Right to Teach Religion after School Still in Debate
  16. Milwaukee Opposes Free Bibles on City Buses
  17. "God Bless You" Brought Back to Veterans' Graveside Services
  18. Chief Justice Roy Moore Fights a Two-Year Battle for the Ten Commandments
  19. Other Ten Commandments Battles Across America

Strong Disagreement over the Date of an Archeological Dig

As if often the case, secular scientists have again been incorrect in their estimates concerning the date of three skulls recently found in Africa. The scientists proclaimed their discovery to the "oldest known humans" yet found, about 160,000 years old. However, Dr. Tas Walker, a member of the Answers in Genesis, evaluated the remains to be about 6,000 years old, living in modern-day Ethiopia after the Noah's flood.

Walkers' denial of the scientists' data results is based on his own experience with archeological finds in relation to the Bible. "Radioactive dating depends upon assumptions about the past. So as a geologist and someone who's used the argon method, I'm skeptical of the dates and most geologists don't believe them either unless the result comes out in the ballpark of what they anticipate or would like the date to be," said Dr. Walker.

According to Walker, sound reasoning and an understanding of the Bible can help to accurately identify archeological dates, "Humans repopulated this earth after the Flood about four-and-a-half thousand years ago, and the current world population is exactly consistent with that. If you take typical conservative growth rates of human populations, it fits in exactly with that date in the Bible."

("Creationist Disputes Supposed Age of Recently Discovered 'Earliest Humans,'" by Allie Martin, Agape Press, June 13, 2003)

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Veterans Still Fight for the Mojave Cross Memorial

In 1934, veterans from World War I erected a cross in the Mojave National Reserve as a monument to those lost during the war. Almost seventy years later, a federal judge ruled the cross to illegal since, according to a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union, its placement on federal land violated the First Amendment.

The ruling against the cross was a crushing blow to local veterans who have always considered the cross to be a historical monument, not a religious symbol. "This is just veterans' simple way of saying we honor those who have died for this country," said Wanda Sandoz, a native to the area.

According to the federal judge, the "establishment clause" of the Constitution requires that "the government may not promote or affiliate itself with any religious doctrine or organization." However, the veterans will not accept this decision without a fight. Gaining support from veterans across the state of California, the American Legion of California has joined with U.S. Representative Jerry Lewis to propose legislation for a land swap to save the cross. Further support from American Legions across the country is expected in the near future.

("A Large-scale Battle over a Small Cross," by Daniel B. Wood, The Christian Science Monitor, May 6, 2003; "Mojave Cross Gains Support of State American Legion," by Kelly Donovan, The Desert Dispatch, July 1, 2003)

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Graduation Prayer on Trial in the Courts after Three Years

In a 2000 graduation ceremony, Jim Scheer, a member of the Norfolk school board, led students in reciting The Lord's Prayer. Following graduation, a school family joined with the American Civil Liberties Union to sue the school district, the superintendent, and Jim Scheer for violating their constitutional "separation of church and state."

According to Scheer, he was speaking as an individual and a parent his son was also graduating that night. However, his argument could not be accepted since he was listed in the program as a school board member and was even introduced as a school board member before the entire audience before leading in the prayer.

It's hard to say how far this case will go. The latest hearing was at the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Paul, Minnesota.

("Fed. Appeals Court Hears School Prayer Case," by Ashley H. Grant, The Associated Press, June 10, 2003)

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Prayer Questioned at Two Military Institutions

According to a ruling by a federal appeals court, the Americans United for the Separation of Church and State along with two military cadets won a case against the Virginia Military Institute banning traditional prayers before evening meals.

This ruling was met with great disappointment by many Virginians. Virginia Attorney General Jerry W. Kilgore said the prayers are "part of the fabric of our country." He is planning to appeal the ruling. According to Kilgore's office, the prayers were legal because they were voluntary and the cadets were adults. In addition, the prayers were a way to create a strong bond among cadets and to remind them not to forget their spiritual lives.

Unfortunately, the success of this ruling has triggered a review of the lunchtime prayer exercises at the U.S. Naval Academy. Dating back to 1845, the Naval Academy sponsors a daily prayer at mealtime where everyone is required to attend.

Although the ACLU of Maryland is reviewing the VMI case, they will not find identical situations. As in the case of VMI, the attendees must be in attendance at the meal, but do not have to participate in the prayer. However, the Naval Academy is controlled by the Department of Defense, not the Virginia General Assembly. According to legal scholars, active duty sailors are not necessarily assured the same freedoms as regular citizens so that they can maintain order. "For the most part, soldiers don't have the rights of privacy other people have, they don't have the freedom of speech other people have and to some extent they don't have the full scope of religious freedom others do," said L. Lynn Hogue, a professor at the Georgia State University College of Law and a retired Army lawyer.

For now, no suit has been filed against the Academy.

("Dinner Party at Virginia Military Institute Ruled Unconstitutional," The Associated Press, April 28, 2003; "Academy Review of Prayer Sought," by Ariel Sabar, The Baltimore Sun, April 30, 2003)

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Principal in Trouble for Urging Prayer in School

To honor the National Day of Prayer, Principal Ellen Green urged teachers to remember the day with prayer in the classroom, including prayers for each student. In a memo sent that week she wrote, "Take a few minutes to stand beside each student's desk and pray for that student, their family and their needs...God honors those who honor Him and seek His will. I plan to make this a day of prayer and fasting. I would welcome your joining me in seeking God's favor and direction."

Protesting these actions are the American Civil Liberties Union of Kansas and Western Missouri. According to spokesmen for the union, the memo was inappropriate, if not illegal.

School Superintendent Chris Manning has not reacted to Principal Green's actions. He never received any complaints from parents and added, "I'm all for prayer."

("Principal Under Fire for Urging Teachers to Pray with Students," The Associated Press, Thursday, May 15, 2003)

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Singing Banned at Graduation to Avoid A Spiritual Ballad

In a creative twist to avoid a lawsuit, the Isle of Wight School District banned all singing from the June graduation program. Before the ban, Anna Ashby, a graduating senior, had planned to sing and inspirational song called "The Prayer" as a duet with a fellow classmate. When school district officials denied her the right to sing the song because they felt it would violate court rulings on the separation of church and state, Ashby and her parents threatened to sue the school district.

No lawsuit will come of the incident, however, because of the ban on singing. According to Stuart Roth, senior counsel for the American Center for Law and Justice, "Students have no constitutional rights to have songs at their graduation." If the ban had not been placed, Anna Ashby's rights would definitely have been violated. The separation of church and state handed down by the courts refers only to religious material being chosen and used by the school. It has nothing to do with a personal testimony in song.

Local religious leaders are very disappointed by the school district's actions. According to Anna's father, "This is rural America. This is not metropolitan USA Religion is a vital part of the fabric of rural culture. I'm talking about where I live."

("Singing Ban Ends Graduation Hopes," by Jessica Hanthorn and Patrick Lynch, Daily Press, June 6, 2003)

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World History Teacher Sued for Teaching about Religion in History

Truman High School teacher Chris Earley made at least one student unhappy during his world history class last year. Tenth grader Ashley Heckman and her mother Evelyn Weck joined the American Civil Liberties Union along with Americans United for the Separation of Church and State in suing the Independence school district because of content taught during Chris Earley's world history class. According to the lawsuit, the teacher included the history of the birth of Christianity in his class. He would also have included Buddhism and Hinduism, but the lawsuit precluded these lessons. Ironically, the lawsuit was filed on May 1st the National Day of Prayer.

("Independence School District Denies Teacher Pushed Christianity," by Linda Man, The Kansas City Star, May 3, 2003)

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Colleges Face an Association Crisis

Two Catholic colleges, Chestnut Hill College and Villanova University, faced difficult decisions to uphold their religious standards.

At Chestnut Hill College, a part-time religion professor resigned after being forbidden to reveal herself as a lesbian currently employed with the college. Meghan Sullivan, both teacher and graduate of the college, revealed her lesbianism to a reporter while attending a speech at the University of Pennsylvania on gay rights. Later after Sister Carol Vale, president of Chestnut Hill College, spoke with Sullivan concerning her reputation with the school, she decided to resign. According to Sister Vale, "When speaking as a representative of the college, we expect faculty to accurately represent the teachings of the church and to refrain from criticism of those teachings."

In a similar way, law students from Villanova University who were receiving law-school stipends were forbidden from accepting summer internships with public advocacy groups whose issues included abortion rights. According to law school dean Mark Sargent, "They are not going as students who happen to attend Villanova. They're going as Villanova law fellows in our name, and therefore associating us with a particular position. A line is crossed. Villanova should be seen as faithful to the ideal of academic freedom and to its Catholic identity, and that requires calling some very careful distinctions."

("Religious Colleges Walk a Fine Line," by James M. O'Neill, The Philadelphia Inquirer, May 6, 2003)

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Cross Necklace Costs Teacher's Aide Her Job

Brenda Nichol, a devout Christian and teacher's aide in Indiana County, was suspended from her job for a year when she refused to take off a necklace with a small cross attached. According to the school district, the cross violates the Pennsylvania Public School Code on the wearing of religious garb.

Nichol has filed a federal civil rights suit against the school as a result, hoping to be reinstated to her position. Vincent McCarthy, senior counsel from the American Center for Law and Justice, is representing Mrs. Nichol. According to McCarthy, "The actions taken by this agency represent a serious violation of our client's constitutional rights. The law is very clear on this issue: School personnel do not shed their constitutional freedoms when they enter the schoolhouse door."

Along with getting her job back, Mrs. Nichol would like to see the court declare the state's policy regarding religious garb and insignia law unconstitutional. In a statement from her lawyer, "As a Christian, Brenda Nichol desires to express her identity as a Christian (belonging and wed to Christ) through wearing a cross on her necklace, as a symbol of her faith, and believes to remove or hide that cross beneath her clothing is an act of denying Christ as her Lord and Savior, which she cannot do without violating her religious convictions."

("Teacher's Aide Sues to Wear Cross in Classroom," by Torsten Ove, The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, May 6, 2003; "Suspended Teacher's Aide Sues Employer over Wearing Cross on Necklace," by Torsten Ove, The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, May 7, 2003; "Pennsylvania Teacher's Aide Suspended for Cross," by Joyce Howard Price, The Washington Times, May 9, 2003)

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Fund-Raiser Is Delayed Due to Religious Symbols on Memorial Markers

The parent-teacher organization of the Potomac Falls High School (PAWS) decided to hold a fundraiser selling bricks on a brick path near the school entrance. The path would be called the "Walkway of Fame." Unfortunately, all work on the project was stopped when the parents of one of the students in the school noticed crosses on some of the bricks laid in the path. After more than a year of brick order sales, the whole project is on hold. No more orders will be taken, according to PAWS President Megan Davis.

However, more serious an offense than the bricks with crosses is their removal according to the Rutherford Institute. When the bricks are removed, the school district is violating the freedom of speech of the citizen who bought each brick. According to Rutherford President John Whitehead, "This is political correctness run amok. I think unless they replace the bricks or some other agreement can be reached, they're going to be headed to court."

("School Removes Bricks Bearing Religious Symbols," by Kristie Little, Times Community Newspapers, March 6, 2003)

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University Study Shows Newspapers Weak on Religious Accuracy and Context

The University of Rochester recently conducted a study on the religious content in daily newspapers. Its results showed a very poor job by newspapers in communicating a fair understanding of religious beliefs and practices.

According to Curt Smith, a senior lecturer of English at the University and former presidential speechwriter, "On the one hand, religion pervades America's newspapers. On the other hand, stories about religion rarely discuss beliefs, values, and practices."

The study revealed four key points

1. Religious stories are often described out of context in political and legal terms.

2. Islam and Roman Catholicism are usually tied with criminal acts with little emphasis on their teachings and practices.

3. Iraqi war coverage is presented in religious, anti-war views more often than pro-war views.

Along with the study, the University of Rochester also offered recommendations to daily newspapers, "Remember that context is the key to the complete reporting of the story; distinguish between the group and the action; and consider a religion section."

("Newspapers Fall Short on Religious Accuracy and Context, Study Alleges, by Steve Brown, CNS, May 12, 2003)

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A Local Christian Wins Right to Use Public Room for Meeting on America's Religious Heritage

With the help of the Liberty Counsel, John Oster will be able to use a public community room in Nevada, Missouri for a meeting about the foundations of American Liberty. After being turned down by the town officials, Oster sought the help of Liberty Counsel to prove that the official policy against such a meeting was unconstitutional. The controversy over the meeting arose from the content of Mr. Oster's meeting, his presentations, sponsored by a non-profit organization called Liberty Landing, include religious and Christian views of the Founding Fathers. According to Mat Staver of the Liberty Counsel, the officials reacted without a full understanding of Mr. Oster's constitutional rights, "Whether it is hostility toward the Christian viewpoint, or outright ignorance, discrimination in all forms is unconstitutional and wrong."

("Christian Citizen Wins Right to Use Community Center," by Allie Martin, Agape Press, May 15, 2003)

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Preacher Vindicated for Preaching the Truth

Three thousand dollars was finally awarded on Ohio man in June after being arrested five years before for his outspoken statements against abortion. In 1998 Charles Spingola was arrested at a Fourth of July Celebration for disorderly conduct. Spingola was standing on a chair in the midst of the festival activities preaching against abortion. He also displayed a poster of a bloody fetus. Tom Condit, Spingola's attorney, was pleased with the outcome, "I think we're happy the jury made a specific finding that he was arrested because of the abortion poster, and finding he was not engaged in any fighting words."

("Jury: Police Violated Man's Free Speech," by Jim Seigel, The Newark Advocate of Central Ohio, June 3, 2003)

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Young Boy's Courage to Speak about His Faith Leads to a New Federal Policy for Free Speech

As part of the No Child Left Behind Act, President Bush included "The Guidance on Constitutionally Protected Prayer in Public Elementary and Secondary Schools." According to these guidelines, a school is to show "neither favoritism nor hostility against religious expression." This not only protects a student's freedom of speech during school, but also at graduations, programs, and assemblies. Before receiving federal funds, all local schools need to provide a written statement that they do not discriminate "against student prayer or religious speech."

This ruling is a result, in part, of two incidences involving religious discrimination against Zachary Hood. In kindergarten and again in first grade, Zachary faced discrimination against his work simply because it was religious in content: "They all made it feel like religion was a bad thing." And according to Zach's mom, Carol Ward, "Discriminating against religion is very un-American and very wrong."

("Church-State Debate Begins Anew in Schools," Fox News, June 8, 2003)

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Right to Teach Religion after School Still in Debate

In 2001, the Supreme Court ruled that public schools must offer religious clubs the same access to facilities that non-religious clubs receive. However, Barbara Wigg of Sioux Falls, South Dakota is still in court for that constitutional right. Wigg has been an elementary school teacher for nineteen years and is also certified by Child Evangelism Fellowship to teach Good News Clubs after school. But she has been prohibited by her school district to teach in school during the day and in Bible clubs at night. The district does allow clubs after school but will not budge in giving Wigg permission to teach. According to Wigg the school district has overstepped its boundaries by dictation what she can do during her own time, "Sunday morning is not the only time when I can put on my Christian hat. After 3:30 p.m., I am someone who wants to work with The Good News Club...I am not an agent of my school." Mat Staver, Wiggs' attorney states her position, "She's being punished simply because she's a teacher. If she were any individual from the normal citizenry, even a government employee from some other particular area of government, she could participate in this after-school club." He added, "My fear is that if we were to lose a case like this, then every teacher in America, whether it's on the topic of religion or not, would have their constitutional rights to freedom of speech jeopardized during their private time. This wouldn't stop with the topic of religion. It would cover every other topic that the school district wants to control after school hours. That's unconscionable, let alone unconstitutional."

("Teacher Fights for Right to Teach Religion After School," by Jeff Goldblatt, Fox News, June 9, 2003)

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Milwaukee Opposes Free Bibles on City Buses

A year ago, a Milwaukee woman was passing out free Bibles on a city bus when the bus driver ordered her off the bus for her behavior. Now Gail Anderson has filed a federal lawsuit against the Milwaukee Transit Authority and has obtained two attorneys from the Liberty Council to defend her. According to Anderson's attorneys, the policy prohibiting Bible distribution is too broad. It would be impossible to carry out this policy, which would include prohibiting the distribution of business cards, newspapers, and even directions. According to Mat Staver, Anderson's attorney, "Passengers don't shed their constitutional rights when they enter public transportation venues. People exchange addresses, business cards, newspapers, or books all the time on public buses. It is unconstitutional to ban all literature distribution to single out the Christian viewpoint."

("Bible-Toting Woman Files Lawsuit Against Transit Agency," by Joanne Haas, CNS, June 18, 2003; "Bible-Sharing Woman Forced off Bus," WorldNetDaily, June 11, 2003)

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"God Bless You" Brought Back to Veterans' Graveside Services

Last October, officials from the Veterans Memorial Cemetery in New Jersey fired Patrick Cubbage, an honor guardsman, for saying "God bless you" to veteran families at graveside ceremonies. Cubbage persuaded The Rutherford Institute to take his case, which soon received national attention. Among other statements, Cubbage explained that literature he received when first taking the position allowed for the blessing he was just following instructions given him.

In August he was reinstated to his position with back pay.

("Honor Guard Gets His Job Back," by David O'Reilly, Philadelphia Inquirer, August 8, 2003)

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Chief Justice Roy Moore Fights a Two-Year Battle for the Ten Commandments

In 2001 Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore placed a granite monument displaying the Ten Commandments in the Alabama Judicial Building. When the American Civil Liberties Union, the Americans United for Separation of Church and State, and the Southern Poverty Law Center filed a federal lawsuit to remove the monument, they won their case. A few weeks ago, Chief Justice Moore appealed the decision to the Supreme Court, but his appeal was denied.

On August 5, 2003, U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson ordered the monument to be removed from the public area of the building by August 20. The monument could be placed in Judge Moore's private chambers according to Thompson's order.

However, in keeping with his previous reactions to court rulings, Chief Justice Moore is not backing down: "I have no intention of removing this monument. This I cannot and will not do. The issue in this case is the state of Alabama can acknowledge of God. (The state constitution) invokes the favoring guidance of Almighty God and no federal court has declared (Alabama's) constitution unconstitutional. It's very important that, as the chief administrative officer of the justice system, that I uphold my oath to the Alabama Constitution as well as the U.S. Constitution. Neither the First Amendment nor the Alabama Constitution forbid an acknowledgment of God... We are following U.S. Supreme Court law as to its definition of religion, which recognizes a Creator in higher law. So we have every right as a state to acknowledge God."

("Appeal in Judge Moore's Ten Commandments Case on Docket for Early June," by Allie Martin and Jody Brown, Agape Press, May 6, 2003; "Judge Orders Ten Commandments Monument Taken Out of Alabama Judicial Building," The Associated Press, August 5, 2003; "Judge Keeps Ten Commandments," by Julia Duin, The Washington Times, August 15, 2003)

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Other Ten Commandments Battles Across America:

Locations in Jeopardy of Losing Their Ten Commandments Displays

  • La Crosse, Wisconsin - Ten Commandments monument in public park
  • Phoenix, Arizona - Ten Commandments monument in Wesley Bolin Memorial Plaza
  • `Adams County, Ohio - Ten Commandments printed on four 3-foot high granite tablets removed from the four local high schools in the county

Locations that Have Won Recent Ten Commandments Battles

  • Richmond County, Georgia - Ten Commandments remains on the Richmond County Court Seal
  • Chester County, Pennsylvania - Ten Commandments plaque will stay on courthouse wall
  • Allegheny County, Pennsylvania - Ten Commandments will stay on the outside wall of the Allegheny County Courthouse.

("Wisconsin City Must Remove Religious Monument," The Associated Press, July 15, 2003; "ACLU Seeks Religion-Free Bolin Plaza," by Michael Clancy, The Arizona Republic, July 18, 2003; "Ten Commandments Removed from Ohio Schools," The Associated Pree, June 10, 2003; "Court Allows County Seal's Commandments," by Bill Rankin, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, June 3, 2003; "Allegheny County Courthouse Can Keep Ten Commandments Posted," by Torsten Ove, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, July 29, 2003)