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ADF Senior Counsel Brett Harvey writes:

Gazing across the street at Independence Hall in Philadelphia, I was struck by the irony.  It was an overcast January day as the city was digging out from a snow storm.  To quickly glance at the clock tower of this landmark was to see the spire shining brightly against a pale blue sky.  However, upon closer inspection the illusion was revealed.  I wasn’t looking at the building at all; rather I was staring at an image of the building printed on a tarp used to cover the scaffolding that surrounded the clock tower.  Independence Hall was being “updated” behind the facade.

Where is the irony?  It was ironic because I was in Philadelphia to witness an attempt to “update” another American icon, the U.S. Constitution.   Ironic because across the street, between the National Constitution Center and Independence Hall sits the federal courthouse where the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals heard oral arguments about the constitutionality of opening a public meeting with a prayer.  Ironic that such a challenge would be heard within earshot of the Liberty Bell.

 It was on September 7, 1774, in Philadelphia that the First Continental Congress opened with a prayer delivered by the Rev. Jacob Duché.  Not even two years later the Continental Congress stepped out of Independence Hall and declared that we citizens have inalienable rights endowed by our Creator.  Ironic that the first congress, in 1789, finalized the language of the First Amendment just three days after they authorized the appointment of paid chaplains to deliver prayers before each session of congress, and now the court is deciding whether that same First Amendment prevents a school board from opening its meeting with a prayer.

The irony would be amusing if the consequences were not so grave.  Unfortunately, this is not an isolated incident.  Right now, three of the eleven Federal Circuit Courts of Appeals, have pending challenges to the historic American tradition of opening public meetings in prayer.  The next 12 to 18 months may well shape the future of public invocations.

In 1983 the U.S. Supreme Court pointed to the history of this nation and ruled that prayers given before the Nebraska Legislature were entirely constitutional, even though the state had paid the same chaplain to make expressly Christian prayers for more than a decade.  It is the only time the Supreme Court has directly considered the validity of prayer before public meetings.  If all three appellate courts allow invocations to be given consistent with the dictates of the prayer giver’s conscience, this historic tradition will be safe – for now.  But if the courts split or decide that the government needs to dictate the content of prayer, this legal issue will be ripe for review once again by the Supreme Court.

The most recent federal appellate court to take up the issue did so in 2008.  In that case, the 11th Circuit determined that prayer givers were free to pray as their conscience leads them.  However, if the secularists who brought suit in the 2nd and 4th Circuits get their way, the government will be forced to censor invocations and dictate what constitutes an acceptable prayer.  Ironically, if the courts come to that conclusion, local governmental bodies will not even be permitted to recite the prayer uttered by Rev. Duché at the First Continental Congress because it will be considered “too Christian” and, therefore, unconstitutional.  If the atheists succeed in the 3rd Circuit, the school board will be forced to abandoned the time honored tradition altogether.

  Despite clear historical and legal precedent, the legal fight continues.  Recently states, counties, and towns across the U.S. have received letters from activists groups like the ACLU and Freedom from Religion Foundation demanding that invocations before public meetings be stopped or censored.  This campaign of fear and intimidation has made an impact.  In January the Senate for the State of Hawaii abandoned public invocations after being intimidated with the threat of a lawsuit.  The Senate correctly reasoned that they shouldn’t try to control how people pray.  However, they then took a wrong turn and concluded the only way to protect the speech rights of invocation speakers was to silence them.

 The arguments and demands in activists’ letters are like the image draped on the scaffolding of Independence Hall.  At first blush, their arguments appear to be constitutional, but a closer inspection reveals they are a mere facade, intent on hiding the work being done to reshape an American icon.  Beware!  They are not simply restructuring a historical artifact made of brick and mortar; they are attacking the very foundation upon which this country was founded.

As I left the courthouse that day, I walked past the image of Independence Hall and stopped for a moment before a statue commemorating religious liberty.  Hopefully, the memorial is not simply a reference to a former day, but a reminder of how important religious liberty is and why we need to be ever vigilant against those opposing forces that would destroy it.

  • - Know the history of the Constitution so you will not be fooled by a facade that simply resembles this foundational document. 

 

  • - Be alert!  If a government body in your area is challenged to censor prayer or abandon the practice of opening public meetings with prayer, call the Alliance Defense Fund at 1-800-TELL-ADF or fill out the online legal request form.

 

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In a much-publicized decision, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit recently decided that a memorial cross at the Mount Soledad veterans’ memorial violated the Federal Constitution. In particular, the Court looked at the First Amendment and examined the issue under the so-called “separation of church and state” mantra. The decision may not seem like much when reported as a news story, but its implications are staggering. Let’s see why.

Imagine a balance scale capable of weighing arguments, so that the weightier side prevails. Here’s the alignment of interests. On one side of the scale, we have a location where a memorial cross honoring veterans has stood, in one form or another, since 1913 – nearly a century. The current memorial has been at the location since 1954, and the area surrounding the memorial is filled with numerous walls of plaques honoring individual veterans. After nearly two decades of relentless lawsuits by the ACLU, the property with the memorial was taken by the Federal Government in an act of Congress to establish a federal memorial for all veterans. By Congressional standards, the action was a marvel of both speed and consensus. More than 80 per cent of representatives in the House voted for it.  The Senate approved the transfer in a unanimous  vote –see many of those lately?

On the same side of the scale with a unified Congress, we also have enormous community support and the opinion of the largest veterans’ organizations in the nation, representing literally millions of veterans.  In fact, the veterans’ groups forcefully described the ACLU lawsuit as an insult to the honor and memory of veterans everywhere. They expressed the surprisingly easy-to-grasp concept that veterans should be able to say how they would like to honor their own. So, on one side we have long-standing tradition, Congress and the President, local residents, and veterans.

What could possibly be placed on the opposite side of the scale to tip the balance? The answer is a handful of individuals who claim to be “offended” by the sight of the memorial. This is not a misprint or misstatement, and now, if this three judge panel has its way, it will be the law for much of the country.

Groups like the ACLU have a long-standing dysfunctional relationship with memorial crosses. The military has long used the symbol of a cross to honor soldiers and veterans; consider, for example, the nation’s second highest military award, the Distinguished Service Cross. Offended observers irrationally see here a covert attempt to establish the Christian faith. The very suggestion defies common sense and experience.

Imagine you are driving down a peaceful country lane, when you round a curve and see a small cross with flowers planted on the roadside. What would be your first thought: someone perished at this spot, or would it be “someone is trying to establish the Christian religion roadside”? No rational person jumps to the second conclusion. And yet, according to this decision, the small handful of thin-skinned types who do must be accommodated.

The comparison is even starker when we look behind the arguments. The memorial cross stands in mute recognition of sacrifice, honor, and courage. These attributes were displayed by veterans, many of whom paid the ultimate price to protect our freedoms. In a grotesque use of those freedoms, a few individuals motivated by their personal offense and sense of self-importance, sued to destroy the symbol honoring those who fought for those freedoms. The easily-offended ACLU clients behind the suit try to cloak their actions with pretensions of constitutional dignity, but the arguments sound more like the yapping of irritated poodles in the presence of a solemn memorial.

Fortunately, the three judge panel is not the end of the road. The United States Supreme Court has an opportunity to hear this case and reverse the terrible injustice. In fact, the Supreme Court has already hinted about their views on memorial crosses. In another ACLU lawsuit against a memorial cross, only the year before, the Supreme Court reversed the same appellate court, though on a different issue. The majority decision by Justice Anthony Kennedy featured stirring language about memorial crosses, which I cannot improve upon, and so I will simply quote:

(A) Latin cross is not merely a reaffirmation of Christian beliefs. It is a symbol often used to honor and respect those whose heroic acts, noble contributions, and patient striving help secure an honored place in history for this Nation and its people. Here, one Latin cross in the desert evokes far more than religion. It evokes thousands of small crosses in foreign fields marking the graves of Americans who fell in battles, battles whose tragedies are compounded if the fallen are forgotten.

Unfortunately, three judges on the Ninth Circuit didn’t get the message. Americans everywhere are hoping the Supreme Court will step in again and right this wrong.

This article originally appeared on Mercator.net, January 13, 2011.

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Two situations.  In one, people were asked to attend a graduation ceremony in a comfortable church auditorium with air-conditioning and comfortable chairs.  In the other, a person was tortured and killed for holding religious beliefs. 

Which one do you think represents the evil that our first amendment was meant to prohibit?

It was 50 years ago (September 12, 1960) that John F. Kennedy gave his now famous speech to the Houston Ministerial Society.   When JFK was running for President that year, he was facing severe criticism for being a Roman Catholic. And so during this speech, he emphatically declared that his faith would be separate from his duties as President.

I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute….  I believe in a President whose religious views are his own private affair, neither imposed by him upon the nation or imposed by the nation upon him as a condition to holding that office…. 

I am not going to opine at length now about how idiotic it is to claim that a politician can separate his or her religious beliefs from civic duty.  A person of faith cannot separate religious beliefs from his or her thoughts and actions any more than you can separate your central nervous system from your body.  Your faith, if genuine, controls your every move, your every thought.  Faith is not something you “put on” when convenient.  Either you are a person of faith, or not. 

But I do want to comment on this perverted misunderstanding of the concept of “separation of church and state.”  Today, groups like the ACLU and Americans United for Separation of Church and State laud JFK’s speech for stating that there is an “absolute separation” between church and state.  They have used this misguided phrase to justify a purging of all things religious from the public square. 

Voluntary student prayer in the public schools?  According to the ACLU, this violates the separation of church and state. 

Prayers before Congressional sessions?  The ACLU says no

Ten Commandments monuments on display in front of the Courthouse?  The ACLU believes this is offensive and thus violates the separation of church and state. 

A public high school graduation being held in a comfortable church auditorium?  Not if the ACLU has its way!

But really, was the concept of separation of church and state meant to prohibit graduations in comfortable church auditoriums?  Was the genesis of this idea to clean up government lawns from being overcrowded with monuments?

No!  These things are all examples of living everyday life in a society where people have religious beliefs.  Rather, our founders were trying to prohibit the kind of punishment for religious beliefs like what happened to Michael Sattler. 

Michael was a leader of the Anabaptist movement in the 16th Century, and held several beliefs that were not shared by the ruling government of his day.  In America, our Constitution protects the right to hold beliefs that are not shared by the mainstream.  This was not the case in Michael’s day.

And so because of his beliefs concerning baptism, he was arrested as a heretic.  He was tried and convicted.  His sentence for holding these beliefs?  Death.

But he was not sentenced to an ordinary death.  His tongue was cut out to prevent him from giving his testimony during his burning.  Flesh from his body was torn with red hot tongs.  He was drug by a wagon across the town.  And this torture was concluded by being burned at the stake.

All of this – because of his beliefs.  This is why we have religious freedom in America.  We do not have religious freedom so that our religious history can be sandblasted from government buildings. 

The First Amendment was not meant to force graduation ceremonies to be held in crowded gymnasiums rather than a comfortable church auditorium.  Our Constitution was not meant to prohibit politicians, who possess Christian beliefs, from using that moral base to enact sound laws for this nation.

This type of thinking is a mockery to the real harm inflicted on our ancestors because of their religious beliefs.

Groups like the ACLU will argue, “But it’s a slippery slope.  Once you allow graduations to be held in comfortable plush chairs in an air-conditioned auditorium, then you are only one step away from dragging a person through town behind a wagon, tearing his body with fire hot tongs, and burning his body at the stake.”

The lunacy of this comparison is self evident.  But there is a slippery slope involved here.  And that is this – by following the road the ACLU would have us follow, we will end up being a nation whose children know nothing of our religious heritage, and where all things religious are banned from the public square because they might offend someone.

It’s time to remember what religious freedom is really all about.

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ADF Senior Legal Counsel - Church Project

Every once in a while, I stroll via the internet to the ACLU’s website to see what is going on.  I’m not real sure why I do because I always end up angry at most of the things the ACLU is involved in.  I expected to hear about the latest lawsuit the ACLU brought against a nativity scene or against a City Council who opens their legislative meetings in prayer.  Imagine my surprise, though, when I see trumpeted on the ACLU’s website the fact that New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg issued an official proclamation stating that September 15 is “ACLU Day.”  And then, I see the news that the ACLU just wrapped up its five year fundraising campaign where it hauled in a whopping $407 million dollars!  That’s a lot of money to fund a radical organization like the ACLU that stands against traditional marriage and for unrestricted abortions.

As ADF’s President and CEO, Alan Sears, says in his book The ACLU vs. America, if the ACLU’s vision for America were realized, some of the following (along with much more) would be the reality in America today:

All legal prohibitions on the distribution of obscene material – including child pornography – are unconstitutional.

Pornographic outlets can locate wherever they please

Tax-funded libraries should not restrict access of children to pornography on the internet

The military cannot stop open displays of homosexual behavior within its ranks

All legislative, military  and prison chaplaincy programs should be abolished

All criminal and civil laws that prohibit polygamy (having multiple wives) and same-sex “marriage” should be done away with.

This is just a small snippet of what the ACLU’s vision for America is.  It should not surprise us that the ACLU’s vision is so radical.  After all, this was the organization that represented NAMBLA, the North American Man-Boy Love Association, a group that promotes pedophilia.  The ACLU has a radical vision for America and now it has a massive war chest to back it up.

So church, the question is posed to us – what are we going to do about this?  How are we going to counter the ACLU’s massive war chest?  Are we to sit back and allow the forces of the ACLU to implement their vision for America unchecked? 

These questions were answered by the founders of ADF many years ago when they established ADF and tasked it with a mission to defend religious liberty, the sanctity of human life, and the traditional family.  And we have a plan for how to defend our most precious liberties.  Check out our website for many ways you can get involved.  But one thing is plain – we need for you to help us.

Now is not the time for the church to sit back and wring its hands.  Instead, like David did on the battlefield with Goliath, we should run “quickly toward the battle line,” all the while proclaiming to this culture and society that no matter what weapons they have, “I come to you in the name of the LORD of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. … the battle is the LORD’s, and he will give you into our hand.” 1 Samuel 17:45, 47.

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ADF Senior Legal Counsel - Church Project

A recent decision by a federal district court in Connecticut has sent a very troubling message to those holding religious beliefs – you are not full members of society, but second class citizens!

Let me explain.  For many years, groups like the ACLU have argued that Ten Commandment monuments must be taken down, Bibles should be removed from schools, prayers must cease, and memorial crosses along the highways must be removed.  Their rationale is that such things make the ACLU supporters feel like political outsiders and not full members of society. 

They get this mantra from former Supreme Court justice Sandra Day O’Connor. According to her, the First Amendment “seeks to ensure that government does not make a person’s religious beliefs relevant to his or her standing in the political community … thereby sending a message to nonadherents that they are outsiders, not full members of the political community, and an accompanying message to adherents that they are insiders, favored members of the political community.”

Well, the tables have turned now.  In an effort to appease the anti-religious crowd, the courts are now stripping away the basic rights of Christians.  Last month, a federal district court stopped the Enfield Public School District from holding graduation ceremonies at the First Cathedral, a very large Baptist church in the area. 

But before we even get to the part of the opinion that treats religious persons as second class citizens, I have to comment that this case is an example of political correctness gone awry.  Most graduations in large public schools have one thing in common – they’re crowded!  Many have to ration out tickets and pick their favorite family members because not all can attend due to limited space.  But because of this lawsuit filed by the ACLU, hundreds of family members missed out on this most special of times.  So rather than have an event in a comfortable environment, with adequate seating and cooling system, it was held in a crowded gym.  And for that, thank you ACLU!

But a politically incorrect ACLU or judicial opinion is not front page material anymore.  What should be screamed from the rooftops is this emerging trend to strip Christians’ rights as full citizens in America.  Here is why I am saying this: the main reason the judge ruled against the school district is because the Family Institute of Connecticut (“FIC”), a pro-family organization, lobbied the school district to hold the graduation services at the Cathedral.

Did you catch that?  The reason the judge ordered the graduation services to be stopped at this location is because a pro-family organization wanted the services to be located there!  I only wish I were making this up. 

The court said, “The issue here, however, is not Enfield Public Schools’ purpose, but instead the broader context within which a reasonable observer would understand the 2010 graduations. Given the unity of interest that developed between FIC and the Chairman, FIC’s agenda-and FIC and Chairman Stokes working together on that agenda-is clearly part of that context.” 

You see, the interests of the Enfield Public School District and the FIC were similar – they both wanted the graduation ceremony to be held at First Catherdral.  But their reasons were not the same!  The School District wanted the graduation services to be held at the Cathedral because it was the most cost effective place to hold the ceremony in a comfortable environment. FIC wanted the graduation ceremonies to be held there because as a pro-family organization, it wanted this special occasion to be held at a place where most family members could attend. 

In addition, the FIC did not want this outside special interest organization coming into town and demanding that the services not be held at a church.  They believed that caving to such demands would violate the constitutional rights of FIC and the church. 

Unfortunately, the judge ruled against the school district due to this organization’s beliefs.  So the message here to those holding religious values is … keep them to yourself!  Because if you share them, or go to your governing officials and ask them to do something, then the governing official will have to deny your request. 

It’s as if religion is a poison pill that will kill whatever a religious person hopes for.  In essence, the government is telling the church, “because of your religious beliefs, you are not full members of society.  You are outsiders in your own community.  Others who do not share your beliefs are more favored in this community.” 

Now where have I heard that before?

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ADF Senior Legal Counsel - Church Project

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