Friday, October 27, 2006

Florida's Supreme Court Rejects Wiccan Tax Challenge

Tallahassee, FL – Yesterday, the Florida Supreme Court declined to consider a Wiccan group’s challenge to a state sales tax exemption. Earlier this year, the high court agreed to take the case and heard oral arguments from both sides regarding the Wiccan’s objection to a sales tax exemption for Bibles and other religious items. Liberty Counsel filed a brief with the Florida Supreme Court defending a state law that exempts Bibles, religious publications and ceremonial items from sales tax. In a 6-1 decision, the Court found no conflict in appellate court rulings on the underlying issue of whether the Wiccans have the right, or “standing,” to challenge the law.The Wiccan Religious Cooperative of Florida (Wiccans) follow an earth-based belief religion and at one time qualified for the tax exemption on certain items sold by the Cooperative. They lost their exemption in 2000 because they did not own a place of worship as required by state regulations. They filed suit on Halloween in 2000, saying they paid sales tax on the purchase of the Satanic Bible and the Witch’s Bible Compleat and claiming Florida Statute 212.06(9) violated the Establishment Clause. A trial judge ruled the Wiccans had standing to sue. A Florida appeals court reversed that decision. The Wiccans appealed. The Florida Supreme Court agreed to take the case based on appellate rulings which, at first, appeared to be in conflict with that issue, when, in fact, it dealt with the narrower issue of “taxpayer standing.” The Court opined the Wiccans lack standing to challenge the law because they are not harmed by it. This is not the same as taxpayer standing.Liberty Counsel’s brief argued that the Wiccans had no standing to sue, because, even if the law were struck down, they would not receive a refund which it claims is due. The brief also points out that the Florida exemption differs from the religious publication exemption struck down by the Supreme Court in Texas Monthly v. Bullock. The Texas law exempted Bibles and religious publications but did not exempt secular publications. Florida law provides a wide array of exemptions for educational publications, newspapers, magazines, newsletters, promotional materials and works of art sold to or used by educational institutions. Finally, the brief argues that the best Supreme Court precedent is Walz v. Tax Commissioner, where the Supreme Court upheld property tax exemptions for churches. The brief points out that Texas Monthly was a fractured opinion with no majority, the Justices who voted to strike down the Texas law are no longer on the Court, those who voted to uphold the law still remain on the Court.The Florida Supreme Court did the right thing in dismissing this case. The Wiccans’ challenge was nothing more than a vindictive lawsuit. The Wiccans would not have benefited at all if they won because they were seeking to have all religious publications taxed, including their own. Florida’s sales tax exemption statute is constitutional and we are pleased that this vindictive challenge to the statute has been dismissed.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

New Jersey Supreme Court Assaults Marriage

Newark, NJ – Today, New Jersey’s Supreme Court issued a decision ordering the Legislature to give all the rights of marriage to same-sex couples. The Court stopped one vote shy of granting same-sex couples the right to marry, instead ruling that all the benefits of marriage must be granted to same-sex couples. Three of the Justices dissented, arguing that same-sex couples should be given the right to marry in New Jersey. Liberty Counsel has been actively, aggressively and directly involved in protecting traditional marriage from attack in dozens of lawsuits around the country.Today’s ruling recognized the backdrop of the New Jersey statutes which the majority stated evidenced a “legislative and judicial commitment to eradicating sexual orientation discrimination.” The Court held that, “denying rights and benefits to committed same-sex couples that are statutorily given to their heterosexual counterparts violates the equal protection guarantee of [New Jersey’s Constitution]. To comply with this constitutional mandate, the Legislature must either amend the marriage statutes to include same-sex couples or create a parallel statutory structure, which will provide for, on equal terms, the rights and benefits enjoyed and burdens and obligations borne by married couples.” The Court ordered the State Legislature to amend its statutes and stated, “The Legislature could simply amend the marriage statutes to include same-sex couples, or it could create a separate statutory structure, such as a civil union, as Connecticut and Vermont have done.” The Court then ordered the State Legislature to act within 180 days.New Jersey is not a social experimentation laboratory where the Supreme Court can play. The marital union of a man and a woman is of vital social importance because it uniquely fosters responsible procreation, contributes to the continuing well-being of men and women, to society, to children and to the state. Aggressive use of the courts to undermine marriage has backfired on the same-sex marriage movement. The people of America are not about to idly stand by and watch marriage go up in smoke. Marriage, including all of its rights and benefits, must be protected from judges who dress themselves in lab coats to play social scientists and experiment with the most fundamental institution of society. We must not rest until marriage is protected once and for all by passage of a federal marriage amendment.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Liberty Council helps allow Christmas in Wisconsin

Robert Wortock has been pressing Racine, Wisconsin since last December to celebrate Christmas in the town. He was unsuccessful last year, but worked all year to gain support for Christmas. He galvanized a large coalition of area churches and residents to bring the Christmas issue before the Racine Common Council. Mr. Wortock also contacted Liberty Counsel for assistance, and Liberty Counsel sent a letter to the mayor explaining that Christmas celebrations are constitutional. Last week, after a heated debate, the Council agreed overwhelmingly, with a 14-1 vote, to allow annual Christmas displays including a nativity scene, a Christmas tree and Christmas banners.During the 2005 Christmas season, Racine had holiday decorations, but no Christmas trees, nativity scenes, or Christmas banners. Last year, the town called its Christmas tree a "community tree."Liberty Counsel, a nationwide, public interest civil liberties law firm, launched its fourth annual Friend or Foe Christmas Campaign, and is experiencing another active season defending attacks on Christmas celebrations. On its web site, http://www.lc.org/, Liberty Counsel offers a Help Save Christmas™ action pack, which includes educational legal memoranda to educate government officials, teachers, parents, students, private businesses, employees and others that it is legal to celebrate Christmas. The action pack also includes a very popular "I Love CHRISTmas™" button, bumper stickers and other items to promote Christmas.There has been a disturbing trend toward censorship of Christmas celebrations, but people all across America are fighting back to help save Christmas. We applaud Racine, Wisconsin for listening to reason and for allowing its residents to recognize the national holiday of Christmas. Christmas IS constitutional. Our Friend or Foe Christmas Campaign is stirring millions of Americans to help save Christmas and to preserve our religious freedom before it is lost forever.

Friday, October 20, 2006

VA Employee Fired for Supporting Marriage Amendment

In Timberville, VA, An employee of an agricultural foods company has been fired over the display of a sign on his private vehicle. The sign said "please vote for marriage on November 7." The company tried to force Luis Padilla to remove the hand-painted sign from his rear window after other employees claimed to be offended. Padilla's statement reflected his religious conviction that marriage should remain a union of one man and one woman. Expressing his viewpoint with others has now cost him his job, but will further his message, as it brings the marriage vote to the attention of more Virginians.Virginia is one of seven states where voters will decide in November whether marriage will remain as the union of one man and one woman. The other states are Arizona, Idaho, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee and Wisconsin. A proposed amendment is also pending in Colorado.Liberty Counsel is a nationwide public interest civil liberties law firm with offices in Orlando and Virginia. Liberty Counsel has been involved in over 40 legal cases defending marriage as the union of one man and one woman, and conducts events to encourage pastors and leaders to support traditional marriage. I predict that Cargill Foods will regret offending the majority of Virginia voters - those who support marriage as the union of one man and one woman. This is one more example of how speech is stifled in the name of 'tolerance.' Mr. Padilla's viewpoint may have cost him is job, but will encourage others to take a stand by voting 'Yes' for marriage on November 7.

Monday, October 16, 2006

News Max reports:
"A Boy Scouts sailing group that lost free use of a public boat slip because of the Scouts' discriminatory policies failed to persuade the Supreme Court to take its case. The justices on Monday let stand a unanimous California Supreme Court ruling that the city of Berkeley may treat the Berkeley Sea Scouts differently from other nonprofits because the Scouts bar atheists and gays."

Unfortunately, this case sets the stage for ousting all groups that stick to moral values. This is blatant viewpoint discrimination in its worst form.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Pastors, Churches and Politics

On this past Friday, Mat Staver spoke at a conference in Florida to encourage pastors to get involved in the political process and instructed them on how to legally engage the culture.The event was recorded at Strang Communications (the publisher of Charisma, New Man, and other magazines) in Lake Mary, Florida. Strang has started a blog entitled Move Up.