Friday, December 22, 2006

Christmas Tree & Menorah Welcomed, But Nativity Banned By State of Washington

Olympia, WA - Governor Chris Gregoire lit a Menorah in a celebration at the state Capitol on Monday, and at the same celebration, accepted the gift of a Menorah for her home. The Menorah that was lit during the ceremony is displayed in the Capitol rotunda with a Christmas tree. However, when a local resident asked for a Nativity scene to be displayed with the Menorah and the tree, the Governor refused. This morning, at the request of a local resident, Liberty Counsel faxed a letter to Governor Gregoire along with our Legal Memorandum on the constitutionality of displaying religious symbols during the December holiday celebrations. The letter explains that the state cannot show preference for one faith over another by allowing a Menorah while refusing a Nativity scene.
A spokesman for the state claimed that officials were concerned that a Nativity might carry a stronger impression of government endorsement of religion, but there was not enough time to research the issue. However, U.S. Supreme Court precedent clearly shows that both a Menorah and a Nativity are both religious symbols. The state cannot legally allow a Menorah to be displayed while rejecting a Nativity. This is an issue that is widely discussed every year all across the nation. It also takes little effort to determine that a state cannot legally prefer one religion over another.
Last December, Liberty Counsel filed suit against the cities of Neptune Beach and Atlantic Beach on behalf of local resident Ken Koenig for refusing to allow a nativity scene in a local park. The towns allowed a Menorah display in the same park. Initially, the towns insisted that the Menorah was a secular symbol, but agreed to allow the display shortly before a hearing in federal court.
The Supreme Court has recognized that the Menorah is a religious symbol for the Jewish faith, while a Christmas tree is a secular symbol. The state showed preference for one faith over another by lighting a Menorah while refusing a request to display a Nativity scene. Religious preference is forbidden by the Constitution.
Every year government officials repeat the same mistakes over and over by banning Nativity scenes from December holiday celebrations. The Constitutional principles are crystal clear. The state of Washington cannot favor one religion over another by allowing a Menorah while refusing a crèche.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Cross Will Return To Wren Chapel At College Of William & Mary

Cross Will Return To Wren Chapel At College Of William & Mary
Williamsburg, VA - In a statement released yesterday from President Gene Nichol of the historic College of William and Mary, the cross that stood at the altar in Wren Chapel without controversy for over 75 years will return to the altar. Liberty Counsel sent a letter to the College requesting that the cross remain in Wren Chapel instead of being delegated to a closet so it wouldn't offend non-Christians using the chapel.
President Nichol's statement acknowledges that "many alumni and friends of the College have urged, in the strongest terms, that the decision be reconsidered." Nichol now states that "we will commission a permanent plaque to commemorate the Chapel's origins as an Anglican place of worship and symbol of the Christian beginnings of the College....[I]n an effort to give further recognition to the heritage of the Chapel without substantially affecting its openness and accessibility for College use, I have asked that the altar cross be displayed throughout the day on Sundays with expanded hours. The cross will also continue to be in place on the altar when the Chapel is used for Christian religious services or when any individual requests its display for moments of quiet prayer and contemplation."
The College of William and Mary was founded as a private Anglican school for evangelization of Native Americans and the training of Christian workers. William and Mary is now a public college. Previously, it was the College's policy that any group using the chapel could ask that the cross be removed for their event, and the staff complied with the requests with no problems ever having been reported.
Returning the cross to Wren Chapel is a step in the right direction. The plaque commemorating the religious heritage of the school is a welcome addition to serve as a memorial to the religious history of the College of William and Mary.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

California Supreme Court to Hear Same-Sex Marriage Case

In San Francisco, today the California Supreme Court decided to hear all six cases involving same-sex marriage. On October 5, 2006, in a 2-1 decision, the California Court of Appeals rejected same-sex marriage in the closely watched case challenging the state's marriage laws. The court stated, "In the final analysis, the court is not in the business of defining marriage." Liberty Counsel represents Campaign for California Families and presented argument before the Court of Appeals.
The Court of Appeals opinion stated: "The [same-sex couples] in these appeals are asking this court to recognize a new right. Courts simply do not have the authority to create new rights, especially when doing so involves changing the definition of so fundamental an institution as marriage.... The court's role is not to define social policy." The opinion also stated: "The trial court's decision ... essentially redefined marriage to encompass unions that have never before been considered as such in this state. [I]t is beyond the judiciary's realm of authority to redefine a statute or to confer a new right where none previously existed."
The oral argument before the California Supreme Court has not yet been set.
From the moment we filed suit to stop San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom from issuing same-sex marriage licenses, we have been preparing this case for the California Supreme Court. History, common sense and legal precedent are on our side. Marriage as the union of one man and one woman transcends political ideology and is grounded in millennia of human history.

Another Senior Center Reverses Decision Regarding Christmas Decorations

Orlando, FL - Calvary Towers, a HUD senior housing facility, yesterday retracted its prior decision to remove all Christmas decorations. This decision came on the heels of the decision by another senior housing facility to reverse its decision to censor Christian Christmas decorations at Orlando Cloisters. Liberty Counsel got involved with both facilities after being contacted by residents.
Management at Calvary Towers sent a memo to the residents advising that religious decorations of any kind would not be allowed on the premises. In a similar situation earlier this week, Liberty Counsel intervened on behalf of Orlando Cloisters residents after management had issued a directive to strip the common areas of religious symbols or words. Not surprisingly, Southeastern Property Management (SPM), based out of Alabama, manages both properties. Liberty Counsel conferenced with SPM's attorney and HUD attorneys regarding the directive at Orlando Cloisters and to set the record straight about the constitutionality of celebrating Christmas. HUD also advised SPM that its directive was not proper. SPM finally got the message. As a result, yesterday, management at Calvary Towers sent a memo to the residents that SPM will still oversee the decorations around the building, but residents can decorate their doors and apartments as they wish. There will be a table in the lobby to display diverse symbols of the season, including a Nativity scene.
Southeastern Property Management now understands the importance of the freedoms allotted to the residents of the centers they manage. SPM manages properties in eleven states.
The federal Fair Housing Act protects people against discrimination in housing, including religious discrimination. Facilities such as homes for seniors cannot legally censor out the Christian aspects of the Christmas holiday.
Senior housing facilities which receive federal funding may not sanitize Christmas. The federal Fair Housing Act protects religious freedom and bans religious discrimination. It is nonsensical to think that the receipt of federal funds requires the recipient facility to secularize the federal holiday we call Christmas. Censoring Christmas defies logic and federal law.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Appeals Court Strikes Discriminatory Policy

In Richmond, VA On December 15, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals issued a unanimous 3-0 opinion in Child Evangelism Fellowship v. Anderson School District Five, holding that a South Carolina school district violated CEF's constitutional rights by charging the group a fee while allowing other groups to use district facilities at no cost. Liberty Counsel represents CEF of South Carolina, which sponsors after-school "Good News Clubs" in elementary schools.
CEF was charged a fee to use school facilities, although the district waived fees whenever deemed "in the best interest of the district." Fees were waived for the Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, YMCA, Students Against Destructive Decisions, the local Democratic Party, and a host of other groups, but no waiver was extended to the Good News Clubs. After filing suit, the district changed its policy and sought to "grandfather" free use to the previously authorized groups.
The trial court found that the policies raised First Amendment concerns, but ruled in favor of the district. But now the appeals court ruled the district policy unconstitutional, stating that "government may not bar religious perspectives on otherwise permitted subjects ....[and] communities of faith may not be arbitrarily excluded from the protections of the Free Speech Clause..." "Government need not fear an Establishment Clause violation from allowing religious groups to speak under the same reasonable, viewpoint-neutral terms as other private parties...." "In sum, speech is not to be selectively permitted or proscribed according to official preference." This case represents a significant precedent, because it requires speech-restrictive policies to contain clear standards to prevent government officials from engaging in viewpoint discrimination, much like the case law that developed to govern prior restraints on speech.
This decision marks the end of a three-year battle to preserve Child Evangelism Fellowship's constitutional rights. The court of appeals hit the bullseye. School officials all across America should take notice. Government cannot treat religious groups unfavorably compared to other groups. Equal access is the law, and equal access means equal treatment in every respect. Good News Clubs teach respect, morality and character development. Instead of hassling Good News Clubs, schools should embrace the clubs. These clubs make a positive difference in the lives of children.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Senior Housing Facility Orders Wings Cut From Angel On Christmas Tree

In Florida, Seniors living in an Orlando area retirement home are facing blatant religious discrimination because of censorship of Christmas in their homes. Liberty Counsel is intervening to defend the religious freedom of residents, and faxed a demand letter to the Orlando Cloisters.The management at an Orlando area retirement home, Orlando Cloisters, issued a directive to strip the common areas of any religious symbols or words in Christmas displays. At the management’s direction, an employee at Orlando Cloisters cut the wings off the angel that was on top of the Christmas tree. Later, the angel was replaced with a Santa Claus. Angels were also removed from a display by the elevator in a hallway on one of the residence floors.The management issued a directive to the residents explaining that “Christmas trees, Santa Claus, wreaths, Hanukah Menorahs and ‘Seasons Greetings’ are all acceptable, as these items are not considered religious symbols.” Menorahs are indeed, religious symbols.The Federal Fair Housing Act protects people against discrimination in housing, including religious discrimination. The retirement home cannot legally censor out the Christian aspects of the Christmas holiday.I am astounded that the management would show disregard for the residents’ religious beliefs by cutting the wings off an angel on their Christmas tree! The management of Orlando Cloisters has sent a clear message that Christians are not welcome. I have great compassion for the elderly and cannot stand to see any of them deprived of the joy of Christmas. We will call upon the federal government to issue Christmas guidelines designed to prevent religious discrimination that often occurs in senior living facilities. If Christmas is censored from these precious ones, we all lose a piece of our religious freedom.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

'Twas Two Weeks Before Christmas

Orlando, FL - With less than two weeks until Christmas, Liberty Counsel is still being inundated with calls from all across the nation relating to the annual Friend or Foe Christmas Campaign. Below are just a few of many examples:Arkansas - McNair Middle School in Fayetteville removed a teacher’s Nativity scene and Star of David from a larger display that also included secular holiday decorations. School officials were concerned about the religious aspects of the display. After Terry Rhodes called Liberty Counsel for help, he was given a legal memorandum showing that the display was constitutional. Mr. Rhodes gave school authorities the information and the school reversed its decision. Mr. Rhodes was allowed to return the Nativity and Star of David to the display. Publicly sponsored religious symbols are permissible when displayed in the context of other secular symbols of the holiday.Ohio - A teacher in a public school was instructed not to say "Merry Christmas" this year. She has always decorated her classroom with a wreath on her door that says "Merry Christmas." Another teacher in another school in the same district was also told not to say "Merry Christmas." Liberty Counsel sent a letter and Christmas legal memo to the district superintendent. At the most recent school board meeting, an administrator advised that the teachers could now say "Merry Christmas."Tennessee - Cumberland County received a threatening letter from the ACLU about a Nativity scene outside the county courthouse. However, the county has created an open forum for the public and local businesses to display business logos, statues and other items. Private religious speech in a public forum is clearly permissible. In fact, if the county banned religious viewpoints from a public forum, such action would be unconstitutional. Liberty Counsel is working with the county and will offer pro bono defense if the ACLU files suit. Such a suit would be frivolous.Wisconsin - A program coordinator in a public school was told by the principal that the musical program that was scheduled to take place in a church was going to be moved to a location with inadequate seating and acoustics. Liberty Counsel sent a legal memo about Christmas to the school. After receiving the memo, the principal decided to keep the event at the church, and the program was held in the church as originally planned.There is a war on Christmas in this country. Every victory goes a long way toward winning the battle, but we must not take Christmas or our religious freedom for granted. Celebrating Christmas is the classic example of religious accommodation mandated by the First Amendment. If Christmas is silenced or censored, we all lose a piece of our religious freedom.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Christmas Spirit Returns to Seattle Airport

Seattle, WA – Seattle-Tacoma International Airport officials plan to put fourteen Christmas trees back up, following their removal on Saturday. A local rabbi had threatened to sue the airport for refusing to include a menorah with the Christmas tree display. Instead of adding a menorah, the airport removed the Christmas trees early Saturday morning.Yesterday Liberty Counsel contacted airport officials and offered free legal assistance if it returned the Christmas trees to the airport facility. Liberty Counsel explained that the rabbi’s demands are legally baseless. Christmas trees have always been recognized as secular symbols by the United States Supreme Court. Additionally, the airport did not open a forum for the entire public to erect displays, so the airport is not required to allow symbols of any other holiday in its facility.Liberty Counsel’s fourth annual Friend or Foe Christmas Campaign is designed to educate and, if necessary, litigate to defend Christmas celebrations. There is much unnecessary misunderstanding of what is permissible, yet the law is clear in this area. Liberty Counsel has a legal memorandum that explains the constitutionality of Christmas celebrations in public places. Liberty Counsel has witnessed public officials in many places facing strong opposition for censoring Christmas.We are pleased that Christmas has returned to the Seattle airport. The airport’s knee-jerk reaction was unnecessary. The overwhelming adverse response by the public to removing Christmas decorations from the airport illustrates the deep belief Americans have in celebrating Christmas.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

PA Church No Longer Left Out In the Cold

Erie, PA – Liberty Counsel has now settled a lawsuit on behalf of Lighthouse Christian Center (Lighthouse) against the city of Titusville, Pennsylvania. The settlement allows Lighthouse to move to a downtown facility where it can operate its outreach program, which is expected to include a Christian bookstore, television ministry, outreach to teens, and church services. Liberty Counsel sued the city on behalf of Lighthouse in July, alleging that the city’s “church-free” zoning ordinance violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA).After Liberty Counsel filed a federal lawsuit and following an emergency hearing, the city agreed to settle the case. The city agreed that Lighthouse can locate in the commercial space that it had previously been refused permission to occupy. Additionally, the city agreed to amend its zoning code to remove the distinction between secular and religious assemblies. The city also agreed to allow all public assemblies in the city’s commercial areas and will pay attorney’s fees and costs to Liberty Counsel.Until this past summer, Lighthouse was located in a nearby town in a small building with no sewer or running water. The church outgrew the facility and then secured an opportunity to lease within Titusville’s C-1 commercial zone. The local zoning code did not allow churches, but permitted theaters, clubs, lodges, bars and amusements in its commercial areas. Lighthouse was forced outside the city of Titusville, where they rented a temporary building that lacks heat and insulation. The settlement allows Lighthouse to move to more suitable facilities, where the church can grow and operate its many outreaches before more severe winter conditions set in.We are pleased that the city of Titusville has agreed that Lighthouse Christian Center should be treated like other places of assembly in the downtown area. It is unfortunate that a church had to go to federal court to be treated like other groups in the city. Common sense dictates that if theaters or clubs are permitted in a zoning district, then churches cannot be banned.

PA Church No Longer Left Out In the Cold

Erie, PA – Liberty Counsel has now settled a lawsuit on behalf of Lighthouse Christian Center (Lighthouse) against the city of Titusville, Pennsylvania. The settlement allows Lighthouse to move to a downtown facility where it can operate its outreach program, which is expected to include a Christian bookstore, television ministry, outreach to teens, and church services. Liberty Counsel sued the city on behalf of Lighthouse in July, alleging that the city’s “church-free” zoning ordinance violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA).After Liberty Counsel filed a federal lawsuit and following an emergency hearing, the city agreed to settle the case. The city agreed that Lighthouse can locate in the commercial space that it had previously been refused permission to occupy. Additionally, the city agreed to amend its zoning code to remove the distinction between secular and religious assemblies. The city also agreed to allow all public assemblies in the city’s commercial areas and will pay attorney’s fees and costs to Liberty Counsel.Until this past summer, Lighthouse was located in a nearby town in a small building with no sewer or running water. The church outgrew the facility and then secured an opportunity to lease within Titusville’s C-1 commercial zone. The local zoning code did not allow churches, but permitted theaters, clubs, lodges, bars and amusements in its commercial areas. Lighthouse was forced outside the city of Titusville, where they rented a temporary building that lacks heat and insulation. The settlement allows Lighthouse to move to more suitable facilities, where the church can grow and operate its many outreaches before more severe winter conditions set in.We are pleased that the city of Titusville has agreed that Lighthouse Christian Center should be treated like other places of assembly in the downtown area. It is unfortunate that a church had to go to federal court to be treated like other groups in the city. Common sense dictates that if theaters or clubs are permitted in a zoning district, then churches cannot be banned.

The Supreme Court Should Refuse to Hear Homosexual Marriage Appeal

San Francisco, CA - Liberty Counsel filed a brief this week at the California Supreme Court in opposition to same-sex marriage advocates who failed in their attempt to overturn California's definition of marriage at the state Court of Appeal. The same-sex marriage advocates have now asked the California Supreme Court to take up the case. Liberty Counsel represents Campaign for California Families in a case that is one of six cases that were coordinated into a single proceeding at the trial court and then consolidated for appeal. Liberty Counsel's brief argues that the Supreme Court should refuse to hear the case and allow the Court of Appeal's opinion to stand. The brief states, "Disappointed by the Court's rejection of their efforts to redefine marriage, the Plaintiffs are now asking this Court to assume the role of social engineer and to override the expressed will of the people of California that marriage is to continue to be defined as the union of one man and one woman." Liberty Counsel points out that the Court of Appeal thoughtfully, thoroughly and correctly applied longstanding legal precedents when it held that marriage in California is defined as the union of one man and one woman (as opposed to the union of two persons) and that "same-sex marriage" is not a fundamental right.The appellate court's opinion agrees with the high courts of New York and Washington, among others, which earlier this year rejected similar challenges to the marriage statutes in those states.The California Court of Appeal correctly concluded that courts are not free to redefine the common understanding of marriage. The state has a strong interest in protecting marriage. Children do best when they are raised with a mom and a dad. Gender does matter to the well-being of children. If we experiment with marriage and define it anyway we choose, then we set the stage for the destabilization of the family and our own social security.http://http://www.lc.org/

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

LC asks William & Mary to Restore Cross to Chapel

Williamsburg, VA - The cross in Wren Chapel at the historic College of William and Mary was removed last month from the altar and placed in a closet, because the President of the College was afraid it may offend non-Christians. Liberty Counsel sent a letter to The College of William and Mary, explaining that the message the College is sending is not of inclusiveness and tolerance, but of intolerance and hostility. The letter requests that the cross remain permanently in Wren Chapel, where it has stood without controversy and undisturbed for over 75 years.Current President Gene R. Nichol (the former Chair of the University of Colorado's Task Force on Gay and Lesbian Issues) stated the cross "sends an unmistakable message that the chapel belongs more fully to some of us than others." "In order to make Wren Chapel less of a faith-specific space, and to make it more welcoming to students, faculty, staff and visitors of all faiths, the cross has been removed from the altar area," said Melissa Engimann, school administrator.Previously, it was the College's policy that any group using the chapel could ask that the cross be removed for their event, and the staff complied with the requests with no problems ever having been reported. Last year, only 20 out of 111 weddings asked that the cross be removed. President Nichol has reversed the policy and had the cross completely removed and placed in a closet. Those who want the cross must request that it be taken from the closet for the event.The College of William and Mary was founded as an Anglican school for evangelization of Native Americans and training of Christian workers. Eleven of the past 26 presidents of the College have been Christian pastors. George Washington was the school's first American chancellor. Former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor became chancellor of the College after retiring from the Court.By removing the cross from where it has stood for over 75 years and hiding it in a closet, The College of William and Mary has sent the unmistakable message of hostility to Christianity. A cross in a chapel should not offend a reasonable person, anymore than a gavel in a courtroom.

LC asks William & Mary to Restore Cross to Chapel

Williamsburg, VA - The cross in Wren Chapel at the historic College of William and Mary was removed last month from the altar and placed in a closet, because the President of the College was afraid it may offend non-Christians. Liberty Counsel sent a letter to The College of William and Mary, explaining that the message the College is sending is not of inclusiveness and tolerance, but of intolerance and hostility. The letter requests that the cross remain permanently in Wren Chapel, where it has stood without controversy and undisturbed for over 75 years.Current President Gene R. Nichol (the former Chair of the University of Colorado's Task Force on Gay and Lesbian Issues) stated the cross "sends an unmistakable message that the chapel belongs more fully to some of us than others." "In order to make Wren Chapel less of a faith-specific space, and to make it more welcoming to students, faculty, staff and visitors of all faiths, the cross has been removed from the altar area," said Melissa Engimann, school administrator.Previously, it was the College's policy that any group using the chapel could ask that the cross be removed for their event, and the staff complied with the requests with no problems ever having been reported. Last year, only 20 out of 111 weddings asked that the cross be removed. President Nichol has reversed the policy and had the cross completely removed and placed in a closet. Those who want the cross must request that it be taken from the closet for the event.The College of William and Mary was founded as an Anglican school for evangelization of Native Americans and training of Christian workers. Eleven of the past 26 presidents of the College have been Christian pastors. George Washington was the school's first American chancellor. Former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor became chancellor of the College after retiring from the Court.By removing the cross from where it has stood for over 75 years and hiding it in a closet, The College of William and Mary has sent the unmistakable message of hostility to Christianity. A cross in a chapel should not offend a reasonable person, anymore than a gavel in a courtroom.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Supreme Court Refuses to Hear Sex Survey Case

Washington, DC - Today the United States Supreme Court refused to review the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals' decision in the case of Fields v. Palmdale School District. Liberty Counsel took over the case after the Ninth Circuit had already ruled that the U.S. Constitution does not protect parents from having their children exposed to objectionable surveys in public school. Liberty Counsel requested a rehearing by the Ninth Circuit, which then deleted some of the most harmful language in the opinion (which stated that parental rights stop at the schoolhouse gate) but left the parents with no federal remedy.The case involves seven parents who objected to a psychological assessment survey with sexually explicit questions given to children at a California elementary school. The case did not focus on possible state law protections that parents may have. A state law claim was pursued and dismissed in federal court by the original attorneys in the Fields case.The denial of review is not surprising, as the Supreme Court accepts very few of the 8,000 or so cases petitioned each year. The Ninth Circuit ruling applies to the states of Alaska, Arizona, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington but does not affect the laws of individual states, which may provide greater protection for parents than does the U.S. Constitution. Since the Supreme Court chose not to get involved in this issue, state laws are needed to adequately protect parental rights. In the absence of a federal remedy, parents must rely on state law. Many states currently have laws that require parental permission and/or opt out provisions whenever the schools address human sexuality. Liberty Counsel has a comprehensive list of the laws of all 50 states.Parents have the primary role of raising and training their children, especially when it comes to topics such as human sexuality. It is outrageous to permit public school employees to indoctrinate our children regarding sex in any manner and at any age. Parents do not cease being parents when they drop their children off at the schoolhouse door. State legislatures should enact laws that protect the role of parents. It doesn't take a village to raise a child. It takes committed parents. Whenever government assumes it knows best how to raise our children, then the family unit will suffer.