Monday, June 25, 2007

Supreme Court Ruling on Faith-Based Initiatives

Washington, DC - Today, the United States Supreme Court in a 5 to 4 decision, rejected a challenge by a radical separationist advocacy group that sued to stop federal funding of "faith-based programs." The case of Hein v. Freedom From Religion Foundation challenged funding for federal faith-based programs as a violation of the Establishment Clause. Justice Alito read the Court's opinion which held that taxpayers cannot challenge actions of the Executive Branch as violations of the Establishment Clause.
In 2002 President Bush established a Faith Based and Community Initiatives Plan to award grants intended to connect faith-based programs and grassroots community organizations to the United States' One-Stop Career System. This program has proven to be helpful within communities nationwide, offering services such as rehabilitation programs, assistance to the homeless, and providing career services to those in need.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) filed a lawsuit against the director of the program, Jay Hein, claiming that federal tax dollars supporting religion was a violation of the Establishment Clause. The trial court held that FFRF lacked standing to sue, but the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals in a 2-1 decision reversed the order. The Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals and ruled against FFRF, which will stop the suit from going forward.
FFRF argued that taxpayers who objected to federal funding of the faith-based programs should be allowed to sue to block such funding. Today's ruling rejecting this claim creates a precedent that the mere status of being a taxpayer does not provide grounds to object to the federal government's spending based on an alleged violation of the Establishment Clause. Had the Court ruled the other way and allowed broad taxpayer standing to challenge the disbursement of federal funds, the floodgates of litigation would be open for any taxpayer to sue the federal government by claiming any number of federal disbursements caused them to be offended.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation would like nothing more than to wield a wrecking ball across the land to demolish religious expression. The ruling by the Supreme Court is a significant setback to this organization's wrecking ball agenda.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

President Bush Vetoes Embryonic Stem Cell Research Bill

Washington, D.C. - Today President George W. Bush, for the second time, vetoed an embryonic stem cell research bill. Speaking in the East Room of the White House where last year he vetoed a similar bill, President Bush stated, "I made it clear to Congress and the American people that I will not allow our nation to cross this moral line." "Destroying human life in the hopes of saving human life is not ethical, and it is not the only option before us," he said.
The veto ceremony was attended by patients and scientists who oppose research that involves human embryos. During the veto ceremony, President Bush also issued an executive order which directs that the Health and Human Services Department promote research into "pluripotent" stem cells. These stem cells have the potential to regenerate cell types and body tissues without use of embryonic stem cells.
In response to the veto, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) stated, "When I am president, I will lift the ban on stem cell research."
The Bush administration has correctly made a distinction between adult stem cell research, which the President supports, and embryonic stem cell research, which the President opposes. The former does not have the moral dilemma of creating life only to destroy it through research, as does the latter.
President Bush has taken a principled stand that promotes science while respecting the sanctity of human life. Science and morality are not enemies. While we must find ways to cure disease and save lives, we must never devalue human life in the process. Our first commitment must be to life, because without the right to life, all other rights are illusory. The President has always maintained the proper balance between science and morality.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Supreme Court Says States Can Require Unions To Obtain Consent From Workers Before Funding Politics

Washington, DC - The United States Supreme Court ruled today that states can require labor unions to obtain consent before spending mandatory fees collected from nonmembers for election-related purposes. Justice Antonin Scalia delivered the unanimous opinion in the case of Davenport v. Washington Education Association.
The Court held that because a public-employee union collects the nonmember funds only with the affirmative approval of the State of Washington, the state can place a condition on the collection of funds from state employees who are not members of the union.
Traditionally, the burden has been put on workers to object to the union's spending. Workers have a First Amendment right to object to political spending, entitling them to a refund of a portion of their dues. A Washington state voter-approved initiative was passed to require the unions to obtain approval from the fee payer instead of requiring the fee payer to request a refund from the union. The 70,000-member state teachers' union vigorously objected to the law.
The law in the State of Washington has since been changed by the state's Democrat-controlled legislature and governor and, again, makes the nonmembers request a refund. However, the principles of this ruling will impact other states that may decide to pass similar laws. It will also refuel the debate about the problem of compulsory unionism and the First Amendment issues raised by forcing workers to support unions in order to enter a chosen profession.
This case illustrates the audacity of some union leaders who argued they have a constitutional right to extract money from employees to pay for their political objectives. Unions cannot advance their liberal political agendas by extorting wages from employees. An employee should not be forced to fund objectionable ideological causes as a prerequisite to earning a living.

Child Evangelism Fellowship Overcomes Unfair Discrimination At County Fair

Caldwell, ID - The Canyon County Fair & Festival Board has reversed its decision to add unconstitutional restrictions to Child Evangelism Fellowship of Idaho's (CEF) use of fair exhibit space. Shortly after Liberty Counsel sent a demand letter, the Board agreed to allow CEF to continue its tradition of face painting and sharing literature and a Christian message to children at the fair, which will be held July 26-30. The Board has now provided a new contract for CEF that will allow the ministry to operate a booth at the fair without the discriminatory restrictions.
For the past decade, CEF has distributed trinkets, literature, and offered free face painting to children at the fair. When CEF applied for a booth earlier this year, the Board refused to allow CEF to serve children unless parents were also present. Fair director Rosalie Moore told Bob Smith, the state director for CEF, that the restriction was based on the religious materials and presentations of CEF. The only other vendor at the fair with a similar restriction was Gideon International, the other exhibitor presenting a message with a religious viewpoint.
Liberty Counsel intervened on behalf of CEF by sending a demand letter, pointing out that the restrictions were a violation of CEF's right to freedom of speech. The Board's attorney responded, promising a new contract for CEF to specifically allow face painting and exclude any restrictions based on religious viewpoints. Liberty Counsel also stated in the letter that applying the same restrictions to Gideon International was also unconstitutional, and the Board agreed to also lift the restrictions from that group.
CEF is an international, nonprofit organization which has been in existence for over seventy years and is currently in 157 countries. CEF sponsors Good News Clubs, an after-school enrichment program for elementary-age students, as well as a number of other outreach activities designed to teach biblical principles, moral values, character qualities, and respect for authority.
A barrier based on the religious viewpoint of groups seeking access to government-sponsored events like county fairs violates the right to freedom of speech. Whether the government bans a group from a fair because of the group's religious views or imposes discriminatory restrictions based on religion, the outcome is the same - the Constitution is violated. Instead of imposing restrictions, the government should welcome Child Evangelism Fellowship's positive messages of respect, morality and character development.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

School District Learns That Religious Discrimination In Sports Is Out-Of-Bounds

Buckner, KY - On Monday, the North Oldham County School District reversed a decision that discriminated against junior Kim Osborne because of her religion, after receiving a demand letter from Liberty Counsel. In a letter to Superintendent Paul S. Upchurch, Liberty Counsel explained how a volleyball coach's denial of Kim's request to miss practice to attend a Christian youth event violated the First Amendment.
Kim had attempted to get approval from Coach Brian Jones in January to miss practice, a full six months before a Lutheran Church National Youth Gathering. Coach Jones he said he would speak with another coach about the situation. Believing that the coach would accommodate her request, Kim raised money for the gathering, paid for registration and purchased a plane ticket before she learned recently that if she missed practice, she would be thrown off the volleyball team.
Coach Jones told the three-year team veteran that summer practice was absolutely mandatory and refused to excuse her for the event. However, he allowed two other players to miss a week of summer practice to attend the Governor's Scholars Program, a Kentucky program to encourage future civic and economic leaders. Kim was told to choose between her place on the team or her trip to the Christian event that only takes place once every three years. Karen Osborne, Kim's mother, contacted Liberty Counsel for assistance.
Now that the school district has agreed to grant Kim the same accommodation given to her teammates who miss for nonreligious reasons, she is free to attend the Christian event without losing her place on the volleyball team.
Students do not have to choose between their faith and participation in sports. If a school can accommodate students who need to attend secular events, then failure to accommodate attendance at religious events is unconstitutional.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Liberty Counsel and Campaign for California Families Defend Marriage in CA

San Francisco, CA - Today, on behalf of Campaign for California Families, Liberty Counsel filed a 93-page brief at the California Supreme Court in defense of the state's marriage laws. The brief urges the California Supreme Court to uphold the centuries-old institution of marriage as the union of one man and one woman.
Liberty Counsel has filed its brief only days after the California legislature voted on two bills that would deconstruct marriage. The California Assembly passed AB 43, which would permit same-sex couples to obtain marriage licenses. Meanwhile, the California Senate passed SB 11, which would grant marriage benefits to unmarried heterosexual couples. Such benefits are already available to same-sex couples since the passage of AB 205. AB 43 is the second time the legislature has tried to institute same-sex "marriage" in direct contradiction to the will of California voters, who in 2000 overwhelmingly passed Proposition 22, which defines marriage as the union of one man and one woman. The legislature has no authority to pass laws authorizing same-sex marriage because they contravene Prop 22, which was passed by the people in a statewide vote.
Prop 22, which affirms the institution of marriage, is the subject of the case presently before the California Supreme Court. Liberty Counsel's brief filed today asks the Court to uphold marriage, which is recognized "as a social institution based upon the biological and social facts of human sexuality and reproduction, which are what enable society to continue." For more than 150 years, the California Supreme Court has recognized that "marriage is the institution upon which the structure of society is built." Nothing in the last 150 years has changed that reality.
Marriage between one man and one woman is the foundation of society. Procreation and the best interest and well-being of children are sound reasons to support traditional marriage. Same-sex relationships can neither create nor prepare future generations like opposite-sex couples. Marriage stabilizes opposite-sex relations and fosters an environment that is in the best interest of children. Deconstructing marriage to include same-sex relationships will damage children and severely impact future generations.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Law that Booted Churches from Commercial Zones Gets the Boot

Washburn, WI - The City Council of Washburn, Wisconsin, voted to repeal its zoning ordinance, which violated the First Amendment and federal law, to eliminate discriminatory restrictions on churches. The ordinance previously prohibited any church from locating on commercial property, even though the code permitted other nonreligious public assemblies within the same commercial districts.
The change in Washburn was made as a result of Chequamegon Community Fellowship's attempt to purchase a commercial building earlier this year. Pastor David Johnson had to cut short negotiations to purchase property on which to build the church when he was informed by the city that churches were prohibited in the commercial district.
The week before a crucial meeting of the City Planning Commission, church officials contacted Liberty Counsel for assistance. After reviewing the ordinance, Liberty Counsel concluded that the city code violated the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 (RLUIPA), as well as the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the Constitution. As a result, a presentation to the City Planning Commission was prepared that requested the illegal restriction not be applied. The Commission unanimously voted to recommend that the City Council change the ordinance and allow churches within the commercial district. Now, the Council has formally passed the recommended amendment and removed the illegal zoning restriction.
Local governments may not establish 'church-free' zones. Historically, churches have been viewed as a benefit to society. Churches not only nourish the human soul, they also provide for many daily needs of the community. Local governments must allow churches to minister in every zoning district in order to reach the people.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Zoning Ordinance That Banned Churches Rescinded Following Lawsuit

Titusville, PA - Following a federal lawsuit by Liberty Counsel on behalf of Lighthouse Christian Center, the City Council of Titusville, Pennsylvania, has now voted to modify its zoning ordinance to eliminate a discriminatory zoning provision that prohibited any church from locating in a commercial district.
Until last 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 Titusville zoning code did not allow churches, but permitted theaters, clubs, lodges, bars and amusements in its commercial districts. Lighthouse was forced outside the city of Titusville, where it rented a temporary building that lacks heat and insulation.
Following settlement of Liberty Counsel's lawsuit and the passage of this new ordinance, Lighthouse moved to a downtown facility where it can operate its outreach program, which will include a Christian bookstore, television ministry, outreach to teens, and church services.
Liberty Counsel sued the city on behalf of Lighthouse in July 2006, 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). The city settled the lawsuit for violations of RLUIPA and the United States Constitution by agreeing to allow the church to locate downtown, amending its code and paying attorney's fees.
We are pleased that local governments are getting the message that churches are not second-class property owners. The First Amendment and federal law both provide that churches and houses of worship should receive equal, if not preferential, treatment to other similar zoning uses. Churches are not orphans to any zoning district.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

LC Asks Supreme Court To Apply Federal DOMA to Protect Parental Rights

Yesterday Liberty Counsel filed a Petition with the United States Supreme Court, asking the Court to resolve a nationwide split in opinions between various state courts concerning the parental rights of fit, biological parents over unrelated third parties. The Petition asks the Court to reconcile two federal laws, the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and the Parental Kidnapping Prevention Act (PKPA).
This case concerns the right of Lisa Miller, the fit, biological mother of a five-year-old daughter, to decide that Janet Jenkins, who has no biological or adoptive relationship to Lisa's daughter, should not be declared a parent to Lisa's child. Janet, Lisa's former same-sex partner, has had no regular contact since the child was seventeen months old. The Petition asks the Supreme Court to review the Virginia Court of Appeals' decision that Virginia must enforce a Vermont order declaring Janet a parent of Lisa's biological child.
DOMA allows states to reject parentage and custody orders arising from same-sex relationships, while PKPA requires states to give full faith and credit to another state's custody orders. DOMA should trump PKPA because it was enacted later. A key issue addressed in the Petition is the constitutional right of a fit, biological parent to decide whether a legal stranger should be given parental rights over a biological parent's child.
Lisa Miller is represented by Mathew D. Staver, and law professor Rena Lindevaldsen, who is of counsel with Liberty Counsel.
The Federal Defense of Marriage Act was designed to protect state sovereignty. One state, like Vermont, Massachusetts or California, must not be allowed to force other states to accept same-sex relationships. A child should not be forced to accept an unrelated third party as a parent, when the child already has a suitable biological parent.