Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Liberty Counsel Defends Religious Teachers’ Housing Exemptions Against ACLU Attack

Tomorrow, Liberty Counsel will argue on behalf of Anchorage Baptist Temple (ABT) in Alaska Superior Court to defend religious teachers’ housing exemptions. The ACLU filed suit to take away property tax exemptions for housing that is owned by religious organizations and used by private school teachers.

Steve Crampton, General Counsel for Liberty Counsel, will argue the case on behalf of ABT, which is pastored by Dr. Jerry Prevo. The ACLU and other plaintiffs allege that the tax exemption violates equal protection and establishment clauses of the state and federal constitutions.

The exemption given by the Alaska legislature applies to the homes of ABT’s teachers, as well as similar properties owned by other religious organizations. Nonreligious educational institutions already enjoy an exemption for teacher housing. Without the exemption, ABT would have to divert approximately $23,000 per year from its other services to pay property taxes. That continuing tax liability would force ABT to choose between recruiting and retaining teachers and providing services to the community.

ABT operates a number of ministries, including alcohol and drug abuse recovery programs, community outreaches, children’s programs, a bus transportation service, music programs, and Anchorage Christian School, a K-12 school serving approximately 700 students. ABT owns six residences that house teachers at Anchorage Christian School. These residences are integral to ABT’s educational mission, in that they enable ABT to recruit and retain a well-qualified teaching staff, despite being unable to offer the wage and benefit programs offered by public schools.

The ACLU seeks to eliminate any exemption for religious institutions, regardless of the harm that would result to thousands of Alaskan children receiving quality education at no cost to the state. This exemption does nothing more than equal the playing field between religious and nonreligious educators. The ACLU and its ilk should be ashamed at even filing this baseless action.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

College President Is Forced To Resign Amid Controversy Over Cross and Offensive Art Show

Gene R. Nichol, president of the College of William and Mary, submitted a resignation letter yesterday after receiving notice that his contract would not be renewed by the college’s Board of Visitors. Several appointees to the board, who were pending reconfirmation, recently appeared at hearings before the Virginia House of Delegates’ Privileges and Elections Committee.

During the hearings, Nichol was strongly criticized for controversial decisions during his short reign as president. Committee Chairman Mark Cole stated that “a set of recent events warranted a more thorough review” of the Board of Visitors. The events cited as concerning were Nichol’s removal of the cross from Wren Chapel, the resulting loss of a $12 million gift and allowing a “Sex Workers’ Art Show.”

The confirmation hearings focused mainly on Nichol’s controversial actions. “If any university president in the Commonwealth has put a bad light on the Commonwealth … it’s Mr. Nichols,” said Del. Jeffrey Frederick. Del. Clarence Phillips asked the appointees for a commitment to ensure the college is known for “all right and good things,” to “do what’s necessary through your leadership and through your good name.” Committee Chairman Cole warned the appointees: “Everything that happens at William and Mary will rest on your shoulders.”

The controversies began in October 2006, when Nichol announced that the brass cross that had stood in Wren Chapel for 75 years would be removed. The decision ignited controversy among alumni, students and others across the Nation. Liberty Counsel sent a letter to President Nichol and the university chancellor, former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, stating that the removal was unnecessary and unconstitutional and urging that the cross be returned. In December 2006, Nichol announced that the cross would be returned on Sundays, during Christian religious services or when requested by a visitor. Although this was a step in the right direction, college officials underestimated the fallout from their failure to return to the traditional display of the cross.

Following the decision to remove the cross from Wren Chapel, I said that the loss of confidence in President Nichol by alumni and donors could only be restored if he apologized for his role in removing the cross from the chapel where it has stood for the last 75 years. Now that President Nichol has stepped down, perhaps the rich religious heritage of the Nation’s oldest college can be restored to the rightful and historic place that it deserves. The Board of Visitors should appoint a president who will respect the religious heritage of the College of William and Mary.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Liberty Counsel To Argue Landmark Marriage Case At California Supreme Court

The California Supreme Court has set oral argument for March 4 in a case involving the definition of marriage as the union between one man and one woman. Liberty Counsel, which represents the Campaign for California Families (CCF), will participate in the three-hour oral argument. The Court could ultimately decide whether same-sex couples in California have the right to enter into same-sex “marriages.”

This case involves a four-year-old dispute over the constitutionality of California’s marriage laws. In February 2004, Liberty Counsel filed suit on behalf of CCF and its executive director, Randy Thomasson, to stop San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom from issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. The court ruled that the mayor did not have authority to issue the licenses based upon his personal belief that the marriage laws were unconstitutional. Meanwhile, several same-sex couples and the City and County of San Francisco filed several lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of the marriage laws. Those lawsuits and Liberty Counsel’s original action were consolidated and have gone through several court hearings and appeals, until finally reaching the California Supreme Court.

California has many common sense reasons for preserving marriage as the union of one man and one woman. Marriage is a universally recognized social institution that forms the bedrock of every civilized society. Allowing same-sex couples to claim marital rights will destroy the unique institution that provides a stable cultural environment for children and their families.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

American Religious History Week

On December 18, 2007, Representative Randy Forbes (R-VA) introduced H.Res. 888, to designate the first week in May as American Religious History Week. The purpose of this Resolution is to affirm the rich, spiritual and religious history of our nation's founding and subsequent history, and to show appreciation of and education on America's history of religious faith.

This Resolution recognizes and acknowledges America's religious foundations rather than promoting attempts to remove or obscure such history from our schools and the public square. The full text of the Resolution can be read at http://thomas.loc.gov.

Currently, this Resolution is before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. A complete list of the Committee members can be found at http://oversight.house.gov/about/members.asp.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Joint Resolution to Protect Marriage

On December 19, 2007, Representative Louie Gohmert (R-TX) introduced H.J.Res. 74, a joint resolution proposing an amendment to the United States Constitution relating to marriage. The text of the proposed amendment states that "Marriage in the United States shall consist only of a legal union of one man and one woman."

On January 14, 2008, this resolution was sent to the House Judiciary Committee, Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties. A complete list of the Subcommittee members can be found at http://judiciary.house.gov/committeestructure.aspx?committee=7.

Upon approval of such a resolution by two-thirds of both the House and Senate, it is sent directly to the Administrator of General Services for submission to the individual states for ratification. This resolution specifically calls for ratification by conventions in three-fourths of the states. If ratified, it will become a valid amendment to the Constitution and does not have to be presented to the President for approval.

Cloning and Stem Cell Legislation

Currently, there are five important bills that have been introduced before the 110th Congress involving cloning and stem cell research.

H.R. 322, The Alternative Pluripotent Stem Cell Therapies Enhancement Act of 2007, was introduced by Representative Roscoe Bartlett (R-MD). The purpose of the bill is to derive human pluripotent stem cell lines using technology that does not harm human embryos. The bill is before the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Subcommittee on Health. Contact the members of this committee at http://energycommerce.house.gov/Subcommittees/health.shtml.

H.R. 2807, The Patient's First Act of 2007, was introduced by Representative Randy Forbes (R-VA). The purpose of this bill is to intensify stem cell research showing the evidence of substantial clinical benefit to patients. This bill is also before the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Subcommittee on Health.

S.2358, The Human-Animal Hybrid Prohibition Act of 2007, was introduced by Senator Sam Brownback (R-KA). The purpose of this bill is to prohibit the development of human-animal hybrids. This bill is before the Senate Judiciary Committee. A complete list of committee members can be found at http://judiciary.senate.gov/members.cfm.

S.1036, The Human Cloning Prohibition Act of 2007, was also introduced by Senator Brownback. Its purpose is to prohibit human cloning. This bill is before the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee. The Committee's members can be found at http://help.senate.gov/About.html. Representative Dave Weldon (R-FL) introduced the corresponding bill on the House side. H.R. 2564, also titled The Human Cloning Prohibition Act of 2007, is House Judiciary Committee, Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security. A list of members can be found at http://judiciary.house.gov/committeestructure.aspx?committee=6.

The full text of each of the five bills can be found at http://thomas.loc.gov.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Division of Elections Certifies Florida Marriage Protection Amendment for 2008 Ballot

Late last night the Florida Division of Elections announced that the Florida Marriage Protection Amendment is now certified for the November 4, 2008 ballot with a total of 649,346 petitions. Within the last two weeks, 92,000 petitions were collected in order to exceed the 611,009 required before the February 1 deadline.

The amendment defines marriage as the union of one man and one woman and would prohibit polygamy, group marriage, and same sex marriage from being recognized in Florida. The fight to bring this amendment to the ballot has been a coordinated effort by many individuals, organizations and churches. John Stemberger, State Chairman of Florida4Marriage.org, the official sponsor of the amendment, is to be commended for his extraordinary work in coordinating the petition drive. No marriage amendment effort in any state has gathered as many signatures.

In December, the Florida Division of Elections web site reported that more than enough petitions had counted and verified by the Supervisors of Elections, but then indicated in January that approximately 30,000 of the petitions were thrown out causing a shortage of approximately 22,000 petitions. With only two weeks remaining, groups and individuals all over the state rallied to collect more signatures to meet the February 1 deadline.

The process to amend the state constitution to protect marriage began in 2005 after a series of lawsuits were filed challenging Florida’s Defense of Marriage Act (which Mat Staver drafted) that was passed in 1997. A coalition of groups joined together and agreed on the language of the Florida Marriage Protection Amendment that was drafted by Mat and Anita Staver. In January 2006, Mat Staver presented oral argument in defense of the language, and on March 23, 2006, the Florida Supreme Court in a 7-0 opinion rejected the ACLU’s challenge to the marriage amendment. Following the ruling by the Court, the task became obtaining the required number of signatures.

The marriage amendment states: "Inasmuch as marriage is the legal union of only one man and one woman, no other legal union that is treated as marriage or the substantial equivalent thereof shall be valid or recognized."

When I heard the Florida Marriage Protection Amendment was certified for the ballot, words could not express my exhilaration. I am thankful that so many pastors and community leaders came together in a coordinated effort to accomplish the largest grassroots petition initiative in Florida’s history. The fact that so many people poured their hearts into this marriage amendment underscores the broad support to protect traditional marriage. The wave of citizens will turn into a tsunami of voters who will go to the polls in November to pass the Florida Marriage Protection Amendment. This is a victory for the family, for the children and for the future of Florida.