ACLU

Urge Override Of Governor McAuliffe’s Vetoes!

Recently, Governor Terry McAuliffe vetoed two bills that would protect religious liberty: SB 236, a bill that would protect the free speech rights of public school students; and SB 555, a bill that would have prohibited government censorship of military chaplain sermons. Both passed with large bipartisan majorities, including a unanimous vote in the Senate for SB 555! The General Assembly will hold its annual "veto session," where it reviews vetoes and amendments to bills, on Wednesday, April 23:

Please urge your senators and delegates to vote to override the governor's vetoes of SB 236 and SB 555 (click the links to find their contact information). If you don't know who your legislators are, click here.

SB 236, patroned by Senator Bill Carrico (R-40, Galax), would create "limited public forums" at certain public school events. Limited public forums restrict the schools from censoring speech simply because it is from a faith perspective. The schools can still "limit" the speech to the matter at hand; for example, a graduation speech still has to be about graduating, but it can contain statements about the importance of faith. The bill also protects students' rights to organize prayer groups, have events such as "see you at the pole" gatherings and wear clothing with religious expressions.

Students in our public schools shouldn't be treated as a second-class citizen simply because their viewpoint is motivated by their faith, regardless of what faith perspective they have. It is tragic that in Virginia, the birthplace of religious freedom, Governor McAuliffe has chosen to listen to the ACLU and has trampled on the right of Virginia's students to simply express their beliefs.

SB 555, patroned by Senator Dick Black (R-13, Leesburg), prohibited state government from censoring sermons given by chaplains in the Virginia National Guard and Virginia Defense Force. This reasonable, common sense measure passed the Senate in January 37-0! The governor's explanation for vetoing the bill is a remarkable misunderstanding of the actual definition of a chaplain.

Overriding a governor's veto requires two-thirds support from both chambers, meaning that 27 members of the Senate and 67 members of the House of Delegates have to vote for an override.

At what point do we finally say, enough is enough? Our God-given, inalienable right to exercise our faith, live according to our conscience, and speak truth to culture is in serious jeopardy if we allow people like Terry McAuliffe to dictate what we can and cannot do in the public square.

Your legislators, regardless of party, need to hear from you. They need to know that you are not going to stand for this type of discrimination any longer! Please act today:

Contact your senators and delegates today and ask them to override Governor McAuliffe's vetoes of SB 236 and SB 555 at the upcoming April 23 Veto Session.

Urge Governor To Protect Student Free Speech Rights!

The General Assembly recently passed SB 236, a priority for The Family Foundation that protects the rights of public school students to express their faith at various school events. The House of Delegates passed the bill by a vote of 64-34.  Earlier this session the bill passed the Virginia Senate 20-18. The bill is now awaiting action by Governor Terry McAuliffe. Unfortunately, the governor has indicated that he is likely to veto this reasonable legislation that simply ensures that religious speech is treated by our public schools exactly like any other type of speech.

Please contact Governor McAuliffe and urge him to sign SB 236, protecting the free speech rights of public school students!

Hostility to simply expressing one’s faith in the public square is becoming more and more prevalent. A student in our public schools shouldn’t be treated as a second class citizen simply because their viewpoint is motivated by their faith, regardless of what faith perspective they have. And while some opponents to the bill argue that such speech is already protected, they also argue that allowing students to express their faith could be seen as "coercive" and "offensive" to those who don’t share that faith. In such cases, the government is supposed to be "neutral," but those who oppose bills like SB 236 desire no such neutrality. They desire silencing of faith perspectives and adherence to secular dogma.

Recently, my piece explaining why SB 236 is necessary and what it actually does appeared in The Norfolk Virginian-Pilot.

The bill, patroned by Senator Bill Carrico (R-40, Galax), is based on federal court precedent and existing law in at least two other states. Opposition comes primarily from the ACLU and the education establishment.

Please contact Governor McAuliffe and urge him to sign SB 236, protecting the free speech rights of public school students!

McAuliffe Dealt Setback: Senate Upholds Conscience Protection!

Earlier today, the Democrat-controlled Senate defeated Governor Terry McAuliffe's amendment to SB 330, an amendment that would have seriously weakened conscience protections included in a bill providing for the licensing of genetic counselors. The vote was 23-17 with Democrat Senators Chuck Colgan, Phil Puckett and Chap Petersen joining all 20 Republicans in protecting the right of conscience. The Family Foundation would like to thank Senators Steve Martin (R-11, Chesterfield), Dick Black (R-13, Leesburg), and Tommy Norment (R-3, Williamsburg) who stood and spoke in opposition to the anti-conscience amendment. Special thanks goes to Senator Tom Garrett (R-22, Louisa) who articulated the legal liabilities of the amendment and to Senator Bill Stanley (R-20, Franklin) who questioned the patron of the bill, Senator Janet Howell (D-32, Reston), regarding the genesis of the amendment. Senator Stanley asked Senator Howell if she was comfortable with the initial language of her bill which passed the Senate 38-0. The considerably far-left senator responded that she was "perfectly comfortable" with the conscience clause language the way it was prior to the governor's amendment.

Continuing to prove how out of touch he is with mainstream Virginia, Governor McAuliffe showed today that he is also out of touch with even the most "progressive" leaders of his own party. He bowed to pressure from the ACLU and Planned Parenthood and was reminded by the 23-17 vote that his radical agenda will not be approved even in the Senate simply because he has a "D" behind his name.

The passage of SB 330 without the governor's anti-conscience amendments is a great benchmark for conscience rights in Virginia. If genetic counselors can be protected from being forced to violate their conscience, it follows that all other professions should receive equal protection. Today's vote proves that the freedom of conscience is not a right-wing issue or even a Christian issue — it is about freedom of conscience for all.

We are also very appreciative of our colleagues at the Virginia Catholic Conference, which again worked so hard with us over the past several days on this amendment, as well as the representatives of the genetic counselors who were willing to work with us to protect the conscience rights of their clients. Thanks, also, to all of you who contacted your senators to vote no on this significant legislative action. It does make a difference and your voices are heard.

T-Mac Chili eating

Governor McAuliffe will have to chew on this legislative defeat.

Senate Votes Today On Conscience Protection

On Tuesday, bowing to pressure from the ACLU and Planned Parenthood, Governor Terry McAuliffe amended SB 330, a genetic counseling bill, to weaken its excellent conscience protection language. Early today, the Senate will take up this amendment on the floor and vote on it.

Contact your senator now and ask him or her to vote NO on the governor's amendment to SB 330.

The story behind this amendment goes back a few months. This past summer, the lobbyists for the genetic counselors approached The Family Foundation with a draft of a bill to license genetic counselors in Virginia. We appreciated them coming to us prior to session to discern our impression of the bill and to see if we had any concerns. We decided to remain neutral on the topic of licensing genetic counselors, but we strongly encouraged the addition of a conscience clause to protect them from being forced to participate in counseling against their deeply held moral or religious beliefs.

The genetic counselors agreed to the conscience language and a bill was drafted that all parties agreed upon. In fact, the language was so universally-accepted, both the identical House and Senate versions passed unanimously in the evenly-divided Senate and with sweeping margins in the House.

Governor McAuliffe signed HB 612, patroned by Delegate Roxann Robinson (R-27, Chesterfield), with the strong conscience protection language and it became law. But before SB 330, patroned by Senator Janet Howell (D-32, Reston), got to Governor McAuliffe's desk, the ACLU and Planned Parenthood woke up from their slumber, decided the conscience clause was unacceptable, and urged the governor to amend the language. Bowing to the pressure of the ACLU and Planned Parenthood, he added an amendment to SB 330 which guts the conscience clause. This is particularly frustrating because the bills as drafted have the overwhelming support of both chambers, the genetic counselors didn't ask for the amendment and, not to mention, Governor McAuliffe already signed HB 612! The only holdup is the ACLU and Planned Parenthood who were late to the party.

 Please contact your senator now and urge a vote for conscience and reject the governor's amendment to SB 330).

Student Religious Liberty On The Line In House Vote Tomorrow!

Monday morning, the House Education Committee narrowly voted 12-10 to report SB 236 to the House floor, as three Republicans joined all seven Democrats in opposition. The bill, patroned by Senator Bill Carrico (R-40, Galax), a longtime defender of religious liberty, is a priority bill for The Family Foundation that protects the rights of public school students to express their faith at various school events. The bill was debated today on the floor and will be voted on tomorrow. Opposition in the committee continued to mislead and claim a parade of horrors that would occur if the bill became law. Coming from the ACLU and other groups, the opposition voiced concern that the bill would confuse school boards and cause a litany of lawsuits. But that assertion is baseless. The law has existed in two states for several years but has not elicited lawsuits. They also allege that it will "coerce" people into hearing a viewpoint that might cause them to feel bad about themselves. Delegate Scott Lingamfelter (R-31, Woodbridge) made it clear that the First Amendment does not protect someone from being offended.

Attorneys Rita Dunaway of Virginia Christian Alliance and Jordan Lorence of Alliance Defending Freedom testified in favor of the bill and debunked the opposition's claims. They clarified the case law surrounding religious speech in schools and explained the need to protect students who want to express their religious viewpoint. Too many school teachers and administrators follow a "folk understanding" of the law and discriminate anytime religious speech is uttered in schools. Such actions make religious students second class citizens. Not surprisingly, no one who opposed the bill expressed concern for those students' feelings.

The bill also protects students' rights to organize prayer groups, have events such as "see you at the pole" gatherings, wear clothing with religious expression, and the like. The bill is based on federal court precedent and case law.

Please click here to contact your Delegate and urge their support of SB 236 when it is voted on by the full House tomorrow!

Student Religious Liberty Bill In House Committee Monday Morning!

On Monday morning, the House Education Committee will vote on SB 236, a priority for The Family Foundation that protects the rights of public school students to express their faith at various school events. Its patron is Senator Bill Carrico (R-40, Galax), a longtime defender of religious liberty in the General Assembly. Curiously, the bill has caught the attention of Governor Terry McAuliffe. Based on existing law in two states that has not been challenged in the courts, Senator Carrico's bill would create what the law calls "limited public forums" at certain public school events, which restrict schools from censoring subject matter simply because it is from a faith perspective. The schools can still "limit" the speech to the matter at hand; for example, a graduation speech must be about graduating, but it can contain statements about the importance of faith, etc.

The bill also protects students' rights to organize prayer groups, have events such as "see you at the pole" gatherings, wear clothing with religious expression, and he like. The bill is based on federal court precedent.

Opposition to a similar House bill earlier this session was fierce and misleading. Coming from the ACLU and other groups, the opposition claimed that the bill was an attempt to circumvent Supreme Court rulings concerning school prayer, but the bill isn't really about school prayer — it's about freedom of speech and association. Opponents also expressed concern that the bill could be "dangerous" and that it is certain to cause lawsuits. But that assertion is baseless. The law has existed in two states for several years but has not elicited lawsuits.

ACTION: Please click here for members of the House Education Committee and urge their support of SB 236 on Monday! 

 

#Distraction

On Saturday, Democrat Terry McAuliffe was sworn in as the 72nd Governor of the Commonwealth of Virginia, and it didn't take long before he dove into the "social issues" liberals have always claimed are "distractions" from the "real issues," such as jobs and the economy. In his inaugural address, Governor McAuliffe said:

We must work . . . to ensure that someone can't lose a job simply because they are gay.

And to ensure that every woman has the right to make her own personal health care decisions. 

As expected, his first act of business had nothing to do with the economy, but was to issue Executive Order No. 1 that purports to provide special hiring protections in state government based on sexual behavior. Of course, what Governor McAuliffe failed to mention is that no evidence exists that discrimination based on "sexual orientation" is taking place. In fact, if discrimination in state hiring took place, you can be guaranteed that the ACLU, Equality Virginia and other groups would be parading that person around Virginia with the media hysterically telling everyone about it. Their silence on providing evidence is all we need to know about the needlessness of the executive order, while the evidence that elevating sexual behavior to special status is a threat to religious liberty is plentiful.

Of course, in his speech Governor McAuliffe wouldn't utter the word "abortion," instead using the liberal euphemism for taking the life of your unborn child, "health care decisions." The reality is that women in Virginia can have an abortion anytime they want and for just about any reason, and nothing interferes with their "personal health care decision" to do so. What is, interfering, however, is Obamacare, which has the full support of McAuliffe. Women in Virginia don't have the freedom to choose their own doctor. Women in Virginia don't have the freedom to choose their own insurance. But Governor McAuliffe seems perfectly content with the government taking those freedoms away. The hypocrisy is stunning.

Already, our policy team is working to defeat the nearly two dozen abortion or sex-related bills introduced by liberals in Richmond. While fewer Americans are working today than were when Jimmy Carter was president, secular liberals are obsessed with abortion and sex. Perhaps they think the "war on women" narrative will provide cover for them while the economy continues to sink? And you needn't worry about the media exposing them. At a Capitol Square press conference yesterday to unveil some of the 20-odd bills on the Democrats'  social issue agenda (see our reaction, here), Delegate Kay Kory (D-38, Falls Church) pleaded with reporters to "be there" when these bills are heard, even if the meetings are late at night. These legislators want the media there because they know the coverage given often is favorable to their agenda.

Last Thursday, we released some of our legislative agenda to the media. You can read our news release here. We look forward to advocating for these and other proposals in the coming weeks. Regardless of who sits in the Executive Mansion, we will work as hard as possible to advance and protect the principles and values we share.

Apollo 8 And Christmas Eve 45 Years Ago: Same Planet, Different World

Forty-five years ago this week an extraordinary event in history happened: Humans, for the first time, in the persons of Americans Frank Borman, Jim Lovell and Bill Anders, orbited and saw, within 60 miles, another heavenly body. Their Apollo 8 mission earned them Time's "Person of the Year" acclamation and historians have said their flight "Saved 1968," regarded as the most tumultuous and worst year — with its assassinations, riots, war, protests and crime — in American history. The flight was almost a shot in the dark. The U.S. and Soviet Union, in a titanic cold war, were engaged in an epic Space Race to prove superiority in an era when serious people were not sure which course human history would take — freedom and democracy or servitude and communism. The Space Race was the propaganda campaign of all propaganda campaigns. The winning side would show the world which system their countries' futures would best serve.

The crew of what would become Apollo 9 had the original Apollo 8 mission. It was to be a test flight of the Lunar Lander in Earth orbit. But two things happened: The contractor, Grumman, did not have the "LEM" ready and CIA photos revealed the Soviets gearing up with a massive moon ship capable of taking its cosmonauts to the Lunar surface. NASA could delay the LEM test flight and keep its flight schedule in order (and risk a Soviet leap frog and victory) or change the mission of Apollo 9 (another LEM test), put its crew aboard the previously unused-with-men mega Saturn 5 rocket, move it into the Apollo 8 launch slot and shoot it toward the moon. NASA rolled the dice and won. Among other things, the mission produced the iconic Earthrise photo, considered the most significant photo of all time, the first time the Earth's image was captured as an alien planet, beautifully blue, white and green against space's black curtain.

America beat the Soviet Union to the moon, followed six months later with an actual landing and That's one small step . . . . The rest is history. We conquered the moon and freedom loving people conquered communism 20 years later. The writing had been on the wall since December 1968.

Christmas Eve 1968: God's handiwork captured by His human creations.

But the flight wasn't the extraordinary aspect I meant. It was what was said on the mission as hundreds of millions of people on Earth watched the first ever live video transmission of the moon. On Christmas Eve, the celebration of the birth of the new Adam, of God made man, of the Word Incarnate — Borman, Lovell and Anders took turns reciting His word about His creation, as recorded in the Book of Genesis . . .

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the Earth . . . 

Immortal words further heightened during a seminal event, as God's creation was brought to His children up close and personal. Borman concluded, poetically . . .

Good night, good luck, a Merry Christmas, and God Bless all of you, all of you on the good Earth.

Imagine that. U.S. Government employees on international television, in an age when getting along and peace went begging, used words you can't even hear in a department store today because they are "divisive." Yet, it was those words that helped bring peace to the world. Surprising, perhaps, only to non believers.

Almost immediately, the Left went nuts and the ACLU went into overdrive. We may be the same planet but it was a different world then. Their protests were ignored. That was only 45 years ago. Could American astronauts, or anyone on a high profile American project, utter anything like that today? Are you kidding? We are not better off for this change, either.

Perhaps coincidentally, or maybe by divine intervention, 45 years later, almost to the week, Time named someone else "Person of the Year" who also believes that we and all else are created by God — Pope Francis. Could this be the beginning of an echo of the revolution that freed hundreds of millions from communism, the beginning of a revolution that will free us from the binds of the Dictatorship of Relativism (as Pope Benedict the XVI coined the cultural rot wrought by secularism)? Could it be the renewal of a period, that ended only 45 years ago, that lives traditional values based on the dignity of respecting all of His creations?

 Re-live, or experience for the first time, the Apollo 8 telecast and reading from Genesis.

For the fun of it, here's a brief video released this week celebrating Apollo 8 and explaining how the historic Earthrise photo happened to be taken. It puts you pretty much in the spacecraft thanks to NASA technology. For still more, click here for an article from NPR.org's The Two Way blog and a short interview with Space Race historian Andrew Chaiken.

Discrimination Against Vermont Couple Shows The Real Agenda Of The Left In Virginia

Jim and Mary O'Reilly are perfect examples of the real agenda of those advocating legal protections for sexual behavior. The O'Reillys' own a bed and breakfast in Vermont. That state not only legalized same-sex unions, but has a broad "non-discrimination" law that includes sexual orientation. Consequently, the O'Reillys' were forced by the government to open their facility to same-sex couples despite their own religious convictions. They did, however, with permission from the state's "Human Rights Commission," communicate very clearly with guests their deeply held religious conviction that marriage is between one man and one woman. They never rejected a same-sex couple.

Yet the ACLU, one of the most vocal advocates of so-called "non-discrimination" policies, as well as free speech, partnered with Vermont's Human Rights Commission to sue the O'Reillys' for discrimination. They directly attacked the O'Reillys' approved practice of simply disclosing their religious beliefs about marriage to potential customers. According to Austin Nimocks, Senior Counsel for the Alliance Defending Freedom:

Although the Commission agreed that the O'Reillys' acted in good-faith reliance on its 2005 ruling, the government and the ACLU demanded that the O'Reillys' pay $10,000 to the Commission as a civil penalty and $20,000 to a charitable trust set up by the ACLU's clients. Forced with the prospect of potentially losing their business, the O'Reillys' relented and agreed to these terms in August 2012.

This case was not about access to services-the ACLU's clients were easily able to find a venue for their reception, and the Wildflower's business practice did not deny services to anyone, but merely disclosed the O'Reillys' relevant religious convictions. What the government and the ACLU really objected to was the O'Reillys' mere mention of their views about marriage-views that conflict with the prevailing political orthodoxy in Vermont. For this, the government and ACLU insisted that the O'Reillys' be punished. (Emphasis added.)

"Punished"? For expressing their religious conviction? Not only has religious expression taken a hit, so has freedom of speech. In the past, the ACLU has defended the rights of NAZI and KKK groups to parade through cities, but God forbid (oops! Can't use that word) a family express and practice its religious beliefs on its own property.

This stifling of religious and expression freedoms is the true agenda of Equality Virginia, the ACLU and other advocates for legislation that will be introduced in the 2014 Virginia General Assembly that would add sexual orientation to Virginia's employment non-discrimination law. While our law currently applies only to state government, don't mistake that for the final goal of these groups. They've introduced legislation that would add "sexual orientation" to the state's more broadly interpreted "Human Rights Act." As the executive director of the ACLU said just a couple of years ago during testimony on this proposal, "This is a baby step."

A baby step alright. A baby step toward punishment simply for disclosing your religious conviction about human sexuality.

Some in the Republican Party want to capitulate on this issue, saying that it's a battle not worth fighting, a losing issue — a "divisive social issue" that gets in the way of winning elections. They are exceedingly naive or sadly ignorant of the logical conclusion of elevating sexual activity to protected status in our law. We, however, know exactly what the goals are and therefore will stand our ground and fight for religious liberty and expression.

The Poll That Matters In The End

This morning at a press conference, the Human Rights Campaign released a poll it commissioned on Virginians' attitudes towards same-sex marriage. In sweeping statements, the HRC lauded Virginians for "support[ing] marriage equality" evidenced by its 55 percent-41 percent poll. However, after Virginians affirmed traditional marriage 57 percent to 43 percent on the ballot in 2006, Virginians have continued in subsequent elections to select candidates who oppose marriage redefinition. Despite biased HRC polling, elections have proved that the tide has not changed to the degree the ACLU and the HRC would like the public to believe.

Social issues like homosexuality have dynamics at play that cannot be measured with simple polling. Asking 600 people (as this poll did) a simple question doesn't get to the core of complex issues. It makes for interesting editorial page fodder, but it's doubtful that many people will take it seriously.

Polling on social issues is finicky, particularly on the issue of homosexuality. A lot of people will tell the pollster what they think the pollster wants to hear. For example, look at same-sex marriage polling. Polls have indicated that people support same-sex marriage, but when it goes to the ballot, we have seen the overwhelming majority of states reject marriage redefinition.

And I haven't even mentioned the structural errors contained in this poll:

Timing

It's hard not to be dismissive of a poll that begins the day the high court holds that those that support traditional marriage do so out of hostile animosity rather than caring for the best outcomes for children. How honest do you suppose responders will be when their beliefs risk being labeled "motivated by animus"?

Margin of Error

The HRC poll had a margin of error of ±4.9 percent. In my statistics class in college, I was taught that 3 percent was a good margin of error and that 4 percent was pushing the line of accuracy. However, ~5 percent? My professor would not have let me publish a 5 percent margin of error poll . . . not even if it was buried beneath the fold in the school newspaper and labeled "not for scientific use."

Survey Size and Constituency

The poll surveyed 600 Virginia adults, not likely voters. In regards to Virginia law, it doesn’t matter what 600 Virginia adults think if they aren't registered to vote or don't plan to vote if the issue were to be placed on the ballot!

But most importantly, the element of the HRC press release that bothers me most is their discussion of the faith community. While some prefer apathy, it is impossible to not notice the winner-takes-all conflict between sexual freedom and religious liberty. Here is a direct quote from HRC's press release under the category of "Cultural challenges still emerge in Virginia":

These homophobic messages creep out . . . religion also plays a role . . . fifteen percent of the state report hearing anti-gay messages from the pulpit and, when asked about directly, 17 percent of the state heard their pastor, rabbit [sic], priest or other religious figure deliver an anti-gay sermon.

How much longer will a pastor have the freedom to preach an expository sermon on Romans 1? Religious liberty is an impediment to sexual freedom's triumph. We cannot claim ignorance when we see these attacks.

Senate To Vote On Key Religious Liberty Bill!

On Tuesday, the Senate will vote on a priority bill of The Family Foundation, SB 1074, patroned by Senator Mark Obenshain (R-26, Harrisonburg). This bill will protect the rights of religious and political college student groups at public universities to choose members and leadership based on their beliefs and principles.

Please contact your Senator now and urge them to vote YES on SB 1074!

Participating in groups and organizations with missions that match their religious or political beliefs is a longstanding tradition for college students. Unfortunately, some universities around the country have begun enacting so-called "all-comers" policies, which essentially prohibits these student organizations from establishing criteria for their membership and leaders. Consequently, a student group that is recognized by the university and receives funding — from their own student activity fees — or use of facilities, could not have any kind of requirement that members or leaders actually share the beliefs or believe in the mission of the group!

Free association is a foundational constitutional principle but, as we know, those kinds of freedoms slowly are being reduced. Incredibly, the U.S. Supreme Court has upheld "all-comers" policies as constitutional, though it didn't require universities to have them. SB 1074 will ensure that the current policy of the majority of Virginia's public universities will continue.

The only opposition to the legislation that we are aware of is from, predictably, the ACLU, which argued against the bill by stating, in essence, that it views free association as inherently discriminatory. It also argued that religious groups shouldn't be allowed to receive "recognition" from state funded universities because they "discriminate" based on their views of human sexuality. We have worked with representatives of various Virginia universities to ensure that they are not opposed to the bill.

Several Key Priorities Move Forward In General Assembly Today!

Today, the House of Delegates passed two Family Foundation priorities while the Senate passed a bill protecting parental rights. Also, a Senate committee advanced another Family Foundation priority. In the Senate, after hearing from many of you over the past several days, SB 908, patroned by Senator Bryce Reeves (R-17, Fredericksburg) passed 26-14! This is a key victory for ensuring that state courts continue to recognize parental rights as fundamental and not reduce them to simply "ordinary" as has happened in 24 states. By maintaining them as fundamental, it continues to require that the government meet a higher legal standard before infringing on those rights. Many thanks go to the Home School Legal Defense Association, who advanced the legislation. The House version of this legislation will be voted on tomorrow afternoon in the House Courts of Justice Committee.

The Senate Education and Health Committee advanced SB 1074, legislation that protects the free association rights of Virginia public college students to assemble in groups according to their religious and political beliefs. The bill, patroned by Senator Mark Obenshain (R-26, Harrisonburg) passed 9-6, with Senator George Barker (D-39, Alexandria) being the lone Democrat to join all committee Republicans to pass the bill. Opposition was led by the ACLU, which questioned the motives of those advancing the bill and made claims about court decisions surrounding the issue that were incomplete at best. This bill should be voted on by the full Senate early next week.

In the House, the student group bill, HB 1617, patroned by Delegate Todd Gilbert (R-15, Woodstock), the companion to SB 1074, passed overwhelmingly, 80-19. The House also advanced the "Tebow Bill," (HB 1442) legislation that would give homeschool kids the opportunity to participate in public school sports. The bill, patroned by Delegate Rob Bell (R-58, Charlottesville), passed 56-43. Supported by nearly two-thirds of Virginians, this bill is about treating students in our communities fairly and simply giving homeschoolers an opportunity to try out for teams.

Thank you to all of you who sent e-mails or contacted your elected officials on these and other issues so far this session. They have had an impact! Next Tuesday is the mid-point, or "crossover" of session, meaning that each body must act on its own legislation by that time. We will continue to keep you informed an ask for your action as needed.

Key Votes In House Education Committee On Monday!

Two of The Family Foundation's highest priorities this year will be voted on in the House Education Committee Monday morning. The first, HB 1442, is legislation that would assist home school students in participating in public school sports, often called the "Tebow Bill," and the second, HB 1617, is a bill that protects the rights of college student groups to organize according to their beliefs.

If your delegate is on the House Education Committee, please contact him or her as soon as possible and urge him or her to vote in favor of HB 1617 (student groups) and HB 1442 ("Tebow Bill")!

The home school sports bill, once again this year patroned by Delegate Rob Bell (R-58, Charlottesville), would break down barriers that prevent home school students from playing public high school sports by prohibiting localities from joining the Virginia High School League, a pseudo-state/private entity that regulates public school sports. Under the provisions of the measure, localities would not be able to contract with VHSL if they don't allow home school students to participate. Half the states in the nation have some type of measure that provide opportunities to home school students to participate in public school sports.

The children of families who pay taxes that support the local public schools and are part of our communities, continue to be denied the ability to try out for an activity that they are funding for the simple reason that they are home schooled. This discriminatory practice must end.

A VCU poll released just yesterday for the Commonwealth Education Policy Institute, an education think tank headed by former State Public Education Superintendent Dr. Bill Bosher, indicates that nearly two-thirds of Virginians support fairness for homeschoolers. It receives more than 60 percent support from people in all demographics, incomes, political parties and independents, education levels and regions of Virginia except Hampton Roads, where it is favored by 54 percent. Talk about bipartisanship! 

HB 1617 is a new proposal. Participating in groups and organizations with missions that match their religious or political beliefs is a longstanding tradition for college students. Unfortunately, some universities around the country have begun enacting so-called "all-comers" policies, which essentially eliminates these groups from being able to set criteria for members and leaders. Consequently, a student group that is recognized by the university and receives funding from student activity fees or use of facilities couldn't have any kind of requirement that members or leaders actually share the beliefs or believe in the mission of the group!

Free association is a foundational constitutional principle, but as we know, those kinds of freedoms are slowly being reduced. Incredibly, the U.S. Supreme Court has upheld "all-comers" policies as constitutional, though it didn't require universities to have them. HB 1617, patroned by Delegate Todd Gilbert (R-15, Woodstock), will ensure that the current policy of the majority of Virginia's universities will continue.

The only opposition to this bill that we are aware of is the ACLU, which argued against the bill earlier this week in sub-committee. In essence, they view free association as inherently discriminatory. Despite that, the bill passed subcommittee unanimously. We have worked with representatives of various Virginia colleges and universities to ensure that they are not opposed to the bill.

Planned Parenthood Vs. Religious Liberty

As we told you last week, this Friday, the Virginia State Board of Health will vote to finalize permanent safety standards for Virginia’s abortion centers. Since the start of the effort to finally bring some level of health and safety to these facilities, the largest entity in the abortion industry — Planned Parenthood — has claimed that upgrading their facilities to meet minimum safety standards would be too costly. I guess it's all about where you spend your money.

Interestingly, today, the people of North Dakota will vote on an amendment to their state constitution that protects religious liberty and would ensure that faith-based organizations that faithfully and effectively provide services to the poor, needy, underserved and orphaned are not discriminated against by the state.

And guess what organization is the largest single financial contributor to the opposition to the amendment?

Planned Parenthood. To the tune of $1 million!

To put that in perspective, the ACLU has given one-tenth that amount and the largest individual donation from an actual citizen of North Dakota is $1,000.

NARAL, Americans United for the Separation of Church and State and other radically secular and pro-abortion groups are also working to oppose religious freedom, but not nearly to the level of Planned Parenthood. Of course, Planned Parenthood has a budget of over $1 billion (a third of which comes from you, the taxpayer) to throw around.

Unfortunately, it appears unwilling to spend some of that money toward improving health standards at its abortion centers in Virginia, or elsewhere, but instead are spending it on opposing religious liberty.

This effort exposes Planned Parenthood and the abortion industry as being just as anti-religious liberty as their leftist friends. One of their primary targets has been faith-based pregnancy resource centers that offer alternatives to abortion, real support for women in crisis, and life-affirming counseling. They are the biggest threat to the abortion industry's bottom line, and Planned Parenthood has sought to shut these facilities down all over the country, including here in Virginia.

Interestingly, opponents have also argued that the amendment would allow "conservative church entities to opt out of anti-discrimination laws and other legislation intended to advance the public good" (anti-discrimination laws that include sexual orientation). Yet, we've been told over and over again in Virginia by supporters of so-called anti-discrimination laws that churches and religious organizations are safe and not their target.

Not that we believed them.

Please pray for the people of North Dakota today as they vote on this important — and precedent-setting amendment.

Board Votes To Delay Adoption Regulations 30 Days, But No Change Is Expected

The Virginia Board of Social Services yesterday voted to delay the implementation of recently approved adoption regulations under the threat of costly litigation from the ACLU and Equality Virginia (see The Norfolk Virginian-Pilot). In a not unexpected decision, the vote will allow for 30 days of additional comment, beginning September 12. As we noted yesterday, however, with Governor Bob McDonnell and Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli opposing the old proposed regulations on several grounds, opponents will only succeed in dragging out the process longer and perhaps set the stage for a legal action challenging Virginia law. In April, the VBSS voted 7-2 to adopt new regulations for Virginia's private adoption services. The regulations approved did not include a proposal that would have discriminated against faith-based adoption agencies by forcing them to adopt children to homosexuals. Despite having nearly two years to make their case through the regulatory process, organizations such as Equality Virginia and the ACLU claimed that the decision to not include the discriminatory language was done so without adequate information (see the AP via wral.com).

After losing the vote in April, Equality Virginia and the ACLU threatened to sue if they did not get an additional public comment period (see The Richmond Times-Dispatch). During the initial public comment time, more than 1,000 Virginians commented on the proposed regulations, with only around 30 in favor. On average, proposed regulations receive less than two dozen comments.

At yesterday's meeting, a host of representatives from the homosexual lobby spoke in favor of the additional comment period (see Washington Post Virginia Politics Blog). Some of the speakers honestly stated that they believed allowing homosexuals to adopt should take precedence over the religious liberty rights of faith-based organizations.

When the comment period is opened we will encourage you to make your voice heard on this important issue. It is clear that homosexual groups intend to use the additional 30 days to get as much publicity as possible. We must make sure that the Board of Social Services hears from Virginians who believe in religious liberty.

Admin's notes: Family Foundation staff is quoted in every cited link in the post above. Please click those links to read further. In addition, we were cited on the National Organization For Marriage Blog (click here).

Also, Family Foundation Vice President for Policy and Communications Chris Freund was featured in coverage from WTVR/CBS6 in Richmond (immediately below) and on Charlottesville's WVIR/NBC29 (click this link)

30 days more. The homosexual lobby and ACLU couldn't wait to slow down the process. 

Lawsuit Threatened In Adoption Regulations Battle

Today, the Virginia Board of Social Services is scheduled to consider a request by several homosexual activist groups to reopen its decision to protect the rights of private, faith-based adoption agencies. In April, the VBSS approved new regulations for adoption agencies that did not include a proposal that would have forced private, faith-based adoption agencies to adopt children into homes with co-habitating, unmarried couples. Unfortunately, homosexual activist groups are not satisfied with the nearly two-year regulatory process and 30-day public comment period already undertaken and are petitioning the VBSS for an additional 30 days of public comment, thus requiring a second, unnecessary vote. Oddly, groups like Equality Virginia and the ACLU that today are advocating for more public comment were silent for nearly two years as the regulations, stealthily proposed by former Governor Tim Kaine, went through the process. After losing the vote (7-2) in April, they suddenly are very interested in more time and another vote. Now they are threatening a costly, frivolous lawsuit if they don't get their way. It's also odd that they talk a lot about freedom, but they have no forcing private institutions into policies that run counter to their believes. Apparently, religious liberty isn't a freedom they choose to protect.

During the earlier comment period, only an approximate 30 of the 1,000-plus public comments were favorable toward adding restrictions on faith-based charities (see Washington Times). In 2002, the last year for which data is available, nearly 80 percent of adoptions in Virginia were facilitated by private organizations, nearly half of which are faith-based. Adding the restrictions advocated by Equality Virginia and the ACLU would seriously threaten the well-being of thousands of children awaiting adoption. Similar actions have forced charities to close their doors to children and families in other states.

Sadly, it appears that these organizations are more interested in advancing their political agenda than helping vulnerable children. Punishing the organizations that handle 80 percent of the adoptions in Virginia to advance a political agenda is punitive and harsh. The Board of Social Services, as well as the overwhelming majority of those in the public who commented, saw that and rejected the proposed regulation.

The Family Foundation will monitor the meeting today and comment if necessary. Regardless of the VBSS' decision on opening the public comment period again to avoid an unnecessary lawsuit, we don't anticipate a change in the final vote. The majority of Virginians have spoken in the previous public comment period, Governor Bob McDonnell has committed to protecting faith-based agencies (Richmond Times-Dispatch), and Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli (Washington Post) has made it clear that the proposed restrictions are unnecessary. Equality Virginia and the ACLU may get their press conference and media exposure, but we will fight for the children and families as well as religious liberty.

Forsyth County To Appeal Fourth Circuit Prayer Ruling

A three-judge panel of the Fourth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, by a 2-1 vote, recently upheld a lower court's ban on prayers by clergy at public meetings that may mention the name of a particular deity. The ruling, in Joyner v. Forsyth County, contradicts decades of Supreme Court precedent and is in conflict with several other circuit court opinions on the same issue. It invites government censorship of public prayer. The Family Foundation joined with several other family policy councils in an amicus brief to the court and was in the audience when oral arguments were made. Alliance Defense Fund allied attorney and founding dean of Louisiana College's Pressler School of Law Mike Johnson, who argued the case before the Fourth Circuit in May, replied in a statement that:

America’s founders opened public meetings with prayer. There's no reason that today's public officials should be forced to censor the prayers of those invited to offer them simply because secularist groups don't like people praying according to their own conscience.

Throughout his majority opinion, Judge Harvey Wilkinson seeks to recognize the "legitimacy of legislative prayer" while at the same time requiring that "prayer" be void of any religious, or specifically Christian, references. It ridicules sectarian prayer as denying "invocations their inclusive aspect" and renders all faiths equal, stating that "those of different creeds are in the end kindred spirits." This position exposes the idea of government "neutrality" toward religion for what it is — pure censorship and hostility toward public exercise of faith. In a frightening opinion fraught with contradiction and illogic, the majority reduces religious expression to a place deserving less protection than other speech: "The First Amendment teaches that religious faith stands on a different footing from other forms of speech and observance."

(Note the inclusion of "observance" and not just "speech"!) Essentially, the majority argues that simply uttering the name of Christ at a public meeting "advances" Christianity, offends people of other faiths, and therefore cannot be tolerated, unless there is an arbitrary number of other deities recognized as well.

Judge Paul V. Niemeyer strongly dissented, writing that:

The majority has dared to step in and regulate the language of prayer — the sacred dialogue between humankind and God. Such a decision treats prayer agnostically; reduces it to civil nicety; hardly accommodates the Supreme Court's jurisprudence in Marsh v. Chambers . . . and creates a circuit split [with the 11th Circuit]. ... Most frightfully, it will require secular legislative and judicial bodies to evaluate and parse particular religious prayers under an array of criteria. ... I respectfully submit that we must maintain a sacred respect of each religion, and when a group of citizens comes together, as does the Forsyth County Board of Commissioners, and manifests that sacred respect — allowing the prayers of each to be spoken in the religion's own voice — we must be glad to let it be.

The irony is that secularists claim there must be a "separation of church and state" except when the state can impose itself as editor-in-chief of prayer. As Judge Neimeyer alludes to, the prayers are an affirmation of the individual's belief and his or her exhortation to the deity in which he or she believes to guide the legislative body to which he or she is invited. Government intrusion, then, is not safeguarding an advancement of religion by government, but infringing on the individual's right to exercise his or her religious expression.

Other federal courts have upheld the ADF model invocation policy on which Forsyth County's policy is based, including a very recent July 11 decision that upheld the invocation policy of Lancaster, Calif. Each of the four other federal courts to review similar invocation policies since 2009 has found them to be constitutional. Not only that, but there was another vote recently — a 6-1 vote by the Forsyth County Board of Commissioners to appeal the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court (Stamford Advocate).

The details of this case date back to March of 2007 when the ACLU and Americans United for Separation of Church and State filed suit against Forsyth County Board, stating, “[the Board] does not have a policy which discourages or prohibits those whom [the Board] has invited to deliver prayers from including references to Jesus Christ, or any other sectarian deity, as part of their prayers.” The two plaintiffs represented by the ACLU complained that a prayer offered at one specific meeting in December of 2007 that mentioned the “Cross of Calvary,” the “Virgin Birth” and “Jesus” made them feel “distinctly unwelcome and ‘coerced by [their] government into endorsing a Christian prayer.’”

History Bothers ACLU, Atheists, But Not Giles Country School Board

Tuesday, the Giles County School Board voted to display the Ten Commandments in its schools, along with several other historical documents, such as the Declaration of Independence (see Norfolk Virginian-Pilot). This decision came despite threats from the self-styled defender of freedom ACLU and the atheist Freedom from Religion Coalition which, among other activities, tried to stop the issuance of the Mother Teresa stamp last year (see RealCatholicBlog.com ). Somehow, these two groups reason, displays of these historical documents are "unconstitutional." Now, they may file suit to stop the displays.

Unfortunately, the legal precedent for the display of historical documents is anything but clear. In fact, the U.S. Supreme Court, on the same day in 2005, issued two separate opinions on the display of the Ten Commandments. One it deemed constitutional, the other not. In an effort to "split the baby," the court showed that, at least in its opinion, motives for displaying historical documents are more important than the words on the documents.

The primary difference between the two cases (Van Orden v. Perry and McCreary County, Kentucky, et al. v. ACLU), according to Justice Steven Breyer, the swing vote in each decision, was that the Kentucky displays stemmed from a governmental effort "substantially to promote religion," while the other (in Texas) served a "mixed but primarily non-religious purpose."

To come to that conclusion the justices had to determine the motives of those involved in the displays, something that many legal analysts argue is difficult to pin down. Justice Sandra Day O’Conner, who voted against the displays in both cases, is no longer on the court.

When the display of the Ten Commandments in Giles County was initially removed, both students at the schools and droves of citizens protested. Testimony at school board meetings overwhelmingly supported reposting them. Officials determined that it would be constitutional if it was included with other documents of historical significance to the United States.

Of course, including other historical documents is likely to provide little comfort to those bent on expunging our history — and the public square — of any hint of Christianity. It is very clear, from this case to the many other cases in federal court dealing with prayer at public meetings and school graduations, to the use of public facilities by religious groups, that a handful of secularists have absolutely no interest in historical accuracy or any reference to religious heritage. As one federal court said, the biggest threat may be that children in schools might actually read the Ten Commandments and obey them.

Recently, a student at a public school in Texas ignored a federal judge and led her cheering classmates in prayer at their graduation (a subsequent decision by a higher court overturned the judge's decision). Now, Giles County has voted to thumb its nose at the ACLU. Here's hoping that we've reached a point where the citizens of our nation have decided that the ACLU doesn't speak for everyone.

Is Public Prayer Unconstitutional?

As if the Fourth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals isn't busy enough this week. Not only will it decide on ObamaCare, it got the above question, too, in a case in which The Family Foundation filed an amicus brief last year. Now asked, another three judge panel will decide the constitutionality of the prayer policy of the Forsyth County, N.C. — but with national implications. The policy, drafted by the Alliance Defense Fund, allows for anyone of any faith to pray before county government meetings on a first come, first serve basis. The content of the prayers are not reviewed by government officials. Plaintiffs represented by the ACLU contend that, because most of the "prayers" at the meetings over an eighteen month period were "sectarian," the policy is unconstitutional. According to ADF attorneys, plaintiffs have argued in briefs that any prayer before public meetings is unconstitutional.

Judges Harvie Wilkinson, Paul Niemeyer and Barbara Keenan comprise the panel. If their questioning of attorneys arguing the case is any indication of where they stand on the issue, Judge Keenan is clearly in the ACLU camp. Appointed to the court by President Obama, she was particularly hostile toward ADF's arguments and clearly favored the idea of "inclusive" prayers if there were going to be any prayers at all. Judge Niemeyer appeared much more favorable toward public prayer, stating that prayers without mentioning a specific deity are "just words." Judge Wilkinson seemed like the swing vote, questioning both sides on multiple issues throughout the hour and ten minute hearing.

The details of this case date back to March 2007 when the ACLU and Americans United for Separation of Church and State filed suit against North Carolina's Forsyth County Board of Supervisors, stating:

[the Board] does not have a policy which discourages or prohibits those whom [the Board] has invited to deliver prayers from including references to Jesus Christ, or any other sectarian deity, as part of their prayers.

As ADF Senior Legal Counsel Mike Johnson, who argued in favor of the policy, aptly pointed out, "An invocation according to the dictates of the giver's conscience is not an establishment of religion. If it was, you'd have to argue that the drafters of the U.S. Constitution were violating the Constitution in the prayers and invocations that they themselves offered." (Mike Johnson testified, at Family Foundation request during the 2009 General Assembly, on behalf of the rights of state police chaplains to pray in Jesus' name. See video.)

A primary issue in the case is whether or not a voluntary prayer before a government meeting is "government" or private speech. If private, it is clearly protected by the First Amendment. But by the ACLU's logic, anything said at a government meeting by a private individual is government speech just by virtue of saying at that meeting.

Several Virginia legislators also signed on to an amicus brief in support of religious liberty in Joyner v. Forsyth County. They include Delegates Kathy Byron (R-22, Lynchburg), Bill Carrico (R-5, Galax), Bob Marshall (R-13, Manassas), and Brenda Pogge (R-96, Yorktown); and Senators Mark Obenshain (R-26, Harrisonburg) and Jill Holtzman Vogel (R-27, Winchester).

Orwellian: Saving Babies Is An "Attack On Women's Health"

The pro-abortion forces in Virginia are nothing if not masters at hyperbole. That, or downright Orwellian. Today, they held a news conference at the General Assembly Building to reinforce their message of choice since their stunning defeat on the abortion center regulation bill: That limiting abortions, and thus saving the most innocent among us, is "an attack on women's health." Among attendees were a who's who of the General Assembly pro-abortion crowd: Senators Donald McEachin and Mary Margaret Whipple; and Delegates Patrick Hope, David Englin, Jennier McClellan, Scott Surovell, Adam Ebbin, Onzlee Ware, Vivian Watts and Charniele Herring — the so-called "Reproductive Health Caucus." They were joined not only by Planned Parenthood and NARAL, but by the ACLU and the League of Women's Voters, whose representative enthusiastically gave herself a shout-out when Delegate Herring failed to recognize her. What abortion "rights" has to do with registering women to vote is anyone's guess, but that moment was the most exciting thing at what had to be the most uneventful news conference in General Assembly history — nothing more than introductions, a statement by Delegate Herring, and a story by a woman whose situation was not relevant to the exchanges. Not even a question by one of the two or three members of the press who attended. Even the distributed prepared press statements were boring. Sorry, but no video, excerpted quotes, nor links worth citing. Even Planned Parenthood's e-mail alert left a lot to be desired. An indication that the tide is turning? We'll find out tomorrow when our electeds vote to sustain or reject two pro-life amendments passed down by Governor Bob McDonnell: One, to HB 2434, to prohibit taxpayer funding of abortion in the new state health insurance exchanges mandated by the federal healthcare law; and another, a budget amendment, restoring abstinence education funding that former Governor Tim Kaine eliminated.

These votes promise to be very close in the Senate tomorrow during the "Veto Session." Please contact your senator Wednesday morning and ask him or her to vote for each.

Click here if you know your senator and need his or her phone number.

Click here if you don’t know who your senator is.

Meanwhile, here's more coverage on the health insurance exchange amendment, from the Norfolk Virginian-Pilot (here) and below, from WTVR-TV/CBS6 in Richmond. Both feature comments from Family Foundation President Victoria Cobb.