establishment of religion

Big Week For Religious Liberty! (Or, Kaine And Stevens Cut From The Same Cloth)

Just two days ago, the U.S. Supreme Court rendered a 5-4 decision to uphold the display of a Cross on a World War I Mojave Desert memorial on what had been public property (once a national park, the land now is owned privately, yet a lower court ruled the Cross still could not be displayed.) In its majority opinion, the court stated:

The goal of avoiding governmental endorsement does not require the eradication of all religious symbols in the public realm.

The timing of the decision couldn't have been more fitting — the same day, Governor Bob McDonnell reversed the Kaine administration's discriminatory prayer policy that prohibited Virginia State Police chaplains from praying at public events according to their faith.

Religious liberty 2, ACLU 0!

This recent Supreme Court case, Salazar v. Buono, reversed the decision from a California lower court that ordered the removal of a Cross placed by the Veterans of Foreign Wars in the Mojave National Preserve in 1934 as a memorial to World War I soldiers (see California Catholic Daily). The circumstances surrounding the case, however, are far from simple.

The disagreement began in 1999 when a retired National Park Service employee sued saying that the Cross on public property constituted an unconstitutional establishment of religion. A federal court agreed and ordered that the Cross be removed. The decision was appealed and the U.S. 9th Circuit Court (the nation's most left-wing court) upheld lower court's decision. However, in 2003, before the Cross could be removed, Congress intervened and transferred the land in question to a private owner in an effort to side step the controversy.

Once again the lower courts and 9th Circuit weighed in and stated that Congress' maneuver was objectionable and did not solve the problem. In the meantime, plywood was used to cover the cross to prevent "any further harm." The U.S. Supreme Court then granted cert in the case to put the confusion to rest.

Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote the majority opinion and sent the case back to the lower court to be reassessed "in light of a policy of accommodation." The logical assumption is that the display of the Cross will now be allowed. Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas agreed with the majority, but additionally argued that the retired park employee did not have standing to sue since the property had been transferred to a private owner. In addition, while the court did not specifically rule on the display of a Cross on public property, it certainly hinted that it would find such a display acceptable in some circumstances.

However, the written dissent truly was tragic. Justice John Paul Stevens, soon to retire,  wrote that the Cross was an improper and intolerable government endorsement of a specific faith. Similar to Kaine's discriminatory chaplain prayer policy, this opinion is yet another example of growing anti-Christian sentiment (see Huffington Post for anti-Catholic hysterics). Simply the fact that four Supreme Court justices could buy into this "logic" of censorship is proof that we must do more to protect our freedom of conscience. The Family Foundation will continue to keep a pulse on this issue and work on efforts to further protect religious liberty.

Family Foundation's 2009 Legislative Agenda: Protecting Chaplains' Religious Liberty Rights

 

This past fall, as Virginians worried about the failing economy and state government announced massive revenue “shortfalls,” the Kaine administration tried to quietly introduce a new regulation that forbid state police chaplains from praying in the name of Jesus. Apparently the superintendent of the state police did this proactively, without any complaints from anyone “offended” that a chaplain had actually prayed to God.

 

Six of 17 chaplains resigned their positions as chaplains over this order. We were honored to have two of those chaplains at our Richmond Gala in November.

 

The superintendent and governor’s office alleged that the policy change is based on a recent 4th Circuit Court decision involving prayer at government meetings, specifically a case where a pastor in the Fredericksburg area was ordered to stop praying “in Jesus name” at city council meetings. The court concluded that allowing someone to publicly pray according to his beliefs at a government meeting was an "establishment of religion" because the prayer was "government speech."

 

Other circuit court rulings, however, are in direct conflict with the 4th Circuit, and many legal experts conclude that the state police decision is a misapplication of a flawed 4th Circuit Court ruling. In other words, this new policy never should have happened.

 

To remedy the Kaine administration’s decision, The Family Foundation will support legislation this year introduced by Senator Steve Martin (R-11, Chesterfield) and Delegate Bill Carrico (R-5, Independence). Working with Alliance Defense Fund and its expert attorneys we believe that there is a legislative answer.

 

Next week, the 2009 General Assembly will begin. The Family Foundation is poised to bring our pro-God, pro-life, pro-family agenda to the center of the debate. We hope that you will be ready to take action when bills like this one protecting the religious liberty rights of chaplains are debated.

Chaplain Gate

The birthplace for religious freedom in America is quickly becoming its graveyard.  News stories broke across Virginia yesterday concerning a case The Family Foundation became involved with last week (read Norfolk Virginian-Pilot article, here). The superintendent of the Virginia State Police, a political appointee of Governor Tim Kaine, recently ordered State Police chaplains to cease praying "in Christ's name" (read Richmond Times-Dispatch article, here). Apparently the superintendent did this proactively, without any complaints from anyone "offended" that a chaplain actually had prayed to God. Six of the chaplains have had the courage to resign their positions over this order.

Last week we were informed of this new policy and were put in contact with one of the chaplains involved. We then connected him with Alliance Defense Fund, one of the leading religious liberty legal advocate groups in the nation. It currently is reviewing the facts of the case to determine the proper action. Wednesday,  House Majority Leader Morgan Griffith (R-8, Salem) and Delegate Bill Carrico (R-5, Independence) slammed Governor Kaine and the state police superintendent for this new policy in a press release, bringing this situation to light (read Washington Times article, here).

The superintendent says he is basing his policy change on a recent U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals decision involving prayer at government meetings, specifically a case where a pastor in the Fredericksburg area was ordered to stop praying "in Jesus name" at city council meetings. The court concluded that allowing someone to publicly pray according to his beliefs at a government meeting was an "establishment of religion" because the prayer was "government speech."

Once again the religious liberty and free speech rights of Christians have been banished from the public square (read Roanoke Times article, here). Arguing that allowing someone to offer a sectarian prayer is an "endorsement of religion" is absurd. It turns the establishment clause of the First Amendment against the free exercise clause as if the two are incompatible. Just the idea that there is such a thing as "government speech" violates the fundamental idea of America. Our Founding Fathers must be rolling in their graves.

This situation again highlights the importance of who will sit on the courts deciding these cases. Ultimately, it is likely that this will all be resolved by the United States Supreme Court. Because at least two justices on that court likely are to retire during the term of the next president, the judicial philosophy the candidates for president hold is a critical decision point as we determine who should receive our vote.

We will continue to work with the troopers involved in this case, the Alliance Defense Fund, and members of the General Assembly to seek an outcome where religious liberty once again stands as a pillar of strength in our commonwealth.