Author: jasonallengoss

Student at the University of Texas at Tyler, studying political science and minoring in pre-law. I love food, wine, philosophy, music and painting.

Christine O’Donnell “Where in Constitution is the separation of church and state?”

Christine O’Donnell discusses why she believes that public schools should be able to teach creationism alongside evolutionary theory. In the end she asks, “Where in the Constitution is the separation of church and state?”

Read Jefferson’s letter to the Danbury Baptists:
http://www.loc.gov/loc/lcib/9806/danpre.html

Christian-Muslim Socialist-Capitalist President of the United States

 

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The office of President of the United States carries with it heightened public scrutiny.  The vigilance of the media chips away at a leader’s privacy until every facet of his life becomes an open book for the world to see.  One of the constant attacks that the current president has faced is intense concern by the American people about the Commander in Chief’s religious views.  Capitalizing on anti-Muslim sentiments in the wake of September 11th, various members within the complex framework of various extreme right organizations have planted doubt in the minds of voters using accusations and the power of social media to disseminate unsubstantiated claims. So why would a “Muslim” who “despises Christians and God” concern himself with the opinion of the Vatican?

This week President Obama met with Pope Francis to discuss religious freedom, human trafficking and international conflict:

ROME — President Obama and Pope Francis met for the first time Thursday in a discussion that focused on international conflict, human rights and religious freedom.

Obama invited Francis to visit the U.S. next year.

The private meeting was widely expected to be cordial — while providing Francis with an opportunity to raise some prickly issues. The Vatican opposes the Affordable Care Act mandate that Catholic hospitals and institutions provide health plans that cover contraceptive drugs and abortifacients such as morning-after pills, which the church opposes on moral grounds. The church also opposes same-sex marriage, which Obama supports.

Obama, at a news conference later with Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, said those discussions took place with the Vatican Secretary of State Pietro Parolin, not with Francis. Issues such as contraception and religious freedom, Obama said, were “not a topic of conversation” with the pope.

“I was grateful to have the opportunity to speak with him about the responsibilities that we all share to care for the least of these, the poor, the excluded,” Obama said. “And I was extremely moved by his insights about the importance of us all having a moral perspective on world problems and not simply thinking in terms of our own narrow self-interests.”

The brief Vatican statement provided few specifics from the 52-minute meeting.

“Views were exchanged on some current international themes and it was hoped that, in areas of conflict, there would be respect for humanitarian and international law and a negotiated solution between the parties involved,” the statement said.

The statement add that “there was a discussion on questions of particular relevance for the Church in that country, such as the exercise of the rights to religious freedom, life and conscientious objection, as well as the issue of immigration reform.”

The statement also included a mutual commitment to ending human trafficking.

Before the meeting, both men were all smiles.

“I bring greetings from my family,” the president said to the pope when they met. “The last time I came here to meet your predecessor I was able to bring my wife and children.”

Obama presented Francis with a custom-made seed chest featuring a variety of fruit and vegetable seeds used in the White House’s garden. “These I think are carrots,” he said, holding a pouch. “Each one has a different seed in it. The box is made from timber from the first cathedral to open in the United States in Baltimore.”

The pope gave the president an encyclical. “I actually will probably read this in the Oval Office when I’m deeply frustrated. I’m sure it will give me strength and calm me down,” the president said smiling.

In Italy, Obama’s visit — which also included talks with Renzi and President Giorgio Napolitano — has been a topic of conversation all week. Italians said they hoped Obama’s short stop in Italy would lead to positive changes in the country and beyond.

“The whole world is suffering, and when you have two great leaders meet to discuss the world’s economic problems, you have to have hope it will make a difference,” said Salvatore Mucci, a 44-year-old coffee bar worker.

via Obama has first audience with Pope Francis.

ImageAccording to several polls, as high as 17% of registered voters believe that Obama is a Muslim despite the fact that he attended a Catholic school in his youth and has been a member of a Christian church for over 20 years.  Today, on Facebook and Twitter countless comments expressed an overwhelming desire for the President to “find Jesus” and “learn the One True God” from his meeting with the Pope. 

This NBC News article attempts to clear up any confusion about the President’s religious stance:  

Barack Obama is stepping up his effort to correct the misconception that he’s a Muslim now that the presidential campaign has hit the Bible Belt.

At a rally to kick off a weeklong campaign for the South Carolina primary, Obama tried to set the record straight from an attack circulating widely on the Internet that is designed to play into prejudices against Muslims and fears of terrorism.

“I’ve been to the same church _ the same Christian church _ for almost 20 years,” Obama said, stressing the word Christian and drawing cheers from the faithful in reply. “I was sworn in with my hand on the family Bible. Whenever I’m in the United States Senate, I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America. So if you get some silly e-mail … send it back to whoever sent it and tell them this is all crazy. Educate.”

Obama is referring to a debunked chain e-mail circulating widely on the Internet that suggests he is hiding his Islamic roots and may be a terrorist in disguise. It says he was sworn into the Senate on the Quran and turns his back on the flag during the pledge.

Some facts, some misstatements

There are some truths in the e-mail’s details. Obama’s middle name is Hussein. His father and stepfather were Muslim. And he spent part of his childhood in Indonesia, a largely Muslim country. But he attended secular and Catholic schools, not a radical madrassa.

His campaign has been pushing back against the false rumors all year. His aides decried an incorrect news report that Obama was educated in a Muslim madrassa and a section of his Web site is devoted to correct that and other false rumors circulating on the Internet.

But they are stepping up the effort now that the campaign has hit South Carolina and soon turns to other southern states where religion is so important to voters. The campaign distributed an open letter from seven Jewish senators this weekend condemning the attacks; aides are planning an event this week to respond directly to the e-mails; and campaign representatives blanketed South Carolina churches Sunday with literature that touted Obama’s Christian faith.

One piece features photos of Obama praying with the words “COMMITTED CHRISTIAN” in large letters across the middle. It says Obama will be a president “guided by his Christian faith” and includes a quote from him saying, “I believe in the power of prayer.”

A second piece, which like the first doesn’t mention the Muslim rumor, includes photos of Obama with his family and a caption that says they are active members of Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago. It explains how as a young man Obama “felt a beckoning of the spirit and accepted Jesus Christ into his life.”

via Obama sets record straight on religion – politics – Decision ’08 – Barack Obama News | NBC News.

Bill Graves: Old but not Blind

ImageIn 1985 Joann Bell filed a suit against the Little Axe Independent School district after her child was forced to wait in the cold outside of the school for 30 minutes while a group of students known as the Son Shine Club gathered to pray indoors.  She was immediately met with hatred and violence in her community.  Her son’s prize-winning goats were slaughtered by knife-wielding trespassers, her home was burned to the ground by a fire-bomb and eventually, she was assaulted by a cafeteria worker who smashed her head against a car door, hospitalizing her.  The cafeteria worker was fined a mere $10 and instructed to pay for Bell’s medical expenses.  The attorney for the school board was Bill Graves.

Read more about this case (Bell v. Little Axe):

https://www.au.org/blogs/wall-of-separation/hell-in-little-axe-an-oklahoma-moms-chilling-battle-with-religious-bigotry

http://openjurist.org/766/f2d/1391/bell-v-little-axe-independent-school-district-no-of-cleveland-county

So what ever happened to the man who fought on the side of such a despicable community of people?  Well aside from having been a Republican state lawmaker, he is now a district judge for Oklahoma County.  His name has recently echoed in the legal community for a 2012 ruling that refused a name change for a transgender citizen on the basis that Genesis clearly defines only male and female genders, that God does not recognize transgender people and that to change one’s name to that of a female is an act of fraud.  The Oklahoma Court of Civil Appeals did not share Graves’ perspective.  They recently unanimously reversed the decision and allowed James Dean Ingram to legally change her name to Angela Renee Ingram.

 An Oklahoma state judge named Bill Graves has had his decision to deny a transgender woman a legal name change overturned by an appeals court. Graves actually quoted the Bible in his ruling and the appeals court ruled that he abused his discretion in denying the name change.

An Oklahoma appeals court ruled Friday that a woman who became female through gender-reassignment surgery has the right to change her name in spite of a district judge’s opinion that to do so “is fraudulent.”

A unanimous three-judge panel of the Oklahoma Court of Civil Appeals handed down the ruling in an application filed by James Dean Ingram for a change of name to Angela Renee Ingram.

The ruling reversed a decision by Oklahoma County District Judge Bill Graves, who denied the application in a November 2012 ruling that said sex change surgery “is a counterfeit” and does not change a person’s DNA.

“Thus, based on the scientific evidence of DNA, a sex change cannot make a man a woman or a woman a man,” the ruling said. “To grant a name change in this case would be to assist that which is fraudulent.”

The case is the second in the past two years in which the appeals court has reversed Graves on a name change issue. In a separate 2012 case, Graves rejected an application from a person seeking a name change from Steven Charles Harvey to Christie Ann Harvey.

In both cases, Graves cited passages from the Bible including verses from the book of Genesis that read in part: “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.”

“The DNA code shows God meant for them to stay male and female,” Graves ruled in the Ingram case.

You probably don’t know who Bill Graves is, but I do. He was the attorney who represented the school board in Little Axe, Oklahoma when Joann Bell filed suit against the school for violating the Establishment Clause (she was assaulted by a school employee, put in the hospital and had her house firebombed for it). He’s also a Christian Reconstructionist who called RJ Rushdoony to the witness stand in that case. And he still doesn’t get it:

Graves, a former Republican state lawmaker, said Friday that the latest appeals court ruling is “very disappointing.”

“We can’t change our sex, the way God made us. These things are really counterfeit,” the judge said. Nevertheless, Graves said he will grant the name change application as instructed by the appeals court.

“I’ll have to follow what they say,” he said.

via Appeals Court Overturns Appalling Bill Graves Decision » Dispatches from the Culture Wars.

 Bill Graves is yet another example of a man who views religion and political institutions as inseparable.  His remarks in the court decision that reference and directly quote the Bible further demonstrate how difficult if not impossible it is for some judges to leave their beliefs out of the court of law.

 

Who is this woman and why she is blindfolded?

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God and Guns

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Attracting new members to any church often proves to be a difficult task.  In the last couple of weeks, however, one Kentucky former church pastor has found a way to appeal to the sportsmen and Second Amendment advocates in his area.  Are guns and God mutually inclusive?  

“Kentucky Baptist Church Gun Giveaway Draws People To ‘2nd Amendment Celebrations’

Posted By: Michele Wright, CBS 12 News Anchor

KENTUCKY (CNN)– A Kentucky church, Lone Oak First Baptist Church, has hit on an unconventional way of attracting nonreligious people to their services– by offering them a free steak dinner and a chance to win a gun.

Billing these events as a celebration of “faith and firearms,” the church will hold the next 2nd Amendment Celebration and Dinner on March 6, 2014, with former pastor and avid hunter Chuck McAlister as the guest speaker. McAlister serves as the evangelistic leader of the Kentucky Baptist Convention.

The churches seek to draw in young “unchurched” men who are passionate about hunting and their second amendment rights. The Courier-Journal described the atmosphere at these events as a mix between a political rally and a prayer meeting.

“We have found that the number of unchurched men who will show up will be in direct proportion to the number of guns you give away,” McAlister said to the Courier-Journal. He claims that 1,678 made “professions of faith” at some 50 events last year, most of which took place in Kentucky.

Not all churches approve of this tactic for spreading Jesus’ word. Rev. Joe Phelps, pastor of Louisville’s independent Highland Baptist Church, commented, “How ironic to use guns to lure men in to hear a message about Jesus, who said, ‘Put away the sword.'”

Pastor Nancy Jo Kemper of New Union Church in Versailles called the events a “travesty,” adding, “How terrible it would be if one of those guns given away at a church were to cause the death of an innocent victim.” She said that the giveaway verges on bribery and “makes a mockery of what evangelism, to my way of thinking, ought to be.”

McAlister defends his gun-promoting strategy as simply, “affinity evangelism,” with hunting as a hook to catch Kentucky men. “So we get in there and burp and scratch and talk about the right to bear arms and that stuff,” he said.

By throwing his support behind a hot-button political issue, McAlister is able to appeal to his audience on a more religious level as well.

“There is only one path to know the God who made the great outdoors, and that is through his son, Jesus Christ,” he says”

via WPEC-TV CBS12 News :: News – Top Stories – Kentucky Baptist Church Gun Giveaway Draws People To ‘2nd Amendment Celebrations’.

Federal Judge Says “No” to Religious War Memorial

memorial

This story comes from an online article printed by The American Humanist Association.  A planned war memorial at a baseball park in Lake Elsinore became the target of a lawsuit because many members of the community along with organizations interested in civil liberties voiced outrage for the narrow depiction of a single faith to be depicted on the face of the monument.  An attorney had previously warned the council that the design would be interpreted as unconstitutional, but the city moved forward as a symbolic show of support for their Christian principles.  Were this monument privately funded would the court have reached a similar ruling?       

“(Los Angeles, CA—Feb. 27, 2014)—A federal judge has ruled that a planned religious war memorial by the city of Lake Elsinore, CA at the city-owned baseball stadium can’t be built because it “violates both the U.S. Constitution’s Establishment Clause and California’s Establishment and No Preference Clauses.” The planned monument depicts a soldier kneeling in prayer before a Christian cross.

The suit was filed by the American Humanist Association’s Appignani Humanist Legal Center in May 2013. A preliminary injunction against the city was issued by US District Court Judge Stephen V. Wilson in July 2013 and stopped activity until the final ruling was handed down. Among other things, the judge ruled that the planned monument lacks a secular purpose and has the unconstitutional effect of endorsing religion over non-religion.

“I’m pleased Judge Wilson decided to uphold the valuable principles contained within the First Amendment,” said Appignani Humanist Legal Center Director David Niose. “I hope that if members of the city council still want to honor veterans, they will move forward with a monument design that represents everyone who fought for our freedoms.”

The suit and an earlier letter sent to the city contain details about the times several city officials and supporters of the proposed monument publicly declared the Christian symbolism was at least part of the reason they supported its construction. Despite the clearly sectarian motivation for spending public money—and a warning from the city’s attorney that the monument as approved is likely unconstitutional—the city council unanimously voted to approve the monument anyway, saying that they were “taking a stand” for Christianity and against the separation of church and state.

Officials from the City of Lake Elsinore have the option to appeal the ruling.”

 

The Line in the Sand: Where Free Exercise and The Establishment Clause Collide

As I began my study of the interactions between the political and religious institutions in the United States, it quickly became apparent that the line between the two is less like a line and more like a grey battle zone where secularists and theists fight to shape each state according to their beliefs.  Years before and every year since the Constitution was drafted, American lawmakers have proposed and continue to propose legislation that favors the agendas of their constituents.  One of the biggest agendas (if not the biggest) continues to be the dominating religious views of each state.  The map below illustrates the distribution of each denomination across the country.

churchbodies 

With so many competing and varying views, one would think that surely bills are constantly being proposed to bend to the wills of each congregation.  This assumption is correct.  We are only 2 months into 2014, but here is a list of bills by state that land in the grey battle zone previously mentioned:

Bills allowing religious displays on public property

Alabama: A constitutional amendment would allow the Ten Commandments to be displayed in government buildings, including public schools (HB 45/SB 64).

Georgia: Legislation calls for placing the Ten Commandments on Capitol grounds (HB 702).

Bills celebrating “America’s religious history”

Kansas: A bill would designate a “Celebrate Freedom Week” that critics say is a cover for Religious Right “Christian nation” views (HB 2280).

Virginia: This measure would al­low teachers to use “supplemental materials” that purport to support Ameri­ca’s heritage. Such efforts are usually covers for historically inaccurate “Chris­tian nation” propaganda (HB 197).

Bills promoting creationism in public schools and official school prayer

Oklahoma: Legislation would require science teachers to allow students to analyze and critique the “strengths and weaknesses” of certain “scientific theories.” This model legislation, pushed by creationist groups like the Discovery Institute, is a backdoor effort to undermine instruction about evolution in science classes (HB 1674).

Virginia: Legislation identical to the Oklahoma bill has been introduced (HB 207).

Pennsylvania: A state legislator has signaled his intention to introduce the same bill in Pennsylvania. The measure has not been formally introduced and doesn’t yet have a bill number.

South Carolina: Discussed above, a bill would allow for a moment of silent prayer in schools with teacher participation (HB 3526).

“Religious Viewpoint Anti-Discrimination” bills

Oklahoma: This legislation purports to protect public school students’ “religious liberty” rights but is really just a ruse to work mandated forms of prayer and worship into the schools. The Oklahoma measure (SB 1142), would state that schools may not “discriminate against students’ voluntary religious expression in the classroom, as student groups to form prayer groups or ‘See You At The Pole’ events; shall create limited public forums and neutral criteria for selecting religious commencement speakers who may express religious viewpoints.”

Similar legislation is pending in Michigan (HB 4986), New Hampshire (HB 1388/LSR 2343), North Carolina (SB 370) and Pennsylvania (HB 1427).

Vouchers and tuition tax credits

Kansas: This proposal would establish a system of tuition tax credits for students with disabilities. An identical measure passed House and Senate committees last year (SB 22).

South Carolina: Similar to the Kansas proposal, this bill would create tuition tax credits for students with disabilities. Gov. Nikki Haley attempted to add this plan to the state budget last year. It is expected to be pushed as separate legislation this year (SB 866).

Tennessee: A bill that would set up a voucher plan for students in public schools deemed “failing” in Memphis (HB 190) has been introduced.

New Jersey: Gov. Chris Christie is a relentless proponent of vouchers and tried to force a plan into the state budget last year. That attempt failed, and it is expected that Christie will push a voucher plan in the legislature this year.

Legislation designed to protect religious discrimination in university student groups

North Carolina: This measure would prohibit colleges and universities from denying funding to any student-run group based on the members’ religious views. Many colleges have policies that restrict funding only to groups that don’t discriminate and are open to all students. This measure is designed to override those policies and give special treatment to fundamentalist Christian clubs that refuse to admit gay members or members of other faiths.  (HB 735/SB 719).

South Carolina: Similar to the North Carolina measure, this bill (SB 472) would create a “Student Association Freedom of Religion Act” that would give preferential treatment to university student groups that discriminate on the basis of religion.

Sweeping “conscience” clauses

Tennessee: This measure would protect college students studying coun­seling or psychology or social work who refuse to work with gay clients – even though professional counseling standards almost always require that counselors must refrain from this type of discrimination (SB 514/HB 1185).

Michigan: SB 136, a bill that is broader than the Tennessee proposal, would allow health-care professionals to opt out of any service that they say violates their right of conscience.

Alabama: The bill would allow those working in the health-care field to opt out of any medical service related to abortion or contraceptive medical services (HB 31).

Utah: A constitutional amendment would allow religious organizations or associations or individuals connected with religious organizations from solemnizing marriages that violate their consciences. Critics note that this measure – HJR 1 – is unnecessary because the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution already protects the right of religious organizations to determine their own criteria for marriage ceremonies.

Anti-Islam measures

Florida: Originally intended to ban Islamic law, this measure (SB 386) has been amended to state “foreign law,” which many critics say is code language for sharia. A similar bill nearly passed last year.

Missouri: Similar to the Florida bill, this measure bans the application of “foreign laws.” The measure cleared the legislature last year but was vetoed by Gov. Jay Nixon (SB 619).

Vermont: Bans the application of “foreign laws” in the state (SB 265).

Federal law nullification measures

Missouri: This constitutional amendment would state that Missouri has the power to nullify any federal law deemed to interfere with the state’s interest (including application of church-state separation). Such measures are considered blatantly unconstitutional (SJR 38).

Bills that would “restore” religious freedom

Maine: This bill would create a state “Religious Freedom Restoration Act” that opponents say would give religious groups and individuals the right to impose their faith and suppress the rights of others (LD 1428). Similar bills are pending in Ohio (HB 376) and Wisconsin (AJR 43/SJR 38).

List courtesy of Americans United

To follow the progress of each bill simply sign up for the AU newsletter by following the link:

www.au.org/content/state-action-center

Texas Candidates Call for Creationism

gop-lt-gov-debate-01

These men make up the 2014 GOP Texas lieutenant governor candidates: Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson, Sen. Dan Patrick, Agricultural Commissioner Todd Staples and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst.  Tensions mount as the candidates campaign for the March 4, 2014 primary that will determine who goes on to face the Democratic nominee (Leticia Van de Putte).  They share a party, they share a love for red and blue ties, but most importantly, for the purposes of this assignment, they all agree that creationism should be taught in public schools.  In recent debates, all four candidates have made their stances very clear. They have each stated that the Supreme Court’s ruling to omit creationism from curriculum in public education is wrong and they all pledge to take action against the decision if elected.

What is Creationism?

Concise Encyclopedia says:

The belief that matter, the various forms of life, and the world were created by God out of nothing. Biblical creationists believe that the story told in Genesis of God’s six-day creation of the universe and all living things is literally correct. Scientific creationists believe that a creator made all that exists, though they may not hold that the Genesis story is a literal history of that creation. Creationism became the object of renewed interest among conservative religious groups following the wide dissemination of the theory of biological evolution, first systematically propounded by Charles Darwin in On the Origin of Species (1859). In the early 20th century some U.S. states banned the teaching of evolution, leading to the Scopes Trial. In the late 20th century many creationists advocated a view known as intelligent design, which was essentially a scientifically modern version of the argument from design for the existence of God as set forth in the late 18th century by the Anglican clergyman William Paley.

Edwards v. Aguillard, 482 US 578 (1987)

Over 60 years after the Scopes Trial, the US Supreme Court ruled that a Louisiana state law requiring that creation science or creationism be taught in public schools alongside evolution was unconstitutional because it sought to advance a particular religion. 

*When an issue of establishment comes into play in constitutional law, typically the Lemon Test (from Lemon v. Kurtzman) is applied by the Court:

  1. The government’s action must have a legitimate secular purpose;
  2. The government’s action must not have the primary effect of either advancing or inhibiting religion; and
  3. The government’s action must not result in an “excessive entanglement” of the government and religion.

Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District, 400 F. Supp. 2d 707, Docket no. 4cv2688

In 2005 the US District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania once again applied the Lemon Test to find that the teaching of intelligent design was a similar violation of constitutional law as had been previously stated in Edwards v. Aguillard.  The court found that neither intelligent design nor creationism met the standard qualifications for scientific theories.  

Despite making waves in Texas politics, creationism has resurfaced as an issue for parents and taxpayers that prefer a secularist education for their children following a Slate.com article exposing the inclusion of the theory in publicly funded schools in Texas, Arkansas, and Indiana.  The author claims that $82.6 million dollars in federal funding is going to schools that teach creationism as a factually supported alternative to evolution:

http://www.slate.com/articles/health_and_science/science/2014/01/creationism_in_texas_public_schools_undermining_the_charter_movement.html

Is another Supreme Court case pitting religious views against secular education on the horizon?