Americans should have the right to believe (or not believe ) in God as the individual's right of conscience dictates. The government cannot compel anyone to attend, or refrain from attending, a religious service. In most cases, religious groups must abide by the secular law, although limited exemptions may be carved out in some cases. As advocates for religious freedom, we stand for the right of everyone to believe or not believe, but no one's religion should be an excuse to do harm to others. PROTECT THY NEIGHBOR is Americans United's campaign to prevent the use of religion to discriminate against and otherwise cause harm to individuals.
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MONDAY, MARCH 4, 2 P.M.
AT THE UNITARIAN UNIVERSALIST CONGREGATION OF NAPLES AND ON ZOOM
Some Senators want to push more evangelical indoctrination into public schools. The Senate Education Prek-12 Committee passed Senate Bill 1044, which would allow religious chaplains to work in public schools as alternatives to mental health providers.
The Religious News Service suggested that the only requirement of a chaplain participating in a school program would be a background check and having their name and religious affiliation listed on the school website. They added that opponents said there could be consequences ranging from children receiving bad or unwanted spiritual advice to Christian Nationalists using the program to indoctrinate children.
Chaplains are clergy members who provide religious and spiritual care. We obviously oppose this bill because we have certificated and qualified school counselors who work within the context of a comprehensive counseling program. They help students apply academic achievement strategies, manage emotions and plan for college or the workforce. Chaplains are religious leaders who are trained to provide religious services and spiritual care.
In our opinion, this is another attempt by Christian Nationalists and other religious zealots to bring prayer into the public schools. In addition, we believe that this practice would violate the Establishment Clause of the Constitution.
Bills like these are being promoted across the country by a national evangelical organization that boasts about "bringing Jesus to the classrooms of public schools."
(From left) Dakhari Pine, 1st Place; Rod Marco, Treasurer; Bruce Beardsley, Contest Co-Ordinator; Ashley Krieger, 3rd Place; Sharon Harris-Ewing, Chapter VP; George Keith, 2nd Place
IS THE NEW CIVICS CURRICULUM RIGHT-WING INDOCTRINATION?
TEACHERS WHO ATTENDED TRAINING SEEM TO THINK SO!
(As a former history teacher, I contacted the state and was given the link to the slides that were used in the training (which have since been taken down). I surveyed two of the slide programs: Separation of Church and State and the Declaration of Independence. I found both inadequately covered slavery, leaned toward a Christian Nationalist slant and seemed to tie our original documents towards religion.)
LINK TO THE MSNBC PROGRAM ABOUT TEACHER TRAINING WITH THE NEW CIVICS CURRICULUM.
Americans United: Supreme Court Forces Boston To Fly Christian Flag
Americans United for Separation of Church and State President and CEO Rachel Laser issued the following statement in response to the Supreme Court’s narrow decision today in Shurtleff v. City of Boston that the city had created a limited public forum by allowing the flags of private organizations to be displayed on city flagpoles, and that First Amendment free speech protections therefore required the city to allow the Christian flag:
“Because the court found the flags were private, not government, speech, Boston no longer has a say in which flags can be flown at city hall. This decision doesn’t change the Constitution’s requirements that the government cannot promote, favor, endorse or sponsor religion.
“Nevertheless, this ruling could undermine church-state separation if it is abused in ways that end up favoring the dominant religious majority. But governments might avoid that by closing the forum at any time, as the court noted. Additionally, the flags flying above city hall would have been government speech if Boston had stated so in a policy or exercised more discretion in deciding which flags to display. Other governments might take that path.
“If a government permits this access to the majority religion, others are equally entitled to display their beliefs or non-belief, too. This decision is a reminder that groups representing religious minorities and nontheists must be given equal access to these kinds of public forums to display their own symbols.
“There are some alarming aspects about the organization pushing to fly the Christian flag at Boston City Hall. The group is dedicated to teaching ‘the next generation … with the knowledge of how America was founded as a Christian nation.’ That is Christian nationalism, which is a direct threat to church-state separation and our democracy.”
Americans United, joined by the National Council of Churches and 17 other religious and civil-rights organizations, filed an amicus brief in the case in December, urging the Supreme Court to protect religious freedom by affirming that the City of Boston should not be forced to display the Christian flag on a city hall flagpole.
Espinoza V. Montana
SCOTUS Says that States Must Force Taxpayers to Fund Religious Education
In Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue, the court ruled 5-4 that voucher programs must fund religious schools. Chief Justice Roberts stated: “…once a state decides to (subsidize private education), it can not disqualify some private schools solely because they are religious.” Originally in 2018, the Montana Supreme Court struck down the state’s voucher program because it forced residents to pay for religious instruction. A national pro-voucher group appealed on behalf of three parents and SCOTUS agreed to hear the case.
In our opinion, forcing taxpayers to pay for private religious instruction is a violation of their religious freedom. Public funds should not be used for religious purposes – period! The Establishment Clause of the Constitution created, in Mr. Jefferson’s words, a “wall of separation between Church and State”.
Like Montana, three-quarters of the state constitutions, including Florida, have a provision called a No Aid Clause that is designed to protect taxpayers from funding religious practices. While the case did NOT challenge the constitutionality of the No Aid Clauses found in these 37 states, it came close to doing so. While this opinion is limited to this case, the extent of the opinion may apply to a broad range of other situations where religious freedom is asserted. The conservative justices complained that the origins of the No Aid Clauses were in the 19th century anti-Catholic movement (see Blaine Amendment). However, when states revised their constitutions, like Montana in 1972, they kept their No Aid Clauses.
In Florida, more than $1 BILLION of state funds flows indirectly to private schools, 84% of which are religious. We know that many of the schools, like 10 of the 12 religious schools in Montana, have discriminatory polices and promulgate religiously biased interpretations of science, civics and history.
Given this decision, it is more important than ever that we fight all private school voucher programs that divert desperately needed funds away from our public school system.
Under the new Paycheck Protection Program of the Small Business Administration, businesses with fewer than 500 employees, including faith-based organizations, are eligible to receive loans of up to $10 million, with at least 75% of the money going to cover payroll costs. The loans are in large part forgivable, so churches and other houses of worship won't have to worry about paying all the money back.
Some advocates of Church-State Separation think this is wrong. American Atheists pushed back, calling it unconstitutional. “This is a clear violation of the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution,” said Alison Gill, vice president for legal and policy at American Atheists. “The Supreme Court has been clear that the government cannot subsidize worship and other inherently religious activities.”
But others indicate that if churches are excluded, it would be an Establishment Clause problem. One noted ACLU attorney suggested that as long as the money was used for its statutorily intended purpose, churches are entitled to participate. If they used it for proselytizing, there might be a concern.
In the mid 1780’s, Patrick Henry, he of “Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death” fame (he lasted a long time), proposed, in a general assessment bill, that Virginians’ taxes pay the salaries of ministers. Jefferson and Madison objected with Madison wring his famous “Memorial and Remonstrance”. The bill was defeated and ultimately replaced with Jefferson’s Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, ending religious establishment in Virginia.
So the issue of using public funds to pay religious clergy reappears with the SBA program. The attached letter, signed by AU as well as other groups, makes clear that SBA funds can not be used for religious purposes and that includes the salaries of the clergy.
President Bill Korson presents the 2020 Civic Award to Dr. Kamela Patton
The voucher programs in the state of Florida send over $1 billion worth of public money to private, mostly religious schools that have no accountability. The Orlando Sentinel (1) recently found at least 156 Christian schools with anti-gay views educated than 20,800 students with voucher scholarships. More than 80 of those schools had blatant discrimination policies that deny admission to gay children, expel or discipline students who reveal that they are gay, and refuse to educate children of LGBTQ parents. One school that received $371,000 in state voucher money told a mother, a firefighter married to a US Air Force veteran, that her children were not welcome because the married couple were two females.
Trinity Christian Academy, in Deland, received more than $1 million last year in vouchers; yet it’s handbook indicates that a student can be expelled for admitting to be gay.
Some voucher schools do an excellent job, welcoming all children regardless of faith, ethnicity, origin, gender, disability, religion, sexual orientation or gender identity. They not only welcome LGBTQ students but teach that discrimination against anyone is wrong.
But the facts are the facts. Some of the major corporations that redirect their tax obligations to vouchers are starting to rethink their involvement. Rosen Resorts, Fifth Third Bank, and Wells Fargo have ended their contributions. A Wells Fargo spokesperson stated: “ . . . we oppose discrimination of any kind”. I tend to think that most of the contributors would feel the same way if they knew the facts!
Bills have been filed in the Florida Senate (S-56 Rouson) and Florida House (HB45 Eskamani) that would prohibit private schools that deny enrollment to students based on “race, ethnicity, national origin, gender, disability, religion, sexual orientation or gender identity” from participating in the voucher program. I spoke to all three members of the Collier County legislative delegation and two representatives told me that they would NOT support this bill.
The Supreme Court dodged the question "Can a baker refused to make a cake for a same-sex couple because of his religious beliefs". While the court ruled for the baker, the decision made it clear that discrimination based on religion was not acceptable. The decision was very narrow and limited to the specifics of the case. AU president and CEO Rachel Laser wrote that " . . . it does not change the long-standing rule that businesses open to the public must be open to all. As we have long said, religious freedom should act as a shield to protect religious exercise, not as a sword to harm and discriminate against others."
AU fully supports the use of sound science in public schools and in public policy. We believe that the constitutional principle of church-state separation gives public servants and public school teachers the freedom to believe – or not believe – as they see fit while ensuring that public policy decisions and public school curricula are supported by scientific evidence.
We believe that public schools should educate students on issues such as evolution, climate change and sex education in a way that does not reference religious teachings. That’s why we continue to fight against attacks on sound science in the public education system. We track and oppose anti-science legislation, such as the bills that were proposed and died in the Florida legislature this year. And we challenge public schools that try to teach creationism as scientific fact.
Rob Boston addresses the crowd. Rob and the AU Naples Board
6017 Pine Ridge Rd. #111
Naples, FL 34119
Public Funds for Religious Instruction?
The Florida Tax Credit Scholarship channels tax payer dollars (perhaps $1 BILLION next year) to religious schoolsIs that OK? Well, in the 2012 election, a referendum item labeled Amendment 8 asked that very question – should public dollars be used for religious activities. The answer was a resounding and emphatic NO. The Florida Supreme Court also said NO. In 2006, it struck down the similar Opportunity Scholarship Program under Article IX of the Florida Constitution and left alone a lower court ruling that it also violated Article 1. The current Florida Tax Credit Scholarship simply relies on a different mechanism for channeling tax payer dollars to religious schools. The Florida School Boards Association, the Florida Congress of Parents and Teachers (PTA), the Florida Education Association, the Florida Association of School Administrators, the League of Women Voters of Florida, The Florida State Conference of Branches of the NAACP, a large number of Florida residents and “friends of the Court” oppose it. Just like Americans United for the Separation of Church and State. So the Florida voters said NO in 2012 and the Florida Supreme Court said NO in 2006. No public funds to support religious instruction! Keep Church and State separate! If you agree, follow and friend us on Facebook (AU-Naples) and visit our website (www.au-naples.org). You might even want to join.
JOHNSON AMENDMENT UNDER ATTACK
The Johnson Amendment is a federal law that protects all 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organizations, including houses of worship, by making it illegal for them to endorse or oppose political candidates. It’s widely supported by religious and denomination organizations, faith leaders and other nonprofits, as well as the vast majority of Americans. Yet, President Donald Trump and a few members of Congress are taking steps to repeal and weaken the law. The language in the bill prevents the IRS from investigating houses of worship that violate the Johnson Amendment unless the IRS commissioner first signs off on the investigation and reports it to Congress. By adding administrative hurdles to the law, Congress is attempting to prevent any investigations into violations by houses of worship, therefore crippling the Johnson Amendment as it applies to those entities.