Supreme Court watch
It's going to be a busy year for religion at the Supreme Court, as the justices will consider both the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals decision against the use of the phrase "under God" in classroom recitations of the Pledge of Allegiance, and a challenge to Washington state's constitutional prohibition against scholarships for religious studies.
But it could have been an even bigger year. This week, amid various protests, the Supreme Court rejected several other cases, which could have widespread consequences.
"No other court has ever held that religious clubs have the right to meet in a public school during instructional time when attendance is mandated," lawyers had argued in court papers. But the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals (the court that ruled against "under God" in classrooms") disagreed in a ruling last year, noting the Supreme Court's 2001 Good News Club v. Milford Central School decision, which reiterated the principle that religious groups must be granted the same access, rights, and privileges as all other extracurricular groups on campus.
Though the Supreme Court could have reiterated that principle again in Jacoby v. Prince, it probably would have been overkill. In any case, it's implicitly clear across the nation that religious clubs can meet during school hours (if other extracurricular clubs can); and it's explicitly clear in the nine states covered by the 9th Circuit.
If the Supreme Court is tired of ruling on religious clubs at public schools, it must be exhausted when it comes to religion at graduation ceremonies. In any case, the high court turned away Lassonde v. Pleasanton Unified School District, which is a bit of an unsurprising blow to religious speech. In 1999, salutatorian Nicholas Lassonde was forbidden from "proselytizing" during his graduation ceremony speech. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals (again!) sided with the school, saying that "permitting a proselytizing speech at a public school's graduation ceremony would amount to coerced participation in a religious practice."
Apparent coercion is the key that separates the principle of free exercise of religion (like allowing a Bible study club) from state establishment of religion. In this case, the court said, students would "feel that there is no choice but to participate in the proselytizing in order to attend high school graduation."
The Supreme Court has agreed with that argument in similar cases (like barring organized prayer at school football games), but has generally steered clear of graduation prayer cases. The U.S. Department of Education, however, has issued guidelines saying that schools can't restrict the speech of students at school-sponsored functions (including graduations).
McKnight v. South Carolina doesn't have anything to do with religion, but many religious conservatives are interested in its possible implications for abortion law. Regina D. McKnight was convicted of homicide by child abuse for using cocaine during her pregnancy, which ended in a stillbirth. Several organizations have protested the sentence, saying it denies her the right to treat her body as she chooses. The South Carolina Supreme Court was divided on the case, but upheld it.
Pity that the Supreme Court turned this one away. While Supreme Court decisions in Jacoby and Lassonde would been more or less predictable, McKnight touches on a growing issue—fetal homicide laws—that is certain to remain in legislatures and the courts for some time.
- Moral versus legal | Lawmakers want to show support for Commandments (The Newark [Oh.] Advocate)
- Ten Commandments on minds of Ohio lawmakers | Finding little support in the courts, some Ohio lawmakers want to make a statement about the link between the Ten Commandments and the U.S. system of government (Lancaster Eagle-Gazette, Pa.)
- Ten Commandments supporters rally on Capitol lawn | Replica of Alabama chief justice's monument ends 5-state tour (CNN)
- Ten Commandments caravan arrives | Passionate sides debate separation of church and state (The Free Lance-Star, Fredericksburg, Va.)
- Georgia county heeds Commandments | Another clash with the ACLU prompts the locals to rally (The Huntsville Times, Ala.)
- Ala. judge takes biblical laws case to Md. | Christians' rights labeled at risk (The Washington Post)
More on politics and law:
- Dispute over cross pits church vs. Broward County | A dispute about whether one of Broward County's largest churches can erect a religious display at the Holiday Festival of Lights threatens the popular show at Tradewinds Park (South Florida Sun-Sentinel)
- Church, Broward fight over big cross | Broward County and one of the area's largest churches are at odds over church plans to erect a religious display during a December light show at a park (The Orlando Sentinel)
- Schools try to handle religious holidays | Schedulers work to minimize conflicts but can't entirely avoid overlaps with Yom Kippur, Easter and other observances (The Oregonian)
- Church and state | How much do voters care about the religious beliefs of candidates? (The Sacramento Bee)
- Church's plan: pray for leaders | The church is adopting one or more politicians each month in a prayer campaign it calls Civic Leader of the Month (The Wichita Eagle, Kan.)
- Church politics at odds with law | People, typically, are unnerved by change. And when the congregation is more than half black, as is the case here, some are more than unnerved (Fred Snowflack, Daily Record, Parsippany, NJ)
- Governments that abandon religion make room for death | The effort to remove religious symbols from our public life represents a dangerous departure from the heritage of a free people (Michael S. Heath, Portland Press-Herald, Maine)
- European bishops urge mention of Christianity in new EU constitution | The final talks on hammering out the first EU constitution were launched in Rome on Saturday but are expected to last several months (AFP)
- Chirac rebuffs calls on Christianity reference in EU Constitution | President Chirac said Saturday France could not support giving greater prominence to Christianity in the constitution because that would go against the country's secular tradition (Voice of America)
Passion and movies:
- Who'll buy Mel's movie? | Probably not a major studio, but an indie just might bite (Newsweek)
- Mel's Passion gives John's 'Word' new venom | From beginning to end, the fourth gospel is an anti-Jewish tract (Terry Lane, The Age, Melbourne, Australia)
- Gibson movie opens old wounds of anti-Semitism | Gibson seems oblivious to the fact that biblical "accounts" of the Crucifixion are not really accounts at all, at least not in the journalistic sense of the word (R. Scott Colglazier, Ft. Worth Star-Telegram)
- X-treme Christians | Though many don't know it, Stephen Baldwin, the actor known for his role as a career criminal in the "The Usual Suspects" and, most recently, as part of the cast on ABC's reality show "Celebrity Mole," is a born-again Christian (The Oregonian)
- Don't knock those who share faith at doorsteps | But before we give the heave-ho to the next well-meaning soul who invades our space, we ought to look at the bigger picture: The only reason they've come into our lives is to share the faith that puts a smile on their lips and a sermon in their hearts (Ken Garfield, The Charlotte Observer)
- College trains ministers to broadcast the gospel | North Greenville College's low-power FM station doesn't reach much farther than Travelers Rest, but it's part of a fast growing mass communications program at the school — itself part of a fast growing industry: media ministry (The Greenville News, S.C.)
- TEAM may be an agent for social change | Convocation of evangelicals, Pentecostals, Catholics and mainline Protestants constituted an ecumenical gathering unprecedented in the 34 years I have lived in Tallahassee (Leo Sandon, Tallahassee Democrat, Fla.)
- 5000 Gujarat Dalits convert to Buddhism | The conversion ceremony was earlier scheduled for June this year (Hindustan Times)
- Vietnam says Christian leader's death not murder | Communist Vietnam has denied a report from a U.S. human rights group that an ethnic minority Hmong Christian leader had been killed by authorities (ABC Radio Australia News)
- Vietnam says five Central Highlanders denounce banned religion | Vietnam says a group of five men from an ethnic minority in the country's Central Highlands have denounced their involvement with a Christian independence movement (Radio Australia)
- A plea to help North Korean refugees | Christians campaign for bill allowing North Koreans to apply for refugee status or asylum in the United States (Seattle Post-Intelligencer)
- A Christian organization accused of forced conversion | Kunti Bai Sahu, a 36-year-old woman, living with her two children near capital Raipur said she was offered money to change her religion (ANI)
- Murdered missionary's widow to continue work in India | She's taken over her husband's work with lepers (ABC Radio Australia News)
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