The purpose of Our Conscience weblog is to facilitate a greater discussion and understanding of church and state separation in our community and in others. Underlying this is the value that each individual should be allowed to follow the dictates of his or her own conscience without influence, coercion, or direction from the State when it comes to matters of religion.

Saturday, November 27, 2004

Houston Chronicle: Touring Commandments make a symbolic stop

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Alabama tablet pulls up alongside contested display outside courthouse
Copyright 2004 Houston Chronicle

A 5,280-pound Ten Commandments monument removed from an Alabama court building was displayed near a Bible monument at the Harris County Civil Courts Building on Friday to show support of religious symbols on government property.

American Veterans In Domestic Defense parked a flatbed truck with the granite Ten Commandments near the Bible display outside the courthouse.

"Our egregious judicial decisions are running roughshod over our Christian heritage, and we are tired of it," said Jim Cabaniss of Houston, the group's president, who is a retired owner of a company that built laboratories.

Full Article

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

NYT: Charter Schools Fall Short in Public Schools Matchup

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A new study commissioned by the Department of Education, which compares the achievement of students in charter schools with those attending traditional public schools in five states, has concluded that the charter schools were less likely to meet state performance standards.

In Texas, for instance, the study found that 98 percent of public schools met state performance requirements two years ago, but that only 66 percent of the charter schools did. Even when adjusted for race and poverty, the study said, the charter schools fell short more frequently by a statistically significant amount.

The study added new data to a highly politicized debate between charter school supporters, including senior Bush administration officials, and skeptics who question the performance of the publicly financed but privately managed schools.

Full Article

Read the Dept. of Education report here

Monday, November 22, 2004

AU Press Release: Taxpayer-Funded Americorps Program Should Not Promote Religion

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Taxpayer-Funded Americorps Program Should Not Promote Religion, Watchdog Group Says
Monday November 22, 2004

Americans United Urges Appellate Panel To Bar Religious Instruction By Program Participants

Teachers taking part in the taxpayer-funded AmeriCorps program should not be permitted to engage in religious instruction at sectarian schools, Americans United for Separation of Church and State has advised a federal appeals court.

The AmeriCorps program, run by the Corporation for National and Community Service, provides stipends called “national service education awards” to individuals for work at certain locations around the country.

Some of these positions are at religious schools, and some of the award recipients teach religion and lead religious activities as part of their work at these schools. A U.S. District Court ruled July 2 that the arrangement is unconstitutional. The federal government has appealed.

Full statement

San Diego Union-Tribune: Mt. Soledad Cross is slipped in federal legislation

By Matthew T. Hall

November 21, 2004

Congress last night joined the fight to keep the Mount Soledad cross in place by naming it a national veterans memorial.

The designation, inserted by two local congressmen in a voluminous spending bill that requires President Bush's approval, raises more questions about the fate of the symbol that has been at the center of an emotional 15-year legal battle.

Christian activists hailed the development yesterday. Civil libertarians, however, said it would not stop a plan to move the cross from city land in La Jolla to comply with a federal court injunction that has been on hold since 1991.

Sunday, November 21, 2004

Reuters: Pennsylvania School District Retreats from Evolution

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Fri Nov 19, 2004 06:42 PM ET
By Jon Hurdle

PHILADELPHIA (Reuters) - A Pennsylvania school district on Friday defended its decision to discount Charles Darwin's theory of evolution and take a lead in teaching what critics say is a version of creationism.

Dover Area School District in south-central Pennsylvania is believed to be the first in the country to approve the teaching of a new theory called "intelligent design," according to the National Center for Science Education.

Proponents of intelligent design argue that the complexity of nature is such that it could not have occurred by chance, as Darwinian theory holds, and so must have been created by some all-powerful force.

That being is not explicitly identified, but many of the theory's conservative religious supporters say it is God.

NCSE, an Oakland, California-based group that defends the teaching of evolution in schools, said the district's board approved the policy change last month after a debate that began more than a year ago when a board member objected to a biology textbook on the grounds it focused on Darwinism.

Full article

Saturday, November 20, 2004

Globe Editorial Watch

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I disagree with President Bush on some issues, particularly immigration, but I refuse to vote for a candidate who approves the killing of babies (abortion), for any approval of homosexual conduct or the removal of Christian (Biblical) displays from public view.

Robert A. Scott

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"However, history may affect the constitutionality of nonsectarian references to religion by the government, history cannot legitimate practices that demonstrate the government's allegiance to a particular sect or creed." ALLEGHENY COUNTY v. GREATER PITTSBURGH ACLU, 492 U.S. 573 (1989)

CNN: Academy removes Christian banner

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AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colorado (AP) -- The Air Force Academy's longtime football coach has agreed to remove a Christian banner from the team's locker room after school administrators announced they would do more to fight religious intolerance.

Coach Fisher DeBerry agreed Friday to remove the banner, which displayed the "Competitor's Creed," including the lines "I am a Christian first and last ... I am a member of Team Jesus Christ."

DeBerry put the banner up Wednesday to encourage the team, which has experienced one of its worst seasons in recent years, academy spokesman Lt. Col. Laurent Fox said.

A day earlier, academy Superintendent Lt. Gen. John W. Rosa announced the school would do more religious tolerance training after some nonreligious cadets reported on a survey that they felt ostracized. Others reported hearing religious slurs or jokes.

Outgoing Air Force Secretary James Roche issued a statement Friday backing the academy's effort. "Our policy is clear. Tolerance of gender, racial, ethnic and religious diversity is required at our Air Force," Roche said.

In September, academy officials issued a memo explaining the government's e-mail policy after some staffers put biblical verses at the bottom of their e-mails. Some cadets were admonished in March for using academy e-mail accounts to encourage other people to see "The Passion of the Christ," Mel Gibson's movie about the crucifixion.


Friday, November 19, 2004

Poway district rejects request for pledge alternative

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Poway district rejects request for pledge alternative

By: JESSICA MUSICAR - For the North County Times

POWAY---- A parent of a student in the Poway school district said he has been ignored by the school board after requesting a patriotic alternative to the Pledge of Allegiance for his child and others like her.

Kevin Cornwall, father of a kindergarten student at Midland Elementary School, approached the Poway Unified School District trustees at the district's monthly meeting Oct. 18, asking for an alternative to the pledge that would allow his child to participate without making an oath that uses the phrase "under God."

He said that while he does not want his child to say a pledge that includes the notion of God, he also does not want her to be excluded from patriotic events. Children are not required to say the pledge.

"There should be an alternative for parents and children who don't believe allegiance should include religion," Cornwall said at the Oct. 18 meeting. "We are not asking that 'under God' be taken out of the pledge, or the pledge out of schools."

After bringing his request to the board, the pledge issue did not make it onto the November meeting agenda. Superintendent Don Phillips said the only way a topic appears on the agenda is if a board member or board president requests that it is included.

Cornwall received a letter from Phillips stating there is "no interest on the part of any board member to conduct a vote regarding any change in the district's current practice of reciting the Pledge of Allegiance as an appropriate patriotic exercise."

"I'm just very disappointed in the process," Cornwall said this week. "To me they've got this big loophole to just sidestep anything. How do we have a board that has procedures in place that allow them to be that unresponsive to parents' concerns?"

While the Oct. 18 meeting is the first time Cornwall formally brought his request to the board, he said he asked the trustees and officials at his daughter's school for alternatives prior to enrolling her this year.

Phillips said this week that they have all tried to find ways to accommodate the student, whether suggesting that she not say the pledge, not say the offending words, or that she step out of the classroom when it is said.

Cornwall said these options are not acceptable because in the end his child is excluded from an activity. He suggested that the school offer a separate class where all children who do not choose to say the pledge can go and participate in other patriotic activities.

"I don't want to exclude kids from developing their own sense of patriotism," Cornwall said. "It is hard to build that sense of allegiance if they have to sit it out."

Cornwall said that, while he believes children should have the option of saying the pledge, it is "educationally irresponsible" for the school to introduce the concept of God, a sensitive topic in the public school system, without explaining it.

Linda Vanderveen, a board trustee, said that Cornwall's suggestion is not viable, because there aren't enough dissenting children in the school to fill a separate class. Furthermore, parents rather than the school should have the responsibility for teaching, or not teaching, the concept of God to youngsters.

"We already have enough demands on our day," Vanderveen said. "I think the fact that we are supportive of his daughter's right not to say the pledge is enough. We accept people's beliefs, we don't make anybody do it, but we also aren't going to not do it because someone doesn't believe that."

Vanderveen added that Cornwall is the only parent to ask for an alternative.

"He just says we're unresponsive because we aren't doing what he wants. We gave him the opportunity to speak, we just obviously disagree with him," Vanderveen said. "We spent a lot of time on this issue.ÝWe do want to do what's right, but we are going to do what is in the best interest of all the students."

Cornwall said his reason for asking for an alternative has nothing to do with his own religious beliefs. Instead, he feels that a pledge that mentions God excludes atheists, Jehovah's Witnesses and others who don't feel comfortable saying the pledge. Children should not be put in a position where they are made to feel like they don't belong, he said.

"My beliefs don't enter into it," Cornwall said. "I want public institutions to be inclusive. I'm saying let's help the people who don't believe in God to be included. That doesn't mean I have to be one of those people who do believe in God."


Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Boston Globe: Evolution foes see opening to press fight in schools

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Evolution foes see opening to press fight in schools
By Raja Mishra, Globe Staff | November 16, 2004

A long-running American cultural clash has flared yet again, with a trial in suburban Atlanta this month over teaching evolution in public schools. Several Georgia parents are challenging a local school board's decision to require biology textbooks to include a prominently placed label stating that evolution is ''not a fact."

The Georgia case is the first to land in court, but this year alone 13 states have had challenges to teaching evolution in schools. With the new federal No Child Left Behind education law mandating a broad review of science curriculum in every state over the next two years, those challenges may accelerate, as religious activists and evolution opponents seize on opportunities to shape guidelines on what public school students learn about the natural world.

Those challenging evolution rarely say that schools should teach creationism, the biblical account of the origin of life. Instead, they insist that teachers present evolution as a debated and uncertain hypothesis, though most scientists consider it among the most important and well-supported scientific theories of all time. Scientists worry that the antievolution campaign will weaken American science education and see it as part of a broader push to incorporate religion in public schools.

Full Article

Monday, November 15, 2004

Florida school voucher program ruled unconstitutional, again

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A state appeals court has struck down Florida's voucher program, holding that it clearly violates a provision of the Florida Constitution by funneling tax money to religious schools.

The 1st District Court of Appeal, sitting as a full panel en banc, ruled Nov. 12 that Gov. Jeb Bush's Florida Opportunity Scholarship Program (OSP) fails to pass constitutional muster.

"This is the third straight defeat for vouchers in Florida," said Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. "Giving tax money to religious schools clearly violates the state constitution, and court after court has ruled that way. I hope Gov. Bush and state legislators get the message that you can't force Florida taxpayers to support religion."

Full Article

CNN: Some worry evolution dispute hurts image

Some worry evolution dispute hurts image
Stickers calling evolution 'theory, not fact' at center of case

ATLANTA (AP) -- First, Georgia's education chief tried to take the word "evolution" out of the state's science curriculum. Now a suburban Atlanta county is in federal court over textbook stickers that call evolution "a theory, not a fact."

Some here worry that Georgia is making itself look like a bunch of rubes or, worse, discrediting its own students.

"People want to project the image that Georgia is a modern state, that we're in the 21st century. Then something like this happens," said Emory University molecular biologist Carlos Moreno.

Read the rest of this CNN article

Friday, November 12, 2004

Atlanta Journal-Constitution: Closing arguments conclude in evolution suit

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Closing arguments conclude in evolution suit

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Published on: 11/12/04

Closing arguments wrapped up Friday morning in a federal lawsuit to remove evolution disclaimers placed in science textbooks by Cobb County.

U.S. District Court Judge Clarence Cooper, who heard three days of testimony, said he will make his ruling as soon as possible, although he gave no date.

The disclaimers were approved two years ago and call evolution a "theory, not a fact." Six parents seeking to have them removed argue they violate the principle of separation of church and state.

In closing arguments, school system attorney Linwood Gunn called the language of the disclaimers "vague, and [it] could have been drafted better." But, he added, the language was neutral, making no mention of religion or faith. And classroom teachers, by law, are required to teach only evolution.

Cobb school board members, he said, testified they meant for the disclaimers to make students whose religious beliefs conflict with evolution feel comfortable, because "science and religion can't be mutually exclusive if we want to learn science. Conflict does come up."

The parents' attorney, Michael Manely, however, said the disclaimers do "not just go to students who need accommodation. [They] go to all students." He argued the disclaimers assert a belief by calling evolution "not a fact. It is not accommodation to assert, 'we are right, you are wrong.' "

Some board members, Manely said, testified they do not fully believe in evolution themselves. He capsulized the testimony of the scientists he called to the stand, saying any "alternatives" to evolution are considered unscientific — and religious — by most scientists.

The scientists and a North Cobb High School teacher testified that the disclaimers were a "warning" to students that evolution was, somehow, suspect or suspicious.

Find this article here

Are the Ten Commandments at the Supreme Court Legal?

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Question: The Ten Commandments are displayed at the High Court, do you want them removed along with all public religious speech?

Answer: I have no problem with public religious expression or speech as long as the government is not mandating or directing it. The displays at the Supreme Court depict secular and religious lawgivers in order to depict the history of law not a governmental preference of religion(s).

At the Supreme Court Moses is depicted with Islamic prophet Muhammad, Chinese lawgiver Confucius, and Greek legislator Solon. The frieze over the east entrance of the Supreme Court features Moses holding blank tablets. In the ceiling of the court Moses has two tablets, in Hebrew, with the 6th through 10th commandments partially visible. These displays depict the history of law not a governmental promotion of religion nor do they depict one of the three variations of the Ten Commandments (i.e. Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish). Courts look at the intent of the display as well as the context and content to determine if the government is promoting religion.

Citizens may promote religion whenever they want. The Establishment clause only limits the actions of government not its citizens. It leaves the spirit of religion and the spirit of freedom in the hands of the people, precisely where it belongs.

Thursday, November 11, 2004

Cobb County Disclaimer Goes to Trial

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Cobb County, Georgia, has been the site of controversy over creationism and evolution off and on for decades. On November 8, 2004, a lawsuit began in the most recent chapter of this district's dissatisfaction with the teaching of evolution.

Selman et al. v. Cobb County School District et al. is being heard in the Atlanta Division of the US District Court of the Northern District of Georgia. Plaintiff Jeffrey Selman is suing the Cobb County School District (CCSD) for injunctive relief over an antievolution disclaimer that the district required be inserted into textbooks. The wording of the disclaimer is:

This textbook contains material on evolution. Evolution is a theory, not a fact, regarding the origin of living things. This material should be approached with an open mind, studied carefully, and critically considered.
The controversy began in the spring of 2002 when the CCSD adopted high school textbooks which included solid coverage of evolution, and the textbook committee, fearful of public reaction to students being taught "so much" evolution, sought to have a disclaimer put into the books that would defuse predicted parental response.

Read the entire article here

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Supreme Court Should Use Commandments Cases To Affirm Church-State Separation, Says Americans United

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Tuesday October 12, 2004

Disputes Present Justices With Opportunity To Clarify Law, Watchdog Group Says

The Supreme Court announced today that it will hear two cases dealing with government display of the Ten Commandments.

The high court should use the cases to clarify the law and say unequivocally that the state has no business promoting religion, says Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

"Religious symbols belong in houses of worship, not courthouses, city halls and public schools," said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United.

Continued Lynn, "If government officials are eager to post something that deals with the foundation of American law, they need look no further than the U.S. Constitution."

The court accepted two cases today, one from Texas and one from Kentucky.

The Texas case (Van Orden v. Perry) challenges the display of a six-foot-tall Ten Commandments monument on the state capitol grounds in Austin. The monument was donated by the Fraternal Order of the Eagles and has been standing since 1961. It is displayed in an area that includes other monuments.

The Kentucky case (McCreary County v. ACLU) deals with much more recent Ten Commandments displays at courthouses in McCreary and Pulaski Counties. In those counties, officials erected framed copies of the Ten Commandments and later added other documents only after federal courts declared the commandments posting unconstitutional. The new displays were also struck down.

Lynn said the Ten Commandments is an important religious code to many but denied that it is the basis of U.S. law, as Religious Right groups frequently claim.

"Many of the commandments address religious and moral decrees, not legal mandates," he noted. "For example, it's not illegal to worship false gods or fail to honor the Sabbath. The government operates under the Constitution, not religious law."

Article Link Here