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.

Friday, December 31, 2004

Joplin Globe Watch: New Framing Tag

Our Conscience

For those interested in political framing an editorial in today's Globe provides us with a new phrase to frame around. "Religious socialists": those that want more government involvement in religion. The phrase comes from Karley Johnston and you can read her editorial at the bottom of this page.

Friday, December 24, 2004

Joplin Globe Watch: No Uniformity through Coercion

Our Conscience

John Cragin’s recent editorial (Globe, Dec. 24) made the case that the government should not prohibit “the use of words like God, Allah, Jesus, Budda…” I agree with him but I am somewhat confused as to why he is concerned about this. It could be that he thinks courts have actually limited the rights of citizens to pray and talk about religion in public. Or maybe he knows better and hopes that you do not, I am not sure.

Let’s take a look at what the courts have prohibited. In ENGEL v. VITALE (1962) one of the cases our conservative friends say has “banned prayer in school” the court ruled that “state officials may not compose an official state prayer and require that it be recited in the public schools...” Notice is doesn’t say citizens may not compose a prayer and than proceed to pray. The ruling limits the government’s actions so that the people can make their own decisions and pray their own prayers without influence from the State.

Unfortunately, some people are so insecure in their beliefs that they feel they need assistance from the State. Placing the Ten Commandments on their own property just isn’t good enough and prayers just don’t have the same ring unless you can cite their corresponding law. Some day these same people may realize that the tool of government coercion is actually contrary to advancing their dream of religious uniformity.

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Joplin Globe: Neosho schools pull Bible off reading list

Our Conscience

School board to decide if Bible will be included in reading program

Dena Sloan
Globe Staff Writer

NEOSHO, Mo. - Neosho school officials say they're trying to err on the side of caution. Two parents say it's a matter of free speech and equal access.

Now it's up to the Neosho Board of Education to decide whether to include the Bible in a reading program used by many of the district's students.

Mary Alice and Chuck Nelson voiced their concerns Monday night, telling the School Board that material they donated to the district was not made unavailable to students because it tests them on most of the books of the Old and New Testaments.

Full Article

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

LA Times: Cheerleading Coach Finds Prayer Not a Team Sport

Our Conscience

By Jenny Jarvie and Ellen Barry, Times Staff Writers

ATLANTA — A federal judge on Monday denied an appeal for reinstatement by a University of Georgia cheerleading coach accused of mingling religion with team activities. Marilou Braswell was fired in August, according to university officials, for retaliating against a Jewish cheerleader who had complained about pressure to participate in Bible study and team prayers.

The case has drawn attention to sports in Georgia, where coaches often lead players in prayer or worship.

In spring of 2003, the student, Jaclyn Steele, approached authorities with complaints about the cheerleading program. Cheerleaders, she said, were pressured to attend Bible study sessions at the coach's home, led by her husband, a minister. Steele also said Braswell led prayers before sporting events. And Steele complained that the listserv used by cheerleaders was a vehicle for prayer requests.


Monday, December 20, 2004

AP: Student's objections over pledge sparks change

Our Conscience

SPOTSYLVANIA, Va. -- A middle school student's objection to standing during the Pledge of Allegiance is sparking change in Spotsylvania County's schools.

At the start of each school day, all students stand facing the flag with their right hands over their hearts during the pledge. Students can choose not to recite the pledge if they or their parents object on religious, philosophical or other grounds, which is consistent with state law.

But Virginia also allows students to quietly and respectfully sit at their desks while others stand and say the pledge. Spotsylvania's policy says nothing about letting students sit during the pledge.

A seventh-grader at Ni River Middle School objected to the requirement that he stand during the pledge, contending it violated his freedom of speech, Principal Stephen Covert said. Covert said the student's complaint occurred several weeks ago. He said the boy has been allowed to sit during the pledge.

The School Board's attorney advised Superintendent Jerry Hill that Spotsylvania's policy violates state law because it doesn't allow students to sit through the pledge.

Saturday, December 18, 2004

Joseph Perkins and Multiple Establishments

Our Conscience

In Joseph Perkins' recent column "Tyranny of the nonbelievers" he makes the case that atheists are "waging an unholy war against God" by seeking the removal of religious symbols being displayed on government property. Notice the implication that only atheists are concerned about the government promoting religious viewpoints. Does anyone wonder if Mr. Perkins would be willing to pay for a large Darwin fish at his city hall or state capital? Would he find it an acceptable use of his tax dollars and government property for the government to construct a giant Koran at the local public park?

This is the problem with multiple endorsements. The government can't possibly endorse all religious views so it had better remain neutral and leave the promotion of religious viewpoints to the people, where it belongs.

Contact Joseph here:

Friday, December 17, 2004

The Tennessean: Substitute says job lost for refusing to say pledge

Our Conscience

Staff Writer

Hickman school officials say silence isn't why he's bypassed

One nation, under God.

Or is it?

A substitute teacher in Hickman County claims he lost his job yesterday for raising that question.

Chris Warren is not an atheist objecting to the religion in Pledge of Allegiance. Instead, he says he wishes the planks of the pledge were upheld. Because they're not, he said, he refused to say the pledge in class.

He doesn't believe phrases like ''one nation under God'' and ''indivisible'' and ''liberty and justice for all'' are true anymore.

Full Article

Thursday, December 16, 2004

Palm Beach Post: Voters may be asked to remove Florida's church-state ban

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Voters may be asked to remove Florida's church-state ban

By S.V. Date

Palm Beach Post Capital Bureau

Thursday, December 16, 2004

TALLAHASSEE — Christian conservatives frustrated by court rulings that have found a school voucher program unconstitutional may have hit upon a possible solution: changing the constitution.

Sen. Daniel Webster, a former House speaker and now the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said Wednesday he is exploring the possibility of a citizens initiative to repeal the 136-year-old wording that separates church and state in Florida.

Full Article

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Mobile Register: Judge wears Ten Commandments on his robe

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Wednesday, December 15, 2004
Staff Reporter

A rural Alabama judge began wearing a robe embroidered with the Ten Commandments to his Andalusia courtroom this week, echoing the statement made by the state Supreme Court chief justice ousted over a Ten Commandments display.

Covington County Presiding Circuit Court Judge Ashley McKathan said he ordered the robe and had it embroidered using his own money. He said he did it because he felt strongly that he should stand up for his personal religious convictions.

Full Article

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

AU: Pennsylvania Parents File First-Ever Challenge To 'Intelligent Design' Instruction In Public Schools

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Tuesday December 14, 2004

'Intelligent Design' Is Religious Argument, Not Science, Say Parents

HARRISBURG, PA-The American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania, Americans United for Separation of Church and State and attorneys with Pepper Hamilton LLP filed a federal lawsuit today on behalf of 11 parents who say that presenting "intelligent design" in public school science classrooms violates their religious liberty by promoting particular religious beliefs to their children under the guise of science education.

"Teaching students about religion's role in world history and culture is proper, but disguising a particular religious belief as science is not," said ACLU of Pennsylvania Legal Director Witold Walczak. "Intelligent design is a Trojan Horse for bringing religious creationism back into public school science classes."

The Rev. Barry W. Lynn, Americans United Executive Director, added, "Public schools are not Sunday schools, and we must resist any efforts to make them so. There is an evolving attack under way on sound science education, and the school board's action in Dover is part of that misguided crusade. 'Intelligent design' has about as much to do with science as reality television has to do with reality."

Full Release

Joplin Globe Editorial Watch

From today's editorial pages of the Joplin Globe: "The ACLU was the first to use the term 'separation of church and state,' words that cannot be found in our Constitution, but they have convinced thousands of liberal judges that it is there."

Has the ACLU really convinced judges to interpret part of the Constitution that doesn't exist? Lets see what the judges say: "Because of the prohibition of the First Amendment against the enactment of any law "respecting an establishment of religion," which is made applicable to the States by the Fourteenth Amendment, state officials may not compose an official state prayer and require that it be recited in the public schools of the State at the beginning of each school day - even if the prayer is denominationally neutral and pupils who wish to do so may remain silent or be excused from the room while the prayer is being recited." ENGEL v. VITALE, 370 U.S. 421 (1962)

"The Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit ruled that each display violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment because each has the impermissible effect of endorsing religion. [492 U.S. 573, 579] 842 F.2d 655 (1988). We agree that the creche display has that unconstitutional effect but reverse the Court of Appeals' judgment regarding the menorah display. ALLEGHENY COUNTY v. GREATER PITTSBURGH ACLU, 492 U.S. 573 (1989)

From yesterday's Joplin Globe editorial pages: "Parents should teach their children to obey the rules. One of the rules at present is no prayer in school. The children of Christians obey the rules and do their praying outside of school."

Of course, children may pray in schools. What is not permited is teachers, school boards, and state congressman writting and directing prayers. The students have the freedom to pray without influence from the State.

Monday, December 13, 2004

Richmond Times-Dispatch: Limit on prayer stirs the South

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Limit on prayer stirs the South
Supreme Court could end debate on mixing religion, government


Dec 13, 2004

CULPEPER - At a recent Town Council meeting, Vice Mayor Pam Jenkins cautiously asked "everyone who is comfortable" to join in saying "Amen" for a community member who had just died.

Loudly, and with more than a hint of defiance, residents obliged.

Several months ago, leaders of this community reluctantly stopped their generations-old practice of opening council meetings with prayers after a federal appeals court ruled that invoking specific religions in public prayers is unconstitutional.

The ruling has snuffed traditional public prayers throughout the South, ushered in nondenominational prayers or a moment of silence in others, and left many officials confused over what is allowed. Some communities have defied the ruling and continue to recite Christian prayers.
Click here.

The Supreme Court could ultimately decide the issue, if not end the debate.

"I think there's a lot of confusion. Everybody's afraid of getting sued," said John Whitehead, president and founder of Virginia's Rutherford Institute, a legal advocacy group that fights for religion's place in society. The institute has fielded calls from public officials around the South seeking counsel on the ruling.

The American Civil Liberties Union contends, however, the public prayer divide illustrates the danger of mixing religion and government.

"Once government abandons its neutral position toward religion and tries to somehow accommodate all religions, it creates an almost impossible situation because some religions ultimately will be left out or be discriminated against," said Kent Willis, Virginia ACLU executive director.
'I refuse to alter my prayer'

The July decision was made by the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which has jurisdiction in Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia and West Virginia.

The case involved Darla Kaye Wynne, a Wiccan high priestess, who sued the town of Great Falls, S.C., over its practice of opening meetings with prayers that specifically mentioned Jesus Christ. She said town leaders refused to open meetings with nonsectarian invocations or to allow prayers from members of different faiths.

A federal judge ruled last year that the town's prayers were an unconstitutional endorsement of religion by government. The appeals court agreed, citing Supreme Court rulings that allow only generic prayers by government bodies.

The Great Falls Town Council voted recently to appeal the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court. Those opposing the ruling cite Marsh v. Chambers, a 1983 Supreme Court decision that ruled legislative bodies can pray. But supporters of the 4th Circuit ruling argue the Marsh decision only permits nonsectarian prayer at public meetings.

full text

Sunday, December 12, 2004

Miami Herald: Nativity scene ruling awaited

Our Conscience

A U.S. District Court judge said Tuesday she will make a decision early this week as to whether a Nativity scene can be included in Bay Harbor Islands' holiday decorations.

Sandra Snowden filed the suit Dec. 2 through the More Law Center, an Ann Arbor, Mich., group that claims to promote the religious freedom of Christians. She complained the town's public holiday display, which contains a Menorah, has no Christian symbols. Her suit seeks the court's permission to place a Nativity scene alongside the other holiday decorations.

At an emergency injunction hearing Tuesday, U.S. District Court Judge Cecilia Altonaga said Snowden's attorney had until Friday to respond to filings submitted by the town's attorney.

Full Article

Saturday, December 11, 2004

Joplin Globe Editorial: Different view

Albert Hopkins’ letter (Globe, Dec. 7) made the statement that the ACLU was in a “fight against God Almighty.” Was the ACLU fighting God when they announced they would defend a Presbyterian church from being evicted by local government in Nebraska in 2004? Was it anti-God for the ACLU to protect the rights of Virginia citizens to have baptisms in public parks in Richmond? What about when the Virginia ACLU joined a lawsuit by the Rev. Jerry Falwell to protect the rights of religious organizations on Free Exercise grounds? Was that Anti-God? How would you rate truthfulness as a family and Biblical value?

Full Article Link

Thursday, December 09, 2004

TimesDaily: Alabama attorney general enters Ten Commandments cases

Alabama Attorney General Troy King has joined attorneys generals from other states to ask the U.S. Supreme Court to uphold Ten Commandments displays in Kentucky and Texas.

The Supreme Court has agreed to hear cases from the two states, with the arguments likely coming in February.

King filed a brief Wednesday, which was joined by attorneys general from 14 other states, that argued that Ten Commandments displays in two Kentucky courthouses are legal.

Full Article

Monday, December 06, 2004

WP: In Calif., Cross Site Stirs Discord

In Calif., Cross Site Stirs Discord
Church-State Separation Is Issue at Mount Soledad Memorial

By Kimberly EddsSpecial to The Washington PostMonday, December 6, 2004; Page A19

SAN DIEGO -- Perched high atop Mount Soledad in La Jolla, the towering white cross has sat as a memorial to veterans of the Korean War for half a century. It has also become a symbol of a divisive war between the city of San Diego and a local atheist over the issues of separation of church and state, free speech and freedom of religion.

When a ballot measure that would have allowed the city to sell the land was defeated in the November elections, it looked as though the debate was over. The 43-foot cross would be moved.

But two local congressmen have intervened with a proposition they say will keep the cross where it is.

Republican Reps. Randy "Duke" Cunningham and Duncan Hunter want the site -- which now includes more than 1,000 plaques honoring veterans -- named a national war memorial. They added the veterans memorial designation as a rider to a voluminous spending bill approved last month by Congress.

Under the bill, expected to be signed by President Bush soon, the site would become part of the National Park Service but would be maintained by the Mount Soledad Memorial Association, which built the cross as a tribute to veterans in 1954.

"It's a shaky proposition, but if it works, we would be eternally grateful," said William J. Kellogg, president of the memorial association.

Opponents say simply transferring the land to federal hands does not resolve the issue of separation of church and state.

"Crosses belong on churches, not in public parks," said lawyer James McElroy, who is representing atheist Philip Paulson in his efforts to see the cross removed. "It doesn't make any difference if it's on federal land, state land or city land. . . . The government should not be in the business of religion."

More here.

My Letter to My "Representative" i.e. HB 35

Our Conscience

Rep. Richard,

I wanted to state my disagreement with HB 35. It is an attempt to have the State regulate the scientific content of Biology text books and mandate specific content on a specific issue. Do not current Bio Texts contain a "critical analysis of origins?" If so what precisely is she looking for? Why should the state mandate that science texts include "philosophical claims that are made in the name of science?" The bill calls for texts when teaching about evolution to include "the full range of scientific views that exist." Now, that sounds nice, but 1) Why just on the subject of evolution[?], and 2) What constitutes a "scientific view?" Some authors think postmodernism is scientific, although that statement itself seems to be a contradiction.

Look, it is about 95% likely that she wants to introduce creationism into science classes. Now that is fine but she can't just come out and say it can she? Anyway, I am interested in whether you are now more or less likely to sponsor this bill....

Seth Jackson

Sunday, December 05, 2004

Missouri HB 35: Evolution Targeted

HB 35 introduced by Represenative Cynthia Davis states the following:
Section A. Chapter 170, RSMo, is amended by adding thereto one new section, to be known as section 170.032, to read as follows:

170.032. All biology textbooks sold to the public schools of the state of Missouri shall have one or more chapters containing a critical analysis of origins. The chapters shall convey the distinction between data and testable theories of science and philosophical claims that are made in the name of science. Where topics are taught that may generate controversy, such as biological evolution, the curriculum should help students to understand the full range of scientific views that exist, why such topics may generate controversy, and how scientific discoveries can profoundly affect society.
This seems to be an effort to introduce creationism into public schools via the law.
Contact Rep. Davis here:;

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Breaking Through Persistent Myths about Church and State

Our Conscience

There is plenty of misinformation floating around in middle-America about the separation between religion and government. I think it is important to pin point a couple of the most damaging themes and reframe them in a new more accurate way.

The first misconception is that church and state cases have prohibited the religious expression of citizens when they have in fact only limited the activities of governments and their officials. It is common to hear from our detractors that proponents of church and state separation want to “ban all religious expression in the public arena.” Notice there is no dichotomy between governmental activities and the religious expression of citizens. It is our job to make sure that one is inserted! The government we can say, “should leave religious expression to the people.” The government has no business promoting or devaluing religion in the form of law and policy.

Another myth about church and state separation is that it isn’t in the Constitution. The founders used the phrase “separation of church and state” to refer specifically to the Establishment Clause of the first Amendment. We should remind the public of this.

Lastly, a single phrase has done harm to the value of church and state separation in terms of public opinion. Some conservatives use the phrase “activist judges” many times to refer to judicial opinions to which they disagree. We should remind them and their readers that such judges are interpreting the law in the same way that the Justices in Brown v. Board of Education did.

Establishing Jurisprudence: The high court should stop its disingenuous sidestep of the church-state debate

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Dicta: Establishing Jurisprudence
The high court should stop its disingenuous sidestep of the church-state debate.

By Dahlia Lithwick
The American Lawyer
December 1, 2004

The U.S. Supreme Court recently agreed to hear a pair of cases testing the constitutionality of displays of the Ten Commandments on government property. The Court finally agreed to reconcile conflicting lower rulings-concerning the display of a six-foot monument on the grounds of the Texas State Capitol in one case, and another involving framed copies of the commandments on Kentucky courthouse walls. The two cases have legitimate differences: The Texas display is part of a collection, the Kentucky "collection" sprung up to protect the display. The Texas monument is in a "museum-like" setting. The Kentucky display is on a court wall. The Texas Commandments monument was a gift, and has stood uncontested for decades. But underlying all the details is a profound problem: a tendency to disregard the religious in our religion cases.

Having avoided this issue for decades, the Court must now reexamine the carnage left in the wake of its batty establishment clause jurisprudence-a line of cases effectively holding that it's okay for the state to erect Christmas crèches and such on public property, so long as the ratio of Santas to Sponge Bobs in the manger is roughly equivalent. As a result of this lack of guidance, lower courts have been forced to take the religious display cases to mean it's fine to display the Decalogue, so long as it's lost in a clutch of other "historical" documents. Copies of the Magna Carta, the Declaration of Independence, Christopher Columbus's traveler's checks-all this stuff somehow immunizes a religious display from endorsing or advancing religion; perhaps because all that clutter endorses and advances only headaches.

As a result of this line of inquiry, courts across the land have upheld religious displays using what Justice Anthony Kennedy once dubbed "the jurisprudence of minutiae"-the theory that public land becomes more like a "museum" if you've amassed enough tchotchkes for God. This constitutional compromise only ensures both sides will be offended: Atheists are still affronted that the state is promoting any religious symbols, believers are annoyed that cherished icons are awash in a sea of knickknacks.

Full Article