2002 Archives

New York City Schools Sued In Federal Court Over Policy Discriminating Against Christians During Christmas Season
Tue, Dec 10, 2002

ANN ARBOR, MI — The Thomas More Law Center, a national public interest law firm based in Ann Arbor, Michigan, has filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the City of New York, the Chancellor of the New York City Department of Education, and another school official, alleging that the City’s policy regarding “Holiday Displays” unlawfully discriminates against Christians. The lawsuit was filed on behalf of Andrea Skoros and her two children, elementary school students in the New York City public school system.

At issue is a school policy promulgated by the Chancellor’s office that prohibits the display of Nativity scenes in the City’s schools during the Christmas season, but expressly permits and encourages these schools to display during certain religious holidays and seasonal observances the Jewish Menorah and the Islamic Star and Crescent. City officials claim that the goal of this policy is “to promote understanding and respect for the diverse beliefs and customs relating to our community’s observance of the winter holiday.” Ms. Skoros and her children are devout Roman Catholics, and they object to this policy because it endorses and promotes the Jewish and Muslim faiths and conveys the impermissible message of disapproval of Christianity.

Last year, pursuant to this policy, several New York City public schools, including one of the schools attended by Ms. Skoros’ son, displayed the Jewish Menorah and the Islamic Star and Crescent, but not the Nativity scene. In fact, one public school principal issued a memo pursuant to the “Holiday Displays” policy encouraging teachers to bring to school “religious symbols” that represent the Islamic and Jewish religions. No mention of Christianity was made in this memo. Catholic League president William Donohue made several attempts to get school officials to change their discriminatory policy, with no success. School officials dismissed requests to display the Nativity scene and instead would only allow Christmas trees. However, the Christmas tree is a secular symbol and not the equivalent of the religious symbols allowed for Jews and Muslims.

According to Richard Thompson, Chief Counsel of the Thomas More Law Center, “The policy relegates Christians to second class citizens. Forcing schools to only allow secular symbols for Christmas while allowing religious symbols for other religions’ holiday observances shows a callous indifference and hostility toward Christians during one of their holiest seasons. It is ironic that a religion enjoying the largest following in this nation is consigned by the City of New York to a least-favored status. It’s a shame that we have reached a point in our Nation’s history that ‘respect for diverse beliefs and customs’ has come to mean discrimination against Christians—at Christmas time no less.”

This year, New York City public schools are at it again. Pursuant to the City’s policy, prominent displays of the Jewish Menorah abound, with no Christian Nativity scenes to be found. According to the lawsuit, the City’s policy violates the Establishment and Free Exercise Clauses of the First Amendment, as well as Ms. Skoros’ constitutional right as a parent to direct the religious education of her children.

The Thomas More Law Center defends and promotes religious freedom, time-honored family values, and the sanctity of human life through education, litigation, and related activities. It does not charge for its services. It depends on contributions from individuals, corporations and Foundations. It is recognized by the IRS as a section 501(c)(3) organization. You may reach the Thomas More Law Center at (734) 827-2001 or visit our website at www.thomasmore.org.

 

Pledge of Allegiance Defended – Free Legal Defense Offered
Sat, Jul 27, 2002

ANN ARBOR, MI – The Thomas More Law Center hereby offers free legal counsel to any school denied the right to permit students to recite the Pledge of Allegiance including the words “under God”. The Center may be contacted at 734-827-2001.

The following statement was issued by Richard Thompson, Chief Counsel of the Thomas More Law Center in response to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals decision finding the words “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance unconstitutional: “Yesterdays ruling of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals which found the words “under God” to be unconstitutional is but the latest example of the widespread judicial hostility to all things religious. Over the course of the past 40 years, the courts have wielded unprecedented power in imposing their anti-Christian, anti-religious agenda on America, with this ruling representing one of its most egregious decrees. Sadly, religious people have slept as their liberties have been systematically stripped away by an activist court system, atheistic in disposition, and ruthless in its disregard for the religious foundations or our country.

It is no secret that America is a religious country. From the Declaration of Independence to our national motto, we have unabashedly acknowledged our reliance upon God. This acknowledgement however is distinct from any fear of an establishment of a national religion. The 9th Circuit ruling would have us believe that the words “under God” constitute an establishment of religion. They do no such thing. The words “under God” merely recall the religious roots of our founding which asserted the inalienable rights of every human person, rights which no government can legitimately take away. They serve to foster patriotism and unite people around this central defining principle. In doing so, they remind us of our moral obligations to each other, and to the world.

Therefore, The Thomas More Law Center is prepared to defend the Pledge of Allegiance by offering free legal counsel to any school denied the right to permit students to recite the Pledge of Allegiance including the words “under God”. The Center may be contacted at 734-827-2001.”

The Thomas More Law Center defends the religious freedom of Christians, time-honored family values, and the sanctity of human life through litigation, education, and related activities. The Law Center provides its services at no charge, and depends on individual donations, foundations, and corporations for financial support. The IRS recognizes the Law Center as a 501(c)(3) organization and donations are tax deductible. You may contact the Law Center at (734) 827-2001 or visit its website at www.thomasmore.org.

 

Religion in Public Schools: Pledge Out, Islam In
Tue, Jun 25, 2002

ANN ARBOR, MI – In the same week that the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals held the words “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance unconstitutional, a federal lawsuit was filed in San Francisco after Christian students across California were forced to pretend they were Muslims for three weeks, praying in the name of Allah the Compassionate the Merciful, chanting Praise to Allah, picking a Muslim name from a list to replace their own name and to stage their own Jihad via a dice game.

The Thomas More Law Center, a national, public interest law firm based in Ann Arbor, Michigan, representing parents and four children, filed the lawsuit against the Byron Union School District and various school officials to stop the use of the “Islam Simulation” materials in the Byron/Excelsior Public School in Byron, California.

“What’s at issue,” said Richard Thompson, Chief Counsel of the Thomas More Law Center, “is the true meaning of the Establishment Clause. The use of the words ‘under God’ in the Pledge of Allegiance in no way establishes a national religion. However, the Byron Union school district crossed the line and is clearly in violation of the Establishment clause by using taxpayer dollars to teach students how to worship as a Muslim.”

At issue in the lawsuit is a three-week segment of the seventh grade “World History” class using the textbook “Across the Centuries” published by Houghton Mifflin and supplemented by Islam simulation materials. Students were told that, “you and your classmates will become Muslims.”

To receive points toward their overall grade, students were encouraged to dress as Muslims and to use such phrases in their speech as “Allah Akbar,” which is Arabic for “God is great”. Students were required to memorize Muslim prayers, fulfill the Five Pillars of Faith and fast during lunch period to simulate fasting during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan.

Thompson further noted, “parents with children in this course were totally caught off guard and had no idea what their children were being taught.”

Said Thompson, “This is unbelievable. While public schools prohibit Christian students from reading the Bible, praying, displaying the Ten Commandments, and even mentioning the word “God”, students in California are being indoctrinated into the religion of Islam. Public schools would never tolerate teaching Christianity in this way. Just imagine the ACLU’s outcry if students were told that they had to pray the Lords Prayer, memorize the Ten Commandments, use such phrases as ‘Jesus is the Messiah,’ and fast during Lent.”

According to Thompson, “Although it is constitutional for public schools to have an instructional program about comparative religion or teach about religion and utilize religious books such as the Bible in courses about our history and culture, the Byron Union School District crossed way over the constitutional line when it coerced impressionable twelve year olds to engage in particular religious rituals and worship, simulated or not.”

The Thomas More Law Center defends the religious freedom of Christians, time-honored family values, and the sanctity of human life through litigation, education, and related activities. The Law Center provides its services at no charge, and depends on individual donations, foundations, and corporations for financial support. The IRS recognizes the Law Center as a 501(c)(3) organization and donations are tax deductible. You may contact the Law Center at (734) 827-2001 or visit its website at www.thomasmore.org.

 

Fifth Circuit Reverses itself in Texas School Prayer Case
Tue, Apr 16, 2002

ANN ARBOR, MI – The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit reversed itself in a Texas school prayer case handing Christian student, Marian Ward, and her parents an important victory. The Thomas More Law Center, which had filed a friend-of-the-court brief supporting the Wards’ petition for a rehearing, applauded the court for its quick reversal and affirmation of an important principle in constitutional law litigation.

“The issue in this case was particularly important to lawyers engaged in protecting the constitutional rights of students. A claim for nominal damages has traditionally been sufficient to keep a lawsuit alive even after a student has graduated from school. Now the Ward family will be able to litigate to final judgment the important constitutional issues raised in their case,” said Richard Thompson, the Chief Counsel of the Thomas More Law Center.

The case brought by Marian Ward and her family attacked the constitutionality of the Santa Fe (Texas) Independent School District’s anti-prayer policy. Marian Ward had sued the school district for the unconstitutional attempts by officials to prevent her from mentioning anything religious in a pre-game message she was to make before a high school football game. The trial court permitted Marian to give a message of her choice without governmental discrimination against faith-based speech. The message Marian chose was a prayer, which she delivered at each of the five home games of the 1999-2000 high school football season.

Yet, after Marian had graduated and the school district had rescinded its anti-prayer policy, the trial court dismissed the entire case as moot, even though the Ward family had requested nominal damages based on the constitutional violations. The Fifth Circuit agreed with the trial court, and the Ward family filed a petition for rehearing. Granting petitions for rehearing are rare in the Fifth Circuit. Only fourteen, or about 2.6%, of the 499 rehearing petitions were granted during the twelve-month period ending on September 30, 2000.

In support of the Ward family’s petition, the Thomas More Law Center’s brief pointed out that the Fifth Circuit’s opinion ran contrary to existing law and maintained that if the Fifth Circuit’s decision was not changed on rehearing, the decision would be an impediment to those plaintiffs who seek to litigate constitutional issues, especially in cases brought by students against their schools.

Within a matter of days, the Fifth Circuit granted a rehearing, sending the case back to the trial court to rule on the issue of nominal damages. The Fifth Circuit stated in part that “our prior opinion was in error insofar as we held that Marian Ward’s claim for nominal damages was moot. . . . Other authority supports the proposition that, whether or not a plaintiff’s request for injunctive relief has become moot, a suit should not be dismissed in its entirety so long as the plaintiff has alleged a cognizable claim for nominal damages for the constitutional violation he suffered. . . . We are persuaded that the [Ward family’s] case was not entirely moot in light of the claim for nominal damages. We grant the petition for rehearing and withdraw our prior opinion insofar as it held otherwise.”

The Thomas More Law Center defends and promotes religious freedom, time-honored family values, and the sanctity of human life through education, litigation, and related activities. The Center provides its services without charge and is dependent upon individual donations, foundations and corporations for support. The Thomas More Law Center is recognized by the IRS as a 501(c)(3) organization. You may contact the Center at (734) 827-2001 or visit our website at www.thomasmore.org.

 

Gay Rights Activists Demand School Take Action Against Christian Club
Fri, Apr 12, 2002

ANN ARBOR, MI – A controversy, which has been brewing over the past few months at Pioneer High School in Ann Arbor, Michigan, between gay rights supporters and the Pioneers for Christ student club, came to a head this past Wednesday night during an emotion-filled meeting of the Ann Arbor School Board. At this meeting, gay rights activists demanded that the Board take action against the Christian club for not adopting a so-called “non-discrimination” policy as part of its mission statement.

Robert Muise, associate counsel with the Thomas More Law Center, addressed the Board during this meeting and pledged the support of the Center to protect the rights of this Christian club. Said Muise, “Pioneers for Christ is being singled out simply because its members do not support the agenda of gay rights activists. Presently at Pioneer High School there are faculty members and administrators who desire to promote their personal political agenda at the expense of students’ constitutional and federal statutory rights.” Muise reminded the school board that “the U.S. Constitution and the Equal Access Act . . protect Pioneers for Christ from such blatant and discriminatory attacks from gay activists.”

Earlier this year, Pioneer High School officials demanded that Pioneers for Christ adopt its so-called “non-discrimination” policy as part of the club’s mission statement. This policy would force Pioneers for Christ to accept members who are not committed to its cause or adherents to the Christian faith. Moreover, this policy would prohibit its members from expressing and promoting their Christian view toward various issues, including homosexuality, thereby affecting the content of the members’ speech.

More recently, during the so-called “Diversity Week” held at Pioneer High School, students were not allowed to express their Christian view of homosexuality during a panel discussion that the school sponsored for the purpose of discussing religion and homosexuality. The Gay Straight Alliance student club, with the support of school officials, monopolized this discussion by presenting only the view of several adults who claimed to be clergy of denominations that support the homosexual lifestyle. School officials prevented any other view to be expressed during this event, which occurred during the school day.

The Thomas More Law Center defends and promotes religious freedom, time-honored family values, and the sanctity of human life through education, litigation, and related activities. The Center provides its services without charge and is dependent upon individual donations, foundations and corporations for support. The Thomas More Law Center is recognized by the IRS as a 501(c)(3) organization. You may contact the Center at (734) 827-2001 or visit our website at www.thomasmore.org.

 

Thomas More Law Center Assists in Texas School Prayer Case
Thu, Apr 11, 2002

ANN ARBOR, MI – In a case that could have significant impact on Christians attempting to protect their constitutional rights, the Thomas More Law Center has submitted a “friend of the court” brief in support of high school student Marian Ward and her family who want a federal court to render a judgment on the constitutionality of the Santa Fe (Texas) Independent School District’s anti-prayer policy. The case is currently before the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit on a petition of rehearing.

At stake is the ability of law firms to bring actions on behalf of classes of individuals whose constitutional rights have been violated, but are unable to show a measurable monetary injury. Most jurisdictions follow the general rule that nominal damages are awarded to those who suffer a violation of their constitutional rights. This rule prevents those who violated rights of students to avoid a final adjudication of those rights for future reliance by other students. An often-used tactic by public schools is to craft a temporary solution, wait for the student to graduate and then ask the court to dismiss the case because the case had been rendered moot. The Thomas More Law Center’s brief addressed the issue of whether a request for nominal damages will prevent a case from becoming moot in such a situation.

High school senior Marian Ward and her family initially sued the school district for the unconstitutional attempts by officials to prevent her from mentioning anything religious in a pregame message she was to make before a high school football game.
The trial court granted temporary injunctive relief in Marian’s favor which resulted in Marian being able to give a message of her choice without governmental discrimination against faith-based speech. The message Marian chose was a prayer. She delivered a prayer at each of the five home games of the 1999-2000 high school football season. However, after Marian had graduated and the school district had rescinded its anti-prayer policy, the trial court dismissed the entire case based on mootness. The Fifth Circuit agreed with the trial court. Because the case was dismissed as moot, future students would not be able to rely on a court judgment to protect their rights should the school again adopt an anti-prayer policy.

The Thomas More Law Center claimed that if the Fifth Circuit’s decision is not changed on rehearing, the decision would have a radical and negative impact on civil liberties. The Fifth Circuit’s decision would serve as an impediment to those plaintiffs who seek to litigate constitutional issues, especially in cases brought by students against their schools.

According to the Center’s brief, prepared by Associate Counsel Edward L. White III, “Even though a nominal damage award is small, the importance of the constitutional issue at stake in such cases is significant and needs to be litigated. By mooting cases, even when nominal damages have been alleged, constitutional rights, in many cases, will go unprotected because plaintiffs will have no recourse to the courts. Moreover, the development of constitutional law will be hindered. ”

The Thomas More Law Center defends and promotes religious freedom, time-honored family values, and the sanctity of human life through education, litigation, and related activities. The Thomas More Law Center provides its services at no charge, and is dependent upon individual donations, foundations, and corporations for support. The Thomas More Law Center is recognized by the IRS as a 501(c)(3) organization. You may contact the Thomas More Law Center at (734) 827-2001, or visit its website at www.thomasmore.org.

 

U.S. Senator Rick Santorum (PA) Joins Law Center Board
Fri, Mar 22, 2002

Ann Arbor, Michigan – United States Senator Rick Santorum, third ranking Republican in the Senate and renowned pro-life advocate who led the fight to ban partial birth abortion, has agreed to serve on the Thomas More Law Center’s Advisory Board. The Advisory Board provides leadership and advice to the Law Center, a national public interest law firm based in Ann Arbor, Michigan, which promotes and defends religious freedom, traditional family values and the sanctity of human life.

Richard Thompson, Executive Director and Chief Counsel of the Center welcomed the distinguished Senator stating, “We are extremely honored that Senator Santorum has agreed to join the other distinguished members of our Citizens Advisory Board. His proven leadership will be a tremendous asset both to the Board and to the Law Center.”

Senator Santorum in a recent statement remarked, “It is an honor to be on the Citizens Advisory Board of the Thomas More Law Center. For many years, the Center has been the ‘Sword and Shield for People of Faith’, defending religious freedom, family values and the sanctity of human life. It is a moral force, breaking new ground in the discussion of virtue and justice in civil society.”

Other Board members include Bowie Kuhn, (Chairman) former Commissioner of Major League Baseball from 1969 to 1984, Ambassador Alan Keyes, former presidential candidate and current host of his own cable news program on MSNBC; Megan Nini, former candidate for the U. S. House of Representatives and a leader in many civic and pro-life causes; Mary Cunningham-Agee, Director of the Nurturing Network and the Culture of Life Foundation; Paul Henkels, prominent Pennsylvania businessman and leader in the struggle for school choice; and Richard Campbell, managing partner of a Colorado law firm, former FBI agent, and member of the Executive Board of the Boy Scouts of America.

Rick Santorum has served in the United States Senate since January 1995. He is the youngest member of the leadership and the first Pennsylvanian in the leadership since Senator Hugh Scott was Republican Leader in the 1970′s. Senator Santorum and his wife, Karen Garver Santorum of Penn Hills, PA, are the parents of seven children.

The Thomas More Law Center defends and promotes religious freedom, time-honored family values, and the sanctity of human life through education, litigation, and related activities. The Center provides its services at no charge, and is dependent upon individual donations, foundations, and corporations for support. The Thomas More Law Center is recognized by the IRS as a 501(c)(3) organization. You may contact the Center at (734) 827-2001, or visit its website at www.thomasmore.org.

 

Catholic Jail Ministry to Start in Washtenaw County
Wed, Feb 6, 2002

ANN ARBOR, MI – Catholic inmates in the Washtenaw County Jail on Hogback Road, Ann Arbor, will have a Catholic jail ministry administering to their specific spiritual needs. The Catholic ministry will be part of the Christian Service Volunteers, an interdenominational jail ministry at the Washtenaw County Jail.

Deacon Edwin Novak, represented by the Thomas More Law Center, a national public interest law firm based in Ann Arbor, approached Washtenaw County officials this past December about starting the Catholic jail ministry.

Deacon Novak worked with St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church in Ann Arbor, which spearheaded the effort to establish the jail ministry. Scott Wright, the Social Ministry Director at St. Francis, will assist Deacon Novak in its operation. Bishop Carl Mengeling of the Diocese of Lansing has appointed Deacon Novak the Catholic Chaplain for the Washtenaw County correctional facilities.

Edward L. White III, associate counsel of the Thomas More Law Center, who assisted Deacon Novak, stated, “I am pleased the Law Center was able to assist in the establishment of a Catholic jail ministry. This ministry is needed to administer to the spiritual needs of the Catholic inmates in Washtenaw County.”

Before moving to Washtenaw County last year, Deacon Novak successfully ran a Catholic jail ministry in Genesee County, Michigan, for approximately ten years. His jail ministry in Genesee County had the lowest recidivism rate of any jail program.

According to Deacon Novak, “Jesus has instructed us that what we do for the least of our brothers, we do for Him. This includes visiting those in jail and caring for their spiritual needs. I look forward to working with Sheriff Dan Minzey, the jail’s administrative staff, Reverend Ell Dudley and the interdenominational jail ministry, Scott Wright, and St. Francis of Assisi Church to make the Catholic jail ministry in Washtenaw County a success.”

The Thomas More Law Center defends and promotes religious freedom, time-honored family values, and the sanctity of human life through education, litigation, and related activities. The Center provides its services at no charge and is recognized by the IRS as a 501(c)(3) organization. The Center’s number is (734) 827-2001, and its website is www.thomasmore.org.

 

Free Legal Defense With ‘In God We Trust’ Posters for Schools
Tue, Jan 15, 2002

ANN ARBOR, MI – Responding to a recent state law “encouraging” state and local units of governments to display the national motto “In God We Trust”, the Thomas More Law Center, a national public interest law firm based in Ann Arbor, Michigan has announced it will distribute free of charge to classrooms and government offices professionally designed 16×20” posters displaying the national motto ‘In God We Trust’. The posters include a bald eagle and American flag over amber waves of grain.

The Thomas More Law Center is informing public schools that it will defend them without charge should a display of one of their posters be challenged by the ACLU or any other organization. The ACLU, which opposed the recent law, and the Thomas More Law Center clashed over its constitutionality during state Senate hearings.

“The ACLU representative told senators that the bill was unconstitutional. Let’s see if they are willing to back that claim in a court of law,” said Richard Thompson, Chief Counsel of the Thomas More Law Center. “The phony argument that mentioning trust in God somehow establishes a state sponsored religion is absurd, and people shouldn’t be afraid to profess what an overwhelming majority of the country already believes. Agencies like the ACLU have been stripping even the mention of the word God from schools for too long. ”

The motto ‘In God We Trust’ was declared the national motto by the United States Congress in 1956, and first appeared on U.S. currency in 1864.

The Thomas More Law Center, national public interest law firm based in Ann Arbor, Michigan, is a section 501(c)(3) organization affiliated with the Ave Maria Foundation. The Thomas More Law Center defends and promotes religious freedom, time-honored family values, and the sanctity of human life through education, litigation, and related activities. TMLC does not charge for its services. You may contact TMLC at 734-827-2001 or by visiting their website at www.thomasmore.org.