Supreme Court Ratchets Up Hostility To Religion in Ten Commandments Cases; Political Solution Sought
Mon, Jun 27, 2005
ANN ARBOR, MI — According to Richard Thompson, Chief Counsel of the Thomas More Law Center, a national pubic interest law firm based in Ann Arbor, Michigan, today’s United States Supreme Court rulings in the two Ten Commandment cases, one from Kentucky and the other from Texas, will have the practical effect of discouraging some public entities from displaying religious symbols.
Said Thompson, “Justice Scalia got it right. These decisions do not rest on consistently applied principles of law. Thus, the Court announced no rule of law, which government entities can depend upon that will give them any reasonable certainty they are complying with the requirements of the Establishment Clause. Consequently, some local governments will decide not to take a chance and be forced to pay monstrous attorney fee awards to organizations like the ACLU if they lose. One political solution is to remove the statutory attorney fee awards to the prevailing party in these kinds of cases.” “However, I am certain of one thing,” said Thompson, “ this battle is far from over.”
The Thomas More Law Center filed friend of the court briefs in favor of the Ten Commandment displays in both McCreary County v. ACLU and Van Orden v. Perry. In its 5 to 4 decision issued today in the McCreary case, the Supreme Court ruled that the displays of the Ten Commandments in Kentucky courthouses in McCreary and Pulaski counties violated the Establishment Clause of the United States Constitution. Both displays originally included only framed copies of the Ten Commandments. After the ACLU sued to remove the displays, the two counties supplemented the framed copies of the Commandments with eleven historical documents, including the Mayflower Compact and the Bill of Rights, calling the new displays the “Foundations of American Law and Government.” The additional documents were chosen because, like the Ten Commandments, they played a significant role in the foundation of our system of law and government.
Despite the additions, a federal trial judge struck down the “Foundations” display because it included the Ten Commandments. On appeal, the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit agreed with the trial judge, holding that the original display, which had only included the Ten Commandments, “unconstitutionally tainted” the subsequent “Foundations” display, making them unconstitutional as well. A sharply divided Supreme Court agreed, noting that the Kentucky counties had not sufficiently distanced themselves from any religious purpose in the first displays.
The four dissenting justices (Justices Scalia, Rehnquist, Kennedy, and Thomas) criticized the majority’s decision and the majority’s application of the so-called Lemon test, which the dissenters explained can be manipulated to fit whatever result the Court wants to achieve. They noted that even if a government could show that its actual purpose in displaying the Ten Commandments was not to advance religion, the display could still be struck down if the Court’s imaginary “objective observer” would conclude that the government officials intended to advance religion. The dissenters explained that the majority’s new use of the Lemon test has ratcheted up the Court’s hostility to religion.
Richard Thompson, Chief Counsel commented: “As the four dissenting justices explained, the five majority justices have ratcheted up the Supreme Court’s hostility to religion in this case. The use of the faulty Lemon test by courts is a way to silence religion in this country. Courts, as the dissenters noted, can use the Lemon test to find a religious purpose when none was intended by the government.”
Edward L. White III, trial counsel with the Law Center, explained that “Although the Court ruled against the displays in the two Kentucky counties based on the unique facts of the case, the Court explicitly stated that it was not ruling across the board that the Ten Commandments or other sacred texts cannot be displayed as part of a government display on the subject of law or American history. As such, government can continue to include the Ten Commandments in displays on public property.”
The Supreme Court upheld the display of a Ten Commandments monument on the Texas Capitol grounds in the Van Orden case. The monument had stood on government grounds for more than forty years. A few years ago, Thomas Van Orden, a former criminal defense attorney who became homeless, filed a federal lawsuit against the State of Texas challenging the granite monument on which the Ten Commandments were etched. In his lawsuit, Van Orden argued that the appearance of the Ten Commandments monument on government property violated the First Amendment.
Both the district court and the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit ruled against Van Orden, upholding the display of the Ten Commandments as constitutional. The case was then appealed to the Supreme Court.
The Texas State Capitol Building contains a wide array of monuments, plaques, and seals depicting both the secular and religious history of Texas. They include a tribute to African American legislators, a plaque commemorating the war with Mexico, a statue of a pioneer woman holding a child in tribute to the role of women in Texas history, and a tribute to the Texans lost at Pearl Harbor. The six foot tall Ten Commandments monument was a gift of the Fraternal Order of Eagles, accepted by a joint resolution of the House and Senate in early 1961.
In the decision issued today, Justices Rehnquist, Scalia, Kennedy, and Thomas, with a concurrence by Justice Breyer, ruled that the display of the Ten Commandments monument on the Capitol grounds was constitutional. In reaching its ruling, however, the Court was fractured with regard to what analysis it should apply to decide such cases. Thus, the Supreme Court has provided little guidance for government entities to follow in erecting displays of the Ten Commandments that will pass constitutional muster.
The Thomas More Law Center has been involved in several cases involving the defense of the Ten Commandments, including two victories last year in defeating separate efforts to remove displays of the Commandments from the cities of Pleasant Grove and Duchesne, Utah.
Law Center Defends Louisiana School Board’s Right to Begin Meetings with Prayer
Wed, Jun 22, 2005
ANN ARBOR, MI - The Thomas More Law Center, a national public interest law firm based in Ann Arbor, Michigan, has submitted a friend of the court brief with the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit supporting the constitutional right of the Tangipahoa Parish School Board in Louisiana to open its meetings with prayers that invoke Divine guidance referencing “God,” Heavenly Father,” and “Jesus.”
A federal district judge had earlier ruled that such prayers by the school board violated the Establishment Clause of the United States Constitution.
For more than thirty years, the School Board has opened each meeting with an invocation followed by the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance. The School Board imposes no restriction on any religious viewpoint, and any person who wants to deliver the invocation may do so regardless of his religious beliefs.
Richard Thompson, Chief Counsel for the Thomas More Law Center stated, “This is just another example of the concerted effort to destroy the religious foundations of our nation.” Continued Thompson, “Acknowledging beliefs that are widely held among the American people is not a violation of the Constitution.”
In 2003, a parent of two high school students in the School District filed a lawsuit claiming the invocations were unconstitutional. Although the trial judge recognized that it is constitutional for legislative or deliberative bodies to begin their meetings with prayer, she ruled that this well-established legal principle did not apply to the School Board, even though the School Board is a deliberative body under Louisiana law, its meetings are held separately from classroom and school-related activities, and students are not required to attend the meetings.
In its brief, the Thomas More Law Center pointed out that sessions of the U. S. House of Representatives begin with prayers making reference to “God,” “Heavenly Father,” and “Jesus,” offer thanksgiving, and seek wisdom, guidance, forgiveness, and protection. The prayers opening the Tangipahoa Parish School Board meetings are not different in any material respect.
According to Edward L. White III, an attorney with the Law Center who drafted the brief, “The prayers said to start Tangipahoa Parish School Board meetings are as Constitutional as those said to start any other meeting of a legislative or deliberative body, including the House of Representatives. It is a deeply embedded part of the history and tradition of this country for deliberative bodies to open their sessions with prayer.”
New York Student Sues High School for Prohibiting Pro-Life Shirt
Tue, May 10, 2005
Ann Arbor, MI—A junior at Fillmore Central High School near Buffalo, New York, has filed a federal lawsuit against his school district for forcing him to remove his pro-life shirt in violation of his free-speech rights. The Thomas More Law Center, a national public interest law firm based in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and the American Catholic Lawyers Association are representing the student.
In October 2004, Kevin Dibble wore a shirt expressing his view that abortion is wrong. The shirt displayed the following message: “Abortion is Homicide. You will not silence my message. You will not mock my God. You will stop killing my generation. Rock for Life.”
Despite the fact that Dibble had worn the same shirt on a number of previous occasions, the school principal Kyle Faulkner informed him that the message was offensive and wearing the shirt was prohibited. When Dibble asserted his constitutional rights, he was suspended for the day.
Before filing the lawsuit, the Thomas More Law Center sent a letter to school officials explaining Kevin Dibble’s First Amendment right to peacefully express his pro-life views on his clothing at school. The Law Center also pointed to the double standard of school officials not allowing Kevin’s message but allowing other students to wear controversial shirts that depict grotesque pictures and sexually charged messages. In response to the letter, school officials again denied Kevin his right to wear his shirt to school.
Richard Thompson, Chief Counsel of the Thomas More Law Center, stated: “This is another example of a school taking sides in the abortion issue and attempting to silence a student’s message because it disagrees with it. ”
According to Julie Shotzbarger, Associate Counsel with the Thomas More Law Center, “We handle these cases across the country at no charge because we believe in the pro-life message advanced by these students, and that they have a constitutional right to express that message.”
Christian National Day of Prayer Event In Front of Troy City Hall Finally Approved After Thomas More Law Center Enters Fray
Tue, Apr 26, 2005
Troy, MI -- The Troy City Council finally approved a Christian group’s application to hold their National Day of Prayer event in front of City Hall after the Thomas More Law Center stepped in on behalf of the group to end months of political maneuverings, contentious hearings and opposition from non-Christians.
Christians have been sponsoring a National Day of Prayer event in front of City Hall for the past ten years. Yet, when this year’s application was submitted by the Troy National Day of Prayer Christian Task Force, city administrators attempted to force them to make it an interfaith event. Without notifying the Task Force coordinator Lori Wagner, the application was altered and placed on the Council’s agenda. When Wagner discovered the change she immediately asked that the altered application be removed and the original resubmitted. The Council subsequently rejected the resubmitted application.
Christians encouraged and supported separate events for other faith groups on the same day and place, but at different times. Nevertheless, they wanted their own Christian event, as they had for the previous ten years. It was evident that some city officials were trying to force Christians to change their message by refusing to grant them a permit unless they allowed prayers from people of different religions.
“Some politicians on the council wanted to dilute the Christian message under the pretext of diversity,” commented Richard Thompson, Chief Counsel of the Law Center. “However, Christian persistence overcame their political maneuverings and opposition from interfaith advocates. We won this battle, but I am concerned there will be future attempts to stop Christians from celebrating this event, and we must stay vigilant and be ready to challenge those efforts in court,” he added.
Added Wagner, “I realized that efforts to force us to compromise what we wanted for our private event in order to have access to public property was unconstitutional. Certainly people of other faiths are welcome to attend, but we want this to be a Christian event with Christian prayer as it has been for the previous ten years.”
She continued, “We support the efforts of all groups to conduct their own events in front of City Hall. Initially, the interfaith representatives didn’t want to do that; however, they later agreed and so did the council. Council passed a resolution on March 28 granting both the Christian and interfaith groups different times for their distinct NDP events. After remarking that this was acceptable, the interfaith group later withdrew their application and continued their attempts to persuade the Council to deny ours.”
The Thomas More Law Center was asked to represent the Task Force after the Council’s initial rejection of their application. Richard Thompson, the Law Center’s Chief Counsel, addressed a special session of the council and explained it was unconstitutional for government to force a group to promote a message, in this case non-Christian prayers, it did not want. As a result, the Council unanimously voted to approve the application. However, a week later, under pressure from interfaith representatives, the Council rescinded its approval.
The following week, April 18, NDP Task Force members addressed the council and again a lawyer from the Law Center, Edward L. White III, was on hand to explain the constitutional right of Christians to hold their own prayer event in front of City Hall. This time the Council approved the application, 4 to 3. Thus, barring another change of heart by the city council, the Troy National Day of Prayer Christian Task Force will hold their event on May 5th at noon, at the Veteran’s Plaza in front of Troy City Hall.
National days of prayer have been called as early as 1775 with the First Continental Congress. Abraham Lincoln called for such a day in 1863. In 1952 Congress established a National Day of Prayer by joint resolution, which was signed into law by President Truman and later amended by President Regan.
The Troy National Day of Prayer Christian Task Force is a local arm of the national group, National Day of Prayer Task Force, headed by Shirley Dobson, wife of nationally renowned founder and chairman of Focus on the Family, Jim Dobson.
Lawsuit Threatened Over School Superintendent’s Confiscation of Science Books on Intelligent Design And Order That Teachers Teach Evolution as A Fact
Thu, Apr 21, 2005
Ann Arbor, MI – A simmering yearlong dispute over the Gull Lake Community School District superintendent’s order that seventh grade science teachers teach Darwin’s theory of evolution and his confiscation of thirty copies of the book Of Pandas and People, which the teachers had been using for the past two years as a supplemental text supporting the theory of intelligent design, may soon end up in a federal court.
For the past two years, science teachers, Dawn Wendzel and Julie Olson, have been spending part of their classroom instruction teaching the theory of Intelligent Design alongside the theory of evolution. However, this past Fall they were told that they could no longer teach intelligent design, they could not teach the controversy between the theory of evolution and intelligent design and that they could only teach the scientific evidence for evolution.
The Theory of Intelligent Design, accepted by a growing number of credible scientists, holds that “intelligent causes” are necessary to explain the complex information- rich structures of biology and that these causes are empirically detectable.
The Thomas More Law Center, a national public interest law firm based in Ann Arbor, Michigan, on April 14, 2004, sent a six-page letter to the school board asking that the books be returned to the classrooms and that the teachers be allowed to teach the theory of intelligent design as they had been. The school board has been given fourteen days to respond.
Richard Thompson, President and Chief Counsel of the Law Center commented, “This may turn into the Scopes Monkey trial in reverse. Now that Darwinism has achieved dominance, it is being forced on all teachers regardless of gaps in the theory or the scientific evidence to the contrary. The actions of the Gull Lake superintendent not only violates the academic freedom of teachers to teach their subject, but also the freedom of their students to receive important information on the growing controversy surrounding the theory of evolution. Confiscation of the books the superintendent doesn’t like smacks of “book burning.”
Continued Thompson, “This is not a case of science versus religion, but science versus science.”
Since the late 1950s advances in biochemistry and microbiology, information that Darwin was not privy to in the 1850’s, have revealed that the machine like complexity of living cells – the fundamental unit of life- possess the ability to store, edit, transmit and use information so as to regulate biological systems. This suggests that the theory of intelligent design offers the best explanation for the origin of life and living cells.
The Thomas More Law Center is already defending a Dover, PA school district, which adopted a policy to make students aware of Intelligent Design, against an ACLU lawsuit.
Pope Benedict XVI Provides Great Hope For Christian Americans Fighting the Culture War
Wed, Apr 20, 2005
ANN ARBOR, MI — Thomas More Law Center President and Chief Counsel Richard Thompson commented on yesterday’s election of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger as Pope John Paul II’s successor, “Orthodox Catholics as well as all people of faith engaged in America’s Culture War, have great reason to celebrate. He is a clear trumpet sound leading us into the battle to restore the religious and moral values upon which our great nation was founded.”
Cardinal Ratzinger is known throughout the Church as a moral hardliner on issues such as abortion, euthanasia, homosexuality, and religious freedom. The selection of Ratzinger as Pope sends a clear and unequivocal message to the world of the Church’s intent on building upon the “culture of life” laid down by his predecessor John Paul II.
In his Pre-Conclave homily on Monday, he warned the Cardinals about the dangers of the theology of no absolute truths. He said, “We are moving towards a dictatorship of relativism which does not recognize anything as for certain and which has as its highest goal one’s own ego and one’s own desires.”
Added Thompson “Certainly in an age of ever growing hostility towards religion he is not a Pope likely to idly stand by and watch the moral fabric of our society be destroyed. The “culture of life” once again has a new and great champion."
Pope John Paul II - Rest in Peace
Sat, Apr 2, 2005
The Thomas More Law Center joins all people of faith throughout the world in marking the death of Pope John Paul II. The news of the passing of the Supreme Pontiff of the Roman Catholic Church is a cause for both mourning and celebration.
His remarkable life truly represents one of the most profound in modern human history – calling all people to a life of prayer, holiness and dedication to Jesus Christ in the midst of a fallen world.
He warned not only Catholics, but all people of good will, of the “enormous and dramatic clash” between the culture of life and the culture of death, between good and evil. As a champion of life, he boldly proclaimed the responsibility of all people to build communities of faith and respect for the inherent dignity of every human being. He was one of the principal architects of the defeat of communism. He spoke out against abuses of the human person and rejected the selfishness of the west manifested in abortion, homosexuality, and the destructive forces of materialism and secularism. He once stated, “A nation that kills its own children has no future.”
The third longest reigning Pope, elected on October 16, 1978, he faithfully protected the traditions and doctrines of the Catholic Church, defending them with intellectual vigor and pastoral discernment.
Pope John Paul II transcended national and religious boundaries by calling all people to a life of faith and hope. He will forever be remembered by the first words of his pontificate – “Be Not Afraid!”
Eternal rest grant unto him O Lord, and may perpetual light shine upon him.
Law Center Defends Boy Scouts’ Right to Express Traditional Moral Values Against ACLU Lawsuit
Mon, Mar 21, 2005
ANN ARBOR, MI — According to the Scout Oath, a Boy Scout promises to “do my duty to God.” Moreover, Scout rules provide, “A Scout is reverent. He is faithful in his religious duties; he respects the beliefs of others.” Because of these Scouting principles, the ACLU was successful in getting a federal district judge in San Diego, CA to prohibit the Scouts from leasing parkland they had been using for nearly nine decades. The Scouts have appealed that decision to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.
The Thomas More Law Center has filed a friend of the court brief in support of the Boy Scouts, arguing that the lower court’s decision plainly undermines the Boy Scout’s First Amendment right to expressive association and should be reversed.
Richard Thompson, President and Chief Counsel of the Thomas More Law Center, commented, “The ACLU is engaging in a concerted campaign to destroy the Boy Scouts of America because of the moral principles the Scouts espouse and their refusal to allow homosexuals to become scout leaders. As a result of their anti-Christian jihad and quest to promote their political agenda at the expense of others, the ACLU has caused the removal of Scouting Charters from public schools, the removal of Scouts from United Way contributions in many communities, and is now hurting the children of San Diego by preventing the Scouts from providing inexpensive youth programs. The Law Center will do whatever it can to support Scouts of America, and defeat the ACLU.”
Because of their institutional moral values, the federal district court has prevented the Boy Scouts from leasing two parcels of park property from the City of San Diego for the purpose of providing inexpensive, outdoor activities for the City’s youth, claiming that this arrangement violates the Establishment Clause and related California constitutional provisions that seek to create a mythical “wall of separation between church and state.”
Law Center Trial Counsel Robert Muise, who authored the brief, noted, “It is unconstitutional to force an organization to forego its basic values, beliefs and practices in order to participate in a government program, such as the lease arrangements at issue in this case. Since the Boy Scouts succeeded in defending their membership policy in the U.S. Supreme Court five years ago, they have been under constant attack by those who seek to impose their pro-homosexual, anti-Christian agenda.”
The Law Center’s brief points out that the district court’s decision is contrary to the well-established law respecting the difference between government speech endorsing religion, which is prohibited by the Establishment Clause, and private speech endorsing religions, such as the Boy Scout’s speech, which is protected by the Free Speech and Free Exercise clauses.
$1 Million Judgment Awarded To “Pledge” Challenger Michael Newdow Set Aside By Court
Tue, Mar 15, 2005
ANN ARBOR, MI – Michael Newdow, who gained national attention for his near successful efforts to have the words “under God” removed from the Pledge of Allegiance only to be thwarted by the Supreme Court on technical grounds, has suffered another court loss. This time a California state court has set aside a $1 million dollar default judgment Newdow obtained against Reverend Austin Miles for libel.
The libel judgment was based on a news article written by Reverend Miles in which he opined that Newdow had lied to the court when he claimed his daughter was forced to recite the words “under God” as she was actually a Christian who willingly said the Pledge of Allegiance in school.
This past June, Newdow convinced a judge in a California state court to enter a default judgment against Miles in the amount of $1 million, because Miles had failed to respond to the lawsuit, even though Miles had never been served with a copy of the complaint and was not aware of the lawsuit.
After learning of the $1 million dollar judgment, Miles contacted the Thomas More Law Center to represent him. After a lengthy hearing this past December, the court issued an order lifting the default judgment and allowing the case to proceed to trial. The court explained that Miles had made a sufficient showing that he lacked actual notice of the lawsuit to warrant the default to be set aside. The court e