Saturday, January 16, 2016

Today is Religious Freedom Day

Save The Day: Celebrating Real Religious Freedom
Rob Boston in Wall of Separation

Religious Right efforts to promote the 'Christian nation' myth continue apace.

Saturday is Religious Freedom Day. While it’s not one of our most well-known or popular holidays, Religious Freedom Day shouldn’t be overlooked. Our country is in the middle of a campaign, spearheaded by far-right religious groups and their political allies, to redefine religious freedom. We cannot allow this to happen.

This campaign takes several forms. We see efforts by Religious Right groups and the U.S. Catholic bishops to take religious freedom, a key individual right, and turn it into something that allows one person to control or make moral decisions for others.


Tuesday, July 7, 2015

AU Launches "Protect Thy Neighbor" Project

Unwilling to accept the advances in LGBT rights, women’s equality, and reproductive health, religious extremists are asking state legislatures, Congress, and the courts for a trump card to undermine this progress. They want to use their religious beliefs as an excuse to deny healthcare, refuse to provide services, and disobey laws protecting Americans from discrimination and abuse.

We stand for equality, fairness, and religious freedom. Everyone should be free to believe or not believe, but people’s religious beliefs should not be used to harm their neighbors.  As advocates for religious freedom, we are standing up to those who would harm others in the name of religion. We are fighting to protect our neighbors.

Protect Thy Neighbor is designed to respond to the increasingly common assertions that “religious freedom” gives people a right to discriminate against others, and deny them access to certain medical services.  We have fought this battle for years, but recent developments – including efforts by Catholic Bishops and Religious Right groups to use a twisted definition of “religious freedom” to deny rights to women and LGBT Americans – have opened a flood gate of new battles. We are expanding our work so that no one is allowed to use religion as an excuse to refuse you service, deny you healthcare or threaten your safety.

We are protecting our neighbors, and we invite you to join us.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

AU Releases New Graphics Explaining Unconstitutionality of NDOP

As has been going on for almost 40 years, Congress has again endorsed an event led by a partisan conservative Christian group, the National Day of Prayer Committee (led by the wife of Christian conservative pundit James Dobson of Focus on the Family), and allowing the group to use its endorsement to promote their particular brand of Christianity with national political leaders participating in this annual charade without any hint of embarrassment or irony.

Also going on for the same 40 years, Americans United has spoken out to criticize this blatantly offensive and unconstitutional display of sectarian favoritism that excludes the vast majority of Americans and our faith and non-faith communities.  This year, AU has created a couple of informational graphics to make our point:
This year's National Day of Prayer will be held on Thursday, May 7. Please write to your Congressional representative this year to complain yet again about this outrageous assault on our First Amendment, and to insist that they follow the Constitution they were elected and swore to serve.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Megachurch Helps California School Board Blur Church-State Divide

(Reported by Amy Julia Harris,, 29 Apr 2015)

Bible verses, calls to accept Jesus and the promise of eternal life can be heard in two disparate places in a southeastern suburb of Los Angeles: the Calvary Chapel Chino Hills megachurch and the Chino Valley Unified School District Board of Education.

Three of the five school board members worship at the evangelical church on Sundays; two of them continue praying and preaching during the board meetings on Thursdays.

James Na, Chino Valley School Board President
“Our lives begin in the hospital and end in the church,” then-board President James Na said during a meeting in January 2014, according to a video of the meeting. He urged onlookers to surrender themselves to God and, to “everyone who does not know Jesus Christ, go find him.”

Some parents in the district say such proselytizing belongs at church, not at the school board. Parents first raised concerns about the prayers in September 2013 – a few months before Na encouraged people to find Jesus – contacting the Freedom From Religion Foundation, a Wisconsin nonprofit atheist group that opposes entanglements of church and state. The group sent board members a letter notifying them that they were violating federal laws.

That didn’t stop the public praying.


Friday, November 14, 2014

Chino Valley School Board Criticized for Religious Proselytization During Board Meetings

Chino Valley Unified School District
The Chino Valley School Board has been identified by Americans United as unconstitutionally promoting religion - primarily conservative Protestant Chistianity - at its Board meetings for the past few years.  The Board regularly opens their public meetings with a Christian prayer.  The Board has also been noted for regularly including bible readings and proselytizing by board members during Board discussions.

Students often attend the meetings to receive awards, speak about issues affecting their schools, attend disciplinary hearings and do performances. Student attendance is mandatory in some instances, and a student representative serves as a non-voting member of the Board.

James Na, now Board President, has been singled out as a prime violator of religious neutrality, regularly including Christian and Biblical references into many of his official statements. At one recent Board meeting, Na "urged everyone who does not know Jesus Christ to go and find Him," and closed the meeting with a reading of Psalm 143.

The Chino Valley School Board has been criticized in the past for attempting to introduce Bible Study classes which critics labelled as unbalanced and proselytizing. In 2010, a Bible Study class prepared and submitted by the Calvary Chapel Chino Hills was introduced at the district's four high schools as a "Bible as Literature" class. At the time of its introduction, School Board Vice President James Na added, "[The Bible] will bring greatness in students' lives. I would like to thank God and Christian parents who are going to support this class." No similar classes focusing on other religious texts or faiths were considered. The Board, most of whom are members of the Calvary Chapel Chino Hills, also saw fit at the same time to approve a resolution denouncing same-sex marriage.

Courts have consistently held that organized prayer in the public schools is unconstitutional; and two federal appellate courts, the Third and Sixth Circuits, have specifically held that school board prayer to be unconstitutional.

Americans United has sent a letter of concern to the CVUSD Board asking that these constitutionally questionable practices be stopped and the Board meetings be held without the injection of prayers, bible readings, or proselytizing by city officials or their representatives. The Board has been regularly contacted over the past two years to address these constitutional concerns.  Their only response, agreed to at their 7 October 2013 meeting, was to deny and ignore the requests for resolution.  No further action or change to their practices has occurred since then.

AU members who live in the district and who might have more information on the situation are urged to contact and advise the Greater Los Angeles chapter on additional developments.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

California Orders Healthcare Insurers to Cover Abortion Services

In a reversal of directives given to health care insurance companies earlier this year, California state insurance officials issued new rules advising health insurance companies in California that they may not refuse to cover the cost of abortions.

The new directives stemmed from complaints filed by employees at two Catholic universities in California who stated that their employer had dropped elective abortions from their employee health plans.

The directives seem at odds with recent US Supreme Court rulings, especially Hobby Lobby vs. Sebelius, which ruled that closely-held corporations have a First Amendment right to choose to not provide health care insurance to their employees that conflicts with the owners' religious beliefs, including abortion and the coverage of supposed abortificents.  However, California state insurance officials stated that in California, the state Constitution and a 1975 state law prohibits insurers from selling group plans that exclude such services. The law in question requires such plans to encompass all "medically necessary" care.

"Abortion is a basic health care service," department director Michelle Rouillard wrote in the letter. "All health plans must treat maternity services and legal abortion neutrally."

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Pasadena's Health Director Has Some Unhealthy Attitudes

In all of the tumult last week about the Supreme Court's ruling in Town of Greece v. Galloway, some other interesting stories got overlooked.

One of them concerns the director of public health for the city of Pasadena, Calif., who, it seems, is in a spot of trouble.

It has come to light that Dr. Eric Walsh has been moonlighting as a Seventh-day Adventist pastor. In sermons posted online, he has called evolution "a religion created by Satan" and sharply criticized homosexuality, Catholicism and Islam.
Walsh seems to have something of an obsession with the devil. Just about everything he dislikes, from Oprah Winfrey and Disney movies to certain rap stars, he has labeled Satan influenced. Among his targets is the American Psychiatric Association, which in 1973 moved to stop classifying homosexuality as a mental illness. That decision, Walsh says, was "raised up by" Satan.

Of course Walsh has the right to say these things and preach them from the pulpit - and the residents of Pasadena have the right to question his views and ask if they might be affecting public policy. They would be wise to do that because in this case, Walsh's rhetoric would seem to be highly relevant to his job.

Pasadena is one of a handful of California cities that has its own public health director. (The position is normally a county-level slot.) It's an important job with a host of responsibilities, and Walsh's strident theological views could impact them all.

Walsh believes that condom-distribution programs lead to promiscuity. This stance - which is unsupported by the medical community - would seem to be highly relevant to his job. He has also blasted public schools for teaching tolerance of LGBT students, asserting, "[I]f two adults agree to do something, it's not wrong because they are both consenting adults. That is doctrine from the pits of hell. What makes something right is not based on man, it is based on God." He has been critical of single moms too.

Is this the guy you want making decisions about what young people learn about sex?

I'd also be concerned about his opposition to evolution. Good medical professionals understand how viruses mutate and how this affects vaccine effectiveness. It's due to a little thing called natural selection. I'd be wary of going to any doctor who rejected this theory.

Jim Newton of the Los Angeles Times put it well, writing of Walsh: "Not only did he pop off about the various kinds of people he believes are condemned by God, he also specifically rejected evolution, which he regards as the mischievous work of Satan rather than a fact of science. Those remarks suggest not just intolerance or religious fervor but active rejection of science important to carrying out his work as a health officer. In that instance, his comments raise questions not so much about his beliefs as about his competence. Would Pasadena want a health director who claimed tobacco did not cause heart disease or who insisted that climate change was a myth?

Frank C. Giradot, a columnist for the Pasadena Star-News, also raised important points.

"[O]ur laws give him every right to believe in a hateful, bigoted and small-minded creed," Giradot wrote. "But its prideful, marginalized and wrong-headed nature can't help but affect Walsh's judgment. It's a belief system that makes Dr. Walsh incredibly unsuited for public service as the city's chief health officer."
Walsh is on paid leave while city officials investigate the matter.

That leave should be made permanent, without the pay. If Walsh wants to spread a theologically based message of division and bigotry, let him. And let the people who agree with that message and want to hear it pay his salary. His repulsive views have made him unfit for public service.

-Rob Boston

P.S. Americans United has worked with many Seventh-day Adventists over the years. They are often strong supporters of the separation of church and state. Walsh seems like an unfortunate outlier.