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.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

California Representative Protests Hypocrisy of National Day of Prayer event

Rep. Janice Hahn (CA44-D) finally had enough.

On Thursday, at the annual National Day of Prayer gathering hosted on Capitol Hill, Rep. Hahn left in protest after the highlighted speaker, Dr. James Dobson (husband of self-designated "National Day of Prayer Task Force" [NDOPTF] chair Shirley Dobson), used his time to denounce President Obama and labelling him "the abortion president."

Hahn was appalled. “We have this annual, national day of prayer, which is supposed to bring the whole country together to pray for our nation, and typically you put politics aside and you come together,” Hahn told CQ Roll Call. “James Dobson just absolutely violated that, and I really think he did damage to what we try to do up here in Washington, D.C.”

Dobson is the founder of the conservative group Focus on the Family and also hosts a conservative Christian-themed talk show “Family Talk.”  His organization has controlled the National Day of Prayer celebrations for over two decades and has regularly used it to exclusively promote Christian Dominionism.  All volunteers for the NDOPTF are required by the organization to sign letters affirming Jesus Christ to be their "personal Lord and Savior".

Rep. Hahn still, however, thinks the event is worthwhile. “I’m the co-chair of the weekly Congressional Prayer Breakfast,” she explained. “I was the co-chair this year of the National Prayer Breakfast. And I work so hard at putting my politics aside every week and coming together with members of Congress I don’t agree with, but we find an hour a week where we put politics aside and pray for our country, and so far, it’s worked. … I was so upset today I felt like abandoning everything I’ve done to try to be bipartisan.”

Americans United and other pro-secular groups have been complaining about the exclusive and partisan nature of these annual events for some time, as well as for its inherent contempt for and undermining of the secular nature of our country's constitution.  We applaud Rep. Hahn for being willing to publicly denounce the sham event and urge her and Congress to distance themselves from the NDOPTF for the future and to stop endorsing and supporting this Constitutionally hostile event.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

State-Sponsored Supplications: Does the United States Really Need a National Day of Prayer?

by James C. Nelson in Wall of Separation |    

Editor’s Note: Today is the congressionally mandated National Day of Prayer. “The Wall of Separation” is pleased to offer this guest post by James C. Nelson, a retired justice of the Montana Supreme Court. Nelson was appointed to the court by Gov. Marc Racicot in 1993 and was reelected to the position three times, serving until his retirement in 2013.
Congress has proclaimed that the first Thursday in May – May 1, this year – be set aside as a National Day of Prayer. There will be prayer breakfasts and similar events conspicuously attended by elected officials, politicians and sectarian persona.
But, should Congress and state officials be promoting prayer at all? According to the Constitution, no!
The First Amendment guarantees two things: (1) that Congress will not prohibit the free exercise of religion; and (2) that Congress will make no law respecting an establishment of religion. These two clauses embody the wall separating church and state – a wall that is supposed to keep government out of religion, period.
Why, then, did Congress create in 1952, and then codify in 1988, a “national” day of prayer?  If your answer is, “True to the intentions of the Constitution’s framers, America is Christian Nation,” you’d be wrong.  Indeed, creating any kind of a religious nation, Christian or otherwise, is exactly what the framers were trying to avoid when they drafted the First Amendment. And for good reason.
At the time the First Amendment was adopted there actually were official state churches held over from colonial times. People were prosecuted and imprisoned for their religious practices and public statements at odds with those of the official or prevailing local religious views. Jews and Muslims were demonized and persecuted; Christians often violently disagreed over Biblical interpretation, religious doctrine and practice. Each sect had its own lock on the truth.
In that historical context, and based on the views of men like Roger Williams, Thomas Jefferson, John Leland, George Washington, and James Madison, the First Amendment’s religion clauses were drafted to guarantee freedom of belief and tolerance for all religions - -and to keep government out of that mix.
Importantly, there is not one mention of God, Jesus, Christ, Christianity or prayer in the religion clauses. There are only two references to “religion” in the Constitution – one in the First Amendment and another in Article VI banning any religious test for public office.
Indeed, the “Christian Nation” concept first came into existence during the Civil War – largely conceived and perpetuated by Northern ministers who, when the war was going badly, announced that the Union Army’s defeats were God’s punishment for ignoring God in the Constitution. But, when the tide of war shifted, these same ministers then proclaimed that God was rewarding the spiritually upright side of the conflict. Thus, America being founded as a “Christian Nation” is fiction. Worse than that, it is exactly contrary to what the framers were trying to negate in the First Amendment.
So, besides violating the principle of separation of church and state, what’s wrong with a national (or state) day of prayer?  First, Americans don’t need a congressional proclamation to tell them to pray; they already have a personal, constitutional right to pray – or not to pray – as they (not the government) see fit.
Second, government is not permitted to be in the business of telling people whether to pray, when to pray or who to pray to.
Third, the National Day of Prayer has become a vehicle for spreading religious misinformation and fundamentalist Christian doctrine under the aegis of the government – again precisely what the framers were seeking to prohibit.
Feel free to pray or not pray today – not in response to a congressional proclamation but because you have a constitutional right to do either. But, if you choose to pray, you may want to ask that our elected officials begin to honor the letter and spirit of the First Amendment and respect the separation of church and state.
After all, each previously swore an oath to do just that.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Lake Elsinore Continues to Have First Amendment Lapses

The city of Lake Elsinore seems unable to wean itself of its unconstitutional addiction to putting up religious displays.  The most recent was over a 5-foot-tall plywood roadside cross erected on the side of Lake Street at the foot of the I-15 exit ramp.  The Christian display was put up in 2012 in response to the traffic death of a local teen on the ramp. It was finally taken down by the city on March 4 after longstanding pressure from First Amendment groups. However, within a day of the original cross being removed, citizen vigilantes planted at least six new crosses on the same spot.

You may recall that Lake Elsinore was recently sued for planning a taxpayer-funded memorial depicting a soldier kneeling in prayer before a cross in front of the city baseball stadium. A U.S. District Court judge ruled at the end of February that the memorial was unconstitutional, forcing the city to change its plans.