Separation of church and state: no, you may not advertise your religion to your pupils

The Supreme Court issued an order yesterday denying certiorari to Johnson v. Poway Unified School District. In Johnston, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals held that a California public school did not violate Mr. Johnston’s right to freedom of speech by ordering him to remove a large banner in his classroom with several references to God such as “God Bless America” and “God shed His grace on thee.”

The 9th Circuit stated: “We consider whether a public school district infringes the First Amendment liberties of one of its teachers when it orders him not to use his public position as a pulpit from which to preach his own views on the role of God in our Nation’s history to the captive students in his mathematics classroom. The answer is clear: it does not.”

The Supreme Court has denied an appeal of this decision without comment.

Here’s a link to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals decision, Johnson v. Poway Unified School District.


U.S. ‘Defense of Marriage’ Act ruled unconstitutional

A U. Federal District court has ruled that the Defense of Marriage Act is unconstitutional and that  a same-sex married couple is entitled to the same employment benefits as other married couples.

The ruling by U.S. District Judge Jeffrey S. White was the first since the Obama administration announced a year ago that it would no longer defend a law it considers discriminatory….

Ironically, the plaintiff, Karen Golinski, is an attorney for the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

The Defense of Marriage Act prohibits the extension of federal benefits to same-sex spouses and Golinski’s wife, Amy Cunninghis, had been repeatedly denied coverage since the couple married in 2008.

“The court finds that DOMA, as applied to Ms. Golinski, violates her right to equal protection of the law … without substantial justification or rational basis,” wrote White.

The judge was appointed by George W. Bush.

White’s ruling echoed that of a Massachusetts judge who in 2010 deemed parts of the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional, a case now on appeal before the U.S. 1st Circuit Court of Appeals.

A Republican group had argued that the law protects “traditional” marriage.

In his 43-page ruling, White said “tradition alone” doesn’t justify legislation that targets a vulnerable social group. “The obligation of the court is to define the liberty of all, not to mandate our own moral code,” White wrote.

The Republican congressional group can appeal, but any appeal

… would go through the 9th Circuit, where Chief Judge Alex Kozinski has already ruled in administrative orders that the federal government’s refusal to provide benefits to Golinski’s spouse violates her rights.

Religious hate speech isn’t OK after all

Extreme Christian and probable madman Dennis Markuze was hit with another fourteen counts of criminal harassment and uttering death threats against atheists and skeptics, bringing the total to sixteen charges. I’m sure that’s just a preliminary look at the most obvious crimes. He did not get bail. He has been sent to a psychiatric hospital for thirty days of psychological examination. And that’s a good thing: the threats appearing to come from his busy fingers included death, decapitation, and torture for skeptics, their families, and anyone they talked to.

Religious nut charged with two counts of threatening death

A religious (not pseudo-religious, as some newspapers would have it) crank has finally been charged for his threats:

  • A deranged spammer of religiously based death threats has been charged with two counts–perhaps the most recent and local of his offences? Or perhaps the most vicious? Those with the youngest victims? Who know? At least the Montreal Police were shamed off their duffs by the blaze of publicity shone on them by an online petition.
  • He wasn’t lured into threatening the police. I don’t think anyone expected that he would start threatening them, but he started signing the petition himself in order to place threats against other signers in the comments. Which sent his threats straight to the police. Then his habit of choosing “Reply All” for anything that mentioned him meant that his Tweeted threats against people discussing him also went to @SPVM, the Montreal Police.

Police finally launch an investigation of Dennis Markuze

The Montreal Gazette reports that Montreal Police have finally been motivated to start an investigation into tens of thousands of death threats sent by one man who calls himself David Mabus and who uses hundreds of e-mail accounts, twitter accounts, and forum IDs to send pre-written death threats to skeptics and atheists. Hate speech, anyone? International death threats, anyone?

The petition points out

“Anyone who associates with scientifically and skeptically minded people,” it adds, “is likely to become a target for unsettling rants and threats to their life and well-being,” with recipients including “scientists, writers, public figures, atheists, and their friends.”

“Mabus” apparently takes religion as his excuse to issue threats of torture and decapitation.

Many people have filed format complaints:

Tim Farley, a computer-security expert in Atlanta, Ga., told The Gazette that, “as instructed” by Montreal police, “I filed a report with the Atlanta police on this person in January [2011] when he first started sending me direct death threats.” Farley said he also faxed that report – on Feb. 10 at 3:43 p.m. – to Station 7 in St. Laurent, the station nearest to where the man apparently lives and works.

“Today (Wednesday [Aug. 10]) was the first time anyone from the police has ever called me,” Farley added.

In  a typical excuse, police claim never to have heard of the problem:

…Monday afternoon, following an inquiry by The Gazette, a Montreal police public-relations official said: “We haven’t received any complaints” about ‘Mabus.’

[Montreal police spokesperson Lt. Ian] Lafrenière said he was not aware of earlier complaints to police about the man’s activities…. Lafrenière said he wasn’t aware of any complaint from [UMM Prof. PZ] Myers.

Prof. Myers filed at least one formal complaint in 2009.

Religion vs. law, U.S.

From Reynolds v. U.S., 1878

Reynolds argued that as a Mormon, it was his religious duty to practice polygamy if possible.

In its ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court considered the history of religious freedom in the U.S. and quoted Thomas Jefferson’s letter: he stated that there was a distinction between religious belief and any action that flowed from it. The former “lies solely between man and his God,” so “the legislative powers of the government reach actions only, and not opinions.”

If polygamy were allowed, said the court, someone might eventually argue that their religion required human sacrifice, and “to permit this would be to make the professed doctrines of religious belief superior to the law of the land, and in effect to permit every citizen to become a law unto himself.” Therefore the spirit of the First Amendment was that Congress could not legislate against opinion, but could legislate against action.

RDF notice on California litigation

Blaine Greenberg, the legal counsel for Richard Dawkins and the Richard Dawkins Foundation has posted a statement on the RDF website. He notes that he wrote the claim and the language is his. Comments are closed on this statement.

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