More legal victories

By Molly Hanson

Colorado town ends worship event support 

FFRF has ended an annual unconstitutional religious event put on by a Colorado town.

Each year, the town of Gypsum was hosting a community worship event called “Praise in the Park” as part of its summer celebration, “Gypsum Daze.” The event included live performances of worship music from local area churches. The town’s website was advertising “Praise in the Park.”

In a letter sent on July 18, FFRF Legal Fellow Chris Line informed Gypsum Town Manager Jeff Shroll that the town has a constitutional obligation to remain neutral toward religion, and that by organizing and promoting a worship event, Gypsum unlawfully entangles itself with religion. An attorney representing the town responded on Dec. 26, notifying FFRF that the town will not be participating in any future Praise in the Park programs.

Kentucky school ends religious violations

A concerned student contacted FFRF to report that students and staff at Christian County High School in Kentucky had participated in a See You at the Pole event on school property in September 2017, during which staff led students in prayer. Additionally, FFRF learned that a teacher at the school had been preaching Christianity to his students.

See You at the Pole is a Christian-oriented prayer rally organized each year around a bible verse. FFRF Legal Director Rebecca Markert wrote to Superintendent Mary Ann Gemmill on Nov. 7, informing her that by advertising the event, the high school created the appearance that the district unconstitutionally endorses the event’s Christian message.

Furthermore, Markert informed Gemmill that it is illegal for a teacher to proselytize to students. Public schools have a duty to ensure that their teachers are not encouraging religion in their classrooms and must not promote a particular religious viewpoint with their curriculum.

A legal representative of the district responded on Dec. 5 assuring FFRF that the violation had been discussed with the principal of the school and the teacher and would not occur again.

Religious project stopped in Ohio school

An Ohio public school will not be promoting religion in the future after a concerned parent reported to FFRF that Big Walnut High School was participating in “Operation Christmas Child,” a Christian ministry the school had been participating in for 25 years.

FFRF Patrick O’Reiley Legal Fellow Chris Line wrote to Superintendent Angela Pollock on Nov. 2, informing her that the school district violated the constitution by taking part in a charity project sponsored by Samaritan’s Purse — a religious organization.

On Dec. 3, Pollock informed FFRF that, while the program had already concluded, the students and staff would brainstorm new options for the future to ensure they would be compliant with constitutional obligations to keep religion out of school.

Bible study no longer sponsored by S.C. city

It was brought to FFRF’s attention that the city of Newberry, S.C., was regularly sponsoring a Christian “Bibles and Badges” bible study. The studies were being held in city facilities and the city was listed on social media as the meeting host. The city’s official Facebook page was promoting the bible studies, which repeatedly included calls for members of the public to attend.

On Nov. 22, FFRF Senior Counsel Patrick Elliott wrote to Mayor Foster Senn, informing him that hosting and promoting a Christian bible study fails to respect the First Amendment’s mandate that the government remain religiously neutral by endorsing Christianity over all other faiths and no faith.

FFRF received a letter on Dec. 5 from Senn, in which he wrote that the Bibles and Badges group was no longer meeting and that the city Facebook site will no longer list meeting notices of the group.

FFRF quiets worship music at Indiana school 

FFRF was informed that a choir director for Loogootee middle and high schools in Indiana had been using her position to promote religion to students in the school’s choir program.

The program had been performing overwhelmingly Christian music and choir students were being required to sing in various churches. FFRF Legal Fellow Chris Line wrote to Loogootee Community Schools Superintendent Chip Mehaffey on Nov. 10, requesting that the school district begin an immediate investigation into the violation.

Line informed Mehaffey that it was inappropriate for a public school teacher to teach songs of Christian worship and devotion in a public school setting. Additionally, Line noted, taking public school students to church strongly signals an unconstitutional endorsement of Christianity.

On Nov. 10, a legal representative of the district informed FFRF that the district will not make arrangements for students to perform at churches in the future and will ensure that outside performances arranged by the school will be performed in nonreligious venues. FFRF was also informed that the choir instructor had been told to make secular song choices.

Gideons blocked from schools in Michigan

A concerned parent informed FFRF that on Oct. 20, members of Gideons International were passing out New Testaments to all students of reading age outside of Fennville Elementary School in Fennville, Mich., while they waited to be picked up after school. This distribution reportedly took place on school property, just 20 feet from the school door.

It is unconstitutional for public school districts to permit Gideons International to distribute bibles as part of the public school day on school property, FFRF informed Fennville Public Schools.

“Courts have uniformly held that the distribution of bibles to students at public schools during the school day is prohibited,” FFRF Legal Fellow Chris Line wrote to Fennville Public Schools Superintendent Jim Greydanus. “In striking down a school district’s policy permitting Gideons to distribute bibles in classrooms, the 7th Circuit stated, ‘the Gideon Bible is unabashedly Christian. In permitting distribution of ‘The New Testament of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ’ along with limited excerpts from the Old Testament, the schools affront not only nonreligious people but all those whose faiths, or lack of faith, does not encompass the New Testament.’”

The Gideons International is self-described as an interdenominational association of Christian business and professional men who are members of Protestant/evangelical churches. (The organization doesn’t allow women to be full-fledged members.) Its website states that it is “dedicated to telling people about Jesus through sharing personally and by providing bibles and New Testaments.” The Gideon website openly refers to public schools as a prime target.

Public schools have a constitutional obligation to remain neutral toward religion and to protect the rights of conscience of young and impressionable students, FFRF contended. In allowing Gideons to distribute bibles to elementary school students, the district was impermissibly endorsing religion by placing its “stamp of approval” on the religious messages contained in the bible.

In contacting the superintendent, FFRF noted he may have had no prior knowledge of the bible distribution. Gideons often operate by deliberately avoiding superintendents and school boards, advising their members to seek permission at the lowest level of authority.

The superintendent confirmed FFRF’s suspicions and informed it that this sort of incident would not recur.

“I have investigated the incident and have found that there was indeed a violation of district policies by those responsible for the distribution,” Greydanus wrote back. “Those responsible did not seek, nor receive, my permission to distribute materials on campus as required by policy.”

FFRF is glad to be of assistance and appreciates the superintendent’s assurances.

“We have taken complaints over aggressive Gideon tactics for four decades,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “ We teach our children not to accept gifts from strangers. Then there are these grown men preying on a captive audience of young students. The Gideons should be ashamed of themselves.”

A Gideon bible with FFRF’s warning sticker.

FFRF stops unconstitutional prayers

Say your prayers…

By Molly Hanson

In the past month or so, FFRF has recorded several victories in six states against schools or cities regarding unconstitutional prayer. (FFRF’s other recent victories are on page 9.)

Alabama

After it was reported to FFRF that a second-grade teacher at Ashford Elementary School in Alabama was leading her students in daily prayer before lunch, FFRF took action.

FFRF Legal Fellow Chris Line wrote to Houston County Schools Superintendent David Sewell on Dec. 4 to remind the district that public school teachers may not lead their students in prayer or otherwise endorse religion to students.

A response was received on Dec. 6 from Sewell informing FFRF that employees had been notified of their obligation to abide by federal and state laws regarding the separation of church and state.

California

FFRF got involved after being informed that the city of Buena Park, Calif., was hosting an annual Mayor’s Prayer Breakfast.

Although a nonprofit organization was promoted as presenting the prayer breakfast, the city’s website was advertising the event and instructing the public to send RSVPs and payments for tickets to Buena Park City Hall and to call the Office of the City Manager phone number for more information about the religious event.

FFRF Staff Attorney Elizabeth Cavell wrote to the city clerk on Nov. 10, informing the city that the hosting of the prayer breakfast posed serious First Amendment violation concerns. Cavell asked that the city cease all sponsorship and organization of the event, and to disassociate Buena Park and the mayor’s office from the event.

The city attorney responded on Dec. 22 indicating that Buena Park would be handing over more responsibility to the nonprofit organization and discontinuing the city promotion and ticket sales. The city also plans to change the name of the event.

Kansas

A concerned parent reported to FFRF that the principal of Oskaloosa Junior/Senior High School in Kansas had led students, parents and faculty in a prayer at the 2017 Fall Athletic Banquet, which was held to recognize all of the students who were in sports and activities for the fall semester. Additionally, it was reported that the school’s Veterans Day event included prayer.

In a letter sent on Dec. 15 to Oskaloosa Public Schools Superintendent Jon Pfau, FFRF Legal Fellow Chris Line informed the district that it is unlawful for any school-sponsored event to include prayer.   

Pfau called Line on Dec. 18 assuring FFRF that there will be no more school-sponsored prayer in the future.

Kentucky

After receiving multiple reports from concerned parents that a Kentucky public elementary school was promoting religion to its students, FFRF got involved. It was brought to FFRF’s attention that a teacher at Valley Elementary School in Pikeville, Ky., was requiring students to say a prayer while they lined up for lunch: “God is great. God is good. Let us thank him for our food. By his grace we are fed. Thank him for our daily bread.”

Additionally, another parent reported to FFRF that as part of a Christmas party, the school planned to take its second-grade students to see “The Star,” a Christian adventure comedy retelling the nativity of Jesus. The plot of the film follows the biblical account of the birth of Jesus.

FFRF Legal Fellow Chris Line wrote to an attorney representing Pike County Schools on Dec. 14, informing him that public school teachers may not lead their students in prayer, encourage prayer or otherwise endorse religion to students. Line also warned the district that bringing public school students on a field trip to a Christian movie as part of a Christmas party is a blatant and unconstitutional promotion of Christianity.

An attorney informed FFRF in a Dec. 19 phone call that he would discuss the violations with the principal of the school to ensure that the teacher stops praying and that the district makes lawful movie choices in the future.

Minnesota

It was brought to FFRF’s attention that the Little Falls City Council in Minnesota was opening each year’s first meeting with a Christian prayer. Members of the Franciscan Sisters have given the opening invocation in 2016 and 2017, and have been exclusively been given the opportunity to do so.

On June 26, 2017, FFRF Senior Counsel Patrick Elliott wrote to Mayor Greg Zylaka informing him that the city must end the practice of having a Franciscan Sister give the yearly invocation because it creates the unlawful appearance that the city endorses Catholicism above other beliefs. Elliott noted that the nonreligious and members of minority religions should be permitted to deliver invocations. FFRF sent a follow-up letter on Dec. 15.

The city administrator responded on Dec. 28 informing FFRF that the city council would no longer place an invocation on the agenda for future council meetings.

Utah

On Aug. 17, FFRF wrote to the Tooele County School District in Utah over unconstitutional promotion of religion by the district superintendent.

It was brought to FFRF’s attention that at the 2017 annual and mandatory meeting the district has at the beginning of its school year, Superintendent Scott Rogers talked about the importance of prayer and how it is necessary in education.

He then invited a pastor up on to the podium to deliver a Christian prayer. FFRF Legal Fellow Chris Line wrote to Rogers warning him against the unconstitutional endorsement of Christianity.

An attorney representing the school district responded on Dec. 20 informing FFRF that Rogers had been advised against having prayer at future meetings.

FFRF was assured that Rogers indicated he would comply with the district policy and constitutional mandate against promoting prayer.

Gaylor v. Mnuchin case part of H&R Block tutorials

The nation’s most famous tax preparation service now features a recent FFRF legal triumph as part of its tutorials.

H&R Block’s class required for its tax professionals in 2018 includes a section on FFRF’s historic federal court victory that declared unconstitutional the clergy housing allowance. (See accompanying story.)

The briefing appears under “Module 4: Hot Topics.”

The plaintiffs in the case are FFRF Co-Presidents Annie Laurie Gaylor and Dan Barker, and Ian Gaylor representing the estate of Anne Nicol Gaylor, FFRF president emerita. The co-presidents argued that as leaders of a freethought organization they are similarly situated to clergy. Yet when FFRF designated a housing allowance for the co-presidents and as part of Anne Gaylor’s retirement, the IRS refused to allow them to deduct the allowances.

The trio first sued in 2013, winning at the district level, which created a national outcry by the clergy. When the case was appealed, with virtually every denomination chiming in against the ruling, the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals threw the case out on standing, saying the plaintiffs had failed to request a refund. Taking the cue, they requested refunds, and when they were denied, went back to court.

“We’re flattered our historic challenge of this inequity is a hot topic with tax professionals,” says Annie Laurie Gaylor.

FFRF is delighted to be of educational value — for tax preparers and everyone else.

H&R Block’s online tutorial shows the FFRF case.

FFRF historic victory: Housing allowance enforcement enjoined

A federal judge who recently ruled in favor of FFRF’s challenge of the clergy housing privilege ordered the suspension of the IRS regulation governing the giveaway (pending appeal).

Dan Barker
Judge Barbara Crabb

“This is a decision ultimately affecting all clergy and retired clergy nationwide who’ve received this unconstitutional tax privilege,” notes FFRF Co-President Dan Barker, one of the plaintiffs.

In the same order, U.S. District Judge Barbara B. Crabb then immediately stayed her injunction pending an expected appeal. If Crabb’s decision is upheld, her order mandates that her injunction will become effective 180 days after the appeal process is completed in order to allow an orderly transition.

Crabb had on Oct. 6 declared unconstitutional a provision in the tax code that excludes from gross income a housing allowance paid to a “minister of the gospel.” But she held off on final action until FFRF, the federal government and religious intervenors each had a chance to weigh in on the remedy.

One option included an injunction requiring the IRS to extend the benefits to the plaintiffs, including Barker and FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor, who were designated a housing allowance by FFRF they were not allowed to claim. Another option was to nullify the entire statute, which both FFRF and the federal government endorsed — and that is the option Crabb ultimately chose. Barker and Gaylor, who, as atheistic heads of a nonreligious group, are similarly situated to members of clergy, charged that the statute is discriminatory and violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment barring governmental preference for religion.

The housing allowance was passed in 1954 to reward “ministers of the gospel” for carrying on “a courageous fight against [a godless and anti-religious world movement].” The statute allows housing allowances paid as part of clergy salary to be subtracted outright from taxable income. Clergy may exempt up to the fair market rental value of their home. The housing allowance may pay not just rent or mortgage, but also for such things as home improvements, maintenance, repairs, dishwashers, cable TV, phone fees and bank fees.

The congressional Joint Committee on Taxation has reported that the exemption amounts to more than $700 million a year in lost revenue. The Religion News Service calculated that the allowance increases the take-home pay of some pastors by up to 10 percent. Christianity Today found that 84 percent of senior pastors receive a housing allowance of $20,000 to $38,000 in added (but not reported) compensation to their base salary. A growing subset of highly paid ministers who live in multimillion dollar mansions are able to exclude hundreds of thousands of dollars from income taxation.

In 2013, Judge Crabb first ruled in FFRF’s favor in its original challenge. Crabb’s original finding sent “shockwaves through the religious community,” according to the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability, which bitterly fought the ruling, along with just about every religious denomination in the country. In November 2014, the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals threw out that victory — not on the merits, but on the question of standing — arguing that Barker and Gaylor hadn’t yet sought a refund of their housing allowance from the IRS. Accordingly, they sought the refund and when denied, went back to court.

Sued are Steve Mnuchin, U.S. secretary of the treasury, and John Koskinen, IRS commissioner at the time. The case also had religious intervenors as defendants.

A third plaintiff is Ian Gaylor, representing the estate of FFRF President Emerita Anne Nicol Gaylor, whose retirement was paid in part as a housing allowance she was not allowed to claim.

Judge sides with FFRF against Texas AG

Judge Mack
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton

A district judge on Dec. 13 rejected the Texas attorney general’s attempt to meddle in an FFRF lawsuit against an overly prayerful judicial official.

In March 2017, FFRF and three individuals filed a federal lawsuit to stop a Texas justice of the peace from imposing prayers at the start of each court session.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton held a press conference on May 17 to announce his intent to interfere with the lawsuit against Judge Wayne Mack. FFRF called out Paxton for his “hyperbolic speculation” and set the record straight on the attorney general’s deliberate mischaracterization of the issues raised in FFRF’s lawsuit. Now a judge has affirmed the correctness of FFRF’s stance. 

“The fact that FFRF in other cases has brought Establishment Clause challenges to different practices by different Texas officials does not transform this case into a statewide attack on all Texas officials such that any state agency may intervene as of right,” U.S. District Judge Ewing Werlein Jr. wrote. Previously, before starting each of his court sessions, Mack introduced a “visiting pastor,” outlining his credentials, advertising the church he is from and where it is located. The guest chaplain often read or sermonized from the Christian bible, then asked attendees to bow their heads and pray. By spring 2015, Mack inaugurated changes, having the bailiff introduce the prayer prior to Mack entering the courtroom. Notably, Mack chose to lock the courtroom doors prior to the chaplain-led prayers.

In July, FFRF filed a response to deny Mack’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit.

FFRF appeals exclusion in ‘Bible in Schools’ case

This image, among dozens of others like it, were used in Mercer County school classes.

A parent and child are appealing a ruling in November in FFRF’s case that seeks to put a full stop to blatantly unconstitutional “Bible in the Schools” classes in a West Virginia county.

Plaintiffs Elizabeth Deal and her child, Jessica Roe, are appealing to the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals a district court’s unjust ruling that they did not have standing to sue the school system. Jessica attended schools within Mercer County, but was moved out of the district last year to avoid the illegal classes, which FFRF’s lawsuit stopped for this year. 

Senior U.S. District Judge David A. Faber in November dismissed a high-profile lawsuit filed by FFRF on the grounds that the plaintiffs lacked standing or brought claims that were not yet ripe. FFRF had filed the suit on the behalf of four plaintiffs earlier this year against Mercer County Schools, the board of education, the superintendent and a school principal. Farber’s dismissal on jurisdictional grounds was without prejudice, meaning that the case can be refiled if the school system resumes any bible classes. The court did rule that “Jane Doe” (another parent of a current elementary student) and FFRF have standing, but that the case was no longer “ripe,” since the classes were suspended.

Plaintiffs FFRF and Jane Doe have not appealed the decision as it pertains to “ripeness.” FFRF could bring suit against the school system if the bible classes return to elementary and middle schools. FFRF Senior Counsel Patrick Elliott, serving as co-counsel, notes FFRF has accomplished a great victory in halting the classes, but remains concerned that the school district may try to resume the inappropriate indoctrination.

Bible indoctrination classes were taught in Mercer County Schools for more than 75 years until the FFRF lawsuit. FFRF’s legal complaint lists examples of the proselytizing curriculum. Lesson 2 promotes creationism by claiming humans and dinosaurs co-existed. Students are asked to “picture Adam being able to crawl up on the back of a dinosaur! He and Eve could have their own personal water slide! Wouldn’t that be so wild!”

Elizabeth Deal and her daughter are asking to have their injury recognized, nominal damages and assurances the classes will not resume.

FFRF’s NY Times ad tweaks Trump

FFRF’s ad taken out in The New York Times.

FFRF placed a full-page ad in The New York Times on Dec. 21, chastising President Trump for his all-out assault on the First Amendment.

The light-hearted ad about Trump’s war on secular rights ran on the day of the Winter Solstice. “President Trump’s great big Christmas present to the Religious Right . . . is a great big war on the separation of church and state,” the ad states.

Pictured under that headline are four fat stockings, labeled “Religious Vouchers,” “Cabinet Zealots,” “Church Politicking” and “Stacked Judiciary,” stuffed with cash, crosses and gifts. Underneath them are miniature stockings, each with a piece of coal, with greeting cards addressed to “Women’s Rights,” “LGBT,” “Planned Parenthood,” “Muslim Immigrants” and “Civil Liberties.”

To view a larger version of the ad, see the wrap that this issue of Freethought Today arrived in.

The ad is partly a response to Trump’s “Merry Christmas” campaign. “There’s no ‘war on Christmas,’” remarks Annie Laurie Gaylor, FFRF co-founder. “That’s Fox News’ phony construct. But there most definitely is a concerted war on the First Amendment’s cherished principle of separation between government and religion.”

FFRF Co-President Dan Barker says, “While we kept the tone of our message light, we don’t minimize the grave harm already inflicted on America’s wall of separation between church and state.” Barker cites as an example Trump’s executive order pertaining to so-called religious freedom, which Attorney General Jeff Sessions has turned into a weapon to use against civil liberties and secular government.

In the coming year, FFRF expects to be battling campaigns to fund vouchers for religiously segregated schools at the expense of secular public schools, resisting further attempts to repeal the Johnson Amendment that bars church politicking and combating additional nominations of right-wing zealots to lifetime appointments on the federal judiciary.

FFRF’s ‘Freethought Matters’ TV show debuts

FFRF Co-Presidents Dan Barker, left, and Annie Laurie Gaylor sit on set with photojournalist Chris Johnson during filming of the first episode of “Freethought Matters,” FFRF’s new TV show. (Photo by Chris Line)

FFRF has launched a new TV program for a local — and a national — audience.

On Jan. 7, FFRF unveiled its newest project: a weekly television show, in its hometown of Madison, Wis. “Freethought Matters,” a half-hour talk-show format generally hosted by FFRF Co-Presidents Dan Barker and Annie Laurie Gaylor, airs on CBS affiliate Channel 3 Sundays at 11 p.m.

“We consider ‘Freethought Matters’ partly as an antidote to the Sunday morning church hour,” Gaylor says. “But, mostly, we want to acquaint the community with the range of fascinating nonreligious authors and activists.”

The guests include heavyweights such as Harvard evolutionary psychologist and best-seller Steven Pinker, FFRF’s honorary president, The New York Times’ newest columnist Michelle Goldberg, comedian Julia Sweeney and Nation columnist Katha Pollitt, each of whom spoke at FFRF’s most recent convention in Madison. Pinker’s interview will air shortly after his much-awaited book, Enlightenment Now, comes out in February.

The debut guest was Chris Johnson, a photojournalist who produced the book, A Better Life:  100 Atheists Speak Out on Joy & Meaning in a World Without God, with a film version of the same name. His upbeat interview acquaints viewers not only with nonbelieving celebrities, but the global diversity of atheists. Today, “Nones” (those identifying as atheists, agnostics and not with any religion) are outpacing denominations such as Catholicism at nearly a quarter of the overall population and more than a third of Millennials.

For those who are not in the Madison area, you will be able to view the timely interviews the day after the shows air by visiting FFRF’s YouTube channel.

“We want to reach the unmassed masses with the truly ‘good news’ of freethought,” says Barker.

Other upcoming guests include Iranian-born secular London-based activist Maryam Namazie, science journalist and Los Angeles-based TV host Cara Santa Maria, Chicago black atheist activist Kimberly Veal, well-known atheist blogger Greta Christina of San Francisco, renowned sculptor Zenos Frudakis, and American Indian composer Brent Michael Davids, who lives on the Stockbridge-Munsee reservation in Wisconsin.

Upcoming guest hosts include Amit Pal, FFRF’s director of communications, formerly a longtime editorial staffer at The Progressive. The director of the show is Bruce Johnson, who recently joined FFRF’s staff after years at public television, and the producer is Lauryn Seering, FFRF’s communications coordinator. FFRF extends thanks for camera help to FFRF Legal Fellow Chris Line, and pinch-hitters Marian Herzog, Mike Remington, Mike Foley and Veronica Plum.

In the News (January/February 2018)

“It’s against my religion.”

FEMA broadens churches’ access to disaster funds

Less than four months after President Trump suggested churches should be able to receive federal disaster relief funds, officials have changed federal policies to make it easier for religious institutions to qualify for such aid.

With lawsuits pending in Texas and Florida from churches and synagogues challenging the limits, the Federal Emergency Management Agency announced Jan. 2 that it is removing language in its rules that often disqualified religious groups from aid available to other nonprofits.

“Private nonprofit houses of worship will not be singled out for disfavored treatment within the community centers subcategory of nonprofit applicants,” FEMA Recovery Directorate Assistant Administrator Alex Amparo wrote in a new manual.

FEMA said religious institutions could now qualify as “community centers” eligible for disaster grants, although facilities primarily used for “political, athletic . . . recreational, vocational, or academic training” will still be barred from receiving support.

New Commandments monument moves forward

An Arkansas commission cleared the way for the installation of another Ten Commandments monument outside the state Capitol, after a prior marker was shattered when a man crashed his car into the stone less than 24 hours after it was put in place.

The Arkansas Capitol Arts and Grounds Commission signed off on the final design, which will include four concrete posts for the monument’s protection.

Chief Deputy Secretary of State Kelly Boyd said the commission will review the security of all monuments on Capitol grounds, which also include displays honoring firefighters, veterans and the nine students who desegregated Little Rock’s Central High School. The Little Rock Nine monument already includes concrete posts similar to the ones that will be placed with the Ten Commandments monument.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas said it plans to sue over the monument.

Religious aspects of Christmas declining

A Pew Research Center survey has found that most U.S. adults believe the religious aspects of Christmas are emphasized less now than in the past, and that relatively few Americans are bothered by this trend.

Also, a declining majority says religious displays such as nativity scenes should be allowed on government property.

There has been a noticeable decline in the percentage of U.S. adults who say they believe that biblical elements of the Christmas story reflect historical events that actually occurred.

Currently, 55 percent of U.S. adults say they celebrate Christmas as a religious holiday. In 2013, 59 percent of Americans stated the same.

About 90 percent of adults say they celebrate the holiday, which is nearly identical to the share who said this in 2013.

South Africa outlaws single-religion schools

Single-religion schools have been outlawed in South Africa after a ruling  at the Johannesburg High Court.

Government-run schools may no longer promote themselves as subscribing to a single particular religion at the exclusion of others, the court ruled.

The Organisasie vir Godsdienste-Onderrig en Demokrasie (Organization for Religious Education and Democracy), or OGOD, which fights against religious indoctrination through public schools in South Africa, welcomed the judgment.

OGOD made the application against six predominantly Christian public schools to prevent them from taking part in 71 instances of religious conduct.

While the court did not grant the restraining order, it ruled the schools had breached a section of the Schools Act making it an offence to promote one religion and exclude others.

British want religion kept out of politics

Politics and religion should not mix, according to the British public, who want politicians to keep their personal faith to themselves.

A majority of British people believe that religion should also play a less prominent role in parliament, with bishops losing their automatic seats in the House of Lords, a YouGov survey found.

The prime minister, a vicar’s daughter, said that “faith guides me in everything I do,” while Tim Farron, a committed Christian, faced a barrage of questions over whether he believed gay sex to be sinful, as a result of which he felt he had to resign as Liberal Democratic leader.

Superintendent sued for preaching to students

A superintendent in Louisiana’s Webster Parish has refused to stop promoting Christianity at Lakeside Junior/Senior High School, so he is being sued by the American Civil Liberties Union.

On Dec. 18, the ACLU said it was suing Webster Parish Schools and Superintendent Johnny Rowland. As the ACLU reports, the school day at Lakeside starts with a morning prayer over the PA, read either by teachers or by student “volunteers.”

“Nearly every Lakeside school event features an official prayer,” the report continues. “Graduation services are held in churches and often resemble religious services.”

Christy Cole, the mother of K.C., an agnostic Lakeside student, said that when her husband confronted Rowland, he was immediately rebuffed.

“I’ll stop when someone makes me stop,” Rowland reportedly said.

The Coles’ complaint claims that “when K.C. started to stay seated during morning prayer, other students ridiculed her.” Later, “when K.C.’s parents stayed seated during graduation prayers, other parents hissed in disapproval. One of K.C.’s teachers also implied to the class that the bible must be taken literally and mocked her when she questioned him.”

Kentucky state rep. dies in apparent suicide

Kentucky state Rep. Dan Johnson died from a “probable suicide” two days after allegations arose that he had sexually abused a teenage girl at the church where he was a pastor. Johnson was found with a single gunshot wound to the head.

Johnson was accused by a woman of molesting her when she was 17 after a New Year’s party in 2012, according to the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting. That was followed by calls for Johnson’s resignation from leaders of both parties.

In a since-deleted post on Facebook, Johnson wrote “GOD knows the truth, nothing is the way they make it out to be. I cannot handle it any longer . . . BUT HEAVEN IS MY HOME.”

100 largest churches mostly led by white men

Church Clarity, a group that seeks to get churches to publicly disclose their stances on all manner of topics, recently published a detailed analysis of America’s 100 largest churches, based on information from Outreach Magazine, a Christian publication.

The study shows that 93 percent of America’s 100 largest churches are led by a white pastor. Only 7 out of the 100 of the churches on Outreach’s list are led by a person of color, yet nearly 40 percent of the U.S. population is made up of people of color.

Another statistic shows that only one of America’s 100 largest churches has a female pastor.

Nicole Crank of Faith Church in West Palm Beach, Fla., is the only woman, and she is listed as a co-pastor alongside her husband, David.

The study also found that there are no LGBTQ-affirming churches among the 100 largest churches in America. According to the analysis, just 35 percent of megachurches have clear LGBTQ+ policies, and 54 percent actually hide their positions deep inside their websites.

Appeals court rules bakers did discriminate

The Oregon Court of Appeals on Dec. 28 upheld a ruling of illegal discrimination and a $135,000 fine levied by Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian against the owners of a bakery who refused to make a wedding cake for a gay couple in 2013.

The appeals court rejected the contention from Aaron and Melissa Klein, the bakers, that being required to make that wedding cake violated their constitutional freedom of speech or religion.

“The Kleins seek an exemption based on their sincere religious opposition to same-sex marriage,” Judge Chris Garrett wrote in the opinion. “But those with sincere religious objections to marriage between people of different races, ethnicities or faiths could just as readily demand the same exemption.”

The ruling came as the U.S. Supreme Court is considering a similar case out of Colorado. During arguments in early December, the justices appeared closely divided on the issue, with observers predicting that Justice Anthony Kennedy could cast the deciding vote in a 5-4 split.