Church-State Update

Tom Flynn

¸Newdow Loses on Technicality. The U.S. Supreme Court voted 8–0 to reject California atheist Michael Newdow’s challenge to “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance, on grounds that Newdow lacked custodial rights over his school-age child and hence standing to sue. No decision was made on the legality of “under God,” and it is interesting that only three of the five Justices (Justice Scalia having recused himself) joined in a minority opinion that defended its legality. Look for this issue to be raised again by plaintiffs whose domestic situation does not invite legal evasion.

}Bible Class Ban Upheld. The U.S. Sixth District Court of Appeals upheld a 2002 ruling striking down public grade-school Bible classes in Rhea County, Tennessee. As this is written it is unclear whether the school board will appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

¸Ten Commandments Merely Historic, Says Judge. In a surprising ruling, U.S. District Judge Bruce S. Jenkins dismissed an atheist group’s suit to force removal of a Ten Commandments monument from a Pleasant Grove City, Utah, park. Jenkins said the Decalogue monument posed no church-state problem, and is better thought of as an “acknowledgment of one historic source of guidance and direction.” Oh, I can’t wait for the appeal of this one.

}Texas Church Tax Exemptions Secure. Back in 1997, the Texas Comptroller’s office granted a routine tax-exemption to the Ethical Society of Austin, a religious humanist group. “Godless Group Gets Religious Exemption,” screamed a headline in the state capital’s daily paper. Then-Comptroller John Sharp revoked the exemption, declaring that a nonprofit must demand belief in “God, Gods, or a Higher Power” to be considered religious. Current Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn inherited the policy—and an Ethical Society lawsuit that the Comptroller’s office just keeps on losing. In April, the Texas Supreme Court refused Strayhorn’s final in-state appeal. She pledged to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. After she refused an exemption for a Denison, Texas, Unitarian-Universalist church because its doctrines are insufficiently specific, Fort Worth’s daily paper slammed the decision. Displaying her predecessor’s sensitivity to media pressure (maybe it’s a requirement of the office), Strayhorn reversed herself on May 24 and said the Unitarians could have their exemption after all.

}L.A. County Seal to Drop Cross. Sparking huge public outcry, Los Angeles County supervisors voted to strip across from the county seal rather than face an American Civil Liberties Union lawsuit that the county’s lawyers predicted it could not win.

}Judge “Just Says No” to Scouting . . . Again! For the second time, U.S. District Judge Napoleon Jones Jr. has forbidden San Diego to lease a public facility to the Boy Scouts because Scouting is “an admittedly religious … and discriminatory operation.”

Tom Flynn

Tom Flynn is editor of Free Inquiry, executive director of the Council for Secular Humanism, director of the Robert Green Ingersoll Birthplace Museum, and editor of The New Encyclopedia of Unbelief (2007).


¸Newdow Loses on Technicality. The U.S. Supreme Court voted 8–0 to reject California atheist Michael Newdow’s challenge to “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance, on grounds that Newdow lacked custodial rights over his school-age child and hence standing to sue. No decision was made on the legality of “under God,” and it is interesting …

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