Potential Watershed Case Can Now Proceed to Florida Supreme Court
The Council for Secular Humanism applauds an important decision rendered by the Florida First District Court of Appeal on April 27 in Council for Secular Humanism v. McNeil that sets the stage for a likely appeal to the state Supreme Court. (For background on this case, see “News Beat,” Free Inquiry, April/May 2010, p. 11.) In its ruling, the appellate court called upon the state Supreme Court to decide whether Florida’s constitution bars the state from contracting with sectarian entities for social services, an issue the appellate court described as a “question of great importance.” An Associated Press story about the Council’s victory was syndicated statewide on April 28.
Free Inquiry Editor and Council Executive Director Tom Flynn called the decision a potential watershed moment, noting that “more than half the states have no-aid provisions similar to Florida’s in their constitutions and, if won, this case will likely be a springboard for mounting similar challenges elsewhere.”
Derek C. Araujo, director of the Council’s legal programs, commented, “The appellate court’s grant of the motion to certify question shows how significant the issues in this case are. For years the defendants have resorted to every tactic to prevent this case from ever going to trial. We have every expectation that the defendants will muster all of their resources for an appeal to the Florida Supreme Court.” The Council is prepared to meet that challenge.
High Court Ruling Lets Congress Carve Up Public Land to Accommodate Sectarian Symbols
The Center for Inquiry (a supporting organization of the Council) has expressed disappointment over the April 28, 2010, U.S. Supreme Court decision that urged lower courts to reconsider a congressional scheme to maintain a white cross as a war memorial in the middle of a federal park. Lower courts had held that the presence of the cross in a federal park, and Congress’s attempt to transfer title in the patch of land beneath the cross to the veterans’ group that erected the cross, violated the constitutional separation of church and state. The Supreme Court’s 5 to 4 majority concluded that the lower courts erred in their analysis of the congressionally mandated land transfer.
The case will be remanded to lower courts for further proceedings. The move potentially allows Congress to skirt an establishment clause violation by creating a privately owned island of land-locked property amid thousands of contiguous acres of national parkland in the California desert.
African Americans for Humanism Reaches a Milestone
Much enthusiasm was on display at the first-ever African Americans for Humanism (AAH) conference held on May 16, 2010, at the Center for Inquiry/Washington, D.C. “New Directions for African American Humanists” was organized and hosted by the Center’s executive director, Melody Hensley.
A variety of intriguing topics were addressed at the conference. In his final public appearance as director of AAH, Norm Allen stressed the need for African American nontheists to come out of the closet and make their presence known. Sikivu Hutchinson, a feminist activist and atheist writer from Los Angeles, discussed the harm that religion has done to women and lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and transgendered persons (LGBTs). Debbie Goddard, a campus organizer for the Center for Inquiry in Amherst, New York, talked about the importance of diversity in the humanist movement. Washington, D.C., journalist Jamila Bey discussed the negative impact that the religious maxim of “Spare the rod, spoil the child” has had on the black community.
The conference received significant press attention, including a feature story from Religion News Service, carried by, among others, The Huffington Post, BeliefNet, and the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. A feature interview with Jamila Bey and Norm Allen aired May 28, 2010, on National Public Radio’s popular Tell Me More program. Additionally, Bey’s essay “Black Women Who Use the ‘A’ Word” was published by The Root on May 19, 2010.
Discussions are now underway for another AAH conference next year.