Religious Right groups rally as court begins new session : Friday, Oct. 31, 2003
October 30 2003 by Robert Marus

Religious Right groups rally as court begins new session : Friday, Oct. 31, 2003
Friday, Oct. 31, 2003

Religious Right groups rally as court begins new session

By Robert Marus
Associated Baptist Press
WASHINGTON - As about 200 protestors rallied outside the Supreme Court demanding government support for religious displays, inside the justices began their annual term with at least one major church-state case on the docket.

The protesters displayed a replica of the Ten Commandments monument recently removed from the Alabama judicial building in Montgomery. Meanwhile, the high court opened its 2003-2004 session Oct. 6 by sidestepping one church-state case and remaining silent on another. Only one church-state case so far - involving government funding of a religious college - is scheduled to get the court's attention this year.

The justices declined to review a ruling by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that allowed a Bible club in Washington state to meet in a high school during school hours. A lower court had ruled against Tausha Prince, who as a sophomore at Spanaway Lake High School sued for the right to form the World Changers club.

The school allows students time during the school day to do homework, be tutored or take part in school-approved clubs. The clubs can make announcements over the school's public-address system and apply for use of a pool of funds shared by the clubs.

At the time, there were no religious clubs. Prince applied to start the club and was rejected by the school because of the group's religious nature. She then filed a lawsuit, saying the school was violating her First Amendment right to free expression of religion.

The 9th Circuit ultimately agreed. The Supreme Court, in declining to review that decision, has again avoided speaking on the issue of whether such clubs can operate during school hours. The case is Jacoby vs. Prince.

The court also did not reveal whether it would hear arguments in another controversial case from the 9th Circuit. That court caused great controversy last year when it declared the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance in a California public school unconstitutional because the oath contains the words "under God." In that case, United States vs. Newdow, atheist father Michael Newdow sued his daughter's Sacramento-area school district to end their practice of teacher-led recitation of the pledge.

The court has already agreed to hear another Washington state case involving religion and schools. In December, justices will hear oral arguments in Locke vs. Davey - also a case from the 9th Circuit. The question before the court is whether states are required to fund religious programs - in this case a Bible college - on an equal basis with secular programs even if the state constitution contains an explicit bar on indirect government funding of religion.

The protesters who provided the backdrop for the Supreme Court's opening session were attending the culminating event of the "Save the Commandments Caravan," calling attention to the Ten Commandments monument erected by Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore but removed by court order. Supporters say they will appeal the federal court ruling that banned the monument. But it is not known if the case will make it to the U.S. Supreme Court this year.

The caravan, organized by the groups Faith in Action and, left Montgomery, Ala., Sept. 28 and stopped in Atlanta; Columbia, S.C.; Raleigh; Lynchburg, Va.; and Fredericksburg, Va., before concluding their rally in Washington.

Organizers and participants touted a grab-bag of Religious Right causes - including denouncements of abortion, homosexuality and the separation of church and state - and assailed Supreme Court decisions the activists believe support each.

Protestors directed their harshest criticism at two targets - the six Supreme Court justices who in June issued the landmark decision legalizing gay sex in all 50 states and the federal district judge who ruled the Ten Commandments display in Alabama unconstitutional.

"Impeach the Sodomy Six and Myron Thompson" read the protesters' signs.

Rally organizer Rob Schenck said the group would "hold the Supreme Court in contempt of the court of Almighty God" for the rulings. Referring specifically to the sodomy decision and five others on church-state issues or abortion, Schenck told rally participants, "We no longer hold these decisions relevant or binding on us, on our children or on our nation."

One man at the rally said he was there to "rebuke" the Supreme Court for past decisions and to support government display of the Ten Commandments and other religious monuments. "It's always been a part of the landscape - the forefathers acknowledged God, right?" said Gregory Pembo, pastor of Vieux Carre Assembly Church in New Orleans. "Why all of the sudden, after 300 years, we are saying, 'Wait a minute, this is wrong?'"

But a lone counter-protestor said she was there to provide a silent witness for the rights of religious minorities. "When you put one particular religion's monument inside of a government building, it gives the appearance that the government is promoting that particular religion - which, of course, is unconstitutional," said Sandra Van Maren, Illinois state director of American Atheists.

"As soon as you start moving religion into the government, you end up with, at the extreme, the Taliban, the Iranian government, all the governments we say we despise," she said. Van Maren held up a sign that said, "Thou shalt not turn a republic into a theocracy."

10/30/2003 11:00:00 PM by Robert Marus | with 0 comments

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