Okla. Attorney General Issues Ruling Against Evolution Disclaimer
The Oklahoma State Textbook Committee lacks the authority to require publishers of biology books to post an evolution disclaimer in public school texts, the state attorney general has ruled.
Furthermore, Attorney General Drew Edmondson declared that the committee willfully violated Oklahoma's open meeting law when it took the action on Nov. 5 and published an agenda that misled the public. The vote requiring disclaimers should be considered invalid, Edmondson wrote.
Edmondson issued the opinion at the request of state Sen. Penny Williams, a Tulsa Democrat. Williams told the Tulsa World she believes the textbook committee lacked the authority to require disclaimers and wanted to find out if the attorney general's office agreed.
"It seemed to me the authority [of the committee] was to reject, and they have the right to do that, reject anything they want," Williams said. "I was certainly curious to see if they had the authority to go beyond rejecting or approving. I didn't think they did, but I didn't know. I'm not a lawyer."
The Religious Right-dominated textbook committee created a firestorm of controversy last November when it voted to require biology textbook publishers to include a disclaimer casting doubt on evolution in all biology books proposed for use in the state. The disclaimer, modeled on one used in Alabama, was widely seen as an effort to undercut evolution and advance religious fundamentalism.
Oklahoma Gov. Frank Keating, a Roman Catholic who supports the use of the disclaimer, conceded that the committee had overstepped its authority, although he called the members "well-intentioned." But State Education Superintendent Sandy Garrett drew a different conclusion, telling the World that the committee had no business trying to influence the content of textbooks.
"It will give them a clear direction about their authority," Garrett said. "Our main goal is to get science books in the hands of students in a timely fashion. This was going to hold it up."
The situation is far from resolved, however. Members of the committee refused to talk to the media, and it is unclear if they will follow the attorney general's opinion. The committee failed to get a quorum for its December meeting, and as of February still had not issued instructions to publishers about where to post the disclaimers.
In other news about evolution/creationism:
A West Virginia legislator has introduced a bill that would require public schools to teach creationism alongside evolution. The measure proposed by Del. Paul E. Prunty, a Democrat, would require all public schools to "give balanced treatment to creation science and evolution science, in classroom lectures, in textbook materials, in library materials and in other educational programs in public schools to the extent that the lectures, textbook materials, library materials and educational programs deal in any way with the subject of the origin of man, life, the earth or the universe."
Critics point out that Prunty's bill is certainly unconstitutional, as it bears a strong resemblance to a "balanced treatment" law in Louisiana that the U.S. Supreme Court struck down in its 1987 Edwards v. Aguillard decision.
A Louisiana school district may not require the posting of an anti-evolution disclaimer in biology textbooks, a federal appeals court has ruled. The U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, sitting as a full panel, struck down the disclaimer in Tangipahoa Parish by an 8-7 vote Jan. 25. In August of 1999 a three-judge panel of the same court had unanimously reached the same conclusion.
The disclaimer stated that study of evolution was not intended to "influence or dissuade the Biblical version of Creation or any other concept." The Tangipahoa School Board first approved it for use in 1994. In the wake of the recent ruling by the full 5th Circuit, board members said they were considering asking the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the case.
The Kansas State Board of Education elections this November are drawing intense interest from both sides of the political spectrum. Last August the Religious Right-dominated board voted 6-4 to approve new science standards that omit evolution, in a move that was widely criticized around the nation. Five board seats are open this year, and four of them are held by proponents of the new standards.
The Mainstream Coalition, a group that supports standard science instruction, says it will recruit candidates and back them through its political action committee. Meanwhile, the Kansas Republican Assembly has announced a series of fund-raisers on behalf of conservative board members who voted to water down the teaching of evolution. The Christian Coalition of Kansas also plans to highlight the issue on voter guides.
Gary Bauer Shuts Down Presidential Campaign
Religious Right leader Gary Bauer ended his long-shot campaign to become the Republican Party's presidential nominee after a last-place showing in the Feb. 1 New Hampshire primary.
Bauer, formerly head of the Family Research Council, a Washington-based Religious Right group affiliated with Focus on the Family, attracted little attention during his campaign and remained mired in the single digits in national polls. Although he managed to raise $7 million from supporters nationwide, he won only 9 percent of the vote in the Iowa caucuses Jan. 24 and fared even worse in New Hampshire, attracting about three-quarters of 1 percent of the vote.
Bauer, a former Reagan administration staffer, ran openly as a Religious Right candidate, stressing his opposition to legal abortion, his advocacy of official prayer and posting of the Ten Commandments in public schools, his opposition to gay rights and his support for school vouchers. However, he found himself outmaneuvered by Alan Keyes, a political commentator with similar views, and millionaire businessman Steve Forbes, both of whom actively courted the Religious Right vote. (Forbes withdrew from the race after a disappointing third-place showing in the Feb. 8 Delaware primary.)
Although he participated in all of the early debates, Bauer's candidacy garnered little media attention. The mentions he did get were often negative or dealt with the quixotic nature of his campaign. Last fall Bauer called a press conference to deny rumors that he was having an affair with a young campaign aide. The day before the New Hampshire primary he captured headlines and appeared on many newscasts -- but only because he fell off the stage during a pancake-flipping contest.
Announcing the termination of his campaign in Washington Feb. 4, Bauer conceded that he had "under performed" but insisted that his message had "caught on with the other candidates."
Twelve days later Bauer endorsed John McCain for president, a move expected to help the Arizona senator among religious conservatives. He remains coy about his future plans, indicating that he might not return to the Family Research Council and instead might start a new organization in Washington.
In other news about campaign 2000:
Republican presidential candidate George W. Bush has drawn fire for speaking at Bob Jones University, a rigidly fundamentalist school that bans interracial dating.
GOP rival John McCain said he had not been invited to appear at the school and that he disagreed sharply with BJU's approach to race. "If I were there," he remarked, "I would condemn openly the policies of Bob Jones, because I would want to make sure that everybody knew that this kind of thing is not American."
Democratic candidate Bill Bradley, speaking in San Francisco Feb. 3, noted that BJU lost its tax-exempt status more than 20 years ago when it refused to drop its racial policies. "We had to fight to deny tax-exempt status to Bob Jones University unless it changed that policy," Bradley said. "And yet the Republican candidate for president yesterday goes to Bob Jones University to make a speech about what conservatism is in this country. Well, ladies and gentlemen, that is what conservatism is, Bob Jones University, and it should be rejected."
Christian Coalition Head To Endorse George W. Bush
Christian Coalition President Pat Robertson has announced plans to throw his public support to Republican presidential candidate George W. Bush.
Speaking on the CBS program "Face the Nation" Feb. 13, Robertson was asked if he intends to endorse Bush. "I plan to do that;" he replied. "That's right." The Virginia Beach, Va., religious broadcaster said, "He's going to make a superb president. I'm very comfortable with his stands on the various issues."
Robertson, however, bitterly criticized Bush opponent John McCain, charging that the Arizona senator is unfit to be president and that his campaign reform agenda is "specious." The TV preacher said McCain's reform bill in Congress would interfere with the Coalition's activities.
In a television interview that same day on CNN's "Late Edition," Robertson threatened to sit out the election if McCain becomes the GOP nominee.
Implicitly conceding that the voter guides favor some candidates over others, Robertson said, "I do believe that if he became the nominee of the Republican Party, John McCain, that the Christian Coalition, which is a voluntary organization, would not put out 75 million voter guides, would not urge its membership to vote for anybody in the general election. And I think there'll be a defection of the Christian conservatives in major waves. I'm talking about a large portion of the Republican base would walk away. And I say that with--advisedly. You know, we're not under the obligation to put out any literature for anybody."
The Christian Coalition holds a 501(c)(4) tax exemption that allows it to endorse candidates as long as partisan politics is not its primary activity. However, Robertson's words are a reminder to churches--which operate under a stricter 501(c)(3) exemption-- that the Coalition's voter guides are partisan and therefore illegal for houses of worship to distribute.
The Robertson endorsement of Bush, unveiled a week before the important South Carolina primary, comes as no surprise. Former Christian Coalition Executive Director Ralph Reed has been working as a Bush campaign adviser and has recruited many Religious Right leaders to the Texas governor's banner.
In the meantime, Robertson has used his nationally televised "700 Club" program to steer viewers toward Bush. Speaking on the show Jan. 24 -- the day before the Iowa presidential caucuses -- Robertson said religious conservatives should be more politically sophisticated and accept Bush's low-key approach to the abortion issue.
The "700 Club" program had run several news features about the Iowa caucuses that day, including one noting that religious conservatives were divided among the Republican candidates. Some Religious Right activists were quoted as criticizing Bush for refusing to say whether he will name an anti-abortion running mate or apply an anti-abortion litmus test to judicial nominees.
Robertson chided the Religious Right for lacking political savvy. "The people have got to get more sophisticated in this Christian...movement, so to speak, to understand that you have to get people elected. If they're not elected they're not going to do you any good." He continued, "Look, George Bush right now does not want to step into a land mine, you know. And the land mine is, 'I will have a litmus test for judges.' Well, if you say that, bingo, you've just lost a large part of the general electorate."
Robertson warned that religious conservatives must not make the mistake of pushing Bush too far to the right by demanding a "strong statement" on abortion. He noted that a few years ago a Virginia gubernatorial candidate lost the general election because he opposed rape, incest and life-of-the-mother exceptions for abortion at the behest of the Religious Right.
Added Robertson, "[W]hat Lyndon Johnson said a few years ago to his friends on the left, he said don't have them push me so far to the left that I can't win. He said, 'I'll take care of them when I get into office.'"
Robertson assured his viewers that political pragmatism will pay off and that Bush's judicial nominees will satisfy them. "[W]hen someone says, 'I'm going to put in judges who are strict constructionists with the Constitution,' that says an enormous amount," observed the TV preacher. "And as [U.S. Sen.] John Ashcroft said, that means that they'd be opposed to a whole lot of the things that the Supreme Court's been doing for the last 30 or 40 years."
Ten Commandments Battles Erupt In State Legislatures
At least 11 state legislatures are grappling with proposals to promote posting of the Ten Commandments in public schools and other government buildings.
In Indiana, both chambers of the state legislature have approved legislation that would allow the posting of the Ten Commandments in all government buildings, including public schools, provided they are part of a larger display that also includes other "historic documents." The measure passed the state Senate on a vote of 38-9 Jan. 25 and cleared the House 91 to 7 Feb. 7. It is headed to Gov. Frank O'Bannon (D), who has indicated he will sign it into law.
Indiana senators debated the measure for about an hour. Bill sponsor, Sen. Kent Adams, a Republican from Bremen, asserted that, "America has become the greatest nation on the face of the earth today because children from generation to generation have been taught about our heritage. The Ten Commandments are part of that heritage."
But Sen. Anita Bowser, a Democrat from Michigan City, argued against the bill. "It is unconstitutional," she said, "and so will be declared by the Supreme Court of the United States." Bowser also charged that most of the senators know the bill violates the First Amendment, but said, "They're so worried about the election coming up they'll prostitute their beliefs for a vote."
A similar measure has cleared the South Dakota Senate. S.B. 54 would permit public schools to put up the Ten Commandments and other religious documents as long as the action is for an "educational" purpose. It passed the state senate unanimously on Jan. 24.
Originally the bill, introduced by Sen. Jim Lawler, an Aberdeen Democrat, was limited to the Ten Commandments. Lawler said he believes children should be taught the difference between right and wrong and argued that there have been too many violent acts in schools.
Lawler also said he was unconcerned about the bill sparking a lawsuit, saying that even if defending the measure cost $350,000, that would only be 50 cents per state resident. "It's not a big price to pay to get our children back," he said.
The measure is pending in the South Dakota House of Representatives.
In Colorado a bill that would have required every public school in the state to post the Ten Commandments in "the main entryway" appears to be dead. The Senate bill went so far as to include specific wording for the commandments. It also required public schools to open each day with a "period of quiet reflection for not more than sixty seconds" and permitted "student-initiated voluntary prayers at schools or school-related events that are nonsectarian and nonproselytizing in nature."
The measure was introduced by Sen. John Andrews, an Englewood Republican. During the debate, Andrews insisted that his bill is constitutional because it is "educational and civic" and not meant to be religious.
The measure died Feb. 14 when the Senate voted 18-17 to reject a greatly watered-down version of Andrews bill that would have only recommended that public schools begin each day with a moment of silence. Andrews, realizing failure was imminent, withdrew the bill.
Perhaps the most curious feature of Andrews' original proposal was that it listed a version of the Ten Commandments that schools would have been required to post. The version appears to be the one found in the Douay (Roman Catholic) version of the Bible, although it has been altered. For example, while the Second Commandment omits the prohibition against graven images, as in the Catholic version, the Ninth Commandment, which in the Catholic version warns against covering "thy neighbor's wife" becomes "Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's house" in Andrews' version.
The prohibition against coveting a neighbor's wife appeared in Andrews' Tenth Commandment, along with prohibitions against coveting a neighbor's manservant, maidservant, cattle or any other property. (Prohibitions against coveting a neighbor's "ox or ass," found in the King James Version, are missing entirely.)
Andrews has said that he asked a committee of clergy members to draw up the list.
Perhaps the most radical Ten Commandments measure is pending in Georgia. State Rep. Judy Poag would require public schools to hang the Ten Commandments in classrooms as a condition of receiving state funds. The measure has been lodged in the House Education Committee.
Gerry Weber, legal director for the Georgia affiliate of the American Civil Liberties Union, told the Freedom Forum's online newsletter free! that Poag's bill is "an invitation to litigation if it passes. The bill would essentially condition funding for every school district upon their endorsement of Judeo-Christian commandments."
An Americans United analysis shows that Ten Commandments legislation has been introduced in Florida, Kentucky, Mississippi, Montana, Missouri, New Mexico and Oklahoma. In addition, bills are expected in Minnesota and North Carolina.
In other news about the Ten Commandments:
Altoona, Pa., school officials have agreed to post the Ten Commandments alongside a secular humanist list of principles in school libraries for a period of 25 days. Last year the school board considered a proposal to display the Ten Commandments alone. The board rejected the Rev. Gary Dull's plan as unconstitutional but adopted a new policy that allows local citizens to donate religious and historical documents, which are then posted on a temporary basis in the district's 13 schools.
In addition to the Ten Commandments and the humanist document, school officials have given tentative approval to a document titled "American Atheists: An Introduction," a pamphlet titled "What Is A Freethinker?" and material from a Wiccan group.
Dull, a Baptist, is working with the National Clergy Council, a Washington-based Religious Right group, in the hopes of taking the plan nationwide.
Islamic School Scandal Sparks Voucher Review In Ohio Legislature
Lawmakers in Ohio are considering new legislation that would place additional regulations on private schools participating in the state's voucher program, in the wake of reports that an Islamic school received tax money for students it had never enrolled.
A state audit found last year that the Islamic Academy School of Arts and Sciences had received $70,000 from the state by claiming to have enrolled students who were in fact not attending the institution. The school, which also had a convicted murderer on staff, shut down in the wake of the disclosures. State Auditor Jim Petro later issued a report saying that the Academy owes the state $69,967 for voucher payments it received for non-existent students. The Academy also billed the state $11,723 for utility bills and $5,250 in taxi fares to transport the fictitious students.
"It boils down to we've moved too much, too fast," George Boas, a legislative aide to state Sen. C.J. Prentiss, told Education Week. Prentiss' bill would require that all voucher schools undergo site visits by the Ohio Department of Education. It has already passed the state Senate.
In other news about vouchers:
New Jersey residents are looking for another big push for vouchers. The Newark Star-Ledger reported in January that Jersey City Mayor Bret Schundler (R) has teamed up with Democratic Newark City Councilman Cory Booker and Peter Denton, a wealthy businessman, to push for religious school aid in the state.
Schundler, Booker and Denton have formed a group called Excellent Education for Everyone (E-Cubed), which they have used to court Jersey City black leaders who are angry over the poor performance of the public schools. In late January the three traveled to Milwaukee to talk with voucher supporters there. While there they met with Mikel Holt, a radical black nationalist and newspaper publisher, who explained that he "pimp slapped" voucher opponents.
For a list of states facing voucher bills, visit Americans United's website at www.au.org.
California School Vouchers 2000 is circulating petitions in an effort to win a spot for a voucher initiative on the California ballot this fall. The drive is headed by Tim Draper, a Silicon Valley businessman. Under Draper's plan, the state would authorize vouchers, called "scholarships," worth $4,000 to subsidize private school tuition.
A retired Catholic bishop has written a letter to Vice President Al Gore, complaining about an anti-voucher television ad Gore has been airing in early primary states. Bishop Mark J. Hurley of Santa Rosa took issue with Gore's use of language when the vice president said in the ad, "I think it would be a big mistake to drain money away from public schools with vouchers that give money to private schools." Gore adds that private schools are fine but says they should not be funded "with money designated for public schools, where 90 percent of our American children go."
Hurley said Gore's use of the words "our" and "American" implied that "religious schools are not really 'ours' and are just a bit less than fully 'American.'" He also accused Gore of lying by saying that voucher plans would take money from public schools. Lastly, he accused the vice president of "skirting on the cusp" of anti-Catholicism in the ad.
A new poll shows that most Americans oppose tax aid to private and religious schools. The January survey, conducted for CNN and USA Today by the Gallup polling firm, found that 60 percent said no when asked, "Should the government spend money to assist low-income families who want to send their children to private or religious schools?" Thirty-six percent said yes.
Football Game Prayer Violates Separation, AU Tells High Court
Public school football games are no place for coercive worship, Americans United told the U.S. Supreme Court last month.
Americans United and allied groups filed a "friend of the court" brief in Santa Fe Independent School District v. Doe, a Texas case dealing with school-sanctioned, student-led pre-game prayers broadcast over a high school's public address system.
The Santa Fe controversy began four years ago when two anonymous families, one Catholic and one Mormon, filed a suit in federal court arguing that prayers before football games violate the First Amendment's separation of church and state.
AU's brief tells the justices that there is an important constitutional difference between private religious expression and prayers sponsored by the government. When public school officials turn over the school's microphone to broadcast a prayer to those in attendance for an official school event, the brief argues, the line is crossed from private expression to state sponsorship.
Groups joining Americans United on the brief include: the American Jewish Congress, the American Jewish Committee, the Anti-Defamation League, the Council on Religious Freedom, Hadassah, the Interfaith Alliance, the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, National PEARL, People For the American Way Foundation, Soka Gakkai International-USA and the Unitarian Universalist Association.
Americans United Urges IRS To Investigate NY Church For Politicking
The Internal Revenue Service should investigate a New York City church for violating federal tax law by endorsing Democratic candidate Al Gore for president, according to Americans United for Separation of Church and State.
In a formal complaint filed with the IRS Feb. 14, Americans United Executive Director Barry W. Lynn charged that the Rev. Floyd Flake knowingly violated the Internal Revenue Code by inviting Gore to address the congregation on Feb. 13 and then endorsing the candidate during Sunday services at Allen African Methodist Episcopal Church.
According to numerous press accounts, Flake, referring to Gore, told his congregation, "I don't do endorsements from across the pulpit because I never know who's out there watching the types of laws that govern separation of church and state. But I will say to you this morning and you read it well: This should be the next president of the United States."
Wrote Lynn in his letter to the IRS, "This statement indicates that Flake is aware of the provisions in the Internal Revenue Code that bar houses of worship from endorsing or opposing candidates for public office but chose to ignore them. Such a flagrant violation of the law cannot be ignored."
Under IRS rules, houses of worship and other non-profit organizations are barred from endorsing or opposing candidates for public office. The provision, found in section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, is designed in part to prevent tax-exempt churches from being used for partisan political purposes.
Sun Myung Moon Honors Jerry Falwell, Hosts GOP Leaders At Washington Event
Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert and a phalanx of congressional right-wingers trooped to the Cannon House Office Building on Capitol Hill Feb. 2 for a special reception honoring controversial Korean evangelist Sun Myung Moon.
The event, sponsored by The Washington Times Foundation, included an "American Century Awards" ceremony. Honorees included the Rev. Jerry Falwell, Charles and Frances Ballard, a Washington couple who frequently crusade for official school prayer, and Robert Woodson, an African American conservative and school voucher advocate.
Members of Congress who attended the event include Sens. Strom Thurmond (R-S.C.) and Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) as well as House members Hastert, Reps. Henry Hyde (R-Ill.), Floyd D. Spence (R-S.C.), John Thune (R-S.D.), Christopher Cox (R-Calif.), Gil Gutknecht (R-Minn.), Anne M. Northup (R-Ky.), Tom Tancredo (R-Colo.) and Dennis J. Kucinich (D-Ohio).
In addition, former Secretary of State Alexander Haig and ex-Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger joined the festivities. According to The Washington Times, an ultra-conservative daily that Moon owns, Weinberger lauded Falwell and the other award recipients for "overcoming man's inhumanity to man."
The newspaper reported that Falwell was honored with the Foundation's Distinguished Lifetime Achievement Award for Freedom, Faith and Family.
Falwell has appeared at three previous Moon gatherings, including one in Uruguay in 1995, and he has relied on Moon's largess to bail him out of tight financial spots. In 1997, a Moon front group called the Women's Federation for World Peace funneled $3.5 million to a non-Moon group to alleviate financial problems at Falwell's Liberty University. In 1996, a Moon publishing group lent Falwell $400,000 for use at Liberty.
Falwell and allies of the Religious Right in Congress cozy up to Moon even though his theology is decidedly at odds with conventional Christianity. Moon teaches that he is the Messiah, sent to complete the failed mission of Jesus Christ. However, both Moon and Falwell share a taste for right-wing politicking and hostility toward the separation of church and state.
The pair also have one other thing in common: a history of tax problems. Moon served time in federal prison after a conviction for tax evasion. Falwell was forced to pay $50,000 to the IRS for using his Old Time Gospel Hour for political purposes. The Falwell ministry also lost its tax exemption retroactively for 1986-87.