By Brian Fields
In late December, you start seeing “Top Ten” lists for the year that was. So without further ado, here are the Top Ten Church-State Stories from 2016 (in my humble opinion, at least):
Editor’s Note: Liz Hayes is Americans United’s new assistant director of communications. In this blog post, she explains what motivated her to want to work for Americans United.
I was born, raised and worked as a journalist for nearly 15 years in western Pennsylvania in the suburbs of Pittsburgh – the politically purple borderlands where liberalism drains into the conservative rural vastness that smears the center of the state red.
In September, a federal appeals court ruled that it is legal for members of the Rowan County, N.C., Board of Commissioners to open its meetings with a public prayer led by a board member.
Rowan County’s not a heavily urban area. It has a population of about 138,000. Not surprisingly, most of the prayers – about 97 percent – have been Christian in nature.
When Deana Weaver, a member of Dillsburg Area Freethinkers, asked to deliver a non-theistic message before a meeting of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, she was told no.
“My state representative and the House leadership refused to allow me to deliver an opening invocation to the House because I do not believe in a deity,” Weaver said in a recent interview with Americans United. “This makes me feel that I am not being represented in the House on account of my beliefs concerning religion.”
The biblical book of Acts tells a story about the Apostle Paul, known as the greatest church planter in the history of Christianity, walking through the streets of Athens and encountering people from diverse faiths and belief systems.
If you’ve read any of Paul’s letters, you know he was an intense and passionate man, dedicated to evangelizing as many people as he could. Yet, his approach to the Athenians, a people living in a pluralistic society, was not one where he set out to negate or repudiate the value of other religions being practiced.
Editor’s Note: Today Americans United and American Atheists filed a lawsuit challenging the Pennsylvania House of Representatives’ invocation policy, which excludes non-theistic voices. Three of the plaintiffs in the case, Brian Fields, Deana Weaver and Scott Rhoades, recently took part in a Q&A and explained what motivated them to get involved in this litigation.
A Pennsylvania House of Representatives’ policy barring people who do not believe in God from offering pre-meeting invocations is discriminatory, Americans United for Separation of Church and State says.
In a federal lawsuit filed today, Americans United and American Atheists explain that several non-theists who requested to deliver opening invocations before the House were deemed ineligible on the grounds that they are “non-adherents or nonbelievers.”
On Monday, Americans United filed a friend-of-the-court brief in Real Alternatives v. Burwell – yet another challenge to the Affordable Care Act’s requirement that employers who provide health insurance to employees must include contraception coverage.
A few days ago, I receive the July-August issue of Catalyst, the newsletter of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights.
If you’re not familiar with the Catholic League, it’s a right-wing outfit that exists mainly to scream loudly anytime anyone anywhere dares to criticize the clerical leaders in the Catholic Church or the political goals of the bishops. The group, based in New York City, is run by William Donohue, a man who, when it comes to the issue of sexual abuse of minors by priests, is either deliberately provocative or remarkably tone deaf.