No, Children Cannot Be Required to Recite the Pledge of Allegiance

Children cannot be required to recite the Pledge of Allegiance.

Let the shenanigans begin. Now that the state legislature has started, lawmakers are working hard to figure out ways to impose group think. Representative Fillmore from the far East Valley and Pinal County has introduced HB2060, that would require school children in the first through fourth grade to recite the Pledge every morning. Under current law, they may if they like; his change would require they do so unless their parents write an excuse. 

Today’s pledge is credited to Francis Bellamy in 1892. Bellamy’s version did not include “under God,” though he was a Baptist minister and Christian socialist. The language of the Pledge has been changed several times since Bellamy’s version. In 1923, “my flag” was changed to “the Flag of the United States” so that immigrants knew it meant their new flag, not their old one.  The words “of America” were added in 1924. That new version was recognized by Congress in 1942.  

The words “under God” were not added until 1954 during the Cold War, when the U.S. wanted to differentiate itself from the godless communists.  Several previous attempts to add that wording had failed; it was finally achieved by a joint resolution of Congress.  However, some historians argue that in fact it was not the fear of godless communists that motivated the addition of “under God” but the desire to conflate Christianity and capitalism as a challenge to the New Deal legislation of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. The “prosperity gospel” of today has certainly conflated Christianity and capitalist excess.  

The pledge was first used in public schools in 1892 in connection with the World’s Fair in Chicago. My friends from other countries are astonished that school children are required to recite such a pledge, as they consider it akin to brainwashing.  Five states do not require the pledge (CA, HA, IA, VT, and WY) and the U.S. Supreme Court has said that schools may not require students to do so.  So Fillmore’s bill is unconstitutional.  However, that has not stopped this legislature in the past.

Over the years, many lawsuits have been brought against mandatory recitation of the Pledge and the wording “under God.”  Jehovah’s Witnesses brought many of the cases because they consider the pledge to be idolatry and against their religion.  In 1943, in West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette, the Supreme Court said that public school students cannot be required to say the Pledge and that such ideological dogmata is antithetical to the principles of our country.  

The justice concluded with: “If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein. If there are any circumstances which permit an exception, they do not now occur to us.”

Other objections have been that for a democratic republic built on freedom of dissent, citizens should not be required to speak, as in reciting a pledge, because it violates the First Amendment.  Secondly, children who are forced to recite the Pledge are not of an age that they can consent to the speaking. Third, the addition of “under God” in 1954 violates the First Amendment protection against the establishment of religion.  

In 2005, a CA court ruled that forcing children to say “under God” was an endorsement of monotheism that violated the First Amendment.  In 2006, a FL court ruled that requiring students to stand and pledge violated both the First and Fourteenth amendments.  In that case, the student had been ridiculed by the teacher. In 2009, a mother in Maryland sued and won when a teacher berated her child and had her removed from class for refusing to say the Pledge. Should the existence of actual facts come back into fashion, neither the Pledge of Allegiance nor the saying “under God” had any connection with the founding of the nation. 

• • •

Dianne Post, Legal Director

Secular Communities for AZ

A Message from the Interim Chair Re: Zenaido Quintana

During Executive Session of the January 9, 2021 Secular AZ Board Meeting, Zenaido Quintana tendered his resignation effective immediately.  Not all Board members were present at the time so the remaining members scheduled a meeting on January 10 so all members of the Board could participate in a discussion of next steps.  The Board met via Zoom and accepted Mr. Quintana’s resignation.  Given that the Vice Chair is on a leave of absence, the Board asked me to step in as Interim Chair while the Board considers how to structure the Organization for future success.

Zenaido has established a very impressive history of accomplishments, both in the leadership of the Coalition and with assembling and building the Liaised Organizations.  This was no more evident than when the Phoenix New Times recognized “The Secular Coalition for Arizona” as The Best Activist Group for 2020. 

The Board and I want to recognize and thank Zenaido for the tremendous work he contributed over so many years. 

During the coming days and weeks, I will be reaching out to our community to ensure that we understand your objectives and to keep you aware of and understanding what we are doing.  Thank you for your continuing support to our efforts to be the voice of secular voters.

Philip Lentz

Interim Chair

No Religious Test for Public Office

No Religious Test for Public Office

Today’s political campaigns, from president on down, often include references to the religion of the candidate and how pious the candidate is. This should not be a political bellwether.

The only mention of religion in the body of the Constitution of the United States is in Article VI, which states: 

3: The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States. 

The founders made it clear: no official religion or government support for any particular religion; no religious test for office; and anyone can practice any religion they want… or none at all. An oath is not required, an affirmation will do. When Senator Sinema was sworn in, her left hand rested on the Constitution, emphasizing that her duty is to the law and the Constitution not a Bible.

No Official Religion: It’s Constitutional

Many of us have forgotten this provision that was written into the Constitution itself. At the time of the Constitutional Convention in 1787, most of the colonies still had religious establishments or religious tests for office. It was unimaginable to many Americans then that non-Protestants — Catholics, Jews, atheists, Muslims and others — could be trusted with public office. But surprisingly it was Charles Pinckney from South Carolina who proposed the provision, though South Carolina had a state religion at that time. This thinking represented the new spirit of religious liberty exemplified in the Enlightenment thinking of Jefferson. It passed with little dissent. 

It still took until 1961 for Maryland to abolish the last religious test. Torcaso was appointed to the office of Notary Public by the Governor but was refused the commission because he would not declare his belief in God.  He sued and the case went to the U.S. Supreme Court, Torcaso v. Watkins, 367 U.S. 488, 81 S. Ct. 1680, 6 L. Ed. 2d 982 (1961).  

As the Supreme Court pointed out:  

It is true that there is much historical precedent for such laws. Indeed, it was largely to escape religious test oaths and declarations that a great many of the early colonists left Europe and came here hoping to worship in their own way. It soon developed, however, that many of those who had fled to escape religious test oaths turned out to be perfectly willing, when they had the power to do so, to force dissenters from their faith to take test oaths in conformity with that faith.

This brought on a host of laws in the New Colonies imposing burdens and disabilities of various kinds upon varied beliefs depending largely upon what group happened to be politically strong enough to legislate in favor of its own beliefs. The effect of all this was the formal or practical ‘establishment’ of particular religious faiths in most of the Colonies, with consequent burdens imposed on the free exercise of the faiths of nonfavored believers.3

The Kind of “Faith” We Need

Still today, we see those who are in a position of power ready and willing to burden those from another faith or no faith, even to the extent of refusing to wear a mask and possibly infecting them with a deadly disease. But the Torcaso court kept to the founding father’s principles and said, “We renew our conviction that we have staked the very existence of our country on the faith that complete separation between the state and religion is best for the state and best for religion.”  

That is the kind of “faith” we need.  

Until the nomination of Al Smith in 1928, all presidential and vice-presidential candidates nominated by the two parties were Protestants. In 1960, the election of John Kennedy, a Roman Catholic, broke the informal political barrier that had long excluded non-Protestants from the presidency.

Churches didn’t just fight against each other: they fought within their own religion.  Today, politicians fight to declare who is the most sincerely “born again.”  The Deist religious convictions of Thomas Jefferson — based on reason, rather than revelation —were attacked, as was Romney, a Mormon, when he ran for president.  

In Arizona, Article II section 12 of the State Constitution provides:

12. Liberty of conscience; appropriations for religious purposes prohibited; religious freedom 

Section 12. The liberty of conscience secured by the provisions of this constitution shall not be so construed as to excuse acts of licentiousness, or justify practices inconsistent with the peace and safety of the state. No public money or property shall be appropriated for or applied to any religious worship, exercise, or instruction, or to the support of any religious establishment. No religious qualification shall be required for any public office  or employment, nor shall any person be incompetent as a witness or juror in consequence of his opinion on matters of religion, nor be questioned touching his religious belief in any court of justice to affect the weight of his testimony. 

The Arizona Constitution protects not only public office holders from any religious test, but also witnesses and jurors. In Kelley v. ADBO, M.D., 2005, the decision was reversed because of prejudicial cross examination about the plaintiff’s belief in Wicca, which the court found was not necessary for any valid purpose in a Mormon community except to be prejudicial.

So Arizona, too, has made it clear that a religious test may not be imposed in the public square to bar anyone from their duties or responsibilities.  Unfortunately, our current state leaders honor the Constitution in the breach by posting religious messages on government communication sites and refusing to adhere to health and science requirements in a pandemic.

We need each of you to step up and report such violations so action can be taken.

Dianne Post

1/4/2021

Dianne Post: Update

Earlier, I reported on the pages of Black Collar crime from FFRF; one of the cases reported in that edition was two Amish brothers who had impregnated their 13-year-old sister.  They were given a 15-year-suspended sentence with 5-years probation, community service, and have no contact with the victim. 

Within 3 days, they had violated the document they both just signed. So they were sent to prison.  How arrogant must you be to risk 15 years in prison?

I also mentioned the 93,000 men who had filed claims in the Boy Scout bankruptcy. All BSA units are owned and operated by chartered organizations and 65% of them are chartered to faith-based groups.

The Mormons lead the pack with 37,933 units and 437,160 members and withdrew from scouting in 2019; the United Methodist Church was a distance second with 10,703 units and 349,614 members; and the Catholic Church third with 8,131 units and 259,297 members.  

Are Mormons Christians? The Question and its Implications

Are Mormons Christians?  The Question and its Implications

by Matthew Adler, Secular Communities for Arizona Legal Intern

In a recent Arizona appellate case, the court was confronted with the age-old question of whether Mormons can be considered Christians.  The lower court had declared unequivocally “that Mormonism does not fall within the confines of Christian faith.”  The appellate court, however, cried foul and vacated the judgement. 

In so ruling, the court held that to address such a question would violate the little-known but long-established judicial rule known as the “ecclesiastical abstention doctrine.”  This doctrine, which has its genesis in an 1871 Supreme Court case, essentially states that courts may not adjudicate issues that require the resolution of theological questions. For most of its history, this doctrine has been relatively uncontroversial.  Recently, though, some courts around the country have expanded the doctrine in ways that endanger the public’s access to justice.

The vast majority of the applications of the ecclesiastical abstention doctrine have been to issues that fall squarely within the realm of religious dogma. As such, the doctrine has not historically been the subject of much public debate or scrutiny. One example of a typical application of this doctrine is whether a church can fire a priest for the alleged violation of some specific religious tenet. Were the priest to sue for wrongful termination, the court would likely dismiss the case on the grounds that the court is both ill-equipped to and prohibited by the free exercise clause of the first amendment from addressing such a question. Recently, however, certain courts have weaponized this doctrine in order to dismiss cases that do not actually have anything to do with religion.

Take, for example, a recent case in Texas in which a student was expelled from a religiously affiliated school merely because he was alleged to have smoked marijuana off-campus, despite the fact that he tested negative for the drug and that the school has a lenient first-offense policy enshrined in its code of conduct. When the parents sued, both the trial and appellate courts refused to even consider the case, citing as justification the ecclesiastical abstention doctrine. 

This rationale is highly dubious for a few reasons.First, the ecclesiastical abstention doctrine does not prohibit courts from issuing rulings that affect religious institutions.It only prohibits rulings that explicitly address questions of theology.For example, if a church were to get into a contractual dispute with its electricity provider, the court could and would hear the case because it does not touch on any religious issues.

Likewise, in the Texas case, the issues were whether it could be shown that the student smoked marijuana in the first place and whether the expulsion violated the school’s own disciplinary policy. The issue was emphatically not whether the Christian faith condones the use of marijuana. 

Additionally, the school in question is not even a religious institution. It is neither owned nor operated by a church; it merely self-identifies as religiously affiliated. In applying the ecclesiastical abstention doctrine to a secular organization, the court charted a stark departure from judicial precedent. The school was able to avoid even the possibility of liability by merely invoking “religion,” despite the fact that the issues presented by the case were not of a religious nature. This case seems to be yet more evidence of the growing trend of judicial deferment to religious institutions in contexts that deal fundamentally with a person’s civil rights.

Thankfully, the Arizona case discussed in the first paragraph of this post does not present the same problems as the Texas case. The Arizona appellate court was prudent in its application of the ecclesiastical abstention doctrine, as the question of whether Mormons are Christians is a genuine theological dispute that is still the subject of vociferous debate. The court would be unable to resolve such a question, and any attempt to do so would be extraordinarily damaging to the court’s status of impartiality and would be a clear violation of the first amendment.

The ruling does, however, raise a few interesting hypotheticals. I am by no means an expert on religion, but Mormonism and Christianity seem highly intertwined, considering that Jesus Christ is a central figure of both faiths. One would assume that if the court had instead been presented with the question of whether or not Islam could be considered a form of Christianity, the court would not have hesitated to rule on the matter. But what if the father had instead converted to the Native American Church, in which the Great Spirit is often held to be synonymous with Jesus Christ, and in which the ritual use of Peyote is an integral practice of the faith.

In such a hypothetical scenario, would the court rule that exposing the child to such religious practice violates the parenting agreement, or would the court still have applied the ecclesiastical abstention doctrine?  Luckily for the court, it was not presented with such a thorny question.

Although the recent Arizona case was not problematic, it does serve to draw our attention to related issues that do seem to pose a genuine threat to the religiously neutral administration of justice.

 

Matthew Adler

Secular Communities for Arizona Legal Intern

My Dad’s Bigger than Your Dad: When Favorable Treatment isn’t Enough

My Dad’s Bigger than Your Dad: When Favorable Treatment isn’t Enough

by Adriana Lujan-Flores, Secular Communities for AZ Legal Intern

On November 25, 2020, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled to stop New York Governor Andrew Cuomo from limiting church capacity in areas with high concentrations of COVID-19 cases. Executive Order 202.68 imposed a 10-person occupancy limit on “red zones” and a 25-person occupancy limit on “orange zones”— areas determined to be hot spots for the deadly virus. The 5-4 decision ruled that Cuomo’s executive order violated the free exercise clause of the First Amendment by allowing certain essential businesses (such as shops and laundromats) to operate with a higher occupancy than religious organizations.

The majority opinion insists that there is no reason to assume that churches and synagogues are more dangerous than other businesses, and that attending religious services from home is “not the same as personal attendance.” Justice Gorsuch’s concurrence belabors the point by repeatedly claiming that allowing liquor stores and bike shops to operate at a different standard from churches and synagogues is “treating religious exercises worse than comparable secular activities.”

However, liquor stores and bike shops are in no way comparable to churches and synagogues. As Justice Sotomayor points out in her dissent, people do not gather in large groups for over an hour in stores the way they do in houses of worship. Furthermore, Cuomo’s executive order actually treated religious organizations more favorably than comparable secular events such as concerts and cinemas, which have been closed entirely.

In fact, the only reason the order even mentions houses of worship is to give churches preferential treatment by allowing them to be open to the public at all. Sotomayor also points out the Court’s hypocrisy in considering applying heightened scrutiny to this case, but not to the President’s “Muslim ban” in Trump v. Hawaii, which prevented Muslims from certain countries from entering the United States. 

The free exercise clause of the First Amendment prevents the government from prohibiting the exercise of religion. However, the right to freedom of religion doesn’t give every religious group a free pass to ignore the law. Courts have upheld legislation that burdens the free exercise of religion if there is some threat to public safety, peace, or order. Restrictions on large gatherings during a pandemic are intended to protect the public from a deadly virus that spreads through close contact from person to person.

Justice Breyer notes in his dissent that the uncertain nature of COVID-19 creates a strong argument for the state to take actions to curb the risk of spread. But the majority of the Court rejects this as a compelling reason to restrict church capacities — essentially ignoring warnings from public health experts — because there is not evidence that these specific churches have already increased the spread of COVID-19. The court seems to suggest a reactive approach to the pandemic by not allowing local governments to take preventive measures until it is too late. 

Three weeks after the opinion in Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn v. Cuomo was issued, the country is already seeing the decision’s effects. On December 15, the Supreme Court accepted an appeal from a Colorado church fighting a 50-person occupancy limit, despite the fact that the restriction had already been lifted by the governor. On the same day, the Court granted a similar appeal by a New Jersey church. Both cases relied on the precedent set in Cuomo’s case, and it is likely that other organizations will use the case to fight pandemic-related restrictions going forward. 

Notably, the 10-25-person capacity limitations were no longer in effect in New York by the time this case reached the Supreme Court, so the injunction will have little direct impact. Nonetheless, the Court decided to issue an opinion anyway, just in case the restrictions are reinstated.

This case is just an example of religious organizations testing how far the Court will go to allow churches to act above the law. Even though houses of worship were given preferential treatment under Cuomo’s executive order, that was not enough for an entity that is used to having absolute power.

Adriana Lujan-Flores

Secular Communities for AZ Legal Intern

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2021 Legislative Agenda: Biden has a Big Job Ahead

Biden has a Big Job Ahead of Him:  Legislative Agenda for 2021

Dianne Post, Secular AZ Legal Director

The Americans United for Separation of Church and State group has put out an ambitious agenda for President-Elect Biden. The Christian nationalists have been working on their agenda for decades and they succeeded in imposing much of their rule during the previous four years.  In respect to the Constitution and democracy, this must be undone.

Religious freedom cannot mean that one particular religion gets to do everything it wants to the exclusion of the rights of all others.  Yet that is where we have been going.  The do-no-harm principle has always been a guiding light to allow believers to practice their faith but not harm non-believers.  This went out the window with this Supreme Court as most recently illustrated by their decision to allow churches to meet in violation of the COVID pandemic rules. 

In other words, their beliefs can be the excuse to harm every person in the country with the increased spread of the virus; the increased burden on first responders, medical personnel, and essential workers; and the increased costs that will flow from these spreader events.  The rest of us will pay for their foolishness; some of them will pay with their lives.

In 2019, a do-no-harm bill was introduced into Congress (HR 1450 / S 593) to restore the balance of powers and protect the majority of Americans. It will have to be re-introduced in the new Congress. Sixty percent of likely voters said protecting the separation of religion and government is either one of the most important issues to them personally or very important to them.

Biden Can Undo Damage by Executive Order

Biden can undo some of the damage by executive order. The discriminatory Muslim Ban is one such act. It has led to families being separated, people being denied access to medical treatments, students and researchers denied permission to study here, and doctors and medical professionals who could help care for COVID-19 patients being prohibited from entering the U.S.

AU has suggested that Biden sign an order setting out principles of religious freedom. We already have that. It’s called the First Amendment. But he can revoke the legal memoranda issued by the Attorney General including the horrific international statement of religious freedom that prohibits reproductive care for women and puts the tenants of one religion above all others.

The current administration has proposed regulations at nine agencies that would allow such discrimination. These can be stopped. The HHS waiver that allows taxpayer-funded child placement agencies to reject potential parents who don’t meet their religious test can be withdrawn, but the Supreme Court has that case and will unfortunately be the ultimate decider. There is a notice of nonenforcement and proposed rule to eliminate nondiscrimination that can be withdrawn, but it may be moot ,depending on what the Supreme Court says.

Given that the Constitution Article VI says that there can be no religious test as a qualification to any office or public trust, it is pretty astounding that taxpayer-funded contractors and grantees can use religion to discriminate. There is a proposed rule to expand the EEOC religious exemption clause that should be withdrawn. And there is an Attorney General opinion that claims RFRA demands that federal agencies be able to discriminate with taxpayer monies. This should also be withdrawn and the provisions of the Constitution in Article VI be adhered to.

While the administration was never successful in overturning the Johnson Amendment prohibiting churches from endorsing candidates, the IRS is not vigorously enforcing it.  They must be so ordered.

Whose Life is this Anyhow?

Health care is a right not a privilege and the government should fund it fully but right now, many exemptions exist to allow everyone from pharmacists to doctors to refuse care based on their alleged beliefs. This particularly harms women and the LGBT community.

Arizona, too, has many of those same laws including that the hospital doesn’t even have to tell you that they won’t abide by your end-of-life decision. Really – whose life is this anyhow?

The Denial of Care Rule must be rescinded along with the regulations exempting birth control in health care plans. However, again the Supreme Court has failed to protect this right and allowed such discrimination in Hobby Lobby and Little Sisters of the Poor.

Using taxpayer money to pay for religious schools has been an on-going battle with AZ ground zero. The unfortunate Espinoza decision from the Supreme Court shows we cannot rely on them to uphold constitutional principles so we have to stop all voucher programs. Two state courts have refused to follow this decision (Ohio and Maine).

Both courts have said what the Supreme Court should have said – we are not discriminating against these schools because they are religious schools, we are prohibiting state taxpayer monies to go to these schools because of what they would do with the money i.e. teach religion and proselytize which is prohibited by our state constitution. The partisan nature of this Supreme Court has resulted in the loss of respect for its opinions.

Religious Favoritism Must End

Unfortunately, some issues cannot be resolved by executive order. This includes cases at and making their way to the Supreme Court, asking that faith-based organizations receiving government funds to deliver government services be allowed to discriminate according to their claimed beliefs.

AZ has similar laws that the state cannot discriminate against faith-based organizations when handing out taxpayer money, but the faith-based organization can discriminate when doing the contracted work. This religious favoritism must end.

One thing the incoming administration can do is ensure that cabinet picks and incoming administration staff reflect the vast diversity that is the U.S. today, including atheists.  Likewise, judges must be nominated and confirmed who believe in the Constitution — including the First Amendment — and who represent our entire diversity.

In Memoriam: Mark Nisski

Secular AZ mourns the loss of Board Member and friend Mark Nisski, who passed away this week from Covid-19.

Mark was a bright light in Arizona’s secular community. A true secular champion, Mark broke new ground when he founded the Kingman Freethinkers, a freethought group in Kingman, AZ.

Here, Mark put his boundless passion for secular values to work, creating a much-needed and very welcome sense of community in northwestern Arizona. 

Mark quickly realized the need for and potential of his group, and started building connections across the state. In 2019, he was honored as one of our “Secular Stars” for his work with the Kingman Freethinkers. Earlier this year, he joined the Secular AZ Board. 

We will sorely miss Mark’s enthusiasm, his intellectual curiosity, his energy, and — most of all — his kindness. He inspired those around him to look at the world differently and to take action to make things better. Our hearts and thoughts are with Mark’s family.

AZ Code: Chock Full of Religious Favoritism

In preparation for what we hoped would be a very different legislative session in 2021, the Secular AZ legal department scoured the entire Arizona code to find all statutes related to religion and determine what needed to be fixed.  We searched for “religion”, “religious,” “god,”  “church,” or “faith-based.”

We were astounded to discover 220 different statutes.  

Many were necessary statutes that prohibited discrimination based on religion, e.g. in employment and public accommodation. A small number related to exemptions due to the practices of specific sects, such as kosher and halal butchering practices, minors drinking wine at religious ceremonies, higher penalties for criminal acts against a religious building, wearing religious head coverings, etc.  These we left alone.

But those statutes — and there are many — that allow religious treatment, prayer, or laying on of hands to substitute for health care are concerning.  If a person wants that for themselves, that is fine… but if the public is paying for it (such as workers compensation, an industrial accident, or AHCCCS) that should not be allowed on the public dollar.  Some people have taken this to the absurd level of refusing to wear masks, thus putting many other individuals and the economy in jeopardy for their “beliefs.”   

The next category was more concerning, with a great number of statutes that use god language in a required oath, e.g. in court, or excuse behavior due to an “act of god.”  These are simple fixes by using “swear or affirm” and removing the god language from the oath. For the “act of god” language, the term “force majeure” is already an acceptable replacement.

Violating the Establishment Clause

Also of some concern is the number of religious or faith-based institutions or people in government enterprise. There is no requirement that non-religious people be represented in those bodies making government policy. Many of these positions are on “family related” committees and advisory boards… as if non-religious folks don’t have families? In some programs, such as the healthy family program, the program is allowed to push for people to be involved in religion.

I would argue that this is a violation of the First Amendment establishment clause. There is no evidence that being involved with a religion makes a family any healthier! Children are also allowed to be excused from school, which interferes with their tax-payer-funded education. Often, state-funded treatment programs give no options other than religious ones. This has been litigated in other states but successfully resolved thus far in AZ.  

Of increasing concern is the number of exemptions given to religious organizations because they are religious. This includes wine, chickens, bank deposits, and others. The exemptions regarding corporations are especially concerning. Such corporations can exempt themselves from many of the reporting and transparency requirements to their own members as well as to the public. This can result in fraud, such as was seen in the Baptist Foundation of Arizona case in 2006. 

Religious Exemptions for Clergy and Healthcare Providers

Of special concern are the provisions exempting clergy from reporting child abuse or having to testify. Two bills were introduced last year into the legislature to resolve this, but were not heard. Given the well-known history of clergy abuse of children, keeping this protection for clergy is very dangerous and harmful for children.

The statutes that allow medical professionals to refuse treatment based on their so-called “religious beliefs” have resulted in serious medical harm to patients. Not only is it a violation of medical ethics, but for the safety of patients, this must be stopped.

 Likewise the ability to refuse to vaccinate your child based on religious belief or in fact no reason at all is medically dangerous to public health and individual children. These provisions elevate religious belief above public safety and put the public at risk, especially vulnerable persons.

The taxation exemptions have always been a problem. The statute that allows business to lease to religious entities and then get a tax deduction is even more concerning, since the exemption is extended to non-religious corporations. An earlier analysis by our group found that the state is losing more than $1 million a year in tax money from this. Churches make money or they don’t… just like every other business. If they don’t, they won’t be burdened with taxes. If they do, they should pay like every other business since they are using infrastructure created and paid for by taxpayers — roads and streets, mail services, internet, courts, corporation commission, education system, libraries, zoning, traffic control, law enforcement, etc.  

Codified Discrimination Based on Religion

Very concerning is the discrimination allowed by religious organizations because they are religious. For example, failure to oversee charter schools, refusal to provide medical treatment or insurance, failure to protect employees from discrimination, or refusal to follow the patient’s wishes. The failure to oversee charter schools has resulted in a cash cow of public monies to the founders (often legislators) as reported in the Arizona Republic in a 2018 expose. The refusal to provide appropriate medical services harms the employees directly and public health indirectly.  

Other favoritism given to religious organizations includes:

For reasons unknown, corporate boards are given carte blanche to believe the statements of religious people without doing due diligence as to the truth of the statements. As in the Baptist Foundation case, this can result in real harm to the customers and the public. The conflict of interest provisions don’t apply either.   

Even more astounding is that a student can give a completely wrong answer on a test, e.g. that the earth is 6,000 years old, and can get credit if that wrong answer is allegedly based on the student’s religious beliefs. Science does not care whether you believe it or not; it is the truth. While religions can discriminate against us, we can’t discriminate against them e.g. in issuing contracts.  

Establishment of Religion by the State

In addition to those sections explicitly based on religion, there remain sections where religion is not stated directly but is the under girding reason. For example, abstinence education (a complete failure), adultery, and all the abortion provisions that base law-making on the belief of one sect that life begins at conception when many other sects do not agree. This is establishment of religion by the state.

This review of the Arizona statutes shows clearly that if there is any “war,” it is on the nonreligious, not on religion. In fact, religious belief and religious institutions are given advantage after advantage, from tax breaks to lack of transparency, from exemption from many laws to the ability to discriminate and punishing others who attempt to act on their beliefs.

We do not have neutrality on religion – we have favoritism for a certain religion. We must even these scales.

The priorities for the 2021 legislative session will be discussed at the (virtual) Secular Summit on Dec. 5.

Join us and let us know what you think.  

 

Dianne Post, Legal Director

Secular Communities for AZ

 

Not a Christian Nation: Constitution and Democracy Mandate Separation of Church and State

The claim that this nation was founded on Christianity directly contradicts the Constitution and more than 200 years of history.  The First Amendment says: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;…” 

They shall not establish a religion and they shall not prohibit citizens from exercising their own religions – whatever they may be. At that time, some colonies did have established religions and even taxed all citizens to support them. If someone didn’t like that religion, they could be imprisoned, tortured or killed. A period of disestablishment followed.

“No Man Shall Be Compelled”

Jefferson’s proudest claim was the Virginia Statute for Religious Liberty that he and James Madison passed to end Virginia’s established church.  The statute says:

We the General Assembly of Virginia do enact that no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burthened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer, on account of his religious opinions or belief; but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish, enlarge, or affect their civil capacities.

The United States was deliberately founded so as not to be reliant on or connected to any religion.  The founders all had experience in or knowledge of countries where religious differences had torn them apart, some for hundreds of years, over doctrinal disputes.  Various religions already existed in the colonies and to weld all that into one country would not only take some skillful doing, but require that religion could not be the weapon that tore it all apart.

The founders themselves were religious but they had seen that the mixture of government and religion — both in the old country and the new — resulted in oppression and tyranny.

An America Where Separation of Church and State is Absolute

The Constitution contains no mention of religion except in Article VI that prohibits any religious test for public office. The founders did not want a government that could exclude people based on religion. Many of those who fought for this provision were clergy because they understood, as did James Madison, that mixing faith and government weakens both.

I’m old enough to remember the uproar over John F. Kennedy being a Catholic. The rumor mill ran wild with fears that if Kennedy won, the Pope would be running the county. In response, Kennedy said:

“I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute – where no Catholic prelate would tell the President (should he be Catholic) how to act, and no Protestant minister would tell his parishioners for whom to vote – where no church or church school is granted any public funds or political preference – and where no man is denied public office merely because his religion differs from the president who might appoint him or the people who might elect him.

I believe in an America that is officially neither Catholic, Protestant nor Jewish – where no public official either requests or accepts instructions on public policy from the Pope, the National Council of Churches or any other ecclesiastical source – where no religious body seeks to impose its will directly or indirectly upon the general populace or the public acts of its officials – and where religious liberty is so indivisible that an act against one church is treated as an act against all.”

Kennedy was elected and none of the hysterical claims became reality in his term. But today, it appears many politicians accept instruction on public policy from their church and even brag about it in violation of Article VI. We have seen several examples in Arizona with a church in Mesa holding a voter registration program for supporters of the current president and a church in Cave Creek hosting a campaign speech – both in violation of the law. IRS complaints were filed about both.

Today, as in 1776, churches disagree with each other on doctrine, structure, and social issues. Some support same sex marriage, some oppose; some support women as church leaders, some oppose; some offer sanctuary to refugees, some oppose; some support abortion, some oppose. So which sect would rule?   

America is special not because we are a chosen people, but because we did not organize a government based on religion. The countries that are based on religion – Iran, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan to name a few – are notorious for their violations of human rights, violence toward women, and silencing of those who disagree.

Attorney and historian Andrew Seidel in The Founding Myth:  Why Christian Nationalism is Un-American, lays out a brilliant argument on why the efforts of Christian nationalists to destroy the “wall of separation” between church and state is in fact traitorous. Only the separation of church and state maintains religious freedom for us all.

  • Dianne Post
  • Legal Director, Secular Communities for AZ

  • November 12, 2020

Secular Summit 2020

The Secular Summit has gone virtual! Click here to join the event on Zoom.

Join secular supporters from around Arizona at our annual Secular Summit on 12/5/2020 for presentations, networking, education, advocacy and more.

Because we’re meeting online, we’re not charging for tickets this year. However, if you’re able, we ask that you please support Secular AZ by:

This year, our keynote speaker is Katherine Stewart, journalist and author of The Power Worshippers: Inside the Dangerous Rise of Christian Nationalism and The Good News Club: The Christian Right’s Stealth Assault on America’s Children.

We’ll also have updates on the upcoming legislative session and Secular AZ’s legal activities, and hear from the Executive Director of the Secular Coalition for America, Debbie Allen.

Please join us on Saturday, December 5, from 9AM – 3:30PM. Click here to join the event on Zoom.