A Christian Nationalist Blitz is Still Assaulting Your Civil Liberties — Just Under a Low Profile

As U.S. Church membership falls, pushback is growing from traditionalists across the country. Christian nationalist groups remain at the forefront of this culture war. These coalitions dump massive amounts of money into state and local governments to influence power-hungry politicians. Their desired ends are the realization of America as a Christian nation; their means are dismantling civil rights. Continue reading

Let’s Talk About Christian Nationalism

Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn v. Cuomo.

Fulton v. Philadelphia.

Tandon v. Newsom.

Whole Woman’s Health v. Jackson

Throughout the pandemic, the highest court of the land has favored religious adherents to the detriment of public health, LGBTQ+ people, and the Constitution’s Establishment Clause. I felt nauseous as I read majority opinions from the 2020-2021 term; arch-conservative Supreme Court Justices had institutionalized a complete disregard for the separation of state and church. Christian nationalism has taken hold of our democracy. Continue reading

Legislative Prayer in Arizona

by Beth Houck, Secular AZ Legal Committee volunteer attorney

This summer, Secular AZ’s Legal Committee has been reviewing the invocation policies and practices in every county’s board of supervisors’ meetings, and in the city council meetings of the cities that are county seats. It’s a big project, requiring many public records requests and listening to hundreds of hundreds of recordings going back to the beginning of 2020. Continue reading

Children cannot be required to recite the Pledge of Allegiance

State lawmakers worked hard this session to figure out ways to impose groupthink on students. Representative Fillmore from the far east valley and Pinal county introduced HB2060, requiring school children in grades 1-4 to recite the Pledge every morning. Under current law, they may if they like; under Fillmore’s bill — which thankfully died in committee — they would have been required to do so unless their parents wrote an excuse. Continue reading

Urgent: final votes imminent on dangerous religious exemptions bill

On short notice, religious exemptions bill HB2648 has been fast-tracked for final votes at the State Legislature today.

Proponents of HB2648 claim that the bill merely protects the right to worship during public emergencies. But the bill is much more extreme.

As written, HB2648 would essentially give any self-proclaimed religious organization — including extremist and fringe organizations — a “get out of jail free” card for nearly any violation of any law at any time. This would particularly jeopardize children, as it would diminish Arizona’s ability to enforce laws shielding them from abuse and other harms within the walls of such organizations.

HB2648 is not only dangerous. It is unnecessary. Current Arizona law  already protects religious freedom, even in times of crisis.

The bill could receive final votes in the Senate any minute. From there, it would go to quickly to the House and then the Governor.

Please join us in contacting our State Senators (again) ASAP.

State budget set to reflect Christian nationalist priorities

Voting resumed at the State Capitol this week after a long deadlock over the state budget.

This was an intense week. The majority party pushed through a budget that was neither discussed with nor vetted with the rest of the Legislature. This included several pieces of contentious Christian nationalist legislation that had previously failed as individual bills. Continue reading

Christian Nationalism is Coming for You

“[Christian Nationalists’] 20-year court packing scheme has resulted in decisions that imprint Christianity in society as privileged, and they use the court system to create exceptions for them. The recent decisions allowing churches to violate public safety standards and continue spreading Covid is a clear example.  Now our state legislators want to enshrine that favoritism in law with HB2648.  The bill passed the House 38-22 with seven Democrats voting with the Republican majority. Exemptions from the law for “sincerely held religious beliefs” are simply code to be able to discriminate. Religious doctrine said that it was permissible for one people to enslave another, that the races could not intermarry, and that a certain race could not join the church. The court has declined to question these so those called “beliefs.”  Religious freedom to the Christian nationalists means privilege for those with the “right” religion.  To claim they want neutrality is a farce when one sect already has a leg up….

…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 – are notorious for their violations of human rights, violence toward women, and silencing of those who disagree. Christian nationalism fueled the attack on the Capitol on January 6, 2021.  We must not underestimate its danger to our democracy.”

Read the entire op-ed by Secular AZ Legal Director Dianne Post in the March 2, 2021 Arizona Capitol Times.

Does Separation of Church and State Mean Kids Can’t Pray in Public Schools?

Myth: Thanks to separation of church and state, kids can’t pray in public schools.

Some Arizona lawmakers have made headlines claiming that we don’t need to keep guns out of schools; we need to bring more prayer in.  Once again, a legislator has introduced a bill (HB2060) to mandate a quiet reflection and moral reasoning time as a way to stick the camel’s nose under the tent.

But as long as there are algebra tests, there will be prayer in school.  What the U.S. Supreme Court banned in 1962 (Engel v. Vitale)  and 1963 was government-sponsored, compulsory prayer and Bible reading in public schools.  Voluntary prayer was never banned but, given the diversity of religions in the U.S. (1,500 to 2,000 estimated), it is a very good idea to prohibit government-sponsored or compulsory prayer.  

Prior to those rulings, Jewish and Muslim kids were required to recite Christian prayers.  Catholics were required to listen to verses from the King James version of the Bible that was written by the Anglican church that ridiculed the beliefs of the Catholics.  The non-religious were required to accept it all.  Parents rights regarding how and in what religion to bring up their children were ignored.

Legitimate Educational Goals v. Coercion and Retaliation

Today, young people can pray and read religious books in a non-disruptive way but no one can be compelled or singled out for refusing to do so.  Kids can set up religious clubs in non-instructional time but they have to be open to all, student run, and voluntary. Religion can be discussed in classes like history, art, literature and others. The Bible and other religious texts can even be read as part of a comparative religion course. As long as the approach has legitimate educational goals, public school officials will not get into trouble for teaching about religion.  This is truly the American way, not coercion and retaliation.  

It’s the Bible, after all, that says in Matthew 6:5-6, “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others.”  Those advocating for public prayer in the school ought to pay attention to their own good books. 

The hysteria about praying in schools is just that, hysteria, or perhaps worse.  It is the shifting of blame from the state legislature’s refusal to regulate guns as the vast majority of Arizonans want to, claiming that the problem is prayer.  It’s the shifting of blame from the state legislature’s depletion of funding for our schools, to blaming our schools’ poor scholastic record on lack of prayer.  Those making these claims would not argue that the Koran should be read in class or the Torah or the Humanist Manifesto.  

In “Religion in the Public Schools: A Joint Statement of Current Law,” 35 religious and civil liberties organizations give the following summary of the rights of students to express their faith in a public school:  Students have the right to pray individually or in groups or to discuss their religious views with their peers so long as they are not disruptive.

The Premise and Promise of Democratic Pluralism

Because the Establishment Clause does not apply to purely private speech, students enjoy the right to read their Bibles or other scriptures, say grace before meals, pray before tests, and discuss religion with other (willing) student listeners.

In the classroom, students have the right to pray quietly, except when required to be actively engaged in school activities (e.g. students may not decide to pray just as a teacher calls on them).

In informal settings, such as the cafeteria or in the halls, students may pray either audibly or silently, subject to the same rules of order as apply to other speech in these locations.

However, the right to engage in voluntary prayer does not include, for example, the right to have a captive audience listen or to compel other students to participate. (Student Religious Expression in Public Schools: United States Department of Education Guidelines) 

So first, know the facts: prayer is not excluded, it just cannot be government-sponsored or compelled. 

And second, the rules that apply to one, apply to all.  The Williamsburg Charter that was signed in 1988 by Presidents Carter and Ford, two then-living Chief Justices, and 200 other leaders states in part: 

We affirm that a right for one is a right for another and a responsibility for all. A right for a Protestant is a right for an Eastern Orthodox is a right for a Catholic is a right for a Jew is a right for a Humanist is a right for a Mormon is a right for a Muslim is a right for a Buddhist—and for the followers of any other faith within the wide bounds of the republic. 

That rights are universal and responsibilities mutual is both the premise and the promise of democratic pluralism. The First Amendment, in this sense, is the epitome of public justice and serves as the golden rule for civic life.

Rights are best guarded and responsibilities best exercised when each person and group guards for all others those rights they wish guarded for themselves. 

 

Dianne Post

Legal Director, Secular Communities for Arizona

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. 

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Dianne Post, Legal Director

Secular Communities for AZ