Secular AZ Lauds Decision Limiting School Board Prayer

Secular Coalition for Arizona
www.secularaz.org
Contact: Tory Roberg, Director of Government Affairs – tory@secularaz.org – 623-570-6396

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Secular AZ lauds decision limiting school board prayer

(Thurs., July 26, 2018) Phoenix, Ariz. — In a unanimous decision from the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals yesterday, judges ruled that California’s Chino Valley Unified School District Board was in violation of the Establishment Clause by promoting Christianity with prayers and Bible readings at meetings. Secular Coalition for Arizona calls the ruling a major victory for the separation of religion from government, and warns Arizona school boards to heed the decision.

“It’s wrong for elected officials to use their position as a way to push their religious beliefs during government proceedings,” said Zenaido Quintana, President of the Secular Coalition for Arizona. “Secular AZ is committed to ensuring this doesn’t happen at any government meetings in our state, especially at the school board level where kids might be subjected to evangelizing. The Ninth Circuit validated that our position is on the right side of the law.”

The Court specified that religious activity at school board meetings is not within the legislative prayer tradition that allows certain types of prayer to open legislative sessions. “Unlike a session of Congress or a state legislature, or a meeting of a town board, the Chino Valley Board meetings function as extensions of the educational experience of the district’s public schools,” the Court wrote in its decision. “The presence of large numbers of children and adolescents, in a setting under the control of public school authorities, is inconsonant with the legislative-prayer tradition.”

The lawsuit was brought by the Freedom From Religion Foundation on behalf of two parents of students in the district and twenty Doe plaintiffs (including students, parents, district employees, a former district employee, and attendees of school board meetings).

Quintana says Secular AZ will continue monitoring local government meetings to make sure the religious freedom of students is not being violated by elected officials’ evangelizing.

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The Secular Coalition for Arizona is a nonprofit advocacy organization that works to ensure a secular state government. We lobby on behalf of all individuals who believe that public policy free of religious preference is the best way to ensure freedom of conscience for Arizonans of all faiths and of none. Secular AZ is the local affiliate of the Secular Coalition for America.

Reverend Speaks Out Against Removing Evolution from Science Standards

Superintendent of Public Instruction Diane Douglas is attempting to limit the use of the word “evolution” in Arizona high schools’ science curriculum, in spite of more than a year of work by 100 educators, parents and community members who drafted new science education standards. The Secular Coalition for Arizona strongly opposes this attempt to supplant fact-based learning with religious dogma. Many agree, including Reverend David Felten of The Fountains United Methodist Church in Fountain Hills. 

In an interview on KJZZ, Dr, Felten explains why he believes evolution should remain part of the science standards for public high schools. Listen to the interview here. 

 

Evolution Under Attack in AZ Science Standards

We believe that the science education in Arizona schools should be based on scientific fact, not religious dogma… and science teachers from around the world agree! That’s why we’re concerned about Superintendent Diane Douglas’ attempt to cast doubt on evolution, thus undermining AZ students’ scientific literacy. Read our letter to the AZ State Board of Public Education here. 

Share your thoughts on this attack on evolution with the AZ Ed Dept; this survey on the science standards is open for public comment until May 28. 

 

Do We Need (Yet Another) Religious Endorsement in AZ Public Schools?

"God Enriches"? Which god?The Friendly Atheist can’t understand why the AZ Senate passed SB1289, allowing teachers and administrators to post a translation of the AZ state motto, Ditat Deus, in classrooms…. and Secular AZ agrees.

Historically, the motto has always been in Latin; the Englsh translation is “God Enriches,” which refers to a passage in the Christian bible. Not only is the English translation ahistoric, it’s needlessly divisive given that 30% of Arizonans do not identify as Christian, and violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment and our state contitution. Posting this translation will likely result in wasteful lawsuits school districts can ill afford, as we’ve seen in past court cases that have ruled against religious signage in the classroom.

Read more about this harmful attempt to insert religious preference into public schools, and Secular AZ’s opposition to it, at the Patheos blog

 

Secular AZ in the Media: Jewish News

Secular Day at the Capitol Featured in Jewish News

Secular AZ”s annual Secular Day at the Capitol event was featured in Jewish News, including interviews with BOD Chair Zenaido Quintana, Director of Government Affairs Tory Roberg, and Kent Barrabee Vice President of our affiliate, the Secular Humanist Jewish Circle of Tucson. 

Darwin Day at the Capitol

2017 Legislative Wrap Up is Here

The Secular Coalition for Arizona (Secular AZ) ignited our 2017 legislative work in a charged political environment colored by the general election. We started strong, locking arms in solidarity with over 40 anti-discrimination groups during an Opening Day rally. We began lobbying immediately on January 12th against regressive bills aimed at education, science, and women’s reproductive rights. Despite the steep challenges, we remain excited by our steady gains in visibility and impact in recent years. Here’s a summary of key wins and obstacles. Read the 2017 Legislative Wrap Up here.

“Nones” Now Largest Religious Demographic in 20 States

A September, 2017 study from the Public Religion Research Institute found that those identifying as non-religious are the largest demographic in 20 states, including Arizona. (Here in AZ, “nones” make up 26% of the population.) Of these, six in 10 identify as “secular” while just over 25% identify as “atheist” or agnostic. These numbers illustrate a significant generational shift, and highlight the importance of ensuring that our state’s policies are secular… and equitable for all!

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Find the report here: https://www.prri.org/research/american-religious-landscape-christian-religiously-unaffiliated/

Fighting Against the Unconstitutional Use of Taxpayer Money to Endorse Religion in Fountain Hills

Secular AZ Board member and attorney Dianne Post joined concerned Fountain Hills residents to bring attention to the town’s improper and unconstitutional use of taxpaper money to promote a religious event.

At a June 1 Town Council meeting, FH resident Susan Fallon objected to Mayor Linda Kavanaugh’s proclamation supporting a “National Day of Prayer” event, noting that the Mayor’s endoresement and the town’s use of taxpayer dollars to support the prayer event represent an unconsitutional endorsement of religion.
Constitution
Fallon told the town council that “It is not acceptable for the government to insert itself into the religious arena, thereby excluding the growing number of agnostics, atheists and those who simply hold to no specific religion.”

Post agrees, noting in a letter to the town and the town council that:

“The town has communicated the message that the government endorses prayer and encourages its citizens to engage in it. That is taking sides on a matter of religious belief.

“We request that you take immediate action to rectify past violations and to prevent future violations. The city must withdraw support from the prayer event, issue no more proclamation, and spend no taxpayer dollars on prayer events.”

Read more in the Fountain Hills Times
 

 

Phoenix New Times: Whose Higher Power?

The Phoenix New Times published an article on Republican House members’ overreach after Rep. Athena Salman offered a secular invocation on the House Floor earlier this week. 

As Salman noted, “The Arizona House of Representatives is the people’s house,” she said, her voice cracking. “Opening prayers in the House should represent Arizonans of every faith’s perspective. This includes the hundreds of thousands of Arizonans who, like myself, who do not believe in a supernatural god, but do believe in the power of humanity to do good in the world.”

Secular AZ agrees. Read the article in the Phoenix New Times here.

Phoenix New Times

Will you support the Secular Coaliation for Arizona as we fight religious preference in our state government? Please consider becoming a member or donating today
 

Regarding official government prayer

On April 18th, 2017, State Representative Athena Salman offered a humanist invocation written by a member of her community, the Humanist Society of Greater Phoenix. House leadership then ruled that, despite Salman’s assertion that her higher power is “the goodness in humanity,” Salman broke house rules by not praying to a higher power.

 

112 prayers have been recorded in the AZ House and Senate floors this year, 91% of them theistic and 80% specifically Christian or Judeo-Christian. Only six overtly secular invocations have been given this year, and three—including Rep Salman’s—prompted immediate reprovals or calls to order at the time they were delivered.

 

“The Arizona House of Representatives is the people’s house,” Salman said at a recent press conference. “Opening prayers in the House should represent Arizonans of every faith perspective. This includes the hundreds of thousands of Arizonans who, like myself, do not believe in a supernatural God but do believe in the power of humanity to do good in the world.”

 

We agree: Legislative prayers—if they are to be held—must be open to Arizonans of every faith’s perspective, even those who do not subscribe to a supernatural power.

 

If you live in Arizona: call your legislators and tell them that lawmakers must be treated equally regardless of faith, and this includes expressing their beliefs during the opening prayer. Encourage them to seek better understanding of their nontheist colleagues’ viewpoints, to find common ground.