Appeals court bans town's Christian prayers
RICHMOND, Va. (ABP) — A federal appeals court has banned a South Carolina town from offering Christian-only prayers at city council meetings.
A three-judge panel of the Richmond-based 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled July 22 that the Great Falls town council violated the U.S. Constitution with its practice of offering only Christian prayers to solemnize council meetings.
Town resident Darla Wynne, who embraces the Wiccan religion, sued the town. Wynne was threatened, ostracized and eventually barred from testifying at a council meeting after she repeatedly asked the council to use non-sectarian prayers or to allow people of different faiths to offer prayers. She also began to refuse to stand and bow her head during the invocations.
Writing the opinion for the unanimous panel, Judge Diana Gribbon Motz said that, while the town council may engage in “brief invocations of the Almighty before engaging in public business,” it may not “advance its own religious views in preference to all others…. The First Amendment bars such official preference for one religion, and corresponding official discrimination against all others.”
Psychologists endorse same-sex marriage
WASHINGTON (ABP) — The nation's largest association of psychologists has endorsed both same-sex marriage and parenting rights for gay couples, prompting reactions from both pro- and anti-gay-rights groups.
The American Psychological Association's governing council passed resolutions July 28 that endorsed gay marriage and parenting rights. The group said that “anthropological research on households, kinship relationships and families, across cultures and through time, provide no support whatsoever for the view that either civilization or viable social orders depend upon marriage as an exclusively heterosexual institution.”
The nation's largest gay-rights group hailed the development. “The [American Psychological Association] understands that marriage is just as good for our families as it is for others,” said Human Rights Campaign president Cheryl Jacques in a statement. “Based on years of research, the group has found that the well being of a child is unrelated to sexual orientation.”
But the conservative Family Research Council criticized the decision. “Both arguments are refuted by evidence showing pathologies associated with homosexuality even in the most 'gay-friendly' areas on earth,” said FRC President Tony Perkins in his July 30 e-mail newsletter.
Falwell leading 'misinformation campaign,' group says
WASHINGTON (ABP) — A church-state watchdog group that filed an Internal Revenue Service complaint against Jerry Falwell's organization now says the television preacher is attempting to mislead others into flouting tax laws.
Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, sent IRS officials a letter in late July complaining about Falwell's statements to pastors of supportive churches. The statements encourage churches to ignore the federal tax codes, Lynn said. “His distortions could have serious consequences for any pastor foolish enough to take his advice. The IRS should step in now,” Lynn said.
Earlier in July, Lynn's group filed a complaint against Jerry Falwell Ministries for endorsing President Bush's re-election. Federal tax codes do not allow churches and other tax-exempt groups organized under Section 501(c)(3) to endorse political candidates or parties.
Among the Falwell communications Lynn faulted were a recent notice Falwell's organization sent to supportive pastors under the headline, “No Church Has Ever Lost its Tax-exempt Status.” In it, Falwell wrote, “Every American pastor, as a tax-paying citizen, is free to express his views and opinions.”
Religious freedom commission calls for action
WASHINGTON (ABP) — An independent federal panel charged with monitoring worldwide religious-freedom conditions is criticizing the State Department for failure to act upon the panel's recommendations.
The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom issued a statement Aug. 5 calling on Secretary of State Colin Powell “to issue without further delay” his designations for countries to sanction under the terms of the 1998 International Religious Freedom Act.
The law, which established the commission and a State Department ambassador-at-large position dealing specifically with religious freedom, allows the commission to make recommendations for nations to be designated “Countries of Particular Concern,” or CPCs. The CPC designations are for nations that are particularly severe violators of religious freedom. The law then requires the administration to impose any of a variety of sanctions on CPCs.
In February, the commission recommended Eritrea, India, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Turkmenistan and Vietnam for CPC designation. So far, the State Department has not acted upon those recommendations. In 2003, Powell acted on the commission's CPC designations in March.