Tokenism in Government Prayer Fails Again

In the long-simmering battle over the inclusion of (largely Christian) prayers at the beginning of government meetings, an assumption held sway that a written policy of pluralistic inclusion would provide a fig-leaf of legal protection against lawsuits from organizations like Americans United or the ACLU. At least that was the assertion of the conservative Christian advocacy organization Alliance Defense Fund (ADF). In their "model public invocations policy," the ADF noted how important it was to have an inclusive "neutral" policy on paper, if not in actual practice. "The bottom line is that any policy adopted and implemented [...] must ensure that the invocation opportunity is n … [Read more...]

An End to Sectarian Prayers in Forsyth County, and How Wiccans Have Shaped the Debate

On Tuesday the Supreme Court of the United States denied certiorari (judicial review) in the case of Forsyth County, North Carolina v. Joyner, which challenged the local government's opening prayer policy. In this instance, Forsyth County had constructed an "inclusive" (and thus theoretically constitutionally protected) model where all comers could have a turn, but challengers to the policy noted that the prayers were overwhelmingly Christian, and created a chilling atmosphere towards non-Christian faiths. On Joyner and Blackmon’s account, the overall atmosphere made them feel distinctly unwelcome and “coerced by [their] government into endorsing a Christian prayer.” Blackmon claimed that sh … [Read more...]

Filtering and Free Exercise: ACLU vs. Salem Public Library

In 2002 Nancy Willard, Executive Director of the Center for Safe and Responsible Internet Use, issued a report that warned of the troubling confluence between content-control software and conservative religious groups.Willard voiced concerns that the relationships between companies providing web-filtering software to public institutions may be "inappropriately preventing students from accessing certain materials based on religious or other inappropriate bias." She went on to note that terms like "occult" or "cult" are "frequently applied to any non-traditional religions" and that it would be "unacceptable for schools to block access to non-traditional religious sites."Five years … [Read more...]

ACLU Tackles the “Occult” Category in Internet Filtering Software

Yesterday the ACLU announced that it has filed a lawsuit against a library in Salem, Missouri (download the full complaint) for using Internet filtering software that blocks websites pertaining to Wicca and Native American religions. As Ars Technica notes, sites blocked by the library's software include Wikipedia's page on Wicca, but not Christian-run pages that are critical of Pagan religions. According to the ACLU filing, Salem's library director, Glenda Wofford, said "she would only allow access to blocked sites if she felt patrons had a legitimate reason to view the content and further said that she had an obligation to report people who wanted to view these sites to the authorities." … [Read more...]


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