The Week in Review – Law and Atheism 11/22/2012

 This week’s roundup of legal news:

A judge in Oklahoma sentenced a juvenile who was convicted of manslaughter to church instead of prison. Tyler Alred’s friend was killed when the car Alred was driving crashed. The teenagers had been drinking. While I don’t think prison is a healthy place for anyone, and certainly not for a juvenile, I can’t help but wish something could be done about this aspect of the young man’s sentence. If the juvenile appeals his sentence and it is found to be unconstitutional, he might be re-sentenced and sent to prison. So this judge, who has apparently sentenced other defendants to church, will not only get away with it but keep on doing it. A 16 year old who accidentally kills his friend will live with that horror for the rest of his life, anyway. Alred has a laundry list of other requirements to meet that are common to rules of probation or parole: things like finishing school, finding a job, and more. If he doesn’t do as he has been ordered, he’ll spend up to ten years in prison. The victim’s family did not want him to serve time. “We don’t need to see two lives wasted for a mistake,” said the victim’s sister.  How many of us might agree to suffer through ten years of church?

They’re just words.

In response to the 9/11 attacks, the Kentucky legislature made an official “finding” in 2002 that the “safety and security of the commonwealth cannot be achieved apart from reliance upon Almighty God.” Aided by American Atheists, secularist plaintiffs won at the trial level when the trial judge agreed that that the state had “created an official government position on God.” But the state appellate court said something to the effect of “oh, those are just words, you know?” so now the plaintiffs are asking the United States Supreme Court to weigh in. When Alternet reported this story yesterday, its article, which got widespread attention, said that the state’s citizens had to acknowledge the existence of “Almighty God” or be prosecuted and punished with up to a year in prison. That’s not exactly the case.  The article corrected itself later, by accurately reporting that a plaque with a religious statement attributing public safety and homeland security to Almighty God had to be placed on the wall of the state’s homeland security building, or the executive director of the agency risked a year in jail for a misdemeanor violation. Kentucky Revised Statute 39G.010(2) says, in relevant part:

The executive director shall: (a) Publicize the findings of the General Assembly stressing the dependence on Almighty God as being vital to the security of the Commonwealth by including the provisions of KRS 39A.285(3) in its agency training and educational materials. The executive director shall also be responsible for prominently displaying a permanent plaque at the entrance to the state’s Emergency Operations Center stating the text of KRS 39A.285(3)[.]

The legislative finding referred to in the above statute is in KRS 9A.285. The italicized words are what the Executive Director of Kentucky Homeland Security is supposed to post on the wall of the building:

The General Assembly hereby finds that:

(1) No government by itself can guarantee perfect security from acts of war or terrorism.

(2) The security and well-being of the public depend not just on government, but rest in large measure upon individual citizens of the Commonwealth and their level of understanding, preparation, and vigilance.

(3) The safety and security of the Commonwealth cannot be achieved apart from reliance upon Almighty God as set forth in the public speeches and proclamations of American Presidents, including Abraham Lincoln’s historic March 30, 1863, Presidential Proclamation urging Americans to pray and fast during one of the most dangerous hours in American history, and the text of President John F. Kennedy’s November 22, 1963, national security speech which concluded: “For as was written long ago: ‘Except the Lord keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain.’

49 years ago today, about 12:30 p.m., in Dallas Texas

The second statute, with the italicized language, went into effect March 28, 2002. The posting requirements were not passed into law until 2006, when the American Atheists lawsuit was initiated.

Something to point out about this is the fact that the Kentucky Legislature mentions a November 22, 1963 JFK speech about national security. That speech was not given 49 years ago today in Dallas, Texas, by President John F. Kennedy. On his way to the luncheon where he was to deliver it, Kennedy was assassinated.

What the Kentucky legislature chose to ignore was the fact that John F. Kennedy had given another speech in Texas three years earlier, making it crystal clear that, despite his strongly held personal religious beliefs, Kennedy also believed that keeping church and state separate was of absolute paramount importance.

Let’s hope the conservative United States Supreme Court does the right thing.

The Speaker of Uganda’s Parliament, Rebecca Kadaga,  says that Uganda’s new “Kill the Gays” bill will be passed before the end of 2012 despite vigorous and vocal international criticism of the legislation. She called it a “Christmas gift” to Uganda’s Christian population. Uganda already criminalizes homosexual behavior, but the new bill adds different levels of seriousness to the crime of being gay, punishment for which ranges from life imprisonment to death:

‘Aggravated homosexuality’ is defined as gay acts committed by parents or authority figures, HIV-positive people, pedophiles and repeat offenders. If convicted, they will face the death penalty.

The ‘offense of homosexuality’ includes same-sex sexual acts or being in a gay relationship, and will be prosecuted by life imprisonment.

According to one report, Several European countries have threatened to cut aid to Uganda if it passes, with the UK government warning Uganda it would face severe reductions in financial help. President Obama has described it as ‘odious’, and Canadian politician John Baird has said it is ‘vile, abhorrent, and offends decency’.

The preaching and teachings of evangelical American Christians, including Rick Warren (The Purpose Driven Life) and Scott Lively (whose Abiding Truth Ministries are listed as a Hate Group by the Southern Poverty Law Center), have been credited with “igniting” the homophobic rampages.

Uganda is notorious for its superstitions, child sacrifice by witch doctorsBurning suspected witches alive is still prevalent in the country. (Warning: This video  is a graphic recording of an alleged witch being burned alive in Uganda in 2011.)

So, yeah, modern American Christian evangelism does serious harm in today’s world, in case there are any fence-sitters out there reading this.

Honest – this pregnant virgin was one of the nativity exhibits in Santa Monica in years past

U.S. District Judge Audrey B. Collins said that the city of Santa Monica, California, did not have to allow any seasonal displays, religious or otherwise, in its park. Last year, to the dismay of the Christians who had previously dominated the annual seasonal display in the park, a number of atheists got 18 out of 21 spaces that Santa Monica regularly let religious groups use to erect seasonal displays. About half of the non-theist displays were vandalized, so the city ended its tradition of allowing the seasonal displays. The city decided to stop all displays in the park. In court Monday, Deputy City Attorney Yibin Shen said the ban had been under consideration for 20 years and was ultimately motivated by the cost to the city after the number of applicants spiked in recent years. The department in charge of running the lottery for booth spaces doubled its staff and spent 245 hours annually running the system and reviewing applications.

Americans United for Separation of Church and State and eight other groups representing Jewish, Unitarian Universalist, and secular organizations  have filed an amicus brief in a death penalty case in Florida. Amici curiae, or “friends of the court” briefs are filed by individuals or groups who are not parties to the lawsuit in question, but who feel they have something important to add to the issue under consideration. Frequently these groups want to influence public policy which will result from the decision. In this case, the defendant was sentenced to death after the prosecutor quoted extensively from the Bible, specifically from the book of Romans, in his cross-examination of a minister in the sentencing phase of the case. The passages he quoted demanded the death penalty. The organizations asked to file the brief because, despite their carious religious viewpoints, they are “united in the view that the decision between life and death in a capital case should not turn on the jury’s interpretation of religious doctrine.”

Did the originals contain errors, too?

In matters of legal amusement, private funds paid for a monument with the Ten Commandments to be erected on the lawn of the Oklahoma State Capitol. Many are snickering at its misspellings, which are expected to be corrected. Oklahoma’s ACLU is determining whether a legal challenge will be made. Since the existence of the ten commandments on government property has repeatedly been held to violate the constitution, a legal challenge has a high likelihood of success. The Oklahoma ACLU’s organizer, Ryan Kiesel, was a Democratic House member at the time the law was passed allowing the erection of the monument. He was among 16 absent when the final vote in the Oklahoma House passed the law allowing placement of the monument 83-2. I have no clue why Kiesel was absent that day.

Greece has brought blasphemy charges against the performers, producer, and director of an Athens production of Terrence McNally’s play “Corpus Christi.” The play portrays Jesus and the disciples as gay men living in Texas.

The play’s director told Reuters he was stunned that prosecutors had chosen to go after him rather than pursue tax evaders and others blamed for driving Greece to near-bankruptcy.

“What I see is that there are people who have robbed the country blind who are not in jail and the prosecutor turns against art,” Albanian-born Laertis Vasiliou said.

If they are convicted, the men would face several months in jail. That’s not as dire as the situation faced by Alber Saber in Egypt, but still – to think that a country as advanced as Greece, and a member of the EU to boot, would prosecute people for religious speech and iconoclastic beliefs is beyond the pale.

Obama said that if any petition could gain 25,000 signatures in a month he’d consider it. Will he? I don’t know. You have to create an account to sign the petition, but I did so quite some time ago and haven’t yet received any spam because of it. Yes, most of the petitions look to be pretty far from a reasonable request, and as of this writing, there seem to be a lot of them that, if denied, will result in another Civil War. Like, “ALLOW ALASKA TO SECEDE FROM A DYSFUNCTIONAL UNION.” Yes, it’s all in caps. There seems to be one or more of those for each state. But seriously,  Here are a couple of Petitions you might consider signing.

  •  First is one that asks that the law be changed to require religious organizations to pay taxes. It has been posted for a week, and as of yesterday had 5,880 signatures. It’s short and sweet. It will remain posted until December 14 to gather the necessary signatures. Let’s blow the doors off the thing. This one is important.
  • The second one asks  to remove references to God from our money and the Pledge of Allegiance. It expires December 12.  When I added my name, this petition had over 11,000 signatures and had only been posted since November 12. I don’t have a lot of hope that this will go anywhere since we have 533 people in the halls of Congress who claim to believe in that whole God thing, but the more noise we make, the more attention we’ll get. Right?
  • Third is one to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). This one is getting close. It closes December 7, and as of this writing has more than met its quota. I’d like to see this one make a point, though, and garner lots of extra signatures.

A point about all three of these petitions: they all ask for laws to be passed or repealed, which is something only Congress can do. Just because the President is asked to take action does not mean that Congress will go along with it. The President can’t make or repeal laws by himself. He can issue executive orders, which set his administration’s policy and occasionally – and temporarily – take on the quasi-character of a law, but an executive order and a “pretty please” to his supporters in Congress is about the best he can do.




Got a legal question? Email me at I’m a lawyer, but there’s only a 2% chance I’m licensed in your state. Whether I answer your question or not, sending me an email or reading this blog post does not create an attorney-client relationship between us. You can see my regular blog at, where I write book reviews, ruminate on Life, the Universe, and Everything, and occasionally – frequently – rant about Stuff.

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