By Amit Pal
Director of Communications
Freedom From Religion Foundation
With the Wisconsin primaries having concluded this week, the political show has moved on. But we at the Freedom From Religion Foundation are still holding the fort here, defending the constitutional wall separating church and state.
No tax breaks for heavenly interests
We refiled a lawsuit against a tax break that goes to members of the clergy, amounting to $700 million a year, that permits them to use a housing allowance not just for rent or mortgage but for all sorts of home improvements. FFRF is asking the court to rule unconstitutional this preferential and discriminatory tax benefit to ministers of the gospel that all of us taxpayers subsidize.
Gotta have (no) faith
The Obama administration mandated new rules recently for faith-based organizations providing federal social services, and the Freedom From Religion Foundation issued a response. While the fresh guidelines are certainly an improvement, they’re still deeply flawed, and FFRF will continue to challenge the whole faith-based initiative set up under President George W. Bush.
Too many issues
We sent a complaint letter to a Kentucky school district that has a whole lot of issues. Okolona Elementary School in Louisville has a Fellowship of Christian Athletes student club sponsored by a teacher. Another teacher showed a video last November in class of “Amazing Grace” that featured the Christian hymn in multiple languages and several images of Latin crosses. A door at Pleasure Ridge Park High School in the same town has multiple crosses, a portrait of Jesus and the words “Jesus is the way, the truth and the life” on the outside. And a teacher at Fern Creek High School, also in Louisville, told students at a health class that an important aspect of health is “spiritual health,” defined as “the practice of a religion or guided by faith which gives you purpose.” Whew! Needless to say, we’ve asked Jefferson County Public Schools to have these employees cease and desist.
Teachers need a constitutional lessonA couple of teachers in Liberty, Mo., are engaging in unconstitutional extracurricular behavior. They are spreading the word about Young Life and Wyldlife, two evangelical youth ministries, on school property and during school time in their professional capacities. The teachers wear T-shirts during the school day with the names of these ministries emblazoned on them. They have also posted publicity flyers for the ministries. We’ve requested the school district to investigate.
Holy book, Batman!
There’s a lot of nasty state-level activity going on to impose religion on all of us, but the Tennessee Legislature this week took the cake by choosing the bible as the state’s holy book. We were so incensed that we sent out an Action Alert to our Tennessee members AND we issued a statement expressing our anger: “The Tennessee Legislature has embarrassed itself by passing a patently unconstitutional bill declaring ‘The Holy Bible’ as the ‘official state book.’” Truly.
Public guards for private schools
And we had to sound the alarm when a New York City law went into effect subsidizing unarmed security guards at private schools, including religious institutions. As Daily News columnist Juan Gonzalez asked: “Why in the world should the taxpayers of this city foot the bill for security guards at religious and independent schools?” Good question.
Get rid of prayer
Meetings of the Norwalk School Board in Ohio have regularly opened with a prayer, in spite of repeated FFRF objections. FFRF has learned that the School Board has deliberated over the issue and will soon consider a written policy formalizing this. FFRF urges the Norwalk School Board to abandon its proposal and drop the practice of scheduling prayer before School Board meetings altogether.
Counting on you
Last, but not the least, we’re sending out soon to you our spring/summer fundraising letter. There are some really exciting projects that we’ve described. Please do give whatever you can. We’re counting on you.
FFRF is a national nonprofit dedicated to keeping state and church separate and educating about nontheism. We depend on member support–please join today.