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November 2014

Archive for November 2014

Giving Thanks!

A Message from the Executive Director
Tuesday, November 25, 2014
Dear Friends,

When my kids were young, one of the most important rules in our house was the “thank you” rule.

I would venture to guess that your families and mine have this in common. Gratitude is something we learn as we grow, and expressing gratitude is just as important as feeling it.

Of course, in order to say “thank you,” you need to be thanking someone for something. You don’t just sit around alone in your room saying “thank you” to nothing and no one in particular.

Or do you?

For most Americans, Thanksgiving is a day set aside for us to give thanks to God for our many blessings. But many secularists and atheists have a problem with this.

You see, as many secular and atheist groups are aggressively arguing for the elimination of religion from the public square, they are taking away the very meaning of days like Thanksgiving.

They are fine with the idea of a day of giving thanks. They just don’t want us to actually thank anyone—especially not God.

Does this sound confusing? Good. It should!

Suppressing the religious nature of holidays, and leaving only meaningless days off work, is a sure way to beat down natural human expression. Religion is part of what gives our country a vibrant, thriving culture.

Years ago, Becket Fund founder Seamus Hasson wrote a brilliant piece about Thanksgiving and why religious holidays are an appropriate and positive piece of American culture. In this week leading up to the day of thanks, please give it a read.

Forgetting the holy; The Feast of the Intransitive Verb
Published Thursday, November 25, 1999 in The Washington Times
By Kevin “Seamus” Hasson

Every fourth Thursday in November work and school are canceled so that families can gather together for the day and thank – well, we’ll get to just who it is they may be thanking in a minute. They also enjoy good food, good company and good football. The holiday is currently called Thanksgiving, although there is reason to think that may have to change.

Just about every other religious holiday has been stripped of its original meaning and transformed into a more secular version of its former self. Why should Thanksgiving be any different? In Pittsburgh, Christmas and Hanukkah morphed into “Sparkle Season” and then disintegrated further into “Downtown Pittsburgh Sparkles.” Public school systems across the country are renaming the Easter Bunny the “Special Bunny.” Even Halloween is being transformed out of concern for its rampant religiosity. In many places it is now the “Fall Festival Celebration.” Surely Thanksgiving, a state-sanctioned holiday that purports to give the nation a day to thank God, cannot withstand the small, furious army of radical secularists determined to take the “holy” out of our holidays. A day set aside to thank God can hardly be appropriate when the celebration of Christmas, Hanukkah and even Halloween has become taboo. Something will have to be done.

So I have a modest proposal: Let’s practice truth-in-labeling and call the November holiday that was formerly Thanksgiving, “The Feast of the Intransitive Verb.” Intransitive verbs, as we all remember from those unpleasant days of diagramming sentences in grammar school, are verbs that do not require an object. Verbs in sentences like “The horse ran” and “The wind blows” are intransitive because the horse doesn’t have to run anything or the wind blow anything. They can simply run and blow without any object at all. Well, what about the verb “to thank”? It’s supposed to have an object. You can’t just sit there and “thank.” You have to thank someone. Which is why secularists don’t use that word much in late November anymore. Their creed requires them to celebrate the day by being grateful while thanking no one. And it’s embarrassing to have to choose between being politically and grammatically correct. So secularists prefer the circumlocution “to give thanks.” It doesn’t require an object. You can get away with “giving thanks” without having to be grateful to anyone in particular. It’s much more comfortable that way. Thank whomever you want. Or, don’t thank anyone; it’s entirely up to you. Either way you can still “give thanks.” That’s the beauty of using an intransitive verb; it doesn’t need any object.

Of course, once the object of our gratitude is out of the way it’s all downhill. The rest of the day is uncommonly easy to secularize. It has none of the outward trappings of a religious holiday. There are no babes in mangers or symbolic candles to remove from courthouse steps. No one is ringing church bells that require silencing or allowing children to hunt for eggs that must be renamed. The staples of Thanksgiving – turkeys, cornucopias and pumpkin pies – in and of themselves present no real threat to the secularist ascendancy. And the football games are an absolute godsend (so to speak) for secularists. After all, the more distracted we all are the easier it is to forget about the one to whom we owe gratitude.

So let’s hear it for the Feast of the Intransitive Verb. It’s a worthy companion to “Sparkle Season” (formerly known as Christmas), “Special Person Day” (previously St. Valentine’s Day), and the “Spring Festival,” which was once Easter. Of course, if all this isn’t agreeable to you, if it all seems just a little bit extreme, or even if you’re just worried that turkey and cranberries may never taste the same again, you could always be a thumb in the eye of the radical secularists. You could insist on thanking God, and not settle for generically “giving thanks.” You could tell your neighbors that you’re grateful to God for all He’s done for you. You could even go so far as to tell your children to do the same – to make sure that amidst all the construction paper turkeys they fashion in school they get the message across that they, too, are thanking God.

Defending the public integrity of our holidays is not just petulance. Cultures are built, and eroded, by a succession of public acts both great and small. Everything from the arts we exhibit to the table manners we display makes a difference in building up or wearing down our culture. Public holiday celebrations are particularly potent engines of culture – which is why the secularists have poured so much energy into changing ours. Pittsburgh’s “sparkle season,” for example, has done great damage, not only to Christmas in Pennsylvania, but to our culture nationally. But the fight is far from over. So this weekend, enlist in the culture war and thank God.
Kristina Arriaga
Executive Director

P.S. Seamus wrote his piece 15 years ago, but we’re still seeing this fight happen today. Montgomery County public schools have decided to remove the names of Christian and Jewish holidays from their calendar because the schools do not give days off for Muslim holidays. Creating an inclusive environment doesn’t require schools to rewrite history or eliminate religious references. This doesn’t advance equality or tolerance—all it does is get rid of culture.

Got Optimism?

A Message from the Executive Director
Wednesday, November 12, 2014
Dear Friends,

When I was a child, my father had three small signs taped to his bathroom mirror: “Optimism,” “Keep moving,” and “God is watching.”

Every time the signs became tattered, he asked me to make new ones. At ten years old, I fancied myself a designer. I wrote the words in bubble letters and colored them.

It was only many years later that I understood the meaning of those little paper signs. Newly exiled in this country, my father had two options: to lose hope and collapse under the weight of pennilessness, or to focus on opportunity, take action and know that God was with him.

My father chose the latter.

I reflect on this often, as it is easy to see the threats against religious freedom—from the sinister to the absurd—as our biggest motivators. But there is another motivator that is far better and long lasting: tenacious optimism.

We won’t give up, because we know that we can and will win.

Look at some of what we’ve accomplished in just the last few years.

We protected the right of religious ministries to serve the poor according to their beliefs. One of these ministries is the Boise Rescue Mission. This privately funded Christian ministry, which provides shelter for the homeless, food for the hungry, and hope for the weary, was attacked for “discrimination” because it was “too Christian.” The Becket Fund successfully defended the Mission’s ability to minister according to its religious beliefs.

We protected the right of churches to use their own property for religious worship.Our client, a small Texas church, bought a former church building in an area the city called a “retail corridor.” The city wanted to prohibit the church from using their building—their church—for anything but administrative or daycare services, leaving them no place to worship. The Becket Fund took up the church’s case and won them the right to worship on their own property.

We protected the right of religious leaders and ministers to preach freely in their own churches. An atheist group tried to force the IRS to enforce a little-known law against pastors preaching on certain moral and political issues. After the Becket Fund stepped in to defend an Anglican priest’s “free preach” rights, the atheist group backed down and asked for their own case to be dismissed.

We protected the right of the Amish to practice their centuries-old traditions. In upstate New York, local ordinances threatened an Amish community’s right to build their houses according to their religious code, without government interference. With the Becket Fund’s help, the problem was solved, and the Amish continue to build their houses in accordance with their beliefs.

We protected the right of children to say the Pledge of Allegiance. For many years, the Becket Fund has gone to court to defend the words “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance. We have won every single time. The words “under God” convey a core American principle: our rights come from something higher than the state, and the state can never take them away.

We protected the right of pharmacists to do their jobs and hold fast to their religious convictions. In Illinois, the Becket Fund represented pharmacists whose faith did not allow them to dispense life-terminating drugs. These pharmacists were faced with a horrible choice: to violate their faith or lose their livelihoods. Against powerful state officials and legislation, we won, securing conscience rights for pharmacists.

We protected the right of churches to choose their own ministers. The Becket Fund won a 9-0 Supreme Court decision on behalf of Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church. In what the Wall Street Journal called one of the “most important religious liberty cases in a half century,” the Supreme Court unanimously affirmed the right of churches to choose their own ministers.

And we protected the right of individuals to practice their religious beliefs, not just in their homes and churches, but in the way they run their own businesses. In June, the Supreme Court granted us a victory in our case defending Hobby Lobby’s owners, the Green family, against the Health and Human Services mandate. The highest court in the land agreed with the Becket Fund that owners of closely-held businesses have the right to operate their businesses according to their deeply held beliefs.

Since the Becket Fund was founded, we have won 87% of our cases.

We have advanced a clear and broad understanding of religious freedom.

We have stood for the rights of all Americans—from Anglicans to Zoroastrians, and everyone in between. We have defended individuals, families, churches, family-owned businesses, and religious ministries.

We will continue to fight for religious freedom for all.

And we will win.

Feeling optimistic, now?

Good, let’s get back to work then!

Life Prevails Despite Supreme Court Denial of Review in Pro-Life Pregnancy Center Case

Pro Life
Life Prevails Despite Supreme Court Denial of Review in Pro-Life Pregnancy Center Case

By Matthew Clark
Today, the Supreme Court declined to weigh into a case that had the potential to cripple or even shut down pro-life pregnancy centers in New York City.
Thankfully, the ruling of the Second Circuit Court of Appeals in Evergreen Association v. City of New York, which now stands as the final arbiter of the case, struck down two of three of the provisions of the law that we challenged as unconstitutional. Though that court stopped short of striking the entire law, it now stands as merely a shell of the law initially proposed by abortion radicals to shutdown the lifesaving work of pro-life pregnancy centers.
Essentially, this pro-abortion New York City ordinance (which serves as a test case for similar provisions proposed by the abortion industry across the country) would have turned pro-life pregnancy centers into a propaganda wing of the abortion industry.
In 2011 abortion radicals and the abortion industry lobbied the city council of the abortion capital of America, New York City, to pass draconian legislation aimed at shutting down their competition – pro-life pregnancy centers. As I’ve previously described:

The ordinance would force crisis pregnancy centers to express – communicate to women in need – opinions about abortion that they not only disagree with but that cut at the very core of their mission – to help women and save lives. The law essentially seeks to make pro-life centers become abortion advocates.
To refuse to obey these draconian, anti-life regulations would subject these pro-life organizations to crippling fines and penalties. This ordinance, and those like it being considered elsewhere in the country, would either cause these pro-life centers to shutdown or effectively shut down their pro-life message. These types of regulations clearly violate the First Amendment free speech rights of pro-life groups.

We represent a majority of the crisis pregnancy centers in New York City in challenging this pro-abortion law, Local Law 17.
The Second Circuit struck down two of the most troubling provisions compelling speech regarding abortion and abortion related services, including in their own advertisements promoting life, which contravene the very purpose of these pro-life centers’ existence. Today’s denial of review by the Supreme Court keeps the Second Circuit’s injunction against these provisions in place. It prevents the abortion industry from silencing pro-life speech – and in fact keeps them from converting pro-life speech into pro-abortion propaganda – allowing them to continue saving the lives of countless unborn babies.
The one provision of this law that the Second Circuit upheld merely “requires pregnancy services centers to disclose if they have a licensed medical provider on staff.” While the denial of review of this provision is disappointing, it pales in comparison to the outrageously unconstitutional provisions that have been successfully struck down.
The fact remains that pro-life speech is still protected speech in America, and try as they might, the abortion industry in its deadly quest for profits cannot use the coercive power of government to squeeze out the competition.
It’s ironic that the supposed proponents of “choice” fight so hard to make the choice for life nearly impossible for women in need to make.
Pro-life pregnancy centers will continue to provide women in need the care, comfort, and compassion they deserve, while saving the unborn – one life at a time.

If You Attend Certain Schools, You Cannot Borrow This Textbook, Sorry!

A Message from the Executive Director
Tuesday, November 4, 2014
Dear Friends,

One of our favorite things to do is to win–particularly when winning strikes a blow against a historically prejudiced and entirely absurd law.

The case took place in New Mexico, a state which implemented a textbook lending program. The program is open to eligible students in both public and private schools, including students at religious schools.

Two parents of public school students sued the Board of Education, claiming that it was against the law to allow students at private schools to access these state educational benefits. They said that religious schools were illegally benefiting from government funding.

The idea that the government was improperly funding religion here is simply absurd.

The textbook program is absolutely secular. Its purpose is “to educate all children, regardless of where they attend school.” All of the instructional materials made available to both public and private schools are strictly non-religious and secular.

But the argument against government funds going to “sectarian” schools is an old one.

It goes back to the late 1800s, when “Blaine Amendments” were added to many State Constitutions because of anti-Catholic prejudice. These amendments stopped religious schools and immigration centers (at the time, Catholic ones) from receiving any government benefits, even for non-religious efforts.

To this day, these laws are still used to discriminate against people of faith—even school age children.

The courts agreed this was just absurd.

Last week the New Mexico Supreme Court ruled in our favor.

The Becket Fund has long fought against Blaine Amendments, so our New Mexico victory is one we hope will have lasting impact.

Government should not penalize parents and children for choosing to attend religious schools.

Fortunately, students in New Mexico will continue to have that equal footing.
Kristina Arriaga
Executive Director

P.S. Remember Samantha Jones, the eloquent teenager defending her right to say the Pledge of Allegiance? She, along with Becket Fund Deputy General Counsel Eric Rassbach, will attend a hearing on her case on November 19. A New Jersey state court will consider dismissing the American Humanist Association’s lawsuit to strike the words “under God” from the Pledge. I’ll keep you updated on the case.