Notes on Church-State Affairs.
According to sources with the Angolan Council of Christians, rebels of the National Union for Total Independence of Angola (UNITA) led by Jonas Savimbi stoned and crucified six Baptist Christians in Beu, Uige Province. UNITA claimed that those killed were complicit with the Angolan government.
The National Council of Evangelical Christians (CNCE) is campaigning for an improved legal status for churches other than the Roman Catholic Church. Currently non-Catholic churches are only associations, CNCE would like to see the constitution changed so that they would have the same status as the Catholic Church.
There were several demonstrations at the first year anniversary of the gathering of ten thousand followers of Falun Dafa (Falun Gong) that led to the religious group's banning. Police quickly removed the demonstrations at Tiananmen Square in Beijing in April. Many followers of the movement remain in jail, and three reportedly died recently because of beatings or hunger strikes.
In May, there were several actions against underground Christian groups. A court sentenced Father Jian Zheijiang, a priest of the underground Roman Catholic Church in Zhejiang province, to six years in jail for printing Bibles. Thirteen members of underground Protestant house churches were arrested in Guandong province. The pastor of these house churches has been arrested repeatedly over the years. There have been reports of his being tortured. According to recent reports, he is now at home but under surveillance.
Jorge Aldana, an evangelical minister and pastor, was murdered the day after Easter, presumably by left-wing guerrillas.
The government granted building permits for three Baptist churches and the structures are nearing completion. The government also granted permits for the renovation of several buildings.
Pope John Paul II visited Egypt as part of a tour of biblical sites. He had hoped that representatives of Muslim, Jewish, and Christian faiths would follow him in going to Mount Sinai, but nothing came of this. President Hosni Mubarak welcomed him to Egypt. In remarks the pope warned against the promotion of violence in the name of religion. The Roman Catholic pope visited with Shenouda III, the pope of the Coptic Christian Church, and Muhammed Sayed Tantawi, the sheik of Al Azhar and highest authority for the Sunni Muslims of Egypt. The pope urged Coptic leaders to end the "painful divisions within Christianity." The break between Roman Catholics and Copts goes back to 451. Dialogue between the two churches has been stalled since 1992.
Egypt's chief prosecutor issued indictments for the 31 December to 2 January riots in El-Kosheh, a predominantly Coptic Christian village in southern Egypt. Twenty-one Copts and one Muslim were killed in the worst sectarian violence in twenty years. The indictments on 11 March sought to "balance" accusations against Copts and Muslims. There was no indictment of Father Gabriel Abdul Masih, a Coptic priest. The Egyptian press accused him of leading "armed Christians," but he had always maintained that he was not in town during the disturbances.
On 27 March, sixteen members of a Muslim sect appeared in the State Security Court accused of heresy. Their leader, a woman named Manal Wahid Maue'a, claims to be in touch with a dead Sufi leader named Omar Hassanein Bayani. According to her, Bayani has instructed followers of the group not to observe daily prayers. The accused could face up to three years at hard labor.
The correctional chamber of the Paris Tribunal fined Jacques Cougard, president of the parliamentary inquiry commission on "sects," 20,000 francs and imposed damages of 90,000 francs for calling the anthroposophist movement a "sect" on French television. The court deemed his comment slander because the commission had not been able to justify a serious inquiry into the movement. The commission did not hear testimony from any anthroposophist leaders during its investigations. The court found that the documents the commission had on the movement did not prove mental manipulation or misuse of funds in the movement.
The Socialist government of Prime Minister Costas Simitis angered the leadership of the Greek Orthodox church by ordering the removal of information about religion from the identity cards required of all Greeks over the age of
fourteen. The Data Protection Authority also ordered the removal of fingerprints, profession, and spouse's name from the card. The government defended its decision as an enforcement of a 1997 law protecting citizens' personal data. Archbishop Chrystodouslos vowed to fight the decision as one that potentially weakened the link between the Orthodox Church and the people. He also accused the prime minister of breaking a promise to consult with church authorities before taking action. Simitis told the parliament of the new policy while the archbishop was traveling outside the country.
Bills presented to the state legislatures of Gujurat and Uttar Pradesh would require individuals to register with local officials if they change their religion. Christian leaders have demanded the withdrawal of the bills on the grounds that they are unconstitutional.
After a lull, mob violence against Christians revived in spring 2000. On 31 March, ten people broke into Christ Vinar Hindi Medium Primary School in Uttar Pradesh. They beat and robbed Father Skylark George and eight Christian students. On 2 May, two masked men attacked nuns in Jhansi in Uttar Pradesh and desecrated a chapel. On 3 May, in Subeer, Gujurat, Hindu militants beat up a team from Friends Missionary Band as they were beginning to show a program. On 11 May, a mob attacked sixty Christians at a two-day conference in Bombay. In late May, a bomb injured thirty people in Andra Pradesh. Christian leaders blamed Hindu extremists.
Violence between Christians and Muslims in the Maluka Islands continued as about two thousand Muslim volunteers moved into the region in what some called a jihad. Several bombs exploded on 28-29 May, some in churches. About sixty people were killed by 1 June. President Addurrahman Wahid has tried to use his influence to restrain the Muslim side of the conflict, but Parliament Speaker Amien Rais has given tacit support to the Muslim militants.
Reform-minded supporters of President Mohammed Khatami won parliamentary elections on 18 February, but conservative clerical forces attempted to counter the results. The Council of Guardians, which monitors candidates, invalidated the victories of some reform candidates. Despite this, reformists retained a clear majority. The outgoing conservative parliament used its remaining time to pass new press restrictions on 17 April. Authorities then closed sixteen newspapers including one published by the brother of the president. There were some student protests against the closings. On 28 April, former President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani delivered a speech at Friday prayer services at Teheran University and defended the closings. In the hour-long speech, which was broadcast on television, he said that the Islamic content of the revolution is being challenged. He said that critics are agents of foreign powers hostile to Islam.
While the governmental power struggle continued, the Revolutionary Tribunal in Shariz began proceedings against thirteen Jews and eight Muslims accused of spying on behalf of Israel and the United States. There was a delay in the trial because of Passover, but the secret proceedings resumed on 1 May. Foreign governments, including the United States and France, expressed concern about the trial.
On 13 April, a commission appointed by Prime Minister Barak recommended keeping draft exemptions for Torah students. In his election campaign Barak had said he would end these exemptions, but it appears likely he will accept the commission's findings. The commission did suggest some changes in the exemption system designed to reduce the number of students staying in yeshiva for long periods of time just avoid the draft.
In May, the Israeli High Court of Justice ruled that women might pray with Torah scrolls at the Western Wall at the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. Ultra-Orthodox rabbis introduced two bills in the Knesset designed to overturn the decision.
The Jordanian government cancelled permission for evangelical Christians to hold a three-day "Third Millennium and Easter Celebration" in an ancient Roman amphitheater in downtown Amman. The government had previously approved the event to be held 3-5 May. Authorities said it would not be safe to hold the event because it would provoke other religious groups.
An amendment to the Law on Compulsory Military Service allows postponement or exemption from military service in some cases. This includes ordained clerics of registered religious organizations being trained in the educational institutions of these organizations.
Israeli forces withdrew from a self-proclaimed security zone in southern Lebanon that they have occupied for twenty-two years. Muslim fighters of Hezbollah quickly moved into the region. Hundreds of Maronite Christians left and sought refuge in Israel.
The Catholic governor of San Juan Chamula County in Chiapas State said that residents oppose evangelical Christians and will not allow worship at the Prince of Peace Church near the county seat. About fifteen to twenty families attend the two-year-old church.
Mongolian authorities sentenced a man of Kazakh descent to thirteen years in a labor camp for proselytizing in behalf of Christianity.
The government refused to register the Bible Society in Nepal because its board contains Christian converts from Hinduism. Although the Bible Society took the issue to the Supreme Court and the court ruled in its favor, officials refuse to comply.
The move by several northern states to adopt Sharia (Islamic law) continued to cause civil strife in Nigeria. On 21 February, a march by Christians in Kaduna to protest Sharia led to violence. Police who intervened often fired indiscriminately at Christian and Muslim mobs. There were other violent outbreaks in the south. On 1 March, President Olusegun Obansanjo, who is a Christian, spoke on television and called for reconciliation. The president's appeal did little good. On 3 March, three Christians were killed and a church was set on fire in the city of Sokot. On 14 April, the majority leader in the State House of Assembly in Bauchi said that the state would soon implement Sharia. The Christian Association of Nigeria reiterated its opposition to Sharia. On 19 April, Governor Umara Musa Ya Adua sent a bill to the State House of Assembly in Katsina to introduce Sharia there. Katsina State Chief Judge Saddiq Adbullah Mahnta said that Sharia would only apply to Muslims. On 18 May, the Evangelical Church of West Africa in Kaduna was destroyed by fire shortly after soldiers sent in to keep the peace were withdrawn. About two hundred people were killed in violence in late May, but some Christian and Muslim leaders said the cause in this case was not religious.
In April, Pakistani Chief Executive General Pervez Musharraf said that he would seek an amendment of the blasphemy law, but Muslim leaders threatened protests and a strike if the plan proceeded. On 16 May, Musharraf abandoned the proposal saying that scholars and the people opposed it. Shortly before this, authorities jailed a young Christian named Kingri Masni. Masni had converted to Islam to marry a Muslim woman but then returned to Christianity.
Muslim rebels of the Al Haratul group promised to release fifteen of the children they captured in the village of Tumahubond but in fact set free only a boy and a girl.
Acting President Vladimir Putin signed a law to extend the deadline for re-registration of religious laws according to the law of 1997. All registered religions were supposed to have re-registered by 31 December 1999, but most failed to do so. The new law extends the deadline to 31 December 2000. The 1997 law said that organizations that did not re-register "may be liquidated." The law extending the deadline says that those who do not re-register "must be liquidated."
Authorities detained eight members of a small Christian group, the Minevam. They feared some action in light of the recent events in neighboring Uganda, where over nine hundred members of the Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments killed themselves. There was no connection established between the Minevam and the Ugandan group. The eight were never formally charged.
Two Turkish Christians, Ercan Sengul and Necati Aydin, were arrested for selling and distributing Christian literature near Izmir. Both are members of the Izmir Fellowship of Jesus. A judge ordered their release for lack of evidence after about a month.
Turkmenistan President Saparmurat Niyazov branded as "evil" a translation of the Koran by the mullah and writer Atamyrat Atabeyyes. He ordered that all copies be burned. The translation was done in cooperation with Hoya Ahmed Orazglych, who fell out of favor and was arrested after criticizing official New Year's services a few years ago. He is currently in internal exile.
The Turkmenistan government expelled the last Russian Baptist missionary, Vitali Tereshin, on 16 May. He had been in hiding, but police agents of the National Security Committee found him. Turkmenistan has expelled a total of six Baptist missionaries since December 1999. Foreign citizens of other minority religions have also been deported. The government has begun subjecting Turkmenistan citizens involved in minority Christian activity to internal exile. One official said, "First, we'll deport all the foreign missionaries, then we'll strangle the remaining Christians in the country." Only the Islam of the approved Muslim Board and Russian Orthodoxy are registered religions in Turkmenistan.
Members of the Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God killed themselves by the hundreds in May in Kanungu in southwest Uganda. The group's leaders included Joseph Kibweteere, a former Roman Catholic priest, and Cledonia Mwerinde, a former prostitute. The leaders had long predicted the end of the world. They recently claimed a sighting of the Virgin Mary, and just a week before the suicides members had sold their property and said good-byes to friends. The main group died when the worship center was set afire, but investigators later discovered sites with people who had died either by poisoning or strangulation. Police counted 330 bodies, including 78 children, when the first mass burial took place, but there were many other bodies that had been rendered into ashes. After three other sites were explored, the total death toll was put at 924. This is eleven more than the number of people killed in Guyana with Jim Jones in 1978.
The government of Uganda was stung by criticism that it had not done enough to head off the events at Kanungu and responded by cracking down on other groups. It began an investigation of Desteo Bisaka and his Association for the Healing Place of God of All Armies, which has ten thousand members and is building a large house of worship. Pentecostal groups also came in for scrutiny.
UNITED KINGDOM Or GREAT BRITAIN AND NORTHERN IRELAND
The Secretary General of the Muslim Council of Britain, Iqbal Sacranie, wrote Prime Minister Tony Blair to criticize Blair's visiting Moscow to meet with Russian leader Vladimir Putin. The leader expressed "surprise" at the visit and said that Britain's response to Russia's war in Chechnya has been pathetic. It said that Putin "is responsible for one of the most savage single atrocities since the Second World War."
LEGAL MATTERS: SCHOOL PRAYER AND THE "HAIL MARY" -- PART 2: On 19 June 2000, the u.s. Supreme Court decided the case of Santa Fe Independent School District v. Doe. In a 6-3 decision, the Court determined that it was unconstitutional for public school districts to allow students to deliver a prayer over the public address system at high school football games. Undoubtedly, this is one of the Court's most significant opinions on the Establishment Clause, generally, and school prayer, in particular, in recent years. The decision parallels the Court's ruling eight years ago in which it found clergy led prayer at high school graduations to be unconstitutional. It also provides the latest Supreme Court pronouncement on the meaning of the Establishment Clause in the context of public schools by affirming the Court's landmark decision in Engel v. Vitale, 370 U.S. 421 (1962). In that decision, the Court held that officially sponsored prayer in public schools violates the First Amendment. Justice John Paul Stevens, who wrote the majority opinion, said that while the Court recognizes "the important role that public worship plays in many communities," nonetheless, "religious activity in public schools, as elsewhere, must comport with the First Amendment," and that amendment forbids the establishment of religion by government.
The Santa Fe Independent School District case commenced in 1995 when the school district adopted a policy of letting students select a chaplain to lead prayers at graduation ceremonies and home football games. The practice of prayer at graduations, assemblies, and athletic contests is typical in communities throughout the south and southwest. However in this instance, two families objected to the school district's policy of allowing student-led prayer at school activities. The concerned families were not atheists objecting to the presence of religion in public schools. Instead these families, one Mormon and the other Catholic, objected to what they claimed was the overtly Baptist nature of the prayers being offered at these events. In other words, this case did not involve the issue of religion versus no religion in public schools. The litigation did not contend that government was favoring religion over non-religion. Instead the gravamen of the argument was that the school district was favoring one particular religion over others. More particularly, that the school was favoring one particular Christian denomination over other Christian denominations and to the exclusion of non-Christian religions.
The families that took exception to the school district's policy eventually filed a legal action in federal district court. The court granted their request to proceed anonymously because of the concern that they would be subjected to harassment if their identities were known, thus providing a vivid testimony to the volatility of this topic, at least in some parts of the country.
The school district maintained that the prayers were the voluntary acts of the students. However, in response to the lawsuit the school district changed its policy to let student-elected representatives rather than chaplains give a "message or invocation" at various school events. Speakers were free to choose what they said so long as it promoted good sportsmanship. Nonetheless, the federal district court ruled in favor of the plaintiffs. The court held that school officials had improperly established a mechanism to permit pre-game prayers over the stadium public address system. This, according to the Court, effectively gave official endorsement to the religious message thus violating the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.
The case then proceeded to the 5a Circuit Court of Appeals. The circuit court upheld the finding of the federal district court. School officials appealed the court's ruling to the Supreme Court of the United States. In the meantime, prayers over the football stadium's public address system continued to be heard at Santa Fe High School's home football games; right after the 5th Circuit's ruling, a group of students obtained a court order allowing the school district to continue following its pre-game invocation policy pending final resolution of the litigation.
As reported by The New York Times (19 June 2000), the Santa Fe School District made the following basic arguments in defense of its policy. It emphasized that the statements made at high school football games were private statements, voluntarily made, by individual students. Consequently those statements should not be construed as the public statements of the school or any official of the school. Nor does the school officially endorse the individual statements. Furthermore, those who attend football games, including the students, do so voluntarily. Therefore the concern expressed by the Supreme Court in previous school prayer cases over the "captivity" of students in a classroom setting is not of concern in this situation. Under these circumstances, argued the school district, its policy should not be considered an "establishment" of religion in violation of the First Amendment.
The school district also maintained that its policy is "content-neutral." Its purpose is to provide a solemn atmosphere at football games that promotes good sportsmanship. It does not promote nor disfavor any particular religion or religion in general.
Yet another position taken by the school district focused on the potential conflict between the "freedoms" set forth in the First Amendment and the Establishment Clause found in the same article. This conflict creates a dilemma of sorts for government agencies such as public schools. How do they avoid infringing upon a student's freedom to exercise her religion and/or to speak about her religion freely while at the same time avoiding official endorsement of religion? In other words, the school district maintained that if it were to forbid student-led prayers then it might be accused of government censorship in contravention of the First Amendment.
Justices Sandra Day O'Connor, Anthony M. Kennedy, David H. Sourer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Stephen G. Breyer joined Justice Stevens in the 6-3 decision. Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist wrote a dissenting opinion in which he was joined by Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas.
Justice Stevens said that even though attendance at athletic events is voluntary and the decision to pray was made by students, "the delivery of a pregame prayer has the improper, effect of coercing those present to participate in an act of religious worship. According to Justice Stevens, any member of the audience would consider the student prayer as stamped with the school's "seal of approval." In the opinion he states, "School districts cannot exact religious conformity as the price of attending extracurricular events." He continues, "School sponsorship of a religious message is impermissible because it sends the ancillary message to members of the audience who are non-adherents that they are outsiders, not full members of the political community, and an accompanying message to adherents that they are insiders, favored members of the political community."
As for the school district's contention that to disallow the prayers would violate students freedom of expression, the opinion maintains that a big school football game is not a public forum for free speech and, in any event, these students were not exercising their freedom of expression. "The delivery of such a message--over the school's public address system by a speaker representing the student body, under the supervision of school faculty and pursuant to a school policy that explicitly and implicitly encourages public prayer-is not properly characterized as private speech," according to the Court's opinion. The school district's policy in question in this case only allows "one student, the same student for the entire season, to give the invocation." There is no allowance for the airing of contrasting views, debate, or discussion such as characterizes a public forum. According to Justice Stevens, it is clear that under the school district's policy a student would not, for example, be allowed to deliver a commentary on U.S. foreign policy--no matter how solemn.
The majority opinion also rejects the school district's contention that its policy is "content-neutral." Justice Stevens pointed out, while the policy may not say so explicitly, it clearly contemplates that the student statements prior to football games would be religious in nature. "We refuse to turn a blind eye to the context in which this policy arises," Justice Stevens said, "and that context quells any doubt that this policy was implemented with the purpose of endorsing school prayer." Justice Stevens's rejection of the school district's argument continued, "Contrary to the district's repeated assertions that it has adopted a `hands-off approach to the pre-game invocation, the realities of the situation plainly reveal that its policy involves both perceived and actual endorsement of religion."
The Court noted that the student prayers are authorized by a government policy that permits using government equipment, on government property, and at a government-sanctioned event. The school district "asks us to pretend that we do not recognize what every Santa Fe High School student understands clearly--that this policy is about prayer." Echoing the Court's previous decision on prayer at high school graduations, Justice Stevens wrote, "The degree of school involvement makes it clear that the pre-game prayers bear the imprint of the state and thus put school-age children who objected in an untenable position."
Justice Stevens, perhaps anticipating criticism that the majority opinion reflected an anti-religion bias, stated that the Court's opinion does not interpret the Constitution as imposing "a prohibition on all religious activity in our public schools" nor does the Constitution inhibit "any public school student from voluntarily praying at any time before, during, or after the school day." However, "the religious liberty protected by the Constitution" does prohibit prayer in public schools, "when the state affirmatively sponsors the particular practice of prayer."
Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist and Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas dissented vigorously in an opinion penned by Chief Justice Rehnquist. "Even more disturbing than its holding is the tone of the court's opinion: It bristles with hostility to all things religious in public life," Rehnquist said.
The Associated Press (19 June 2000) reported that in Chief Justice Rehnquist's opinion the school district had gone out of its way to satisfy the objections of the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals. He noted that the school district changed its policy to allow for a student speaker who had the choice of delivering a religious message or some other solemnizing message.
Chief Justice Rehnquist said, "Neither the holding nor the tone of the opinion is faithful to the meaning of the Establishment Clause." He pointed out that George Washington proclaimed a day of "public thanksgiving and prayer" at the request of "the very Congress which passed the Bill of Rights."
Chief Justice Rehnquist's dissent was not the only reaction elicited by the majority opinion in this case. In this election year, the Court's decision also garnered immediate response from the apparent presidential candidates Texas Governor George W. Bush and Vice President Al Gore. As reported by the Associated Press and NBC News (19 June 2000), Governor Bush, who signed the brief filed by the state of Texas in support of the school district's policy, called the ruling "disappointing." Mr. Bush released a statement to the press saying, "I support the constitutionally guaranteed right of all students to express their faith freely and participate in voluntary, student-led prayer."
Vice President Al Gore, in reaction to the Court's decision, stated that he opposes "coerced" school prayers. However, he also expressed support for voluntary school prayer, or a "moment of silence for individual prayer or contemplation."
Both candidates appear to be in sync with public opinion on this issue. Last March an ABC News poll found that two-thirds of those surveyed thought voluntary, student-led prayer should be permitted at public high school football games. And in Texas's Republican primary election last March, 94 percent of voters approved a non-binding resolution backing student-initiated prayer at school sporting events.
Reports by NBC News, The Associated Press, and The New York Times following the announcement of the decision indicated that reaction to the Court's decision was as strong as it was varied. Julie Underwood, general counsel of the National School Boards Association, praised the decision and said she would advise school districts that they should now regard student-led graduation prayers as unconstitutional as well. "This decision emphasizes that we don't have prayer at school sponsored events, period," she said. "Children shouldn't be made to feel excluded or coerced," stressed Ms. Underwood.
The director of the National School Boards Association, Anne Bryant, also embraced the decision, saying, "The decision today is a good one for public schools." She emphasized, "As Justice Stevens points out, this does not mean that prayer is `outlawed' in schools. Students can pray on their own or with others, but religious exercises should not be school-sanctioned events."
Meanwhile, the Family Research Council criticized the decision. "Government has no business censoring student religious speech," said Jan LaRue, the group's legal studies director. "The government's `benign neutrality' towards religion in this country is now nothing short of malevolent hostility."
According to The Associated Press (19 June 2000), Alabama Attorney General Bill Pryor expressed his disagreement with the decision and indicated that Alabama's rules concerning school prayer would not be altered. Those rules state that school officials "can neither encourage nor discourage student-led prayer or religious speech." The state of Alabama, like Texas, filed an amicus brief with the Supreme Court in support of the Santa Fe Independent School District's position.
Another story filed by The Associated Press (21 June 2000) reports on reaction in South Carolina. On 20 June, the South Carolina state House of Representatives passed a resolution condemning the Supreme Court's decision in the Santa Fe case. The resolution also calls for a constitutional amendment to allow school prayer. The resolution states, in part, "We, the members of the South Carolina House of Representatives, are shocked and outraged that the highest court of our land would prohibit the expression by prayer of those who choose to do so." State Representative Chip Limehouse (R-Charleston), sponsor of the resolution, declared, "The court's decision goes against everything that is good and decent about family life in America."
The Court's decision in this case clearly does not resolve the controversy over prayer in public schools. It only applies to the specific circumstances of this case--student-led prayer pursuant to school district policy at high school football games. However, it clearly indicates that the Court is continuing to take a firm line in Establishment Clause cases. Undoubtedly, legislators and school officials who favor the inclusion of some religious influence in public schools will continue to look for a method to do so that can withstand Supreme Court scrutiny.
A MOMENT-OF-SILENCE FOR SCHOOL PRAYER: The U.S. Supreme Court, via its power of judicial review, determines whether the laws enacted by Congress and several state legislatures comport with the Constitution. However, ultimately legislatures make laws, at least in theory. Pronouncements by the Supreme Court are seldom the end of the story. Legislatures usually respond by enacting what in Constitutional parlance is referred to as "remedial legislation." In other words, lawmakers try to find ways to achieve their initial objective within constitutionally acceptable parameters. The issue of school prayer offers a prime example of this process. In 1962, the Supreme Court declared that the Establishment Clause and officially sponsored school prayer are constitutionally incompatible (Engel v. Vitale, 370 U.S. 421). Since that decision various state legislators have attempted to write legislation that would allow maintaining a religious influence in the public schools without running afoul of the Constitution. One such effort has involved so called "moment-of-silence" laws. These laws either encourage or require public schools to observe a minute of silence at some point in the school clay. The idea is that this would allow students to pray or engage in some meditative or reflective thought as part of their daily school routine.
As reported by The Associated Press (11 February 2000), more than twenty states and the territory of Guam have a "moment-of-silence" law on their books. Mississippi and Oklahoma were among states considering similar laws.
In 1998, Alabama enacted its current moment-of-silence law. That state lost a Supreme Court challenge to its initial attempt at moment of silence legislation. Alabama lawmakers said they hoped the new law, which requires its schools to recognize a minute of silent reflection each school day, would help ease tensions over school prayer.
Georgia's moment-of-silence law survived scrutiny by a federal circuit court of appeals in 1997. Georgia's law directs public schools to begin their day by providing students with sixty seconds of "silent reflection on the anticipated activities of the day."
In North Dakota and New Jersey, on the other hand, legislation has been found in conflict with the First Amendment. In each case the state's law was deemed to act as an impermissible official sanction of student prayer.
In Virginia, a mandatory moment of silence law, replacing previous legislation under which the practice was elective, took effect on 1 July 2000.
Civil liberties groups oppose the legislative efforts calling them thinly veiled attempts to do indirectly what the Supreme Court has not allowed the states to do directly. In other words, argue opponents to the "moment of silence" laws, given the context and circumstances under which these laws are implemented in public schools, they amount to official sponsorship of school prayer. These laws, therefore, are no less violative of the Constitution than were the more obvious procedures previously condemned by the Supreme Court. These groups maintain that organized prayer in schools violates the constitutional dividing line between church and state, however veiled the practice may be.
Of course, there is substantial disagreement over the constitutionality of moment of silence legislation, even assuming, which would be a mistake, that all such legislation is me same. For example, Mat graver of the Liberty Counsel, a legal organization helping Louisiana defend a challenge to its moment of silence law, made this statement to The Associated Press (11 February 2000), "There are misunderstandings about what the Supreme Court has said ... a moment of silence would be considered constitutional because during that time you have, you can pray or you can look at your tennis shoes."
Proponents of the "moment of silence" laws argue that these laws encourage students to engage in individual, voluntary prayer and reflection. They maintain that such opportunities help to build character and (citizenship in students. Some supporters argue that not only is a moment of silence a good idea, but, since teachers must cram so much into a day as it is, it should be a mandatory exercise. Otherwise, teachers would probably choose not to add another activity to the already busy day. Some advocates of a moment of silence and school prayer more generally point to increasing violence in public schools and suggest that introducing the opportunity for individual student prayer may combat this trend.
Not everyone agrees with the cause-effect relationship between violence and prayer in school however. It has been suggested that legislators are merely using these unfortunate and tragic incidents to further their own agenda of establishing religion in the public schools. For example, Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, accused state legislators of using last April's (1999) school shootings in a Littleton, Colorado high school to justify imposing moments of silence, posting of the Ten Commandments, teaching creationism, and other religious policies in public schools. As quoted by The Associated Press (11 February 2000), Mr. Lynn feels that, "If these legislators can't find any better solution than moments of silence, they ought to find a new line of work," he said. "This is not a very serious endeavor for solving real problems. You just have taxpayers spending money to defend the indefensible."
The situation in Virginia presents the most recent struggle with the controversy over "moment of silence" legislation. Under recently enacted legislation beginning 1 July 2000, all public schools in the state of Virginia are required to start the day with a minute of silence. Under the state's previous law, enacted in 1976, local school districts were given the option of requiring a minute of silence in their schools for the purpose of meditation, pray or to engage in any other non-disruptive activity. Only about a half-dozen of Virginia's school districts adopted the policy.
Passage of the Virginia legislation was not without controversy. The moment of silence bill as originally introduced in the state senate would have required every school district to institute a minute-of-silence policy. It also would have required teachers to announce that the minute must be used for meditation, reflection, or prayer. However, the Virginia House Education Committee voted to keep the minute of silence optional rather than make it mandatory. Nonetheless, the mandatory feature was revived in the version of the bill that was ultimately enacted.
There was also concern over the nature of the announcement that teachers would be required to make under the proposed Virginia law. Some legislators felt that requiring a teacher to specify in his or her announcement to the class that the moment of silence could be used to engage in prayer would certainly invite a legal challenge that might well be successful.
Kent Willis, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union in Virginia, told The Associated Press (7 March 2000), "that was the most objectionable part" of the bill as originally introduced. Others such as Lionell Spruill Sr. (D-Chesapeake), urged his colleagues to vote for the bill. "Why in the world are we afraid of the word prayer? he said.
The legislation was enacted only after the "required announcement" language was modified. As passed, the bill states that during the daily moment of silence, "the teacher responsible for each classroom shall take care that all pupils remain seated and silent and make no distracting display to the end that each pupil may, in the exercise of his or her individual choice, meditate, pray, or engage in any other silent activity which does not interfere with, distract, or impede other pupils in the like exercise of individual choice."
The legislation also contains a provision requiring the Virginia attorney general to defend school boards that are sued as a result of implementing a moment of silence in their schools. Attorney General Earley said he welcomed the duty, " ... no child should be denied this moment of silence--and the chance to exercise individual choice--based upon the fear of litigation."
The debate over the moment of silence bill spilled over into a larger issue when a resolution was introduced in the Virginia state senate urging the U.S. Congress to pass a constitutional amendment to allow voluntary prayer in public schools. The Associated Press (7 March 2000) reported some of the emotional exchange that occurred. "This commonwealth was founded on bended knee," said State Senator Charles Hawkins (R-Pittsylvania), and a supporter of the resolution. University of Richmond law professor Rodney Smolla agreed that there was an important religious heritage in this country. He acknowledged that for much of our history organized school prayer was considered constitutional. However he chided that for many decades racial segregation also was condoned legally in many states like Virginia. He argued that while prayer may seem harmless to the majority, "it may be very damaging to a child who is not part of the mainstream."
Several academics had also testified earlier in the legislative session concerning the constitutional problems endemic to the moment of silence legislation. State Senator Warren E. Barry, sponsor of the moment of silence bill and perhaps still irritated by that previous testimony, attacked what he called "this road show from academic elitists." He said that as a member of the state finance committee, he might have to take another look at funding for public universities. Professor Smolla expressed his dismay that a state senator that would threaten to punish those who disagree with him by using his elected position to attack the state's institutions of higher education.
The Associated Press (15 June 2000) reported that academics were not the only ones feeling the wrath of Senator Barry recently. He also criticized the state's Superintendent of Instruction, Jo Lynne DeMary, saying the guidelines she issued regarding implementation of the moment of silence law violate the spirit of that legislation.
Those guidelines instruct public school officials to refrain from telling students they can pray during observance of the now mandatory daily moment of silence. The guidelines point out that if, however, a student asks if it is all right to pray, the teacher should answer in the affirmative.
In a memo sent to Virginia school superintendents and principals along with the suggested guidelines, Ms. DeMary stated, "It is important to caution teachers and administrators not to suggest or imply that students should or should not use that time for prayer." She suggested that one appropriate way of announcing the minute of silence would be: "As we begin another day, let us pause for a moment of silence."
Senator Barry and other supporters of school prayer maintain teachers should be allowed to explain the acceptable ways in which students can observe the minute of silence as part of the daily announcement that is made at the beginning of the observation. Furthermore, those acceptable ways should explicitly include prayer. Senator Barry pondered, "Some people think prayer is a dirty word, I guess."
Rita Warren, a local Christian activist who actively supported passage of the moment of silence legislation, was incensed by Superintendent DeMary's guidelines. "No way they're going to get away with this," she proclaimed. "If I've got to take them to court personally, I will. Students have a right to know how they can use the 60 seconds." Elsewhere, Loudoun County School Board member J. Warren Geurin said he would push for a policy that directs school officials to announce the acceptable silent activities, including prayer.
Other public school officials welcomed DeMary's guidelines. "I would prefer that teachers simply say that `we will start the day with a moment of silence,'" Alexandria School Board member Sally Ann Baynard told The Washington Post (14 June 2000). Joe Conn, spokesman for Americans United for Separation of Church and State, said education officials are wise to exercise caution. "If they tried to use this moment of silence to promote religion they'd raise some serious constitutional issues," advised Conn.
THE ORIGIN OF LIFE--TEACHING "GOOD SCIENCE" OR THE GOOD BOOK: Evolution, first propounded by Charles Darwin, states that the Earth is billions of years old, and that life forms developed gradually several million years ago. Evolution is the scientific explanation for the creation and development of life on Earth that is taught in most if not all schools. However, it was not always so.
In 1925, in what became know as the "monkey law" trial, teacher John Scopes was convicted and fined $100 for teaching Darwinian evolution theory to his students. At the time Tennessee law made it a crime for public schools to teach anything but the biblical version of creation. Perhaps by today's standards this law may seem intellectually naive at best.
In the 1987 case entitled Edwards v. Aguillard, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the state of Louisiana could not require the teaching of creationism in public schools where evolution was taught. The Court labeled the Louisiana law a thinly veiled attempt by the state to promote religion in its public schools. At least some school officials and law makers think that the Court s decisions on this matter go too far toward promoting the scientific theory of evolution to the exclusion of alternative explanations such as the biblical one. A recent story by The Associated Press (19 June 2000) provides a vivid example of how this issue continues to create controversy and consternation.
In 1994, the Tangipahoa Parish (Louisiana) Board of Education voted 5-4 to reject a proposal to require schools in its district to teach "creation-science." Creation science, in essence, teaches that Earth and most life forms came into existence suddenly about six thousand years ago. Detractors claim that creation science is simply a code name for explaining the presence of life on Earth pursuant to a literal translation of the Book of Genesis.
While this proposal narrowly failed, the Tangipahoa Parish Board of Education passed an alternative proposal. The "disclaimer" proposal that was adopted requires teachers to tell students being taught the theory of evolution that it was "presented to inform students of the scientific concept and not intended to influence or dissuade the biblical version of creation or any other concept." The actual disclaimer that the board drafted for use in implementing this policy states in part, "It is the basic right and privilege of each student to form his/her own opinion or maintain beliefs taught by parents on this very important matter.... Students are urged to exercise critical thinking and gather all information possible and closely examine each alternative toward forming an opinion."
Three families sued in federal court to challenge the school board's policy. A federal judge ruled in their favor and issued a restraining order to stop the Board of Education from implementing the disclaimer policy. The judge based his decision on a finding that the disclaimer policy adopted by the school board had a religious purpose and thus violated the Establishment Clause.
A three-judge panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the lower court's decision in August 1009. In January of this year, the 5th Circuit refused to grant a hearing before the entire court. In issuing the denial, the court stated that the Tangipahoa Parish disclaimer "under the facts and circumstances of this ease ... is not sufficiently neutral" to be constitutionally permissible under the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.
The school board appealed the case to the Supreme Court. Lawyers for the school board argued, "The mere mention of the biblical version of creation by way of illustration does not present a significant risk of perceived endorsement of Bible-based religion." The school board maintained that reasonable high school or elementary students would not interpret the disclaimer as a pro-religion message. In addition, the school board emphasized the neutral character of the disclaimer, "The central message of the disclaimer resolution is that there are no outsiders or insiders, no one who is favored or disfavored, on the issue of life's origin but persons of all viewpoints are full members in the school community."
Parents objecting to the disclaimer policy disagreed with the school board's claim of neutrality, "By disclaiming only evolution--the one element of the school curriculum that generates religious controversy--the school board has violated both the constitutional mandate of neutrality toward religion and its obligation to provide its students with secular educations free from religious indoctrination or partisanship."
On 19 June 2000, by a vote of 6-3, the Supreme Court decided not to grant the Tangipahoa Parish Board of Education's application for review but to let stand the decision of the federal court of appeals. Although the Court's decision has no precedential value, it provides substantial evidence that a majority of the Justices do not find the decision that the school board's disclaimer policy violates the First Amendment seriously flawed.
Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist and Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas voted to grant the school board's appeal for a hearing before the Supreme Court. Writing for the dissenters, Justice Scalia argued adamantly that when an appeals court bars a school district from even suggesting to students that other theories besides evolution--including but not limited to, the biblical theory of creation--are worthy of their consideration," that school board should be afforded a hearing before the nation's highest court.
STUDENT LIFE ON THE NATION'S COLLEGE CAMPUSES: According to The Chronicle of Higher Education (17 May 2000), Tufts University has decided once again to allow a Christian organization to operate on campus. The group, Tufts Christian Fellowship, was denied university financial support because of charges that the group discriminates against homosexuals.
In early May, the Tufts student judiciary panel rescinded the Tufts Christian Fellowship's status as a university-recognized organization. This decision was based upon a finding that the organization violated the university's nondiscrimination policy. In particular the panel determined that the organization discriminated against homosexuals. The Fellowship members defended their actions by explaining that a basic tenet of the group is the belief that homosexuality is a sin. Thus the organization did not prohibit the female student in question from participation in the organization because she is gay, but because she did not adhere to the group's belief that homosexuality is a sin. The student panel did not find this argument persuasive.
However, on 15 May, the university's Committee on Student Life, consisting of students and faculty members, reviewed the student judiciary panel's decision. It determined that the student panel had not followed established procedures for rescinding an organization's approved status. Therefore, Tufts Student Fellowship was entitled to be reinstated pending a rehearing next fall. The Committee pointed out that this situation involves the important and emotionally charged issues of freedom of association and religion but in a context that abhors unlawful discrimination. Thus it was all the more important to make certain that the hearing process is conducted in a fair and proper manner.
As The Chronicle of Higher Education points out, this matter has garnered national attention. For example, The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, a nonprofit, Philadelphia-based organization, gathered more than 150 signatures from professors across the country, demanding that the university restore the Christian group's status as an approved campus organization. Gay-rights advocates are also watching the case closely. "We need to put our heads together to think about how to get more solid support behind the nondiscrimination policy," said Judith Brown, director of the Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Center at Tufts.
Meanwhile in Madison, Wisconsin, University of Wisconsin System President Katharine C. Lyall announced that student referenda would no longer be utilized to decide issues of campus organization funding.
The situation that the University of Wisconsin System addresses arises out of the university system's policy of allowing student leaders to be involved in deciding which student groups will receive financial support from the university. The source of the funds for this support is a mandatory fee collected from all University of Wisconsin students. A controversy arose when some students objected to the use of this student-generated money to fund campus organizations that these students find offensive because of their personal religious beliefs.
Ultimately, the case wound up in the U.S. Supreme Court. In March, the Court ruled 9-0 that the university's policy and procedure for allocating funds to student organizations did not violate the First Amendment provided the students made their decisions in a "view-point neutral" manner.
However, the Court also indicated that the university policy of utilizing student referenda as part of the decision-making process for allocating funds to student organizations and for the financing of public interest research groups might be constitutionally unacceptable. The rationale behind this concern is that the use of referenda, i.e., majority rule, may introduce a non-neutral element into the decision-making process. In other words, exercise of First Amendment freedoms should not rely upon approval of a majority of voters. The Court remanded the case to the lower court to consider this issue.
However, Wisconsin's university systems president has decided to preempt the court reconsideration. President Lyall concluded that the referenda procedure now being utilized does "not satisfy the viewpoint neutrality standard established by the Court." Therefore the university system's procedures in this regard are to be changed "to prohibit the use of referenda to allocate funding to student organizations for extracurricular speech and expressive activities."
Pope John Paul II visited many holy sites during a visit to Egypt, Israel, the West Bank, and Jordan in March. Although the trip was in part a personal pilgrimage, there were political overtones. He met with Yasir Arafat and Prime Minister Barak. He visited Yad Vashem and said, "No words are strong enough to deplore the terrible tragedy of the Shoah." At a Palestinian refugee camp, he described conditions in the camps as "degrading" and "barely tolerable." An interfaith meeting at the Pontifical Institute of Notre Dame turned sour when Jewish and Muslim representatives differed over the status of Jerusalem. While the pope appeared moved by the journey, there was no visible progress on the issues of peace and interfaith dialog that concern him.
A report by the Paris-based Vietnam Committee on Human Rights to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights said that Vietnam steadily tightened its control of religious groups over the past year. It cited increased harassment of Buddhists, Hoa Hao Buddhists, Cao Dai, Protestants, and Roman Catholics.
On 29 April, armed men broke into the Fellowship of the Lord's People church in Pristina, Kosovo. They bound four people, including an American, and stole money and a computer. Christians, especially Orthodox Christians, have complained that they have been under attack since Serbian troops left and Muslim Kosovar forces returned to the region. They complain that United Nations peacekeepers have not protected their churches.
Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic provoked controversy by sending Easter greetings to both the Serbian Orthodox Church and the small new Montenegrin Orthodox Church. Most Orthodox leaders do not consider the latter breakaway group legitimate, but some Montenegrins do want their own church. Djukanovic's gesture created new tensions in Montenegrin-Serb relations. The dispute deepened when the Njegusi, one of twelve powerful clans in Montenegro, said they would hand over fifteen churches in the their areas of settlement to the Montenegrin church.
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|Author:||Hendon, David W.; Greco, Donald E.|
|Publication:||Journal of Church and State|
|Date:||Jun 22, 2000|
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