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LA County Sustains Vote to Remove Cross from Seal

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Politics and GovernmentThe Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, faced with a crowd of more than 2000 angry citizens, Tuesday voted again (3-2) to remove the tiny cross from the County Seal in response to threats by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) that the cross represented a violation of the First Amendment Establishment clause. As with last week's vote, the 3 Democrat members voted to remove the cross, the 2 Republicans voted against the measure. Previously the Supervisors had voiced concern that a lengthy legal battle would be too costly, but in the interim week several legal advocacy groups with proven track records had volunteered to represent the County free of charge. Supervisors had also voiced concern that the existence of the cross was a prima facie case of intruding religion into the public square, but overwhelming evidence submitted to them and the press indicated that the County was well within legal precedence to keep the symbol as a recognition of the historical impact of religion in the history of the area, just as the rest of the symbols on the seal (including one of the Greek goddess Pomona).

Reaction to the announcement of last week's closed door vote had caused an unprecedented outcry from the public against the Supervisors' decision, prompting the group to revisit the issue Tuesday. See LA Seal with Cross Threatened by ACLU.

Tuesday's affirmation vote came just hours after a private legal foundation, the Thomas More Law Center, filed a lawsuit in federal court against the county to prevent the removal of the cross from the seal, commissioned by the county in the 1950s. The motion to rescind the vote came from conservative Supervisors Mike Antonovich and Don Knabe. The removal was affirmed by Supervisors Yvonne Brathwaite Burke, Zev Yaroslavsky, and Gloria Molina. Burke characterized the crowd, which included Christians, Jews, Buddhists, and others of not faith, as "a religious frenzy." She continued that she was convinced by the crowd that the issue was religious, not historical, despite the public statements of those who were granted time to speak that the cross was one of the many historical symbols used on the seal to depict the history of the county. She concluded, "This is as close to the Inquisition as we have seen in the 21st century."

Supervisor Antonovich has promised to introduce a motion next week to place the issue on the ballot for county residents to decide rather than the Board of Supervisors.

For the full story: Vote on Cross Upheld Before Angry Crowd.


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Most Recent Post: 12/31 07:00PM by

Judge Bars NY Mayor from Performing Same Sex Marriages

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Politics and GovernmentNew York State Supreme Court Justice Michael Kavanagh ruled yesterday that the decision about who may marry in New York must be made by the state legislature, not by any individual public official. The ruling bars Hudson Valley village Mayor Jason West, New Platz, from performing any more marriages between same sex couples without state legislature approval. West had performed more than 25 same sex weddings on February 27, arguing that same sex marriages are technically allowable under New York law. Justice Kavanagh's ruling did not concern whether same sex marriage is constitutional, only that West could not conduct such ceremonies without valid licenses.

At hearing last month before Justice Kavanagh, an attorney for the Liberty Counsel, Matthew D. Staver, argued that West violated state law by officiating at ceremonies for couples without marriage licenses.

For the full story: Gay-Wed Pol Told Not to Knot and Judge Issues Permanent Injunction.


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Most Recent Post: 12/31 07:00PM by

Tennessee School Bible Classes Ruled Unconstitutional

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Politics and GovernmentA federal appeals court Monday upheld a lower court ruling that stopped Bible classes meant to instill "responsibility and positive morals" from being taught in the public schools in Rhea County, Tennessee, home to the infamous Scopes Monkey Trial of the early 20th century. The Cincinnati 6th US Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that despite the non-sectarian purpose of the classes, the use of the Bible in them constituted "teaching the Bible as religious truth," a violation of church/state relations.

The ruling upholds the February 2002 decision by US District Judge R. Allan Edgar of Chattanooga that the Bible Education Ministry violated the First Amendment of the Constitution.

The Rhea County Schools Superintendent, Sue Porter, says they have not yet decided whether to appeal this latest ruling. Economics will be a consideration, she announced, noting, however, that several churches in the district have volunteered to help cover litigation costs for the school district.

The classes had been held weekly for around 800 students in the kindergarten through 5th grade.

For the full story: Bible Class Ban Upheld on Appeal.


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Most Recent Post: 12/31 07:00PM by

Georgia Pro-Lifers Reject One Rep. Senate Candidate, Favor Two

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Politics and GovernmentSocially conservative Democrat Senator Zell Miller is retiring, and the Georgia Republicans (GOP) are scrambling to promote one of their own to replace him. Georgia pro-lifers only like 2 of the 3 GOP candidates. Throwing their support behind both US Representative Mac Collins and businessman Herman Cain, they are pointedly rejecting the front runner, US Representative Johnny Isakson. According to Georgia Right to Life, Isakson shouldn't get the slot because recently in Congress he voted for the ability of armed forces personnel on overseas military bases to receive base medical center abortions at their own expense.

Previously Isakson has voted consistently pro-life, although he makes an exception for the woman's life and cases of incest or rape. Collins and Cain (former CEO of Godfather's Pizza) have declared that they are in favor of abortion rights only if the mother's life is in danger, although Collins has sometimes voted for the other exceptions, he says, on "procedural" grounds.

Ironically, by splitting their support between 2 candidates, some observers say the pro-lifers will actually improve Isakson's chances of winning the primary. Emory University political scientist Merle Black observed, "It splits his two opponenents. If there's a runoff, that logic does not apply, but it helps Isakson in the short run."

Dan Becker, director of Georgia Right to Life's political action committee, expressed his group's commitment to abandoning Isakson: "We are very definitely going after Johnny Isakson for the duplicity of these statements. We find a large inconsistency between what he is saying to our constituency and our donors and what he is doing."

Isakson insists he's the pro-life candidate to back: "I am proud of my consistent voting record on life issues, was honored to preside over the full House during passage of the partial-birth abortion ban, and will fight to get President Bush's conservative judges appointed."

For the full story: Abortion Foes Target Isakson.


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Most Recent Post: 12/31 07:00PM by

Candidate for Scots EU Post Pays Campaign Bills with Disco Royalties

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Politics and GovernmentThe Rev. George Hargreaves, pastor of a Pentecostal church in one of the worst parts of London, says he believes he'll be Scotland's best advocate to the EU if he wins election as Scotland's Member of the European Parliament. Along with issues of fishing rights, international commerce, and tourism, he'll also be an advocate against abortion and fetal stem cell research, against euthanasia, and against young teens receiving contraceptives or abortions without their parents' knowledge. And he's financind his entire campaign on royalties from his writing contributions to a 1980s UK disco hit, "So Macho," originally performed by Sinitta. Hargreaves, who discovered Sintta, Yazz, Five Star, and similar acts, and who spent a career in writing, managing, and producing rock 'n roll and disco acts, says he's not ashamed to use entertianment earnings to fuel his political mission: "We have not asked anyone to put their hand in their pocket. This campaign is being funded by 'So Macho.' And it's the best money I have ever spent."

Hargreaves says he doesn't consider himself a hypocrite, explaining that the life he lived then convinced him that there was nothing but futility without God: "I've done all the things people want to do, that they aspire to, and I've seen the futility in it." He continued, "I was a hedonistic sinner. I was Jack the Lad. But there came a point when I looked at myself. I was calling myself a Christian but not living the Christian life. I read a Bible from cover to cover and changed my life."

Hargreaves quit the music business, studied theology at Oxford, and now pastors the Hephzibah Christian Centre in Hackney, one of the poorest sections of London. Although Hargreave is associated with Operation Christian Vote, whom some characterize as a "radical" funadmentalist group, he does not agree with "extremist" actions. Nevertheless, he says he's committed to the message: "We don't want to be aggressive, we just want to get the message across."

For the full story: Reverend's Disco Hit Funds Electoral Bid.


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Most Recent Post: 12/31 07:00PM by

Chuch Going Affects Voting Patterns

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Politics and GovernmentA study this week from USA Today shows that voters who say they go to church every week are more apt to vote conservatively -- or at least Republican -- than those who go less frequently or not at all. An exception is that African-Americans who attend church weekly are as likely to vote Democratic as African-Americans who attend church less regularly or not at all. There also doesn't seem to be a great difference in voting patterns between church-going and non-church-going Hispanics.

The study showed that frequent church goers voted for Bush over Gore in 2000 by 20 points. Even among the general group of those who identified themselves as members of the "religious right," the church going factor was important. Bush was supported by 87% of the religious right that attended church at least once each week, but only 56% of the religious right that attended church less frequently supported Bush.

For the full story: Churchgoing Closely Tied to Voting Patterns.


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Bush-Cheney Campaign Plan Said to Skirt Church/State Separation Guidelines

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Politics and GovernmentAn e-mail from the Bush campaign's Pennsylvania office has targeted potential campaign volunteers who are active church members to help identify "friendly congregations" where supporters can find out where to meet regularly for voters' registration drives and other activities. The e-mail asks these potential "volunteer coordinators" to distribute general information, updates, and voter registration materials "in a place accessible to the congregation."

Although the appeal does not appear to directly violate campaign restrictions on non-profit religious organizations, critics warn that inappropraite participation on the part of churches or other non-profit religious organizations could cost them their tax exempt status. Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, says, "This is the most shocking example of politicizing churches I've ever seen. . . . Introduction of partisan politics into the pews will also divide congregations and entangle politics and religion in very unhealthy ways."

Bush-Cheney campaign spokesman Kevin Madden says the campaign does not mean to imply that religious supporters should congregate for the president at their places of worship. Instead, he explained, "This message is intended to be from individual to individual. This is organizing with individuals who may be members of a church who we hope to identify as supporters and be part of our efforts."

Other supporters of the right for religious people to be involved in politics as individuals point out that frequently Democratic candidates speak from the pulpits of African-American churches without any of those churches being threatened with losing their tax exempt status.

For the full story: GOP's Overture to "Friendly Congregations" Criticized by Church-State Separationists.


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Offer Accepted to Buy Land with Cross from Park to Thwart ACLU Challenge

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Politics and GovernmentIn the Simi Valley, north of the city of Los Angeles, Ranch Simi Parks directors have agreed to sell a small patch of Mount McCoy to the Simi Valley Historical Society so the historical landmark can be preserved without further attack from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). The 63 year old concrete cross was erected in 1941 by the Simi Valley-Moorpark Lions Club to represent the wooden cross erected at that spot in the 1800s by Spanish priests to guide travelers between the Ventura and San Frenando missions. It was granted historical designation in 1986. Stuart Bechman, president of the Ventura County ACLU and a Simi Valley resident, had expressed his intention to force the removal of the cross, citing its presence on public land as a violation of church/state separation.

The historical society will pay for the land, appraised at $1,980, pending approval by its board of directors, to be finalized at a June 17 parks district meeting. Simi Valley City Councilman Glen Becerra has promised to donate $1,000 to the historical society toward the purchase, saying, "I'll cut my check. I am committed to meeting my offer" so that the cross stands on the hill forever.

For the full story: Historical Society to Buy Cross Site in Face of ACLU Suit Threat.


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LA Seal with Cross Threatened by ACLU

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Politics and GovernmentIn a closed door meeting Tuesday, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted to compromise with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)'s demand for them to remove the tiny cross from among the historical symbols on the County Seal. The vote, along party lines at 3-2, was to replace that portion of the seal with a California mission and a depiction of California Native Americans.

Since then the dissenting Supervisors, Chairman Don Dknabe and Supervisor Mike Antonovich, Roman Catholic Los Angeles Cardinal Roger Mahoney, and thousands of public citizens have raised an outcry over the decision. In addition, 4 conservative legal foundations have offered to fight the case all the way to the Supreme Court on behalf of the current seal.

The Democrat Supervisors, who voted to replace the cross, included Yvonne Brathwaite Burke (who introduced a similar request in 1994 that was never acted upon), Zev Yaroslavsky, and Gloria Molina.

Cardinal Mahoney, who opposed the 1994 motion as well, sent an open letter to the Supervisors, writing, "To remove the cross would be to deny the historical record. I represent some 40% of the inhabitants in this great county who feel that 'being politically correct' also entails being 'historically corrrect.'" There is historical evidence (cited by Mahoney) that the cross was included in the seal adopted in 1957 to represent "the historical importance of the Catholic missions" in county history.

According to spokesmen for dissenting Supervisors Knabe and Antonovich, more than 4,000 e-mails and phone calls have been nearly unanimous in their support for keeping the cross on the seal. Knabe spokesman John Musella said, "This is the largest amount of outrage to a county issue we've ever seen." Antonovich spokesman Tony Bell added, "any action to alter the seal should be a decision made by the people of Los Angeles County, not by backroom deals with the ACLU."

Next Tuesday Antonovich proposes to ask the Supervisors to place a measure on the November ballot for county voters to decide whether the cross should remain on the seal. Research is also being made to see whether any change to the seal would violate the rights of the seal's artist, Millard Sheets, with whom the County has a licensing agreement. There is also talk of an equity suit against the Supervisors to remove the image of the pagan goddess Pomona from the seal.

For the full story: Big Outcry over Tiny Cross and Public Takes Up Cross Battle.


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Liberal Churches Tell Congress "No" on Same Sex Marriage Ban Amendment

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Politics and GovernmentRepresentatives of major liberal Protestant denominations, led by Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, sent an open letter Thursday to Congress opposing the proposed Constitutional Amendment that would restrict legal marriage to that between a man and a woman. The letter explained, "Although we have differing opinion on rights for same-sex couples, we believe the Federal Marriage Amendment reflects a fundamental disregard for individual civil rights and ignores differences among our nation's many religious traditions."

Among the signers to the letter were representatives of the United Church of Christ, the Unitarian Universalist Association, the Presbyterian Church (USA), the Episcopal Church USA (ECUSA), and the Evangelical Lutheran Church (ELCA). (There are other denominations of Presbyterians and Lutherans that are much more conservative than PCUSA and ELCA.)

For the full story: Religious Leaders Assail Amendment on Gay Marriage.


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The Lord's Servant must not quarrel; instead, he must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. Those who oppose him he must gently instruct, in the hope that God will give them a change of heart leading to a knowledge of the truth
II Timothy 2:24-26