Joseph Hills, who ran a Christian nonprofit organization called A Little Sonshine from Arizona, wanted to offer kids a summer camp. Students could take classes in camping, gymnastics, golf, Spanish, or other courses. Among the 19 offerings were two on the Bible: Bible Heroes and Bible Tales. A brochure describing the classes was clearly religious in nature, though it specified that they were "non-denominational in nature. All faiths are welcome." Here's what it said about Bible Tales:
Guys and Gals! Did you know that if a child does not come to the knowledge of JESUS CHRIST and learn of the importance of Bible reading by the age 12, chances are slim that they ever will in this life? We think it is important to start as young as possible! We will Sing, Act, Dance and Relive some [of] the Greatest stories ever told! And maybe … we'll even have a surprise visit from Bob the Tomato and Larry the Cucumber, the award winning "VeggieTales" guys! (so much for the surprise!)
Here's the description of the Bible Heroes class:
Did you know … some of the greatest people who ever lived never had a home-run record? Never flew a plane or rode a train? Never starred in a motion picture (except Moses), and still do not have a Monday holiday named after them? It's true! Come, take an adventurous ride back into time with us, and learn about some ordinary people whose faith in GOD helped them accomplish extraordinary things! Remember Noah? Just how does a man build a boat that big? And Moses … he gives a whole new meaning to the phrase "You da Man!" We will explore Bible heroes from both the Old and New Testaments, and of course we will learn about our Greatest example JESUS. We will explore this through play acting, and puppetry, costuming, and set design, make-up and surely we will learn our lines! Come, join us in the Word, and learn what we mean by "role model."
When Hills started distributing his brochure to students in the Scottsdale Unified School District, some parents were outraged.
"I am a strong believer in God, but it's not anyone's place but my own to instill religious beliefs", Benita Sonabend, told The Arizona Republic in 2000 (the article isn't available online, but it is quoted in this Arizona American Atheist Newsletter).
Concerned about the parental reaction, district administrators ordered Hills to put a disclaimer on the brochure—then told him he couldn't distribute it at all unless he was willing to remove the descriptions of the Bible classes and images of a Bible, a cross, and a dove carrying an olive branch. He also had to change his group's name from Sonshine to Sunshine.
The district also issued a new policy barring literature of a "commercial, political or religious nature."
Instead of heading back to Kinko's, Hills headed to the American Center for Law and Justice, filed suit, and lost.
Yesterday, however, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said the school district violated the U.S. constitution. "Application of Supreme Court precedent requires the conclusion that the district discriminated against Hills on the basis of his religious viewpoint, and requires us to hold that the district violated Hills's First Amendment rights by denying him equal access to the District's schools," the court ruled.
But the court very specifically said that it wasn't saying that all religious material was acceptable. "The district cannot refuse to distribute literature advertising a program with underlying religious content where it distributes quite similar literature for secular summer camps, but it can refuse to distribute literature that itself contains proselytizing language," the judges said. In fact, they said, Hills's original pamphlet "was promotional not only of the [Bible Tales] class but of religion, and went beyond a description of the organization's general religious mission to directly exhort the reader to involve children in religious observance."
But rather than "parse each individual line," it sent the case back to U.S. District Judge Susan Bolton, who earlier said the district was right to ban the pamphlet completely.
ACLJ attorney Walter M. Weber tells the Associated Press that the decision "sends an important message about the constitutional rights of religious speakers. School districts cannot legally discriminate against the type of literature distributed at schools simply because that literature promotes an event that includes religious speech."
But school district attorney Mary Ellen Simonson says the "important message" is unclear: "It does leave districts in a very distressing quandary of having to decide what is or is not acceptable as religious material," she told The Arizona Republic.
Church and state:
- Town moves polling place | Framingham settles with a Jewish attorney who had filed a federal lawsuit claiming his voting rights had been violated when he was forced to vote in a Methodist church (The Metrowest Daily News, Framingham, Mass.)
- District warns of proselytization on school campus | Superintendent Dr. David Anthony is meeting with McKinney school principals, warning them of lunchtime visits by so-called youth ministers who recruit students to join Christian-based youth groups such as K-Life and Young Life (McKinney Messenger, Tex.)
- Religion-in-school speeches may graduate to higher court | Guidelines on the do's and don'ts of expressing religious beliefs in high school graduation speeches are so open to interpretation that those on both sides of the issue seek the intervention of a higher authority, the U.S. Supreme Court (Contra Costa Times, Calif.)
Politics and law:
- Why President Bush's "new" emphasis on religion is hardly new | A look back at the Clinton administration and religion (Marci Hamilton, Findlaw.com)
- W.'s Christian nation | How Bush promotes religion and erodes the separation of church and state (Chris Mooney, The American Prospect)
- Confuse secular and sacred and all you get is trouble | It's a problem in the U.S., Britain, and now here in New Zealand (Garth George, The New Zealand Herald)
- Elective Bible course turned down by school board | But school will probably offer comparative religions course (Chico Enterprise-Record, Calif.)
- Missionary question for jurors ruled okay | An attorney should have been allowed to ask potential Washington County jurors whether they had children serving church missions, the Utah Court of Appeals ruled Thursday (The Salt Lake Tribune)
- Conservatives seek curb on military moms | "Healthy, responsible nations do not send the mothers of small children to or near the front lines—that violates the most basic human instincts," says Family Research Council (Associated Press)
Religious freedom and persecution:
- Deputy wants to protect the faithful | Bill increases the penalties for those who use threats of violence to obstruct religious services, offend a religion in the media and vandalize church buildings, religious symbols or cemeteries (The Moscow Times)
- US-Eritrean relations come under fire over human rights | One rights group is asking the government to free some 300 political prisoners Friday (The Christian Science Monitor)
- Chinese clergy rebut U.S. report on religious freedom (People's Daily, China)
- Maine lawmakers reject abortion bills | All proposals would have increased restrictions (Kennebec Journal, Maine)
- Parental notification passes Senate | Abortion bill wins by one-vote margin (Concord Monitor, N.H.)
- Also: New Hampshire Senate approves bill requiring parental notification for abortions (Associated Press)
- Texas Senate passes bill giving legal standing to fetuses | Critics fear measure will limit women's access to abortion (The Dallas Morning News)
- Also: Senate passes bill that defines a fetus as an individual | Similar statutes in place in about three dozen state (Austin American-Statesman)
- Also: Unborn babies get legal status in approved bill | Law allows prosecution in deaths (Houston Chronicle)
- Abortion providers may lose under new law | Abortion providers who also offer cancer screening and other preventive care services to thousands of poor women would lose all state funding under a measure budget writers adopted Thursday night (Houston Chronicle)
- Texas abortion law under fire for ignoring science | Cancer organizations yesterday deny the link between abortion and breast cancer (The Guardian, London)
- Dade judge will rule on abortion for woman | 28-year-old is mentally retarded, deaf, suffers seizures and is 23 weeks' pregnant (The Miami Herald)
- Also: Judge will decide if Miami disabled, pregnant woman should abort (Associated Press)
- Town goes 'from shock to shock' | Ever since this placid town became the site of the nation's worst case of mass arsenic poisoning, people here have said that things couldn't get any worse. Time after time, they have been proven wrong (USA Today)
- Parents sentenced for exorcism gone wrong | Walter Zepeda died of dehydration; his parents get four years in prison (The Globe & Mail, Toronto)
- Also: 'Tragic for all involved' | Mom goes free, dad and family friend jailed in bizarre death (The London Free Press)
- Also: Church members' role under fire | None of them, including their former pastor, called police to report what was happening (The London Free Press)
- Also: Father, friend maintain faith through it all (The London Free Press)
- Arrest over missionary murder | Solomon Islands police now searching for a second suspect (AAP)
- Former Baptist missionary jailed over Philippines child sex abuse | David John Gillard, 57, was voluntarily deported to Australia in 2001 after local authorities caught him interfering with young boys at camps for disadvantaged children (The Sydney Morning Herald)
- Pastor 'made victim repent' | The head of an evangelical church sexually assaulted a member of his congregation then asked her to repent by praying, a court has been told (BBC)
- Pastor accused of raping 'sex slave' worshipper (Ananova)
- Cardinal's anti-gay comment sparks protest |70 Georgetown University faculty members protest Cardinal Francis Arinze's commencement address (The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)
- Silence that speaks volumes | Homosexual members of the Church of Scotland feel "ostracized" and "demonized" because their sexuality is not always accepted within the Kirk, according to a new book (The Scotsman)
- Conservative groups oppose new leader chosen by Y.W.C.A. | At least one group has started a campaign to seek Patricia Ireland's removal and bar federal grants to the organization (The New York Times)
- Staying home in '04 | Counting on social conservatives (Kenneth L. Connor, National Review Online)
Prayer and spirituality:
- Christians organize prayers for Iraq | National Association of Evangelicals (NAE), the World Prayer Team, World Relief and other national evangelical organizations launch Operation Iraqi Care (The Washington Times)
- Also: Operation Iraqi Care (Official website)
- Moon walkers recall spiritual, philosophical feelings | For astronauts and non-astronauts, philosophical and spiritual questions about the lunar landings are more common than technological ones (Associated Press)
- Even the faithful can ask: Why? | The devastating tornado that recently ravaged the Jackson, Tenn., area left many people with lingering questions about the nature of life on Earth and God in heaven (Todd E. Brady, The Commercial Appeal, Memphis)
Interfaith relations and other religions:
- One nation under Gods | This God thing is getting out of hand. Here's my solution: Describe ourselves as "one nation under Gods." That would allow Americans to continue to affirm our religious spirit while at the same time making clear that we do not believe that those who pray to other gods are inferior (David Morris, AlterNet)
- Jesus' 'good news' often misunderstood | Jesus did not give the Great Commission to anyone (Steve Gushee, Palm Beach Post)
- Amazing religious diversity | The religious breakdown of the 2001 census is a reminder how we do some things differently than the Americans (Haroon Siddiqui, The Toronto Star)
- Evangelicals shift approach to Muslims | They cut criticism and offer new guidelines for dialogue (The Christian Science Monitor)
- Mission: Possible | What the Christian relief organizations are really up to in Iraq (Joseph Loconte, The Weekly Standard)
- Christian Council files plea in High Court | The All India Christian Council has filed a special civil application in the Gujarat High Court challenging the validity and constitutionality of the Freedom of Religion Act banning conversions without the prior permission of the concerned district magistrates (The Hindu, India)
- In a Muslim city in Iraq, Christians enjoy their quarter | Tucked in a corner of an ancient, somber Muslim city is a neighborhood that wears skimpy clothing, eats cheeseburgers and drinks beer (The New York Times)
- Court acquits Canadian in Chattisgargh | Prosecution argued that, in October 1998, Martin tempted residents of Dangwuda village to convert and did not inform the district magistrate of the matter (Sify, India)
- Brimstone America | Jean Bethke Elshtain reviews James A. Morone's Hellfire Nation: The Politics of Sin in American History (The Weekly Standard)
- Wheaton College to honor late British writer | Among the admirers attending Malcolm Muggeridge Centenary 2003 will be William F. Buckley Jr. (Daily Herald, Chicago suburbs)
- 'Matrix' hailed as best treatise on God-talk ever made | God-talk leaders are more likely to work in popular media than in religious institutions, says Phyllis Tickle (Terry Mattingly, Scripps Howard News Service)
- God character appearing more in comedies | The character of God has become increasingly human and secular in comedies such as Oh, God!, Dogma, and the new Bruce Almighty, suggesting mainstream audiences are more open than ever to wacky, nonreligious versions of The Man Upstairs (Associated Press)
- Watchdog group offers family ratings | Common Sense Media plans to push for a national rating system, but in the meantime it offers its own (The Washington Times)
- 'Inclusive' without consequences | Presbyterians ponder the family—nonjudgmentally (Don Browning, The Wall Street Journal)
- Housing for the faithful | Religious groups building places of worship first, then developing subdivisions around them (The Globe & Mail, Toronto)
- Youth sports interferes with Sunday worship | Why can't the games wait till one o'clock? (Lonnie Wheeler, Scripps Howard News Service)
- Church to break taboos with saucy Fringe show | "I understand 100% Sex Therapy is entertaining and informative and a celebration of sex," says Church of Scotland minister Rev Peter MacDonald. "If we can communicate that we, as a Church, have that kind of attitude too, then something positive can come out of that" (The Scotsman)
- The exit that isn't on Bush's 'Road Map' | There is a strengthening alliance between Jews who favor a Greater Israel and conservative Christians in the U.S. who are moved by the same ancient dream (The New York Times)
- Also: Zionist meeting brands 'road map' as heresy | A Washington conference of Christian and Jewish Zionists yesterday heard attacks on the U.S. "road map" for peace in the Middle East as a breach of a 4,000-year-old covenant between God and Israel (The Washington Times)
- Atlanta's Palestinian for Christ | The Rev. Fahed Abu-Akel, moderator of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), uses parables to illustrate to Americans the complexities of the Middle East (The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)
- Journeys of faith | Religious travelers are increasingly shunning the Holy Land for more obscure spiritual places—like Ethiopia, Cuba and Greece (Newsweek International)
- Catholics ask evangelical radio to change policy | K-LOVE asked to rescind its policy against promoting Catholic musical events (San Antonio Express-News)
- Vatican to give Rome church to Bulgarian Orthodox | It's part of an attempt by Pope John Paul II to improve relations between Catholics and Orthodox Christians (Associated Press)
Archbishop of Canterbury:
- Christians 'greedy and bored' says Williams | Archbishop of Canterbury says too many people are "hereditary" Christians who have inherited their belief from their forebears as if it were "something obvious" (The Times, London)
- Archbishop calls on Christians to rediscover surprise of faith | Rowan Williams's article has made waves for its searing comparison of mundane church culture in Britain with the vivacity of congregations in the developing world (The Western Mail, Wales)
Money and business:
- Shaping cultural tastes at big retail chains | Until five years ago, few people other than devoted evangelical Christians had heard of VeggieTales, a small company's series of cartoon videos about talking cucumbers and tomatoes learning biblical lessons. That, however, was before the VeggieTales went to Wal-Mart (The New York Times)
- A prophet making venture | Bible Bobbleheads celebrate Christianity (Thomas Nord, The Courier-Journal, Louisville, Ky.)
- Licensing gets religion | Over the last five years, more and more trademark holders are pitching spiritually themed properties to Christian and mainstream publishers (Publishers Weekly)
- Orlando: City of God and Mickey | In the beginning was the Mouse. But now Christian groups and businesses are beginning to create an economic enclave built around another kingdom (St. Petersburg Times)
Other stories of interest:
- Everyday evil | Michael Welner examines 'depraved' behavior in ordinary life (ABCNews.com)
- Maker of inflatable church discovers that to air is divine | Originally produced as a gimmick to promote a nightclub, the structure now welcomes worshipers, holding up to 60 at a time (Los Angeles Times)
- Chimps genetically close to humans | Scientists from the Wayne State University School of Medicine want chimpanzees to be considered members of human family (BBC)
- Religion along the roadside | College professor tours rural highways in search of street-side shrines (Mobile Register, Ala.)
- Still faithful | Bad publicity hasn't hurt preacher's fervor for snake handling (The Huntsville Times, Ala.)
- Angels fall from perch on high | Angels—a '90s pop-culture craze seen everywhere from the big screen and books to endless bric-a-brac—seem to have taken a dive (USA Today)
- Religion news in brief | Canada's religion census, Cincinnati finally gets its bells, and other stories (Associated Press)
- Beer sponsor could mean tough choice for top anglers | There's a possibility that the CITGO Bassmaster Tour's top angler for 2003 might refuse the money (The Sun News, Myrtle Beach, Fla.)
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