Atheists lose court challenge to remove ‘In God We Trust’ from coins and bills

Atheists who failed to remove the national motto “In God We Trust” from U.S. coins and bills following an appeals court defeat have called their loss “utterly revolting.”

The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Paul, Minnesota, upheld in a 3-0 decision on Tuesday a lower court ruling from December 2016 that found that the national motto on money did not violate First Amendment free speech and religious rights.

As the New Doe Child # 1 v. The Congress of the United States case explains, 27 individuals who are atheists or children of atheists, along with two atheist organizations, declared that they “definitely do not trust in God.”

Circuit Judge Raymond Gruender explained that the motto did not constitute an establishment of religion, however, and rejected the argument that the atheists are being forced to uphold a message that goes against their beliefs by carrying money.

Gruender agreed with the Seventh Circuit that the arguments that “In God We Trust” on money transforms a constitutional practice into an unconstitutional establishment of religion is “too simplistic.”

“The Constitution does not prevent the Government from promoting and ‘celebrat[ing] our tradition of religious freedom,’ even if the means of doing so — here, adding the national motto to U.S. money — was motivated ‘in part because of religious sentiment.’ Placing ‘In God We Trust’ on coins and currency is consistent with historical practices,” he added.

Michael Newdow, a lawyer representing the plaintiffs, told Reuters in an email that it is “utterly revolting” that “the history of governmental denigration of a suspect class should trump [the] principle” that neutrality be the “touchstone” for analyzing claims under the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause.

Non-profit law firm Becket said that crucial to the Eighth Circuit’s decision was the law group’s argument in a 2014 Supreme Court case, which stated that all Establishment Clause rulings must align with U.S. history on religion in the public square.

“The good news is you no longer need to be afraid that the pennies in your pocket are gateway drugs to theocracy,” said Diana Verm, counsel at Becket.

“The Court was right to say that the First Amendment does not ban ‘In God We Trust.’ For too long, the country has been stuck in what Justice [Neil] Gorsuch once described as ‘Establishment Clause purgatory.’ The court’s decision today is a huge step towards setting things right.”

Newdow has in the past failed in several litigation challenges against the “under God” phrase in the U.S. Pledge of Allegiance.

Becket argued that the atheist lawyer operates under the Supreme Court’s so-called Lemon test, from Lemon v. Kurtzman in 1971, rather than the Supreme Court’s most recent Establishment Clause case, Town of Greece v. Galloway in 2013.

“In God We Trust” has been in the center of much debate in the country. In August, a sweeping education bill signed into law by Florida Governor Rick Scott came into effect, which required all school buildings in the state to display the national motto.

Florida Democratic House member Kimberly Daniels, who sponsored the bill, said in March that “something so great should not be hidden.”

Chris Walker, a Lake County pastor, testified for the bill: “This motto has been part of our history, it’s been part of our nation. The principles that we stand on, and our forefathers created, was in God we trust.”

        

Pa. rules atheists can give invocations

judge banging gavel

The Pennsylvania House of Representatives policy allowing guest chaplains to pray before legislative meetings was struck down as unconstitutional by a United States District Court judge, who ruled that atheists can now give invocations because the old policy discriminated on the basis of religion.

Blessings and prayers for God’s guidance are not the only things that will now be called upon before lawmakers convene in the Keystone State.

“For years, Pennsylvania’s lower legislative house has had an invocation policy in place that allows for guest chaplains who are ordained clergy or members of the legislative body to give opening prayers before meetings,” The Christian Post (CP) reported. “Americans United for Separation of Church & State (AUSCS) – which along with American Atheists and a few other secular groups – filed the lawsuit in August 2016 against Pennsylvania over the policy.”

Atheist prayers … really?

U.S. District Court Judge Christopher C. Conner of the Middle District of Pennsylvania stated in his decision that the existing prayer policy was biased against atheists desiring to pronounce secular invocations before the legislative body.

“The Pennsylvania House of Representatives’ current guest chaplain policy facially violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution,” Conner concluded in his ruling posted on AUSCS’s site. “The House’s selection process invites members of the public to serve as guest chaplains, but draws a qualifying line of demarcation between theistic and nontheistic belief systems.”

The atheist-sympathizing judge contended that one of the Pennsylvania House’s pre-2017 opening invocation practices stood in violation to the U.S. Constitution’s Establishment Clause.

“[Having visitors stand during the prayer and] thereby participate in a religious exercise [is unconstitutional],” Connor continued – noting that voluntary standing was acceptable. “Requiring visitors to stand and having Sergeants at Arms repeatedly and loudly direct consciously seated visitors to comply with the Speaker’s request to stand amounts to an unconstitutional level of coercion.”

Atheists rejoicing

AUSCS Associate Legal Director Alex J. Luchenitser – who has served as lead counsel in the case – celebrated the ruling.

“[I am] pleased the court has put an end to it,” Luchenitser declared in an AUSCS press release. “The Pennsylvania House of Representatives should fully welcome all Pennsylvanians – including nontheists – as legislators conduct business on behalf of the people. Instead, the House’s practice of barring residents who don’t believe in God from offering invocations created an atmosphere of exclusion and religious disfavor that was both discriminatory and unconstitutional.”

Atheists win longstanding battle

The courtroom invocation debate in Pennsylvania started back in August 2014, when two members of atheist groups presented requests to give secular invocations before a House session – both of which were swiftly denied.

“Samuel H. Smith – who served as House Speaker at the time – rejected their requests, arguing that the House was not ‘required to allow non-adherents or nonbelievers the opportunity to serve as chaplains,’” CP’s Michael Gryboski recounted. “When the lawsuit was filed, a spokesman for House Speaker Mike Turzai defended the practice of having only ordained clergy or members of the House give invocations.”

Two years later, in 2016, Turzai’s spokesman pointed to a ruling issued by the nation’s highest court in 2014 that backed Pennsylvania’s invocation rule.

“We believe our rule and policy comports with the Constitution and is consistent with long history of legislative prayer as recognized by the various Supreme Court (SCOTUS) cases,” the spokesman expressed at the time, according to The Huffington Post.

The SCOTUS decision clearly stated that town meetings in the state of New York could begin expressly with Christian prayers – provided one stipulation …

”In 2014, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5 to 4 in Town of Greece v. Galloway that a New York town could open meetings with explicitly Christian prayers – provided other religious groups were not barred from giving invocations,” Gryboski recounted.

SCOTUS Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy pointed this out as he read the high court’s majority opinion that year.

“[L]egislative prayer – while religious in nature – has long been understood as compatible with the Establishment Clause,” Kennedy read from the opinion, according to CP. “As practiced by Congress since the framing of the Constitution, legislative prayer lends gravity to public business, reminds lawmakers to transcend petty differences in pursuit of a higher purpose and expresses a common aspiration to a just and peaceful society.”

Atheists gleaning from LGBT’s ‘inclusion’ campaign?

Atheists and Satanists have upped their game in the justice system by using the “inclusion” argument that has brought the LGBT community success in the courtroom to win battles spanning everything from same-sex “marriage” to transgender bathroom “rights” – in the name of so-called “equality” and “civil rights.”

“Satanists have even seen victories in the campaign for inclusion and have recently delivered invocations in Pensacola, Florida, and Soldotna, Alaska,” The Huffington Post’s Nick Wing pointed out. “Nonbelievers in Pennsylvania say theirs is the latest fight for full equality and acceptance of all Americans.”

Pennsylvania Nonbelievers President Brian Fields – a plaintiff in the Pennsylvania case – is savvy to the “equality” argument – using it to challenge Christianity while insisting that atheists have the same desire to pray for guidance and blessings – just as recognized world religions do.

“To say that theists can do this but nontheists cannot is quite clearly discrimination, but it also sends a message to the nontheist community that our voice doesn’t matter – that our point of view doesn’t matter,” Fields told The Huffington Post. “It reinforces religious ideas that nontheists don’t have a say when it comes to morality. For us, this is an opportunity to present another point of view, to say, ‘Hey, look, we’re in this together.’”

With the recent ruling, many Pennsylvanians are wondering why – all of a sudden over the past decade – there is a problem with a Christian practice that has endured and blessed residents throughout the state for 300 years.

“Sessions of the Pennsylvania House have been opening with prayer for more than three centuries – according to PennLive – and a look at the recent history of the practice suggests the legislature hasn’t done much to foster diversity, Wing informed. “In the period from Jan. 8, 2008, through Feb. 9, 2016, the plaintiffs found records of 575 invocations – 265 of which were delivered by guests. Of these, they documented 23 instances of Jewish rabbis giving prayers, three invocations given in the Muslim tradition and just one where the religious affiliation of the guest was not stated. All of the invocations over this period were monotheistic in nature.”

                         

Australia’s New Prime Minister Is an Evangelical Christian

Australia’s New Prime Minister Is an Evangelical Christian

Australia’s newest prime minister is a church-going evangelical Christian who isn’t afraid to stand up for his faith in a country largely viewed as secular.

Scott Morrison became prime minister Friday when the Liberal Party voted him in as its leader after ousting Malcolm Turnbull, the former prime minister and party leader. The Liberals are a center-right party in Australia, while the Labor Party is more center-left.

Morrison is a member of Horizon Church, a Pentecostal congregation in Sydney where he and his family are involved in ministries.

Hugh White, a professor at the Australian National University, told The New York Times that Morrison is a social conservative, although it remains to be seen how he will governor.

“The question is whether Morrison will choose to make his faith part of his political persona or to what extent he will,” White said. “At this point, he doesn’t seem to have shoved it in people’s faces.”

Morrison opposes same-sex marriage but abstained during a vote on its legalization. The Liberals had promised a vote on the issue if the public supported it in a public survey through the mail. The bill passed after the survey of 12.7 million people showed 61.6 percent supported it.

When Morrison was first elected to the Australian House of Representatives in 2008, he referenced his Christian faith.

“My personal faith in Jesus Christ is not a political agenda,” he said. “As Lincoln said, our task is not to claim whether God is on our side but to pray earnestly that we are on His. For me, faith is personal, but the implications are social — as personal and social responsibility are at the heart of the Christian message.”

Morrison then asserted that it had become “fashionable” to stereotype Christians as “extreme” and to “suggest that such faith has no place in the political debate of this country.” He suggested that his Christian faith impacts his political beliefs.

“This presents a significant challenge for those of us … who seek to follow the example of William Wilberforce or Desmond Tutu, to name just two,” he said.

“These leaders stood for the immutable truths and principles of the Christian faith. They transformed their nations and, indeed, the world in the process. More importantly, by following the convictions of their faith, they established and reinforced the principles of our liberal democracy upon which our own nation is built.”

Australia, he said at the time, is not a secular country but rather a “free country.”

“This is a nation where you have the freedom to follow any belief system you choose. Secularism is just one. It has no greater claim than any other on our society. As U.S. Senator Joe Lieberman said, the Constitution guarantees freedom of religion, not from religion. I believe the same is true in this country.”

                          

Hindu Extremists Suspected in False Charges against Pastor in India, Sources Say

Hindu extremists In Phulpahari village, Jharkhand state celebrate after 16 Christians were sent to jail. (Morning Star News)

HYDERABADIndia (Morning Star News)– A pastor could face life in prison after police in eastern India falsely charged him with leading a tribal rebel movement, sources said.

Christian leaders in Khunti District, Jharkhand state suspect Hindu extremists are behind the sudden, baseless accusations against pastor Jidan Herenz in March, when he was charged with sedition for allegedly leading the rebellious pathalgadi, a movement by tribal Adivasis to fight for indigenous rights.

After police in Murhu village, Khunti District booked him under 13 sections of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), accusing him of convening unlawful assemblies, altering the appearance of Indian currency (coin), criminal conspiracy and sedition, Pastor Herenz and his family fled deep into district forests. He has since planted a church among remote tribal people there.

“It worries me, it is difficult to gather as a church, and several false cases have been booked against me,” Pastor Herenz, 55, wrote to Morning Star News last month. “There is severe opposition, threats, but the ministry must continue.”

Section 124(a) of the IPC prescribes life imprisonment for sedition. On Aug. 8, the Ranchi High Court granted anticipatory bail to the pastor.

“It’s a miracle that I have been granted bail by the High Court,” Pastor Herenz told Morning Star News. “Everybody I met after moving back to Khunti told me the allegations are very serious, and they never thought that I can be free.”

Area pastor Zacharias Purthi said he was with Pastor Herenz when the charges were filed, and that the police action was clearly a plot by Hindu extremist Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) members to frame him and stop the spread of Christianity.

An area Christian who spoke on condition of anonymity said RSS members have long tried to trap pastors in false cases.

“It becomes easier for them to declare India as a Hindu nation if they can stop pastors from sharing the gospel and spreading Christianity,” he said. “Unless they disable the pastors from preaching and assembling as a church, they can’t influence the members of the society.”

Christian pastors enjoy respect in local communities as they serve the poor and reach remote areas where government officials hesitate to go, the source said.

“Pastors mingle with all classes of the society without differences, which the RSS or any Hindu body cannot since they strongly hold on to class and caste differences,” he said. “RSS is now laboring hard like an army troupe, targeting pastors and pressuring the police to arrest them so they can gain control over the oppressed classes.”

Pastor Purthi said Murhu police falsely accused Pastor Herenz of seeking to eliminate the police post by uniting Adivasis against officers.

“He was never involved in those matters,” Pastor Purthi told Morning Star News. “As pastors, we are busy in the ministry and pastoral duties, and he or me, we never showed any interest in the local politics.”

Police have tried to portray Pastor Herenz as the mastermind behind Pathalgadi, Pastor Purthi said. Placing huge stones or sign boards with the rights of Adivasis posted on them, tribal rights advocates are highly active in the district where Pastor Herenz has been ministering for the past 28 years.

He said his time in hiding brought joy.

“The six months spent in the forest sharing the gospel, and in prayer and worship, were fruitful and joyous, and the bail is a result of the Lord hearing our prayers,” Pastor Herenz said. “The Lord raised a church there.”

At least 50 Adivasis from the forest area have put their faith in Christ and gather every Sunday for worship, the pastor’s brother, Paulus Herenz, told Morning Star News.

“It was not clear what the future holds because of these cases,” he added. “Their allegations are false, but his name is on the FIR, and the police were on the lookout to arrest him.”

The pastor is an Adivasi but, rather than practicing indigenous beliefs and rituals, he was raised in a Christian family, he said. He has planted nine churches in Jharkhand state.

ADF: ‘Playground for Hindu Nationalists’

In Dumka District, volunteers from the Friends Missionary Prayer Band visiting a Christian family in Phulpahari village of Dumka District were held hostage by villagers who later handed them to police.

Sixteen Christians have been jailed by orders of a judge on July 7, said their defense counsel on condition of anonymity. A petition for bail was rejected by the District Sessions court, and an appeal has been filed before the Ranchi High Court.

“The Christians were held hostage under the supervision of the village head, who is a close associate of the RSS,” the source said. “The complaint initially filed by the villagers was later modified so as to frame the Christians under the draconian anti-conversion law.”

Shikaripara police booked the Christians under section 4 of the Jharkhand’s “Freedom of Religion Act,” which calls for prison terms of up to four years and a fine of 100,000 rupees (US$1,470) for forcible or fraudulent conversion.

“We have no idea how Jharkhand police understand the terms ‘force,’ ‘fraud’ and ‘allurement,’ and on what basis they have been filing cases under the state’s anti-conversion law,” said a source who requested anonymity. “These charges don’t stand in the court of law, as they are false and baseless, but it is not easy to avail bail. This is a method employed by the police and RSS to harass the Christian community.”

Christians in Jharkhand have been targeted in both the anti-conversion law and in denial of benefits as Adivasi “scheduled tribes” when they convert, said Sandeep Tigga, a volunteer for Alliance Defending Freedom-India.

“Converts to Christianity from Adivasi communities are told not to identify themselves as scheduled tribes and to not receive the benefits of reservations,” said Tigga of ADF-India, which undertakes legal advocacy for religious freedom. “In government jobs, particularly, although Christian candidates make it meritoriously, their appointment is subject to scrutiny as they are Christians.”

Christians also face discrimination in college admissions, and sedition charges are filed against Christians who raise their voices against such injustices, Tigga said.

“Jharkhand has become the playground for Hindu fundamentalist forces,” he said. “This tribal state is an experimental lab/ground for them to experiment with their political propaganda. They want to bring the anti-conversion laws in other states as well.”

Local police only protect Christians when there is pressure from higher officials, he said.

“There is no safety for Adivasi Christians,” he said.

Such hostilities toward Christians have increased since Hindu nationalism, which seeks to purge the country of all non-Hindu faiths, gained wider acceptance after the ascent to power of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, according to ADF, which is celebrating the 70th anniversary of the U.N. Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Article 18 of the U.N. declaration asserts that believers have the freedom to practice their faith “in teaching, practice, worship and observance,” ADF notes in its campaign to obtain signatures supporting the The Geneva Statement on Human Rights at www.ImHumanRight.org.

Lost Property

In Palamu District, a Christian family has been denied entry onto their property after their renunciation of the Sarna religion upset Adivasi village heads. Sarna, also called Saranaism, is recognized as the indigenous religion of Adivasi tribes in eastern India.

“We filed a complaint with police, but they told us to solve the matter internally with the village heads,” Reeta Devi, resident of Sidhwatola village, told Morning Star News.

The family has been ostracized since openly declaring their Christian faith, the mother of two said.

“The villagers pick fights over basic necessities – even access to drinking water is challenging,” she said. “They decide whether to supply water to us or not after every fight. They don’t like to be around us or even cross paths.”

Three months ago the tribal people seized part of the Christian family’s high-yielding land, she said.

“We have been very patient and never abused or fought back when they attacked us physically,” Devi said.

India ranked 11th on Christian support organization Open Doors’ 2018 World Watch List of countries where Christians experience the most persecution.

Kidnapped Schoolgirl Leah Sharibu Appeals for Rescue in Audio Recording, Reports Say

Leah Nathan Sharibu. (Morning Star News via family)

(Morning Star News) – In an audio recording revealed yesterday, kidnapped Christian schoolgirl Leah Sharibu appeals to the government of Nigeria to win her release from Islamic extremist group Boko Haram, according to several published sources.

Boko Haram released more than 100 schoolgirls about four weeks after kidnapping them on Feb. 19 but held Leah, 15, because she refused to convert to Islam, Morning Star News revealed on March 26.

In the audio recording obtained by a journalist for Nigerian online news outlet The Cable, Leah says in her native Hausa that she wants the government and “people of goodwill” to rescue her.

“I am begging you to treat me with compassion, I am calling on the government, particularly, the president, to pity me and get me out of this serious situation,” she says on the audio.

CNN today reported that her father, Sharibu Nathan, confirmed that the voice is that of his daughter.

Boko Haram, which seeks to impose Islamic law (sharia) throughout Nigeria, kidnapped the girls from a boarding school in Dapchi, the Government Girls Science Technical College, in nothereastern Nigeria’s Yobe state.

President Muhammadu Buhari’s spokesman, Garba Shehu, told CNN that intelligence personnel were analyzing the voice recording, and that officials would issue a statement after studying it.

Boko Haram has kidnapped more than 1,000 children in Nigeria since 2013, according to CNN.

About 100 of 276 girls kidnapped by Boko Haram from the town of Chibok, in Borno state, in 2014 are still missing.

Boko Haram, whose name is loosely translated as, “Western education is a sin,” has fought for nine years to impose sharia (Islamic law) on all of Nigeria, killing tens of thousands of people and displacing more than 2 million. Boko Haram militants reportedly warned parents of the returned Dapchi girls not to send their daughters back to school.

In 2015 the Nigerian military began taking back most of the territory Boko Haram had controlled, but many areas remain, and the terrorists are still mounting isolated attacks.

Christians make up 51.3 percent of Nigeria’s population, while Muslims living primarily in the north and middle belt account for 45 percent.

Nigeria ranked 14th on Open Doors’ 2018 World Watch List of countries where Christians suffer the most persecution.