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June 7, 2016 5

Governor Urges Iowans to Attend Bible Marathons

Iowa Gov­er­nor, Terry E. Bran­stand, recently issued a reli­giously divi­sive and likely uncon­sti­tu­tional procla­ma­tion urg­ing all Iowans to attend state-wide Bible read­ing marathons orga­nized by Christian-based groups.

Iowa gov proclamationDeclar­ing “the Bible … as the one true rev­e­la­tion from God, show­ing the way of Sal­va­tion, Truth, and Life …,” the procla­ma­tion states that the Governor:

… encourage[s] all Iowans to join in this his­tor­i­cal 99 County Bible Read­ing Marathon to take place June 30th through July 3rd, 2016 in front of all 99 cour­t­houses and fur­ther­more, encour­ages indi­vid­u­als and fam­i­lies in Iowa to read through the Bible on a daily basis each year until the Lord comes.

Read­ing the Bible gives many Amer­i­cans guid­ance, strength and com­fort.  And it is com­pletely appro­pri­ate for clergy and other reli­gious lead­ers to call on con­gre­gants to read the Bible.  The Gov­er­nor, how­ever, should not be pro­mot­ing such activities.

This procla­ma­tion divides Iowans along reli­gious lines within and out­side the Chris­t­ian faith.  As a start­ing point, there are numer­ous ver­sions of the Chris­t­ian Bible.  So which ver­sion is the right one for Iowans read?  Undoubt­edly, the procla­ma­tion also sends a mes­sage of exclu­sion and mar­gin­al­iza­tion to Iowans who are not Chris­t­ian or are of no faith.

The Governor’s action is a good illus­tra­tion for why the First Amend­ment pro­hibits gov­ern­ment from pre­fer­ring one faith or reli­gion more gen­er­ally.   Offi­cial reli­gious par­tial­ity erodes non-adherents’ trust in gov­ern­ment treat­ing them fairly and in the most extreme cases can coerce adop­tion of a par­tic­u­lar faith based on the belief that it will result in favor­able treatment.

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May 23, 2016 8

Defense Authorization Act Moves Forward With Discriminatory Provision

Congress standing

Last week, the U.S. House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives passed the National Defense Autho­riza­tion Act for 2017 (“NDAA”), inclu­sive of a broad, dis­crim­i­na­tory pro­vi­sion spon­sored by Rep. Steve Rus­sell (R-OK). This pro­vi­sion, offered in the name of “reli­gious free­dom,” would allow reli­giously affil­i­ated fed­eral con­trac­tors and grantees to dis­crim­i­nate against women, any reli­gious group, and LGBT peo­ple with tax­payer dollars.

Dur­ing House’s debate on the NDAA, Rep. Sean Mal­oney (D-NY) offered a nar­row­ing amend­ment which would have pro­tected the Obama Administration’s ban on LGBT dis­crim­i­na­tion in fed­eral con­tract­ing. That amend­ment failed on chaotic 212–213 vote dur­ing which Repub­li­can lead­ers took the extra­or­di­nary step of allow­ing vot­ing to con­tinue after time had expired and pres­sured a hand­ful of their Mem­bers to change their votes.

The Anti-Defamation League was one of 84 civil rights and reli­gious orga­ni­za­tions that sub­mit­ted a coali­tion let­ter to Con­gress in oppo­si­tion to the Rus­sell Amendment.

Reli­giously affil­i­ated groups his­tor­i­cally have played an impor­tant role in address­ing many of our nation’s most press­ing social needs, as a com­ple­ment to government-funded pro­grams.   How­ever, faith-based groups should not use tax­payer dol­lars to dis­crim­i­nate on the basis of reli­gion.  And no one should be dis­qual­i­fied from a job under a fed­eral con­tract or grant because of his or her sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion, gen­der, gen­der iden­tity, or religion.

The Sen­ate Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee has approved its ver­sion of the NDAA with­out the Rus­sell Amend­ment.  Mov­ing for­ward, ADL and our coali­tion part­ners will con­tinue to oppose the Rus­sell Amend­ment and advo­cate for its exclu­sion from the final ver­sion of the NDAA.

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March 17, 2016 2

Tennessee Legislation Supports Church-State Separation in Public Schools

Tennessee’s state leg­is­la­ture is not known for mov­ing for­ward leg­is­la­tion strength­en­ing the wall sep­a­rat­ing church and state.  But ear­lier this week that is pre­cisely what it did by pass­ing a bill that man­dates con­sti­tu­tional safe­guards in teach­ing about reli­gion in pub­lic schools.

In recent years, the state leg­is­la­ture has enacted mul­ti­ple bills that pro­mote major­ity reli­gious views and under­mine the sep­a­ra­tion prin­ci­ple: a bill des­ig­nat­ing the Holy Bible as the offi­cial state book; back­door school prayer leg­is­la­tion; a mea­sure requir­ing post-secondary schools to sup­port stu­dent clubs that exclude mem­bers based on reli­gion; and a so-called “Aca­d­e­mic Free­dom Act,” which opens the door to teach­ing intel­li­gent design – a form of cre­ation­ism – in the pub­lic schools.

Flag_of_the_General_Assembly_of_Tennessee.svg

Based on this his­tory, the pas­sage of House Bill 1905, “An act rel­a­tive to … the inclu­sion of reli­gion in instruc­tion and cur­ricu­lum,” at first glance seems incon­sis­tent and sur­pris­ing.  The impe­tus for the bill, how­ever, mit­i­gates that incon­sis­tency.  It was filed in response to claims that a mid­dle school social stud­ies cur­ricu­lum crossed the con­sti­tu­tional line between teach­ing about and indoc­tri­nat­ing Islam.  No sim­i­lar claims were made about the course’s cov­er­age of other faiths includ­ing, Chris­tian­ity, Bud­dhism, Judaism, Con­fu­cian­ism, Dao­ism, and African religions.

Despite the ques­tion­able moti­va­tion behind the bill, on paper it is ben­e­fi­cial.  It cod­i­fies long­stand­ing con­sti­tu­tional stan­dards  by stat­ing that “[t]he inclu­sion of reli­gion in text­books, instruc­tional mate­ri­als, cur­ricu­lum, or aca­d­e­mic stan­dards shall be for edu­ca­tional pur­poses only and shall not be used to pro­mote or estab­lish any reli­gion or reli­gious belief.”  Most sig­nif­i­cantly, it requires “[t]eacher train­ing insti­tu­tions” to pro­vide can­di­dates with instruc­tion and strate­gies on how to teach about reli­gion in a con­sti­tu­tion­ally per­mis­si­ble manner.

Our nation’s pub­lic schools are for all chil­dren regard­less of their faith.  In the­ory, HB 1905’s safe­guards should make Ten­nessee pub­lic schools more wel­com­ing and inclu­sive.  How­ever, in light of the state legislature’s his­tory and the rea­sons behind this bill, ADL has con­cerns that its pro­tec­tions will only be applied in teach­ing about minor­ity faiths.

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