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Bills would bar federal courts from cases acknowledging God

WASHINGTON (BP)–Members of Congress are sponsoring legislation to prevent the federal judiciary from blocking government acknowledgments of God.

Rep. Chip Pickering, R.-Miss., and Sen. Wayne Allard, R.-Colo., have introduced bills to clarify that displays of the Ten Commandments and other acknowledgments of God are among the powers reserved to the states. Their legislation also would exempt such acknowledgments from the jurisdiction of federal courts below the Supreme Court.

In addition to the Ten Commandments, other acknowledgments that would be protected under the bills from federal court rulings are “In God We Trust” for the national motto and the use of “God” in the Pledge of Allegiance.

Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, commended Pickering and Allard.

“This bill is an important step in our efforts to rein in secularist, autocratic federal judges who are determined to subvert the will of the people, erase our history and ride roughshod over the states to achieve their own misguided goals,” Land said.

“It is a sad time in our nation’s life when Congress must pass a law to protect us from the tyranny of our own judges. It is especially disheartening that it has become necessary to introduce legislation protecting the rights of the states to display the Ten Commandments, to recite the national motto and to include ‘one nation under God’ when reciting the Pledge of Allegiance,” he said.

Pickering’s bill, which was introduced in late September, is the Safeguarding Our Religious Liberties Act, H.R. 3190. Allard’s proposal, introduced in August, is the Religious Liberties Restoration Act, S. 1558.

They sponsored the bills in the wake of federal appeals court rulings in the last year barring a Ten Commandments monument in Alabama’s judicial building and striking down the inclusion of God’s name in the Pledge of Allegiance.

In July, a three-judge panel of the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously affirmed a lower court’s decision that a 5,280-pound granite monument in the lobby of the building housing the Alabama Supreme Court violates the constitutional prohibition on government establishment of religion. The panel agreed with federal judge Myron Thompson’s opinion in November that the display had the primary result of promoting religion and had a non-secular purpose.

A Ninth Circuit panel reaffirmed in February a 2002 decision that the Pledge of Allegiance’s inclusion of “under God” is a violation of the First Amendment’s ban on government establishment of religion. The revised ruling did not strike down a 1954 federal law adding “under God” to the pledge, as the panel’s earlier opinion had, but rejected a California school district’s policy sponsoring recitations of the pledge.

Both decisions have been appealed to the Supreme Court, but the justices have not determined whether to review them. The appeal in the pledge case is scheduled to be considered during the justices’ Oct. 10 conference.

The high court began its term Oct. 6 with an estimated 200 to 400 people outside calling for the justices to uphold public displays of the Ten Commandments and protesting the recent rulings of federal judges. The rally closed a five-state caravan that began in Montgomery, Ala.

The Alabama case elicited strong reactions from many conservative Christians. The state’s chief justice, Roy Moore, placed the monument in the judicial building lobby and refused to obey a federal court order to remove it. Moore has appealed the decision against the display to the Supreme Court.

Meanwhile, the justices’ refusal Oct. 6 to review a Ninth Circuit opinion on a student club resulted in a victory for religious exercise. Last year, the appeals court ruled in favor of the right of a student-led, student-initiated Christian club to have equal access at a high school in Spanaway, Wash.

The Bethel School District barred the club, World Changers, from classification as a student body club. Approved student body clubs may meet in student/staff periods during school hours and receive funds from revenues produced by school events. A federal judge ruled in favor of the school district, but the Ninth Circuit overturned the opinion.

Jay Sekulow of the American Center for Law and Justice said it was clear the appeals court “acted in accordance with existing Supreme Court precedence and reached the proper conclusion: School districts must treat religious groups on campus in the same manner [they treat] other student groups. This is well-established law that goes to the heart of protecting the First Amendment rights of students who want to express their faith in a school setting.”

Citizens who want to express their opinions on the legislation sponsored by Pickering and Allard may call the U.S. Capitol switchboard at (202) 224-3121.