Virginia Judge Backs
by David Reed
Associated Press Writer
November 14, 1998
Hillsville, Virgina (AP) -- A black lawyer defending a member of the Ku Klux Klan argued unsuccessfully that Virginia's ban on cross burning deprives his client of the right of free speech.
David Baugh, an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union, told a judge Friday that the state shouldn't be allowed to punish Barry Black, a Klan imperial wizard, for expressing offensive ideas.
"I've had people tell me they hate me all the time, some for racial reasons," Baugh argued. "We cannot make hatred illegal."
Black, 50, was charged Aug. 22 with violating a state law against burning a cross in a public place or on the property of another person with the intent to intimidate. The felony is punishable by one to five years in prison.
General District Judge Edward Turner ruled that the state law is constitutional. He also ruled that there was sufficient evidence against Black to send the case to a grand jury, which is expected to meet Dec. 7.
Black, an imperial wizard with the International Keystone Knights of the Klan, is accused of leading a KKK rally in a pasture in which 18 robed and hooded people held torches as they stood around a 25-foot flaming cross. The gathering was on private property with the owner's consent.
Baugh said his client has the same First Amendment rights as anyone else in the courtroom. "If this man can be gagged, then so can the Jewish Defense League, the pro-lifers and the pro-choicers," he argued.
A prosecutor, flanked by two assistant state attorneys general, argued that the law is constitutional because it targets intimidation, not free expression of ideas.
© Copyright 1998 The Associated Press
House to Vote on
by Jim Abrams
Associated Press Writer
June 4, 1998
Washington (AP) -- The House took up today a proposed constitutional amendment that supporters say would end decades of hostile court decisions and ensure that Americans have the right to express their religious beliefs in public places.
The amendment has the backing of conservative and some religious groups but is opposed by the Clinton administration and civil liberties groups, who say it is unneeded and would undermine the separation of church and state principle.
The administration, in a statement, said the amendment would "undermine the religious freedom we now cherish ... and could well require our taxpaying citizens to provide financial support to churches, parochial schools and other pervasively religious institutions."
"We're pulling out all the stops," said Randy Tate, executive director of Christian Coalition, which has made the amendment one of its top legislative priorities. He said the amendment "goes to the heart of what it means to be an American, to be able to express your beliefs and thoughts."
Supporters appeared short of the votes. Tate said it was "a victory to actually get this to the floor for the first time in almost three decades." The main sponsor, Rep. Ernest Istook, R-Okla., said it usually requires four or five attempts to win passage of a constitutional amendment.
It takes a two-thirds majority in both chambers of Congress and approval by three-fourths of state legislatures to ratify a constitutional amendment. That's happened only 27 times in the 200-plus-year history of the Constitution -- including the 10 amendments in the Bill of Rights -- and only once in the last quarter-century.
The proposed amendment states that the government may not establish an official religion or require people to participate in religious activity, "but the people's right to pray and to recognize their religious beliefs, heritage or traditions on public property, including schools, shall not be infringed."
Istook said in a statement that it would correct 36 years of Supreme Court decisions, "which have warped the original plain and simple meaning of our religious rights under the First Amendment."
He pointed to court decisions that restrict prayers on school grounds to clubs that meet before or after the school day, that ban the Ten Commandments from school buildings, that make it difficult to display Nativity scenes or menorahs or sing Christmas carols on public property or that ban prayers at graduation ceremonies.
President Clinton, in his weekly radio address on Saturday, said the First Amendment already guarantees both free speech and the separation of church and state and as long as religious rights are sensibly applied in schools, the Constitution "does not need to be rewritten."
Clinton reissued federal guidelines outlining existing religious rights. They include the right to pray privately, to organize religious groups and meet on school grounds, to say grace at lunchtime, and to read the Bible or religious texts during free time.
The Rev. Barry Lynn, head of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, said the amendment would effectively repeal the separation of church and state and "unleash majoritarian rule" in matters of faith.
"I've worked in Washington for 25 years and can honestly say that Representative Ernest Istook's so-called Religious Freedom Amendment is the most radical assault on our liberties I have ever seen in Congress," he said.
But Tate said that "Congress and the Supreme Court open with a prayer, so why should we restrict the rest of the people in this country?" He said the Christian Coalition is running radio ads, staffing phone banks and sending out several hundred thousand postcards to drum up support. The group will also let Americans know how their lawmakers voted through 8 million to 10 million political scorecards and, next fall, 45 million voting guides.
© Copyright 1998 The Associated Press
Judge Invokes Scripture;
June 18, 1998
Lincoln, Nebraska (AP) -- A man charged with sexually molesting a 13-year-old boy will be resentenced because the judge read a Bible passage at the original sentencing.
The Nebraska Supreme Court overturned the sentence of Aaron T. Pattno, 26, who pleaded guilty in August 1997 to sexually assaulting a boy he met in an Internet chat room.
Before sentencing Pattno up to five years in prison, Sarpy County District Judge George A. Thompson read a Bible passage.
He quoted, in part: "For this reason, God gave them up to dishonorable passions. Their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural, and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men...."
On appeal, the court said Thompson erred by expressing religious views.
"Problematic with the trial judge's use of biblical scripture is the fact that from its very inception, this country has recognized the importance of separation of church and state," the court said. "Allowing the court to recite scripture, and thereby proclaim its interpretation of that scripture, implies that the court is advancing its own religious views from the bench."
Though acknowledging Pattno's sentence fell within statutory boundaries, the court ordered resentencing by another judge.
Removed From Jailhouse
May 7, 1998
Bentonville, Arkansas (AP) -- Sheriff Andy Lee has heard from a judge: Benton County shalt not post a version of the Ten Commandments in the jail booking area.
After Lee placed biblical rules tailored to inmate conduct alongside 30 rules about jail, an inmate file suit, objecting to the "Ten Benton County Jail Rules." A trial is set for July.
At a preliminary hearing, Lee said he decided to post the commandments after a jail-ministry program led to more than 100 inmate baptisms in the last few months.
But Doug Norwood, attorney for inmate Jamey Ashford, argued that the posting violated Ashford's rights. In testimony, Ashford called it a philosophical issue of how one should think, not what government could address.
The judge said Lee had clearly entered into the religion business, citing phrases with overwhelming religious connotations. Lee's revisions included "Remember the Sabbath day is a holy day for some detainees (i.e., Do not interfere with others' worship of Almighty God)."
In testimony, Lee identified his objective: to put as much religion in the jail as possible to help create a positive atmosphere that could lead to a reduction in crime.
"I do believe the world would be a better place," the sheriff said, "if we would obey those Ten Commandments and walk with the Lord."
Teacher Fired for
Praying in Classroom
June 16 1998
New York (Reuters) -- A New York City schoolteacher has been fired for praying and practicing religion in an elementary school classroom, officials said Tuesday.
Mildred Rosario, who says she is a a born-again Christian, prayed with her sixth-grade class and told them about "Jesus, our Savior," a Board of Education spokesman said.
The parent of one of Rosario's students complained to the board, and she was fired last Friday after a hearing.
"She was fired because she was found to be in violation of the U.S. Constitution," board spokesman David Galarza said on Tuesday.
"She was teaching religion, and she was talking about Christianity and being born again," he said.
Rosario, speaking with reporters on Tuesday outside the school in the city's Bronx Borough, freely conceded that she talked to her 11-and 12-year-old students about her religion.
But the 43-year-old teacher said she believed she had a right to do so under the Constitution's first amendment protecting free speech.
"I talk about God," she said. "There's nothing wrong with that."
Norman Siegel, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, disagreed with her interpretation of her constitutional rights.
"The separation of church and state means you can't bring religion into the classroom and you can't bring prayer into the classroom, and she did both," he said.
"She doesn't have a first amendment right to proselytize in a classroom," he said.
Rosario was a substitute teacher who taught in the Bronx school for about a year, the board spokesman said.
Previously, she taught at three other schools, each for about a year, he said.
Rosario said the discussion began when she and the students were talking about a classmate who had drowned.
She told them he was "in heaven," told them about Christianity and led them in prayer, she said.
Employee Seeks Redress
for Wearing a Dress
July 16, 1998
Gallatin, Tennessee (AP) -- Claiming a violation of religious beliefs, a woman who refused to wear pants has sued to get her job back.
Charlene McCormick of Gallatin claims she was fired in violation of the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964 and seeks back pay and unspecified damages.
"We believe you have to dress holy and look holy and walk daily with God," she said of the Pentecostal Holiness beliefs. "We believe (wearing pants is) a sin, and the Bible says it's an abomination."
According to federal court papers, McCormick was working temporarily as a machine operator at the Robert Bosch Corp. plant in Gallatin. A few days into the assignment, her supervisor sent her home, cautioning that her dress could get caught in the machinery.
McCormick was assigned to another department, but an executive instructed the employment agency to fire her, the lawsuit said.
"We, of course, feel they didn't accommodate her, because she wasn't working where there was machinery," said McCormick's attorney, Glenn McColpin of Chattanooga.
Neither the agency nor the automotive plant where she worked would comment.
© Copyright 1998 The Associated Press
Hanging in Iran
July 23, 1998
Washington (AP) -- The State Department condemned the hanging of an Iranian man who, it said, had been charged with converting to the Baha'i faith from Islam.
Spokesman James P. Rubin said Thursday there is no evidence the man, Ruhollah Rowhani, was accorded due process of law before being executed on Tuesday.
"The United States strongly condemns the execution of Mr. Rowhani for the exercise of his freedom of conscience," Rubin said. "We call on the government of Iran to protect the lives of 15 other imprisoned Baha'is."
He said Rowhani is the first Baha'i to be executed in Iran since 1992.
© Copyright 1998 The Associated Press
Twelve Years in Jail
for Killing a Cow
March 18, 1998
Kathmandu, Nepal (Reuters) -- A Nepali man has received a 12-year jail sentence for killing a cow after a court upheld a verdict handed down by a subordinate judge, officials said on Wednesday.
Somlal Tamang of Sindhupalchowk district, east of Kathmandu, killed a neighbor's cow two years ago. The cow is the national animal of Nepal, a Hindu kingdom of 22 million people.
Being Buried Alive
February 25, 1998
Islamabad (Reuters) — Three Afghan men convicted of sodomy survived an attempted execution in which they were buried alive for 30 minutes, a news agency reported Wednesday.
The Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) said the head of the Taliban Islamic militia was among thousands of people who witnessed the punishment outside the southern town of Kandahar.
Taliban supreme leader Mullah Mohammad Omar ordered the three to be left for half an hour under the rubble of a stone wall which was felled on top of them by a battle tank. Their lives would be spared if they survived.
Pakistan-based AIP said the men were found alive when the pile of stones was removed, and were taken to hospital to be treated for their injuries.
Fazalur Rehman, Ahmad Shah and Abdul Qahir had all been convicted by an Islamic court of committing sodomy with young boys.
Orthodox Afghan Islamic scholars believe a sodomite must be executed either by being pushed from a hill or by having a wall felled on top of him, Afghan sources in Pakistan said.
The execution ceremony at Kotal Morcha, just north of Kandahar, may have been the first of its kind since the Taliban, which rules two-thirds of war-shattered Afghanistan, took power in 1996.