2 years ago

Three reasons why Alabama should stand up to the Freedom from Religion Foundation

An atheist group from Wisconsin has implicitly or directly threatened to sue more than 40 Alabama school systems, local governments, and elected officials during recent years over what they claim are violations of the Constitution’s ban on the establishment of religion.

The organization, called the Freedom from Religion Foundation, is often successful. Many give in after calculating potential attorney fees and the uncertain outcome of drawn-out lawsuits.

But perhaps it’s time Alabamians recall our state motto and “Dare Defend Our Rights” by standing up to some of the more frivolous of these challenges.

A review of the FFRF’s news release archives reveals that while some of their complaints are reasonable, many are simply ridiculous.

For instance, Gov. Kay Ivey posted a video on social media in 2017 wishing everyone a “Merry Christmas” and adding, “May your days ahead be filled with the light of God and his abundant grace.”

The FFRF said it was an “overly religious homily” and sent a threatening letter saying the governor broke the law.

The Houston County Sheriff’s Office had to remove “Blessed are the Peacemakers” from the side of its cars after the FFRF objected to the well-known and harmless quote because it was taken from the Book of Matthew.

“We support what’s written on the stickers and we support the spirit of it,” the county administrator said in 2015. “But unfortunately, from a legal perspective, we could spend hundreds of thousands of dollars and still likely lose.”

Eric Johnston, president of the Southeast Law Institute in Birmingham, explained that most local government attorneys simply aren’t prepared to handle such lawsuits.

“Most of them have little or no experience in constitutional establishment clause/free exercise cases,” Johnston explained. “In order to defend themselves, most would need to hire outside counsel at high rates.”

Add the possibility of having to pay the FFRF’s legal bills if they prevailed, and suddenly that strongly worded letter starts looking a lot like a very expensive bill.

And that’s how our freedoms die … a dollar at a time.

But school boards and local governments who are facing such threats should also take into account these three considerations:

#1: Our leaders were elected to protect our rights.

Our constitution doesn’t just prohibit the establishment of religion; it also forbids actions that will “prohibit the free exercise thereof.”

The people, individually, cannot defend against these lawsuits. They depend upon their elected officials to act, and many would likely support pushing back against the more baseless of the FFRF’s complaints.

#2: We’re not alone.

The FFRF isn’t the only group out there with lawyers experienced in First Amendment issues. There are many organizations that provide support to those whose religious freedoms are under attack.

The Southeast Law Institute, the Alliance Defending Freedom, the Landmark Legal Foundation, and the Alabama Policy Institute are just a few.

#3: The odds are in our favor.

A review of the FFRF’s most recent public tax documents show that while it wrote 1,561 letters complaining about alleged establishment clause violations nationwide in 2017, it reported just 22 actual lawsuits either won or pending – only 1.4 percent of their complaints.

Furthermore, the foundation reported that 308 complaints were resolved without a lawsuit – only 19.7 percent of their complaints.

So, nearly 80 percent of their complaints may have gone absolutely nowhere (except perhaps in the trashcan).

“My feeling has always been they were more threats than reality due to not only funding issues, but the availability of qualified lawyers to bring their lawsuits,” Johnston said. “When lawsuits need to be filed in faraway places, it is difficult to find qualified legal counsel.”

Though many of the FFRF’s charges of establishment clause violations are unjustified, we should be mindful of their motivation.

Reading through their letters, one gets a sense that there’s an awful lot of hurt there, even resentment. Their language speaks of being excluded, left out, made to feel apart from the group, and a sense of wanting to protect young unbelievers from overzealous bullies.

There is also a need to ensure that our public services and institutions don’t become arms of any particular religion, and there are those among us who would indeed use their positions of public trust to advance their personal faith.
We must guard against those tendencies.

But we also have a common culture in this nation, especially in Alabama, and certainly in many of its smaller communities. Central to our culture is a Judeo-Christian heritage that’s often, and without harm, reflected in many of the traditions that buttress our public gatherings and official symbols.

To completely ban these traditions and symbols from the public square doesn’t separate church from state as much as it separates citizen from culture.

That’s not good.

There are bullies on both sides of this issue, actually, pushing and shoving us around, either wanting to make people feel like outcasts or wanting to burn our traditions to the ground.

The reasonable among us must stand against these bullies. Both of them.

And the best way to deal with bullies … is to push back.

Pepper Bryars is a senior Alabama Policy Institute. Follow him on Twitter at @jpepperbryars.

3 hours ago

7 Things: Ivey says not to panic-buy gas, companies in Alabama need workers, border chaos must be addressed and more …

7. History will not remember Liz Cheney’s leadership position 

  • U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY) is on the cusp of being ousted by her fellow House Republicans, and the American media has declared this to be a pivotal moment in American history, which it clearly is not. Proving why she is being removed, Cheney spent her last full day in leadership rehashing the U. S. Capitol riots and talking about former President Donald Trump and his supporters.
  • U.S. Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Saks) highlighted this when citing why his “friend” needed to go. He advised, “[S]he has made a decision that she is going to use her position as conference chairman not to just promote the position and point out the shortcomings of the Democrat majority and the Biden administration, but rather continue to relitigate what happened on January 6. It is not the job of conference chairman. It is to be the voice of our conference in talking about why we ought to be in the majority and why this majority is wrongheaded, the administration is not doing what the country needs.”

6. Rockets hit Israel, Israel hits back 

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  • In the latest round of Middle East violence, the terrorist group Hamas began shooting rockets into populated areas of Israeli cities with the support of Palestinian leadership. The Israeli military responded by launching targeted attacks on the leadership of Hamas and at rocket sites. Obviously, civilians are caught in the crossfire, again.
  • The American media seems somewhat unnerved by Israel’s defensive capabilities and uneven death toll, but they seem to be hellbent on ignoring the fact that the death toll is only low on the Israeli side because they are able to retard Hamas’ attacks.

5. Schumer wants to legalize marijuana 

  • U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) is planning to introduce a bill to legalize marijuana and expunge records of those who have been convicted of possession.
  • Schumer specifically said, “It is not just legalization but a deal for the injustices of the past expungement of the records making sure that the money that’s made from marijuana goes to the communities, communities of color, poor people communities, that have paid the price for this ridiculous scheduling of marijuana.”

4. Kids 12-15 could get vaccinated in Alabama this week 

  • The Pfizer coronavirus vaccine has been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for use on those 12 to 15-years-old, and now it could be approved for use in Alabama by Thursday.
  • University of Alabama at Birmingham vaccination clinics are planning to provide the doses to younger age groups by Thursday if the vaccine is approved for use by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention today.

3. Secure the border 

  • Governor Kay Ivey and 19 other governors have signed a letter together demanding that President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris address the crisis at the southern border. The letter points out that there have been “172,000 encounters in March, the highest number in nearly 20 years, as well as 18,890 unaccompanied children, the largest monthly number in history.”
  • The letter goes on to say, “The crisis is too big to ignore and is now spilling over the border states into all of our states.” They directly blame Biden’s administration and policy decisions for the surge.

2. There are jobs out there 

  • After it was announced that Alabama would be withdrawing participation from federal unemployment benefits, the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) released a report showing that there’s a record number of job openings.
  • In the report, 31% of businesses say they’ve raised wages and 20% will increase compensation within the next few months. In addition, there’s currently a record 44% of businesses reporting job openings.

1. Ivey: Stop panic buying gas

  • The Colonial Pipeline cyberattack has led to many in the Southeast panic buying gasoline, and now Governor Kay Ivey is urging people to stop panic buying, as this could result in even more issues.
  • Ivey stated, “Please do not fill up your car unless you need to and do not fill multiple containers. Overreacting creates more of a shortage. Please use common sense and patience!”

4 hours ago

U.S. Rep. Rogers on Liz Cheney ouster: ‘We’ve got to be fighting today’s fights and tomorrow’s fights, and not the fight of yesterday’

On Wednesday, U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY) is expected to be voted out of her position as House Republican Conference chairwoman, the third-ranking member of the House Republican caucus, and be replaced with U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY).

The move by Republicans has drawn very vocal reactions from the media and other Democrats, who allege that Cheney’s removal is a product of the GOP’s blind allegiance to former President Donald Trump. Cheney had been a frequent critic of the 45th president and remained so beyond his presidency.

During an interview that aired on Tuesday’s broadcast of Mobile radio FM Talk 106.5’s “The Jeff Poor Show,” U.S. Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Saks), the ranking Republican on the House Armed Service Committee, called Cheney “a close friend,” but acknowledged her comments about the January 6 incident on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. had a lot to do with her ouster. He argued Cheney should have had a more forward-looking focus in her leadership role.

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“Everybody sees it coming,” he said. “Liz is a close friend of mine, but she has made a decision that she is going to use her position as conference chairman not to just promote the position and point out the shortcomings of the Democrat majority and the Biden administration, but rather continue to relitigate what happened on January 6. It is not the job of conference chairman. It is to be the voice of our conference in talking about why we ought to be in the majority and why this majority is wrongheaded, the administration is not doing what the country needs. She has made this conscious choice. You know, we had a vote on this back. I think it was in February. And she survived. And everybody told her then, ‘We don’t care how you vote on the impeachment or any of that. That’s all behind us. You need to be talking about the conference goals and agenda.'”

“That’s what that position is all about,” Rogers added. “She has chosen not to do that. I fully expect [tomorrow] she is going to be recalled, and Elise Stefanik is going to be put in that position because we’ve got to be fighting today’s fights and tomorrow’s fights, and not the fight of yesterday. She just won’t turn loose of it. Now at this point, because she’s my buddy, and I hate that she’s taking this course of action — but she’s a very smart lady, and this is a conscious decision on her part.”

@Jeff_Poor is a graduate of Auburn University and the University of South Alabama, the editor of Breitbart TV, a columnist for Mobile’s Lagniappe Weekly, and host of Mobile’s “The Jeff Poor Show” from 9 a.m.-12 p.m. on FM Talk 106.5.

18 hours ago

How the Regions Tradition led to Alabama’s star-studded vaccine PSAs

You already know the Regions Tradition’s reputation for competition. It’s the first major on the PGA TOUR Champions schedule in 2021, and it produces millions for charities.

But it’s also the place where things get done. And this year’s focus was intended to save lives.

The Bruno Event Team, which manages the Tradition, and the Alabama Department of Public Health used the annual Celebrity Pro-Am tournament as a stage to create a public awareness campaign encouraging Alabamians to get the COVID vaccine ASAP.

The idea, the pitch and the execution all came together in a week. And when approached, the centerpiece of the project agreed to participate without hesitation.

The centerpiece?

Alabama football coach Nick Saban.

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RELATED: College football’s biggest names turn out for 2021 Regions Tradition Celebrity Pro-Am

“Research told us you don’t use national celebrities,” said Gene Hallman of the Bruno Event Team, which produced the spots. “You use local doctors, nurses and healthcare workers. Or you use local celebrities. And in this state, no one is better known than Coach Saban.”

In fact, according to a Montgomery pollster the Bruno team consulted, there’s no one more respected throughout the state than Saban. John Anzalone told the Wall Street Journal that Saban’s favorability rating is the highest in the state – 77 percent. That means that even Auburn fans who root against him each week still respect him.

Or, as Anzalone told the Wall Street Journal, “He is a God.”

The Alabama Department of Public Health reached out to the Bruno team to create a marketing campaign for the state’s underserved population, intending for the spots to motivate Black, Latino and tribal populations to get the vaccines. The public awareness videos will run on television and radio stations statewide, as well as on social media.

But as the campaign expanded, the goalpost moved. With federal and state grants provided for that specific reason, “we’re going to try to reach a very broad audience – the entire state,” Hallman said. “We’re not hammering people. We just want to provide an education on the science of the vaccine, so people can make an informed decision.”

And, since it’s Alabama, there’s also another lure: the opportunity to pack college football stadiums at 100% capacity next fall if enough people get vaccinated.

It’s not the first time the tournament known as the Regions Tradition proved to be a catalyst for change.

When the Champions Tour first came to Birmingham in 1992, Hallman’s group was called in to help with a very hush-hush operation. They were told an unnamed group of visitors from Europe, interested in bringing business to the U.S., would be coming to town to see what Alabama had to offer. No other information was provided, but they were to be shown a good time.

Only one problem.

The first tournament was held in August, a notoriously bad time for southern hospitality – at least for people used to cooler weather than the notorious sticky, 100-degree days. But, as luck would have it, an unusual cold front swept in at the start of the tournament, providing record low temperatures that created perfect temps for the visitors.

So, the secret entourage spent a week at the tournament, got to meet popular Champions Tour legend Chi Chi Rodriguez, and spent a day touring a large plot of land outside Tuscaloosa, less than an hour away …  land that would eventually become the site of Alabama’s first automotive manufacturing plant.

As for the vaccine spots, once Saban came on board others followed. The list includes an NBA legend, a college conference commissioner, a U.S. Senator and other coaches. All recorded their parts while participating in the Regions Tradition Pro-Am.

“We asked and they answered in two seconds,” Hallman said. “There was no hesitation. We got them all on camera that day.”

(Courtesy of Regions Bank)

18 hours ago

Governor Ivey urges Alabamians not to panic-buy gas

Governor Kay Ivey on Tuesday spoke with the U.S. Department of Energy on a call regarding the Colonial Pipeline cyberattack, which has caused a shutdown of the pipeline operations.

The pipeline, which is the largest system for refined oil products in the United States, is 5,500 miles long and can carry 3 million barrels of fuel per day between Texas and New York. It is operated by Colonial Pipeline Company, which is headquartered in Georgia.

The pipeline runs through Alabama, as people may remember from a Shelby County leak in 2016 that caused gas shortages in the region. The county is home to the Colonial Pipeline Co. Pelham junction and tank farm.

However, Ivey wants to assure Alabamians that the temporary pipeline shutdown should be resolved in the coming days and that any potential gas shortages have not reached the Yellowhammer State.

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“Please do not fill up your car unless you need to and do not fill multiple containers. Overreacting creates more of a shortage. Please use common sense and patience!” Ivey said in a social media post.

The governor’s spokesperson reiterated Ivey’s message.

“She was assured that the pipeline should be operational in a few days,” said Gina Maiola. “She is urging Alabamians and others to not panic and to use good judgement. A shortage has not reached Alabama at this time, and she reminds us that an overreaction would only lead to that. Be courteous, only fill up if you need to, and do not fill up multiple containers. Governor Ivey urges patience and common sense.”

Public Service Commissioner Jeremy Oden echoed Ivey’s words.

“While the state of Alabama is fortunate to this point to not be suffering from gas shortages, there have still been reports of panic-buying and gas price increases,” he said in a statement. “I echo Governor Ivey’s request that Alabama residents refrain from panic-buying, which would only cause more anxiety in the market. As Colonial has stated publicly they are working vigorously to reestablish service.”

The Colonial Pipeline shutdown comes as the average price of gas in the U.S. has risen from $2.112 per gallon before President Joe Biden was elected to $2.985 per gallon this week.

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

19 hours ago

Vocational center for construction, electric vehicle, aviation technology fields coming to DeKalb County

Governor Kay Ivey on Tuesday announced a $1 million grant to help the Fort Payne Board of Education construct a new vocational center aimed at training students in careers that include construction, electric vehicle and aviation technologies.

The funds come from the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC), an economic development agency of the federal government and 13 state governments. The Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs administers the ARC program in Alabama.

The new DeKalb County vocation center will prepare Fort Payne high school students and adults for the future while helping to meet the needs of Alabama’s workforce in several career fields.

“Alabama is sounding the call for a skilled workforce and the Fort Payne Board of Education is responding to that demand,” Ivey said in a statement. “This program will ensure that students graduating from high school will be ready for rewarding and high-paying jobs, and that employers will be hiring a qualified workforce to move our state forward.”

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The new Building, Electric and Aviation Technology Center will provide students with a rigorous training program in a workplace environment to ready them for careers.

“The path to rewarding careers does not always go through colleges and universities,” ADECA Director Kenneth Boswell added. “I applaud the Fort Payne Board of Education for offering other options for students who have the same dreams for successful careers but choose a different path to get there.”

The project is supported by Sen. Steve Livingston (R-Scottsboro), who chairs the Alabama Space Authority and the legislature’s Aerospace and Defense Caucus.

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn