10 months 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.

41 mins ago

Trey Gowdy to speak at Faulkner University’s winter dinner

Trey Gowdy, a former eight-term U.S. Representative from South Carolina, will be the speaker at Faulkner University’s 2020 benefit dinner.

Gowdy gained prominence during his time in Congress for being one of the most conservative members on Capitol Hill. He was the driving force behind the congressional investigation into the 2012 Benghazi attack that discovered Hillary Clinton’s private email server.

The now-retired representative joins a star-studded list of previous speakers at the Faulkner University Benefit Dinner, including Nikki Haley, Tom Brokaw and Dr. Ben Carson.

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“Congressman Gowdy was entertained as a potential member of the President’s legal team for the impeachment proceedings, so he’ll have a lot to say that is relevant to what Montgomerians are talking about and thinking about as we think about the future of our nation,” Faulkner President Mike Williams said on Tuesday.

The dinner will be held on October 1 from 7:00 – 9:00 p.m. A range of ticket packages are available. Some packages on the higher end grant the purchaser photo opportunities with Gowdy and access to an exclusive reception.

Those interested in purchasing a ticket for the event can go here.

Henry Thornton is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can contact him by email: henry@yellowhammernews.com or on Twitter @HenryThornton95.

1 hour ago

Doug Jones to host second annual HBCU summit at Miles College

Senator Doug Jones (D-AL) is inviting Alabamians to his second annual HBCU summit. The 2020 version of the summit will be at Miles College in Fairfield on February 14.

The event will have a student career and employment opportunities from across Alabama in addition to two panels moderated by Alabama’s junior senator.

Doug Jones has made championing Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) one of the cornerstones of his time in the U.S. Senate.

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In 2019, Jones took to the Senate floor to say, “HBCUs are the leading educators for African American PhDs in science and in engineering. They are foundational to building generational wealth in communities that have long faced headwinds in doing so. They are doing amazing work. ”

Alabama is home to 14 HBCUs. Jones helped guarantee the continuance of their federal funds by co-sponsoring the FUTURE act with Senator Tim Scott (R-SC). The bill was signed in to law by President Donald Trump in December 2019.

The effort received praise from the leaders of Alabama’s HBCUs, many of whom will be joining Jones for the two panels during his summit.

The two panels, as follows:

Women in the Lead: How Six Alabama HBCU Presidents Are Raising the Bar
Dr. Patricia Sims, President, Drake State Community College
Dr. Cynthia Warrick, President, Stillman College
Dr. Martha Lavender, President, Gadsden State Community College
Ms. Bobbie Knight, Interim President, Miles College
Ms. Anita Archie, Interim President, Trenholm State Community College
Dr. Shirley Friar, Chief of Staff, Tuskegee University
Moderator: Senator Doug Jones

Student Voices: How Alabama HBCU Student-Leaders Are Lifting Up Their Campuses
featuring student representatives:
Miss Keila Michelle Lawrence, Miles College
Mr. Jacobi Gray, Alabama A&M University
Miss Arin Massey, Shelton State Community College
Mr. Amani Myers, Talladega College
Mr. Dakus Sankey, Jr., Trenholm State Community College
Moderator: Senator Doug Jones

Those interested in attending the summit can go here.

Henry Thornton is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can contact him by email: henry@yellowhammernews.com or on Twitter @HenryThornton95.

2 hours ago

Birmingham marketing firm tapped for Super Bowl ad

Birmingham-headquartered marketing firm Big Communications has made a Super Bowl ad promoting the Fox broadcast of the 2020 Daytona 500.

The firm was tasked with making the ad by Fox Sports’ marketing team. When the ad airs on Sunday, it will be the first time in Big’s 25-year history that one of their ads will broadcast during the Super Bowl, which is the advertising industry’s biggest event of the year. Recent Super Bowls have averaged around 100 million American television viewers.

Blake Danforth, vice president of marketing for Fox Sports, credits Big’s award-winning work on Valvoline’s Never Idle campaign with piquing his interest in the firm.

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In a statement, Danforth said, “Big’s creative team had a genuine understanding of exactly what makes NASCAR fans love the sport with such an unrelenting, unrivaled intensity.”

“Promoting something as huge as the Great American Race on the biggest stage in all of advertising — that’s kind of a big deal,” commented Ford Wiles, Big partner and chief creative officer.

“This is the kind of moment that we live for — putting Alabama’s talent on display for the world to see,” Wiles concluded.

You can view Big’s Super Bowl ad here.

Henry Thornton is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can contact him by email: henry@yellowhammernews.com or on Twitter @HenryThornton95.

3 hours ago

Monument to gold star families will be added to Huntsville’s Veterans Memorial

The Huntsville-Madison County Veterans Memorial, a park on the north side of Huntsville’s downtown area, will be adding a monument to gold star families in 2020.

Gold Star families are those who have lost a member during service in the United States Armed Forces.

The monument is the final planned addition to the veterans memorial, a project that was first dedicated on 11/11/2011. Its origin dates back to 2000 when a half-sized replica of the Vietnam memorial was temporarily displayed in Huntsville. Some residents wanted something more permanent.

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“The Veterans Memorial has been erected not to commemorate the glory of battle or triumph of victory, but to honor the service and sacrifice of our veterans, and to pay homage to those heroes we have lost,” said Brigadier General (Retired) Bob Drolet, chair of the Huntsville-Madison County Veterans Memorial Foundation.

The monument to the gold star families is designed and aided by the Hershel “Woody” Williams Medal of Honor Foundation, a foundation that has helped install similar monuments across the United States. To date, the group has placed 59 monuments across 45 states.

An identical monument was recently announced for installation in Mobile.

The primary sponsors of the Huntsville installation are Mike and Christine Wicks.

The Gold Star Family Memorial to be installed in Huntsville will be the first of its kind in Alabama.

The four panels on the back of the monument will read, “Homeland, Family, Patriot, and Sacrifice.”

Henry Thornton is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can contact him by email: henry@yellowhammernews.com or on Twitter @HenryThornton95.

4 hours ago

Bruce Pearl praises religious freedom in Alabama — ‘I can live here in Auburn and practice my faith’

Speaking to members of the media Monday on Holocaust Remembrance Day, Auburn University head basketball coach Bruce Pearl lauded the religious freedom he enjoys living in the state of Alabama. He also called for unity and spoke strongly against anti-Semitism.

Pearl last spring became the fourth Jewish head coach in NCAA history to take a team to the Final Four. He was the first president of the Jewish Coaches Association.

“Today has always been a difficult day for me as it Holocaust Remembrance Day,” the coach said on Monday in the opening statement of his press availability.

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“I was born in 1960, 15 years after we opened up the gates in Auschwitz and discovered the atrocities,” he continued. “We vow to never let that happen again to anyone. Anti-Semitism is a terrible thing. As a Jewish man, I’ve lived with it my whole life and I’ve seen its ugly face many times.”

Pearl explained, “That’s why I’m so blessed to live in this country where there is great religious freedom. I can live here in Auburn and practice my faith.”

“The great challenge for me has always been that we are brothers. We are all brothers. We are all sisters. We are all related,” he outlined. “Abraham had two sons: Isaac and Ishmael. That makes us brothers because we have the same father – Abraham the father of many nations. Jesus was born a Jew and he died a Jew. That makes me brothers with my Christian brothers. If we can focus on that, whether you agree with it or not, that’s not my point. The point is we have a lot more in common than we have apart. We should celebrate those. We should never tolerate racism or something like anti-Semitism. What I would ask you all to remember is: never again.”

RELATED: Bruce Pearl slams AOC for ‘concentration camps’ tweets: ‘Attempt to rewrite the Holocaust’

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