September 2002 People & Events

Members Of Congress Push Amendments To Keep 'Under God' In Pledge

Members of the House of Representatives and Senate are busy introducing constitutional amendments that would permit public schools to sponsor recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance, including the phrase "under God."

Many members of Congress reacted with outrage June 26 when a federal appeals court in California ruled that the 1954 act of Congress inserting the words "under God" into the Pledge was unconstitutional. The ruling, which has been appealed, also held that school-sponsored recitation of the Pledge is unconstitutional because of its religious content.

In the days following the decision, several members vowed to sponsor constitutional amendments to protect the Pledge. Two months later, four have been introduced three in the House and one in the Senate.

The most popular House vehicle is H.J. Res. 108, introduced by U.S. Rep. Charles W. "Chip" Pickering Jr. (R-Miss.) and 10 other Republicans. It contains two sections, the first stating the First Amendment shall not be interpreted to "prohibit the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag" and the second permitting the "recitation or use of the national motto, which shall be, 'In God we trust.'"

The measure was introduced July 25. Its co-sponsors included Reps. Joseph Pitts (Pa.), Shelley Moore Capito (W. Va.), Robin Hayes (N.C.), J.C. Watts (Okla.), Charlie Norwood (Ga.), Zach Wamp (Tenn.), Henry E. Brown Jr. (S.C.), John Thune (S.D.), Kevin Brady (Texas) and Michael G. Oxley (Ohio).

Two other House measures avoid the national motto issue and deal strictly with the Pledge. Rep. Frank D. Lucas (R-Okla.) put forward an amendment (H.J. Res. 104) stating that it is not "an establishment of religion" for teachers to lead the Pledge of Allegiance. Texas Democrat Rep. Gene Green's version (H.J. Res. 103) states, "Nothing in the first amendment to this Constitution shall be construed to prohibit the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance...."

Lucas' measure has one other cosponsor, Rep. Wes Watkins (R-Okla.). Green's has none.

A proposal is also pending in the Senate. There Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) and Sen. George Allen (R-Va.) have introduced S.J. Res. 39, which states, "A reference to God in the Pledge of Allegiance or on United States currency shall not be construed as affecting the establishment of religion under the first article of this Constitution." The measure currently has no cosponsors.

The controversial Pledge ruling, Newdow v. US Congress, came in response to a lawsuit filed by Michael Newdow, a California atheist who argued that the rights of his 8-year-old daughter were violated by school-sponsored recitation of a flag pledge that includes religious language. In early August, the U.S. Justice Department formally asked the full panel of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals to overturn the decision. If the full panel declines, the case could be appealed to the Supreme Court.

TV preacher Pat Robertson's American Center for Law and Justice has also filed a legal brief asking the entire 9th Circuit panel to overturn the ruling. Sixteen Republican House members signed on to the brief: Robert Aderholt (Ala.); Todd Akin (Mo.); Chris Cannon (Utah); Michael Collins (Ga.); Jo Ann Davis (Va.); John Doolittle (Calif.); Jeff Flake (Ariz); Lindsey Graham (S.C.); Duncan Hunter, (Calif.); Ernest Istook, Jr. (Okla.); Donald Manzullo (Ill.), Charles Pickering, Jr. (Miss.); Bob Riley (Ala.); Jim Ryun (Kan.); J.C. Watts (Okla.); and Dave Weldon (Fla.). Joining them was Virgil Goode, a Virginia Independent.

'Just Say Whoa': Judge Blocks 'Faith-Based' Abstinence Education

"Abstinence-only" sex education programs that promote religion cannot be funded with tax dollars, a federal court in Louisiana has decided.

U.S. District Judge G. Thomas Porteous Jr. ruled July 25 that the Governor's Program on Abstinence (GPA) must stop awarding public funds to groups that incorporate religious messages "or otherwise advance religion in any way."

The American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana filed the lawsuit in May, asserting that organizations were spending public dollars to promote religion. The state used money provided by the federal government to pay for the efforts as part of an emphasis on "abstinence-only" education included in the 1996 welfare law.

Court documents uncovered several examples of religious groups using tax dollars to advance their faith viewpoint. The Roman Catholic Diocese of Lafayette, for example, received $46,000 in GPA funds to operate a program called "God's Gift of Life." Another group, called "Just Say 'Whoa,'" used nearly $30,000 in taxpayer money to put on skits at junior and senior high schools featuring a character called "Bible Guy" who advised, "As Christians, our bodies belong to the Lord, not to us. God wants more for you than a one-night stand."

One organization, the Southwest Louisiana Area Health Education Center, went so far as to use $750 in tax funds to purchase Bibles. Another group, Rapides Station Community Ministries, bragged in its annual report that it had spent $20,000 in GPA funds to use the story of the virgin birth of Jesus "to make it apparent that God's desire [was for] sexual purity as a way of life."

Officials in Louisiana insisted that they have stopped funding religious instruction through the program. But Judge Porteous, noting the scope of the abuses, said he felt a need to "install legal safeguards" to prevent future abuses and issued a temporary injunction blocking GPA subsidies of "pervasively sectarian" organizations.

The court decision casts new doubts about the constitutionality of President George W. Bush's "faith-based" initiative, a plan to pay houses of worship to provide social services.

In other news about "faith-based" funding:

 A federal judge in Wisconsin has ruled that a "faith-based" drug treatment program can receive tax aid as long as it obtains its assistance in the form of vouchers.

U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb had earlier struck down a Wisconsin Department of Corrections program called Faith Works, which was receiving direct tax funding despite its religious orientation. Since that ruling, prison officials have begun offering inmates the option of attending Faith Works or a secular alternative. Crabb, citing the Supreme Court's June 27 decision upholding private school vouchers, said this makes the program constitutional.

Americans United Protests Religious Censorship At Pennsylvania School

Attorneys with Americans United have warned officials at a Pennsylvania school district to stop using religious criteria when considering textbooks for adoption.

Members of the Annville-Cleona School Board voted in June to ban a reading series called Nine Good Habits for All Readers because it talked about evolution and excluded religious theories about the development of the universe. During the meeting, board member Kathy Horst remarked, "I will be voting against this because it incorporates evolution as a fact. I understand it's hard to find any books that don't, but I just feel if we keep voting for it, nobody will have any reason to change it."

Continued Horst, "We are given evolution, stated as a fact in a textbook, but we are not given the option of intelligent design, stated either as fact or a theory. We're only giving our students one view and not giving them an option."

According to the Harrisburg Patriot-News, Horst objected to statements in the books indicating that the universe is billions of years old and objected to references to the Big Bang, cloning and stem-cell research. She also complained that the books promoted "radical environmentalism" because they discussed global warming.

Americans United Legal Director Ayesha Khan wrote to Board President Richard Newmaster and District Superintendent Marsha Zehner in July to warn them that teaching creationism or its latest variant "intelligent design" in public schools violates the First Amendment.

"We are writing to inform you that it is constitutionally problematic to tailor your reading program to be consistent with a religious viewpoint," Khan wrote.

AU's Legal Department has also contacted education officials in Nebraska, urging them to back off plans to advise local public schools that they may teach intelligent design in science classes.

At its June 7 meeting, members of the State Board of Education announced that local public schools must teach evolution to meet state accrediting standards but went on to say that the guidelines do not prohibit instruction about intelligent design.

Supporters of church-state separation urged the board to close the door on intelligent design, which they assert is merely an updated version of creationism. The board, however, while voting 5-2 to approve the science standards with the evolution mandate, went on to express its opinion that local schools have the option to include intelligent design in science classes if they want.

Board President Steve Scherr said the board could direct Education Commissioner Doug Christensen to send a letter to local school boards letting them know that instruction about intelligent design is allowed. But member Fred Meyer argued against it, saying taking any official action on behalf of intelligent design might be seen as watering down the standards.

In a July 1 letter to the board, AU's Khan urged members to take the additional step of making it clear that intelligent design cannot be taught in public schools.

"'Intelligent design' posits that living things were designed by a purposeful being," Khan wrote. "In reality, it is indistinct from creationism. We are writing to inform you that it is unconstitutional for public schools to teach either 'intelligent design' or creation science and to ask that you take steps to correct the misinformation that was disseminated at the Board meeting."

In other news about intelligent design:

 The Burlington-Edison School Board in Washington has voted 4-1 to reject a proposal to encourage the teaching of intelligent design. The vote is significant, because it comes in the back yard of the Discovery Institute, a Seattle-based think tank that is the nation's most prominent purveyor of intelligent design.

 Radio counselor James Dobson's Focus on the Family is giving intelligent design a big push. The June issue of FOF's Focus on the Family magazine contains a three-page spread promoting the creationist concept. The article asserts that intelligent-design proponents are threatening Charles Darwin's theory of evolution "and panicking Darwin's defenders."

Dobson's magazine recommends two intelligent-design videos produced by the Discovery Institute that it claims are appropriate for public schools "Icons of Evolution: Dismantling the Myth" and "Unlocking the Mystery of Life: The Case for Intelligent Design."

Old Foes Falwell, Hagee Defuse Fireworks At 'Old-Fashioned Fourth'

Eight years ago, the Rev. Jerry Falwell had some harsh things to say about fellow television preacher John Hagee.

Hagee, according to Falwell, was a heretic who promoted a false view of salvation that maintained that Jews can go to Heaven without accepting Christ. An unsigned article in a now-defunct Falwell paper, The Liberty Flame, blasted Hagee's "Two Covenant" belief, quoting Southern Baptist theologians who called Hagee's view "unfaithful to the New Testament and, therefore, heretical."

The article, titled "John Hagee: Heretic?" also attacked Hagee personally, charging that he left his wife in 1975 and took up with a younger woman in his congregation. The article charged that Hagee did not tell his wife he was leaving her for another woman until after he had resigned his pastorate before the church board. The article also pointed out that Hagee's second wife was a teenager when he first met her. In his resignation statement, Hagee reportedly admitted that "my marriage had collapsed and I became immoral in my personal conduct."

In an editorial in the paper, Falwell wrote, "Every pastor and Sunday School teacher should take this information to the podium next Sunday.... At this time, Hagee has not yet reached the national status enjoyed by Swaggart and Bakker before they fell. However, his outreach is growing rapidly."

Given these strong words and the personal nature of Falwell's attack, it came as a surprise to some when Hagee, now pastor of San Antonio's Cornerstone Church, was invited to be the evening keynote speaker at an "Old Fashioned Fourth of July" celebration at Falwell's Liberty University.

Falwell refused to return a call from the conservative Washington Times seeking comment on the matter, but Joanne Coffey, a Hagee spokeswoman, told the newspaper that Hagee and Falwell "have known each other for many years. The beauty of being a Christian is you learn how to forgive and forget and carry forward."

Coffey noted that Falwell first approached Hagee in April and asked him to speak at a meeting of the Horizon Foundation, a Missouri-based organization founded by Jerry Lipps, a wealthy trucking magnate. Lipps, who sponsored a "Hope for America Crusade" in Cape Girdeau, Mo., in April, asked Falwell to help him line up speakers for the event and gave him a list that apparently included Hagee.

Hagee has bounced back from his messy divorce and today operates Global Evangelism Television, a $16-million-a-year TV ministry that takes a firm line on "family values." On his website (www.jhm.org), he advises, "God's Word makes it very clear that marriage is a commitment for life to the one individual out of the entire world that we have chosen to be our mate. This commitment means saying 'Yes' to our wife or husband and 'No' to all others in the matter of intimate friendship." Hagee also urges persons in troubled marriages to "consult with a gospel-preaching pastor."

In other news about Falwell:

 People who yearn to spend their entire lives in Falwell's shadow may soon have their dreams come true. The controversial evangelist is building a sprawling "Christian community" outside Lynchburg, Va., that will contain Christian schools, a home for unwed mothers and a retirement community.

"You'll never have to leave this place," Falwell told the Associated Press recently. "You can come in at age 2 in our early learning center...age 5 into our kindergarten, age 6 through 18 in our elementary and high school. Then on to Liberty University for four more years."

Falwell also plans to build a series of condominiums for retirees, golf courses, apartments and a home for drug- and alcohol-addicted men and women on 4,300 acres of land that he owns around his Thomas Road Baptist Church.

"We have no intention of building a compound no wall is going to go up," Falwell said. "If a non-Christian family applied, they would be accepted."

Asked about gay couples, Falwell chuckled and replied, "That wouldn't work. They wouldn't be comfortable here all these Christians would be witnessing to them."

The AP reported that the first residents of "Liberty Village" were expected to move in last month, with the entire facility completed within a few years.

 Falwell continues his legal battle against a parody website called www.jerryfalwell.com. In a federal lawsuit filed in June, Falwell asserts that Gary Cohn, owner of the site, is infringing on the TV preacher's trademark and fame. The lawsuit comes on the heels of a June 3 decision by the World Intellectual Property Organization Arbitration and Mediation Center, which ruled that Cohn could keep the site name.

Cohn said he created the site to mock Falwell after the televangelist blamed his fellow Americans for the Sept. 11 terrorist attack. It contains a disclaimer stating, "This website is not affiliated with Jerry Falwell (Duh!)."

 Falwell associate Rick Scarborough has resigned from the First Baptist Church of Pearland, Texas, to devote more time to his Religious Right group, Vision America. Scarborough said he plans to work full time mobilizing pastors and running get-out-the-vote campaigns for conservative Christians. Scarborough was heavily involved in Pearland politics and several years ago succeeded in electing members of his church to seats on the local school board and city council. Voters later removed Scarborough-backed candidates from those positions.

In July, the Lubbock (Texas) Avalanche-Journal reported that Falwell spoke at a Vision America conference during which he lauded Scarborough as the new leader of the Religious Right in America. Church-state separation, Falwell said, is a myth.

Dobson Boosts Bush As Fla. Elections Near

Focus on the Family founder Dr. James C. Dobson gave Jeb Bush some valuable air time July 22, devoting a half-hour broadcast to a one-on-one interview with the Florida governor, who is up for reelection this year.

The ostensible topics of the radio interview were Bush's reading initiative and his private school voucher program, two initiatives that Dobson supports. Bush's reelection effort was not discussed, but the interview, which consisted of a series of softball questions from Dobson, gave Bush valuable national exposure and an implicit endorsement shortly before the Florida primary and upcoming general election. The president's brother is expected to face a close race in November.

2002 marks the 25th anniversary of Focus on the Family, and Dobson has been celebrating in part by becoming more political. In the past few years, the leader of the tax-exempt Religious Right powerhouse has personally endorsed several Republican candidates for public office. (Federal tax law permits religious leaders to endorse candidates as long as their tax-exempt ministries are not involved.)

Most recently, Dobson gave his blessing to Tony Perkins, a Republican seeking a U.S. Senate seat from Louisiana. Perkins, currently a member of the state House of Representatives, hopes to make his way into a runoff with incumbent Sen. Mary Landrieu in November. In an open letter, Dobson praised Perkins for his conservative views and for championing "covenant" marriage and anti-abortion legislation while in the statehouse.

"Not only will he vote to protect marriage and the unborn, he will advocate for those issues," Dobson wrote.

Perkins is jockeying with two GOP rivals U.S. Rep. John Cooksey and former New Orleans City Council member Suzanne Haik Terrell. Under Louisiana's election laws, all of the candidates will compete in an "open primary" on Nov. 5. If no candidate gets more than 50 percent of the vote, the two top vote-getters will face each other in a runoff election Dec. 7.

The Washington Times reported in August that national GOP leaders are backing Terrell but that Religious Right activists in the state favor Perkins and have vowed to sit out the runoff if he does not make it in.

In other news about the Religious Right:

 Former Family Research Council head and failed presidential candidate Gary Bauer has teamed up with a right-wing rabbi to form a new pro-Israel organization called the American Alliance of Jews and Christians.

Joining Bauer in the endeavor is Rabbi Daniel Lapin of Toward Tradition, a group based in Washington state that pushes right-wing causes. The Alliance intends to advocate pro-Israel policies, but Bauer said he hopes it will eventually expand its focus.

"I believe this new project will help ensure the alliance of America and Israel while also building a movement of Jews and Christians for traditional values," Bauer said.

The Alliance has produced a short booklet titled Enemies or Allies?: Why American Jews Should Learn to Stop Worrying and Love Conservative Christians. Its advisory board includes TV preachers Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell as well as Focus on the Family founder James Dobson and Charles Colson of Prison Fellowship.

 U.S. Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) has converted to Roman Catholicism, marking another high-profile conversion for a controversial Catholic priest.

The Rev. John McCloskey, who runs the Catholic Information Center in downtown Washington, D.C., was instrumental in Brownback's conversion. Brownback, an evangelical who was elected in 1996 with strong support from the Religious Right, had been a United Methodist.

Slate reported Aug. 9 that McCloskey is a traditionalist Catholic and member of Opus Dei, a secretive group of lay Catholics who hold ultra-conservative views. McCloskey's goal, according to Slate, is to purge the church of liberals.

"A liberal Catholic is oxymoronic," he has said. "The definition of a person who disagrees with what the Catholic Church is teaching is called a Protestant."

McCloskey, who previously oversaw the conversion of journalist Robert Novak to Catholicism, worked with U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) to win over Brownback. Santorum, a fan of Opus Dei, asserted recently that several U.S. senators have been "cowed into silence" and won't talk about God or their faith. U.S. culture and media, he said, "beat us up continuously to drive God out of the public square."

 An affiliate of the Rev. Sun Myung Moon's Unification Church has been placing full-page ads in newspapers nationwide announcing that the founders of several world religions met in the "spirit world" recently to pledge loyalty to Moon.

According to the account by the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification, Jesus Christ, Confucius, Buddha, Muhammad and several Hindu leaders attended the "spirit world" conference. Jesus was accompanied by Saint Peter, Saint Paul, John Calvin, Martin Luther, John Wesley, Saint Augustine, Jonathan Edwards and other past Christian leaders, all of whom hailed Moon as the messiah and savior of mankind.

Muhammad, according to the report, brought along several early Muslim leaders, among them Abu Bakr, the first caliph. Muhammad is reported as saying, "Since I, Muhammad, encountered the Unification Principle and met the Rev. Sun Myung Moon, my worldview has changed. I am now confident in everything. Everything seems new to me now. I am filled with optimism and hope....I cry out, 'Victory for God! Victory for Rev. Sun Myung Moon, the True Parent, Messiah and Savior!'"

Four dead communist leaders attended the conference Karl Marx, Vladimir Lenin, Joseph Stalin and Deng Xiao Ping. All renounced communism and pledged to follow Moon, who has long sought to unite the religious and political worlds under his leadership.

According to the report, Stalin was especially enthusiastic, telling his fellow communists, "Please receive the will of Rev. Moon completely; open your minds and build churches for the worship of God and hold services. Rev. Moon reflects the image of God, even though he is a man....His thought is messianic, especially for Communist countries. You must receive his ideology of peace immediately."

Aside from the newspaper ads, the Family Federation put a detailed report about the "spirit conference" on its website (www.familyfed.org) under the title "A Cloud of Witnesses." The report was up throughout July but abruptly disappeared in August.

UNC Under Fire For Assignment Focusing On Islamic Book

SeveralReligious Right organizations are attacking the University of North Carolina, asserting that the school violated the separation of church and state by asking all incoming freshmen to read a book about the Koran, the holy book of Islam.

The controversy started over the summer when word got out that freshmen had been asked to read Approaching the Qur'an: The Early Revelations by Michael A. Sells, a professor of comparative religion at Haverford College. The assignment was for students to read the book and then meet in small groups to discuss it in late August. Word quickly began circulating on right-wing websites and escalated nationally when Fox News Channel commentator Bill O'Reilly denounced the move, saying UNC was promoting "our enemy's religion." O'Reilly compared the assignment to forcing student to read Adolf Hitler's Mein Kampf in 1941.

UNC officials said they were interested in having students read a book about a topical subject. They denied that the book was meant to indoctrinate, calling it an objective introduction to the beliefs of Islam.

University officials later altered the assignment, saying any student who did not want to read the book could instead write a 300-word essay about his or her objections. But the Family Policy Network, a Virginia-based affiliate of the Rev. Donald Wildmon's American Family Association, filed a lawsuit against the university in federal court anyway.

The suit, Yacovelli v. Moeser, was filed July 22 on behalf of three incoming freshmen who say the school is unconstitutionally promoting religion through the assignment. So far, two federal courts have refused to issue orders blocking implementation of the programs.

"We chose the book because since Sept. 11 many of us have wondered what the core teachings of Islam really are," UNC Chancellor James Moeser said in a statement. "We're not spoon-feeding [students] a set of beliefs. We're asking them to read and tell each other what they think."

State lawmakers are also attempting to intervene. On Aug. 7 the House Appropriations Committee of the North Carolina House of Representatives voted 64-10 to bar UNC from using public funds for the reading assignment unless it agrees to give equal time to other religions.

Church-Run Charter School May Be Booted Out Of Texas Program

Education officials in Texas have pull ed the plug on a church-run charter school that has been embroiled in scandal and financial mismanagement.

In mid July the Texas Education Agency (TEA) held a three-day hearing on the fate of the Prepared Table Charter School, an institution run by the Rev. Harold Wayne Wilcox of the Greater Progressive Tabernacle Baptist Church in Humble. The school, which has been in existence since 1998, has allegedly squandered millions in tax dollars.

On Aug. 16, TEA officials revoked the controversial school's state charter and its lucrative public funding.

Texas lawmakers approved a charter school law in 1997 but officials have been lax in overseeing the program. Nearly any group or individual who applied for a charter got one along with public funding.

The Kingwood Observer reported that Wilcox appointed himself and church board members as school administrators. Classes were held in the church sanctuary, and the "school" began paying the church $68,000 per month in rent, courtesy of the taxpayers.

Within a few years, the church had purchased or rented several other properties to expand, even though these new charters had not been approved by the TEA. By the fall of 2000, reported the Observer, Prepared Table was receiving nearly $8 million per year from the state of Texas.

TEA officials eventually became suspicious over a series of cozy arrangements between the school and church members. A church member who owned a cleaning service that cleaned the schools received $140,000 per month. When Wilcox resigned from the school, he received a "buyout package" worth $235,000 from the board which consisted of Wilcox, his wife and his wife's sister.

Wilcox, who does not have a college degree, paid himself $210,000 annually to run the school. He paid his wife $50,000 to act as his secretary. This year, only 23 percent of Prepared Table students at the main campus passed Texas' proficiency exam. The figure was even lower at another Prepared Table school 18 percent.

State officials also accused the school of inflating the number of students attending. The school claimed 2,500 students, but TEA officials said they could never confirm that more than 1,500 were enrolled.

Meanwhile, reports are circulating that the U.S. Attorney's Office is investigating Wilcox.

The Observer, which has covered the problems at Prepared Table in depth, editorialized in July, "[A]fter months and months and millions and millions of local, state and federal dollars being poured into the 'school,' it turns out that the children are still failing, they can't pass TAAS [Texas' state proficiency exam], the police are regularly called to the campuses, and the superintendent has paid himself nearly $800,000 and his wife another $200,000 since the school opened in 1998. Your tax dollars have made millions of dollars worth of improvements to the church/school buildings (what we would call a real church/state separation issue) and the TEA won't or can't control the situation."

The scandal, along with other problems, has prompted Texas legislators to take a second look at charter schools. In heavily populated Harris County, the Houston Chronicle reported in June, only 13 of the county's 61 charter schools saw 85 percent of their students pass the state's proficiency exam, putting them far behind public schools in performance.

Americans United Board of Trustees member Charlotte Coffelt, a resident of Houston and a former principal of a public elementary school, commented on the scandal in the July 23 Houston Chronicle.

"Prepared Table Charter School should be a textbook case of what happens when individuals and organizations with no background in either managing a business or having successfully provided effective educational programs are given access to public monies," Coffelt warned. "Many millions were invested in this 'innovative' educational program, with dismal academic results and evidence of massive misuse of public money and falsification of public documents."

Georgia Town Removes Religious Symbols Posted In City Hall

A Georgia town has taken down religious symbols from its city hall in an attempt to settle a lawsuit brought by civil liberties groups.

The Ringgold City Council removed framed copies of the Ten Commandments and the Lord's Prayer from city hall in mid August. An empty frame that council members said was for "those who believe in nothing" was also removed.

The city government was sued in June of this year by Americans United for Separation of Church and State and the Georgia affiliate of the American Civil Liberties Union. The groups charged that the display, posted in October, violated the constitutional separation of church and state. Two local residents served as plaintiffs in the Odom v. City of Ringgold case.

Said Americans United Legal Director Ayesha Khan, "We're delighted that Ringgold officials have decided to obey the Constitution. Americans from all religious perspectives will now feel welcome in city hall.

"The council clearly intended to send a message of religious favoritism when it put up the religious symbols," continued Khan. "By taking them down, they've now sent a message that no particular faith will get special treatment."

Upon unveiling the religious display last fall, Ringgold Councilman Bill McMillon said the empty frame was included in the display "for those who believe in nothing," and that those who took issue with the display of the Ten Commandments and Lord's Prayer "can go stand in front of it and believe anything they want to." He added that he was unconcerned about non-Christians or Muslims being offended by the display "because we don't have any of them here."

Now that the religious symbols have been taken down in Ringgold City Hall, Americans United officials are optimistic that the lawsuit pending in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia will be settled.