Legal Feature

Religious Freedom Under Siege In America: A Special Report from The Rutherford Institute

June 08, 2004

© 2004 The Rutherford Institute


Religious discrimination in contemporary American society is an epidemic of which most Americans are completely unaware. Believing that the battle for religious freedom was won long ago, many Americans have gone in search of other battles. Certainly, there is no end to the litany of causes and concerns in need of a champion. But the truth of the matter is that religious freedom is under siege today.

While most religious individuals in our society do not encounter threats of persecution for practicing their religious beliefs in their homes or in their houses of worship, these same religious persons do indeed face ridicule, censorship and even persecution when they attempt to live out their religious beliefs and express them in the public arena. A review of the cases handled by The Rutherford Institute reveals the evidence of this epidemic. Many of these cases will be discussed in detail later in this report. But for now, consider briefly:

Nashala Hearn, the elementary school student who was suspended twice for wearing her Muslim headscarf to school;

Albert Buonanno, the AT&T employee who was fired for refusing to sign a diversity statement that he believed contradicted his religious beliefs about the gay lifestyle;

Daniel Walz, the elementary school student who was not allowed to hand out gifts of pencils to his classmates because the pencils were inscribed with the message, "Jesus loves the little children;"

Kayla Broadus, the kindergartner who was told that she could not say a prayer of thanks during snack time at school;

Mary Morley, the artist who was told that she would not be permitted to display portions of her art exhibit in a public library art display because their themes were too religious; and

Nicholas Lassonde, the high school salutatorian whose graduation speech was censored of references to Jesus Christ or the Bible.

These cases provide clearly demonstrate the epidemic that John W. Whitehead, president and founder of The Rutherford Institute, refers to as the "privatization" of religion in America. As Whitehead writes, "There is increasing social, cultural, and legal pressure for religion to be merely a 'private matter.' Although most Americans will not yet challenge the right to be religious, increasing numbers of Americans appear to believe that religion should be exercised only in private." Author Stephen Carter has also decried this trend. In his book, The Culture of Disbelief, Carter states, "Too often, our rhetoric treats the religious impulse to public action as presumptively wicked--indeed, as necessarily oppressive."

However, for most truly devout individuals, religious faith is not something that can be turned on and off like a television; it is not something that is donned at certain times and occasions like a pair of dress shoes. Rather, it is an entire belief system, a viewpoint that pervades the individual's entire persona and affects all of the person's thoughts, actions and attitudes. To ask religious individuals to refrain from being "religious" in public or expressing religious views to others is to ask them to abandon part of their identity when they leave home every morning.

Yes, the banishment of religious expression and religion in general is an epidemic. Thus, it is imperative that we who value freedom recognize the danger to our religious liberties and call on all Americans to show greater vigilance in protecting those vital rights that so many have fought and died to defend. As John Quincy Adams said, "Civil liberty can be established on no foundation of human reason which will not at the same time demonstrate the right to religious freedom."


As explained above, while most religious persons in our society do not encounter threats of persecution for practicing their religious beliefs in their homes or in their houses of worship, these same religious persons do indeed face ridicule and even persecution when they attempt to live out their religious beliefs and express them in the public arena. So what does the face of religious discrimination look like in contemporary America? The Institute recognizes at least two trends in modern-day religious discrimination. The first is the misuse of the Establishment Clause to silence private religious expression. The second is the propagation of a so-called politically correct "tolerance" that, in fact, tolerates only the most diluted and least meaningful forms of religious expression and commitment.

A. The Misuse of the Establishment Clause to Silence Private Religious Expression

One need not look far to find examples of public officials abusing the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment by using it to silence religious expression of private individuals. In the cases handled by The Rutherford Institute, the most common justification cited by public officials who have censored religious expression is "the separation of church and state." To make matters worse, in some instances the judiciary has sanctioned this specious justification by accepting it when challenged by the victim of censorship.

The First Amendment's Establishment Clause was never intended to be used to bludgeon the religious speech of private individuals into inoffensive drivel. Rather, it precludes government from taking sides on religious matters. The essential mandate of the Establishment Clause is that government maintain a position of neutrality where religion is concerned. When public officials and even our courts interpret it instead as a license to censor private religious speech, they turn the entire First Amendment on its head. The First Amendment protects all ideas contributed to the marketplace; secular and religious ones alike.

The central question to be asked when public officials worry about violating the Establishment Clause is whether the speech is state speech or private speech, taking into account the method by which the religious message came about and the viewpoint of the reasonable observer as to whether the message is state speech or private speech. The United States Supreme Court recognized this distinction between state speech and private speech in Board of Education of Westside Community Schools v. Mergens, 496 U.S. 226 (1990).

"[T]here is a crucial difference between government speech endorsing religion, which the Establishment Clause forbids, and private speech endorsing religion, which the Free Speech and Free Exercise Clauses protect." Id. at 250.

How, then, do we explain the emergence of this trend of using one clause of the First Amendment to violate two others? When the offense is committed by public officials such as school administrators or city council members, it can often be attributed purely to ignorance or misunderstanding about the operation of the First Amendment and the Establishment Clause in particular. But in those tragic instances in which courts sanction the censorship of private religious speech based on concerns about "the separation of church and state," it is more difficult to find a benign cause. Unfortunately, it appears that some courts are simply more concerned with eliminating the possibility that private religious speech may cause offense (an issue examined more fully below) than with honoring the Free Speech and Free Exercise Clauses of the First Amendment.

B. The Pseudo-Tolerance Trend

"Tolerance" has become the buzzword of contemporary America. While the concept of tolerance is admirable and unobjectionable, the word has taken on a new meaning as a result of popular usage. In short, the "tolerance" in its politically correct form that is being peddled by those who are most active in proclaiming its importance is a "tolerance" of any lifestyle or belief system except one that actually includes definite ideas of right and wrong or a belief in absolute truth. This "tolerance" in fact involves an apparently required intolerance for all but the most inoffensive religious expression and commitment.

Peddlers of this pseudo-tolerance are likely to have little or no trouble with the religious person who either refrains from expressing his or her religious views publicly or expresses them in terms that are diluted enough to be utterly inoffensive. In other words, a "religious" person can fit into the pseudo-tolerance model as long as he or she does not take those beliefs seriously enough to "push" his or her religious beliefs onto others by actually expressing them to anyone other than like-minded believers. It is interesting to note that one would be hard-pressed to identify any other context in which merely expressing personal opinions or beliefs so readily leads to accusations of "forcing" those opinions or beliefs onto listeners.

The pseudo-tolerant individual is also likely to accept a "religious" person if the tenets of the person's faith allow that tenets of other religions could be equally true and right. This is because Person A has no reason to be personally offended by Person B's religious beliefs as long as Person B expresses the view that Person A's religious beliefs are just as true and right as his own. We must recognize the intellectual laziness and lack of emotional fortitude involved in this trend. It would behoove us all to be willing and able to hear and think critically about the ideas of a person who believes our own ideas to be incorrect. After all, one of the supreme goals of the First Amendment is to foster a marketplace of ideas. In most marketplaces, the seller of Product A does not, in fact, believe that Product B is just as good, and he would not, in any event, announce to marketplace shoppers that the two products are equally virtuous.

This trend toward pseudo-tolerance is reflected in the rise of a movement toward "non-sectarian" religious expression. For example, a California court recently held in Rubin v. City of Burbank that Burbank's City Council violated the First Amendment's Establishment Clause by allowing volunteers to deliver invocations at City Council meetings. The court's decision was premised on the fact that at least one volunteer had invoked the name of Jesus Christ in his prayer, thus rendering the prayer "sectarian." Rather than ordering the City to prohibit prayer at its Council meetings altogether, the court ordered the City to advise volunteers that any prayers delivered at the meetings must be "nonsectarian." That order implicitly requires the City of Burbank to actively censor proposed prayers to ensure that no volunteer utters the name of Jesus Christ or any other word or phrase that carries special significance to any particular religion.

In this sectarian/nonsectarian dichotomy, sectarian religious speech, which has a narrower appeal because of its higher level of specificity, is inevitably treated as the ugly stepsister. Indeed, the only apparent reason for making the categorization in the first place is to distinguish between religious speech that is "tolerant" and "inclusive" and that which is considered by some, because it espouses a particular system of beliefs, to be "intolerant," "non-inclusive," and, accordingly, inappropriate for expression in the public square--especially by public officials.

When put into operation, though, the effect of this dichotomy is to hinder the ability of certain perspectives to compete fairly in the marketplace of religious ideas. As it turns out, in most instances "sectarian" is code for expression that dares mention that most controversial of figures, Jesus Christ. For Christians who believe that their only access to God is through Jesus Christ, asking them to pray to God directly is asking them to dishonor their Savior. Many such Christians would rather remain silent than submit to this type of pressure to stifle their faith in the interest of pacifying observers. Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, atheists, and adherents of countless other religions are similarly alienated by a policy that allows for prayers to "God" alone.

The willingness to tolerate religious expression only if it references some generic "God" whom others find least offensive is an affront to millions of religious individuals. For many people, their religious beliefs are too sacred to be reduced to some "inoffensive" common denominator. Moreover, where differences cannot be expressed, there can be no recognition of diversity and no need for real tolerance.

Real tolerance can be achieved only when each person is permitted to freely express his or her religious beliefs as directed by his or her conscience. Despite the inclination of pseudo-tolerance peddlers, real tolerance does not require religious individuals to refrain from expressing ideas with which others may disagree, but instead requires the hearers of "offensive" ideas to recognize and support the speaker's right to express his or her viewpoint.


Space does not permit a full examination of every case in The Rutherford Institute's 22-year history that involves hostility toward religion in some form. However, the brief descriptions of cases that follow will enable the reader to gain some understanding of the magnitude of the epidemic of hostility toward religious persons and their expression.

A. Cases Involving Censorship of Religious Expression

•Hearn v. Muskogee Public School District (E.D. Okla.) - Nashala Hearn, along with her family, are followers of the Islamic faith, which requires females to wear a headscarf called a "hijab" in public places, a requirement Nashala has consistently followed in expressing her commitment to her sincerely-held Islamic religious beliefs. This fall, Nashala began attending the sixth grade at Benjamin Franklin Science Academy, a public middle school in Muskogee, Okla. On September 11, 2003, Nashala was informed by her principal that she would no longer be permitted to wear her hijab to school, because it was prohibited by the school dress code. Institute attorneys have pointed out that while the dress code prohibits "hats, caps, bandannas, plastic caps, and hoods on jackets inside the [school] building," it makes no mention of hijabs or any other kind of religious head covering. Despite the principal's warning, Nashala continued to wear the hijab to school in keeping with her religious beliefs. On October 1, 2003, Nashala was suspended from school for three days. Upon returning to school on October 7 after serving the suspension, Nashala was once again suspended, this time for five days. Although Nashala has been allowed to return to school until the matter is resolved and continues to wear the hijab, she is subject to sanction under the school dress code at the whim of her principal and other school authorities.
•Case Status - Rutherford Institute attorneys secured a settlement in favor of Nashala Hearn.

•Walz v. Egg Harbor Township Board of Education (3rd Cir.) - In April 1998, during the Easter-Passover season, Daniel and his pre-kindergarten classmates attended a holiday party at school. Some children brought in small gifts to hand out during the party. Daniel handed out pencils that stated "Jesus loves the little children." On seeing the pencils, Daniel's teacher confiscated them from the children. Daniel's mother, Dana Walz, who was present in the classroom, immediately brought the matter to the attention of the school's principal. However, the principal, assistant superintendent and superintendent denied Daniel's request to distribute the pencils. Walz was then told that Daniel could only hand out pencils outside the classroom. In December 1998, Daniel and his kindergarten classmates had a Christmas-Hanukkah party at school. Before the party, Walz contacted the school's attorney to obtain permission for Daniel to distribute candy canes with the story "The Candy Maker's Witness" attached to them. She was informed that Daniel could do so only outside the classroom. However, Daniel's classmates were permitted to hand out non-religious gifts during the party.
•Case Status - the District Court and the Third Circuit ruled in favor of school officials. The United States Supreme Court denied the Institute's petition for writ of certiorari, letting stand the Third Circuit opinion, which basically suggests that children should "speak when spoken to." The opinion is available at 342 F.3d 271 (3d Cir. 2003).

•Ashby v. Isle of Wight County Schools (E.D. Va.) - In response to the senior class sponsor's invitation, Anna Ashby, a senior at Windsor High School in Windsor, Va., volunteered along with another student to sing a song at the school's graduation exercises. After a teacher, who was acting as the senior class adviser, informed Ashby and her fellow classmate that they would be permitted to sing, the teacher requested a copy of the lyrics of the song they intended to sing. Ashby provided the class adviser with the lyrics to the song, "The Prayer," recorded by popular vocal artist Celine Dion. The song, framed in terms of a nonsectarian prayer, asks God to "help us to be wise in times when we don't know," "when we lose our way lead us to the place, guide us with your grace to a place where we'll be safe," "that life be kind," and that "each soul will find another soul to love." After reviewing the lyrics of the song, Dr. Michael McPherson, superintendent of Isle of Wight County School District, instructed school officials to inform Ashby and her classmate that they would not be permitted to sing at the graduation ceremony.
•Case Status - pending.

•Demmon v. Loudoun County Public Schools (E.D. Va.) - As a fundraiser, a parent organization offered parents and community members the opportunity to purchase and order inscriptions for paving bricks to be placed in a sidewalk around the school's flagpoles. Purchasers could choose text and/or symbols to be inscribed on the bricks. Some purchasers paid to have their bricks inscribed with a Latin cross. After one parent complained, school officials removed from the walkway every brick containing a cross symbol.
•Case Status - pending.

•Kiesinger v. Mexico Academy & Central School (N.D.N.Y.) - Mexico Academy High School in New York engaged in a fundraising effort whereby community members could purchase a brick, have it inscribed with a personal message and placed in the walkway to the entrance of the high school. The residents charge that after encouraging them to purchase, inscribe, and place bricks in the school walkway as part of the fundraiser, school officials removed bricks containing Christian messages. For example, Robert Kiesinger purchased a brick for the walkway and had it inscribed "Jesus Saves." School officials later removed Kiesinger's brick and others from the walkway due to their religious content. In fact, school officials eventually jack hammered out of the walk all bricks inscribed with Christian messages. The school stated that any bricks bearing the name of Jesus were considered to be promoting a particular religion and could not be included. However, officials allowed messages such as "God Bless You" to remain since they did not pertain to a particular religion.
•Case Status - pending.

•Harris by Bannon v. Boca Raton School District (11th Cir.) - In an effort to beautify the campus, the student council of Boca Raton High came up with a project to permit individual students to decorate temporary construction panels on school grounds. Officials informed students that the content of the murals was to include the students' own expression. The only limitation placed on the content was that the messages could not be profane or inappropriate. Sharah Harris, along with other members of the student club Fellowship of Christian Athletes, chose to express religious views. Their painted panels reflected their religious beliefs with messages that included "Jesus has time for you," "God loves you," and "What part of 'Thou shall not' didn't you understand?" Shortly after the murals were painted, school officials pulled Sharah out of class and instructed her to paint over all religious symbols and language. For example, Sharah was forced to change "Jesus has time for you" to the more obscure "He has time for you."
•Case Status - pending.

•Wuebben v. Kettering City School District (S.D. Ohio) - Just before the Easter holiday, in the spring of 2003, a kindergartner at Orchard Park Elementary School in Kettering, Ohio, requested permission from her teacher to distribute to her kindergarten classmates individual bags of jelly beans with a religious poem attached entitled "The Jelly Bean Prayer." "The Jelly Bean Prayer," which provides a code for the colors of the jellybeans, reads: "Red is for the blood He gave. Green is for the grass He made. Yellow is for the sun so bright. Orange is for the edge of night. Black is for the sins we made. White is for the grace He gave. Purple is for His hour of sorrow. Pink is for our new tomorrow. A bag full of jelly beans colorful and sweet, is a prayer, is a promise, is a special treat. May the joy of Christ's resurrection fill your heart and bless your life." The teacher denied the request and informed the student's parents that it was against the school's policy to allow students to distribute religious literature in the classroom. When the little girl's father, Allen Wuebben, met with the Director of Student Services to discuss Orchard Park Elementary School's policy regarding student distribution of literature, he was informed that his daughter, M.W., would be permitted to distribute objects in the classroom, including jellybeans, provided no religious message was attached. Thus, if M.W. wanted to distribute "The Jelly Bean Prayer," she would have to do it outside the classroom.
•Case Status - pending.

•Calvary Chapel Church, Inc. v. Broward County Board of Supervisors (S.D. Fla.) - Broward County's annual "Holiday Fantasy of Lights," a two-mile light festival that takes place at Tradewinds Park in Coconut Creek, Fla., is sponsored by local businesses and organizations that pay a fee up to $15,000 to design and exhibit their own light displays. In 2002, church officials at Calvary Chapel Fort Lauderdale expressed interest in sponsoring a display for the festival and submitted a design to Broward County officials that included a Christmas star and the words "Remember Him." Calvary Chapel's proposed design was rejected by county officials because of its religious message. In 2003, Calvary Chapel again expressed the desire to sponsor a $15,000 display, submitting a design that included a cross and the words "Jesus is the Reason for the Season." Again, Broward County officials rejected Calvary Chapel's design because of its religious message.
•Case Status - The Rutherford Institute was victorious in securing the church's right to display its message in the light festival. The court's opinion is available at 299 F.Supp.2d 1295 (S.D. Fla. 2003).

•Cubbage v. New Jersey Department of Military and Veterans Affairs (D.N.J.) - SSgt. Cubbage, a Vietnam combat veteran, was fired from his job as an honor guardsman at Doyle Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Burlington County, New Jersey, a federally funded Department of Veterans' Affairs state cemetery, for accompanying the presentation of the flag at the religious funeral of a deceased Army veteran with the words, "This flag is presented on behalf of a grateful nation and the United States Army as a token of appreciation for your loved one's honorable and faithful service. God bless you and this family, and God bless the United States of America." Despite the fact that SSgt. Cubbage's actions and words were in accordance with Department of Defense protocol for military funeral honors "where the next of kin has expressed a religious preference or belief," the cemetery's Honor Guard coordinator ordered him not to offer the flag blessing--even when requested to do so by a family member, stating that it might "offend" veterans' families and other guardsmen.
•Case Status - The Rutherford Institute was victorious in securing SSgt. Cubbage's return to work.

•Fleming v. Jefferson County School District R-1 (10th Cir.) - After the Columbine tragedy, it was proposed that tile-painting sessions be held at CHS and that students and others connected to the tragedy be allowed to participate. The tile project, started several years earlier by a CHS art teacher, gave students a forum in which they could express themselves by painting ceramic tiles and affixing them above lockers in the hallways. However, school officials informed family members and friends associated with the April 20 shootings that tiles with religious symbols or "inappropriate" content could not be displayed. On behalf of the families, Brian Rohrbough objected. His son Daniel had been a devout Christian. Other families, upset that memorials to their children would be censored, also voiced their objections. School officials then relented and allowed them to include religious messages. But after the tiles were affixed to the walls, another screening process took place. Citing a fear of violating what they thought to be the separation of church and state, school officials chiseled approximately 50 tiles out of the hallways. Among the tiles torn down was one painted by Nicole Petrone, Daniel Rohrbough's stepsister. It showed a red heart with a red rose, a smaller yellow cross and her brother's name. In August 2002, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the tile project was "school sponsored" and, therefore, Columbine officials had the authority to censor the tiles they found "objectionable"--including those that had religious content.
•Case Status - The Rutherford Institute secured a victory for the families at the District Court level, but the Tenth Circuit reversed that decision, ruling in favor of school officials. The United States Supreme Court denied the Institute's petition for a writ of certiorari, leaving the Tenth Circuit decision standing. The decision is available at 298 F.3d 918 (10th Cir. 2002).

•Hodges v. City of Lebanon (S.D. Ind.) - Although Grant Hodges, a minister at Grace Baptist Church, had distributed religious literature in the park for nineteen years without incident, the mayor and parks director informed church members that they were to cease the distribution of tracts in the park. Soon thereafter, the mayor and the parks director proposed a new policy forbidding the distribution of literature in city parks without the express permission of the Parks and Recreation Board. In order to obtain a permit, a citizen must provide copies of the proposed literature to the Parks and Recreation Board. Even when a permit is granted, it is valid for only one day and limits distribution to a few small areas of the park.
•Case Status - pending.

•Jenkins v. Honolulu Department of Public Works (D. Haw.) - An employee of the City of Honolulu Department of Public Works, Kelly Jenkins sought to place religious literature, including an invitation to his church, in common areas of the employee break room and to post information on workplace bulletin boards as an informational service to other employees who may be interested. Other employees were allowed to display personal items in these rooms, such as posters, flyers and invitations. Mr. Jenkins was subsequently instructed by his supervisor that religious items were not permitted in these areas because of the so-called "separation between church and state."
•Case Status - Attorneys for The Rutherford Institute have worked with the City of Honolulu to draft new guidelines to allow greater freedom of religious expression for City employees.

•Piggee v. Carl Sandburg Community College (C.D. Ill.) - In June of 2002, Ms. Piggee, a cosmetology teacher at a community college, was approached by a student outside of class who inquired as to her religious beliefs. Ms. Piggee informed the student that she was a Christian and the student responded that he was Jewish. They had an amicable discussion about their faiths. Some time after this initial conversation, the student informed Ms. Piggee that he was gay. Following this conversation, the student and Ms. Piggee had numerous friendly interchanges in the ordinary course of college activities and classes. In September of 2002, as the student was leaving the campus, Ms. Piggee presented him with some Christian tracts that addressed the Christian viewpoint regarding homosexual behavior. The student expressed appreciation for the information and took the literature. Shortly after this exchange the student filed a complaint of sexual harassment against Ms. Piggee, and she went through the administrative hearing process and was severely reprimanded. Subsequently, her teaching contract was not renewed.
•Case Status - pending.

B. Cases Involving Hostility Toward Religion In Other Contexts

•Buonanno v. AT&T Broadband (D. Colo.) - Albert Buonanno was fired from his job with AT&T Broadband after he refused to sign off on portions of the company's employee handbook that violated his religious beliefs. All employees were required to sign a written acknowledgment that they had received AT&T's new employee handbook and sign a "Certificate of Understanding." The certificate contained a statement that the employee signing it "agreed with and accepted" all of the terms and provisions of the handbook, including its policies and rules. The handbook contained a provision that "each person at AT&T Broadband is charged with the responsibility to fully recognize, respect and value the differences among all of us," including "sexual orientation." However, Albert Buonanno's strongly held religious beliefs regarding the homosexual lifestyle prevented him from condoning or approving the practice of homosexuality. Buonanno shared his concerns with his immediate supervisor and informed him that he had no problem declaring he would not discriminate against or harass people who were different from him, including homosexuals, but he could not sign the statement, because it contradicted his sincerely held religious beliefs. Buonanno was informed that AT&T would terminate his employment if he refused to sign the certificate. Buonanno declined to sign the certificate and was immediately terminated.
•Case Status - The Rutherford Institute won a major victory for Albert Buonanno at the District Court level.

•Carpenter v. District 10 School Board (9th Cir.) - As part of an effort to help students cope with a string of teen suicides and automobile deaths, concerned Dillon residents approached the Dawson McAllister Association for advice on how to reach out to local youth. McAllister, a nationally recognized youth speaker who hosts a Christian radio program and conducts Christian youth rallies across the country, suggested that local middle schools and high schools stage a three-day, citywide youth rally as well as nonreligious school assemblies focusing on respect for self and others, responsibility and making the right choices. DMA recommended that motivational speaker Jaroy Carpenter, a former public school teacher who presents nonreligious speeches in public schools across the country, be invited to address the students. Carpenter gives secular presentations at high schools and middle schools, as well as religious presentations at Christian youth rallies, retreats and campus ministry functions. After reviewing the proposal for a secular in-school assembly, the school board of School District #10 invited Carpenter to present a strictly secular speech to students at Dillon Middle School on Oct. 9, 2002. However, because of concerns by school board members and their counsel that Carpenter's Christian faith and affiliation with DMA might put the school at risk of violating the so-called separation of church and state, the school board rescinded its invitation. Even though Carpenter has made more than 200 secular presentations at school assemblies around the country and has never addressed religion or sought to proselytize those in attendance, school board members stated that they could not risk the possibility that Carpenter would address religious matters during his speech and subject the district to a lawsuit. Many other area schools that had agreed to hold these assemblies rescinded their offers as well.
•Case Status - pending.

•Endres v. Indiana State Police (7th Cir.) - In March 2000, the Indiana State Police gave Benjamin Endres a one-year assignment as a Gaming Commission Agent to the Blue Chip Casino in Michigan City, Indiana. Both before and after receiving the assignment, Endres informed his supervisors of his sincere religious objection to working on the riverboat as an agent of the Gaming Commission. Although he had no religious objection to enforcing general vice laws at the casino, he believed that performing the specialized duties of a Gaming Commission agent would violate his religious faith. In a letter to his supervisors explaining his objections, Endres cited his "personal religious conviction against gambling" and his church's "strong position against it." He also expressed his "willingness to do virtually any job to avoid violating" his religious beliefs. Endres' pastor and former pastor also wrote to the superintendent explaining his and his church's religious beliefs and why they were in conflict with the casino assignment. Nevertheless, the state police department made no effort to accommodate Endres and fired him for insubordination after an administrative hearing.
•Case Status - The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals held that the religious accommodation provision of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 does not protect police officers like all other employees, although the statute itself includes no such exception. The United States Supreme Court recently denied The Rutherford Institute's petition for a writ of certiorari.

•Donovan v. Punxsutawney Area School Board (3rd Cir.) - For six years, members of the Punxsutawney Area High School Bible Club were forced to meet prior to the start of the school day, rather than during the school's regular activity period. Other student groups, such as the Ski Club and Students Against Drunk Driving, have been allowed to meet during the activity period. School officials also prohibited members of the Bible Club from advertising in the school bulletin and from exercising privileges extended to students in other clubs.
•Case Status - The Rutherford Institute secured a major victory for the Bible Club in the Third Circuit Court of Appeals. The opinion is available at 336 F.3d 211 (3d Cir. 2003).


We should be deeply troubled by the "privatization" of religion in America. The assault on expression of faith in the public square is felt most keenly by those for whom faith cannot be separated from the other aspects of their lives. But society as a whole will be affected by the continued extraction of substantive religious expression from the public arena. Our country's citizens are not so fragile that they require protection from those who exercise their First Amendment rights. Rather, exposing America to the robust debate intrinsic to the free marketplace of ideas empowers us all to contribute our own ideas to the debate. We rob the marketplace when we dilute ideas to give them a broader appeal. We abuse the First Amendment when we use it to drive religious speech into hiding.

The Rutherford Institute is committed to fighting for the rights guaranteed to all Americans by the First Amendment. For more information about the Institute or our cases, please browse our website.

© 2004 The Rutherford Institute