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Obama gets it right! February 5, 2009

Posted by Center for Inquiry Office of Public Policy in Annoucements.
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Although President Obama intends to continue faith-based social service programs, his administration is quite clear about separating religion from public schools.

The so-called stimulus package intended to promote economic recovery passed by the Democrats in the House of Representatives last week bans money for school renovation from being spent on facilities that allow religious worship.Funds may not be used for the “modernization, renovation, or repair” of facilities that allow “sectarian instruction, religious worship, or a school or department of divinity.”

The package passed by the House includes $20 billion for public school infrastructure renovations, of which $6 billion would go to institutions of higher education where the restrictions against divinity schools or departments would apply.

Conservatives groups are expressing outrage at what they see as curbs on religious liberty in higher learning, but constitutional law experts say conservatives don’t have much legal basis for complaint.After all, President Obama himself formerly taught constitutional law.

“In the year of our Lord” unnecessary relic, says CFI Task Force chair February 4, 2009

Posted by Center for Inquiry Office of Public Policy in Commentary.
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The Center for Inquiry is looking forward to how President Obama will strengthen the separation of church and state with his judicial appointments.  In the realm of keeping government neutral in matters of religion, it is important that all branches of government convey a message to nonbelievers and minority religions that they are no less a part of the community than are the majority Christians in our nation.

Thus, while the practice of issuing presidential proclamations designating the year of the proclamation as the “in the year of Our Lord” is not as grave a threat to government neutrality in matters of religion as would be the restoration of official prayers in public schools or exempting religious books from sales tax but imposing those taxes on secular books, it is still a practice that should now be retired.  The phrase “in the year of Our Lord” is the English translation of the Latin “anno domini.”  This is an unambiguous reference to Jesus.

Government is supposed to be neutral as between believer and nonbeliever and as between one religion and another religion.  This phrase shows a predisposition to belief over nonbelief and to Christianity over Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, and Judaism, and all the other minority religions.

Again, this is not the most pressing issue on which the future of secular government versus theocracy balances.  However it is an unnecessary relic of the Christian tradition that, ultimately, should not find expression in official government proclamations.

Edward Tabash

Chair, First Amendment Task Force, Center for Inquiry, Council for Secular Humanism.