Monday, April 9, 2012

"The Year of the Bible" in Pennsylvania

      ABC News reports that State House in Pennsylvania passed a provision that declares 2012 “The Year of the Bible.” The resolution passed on the Pennsylvania House of Representatives unanimously in January. The ABC article reports that “some members later said they did not realize its content and regretted their votes.” The Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF), based in Madison, WI, filed a lawsuit stating that this violates the Establishment Clause. This organization “includes Atheists and Agnostics” and is typically associated with such a viewpoint. The FFRF is requesting a federal judge to order the Pennsylvania to stop distributing the flyers and to “rule that the state government isn’t Judeo-Christian.”
            The republican senator primarily associated with the bill, Rick Saccone, is not phased by the lawsuit, calling it meritless. The article quotes Saccone, stating “God has always been a part of our government. To deny that is to deny history. And that's all the resolution is — a recognition of a book that has been so important in our nation's history."
            Establishment Clause cases have often been tricky. Frequently they involve a question of government allowance of religion, such as public display of religion cases. In such cases (such as Marsh v. Chambers, Lunch v. Donnelley, and Allegheny v. ACLU) the question becomes whether or not private citizens can display religion on government property. This case is different. It involves private citizens suing over governmental displays of religion.
            It seems clear that this is a governmental endorsement of Christianity. A state legislature cannot officially declare a “year of the Bible” without an implied preference for a particular religious viewpoint. The Bible is directly associated with Christianity. Additionally, although a particular entanglement of church and state is bound to exist, government legislation endorsing a particular viewpoint is unnecessary and dangerous. The FFRF is certainly warranted in their request for the government to stop distributing the flyers. It may be argued that the resolution does not require citizens to follow a particular viewpoint and therefore is not dangerous. However, it still associates a state government with a particular religious viewpoint, which is discriminating and has the potential for dangerous implications.
            The FFRF’s second request, for the federal judge to rule that this is not a Judeo-Christian nation, seems more obscure. Is this the role of the federal judge? Even though these pamphlets breach church-state separate very suspiciously, there has not been any official declaration of Christianity as a state religion. This seems to be a desire for affirmation and solidification from the FFRF more than a legal junction. I am not sure that this part of the request is warranted or necessary. However, I imagine that the intention of the FFRF is to prevent instances like this happening again. An official declaration may help provide certainty.
            In the end, this case begs the question of the nature of governmental endorsement of religion. Endorsement can still be a reality even when it is not declaring an official state religion. The nature of this endorsement is one of promoting a particular religious viewpoint. The FFRF has legitimate concerns that warrant a lawsuit against the resolution.            


Alexis A said...

Frankly,I am surprised that this passed in the first place, and if I were a citizen of Pennsylvania, I would certainly be questioning the impartiality of my representatives. How could you be confused about its content when its title is "The Year of the Bible"? This is obviously a violation of the Establishment Clause and should be repealed immediately. It is evident that the primary purpose and effect of this provision are to promote Christianity. I agree that the request to declare that this is not a Judeo-Christian nation is a bit extraneous, but I think this provision should be declared unconstitutional.

Catherine S said...

I read an article on this previously and it said that one year in the 1980s was declared "Year of the Bible" then, too (I believe it was during the Reagan administration). I have no issue with this declaration AS LONG AS the next year is "Year of the..." (insert any other religious text). The likelihood of that happening is slim, so I really think this "Year of the Bible" concept should be deemed unconstitutional.

kathryn y. said...

I think Cathye commented nicely on this. I agree, if we are to be tolerant & neutral of every religion, then such "Year of the ______" can be permitted, however it cannot rest alone on the 'Year of the Bible." I do agree that if not such an equal opportunity be presented, then it should be deemed as unconstitutional.

Blake_S said...

I think that Carrie makes some great points in regard to the article on the government's choice of endorsement. I am a little worried that such an act like this is a blatant breakdown of the metaphorical separation of Church and State. I am worried that this can just happen and the government does not seemed all that concerned about the implications of introducing and passing such a bill. I worry that if this is not stopped within the courts, there will be larger issues with other endorsements happening. Such a thing could truly be a breaking of our historical claim of this separation. In the end, this act is a threat and has to be stopped.

Sachin G said...

I think Christianity is embedded in the American society and seeing this "the year of the bible", which is a clear endorsement of Christianity through the government, makes me wonder if only Christians introduced and voted for this bill. I personally do not care, because i am not big on religion but people who do care, this sure is a way to tell them " this is a Christian Nation".