Thursday, January 19, 2012
US Supreme court rules prayers at government events unconstitutional
The court is obviously still taking a very expansive view of what constitutes the establishment of a church
THE US Supreme Court on Tuesday declined to take on two cases in which lower courts ruled public prayers at government-sponsored events were unconstitutional.
The court rejected an appeal of a US Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals decision that said the predominantly Christian prayers that began meetings of the Forsyth County Board of Commissioners in North Carolina were unconstitutional for violating the First Amendment's prohibition on government endorsement of a single religion.
The justices also refused to weigh the merits of a US Third Circuit Court of Appeals decision that ruled the recitation of a religious invocation at a monthly school board meeting in the Indian River School District in Delaware was unconstitutional.
The decision to reject the appeals means both lower court rulings will stand.
The Supreme Court previously held in 1983 that legislative bodies, such as Congress and state legislatures, may open their sessions with prayers. But the court has not explicitly ruled on whether other government bodies may do so at public events.
The court rejected the appeals without comment Tuesday.
"I'm surprised and disappointed," Mike Johnson, who argued Forsyth County's case at the Supreme Court, told the Winston-Salem Journal. "We really were expecting that the court would want to take a look at the case. I think that this leaves a very important constitutional law issue essentially unresolved. We believe that sometime soon, the Supreme Court will have to hear one of these cases to resolve the issue."
Daniel Mach, director of the ACLU's Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief, said he agreed with Tuesday's decisions.
"One of the most basic rights guaranteed to all Americans is a government that does not pick sides on matters of religion," Mach said in a statement. "Government-sponsored sectarian prayer is needlessly divisive, and with the end of this case, religious liberty has prevailed."
The anachronism of public service broadcasting
In last week’s Spectator, Charles Moore bemoaned the dumbing down of BBC Radio 3. In this week’s issue, several letters to the editor make the same point. Now, you may dismiss this as the snobbery of classical music afficionados. Or you might agree that Radio 3 presenters are indeed ruining the listening experience by telling you how you should feel about particular pieces of music (e.g. “blown away”) and entreating you to to email, text or tweet about what you are hearing. Frankly, I’m too much of a musical moron to have an opinion on the subject.
What this story really highlights is the futility of compulsorily funded “public service broadcasting”. The point of public service broadcasting is, one would assume, to address some failure in the broadcast market – to produce and air content which benefits the public, and which would not otherwise be produced or aired by commercial players. But if you buy this market failure argument, you have to concede that ‘public service broadcasting’ is likely to be a fairly elitist project. The intention may be to bring high culture to the masses, but in reality you will probably end up subsidising the tastes of the relatively wealthy and well educated with a tax paid largely by those who have no interest in such things. This is clearly a rather perverse outcome.
On the other hand, if you “dumb-down”, if you chase market share with populist programming, then the rationale for compulsorily funded public service broadcasting disappears. By way of illustration, let’s look at tonight’s broadcast schedule for the BBC 3 TV channel.
At 7pm, we get Pop’s Greatest Dance Crazes, “a top 50 countdown of the hippest, sexiest, quirkiest and campest dance crazes of the last 40 years.” At 8pm, it’s Don’t Tell the Bride, a reality TV show in which a man gets £12,000 to arrange his wedding, but isn’t allowed any contact with his wife-to-be while he does it: “Four weeks apart will push their relationship to the limit.” At 9pm, it’s How Sex Works, which is a documentary about twenty-somethings who get around a bit. At 10pm, it is time for Eastenders (a miserable soap opera), followed by documentary Bizarre Crimes (self-explanatory), and a series of cartoons imported from the US. If you are lucky enough to still be awake at 4.25am, you get to watch Cherry Healey look for “essential truths amongst the tales of sex and debauchery to see if losing your virginity is about more than just having sex for the first time.”
Can anyone really argue that programming like that justifies forcing television-owners, on pain of imprisonment, to pay £145.50 a year to a government agency? It’s a rhetorical question.
Public service broadcasting is caught between a rock and a hard place. If it sticks to its ‘market failure’ remit it will appear elitist and lose public support. If it chases a larger market, it will undermine any reasonable case for public funding. Ultimately, public service broadcasting and the licence fee that sustains it are an anachronism – something which might (just) have been appropriate when we had two TV channels and limited broadcasting spectrum, but no longer make sense in a world of thousand-channel satellite television and high-speed internet streaming. With almost limitless choice available at the click of a button, we don’t need government to entertain us, inform us, or filter our cultural diets for us. Curiously enough, the way that technology has democratized the media means that democracy itself no longer has any valuable role in broadcasting. It’s time the BBC and the government realized that.
Church of England faces court battle by dressup queen who claims he was blocked from becoming a bishop
A gay senior clergyman who claims he was blocked from becoming a bishop has threatened to take the Church of England to court.
Church sources say the Very Rev Jeffrey John, Dean of St Albans, believes he could sue officials under the Equality Act 2010, which bans discrimination on the grounds of sexuality. He has instructed a leading employment lawyer after being rejected for the role of Bishop of Southwark in 2010.
The dean is one of the most contentious figures in the church. In 2003 he was forced to step down as Bishop of Reading by Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams after it became known that he was in a gay, though celibate, relationship. The furore fuelled a bitter civil war within the Anglican Church that has dominated Dr Williams’s decade in office.
The dean was again a cause of infighting in 2010 when he was a candidate for Bishop of Southwark.
A respected theologian and former canon at Southwark Cathedral, he had strong backing from senior Church liberals and it was said even David Cameron was supportive.
But the Crown Nominations Commission, whose members are responsible for selecting bishops and include Dr Williams, appointed another candidate.
Dr John was said to be furious and his supporters’ anger was stoked by a memo by another member of the commission, the late Dean of Southwark Colin Slee, claiming Dr Williams was one of those who tried to ‘wreck’ Dr John’s chances.
Dr John has instructed Alison Downie, partner and head of employment at London lawyers Goodman Derrick, to write to the Commission to suggest it risks breaching gay equality laws if it is blocking the dean over his homosexuality.
Ms Downie previously acted for a gay youth worker who successfully sued the Church in 2008 after the Bishop of Hereford Anthony Priddis refused him a job.
It is understood there has been a lengthy correspondence between Ms Downie and Church lawyers in an attempt to resolve the dispute. No legal action has been launched but it is thought Dr John has not ruled out the possibility, although one source said Dr John suggested he would drop his legal threat if he felt he would not be ruled out for future posts.
Church lawyers published new guidelines last summer which said that under the Equality Act, candidates cannot be barred from senior Church posts because they are gay as long as they do not have sex.
The guidance added that candidates could be blocked if they were regarded as divisive because their views or behaviour had angered a significant number of their flock.
Ms Downie refused to comment last night. A Church spokesman also refused to comment.
Catholic midwives challenge British ruling on abortions
Two Roman Catholic midwives are taking a health board to court for allegedly failing to recognise their conscientious objection to supervising staff involved in abortions.
Mary Doogan, 57, and Concepta Wood, 51, told NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde they were not prepared to delegate, supervise or support staff who were looking after patients through “the processes of medical termination of pregnancy”. Their position was rejected by officials and they hope to have the ruling set aside in a judicial review.
The women claim the refusal to recognise their entitlement to conscientious objection violates their rights under Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
They say they “hold a religious belief that all human life is sacred from the moment of conception and that termination of pregnancy is a grave offence against human life”. Their involvement in the process would be wrongful and “an offence against God”.
Miss Doogan and Mrs Wood, both midwifery sisters at the Southern General Hospital in Glasgow, are seeking a ruling at the Court of Session in Edinburgh on their entitlement to conscientious objection under the 1967 Abortion Act. David Johnston QC, for the women, said the matter became an issue for the midwives, who were long-standing employees, in 2007.
They had both previously given notice of conscientious objection to any involvement in abortions and said they were not expected to participate in such treatment. But in 2007 the health board introduced changes that meant patients undergoing medical terminations were cared for in the labour ward, where the women worked. They were not expected to administer abortion-inducing drugs but management said requiring conscientious objectors to provide care for patients through a termination was lawful.
According to the court papers, Mrs Wood, of Clarkston, Glasgow, had to provide direct care to a patient undergoing the termination process, which caused her “considerable distress and anxiety” and resulted in her obtaining a transfer. Miss Doogan, of Garrowhill, Glasgow, has been absent from work through ill health since 2010 as a result of the dispute.
The hearing continues.
Last year, two Catholic nurses who had been told they could not refuse to work at an abortion clinic had the ruling dropped after claiming that the sanctity of unborn life was a philosophical belief protected under the Equality Act 2010.
Political correctness is most pervasive in universities and colleges but I rarely report the incidents concerned here as I have a separate blog for educational matters.
American "liberals" often deny being Leftists and say that they are very different from the Communist rulers of other countries. The only real difference, however, is how much power they have. In America, their power is limited by democracy. To see what they WOULD be like with more power, look at where they ARE already very powerful: in America's educational system -- particularly in the universities and colleges. They show there the same respect for free-speech and political diversity that Stalin did: None. So look to the colleges to see what the whole country would be like if "liberals" had their way. It would be a dictatorship.
For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, GREENIE WATCH, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, GUN WATCH, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, DISSECTING LEFTISM, IMMIGRATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL and EYE ON BRITAIN (Note that EYE ON BRITAIN has regular posts on the reality of socialized medicine). My Home Pages are here or here or here. Email me (John Ray) here. For readers in China or for times when blogger.com is playing up, there is a mirror of this site here.