Ten Commandments takedown
The Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF) successfully pressured an Ohio town to remove the Ten Commandments from a public park this month.
The Steubenville, Ohio, City Council opened its Aug. 14 meeting in prayer. Moments later, City Manager James Mavromatis urged the council to remove a small Ten Commandments plaque from a city park. The FFRF had sent him a letter on Aug. 10 threatening heavy financial obligations if the city did not remove the plaque. The council quickly agreed.
It wasn’t the first time the FFRF targeted Steubenville, a town on the western shores of the Ohio River.
Six years ago, the Wisconsin-based organization sent a similar warning to Mayor Domenick Mucci and the Steubenville City Council. The letter argued that the proposed logo, a silhouette of the city’s skyline that included the Franciscan University of Steubenville and its “Latin cross,” constituted an unconstitutional endorsement of Christianity.
FFRF peppers the nation with letters threatening legal action against entities that can least afford it, like small taxpayer funded cities and schools. Those that fight for their freedom of speech, like the city of Bloomfield, N.M., are left holding the bill for legal fees when the U.S. Supreme Court refuses to hear their plea. The American Civil Liberties Union filed the lawsuit against Bloomfield, but the FFRF cited the case and the city’s $700,000 legal tab in the letter to Steubenville.
Contrary to FFRF’s claims, the constitutionality of government display or sponsorship of religious symbols is not settled law. The U.S. Supreme Court is at odds with itself on the issue. Steubenville council members would do well to educate themselves on their rights before acting on FFRF threats that could leave the city without a prayer. —B.P.
Illegal highs, spiritual lows
A marijuana-fueled organization claiming to be a church ran up against the limits of religious freedom this month.
The city of Jurupa Valley, Calif., can legally shut down The Vault Church of Open Faith, according to an Aug. 15 ruling. Riverside County Superior Court Judge Sunshine Sykes declared the enterprise an illegal pot dispensary. The city has not yet acted on the ruling.
When California legalized medical and recreational marijuana use in 1996 and 2018, respectively, pot dispensaries cropped up throughout the state. Following the law, Jurupa Valley banned pot sales within town limits and, in 2017, filed a lawsuit asking the court to declare The Vault an illegal dispensary.
Then The Vault operators got religion.
Days after recreational marijuana went on sale in January, The Vault became a state-registered church and declared marijuana its holy sacrament.
But it was the church’s price lists, complete with veteran and senior discounts, that tipped city officials to the suspicious nature of their allegedly religious practice.
In an effort to dodge municipal laws against the sale of marijuana, dispensaries across the state had a collective epiphany and rebranded themselves as churches. For a “tithe,” congregants can partake of various marijuana products. Local and state authorities are cracking down on the suspect sacrament. —B.P.
Charges dropped against Army chaplain
A chaplain who declined to teach at a marriage conference that would have included a homosexual couple won his case this month.
U.S. Army officials rejected dereliction of duty charges levied against Chaplain Jerry Scott Squires on Friday. Squires faced possible court martial for unlawful discrimination after he deferred leadership of the marriage conference to another chaplain because a married lesbian couple registered for the event.
Kacie Griffin, Squires’ assistant, was also cleared of wrongdoing.
The original investigation was fraught with anti-religious bias, Squires’ attorneys with First Liberty said. Squires’ endorsing agency, the North American Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention, prohibits their chaplains from participating in activities that affirm homosexual relationships, and the Department of Defense requires chaplains follow their agencies’ faith tenets.
Prayerful support for Squires crossed denominational lines, said Gen. Douglas Carver, NAMB executive director of chaplaincy, which commissions more than 1,600 Southern Baptist military chaplains.
“We are here to ensure that our chaplains can exercise their religious freedom and model the tenets of our faith as Southern Baptists in an uncompromising and Christ-honoring manner," Carver said. —B.P.