Atheists are challenging plans to include a 17-foot, cross-shaped beam that became a famous symbol of Ground Zero after 9/11 in a display at the national memorial museum that is scheduled to open this spring.
In arguments before the the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Thursday (March 6), American Atheists’ lawyer Edwin Kagin said the cross should go back to St. Peter’s Catholic Church, where it spent some time on display, not in a museum built with a mix of public and private funds.
Last year, a lower court rejected a lawsuit filed in 2011by the New Jersey-based American Atheists that said the cross was an unconstitutional establishment of religion.
In his appeal, Kagin said his organization is seeking a similar object to be displayed at the museum, something like a plaque that would say “atheists died here, too.”
“We’re arguing for equal treatment in some way, whatever that might be,” Kagin said after the hearing.
Questions raised by the three-judge panel included whether similar treatment would be needed in a place like the Holocaust Museum, a museum that includes Jewish artifacts but would not be considered an endorsement of Judaism.
The beam was found by rescue workers two days after the terrorist attacks, and it is scheduled to be displayed among 1,000 artifacts in a 100,000-square-foot underground museum. Mark Alcott, a lawyer representing the National September 11 Memorial & Museum, said the artifacts all come from the days surrounding 9/11.
“The museum is a display of history,” Alcott said after the hearing. “Religion was a very important part of it, in this case.”
In his argument for American Atheists, Kagin suggested that the cross became a form of worship for many. American Atheists President David Silverman has previously called it a “working Christian shrine.”
“We’re worried about the alienation of atheists,” he said. “We’re deeply concerned this cross gives one story, and that’s for Christians.”
The judges asked whether a religious artifact in a museum would cause confusion about its current state. “Why can’t an objective observer see it as a religious artifact that was transferred to a secular environment?” Judge Reena Raggi asked.
Raggi also asked Alcott why an object couldn’t be added for atheists. “There’s no constitutional requirement the cross has to be balanced by something else,” Alcott responded. “The museum is not a proponent or opponent of religion.”
Last month, the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty filed an amicus brief in defense of the museum’s right to display religious objects in its private exhibit and challenging American Atheists’ right to sue in the first place.
Construction worker Frank Silecchia discovered the beam In the smoldering wreckage of the World Trade Center towers. Silecchia told the Today Show that the cross comforted him, and it soon became a rallying point for first responders. “I was already working 12 hours. I was quite weary and the cross comforted me,” Silecchia said.
“I never stood here before any media and said it’s about religion,” Silecchia said. “But I say it’s about faith — the faith that was crushed on 9/11.”
A decision from the Court of Appeals could take several months.
Courtesy Religion News Service. Used with permission.
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission issued new, detailed guidelines for employers Thursday (March 6) as the number of complaints and million-dollar settlements for cases of religious workplace discrimination neared record levels in 2013.
An EEOC spokesperson, Justine Lisser, said Thursday that the 20-year trend shows “a persistent uptick in religious discrimination charges that continues unabated.” Complaints have more than doubled since 1997. Lisser also said that representatives of religious groups have asked for more EEOC outreach in this area.
There have been guidelines in the past but the EEOC spelled out workplace rights and responsibilities in a new question-and-answer guide and accompanying fact sheet.
The new guidelines detail how businesses with more than 15 employees must accommodate workers with “sincerely” held religious beliefs — and unbelievers who “sincerely” refuse religious garb or insignia. Businesses cannot refuse to interview a Sikh with a turban or a Christian wearing a cross. Neither can they limit where employees work because of their religious dress.
In 2013, Umme-Hani Khan won her case against Abercrombie & Fitch, filed in 2011, after a supervisor said she didn’t fit the model look for their San Mateo, Calif., store because she wore a headscarf.
Workers must be accommodated for refusing to wear certain garments, such as an Orthodox Jewish woman declining to wear a short skirt. And more than clothing is at issue: Employers must allow Rastafarians, for example, to wear their hair in dreadlocks.
It is not relevant if a belief or practice is newly adopted by an employee who suddenly grows a beard or seeks leave for holiday worship.
Title VII, which is enforced by the EEOC, “defines religion very broadly to include not only traditional, organized religions such as Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Sikhism, but also religious beliefs that are new, uncommon, not part of a formal church or sect, only subscribed to by a small number of people, or may seem illogical or unreasonable to others.”
The rules apply to the sincerely unreligious as well, as long as these views relate to “what is right or wrong that are sincerely held with the strength of traditional religious views.”
The only exceptions are whether the clothing or grooming practice is unsafe or places “undue hardship to the operation of an employer’s business.”
The guidelines cited multiple examples including three settled in 2013:
* An Albuquerque, N.M., hotel that would not allow a woman to work in housekeeping unless she removed her Muslim headscarf.
* A Newark, N.J., auto dealership that refused to hire a Sikh salesman unless he shaved his beard to suit the dealership dress code.
* A fast-food outlet in Laurinburg, N.C., that sought to force a Pentecostal Christian food service employee to wear uniform pants even when her faith teaches women should only wear skirts or pants.
Employers can’t stash people out of sight because of their garb or grooming, and they can’t allow any harassment by fellow employees.
According to the EEOC, in fiscal year 2013, the commission received 3,721charges alleging religious discrimination, more than double the 1,709 charges received in fiscal year 1997.
The costs are rising as well. In 2013 monetary settlements for workplace religious discrimination reached $11.2 million, ranking just below the record of $14.1 million in 2001 and $12.6 million in 2011.
Courtesy Religion News Service. Used with permission.
Korean-American missionary Kenneth Bae has been detained by the North Korean government for more than a year, reports Charisma News, but the United States is hopeful about his case. Two trips to North Korea planned by Ambassador Robert King have been cancelled, and King admits that the U.S. is unsure whether to refer North Korea to the International Criminal Court (a move that could be blocked by China, a chief ally of North Korea). Last month the United Nations panel reported on many crimes against humanity taking place in North Korea that “evoked Nazi-era atrocities.” The North Korean response to the U.N. findings was denial, and officials claim that the findings were based on “lies and fabrications” from hostile sources. Bae is currently serving a 15-year sentence of hard labor after being charged with attempts to “overthrow the state.”
Australian missionary John Short, however, was freed this week after being arrested in North Korea last month for distributing religious literature. North Korea made the decision to deport Short back to his home after considering his advanced age (he is 75) and a note he wrote apologizing for his actions.
Bill Gothard, an Illinois-based advocate for home schooling and conservative dress who warned against rock music and debt, has resigned from the ministry he founded after allegations of sexually harassing women who worked at his ministry and failing to report child abuse cases.
Gothard’s resignation from the Institute in Basic Life Principles, according to a letter sent to families affiliated with the ministry he founded, comes a week after he was put on administrative leave. According to an organizer involved in the whistle-blowing website Recovering Grace, 34 women told the website they had been sexually harassed; four women alleged molestation.
RNS spoke with several women who alleged they were sexual harassed, including one woman who alleged that Gothard molested her when she was 17.
Gothard is 79 and single.
Gothard told the Board of Directors he wanted to listen to those who made accusations against him, according to an email sent from David Waller, administrative director of the Advanced Training Institute to families involved in the ministry.
“Most recently, Mr. Gothard communicated to the Board of Directors his desire to follow Matthew 5:23-24 and listen to those who have ‘ought against him,’” Waller’s email said. “To give his full attention to this objective, Mr. Gothard has resigned as president of the Institutes in Basic Life Principles, its Board of Directors, and its affiliated entities.”
In the Bible, Matthew 5:23-24 says, ”Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.”
Waller said the two institutes will continue under interim leadership, including upcoming conferences in Nashville and Sacramento under ATI president Chris Hogan.
Gothard’s ministry had been a popular gathering spot for thousands of Christian families, including the Duggar family from TLC’s “19 Kids and Counting.” Gothard’s Advanced Training Institute conferences were also popular among families within the Quiverfull movement, who eschew birth control and promote big families.
Gothard has also rubbed shoulders with Republican leaders. He and former presidential candidate Mike Huckabee were photographed at a campaign lunch together; former Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue spoke at one of Gothard’s conferences; and Sarah Palin, when she was a small town mayor in Alaska, attended his International Association of Character Cities conferences declaring Wasilla among Gothard’s “Cities of Character.”
The allegations against Gothard dovetail with financial woes. In recent years, IBLP’s net revenue has dropped significantly, and the ministry is losing money. Between 2009 and 2012, it lost $8.6 million. Its net assets dropped from $92 million in 2010 to $81 million in 2012. It held 504 seminars in 2010, but that number dropped to fewer than 50 in 2012.
Courtesy Religion News Service. Used with permission.