Legal Updates


June 30, 2010

The American Humanist Association and its legal arm, the Appignani Humanist Legal Center, have weighed in on important court decisions that have come down the past two weeks, as well as the Senate confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan that are taking place this week. The following updates are comprised from recent AHA press releases.

Humanists Celebrate CLS vs. Martinez Decision

June 28, 2010

The American Humanist Association expressed enthusiastic approval today of the Supreme Court's affirmation of the 9th Circuit Court's decision allowing the California Hastings College of the Law to deny recognition to a Christian-only student group.
"The Supreme Court's decision in CLS v. Martinez recognizes the important purposes served by nondiscrimination policies at public universities. Equality, not religious based discrimination, is the core American principle here," said Bob Ritter, attorney and legal coordinator of the Appignani Humanist Legal Center.
"As the American Humanist Association asked in its friend of the court brief, the Court found that Hastings' ‘all comers' policy is a reasonable, viewpoint neutral condition for using the schools facilities, funds and channels of communication," said Ritter. "Consequently, the policy did not transgress First Amendment limitations."
The Christian Legal Society (CLS) sued the California Hastings College of the Law in 2004 after being barred from school funding, priority access to facilities and use of Hasting's logo. This ban was in response to the CLS's exclusion of non-Christians and gays from voting and leadership positions. The CLS was denied its exemption request from the school's non-discrimination policy, which prohibited student groups from discriminating on the basis of "race, color, religion, national origin, ancestry, disability, age, sex or sexual orientation." The District Court ruled this policy permissible and viewpoint neutral, an opinion echoed in the Supreme Court's decision.
"Although the First Amendment may protect the CLS's discriminatory practices off campus," wrote Justice John Paul Stevens in the concurring opinion, "it does not require a public university to validate and support them." In the majority opinion, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg also noted the group's capability to remain intact without official status and rejected the CLS's assertion that unsympathetic students could sabotage the Christian group and gain control.
"This decision is a victory for humanists and students alike," said Roy Speckhardt, executive director of the American Humanist Association. "Discrimination shouldn't be university-funded. With this ruling, students can remain confident that their tuition money won't be given to groups intending to exclude them."

The Senate Judiciary Committee Should Question Kagan's Church-State Record, Humanists Say

June 25, 2010

The American Humanist Association sent a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee today urging the committee to question Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan about her views on religious freedom and separation of church and state. Kagan's confirmation hearings are scheduled to begin on Monday.

"In particular, Kagan should be questioned on whether religious acknowledgements by government and religious symbols on government property violate the principle of government neutrality in matters of religion, as well as whether employment discrimination by faith-based groups in programs funded by government grants violate employment nondiscrimination laws," said Bob Ritter, attorney for the Appignani Humanist Legal Center, legal arm of the American Humanist Association. "Ultimately, it's unjust to exclude individuals from basic economic, civic and political opportunities of our society on the basis of religion or nonreligion, and it's important that Kagan acknowledge that those that don't believe in God should be protected just as any individual who is religious."

The letter, which was sent to Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Senator Patrick Leahy and ranking minority member Senator Jeff Sessions, is below.

Dear Chairman Leahy and Ranking Member Sessions,

I am writing to urge you to question Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan on her views on the Establishment and Free Exercise Clauses of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution during her confirmation hearings. Kagan's views on these matters remain relatively unknown, and obtaining more information regarding her stance on this issue is crucial before showing support. The following questions can provide answers to her judicial philosophy and fidelity to the Constitution:

1. Based on your understanding of American history and the proposals for a Bill of Rights in the First Congress, does the First Amendment embody the Jeffersonian principle of separation of church and state?

2. Does the neutrality principle often mentioned in Supreme Court Establishment Clause cases protect religious minorities and atheists, or do you subscribe to Justice Scalia's view that the First Amendment
only protects monotheists?

3. In your opinion, does "under God" in the Pledge, "In God We Trust" as the U.S. motto and other so-called acknowledgments that prefer monotheism over other religions and nonbelief violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment?

4. May religious organizations receiving government grants discriminate in hiring against atheists and gays?

5. Some critics have suggested that the Van Orden v. Perry and Salazar v. Buono cases have allowed religious displays on public property by contriving "secular purposes" for the displays that are not valid. What do you think of these cases, and do you feel that the "secular purposes" claimed in those cases are valid?

Thank you for your time and consideration.


David Niose
President, American Humanist Association

Roy Speckhardt
Executive Director, American Humanist Association

Bob Ritter,
Legal Coordinator and Staff Attorney, Appignani Humanist Legal Center


Humanists Dismayed with Philadelphia Boy Scouts Verdict

June 24, 2010

The American Humanist Association (AHA) voiced disappointment today in a US District Court verdict allowing a council of the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) to occupy a building owned by the city of Philadelphia rent-free, despite the city's attempt to end the lease because of the BSA's discriminatory policies. The verdict was handed down after the scouting council sued the city for attempting to end the lease due to BSA's discriminatory practices.
"The AHA is suggesting that everyone step back for a moment to consider how aggressive the BSA is willing to get in imposing its discriminatory policies on the public," said David Niose, president of the American Humanist Association. "This shows that the BSA not only wants the right to discriminate, but that it still expects special treatment despite its unfair prejudices.  As the scouts sue the public to obtain special privileges that other groups don't enjoy, we see in many ways that the BSA is no longer an example of model citizenship."
The BSA has historically remained unapologetic and deliberate in its exclusion of gay youths and troop leaders, and has also banned the participation of atheists and agnostics. Many groups, including the AHA, have urged the BSA to adopt inclusive policies, such as those of the Girl Scouts of America, that would allow participation by gays and nonbelievers. 
The BSA argued that the city's eviction attempt, which was based on a disagreement over the BSA discriminatory policies, was a violation of the BSA's own constitutional rights. The BSA further protested the city's offer to allow the group access to the building on the condition that rent be paid. 
"The BSA should be ashamed to demand free rent while at the same time continuing policies that discriminate against nonbelievers and gays," said Niose. "If they want to discriminate, they should have enough decency to pay their way like everyone else.  As a defiantly discriminatory organization, the BSA has lost its exalted status."
Though the city of Philadelphia cannot force the local BSA chapter to renounce the organization's policy banning homosexuals, reports state that the possibility of negotiation still remains as the city decides what step should be taken next. 
"We believe that the City of Philadelphia's non-discrimination policy fully comports with the American principle of equality and expect that the jury's decision will be reversed on appeal," said Bob Ritter, staff attorney and legal coordinator of the Appignani Humanist Legal Center. "It is totally indefensible for the Boy Scouts to discriminate against atheists and gays and receive substantial governmental benefits for doing so."