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AU Massachusetts Changed A Fifty Year Tradition
Just a little before 9:00PM on Tuesday night (2/24/2015) the Ashburnham-Westminster Regional School Committee voted to strike the Baccalaureate Service from the student handbook, and replace it with an "Evening of Reflection".
On Wednesday morning the principal and student Douglas J. Ciampi, Jr.I had a sit down interview on the issue, and the next morning (Thursday) the local newspaper, The Gardner News, carried the headline "Oakmont Ending Tradition" on the front page of both their print and online editions.
The change has already been formalized, and the next morning all Senior Class parents were sent an email alerting them of the change.
According to student Douglas J. Ciampi, Jr. It cannot be said enough how much Americans United assisted in this matter. It took the knowledge and information that AU provided to swing this from an issue for the Student Council to an issue for the School Committee, and bring it to a level where it was discussed community wide.
Douglas J. Ciampi, Jr. thanked AU very much for all of our assistance and advice over the past several months, Douglas J. Ciampi, Jr. said that we surely wouldn't be in the same position we are today if it wasn't for AU.
From The Gardner News - 2/26/2015
Oakmont Ending Tradition
By Joseph Benavidez
After 50 years of hosting a senior baccalaureate, Oakmont Regional High School will end the religious tradition. Instead, a more inclusive, student-driven program will take place this spring.
“Some people were resistant to the change,” Oakmont senior Douglas Ciampi said.
“In the end, we were able to come to a reasonable decision and agreement.”
“There will be aspects of the old tradition and we’ll create new traditions,” said Oakmont Principal David Uminski. Mr. Ciampi had suggested that school officials might want to replace the baccalaureate with an evening of reflection, saying the wording in the Oakmont handbook could be interpreted as a First Amendment violation.
According to the school handbook, the baccalaureate is "a non-denominational religious service. ...All seniors, parents and guests are welcome to attend. Semiformal attire is requested." This is a violation of the Establishment Clause in the Constitution, Mr. Uminski stated. The First Amendment, which prevents Congress from making laws enforcing a religious belief, also prohibits government and public organizations - including public schools - from sponsoring religious services. Since a graduation counselor with the high school had the responsibility of coordination the church-held baccalaureate, the event was said to have violated the students' Constitutional rights. "The first time (I read the handbook)," Mr. Ciampi said, "I didn't really think about it, but after remembering some Constitutional information something clicked."
Read the full story at: http://thegardnernews.com/main.asp...
Massachusetts Department of Revenue Given Additional Time to Respond to AU that Massachusetts Communities Must Stop Giving Taxpayer Aid to Houses of Worship
June 30, 2013 - The Massachusetts Department of Revenue has been given additional time to respond to the Massachusetts Chapter of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State (AU) that Massachusetts communities must stop giving taxpayer aid to houses of worship and that officials in Massachusetts must stop allowing communities to use taxpayer money to renovate houses of worship. The churches in question have active congregations and regularly hold worship services.
Earlier this year, Americans United received several complaints that Massachusetts municipalities were using funds under the Massachusetts Community Preservation Act to repair churches. This practice, Americans United asserts, violates both the U.S. and Massachusetts constitutions.
Massachusetts officials did not respond to AU’s April letter. On June 27th, 2013 the organization sent a follow-up letter to the officials requesting a response within 14 days or “we will be forced to consider further action. This is a serious and ongoing problem on a large scale, and deserves your prompt attention,” observes the letter.
In the April letter to officials at the Massachusetts Department of Revenue, AU Legal Director Ayesha N. Khan and Associate Legal Director Alex J. Luchenitser cited several examples of tax money being awarded to houses of worship.
Among them were the First Parish Church of Cohasset, which received $65,000 to restore its windows and three churches in Monson – one Catholic, one Methodist and one Unitarian Universalist – which received grants totaling $317,000 for things such as steeple renovations, interior work and repair of structural damage. Another church has received tax funding. Officials in Acton approved two grants totaling $45,000 to the West Acton Baptist Church.
Americans United points out that a provision of the Massachusetts Constitution clearly states that tax money may not be used for religious purposes.
The provision reads, “No grant, appropriation or use of public money or property or loan of credit shall be made or authorized by the Commonwealth or any political subdivision thereof for the purpose of founding, maintaining or aiding any infirmary, hospital, institution, primary or secondary school, or charitable or religious undertaking which is not publicly owned and under the exclusive control, order and supervision of public officers or public agents authorized by the Commonwealth or federal authority or both…and no such grant, appropriation or use of public money or property or loan of public credit shall be made or authorized for the purpose of founding, maintaining or aiding any church, religious denomination or society.”
Ellery Schempp at Harvard Divinity School
Following is an article
about Ellery Schempp, Vice-President of the Massachusetts Chapter of AU, highlighting his recent talk at the Harvard Divinity School. The article, "Bypassing the Bible" appeared in the Harvard Gazette. It points out that "For years, Dr. Moore and her students have debated the implications of landmark Supreme Court decisions in her “Religion, Democracy, and Education” course but they rarely get to dig past the scholarship to the actual names attached to those decisions - people like Ellery Schempp, a freethinking 16-year-old who, more than 50 years ago, decided to protest his suburban Pennsylvania high school’s mandatory daily Bible readings....“There are very few people who have won a Supreme Court case about First Amendment topics who come to Harvard Divinity School, and most of us are dead,” Schempp told his audience with characteristic bluntness. Schempp’s case, Abington School District v. Schempp (1963), effectively overturned laws in more than 30 states that endorsed or required Bible readings in public schools. You can read the entire article at:
House Bill H.391 (same as H.2715 in 2012 and H.317 in 2009)
is Stealth Anti-Science Legislation
Ron Madnick, President of AU-MA, testified on May 30th 2013 before the Joint Committee on Education against Massachusetts House Bill 391. His statement can be seen HERE.
House Bill H.2715 is Stealth Anti-Science Legislation
The statement below on House Bill H.2715 was presented to the Massachusetts State Legislature Joint Committee on Education on October 4th 2011 by Dr. Sam Kounaves, a Professor in the Departments of Chemistry and Geology at Tufts University, and a former two-term member of the Winchester School Committee.
As clearly pointed out by Ronal Madnick, President of Americans United for Separation of Church & State, this bill does not give students any more rights than are already allowed under the U.S. First Amendment and the Massachusetts Constitution. However, what this bill will do is allow students and teachers to promote, to captive K-12 audiences, religion as science.
HB 2715 institutes a policy that "...allows for .... student expression of religious viewpoints at school events ...... , in class assignments..." It directs school districts to "...treat such expression ... in the same manner as the expression of a secular or other viewpoint and prohibits the district from discriminating against a student based on his or her expressed religious viewpoint."
Part of the motivation for this bill is clear. Bill 2715 (the same as H.376 introduced in 2009) was originally crafted by Ms. Evelyn Reilly, the former public policy director of the Massachusetts Family Institute, an organization affiliated with James Dobson's Focus on the Family (FOF), and a member of its "family policy council". Indeed, MFI has links on its web site to FOF's DVD series The Truth Project (TTP). In the “science” lectures the TTP presents evolution as a "demonic lie" that is in "direct conflict with the Christian perspective", and identifies it as an example of a "godless philosophy". These lectures present anything but The Truth, and are rather the "perspective" of fundamentalists.
For years, it’s been a tactic of these groups to push for teaching the “strengths and weaknesses” of evolution in an effort bring religion into the science classroom. Similar bills have been introduced in several state legislatures. These “viewpoint anti-discrimination” bills are just another backdoor effort to make the established fact of evolution appear as a "guess" and on equal footing as creationism.
According to one of the bill's sponsors, State Rep Elizabeth Poirier of North Attleboro, "If it becomes law, the bill would allow students to discuss religion with classmates as they would any secular issue in school" (which they already can), she then goes on, "Perhaps in science class, when evolution is discussed, a student would be able to bring up creationism."(Cape Cod Times, 10/7/2009)
This bill was written and promoted by the MFI with the apparent intent of intimidating teachers, especially science teachers. This bill will allow students (perhaps with coaching from their parents) to express religious views in science classrooms, exams, and assignments. It would force biology teachers to give equal credit to students who, when asked questions about evolution, answer with religious views about creation. It will allow the promotion of creationism, intelligent design, and non-scientific views, as equally valid science. This bill will intimidate and inhibit teachers from teaching accepted science content.
As a scientist, educator, and former school committee member, and as a citizen of this commonwealth who passionately supports freedom of religion, I strongly oppose this bill.
Please see the letter opposing HB2715 sent by AU-MA to the Joint Committee and seven reasons why this is an ill-concieved bill.
UNITED- MASSACHUSETTS CHAPTER - ACTIVITES
Ron Madnick (President AU-MA) at the AU-MA table during Worcester Pride Celabration set up behind Worcester City Commons, September 17, 2011.
with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man
and his God; that he owes account to none other for his faith or
his worship; that the legislative powers of the government reach
actions only, and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence
that act of the whole American people which declared that their
legislature should `make no law respecting an establishment of religion,
or prohibiting the free exercise thereof," thus building a wall
of separation between church and State."
Thomas Jefferson, Danbury
purpose of separation of church and state is to keep forever from these
shores the ceaseless strife that has soaked the soil of Europe in blood
James Madison, letter objecting to the use of government land for churches,
compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of
opinions which he disbelieves and abhors, is sinful and tyrannical."
--Thomas Jefferson: Bill for Religious Freedom, 1779. Papers 2:545