‘Atheists’ bus ad lawsuit continues, trial approaches

A court date concerning the NEPA Freethought Society’s rejected ‘Atheists’ bus ad is approaching following new court documents released on April 10, 2017.

In April of 2015, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and Schnader Harrison Segal & Lewis LLP representing the Northeastern Pennsylvania (NEPA) Freethought Society filed a free speech lawsuit against the County of Lackawanna Transit System (COLTS) following COLTS’ refusal to display a bus advertisement with the word ‘atheists.’ In July of 2015, COLTS filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit to which ACLU and Schnader responded. The motion to dismiss was denied in January of 2016. COLTS has since responded in February of 2016, and depositions took place in 2016.

Most recently — on April 10, 2017 — United States District Judge Malachy E. Mannion signed documents denying both parties’ summary judgments to resolve the issue outside of court. There will be a pre-trial conference and a trial date will be set.

Stay tuned for more updates and see past information concerning the lawsuit, some of which was linked above, here.

New documents are available below:

COLTS Summary Judgment Opinion

COLTS Summary Judgment Order

 

Video: Television appearance on religion in society

I recently appeared on the WFMZ-TV television program ‘Business Matters’ based in Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley representing the NEPA (Northeastern) Pennsylvania Freethought Society for the segment ‘What is the Role of Religion in Today’s Society?’

I appeared on a panel discussion alongside a Catholic representing the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, Evangelical Christian representing the Liberty Worship Center, a Muslim representing the Muslim Association of the Lehigh Valley, and a Jewish rabbi representing the Congregation of Brith Sholom.

I wasn’t able to offer lengthy thoughts because the panel was fast-paced, included many members, and tackled various topics, but I enjoyed the experience, was able to get my point across, and look forward to returning for a future episode. Thanks to the crew at WFMZ-TV and ‘Business Matters’ for the invitation. Thanks to Lehigh Valley Humanists for suggesting I appear on this program.

Watch the video below

on WFMZ-TV’s website:

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YouTube:

As always, feel free to comment below.

Upcoming television appearance on Business Matters

http://www.wfmz.com/
http://www.wfmz.com/

I will be appearing on WFMZ-TV Channel 69’s Business Matters program to present a secular humanist perspective on current events as part of a moderated interactive panel alongside religious leaders. The show — recorded on April 15, 2016 — will be released online following the studio taping.

The show will seemingly be released online on May 30, 2016 according to WFMZ’s website.

More information about the show:

Business Matters with Tony Iannelli, is the region’s only local business show on commercial television. Greater Lehigh Valley Chamber of Commerce President, Tony Iannelli, hosts this weekly program that airs Monday’s at 7:30pm on WFMZ-Ch. 69. WFMZ reaches 2.7 million cable, satellite, and over air with antenna households from Hazelton to the Jersey Shore.

Business Matters is a half-hour interview show that gets inside the minds of business and community leaders to talk about their successes and challenges, as well as regional public policy issues and world trends. Topics range from legislation affecting the business community (right to work; immigration, prevailing wage…) to community at large issues (gun rights, school vouchers, taxes…). The show has 4 panelists representing two sides of an issue. One-on-One programs with VIP’s include U.S. Senators Bob Casey and Pat Toomey, US Secretaries Hillary Clinton, Ray Lahood and PA Governor Tom Corbett…just to name a few!

Responding to criticism of church/state lawsuits

Protesting 2014 Circle the Square With Prayer event recognizing the government-sanctioned National Day of Prayer (front of sign)
Protesting 2014 Circle the Square With Prayer event recognizing the government-sanctioned National Day of Prayer (front of sign)

Brief thoughts concerning criticism of church/state lawsuits…

I was recently involved in a discussion with a humanist who portrayed lawsuits that organizations advocating for the separation of government and religion file as heavy-handed and antagonistic toward religious individuals. I’ll explain that lawsuits are often filed as a last resort and that religious individuals should not feel attacked.

I have worked alongside various legal teams on numerous church/state separation issues in the Northeastern Pennsylvania area. In each situation, they did not immediately file a lawsuit, but rather first sought to discover facts about an issue, speak with government officials, and work toward a resolution without need for a lawsuit. Many situations were resolved without legal action as government officials acknowledged a problem and made amends so that future violations would not happen. Lawsuits are filed as a final option when other means are exhausted.

My activism for the separation of religion and government largely began in 2009 when I challenged a prominent nativity scene featured on a county courthouse lawn. I worked alongside the ACLU and Americans United for the Separation of Church and State who corresponded with county officials to address this religious display which, rather than being inclusive, prominently featured a Christian viewpoint. The nativity and other decorations including a non-prominently placed menorah were removed and later replaced with a more inclusive display.

During this process, I received a good deal of vitriol from religious individuals. Although I was interviewed in various media outlets including television news and newspapers offering my desire for government neutrality on matters of religion, people were outraged claiming that their rights were being violated – unwilling to depart from a narrative of Christians being ‘under attack’ which was voiced by religious individuals including pastors in the area.421499_10150513069124327_502483225_n

Although there was no lawsuit in the case of the nativity scene and no need for legal action [because county officials remedied the issue by placing a more inclusive display], people falsely spread the lie that legal action occurred and one county official even claimed that since the county couldn’t afford a court challenge the nativity scene was initially removed although, again, no court challenge was necessary. Perhaps he was simply saving face, pandering, rather than admitting a violation had occurred…

Lawsuits are filed as a result of government entanglement with religion only when government officials refuse to remedy a violation following input from various organizations. Advocating for government neutrality on matters of religion isn’t attacking or antagonizing religious individuals, but is instead a stance looking for fairness. At the end of the day, some religious individuals will continue to frame lawsuits as persecution of religious individuals, but this simply isn’t the case. Religious believers can practice religion, but we secularists simply want governments out of that equation.