Pledge Mother Speaks Out, Defense of Marriage Case & more

Pledge Mother Speaks Out, Defense of Marriage Case & more

In Today’s Edition:
  • ‘Pledge’ Mom Speaks Out: Confirms Daughter is a Christian
  • Trial date set in Atlanta House of Prayer case 
  • Lake Officials Deny Minister Permit to Perform Baptisms 
  • Georgia Supreme Court Upholds Defense of Marriage Act

‘Pledge’ Mom Speaks Out: Confirms Daughter is a Christian ... According to an AP report on the Fox News Channel, Sandra Banning, mother of the third-grader in the center of the Pledge of Allegience case, made her first public statement Thursday. “I was concerned that the American public would be led to believe that my daughter is an atheist or that she has been harmed by reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, including the words 'one nation under God,"' said Banning in a statement. "In our home we are practicing Christians and are active in our church."

AP says that Banning, who has full custody of her daughter, has never been married to the girl’s father, Michael Newdow. Newdow is also challenging the custody arrangement in court.

“Some legal experts said the mother's revelation that the girl herself willingly recites the pledge in class could cast doubts on the legitimacy of the case, giving the court grounds to dismiss it or send it to a lower court to weigh the allegations,” according to AP. Courts can only hear cases in which there is an injured party, and if there is no injury there is no grounds for a case, said Rory Little, a Hastings College of the Law professor who follows the 9th Circuit.

Banning said she hopes her efforts will lead to a reversal of the ruling. She said her daughter "expressed sadness" after the decision. "Because of her response and the potential impact of this case on her life, I have the responsibility as her mother to speak out, to set the record straight or clear up any misrepresentations," she said.

Trial date set in Atlanta House of Prayer case ... The Atlanta Journal Constitution (AJC) reports that the House of Prayer's Rev. Arthur Allen Jr. and four members of his congregation will go to trial in October on cruelty to children and aggravated assault charges. Six other church members who are also charged with cruelty to children and aggravated assault could be tried as soon as December. Judge T. Jackson Bedford Jr. said he wanted to split up the 11 defendants "for purposes of managing this case." Allen and 10 other members of the small, independent church in northwest Atlanta pleaded not guilty in March to the charges. All plan to represent themselves.

According to AJC, “charges against the church members are based on an incident near the end of February 2001. Two boys, then 10 and 7 years old, were held in the air and whipped by the adults at Allen's direction, leaving wounds on their torsos, according to a 14-count indictment.” The boys' parents are among the 11 charged, and two of them -- David and Sharon Duncan -- will go to trial in October.

Lake officials deny minister permit to perform baptisms ... Fort Custer Recreation Area officials are not happy that the waters of Eagle Lake in Augusta, Mich., are being used by Baptist minister William Stein for immersion baptisms, according to a report from AP. Stein sought permission to conduct baptisms at the lake on seven summer days, but was denied a use permit to do so.

The manager of the park, William M. Kosmider, told the Kalamazoo Gazette that groups have used Eagle Lake for baptisms in the past, but there have been problems in recent years. Last year, a large Christian group tried to block part of the beach and used a “powerful public announcement system that disturbed others.”

A Parks and Recreation policy asks religious groups wanting to solicit, canvass or proselytize in a state park to submit a request in writing, wear identification tags and abide by park rules. The policy also states that any church service approved in parks must not conflict with other park uses and "must reflect clearly that it is an interdenominational service, have a primary effect that neither advances nor inhibits a specific religion, and avoids excessive governmental entanglements."

According to AP, James Rodbard, president of the Southwest Michigan branch of the American Civil Liberties Union, said the permit denial appears to be based on the content of Stein's religious activity. Rodbard says the ACLU will assist Stein in obtaining use permits. "This is not a case where the government is sponsoring or endorsing religious activities," Rodbard said. "Rather it is one where government is denying a private group the right to engage in speech based on the content of the speech."

Georgia Supreme Court Upholds Defense of Marriage Act ... The Georgia Supreme Court unanimously agreed to let stand a ruling from the Georgia Court of Appeals that concluded that a Vermont civil union is not the equivalent of marriage, and even if a civil union were marriage, it may not be recognized as marriage in Georgia. The decision also upheld the Georgia Defense of Marriage Act, which limits marriage to one man and one woman. The case is known as Burns v. Burns.

The case was successfully defended on behalf of the former husband, Darian Burns, through his attorney Mathew D. Staver, President and General Counsel of Liberty Counsel. Susan and Darian Burns were divorced several years ago. Darian has custody of the three children and Susan retains visitation rights. The two entered into a Consent Decree Visitation Agreement which provided that neither party could have overnight stays with the children during such times as either one co-habited with an adult to whom he or she was not married.

On July 1, 2000, the State of Vermont enacted a civil union law, and on July 4, Susan and her female companion obtained a Vermont civil union and then returned to Georgia where they continue to reside. Susan then filed papers in court arguing she could visit the children while her lesbian companion was present because, she claimed, the two were now legally married. She argued before the Georgia Court of Appeals that the Vermont civil union was the equivalent of marriage and that Georgia should recognize it as such, that Georgia's Defense of Marriage Act was void, that the Federal Defense of Marriage Act was unconstitutional and that her right to privacy was violated. The Court rejected all these arguments.

Writing for a unanimous Court of Appeals, Judge Miller stated that Susan's position "has a flawed premise; she and her female companion were not married in Vermont but instead entered into a 'civil union'". The Court went on to say that "even if Vermont had purported to legalize same-sex marriages, such would not be recognized in Georgia, the place where the Consent Decree was ordered and agreed to by both parties …" The Court further noted that the Georgia Defense of Marriage Act "clearly states that it is the public policy of Georgia 'to recognize the union only of a man and woman. Marriages between persons of the same sex are prohibited in this state.'" Citing the Federal Defense of Marriage Act, the Court also noted that Georgia "is not required to give full faith and credit to same-sex marriages of other states."

The Court further noted that, "What constitutes a marriage in the State of Georgia is a legislative function, not a judicial one, and as judges we are duty-bound to follow the clear language of the statute. The Georgia legislature has chosen not to recognize marriage between persons of the same sex, and any constitutional challenge to Georgia's marriage statute should be addressed to the Georgia Supreme Court." Following this ruling, Susan asked the Georgia Supreme Court to reverse the decision. On July 15, 2002, a unanimous Georgia Supreme Court declined to disturb the Court of Appeals' decision.

This now brings to an end the first case in the country to rule that a Vermont Civil Union is not portable outside Vermont, that a state defense of marriage act may ban same-sex marriage, and that the Federal Defense of Marriage Act does not require one state to recognize out-of-state same-sex unions.