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Pennsylvania 'Year of the Bible' resolution challenged

An organization composed of atheists and agnostics on Monday filed suit [text, PDF] against Pennsylvania representatives over a state House resolution that declares 2012 as "The Year of the Bible," asserting [press release] that the law violates the principle of separation of church and state. Specifically, the Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF) [advocacy website], a Wisconsin-based "association of free thinkers," argues that House Resolution No. 535 [text, PDF], a one-page recognition of the Bible's "formative influence" in the Commonwealth, violates the Establishment Clause [Cornell LII backgrounder] of the First Amendment [text], which prohibits Congress from respecting an establishment of religion. States the lawsuit, "The Establishment Clause prohibits the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, its members and officers, from telling citizens which God to recognize, or which holy book to 'study,' much less directing citizens to 'apply its teachings.'" Originally offered by representative Rick Saccone [official website] as a "noncontroversial" resolution on January 23, the House of Representatives voted on HR 535 as part of a bundle of resolutions without debate. Saccone has not yet responded to FFRF's allegations.

The separation of church and state has been and remains a controversial issue [JURIST op-ed] in American courts. In January the US Supreme Court [official website] declined to review [JURIST report] a case concerning whether a North Carolina county board of commissioners violated the Establishment Clause by opening their public meetings with prayers. In July a federal judge ordered a Florida county courthouse to remove the Ten Commandments monument [JURIST report] displayed [JPG] on its front steps on grounds that the monument's "permanent" nature and religious message violated the Establishment Clause. In April 2010 a federal judge in Wisconsin famously ruled that Congressional legislation [text] from 1952 establishing a National Day of Prayer [advocacy website] was unconstitutional [JURIST report]. There, in receiving a grant of summary judgment, the FFRF successfully argued that, by passing the aforementioned statute, the government had improperly endorsed religion in violation of the Establishment Clause.

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Paper Chase is JURIST's real-time legal news service, powered by a team of 30 law student reporters and editors led by law professor Bernard Hibbitts at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law. As an educational service, Paper Chase is dedicated to presenting important legal news and materials rapidly, objectively and intelligibly in an accessible format.

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