HARRISBURG, Pa. (CN) – The Freedom From Religion Foundation sued the state representative who introduced a resolution declaring 2012 the “Year of the Bible” and declaring “our national need to study and apply the teachings of the holy scriptures” – a bill the state House passed unanimously, 193-0.
The Madison, Wisc.-based foundation sued state Rep. Rick Saccone, R-Jefferson Hills, and also sued the parliamentarian and chief clerk of the state House, on constitutional grounds, in Federal Court.
The House passed Saccone’s House Resolution 535 on Jan. 24.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation says the resolution “violates the Constitution by expressly giving the government’s endorsement to religion, and not just religion in general, but specifically to the Judeo-Christian principles of the Bible.”
The complaint quotes in its entirety the 8-paragraph resolution, which the foundation maintains wrongfully “exhorts citizens and government officials to ‘study and apply the teachings of the Holy Scriptures.'”
Among the highlights of HR 535: “The Bible, the word of God, has made a unique contribution in shaping the United States as a distinctive and blessed nation and people;” and “This nation now faces great challenges that will test it as it has never been tested before;” and “WHEREAS, Renewing our knowledge of and faith in God through holy scripture can strengthen us as a nation and a people; therefore be it
RESOLVED, That the House of Representatives declare 2012 as the ‘Year of the Bible’ in Pennsylvania in recognition of both the formative influence of the Bible on our Commonwealth and nation and our national need to study and apply the teachings of the holy scriptures.”
The complaint states: “H.R. 535 improperly proclaims the Bible to be ‘the word of God,’ as a matter of governmental determination; [but] the Pennsylvania House of Representatives has no such authority or right to determine what is ‘the word of God,’ or if there is a ‘word of God,’ or if there is a ‘God.’
“H.R. 535 also incorrectly alleges that the Bible has ‘made a unique contribution in shaping the United States.’
“In fact, the United States was founded not on the Bible, but on a secular and Godless Constitution, which grants sovereignty not to a deity or a ‘holy book,’ but to ‘We the People.'”
The foundation wants the defendant enjoined from “further publication and public distribution of H.R. 535,” ordered “to undertake corrective actions to publicly report the unconstitutionality of H.R. 535,” and a judicial declaration “that the theocratic principles of the Bible do not constitute the official, preferred, or endorsed religion of the State of Pennsylvania … that the government of the State of Pennsylvania is not Judeo-Christian [and] … that the actions of the defendants violate 42 U.S.C. §1983.”
The foundation also wants the defendants enjoined from enacting any other resolutions which establish or endorse a state-sanctioned religion.
According to the complaint, some members of the state House have complained since the vote that the resolution was not, as Saccone claimed, uncontroversial, but is controversial, and that some voted unknowingly for it because it was “a buried item in a bundle of unrelated resolutions.”
The foundation claims the bill creates a hostile environment for non-Christians in the state.
It says the House vote was “particularly ironic” because Pennsylvania was founded by William Penn as a refuge for people seeking religious tolerance. They claim the resolution “is a rebuke to the legacy of Penn, one of the earliest champions of freedom of conscience”.
The foundation is represented by Lawrence Otter of Doylestown, Pa., and Richard Bolton, of Madison, Wisc.