Charles Haynes

  • September 7, 2012

    by Jeremy Leaming

    We’ve heard it for decades from the Christian Right that the nation’s public schools are hostile to religion, prohibiting students from praying or engaging in other religious activities. It is rhetoric that has helped fuel the so-called culture wars. The rhetoric is also blatantly misleading.

    There were a couple of U.S. Supreme court cases in the 1960s that prohibited organized religious activities in the public schools. But neither case, regardless of the shrill cries of Christian Right leaders, prohibited truly voluntary student prayer. The concept was fairly straight forward. Public school officials are government employees and the First Amendment’s establishment clause bars the government from demanding that people, including students, pray or engages in religious activity. The free exercise clause of the First Amendment provides that government must be neutral toward religion and cannot take undue action to interfere with religious practices.

    So those two high court cases – Engel v. Vitale and Abington v. Schempp – did not ban religion from the schools. Students can pray in school on their own time, such as moments before a test, or with other students, as long as such activity is not disruptive of the school’s mission to teach reading, writing, math, history, and science.  

    Nonetheless, those high court cases have been twisted by Christian Right lobbying groups, such as Focus on the Family, the Family Research Council, American Family Association, and TV preachers such as Pat Robertson, to help their campaign to portray America’s public places, even limited ones like public schools, as hostile to Christianity. Government officials they often argue are bent on banishing religion and Christianity in particular, from the public square.

    The misinformation has caused great confusion in the public schools about religion’s proper place. But the First Amendment Center’s Charles Haynes, director of the Religious Freedom Education Project at the Newseum, has spent decades trying to straighten things up.

    In a piece for the First Amendment Center’s website, Haynes says progress is being made.

  • December 30, 2011

    by Jeremy Leaming

    The year included some high-profile discussion, thanks to the Wall Street protests, of the nation's growing gap between the super wealthy and everyone else, and rightly so with study after study showing a clear trend of wealth redistribution to the top 1 percent of earners. (Though apparently large numbers of Americans are unaware or unconcerned about the hard truth.)

    But the year also included a heated debate much more recognizable to Americans – over ongoing religious-fueled controversies. Yet one probably wonders does it matter. Does religious strife, serious or superfluous, ever subside? More importantly, however, are the questions and concerns that have yet to be clearly resolved over the parameters of the Constitution's religious liberty clauses. 

    For example, as highlighted by Laurie Goodstein of The New York Times, some Catholic bishops are dumping certain tax-payer supported charities instead of complying with the federal government’s requirement that such programs be operated in a manner that does not discriminate against groups of people, such as lesbians and gay men. The bishops argue that their religious groups’ First Amendment right to the free exercise of religion is being subverted by the government’s demand that they provide adoption services to same-sex couples.

    Civil liberties groups, however, believe that the free exercise of religion does not mean that religious groups have an absolute right to trump the federal government’s power to enforce civil rights laws.

    The First Amendment Center’s Director of the Religious Freedom Education Project Charles Haynes highlights another strand of controversy, proclaiming anti-Muslim bigotry is the “religion story of the year.

    Haynes cites a recent decision by Lowe’s, a Home Depot competitor, to yank advertising from a “reality” television show, “All-American Muslim.” Lowe's pulled its ads at the behest of a “conservative Christian group called the Florida Family Association.” But Haynes notes this is just one controversy in a number of actions that have unfolded nationwide that expose a “growing anti-Muslim movement in the United States.” Haynes has noted anti-Mosque protests, and the efforts of state lawmakers to pass anti-Shariah legislation.

    Haynes notes, however, that supporters of religious freedom for all believers are pushing back in the face of an obstinate movement. (He reports that an array of religious groups is banding together to protest the decision by Lowe’s.)

  • December 3, 2010
    The Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery quickly cowered under political pressure, yanking a video from an exhibit showcasing gay artists, and in the process allowed free expression and artistic work to be trampled by tired cultural war tactics, notes First Amendment expert and scholar Charles C. Haynes.

    In a post for the First Amendment Center, Haynes reports that in late November the so-called Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights helped spark hysteria over a portion of the exhibit, a video by the late David Wojnarowicz that included "an 11-second image of a crucifix with ants crawling on it." The religious right organization, as Haynes, notes said the video amounted to so-called hate speech, and rallied conservative lawmakers in Congress to call for the Smithsonian to remove the video. Predictably, conservative lawmakers loudly demanded removal of the art work, and threatened the national museum's funding.

    The National Portrait Gallery describes the exhibit, called "Hide/Seek," as "the first major museum exhibition to focus on sexual difference in the making of modern American portraiture." The exhibit also includes works by Robert Mapplethorpe, Andy Warhol, Nan Goldin and Keith Haring.

  • September 11, 2010
    To mark the ninth anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, which took nearly three thousand American lives, First Lady Michelle Obama is urging Americans to follow her lead by serving others.

    In a White House e-mail, the first lady writes that we should all be inspired by the "heroism and selflessness of so many of my fellow Americans in the wake of this tragedy."

    She continues:

    From the brave men and women of Flight 93 who sacrificed their own lives to save the lives of others, to the first responders who rushed without hesitation to help those in need, to the young men and women who chose to join our Armed Forces following the attacks - these tragic events united Americans in a remarkable spirit of solidarity and compassion.

    It's that spirit of selflessness and service that inspired the first September 11th National Day of Service and Remembrance last year. On this day all Americans can honor the brave men and women who lost and risked their lives by serving others in their community.

    The e-mail notes that Mrs. Obama will be working with Mission Serve to help renovate a community center for veterans.

    First Amendment scholar Charles Haynes writes that he fears "acts of service meant to unify the nation may be overshadowed by acts of intolerance intended to divide. Haynes, director of the First Amendment Center's Religious Freedom Education Project, notes the planned anti-mosque rally in New York. "The New York event planned for 9/11," Haynes writes, "will feature speakers like Geert Wilders, a virulently anti-Islam Dutch lawmaker who says ‘there is no such thing as ‘moderate Islam'' and calls for banning the Quran - which he labels a ‘fascist book.'"

    But Haynes concludes:

    On this ninth anniversary of 9/11, Americans of goodwill can only hope that quiet acts of compassion will ultimately eclipse loud expressions of hate.

    It's a sentiment that Michelle Obama is today advancing.

  • August 18, 2010
    The rising rhetoric and increasing rallies aimed at disparaging Islam represent "a new threat to the religious freedom of Muslims in America," writes the First Amendment Center's Charles C. Haynes.

    Haynes, the director of the Newseum's Religious Freedom Education Project, notes that "anti-Muslim rhetoric has taken an ominous turn in recent months as a growing number of political and community leaders - some with tea-party affiliations - have begun warning of a ‘Muslim takeover' of America."

    Haynes cites numerous anti-Muslim rallies from Tennessee to California, including the loud opposition to the construction of an Islamic center in New York City.

    Haynes writes:

    In recent months, tea-party groups in New York have also helped organize opposition to mosques in Manhattan (the controversial plan to build an Islamic center two blocks from ground zero), Brooklyn and Staten Island. Tea-party meetings in Tennessee, Texas and California feature speakers warning of the ‘Islamization of America.'

    In an ironic twist reminiscent of the anti-Catholic rallies of the 19th century (warning against ‘Romanism' seeking ‘despotic control' of America), anti-mosque protests in Murfreesboro, Temecula and elsewhere feature groups of citizens invoking their First Amendment rights to freedom of speech and assembly to call for denying another group of citizens First Amendment protection.


    If the anti-mosque protests are any indication, Islamophobia - the fear and loathing of Islam as a ‘violent political ideology' - is a growing threat to religious freedom in the United States. And in many communities, some tea-party activists are actively encouraging and supporting this dangerous trend.