Pa. Judge Dismisses Lawsuit Against 'Year of the Bible,' Calls Resolution a 'Waste'

A district court judge in Philadelphia recently dismissed a lawsuit filed by an atheist organization against the Pennsylvania State Legislature for passing a resolution designating 2012 as the "Year of the Bible." However, the judge described the resolution as "proselytizing and exclusionary" and suggested it was an election-year gimmick.

U.S. District Judge Christopher Conner dismissed the case Monday on the grounds of legislative immunity, but also chastised lawmakers for "pandering," calling their "Year of the Bible" resolution a "waste of legislative resources."

Conner told the court on Monday that he threw out the case because House members have "absolute legislative immunity" in passing such measures.

However, the judge added that he was unsure if the resolution should have been approved in the first place, saying that his ruling "should not be viewed as judicial endorsement for this resolution. It most certainly is not."

Conner went on to call the language in the resolution "proselytizing and exclusionary" and bordering on the lines of unconstitutional according to the separation of church and state.

"At worst, [the Bible resolution] is premeditated pandering designed to provide a re-election sound-bite for use by members of the General Assembly," Conner wrote in his decision, according to The Patriot News.

According to The Philadelphia Inquirer, Pa. Rep Rick Saccone (R), who authored the resolution, said he was happy with the court's decision on legislative immunity, telling the newspaper, "What we did was not novel or controversial. It recognized the role of the Bible in history."

Likewise, Dan Barker, co-president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF), the atheist/agnostic organization that filed the lawsuit, said that his Madison, Wisc.-based organization was pleased with the ruling, as it recognized the argument that the resolution was overbearing to those who do not practice Christianity.

"We feel Rep. Saccone and others were abusing authority to promote their religion and using it to pander to the religious right," Barker told The Philadelphia Inquirer.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation filed suit with the Pennsylvania House of Representatives in March 2012 over the state's House resolution that declared 2012 to be the "Year of the Bible."

The resolution, which passed the House unanimously on Jan. 2012, declared the Christian Bible to be of "formative influence" on the founding of the United States.

The FFRF issued a statement on its official website shortly after filing the lawsuit arguing that the "Year of the Bible" resolution forced "direct and unwanted exposure" of religion on Pennsylvania residents, creating a "hostile environment."

The FFRF is reportedly contemplating whether to appeal the court's decision.

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