HARRISBURG, Pa. (RNS) A federal judge on Monday (Oct. 1) dismissed a lawsuit filed by an atheist group that challenged a "Year of the Bible" resolution passed early this year by Pennsylvania lawmakers.
Yet U.S. Middle District Judge Christopher C. Conner also questioned whether the resolution should have been adopted at all. The nonbinding resolution, introduced by state Rep. Rick Saccone, urges Pennsylvanians to read the Bible during 2012.
The judge dismissed the suit by the Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation after concluding that House members have "absolute legislative immunity" in passing such measures.
Conner emphasized, however, that his decision to grant immunity "should not be viewed as judicial endorsement for this resolution. It most certainly is not."
"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.
He called the resolution's language "proselytizing and exclusionary," and said the measure "pushes the envelope" of the separation of church and state.
"At a time when the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania faces massive public policy challenges, these (government) resources would be far better utilized in meaningful legislative efforts for the benefit of all of the citizens of the commonwealth, regardless of their religious beliefs."
Saccone, a Republican from the southwest corner of the state, praised the dismissal of the suit, but called Conner's assertion that the resolution butts against constitutional religious freedom protections "nonsense."
"This has been done hundreds of times," he said. "We have a National Day of Prayer. 'In God we Trust' is on our money."
Annie Laurie Gaylor, co-president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, called the outcome of the case a "Pyrrhic victory for the Legislature," given Conner's criticism of the resolution.
The judge's comments about the case "are exactly what we think," Gaylor said. "I hate to lose a lawsuit, but this is kind of a silver lining in it."
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