The prevailing U.S. Supreme Court precedent, a 1989 decision ordering down a creche in front of a Pittsburgh government building, does not permit nativity scenes at public buildings. Nevertheless, late last year the Warren County Board of Supervisors gave Dorothy Sullivan permission once against to put her creche in front of the county courthouse, alleging the courthouse lawn is "a public forum." Nor did the Board require her to fill out an application which else anyone who wants to use the courthouse lawn must sign.
Ray Gordon has been challenging this practice for several years, often encountering stumbling blocks and defacement when he tried to place an "equal time" sign.
Last Christmas season, Ray placed a sign containing the wording for counter-monuments suggested by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, reading:
"There are no gods, no devils, no angels, no heaven or hell. There is only our natural world. Religion is but myth and superstition that hardens hearts and enslaves minds."
Ray, unlike the Christian woman, had to submit an application, and was given approval.
In December 1996, the ACLU filed a lawsuit against the county on Ray's behalf after the Board interfered with his attempt to place a similar sign on the courthouse lawn. Ray was given permission, and in February 1997 the lawsuit was dismissed after the Board voted to call the courthouse lawn a "public forum."
He confides that he initially thought about "rusting on his laurels" and not challenging the manger scene last December.
"I changed my mind because my wife told me I shouldn't give in to these people. She said just because you're getting old, you shouldn't lie down and play dead."
Ray said he is "very proud" of his wife, who "has been a devout Episcopalian for most of her life."
Although his freethought sign was not defaced, he receive "quite of a lot of Xmas cards from local churches."
A nasty letter published in the Warren Sentinel was headlined "Scrooge Gordon Strikes Again."
Mr. Gordon replied: "There is little 'love and understanding' in O'Neill's letter or in your headlining of it. But, as I recall, my sign said, 'Religion . . . hardens hearts. . ."
His sign was clearly visible from the main courthouse walkway, he writes. "Incredibly, my sign remained up the entire time and was not defaced, taken down or destroyed as in years past."
U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis ruled that the grassy island outside the government buildings at Fair Lakes is a "limited public forum." Rita Warren, 70, described as a "combative and deeply religious woman" by Washington Post reporter Brooke A. Masters, has fought the county for two years to mount her display.
Incredibly, the ruling drew immediate criticism from the ACLU, which ignored the Establishment Clause issue at stake to argue that the government area is a "public forum." Warren in fact has been backed in her battle by the ACLU.
It costs taxpayers $50 a day--about $6,000 for a 120-day session--to pay a rotating group of chaplains to daily invoke supernatural guidance. Taxpayers fork out $25 for a daily House prayer, and $25 for a daily Senate blessing.
The House rotates six chaplains: 1 Jewish, 1 Catholic, and 4 Protestant. The Senate uses two: 1 Protestant and 1 Jewish. Both houses voted unanimously at the start of the year to continue the practice of subsidizing legislative prayer.
The always pious Rocky Mountain Times ran an editorial taking umbrage at the Freedom From Religion Foundation in its January 7 issue:
"Members of these groups seem to find meaning in their lives through a tireless crusade to banish every vestigial reference to religion . . . The Freedom From Religion Foundation is the singleminded group, for example, that has fought for years to have the Ten Commandments monument uprooted from state-owned ground and that filed a lawsuit in 1993 to [successfully] prevent the mayor of Denver from joining area clergy in a privately funded day of prayer to end youth violence.
"Live and let live? With these zealots, such an easy-going secular creed doesn't have a prayer."
Foundation member Bob Fenn responded with a letter published on Jan. 13, noting, in part: "Shame on the Colorado legislature. In an era that seeks improved government service, they instead last year voted themselves $6,000 worth of prayer lip service. Ironically, that is the same legislature that cut welfare spending to the poor.
"And shame on the preachers, too! They should practice what they preach, that is helping the poor instead of feeding at the public trough. As the U.S. Supreme Court once said, when religion gets involved with government, it becomes demeaning to both institutions."
The Colorado State Constitution, Art. IX, Sect. 7, clearly forbids any public money being used "for any sectarian purpose."
Letters to the editor can be directed to The Rocky Mountain News, 400 Colfax Ave., Denver CO 80204, fax (303)892-2568. (Thanks especially to Victoria McCoy and Bob Fenn for updates.)
The city received at least 75 complaints, many containing antiSemitic slurs directed at members of the Jewish community who had complained.
U.S. Sen, Jim Inhofe, R-Tulsa, offered to call in the American Center for Law and Justice to defend the "constitutional right of firefighters" to endorse Christianity on public property.
In a cute twist, the firefighters union, unhappy over Inhofe's antiunion voting record, chastised him for interfering and announced the station had no quarrel with the mayor, and agreed with the city attorney.
City Attorney David Pauling said: "Tulsa's fire stations are not public forums for free speech purposes. They are job sites for Tulsa's firefighters.
"The government doesn't have the right to post a Christian belief in a nonpublic forum such as the exterior of a public building."
Court Considers Scout Case The California Supreme Court heard oral arguments on January 5 in appeals of two cases challenging discrimination by Boy Scouts of America.
William and Michael Randall, now 16-years-old, were expelled in 1991 from their Orange County troop for not being religious. A Superior Court judge in 1992 and an appeals court in Santa Ana upheld their readmittance, citing California's Unruh Civil Rights Act prohibiting business from discriminating on the basis of religion.
As the twins work toward earning their Eagle Badges, the Boy Scouts continue to fight their right to be members, backed by California Attorney General Dan Lungren, who submitted a brief in support of the discrimination.
Also argued before the state supreme court was a conflicting decision over the dismissal of an Explorers volunteer because he is gay.
A ruling is expected in March.
The committee refused to withhold money from any GOP candidate, such as New Jersey Gov. Christie Whitman, who won't support a ban on one rare method of late abortion, dubbed "partial birth abortion" by the Christian Coalition.
Columnist Frank Rich of the New York Times recently editorialized: "The Christian Coalition is off the media screen, except as an object of ridicule in the hit movie 'Scream 2'; its contributions are down, its staff downsized, its much-publicized outreach to inner cities jettisoned." Rich contends that while Pat Robertson "is busy counting the zillions from the sale of his Family Channel to Rupert Murdoch" and Ralph Reed has become a hired political gun, Bauer has moved in to fill--so far unsuccessfully--the vacuum.
The mother, a follower of Santeria, and the victim's 20-year-old sister, have been arrested. School friends reported Charity was a friendly, good student, who had lost weight and missed school recently, but had received no medical care.
According to the New York Times, after the killing, the victim's mother and two sisters joined hands, listened to a Frank Sinatra recording, prayed, and read Revelations aloud.
Daril R. Collins, 23, of Barbourville, died after his wife refused to give consent for medical treatment, and while medics awaited a court order approving treatment. Devotional snake-handling, promoted in the Book of Mark, is a crime in Kentucky, but officials almost never pursue charges.
"It's a matter of conscience," Horton intoned. "How can I deny the philosophy that it is better for women to be home nurturing?"
Such reasoning did not prevent Horton from leading the fight last session in Michigan welfare changes to force welfare mothers of infants back to work.
It specifically apologized for more than 80 of the church-run, government-funded schools operated for yearly a century, beginning in the 1880's. Investigations have revealed numerous incidents of rapes, beatings, suicides, suspicious deaths and humiliating punishments.
"To those individuals who experienced the tragedy of sexual and physical abuse . . . and who have carried this burden believing that in some way they must be responsible, we wish to emphasize that what you experienced was not your fault and should never have happened," said Indian Affairs minister Jane Stewart.
She pledged $245 million for counseling and treatment programs for victims of abuse at religious schools.
Among Rev. Bill Phipps' statements are admissions he does not know if heaven or hell exist, the bible does not contain only literal truth and historic fact, and "I don't believe Christ was God." Some critics in his 3 million-member church have called for the resignation of the Toronto native, who was elected last August to a three-year term. The liberal UCC approved ordination of women in 1936, and called homosexuality no impediment to ordination in 1988.
At a news conference he called shortly after the early December shooting, Rev. Paul Conner said he had confirmed Michael Carneal last May, according to the New York Times news service.
"I'm firmly convinced Michael Carneal is a Christian. He's a sinner, yes, but not an atheist."
In a thoughtful column ("Does God require their aid?" Charleston Daily Mail, West Virginia, Dec. 17, 1997), L.T. Anderson wrote:
"When students were shot and killed while praying in the lobby of their public school in Kentucky, it didn't go unnoticed that the students might have been participating in an organized religious service in defiance of the U.S. Supreme Court."
He added: "The Paducah prayers do seem to have been a structured exercise, which would run afoul of several First Amendment rulings by the court."
Last October, Rev. Mike Flippo was also convicted of murdering his wife by beating her to death, and was sentenced to life in prison. The family is still struggling to raise money to help the 17-year-old teenager, who nearly died following surgery, and has suffered brain damage.
Rumors are flying that Chen is encouraging families to kill themselves so their bodies can be picked up by flying saucers, although Chen denies he plans a mass suicide.
Chen claims to be the father of Jesus Christ and says God will assume his body at 10 a.m. (central time?) on March 31. Then, Chen predicts, God will step onto Earth and look just like Chen! God will announce his arrival on March 25 during a commercial-free appearance on Channel 18 of all U.S. TV sets, but other nations will not be so lucky, says Chen. More excitement follows in January 1999, when Chen predicts wars, nuclear power explosions and a nuclear bomb detonation in October, on Jesus' "true birthday."
Among his 150 followers are children, including two boys he says are Jesus and Buddha reincarnated.
In January, Chen inexplicably took his followers to Gary, Indiana, where they held a prayer service and waded on the beach. Chen claims Gary will be the main loading dock when flying saucers come for true believers after the 1999 Great Tribulation.
The IRS in exchange stopped its audits, dismissed tax penalties and liens, and granted 114 Scientology-related entities tax exemption. For a previous quarter of a century, the IRS had refused to provide the church, founded by science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard in the 1950's, with a blanket tax exemption.
Dossey cautions that prayer may be used negatively, and could even be "deadly." Among his claims: that a talented writer had all his manuscripts inexplicably turned down--until he learned that his mother had been praying that he would fail.
Dossey admits the bible God can do evil.
Will Dossey's next book warn against voodoo pins?
Yet, according to a study released by the "Empty Tomb," only 16.6% of every dollar donated to a local church in 1996 went to "benevolences," such as charitable work, and missionary activity.
However, the judge ruled that the school district may start classes on the Old Testament, saying the school board had satisfied the court by adopting a curriculum for the Old Testament "ostensibly designed to teach history and not religion."
But she issued a preliminary injunction against Bible History II, saying she "finds it difficult to conceive how the account of the resurrection or of miracles could be taught as secular history."
Nevertheless, the Old Testament curriculum was based on that devised by the Christian group, National Council on Bible Curriculum in Public Schools, which has been backed by the Christian Coalition. Judge Kovachevich did advise careful monitoring of the Old Testament course, including videotaping, and said she would consider complaints about it promptly.
The decision to introduce "bible as history" classes has severely disrupted the divided Florida community, causing a previous superintendent and school attorney to quit in protest.
The hardcover book, published under the auspices of the Center for Communication Policy, University of California, Los Angeles, was released last fall (Praeger). It is an outgrowth of the Religion and Prime Time Television Conference at the UCLA Center for Communication Policy, along with the American Cinema Foundation and the Center for the Study of Popular Culture, hosted on June 1, 1995.
In the book's introduction, the editor, summarizing the contributions, writes: "Dan Barker, an atheist leader from the Freedom From Religion Foundation, argues that the nonreligious constitute a significant segment of the population, and that we must remember this when arguing how television should accurately reflect American life. He offers as suggestions for television programming stories depicting nonbelievers and their dramatic lives. He also laments that television reflects the general American assumption that it's not nice to be critical of religion, an impulse he would rather encourage."
¥ Dan Barker and members of the Foundation chapter the Alabama Freethought Association are quoted in "Godless and Proud of It," the only freethought coverage in the New York Times Magazine of Dec. 7, 1997, which was otherwise totally devoted to religion. The article, by Marshall Sella, mainly centered on interviews with Alabama freethinkers at Lake Hypatia, including Pat and Roger Cleveland. Although his article didn't note it, Sella is a distant relative of Robert G. Ingersoll.
¥ A well-written piece by Ron Hayes of the Palm Beach Post covering the Freedom From Religion Foundation's 20th anniversary convention in Tampa last December ran on the front page of that newspaper on Dec. 8, 1997.
¥ The Wisconsin State Journal ran pre-convention coverage: "Astronomer Sagan's widow talks about God," by William Wineke on Nov. 29, 1996.
¥ Two days before Christmas, the Chicago Tribune ran a full-page feature by Larry Fruhling about the Freedom From Religion Foundation on page 4, mainly about its winter solstice "equal time" sign at the Wisconsin State Capitol, and interviewing staff member Annie Laurie Gaylor.
¥ Matthew Rothschild, editor of The Progressive Magazine, reviewed Women Without Superstition: "No Gods - No Masters," edited by Annie Laurie Gaylor, in the January 1998 issue. A review also appeared in The Women's Review of Books, November 1997 issue, by Joan Hedrick, a Pulitzer-Prize winning biographer.
Biology Teachers Cave In The National Association of Biology Teachers recently eased its anticreationism stance, by excising two key words from its platform on evolution.
The group, after years of pressure from creationists, removed the words "unsupervised" and "impersonal" from its platform, reading: "The diversity of life on earth is the outcome of evolution: an unsupervised, impersonal, unpredictable, and natural process."
The Association's executive director, Wayne Carley, said the change was "to avoid taking a religious position" that could offend believers, but added that "there is no evidence of any creator having a hand in the origin of any species."
Churches Cash In On Steeples Churches in Massachusetts and elsewhere are being offered cozy deals by phone companies to rent steeple space for wireless-transmission equipment, allowing the companies to circumvent zoning barriers against their towers.
Some churches, according to the Wall Street Journal, are making long-term deals for hundreds of thousands of dollars in monthly rent, while other churches are hoping to build on steeples at the expense of phone companies. The United Church of Christ in Massachusetts recently sponsored a popular seminar, "Is There Cash in Your Steeple?"
Apparently no churches are worrying about strict IRS regulations forbidding rental of tax-exempt property.
The next step is expected to be the scheduling of a public hearing over Margaret's longstanding complaint that Boy Scout discrimination prevented her son from participating.