Outreach & Events - Freedom From Religion Foundation
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After I won the pledge case before the Ninth Circuit, someone asked me, "Do you feel like David and Goliath?" I thought about it for a second, and I said, "Yeah, I feel like Goliath, because the law is extraordinarily on my side." If you go through all of the tests that the Supreme Court has ever enunciated on the Establishment Clause, the two words "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance are clearly unconstitutional. Last night we heard about the Lemon Test. The Lemon Test has three prongs. The first prong is: was the law passed for a religious purpose? The second prong asks if it has a religious effect. The third: is there an entanglement with religion and whatever's going on there in government? Why did they stick the two words, "under God," in the Pledge of Allegiance? Clearly it had to be a religious purpose. It fails the first prong of Lemon. What's the effect? Clearly its effect is to have God in our government. That fails the second prong. And it's entanglement to the hilt. Government is saying the words. That's clearly unconstitutional. There's also the neutrality test. The words "under God" are not neutral. The government is taking a position on the question: "Is there a God? Is there not a God?" There's the imprimatur test. This places government's imprimatur on the idea of God. Clearly, by every one of the Supreme Court's legal tests, we should win this case. Moreover, we're the Goliaths in this case in principle, even if you didn't have a test. If you try to express, try to put into normal vernacular the words of the Establishment Clause--"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion"--what does it mean? We have separation of church and state is one way of stating it. But no matter what you come up with, sticking the two words "under God" in a nation's pledge clearly would fail the Establishment Clause. So we're Goliaths in terms of the principle as well. Where we're Davids, on the other hand, is in numbers. Ninety-three percent of the population believes in God, and most of those people would like to have God in their government. The problem with that is we have a Constitution that very wisely does not permit majority rule over matters of conscience. The other place where we're Davids is in terms of finances. The religious right has a lot of money. Just to give an example, most of you know that the religious right tried to get the mother of my child involved, to derail the case. When the case first broke, they flew her out by private jet from California to Washington, D.C. A private jet costs about $25,000. That flight is five times as much as what I'm going to spend totally for this entire case. As of a year ago, those attorneys already had about $145,000 in legal fees accumulated, before the latest round of briefs. I'm just one guy, I don't have a secretary, I have to make my own copies on the copy machine I bought for $50, buy my own papers, send everything just regular mail. So we're Davids in that regard. I'm going to look at case precedent from most to least recent to show how we're Goliaths in terms of the law. The last major case on the separation of church and state was in 2002, actually announced a day after the Ninth Circuit pledge decision was announced, on June 27, 2002. The Supreme Court heard a case known as Zelman v. Simmons-Harris, that talked about school vouchers in Ohio. The Supreme Court, in a 5-4 decision, approved the program, saying it's neutral. There really is a tension here. On the one hand, we don't want to discriminate against religion any more than we do for religion. On the other hand, we don't want government money going to religious institutions. It also should be acknowledged that when public money goes to these religious schools, it's supposed to be used just for the secular aspects of those schools. Clearly, if you give money to the secular aspects, that's more money then that is available for the sectarian aspects. So that's always the issue. If you look at the opinion, it tells us that 96% of the vouchers that were used for private institutions went to religious institutions. That's obviously of concern, and therein lies the tension with the ideal of government not being for or against religion. That's very different, though, from what's going on like the pledge case. Even in the Zelman case, Chief Justice Rehnquist, who wrote the decision, carefully said that the reason this case is okay is because the government is acting neutrally. It's saying individuals are spending public money on religious institutions, but the government has to be neutral. Clearly the government isn't neutral when it sticks the two words "under God" in the middle of our pledge. So even under Chief Justice Rehnquist's analysis, the pledge case has failed, if you went by what he did in Zelman. The next case--we move back a year--was in 2001 called the Good News Club. That was a 6-3 decision. Basically we have three sets of three judges. We have on the "bad" side--no editorializing here--Rehnquist, Scalia and Thomas, who will always vote against separation. On the "good" side, the great side, we have Souter, Stevens and Ginsberg. They want strict separation. In the middle we have three justices that we have to watch, and those are really whom we have to direct our cases toward: Kennedy, O'Connor and Breyer. In the Good News case, Justice Breyer actually went on the other side, along with O'Connor and Kennedy. The Good News Club is a bible club that wants to use school classrooms to meet with children after school is out. The school district policy permitted nonprofits and community groups to use its schools after hours, with an exception for religious institutions. The Supreme Court said the district was discriminating against religion. Justice Breyer, in voting with the majority, noted the record just hasn't been developed yet. If it is shown that there is coercion to these little children, he would remand the case and let the lower courts look at that. Again, if you apply the neutrality issues with regard to the pledge, it's still in our favor quite strongly. Back another year was Mitchell v. Helms, a case in Louisiana about government aids to private schools. We've had quite a few of these cases. The first major religious freedom case and parochial-aid case was Everson in 1947, which was about busing children: should we pay to bus children who go to sectarian schools? The Supreme Court said yes, we should, if we're going to pay for other kids to get to public schools. Again, we have that tension. Do we want to discriminate against religion? On the other hand, we are giving public money and it's benefiting the sectarian institutions. It's a tough call. If you're a strict separationist you say no. If you're like Rehnquist and Scalia, then clearly that would be fine. In Mitchell v. Helms, we had four justices, who in religious aid cases seem to twist the Lemon Test around, even though all the justices who have twisted it have complained about it constantly. Scalia referred to the Lemon Test as "some ghoul in a late-night horror movie, that repeatedly sits up in its grave and shuffles abroad after being repeatedly killed and buried. Lemon stalks our Establishment Clause jurisprudence, once again frightening little children and school attorneys." After complaining about Lemon so much, they simply rearranged it, removing the entanglement prong, saying, "We only have two prongs: purpose, and effect." Then they said, "An effect is now itself divided into three prongs, one of which is entanglement. The others are: does government invoke any religious belief or give aid based on the religion of the recipient?" In Good News, you have the big three again--Thomas, Rehnquist and Scalia--with Kennedy joining this time, saying: "As long as government is neutral, we don't care about what happens to the money. We don't care if the funds get diverted to sectarian institutions. Government has acted neutrally, and that's fine." The five other justices did not like that theory. They said you need more than that. Neutrality is required, but you also need to make sure that there are no funds being diverted. O'Connor and Breyer said, "We think that the diversion in this case is not adequate to worry about, so we're going to vote with the majority party." Our three--Souter, Stevens and Ginsberg--all said, "We think there's too much diversion," and so they voted against it. Once again, we see that this is a case very different from something like the pledge challenge. Go back one more year, to 2000. Santa Fe Independent School District v. Doe was the case that said you can't have prayer at high school football games. This followed a 1992 case, Lee v. Weisman, which said you can't have prayer at high school graduations. In the original 1992 case, Lee v. Weisman, they said the government, the school board, the school principal, is calling in some stranger to give a prayer, and even if it's nonsectarian, it's a prayer to God, and some people are uncomfortable with that. Because it's government acting, you can't do that. It was a great case for us. In the Santa Fe case, they went even further. In Santa Fe, what happened was the students themselves were voting, and they were electing their own student to give any talk on anything, but it always turned out to be a talk on religion. So the Supreme Court ruled 6-3 in our favor, with Breyer, Kennedy and O'Connor all coming over to our side. They said: "What we're having is a majority vote that allows them to use the machinery of the state to invoke their religious beliefs. We're not going to allow that." They also referred to another case that they decided simultaneously, Southworth, which spoke about viewpoint neutrality. "The whole theory of viewpoint neutrality is that minority views are treated with the same respect as are majority views." Again, if you look at that with regard to the pledge, clearly the minority view that there's no god is not given the same respect as the majority view when we say we're "one nation, under God." All of these cases taken together show that in the law, at least as it now stands, we are the Goliaths. All law is on our side, there is nothing against us. So I still think quite strongly, although some people think I'm wrong, that we're going to win. There've been a whole bunch of Ten Commandments cases lately. All of you have certainly heard of the one in Alabama, which I'll get to in a minute. It's estimated there's about 20 active Ten Commandments cases right now. There was the case that we've just heard about with Margaret Downey in Pennsylvania, Third Circuit. She won it in the district court level, which was great, but she did get overturned in the court of appeals. Her case involved a Ten Commandments plaque put in the courthouse in the 1920s. A previous case in the Third Circuit, about a Ten Commandments plaque dating to 1918, was also lost. What they said was, "These are historical. They're not invoking religious belief, you can hardly see 'em, it's part of the building now, and so we're going to let it slide." They kind of got grandfathered in. I think that's wrong. At some point in time this was stuck in there for religious purposes, and that act should be fixed. But they didn't see it that way. It's not the end of the world for us, it certainly doesn't say that people can start putting Ten Commandments monuments and plaques around anymore. Most of the Ten Commandments monuments being litigated were put up by a group called the Fraternal Order of Eagles, which has an acronym: FOE. I don't know if that's intentional! The Eagles is a group that generally does good stuff, they give to diabetic foundations and kidney diseases and everything else. But in the 1950s when Cecil B. DeMille directed "The Ten Commandments" and Charleton Heston came down from the mountain, the Eagles got together with DeMille and decided to put up these monuments. I actually contacted the Grand Wizard or whoever it is, and he told me that it just became cost-prohibitive, so they've stopped doing that. But there still are these plaques and monuments around, and these are being litigated frequently. There's a case in Adams County, Ohio. That one went our way. They had these Ten Commandments monuments in four high schools, and those were ruled unconstitutional. There was one, Adland v. Russ, in 2002, involving a monument they wanted to place at the Kentucky capitol building, which was ruled unconstitutional by the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals. Another involved the Summum religion. I don't know how many of you have heard of Summums, but it's a religious group in Utah, and is about 30 years old. The Summums did something I think was very wise and I would recommend that anybody who litigates these cases in the future do the same thing. They were in the Tenth Circuit in Utah--and the Tenth Circuit had already ruled that monuments with the Ten Commandments were okay in certain circumstances. They went to the city of Ogden, Utah, which had a Ten Commandments monument displayed. They called it a violation of the Establishment Clause, and said if you don't grant relief by getting rid of this thing, what we want you to do is put up our thing. We have seven principles, and we want to put up a monument with our seven principles. They won. They lost on the Establishment Clause ground, but they won on the grounds of free speech and the violation of viewpoint neutrality. The city was saying, "We're going to take the Judeo-Christian monument, it's okay, but we're not letting other people put up theirs." The court said, "You go back and figure out a way for them to get their seven principles put up or you get rid of the other." I actually went to Utah and met with the Summums, and it was an interesting time. The group that I met were mostly Korean, and they do a lot of proselytizing, and we went out to the city of Ogden--not to one of the finer areas of the city. They were looking for people to convert, and they found this guy, he was sitting on the curb and playing these bongos, somewhat disheveled and not very happy-appearing, didn't seem to be too bright. They invited him back to their meeting hall and gave him some Korean food. Interestingly, they gave him a lot of Bacardi, kind of got him drunk. I remember him playing the bongos and kind of a humming and making these sounds and it was startling, because when they first came up to him he looked kind of lost, and all of a sudden he converted to Summum, and you could see this confidence come over him, this sense of aplomb that would come when some dumb, numb and glum Summum slum bum, would hum and drum with dimsum and rum. (Actually, that's not a true story.) One of the monuments the Eagles donated was in La Crosse, Wis. La Crosse is an interesting name; I guess it's better than La Jesus, but not too much. The Freedom From Religion Foundation has taken on that case and they won at the federal level so far. So way to go, Freedom From Religion. I think it's hard to talk about Ten Commandments cases without mentioning Judge Roy Moore in Alabama. Judge Roy Moore had prayers before his sessions, and he put a Ten Commandments plaque on his wall in his lower courtroom. The ACLU was absolutely right to challenge him. The problem was Judge Roy Moore got very famous and became known as the Ten Commandments judge and was consequently elected to be Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court. I think the case with Judge Roy Moore really highlights why the Establishment Clause is so important. This man is not only a citizen, not only a lawyer, not only a judge, not only a justice in the State Supreme Court, but the chief justice of the State Supreme Court, who was ordered by the federal government to take this thing down and refused. What would give somebody the gall to do that? Only religion, only belief in God. He's convinced that he's right and he's willing to totally forego the law for the rest of society. That's an incredible thing. I think the fact that he did that should be a warning. That's why we need the Establishment Clause. He is the best advertisement we have. Probably the most important thing about the case is that every time something like this happens, God contacts me. He called me up (which is something because I have an unlisted number), and he said I should write another song, so I wrote another song for Judge Roy Moore. This is the world debut of the song, hope I don't choke. Because this is a song about something done in the South, I'm going to do this with a Southern accent. But because I'm from New York, it's South Bronx. (Performs "Roy's Rock") So now I want to talk about two other cases of mine. First I'll talk about the one against congressional chaplains. There's a case called Marsh v. Chambers, 1983, in which state legislative chaplains were challenged, and the litigant lost. Ernest Chambers was a legislator out in Nebraska, who was forced to listen to chaplains every time the Nebraska legislature met, and brought suit against that. The case got to the US Supreme Court, and Chief Justice Burger wrote the opinion. There's nothing in the opinion about what the Establishment Clause means. Clearly, the Chief Justice couldn't write about what the Establishment Clause means, because it certainly means that you can't have tax-paid chaplains coming in and giving religious prayers before congressional sessions. So Burger didn't even bother to discuss the Establishment Clause--I guess he was precluded from discussing that. Instead he said, "Look at the history." And he came out with what's a good point, at least on first blush. In 1787, the Founders met and came up with our Constitution. The deal was that if they got nine states to ratify it, we would have a United States. On June 21, 1788, New Hampshire became the ninth state. We had a country. At the end of 1788, Congress first met, they had the electoral college, they elected George Washington president, and on April 30, 1789, Washington was inaugurated as president. We still didn't have a Bill of Rights at that time. We still only had the Constitution. It wasn't until June 8, 1789, that James Madison first even proposed the Bill of Rights. During the summer of 1789, they finalized the wording for the Bill of Rights, the first ten amendments to our Constitution, and on Sept. 25, they sent the text out to the states to ratify. The Bill of Rights wasn't ratified until December 1791. What Chief Justice Burger said was, "If you look in the record, on Sept. 22, 1789, three days before the final wording of the Bill of Rights was created, the same people who came up with this wording voted to pay for chaplains. Whatever the Establishment Clause means, and I'm not going to discuss it because I'd lose this case if I do, the fact that the same people who came up with the wording and voted for the Bill of Rights also voted to pay the chaplains, shows that clearly it doesn't mean you can't have chaplains." However, it's not really the complete argument and doesn't give the complete history. First of all, those people, we know, were politicians, and we saw what happened in the pledge case--99 out of 99 senators went out and said, "This is a horrible thing." A large portion of those senators are lawyers and I'm sure they understand the issues here, yet there wasn't any question. They're politicians; they can count. Ninety-three percent of the population believes in god and you don't want to go against that. I don't think there was any difference back in the 1700s. The fact is: the chaplains were actually instituted before we had the Bill of Rights. They were put in place in April and in May 1789 in the Senate and the House respectively. So before the Bill of Rights had ever been introduced, we'd put chaplains into our government. What politician's going to say, "Oh, let's get those chaplains out of here"? He's going to lose his job. So that's a very good reason to understand why chaplains would still be there. Chaplains fail all of those tests that I mentioned for the Establishment Clause, so this seems to be an unconstitutional practice. Justice Brennan wrote a really good dissent to Marsh, but it was a 6-3 decision against us. We've seen since that time the problems that come with chaplains. Four years ago we put a Catholic chaplain in the House--the first Catholic chaplain, tremendous problems with that. Danny Hastert, who was speaker of the House, said, "In all my years in this Congress I have never seen a more cynical, more destructive political campaign than occurred with trying to get a Catholic chaplain in the House." If there's anywhere where we don't want this sort of religious controversy, it's in the halls of Congress. That's another reason why I think Marsh should be overturned. There's the question of original intent. First of all, there is a question as to whether original intent was the "original intent." Did the Framers want to bind the future for hundreds of years--or thousands of years, however long we last--with what they were seeing back in the 1700s? I think the answer is clearly no. I like to think of it in terms of the Internet. If we came up with laws now in regard to the Internet, who in their right mind would think we'd want those laws applicable in the year 2200? You've got to be nuts. Things change and I think that they certainly had that in mind. The other thing is we never can know what the Framers intended. There were 55 separate men who came up with the body of the Constitution. By the time the first Congress met for the Bill of Rights, there were about 116. There was no original intent. They were very different individuals. One of the first individuals in the first Congress was Rep. Thomas Tucker from South Carolina. One of the things the first Congress passed was the resolution to go to President Washington to declare a day of thanks. That's originally where we got Thanksgiving. Thomas Tucker said: "You can't do that. We don't have the power to pass a law like that or pass a resolution because we are forbidden from getting involved in religious matters. And this is a resolution to thank God. We can't do it." Remember, this had to be ratified by the people, so it doesn't even matter what these original Founders had in mind, it matters what the people had in mind in every one of the states. So we'll never know what original intent is. Even if we did know what original intent was, we frequently don't abide by original intent. The Alien and Sedition Acts were passed in the 1790s. You got put in jail or fined if you wrote bad things about the government. Those acts would clearly be unconstitutional today under our First Amendment jurisprudence. If we think that original intent can be measured by what these men passed in Congress, those men in Congress passed the unconstitutional Alien and Sedition Act. They also had death as a penalty for counterfeiting. They had 39 stripes (whippings) for altering any court records. Marbury v. Madison, possibly the most famous case, was about the fact that those original founders, those original members of Congress, passed a law that was unconstitutional. So what they did, the laws they passed, even though they created the Constitution, may not in fact coincide with the Constitution. We have a letter from John Adams saying the first chaplain, who was established during the constitutional convention in 1774, was put in place for political reasons, that we were using religion for politics. That's exactly what we don't want to ever happen. DuchŽ was the first chaplain, an Anglican. Remember, the Anglican Church was the Church of England back then. John Adams said this was a masterful stroke. By getting an Anglican minister to come out on our side, they thought that we got a lot of people to support us. So it was using religion for political purposes. The other thing that I find astounding is that the Supreme Court will say, "Well, we have to stick by this original intent idea." The Supreme Court's first pledge case was in the 1940s, before "under God" was added. This was a case of Jehovah's Witnesses who don't pledge, who said they can't pledge to flags. They got expelled from school in 1940 in the Minersville case, and the Supreme Court upheld it. Now let's think about it. The Supreme Court in 1940 had the benefit of the briefs and the cases that had progressed in the district court, and the court of appeals. They had months to go over this argument, they could discuss it with their clerks and among themselves, and they came out and said, "You can expel them because they won't salute the flag." Three years later they completely reversed themselves. They overruled Minerville. They reversed themselves after all that thought, and recognized they made a mistake. The Framers put together a whole country--it wasn't like they were just focused on this one thing--and didn't have nearly the amount of time that this Supreme Court had in these two particular cases. How come we can't say 200 years later that their decision to have a chaplain before the Bill of Rights was passed is inapplicable today? The other case I brought is the inaugural case. Actually Prof. Dershowitz wrote about it right after it had occurred. On January 20, 2001, Pres. Bush had two Christian ministers come in giving very Christian prayers. Prof. Dershowitz wrote that the first act by the new administration was in defiance of the Constitution, which it was. I just want to read you the prayers that were read. I didn't tune in to this for any reason, I just happened to be home, put on the TV. Rev. Franklin Graham was the first speaker, he gave the benediction, and Kirbyjon Caldwell gave the invocation. Billy Graham was supposed to come, but God works in mysterious ways. Billy was sick. So Franklin substituted for him and he said: "Let us pray. Blessed are you, our Lord, our God. Yours, O God, is the greatness and wonder and glory and the splendor and the majesty, for everything in heaven and earth is yours. Yours, O Lord, is the kingdom. You are exalted as head over all. Wealth and honor come from you. You are the ruler of all things. In your hands are strength and power to exalt, and to give strength to all." Just starting with "Let us pray" already violates the Constitution. Then he ends: "Now, O Lord, we dedicate this presidential inaugural ceremony to you. May this be the beginning of a new dawn of America as we humble ourselves before you, and acknowledge you alone as our Lord, our Savior, and our Redeemer." Doesn't end there: "We pray this in the name of the Father, and of the son the Lord Jesus Christ, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen." This is in the middle of our inauguration! This is incredible. Then we have the other person, this Kirbyjon Caldwell. (This was President Bush wanting to show us how he respects diversity; Kirbyjon Caldwell is an African-American pastor, and is to alliteration where Jesse Jackson is to rhyme.) He went like this: "Let us pray please. Almighty God, the supply and supplier of peace, prudent policy and nonpartisanship, we bless your holy and righteous name. Thank you O God for blessing us with forgiveness, with faith, and with favor. Forgive us for choosing pride over purpose, forgive us for choosing popularity over principle, and forgive us for choosing materialism over morals." Then he thanks Bush and ends: "We respectfully submit this humble prayer in the name that's above all other names, Jesus the Christ, and all who agree say Amen." This is at our inauguration. It's incredible! After I had the oral surgeon put my teeth back in my jaw, I decided to file this suit. I already had practice, I had filed the pledge case, so it was pretty easy. I filed a lawsuit, and we should hear from the Ninth Circuit soon on assigning an oral argument in that case. We'll see what happens. When I filed in district court, the government argued that I didn't have standing, saying I live in California, and they gave these invocations in Washington, D.C. The judge didn't buy that one. They then said, "Well this is covered by Marsh v. Chambers." I said, "No it's not, it's covered by Lee v. Weisman in Santa Fe," and they said, "No, no, Lee v. Weisman is about graduation, which is important." The judge responded, "Are you saying that the inauguration isn't important?" I'll just give you a little history. The first inauguration was with George Washington and was in City Hall in New York, New York, the capital at the time, down on Wall Street. The building had this balcony and George Washington came out to the balcony and took the oath. The oath of office is in the Constitution, and there's no "So help me God" in there. George did that on his own. He pulled out a bible, which they didn't even have prepared, someone had to go to the Masonic Lodge and get a bible. He then went into the City Hall, he gave a speech to Congress, and then the whole entourage left the City Hall and walked about a half a mile to St. Paul's chapel, where there was a chaplain. Bear in mind again this was April 30, 1789, before Madison had even introduced the Bill of Rights, so we had no First Amendment to violate. Nobody knows what the chaplain said. As far as we know, he may have said, "Y'know, I think we should have separation of church and state here." In any event, he gave his speech, it's not been recorded, and from that time on until 1937, there was not another chaplain at a presidential inauguration. If you read Chief Justice Burger's opinion in Marsh v. Chambers, he talked about the "unambiguous and unbroken history of more than 200 years." Well, we don't have that with presidential inaugurations. So I don't think Marsh v. Chambers applies at all. I made that argument, and the judge seemed to buy that. So then he looked for another issue, as he clearly didn't want to tell the president of the United States that he's violating the Constitution. So he said during our hearings, "George Bush says 'God Bless' at the end of everything, do you want to get rid of that?" Of course, I said, "Yes, I do want to get rid of that, but he has his own free exercise rights, it's a different issue, I'm complaining about this bringing in of chaplains." So the judge kind of gave up on that one, too. Where the case now lies is a separation of powers issue. This is a really interesting thing. Does the judiciary have the right to tell another branch of government whether or not it's violating the Constitution? I had thought that'd been covered in Marbury v. Madison in 1803, but it isn't actually that clear. There are cases that kind of make you wonder what the judiciary can do. Anyhow, it's in the court of appeals, and we'll see if they uphold that idea. Finally, we have Justice Souter, who in Lee v. Weisman, that case with the graduation prayers, said it's clear that these are politicians and politicians can raise constitutional ideals on one day and turn their backs on them the next. So the whole basis we have for Marsh v. Chambers is no longer tenable. That's why I brought the case and hopefully that'll overturn Marsh.
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I was a chubby kid. Since I looked like a marshmallow with arms until the age of twelve, I made a habit of wearing baggy clothing. For all anyone knew, I could have looked like Cindy Crawford under my father's sweatshirt. It was a comforting notion. Organized religion blew my cover with the obligatory First Communion ceremony. Apparently, God only embraces girls who wear frilly white clothing, because I was forced to borrow a dress from a friend who was a third my size. Trying not to breathe as I accepted my stale wafer, it occurred to me for the first time that this humiliating ceremony was void of personal significance. After all, what sort of a god derives pleasure from watching rich gossips smirk as a pudgy 11-year-old struggles to keep her clothes on? My reluctant affair with Catholicism was not so easily terminated. Despite my arguments that church was boring, that my weekly consumption of red wine was illegal, and that I am half-Jewish, my father insisted that I be exposed to Catholic dogma. My mother, though a non-practicing Jew, supported my father because she believed that a religious upbringing could potentially benefit my brother and me. However, she managed to convince him that Sunday services were unendurable for youths. . . . I am currently a sophomore at Vassar College, recently rated the number one campus for atheists in the United States. At Vassar, I have been encouraged to objectively reflect upon religion's impact on humanity. Throughout history, religion has been responsible for more bloodshed than any other cause. . . . After studying and thinking deeply about these devastating conflicts, I fail to understand the advantages of religions that foment unjustified hatred, intolerance and violence. . . . I do not believe that murder is justified because it is imputed to a specific god or holy doctrine, and I am deeply disturbed by the recent atrocities attributable to religious wars. Additionally disheartening is the immoral conduct of religious officials. Why should I place faith in the teachings of priests who have committed sexual crimes and other heinous illegalities? It seems irrational to believe in a faith when its main proponents do not respect, believe or practice what they are preaching. It is my sincere belief that people would benefit more from true free thought and a willingness to embrace life as a joyful, unpremeditated journey than they do from the misleading security offered by organized religion. Jennifer Hope Clary graduated cum laude from the Hockaday School in Texas in 2001. She is currently a sophomore pursuing a double major in film and drama at Vassar College in New York. ￼ The Only Logical Choice By Joanna Elrick I cannot declare with certainty the moment at which I first consciously embraced atheism. My rejection of religion came about as the result of a gradual process of observation, reflection and the manifestation of rebellious tendencies during my childhood. My familial religious background was a mixed bag--my mother was, for all outward appearances, a dedicated Roman Catholic (though I believe her mind was not wholly entrenched in the miasma of mysticism and self-delusion); my father was an agnostic who teetered toward the atheistic side of the fence. Now, this is not to say that I was raised in a liberated household, in which I was given free rein over my philosophic choices. My parents did their best to indoctrinate me into the collective superstition of our culture, dragging me to Sunday Mass and squandering a large sum of money on parochial school. In retrospect, however, I believe that they were motivated by the middle-class American mindset that only religious individuals, or at least those who are superficially pious, can attain respectability and virtue. I am proud to say that in my instance, logic won out over the herd mentality, and I am ceaselessly perplexed by the prevalence of religious belief in a society that has attained such glorious heights of scientific and technological achievement. Regardless of the piety-saturated environment in which I currently dwell, my chosen philosophy of atheism is a source of pride. To me, the term not only connotes "one who does not believe in God," but it also identifies someone as a courageous individualist and an adept thinker. I am not "angry at God," as many of my well-meaning theist associates would attest: I hold no more spite toward God than I do for the Man in the Moon, the Easter Bunny or Puff the Magic Dragon. (Isn't it hilarious how a declaration of atheism will instantly turn even the least formally educated Christian into an armchair psychoanalyst?) To the contrary, I am firmly convinced that my lack of religious belief endows me with a healthier outlook on life. I do not go about fretting that a preternatural entity is observing my every move and recording every lustful, base or selfish thought that runs through my head. Admittedly, theists may imagine that they have a better lot, believing that their consciousness will never end, that an omniscient being is guiding and protecting them and that there is a transcendent form of justice in the universe. However, that ignorant reverie comes only at the price of one's intellectual freedom and grounding in reality, and that is a price I find too extravagant to even consider. Joanna is a sophomore at Volunteer State Community College in Tennessee, where she is majoring in English. Upon completion of her Bachelor of Arts degree, she intends to pursue a career in writing. Besides attending classes on a full-time basis, Joanna is employed as a customer service agent. In her scant leisure time, she enjoys reading classic and modern literature and spending time with her eight cats. Of the Wide World I Stand Alone and Think* By Daryl J. Olszewski I spent a lot of my eighth-grade year in the hallway. My teacher did not know what else to do with me, so I sat there alone rather than in the classroom. I asked too many questions. Or maybe they were just the wrong questions. I was taught throughout my educational career that questions were important whenever I did not understand something, but that rule did not seem to apply equally to all classes in eighth grade. While I generally needed no clarification in the traditional subjects, in religion class my hand was always in the air. I spent 12 years attending Catholic schools and as I grew, I became progressively more uncomfortable with the faith I was fed. By my eighth-grade year, I was confident that despite my upbringing, I did not believe. I had so many questions but no one could offer me answers. And worse than admitting that she did not know, my teacher sent me to sit in the hall when I asked difficult questions. Alone in the hall I had nothing else to do but sit and think, and I spent a lot of time thinking about why my teacher sent me there. I learned how much some people guard against the vulnerability of their religious beliefs. Some will go to the limits of their power to suppress the views of others that conflict with their faith, regardless of the reasonableness of those opposing views. I believe that my teacher's goal was not so much to punish me, but rather to silence me. She did not want to run the risk of having my peers or even herself hear my questions and acknowledge the validity in what I was saying. It is quite difficult for a person to question what they had been told their entire lives to blindly believe. My teacher's power was limited to kicking me out of class, but my experience caused me to think about what could happen when similar views existed in people who possessed powers far greater than sending an eighth-grader into the hall. What would happen when that same guarded attitude toward differing religious views was possessed by people of far greater power, such as those who have the power to make laws or send citizens off to war? In May of 2003, Daryl graduated summa cum laude from the University of Wisconsin - Green Bay, with a double major in political science and social change and development. He plans to become a lawyer. *Title is taken from "When I Have Fears That I May Cease to Be," by John Keats. ￼ Saved By Ashley Simmons . . .The whole concept of Christians being the only ones who get to go to heaven seemed absurd and unfair. A person who grows up in the middle of India with a Hindu family hardly has the same opportunity for becoming a Christian as the daughter of a preacher in Missouri. Why would the Indian go to hell for being in an inopportune location where God placed him from birth? People at bible study tried to convince me that every person gets their chance to "feel the Holy Spirit" and that God is hurt when people choose to ignore it. The way they were describing it, God seemed like a jealous attention-craved child. I couldn't conceive of pledging my soul to Jesus only to look at all my nonChristian family members as hell-bound sinners. Would I start being as pushy and tactless to them as my friends were now to me? In one last-ditch effort, I went to church with a new friend who didn't spend his time trying to pressure me to go. I figured this would be a comfortable experience. I ventured out with Josiah to the Redwood Assembly of God and all was well until the youth service portion. The minister began a lengthy sermon about the ill-effects of sex before marriage. It was sinful, would spoil any future marriage, and shame our poor, forlorn families. Following numerous cryptic bible passages, he then passed around these yellow slips of paper cut into crosses. He explained that we all should sign our pledge of celibacy until marriage on two of these slips. One copy would be for us to keep and the other would be kept on this bulletin board in the church so everyone could see how strong we were. I was absolutely aghast. The church seemed to want to count up its virgins like some of the perverse booty counts of biblical wars. The concept of having a declaration about my sex life hanging for everyone to see was positively humiliating. I was finished being timid, my faith ship was sunk, and I didn't care who knew. Within seconds I found myself marching right out of church. Ultimately, I decided my search for answers about the nature of life would be a personal one. I don't want to look at people as hell-bound sinners just because they don't believe in Jesus. I can't look at wonderful people who are atheists, like my grandfather, and say it's OK with me for them to go to hell. I'm just going to live this life the best that I can. Common sense tells me that living a good life should be enough. Ashley is entering her sophomore year at California State University, and is double majoring in teledramatic arts (emphasis in theatre) and human communication (emphasis in women's studies). She is active in student government and has performed in several plays. Other interests include writing, swimming and croquet. ￼ Diversity, Tolerance and Freethought By Jennifer Chien My grandparents are Buddhist, my closest friend of 13 years is the president of the Muslim Student Association at her university, my hometown is one of the largest Mormon settlements in California, every school that I have attended (certainly not excluding Duke) has been overwhelmingly Christian--and I am an atheist. Without a doubt my fascination with--and ultimate rejection of--religion stems from my lifelong immersion in a multitude of faiths that believe anything ranging from God is an elephant, to heaven is a planet. . . . But today, when I walk past the newsstand and see that the latest Newsweek has dedicated its entire issue in praise of President Bush's "New Vision for the World Under the Guidance of Christianity," I begin to understand that I can no longer afford to be indifferent about how deeply intertwined church and state have become in what is supposed to be a secular society. It becomes critical for me that I no longer watch passively as I once did as church and state become inexorably entangled in our government's domestic and foreign decisions. To be sure, allowing government policies to be influenced by religion devastates both personal freedoms as well as freedom around the world. I realize this more and more every day. Jennifer is a sophomore at Duke University in North Carolina. Her major is biology, and she currently is working on a genetics research project.
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'm really honored to be here. At first I was a little puzzled by Annie Laurie's asking me to speak to you about physician-assisted dying. And then I realized it makes perfect sense, because in a way the movement I'm involved with has everything to do with rational behavior and common sense, and, of course, that's what you're into. So there is a relationship there. Before I tell you what's going on in Oregon, I would like to explain to you how I got into this. As is so often the case, I got involved because of a personal experience. I helped my mother die. She had ovarian cancer, and she was dying, but in her view not fast enough. People who are in this situation are often accused by the opposition of being depressed. My mother was not depressed. Her feeling was, she'd had a wonderful life, and now it was over; there was nothing ahead but pain and suffering. She was very rational, she saw no sense in continuing, and I understood her feeling that way. I was trying to remember when it first occurred to me that what my mother went through, and what we went through together, wasn't unique. I guess it was when my mother, very near to the end of life, looked up at me and said, "What do other people do who don't have children?" I wasn't thinking about other people at that point. I was totally focused on her, and I didn't really know about other terminally ill people who wanted out of life. But I know about them now. This movement, this wish on the part of so many of us to curtail the suffering of terminally ill people--because that's what this is about, it's about suffering, an overused word, but it's exactly the right word when it's you or someone you love--has come to the attention of a lot more people than in the past. So many of us have been through or have had some kind of an experience, and we've learned many bitter lessons. I'll tell you what I've learned. I've learned that even when pain control is at its best, which it usually isn't, it doesn't always work for everyone. And there are no great remedies for nausea. And there are certain ways the body can fall apart that are simply unbearable for the people whose body it is that's falling apart. I've learned it can be very hard to die. People often try and fail, or they try to help their loved ones and they fail. I get letters from those people. That, alone, is a good reason to have legal physician-assisted suicide, because it's not something that amateurs should be doing. Just because it happened to work in our family doesn't matter. It's not good policy to have people so desperate to die that they're forced to ask their children or their mates to help them out of life. Such people are amateurs, and, to put it crudely, they often muck it up. That can be terrible, and even if the person dies, there can be psychological damage. I happened to have a great relationship with my mother. Well, not everyone who helps a loved one to die has a great relationship, and if you help that person to die, you might suffer psychologically. It's just not something that family members should be doing. I also get mail from people who couldn't help, whose loved ones asked for help and they simply couldn't do it, which is perfectly reasonable. They didn't know how, they were afraid of the illegality, and those people feel guilty too. So it happened to work for us, but I'd really like to point out we had an awful time. We had no guidance except for a doctor who was willing to give us a bit of advice on the telephone. I'm a reporter in New York, I know many people, I know lots of doctors, I just thought, "Well, somebody just has to whisper in my ear what we need to do, what she needs to take." Nobody was willing to do that. And I can't blame them. It's illegal. People were fearful, and also at this time, the entire notion of assisted dying was completely in the closet. I've learned about something else, and I've seen it both in my mother and others. It's the thing that really keeps me in this movement. In addition to whatever physical horror the person is going through near the end of life, is the terror they feel. There have been studies on the terror people feel, which is not about dying, it's about suffering. There is reason to be terrified. Especially if people are alone, they're very fearful of suffering. And that brings me to Oregon, the only state in America where it is legal for a physician to help a patient die. Here's what that means. It means a mentally competent, terminally ill adult Oregon resident--you can't just travel to Oregon and die--who has been given a prognosis of six months or less to live by two licensed physicians, may get help to die. The help is merely a prescription. A lot of people don't understand this. Doctors are not injecting patients. It's a prescription for a liquid that's easy to swallow--my poor mother had to down all of these pills--and there are other safeguards in Oregon. The safeguards are important. There is a waiting period. The patient has to put his or her request in writing as well as the oral declaration, etc. The law has been in place for about six years now, and there have been some surprises. The big surprise to opponents and proponents alike is how absolutely wonderfully this law has worked. The opponents have been looking for a mishap and it just hasn't happened. The other surprise is how few assisted deaths there have been. After the last count, which was made after five years, there was a total of 129 deaths. Proponents of the initiative never thought there'd be a rush to die. The opponents--the Catholic Church and others--said, "Oregon's going to become a killing state; people are going to be dying like crazy in Oregon with this thing." Well, that did not happen. In the first place, most people cling to life. The natural thing is to cling to life. Usually people do that no matter how much they're suffering. But if that is so, one might ask, then why bother? If this is going to benefit so few people, and so few people take advantage of the law, then why are we struggling to get this going in other states? Which we certainly are. Well, the answer to that question, at least in my view, is there is no way, statistically, to measure peace of mind, no way to quantify the death of terror. But here's a guess: that for every one of the 129 people who have used physician-assisted suicide in Oregon over the past six years, tens of thousands more have had their fears quieted just knowing the assistance would be there if they wanted it. I've had cancer a few times. I, myself, would want to know that should things come to such a pass, there would be help if I wanted it. Very likely, most people are not going to do this, including myself. But to know you can do it: that's what the fight for legality is about. I learned a lot about all this when I was in Oregon about a year ago, writing an article about how the law is being implemented. I interviewed people who had passed all the safeguards and who had requested legal medication and received it. The people I interviewed were very different from each other but had two things in common: gratitude and peace of mind. I interviewed one Richard Holmes who was a hoot. He had girly magazines on his coffee table and a framed picture of his hospice nurse on his mantelpiece. He got a big kick out of telling me that at his last birthday party--which turned out to be his last birthday--he had invited his ex-wife and her boyfriend and their children and they all had a great time. Richard died a few months after our interview, without using the medication, but I could see it meant everything to him to have it. When we talked, he told me with a big smile that he kept it in the basement where it was nice and cool. I interviewed Laura Meirndorf, a big blowsy no-nonsense woman who had been a logger. Oregon's an amazing place! Women loggers! It blew my mind. Laura lived in a small dark house with a trailer attached in Scotts Mills, population 300. She had the medication, she pointed out to me--and I didn't ask, this was something people just couldn't wait to tell me--that her medication was on top of her fridge where she said she could keep an eye on it every day. I called her daughter, Shirley, a few months ago and she told me her mother had taken the medication. Apparently, she took it on a day when she wasn't feeling that horrible, so she got her neighbor to take her for a last look at the lake. What happened was, her mother was late getting back. They got a flat tire, which Laura thought was pretty funny, that on her last day of life the blankety-blank tire on the pick-up would go. As she was telling her daughter about this, Shirley thought, "Well, if she's still laughing, then maybe she doesn't want to do this, maybe she doesn't want to take the drug." But she did, in her own style. Apparently she took a swallow of medication and looked at her daughter and said, "This tastes like shit. Give me a shot of Kahlua." (You can't make this stuff up.) She took a swig of Kahlua, downed the rest of the medication, and within seven minutes she was out. Did I mention that before she died, Laura had some choice things to say about Attorney General Ashcroft? In a weird way, Laura reminded me of my mother. My mother was a totally different type. My mother wouldn't go to the grocery store without a full make-up, and I think the only four-letter word I ever heard her say was "food." But she had Laura's moxie. She had Laura's insistence on remaining herself and remaining in charge of herself. This they had in common. When my mother knew I had found a way out for her-- not easy in 1983 before anyone was even talking about this issue publicly--a calm came over her that was strange. Her sister, who didn't know what we were plotting, thought she was getting well, and she said to me: "There's something odd happening to your mother. She seems okay. Can she be getting better?" I could have replied, "Yes," because she had become herself again. With terror gone, in spite of her suffering, she was her old self. I could tell because she began bossing me around again. Less than 24 hours before she died, she said to me, "In the closet, there is this awful-looking hat, I don't know what possessed me. I bought in Bloomingdale's. Don't forget to return it." I remember thinking, the way Laura Meirndorf's daughter did, she's so herself. Does she really want to do this? Just before she was about to take the pills, I asked her: "Mother, do you really want to do this?" She looked at me as if I'd lost my mind, and said something quite unforgettable: "Next to the happiness of my children, I want to die more than anything else in the world." The success of Oregon makes it harder than ever to understand the opposition. It proves the point that when people are of a certain mind, a little thing like evidence to the contrary will do nothing to change it. What is going on in Oregon is about allowing dying patients to hasten their deaths. None of these people is going to do anything but die. But they want to choose when to die--with dignity. People in Oregon who are not even sick are comforted to live in a state which grants them this kind of insurance. I think my mother was unusual in that she went through with it. But as I said, this is a control issue. It's the power of knowing you can die when you want to. Back to Oregon, and enter Attorney General John Ashcroft. The attorney general, as you may know, has boldly tried to undo the Oregon law. His plan is to penalize doctors anywhere in the nation, including Oregon, who prescribe lethal drugs for patients. He made his move shortly after 9/11, when perhaps he thought no one would notice. We noticed. And most of all, the voters of Oregon noticed. Because the voters of Oregon decided, and have voted, not once, but twice on this issue. They were outraged. What's so ironic is here is this right-wing, states' rights guy coming in as telling Oregon voters that what their state had voted on twice wasn't any good. Not only that he was going to undo the physician-assisted suicide law, but if he got his way, the DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration) would begin to monitor doctors as though they were drug dealers. The inevitable result would be that physicians all over the country would become more afraid than they already are to treat pain. Say they gave a patient morphine just to relieve pain, and the patient happened to die. They could be prosecuted. Now isn't that a great situation? The inevitable result is people who are suffering would have doctors who are afraid to prescribe enough pain medication. Ashcroft lost the first round in the courts, by the way. But the case is not yet resolved. It is so purely ironic that someone like John Ashcroft is religious, and that his religion might be behind his actions. I think, on some level, those who oppose this movement are simply ignorant of what this law really means. They might actually be for it if they understood it. But they don't. They don't know how the law works, they don't know about the safeguards, they don't know about the peace-of-mind issue. I guess for some people it's also a failure of imagination. There are people who've hardly ever been sick, maybe had a stomachache once after eating too much, and they don't get it. They don't understand what it feels like to be in the shoes, or I should say, in the beds of some of these people. What it feels like to have your body completely fall apart. I suppose these are the people for whom suffering is just a word. Most of all they don't get that they could be there themselves. The next state where the death-with-dignity law is closest to happening, maybe in 2004, in Vermont. When that battle heats up, I hope you'll be with us. I know you have your own issue which obviously keeps you busy, but in your free moments, perhaps you might consider joining us on this issue. It really affects us all. Thank you. What organization in Oregon are you with? I'm with an organization called Death With Dignity National Center. We have just merged with the Oregon Death With Dignity people, so we're working together to move into other states. On the web it's www.deathwithdignity.org. How much does this go on, law or no law, in other places? That's a really good question, because a lot of people say, "Well, you don't really need a law. You find a doctor who's a good guy. He'll help you." Well, there are some heroic physicians who will give this kind of help. But they are taking a big chance. They are breaking the law, and you don't really want them to have to do that. Also, for every physician who is kind and brave enough to help someone die, there are many, many more who will not do it. Now in Oregon there are a lot of physicians who won't do this, by the way, but there are enough who will do it. Yes, of course, it goes on, and it has always gone on. But it's nothing you can count on. You mentioned there've been 129 people who ended their lives with medication, but at the same time they keep them in their refrigerator and their basement. Do they keep track of how many people have these medications? Oh, yes. Everything is kept track of. The Oregon health department keeps very careful note. Interestingly, there are a lot more prescriptions filled than are used, and I think that's just fine. These are the people who really are afraid and who want it there. They had that comfort at the end of their lives. Could you comment on the constituencies who oppose death with dignity? Yes. The Catholic Church, number one. There was a referendum--they nearly legalized this in Maine--and in the zero hour the Catholic Church came in with a very well-funded campaign, "Your doctor's gonna kill you. Is that what you want?" So number one, the Catholic Church. Other religious groups, too. Of course, the Catholic Church is a little busy now with their other problems. We hope they'll be distracted. But mainly, it's religious groups. To be fair, it's conservatives, but not all conservatives. I wrote a piece about this for the op-ed page of the Wall Street Journal, of all places, and they saw it as a libertarian issue, that nobody has a right to tell you what to do. So it's not just a liberal thing at all. But certainly the religious right is the major opponent. So number one, the political hierarchy of the Catholic Church--the Council of Bishops. What has become of Dr. Kevorkian? He is in the clink. Dr. Kevorkian brought this issue to the attention of the public. We are grateful to him for that. That is all we are grateful for, however. Dr. Kevorkian is a loner. He never wanted to join the movement, he never was interested in the legalization. He is in prison because he killed somebody. If this thing is going to work, you can't do that. You have to do it the way they're doing it in Oregon. There have to be safeguards. It has to be about the person doing it themselves, not about the doctor doing it. He just sort of went off on his own. There's a lot of disagreement in the movement about him, but most of us are critical of him, frankly. Are you a member of the Hemlock Society? No, I'm a member of Death With Dignity, but we're friends with the Hemlock Society, which is no longer called Hemlock Society because they had too much grief with that. They're now called End Of Life Choices. What are the drugs of choice? Body weight has something to do with it. Barbituates, Nembutol is mainly what they use in Oregon, but it's in liquid form so it's easy to swallow. A lot of very sick people can't swallow. People often ask me in those last moments with my mother, "Were you grieving?" No, I wasn't grieving, I was worried, my husband and I, because we thought, "Is she going to be able to get these pills down? If she doesn't, what then?" We were terrified this wouldn't work and that she might wind up suffering even more. Can't pain treatment and chemotherapy alleviate most of the suffering? Very often, what it really boils down to, is that often patients get treated beyond the point where it makes any sense to be treated. They're not going to live, and the treatment just makes them suffer. There are patients who say "No more!" and want a kind of decent end of life. Physicians tend to treat--I mean, that's what they're taught to do. So often the physicians will treat and medicate even if there's no point, very often. And patients go along. They think, "Well, if they're treating me there must be hope." Could you mention what Hospice is? Hospice is a wonderful organization. In Hospice, if you are dying, and you have a six-month prognosis, Hospice will keep you comfortable. Hospice is just the opposite of treating. Hospice is for people who say, "I know I'm at the end, I want to be comfortable." That's the business of Hospice, and they do it very well. Do you know the position of physicians at the American Medical Association on this? Yes. Of course the American Medical Association is against this. The AMA, however, represents only one-third of all doctors in the country and, like any association, tends to be more conservative than the profession as a whole. Many compassionate doctors support Death With Dignity laws. Tell us more about the safeguards, and also how long of a wait there is. No sooner than 15 days after the first oral request, the person must once again request his or her primary care physician to assist him or her in using the law. After the person is qualified and has made their first oral request for assistance, the person must sign a written request for assistance that has the signatures of two persons who witnessed the person's signature. The written request must be delivered to the person's primary care physician. The attending physician may write the prescription for the medication no sooner than 48 hours after the patient has delivered the written request. All of the dates on which the requests are made must be noted on the patient's chart, and the prescribing and consulting physicians and the pharmacist who fills the prescription must complete and mail approved compliance forms to the Oregon Health Division. This is not a casual thing. And the patient must be able to self-administer the medication. You said you have to be able to give this to yourself. What about people who can't give it to themselves? Well, that's part of the problem. The question is, what if you have ALS, Lou Gehrig's disease, and you can not swallow? That was the case with the patient Dr. Kevorkian helped. Well, that is a tragic situation with regard to this law, because the law does not cover people with ALS. If people with ALS were covered, then it would be legal for a doctor to kill the patient, and that opens a legal can of worms. I hope someday that we can do this. It's terrible that people with ALS cannot get help. So I would hope this is down the road, but it's not going to happen soon. Self-administration of the medication is the ultimate safeguard and is what distinguishes assisted dying from euthanasia. For people who can not self-administer, the law is problematic. The law that exists, however, does help most terminally-ill people who request assistance. What has happened in Holland and Belgium? I'm not an expert on the international scene today. In Holland they've allowed assisted dying for quite a while but it's a little bit different. They practice euthanasia as well as assisted suicide. That is, in Holland, under certain circumstances, a physician can kill a patient who wants to die. That's not going to happen in this country. It has been so hard just to get this mild law in Oregon passed, and so far, it's still only this one state. And all it is is a prescription. So sometimes people will say, "The law doesn't go far enough." Yeah, I agree, but look at what a struggle it has been. I don't know about Belgium. I think there's a law in Switzerland where you can actually go to Switzerland and if you qualify, you can get help. Betty Rollin is a contributing correspondent for NBC news. Her special reports for "Nightly News" included a series on the Native Americans of Pine Ridge, S.D., which won both the DuPont and Emmy awards. She also contributes reports for PBS's "Religion and Ethics Newsweekly." She has authored six books, including First You Cry, about her breast cancer and mastectomy (1976, recently republished on the author's 25th "cancer anniversary"), which was made into a TV movie starring Mary Tyler Moore. Her poignant bestseller Last Wish (1985, republished recently) raised consciousness about end-of-life issues,, describes the suicide of her terminally ill mother. It was made into a TV movie starring Patty Duke and Maureen Stapleton and has been published in 18 countries. She first joined NBC in 1972, and created and anchored a series of NBC News Special programs titled "Women Like Us." Human interest stories remain her focus as a correspondent. She was an associate feature editor and staff writer for Vogue, and senior editor for Look, and has written for many national magazines. She is a graduate of Fieldston Ethical Culture School in Riverdale, New York, and Sarah Lawrence College. She and her husband, Dr. Harold M. Edwards, a mathematician, live in Manhattan. ￼ ￼ Last Wish by Betty Rollin (1985, last reprinted 1998) examines the ethical and technical aspects of assisted suicide, and is also a loving testament to her motherÕs courage. Both of Ms. RollinÕs books are available for $15 ppd, through FFRF, PO Box 750, Madison WI 53701. Excerpt: First You Cry Excerpt, First You Cry, by Betty Rollin (1976, reprinted 2000). "I stopped believing in God at about the same time I stopped believing in Pinocchio, when I was about eight. It upset my mother because her father was an Orthodox rabbi. My mother blamed herself for not emphasizing religion enough and for not keeping a kosher house. (She couldn't do that, she said, because the housekeeper was a German Catholic and didn't know how. Even at the time, that struck me as a limp excuse.) Later I came to think that one reason I never had much truck with religion was that my mother, in spite of her carryings-on, didn't either. Mother was too hardheaded for that sort of thing, and so was her hardheaded daughter. My father was both more religious and more tribal. I expect that was owing to his experiences in Russian pogroms. When I was little he used to tell me stories about how he and his brothers and sisters hid under beds when the Cossacks came to the house of the Jews. The Cossacks would thrust their swords into the mattresses; my father told me that once, when he was under the bed, the tip of the sword came through right next to his head. A rich relative got the family out, but such experiences stick. . . . I thought about all this in the hospital because I knew that disasters often made people religious. After all, had I not sort of prayed the weekend before? One hears about people who "turn to God" when the jig is up. Notwithstanding my one prayer, that didn't seem to be happening to me."
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For the convenience of Freedom From Religion Foundation members interested in attending the "Save Women's Lives: March for Freedom of Choice" April 25 rally in Washington, DC, the Foundation will be holding a dinner party the night before, and offering a marching contingent. The dinner party will be held at 6 p.m. on Saturday, April 24, at the Phoenix Park Hotel, 520 North Capitol Street, NW, Washington DC 20001. Participants are offered entrees from the kitchen of this acclaimed Irish-run hotel. Dan Barker will entertain at the piano and there will be a featured speaker (to be announced). Also for the convenience of Foundation members wishing to attend the Sunday rally, the Foundation has reserved a limited number of rooms at the conveniently-located Phoenix Park Hotel. Foundation members are invited to assemble in the lobby of the Phoenix Park Hotel if they wish to march as a freethought contingent. The room rate is $149.00 single or double occupancy (there is a $20 extra person charge for triple occupancy rooms). Rooms are being held for the dates Friday, April 23, Saturday, April 24, and Sunday, April 25, to meet the varied needs of participants. Hotel reservations must be made by Tuesday, March 23, 2004. To be assured of a room at this rate, the hotel encourages you to make your plans well in advance. You can reserve rooms at the Phoenix Park Hotel "Book A Reservation" link online at www.phoenixparkhotel.com. Select your date and enter the following internet group code: 8058. If you prefer to phone, call toll-free: 1-800-824-5419 and use a different in-house group number: 5054. The hotel is across the street from Union Station, and is a short taxi drive from the Reagan DC airport. Valet parking is available at $25 per day or $6 per hour. Participants may prefer to stay at other hotels and make their own arrangements, but are encouraged to return to assemble at the Phoenix Park Hotel lobby by 9 a.m. on Sunday, April 25, to march as a freethought contingent. Bring your own signs; the Foundation has an official rally banner. The hotel is within walking distance of the Mall. The march is being sponsored by the National Organization for Women, the Feminist Majority, NARAL/Pro-Choice America and Planned Parenthood, and is to be a "historic action to send a message that women will not go back to the days of back-alley abortions." Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion nationwide, hangs by a swing vote. The April 25 rally is a follow-up to the 1992 March for Women's Lives, which attracted 750,000 people. "Today even more is at stake--birth control, emergency contraception, international family planning, and even scientific research," said NOW. "The primary opposition to birth control and abortion has always been organized religion," noted Foundation president Anne Gaylor, who was an early activist for abortion rights. "Were it not for the combined lobbying of Catholic, fundamentalist and Mormon denominations, we would not be facing this relentless war against reproductive rights. These freedoms depend on a clear separation of church and state."
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"The Roman Catholic Church remains enemy number one of civil liberties in our country," contends Foundation president Anne Gaylor, in the wake of a stepped-up church assault against social reforms and the Catholic politicians who support them. Gaylor said the church's political activity calls into question its tax-exempt status. At their annual conference in Dallas in November, the American Catholic bishops issued aggressive statements against contraception, same-sex unions and abortion. The US Conference of Catholic Bishops is still formulating how it intends to punish Catholic politicians who vote against Catholic doctrine. An example of the Church's increasingly overt power play occurred in Wisconsin, where the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel ran an exposŽ in early December revealing an attempt at "spiritual extortion." Bishop Raymond L. Burke of La Crosse, who was just promoted by the pope to become the Archbishop of St. Louis, sent warning letters earlier this year to selected public officials. At least two Catholic state legislators and one member of Congress were warned that they are endangering their "spiritual well-being" by not voting the church line on issues such as abortion. Burke said if they continue to contradict church teachings, "I would simply have to ask them not to present themselves to receive the sacraments because they would not be Catholics in good standing." Burke told them that as Catholics they may not support "anti-life" legislation (such as support of abortion and assisted suicide). Wis. State Sen. Julie Lassa, D-Stevens Point, received one of the lengthy epistles, which documented how several of her recent votes violate church policy. For instance, Lassa voted against an onerous bill that would have permitted healthcare professionals to refuse medical and pharmaceutical treatment based on religious dogma. "As a faithful member of the Catholic Church, you have an obligation to fulfill the duties of your office . . . with regard to the moral law. You have failed to restrict the evil of abortion when the opportunity presented itself," Burke chastised Lassa. Burke cited a document, "Living the Gospel of Life: A Challenge to American Catholics," adopted by the US Conference of Catholic Bishops. This document charged bishops with a duty to "enlighten the consciences of political leaders to the protection of life, especially political leaders who are Catholics." The document maintains that "those who are directly involved in lawmaking bodies have a grave and clear obligation to oppose any law that attacks human life." Burke ordered Lassa to study the 26-page document, and then to schedule a meeting with him to discuss it. "I call upon you to consider the consequences for your own spiritual well-being, as well as the scandal you risk by leading others into serious sin," Burke wrote. Undaunted, Lassa told the Journal-Sentinel: "I'm concerned that the bishop would pressure legislators to vote according to the dictates of the church instead of the wishes of their constituents because that is not consistent with our Democratic ideals. When I was elected, I swore an oath to uphold the Constitution, and that means I have to represent all the people of all faiths in my district." Also receiving a letter of religious threat was conservative Wis. Rep. DuWayne Johnsrud, R-Eastman, who is strongly antiabortion but is considered religiously-incorrect on birth control. Johnsrud responded: "I didn't think I was down here representing the Catholic Church. Sorry, they can lump it or like it, I don't care." The overt church attempt to dictate voting by Catholic politicians recalls the concerns raised in 1960 when John F. Kennedy became the first Roman Catholic US president. As a candidate, Kennedy took pains to allay fears that he would act as a Vatican puppet. In a historic speech to Houston ministers on Sept. 12, 1960, Kennedy delivered his famous lines of assurance: "I believe in an America that is officially neither Catholic, Protestant nor Jewish--where no public official either requests or accepts instructions on public policy from the pope, the National Council of Churches or any other ecclesiastical source. . ." Upping the ante is the revelation that a conservative Roman Catholic organization based in Virginia is targeting Wisconsin's pro-choice Catholic governor, Jim Doyle, and dozens of other Catholic politicians around the country. The American Life League's "Crusade for the Defense of Our Catholic Church" targets 71 members of Congress and 340 Catholic state politicians. Previous attempts to sanction Catholic politicians include the January action by Sacramento Bishop William K. Weigand, who stirred controversy for telling former Gov. Gray Davis of California and other pro-choice Catholic politicians to abstain from receiving communion. In a 1989 case involving then-Bishop Leo T. Maher of San Diego, Calif. state Sen. Lucy Killea, D-San Diego, was banned from receiving communion because she is pro-choice. Bishop Francis Quinn of San Francisco overruled the action. In 1996, a Nebraska bishop declared that any Catholic in his diocese who joined groups such as Planned Parenthood would be automatically excommunicated. That year Bishop Rene Facida of Corpus Christi also excommunicated two abortion clinic workers and a doctor who performs abortions. Roman Catholicism dominates the 108th U.S. Congress, with 150 of the members claiming to belong to that denomination. Three Catholics are running for president: Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich, Ohio; Sen. John Kerry, Mass.; and Wesley Clark. The U.S. bishops, following their annual meeting in November, announced a new task force will produce guidelines on dealing with "recalcitrant politicians." Washington Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick will head the taskforce, itself a response to a 17-page "doctrinal note" issued by the Vatican in January telling Catholics in politics how to behave. * * * The November decision by the Massachusetts State Supreme Court ordering the legislature to rewrite marriage laws to provide benefits for gay couples by mid-May was denounced by Massachusetts' bishops. The bishops openly urged parishioners "to contact the governor and their state legislators to urge them to find a way to give our citizens more time to deal with this issue." Although career celibates themselves, several prominent Massachusetts bishops lamented that the ruling promotes "divisions in society by villainizing as bigotry the legitimate defense of thousands of years of tradition." Religious right groups are vowing to turn "gay marriage" into the number one election issue next year. The Vatican issued a July 31 document declaring a global campaign against gay marriages and ordering Catholic politicians to vote in lockstep against such legislation. Catholic politicians were instructed that they are "obliged" to oppose "the legal recognition of homosexual unions," and that a Catholic politician has "a moral duty to express his opposition clearly and publicly and to vote against it. To vote in favor of a law so harmful to the common good is gravely immoral." * * * The Roman Catholic bishops are also vigorously fighting access to contraception. They announced in November they will link campaigns against it with abortion. The Bishops' "Committee for Pro-Life Activities" will issue a booklet on why "natural family planning" is the only acceptable alternative. The church is condemning contraceptive use not only by Catholics, who largely ignore the ban, but is fighting to limit everyone's access, and their own obligation as employers to offer insurance coverage of contraception. In a decision announced on Dec. 2, a New York court rejected a claim by Roman Catholic groups seeking to be exempted from a new state law requiring employers to offer insurance coverage for contraception. The court maintained the law's clear "secular purpose" of promoting women's health and halting sex discrimination. The New York State Catholic Conference vowed to appeal. The California State Supreme Court will be ruling soon on a lawsuit by the Catholic Charities of Sacramento, also seeking to be exempted from a similar California law enacted in 2000. More than 100,000 employees at 77 church-affiliated hospitals in California and New York have rights at stake. Churches themselves are exempt from providing contraceptive coverage for employees who work inside parishes and houses of worship in New York and California. Catholic Charities had a $76 million budget in California alone, and receives public funding. "Mother Teresa would be forced to offer contraceptives," argued California Catholic Conference spokeswoman Carol Hogan. Catholic Charities of Sacramento attorney called "artificial" contraception "sinful." "To ignore the health benefits of contraception is to say that the alternative of 12 to 15 pregnancies during a woman's lifetime is medically acceptable," said Catherine Hanson, an attorney for the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecologists, which favors the coverage. According to the New York Times, the 20 states requiring private-sector insurance coverage for prescription contraceptives include: Arizona, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Iowa, Georgia, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Missouri, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Rhode Island, Texas, Vermont and Washington.
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A tombstone-like monument of the Ten Commandments donated by the Fraternal Order of Eagles to the city of Casper, Wyo., was moved to storage in late November, after a complaint by the Madison, Wis.-based Freedom From Religion Foundation. The city council voted in October to remove the monument from a public park, after the Foundation contacted the city in September on behalf of Casper residents. However, the council additionally voted to eventually create a "monument plaza" featuring the Ten Commandments with "other" historical documents. It took a six-man combined crew from the local cemetery and the Casper Public Utilities Department to dig out the base of the two- or three-ton monument. Workers used a crane to lift it, and placed it at the Casper Service Center. The Foundation, in its letter of complaint, had pointed out that Casper is in the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals. The appeals court ruled last year in a Utah case that cities hosting Ten Commandments markers must permit other groups to erect their own monuments on public property. The opportunistic and notorious Rev. Fred Phelps, of Topeka, Kan., then entered the fray by threatening to sue the city if not permitted to erect a monument "celebrating" the death of slain University of Wyoming student Matthew Shepard. Phelps' proposal invoked Lev. 18:22 calling homosexuals "abominations." The city turned down Phelps' request. The Foundation is monitoring future developments.