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Freethought Today · Vol. 28 No. 3 April 2011

Published by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc.

In the News April 2011

It’s official: Jesuits also morally bankrupt

In the third-largest settlement ever to clergy abuse victims, the Oregon Province of the Society of Jesus and its insurer Safeco agreed March 25 to pay $166 million to more than 500 victims, mostly Native Americans and Alaskan Natives abused at Jesuit schools in Oregon, Washington state, Idaho, Montana and Alaska. About $6 million of the settlement is being set aside for future claims.

Plaintiffs accused the Jesuits of using schools in remote villages and on reservations as dumping grounds for problem priests.

“It’s a day of reckoning and justice,” Clarita Vargas, 51, told The Associated Press. She alleged that she and her two sisters were abused at St. Mary’s Mission and School on the Colville Indian Reservation near Omak, Wash., starting when they were 6 or 7. “My spirit was wounded, and this makes it feel better.”

“It wasn’t an accident,” said plaintiffs’ attorney John Manly. “The evidence showed they did it on purpose and it was rape.”

The Oregon Province, which filed for bankruptcy in 2009, previously settled 200 other claims for $50 million.

Fr. John Morse, who allegedly molested Vargas and about 100 other children and lives in Spokane, was never charged criminally due to the statute of limitations. A current bill in the Washington Legislature would remove that statute.

Archdioceses in Los Angeles and San Antonio, Texas, top the settlement list with respective payouts of $660 million and $198 million.

In the air, nothing fails like prayer

Alaska Airlines Flight 241 was greeted by law enforcement on landing March 13 at Los Angeles International Airport. Passengers and crew reported seeing men onboard holding suspicious wires, and “three passengers were praying out loud in a language other than Spanish,” said an airline spokeswoman.

It turned out the men, all Mexican nationals, were praying in Hebrew. Orthodox Jewish men wear teflillin, or phylacteries, black leather straps wrapped around the left arm and around the forehead. The straps are connected to small boxes with tiny scrolls of scriptures. The spokeswoman said she didn’t know if the men were using those items.

Study: Religion in 9 nations doomed

There’s good news for religious skeptics in a study that used census data going back a century to show that religion in nine nations is due for eventual extinction. The study, titled “A mathematical model of social group competition with application to the growth of religious non-affiliation” also found a steady rise in “nones.”

It was presented March 22 to the American Physical Society meeting in Dallas.

Religion will all but die out in Australia, Austria, Canada, the Czech Republic, Finland, Ireland, the Netherlands, New Zealand and Switzerland, noted co-author Daniel Abrams of Northwestern University.

Co-author Richard Wiener of the Research Corporation for Science Advancement and the University of Arizona, told the BBC: “In a large number of modern secular democracies, there’s been a trend that folks are identifying themselves as non-affiliated with religion. In the Netherlands the number was 40%, and the highest we saw was in the Czech Republic, where the number was 60%.”

The team then applied a “nonlinear dynamics model, adjusting parameters for the relative social and utilitarian merits of membership of the ‘non-religious’ category. In all the countries, indications were that religion is headed toward extinction.” They posit religion has lost its utility and prestige in these nations.

Man had to kill friend in order to save him

“I stoned Murray with a rock in a sock,” John Thomas, 28, told police before he was charged with first-degree murder, the Philadelphia Daily News reported March 19. Murray Seidman’s body was found Jan. 12 inside his Landsdowne, Pa., apartment.

Police said Thomas, a close friend of Seidman’s, killed the developmentally challenged man because he said Seidman made “homosexual advances.”

Thomas said he’d read in the bible that gays should be stoned to death “in certain situations” and that the “answer” he “received from his prayers was to put an end to the victim’s life,” said the criminal complaint. Seidman was struck about 10 times in the head.

No Adam or Steve in cathedral choir

“I understand that Crystal Cathedral Ministries teaches that sexual intimacy is intended by God to only be within the bonds of marriage, between one man and one woman.” That was part of a covenant that the Garden Grove, Calif., megachurch asked choir members to sign.

The covenant from Crystal Cathedral, which has filed for bankruptcy and is being criticized for big payouts to church insiders and relatives of founder Rev. Robert Schuller, has angered current and former choir members who see it as homophobic.

Sisters peeved at priest’s funeral rush

Fr. Bartley P. Baker of St. Leo’s Catholic Church in Elmwood Park, N.J., is accused by sisters Laurie Treene and Robyn Nini of ruining their 96-year-old grandmother’s funeral service. “I got about halfway through [my eulogy] and he ran up to the podium and said, ‘Wrap it up! Wrap it up!’ I was just flabbergasted,” Treene told The Gothamist on March 17.

The sisters said Baker also rushed an elderly relative while giving her Communion: “She slowly opened her mouth and she bit on it so that she would not choke. He yelled, ‘Lady, put it in your mouth. Lady, put it in your mouth,’ ” Treene said.

Treene alleged that Baker directed pallbearers taking the casket out “like an air traffic controller. ‘Come on! Come on! Come on!’ Like, where was he going?”

A spokesman said the Archdiocese of Newark is looking into the matter.

Dutch woman honored for secular efforts

Britain’s National Secular Society awarded the 2011 Irwin Prize for Secularist of the Year to Sophia in ’t Veld, a Dutch member of the European Parliament. Ms. in ’t Veld, 37, was recognized for chairing the Parliamentary Platform for Secularism in Politics.

Philosopher and author AC Grayling made the presentation March 19 in London. Ms. in ’t Veld declined the £5,000 cash element of the prize, which will go to fund another presentation next year.

“I feel very honored to receive this prize. I consider it as encouragement to continue the battle for the complete separation between church and state in Europe,” she said.

The Vatican hasn’t been so generous, NSS announced March 18. “[T]he Catholic Church has not yet paid the £6.3 million it owes the British taxpayer for debts incurred during the visit of the pope last September.”

Not the pole usually linked with Jesus

FOX News Houston asked the question March 22: “How on Earth can you mix pole dancing with Jesus?”

The answer from Crystal Deans, who on the second Sunday of every month invites women into her studio for “Pole Fitness for Jesus,” answers: “I don’t teach women to be strippers. . . . I teach women to feel good about themselves, to feel empowered and we get in really good shape. God is the only person that judges, so anybody who wants to judge me, feel free to, but I’m good with God.”

Participant Tiffany Booth adds: “My parents were very religious, and it’s a great way you get the stigma off. It’s not just dancing on a pole. You have music, and you have girls together working out, and it’s a different kind of workout.”

Anti-abortion zealots savor new laws

South Dakota’s Republican Gov. Dennis Daugaard signed a law March 22 that mandates a 72-hour waiting period before a woman can get an abortion, the longest period in the U.S. It also requires women to consult with a counselor at a pregnancy “help center.”

Planned Parenthood of Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota and the ACLU of South Dakota said they will file a lawsuit immediately. Kathi Di Nicola of Planned Parenthood called the law, which takes effect July 1, “an egregious violation of the Constitution.”

• Kansas Republican Gov. Sam Brownback, a Roman Catholic, said he will sign a bill passed March 30 that strictly limit abortions after 22 weeks based on disputed research that fetuses can feel pain. A separate bill requiring consent of both parents to minors to get an abortion and to require doctors to provide the state with more detailed records for abortions also is headed to the governor.

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists said no legitimate evidence exists to show a fetus experiences pain at 22 weeks.

An existing mental health exception in Kansas, even for women expressing suicidal thoughts, is dropped. Nebraska passed a similar law in 2010.

• On March 29, Arizona Republican Gov. Jan Brewer signed a bill into law that makes the state the first in the U.S. to outlaw abortions performed on the basis of the race or gender of the fetus.

Under the law, medical professionals would face felony charges if they could be shown to have performed abortions for the purposes of helping parents select their offspring on the basis of gender or race. Women would not be penalized.

Backers of the law said it was needed to end sex- and race-related discrimination.

• In Virginia, Republican Gov. Bob McConnell signed a bill March 28 placing the same restrictions on abortion clinics as hospitals, which could result in closing 17 of the state’s 21 clinics. Choice advocates fear requirements such as widening hallways, hiring new staff and equipment purchases will be impossible to meet financially in the limited time available.

Texas dig reveals earlier settlement

The discovery of thousands of artifacts and stone tools as old as 15,500 years at the Buttermilk Creek archeological site near Austin, Texas, pushes back the known presence of humans in North America by as much as 2,500 years, the journal Science reported in March. The find was 5 feet below materials used by the Clovis culture, thought to have been the first settlers.

The team used luminescence dating, which measures light energy trapped in minerals. Carbon-14 dating couldn’t be used due to the lack of organic material.

In a separate paper in the journal, paleontologists report that stone tools from Africa moved to India as long as 1.5 million years ago, twice as long as previously thought. The discovery at an Indian site called Attirampakkam helps anthropologists understand the spread of hominids from Africa to Asia.

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