Utah Crackdown on Polygamy
Utah has hired a so-called "polygamy czar" to lead a campaign to root out polygamists who take child brides or commit welfare fraud. An estimated 20,000 to 50,000 polygamists live in Utah.
Police raided a picnic in July attended by 800 members of one family, arresting Jeremy Kingston, 32, for marrying his 15-year-old niece/cousin, LuAnn. Now 23, LuAnn went to the state attorney's office three years after walking out on her husband, saying, "Something needs to be done."
State attorney Mark Shurtleff told the London Observer:
"The message to these tyrants is that we are going to investigate you and prosecute you, and the message to the victims is that there is help available to you. In the past we've reacted when a victim has come out, but now we're going to be proactive."
Breastfeeding by the Good Book
Religionist Catherine Donkers was cleared of child endangerment for breastfeeding her unrestrained infant as she drove on the Ohio turnpike May 8. An Ohio court in August found her guilty of breaking Ohio's child-restraint laws and driving without a license. Troopers trying to pull her over testified she was so distracted she didn't notice the sirens: she was talking on a cell phone, taking notes about what her husband was ordering her to do, breastfeeding the baby, and driving at the same time.
Donkers and her husband belong to the First Fellowship for Eternal Sovereignty, a religion granting a husband complete control over his wife.
Colson Claims Debunked
A study advertised by Watergate felon Chuck Colson as proving the success of his Texas prison ministry actually reveals its failure.
The evangelical Innerchange Freedom Initiative segregates prisoners in their own pod of a state-run prison, and requires 16 to 24 months of biblical education. Released prisoners are followed for 6 to 12 months, must hold a job and be a church member.
Colson issued a press release in late June claiming a 2-year study by the University of Pennsylvania and the Manhattan Institute shows that faith-based mentoring decreases recidivism. Colson claimed "program graduates were 50% less likely to be arrested, and 60% less likely to become reincarcerated."
Slate, an internet news magazine, published an article in August by UCLA social studies professor Mark A.R. Kleiman debunking the claims. Prisoners enrolled in the program were not better rehabilitated, only prisoners who graduated from the program (75 out of 177).
Kleiman also found that "overall, the 177 entrants did a little bit worse than the controls."
Derailing Roadmap to Peace?
So-called Christian Zionists who see the state of Israel as fulfillment of biblical prophecy, and as a condition for the second coming of Jesus, have lobbied President Bush throughout the summer to derail his "roadmap" for peace. Bush has proposed the creation of a Palestinian state by 2005.
Spearheading the campaign is Christian evangelical Gary Bauer, of Americans for a Safe Israel. Christian Friends of Israeli communities donated $200,000 last year from U.S. churches to help build Jewish settlements on the West Bank that have inflamed relations.
"If Bush touches Jerusalem, he's not only going to get us mad but get God mad," televangelist Pat Robertson told AP. House Majority Leader Tom Delay also has stated his belief that God gave Israel and the West Bank to the Jews.
Blair Imitates Bush
British Prime Minister Tony Blair has set up a ministerial working group, the Faith Community Liaison Group, in the Home Office.
The London Observer described Blair as "a committed Christian who keeps the bible by his bed," and recapped Blair's remark that "My Maker" would answer for the deaths of British soldiers in Iraq.
Florida Voucher Scandals
About 23% of all third-graders in the state of Florida ended the school year in danger of failing, following implementation of statewide testing that bases grade advancement on test results over report cards and teacher recommendations.
Private, mostly religious, schools, received a total of $88 million this year in taxpayer-subsidized vouchers, but are exempt from the testing.
Dick Baker, principal of one religious school receiving public vouchers, was accused this summer of taking schoolgirls on overnight trips to Disney, dressing them up like "princesses" and in his collection of little-girl swimsuits, taking their photographs and "tickling" them.
Community Christian School in Largo has enrolled at least 16 students in the voucher program for a minimum of $56,000. Baker's school also enrolled about 28 disabled students under a special state voucher program, to the tune of $168,000, according to the St. Petersburg Times.
"Character" Program Proselytizes
Character First!, a program by Christian evangelist Bill Gothard, has been endorsed by Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Jerry Regier, the state's controversial child welfare director. The program has been foisted upon thousands of agency workers at Orlando's Department of Children and Families, and is spreading.
Character First! identifies 49 "character" qualities which Gothard based on the bible, such as "alertness, diligence, humility and tolerance." Employees are even offered a pocket guide to consult. Workers in Orlando told Florida Today they are insulted by the lessons.
Funding Faith at Secular Expense
The federal agency that oversees AmeriCorps, a national community service program, is funding a new program run by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Providence, while cutting all funding to several existing programs lauded for having proven track records.
The $324,000 grant from the Corporation for National and Community Service to the diocese will pay 32 AmeriCorps "volunteers" to work with preschoolers in the diocese's four daycare centers.
Utah Goes Secular?
Utah city councils in Murray, Salt Lake City, West Valley City and Ogden have recently suspended invocations. The Salt Lake Tribune reports that many other Utah towns and cities are considering whether to drop prayers.
The actions have followed several legal decisions, including a recent ruling by the Utah Supreme Court that if a city schedules any prayers, it may not censor speakers. An atheist proposing a pro-separation of church and state "prayer" won the Murray court case.
"Family Day" Litigated
The ACLU of Hawaii filed a a second lawsuit against Honolulu city officials in July, charging the city sponsored a Christian religious service on Family Day.
The group initially sued Honolulu officials for excluding three gay groups from the city's Family Day Parade. U.S. District Judge Helen Gillmor ruled on July 3 that Honolulu's Family Day Parade was privately sponsored, therefore organizers could discriminate. The ACLU's follow-up suit alleges that at least $15,000 of taxpayers' money was spent for the event.
Strong-Arming Justice Department
The U.S. Justice Department's civil rights division sent recent letters to 12 municipalities in support of churches fighting zoning requirements. It has accused Maui County, Hawaii, of religious discrimination for refusing a Christian group's request to build a sanctuary on the lower scope of the Haleakala volcano on Maui, because of city traffic and safety concerns.
"It's hard to avoid the conclusion that Maui County is being strong-armed from the nation's capital," editorialized the Maui News.
The controversy may test a federal law passed in 2000, exempting religious groups from many zoning and land-use laws.
Not "Good News"
Attorney General John Ashcroft has thrown Justice Department support to Good News Clubs demanding public school support.
The Child Evangelism Fellowship of Maryland in January sued the Montgomery County schools (Md.) for refusing to publicize religious after-school meetings by sending flyers home in childrens' backpacks. Club activities include hearing bible stories and memorizing scripture.
Rockville officials protest that being forced to hand out religious flyers makes teachers unwitting missionaries. In April, a judge refused the group's demand. The evangelism outfit, whose mission statement pledges to "locate children who have not yet accepted Jesus Christ as their Savior," appealed the ruling to the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in May. Ashcroft has filed a friend of the court brief to support the gospel group.
Two years ago, the Supreme Court ruled that public schools must rent schoolrooms immediately after school to the Good News Club. The national ministry claims to host more than 1,800 religious clubs in public schools.
Boycotting the Boy Scouts
Venture Crew 488, a coed unit for boys and girls ages 14-20 in Sebastopol, Calif., announced in August that the local Scout council has given it an ultimatum: retract its anti-discrimination statement, or leave scouting. The group criticized Boy Scouts' discriminatory policy against gay and atheist youths and adults, and urges businesses, United Ways and others to stop supporting it.
United Way of Southeastern Pennsylvania voted on July 31 to cancel all funding to local Scouts because they discriminate against gays. The United Way, which has supported Scouting for 80 years, voted to withhold the second-half payment of a $400,862 grant to the Cradle of Liberty Council, and the second half of a $17,901 grant to the Chester County Council. The Cradle of Liberty Council recently ousted Life Scout Gregory Lattera. Pew Charitable Trusts killed a grant of $100,000 to the council because of its discriminatory action.
The Freethought Society of Greater Philadelphia, a Foundation chapter, is protesting an arrangement dating to 1928 by the city of Philadelphia, which grants the Cradle of Liberty Council of BSA free use of a city-owned lot, where it built its headquarters in 1929.
Utah Crackdown on Polygamy