RSS Feed

Outreach & Events

Convention Highlights

2013 Convention  
Madison, Wis.

Videos & More!

Raleigh Regional Convention

May 2 – 3

Raleigh Convention

NATIONAL CONVENTION

October 24—25  , 2014

37th Annual Convention
Los Angeles, Cal.

2014 Convention

Upcoming Events & Appearances

Appearances, Debates, Speeches and More

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is urging not only that (former) Milwaukee Archbishop Rembert Weakland be investigated over his use of $450,000 in Archdiocese funds as "hush money" to an adult alleging sexual abuse, but that self-described "devout Catholic" Milwaukee County District Attorney E. Michael McCann be investigated for his murky role in the negotiations. The Foundation in late May urged the Office of Lawyer Regulation in Milwaukee to look into actions by McCann, who is in charge of deciding whether to investigate Weakland. Weakland stepped down on May 24 after revelations of the pay-off. "There appears to be an unacceptable and extraordinary conflict of interest in leaving such an investigation up to the discretion of McCann," wrote the Foundation. McCann admits Weakland had personally confessed having a relationship with a younger man to him. That man, Paul Marcoux, claims Weakland assaulted him in a "date rape" in 1979 when Marcoux was 30 and a Catholic student seeking advice on becoming a priest. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported the archdiocese consulted McCann over whether Marcoux could be criminally charged with extortion, after Marcoux approached the archdiocese seeking damages in 1997. Two attorneys representing Marcoux assert the Archdiocese threatened criminal action against Marcoux, and themselves. The hush money was paid to Marcoux a year later. An official with the State Bar of Wisconsin said it would be generally unethical to threaten possible criminal charges to try to fend off a lawsuit. McCann admits he was consulted by Archdiocese lawyer Matthew Flynn about possible criminal charges. Weakland's expedited resignation swells to (at least) 18 the list of Roman Catholic bishops and archbishops worldwide removed or resigning over sexual scandals or cover-ups of sexual scandals in the church through June 11. News of Weakland's scandal apparently brought on two heart attacks suffered by Marquette University Law School Dean Howard Eisenberg, whom Weakland appointed this spring to head a commission to invesigate sexual abuse cases against Milwaukee priests. Hours before suffering his first heart attack, Eisenberg told reporters: "I just want to cry and crawl under my bed." After a second attack, Eisenberg, 55, died on June 4.
Published in Back Issues
%900 %America/Chicago, %2013

State/Church Bulletin

Axis of Ignoramuses A majority of United Nations delegates in May defeated an "abstinence-only" sex education plan which the Bush administration sought to make international. U.S. allies opposing condom use to fight AIDS and teen pregnancy, and any reference to abortion, included Iran, Iraq, Sudan, Libya, Syria and the Vatican. Women's advocates argued sex education is a matter of life or death in the developing world, where millions of girls, some as young as 10, will marry before they turn 18, and pregnancy is the leading cause of death for women ages 15 to 19. Faith-Based Texas Suit Back in Court The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has remanded to federal court a lawsuit challenging a 1999 "faith-based" contract to determine if $8,000 given to a bible-based program must be repaid to taxpayers. The Texas Department of Human Services awarded $8,000 to Jobs Partnership of Washington County, run by a group of churches in Brenham, Tex. The lawsuit was originally dismissed as moot by U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks in Austin after the contract ran out. Civil rights groups challenged the faith-based program for using tax dollars to buy bibles and proselytize. Your Tax $$$ at Work Congress set aside $30 million in the Compassion Capital Fund to encourage "faith-based" and grassroots groups to apply for government grants. One 3-day regional meeting on how churches can grab some tax dollars was sponsored by the government in New Orleans in mid-May, attended by about 500 nonprofits from 11 states and officials from five federal agencies. Workshops included "The role of faith-based organizations to help incarcerated parents," and "Abstinence and healthy youth decisions." In attendance was Bobby Polito, director of the Faith-Based Office at the Department of Health and Human Services. Polito was formerly director of Faith Works, a Christian group in Milwaukee whose direct public funding was found unconstitutional in a lawsuit won in federal court in January by the Freedom From Religion Foundation. Parsonage Exemption Litigated President Bush signed a bill into law on May 20 protecting the unique "parsonage exemption," a subsidy of $500 million annually allowing ministers, priests and rabbis to keep their tax break for the cost of housing. The bill passed quickly in the House and Senate, following a flurry of church lobbying, anticipating a ruling over the constitutionality of the exemption by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco. The court is hearing a challenge of the 1921 parsonage exemption, which permits clergy to deduct from taxable income the portion of church earnings that are attributed to housing costs. The IRS tax code was gradually broadened to permit clergy to exempt the annual rental value of their homes from taxable income, even if they personally own the homes. The IRS suit was provoked by a claim by Baptist "Pastor Rick" Warren, who has 18,000 members at his Saddleback Valley Community Church near Los Angeles. Warren, who bought a $360,000 house in 1992, claimed his entire church salary for his tax-exempt housing allowance one year, and 80% of his salary for two other years. He also claimed mortgage interest deductions. The U.S. Tax Court in Washington, D.C., ruled two years ago that Warren could take the entire allowance. Erwin Chemerinsky, Prof. of Law, University of Southern California-Los Angeles, was appointed by the appeals court to research the exemption. Chemerinsky filed a motion in May on behalf of himself as a taxpayer challenging the constitutionality of the exemption. Hearing Held over Church Politics The first Congressional hearing over a bill to allow churches to engage in politicking was held on May 14. "It opens a Pandora's box of new opportunities for mischief," warned Baptist minister C. Welton Gaddy, director of the Interfaith Alliance. The bill, by Rep. Walter Jones, R-NC, would exempt churches from a 1954 IRS provision inserted into law by Sen. Lyndon B. Johnson, forbidding tax-exempt groups from endorsing candidates or engaging in political activities. There are 114 co-sponsors in the GOP-controlled House, including Majority Leader Dick Armey and Majority Whip Tom DeLay, both R-TX. IGWT Mandated in Virginia "In God We Trust" must be posted in public schools in Virginia beginning next fall, under legislation signed in mid-May by Gov. Mark R. Warner. The legislation does not provide funds for purchase of the posters, but a private group, the Family Policy Network, said it will send a poster to each of the 2,000 state public schools. "Looking for God for help is a part of our national tradition, and I'm proud that we live in a state that recognizes that," said sponsor Sen. Nick Rerras, R-Norfolk. Religious Bushisms March 30 radio address: "We feel our reliance on the creator who made us. We place our sorrows and cares before him, seeking God's mercy." April 11 speech: "Government can write checks, but it can't put hope in people's hearts . . . That is done by people who have heard a call and who act on faith and are willing to share in that faith." Mid-April: "We ought not to worry about faith in our society. We ought to welcome it into our programs. . . . We ought to recognize the healing power of faith in our society." April 29 speech: "I am just a humble sinner. . . . The government should not fear faith and faith-based programs." May 16, First National Hispanic Prayer Breakfast: "We welcome all religions in America . . . We know that men and women can be good without faith. We also know that faith is an incredibly important source of goodness in our country. Throughout our history, Americans of faith have always turned to prayer . . . Since America's founding, prayer has reassured us that the hand of God is guiding the affairs of this nation. "When it comes to the use of federal money, the days of discriminating against religious institutions simply because they are religious must come to an end." A lawsuit to bar President Bush from mixing religion and politics was thrown out of federal court in Sacramento in late May. Emergency room physician Michael A. Newdow went to court after Rev. Franklin Graham, invited to deliver a prayer at Bush's 2000 inauguration, made overt Christian references. (Sources: New York Times, April 20, 2002; Reuters, April 20, 2002; The White House; Sacramento Bee, May 25, 2002) Scientologists Settle Suit A former Church of Scientology member settled a 22-year lawsuit in May when the church finally paid him $8.6 million for mental abuse. Lawrence Wollersheim, who joined Scientology in 1969 and became a recruiter, was punished by church officials by being placed in the hold of a ship for 18 hours a day, where he became suicidal. Wollersheim, who has a bipolar disorder, was forbidden to seek medical help, but spent $150,000 on Hubbard's "mental health" regimens. He filed suit in 1980. Judgments against the church once hit $30 million, but the church refused to pay. A $2.5 million judgment, upheld in 1994 by the U.S. Supreme Court, had collected interest at the statutory 10 percent rate. * * * A wrongful death lawsuit against the Church of Scientology probably won't be dismissed despite an allegation of legal misconduct, according to a judge's ruling in May. The estate of Lisa McPherson brought suit when McPherson died in 1995 while under the care of Scientologists. * * * A French court fined the Paris branch of the Church of Scientology 8,000 euros (about $7,300) for violating a data protection law in its recruiting tactics, but acquitted the church of attempted fraud and false advertising. The president of the branch was also fined. Bible Sales Tax Upheld The Louisiana Department of Revenue told vendors in May to start collecting sales tax on religious literature and bibles, after the ACLU won a federal legal challenge in March. Struck down were a 1996 law exempting churches from paying state and local taxes on items bought for religious instruction, and a 1998 law barring sales tax on fees church members pay to attend religious retreats and camps. Vatican Implicated in Swindle? An Italian monsignor with Vatican connections is accused of trying to launder stolen insurance company money through a bogus charity set up by convicted swindler Martin Frankel. Frankel, a financier, pleaded guilty in Connecticut court in May to 24 charges of fraud, racketeering, conspiracy and other offenses totaling $208 million. Monsignor Emilio Colagiovanni, who is now living in Ohio while awaiting trial, is charged with fraud and conspiracy in connection with the St. Francis of Assissi Foundation. Insurance regulators in several states seeking more than $600 million in damages from Frankel, have also sued the Vatican, alleging the church was involved in Frankel's schemes. Those states to date include: Mississippi, Tennessee, Missouri, Oklahoma and Arkansas. Supreme Court Has No Comment The U.S. Supreme Court without comment refused to review a Mississippi lawsuit involving a priest, a former governor and his wife, who claims she lost faith in her church and religion because the Anglican priest secretly audiotaped her. Former Mississippi first lady Julie Mabus sued the priest for clergy malpractice, breach of duty, fraud and negligence. Her then-husband Ray Mabus tape-recorded a counseling session the couple had with the priest in 1988. Rev. Jerry McBride was aware of the taping, but the first lady was not. Discussion of her adultery during the taped meeting resulted in divorce and loss of legal custody of their two daughters. Her attorney claims the priest's conduct violated state negligence laws. The case returns to state court. Your Friendly Neighborhood Chaplain Maricopa County volunteer jail chaplain Robert Bradford, 65, a Mormon, was arrested on May 15 for reportedly plotting to kill Arizona Gov. Jane Hull and Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio. Bradford had two prior convictions for indecent exposure, including exposing himself to a male Mesa police officer in 1989. Madison Street Jail officials knew about one of his prior convictions yet still permitted him to work as chaplain. Bradford befriended Donald Cochran, 78, a Navy veteran believed to be the mastermind behind the murder plot. Cochran's history of threatening public officials includes sending a letter to the state attorney general in 1994, threatening to kill him and his wife unless $500,000 was deposited in his bank account. He also demanded 20 Baby Ruth candy bars, five giant bags of (plain) M&Ms and crossword puzzle books, according to the Arizona Republic. His record includes child molestation and aggravated assault. Also in on the plot was jailhouse inmate Danny Warner, 46, with a long history of incarcerations. Warner reportedly bailed himself out of jail with Cochran's money in order to look for a hired killer, with Bradford acting as middleman.
Published in Back Issues
%899 %America/Chicago, %2013

From Roman Catholic Priest to Atheist

Delivered at the 24th annual convention of the Freedom From Religion Foundation on Sept. 22, 2001, in Madison, Wis. It's probably been almost 35 years since I've had a chance to speak to an audience like this. Then it was the congregation of my church. Today it's a slightly different group--but I feel very much at home here. Dan Barker asked me a year or so ago to sit down and write a piece about how I got here, from being a Catholic priest to a member of your group, the Freedom From Religion Foundation. How did I come out of such a religious family and the environment of the deep South to be a freethinker? I put it off because I wasn't sure how I "got here," so this opportunity to speak to you today came as a challenge. Thinking about this talk, I called my daughter--who's in law school--and asked her if she had ever known me as a believer. She said, "Dad, I suspect that you never were a believer." I wondered if she was right, and I began to reflect on my Catholic childhood. I was raised by a Roman Catholic mother who was Irish-French and by a Presbyterian father, in a small Southern town--Natchez, on the banks of the Mississippi River, 70 miles south of Vicksburg. All of our priests were Irishmen, very moralistic and authoritarian. Growing up Catholic in the '40s and the '50s meant never, ever having to confront the fact that you were a believer in a god. You were exposed to a society, a church in which you were baptized in infancy. You were confirmed when you could hardly walk, and there was never a discussion about god and spirits for individuals. We never had to make a statement as our Protestant friends did, where they would announce their trust in Jesus or be "born again." Catholicism was a given. It was simply who I was, something almost like my ethnic origin. Did I really believe in God? Was I ever asked if I believed in God? No. Early this morning I read a column in our Capital Times in which the author talked about taking the train to Dallas in November of 1963 and being at the scene where Lee Harvey Oswald assassinated John Kennedy. At four o'clock this morning I could remember with total recall where I was, what I was thinking, what everything was like on that day 38 years ago. I can remember those details more strongly than I remember last September 11th or anything about my mother's death or numerous other important events in my life. This morning I kept wondering: Why do I remember Kennedy's death so clearly and why did it mean so much to me? I realized that his death and how much it mattered to me is all tied up with my trip from being a priest to being an atheist. I started school in a Catholic kindergarten when I was four years old. In November of 1963, when Kennedy was murdered, I was 25 and in my last year of Roman Catholic seminary, waiting to be ordained in nine months as a priest. I had spent the summer of 1963 doing extraordinary things, especially for me as a Southern white boy. On a very hot day in August of 1963, wearing my priest collar, I attended the March on Washington and heard Martin Luther King give his famous speech. I wasn't supposed to be in Washington. My bishop had told seminarians not to go near Washington that weekend. My parents told me that I was not to go near Washington. But I felt enthralled by King. I had been resentful of President Kennedy, who up until then had not been very supportive of what was going on in the civil rights movement. But not long after King's speech my view of Kennedy began to change. The president gave some remarkable speeches that summer and became a man who was willing to stand up and be counted. Something happened to me. I began to see Kennedy as the person who could change society. I wanted to be part of the coming struggle in Mississippi, to be a leader in the battle to combat racism. But my father was giving me holy hell about my involvement. He told me I should get out of the seminary and go into social work. He said, "That's what you really want to do." Well, I had been in seminary for nearly nine years, and I was determined to be ordained and make a difference. What I could still believe, in the early '60s in the seminary, was that this God, this church, this thing was on the move. And just this morning I realized that the day Kennedy was killed was the day I began to lose my faith and become an atheist. I thought: If God will let Kennedy be murdered, whose side is he on? Or does he even care? Is he really listening? Is there even a God? So Kennedy's death was the beginning of the end for me, and the murder of my hero Martin Luther King five years later was the end of the end. It was a slow progression in my heart and soul, as I came to grips with the fact that I needed to move on and to get out of the Catholic Church. It was extremely hard, extremely scary. I'd been in the seminary for 14 years. I'd been a priest for five years, and I'd been considered Roman Catholic for all my life--31, 32 years. To get out of that, and to tell my family that I was leaving, was very hard. I was also very close to a group of young seminarians. Among them, perhaps the closest friend I had back then was a young priest named Bernie Law, who is today the Cardinal Archbishop of Boston. To tell these priest buddies of mine was also very hard. Tom (center) with his dad (left) and young Bernard Law (right) who is now "notorious" Cardinal Law of Boston Incidentally, most of these buddies are no longer priests today. Some are dead; others quit the priesthood. Even Bernie Law sort of quit the priesthood too--to become an Ecclesiastic! [audience laughter] But most of them who survive are still religious and still go to church. They look at me today and say, "What went wrong? How could you give up on your culture, your background, your heritage?" Once I did quit the priesthood, I found myself here in Madison, Wisconsin, studying social work, still trying to be Catholic and fascinated with this new town. I could walk around without a collar, by god! Nobody knew who I was. They still heard the Southern accent, but this was a big town and I felt invisible and I fell in love with it. I was only going to be here two years, and that was 32 years ago. I'm still here. My story is still evolving. I hope it's an incentive for others to ask a lot of questions! I've totally skipped one subject that's central to Catholicism and the priesthood, and that's celibacy [audience laughter]. How did I get to be celibate, how did that happen? Well, more interesting is how did I get out of being celibate? [audience laughter] As you can imagine, at age 32 I was still a virgin physically. I got married and have stayed married to my wife Judy ever since, although I've given her holy hell. Early on, when we were struggling in our marriage, we went to a psychiatrist, and he asked us, "Have either of you been married before?" And I said, "No, but I used to be a priest." He said, "You were married to Holy Mother and the Church." Question: How did your family and church authorities react to your leaving the priesthood? Both of my parents were very religious, but both were very angry that I went to the seminary. Somewhat of a conundrum. I pleased them, I thought, by being very religious as they had taught me. But they sort of said, "We didn't want you to be that religious." [audience laughter] I think they were thinking grandchildren, and you know, going to church every now and then, and here I was going all the way. When I left the priesthood, my mother had already died and my father was only slightly disappointed (though he had converted to Catholicism). But when he came to see me here in Madison and couldn't find a crucifix or a bible in the house, he realized I didn't go to church. That really disappointed him. Did the church authorities try to talk me out of it? To the contrary, I was outspoken and pretty honest and they were probably relieved to see me go. I had come to realize, while still a priest, that I didn't believe in God. I was using the bully pulpit I had as a priest to be a teacher, to push the organization to change. What broke my back morally was a document called Humanae Vitae, issued in 1968, one month after Martin Luther King was killed. It said the only form of birth control that could be used was the age-old rhythm method. For me, such a decision was stunning since for years a committee of clergy and laypeople was saying we've got to change our birth control policy. So, to have the Pope go the opposite way and turn against it, just snapped the last thread of my interest in hanging around the priesthood. The news about Vatican II had been concealed from us in the seminary since we were not allowed to watch television or allowed to read about it. Vatican II sort of held us there because we thought a revolution was coming. We guessed wrong. Question: Was there any other doctrinal issues besides birth control and atheism that you had major fights with and disagreements? Let me tell you a little about life in the seminary. In the Josephinum (Pontifical College Josephinum in Worthington, Ohio), and in most seminaries in the '50s and '60s, we were taught by people who had grown up 40 years before us. Many lectures were in Latin. I could read Latin and can today, but I couldn't understand a word of it. We used to sit in class and read what were then radical German and French theologians with the textbook covers torn off. What I got out of the seminary, in 1964, was that I wasn't a theologian. I was there to be an instrument of God, or an instrument of something, on the race issue. And that was the major thing that I wanted to do, that I tried to do, and I did it incessantly. Once you question one thing, such as birth control, and begin to say "This could not be true," it was like a whole house of cards falling down. I remember thinking, "That means papal infallibility is not true." Papal infallibility was only declared in 1870. How did that happen? It was a grievous, arrogant mistake that the Catholics made. I remember getting up at a meeting of priests and saying, "This could not be true. We made a mistake." In the world I lived in, the priests were the foot soldiers, not the theologians. Question: Did you work in a parish? I was assigned to the white Catholic Church. I knew a lot about the Vatican Council but--and this is a touchy subject--the one area I knew very little about was sex. All I knew was out of a book. Sexuality as a child in my world had been awfully handled. As a priest I was open about talking to my young charges about masturbation, about sexual feelings, and I helped them come to grips with what it's like to be a human being and accept these things in you. It got me into a lot of trouble. [audience laughter] I think people saw me as somewhat of a rebel. But I was very isolated. Question: You mentioned your daughter and that she thinks perhaps you never had been a believer, and I'm wondering as she was growing up, what did you use for spiritual guidance? Was there any religion of any kind? My wife is still a Christian, goes to church, and the two kids were baptized and completed confirmation classes at First Congregationalist Church here in town. But at least right now, I've sort of won them over. But I'm not sure. The question was what kind of spiritual thinking did I give my children? I personally probably did not give them "spiritual guidance" since I was very negative and resentful of all organized religion. They knew when they were children that their mother and I differed on this topic. Tom and Judy Reed on their wedding day Question: When you left the priesthood, what did you do? I intended to get a degree in psychology. I wanted to be a psychologist, because I was always told I was a good listener. But to be a psychologist would have taken four years of undergraduate work and then many more years to get a Ph.D. So I said, "Well, what else can I do?" They said, "Have you ever heard of social work?" I was handed a pamphlet from a university up north. And I fell in love with it, just with that pamphlet. Here's the funny part. I got the pamphlet in a little clinic in a community in Mississippi called Mound Bayou, an all-black community. Tufts University had an outreach center there. I'm sure these pamphlets were sent down by Madison's school and were coded, because when I walked in the door at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, they looked up and said, "Oh, you're white!" I persevered. I worked with Dane County Human Services for almost 30 years, and was a social work supervisor in child abuse and juvenile court work. I retired three years ago and am now looking for a new career. Question: Some years ago I heard the expression from a priest and a friend of his, that they'd both taken the "Cardinal's oath." This meant that even in the face of saying something that they probably did not believe, as opposed to their own beliefs, they would go ahead and say what the Church wanted them to say. Have you ever heard the expression? No, I haven't heard the expression. But it rings true. I remember the night before I was ordained, the bishop was the Apostolic delegate from Washington and he said, "No matter what your bishop tells you to do, do it." I remember just sitting there and thinking, "I'm not going to do that." Another funny story: a week earlier, before the ordination: we'd been on a week's retreat in silence, right up the street from Ohio State University along the banks of the Allegheny. Being on a retreat back in those days was a week of silence, walking and meditation. The monsignor came to me the night before ordination and said, "I really had to fight to get you ordained because a priest started following you around during retreat, and he noticed that you were skipping rocks across the river, and looking up at the sky and at the trees and throwing berries and things." [audience laughter] I was 26 years old. That was me. But the Cardinal's oath, I would have laughed at that. Catholicism has become a much more conservative organization than when I was in seminary. Of 15 priests in my class, 12 have left the priesthood. Pedophilia is a major problem that is sweeping the church. They've been trying to muzzle any information about its happening but it's causing the priesthood to be destroyed. A good friend of mine said, "Gee, I wish we had married priests so we could keep you in the priesthood." And I said, "Well, the fact that I'm an atheist might get in the way, too." But he said, "I hope we have a married priesthood." I hope we never do, because the church is so rotten and so politically corrupt, that by allowing priests to marry you'll only postpone the inevitable--[applause]--of laypeople, real people, taking over and slowly doing away with this Old Testament invention of the priesthood. Question: How did your racial sensitivity develop? I was raised in a totally segregated world and went into seminary in 1955. I was 17 years old. In 1957 I remember two things happened: Little Rock--those of you in my age bracket remember that federal courts ordered Central High School to be integrated and the federal government sent in troops. And second, there was a debate in my class, and I volunteered to take the side of Orville Faubus, the segregationist governor. I remember writing that races were not meant to mix. I had all sorts of stuff in my head. About six months later, Xavier, the bishop of New Orleans, Joseph Rummel, issued a bishop's letter saying racial segregation was immoral. Imagine if I came in here and told you there is no wall behind me, there is no one sitting on this platform, there are no lights over your head. That's how it hit me. I was incredibly suppressed and biased. We'd never talked about this. I sat from age 4 to 17 in Catholic schools, and race relations were never discussed. I remember it just opened me up. I didn't walk away from it, because I was a loyal person at the time. If the bishop said it, then it must be true. And slowly, as I went into seminary in Ohio, I started going Zto school with African American seminarians and the blinders dropped from my eyes. In my short lifetime, I had gone from hearing my grandmother tell about her memories as a person only one generation removed from being a slave-owner to my becoming an advocate of civil rights for all. It was a strange journey. I should add that Bernie Law was a positive influence for me on this issue. Question: What is your view of one of the most respected humans, the Pope? I have to stop and think. Who is the Pope? I think he is a very conservative man. When he became pope he put the kibosh on everything. And he's much more conservative than the previous pope. But I think he's perhaps the first pope that I see through a freethinker's eyes. To me, personally, he's irrelevant. Comment: I'm glad that the Ecumenical movement did not create a Protestant-Catholic church. It would have been more difficult for you to go away. I totally agree with that, it's a good thing it didn't happen. The second comment was about race--he said look at the color of this room, of this convention. I grew up in the South where religion was very much a lifesaver to African Americans. Given all that, African Americans in the South tend to be very religious. When I've told my few black friends in Madison that I'm a nonbeliever, they're just incredulous. Question: Were you aware of the cover-up of pedophilia? I was first aware of it in the seminary. One of the teaching priests had created a cult around himself that he was somehow God's agent, and he was sexually abusing a number of boys. When he was dismissed from the seminary, his abuse was never reported to the police. This was around 1962 and he was sent back to Rockford, Illinois, his home diocese, while all of the boys, the victims of this crime, were dismissed from the seminary. In my years as a priest, which were only five, I heard about pedophilia one time. But I'm not at all surprised at what's happening today. I think it's mostly caused by the quality of people that they had to start recruiting and the anti-sexual attitudes of the Church. There were so few young men coming into the priesthood that they had to lower the standards. The screening must have been awful. Now they're reaping the results of their recruiting efforts and have already paid millions and millions of dollars in pedophilia cases. The money is what's getting their attention, not the damage they did to the children. Thank you very much.
Published in Back Issues
%898 %America/Chicago, %2013

For the Record

Indonesian Taliban? A group calling itself the Taliban Brigade is part of a network seeking to overthrow IndonesiaÕs secular legal system and replace it with sharia, or strict Islamic law. Islam first came to Indonesia 700 years ago. Now Indonesia boasts more Muslims than any other country. Source: Washington Post Foreign Service, May 4, 2002 Chicks come home to roost? The United States spent millions of dollars supplying Afghan schoolchildren with militant, violent Islamic textbooks as part of its anti-Soviet resistance in the 1980s. The primers included text on jihad, and the mechanics of war. While U.S. foreign aid workers are purging references to killing from some 10 million textbooks being trucked into Afghanistan, they are retaining the Muslim content. The U.S. Agency for International Development is barred from advancing religion and may only finance programs Òwith a secular purposeÓ that do not Òresult in religious indoctrination.Ó The University of Nebraska in January was awarded $6.5 million to develop more textbooks and teacher training-kits for Afghanistan. Sources: Washington Post / [Minneapolis] Star-Tribune, March 23, 2002 Religious nurse wins. A federal jury in May ordered a public health clinic in California to pay damages to a born-again Christian nurse fired for refusing to give patients Òmorning-afterÓ pills. Michelle Diaz claimed dispensing the contraceptive violated her religious beliefs. Source: Bayarea.com, May 30, 2002 Votes for sale? ÒIÕm a white guy. IÕm a Republican. But IÕll deliver,Ó promised Maryland gubernatorial hopeful Robert Ehrlich, a member of the U.S. House, in announcing a federal grant to a black church in Baltimore. Source: Washington Post, May 5, 2002 Gay prom win. A Canadian teen won a court injunction permitting him to take his gay date to a school prom at a Catholic high school in Oshawa, Ontario, over the objections of Durham Catholic School Board. Source: Ananova.com, May 10, 2002 ÒDrowning of Stephan JonesÓ unbanned. A committee in Horry County schools, S.C., voted to restore to high school library shelves The Drowning of Stephan Jones. The book, based on the true story of a murder of a gay man by devout teenagers, is written by Foundation member Bette Greene. It will be allowed in middle school libraries with certain restrictions. A Southern Baptist minister on the panel voted to censor the book. Source: The Sun News, May 10, 2002 Creationism permeation. The American Academy for Liberal Education denied accreditation to Patrick Henry College, Va., founded two years ago to cater to home-schooled students. The Christian college requires professors to sign a statement of creationist faithÑspecifically that all courses be taught with the understanding that God created the world in six 24-hour days. Source: Washington Post, May 11, 2002 Religious territorialism. Rallies attracting unhappy Russian Orthodox-worshippers were held on Sunday, April 28 in 26 Russian cities. As many as 1,500 people massed in Moscow to protest the VaticanÕs decision to recognize four full dioceses in the country. Source: Associated Press, April 28, 2002 Antiabortion website nixed. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco ruled in May that an antiabortion terrorist website is not free speech, but constitutes a threat. The court reversed its decision last year upholding the website, saying it violates a 1994 federal law against inciting violence and threatening abortion physicians. It also ordered a lower court to reduce punitive award damages to four physicians suing over the ÒNuremberg Files.Ó Source: New York Times, May 16, 2002
Published in Back Issues
%897 %America/Chicago, %2013

Carol Faulkenberry Remembered

In celebration of her life, a memorial service was held for Carol Faulkenberry on May 11, 2002 in the auditorium at Lake Hypatia Freethought Hall, Alabama Freethought Association. The 25 of her family, friends and AFA members gathered to recall humorous incidents and reflect on how Carol touched all of our lives. Adam Butler, a close friend of Carol and the Faulkenberry family, lead the informal discussion and individual epilogs, painting verbal pictures of her activism, compassion, humor and friendship. Carol was a member of AFA and the Freedom From Religion Foundation, a wonderful homemaker, loving mate and mother, activist and author of An Uppity Old Atheist Woman's Dictionary. She lived her life with gusto and faced death in the same manner, as an gutsy, uppity old atheist woman. Born May 10, 1938, Carol died on August 5, 2001, but her spirit will remain forever with all those who knew and loved her. Following the memorial, we gathered in Hypatia Hall to further celebrate Carol's life with champagne, an array of finger-food and fellowship. Everyone helped to decorate the hall with white lace table clothes, centerpieces of pansies, candles and freethought wildflowers. Afterward, a pink dogwood tree was planted in Carol's memory. AFA co-director Pat Cleveland smiled and said, "Carol would have appreciated and approved of this celebration, as well as those members who did not show up because they were demonstrating their activism in Montgomery in a protest rally against Judge Roy Moore." Patsyann Pitts is editor of the AFA newsletter and an Alabama Foundation member. A dogwood tree was planted in May at Lake Hypatia Freethought Advance, Alabama, in memory of Carol Faulkenberry. From left to right, back row: Rachael and Al Faulkenberry Jr., Joanne and Charity Faulkenberry, Sara Howard, Ann Templeton, Richard Faulkenberry, Roger Cleveland, Al Faulkenberry, James Howard, Barbara & Walt Buttram. Foreground: Rachael Doughty and Pat Cleveland
Published in Back Issues
%892 %America/Chicago, %2013

Newsnotes

About two-thirds of "top U.S. Catholic leaders have allowed priests accused of sexual abuse to keep working, a practice that spans decades and continues today," according to a three-month review by the Dallas Morning News, published on the eve of the June conference of U.S. Bishops scheduled to adopt policy on pedophile priests.

At least 111 of the nation's 178 "mainstream, or Roman rite" Catholic dioceses are headed by men who have protected accused or even convicted priests and other church officials. Implicated bishops represent 40 states. The newspaper's June 12 exposé notes Church spokesmen did not dispute the findings.

All 8 cardinals who lead American dioceses--and most members of the bishops committee that drafted the proposed "two strikes, you're out" policy--are involved, according to reporters Brooks Egerton & Reese Dunklin.

The newspaper's website details allegations against Catholic bishops at www.dallasnews.com/cgi-bin/2002/priests.cgi

* * *

At least 300 civil lawsuits alleging priestly sex abuse have been filed since January, according to an Associated Press survey. AP reports nearly 250 Roman Catholic priests were suspended or removed in that time period, while a Washington Post survey published on June 9 cites 218 priests removed. At least 34 known offenders remain in church jobs, according to that newspaper.

At least 850 U.S. priests have been accused of sexual misconduct with minors since the early 1960s, and more than 350 were removed before this year, according to the Post.

The San Francisco Examiner reports at least 3,000 priests have been accused of misconduct and at least 1,300 have been treated for "psychosexual disorders."

Vatican: Coverage "Anti-Catholic"

The Vatican-approved Jesuit magazine Civilta Cattolica in early June criticized the "morbid and scandalous" treatment of the church sex abuse scandal in the United States as "anti-Catholic" and "anti-papal." The magazine previously recommended in May that bishops avoid telling congregations that parish priests have sexually abused victims, if the bishops believe the priests won't abuse again.

Leading Latin American Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga also accused the U.S. media of being anti-Catholic in an interview with the Roman Catholic monthly magazine 30 Giorni (30 Days).

The American media is reacting with "a fury which reminds me of the times of Diocletian and Nero and more recently, Stalin and Hitler," said Rodriguez, 59, considered a possible successor to Pope John Paul II.

"What is happening now, for example, to Cardinal Law is a scandal."

"Not to mention newspapers like the New York Times, the Washington Post and the Boston Globe, which were protagonists of what I do not hesitate to define as a persecution against the church," the Honduran cardinal added.

Church Criminal Investigations Start

Maricopa County Attorney Rick Romley announced May 30 that he is launching a criminal investigation into the Roman Catholic Diocese of Phoenix over its failure to report complaints of sexual misconduct against priests.

Romley may consult with other prosecutors nationwide to speak "with a singular voice" to the church, he said. Prosecutors in such cities as Boston, Los Angeles and Philadelphia have also launched similar investigations.

Jehovah's Witnesses Demand Witnesses

A letter from elders of the Jehovah's Witnesses was read at June services instructing that sexual abuse allegations will be rejected unless there are "two independent witnesses."

The elders cite Deut. 19:15, which says: "No single witness should rise up against a man respecting any error or any sin. At the mouth of two witnesses or at the mouth of three witnesses the matter should stand."

The scandal-ridden Church recently expelled former headquarters employee Barbara Anderson, for saying she has seen hundreds of suppressed files of accusations. Kentucky elder Bill Bowen, who told NBC: "It's a pedophile's paradise within the organization," also faces expulsion. He has created the website http://silentlambs.org

Baptist Laundry "Pretty Dirty"

Speaking at the opening of the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist convention in St. Louis on June 9, Rev. Bobby Welch, of Florida, said: "We shouldn't enjoy this Catholic mess too much. We're waiting on the other shoe to drop, and when it does, don't be surprised if there is more and more within our ranks."

Rev. Frank Ruff, the Southern Baptist liaison to the Catholic bishops, told the convention-goers: "Our dirty laundry is out there for everybody to see--and it's pretty dirty."

Published in Back Issues
%891 %America/Chicago, %2013

Atheists in Foxholes: Post Hoc Miracles

Even before I got into the fire service, I had long purged myself of the self-righteous evangelistic rhetoric that had dripped on me from the pulpits throughout my youth. I was a free man, a freethinker in fact, although at that time I had never even heard of this term. So when I became a firefighter nearly a dozen years ago, I had no grand ideas about helping others in need as a means to proving "God's love for His people;" or being a "vehicle" in which Jesus could "work his miracles through me." This is certainly how many of my Christian counterparts view themselves, and that's fine, for them. But it's not fine for me. I take exception when I'm told (all too frequently) that "even though [I'm] an atheist [I'm] still being directed by God's loving hand," and whenever I do "good," I'm not really the one at work, but Jesus! But I'm still going to Hell! Christians today are fond of proclaiming that--even in a world filled with "worthless," "sinful" people, who "fully deserve to suffer in hell for all eternity"--Jesus, because he loves us all so much, still performs miracles for us. The reason nonbelievers don't recognize these miracles is because we are "just too arrogant and too blind to see them." Isn't it interesting, though, that these so-called "miracles" always seem to come in the form of naturally occurring phenomena, or riding on the coattails of human exertion and teamwork? For example, if a skyscraper collapses from an earthquake (or terrorist attack), killing thousands under millions of tons of concrete and steel, but a few people are rescued from isolated pockets within the rubble (through the efforts of human rescue workers, mind you), it's labeled "a miracle from Jesus," even though it's a statistical probability that a few people will be alive. While the odds of any particular person surviving such a catastrophe are exceedingly small, the odds that some will be alive is virtually 100 percent; as such there is nothing "miraculous" about it. And what of the hundreds that lie dead for every person rescued, many of whom may have remained alive for hours or days, buried alive, alone, terrified, but ultimately dying because human rescuers, hindered by the natural laws of physics, couldn't reach them in time? It's repugnant to think that an all-knowing, all-powerful, all-loving God, if it exists, should get credit for the "saves" and in the same breath be absolved of blame for the needless suffering and death! From a post hoc perspective, anything can be made to seem "miraculous." Because these miracle claims are devised after the fact, and based on a need to believe that Jesus is real and that he performs miracles, Christians will latch onto any improbable event they can to fulfil that expectation in their minds, ignoring the thousands of other "improbable events" they see every day but never notice because they carry no religious weight for them. This past summer during a major league baseball game the famed Arizona Diamondbacks' pitcher, Randy Johnson, threw a blazing fastball toward home plate, and at that moment a bird happened to fly in the path of the pitch and was struck by the ball, and killed it in mid-air. Now, the probability of such an event happening is remote in the extreme, and yet we don't see Christians running around proclaiming what a "miracle" it was! They don't call it a miracle because they have no religious motivation to do so. Moreover, there is no need to call such a thing "miraculous" since there is nothing outside the realm of the natural world required for such an event to occur, no matter how improbable it may have been. So why is it, then, with so many billions of prayers being said year-in and year-out by millions of Christians all over the world, we have never seen a "miracle" come in the form of even one resurrection from the dead? I have seen many children die tragically in my profession and do you know what? They are all still dead. Evidently, Jesus' best "miracle work" comes through death and destruction (e.g., 9/11, Oklahoma City, Columbine, etc.), because it's always viewed as "God's hand at work" when people work together and help each other in times of crisis (or even the Superbowl)! But why can't He provide just one single resurrection today as objective evidence to "His" reality? Why not just one Lazarus (John 11); just one Jairus' daughter (Luke 8); just one "Only son of a widowed mother" (Luke 7)? Are there no grieving Christian mothers who "lost their only son" on 9/11 who might read this story and ask, why not my son? The hard truth is that Christians secretly do feel a bit cheated when reading these dramatic miracle stories of lost loved ones being resurrected, with Jesus himself putting the skeptics in their place by performing the feat. They wish that their Jesus really would "answer their prayers" by coming down and putting on a biblical show of power rather than constantly having to pacify their doubts through hackneyed spiritual plagiarism where Jesus gets the credit for works done by real people in the real world. Who would not be impressed if, say, a man identifying himself as "Jesus of Nazareth" (Caucasian, of course) were to float gently down from the sky like Mary Poppins, touch down at ground zero, and proceed to resurrect all 343 of the dead New York City firefighters (those He had "worked His wonders through" throughout their careers, but somehow saw fit to kill on September 11, when they were needed most). Or how about the eight children who were on board the doomed hijacked planes; or the fire chaplain that died from falling debris while giving "last rights" to a fallen firefighter? Would you not be impressed? I certainly would, as would Drew Harding, a retired FDNY fire captain who told me recently: "Any doubts that I still had about a supreme being and merciful God were given closure on 9/11. I'm retired now but I lost 14 close friends and 343 brothers on that fatal day." I hear you, brother! And rest assured that if Drew Harding, myself, or most anyone, for that matter, had the power to not only know in advance what was going to happen on September 11, but also had the power to prevent it, we would have done so without a second thought! That's a no-brainer. In fact, as public servants we are mandated by law to report malicious intent if we are privy to such information, and failure to do so is a prosecutable offense. Fortunately, for the public's sake, we are held to a much higher moral and ethical standard than Jesus, and other "heroes" of the bible. Colorado Foundation member Bruce Monson is a professional firefighter-paramedic and former Baptist turned freethinker. He promotes religious tolerance, rational thinking, and the separation of church and state. See his website at: www.freethoughtfirefighters.org.
Published in Back Issues
%890 %America/Chicago, %2013

"Marquee Madness"

If You Can Read This, You Are Too Close . . . Submitted by Bob & Lora Attwood, of Colorado. We Don't Like It Matt Hughes, a member of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, writes: "My wife Linda took these pictures in front of the Assembly of God Church in Buellton, California, 30 miles north of Santa Barbara. "With the clergy currently facing so many charges of unwanted sexual advances, the wisdom of proclaiming the message 'God Loves You Whether You Like It Or Not' is questionable. "So many follow-up lines spring to mind, such as: "1) '. . . and Cardinal Law probably won't even report Him to the authorities!' "2) '. . . so Cardinal law transferred Him to another diocese.' "3) '. . . and the clergy are simply emulating their divine exemplar.' "
Published in Back Issues
%889 %America/Chicago, %2013

Good News for Ireland

reland on March 6 of this year once again held a referendum to amend the constitution on the matter of abortion. The amendment submitted to the electorate would have further restricted what are now the most restrictive laws on abortion in Europe. As in other countries where the issue of abortion arises, it brings to the forefront religious forces of all colors. No exception in Ireland, and all the more so because of the strong influence of the Catholic church in Irish society. The campaign preceding the election on this particular amendment stood out because of the full-court press by the Irish Catholic bishops, all 26 of them, in support of the amendment. The pope himself got into the act by signaling from the Vatican his strong support. And on the Sunday before voting day, all Catholic mass-goers in the entire country were subjected to a sermon on the importance of voting for the amendment. The faithful were then again reminded of the pope's endorsement. Now, most voting in Ireland takes place in school buildings, and since most of the schools in Ireland are run by the Catholic church, voting takes place on church property. So here we had a highly charged social issue, heavily laden with religious notions about life and sex, and the electorate, made up of all faiths and no faith, given no choice but to enter church grounds and buildings to cast their vote. Such polling places certainly do not convey a sense of neutrality on matters of religion, what with their religious statues and other icons which one must circumnavigate to reach the voting booth. The accompanying photo of a polling station in Dublin is one example of such a scenario. The notice over the door reads "Peace to all," and on the door itself is a government document which states "Referendum on the Twenty-Fifth Amendment to the Constitution (Protection of Human Life In Pregnancy)." Note also the mini-altar with a statue of the "Virgin" Mary and appurtenant gaudy trappings, all shamelessly presented at the entrance to the polling station. The sign on the base of the mini-altar reads "The spirit of the Lord is upon me." But there was some good news from all this. The amendment failed to carry by the slim margin of about 0.8% of the total vote. By how much more it would have failed to pass if the polling had been conducted on neutral territory is difficult to say. So the spirit of this Lord did not seem to fall upon the Irish voting public, and the effort of all the Irish Catholic bishops and the pope himself failed to convince a majority of the voting population to tow the party line. Good news for Ireland! Nicolas Johnson is a FFRF Life Member now living in Ireland.
Published in Back Issues
%888 %America/Chicago, %2013

Many Years Ago . . . "We Told You So"

The recently exposed scandals involving sexual exploitation of minors by Catholic priests have exploded in the American press as though it were new information. Long ago, 'way back in 1986, Freethought Today began reporting incidents of priests and other clergymen charged with child sexual abuse in its "Fruits of Religion" column. Since 1987 onward, Freethought Today has published a regular feature, "Black Collar Crimes," documenting criminal and civil reports of sexual abuse by clergy in North America. The numerous incidents were disturbingly similar, yet reported as though each was a "freak," isolated occurrence. That prompted Freethought Today editor Annie Laurie Gaylor (my daughter, for the unacquainted) to write the first book on the subject. Betrayal of Trust: Clergy Abuse of Children was published by the Freedom From Religion Foundation in early 1988. In her introduction to the account of this far-flung religious scandal, Annie Laurie wrote: "This is a book that had to be written . . . It started writing itself when, through the pages of our monthly newspaper Freethought Today, we started chronicling the alarming and startling number of criminal cases involving ministers and priests who are molesting children. . . . priests, ministers or other 'men of God' flagrantly abusing large numbers of children or young adolescents under the very noses of devout, unsuspecting parents, during church events and on church property, while churches cover up or rationalize abuse, and church members not uncommonly side with the abusers by blaming the victims." Although replete with case histories from the 1980s, the book is not dated. Nor is it just a crime blotter. Betrayal of Trust provides a clear, thorough discussion and analysis of why the clergy is a high-risk profession for child abuse, how churches and congregations engage in denial, minimalization and cover-up, and how such abuse can be detected and prevented. It will enlighten those who still may confuse homosexuality with pedophilia. "The case of Father Baltazar, protected by the Catholic Church even after sexually abusing a boy helplessly attached to a dialysis machine, and another in double leg traction, epitomizes the ruthlessness of child molesters, the heartlessness of the hierarchy, and the vulnerability of their victims," the book concludes. "All child victims, while not usually literally immobile, are similarly at the mercy of the adults in charge of their lives. The egomaniacal and rapacious drives of a molester who blots out all sense of right and wrong, brutally disregarding the pain he is causing children, have often found a parallel in churches bent on protecting themselves at the expense of thousands of victims. That disregard is a malignancy in the church." Betrayal of Trust: Clergy Abuse of Children is long since out of print, but can be found online on this website. For reader convenience, the Foundation continues to provide bound photocopies of this 91-page book for $12.00 postpaid (FFRF, PO Box 750, Madison WI 53701). Anne Nicol Gaylor is president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation.
Published in Back Issues
%887 %America/Chicago, %2013

Battle Hymn on Ice?

I'm no autograph hound, but several years ago I resolved that if and when figure skater Michelle Kwan ever came to town, my daughter Sabrina and I would go to see her, and even get her autograph. It was as much a promise to myself as to Sabrina, made after I felt Kwan was cheated of her gold at the 1998 Olympics in Nagano. Could there be a more graceful image than that of Michelle at 17, in her simple blue velvet dress, skating with exquisite technique and emotion during her Olympic long program? She seemed the embodiment of youth, athletic perfection and beauty. I became an avid figure skating fan while watching Michelle Kwan grow up on ice. There is something poignant about the world's best figure skater seeking and failing to get the gold in two successive Olympics, sometimes struggling on the ice, yet never losing her competitive spirit. At this year's nail-biting Olympics, Kwan's most memorable performance was her post-competition exhibition skate, wearing a gold dress and skating ethereally to "Fields of Gold," a bittersweet moment for the bronze medalist. Dan, who usually leaves the skating competitions to me, sat spellbound while watching a videotape of her "gold" skate (at my urging). At the conclusion of her touching program, he volunteered: "Michelle Kwan transcends." (I've decided, and I hope Michelle has too, that the Olympics are highly over-rated.) When it was advertised that "Champions on Ice" was coming to Madison in May (with a shockingly expensive ticket price), Sabrina and I were able to fulfill our longtime ambition of watching Michelle Kwan skate in person. Unfortunately, the overkill opening, with its flashing flags and deafening rendition of the Olympic theme, couldn't help but make me flash back to news footage of the 1936 "Nazi" Olympics. Once that hoopla was over, I relaxed and settled back to enjoy the rest of the show. Although I have seen some magnificent skating at live events, I was unprepared for Kwan's remarkable presence on the ice. Her performance was quantitatively different from the other athletes. Michelle took command of the ice and managed, in that huge impersonal venue, to make her performance intimate. The audience hushed--almost afraid to clap lest they break the spell. Every movement was sure and lovely. Michelle skated with a lightness and gentleness that the camera cannot quite capture. It must have been gratifying to Michelle that she received the only standing ovation of any of the performers. The spell was broken, however, by a pandering finale, an ensemble number. A super-militaristic version of "America the Beautiful," with words to all verses, boomed out as the ice skaters--in the Madison show representing Ukraine, France, and Russia, as well as the United States--skated, decked out in various red-white-and-blue outfits. Russian silver medalist Evgeni Plushenko was practically draped in a U.S. flag. As I sat bridling at the insensitivity of this nationalistic display, using even foreign skaters like pawns in a patriotic battle, it got worse. The music segued to "Battle Hymn of the Republic," all verses. Julia Ward Howe's song, written as a Union anthem in the Civil War, warns of the wrath of "the coming of the Lord." You may recall it ended the service of "prayer and remembrance" held at the National Cathedral on Sept. 14. The fourth verse is typical of the song's message: In the beauty of the lilies Christ was born across the sea, With a glory in His bosom That transfigures you and me; As he died to make men holy, Let us live to make men free, While God is marching on. I can't believe "Champions on Ice" routinely forces its Olympic skaters to perform to Christian hymns! Since the "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" is practically the trademark of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, I can't help but feel there is some nefarious Mormon influence at work. Whatever or whoever prompted the inclusion of this overtly Christian song of conquest, it was tacky and disrespectful, both to skaters and the audience. Flags made of lights, the U.S. flag predominating, of course, swirled around the rink with the skaters. I thought it would never end. Finally, three huge U.S. flags dropped ludicrously from the ceiling as fireworks rang out. Nearly everybody (but not this atheist) stood and clapped. Half-dazed by this assault on eyes, ears and personal conviction, I dutifully lined up with Sabrina and other would-be autograph-seekers. When fans bearing official-looking decals told me we had to have a pass to get in, and we had to know someone to get a pass, I was ready to call it quits. Then a woman with a teenage daughter generously handed us their passes, since they couldn't stay. A handful of us were eventually led to the bowels of the arena, all concrete and full of equipment, and were told to stand behind a limp bit of rope. As we milled around awkwardly, suddenly there appeared Michelle Kwan, no taller than my 5'2", conferring with a stagehand first before turning to her fans. For an instant, she looked flattened, as though enduring rather than enjoying the moment. Who could blame her, having to skate to the "Battle Hymn of the Republic" night after night during "Champions on Ice's" grueling schedule? Sabrina was second to ask for her autograph. When Sabrina shyly told her, "You're my favorite," Michelle's face lit up in a warm smile. Impulsively, I asked Michelle if she would autograph my baseball hat, which bears an imprint of the same words, "Life is Good," as one of Dan's freethought songs. She laughed, said "Sure!," read the sentiment out loud approvingly, and signed her name with her own felt-tip pen. Tongue-tied, I merely nodded as a woman next to us told Michelle what a beautiful skater she is. As Michelle moved on, we made our escape. Mission accomplished. When I got home and examined Sabrina's program magazine, I discovered to my dismay that the inside cover features an American flag emblazoned with the words "God Bless America." It was worth putting up with to see Michelle Kwan, but I couldn't help feeling a bit indignant, and a bit dejected, over the unwarranted intrusion of religion and chauvinistic politics into a tour meant to showcase sport, art and internationalism. Is nothing in our country to be free of this saber-rattling theo-patriotism? Must every store sport a U.S. flag (do they think we'll forget which country we live in?), much less "God Bless America" posters? I had fondly hoped the hysteria was dying down--but it certainly won't be wherever "Champions on Ice" is touring over the next few months. "Champions on Ice," which is run by Tom Collins Productions (with John Hancock billed as "worldwide sponsor"), appears to be co-hosted by the U.S. Figure Skating Association, and has some connection to the Olympic Committee. I wrote a heartfelt letter of complaint to the only addresses I could find on the Web, objecting to a Christian hymn being forced on audiences, including substantial numbers of nonbelievers and nonChristians. If you care to join me in decrying the inclusion of a Christian "battle hymn" in the Olympic figure skating show, maybe they'll put such religious displays "on ice" for future tours: Tom Collins Inc. 3500 W 80th St Minneapolis MN 55431 U.S. Figure Skating Association 20 First St Colorado Springs CO 80906 Annie Laurie Gaylor is editor of Freethought Today and of the anthology Women Without Superstition: No Gods--No Masters (FFRF, 1997).
Published in Back Issues
In downtown Indianapolis, there's a beautiful old European-style brick and stone building called the Athenaeum. Today many people work out in the gym, enjoy a show at the cabaret theater or eat at the Rathskeller restaurant there, but have no idea about the significance of the structure. The building is rich in German-American, freethought and athletic history. It was originally called "Das Deutsche Haus" and was built as a joint effort by various German clubs in the 1890s. In the early 1850s, a number of Germans called the Forty-eighters moved to the city. Many of them were political activists who had been persecuted in their homeland or were disillusioned with German politics. The revolution of 1848 had not brought about the liberal social and political changes they'd hoped for in Germany, so they came to America. The first organization established by the Forty-eighters in Indianapolis was the Turnverein. A German named Friedrich Jahn, known as the father of gymnastics, founded the Turner movement in 1811. He invented the parallel bars, the rings, the horse and the horizontal bar used in gymnastics today. His motto was "A Sound Mind in a Sound Body." He promoted physical exercise programs as well as intellectual development. Many Forty-eighters embraced his philosophy. Turner clubs sprang up in Germany and later in many American cities. They provided physical education, lectures, libraries, musical entertainment and other services to the German community. They acted as a kind of "welcome center" for newly arrived immigrants and helped keep their German language and culture alive, yet promoted American ideals of democracy and freedom. Several of the original Turner buildings are still standing today in our city, including the Athenaeum. The gym at the Athenaeum, now run by the YMCA, has been in use since the 1890s for athletic training. The Athenaeum provided a training program for physical education teachers from 1907 until 1941 when it merged with the Physical Education Department of Indiana University. Some of the more radical members of the Forty-eighters and Turners were freethinkers. They founded the Freethinkers Society of Indianapolis in 1870 to promote freethought ideas. Author Kurt Vonnegut's great-grandfather, Clemens Vonnegut, was the first president of the organization. He was a well-respected businessman in the community and a member of the Indianapolis Public School board for many years. The group fought against religion in the schools and started a Freethinker's Sunday School. The freethinkers, many of whom were highly educated, strongly supported public education, particularly vocational programs. Emmerich Manual High School, located on the south side of Indianapolis, opened in 1894 as a manual training school. It was later named for Charles Emmerich, an active member of the Freethinkers and the school's first principal. Although the Freethinkers Society dissolved in 1890, their ideas continued to live on through the nonsectarian educational system they helped establish in the city. Members of the Turners were quite influential and politically active in the city. They founded German newspapers, businesses, schools, singing groups and orchestras. Some of the singing groups, Saengerchor, Maennerchor and Liederkranz, are still in existence today. They created innovative physical education programs in the Indianapolis Public Schools for both boys and girls. Indianapolis hosted large Turner festivals with hundreds of members from all over the US and Germany participating in parades, singing events and gymnastic competitions. Turner groups supported progressive ideas like better working conditions, educational reform, the emancipation of women and the abolition of slavery. The Turner Hall of Indianapolis became the anti-slavery headquarters in the city. Shortly after the start of the Civil War, a number of Turners enlisted to fight for their new country, even though many spoke little or no English. The 32nd Indiana Regiment was composed of Turners from Indianapolis, Madison, Lafayette and other Hoosier towns. Other Turner regiments were formed throughout the U.S. Over 70 percent of the Turners fought on the Union side. At its peak in 1894, the American Turners had 317 societies with over 40,000 members. The organization suffered declines in membership due to decreasing German immigration rates, anti-German sentiments during the world wars and the Americanization of the German population. When their loyalty to America was questioned during the First World War, the Indianapolis Turners changed the building name from "Das Deutsche Haus" to the "Athenaeum" and offered the use of the place to the Red Cross. Today there are approximately 60 Turner societies in America with about 13,000 members. The American Turners headquarters is now located in Louisville, Kentucky. Over the years, the Athenaeum's structure fell into sad decay. I attended an event there in the early 1980s and saw sagging ceilings, water damaged walls and rotted roof timbers. Fortunately, a few years ago, various far-sighted individuals raised money to restore it to its former glory. The Indianapolis Cabaret Theater opened in a beautifully renovated section. The Rathskeller restaurant and the beer garden in the back have reopened to serve German food and drink with live music. The YMCA took over the gym and it has become a popular downtown fitness facility. I was in the building for a dinner recently and noticed that many improvements had been made to other sections of the building since my last visit. One former Turner building in Indianapolis has been converted into expensive condos! If you are fortunate, you may find a Turner club or old building still in existence in your town or city. Writes Marcia Gascho: "I've been a member of FFRF for over 20 years. My grandfather was German, I majored in German in college, I've visited Germany three times and have been interested in German culture for many years. "I'm a computer programmer for a large insurance company in downtown Indianapolis. My freethinker husband Bruce and I have been married for 16 years (Dan Barker performed the ceremony!) and we have a freethinking teenage daughter that we adopted 6 years ago." She notes: "The book, The Germans in Indianapolis 1840-1918, by George Theodore Probst, tells of German-American contributions to the city. I found information about the Turner participation in the Civil War in the book, Der Turner Soldat, by C. Eugene Miller and Forrest F. Steinlage. On the Internet I found a long list of websites of Turner clubs in the U.S. and in Germany. "On the website of Indiana University-Purdue University-Indianapolis (IUPUI), I discovered Annette Hofmann's 1998 speech at the Athenaeum, '150 Years of Turnerism in the United States.' It provided much interesting data about the historical background of the Turners. 'The Freethinkers in Indianapolis,' an article by Claudia Grossman, Department of Foreign Languages and Cultures at IUPUI, also contained excellent information about the Forty-eighters and freethinkers." Marsha Gascho in front of Indianapolis' historic Turner building
Published in Back Issues
%885 %America/Chicago, %2013

Atheist in a Foxhole

It is commonly said there are no atheists in a foxhole, that fear of death terrifies a skeptic into believing in God. I was unexpectedly forced into this situation when diagnosed with incurable cancer last fall. Confronted by my own mortality for the first time, where could I turn for spiritual meaning and comfort? I had been a devout Catholic for half of my life due to strong family influences. I uncritically accepted the dogma and found much comfort in the social network as well as the beautiful liturgy. My beliefs at that time provided meaning and purpose to my life and gave me hope for an existence after death. Richard Feil today I first questioned this world view due to my graduate training in scientific psychology, which provided me with the analytic tools to study human behavior in an objective and unbiased manner. I asked myself if the human being could be regarded as just another member of the animal kingdom, subject to the same laws of behavior as other animals. I slowly became convinced that our behavior can be fully explained without resorting to supernaturalism. That led me to the conclusion that we ourselves are part of an impersonal physical universe, the result of millions of years of natural selection. I learned that there has never been an empirically demonstrated exception to the laws of nature that has stood the test of scientific scrutiny, despite numerous claims. How could I intellectually reconcile this deterministic view of reality with the metaphysical claims of religion? Could I dare question what millions of people accept as "gospel truth," and even sacrifice their lives for? For years I experienced growing cognitive dissonance as I tried to pretend both views of reality are true. My thinking was further shaped by studies in anthropology and sociobiology. It is theorized that hunters and gatherers in the prehistoric period survived the harsh conditions by developing strong social cohesion and dependency as well as blind obedience to a strong leader. Today we also are programmed to follow authority figures uncritically, especially powerful and charismatic leaders. This, combined with our innate fear of rejection by the group, provides powerful peer pressure not to question the prevailing ideology. I certainly felt this need not to "think outside the box." But it conflicted with what I honestly believed to be true regarding human nature. I came to see religious faith as an unquestioning acceptance of beliefs that contradict reality. I also think the strong, genetically programmed need for survival that we share with all living creatures, combined with the vivid imagination unique to humans, has, over the eons, driven our species to construct an escape from the annihilation of physical death through fantasies of an afterlife. The promise of paradise, I believe, is the bargaining chip used by religion to subvert logical thinking, sometimes resulting in extreme physical and emotional misery. Religions tend to produce inflexible dogmatic thinking in their followers, preventing them from achieving their full human potential. It felt scary at first. But it was liberating to question the core assumptions of a belief system that most people take for granted. After reading the works of such writers as Thomas Paine, Robert Ingersoll, Bertrand Russell, and other "freethinkers," I became convinced that, indeed, the emperor has no clothes. What a marvelous and unique product of natural processes we humans are! We experience exciting developmental processes: becoming a person in childhood, the "Sturm und Drang" of adolescence, the challenges of adulthood, and the denouement of old age. We also get to observe ourselves making this journey full of thrills and chills. Our "selves" are capable of remembering, sharing, and anticipating future adventures in living. How many of us realize this is the only life we will ever have and therefore strive everyday to maximize our happiness and that of others? And what of the atheist in the foxhole? Faced with the fear of death, will the atheist cave in to cultural expectations and social pressure to plead with a god for magical intervention? Or will the atheist remain courageous and true to convictions that this life is all there is? I think fear is the ultimate self-serving force underlying all forms of religious observance. We humans are ingenious in suspending logical reasoning in the pursuit of physical and emotional security. I myself have not wavered in my philosophy of life as a rationalist and humanist. The meaning of my life lies in my family and in my personal and professional accomplishments. Now I treasure each remaining day as another opportunity to fully experience the joys of living. And in the end I shall tearfully bid farewell to my loved ones and simply cease to exist. Only my genes will live on in my children and their offspring. The author writes: "I have been a member of FFRF for about 20 years and read every issue of Freethought Today with great relish. In fact, I horde the old issues! You see, I am a recovering Catholic. Finally recovered I think. "I received my Ph.D. in experimental psychology from the Catholic University of America in 1968 and have been teaching psychology at Mansfield University of Pennsylvania since. Diagnosed with multiple myeloma last fall, I am currently in remission and waiting to undergo a stem cell transplant procedure. My fate lies in the hands of medical science, not magical interventions." Richard Feil as a seminary student, 1955 "I was raised in a 'strict' Catholic family of six children," he writes. "One of my brothers became a Servite (Servants of Mary) priest and one sister a nun. During my one year at the University of Illinois, I read 'Seven Storey Mountain' by Thomas Merton. Being severely neurotic from years of Catholic emotional abuse, I was 'born again' and decided to become a priest. "I entered the Servite Order at their notiatiate outside of Milwaukee in Granville, Wis. I spent three years there learning Latin and sort of catching up on holiness. Then they sent me to Benburb Priory in County Tyrone, Northern Ireland, for two years of study (indoctrination) in scholastic philosophy. Finally I spent a year at the Servite Priory in Lake Forest, Ill., while completing my bachelor's degree in psychology at Loyola in Chicago. "I left after that when I finally realized I wouldn't be able to handle the lifetime celibacy requirement. It was a very difficult and emotional decision for me to make."
Published in Back Issues
%883 %America/Chicago, %2013

"Why Women Need Freedom From Religion"

Everything You Know Is Wrong: The Disinformation Guide to Secrets and Lies, a just-issued anthology edited by journalist Russ Kick, includes the chapter "Why Women Need Freedom from Religion" by Annie Laurie Gaylor of the Freedom From Religion Foundation. Among the contributors, who include investigative journalists, researchers, commentators, dissidents and academics, are Howard Zinn, Paul Krassner, Arianna Huffington, Thomas Szasz, and Wendy McElroy. The book is a follow-up to Kick's popular anthology You Are Being Lied To. The oversized softcover book, 352 pages, retails for U.S. $24.95. ISBN 0-9713942-02-0-2. The book is readily available at bookstores and online.
Published in Back Issues
The Origin of Species by Charles Darwin, revised edition, introduced and abridged by Philip Appleman (W.W. Norton & Co., 2002, 134pp.), is another Appleman gem dealing with evolution. Here, in what Paul Moody has called "a masterly condensation," is a classic edition of Darwin's revolutionary book. It retains all of the substance of the original, but only the essential elements of its profuse detail. Philip Appleman, editor of Darwin, a Norton Critical Edition ("the best Darwin anthology on the market," according to Stephen Jay Gould), has cut deftly to the essence of Darwin's classic, losing none of the continuity or flavor of the original. This revision includes a new introduction by Prof. Appleman that perceptively traces Darwin's influence on the world of ideas. Philip Appleman is Distinguished Professor Emeritus at Indiana University, where he was a founding editor of Victorian Studies. He is the editor of Thomas Malthus's An Essay on the Principle of Population (a Norton Critical Edition). He is also the author of an early book about overpopulation, The Silent Explosion, several award-winning books of poetry, including Darwin's Ark, and three novels, including Apes and Angels. A Foundation member, he will be speaking at the 25th annual Foundation convention in San Diego in November.
Published in Back Issues

FFRF is a non-profit, educational organization. All dues and donations are deductible for income-tax purposes.

FFRF has received a 4 star rating from Charity Navigator

 

FFRF privacy statement

AAI-LOGO

FFRF is a member of Atheist Alliance International.