Michael Newdow, the Sacramento doctor who is challenging "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance, asked Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia in early September to recuse himself from participating in Newdow's appeal. The atheist father, who is also an attorney bringing the legal action himself, won a landmark ruling by the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals last summer declaring "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance to be unconstitutional. The original decision declared the 1954 insertion of "under God" into the once-secular pledge to be unconstitutional on its face. In February 2003, the Ninth Circuit panel amended its decision to apply only in public school settings. Newdow has asked the Supreme Court to reinstate the original, broader ruling. The Sacramento school district, with blessings from the U.S. Justice Department, is also appealing. The Court is expected to consider whether to hear the appeals during a closed-door session on Sept. 29. It could turn back the appeals, thereby letting stand the Ninth Circuit ruling, which applies to ten western states. It could vacate the Ninth Circuit decision, as requested by the Justice Department and the school district. Or it could accept the case. Newdow filed a brief, "Suggestion for Recusal of Justice Scalia," on Sept. 5, pointing out that Scalia gave a speech in January alluding to the Ninth Circuit decision as a prime example of how courts are misinterpreting the Constitution. At a Knights of Columbus rally in Fredericksburg, Va., the Catholic justice said framers didn't intend to "exclude God from the public forums and from political life." Newdow's brief noted the "firestorm of controversy" erupting when the opinion was issued. "The associated passions--though understandable--are the very reason we have an Establishment Clause, and, perhaps in this arena more than any other, it is essential that the judiciary present a neutral front." The brief argues that statements and activities by Scalia call his impartiality into question. Newdow noted that Scalia's decision to make these remarks to the Knights of Columbus is noteworthy because the group claims responsibility for leading the effort to insert the words "under God" into the pledge. Since Scalia made his statements, the Knights of Columbus has even submitted a brief urging the Supreme Court to overturn the Ninth Circuit. Scalia's "voluntary, disapproving statements about the lower court's ruling--in a case obviously destined to come before him--is at odds with the code of conduct for United States judges," Newdow further noted. Precedent has emphasized not the reality of bias but its appearance, he wrote. A survey released in August on the status of Pledge of Allegiance laws by the Education Commission of States documents that 35 states currently require schools to include recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance: Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Kansas, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, and Wisconsin. At least ten states have a pledge for their state flag, but Texas this fall became the only state requiring students to recite it in school. On July 15, U.S. District Judge Robert F. Kelley ruled that Pennsylvania's statute violates student's First Amendment right to free expression. The court issued a permanent injunction against the Pennsylvania law. Colorado's new law has been blocked by a temporary injunction issued by U.S. District Judge Lewis Babcock on Aug. 15. The judge found that the new law discriminates against teachers because there is no provision for them to opt out, as there is for students. The judge criticized the law for pitting students who say the pledge against those who do not, as well as pitting students against teachers. "What is instructional about that?" Babcock asked. He said the law could conceivably lead to suspensions for students and firings for teachers. The challenge was taken by the ACLU on behalf of nine teachers and students from four Denver-area districts. The injunction is in effect through the end of the 2004 legislative session at the request of the state attorney general's office. The legislature is expected to amend the law to address some of the court concerns next year. In other developments, the U.S. House, by a 307-119 margin, passed an amendment in July by Rep. John Hostettler, R-IN, prohibiting enforcement of the Ninth Circuit pledge decision. That amendment was actually opposed by the Justice Department, which said such legislation could complicate the appeal. A second amendment, adopted by a 260-161 vote, prohibited use of federal money to enforce the 11th Circuit's ruling against Judge Roy Moore. The intent was to bar the U.S. Marshals Service from enforcing either decision. "These amendments are essentially meaningless. But these votes do show a shocking contempt by a majority in the U.S. House of Representatives--not just for the constitutional principle of separation of church and state, but for a free and independent judiciary," said Anne Gaylor, president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation.
Outreach & Events
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Opening with a prayer to St. Francis, a public debate on "The Place of Religion in the Public Square," sponsored by Viterbo University, a Franciscan Catholic school, took place on Sept. 9 in the university's Fine Arts Theatre in La Crosse, Wis. La Crosse is the site of the Foundation's current legal challenge over a Ten Commandments monument in a city park. Pictured at the event: organizer and moderator Richard Kyte with the Philosophy Department of Viterbo University; Dan Barker of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, a former minister who argued for a strict separation between church and state; Francis Manion, senior counsel with the American Center for Law and Justice founded by evangelist Pat Robertson, and Scott Moore, Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Baylor University. Manion, who identified himself as a Catholic during the debate, claimed there is nothing in the Constitution prohibiting a local majority from promoting religion, insisting that "separation of state and church is a myth." Manion is representing the Fraternal Order of Eagles, which is seeking to intervene in the appeal, since the city sold it the land and monument after the Foundation filed suit last summer. A federal judge ruled this summer that the presence of the monument violates the Constitution, as does the sale of prime real estate to maintain a religious symbol as the centerpiece of a public park. Moore said that although religion is extremely important, he would not mind seeing the monument moved from the park. Since the debate began with the prayer of St. Francis of Asissi, "Where there is doubt, let me put faith," Dan ended the debate by saying: "Where there is doubt, let me put reason." More than 500 people attended the 2-hour event, including many of the 22 plaintiffs in the Foundation's lawsuit. For information on how to obtain a video copy of the debate, contact Dan Barker.
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Affirmation By Michaela Bronstein ￼ If it is the aim of the United States to make its residents pleased to reaffirm their allegiance to its flag, the words "under God" quite needlessly hinder this aim. The most directly harmful effect is to force a public declaration of religious faith or disbelief on the part of students. More insidiously, they alienate those who do not share the majority's certainty in religious faith. Ultimately, they are simply unconstitutional. There is no fundamental difference between them and the non-denominational prayer that the Supreme Court struck down in 1962 ( Engel v. Vitale). Few aspects of character are more personal than religious feeling. The addition to the Pledge of Allegiance of the words "under God" turns its recitation into a public litmus test, and can compel people to declare whether or not they believe in a higher power. This choice should be thrust upon no one, and it is particularly inappropriate in the realm of public schooling. . . . The absence of the words "under God" would not be a governmental declaration of atheism, or of hostility towards religion. It would merely cleanse American political rhetoric of the preferences for religion which litter its phrases. The phrase is currently, however, an infected needle which pricks and festers every time it is encountered, by needlessly dividing people from each other and their government. Michaela graduated from Garfield High School, Washington State. She will be attending either Harvard College or Balliol College at Oxford University in the fall. She plans to major in English Literature. Special interests include literary analysis, creative writing, constitutional law and film criticism. The Tarnished Pledge By Hagop Bouboushian ￼ In spite of our president's popular "crusade," in spite of the jingoism and paranoia perpetuated throughout the populace, in spite of the cavalcade of Ford Excursions bearing matching American flags and Icthus emblems, in spite of the very coins in my pocket, I stand firmly opposed to the inclusion of the phrase "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance to the United States of America. . . . Written, ironically, by prominent socialist Francis Bellamy during a year otherwise characterized by the invention of the Ferris Wheel, the pledge was meant to reflect the principles of his cousin Edward's utopian novels such as Looking Backward, which promoted ideas like nationalized health care and total freedom of religion. Why and how, then, would a divine commitment exist in the pledge? Only an atmosphere of terrified patriotism to rival today's could have produced the desire to mar this secular purity. Fearful that "godless" communist orations sounded similar to the pledge and that atomic war was imminent if a stronger division was not instituted between patriots and "traitors," President Eisenhower was easy prey for religious zealots like the Knights of Columbus. After a little persistent lobbying, the words "under God" slipped into the pledge just as quietly as the pledge itself had slipped into our devotional routine. . . . Hagop is an honor graduate of Corsicana High School in Texas, placing 5th in a class of 306. He plans to attend the University of Chicago. Interests include reading in all scholastic fields, writing, music, politics, athletics, photography, carpentry and attending artistic exhibits of film, music and visual art. Possible college majors include political science, philosophy and physics. The Pledge of Allegiance, Not the Pledge of Faith By Kathryn Morrison ￼ At a time when textbook editors, writers and illustrators are not allowed to include in books for school children such phrases as "minority group" because it is offensive, "elderly" because it is ageist, and "heroine" because it is sexist, then why do they have these same children recite "one nation, under God" every morning? In a country as diverse as America, it is ridiculous to assume that everyone worships the same "God" or even worships a god at all. Am I not patriotic because I do not believe in God? Should I have to resort to not showing my patriotism every morning because I do not believe in God? If church and state truly are separate, then the government should not include this outdated phrase in the Pledge of Allegiance. I do not think they realize that by keeping those two words they are excluding and offending a substantial group of Americans. . . . Although Americans are given the option of not reciting the pledge, those who do not believe in God still have to listen to others reciting these words. I cannot help but feel excluded and upset when everyone in my classroom recites "one nation, under God," making me feel unpatriotic for not reciting the pledge because I do not believe in God. I believe in the ideas and foundations of my country, but I also believe that church and state should be entirely separate. Expressing patriotism and expressing religion should be two separate acts, but the pledge combines them into one. Prayers are not allowed in schools, but the inclusion of "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance still intertwines the concept of prayer. Why forbid one and allow the other to continue to offend? Kathryn graduated from Cherokee High School in New Jersey. She plans to attend Rowan University with a major in Radio/Television/Film. She will minor in psychology. Her interests include reading, writing, creating documentaries and other films, singing, speaking German and "being a Vegetarlan." The Pledge of Allegiance: An Un-American Tradition By David Leuszler One of those who showed concern about my refusal to stand for the Pledge of allegiance happened to be my teacher. She decided to lecture me in front of the class about how I was "showing disrespect to the men and women who protect our freedoms," including her father, a World War II veteran! How ironic it was that the current pledge I objected to was not established until 1954, likely a solid decade after her father served in World War II. . . . The pledge that was established in 1954 denies the main American ideal that is embodied in the original national motto "e pluribus unum," literally meaning "from many, one." Our original motto represents our acknowledgment of the power that comes from being a melting pot of cultures, ideologies and ideas. The pledge, in its current language, excluded atheists from the society in which they contribute significantly, as demonstrated by their proportionally high presence in research labs and universities, and their proportionally low presence in jails and prisons. The current Pledge of Allegiance is merely a remnant from the McCarthy era. As it is written today, it can only serve to unnecessarily divide and weaken us in this crucial time. David is a 17-year-old honor graduate of Tucker High School in Georgia and plans to attend Georgia Tech in the fall. His major will be either computer science or biomedical engineering. Interests include debating politics and religion in online forums, playing a "good game of chess or a good game of go" and math and science in general. Freedom From Religion By Jason Lindgren ￼ One of the greatest strengths of the United States is its commitment to remaining a secular political body despite religious pressures, to avoid religion without disallowing it. But this commitment was betrayed when the phrase "under God" crept into the Pledge of Allegiance. The placement of this deceitful phrase serves as an implicit pledge to the concept of Godhood itself, a breach of my guaranteed right to freedom of religion, and by extension, freedom from religion. Perhaps its inclusion was innocent in nature, simply reflecting the beliefs of its author, or perhaps it was a political means of rooting out "godless Communism" in our midst, but the truth is that its intent is irrelevant. Unequivocally stated, the phrase "under God" has no place in our political body, and certainly no place in our schools. It only supports the dishonest misconception that all good things are descended from the will and "grace" of a fictitious entity above. Jason attended Oak Park High School in California. He will attend Yale in the fall. He is an avid reader, a "consummate gamer," and takes part in numerous sports including cross-country running, soccer, track, mountain biking and "kendo, the Japanese art of sword-fighting with bamboo swords called shinai." His major still is indefinite, but he is interested in pursuing writing, nanotechnology, political science and possibly law. Politics: Child's Play? By Carmen Alexis Byrd ￼ Ashley, along with her class, stands in front of her desk, her hand pressed firmly against her heart, her lips reciting words that she can't spell, or even understand. Gina won't stand and won't recite the words that make up the United States of America's Pledge of Allegiance. Gina is sent to the principal's office again for disobeying the teacher's commands while obeying the ardent convictions of her parents. Gina is confused. She is singled out among her peers as being a "troublemaker," but praised by her parents for standing up for their beliefs and not violating a conscience that she has yet to develop. Gina is the subject of a political battle and religious war that has progressed for years through the actions of many adults who have proven to be as juvenile as she is. Gina has cause for confusion. In fact, the entire nation has proven its confusion, as political leaders, parents and press have buried the real issue, along with their intelligence, in the sandbox. What is that issue exactly? The issue is that approximately one out of seven Americans is a nonbeliever, and insertion of the "under God" in the pledge is in direct defiance of all American citizens' First Amendment rights. . . . So, what will happen to Gina? Well, Gina will continue to be troubled and confused until her elders adopt the realization that the pledge is in complete opposition to the nation's Constitutional promises and to the beliefs of many of its people. Until that realization is acknowledged, the real issue will continue to be buried in the sandbox of politics and covered with the murky dirt of unconstitutional policies and discrimination. Carmen graduated from North Carolina School of the Arts with a contemporary dance major and a GPA of 4.0. Her special interests include reading, writing, singing, crafts and all forms of techniques of dance. She plans to attend Howard University with a psychology, pre-med major with possible minors in biology, English and dance. Don't Fear God or His Pledge By Joshua Parry ￼ It happens every Monday morning. The students are startled awake by the intercom's shrill crackling to life. A bubbly teenage cheerleader on the other end exclaims, "Please stand for the pledge." Lazily the children get up with groans closely mimicking the elderly rising out of bed. Hundreds of limp hands are placed on deflated chests. By the time the students are in the correct position of vertical awareness, the girl is already halfway through, saying "for which it stands." The kids then mumble a phrase or two and collapse back into their sleep-deprived comas. Except for one student who had never stood, although everyone notices and he can feel their eyes burning into him. He is an atheist and rightfully refuses to take part in religious activities, but this activity is in school, this activity occurs every Monday morning, and he can't escape it. For this act he will be singled out by the teacher and be taunted by his peers. This student should be protected by the Constitution. . . . Joshua graduated from Keller High School in Texas. He does not stand for the pledge. He enjoys life--he likes to work out and eat healthy. He is the captain of the varsity hockey team. He was district champion in the UIL Ready Writing competition. He will be attending the University of Arizona where he will study molecular biology. He is an atheist. America The Theocracy? By Sanjay Gopinath ￼ America was founded on principles, the principles of thoughtful men. The laws of our nation are manifestations of these principles. When we break these laws, regardless of the popularity or enthusiasm for the violation, it is wrong. The separation of church and state, one of these principles, is being broken every day. The role of the state is not the spiritual upbringing of a child, yet every day children invoke the words "under God" as a part of their daily routine. This is an egregious violation of the secular laws of our nation. These words need to be stricken from the Pledge of Allegiance. This is not what Francis Bellamy intended when he wrote the Pledge of Allegiance or what the founding fathers hoped for when they created a state without religious prejudice. . . . I grew up the son of immigrants. As most children of immigrants do, I yearned to be "normal." I wanted to fit in with all my classmates and the easiest way was to be as "American" and patriotic as possible. It did not matter to me then that the words "Under God" were against my own religious beliefs or that there would always be people who would consider me foreign. All that mattered was my "American-ness." In retrospect I regret the importance I placed on other people's opinion of me and with this a regret that I stood up with my hand over my heart and recited a pledge I did not believe in. I regret that I said the Pledge of Allegiance out of fear of being ostracized. If called upon, I will serve my country's armed forces. I will pledge my loyalty to this nation but I will never again subject my religious beliefs to the state. Sanjay Gopinath is an avid fan of history and geopolitics. Although born in Philadelphia, Penn., Sanjay has lived in Brussels, Belgium, India and Hong Kong in addition to various cities in the U.S. Sanjay has played competitive soccer for more than a dozen years. Sanjay played varsity soccer and lacrosse in addition to his involvement in Model UN. He graduated from Flint Hill School in Oakton, Va., and will be a freshman at George Washington University in Washington, DC, this fall majoring in international affairs and economics. With Liberty and Justice for All . . . Monotheists By Sam Marcellus ￼ There is a plethora of reasons why "under God" does not belong in the pledge, from its casual use of God's name, which should offend any true religionist, to its unconstitutional infusion of religion into public schools and other public settings. Most harmful, however, is its threat to one of America's most fundamental principles, which our founding fathers went to great lengths to protect: the doctrine that every group in society, no matter how small a minority, is guaranteed basic rights as citizens of this nation. "Daily proclaim[ing] the dedication of our nation and our people to the Almighty" (as President Eisenhower put it upon altering the pledge to its current incarnation) only serves to instill the notion that freethinkers are not truly American. With an overwhelming monotheistic majority in this country, the rights of freethinkers are rarely respected. A passing reference to a deity, whose existence most of the populace takes for granted, may initially appear innocuous, but I don't believe the majority would be so tolerant if it were a passing reference to the lack of a god. This double standard needs to be recognized and the regular endorsement of monotheistic values by the federal government must end. Sam graduated from Paul D. Schreiber High School, New York. He will attend Clark University in the fall with a major in computer science and a possible minor in political science. His interests include "technical and stage crew for theater productions, political science, computers and Bob Dylan." Taking Away Another Barrier to Diversity By Adam Katrick ￼ It is early in the morning, a regular school day. The announcements come on, and the students lazily stand to recite the pledge in slurred, exhausted tones. A few seconds later, a loud thump is heard in the building as all of the students sit down in unison. Did any of them feel patriotic that morning? Was the Pledge of Allegiance really that important? Only recently did the turmoil over "under God" reinstate itself. My high school hadn't announced the pledge until the September 11th attacks. Just when the patriotic fervor had quieted down, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals put the pledge on trial. Once again my school was announcing the Pledge religiously every morning, and "under God" became a fiery topic. During my high school education in a southeastern Ohio town, I have seen the effects of one overwhelming religion. Sanctioned or not, religion made it into my school day in announcements, class lessons and the Pledge of Allegiance. Being one of only a few voices who protest this undertow of religion in my school, I have refused to stand for the pledge, or religious songs, and have tried to bring a secular opinion into many daily class topics. . . . Taking "under God" out of the pledge is by no means attacking religion. It is simply putting the emphasis back on support for one's country, rather than someone else's religion. I and many students may choose one day to stand again for the Pledge of Allegiance if this religious barrier is removed. This would mean that there is one less cause for discrimination, something all schools should work for. This way the Pledge of Allegiance would serve as a pledge to freedom, instead of another barrier in the road to diversity. Adam graduated from West Muskingum High School in Ohio and is attending Marlboro College in Vermont in the fall. He will major in either environmental biology or physics. His hobbies are woodworking, gardening, playing the trumpet, and debating politics and religion. Are We the Home of the Free? By Luiza M. Goncalves ￼ In my senior year of high school, it was announced over the loudspeaker that from now on the Pledge of Allegiance was to be said every Monday for the rest of the year. My only question was, why now and never before? My thoughts were that this must be to advertise nationalism and patriotism as a consequence of the disaster on September 11, 2001. However, among my peers there was another issue to be discussed: what about God? As a former Catholic school student, for years I prayed and said the Pledge of Allegiance in school; it was as common as peanut butter and jelly. What I did not realize at first was that not everyone believes in God. A nation could not be labeled as "the home of the free" when it was also "one nation, under God." "Under God" is a religious statement and should not be recited in a pledge that is said by all American citizens, including those who may believe in other gods or may not believe in a god at all. Being Catholic, the mention of God does not offend me, but being a United States citizen, having the public recite something that is not in their beliefs or against their religion does bother me. Are we not the home of the free? Luiza is a gradate of Santa Clara High School in California. She plans to attend the University of California, Davis. She plans to major in psychology with the goal of achieving a Ph.D. in that field and establishing her own practice. A Modest Proposal By Emily Gundlach ￼ Editor's note: Emily's essay is a satirical piece, "inspired by Jonathan Swift," which does not lend itself to excerpting. However, the judges wanted her to receive an honorable mention award for creativity and originality. Emily graduated from Charlotte Valley Central School in New York. She has applied to and been accepted by SUNY Oneonta and plans to attend that school in the fall. She is especially interested in English, writiing and law. Her major will be either English or Pre-Law.
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We constantly hear complaints in the media about how badly Christians are treated and how thoroughly Christianity is being driven from the public arena. Of course, nothing could be further from the truth, but some religionists love to promote that image of beleaguered martyrdom because it plays well with the masses and aids their fundraising. Attempts to get secular government agencies to stop promoting religion in general and the icons of specific religions in particular are about ensuring that our government is truly neutral on the subject of religion. The notion that such efforts are directed at destroying any religion is ludicrous. American society is awash with religion. One can go nowhere without being confronted with public professions of piety, religious hucksters, bumperstickers, broadcasters and books. There are churches on practically every corner and billboards and banners promoting various religions and religious causes on most major traffic arteries. We constantly hear from those who extoll the virtues of faith or offer thanks to the deity they worship for some favorable treatment they think they've received. As an atheist, none of that troubles me. I have no objection to anyone practicing their religion in whatever manner they feel is appropriate so long as they don't injure anyone while doing it. Although I may wish the people involved in such activities would find more productive uses for their time, money and energy, I recognize those things are, after all, theirs to waste. However, I do not want my government preaching to me. I do not want it adorning itself in the trappings of religion or promoting religion, religious practices or religious organizations. I don't want it funding religious organizations or their activities, regardless of how worthwhile those activities are intended to be. Those who claim the United States of America was based on religious concepts or was intended to be a "Christian" nation are misreading history. One of the greatest achievements of this nation's founders was the creation of a form of government that was intended neither to serve the cause of religion nor hinder it. It does no damage to anyone's religious faith if children aren't led in prayer in public schools or if government agencies are not allowed to promote religion by displaying religious artifacts or promoting religious slogans like "in God we trust" on our money or "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance. No religious organization is damaged by the removal of overtly sectarian displays--such as the Ten Commandments--from the walls and lobbies of government-owned buildings. Indeed, such practices, such displays are a slap in the face to the millions of Americans who do not worship the "God" of the majority and may not worship any god at all. There is ample scope in the public arena for religious ideas. They can be debated, dissected, promoted, attacked, analyzed and repudiated in books, magazines, newspaper articles, speeches, seminars, and all sorts of other public forums, including the editorial pages of newspapers. They may be the subject of movies, plays, television shows and every form of artistic expression. And all of that is in addition to the activities of religious organizations and individuals who are constantly extolling the virtues of their faith and attempting to market the brand they prefer to the rest of us. Our government has no place in that debate, and it should seek no role in the marketing of religion. Regardless of the claims of religionists, ours is a secular society, and our government is a secular institution. It was not created to promote sectarian religion. Modern-day politicians, regardless of their political ideology, need to recognize that fact and abandon such efforts. We don't need more attempted legislative end-runs around the wall of separation between church and state. We need more bricks and mortar to repair the damage already done to that wall by misguided politicians and to end the leakage caused by that damage.
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The title of outsider brands me. Even as a child, I had my own ideas. I announced at the age of three that I didn't want to be president of the United States. My simple logic said that people like you before but do not like you after you're in office. Raised Roman Catholic, I promptly stopped going to church upon being confirmed as a teenager. That particular sacrament signals adulthood in the faith, and as an adult I chose to be an honest heathen rather than a hypocrite. I didn't buy the meaning behind the hoohah, so I stopped going. Also, I was one of the first in my family to graduate from college. Despite financial pressures, I got loans and scraped up enough money to finish, rather than quit and take a nice job at a bank. That's not to say family traditions hold no meaning for me. On the contrary, many of these quirks provide comfort in their own logic of love. I believe in rituals, but only if they have meaning to those taking part. So, when I married, I sought my own rituals, symbols, and meaning--much to the chagrin of some family members. Since I write for a living, of course, I wrote my entire wedding ceremony and merely found someone to perform it. I live in Colorado, and marriage laws are not tied to religious rites. You can simply purchase, sign, and hand back a marriage license, and it's done. No ordained minister needed. Fast-forward a decade into my life as a freelance writer. For nearly two years, I've been the "Vows" columnist for The Denver Post. It's a human-interest concept that started at The New York Times long ago. When my local newspaper editor wanted to do it here, she turned to me. I'm good at building rapport with people I interview. I'll ask anyone nearly anything, and, honestly, I love weddings. I enjoy seeing people in their beaming moments. My ideas on God, government, and life may be alternative, but my thoughts on love, I think, are universal. Working as a journalist requires accuracy, objectivity, and even diversity. I told my editor from the beginning that if I only did expensive, white, Christian weddings that I'd shoot myself. I try to cover people of different cultural, religious, and economic backgrounds. This isn't news writing, however. It also isn't society writing. These are regular folk, for the most part, and my job is to tell their stories. So imagine me sitting through at least 26 weddings each year. Imagine me listening to the words people say, the rituals they use to cement a relationship. Imagine me--feminist, independent thinker--hearing religious texts that discuss outdated roles of women in marriage. Imagine my sadness, sometimes watching people go through the motions of a tradition with no personal meaning. Types of weddings Weddings, it seems, fall into four categories: creative, municipal, religious with heart, or religious without heart. Creative weddings often feature stunts or outlandish mechanisms. In other words, they are so outside tradition that they can be a bit odd. My favorite so far is the couple who met and later married at a bowling alley. The facility didn't close for the nuptial event, so strangers stopped bowling for a few minutes and watched. The snack bar even announced that someone's order was ready right in the middle of the ceremony. Now, that's funny. Sure, creative weddings make good stories, but they also carry an independent spirit that I enjoy. Municipal weddings, on the other hand, can come off a bit institutional, unless you know the story behind them. On a Friday before a three-day holiday weekend, a photographer from the newspaper and I showed up at a nearby county courthouse. We accosted people who were eloping. One couple met through mutual friends and wanted a simple ceremony. The bride's young son came along and told me that the time so far with his new stepdad was way better than years spent with his biological father, which was both sad and compelling. Another couple met and dated in high school, went off to their separate lives and found love again on a reunion cruise. They were in their 60s and as giggly as a couple of kids. I often meet couples who are truly devout, and these religious weddings have heart. Whether Christian, Jewish, or Pagan, this faith-based bond plays large roles in many relationships, and I honor that as best I can by telling the stories I find. As a professional observer of love, I can say it's sometimes very moving to see people glowing with fervor. The best religious weddings feature a minister who clearly knows the couple and has a long-term relationship with them. The couples truly live their faith, often obeying church rules on premarital sex or cohabitation--a point they make clear during interviews. Surprisingly one of my favorites was a Catholic wedding held at the local cathedral and performed by Denver's archbishop, who happened to be a longtime friend of the groom. The ceremony was funny and real and felt fairly modern, while covering all the religious bases at the same time. Trust me, I've sat through some bad ceremonies. I once heard a priest talk about the couple's childhood pets while explaining that animals weren't enough companionship for man, so god created woman. At another wedding, the deacon gave marital advice, including "don't loan friends your car or your wife." That brings us to the final category of weddings: traditional religious weddings with no heart. Here couples blindly follow rituals, reciting words that they do not whole-heartedly believe. These events usually include a minister and church merely hired for the day. I watch modern, urban, professional couples stand before a minister who quotes Biblical passages and notes duties of the proper wife. I hear things about the man as head of the house, wife as helpmate, and I squirm. Because I do the interviews in advance of the big day, I know these people. They tell me about their lives, careers, and relationships. They let me listen to their newlywed banter. Together we laugh through their cocktail party stories about how they met or how he proposed. So, it breaks my heart to witness cold traditions masquerading as something meaningful. Luckily, I know and can share the real story. Tradition of type At all of these weddings, I stand and sit as protocol demands, but I do not pray, sing, or kneel. I've certainly sat amid guests shouting out praise, arms raised in passion. Sometimes people want to hold my hand during prayers or shake it in a sign of peace, and I feel goofy. So, as much as possible, I sit off to the side, in the back and alone--not participant, not celebrant, just watcher. I usually tell the couples, "You won't even know I'm there." I do get a little misty when an event is clearly infused with personal meaning, be it religious or otherwise. For the others, I'm sad but also grateful to have the opportunity to listen and write the real stories. Consider it my own tradition through type on the page. Roxanne Hawn is a freelance writer, living in a mountain meadow west of Golden, Colo. In addition to being the Vows columnist for The Denver Post, she writes about lifestyle topics for regional and national magazines. ￼ Roxanne and her husband Tom Hawn. "Being a professional writer has its advantages, and feeling comfortable crafting my entire wedding ceremony is one of them. I researched wedding structure from a variety of cultures and religious traditions. I then used that framework--at least the parts that made sense to me--to support what we wanted to convey to each other and to our assembled family and friends. "I chose a poem for our 'reading' called How Will I Know You? by Meryl Fishman because I liked its message. "Before exchanging vows with my husband, I had our officiant say this: " 'Standing before you today, Roxanne and Tom promise not only to seek but to find, not only to find but to accept, not only to accept but to rejoice in all that they discover in each other today and for each day forward.' "That led into our vows, which were: Today, I become your husband/wife. I promise to give and to receive, To speak and to listen, To inspire and to respond In all circumstances of our life together. I pledge you my love and my loyalty, My strength and my respect Above all others, forever."
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I felt it was very simple from the get-go, and somewhat na•vely I was sure that once it was all laid out others would inevitably come to the same conclusion (a childish Platonism that was quickly slain). I was a student at a public college (though like the majority of cadets I was a non-Virginia resident) funded by state and federal money. Each evening, when the mass of cadets necessarily formed up to eat in the dining hall, a young man (hand-chosen by the school's chaplain) stepped forth and recited a prayer through the public address system. Conveniently, and quite coincidently VMI insists, the entirety of the corps was already summoned to attention and were now in place in the silently reverent position. It was mind-boggling to me that few around me seemed to note the absurdity in this, and that fewer still were rightly infuriated. How could a government institution of higher learning, outspokenly dedicated to the molding of civil and military leaders, see itself as above the very rule of law so many of its graduates had fought for? What's more, was it not clear that the highly authoritarian and coercive atmosphere of a small southern military college meant that the cadets were not simply being prayed at, but rather proselytized to, and that their submissive heads-down posture symbolized a sort of willing submission? Paul and I went to the low-level school administrators whom we as cadets interacted wtih regularly. There, our concern was met at first with confusion and, in time, amusement. Finally, when we persisted, we faced anger. We asked simply if the policy could be revisited. It could not. Our clear and well-intended effort to bring VMI within the law--first through questions and complaints inside the system (Cadet Newspaper editorials, complaints through the cadet-implemented regimental system, and, in time, speaking directly with the superintendent) and then (unfortunately) vis-a-vis legal channels--quickly became muddled. The ordeal was spun as just another attack on VMI from godless, liberal bomb-throwers, hell-bent on destroying another decades-old tradition that they did not understand or appreciate. Worse still, it was claimed, this all might well pave the way for the abolition of all prayer and religion in the armed services themselves! Attending a school where marks from hazing are secretly seen as a badge of honor, and living in a town where the "war" still referred to the "War of Northern Aggression," I knew full well that attempting to explain my actions through the lenses of a detached humanism would be a hopelessly Sisyphean task. I was satisfied to point out to my fellow future civil servants and military officers that we best live by those very laws that we sought to someday uphold. Simple, right? As lines were drawn, cadets, administrators, and those outside the barracks often withdrew to blind fanaticism. At a small, closely-knit school where a rigorous academic, athletic and military gauntlet leads to high rates of attrition, and even higher levels of loyalty, any attack on a perceived tradition is blasphemy. Very un-VMI men such as Jerry Falwell and Pat Buchanan shot insults at Paul and me for being immature and weak iconoclasts, tearing down a 50-year-old tradition. Five decades do not properly constitute a significant tradition at a school founded a generation before the Civil War. More important, the Superintendent himself noted that he had formalized the prayer only five years ago upon being hired. Such gaping holes in the armor of the self-selected righteous defenders of the faith were of course inconsequential. This was a gut level, shoot-from-the-hip type of fight. The fact that Paul was commissioned in the decidedly unmilitary Air Force (USAF) and I, worse yet, aspired to join the Peace Crops, did wonders to deepen the stereotypes and the resentment. It is of course a very small, closely-knit school, with all 1,100 men, and a handful of recently arrived women, living in the same common spartan barracks building, a place where these things don't go over well. My friends agreed with me. My companions understood my reasoning. Even my professors were very sympathetic toward my efforts. But the mass of cadets, most notably those cadets chosen by the administration for leadership positions, found me detestable. My demerits quickly skyrocketed (more in the weeks following the case, than in the prior three and a half years combined) and the smiling and nodding heads in the hallways became thousand-yard stares. Even the hate mail from concerned grandmas in the Midwest piled up. Thousands of miles and many months away from it all, I am now a Peace Corps Volunteer on a small Pacific atoll, and it seems quite simple again. I am piecing together a library for an elementary school (grade one through eight, roughly seventy kids) where the little ones seem quite unconcerned with institutionalized prayer. I eat rice, taro, fish and breadfruit. My house is made of plywood, tin and thatch. I fish and read a great deal. I am no utopian but I am surely enjoying myself. These islands are very much the Third World though, and I have often enough traveled to the big island that houses the state capital (and the bigger islands where the federal government is seated) to cling firmly to my faith in a transparent and unobtrusive government, the type that would not for an instant tolerate its taxpayers bankrolling religion at a public school. Perhaps more profoundly, though, I have heard enough local "true" stories of ghosts and spirits, of enchanted fish and talking whales, to know that my selfishly guarded humanism is even further from universal realization than the "hands-off" government I hope will protect it.
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In any field of thought or action it is often said that the theorists and doers of today "stand on the shoulders of the giants who have come before them." In the field of freethought there have been a great many "giants," from Epicurus to Giordano Bruno, to Voltaire, to Thomas Paine and Robert Ingersoll. There have also been many others whose works have been largely forgotten--or perhaps I should say "more forgotten"--by the general public and even other freethinkers. One of these forgotten giants is Joseph McCabe. Emanuel Haldeman-Julius, famous atheist publisher of the "Little Blue Books" (and the lesser known "Big Blue Books") described Joseph McCabe as "the world's greatest scholar" and as "the atomic bomb of the intellectual world." A close friend, Edward Clodd, said that "reading McCabe was like having a pistol fired close to his ear." Amazingly enough, this formerly world-renowned freethought scholar and writer has been almost completely forgotten throughout the nearly five decades since his death in 1955. Indeed, Bill Cooke's book Joseph McCabe and Rationalism: A Rebel to his Last Breath, published in 2001, is the only full-length work on the life of Joseph McCabe. Fortunately, Cooke's fine book goes a long way in providing strong evidence for Haldeman-Julius's claim that McCabe was truly "the greatest scholar of his time and possibly the 20th century's greatest freethinker and atheist writer." Joseph McCabe was born in Macclesfield, Cheshire (England), on November 11, 1867, the second of eight children. Both of his parents were Catholic, although of different outlooks. His father, William Thomas McCabe, was born in Ireland and had inherited the faith. He fled famine and poverty in Ireland and wound up in the Lancaster slums of England. Joseph's mother, Harriet Kirk, was English and converted to Catholicism when she married William. She remained a Catholic through her life. Harriet named her second son Joseph, hoping he would follow his namesake's lead and enter the church. The McCabe children attended the local Catholic schools where Joseph attained the stature of a model pupil and a zealous believer. (The details of McCabe's early life can be found in his great autobiography and literary freethought classic, Eighty Years a Rebel, published by E. Haldeman-Julius in 1947 as part of the series of "Big Blue Books." Joseph served, early in his life, as an errand boy in the Manchester Merchant House. Then at the age of 16 (1883) he entered the preparatory college at the Gorton Franciscan Monastery. He was ordained at age 23 (1890) and became a Roman Catholic priest. Then, in recognition of his outstanding intellectual prowess, he was appointed to a prominent post of "professor of philosophy." However, as his knowledge deepened his doubts grew. At the age of 23 his reasoning powers led him inexorably to the position of atheism. He renounced the church and thereafter dedicated his life to promoting intellectual emancipation and a purely scientific point of view. It was during the Christmas break of 1895, while at the Franciscan Monastery, that he "descended" into the final crisis of faith. He had long fought against his growing doubts about the Catholic Church and the whole Christian mythology in general. Finally, he put those doubts in order and wrote the following: "I took a sheet of paper, divided it into debt and credit columns on the arguments for and against God and immortality. On Christmas Eve I wrote 'bankrupt' at the foot. And it was on Christmas morning 1895, after I had celebrated three Masses, while the bells of the parish church were ringing out the Christmas message of peace, that, with great pain, I found myself far out from the familiar land--homeless, aimlessly drifting. But the bells were right after all; from that hour on I have been wholly free from the nightmare of doubt that had lain on me for ten years." Joseph McCabe remained a British citizen throughout his life. However, his main publisher, E. Haldeman-Julius, was an American who lived in Gerard, Kansas. McCabe also wrote extensively for the well-known English publication, The Literary Guide, from 1898 to March 1926. McCabe was a very popular lecturer and gave many thousands of lectures for over five decades throughout the world, including frequent lecture tours in the United States. McCabe himself stated that, "At least one million folk have heard me lecture in America and Britain." McCabe was also one of the founders of one of the oldest freethought associations in the world, the Rationalist Press Association. His lectures were often sponsored by this as well as other freethought organizations of his day. McCabe exchanged many letters with well-known politicians, scientists (most notably, Ernst Haeckel), and writers of his time. This correspondence included such famous men as Bertrand Russell, Arthur Conan Doyle, Francisco Ferrer, a Spanish anarchist, and the famous historian and writer, H.G. Wells, among many others. It was McCabe's influence that is largely credited with convincing H.G. Wells of the nefarious nature of the Catholic church, to such an extent that Wells went on to write, "The most evil institution in the world is the Roman Catholic Church." McCabe also at one time debated such well-known Catholic literary apologists as G.H. Chesterton and Hillaire Belloc. Cooke's book lists three other contemporaries of McCabe, now also largely forgotten, as McCabe's intellectual "heroes." They were Robert Owen, George Jacob Holyoake, and Sir Leslie Stephen. Joseph McCabe's long absences, caused to some extent by his frequent, worldwide lecture tours, put an irreparable strain on his marriage. McCabe divorced his wife of 26 years, Beatrice, in 1925. He described the parting as "by mutual consent." Joseph and Beatrice had four children, two boys and two girls. Haldeman-Julius once wrote that, "If I had done nothing more than bring McCabe's talents to the attention of what has become a world-wide audience--if I had done only this job, I believe I'd have established myself as a force for mass education and enlightenment with immediate and constructive effects on the thinking portion of the population. My association with McCabe has been enough to build a career for anyone." Cooke's treatise mentions many of McCabe's amazingly voluminous writings. He points out, in particular, three outstanding scholarly volumes of significance: (l) The Key to Culture (40 volumes beginning in 1929), (2) The Key to Love and Sex (8 volumes beginning in 1929), and (3) The Rise and Fall of the Gods (6 volumes beginning in 1931). All of these were published by Haldeman-Julius in the "Big Blue Book" format. As would be expected, McCabe was an ardent student and supporter of the theory of evolution. His translation of Ernst Haeckel's work on evolution in 1900 (McCabe retitled it The Riddle of the Universe) put McCabe on the world's literary map. McCabe's translation sold an astonishing number of copies for that or any other period of time--over half a million copies in Germany alone and a quarter of a million copies elsewhere! McCabe once wrote amusingly of a time when he met Mrs. Thomas Huxley, the wife of the famous scientist and evolutionist--"Darwin's Bulldog" as he was known. "I once amused Mrs. Huxley by telling her that I devoted a whole novena (nine days of prayer) for her late husband." The novena was, of course, during an earlier time when he was studying to be a monk in a Catholic monastery as a youth. In 1949 E. Haldeman-Julius stated that by his own reckoning McCabe had written 121 "Little Blue Books" and 122 "Big Blue Books," for a total of some 7,600,000 words. For this monumental output the author was paid a total of about $100,000, which was no paltry amount even for those days. McCabe, according to his own estimate, claimed that in his 50 years of writing he had penned the astonishing total of 15 million words--a record that may never be equaled in all of literary history! McCabe's trenchant criticisms of religion, especially of the Catholic Church, are rich in extensive use he makes of history, economics and politics. Here, for example, is a classic, eloquent rendering of a century that had been steeped in religion: "Try to picture to yourself the life of nine out of ten in Christendom at that time. Cut out those pictures of occasional saints or scholars, or silk-robed merchants and gay tournaments. Follow the life of the man working from dawn to sunset, then returning to a sty, the floor unpaved, the cesspool and mudheap at the door, the filthy interior without the cheapest comfort or adornment. Imagine the woman bearing her seven or eight children in it, doing twice the work of the poorest modern woman, brutally treated by most husbands; a cow . . . and the same gossipy and crassly superstitious little village round her from cradle to grave, the scold's bridle or the dunking stool if she dare assert herself, the superstition of witchcraft if she wondered if the gentle Jesus did really arrange all of this, the sudden departure of the man for war, the famine drawing on with fiendish slowness, the plague spreading over the countryside. And there you have the true picture of the thirteenth century." As Isaac Goldberg, one of Haldeman-Julius's finest atheist writers, said of Joseph McCabe: "The greatest tribute one can give to a writer is that it is simply enough to read him." Freethinkers, rationalists and atheists: You owe it to yourselves to acquaint and reacquaint and enrich and enlighten your life by learning more about this most remarkable man, Joseph McCabe--Atheist Prophet for our (and all) time.
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The Alabama Freethought Association, a Foundation chapter, held a press conference on Aug. 20, 2003, in front of the Judicial Building in Montgomery, Ala., urging Judge Roy Moore to obey the law and remove the Ten Commandments monument from the building. The chapter also spoke about its interest in holding Moore financially accountable for the costly and unnecessary legal battle at taxpayers' expense. The chapter and Foundation member Gloria Hershiser originally sued Moore when, as a county judge, he first put up a Ten Commandments plaque in his courtroom and held prayers before jurors in Gadsden, Ala. The chapter won the prominent lawsuit, but it was later thrown out of court on a bizarre technicality. Their news conference was covered by a variety of national and regional media. In addition to Pat Cleveland, Hank Shiver and Dr. George Whatley (see texts below), speakers included: attorneys David Gespass and Cathy Johnson, and Al Faulkenberry. Al, a Gadsden resident, publicly objected as a juror to being asked to pray by Moore. Moore defied a court order to remove the monument by Aug. 20. The monument was finally removed on Aug. 27. By Pat Cleveland Welcome and thank you for coming. Today is a special day. I am the director of the Alabama Freethought Association, a chapter of the Freedom From Religion Foundation. In this country, our Alabama and United States Constitutions guarantee freedom from religion. If you cannot have freedom from religion, then freedom of religion could not apply. Today we should get to witness Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore obey the court orders, to remove the Ten Commandments marker from the Alabama Supreme Court, just as he expects those who come before him to obey his orders. Seven years ago we were plaintiffs who objected to Moore's courtroom prayer--a clear violation of church/state separation. Over the years the court costs have mounted. I feel the burden of paying for all of these court expenses should fall on Judge Roy Moore personally, for he is the person responsible for this ongoing pursuit to act as if he is above the law. I support his right to have the monument in his home or his church, but not in my courthouse. I am here today to see the court order obeyed. Alabama lawmakers should pass a law that any judge who defies the law and violates the oath of his office, costing taxpayers monies, be impeached. By Hank Shiver This is an excerpt. The Preamble to the Constitution of the Confederate States: "We, the people of the Confederate States, each State acting in its sovereign and independent character, in order to form a permanent federal government, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity--invoking the favor and guidance of Almighty God--do ordain and establish this Constitution for the Confederate States of America." This is the constitution of the slave holders who wanted no part of religious or racial freedom. To the Southerner, God ordained slavery for the white Christian. The Preamble to the Alabama State Constitution, 1901: "We, the people of the State of Alabama, in order to establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, invoking the favor and guidance of Almighty God, do ordain and establish the following Constitution and form of government for the State of Alabama." The State of Alabama revised the Confederate Constitution for its preamble. Judge Moore is getting his divine inspiration from the slave holders of the Confederacy. The Preamble to the US Constitution: "We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America." The United States needed no god to be great. Is it possible that the people of Alabama might take a hint? By George B. Whatley, M.D. This is an excerpt. In the rotunda of this judicial building Chief Justice Roy Moore has placed a huge monument containing the Ten Commandments, which he and his supporters, Christians and Jews, claim are the foundation of the moral and civil laws of these United States of America. He has been advised by our civil courts that the presence of this monument in the rotunda is unconstitutional and has been ordered to remove it. He says he will not obey this court order. Let's see how magnificent and all pervasive these ten rules are: 1. I am the Lord thy god, thou shalt have no other gods before me. 2. Thou shalt not make any graven image or any likeness of anything that exists; but if you do, thou shalt not bow down to them or serve them for I am a jealous god. 3. Thou shalt not take my name in vain. 4. Remember the sabbath to keep it holy; no work is to be done by man or beast or guests of man. These four are God telling Israel how he wants Israel to worship him; they have nothing to do with Christians or with our federal and state constitutions. 5. Honor thy father and thy mother that you may live a long time. Any sociologist will tell you that this one would have many permissible exceptions. 6. Thou shalt not kill. 7. Thou shalt not commit adultery. 8. Thou shalt not steal. 9, Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor. Numbers 6, 7, 8, and 9 are covered by our civil laws requiring no deity. 10. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's wife, his male slaves, his female slaves, his house, his fields, his ox or his ass or anything that is your neighbors'. Number 10 is totally unenforceable by human law and is just as unenforceable by God's law.
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Moore Saga Continues Below is a summary of events following the tardy removal on Aug. 27 of the 5,280-pound granite Ten Commandments marker from the Judicial Building in Montgomery, Ala. It was unlawfully placed there by Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore. In mid-September, Moore offered his monument for display in the U.S. Capitol, meeting with several unidentified members of Congress. Alabama Senator Richard Shelby called on Congress to accept Moore's "gracious offer." Revealing the climate in Congress is the July 25 vote of 260-161 to block federal money from being used to enforce the court order. This is similar to a 1997 vote, when 295 members of the House passed a nonbinding resolution supporting Moore's crusade to place Ten Commandments on public property. Alabama Gov. Bob Riley unveiled an exhibit on Sept. 9 at the State Capitol in Montgomery including a small plaque of the Ten Commandments. Moore criticized Riley for trying to "secularize" the Ten Commandments by surrounding it with the Magna Carta and Bill of Rights. Alabaman Robert A. Martin, the editor and publisher of the News, wrote an Aug. 28 editorial: "Some court officials here have told me they believe Moore has 'lost it,' that he is mentally unable to perform his duties. . . ." The State Constitution provides for removal, suspension without pay, and censure of a judge who has violated "a canon of judicial ethics, misconduct in office, failure to perform his duties," as well as suspension, with or without pay, of a judge who is physically or mentally unable to perform duties. The 9-member Judicial Inquiry Commission filed an ethics charge against Moore in August, which will go to trial before the state's Court of the Judiciary. Moore has been temporarily suspended with pay for violating the court order to remove the monument. Mississippi Gov. Ronnie Musgrove, a Democrat, and his Republican rival, Haley Barbour, invited Moore to donate his monument for display in their Capitol, urging that it be displayed by governors in all 50 capitols. U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson, who ruled last year against Moore's monument and ordered it removed this year after his decision was upheld by the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, threw out a new lawsuit in early September by three believers claiming the removal "discriminated against religion." Newsweek columnist Eleanor Clift reported on Aug. 22 that Melinda Maddox, one of the attorney plaintiffs in the successful suit, lost her practice in Brewton, Ala. and has relocated to another Alabama city to escape the death threats and hostility. BB pellets were shot through some windows in her house, her black Ford Expedition was "keyed," and "I was the local outcast," she said. Georgia Decalog Suit Filed The American Civil Liberties Union filed a federal lawsuit on Sept. 16 to remove a parchment inscription of the Ten Commandments from the hallway of the Barrow County Courthouse in Winder, Ga. Officials put the 3-by-4-foot framed display in the courthouse a year and a half ago. In early September, some 1,000 Christians, including failed presidential candidate Alan Keyes, rallied in support of keeping the bible edicts in the courthouse. Public Prayer Divisive A federal judge ruled in August that prayers to a specific deity are unconstitutional, ending Christian prayers in Great Falls, La. The town council is appealing the decision, the result of a lawsuit taken by Wiccan high priestess Darla Kaye Wynne. * * * First the good news . . . The school board in Manatee County, Fla., agreed in mid-August to end a decades-long practice of beginning meetings with the Lord's Prayer. Unfortunately, they announced they will open meetings with a "nondenominational invocation" by rotating members of the clergy. Pity Regimented Texas Students Public school students in Texas not only have to recite a mandated religious Pledge of Allegiance, but must follow it with a pledge to the Texas flag, followed by standing for a 60-second moment of silence. The new law went into effect this fall (except for some unfortunate Texas students who started school as early as Aug. 4--in order to have extra time to cram for state-mandated testing adopted under Gov. Bush). One of the law's onerous provisions is the requirement that a Texas flag be present in every classroom. The San Antonio Express News reported that the Northside School District would spend about $50,000 to buy flags and flag holders. Another onerous provision requires that students bring a note from home in order to be excused from the pledges. "If you want children to love country and state, teach them to honor their flags. If you want them to value a power higher than their own, provide them with a minute to reflect, meditate or pray," said sponsor Sen. Jeff Wentworth. "Sixty seconds is a long time, especially for the four-year-olds," one school official pointed out. Fox TV "Wholly Without Merit"? A federal judge in Manhattan dismissed a lawsuit against satirist Al Franken by Fox News, which tried to block him from using Fox News' self-descriptive phrase "fair and balanced" on the cover of his book, Lies, and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right. U.S. Dist. Judge Denny Chin ruled on Aug. 22 that the motion was "wholly without merit, both factually and legally," prompting former Saturday Night Live writer Franken to suggest that Fox News adopt those words as its new motto. Chin told the company it needed to learn how to take a joke, and should fight for the First Amendment, instead of "trying to undermine it." Atheist Sues over Uniforms The mother of two grade-school boys is suing the Penns Grove-Carneys Point Regional School District over a policy that permits children to opt out of wearing required uniforms if they get a note from a rabbi, pastor, or imam. When Sherrie Wilkins, an atheist, sent her boys to school last year without the red-white-and-khaki uniform, they were sent home. Wilkins objects to uniforms, saying they hinder creativity, freedom of expression and symbolize militarism. Her federal lawsuit filed in late August in Camden, Penn., cites the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution. School Supt. Joseph A. Massare said: "Atheism is not considered an organized religion, and there's nothing, as far as we know, that says the uniform would go against their beliefs." Last year, only one Muslim girl, out of the district's 2,500 students, was exempted from the requirement. Motto Miscellany The executive director of the ACLU's Central New York Chapter went on record telling the Syracuse newspaper on Sept. 1 that the words "In God We Trust," above the judge's bench in Fulton City Court, are "secular." Said Barrie Gewanter: "It's a more secular statement. It's a statement that there's a higher law that we must obey. It's a tradition with our court system that's not tied to a religious belief." * * * Charles E. ("Mr. Clean") Bennett, 92, Florida's former House member who sponsored the 1955 legislation to put "In God We Trust" on all currency, died in September. "At the base of our freedom is our faith in God and the desire of Americans to live by his will and his guidance. As long as this country trusts in God, it will prevail," he said from the House floor. He told the New York Times in 1991, "I'm not a brilliant person . . . I've never been accused of being a genius." Keep Kindergarten Secular The Third U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in September that kindergartners and first-grade students do not have a First Amendment right to distribute religious gifts to other students during a school-sponsored party. "To require a school to permit the promotion of a specific message would infringe upon a school's legitimate area of control," wrote Chief U.S. Circuit Judge Anthony J. Scirica, in Walz v. Egg Harbor Township Board of Education. The unanimous three-judge panel affirmed the dismissal of a suit brought by the mother of a boy prohibited from distributing pencils bearing the message "Jesus Loves the Little Children." He was also barred from giving away candy canes with a message bearing "several symbols for the birth, ministry and death of Jesus Christ." Scirica said the school's restrictions worked to prevent proselytizing speech that would be at cross-purposes with educational goals and could appear to "bear the school's stamp of approval."
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Son Smothered with Duct Tape Rev. Christy Edgar of God's Christian Outreach Ministry in Kansas City, Kan., pleaded guilty to murder and child abuse on Sept. 18, on the eve of her trial over the Dec. 30 death of her adopted son. Brian Edgar, 9, suffocated on vomit after he had been wrapped from head to toe with duct tape, leaving only his nose uncovered. He was being punished for "stealing food." The prosecutor said he and two other Edgar children were often disciplined by being tied up all night. Edgar's husband and four other church members still face child abuse charges. Source: AP, Sept. 18, 2003 Sisters Hacked to Death Three Jordanian brothers hacked their two sisters to death with axes on Sept. 8 in the capital city of Amman, in an "honor killing" condoned under Muslim culture. The 27-year-old sister, who had a 10-month-old baby, had left home nearly two years ago to marry a man without her family's consent. Her 20-year-old sister had joined her three months ago. "It was a brutal scene. One victim's head was nearly cut clean off," an official said. The day before the killings Parliament had rejected a bill imposing harsher sentences for "honor killings." Source: BBC News, Sept. 10, 2003 Baby Dies Without Care A couple who chose prayer instead of medicine, watching their sick baby daughter die, was sentenced to a year of weekends in jail and parenting classes. Julia, 11 months, died of bacterial meningitis in July 2001, suffering high fever, vomiting, and convulsions. The parents pleaded no contest to charges of involuntary manslaughter and child abuse. Richard and Angeles Weibe are members of the Church of God, Upland, Calif., which shuns medical care. Source: Associated Press, Sept. 16, 2003 Untreated Newborn Dies Rhiana Rose Schmidt, who was born on Aug. 17, died on Aug. 19, after being delivered breech-birth at home to parents who belong to the General Assembly Church of the Firstborn in Morgantown, Ind. The church eschews medical care. She died of puerperal sepsis, a general infection acquired at birth, which is treated with antibiotics. She had difficulty breathing from the onset and the family knew she was ill, but believed it wrong to rely on medicine over "God's will." Hers is the third such death involving children from the same church. Prematurely-born Aspen Daniel died at six days of dehydration and underdevelopment in November 1998. Bradley Hamm, 12, died in February 1999 of an undetected heart attack. Indiana law provides a defense for parents providing "spiritual care." No charges have been brought in any of these cases. Source: [Johnson Co., Ind.] Daily Journal, Aug. 23-24, 2003 Man Attempts Two Murders A Seattle man said he slit his girlfriend's throat and tried to stab her friend on March 28 because God wanted him to eradicate them as "devils." Jacob Garnet, 32, who was charged with first-degree attempted murder and related charges, insists "God will ensure his acquittal." Source: King County Journal, Aug. 9, 2003 Killing Women for Christ Gary Leon Ridgway, 52, of Auburn, Wash., believed to be the "Green River Killer," has been charged by King County prosecutors with killing seven women. He was known for reading the bible at work, trying to "save" others, going door to door for a Pentecostal Church, and bragging about picking up prostitutes. He would sit in front of a TV with his bible open on his lap, and often cried at church services. There are 49 known female victims in the Green River murders, so-named because the first five victims were found in the Green River in 1982. Many of the victims were runaways or prostitutes. First arrested last November, Green directed investigators to remains of another alleged victim in August. Source: King County Journal, Aug. 8, 2003 Pious Man Kills Wife, Kids A judge temporarily committed Edward Morris, 37, to a mental hospital after finding him incapable of standing trial for the murder of his pregnant wife Renee, 31, and her three children, 10, 8, and 4, who were found in late December in the snowy Tillamook State Forest in Oregon. Morris's minivan sported bumperstickers honoring a Christian evangelist and the Promise Keepers. He was described by friends and relatives as "extremely religious." Source: Oregonian, June 20, 2003 Christian Mom Stones Sons Deanna LaJune "Dee" Laney, of Tyler, Texas, was charged with capital murder after calling 911 to report she had stoned to death her sons, Luke Allen Laney, 6, and Joshua Laney, 8, and tried to kill Aaron, 14 months. She told police God wanted her to kill her children. She was described as an intensely devout member of First Assembly of God, where the minister had just warned about the imminence of the Antichrist, Armageddon, and the return of Jesus. Source: Dallas Morning News, May 12, 2003 Exorcism Kills Teen Walter Zepeda, 19, died of dehydration after a 7-day "exorcism" in his basement apartment in London, Ontario, at the hands of his father and a fellow church member. Diego Zepeda-Cordera and Missionary Church of Christ member Alex Osegueda pleaded guilty to manslaughter. The mother, Ana Mejia-Lopez, received one day in jail, following 500 days of incarceration. Walter was tied to chairs in the apartment, bruising his wrists and ankles. A pastor and ten other church members periodically prayed over him. Walter's mouth was duct-taped when he screamed. Source: Toronto Globe & Mail, May 23, 2003 Father Kills Son Ivan Henk, of Plattsmouth, Neb., whose son, Brendan Gonzalez, age 4, had been missing since Jan. 6, admitted in a courtroom outburst in April that he killed his son. "The reason I killed Brendan is that he was the Antichrist. He had 666 on his forehead." Source: Lincoln Journal Star, April 30, 2003 Shunned Dad Kills Family Oregon investigators linked "shunning," a practice by Jehovah's Witnesses against erring church members, to the December 2001 murders of a wife and three children by Christian Longo. The family moved to Oregon from Michigan after being disfellowshipped, involving the severing of all social, family and business relationships. Longo was condemned to death by a jury in April, following a 6-week trial. In a similar case, Robert Bryant of McMinnville, Ore., killed his wife, their four children and himself in February 2002, after being disfellowshipped by the JWs. Sources: Register Guard, March 2, 2003; Oregonian, April 27, 2003 Teen Dies of Untreated Cancer A Tennessee mother who let her daughter die of untreated bone cancer last fall was indicted on misdemeanor charges in April. Jessica Crank, 15, died on Sept. 15. Members of the New Life Ministries prayed over the girl's open casket for her resurrection. Jessica had a basketball-sized tumor on her shoulder. Mother Jacqueline Crank, 42, and Ariel Ben Sherma, 74, the church leader, each face a single count of child abuse and neglect. Source: KnoxNews.com, April 17, 2003 Killer Cites Islam A former employee of Pakistan's Interior Ministry was sentenced to death for killing seven members of his family because his daughter planned to marry a Christian. Mohammed Nawaz turned himself in to police in September 2002. He said his crimes, which included killing his pregnant wife, also a Christian, protected the family honor. Pakistan's main human rights body reported at least 461 women were killed by family members in "honor killings" last year, and 631 "honor killings" have occurred in the first eight months of this year. Sources: Associated Press, April 17, 2003; Scotsman, Sept. 16, 2003 Killer Cites Bible A man in West Valley, Utah, charged with killing his wife and small daughter in February, described the slayings as a test of faith similar to the biblical story of Abraham sacrificing Isaac. Brian Christopher Sullivan, 38, stabbed to death LaRae Marara Sullivan, 33, and Kehaulani Marie, 4. "By doing what I was asked by my Heavenly Father, I have now secured me a place with them in heaven. . . . I follow God's laws." He claimed to be the predecessor to the "Second Coming of Christ." Source: Salt Lake Tribune, April 4, 2003 Religious Mom Slays Daughters Tracy Camburn of Zeeland, Mich., is serving a life sentence after being found guilty but mentally ill last December by a jury of stabbing to death her daughters Candice, 10, and Kimberly, 5. They were found under a bloody comforter covered by a bible in her home with a note saying it was "D-Day." Camburn said she took satisfaction in knowing her girls were with Jesus. In April, the Church of the Nazarene, which Camburn was so devoted to, announced it was starting a fundraiser for a "memorial garden" for the girls. Sources: Holland Sentinel, April 4, 2003; Jan. 1, 2003; Nov. 15, 2002 Toddler Starved for God Winnfred Wright, 46, was sentenced to a maximum term of 16 years, 8 months in prison by a Marin County judge for starving his son, 19 months, who died in November 2001. The boy was at a 5-month level of physical development and suffered from rickets. Wright, the patriarch of a Lucas Valley home, lived with three women and has 12 children. He believed strict discipline and a diet of herbal supplements was holy and brought his family closer to God. Source: Associated Press, March 17, 2003 Faith Did Him In A friend of James W. Killeen, 50, Tucson, found him on Jan. 23 decomposing in his home while his wife and others prayed for his resurrection. They had not reported his death. Stan Adair Bennett, director of World Ministries, conducted the prayers. Buddy Martinez, his co-worker and friend, told police Killeen's faith killed him. He suffered from diabetes and other health problems. When friends and family called to check on him over the holidays, his wife of six months told them he was on a 40-day fast.Source: Arizona Daily Star, March 1, 2003
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