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Freethought Today · Vol. 24 No. 10 December 2007

Published by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc.

Theocracy Alert

House Passes Christmas" Resolution

The House of Representatives on Dec. 11, 2007, approved H. Res. 847, "Recognizing the importance of Christmas and the Christian faith," introduced on Dec. 6 by Rep. Steve King, R-IA, with 51 cosponsors. It passed 372-9.

Recognizing Christianity as "the largest religion in the world," it continued:

"Christians identify themselves as those who believe in the salvation from sin offered to them through the sacrifice of their savior, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, and who, out of gratitude for the gift of salvation, commit themselves to living their lives in accordance with the teachings of the Holy Bible."

The House said: "for Christians, Christmas is celebrated as a recognition of God's redemption, mercy, and Grace." Although falling short of calling the United States a Christian nation, the House resolved that Congress "acknowledges and supports the role played by Christians and Christianity in the founding of the United States and in the formation of the western civilization."

The nine members who voted "no" are: Yvette Clarke, D-NY, Gary Ackerman, D-NY, Barbara Lee, D-CA, Diana DeGette, D-CO, Alcee Hastings, D-FL, James McDermott, D-WA, Robert Scott, D-VA, Pete Stark, D-CA, Lynn Woolsey, D-CA.

Ten simply voted "present," including Frank Barney, D-MA, who later said he regretted not voting "no."

Read FFRF's statement on the resolution.

Ruling: Clergy White House Log Public

The White House cannot hide behind a shield of privilege and must release its logs on visitors, including Christian leaders, ruled a federal judge on Dec. 17.

The Bush administration has fought a lawsuit by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a government watchdog group investigating political influence by conservative Christian leaders.

U.S. District Court Judge Royce Lamberth said the information is part of the public record and is subject to the Freedom of Information Act.

The Secret Service must produce records within 20 days.

CREW is seeking visitor logs on James Dobson of Focus on the Family, Wendy Wright of Concerned Women of America, Family Research Council president Tony Perkins, Gary Bauer, and the late televangelist Jerry Falwell, among others.

Visitor logs sought by CREW and others brought the downfall of lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who pleaded guilty last year to public corruption.

The case is Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington v. U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

"Uppity Women" Marked by Islamists

Benazir Bhutto, Pakistan's former prime minister, the candidate and leader of the opposition Pakistan People's Party, was assassinated on Dec. 27. Although a suicide bomber detonated a blast that reached her car and killed at least 17 of her supporters, it appeared there were two assailants and that Bhutto was first shot. While the U.S.-supported Pakistan military regime blamed Al-Qaeda, the terrorist group did not claim credit. Bhutto's husband is calling for a United Nations inquiry.

Physician, novelist and outspoken feminist and atheist Taslima Nasrin, who lives under a death fatwa pronounced by Muslim imams in her native Bangladesh, has been on the run since November in India. The army was deployed after riots broke out in Calcutta in late November against protesters with the All-India Minority Forum, calling for Nasrin to leave India. Nasrin has lived there for three years, after fleeing to Europe in the early 1990s.

Indian editors and intellectuals said Nasrin is practically living under house arrest. They appealed to the Indian government in late December to ease Nasrin's "prison conditions" and let her visit with friends.

The Shahi Imim of Tipu warned that rioting will continue, "the police will run out of bullets," if Taslima tries to return to Calcutta without apologizing to Muslims, converting as a "true follower of Islam," and then apologizing to Muslim clerics and religious scholars.

The UN reports that antiwomen violence has increased greatly in Basra, Iraq, forcing women to stay indoors.

"Basra is facing a new type of terror which leaves at least 10 women killed monthly," said the city's police chief, Maj. Gen Abdel Jalil Khalaf. Some women have been found decapitated or mutilated. Khalaf said organized gangs work "under religious cover," to impose the head scarf and intimidate women.

Associated Press in December reported that religious vigilantes have killed at least 40 women in Basra this year in the name of Islam.

The Washington Post (Dec. 13) reports that two male teenagers armed with AK-47 assault rifles entered a girls' high school in Baghdad this fall, ordered the students to assemble in the courtyard, and made the female principal read aloud a note:

"All girls must wear hijab. If the girls don't wear hijab, we will close the school or kill the girls."

The Mahdi Army of Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr is recruiting male teenagers to police Baghdad.

Only sustained international outrage got the Saudi government to back down in December from carrying out a sentence of 200 lashes and six months' imprisonment for the 20-year-old "girl from Qatif." A victim of gang-rape, she was accused of being alone in the company of a young man (who was also gang-raped) prior to the attack.

British teacher Gilliam Gibbons, 54, spent eight days in jail in Khartoum for permitting her Sudanese students to name a class teddy bear "Muhammad." Riots broke out over her "blasphemy," with some protesters calling for her death. Her early release in December was secured by intervention of Muslims in the United Kingdom.

Aqsa Parvez, a Canadian 16-year-old estranged from her Muslim family, was killed by her father on Dec. 10 in Mississauga, Ontario, after returning home to get her belongings. The 11th grader had temporarily moved in with the family of a friend. Her father, Muhammad Parvez, is charged with murder and her 26-year-old brother is charged with obstructing police.

Aayan Hirsi Ali, the Somali-born atheist author of Infidel, was told this fall by Holland that it would no longer cover her security, which has cost nearly $3 million. Ali, as a member of the Dutch parliament, was already under government protection due to threats when Theo Van Gogh was murdered in 2004. Van Gogh and Ali had produced "Submission," an 11-minute documentary about Muslim subjugation of women. The convicted murderer, a Morroccan, had pinned a death threat to Ali on Van Gogh's body. In 2006, Ali came to the United States to work with the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative, pro-Administration think tank.

"It is often said that Islam has been 'hijacked' by a small extremist group of radical fundamentalists. The vast majority of Muslims are said to be moderates.

"But where are the moderates? Where are the Muslim voices raised over the terrible injustice of incidents like these?" Ali wrote (op-ed, "Islam's Silent Moderates," The New York Times, Dec. 7, 2007).

Jehovah's Witness Teen Dies

Leukemia-stricken Dennis Lindberg, 14, of Mount Vernon, Wash., died on Nov. 29, after a judge ruled he had the right to refuse a blood transfusion. Lindberg's birth parents advised the judge Dennis had been unduly influenced by his legal guardian, an aunt who is a Jehovah's Witness.

A county judge denied a motion by the state to force the 8th grader to have a blood transfusion. With transfusions, Lindberg faced a 70% survival rate.

Devil over Darwin

More Americans believe in a literal hell and the devil than accept Darwin's theory of evolution, according to a Harris poll released in late November.

The poll of 2,455 U.S. adults found that 79% believe in miracles, 75% in heaven, 72% believe Jesus is God or the son of God, and 62% believe in hell and the devil.

Only 42% believe in Darwin's theory of natural selection through evolution. The good news? 82% believe in God, which means 18% of Americans don't!

Texas Science Director Fired

After nine years as the director of science for the Texas Education Agency, Christine Castillo Comer lost her job over evolution in late November. Comer was told she had committed an "offense that calls for termination," within an hour of forwarding an e-mail message promoting a pro-evolution lecture.

Comer is a divorced mother who supports her ill father.

More than 100 biology faculty members from Texas universities signed a letter sent in December to state Education Commissioner Robert Scott, objecting to the idea that TEA employees must be "neutral" about evolution. One biology professor called the incident "an enormous black eye" to the state.

Texas science standards are due for a 10-year review next year.

A panel of the Texas Education Agency recently recommended allowing a bible-based group, the Institute for Creation Research, to offer online master's degrees in science education. Another vote will take place Jan. 24.

Huckabee's Pardons Under Fire

While governor of Arkansas, Mike Huckabee, a Southern Baptist minister, cut prison sentences or gave pardons to more than 1,000 criminals.

"Driven by a religious belief in redemption and questions about the state's legal system, Mr. Huckabee paid close attention to clemency petitions, former aides said," reports The New York Times (Dec. 22).

The most controversial case involved commutation of the prison sentence of Wayne Dumond, a rapist implicated in other violent crimes. Dumond had "found God" in prison, and became the darling of evangelicals and opponents of Bill Clinton, who was a distant relative of one of Dumond's rape victims.

The Arkansas Prosecuting Attorneys Association drew attention to Dumond's history of rape and murder, yet the State Parole board released Dumond. Several former members told The New York Times Huckabee pressured them to do so.

After his release, Dumond was charged with raping and murdering a woman in Missouri.

"He doesn't want anyone questioning anything he does. And when you do, he bristles. His compassion is for the murderer and any criminal who says he has found Jesus," said Dee McManus Eagle, a widow of a murder victim, who worked with Parents of Murdered Children.

Huckabee also drew controversy when he attended a fundraising luncheon (up to $4,600 per couple) at the Houston home of Steven Hotze, a leader of the Christian Reconstruction movement, according to The Washington Post (Dec. 20). The hosts included Baptist minister Rick Scarborough, founder of Vision America, who endorsed Huckabee.

Military Evangelism Run Amok

Basic training at Fort Jackson Army base in Columbia, S.C., included "accepting Jesus Christ as a personal savior," according to a Dec. 21 report by Jason Leopold, of Truthout.

Frank Bussey, director of Military Ministry there, author of "God's Basic Training" bible study, has told soldiers that "government authorities, police and the military = God's Ministers."

His teachings at the Fort Jackson website have been abruptly removed.

"At a time when the United States is encouraging greater religious freedom in Muslim nations, soldiers on the battlefield have told disturbing stories of being forcefed fundamentalist Christianity by highly controversial, apocalyptic 'End Times' evangelists, who have infiltrated US military installations throughout the world with the blessing of high-level officials at the Pentagon," charges Leopold.

The Military Ministry is a subsidiary of Campus Crusade for Christ, whose website boasts it works with military personnel "to bring lost soldiers closer to Christ, build them in their faith and send them out into the world as Government paid missionaries."

Mikey Weinstein of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation said his 6-month investigation finds Military Ministry staff have infiltrated basic training at Lackland Air Force Base and Fort Sam Houston.

Ministries Snub Grassley

Five out of six preachers being investigated by U.S. Sen. Charles Grassley snubbed his request for documents by early December to aid his probe of lavish ministries.

Not cooperating are Georgia ministers Rev. Creflo Dollar and Bishop Eddie Long. Attorneys for the two indicated they would not comply, and said their prosperity gospel "should not be held out for the world to evaluate as a result of responding to Congressional inquiries."

Grassley, the ranking member of the Senate Finance committee, noted their opulent lifestyles, including mansions, private jegs, and expensive cars.

Grassley said: "Considering tax-exempt media-based ministries today are a billion-dollar industry with minimal transparency, it would be irresponsible not to examine this tax-exempt part of our economy."

Only Joyce Meyer, of Missouri, complied with Grassley's deadline. Other churches in the probe are run by Rev. Binny Hinn (Texas), Randy and Paula White (Florida), and Kenneth and Gloria Copeland (Texas).

Faith Daycares Uninspected

Faith-based daycare centers are exempt from state licensing in Florida and some 11 other states, shielding childcare centers from state inspections over such basics as environmental health, immunizations, and employee criminal histories.

The 2001 death of a toddler left in a church van, which was exempted from responsibility for keeping a log of children on board, brought calls for reform in Florida. Six years later, Florida still has no oversight of exempt centers, despite leadership by state Sen. Evelyn Lynn, R-Ormond Beach, to toughen regulations for religious childcare.

ACLJ Makes Mischief

The American Center for Law and Justice, founded by televangelist Pat Robertson in 1990, now enjoys an annual budget of $35 million and employs 130 people, including 37 lawyers, according to the Chicago Tribune. Jay Sekulow, described as its "aggressive" chief counsel, is a Brooklyn-born Jewish convert, or "Messianic Jew."

The ACLJ owns a blue brick townhouse across the street from the U.S. Supreme Court. Sekulow, who has argued 12 cases before the Supreme Court, won a case in 1990 to force high schools to host student bible clubs. The group currently represents a religious pharmacist in Illinois, who is challenging his suspension by Walmart for refusing to fill an order for the morning-after pill.

Sekulow was part of the "four horsemen" assembled by Pres. Bush, which included Leonard Leo of the Federalist Society and former Atty. Gen. Edwin Meese. They acted as "outside counsel on the judicial nomination issues," particularly the Supreme Court, Sekulow said.

Faith and Law Schools

Christian law schools are a growing phenomenon, according to a report by the Houston Chronicle (Nov. 9, 2007). The best-known include:

  • Regent University School of Law, founded by televangelist Pat Robertson, from which ousted Justice staffer Monica Goodling was a graduate.
  • Ave Maria School of Law, founded by Catholic and pizza magnate Thomas Monaghan, opened in Ann Arbor, Mich., in 2000. It joins another Catholic law school, the University of St. Thomas School of Law, in Minneapolis.
  • Liberty University, founded by Jerry Falwell, began offering law classes in 2004. Matthew Staver, dean at Liberty, also runs a rightwing legal group.
  • The Judge Paul Pressler School of Law is scheduled to open in 2009 in Louisiana, to teach law "through the lenses of a biblical world view."
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