Freethought Today · Vol. 22 No. 8 October 2005

Published by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc.

State/Church Bulletin

Vouchers Pay Catholics

Sixty-one percent of the nearly 1,600 students who will be attending publicly-paid voucher programs in the District of Columbia this fall will attend Catholic schools.

The archdiocese's elementary school enrollment increased for the first time in three decades with the voucher program. The Washington Post reports that St. Benedict the Moor school, which faced closure before the public-funded program was started, begins the day by having a student stand in a prayer space," consecrated by a candle, to lead students in prayers of intercession to saints. Every class begins with prayer.

The program brings in more than $3.5 million this year to educate Catholic school students. The predominately religious private schools in the program do not release test scores or have to comply with public school testing requirements.

Religious Pork, Texas Style

Among the federally funded projects in the latest transportation bill is $2 million earmarked for a "parking facility" at the University of the Incarnate Word.

According to the Catholic school, "The $2 million earmarked for Incarnate Word will help fund a multilevel parking garage for the Feik School of Pharmacy, as well as access roads and pedestrian walkways. . ." thereby helping to "relieve the shortage of pharmacists in rural areas."

U.S. Rep. Henry Bonilla, a longtime Incarnate associate who was awarded a Doctor of Humane letters by the school in 2002, helped secure the grant.

When that award was given, the university newsletter reported:

"Mr. Bonilla has played a major role in the growth of Incarnate Word. His efforts on behalf of the university have yielded nearly $2 million in federal funds that are currently being utilized for the Science and Engineering Center." (Source: Columnist Roddy Stinson, San Antonio Express News, Aug. 11, 2005, submitted by Catherine Fahringer.)

Canada Debates Sharia

A proposal to let Ontario residents choose Islamic law to settle family disputes drew 300 protesters at the Ontario legislative building, as well across Canada and even in some European cities, on Sept. 8.

The invocation of Sharia (or Muslim law over civil law) would compromise women's rights. The province of Ontario has permitted Catholic and Jewish faith-based tribunals to settle family laws on a voluntary basis since 1991. Officials are debating whether to end the religious family courts or welcome Sharia into Canada.

HHS Defunds Ring Thing

The Department of Health and Human Services in late August suspended a federal grant to the "Silver Ring Thing" abstinence program, three months after the ACLU filed a lawsuit against federal funding of the program in Massachusetts.

HHS ordered the group to submit "a corrective action plan" to receive the rest of its grant ($75,000).

The Silver Ring Thing, a self-described "evangelical ministry," makes teens sign a covenant "before God Almighty" to remain virgins and earn a silver ring (which they must purchase) inscribed with a bible passage.

The ACLU charged the Pennsylvania-based group is "permeated with religion" and uses "taxpayer dollars to promote religious content, instruction and indoctrination."

Indiana Opens Faith-based Prison Programs

The state of Indiana opened two 16-month special units--one "faith-based," the other with a secular "character" curriculum--serving 200 state inmates. More prisoners are choosing the "faith-based" option.

The programs began June 1 at the Correctional Industrial Facility in Pendleton, the Indiana Women's Prison in Indianapolis and the Plainfield Juvenile Correctional Facility.

Gov. Mitch Daniels told 118 inmates at the Pendleton program in August that he is trying to "fling wide the door" for faith-based services across state government.

"We are all fallen people. We are all sinners. We must never lose the sense of humility that comes from that," Daniels said.

South Carolina Secession?

Christian Exodus, a group of politically active believers seeking to establish a government based on Christian scriptures, is eyeing the state of South Carolina as its Mecca.

Christian Exodus members plan to gradually take control of local and state offices, unite state and church, and pass "godly legislation," according to The Los Angeles Times (Aug. 28, 2005).

"If necessary, we will secede from the union," says Cory Burnell, 29, the group's founder.

San Diego Cross Saga

Superior Court Judge Patricia Yim Cowett issued a temporary restraining order on September 2 barring the City of San Diego from transferring the Mount Soledad cross and land to the federal government. Three out of four San Diego voters in a special July 26 election backed Proposition A, to approve transfer of the much-litigated 29-foot cross to the National Park Service as a "memorial to veterans."

Cowett ruled in a 34-page opinion that the "transfer is again an unconstitutional preference of the Christian religion to the exclusion of other religions and nonreligious beliefs," in violation of the state constitution.

Lawyer Challenges Vatican

A Texas lawyer suing Pope Benedict XVI for covering up sexual abuse of children by a seminarian said in August he will challenge the U.S. diplomatic recognition of the Vatican if the pope receives immunity.

The pope has asked Pres. Bush to certify his immunity from liability in a civil lawsuit, because he is "the head of state" of the Vatican.

"The Holy See is a church," argues attorney Daniel Shea. The pope is accused of conspiring with the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston to cover up the abuse of three boys during the mid-1990s by a Colombian-born seminarian, now a fugitive from justice.

Joseph Ratzinger (the pope) wrote to bishops around the globe in 2001 saying "grave" crimes would be handled by his congregation and that proceedings of special church tribunals were a "pontifical secret."

City "Faith-based" Grants

The Mayor's Office of Faith and Community Based Partnerships in Jacksonville, Fla., approved its first round of mini-grants in late August. It gave $500,000 to 25 Jacksonville ministries and nonprofits in the form of $20,000 one-time awards. Among recipients: Community Outreach Agency, which helps United Methodist congregations and ministries engage in outreach and recruitment for their annual camps.

Congressional Evangelism

The "Statesmanship Institute," founded by Coral Ridge Presbyterian leader Rev. D. James Kennedy, of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., is one of several programs grooming politicians "for Christ" at regular Capitol Hill seminars.

The Center for Christian Statesmanship in Washington regularly sponsors bible studies, "Politics and Principle" luncheons for hundreds of members of Congress and staff, and prayer meetings. The Statesmanship Institute, started two years ago, offers indepth training for a $345 charge, according to a report by Stephanie Simon, of the Los Angeles Times (Aug. 23, 2005).

The Patrick Henry College, Purcellville, Va., founded five years ago, aims to produce "Christian men and women who will lead our nation with timeless biblical values." The Witherspoon Fellowship places graduates in the White House, State Department, Congress and legislatures.

Delaware School Board Prayer OK'd

U.S. District Judge Joseph J. Farnan, Jr., ruled in mid-August that Christian prayers before a public-school board are a "tolerable" tradition.

Judge Farnan's ruling that explicitly Christian prayer at the board meeting is legal came as part of a Jewish family's civil rights lawsuit against the Indian River School District. The Dorich family is likely to appeal.

Modesto Prayers Protested

Defense attorney Richard Herman, who is Jewish, is protesting the Modesto (Calif.) City Council's practice of invoking Jesus Christ in prayer. City records reveal no religion other than Christianity has been represented in at least two years. Prayers began there in 1953. Volunteer ministers through the Greater Modesto Ministerial Association deliver the invocation.

In a lawsuit challenging Christian prayers in Burbank in 1999, a Los Angeles Superior Court judge recently ruled "nondenominational" prayers permissible, but said a specific deity may not be invoked.

In July, an atheist filed suit to remove Christian references from prayer at city meetings in Porterville.

Arizona Seizes Polygamous Schools

State officials seized financial control of the Colorado City Unified School District in the polygamous community in mid-August. An investigation by Attorney General Terry Goddard found serious "mismanagement of public money."

In 2000, enrollment dropped from 1,200 to fewer than 250, when the Fundamentalist Latter Day Saints (FLDS) polygamists pulled out of the schools. Yet the district purchased a $200,000 airplane and checks made out to teachers last year bounced, requiring the district to borrow $1.4 million to cover payroll costs. Public school buildings abandoned by the district were used for an FLDS-controlled private school.

Ohio Patriot Pastors Army

The Ohio Restoration Project, created by 300 pastors seeking to influence political elections and affect legislation, held its first gathering in late August.

The pastors' goal is to register 400,000 new, conservative voters in time for next year's gubernatorial election.

"I think Ohio is probably on the cutting-edge," said Rev. Russell Johnson, group chair. The pastors gave an award to Ohio Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell, who is running for the Republican nomination for Ohio governor next year. The project will run "Ohio for Jesus" radio spots, voter registration drives and a statewide Ohio for Jesus rally in early 2006.

The Cleveland Plain Dealer (June 5, 2005) ran a profile of Pastor Rod Parsley, who runs a national "Silent No More" tour and is closely aligned with the Ohio Restoration Project. Parsley heads a $40-million-a-year ministry running on 1,400 TV stations and cable affiliates worldwide.

Although the Ohio Restoration Project is backing Republicans for office, Parsley contends they are neither Republicans nor Democrats, but "Christocrats."

Catholics Ban Prochoice Pols

Phoenix Bishop Thomas Olmstead in August banned politicians who support abortion and gay rights from speaking in Roman Catholic churches. So far, Gov. Janet Napolitano, a Methodist, is the only politician to be banned.


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