Freethought Today · Vol. 26 No. 9 November 2009

Published by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc.

State/Church Bulletin

Televangelist Under Scrutiny

Federal regulators are looking into ties that 22 charities have with the Don Stewart Association, a televangelism ministry in Phoenix, Ariz.
An Arizona Republic probe in May found that about 80% of the $2.6 million that 19 of the charities took in 2006-07 went for salaries and gifts inside the charities. The association solicits donations from federal employees through the government’s annual workplace drive, the Combined Federal Campaign.

“They are multimillion-dollar charities with no office address and no paid staff,” Diana Zuckerman told the newspaper. She’s president of the nonpro­fit National Research Center for Women & Families. “It is terribly unfair to the innocent people who are giving money,” she said.

Watchdog groups such as Charity Navigator, the Better Business Bureau and Charity Watch say the practice is far from standard and should raise red flags.

Stewart’s Web site includes an FAQ with these questions:

Q: How does the Green Prosperity Prayer Handkerchief work?
A: Don Stewart lays his hands on the Green Prosperity Prayer Hand­ker­chiefs and prays over them. As soon as possible the handkerchief is sent to you.
Q: Can I have Don Stewart lay hands on me and pray?
A: Yes, at one of the Don Stewart crusades.

Court: Janitor’s Home Can Be Taxed

The Wisconsin Court of Appeals ruled against the United Methodist Church of Wauwatosa, which claimed a property tax exemption on a house occupied by the church janitor. The city council and a circuit court judge had denied the exemption based on the church’s claim that its janitor was “integral to the functioning of the church.”

The building housed the associate pastor until 1994, after which the church required its janitor to live there to be close to the church.
The court held that the exemption is restricted to persons who occupy official leadership roles in the church. Wisconsin law allows tax exemptions on church-owned housing for “pastors and their ordained assistants, members of religious orders and communities, and ordained teachers.”

Rescue Mission Can Discriminate

Laws against discrimination don’t apply to homeless shelters run by a Christian group in Boise, Idaho, a federal district judge has ruled.
The Intermountain Fair Housing Council had sued Boise Rescue Mission Ministries on behalf of two people who said that guests who skip the shelters’ worship services got inferior treatment, and that only Christians are allowed in its drug and alcohol recovery program.

District Judge Edward Lodge ruled that the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act lets the ministry encourage participants in its recovery program to accept Christianity. Lodge ruled that the shelters are not dwellings under the Fair Housing Act, but rather places of “temporary sojourn or transient visit.”

Barring the ministry from “teaching, preaching and proselytizing to individuals on its property, whether they be shelter guests, Discipleship program residents, or other individuals . . . would substantially burden the Rescue Mission’s ability to freely exercise its religion,” Lodge wrote.

Groups: Rescind Faith-Based Memo

More than 50 civil rights and religious groups sent a letter to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to withdraw a Bush-era legal memorandum on aid to religious organizations. The memo lets the government ignore laws against giving taxpayer money to groups that refuse to employ people of other faiths or no faith.

The letter called the analysis justifying the memo “far-fetched” and “erroneous,” and said it “threatens core civil rights and religious freedom protections.” President Bush argued that religious groups should be allowed to compete for government grants for social programs without being forced to hire people who do not share their religion.

The memo was signed by John Elwood, deputy assistant attorney general. He reasoned that the government could justify hiring discrimination due to the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which at times permits exceptions to federal law if obeying them would impose a “substantial burden” on free exercise of religion.

Gov Glad God’s On Her Side

Gov. Jan Brewer believes that “God has placed me in this powerful position as Arizona’s governor” to help the state weather the storm.
Brewer was speaking to Missouri Synod Lutheran pastors. At times she and her staff, when confronted with a particularly thorny issue, will call time out, Brewer said. “And we stop, and we take that time, and we pray about it. And it does make a difference.”
Brewer inherited the post when Janet Napolitano resigned to become Homeland Security Department secretary. Brewer feels blessed that so many people have told her they’re praying for her. “And that has caused me, of course, to be grateful that we are a country of Christianity,” she said.

Pastor Lumps Yoga With Bestiality

Rev. Allan Esses of Yes Jesus Is Lord (“bible-based, born-again, bible-believing and spirit-filled ministry”) in Irvine, Calif., has submitted a ballot initiative to amend the state constitution to define “The Free Exercise of Religion.” To wit, not quite from A to Z:

“We the People of the State of California, grateful to Almighty God for our freedom, in order to perpetuate His blessings do submit that a person using any part of the Bible’s content as authority may freely speak, pray, write, discuss, publish, preach, teach, hear, share his or her faith, engage in street witnessing, distribute written material or otherwise communicate any views on salvation, heaven, or abortion, adultery, alcoholism, anti-Semitism, astrology, bestiality, blasphemy, civil unions, coarse jesting, cohabitation, coveting, cross-dressing, cults, drugs, drunkenness, extortion, euthanasia, evil, evolution, fornications, gay marriage, gender identity, hell, heresy, homosexuality, idolaters, idolatry, incest, lying, murder, necromancy, other religions, pornography, psychics, rape, reviling, sex, sexual immorality, sexual orientation, sodomy, sorcery, stealing, transgender, transsexuality, witchcraft, yoga, or sin at any public or private gatherings, school, church . . .”

His group paid $200 each to submit the amendment and one other defining religious freedom.

Praying Teachers Found Not Guilty

The principal and athletic director of Pace (Fla.) High School were acquitted of contempt of court charges by U.S. District Judge Casey Rodgers. The charges stemmed from a prayer to bless food at a luncheon in January to thank adult supporters for work and donations to build a fieldhouse at Pace High.

Principal Frank Lay asked Athletic Director Robert Freeman to give the blessing at the luncheon. The prayer was given nine days after Rodgers had issued a court order to the school district saying no prayer at school-sponsored events would be allowed.

During a seven-hour court hearing, the men said the prayer was not meant to defy the court order. They’ve prayed since childhood, they testified, and it’s basically second nature to them.

In her decision and remarks in court, Rodgers said she believed there had not been purposeful defiance, but that her previous order about not encouraging prayer at school functions still stands.

Catholic ‘Red Mass’ Draws Justices

Six U.S. Supreme Court justices attended the annual Roman Catholic “Red Mass” in the nation’s capital the day before the court’s fall term opened.

Five of the six Catholics on the high court—Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Sonia Sotomayor, Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy and Samuel Alito—attended, but Justice Clarence Thomas didn’t. Justice Stephen Breyer, who is Jewish, was there as well, as were Vice President Joe Biden, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and Michael Steele, Republican National Com­mittee chairman.

It’s called the Red Mass because of the color of the clerics’ vestments. Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, the archbishop of Galveston-Houston, pleaded for the unborn—“not yet with tongues and even without names” —as abortion opponents milled outside the church. “May that voice of the word of God touch our hearts and tongues in the judicial year that lies ahead,” DiNardo prayed.

The Mass is an initiative of the John Carroll Society, a group of Catholic legal professionals, and has been held at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle since 1953.

Ramadan Crackdown Protested

Police in Egypt have arrested at least 155 people in the country’s first-ever campaign to enforce Muslim prohibitions against eating, drinking and smoking in public in daytime during the holy month of Ramadan. Penalties can be up to a month in jail or a $350 fine.
Human rights groups and non-Muslims are incensed. “They violated personal freedom and will end up creating another Taliban in Egypt,” said Samuel al-Ashay, a Coptic Christian. About 10% of Egypt’s 80 million people are Orthodox Copts.
Hamdy Abdel Karim of the Interior Ministry shrugged off critics. “They should learn to have some measure of decency. In the past, Egyptians used to be decent. I hope they return to it.”

In a 2007-08 Gallup Poll, Egypt was listed with 100% of respondents saying religion was important in their daily life.

‘Threat’ Prayers Bring Lawsuit

Mikey Weinstein, founder of the Military Religious Freedom Found­ation, says in a lawsuit that he wants Gordon Klingenschmitt, a former U.S. Navy chaplain, to “stop asking Jesus to plunder my fields . . . seize my assets, kill me and my family then wipe away our descendants for 10 generations.”

Jim Ammerman, founder of the Dallas-based Chaplaincy of Full Gospel Churches, is a co-defendant. Weinstein asserts that his family has gotten death threats, animal carcasses left on their doorstep and feces thrown at the house due to the defendants’ calls for “imprecatory” or curse prayers against Weinstein.

Randal Mathis, Weinstein’s lawyer, said Klingenschmitt’s audience in­cludes a “certain number of unstable people” who might act in the name of God. “A threat is a threat and a call to violence is a call to violence. And those are not constitutionally protected.”

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