Freethought Today · Vol. 27 No. 10 December 2010

Published by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc.

In the News Dec 10

De Waal: Morality predated religion

Eminent primatologist Frans de Waal of Emory University was interviewed Dec. 2 on ABC “World News with Diane Sawyer” about his 30-plus years of studying animal behavior, including empathy.

“Human morality started with the primate psychology, which has all these tendencies of reciprocity and empathy and following social rules and so on.
. . . So we took that psychology and we turned it into a moral system,” he said.

Canines, rodents, whales, dolphins and other animals, not just primates, display empathy and sensitivity, he said, adding that morality’s building blocks came from our animal ancestors, not religion.

“I’m not sure that religion is at the root of morality, because I personally think that morality probably existed long before we had religions,” de Waal said. “We are very much group animals, we want to fit in the group, we are interested in the community life that we are part of and so we will contribute to it.”

Did child custody hinge on agnosticism?

Craig Scarberry, 29, Anderson, Ind., and his supporters planned a Dec. 16 rally to protest Scarberry losing custody of his three young children because he’s an agnostic. A Superior Court commissioner awarded sole custody to Christine Porcaro, Anderson’s ex-wife, stating that when Scarberry had been a Christian earlier, “the parties were able to communicate relatively effectively.”

Indiana University law professor Jennifer Drobac said references to Scarberry’s religious beliefs “would be clearly unconstitutional unless the parent’s religious practices were actually harming or posed a substantial threat of harm to the children.”

Scarberry said he never interfered with his children’s religious upbringing. “I don’t understand how religion was even a factor when it shouldn’t have been. I lost my children due to courtroom games and religious bias.”

Courts rule against Wisconsin dioceses

A Wisconsin state appeals court ruled 2-1 in November that the Milwaukee Archdiocese’s insurance company isn’t liable for damages that could come out of more than a dozen priest sex abuse lawsuits.

At issue are 13 lawsuits accusing the archdiocese of covering up knowledge that priests were a danger to children. OneBeacon Insurance Co. isn’t liable, the 1st District Court of Appeals ruled.OneBeacon argued that its policy covered accidents only and that the archdiocese’s misrepresentation was intentional.

In early December, Outagamie County Judge Nancy Krueger denied the Diocese of Green Bay’s request to dismiss a fraud lawsuit brought by two abuse victims.

Former priest John Feeney was convicted in 2004 of molesting Todd and Troy Merryfield in 1978. The Merryfields then sued the diocese, alleging it knew about Feeney’s history of abuse but covered it up.

Krueger ruled the plaintiffs weren’t aware until the criminal trial how the diocese supervised Feeney or of other complaints against him.

Smart’s kidnapper guilty in Utah

A federal jury in Salt Lake City found street preacher Brian David Mitchell guilty on Dec. 10 of kidnapping Elizabeth Smart in 2002 and taking the 14-year-old across state lines to sexually assault her.

Mitchell, 57, loudly sang “He died, the Great Redeemer died” as the verdict was read. Smart and her family smiled in the front row. Jurors deliberated for about five hours over two days.

Smart, 23, spent three days on the witness stand after traveling from Paris, France, where she’s on a Mormon Church mission. She testified she was raped almost daily for nine months.

Mitchell’s legal wife, Wandee Barzee, 64, was earlier sentenced to 15 years in prison and testified against him. She described how they went from being active mainstream Mormons to a nomadic existence as the prophet “Immanuel” and his queen “Hephzibah.”

Religion just may make you fat

FFRF member Tim Covell, author of a new book called Born Atheist, made headlines in the Nov. 25 Denver Post for his correlation of two studies not usually correlated.

“It might take someone with a slightly jaundiced view of the very religious to notice that the states with the highest obesity rates are mostly the same states — nine out of 10 — professing the greatest religiosity,” the paper noted about the Albuquerque, N.M., resident.

Covell’s take is that “religion might make you fat.” He used the CalorieLab 2010 obesity report, based on statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and a 2008 Gallup poll of adult Americans on how important religion was to them.

The most overweight states: Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee, West Virginia, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Kentucky, Arkansas, South Carolina and North Carolina. The leanest is Colorado.

The most religious states: Mississippi, Alabama, South Carolina, Tennessee, Louisiana, Arkansas, Georgia, North Carolina, Oklahoma and Kentucky, tied with Texas.
Covell said he’s being provocative on purpose and tongue-in-cheek. Obesity is more likely tied to poverty, he said, or maybe people in poor health are more interested in the afterlife.

Bulgarian ‘nones’ rally for census inclusion

Bulgarian atheists gathered Nov. 16 on International Tolerance Day in Sofia at the National Statistical Institute to protest for the right to be listed as atheists on the census to be taken in January.

It’s the first time a question about religious beliefs has been part of the census. About 1.5 million Bulgarians are atheists, protesters said.

A spokesperson said there’s an option for “I have not decided yet” but none for “no faith.”

Dutch abuse second only to Ireland’s

Reuters reported Dec. 9 that about 2,000 people in the Netherlands have officially declared they were abused sexually or physically as minors while in the care of the Catholic Church.

According to an independent commission at The Hague, investigations dating back to 1945 show that only Ireland had more abuse by clergy.

Creationism out in biology books

Louisiana’s Board of Elementary and Secondary Education voted 8-2 on Dec. 9 to approve biology textbooks that exclude references to intelligent design and creationism.

At a November meeting, Kevin Carman, LSU College of Science dean, supported the proposed textbooks. “There is no major research university in this country that teaches intelligent design or anything like that. It is simply not science.”

The Louisiana Family Forum opposed adoption of the textbooks.

Crystal Cathedral finances probed

The trustee and creditors in Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings for Rev. Robert Schuller’s Crystal Cathedral megachurch in Garden Grove, Calif., allege in court documents that the church paid at least three top officials for redundant duties.

Also questioned was a housing allowance paid to Chief Financial Officer Fred Southard. Southard received $132,019 out of his total $144,261 compensation in the form of a housing allowance last year. About $15 in federal income taxes were withheld in 2009, a W-2 tax form filed in court shows.

“There is no justification whatsoever for a housing allowance of this amount,” documents said.

Although the trustee didn’t question the legality of Southard’s allowance, federal tax law limits what’s called the “parsonage exemption” to “ordained, commissioned or licensed ministers” who perform certain church duties.

The Reformed Church in America, which the Crystal Cathedral belongs to, has no record of Southard being ordained, a church spokeswoman said.

All five of Schuller’s children and most of their spouses are listed on the payroll.

Toy vampires bad but toy guns OK

The Salvation Army in Calgary won’t distribute Harry Potter and Twilight-themed toys to needy Canadian children. The Army perhaps fears its mythic figure wearing a bloody crown of thorns is less appealing than sorcerers and vampires.

In fact, says a volunteer, the charity disposes of the toys instead of giving them to more broadminded groups to distribute.

The Salvation Army believes the toys are incompatible with Christian principles, the Edmonton Sun reported Dec. 8.

The volunteer, who didn’t want to give his name, commented, “I was told to withhold a 6-inch Harry Potter figure, but when I picked up a plastic M-16, I was told, ‘That’s for the 10-year-olds.’ ”

Illinois passes civil unions bill

On Dec. 1, the Illinois Senate voted 32-24 to legalize civil unions for same-sex couples. Gov. Pat Quinn said he will sign the bill after Jan. 1. It will go into effect in July. The House approved the bill 61-52 the previous day.

Vatican ‘offended’ by sex abuse probe

U.S. diplomatic cables obtained by WikiLeaks and published Dec. 11 in The U.K. Guardian reveal that the Vatican was offended when an Irish commission asked too many questions about sex abuse of children by clergy.

That the Holy See used its diplomatic immunity to thwart the fact-finding probe has long been known, but the WikiLeaks cables showed behind-the-scenes diplomatic assessments of the situation.

One cable, written in February by U.S. diplomat Julieta Valls Noyes, cited her conversations with Irish officials who told her, she said, that the probe “offended many in the Vatican” because it was seen as “an affront to Vatican sovereignty.”

Noyes reported that Irish diplomats in Rome decided not to press Vatican officials to respond to questions.

“The only issue for the Vatican has been the supposed ‘failure’ of the Irish government to protect the Vatican from intrusive questions,” said Andrew Madden,  a former altar boy who was molested by a Dublin priest. In 1995, he became the first person in Ireland to go public with a lawsuit against the church.

“Self-interest ruled the day when their priests were raping children,” Madden said.

Faith-healing parents guilty in son’s death

A Philadelphia jury convicted faith-healing parents Dec. 10 of involuntary manslaughter and endangering the welfare of a child in the 2009 death of their 2-year-old son from bacterial pneumonia.

Herbert Schaible, 42, and Catherine Schaible, 41, members of First Century Gospel Church, prayed for their son, Kent, but sought no medical assistance. The couple, who have seven surviving children, didn’t testify in their defense but told authorities earlier they thought Kent just had a bad cold. “We tried to fight the devil, but in the end the devil won,” Herbert Schaible told homicide detectives in a statement read to the jury.

Sentencing is set for Feb. 2. “The law is what it is,” said Assistant District Attorney Joanne Pescatore. “You have to take care of your children. It’s not enough to pray for them.”

In 1991, eight children whose parents were members of First Century Gospel Church and Faith Tabernacle, which also practices faith healing, died of measles.

Abortion foes gain U.S. House power

Abortion opponents gained about 45 U.S. House seats in the Nov. 2 election, reported the New York Times. Incoming Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and Rep. Joe Pitts, R-Pa., , new chairman of the Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health, have not looked favorably on women’s reproductive rights.

Pitts’ subcommittee has jurisdiction over private health insurance, Medicaid and much of Medicare, as well as the Food and Drug Administration and the National Institutes of Health. The son of Christian missionaries, he also heads a congressional group of about 70 social conservatives known as the Values Action Team.
Laurie Rubiner, Planned Parenthood Federation of America vice president, said Pitts is “as anti-choice as a member of Congress can be.”
In a June speech to the Right to Life Committee, Boehner spoke of growing up with 11 brothers and sisters. “My parents sent all 12 of us to Catholic schools.” At those schools, he said, “we learned about deeper values, and respect for life was at the top of that list.”

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