Freethought Today · Vol. 28 No. 1 January/February 2011

Published by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc.

In the News Jan 11

Illinois gov signs civil union bill

Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn signed a civil union bill for same-sex and opposite-sex couples into law Jan. 31. It goes into effect June 1.

“It’s an important moment in the land of Lincoln,” Quinn said. “We believe in civil rights and we believe in civil unions.”

Five states and the District of Columbia allow same-sex marriage. New Jersey grants civil unions similar to Illinois. Several other states, cities and counties grant domestic partnerships with varying legal rights.

Faith-healing death brings probation

Herbert and Catherine Schaible, who belong to First Century Gospel Church in Philadelphia, were sentenced Feb. 2 to 10 years’ probation after being convicted of involuntary manslaughter and child endangerment last year for the death of their 2-year-old son, Kent. He died from pneumonia after his parents prayed for him but never sought medical attention.

The couple also must seek routine and emergency care for their remaining seven children, ages 1 through 15.

“We are grieving and will always feel the loss of our son,” Herbert Schaible told the judge, pleading for leniency so he could continue to support the family by teaching school at the church. “With God’s help, this will never happen again.”

Is it something in the (holy) water?

A commentary in the journal Science on Jan. 28 by Michael Berkman and Eric Plutzer of Pennsylvania State University had some discouraging news.

The researchers surveyed 926 U.S. high school teachers about how they taught evolution and found that 13% of respondents advocated biblical creationism or “intelligent design” creationism in biology class.

Only 28% “unabashedly introduce evidence that evolution has occurred and craft lesson plans so that evolution is a theme that unifies disparate topics in biology,” according to the report titled “Defeating Creationism in the Courtroom, But Not in the Classroom.” Most biology teachers belong to the “cautious 60%,” who are “neither strong advocates for evolutionary biology nor explicit endorsers of nonscientific alternatives,” the study said.

“I think the real amount of under-teaching of evolution is likely even worse,” science literacy expert Jon Miller of Michigan State University told USA Today. He published a 2007 report in Science ranking the U.S. 34th out of 35 developed nations (ahead of only Turkey) on public acceptance of evolution. Nearly a third of U.S. respondents said evolution was “absolutely false” in that study. “Not many teachers have the backbone to stand up to parents and school boards for evolution,” Miller said.

According to a Gallup Poll of 1,019 U.S. adults surveyed in December, 40% of respondents believe God created humans in their present form about 10,000 years ago. Another 38% believe God guided a process by which humans developed over millions of years from less advanced life forms, while 16% believe humans developed over millions of years without God’s involvement.

The “secular evolution” view has risen from 9% in 1982 to 16% now.

Gallup surveyed U.S. adults Jan. 7-9 and found 29% said religion should have more influence and 29% said it should have less influence. Another 39% said organized religion’s influence is just right. The question didn’t specify what was meant by more or less influence.

Creationist teacher gets Ohio heave-ho

The Mount Vernon [Ohio] City Schools Board of Education voted 4-1 on Jan. 10 to fire John Freshwater, a middle school teacher accused of inappropriate religious activity in the classroom — including displaying posters with the Ten Commandments and bible verses, branding crosses on students’ arms with an electrical device, espousing creationism and deploring homosexuality.

A local family sued Freshwater and the district in 2008 and received substantial settlements. Sporadically for the next two years, administrative hearings were held to determine if he should be fired. R. Lee Shepherd, the referee presiding over the hearings, recommended there was just cause for termination. District costs, mostly for legal counsel, are estimated at $902,000.

Freshwater tried “to make eighth-grade science what he thought it should be — an examination of accepted scientific curriculum with the discerning eye of Christian doctrine,” Shepherd said. “[He] used his classroom as a means of sowing the seeds of doubt and confusion in the minds of impressionable students as they searched for meaning in the subject of science.” Freshwater could appeal the decision.

Bible-chewing ‘devil dog’ found dead

Miriam Smith, 65, was charged Jan. 23 with felony animal cruelty in Columbia, S.C., for allegedly hanging her nephew’s pit bull with an electric cord and burning its body. Smith told police that the female dog named Diamond was a “devil dog” that had chewed up her bible. She said she feared Diamond would hurt neighborhood children. Police said the year-old dog was kept outside on a chain and chewed a bible that was on Smith’s porch. The dog’s remains were found under a pile of dried lawn clippings, with a smell of kerosene still in the air.

Humanist group frees accused Malawi ‘witches’

A humanist group in Malawi paid fines to secure the release of three elderly women sent to prison after being accused of witchcraft.

“We paid fines of $33 for each of the convicts. We are very very happy, although the fight is on to seek the release of 50 others,” George Thindwa, executive director of the Association of Secular Humanism, told Agence France-Presse on Jan. 11.

The women, ages 80, 72 and 62, were convicted in December after neighbors turned them in. They were sentenced to one year in prison because they could not pay the $33 fine. Half the population of 13 million live on less than a dollar a day.

The case highlighted concerns over rights violations in Malawi based on allegations of witchcraft. Belief in witchcraft and traditional medicine runs deep in this former British colony, largely dominated by Christians.Thindwa, an economist by profession, said ASH has launched a nationwide campaign to fight for the rights of senior citizens, especially women.

Bishop pulls Catholic off Phoenix hospital

Bishop Thomas Olmsted of the Diocese of Phoenix announced Dec. 21 that St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center in Phoenix can no longer identify itself as Catholic because it ended a woman’s pregnancy in 2009 to save her life.

Olmsted earlier excommunicated Sister Margaret McBride, a member of the hospital’s ethics committee, for allowing the therapeutic abortion.

In a statement, the hospital refused to agree to Olmsted’s demand to never again perform an abortion. “Morally, ethically, and legally, we simply cannot stand by and let someone die whose life we might be able to save.”

Muslims sue Spanish teacher for ham mention

A high school teacher in southern Spain has been sued for child abuse by a Muslim student’s parents who claim the geography teacher “defamed Islam” by talking about Spanish ham.

The incident occurred at the Instituto Menéndez Tolosa in La Línea de la Concepción. José Reyes Fernández was lecturing about Spain’s different climates and said Andalusia has the perfect temperature for curing Jamón Ibérico, a world-famous delicacy.

The Muslim student interrupted Reyes and, according to local newspaper reports, complained that mentioning pork was offensive to his religion. The suit alleges “abuse with xenophobic motivations.” A section of the Spanish penal code makes it a crime to “offend the feelings of the members of a religious confession.” Spain has about 1.5 million Muslims, compared to about 100,000 in 1990.

Swiss will ban many foreign missionaries

Switzerland will ban from its nation all missionaries from non-European Union countries starting in 2012.

A recent decision by a Swiss court has established that missionary work is “gainful employment” and thus subject to employment quotas. The law restricts missionaries from all religious denominations.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is officially not happy: “The church has a long history in Switzerland dating back to 1850. We hope a solution can be found that allows missionaries, regardless of their country of origin, to continue to serve the Swiss people.”

Ugandan gay activist beaten to death

One arrest has been made in the Jan. 26 beating death of David Kato, 46, a Ugandan gay rights campaigner who had sued a newspaper which outed him as homosexual, BBC News reported Jan. 27.

Uganda’s Rolling Stone newspaper published photos of several people it said were gay, including Kato, with the headline “Hang them.”

Though one suspect is under arrest, another one, who police say lived with Kato, is still at large.

Homosexual acts are illegal in Uganda, and Christian evangelicals there and in the U.S. have preached against it as an abomination worthy of death.

‘Obama Prayer’ gets officer suspended

A Manatee County corrections officer in Bradenton, Fla., was suspended in January without pay for 25.8 hours for a perceived threat against President Obama involving an intercessory prayer and bible verse. Sgt. Matthew Neu circled Psalm 109:8 (“Let his days be few, and let another take his office”) with a pink highlighter in a bible and left it on another officer’s desk in September with a handwritten note that said “Obama Prayer.” The female office reported it after she read the next verse, “May his children be fatherless and his wife a widow.” No threat was intended, said Neu, admitting he didn’t like Obama and got the bible from a stack for use by inmates.

Millions of Filipinos honor Black Nazarene

More than 2 million Filipino Catholics paraded in Manila on Jan. 9 to honor a centuries-old statue of Jesus called the Black Nazarene. Nearly 600 were treated for injuries in the crush trying to touch the icon, which is believed to have mystical powers.

The wooden statue is believed to have been brought from Mexico to Manila in 1606 by Spanish missionaries. The ship that carried it caught fire, but the statue survived and was named the Black Nazarene.

Clemente Ignacio, rector of the basilica in Quiapo, was overwhelmed by the turnout. “It means that the Catholic population is growing, and the people’s faith is also growing.”

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