Faith killing. A young mother maintained that voices in her head told her to test her faith in God, causing her to repeatedly slam her infant son to the ground and down a flight of stairs. Jennifer Cisowski, 21, of Connecticut, killed her 8-month-old son Gideon Fusscas in his grandmother's upscale Florida home on Aug. 21, later saying she believed he would rise from the dead if her faith were strong enough. Source: Tampa Tribune, Aug. 22, 2001
"Mama, I love you." A Talladega County jury in August found Teresa Ann Archie, 40, guilty of the 1996 murder of her daughter Shavon Jackson. Archie, a paranoid schizophrenic, chased her daughter through their home, shooting her twice in the back after becoming convinced her 16-year-old was possessed by Satan, and that God wanted her to cleanse her home of all Satanic influence. She told police Shavon's last words were: "Mama, don't shoot me, I love you." She replied, "I know, Baby, but I have to do the Lord's will." Source: The Daily Home, Aug. 15, 2001
"Killer, we support you." "I killed the women for the sake of God, and for the protection of my religion because they were prostitutes and [were] corrupting other people," Iranian construction worker Saeed Hanaei admitted to reporters in July, after police fingered him as their suspect in the killing of 19 prostitutes in Mashhad. Each was killed on a Sunday--strangled with a headscarf. Neighbors gathered outside his home chanting "Hanaei, the killer of corrupt people, we support you." Source: Associated Press, July 26/30, 2001
"Possessed woman." Andrea Yates, the religious Dallas mother charged with drowning her 5 children in the bathtub, told family members from jail she thinks the "devil" is in her.Source: Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, July 1, 2001
Naked avenger. A naked man who pelted rocks at a woman walking her dog and struck her with his car in January told police "demons wanted him to destroy her," and he was naked "so he could enter the kingdom of God." Jessica Fulcher, 28, survived the assault. Source: Loveland Reporter-Herald, Jan. 15, 2001
God's crime spree. God made him commit a crime spree was the defense of bible-toting Henry Glen West, sentenced by an Okahoma County judge in April to two life terms. During West's 5-hour crime spree in January 1998, he severely beat his brother, raped his brother's girlfriend, broke into a house, robbed a convenience store clerk and then tried to run her over twice. At a second convenience store, he repeatedly shot the husband-and-wife owners. Source: Daily Oklahoman, April 21, 2001
Religiously-motivated stabbing. A man who fatally stabbed his son and tried to kill his mother-in-law and daughter was motivated by religion, according to relatives. Joseph Herman Dartez, Jr., 31, Houston, was pondering whether to leave a Christian church to join the Muslim faith when he assaulted his family in the middle of the night. Source: San Antonio Express, May 30, 2001
Sainted mob. A mob summoned by a church bell in Mexico City beat to death a man accused of trying to steal a statue of the neighborhood's patron saint. The 3-hour beating occurred next to a local police station. Source: AP/Tulsa World, July 27, 2001
Stealing in the Name of God
"I've been a securities regulator for 20 years, and I've seen more money stolen in the name of God than in any other way," Deborah R. Bortner, president of the North American Securities Administrators Association, said at a news conference on Aug. 7.
She warned that "affinity fraud"--the building of trust through religious and other loyalty, is increasing. In the last three years, religious con artists in 27 states have scammed at least 90,000 investors, costing more than $1.8 billion.
By comparison, about 13,000 investors lost $450 million in religion-based fraud over the previous 5-year period.
"Con artists are clearly preying on the faithful more than ever before," said Bortner. "The con artist makes faith in God synonymous with faith in the investment scam."
The caveat by the Association came a day after the sentencing of Gerald Payne, founder of the Tampa-based Greater Ministries International Church, to 27 years in prison for one of the nation's largest Ponzi schemes. Payne and his partners took in almost $580 million by promising 20,000 investors that the ministry would double their money through "divinely-inspired investments."
Another recent high profile case involves the Baptist Foundation of Arizona, created in 1948 under the auspices of the Southern Baptist State Convention of Arizona, which raised $590 million through 120 shell corporations.
I'll never forget the moment of first hearing the voice of my own reason after 17 years of complete immersion in Mormonism. My divorce was almost final and I had become increasingly angry at the treatment I had received at the hands of local "priesthood" leaders, since having the temerity to leave my abusive husband against their counsel. Mormon women are assigned to go to each other's homes every month to give a "spiritual" lesson and to make sure that their "sisters" are staying strong in the faith. I had been asked to give the lesson that month, as my partner had not had the time to prepare. (In reality, I was probably asked to teach the lesson as a way of forcing me to read it myself, in hopes of reining in my recent rebelliousness.)
The lesson was a typical Mormon church history story. The author had crossed the plains with her family in the 1840s. She had come from a prosperous family that was able to make preparations to leave early in the season so as to arrive in Salt Lake City before winter. Her father was told by a church leader to wait and leave later with some of the poorer members. As a result of the delay, her family suffered great distress, with the mother and several children dying during the trip.
The woman who wrote the story had been forced to cross an icy creek whose waters froze her feet, necessitating the amputation of both legs. At the end of the story the woman "bore her testimony" and mentioned how thankful she was that her family had been called upon to make such a sacrifice for "the Lord and His Church." She talked about how glad she was that they had waited and of the many blessings that would be due to them when they were all reunited in the "celestial kingdom" where they would be together forever as a reward for their faithfulness in following the Prophet.
While reading this story I had a sudden moment of clarity. I shook my head and internally screamed, "NO! No more sacrificing my children to follow the words of some man who promises an eternal reward! No more!" A story that would have moved me to tears a few years earlier now filled me with complete horror as I thought of a woman feeling gratitude that members of her family died in the name of religion.
I joined the Mormon church at 18, after being exposed to its teachings by friends a year earlier. My mother, who has had the sense to stay away from organized religion for most of her adult life, would not give her permission for me to be baptized, hoping that this was a passing phase that I'd soon outgrow. Unfortunately, I didn't outgrow it until I began to think for myself so many years and heartbreaks later.
Why did I join? The church doctrines satisfied a deep need that I had to feel bad about myself. I grew up with the deep conviction that I was truly a person who needed redemption. I had read a lot of the bible, and if there was an all-powerful god out there, then I wanted to do whatever I needed to make sure that I didn't get whacked over the head the next time the hammer might fall. The more requirements the religion had, the more likely I could please the all-powerful god with the hammer.
Another powerful attraction that the church had for me was the answers. I didn't have to make any decisions for myself, and more importantly, I didn't have to be responsible for any of the outcomes. It was all in "God's" hands. I didn't need to decide when or whom to date, or even an appropriate time to return from a date. When the time came, I didn't even need to choose a husband--only remain righteous enough for the right man to find me. As one of a group of college coeds at Brigham Young University, I was counseled not to worry, for when the appropriate time came, God would give me to a righteous man. Once given, I needn't worry, for as long as I followed my husband, he would take care of everything. I shudder that I was not offended by those words--only happily complacent that that my future was taken care of. All I had to do was be obedient.
And obedient I was--quitting school as soon as I married so as to concentrate on being a wife and mother. I gave birth to four children over the next eight years and supported my husband as he lost job after job. I learned how to bake bread and grind wheat and make do on too little money, all the while praying and reading and trying to understand why God was punishing me by not making my life easier with all this obedience!
As the years rolled on I continued to apply the formula I had been given by the missionaries: prayer, scripture study and following the words of the Mormon prophets. I became more and more depressed with the pressure of each addition to the family and each added responsibility. My returned missionary husband was not financially responsible, leaving much of the burden of how to pay the bills on my shoulders. He lied to me frequently, often hiding bills and at one point even having a second post office box for bills to keep me unaware of our financial status. I was not allowed access to the checkbook and often went without needed food and clothing while my husband spent money whenever and wherever he wanted. When I would turn to my church leaders for help, I was told to pray harder, study more and "love him more." I was constantly reminded of the New Testament scripture that God would not give us any burden we were unable to bear. Divorce was not an option for me--after all, we had been married in the Mormon temple for "time and all eternity."
After 17 years I gradually became aware that my life was not improving. I decided to get off my knees and start taking care of myself. I went back to school to finish my nursing degree. I told my husband that he had until I finished school to decide if he wanted to become more responsible and continue the marriage. When things didn't improve I found an attorney and obtained a divorce. When he quit his job as an accountant and started working as a Pizza Hut delivery boy to avoid paying child support, I went back to school again. I posted this quote on my bedroom mirror: First do the necessary, next do the possible; soon you will find yourself doing the impossible. The more responsibility I took for myself, the more my life and the lives of my children improved.
I found my new life incompatible with the teachings of the Mormon church. Was I the only one? While searching the internet I found www.exmormon.org, a website that contains the stories of more than 100 former Mormons. I read with fascination the stories of people who sounded just like me. There is an email newsgroup associated with the site and there I found the support that I needed to disentangle my life from the church.
How different the ceremony was when I married David Kent almost two years ago. We were married in a candlelight ceremony by a justice of the peace with only our children and closest friends present. There were no words of obedience spoken. When we chose to spend the rest of our lives together it was with the precious knowledge that this life is all we have--no promise or pretenses of eternity.
A woman I work with asked me my story one night. When I told her of the years of unhappiness in my former marriage, she said to me, "Wow, you have had such a hard life--it just isn't fair!" I was quick to correct her. I told her that there wasn't anything unfair about it--I had made the choices that led to the life that I had then. Now I make different choices.
About the author: Valerie Kent is a registered nurse and graduate student in Gonzaga University's family nurse practitioner program. She is also the mother of four wonderful freethinking children.
By Edmond Lau
Thirteen years of Catholic indoctrination have neither elucidated the truth about God and about heaven and hell, nor budged me from my state of agnosticism. Grasping these spiritual matters provides enough trouble for me, yet priests and nuns assert the existence of Purgatory and Limbo and the cleansing powers of baptism as if these claims would somehow be more believable than the rest. The lack of definitive knowledge that members of the Catholic Church actually possess concerning the nature of God doesn't ameliorate the situation either. When questioned about the source of their Catholic faith, believers point to the divinely inspired writings of the bible that supposedly embody the words of God. When asked how they know that the bible contains God's words, they respond that this assumption constitutes a part of their Catholic faith.
The circular reasoning and meaningless confusion remind me of how fortunate I am to live in America--a country where such Christian instruction exists primarily within parochial schools and private religious institutions and does not fully permeate to other realms of society. In our land of the free, freedom of religion remains as fundamental a tenet as any other democratic principle. An examination of American history indeed manifests that America was not founded as a Christian nation and that a separation of church and state must continue to be preserved in order to maintain the legitimacy of the democratic principles for which our country stands.
Myriad believers of the Christian foundation of America point to the Pilgrims at Plymouth Bay or the Puritans of the Massachusetts Bay Colony's bible commonwealth as proof that the first European settlers did maintain a Christian outlook. In reality, however, only a few of the original colonies shared the spread of Christianity as a reason for establishment. On the other hand, Europeans founded Jamestown for its promise of gold and tobacco, the Carolinas for sugar and rice, Georgia for a buffer colony to protect the English colonists against the vengeful Spaniards of Florida and the hostile French of Louisiana, New York for fur and fishing, New Jersey for grain, and Delaware for its rich fur trade. Thus, to purport that the original settlers founded a Christian America ignores the fact that the majority of the first thirteen colonies did not possess any religious, let alone Christian, purpose. Furthermore, the actual founding fathers of America did not even arrive until over a century later.
As for the founding fathers, proponents of a Christian America claim that the religious nature of the Declaration of Independence, such as its inclusion of the phrases "Nature's God," "Creator," and "Divine Providence," prove that the founders' intention for a Christian America did exist. On face value, these facts may seem to suggest a religious foundation of a Christian nature. However, analyzing this proposition within its proper socio-historical context of the American Revolution reveals a different truth.
At the time of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, only a third of the Americans--the Patriots--actually supported the revolution; another third--the Loyalists--continued to support the royal crown; the final third remained apathetic to the colonial revolt. Thus, in order to instill a greater sense of unity within American hearts, Thomas Jefferson required a carefully crafted document that appealed to more colonists. Jefferson's rhetoric regarding divinely endowed natural rights fulfilled that purpose by aiding the American patriots in gaining a sense of moral superiority over the crown, portraying the king as someone who had unjustly usurped the colonists' inalienable rights. The religious undertone, which exists only in the beginning of the document, served as a provisional political tool and nothing else. In fact, the greater part of the Declaration of Independence called for a redress of grievances and listed specific complaints against King George III, signifying that the Deist Thomas Jefferson indeed wrote the document based on political motivations, not on a religious motivation to create a Christian America.
Not only do these colonial myths of the Religious Right crumble based on the actual context surrounding them, but the secular nature of the Constitution further debunks their fallacies. If the Declaration of Independence had in fact attempted to serve as a precursor to a religious constitution, then it blatantly failed. The United States Constitution, as ratified in 1789, provides no explicit mention of God or Christianity. Furthermore, the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights that James Madison authored in 1791 even states that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof." By definition, the Constitution, as the "Supreme Law of the Land" (according to Article VI Clause 2), does not and cannot favor Christianity or any other religion. In other words, America's own founding document affirms this country's secularity and denies any affiliation with Christianity.
Even though this line of reasoning dates back over two centuries ago, the principles set forth by the free-exercise and the establishment clauses of the First Amendment must not stop at the doors of modern society. Even though today's culture may call for an individual's religious and spiritual affairs to become increasingly intertwined with his personal affairs, a wall of separation must be preserved between church and state. The establishment clause especially endeavors to prevent the formation of or even the incipient roots of a national religion, as a national religion would definitely infringe upon the religious and personal freedoms of other American citizens who may not share in the mainstream beliefs. Any preferential treatment of a religious group, such as a favored bias towards the growing number of American Christians, would jeopardize the basic religious freedom that each and every citizen should be allowed to share. Even in a democratic nation ruled by the majority, the constitutional rights of the minority must be preserved or else justice everywhere will perish.
Recent initiatives in America's public schools, such as the teaching of creationism and the advocacy of prayer during sports competitions, graduation ceremonies, and regular classes, regardless of whether the prayer is nonsectarian, voluntary, or restricted to bible readings, threaten to efface the separation of church and state necessary for a secular and free America. The Supreme Court has ruled correctly that such religiously inspired actions are unconstitutional and must stop at the schoolhouse gate. Other issues, such as the posting of the Ten Commandments inside judicial courtrooms, impart reminders that the wall of separation between church and state must be erected beyond the realm of public schools as well. Thus, formulating stricter tests, such as the three-prong test developed in the 1971 case of Lemon v. Kurtzman, to check permissible laws becomes progressively important if the state is to remain unfettered from the shackles of religion.
To contend against a Christian America does not mean that individual Americans should be denied the right to be or to become Christian, however, for that would contradict the very essence of religious freedom. What it does signify, though, is that Christian principles should not be imposed upon the unwilling. Thus, even as our nation becomes ever more populated by American Christians, we must work to ensure that our country does not become a nationally Christian America.
I have just graduated from Saint Ignatius College Preparatory, San Francisco, and will attend the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the fall. I intend to double major in electrical engineering and computer science. My high school interests and activities include serving as the Vice President and the Secretary of the Speech and Debate Team, participating in the Service Club, volunteering as a teaching assistant at Day School Summerbridge, writing for the school's literary magazine The Quill, and partaking in my school's Asian Students Coalition, Biology Club, and California Scholarship Federation.
Despite fervent claims to the contrary, the United States was not founded as a Christian nation. Since the inception of American democracy, our government has resisted religious intolerance by maintaining the clear separation of church and state. The notion that the United States should affiliate with a specific religious denomination defies America's traditions of equal protection, freedom of belief, and individualism. As the Religious Right and proponents of school prayer encourage church/state lines to blur, we must clarify those lines and reinforce the framers' intent of secular government.
The religious wars that plagued Europe and their own religious diversity deterred America's forefathers from endorsing any particular form of Christianity. Freedom of religion was inescapable; already, the United States reflected deep religious diversity. The Puritans who had initially populated New England to escape religious persecution were joined by Catholics in Maryland, Quakers in Pennsylvania, Anglicans in Virginia, and even a sprinkling of Jews. Thus, America's founders opted to establish a government free from religious ties. Their secular objective became evident in the passage of the Constitution's Bill of Rights. The First Amendment expressly grants freedom of religion by setting up "a wall of separation between church and state." The free exercise clause of the Constitution guarantees Americans' right to practice--or not practice--the religion of their choice. Additionally, the establishment clause of the First Amendment outrightly forbids Congress from establishing a religion. The argument that America is a Christian nation plainly collapses at this point. By refusing itself the power of a nationally-instituted religion, America's government stands impartial on the issue of faith.
Despite the adoption of a secular Constitution, threats to the separation of church and state continue to emerge. The most vocal opponent of the establishment clause, the Religious Right, continues to allege that America was founded as a Christian country. By infiltrating both the media and politics, this fundamentalist Christian group has generated a strong, devoted following. The growth of the Religious Right suggests the need for increased protection of state/church separation.
For instance, in order to supposedly restore moral character, the Religious Right sought passage of a resolution by the United States Congress encouraging citizens to pray and fast in recognition of God. Frighteningly, the resolution--which had more than 40 cosponsors--was rejected in the House by a slim margin: 275-140, only nine votes shy of the two-thirds majority necessary.
By cultivating political myths, such as the dangerous "New World Order," the Religious Right inspires followers to confuse morality and Christianity. It presents the separation of church and state as underlying contemporary social and moral problems. Yet these problems have been present to some degree even in theocracies. As the Religious Right expands to dominate numerous radio and television networks, newspaper publications, and politics (leader Pat Robertson even ran for President), the danger to separation of church and state has intensified.
The intrusion of prayer into public schools, prompted by Ronald Reagan's presidency, has sparked national debate. As lawmakers wrestle with the subject of public school prayer, the importance of protecting church/state separation again surfaces. Schools already permit voluntary prayer, and moments of silence have even been established by numerous school boards to encourage spiritual commitment. Parochial schools provide an option for parents intent on raising their children with a religious education. But the introduction of compulsory prayer in public schools would seriously undermine the existence of secular government.
Because of conflicting religious views (Muslims consider the depiction of God and idolatry sacrilegious while some Christians use images of Christ in their rituals; Buddhists depend upon specific references to the Buddha by name in their religious practices while Jews never write out God's name, referring instead to "the holy one;" and atheists reject the idea of God altogether), the state would be forced to regulate the kind of religious messages used by schools. In other words, government would judge religion, a blatant violation of the U.S. Constitution. It is unfair, and certainly undemocratic, to impose this burden on the state. Publicly-financed education in the United States is, and always should be, secular in control and content.
In the words of the Constitution, America's forefathers divined an impartial government free from religious ties, a government championing the freedom of choice. We cannot allow rumblings of opposition from the Religious Right and school prayer advocates to skew their remarkable vision. By rejecting preferences or alliances, the United States government has adhered to its own Constitutionally-ordained dogma . . . and in the process, fostered a special kind of religion: a religion of respect. By equally respecting Americans of all faiths or no faith, our government functions with an integrity unmatched by any of the world's theocracies. Perhaps the religion of respect is the most sacred course, after all.
"As a newly graduated senior of Herndon High School, Class of 2001, I'm anxiously anticipating the start of college. Leaving my hometown will be an eye-opening experience . . . I have lived here since age eight, and know little of my new destination--Charlottesville, VA--where I will attend the University of Virginia this fall. I have always had a deep interest in theater, much to my parents' and younger sister's delight. Over the years, they have loyally supported my professional and school theatrical endeavors. I plan to major in theater, and possibly English, at UVA."
The Freedom From Religion Foundation has announced the winners of its annual high school essay competition for the year 2000, aiding newly graduated high school seniors going on to college this fall.
This year's topic was "Why the United States Is Not a Christian Nation."
Winner of the Blanche Fearn Memorial Award for first place of $1,000 is Jonathan Koffmann. The Pennsylvania student will be attending the University of Pennsylvania.
Jennifer Roberts, who will be attending the University of Virginia-Charlottesville this year, won $500 for her engaging essay on "The Religion of Respect," placing second.
Edmond Lau, a San Franciscan, placed third and receives $250 for his essay, "Removing the Shackles of Religion." He will be attending the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Additionally, honorable mentions of $100 each were awarded to Lisa Mitchell, Massachussetts, Sharon Sukumar, Delaware, and Brian Shiau, Arizona. Their essays will be excerpted in a future Freethought Today.
The October issue will announce the winners of the Foundation's other annual essay competition, open to ongoing college students.
Guidelines for the two annual essay competitions are posted in February at the Freedom From Religion Foundation website (www.ffrf.org). Next year's topics will be announced in the January/February Freethought Today. Essays are due each year by July 1st.
A tree-lined view of Lake Hypatia Freethought Hall. The activist Cleveland family generously deeded some of their rural property to the Freedom From Religion Foundation for its southern outpost. The hospitable Clevelands make their campgrounds and lake available for the use of freethinkers at an annual 4th of July gathering and other events sponsored by the Alabama Freethought Association, a Foundation chapter.
About 150 freethinkers around the country attended this year's gathering.
George Whatley, M.D., was presented with a certificate of thanks from the Alabama chapter for his generosity over the years. The Freedom From Religion Foundation staff also presented Dr. Whatley with a box of Wisconsin goodies as a thank you for his very special support. The auditorium is named for Willa Mae Whatley, Dr. Whatley's late wife.
Meals at the weekend event were efficiently served on the breezy lakeside pavilion constructed by Roger Cleveland and friends. The pavilion is known as "Sara's Place," in homage to Sara and James Howard, who helped make the pavilion a reality. Feeding fish from the pavilion is a nightly freethought "ritual."
Hardworking Bill Teague crafted this eye-catching roadside sign. Lake Hypatia's three rules: "No preaching. No praying. No walking on water."
The Freedom From Religion Foundation's unique monument to Atheists in Foxholes resides at tree-shaded Lake Hypatia, Alabama.
Grad student and quipster Adam Butler presided at a freethought trivia quiz and served, inimitably, as MC.
Ilene Sparks, AL, was recognized by the chapter for her special contributions.
Dr. Eugenie Scott, director of the National Center for Science Education, California, focused on the latest creationist threat, so-called "intelligent design."
An activist workshop. From left: Steven Schafersman, TX; Dan Barker of FFRF staff, Patsyann Pitts, AL; Annie Laurie Gaylor of FFRF, and Eugenie Scott, CA.
Sidney Wilson of Georgia spoke on art and censorship.
State regulators issued warnings in August that "more money is stolen in the name of God than in any other way." Pres. George W. Bush is renewing his campaign to siphon billions of tax dollars to benefit "faith-based" organizations to act as arms of the government. Fights over placement of the Ten Commandments in courtrooms and public buildings continue to make headlines across the nation.
So isn't it time, asks the Freedom From Religion Foundation, to reexamine the bible--the root of religious faith in the United States?
As a refreshing antidote to the plethora of piety on the Internet, the Foundation, a national association of freethinkers working to keep state and church separate, debuted its own Internet quiz, "What Do You Really Know about the Bible?"
The quiz challenges the concept of the bible as a "good book," as well as the bible's reputation as a guide for "family values."
Biblical rules on child sacrifice, celibacy, the treatment of rape victims and "stubborn and rebellious sons" would shock modern society, maintains quiz author Dan Barker, a former ordained minister-turned-atheist and author of the book Losing Faith in Faith: From Preacher to Atheist.
Mark Twain said, "It ain't those parts of the Bible that I can't understand that bother me, it's the parts that I do understand."
The 50-question, automatically-graded Internet quiz covers weighty matters, such as the true path to salvation, as well as lighter bible trivia on such subjects as bats, brains and barbequed locusts. (Hint: you may be in trouble for eating shrimp for dinner last night.) Quiz-takers will likely be surprised at biblical admonitions about the handicapped, and the subject of men kissing men, as well as many other biblical injunctions.
Those with a score of perfect to ten wrong are congratulated for "knowing more than a minister, priest or rabbi." Those who miss most questions are asked: "Did you get your bible knowledge from Sunday school?" and quiz-takers who score fewer than ten correct answers are consoled: "Don't feel bad. You may be better off not knowing much about the bible."
A sample tricky question asks:
"Which one of these words is in the bible?"
For the surprising answer, as well as to learn what that Tenth Commandment really says; who "created evil"; why Christmas trees and women who wear jewelry are blasphemous, and the prerequisite for admittance to the "heavenly choir," go to: www.ffrf.org/bquiz.html
More than 3,000 people in the United States and around the world had already taken the quiz less than a week after its mid-August posting, earning an average score of 20 out of 50.
"We wonder what score George Bush would get on this test," said Barker.
The bible quiz joins the Foundation's previous quiz, "What Do You Know about the Separation of State & Church?," taken by about 17,000 since it went online last fall. To test your knowledge on this besieged constitutional principle, go to: Bible Quiz
The Freedom From Religion Foundation publishes several books on the bible, including its bestseller, The Born Again Skeptic's Guide to the Bible, by Ruth Hurmence Green. Green called the bible a "behavior grab bag" and a "grim fairy tale."
"The activist who works for separation of church and state is forced to discuss the merits of the bible, because the Religious Right and its political sponsors demand that the bible and its teachings be promoted by our government," noted Foundation president Anne Gaylor.
"Yet we are a nation of bible illiterates. The bible is probably the most available, most purchased, and least read book in the world. It is the bestseller that is rarely opened. Since most religionists have not read the bible and have heard only those palatable passages their clergy wish them to hear, they are totally unprepared for any bible criticism. Many of our members are fond of saying that reading the bible is what turned them into atheists!"
Foundation members without access to the Internet who wish to have a copy of the bible quiz and its answers may send a self-addressed, stamped No. 10 (business-size) envelope to:
PO Box 750
Madison WI 53701
In the face of the Freedom From Religion Foundation's federal lawsuit challenging religious instruction in Tennessee public schools, hundreds of people showed up for an annual prayer rally at Rhea County High School in Dayton, Tennessee, on Sunday, Aug. 26.
The lawsuit, filed in April, opposes Rhea County's policy permitting college students from the fundamentalist Bryan College to teach "the Bible" to public school students in every grade, starting in kindergarten.
The practice is in clear violation of the landmark Supreme Court decision McCollum v. Board of Education declaring religious instruction in public schools to be unconstitutional, the Foundation contends. The Foundation, with its local John and Jane Doe plaintiffs and their schoolchildren, is asking the court to halt the long-term illegal practice of subjecting a captive audience of children to Christian indoctrination in school.
The Foundation became involved in the legal challenge at the request of the local plaintiffs, who were shocked to learn that their small children were being proselytized during the school day by students from the bible college.
The Chattanooga Times Free Press coverage of the prayer rally linked the high turnout to community opposition to the lawsuit. After the Foundation formally protested religion in the schools, the Rhea County Commission voted unanimously last fall to approve the bible classes.
Although the event was not sponsored by the schools or government, the newspaper reported that members of the Rhea County Commission and school officials attended, and were led in prayer by Dr. Bill Brown, president of Bryan College.
The crowd sang, prayed and circled the high school football stadium field. This was the third year in a row that the prayer event was held at the public school. The prayer rally was first organized in 1999 by the New Union Baptist Church of Dayton, Tennessee, after the Columbine shootings.
A pre-trial hearing on the Foundation's lawsuit is expected in October. The defendants had objected to the request that the identity of the plaintiffs in this ultra-conservative community be kept confidential. However, the Court agreed to accept them as "Does."
Bryan College was established after the (in)famous Scopes Trial in Dayton, Tennessee, to honor William Jennings Bryan, who championed creationism in the case.
The Foundation sent an official letter of complaint on Sept. 27, 2000, to Susan Porter, Rhea County Superintendent, who is named as a defendant, enumerating the various prevailing Supreme Court decisions which the practices violate. The Foundation requested that the schools stop teaching and endorsing Christian religious beliefs and practices.
"Plaintiffs Jane Roe and John Doe object to the misallocation of public facilities and public school time, paid for at taxpayers' expense, for the purpose of teaching public school children religious beliefs and practices to which they personally do not subscribe," the complaint says. "Plaintiff Roe's children are of tender years and are, therefore, extremely vulnerable to such religious proselytization."
The lawsuit invokes more than 50 years of U.S. Supreme Court precedent against such practices, striking down religious instruction in public schools.
Doe v Porter can be found online at: http://www.ffrf.org/news/daytoncomplaint.html