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Wisconsin: Victims Without Recourse "The legal climate in Wisconsin right now is the most hostile to the protection of the rights of victims of sexual abuse by clergy in the USA," says attorney Jeffrey Anderson, of St. Paul, Minn., an expert in civil lawsuits for clergy abuse. That unenviable status is the result of a 1995 decision by the state Supreme Court, then and now dominated by Roman Catholic judges. Although hundreds of plaintiffs against churches for sexual abuse surfaced in the early 1990s, they have all but vanished. In a 4-2 ruling in Pritzlaff v. Archdiocese of Milwaukee, June 27, 1995, the Supreme Court ruled against the right of a woman to sue the archdiocese over a marriage-wrecking relationship with a priest. In the sweeping decision, the state Supreme Court said the First Amendment prohibited it from taking a case ruling on whether the Catholic Church or any other religious denomination had improperly hired, supervised or trained its professional workers. The decision killed a lawsuit brought by "Susan Smith," alleging she was raped by Father William Effinger at St. Mary's Catholic Church in Kenosha when she was 8 or 9 years old. The church pursued a judgment against her, assessing her $10,199.39 for the church's legal costs. Sources: Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, March 2002; April 17, 2002 Milwaukee Journal Killed Stories While news media deserve credit for breaking stories on the cover-up of ministers preying on minors, in the mid-1990s, the Milwaukee Journal became part of the cover-up. Freelance Milwaukee journalist Joel McNally reports that Bishop Rembert Weakland and an "entourage of church officials" met with editor Mary Jo Meisner demanding that she kill a reporter's investigative stories. The series would have detailed how the archdiocese had paid millions of dollars of hush money to silence victims of pedophile priests who were being moved from parish to parish. Meisner stood firm. But, McNally reports, when Weakland went to "higher-ups" at the newspaper, he prevailed and the stories never ran. When the Journal and Sentinel merged, McNally noted, the reporter was pulled off the religion beat and was "exiled to covering suburban village board meetings." "Who knows how many children could have been spared" if the series had run, McNally wonders. Source: Capital Times [Madison, WI], April 6, 2002 Female Victims Overlooked "Of the priests we've evaluated, more abuse girls than abuse boys," says Gary Schoener, a psychologist who, with his staff at the Minneapolis Walk-in Counseling Center, has counseled more than 2,000 victims of clergy since 1974. Schoener says he sees six times more females (adolescent and adult) than male victims of priests. He estimates that 98% of all priest sex cases are settled out of court. "The sexual abuse of a boy is treated far more seriously, and is considered a far worse offense than girls or women." A.W. Richard Sipe, who has conducted studies and written books on the sex lives of priests, said he agrees with Schoener--a majority of priest victims are female, most of them adult. "Everything's always about the altar boys. It's like nothing ever happened to the girls," says Terrie Light, West Coast regional director of SNAP (Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests). Light was 8 when, looking for her mother in the rectory in the Oakland diocese, she was reportedly raped by a priest. Sources: Sacramento Bee, March 21, 2002; Salon, March 27, 2002 Wedded to the Right President Bush, unveiling his welfare overhaul at a Catholic church in Washington, D.C., included a proposal to commit hundreds of millions of tax dollars for welfare to the promotion of marriage. In addition to up to $135 million for "abstinence education," Bush wants to funnel $22 million in public money, approved by Congress for child support collection, to pro-marriage experiments in about 15 communities. Bush and "fatherhood" czar Wade Horn, of the Administration for Children and Families, also want to incorporate "marriage and fatherhood" messages into Head Start, childcare, welfare, and programs for runaway and homeless youth. Bush will be asking Congress to allocate up to $300 million in federal and state money to "pro-marriage experiments" when it renews the welfare law this year. Sacramento Chaplaincy Backed Sacramento County supervisors voted 4-0 in late March to continue to fund a chaplaincy program which had required participants to be Christian. Law Enforcement Chaplaincy-Sacramento, formed in 1977, now has about 70 volunteer chaplains who provide "pastoral care" to law enforcement officers, their families and crime victims. The chaplaincy receives most of its funds from payroll deductions, as well as $32,000 from the county, and $15,000 from the city. In November it was revealed the bylaws require chaplains to sign a statement of faith professing to be followers of Jesus Christ. Chaplains also signed an "ethics code" agreeing not to preside over marriages of "improper persons"--such as gays and nonbelievers. The chaplaincy, finally capitulating after a public outcry, recently agreed to accept participants of all faiths and to drop its "ethics" requirement. Officials will not renew a Probation Department agreement, in which the group received a 10% fee for administering a contract for chaplain services at juvenile detention facilities. "First Amendment Not a Shield" The Florida Supreme Court ruled in March that the Constitution does not protect churches from lawsuits charging clergy sexual abuse. Said the court: "The First Amendment does not provide a shield behind which a church may avoid liability" for negligent hiring and supervision of its clergy members.
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It was a Sunday around 10 a.m. when our engine company was dispatched to a possible seizure at a Baptist church in our district. We arrived to find several frantic people in the church lobby crowded around the patient--a moderately retarded woman in her 40s with a history of epilepsy and diabetes. Her skin color was blue (cyanosis) and she was still actively seizing. Much to my amazement two people on each side of her were physically holding her upright in a chair as she convulsed (not recommended)! I soon learned that she had been seizing for about 10 minutes. The seizure started during church services (which were still in progress even now) and they had carried her out into the lobby while she was still seizing . . . hey, the sermon must go on! Our first action was to place her on the floor and assist her breathing with oxygen and a bag-valve mask. A lot of other things were being done simultaneously such as airway suctioning, IVs, checking glucose levels (she's diabetic so she may require sugar), and getting med orders for Valium (to stop the convulsions). No sooner had I drawn the proper dose of Valium into the syringe and was preparing to inject it into the IV when this man walks up to us and identifies himself as "a church deacon," after which he says, and I quote: "Excuse me, but services are about to conclude and I need to clear this area so people can exit. Can you move her [the patient] somewhere else?" For a moment I just looked at him in stunned silence, not really believing what I had just heard. I looked him in the eye and he just glared back with a smug expression, almost as if to say, "Well, are you going to move her or not?" I only had time to respond, "I think this [situation] is a little more important, don't you? The people can wait!" Fortunately, once I gave the medication the seizure broke and the patient ultimately recovered. Well, perhaps our actions were of no use after all and Jesus simply chose this precise moment to answer the "healing prayers" from the congregation? Yeah, right! In any event, the good outcome in this case isn't the issue. The issue is the insensitivity displayed by this deacon, and how his Christian beliefs apparently did not inspire him to any sort of special "Christian compassion" for a person in need. No matter where you go in the world you are going to find some people who are compassionate and sensitive to the needs of others, and other people who are not; and what religion they happen to profess, if any at all, makes no difference whatsoever. The story could end here and my point would be sufficiently made, but there is another issue to address--a scriptural issue that, if true, would probably put me out of a job! Jesus on Epilepsy As was related in my account, the woman suffered from epilepsy. And according to the bible, what is the cause of epilepsy? Why "demon possession," of course! Matthew 17:14-18: When they came to the crowd, a man came to him, knelt before him, and said, "Lord, have mercy on my son, because he is epileptic and suffers terribly. . . ." Then Jesus rebuked the demon and it came out of him; and the child was healed from that moment. Many Christian commentaries, embarrassed by Jesus' obvious lack of medical knowledge, attempt to save face. They contend that Jesus did know that there was no such thing as demon possession, but in appearing to expel demons from afflicted persons he was really just curing them of a disease and relating it to the people in a symbolic language they could understand. The problem is that other passages, such as Mark 5:11-13, tell us that Jesus not only expels literal "demons" from people, but even forces them to possess a herd of 2,000 swine. After which, he shows his legendary compassion by forcing the entire herd to drown in a nearby lake! Jesus wasn't too fond of pigs and dogs, and he apparently had some personal issues with fig trees as well. . . . Other passages also demonstrate literal "demons" as being the cause of sickness and disability (Matthew 8:28-33; Matthew 12:22; Mark 16:17; Acts 19:12, 15-16). Indeed, Jesus himself was accused of being "possessed by Beelzebul" (Mark 3:22; John 8:48). Funny, though, I don't recall "demon possession" ever being discussed as a pathological explanation for seizure disorders in the paramedic school I attended. And for some reason "casting out demons" is frowned upon by my physician advisor. Maybe I should bring this up at the next paramedic meeting? Maybe not. Colorado Foundation member Bruce Monson is a professional firefighter-paramedic and former Baptist turned freethinker. He promotes religious tolerance, rational thinking, and the separation of church and state. For more information see his website at www.freethoughtfirefighters.org.
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It's two down . . . and at least one more to go in Wisconsin. The City of Milwaukee on March 27 removed a Ten Commandments monument that has been displayed outside its Municipal Building since the mid-1950s--the culmination of a long-standing complaint by the Freedom From Religion Foundation. That action was followed by an April 3 vote of the city council in Monroe, Wis., to move its nearly identical Ten Commandments monument from Lincoln Public Park, also at the urging of the Freedom From Religion Foundation. The city of Monroe will donate the bible edicts to the Green County Family YMCA in June. Milwaukee returned the tombstone-like monolith to the Fraternal Order of Eagles which, in donating it in 1955, kicked off a campaign to place the religious monument on public property around the country. "It's satisfying to see government officials who 'Honor Thy First Amendment,' instead of misusing government resources to promote the intolerant First Commandment," noted Foundation spokesperson Dan Barker, who was present during the removal. Barker congratulated city officials for having the courage to do the right thing, and avoid a costly losing lawsuit. Several Milwaukee alderpersons were present and made speeches at the removal, including Jeff Pawlinski, who said: "I regrettably sponsored the resolution to return the Ten Commandments to the Eagles . . . because the City of Milwaukee faced a lawsuit by the notorious Freedom From Religion Foundation." Pawlinski, who said the monument honored the "values and tenants [sic] that the Ten Commandments so properly represent," called it "unfortunate" that the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court agree with the Foundation that it is unconstitutional for the government to endorse and promote one "holy book's" teachings. A representative of the Eagles club was spotted crying as the 1-ton monument was loaded onto a truck transporting it to its new resting place, St. Joseph's Hospital, Milwaukee. The Eagles gave Milwaukee the monolith in 1955 during an Eagles national conference there, the debut donation of the granite bible markers in a campaign waged by the Eagles and "Ten Commandments" director Cecil B. DeMille. "Ten Commandments" actor Yul Brynner spoke at the Milwaukee dedication. On behalf of its several members in Monroe, Wis., the Freedom From Religion Foundation persuaded Monroe to also divest itself of the biblical marker, which was donated by the Fraternal Order of Eagles 30 years ago. The decalog, the only monument in the park, stands directly by the official city park sign. "This will put the matter at rest because the monument will be on private property and not city property," said Monroe Mayor Bill Ross. The U.S. Supreme Court in February let stand a ruling by the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago barring placement of a Ten Commandments monument on the statehouse grounds in Indiana. Last May, the high court similarly let stand a decision by the same appeals court against a Ten Commandments marker in front of a public building in Indiana. The 7th Circuit ruling is controlling in Wisconsin, Illinois and Indiana, although it has created nationwide interest. Still pending is the Foundation's longest-standing complaint over a Ten Commandments monument in Wisconsin--an Eagles monument standing in Cameron Public Park, La Crosse. Last summer, the Foundation advised La Crosse it would go back to court if the city did not divest itself of the religious marker. The La Crosse city council voted on April 17 to table a resolution by the mayor to divest the city of the monument. After three hours of debate, the council voted 14-4 to investigate all resources for a legal fight with the Foundation over the monument, placed in the 1960s. Council member David Morrison, one of the four voting against the resolution, said: "I believe the federal courts, not the Freedom From Religion Foundation, are forcing us to take [the monument] up. This has been fought, and it is incumbent on us to do what the federal courts have said." "This is God's country, and we should keep it that way," said pro-Commandments council member John Satory. A representative of the Liberty Counsel flew up from Florida, vowing: "We will fight all the way to the Supreme Court at no cost." The Foundation was represented at the hearing by attorney Robert Dreps, who said: "This is not about religion or who is in the majority. No objective observer of the courts will tell you that you will win this fight if you pick it." Several La Crosse residents also urged the council to remove the decalog. La Crosse Mayor John Medinger, who originally opposed the Foundation's request, wrote a column appearing in the La Crosse Tribune on Feb. 28 ("Commandment marker violates Constitution") urging the city council to move the bible monument to private property: "As most people know, the Freedom From Religion Foundation, a Madison-based group, has threatened to sue the city if we don't voluntarily remove this monument. They charge that it violates the Constitution of the United States. And surely, as they have other places, they will follow through on their threat. And, with the help of the highest courts in this country, they usually have been successful," wrote Mayor Medinger. "In this great country we do indeed have freedom 'of' religion but we also have freedom 'from' religion. . . . The Ten Commandments can be publicly displayed anywhere in this city as long as it is on private property." Medinger continued: "I have become convinced that the continued presence of this monument in a public park violates the Constitution of the United States and should be removed. . . . If you ask some local elected officials if they think the monument is unconstitutional they will whisper, 'Yes, but the people will crucify me if I vote to remove it.' Then we must ask them about their sworn oath of office. Does it mean nothing? ". . . Finally, at this time in our country's history, it is important that we fight extra hard to preserve what has now lasted more than 200 years. Our precious freedoms must not be lost or the terrorists will have won!" He sponsored the tabled resolution calling for the removal of the decalog. La Crosse resident Jeff Fluekiger, who presented the council with 4,000 signatures in favor of keeping the monument on government property, urged La Crosse to unite with religious-right groups who have offered to help defend the entanglement. "They have long agendas," Medinger told the Tribune. "They want to establish the U.S. as a Christian nation; they are against homosexuals, against abortion. I am not even saying I disagree with some of their stuff, but there is no free lunch. These are people like Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell. I do not want them representing La Crosse. If this is a Christian nation, how can Wisconsin have two Jewish senators?" he asked. Adding another wrinkle to the controversy was the parsimonious offer by the Onalaska Masonic Lodge No. 214 to pay $10 for a section of Cameron Park on which the monument stands. "We consider it to be a good deed for the community," said Mason Ronald Espe. "It bothers us that an atheist organization would think they would have the power to force the majority of the people to get rid of something they want." That offer resulted in a tongue-in-cheek letter to the editor printed by the Tribune in March suggesting the city "sell small parcels of the park to private individuals": "There might be some small, easily resolved problems. No nude or partially nude statues would be permitted. Some Washington prudes might feel obligated to protect the morals of the citizenry. And the last thing we want is more government interference. Atheists would not be permitted to own a parcel. Because they have no religion, they've have nothing to display anyway." The Freedom From Religion Foundation originally sued for removal of the La Crosse monument in federal court in the 1980s, and lost on a technicality, not the merits. In June 1988, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a 1987 ruling by a federal court that La Crosse resident Phyllis Grams, the plaintiff and a Foundation member, was not injured by the presence of the marker and therefore lacked legal standing. This should not affect the outcome of a new challenge. See additional article, "'Nod to God' Politicians and the Ten Commadments."
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How many parents, soothing their children to sleep with "Brahms's Lullaby," know they are singing a melody written by a freethinker? Johannes Brahms, the great German composer known as the "3rd B" (after Bach and Beethoven), did not believe in a god. Born in 1833--the same year as American freethinker Robert G. Ingersoll--Brahms shed his Christian upbringing early, though not without being fully informed. Jan Swafford, in Johannes Brahms: A Biography, writes of the young composer: "Though he was to be a freethinker in religion, Johannes pored over the Bible beyond the requirements for his Protestant confirmation." From then on, "Music was Brahms's religion." In his teens, Brahms would prop books of poetry on the piano to divert himself while playing for drunken sailors in a Hamburg bar. His favorite poet, from whom many of his lyrics sprang, was the anticlerical G. F. Daumer, described by the Catholic Encyclopedia as an "enemy of Christianity" who "strove to substitute a new religion 'of love and peace.' " (In later years, Daumer converted to Catholicism.) Brahms's works were also influenced by philosophy and literature, including Hoffman, Schiller, Robert Burns, Jean Paul, and Friedrich Hölderlin. He had a keen interest in science, and could hold his own debating politics, literature, religion and philosophy. An avid hiker who loved the outdoors, Brahms often turned to nature for ideas. "A great deal of his music," writes Swafford, "in its inspiration and spirit, rose from mountains and forests and open sky." The melody for the finale of the C-minor Symphony actually traces the shape of the Alps, as Brahms viewed them during a hike. Brahms occasionally used biblical texts, but only for artistic reasons. After the death of his mother, he wrote the popular Ein deutsches Requiem (A German Requiem, 1867), but was careful to select only those biblical lyrics that relate to this life and to those who grieve. The Requiem starts with "Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted," and avoids talk of eternal salvation. Noticing this secular spin, conductor Karl Reinthaler, who had studied theology and was working closely with Brahms on the Easter Week premiere, wrote to Brahms: "Forgive me, but I wondered if it might not be possible to extend the work in some way that would bring it closer to a Good Friday service . . . what is lacking, at least for a Christian consciousness, is the pivotal point: the salvation in the death of our Lord. . . ." In other words, what about Jesus? "Brahms was not about to put up with that sort of thing," Swafford writes. "He was a humanist and an agnostic, and his requiem was going to express that, Reinthaler or no. . . . With the title A German Requiem he intended to convey that this is not the liturgical requiem mass in Latin, nor a German translation of it, but a personal testament, a requiem. Brahms avoided dogma in the piece for the same reason . . . even if the words come from the Bible, this was his response to death as a secular, skeptical, modern man." Brahms responded politely but firmly to Reinthaler: "As far as the text is concerned, I confess that I would gladly omit even the word German and instead use Human; also with my best knowledge and will I would dispense with places like John 3:16. On the other hand, I have chosen one thing or another because I am a musician, because I needed it, and because with my venerable authors I can't delete or dispute anything. But I had better stop before I say too much." He had already said enough! The verse Brahms explicitly discards is central to Christianity: "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have everlasting life." Swafford concludes: "Brahms means that he could do without that verse and that dogma, in Ein deutsches Requiem and in his life. If he was a North German Protestant by tradition and temperament, he was not in his faith, which like all his convictions Brahms held close to his chest. For himself he would not call Christ a particular son of God. Meanwhile, to Reinthaler he downplays the theology of some verses he does use, saying, 'I can't delete or dispute anything' from Scripture. With that he obliquely confesses that even the hints of resurrection lingering in his texts are not his own sentiments. At the end of his Requiem, the dead are not reborn but released: 'they rest from their labors.' It is that rest from his own lonely labors that Brahms yearned for someday, as his mother rested from her life of poverty and toil." When Brahms sometimes spoke of immortality, it was metaphorically, jokingly. To his publisher, he once wrote: "Done! What is done? The violin concerto? No. . . . One knows nothing definite; even the most credulous doesn't. . . . And I am credulous. Indeed, I believe in immortality--; I believe that when an immortal dies, people will keep on for 50,000 years and more, talking idiotically and badly about him--thus I believe in immortality, without which beautiful and agreeable attribute I have the honor to be--Your J. Br." To his friend Richard Heuberger, Brahms, who never married, said, "Apart from Frau Schumann I'm not attached to anybody with my whole soul! And truly that is terrible and one should neither think such a thing nor say it. Is that not a lonely life! Yet we can't believe in immortality on the other side. The only true immortality lies in one's children." Clara Schumann, by the way, the virtuoso pianist and composer who was a true life-long friend of Brahms, also had little use for the church. "Performing was her religion," Swafford observes. "The world saw Clara Schumann as a priestess, something like a saint. If there is such a thing as a secular saint, surely she was one." Brahms also used non-biblical gods for his own purposes. The text for Gesang der Parzen (Song of the Fates, 1882) is from Goethe's Iphigenia: "Let the race of man, Fear the gods! They hold the power, In eternal hands, And they use it, As they please. . . ." However, Swafford notes that Brahms's own "gods" were earthly, not supernatural: "When he said to George Henschel, 'As much as we men . . . are above the creeping things of the earth, so these gods are above us!' the gods he spoke of were his personal ones, his real religion: Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, and the others. Now he approached his age with the gods of the earth vanished, and the ones in the heavens silent and unapproachable." While working on Nänie, his commemoration of the death of his friend, the painter Anselm Feuerbach, Brahms wrote another friend: "Won't you try to find me some words? . . . The ones in the Bible are not heathen enough for me. I've bought the Koran but can't find anything there either." Brahms was not just a nominal unbeliever. He often had well-thought opinions on religion. Pastor and playwright Josef Widmann, who once expressed to Brahms his support of the Theological Reform movement in Switzerland, was surprised to find Brahms "not only cognizant of the issue but with forceful and contrary opinions about it." Brahms pronounced it "a half-measure that would satisfy neither the pious nor the freethinkers," Swafford writes. Remarkable for that time and place, Brahms was never anti-Semitic. "Toward the end of his life," Swafford notes, "responding to the antisemitism that had become endemic in Austrian politics, Brahms was heard to growl, 'Next week I'm going to have myself circumcised!' . . . Brahms may have idolized Bismarck and the authoritarian Prussians, but he remained a liberal and a democrat at heart." When the Christian Socialists finally elected Karl Lueger vice-mayor of Vienna in 1895, ending the long liberal rule, turning Austria formally anti-Semitic from then until Hitler, Brahms remarked to his friends: "Didn't I tell you years ago that it was going to happen? You laughed at me then and everybody else did too. Now it's here, and with it the priests' economic system. If there was an 'Anticlerical Party'--that would make sense! But antisemitism is madness!" Brahms hated the music of Anton Bruckner, a devout believer whose works were later performed with gusto by the Nazis. "Everything is affectation with him, nothing is natural," Brahms said. "As to his piety--that's his business, it's nothing to me." (Bruckner himself cannot be accused of anti-Semitism.) But Brahms admired the music of Dvorák, whom he had helped financially when the young Bohemian was a struggling writer. In later years, they had occasion to become well acquainted. "As the two of them talked," Swafford writes about one of their long conversations, "Brahms rambled on about his agnosticism, his growing interest in Schopenhauer, the philosopher of pessimism (Wagner's favorite). On the way back to his hotel with violinist Josef Suk, Dvorák was thoughtful and silent. Suddenly he exclaimed with real anguish, 'Such a man, such a fine soul--and he believes in nothing! He believes in nothing!' " Dvorák's "fine soul" assessment was not hyperbole. Brahms the unbeliever was always generous and helpful, sharing his wealth liberally, living simply and humbly, giving of his time and energies to others. Swafford relates an exciting and illuminating event when Brahms was spending the summer of 1885 in Mürzzuschlag: "One day a carpenter's shop in his house erupted in flames. Brahms ran from his workroom in shirtsleeves to join the bucket brigade to fight the fire, shouting at well-dressed passersby to lend a hand. In the confusion someone pulled him aside and told him his papers were threatened by the blaze. Brahms thought it over for a second, then returned to the buckets. Richard Fellinger finally extracted from him the key to his room and ran to save the score of the Fourth Symphony. When the fire was out--his rooms were not touched--Brahms shrugged off the threat to his manuscript with 'Oh, the poor people needed help more than I did.' He followed that up by slipping the carpenter money for rebuilding. (He could, after all, have rewritten the symphony from memory.)" Not only was Brahms's Lullaby (Wiegenlied) written by a freethinker, but its story might be considered scandalous by some Christians. The song was written in honor of the birth of a child of Brahms's friends Bertha and Artur Faber in 1868. Years earlier, Brahms had briefly fallen in love with Bertha when she was a young visitor to his female choir in Hamburg, and during the playful courtship she used to sing him a lilting 3/4-time Viennese melody. The romance ended, but the friendship endured, and the melody that Brahms later composed for the private lullaby was a creative counterpoint to the earlier love song that the child's mother would remember singing to the composer. When he presented the gift to the Fabers, Brahms included this note to her husband: "Frau Bertha will realize that I wrote the 'Wiegenlied' for her little one. She will find it quite in order . . . that while she is singing Hans to sleep, a love song is being sung to her." Bertha was the first person to sing Brahms's Lullaby, both love melodies dancing flirtatiously in her head. Brahms enjoyed near perfect health until the last few months, not even reporting as much as a headache, rarely visiting a doctor. On the morning Brahms's life ended in Vienna in 1897--he was almost 64, felled by liver cancer long before he was ready to go--there was no death-bed conversion, no regret for living a godless life. Artur Faber (Bertha's husband), had come to the sick man's bed that morning to give him a glass of wine for his thirst. "Oh that tasted fine. You're a kind man," Brahms said, his last recorded words. Johannes Brahms did not seek immortality, but he got it anyway: not in children, not in heaven, but in the beauty he bequeathed to the world. Source: Johannes Brahms: A Biography, by Jan Swafford (1997, Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.) Dan Barker, a professional piano player, is a staff member of the Freedom From Religion Foundation.
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Seventy cases a week of child-abuse allegations against American churches come to the attention of the Christian Ministry Resources, a tax and legal-advice publisher serving about 75,000 congregations and 1,000 denominational agencies. CMR's annual surveys of about 1,000 churches nationwide have sought information on sexual abuse since 1993. Surveys for the last decade have averaged 70 cases a week. "The Catholics have gotten all the attention from the media, but this problem is even greater with the Protestant churches simply because of their far larger numbers," said James Cobble, executive director of CMR. "I think the CMR numbers are striking, yet quite reasonable," commented Anson Shupe, an Indiana University professor and author of books on church abuse. "To me it says Protestants are less reluctant to come forward because they don't put their clergy on as high a pedestal as Catholics do with their priests." Shupes believes the 70-cases-a-week number is likely low. In a door-to-door survey in the Dallas-Ft. Worth area in 1998, he found that 4% of 1,607 families reported sexual abuse by clergy. The CMR statistics show most abuse is at Protestant churches, 42% of abusers are church volunteers, and 25% of perpetrators are minors accused of molesting other children at church. About 21% of allegations reported in the 2000 survey resulted in lawsuits or out-of-court settlements. Church reforms have been largely at the behest of insurance companies, which began dropping coverage of churches without screening policies. "What drove leaders to begin to respond to this issue was not the welfare of children. It was fear of large, costly lawsuits," said Cobble. Source: Christian Science Monitor, April 5, 2002 It's OK to Molest Teens? Church officials and apologists have come out of the woodwork insisting the image of "pedophile priests" is a "myth." Leading academic proponent of this notion is Philip Jenkins, an Episcopalian, professor and author of Pedophiles and Priests (Oxford University Press, 1996), who writes: "having sex with a 16 or 17 year old boy or girl may be phenomenally stupid and wrong in many ways--immoral, sinful, an abuse of authority--but it's very different from pedophilia, which is the exploitation of prepubescent children. In most of these cases with older teenagers, there's some degree of consent, and in most jurisdictions, they're legal." Catholic writer Garry Wills lambasts Jenkins' book as a "handy guide to evasion," dignifying Catholic rationalization of a corrupt hierarchy. The church, and Jenkins, promote the term "ephebophile," someone with an interest in "post-pubescent boys or girls." This distinction was lost on All-Star Pro-Baseball player Tom Paciorek, now 55 and silver-haired, who made a tearful public statement in March about being molested in his teens for 4 years by Rev. Gerald Shirilla. Shirilla was removed by the Archdiocese of Detroit only in March. Paciorek and his three brothers, unbeknownst to each other, were all molested one by one during the 1960s by Shirilla, who taught at St. Ladislaus Catholic school. "When you're a kid and you're not able to articulate, who's going to believe you? The church back then was so powerful, there's nothing that a kid could do," recalled Tom's brother, John. Tom's lowest point, at age 16, was when the priest asked his parents if the boy could spend the weekend at his home. "When I heard my parents say yes, I thought, 'Oh, my god, what is going to happen to me?' " He told the Free-Press that at one point during those 72 hours, he wanted to die: "It was relentless. I mean, I felt like I was a prisoner at his house. . . . I remember saying . . . 'God, is this ever doing to end?' " Brother Mike "first became a victim of his when I was 8, 9 or 10 years old." Shirilla would lock the door, remove Mike's clothes and say "Your brothers used to love this." Rembert Weakland, archbishop of Milwaukee, infamously declared in the Catholic Herald, May 1988: "We must not imply that the abuser is not guilty of serious crime, but we could easily give a false impression that any adolescent who becomes sexually involved with an older person does so without any degree of personal responsibility. Sometimes not all adolescent victims are so 'innocent'; some can be sexually very active and aggressive and often quite streetwise." In an interview with WTMJ-TV in late March, Weakland said that sexual activity with a prepubescent child is very serious and the perpetrator "incurable." But once again he distinguished between children and older minors. Rebutted Peter Isley, a Milwaukee man abused as a child by a priest: "Each act of sexual abuse--whether forced upon a child or a minor--creates devastating and lifelong consequences. The laws of our society reflect the belief that the sexual abuse of a minor is a crime. The archdiocese needs to fully support this position and remove all men from the priesthood who have committed criminal acts against youngsters, whether that youngster is prepubescent or post-pubescent." Sources: New York Times, March 22, 2002; Detroit Free Press, March 22, 2002, Boston Globe, March 24, 2002; Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, March 24, 2002
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9/11 terrorists died for "white raisins"? Christoph Luxemberg, a scholar of ancient Semitic languages in Germany, contends that, due to a mistranslation, the paradisiacal rewards supposedly awaiting Islamic martyrs are actually "white raisins," not "virgins." Luxemberg, using a pseudonym, wrote The Syro-Aramaic Reading of the Koran detailing Koranic misinterpretations. Source: New York Times, March 3, 2002 "God Bless America." A Jan. 24 Green Beret raid in Oruzgan, Afghanistan, decried by locals as an error, left 21 local soldiers dead (two with their hands tied behind their backs) and 27 others captured. Afterward a villager reported finding a piece of paper on the windshield of a destroyed truck, with an American flag and the words: "God Bless America. Have a nice day. From Damage, Inc." Source: Reporter Craig S. Smith, New York Times, Jan. 26, 2002 Christian Coalition eats Jim Crow. The Christian Coalition secretly settled a federal racial discrimination lawsuit in which 15 black employees alleged being forced to enter the D.C. headquarters by the back door, to eat in a segregated area, and being excluded from events, healthcare coverage and overtime pay. Source: Virginian-Pilot, Dec. 29, 2001 700 bodies and counting. A proposed Hindu temple to Ram at the site of a 16th-century mosque destroyed in 1992 by Hindus in Ayodhya, India, has set off violence so far claiming more than 700 people, mostly Muslims, and resulting in tens of thousands of arrests. Rioting over the mosque's destruction in 1992 killed 1,000-2,000 Indians. Source: New York Times, March 1, 2002; BBC News, March 15, 2002 McGospel: would you like to fry with that? For the past three years, the McDonald's in god-fearing Dayton, Tenn., has hosted a weekly Thursday night 2-hour gospel program attracting as many as 100 people, who imbibe the gospel along with high-fat fast food. Source: Chattanooga AP, Feb. 7, 2002
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Since the terrorist attacks of September 11, already keen interest in prayer has increased as part of the frenzied upsurge in religion in general. Topping The New York Times' bestseller list is a small book called The Prayer of Jabez, with "its message that lives can be profoundly changed by the power of prayer." Images bombard us on television regularly of masses of humanity kneeling in supplication, praying to some all-powerful deity. These images only increase the perception that prayer is a potent force in dealing with the world's problems that is endorsed by almost all of humanity. Many religious people want to cling to the ancient belief in the supernatural, including prayer, and yet accept the conclusions and benefits of modern science. They can't have it both ways. To study the natural world, scientists must have an implicit assumption that it operates only by natural, predictable processes, which cannot be affected arbitrarily by an all-powerful deity. One of the major ways that scientists provide proof of theories is through well-designed studies, of which the "gold standard" is the large, randomized, prospective, controlled, double-blind type. If such a study could be influenced by a personal god who responded to prayers to change the results, science would be in shambles. There would be no way ever to do a valid experiment since investigators couldn't be sure that someone, somewhere, hadn't uttered a specific or generic prayer that would affect the study. In short, science by its very nature, rejects any influence of prayer on the physical world. Even though prayer is an irrational concept, could it nevertheless be tested scientifically? Francis Galton, the brilliant and eccentric cousin of Charles Darwin, thought so and gave the idea scientific legitimacy. Galton was the father of biometry and a central figure in the founding of modern statistical analysis. He argued that regardless of how the prayers "may be supposed to operate," the efficacy of prayer . . . is a perfectly appropriate and legitimate subject of scientific inquiry" because it can be tested statistically. He then proceeded to set up such studies. In one statistical study, Galton examined the longevity of clergy. He reasoned that clergy should be the longest lived of all since they were the most "prayerful class" of all and among the most prayed for. When Galton compared the longevity of eminent clergy with eminent doctors and lawyers, the clergy were the shortest lived of the three groups. In this study of the clergy, he cited a previous study by Guy (Galton wasn't the first to think of analyzing prayer statistically but usually gets the credit) where Guy found prayer did not protect royalty, who were much prayed for, when compared to other members of the aristocracy. In analyzing the data on royalty, Galton concluded: "Sovereigns are literally the shortest lived of all who have the advantage of affluence." Galton looked for other statistical data. He examined the insurance rates for ships. He reasoned that ships carrying missionaries and pilgrims should have lower rates since frequent praying by the occupants should decrease the number of accidents. He found that the rates were the same; ships carrying missionaries and pilgrims sank just as often as other ships. Following up on Galton's statistical studies on prayer, Rupert Sheldrake, a Cambridge-trained plant biologist, did one of his own, examining the effects of prayer in India. Most people there prefer having a son, and a tremendous amount of praying goes into the effort to produce one. Sheldrake examined statistics of live male births in India and used data from England as a control where the preference for sons was less strong. He found that in both England and India there were 106 males to 100 females, just as in every other country. He stated, "if this enormous amount of psychic effort and praying of holy men were working, you would expect on average the percentage of live male births to be higher." Although these statistical studies from the nineteenth century strongly suggest that prayer is not effective, they do not meet the "gold standard" of a completely valid scientific study. The media regularly mention a large number of contemporary studies that supposedly scientifically validate the beneficial effects of prayer on human health. So what is the truth in this matter? Actually, there are only three that meet the "gold standard." Happily, the fact that there are only three studies considerably reduces the amount of information freethinkers need to acquire to refute frequent and erroneous claims. When we say that a finding in a scientific study is statistically significant, "significant" has a specific statistical meaning. To be considered significant, a finding must be (.05) or less, which means the probability that it could be due to chance is 5 in 100. The main point to appreciate is that this figure, although reasonable, is strictly arbitrary. Therefore, the figure of (.05) is borderline significant, .04 (a probability of 4 in a 100 of being due to chance) is considered significant, and .06 (6 in 100) is considered not significant. The figure (.05) is the one accepted for "ordinary" scientific studies. But what criterion should be applied in proving a supernatural finding? After all, as the old saw goes, extraordinary claims should require extraordinary proof, and this requirement should especially apply to claims of the supernatural. The James Randi Educational Foundation has a standing offer of one million dollars to anyone who can demonstrate any supernatural event under carefully controlled scientific conditions. The foundation has never had a single person who even got past the preliminary testing. Its members think that a study that would prove a claim of the supernatural should eliminate the possibility that the result could be by chance, in the range of 1 in 10,000,000, a far cry from 5 in 100. Robert Park, in his excellent book, Voodoo Science, observes that a characteristic of voodoo science is that there are always very small differences in studies, just barely detectable, and that can't be amplified in further investigations. These barely detectable positive results usually indicate flaws in the studies themselves rather than real findings. Let's examine in some detail the three studies on intercessory prayer that were large, prospective, randomized, double-blind ones--the only three that pass muster as valid scientific investigations of the effects of prayer on human health. Intercessory prayer (prayer at a distance) was chosen so that the placebo effect of direct prayer would be eliminated. All of these studies were done on coronary care unit (CCU) patients. The first study was entitled "Positive Therapeutic Effects of Intercessory Prayer in a Coronary Care Unit Population" by Randolph Byrd, M.D., published in the Southern Medical Journal, July 1988. Dr. Byrd stated: "My study concerning prayer and patients in a general hospital coronary care unit was designed to answer two questions: (1) Does intercessory prayer to the Judeo-Christian God have any effect on the patient's medical condition and recovery while in the hospital? (2) How are these effects characterized, if present?" Over ten months, 393 patients admitted to the CCU at San Francisco General Hospital were randomized to an intercessory prayer group (192 patients) or to a control group (201 patients). After randomization, each patient in the prayer group was assigned to three to seven intercessors, who were all "born-again Christians (according to the Gospel of John 3:3)" of various denominations. Dr. Byrd wrote: "The patients' first name, diagnosis, and general condition, along with pertinent updates on their condition, were given to the intercessors. The intercessory prayer was done outside the hospital daily until the patient was discharged from the hospital. Under the direction of a coordinator, each intercessor was asked to pray daily for a rapid recovery and for prevention of complications and death, in addition to other areas of prayer they believed to be beneficial to the patient." The results were summarized in "Table 2" of the Byrd study entitled "Results of intercessory Prayer." There was no statistically significant difference between the prayer and control group in these measurements: days in CCU after entry; days in hospital after entry; number of discharge medications. Only when a list of 26 "New Problems, Diagnoses, and Therapeutic Events After Entry" was compiled was any statistically differences found and then only in 6 of the items: congestive heart failure (.03); diuretics (.05); cardiopulmonary arrest (.02); pneumonia (.03); antibiotics (.005); intubation/ ventilation (.002). When Dr. Byrd subjected these items to multivariate analysis (a statistical method of analyzing the overall significance when multiple factors are positive), he found the prayer group to better the control group at the statistically significant level of (.0001). In "Table 3," "Results of Scoring the Postentry Hospital Course," he constructed three categories, "Good, Intermediate, and Bad," using a self-designed and previously not scientifically validated method. The prayer group bettered the control group at a level of (.01). Although this study appears to meet the "gold standard" of a large, prospective, randomized, double-blind investigation, scientists have pointed out a number of flaws: The study was not "blinded' in two respects: 1) Janet Greene, the coordinator of the study, on whom Dr. Byrd depended for the collection of data, knew exactly who was being prayed for, and interacted regularly with the patients in the study. 2) "Table 3" was formulated by Dr. Byrd at the request of editors who initially evaluated his paper after the "blinding" had been removed. There was no difference in clear-cut end points such as days in the CCU, days in the hospital, or mortality between the two groups. Only when complicated statistical analyses were done on a long list of items do any data emerge that favor the prayed-for group--hardly evidence of an all-powerful deity. Also, if prayer had any effect, an overall improvement would be expected. Of the six items where the prayer group did better, four were of borderline statistical significance and only two were clearly significant. Are we to conclude that the deity is only concerned with reducing antibiotic use and ventilating patients in the CCU? This study provides no information on the physicians involved in this study. This information could be important since certain physicians use antibiotics and intubate patients much more readily than others. The method that Dr. Byrd used in his scoring in "Table 3" had not been validated by any previous studies. When Irwin Tessman, Ph.D., professor of biological sciences at Purdue University, requested of Dr. Byrd that Dr. Tessman be allowed to review the raw data that went into the study, he was refused. Since Dr. Byrd's claim is one of the supernatural, it would seem appropriate that all aspects of the study be reviewed by independent investigators. The degree of obvious religiosity communicated by Dr. Byrd raises doubts that he could be completely objective on a scientific investigation of prayer, something that he deeply believes is effective. Under "Acknowledgments" at the end of the paper, he writes: "I thank God for responding to the many prayers made on behalf of the patients." The second study that appears to meet the "gold standard" for scientific studies is "A Randomized, Controlled Trial of the Effects of Remote, Intercessory Prayer on Outcomes in Patients Admitted to the Coronary Care Unit" published in the October 25, 1999 edition of the Archives of Internal Medicine. The investigators were William S. Harris, Ph.D., plus eight others of the Mid America Heart Institute. The study was conducted at Saint Luke's Hospital, Kansas City, Missouri, a private, university-associated hospital. "The purpose of the present study was to attempt to replicate Byrd's findings by testing the hypothesis that patients who are unknowingly and remotely prayed for by blinded intercessors will experience fewer complications and have a shorter hospital stay than patients not receiving such prayer," admitted the investigators. The intercessors (five to pray for each patient compared to three to seven in Byrd's study), were to pray for "a speedy recovery with no complications" plus "anything else that seemed appropriate to them." 1013 patients were randomized, 484 to the prayer group and 529 to the usual care group. After removal of those patients who spent less than 24 hours in the CCU (prayer was not started until 24 hours after admission), 524 remained in the usual care group and 466 in the prayer group (a high drop-out rate). A list of events after entry into the study was compiled, much like the one in the Byrd study, but with 34 events instead of the 26 in the Byrd Study. Again, a scheme was devised to evaluate the overall hospital course, a totally new and untested system, but different from the also new and untested one devised by Byrd. The Harris study scheme was called the Mid America Heart Institute Cardiac Care Unit (MAHI-CCU) Scoring System, and its criteria are presented in "Table 1" of his paper. The only finding in the Harris study that indicated the prayer group outperformed the control group was in using the MAHI-CCU Scoring System and then only at a probability level of (.04), a figure very close to the cut-off level of (.05). The Harris study is a much better study than the Byrd study because the number of patients is larger, it appears to be completely blinded, and the degree of religiosity of the investigators appears to be lower (although Dr. Harris supposedly supports the idea of "intelligent design"). Nevertheless, scientific investigators have noted flaws: 1) As already noted, the MAHI-CCU Scoring System has never been previously scientifically validated. Without such validation, any result produced by it is subject to question. 2) The much higher dropout rate in the first 24 hours in the prayer group is a very serious criticism of the study. The statistical probability that this finding would appear by chance is (.001), or 1 chance in a 1000, a statistically very significant finding. This higher dropout rate, since the mortality rate in the two groups was the same, suggests that the prayer group, for unknown reasons, was not quite as ill as the control group since patients discharged within a day often turn out not to have serious problems. If they were a little less ill at the start, we would expect them to have a more favorable course. 3) The conclusions stated in this investigation, as I'll describe shortly, are not justified by the data. Positive findings in a scientific study are not considered valid until replicated by independent investigators. So did the Harris study replicate the positive findings of the Byrd study? The answer is a resounding no! Of the 6 items in the list of 26 items previously described in the Byrd study where the prayed-for group did better, not one was statistically significant in the Harris study. When the Harris study subjected its data to the same scheme that Byrd had used in his evaluation of the hospital course of the patients (Table 3 in the Byrd study), the Harris study found the difference between the two groups of (.29) was not even close to being statistically significant. The Harris study did replicate the negative findings from the Byrd Study. There was no statistical difference in days in the CCU, days in the hospital, or mortality. In remarks at the end of the Harris study, the investigators stated: "Our findings support Byrd's conclusions despite the fact that we could not document an effect of prayer using his scoring system." This statement is erroneous. Not only do these findings not support Byrd's conclusions, they directly refute them. The most recent study and, I believe, the best designed one, was published in the Mayo Clinic Proceedings in December 2001, entitled "Intercessory Prayer and Cardiovascular Disease Progression in a Coronary Care Unit Population: A Randomized Controlled Trial." This third "gold standard" study should settle the matter once and for all scientifically. The investigators were Jennifer M. Aviles, M.D., and six others. This trial was done on patients immediately after discharge from the Coronary Care Unit, a time when the intensity of extraneous intercessory praying by family and friends would generally be waning. Here is their summary of the findings: "Patients and Methods: In this randomized, controlled trial conducted between 1997 and 1999, a total of 799 coronary care unit patients were randomized at hospital discharge to the intercessory prayer group or to the control group. . . . The primary end point after 26 weeks was any of the following: death, cardiac arrest, rehospitalization for cardiovascular disease, coronary revascularization, or an emergency department visit for cardiovascular disease. Patients were divided into a high-group based on the presence of any of 5 risk factors (age > or = 70 years, diabetes mellitus, prior myocardial infarction, cerebrovascular disease, or peripheral vascular disease) or a low-risk group (absence of risk factors) for subsequent primary events." The investigators summarized their findings as follows: "Conclusions: As delivered in this study, intercessory prayer had no significant effect on medical outcomes after hospitalization in a coronary care unit." Not even one difference showed up between the control group and the prayed-for group. The statistical studies from the nineteenth century, and the three CCU studies on prayer are quite consistent with the fact that humanity is wasting a huge amount of time on a procedure that simply doesn't work. Nonetheless, faith in prayer is so pervasive and deeply rooted, you can be sure believers will continue to devise future studies in a desperate effort to confirm their beliefs. Now that you have the scientific information, don't let the statement that the efficacy of prayer has been proven by scientific studies go unchallenged. It's simply untrue. James W. Williamson, a retired medical doctor, is a Foundation member from Florida.
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The Freethought Society of Greater Philadelphia and plaintiff Sally Flynn won their federal lawsuit challenging a Ten Commandments plaque at the entrance to the Chester County courthouse, in a ruling handed down on March 6. The society, a chapter of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, was represented by Stefan Presser of the American Civil Liberties Union. U.S. District Judge Stewart Dalzell, following a two-day trial in Philadelphia, issued a 25-page decision ordering removal of the 82-year-old bronze plaque engraved with the King James version of the Ten Commandments. "We cannot pretend that the tablet's words do not mean what they say, or forget the sincere religious impulse of both the donors and the donees in 1920," wrote Dalwell. The 50"x39" tablet advances and endorses "mainline Protestantism," he added. "Disestablishment is not a lonely First Amendment redoubt occupied only by some federal judges and a few malcontents. It is in historical fact as American as the free exercise of religion." Principal plaintiff Sally Flynn, 72, of Pocopson, told media she was "elated" over the victory. Presser commented: "I am convinced that this nation has been spared the kind of sectarian violence we've seen in Ireland, the Balkans, the Middle East and Afghanistan because of the Establishment Clause, which was vindicated today." The Philadelphia Inquirer reported that Margaret Downey, chapter director, received a threatening phone call the day after the decision, from a man who laced his remarks with obscenities, and warned: "You're going to get it." "It was a pretty horrible phone call," Downey said. She retrieved the phone number from Caller ID and reported the threat to police. County officials condemned the threat. "I really do think this gives the lie to the commissioners' position that this is not a religious issue," Presser told the Inquirer. "People don't threaten to hurt other people over secular documents." Flynn testified she had been the target of harassment since the lawsuit was filed in October 2001, purchasing Caller ID devices and removing her name from her house and mailbox. Also testifying: Downey; Kalid Yahya Blankinship, chair of Temple University's religion department, a practising Muslim, and Rabbi Leonard Gordon, a former professor of comparative religion, who said the decalog carries less weight with Jews than the Talmud, and considers that the Commandments plaque shows a Christian orientation. During the trial, Presser pointed out that of 71 letters received by the Commission about the lawsuit, only one favored removing the plaque, while many supporters employed religious language, such as: "It is time for a Christian nation to stand up for its God-given rights." Presser said: "You would concede that these people don't see this as a secular issue." The Chester County Commissioners almost immediately voted to appeal the decision. While most similar lawsuits are challenging monoliths erected by the Fraternal Order of Eagles in the late 1950s and early 1960s, this violation significantly predates the religious campaign by the Eagles. A group called the Council of Religious Education in West Chester, a coalition of churches, installed the plaque in 1920.
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It is not Yates who is on trial here, but our system of justice. It seems the oppression of women by religious fundamentalists has found a home in Christianity as well as Islam and Judaism. --Julio Noboa "Yates had many accomplices" San Antonio Express-News, March 3, 2002 Between fear and political correctness, it's not possible to say anything other than sugary nonsense about Islam. --Unnamed scholar at American University New York Times, March 2, 2002 Just a month ago, the Pope led 200 religious leaders from round the world in prayers for peace. . . . And yet a month on, peace seems as elusive as ever. --Giles Wilson "Does Prayer Work?" BBC News Online, March 1, 2002 Can the attorney general be trusted to protect the rights of those whose spiritual life rests outside of the Judeo-Christian tradition when he has excluded them from the ranks of civilized people? Not to split angels on the head of a pin here--or to restrict Ashcroft's hearty expressions of his Pentecostal faith as manifested in his daily prayer meetings at Justice--but it is alarming when he defines his job in religious terms: "The guarding of freedom that God grants is the noble charge of the Department of Justice." What hooey! --Robert Sheer "What's God Got to Do with it?" Los Angeles Times, Feb. 26, 2002 How will we protect civil liberties in a war without end? --Anthony Lewis "Taking Our Liberties" New York Times, March 9, 2002 I know Cardinal Law to be a man of integrity. I respect him a lot. --George W. Bush Press conference, March 13, 2002 We need to execute people like John Walker in order to physically intimidate liberals, by making them realize that they can be killed too. Otherwise they will turn out to be outright traitors. --Ann Coulter Conservative Political Action Conference Atlanta Journal Constitution, Feb. 14, 2002
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Published in FFRF in the News