ICLU Sells Out Again?
For the second time, the Indiana Civil Liberties Union has "settled" a lawsuit challenging the presence of Ten Commandments in a courthouse by agreeing to permit the biblical listing alongside other "historic" documents.
The display at the Washington County Courthouse in Salem, Indiana, will include King John and the Magna Carta, Thomas Jefferson and the Bill of Rights, and Moses with the Ten Commandments.
The Nov. 30 settlement was reached after 400 people, including Reform Party vice presidential candidate Ezola Foster, rallied outside the courthouse in October. A state law took effect July 1 allowing local governments to post the commandments with displays of "other historical documents."
Still in court is an ICLU lawsuit to prevent the placement of a decalog on state capitol grounds. U.S. District Judge Sarah Evans Barker issued a preliminary injunction in July barring placement of the monument. In mid-November Barker also ordered the removal of the capitol monument from the courthouse lawn in Lawrence County, where bible backers had placed it temporarily.
The Utica Town Council is in the process of approving the biblical decalog for its town hall.
Moment of Silence Upheld for Now
Virginia's controversial new law mandating a moment of silence in public schools was upheld by a U.S. District judge in October, and remains in effect while opponents appeal the ruling. Ten students and their parents are challenging the law. Virginia Attorney General Mark L. Earley, a gubernatorial candidate, vows to defend the law before the Supreme Court if necessary.
Reason Prevails in West Virginia
West Virginia State Superintendent David Stewart announced in early November that the state Board of Education is not likely to consider Gov. Cecil Underwood's request for a resolution to post Ten Commandments in West Virginia schools.
In September, Underwood, facing re-election, wrote a letter to the Board demanding that it "immediately" consider the proposal. Underwood was defeated by U.S. Rep. Bob Wise.
The superintendent said such a resolution would only invite a lawsuit, not "assist the learning process."
Scouts Sue Broward County Over Cut-off
The Boy Scouts filed a lawsuit on Dec. 4 against Florida's Broward County School Board for barring the group from school property due to the Scouts' ban on gays.
The South Florida Council and national headquarters asked the U.S. District Court in Miami for an injunction to keep the district from evicting 57 Scout troops and Cub packs. The Board voted unanimously on Nov. 14 to give the Scouts 30 days' notice, contending the Scouts breached a contract.
Expelled Girl Settles Lawsuit
A teenage girl expelled from Orchard Street Christian School in Elsmere, Ky., last year for being sexually active reached an out of court settlement announced in December. Her lawsuit argued that the school discriminated against the 15 year old because "boys are not expelled . . . for being sexually active, nor does [the school] improperly and voyeuristically make inquiry of male students regarding their sexual activities."
Important 9th Circuit Rulings
--- A 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco overturned a death sentence for convicted murderer Alfred Sandoval in November, ruling the prosecutor's argument to the jury that the death penalty is sanctioned by God denied him a fair trial.
--- In October, the court rejected an appeal by Christian students to fuse a valedictory speech with an invocation at graduation ceremonies in Oroville High School, California. Upheld was a June ruling by Judge Lawrence K. Karlton saying the Constitution gives no one a right to proselytize before a captive school audience.
Oregon School Abuse Halted
Oregon school officials in Molalla put a stop in November to regular cafeteria visits over the past year by a youth pastor involving up to 100 students a week in its middle and high schools.
They posted police guards at the entrance of the middle school to keep out Church of the Nazarene pastor Jason Rhoads, telling him any attempt to enter the schools would be trespassing. The action was taken after parents of a middle school student complained recently that their child was pressured to participate in a youth group affiliated with the Church of the Nazarene.
A critic noted that if ministers are given carte blanche visitation rights, then the schools would have to allow equal access to a communist, a gay rights organizer or a Scientologist.
Religious Concert Nixed in Illinois
Religious songs are being limited in an upcoming holiday assembly at the high school in Fenton, Illinois, after objections last year by a Muslim senior to the program of mostly Christmas carols and religious music.
"Our holiday assembly cannot be predominately religious and it cannot advance any particular religion. We have to be sensitive to our diverse student population," Superintendent Alf Loan told the board of education in late November.
After student Sabina Navsariwala wrote a letter to her school newspaper saying she felt hurt and alienated by the music, she was harassed at school, according to the Daily Herald.
No Faith in These Police
The Providence police department in November announced a new program to bring a "nondenominational, faith-based" approach to community relations, dubbed PRAYER.
The notion came to patrolman Gregory W. Bolden in a dream, reported the Providence Journal, and gained the support of the police chief and scandal-ridden Mayor Vincent A. Cianci, Jr.
"I think it's about time that somebody in government recognized that there is a God and that He is in charge," said a supporter, Rev. Marlowe V.N. Washington.
Texas School Violations Multiply
--- Jewish parents charged in November that two Texas middle schools in the Fort Bend School District are illegally promoting religion. Frank Levy and Hillary Goldstein said the district promoted after-school prayer meetings this fall, posting flyers featuring crosses. They noted that one teacher's computer screen saver displays the words "Jesus Christ" and that Jewish students were required to bring notes from rabbis in order to miss school Oct. 9 to observe Yom Kippur.
--- Duncanville High School is permitting a retired pastor and former bible college professor to teach bible studies. At least 200 Texas schools offer such classes. The Freedom From Religion Foundation sent detailed objections of the proselytizing nature of such classes to the TEA in the past.
Teachers Banned at Prayer Service
Teachers at Murrieta Valley High School in Riverside, Calif., will no longer be allowed to participate in the annual "See you at the Pole" September prayer observance.
The principal in late November barred the teachers from attending future student worship services, after the Anti-Defamation League complained that the teachers' presence gave the impression of school endorsement.
Religious Visas Fraudulent?
Three government agencies have criticized a special immigration program for religious workers as a fraud-ridden mechanism for ministers to get green cards for congregation members. The religious worker visa was established in 1990 to provide 5000 special admission visas a year for ministers and those in religious vocations. Congress voted twice to extend the program.
In a summer hearing before the House Judiciary Committee on Immigration, Congress' General Accounting Office (GAO) testified it found the program rife with abuse. In one case, a pastor had filed 450 visa petitions covering more than 900 people, falsifying records.
"Evidence uncovered by the INS suggests that some of these organizations exist solely as a means to carry out immigration fraud," said Jess Ford of the GAO.
John Brennan, director of visa services for the State Department, testified that "consular officers are presented with claims that a variety of seemingly mundane jobs with no clear traditional religious function are religious occupations because they are somehow related to the overall work of a religious organization."
"You Will Go to Hell"
"If you lie, you will go to hell," a Cook County judge warned two little girls testifying in his courtroom, according to a Chicago Sun Times expos? on Nov. 2.
Judge James T. Ryan once detained a woman in court until she soiled herself, and fined a woman giving birth for speeding to a hospital.
Diane Tuzzolino, a Mount Prospect mother, said the judge told her children Karyn, 12, and Kara, 8, who were testifying on a small claims dispute, that "You realize if you lie, you will go to hell."
Faith-Healing Parents Convicted
The State Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, in a 7-0 decision issued on Nov. 28, upheld an involuntary manslaughter conviction of Dennis and Lorie Nixon of Altoona, who let their 16-year-old daughter die in 1996 from complications of untreated diabetes. Shannon died at home of severe dehydration with a blood sugar level that was 18 times normal, as her family prayed, read from the bible and coated her body with oil.
The Nixons, who were sentenced to two and a half to five years in prison in 1997, have been free during their appeals. They belong to a Blair County branch of the Faith Tabernacle Church, and have 11 other children. Another child, Clayton, died at age 8 in 1991 from a treatable ear infection.
Canadian Creationist Lampooned
The contrast between theopolitics in the United States and Canada became evident in October, when conservative Stockwell Day, who unsuccessfully challenged Canadian Prime Minister Jean Cretien, was lampooned in the Canadian press for being a creationist.
"Day Admits Creationist Views" was the page 1 headline of the Montreal Gazette in October. The nation was shocked that Day believes humans were planted full-grown in the Garden of Eden and that, if dinosaurs existed, they ambled around with Adam and Eve.
"It's kind of freaky, being in denial about fossil evidence and carbon dating," Phillis Rosseau, a Canadian pharmaceutical researcher, told the Boston Globe.
"Fathers Count" Masks Religion
The U.S. House, by a 238-93 vote, passed the "Fathers Count" bill in November, ostensibly to promote fatherhood in low-income families by expanding job training and supportive programs.
Although a lengthy debate over the separation of church and state took place, the bill passed without an amendment barring federal funds from going directly to churches.
Cleveland Voucher Program Struck
A three-judge panel of the Sixth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled 2-1 on Dec. 11 that a Cleveland voucher program using tax money to support religious schools is unconstitutional.
Nearly 4,000 Cleveland students attend private schools, most of them religious, using publicly funded vouchers worth $2,250 each.
"To approve this program would approve the actual diversion of government aid to religious institutions in endorsement of religious education, something 'in tension' with the precedents of the Supreme Court," the appeals panel wrote.
The Ohio Supreme Court initially invalidated the voucher program because of the way it was passed by the Ohio legislature, but upheld the program itself as constitutional. After the Ohio legislature approved the program in compliance with the Ohio Supreme Court, the voucher scheme was declared unconstitutional by a federal judge.
Voucher watchers are speculating that the Cleveland case is headed for a showdown at the U.S. Supreme Court, which thus far has not accepted appeals on the issue. There are currently only four expected votes against it: Souter, Stevens, Ginsberg and Breyer, with O'Connor considered a (very dubious) swing vote.
The only other ongoing voucher programs in the country are in Florida and in Milwaukee, where the Catholic-dominated Wisconsin Supreme Court basically ruled that the state constitution was dead when it approved a scheme siphoning up to $5,236 per voucher to poor students in Milwaukee. Currently, 9,936 students are receiving vouchers there to attend private schools, two-thirds of them religious. In Florida, fewer than 100 students are enrolled in a voucher program that is also the subject of continuing legal challenge. The Cleveland program is expected to continue for at least the rest of this school year.
Student-Led Prayer Litigated
The Louisiana affiliate of the ACLU plans to file a federal lawsuit against the Beauregard parish school board for allowing student-led prayer. The district sent letters to parents asking their children to participate in a "Partners in Prayer for Schools" program in which churches adopt classrooms to pray for.
Nebraska Antigay Action Litigated
The ACLU Nebraska will challenge the constitutionality of Initiative 416, approved by 70% of Nebraska voters on Nov. 7, amending the state constitution to prohibit legal recognition of same-sex marriages or civil unions. A coalition of religious denominations, including fundamentalist Protestant, Mormon and Catholic, funded the campaign to enact the antigay measure.
Religious Freedom for Parking Lot?
A Catholic church ordered by a borough to shut down a parking program because it was an illegal business in an area zoned for private residency is now appealing that ruling under the newly passed federal Religious Land and Institutionized Persons Act of 2000.
St. Martin of Tours Roman Catholic Church, New Hope, Penn., was raking in up to $50,000 a year by offering weekend tourists parking for a "$4 donation" in its 88-car lot.
"Our ability to praise God through the good works of our fellowship and stewardship programs has been shackled by the denial of the use of our parking lot," the church maintains.
A lawyer representing neighbors who oppose the scheme questioned how "sending patrons of the parking lot to the bars and restaurants at all hours of the night in New Hope is a religious freedom unless they're going into the bars to pray."
Too Little, Too Late?
A libel suit has been filed by State Sen. Lewis Long, a Democrat, against the Oklahoma Christian Coalition for falsely claiming that he voted to repeal laws against sodomy and bestiality. Long lost his election by 270 votes.
In 1994, the Legislature updated its criminal code, removing sodomy and bestiality from certain sections, although both acts remain crimes under other sections. The Christian Coalition and a coalition of GOP legislative candidates have since used the issue to slam opponents. In Long's case, the Christian Coalition compounded the error because Long actually voted against the criminal code update.
After the Christian Coalition issued a belated apology, the Tulsa World editorialized on Nov. 22:
"The Christian Coalition's after-the-fact apology is as phony as its voter guides."
Eugene Bars Xmas Trees
Eugene, Oregon's city manager is adhering to a ban on Christmas trees in most city work places, based on the fact that Christmas trees are symbolic of a religious holiday. The Statesman Journal reported that Jim Johnson has affirmed his decision that Christmas trees not be displayed in public lobbies, break rooms and other space shared by city employees.
Scouts Hurt United Way
City employees in Tempe, Arizona, contributed less than half of what they gave last year to United Way, after a controversy about the antigay policy of Boy Scouts of America. Tempe workers donated $42,794 this fall, compared to $89,400 last year.
Interim City Manager John Greco proposed in late September to remove Boy Scouts from the city's United Way pledge forms. In October, Tempe's openly gay mayor, Neil Giuliano, backed off after the proposal created a firestorm of protest. The city's volunteer coordinator told the Arizona Republic in December that the Scout controversy "kind of soured" city workers on the campaign.
Catholic Chair Bad Precedent
The University of California at Santa Barbara has approved a $4.2 million fundraising goal to endow a ""Catholic chair" for Catholic studies at the public school.
About 20 local Catholics are raising private money to endow the chair in the name of Virgil Cordano, a Franciscan priest who pastored the Santa Barbara Catholic Mission.
If successful, the scheme would make the Santa Barbara university one of the few in the country with a Catholic chair.
Making Religion the Villain
Looking for solstice gifts for children?
Try a trilogy by British children's author Philip Pullman ("The Man Who Dared Make Religion the Villain: A British Author's Trilogy, Great Adventures Aren't Pegged to the Great Beyond," New York Times, Nov. 6).
Pullman espouses a "radical view of religion that may well hold the most subversive message in children's literature in years," says the Times.
Pullman has just completed The Amber Spyglass (Knopf), the last in a trilogy, following The Golden Compass and The Subtle Knife. The story is about a boy and a girl from different worlds "who grapple with profound philosophical questions of existence while having amazing adventures," according to Sarah Lyall of the Times.
The 53-year-old former school teacher, Lyall writes, "has created a world in which organized religion . . . is the enemy and its agents are the misguided villains."
Pullman explicitly views his books as an alternative to C.S. Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia.
"When you look at what C.S. Lewis is saying," Pullman told the Times, "his message is so anti-life, so cruel, so unjust." Pullman, raised Protestant in Wales, became an atheist as a teenager.
Washington Post reviewer Michael Dirda favorably compared Pullman's second book to children's classics in the genre, adding: "Pullman's book is more sheerly, breathtakingly all-stops-out thrilling than any of them."
Pullman has also written a quartet of adventure stories set in Victorian London for older children.
Going to God
The New York Times (Nov. 1) reported on the plight of "Turkish Women Who See Death as a Way Out" of religion-inspired repression, citing the following cases:
--- A 22-year-old woman throwing herself from the roof of a 7-story building after being beaten by her parents for wearing a tight skirt.
--- A 20-year-old woman hanging herself after giving birth following an arranged marriage.
--- A mother of five, age 30, hanging herself in the family barn. Her 65-year-old husband shrugged off the suicide by saying: "It was her time to go to God.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation placed its Winter Solstice sign in the Wisconsin Capitol rotunda, Madison, for the entire month of December for the fifth year in a row. In 1995, Gov. Tommy Thompson removed a Foundation banner saying "State/Church: Keep Them Separate," although the Foundation had a legal permit, and ruled that messages must be restricted to 30 x 40" signs. The Foundation first placed its gilt sign in 1996. Capitol tour guides have told reporters the sign is a "tourist attraction." The Foundation placed its message in response to public complaints about the Christian nature of songs at the annual tree-lighting ceremony, the presence of a lighted menorah during Hanukkah, and an annual nativity pageant taking place in the Capitol.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation's two and a half year court battle over a shrine to Jesus in a public park in Wisconsin concluded in November, with the erection of a 4-foot wrought-iron fence around the statue.
Two signs are posted on the gated fence surrounding the statue signifying that it is located on private property, as ordered by U.S. District Judge John Shabaz.
The Foundation, with Clarence Reinders of Marshfield as plaintiff, filed suit in 1998 after receiving complaints by residents and motorists about a Jesus statue dominating a public wayside park, reading "Christ Guide Us On Our Way." The statue had been given to the town by the Knights of Columbus in the 1950s.
The Foundation's lawsuit was initially dismissed by Shabaz after the city sold a prime parcel of the park to a group formed expressly to save the statue.
The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago agreed with the Foundation that the sale did not remedy the violation, because there was no wall or sign indicating the statue is now on private land.
The Appeals Court upheld the prearranged sale as legal, however. A three-judge panel ordered Shabaz to oversee the erection of a wall or fence with a visible disclaimer.
"How unfortunate for Marshfield taxpayers that its officials did not choose to move or isolate the Jesus shrine when we first asked," said Anne Gaylor, Foundation president.
Occasional irate letters from religionists are still appearing in Marshfield's daily paper, whose editor supported the presence of the Catholic shrine on public property.
Foundation member John Scalise, a former city commissioner in Mt. Pleasant, Michigan, and his young son Benjamin, filed suit against the Boy Scouts of America and Mt. Pleasant Public Schools for discrimination on religious grounds on Oct. 20.
In November 1997, when Benjamin was nine, he brought home a recruiting notice for Cub Scouts distributed in his third-grade class at Fancer Elementary School. John, a former Scout himself, and his son were excited about the invitation, and attended the recruiting meeting in December. When no one else volunteered to be a leader, Scalise stepped forward, only to discover the application required him to sign a "Declaration of Religious Principles."
Scalise, in his lawsuit, charges that Scouts are a "national and international private religiously oriented youth organization" that "expressly and openly discriminates against atheists, secular humanists, agnostics and other minorities."
Scalise alleges Boy Scouts and Mt. Pleasant schools are violating Michigan's constitution and the state's Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act by unlawfully discriminating on religious grounds.
Since the Freedom From Religion Foundation debuted a state/church quiz at its website (Church/State Separation Quiz) in October, more than 7,000 people have taken the test. [More than 12,000 as of March 2001]
The Foundation sent out an October news release prescribing its state/church separation quiz as "an antidote to election-year piety" and what it deemed "an orgy of gratuitous pandering" by political candidates.
The 21-item quiz, made up of multiple choice and true/false questions, is automatically scored and graded. Correct and up to three wrong answers summons high praise for being a "First Amendment scholar." Twelve to fifteen wrong prompts the rebuke, "Did you attend parochial school? Try again!" And sixteen to 21 wrong is rewarded with a skeptical: "Are you sure you are not a member of the religious right?"
Publicity about the quiz included a column by Stephanie Salter of the San Francisco Examiner (Nov. 10, 2000) that was widely syndicated around the country. Salter reported that "the feisty, funny and well-informed Freedom From Religion Foundation" had devised a quiz challenging assumptions about the religious basis of U.S. government.
She added, "Based in Madison, Wis., the foundation publishes a terrific and entertaining monthly newsletter called 'Freethought Today' . . . If you're like me, [by taking the quiz] you'll learn how ignorant you really are about how much God-ness our country's founders wished upon us."
Contestants are scored on such questions as the date when "under God" was inserted into the Pledge of Allegiance, how many times the word "God" appears in the U.S. Constitution, if the Constitution requires a religious test for public office, and the religious affiliation of the students who contested school football prayers before the Supreme Court last summer.
"Would the typical candidate for public office pass our basic quiz? We doubt it!" commented Foundation spokesperson Dan Barker. "Public officials take an oath of office to uphold our secular Constitution but do they even know what's in it?"
If you're not on the 'Net but are interested in obtaining the written quiz and answers, please send your request with a self-addressed, stamped envelope to: Quiz, FFRF, PO Box 750, Madison WI 53701.
While a ministerial student at old Howard College, I heard a piece of wisdom that has stuck with me: Be wary of preachers whose sermons never stray far from the sins of adultery and fornication. They have illicit sex on the brain.
--History Prof. Wayne Flynt
"Are you voting with me, Jesus?"
(Feb. 13, 2000)
To see the gods dispelled in mid-air and dissolve like clouds is one of the great human experiences.
"Two or Three Ideas," 1951
Charles Norman's Poets on Poetry
(Free Press, 1962)
(Submitted by Dudley Duncan)
Our conviction about what is natural or right should not inhibit the role of science in discovering the truth--rather it should inform our judgment about the implications and consequences of the truth science uncovers.
--Tony Blair, British Prime Minister
European Bioscience Conference
(Associated Press, Nov. 18, 2000)
The laws about why discrimination [against gays and lesbians], even revulsion and hatred, are justified have begun to fall away. What remains is largely inchoate, or biblical.
--Columnist Anna Quindlen
(Sept. 10, 2000)
The day after Joseph Lieberman's now-infamous remarks on religion to a black congregation in Detroit, I got a call from Fox TV network inviting me to appear on "The O'Reilly Factor."
As I had never heard of this show, I couldn't help asking the polite assistant: "The host isn't one of these 'hate radio' types, is he?" I was assured that Mr. O'Reilly belonged more in the "devil's advocate" category.
I was the only guest interviewed via satellite hook-up at a local studio for a five-minute opening segment, taped that afternoon and airing that night. The taping started with Bill O'Reilly's opening editorial, called "Talking Points."
He called it "ridiculous" and "madness" to contend it is "dangerous" to "talk about God and to pray in public," attacking the recent court decision against student-led football prayers in public schools. "Spirituality is a positive in our selfish society and if that opinion hurts somebody's feelings, I'm not sorry at all." Then he introduced me, and the fireworks began.
Although I felt brow-beaten during the quick interview, I left the studio mostly bemused.
At 7 p.m. we turned on the TV to watch how it came off. A teaser on Lieberman, O'Reilly's editorial and my interview started the show. When an increasingly excited O'Reilly proceeded to call me "crazy" for correctly stating there were no prayers at the Constitutional Convention, my shocked 24-year-old stepdaughter Kristi loyally exclaimed, "Dad, you shouldn't let him treat her that way!" Even cool and collected Dan shook his head in amazement.
I have to admit I was surprised when my November Brill's Content informed me that O'Reilly appears on its list of this year's top 50 influential members of the media, and that his book is on the New York Times bestseller list. I thought readers might be interested in what O'Reilly's "influential" views are. Here is the transcript from the interview:
O'Reilly: Now our story tonight: Senator Joseph Lieberman's spirituality on the campaign trail. Some people don't like the fact that he often talks about God.
(Videotape of Lieberman in a church, saying, "I hope that it will reinforce a belief, that I feel as strongly as anything else, that there must be a place for faith in America's public life.")
(Different cutaway of Lieberman: "The profound and ultimately most important reality is that we are not only citizens of this blessed country, we are children of the same awesome God.")
O'Reilly: Joining us now from Madison, Wisconsin, is Annie Laurie Gaylor, co-founder of the Freedom From Religion Foundation. So you have a beef with Senator Lieberman?
Gaylor: We certainly do, because Senator Lieberman is saying that there is no freedom from religion under our Constitution, and that is implying that there is no right to reject religion, and that freethinkers--atheists and agnostics--are somehow "less equal" than believers.
O'Reilly: I didn't hear him say that, Ms. Gaylor.
Gaylor: Yes, he said there is freedom of religion but no freedom from religion.
O'Reilly: But I didn't hear him say that nonbelievers were less equal than believers, did you?
Gaylor: This is certainly the implication--
O'Reilly: Oh, the implication? Okay. All right, go ahead.
Gaylor: And he's also courting and sparking a very divisive public debate on religion, saying things like morality is based on a belief in God, and our nation is based on a belief in God, and it makes me wonder if Senator Lieberman is running for Vice-Rabbi rather than Vice-President.
O'Reilly: All right. But if 90% of the population of America believes in God, as they do, the polls show that, and if the founding fathers based the legal system on Judeo-Christian tradition--
O'Reilly: --which they did--
Gaylor: No, they certainly didn't.
O'Reilly: Oh, yes they did. I mean, look. Anybody who reads history, who reads the letters of Thomas Jefferson to James Madison, knows that the framers of the Constitution took into account the Ten Commandments and basing the religious aspect of the government, in the sense that they say this is right, this is wrong, this is what they do and this is what they don't do.
Gaylor: No, I think that Senator Lieberman and you, possibly, have never read our U.S. Constitution--
O'Reilly: Yes, I have.
Gaylor: It is a godless Constitution, and the only references to religion in it are exclusionary. And if you contrast our Bill of Rights, which is couched in positives, the rights we have, versus the Ten Commandments, which are all negative, I think you can see no comparison. There is no religion in our Constitution, and we should be proud of the fact that we were the first country to adopt a secular Constitution.
O'Reilly: Well, look. In every meeting of the framers they had a prayer.
Gaylor: No, that was--
O'Reilly: Yes, they did!
O'Reilly: Yes, they did! In the records of the meetings there is the prayer, Ms. Gaylor.
Gaylor: No, no. Ben Franklin said that they should pray and there was nobody else who wanted to and it's in his records--
O'Reilly: That's not true, that's absolutely not true.
Gaylor: You're confusing the Articles of Confederation with--
O'Reilly: George Washington, in George Washington's letters--the Articles of Confederation I'm not confusing with the Constitution. I know the difference. In George Washington's letters about the formation of the government, God is mentioned all the time.
Now, Senator Lieberman. We may disagree on this and I'm not saying that you're not entitled to your opinion, but I'm quoting historical documents, and if you're going to say that I'm wrong, I'm going to say you're crazy.
But, in this case, Senator Lieberman is basically saying, exercising his freedom of speech, by giving his opinion of what America is and should be. What's wrong with that?
Gaylor: He has crossed the line, not only of what is proper for a politician but what is good manners. I mean we've all been told you don't bring up religion at a party or social gathering, and he's simply pandering. And he's running as Mr. Holier-Than-Thou--
O'Reilly: Wait a minute, wait a minute.
Gaylor: --to pander to voters.
O'Reilly: Let's make it a little personal. If I run for office and I say, you know, one of the reasons I want to be in a position of power is to help other people, because I'm a follower of Jesus Christ and that's what he did, am I wrong?
Gaylor: Well, I think that is what George Bush has said, and many people are very alarmed--
O'Reilly: Are you? Would you say I would be wrong to say that?
Gaylor: I think that if you, at every opportunity, would preach at people who are basically a captive audience, using--
O'Reilly: No, I'm not preaching, I'm just saying I want to help people, because Jesus Christ did.
Gaylor: You are a public servant. You are running for an office that is paid with tax dollars--
Gaylor: --and you have no business telling people what religion they should--
O'Reilly: I'm not telling people anything. I'm telling you what I believe, and you're trying to deny my freedom to do that.
Gaylor: And I think that everyone should beware of pious politicians--
O'Reilly: Well, that's fine.
Gaylor: And it does raise the question, why does Senator Lieberman--
O'Reilly: But you take it further, Ms. Gaylor. You take it further.
O'Reilly: You say they shouldn't be able to say that, and that's wrong.
Gaylor: No, I'm saying it's inappropriate. And I think that he has crossed the line, and it is time for the public to say enough of this! We want to hear your views on politics. We don't need to hear your views on--
O'Reilly: Well, Ms. Gaylor, we respect your opinion. I think you're absolutely dead wrong about your history and I hope you'll go back and read it, and perhaps we'll have another discussion.
Gaylor: Read the Constitution!
O'Reilly: I have, many times. Thank you very much for appearing.
For the record, of course I think candidates may express, but should not campaign on, their views on religion, although I prefer the Bill Bradleys of the world who keep it to themselves.
After the show aired, I went out for some errands. When I got back, Kristi informed me a woman had gone to the trouble of hunting me down and calling long distance to argue. When Kristi told her I wasn't home, she tried to argue with Kristi, saying I was too ignorant to be allowed on "national TV," and concluding her rant with this clincher before slamming down the phone: "You tell that Annie Laurie Gaylor for me that she gives blondes a bad name!" (Which is a neat trick, considering I'm not blond.)
I was surprised how many acquaintances caught the show. We also heard from people around the country who wanted to learn more about our group, and received an email from Nat Hentoff, who kindly faxed his column to us on the Lieberman matter.
Liz Uhr, a longtime volunteer at our office (and one of the smartest and best-read women of my acquaintance), had the moxie to tune in the show the following day, convinced O'Reilly would have to retract. She turned out to be right in her hunch, although the "retraction" left something to be desired.
"Well, I hope you saw our report last night about politics and religion," O'Reilly said. "I was so steamed after the segment that I decided to make it the subject of this evening's Talking Points memo. My guest was Annie Laurie Gaylor, the co-founder of the Freedom From Religion Foundation. Ms. Gaylor's contention is that the founding fathers wanted no spirituality whatsoever associated with the governance of America. I said she was flat out wrong.
"Now after the program I went home and hit my library." What followed was self-serving, but O'Reilly did sneak into the middle of it a semi-mea culpa: "The Constitution itself is a secular document. . ."
Sometimes, in this business of educating about the separation of church and state, we have to be content with tiny victories.
Annie Laurie Gaylor is editor of Freethought Today, and lives in Madison, Wisconsin.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has grown tenfold since World War II, making it one of the fastest growing U.S. sects. Although it only has a worldwide membership of 11 million--more than half outside the United States--Mormons outrank Presbyterians and Episcopalians combined in North America.
According to a cover story ("The Mormon Way: How a Utah-based church became the world's fastest-growing religion," U.S. News & World Report, Nov. 13), unnamed "experts say Latter-day Saints could number 265 million worldwide by 2080, second only to Roman Catholics among Christian bodies."
Journalists Richard N. Ostling and Joan K. Ostling in their 1999 Mormon America: The Power and the Promise estimate the church's assets at $25-$30 billion, with annual revenue approaching $6 billion. The required tithing of 10 percent of followers' incomes accounts for about $6 billion a year. Its real estate holdings, including more than 12,000 churches and opulent temples, are valued in the billions.
In his book The American Religion (1992), Harold Bloom wrote that "Mormon financial and political power is exerted in Washington to a degree far beyond what one would expect from one voter in 50." That political influence includes killing chances to pass the Equal Rights Amendment in the past, and vociferous antigay and antiabortion lobbying today.
In Salt Lake City, the church finagled the acquisition of a public plaza next to its headquarters, which the ACLU is challenging, saying Mormon repression there is "a little bit of Beijing." Through complicated corporate takeovers, the church is trying to kill off the independent Salt Lake Tribune, a competitor with its poorly-faring afternoon daily.
"The nation will not always be only 2 percent Mormon. The Saints outlive the rest of us, have more children than all but a few American groups, and convert on a grand scale, both here and abroad. . . . Their future is immense," prophesies Bloom.
If this sounds grim, just remember: there are, at the moment, more nonreligious in the world than Mormons.
Priest and AIDS Update
In a follow-up to its January report on Catholic priests dying of AIDS, the Kansas City Star in November reported that the AIDS-related death rate among priests "exceeds earlier estimates."
In its three-part January series, the Star had reported that "hundreds of priests had died of AIDS-related illnesses and that hundreds more were living with the virus that causes the disease." The Star reported that follow-up research based on family interviews and death certificates found an additional 300 AIDS-related priest deaths.
The newspaper was stymied in its research by the fact that nearly two-thirds of states do not disclose death records. In the 14 states allowing the Star access, the newspaper found the rate of AIDS-related deaths by priests was "more than double" the rate among adult males in those states, and six times the rate among the general population.
"There is no longer any question that hundreds of priests have died of AIDS and that many bishops were aware of their plights," the newspaper concluded.
The Church of England revealed this year that at least 25% of its priests had died of AIDS-related illnesses, mandating in September that all Anglican bishops in southern Africa undergo HIV testing.
A complaint last year by the Freedom From Religion Foundation is being credited with the absence of a nativity scene from the lawn of the courthouse in Batavia, New York.
The nativity display has been erected by the Jaycees, who, without going through administrative channels, placed the large scene on the public lawn for many years, with the city providing lighting. A councilwoman last year objected to the display, but was overruled by other council members.
After being contacted by area Foundation member Walter McBurney, the Foundation wrote Batavia officials, pointing out the obvious: the display "is in direct violation of the U.S. Supreme Court decision specifically barring nativity scenes from city hall entrances and property."
The Foundation cited the U.S. Supreme Court decision of County of Allegheny v. ACLU-Greater Pittsburgh Chapter (1989), which held:
"The government may acknowledge Christmas as a cultural phenomenon, but under the First Amendment it may not observe it as a Christian holy day by suggesting that people praise God for the birth of Jesus."
"The City of Batavia needs to obey the highest law of the land, honor the constitutional principle of separation of church and state, and respect the rights of conscience of all its citizens by telling the Jaycees to place the display where it belongs--on private property," Annie Laurie Gaylor wrote Batavia officials on behalf of the Foundation and its complainant.
The Daily News reported on Dec. 1 that the Jaycees had done just that, placing the Christian worship display in front of Oliver's Candies.
The same paper editorialized on December 7 that the "Creche move is a good move": "Its new home has better lighting, and it is more visible than it was at its previous home. And there's no possibility of confusing state and church."
It pays to complain!
Whether you want to admit it or not, there are times when you just have to feel sorry for god. Consider, if you will, that since the creation the almighty has been trying to establish some type of delivery system, some form of reliable communication whereby he can get "the word" out to his clones here on planet earth. But to date all attempts have met with unlimited, unqualified and unrelenting failure.
Poor god. It has got to be nothing but pure unadulterated, exhausting and overwhelming frustration on his part. Can you imagine how totally mortified and humiliated he must feel? Here he is this all-knowing, all-seeing, all-powerful superbeing with all the resources of the cosmos at his disposal and he can't even get a few simple laws and commandments through one quarter of an inch of human skull. Nothing penetrates. No matter what he tries, no matter how routine or how elaborate the plan of attack the result is always the same--complete and abject failure.
Poor god. Look, for example, at the number of times he has tried to communicate via the written word. No matter if he pens his message on stone tablets, gold plates, papyrus, parchment, leather, paper or what have you the end result is always the same--misunderstanding, confusion, contradiction, uncertainty and frustration.
Poor god. Over the centuries he's put his moniker on everything from epistles, encyclicals, gospels, journals, letters, missiles, parables, poems, tracts, treatises, short stories, long stories, holy books and sacred books. He's even written, or inspired madmen to write, different books for different people and different religions in different countries using different languages, different dialects and even different terminology. To add to the continuing chaos every one of his words, each and every inspired work, has been altered, amended, annotated, changed, compiled, copied, corrected, edited, interpreted, revised, transcribed, transformed, translated, cleaned-up, touched-up, updated and sanitized to such a degree that even god himself doesn't know what he said, if he did indeed say it, when he said it or even if he meant what he said when he supposedly said it.
Poor god. Now, because this omnipotent being, this great communicator in the sky, has had such a dismal and disappointing experience with the written word, the spoken word is now, once again, the latest wrinkle in the communication gambit. There was a time when only those of a status of a Moses or a Mohammed ever conversed with god. Face to face encounters were truly miraculous. But now the number of pious parasites has multiplied and holy hucksters of every ilk routinely speak to god, with god and for god.
Today it has degenerated to such a low point that anyone and everyone, regardless of which side of the asylum wall they happen to be standing on, is having a running conversation and a one-on-one relationship with their very own personal savior. But much like before, not surprisingly, everyone is hearing and receiving a different and conflicting message. Currently it's just one big funny farm--the only thing missing are the rubber rooms and the canvas kimonos. Today the din of the deluded is deafening and all-consuming.
God has created a monster in his own image and likeness and the monster is not only out of control and running amok but is reproducing and replicating like a virus--and because god can't effectively communicate with it he can't control it.
Poor god. He's made such a mess out of everything. But then he always does. Fortunately for god, however, when he gets tired and fed up with the messes he makes he just finds himself a new sandbox and starts the process up all over again. While we, on the other hand, have to stay behind and put up with his repeated and never-ending failures. Poor us.
The writer is an artist and Life Member from Florida.