By Keith Taylor
To start with, I am neither evil nor unpatriotic. I served my county, in uniform, for 22 years, 9 months and 11 days.
As a Navy cryptologist, both enlisted and as an officer, I held the nation’s highest security clearance. I have voted in almost every election since Truman and Eisenhower.
As a civilian, I do the requisite community work to be considered a good citizen. The local Optimist group once dubbed me Optimist of the Year. I participate in elections, often walking the precinct for candidates of my choice. I make phone calls, at my own expense, to people in the battleground states.
I believe in the First Amendment so much that I have used it to defend my opinion on a myriad of things. For many years, hundreds of my opinions appeared in Navy Times, a Gannett weekly. Not all pleased everybody, but all were based on verified facts. Other pieces appeared in papers and magazines across the country. I could go on and on, but you get the idea.
I insist I’m a good citizen, even a thinking one. Still, I carry the onus of not being worthy of respect, and it is for a very strange reason: I just cannot swallow stories such as the Earth being created in seven days, a woman talking to a snake or that whopper about a man living in the belly of a big fish for three days.
I am an atheist.
Nor am I mollified by the 21st century claims such as, “Oh, they’re just apocryphal. You don’t need to take them literally.” Oh no? Ask any kid about the stories they teach him in Sunday school.
Defense of weird ideas comes with attacks on science and scientists. By the fourth century, Alexandria, Egypt, was home to the most impressive library ever seen. It held scientific and historical documents, many of which contradicted bible stories.
The custodian of the library was Hypatia, a mathematician and scientist. Carl Sagan, the magnificent chronicler of science, told us Hypatia was beset by a mob, followers of Cyril, the archbishop of Alexandria. The mob raked her flesh from her body with abalone shells. This magnificent woman was mostly forgotten.
Cyril was made a saint.
To this day, publicly denying a belief in the “accepted” religion of any area will ensure one’s never being able to hold office. This is as true of Christianity as it is of Islam, Buddhism or any other religion.
Say you’re an atheist just once and your world changes. The Boy Scouts won’t have you. According to polls, more than half our population would not vote for you, not even if you were as smart as Einstein, as wise as Bertrand Russell or as uniquely American as Mark Twain.
It matters not that atheists in general are in league with the members of what is arguably our country’s most prestigious group, the National Academy of Sciences. According to a recent poll, 93% of its members do not believe in a personal god. Such observations are blithely dismissed with the old bromide, “Oh, scientists don’t know everything.”
Of course they don’t, and every scientist has to realize that, but they do not have to believe in myths.
About half the country seems to agree with former president Richard Nixon. Some years ago he replied to a question that he did not think a person could be president without a belief in God.
His vice president and successor as president emphasized it further. In 1988, George H.W. Bush was asked by a Chicago atheist journalist about his views on atheism. Bush replied that in his opinion atheists couldn’t be patriotic.
The comment has been repeated across the country, even in The New York Times. Bush has never denied it.
The consensus is everybody has to believe in something, and that something better be supernatural.
The country which has idolized the man who said, “I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death” now demands we all follow the same course when it comes to accepting things without proof.
Keith Taylor, Chula Vista, Calif., is a retired U.S. Navy officer and past president of the San Diego Association for Rational Inquiry.
“I hope and suspect that you have not moved into unnecessary confusion,” read my grandfather’s letter in troubled script.
I am “blessed” in the statistical sense to have a father, who, despite being a church elder, will agree to read and discuss selections of Richard Dawkins’ writing after only mild coercion, and a mother who volunteers as a Sunday School teacher only out of a profound desire to avoid interaction with the vociferous social conservatives who frequent the adult classes.
I suppose it is fitting that my grandfather’s Presbyterian ministry embraces an idealistic simplification of God as the embodiment of love and not the terrifying entity that his denominational fellows theorize entertains himself by dangling sinners over a flaming abyss.
But despite my grandfather’s remarkable open-mindedness, he was alarmed when my father inadvertently revealed that I, his supposedly pious granddaughter — whom he personally baptized with water he collected from the Jordan River — was not the staunch Christian he anticipated.
When his concerned letter arrived a few weeks later, my parents advised me to downplay the issue for convenience. Couldn’t I, they pleaded, simply feign agreement? Easy for them to say.
The early emergence of my atheism could stunt my relationship with my grandfather. Here I was presented with the perfect gateway to honest, open dialogue. Besides, as a casual skim through the Old Testament will reveal, lying has adverse consequences.
So began our tense correspondence, an ongoing dialogue on belief. In a stream of lengthy letters, he expressed his confusion over why, in my WASP-y world free of creationism, homophobia, sexism and the other oft-targeted shortcomings of religion, I am so opposed to the church.
I desperately tried to articulate that his beloved moderate institutions, though conceivably palatable, enforce the notion of religion as an indispensable component of society, thus shielding fundamentalist faiths from criticism and letting hordes of potentially great future scientists and thinkers receive a life of miseducation under the guise of respect for religious diversity.
He remained steadfast in his belief that Christian education spreads essential virtues. I found myself struggling to find a delicate way to express that my Sunday School experience enlightened me only to new techniques of eye-rolling.
I labored over each letter so as to completely address his questions while remaining both respectful of his life’s work. Amid piles of discarded drafts, I questioned whether it was my place to express even courteous disapproval over this wise, gentle man’s philosophy. Awaiting his responses, I imagined him poring over my tortured writings, insulted and mired in disappointment.
At his funeral, I sat sobbing in a sea of Presbyterian ministers arguing over the mechanics of when, in the biblically unaddressed circumstance of a fatal coma, the soul leaves the body. “Are you the atheist?” demanded one of the many pastors there. “Your grandfather used to read parts of your letters at some of our meetings. It meant so much to him that one of his grandchildren took an interest in discussing the subject.”
In a sense far different from the one my grandfather had in mind, he had absolved me of “unnecessary confusion.” I now know with certainty that no decent individual will see ignominy in freethought or free dialogue.
Abigail Dove, 18, Collegeville, Pa., was valedictorian at Perkiomen Valley High School and is attending Swarthmore College to major in neuroscience and minor in cognitive science.
Name: Lisa Strand.
Where and when I was born: I was born and raised in Wisconsin, sometime before the Summer of Love, but not so much before as to have enjoyed it.
Education: I have a B.A. in political science from the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities.
Family: My husband and I have been married for nearly 17 years, and we have an 11-year-old daughter. Therefore, we also have two cats and a guinea pig, and we’re lobbied regularly for a puppy.
My previous job responsibilities were: I’ve been in not-for-profit (association) management for about 25 years, including serving for 15 years as executive director of the Wisconsin Library Association. I’ve also served in volunteer leadership roles for several nonprofit organizations.
It was hard to leave WLA (librarians are more fun than you can imagine), but I was looking for a new challenge, and I’m so glad for the opportunity at FFRF.
What I do at FFRF: As the newest staff member, I’m still learning and developing my role as director of operations. In a nutshell, I’ll be taking on a lot of the day-to-day management of the office so that Annie Laurie and Dan can be freed for more strategic duties that will further FFRF’s mission.
What I like best about it here: The people! Annie Laurie and Dan and the entire staff here are just great — so knowledgeable and professional. I had the opportunity to meet one-on-one with each of my co-workers during my first two weeks here, and they made me feel so welcomed. They have continued to help me learn the ropes with great patience.
I spend a lot of time thinking about: The pragmatic, rather than the philosophical.
I spend no time thinking about: Eternal damnation.
My religious upbringing was: In a rural, Norwegian Lutheran church, complete with annual lutefisk suppers and basement church ladies.
My doubts about religion started: I was probably about 13 when I thought it seemed very unlikely that, say, rural Chinese would have the “benefit” of learning about Christ and why should they be punished with hell?
Things I like: Gardening, household projects, work, fun with my family, animals, knitting, reading, being outside.
Things I smite: I have many pet peeves, but I don’t smite much.
I met local attorney Peter Martin at a First Amendment meeting during “Occupy,” when he mentioned that he was concerned about the prayers before our city council in Eureka, Calif. He said he would work on the issue but needed a plaintiff. Of course, I volunteered and promptly forgot all about it.
Peter filed the complaint/lawsuit on Jan. 25. The lawsuit simply asks the council to stop having an invocation, sectarian or not, before meetings, and for Mayor Frank Jager to stop holding “Mayor’s Prayer Breakfasts.” He held one last year and had another scheduled for Feb. 7.
The second prayer breakfast was held, although this year (likely spurred by the lawsuit), a rental fee of $700 was charged for use of the city-owned building. Last year, space was provided for free.
The issue made the front page of the local paper Jan. 31. The council did not make a decision on how to proceed at its Feb. 5 meeting. At this time, it looks like Mayor Jager wants to contest the lawsuit, but the decision will be made by the council and the city manager. Fighting it will cost the city a lot, and I really hope they will just drop the invocation.
There has not been an invocation at the last few meetings, so just stopping prayer should not be a big step. Under a former mayor, and with threats from the ACLU, there were no invocations at council meetings for a couple of years. This just started under Mayor Jager and a new city attorney.
There have been many letters to the editor, some supporting the lawsuit and me personally (as I am well-known in our small town} and some from the “usual suspects” who write about the wonders of prayer. Most have been quite civil. I’m very proud of our community, as I have had not one nasty phone call, and my number is right there in the phone book.
[Editor’s note: The Jan. 28 North Coast Journal quoted the mayor as saying, “Peter Martin, he’s a good buddy of mine. We’ll invite him to the prayer breakfast. And if he doesn’t come, we’ll pray for him.”]
Name: Carole Beaton.
Where I live: Eureka, Calif., on the beautiful Redwood Coast. We have glorious scenery, boatloads of artists, great food and perfect weather — plus a very accepting and diverse community.
Where and when I was born: Spooner, Wis., in 1945, but I grew up in Phoenix.
Family: My only family is my wonderful life partner of almost 25 years, Will Dvorak. We met on a century bike ride (that’s 100 miles), and have been riding together (and not just on the bike) ever since. Our “kids” are our 10 cats.
Education: B.A.’s in psychology and education and an M.A. in special education, plus about four more years of “continuing education.” In spite of all this “education” I consider myself self-educated. I learned to think sitting in catechism class when I was a child trying to figure out what all the nonsense was about, and I have educated myself by reading everything I could get my hands on all my life. With modern technology, I can even “read” audio books while walking and driving.
Occupation: I quit my paying job to pay to work (really). I was a teacher for 36 years in the public school system. I have taught regular primary students, juvenile delinquents (in Los Angeles) for 13 years and retired after 17 years as a resource specialist teacher in Eureka.
Now I “pay” to work as co-founder and co-director of an animal welfare nonprofit. We assist in spay/neuter surgeries, and I started and coordinate the “Animeals” program for our local senior center. Every week, seniors who get home-delivered meals also get pet food delivered. I get much of the food donated, and I deliver about half of it myself. Gas and pet food is expensive, not to mention all the other expensive animal situations where I end up with the bill.
How I got where I am today: Here I am in a nice (paid for) house with a great man, 10 cats and a meaningful avocation. How did I manage this? Lots of hard work and lots of luck. No god required.
Where I’m headed: At age 67, I expect I’ll end up decomposing within the next decade or two. In the meantime, I plan to keep active by walking at least five miles several days a week, riding our tandem at least 100 miles a week, and especially continuing my animal welfare work. Will and I plan to be buried “naturally” in the same plot to decompose together and eventually return to the universe.
Person in history I admire: Paul Robeson (1898-1976). If you haven’t heard of or know much about him, find out. His son, Paul Jr., wrote two excellent books about this black genius who was destroyed by the government because of his “socialism” and because he loved Russia and sent his son to school there to be treated like anyone else. In Russia, race was not an issue.
Paul Robeson was one of the most famous men in the world in the ’30s, ’40s and ’50s. Most Americans now have never heard of him.
A quotation I like: “The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.” (Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion)
These are a few of my favorite things: Riding our tandem around beautiful Humboldt County, walking in our cool, clean air, reading books and listening to audiobooks, watching educational documentaries on the couch with Will and our cats each evening. Helping low-income people with their beloved pets adds real meaning to my life and is probably my most important favorite thing. It helps pets and people and the whole community.
Pet peeves: Standardized testing (I was lucky to work when I could still teach my students to think), religion infiltrating government on all levels, wars and incompetent journalists.
My doubts about religion started: When I started Catholic school in third grade because my not-too-religious parents wanted me to get a good education. Their money was wasted because I spent all day doing long division and writing my spelling words 100 times a day, etc., but the 45 minutes of catechism really did “educate” me. I’m a born skeptic, so nothing they taught in religion class made any sense to me. It scared me and gave me nightmares because I didn’t believe all the stuff these smart adults believed.
As a child, I started to learn all I could about sociology and anthropology and was surprised to find out there were many different ways to live. Margaret Mead’s books and James Michener’s Hawaii finished the job. I have been openly nonreligious since I was about 16. (It was fine with my parents because they just went to church for social reasons and really regretted putting me through the ordeal.)
Why I’m a freethinker: I can’t take any credit. I was born thinking for myself. I have always defied society’s norms for women of my generation. I am child-free by choice, got an education, worked for 36 years. I’ve never let a man pay for my dinner. My company is not for sale.
I have to give the Catholic Church some credit, however. Their absurd dogma was what really got me thinking and made me the good atheist that I am.
Ways I promote freethought: I try to be gentle and funny. When people thank me for spaying their cat and say, “God bless you!” I may say, “Thanks for the nice thought, but I don’t think God will be blessing an atheist!” When someone says, “Thank God for the bag of dog food!” I may say, “Thank Petco, they donated the food!”
When I’m in a situation where I’m doing good work and someone praises me, I may say, “Yup, you don’t need a god to be good!” I never argue with anyone and always try to smile. (I do stick FFRF nontracts on the windshields of cars sporting too many religious bumper stickers.)
Josef Ratzinger, aka Pope Benedict XVI, announced Feb. 11 he would abdicate his papacy and position as Vatican head of state on Feb. 28. He’s the first pope to quit his job since Gregory XII in 1415. Benedict, 85, was elected in April 2005 when he was 78.
It’s unlikely there’s a Wallis War-field Simpson waiting in the wings like there was for England’s King Edward VI. Benedict, in abdicating and giving up his papal state of infallibility, said he would continue to serve the church “through a life dedicated to prayer.”
Official sources attributed the move to the pope’s frail health. He’s nearly blind in his left eye, has a pacemaker, has fallen several times recently and is unable to walk for more than a short distance.
Other sources suspect there are other reasons. According to the Italian newspaper La Repubblica, the decision was due at least in part to the contents of an internal report revealing significant adultery and theft problems in the Vatican.
La Repubblica’s report said the information was “all about the breach of the sixth and seventh commandments,” referring to commandments that followers neither steal or commit adultery. The theft reference may be about questionable practices at the Vatican’s Bank, which was hit with accusations of theft and money-laundering that forced its chairman to quit last year. In December, the papal butler was convicted of theft. Benedict visited him in jail and pardoned him.
Michael D’Antonio, author of Mortal Sins, Sex, Crime, and the Era of Catholic Scandal, had a piece on Huffington Post headlined “Immunity for Rome’s Rottweiler: Why The Pope Resigned.”
Valid health reasons are certainly part of the story, D’Antonio wrote, “but they are the least relevant elements. More significant is the evidence linking crimes to the Vatican. In the abuse scandal, all roads do lead to Rome. By stepping down now, and allowing for someone untouched by the cover-up scheme to take his place, Benedict can save the papacy from a direct confrontation with criminal authorities. His choice is the perfect one for a man who reached the highest point in the clerical culture of privilege.”
In September 2011 at the Hague, sexual abuse victims presented 20,000 pages of documents linking the cover-up to the highest levels of the Vatican.
Ratzinger was at the center of the church response to the scandal as a cardinal heading the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, “formerly the Inquisition,” D’Antonio wrote wryly.
— Bill Dunn
The bible is replete with instructions. Our laws of our land come from the bible. It’s frightening to think how lawless this land might be were we not to have guidance given in that book.
Bill Clayton, Common Council member in Rapid City, S.D., where FFRF sent a letter of complaint about meeting prayers
Rapid City Journal, 2-6-13
Introducing our brand new website: When firewalls fail, rely on the Holy Spirit. No antivirus software protects your computer for the full 100%. There’s always a chance something unforeseen strikes down. We designed a label that keeps your computer from any digital harm. The label was blessed by the Archbishop of Seville, hometown of the Internet’s own patron saint, St. Isidore.
Online blurb for Leo Burnett ad agency in Brussels
There is no other county in Florida that has even talked about or even done anything about prayer in schools. But maybe we can revitalize [prayer] and be proactive versus reactive.
Flagler County School Board member John Fischer, Bunnell, Fla., calling for prayers in schools and at board meetings to counteract “all this hate”
Daytona Beach News-Journal 2-8-13
Praying for our president, who today will place his hands on a Bible he does not believe to take an oath to a God he likely does not know.
Tweet by Mars Hill Church Pastor Mark Driscoll, Seattle, on President Barack Obama taking the oath of office
Stand Up America Now is calling for a nationwide burning of effigies and images of President Hussein Obama to express our disgust for him, his policies and his continuous lying to the American people. He is destroying the moral and financial fiber of our country.
Florida Pastor Terry Jones, Dove World Outreach Center press release, in which he asks for similar treatment of effigies of former President Bill Clinton
Do you have to tell that you once had diarrhea? It’s embarrassing but nobody’s business.
Chabad Rabbi Manis Friedman, dispensing advice on whether to admit child sex abuse to a girlfriend
Jewish Telegraphic Agency, 2-1-13
There are predators lurking among us, trying to sow the bacteria of civil marriage in Lebanon, but they should know that the religious scholars will not hesitate to do their duty and prevent the passage of such a bill.
Fatwa issued by Sunni Grand Mufti Shaikh Mohammad Rashid Qabbani in Beirut
Gulf News, 1-29-13
God, without knowledge of you, they cannot possibly lead with the righteous rule. We ask you, God, to change hearts and where hearts refuse to change, we ask you to replace these people.
Former South Dakota state senator Gordon Howie, now CEO of the conservative Christian Life & Liberty Group, leading prayer at the State Capitol during a two-hour Restoration Prayer Rally
Rapid City Journal, 1-12-13
He rewards those who diligently seek Him, not just for one moment, or one day, but for every moment, and every day. As Christians, we place our faith in the nail-scarred hands of Jesus Christ. But so many other Americans also know the close embrace of faith —Muslims and Jews, Hindus and Sikhs. And all Americans, whether religious or secular, have a deep and abiding faith in this nation.
President Barack Obama, speaking at the National Prayer Breakfast at the Washington Hilton
Do you think using an iPad bible app for a New Jersey firefighters swearing-in ceremony breaks too much from tradition?
Question posed at the end of a news story on the oath of office taken at City Hall in Atlantic City by new fire captains and battalion chiefs
[Answering whether she thinks gays have a purpose in life]: No, I honestly don’t. Sorry, but I don’t. I don’t understand it. A gay person isn’t going to come up and make some change unless it’s to realize that it was a choice and they’re choosing God.”
Diana Medley, Indiana public high school special education teacher, speaking at a church in favor of a ban on lesbians and gays at a neighboring district’s prom
On behalf of Americans everywhere, Michelle and I wish to extend our appreciation and prayers to His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI. Michelle and I warmly remember our meeting with the Holy Father in 2009, and I have appreciated our work together over these last four years. The Church plays a critical role in the United States and the world, and I wish the best to those who will soon gather to choose His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI’s successor.
President Barack Obama, statement on the pope’s resignation
We want to give this message to our youths that in an environment where devilish civilization is hoodwinking the Muslim women in the name of so-called freedom, we should be steadfast to guard the culture of modesty.
Asadullah Bhutto, head of Jammat-e-Islami, Pakistan’s largest Islamic party, urging celebration of Hijab Day instead of Valentine’s Day
Luke 22:36 very clearly — and this is Jesus speaking — said, quote: “If you have a purse take it and buy a bag, and if you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one.”
Washington state Rep. Matt Shea, R-Spokane Valley, imagining at a committee hearing what Jesus would say about proposed gun violence bills
Seattle Spokesman-Review, 2-13-13
The foundational belief of Christianity is that Jesus was resurrected from death, an event that is commemorated at Easter each year. As the most important celebration in Christendom, Easter is focused on the risen savior as a guarantee of everlasting life for believers.
The 10 themes enumerated below provide the historical, cultural and theological context for understanding the Easter observance.
• The name Easter derives from the Anglo-Saxon goddess of spring — Eostre or Ostara — whereas the Christian festival that celebrates Jesus’ resurrection developed from the Jewish Passover and includes prominent vestiges of Roman paganism.
• The annual Christian commemoration of the resurrected savior is held on the first Sunday after the first full moon that occurs on or after March 21 and before April 25, a method of calculation that was decreed by the First Council of Nicaea in 325 CE.
• The Easter celebration evolved from the Jewish Passover observance, which was adapted from earlier Canaanite festivals that included the slaughter of a lamb, which was related by the Hebrew priests to deliverance of the Jews from bondage in Egypt, i.e., they were saved by the blood of the lamb.
• Jesus died on Passover after sharing a “Last Supper” or Passover meal with his disciples, thereby serving as a redeeming blood sacrifice represented as the Paschal Lamb or the Lamb of God. Jesus instructed his followers to observe the Lord’s Supper on that day in remembrance of him.
• The Christian observance also incorporates major elements of the festival of Attis, which was celebrated in March by Roman pagans. The yearly ritual included the crucifixion of an effigy and the enactment of an empty tomb, demonstrating that Attis was resurrected and providing assurance that devotees would achieve immortality.
• Crucifixion was invented by the Phoenicians and subsequently adopted by the Assyrians, Egyptians, Persians and later by the Romans. The original procedure entailed securing the criminal to a vertical stake and allowing him to die slowly of thirst and exposure.
• Some scholars assert that Jesus was crucified on a vertical stake, not a cross, because the Greek words used in the bible translate as “torture stake” or “execution stake.” Christian tradition says it was a cross because a dozen pagan savior gods were crucified on crosses, two of them between two thieves.
• The cross was a widely used religious symbol found in various early cultures, including Egyptian depictions of their gods, as well as by Hindus in India, Buddhists throughout Asia and by some American Indian tribes. There is no evidence of use of the cross by early Christians.
• The empty tomb story presented in the Gospels is not the first report of the Easter event, nor is it conclusive evidence of the resurrection claim. Two decades earlier, Paul described a series of appearances of the risen Jesus to more than 500 followers.
• Jesus’ resurrection was not a unique biblical occurrence, because at least eight and possibly 10 or more scriptural characters died and were subsequently restored to life by Jesus, his apostles, Hebrew patriarchs or some unspecified agent. Of course, the dozen pagan savior gods were also resurrected.
Brian Bolton, Texas, is an FFRF Lifetime Member who is a retired psychologist, humanist minister and university professor emeritus at the University of Arkansas. He endows FFRF’s graduate/mature student essay contest.
Mormons sponsor most Boy Scout troops
According to the Feb. 4 Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the Boy Scouts’ decision whether to accept gays would affect many churches. About 70% of Scout troops are sponsored by churches. The three largest religious sponsors are the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (37,000 units), the Methodist Church (11,000 units) and the Catholic Church (8,000 units). The most outspoken criticism of the proposed change has come from Baptist churches (4,000 units).
Own attorney causes church fetal pain
Catholic Health Initiatives and St. Thomas More Hospital in Cañon City, Colo., said Feb. 4 it was morally wrong for their attorneys to defend a malpractice case in the death of unborn twins by arguing Colorado law doesn’t consider fetuses to be persons, the Denver Post reported. CHI operates 170 health facilities in 17 states.
The state’s three Catholic bishops called for a review of litigation over the death of Lori Stodghill. She died while seven months pregnant with twin sons on Jan. 1, 2006. Stodghill’s husband, Jeremy, filed a wrongful death lawsuit, alleging the on-call obstetrician didn’t answer a page and didn’t tell the emergency room staff to perform a caesarean section, the Colorado Independent reported Jan. 23
Lori Stodghill, 31, died less than an hour after arriving at the hospital when a pulmonary artery became blocked, causing a heart attack. The twins died in her womb.
Attorney Jason Langley argued in a defense brief that the court “should not overturn the longstanding rule in Colorado that the term ‘person,’ as is used in the Wrongful Death Act, encompasses only individuals born alive. Colorado state courts define ‘person’ under the Act to include only those born alive. Therefore Plaintiffs cannot maintain wrongful death claims based on two unborn fetuses.”
Governor eyes dropping parish exemption
On Jan. 30, the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation published an analysis of Gov. Deval Patrick’s FY 2014 tax proposal, reported Religion Clause. “Among the 44 personal exemptions and deductions the governor proposes eliminating from the state income tax is the exemption for the rental value of parsonages provided to members of the clergy. It is estimated that the elimination of the parsonage allowance will increase state revenues by $2 million to $2.5 million.”
FFRF filed a suit in federal court in 2011 to challenge the parish exemption, which gives preferential tax benefits to “ministers of the gospel.” U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb ruled last Aug. 29 that FFRF had standing to challenge the 1954 law.
in stopping prayer
Ricky Smith, Danville, Ky., stated publicly he’s the person who met privately with Boyle County Judge-Executive Harold McKinney about Judeo-Christian prayers at public meetings. As a result, county magistrates voted to change the invocation to a “moment of silence.”
Smith, 46, was profiled in the Jan. 27 Central Kentucky News. He’s lived in the county all his life.
“Being expected to pray just to be a part of local government is not going to work for me, nor would it work for Jews, Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, pagans or Wiccans,” Smith said.
He’s also tried unsuccessfully several times to meet with Danville’s mayor about prayers at city commission meetings. Although he worked behind the scenes, Smith was “outed” online. He’s had a few harassing phone calls. “They’re getting downright mean,” Smith said.
“I’ve become a better person since I realized I was an atheist,” Smith told the paper. “I am much more tolerant now.”
Iceland boosts secular groups’ status
Iceland’s parliament, the Althing passed a law Jan. 30 giving secular groups the right to apply for equal legal status with religions.
“For the first time in Icelandic history, the government recognizes and guarantees equality between secular and religious life stances,” said Hope Knutsson, president of Sidmennt, the Icelandic Ethical Humanist Association. The law also provides that newborn babies will no longer automatically be registered into the religion of the mother, but rather according to the religious or life stance registration of both parents, and only if the registrations match.
Sidmennt members said it’s a human rights violation for government to be involved at all in registering people’s religious affiliations. The Evangelical Lutheran State Church enjoys special legal and financial status in Iceland.
war on yoga
The National Center for Law & Policy, a law firm focusing “on the protection and promotion of religious freedom, the sanctity of life, traditional marriage, parental rights and other civil liberties,” is suing the Encinitas [Calif.] Union School District for its Ashtanga yoga program. NCLP President Dean Broyles, is representing plaintiffs who have children in the district.
“This is frankly the clearest case of the state trampling on the religious freedom rights of citizens that I have personally witnessed in my 18 years of practice as a constitutional attorney,” Broyles said.
The lawsuit alleges that the yoga program, which includes two 30-minute classes per week, is pervasively religious, with roots in Hindu, Buddhist, Taoist and metaphysical beliefs and practices.
“We’re not teaching religion,” said Superintendent Timothy Baird. “We teach a very mainstream physical fitness program that happens to incorporate yoga into it. It’s part of our overall wellness program. The vast majority of students and parents support it.”
bill appears dead
Sen. Bill Stanley “reluctantly” sent his resolution ensconcing prayer rights in the Virginia Constitution back to committee Feb. 5, where it likely will die, reported the Richmond Virginian-Pilot.
Stanley claims a constitutional amendment is necessary to preserve Virginians’ “right to free exercise of their religion as they see fit in public and private places.”
The newspaper said the amendment would ensure the right to pray on government property and allow clergy to pray before public boards. It specifies public school students are free to express religious beliefs in prayer as well as assignments and would exempt them from doing assignments which violate their beliefs.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia said the amendment is unconstitutional.
Appeals court denies girl’s prayer claim
The U.S. 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals on Jan. 30 denied a 2010 free speech claim by a New York eighth-grader who was barred from including a religious blessing during her school’s Moving-Up ceremony. According to Religion Clause, “the court concluded that the ceremony was a school-sponsored expressive activity and that the student’s speech would be perceived as being endorsed by the school.”
In a deposition, the girl said some of her classmates weren’t religious.
“[I]t’s my job to talk about God and see if they like it. In God’s word, it says that I should — well, I was put on this Earth for a purpose and my purpose was to talk about God and try to get as many people to follow him.”
Two cities tie for
The American Bible Society, partnering with the Barna Group, has identified America’s most “bible-minded” cities, based on “highest combined levels of regular bible reading and belief in the bible’s accuracy.”
Most bible-minded was Knoxville, Tenn. Tied for “least bible-minded” were Providence, R.I., and New Bedford, Mass.
Others in the top 10 “most” category (in descending order): Charleston, W.Va.; Huntsville, Ala.; Roanoke/Lynchburg, Va.; Charlotte, N.C.; Springfield, Mo.; Jackson, Miss.; Birmingham, Ala.; Chattanooga, Tenn.; and Shreveport, La.
Others in the top 10 “least” category (in descending order): Buffalo, N.Y.; Cedar Rapids, Iowa; Phoenix, Ariz.; San Francisco; Boston; Hartford/New Haven, Conn.; Portland, Maine; Burlington, Vt.; and Albany, N.Y.
FFRF’s home base of Madison, Wis., was No. 56 in the “least” category. [We wuz robbed!]