The following is an account of my experience as a female growing up in the Mormon faith. I was born into a family whose Mormon heritage stretches back for generations. My ancestors trekked across the United States pulling handcarts. I spent my formative years surrounded by other Mormons in a mid-size northern Utah town. The population in Utah is around 75 percent Mormon. In rural Utah that figure may be as high as 90 percent. Salt Lake City is considered diluted with an estimated 60 percent of the residents reporting to the Mormon Church house on Sunday.
I developed a strong sense of self at an early age. I also had a fierce independent streak. The trouble I faced as a young woman in the LDS (Latter-Day Saint) Church stemmed from the conflict between my knowledge of who I knew I was and the person the Church taught me I should aspire to be. With each new principle I learned, I discovered that my natural self was an enemy to God (Book of Mormon, Mosiah 3:19). 1 could not accept this. If God existed, surely He wasn't so sadistic as to force me to deny the traits with which I had been born. Was it possible that the Mormon God really intended that I reinvent myself as a new person, devoid of individuality? Was I really expected to follow the teachings of the Church leaders, like all those around me seemed to do, without question?
I was very happy for the first twelve years of my life. As a child I was unaware that anything was amiss. Until the age of 12, Mormon children attend Primary class on Sundays. In Primary I learned about a cute, cartoon God who loved and missed me very much. Once my time on earth was completed, if I obeyed all the commandments, I would be able to live with God for time and all eternity. As a child I felt God's feelings would be hurt if I weren't a very good girl. I was certain I could live up to the challenge.
At age 12 a Mormon child graduates from Primary into the Young Women's or the Young Men's group where he or she will stay until the age of 18. At this time the young men receive the Priesthood. In a nutshell the young men are given "keys" to the ministering of angels, the gospel of repentance and baptism for the remission of sins, according to the Mormon text, The Doctrine and Covenants, Section 13. As the young men mature, their holy powers increase and they may act in the name of Jesus Christ conducting his work here on earth. The Priesthood is vital to the plan of Salvation. Mormons believe that only a man who holds the priesthood may enter the kingdom of heaven.
As the boys I had grown up with were receiving the keys to Salvation, I was in the Young Women's group learning what it meant to be a woman in the Mormon Church. After the excitement of making the transition from child to woman (in the eyes of the Church) wore off, I noticed the first crack in my faith. I was 13. The Prophet and the Apostles continually impress upon members the high regard in which women are to be held. Even so, I began to feel like a second-class citizen within the walls of the religion. The holy texts, rituals and teachings of the Church simply do not support the repeated assurances that women are wondrous and precious. It began to sound very condescending.
In the Young Women's meetings my teachers were more specific about the requirements that I needed to meet in order to enter the Celestial Kingdom (Mormon heaven). Since I was female and was not allowed to hold the Priesthood I would not be able to enter on my own. LDS Apostle Erastus Snow preached the following: "No woman will get into the celestial kingdom, except her husband receives her, if she is worthy to have a husband; and if not, somebody will receive her as a servant" (Journal of Discourses, vol. 5 p. 291). This point of doctrine is still in place but the emphasis is now on the general importance of a temple marriage for both males and females rather than specifically pointing out the necessity for a woman to have a man in order to get into heaven.
Marrying a good Priesthood holder wouldn't automatically provide me with entrance into the Kingdom of Heaven. Naturally I would have to do my part. A combination of Bible doctrine and latter-day Mormon doctrine advises women of their divine role here on earth. The Bible teaches that "[women] shall be saved in childbearing, if they continue in faith and charity and holiness with sobriety." (Timothy 2:15). Modern Mormon text states: "[F]or [wives] are given unto [their husbands] to multiply and replenish the earth, according to my commandment . . . and for their exaltation in the eternal worlds, that they may bear the souls of men; for herein is the work of my Father continued, that he may be glorified." (Doctrine and Covenants 132:63)
As a girl with seriously underdeveloped maternal instincts I hoped that a life on earth bearing and rearing children would be spectacularly offset by my eternal rewards. As it turns out, heaven would be more of the same. If I obeyed my husband, bore my children and held true to the teachings of the church, my eternal husband and I would become the God and Goddess of our own worlds. I, the eternal breeder, would supply the inhabitants of these worlds. Fortunately the responsibility of bearing billions of spirit children might not rest on my shoulders alone. My husband had the option to take as many eternal wives as he wished. I was taught that, because women are more spiritual than men, the Celestial Kingdom would have an overpopulation of women. Any woman fortunate enough to have a mate on earth, should show compassion in the afterlife to a woman or women who lacked an eternal companion. In an act of charity and love I should welcome them into my eternal family as additional wives for my husband. The crack in my faith widened to a crevice.
Though my personal beliefs had begun to separate from the teachings of the church, at age fifteen I didn't have the strength or courage to extract myself. Every member of my family was a faithful Mormon. Not one aunt, uncle, cousin or grandparent had strayed. I saw every one of my friends in church every Sunday and since I was a church insider, I knew how Mormons really felt about nonbelievers and therefore knew I would lose all my friends if I left. Also, the fear of God was alive and well in my soul. Even though I couldn't swallow all I had been taught, I still worried that it might really be true. Every Mormon knows of the severe penalties faced by someone who has been made aware of the fullness of the gospel only to reject ft. I decided to continue along my path in the church.
Since, when I reached the gates of heaven, I would not be able to stand on my own merits alone, I went to church every Sunday to be coached on how to land a good man and thereby be saved. Finding the right LDS man is tricky business. Just as in the rest of the world, it all comes down to appearance and behavior. The difference in Mormonism is that as Mormon women look for a mate they must be plain and unadorned and must not arouse or entice men in any way. The written and spoken words regarding the proper attire and accepted appearance and behavior of the ideal Mormon woman are plentiful. The former Prophet Spencer W. Kimball had this to say: "Any young woman who conducts herself so as to be attractive spiritually, mentally, and physically, but will not by word, nor dress, nor act stir or stimulate to physical reactions, she is a jewel" (The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, p. 285).
Every bit of counsel the church directs toward women about appearance or behavior is followed by a suggestion of the effect that a woman's actions will have on men. At best the authorities encourage women to toe the line in order to attract honorable, worthy men. At worst the church leaders berate women for placing men in the path of temptation.
President Kimball had something to say about this also: "I wonder if our sisters realize the temptation they are flaunting before men when they leave their bodies partly uncovered or dress in tight-fitting, body revealing, form fitting sweaters" (The Miracle of Forgiveness, p. 227). By making such an irresponsible statement, President Kimball placed the burden of any impure thought a man might have squarely on the shoulders of women.
The potential effect on men wasn't the only thing I had to consider while getting dressed each morning. The Mormon Church advocates moderation in all things. I enjoyed then, as I do now, seeking out odd clothing and wearing outlandish makeup and hairstyles. I love expressing my internal individuality by my external appearance. Unfortunately for my free spirit, President Kimball taught that extreme styles betray a weakness of character.
The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, says, "To be overdressed, to be gaudily dressed, to be dressed to look sexy, to be overdecorated is bad taste, to say the least." He went on to say that, "Perhaps there is no transgression in painted eyelids or dangling earrings or fancy hairdos, but surely all these eccentricities and extremes betray character. There may be no harm in the style itself, but it may indicate some weakness, some insecurity, some unsureness" (p. 287). To really drive the point home he added a bit of guilt by warning that irregularities in appearance not only brand the individual as weak but also cause the family of the said individual to be judged poorly.
At age 18 the crevice in my faith had widened to a gaping chasm. I turned my back on the Mormon Church. I certainly wasn't anti-male or anti-marriage. What I opposed were the specific and rigid gender roles prescribed by the Church. Also, I could not abide the dual standards for men and women. Even though both men and women are required to demonstrate worthiness, a woman must account not only for herself but also for any effect she may have on men. Additionally, I found it unbearable that I was required to marry and required to bear children in order to achieve a place in heaven, and even then I could only enter at the bidding of a man. Finally, it was the shackles placed around my desire to do the simplest thing--to dress as I desired--that tipped the scales and caused me to walk away. The Mormon Church exerts control over every aspect of its members' lives, especially the lives of the women. As far back as my first Primary class, I remember being taught the importance of free agency but the LDS church only talks the talk, it does not walk the walk.
At age 21 I married a perfectly heathen man in a perfectly heathen setting. That action sent my family into a tailspin. Until I married outside the faith, my family maintained hope that I would change my mind, get married in the temple and be saved. After my wedding my family members were placed in the awkward position of (1) hoping my marriage would fail, thereby allowing me to try again for that temple marriage, or (2) accepting that I was lost to them for eternity. A non-temple marriage in the Mormon Church is like a death in the family. My marriage was not cause for celebration.
I thought I had purged the religious conditioning out of my system. I hadn't. It wasn't until my 27th year, after my husband and I moved out of Utah, that I began to acknowledge the lingering effects. Once I was out of the shadow of the temple I began to rediscover parts of myself that had been dormant for many years. I had buried many talents and dreams so deeply that I didn't even realize they were still clinging on somewhere inside.
As my 30th birthday approached, I paused to reflect on where my journey in life had taken me. I knew I wasn't fulfilling my potential. With the exception of leaving the Mormon Church and later choosing my partner, every action in my life had been happenstance. I had let life happen to me rather than plotting my own course. Though I hadn't given it a thought in years, the battle between who I really am and who the Mormon Church taught me I should be had never really ended. Walking away from the religion hadn't been enough. I had not been deprogrammed and, like a computer virus, church teachings lurked inside, crashing and deleting the new files I created for myself.
It's amazing how rejected dogma can still have a forceful, almost unseen, effect even years later. To this day fear and self-doubt plague me. Sometimes I stop to investigate the source of my paralyzing inability to pursue the things I desire. I find a slippery thread tied back to the years I spent trying to find a place in a religion in which I didn't belong.
It is my opinion that no woman belongs in the controlling world of male dominated religions, but there are hundreds of thousands of Mormon women who would beg to differ. To each her own, I guess. However, I will always maintain that a woman may do as she pleases. She may think as she pleases. She may dress as she pleases. She need not carry the burden of chastity for the entire male gender on her shoulders. If she is a believer in a god, she may walk into heaven on her own merits. And whether she is spiritual or not she may let the light of her true soul shine brightly all her days, without reproach.
A new resolution reaffirming Boy Scouts of America's exclusionary policy against nontheistic members and gay Scoutmasters has prompted the Freedom From Religion Foundation to once again call upon United Way of America and all of its affiliates to halt funding of BSA.
"In the past 10 years, BSA has become increasingly rigid, right-wing and doctrinaire, even taking its campaign to rid its ranks of so-called 'undesirables' all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court," wrote the Foundation to Brian Gallagher, CEO and President of United Way of America.
The BSA resolution, dated Feb. 6, 2002, reaffirms its exclusion of "avowed" homosexuals from serving as Boy Scout leaders, saying "an avowed homosexual cannot serve as a role model for the values of the Oath and Law."
The resolution affirms that "duty to God" is "an obligation which has defined good character for youth . . . throughout Scouting's 92-year history." BSA "has made a commitment to provide faith-based values to its constituency in a respectful manner."
The resolution notes this national policy may not be deviated from by local troops: "BSA's values cannot be subject to local option choices, but must be the same in every unit."
BSA promulgates a written religious test on its membership form, including a statement of religious principles.
"If Boy Scouts of America stands for bigotry, it should stand alone," says the Foundation.
While you're in San Diego for the FFRF 2002 convention Nov. 22-24, plan to stay a few extra days and make a vacation of it. There's so much to do and see, you'll regret it if you don't. Any local can recite the weather report: Night and morning low clouds, lows in the high 50s, highs in the low 70s. It does get cool in the evening, so bring some warm clothes if you're going to be out at night.
We call it "America's Finest City." From the mountains around Alpine, to the deserts of Borrego, to the sandy beaches and rocky cliffs on the coastline, San Diego County is home to over 3 million. Covering 4200 square miles, it is the fourth largest county in the country and possibly the most diverse climatically, geographically, and ethnically.
The City of San Diego, seventh largest in the United States, has a population of about 1.2 million, and draws its name from San Diego de Alcala, a designation credited to Spaniard Don Sebastian Vizcaino, who sailed into what is now San Diego Bay on November 12, 1603. He renamed it in honor of his flagship and, it is said, his favorite saint. The site was actually discovered 61 years earlier by Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo, who had named it San Miguel.
The area's rich religious history is reflected in the missions. Father Junipero Serra, Father-Presidente of the Mission Chain, founded Mission San Diego de Alcala on July 16, 1769. It was the first mission in the 21-mission chain in Alta California and was known as the "Mother of the Alta California Missions." Most of California's mission chain was constructed with the slave labor of the indigenous peoples under the guise of "bringing unto them the teachings of Jesus." It's quite interesting to tour the missions and see for yourself the revisionist history that paints Native Americans as godless savages who welcomed the conquering padres and their "security forces," willingly accepting the "gift" of Catholicism.
One of the finest missions, San Juan Capistrano, is actually not in San Diego, but only about a 90-minute train ride away, and only a few blocks from the train station. This mission, more fort than church, was also built largely with slave labor. However, about a year after its completion, it collapsed during a Sunday service killing about 60 worshippers. Score one for the Red Man! Currently the mission is being rebuilt and restored.
Today many of the tribes who were almost decimated by the end of the 1700s run casinos and are doing quite well. Indian gaming: Winning our land back one hand at a time.
For more local history, check out Old Town. The original San Diego settlement has been nicely restored featuring museums, shops and restaurants.
San Diego's beachfront communities are as varied as the population. La Jolla ("the Jewel") is one of the more affluent places in the country. Head down La Jolla Shores Drive for a look at the fabulous beaches and parks or stroll along Girard Avenue for a self-guided tour of the trendiest of the trendy. This is where the beautiful people hang out. Don't be surprised to see cars costing more than your last three houses.
Mission Beach and Pacific Beach are serious party towns. Nightclubs, restaurants and dive bars line the streets and some open directly onto the beach. To enjoy this area you do need to know how to speak Southern Californian. It's not hard really; a little Spanish so you can order a fish taco without embarrassing yourself, say "like" every few words, and understand the basic inflections of the word "dude." A word of caution: In California, it is illegal to smoke in a bar, and in many parks and beaches alcohol is prohibited.
Take a trip back to the 60's and visit Ocean Beach. This is a place where filing a permit to build a Starbucks is considered an incitement to riot and Harleys are staple transportation. It's home to the longest public pier on the west coast, stretching a third of a mile out into the Pacific.
Whether you like bird-watching or jet-skiing, Mission Bay Park offers the largest natural tourist attraction in Southern California. The Park has six major hotels, many restaurants, eleven marinas, specialty shops, sportsfishing, and the world-famous aquatic park, Sea World. Consisting of 4,600 acres (approximately half land and half water) Mission Bay boasts 27 miles of shoreline, 19 of which are sandy beaches with eight locations designated as official swimming areas. In addition, Mission Bay Park provides areas for almost all types of water activities and park recreation including fishing, boating, water skiing, sailing, volleyball, softball, beach fires, horseshoes, kite-flying, and many more. Sea World is expensive, but well worth it. If you go plan to spend the whole day.
Balboa Park, covering 1,400 acres, once called simply City Park, has been host to one unofficial expo in 1915, one official world expo in 1935, houses 14 museums and art galleries, four theaters, a pipe organ and one spectacular zoo. The museums include Natural History, Botanical Gardens, The San Diego Historical Society, Aerospace and Aviation, Museum of Man, Art, Sports, Model Railroad, Automotive, and Photographic Arts. The Zoo is simply one of the best anywhere and just last year hosted the birth of a panda.
The Organ Pavilion was built and donated to the city in 1915 for the opening of the Panama-California Exposition. It is one of the largest pipe organs in the world with over 4500 pipes. Free public concerts are provided every Sunday afternoon year-round. The Park itself is a stunning array of natural canyons offset by meticulously maintained gardens and sculpted buildings with pools, fountains and all manner of street performers.
One of the best ways to see San Diego is from the water, so a harbor cruise is just the ticket. You'll get a look at your tax dollars in the form of aircraft carriers and submarines; roughly twelve percent of San Diego's population is active duty military. Sail under the Coronado Bay Bridge, which spans over two miles and is high enough to allow an empty aircraft carrier to pass.
The convention hotel is in the heart of downtown adjacent to one of the more entertaining shopping malls. Called Horton Plaza, locals believe it was jointly designed by M. C. Escher and Rod Serling. In addition to a distinct "you can't get there from here" sensation in the mall, the parking garage is a double helix so you can literally find yourself in the unenviable position of being able to see your car but not get to it.
The hotel is also in the "Gaslamp Quarter," which is an eight square block area of downtown with a mind-numbing assortment of nightclubs and restaurants. There's only one to avoid, Roger's On Fifth, which is owned by San Diego's own rightwing radio talk show host who, if he had his way, might like to make failure to be Christian a capital offense. You may also want to stay out of Dobson's. It's a lawyer bar so if you're not dressed for court, you'll just feel very out of place.
We have two crosses on mountaintops; San Diego is also home to the Institute for Creation Research and white supremist Tom Metzger. The new Mormon Temple is such a gaudy piece of steeple architecture that non-Mormons call it "Rockets to God." But by and large San Diego is a great place to live, work and play. It's even more fun to visit, so come and play tourist before and after the convention. Space doesn't permit more than just a hint of the sights, experiences and activities available, so you'll have to show up and see for yourself. As the phrase that is rapidly becoming the California state motto implores, "Get Out There!"
Steve Trunk comes from a Southern Baptist and Anglican/Catholic background. Despite years of religious education in the US and Britain, Trunk became an atheist in his early teens. He served in Vietnam with the US Navy.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation's traditional "untraditional" Winter Solstice sign that has appeared yearly at the Wisconsin State Capitol since 1996 was stolen sometime between the afternoons of Monday, Dec. 18 and Tuesday, Dec. 19.
The Foundation annually erects a gilt sign during the month of December reading:
At this season of
The Winter Solstice
May reason prevail.
There are no gods no devils no angels no heaven or hell.
There is only our natural world. Religion is but myth and superstition that hardens hearts and enslaves minds.
This year the Foundation added engraved wording to the back of the sign reading: "State/Church: Keep Them Separate. - Freedom From Religion Foundation," to deter religionists who in previous years continually turned the sign to the wall.
A thief or thieves removed the two engraved inserts in the sign, which was located on the first-floor rotunda. Various religious items at the Capitol were unmolested.
"Given the heightened security at the Capitol, we are at a loss to explain this security lapse," said Foundation president Anne Gaylor.
The engraved plaques were valued at several hundred dollars.
The Foundation began erecting the sign in response to various religious displays and state/church entanglements at the State Capitol. One of the Foundation's first victories when it formed in the late 1970s was to halt public funding of an annual live nativity display at the State Capitol. The pageant continues with private funding, taking over the Capitol for one afternoon a year. When the annual state tree is lit, the governor and employees sponsor a "tree-lighting ceremony" featuring religious Christmas hymns. Then the state began permitting a lighted menorah.
In the 1990s the Foundation originally had erected a red-white-and-blue banner reading "State/Church: Keep Them Separate." Then-Gov. Tommy Thompson ordered the Foundation message ripped down in 1995, although the Foundation had a legal permit to hang it. His office issued guidelines permitting smaller signs to be erected.
The Foundation announced a reward of $500 for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the religious thief or thieves. No information was forthcoming.
The Foundation will continue erecting its unique Winter Solstice display, promised Gaylor.
A rightwing attempt to recall Bill Keys, a member of the school board in Madison, Wisconsin, over the Pledge of Allegiance issue, failed abysmally late last year.
Recall petitioners were tens of thousands of signatures short in their effort and missed the early December filing deadline. The pledge controversy in Madison (see Freethought Today, Nov. 2001) made national headlines after rightwing radio personalities orchestrated an email campaign against the school board in October. The board had voted to satisfy a new state law by having schools play the national anthem rather than recite the Pledge of Allegiance, following community concerns over "under God" in the oath and enforced patriotism. The school board then revoked the policy, leaving it up to principals to decide whether to use the anthem or the pledge.
However, Bill Keys, a retired high school teacher and former president of the teacher's union, remained stalwart and refused to back down on the issue, despite the national uproar.
I have managed most of my life to exclude religious speculation from my mode of thought. I've found that, on the whole, it adds very little to economics.
--John Kenneth Galbraith
"What I've Learned"
Esquire, Jan. 2002
There's more hypocrites in church than anyplace else. --Singer Loretta Lynn, ibid
If you really believe, death should be great. You're going to a better place. Why wouldn't you want to go sooner? Mark Twain said the least-liked instrument on earth is the harp. There isn't one famous harpist. Harps are boring. But these people can't wait to get into heaven where if they're very good, they get harps twenty-four hours a day. --Talkshow host Larry King, ibid
For a nonbeliever like myself, I'd like to ask the pope: Why didn't you make your God in the bible a little more credible? --Scientist Edward Teller, ibid
The first thing they teach kids is that there's a God--an invisible man in the sky who is watching what they do and who is displeased with some of it. There's no mystery why they start that with kids, because if you can get someone to believe that, you can add on anything you want. --Comedian George Carlin, ibid
. . . I decided I was an atheist early on. --Humorist Dave Barry [Dallas] Star-Telegram profile Nov. 25, 2001
I was raised Catholic and explored all kinds of religion--Mormon, Methodist, Judaism and so on--but none of it made any kind of logical sense. It seemed to be the blanket, if you will, covering up an excuse for hate and conflict and war. --"Survivor" winner Richard Hatch Diversity (Idaho gay newspaper) November 2001
If Mormons were left to their own devices, they would own the country. --Stephen Pace Salt Lake City business consultant New York Times, Jan. 20, 2002
. . . The first years of the 21st Century have proved religion's death notices highly premature. And nowhere does it seem more alive than on the field of battle. --Reporter Ron Grossman "Return of religion in war bodes ill for peace" Chicago Tribune, Jan. 6, 2002
Unbelief is widespread, yet few can be bothered to argue for their unbelief. This is partly because religion is now commonly treated in western societies as a lifestyle choice, a matter of taste, not reason. --The Economist "The perils of religious correctness" Nov. 10, 2001
As an agnostic, I feel out of step with a president who seems to equate faith with patriotism. . . . Rhetoric that invokes a supreme being only fans the flames of zealotry which fuel conflicts. --Linda Angeloff Sapienza "My Turn," Newsweek, Dec. 10, 2001
Even today in a relatively secular society like ours, it's rare to hear someone point out in the clearest way that systems of religious belief are more or less baldly arbitrary and obviously ridiculous. It's as if you decided that Harry Potter were inerrant or that the film version of The Lord of the Rings was a documentary. . . . I am out here asserting that the stuff is just a wee bit cracked. --Crispin Sartwell "Here's to doubting Thomases" Los Angeles Times, Dec. 27, 2001
I believe that the scientist is trying to express absolute truth and the artist absolute beauty, so that I find in science and art, and in an attempt to lead a good life, all the religion I want. --J.B.S. Haldane (1892-1964) Quoted in JAMA, 11/14/01
To slap a [religious] label on a child at birth--to announce, in advance, as a matter of hereditary presumption if not determinate certainty, an infant's opinions on the cosmos and creation, on life and afterlives, on sexual ethics, abortion and euthanasia--is a form of mental child abuse.
We deliberately set up, and massively subsidise, segregated faith schools. As if it were not enough that we fasten belief-labels on babies at birth, those badges of mental apartheid are now reinforced and refreshed. In their separate schools, children are separately taught mutually incompatible beliefs. --Richard Dawkins "Children must choose their own beliefs" The Observer [UK], Dec. 30, 2001
I think the thing that--the prayer that I would like America is to ask for is to pray for God's protection for our land and our people, to pray against--that thereÕs a shield of protection, so that if the evil ones try to hit us again, that we've done everything we can, physically, and that there is a spiritual shield that protects this country. --George W. Bush "Remarks at Town Meeting" Ontario, Calif., Jan. 5 Transcript, White House Press Office
Western man has witnessed a mad tragedy actuated by faith. But it is not clear whether for most people this only underlines the need for a true God--to save us from the false ones--or whether gods, all gods, were the problem, not the solution. Never mind me: I am a convinced unbeliever. --Matthew Parris "What are we doing, in God's name?" The Times [UK], Dec. 29, 2001
It Pays to Complain!
Since Sept. 11, the Foundation has received complaints about public schools across the nation erecting "God Bless America" messages or signs, as religionist principals unfortunately capitalized on the terrorist attacks to promote personal religious agendas.
In one such instance, the principal of Bonham Middle School in Temple, Texas, refused to remove the sign last October after alert Foundation member Cristy Wade complained in writing.
In November, Cristy appealed to the Foundation to add its complaints. The Foundation wrote both the principal and the district superintendent firm letters, noting: "This exercise in religious patriotism has gone on long enough, and now looks simply like a religious principal taking advantage of a national tragedy to inflict 'God' on a captive audience of public schoolchildren. There are many appropriate, sensitive ways for a school and its marquee to show unity and sympathy for the victims of Sept. 11 without opportunistically promoting religion."
Although the principal remained obdurate, refusing to remove the display that had been up nearly three months, the Superintendent (see letter above), complied with our request.
Cristy, above, is pictured by the public school's newly secular message of unity.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation has won the first federal court decision in the nation declaring public funding of faith-based social services unconstitutional, in its legal challenge of direct taxpayer funding of the pervasively sectarian Faith Works of Milwaukee.
In her January 7 ruling, U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb, of the Western District of Wisconsin, found that a public "grant to Faith Works constitutes unrestricted, direct funding of an organization that engages in religious indoctrination" and that the "funding stream violates the establishment clause."
The case is significant as the first challenge of funding under faith-based initiatives to be adjudicated, and the first such challenge to be won.
Freedom From Religion Foundation vs. Faith Works dealt a legal and symbolic setback to Pres. George W. Bush's faith-based initiatives proposal before Congress.
As a candidate, Bush made a July 18, 2000, campaign stop at the convent rented by Faith Works, singling the religious ministry out as the type of program he intended to subsidize with millions of tax dollars as president. Faith Works runs a longterm residential treatment program for male addicts that overtly relies on faith, as its name makes clear.
The First Amendment victory has received nationwide publicity, including an editorial attacking the decision in the Wall Street Journal ("Let faith work," Jan. 25).
In a 68-page decision, Crabb granted summary judgment to the Foundation, halting funding to the faith-based agency through the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development. Two-thirds of Faith Works revenues come from public funding. In 1998 and 1999, Faith Works was awarded a total of $600,000 from discretionary funds awarded by then-Gov. Tommy Thompson of Wisconsin, through the federal Temporary Assistance to Needy Families block grant.
An additional $280,000 in taxpayer money was granted to Faith Works in the summer of 2001 under Gov. Scott McCallum.
The Foundation is also challenging a contract through the state Department of Corrections. Crabb stopped short of ruling the DOC contract unconstitutional, and is scheduling a trial to hear this portion of the Foundation's challenge. However, Crabb ruled that the burden of proof is on DOC to prove it did not coerce men on probation or parole to participate in Faith Works.
"We believe one million dollars of tax money has been wrongfully and unconstitutionally spent by our government to make possible a ministry devoted to bringing 'homeless addicts directly to Christ,' " noted Foundation president Anne Gaylor.
"The massive and unexamined give-away of public funds to groups with religious agendas is costing taxpayers unparalleled sums. We expect our lawsuit will be the first of many brought and won to stop this flood of public money to religion."
Faith Works claims its success is based on its faith-based approach as well as its long-term program. Yet it offers scant documentation of success. Faith Works did not open its doors until after receiving state funding and had no track record in Wisconsin, and "could not have begun operations without prior public commitments of money," noted Crabb in her decision.
Faith Works requires men enrolled in its program to attend "faith-enhanced" Alcoholics Anonymous counseling. Chapel and bible studies are part of the routine. Goals include "spiritual enrichment," a spiritual mentor, church affiliation and membership for each man.
In her decision, Crabb cited the Faith Works Standards of Practice: "We are as individuals to be growing in our own faith life by regular church attendance, prayer, Bible study and seeking Spiritual direction from a Pastor/ Shepard [sic] in our faith community."
Crabb's fact-filled decision lists other evidence of the group's faith agenda, such as starting staff meetings with prayer, expecting staff to attend church and to "develop a personal relationship with God."
In guidelines to staff, Faith Works describes itself as "a Christian faith-based treatment program, . . . serving the Lord in evangelistic outreach" and instructs staff to "respect the Holy spirit's ability to work in each person's life whether staff or resident."
A pivotal document in the decision was Faith Works' employee handbook, containing a "Statement of Faith" in the Christian principles guiding the organization: "AA . . . stops short of recommending Christ to all. However, at Faith Works we do."
Crabb found that the allocation of direct funding violates the second prong of the Lemon-Agostini Test by resulting in state-funded indoctrination: "As its name suggests, Faith Works is a faith-based treatment program whose bylaws state that it employs a Christian-enhanced model of the Alcoholics Anonymous 12-step program."
"Faith Works' version of AA involves more explicit references to God than the standard AA . . . ." Crabb noted. "The Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit has held that the content of traditional AA meetings is religious as a matter of law even when the meetings did not employ a 'Christian-enhanced' model such as the one Faith Works uses."
Faith Works, which intervened to become a co-defendant, tried to argue that it received enough private funding to cover the religious counseling it offered. Crabb soundly rejected this argument: "The Supreme Court has systematically rejected attempts to unbundle religious activities through statistics and accounting."
Crabb added: "Defendants neglect to point out that they used the integration of religion into Faith Works' recovery model as a strong selling point for obtaining funding. . . . Faith Works cannot now try to excise religion from its offerings, saying that it contracted with the state to provide the wholly secular services of room and board without any reference to religion. This assertion rings hollow in light of the literature Faith Works provided the state. . . . I conclude that the Faith Works program indoctrinates its participants in religion, primarily through its counselors."
Crabb also dismissed Faith Works' arguments that the government violates "free speech" rights if it refuses to fund faith-based social agencies while it funds secular agencies: ". . . the Wisconsin state government's appropriation of funds for the delivery of drug and alcohol treatment services . . . does not create a forum for private speech."
Crabb concluded that Faith Works is a pervasively sectarian institution and "that religion is so integral to the Faith Works program that it is not possible to isolate it from the program as a whole."
Plaintiffs in the lawsuit are the Freedom From Religion Foundation Inc., Anne Nicol Gaylor, Annie Laurie Gaylor and Dan Barker. Representing the Foundation is attorney Richard Bolton. The lawsuit was filed in October 2000.
The case is Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc. v. Scott McCallum, 00-C-617-C, January 7, 2002. The decision can be found online at the Foundation's website: http://www.ffrf.org/legal/faithworks_decision.html
If you ever wanted proof that the bible is too "hot" for public consumption consider the exchange below. Background: Some moralists in Nampa, Idaho, circulated a petition requesting that library material that could be offensive to children under the age of 18 be removed from the Nampa Library (the focus was on sexual material).
I wrote a guest opinion to the Idaho Press-Tribune (which serves Nampa) in which I supported (tongue-in-cheek) the idea of removing sexually explicit material (books of the bible). As you can see in my exchange with Jay Vail, the opinion page editor, my biblical citations were too "hot" to handle:
* * *
Library critic Allen Marsh is right--there are books on sex that are available to Nampa library users under 18. Here are some examples of sexually charged books in the Nampa Library:
1. A man rapes a woman causing the woman's brothers to slay every man in the rapist's village. In addition the brothers take the women and children captive and loot the village. Is this any way to teach children the concept of justice?
2. A daughter-in-law disguises herself and seduces her father-in-law who thinks she is just a common harlot. She becomes pregnant and her father-in-law seeks to kill her until his whole family learns what he has done. Is this any way to teach children about marriage?
3. A man gets drunk and has sex with his daughters, getting both of them pregnant! With all the reports of incest should the library stock such books?
4. Favorable treatment of a "wise" leader who has hundreds of princesses and hundreds of concubines. Is this any way to teach children about monogamy?
5. Use of a young virgin to enable an old king to get an erection. Should young children be exposed to what appears to be child molestation?
6. Description of a son having sex with his father's concubines in full view of everyone! This makes today's television seem tame. Should children be taught that this is acceptable behavior?
7. Favorable description of a king who sends a man to his death so he can have his wife even as he loves another man. When in a good mood he exposes himself to people and locks up anyone who complains. And he loves to have sex with concubines! Should the tender minds of youngsters be exposed to such filth?
8. A mother-in-law instructs her daughter-in-law to sleep with a kinsman in order to have security. Should innocent children learn that the way to a secure life is through sex?
What are these sex books that the Nampa Library is making available to library users under 18? While the specific titles are listed at the end of this article, all of these books can be found collected in The Holy Bible.
This book is so sexually charged and so full of violence that Bishop Porteus declared nearly half of the Hebrew Bible (and some of the New Testament) to be too hot to handle.
One hopes that Allen Marsh and his hot-eyed minions will lead the charge to remove all the bibles from the Nampa Library so that library users under the age of 18 wonÕt be exposed to such blatant sexual depravity and bloodthirsty violence.
1. Book of Genesis (Genesis 34:1-31).
2. Book of Genesis (Genesis 38:11-26).
3. Book of Genesis (Genesis 19:31-38).
4. King Solomon in the Book of 1 Kings.
5. King David in the Book of 1 Kings (1 Kings 1:1-4).
6. Book of 2 Samuel (2 Samuel 16:22).
7. King David (1 Samuel 18:1-5; 2 Samuel 1:26; 2 Samuel 6:20-23; 2 Samuel 11)
8. Book of Ruth (Ruth 3:1-18).
In a message dated 12/26/01 Jay Vail, opinion editor, writes:
Dear Mr. Bennett:
I regret to inform you that after reviewing your guest opinion, Managing Editor Vickie Holbrook has determined that it is too graphic for our readers. Therefore, we won't be able to publish it in it current form. Thanks for your contributions to our Opinion Page, and I hope to hear from you in the future.
Dear Mr. Vail:
You mean The Holy Bible is too graphic for publication!
"I'm an aerospace consultant," writes Foundation member Gary L. Bennett. "I took early retirement from NASA but NASA shouldnÕt be "blamed" for my "heretical" views. I have a PhD in physics and I've worked on a number of space missions."
Religious hate, religious motivation was the primary thing [causing Sept. 11]. . . . The world is getting more and more out of reach of simple people who have only religion. And the more they depend on religion, which of course solves nothing, the more the world gets out of reach.
--Nobel Laureate V.S. Naipaul
New York Times Magazine, Oct. 28, 2001
I asked if she'd like to read a piece about what it's like to be an atheist living in the United States. --Freelance journalist Haider Rizvi when asked by an Indian editor if he'd like to write an essay about being a Muslim in America New York Times Notebooks, Oct. 24, 2001
I happen to be an agnostic, which, by my definition, is a cowardly atheist. . . . But as far as an afterlife, there's no there there. Nada. This life, here on earth, is what it's about. Is there a hell? Well, there are many hells on earth, you see. Heaven? Well, certain moments, they look kind of good. --Studs Terkel Mother Jones Magazine, Nov/Dec 2001
Once we turned it all over to the traders and the high priests--and that happened a long time ago--and all of our power went to an invisible man in the sky and the bankers and Wall Street guys, we let go of this wonderful thing that we've got: the brain--this objectifying thing that can say, "I, other," and can do all sorts of abstract thinking. --George Carlin Gallery, Oct. 2001
Former heavyweight boxing champ Muhammad Ali visited the ruins of the World Trade Center on Thursday. When reporters asked how he felt about the suspects sharing his Islamic faith, Ali responded pleasantly, "How do you feel about Hitler sharing yours?" --Dr. Ibn-Ziyad The Black World Today, Oct. 23, 2001
I believe that the here and now is good, and worth working to improve; that human suffering is bad, and worth seeking to mitigate; and that life and peace, beauty and plenty, are to be sought as ends in themselves, for ourselves and for those who succeed us. I believe this world and its future matters, matters completely, matters more than anything. I believe this world is real. I know of no other.
. . . For is the pursuit of the next life not a corrupter of this one? Is not the doctrine that this world does not matter an invitation to callousness, and the call of the next a call to madness?
Godlessness is a humanising force. --Matthew Parris Times political columnist "Belief in paradise is a recipe for hell on earth" The Spectator, Sept. 22, 2001
Unfortunately, 83 Florida House members believe that when it comes to school prayer, "there ought to be a law." So they voted to pass one on Wednesday. . . . Why is this a bad idea? Because, at official school functions, it shoves prayers into the ears of those who don't want to hear those prayers or don't share the same faith as those giving the prayers. --Sun-Sentinel Editorial "School Prayer Bill Misguided," Oct. 26, 2001
Texas' governor and two would-be governors have baited their political hooks with a flashy trinket called school prayer. They should be ashamed . . . Our forebears languished in prison and died in the fight for religious liberty. Certainly we can stand up to oppose forcing any brand of religion--even an absurdly bland and generic one--upon others. --Baptist Standard Editorial "Politicians prey on people's predisposition to pray" October 29, 2001
The other day I saw this quotation posted on a sign outside an Assembly of God church: "The Lord is a man of war." It sounds like something Osama bin Laden would say, but it turned out instead to be a quote from Exodus 15:3. The idea that God is male, and one who favors war and male domination of women, comes to the three major monotheistic religions straight from the Bible. --Prof. Robert McElvaine Washington Post, Nov. 2001
Most Mormons . . . act like army ants whenever [Mormon] hierarchy gives instructions about political matters. --Historian D. Michael Quinn Excommunicated Mormon scholar Salt Lake Tribune, Aug. 10, 2001
I'm an atheist, and that's it. I believe there's nothing we can know except that we should be kind to each other and do what we can for each other. --Actress Katharine Hepburn Ladies Home Journal, Oct. 1991
Now in my early 60s, I have probably reached the point where roughly half the people I have known in my lifetime are dead. Quite a few were brutes, many were swine, the largest number fairly negligible. Must I maintain a false piety for every one among them? I'm not even sure that I want them all to rest in peace--certainly not those brutes and swine--or at least not entirely so. If you can't speak ill of the dead, who the hell are you going to speak ill of? --Joseph Epstein "Rest Not Completely in Peace" Wall Street Journal, Sept. 7, 2001
Bible Believers Torture, Kill Girl, 12
Jehovah's Witnesses parents systematically beat their daughter to death with 160 blows on Nov. 10 while meting out the biblical punishment of "40 lashes minus one, three times."
Constance Slack, a nurse, and Larry Slack repeatedly hit their daughter Laree, 12, with a 5-foot stretch of inch-thick rubberized electrical cable filled with strands of wire. She died of internal bleeding.
The parents, from South Brandon, Ill., were upset that Laree was being "uncooperative." According to the state's attorney, the couple had been planning to go out to eat but could not find a jacket with Constance Slack's wallet and credit cards. Larry Slack ordered his children to search for it. Dissatisfied that they were not looking hard enough, Slack first lashed the couple's 8-year-old son Lester several times. Then, enraged over finding laundry in the house, which Laree was in charge of washing and putting away, he ordered her to "assume the position" to be whipped.
When she squirmed away after several lashes, he ordered his two teenage sons to tie her face down to a metal frame, then lashed her 39 times. The mother then whipped the girl 20 more times. When Laree began to scream, Slack ordered his sons to fetch a towel to stuff in her mouth, and tied a scarf over the towel and used a stick to wind the scarf like a tourniquet. He cut off his daugher's shirt, ordered the other children to pull off her pants and whipped her 39 more times, with Constance then whipping 20 more lashes. Laree writhed and her back began to bleed, so her father untied her, turned her over and beat her 39 more times on her stomach and chest.
They were charged with first-degree murder and aggravated battery of a child for beating their 8-year-old son on the same night. Their five other children, who were all home-schooled, showed indications of physical abuse and are in state custody. Sources: Chicago Sun-Times, Nov. 13, 2001; Chicago Tribune, Nov. 14, 2001
Christian Mom Slays Young Daughters
Tracy Camburn, 38, poisoned her daughters Candice, 10, and Kimberly, 5, with paint thinner, then repeatedly stabbed them to "prevent suffering," after "voices" said the world was ending. The girls' bodies were found Sept. 10 in the same bed at their home in Zeeland, Michigan. Camburn comes from a church-going family; her grandfather was a minister and her parents run a summer church camp. She is active in the Central Wesleyan Church in Holland. Sources: Grand Rapids Press, Sept. 20, 2001; Oct. 17, 2001
An Islamic court in the state of Sokoto, Nigeria, issued an October decree mandating death by stoning for a pregnant woman for having premarital sex. Her male sex partner was acquitted by the same court, which said it had "insufficient evidence" against the man. Source: Associated Press, Oct. 23, 2001
Mother Kills Daughter,
A woman who believed her 4-year-old daughter was possessed by demons killed the girl while attempting an exorcism. Sabrina Wright, 29, New York City, was charged with murder after drowning her small daughter. Police do not know why the child was with her mother instead of the relative who had been awarded custody in 1999. Source: Associated Press, Nov. 14, 2001
Girl, 13, Dies Without Medical Help
A couple in Grand Junction, Colo., whose 13-year-old daughter died from untreated diabetes and gangrene, received 20 years' probation in November, were ordered to provide medical insurance for their remaining 12 children and to schedule "necessary" doctors' appointments. As elders of the General Assembly Church of the First Born prayed over her, Amanda Bates died on Feb. 5, bedridden, in severe pain, running a high fever and vomiting. Her death sparked changes in Colorado law making it easier to prosecute parents who withhold medical treatment from their children. Source: Associated Press, Nov. 9, 2001
Manslaughter in Baby's Death
A couple in Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., were arrested in September for the July death of their 11-month-old daughter, who died of untreated purulent meningitis and general medical neglect. The baby was ill with a high temperature for at least a week. Richard and Agnes Wiebe are members of the Church of God in Upland, which promotes prayer over medicine for illness. A Church of God website quotes several biblical passages, such as: "And the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him." The mother, who is pregnant, has given birth at home twice to stillborn children. Source: Daily Bulletin [Ontario, Calif.], Sept. 19, 2001
White supremacist brothers Benjamin Matthew Williams and James Tyler Williams pleaded guilty in September to federal charges of setting fire to three Sacramento synagogues and an abortion clinic in 1999. Still facing state murder charges for the 1999 slaying of a gay couple, they plan to defend themselves citing the bible's condemnation of homosexuality. Source: Associated Press, Sept. 7, 2001
"Jesus Christ" Stabs Boy
A man who was staying at Guiding Light Mission, Grand Rapids, Mich., stabbed a boy, 10, in the eye with an ink pen. According to witnesses, the mentally disturbed suspect, 27, approached the boy and his father while the latter were out walking, "dancing around" as if to assault them and "claiming to be Jesus Christ." Source: Grand Rapids Press, Oct. 29, 2001
Religious playground equipment was removed from Lily Cache Greenway, a public park in Bolingbrook, Ill., shortly after the Freedom From Religion Foundation wrote a letter of complaint on behalf of Foundation member Norman Lathrop in early fall. One piece of equipment with a biblical Noah's Ark theme was covered with text paraphrasing the entire bible tale, and informing children that Noah "was 950 years old when he died." (See center photo.) The Foundation received a prompt response from a city official thanking it for letting the city know about the presence of the religious equipment, and assuring the Foundation it would be removed. Mr. Lathrop wrote: "I went to take the 'after' photos, and, as you can see, a nice animal replacement was installed."
It only took 300 years. Six women executed as witches in Salem were finally exonerated on Nov. 1 by an act of the Massachusetts governor and legislature. The State legislature issued a general amnesty in 1711 exonerating all but six of the 24 women and men hanged, crushed to death or dying in prison during the witchhunts. Source: Reuters, Nov. 2, 2001
Religion no divorce panacea. About 33% of born-again Christians have ended their marriages, according to a nationwide telephone survey of more than 7,000 adults, comparable to the rate of those "who have not embraced" Jesus, according to Christian researchers. Source: Barna Research, Aug. 6 Report
Christian hate groups proliferate. There are 338 Christian patriot-militia groups active in the Midwest: 50 Christian identity groups, 37 Ku Klux Klan chapters, 95 neo-Nazi and skinhead groups, and 58 that are a mix of anti-immigration advocates, neo-Confederates and Holocaust deniers. Source: Devin Burghart, author, "State of Hate: White Nationalism in the Midwest 2001-2002," Washington Post, 11/10/01
Corruption Index. Among the Corruption Perceptions Index ranking of the 10 most corrupt countries are a number of highly religious ones: Bangladesh, Nigeria, Indonesia, Uganda, Azerbaijan, Bolivia, Cameroon, Kenya, Ukraine and Tanzania. Among the 10 "least corrupt countries" are mainly secularized ones: Finland, Denmark, New Zealand, Iceland, Singapore, Sweden, Canada, Netherlands, Luxembourg and Norway. Source: Transparency International, 2001
Shrinking Islam? A survey of religious affiliation among American adults by the Graduate Center of the City University of New York estimates there are only 1.1 million Muslim adults in the United States, not 6 million as commonly estimated. A report commissioned by the American Jewish Committee estimates there are at most 2.8 million Muslims, making up about 1% of the American population. Sources: American Religious Identification Survey 2001, Oct. 24, 2001; "Estimating the Muslim Population in the United States," New York Times, Oct. 25, 2001
One-fourth of Jews secular. About 1.4 million Jews--a quarter of the U.S. Jewish population--say they are secular or have no religion at all. Only about half of American Jews claim to be Jewish by religion; another quarter identify themselves as Jewish by parentage or ethnicity but align themselves with another faith. Source: American Jewish Identity Survey, Jewish Week, NY, Nov. 2, 2001
Multiplying sorrow. Women who are Jehovah's Witnesses have a 44-fold greater risk of maternal death due to obstetric hemorrhage than do other women. Researchers found that 6% of 332 JWs studied experienced obstetrical hemorrhage, two of whom died, yielding an average maternal mortality rate of 521 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births, compared to 12 maternal deaths for non-JWs per 100,000 live births. Source: Mount Sinai Medical Center Study; American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Oct. 2001