A non-public service road, approximately 0.75 miles long, connects a state route with the state park campground. A parcel of land is owned by the Methodist Church approximately half a mile from the state route. Between the church property and the campground is the campers' playground. On the boundary of the campground is a large wooden sign that reads "Campers Chapel," at least 100 yards within state property. It appears that the chapel was created for the exclusive purpose of servicing the state campground.
* * *
A volunteer at the Old Man's Cave entrance station told us in May 2001 that the chapel was on private property owned and administered by the Methodist church out of The Plains, Ohio. She said the campground donated water and forwarded any problems or situations to the Methodist Council. The campground kept a key to the facility. The opening date for the chapel is Memorial Day Weekend each year.
Tammy and I attended services at Campers Chapel at 10am in early June 2001. Just prior to the beginning of the service, a rather obnoxious bell was rung which could be heard throughout the campground. As the outdoor amphitheatre was still wet from a recent rain, eight campers were invited into the cabin for the service. A woman explained that the Methodist church owned the property and that a variety of laypersons staff the chapel. The service lasted about an hour. Tammy and I kept a low profile while the service dragged on. While walking back through the campground, we observed flyers advertising the Sunday service at many of the campsites.
At the campground office, we asked a volunteer about the service road which was used by the church volunteers to get to the chapel. We were told that it was closed to public use and that a state park ranger would issue a ticket if a vehicle was caught using the road. This evidently did not apply to church personnel.
As we were chatting with the volunteer, a couple from the chapel stopped by to drop off the keys to the chapel. The volunteer said that the park kept the keys all week until the next Sunday service. She also said that park employees "watched over" the chapel facility and contacted the Methodist Council if there were any problems. Further, the park donated the water used by the chapel. Along the wall was a holder containing pamphlets printed by the Methodist church advertising the chapel. Along with a reproduction of the campground map were two Ohio State government emblems.
We also discovered that the large wooden map of the campground in the campground office prominently noted the Campers Chapel. The map of the campground also listed the Campers Chapel as well as the State Parks of Ohio website.
We next stopped at the ranger's office where it was confirmed that the service road to the chapel was closed to public vehicles except for church volunteers.
Tammy sent an email to the Hocking Hills Park Manager, Steve Bennett, requesting a meeting to discuss our concerns. In late June, we reviewed with him the inappropriate if not illegal relationship between the state park and the Methodist church. Mr. Bennett agreed to review the complaint and get back to us. The meeting was very cordial. No timetable was set, however.
Tammy wrote a letter to Mr. Bennett thanking him for meeting with us and listing the points of discussion. She included some references to relevant court cases and citations from the Ohio State Constitution.
She received an email acknowledgment from Mr. Bennett saying that the distribution of religious flyers by church staff in the campground had been discontinued. He also promised to meet with an official at the Division of Parks.
After we had not heard anything for a couple of months, Tammy sent an email in September to Kim, a Division of Parks employee, listing the violations of state/church separation.
After nearly four months had passed with no answer to our concerns, Tammy sent another email making these requests:
• The removal of the chapel reference on the map contained within the www.hockinghillspark.com website.
• The removal of the reference to the Campers Chapel on the paper map labeled "Old Man's Cave Campground Map."
• The removal of any references to the Campers Chapel.
• The secession of park personnel or park volunteers assuming custodial duties of the chapel facility, including the storage of chapel keys at the park.
• Halting the restriction of use of the township road to chapel personnel.
• The prohibition of chapel personnel from distributing religious literature on park property.
• The removal of the "Campers Chapel" sign located near the northern boundary of the campground.
In November, Tammy received an email from Ronald Kus, the Business Group Manager for the Division of Parks, saying he would be the person responsible for investigating our concerns and would respond in three weeks.
Annie Laurie Gaylor of the Freedom From Religion Foundation sent a letter that month to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources in support of our efforts.
In December, Tammy received a letter from Mr. Kus, saying that he had met with members of the church who agreed to remedy all of our concerns. He stated, "Our position is that all groups and people are treated equally. We will not give one group any privilege or right that we do not afford others."
The listing of the Campers Chapel on the Hocking Hills State Park website was removed by March 25, 2002.
In April, Tammy and David visited the campground again. The large map within the campground office still showed an arrow pointing to the Campers Chapel. In addition, the handout map of the campground underneath the glass at the outside self-register kiosk also had an arrow pointing to the Campers Chapel.
The wooden sign at the edge of the north side of the campground had been removed and was leaning against the outside of the main chapel building. There was no ground disturbance, which we would have expected to detect if utility work had recently been done to sever the water line from the park to the chapel. We took digital photos.
Tammy then sent an email to Mr. Kus which reviewed what had and what had not yet been accomplished, such as the waterline to the church not yet removed, the Campers Chapel sign across from site 141 not removed, and the Campers Chapel sign remaining on the property owned by the church.
"I still fear that a camper may not realize that the 'Campers Chapel' is private property owned by the church and may wrongly believe that the park endorses the Campers Chapel. I suggest that ODNR request that the words 'Owned and Operated by the Athens District of the United Methodist Church--Established 1967' be added to this sign to avoid any confusion as in the legal case summarized below."
Ron Kus replied promptly, agreeing to all of our requests.
In May, David visited the campground. All references to the chapel on campground facilities had been removed. Although the same campground maps which listed the Campers Chapel were being used, every map had the corner cut off upon which the Campers Chapel notation was written.
Memorial Day weekend is the customary start of the church's proselytizing season for the Campers Chapel. We visited the chapel on opening day and not only was there no service but another Campers Chapel sign that was legitimately on church property had been removed.
* * *
As we have no visible way of verifying that the water has been shut off to the chapel, it appears that we have won on all counts. We plan to periodically visit and poke around to make sure the church does not become entangled in that particular park again. Ohio has many fine parks, which we visit, and we are always watchful of any similar situations. We did notice, while on a trip through Pennsylvania last year, that there is a state park that apparently has a riverside chapel on state property. . . .
"I don't know that atheists should be considered as citizens, nor should they be considered patriots. This is one nation under God."--Vice-President George H. W. Bush, 1987
"Americans practice different faiths in churches, synagogues, mosques and temples. And many good people practice no faith at all."--President George W. Bush, 2002
Those two quotes, to me, are symbolic. They mark 15 years of progress for the rights of nonbelievers. A Republican President, supported and elected by theocrats, acknowledges that nonreligious people can be good. Ludicrous comments by Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson blaming secularism for the destruction of the Twin Towers were condemned by virtually everyone, including President Bush. Similarly asinine comments by leggy columnist and talking head Ann Coulter got her fired from National Review. Ben Stein, actor and conservative writer, immediately apologized for making comments insulting to atheists. I see all this as the beginning of equal rights for nonreligious people.
Our ranks are growing. The increase in the number of nonbelievers goes hand in hand with the increase in how we are seen in society--the larger and more visible a minority we are, the more respect we will get. According to the monumental "2001 American Religious Identification Survey" prepared by the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, the percentage of people calling themselves "nonreligious" more than doubled from 1990 to 2001, with 14.1% of the US population calling themselves nonreligious. American culture is growing more diverse. The United States has benefited from the "brain drain" from other countries and the many professors, scientists and doctors from abroad with different religious beliefs.
Why are there more nonreligious people today than ten years ago? I think there are many reasons, including the internet, religious scandals, monumental advances in science and an improved and increased portrayal of freethinkers in popular media.
In early 1994, I wrote an article about the internet and freethought for Freethought Today, predicting that the internet would potentially be the greatest thing ever to happen to freethought. Currently, the Secular Web (www.infidels.org), the largest freethought-related website, gets over 300,000 unique visitors per month. Many other freethought-related websites are also very popular.
The internet reaches an important demographic that organized atheism/humanism has generally been unable to reach: young people. This is critical, so that as people intellectually mature they have readily available sources from the atheistic point of view. I think my prediction of eight years ago has come to pass, and I claim no psychic powers.
Another reason why the ranks of nonbelievers have increased is the occurrence of religious scandals, from the Protestant televangelists of the late eighties to the molesting priests of today. Aside from the horrors that the victims of these scandals face, these scandals do have a side benefit: Religion cannot be regarded as beyond reproach when priests are molesting six-year-olds or mansion-dwelling televangelists are swindling elderly people out of their pensions and are involved in sex scandals. These scandals often catalyze a re-thinking of religious beliefs.
As history has shown, scientific breakthroughs tend to make religion superfluous. It happened with advances in evolutionary biology, astronomy and cosmological physics. Two advances are currently emerging that also threaten religious dogma: the genome project and cloning. Life becomes less mysterious and more scientific. (It also will have benefits in preventing genetic diseases and enhancing the quality of life of humankind.) The controversial advances in cloning cut at the philosophical concept of identity, which often has spiritual overtones. If scientists can clone life in a laboratory, what need is there for a deity?
The amount of atheism and satire of religion in popular culture is another important reason for an increase in freethought. Freethinkers have always been well-represented in intellectual publications. Fine humanistic writers like Katha Pollitt and Wendy Kaminer write for The Nation and other intellectual political publications. Nonbelievers dominate science and are well-represented in academic writings. Where we have been unrepresented is in popular culture. Traditionally, nonreligious people were portrayed as sinful or "lost" in movies and TV programs. If there was an atheist character, that person was evil or misguided and eventually "saw the light." Religion was beyond reproach. This has changed.
Radio "shock jocks" have done a lot to knock religion off its pedestal. They are typically on the air over 20 hours per week. They reach millions of people, a high percentage of whom are very dedicated fans. This genre, of course, is not for everyone and shock jocks do offend many.
One "shock jock" is Los Angeles-based Tom Leykis, an outspoken atheist. Leykis frequently has a segment called "Ask the Atheist," during which callers ask him questions about atheism. As can be expected, many of these callers are ignorant theists who challenge him. With a quick, sometimes acid wit he answers them and always comes across looking more reasonable than they. Leykis has also outspoken about priest molestation in Southern California. Thanks to one caller and Leykis' persistence, a molesting priest has been removed from a school where he was teaching. Leykis has also begun a weekly feature called "Tom's Confessional," in which people who had been molested by clergy call up and describe their experiences. If the victim is willing, Leykis' producers contact the relevant civil authorities. There has been no shortage of callers and several members of the clergy are being investigated due to the Leykis show.
Religious satire and freethought can be found in other forms of popular culture. The animated series "The Simpsons" and "South Park" have a long history of religious satire. One episode of "South Park" features a view of hell filled with everyone from ministers to entertainers. When a Protestant minister in hell protests, Satan explains he chose the wrong religion--Mormonism was the correct one. Heaven is shown full of men with white shirts and black ties. Another comedy, "The Daily Show," featured a segment called "Godstuff" in which Jon Bloom (Joe Bob Briggs) ran clips of televangelists ranting, and then commented on them in an irreverent way. Jen, one of the major characters in "Dawson's Creek," a show hugely popular with teenagers and young adults, is an atheist. This is, perhaps, one of the reasons conservative groups want this show off of the air.
Legendary comedian George Carlin, who is routinely critical of religion, has a hilarious bit in which he claims not to believe in God but in Joe Pecsi, because Joe "looks like a guy who can get things done." Other comedians, including Rick Reynolds, Janeane Garafalo, Bill Maher and the late Bill Hicks, have used their stand-up acts to effectively satirize religion. "Sin City" magicians Penn and Teller, both hardcore atheists, claim that atheism and skepticism are an integral part of their successful stage show. During an appearance on Mormon Donny and Marie Osmond's television show, Penn and Teller signed an autograph for them. Penn signed, "There is no god." Teller followed, "He's right."
Mainstream movies like "The Contender" and "Contact" feature atheistic characters positively in leading roles. Other movies like "Sirens" and "Chocolat" give whimsical views of humanism overtaking Puritanism, in the forms of sexuality and gourmet chocolate, respectively.
Rock music, especially modern or alternative rock, often has atheistic or skeptical overtones. Along with his schlock persona, Marilyn Manson's lyrics and performances are laced with anti-religious messages. Bands like Godsmack, Nine Inch Nails, Everclear, Rage against the Machine, Tool, Metallica, R.E.M., Bad Religion and Rush feature atheistic lyrics, though more subtly than Manson.
Bad Religion has a famous symbol, a "crossed out cross." Their lead singer, Greg Graffin, splits his time being lead singer for the band and working on his Ph.D. in evolutionary biology at Cornell University. Rush has a long history of skeptical and humanistic lyrics. Their 1991 album "Roll the Bones" may be the most humanistic album in rock history. Rush's lyrics are so deep that atheist philosopher Robert Price, a Jesus Seminar Fellow, wrote a book with his wife, analyzing Rush's philosophical vision.
Where do we go from here? I think the best thing we as atheists, humanists, agnostics, freethinkers, can do is to set good examples. When people get to know us, like us, and respect us, and then later learn we are nonreligious, we help destroy the stereotypes and prejudices that people have. People learn that we don't have horns, we're not evil. We're simply your friendly godless neighbors.
When Atheists and Other Freethinkers of Sacramento adopted a highway in 1995, we wondered how much negative attention we would receive. Would we have to fend off the "religious nuts"? Would motorists target us, swerve onto the shoulder to frighten us, throw tomatoes? Seven years later such aberrant thoughts are just that: aberrant. Most drivers zip on by, a few toot their horns, smile, and wave. None gives us a problem.
We have maintained our two-mile stretch of highway longer than any other group in the Sacramento area, and lately we have received unasked-for but welcome attention. A local television news show used our sign as a lead-in when explaining another community work adoption program. A few days later the Travel section of the Sacramento Bee newspaper mentioned our sign in an article about traveling north of Sacramento.
Bee staff writer Will Evans, in his description of the highway, mentioned "the one adopted by Atheists and Other Freethinkers." It was a joy to see, especially when Highway 99 runs the entire length of the state of California, and our two-mile section is a few miles north of Sacramento. People have evidently taken notice of the sign as well as the clean stretch of highway.
The recent gratuitous use of our name and sign made me think that many times we nonbelievers exaggerate the animosity toward us by the general public.
Also, it may be that Dr. Michael Newdow's suit regarding the elimination of "under God" in the pledge has helped create a climate in our area in which open communication is increasingly possible. However, I really believe that the general public is more neutral about us than we think.
My husband and I belong to several freethought organizations, among them the Humanists of Hawaii. Shortly after we became members, we noted that every Martin Luther King Day the people of Hawaii hold a large parade in Honolulu. Marchers include members of groups as diverse as union groups, women's groups, and church groups. We suggested that HOH join. Members were reluctant. They were afraid they'd be attacked verbally or people would throw things at them. Now, the Humanists of Hawaii have participated two years in a row with nothing but positive feedback.
When contemplating being more forthright, I think of a friend of mine. She grew up toeing the Roman Catholic line, believed in an omniscient god through the birth of her ten children, but is now a model of freethinking.
No one who knows her is ever in doubt about her "non" beliefs. She's an example for the rest of us. I believe that now with government so virulently religious, if we don't speak out we will live to regret it.
We must let elected officials know that we are vocal and voting.
That doesn't mean groups and individuals will not encounter difficulties. Dr. Newdow has received nasty calls and threats. Atheists and Other Freethinkers of Sacramento gets an occasional hateful message on the voice mail. But for the main part we get no flak.
Lately, I took a personal risk. I live in an age-restricted community where Christianity is a given, where a Jewish Friendship Circle didn't evolve until the community was a few years old. It is a constant fight to get people to call it a Winter Holiday party instead of Christmas party. This week I put an ad in our monthly newsletter saying a nontheistic group was forming, and those interested should call me. I gave my telephone number. It will be interesting to see how many freethinkers respond. I have already identified ten and certainly there should be others.
My husband and I identified ourselves as humanists almost a quarter of a century ago. At that time we did not know freethought organizations existed. We thought we were alone in the world. Over and over people who discover FFRF, AAI, AHA or any of the other freethought groups say essentially the same thing. So it behooves us to be more upfront--not risking our jobs or well-being, but using common sense in coming out--to friends, to co-workers, to our communities. According to recent statistics, 30 million of us embrace nontheistic views. Let's make it count.
When a terrible disaster happens--an air crash, a flood, or an earthquake--people thank God that it wasn't worse. (But then why did he let the earthquake happen at all?)
Or, even more childish and self-indulgent: "Thank you God for the traffic jam that made me miss that plane." (But what about all the unfortunate people who didn't miss the plane?)
The same kind of infantile regression tempts us when we try to understand the natural world.
"Poems are made by fools like me . . . But only God can make a tree."
A pretty song, but an infantile explanation. It's too easy. Lazy. The moment we put a little effort into thinking about it, we realise that God the creator is no explanation at all. He constitutes a bigger question than he answers.
Once, we couldn't do any better. Humanity was still an infant. But now we understand what makes earthquakes; we understand what made trees. Not just trees like oaks and redwoods, with their underground root system like a huge, upside-down tree.
The arteries that leave the heart branch and branch again like a tree. There are about 50 miles of blood vessels in a human body.
Nerve cells, too, branch like trees. They are so numerous in the teeming forest of your brain that, if you stretched them end to end, they would reach right round the world 25 times.
In the face of such wonders, do you fall back, like a child, on God? "It's so wonderful, so complicated, only God could have done it."
It's tempting, isn't it? But it's not a real explanation. Not the kind of explanation that actually explains anything. And it's nowhere near as poetic as the true explanation.
Because the beauty is that humanity has grown up. We now know the true explanation. It's gloriously simple once you get it, and more wonderful than our forefathers could ever have imagined. It makes use of yet another tree. The family tree of life. It began with something smaller than a bacterium, and it branched and branched to give all the species that have ever lived, whether extinct like the dinosaurs, or still hanging on like our own. Evolution really explains all of life, and it needs no supernatural intervention of any kind.
The adult response is to rejoice in the amazing privilege we enjoy. We have been born, and we are going to die. But before we die we have time to understand why we were ever born in the first place. Time to understand the universe into which we have been born. And with that understanding, we finally grow up and realise that there is no help for us outside our own efforts.
Humanity can leave the crybaby phase, and finally come of age.
Now there's a thought for more than just a day!
The Ten Commandments monument never should have been placed in Cameron Park. It was wrong to erect it there nearly 40 years ago--whatever the purported reason--and it's wrong to leave it there now.
We can't have freedom "of" religion--that is, the freedom to worship (or not) as our hearts and reason tell us--without freedom "from" religion. To make a free choice, we must be free from religious requirements.
Some of the complainants in the current court case consider themselves religious, and some don't. Some have won awards for service to the community. Some have done graduate work in theology. All thought long and hard about the decision to sign on to the Freedom from Religion Foundation's lawsuit--not because they doubted their stand on moving the monument but because they feared repercussions from elements of the religious right not exactly known for rational thought.
Some people say the monument honors young people who banded together to fight the Mississippi River flood in the mid-1960s. But before you jump on that bandwagon, take a look at the monument: There's no mention of the flood or the brave folks who helped save the city. What connection do the Ten Commandments have with fighting a flood? Why not a statue of a bucket-wielding teenager, a woman filling sandbags, a man hoisting them against the rising floodwaters?
Look at what the monument actually depicts: an eagle, the U.S. flag, two Stars of David, two stone tablets (seemingly the tablets that Charlton Heston carted down the mountain).
Then read the actual words that the city government is endorsing by keeping the monument in the park. Are you comfortable requiring La Crosse residents to believe only in religions that follow one god, who must be worshipped on a certain day? Do you believe, as the city essentially is saying, that Hindus, Buddhists, and others don't belong in the Coulee region?
It's a diverse world, folks, even in La Crosse, Wis. And no one religion holds all the answers for everyone.
Those of us who have joined the lawsuit to move the monument--and the hundreds of people who have contacted us to applaud our decision--are not antireligion. We want to protect freedom of religion by ensuring that church and state stay separate. Allowing the monument to remain in a city park erodes religion's constitutional protections.
People who argue that the monument belongs in Cameron Park because this is somehow a "Christian" country are blinded by their own religious zeal. They don't see that they've become what their religious forefathers tried to escape--proponents of an official state religion.
With the so-called "sale" of the park land to the Eagles, the city has admitted that the monument does not belong in the park. This "sale" is a sham, a ruse. If city officials believe this is a good idea, why didn't they "sell" the park land before? Why was it offered only to the Eagles? Why is the city refusing to sell other parcels of the park to others for other monuments? The answer, of course, is because a bare majority of the City Council is desperately trying to keep the monument in a place where they know it has no legal business. This is the distorted outcome of a corrupted process.
What, then, to do? Many people are saying, "Why not move the monument to the Episcopal church on Main Street?" The church wants it, and the monument would be seen by far more people than in its current location. Main Street is a lot busier than King. Please remember: Those of us who want the monument moved aren't against the Ten Commandments--we're against maintaining that monument in a city park.
The Constitution, not the Ten Commandments, makes this country unique in the world. If you're interested in what can happen in a country with an "official" state religion, consider Afghanistan under the Taliban, or Spain during the Inquisition. That's what happens when government dares to dictate religious beliefs.
The U.S. Constitution promises that no despot can force a particular religion on the American people. Unlike many countries, the United States' founders believed that people should make up their own minds and hearts about religious matters.
The County of Santa Barbara removed a Christian cross from Manning Park in August, in response to a challenge to its legality by Foundation member Roger S. Schlueter, chairman of the Humanist Society of Santa Barbara.
In late June, Schlueter was alerted to the presence of a wooden cross, approximately 10 feet in height, in Manning Park, which is owned and maintained by Santa Barbara County. His brief investigation revealed that the cross had been maintained by the county for decades.
Schlueter wrote a letter to the Santa Barbara County Parks Commission asking that it be removed, citing various legal precedents.
Rick Wheeler, Interim Director of the Department of Parks and Recreation, forwarded the letter to county counsel. Acting promptly on counsel's advice, they removed the cross.
"It is heartening to see the county react promptly and effectively in removing the cross. This ensures that the wall of separation between church and state remains intact and respected in Santa Barbara County," said Schlueter.
Schlueter noted that other local governments in California "have expended thousands of dollars and wasted years fighting the removal of other Christian crosses located on public lands in the state."
"Kudos to Roger for his significant First Amendment victory," added Anne Gaylor, Foundation president.
In a surprise development, the State of Wisconsin did not appeal the Freedom From Religion Foundation's landmark legal victory declaring direct public funding of "faith-based" social services unconstitutional.
"Our legal win sets a firm precedent against Pres. Bush's push to expand so-called 'charitable choice,' " said Foundation President Anne Gaylor.
In a January 7 ruling, U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb of the Western District of Wisconsin declared unconstitutional the grant of $850,000 in unrestricted public funds to Faith Works, a Christian treatment program in Milwaukee for male drug abusers.
The Foundation's lawsuit resulted in the first legal victory in the nation against "faith-based" funding by government. Congress adopted guidelines in 1996 permitting some federal programs to fund churches and "faith-based" groups without requiring them to create a secular arm, remove religious symbols or stop proselytizing.
In a follow-up July 26 ruling, Crabb decided against the Foundation's separate challenge of indirect public funding of Faith Works through state contracts.
The Foundation is appealing that decision to the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
Below is just a sampling of typical news clippings detailing the many tragedies or disasters befalling believers. As usual, "god" gets the credit, but never the blame.
The "Comforts" of Death? The tragic suffocation of three little girls, ages 2, 4, and 6, in their family's cedar chest in rural Wisconsin on Aug. 5, was declared "an act of God" by their deeply religious Mennonite family. "They feel the children are in better hands right now," reported Clark County Sheriff Louis J. Rosandich. Pastor James Martin of the Unity Mennonite Church said, "One of the comforts of this is that children are innocent before God. There is no doubt of the justice of God in this situation." Source: Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Aug. 7, 2002
Church-goers forget toddler, who dies. Daniel James McCray, 23 months old, died on July 28 when his church-going parents accidentally left him in their van for five hours. Temperatures in Lehigh Acres, Fla., reached the mid-90s that day. He was not discovered until the parents were getting ready to return to church for evening services. He was the youngest of five children. Source: AP Online, July 29, 2002
Bus Crash Kills Five. A chartered bus taking youngsters to church camp inexplicably crashed into a concrete pillar of an overpass near Dallas, Tex., killing the driver and four teenagers. Most victims were members of Metro Church of Garland. Sean Burns, a deacon at Metro Church, said: "God's ways are higher than our ways, obviously, and we've just got to trust in God. There may be a reason why this happened." Source: Daily Oklahoman/AP, June 25, 2002
Church Wall Kills Four. Four people, including three children, were killed in a minivan when a church wall collapsed as worshippers were leaving a prayer service in Memphis, Tenn. Three other children were hurt when the wall collapsed at New Greater Hyde Park Missionary Baptist Church. Source: Associated Press, July 22, 2002
Three Killed in Church Bus. Three people were killed and 16 were injured when a semitrailer hit a church bus traveling with a flat tire on Florida's Turnpike near Fort Drum. Eighteen people from First Bethel Missionary Baptist Church and the Friendship Missionary Baptist Church were on the bus. Source: Associated Press, July 22, 2002
Pilgrimage Ends in Disaster. A bus carrying Polish pilgrims on a religious pilgrimage to Medjugorje crashed near Hungary's Lake Balaton, killing 19 people and injuring 32. The shrine to the Virgin Mary is in southeast Bosnia. Source: Reuters, July 1, 2002
Wall Collapses at Religious School. Eight children, ages 6-12, were killed and eight others were injured while reciting verses from the Koran, when a wall at a religious school collapsed after heavy rains in Quetta, Pakistan. Source: Associated Press, April 8, 2002
God Wasn't His Co-Pilot? A pilot of a plane, towing a "heavenly love" banner memorializing a teen car accident victim, died when his plane crashed near Bradenton, Fla. Brian Mason, 21, worked for a banner advertising company. Source: Daily Oklahoman, June 8, 2002
Bikers in Accident after Blessing. Four people who had just attended a "Blessing of the Bikes" service for motorcyclists got into an accident after leaving the Melrose Alliance Church, Melrose, Wis. None was injured. Source: Associated Press, May 5, 2002
Church Member Critically Wounded. Church member Nancy Browning was in critical condition with a gunshot wound after interceding in a dispute between an estranged lesbian couple outside Holy Cross Metropolitan Community Church, Pensacola, Fla. Andrea Cobb, 61, was charged with two counts of attempted murder after shooting at people in the church parking lot following a worship service. Source: Associated Press, April 29, 2002
Tree Crash Kills Four. When a long-dead oak tree crashed on the roof of Baptist preacher Stan Jones's Lincoln car on New Year's Eve in a country road near Cumberland, Ind., he, his wife and two of their three young children were killed. Source: AP/Washington Post, Jan. 6, 2002
Five Christian Students Die. A truck carrying five students from Abilene Christian University ran off a highway bridge, fell 30 feet to a concrete embankment and killed all five people inside. The accident occurred near Weatherford, Texas. Source: Daily Oklahoman, April 1, 2002
Priest, Worshipper Killed. A priest celebrating Mass and a 73-year-old worshipper were killed when a man opened fire without provocation at Our Lady of Peace Church, New York City. Source: Seattle Post-Intelligencer, March 13, 2002
Pilgrims Start Epidemic. More than 1,000 people in the country of Burkina Faso (north of Ghana) have died since January of a strain of meningitis linked to an outbreak among Islamic pilgrims traveling to Mecca in 2000. Source: Associated Press, April 11, 2002
Widow Burned to Death. Kuttu Bai, 65, burned to death on her husband's funeral pyre in a village in central India on Aug. 6, in an apparent act of "Sati," or ritual burning. Fifteen people were arrested in the state of Madhya Pradhesh on charges of murder and conspiracy, including the woman's two grown sons, believed to be after their mother's property. Police said a crowd of 1,000 villagers, some throwing stones, blocked them from rescuing the woman. A woman who dies through Sati is said to become a "goddess," making it possible for villagers to cash in on her death through tourism. Source: BBC News, Aug. 8, 2002
"Honor Killings" Rampant. Human rights experts report 430 cases of "honor killings" in Pakistan during the first four months of 2002. The "tradition," legitimized by religious extremists, sentences women to die if they dishonor male family members. Most killings are sanctioned by a traditional tribal council, such as the one which sentenced a 30-year-old woman to public gang-rape in June after her 12-year-old brother walked down the street with a woman from another tribe. Source: ABCNews.com, Aug. 5, 2002
Women Killed as "Witches." Ten local Bengal tribesmen were arrested for killing five women in India's West Bengal state. They told police a local priest ordered them to kill the women, contending they were witches responsible for a spate of recent deaths from malaria and diarrhea. The women were kidnapped on July 29 in the Jalpaiguri district. Women's rights groups say greedy priests, chiefs or relatives label women as witches to seize property. Source: BBC News, Aug. 1, 2002
Father Convicted in Son's Death. Jacques Robidoux, 29, a member of "The Body," a Massachusetts-based Christian fundamentalist sect, was convicted of murder in June for the starvation death of his son, Samuel, who died three days before his first birthday. Roubidoux's sister claimed she had a religious prophecy that he and his wife Karen had to withhold solid food from their son, even though Karen was pregnant and not producing enough breast milk to nourish him. Roubidoux testified tearfully that he believed to the end that a miracle would save his emaciated baby, who wasted away in 51 painful days. Karen is scheduled to go on trial in September for second-degree murder. Source: Associated Press, June 17, 2002
Doomsday Leader Doomed. A leader in the doomsday cult that killed 12 people and sickened thousands in a nerve gas attack in Tokyo in 1995 was sentenced to death in late June. Tomomitsu Niimi was also found guilty of slaying a lawyer and his family, but said he was just following the orders of religious leader Aum Shinrikyo. Source: Associated Press, June 26, 2002
Drumstick Beatings. A Japanese faith healer, Sachiko Eto, was sentenced to death for beating six people to death with a drumstick during a 1995 exorcism ritual. The group carried out drumstick beatings for about a year. Source: Associated Press, May 11, 2002
Protective Services Aids Boy. The state of Arizona took medical custody of a 9-year-old Prescott boy whose parents refused to give him follow-up chemotherapy and radiation treatment after the removal of a tumor in April. "Our religious beliefs are in our heavenly father," said Stephen Schaffer, father of Samuel. Source: Arizona Republic, May 7, 2002
Starving Baby Rescued. A vegan couple in Queens, New York, were arrested in April for starving their baby daughter by denying her breast milk and formula, feeding her only nuts, fruits and vegetables. At 16 months, Ice Swinton weighed only ten pounds when authorities found her close to death last November. Joseph and Silva Swinton, both 31, contend veganism is their religion. Ice, in foster care, is still developmentally delayed. Source: New York Post, May 6, 2002
Father Kills Daughter, 11. William Harrold, 51, of Seattle, Wash., was charged with first-degree murder after he "decided to give his only child to God," and shot Tiffany Grandquist, a 5th grader. The shooting occurred after St. Therese parochial school said she was "acting up," and asked the family to find a new school. Source: Seattle Post-Intelligencer, March 20, 2002
New Zealand Parents Guilty. A jury in New Zealand found parents of baby Caleb Moorehead guilty of manslaughter in March, after failure to provide the necessaries of life for three of the baby's six months. Caleb died on March 29, 2001, of broncho-pneumonia due to vitamin B12 deficiency caused by the Mooreheads' vegan diet. The Seventh Day Adventist parents kidnapped the baby from a hospital before he was slated to get a life-saving vitamin injection, considering his illness a test of their faith. Source: New Zealand Herald, May 6, 2002
TB Victim Dies. A 24-year-old Tulsa woman who refused treatment for tuberculosis because of her religious convictions died after an 11-month quarantine in her home. Maria Rebecca Rossiwall refused treatment as a member of the Christian Science Church. The Christian Science practitioner who prayed for her almost daily told the media he reduced his usual fee of $20 per ministerial session for her. Source: Daily Oklahoman, May 31, 2002
[St. Paul teaches] that government . . . derives its moral authority from God. It is the 'minister of God' with powers to 'revenge,' to 'execute wrath,' including even wrath by the sword (which is unmistakably a reference to the death penalty).
--Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia
First Things Journal, 2002
My becoming a Christian upset him [Ted Turner] very much--for good reason. He's my husband and I chose not to discuss it with him--because he would have talked me out of it. He's a debating champion. --Jane Fonda, filing for divorce E! Online news, May 15, 2002
One of the reasons I believe the spiritual door was opened for an attack against the United States of America is that the policy of our government has been to ask the Israelis, and demand it with pressure, not to retaliate in a significant way against the terrorist strikes that have been launched against them. --Sen. James Inhofe, R-OK Senate floor speech, March 2002
I have great respect for the Holy Father and I have not lost confidence in the church [due to priest sex abuse scandals] . . . . The Lord is pruning the branches right now, . . . --Jim Tower Pres. Bush's advisor on "faith-based initiatives" Boston Globe, April 23, 2002
Every great and meaningful achievement in this life requires the active involvement of the One who placed us here for a reason. --Vice President Dick Cheney, 2001 New Republic Online, March 20, 2002
Whenever [one] hears [our] religion abused, he should not attempt to defend its tenets, except with his sword, and that he should thrust into the scoundrel's belly as far as it will enter. --King Louis IX of France Roman Catholic Saint (Quoted) Boston Daily Globe April 9, 2002
This [Jewish] stranglehold has got to be broken or this country's going down the drain. . . . A lot of Jews are great friends of mine. They swarm around me and are friendly to me. Because they know that I am friendly to Israel and so forth. But they don't know how I really feel about what they're doing to this country, and I have no power and no way to handle them. --Evangelist Billy Graham to Pres. Nixon, 1972 Recently released tape recording
[Islam is] a very evil and very wicked religion. --Rev. Franklin Graham NBC Nightly News, November 2001
I just fear that they're [the Muslims in America] in agreement that this is a just and holy war. --Rev. Franklin Graham Fox TV's Hannity & Colmes, Aug. 2002
[Pluralists] would have us to believe that Islam is just as good as Christianity, but I'm here to tell you, ladies and gentlemen, that Islam is not just as good as Christianity. Islam was founded by Muhammad, a demon-possessed pedophile who had 12 wives--and his last one was a 9-year-old girl. And I will tell you Allah is not Jehovah either. Jehovah's not going to turn you into a terrorist that'll try to bomb people and take the lives of thousands and thousands of people. --Rev. Jerry Vines Pastor of First Baptist Church Jacksonville, Fla. Southern Baptist Convention Times-Union, June 12, 2002