How can I politely attend the Episcopal wedding of a close friend’s daughter? The friend and I get along because we don’t talk religion, she knows my facts and I am aware of her beliefs. However, whenever we dine at their house, we are invited to bend our heads and say grace. My husband and I just stare silently at each other.
The wedding will be heavy on God, and my friend has told me I will have to suck it up and take communion. I don’t even know what communion is! I do know I don’t want to take it.
At other church weddings, I’ve sat quietly during prayer time and changed the words to songs, even using “dog” for the mythical one.
I don’t think my quiet protests will go unnoticed at this wedding though. I am also afraid I might shout out something inappropriate or start shushing people. Maybe I should just go to the after-party, where my discomfort is less likely to be noticed.
What would Ann Landers say?
— Linda in Virginia
P.S. We’re also invited to a Church of England wedding in the U.K. My friend, who is the only religious one in her family, is planning a wonderful party for after the service. She excitedly told me we were on the A-list.
I wondered what she meant until she explained this meant we were invited to both the service and the party. The lucky (in my opinion) B-listers only get invited to the party!
Scott Colson, production editor:
I think it’s more offensive to eat the Jesus cracker because that’s their god, or for Episcopals, a supposedly adequate representation of him. A cracker is better than the scary carving of Jesus with nails and thorns at some of the more graphic churches I’ve seen. Crackers any day.
The reception is more fun and a chance to interact with the lucky couple and their family without the formalities and incense (unless it’s a Baptist reception — then, run).
Annie Laurie Gaylor, FFRF co-president:
I vote for the party! There you can truly celebrate the newlyweds, not the religion, without artifice or feeling like a hypocrite. No one is likely to notice your absence at a church wedding, and you can circulate and truly enjoy the reception.
I no longer attend religious weddings (with exception of Unitarian). I vowed “never again” after being a “captive” bridesmaid in my 20s in a Catholic wedding for a friend, as the priest went on for two hours about “sin.”
Even firmer is my resolve not to attend religious (“fill in the blank”) funerals, typically more about “sin” (again) than the loved one.
Funerals, especially with open casket, are a relic of religion. Emotions are too raw, families are too upset and have too much to do to force upon them a burial funeral. A memorial service at most, which can be held when everyone has a chance to make travel arrangements and adapt to grief, is far more humane and civilized.
Joan Reisman-Brill, “The Ethical Dilemma” columnist:
You have to politely but firmly tell your friend you will not suck up anything, whether it’s wine and wafers, or just your own values. If that demotes you to the B-list (or off all lists), so “B” it.
If you were Jewish or Muslim, would she expect you to take communion? Even if you were Episcopal, it’s out of line — and perhaps even a sin in the eyes of the faith — to command anyone to perform a sacred ritual against their own conscience.
It’s fine (even fun) during prayers to keep your head up, eyes open and lips not moving (or moving to alternative words that amuse you). But it would be inappropriate for you to register anything that others read as disrespect or protest.
If you really do fear you might lose control, beg off the ceremony and say how much you want to attend the party. Explain to your friend you just aren’t comfortable at a religious service and don’t want to make anyone else uncomfortable, but you would want to be there to celebrate.
A friend who isn’t willing to accept you on these terms is not a true friend. (If you weren’t such a VIP, you could just show up too late for the vows but in time for the kiss; but that’s not an option in this case.)
You can do the same for the U.K. event. This will make room for someone on the B-list who’s eager to get promoted to your spot on A. And again, if this friend says not to bother coming at all, she’ll have saved you a long expensive trip just for a party, however nice.
Even if your friends dump you in a huff, you would do well to leave the door open. Many lovely ladies turn into Mother-of-the-Bridezillas. It could take time, but maybe they’ll one day see things differently and want to reconnect (and perhaps beg forgiveness), which is easier if at least one of you didn’t do any slamming.
Patrick Elliott, staff attorney:
Weddings are supposed to be enjoyable for those getting married and their guests. If the religious ceremony is too much for you to handle, than it may be best to just attend the reception. The people actually getting married will not worry about whether the bride’s mother’s close friend is at the ceremony. You can let them know you care by giving them a personal card and nice gift. Your friend may not fully grasp why you may not want to attend a church service, but there is not much you can do about that.
On the other hand, attending a wedding ceremony is not the end of the world. As an atheist, I have never declined to attend a wedding service. My curiosity won’t allow it, and I don’t want to miss out on the main event. I stand and sit when told but do not otherwise participate by singing or taking communion.
In the Episcopal Church, only baptized Christians may take communion. That means it is more respectful of the church for you to remain in the pew rather than to take communion as your friend told you.
Finally, so what if people notice that you are not taking communion or singing hymns? My Roman Catholic extended family has never approached me and asked about it even though they know I took the sacraments of first communion and confirmation. It may be noticed, but people are there to see a marriage, not to observe who is eating symbolic human flesh.
Of course, if your blood sugar is running low, there are no gods that will smite you for eating a piece of bread.
Name: Andy Shernoff.
Where I live: Greenpoint, Brooklyn, N.Y.
Family: My beautiful fiancée Carla Rhodes and my rescue dog Duchess.
Education: P.S. 148, Flushing High School, State University of New York at New Paltz.
How I got where I am today: I was raised in a safe, supportive environment by parents who nurtured an appreciation for art, music and different cultures. They provided me with the solid foundation to pursue my dreams. Probably the only issue in which religion and I are in accord is the importance of a strong family structure. The world would be a better place if every child was born from love. Of course, that doesn’t require the supernatural, just sensible birth control.
Where I’m headed: We come from stardust and we will return to stardust.
Person in history I admire: John Lennon, for inspiring me to become a musician and setting a high artistic standard. Neil deGrasse Tyson, the smartest man in the room and a noble warrior for science, reason and logic.
Quotations I like: “With or without religion, you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion.” -— Steven Weinberg
“One man’s theology is another man’s belly laugh.” — Robert Heinlein
I love to hear Christian apologists try to squirm their way out of this one, and why does an almighty god need an apologist anyway? “However, you may purchase male or female slaves from among the foreigners who live among you. You may also purchase the children of such resident foreigners, including those who have been born in your land. You may treat them as your property, passing them on to your children as a permanent inheritance. You may treat your slaves like this, but the people of Israel, your relatives, must never be treated this way.” — Leviticus 25:44-46, New Living Translation
These are a few of my favorite things: Music, wine, barbecue, travel to exotic locales, Jon Stewart’s “Daily Show,” focusing on the process not the destination.
These are not: Faith, original sin, people who call themselves “spiritual.”
My doubts about religion started: As a child, I found that no matter how hard I prayed, I never got a response. I eventually realized I was simply talking to myself.
Before I die: Life is simpler when you know what makes you happy, and I know that every day I make music is a good day. I hope to continue to enjoy its healing power as long as I am on this planet.
There’s a reason why many churches open their services with a band and sing-along. The magic in the music gives the congregation a high, which is then misconstrued as being closer to god. I strive to get that feeling without delusion.
Ways I promote freethought: I recently released a CD of songs about religion and faith. I felt the need to take a musical stand and “come out of the closet.” I resent the stigma attached to atheism. The nonsense that we lack morals and can’t be trusted is appalling. According to a recent poll conducted by University of British Columbia and the University of Oregon, atheists are trusted less than rapists!
In my lifetime, I’ve seen blacks and gays improve their status by demanding equal and fair treatment. I think it is time for atheist liberation!
I wish you’d have asked me: What’s the story behind your song “Are You Ready to Rapture?”
I come from New York City, where nobody thinks Jesus is actually returning to Earth. I grew up completely unaware of “the Rapture.” A few years ago, I was surprised to learn that evangelical Christians were offering financial support to settlers on the West Bank of Palestine in an attempt to destabilize the tense situation and accelerate the End Times prophecy. It could all be dismissed as the rantings of religious fanatics, except there are powerful people in government who believe this implicitly. It used to be just nutjobs standing on a street corner in Times Square screaming about the end of the world, now they are running for president.
I would never mock somebody’s religion, but if it’s going to affect public policy, then I have a right to satirize it. And if I can get a good laugh out of it, even better.
‘Are You Ready to Rapture?’
Andy Shernoff modestly omits his decades-long musical influence as a rock journalist and co-founder of the early punk bank the Dictators in the mid-1970s, predating the Ramones by a year. He later collaborated with Joey Ramone and several other groups. Shernoff played at the March 2012 Reason Rally in Washington, D.C., the nation’s largest secular gathering ever.
He released his first solo EP “Don’t Fade Away” in 2012 and his second solo EP “On the First Day Man Created God” in 2013. The latter features “Are You Ready to Rapture?” “Skeptical,” “Fisher of Men” and “Get on Your Knees for Jesus.” Check out
andyshernoff.com and cdbaby.com/cd/
andyshernoff3 for more. Google “shernoff rapture” too see the “Ready to Rapture” video.
He wrote “Rapture” to poke fun at the late Pastor Harold Camping’s predictions of Armageddon. Shernoff told Dangerous Minds online: “I had the phrase Jewish zombie rolling through my brain and wanted to incorporate it into a song. I developed a fascination with Christian eschatology and researched it extensively. I wanted everything in the song to accurately represent what these knuckleheads believe. It took a few months, and I probably wrote 25 verses until I had the right combination of drama, truth and sarcasm.”
Are You Ready to Rapture?
The skies part
as a light shines through
guess who’s back
it’s the zombie Jew.
He’s really pissed
at the unmarried fornicators
the stem cell crusaders
and the butt hole invaders.
So the towers fell
and the earth did quake
just a little taste of his vengeance
America prepare for your fate.
’Cause when the trumpets sound, he will astound
watch the rivers turn to blood
the sinners cry and the dead will rise
judgment day has come.
Are you ready to rapture?
The savior that you spurn
Loves you forever
But the unbelievers must burn
When the zombie Jew returns. . .
USAF Freethinkers Club wins validation
The Freethinkers Club at the U.S. Air Force Academy, which sponsored “Ask an Atheist” days, did not violate any rules and can maintain display tables and offer information to interested persons at its annual fair, academy officials announced March 19. The group is an authorized cadet club.
Military.com reported the school’s announcement came after seven cadets, faculty and staff members contacted the Military Religious Freedom Foundation.
Religious plates win Wisconsin vote
Both houses of the Wisconsin Legislature approved a bill to issue special “In God We Trust” license plates. The bill passed 91-0 in the Assembly and 30-2 in the Senate (opposed by Democratic Sens. Fred Risser and Mark Miller. Risser, 86, of Madison, is the longest-serving legislator in the U.S., first elected in 1956.)
FFRF has taken issue with the godly plates since September and sent an action alert to Wisconsin members. Staff Attorney Patrick Elliott noted in his testimony at a public hearing: “Legislators are elected to represent all citizens, including those who do not believe in a monotheistic god or any gods. Both supporters and opponents of the bill recognize that ‘In God We Trust’ is a religious statement.”
Gov. Scott Walker hadn’t signed the bill at press time.
Judge’s religious bias hit again
A unanimous three-judge panel of the Oklahoma Court of Civil Appeals on March 21 reversed a decision by Oklahoma County District Judge Bill Graves that denied a name change from James Dean Ingram to Angela Renee Ingram after Ingram’s gender reassignment surgery.
The Associated Press reported it’s the second name-change case in the last two years in which the appeals court has reversed Graves. He earlier rejected a change from Steven Charles Harvey to Christie Ann Harvey. In both cases, he cited specific bible passages as justification for denial.
Graves, a former Republican state lawmaker, told the AP he’s very disappointed. “We can’t change our sex, the way God made us. These things are really counterfeit.”
After being term-limited, Graves was replaced by current GOP Rep. Sally Kern, who has called homosexuality a greater threat to the U.S. than terrorism.
Ingram was represented by the ACLU of Oklahoma.
Salvation Army to pay $450,000 in suit
The New York Civil Liberties Union announced court approval March 18 of a settlement in Lowe v. The Salvation Army in which the plaintiffs will receive $450,000 in damages and attorneys’ fees to two plaintiffs.
Reuters reported that the decade-old federal suit involved now-former employees who alleged the charity pressured them to follow its religious mission while they worked on government-funded projects.
The Salvation Army’s Greater New York division also agreed to provide employees of its government-funded services with a document saying it won’t ask about their religious beliefs or make them adhere to religious policies.
The suit was filed in 2004 after the administration of former President George W. Bush made it easier for churches to get federal money for so-called faith-based initiatives. The greater New York division currently has more than $188 million in government contracts to provide social services and nearly 300 employees are paid with public money.
Board backs veto of church subsidy
Milwaukee Common Council members voted 13-1 on March 4 to sustain Mayor Tom Barrett’s veto of a resolution giving up to $5,000 to the Retail Christian Network for a breakfast at the International Council of Shopping Centers convention in May in Las Vegas.
The Journal Sentinel reported that Barrett felt there was no public purpose to spend tax dollars to finance RCN’s year-round ministry or to support Higher Call, its parent organization based in Franklin, Tenn.
Idaho kills bill on faith healing
Idaho House leaders denied a hearing on a bill to address the number of children who die because their parents choose faith healing and not medical assistance for religious reasons, The Associated Press reported.
Judiciary Committee Chairman Rich Wills said Feb. 26 he was told by House Speaker Scott Bedke that the bill wouldn’t be brought up.
Democratic Rep. John Gannon had proposed changes to state law in the wake of dozens of deaths of children whose parents belong to the Followers of Christ in southwestern Idaho. Similar deaths from treatable conditions have occurred in Oregon, the Followers’ home base.
Home schoolers lose but stay anyway
The U.S. Supreme Court denied certiorari March 3 in Romeike v. Holder. The 6th Circuit earlier denied asylum to a German evangelical Christian family seeking to stay in the U.S. because of Germany’s ban on home schooling, reported Religion Clause.
The appeals court ruled in May 2013 that the Romeikes didn’t have a “well-founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion,” as U.S. immigration law requires.
However, on March 4, the Department of Homeland Security granted the family “indefinite deferred status” to stay in the U.S., according to Fox News.
The Romeikes moved to Morristown, Tenn., in 2008 after facing fines and risking loss of custody of their children for refusing to send them to a state-approved school in Germany. The family was granted asylum in 2010 based on religious freedom grounds, but the Obama administration appealed the decision and won.
Soledad cross groups seeks certiorari
In Mt. Soledad Memorial Association v. Steve Trunk, the association announced March 4 it will seek Supreme Court review of a lower court ruling that the 29-foot-tall cross must be moved out of a public park in San Diego, Calif. Trunk is an FFRF “foxhole atheist” member and award recipient. The cross has been the subject of litigation since 1989.
The association, which is represented by the evangelical Liberty Institute, contends a Christian cross looming over the 1954 war memorial has no religious significance and somehow honors all of the 3,300 veterans whose names are on memorial plaques, even non-Christians and nonbelievers.
State pushes bible as ‘official’ book
Louisiana Rep. Thomas Carmody, R-Shreveport, introduced HB 503 in the House to declare the bible as the official state book, KTSB reported. FFRF has formally complained about the constitutional violation to state officials.
“The official state book shall be the Holy Bible, published by Johannes Prevel . . . which is the oldest edition of the Holy Bible in the Louisiana State Museum system,” the legislation says. The Prevel bible was published in the early 16th century.
The legislation also proposes that the state’s motto should be changed to read: “A state, under God, united in purpose and ideals, confident that justice shall prevail for all of those abiding here.”
The session started March 10. In a March 3 online Times-Picayune poll, 62% of respondents said the bible should not be the state’s official book.
on governor’s desk
The Georgia Senate gave final passage March 12 to a bill that authorizes placing a Ten Commandments monument at the Capitol. The bill passed the House 138-37 and the Senate 40-10.
The bill prescribes placement of a “historic granite monument” depicting the preamble to the Georgia Constitution, a line from the Declaration of Independence and the Ten Commandments. Private funds would be used.
Some Democrats said they voted “no” because such a law won’t survive a constitutional challenge. “The state doesn’t necessarily need to endorse private individuals and their expenditure of money in supporting their own religion,” Sen. Steven Henson told a television reporter.
Gov. Nathan Deal hadn’t signed the bill as of press time. FFRF sent an action alert to members March 14 urging them to tell Deal to veto the bill.
Arguments heard in commandments case
A federal judge heard arguments March 11 on whether a 6-foot-tall, 3,000-pound Ten Commandments monument in front of City Hall in Bloomfield, N.M., is constitutional. The American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico filed the suit against the city on behalf of two plaintiffs who practice the Wiccan religion.
Attorneys for the city contend that “private parties” paid for the monument under a 2007 city resolution that lets members of the public “erect historical monuments of their choosing,” reported the Albuquerque Journal.
The Alliance Defending Freedom, which calls itself a “legal ministry,” is defending the city.
“This is not a free speech case,” plaintiffs’ attorney Andrew Schultz said during opening arguments. “It is a case of government speech.”
wins relief in court
A federal district court on March 14 ordered the Sabine Parish School District to refrain from unconstitutionally promoting or denigrating religion. The consent order came after the ACLU of Louisiana sued on behalf of C.C., a sixth-grader of Thai descent and a practicing Buddhist.
School officials allegedly told C.C. that Buddhism was “stupid,” suggested he transfer to a school with “more Asians,” incorporated prayer into class and nearly every school event, hung a portrait of Jesus over the main entry and participated in a number of other activities that blatantly violated the separation of church and state, said the ACLU’s Heather Weaver.
In February, C.C.’s mother was accosted while doing yard work, Weaver said. “Three people wearing KKK-type white hoods drove by her and shouted, ‘You fucking nigger Asian-loving bitch.’ ”
According to the ACLU, C.C.’s science teacher, Rita Roark, repeatedly told students that the Earth was created by God 6,000 years ago, that evolution is “impossible” and that the bible is “100 percent true.”
The court order also mandated in-service training for school staff on their First Amendment obligations.
Jail won’t stop her
The Carroll County commissioners in Baltimore must stop opening meetings with sectarian prayers, a federal judge ruled March 25 in granting a preliminary injunction, reported the Baltimore Sun.
U.S. District Judge William Quarles Jr. said commissioners can continue to pray at meetings but can’t refer to deities linked to any specific faith.
Plaintiff Bruce Hake, a Catholic immigration attorney, sued last May after commissioners started taking turns saying a prayer. “It’s un-American to impose one flavor of religion on people,” Hake said.
Local resident Neil Ridgely and the American Humanist Association were co-plaintiffs with Hake.
Two days later, reported the Carroll County Times, Commissioner Robin Bartlett Frazier opened the board’s budget meeting with a prayer containing references to Jesus Christ, Lord, our Father, merciful Father and the Holy Spirit. She said she’s willing to go to jail to fight the injunction.
“If we cease to believe that our rights come from God, we cease to be America,” Frazier said. “We’ve been told to be careful. But we’re going to be careful all the way to communism if we don’t start standing up and saying ‘no.’ ”
Tenn. bill boosts
The Tennessee Legislature on March 24 passed the Religious Viewpoints Anti-Discrimination Act requiring schools to let students express their religious views in class, at assemblies, over the school’s P.A. system and at public events such as graduation, the Baton Rouge Advocate reported.
The legislation, which passed 90-2 in the House and 32-0 in the Senate, must be signed by Republican Gov. Bill Haslam to become law.
“An evangelical student, for example, could preach the gospel during a science class, or ‘witness’ during English,” said David Badash of the New Civil Rights Movement, an online journal. “Attacks on LGBT people and same-sex marriage are automatically protected under this bill, offering anti-gay students a state-sponsored license to bully. And of course, a student could claim they worship Satan and subject their classmates to that ‘religious viewpoint’ as well.”
Oklahoma state Rep. Sally Kern has co-sponsored a similar bill with the same title. It received unanimous House passage (with 13 absentions) in February and was referred to the Senate Education Committee as an “emergency” bill.
Millennials quit church over LGBT issues
In a Public Religion Research Institute survey released Feb. 26, about a third of millennials who left organized religion said “negative teachings” or “negative treatment” related to gays and lesbians played a significant role.
Of adults between age 18 and 33, 17% said negativity about religion’s LGBT issues was “somewhat important” to leaving, and 14% said it was a “very important” factor.
A majority of the 4.500 Americans polled (58%) also said religious groups are “alienating young adults by being too judgmental on gay and lesbian issues.” Among millennials, that percentage jumped to 70.
The polls was conducted in November and December 2013.
Religious bills draw vetoes in Virginia
Virginia Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s March 27 veto of a bill giving military chaplains wide latitude to proselytize brought predictable howls from conservatives.
The Family Foundation said in an e-mail that McAuliffe denied “good sense and the General Assembly’s voting record” in favor of acquiescing “to the ACLU’s wishes.” Bill sponsor Sen. Dick Black, R-Loudoun County, said the veto reflects a “sort of unspoken antagonism to Christianity that’s based on gay marriage and abortion,” the Virginian-Pilot reported.
In his veto message, McAuliffe said the bill “would seriously undermine the religious freedom of National Guard members by potentially exposing them to sectarian proselytizing.”
Chaplains can minister as they choose at voluntary services or in private settings but don’t “have the right to use official, mandatory events as a platform to disseminate their own religious views,” McAuliffe wrote.
The governor’s office said he intends to veto a student religious expression bill that passed 20-18 in the Senate and 64-34 in the House of Delegates. Religion Clause reported that the bill would protect voluntary student prayer and prayer gatherings before, during and after school; wearing of clothing or jewelry displaying religious messages; and expression of religious viewpoints by neutrally selected student speakers at graduation and similar events.
The Roanoke Times reported that McAuliffe’s office said he’ll veto the bill out of concerns about its constitutionality and unintended consequences.
Religion trumps rights in Mississippi
The Mississippi Legislature has approved a “turn away the gays” bill to let businesses and individuals refuse services to LGBT people on religious grounds. The Republican-controlled House and Senate both passed a conference report April 1 on the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. The House vote was 78-43. The Senate vote was 38-14.
Gov. Phil Bryant has not said if he’ll sign it. A similar bill was vetoed by Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer.
The Washington Blade reported that the bill also adds “In God We Trust” to the state seal.
Church ousts Scouts but keeps money
Fr. John De Celles, pastor of St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church in Springfield, Va., ended parish support for Cub and Boy Scout groups because of Scouting’s new policy on gays. De Celles took the popcorn money and another $1,200 that Pack 683 had raised to sponsor a unit of Trail Life USA, founded in 2013 to offer “Christ-centered” Scouting, reported the Washington Post on March 1.
While De Celles had authority to transfer the money, that didn’t sit well with some. “He hurt these children for no reason so that he didn’t have to fund his own new program,” said Pack 683 parent Stephanie Curb.
“I don’t think it was the moral thing to do,” parent Melanie Frola said. The Frolas are leaving the parish because of the decision. Their son sold $84.66 worth of popcorn.
The Disney Co. announced Feb. 28 it will stop supporting the Boy Scouts of America in 2015 over the Scouts’ ban on gay leaders. Disney does not contribute directly, but employees can do volunteer work in exchange for donations to organizations of their choice.
One Florida Scout leader said some troops were getting up to $6,000 a year through Disney’s VoluntEARS program.
SCOTUS hears Hobby Lobby challenge
The Supreme Court heard arguments March 25 on challenges by Hobby Lobby Stores and Conestoga Wood Corp. to the Affordable Care Act’s contraceptive mandate. The firms are Christian-owned and claim the law abridges their religious freedom.
Reuters speculated a majority could rule that corporations have a right to make religious claims, but that the contraceptive mandate does not merit one. The AP called the court “divided.”
The Wall Street Journal said:
“Chief Justice Roberts appeared to tip his hand when he told [Solicitor General Verrilli] that the parade of horribles — all kinds of religious exemptions being claimed by all sorts of employers, punching holes in the uniform application of the laws — could be avoided by a ruling limited to closely held enterprises, like S corporations that pass their earnings through to their shareholders. That would leave the issue of, say, an Exxon claiming religious freedom rights to another day. Later, Justice Breyer suggested he might be open to that type of resolution.”
Mother Jones reported April 1 that Hobby Lobby has invested millions in companies that manufacture contraception and abortion-inducing medication.
The report said several of its retirement plan mutual funds are invested in Teva Pharmaceutical and Actavis.
Seek salvation, take home a weapon
The Kentucky Baptist Convention is leading “Second Amendment Celebrations” in which churches give away guns, which the Baptists are billing as “outreach to rednecks” to “point people to Christ,” said a March 1 story in the Louisville Courier-Journal.
Chuck McAlister, the convention’s team leader for evangelism, said 1,678 men made “professions of faith” at about 50 such events last year. In Louisville, he said, more than 500 people showed up one January day for a gun giveaway at Highview Baptist Church, and 61 made decisions to seek salvation.
“How ironic to use guns to lure men in to hear a message about Jesus, who said, ‘Put away the sword,’ ” said Rev. Joe Phelps, pastor at Independent Highland Baptist Church.
Setback for abortion rights in Maryland
In Centro Tepeyac v. Montgomery County, a Maryland U.S. District Court on March 7 enjoined enforcement of a 2010 county resolution that requires each “limited service pregnancy center” to post to post a sign in English and Spanish in its waiting room that reads:
(1) “the Center does not have a licensed medical professional on staff” and (2) “the Montgomery County Health Officer encourages women who are or may be pregnant to consult with a licensed health care provider.”
The resolution expressed concern that “clients may be misled into believing that a center is providing medical services when it is not. Clients could therefore neglect to take action (such as consulting a doctor) that would protect their health or prevent adverse consequences, including disease, to the client or the pregnancy.”
So-called “crisis” pregnancy centers are typically operated by religious groups that try to talk women out of having abortions while misleading them about its risks. The court ruled the reolution was content-based and violated the First Amendment.
Scottish priests decline in Glasgow parishes
A March 12 report in the Scottish Herald estimated that within 20 years, the Catholic Archdiocese of Glasgow will have only 45 priests, less than half the number needed to staff current parishes.
Between 1991 and 2012, attendance at funerals in the archdiocese dropped 14%, along with a 39% decline at baptisms and declines of 41% at Sunday Mass and 54% at weddings.
Sentenced to hang on blasphemy charge
A Pakistani judge sentenced a Christian to death for blasphemy, Reuters reported March 27. Sawan Masih was sentenced to hang after a Muslim said Masih insulted the prophet Muhammad a year ago in Lahore. The accusation against Masih sparked a riot during which than 100 Christian homes were torched.
At least 16 people are on death row in Pakistan for blasphemy and at least 20 others are serving life sentences. No one has yet been executed for blasphemy.
The Secular Coalition for America, of which the Freedom From Religion Foundation is a member organization, is holding its 2014 Lobby Day and Secular Summit in Washington, D.C., on June 12-13. It will include lobbying training, visits with legislators and staffers on Capitol Hill and a policy conference.
Registration is $50 for students and $99 for others and includes breakfast, lunch and lobbying training Thursday morning, lobbying visits Thursday afternoon and a pool party and reception Thursday night. Friday includes breakfast, lunch and a variety of panels and workshops.
A discounted room rate of $159/night at the Liaison Capitol Hill expires May 19.
‘No Religion 4’
set in B.C. in May
Rational thought comes to Kamloops, British Columbia, May 16-18, when Humanist Canada and BC Humanists sponsor the fourth annual Imagine No Religion conference.
FFRF Co-Presidents Dan Barker and Annie Laurie Gaylor will speak, along with Jerry Coyne, professor of biology, author of Why Evolution Is True and an FFRF honorary officer and Emperor Has No Clothes honoree.
Other speakers include Eugenie Scott, who is stepping down as executive director of the National Center for Science Education; “The Thinking Atheist” video producer and Blog TalkRadio podcaster Seth Andrews; Jerry DeWitt, first graduate of the Clergy Project, who left Pentecostalism after 25 years in ministry; Margaret Downey, founder of Freethought Society; Friendly Atheist blogger Hemant Mehta, author of I Sold My Soul on eBay and The Young Atheist’s Survival Guide; Wanda Morris, executive director of Dying with Dignity Canada; and Carolyn Porco, leader of the imaging science team on the Cassini mission currently orbiting Saturn, and a popular science writer.
Sign up to attend and make travel and accommodation arrangements at imaginenoreligion.ca/. The event begins Friday, May 16, at 7 p.m. and continues through Sunday. Beautiful Kamloops is in south-central British Columbia.
First off, I want to thank God, because that’s who I look up to. He has graced my life with opportunities that I know are not of my hand or of any other human hand.
Matthew McConaughey, accepting the Best Actor Oscar for his role in “Dallas Buyers Club”
The Daily Beast, 3-3-14
You know what? You’re an ass. I’ve had enough of you. You’re a real punk. You know that? You have contributed nothing to this program in 10 minutes, zero. And you’re not that smart. You may think you’re smart, but you talk in circles. . . . The problem that some of you atheists have is you’re intolerant. And you’re a punk. So get lost. Get out of here.
Radio talk show host Mark Levin, after a caller disagreed that atheism should disqualify a person from being president
FFRF stops bible ads on school marquee
A high school in North Carolina no longer displays church advertisements on its marquee because of FFRF. Several proselytizing ads, including “1 Peter 5:7” (“Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you”), were featured on the marquee at South Caldwell High School in Lenoir, N.C. These ads were purchased by “Day 3 Church.”
Staff Attorney Patrick Elliott sent a letter to the district on Jan 8, explaining why displaying religious messages are an egregious violation on public school property:
“Messages on the South Caldwell High School sign are prominently featured and are intended to directly reach students. These messages have the imprimatur of the school and are subject to the Establishment Clause. Advertising on the sign may be properly limited to serve the school’s objectives.”
FFRF requested that if the school would not remove the church ads, FFRF would also purchase ad space itself.
The school district’s attorney promptly responded that the school had removed all ads, which a photo sent by a local complainant verified. The district has changed its policy to ban all nonschool ads on the marquee, the attorney told FFRF.
Lamb of God off Minn. school menu
A public high school in Fertile, Minn., will no longer place a nativity scene in the cafeteria, as it did last December. According to local news sources, the display was temporarily removed, then put back up after a vote of the school board late last year.
Staff Attorney Patrick Elliott sent a letter to the Board of Education in December, explaining that the school may not lawfully maintain, erect, or host a nativity scene:
“The placement of a scene of the legendary birth of Jesus in a public school places the imprimatur of the school district behind Christian religious doctrine. Endorsements of Christianity in public schools are disturbing for those parents and students who are not Christians.”
On Feb. 28, the district’s attorney replied in writing that the board “rescinded its previous directive, which would allow ‘religious symbols as part of holiday decor as long as it is accompanies by other holiday decor.’ ”
The letter added, “The school district is fully aware of the current status of the applicable federal and state statues as well as court decisions regarding the issues at hand and intends to proceed in a fashion consistent with the law.”
School pulls Christian film after letter
A school in New York will no longer show the Christian film “How to Save a Life” in a sophomore health class. FFRF received a complaint from a parent of a high school student in the Jamesville-DeWitte Central School District, DeWitt, N.Y.
Senior Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert sent a letter to the district to point out the constitutional problems with showing Christians films to a captive audience of students:
“The film tells the story of a high school basketball star named Jake who loses a former friend to suicide, and Jake’s path to saving another friend from committing suicide by joining a church group and thus reforming his ways. The film also involves acts of premarital sex, drug and alcohol use, cutting, discussion of abortion and so on. Other films these companies have been involved with have had overt Christian messages, primarily involving accepting Jesus Christ and the Christian religion.”
On March 14, the district responded that although the film had indeed been shown during the school day, it was an “isolated incident” that does not represent and is not consistent with school policy.
The district added, “After speaking with the teacher in question, be assured that this film will not be used as a resource in the future.”
FFRF helps nonbeliever become citizen
The Freedom From Religion Foundation helped nonbeliever Adriana Ramirez, a native Colombian living in California, become a U.S. citizen after her naturalization application was initially rejected by the San Diego office of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
Ramirez had refused to swear an oath “to bear arms on behalf of the United States when required by the law,” asking for an exemption because, she wrote, “The strength of my moral and ethical convictions in this matter is greater than any religious training or indoctrination that I may have had in my upbringing.”
She also objected to the phrase “so help me God,” saying, “I do not hold such religious beliefs.”
The agency, which is part of the Department of Homeland Security, responded by writing that “the oath of alliegence [sic] must be based on religious training and belief. . . . [Y]our unwillingness is not based on religious training and belief.”
On Feb. 21, Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel wrote USCIS a forceful complaint letter, noting Supreme Court precedent. “It is shocking that USCIS officers would not be aware that a nonreligious yet deeply held belief would be sufficient to attain this exemption. This is a longstanding part of our law, and every USCIS officer should receive training on this exemption.”
On March 20, FFRF was informed that Ramirez received a letter stating her application had been accepted and giving information on attending a naturalization ceremony.
In 2013, FFRF helped Margaret Doughty become a U.S. citizen, surmounting a nearly identical situation at the Houston USCIS office. The office relented and let her take the oath without the “bear arms” requirement.
The repeated violations led FFRF to write a comprehensive letter to USCIS Director Alejandro Mayorkas. Seidel asked Mayorkas to issue a clarifying policy memorandum to prevent future nonreligious citizens from going through similar ordeals. He also took issue with prayers at citizenship ceremonies and ceremonies occurring in Catholic institutions.
“We thought this discriminatory policy was dropped, and here another applicant encounters the same barrier. The U.S. government must resolve this problem permanently,” said FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor.
FFRF letter assures Gideon-free school
An FFRF letter of complaint ensured that bibles will no longer be distributed by Gideons International in a Tennessee high school.
A concerned parent informed FFRF that the Gideons were allowed to distribute bibles at Madisonville Intermediate School. A parent reported that at different times during the day, teachers took their classes to the guidance counselor’s office where Gideons preached to students and handed them each a Christian bible.
Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel sent a letter in December to the district, explaining the constitutional violation: “The district may not allow any religious groups to enter school property to distribute religious literature. Even if the students are not forced to accept these bibles, the school sends a clear message to the children in its charge who are nonadherents ‘that they are outsiders, not full members of the political community.’ ”
On Feb. 21, the Monroe School District responded that it would not allow further bible distribution and would “work diligently to ensure student rights under all laws are upheld.”
Extending free exercise rights to corporations would undercut the rights of actual living, breathing Americans. At stake in this lawsuit is whether corporate chief executives are entitled to impose their religious beliefs on their employees and deny important federal rights to those employees. Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood hire workers of all religious faiths and persuasions, but refuse to respect that many of their employees may have a different set of religious views and want and need access to the full range of contraceptives.
David Gans, Constitutional Accountability Center, op-ed, “These claims shouldn’t have a prayer”
Los Angeles Times, 3-18-14
These companies are not religious organizations, nor are they affiliated with religious organizations. But the owners say they are victims of an assault on religious liberty because they personally disapprove of certain contraceptives. They are wrong, and the Supreme Court’s task is to issue a decisive ruling saying so. The real threat to religious liberty comes from the owners trying to impose their religious beliefs on thousands of employees.
Editorial board, “Crying Wolf on Religious Liberty”
New York Times, 3-22-14
It’s past the point of wanting the pictures. I just want them to look at what’s happening. We’re praying that Walgreens learns that the bible doesn’t belong to anyone, it belongs to everyone.
Kelly Taylor, 46, Gulfport, Miss., after Walgreens relented after refusing to process two prints of bible verses due to concerns about copyright violation
Fox News, 2-26-14
Christ’s burial is followed by what may be the least necessary title card in cinema history: “Three days later.” Surely the resurrection comes as no consolation to the movie’s Pilate, who scoffs, “He’ll be forgotten in a week.”
Ben Kenigsberg, movie review, “History Channel’s ‘The Bible’ is cut into an equally chintzy film, ‘Son Of God’ ”
The board of trustees is requiring professors and staff to sign a statement saying that they believe Adam and Eve were created in an instant by God and that humans share no ancestry with other life forms.
News story on Bryan College’s new policy in Dayton, Tenn., home of the 1925 Scopes “monkey” trial
Chattanooga Times Free-Press, 3-2-14
Your religion is yours; it’s not a code that the rest of us must live by. If you have an issue with abortion, don’t have one. If you have an issue with gay marriage, don’t have one.
Steven Lopez, Sterling, Ill., letter to the editor responding to one headlined “Abortion still heinous, godless”
Sterling Daily Gazette, 2-22-14
Today, Michelle and I join our fellow Christians in the United States and around the world in marking Ash Wednesday. Lent is a season of reflection, repentance, and renewal — a chance to recommit to loving and serving one another, and to deepen our faith in preparation for the Easter celebration to come.
President Barack Obama, White House statement
USA Today, 3-5-14
The weather may have been a factor in not many people being out and about at lunchtime.
Linda McVay, St. John’s Episcopal Church pastoral care team member, on why only a dozen people in two hours availed themselves of “Ashes to Go” on Ash Wednesday in downtown Portsmouth, Maine
Portsmouth Herald, 3-6-14
For most of my life, I’ve been, “Hey, I’m not into it, but I respect your right to believe whatever you want.” But as time goes on, weirdly, I’m growing less liberal. I’m more like, “No, religion is ruining the world, you need to stop!”
Irish actor Chris O’Dowd, magazine interview
British GQ, April 2014
This is an excessive lifestyle.
Beth Maguire, Cathedral of Christ the King parishioner, Atlanta, on the Catholic archdiocese spending $4.4 million on two residences for clergy from a $15 million bequest from Joseph Mitchell, nephew of “Gone With the Wind” author Margaret Mitchell
Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 3-22-14
We’re not anti-religious. We just think a public school should be inclusive for all kids. If they want to have a religious prayer, it should be said in scripture or prayer groups, but not during a core school activity like assemblies.
Kersten Tuckey, who withdrew her daughter from Kororo Public School in New South Wales after parents voted to retain school prayer
Sydney Morning Herald, 3-23-14
According to a survey conducted by the Israeli Science Ministry, the profession of rabbi or any other clergyman is the least well-thought-of by the Israeli public.
News story in which the medical profession was “most admired” in the poll
The Algemeiner, 3-25-14
What to give up for Lent: Religion.
Hulda Pelzl, Texas FFRF member
Science is not there for you to cherry-pick. You know, I said this once and it’s gotten a lot of Internet play, I said the good thing about science is that it’s true whether or not you believe in it. All right? I guess you can decide whether or not to believe in it, but that doesn’t change the reality of an emergent scientific truth.
Neil DeGrasse Tyson, host of “Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey” and Hayden Planetarium director, on why media shouldn’t give equal time to creationists and “flat-earthers”
“Reliable Sources,” CNN, 3-9-14
As a creationist, I find Neil deGrasse Tyson’s presumption to educate America on the meaning of science as host of “Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey” repulsive and sad. I am repulsed by Tyson’s transparent attempt to promote atheism and discredit the Word of God, and saddened that so many cannot recognize the Dark Age a priori pseudo-science animating his slick words.
Robert Bowie Johnson Jr., op-ed
Canada Free Press, 3-19-14
Whatever one might hear on the right about a war on religion, in this country we still care more about catering to religious sensibilities, even in liberal Hollywood, than we do about encouraging the open questioning of the claims of the faithful.
Lawrence Krauss, physicist and subject with Richard Dawkins of the film documentary “The Unbelievers,” op-ed titled “Why Hollywood Thinks Atheism Is Bad for Business”
The New Yorker, 3-5-14
Dead “Snake Salvation” Pastor Jamie Coots Had No Life Insurance
Headline about a snake-bitten Kentucky pastor who’s survived by his wife, father, two children and a grandchild
Christian Post, 2-17-14
The second goal is that particularly unchurched servers would understand that not all Christians are rude, impatient, lousy tippers.
Lead Pastor Chad Roberts, Preaching Christ Church, Kingsport, Tenn., on the website he set up named “Sundays Are the Worst” for restaurant workers to vent on
Kingsport Times News, 3-3-14
All of a sudden he just snaps. [It] just clicked like that and then he said he hopes I rot in hell.
Skyler Joly, 15, accusing his parish priest, Fr. Roman Manchester of Our Lady of Good Help in Burrillville, R.I., of inappropriate behavior during religion class
In my own parish, several longstanding parishioners have ceased all financial contributions to the parish because they do not want a cent of their gift to go to the diocese.
Catholic parishioner John Veal, supporting a petition to remove Robert Finn as bishop of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph for alleged cover-up of clergy sex abuse
Kansas City Star, 3-13-14
While most invocations are traditional and uneventful, the Rev. Joe Nelms of Lebanon, Tenn., garnered national attention in 2011, when he thanked God for several series sponsors by name and his “smokin’ hot wife” prior to a Nationwide Series race at Nashville Superspeedway.
News story, “NASCAR only pro sport to televise weekly prayer”
Bristol Herald Courier, 3-15-14
Shakespeare is my religion. Shakespeare has more wisdom and insight about our lives, about how to live and how not to live, how to forgive and how to understand our fellow creatures, than any religious tract. One hundred times more than the bible.
Sir Trevor Nunn, British theater director
The Telegraph, 3-17-14
The thing that’s really disturbing about Noah isn’t “the silly,” it’s that it’s immoral. It’s about a psychotic mass murderer who gets away with it and his name is God. Genesis says God was so angry with himself for screwing up when he made mankind so flawed that he sent the flood to kill everyone — men, women, children, babies. What kind of tyrant punishes everyone just to get back at the few he’s mad at? I mean besides Chris Christie.
Entertainer Bill Maher, on the movie “Noah” that debuted March 28
“Real Time With Bill Maher,” 3-14-14
And on the 12th day of his murder trial, Oscar Pistorius broke out what appeared to be a bible study guide.
News story on the South African Olympian accused of shooting his girlfriend to death on Valentine’s Day 2013
New York Daily News, 3-19-14
Reason has been under siege and been slapped around. Believing things on the basis of something other than evidence and reason causes people to misconstrue what’s good for them.
Peter Boghossian, author and philosophy instructor at Portland State University, speaking to the Freethinking Frogs student group at Texas Christian University
TCU 360, 3-20-14
Unfortunately, Fred’s ideas have not died with him, but live on. Not just among the members of Westboro Baptist Church, but among the many communities and small minds that refuse to recognize the equality and humanity of our brothers and sisters on this small planet we share. . . . [N]or will this be the last we hear of his words, which are echoed from pulpits as close as other churches in Topeka, Kansas, where WBC headquarters remain, and as far away as Uganda.
Nate Phelps, atheist son of Pastor Fred Phelps, on his father’s death March 19
Recovering From Religion, 3-24-14
HORRIFYING ALERT!!! IF YOU ARE A CHRISTIAN, AS I AM, WAKE UP!!! Much to my surprise last night, I found out that my opponent is not a Christian. She does not have faith in God and feels there is no heaven.
Facebook post by Marilyn Ustler McQueen, Apopka [Fla.] City Council incumbent, adding that someone should bring challenger Diane Velazquez to Christ. [Velazquez, a former New York police detective, won 55% to 45%.]
Orlando Sentinel, 2-26-14
OBAMA HAS RELEASED THE HOMO DEMONS ON THE BLACK MAN. LOOK OUT BLACK WOMEN. A WHITE HOMO MAY TAKE YOUR MAN.
Sign outside Pastor James David Manning’s ATLAH World Missionary Church in Harlem
New York Daily News, 2-27-14
Am I too WHITE to be your pastor?
Sign held by Patrick Kelley, pastor at River Pointe Church, suburban Houston, for a promotion to get black people to attend his Sunday service honoring Martin Luther King Jr.
Houston Chronicle, 3-1-14
There are [all-night] prayer vigils all over Ukraine. They are praying for peace and for aggression to stop. God is in ultimate control. We trust him. We never expected Russia to move in so swiftly.
Vitaly Sorukun, pastor of New Hope Church in Kharkov, an hour from the Russian border
Christianity Today, 3-3-14
Let’s skip the Oscars and take our families to see Son of God this weekend. #SonofGod #JesusoverOscar
Tweet on the day of the Academy Awards by Pastor Matthew Hagee, Cornerstone Church, San Antonio
Christian Post, 3-4-14
More bothersome than the replacement of biblical characters with birds who, for example, gorily get their heads cut off, is the deliberate portrayal of the Christian parents as plastic, phony, mean and indifferent, predictably simple-minded and against imagination. This negative portrayal of believing Christians is part of the left’s ongoing attempt to demonize Christians.
Rabbi Aryeh Spero, author of [Push Back: Reclaiming Our American Judeo-Christian Spirit, panning “The Bird Bible” skit on “Saturday Night Live”
Regardless of what some people believe, we were not founded to be secular.
Baptist Pastor Chris McCombs, speaking in favor of prayers “in Jesus’ name” at Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, city council meetings, to which FFRF has objected
Akron Beacon Journal, 3-5-14
We want to tell lots of people about Jesus by every means available.
Mars Hill Church spokesman Justin Dean, Seattle, justifying spending at least $210,000 to get Pastor Mark Driscoll’s book Real Marriage on The New York Times best-seller list
World Magazine, 3-5-14
The Freedom From Religion Foundation is delighted to announce that world-renowed scientist Steven Pinker, already an honorary FFRF director, will serve as its first honorary president.
Pinker, a Johnstone Family Professor in the psychology department at Harvard University, is on Time’s list of the “World’s 100 Most Influential People.” As an experimental psychologist, he’s one of the world’s foremost writers on language, the mind and human nature. His research on visual cognition and the psychology of language has won awards from the National Academy of Sciences, the Royal Institution of Great Britain, the Cognitive Neuroscience Society and the American Psychological Association.
Pinker told FFRF, when receiving its Emperor Has No Clothes Award in 2004: “I was never religious in the theological sense. I never outgrew my conversion to atheist at 13.”
Born in Montreal, Pinker studied at McGill University and Harvard, where he earned his Ph.D. He taught at MIT for 21 years and also at Stanford. He’s the author of six critically acclaimed books for a general audience, including The Language Instinct (1994), How the Mind Works (1997), The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature (2002), and The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Declined (2011).
Pinker has actively worked against religious incursions in science and government, including testifying before Congress. He prevailed against a proposal at Harvard to require a course on “Reason and Faith,” saying, “[U]niversities are about reason, pure and simple. Faith — -believing something without good reasons to do so — has no place in anything but a religious institution, and our society has no shortage of these. Imagine if we had a requirement for ‘Astronomy and Astrology’ or ‘Psychology and Parapsychology,’ ” he wrote in an op-ed titled “Less Faith, More Reason” in the Harvard Crimson in 2006.
In a 2007 interview with Salon.com, Pinker noted, “Atheists are the most reviled minority in the United States, so it’s no small matter to come out and say it.”
Pinker is part of an intellectual power couple with his wife, Rebecca Newberger Goldstein, a recipient of a Mac-Arthur “genius grant.” A philosopher and novelist, Goldstein was named a Freethought Heroine by FFRF in 2011, when she spoke poignantly about her escape from the strictures of strict Orthodox Judaism.
Among her books are 36 Arguments for the Existence of God: A Work of Fiction, and the just released nonfiction work, Plato at the Googleplex: Why Philosophy Won’t Go Away. The Boston Globe calls her “a playful, bouyant, witty stylist who parses intractably difficult philosophical and religious ideas with breaktaking ease.”
March roared like a lion from beginning to end in winter-weary Wisconsin, and so did the Freedom From Religion Foundation, acting on many egregious entanglements between religion and government.
FFRF’s complaints stirred up lots of regional and national news coverage, crank mail and crank callers, starting with the March 3 announcement that the Tennessee Board of Judicial Conduct agreed with FFRF that former magistrate Lu Ann Ballew violated codes of judicial conduct by ordering a boy’s named changed from Messiah to Martin at an August hearing.
Ballew said Messiah is a title “earned by one person, and that person is Jesus Christ.” Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert’s letter of complaint set in motion the board’s public censure.
Garnering at least of a week of media attention in March was a letter from Co-Presidents Dan Barker and Annie Laurie Gaylor to Green Bay Mayor Jim Schmitt, reprimanding him for inviting the pope to visit the Wisconsin city next year to make “a pilgrimage to the Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help.”
Schmitt’s invitation on city letterhead was signed “Your servant in Christ” and extolled in excited tones “the events, apparitions and locutions” in 1859 that “exhibit the substance of supernatural character,” involving “the first and only Blessed Virgin Mary apparition approved by the Catholic Church in the United States.”
While noting Schmitt is “welcome to personally believe” in the supernatural sighting of the Virgin Mary a century and a half ago, the FFRF directors told Schmitt he’s not free to use his civic office to promote “your personal (and highly embarrassing) religious beliefs.”
At a press conference Schmitt called to defend himself, he admitted his letter was a “little heavy” on the religion. This is not FFRF’s first tussle with Schmitt, who was stopped by FFRF’s federal lawsuit from putting a nativity scene atop the entrance of City Hall.
FFRF, by the way, also criticized the invitation to the pope to address Congress from Catholic politicians John Boehner, U.S. House speaker, and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi: “Congress needs a visit from the pope like Boehner needs more time in a tanning booth.”
Gaylor and Barker also stirred up an online hornet’s nest for reprimanding Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker for misusing his official gubernatorial Facebook and Twitter accounts to promote religion. On March 16, Walker posted the words “Philippians 4:13” — a verse from the bible reading: “I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me.”
FFRF’s press release added that “this braggadocio verse coming from a public official is rather disturbing” and seems more like “a threat, or the utterance of a theocratic dictator than of a duly elected civil servant.”
Florida school violations
FFRF sent letters of complaint in March to two Florida school districts in Orange and Seminole counties over entanglement with a Christian congregation called The Venue Church (whose “venue,” ironically, is only in public schools).
Already, Seminole County Public Schools has promised to end the constitutional violations outlined by Seidel in FFRF’s letter.
Orange County allegations detail rampant religious activity at Apopka High School, including weekly services and other events sponsored by the church, which asserts, “We are permanently planting churches in Central Florida Schools.”
• Regular prayer sessions attended by football coaches and players, including prayers led by Venue Pastor Todd Lamphere, who is also team chaplain. Lamphere is also “bowling team chaplain.” A video shows him and other adults praying with the team.
• Bible verses on signs and apparel are common. A large banner saying “Prepare for Glory, 2 Corinthians 4:17” was displayed at the football field as was a banner with a verse from John 15:13. Several T-shirts and jerseys combine the school logo with religious messages.
Similar constitutional concerns were voiced to Seminole County Schools, including public endorsement of the church by district officials, who appeared in a promotional video for the church using their titles. The video was shot on campus. Seminole County Schools agreed almost immediately to end all such ties with the church.
Idaho, Kentucky letters
A letter sent by FFRF in November dominated March news and airwaves in Idaho, with more than 100 people turning out March 19 at a city meeting in Sandpoint over FFRF’s request that the Farmin Park Ten Commandments monument be moved to private property. The monument is one of several placed by the Eagles Club.
FFRF also called out Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear’s use of state resources to promote a March 13 prayer breakfast. The governor’s home page included a tab promoting the breakfast, and Kentucky.gov included a link to the event, named “Governor’s Prayer Breakfast.”
FFRF has received regular complaints about Beshear’s annual event, particularly from state employees who received two email invitations from the governor to the event. The prayer breakfast invitations included the official state seal and were sent to most state employees in violation of the state’s Internet policies.
Chief’s prayer walks
Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel’s complaint about the police chief of Birmingham, Ala., received statewide and national coverage. Police Chief A.C. Roper, an ordained minister, created a Christian ministry called Prayer Force United. In his capacity as police chief, he leads monthly prayer walks through different neighborhoods, “claiming the city of Birmingham for God,” ostensibly to lower crime.
Roper has opined that one of Birmingham’s biggest problems is a “lack of godliness.” Seidel noted Roper can’t use his public office to “advance promote or endorse one religion over another, or religion over nonreligion.”
He also debunked the notion of prayer as a crime-fighting technique, citing statistics showing that nonreligious states and nations are safer. (View a video Seidel created documenting Rogers’s sermons with commentary on their legality on FFRF’s YouTube channel.)
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