%888 %America/Chicago, %2013
The recently exposed scandals involving sexual exploitation of minors by Catholic priests have exploded in the American press as though it were new information. Long ago, 'way back in 1986, Freethought Today began reporting incidents of priests and other clergymen charged with child sexual abuse in its "Fruits of Religion" column. Since 1987 onward, Freethought Today has published a regular feature, "Black Collar Crimes," documenting criminal and civil reports of sexual abuse by clergy in North America. The numerous incidents were disturbingly similar, yet reported as though each was a "freak," isolated occurrence. That prompted Freethought Today editor Annie Laurie Gaylor (my daughter, for the unacquainted) to write the first book on the subject. Betrayal of Trust: Clergy Abuse of Children was published by the Freedom From Religion Foundation in early 1988. In her introduction to the account of this far-flung religious scandal, Annie Laurie wrote: "This is a book that had to be written . . . It started writing itself when, through the pages of our monthly newspaper Freethought Today, we started chronicling the alarming and startling number of criminal cases involving ministers and priests who are molesting children. . . . priests, ministers or other 'men of God' flagrantly abusing large numbers of children or young adolescents under the very noses of devout, unsuspecting parents, during church events and on church property, while churches cover up or rationalize abuse, and church members not uncommonly side with the abusers by blaming the victims." Although replete with case histories from the 1980s, the book is not dated. Nor is it just a crime blotter. Betrayal of Trust provides a clear, thorough discussion and analysis of why the clergy is a high-risk profession for child abuse, how churches and congregations engage in denial, minimalization and cover-up, and how such abuse can be detected and prevented. It will enlighten those who still may confuse homosexuality with pedophilia. "The case of Father Baltazar, protected by the Catholic Church even after sexually abusing a boy helplessly attached to a dialysis machine, and another in double leg traction, epitomizes the ruthlessness of child molesters, the heartlessness of the hierarchy, and the vulnerability of their victims," the book concludes. "All child victims, while not usually literally immobile, are similarly at the mercy of the adults in charge of their lives. The egomaniacal and rapacious drives of a molester who blots out all sense of right and wrong, brutally disregarding the pain he is causing children, have often found a parallel in churches bent on protecting themselves at the expense of thousands of victims. That disregard is a malignancy in the church." Betrayal of Trust: Clergy Abuse of Children is long since out of print, but can be found online on this website. For reader convenience, the Foundation continues to provide bound photocopies of this 91-page book for $12.00 postpaid (FFRF, PO Box 750, Madison WI 53701). Anne Nicol Gaylor is president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation.
%887 %America/Chicago, %2013
I'm no autograph hound, but several years ago I resolved that if and when figure skater Michelle Kwan ever came to town, my daughter Sabrina and I would go to see her, and even get her autograph. It was as much a promise to myself as to Sabrina, made after I felt Kwan was cheated of her gold at the 1998 Olympics in Nagano. Could there be a more graceful image than that of Michelle at 17, in her simple blue velvet dress, skating with exquisite technique and emotion during her Olympic long program? She seemed the embodiment of youth, athletic perfection and beauty. I became an avid figure skating fan while watching Michelle Kwan grow up on ice. There is something poignant about the world's best figure skater seeking and failing to get the gold in two successive Olympics, sometimes struggling on the ice, yet never losing her competitive spirit. At this year's nail-biting Olympics, Kwan's most memorable performance was her post-competition exhibition skate, wearing a gold dress and skating ethereally to "Fields of Gold," a bittersweet moment for the bronze medalist. Dan, who usually leaves the skating competitions to me, sat spellbound while watching a videotape of her "gold" skate (at my urging). At the conclusion of her touching program, he volunteered: "Michelle Kwan transcends." (I've decided, and I hope Michelle has too, that the Olympics are highly over-rated.) When it was advertised that "Champions on Ice" was coming to Madison in May (with a shockingly expensive ticket price), Sabrina and I were able to fulfill our longtime ambition of watching Michelle Kwan skate in person. Unfortunately, the overkill opening, with its flashing flags and deafening rendition of the Olympic theme, couldn't help but make me flash back to news footage of the 1936 "Nazi" Olympics. Once that hoopla was over, I relaxed and settled back to enjoy the rest of the show. Although I have seen some magnificent skating at live events, I was unprepared for Kwan's remarkable presence on the ice. Her performance was quantitatively different from the other athletes. Michelle took command of the ice and managed, in that huge impersonal venue, to make her performance intimate. The audience hushed--almost afraid to clap lest they break the spell. Every movement was sure and lovely. Michelle skated with a lightness and gentleness that the camera cannot quite capture. It must have been gratifying to Michelle that she received the only standing ovation of any of the performers. The spell was broken, however, by a pandering finale, an ensemble number. A super-militaristic version of "America the Beautiful," with words to all verses, boomed out as the ice skaters--in the Madison show representing Ukraine, France, and Russia, as well as the United States--skated, decked out in various red-white-and-blue outfits. Russian silver medalist Evgeni Plushenko was practically draped in a U.S. flag. As I sat bridling at the insensitivity of this nationalistic display, using even foreign skaters like pawns in a patriotic battle, it got worse. The music segued to "Battle Hymn of the Republic," all verses. Julia Ward Howe's song, written as a Union anthem in the Civil War, warns of the wrath of "the coming of the Lord." You may recall it ended the service of "prayer and remembrance" held at the National Cathedral on Sept. 14. The fourth verse is typical of the song's message: In the beauty of the lilies Christ was born across the sea, With a glory in His bosom That transfigures you and me; As he died to make men holy, Let us live to make men free, While God is marching on. I can't believe "Champions on Ice" routinely forces its Olympic skaters to perform to Christian hymns! Since the "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" is practically the trademark of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, I can't help but feel there is some nefarious Mormon influence at work. Whatever or whoever prompted the inclusion of this overtly Christian song of conquest, it was tacky and disrespectful, both to skaters and the audience. Flags made of lights, the U.S. flag predominating, of course, swirled around the rink with the skaters. I thought it would never end. Finally, three huge U.S. flags dropped ludicrously from the ceiling as fireworks rang out. Nearly everybody (but not this atheist) stood and clapped. Half-dazed by this assault on eyes, ears and personal conviction, I dutifully lined up with Sabrina and other would-be autograph-seekers. When fans bearing official-looking decals told me we had to have a pass to get in, and we had to know someone to get a pass, I was ready to call it quits. Then a woman with a teenage daughter generously handed us their passes, since they couldn't stay. A handful of us were eventually led to the bowels of the arena, all concrete and full of equipment, and were told to stand behind a limp bit of rope. As we milled around awkwardly, suddenly there appeared Michelle Kwan, no taller than my 5'2", conferring with a stagehand first before turning to her fans. For an instant, she looked flattened, as though enduring rather than enjoying the moment. Who could blame her, having to skate to the "Battle Hymn of the Republic" night after night during "Champions on Ice's" grueling schedule? Sabrina was second to ask for her autograph. When Sabrina shyly told her, "You're my favorite," Michelle's face lit up in a warm smile. Impulsively, I asked Michelle if she would autograph my baseball hat, which bears an imprint of the same words, "Life is Good," as one of Dan's freethought songs. She laughed, said "Sure!," read the sentiment out loud approvingly, and signed her name with her own felt-tip pen. Tongue-tied, I merely nodded as a woman next to us told Michelle what a beautiful skater she is. As Michelle moved on, we made our escape. Mission accomplished. When I got home and examined Sabrina's program magazine, I discovered to my dismay that the inside cover features an American flag emblazoned with the words "God Bless America." It was worth putting up with to see Michelle Kwan, but I couldn't help feeling a bit indignant, and a bit dejected, over the unwarranted intrusion of religion and chauvinistic politics into a tour meant to showcase sport, art and internationalism. Is nothing in our country to be free of this saber-rattling theo-patriotism? Must every store sport a U.S. flag (do they think we'll forget which country we live in?), much less "God Bless America" posters? I had fondly hoped the hysteria was dying down--but it certainly won't be wherever "Champions on Ice" is touring over the next few months. "Champions on Ice," which is run by Tom Collins Productions (with John Hancock billed as "worldwide sponsor"), appears to be co-hosted by the U.S. Figure Skating Association, and has some connection to the Olympic Committee. I wrote a heartfelt letter of complaint to the only addresses I could find on the Web, objecting to a Christian hymn being forced on audiences, including substantial numbers of nonbelievers and nonChristians. If you care to join me in decrying the inclusion of a Christian "battle hymn" in the Olympic figure skating show, maybe they'll put such religious displays "on ice" for future tours: Tom Collins Inc. 3500 W 80th St Minneapolis MN 55431 U.S. Figure Skating Association 20 First St Colorado Springs CO 80906 Annie Laurie Gaylor is editor of Freethought Today and of the anthology Women Without Superstition: No Gods--No Masters (FFRF, 1997).
%886 %America/Chicago, %2013
In downtown Indianapolis, there's a beautiful old European-style brick and stone building called the Athenaeum. Today many people work out in the gym, enjoy a show at the cabaret theater or eat at the Rathskeller restaurant there, but have no idea about the significance of the structure. The building is rich in German-American, freethought and athletic history. It was originally called "Das Deutsche Haus" and was built as a joint effort by various German clubs in the 1890s. In the early 1850s, a number of Germans called the Forty-eighters moved to the city. Many of them were political activists who had been persecuted in their homeland or were disillusioned with German politics. The revolution of 1848 had not brought about the liberal social and political changes they'd hoped for in Germany, so they came to America. The first organization established by the Forty-eighters in Indianapolis was the Turnverein. A German named Friedrich Jahn, known as the father of gymnastics, founded the Turner movement in 1811. He invented the parallel bars, the rings, the horse and the horizontal bar used in gymnastics today. His motto was "A Sound Mind in a Sound Body." He promoted physical exercise programs as well as intellectual development. Many Forty-eighters embraced his philosophy. Turner clubs sprang up in Germany and later in many American cities. They provided physical education, lectures, libraries, musical entertainment and other services to the German community. They acted as a kind of "welcome center" for newly arrived immigrants and helped keep their German language and culture alive, yet promoted American ideals of democracy and freedom. Several of the original Turner buildings are still standing today in our city, including the Athenaeum. The gym at the Athenaeum, now run by the YMCA, has been in use since the 1890s for athletic training. The Athenaeum provided a training program for physical education teachers from 1907 until 1941 when it merged with the Physical Education Department of Indiana University. Some of the more radical members of the Forty-eighters and Turners were freethinkers. They founded the Freethinkers Society of Indianapolis in 1870 to promote freethought ideas. Author Kurt Vonnegut's great-grandfather, Clemens Vonnegut, was the first president of the organization. He was a well-respected businessman in the community and a member of the Indianapolis Public School board for many years. The group fought against religion in the schools and started a Freethinker's Sunday School. The freethinkers, many of whom were highly educated, strongly supported public education, particularly vocational programs. Emmerich Manual High School, located on the south side of Indianapolis, opened in 1894 as a manual training school. It was later named for Charles Emmerich, an active member of the Freethinkers and the school's first principal. Although the Freethinkers Society dissolved in 1890, their ideas continued to live on through the nonsectarian educational system they helped establish in the city. Members of the Turners were quite influential and politically active in the city. They founded German newspapers, businesses, schools, singing groups and orchestras. Some of the singing groups, Saengerchor, Maennerchor and Liederkranz, are still in existence today. They created innovative physical education programs in the Indianapolis Public Schools for both boys and girls. Indianapolis hosted large Turner festivals with hundreds of members from all over the US and Germany participating in parades, singing events and gymnastic competitions. Turner groups supported progressive ideas like better working conditions, educational reform, the emancipation of women and the abolition of slavery. The Turner Hall of Indianapolis became the anti-slavery headquarters in the city. Shortly after the start of the Civil War, a number of Turners enlisted to fight for their new country, even though many spoke little or no English. The 32nd Indiana Regiment was composed of Turners from Indianapolis, Madison, Lafayette and other Hoosier towns. Other Turner regiments were formed throughout the U.S. Over 70 percent of the Turners fought on the Union side. At its peak in 1894, the American Turners had 317 societies with over 40,000 members. The organization suffered declines in membership due to decreasing German immigration rates, anti-German sentiments during the world wars and the Americanization of the German population. When their loyalty to America was questioned during the First World War, the Indianapolis Turners changed the building name from "Das Deutsche Haus" to the "Athenaeum" and offered the use of the place to the Red Cross. Today there are approximately 60 Turner societies in America with about 13,000 members. The American Turners headquarters is now located in Louisville, Kentucky. Over the years, the Athenaeum's structure fell into sad decay. I attended an event there in the early 1980s and saw sagging ceilings, water damaged walls and rotted roof timbers. Fortunately, a few years ago, various far-sighted individuals raised money to restore it to its former glory. The Indianapolis Cabaret Theater opened in a beautifully renovated section. The Rathskeller restaurant and the beer garden in the back have reopened to serve German food and drink with live music. The YMCA took over the gym and it has become a popular downtown fitness facility. I was in the building for a dinner recently and noticed that many improvements had been made to other sections of the building since my last visit. One former Turner building in Indianapolis has been converted into expensive condos! If you are fortunate, you may find a Turner club or old building still in existence in your town or city. Writes Marcia Gascho: "I've been a member of FFRF for over 20 years. My grandfather was German, I majored in German in college, I've visited Germany three times and have been interested in German culture for many years. "I'm a computer programmer for a large insurance company in downtown Indianapolis. My freethinker husband Bruce and I have been married for 16 years (Dan Barker performed the ceremony!) and we have a freethinking teenage daughter that we adopted 6 years ago." She notes: "The book, The Germans in Indianapolis 1840-1918, by George Theodore Probst, tells of German-American contributions to the city. I found information about the Turner participation in the Civil War in the book, Der Turner Soldat, by C. Eugene Miller and Forrest F. Steinlage. On the Internet I found a long list of websites of Turner clubs in the U.S. and in Germany. "On the website of Indiana University-Purdue University-Indianapolis (IUPUI), I discovered Annette Hofmann's 1998 speech at the Athenaeum, '150 Years of Turnerism in the United States.' It provided much interesting data about the historical background of the Turners. 'The Freethinkers in Indianapolis,' an article by Claudia Grossman, Department of Foreign Languages and Cultures at IUPUI, also contained excellent information about the Forty-eighters and freethinkers." Marsha Gascho in front of Indianapolis' historic Turner building
%885 %America/Chicago, %2013
It is commonly said there are no atheists in a foxhole, that fear of death terrifies a skeptic into believing in God. I was unexpectedly forced into this situation when diagnosed with incurable cancer last fall. Confronted by my own mortality for the first time, where could I turn for spiritual meaning and comfort? I had been a devout Catholic for half of my life due to strong family influences. I uncritically accepted the dogma and found much comfort in the social network as well as the beautiful liturgy. My beliefs at that time provided meaning and purpose to my life and gave me hope for an existence after death. Richard Feil today I first questioned this world view due to my graduate training in scientific psychology, which provided me with the analytic tools to study human behavior in an objective and unbiased manner. I asked myself if the human being could be regarded as just another member of the animal kingdom, subject to the same laws of behavior as other animals. I slowly became convinced that our behavior can be fully explained without resorting to supernaturalism. That led me to the conclusion that we ourselves are part of an impersonal physical universe, the result of millions of years of natural selection. I learned that there has never been an empirically demonstrated exception to the laws of nature that has stood the test of scientific scrutiny, despite numerous claims. How could I intellectually reconcile this deterministic view of reality with the metaphysical claims of religion? Could I dare question what millions of people accept as "gospel truth," and even sacrifice their lives for? For years I experienced growing cognitive dissonance as I tried to pretend both views of reality are true. My thinking was further shaped by studies in anthropology and sociobiology. It is theorized that hunters and gatherers in the prehistoric period survived the harsh conditions by developing strong social cohesion and dependency as well as blind obedience to a strong leader. Today we also are programmed to follow authority figures uncritically, especially powerful and charismatic leaders. This, combined with our innate fear of rejection by the group, provides powerful peer pressure not to question the prevailing ideology. I certainly felt this need not to "think outside the box." But it conflicted with what I honestly believed to be true regarding human nature. I came to see religious faith as an unquestioning acceptance of beliefs that contradict reality. I also think the strong, genetically programmed need for survival that we share with all living creatures, combined with the vivid imagination unique to humans, has, over the eons, driven our species to construct an escape from the annihilation of physical death through fantasies of an afterlife. The promise of paradise, I believe, is the bargaining chip used by religion to subvert logical thinking, sometimes resulting in extreme physical and emotional misery. Religions tend to produce inflexible dogmatic thinking in their followers, preventing them from achieving their full human potential. It felt scary at first. But it was liberating to question the core assumptions of a belief system that most people take for granted. After reading the works of such writers as Thomas Paine, Robert Ingersoll, Bertrand Russell, and other "freethinkers," I became convinced that, indeed, the emperor has no clothes. What a marvelous and unique product of natural processes we humans are! We experience exciting developmental processes: becoming a person in childhood, the "Sturm und Drang" of adolescence, the challenges of adulthood, and the denouement of old age. We also get to observe ourselves making this journey full of thrills and chills. Our "selves" are capable of remembering, sharing, and anticipating future adventures in living. How many of us realize this is the only life we will ever have and therefore strive everyday to maximize our happiness and that of others? And what of the atheist in the foxhole? Faced with the fear of death, will the atheist cave in to cultural expectations and social pressure to plead with a god for magical intervention? Or will the atheist remain courageous and true to convictions that this life is all there is? I think fear is the ultimate self-serving force underlying all forms of religious observance. We humans are ingenious in suspending logical reasoning in the pursuit of physical and emotional security. I myself have not wavered in my philosophy of life as a rationalist and humanist. The meaning of my life lies in my family and in my personal and professional accomplishments. Now I treasure each remaining day as another opportunity to fully experience the joys of living. And in the end I shall tearfully bid farewell to my loved ones and simply cease to exist. Only my genes will live on in my children and their offspring. The author writes: "I have been a member of FFRF for about 20 years and read every issue of Freethought Today with great relish. In fact, I horde the old issues! You see, I am a recovering Catholic. Finally recovered I think. "I received my Ph.D. in experimental psychology from the Catholic University of America in 1968 and have been teaching psychology at Mansfield University of Pennsylvania since. Diagnosed with multiple myeloma last fall, I am currently in remission and waiting to undergo a stem cell transplant procedure. My fate lies in the hands of medical science, not magical interventions." Richard Feil as a seminary student, 1955 "I was raised in a 'strict' Catholic family of six children," he writes. "One of my brothers became a Servite (Servants of Mary) priest and one sister a nun. During my one year at the University of Illinois, I read 'Seven Storey Mountain' by Thomas Merton. Being severely neurotic from years of Catholic emotional abuse, I was 'born again' and decided to become a priest. "I entered the Servite Order at their notiatiate outside of Milwaukee in Granville, Wis. I spent three years there learning Latin and sort of catching up on holiness. Then they sent me to Benburb Priory in County Tyrone, Northern Ireland, for two years of study (indoctrination) in scholastic philosophy. Finally I spent a year at the Servite Priory in Lake Forest, Ill., while completing my bachelor's degree in psychology at Loyola in Chicago. "I left after that when I finally realized I wouldn't be able to handle the lifetime celibacy requirement. It was a very difficult and emotional decision for me to make."
%883 %America/Chicago, %2013
Everything You Know Is Wrong: The Disinformation Guide to Secrets and Lies, a just-issued anthology edited by journalist Russ Kick, includes the chapter "Why Women Need Freedom from Religion" by Annie Laurie Gaylor of the Freedom From Religion Foundation. Among the contributors, who include investigative journalists, researchers, commentators, dissidents and academics, are Howard Zinn, Paul Krassner, Arianna Huffington, Thomas Szasz, and Wendy McElroy. The book is a follow-up to Kick's popular anthology You Are Being Lied To. The oversized softcover book, 352 pages, retails for U.S. $24.95. ISBN 0-9713942-02-0-2. The book is readily available at bookstores and online.
%882 %America/Chicago, %2013
The Origin of Species by Charles Darwin, revised edition, introduced and abridged by Philip Appleman (W.W. Norton & Co., 2002, 134pp.), is another Appleman gem dealing with evolution. Here, in what Paul Moody has called "a masterly condensation," is a classic edition of Darwin's revolutionary book. It retains all of the substance of the original, but only the essential elements of its profuse detail. Philip Appleman, editor of Darwin, a Norton Critical Edition ("the best Darwin anthology on the market," according to Stephen Jay Gould), has cut deftly to the essence of Darwin's classic, losing none of the continuity or flavor of the original. This revision includes a new introduction by Prof. Appleman that perceptively traces Darwin's influence on the world of ideas. Philip Appleman is Distinguished Professor Emeritus at Indiana University, where he was a founding editor of Victorian Studies. He is the editor of Thomas Malthus's An Essay on the Principle of Population (a Norton Critical Edition). He is also the author of an early book about overpopulation, The Silent Explosion, several award-winning books of poetry, including Darwin's Ark, and three novels, including Apes and Angels. A Foundation member, he will be speaking at the 25th annual Foundation convention in San Diego in November.
%880 %America/Chicago, %2013
Squaring Off at Temple Square An "UnHoly Trinity": Steve Clark, who heads the Salamander Society; cartoonist and former Mormon Steve Benson; and Foundation staffer Dan Barker, in front of the aptly named Temple "Square" during the April General Conference weekend in Salt Lake City. Entertaining at Ex-Mo's Expo Taking Mormonism by storm: Steve Benson and Dan Barker, seated by a "disclaimer" at the Salt Lake City Public Library, where the two performed their inimitable cartoon-music revue, "Tunes 'n 'Toons," on April 6 and 7--blasphemously coinciding with the Mormon General Conference. But no disclaimer was needed for this crowd--the program was sponsored by the Salamander Society, made up of irreverent ex-Mormons. Steve, a Pulitzer Prize-winning daily editorial cartoonist, is the grandson of the late Ezra Taft Benson, the former Mormon president. Dan, a piano-player and songwriter who used to be an evangelical minister, is public relations director for the Freedom From Religion Foundation. Rubbing salt into Salt Lake City, the two included several new parodies of Mormon-style hymns. The two performances before "Latter-Day 'Aints" give new meaning to the term "Mormon missionaries." Pardners in Crime, Dallas-Style Dan and Steve entertained the Atheist Alliance annual convention in Dallas over Easter "Unholy Weekend" in late March, with their fusion of cartoons and musical commentary on religion and state/church relations. The Dallas program spotlighted commentary on former Texas Gov. George Bush, and the discriminatory Boy Scouts of America, headquartered in nearby Irving, Texas. That "yellow rose of Texas between two thorns" is Foundation officer Catherine Fahringer, of Texas.
%878 %America/Chicago, %2013
April 5 marked a year's anniversary since a Judge in Adams County ordered the acquittal of Rodney Scott for allegedly removing a roadside memorial. The memorial consisted of a Christian cross and related paraphernalia placed by private citizens on the median strip at the intersection of Interstate 70 and East Colfax Avenue. Shortly after Scott allegedly removed the memorial, it was replaced. In ordering Rodney Scott's acquittal, the judge ruled that roadside memorials erected by private citizens are litter, unlawful advertising, and an unauthorized taking of public property for private use. The Judge also ruled that they are a distraction and present a hazard to the motoring public. Therefore, at the conclusion of Scott's case, the Colorado Department of Transportation was asked to remove the roadside memorial at issue and similar memorials. CDOT has refused to do so. A request was also made to the Adams County Sheriff to ticket those who brazenly clutter the public landscape with these objectionable displays. That request was refused. Bob Grant, the Adams County District Attorney who brought the Scott case, has also refused to file charges against these lawbreakers. Instead, he has appealed the Judge's ruling. However, he did not ask for a stay, meaning that the ruling has all the force and effect of law and that CDOT should be removing these memorials and law enforcement should be prosecuting citizens who erect them. To make matters worse, not only does the memorial Scott was charged with removing remain standing, new memorials have been popping up all over the State. In fact, such a memorial which contains a large figure of an angel was placed on the front lawn of CDOT's Region 1 headquarters and it has been allowed to remain there. Time and time again we hear our public officials say that the law is the law and that we must obey the law, like it or not. It's obvious that the public officials responsible for implementing the ruling in the Rodney Scott case have decided that this principle does not apply to them. They'll simply refuse to apply the law if it doesn't happen to suit their fancy.
%877 %America/Chicago, %2013
Priest helps run CUNY. The New York Senate in mid-April confirmed a priest and top church administrator as a City of University New York trustee, despite opposition to his stands against abortion, contraception and gay rights. Gov. George Pataki nominated Rev. John Bonnici, who directs the Archdiocese of New York's Family Life/Respect Life Office. Just what Afghans need--more religion. The U.S. Agency for International Development will spend $6.5 million in taxpayer funds to produce textbooks, including Islamic teachings and verses from the Koran, for Afghanistan's schools. The USAID is giving a grant to the University of Nebraska at Omaha to provide textbooks and teacher-training kits to the schools. Oh, we got trouble. A pastor should be present at all city cabinet-level meetings, according to Rev. Carlton N. Pressley, the new senior religious adviser of Mayor Anthony A. Williams, Washington, D.C. Pressley and the rest of the mayor's 65-member Interfaith Council were "installed" at an evening service at Metropolitan Baptist Church in late February, with a keynote by Rev. Jesse Jackson. Christians, teens, NRA. The Christian Coalition, a group of teenagers with Rev. Patrick J. Mahoney of the antiabortion Christian Defense Coalition, and the National Rifle Association have all filed separate lawsuits challenging restrictions on campaign spending signed into law by President Bush this spring. One-upping Judge Moore? Rather than being given the right to marry, "gays and lesbians should be put in some type of mental institution," wrote George County Justice Court Judge Connie Wilkerson, of Mississippi, in a published letter to the George County Times on March 28. He added: "You need to know, as I know, that God in heaven is not pleased with this and I am sounding the alarm." Ohio Department's intelligent decision. After a hairy two-month push by creationists for inclusion of "intelligent design" in school textbooks, the Ohio Education Department issued a new draft in April with no changes in its position that students will be taught evolution. The State Board of Education--infiltrated by "intelligent design" supporters--has a Dec. 31 deadline to vote on the standards. Publicly funded religious diatribes. Florida state Rep. Randy Ball, R-Brevard County, sent a letter on House stationery to Florida newspapers in late March, which the St. Petersburg Times characterized as a "religious diatribe," condemning "homosexuality as an abomination" and speaking of a "transcendent God." Earlier in March, Ball sent out emails on his state computer invoking Jesus Christ and condemning gay adoption. Ball defended his use of state equipment and stationery: "This country runs and operates on the Judeo-Christian ethic that comes out of the bible." One Nigerian mother saved. After an international outcry, a Nigerian mother of five sentenced to die by stoning for "adultery" after a rape, was freed on March 25--but another woman has received the same sentence under Islamic shariah rules. Amina Lawal Kurami, charged with having a baby out of wedlock, is now appealing her death sentence. Ireland says "no" to Catholic Church. The Irish electorate in March narrowly rejected a constitutional amendment further restricting abortion, promoted by the Catholic Church in opposition to a Supreme Court judgment allowing abortions for suicidal women. Legislators walk out. Six lawmakers walked out during a March 5 morning prayer in the Colorado Senate by a Greeley pastor, who prayed to Jesus for lawmakers to accept Jesus and to reverse Roe vs. Wade. Charter profiteering. A California state panel said in March it found "mind-boggling" mismanagement and profiteering at 40 out of 87 public charter schools serving home-study students in California at a cost of $4,800 per pupil. More than 20 charters were unevaluated due to missing deadlines. A licensed atheist. The Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles sent a February notice to Steven Miles of Gainesville, revoking his "ATHEIST" license plate as "obscene or objectionable." After a public outcry, the Department reneged the order in March. "Permeated with fraud." The Federal Trade Commission has gone to court to shut down "Miss Cleo's psychic hotline," with Florida authorities joining the states of Arkansas, Illinois, Missouri, New York, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin in filing separate suits. Florida code pushes religion. By a 9-4 vote on April 4, a negotiating team approved a compromise to a 1,800-page rewrite of Florida's school code, pushed by Gov. Jeb Bush, which includes provisions allowing students to pray, preach and distribute religious literature. Many senators warned it comes with a million-dollar price tag in expected lawsuits. Florida voucher scandal. The St. Petersburg Times published an April expose about Florida's $25-million-a-year voucher program, revealing that entrepreneur educators Art and Angel Rocker, who stand to collect $1.5 million in school voucher money this year, are quitting. The rightwing couple is leaving church leaders in charge of the church schools, dogged by complaints of teacher turnover, low pay, and even using food banks to feed students. Arizona charter revoked over religion. The Arizona Board of Education voted in late March to revoke the state's first charter school, with a Glendale school accused of illegally promoting religion with its $1.1 million in tax support. Saving clergy tax breaks. The House of Representatives voted 408-0 in mid-April to approve H.R. 4156, clarifying the "parsonage" exemption that ministers, priests and rabbis have received for housing since 1921. The legislation, which moved into the Senate, codifies the IRS' most restrictive practice of permitting clergy to deduct the "fair rental value" of their homes. Ashcroft's Folly Justice Department staff complained in March that U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft has added singalongs of his own song to the routine at his daily prayer meetings. When asked by the Guardian why she objected, a department lawyer replied: "Have you heard the song? It really sucks." Ashcroft launched into a lusty 4-minute rendition of "Let the Eagle Soar" following a recent speech to a seminary. Excerpts of the tape repeatedly have run on CBS' David Letterman Show, but Ashcroft declined to reprise his "hit" during an April appearance there. The Guardian reported the AG even asked for Hispanic volunteers to translate his song into Spanish. An excerpt: "Soar with healing in her wings, As the land beneath her sings. Only God, no other kings. Let the mighty eagle soar." A clip of Ashcroft's unusual performance, showcasing a Pentecostal-style vibrato, which must be seen to be believed, is at: http://cnn.com/video/us/2002/02/025/ashcroft.sings.wbtv.med.html (download RealPlayer at real.com to play). "Should the Praying Mantis Be Our State Insect?" The following letter, written by a Foundation member, was published in the St. Paul Pioneer Press [March 28]: The Legislature has passed and the governor approved the image of a praying male figure as an official "state photograph." Can we next expect a state religious watercolor or oil painting? Will we need a state weed or state cloud formation? Should the praying mantis be our state insect? In addition to making Minnesota appear silly, there is a serious aspect. The insinuation of religious themes in governmental affairs is an insult to the 14 percent of Americans who do not have a god belief. And it weakens the constitutional separation of church and state. Shame on the Legislature for passing this bill. --William Van Druten, Minnesota
%876 %America/Chicago, %2013
A small crowd gathered in downtown Milwaukee on March 27 to witness the removal of a monument of the Ten Commandments from city property where it had stood since 1957. The ceremony began with remarks by Ald. Jeff Pawlinski serving as spokesman for the Milwaukee Common Council. The events of this day came about because the Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal from the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals declaring such monuments to be violations of the First Amendment to the Constitution. Disagreeing with the Court but bowing to it, Pawlinski nevertheless lamented the necessary removal of the monument and its return to the Fraternal Order of Eagles, which donated the monument in 1955 in a ceremony with actor Yul Brynner to promote the movie "The Ten Commandments." Making an apparently obligatory "nod to god," both politicians and Eagles officials, understanding neither the Ten Commandments nor the First Amendment, mourned this "sad" day and pointed the finger of blame at the "notorious Freedom From Religion Foundation," which brought the lawsuit resulting in its removal. Don Runnells, a spokesman for the Eagles, insisted, "This has nothing to do with religion. It's about morals." Every Christian and Jew in the country ought to cringe at such nonsense. According to Exodus 20 and Deut. 5, the Decalogue was given as a covenant between God and Israel, the equivalent of a treaty between a King and a lesser lord who owed him loyalty. The Ten Commandments begin with the statement "I am the LORD [YAHWEH] your God who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery." Whatever else the commandments are, they are a profound statement of faith, with each precept a stipulation of a covenant. They were never intended as mere "universal principles" acceptable to all people everywhere, as Stan Thompson of the Fraternal Order of Eagles asserted. Ald. Pawlinski declared that the commandments are "the foundation of our nation's laws and the very structure of our society." Yet, only three of the commandments (on murder, theft and perjury) deal with modern law. It is not, after all, illegal to "have any other gods," to "misuse the name of the LORD," or work on the Sabbath (Saturday)--unless "blue laws" dictate otherwise. It's not even illegal, in spite of personal moral scruples, to dishonor your parents, commit adultery or "covet your neighbor's house." In a free state, the government has no right to make rules on those matters. This monument contains not only the Decalogue, but also two stars of David and a Chi Rho symbol, the liturgical symbol of Christ using the first two letters of the Greek word for Christ. In effect, therefore, the monument promotes ("establishes") two religions. Those of other religions or of none at all are pointedly ignored. It is also significant that the commandments are listed by the Catholic/Lutheran numbering, incorporating the stipulation about idols or graven images (the second commandment to most Protestants) into the first and makes two coveting commandments. A monument containing the Ten Commandments in Dallas, Memphis or Charlotte would likely have the Protestant numbering, listing a separate commandment on "graven images" and only one on coveting. Therefore the monument not only endorses the Judeo-Christian tradition, but a particular form of the Christian religion. The best statement of the day was by Ald. Don Richards, who said that American liberty is exemplified in the freedom of the group gathered there to speak their minds on the issues involved. On the other hand, Common Council President Marvin Pratt rubbed salt in the wounds of those upholding the constitutional separation of church and state by declaring that from now on the Milwaukee Common Council will begin with prayer. In his official remarks, Ald. Pawlinski stated that this monument "inspired those who passed by City Hall in the past half century" and that it will continue to "comfort" visitors at its new location at St. Joseph's Hospital. As one trained in Lutheran theology, I winced at the notion that this monument was meant to comfort and inspire people. A Lutheran axiom asserts the "law always accuses" (lex semper accusat). Paul in Romans says the "law brings wrath. And where there is no law there is no transgression" (4:15) and in 3:20, "Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his [God's] sight by observing the law; rather through the law we become conscious of sin." The fundamental theological purpose of the law in the New Testament, especially in Paul's theology, is to condemn sinners and to drive them to Christ. To find comfort and inspiration in the Ten Commandments, therefore, on the bible's own terms, is to find comfort in God's condemnation of humankind for violating the commandments. Far from being an inspiration or comfort to all those who pass by, they condemn to hell all those who do not live up to the commandments by thought, word and deed! Those who reduce the Decalogue to a statement of governing principles insult the original purpose of those commandments. Every Jew and every Christian, let alone every unbeliever, ought to protest against such a misuse. In Luther's catechetical explanation of the Ten Commandments, each command began with the expression "We should fear and love God . . ." as in the (Lutheran/Catholic) fifth commandment, where Luther says "We should fear and love God, and so we should not endanger our neighbor's life, nor cause him any harm, but help and befriend him in every necessity of life." The Decalogue is essentially a religious document. The courts of the land, therefore, have it absolutely right: To post the Ten Commandments or to endorse them is to establish a religion. The First Amendment speaks precisely to this when it says, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion." Curtis A. Peterson holds a B.A. from Concordia Senior College, Ft. Wayne, Indiana, and a M.Div and STM (l966 and l983 respectively) from Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, Missouri. In almost 30 years in the ministry in both the Missouri and Wisconsin Synods, he was an activist with many published articles supporting the orthodox Lutheran cause in the "Battle for the Bible" in the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, and author of several articles in the Wisconsin Synod between l987 and l995. He also delivered several essays at pastoral conferences during those years. He served congregations in Burlington, N.C., Rock Falls, Ill., Garland, Tex. and Gretna, La., in the LCMS and in Milwaukee, Wis. in the WELS. A Foundation member, he is now retired, resides in Wisconsin and calls himself a humanist and a freethinker.