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During the entire month of December, the Foundation received a deluge of Christmas cards from well-meaning (and not-so-well-meaning) Christians. They weren't very imaginative in their messages--usually all that was scribbled inside the card was an assurance that "Jesus loves you!" or that "We're praying for you." Included in one such card was a digitally remastered photograph of Jesus on a cross with his skin burned off. I'm still not sure how sending such a photo was supposed to inform us about the sender's loving and almighty God. (Of course, if Jesus loves us so much, then we must be doing something right.) The whole thing amused me, because back home, nobody would think of sending religious cards to those who didn't practice said religion. "Back home" for me is Malaysia, a Southeast Asian country sandwiched in between Thailand, Singapore, and Indonesia. It's a small country with a population of 22 million, and this population consists of three main ethnic groups. There are the Malay and indigenous people, which make up 58% of the populace; the Chinese, about 27%, and the Indians at 8%. Other ethnic groups make up the remaining 7%. After the country gained its independence from British colonialism in 1956, the ethnic groups conferred and agreed that Islam would be the official religion, but everyone would be free to adopt their own religion (or lack of) and not be persecuted for it. Therefore, even though Islam is the official religion, citizens are not expected to be Muslim. Buddhists are not expected to fast during the month of Ramadan, nonMalays are not required to wear clothes that cover their arms and legs, nor are there Hindus who try to convert the nonreligious. (One thing that does strike me as interesting is that the few people who go door-to-door in an effort to convert others are Christians. I have yet to see a Buddhist or a Taoist try to sell his or her religion door-to-door.) There's no denying that religion plays a big part in Malaysia--the main religions consist of Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, and to a smaller extent, Christianity. If you glimpse our calendar of national holidays, more than half of them are religious: Aidilfitri (Muslim), Vesak Day (Buddhist), Thaipusam (Hindu), Deepavali (Hindu), Christmas (Christian), etc. The holidays apply to all public/government operations, so even though Deepavali is a Hindu celebration, all public workers get the day off, no matter their religion (or lack of). Before the main religious holidays, it is common practice to send greeting cards to friends or family who celebrate the event. If you were a Muslim, friends would send you Aidilfitri cards during the Ramadan season. If you were Chinese, you'd receive Chinese New Year cards in February (although Chinese New Year is actually more cultural than religious). The senders don't even necessarily share the same religion; a Muslim could send a Deepavali card to a Hindu friend, etc. The point of sending cards is to convey goodwill, not to cheerfully inform the recipient that "Jesus loves you and we'll be waiting to receive you with open arms once you decide to return to the true path." During religious holidays, the celebrating groups have an "open house." A hosting family has all their friends and families visit, regardless of race and religion. Some Malays/Muslims restrict their visits during celebrations like Chinese New Year, since pork is often served in Chinese households and Muslims cannot eat pork. However, I know of several households that make the extra effort of cooking certain dishes separately, so that their Muslim visitors can partake in the feast without having to worry about eating something against their religion. Winter Solstice isn't a celebration back home. This is partly because nontheists are such a minority in Malaysia, but another reason is due to the fact that our tropical climate is the same all year long. The days don't grow shorter or longer, so there is no symbolic representation of the sun's "rebirth." Nontheists may lack a holiday on the calendar, but in my experience they could always tell friends about their nonbelief and not expect any backlash for it. When a friend of mine commented in passing that she was a freethinker, the most she got was an "Oh" from others before continuing the conversation. I suspect most people assume freethinkers just practice a different kind of "belief." They receive the same treatment of tolerance that others do. Officially the government lists "belief in god" as a virtue for citizens. Pledges cited in schools, as well as the national anthem, include the word "god." Because of its "freedom to choose any religion" clause, though, the government cannot persecute citizens for their religious or nonreligious beliefs. For example, in rural parts of Malaysia, many indigenous tribes practice shamanism. The government cannot order them to convert to Islam, even though Islam is the national religion. Unless a person is from the Malay ethnic group (in which case that person is expected to be Muslim), there is no expectation of anyone being of a certain (or any) religion. Religion weaves in and out of our daily lives (sort of like the U.S., you could say, whether we like it or not). We have both a justice system and a syariah court system; however, the latter only applies to Malays and Muslims, and tries them according to Islamic law. I've always been glad not to be subject to syariah law, because for one thing, if you are caught being in the same room (or enclosed space) with a person of the other sex, and both of you are unmarried with no chaperones around, you are committing a crime and can be tried for it. Even if you have a group of peers with you (sometimes that becomes even greater cause for scandal). Public spaces are fine for socializing, but heaven forbid a group of Muslim teens hanging out at home by themselves. Religion maintains an uneven balance, sometimes intruding outright, sometimes not even an issue. Take the public school I attended, for example. As Islam is the "official" religion, the weekly school assemblies always include a minute of Muslim prayer read by one of the Malay students. NonMuslims were not required to say it, but we had to remain silent "out of respect" for our Muslim classmates. Unlike some U.S. schools (or like some U.S. schools), we didn't have the option of leaving the assembly while the prayer was being said. Two or three times a week, classes are divided in two: the Muslim students would study Islam, and the nonMuslims would study (literally translated) "moral education." This essentially consists of the same old syllabus from primary school (grade school to Americans) to high school, with little variation in questions: "If you find a wallet with money in it, what would you do? If you turn the wallet over to the police, would this be an example of (a) honesty, (b) kindness, (c) purity of heart?" So even though religion has a presence in public schools, these schools aren't considered "religious schools" because the religious education that takes place in the classroom only affects Muslim students. The other students were not required to study the subject. My high school class, by chance, had no Muslim students in it. Also, in every public school, there is a surau, a Muslim prayer room. I used to think (with considerable amusement) that it was for "emergency prayers," when one would suddenly get the urge to pray and had to race to the surau in order to do it. However, as far as I can recall, none of my teachers or classmates ever missed a class "because they had to pray," nor would such an excuse have been acceptable. Also, considering that Muslim men and women are not allowed to pray together, it would have been more convenient for them to pray at home rather than suffer the hassle of reserving the room or creating a prayer schedule. Therefore, the surau was mostly used by those who were still in school during prayer time, after classes were done or before they had begun. For the schools in my district, there were no classes during Friday midday periods, as that was one of the five prayer times for Muslims. School morning sessions had schedules ending around noon, and afternoon sessions wouldn't begin until after 1 p.m., allowing Muslim students to pray at home or in a mosque. This was easier than requiring students to pray at the school surau, since the room could only fit a few people at a time. Aside from that, though, religion didn't pervade the classroom much. Everybody learned the same subjects, unless if it was a language class or the Islam/"moral education" class. We had no Christian, Buddhist, or Hindu religionists coming into the classroom to preach, and I'm certain that if any tried, the teachers would have been piqued (they guarded their allotted classtime jealously). Neither did the teachers try to push their religious doctrine on the students, because of the tolerance and "everybody is entitled to their own beliefs" clause. Plus it would have been difficult for them to try to convert a class full of diverse races and religions. At one point my high school class consisted of 80% Buddhists, so despite Islam being the official religion, my Muslim teacher would have definitely failed if she had tried to promote her religion to us. We also have convent schools, and a long time ago its teachers were Christian nuns. Not anymore. These schools are now run by the government instead of churches. Despite still being called "convent schools," these schools have no classes on Christianity, and do not subject students to religious indoctrination. In short, there are no public religious schools, other than privately owned ones. However, one instance in which religion was emphasized in the curriculum does come to mind. Students in Form 4 (10th grade to Americans) have to study a history chapter dedicated to Islam, learning its origins, various prophets, architectural influences, scientific contributions, etc. This chapter consistently bugged me during my school years, because in the rest of the textbook, other religions were only given a cursory half-page introduction. The only consolation I had was that it didn't try to push readers into converting, although it did do its best to highlight the wonders of the religion (I suspect they left out much of the unpleasant details). The extent to which religion (Islam in particular) is practiced varies according to location. In urban areas, such as Kuala Lumpur, the nation's capital, not all Muslim women wear veils over their heads. Many wear T-shirts instead of clothes covering their limbs, as required by the Koran. In rural areas and villages, however, Malay traditions are strongly heeded, and the women cannot be in the presence of men without covering up appropriately. While not as restrictive and as much of a hindrance as the Arabic burqa, these veils and clothing can be stuffy in our hot and humid climate. Fortunately, Malaysian women do not suffer a "second citizenship" status that some Islamic nations impose on the female sex. We work, we earn our education, and we are not confined indoors. However, Muslim women are subject to syariah law, which among other things, states that a husband can divorce his wife by telling her so three times. Religious extremists do exist here, just like they exist everywhere else. In the state of Kelantan, the ruling political party is PAS, the Islamic Party of Malaysia. This is the group that wants Malaysia to be a "true" Islamic nation, instead of the moderate and modern kind of Islam practiced in other parts of the country. This is the group that wants the full syariah legal system in practice, meaning thieves would have their hands chopped off and adulterers would be stoned to death. They have already banned discos and karaoke clubs, and Kelantan women must wear a veil over their hair and not wear jeans. I remember going to a Kelantan shopping center once, and standing at a check-out lane with my mom and other women. The other check-out lane had only a few male customers, but none of the women in our long line went to that one. My mother explained that here, men and women were required to stand in separate check-out lanes. The concept seemed inane to me, considering that at that time of the day, few men visited the shopping center. All those women could only use one particular lane until the male customers were gone from the other lane! Another incident I recall was of a billboard poster of a locally made movie. I had seen that poster several times back in my hometown, and it appeared innocuous enough: a close-up of the hero and heroine's faces. In Kelantan, however, I saw the same poster, except a white cloth had been stretched and pinned over the heroine's hair to imitate a veil. Kelantan's tourism revenue may suffer because of such growing extremities, as well as because of visitors' fears and discomfort. The BBC once reported that female tourists here felt uncomfortable being stared at when they wore shorts and sleeveless tops. I recall walking through a Kelantan town in a close-fitting top and jeans once, and although I was ready to stand my ground had anyone objected to my attire (which they technically had no right to do, of course, since I was not Muslim), I did feel a brief twinge of wariness. As tolerant as my experience of religion has been in the past, sometimes I wonder how long it will be before some of PAS's right-wing mindset seeps into the federal government. It concerns me whenever my friends back home tell me about the dress-code specified by the local public universities. Students--female students, in particular--must wear clothing that covers their legs (and in some cases, their arms). This is an Islamic practice, but in Malaysian public universities, it extends to nonMuslims as well. Fortunately I attended a private college, otherwise I would have rebelled strongly against the dress-code. I'd like to think the worst-case scenario would be that everybody would have to wear headveils, but I wouldn't count on it. Religion has a way of worming into our lives and making us think we're the better for it. Once governments start specifying a certain god to look up to and constructing its laws all around it, you know we're in trouble. Lynn Lau graduated last May from the University of Wisconsin-Madison with a BA in Communication Arts, and is currently the Foundation's assistant editor and web"mistress." Besides writing and drawing comic strips, she enjoys spending time with her pet cockatiel, Sin, who still refuses to learn to sing.
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The question no longer seems to be if Cardinal Bernard Law will resign for his role in the cover-up of pedophile priests in the Boston Archdiocese, but when. Another timely question: How many bishops will be felled directly by being exposed as pedophiles themselves? A.W. Richard Sipe, a former priest and author of Sex, Priests and Power: Anatomy of a Crisis, predicts future scandals will involve eight or ten bishops or other high church officials, according to the West Palm Beach Post. Sipe, who conducted a 25-year study of sexual misconduct within the church, maintains that in 1990, he had "validation of 16 bishops in the country who had been abusers." The most shocking fallout of the Boston scandal to date has been the resignation of Bishop Anthony J. O'Connell of Palm Beach, Fla. Appointed to replace a bishop removed for pedophilia, O'Connell admitted he had abused a teenager 27 years ago at a Missouri seminary. A $125,000 settlement by the Diocese of Jefferson City in 1996 allowed O'Connell to guard his secret and become bishop. Even more pressing: When will a prosecutor finally criminally indict a bishop for covering up these crimes? Sixteen years ago, a confidential report to the Catholic Conference of Bishops predicted the church would pay out a billion dollars within a decade to victims of priest abuse. The authors warned the Catholic Church would be perceived as providing "sanctuary for perverts" if immediate reforms weren't adopted. Associated Press in March estimated the range of mostly confidential payouts to victims is from $300 million to the prophesied $1 billion. The Palm Beach Post placed the total cost to the Catholic Church at $600 million to $1.3 billion. The New York Times, quoting attorneys for victims, reported that in the past two decades, dioceses have reached more than 1,000 settlements in priest sex abuse cases, many of them sealed. The revelation that the Boston archdiocese--and four other church officials besides Law who are now bishops--directly covered up for molesting priests for 20 or 30 years has set off aftershocks in diocese after diocese. The Boston Globe's legal fight to unseal records over recently defrocked priest John J. Geoghan resulted in the release of 10,000 pages of damning documents in January. The archdiocese subsequently was forced to admit it has known about more than 80 priest-molesters. (The Boston Archdiocese revealed in March, in the midst of a $300 million fundraising campaign, that its insurance policies won't cover an estimated $100 million in settlements over priests accused of sexually abusing children.) A few other dioceses followed Boston's example, such as the Diocese of Manchester, NH, giving prosecutors the names of 14 priests, and Philadelphia firing "fewer than 10" priests. The Boston Globe reported on Feb. 25 that the largest dioceses "continue to allow priests who have abused children to return to parish work and keep accusations of clergy misconduct secret from police." The diocese in Portland, Me., initially took no stand against two parish priests who are admitted molesters. Portland's new policy, according to the Globe, permits a priest who has molested a "single minor" multiple times to stay on the job, but not a priest who molests more than one minor once! The Archdiocese of New York, publicly exposed by a New York Times columnist for its policy to keep such scandals in-house, announced in March that for the first time it would report new incidents of child sexual abuse directly to law enforcement authorities, if victims agree. The diocese ruled out reporting old cases. The Diocese of Rockville Centre, on Long Island, NY, completed a review of 300 clergy files, but will not release the names or number of priests with allegations against them, claiming no one currently working in the diocese has been "credibly" accused. Long Island's bishop was named as a defendant in lawsuits by Geoghan victims. So was Bishop Thomas V. Daily of Brooklyn, newly under fire for ignoring three nuns who came forward in 1996 to report three priests sexually abusing boys, as well as allegations by a priest in New Jersey who told the bishop in 1998 that he was abused as a youngster by another priest. "There have been 1,800 priests named in civil and criminal proceedings over the last 15 years, and there are 47,000 priests in the U.S. That approaches 4 percent, and that is a staggering number," says Catholic reporter Jason Berry, author of Lead Us Not into Temptation. The pope included a one-paragraph apology to victims of clergy for "great suffering and spiritual" harm in a 120-page missive to Catholics in Oceania late last year. In January, it was learned the Vatican had issued secret rules ordering that accused priests must be tried in secret church courts overseen from Rome, without advising whether civil authorities should be informed if a priest is found guilty. The Vatican imposed a 10-year statute of limitations beginning on the victim's 18th birthday. The Vatican sparked renewed anger when spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls, in response to New England sex abuse scandals, deflected blame from the church by equating homosexuality with pedophilia, and declaring gay men should not be ordained as priests, despite estimates that as many as half of priests are gay. Wrote New York Times columnist Bill Keller ("Let Us Prey," March 9, 2002): "Every detail of this sordid story has had to be dragged from the reluctant archdiocese, mostly by the dogged investigative reporting of The Boston Globe." "American Catholicism may not be a democracy, but it lives in one," added Keller. "And while the separation of church and state is a precious freedom, the First Amendment was never intended to provide sanctuary for criminals."--Annie Laurie Gaylor
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The Freedom From Religion Foundation has asked the Cambridge Public Library, Massachusetts, to remove an eye-poppingly ostentatious Ten Commandments engraving and other religious verbiage on prominent display in the first floor of the main library. "A public library simply has no business saying it was 'built in gratitude to God, to his son Jesus Christ, and to the Holy Ghost,' or to warn patrons, including children, that 'if you obey these commandments you will be happy. If you disobey them sorrow will come upon you,' " the Foundation wrote Cambridge Public Library Director Susan Flannery. The city of Cambridge agreed in 1889 to post the Ten Commandments and additional religious proclamations (see photograph) in exchange for obtaining the building from a religious benefactor. Although it posted a "disclaimer" following a 1995 complaint, explaining that it considers the engravings to be "historic," the Foundation said the disclaimer "does not mitigate the effect of these religious orders, threats, and injunctions." The city, which signed an agreement with the Massachusetts Historical Commission in 1985 to ensure preservation of the architectural and historical integrity of the library building, has taken no action on the Foundation's February complaint. Mayor Michael Sullivan's response to the Cambridge Chronicle was to ask: "Does this mean bibles should be removed from public libraries?" "What civil power could the Cambridge Public Library invoke, which would supersede the dictates of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment?" wrote Annie Laurie Gaylor, Foundation staff member, in the letter of complaint. "Mere financial gain or advantage cannot justify a union between religion and a public library." Now is an ideal time to rectify the violation since the Main Library will soon be renovated. Ask the Cambridge Public Library to remove the religious displays. Write: Ms Susan Flannery, Director Cambridge Public Library 449 Broadway Cambridge MA 02138 Send a copy of your letter to: Mayor Michael Sullivan City of Cambridge Office of the Mayor City Hall Cambridge MA 02139
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Pictured on this page: Samples of a rash of letters sent to Foundation president Anne Gaylor by disgruntled supporters of the Liberty Counsel, which recently reprinted a copy of Anne's polite, uninflammatory, 4-line letter protesting a longterm "God Bless America" marquee at a Wisconsin school. The rightwing anti-Establishment Clause group, which has worked with local governments to fight Foundation litigation in the past, reprinted the letter as a fundraising tactic. The wording was removed from the marquee, incidentally. Below are emails received in early February on other issues. Foundation staffer Annie Laurie Gaylor appeared (briefly) in a news segment on Fox News Channel about the Foundation's winning federal lawsuit challenging "faith-based funding" of Faith Works. Others were sent to Dan Barker and the Foundation office by disgruntled Tennessee Christians, following the Foundation's legal victory in February ending bible instruction in Rhea County (Dayton) public schools. The emails are reprinted verbatim including spelling errors. (These emails do not say a lot for Fox News viewership or Liberty Counsel membership.) An anonymous greeting from Kentucky This letter above, threatening "my rifle is loaded," was apparently sent from a Liberty Counsel follower in Michigan. This racist response was sent to us from a man in Texas who is on the Liberty Counsel mailing list. Subject: "Heritage, Not Hate" Miss Gaylor, Your so called win against Faith Works may be a win for your heathen organization, but surely not for the recipients who have been helped by that organization. I'm not as religious as I should be, but I find you and your group of Satan worshiping scum not worthy of the freedom this country provides. Why don't you and your band of anti-God whackos move to China where you won't have to deal with religion? We don't need freedom from religion, but rather freedom from anti-religious and Satanic organization like yours. I find you worse than a whore. JS Bangor, Me. (The email included a waving, full-color confederate flag.) Subject: on your victory I am dissappointed in the view that taking away state funds from Faith Works was a great victory. But soon you will see it as your greatest loss. When your group stands in front of God and Jesus you will see the errors of your ways. When this country was first founded by those who are religious, there was no seperation from God. Your stand on this issue will bring you judgement from God. I am not telling you this will happen, but God can very well take away all of your finances. Your donors can very well stop giving your organization money. You soon could be investigated by gov and lose all that you got. Your personal lives may get up ended where you lose your jobs. When God works not one of us can stop Him. But the worse thing that can happen to you is on Judgement Day God says to you "I do not know you" and you spend eternity away from God. I pray you chose differently. Rev. Gregg Ander Subject: no Guts!?!? From: "F. Steve Troy" If you folks show some GUTS you might "bite-the-bullet" and call yourselves, Freedom from God. God will not bother to stop you in your quest but you can be MOST sure He will allow you to go all-the-way without Him and you and SATAN will go together. You might consider saying, SATAN bless us . . . and he WILL. Satan bless you all!!! From: "Chris McLeod" Please die and go to hell. From: "AJ Hidell" Hello, cheese-eating scumbags: You remind me of the night-riders of the 1960's, coming south in masks and hoods to commit your predations. In case you haven't noticed, the nation has rediscovered it's Christian roots, and it'll be a cold day in hell before we yield willingly to the precious mercies of liberal minions of secular humanism like you again. We put up with forty years of your crap, and it's OVER. Get used to it. P.S.: COWARDS, put your stinking real names on lawsuits. Subject: If you don't like Christianity. . . . . . Then why don't all of you leave America, this country was founded by Christians for Christians. And if you don't like it then go to a Godless heathen nation that agrees with your retard tinged philosophy. Their are way more of us Christians than you losers. Their is NO separation of church and state and you heathens will lose. Thankfully you are old and I hope you get a painful disease like rectal cancer and die a slow painful death, so you can meet your God, SATAN . . . . . . Subject: death From: Dave & Becky Freeman I will pray for the Lord of Lords to deliver you and all who spew your filth unto HIM. To cause a child to stumble with your words will surely lead to discrase and shame will follow you and your seed. Subject: Sickening To: Dan Barker You will never learn will you? God will soar His hand down and punish you for your actions in Chatanooga, Tennessee. America is indeed a Christian nation . . . God is surely angered. You will pay, and when you do, may God have mercy on your souls. From a high school student in Dayton Hey dude this freedom from religion thing sux, I live in dayton tn and i go to rhea county high school and GOD is the american father and god never loses he will strike you guys down So you fags and dykes take it easy and watch where you go cuz whenever you least expect it god will get you
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Comparing a "Bible Education Ministry" program to "Sunday School," a federal judge in Tennessee issued a forceful decision on Feb. 8 declaring the classes in Rhea County public schools unconstitutional. The federal lawsuit was brought last April by the Freedom From Religion Foundation on behalf of parents with children in the schools. "Rhea County, Tennessee, is no stranger to religious controversy," wrote U.S. District Judge R. Allan Edgar, of Chattanooga, Tennessee, in the opening of his 19-page decision. "In 1925, the Rhea County Courthouse was the site of the well known 'Scopes' or 'Monkey' trial, wherein high school teacher John Scopes was tried for violating a Tennessee statute making it a misdemeanor to teach 'evolution theory' in the State's public schools. The trial pitted William Jennings Bryan, the 'Great Commoner,' representing the State, against Clarence Darrow for the defense. The legacy of that trial in some respects gives rise to this lawsuit," Edgar wrote. The Foundation's lawsuit on behalf of John Doe and Mary Roe pitted the rights of the parents--under a protective court order in the hostile Dayton-area community--against an obdurate school system, which refused to honor more than five decades of Supreme Court precedent against religious instruction in the public schools. The school board, which remains ineducable, has voted unanimously to appeal the decision. At the Rhea County School Board meeting on Feb. 14, only one community member spoke against appealing the decision. Another speaker called for the "impeachment" of Judge Edgar. (Federal judges are appointed for life.) The audience of 300 erupted into applause when the school board voted to appeal. School board member Bruce Majors said "we want to teach our children that the bible is the truth. Our only course is an appeal." The Herald News, a hostile bi-weekly published in Dayton, quoted a local mother, Rebecca Jones, saying in support of the Bible Education Ministry class: "Whoever took it out should be strung up." The bible instruction, carried out for 51 years in grades kindergarten through five in three Rhea County elementary schools, had been taught during regular school hours for 30 minutes each week without parental consent. The bible program, operated by students from Bryan College (a bible-based college founded after the Scopes trial) to help public school students become "exposed to the Bible," had no public school oversight. An assistant professor who is Director of Practical Christian Involvement supervised the program, which Judge Edgar characterized as what might be found in "a Sunday School class in many of the Christian churches in Rhea County." "The lesson plans retained by Bryan College," Edgar wrote, "reveal that the children are being taught that the Bible conveys literal truth about God and Jesus Christ reflective of the Bryan College 'Statement of Belief,' that the bible is literally true. Students are asked to memorize bible verses, act out skits of biblical stories, and sing [religious] songs. . ." At oral argument, the judge's decision noted, counsel for defendants even admitted the bible is being presented "as the truth." Aside from the content, Edgar said, "the wholesale delegation of the administration of that program to Bryan College, a decidedly religious institution, by itself results in an impermissible entanglement of government and religion." ". . . the government, through its public school system, may not teach, or allow the teaching of a distinct religious viewpoint," wrote Edgar, saying the BEM program has "both the purpose and effect to endorse and advance religion in the public schools." "The Rhea County courses are being taught to the youngest and most impressionable school children by college students who have no discernible educational training and no supervision by the school system." "This is not a close case," Edgar observed, pointing out that since 1948, when McCollum v. Board of Education was decided by the Supreme Court, religious instruction in public schools has been barred. The Rhea County practices do not differ substantially from McCollum, "except that, if anything, they make out an even stronger case for violation of the Establishment Clause," Edgar concluded. Vashti McCollum, the Champaign, Illinois mother who brought the McCollum challenge, is now nearly ninety, and is an honorary officer of the Foundation. The Foundation recently reprinted a new edition of her acclaimed account of her dramatic lawsuit, One Woman's Fight. "The Bible Education Ministry program was a flagrant and atavistic First Amendment violation. It's tremendously satisfying to see the wall of separation between church and state be reinforced by such a strong decision," said Dan Barker, public relations director of the Freedom From Religion Foundation. The attorneys representing the Foundation and its plaintiffs are Joseph H. Johnston, Nashville, and Steve Doughty and Alvin Harris, Nashville. The case, John Doe, Mary Roe, and Freedom From Religion Foundation v. Sue Porter, Supt. of the Rhea County School System, and Rhea County Board of Education, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Tennessee at Chattanooga, Case No. 1:01-cv-115, is excerpted on pages 8 and 9. The entire decision can be found online at: http://ffrf.org/legal/rheadecision.html
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Ashcroft . . . as quoted by conservative columnist Cal Thomas on his radio show on November 9 (and belatedly denied by a Justice Department spokeswoman): "Islam is a religion in which God requires you to send your son to die for him. Christianity is a faith in which God sends his son to die for you." Not to get too wound up in theology here, but if the Christian God sent his own son to die doesn't that make him, according to Ashcroft's definition, a Muslim? --Katha Pollitt The Nation, March 4, 2002 I think what you have to recognize is I've never gotten a death threat from an atheist or a Buddhist, only bible-quoting, true believers. Most people don't know that there's this dark and hostile side of religion. I think they saw it on Sept. 11. --Episcopal Bishop John Shelby Spong Chicago Sun-Times, Nov. 23, 2001 No matter what you believe about abortion, a procedure that more than a million women choose in this country every year, those who believe in human rights have to be repelled by the notion of religious fanatics who believe they can harass, injure or murder people on the say-so of a direct pipeline to God, or Allah. There's no real ideological difference between these people and the people who flew planes into the World Trade Center. --Anna Quindlen "The Terrorists Here at Home" Time, Dec. 17 2001 Where has God been since 1973 regarding the New York Knicks? I'd like to know. If one wants proof that God does not side with someone who merely invokes his name frequently, take point guard Charlie Ward (please). --Roger Rosenblatt "God Is Not on My Side. Or Yours" Time, Dec. 17, 2001 Utah is the nearest the western world gets to a functioning theocracy. --Matthew Engel "British Visitor to Utah Finds 'Strangest' State [London] Guardian, Jan. 27, 2002 God almighty will give the United States a pill that will puke them to death. --Brigham Young, late 1850s New York Times, Feb. 3, 2002 Even in the valley of the shadow of death, two and two do not make six. --Tolstoy on his deathbed After being urged to rejoin the Russian Orthodox Church ("Passage," by Connie Willis) So far, that list [of Roman Catholic officials who knew that an area priest was molesting and raping children for years] includes a cardinal, five bishops and several parish priests. In the real world, we send guys who rape children to prison. In the world that is the Roman Catholic Church, guys who rape children get transferred to another parish. Again and again and again. --Columnist Regina Bretta Cleveland Plain Dealer, Jan. 31, 2002
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Foundation member Donald A. Mosher was one of five people asked to write an essay about where they would draw the line on sacrificing personal freedoms for the sake of homeland security by the Post-Crescent, the daily newspaper in Appleton, Wis. Here is his response (originally appearing on Nov. 20, 2001). The First Amendment is in serious danger with the present efforts of the religious right to put "God" (whose version?) into our government. The proliferation of "God Bless America" signs assures us that our God is bigger than their God. Should we have a right-wing Christian Taliban, based on Old Testament commandments, running our government and our lives? After all, the terrorist attacks were examples of "faith-based initiatives." The attacks of Sept. 11 are characterized as political by our leaders. The attackers were (and are) religious fanatics who happen to be Muslims. Our own leaders fall all over themselves to stress that Islam is a religion of peace, and that the attackers have contorted the Koran. Actually, the attackers hewed to the fundamentals of their Abrahamic-revealed religion. Their "how-to" manuals were laced with religion and prayer, not political writings. "Kill the infidel" is a key and prominent feature of Islam. Fortunately, most Muslims are not that zealous. Jewish and Christian holy scriptures each advocate the same style of religious violence. The Old Testament is a litany of wars and terrorism in the name of God. The God-given commandments (not just 10 of them) are still there, calling good Jews and good Christians to perform the same gory executions of non-believers today. Again, good thing most Jews and Christians are not that zealous. Jesus did not advocate changing "one jot or tittle" of the Old Testament: "Unbelievers should be brought hither and slain before me." We should call on Muslims, Jews and Christians to disavow these violent writings of the past--but that is something they cannot bring themselves to do. Involved in corporate aviation for some 40 years (pilot, fleet manager) and other aspects of aviation for 10 more, Don Mosher is now retired. He has made a "lifelong study of religions, especially the Bible. That's why I am an atheist."
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The day oral arguments on the Ohio school voucher case were heard before the U.S. Supreme Court, I was one of several guests invited to discuss the topic on arch-conservative Alan Keyes' TV talkshow "Making Sense" on MSNBC. Barry Lynn, director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, joined me in one segment as an able advocate of secular public-funded schools. Keyes asked what is wrong with giving parents a "choice" to send children to religious schools. "It involves state funding of indoctrination," I replied. "And let's look who the big beneficiary is of the voucher programs in Cleveland and Milwaukee. It's the Roman Catholic Church. Two-thirds of these schools that are being used are Catholic. We're bailing out the failing Catholic church [schools] with this. "It's something that could topple not only the wall of separation between church and state, but it could destroy our public school system, which is supposed to be the great melting pot. "There's no virtue in religiously segregated schools. People shouldn't pat themselves on the back for wanting to segregate children on the basis of their religion. Church schools are not better schools. I think that the Supreme Court, if it approves this, could ruin our country. I think that Bin Laden would support the Cleveland program. Look where the terrorists came from: the religious schools. "And they're divisive. Look at the example of Ireland, what was happening to the Catholic children last September, being assaulted on the way to school, because we have religiously segregated systems in that country where the Protestants and the Catholics never meet. "I think that our public schools are the richness of our country, and we should be supporting them." I could only shake my head for most of the rest of the discussion, which, contrary to the show's title, did not make much sense. A pro-voucher guest, Caroline Hoxby, made the voucher movement's most disingenuous, dishonest and insincere case--that defunding public schools in favor of private (religious) schools actually helps struggling public schools. Hoxby claimed her studies showed test scores had improved in Milwaukee Public Schools as a result of the voucher "competition" (ignoring the effects of Wisconsin's SAGE program to limit class sizes, for instance). The mind-boggling irony is that Milwaukee's voucher schools are exempt from such standardized testing! There is zilch accountability, with harsh standards for public schools and very few for voucher schools. So much is at stake with the similar voucher program in Cleveland now before the Supreme Court. The facts are so damning. More than 99% of the approximately 4,000 students enrolled in the 6-year-old Cleveland voucher program attend religious schools. If that's not enough evidence of state subsidy and endorsement of religion, look at the cozy set-up: Just as in the Milwaukee voucher program, state checks for vouchers of up to $2,250 a year are sent directly to the schools for parental endorsement. Where public dollars go, public accountability should follow. Yet Cleveland voucher schools don't even have on-site inspection. Voucher schools can apply for exemptions from Ohio standards on open records, teacher certification and background checks, and fire, health and safety inspection laws. A notorious case exposed by the Cleveland Plain Dealer involved the Islamic Academy School of Arts and Sciences, which operated under voucher funding for two years. Its 110-year-old building was a fire and lead-paint hazard, a majority of instructors lacked state teaching licenses, and one had even been convicted of first-degree murder. A state audit found misuse of $70,000 in tax dollars when the school claimed tax money for students who were not enrolled. The Golden State Christian Academy, a parent-run school, taught students by videos provided by the Pensacola Christian Academy, "dedicated to serving the Lord through Christian education." After two years it was finally defunded for gross noncompliance, including keeping no immunization records, and safety lapses. The tax money, of course, is raided from the Cleveland district's portion of the state Disadvantaged Pupil Impact AID program, with Cleveland schools losing up to $11 million a year in such aid (and estimated to climb to as much as $22 million this year). Voucher schools can exclude many disadvantaged students, such as those learning English as a second language or severely handicapped children. About the time the voucher program started, all-day kindergartens in many Cleveland public schools were cut--due to lack of money. Tax money could be used for reading programs Cleveland schools would like to inaugurate, and to keep class sizes smaller, a proven method for improving learning. The predictable effect has been that the operating costs of the Cleveland public schools have continued to climb, while it is losing significant state aid. About a third of the children in the Cleveland program, ballyhooed as helping low-income children, were already enrolled in private schools by their families. The U.S. Court of Appeals, in ruling the program unconstitutional, noted that almost 40% of students receiving vouchers in the 1999-2000 school year were above the poverty line. A state-ordered audit found that $1.4 million was spent on transportation in the first year, mostly in funding $15-$18-a-day taxi rides, compared to average nonvoucher transportation costs of $3.33 per day. More than $419,000 in overbilling by taxi companies since 1997 was uncovered in January 1999. Study after study has found no statistical difference in scoring for students in public versus voucher schools. Studies have found lower grades for voucher students attending new start-up schools, according to People for the American Way. Of course, while these problems with voucher schools are maddening, they are not the point. The issue is whether, under our Constitution, taxpayers can be forced to subsidize religious schools. Many of the remarks by Supreme Court Justices at the Feb. 20 oral argument strayed distressingly far afield of this essential question of law and principle. Did you know the Catholic Conference of Bishops first began campaigning in the 1880s to force the government to fund its parochial schools? More than a century of lobbying has finally paid off. If religious prayer and worship in taxpaid public schools are unconstitutional, as the Supreme Court has held since 1948, how then could it be lawful to coerce taxpayers to support and maintain religion-based schools that conduct daily prayer sessions, masses and religious proselytizing that are at the very heart of their religious missions? And how can we taxpayers possibly afford to fund two systems: one secular, the other religious? It would bankrupt the country, and eviscerate the very heart of the First Amendment. Annie Laurie Gaylor is editor of Freethought Today.