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Overheard

To make things worse, the accuser claims Burrell used anointment oils during the act. After the incident, they then worked on [installing bathroom] tiles for a few hours before Burrell took him back to the home, saying, “What happens at the church stays at the church.”

Teen’s testimony at the trial of Pastor Bobby Burrell, whom he accused of masturbating in front of him in Lawton, Okla.

KWSO, 2-10-14

 

I am facing my imminent death. [Why are people in other states] able to die with dignity and I am not? This should be a basic human right.

Robert Mitton, 58, a Denver man with a terminal cardiac condition, favoring a proposal to authorize prescriptions for lethal doses if two doctors agree a patient will die within six months

New York Times, 2-8-14

 

At present the Religious Right has a tremendous amount of power, but they are getting older. Surveys show young Americans are rejecting institutional religion because they identify it with the Religious Right and values that they find off-putting, and frankly, immoral.

Dan Linford, Virginia Tech Freethinkers president and graduate student in the philosophy of religion

The Telegraph, 2-10-14

 

An ordained psychotherapist who has treated many pedophile priests in Britain wrote to me: “In all those cases of clerical abuse I dealt with, the sacrament of confession was used by the molester to discover vulnerability and groom candidates for abuse.”

John Cornwell, author of The Dark Box: A Secret History of Confession 

The Daily Mail, 2-8-14 

 

Not all prisoners are religious, and I wanted them to know that to turn your life around and be a good and productive member of society does not require a belief in God.

Leslie Zukor, Seattle, founder of the Freethought Books Project, which distributes reading material to inmates across the U.S.

USA Today, 1-25-14

 

Just as gay marriage is not a threat to straight marriage, atheism is not a threat to religion.

Column by atheist journalist Cindy Hoedel, “Let 2014 be the year we start accepting atheists”

Kansas City Star, 1-18-14

 

Just as there are laws guaranteeing the division between church and state, there must be national guidelines to separate education and religion.

Op-ed by Veronica An, sophomore narrative studies major, “Prayer should be left out of public schools”

USC Daily Trojan, 1-27-14

 

I feel very sorry for teachers when the children who come here start guessing if what they’re being taught is wrong.

Phil Jardine, a paleobiology graduate student touring the Creation Museum, Petersburg, Ky.

phys.org, 1-30-14

 

This is exactly what I was concerned about. Maybe the only thing that hasn’t happened yet is any particular group saying, “We haven’t been represented here and now we want to sue you.” That’s the only thing that hasn’t gone wrong yet.

Mark Senmartin, Marathon [Fla.] City Council, refusing to stand for pre-meeting prayer and objecting to a pastor’s “creationist” invocation

Florida Keys Keynoter, 2-5-14

 

The new generation of Iraqis are tired of religious extremists and politicians, who are responsible for the ongoing sectarian divide in the country.

Nawaf Al-Kaabi, 23, Basra, on how violence is turning young Iraqis away from religion 

Al Bawaba, 2-5-14

holly and mitch

Holly Huber and Mitch Kahle at the 2011 FFRF annual convention in Hartford, Conn., where Kahle received the Freethinker of the Year Award.

New Hope Church agreed to pay $775,000 to settle a lawsuit filed by Hawaii FFRF members Holly Huber and Mitch Kahle. Three branches of the international megachurch apparently were getting sweetheart deals for years on rentals of school space from the state.

The suit was filed under the state’s False Claims Act, which rewards whistle-blowers for exposing fraudulent billing.

The payments were disclosed in court filings by New Hope’s parent organization, the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel, Hawaii News Now reported in early February.

Most of the money will go to the state Department of Education, but as much as $200,000 will go to the plaintiffs, who allege that New Hope shortchanged the state $4.6 million over six years.

Kahle noted that state rules setting rent amounts were undermined by Board of Education Chairman Donald Horner.

Honolulu Civil Beat reported Feb. 14 that Horner declined to comment except to say the board was not a party to the case. Horner is a licensed pastor with ties to New Hope, the paper reported.

The plaintiffs’ attorneys plan to file an amended suit against One Love Ministries and Calvary Chapel Oahu, alleging that the two churches’ underpayments total about $1.1 million. An earlier claim was dismissed in January.

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FFRF’er in talks to settle prayer suit

Attorneys representing the city of Eureka, Calif., and Eureka resident Carole Beaton (an FFRF Lifetime Member) are working on a settlement of Beaton’s prayer lawsuit against the city.

At a case management conference Feb. 18 at the Humboldt County Courthouse, City Attorney Cyndy Day-Wilson told Judge Bruce Watson that she and Beaton’s attorney Peter Martin are “currently negotiating a settlement,” which is expected in about 60 days, the Times-Standard reported.

Martin filed the suit on behalf of Beaton in January 2013, asking the council to stop holding invocations before meetings and for Mayor Frank Jager to stop promoting the annual Mayor’s Prayer Breakfast.

Watson ruled Dec. 24 that nonsectarian invocations at council meetings are legal but said Beaton can still pursue her claim against Jager’s prayer breakfast.

Neither party is discussing potential settlement details. ”I want to say that the lawsuit was not against prayer and was not against religion,” Beaton told a reporter. “It was against the mixing of church and state. A city or any other government entity should not be sponsoring a religious event.”

The suit alleges use of city resour-ces in promoting the breakfast. Jager downplayed the city clerk’s involvement.

The next case management conference is set for April 30.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation has asked the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals to overturn a federal district court decision approving a shrine to Jesus on public land near Whitefish, Mont.

“A permanent Catholic shrine on public land is prohibited by the Establishment Clause, every bit as much as a Catholic church would be,” asserts FFRF’s appeal brief, filed Jan. 28.  

The 6-foot-tall shrine sits on a 7-foot pedestal on Big Mountain in the Flathead National Forest, which is owned by the U.S. Forest Service. Since 1953, the Forest Service has issued a permit at no cost allowing the Knights of Columbus, a conservative Catholic men’s group, to place a “Shrine overlooking the Big Mountain ski run,” whose purpose is “to erect a Statue of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

In response to initial objections to the shrine, the Knights of Columbus claimed “that our Lord himself selected this site.”

FFRF wrote the Forest Service in 2011 to object to permit renewal. When Chip Weber, forest supervisor, agreed, determining it was “an inappropriate use of public land,” he faced blistering criticism and renewed the permit in January 2012.

FFRF is suing on behalf of its 100 Montana members, including three who have come into unwelcome contact with the shrine. William Cox, who has long been personally opposed to the shrine, has frequent and unwanted exposure to it when he skis on Big Mountain many times each winter. FFRF member Doug Bonham found the shrine “grossly out of place” when first encountering it, and his 15-year-old daughter, who often skis on the mountain, considers it “ridiculously out of place.”

Likewise, FFRF member Pamela Morris, a third-generation Montanan, first encountered the shrine as a teenager in 1957 at age 15 as part of a ski team, when she found the statue “intrusive” and “startlingly out of place.” She has since avoided the area, choosing to backpack, fish and camp where nature has not been violated.

The record shows a decision by the Forest Service to emphasize the shrine’s “historic” ties to development of the ski hill over its religious nature. The government argues that because the violation is longstanding, the shrine has become “historic.” FFRF counters that if courts followed such logic, segregated public schools and bans on interracial marriage would still prevail.

“The Government’s argument, reduced to its essence, otherwise would mean that religious iconography on public land is acceptable if supported by popular interest groups. The Establishment Clause, in other words, would be subject to majoritarian or popular demand. That, however, is not the lesson of our Constitution — nor a paradigm for historical success, as worldwide religious conflict attests. Religious icons on public land cannot be constitutionally salvaged by local celebrity status.”

Richard L. Bolton, of Boardman and Clark, Madison, Wis., is litigation attorney, with Martin S. King and Reid Perkins of Worden Thane, Missoula, serving as local counsel.

 

Sign up to receive FFRF news releases and action alerts by request at . Read more about the case at ffrf.org/legal/challenges.

A court decision allowing an obscure Milwaukee-area church to intervene in FFRF’s nationally significant lawsuit against the Internal Revenue Service over church politicking has placed the litigation “on the front line,” said FFRF’s litigation attorney, Richard L. Bolton.

“This will put everything in play, including the churches’ argument that the politicking restriction violates the First Amendment — using the Citizens United argument,” he added.

Although FFRF and the government defendants opposed the intervention, U.S. District Judge Lynn Adelman in Milwaukee ruled Feb. 3 that Fr. Patrick Malone and the Holy Cross Anglican Church of Wauwatosa, Wis., could intervene. (The congregation left the Episcopal Church in 2008 in reaction to a series of decisions, most prominently the ordination of a gay bishop, and joined the more conservative Convocation of Anglicans of North America.)

“The intervention by the clergyman and church, which openly admit in their brief that they don’t obey the electioneering restrictions applying to tax-exempt organizations, puts all the cards on the table,” said FFRF Co-President Dan Barker.

The church argues it has a “legal right to participate in political campaigns without forfeiting their tax-exempt status,” and cites the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, as well as the free speech, free exercise and establishment clauses of the First Amendment. Incidentally, FFRF calls RFRA unconstitutional in its amicus brief, written by attorney Marci Hamilton, in the Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby case before the U.S. Supreme Court.

FFRF filed its suit in November 2012, taking the IRS to court over its failure to enforce electioneering restrictions that require 501(c) tax-exempt entities to refrain from endorsing political candidates. 

FFRF recently prevailed in its federal challenge to an IRS policy that benefits clergy. The government has appealed that ruling on the parish exemption to the 7th Circuit.

FFRF has a third challenge of the IRS in federal court over the fact that churches are exempt from filing the same financial accountability reports, the Form 990, required of all other 501(c)(3) nonprofits.

Building on its success removing bibles from University of Wisconsin hotel rooms in December in Madison, the Freedom From Religion Foundation scored another victory for secularism on an Iowa public college campus.

The Memorial Union at Iowa State University in Ames agreed to remove Gideon bibles from its hotel rooms on March 1.

FFRF received a complaint about the religious propaganda on state property. “If a state-run university has a policy of providing a Christian religious text to guests, that policy facilitates illegal endorsement of Christianity over other religions and over nonreligion,” said Staff Attorney Patrick Elliott in a Jan. 29 letter to the university. “Permitting members of outside religious groups the privilege of placing their religious literature in public university guest rooms also constitutes state endorsement and advancement of religion.”

Elliott added, “Individuals, not the state, must determine what religious texts are worth reading.”

Union Director Richard Reynolds responded Feb. 13: “The concern you raised about the availability of bibles in the guest rooms of the Memorial Union has been taken under advisement and, effective March 1, 2014, the bibles will be removed from the hotel rooms.” 

“We’re delighted to see reason and the Constitution prevailing. We can all sleep easier knowing secularism is being honored at our public universities,” said FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor.

“Many nonbelievers greatly object to its primitive and dangerous instructions to beat children, kill homosexuals, atheists and infidels and that it sanctions the subjugation of women, who are scapegoated for bringing sin and death into the world,” Gaylor added.

“Imagine the uproar if someone found a Quran or atheistic literature such as Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion in their state-supported hotel room. Government can’t take sides on the religious debate.” 

FFRF’s victory received widespread Iowa and national coverage. Elliott appeared on national Fox News coverage and Gaylor was invited to debate Sean Hannity on Fox. (View the video on YouTube with the search terms “Gaylor FFRF Hannity.”)

John McCarroll, executive director of university relations, told WCCI News 8 in Des Moines: “It’s a public institution and we do have certainly responsibilities on the separation of church and state. We thought it was appropriate to put the bibles in the browsing library.”

Gaylor noted that as long as there are a variety of books of varying views, and the library is not solely religious, that is a satisfactory resolution. FFRF, which has more than 20,000 members, represents nearly 150 in Iowa.

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Illegal crosses rise again for Easter

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is once again calling out an Ohio town for the constitutional violation of putting Christian crosses on public property.

FFRF, a state-church watchdog based in Madison, Wis., complained April 8 in a letter to village of Stratton attorney Frank Bruzzese about crosses on the Municipal Building.

FFRF, which has 20,000 nationwide members and about 560 in Ohio, successfully got the village to earlier remove crosses from the building and the water tower, but had to threaten to sue to accomplish that.

Mayor John Abdalla recently ordered crosses to be put back on the Municipal Building, which has happened, according to a photo and story in the Steubenville Herald-Star  and a local complainant.

In FFRF's April 8 letter, Senior Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert cited legal precedent and took on Abdalla's false claim that it was constitutional to display religious imagery during holidays such as Easter: "While the permanent display of these crosses by the village is indisputably unconstitutional, the seasonal display of the crosses in recognition of Easter, the Christian celebration of Jesus' resurrection, is no less illegal."

FFRF wants immediate removal of the crosses from the front of the building and for village officials to "be reminded of their constitutional obligation to remain neutral toward religion."

Stratton, an Ohio River town with a population of about 300, already has its name on one U.S. Supreme Court case, Watchtower Society v. Village of Stratton. In 2002, the court ruled 8-1 that the village couldn't make door-to-door canvassers or solicitors get a permit. The ruling applied to religious proselytizing, anonymous political speech and handbill distribution.

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Allen Korbel, 1931–2013

Allen Korbel, 82, a Wisconsin member of FFRF since 1991 and later a Lifetime Member, died Dec. 17, 2013.

Born in Milwaukee on April 16, 1931, he was an accomplished race car driver and downhill skier with “a passion for life,” noted his friend Paul Wild. “He was a rare individual, a longtime libertarian, secular humanist and freethinker.”

He is survived by two daughters who have carried on his tradition of independent thought.

Allen most generously included a $5,000 bequest to FFRF in his estate.

His daughter, Mary Plautz, noted that he once told her, “if anything has to be written about me, I’d like it to be this” — “his creed,” which was part of a picture frame hanging on the wall. He felt this exemplifies a moral and cultural attitude not only about entrepreneurship, but about the self determining, fulfilling values in human life”:

 

My Creed 

I do not choose to be a common man

It is my right to be uncommon. . . if I can.

I seek opportunity . . . not security.

I do not wish to be a kept citizen,

humbled and dulled by having the state look after me.

I want to take the calculated risk,

to dream and build, to fail and succeed.

I refuse to barter incentive for a dole.

I prefer the challenges of life to the guaranteed existence;

the thrill of fulfillment to the stale calm of Utopia.

I will not trade freedom for beneficence

or my dignity for a handout.

I will try to never cower before any master

nor bend to any threat.

It is my heritage to stand erect, proud, and unafraid;

to think and act for myself;

enjoy the benefits of my creations;

and face the world boldly and say;

“This I have done.”

— Dean Alfange (1897-1989)

ken taubert protest ken taubert volunteer

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is very sorry to report the death last fall of longtime member and former treasurer Kenneth F. Taubert Sr., at Hart Park Square in Wauwatosa, Wis.

Ken was born in Madison, Wis., in 1921, and was raised, along with his sister, in a strict Catholic foster family. He enlisted in the Army Air Corps at age 20 and spent six years in that service. He married his wife, Virginia, in 1942.

Ken worked for many years as a supervisory custodian at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He was an avid golfer.

He joined FFRF in 1980. In an October 1990 article, he poignantly detailed his secular awakening:

“I left the Catholic Church when I was about 30 years old. I became disenchanted with religion in general, when we were told by a priest that our third child, whom doctors told us would not live more than one month, would not go to heaven unless he was baptized. I argued that this little fellow had done nothing wrong, and was sure to go straight to heaven. The priest insisted, so we had him baptized, but I never set foot in the Catholic Church again.” 

He went on to form the first Wisconsin group to support the rights of the mentally impaired, back in the days when it was not unusual for them to be hidden away.

Ken attended church with his wife for a number of years. “During this period, I read the bible for the first time and became a born-again atheist. From then on, I read every religious book I could get my hands on. I also read every freethought book I could find.”

He served as volunteer treasurer for more than a decade and was known to many convention-goers and readers of Freethought Today. Ken “faithfully” helped prepare Freethought Today mailings for more than a decade back when that work was done in-house. He and professor Michael Hakeem, then-chair of FFRF’s Executive Board, and Helen Hakeem, who was secretary, often engaged in freethought activism together.

Co-President Dan Barker recalls a memorable road trip with Ken and Mike to monitor a “faith-healing” event in Milwaukee featuring Peter Popoff, after Popoff’s exploits had been debunked by James Randi on “The Tonight Show.”

Ken and Mike took in another Milwaukee faith-healing event (“An Evening with W.V. Grant,” June/July 1991), with Ken noting, “I cannot think of a group more loathsome than the faith healers.”

He once turned out at 6:30 a.m. with a few hardy FFRF “non-souls” to picket the appearance of U.S. Senate Chaplain Richard C. Halverson at a prayer breakfast attended by 600 religionists on a snowy morning in Madison. 

“Ken was such a good activist and joined us in several other pickets, including in front of University Hospitals to protest Gideon bible distributions,” said Anne Nicol Gaylor, FFRF president emerita.

In the May 1992 issue of Freethought Today, Ken recounted “a sweet victory” — getting his polling place in Monona, Wis., changed from a Catholic church to a public school. He also persuaded the city of Madison to enforce its own ordinance prohibiting anyone from advertising on city property, including a church that was a repeat offender.

When Ken presented his annual treasurer’s report to the convention, including recapping the annual Form 990, he invariably pointed out that churches are uniquely exempted from filling it out by the IRS. “We know Ken was 100% behind our current litigation contesting that inequity,” said Annie Laurie Gaylor, FFRF co-president.

She added, “Ken was genuinely the most congenial man I’ve ever met. He had a twinkle in his eye and something cheerful to say to everyone. We’re told he loved debating religion with his mostly Catholic peers at his nursing home, and vice versa. Due to Ken’s genial nature, these debates never became personal.”

Ken was an avid runner who, in retirement, turned to brisk walking. He liked to boast, after having a pacemaker placed, about keeping pace with Annie Laurie and another young woman on a 13-mile walk around a Madison lake in the early 1990s.

More than 500 books in FFRF’s library bear Ken Taubert’s initials from previous donations. FFRF was honored to be given Ken’s remaining personal library upon his death.

He was featured in a major story in The Capital Times (April 3, 1950) for his innovative volunteerism with a neighborhood “tiny tots” group. He continued throughout his life to volunteer and participate in athletic fundraisers. In retirement, he volunteered for Mobile Meals and once wrote, “I get lots of hugs, and I don’t mind that a bit.”

Ken is survived by his son, Bruce, and daughter, Marcia Hochstetter, and their families, plus several grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Ken and Virginia’s sons Kenneth Taubert Jr. and Carl Taubert are deceased. 

FFRF’s staff seconds this summation in Ken’s obituary: “A man who gave everyone the benefit of the doubt and taught compassion and understanding, he will be deeply missed by all who had the privilege of knowing him.”

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Atheists charitable with donations

Hemant Mehta, “Friendly Atheist” blogger, Illinois high school math teacher and FFRF member, found that the third time was the charm for his efforts to donate $3,000 he raised from the freethought community for a worthy cause. The Niles Township Food Pantry accepted the $3,000 which had been turned down by the Morton Grove Park District and the Morton Grove Public Library board, the Chicago Tribune reported Jan. 10.

Mehta originally raised the money in October following news that an American Legion post pulled its support from the park district after a board member refused to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance. Park officials returned the check, citing a desire to avoid a “First Amendment dispute.”

Then, a library board trustee called Mehta’s blog a “hate group,” and questioned the legality of accepting a donation originally intended for the park district.

“I can’t believe how hard it is to get rid of $3,000,” Mehta said in a YouTube video, announcing plans to give the money to the food pantry.

Niles Township Supervisor Lee Tamraz said it was immaterial to him where the donation came from. “We should be appreciative of the donation and make sure it is used to the benefit of the people of Niles Township. I’m grateful for the $3,000.”

In another recent charitable act, Mehta raised $27,254 from 1,224 contributors to donate to Ryan Bell, a Seventh-day Adventist pastor who was asked to resign from his church and from two Christian schools at which he was an adjunct professor. Bell’s “sin” was announcing he was going to spend a year living without God, in effect, giving atheism a try to see where atheists were coming from.

“As an atheist, I want Bell to know that we appreciate what he’s trying to do and that we’ll support him even if his Christian community will not and (more importantly) even if he decides atheism isn’t for him when the year is over,” Mehta said.

FFRF is a non-profit, educational organization. All dues and donations are deductible for income-tax purposes.

FFRF has received a 4 star rating from Charity Navigator

 

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FFRF is a member of Atheist Alliance International.