%008 %America/Chicago, %2013
'm really honored to be here. At first I was a little puzzled by Annie Laurie's asking me to speak to you about physician-assisted dying. And then I realized it makes perfect sense, because in a way the movement I'm involved with has everything to do with rational behavior and common sense, and, of course, that's what you're into. So there is a relationship there. Before I tell you what's going on in Oregon, I would like to explain to you how I got into this. As is so often the case, I got involved because of a personal experience. I helped my mother die. She had ovarian cancer, and she was dying, but in her view not fast enough. People who are in this situation are often accused by the opposition of being depressed. My mother was not depressed. Her feeling was, she'd had a wonderful life, and now it was over; there was nothing ahead but pain and suffering. She was very rational, she saw no sense in continuing, and I understood her feeling that way. I was trying to remember when it first occurred to me that what my mother went through, and what we went through together, wasn't unique. I guess it was when my mother, very near to the end of life, looked up at me and said, "What do other people do who don't have children?" I wasn't thinking about other people at that point. I was totally focused on her, and I didn't really know about other terminally ill people who wanted out of life. But I know about them now. This movement, this wish on the part of so many of us to curtail the suffering of terminally ill people--because that's what this is about, it's about suffering, an overused word, but it's exactly the right word when it's you or someone you love--has come to the attention of a lot more people than in the past. So many of us have been through or have had some kind of an experience, and we've learned many bitter lessons. I'll tell you what I've learned. I've learned that even when pain control is at its best, which it usually isn't, it doesn't always work for everyone. And there are no great remedies for nausea. And there are certain ways the body can fall apart that are simply unbearable for the people whose body it is that's falling apart. I've learned it can be very hard to die. People often try and fail, or they try to help their loved ones and they fail. I get letters from those people. That, alone, is a good reason to have legal physician-assisted suicide, because it's not something that amateurs should be doing. Just because it happened to work in our family doesn't matter. It's not good policy to have people so desperate to die that they're forced to ask their children or their mates to help them out of life. Such people are amateurs, and, to put it crudely, they often muck it up. That can be terrible, and even if the person dies, there can be psychological damage. I happened to have a great relationship with my mother. Well, not everyone who helps a loved one to die has a great relationship, and if you help that person to die, you might suffer psychologically. It's just not something that family members should be doing. I also get mail from people who couldn't help, whose loved ones asked for help and they simply couldn't do it, which is perfectly reasonable. They didn't know how, they were afraid of the illegality, and those people feel guilty too. So it happened to work for us, but I'd really like to point out we had an awful time. We had no guidance except for a doctor who was willing to give us a bit of advice on the telephone. I'm a reporter in New York, I know many people, I know lots of doctors, I just thought, "Well, somebody just has to whisper in my ear what we need to do, what she needs to take." Nobody was willing to do that. And I can't blame them. It's illegal. People were fearful, and also at this time, the entire notion of assisted dying was completely in the closet. I've learned about something else, and I've seen it both in my mother and others. It's the thing that really keeps me in this movement. In addition to whatever physical horror the person is going through near the end of life, is the terror they feel. There have been studies on the terror people feel, which is not about dying, it's about suffering. There is reason to be terrified. Especially if people are alone, they're very fearful of suffering. And that brings me to Oregon, the only state in America where it is legal for a physician to help a patient die. Here's what that means. It means a mentally competent, terminally ill adult Oregon resident--you can't just travel to Oregon and die--who has been given a prognosis of six months or less to live by two licensed physicians, may get help to die. The help is merely a prescription. A lot of people don't understand this. Doctors are not injecting patients. It's a prescription for a liquid that's easy to swallow--my poor mother had to down all of these pills--and there are other safeguards in Oregon. The safeguards are important. There is a waiting period. The patient has to put his or her request in writing as well as the oral declaration, etc. The law has been in place for about six years now, and there have been some surprises. The big surprise to opponents and proponents alike is how absolutely wonderfully this law has worked. The opponents have been looking for a mishap and it just hasn't happened. The other surprise is how few assisted deaths there have been. After the last count, which was made after five years, there was a total of 129 deaths. Proponents of the initiative never thought there'd be a rush to die. The opponents--the Catholic Church and others--said, "Oregon's going to become a killing state; people are going to be dying like crazy in Oregon with this thing." Well, that did not happen. In the first place, most people cling to life. The natural thing is to cling to life. Usually people do that no matter how much they're suffering. But if that is so, one might ask, then why bother? If this is going to benefit so few people, and so few people take advantage of the law, then why are we struggling to get this going in other states? Which we certainly are. Well, the answer to that question, at least in my view, is there is no way, statistically, to measure peace of mind, no way to quantify the death of terror. But here's a guess: that for every one of the 129 people who have used physician-assisted suicide in Oregon over the past six years, tens of thousands more have had their fears quieted just knowing the assistance would be there if they wanted it. I've had cancer a few times. I, myself, would want to know that should things come to such a pass, there would be help if I wanted it. Very likely, most people are not going to do this, including myself. But to know you can do it: that's what the fight for legality is about. I learned a lot about all this when I was in Oregon about a year ago, writing an article about how the law is being implemented. I interviewed people who had passed all the safeguards and who had requested legal medication and received it. The people I interviewed were very different from each other but had two things in common: gratitude and peace of mind. I interviewed one Richard Holmes who was a hoot. He had girly magazines on his coffee table and a framed picture of his hospice nurse on his mantelpiece. He got a big kick out of telling me that at his last birthday party--which turned out to be his last birthday--he had invited his ex-wife and her boyfriend and their children and they all had a great time. Richard died a few months after our interview, without using the medication, but I could see it meant everything to him to have it. When we talked, he told me with a big smile that he kept it in the basement where it was nice and cool. I interviewed Laura Meirndorf, a big blowsy no-nonsense woman who had been a logger. Oregon's an amazing place! Women loggers! It blew my mind. Laura lived in a small dark house with a trailer attached in Scotts Mills, population 300. She had the medication, she pointed out to me--and I didn't ask, this was something people just couldn't wait to tell me--that her medication was on top of her fridge where she said she could keep an eye on it every day. I called her daughter, Shirley, a few months ago and she told me her mother had taken the medication. Apparently, she took it on a day when she wasn't feeling that horrible, so she got her neighbor to take her for a last look at the lake. What happened was, her mother was late getting back. They got a flat tire, which Laura thought was pretty funny, that on her last day of life the blankety-blank tire on the pick-up would go. As she was telling her daughter about this, Shirley thought, "Well, if she's still laughing, then maybe she doesn't want to do this, maybe she doesn't want to take the drug." But she did, in her own style. Apparently she took a swallow of medication and looked at her daughter and said, "This tastes like shit. Give me a shot of Kahlua." (You can't make this stuff up.) She took a swig of Kahlua, downed the rest of the medication, and within seven minutes she was out. Did I mention that before she died, Laura had some choice things to say about Attorney General Ashcroft? In a weird way, Laura reminded me of my mother. My mother was a totally different type. My mother wouldn't go to the grocery store without a full make-up, and I think the only four-letter word I ever heard her say was "food." But she had Laura's moxie. She had Laura's insistence on remaining herself and remaining in charge of herself. This they had in common. When my mother knew I had found a way out for her-- not easy in 1983 before anyone was even talking about this issue publicly--a calm came over her that was strange. Her sister, who didn't know what we were plotting, thought she was getting well, and she said to me: "There's something odd happening to your mother. She seems okay. Can she be getting better?" I could have replied, "Yes," because she had become herself again. With terror gone, in spite of her suffering, she was her old self. I could tell because she began bossing me around again. Less than 24 hours before she died, she said to me, "In the closet, there is this awful-looking hat, I don't know what possessed me. I bought in Bloomingdale's. Don't forget to return it." I remember thinking, the way Laura Meirndorf's daughter did, she's so herself. Does she really want to do this? Just before she was about to take the pills, I asked her: "Mother, do you really want to do this?" She looked at me as if I'd lost my mind, and said something quite unforgettable: "Next to the happiness of my children, I want to die more than anything else in the world." The success of Oregon makes it harder than ever to understand the opposition. It proves the point that when people are of a certain mind, a little thing like evidence to the contrary will do nothing to change it. What is going on in Oregon is about allowing dying patients to hasten their deaths. None of these people is going to do anything but die. But they want to choose when to die--with dignity. People in Oregon who are not even sick are comforted to live in a state which grants them this kind of insurance. I think my mother was unusual in that she went through with it. But as I said, this is a control issue. It's the power of knowing you can die when you want to. Back to Oregon, and enter Attorney General John Ashcroft. The attorney general, as you may know, has boldly tried to undo the Oregon law. His plan is to penalize doctors anywhere in the nation, including Oregon, who prescribe lethal drugs for patients. He made his move shortly after 9/11, when perhaps he thought no one would notice. We noticed. And most of all, the voters of Oregon noticed. Because the voters of Oregon decided, and have voted, not once, but twice on this issue. They were outraged. What's so ironic is here is this right-wing, states' rights guy coming in as telling Oregon voters that what their state had voted on twice wasn't any good. Not only that he was going to undo the physician-assisted suicide law, but if he got his way, the DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration) would begin to monitor doctors as though they were drug dealers. The inevitable result would be that physicians all over the country would become more afraid than they already are to treat pain. Say they gave a patient morphine just to relieve pain, and the patient happened to die. They could be prosecuted. Now isn't that a great situation? The inevitable result is people who are suffering would have doctors who are afraid to prescribe enough pain medication. Ashcroft lost the first round in the courts, by the way. But the case is not yet resolved. It is so purely ironic that someone like John Ashcroft is religious, and that his religion might be behind his actions. I think, on some level, those who oppose this movement are simply ignorant of what this law really means. They might actually be for it if they understood it. But they don't. They don't know how the law works, they don't know about the safeguards, they don't know about the peace-of-mind issue. I guess for some people it's also a failure of imagination. There are people who've hardly ever been sick, maybe had a stomachache once after eating too much, and they don't get it. They don't understand what it feels like to be in the shoes, or I should say, in the beds of some of these people. What it feels like to have your body completely fall apart. I suppose these are the people for whom suffering is just a word. Most of all they don't get that they could be there themselves. The next state where the death-with-dignity law is closest to happening, maybe in 2004, in Vermont. When that battle heats up, I hope you'll be with us. I know you have your own issue which obviously keeps you busy, but in your free moments, perhaps you might consider joining us on this issue. It really affects us all. Thank you. What organization in Oregon are you with? I'm with an organization called Death With Dignity National Center. We have just merged with the Oregon Death With Dignity people, so we're working together to move into other states. On the web it's www.deathwithdignity.org. How much does this go on, law or no law, in other places? That's a really good question, because a lot of people say, "Well, you don't really need a law. You find a doctor who's a good guy. He'll help you." Well, there are some heroic physicians who will give this kind of help. But they are taking a big chance. They are breaking the law, and you don't really want them to have to do that. Also, for every physician who is kind and brave enough to help someone die, there are many, many more who will not do it. Now in Oregon there are a lot of physicians who won't do this, by the way, but there are enough who will do it. Yes, of course, it goes on, and it has always gone on. But it's nothing you can count on. You mentioned there've been 129 people who ended their lives with medication, but at the same time they keep them in their refrigerator and their basement. Do they keep track of how many people have these medications? Oh, yes. Everything is kept track of. The Oregon health department keeps very careful note. Interestingly, there are a lot more prescriptions filled than are used, and I think that's just fine. These are the people who really are afraid and who want it there. They had that comfort at the end of their lives. Could you comment on the constituencies who oppose death with dignity? Yes. The Catholic Church, number one. There was a referendum--they nearly legalized this in Maine--and in the zero hour the Catholic Church came in with a very well-funded campaign, "Your doctor's gonna kill you. Is that what you want?" So number one, the Catholic Church. Other religious groups, too. Of course, the Catholic Church is a little busy now with their other problems. We hope they'll be distracted. But mainly, it's religious groups. To be fair, it's conservatives, but not all conservatives. I wrote a piece about this for the op-ed page of the Wall Street Journal, of all places, and they saw it as a libertarian issue, that nobody has a right to tell you what to do. So it's not just a liberal thing at all. But certainly the religious right is the major opponent. So number one, the political hierarchy of the Catholic Church--the Council of Bishops. What has become of Dr. Kevorkian? He is in the clink. Dr. Kevorkian brought this issue to the attention of the public. We are grateful to him for that. That is all we are grateful for, however. Dr. Kevorkian is a loner. He never wanted to join the movement, he never was interested in the legalization. He is in prison because he killed somebody. If this thing is going to work, you can't do that. You have to do it the way they're doing it in Oregon. There have to be safeguards. It has to be about the person doing it themselves, not about the doctor doing it. He just sort of went off on his own. There's a lot of disagreement in the movement about him, but most of us are critical of him, frankly. Are you a member of the Hemlock Society? No, I'm a member of Death With Dignity, but we're friends with the Hemlock Society, which is no longer called Hemlock Society because they had too much grief with that. They're now called End Of Life Choices. What are the drugs of choice? Body weight has something to do with it. Barbituates, Nembutol is mainly what they use in Oregon, but it's in liquid form so it's easy to swallow. A lot of very sick people can't swallow. People often ask me in those last moments with my mother, "Were you grieving?" No, I wasn't grieving, I was worried, my husband and I, because we thought, "Is she going to be able to get these pills down? If she doesn't, what then?" We were terrified this wouldn't work and that she might wind up suffering even more. Can't pain treatment and chemotherapy alleviate most of the suffering? Very often, what it really boils down to, is that often patients get treated beyond the point where it makes any sense to be treated. They're not going to live, and the treatment just makes them suffer. There are patients who say "No more!" and want a kind of decent end of life. Physicians tend to treat--I mean, that's what they're taught to do. So often the physicians will treat and medicate even if there's no point, very often. And patients go along. They think, "Well, if they're treating me there must be hope." Could you mention what Hospice is? Hospice is a wonderful organization. In Hospice, if you are dying, and you have a six-month prognosis, Hospice will keep you comfortable. Hospice is just the opposite of treating. Hospice is for people who say, "I know I'm at the end, I want to be comfortable." That's the business of Hospice, and they do it very well. Do you know the position of physicians at the American Medical Association on this? Yes. Of course the American Medical Association is against this. The AMA, however, represents only one-third of all doctors in the country and, like any association, tends to be more conservative than the profession as a whole. Many compassionate doctors support Death With Dignity laws. Tell us more about the safeguards, and also how long of a wait there is. No sooner than 15 days after the first oral request, the person must once again request his or her primary care physician to assist him or her in using the law. After the person is qualified and has made their first oral request for assistance, the person must sign a written request for assistance that has the signatures of two persons who witnessed the person's signature. The written request must be delivered to the person's primary care physician. The attending physician may write the prescription for the medication no sooner than 48 hours after the patient has delivered the written request. All of the dates on which the requests are made must be noted on the patient's chart, and the prescribing and consulting physicians and the pharmacist who fills the prescription must complete and mail approved compliance forms to the Oregon Health Division. This is not a casual thing. And the patient must be able to self-administer the medication. You said you have to be able to give this to yourself. What about people who can't give it to themselves? Well, that's part of the problem. The question is, what if you have ALS, Lou Gehrig's disease, and you can not swallow? That was the case with the patient Dr. Kevorkian helped. Well, that is a tragic situation with regard to this law, because the law does not cover people with ALS. If people with ALS were covered, then it would be legal for a doctor to kill the patient, and that opens a legal can of worms. I hope someday that we can do this. It's terrible that people with ALS cannot get help. So I would hope this is down the road, but it's not going to happen soon. Self-administration of the medication is the ultimate safeguard and is what distinguishes assisted dying from euthanasia. For people who can not self-administer, the law is problematic. The law that exists, however, does help most terminally-ill people who request assistance. What has happened in Holland and Belgium? I'm not an expert on the international scene today. In Holland they've allowed assisted dying for quite a while but it's a little bit different. They practice euthanasia as well as assisted suicide. That is, in Holland, under certain circumstances, a physician can kill a patient who wants to die. That's not going to happen in this country. It has been so hard just to get this mild law in Oregon passed, and so far, it's still only this one state. And all it is is a prescription. So sometimes people will say, "The law doesn't go far enough." Yeah, I agree, but look at what a struggle it has been. I don't know about Belgium. I think there's a law in Switzerland where you can actually go to Switzerland and if you qualify, you can get help. Betty Rollin is a contributing correspondent for NBC news. Her special reports for "Nightly News" included a series on the Native Americans of Pine Ridge, S.D., which won both the DuPont and Emmy awards. She also contributes reports for PBS's "Religion and Ethics Newsweekly." She has authored six books, including First You Cry, about her breast cancer and mastectomy (1976, recently republished on the author's 25th "cancer anniversary"), which was made into a TV movie starring Mary Tyler Moore. Her poignant bestseller Last Wish (1985, republished recently) raised consciousness about end-of-life issues,, describes the suicide of her terminally ill mother. It was made into a TV movie starring Patty Duke and Maureen Stapleton and has been published in 18 countries. She first joined NBC in 1972, and created and anchored a series of NBC News Special programs titled "Women Like Us." Human interest stories remain her focus as a correspondent. She was an associate feature editor and staff writer for Vogue, and senior editor for Look, and has written for many national magazines. She is a graduate of Fieldston Ethical Culture School in Riverdale, New York, and Sarah Lawrence College. She and her husband, Dr. Harold M. Edwards, a mathematician, live in Manhattan. ￼ ￼ Last Wish by Betty Rollin (1985, last reprinted 1998) examines the ethical and technical aspects of assisted suicide, and is also a loving testament to her motherÕs courage. Both of Ms. RollinÕs books are available for $15 ppd, through FFRF, PO Box 750, Madison WI 53701. Excerpt: First You Cry Excerpt, First You Cry, by Betty Rollin (1976, reprinted 2000). "I stopped believing in God at about the same time I stopped believing in Pinocchio, when I was about eight. It upset my mother because her father was an Orthodox rabbi. My mother blamed herself for not emphasizing religion enough and for not keeping a kosher house. (She couldn't do that, she said, because the housekeeper was a German Catholic and didn't know how. Even at the time, that struck me as a limp excuse.) Later I came to think that one reason I never had much truck with religion was that my mother, in spite of her carryings-on, didn't either. Mother was too hardheaded for that sort of thing, and so was her hardheaded daughter. My father was both more religious and more tribal. I expect that was owing to his experiences in Russian pogroms. When I was little he used to tell me stories about how he and his brothers and sisters hid under beds when the Cossacks came to the house of the Jews. The Cossacks would thrust their swords into the mattresses; my father told me that once, when he was under the bed, the tip of the sword came through right next to his head. A rich relative got the family out, but such experiences stick. . . . I thought about all this in the hospital because I knew that disasters often made people religious. After all, had I not sort of prayed the weekend before? One hears about people who "turn to God" when the jig is up. Notwithstanding my one prayer, that didn't seem to be happening to me."
%007 %America/Chicago, %2013
For the convenience of Freedom From Religion Foundation members interested in attending the "Save Women's Lives: March for Freedom of Choice" April 25 rally in Washington, DC, the Foundation will be holding a dinner party the night before, and offering a marching contingent. The dinner party will be held at 6 p.m. on Saturday, April 24, at the Phoenix Park Hotel, 520 North Capitol Street, NW, Washington DC 20001. Participants are offered entrees from the kitchen of this acclaimed Irish-run hotel. Dan Barker will entertain at the piano and there will be a featured speaker (to be announced). Also for the convenience of Foundation members wishing to attend the Sunday rally, the Foundation has reserved a limited number of rooms at the conveniently-located Phoenix Park Hotel. Foundation members are invited to assemble in the lobby of the Phoenix Park Hotel if they wish to march as a freethought contingent. The room rate is $149.00 single or double occupancy (there is a $20 extra person charge for triple occupancy rooms). Rooms are being held for the dates Friday, April 23, Saturday, April 24, and Sunday, April 25, to meet the varied needs of participants. Hotel reservations must be made by Tuesday, March 23, 2004. To be assured of a room at this rate, the hotel encourages you to make your plans well in advance. You can reserve rooms at the Phoenix Park Hotel "Book A Reservation" link online at www.phoenixparkhotel.com. Select your date and enter the following internet group code: 8058. If you prefer to phone, call toll-free: 1-800-824-5419 and use a different in-house group number: 5054. The hotel is across the street from Union Station, and is a short taxi drive from the Reagan DC airport. Valet parking is available at $25 per day or $6 per hour. Participants may prefer to stay at other hotels and make their own arrangements, but are encouraged to return to assemble at the Phoenix Park Hotel lobby by 9 a.m. on Sunday, April 25, to march as a freethought contingent. Bring your own signs; the Foundation has an official rally banner. The hotel is within walking distance of the Mall. The march is being sponsored by the National Organization for Women, the Feminist Majority, NARAL/Pro-Choice America and Planned Parenthood, and is to be a "historic action to send a message that women will not go back to the days of back-alley abortions." Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion nationwide, hangs by a swing vote. The April 25 rally is a follow-up to the 1992 March for Women's Lives, which attracted 750,000 people. "Today even more is at stake--birth control, emergency contraception, international family planning, and even scientific research," said NOW. "The primary opposition to birth control and abortion has always been organized religion," noted Foundation president Anne Gaylor, who was an early activist for abortion rights. "Were it not for the combined lobbying of Catholic, fundamentalist and Mormon denominations, we would not be facing this relentless war against reproductive rights. These freedoms depend on a clear separation of church and state."
%003 %America/Chicago, %2013
Cheers Newdow Wins Two Requests Justice Antonin Scalia shocked legal observers in mid-October by complying with plaintiff Michael Newdow's request to recuse himself from hearing the challenge of "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance. Newdow had filed a motion suggesting that Scalia needed to recuse himself, because of Scalia's remarks on the lawsuit to the Knights of Columbus earlier this year. The Catholic group campaigned in 1954 to add the words "under God" to the pledge. A 4-4 deadlock would affirm the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeal's ban on the religious reference in nine states. In December, Newdow won a second rarely-granted request: the right to argue the case himself before the US Supreme Court. Newdow, who has a law degree, has represented himself throughout the lawsuit, but works as an emergency room physician. Sandra Banning, the mother of Newdow's 9-year-old daughter, opposes his lawsuit. She is being represented in the Supreme Court by former solicitor general and Whitewater counsel Kenneth Starr. Court Nixes Colorado Vouchers Colorado's new law forcing 11 school districts to offer vouchers to subsidize religious and private-school education was found unconstitutional on Dec. 3 by a Denver judge. District Judge Joseph Meyer III ruled that the law violated the state constitution--not by violating state/church separation, but by stripping local school boards of local control over education. Moore, Georgia Decalog Removed Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore was removed from office on Nov. 13 by the state Court of the Judiciary half-way through his 6-year term for refusing to obey a federal court order. Moore had refused to comply with an order to remove a Ten Commandments monument from the rotunda of the state courthouse. Presiding Judge William Thompson said the 9-member court had no choice in its decision: "The chief justice placed himself above the law." A federal judge in November ordered Haberham County, Ga., to remove displays of the Ten Commandments from the county courthouse and swimming pool. US Dist. Judge William O'Kelley in Gainesville, Ga., ruled that the display had an "unambiguous religious purpose." Italian Crucifix Downed "The presence of the symbol of the cross shows the will of the state to put Catholicism at the center of the universe as the absolute truth," Judge Mario Montanaro ruled in a case in L'Aquila, Italy, decided in late October. A Scots immigrant Adel Smith, who converted to Islam in 1987, sued over the classroom crucifix on behalf of the Union of the Muslims of Italy. States Eschew Faith Funding Less than half of the states have followed the federal government's push to fund religious groups, according to a study released in November by the Rockefeller Institute of Government at the State University of New York. Only 15 states have administrative initiatives to promote funding. Only eight states have passed legislation to incorporate so-called "charitable choice" language into state law. New Zealand Secularism Progressive New Zealand Member of Parliament Matt Robson has proposed replacing a parliamentary prayer with a statement reflecting the secular status of the House, and the "diverse and multicultural" nature of New Zealand. The prayer, a paragraph litany ending "through Jesus Christ our Lord," was adopted in 1854. Even then it was controversial, Robson maintains, because a third of MPs opposed it. Robson describes himself as a "rationalist and humanitarian." Religion Going Postal A Jewish Veteran and the Connecticut Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit in October suing the US Postal Service for permitting a church-run post office to distribute Christian materials along with stamps. The Full Gospel Interdenominational Church operates the main post office in downtown Manchester, Conn. Women Sue Polygamists Mary Ann Kingston, 22, who was forced to become the 15th wife of her uncle at age 16, has filed a civil lawsuit seeking more than $110 million from her family and the 242-member Kingston polygamy clan near Salt Lake City. Kingston's father, who beat her unconscious when she tried to leave the marriage, and her husband were both convicted of crimes. Arizona Sen. Linda Binder, whose district includes the polygamous Colorado City, endorsed civil lawsuits as a way to seek justice. "You have to cut off the head of the snake," she recently told the Arizona Republic. "And that's the money. There are estimates that the [fundamentalist] church has $400 million. I'd love to see the victims get that money to educate and relocate the women and children, give them a fresh start in life. The men up there are fat and happy, smiling. They've got all the women they want, all the sex, and the government pays for their children." A group of former wives from Colorado City and the sister community in Bountiful, Canada, are preparing class-action lawsuits against the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Jeers Towey Disses Pagans Jim Towey, director of the White House Office of Faith-based and Community Initiatives, dissed pagans during a White House-sponsored online chat Nov. 26. When asked if pagan groups should receive the same consideration as any other religious group applying for government funds, Roman Catholic Towey replied: "I haven't run into a pagan faith-based group yet, much less a pagan group that cares for the poor! Once you make it clear to any applicant that public money must go to public purposes and can't be used to promote ideology, the fringe groups lose interest. Helping the poor is tough work, and only those with loving hearts seem drawn to it." Faith-based Funding Flood The Commercial Appeal reported on Dec. 6 that the US government awarded a total of $163.5 million in faith-based grants in 2002, and $191.5 million in 2003. Christ Community Health Services of Tennessee recently received a 3-year public grant of nearly $2 million. Co-founder Dr. David Pepperman told a newspaper: "I do this because it's what I feel called by God to do. Here, we're able to take a medical situation and turn it into a spiritual opportunity." The Boston Globe reported (Dec. 5, 2003) that the federal Compassion Capital Fund has distributed about $75 million since 2001 to faith-based charities, and that the president is budgeting $100 million for fiscal year 2004. White House faith czar Jim Towey says new regulations are making ministries eligible for $65 in additional government contracts. Through administrative fiat, Bush has broadened the "charitable choice" provision of the 1996 welfare law to apply to billion-dollar social service programs at four federal departments. Religious groups are mainly exempted under Bush's decree from federal laws forbidding discrimination in hiring. Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy G. Thompson announced in December a website offering "one-stop shopping for information on applying for all federal grants": "NewGrants.gov." The Boston Globe reported on Dec. 1 that so far, 27 "social ministries and 22 community groups" in the Boston area have received close to $1.6 million in shared public assistance. The Black Ministerial Alliance of Greater Boston also just received a grant of $2 million to "build up the capacity of the church and community groups serving at-risk youth." BMA and its partners, the Emmanuel Gospel Center and the Boston Ten Point Coalition, also will direct where $4 million in federal funds through the United Way of Massachusetts Bay goes, in individual grants averaging $30,000. The Bush Administration presses on with Jim Towey's slip-of-the-lip promise to "level the praying field," planning its ninth White House-sponsored regional conference in Tampa in January. Religious and community participants are offered free lunches, encouragement and hand-holding advice on applying for federal funding for religious social services. About two-thirds of participants at the recent conference in Memphis were African-American, leading to speculation that Bush, who received only 8% of the black vote in 2000, is actively courting it. Faith-based Swimming Pools? Free Will Family Ministries, Tenn., is expecting to receive a $600,000 windfall from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, thanks to Bush's faith-based initiative. Floods in 2001 damaged the childcare facility's campus, destroyed buildings at the Oaks Conference Center and Camps, and damaged an administration building. The church is planning a new "activities building" with a basketball court and climbing wall, a new 25-by-50-foot swimming pool and water slide, and eight new lodge rooms, reconstruction of two bridges, a new computer "mother board," and the addition of a wall and fireplace to the "large log tabernacle used for assemblies," reports the Greeneville Sun. House Passes DC Vouchers The US House of Representatives on Dec. 8 passed a bill creating a $14 million-a-year program for public-funded vouchers for DC children to attend religious and private schools. On a 242-176 vote, the House approved a $328 billion spending bill that includes private school tuition for at least 1,700 low-income DC students. The Senate is expected to act on the bill next year. Also passed in the mammoth bill was $400,000 for abstinence education, and $250,000 for the "Best Friends Foundation," an abstinence group founded by William J. Bennett's wife, Elayne G. Bennett. Ten Commandments Approved The 5th US Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the presence of a Ten Commandments marker on the capitol grounds in Austin, Texas, is constitutional. In a mid-November decision, a 3-judge panel ruled against Thomas Van Orden, a homeless man who sued to remove the 6-foot-tall red granite monument donated to the state by the Fraternal Order of Eagles in 1961. Darwin Day Underway Planning is underway for Darwin Day, an international celebration of the life, work and influence of Charles Darwin on the anniversary of his birth, Feb. 12. Check out http://www.darwinday.org/ for more information on Darwin Day programs, as well as many activity suggestions and resources. Ed Schempp, 1908-2003 Supreme Court state/church victor Ed Schempp, 95, died in New Hampshire on Nov. 8, "surrounded by the beauty of nature," writes his son Ellery. The father/son pair launched the landmark lawsuit, Schempp v. Board of Education, ridding public schools of devotional bible readings. In 1956, Ellery protested the mandatory bible reading by reading from the Koran. After he was reprimanded, his father filed suit. Ellery was dropped from the suit after he graduated from high school. Madalyn Murray's later, similar case out of Maryland was joined with the Schempp case before the Supreme Court, with the high court reserving the bulk of its opinion for the Schempp case. The Supreme Court issued an 8-1 ruling on June 17, 1963, barring mandatory bible reading in public schools, which followed its 1962 decision barring prayer. "In the relationship between man and religion, the state is firmly committed to the position of neutrality," Justice Clark wrote Schempp. Ed was a longtime member and honorary officer of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, and was featured in the FFRF film, "Champions of the First Amendment." A native Philadelphian, Ed took over his father's hardware business as a young man, and later worked in electronics. He was active in Unitarianism and peace groups. Ed Schempp is survived not only by the enduring legacy of his major court victory, but by his wife of 69 years, Sidney, and their children Ellery, Roger and Donna. Nothing Fails Like Prayer A 3-year study by cardiologists at Duke University Medical Center in North Carolina disclosed that heart patients who were not prayed for recovered from surgery at the same rate as those who were prayed for by strangers. The study, the largest scientific experiment on prayer and released by Duke in mid-October, received scant US attention, but was widely reported by British press. For three years, 750 patients awaiting angioplasty were recruited for the experiment. Patients were randomly selected by a computer whether to be the subject of intercessory prayer by 12 prayer groups. Hospital staff, patients and relatives did not know who was being prayed for. Prayer groups included nuns in a Carmelite convent in Baltimore, Christian moms, Sufi Muslims, Buddhist monks in Nepal, British doctors and medical students in Manchester. Subjects were even prayed for via email appeals to Jerusalem placed at the Wailing Wall. An analysis found no significant differences in the recovery and health of patients.
%003 %America/Chicago, %2013
"The Roman Catholic Church remains enemy number one of civil liberties in our country," contends Foundation president Anne Gaylor, in the wake of a stepped-up church assault against social reforms and the Catholic politicians who support them. Gaylor said the church's political activity calls into question its tax-exempt status. At their annual conference in Dallas in November, the American Catholic bishops issued aggressive statements against contraception, same-sex unions and abortion. The US Conference of Catholic Bishops is still formulating how it intends to punish Catholic politicians who vote against Catholic doctrine. An example of the Church's increasingly overt power play occurred in Wisconsin, where the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel ran an exposŽ in early December revealing an attempt at "spiritual extortion." Bishop Raymond L. Burke of La Crosse, who was just promoted by the pope to become the Archbishop of St. Louis, sent warning letters earlier this year to selected public officials. At least two Catholic state legislators and one member of Congress were warned that they are endangering their "spiritual well-being" by not voting the church line on issues such as abortion. Burke said if they continue to contradict church teachings, "I would simply have to ask them not to present themselves to receive the sacraments because they would not be Catholics in good standing." Burke told them that as Catholics they may not support "anti-life" legislation (such as support of abortion and assisted suicide). Wis. State Sen. Julie Lassa, D-Stevens Point, received one of the lengthy epistles, which documented how several of her recent votes violate church policy. For instance, Lassa voted against an onerous bill that would have permitted healthcare professionals to refuse medical and pharmaceutical treatment based on religious dogma. "As a faithful member of the Catholic Church, you have an obligation to fulfill the duties of your office . . . with regard to the moral law. You have failed to restrict the evil of abortion when the opportunity presented itself," Burke chastised Lassa. Burke cited a document, "Living the Gospel of Life: A Challenge to American Catholics," adopted by the US Conference of Catholic Bishops. This document charged bishops with a duty to "enlighten the consciences of political leaders to the protection of life, especially political leaders who are Catholics." The document maintains that "those who are directly involved in lawmaking bodies have a grave and clear obligation to oppose any law that attacks human life." Burke ordered Lassa to study the 26-page document, and then to schedule a meeting with him to discuss it. "I call upon you to consider the consequences for your own spiritual well-being, as well as the scandal you risk by leading others into serious sin," Burke wrote. Undaunted, Lassa told the Journal-Sentinel: "I'm concerned that the bishop would pressure legislators to vote according to the dictates of the church instead of the wishes of their constituents because that is not consistent with our Democratic ideals. When I was elected, I swore an oath to uphold the Constitution, and that means I have to represent all the people of all faiths in my district." Also receiving a letter of religious threat was conservative Wis. Rep. DuWayne Johnsrud, R-Eastman, who is strongly antiabortion but is considered religiously-incorrect on birth control. Johnsrud responded: "I didn't think I was down here representing the Catholic Church. Sorry, they can lump it or like it, I don't care." The overt church attempt to dictate voting by Catholic politicians recalls the concerns raised in 1960 when John F. Kennedy became the first Roman Catholic US president. As a candidate, Kennedy took pains to allay fears that he would act as a Vatican puppet. In a historic speech to Houston ministers on Sept. 12, 1960, Kennedy delivered his famous lines of assurance: "I believe in an America that is officially neither Catholic, Protestant nor Jewish--where no public official either requests or accepts instructions on public policy from the pope, the National Council of Churches or any other ecclesiastical source. . ." Upping the ante is the revelation that a conservative Roman Catholic organization based in Virginia is targeting Wisconsin's pro-choice Catholic governor, Jim Doyle, and dozens of other Catholic politicians around the country. The American Life League's "Crusade for the Defense of Our Catholic Church" targets 71 members of Congress and 340 Catholic state politicians. Previous attempts to sanction Catholic politicians include the January action by Sacramento Bishop William K. Weigand, who stirred controversy for telling former Gov. Gray Davis of California and other pro-choice Catholic politicians to abstain from receiving communion. In a 1989 case involving then-Bishop Leo T. Maher of San Diego, Calif. state Sen. Lucy Killea, D-San Diego, was banned from receiving communion because she is pro-choice. Bishop Francis Quinn of San Francisco overruled the action. In 1996, a Nebraska bishop declared that any Catholic in his diocese who joined groups such as Planned Parenthood would be automatically excommunicated. That year Bishop Rene Facida of Corpus Christi also excommunicated two abortion clinic workers and a doctor who performs abortions. Roman Catholicism dominates the 108th U.S. Congress, with 150 of the members claiming to belong to that denomination. Three Catholics are running for president: Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich, Ohio; Sen. John Kerry, Mass.; and Wesley Clark. The U.S. bishops, following their annual meeting in November, announced a new task force will produce guidelines on dealing with "recalcitrant politicians." Washington Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick will head the taskforce, itself a response to a 17-page "doctrinal note" issued by the Vatican in January telling Catholics in politics how to behave. * * * The November decision by the Massachusetts State Supreme Court ordering the legislature to rewrite marriage laws to provide benefits for gay couples by mid-May was denounced by Massachusetts' bishops. The bishops openly urged parishioners "to contact the governor and their state legislators to urge them to find a way to give our citizens more time to deal with this issue." Although career celibates themselves, several prominent Massachusetts bishops lamented that the ruling promotes "divisions in society by villainizing as bigotry the legitimate defense of thousands of years of tradition." Religious right groups are vowing to turn "gay marriage" into the number one election issue next year. The Vatican issued a July 31 document declaring a global campaign against gay marriages and ordering Catholic politicians to vote in lockstep against such legislation. Catholic politicians were instructed that they are "obliged" to oppose "the legal recognition of homosexual unions," and that a Catholic politician has "a moral duty to express his opposition clearly and publicly and to vote against it. To vote in favor of a law so harmful to the common good is gravely immoral." * * * The Roman Catholic bishops are also vigorously fighting access to contraception. They announced in November they will link campaigns against it with abortion. The Bishops' "Committee for Pro-Life Activities" will issue a booklet on why "natural family planning" is the only acceptable alternative. The church is condemning contraceptive use not only by Catholics, who largely ignore the ban, but is fighting to limit everyone's access, and their own obligation as employers to offer insurance coverage of contraception. In a decision announced on Dec. 2, a New York court rejected a claim by Roman Catholic groups seeking to be exempted from a new state law requiring employers to offer insurance coverage for contraception. The court maintained the law's clear "secular purpose" of promoting women's health and halting sex discrimination. The New York State Catholic Conference vowed to appeal. The California State Supreme Court will be ruling soon on a lawsuit by the Catholic Charities of Sacramento, also seeking to be exempted from a similar California law enacted in 2000. More than 100,000 employees at 77 church-affiliated hospitals in California and New York have rights at stake. Churches themselves are exempt from providing contraceptive coverage for employees who work inside parishes and houses of worship in New York and California. Catholic Charities had a $76 million budget in California alone, and receives public funding. "Mother Teresa would be forced to offer contraceptives," argued California Catholic Conference spokeswoman Carol Hogan. Catholic Charities of Sacramento attorney called "artificial" contraception "sinful." "To ignore the health benefits of contraception is to say that the alternative of 12 to 15 pregnancies during a woman's lifetime is medically acceptable," said Catherine Hanson, an attorney for the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecologists, which favors the coverage. According to the New York Times, the 20 states requiring private-sector insurance coverage for prescription contraceptives include: Arizona, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Iowa, Georgia, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Missouri, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Rhode Island, Texas, Vermont and Washington.
%000 %America/Chicago, %2013
A tombstone-like monument of the Ten Commandments donated by the Fraternal Order of Eagles to the city of Casper, Wyo., was moved to storage in late November, after a complaint by the Madison, Wis.-based Freedom From Religion Foundation. The city council voted in October to remove the monument from a public park, after the Foundation contacted the city in September on behalf of Casper residents. However, the council additionally voted to eventually create a "monument plaza" featuring the Ten Commandments with "other" historical documents. It took a six-man combined crew from the local cemetery and the Casper Public Utilities Department to dig out the base of the two- or three-ton monument. Workers used a crane to lift it, and placed it at the Casper Service Center. The Foundation, in its letter of complaint, had pointed out that Casper is in the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals. The appeals court ruled last year in a Utah case that cities hosting Ten Commandments markers must permit other groups to erect their own monuments on public property. The opportunistic and notorious Rev. Fred Phelps, of Topeka, Kan., then entered the fray by threatening to sue the city if not permitted to erect a monument "celebrating" the death of slain University of Wyoming student Matthew Shepard. Phelps' proposal invoked Lev. 18:22 calling homosexuals "abominations." The city turned down Phelps' request. The Foundation is monitoring future developments.
%000 %America/Chicago, %2013
"Friendly Neighborhood Atheist" mystery writer Jane Haddam The latest Gregor Demarkian mystery by Jane Haddam, Conspiracy Theory (St. Martin's Minotaur, July 2003, 288 pages, $24.95), contains several references to the Freedom From Religion Foundation. Haddam, who has been a finalist for both the Anthony and the Edgar Awards, has created "my latest atheist character," a woman protagonist who is a member of the Freedom From Religion Foundation. At the start of the novel, the woman "considered pinning her Freedom FROM Religion button to her sweater. . ." She is also described as having a three-by-five card stuck in her car mirror advertising the Foundation's website: "Freedom From Religion Foundation: http://www.ffrf.org." At her own website, Jane Haddam writes in an essay: "I'm thinking of ordering a t-shirt that says 'Friendly Neighborhood Atheist,' if only to stop people from assuming I'm not one."
%999 %America/Chicago, %2013
Ralph Carlson, now 101, and Clara Carlson, 97, celebrated their 76th wedding anniversary with a toast, a party and a 4-piece band serenading them with Meredith Willson's song, "Seventy-Six Trombones." The anniversary celebration made the front page of the Peninsula Daily News. Clara, who has been a Foundation member since 1980, attributes the secret of their longevity to "chocolate, champagne and laughter." She added: "It's as simple as that." Friends who gathered at the anniversary party accordingly toasted the couple with champagne, and shared chocolate cake and laughter. They were married in San Francisco on Aug. 18, 1927. According to a Sept. 4 article in the Daily News, the couple met when Clara was at a nursing school that forbade students to marry. Ralph was working for the American Red Cross. Four months before her graduation, Clara married Ralph anyway. The registrar, nicknamed "Cupid Munson," promised not to publish the announcement of their marriage, which was kept secret until Clara graduated. They have three children, nine grandchildren and 17 great-grands. Their experiences include traveling 18,000 miles across Europe in a Volkswagen for a year. Felicitations, Clara and Ralph!
%998 %America/Chicago, %2013
The Freedom From Religion Foundation has a category of membership reserved for a select, elect group of people, known as our "honorary officers." The position is reserved for freethinkers who have won Supreme Court cases in favor of the separation of church and state. Before saying more about tonight's honorary officer, Alton Lemon, I want to introduce from the audience another honorary officer, Roy Torcaso, who won the 1961 case, Torcaso v. Watkins, overturning a Maryland statute barring nontheists from being notary publics. Alton Lemon won the case Lemon v. Kurtzman, 1971, which successfully challenged a Pennsylvania law, the first such law in the nation providing public tax funds to religious schools for teaching four secular subjects. Mr. Lemon, a member of the ACLU, volunteered to be part of the challenge of this law, which became a watershed for the Establishment Clause, and resulted in a historic decision bearing his name. The United States Supreme Court unanimously invalidated the parochial aid. In one of the enduring legacies of the Burger Court, it also codified existing precedent on the Establishment Clause into a test--called the "Lemon Test." You can probably recite the "Lemon Test" with me. It has three prongs. If any of the three prongs are violated by an act of government, it is unconstitutional: One) It must have a secular legislative purpose; Two) Its principal or primary effect must neither advance nor inhibit religion; Three) It must not foster excessive entanglement between government and religion. This was not new law, per se, but kind of a noble attempt to clarify and make the Establishment Clause idiot-proof. The "Lemon Test" has been invoked in virtually every lawsuit the Foundation has ever taken. It is our best friend. ￼ Margaret Downey accepting Alton Lemon's "First Amendment Hero" plaque on his behalf from Annie Laurie Gaylor. It has been hated and reviled by the religious right. Three presidents (you can guess which ones) have openly sought to overturn it. Justice Scalia, who's a pretty scary fellow himself, has made an odious comparison of the Lemon Test to "some ghoul in a late-night horror movie that repeatedly sits up in its grave and shuffles abroad, after being repeatedly killed and buried." Despite attacks against it and attempts to modify and chip away at it, the Lemon Test endures. When we invited Alton Lemon and his wife Augusta to attend our convention as special guests, I warned him: an awful lot of people here are going to want to shake your hand! Annie Laurie Gaylor, a co-founder of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, is editor of its newspaper Freethought Today and the anthology of women freethinkers, Women Without Superstition, "No Gods - No Masters." By Margaret Downey As Annie Laurie Gaylor told you, Alton could not attend the conference. Alton is ill from the radiation treatment he is getting to control a cancer situation. Alton sends his warm regards, and regrets not being able to attend. I thank the Freedom From Religion Foundation for the opportunity to accept this "First Amendment Hero" award for my dear friend, Alton Lemon. When people visit Philadelphia, they visit well-known historical sites, such as the Liberty Bell, Independence Hall, Valley Forge, and the Constitution Center. ￼ Margaret Downey When I moved to Pennsylvania I visited those places too, but their historic significance paled in comparison to meeting and making friends with Alton. His namesake U.S. Supreme Court case is a landmark decision--making all the difference when church/state separation issues are legally reviewed and argued. Annie Laurie just told you about the legal importance of the case. Now I want to tell you about Alton and why he is so important to all of us. You see, Alton's community service, social activism, kindness, and passion should be emulated by everyone. There are many people in Philadelphia who share my love for Alton. I discovered just how many when in 1996, I submitted an Alton Lemon Day proclamation to the City of Philadelphia. Mayor Edward G. Rendell immediately approved the text and declared June 28 "Alton Lemon Day." One telephone call to Councilwoman Happy Fernandez was all that was needed to inspire her to submit a City Council Citation honoring Alton's lifelong commitment to community service. The Citation was unanimously approved by the City Council to coincide with the June 28 Alton Lemon Day celebration. You might wonder how these very important people knew about Alton--well, his reputation of outstanding citizenship is legendary in Philadelphia. Alton at one time held the position of both president and vice-president of the Philadelphia Ethical Society. He served on the board of the Parents Union for Public Schools and was an active participant in the American Civil Liberties Union. It was through his affiliation with the American Civil Liberties Union that Alton became the plaintiff in the 1971 U.S. Supreme Court case of Lemon v. Kurtzman. Alton grew up in Atlanta, Ga. In that Southern state, Alton observed and experienced first-hand the harmful effects of discrimination and prejudice. Personal experiences and many people helped to shape the character and personality of Alton. As a youth, Alton played on the same basketball team as Martin Luther King, Jr. We all know the impact Martin Luther King, Jr. had on society, and Alton will always cherish the special experience of being on the same basketball team as Dr. King. Some of Dr. King's courage must have transferred to Alton during their games together, because, much like Martin Luther King, Jr., Alton went on to fight for social change. Alton has been employed as an Equal Opportunity Officer for the U.S. Department of Energy. He was a Citizen Participation Advisor for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, and he was at one time the program director for the North City Congress Police-Community Relations Program in Philadelphia. But Alton is not just a socially concerned individual. He is also a very intelligent man. Alton obtained a Bachelor's Degree in Mathematics from Morehouse College in 1950. He was an aerospace engineer for the Naval Air Development Center in Pennsylvania, and he was an automotive design engineer at the Aberdeen Proving Ground in Aberdeen, Md. Alton also served in the U.S. Army and saw duty in the Korean War. Alton is a patriotic, humble, honest, and devoted family man. He and his wife Augusta have been married for 52 years. They are a beautiful couple and I was thrilled to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary with their friends and family two years ago. And now I will be pleased to deliver this plaque to Alton and help him hang it in his home.
%997 %America/Chicago, %2013
How does someone go from being a being a three-term elder in a large Presbyterian Church to the author of Time Traveling with Science and the Saints, a book that nails Christianity to its own much-vaunted cross? In my case, it was easy, much easier than the paths that many of my formerly religious friends (many of them ex-clergymen) have more painfully walked. I was raised in a family in which religion was a non-issue, free to go to Sunday school with my friends whenever I wished. But northern Minnesota's forests and lakes held much more appeal, so most Sundays found me strolling through pine-shaded woods with my dog at my side. Then came college, a dental degree, and marriage to a great young lady who was raised Presbyterian, which explains how I became involved with the church. Fortunately, our church soon acquired a forward-thinking pastor, who, to the parishioners' great surprise, turned out to be more interested in projects like aiding the poor than air-conditioning the church. That pastor lasted just two years, and when he left, so did we, for after poring through books on comparative religion, we had concluded that the emperor we'd been serving had, like Swaggart and Bakker (and today's Rush Limbaugh), been parading around with no clothes. I like to say I once served as an officer on a very impressive ship, the S.S. Presbyterian. Like most spiritual ships, the vessel rarely sought serious waters--the crew being too busy singing hymns and burnishing brass to tend to the pressing needs they found in every port. When our wealthier officers began to pressure the crew to pledge even more to embellish our splendid vessel (while ignoring needs ashore), my wife and I decided to escape. And late one evening, when we passed abeam the Rational Islands, we slipped over the gunwale and quietly swam to shore. Shortly thereafter, we joined a unique organization that we all support--the courageous Freedom From Religion Foundation, of which I am a Life Member. A subsequent move to Minneapolis provided an opportunity to join both the Minnesota Atheists and the Humanists of Minnesota, an organization for which I served as president and newsletter editor for many years before being elected to the board of the American Humanist Association. During those years we raised two good nonreligious sons, and I spent a part of every summer exploring northern Canada and Alaska in my floatplane. The experiences garnered during those thirty summers, plus the history of the marvelous people I'd met, led me to write True North, a book that not only rode the bestseller list in Canada for three months but has done very well in the U.S. To my knowledge, True North is the only U.S. mass market book that provides a mix of wildlife and adventure, criticism of missionary practices and creationists' ploys, plus praise of an atheist chieftain and the science that created all of our comforts. I'm pleased that so many readers have used True North for a birthday, graduation or Christmas gift for friends and relatives. While writing True North, I attended a program titled "Galileo and the Catholic Church," sponsored by the College of St. Thomas. Unfortunately, the event turned out to be little more than an exercise in blaming the victim. During the discussion period, when a participant repeated the commonly held belief that, despite its abuses, religion has civilized the world, I decided to write a book comparing the fruits of Christianity to those of the sciences that it has opposed for almost two thousand years. With Matthew 7:20, "by their works shall ye know them," to guide me, I scanned the historical record to see which has brought more pleasure and which has caused more pain. I'm pleased that Time Traveling with Science and the Saints (Prometheus Books), though predictably not a bestseller, has also sold very well, especially to the freethought community. Now, with my 71st birthday out of the way, my wife and I are contemplating a move to a home in northern Minnesota that we have been remodeling for more than a year. Directly across the lake from our "new" south-facing home is--surprise--a seaplane base that I expect to use for at least forty or fifty more years! Editor's note: George donates the profits from True North and Time Traveling to the Foundation whenever members order signed copies from him and mention FFRF. True North costs $15.00 incl. postage. For a CD of 167 color photos that follow True North from cover to cover, add $7.00. Time Traveling lists at $25.00, but George provides signed copies for $20.00 incl. postage. Mail checks to George Erickson at 2300 17th St NW, New Brighton, MN 55112. ￼ George and his plane George's Commandments Because of my contacts in the education community, I am occasionally asked to speak to high school and college students about religion vs. freethought. In response to a frequently asked question about the Ten Commandments, I often say that we don't have much use for most of them, and then offer the following list, explaining it is probably incomplete, but it does provide an example of how most of us operate. George's Commandments: 1. Use your head--think critically. Use your hands--be helpful. Use your heart--be caring. 2. Remember, everyone needs to be loved. 3. Leave thoughts of gods and miracles, heavens and hells to those who invented them. Many people believe they need religion to make them be good--we do well without. 4. Be at least as good as your parents. If they weren't very good, you have an easy job. If they were great, you're lucky. If everyone did this, the human race would improve quite rapidly. 5. Get an education. It might be expensive, but ignorance costs more. 6. Support democracy. It's not perfect, but it's the best system running. 7. Support science. All of your comforts and conveniences derive from science. 8. Make today a little better for someone else, and today will be better for you. 9. Be tolerant. Why should others consider your viewpoint if you won't consider theirs? 10. When you screw up, admit it--and apologize. 11. Appreciate and protect the planet that feeds you. Recycle; don't pollute. 12. Be good to your body. Why damage something that took millions of years to evolve? 13. Practice safe sex and family planning. The earth is getting crowded. Malls, factories and parking lots are expanding at the expense of the forests and farms that sustain us.--George Erickson
%996 %America/Chicago, %2013
And speaking of an emperor with no patience for clothing, especially when it happens to be on the women around him, well, the people of California took seriously the request that they Win One for the Groper, and they elected Schwarzenegger as their governor. This, despite the fact that the guy has no political experience, and ample experience in behaving badly, even illegally. He's a gang banger, a compulsive handyman, a fan of Hitler and a zealous drug user who has, in his words, "inhaled and exhaled everything." I wondered how Schwarzenegger could get away with doing things that would terminate the career of any normal, non-steroidally enhanced human being. Was it being a Republican? Was it being a movie star with a glamorous Tammy Wynette of a wife? Those things help, of course, but then I learned that Arnold is a devout Catholic, who attends mass just about every Sunday with his family. Catholics have this wonderful little escape clause written into their contract. It's called confession. No matter what you've done, you can go into a little box that serves as a kind of sin shredder, an autoclave for the soul. You just tell the guy sitting behind the screen, forgive me father for I have sinned, and you list your various peccadillos as earnestly but succinctly as you can. The priest asks if you're sorry, you say you are, he gives you a kind of homework assignment to prove your repentance, and voila! You're in the clear. And the great thing about the system is, you can be a repeat offender, you can keep doing the same bad things over and over, and still the priest is obligated, if you ask for it nicely, to give you a pass. Hail Mary full of grace, let me win the governor's race. If you don't, I'll bust your face. But I am not being fair. People learn many useful things in the course of getting a Christian education. Just the other evening, my daughter, who is in second grade, shared with me and my husband a series of jokes and songs that had a lot of vivid references to body parts, body functions and body fluids, ill-fitting underwear, and, Arnold's favorite, the toilet bowl. Now I am no angel. Sometimes I'm not even PG-rated. If Katherine is around when I stub a toe or step in cat throw-up or read the morning newspaper, well, I just might say shit or goddamn it or Jesus fucking Christ, and my daughter will scold me for using bad language, or for invoking the name of somebody she knows quite well I don't believe in. Yet even with my somewhat lax verbal standards, I was surprised by the vulgar nature of the little ditties my daughter sang for us. Where did you learn those things? my husband and I asked of her. From Michelle, she replied brightly. Ah, yes, Michelle, her most religiously indoctrinated friend, a girl who spends every Sunday in church and every summer at bible camp, who once made for Katherine a lovely drawing with hearts and flowers and birds and butterflies that on one side said, I love Katherine and on the other, I love the Baby Jesus, too. Now, Katherine has many friends, but whenever she's come home with some really juicy Maxim-worthy material, it turns out she's learned it from Michelle. So the question is, who is tutoring Michelle? She doesn't have older siblings. She and Katherine attend the same public school during the week. I can only conclude that there is more to bible camp than the canonical gospels, and that perhaps Katherine really is missing something by growing up in a pleasant, tree-lined Norman Rockwellesque town like Takoma Park--which is just over the border in Maryland, a couple of miles from here--without the benefit of Sunday school. How is she supposed to learn about the glories of the gutter? The only smutty poems I know are ones I learned growing up in the Bronx decades ago, and they're far too stale for today's savvy young consumer. So all I can say to Michelle is, Amen! But I am making light of a very somber business, the topic of my talk, which is the challenge of raising a god-free child in these god-besotted times. Because yes, my husband and I are raising our daughter as an atheist, in a moderately active fashion. That means not only do we fail to schlep her to church or temple or any other house of "worship" on a regular basis; not only do we expect her at dinnertime to direct her gratitude for the food she is about to eat to whichever harried parent prepared the meal--and so she does, with little ad-libbed prayers like, I beg you, please don't make me eat these Brussels sprouts! We also explain to her why we don't believe in god, and why we're big fans of evidence-based analysis, and why we think that religion is a source of a lot of the world's misery and strife. Yes, indeed, I never pass up an opportunity for a good lusty anti-god rant. In August, for example, Katherine and I were boarding a plane for North Carolina, when the person behind us, a woman with white hair and icy blue eyes, started giving the ticket agent a hard time--unfairly, from what I could hear. Their argument got heated, and finally she said she was going to report him to his airline's management. What's your name? she demanded. Mohammad, he said. Mohammad, eh? said the woman. I should have known! Well, I couldn't help but whirl around in outrage at that remark. Jesus Christ! I cried. I can't believe you said that! The woman turned her polar-cap glare on me and snarled that I should mind my own business. And who are you to talk, anyway! she added, Using the lord's name in vain like that! We were about to come to fisticuffs when I remembered, oops, I have my kid with me. Once Katherine and I were finally settled in our seats, I tried to explain the argument, and the reason why the woman's slur against the man's name was so mean and indefensible. This is what happens with religion, I said, people get into fights over whose god is better and more godlike than whose. My daughter, weisenheimer that she is, politely observed, Yes, Mom, but you don't believe in god, and you were fighting, too, at which point I suggested that she read the Sky Mall catalogue in the seat pocket in front of her. Kids say the goddamnedest things, don't they? But being an atheist parent is not always fun and games. For a while last year questions about god-belief, death, and the heaven option were big topics of discussion among Katherine and her friends. And Katherine really, really wished there was a heaven to look forward to. For one thing, she liked the dress code there, and all the cool accessories--the white flowing gowns, the wings, the harps. For another, she's no fool. She realizes that, if there's no heaven, no afterlife, then when you die, there's probably . . . nothing. This little technicality has been and continues to be a very hard thing for her to handle. Not long ago, the three of us were in the car, on the beltway, interestingly enough with the big white tetra-towered Mormon temple that some of you may have seen looming up ahead--by the way, we've told Katherine that the temple is in fact the tooth fairy's castle, and that it's built of children's teeth, a story that for some reason she's deeply skeptical about, although damn if the temple doesn't look like the jaw of some sort of extinct giant saber-toothed rodent. Anyway, all of a sudden Katherine started to scream. What's wrong? What's wrong? we gasped. Have you been stung by a yellow jacket? Are you feeling car-sick? Should we pull over? No, she cried. I was just thinking about death, and I can't stand it. I can't stand it! I don't want to have to die! Now this is a tough protest to respond to, and it's come up repeatedly. How can you answer it without resorting to platitudes, obfuscations, lies? We're still in the, um, groping stage. We start by saying, but that's a long, long, long way in the future! You're going to live for such a ridiculous amount of time that you'll be begging for a time-out! Rick and I both write about science, biology and medicine, and we tell her of all the wondrous medical advances that will keep her going for, who knows, a century, two centuries, even longer. We also have explained to her that she won't vanish altogether, and that the universe will never let her go. Matter and energy can be neither created nor destroyed, we say, but simply transformed. This isn't fantasy; this is reality. Who knows where you'll end up next, we say. Part of a dolphin, an eagle, a snow leopard--one of the big showcase species, of course, just as everybody who channels their former lives seems to discover that they were an Egyptian pharaoh or a Druidic princess. Still, Katherine rails against the injustice of our mortality. She's terrified at the idea of personal, if not molecular, extinction. Wouldn't it be better if god were real? she asks. Wouldn't you rather have something to look forward to, a place to go? She says things that really hit home, like how much she would like to meet her grandfather Keith, my father, that is, who died of malignant melanoma when I was nineteen and whom I continue to miss terribly. I reply that, yes, I wish she could meet him, and I wish I could see him again myself, but spending an eternity with your parents, sheesh! Surely she can grasp the downside of that? I also tell her that the image of heaven a lot of people have put forth sounds like a really dismal place to me. Do you know what angels supposedly do all day? Day after year after eternity? They sit around telling god how wonderful he is. It's like the routine from Monty Python's "The Meaning of Life," when a chaplain and his congregation pray, "O Lord . . . oooh you are so big, so absolutely huge. Gosh, we're all really impressed down here, I can tell you. Forgive us O Lord for this dreadful toadying and barefaced flattery, but you are so strong and well, just so super and fantastic. Amen." No thanks, I say. I'd rather die. A few people have warned me that my daughter may eventually rebel against her parents by going to the other "extreme," becoming a Moonie or a Pentacostal or a Lubevitcher. They believe that the best way to inoculate your children against religious zealotry is with a nice bland, reduced-fat faith like Unitarian-Universalist or reform Judaism. My sister is taking that approach with her two kids out in Oregon, raising them as reform Jews. She insists that, with all the right-wing fundamentalist Christians in her area, Judaism is a political statement equivalent to supporting Howard Dean. I've argued with her, saying that it would be an even bolder statement to raise them as atheists. But then everybody would be trying to save their souls, to convert them, she says. This way, they leave her kids alone. Oh, I suppose. Yet I don't like the dyspeptic narcissistic god of the Old Testament any more than the infanticidal absentee of the New. In any event, I can't be bland about my atheism. If Katherine is getting a heavy dose of unalloyed heathenism, maybe that is better, in the end, than vacillation. Maybe that's what kids really crave--strong convictions. And maybe what they don't crave is all the fear and threat of a really terrible punishment that seem to be the essential minerals and vitamins in most religions. ￼ Photo by Brent Nicastro I know about the fear from my own experience. I had a very unusual upbringing in many ways, not least when it came to religion. My mother is Jewish, my father had been raised as a Christian Scientist by my grandmother June Dawn. She'd been a silent movie actress, but then turned to heavy-duty religion, becoming a Christian Science practitioner who healed people over the phone. When my parents met, they were both members of the Young Communist Party and distinctly anti-religion. My father, however, couldn't shake his faith-based upbringing, and he eventually started shopping around for a palatable religion. He tried Episcopalianism, he tried Catholicism, and then, when I was seven, he rejected Christianity again, angrily as was his style, and started exploring Buddhism and other eastern religions. The next year, when I was eight, our family was out west visiting relatives, we got into a terrible car accident that very nearly killed my older brother. As my parents kept watch at my brother's hospital bed, they sent the rest of us kids to various relatives. I was shipped off to San Diego to my grandmother June, whom I barely knew, and as you can imagine I was in a scared and impressionable frame of mind. She had a small house. I slept on her couch. And one night, she came out into the living room, sat down on the edge of the couch in the dark and woke me up. Do you know why your family had that car accident? she asked me. I'm not sure, I said. For some reason, Aunt Estelle lost control of the car. It's because your father stopped going to church, my grandmother said. It's because he stopped asking god to protect your family. So you must do it for him. You must pray every night for the people you love. And you know what? Grandma June succeeded. She scared the bejesus into me so that, even though I had no interest until then in religion, I started praying, frantically, every night, reciting a long list of people for god to protect. I kept this up for seven years. Seven years, and then the bad spell was broken. I'm not going to put a hex on my daughter. Sure, I'm a soapbox atheist. But she doesn't have to take my word for anything. All she has to do is look around her, every day, to find the bible she needs--in the sky, sun, moon, Mars, leaves, lady bugs, stink bugs, possums, tadpoles, cardinals, the wonderful predatory praying mantises that have gotten really big and fat this year on all the insects this rainy year has brought. Life needs no introduction, explanation or excuse. Life is bigger than myth--except in California.