The Freedom From Religion Foundation's newest lawsuit is against the City of La Crosse, Wisconsin, over the placement of a Ten Commandments tombstone marker in a downtown city park.
"The monument is profoundly religious," reads the complaint filed in federal court in Madison on July 1, 2002, "replete with messages that are unequivocally religious in nature. Its display on public property has the primary purpose and effect of advancing religion."
Earlier this year, at the request of the Foundation, the City of Milwaukee moved a Ten Commandments marker from outside its city hall to private property. The City of Monroe, Wisconsin, also responded to the Foundation's request with a vote to move its religious marker from a public park.
In response to the Foundation's lawsuit, the city council in La Crosse has announced its intent to sell a small amount of the city park to the Eagles, a private religious group which donated the monument, and whose offices are across the street from the park.
"The lawsuit will proceed despite this manuever," said Anne Nicol Gaylor, Foundation president. "The intent of the city in all this is purely religious; the property is not being opened for bid. It's religious subterfuge, plain and simple."
The Foundation has asked that its plaintiffs be anonymous, a Jane and John Doe, because of the city's outpouring of religious condemnation. The city is opposing this request.
"Wouldn't you think they would want to agree?" Gaylor said. "Anyone who reads the newspapers or listens to radio should know that we are dealing with religious fanatics."
Meanwhile, one religious capitalist, a youth minister, is making money peddling plastic Ten Commandments for residents to put in their yards.
"They seemed to think it would bother us," Gaylor said, "but we tried to explain that while we believe it's tacky, it certainly is legitimate when the property involved is private. That's the whole point. It is government ownership and endorsement of religion we object to, as well as the religious favoritism demonstrated in this scheme to sell a small piece of the park so a religious object can be displayed there."
Attorney James Friedman of the firm of La Follette, Godfrey and Kahn is representing the Foundation.
Ireland on March 6 of this year once again held a referendum to amend the constitution on the matter of abortion. The amendment submitted to the electorate would have further restricted what are now the most restrictive laws on abortion in Europe. As in other countries where the issue of abortion arises, it brings to the forefront religious forces of all colors. No exception in Ireland, and all the more so because of the strong influence of the Catholic church in Irish society.
The campaign preceding the election on this particular amendment stood out because of the full-court press by the Irish Catholic bishops, all 26 of them, in support of the amendment. The pope himself got into the act by signaling from the Vatican his strong support. And on the Sunday before voting day, all Catholic mass-goers in the entire country were subjected to a sermon on the importance of voting for the amendment. The faithful were then again reminded of the pope's endorsement.
Now, most voting in Ireland takes place in school buildings, and since most of the schools in Ireland are run by the Catholic church, voting takes place on church property. So here we had a highly charged social issue, heavily laden with religious notions about life and sex, and the electorate, made up of all faiths and no faith, given no choice but to enter church grounds and buildings to cast their vote.
Such polling places certainly do not convey a sense of neutrality on matters of religion, what with their religious statues and other icons which one must circumnavigate to reach the voting booth.
The accompanying photo of a polling station in Dublin is one example of such a scenario. The notice over the door reads "Peace to all," and on the door itself is a government document which states "Referendum on the Twenty-Fifth Amendment to the Constitution (Protection of Human Life In Pregnancy)." Note also the mini-altar with a statue of the "Virgin" Mary and appurtenant gaudy trappings, all shamelessly presented at the entrance to the polling station. The sign on the base of the mini-altar reads "The spirit of the Lord is upon me."
But there was some good news from all this. The amendment failed to carry by the slim margin of about 0.8% of the total vote. By how much more it would have failed to pass if the polling had been conducted on neutral territory is difficult to say. So the spirit of this Lord did not seem to fall upon the Irish voting public, and the effort of all the Irish Catholic bishops and the pope himself failed to convince a majority of the voting population to tow the party line.
Good news for Ireland!
In downtown Indianapolis, there's a beautiful old European-style brick and stone building called the Athenaeum. Today many people work out in the gym, enjoy a show at the cabaret theater or eat at the Rathskeller restaurant there, but have no idea about the significance of the structure. The building is rich in German-American, freethought and athletic history. It was originally called "Das Deutsche Haus" and was built as a joint effort by various German clubs in the 1890s.
In the early 1850s, a number of Germans called the Forty-eighters moved to the city. Many of them were political activists who had been persecuted in their homeland or were disillusioned with German politics. The revolution of 1848 had not brought about the liberal social and political changes they'd hoped for in Germany, so they came to America.
The first organization established by the Forty-eighters in Indianapolis was the Turnverein. A German named Friedrich Jahn, known as the father of gymnastics, founded the Turner movement in 1811. He invented the parallel bars, the rings, the horse and the horizontal bar used in gymnastics today. His motto was "A Sound Mind in a Sound Body." He promoted physical exercise programs as well as intellectual development. Many Forty-eighters embraced his philosophy.
Turner clubs sprang up in Germany and later in many American cities. They provided physical education, lectures, libraries, musical entertainment and other services to the German community. They acted as a kind of "welcome center" for newly arrived immigrants and helped keep their German language and culture alive, yet promoted American ideals of democracy and freedom. Several of the original Turner buildings are still standing today in our city, including the Athenaeum.
The gym at the Athenaeum, now run by the YMCA, has been in use since the 1890s for athletic training. The Athenaeum provided a training program for physical education teachers from 1907 until 1941 when it merged with the Physical Education Department of Indiana University.
Some of the more radical members of the Forty-eighters and Turners were freethinkers. They founded the Freethinkers Society of Indianapolis in 1870 to promote freethought ideas.
Author Kurt Vonnegut's great-grandfather, Clemens Vonnegut, was the first president of the organization. He was a well-respected businessman in the community and a member of the Indianapolis Public School board for many years. The group fought against religion in the schools and started a Freethinker's Sunday School.
The freethinkers, many of whom were highly educated, strongly supported public education, particularly vocational programs. Emmerich Manual High School, located on the south side of Indianapolis, opened in 1894 as a manual training school. It was later named for Charles Emmerich, an active member of the Freethinkers and the school's first principal. Although the Freethinkers Society dissolved in 1890, their ideas continued to live on through the nonsectarian educational system they helped establish in the city.
Members of the Turners were quite influential and politically active in the city. They founded German newspapers, businesses, schools, singing groups and orchestras. Some of the singing groups, Saengerchor, Maennerchor and Liederkranz, are still in existence today. They created innovative physical education programs in the Indianapolis Public Schools for both boys and girls. Indianapolis hosted large Turner festivals with hundreds of members from all over the US and Germany participating in parades, singing events and gymnastic competitions.
Turner groups supported progressive ideas like better working conditions, educational reform, the emancipation of women and the abolition of slavery. The Turner Hall of Indianapolis became the anti-slavery headquarters in the city. Shortly after the start of the Civil War, a number of Turners enlisted to fight for their new country, even though many spoke little or no English. The 32nd Indiana Regiment was composed of Turners from Indianapolis, Madison, Lafayette and other Hoosier towns. Other Turner regiments were formed throughout the U.S. Over 70 percent of the Turners fought on the Union side.
At its peak in 1894, the American Turners had 317 societies with over 40,000 members. The organization suffered declines in membership due to decreasing German immigration rates, anti-German sentiments during the world wars and the Americanization of the German population. When their loyalty to America was questioned during the First World War, the Indianapolis Turners changed the building name from "Das Deutsche Haus" to the "Athenaeum" and offered the use of the place to the Red Cross.
Today there are approximately 60 Turner societies in America with about 13,000 members. The American Turners headquarters is now located in Louisville, Kentucky.
Over the years, the Athenaeum's structure fell into sad decay. I attended an event there in the early 1980s and saw sagging ceilings, water damaged walls and rotted roof timbers. Fortunately, a few years ago, various far-sighted individuals raised money to restore it to its former glory.
The Indianapolis Cabaret Theater opened in a beautifully renovated section. The Rathskeller restaurant and the beer garden in the back have reopened to serve German food and drink with live music. The YMCA took over the gym and it has become a popular downtown fitness facility. I was in the building for a dinner recently and noticed that many improvements had been made to other sections of the building since my last visit. One former Turner building in Indianapolis has been converted into expensive condos!
If you are fortunate, you may find a Turner club or old building still in existence in your town or city.
In celebration of her life, a memorial service was held for Carol Faulkenberry on May 11, 2002 in the auditorium at Lake Hypatia Freethought Hall, Alabama Freethought Association.
The 25 of her family, friends and AFA members gathered to recall humorous incidents and reflect on how Carol touched all of our lives. Adam Butler, a close friend of Carol and the Faulkenberry family, lead the informal discussion and individual epilogs, painting verbal pictures of her activism, compassion, humor and friendship.
Carol was a member of AFA and the Freedom From Religion Foundation, a wonderful homemaker, loving mate and mother, activist and author of An Uppity Old Atheist Woman's Dictionary. She lived her life with gusto and faced death in the same manner, as an gutsy, uppity old atheist woman.
Born May 10, 1938, Carol died on August 5, 2001, but her spirit will remain forever with all those who knew and loved her.
Following the memorial, we gathered in Hypatia Hall to further celebrate Carol's life with champagne, an array of finger-food and fellowship. Everyone helped to decorate the hall with white lace table clothes, centerpieces of pansies, candles and freethought wildflowers. Afterward, a pink dogwood tree was planted in Carol's memory.
AFA co-director Pat Cleveland smiled and said, "Carol would have appreciated and approved of this celebration, as well as those members who did not show up because they were demonstrating their activism in Montgomery in a protest rally against Judge Roy Moore."
Even before I got into the fire service, I had long purged myself of the self-righteous evangelistic rhetoric that had dripped on me from the pulpits throughout my youth. I was a free man, a freethinker in fact, although at that time I had never even heard of this term.
So when I became a firefighter nearly a dozen years ago, I had no grand ideas about helping others in need as a means to proving "God's love for His people;" or being a "vehicle" in which Jesus could "work his miracles through me." This is certainly how many of my Christian counterparts view themselves, and that's fine, for them. But it's not fine for me.
I take exception when I'm told (all too frequently) that "even though [I'm] an atheist [I'm] still being directed by God's loving hand," and whenever I do "good," I'm not really the one at work, but Jesus! But I'm still going to Hell!
Christians today are fond of proclaiming that--even in a world filled with "worthless," "sinful" people, who "fully deserve to suffer in hell for all eternity"--Jesus, because he loves us all so much, still performs miracles for us. The reason nonbelievers don't recognize these miracles is because we are "just too arrogant and too blind to see them." Isn't it interesting, though, that these so-called "miracles" always seem to come in the form of naturally occurring phenomena, or riding on the coattails of human exertion and teamwork?
For example, if a skyscraper collapses from an earthquake (or terrorist attack), killing thousands under millions of tons of concrete and steel, but a few people are rescued from isolated pockets within the rubble (through the efforts of human rescue workers, mind you), it's labeled "a miracle from Jesus," even though it's a statistical probability that a few people will be alive.
While the odds of any particular person surviving such a catastrophe are exceedingly small, the odds that some will be alive is virtually 100 percent; as such there is nothing "miraculous" about it. And what of the hundreds that lie dead for every person rescued, many of whom may have remained alive for hours or days, buried alive, alone, terrified, but ultimately dying because human rescuers, hindered by the natural laws of physics, couldn't reach them in time? It's repugnant to think that an all-knowing, all-powerful, all-loving God, if it exists, should get credit for the "saves" and in the same breath be absolved of blame for the needless suffering and death!
From a post hoc perspective, anything can be made to seem "miraculous." Because these miracle claims are devised after the fact, and based on a need to believe that Jesus is real and that he performs miracles, Christians will latch onto any improbable event they can to fulfil that expectation in their minds, ignoring the thousands of other "improbable events" they see every day but never notice because they carry no religious weight for them.
This past summer during a major league baseball game the famed Arizona Diamondbacks' pitcher, Randy Johnson, threw a blazing fastball toward home plate, and at that moment a bird happened to fly in the path of the pitch and was struck by the ball, and killed it in mid-air.
Now, the probability of such an event happening is remote in the extreme, and yet we don't see Christians running around proclaiming what a "miracle" it was! They don't call it a miracle because they have no religious motivation to do so. Moreover, there is no need to call such a thing "miraculous" since there is nothing outside the realm of the natural world required for such an event to occur, no matter how improbable it may have been.
So why is it, then, with so many billions of prayers being said year-in and year-out by millions of Christians all over the world, we have never seen a "miracle" come in the form of even one resurrection from the dead? I have seen many children die tragically in my profession and do you know what? They are all still dead.
Evidently, Jesus' best "miracle work" comes through death and destruction (e.g., 9/11, Oklahoma City, Columbine, etc.), because it's always viewed as "God's hand at work" when people work together and help each other in times of crisis (or even the Superbowl)!
But why can't He provide just one single resurrection today as objective evidence to "His" reality? Why not just one Lazarus (John 11); just one Jairus' daughter (Luke 8); just one "Only son of a widowed mother" (Luke 7)? Are there no grieving Christian mothers who "lost their only son" on 9/11 who might read this story and ask, why not my son?
The hard truth is that Christians secretly do feel a bit cheated when reading these dramatic miracle stories of lost loved ones being resurrected, with Jesus himself putting the skeptics in their place by performing the feat. They wish that their Jesus really would "answer their prayers" by coming down and putting on a biblical show of power rather than constantly having to pacify their doubts through hackneyed spiritual plagiarism where Jesus gets the credit for works done by real people in the real world.
Who would not be impressed if, say, a man identifying himself as "Jesus of Nazareth" (Caucasian, of course) were to float gently down from the sky like Mary Poppins, touch down at ground zero, and proceed to resurrect all 343 of the dead New York City firefighters (those He had "worked His wonders through" throughout their careers, but somehow saw fit to kill on September 11, when they were needed most). Or how about the eight children who were on board the doomed hijacked planes; or the fire chaplain that died from falling debris while giving "last rights" to a fallen firefighter? Would you not be impressed? I certainly would, as would Drew Harding, a retired FDNY fire captain who told me recently:
"Any doubts that I still had about a supreme being and merciful God were given closure on 9/11. I'm retired now but I lost 14 close friends and 343 brothers on that fatal day."
I hear you, brother! And rest assured that if Drew Harding, myself, or most anyone, for that matter, had the power to not only know in advance what was going to happen on September 11, but also had the power to prevent it, we would have done so without a second thought! That's a no-brainer. In fact, as public servants we are mandated by law to report malicious intent if we are privy to such information, and failure to do so is a prosecutable offense. Fortunately, for the public's sake, we are held to a much higher moral and ethical standard than Jesus, and other "heroes" of the bible.
It is commonly said there are no atheists in a foxhole, that fear of death terrifies a skeptic into believing in God. I was unexpectedly forced into this situation when diagnosed with incurable cancer last fall.
Confronted by my own mortality for the first time, where could I turn for spiritual meaning and comfort? I had been a devout Catholic for half of my life due to strong family influences. I uncritically accepted the dogma and found much comfort in the social network as well as the beautiful liturgy. My beliefs at that time provided meaning and purpose to my life and gave me hope for an existence after death.
Richard Feil today
I first questioned this world view due to my graduate training in scientific psychology, which provided me with the analytic tools to study human behavior in an objective and unbiased manner. I asked myself if the human being could be regarded as just another member of the animal kingdom, subject to the same laws of behavior as other animals. I slowly became convinced that our behavior can be fully explained without resorting to supernaturalism. That led me to the conclusion that we ourselves are part of an impersonal physical universe, the result of millions of years of natural selection.
I learned that there has never been an empirically demonstrated exception to the laws of nature that has stood the test of scientific scrutiny, despite numerous claims. How could I intellectually reconcile this deterministic view of reality with the metaphysical claims of religion? Could I dare question what millions of people accept as "gospel truth," and even sacrifice their lives for? For years I experienced growing cognitive dissonance as I tried to pretend both views of reality are true.
My thinking was further shaped by studies in anthropology and sociobiology. It is theorized that hunters and gatherers in the prehistoric period survived the harsh conditions by developing strong social cohesion and dependency as well as blind obedience to a strong leader. Today we also are programmed to follow authority figures uncritically, especially powerful and charismatic leaders. This, combined with our innate fear of rejection by the group, provides powerful peer pressure not to question the prevailing ideology.
I certainly felt this need not to "think outside the box." But it conflicted with what I honestly believed to be true regarding human nature. I came to see religious faith as an unquestioning acceptance of beliefs that contradict reality.
I also think the strong, genetically programmed need for survival that we share with all living creatures, combined with the vivid imagination unique to humans, has, over the eons, driven our species to construct an escape from the annihilation of physical death through fantasies of an afterlife. The promise of paradise, I believe, is the bargaining chip used by religion to subvert logical thinking, sometimes resulting in extreme physical and emotional misery. Religions tend to produce inflexible dogmatic thinking in their followers, preventing them from achieving their full human potential.
It felt scary at first. But it was liberating to question the core assumptions of a belief system that most people take for granted. After reading the works of such writers as Thomas Paine, Robert Ingersoll, Bertrand Russell, and other "freethinkers," I became convinced that, indeed, the emperor has no clothes.
What a marvelous and unique product of natural processes we humans are! We experience exciting developmental processes: becoming a person in childhood, the "Sturm und Drang" of adolescence, the challenges of adulthood, and the denouement of old age. We also get to observe ourselves making this journey full of thrills and chills. Our "selves" are capable of remembering, sharing, and anticipating future adventures in living. How many of us realize this is the only life we will ever have and therefore strive everyday to maximize our happiness and that of others?
And what of the atheist in the foxhole? Faced with the fear of death, will the atheist cave in to cultural expectations and social pressure to plead with a god for magical intervention? Or will the atheist remain courageous and true to convictions that this life is all there is? I think fear is the ultimate self-serving force underlying all forms of religious observance. We humans are ingenious in suspending logical reasoning in the pursuit of physical and emotional security.
I myself have not wavered in my philosophy of life as a rationalist and humanist. The meaning of my life lies in my family and in my personal and professional accomplishments. Now I treasure each remaining day as another opportunity to fully experience the joys of living. And in the end I shall tearfully bid farewell to my loved ones and simply cease to exist. Only my genes will live on in my children and their offspring.
The recently exposed scandals involving sexual exploitation of minors by Catholic priests have exploded in the American press as though it were new information.
Long ago, 'way back in 1986, Freethought Today began reporting incidents of priests and other clergymen charged with child sexual abuse in its "Fruits of Religion" column. Since 1987 onward, Freethought Today has published a regular feature, "Black Collar Crimes," documenting criminal and civil reports of sexual abuse by clergy in North America.
The numerous incidents were disturbingly similar, yet reported as though each was a "freak," isolated occurrence. That prompted Freethought Today editor Annie Laurie Gaylor (my daughter, for the unacquainted) to write the first book on the subject. Betrayal of Trust: Clergy Abuse of Children was published by the Freedom From Religion Foundation in early 1988.
In her introduction to the account of this far-flung religious scandal, Annie Laurie wrote: "This is a book that had to be written . . . It started writing itself when, through the pages of our monthly newspaper Freethought Today, we started chronicling the alarming and startling number of criminal cases involving ministers and priests who are molesting children. . . . priests, ministers or other 'men of God' flagrantly abusing large numbers of children or young adolescents under the very noses of devout, unsuspecting parents, during church events and on church property, while churches cover up or rationalize abuse, and church members not uncommonly side with the abusers by blaming the victims."
Although replete with case histories from the 1980s, the book is not dated. Nor is it just a crime blotter. Betrayal of Trust provides a clear, thorough discussion and analysis of why the clergy is a high-risk profession for child abuse, how churches and congregations engage in denial, minimalization and cover-up, and how such abuse can be detected and prevented. It will enlighten those who still may confuse homosexuality with pedophilia.
"The case of Father Baltazar, protected by the Catholic Church even after sexually abusing a boy helplessly attached to a dialysis machine, and another in double leg traction, epitomizes the ruthlessness of child molesters, the heartlessness of the hierarchy, and the vulnerability of their victims," the book concludes.
"All child victims, while not usually literally immobile, are similarly at the mercy of the adults in charge of their lives. The egomaniacal and rapacious drives of a molester who blots out all sense of right and wrong, brutally disregarding the pain he is causing children, have often found a parallel in churches bent on protecting themselves at the expense of thousands of victims. That disregard is a malignancy in the church."
Betrayal of Trust: Clergy Abuse of Children is long since out of print, but can be found online at http://ffrf.org/betrayaloftrust.html. For reader convenience, the Foundation continues to provide bound photocopies of this 91-page book for $12.00 postpaid (FFRF, PO Box 750, Madison WI 53701).
I'm no autograph hound, but several years ago I resolved that if and when figure skater Michelle Kwan ever came to town, my daughter Sabrina and I would go to see her, and even get her autograph. It was as much a promise to myself as to Sabrina, made after I felt Kwan was cheated of her gold at the 1998 Olympics in Nagano.
Could there be a more graceful image than that of Michelle at 17, in her simple blue velvet dress, skating with exquisite technique and emotion during her Olympic long program? She seemed the embodiment of youth, athletic perfection and beauty.
I became an avid figure skating fan while watching Michelle Kwan grow up on ice. There is something poignant about the world's best figure skater seeking and failing to get the gold in two successive Olympics, sometimes struggling on the ice, yet never losing her competitive spirit.
At this year's nail-biting Olympics, Kwan's most memorable performance was her post-competition exhibition skate, wearing a gold dress and skating ethereally to "Fields of Gold," a bittersweet moment for the bronze medalist. Dan, who usually leaves the skating competitions to me, sat spellbound while watching a videotape of her "gold" skate (at my urging). At the conclusion of her touching program, he volunteered: "Michelle Kwan transcends." (I've decided, and I hope Michelle has too, that the Olympics are highly over-rated.)
When it was advertised that "Champions on Ice" was coming to Madison in May (with a shockingly expensive ticket price), Sabrina and I were able to fulfill our longtime ambition of watching Michelle Kwan skate in person.
Unfortunately, the overkill opening, with its flashing flags and deafening rendition of the Olympic theme, couldn't help but make me flash back to news footage of the 1936 "Nazi" Olympics. Once that hoopla was over, I relaxed and settled back to enjoy the rest of the show.
Although I have seen some magnificent skating at live events, I was unprepared for Kwan's remarkable presence on the ice. Her performance was quantitatively different from the other athletes. Michelle took command of the ice and managed, in that huge impersonal venue, to make her performance intimate. The audience hushed--almost afraid to clap lest they break the spell. Every movement was sure and lovely. Michelle skated with a lightness and gentleness that the camera cannot quite capture. It must have been gratifying to Michelle that she received the only standing ovation of any of the performers.
The spell was broken, however, by a pandering finale, an ensemble number. A super-militaristic version of "America the Beautiful," with words to all verses, boomed out as the ice skaters--in the Madison show representing Ukraine, France, and Russia, as well as the United States--skated, decked out in various red-white-and-blue outfits. Russian silver medalist Evgeni Plushenko was practically draped in a U.S. flag.
As I sat bridling at the insensitivity of this nationalistic display, using even foreign skaters like pawns in a patriotic battle, it got worse. The music segued to "Battle Hymn of the Republic," all verses. Julia Ward Howe's song, written as a Union anthem in the Civil War, warns of the wrath of "the coming of the Lord." You may recall it ended the service of "prayer and remembrance" held at the National Cathedral on Sept. 14. The fourth verse is typical of the song's message:
In the beauty of the lilies Christ was born across the sea, With a glory in His bosom That transfigures you and me; As he died to make men holy, Let us live to make men free, While God is marching on.
I can't believe "Champions on Ice" routinely forces its Olympic skaters to perform to Christian hymns! Since the "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" is practically the trademark of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, I can't help but feel there is some nefarious Mormon influence at work.
Whatever or whoever prompted the inclusion of this overtly Christian song of conquest, it was tacky and disrespectful, both to skaters and the audience. Flags made of lights, the U.S. flag predominating, of course, swirled around the rink with the skaters. I thought it would never end. Finally, three huge U.S. flags dropped ludicrously from the ceiling as fireworks rang out. Nearly everybody (but not this atheist) stood and clapped.
Half-dazed by this assault on eyes, ears and personal conviction, I dutifully lined up with Sabrina and other would-be autograph-seekers. When fans bearing official-looking decals told me we had to have a pass to get in, and we had to know someone to get a pass, I was ready to call it quits. Then a woman with a teenage daughter generously handed us their passes, since they couldn't stay.
A handful of us were eventually led to the bowels of the arena, all concrete and full of equipment, and were told to stand behind a limp bit of rope. As we milled around awkwardly, suddenly there appeared Michelle Kwan, no taller than my 5'2", conferring with a stagehand first before turning to her fans. For an instant, she looked flattened, as though enduring rather than enjoying the moment. Who could blame her, having to skate to the "Battle Hymn of the Republic" night after night during "Champions on Ice's" grueling schedule?
Sabrina was second to ask for her autograph. When Sabrina shyly told her, "You're my favorite," Michelle's face lit up in a warm smile. Impulsively, I asked Michelle if she would autograph my baseball hat, which bears an imprint of the same words, "Life is Good," as one of Dan's freethought songs. She laughed, said "Sure!," read the sentiment out loud approvingly, and signed her name with her own felt-tip pen. Tongue-tied, I merely nodded as a woman next to us told Michelle what a beautiful skater she is. As Michelle moved on, we made our escape. Mission accomplished.
When I got home and examined Sabrina's program magazine, I discovered to my dismay that the inside cover features an American flag emblazoned with the words "God Bless America." It was worth putting up with to see Michelle Kwan, but I couldn't help feeling a bit indignant, and a bit dejected, over the unwarranted intrusion of religion and chauvinistic politics into a tour meant to showcase sport, art and internationalism.
Is nothing in our country to be free of this saber-rattling theo-patriotism? Must every store sport a U.S. flag (do they think we'll forget which country we live in?), much less "God Bless America" posters? I had fondly hoped the hysteria was dying down--but it certainly won't be wherever "Champions on Ice" is touring over the next few months.
"Champions on Ice," which is run by Tom Collins Productions (with John Hancock billed as "worldwide sponsor"), appears to be co-hosted by the U.S. Figure Skating Association, and has some connection to the Olympic Committee.
I wrote a heartfelt letter of complaint to the only addresses I could find on the Web, objecting to a Christian hymn being forced on audiences, including substantial numbers of nonbelievers and nonChristians. If you care to join me in decrying the inclusion of a Christian "battle hymn" in the Olympic figure skating show, maybe they'll put such religious displays "on ice" for future tours:
Tom Collins Inc. 3500 W 80th St Minneapolis MN 55431
U.S. Figure Skating Association 20 First St Colorado Springs CO 80906
Indonesian Taliban? A group calling itself the Taliban Brigade is part of a network seeking to overthrow IndonesiaÕs secular legal system and replace it with sharia, or strict Islamic law. Islam first came to Indonesia 700 years ago. Now Indonesia boasts more Muslims than any other country. Source: Washington Post Foreign Service, May 4, 2002
Chicks come home to roost? The United States spent millions of dollars supplying Afghan schoolchildren with militant, violent Islamic textbooks as part of its anti-Soviet resistance in the 1980s. The primers included text on jihad, and the mechanics of war.
While U.S. foreign aid workers are purging references to killing from some 10 million textbooks being trucked into Afghanistan, they are retaining the Muslim content.
The U.S. Agency for International Development is barred from advancing religion and may only finance programs Òwith a secular purposeÓ that do not Òresult in religious indoctrination.Ó
The University of Nebraska in January was awarded $6.5 million to develop more textbooks and teacher training-kits for Afghanistan. Sources: Washington Post / [Minneapolis] Star-Tribune, March 23, 2002
Religious nurse wins. A federal jury in May ordered a public health clinic in California to pay damages to a born-again Christian nurse fired for refusing to give patients Òmorning-afterÓ pills. Michelle Diaz claimed dispensing the contraceptive violated her religious beliefs. Source: Bayarea.com, May 30, 2002
Votes for sale? ÒIÕm a white guy. IÕm a Republican. But IÕll deliver,Ó promised Maryland gubernatorial hopeful Robert Ehrlich, a member of the U.S. House, in announcing a federal grant to a black church in Baltimore. Source: Washington Post, May 5, 2002
Gay prom win. A Canadian teen won a court injunction permitting him to take his gay date to a school prom at a Catholic high school in Oshawa, Ontario, over the objections of Durham Catholic School Board. Source: Ananova.com, May 10, 2002
ÒDrowning of Stephan JonesÓ unbanned. A committee in Horry County schools, S.C., voted to restore to high school library shelves The Drowning of Stephan Jones. The book, based on the true story of a murder of a gay man by devout teenagers, is written by Foundation member Bette Greene. It will be allowed in middle school libraries with certain restrictions. A Southern Baptist minister on the panel voted to censor the book. Source: The Sun News, May 10, 2002
Creationism permeation. The American Academy for Liberal Education denied accreditation to Patrick Henry College, Va., founded two years ago to cater to home-schooled students. The Christian college requires professors to sign a statement of creationist faithÑspecifically that all courses be taught with the understanding that God created the world in six 24-hour days. Source: Washington Post, May 11, 2002
Religious territorialism. Rallies attracting unhappy Russian Orthodox-worshippers were held on Sunday, April 28 in 26 Russian cities. As many as 1,500 people massed in Moscow to protest the VaticanÕs decision to recognize four full dioceses in the country. Source: Associated Press, April 28, 2002
Antiabortion website nixed. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco ruled in May that an antiabortion terrorist website is not free speech, but constitutes a threat. The court reversed its decision last year upholding the website, saying it violates a 1994 federal law against inciting violence and threatening abortion physicians. It also ordered a lower court to reduce punitive award damages to four physicians suing over the ÒNuremberg Files.Ó Source: New York Times, May 16, 2002
The Freedom From Religion Foundation is urging not only that (former) Milwaukee Archbishop Rembert Weakland be investigated over his use of $450,000 in Archdiocese funds as "hush money" to an adult alleging sexual abuse, but that self-described "devout Catholic" Milwaukee County District Attorney E. Michael McCann be investigated for his murky role in the negotiations.
The Foundation in late May urged the Office of Lawyer Regulation in Milwaukee to look into actions by McCann, who is in charge of deciding whether to investigate Weakland.
Weakland stepped down on May 24 after revelations of the pay-off.
"There appears to be an unacceptable and extraordinary conflict of interest in leaving such an investigation up to the discretion of McCann," wrote the Foundation.
McCann admits Weakland had personally confessed having a relationship with a younger man to him. That man, Paul Marcoux, claims Weakland assaulted him in a "date rape" in 1979 when Marcoux was 30 and a Catholic student seeking advice on becoming a priest.
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported the archdiocese consulted McCann over whether Marcoux could be criminally charged with extortion, after Marcoux approached the archdiocese seeking damages in 1997. Two attorneys representing Marcoux assert the Archdiocese threatened criminal action against Marcoux, and themselves. The hush money was paid to Marcoux a year later.
An official with the State Bar of Wisconsin said it would be generally unethical to threaten possible criminal charges to try to fend off a lawsuit. McCann admits he was consulted by Archdiocese lawyer Matthew Flynn about possible criminal charges.
Weakland's expedited resignation swells to (at least) 18 the list of Roman Catholic bishops and archbishops worldwide removed or resigning over sexual scandals or cover-ups of sexual scandals in the church through June 11.
News of Weakland's scandal apparently brought on two heart attacks suffered by Marquette University Law School Dean Howard Eisenberg, whom Weakland appointed this spring to head a commission to invesigate sexual abuse cases against Milwaukee priests. Hours before suffering his first heart attack, Eisenberg told reporters: "I just want to cry and crawl under my bed." After a second attack, Eisenberg, 55, died on June 4.