Lauryn Seering

Lauryn Seering

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Sharing the Crank Mail

Ever wonder what it's like to be part of a love-hate relationship? Read the crank mail, printed as received, for some insights.

How do i join? i don't understand why yall feel like you must tell everyone you don't believe in god. It's like a straight guy telling everyone he is straight. Do you want a cookie? Who really knows the truth? And why do the non believers look so funny? is that why you hate god? Yall look like aliens.. I don't care what you believe in!, no one does!. I just don't like people that feel like I should know what they believe in. No one cares.!!! — American

This message to Ron Reagan: Soon G-d will let you know who HE is, very shortly !!! — God, New York

Wichita Basketball: We here at Wichita State University are not happy that you pricks want to hurt our shocker basketball program. We encourage you to continue to watching our team play basketball, but to find a different outlet for you to spread your atheist nuisances. — Aaron Jon Delzeit

Ffrf: You people better be afraid of hell because that's where you are headed if you are a part of this program. — Abuh Kawasaki

Ffrf: Anyone who would even think about joining this program is just straight up restarted and will burn in hell if they don't change their ways. God bless you. — Abuh Shabi

Your hate and bitterness: My most sincere prayer is that one day you wake up in hell. — Jesus Christ

Jesus loves you! As a Christian, it hurts me so, as I am sure it does JESUS that an organization such as this is allowed to exist in this country. You know the, In GOD We Trust Country. — Carrie Hagy, Pennsylvania

Keep your nose out of PENNSYLVANIA! WHo the hell do you people think you are to tell pennsylvania to take t he cross out of the official seal which has been there from the beginning. If you dont like a religious country go to russia or iraq or iran or north korea and tell me how you like it there. FUCK YOU ! ! ! !! May GOd have mercy on your doomed souls for all eternity. — Charles Seng, Allentown

You are assholes: Leave the country! — Tim Hill

religion: It amazes me the what Hippocrates you are. You attack Christian beliefs based on seperation of church and state . Thier is no law. When you do separate church from state looks what happens to social behavior especialy in school, childern attack teachers, teachers molesting students. Look how society has faulted since the seperatio of church and state started in the past fourty years. Take the beam out of your eye before removing the sliver in others eyes. Thank You. — Michael Waggoner, Gridley, Calif.

I pray for your soul: Maybe you should have your argument with the Pope. Maybe you should watch Father Robert Barron on YouTube. To me it seems you weren't Catholic, the one TRUE CHURCH. We love you like brothers and sisters so please rethink your arguments after you do your due diligence within the Catholic church. — Brandon Yost

(no subject): Thanks for screwing up another school, and making our society go future down the path of destruction. — Richard Lingle, Texas
P.S. God forgive them for they know not what they do.

Sticking Noses: I'm not sure you know this, but the founders of this country came in search of freedom from religion. They worshiped GOD and believed JESUS died on the cross for our sins, but they didn't want to have to be a Catholic. Why don't you quit sticking your nose in other peoples business. Everybody knows a higher power than any of us makes babies, grows vegetables and fruit, etc. — Sara Waggoner, Tyler, Texas

Question: I was curious if anyone would kindly explain to me, a Christian, if the sun, stars, galaxies, bears, dogs, cats, whales, trees, oxygen, fish, turtles, lizards, alligators, snakes, deer, coyotes, along w the complex bodies we humans have, such as our eyes, heart, veins, reproductive system, sense of touch and smell, our ability to remember things in our brain from our childhood, to having a conscience, etc, etc, etc are all good enough reasons to suggest that God created all these things? — Michael Cuomo

god: I dont like seeing your commerical on t.v so I vow every time I see your commerical I will email the network and I will have everyone in my church and they will have their friends email the network where you won't be allowed to have a commercial. Leave my god alone. — natosha farrow

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Letterbox

Secular professionals get Walmart support

Great news! The world's largest private employer, Walmart, has agreed to allow a new secular support group for its associates, with executive sponsorship and permission to use its facilities for meetings and its internal network computers as a an internal communications platform.

The first meeting, held Jan. 22, was very well-received. Monthly meetings have been held since then. If you are a Walmart associate and would like to join, search for the "Secular Professionals Alliance at Walmart" on the internal Connect community.

Gary Berger
Arkansas

Indiana student gives thanks for FFRF

I would like to give you credit for standing up against the majority of the community that I live in. I've dealt with many cases in school where I felt uncomfortable because I had different views. The majority seem to be religious and share their beliefs with each other. They seem to think everyone is on board with praying before games, posting God on the wall and teaching a bible class. I believe this should not be in school.

I also encountered a teacher last year who brought in a Quran and showed students highlighted material of what he believed was inaccurate. This to me is disrespectful, even though I am not a follower of the Quran.

I thank you for fighting against this system. I hope for a more neutral school system than what it is now.

Name withheld
Indiana

Our 'faith in science' sets us apart

I found it interesting that CNN's special about "atheists and real faith" appeared to have gone out of its way to avoid mentioning the premier freethinking organization in the world and one that I am proud to be a Life Member of, FFRF.

I also take this opportunity to state clearly and loudly that as atheists, we are the truest people of faith. We have rational faith, and that means faith in what makes sense and can be proven and has a basis in fact. We should not allow ignorant people to hijack the word faith from us.

When asked if I am a person of faith, I now proudly respond, "Yes I am. I have faith in science and what can be proven." If queried further, as in, "Do you believe in God," my response is, "Of course not. Didn't you understand what I just said?"

I don't say this to be confrontational or mean-spirited. Rather, I do this to stand up for what and who I am just as the blind-faith believers do.

Gerald L. Foreman
Nevada

Ron Reagan ad better than sliced bread

I saw your Ron Reagan Jr. ad on CNN and was blown out of the water. This is the best thing that has happened to atheism since Richard Dawkins! Why didn't somebody think of this before?

Thank you for your courage and your dedication to the atheist cause.

Jane Everhart
New York

• • •

Your work is needed, oh so desperately. I hope the battle against superstition and ignorance can be won. You are valiant! Best, best wishes.

Abigail Martin
Florida

Atheist seventh-grader finds FFRF attractive

My name is Aurora Cerone and I am a seventh-grade student at Springville Griffith Middle School. We are working on a project in English and social studies called Kids Can Make a Difference. It is a year-long project in which students pick an organization to write a report about and volunteer for. I picked FFRF because I am an atheist and had heard about you on various podcasts. I also want to make sure that the church is separate from the state, especially in schools.
I would appreciate it if you could send me information about this organization such as pamphlets, ideas for getting donations or volunteer opportunities.

Aurora Cerone
New York

Editor's note: We gladly sent Aurora some relevant information and a freethought T-shirt. Thanks for asking and for your interest, Aurora (also the Roman goddess of the dawn).

Nonpracticing Jew seeks input from others

I am a member of FFRF and a total atheist. I am 79, raised in a Jewish household and bar-mitzvah'd. About 30 years ago, I started to thoroughly analyze all the reasons and justifications for beliefs in a god, heaven, hell, etc., and have personally determined that there is absolutely no justification for these totally unprovable beliefs.

However, I am still a Jew based on my descent, even though I do not practice Judaism. Because anti-Semitism is expanding in the U.S., Europe, South America and the Middle East, I find myself defending my heritage, the country of Israel, and taking personal offense when it occurs. Occasionally when asked my religion, I state my atheism, but when I hear an anti-Semitic comment, I immediately counter-respond.

My reason for this letter is to request a general response from FFRF members asking them their feelings in this matter. If possible, "Jewish" members should be the majority of responders.

Jerry Oster

California

Suggestion for Indiana signs in windows

To the majority of Indiana business owners who are as outraged as I am about discrimination against same-sex couples based on religious belief, I suggest they post the following sign prominently in their store windows: "I'm sorry, but serving brain-dead, idiot politicians is against my religious belief."

J. Lonczak
Connecticut

Skip Xenu, Jesus for birds and the bees

Art Naebig writes: "A few years ago, I sent my first Easter letter to the Reedsburg Independent, and the editor called me to make sure it wasn't a prank. Since then, I have been fortunate to have many of my letters printed in that newspaper." The Independent printed the following letter in March, as did the Wisconsin State Journal, the state's second-largest newspaper:

Many of the world's religions require their adherents to believe stuff that's really hard to swallow. For example, Buddhists and Hindus believe in reincarnation. Mormons believe that we are all inhabited by spirits of gods from other planets. Scientologists believe that the intergalactic dictator Xenu brought millions of souls to Earth, dumped them near volcanoes and dropped atom bombs on them.

Fortunately, Christians only have to believe perfectly reasonable things like Heaven and Hell, Virgin Birth, The Trinity and The Resurrection. On April 5, Easter Sunday, Christians will be celebrating The Resurrection on a day that happens to be named after the pagan Goddess of fertility, Oestre. The familiar Easter flowers, eggs, bunnies and baby chicks are all symbols of the fertility of Springtime.

Why spend that day cooped up in a church looking at a representation of a crucified God when you can take a nice hike on a trail, looking at the new, green plants and listening to birds' mating songs? Your kids will be a lot happier and you won't have to buy them new clothes to show off. If the weather is bad, you can always stay at home and color eggs.

Art Naebig
Wisconsin

In a Theocracy

Science is defiance
and Reason is treason.

Self-righteousness is intensified
and rationalizes genocide.

Simple Common Sense
is a capital offense.

JB Kennedy
California

Closet Buddhist says it's not a religion

As a secular, freethinking closet Buddhist, I am weary of people referring to Buddhism as a religion. When I mention that there is no god or revealed truth or faith involved, they're incredulous.

Siddhartha would be horrified and amused (as would Jesus) to think that their insights would be so abused for political purposes.

William McClanahan
California

Happiness will be N.C. in rearview mirror

Today I received a wonderful birthday present from my husband, a subscription to this paper. I read it word for word and found much laughter and healing. Thank you so much for your efforts. I truly applaud your successes.

We moved here from a progressive area of Virginia and have been in culture shock ever since. This town would keep FFRF attorneys busy for a long, long time: religious fliers and bibles in public buildings, radio stations blaring religion in stores and gas stations, signs at restaurants to "drop your name and that of the church you attend," being told "God bless" every single day, learning that my children are singing religious songs in their public school, door-to-door Mormon "salespeople/converters" who come by regularly and fliers sent home from school advertising things like soccer camp at a Baptist church. I called the church and learned that camp includes two hours of soccer and five of religion.

By far the worst experience: Several neighbors have had the audacity to tell my children (when I'm not around of course) that they have to believe in God and go to church. My daughter, who is 8, has since told me that I am going to hell for not saying prayers before meals. She wants to know why we don't go to church when everyone else does. I hope to move this summer and to never again live in the bible belt. Instead of hearing their words, I'm hearing "I have just completely lost the ability to think for myself."

I also have to deal with prospective tenants trying to use religion to influence me into renting to them. One recently texted me that she was "lost in His love." I told her go get a map. Often I hear, "I'll be a good tenant. I'm a regular church-going person." I respond, "Well, I don't go to church. Does that make me a bad person?"

There is an overabundance of churches here. I have always wondered how much better it would be if those churches were a mix of community centers, gyms, art galleries, bookstores or therapeutic centers of some kind. What if all the money that supported religion instead went to getting food and clean water to places where there's not enough or providing health care or housing for our vets who are penniless and living in the street?

Expressing myself after years of confusion and dismay has been helpful to me, and my hope is that I'm able in some way to assist the cause of secularism, although it seems completely hopeless here.

Adela Lohr
North Carolina

Hasidic Jews pushing theocracy in New York

While American freethinkers are rightly concerned about the dangers to secularism posed by the Religious Right, here in New York there is a glaring example of a smaller group that has long held secular governance and the separation of church in utter contempt, with often dire consequences for the general public. I am referring to the bloc-voting Hasidic communities of Brooklyn and parts of upstate New York.

To say they understand how to game the system would be an understatement. Here is a partial list of their activities:

• The Hasidim have always been among the worst slumlords in New York City, with legions of open violations. Landlords act through intermediaries (e.g., superintendents) to empty apartments that could then be sold or rented at market value to bypass rent control.

• A corrupt district attorney and police lieutenant framed two innocent men (both "gentiles," one white and one black) for the murders of Hasidic rabbis in two separate incidents under intense pressure from community. Both men were cleared after serving 19 and 17 years in prison, respectively. For years, the same D.A. ignored a burgeoning pedophilia scandal and let "rabbinical courts" unsympathetic to the victims cover up these heinous crimes.

• Fire Department inspectors are told to "go easy" on violations in Hasidic areas and make up quotas in non-Hasidic areas.

• Hasidim have taken over the school board of the town of Ramapo. They have decimated the public schools, which serve mostly minority students, firing several hundred teachers and cutting funding.

• I have been called for jury duty in Brooklyn seven or eight times, and never once I have seen a Hasidic juror, even though there are many thousands of them in Brooklyn. Either they are illegally exempt or fail to report, apparently with no consequences. Mixing with gentiles is anathema to them.

I place more blame on corrupt public officials who pander to the Hasidim and treat them with impunity than I do on the Hasidim themselves. It is venal and cowardly "public servants" like these who pose the greatest threat to secular democracy.

Name withheld
New York

Constitution's Article VI needs heeding

While I think it is essential that we keep up the good fight to maintain the separation of church and state, I think we must also, as the nation heads into an election year, remind candidates for public office that Article VI of the U.S. Constitution expressly states "but no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States."

Endorsing candidates and urging voters to cast their ballots for specific candidates also violates IRS rules for maintaining tax-exempt status.

Alexander Wallace
California

Wedding cake recipe doesn't include religion

Isn't the onus on the buyer to boycott businesses that do not concur with one's own beliefs? I refuse to buy mulch from the Boy Scouts, patronize Hobby Lobby, Chick-fil-A or Papa John's Pizza. My husband suggests that David Mullins and Charlie Craig [Colorado gay couple] probably paid town/state taxes, helping fund the infrastructure that supports [cakeshop owner] Jack Phillips' business. Mr. Phillips cannot have his cake and eat it, too.

Linda Hollingsworth

Virginia

Major religions guilty of criminal extortion

Extortion is the use of force or fear, or a threat of force or fear, to obtain a thing that the extortionist is not entitled to. Extortion is not limited to property or money. Two major religions, Islam and Christianity, use it to obtain converts.

Christianity says to nonbelievers, "Accept Jesus Christ as your savior, or burn in hell for eternity." Here is the same threat in a different venue. A robber points a gun at you and says, "Give me your money or your life."

Islam is somewhat different. The Quran in Surah 9:29 gives nonbelievers three choices: convert, make payments called "jizyas" or be killed.

So the next time your Christian or Muslim neighbor tries to convert you, confront him or her with the fact that there is a threat in the offer. Religions need to be made aware of the criminal conduct they are perpetuating.

James A. Worrell
Oklahoma

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Black Collar Crime Blotter

Compiled by Bill Dunn

Arrested / Charged

Patrick Kervin, 58, Sydney: Indecent assault. Kervin, a Marist priest and pastor of St. Patrick's Catholic Church, is accused of molesting a 15-year-old boy in 1988 at Holy Spirit College in Bellambi in 1988. Source: Illawarra Mercury, 3-25-15

Larry Jones, 65, McAlester, OK: Felony possessing obscene or indecent writings. Jones, former pastor at Missionary Baptist Church, allegedly wrote a letter describing his fantasy of having sex with 3 children as young as 6 who attended his church.

He was arrested after his wife found the letter on a computer printer in their home. Jones' lawyers claim the statute violates the First Amendment. Source: News-Capital, 3-22-15

Ronald D. Joling, 71, and Dorothea J. Joling, 72, Coquille, OR: Knowingly filing false liens. The Jolings, who are married and co-pastors of an unidentified church, are accused of filing retaliatory liens against officials involved in the couple's 2014 conviction for hiding more than $2 million from the IRS over 19 years.
The Jolings, who call themselves "sovereign citizens," claimed officials owed them more than $100 million. Source: The Oregonian, 3-21-15

David Hayman, 37, Oradell, NJ: 2 counts of sexual assault and 5 counts of child endangerment. Hayman, who led a high school youth group until last May at Cornerstone Christian Church, allegedly exchanged explicit videos and text messages with 5 girls in the group and "engaged in inappropriate sexual activity" with at least 2 of them. Source: nj.com, 3-20-15

Tim Biggers, 44, Dayton, OH: Suspicion of possessing criminal tools. Biggers, pastor of New Vision Church of God, was among several men arrested in a prostitution sting. He allegedly answered an online ad for sex, said police Sgt. Chris Fischer.

"In conjunction with March Madness [NCAA basketball], there are a lot of out-of-towners that come in, so we addressed street prostitution as well as Internet prostitution," Fischer said. Source: WHIO, 3-20-15

Luis V. Camacho, 29, Merizo, Guam: Custodial interference with a minor. Camacho, pastor of 2 Catholic parishes, was found parked with a 17-year-old girl at a beach, said A.J. Balajadia, police public information officer. He's the nephew of Bishop Emeritus Tomas Camacho.

In letters to authorities, Deacon Steve Martinez alleged Camacho "drove the minor child to Subway and then to a remote beach in Agat and had sexual contact with her," including oral sex.

Martinez alleged in a letter that Camacho was influenced by Fr. Edivaldo Oliveira, who once warned girls that boys will treat them like oranges, "sucking the sweet juice from them and when they are all dried up, the boys will spit them out." Source: Pacific News Center, 3-19-15

Jesús H. Sahagún, Burgos, Spain: Gender violence, causing injury and mistreatment. Sahagún, a Catholic priest who is official exorcist in Valladolid, is accused of performing 13 exorcisms on a girl starting in 2012 after she became anexoric. She was tied up and had crucifixes positioned over her head, according to El País. The girl later attempted suicide.

In July, Pope Francis sanctioned exorcisms, with the Vatican hailing them as "a form of charity." Source: thelocal.es, 3-18-15

Philip Wilson, 64, Adelaide, Australia: Concealing child sexual abuse. Wilson, the archbishop of Adelaide, is the most senior Catholic official in the world to be thus charged. He's accused of covering up sexual abuse in the Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle in 1976 by pedophile priest James Patrick Fletcher, who died in prison in 2006.

Victim Daniel Feenan's mother Patricia Feenan said Fletcher "groomed the whole family" by portraying himself as a benevolent priest who could be trusted. Source: The Advertiser, 3-17-15

Clovis J. Vilchez-Parra, 34, Palatine, IL: Production of child pornography and felony possession of child pornography. Vilchez-Parra, a native of Peru, is associate pastor at Mision San Juan Diego Catholic Church in Arlington Heights. Investigators allegedly traced Internet images to a computer at his home, which is owned by the Archdiocese of Chicago. Source: Chicago Tribune, 3-17-15

Franklin Paul, 35, Kongarapalayam, India: Murder. Paul, pastor of an unidentified church, is charged with the poisoning death of a 26-year-old man who was allegedly having an affair with Paul's wife, who had filed for divorce. Source: Press Trust of India, 3-17-15

Darrell Best, 45, Upper Marlboro, MD: 1st-degree sex abuse of a minor. Best, senior pastor at God of the Second Chance Ministry Church and a Washington police officer, is charged with molesting a female minor starting in December. The girl, now 16, attended the church.

Another female church member, now 18, later came forward with similar allegations. Source: Washington Post, 3-17-15

Andrew Hamblin, 23, White Oak, TN: Aggravated assault and 6 counts of felony reckless endangerment. Hamblin, pastor of Tabernacle Church of God, is charged with firing a gun out the window at a friend of his estranged wife while she and their 4 children were nearby. Hamblin gained notoriety after appearing on the reality TV show "Snake Salvation" while handling poisonous snakes.

"It's a shame," Hamblin said while entering court. "[The media] ought to be reporting some real news instead of this garbage." Source: WBIR, 3-15-16

Diane Reiners, 53, Brooklyn, NY: Criminal possession of a controlled substance, DWI and reckless driving. Reiners, an assistant priest at Cathedral of St. John the Divine, an Episcopal parish, had been driving through the Holland Tunnel erratically and was in possession of an open bottle of Absolut vodka and 31 Tramadol pills prescribed to another person, the arrest report said. Source: Jersey Journal, 3-14-15

Helmi M. Agha, aka Imam Abu Farah, Kissimmee, FL: 12 counts of lewd and lascivious molestation. Agha,executive director of the Osceola County American Muslim Youth Leadership Council, is accused of sexually touching a 15-year-old girl in his office.

In 2013, Agha threatened to sue a hospital for not letting him volunteer as a chaplain. Why are we not allowed to offer spiritual care to American-Muslim patients?" Farah asked. Source: Orlando Sentinel, 3-12-15

Kerry E. Leeper, Lancaster, PA: Driving under the influence of alcohol. Leeper, pastor of First United Methodist Church, and the Southwest District of United Methodist Churches have agreed he should take a 2-month "renewal leave," said Rev. Bumkoo Chung, district superintendent. Source: Lancaster Online, 3-12-15

Michael Parsons, 44, Kevil, KY: 2 counts of 3rd-degree rape and 22 counts of electronic solicitation of a minor for sex. Parsons, youth pastor at Milburn Chapel Cumberland Presbyterian Church, is accused of assaulting a 16-year-old girl who was in his youth group. Source: WPSD, 3-11-15

Phillip Kendrick II, 30, Lakeland, FL: Transmitting material harmful to a minor, use of a 2-way communications device to commit felony and 3 counts of lewd battery. Kendrick, former youth minister at Mt. Tabor Baptist Church, allegedly had sex with a 15-year-old girl 3 times between last November and January. He'd resigned from the church in October but had known the girl for about 4 years through her church attendance.

According to investigators, Kendrick sent pictures of his penis to the girl and she sent naked images of herself to him. Both say the sex was consensual. Source: WTSP, 3-10-15

Shawn E. Shaffer, 54, Corona, CA: Multiple counts of sexual molestation on a juvenile under 16 years of age. Several men have alleged he molested them as minors.

Corona police said it's been reported that Shaffer was conducting youth bible studies in his home and that he frequents local skateboard parks. Source: Inland News, 3-10-15

Shaun O. Harrison Sr., 55, Roxbury, MA: Assault with intent to murder, assault and battery and unlawful possession of a firearm. Harrison, former associate minister at Charles Street African Methodist Episcopal Church and the dean of academy at English High School, allegedly shot a 17-year-old student "execution style" in the back of the head. The boy, who was being mentored at school by Harrison, survived, and was reportedly involved in selling drugs for him.

Prosecutor David Bradley said in court that Harrison "had told the victim that they were going to a house to get marijuana and meet up with some girls for the victim." Source: Christian Post, 3-9-15

Kareem A. Mitchell, 42, Sacramento, CA: Sexual assault, sodomy and oral copulation. Mitchell, choir director at New Testament Baptist Church, is alleged to have initiated a sexual relationship with a male minor that started in 2005 and ended in 2008. Another alleged victim later came forward. Source: Sacramento Bee, 3-5-15

Pleaded / Convicted

Thomas Wilson, 63, Watertown, NY: Pleaded guilty to 1st-degree sexual abuse. Wilson, senior pastor of Smithville Baptist Church, is accused of having sexual contact behind the former Lake Ontario Playhouse in 2008 with a 9-year-old girl who was a family friend. Source: WWNY, 3-24-15

Adam Metropoulos, 52, Bangor, ME: Found guilty by superior court judge of 4 counts of sexual abuse of a minor. Metropoulos, former pastor of St. George Greek Orthodox Church, testified he never molested an altar boy, now 23, in 2006-07 and claimed he only touched the victim's genitals outside his pajamas once.
Before the trial started, he pleaded guilty to 1 count each of possession of sexually explicit materials and violation of privacy, admitting he had explicit photos of prepubescent children on his computer and that he secretly photographed a woman taking a shower in his bathroom.

Metropoulos testified that altar servers often spent the night at his home and he often slept with the boys, but said when he told police that he had "a predilection toward children," he was talking about girls, not boys. Source: Daily News, 3-17-15

Angelo T. Ervin, 51, Kankakee, IL: Guilty by jury of rape. Ervin, former head of deacons at Morning Star Missionary Baptist Church, was accused of impregnating an 18-year-old woman with an IQ of 59 and the mental capacity of a 5-year-old. Their daughter was born in 2011.

Ervin, who claimed the sex was consensual, was also a family friend and their landlord. "The victim is a child who has a child," prosecutor Carol Costello said in her closing statement. Source: Daily Journal, 3-14-15

Clint Landry, 58, Fairbanks, AK: Pleaded guilty to attempted coercion and enticement of a minor. Landry, who was suspended last May as pastor at Sacred Heart Catholic Cathedral, was arrested for wiring cash to the Philippines to obtain child pornography after a custodian saw a salacious image of a girl on his computer.
Landry communicated with at least 7 email accounts in 2013 "for the purpose of viewing live video of a minor engaged in sexually explicit conduct," a plea agreement said. Source: Alaska Dispatch, 3-12-15

Sentenced

Michael L. Miles, 33, Canton, OH: 3 years' probation, 200 hours of community service and no employment with fiscal responsibilities. Miles pleaded guilty to grand theft for stealing $15,000 from Mt. Olive Baptist Church, where he was pastor.

After sentencing, he invited supporters to worship with him at All Saints Temple. Asked about his case, Miles said, "I'm thankful that God wins and not people." Source: Canton Repository, 3-25-15

Wojciech Gil, 33, a defrocked Polish Catholic priest found guilty of abusing 8 minor males in the Dominican Republic and Poland between 2000 and 2013, was sentenced in Poland to 7 years in prison and restitution of $41,735. He was also charged with possession of child pornography and illegal possession of a gun. Source: Reuters, 3-25-15

William Kokesch, 68, Pointe-Claire, Canada: 2 years less 1 day in prison, barred from public areas where children are likely to gather and forbidden to use a computer after pleading guilty to producing and distributing child pornography. Kokesch, a deacon at St. Edmund of Canterbury Parish and communications director for the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, had almost 100,000 photos of nude children as young as 5 and 2,000 videos. Source: Canadian Press, 3-25-15

Daniel Curran, 64, Newcastle, N.Ireland: 3 years in prison suspended after pleading guilty to gross indecency and indecent assault on a child. It was the 5th conviction for Curran, a Catholic priest already sentenced to 13 years, 8 months in prison.

Curran admitted to offenses in 1990–93 at a family cottage when the victim was between 7 and 10. He took altar boys, including the victim, to the cottage and plied them with alcohol. Source: Belfast Telegraph, 3-24-15

Stanislaus Hogan, 70, Adelaide, Australia: 30 months in prison with parole eligibility in 10 months. Hogan, a Jesuit Catholic priest, had more 1,500 books, magazines and videos of young boys in his private quarters at St. Ignatius' College in 2013.

Hogan told the court he used books and videos to help understand pedophiles and himself. Judge Peter Brebner told him that porn production exploits children, even though Hogan's conduct toward students was said to be impeccable. Source: abc.net.au, 3-20-15

John D. Maguire, 71, Sydney: 21 to 36 months in prison for 6 indecent assault convictions of a student in the 1980s. Maguire, a Marist Catholic brother, was charged with molesting a boy, starting when he was 11. The victim testified he once awoke in his dorm to find Maguire performing oral sex on him. Maguire still denies the allegations. Source: AAP, 3-20-15

Jeffrey D. Williams, 48, Corinth, TX: 5 years' deferred probation and $1,000 fine after pleading guilty to causing injury to a child. Williams, pastor at the Church of Corinth ("a missional Christian community"), was originally indicted on a charge of solicitation of a minor for attempting to "request, command or attempt to induce an individual younger than 17 years of age to expose her genitals" in 2013. Source: Record-Chronicle, 3-13-15

Josh Wheeless, 29, Cary, NC: 45 days in jail suspended and 12 months' probation after pleading guilty to contributing to the delinquency of a minor. Wheeless, minister of youth and outreach at Landmark Freewill Baptist Church, exchanged nude photos with a 16-year-old girl. Source: WRAL, 3-11-15

Duane E. Youngblood, 48, Wilkinsburg, PA: 16 to 48 months in prison and 3 years' probation after pleading guilty to 3rd-degree corruption of minors for molesting 2 teen boys he was counseling between 2009–11 as pastor at Higher Call World Outreach Ministries Inc. Source: triblive.com, 3-11-15

Civil Lawsuits Filed

Catherine Bergin is suing Nicholas Assi and the Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles, alleging sexual harassment, sexual battery and intentional infliction of emotional distress. She alleges Assi, assistant pastor at American Martyrs Church in Manhattan Beach, put his arms around her last April in the sacristy while she was volunteering and whispered, "Hi, darling," then caressed her lower abdomen and "put his nose in plaintiff's neck and took deep breaths."

Assi engaged in similar inappropriate behavior with her in December 2013 and March 2014, alleges Bergin, who is married.

An investigator for the church said "boundary violations" occurred but denied allegations of sexual assault. Assi was removed from American Martyrs in May. An oversight board recommended he "be reinstated to priestly functions and reassigned to another parish," the suit states. Source: CNS, 3-25-15

A lawsuit alleges the Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles moved abusive Vincentian priest Carlos R. Rodriguez to a different parish after he spent time at a treatment facility for molesting a boy, 16. The suit details allegations from the late 1980s and early 1990s. Rodriguez was convicted of molesting 2 other boys in 2004 after being defrocked in 1998. He lives in Huntington Park now.

The suit alleges he was placed back into ministry in Santa Paula to work with Spanish-speaking families after treatment in Maryland. Court documents say he then molested boys who attended Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church. Source: AP, 3-23-15

A suit filed in S. Carolina names former Catholic priest Wayland Y. Brown and the Diocese of Savannah, GA, as defendants. The plaintiff alleges he was molested as a student at St. James Catholic School in Savannah in 1987–88 and at various S. Carolina locations. Brown was sentenced to prison in 2003 for abusing 2 boys in the 1970s and removed from the priesthood in 2004.

Records show church officials were aware of concerns about Brown as early as 1969, with some diocesan staff objecting to his ordination in 1977. Source: AP, 3-23-15

Mohammad Qatanani, Paterson, NJ, Islamic Center of Passaic County president, is being sued by 4 former board members who allege he misappropriated $88,000 from the center to pay his legal bills, health insurance and tuition for his children.

The federal government is trying to deport the imam due to his alleged ties to the Palestinian political group Hamas. Source: The Record, 3-20-15
A Shelton, CT, man alleges in a lawsuit he was repeatedly molested as an altar boy at St. Patrick Catholic Parish in the late 1970s and early 1980s by Fr. Walter Coleman. At least 5 others have sued over alleged abuse by Coleman, who retired in 1995 and lives in Pompano Beach, FL.

Records ordered to be made public by a federal court 5 years ago showed the diocese had been receiving complaints about Coleman since 1976. Source: CT Post, 3-18-15

Three women who allege they were molested by Carpinteria Community Church youth minister Louis Bristol are suing Bristol, the church and the Presbytery of Santa Barbara, CA. Bristol, 31, pleaded guilty in 2014 to sex crimes after admitting to preying on members of his worship team, sometimes at a Holiday Inn.
According to the suit, the congregation reacted with "at best disbelief and in some cases outright hostility" to victims after allegations were made. Source: Santa Barbara Independent, 3-15-15

A lawsuit seeking $1.5 million alleges Phillip L. Shumaker, Austin, TX, former deacon at River Road Baptist Church, masturbated in front of a church member suffering from stage-4 ovarian cancer when he delivered a Thanksgiving meal at her home in 2013.

The suit alleges Shumaker groped the woman under her shirt and ejaculated on it. He allegedly returned several more times to grope her and masturbate. He was criminally charged twice with indecent exposure. Source: KXAN, 3-15-15

"John Doe 117" is suing the Diocese of Ft. Worth, TX, for $1 million for alleged sexual abuse by Fr. John H. Sutton at Notre Dame Catholic School in Wichita Falls in the early 1990s. Sutton, who died in 2004, would take him into the school chapel, Doe alleges, and grope him while he was praying.

Eventually, Sutton raped him with sex toys from a black bag, the suit alleges. Doe, who lives in Washington state, said he heard a camera clicking on some occasions. Other times, Sutton stuffed a towel in his mouth to stifle his cries, Doe claims. Source: Dallas Observer, 3-8-15

Civil Lawsuits Settled

The Catholic Diocese of Norwich, CT, settled a suit for $1.1 million with a woman who alleged she was sexually assaulted at least 60 times by Fr. Thomas Shea. "Jane Doe No. 2" alleged Shea, a family friend, started molesting her when she was 3 and continued until she was 16. He died in 2006 at age 85.

Shea has been accused of molestation by at least 15 girls, including by a woman who tried to kill herself 3 times by age 23. The suit also alleges Bishop Daniel Reilly moved Shea from parish to parish in the wake of complaints.

A memo in Shea's file written by current Bishop Michael Cote says "the trail of destruction caused by Thomas W. Shea is staggering." Source: Hartford Courant, 3-23-15

Finances

The Catholic Diocese of Oslo, Norway, is alleged to have fraudulently registered thousands of people as members between 2010–14 to obtain about $6 million in state subsidies.

Predominantly Protestant Norway subsidizes organized religions. Authorities allege the diocese went through phone books to find people with foreign-sounding names and added them to church rolls, often without their knowledge, which doubled membership to 140,000 from 2010–14. Source: AFP, 3-19-15

Legal Developments

A New Jersey federal district court rejected claims by several rabbis and Orthodox Jews charged with kidnapping and conspiracy for using coercive tactics to force husbands to give their wives divorce documents called "gets." The court ruled that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act had no bearing on the cases. Source: Religion Clause, 3-22-15

Melvin Randall, 44, Williamsburg, VA: Charges of taking indecent liberties with a child and contributing to the delinquency of a minor were dropped by a grand jury, which indicted Randall for aggravated sexual battery. The criminal complaint said deputies investigating a possible burglary found Randall, former youth pastor at Faith Alive Outreach Ministries, in a car with a 7-year-old girl who was putting her clothes on in the back seat.

The arrest report said the girl told police that Randall took her clothes off and hugged and kissed her and that they got together every other Saturday to sell doughnuts for the church. Source: WTKR, 3-20-15

Prosecutors successfully appealed the 2013 sentence of Joe Seephis Hardie, 70, former pastor at New Mount Zion Missionary Baptist Church in Lakeland, FL. A state appeals court panel ordered the circuit judge to issue a stricter sentence for Hardie's conviction for embezzling $115,000 from the church. He was sentenced to 90 days in jail, 90 days of weekend work release, 2 years of house arrest, 18 years of probation and monthly restitution of $500.

The state appealed the "downward departure" of the sentence, which was below minimum sentencing standards. Source: Lakeland Ledger, 3-20-15

Hector Coria-Gonzalez, 46, Davis, CA: Taken into custody by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials to face formal deportation proceedings. Coria-Gonzalez, a Mexico native, pleaded guilty in 2014 to statutory rape for engaging in sexual acts with a 16-year-old girl who belonged to St. James Catholic Parish, where he was pastor. Source: Sacramento Bee, 3-20-15

A Philadelphia jury was again unable to reach a verdict in a trial of Andrew McCormick, 58, a Catholic priest accused of molesting a 10-year-old altar boy in 1997. The mistrial came 1 day shy of a year since the previous hung jury.

McCormick wished court staff a happy Easter as he signed a subpoena to appear at a hearing April 10, the date by which the state must decide whether to try him again. Source: philly.com, 3-12-15

A Missouri judge ordered the St. Louis Catholic Archdiocese to turn over records on sex abuse allegations for 2 decades as part of a civil suit filed by parents of a man who killed himself in 2009. The suit alleges Fr. Bryan Kuchar molested their son between 1999 and 2002. The Vatican defrocked him in 2006 after he was convicted for molesting a 14-year-old boy. Source: AP, 3-11-15

U.S. District Judge Lawrence Stengel reversed a lower court's decision to allow bail for Mark Haynes, 55, Westtown, PA, a Catholic priest charged with trading child pornography and enticing 25 teen girls to send him explicit photos of themselves. Haynes used the alias "Katie Caponetti" online.

Prosecutors told the judge that 3 accusers have surfaced since Haynes' arrest in October. One alleged in court filings that Haynes assaulted her as a teen in the 1990s during confession. When she confessed to oral sex with her boyfriend, "Mr. Haynes said she would be absolved of those sins by performing oral sex on him," said Assistant U.S. Attorney Michelle Rotella.

She said prosecutors have also learned about Haynes' alleged plans to meet a girl at Walt Disney World for sex. Source: The Inquirer, 3-6-15

Allegations

Jeff Buchheit, Waterloo, IA, and his lawyer held a press conference to allege sexual abuse by Fr. Leo Riley when Buchheit was a 4th-grade altar boy in 1985 at Resurrection Catholic Church in Dubuque. Riley first assaulted him before school in the church, Buchheit told reporters.

"I've been actively working myself up to this point of understanding how to deal with the shame and how to deal with the fear, so I could step forward," he said.
The Diocese of Venice, FL, which put Riley on paid leave during the investigation, said he "strenuously denies" the allegation. The Archdiocese of Dubuque paid $5.2 million in 2013 to settle 26 abuse claims.

"The sad simple truth is, the overwhelming majority of adults who were abused as kids can't report these crimes until decades later," said David Clohessy of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, adding that the investigation shouldn't be confined to Iowa. Source: KCRG/Fox 4, 3-24-15

"M.I.," 34, Dubai, UAR: M.I., a Bangladeshi imam with a chef's visa, allegedly groped an 8-year-old boy's genitals during Quran study class, the alleged victim's father, a Pakistani, told the Dubai Criminal Court.

The father told the court he'd asked the imam to come to their home 3 days a week for Quran instruction for the boy and his 5-year-old brother. Source: Emirates 24/7, 3-17-15

Police in Mt. Eliza, Australia, are investigating claims of sex abuse at the Shiva School of Meditation and Yoga. Russell Kruckman, aka Swami Shankarananda, 73, resigned as director but remained as spiritual head of the ashram after it was revealed he'd had sexual relationships with up to 40 women there.
A sign at the ashram read, "Surrender is doing it when you don't want to," an alleged victim said. Source: The Age, 3-16-15

Restoration Youth Academy, Prichard, AL, described as a private Christian boot camp for troubled teens, was closed by Mobile police for sanitary violations after serving a search warrant during an investigation of physical abuse allegations. All 36 teens were removed.

Camp founder William Knott was arrested on an unrelated domestic violence warrant. Pastor John Young was arrested on a traffic warrant. Source: WPLG, 3-13-15
The head of the Office of the Children's Advocate in Jamaica said youth are being sexually abused by clergy members. "We have received reports in relation to deacons, elders and prayer warriors," said Diahann Gordon Harrison.

"Children are being robbed, raped and murdered," Gordon Harrison alleged. "They are being abused in homes, in communities, in schools, in the church, and so it is common knowledge that children are victims." Source: Jamaica Gleaner, 3-10-15

The University of Arizona in Tucson is investigating Faith Christian Church, which has operated on campus for 25 years and is being described as a cult by at least 20 former members and staffers.

"Their stories include reports of hitting infants with cardboard tubes to encourage submission, financial coercion, alienation from parents, public shaming of members and shunning of those who leave the church or question its leaders," a newspaper report said.

Neither Faith Christian's founder and head pastor Stephen Hall, 62, nor executive pastor Ian Laks, 50, responded to repeated requests for comment. Source: Daily Star, 3-6-15

Removed / Resigned

Pope Francis accepted the resignation of Cardinal Keith O'Brien as head of the Catholic Church in Scotland over allegations of sexual misconduct.
O'Brien will keep his title but be barred from all clerical activities.

O'Brien resigned as archbishop of St. Andrews and Edinburgh in 2013 amid allegations of sexual impropriety made by 4 priests. O'Brien, an outspoken opponent of gay rights, was named "bigot of the year" in 2012 by the gay rights group Stonewall.

The first allegation against him dates to 1980. The complainant was a 20-year-old seminarian at St. Andrew's College, where O'Brien was his "spiritual director." Source: The Guardian, 3-20-15

Richard Rodgers, 79, was removed by the Diocese of Motherwell as pastor of St. Mary's Catholic Parish in Cleland, Scotland, during a police probe of historic sex abuse allegations. Source: Motherwell Times, 3-18-16

Four senior staff at the Yeshivah Center, an Orthodox school in Melbourne, resigned after victims of sex abuse called for resignations. Chaim New, Yirmi Loebenstein, Sue Susskind and Don Wolf resigned from the school's committee of management.

The Chabad community has been embroiled in a cover-up scandal since victim Manny Waks came forward in 2011. Three Orthodox men have been convicted: former security guard David Cyprys, former teacher David Kramer and Daniel Hayman, former school director in Sydney. Source: Haaretz, 3-14-15

Pope Francis removed Curtis Wehmeyer, 50, St. Paul, MN, from the priesthood. He pleaded guilty to molesting 2 boys and is serving a 5-year prison term. He's also charged with molesting a teen boy who was unconscious. No plea has been entered in that case. Source: AP, 3-11-15

Yuan Zhiming, founder of China Soul for Christ Foundation, Rohnert Park, CA, resigned to "retreat in the Lord and seek renewal" after being accused of rape, a charge he denies.

His accuser is Chai Ling, founder of All Girls Allowed, which campaigns against China's 1-child policy and other injustices against women. She alleged the pastor raped her in 1990. Zhiming and Ling were both involved in the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests in Beijing, then came to the U.S. to become born-again Christians.

Ling alleged Zhiming tried to get her to watch an adult video, forced her to the floor and "covered my eyes with the jackets that fell during my struggle."

An inquiry by 18 pastors detailed 3 more alleged incidents, including one with a China Soul intern on a 2013 trip to Paris. Zhiming allegedly invited her into his hotel room to watch the Korean sex comedy "Horny Family" on his computer, embraced her and asked her to sleep with him. She refused and reported the incident. Source: S. China Morning Post, 3-3-15

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In the News

7th Circuit denies Milwaukee archdiocese

A three-judge panel of the 7th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in Chicago ruled March 9 that so-called religious freedom protections don't shelter $55 million transferred to the Catholic Archdiocese of Milwaukee's cemetery trust fund. Attorneys for clergy sexual abuse victims accused New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan of creating the fund when he was archbishop of Milwaukee to hide money from their clients.

The archdiocese transferred $55 million in 2008 to the fund after Dolan indicated in a letter to the Vatican that the money would be safe from legal claims. After its 2011 bankruptcy filing, sexual abuse victims sought to void the transfer. The archdiocese argued that the transfer was protected by the Religious Freedom and Restoration Act and the First Amendment. U.S. District Judge Rudolph Randa had ruled that RFRA and the Free Exercise Clause protected the money from unsecured creditors. (Creditors sought his recusal after learning Randa has family members buried at cemeteries owned by the archdiocese, reported WisBar News.)

The appeals court said RFRA did not apply because the creditors committee is not a "governmental actor," and RFRA only protects government actions that substantially burden religion. It didn't address the recusal issue.

The Associated Press reported that the archdiocese's proposed reorganization plan would give 128 victims about $4 million total and that about 450 other claimants would get nothing.

School removes church ad from program

The Pine-Richland School District, Gibsonia, Pa., removed an ad sponsored by St. Richard Catholic Church from the program for the student production of the play "Pippin."

"We were given the unfortunate choice to either remove any reference to God and/or Jesus Christ, or to pull the ad from the playbill and have the costs refunded," the parish said in a March 10 statement to WPXI. An unidentified school official told a reporter the district is trying to "use our best judgment while following school policies."

An advertising policy states the district can't accept ads that promote "a religious or political organization or cause."

The ad congratulated cast and crew, included "parish news" and urged readers to "Find your 'Corner of the Sky' at St. Richard Parish."

New study details 'typical skeptic'

In a new study titled "Churchless," the Barna Group defines skeptics as those who either don't believe God exists or aren't sure. "Skeptics represent one-quarter of all unchurched adults. Nearly one-third of skeptics have never attended a Christian church service in their lives. That's nearly double the proportion of 'virgin unchurched' who are not skeptics," says the report released March 25.

Barna is "a visionary research and resource company" in Ventura, Calif., "focused on the intersection of faith and culture."

The profile of a typical skeptic has evolved from a decade or two ago, says Barna. The study lists five demographic shifts:

1. They are younger. Twenty years ago, 18% of skeptics were under 30. That has nearly doubled to 34%. The percentage who are 65 or older has been cut in half to 7%.

2. They are more educated. The percentage of college graduates has gone from one-third to one-half.

3. More of them are women. In 1993, 16% of atheists and agnostics were women. By 2013 it was 43%. (Men's numbers have steadily increased also but not as rapidly.)

4. They are more racially diverse. "While whites represented 80% of skeptics 20 years ago, that figure had dropped to 74% by 2013. This is largely a reflection of the increasing Hispanic and Asian adults among the skeptic cohort. Asian Americans, the least-Christian ethnic demographic in the U.S., especially tend to embrace skepticism."

5. They are more dispersed regionally. The Northeast and West were "isolated hotbeds" of skepticism 20 years ago. "They still remain the areas where skeptics are more likely to live, but the skeptic population is now broadly dispersed across all regions."

The study concludes: "In many ways, skeptics resemble the rest of America more than they once did. And their numbers are growing more quickly than anyone expected 20 years ago."

Judge: Church sign suit can proceed

U.S. District Judge James Munley ruled March 19 that a suit against the borough of Shickshinny, Pa., could go forward. Francene Tearpock-Martini sued in 2012 over placement of a sign for a local church on the border of her property, which is at the intersection of two rights-of-way, reported the Wilkes-Barre Citizens' Voice.

The borough council approved the sign and a borough employee installed it in 2008. When it fell down, it was reinstalled in concrete.

In protest, Tearpock-Martini placed her own sign, "This Church Sign Violates My Rights As A Taxpayer & Property Owner. Residential Neighborhoods Are Not Zoned For Advertisement Signs!" She was told to remove it.

Munley will rule later whether the church sign violates the Establishment Clause.

State/church issues in NYC schools

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio plans to revamp city rules that bar religious worship in public schools, a move announced after the U.S. Supreme Court on March 30 denied the Bronx Household of Faith's appeal to overturn the ban, the New York Daily News reported. The church has been using Public School 12 in the Bronx for services. It's the third time the court has sided with the city against the church.

"The administration remains committed to ensuring that religious organizations are able to use space in city schools on the same terms provided to other groups," said mayoral spokesman Wiley Norvell. "While we review and revise the rules, groups currently permitted to use schools for worship will continue to be able to worship on school premises under [Department of Education] guidelines."

ABC News reported March 19 that civil liberties groups are objecting to de Blasio's plan to expand public prekindergarten for all 4-year-olds this fall because it allows religious instruction and prayers during midday breaks.

"It's kind of like waving a red flag in front of a bull," said Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State. "This seems to be asking for a lawsuit."

Some pre-K classes are in public schools but many are run by religious groups and other community-based organizations under contract to the city.

Donna Lieberman, New York Civil Liberties Union executive director, called the break "an end run around the separation of church and state."

"We have urged the city to audit programs that are sponsored by a religious group to ensure that the prohibition against turning these into religious programs is honored," she said.

FFRF Co-Presidents Dan Barker and Annie Laurie Gaylor wrote de Blasio a letter on March 31 objecting to his intent to allow worship in public schools, and also sent an action alert to its 1200 New York State members asking them to object as well. They cited U.S. Court of Appeals Judge Pierre N. Leval, who noted the city is free to conclude "that it runs a substantial risk of incurring a violation of the Establishment Clause by hosting and subsidizing the conduct of religious worship services."

FFRF noted, "One of the most common complaints FFRF receives from members of the public is about church worship being held in public schools. This discomfort is historic. Thomas Jefferson argued passionately in his landmark Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom (1786) that no citizen 'shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever.' "

Chaplain's counseling 'recipe for tragedy'

Military Times reported March 11 that Navy Lt. Cmdr. Wesley Modder, a Pentecostal chaplain, was given a "detachment for cause" letter on Feb. 17 after his superiors concluded he's "intolerant" and "unable to function in the diverse and pluralistic environment" of his assignment at the Nuclear Power Training Command in South Carolina.

The letter said Modder "told a female that she was 'shaming herself in the eyes of god' for having premarital sex, told another student that homosexuality was wrong and that 'the penis was meant for the vagina and not for the anus,' and suggested to a student that he, Modder, had the ability to 'save' gay people."
Commanders felt that allowing vulnerable sailors to be counseled by Modder is "a recipe for tragedy." Modder has served 19 years and could lose his retirement benefits if a board of inquiry separates him before he completes 20 years.

Male Afghan mob murders woman

A mob of male attackers stoned, beat and kicked 27-year-old Farkhunda Zahra Naderi before tossing her off a bridge, setting her body on fire and throwing it in the river March 19 in Kabul, Afghanistan. Her parents said the killing was instigated by a mullah angered by Farkhunda's accusations that he was distributing false tawiz, which are pieces of paper containing verses of the Quran sometimes worn as amulets to ward off evil.

TOLOnews reported that "in order to save his job and life," the mullah reportedly began shouting accusations that Farkhunda had burned the Quran.
Afghanistan's Ministry of Hajj and Religious Affairs said it had found no evidence that she burned the Quran. Thirteen police officials were suspended after the attack and 13 people were arrested.

"That was, for us, one of the most troubling aspects of this case, that the police did not intervene adequately and properly to save her when there was an opportunity to do so," said Patricia Grossman of Human Rights Watch.

Farkhunda was buried amid a huge public outcry three days later, with her coffin carried by women defying the tradition of men-only pallbearers and funerals. Many in the crowd, including men, wore masks of Farkhunda's battered and bloodied face.

The following day, members of the Solidarity Party and other activists planted a pine tree on the riverbank where Farkhunda's body was set on fire.

Judge OKs 'Jew Hatred' bus ads

U.S. District Judge Mitchell Goldberg ordered the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority on March 12 to accept bus ads with a 1941 photo of Adolf Hitler with a Palestinian leader and the tagline "Jew Hatred: It's in the Quran." Philadelphia's transit system had turned down the ad for violating "minimal civility standards."

Goldberg, a George W. Bush appointee, ruled the policy was not clearly defined. "It is clear that the anti-disparagement standard promulgated by SEPTA was a principled attempt to limit hurtful, disparaging advertisements. While certainly laudable, such aspirations do not, unfortunately, cure First Amendment violations," Goldberg wrote.

Bible bill advances in Tennessee

Tennessee legislation sponsored by Rep. Jerry Sexton, R-Bean Station, to make the bible the official state book was approved on a 2-1 vote April 1 by the General Assembly's State Government Subcommittee.

Rep. Bill Sanderson, subcommittee chairman, said a formal legal opinion has been requested from Attorney General Herbert Slatery. The Associated Press reported that Sanderson said the measure is constitutionally suspect, according to Slatery. The Tennessee Constitution says "no preference shall ever be given, by law, to any religious establishment or mode of worship."

The Tennessean quoted Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris, R-Collierville, expressing concerns March 31 at a committee meeting. "We're being asked to make the bible, any bible, any version of it, an object, like the state reptile. Like the raccoon, the salamander, the nut, the fish. I think it's demeaning. I think it reduces the holy bible from scripture to a politically correct history book."

FFRF asked its Tennessee membership to oppose this unconstitutional measure.

Another atheist hacked to death

Atheist activist Washiqur Rahman, 27, was murdered March 30 in Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh. Two suspects, both students at Islamic schools, were captured and three meat cleavers were recovered, police official Biplob Kumar Sarker said A third suspect escaped.

Prominent atheist blogger and science writer Avijit Roy was also hacked to death in Dhaka on Feb. 26, 11 days after atheist activist Ahmed Rajeeb Haider was murdered near his home in Dhaka. Asif Mohiuddin, a secular blogger, survived after being stabbed by militants in Dhaka in January 2014.

Agency backs Colo. bakery owner

KMGH-TV reported April 2 that the Colorado Civil Rights Division ruled that Azucar Bakery owner Marjorie Silva in Denver didn't discriminate against William Jack by refusing to make cakes with anti-gay messages in March 2014.

Jack, of Castle Rock, requested two cakes shaped like bibles. He wanted one to depict two groomsmen holding hands in front of a cross with a red "X" over them, with the bible verses "God hates sin. Psalm 45:7" and "Homosexuality is a detestable sin. Leviticus 18:2." On the other he wanted the same image with the words "God loves sinners" and "While we were yet sinners Christ died for us. Romans 5:8."

Silva, who is Catholic and has six Christian employees, told Jack that she would make him the bible-shaped cakes but wouldn't decorate them with anti-gay bible verses and images. She offered to provide him with icing and a pastry bag so he could decorate the cakes himself. "If he wants to hate people, he can hate them [but] not here in my bakery."

"The evidence demonstrates that [Silva] would deny such requests to any customer, regardless of creed," the decision said.

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FFRF expels Bible Man from Tenn. School

An evangelist known as "Bible Man" will no longer be permitted to lead religious classes at Coalmont Elementary School in Altamont, Tenn., after FFRF lodged a complaint with the Grundy County Department of Education.

The school district for decades had allowed Horace Turner to lead monthly assemblies during school hours. His assemblies have included "baby Jesus" displays, sermons proclaiming that "Jesus died on the cross for our sins," bible readings, discussions about the meaning of bible stories and distributions of religious literature.

"Allowing anyone access to public school students to proselytize, and including the events in the school's calendar, is illegal District endorsement of the speaker's religious message, in this case a Christian message," wrote Senior Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert in a March 2 letter, noting that FFRF won a lawsuit against another Tennessee school that let an outside religious group provide religious instruction to students.

The fact that parents may have been allowed to excuse their children from the programs did not make a difference, explained Markert. "When children opt out, their absence is obvious, and the ostracism they suffer is precisely what the courts have sought to prevent."
FFRF recently received word that the district had ended Turner's unconstitutional programs.

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Nothing Fails Like Prayer Contest

The U.S. Supreme Court unwisely "blessed" sectarian prayers at local government meeting in its Town of Greece v. Galloway decision. If the Supreme Court won't uphold our godless and entirely secular Constitution — adopted at a prayerless constitutional convention — it's up to us.

It's up to you!

We'd like to see secular citizens flood government meetings with secular invocations that illustrate why government prayers are unnecessary, ineffective, embarrassing, exclusionary, divisive or just plain silly.

The "best" secular invocation will be invited to open FFRF's annual convention, receiving an all-expenses-paid trip (this year at the Monona Terrace Convention Center, Madison, Wisconsin, October 9–11, 2015), a plaque and an honorarium of $500.

Learn more at: ffrf.org/outreach/nothing-fails-like-prayer

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In Memoriam

Ethel-Mae Haave
1916–2015

Ethel-Mae Haave, 98, Muncie, Ind., died peacefully at home March 1, 2015. She was born in Winona, Minn., in 1916 to Carl and Anna (Schossow) Haave. In 1937 she graduated from the College of St. Teresa in Winona and began a lifelong career in academia with an emphasis on English literature.

In 1948 she accomplished a feat uncommon for women of her generation and earned a Ph.D. in English from Yale University, publishing "Herman Melville's Pierre: A Critical Study." Haave continued her career at the University of Rochester and at East Carolina College before being appointed assistant professor of English at Ball State University in 1956, retiring there as a full professor in 1986.

Haave was an excellent tennis player and continued to play into her early 90s. She died as she lived, on her own terms. Survivors include a niece, Elizabeth Dougherty (Gerald) of Gettysburg, Pa., and many, many friends.

"It's wonderful that Ethel-Mae left a $10,000 bequest to FFRF," said Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. "We offer sincerest condolences and are so grateful that she valued FFRF's work to that degree. Her support will help ensure our work continues into the future."

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Secular Invocations

David G. Marcus, City Council, El Paso, Texas, Dec. 2, 2014

We come together today in a spirit of cooperation and compromise, respect and courtesy, calling upon the rules of civility to guide us.

As we look around this chamber, we are reminded that in our differences lie our strengths.

We are black, white, Hispanic, Asian and Native American. We are Catholic, Protestant, Baptist, Jew, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Humanist, Wiccan, Pagan, Atheist, Agnostic and unaffiliated.

Some of us live our lives in the certainty of our faith; others of us are still looking for answers, or have found them in our common human struggles. We are straight, gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender, with and without disabilities, young and old and everything in between.

We don't all think the same way. Many of us hold very differing views on topics that are important to us. Our political views range from liberal to conservative and some of us are a bit of both.

But we all agree and know that personal beliefs, regardless of how strongly we hold them, are ours alone.

Yet, as we gather here together, we are linked by our common humanity, our shared heritage and our mutual desire to do what is best for the citizens of El Paso.
Our city has a long history of saying no to hate and bigotry, and as we move forward, we remember the difficult decisions of our former leaders. Let us continue to build on their legacy.

David Marcus is president and co-founder of Join Us for Justice, the El Paso chapter of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, and is managing partner of Marcus, Fairall, Bristol + Co., a certified public accounting firm. Join Us for Justice works "to educate the public about the dangers of faith-based legislation and the consequences of breaching the line between church and state, and to serve as a contact for those who seek information and expertise regarding separation issues."

Aleta Ledendecker, City Council, Lenoir City, Tenn.March 23, 2015

Good evening, council of Lenoir City. As I solemnize these proceedings, I want to acknowledge the service of the council members and share appreciation for their willingness to be a part of the governmental process. We owe a debt of gratitude to those who take on the burden of service.

Now, let us not bow our heads, but hold them high with eyes open.

I urge the members of the City Council to face the future with full recognition of their responsibilities to all the citizens of Lenoir City. I urge you to maintain our trust that you will recognize and serve equally the growing diversity of your constituents with favoritism toward none.

Consider the words of Pericles, the great leader of Athens, the cradle of democracy, who said, "What you leave behind is not what is engraved in stone monuments, but what is woven into the lives of others."

Thank you.

Aleta Ledendecker, FFRF Life Member and Rationalists of East Tennessee secretary, writes: "The invocation was front-page news in the Knoxville News Sentinel and Loudon County News-Herald. My next scheduled invocation will be at another heavily religious city commission (in a county where they recently put plaques of 'In God We Trust' over the courthouse entrances). I'm gearing up for that encounter."

Her husband Carl took issue with the council letting two pastors give prayers after Aleta's secular invocation. "I was disappointed. I thought that they would come in and be respectful and not try to be pushy with people but obviously [they] were pushing back."

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Meet a member

Name: Jeff Brinckman.

Where I live: Madison, Wis.

Where and when I was born: Milwaukee in 1953. I was baptized shortly afterward, to protect me from the erroneous belief that I'd go straight to hell if I died outside the church. Although my father converted to Catholicism as a condition of marriage in 1941, I had no choice. I became a Catholic the old-fashioned way: I inherited it.

Family: Married once, I have two adult children.

Education: University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, BBA.; Hamline University, JD; Utrecht University in the Netherlands, LLM, international law.

I "did my time" at a Catholic grade school in Menomonee Falls. Back then, no tax dollars went to parochial schools and no right-wingers like Gov. Scott Walker were giving welfare money to religious charter schools. My parents kept government out of religion by financially supporting both the public school district and my parochial school.

The election of John Kennedy in 1960, the first Catholic president, was big news at my school. Since Catholics were a minority, the nuns taught us Article VI of the Constitution: "No religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States."

In religion classes, I had to memorize all sorts of unsubstantiated beliefs. Although the nuns were not stereotypical demons, I nonetheless feared them, and particularly the school principal. Fear was a psychological weapon. I was to fear God and the chance of spending an eternity in hell.

Although the 1960s are known for Vietnam and civil rights, there was also a revolution over religion inside and outside the church. While the Supreme Court courageously found prayer in public schools unconstitutional, liberal Catholics prevailed at the Second Vatican Council in Rome (1962-65) and, almost overnight, everything changed.

My doubts about religion started: A nun walked into class one day no longer fully covered in black. Suddenly, the Mass was in English instead of Latin, guitar music replaced pipe organs and meat could be eaten on Fridays. What was infallible truth just yesterday had changed radically. The revolution opened my mind and made me wonder whether any of it was true. The church had let the genie out of the bottle.

My clearest memory of prayer was in 1962 during the Cuban missile crisis when my mother had me kneel before a crucifix so we could pray for peace. Although the Russians turned their ships around at our blockade, I didn't attribute it to prayer. I thought the crisis was solved by two humans, Khrushchev and Kennedy. When JFK was assassinated in 1963, I wondered why a good god permitted it. I was already a doubting Thomas.

With regards to morals, the church wasn't all bad. As a member of our all-white suburban basketball team, I was driven into Milwaukee to play the all-black Cherry Street School. I met blacks for the first time and it was a good experience. The priests and nuns who risked violence to push integration deserve credit.

By the 1967 "Summer of Love," the supernatural part of the church had lost me. Questioning was in; the pope and his entourage were out. While in high school, I still had to go to church on Sundays, but I usually skipped out.

Military service: After anti-war activists bombed the Army-Math Research Center in Sterling Hall at UW-Madison in 1970, where my brother was majoring in math, my parents sent me to UW-Eau Claire. Once Nixon eliminated undergraduate military deferments, I was classified 1-A but drew #185 in the lottery and was not called. As the war wound down, I asked how a good god could allow 54,000 Americans and 2 million Vietnamese to die for no reason.

Five college classes helped me move from agnosticism to atheism: Western Civilization, Philosophy 101, Philosophy of Religion, Constitutional Law and English Legal History.

Person in history I admire: Thomas Jefferson, for his views on religion.

Before I die: I just wish Jennifer Aniston would finally answer one of my calls. I'm getting really exhausted from leaving all those messages.

Editor's note: Better update your bucket list, Jeff. Recent news reports say Jen, 46, and fiancé Justin Theroux, 43, have finalized their prenup that puts her net worth at $112 million and his at $19 million.

Erwin Chemerinsky gave this speech, edited for print, at FFRF's October 2014 convention in Los Angeles. He is the founding dean of the University of California-Irvine School of Law and Raymond Pryke Professor of First Amendment Law. He previously taught law at Duke University and the University of Southern California. He's the author of eight books, including The Conservative Assault on the Constitution and his latest, The Case Against the Supreme Court. Last year, The National Jurist magazine added him to its list of "most influential people in legal education" in the U.S.

Richard Bolton, longtime FFRF member and outside ligitation counsel:

I am very honored to introduce Erwin Chemerinsky, the awardee for Champion of the First Amendment. There are numerous reasons, both independent and cumulative, for Professor Chemerinsky to be given this award. In particular, he was the intellectual architect of the challenge we made to the housing allowance and the parsonage allowance.

Several years ago there was a case pending in the 9th Circuit involving Rick Warren and the housing allowance. The issue of the constitutionality of that benefit to ministers of the gospel was not directly raised by any of the parties, but the 9th Circuit asked Professor Chemerinsky to weigh in with a "friend of the court" or amicus brief. He prepared that brief and has subsequently written on it in very influential law review articles.

The 9th Circuit ended up not deciding the issue because of some political and procedural issues that basically rendered the case moot, but subsequently the Foundation has challenged the constitutionality of the housing allowance.

His influence is not just in the classroom or in the area of academe. He frequently argues cases before the nation's highest courts, including the U.S. Supreme Court. He argued in particular, I recall, the Van Orden case in the Supreme Court against the Ten Commandments monument at the Texas Capitol. He writes a weekly column for the Orange County Register, monthly columns for the ABA Journal and the Daily Journal and frequent op-ed pieces in newspapers across the country. He has written more than 200 articles in top law reviews.

His influence is very important to the Foundation's approaches to enforcing the First Amendment through judicial strategy. Basically, in this area, Professor Chemerinsky is a titan.

By Erwin Chemerinsky

Thank you for the incredibly kind introduction. I wish my mother were here to listen to it. Thank you for this amazing Champion of the First Amendment award. I hardly feel deserving of it, but I promise I will do all I can in the years ahead to try to live up to it.

The thesis of my remarks is a simple one: Now more than ever, we need the Freedom From Religion Foundation. In 1947 in Everson v. Board of Education, the Supreme Court held that the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment applies to state and local governments. All nine justices believed that the Establishment Clause was meant to create a wall that separates church and state. Now for the first time since 1947, a majority of the court rejects that notion. We have a Supreme Court that is hostile toward freedom from religion.

First, I want to sketch the different views of the Establishment Clause. Second, I want to explain what everyone here believes why FFRF is correct, that there must be strict separation of church and state. Third, I want to talk about the current court and the belief of the majority of the justices, and how they reject this separation. Finally, I'll talk about what this means for the foreseeable future, and why it means the activism and involvement of all of us more important than ever.
Over the years since Everson, three major theories have developed. One I have already alluded to: strict separation. It takes its inspiration from the words not of a liberal law professor, but from Thomas Jefferson: "There should be a wall that separates church and state, a wall that is high and impregnable."

This is not about hostility to religion. Rather it says that we want our government to be secular, and that the place for religion is in the home, churches, synagogues, mosques, in the private realm.

I would say that until the 1980s, virtually every Supreme Court justice would endorse the idea that there must be a wall separating church and state. In the 1980s, Justice Sandra Day O'Connor developed what I would call a second theory with regard to the Establishment Clause, what she referred to as a "neutrality theory."

She said that the Establishment Clause means that government has to be neutral toward religion and nonreligion, neutral among religions.

Of course the problem with this is that symbols are always in the mind of the beholder. One commentator aptly said, "Justice O'Connor's approach to the Establishment Clause is, 'I know it when I see it,' a much ridiculed phrase that comes from an opinion by Justice Potter Stewart, 'I can't define obscenity, but I know it when I see it.' "

But by the late 1980s, thanks especially to the appointment to the Supreme Court of Antonin Scalia and Anthony Kennedy, a new theory developed, one that leaves very little of the separation of church and state with the Establishment Clause. These justices called their theory "accommodationism." They said what government needs to do is accommodate religion.

The majority of justices believe in it. Under this view, the government violates the Establishment Clause only if it literally establishes a church or coerces religious participation. Nothing else will ever violate the Establishment Clause. They believe that the framers of the Constitution meant to allow religion to be a part of government. They believe that the government should be able to give unlimited aid directly to religious institutions, so long as they don't discriminate among religious institutions.

Theories in practice

To show you the differences among these three theories, I'll use a couple of Supreme Court cases I'm sure are familiar to you. One was a 1989 case called Allegheny County v. American Civil Liberties Union. It involved two displays in the Pittsburgh area. One was in a county building where there was a large stairway display case. And in it, in December, was put a nativity scene.

The other case involved a Pittsburgh city building. In front of it, in December, was placed a menorah, a nativity scene, a Christmas tree, and a proclamation about the importance of tolerance in the holiday season. The Supreme Court said that the menorah was constitutional but the nativity scene was unconstitutional. How did they come to that conclusion? It goes back to the three theories.

Three of the justices then on the court believed in strict separation. They would have said that both the nativity and the menorah are unconstitutional. They would have said, as I believe, religious symbols don't belong on government property. Four of the judges took the accommodationist approach. They said there is no limit on religious symbols on government property. For them, both the nativity and the menorah are constitutional.

That left two justices, O'Connor and Blackmun, who took the middle endorsement approach. They said a nativity scene all by itself on government property is impermissible symbolic endorsement of religion. But they said it was OK to have a nativity scene as a religious symbol, so long as there are symbols of other religious and secular symbols. They said a menorah is a Jewish religious symbol, was accompanied by a Christmas tree and a proclamation of tolerance in the holiday season, so it was permissible.

So then what you had was six votes that the menorah was OK and five votes that the nativity scene was OK and thus the result. But it all came down to those three theories.

Van Orden v. Perry

I am going to give another example, Van Orden v. Perry, a case that I argued in the Supreme Court in 2005. It involves a 6-foot-high, 3-foot-wide Ten Commandments monument that sits directly at the corner of the Texas State Capitol and the Texas Supreme Court. It is clear to me that this violates the Establishment Clause. It is in big letters, "I am the Lord thy God" on top. It has the Protestant, specifically the Lutheran, version of the Ten Commandments. It is right at the seat of Texas state government.

But I knew going into the oral argument that there was no chance I was going to get four justices [to agree with me]. I knew that Chief Justice Rehnquist and Justices Scalia, Kennedy and Thomas take the accommodationist approach. In fact, at oral arguments, Justice Kennedy said to me with real hostility in his voice, "If your client doesn't like the Ten Commandments monument, why doesn't he just look the other way?"

Of course a constitutional violation isn't excused by ignoring it. Besides that, there would be no stopping point. A city could put a large cross atop city hall and say, "If you don't like it, look the other way."

But I was also confident that I would get three votes going in, Justices Stevens, Souter and Ginsburg. They consistently took the strict separation approach. So I felt that the case was going to turn on Justices O'Connor and Breyer, who took that middle endorsement approach. I confess to you that it was really going to depend on Justice Sandra Day O'Connor.

My brief was a shameless attempt to pander to Justice O'Connor. If I could have, I would have put her picture on the front of my brief. Sadly, I got Justice O'Connor's vote but lost Justice Breyer's vote. Breyer said that this monument was not an endorsement of religion. It's hard to imagine how a 6-foot-high, 3-foot-wide Ten Commandments monument exactly at the corner of the Texas State Capitol and Supreme Court was not an endorsement of religion, but once more you see the importance of these theories.

The second thing that I wanted to say is what everyone in this room believes. It is what FFRF is all about: That there should be separation of church and state. The reasons have been articulated from the very first days of American history. When the government becomes aligned with religion, inevitably people feel coerced to participate.

When John Ashcroft was attorney general, there were reports that he was regularly holding prayer sessions in his office. The Justice Department was quick to say that nobody was required to participate, but of course any lawyer who wanted to advance knew it was better to be there.

Greece v. Galloway

I'll talk about the Supreme Court and Town of Greece v. Galloway that held that town board prayers did not violate the Establishment Clause. The average attendance at board meetings was between five and 10 people. Those who came were often people who wanted zoning variances or conditional use permits. How likely was it that they would not want to participate in the prayers when they had to go before the board to ask for something that is really important to their lives and their businesses?

James Madison also expressed why the separation of church and state is so important. He said, and this is his word, that it is immoral to tax some to support the religion of others. That is why the government should not be using tax dollars to support religion. And of course that is what FFRF has been arguing about and litigating about since its inception.

I also believe that while Justice O'Connor very well articulated the underlying rationale of separation of church and state, she didn't always vote that way. She said, "No one should be made to feel like an outsider or an insider relative to his or her own government on the basis of religion." This is what Justice Kagan so eloquently said in her dissent in Town of Greece: "We are an incredibly diverse society. There are people with religious beliefs, and those who don't believe in religion."

When the town begins every meeting for almost 10 years with a prayer by a Christian clergy member, those of different religions inevitably are made to feel like outsiders relative to their own government. Justice O'Connor, in an opinion in a case that I argued, said, "When we look at the history of the world, we can see so well how combining separation of church and state is disastrous." Don't we want to learn from that? Why would we want to repeat that mistake in this country?

The current court

That leaves the third part of my remarks, the current Supreme Court. As I mentioned, when I argued Van Orden v. Perry in 2005, there were four justices who believed in the accommodationist approach to the Establishment Clause: Rehnquist, Scalia, Kennedy and Thomas. Today, as you know, there are five justices who believe in that approach: Roberts, Scalia, Kennedy, Thomas and Alito. In every case to come before the Roberts court, now with its nine-year history, the court has ruled against the separation of church and state.

There is the [California] case of Salazar v. Bono. It involves a cross in a federal park in the Mojave Desert. A challenge is brought arguing that this violates the separation of church and state. The federal district court declared it unconstitutional. The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals declared it unconstitutional. The 9th Circuit pointed out that the cross is a quintessential religious symbol, and only of Christian faiths.

Congress then passed a law that gave ownership of the small parcel of land where the cross is located to a Veterans of Foreign Wars group. The district court said the transfer is a sham. The 9th Circuit said it's a sham. Anybody going through the park would still see the cross, and still see it as a symbolic endorsement of religion.

It came before the Supreme Court, and there is a very telling exchange at the oral argument between Justice Scalia and Peter Eliasberg, the ACLU attorney. Justice Scalia said, "Isn't the cross a universal symbol of the war dead? To which Eliasberg said, "I've been to a lot of Jewish cemeteries and I have never seen a cross on a headstone."

But the court by 5-4 reversed the 9th Circuit and sent the case back, indicating that the federal government giving up ownership of the parcel of land was good enough. Scalia and Thomas wrote a second opinion that is truly chilling. They said they don't believe that anyone ever would have standing to sue to challenge a religious symbol on government property. They said no one is hurt by a religious symbol on government property.

That means it doesn't matter where the government puts a religious symbol, it doesn't matter what the religious symbol would be, they would never allow anyone to sue to challenge it. Four justices dissented.

Other cases

The second related case with the Roberts court was Arizona School Tuition Organization v. Winn, involving the law that gives individuals a tax credit for contributing to a school tuition organization. The 9th Circuit declared this unconstitutional and pointed out that virtually every dollar given was to benefit evangelical Christian and Catholic schools, the effect of which was to advance religion. The Supreme Court reversed 5-4.

The plurality opinion said there was standing to challenge government expenditure that aids religion but not standing to challenge tax credits. Justice Kagan ridiculed this in her dissent: "Does that then mean that the government can give tax credits just for people who buy religious symbols or religious books? Surely that can't be right."

The first of the Roberts court's decisions about religion was Hein v. Freedom From Religion Foundation (2007), which said that taxpayers lack standing to challenge the Bush administration's funding of faith-based programs.

The most recent case from the Roberts court with regard to the Establishment Clause was just this past spring. I've already spoken of Town of Greece v. Galloway. Greece has about 100,000 people and is outside of Rochester, N.Y. In 1999, it adopted the practice of every month inviting a Christian clergy member to deliver a prayer before town board meetings. From 1999 to 2007, only Christian clergy members were invited to deliver the prayer.

The 2nd Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals ruled that violated the Establishment Clause. It should have been a really easy case under the Establishment Clause. Under any of the theories I mentioned to you, this should be unconstitutional. The town was coercing religious participation. The town was aligning itself with Christianity. But the Supreme Court by 5-4 reversed and held that this was constitutional.

I do not think we can excuse the Obama administration here. In Arizona School Tuition Organization v. Winn, the Obama administration filed a brief in support of the tax credits. In Town of Greece, the Obama administration filed a brief saying prayers should be allowed. It is inexcusable that the Obama administration filed the same kind of brief we have seen from the Bush administration or from the Reagan administration.

Justice Kennedy wrote an opinion with Justice Roberts and Justice Alito saying there is a long history of legislative prayer in our country. It does not matter if it is sectarian or nonsectarian. He said it is permissible unless, and I am not sure what this means, there is a pattern of prayer over time that proselytizes or denigrates religion.

Didn't the town have a pattern of prayer over time that proselytized? Justice Thomas wrote a concurring opinion in which he said that state and local governments never can violate the Establishment Clause. He said that he believes the Establishment Clause was just meant to limit what the federal government can do. He is the only justice since 1948 who takes the position that the Establishment Clause does not limit what a state or local government can do. This also is chilling. If a state wanted to declare an official religion and compel participation, it would not violate the Constitution for Clarence Thomas.

Then in an opinion joined by Justice Scalia, Thomas said that the government violates the Establishment Clause only if it coerces religious participation. For them, nothing else would ever violate the Establishment Clause. Justice Kagan wrote an eloquent dissent.

All of these four cases, all decided 5-4, have rejected the separation of church and state. There are five justices on the current court who take the accommodationist approach.

What's ahead?

Let me conclude by talking about what this is likely to mean for the future. I think this is a court that will allow much more religious involvement in government proceedings. We see that already with Town of Greece v. Galloway. The day the decision came down, I got a call from an attorney who represents school boards all over the country. He said as soon as the decision was announced, he got calls from clients asking if they could recite Christian prayers at their school board meetings.

I think we are going to see prayers at school board meetings, park commission meetings, police commission meetings, utility commission meetings and city council meetings in so many parts of the country. And isn't that the very essence of an impermissible establishment of religion?

In light of five justices who take this position, it is why I say that all of our activism is more important than ever. We are going to have to fight this out at the political level. We are going to have to increasingly litigate in state court under state constitutions. We are going to have to fight hard to make sure that the next justices on the Supreme Court believe in separation of church and state.

It is why my theme for the afternoon is, now more than ever, we need the Freedom From Religion Foundation. Thank you and thank you for this wonderful award.
Purchase The Case Against the Supreme Court at ffrf.org/shop.

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