Theocrats Resign Amid Scandals

Theocrats Resign Amid Scandals

White House aide Tim Goeglein, who had served since 2001 as Pres. Bush’s liaison to religious conservatives, resigned on Feb. 29 after admitting he plagiarized writings.

Goeglein worked on the faith-based initiatives, and was credited by the White House for helping to confirm Justices Alito and Roberts, and getting out the 2004 evangelical vote.

A former columnist for The News-Sentinel in Fort Wayne, Ind., uncovered the plagiarism in guest columns by Goeglein for that newspaper. At least half of his 38 columns were plagiarized.

Daniel L. Cooper, undersecretary for the Veterans Affairs Department, announced his resignation on Feb. 28. The Government Accountability Office found that between 2003-2007, the inventory of claims awaiting action by the VA increased by more than 50% under Cooper’s watch, for a total of about 392,000. Processing time for claims went from three weeks to 132 days.

Cooper was among high-ranking officials who appeared in a fundraising video for the evangelical Christian Embassy filmed at the Pentagon. In the film, the retired Navy vice admiral said, It’s not really about carving out time, it really is a matter of saying what is important. And since that’s [proselytizing’s] more important than doing the job–the job’s going to be there, whether I’m there or not.”

Delaware Schools Settle Suit

A school district in Georgetown, Del., agreed to stop Christian prayer at school events, as part of a settlement in late February with two Jewish families, one of whom was forced to leave town due to an anti-Semitic backlash.

Mona Dobrich, 41, told The New York Times she sat through Christian prayers for years at school potluck dinners, award dinners and parent-teacher groups. At her daughter Samantha’s 2004 high school graduation, a minister “proclaimed Jesus as the only truth,” prompting Dobrich to ask the Indian River School Board to reform its policies. “Anger spilled onto talk radio, in letters to the editor and at school board meetings attended by hundreds of people carrying signs praising Jesus,” The Times reported.

Her son, Alex, then 11, told her, “I feel bad when kids in my class call me ‘Jew boy.’ ” The settlement will pay off the family’s moving debts.

Although admitting no wrong, the school board signed an agreement to amend its religion policy within 30 days.

White House Faith Report

The White House on Feb. 25 released a 175-page report, “The Quiet Revolution,” about Pres. Bush’s 7-year-old faith-based initiative. It details that in 2006, the federal government funded 18,000 faith-based (and community) organizations to provide social services.

Bush issued five successive orders, rewrote 16 federal rules to help faith-based groups provide government services, provided training and assistance to 100,000 such groups, and encouraged similar efforts in 35 states and in more than 100 cities. There are faith-based centers in 11 federal agencies (and one independent federal office) and more than 50 government employees.

The Bush Administration issued vouchers allowing beneficiaries to go to groups with overt religious programming for substance treatment abuse, etc.

The report repeated the faith-based initiative’s paradoxical premise: that faith-based groups can maintain their religious identify and engage in religious activites–as long as such activities are not “directly supported” by tax dollars.

Taslima Nasrin Exiled Again

Bangladeshi writer Taslima Nasrin left India for an unknown location in mid-March, after enforced hiding following Muslim protests. Nasrin was driven from her home in Calcutta last November following violent riots, in which at least 43 people were hurt, led by Muslim groups accusing her of insulting Islam.

Nasrin’s health had declined during her confinement in New Delhi. A death fatwa was first pronounced against her in 1993, when her novel, Shame, appeared. A new novel, Split in Two, has also been accused of “causing offense to Islam.”

Iowa Closes God Pod

A bible-based treatment program, run by Chuck Colson’s Prison Fellowship Ministries at Newton Prison in Iowa, was ended in mid-March by the Iowa Department of Corrections.

The 8th U.S. Court of Appeals in St. Louis had upheld a district court ruling finding the 8-year-old InnerChange Freedom Initiative unconstitutional.i

Missouri House OKs Prayer Amendment

The Missouri House gave a preliminary nod in late February to a constitutional amendment promoting the right to pray in any public setting, including public schools. Lawmakers voted at one point to insert a citizen’s right to acknowledge “the inerrancy of the bible,” but later deleted that reference.

The proposed amendment is sponsored by Rep. Mike McGhee, R-Odessa, who said it would uphold the right of children to carry bibles on school buses. Under questioning, McGhee admitted he could not cite a case where bible-toting students had been forbidden to ride buses.

The 300-word amendment has been called a ruse to get religious conservatives to the polls in November.

Colorado Cans Faith-Hiring Bill

A Colorado bill to stop faith-based groups that receive government funds from hiring discrimination, died in February, after religious leaders protested. However, Gov. Bob Ritter plans a summer summit so supporters and detractors can agree on common language.

Among the opponents is Denver Rescue Mission, whose slogan is “changing lives in the name of Christ.” Five percent of its budget is derived from government, but all 155 employees sign a declaration of Christian faith.

Naval Chapel Flag Ritual Revived

A flag is being dipped once more during the 11 a.m. Sunday service, as part of a religious ritual at the altar cross, in the Naval Academy Chapel, Annapolis, Md.

The Academy’s superintendent, Vice Adm. Jeffrey L. Fowler, halted the flag-dipping, a 40-year tradition, last fall. The U.S. Flag Code states the flag “should not be dipped for any person or thing.”

Following an outcry by evangelical Christians, the flags are being dipped again, according to a March story in The New York Times.

Child’s Death Tests Faith Law

Ava Worthington, 15 months old, died at home in Oregon City, Ore., on March 2 of untreated bacterial bronchial pneumonia and infection. A medical examiner said both conditions could have been prevented or treated with antibiotics. Her breathing was further compromised by a treatable benign cyst on her neck that had been untreated.

Prosecutors are considering charging her parents, who are Followers of Christ, under a 1999 law making it a criminal offense to fail to seek medical treatment for a gravely ill child. The Oregonian reports that at least 21 children of Followers of Christ parents could have been saved by medical intervention since the 1950s.

The 1999 law removed “spiritual healing defenses.”

Abstinence Out of AIDS Bill

Legislators and the White House reached a preliminary agreement in early March to delete sexual abstinence-only requirements from the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief.

It will increase U.S. funding to fight HIV/AIDS internationally over the next five years, but no longer require that one-third of prevention funding go to (religious) programs promoting sexual abstinence-only until marriage.

Graduation Lawsuit Settled

After U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks ruled that holding student votes on whether to pray during commencements is unconstitutional, the Round Rock Independent School District, Texas, agreed in March not to hold or conduct such elections.

It also agreed not to include prayer and religion during graduation ceremonies. The case was brought by Americans United on behalf of plaintiffs.

Freedom From Religion Foundation