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Freethought Today · Vol. 27 No. 2 March 2010

Published by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc.

In the News: March 2010


‘None’ Second in Religious Survey

Imagining no religion? So were 21.9% of first-time, full-time, first-year students at about 300 four-year U.S. colleges in 2009, according to a survey by UCLA’s Higher Education Research Institute.

The Jan. 29 Chronicle of Higher Education published results from the survey of about 220,000 students. Roman Catholic was the top “religious preference” at 26.9%, followed by “None” at 21.9%. “Other Christian” was third at 12.7%, with Baptist next at 10.9%.

The survey also compared freshmen attitudes in 2004 with 2009. “Same-sex couples should have the right to legal marital status”: 56.7% (2004), 64.9% (2009). “Abortion should be legal”: 53.9% (2004), 58% (2009). “Marijuana should be legalized”: 37.2% (2004), 45.6% (2009).

Faith-Healing Couple Guilty of Homicide

A jury in Oregon City, Ore., found Jeff and Marci Beagley guilty Feb. 3 of criminally negligent homicide in the death of their son Neil, 16, in 2008. The Beagleys belong to Followers of Christ Church, which substitutes prayer as a healing agent for modern medicine.

Neil died of complications from a congenital urinary tract blockage that doctors testified could have been treated up until the day he died.

The Beagleys’ 15-month-old granddaughter, Ava Worthington, died in March 2008 of pneumonia and a blood infection that also could have been treated. Her parents anointed her with oil, prayed and laid on hands but didn’t take her to a doctor. Raylene and Brent Worthington were acquitted of manslaughter, but Brent Worthington was convicted of criminal mistreatment and served two months in jail.

The Beagleys face 16 to 18 months in prison under state sentencing guidelines. Defense lawyers plan to ask for probation.

New Study Unlinks Religion, Morality  

People with no religious background know right from wrong just as well as believers, according to a study published in February in the journal Trends in Cognitive Sciences. 

The study, by Marc Hauser of Harvard University and Ilkka Pyysiäinen of the University of Hel­sinki, is titled “The origins of religion: evolved adaptation or by-product?” The researchers looked at several psychological studies designed to test an individual’s morality and the link between morality and religion.

“The research suggests that intuitive judgments of right and wrong seem to operate independently of explicit religious commitments,” Hauser told the UK Telegraph. “It seems that in many cultures, religious concepts and beliefs have become the standard way of conceptualizing moral intuitions.

“Although, as we discuss in our paper, this link is not a necessary one, many people have become so accustomed to using it, that criticism targeted at religion is experienced as a fundamental threat to our moral existence.”

In a post on EChurch Christian Blog, which criticized the study, Hauser wrote: “For those who find hope in their religious faith, I have nothing negative or positive to say. That is a choice. But for those who argue that our moral sense comes from religion, I reject this view entirely.”

Judge: Christian Invocations ‘Divisive’ 

A North Carolina court struck down Forsyth County’s policy of opening board meetings with sectarian prayers.

U.S. District Judge James Beaty ruled Jan. 28 that the Board of Commissioners’ preference for “divisive” Christian prayers was unconstitutional:

“In making this determination, the court concludes that the invocation policy, as implemented, has resulted in government-sponsored prayers that advance a specific faith or belief and have the effect of affiliating the government with that particular faith or belief.”

Mayor’s Christian Claim Lambasted

Mayor R. Rex Parris of Lancaster, Calif., drew fire for his January comment that the city is “growing a Christian community.”

Parris is also promoting a ballot measure that supports prayers that invoke Jesus’ name at public meetings. “I need them standing up and saying we’re a Christian community, and we’re proud of that,” he said.

In a letter to Parris, Foundation Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor criticized the remarks. “As mayor, you took an oath of office to uphold the secular U.S. Constitution. A U.S. city may not adopt a religion. Individuals are free to adopt or reject religion, but a public official may not use public office to promote his or her religious views, much less claim his goal is to ‘grow a Christian community.’ ”

Hussam Ayloush of the Los Angeles office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations said “elected officials should not use public positions to impose their religious beliefs on others.”

The Council on American-Islamic Relations sent a civil rights complaint on the mayor’s remarks to the U.S. Department of Justice. After initially saying several times he wouldn’t apologize, Parris did at a press conference Feb. 8: “I sincerely apologize to anyone who felt excluded. Our communities are robust and vibrant when we do everything we can to facilitate all churches and all faiths and ensure they have a vibrant role in the community.”

As for freethinkers, atheists and agnostics, maybe their role won’t be so vibrant?

Antievolution Bill Dies Natural Death

A bill in the Mississippi House, which would have required “equal instruction from educational materials that present arguments from both protagonists and antagonists of the theory of evolution” to be presented in the state’s schools, died in committee Feb. 2.

In 2009, the bill’s sponsor, Republican Rep. Gary Chism, also introduced a bill requiring biology textbooks to include a hybrid of two previous versions of the Alabama evolution textbook disclaimer. That bill also died in committee, according to the National Center for Science Education.

End Runs Around School Bible Ban

“Repeat after me: The bible is not religion — it’s history.”

Christians are increasingly taking a historical tack in several areas of the U.S. to get their god back inside public schools. In Kentucky, three  Demo­crat­ic state senators are pushing a bill to let schools teach the bible as a social studies elective.

The class would “teach students knowledge of biblical content, characters, poetry and narratives that are prerequisites to understanding contemporary society and culture,” Sen. David Boswell, a Catholic, told the Lexington Herald-Leader. 

Critics have objected to the class as an attempt to teach the bible as truth.

A Texas law passed in 2007 required high schools to teach bible literacy starting last fall.

At a February board meeting of the Lewis­ville (Texas) School District, resident Steve Smith lobbied officials to get the bible on board.

The Lewisville Leader reported that Smith said a group of supporters would pay for a class to get it off the ground. Schools that have bible study in place have diverse class enrollment, Smith claimed: “They have atheists, they have agnostics, they have Christians in that class. They have a variety, and these kids are very excited. This is not a course on theology. It’s a course on history and culture.”

Roeder Murder Jury Brings Quick Guilty

A Kansas jury deliberated for all of 37 minutes Jan. 29 before finding Scott Roeder, 51, guilty of first-degree murder and aggravated assault in the death of Dr. George Tiller.

Tiller, 67, was one of four doctors in the U.S. who provided late-term abortion services to women whose pregnancies threatened their health. Roeder admitted on the stand that he shot Tiller in May 2009 as Tiller worked as an usher at his Lutheran church in Wichita. Roeder drove away in a car decorated with a red rose — an antiabortion symbol — and a Jesus fish.

After he was arrested, Lindsey Roeder, his ex-wife, said he “wanted a scapegoat. First it was taxes — he stopped paying. Then he turned to the church and got involved in antiabortion.”

Roeder testified that one day in 1992 he was watching Rev. Pat Robertson’s “700 Club” on TV and fell to his knees at the end of the show, as Robertson asked viewers to “commit your life to Christ.” From then on, Roeder explained, his Christian views went “hand in hand” with his opposition to abortion. Roeder said after the verdict he still had no regrets. Sentencing was set for March 9.

Shelley Shannon, the woman who shot and wounded Tiller in 1993, sent an e-mail after the verdict from a Minnesota prison warning that abortion providers will “continue to be stopped.” 

Shannon, serving time for a series of clinic arsons, said, “May God bless Scott for his faithfulness and brave actions and stand.”

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