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Freethought Today · Vol. 28 No. 4 May 2011

Published by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc.

In the News May 2011

Arkansas school staff pushed religion

A teacher in Van Buren, Ark., who prayed over her class before tests, handed out pocket bible verses and posted bible verses in the classroom, was ordered to stop those practices.

Two parents complained to the district about Central Middle School teacher Jan Redden praying “for the Devil to be bound up and not to enter their brains” before the annual Benchmark exams, reported the Fort Smith Times Record on April 29. “I no more want her leading my child in prayer than I would want someone from a different faith leading a meditation,” said one parent, adding that she’s a Christian.

Earlier in the school year, Van Buren High School Principal Becky Guthrie sent a letter to 20 staff members, whom she supervises, asking them to be prayer warriors with her. At least one staff member objected.

Both cases were handled as personnel matters, said Superintendent Merle Dickerson.

State court to hear Ohio teacher’s appeal

The appeal of an Ohio science teacher fired in January for classroom proselytizing and burning students’ arms with the image of a cross has been moved back into state court.

The Mount Vernon School Board wanted the case heard in federal court because John Freshwater’s appeal alleges his constitutional right to express a religious opinion was violated. But U.S. District Judge Gregory Frost said the issue could be decided in a Knox County court.

Atheist running for House from N.C.

Atheist Cecil Bothwell, a city councilman in Asheville, N.C., is running as an independent for Congress against incumbent Democratic Rep. Heath Shuler.
Bothwell made headlines in 2009 when he was elected and opponents seized on a provision in the state Constitution that bars atheists from holding office. However, the U.S. Constitution’s “no religious test” provision prevailed.

God not FFRF’s Milwaukee copilot

The Foundation sent a letter April 18 to Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele and the Board of Supervisors on behalf of Wisconsin FFRF members, objecting to a proposal for a chapel inside the county-owned General Mitchell International Airport. An Action Alert also went to Milwaukee-area members.

Despite our efforts, the board and Abele have approved the plan to lease 900 square feet of space in the airport for $1 a year for what the county is calling a “meditation room.” The lessee is Interfaith Airport Chapel of Milwaukee Inc.

FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor noted the Catholic predominance of the group. As the county’s press release said, the chapel is largely seen as a replacement for St. Stephen Catholic Church, which was torn down at its location near the airport and rebuilt in Oak Creek. The room will seating and an area for prayer rugs,

“Contrary to the claims of its sponsors, the chapel would not be open to persons of all belief and nonbelief,” Gaylor said in her letter. “I am additionally concerned about the prospect that worship services would be held in the space.”

Supervisor Peggy West brushed aside concerns. “This is a wonderful addition to the airport. Those who don’t [agree], well, God bless you.”

Stem cell case back to district court

Religious forces opposing government financing of human embryonic stem cell research lost a round April 20 in federal appeals court. Abortion foes liken the research to murder.

Samuel Casey, a lawyer for two scientists who sued to stop federal funding of the research, said he was disappointed but also pleased that the appeals court kept the suit alive and that he was considering an appeal.

The ruling sends the case back to Chief Judge Royce Lamberth of the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., who ruled in August that the Obama administration was so unlikely to win the case that he issued an immediate ban on federal spending.

The government appealed, and the appeals court stopped the ban from going into effect while it heard arguments. The April 20 ruling ends the first phase of litigation. Casey said that Judge Karen LeCraft Henderson’s dissent might lead him to ask the full Court of Appeals to consider the case.

Alabama college adds evolutionary studies

The University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa has added a minor in evolutionary studies, the Tuscaloosa News reported April 9.

“We get kids that come to this program because they’ve heard of this ‘theory’ but they never heard anything about evolution in high school,” said Christopher Lynn, assistant professor of anthropology. “They see that the rest of the world seems to think evolution is a valuable theory, but it’s been kept from these students.”

The program is one of only 42 evolutionary studies programs worldwide under the Evolutionary Studies Consortium.

A 2009 study by the National Center for Science Education gave Alabama a grade of F for its treatment of evolution in science education standards and ranked it 50th nationally for its coverage of various aspects of evolution.

“Students in Alabama should be proud of the education they receive, and when the education you’re receiving in science is 50th in the country, that’s an embarrassment and it needs to change,” said associate biology professor Leslie Rissler.

The 18-credit minor is housed in the department of anthropology and includes courses in biology, anthropology, geology, psychology, philosophy and history.

Secularism major is first in nation

The first college department of secular studies in the U.S. will start offering a secularism major this fall at Pitzer College in Claremont, Calif. Professors from other departments, including history, philosophy, religion, science and sociology, will teach courses like “God, Darwin and Design in America,” “Anxiety in the Age of Reason” and “Bible as Literature.”

The department was proposed by Phil Zuckerman, a sociologist of religion, who describes himself as “culturally Jewish, but agnostic-atheist on questions of deep mystery,” according to a May 8 New York Times story. Zuckerman, a great friend and member of FFRF, spoke at its 2009 convention in Seattle.

“It’s not about arguing ‘Is there a God or not?’ ” Zuckerman said. “There are hundreds of millions of people who are nonreligious. I want to know who they are, what they believe, why they are nonreligious.”

Pitzer faculty members on the College Council voted unanimously April 28 to approve the secular studies major, subject to review in four years.

U.S. DOJ intervenes in bible-only case

The U.S. Department of Justice has intervened in a 2010 lawsuit against the Berkeley County [S.C.] Detention Center’a for barring prisoners from getting reading materials other than the bible. The ACLU sued the jail on behalf of Prison Legal News, a Vermont monthly.

Prison Legal News editor Paul Wright claimed 1st Sgt. K. Habersham sent him an e-mail stating that detainees are allowed to order from a publisher and receive by mail a soft-cover bible, but no other books, magazines or newspapers are allowed. Among the books rejected was Protecting Your Health & Safety, which explains inmates’ legal rights.

High court upholds children’s removal

The Arkansas Supreme Court ruled April 28 that the seizure of 16 children from seven followers of evangelist Tony Alamo was legal and based on concerns about the children’s safety.

The state Department of Human Services took the children in 2008 and insisted that parents had to break their financial dependence on Alamo to get them back. The parents refused. Alamo was convicted on multiple sexual abuse charges in 2009 for “marrying” underage girls.

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