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Freethought Today · January/February 2014

Published by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc.

State/Church Bulletin

Chambers sponsors bill to tax Neb. churches

Nebraska state Sen. Ernie Chambers, an atheist, introduced a bill Jan. 8 to eliminate property tax exemptions for religious organizations. Bill LB675 attempts to “gain more revenue, rather than less, by taking away churches’ property tax exemptions,” according to Chambers’ Statement of Intent.

“If taxes were paid on the many churches and cathedrals and temples in every city in this State, perhaps the State’s assistance to local governments and schools would be diminished considerably, leaving more in State coffers for other purposes,” said Chambers, 76, of Omaha.

Chambers’ name is on the 1983 landmark Supreme Court case Marsh v. Chambers. He sued in 1980 to end the Legislature’s practice of opening with a prayer offered by a state-supported chaplain. The district court held that the prayer did not violate the Constitution but that state support for the chaplain did. The 8th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals held that both practices violated the Constitution, but the Supreme Court upheld the practice on a 6-3 vote.

In 2007, Chambers famously filed a lawsuit against God for causing “widespread death, destruction and terrorization of millions upon millions of the Earth’s inhabitants.”

A state district court judge dismissed Chambers v. God in 2008, saying the defendant wasn’t properly served due to his unlisted home address. “Given that this court finds that there can never be service effectuated on the named defendant, this action will be dismissed with prejudice,” wrote Judge Marlon Polk.

Chambers’ reaction: “Since God knows everything, God has notice of this lawsuit.” He received a Hero of the First Amendment Award from FFRF in 2005.


Secularism makes
gains in Tunisia

Tunisia’s National Constituent Assembly approved a new constitution Jan. 26 by a vote of 200 to 4, with 12 abstentions. The governing Islamist Ennahdha Party made some concessions, most importantly the removal of references to Islamic law, the BBC reported.

However, it also designates Islam as the state religion, while guaranteeing freedom of worship. It also forbids “attacks on the sacred,” the meaning of which is unclear.

The constitution also recognizes equality between men and women for the first time. In 2011, a revolution overthrew autocratic President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and the first free elections were held. The population is 10.7 million, of which 98% are Muslim.


Chicago archdiocese releases documents

The Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago released 6,000 pages of documents to attorneys that sex abuse victims hope will reveal what the church knew and did or didn’t do about decades of allegations against clergy, The Associated Press reported Jan. 16.

The documents include complaints, personnel records and other files for 30 priests with substantiated abuse allegations against them. Archdiocese attorney John O’Malley warned that the documents will be upsetting. “The information is painful; it’s difficult to read, even without the benefit of hindsight.”

The archdiocese has already paid about $100 million to settle claims, including numerous ones against Fr. Daniel McCormack, who was sentenced to five years in prison after pleading guilty in 2007 to abusing five children while he was a parish priest and teacher at a Catholic school.

Many of the accused priests are dead. The documents will include only 30 of 65 priests against whom credible allegations were made. That’s because settlements that required the disclosures involved only 30.


Year of the Bible
 in Texas city

Mayor Tom Hayden of Flower Mound, Texas, a Dallas suburb of about 65,000 people, has proclaimed 2014 the Year of the Bible.

“I was nervous about doing this,” Hayden told KDFW on Jan. 1. “And I’ve been thinking about it for two years, and procrastinated about if for as long as I possibly could.”

The proclamation draws heavily on President Rondald Reagan’s almost identical proclamation in 1983. It also sets up a website:

“The way it’s set up is that people would have the same scripture each day,” said Jon Bell of Calvary Chapel. “That they would go over and so that at the end of the year, they’d have gone through the whole Bible in a year.”

Hayden said the proclamation was not an official town action, which didn’t assuage resident Curt Orton. “He was elected mayor, not the spiritual leader of Flower Mound.”


Botched circumcision brings lawsuit

Pittsburgh Rabbi Mordechai Rosenberg is being sued for allegedly severing a newborn’s penis during a ritual circumcision about eight months ago at Tree of Life Synagogue in Squirrel Hill.

According to the suit, the baby was rushed to Children’s Hospital, where doctors performed microsurgery. Sources told KDKA the surgery took nearly eight hours and that the boy was hospitalized for about two months.

On his website, Rosenberg says that “a doctor’s medical circumcision, usually performed in the hospital, is not considered valid according to Jewish law.”


Harvard humanist chaplain dies at 84

Tom Ferrick, 84, Harvard University’s first humanist chaplain, died Dec. 30 of complications from Alzheimer’s disease in Cambridge, Mass. He is survived by a sister.

Ferrick attended the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester and then the seminary befored being ordained a Catholic priest. After leaving the priesthood, he became Harvard’s humanist chaplain in 1974. “The notion that we all stand in need of redemption is anti-humanist,” he told the Boston Globe in 1990. “The fact that ordinary human beings are capable of love, compassion and sacrifice, independent of theology, is proof that we can indeed be good without God.”

Two years later, he told the Harvard Crimson that “humanism is not science, nor mysticism, but is a faith in human experience.”


Pew study: How
public views evolution

The Pew Research Center released a new poll Dec. 30 titled “Public’s View on Human Evolution.” The U.S. adults surveyed were asked whether, in their view, humans and other living things have evolved over time, or instead have existed in their present form since the beginning of time, reported Religion Clause.

Overall, 60% said that living things have evolved, while 33% said they have always existed in their present form. About 64% of White Evangelical Protestants and 15% of White Mainline Protestants believe that evolution did not occur. Also, 48% of Republicans, 27% of Democrats and 28% of Independents believe that living things have always existed in their present form.

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