Freethought Today · Vol. 21 No. 6 August 2004

Published by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc.

State/Church Bulletin

Towey Pushes Culture War?

Jim Towey, director of the White House Office of Faith-based and Community Initiatives, told two thousand religious leaders on June 1, in a Los Angeles promotion of Pres. Bush's faith-based initiative, that there is a culture war."

Towey said: "It's true that much attention is being placed on the war in Iraq, but there's also another war that's going on. It's a culture war that really gets to the heart of the questions about what is the role of faith in the public square." Towey, a Catholic who was an attorney for Mother Teresa, warned that if faith is driven from the public square, "you almost wind up creating a godless orthodoxy."

Bush delivered what the Los Angeles Times termed an "emotional 40-minute address" to the conference, saying: "I told . . . the people in my government, rather than fear faith programs, welcome them. They're changing America. They do a better job than government can do."

The New York Times coverage reported that parts of Bush's speech "sounded like a revival meeting."

"How do we gather up the strength of the country, the vibrancy of faith-based programs, the social entrepreneurs? How do we encourage them? And one way to do so is to hold conferences like these that frankly give me a chance and a platform to speak to the country and say, as clearly as I can, we welcome the army of compassion, we understand the power of faith in America, and the federal government will assist, not discriminate against you."

Sidney Schempp In Memoriam

First Amendment victor Sidney Schempp, 91, who was a plaintiff with her husband Ed, now deceased, and their children in the landmark 1963 decision abolishing mandatory bible reading in public schools, died in Haywood, Calif. on July 5.

Her two sons, Ellery and Roger, and daughter, Donna Schempp, were by her side.

Spain's Archbishop Attacks Government

Spain's Cardinal Antonio Maria Rouco in July denounced the new socialist government after it canceled the reintroduction of compulsory religious classes.

The conservative, pro-Catholic People's party of former prime minister Jose Maria Aznar was defeated in March.

The cardinal also denounced plans to legalize gay marriage early next year and recognize common-law marriage. Only 18% of Spaniards declare themselves practicing Roman Catholics.

Council Walks Out on Atheist

Half of the six members of the Tampa City Council walked out before Michael Harvey, of Atheists of Florida, gave the guest invocation on July 29. Council member Kevin White, prior to Harvey's invocation, tried but failed to get the required unanimous vote to stop him from opening the session.

Harvey told the council he was committed to the separation of church and state and asked the council to seek inspiration from science and logic.

Clergy routinely deliver a "nondenominational prayer" to open sessions. The St. Petersburg Press reports that since January, invocations have included the word "Jesus" at least four times. Harvey was sponsored by council member John Dingfelder, who said: "Everybody deserves their opportunity, as long as it's respectful."

Dingfelder took disrespectful flak for the move, saying one constituent equated the secular invitation with "inviting a rapist or thief to my home for dinner."

Religious Driving Test?

The president "for life" of Turkmenistan, Saparmurat Niyazov, announced this summer that future drivers must study his "sacred" writings before getting a license. The Rukhnama (Spiritual World) was written by the president as a moral guide of the Central Asian desert nation of 6 million.

"A 16-hour course of the sacred Rukhnama is one of the most important innovations in the (student driving) program . . . to ensure future drivers are educated in the spirit of high moral values of Turkmenistan's society."

Onward, Christian Soldiers

The US Army, which had informed a religious group in May it would no longer help it distribute Christian medallions, reversed itself in July.

Since 1995, Fallen Friend has distributed close to 2,000 medallions bearing the New Testament inscription, "John 15:13," to families of soldiers killed in the line of duty. The verse reads: "Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends."

Lt. Col. Kevin Logan emailed the organization an apology in July. In the cozy arrangement, military branches give Fallen Friends the names of dead. Fallen Friends inscribes the names on the medallions, and the military distributes them to survivors.

IRS Steps in Political Fray

The Internal Revenue Service, in an unprecedented move, contacted the major political parties in June, warning them to cool it in soliciting church votes or money.

The June 10 warning came after the New York Times exposed the fact that the Bush-Cheney campaign had contacted 1,600 "friendly congregations" in Pennsylvania, as part of a national strategy. The Bush-Cheney campaign assigned 22 "duties" to church volunteers in its memo. The first was to "Send your church directory to your State Bush-Cheney 04 Headquarters." The second was to host a "coffee/potluck party for the president" by July 15.

Churches which "repeatedly" give church lists to only one campaign "free of charge" could lose tax exemption, IRS officials told Religion News Service. Churches or individuals who give away lists valued at more than $1,000 could be required to register with the Federal Election Commission.

Church directories would have to be purchased at "fair market value" and made available to all candidates, with the church specifically contacting all candidates to offer the lists. If an individual church member turned in a church directory to a political party and church officials discovered this fact but did nothing about it, they could be subject to fines. If it happened repeatedly, they could lose their tax exemption.

Church & Political Entanglements Increase

Among recent theopolitical developments:

Some Roman Catholic bishops are calling for denial of communion to politicians, such as presidential candidate John Kerry, who are Catholic, but are pro-choice and pro-gay rights. Bishops in three southeastern dioceses announced on Aug. 4 they would deny communion to lawmakers who consistently support abortion rights unless the politicians publicly recant. Archbishop John Donaghue of Atlanta, Bishop Robert Baker of Charleston, S.C., and Bishop Peter Jugis, of Charlotte, N.C. join Archbishop Raymond Burke of St. Louis in this stance. About a dozen other bishops have told pro-choice politicians to "voluntarily abstain" from communion. The Southern Baptist Convention is launching an "I Vote Values" national voter registration drive. Rev. Jerry Falwell outright endorsed Bush in July. During a July 13 appearance on National Public Radio, Falwell also told a liberal minister, Sojourner founder Jim Wallis, that he was "about as evangelical as an oak tree" because he is not voting for Bush. Bush, in a personal meeting with the Pope, had appealed to him to pressure American bishops to lobby more vociferously against gay marriage. In May, the Catholic Church in Colorado launched its first voter registration drive, calling for parish coordinators to inform Catholics about the church's teachings. Rev. Ronnie Floyd, pastor of one of Arkansas' largest Protestant congregations, has been accused of politicking for Pres. Bush in a July 4 sermon. Floyd showed pictures of Bush and Kerry on a screen while delivering a recorded message to "vote God" in November, with an unnamed reference to Bush's support of "God-ordained marriage."

Bush Courts Knights of Columbus

President Bush, according to the New York Times (Aug. 3) "appealed to a roomful of Roman Catholic voters" in a speech before the Knights of Columbus and "an array of the church's most powerful cardinals."

He received a standing ovation from the 2,500 Catholics for his statements against gay marriage and abortion, and promised that religious groups would receive part of $188 million in government grants given this year in his "faith-based initiative." Bush said $45.5 million would go to religious groups and community organizations to mentor children of prisoners, and $43 million has been awarded to soup kitchens, homeless shelters, drug treatment centers and job-training programs. He announced $100 million in new grants (see page 1 story).

The Knights, the largest Catholic fraternal organization, is credited with a 1950s lobbying campaign resulting in the insertion of "under God" in the once-secular Pledge of Allegiance. They have mobilized millions to overturn legal abortion.

Pope Condemns Feminism

In a "time stands still when you're a dinosaur" flashback, Pope John Paul II issued yet another denunciation of feminism on July 31. In 37 pages, the pope warned that feminists make "homosexuality and heterosexuality virtually equivalent, in a new model of polymorphous sexuality." Compiled by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the document says that woman "is not a copy of man," that women cannot be ordained and calls on governments to grant women "appropriate" work schedules so they "do not need to neglect their families if they want to pursue a job."

Speaking of Dinosaurs. . .

U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch (Mormon-UT) read from the New Testament on the floor of the U.S. Senate this summer to endorse a federal judicial nominee who has written that wives must be subordinate in marriage. Hatch said that "millions and millions of people will agree with" that view, according to the Salt Lake Tribune.

Hatch led the floor fight to confirm Leon Holmes to the U.S. District Court in the Eastern District of Arkansas, despite his article for a Catholic magazine in which he said Catholic teaching requires that "the woman is to place herself under the authority of the man" and "to subordinate herself to the husband."

Sen. Rick Santorum, R-PA, in: "We hear so much from the other side about tolerance. Where is the tolerance for people who want to believe what has been taught for 2,000 years?"

AmeriCorps Violated Constitution

U.S. Dist. Judge Gladys Kessler ruled in early July that the federal agency, AmeriCorps, must stop financing programs to place volunteers in Catholic schools. Kessler agreed with the American Jewish Congress that federal money has been improperly used to pay to teach Christian values through programs such as the University of Notre Dame's Alliance for Catholic Education. The line between the secular and nonsecular became "completely blurred," and the government did not adequately monitor the programs.

The ruling could impact Bush's "faith-based initiatives." AmeriCorps distributed grants to nonprofit agencies to implement the work of the Corporation for National and Community Service, created in 1993. Senior Corps, Learn and Serve America and AmeriCorps help nonprofit groups build affordable housing, run after-school programs, and organize such things as disaster assistance.

Death Earns Exorcist Mild Conviction

Rev. Ray A. Hemphill, 45, was convicted in Milwaukee on July 8 only of a felony charge of recklessly causing "great bodily harm" of a child in the suffocation death of an autistic child during an exorcism last year.

His brother, Rev. David Hemphill, pastor of the strip-mall church, the Independent Faith Temple of the Apostolic Faith Church, testified during the July trial:

"I'm the pastor and God has ordained my brother to be an evangelist, he has the gift to cast out devils."

He testified that God "took the child," not his defendant, who sat praying and singing on 8-year-old Terrance Cottrell's chest for hours at a time, as the boy's mother and others restrained his limbs.

"I've seen God heal some people, and then I've seen God didn't heal some. So all we're asked to do is to believe in the word of God," the "bishop" said on the stand.

The defendant's attorney, Thomas Harris, asked him: "Is there any sickness or disease that's too hard for God or believers [to heal]?" The reply: "No there's nothing too hard for God, and nothing too hard for his believers." Under cross-examination, the bishop added: "If I lay down on someone and he passes away? God took him, I didn't!"

Terrance, who was severely autistic and hated to be touched, died after the 12th in a series of "prayer services" in which he would be forced to lie on his back, then was restrained. The defendant laid himself across Terrance's chest for nearly two hours. The District Attorney refused to press manslaughter or murder charges. Hemphill faces a maximum penalty of five years in prison. Sources: Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, July 8, 9, 2004

Prayer Study Pulled

The Journal of Reproductive Medicine, which published a questionable study showing intercessory prayer helped the success of in vitro fertilization, removed the prayer study from its website in July.

The study, published in September 2000 to wide publicity, was co-authored by Daniel Wirth, who was recently convicted of criminal charges. The magazine claimed it was temporarily removing the article only because of the volume of critical mail, maintaining the article "was not officially retracted," and might go back up.

Bruce L. Flamm, M.D., a Foundation member, was quoted in an article in Ob.Gyn News reporting on the action. Dr. Flamm, area research chair at the Kaiser Permanente Medical Center in Riverside, Calif., has led attempts to retract the study. He noted that the authors did not get informed consent from their subjects, 219 Korean women who underwent in vitro fertilization for a 4-month period. The authors claimed those prayed for had nearly twice the rate of pregnancy as women who had not been prayed for.

Secular Clergywoman

The Democratic National Committee, in signing on "an adviser for religious outreach," hired a liberal clergywoman who signed onto an amicus brief favoring Michael Newdow's challenge of "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance. Rev. Brenda Bartella Peterson was one of nearly three dozen Christian and Jewish clergy who joined the Unitarian Universalist Association in supporting Newdow. She is with the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and was hired on July 23.


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