Freethought Today ·

Vol. 21 No. 4

May 2004

Published by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc.

In The News

Pat Tillman "Wasn't Religious"

Pat Tillman, the millionaire NFL player with the Arizona Cardinals who signed up to be an Army Ranger and died on April 22 fighting in Iraq, was an atheist.

At the memorial service at San Jose Municipal Rose Garden on May 3, his younger brother Rich Tillman asked mourners "to hold their spiritual bromides," according to Gwen Knapp, San Francisco Chronicle (May 4, 2004).

"Pat isn't with God. He's f--ing dead. He wasn't religious. So thank you for your thoughts, but he's f--ing dead." The reporter noted that some in the crowd bristled, but others clapped.

The memorial program featured a quote by Emerson, which had been found underlined in Tillman's belongings: "But the great man is he who in the midst of the crowd keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude."

U.S. Rep. Jim McDermott, D-Wash., omitted the words "under God" when he led the House in its daily recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance on April 27.

McDermott was immediately attacked by Rep. Pete Sessions, R-Texas, for "embarrassing the House."

"The liberal wing of the Democrat Party launched yet another salvo today in its ongoing battle to drive a wedge between Americans and the values and ideals we hold dear."

McDermott's spokesperson, commenting the next day, called the omission a mistake. He noted McDermott had learned the secular pledge as a child without the phrase "under God."

McDermott told the Seattle Times, Washington bureau: "That's how I've always said it. I make my pledge to my country and that's the end of it."

Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., also lit into McDermott, summoning the Seattle representative into her office and personally scolding him, according to various news accounts.

McDermott was one of seven in the House to vote against a March 2003 House resolution condemning the 9th Circuit's decision against "under God" in the pledge.

Deanna Laney, 39, was found innocent by reason of insanity in early April by a Texas jury in the bludgeoning deaths of her sons Joshua, 8, Luke, 6, and in the disabling attack on her baby, Aaron, now 2, whose eyesight is now impaired. The deeply religious, stay-at-home mom, who homeschooled her children, crushed her sons' skulls with rocks on Mother's Day weekend last year, believing God had commanded the murders. She also believed her oldest son would resurrect, according to psychiatric testimony.

Rattler-handling Rev. Dwayne Long of Rose Hill, Va., died in mid-April after being bitten by a snake during an Easter Pentecostal church service and refusing medical treatment. Mark 16:15-18 promises that believers in Jesus who "pick up serpents" and drink deadly poison will not die.

Pres. Bush proclaimed May 6 National Day of Prayer and appealed to his base constituency by holding an afternoon ceremony that was later broadcast by religious networks during primetime. Bush invited a coterie of evangelicals to a gathering in the East Room of the White House, including the House and Senate chaplains, Oliver L. North, Shirley Dobson, and James C. Dobson, who represent the National Day of Prayer Committee. Their website asserts that the United States is doing God's work in Iraq and Afghanistan, urges prayers to return "Judeo-Christian" values to schools, and warns that kindergarten classes are teaching "homosexual propaganda."

PBS' "Frontline" report, "The Jesus Factor" (April 29), examined Bush's faith on April 29.

"I believe that God wants me to be president," George W. Bush told friend and advisor Dr. Richard Land, president of a committee of the Southern Baptist Convention, after his second gubernatorial inauguration.

"Frontline" reported that "no charities run by Jewish, Muslim or other non-Christian faiths" have received any of the $100 million doled out so far to faith-based and other groups by the Department of Health and Human Services. An HHS assistant contested the report in an interview with reporter Clarence Page, saying the fund has distributed only $65 million so far, and that several Jewish-affiliated service groups have received grants. However, those Jewish groups received grants indirectly through an intermediary organization. None of the 31 intermediary grant recipients has been nonreligious.

Bob Woodward, author of the new book Bush at War, told an April "60 Minutes" program that he asked Bush if he ever consulted his father about matters. "And President Bush said, 'Well, no,' and then he got defensive about it. And then he said something that really struck me. He said of his father, 'He is the wrong father to appeal to for advice. The wrong father to go to, to appeal to in terms of strength,' and then he said, 'There's a higher father that I appeal to.' "

Bush told Woodward about the war: "Going into this period, I was praying for strength to do the Lord's will. I'm surely not going to justify the war based on God. . . . Nevertheless, in my case I pray that I be as good a messenger of His will as possible."

Cardinal Francis Arinze of the Vatican stated in late April that Catholic politicians who are "unambiguously pro-abortion" should be denied communion because they are "not fit" to receive it. The statement intensified church debate over Sen. John Kerry, a pro-choice candidate for the presidency who is Catholic.

A Roman Catholic priest in early April addressing the Colorado House urged them to let religious faith guide their votes and "be the antithesis of John Kennedy." Rev. Bill Carmody criticized Kennedy, who vowed to uphold the secular Constitution, saying he should have stood up for his church's beliefs instead.

Gov. James E. McGreevey of New Jersey, who parts with his Roman Catholic Church over abortion, announced on May 5 that he will not receive communion at public services. His announcement was in response to Newark Archbishop John J. Myers' statement that abortion rights supporters should not seek communion.

A Roman Catholic antiabortion group launched an advertising campaign against Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick of Washington, D.C., on May 6. The $500,000 print ad campaign attacks him for saying he is not comfortable denying communion to Sen. John F. Kerry and other Catholic members of Congress who support abortion rights.

Catholic theology triumphed in the early May decision by the FDA to deny women over-the-counter emergency contraception. Both the AMA and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists approved the proposal.

A divided U.S. Supreme Court in late April let stand a ruling barring prayers before suppers at Virginia Military institute. Justice Antonin Scalia and Chief Justice William Rehnquist dissented.

VMI was founded in 1839 as a state-funded military college in Lexington, Va. The supper roll call prayers, written by the school's chaplain, were read by a cadet, and always began with a salutation such as "Almighty God" and ended by asking for God's blessing. Cadets Neil Mellen and Paul Knick sued in 2001, winning before a federal judge and a U.S. appeals court. Neil Mellen received a $1,000 student activist award last year from FFRF.

A bipartisan group of lawmakers in April signed on to a bill to allocate $100 million to protect "soft targets," such as churches and synagogues, from terrorist attacks. The "High-Risk Non-Profit Security Enhancement Act" would give $50 million in government grants to hospitals, theaters and houses of worship to use for concrete barricades, shatter-proofing windows and fortifying entrances. An additional $50 million would be made available to local political departments to provide security to at-risk targets.

Three East Hanover schools in Morris County, N.J., are flying a small white flag reading, "One Nation Under God." The school board split 4-3 in an early May vote to permit the banners, which were suggested by the Knights of Columbus--the group that campaigned to insert "under God" into the Pledge of Allegiance. The flags were provided by the Catholic men's organization ostensibly to "support U.S. troops overseas."

The city of Redlands, Calif., agreed to remove a cross from its official seal in April. The shimmering cross had been emblazoned on the seal of Redlands for nearly 40 years. It was removed from the doors of City Hall, police badges and municipal vehicles before May.

U.S. District Judge Robert L. Miller Jr. ordered a Ten Commandments display removed from the county administration building for Elkhart County in Goshen, Ind.

Miller ruled that even though it was hanging alongside historical documents, the Constitution forbids a government from posting the Ten Commandments without a secular purpose. Miller said there was no purpose "other than paying homage to the Ten Commandments."

The city of Elkhart was forced to remove a biblical monument from the front of its city hall in 2002.

Florida Senate president Jim King apologized on April 28 after a Baptist minister invoked the name of Jesus Christ in the session's opening prayer. It was the third successive day in which the opening prayer was Christian, despite rules requiring prayers to be nondenominational.

A federal judge in April ordered the local Keep the Commandments Coalition to pay the city of Boise more than $10,000 in attorney fees, which the city spent fighting an attempt by the coalition to enjoin removal of a Ten Commandments monument in Julia Davis Park.

U.S. Dist. Judge Edward Lodge called the coalition's lawsuit "unreasonable and without foundation."

Women's groups from Europe, North Africa, the Middle East and North America announced in April they are founding an alliance to fight religious fundamentalism--Christian or Islamic.

The Women's International Federation Against Fundamentalisms and for Equality is seeking recognition as a nongovernmental organization before the United Nations. Nearly 100 women from 18 countries, including Iraq, attended the founding conference in Geneva.

Christian born-again Gov. Mike Huckabee of Arkansas honored a religious mother, who has 14 children and a 15th on the way, with the state's Young Mother award in April. Michelle Duggar, 37, homeschools her children: "We're letting the Lord give us the gifts that he wants to give us and I'm open to more gifts. I'll take them one at a time or two at a time." The couple has two sets of twins.

U.S. District Judge Napoleon Jones Jr. ruled on April 13 that a lease to Boy Scouts of a Fiesta Island aquatics center on San Diego-owned land is unconstitutional. The judge ruled that Boy Scouts, which excludes nontheists, is a religious organization. Jones ruled last August that the traditional lease of Camp Balboa was unconstitutional.

Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick and the city police chief designated April 5 as "Precinct Day of Prayer," allotting one hour of prayer at each of the Detroit Police Department's 13 precincts.

"It's time for us to fix our community, not by all of us trying to figure out what we can fix, but by calling on the greatest power we all know to work through all of us to heal our land." (!)

The National Broadcasting Commission of Nigeria announced that TV stations which show "miracles" in a way that is not "provable and believable" will be fined, and their equipment confiscated. Many Pentecostal services common on Nigerian TV feature "miracles." No guidelines were issued.

Florida's Department of Juvenile website pulled a link to a Christian prayer group after the Palm Beach Post contacted the state about the entanglement. The homepage of the department contained a link titled "National Day of Prayer," going to the Florida Prayer Network.

Scandals have beset Milwaukee's 14-year-old voucher program, in which Wisconsin taxpayers now pay out more than $75 million in vouchers for more than 13,000 students to attend private (mostly religious) schools.

The state requires virtually no reporting or tracking of private schools, while public schools face onerous requirements. No background checks are required, which is why Alex's Academics of Excellence received $2.8 million in voucher money, even though it was founded by James A. Mitchell, a convicted rapist, who served almost a decade in prison.

Mandella Academy for Science and Math signed up more than 200 students who never showed up, and cashed $330,000 in tuition checks. The principal, who does not have a teacher's license, purchased a Mercedes-Benz for himself and an assistant. Students routinely played Monopoly and watched movies at the "school."

The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on March 22 in Planned Parenthood of S. Carolina v. Rose, No. 03-1118, that a specialty license plate saying "Choose Life" is unconstitutional.

Proceeds from the $4,000 plate, authorized in 2001, went to antiabortion "health" organizations. The appeals court held that a license plate is a mixture of government and private speech. Specialty plates create a forum where the state is a privileged speaker.

Portuguese Nobel Laureate Jose Saramago, 81, an atheist, who moved to the Canary Islands after the Ministry of Culture refused to submit his novel The Gospel According to Jesus Christ for a literary prize, has returned home. In April, Prime Minister Jose Manuel Durao Barroso criticized the country's snubbing of Saramago, and invited the author to his residence in Lisbon for lunch. Saramago won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1998.

The executive director of one of South Florida's largest charities for the homeless, who resigned in March from his $182,000-a-year job, raided his charity's till, staff and clients to renovate his homes.

Dale A. Simpson, 57, of Miami, claimed he reimbursed Camillus House for about half of the materials traced to work at his house, costing about $4,500. Camillus House is run by the Toronto-based Roman Catholic order of missionaries called Little Brothers of the Good Shepherd. The charity lent Simpson $35,000 to buy a house in 2000, forgiving the 8.5% loan after eight payments were made. Simpson received severance pay of about $115,000.

Pres. Robert Sloan of Baylor University, the world's largest Baptist university, condemned the school's student newspaper for publishing an editorial on Feb. 27 defending same-sex marriages, saying the column undermined "foundational Christian principles." Baylor students are not allowed to participate "in advocacy groups that promote understandings of sexuality that are contrary to biblical teaching."

Baylor University's George W. Truett Seminary withdrew a scholarship for a student who told friends last year he is gay. Matt Bass, 24, dropped out.

The Vatican, along with Egypt, Pakistan and Malaysia, in March pressured Brazil to withdraw a United Nations motion giving protection from discrimination to gays. As many as one-third of the UN's 191 member nations outlaw homosexual acts.

Jamiel Terry, 24, the adopted son of anti-gay "Christian warrior" Randall Terry, founder of "Operation Rescue," came out as gay in the May issue of Out Magazine. Jamiel joined his dad in fighting gay civil unions in Vermont in 2000. Randall's reaction to his son's admission: "You'll be dead by 40."

"When you grow up in a house where to be the thing you are is an abominable sin, you tend to try and shed those behaviors," Terry told Out. His father has substituted anti-gay crusading for his primary career as anti-abortion harasser. Two of Randall's daughters had teen pregnancies.

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