Freethought Today · Vol. 26 No. 8 October 2009

Published by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc.

In the News

Survey: Clerics Lack Boundaries

A survey by Baylor University research­ers shows that one in every 33 women who attend worship services regularly has received unwanted sexual ad­vanc­es from a religious leader.

“It certainly is prevalent, and clearly the problem is more than simply a few charismatic leaders preying on vulnerable followers,” study co-author Diana Garland, dean of Baylor’s School of Social Work, told The Washington Post.

The study found that more than two-thirds of the offenders were married to someone else at the time of the advance.

Study: Faith-based Scrutiny Lessening

A study by the Pew Research Center shows that President Barack Obama’s faith-based initiative is not getting the contentious coverage that President George Bush’s similar efforts got. Obama’s plan actually broadens the intitiative, creates a clergy advisory council with initernational clout,  and tacitally permits federally-funded groups to discriminate over religion in hiring or firing.

Newspaper coverage of the first six months of each president’s administration was examined: the topic got almost seven times the coverage in the first six months of 2001 as it did in the first six months of 2009.

Preparing Pets For Post-Rapture

“You’ve committed your life to Jesus. You know you’re saved. But when the Rapture comes, what’s to become of your loving pets who are left behind? Eternal Earth-Bound Pets takes that burden off your mind.”

Earth-Bound Pets is an online business only, somewhere out there in the ether (e-mail Bart east of the Mississippi and Brad to the west), which for $110 “will guarantee that should the Rapture occur within ten (10) years of receipt of payment, one pet per residence will be saved.  Each additional pet at your residence will be saved for an additional $15.”

Service is limited to dogs, cats, birds, rabbits and “small caged mammals,” and each company rep is a confirmed atheist, “and as such will still be here on Earth after you’ve received your reward.”

The company expects “widespread chaos and confusion immediately following the Rapture,” but estimates covered pets will be picked up no later than 24 hours afterward.

Prayer Before Sex But None for After

In its Prayer Book for Spouses, a British Catholic group has  included a “Prayer Before Making Love.” Couples are encouraged to recite the prayer as a way to “purify their intentions” that the act is not about selfishness or hedonism.

The prayer implores God “to place within us love that truly gives, tenderness that truly unites, self-offering that tells the truth and does not deceive, forgiveness that truly receives, loving physical union that welcomes. Cover our poverty in the richness of your mercy and forgiveness. Clothe us in true dignity and take to yourself our shared aspirations, for your glory, for ever and ever.”

The London-based Catholic Truth Society published the 64-page book.

“I suppose it is a bit idealistic, but it is recognizing that God is at the heart of the marriage relationship between husband and wife,” said Rev. Paul Hendricks, auxiliary bishop of South­wark.

Flu Fear Stops Saintly Vial Kisses

Fear of H1N1 flu stopped residents of Naples, Italy, from kissing the blood of the city’s patron Saint Gennaro during the annual September festival. The decision to forbid kissing the glass vial containing the saint’s blood brought protests from politicians. Instead the vial was displayed in the city’s cathedral for a week, with the faithful only allowed to touch it with their foreheads.

Saint Gennaro’s dried blood is said to liquefy twice a year, 17 centuries after his death. Some Neapolitans feared disaster would strike the city if the “miracle” didn’t occur.

Freethinker Eyes Runs for S.C. House

D.C. Swinton, president of the Winthrop Organization of Free­thinkers at Winthrop University in Rock Hill, S.C., is expected to announce in December that he’s running for a seat in the state House of Representatives as a Democrat. If elected, he’d be the youngest legislator in the U.S. at age 22. Swinton is an environmental studies major.

Caning Postponed For Beer Drinker

Malaysian authorities postponed caning a Muslim woman for drinking beer in a hotel bar. Kartika Sari Dewi Shukarno got a one-month reprieve because of the holy month of Rama­dan. The 32-year-old mother of two was sentenced to six lashes with a rattan cane. Shariah law makes drinking alcohol illegal for Malaysia’s Muslims.

Kartika asked authorities in August to cane her in public to deter other Muslims from drinking alcohol, and refused to appeal her sentence.

U.S. Military Getting Free Audio Bibles

A company called Faith Comes By Hearing in Albuquerque, N.M., is giving 14,000 audio bibles called BibleSticks to U.S. military in Iraq, Kuwait, Kosovo and Afghanistan.

PRNewswire carried a compelling piece, quoting Troy Carl, FCBH national director. “Last year, Faith Comes By Hearing felt burdened to bring the Word of God in audio to our nation’s military community. So we developed a specialized, portable audio player just for their use, camouflaged and loaded with the dramatized New Testament.”

“It’s great to be able to offer our young soldiers something technology-based, as they practically grew up with cell phones and iPods,” said an Army chaplain deployed to Iraq. “I’ve heard great comments about ease of use, portability and the fact that now there’s no excuse for a soldier to not carry his Bible when it’s so easy.”

The company solicits sponsorships from the public for $25 per soldier, $250 per platoon or $2,500 for a company.

“This has been the most useful thing I’ve ever had. Every day I listen, and it has brought me closer to God,” agreed one Navy pilot.

Burst Appendix Kills Son; Parents Pray

Washington state authorities are investigating the death of Zachery Swezey, 17, who died in his parents’ bed of a burst appendix March 18, three days after he got sick. His parents are members of the Church of the Firstborn, which practices faith healing.

Greg and JaLea Swezey, of Carlton, Wash., thought their son had food poisoning or the flu. On March 17, his father called church elders but not a doctor or ambulance. Family members prayed as elders anointed the boy with olive oil. At 1 p.m. the next day, his breathing slowed and, with his parents at his side, Zachery died.

Okanogan County Prosecutor Karl Sloan said the sheriff is still investigating. “Once it’s wrapped up and completed, we’ll look at it and determine if charges are warranted,” he told The Wenatchee World.
Greg Swezey told investigators he knew Zack would die 10 or 15 minutes before it happened, and that his condition had gotten much worse about 90 minutes before he died.

“We don’t force our kids, our kids have a choice. At no time did Zachery ask to go to the doctor,” the father told investigators.

Washington law says a person treated through faith healing “by a duly accredited Christian Science practitioner in lieu of medical care is not considered deprived of medically necessary health care or abandoned.” Other religions are not mentioned.

Journalist Flees After Being Freed

An Afghan journalism student jailed for asking questions in class about women’s rights under Islam has been freed after nearly two years.

Sayed Perwiz Kambakhsh was convicted of blasphemy and sentenced to death, later reduced to 20 years. Then President Hamid Karzai signed a pardon in secret, according to Paris-based Reporters Without Borders. Kam­bakhsh, 25, fled the country after his release.

Prosecutors said he showed contempt for Islam by asking why Islam does not give women equal rights.
The case will be remembered as a “miscarriage of justice marked by religious intolerance, police mistreatment and incompetence on the part of certain judges,” Jean-François Julliard, secretary general of Reporters Without Borders, said in a statement.

Freethinkers Top Micro-lending List

Kiva is an international “person-to-person micro-lending site” that raised about $75 million for nearly 200,000 people in 44 countries to start small businesses since 2005. Last year it started a team competition to boost its program. In first place? Atheists, Agnos­tics, Skeptics, Freethinkers, Secular Humanists and the Non-Religious “committed to caring about suffering.”

Atheists and their ilk loaned $761,975. Next in the listings: Kiva Christians ($519,725), followed by Team Obama ($408,500).

Sorted by “Religious Congreg­ations,” the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster was first ($81,725), topping Kiva Mormons ($57,425) and Kiva Catholics ($59,625).

Pants-Wearing Journalist Freed

Sudanese journalist Lubna Hussein, 34, spent less than 24 hours behind bars in Khartoum for wearing pants deemed indecently tight. The incident became a cause celebre internationally.
In July, she and 12 other women were arrested. Ten of the women accepted the punishment and received 10 lashes each. Three, including Hussein, refused to accept and went on trial. It’s unclear if the others have had trials.

Hussein resigned her media office job at a United Nations mission to fight her case in court. At a hearing in early September, she wore the same slacks she was arrested in. A judge spared her the lash but fined her $200, which she refused to pay. “I have money,” she said later. “It was not about money.”

Guards took her cell phone and put her in a holding pen with about 800 women. She was surprised to be released the next day. Sudan’s journalists’ union had paid the fine.

Focus on Family Announces Layoffs

The conservative Christian group Focus on the Family announced layoffs of 8% its workforce in September. Spokesman Gary Schneeberger said 75 employees will lose their jobs and an additional 57 vacant positions will remain unfilled. The cutbacks are necessary because projections show the group will fall 5 percent short of its $138 million budget, he said in a prepared statement.

Disgraced Pastor Still Has Support

A preacher who went to prison for stealing millions of dollars from the National Baptist Convention USA has lost an election to lead the group again. Delegates at the convention’s annual meeting in September in Memphis voted 4,108 to 924 for Rev. Julius Scruggs to be president over Rev. Henry Lyons. Lyons was forced out as president in 1999 after he was convicted and served about five years in prison for stealing almost $4 million from the denomination.

Ex-Employee Sues Billy Graham Group

A Charlotte, N.C., woman is suing the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, claiming she was fired in 2007 because she urged the organization to reach out more to black churches. The plaintiff, Kimberly McCallum, is black.

“Such an inquiry by the courts would be an impermissible entanglement into the affairs of a religious organization,” association lawyers wrote in their motion to dismiss the case. Graham, 90, turned over leadership of the association several years ago to his son Franklin.

McCallum claims that a list of 635 prospective church partners had only three memberships that were primarily black, and said it was apparent that black churches were excluded from the document.

God Had Hand In 19th Pregnancy

Michelle Duggar of Tontitown, Ark., is about to become a grandma for the first time and a mom for the 19th time. And she’s pointing the finger at someone other than her husband Jim Bob.

After her pregnancy test was positive, Michelle was ecstatic. “I was just jumping up and down, going ‘Thank you, Lord. Here I am, 42, thinking my baby days are over, and you’ve blessed us with another one.’ “

The Duggars, who manage commercial real estate, like names that start with J. So far, including two sets of twins, they have Josh, Jordyn-Grace, Jana, John-David, Jill, Jessa, Jinger, Joseph, Josiah, Joy-Anna, Jeremiah, Jedediah, Jason, James, Justin, Jackson, Johannah and Jennifer.

Enjoy your children while you can, advised Michelle, “and realize they are a gift from God. That’s our prayer.” She is becoming a grandmother in October via her son, Josh.

Another Downturn For Detroit Area

The Archdiocese of Detroit will cut its staff by almost 30% due to a  $14.5 million operating deficit. The Detroit Free Press reported that the archdiocese, which serves the area’s 1.4 million Roman Catholics, is cutting from 264 to 187. The archdiocese said it’s losing $42,000 a day and that tithing is down between 5 and 10% compared with past years. Archbishop Allen Vigneron announced the changes.

“Evolution” T-Shirts Banned for Band

T-shirts worn by the Smith-Cotton High School band in Sedalia, Mo., were too much for Christians. The school made students return the shirts, which featured images of monkeys carrying brass instruments and progressively changing into a person. “Brass Evolutions 2009,” the theme of the band’s fall show, was also printed on the shirts.

Assistant Superintendent Brad Pollitt told the Sedalia Democrat that “several concerned parents” complained, and that school must maintain religious neutrality. “If the shirts had said ‘Brass Resurrections’ and had a picture of Jesus on the cross, we would have done the same thing,” Pollitt said.

To which Jonathan Turley, law professor at George Washington University, replied: “Evolution is not a barred religious doctrine or theory. Extremists want to make evolution into a religious question, but it is not. If the parents started to object to pictures of Freud from an anti-psychiatry view of Scientology, would Pollitt order their removal?”

Sherry Melby, a band parent and teacher in the district, defended Pollitt. “I don’t think evolution should be associated with our school.”

Parent Alena Hoeffling, a Catholic, said she liked the wordplay and objects to the censorship. “Whatever happened to the separation of church and state?”

Students also weighed in to the Sedalia newspaper:

“It’s not like we are saying God is bad,” said sophomore Denyel Luke. “We aren’t promoting evolution.”
Adam Tilley, a trombone player, said he understood why the shirts had to go back. “I can see where the parents are coming from. Evolution has always been controversial.”

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