Freethought Today · Vol. 26 No. 9 November 2009

Published by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc.

In The News

Darwin Film Gets U.S. Distribution

After initial concerns that a British film on Charles Darwin would not get U.S. distribution, Newmarket Films has acquired the U.S. rights to “Creation,” which focuses on Darwin and his family as he is finishing “On the Origin of Species.”

The film’s screenplay was written by John Collee and is an adaptation of “Annie’s Box,” a biography by Darwin’s great-great grandson. “Creation” stars real-life couple Paul Bettany and Academy Award-winner Jennifer Con­nelly (who both starred in “A Beautiful Mind”) as Darwin and wife. Release is set for December. Newmarket co-distributed Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ” in 2004.

Evolution Specials On Public TV

The PBS series NOVA kicked off it fall season Oct. 6 with “Darwin’s Darkest Hour,” the first of three evolution-themed programs. The scripted drama explored the beginnings of Charles Darwin’s theories and the pressure to keep quiet to avoid religious backlash.

On Nov. 3, 10 and 17, NOVA premieres “Becoming Human,” a three-part special on human evolution, including interviews with renowned anthropologists and paleoanthropologists. On Dec. 29, “What Darwin Never Knew” reveals answers to evolutionary questions that even Darwin couldn’t explain.

NOVA also has a new beta Web site for evolution activities. It will launch Nov. 3 and feature contributors like Sean Carroll, Carl Zimmer, Sarah Hardy and Rick Potts.

Christian Twist To Darwin Opus

A creationist Christian group says it “will celebrate” the 150th anniversary in November of the publication of Charles Darwin’s The Origin of Species by giving away 100,000 copies of the book to 100 U.S. colleges.

There’s one big catch: It has a 50-page “special introduction” by Ray Comfort of the Living Waters ministry. Project co-sponsors are Campus Crusade for Christ, Alliance Defense Fund and Answers in Genesis.

From Living Waters: “This introduction gives the history of evolution, a timeline of Darwin’s life, Hitler’s undeniable connections to the theory, Darwin’s racism, his disdain for women, and his thoughts on the existence of God. It lists the theory’s many hoaxes, exposes the unscientific belief that nothing created everything, points to the incredible structure of DNA, and the absence of any species-to-species transitional forms.”

Campus Freethinker Groups Doubled

The number of atheist or agnostic student groups on U.S. campuses has more than doubled in the past two years, from 80 to 162, according to the Secular Student Alliance, the national organization for the secular student movement.

Although SSA has four high school affiliates, most of the groups are on college campuses. Lyz Liddell, the alliance’s senior campus organizer, noted that college is a time when many people question their beliefs and break away from their religious background.

“Community is the biggest thing that is provided for these students,” said Liddell. FFRF partners with SSA by underwriting campus appearances for Foundation Co-President Dan Barker.

Cash Crunch for Operation Rescue

Operation Rescue calls itself the leading anti-abortion “Christian activist organization in the nation.” It’s even trademarked its name. But a recent fundraising letter reveals all is not well financially. Some suspect it’s a hard-luck ploy to bring in more money.

“Seriously. We struggle to pay every bill,” wrote Troy Newman, the group’s president. “I had to borrow money just to send you this letter, in hopes that you will come to our rescue so that we can continue to rescue babies.” 

Vicki Saporta, National Abortion Federation president, said since Kansas abortion provider Dr. George Tiller was murdered May 31, her group has gotten major donations. She thinks Operation Rescue’s financial straits, if true, are part of a backlash. “They have publicly denounced his murder, yet they move their headquarters to Wichita and spend years harassing and trying to put him out of business,” Saporta said.

Scott Roeder, 51, Kansas City, Mo., faces murder and aggravated assault charges for shooting Tiller as he ushered at a Sunday church service.

The Internal Revenue Service revoked Operation Rescue’s tax-exempt status in 2006 for prohibited political activity during the 2004 election.

Vatican ‘Rebrands’ Clergy Sex Abuse?

The Vatican wants you to call certain priests ephebophiles, not pedo­philes.

Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, the Vatican’s permanent observer at the U.N., issued a statement that said ephebophilia is a “more correct” term for the sexual crimes committed by clergy. “Available research” showed that “only” 1.5% to 5% of Catholic clergy were involved in child sex abuse, the statement said. “Of all priests involved in the abuses, 80% to 90% belong to this sexual orientation minority which is sexually engaged with adolescent boys between the ages of 11 and 17.”

Researchers generally define ephebophilia as sexual preference for mid-to-late adolescents and pedophilia as the preference for prepubescent persons, regardless of gender. Pedophilia is also used colloquially to refer broadly to sexual interest in minors below the legal age of consent.

Chemist: Shroud Story Threadbare

A chemistry professor is casting more doubt on one of Catholicism’s disputed relics, the Shroud of Turin.

The 3-by-14-foot shroud bears the reversed imprint of what some religionists believe is the crucified Jesus. The shroud is revered by them as his burial cloth. But Luigi Garlaschelli, an Italian organic chemistry professor, believes it’s a medieval hoax. He recreated the shroud using materials and techniques available in the Middle Ages. Testing in 1988 showed it’s from the 13th century.

Garlaschelli told Reuters he’s sure some people won’t believe him. “If they don’t want to believe carbon dating done by some of the world’s best laboratories, they certainly won’t believe me,” he said. He got funding for the project from a group of atheists and agnostics.

The Catholic Church doesn’t claim that the cloth, kept in Turin Cathedral, is authentic, but says the shroud should be a powerful reminder of Christ’s passion.

[Editor’s note: See page 21 related story on the blue Shroud of Lewinsky. Kidding!]

Yemeni Girl, 12, Dies in Childbirth

A 12-year-old Yemeni girl in an arranged marriage died in childbirth, along with the baby, after being in labor for three days.
Fawziya Ammodi bled to death, said the Seyaj Organization for the Protection of Children.

“Although the cause of her death was lack of medical care, the real case was the lack of education in Yemen and the fact that child marriages keep happening,” said Seyaj President Ahmed al-Qureshi.

Fawziya was born to a poor family in Hodeidah and was forced to drop out of school and marry a 24-year-old man last year. More than half of all Yemeni girls are married off before the age of 18, often to older men with more than one wife. Sharia, or Islamic law, is interfering with parliamentary efforts to make 17 the minimum marriage age.

Pro-Choice Means No Funeral

Archbishop Raymond Burke, prefect of the Vatican’s Apostolic Sign­atura, said in a recent speech that pro-abortion Catholic politicians should not get a Catholic funeral. “It is not possible to be a practicing Catholic and to conduct oneself in this manner,” he told an dinner in Washington, D.C., to a standing ovation.

Apostolic Signatura is the church’s highest judicial authority besides the pope. Cardinal Sean O’Malley presided at pro-choice Sen. Edward Kennedy’s recent funeral, to the chagrin of Burke and some other Catholics.

More Abortions for Religious Grads

Unwed pregnant teens and 20-somethings who attend or have graduated from private religious schools are more likely to obtain abortions than their peers from public schools, according a study by sociologist Amy Adamczyk of City University of New York.

“This research suggests that young, unmarried women are confronted with a number of social, financial and health-related factors that can make it difficult for them to act according to religious values when deciding whether to keep or abort a pregnancy,” Adamczyk said.

The study look at how personal religious involvement, schoolmate religious involvement and school type influenced pregnancy decisions of 1,504 unmarried and never-divorced women age 26 and younger from 125 different schools. The women ranged in age from 14 to 26 at the time they discovered they were pregnant. Twenty-five percent of women in the sample reported having an abortion, a likely underestimate, Adamczyk said.

EEOC: Pastor Liked Young and Busty

Rev. William E. “Dub” Brooks, head of St. Mark’s Episcopal School in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., is accused of firing older teachers in order to replace them with “young women with big boobs,” according to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commiss­ion.

Four female teachers, ages 58 to 63, want to be rehired with back pay at the K-8 school, where tuition is $14,500 a year. Brooks, 58, had plans to force out at least 20 others. The EEOC ruled: “His actions, far from a mere random incident, are perceived to have malice, motive, preparation and intent to discriminate against older individuals.”

The EEOC is investigating about 12 other teacher firings at St. Mark’s to see if age discrimination was a factor.

Special Audience For Czech Arachnid

A large spider made its way across the pope’s off-white robes, crawled up his cheek and over to his ear. That’s when the swat came but the spider soon reappeared on Benedict’s shoulder and could later be seen hanging on as the pope left the hall. Non-arachnopopes can go to and type “Raw Video: Spider Bugs Pope” in the search box.

Abortion Bothers ‘Values’ Voters

A straw poll of attendees at the Family Research Council’s Values Voter Summit in Washington, D.C., put abortion at the top of the list (41%) of “issues of concern” for religious conservatives.

Protection of religious liberty, at 18%, was second. Opposition to same-sex marriage was third at 7%. Prayer in public schools, once a big issue for religious and social conservatives, came in 10th. Some attribute the decline to more home-schooling and private or parochial schools. Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, also a former Southern Baptist minister, won the presidential preference poll with 28%.

Judge Tosses Phelps Verdict

An appeals court overturned a $5 million jury award to a father who sued Rev. Fred Phelps’ Westboro Baptist Church for picketing his son’s 2006 military funeral in Westminster, Md. Lance Cpl. Matthew Snyder was killed in Iraq.

The Kansas-based church claims U.S. war deaths are due to the nation’s tolerance for homosexuals. Members carried signs at Snyder’s funeral like “God Hates the USA/Thank God for 9/11,” “Priests Rape Boys,” “Semper Fi Fags” and “Thank God for IEDs.”

The panel of three judges ruled that the signs’ “imaginative and hyperbolic rhetoric” is protected by the First Amendment.

Christian Raider Decries Penalty

Oakland Raiders cornerback Chris Johnson intercepted a pass in end zone, knelt down and raised his arms skyward. The yellow penalty flag flew for “excessive celebration.”

Johnson claimed the penalty was discrimination against Christianity. “I’m just getting on my knees giving my respect to God. I don’t see how that’s a personal foul or anything like that.”

The NFL rule: Players may not celebrate in the end zone by “going to the ground to celebrate a touchdown or using the ball as a prop.”
Chris Chase, Yahoo Sports blogger: “It looks a lot more like Johnson is asking the heavens to praise him, rather than the other way around.” The Raiders were 13 points behind at the time in an Oct. 4 game against the Houston Texans.

Victim: ‘Prophet’ Raped Her Daily

Elizabeth Smart, 21, kidnapped from her bedroom seven years ago in Utah, testified  Oct. 1 at a mental competency hearing in Salt Lake City for Brian David Mitchell that he raped her as often as three or four times a day some days.

Mitchell, 55, a self-described street prophet, was removed from the courtroom for singing hymns and yelling at the judge to repent. “He told me he was a prophet,” Smart said on cross-examination. “He said he was the voice of God on Earth and that he would reign over God’s children until Jesus came.”

Mitchell’s competency hearing is set for Nov. 30, but Smart testified early because she is going on a religious mission for the Mormon Church in France.

Prayer of Thanks Fatal for Catholic

Austrian Gunther Link, described as a devout Catholic, prayed to be rescued after he was trapped in an elevator and had his prayers answered—temporarily.

After he was rescued, Link, 45, went to Weinhaus Church in Vienna to offer prayers of thanksgiving. “He seems to have embraced a stone pillar on which the stone altar was perched and it fell on him, killing him instantly. We have found his fingerprints on the pillar,” said police spokesman Roman Hahslinger. His body was found Sept. 9 by parishioners attending Mass. The altar weighed 860 pounds.

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