Freethought Today · Vol. 28 No. 2 March 2011

Published by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc.

In the News March 2011

Atheist educator out after airing nonbelief

Superintendent Tim Turecek of the public Marathon [N.Y.] Central Schools will resign June 30 after coming under fire for talking about his views as an atheist. Turecek, superintendent for seven years, was speaking as a guest to a high school advanced placement psychology class.

The School Board and Turecek issued a joint statement that said he was not asked to resign, but had “admittedly made some errors in judgment in his presentation to that class, but in no way did he seek to impose any personal beliefs on any of the students.”

“It’s sad that anybody should lose their position for that reason,” said Marathon resident Steven Cole. “I just don’t believe it’s right.”

SCOTUS: Hate speech is free speech

The U.S. Supreme Court by an 8-1 vote March 2 said Westboro Baptist Church signs that say “God Hates Dead Soldiers” at military funerals are not like yelling “Fire!” in a crowded theater.

Members of Rev. Fred Phelps’ fundamentalist church in Topeka, Kan., picketed the 2006 funeral in Maryland of Matthew Snyder, who was killed in Iraq. A jury awarded Snyder’s father $11 million, which a judge reduced to $5 million. A federal appeals court overturned the verdict, which the Supreme Court upheld, with only Justice Samuel Alito dissenting.

Chief Justice John Roberts wrote the opinion for the court: “What Westboro said, in the whole context of how and where it chose to say it, is entitled to ‘special protection’ under the First Amendment, and that protection cannot be overcome by a jury finding that the picketing was outrageous.”

Hawaii governor signs civil unions bill

Democratic Gov. Neil Abercrombie signed a same-sex and opposite-sex civil unions bill into law Feb. 23, making Hawaii the seventh U.S. state to grant essentially the same rights as marriage to gay couples. Linda Lingle, former Republican governor, vetoed a similar bill in 2010. It takes effect Jan. 1, 2012.

Also in February, the Hawaii Senate unanimously approved Abercrombie’s appointment of openly gay Circuit Judge Sabrina McKenna to the state Supreme Court.

Canadian mayor fights tribunal’s ruling

Mayor Jean Tremblay of Saguenay, a city of 150,000 in Quebec, said in February he won’t heed the Quebec Human Rights Tribunal’s order to stop reciting Christian prayer before council meetings and to remove a crucifix and a 2-foot-tall Sacred Heart of Jesus statue from council chambers.

The tribunal earlier awarded $30,000 to Alain Simoneau, a local resident, who had formally complained that the prayer violated his freedom of conscience.
Simoneau belongs to a secular group called Mouvement laïque québécois. “Ours is not a struggle against symbols, it’s a struggle to maintain the neutrality of public institutions,” said Luc Alarie, the group’s lawyer.

“When Obama was sworn in, there was a prayer that lasted almost 15 minutes. No one commented,” Tremblay told the Globe and Mail. “We recite a 20-second prayer and everyone starts crying.”

Creation Museum bars same-sex couple

Joe Sonka and another man were denied entrance as a same-sex couple to the Feb. 11 “Date Night” at the Creation Museum in Petersburg, Ky. Neither is gay but decided to show up as a couple after buying $72 tickets online as a way to highlight the museum’s discriminatory practices.

The event included dinner, music and a talk from museum founder Ken Ham about love and the biblical view of marriage.

The state of Kentucky is poised to give Ham’s Ark Encounter biblical theme park $37 million in tax incentives.

Pope decides Jews didn’t kill Jesus

In excerpts from Pope Benedict’s new book, Jesus of Nazareth: Part II, the pope reenacts Jesus’ final hours and analyzes Gospel accounts to conclude that Jews are innocent of deicide. Benedict theorizes that the “Temple aristocracy” and supporters of the thief Barabbas were responsible.

He deconstructs the biblical account which has the crowd saying, “His blood be on us and on our children” — a phrase long cited by some as evidence of Jews’ collective guilt.

In other Vatican news unrelated to sex abuse by clergy, it was announced Feb. 4 that the pope won’t donate any of his organs (although he supports organ donation). The Vatican said Benedict’s body belongs to the whole church.

Twenty-two popes’ organs (liver, spleen and pancreas) are preserved as relics in the church of Sts. Anastasio and Vincent near Rome’s Trevi Fountain in Rome.

In relic-related news, Poland’s TVN24 reported Pope John Paul II’s former longtime secretary is giving a drop of the pope’s blood and a fragment of his robe to Polish Formula One driver Robert Kubica. He suffered multiple fractures and partially severed his right hand in a Feb. 6 race in Italy when his Škoda race car slammed into a church wall in a race near Genoa.

John Paul II, who died in 2005, will be beatified (the step before sainthood) May 1. Faithful attending the beatification in Rome will be able to pray before his closed coffin, which will be exhumed for the event.

The Vatican warned the faithful “not to fall prey to fraudsters,” particularly online, who are selling tickets because no tickets are needed.

Pastor’s loved ones found in filth

A TV preacher’s diabetic husband and 92-year-old mother were hospitalized after authorities found them lying in filth in an apartment in the rear of All for Jesus Church of God in Bluff City, Tenn.

The state Department of Human Services got an anonymous tip, the Bristol Herald Courier reported Feb. 17. Pastor Brenda Viars, 58, told the paper she “got behind on things. I am sorry that things got the way they are. I don’t want to bring a reproach on our Lord and Savior.”

Sullivan County Sheriff’s Detective George Ann Pascu had to put on a mask and boots to go inside. Pascu said Viars’ mother and husband had been badly neglected, and that the husband was scheduled to have a foot amputated.

A grand jury will decide whether to pursue neglect charges.

Jury finds firing tied to religion

A Texas jury awarded a San Antonio man $263,000 on Feb. 18. Steven Hecht filed a religious discrimination suit in 2008, alleging he was fired because he stopped going to Christian Family Church, where his employer attended. Hecht was general manager for a private aviation firm owned by Richard and Mark Fessler, father and son.

Religious consultants said to possess “prophetic gifts” were invited to the business and one of them said the Lord had instructed him that Hecht was “unclean, unrighteous and . . . struggling with pornography issues,” according to the lawsuit. The consultant also said Hecht was “struggling with homosexual issues,” reported the San Antonio Express-News.

Hecht also alleged he was told to fire two employees without cause after Mark Fessler said the Lord spoke to him.

Texas school fears Tolerance Club

Flour Bluff High School in Corpus Christi, Texas, banned all student clubs from meeting on campus rather than let a gay-straight group called the Tolerance Club form at the public school.

Paul Rodriguez, president of the Gay-Straight Alliance at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi, organized protests after the superintendent said the district had no plans to approve the club proposed by senior Bianca “Nikki” Peet, 17. The district asked all groups not tied to the curriculum, including the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, to meet off campus until the situation is resolved.

Oregon faith healers may lose protections

Oregon House Bill 2171, which ends legal protections for parents who rely only on prayer for ill children, has no organized opposition and will likely become law, proponents said in a Feb. 20 story in The Oregonian.

Rep. Carolyn Tomei, D-Milwaukie, who introduced the bill, said, “Such gross and unnecessary neglect cannot be allowed. I don’t think there’ll be anyone coming to testify against it.”

“This will level the playing field so all parents will be operating under the same rules,” said Clackamas County District Attorney John Foote. “It’s going to make it easier to hold parents accountable who don’t protect their children.”

Russian poll shows disquieting findings

A January poll of 1,600 people in various regions of Russia by the Russian Center of Public Opinion Research shows 32% of respondents don’t believe the Sun is the center of the universe.

Other findings: 55% believe radioactivity is a human invention, and 29% think humans and dinosaurs lived side by side.

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