Freethought Today · Vol. 28 No. 6 August 2011

Published by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc.

In the News August 2011

All systems go for Rock Beyond Belief

Sgt. Justin Griffith, a persistent foxhole atheist and FFRF member stationed at Fort Bragg, N.C., says a festival called Rock Beyond Belief is scheduled for March 31 at the Army base. Col. Stephen Sicinski, base commander, reversed an earlier decision not to allow the event, which Griffith spearheaded in reaction to a Billy Graham Evangelistic Association event called Rock the Fort.

“This just might be the turning point in the foxhole atheist community’s struggle for acceptance, tolerance and respect,” Griffith said. “It’s an amazing time to be a nonbeliever in the U.S. military on the cusp of a major breakthrough. . . . We’re extremely grateful to [Col. Sicinski] for this opportunity.”

The public is invited, free of charge. Richard Dawkins is the scheduled keynote speaker. FFRF Co-President Dan Barker is also slated to speak.

Weather permitting, Fort Bragg’s Golden Knights parachute team may perform. “I can’t say much more at this point, but some atheists may just be falling out of the freaking sky (with parachutes),” Griffith said at rockbeyondbelief.com.

Fort spokesman Benjamin Abel told The New York Times that use of the parade field was approved because Rock Beyond Belief came up with enough money for a stage, lighting, sound system and other expenses. About $30,000 was needed. The Army will provide electricity, water and security but no direct financial assistance.

School bans Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five

The School Board in Republic, Mo., voted 4-0 on July 25 to ban Kurt Vonnegut’s SlaughterhouseFive and Sarah Ockler’s Twenty Boy Summer due to one man’s complaint. Wesley Scroggins “challenged the use of the books and lesson plans in Republic schools, arguing they teach principles contrary to the bible,” reported the Springfield News-Leader. A reporter, the board members and two administrators were the only people at the meeting.

In response, in a post titled on its website “Stop the madness,” the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library in Indianapolis offered a free copy of SlaughterhouseFive to district high school students. An anonymous donor made 150 copies available.

Atheist fired by YMCA files suit

A Fountain Hill, Pa., man claims the Family YMCA of Easton, Phillipsburg and Vicinity fired him because he is an atheist and complained about religious discrimination, in a lawsuit reported July 29 by the Harrisburg Times-Express.

Edward Massey, who was hired in 2008, worked at the YMCA as a lead teacher. In July 2010, when a child asked Massey about his religious beliefs, Massey replied he didn’t believe in God and explained what atheism means.

The same day, management allegedly told Massey that the YMCA was a Christian group and part of his job was to “spread Christian values.” He was suspended for two days and was later fired.

Jury finds Mormon sect leader guilty

The leader of the 10,000-member Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, Warren Jeffs, 55, was found guilty Aug. 4 in Texas of aggravated sexual assaults of girls ages 12 and 14 whom he took as child brides. The Salt Lake Tribune said Jeff has 78 wives, 24 of them under age 17. He fathered a child with the 14-year-old victim when she was 15.

The jury heard audio recordings of Jeffs having sex with the girls: “Take your clothes off. Do it right now. Each one who touches me and assists each other will have my holy gift. Just don’t think about the pain. You’re going to heaven.

“You have to know how to be sexually excited and to help each other . . . and you have to be ready for the time I need your comfort.”

Students confess sins, then have to eat them

A British mother pulled her 7-yearold son out of school after he was convinced to “repent his sins” on paper and then to chew and swallow the rice-paper apology.

Celia Mullen said the incident occurred during a visit by New Life Baptist Church members to her son’s class at Ainderby Steeple primary school, which is run by the Church of England.

The Sunday Mirror reported July 24 that Mullen’s son, Luis, came home confused and started to cry while recounting what happened. “We had to eat a piece of paper with the word ‘sorry’ on it.”

Mullen complained to head teacher Fiona Sharp, who worships at New Life, according to her Facebook posts. She said Sharp told her, “That is what we do.”

New Life’s assistant pastor confirmed that the incident happened.

New ‘Cru’ runs away from Crusades

Campus Crusade for Christ, founded in 1951, is changing its name to Cru.

The goal, according to Christianity Today, is to ditch the problematic word “crusade” and the word “campus,” seen by campus crusaders as passé.

The group’s website denies trying to take Christ off campus: “Cru enables us to have discussions about Christ with people who might initially be turned off by a more overtly Christian name.”

Pastor suspended for marrying lesbians

Rev. Amy DeLong, 44, a United Methodist pastor in Osceola, Wis., was suspended for 20 days July 1 for marrying a lesbian couple in 2009.

A church panel voted 13-0 that De-Long was guilty. She could have been barred from the ministry. She was also ordered to draft a document outlining ways to avert similar church trials. Hers lasted two days. If she declines, she’ll be suspended for a year. She was acquitted of being a “self-avowed practicing homosexual,” a Methodist term that means gays can serve as clergy as long as they remain celibate.

DeLong told The Associated Press that she refused to discuss her celibacy. “It’s an indecent question. Nobody should have to answer that when somebody’s trying to do them harm. We don’t measure the validity of a heterosexual couple’s relationship based upon how they conduct themselves in their private moments.”

Ghana Bible Society invades public schools

The Ghana Bible Society is aiming to distribute 1 million bibles to students in all public junior high schools by 2012, according to the Ghana News Agency in Accra. The group has already handed out more than 800,000 bibles to students since 2007.

Rev. Erasmus Odonkor, the group’s general secretary, is collaborating with Joyful Way Inc. Odonkor said if Christians can catch the young ones through the bible, Ghana will be be poised for rapid socioeconomic development. Kafui Agormeda-Tetteh, GBS promotion and resource mobilization manager, urged everyone to be steadfast in their bible reading because it’s the only weapon with which to fight the devil and transform people’s lives.

Texas killer dies feeling blessed

Mark Stroman, 41, was executed July 20 in Huntsville, Texas, for killing a store clerk near Dallas in 2001 in what he had called a “patriotic” act of retaliation for the 9/11 attacks. He admitted to at least three attacks in the weeks after 9/11, all on men he believed to be Muslims.

“The Lord Jesus Christ be with me,” Stroman said before receiving a lethal drug injection, according to the Huntsville Item. “I’m still a proud American, Texas loud, Texas proud. God bless America, God bless everyone.”

His last meal included chicken-fried steak with gravy, ham-and-cheese omelet with onions and tomatoes, bacon, fried potatoes, fried squash and okra, pork chops with eggs sunny-side up, Dr Pepper and a pint of vanilla Blue Bell ice cream.

Church attendance declines 9%

Since 1991, regular U.S. church attendance has dropped 9 percentage points to 40%, said George Barna of the Barna Group, a research group focusing on faith. Other shifts noted over the past 20 years:

• Church volunteerism at 19% is down 8%.
• In 1991, 24% of adults were unchurched. Now it’s 37%.
• Born-again Christians increased to 40% (a 5% growth).
• The percentage of adults who believe God is “the all-knowing, all-powerful and perfect Creator of the universe who still rules the world today” is down 7% to 67%. It currently stands at two-thirds of the public (67%).
• Belief that “the bible is totally accurate in all of the principles it teaches” dropped 8 points to 38%.

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