In the News

Where atheism gets
you a death sentence 

A new study by the International Humanist and Ethical Union in Switzerland shows that atheists and other religious skeptics suffer persecution or discrimination around the world and in at least seven countries can be executed if their beliefs become known. The IHEU issued the report on the United Nation’s annual Human Rights Day on Dec. 10.

The report, “Freedom of Thought 2012,” said “there are laws that deny atheists’ right to exist, curtail their freedom of belief and expression, revoke their right to citizenship, restrict their right to marry.”

According to the survey of about 60 countries, nations where atheism or defection from the official religion can bring capital punishment are Afghanistan, Iran, Maldives, Mauritania, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Sudan.

The report also notes policies in some European countries and the U.S. that favor the religious while excluding nonbelievers.

In the U.S., a social and political climate prevails “in which atheists and the nonreligious are made to feel like lesser Americans, or non-Americans,” the report said.

In at least seven U.S. states, constitutional provisions bar atheists from public office. One state, Arkansas, has a law that bars atheists from testifying in court, the report said.


Judge to archdiocese: Give up abuse files 

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Emilie Elias on Dec. 10 ordered the Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles to turn over secret files it’s had for decades on 69 priests accused of sex abuse. Elias gave the archdiocese until Dec. 27 to give her the files. She set a date for early January to hear arguments from priests who want to keep their files private.

The Los Angeles Times reported that the order came five years after the 2007 settlement of $660 million with more than 550 alleged victims of 245 priests.

Ray Boucher, lead plaintiff’s attorney, estimates the archdiocese has files on 80 more priests that it is not turning over to the judge. He also said documents on priests who belonged to Catholic religious orders are also missing.


Film documents
abuse by Wis. priest

“Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God” opened in U.S. theaters in November and will air on HBO in February. The film centers on four men who attended St. John’s School for the Deaf in St. Francis, Wis., as boys and were sexually molested.

“A lot of individual stories had been done about clerical sex abuse, but I hadn’t seen one that really connected the individual stories with the larger coverup by the Vatican, so that was important,” director Alex Gibney told Reuters.

In a letter to the Vatican in 1998, the year he died, Fr. Lawrence Murphy admitted molesting some 200 deaf boys over two decades beginning in the 1950s.


‘No faith’ gains in United Kingdom

The Independent reported Dec. 10 that the number of persons with no religious faith in the U.K. rose from 14.8% in 2001 to 25.1% in 2011.

During that period, the number of Christians fell from 37.3 million to 33.2 million. The proportion of Muslims rose from 3% to 4.8%. Hinduism claims 1.5%, Sikhism 0.8% and Judaism 0.5%. About 180,000 claimed to be followers of the Jedi religion featured in “Star Wars,” down from 400,000 in 2001.


Mothers ‘maimed, forgotten’ in Ireland

“The imperative to bear as many children as possible crippled hundreds of Irishwomen,” Marie O’Connor writes in a column titled “The maimed and forgotten mothers” in The Irish Times. Catholic hospitals encouraged doctors to treat difficult childbirths with a symphysiotomy, a procedure that severs the pelvic joint, instead of doing a caesarean section.

According to O’Connor, the church preferred the symphysiotomy because it could widen the pelvis, “enabling an unlimited number of vaginal deliveries.

“But when it went wrong, which was often, the women suffered chronic pain and incontinence, and many could barely walk. . . . Doctors in every other Western country shunned the operation, but in Ireland it was performed on some 1,500 women between 1944 and 2005. About 200 victims survive today, most of them disabled. Yet they can’t seek redress in the courts, because it only recently became public that these operations were unnecessary, long after the statute of limitations expired.”


Bible favorite book, child favorite porn

A Manchester, N.H., lawyer with ties to a conservative Christian law firm took a teen girl to Canada, had her engage in sexual activity and convinced her to let it be filmed, according to federal indictments reported Nov. 17 by the Concord Monitor.

Lisa Biron, 43, is charged with transportation with intent to engage in criminal sexual activity, seven counts of possession of child pornography and five counts of sexual exploitation of children.

Biron is associated with the Alliance Defending Freedom, which, its website says, is committed to keeping “the door open for the spread of the Gospel” by advocating for “religious liberty, the sanctity of life, and marriage and family.” In Concord, she worked with ADF to defend a Pentecostal church in its tax fight against the city.

She recently served on the board of directors at Mount Zion Christian Schools in Manchester. On her Facebook page, which was been removed, she listed the bible as her favorite book.

Police began investigating after receiving a tip from a man who said he’d seen child porn on Biron’s computer. 


Priest on abuse list
now that he’s dead

Fr. Donald Musinski has been added to the Archdiocese of Milwaukee’s list of clergy restricted because of substantiated allegations of sexual abuse of children, 15 years after the victim first accused him, the Journal Sentinel reported Dec. 1.

The archdiocese did not announce Musinski’s addition to the list, possibly because he is deceased, said spokeswoman Julie Wolf. He died at age 69 in 2006. He was ordained in 1962 and served parishes in Milwaukee, Belgium and Johnsburg before retiring in 1999.

The victim, Karen Konter, now 54, reported Musinski to the archdiocese in 1997. She said Musinski began molesting her when she was 8, progressing to rape by the time she graduated from eighth grade. She said the priest took advantage of her, “an isolated and ostracized little girl, hobbled by polio and numerous surgeries,” as the Journal Sentinel put it, at St. Adalbert’s on Milwaukee’s south side.

U.K. Scouts mull
atheist membership

The Telegraph reported Dec. 3 that the British Scouting movement is working on plans to draft an alternative godless oath and let atheists become full members and group leaders for the first time. For more than 40 years, versions of the promise have existed allowing Muslims to pledge allegiance to Allah and Hindus to substitute the words “my Dharma.”

The traditional pledge mentions “duty to God and to the Queen, to help other people and to keep the Scout Law.”

Scouting founder Robert Baden-Powell in his book of advice for boys, “Rovering for Success,” compared atheism to gambling, excessive drinking, smoking and syphilis as a danger to be avoided.


Bible played role
in boy’s death

Police said 7-year-old Roderick Arrington was beaten to death by his parents because he didn’t read the bible and do his homework, the Las Vegas Sun reported Dec. 3. The boy’s stepfather, Markiece Palmer, 34, and mother, Dina Palmer, 27, were charged with murder, child abuse and neglect.

Roderick died after being taken to the hospital on Nov. 30. A doctor reported he had fixed pupils, bruises all over his body and buttocks showing “fresh open wounds.
Markiece Palmer told police he spanked his stepson because he lied about reading a chapter in the bible and didn’t do his homework. He admitted he hit the boy on multiple occasions with his belt, a spatula, a wooden paddle and his hands.

On one Facebook photo, Markiece Palmer wrote, “My babies they make me happy. GOD bless the children!!!”

On another photo of the boy, Dina Palmer wrote, “I wanna do better 4 my son, my family, myself, 4 you LORD!!!!!!!!”

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