Freethought Today · May 2013

Published by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc.


Evangelicals resist new Scouts proposal

A proposal by the Boy Scouts of America would let gays join but continue to bar gay adults from serving as troop leaders.

The decision, announced April 19 by the BSA Executive Committee, must be approved by the roughly 1,400 voting members of the National Council at its meeting in Texas in late May.

“No youth may be denied membership in the Boy Scouts of America on the basis of sexual orientation or preference alone,” reads the resolution.

Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council, a conservative Christian lobbying group, urged the organization “to do the right thing and not yield to any societal pressure.”

Perkins added, “For a century, Scouts have stood honorably for God and country. Scouting has never been about political correctness. Making it so today would have disastrous results for the organization.” BSA has made no move to permit nontheist children to join.


Faith-healing parents lose second child

Faith-healing Philadelphia parents Herbert and Catherine Schaible have watched another child die. Their 8-month-old son Brandon died April 19. Autopsy results are pending. 

The Schaibles belong to First Century Gospel Church, which substitutes prayer for medical care. They were convicted of involuntary manslaughter in 2009 when their 2-year-old son died of bacterial pneumonia. The sentence included 10 years’ probation and an order to arrange continuing medical care for their remaining children.

Child welfare workers are monitoring the medical needs of the seven other Schaible children, ages 3 to 18, who have been placed temporarily in three foster homes.

Kent Schaible died in 2009 after having pneumonia for two weeks. “We tried to fight the devil, but in the end the devil won,” Herbert Schaible told a social worker investigating Kent’s death.

Nelson Clark, 71, the Schaibles’ pastor, told a Philadelphia Inquirer reporter that God didn’t want the children to die. They died due to some “spiritual lack” in the Schaibles’ lives, Clark said. “They realize they must get back to God, to seek wisdom from him, to find where the spiritual lack is in their heart and life.”


Boys’ herpes tied to Orthodox ritual

Two New York City baby boys contracted herpes after undergoing an ultra-Orthodox Jewish circumcision ritual called metzitzah b’peh in which the mohel uses his mouth to “cleanse” the penile wound and suck away blood.

A week after the ceremony, one boy developed a fever and a lesion on his scrotum, according to the city Health Department. The city started requiring parents to sign consent forms in 2000 to acknowledge awareness of the ritual’s risk. 

Fox News reported that Dr. William Schaffner, chair of preventive medicine at Vanderbilt University, said the ritual is always unsafe. “These terrible infections are completely preventable. They should not occur in the 21st century with our scientific knowledge.”


Father’s killing
called ‘will of God’

Witnesses said Reshad Riddle, 25, started yelling about God and Allah after fatally shooting his father, 52-year-old Richard Riddle, after an Easter service March 31 at Hiawatha Church of God in Christ in Ashtabula, Ohio. 

Associate Pastor Sean Adams told the Star Beacon that Reshad Riddle, still holding a handgun, yelled that the killing was “the will of Allah. This is the will of God.”


Ahlquist gets First Amendment Award

Rhode Island teen Jessica Ahlquist, who successfully challenged her school district’s prayer banner in federal court, is the 2013 “education” category recipient of a Hugh Hefner Foundation First Amendment Award. Last year’s education recipient was Zack Kopplin, who led the successful effort to repeal the Louisiana Science Education Act that promoted teaching creationism and so-called intelligent design in public school science classes.

Ahlquist will receive $5,000, a commemorative plaque and a trip to the Playboy Mansion in Los Angeles for a May 22 reception with other recipients and judges.


Atheist’s soles
slowed by believers?

The Atheist shoe company, based in Berlin, suspects that religious U.S. postal workers may be behind slowed delivery or even nondelivery of Atheist orders.

The firm found out last year due to customer feedback about the problem. American customers wondered if the Atheist name on packaging materials was behind the slowdown.

As a test, the company sent two packages each to 89 customers in 49 states, one sealed with Atheist-branded tape and the other with plain tape. The company stays neutral. Sure enough, the Atheist-taped packages took an average of three days longer to arrive, and of 10 that didn’t arrive at all, nine were Atheist-taped.

According to a Religion News Service story, package delivery was just as likely to slow down in the Pacific Northwest as in the Deep South. “There was no regional variation at all.”


Egyptians targeting satires of Islam

Satirist Bassem Youssef, known as “the Jon Stewart of Egypt,” was released on bail March 31 after prosecutors questioned him on charges that he insulted Islam and President Mohammed Morsi. Youssef tweeted that the bail was for three separate cases.

Youssef, 39, is a surgeon who became vocal during the 2011 “Arab Spring.” He “has regularly derided members of the government and those he says misuse religion for political gains,” reported the Abu Dhabi National. “We are not the ones who insult religion, all we do is expose the channels that have misused religion and harmed it more than anyone else.”

Comedian Adel Imam narrowly avoided a prison sentence last year for “insulting Islam” through his depictions of characters. A higher court overturned the three-month sentence and fine in May.

In January 2012, telecom tycoon Naguib Sawiris was sued for posting an image on Twitter of Mickey and Minnie Mouse wearing conservative Islamic clothing.


Prayer power puffed
by Church of England

The British Humanist Association criticized the Church of England in March for “seeking to mislead the public” about a poll question on the power of prayer. As reported by Huffington Post-UK, the one-question survey of church members, conducted by ICM Research, asked, “Irrespective of whether you currently pray or not, if you were to pray for something at the moment, what would it be for?”

The church reported the result “four out of five believe in the power of prayer.”

Andrew Copson, BHA chief executive, called that “a desperate attempt to have an Easter good news story through misleading claims conceal[ing] the reality of the religious demography of our country.” He added, “If you asked someone ‘Irrespective of whether you make wishes of genies, what would you wish for?’ or ‘Irrespective of whether you believe in Father Christmas, what would you ask him for?’ you could hardly use the responses to demonstrate wide public belief in genies or Santa Claus.”


Study: Mother Teresa far from saintly

An academic paper by Serge Larivée and Genevieve Chenard of the University of Montreal’s Department of Psychoeducation and Carole Sénéchal of the University of Ottawa’s Faculty of Education debunks the myth of Mother Teresa. The paper was published in the March issue of the journal Studies in Religion/Sciences Religieuses and analyzes 287 documents on Mother Teresa’s life.

In an article on Vendredi News headlined “Mother Teresa: anything but a saint,” the researchers note “her rather dubious way of caring for the sick, her questionable political contacts, her suspicious management of the enormous sums of money she received, and her overly dogmatic views regarding, in particular, abortion, contraception, and divorce.”

Before she died, Mother Teresa had opened 517 facilities for the poor and sick in more than 100 countries. Some doctors who visited them described the missions as “homes for the dying” where many people languished for lack of food and medical care.

The study notes her response to criticism cited by the later journalist Christopher Hitchens: “There is something beautiful in seeing the poor accept their lot, to suffer it like Christ’s Passion. The world gains much from their suffering.”

After accepting the Nobel Peace Prize, she commented that “the greatest destroyer of peace today is abortion, because it is a direct war, a direct killing, direct murder by the mother herself.”


Pakistani youth
favor Islamic law

A survey of Pakistanis ages 18-29 showed 38% believe the country should be governed by Islamic law and only 29% think democracy is the best political system. The study was conducted between December 2012 and January 2013 by the British Council.

“The results are not surprising, and we face a really confused young population that is brainwashed with visions of a glorious Islamic past and the gritty reality of unemployment, insecurity and political turmoil,” Raza Rumi, an Islamabad-based writer and analyst, told The Independent.

“The last five years of democracy have also been misrepresented by the same elements who are permanent stakeholders in nonrepresentative forms of governance.”


Utah atheist may sue over T-shirts

The Atheists of Utah are considering legal action against TIKI Printing of West Valley City, a Salt Lake City suburb, for refusing to print “Gotta Be Real Cuz God Ain’t!” on T-shirts.

“We weren’t going to be the delivery method for that message that demeaned our beliefs,” TIKI Printing owner Sam Saltzman told KUTV. Saltzman said he agreed to print the front of the shirt, which includes the group’s website

“I found it quite shocking that an organization that stated that they were Christian would not do business with someone because they were not Christian,” said Connie Anast with Atheists of Utah.


Israel moves to bar gender segregation 

Israeli government officials are moving to ban religious practices that give second-class status to women. “The issue is at the heart of a long and emotional struggle between Israel’s secular majority and an ultra-Orthodox Jewish minority over lifestyle in the Jewish state,” the Jerusalem Post reported May 9.

“Today, I instructed the Justice Ministry to draft legislation . . . that will make any segregation of women and their humiliation in a public space a criminal offense,” Justice Minister Tzipi Livni said.

On May 8 in a 71-page document, Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein recommended outlawing any behavior that stops women from receiving “public services with equal conditions.”

Recommendations include:

• Ensuring that no cemeteries separate men and women or prevent women from giving eulogies.

• Barring separation of women and men at ceremonies or events sponsored by the government or any of its ministries, in health clinics or on public transportation.

• The Transportation Ministry must monitor bus companies to make sure there’s no gender separation.

• Signs indicating separate sidewalks for men and women or calling for modest dress must be removed by authorities, especially when posted in a public place.

• The haredi “Kol Barama” radio station will have to stop its policy of not employing female broadcasters within six months.

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