Freethought Today · October 2013

Published by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc.

In the News

Judge restores boy’s name to Messiah

A Tennessee judge has overruled child support magistrate Lu Ann Ballew’s order in August to rename a child named Messiah. At a paternity hearing, Ballew was asked to decide Messiah Deshawn Martin’s surname. She ended up changing the 8-month-old boy’s first name as well, saying that Messiah was a title reserved for Jesus Christ.

Chancellor Telford E. Forgety Jr. ruled Sept. 18 that Ballew violated the violated the Establishment Clause. Messiah’s mother, Jaleesa Martin, said she’s glad the court fight is over. FFRF’s complaint against the judge is still pending.

God discussion turns very deadly

Douglas Yim, 33, Oakland, Calif., was found guilty by a jury Sept. 3 of killing Dzuy Dunh Phan, 25, during an argument over the existence of God. Yim was also convicted of assault with a firearm and mayhem for wounding another man during the argument, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.

His attorney, Mario Andrews, said the men were using alcohol and drugs. “[My client] is a religious man. He was trying to see if he could get Mr. Phan to become more religious.”

According to testimony, Phan asked Yim where God was whenever Yim lost a video game and when Yim’s father died several years earlier.

Yim then got an AR-15 assault rifle from his bedroom and shot Phan six times.


‘Tornado’ atheist has helping hands 

Rebecca Vitsmun, the Oklahoma mom who became famous after telling CNN’s Wolf Blitzer in the wake of a tornado that she’s an atheist, will be moving with her family to the Seattle suburbs with the help of more than $125,000 raised by #AtheistsUnite. Religion Dispatches reported Sept. 5 that Vitsmun’s brainchild, the Rainbow Lion project, will be incorporated into the Humanist First Responders program.

Inspired by her son’s loss of his Rainbow Lion after the tornadoes, the program helps reunite children with their lost comfort item or toy after a disaster.

Through Oklahoma Freethought, Vitsmun started working with Foundation Beyond Belief to launch the Humanist Service Corps in 2014. It will coordinate efforts of secular first-response disaster teams domestically and overseas. 

Vitsmun said she paid little attention to claims by Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck that she was a liberal plant when Blitzer interviewed her. “I wasn’t out. My family didn’t even know I was an atheist.”

Poll: Irish students losing religion

A survey conducted in late July and early August by the Irish Student Marketing Network showed that 83.5% of college students polled think abortion should be legal in Ireland and 77% think the Catholic Church has too much power.

About 60% of respondents identified as Catholic, with 20% identifying as atheist. When asked “Do you attend communal religious ceremonies and functions?” the highest response was “no” at 61%. Those who answered “yes” mainly attend one to three times a year. Only 32% of those receiving communion believe it’s the body and blood of Christ.

Students ranked “looking good” as fifth most important. “Religious beliefs” was sixth. “Family and friends” was first.

Just over 37% said they believed in God, with 41% saying they were unsure. About 66% said they don’t think religion necessarily makes the world a better place.

Russian Pastafarians hassled by bigots

Moscow police broke up a march of Pastafarians in August with help from anti-gay Russian Orthodox religious activists. RIA Novosti reported that eight persons were detained for “attempting to hold an unsanctioned rally.”

Followers of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster held a “pasta procession” to honor the birthday of Robert De Niro, who played a character named Noodle in the 1984 movie “Once Upon A Time in America.”

The march was also disrupted by members of Bozhaya Volya (God’s Will), who sprayed ketchup on marchers. The Orthodox group has protested against homosexuality, punk rockers Pussy Riot and the Darwin natural history museum.

“We were detained for simply walking,” one Pastafarian wrote on a social networking website. “In particular, I was taken in for a sieve on my head.”


Measles outbreak at Texas church

A measles outbreak was traced to Eagle Mountain International Church in Newark, Texas, where the leader of the megachurch had warned followers to avoid vaccinations, claiming they increase the risk of autism.

Church leader Terri Pearsons is the daughter of televangelist Kenneth Copeland, a multimillionaire. The unvaccinated congregation was exposed to a member who came in contact with measles overseas and interacted with church members, including children at the church’s day care center. Nine children and six adults were infected with measles.

“This is a classic example of how measles is being reintroduced,” William Schaffner, a professor and infectious disease expert at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine in Nashville told USA Today. “This is a sadly misinformed religious leader.”

Pearsons changed her mind after the outbreak and told all congregants to get vaccinated.


Survey results worry religious Jews

A new survey by the Pew Research Center’s Religion & Public Life Project shows that two-thirds of American Jews do not belong to a synagogue and one-fourth don’t believe in God, “It’s a very grim portrait of the health of the American Jewish population in terms of their Jewish identification,” Jack Wertheimer, professor of American Jewish history at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York told the New York Times.

Of millennials (born after 1980), 32% say they have no religion. “It’s very stark,” said Alan Cooperman, deputy director of the Pew religion project. “Older Jews are Jews by religion. Younger Jews are Jews of no religion.”

The intermarriage rate was 58% for all respondents and 71% for non-Orthodox Jews. Only 17% married outside the faith in 1970.

Reform Judaism is the largest American movement (35%), followed by Conservative (18%), Orthodox (10%) and groups such as Reconstructionist and Jewish Renewal at 6 %. About 30% don’t identify with a denomination.

Jane Eisner, editor in chief of the Jewish Daily Forward, called the results devastating. “I thought there would be more American Jews who cared about religion.”


Jihadists murder 40 in Nigerian dorm

Boko Haram extremists murdered 40 students with gunfire and explosives Sept. 29 in a dormitory at the College of Agriculture in Gujba, Nigeria, as the students slept, Agence France-Presse reported.

The Islamist group’s formal name is the Congregation and People of Tradition for Proselytism and Jihad. It also took “credit” for killing 41 students in July in Mamudo. Boko Haram loosely translated means “Western education is sinful.”

Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan voiced exasperation in a broadcast interview: “Why did they kill them? You can ask and ask.”

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