State Representative Juan Mendez of (D-Tempe) made history May 22 by giving the Arizona state legislature’s first secular invocation in place of the body’s usual morning prayer. Rep. Mendez began by asking legislators not to bow their heads as they usually do, but instead to take a moment to look around the room “at all the men and women here, in this moment, sharing together this extraordinary experience of being alive and dedicating ourselves to working toward improving the lives of the people in our state.” He then cited the challenging debates, moments of tension and ideological division and frustration legislators experience, but asked his colleagues to focus more on what they have in common than on their differences. He concluded by quoting Carl Sagan. Afterwards, Rep. Mendez came out as a non-theist at a press conference. As he spoke to the press and media, a group of people stood behind him holding signs that said, “One in Five.” Rep. Mendez pointed out that one American in five, or 1.3 million Arizona citizens, choose not to affiliate with a religion.
As if the Rick Brainard debacle didn’t offend enough people for the embattled Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce, now Chamber president Diane Schwenke has offended the local secular community with an anti-atheist post on her personal Facebook page. Ms. Schwenke says in her post that she finds this nasty joke “just too good not to share,” so I am sharing it with all of my readers.
Is it ever appropriate for the president of a Chamber of Commerce to attack a minority group like this? Is it more politically safe to attack atheists than it is to attack, say, Jews, Mennonites, Latinos or African Americans? To make matters worse, the G.J. Chamber continues to get public funding from the City of Grand Junction, which pays $6,325/year (updated in 2017) to be a member of the chamber at the highest level. A larger screenshot of Diane Schwenke’s Facebook Page with her joke along with her statement of affiliation with the Grand Junction Chamber of Commerce can be seen here.
Two North Carolina state House Representatives introduced a bill to permit the establishment of a state religion in North Carolina, arguing that the prohibition against doing so embodied in the U.S. Constitution’s Establishment Clause doesn’t apply to the states. North Carolina House Representatives Harry Warren and Carl Ford, both Republicans, introduced the “Defense of Religion Act of 2013” (House Joint Resolution 494) after the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed a lawsuit against Rowan County, North Carolina commissioners over the Christian prayers they say at the start of public meetings. The suit claims that Rowan County Commissioners have opened over 97 percent of their public meetings over the past five years with prayers that routinely mention the name “Jesus Christ.” The invocations typically make such declarations as “there is only one way to salvation, and that is Jesus Christ.” House Resolution 494 also declares that public schools would be free to ignore federal court rulings that prohibit the establishment of religion in schools. ACLU of North Carolina’s Legal Director, Chris Brook, said, “The bill sponsors fundamentally misunderstand constitutional law and the principles of the separation of powers that date back to the founding of this country.” Rep. Harry Warren says he doesn’t expect the bill “will go anywhere,” saying it is more a symbol of his support for Rowan County than a serious effort to enact a new law. While the legislators claim the Establishment Clause doesn’t apply in their state, though, they do not claim that the “free exercise” clause of the First Amendment is null and void in their state as well. Warren risks his reputation as a serious state legislator by introducing a frivolous bill he knows is unconstitutional, is destined to fail and which will embarrass the state.
Main Source: Salisbury Post, April 3, 2013
A lawsuit in Rhode Island brought by the niece of a wealthy, deceased widow has cracked open thousands of previously secret documents of the Legion of Christ, a disgraced Roman Catholic order of priests and young men studying to enter the priesthood. The lawsuit charges that the Legion of Christ unduly influenced a wealthy banker’s widow named Gabriel Mee, who died in 2008 at the age of 96, to alter her trust and will to bequeath $30 million to the Legion, while the Legion withheld from Ms. Mee information that the order’s founder, the Reverend Marcial Maciel Degollado, had sexually abused underage seminarians and secretly fathered three children by two women. The documents in the case were under seal until The Associated Press, the New York Times, the National Catholic Reporter and the Providence Journal petitioned the court to have them unsealed, saying they were in the public interest. A Rhode Island Superior Court judge agreed, and ordered the documents released to the public. Pope John Paul II praised and supported Rev. Maciel through the years, calling Maciel an “efficacious guide to youth,” even after 1998, when Maciel was formally accused of sexually abusing Legion seminarians. Pope Benedict, who is retiring from the papacy this month, continued the coverup until he finally pushed Maciel to retire “to a private life of penance and prayer” in May of 2006. Pope Benedict failed to involve legal authorities in the Maciel case, nor did Benedict acknowledge Maciel’s sexual transgressions or his victims. The Legion of Christ only officially acknowledged Father Maciel’s sexual transgressions on March, 25, 2010, when the order issued a formal communique’ titled, “Regarding the current circumstances of the Legion of Christ and the Regnum Christi Movement.” The Legion of Christ has branches all over the world and is still operating.
Main Source: The National Catholic Reporter, February 18, 2013
On New Year’s Day in 2006, 31 year old Lori Stodghill went to the emergency room at St. Thomas More Hospital in Cañon City, Colorado, short of breath, vomiting, and seven months pregnant with twins. As they wheeled her into the examining room, she passed out. The ER staff tried to resuscitate her, but a blockage in the main artery going to Lori’s lungs caused her to have a massive heart attack, killing her and her twins less than an hour after she arrived at the ER. Her obstetrician, who was supposed to be on call for emergencies that night, never answered a page. Stodghill’s husband subsequently filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the owner of the hospital, Catholic Health Initiatives (CHI) based in Englewood, Colorado. Catholic hospitals do not offer abortion services or even contraception based on their belief that legal personhood starts at contraception, not at birth, and that fetuses are viable people. CHI even has an advocacy website that implores visitors to help them oppose the provision in Obamacare that requires employers to pay for contraceptives, because “Our mission and our ethical standards in health care are rooted in the Catholic Church’s teachings about the dignity of the human person and the sanctity of human life from conception to natural death.” But to get its client out of this wrongful death suit, CHI’s lawyers are arguing the opposite — that Lori’s fetuses weren’t really viable persons. In a brief the defense filed with the court, CHI’s lawyers say the court “should not overturn the long-standing rule in Colorado that the term ‘person,’ as used in the Wrongful Death Act, encompasses only individuals born alive. Colorado state courts define a ‘person’ under the Act to include only those born alive. Therefore Plaintiffs cannot maintain wrongful death claims based on the two unborn fetuses.”
Updated Jan. 26, 2013
An Orange County, Florida school district allowed the Christian group World Changers of Central Florida to distribute Bibles to high school students at eleven area high schools on January 16, 2012, by placing the books on tables near the school’s lunchroom. Orange County secularists who were offended by the overt advertisement for Christianity on public school grounds has asked the school district to change its policy to disallow distribution of religious materials on school grounds. If the school district refuses to change the policy, members of American Atheists and Central Florida Freethought Community say they will ask the school district for a date on which they can distribute information to students about atheism and humanism in the same manner. World Changers’ mission is to promote prayer in public schools and push to have creationism taught in public schools.
The National Center for Science Education is warning that a bill introduced in the Colorado House of Representatives on January 16, HB13-1089 (pdf), called the “Academic Freedom Act,” is really a trojan horse anti-science bill. The bill directs teachers “to create an environment that encourages students to intelligently and respectfully explore scientific questions and learn about scientific evidence related to biological and chemical evolution, global warming, and human cloning.” It sounds innocent enough, but such bills use an “academic freedom” guise to tacitly permit teachers to misinform students by allowing the teaching of creationism as a scientifically valid alternative to evolution, or by allowing teachers to misrepresent evolution as being scientifically controversial. The last time such an anti-evolution bill was introduced in Colorado was in 1972, when a lawmakers tried to put a measure on the ballot that would have allowed “all students and teachers academic freedom of choice as to which of these two theories, creation of evolution, they wish to choose.” That measure never made it onto the ballot. All of the primary sponsors and co-sponsors of Colorado’s 2013 “Academic Freedom Act” in both the House and the Senate are Republicans. These tricky, shifting strategies state and local school boards, state legislatures and teachers are using to undermine the teaching of scientific subjects like evolution, climate change and cloning are described in depth an article published in a September, 2010 article in the Annual Review of Genomics and Human Genetics titled Dispatches from the Evolution Wars: Shifting Tactics and Expanding Battlefields.
Christian evangelicals are hard at work recruiting young athletes into Christianity in publicly-funded schools all across the country, and taxpayers are footing the bill. The injection of Jesus into school athletics is being carried out by the Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA), a Christian group that encourages and rewards school sports coaches for using their influential positions to spread Christianity among youth.
For those who are unfamiliar with FCA, it is a Christian religious group whose existence is dedicated to turning school athletic departments into missionaries for Christ. FCA’s website states, “The purpose of [FCA’s] Campus Ministry…has been to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ with the lost and to seek and grow a mature follower of Jesus Christ. The ‘win’ of Campus Ministry is to see campuses impacted for Jesus Christ through the influence of coaches and athletes.” An answer to the question of “What is FCA?” on the group’s website states, “Since 1954, FCA has been challenging coaches and athletes on the professional, college, high school, junior high and youth levels to use the powerful medium of athletics to impact the world for Jesus Christ.” FCA also encourages coaches to conduct Bible studies on campus. The group is open about its use of the platform of athletics to spread Christian “evangelism, discipleship, outreach and fellowship.” One of FCA’s corporate sponsors is Chick-Fil-A, the fast-food restaurant chain whose president, Dan Cathy, expressed strong views against same-sex marriage in a July, 2012 interview in the Biblical Recorder.
Oklahoma 17 year old Tyler Alred pled guilty to first-degree manslaughter after drinking and driving last December 3 and getting into a vehicular crash that killed his 16 year old passenger, but instead of sentencing Alred to prison, Oklahoma district judge Mike Norman sentenced Alred to complete high school, finish welding school, take drug and alcohol tests for a year, wear an alcohol monitoring bracelet and attend church for ten years. Judge Norman had sentenced people to attend church before as punishment, but never for manslaughter. The Oklahoma chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) cited the sentence as a clear violation of the free exercise clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Judge Norman himself acknowledged the sentence is illegal, but believes he can get away with it because he doesn’t think anyone will appeal it. No parties who have standing in the case are likely to object to the sentence because it keeps Alred from having to go to prison. The pastor of the church Alred has attended in the past questioned the judge’s use of church as criminal punishment, saying “What will the judge do if the young man changes his [religious] affiliation in the next few years? Will he be allowed to switch to a mosque or become an atheist?” The ACLU is particularly concerned that the judge was fully aware that the sentence he handed down was illegal, but did it anyway. Ryan Kiesel, executive director of the Oklahoma ACLU said, “The Constitution is not exercised at your discretion. You take an oath to uphold it all the time, not just sometimes.”
A U.S. District Court court ruled in November that Hobby Lobby, a private, for-profit, national arts-and-crafts supply store chain owned by a Christian family, cannot be exempted from a government requirement that its employees’ health insurance plan cover 100% of the cost for emergency contraceptives. Hobby Lobby’s owners, who are conservative Christians, challenged a provision of the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”) that requires businesses provide employees with no-cost birth control through their health insurance plans. U.S. District Judge Joe Heaton of the Western District Court in Oklahoma ruled November 19 that privately-owned companies are secular, for-profit enterprises, and as such are not entitled to the the same religious rights as the individual members of the family that owns them. The Green family, owners of Hobby Lobby, have vowed to defy the Court’s ruling, and to continue to block their employees’ access to free contraception through their health insurance plans.
In his religious zeal, David Green, the owner of Hobby Lobby, is missing the point. The law entitles him and his family to their own beliefs, but Hobby Lobby’s claim that the Affordable Care Act’s contraception requirements infringe on his own personal religious liberty makes no sense.
U.S. Senator Michael Crapo (R-Idaho), a Mormon who has portrayed himself to the media as a teetotaler due to his religion, was arrested Sunday morning, December 23 in Alexandria, Virginia on a charge of drunken driving. The arrest occurred at 12:45 a.m. after Senator Crapo blew through a red light. No one was hurt. The officer who pulled Senator Crapo over arrested him after he failed several field sobriety tests. Senator Crapo’s blood alcohol level was .11%, which is above Idaho’s legal limit of 08%. Crapo was named a bishop in the Mormon church thirty years ago, when he was 31 years old. He attended Brigham Young University, a Mormon institution, and graduated from Harvard Law School. The Mormon church prohibits use of alcohol, coffee, tea and other substances containing caffeine. Despite this, in 2010 Crapo sponsored a bill to cut taxes on microbreweries. At the time he told the Associated Press that he does not drink due to his religion and that if the bill passed, he planned to celebrate by drinking root beer. Crapo issued a public apology after getting his DUI: “I am deeply sorry for the actions that resulted in this circumstance,” Crapo said. “I made a mistake for which I apologize to my family, my Idaho constituents and any others who have put their trust in me. I accept total responsibility and will deal with whatever penalty comes my way in this matter.
The first-ever Atheist Census, an online project to count and collect demographic information on the world’s self-identified atheists, is back online following a denial of service attack that forced the website offline just 17 hours after its debut on December 7, 2012. By the time the attack occurred the Census had already had 8,800 confirmed entries and another 2,300 waiting to be confirmed. The data was retained and the site re-launched on December 16, 2012. It is unknown who carried out the attack, but the assumption is that it was a group or individual who didn’t like the idea of atheists being counted. The Atheist Alliance International (AAI), a global alliance of secular groups and individuals that promotes a more secular world and works to stem the influence of religion on public policy, is conducting the Census. AAI requires Census participants provide a legitimate email address that can be verified so they can assure a real person is behind each submission. Participants are allowed one entry in the Census. Information the Census collects is freely available through the Atheist Census website so atheists can view and demonstrate their own presence in each country. To participate in the Census or see real-time results, including a breakdown of atheists responding by country, click here.
A group of devout Mormon women are encouraging other Mormon women to engage in a radical act on Sunday, December 16, 2012: wearing pants to church. A movement of faithful female Mormons have organized a feminist group within the church called “All Enlisted” which has decleared December 16 “Wear Pants to Church Day” as a way to openly challenge a host of gender inequalities within the Mormon church. Event organizer Stephanie Lauritzen describes some of the inequities women face within the Latter Day Saints (LDS) church: men’s voices are more prominent than women’s in meetings, leadership positions and decision-making bodies; many prominent positions besides the priesthood — like school presidencies and mission leaders — are given only to men; women can occasionally do the same work as men, but are given different, more demeaning titles (like “Sister” vs. “President”), and only men are allowed to handle church finances. Lauritzen points out that women’s primary value within the church is linked to being a wife and mother instead of being a “child of God.” A fuller list of Mormon gender inequalities can be seen here.
Anyone who thinks that electing narrow-minded people to city councils in small American towns doesn’t get expensive, think again. The parochial minds of just five elected city council members in the town of Grand Junction, Colorado cost city taxpayers $64,000 and led to the creation of a big, permanent public reminder on City Hall grounds of how they spent that huge sum to evade the law and collectively thumb their nose at the U.S. Constitution.
It all started in 1959, when the City of Grand Junction accepted a gift from the Fraternal Order of Eagles (FOE), a do-good civic group that restricts its membership only to people who believe in God. The gift was a stone tablet engraved with the Ten Commandments, a religious symbol commanding people to worship God, which City officials installed on City Hall grounds. There it sat, little-noticed, for the next fifty years, its presence often obscured by mature landscaping. All that changed in 2000, when the City put the finishing touches on construction of a new City Hall building and relocated the Ten Commandments to a much more visible location on the grounds.
The tablet’s more prominent location made it more noticeable, and some local citizens also finally happened to notice the Constitutional violation it represented. As a result, in April, 2001 five local citizens and the American Civil Liberties Union sued the City over the monument, asking them to remove it because it made members of minority religious groups, nonbelievers and community political outsiders feel unwelcome. The plaintiffs also contended it represented a government establishment of religion.
A senior at the United States Military Academy at West Point has publicly resigned from the Academy to protest pervasive Christian proselytizing that takes place at the school. Blake Page said the academy shows clear favoritism towards Christians and discriminates against atheists and other non-religious students. In an article for the Huffington Post, Page wrote that “Countless officers here and throughout the military are guilty of blatantly violating the oaths they swore to defend the Constitution. These men and women are criminals, complicit in light-of-day defiance of the Uniform Code of Military Justice through unconstitutional proselytism, discrimination against the non-religious and establishing formal policies to reward, encourage and even at time require sectarian religious participation.” Page says West Point leaders regularly let cadets know that, in order to be viewed positively by staff and faculty, they should participate in Christian prayer groups and attend Christian retreats. Page served two years in the Army as an air defense specialist in Korea prior to entering West Point. His commander saw him as a high performer and recommended he apply to West Point. Admission to West Point is highly competitive. The school gets about 15,000 applicants annually but only accepts 1,500. Candidates (as applicants are known) typically must excel at sports, have passed advanced mathematics courses, and speak two languages. Applicants also typically must be nominated by a legislator or a career member of the armed services. Page is giving up even more than his prestigious spot in the West Point graduating class of 2013, though. In the wake of his resignation, the government could seek reimbursement for the hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of tuition invested in his education.
The Pentagon has hired Las Vegas-based Ray Giunta, a known fraudster, to be the guest speaker at the “Pentagon Prayer Breakfast” on November 28th. Giunta, who advertises himself as the friendly “Pastor Ray,” a Christian motivational speaker, has also put himself out as “Doctor Ray,” a clinical psychologist and addictions counselor who practiced using a fake Ph.D. degree that he bought online for a few hundred dollars. A California state audit revealed that in a previous job as director of the California Cemetery Board in the mid-1990s, Giunta illegally diverted over $10,000 in cemetery trust funds meant for maintaining graveyards. He used the money to open a bank account, pay his dry cleaning bills and his creditors and to help support his nonprofit group, “We Care Ministries.” While not an ordained minister, more recently he has started putting himself out as a chaplain and pastoral counselor. Giunta and his wife purchased online degrees from a place called “Rochville University” which charged $769 for a “master’s and doctorate degree package.” He ordered a white lab coat with the word “Doc” embroidered on the lapel that he wore while “counseling” people on behalf of a church. The personal license plate on Giunta’s car said “CAREDOC” and he wore a stethoscope on a church-sponsored missionary trip to Africa. In June of 2008, the Las Vegas Sun published an extensive article describing Guinta’s string of frauds and the people he had deceived. Giunta says he and his wife believed their degrees were real and didn’t realize they were bogus. The Military Religious Freedom Foundation is protesting Guinta’s appearance at the Pentagon event and a has asked the Pentagon to rescind the invitation to Giunta. The bigger question remains, however, and that is why a taxpayer-funded institution is holding an event that endorses religion.
Source: Military Religious Freedom Foundation, November 26, 2012
In a Nov. 7 article titled “Five ways the mainstream media tipped the scales in favor of Obama,” Rich Noyes of Fox News thrashes the major media as the sole cause Obama’s victory. Noyes faults the networks for reporting on the gaffes Romney made during his trip to Europe. He points to Mother Jones’ reporting of the sensational “47%” video in which Romney denigrated millions of Americans who don’t pay income taxes, saying the “networks hyped it as a sensational sex scandal.” Noyes whines that the major news networks failed to report on Obama’s “You didn’t build that” comment, when in reality the networks engaged in appropriate journalism by refusing to take that remark out of context like the Republicans insisted on doing. Noyes complains that Romney was “pounded with partisan fact-checking,” when the media was forced many times to correct errors and mis-statements Romney frequently made, including his bizarre repetition of an easily-verfiable geographical error he repeated no fewer than five times during the campaign that “Syria is Iran’s route to the sea.” Noyes also faults the debate moderators, the lack of clarity over what happened in Benghazi and reporting on the state of the economy for Romney’s defeat. He faults everyone but the GOP itself.
In the aftermath of the presidential election, some vendors at outlets like CafePress and Zazzle are starting to shift their marketing strategies to keep capitalizing on bitterness and hatred. They are starting to discount their racist, anti-Obama bumper stickers and swag denigrating “other” types of people. The price of a sticker featuring a photo of President Obama that says “Somewhere in Kenya, a village is missing its idiot,” for example, has been cut from $5.00 to $3.75. But merchandise exploiting the battered emotions of the millions of angry, racist and hyper-religious people who lost the election is starting to appear, and it’s not cheap. A pack of 100 refrigerator magnets that yelp “Obama Won, America Lost! Nation in Distress — Only God can Save Us” is going for a whopping $200, and a 50-pack of stickers with a graphic that depicts the phrase “No White Guilt” is selling for an insane $140.00.