A church in Leakey, Texas intentionally violated IRS rules by urging people to vote for Romney.
Russell Renwicks, an Internal Revenue Service (IRS) manager in the mid-Atlantic region, said at a legal seminar in Washington, D.C. October 18 that the IRS is intentionally opting not to audit more than thousand churches across the U.S. that have purposely violated federal laws restricting political activity. The Alliance Defense Fund, a Christian activist group that recently changed its name to the “Alliance Defending Freedom,” since 2008 has urged church pastors across the country to openly endorse political candidates from the pulpit and then send a record of their statements to the IRS. Pastors who do violate a federal tax-exempt rules that say federally-registered charities “may not participate in any campaign activity for or against political candidates.” The ADF considers the rule an unconstitutional government intrusion and is urging the mass lawbreaking to try to goad the IRS into taking action against violators that could eventually end up in court. Dean Patterson, an IRS spokesman in Washington, D.C. said Renwicks “misspoke” when he charged the IRS was purposely failing to take action against the churches, but attorneys who specialize in tax law for religious groups say the IRS has indeed taken no action at all over the last three years to audit any of about 1,500 churches that have been reported to the agency for intentionally engaging in partisan political activity.
Main source: Minnesota Public Radio, November 3, 2012
Crystal Cathedral on the grounds of the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs
The United States Air Force Academy (AFA) is fighting its reputation as an aggressive promoter of fundamentalist Christianity by holding a conference on religious respect this week, but organizers conspicuously excluded representatives of secular belief systems like atheists, agnostics and humanists. Mikey Weinstein, founder of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF), who is Jewish and a 1977 graduate of the academy, believes the conference is a public relations stunt to try and improve the AFA’s image. An AFA press release promoting the Conference said “attendees will comprise a widely diverse mix of religious affiliations …” and “Attendees will review and discuss the new Religious Respect Training Program for cadets that includes training in both the Establishment and Free Exercise of Religions clauses of the First Amendment of the US Constitution.” But in an October 29, 2012 press release, Weinstein pointed out that “secularists are the most disrespected and proselytized-to group, yet they are not even represented at this so-called ‘Religious Respect’ conference.” Weinstein says the AFA hosting a religious respect conference is “akin to the KKK hosting an ‘African American Appreciation Conference.'”
Church sign in Leakey, Texas violates IRS rule by urging people to vote for Romney.
Americans United for Separation of Church and State (AU) has asked the Internal Revenue Service (pdf) to investigate a Texas church after the pastor posted a message on the church’s marquee urging people to “VOTE FOR THE MORMON, NOT THE MUSLIM! The “Mormon” reference is to Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, who belongs to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, also known as the Mormon Church. ABC News reported that the sign is an obvious reference to President Barack Obama, whom many conservatives believe is a “secret Muslim” even though President Obama says he is a Christian and attends church with his family. According to ABC News, Ray Miller, the pastor of the Church of the Valley in Leakey, Texas, said he put the sign up because “he feels strongly about the election.” The church sign violates U.S. law, however, which prohibits tax-exempt organizations, including all churches, from endorsing political candidates.
Source: Americans United for Separation of Church and State press release, October 23, 2012
The mainstream media is loathe to cover the touchy topic given Mitt Romney’s presidential bid, but devout Mormons wear special ceremonial underwear called “garments” underneath their clothes as a constant reminder of their faith. The white underwear symbolizes purity and covenants made with God. Mormons consider the garments to be the “protective armor of God,” and believe the underwear provides protection against temptation and evil. The special garments are sold only at Mormon church-owned stores or through Mormon church websites. Men’s undergarments consist of a white, somewhat exaggerated scoopneck undershirt and knee-length boxer-style briefs. Women’s garments similarly cover them from shoulders to knees, with an undershirt that has a sweetheart neck and some tailoring to accommodate the bust. Some people mock the garments by describing them as “magic Mormon underwear,” but Mormons consider them sacred and treat them with the utmost respect. So does Mitt Romney wear this special protective Mormon underwear? It appears that he does. In photos of him wearing white dress shirts, one can see an exaggerated scooped-neck, white undershirt underneath the fabric that looks very much like the photos of the sacred underwear Mormons wear under their street clothes.
Additional information about Mormon underwear:
The Thinking Atheists’ guide to Mormon underwear (contains information on difficult-to-see special features of the underwear and their significance)
A Brief Guide to Mormon Underwear (by Buzzfeed)
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (LDS) guide to “Temple Garments”
LDS information on “Temple Garments” and instructions to the media on how to treat the subject of the underwear
MormonSecret.com (a website that uses hunky male and sexy female models to demonstrate Mormon temple garments and that sells the garments to anyone regardless of their religion)
MormonCurtain.com (a website that blogs the ExMormon world — this is their page about temple garments)
What are LDS Garments or Mormon Underwear?
L.A. Times article discussing Ann Romney’s underwear and MormonSecret.org
Frankenmuth, Michigan’s giant, 55-foot tall cross in “Cross Park”
Americans United for Separation of Church and State (AU) has formally asked (pdf) to the city of Frankenmuth, Michigan to remove a 55-foot tall Christian cross from a public park. The cross was erected in a 1976 ceremony attended by then-Mayor of Frankenmuth Elmer Simon, who, at the dedication ceremony, said that “The simple cross of Christ assures us that life does not end with death. From our local heritage, this Christian symbol suggests that we are also a community under Christ.” More recently, the City has referred to the cross as “a tribute to the religious commitment of the Frankenmuth community.” AU points out that the display of a Christian cross in a taxpayer-supported public park is an unlawful endorsement of Christianity. The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution prohibits government from promoting one religion above all others, and from promoting religion over non-religion, the group says, citing legal precedent for the symbol’s removal. AU suggested the City remove the cross to private land, and wrote, “Failure to remove the cross will expose the City to a significant risk of litigation.” AU requested a response from the City within 30 days. Frankenmuth is a city of about 5,000 nicknamed “Little Bavaria” that trades on its Bavarian-themed, timber-framed architecture, shops, breweries and German culture.
Attendees listen to a talk about the Patriot Act at the first annual Colorado Secular Conference held at Colorado Mesa University in Grand Junction.
Colorado’s first annual Secular Conference kicked off today in one of the most conservative and deeply religious areas of the state: Grand Junction. Mesa County, where the conference was held, is the second most conservative county in the state, after El Paso County (Colorado Springs), home of Focus on the Family and the Air Force Academy, with its iconic Cadet Chapel. About 120 people from around Colorado and many other states spent the day in the second floor ballroom of Colorado Mesa University’s Student Center discussing the future of the secular movement in Colorado and the U.S. The conference opened with a discussion involving the entire group about the goals secular citizens hope to accomplish by organizing and becoming a political force in Colorado. Attendees shared stories about the discrimination and stigma they have suffered as a result of their lack of religiosity. Several speakers pointed out that non-religious citizens now comprise fully 19 percent of the U.S. population, yet have little to no representation in government or policy matters. Kelly Damerow, Research and Advocacy Manager for the Secular Coalition for America, who traveled to the conference from Washington, D.C., discussed the threats that ongoing religious extremism pose, like attempts to restrict the types of health care that can legally be delivered, loopholes exempting religious people from having to comply with laws and regulations that govern the rest of society, and efforts to enact “personhood” amendments that elevate the rights of fetuses over the rights of the women carrying them. A new statewide secular lobbying group, the Colorado Secular Coalition, was officially created at the meeting, bringing a resounding round of applause from attendees. A speaker from the American Civil Liberties Union enlightened the crowd about how the 12 year-old Patriot Act has eroded citizens’ Fourth Amendment rights to be free from unreasonable search and seizure. Afternoon speakers gave attendees tips for creating new secular groups in their schools and hometowns. The conference will conclude tomorrow, on Sunday, after more talks, a tour of the Colorado National Monument and western Colorado’s wine country. The conference was organized by Humanists Doing Good, a secular group in Fruita, Colorado, a town of about 13,000 people located ten miles west of Grand Junction. The conference was free to all attendees, and will be an annual event.
The wall of separation between church and state in the military has completely disappeared. A network of hard-line Christian chaplains and fundamentalist parachurch ministries that operate inside the military are using it as a fertile recruiting ground for coercing soldiers to become Christians. A video posted June 15, 2012 by the Military Religious Freedom Foundation contains actual footage of military chaplains saying young people who enter the military become “government-paid missionaries when they leave here.” The missionaries’ strategy? Pounce on soldiers with the gospel at the most difficult points in their training, when they are most vulnerable. Army Ranger School Chaplain Major Jeff Struecker explains,
“Army Ranger School puts the Ranger student in the absolute worst possible conditions. Most of them will go a couple of days with no food. Some of them have gone as long as three days without any sleep whatsoever. My goal has been to meet them when they are at their absolute worst, when they’re coldest and they’re most tired and the most hungry that they’re going to be, because the more difficult the circumstances [a person is in], the more receptive the average person becomes to issues of faith. Many of them are … confronted with the gospel for the first time with no distractions, and I think that’s part of the reason why a number of them will respond.”
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Cover of Holman Military Bible
The Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) announced it has won a major battle to halt the publication of Bibles bearing official U.S. armed forces emblems on the covers. The bibles were published by Holman Bible Publishers, the publishing arm of the Southern Baptist Convention. The Bibles also contained a fake quote from George Washington that was created by excerpting a paragraph of Washington’s 1783 letter to the governors of the states at the end of the Revolutionary War and altering it to make it into a prayer in the name of Jesus Christ. Almost 2,000 servicemembers contacted MRFF to complain that the bibles were being featured on the shelves of military exchanges and in stores around the world. The bibles made it look like the Bible was endorsed by the U.S. military and was the official religious text of the U.S. military services. MRFF says that over the past few years, it has received more complaints from servicemembers about these bibles than any other single separation of church and state issue it has dealt with. MRFF says the bibles were a “clear violation of the U.S. Constitution” because they used U.S. armed forces logos to promote a specific religious text. Responding to pressure by MRFF over the inappropriateness of the bibles, all four branches of the U.S. Military revoked their approval of the Military series of Holman Christian Standard Bibles, blocking further use of their emblems on the texts.
Source: Military Religious Freedom Foundation, June 12, 2012
Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney has gained the distinction of putting forth the most bald-faced lies of any candidate ever while running for office. In March, MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow devoted a entire 14 minute-long segment to Romney’s remarkable string of lies in which she acknowledged that expectations are low for politician’s honesty in general, but said that to win the presidency, “You have to not be a liar.” Maddow said, “The degree to which Mr. Romney lies all the time about all sorts of stuff and doesn’t care when he gets caught, is maybe the single most notable thing about his campaign.” Maddow documented a long list of statements Romney has made during his campaign that are contradicted by easily-verfiable facts, like his claims that the economy has gotten worse since Obama took over the presidency, or that he never called for a national health care law. Now a perennial politician, Romney has been a public figure for so many years, that there is a clear record of things he has said and positions he’s taken on issues, which makes it relatively easy to document whether what he says now about his past positions is true or not. Romney has dished out frank lies on a huge number of topics in this campaign alone: his record on gay rights, Obama’s trade and tax policies, the tax rate he himself pays, his job creation record, his record on abortion rights, his record as governor of Massachusetts, and many other issues. His string of lies is historic, even in the annals of particularly dirty U.S. politics.
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The Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) based in Madison, Wisconsin is pushing back against a new coalition, “Stand up for Religious Freedom,” led by the Pro-Life Action League and Citizens for a Pro-Life Society, that is leading a nationwide rally June 8 to “stop the HHS mandate.” The religious groups oppose a provision in the Obama administration’s new health insurance law that requires most private health insurers cover FDA-approved prescription contraceptive drugs and devices, including the “morning after pill.” The Department of Health and Human Services’ so-called mandate includes an exemption for religious employers who object to contraception, and the rule does not apply to any churches, but that doesn’t go far enough for these organizations, which are trying to block all financial assistance with contraceptives. Moreover, the Catholic Bishops have introduced into Congress the so-called “Respect for Rights of Conscience Act,” which goes even further than banning financial help with contraceptives. The Bishops’ bill would allow any private employer with a “religious or moral objection” to veto coverage for specific treatments for employees. For example, an employer who is a Jehovah’s Witnesses could bar coverage of emergency blood transfusions for its employees, and a Southern Baptist or Mormon employer could deny prescription birth control to its single, female employees.
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An anonymous women’s prayer group sent an email to Mikey Weinstein, the founder of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF), in which they promised to pray for women who work for MRFF or who are related to Weinstein to get incurable breast cancer as punishment for the organization’s activities. The Military Religious Freedom Foundation works to ensure that all members of the United States Armed Forces get the Constitutional guarantee of religious freedom to which they are entitled by the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. Doing this sometimes requires that MRFF point out when fundamentalist Christian programs and activities step over the line of separation of church and state. This has earned MRFF some powerful detractors, and while hate mail is routine for the organization, this email was particularly misguided. The authors of the email specifically named the women they would target in their prayers, saying (note errors are in original)
“Our prayer circle has never failed to achieve our hosts granting of the scripture we pray. for direct intervention against you as you are a true demon to America. Luke 9:1 We will not stop our prayers until you stop the evil you do with Lucifer on a daly basis. Luke 9:1 But not against you Mickey. We know by your internet site and your book who it is to be. Now for our prayer, we pray that the women who work in your MFRR and the women in your family will befall fast moving breast cancer which can not everbe cured.” The email then listed the names of 14 women associated with MRFF. The last line of the email stated, “[K]now that we pray and pray hard all the days until you stop your destruction of our American army and accept Christ Jesus as Lord and join His army.”
The MRFF says that the organization’s “significant base of Christian supporters often shares their horror at the actions” of fundamentalist Christians like those who wrote the email “that give all Christians a bad name and awful reputation.”
Source: Military Religious Freedom Foundation press release, April 24, 2012
The town board of of Greece, New York (population about 94,000, outside of Rochester) regularly opened its public meetings with Christian prayers. More times than not the prayers contained references to “Jesus Christ, “Jesus,” “Your Son, or “the “Holy Spirit.” But in a unanimous decision issued May 17, 2012, the United States Second Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the town’s practice violated the U.S. Constitution by favoring one religion over others. Two citizens of Greece, Susan Galloway and Linda Stephens, complained to the town several times about the prayer practice, sometimes during public comment periods at meetings. When the two pointed out that the prayers impermissibly aligned the town with Christianity, the town failed to respond. Nor did the town respond when one person delivering an invocation in October, 2007 described objectors to the town’s prayer practice as a “minority … ignorant of the history of our country.”
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In the wake of the Colorado State Court of Appeals’ unanimous ruling (pdf) May 10 that a state-sanctioned “Day of Prayer” violates the state constitution, the National Day of Prayer (NDP) Task Force has started a petition asking Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper to “prepare a vigorous defense” against the decision. The Freedom From Religion Foundation, which brought the case and won, is fighting back by asking Colorado residents to support the ruling by contacting the governor and state attorney general and asking them not to appeal the Court’s decision. The Court was careful to preface its ruling by saying “Our decision does not affect anyone’s constitutionally protected right to pray, in public or in private, alone or in groups,” but pointed out that religious liberty is “abridged when the State affirmatively sponsors the particular religious practice of prayer.” Despite this clear statement that no one’s right to pray is in danger, the National Day of Prayer Task Force is spinning the ruling as a threat, saying it “undermines the heritage and tradition of the American people.” Similarly, the Alliance Defense Fund (ADF) — a Christian organization that tries to encourage prayer in local, state and federal government — portrays efforts to end improper government endorsements of religion as “targeted attacks on religious freedom.” Like the NDP Task Force, the ADF similarly tries to stir up fear by claiming that “those who believe in God are increasingly threatened, punished and silenced.”
In a unanimous ruling issued on May 10, 2012 (pdf), three judges on the Colorado Court of Appeals declared Colorado’s state-endorsed “Day of Prayer” unconstitutional. The court found that the Colorado Day of Prayer violates the Preference Clause of the Religious Freedom section of Colorado’s constitution which states, “…[n]or shall any preference be given by law to any religious denomination or mode of worship.” The Preference Clause is Colorado’s equivalent of the Establishment Clause in the U.S. Constitution. In a 74-page ruling, the Court concluded Colorado’s Day of Prayer is religious in purpose and content, lacks any secular purpose and its only purpose is to advance religion and give “preferential treatment to religion in general.” The Day of Prayer, said the Court, “conveys or attempt to convey a message that religion or a particular religious belief is favored or preferred.” The First Amendment requires all levels of government to be completely neutral in matters of religion. “By requiring this neutrality,” the Court states, “the Preference Clause protects believers and nonbelievers from feeling as if they are ‘not fully accepted within our greater community.’ A reasonable observer would conclude that these proclamations [declaring state-sanctioned Days of Prayer] send the message that those who pray are favored members of Colorado’s political community, and that those who do not pray do not enjoy that favored status.” In April, 2010, a U.S. District Court judge ruled that the National Day of Prayer is unconstitutional because it amounts to a call for religious action.
Congressman Pete Stark
Congressman Pete Stark of California gave a statement on the House floor April 27 officially recognizing the National Day of Reason held today, Thursday, May 3, 2012. Rep. Stark said, in part, “Mr. Speaker, I rise today to recognize Thursday, May 3, 2012 as the 2012 National Day of Reason. The National Day of Reason celebrates the application of reason and the positive impact it has had on humanity. It is also an opportunity to reaffirm the Constitutional separation of religion and government.” Stark pointed out that our nation is home to a wide range of people of different backgrounds and beliefs, and “the only way we can solve our problems is through cultivating intelligent, moral and ethical interactions among all people.” Rep. Stark said the National Day of Reason is about helping others and improving communities, and mentioned efforts by secular people across the U.S. to conduct food drives, donate blood and help those in need on this day. Rep. Stark urged everyone to observe the day by focusing on the use of reason, critical thinking, the scientific method and free inquiry to improve the world and our country. May 3 is also the “National Day of Prayer,” and event that was ruled unconstitutional by a U.S. District Court in Wisconsin. On April 15, 2010, Judge Barbara Crabb issued a ruling in which she concluded the National Day of Prayer violates the establishment clause of the First Amendment, saying it “goes beyond mere ‘acknowledgement’ of religion because its sole purpose is to encourage all citizens to engage in prayer, an inherently religious exercise that serves no secular function in this context.” President Obama is holding the National Day of Prayer despite the federal court ruling against it.
After a lifetime in the church, Teresa McBain, pastor of Tallahassee, Florida’s Lake Jackson United Methodist Church, got a standing ovation when she announced that she is an atheist at the American Atheists National Convention. McBain publicly apologized to her neighbors back home for having been a fundamentalist who knocked on peoples’ doors to offer them religious tracts, hoping to convert them and believing they were wrong for having other beliefs. “I didn’t know anything about you. I’d never seen your faces. You were just ‘those people.’ And I was the one on the right track, and you were the ones who were going to burn in hell. And I’m happy to say, as I stand before you right now, I’m going to burn with you,” McBain said at the convention. McBain served as a pastor for ten years. Her coming out as an atheist resulted partly from her participation in the Clergy Project, a private, invitation-only, safe online community of current and former pastors, priests and rabbis who no longer hold the supernatural beliefs of their religious traditions. The Clergy Project was founded in March, 2011 by Dan Barker, also formerly a minister for 19 years and co-founder of the Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF) in Madison, Wisconsin. When the project started, it immediately gained 52 members Since then it has grown to over 200 participants.
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American Hornet jet painted with red Christian cross
The U.S. Marine Corps Fighter Attack Squadron 122 based out of Beaufort, South Carolina used to be called the “Werewolves,” but they recently adopted a new nickname: they are now called the “Crusaders,” and the symbol painted on their jets is a red, Christian-style cross. The “Crusaders” was a historic nickname used by the squadron from 1958 to 2008, but as they prepared to deploy to Iraq in 2008, the unit’s commander, Lt. Col. William Lieblein, wisely changed the name because “The notion of being a crusader in that part of the world doesn’t float.” The term “Crusader” is derived from the historic European military crusades that took the lives of millions in the middle east in the name of Christianity. Insurgents in the middle east pejoratively call American military personnel “Crusaders.” In March 2012, Al-Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri referred to International Security Assistance Force troops stationed in Afghanistan as “Crusader Swine.” But the unit’s new commander, Lt. Colonel Wade Wiegel, doesn’t see any problem with changing the squadron’s name back to the “Crusaders.” Mikey Weinstein, who heads the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF), blasted the change. Almost a hundred concerned U.S. Marines contacted Weinstein about the change, mostly moderate Protestants and Christians who asked to remain anonymous due to fear of reprisal.
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"Science for Bibles" event poster
Thursday, May 3 is this year’s National Day of Reason, held the same day as the National Day of Prayer — a controversial, Congressionally-mandated and federally-supported event. The purpose of the National Day of Reason is to raise awareness of the threat government poses to religious liberty when it enters the private sphere of worship. The American Humanists Association (AHA), which started the event in 2003, suggests people celebrate the day with events and activities, and activities are planned around the country. The Eastern Connecticut Atheist and Freethinker Fellowship based in Putnam, Connecticut, plans to hold a “Science for Bibles” exchange that day. Anyone who attends the event and brings a Bible will get a free copy of either Charles Darwin’s “Origin of Species,” Carl Sagan’s “Cosmos,” or Richard Dawkins’ “The Magic of Reality.” The Secular Coalition for Arizona will join the Secular Student Alliance in a walk as a group to Flagstaff City Hall, where they will hold a voter registration drive. The Atheist Humanist Society of Connecticut and Rhode Island is sponsoring a blood drive at the Groton, Connecticut Library. The American Humanists Association offers a sample proclamation declaring May 3, 2012 as the National Day of Reason that people can print out and ask their City Councils to sign.
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