Rushdie, Sweeney added to FFRF convention lineup

Julia Sweeney hams it up for the camera at FFRF’s convention. (Photo by Ingrid Laas)

FFRF is delighted to announce that acclaimed author Salman Rushdie has joined comedian Julia Sweeney and “Mythbuster” Adam Savage as some of the notable speakers who will be headlining FFRF’s 41st annual convention in San Francisco, which takes places Nov. 2-4 at the downtown Hyatt Regency.   

Future issues of Freethought Today will update convention speakers as they are confirmed. 

Salman Rushdie

Rushdie is one of the most celebrated authors of our time. He has written several classic novels, influenced a generation of writers, and received the Queen’s Knighthood for his “services to literature.” He is also one of the most thought-provoking proponents for free speech.

His novels include The Satanic Verses, The Moor’s Last Sigh, The Ground Beneath Her Feet and 2008’s The Enchantress of Florence. His masterwork of magic realism, Midnight’s Children, won the presitigious Booker Prize, and later, the Best of the Booker. He is also the author of bestselling memoir Joseph Anton. Rushdie’s Luka and the Fire of Life is a children’s novel and a companion to Haroun and the Sea of Stories. His latest novels are Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights, which was a New York Times besteller, and most recently The Golden House, a novel that “depicts Obama’s and Trump’s U.S.”

Julia Sweeney

Sweeney, one of FFRF’s honorary directors, will perform a new stand-up routine called “Julia Sweeney: Older and Wider” for the FFRF audience.

She is joining Second City in Chicago in May.

She is a “Saturday Night Live” alum who created and portrayed the androgynous character “Pat,” which spun off the feature film “It’s Pat.”

She also created and performed several award-winning one-woman shows, including “God Said, Ha!”, “In the Family Way” and “Letting Go of God,” which was about her journey from Roman Catholic schoolgirl to atheist. She has also been in several movies, including “Pulp Fiction.” She has previously received FFRF’s Emperor Has No Clothes Award.

Adam Savage

Savage has spent his life gathering skills that allow him to take what’s in his brain and make it real. He’s built everything from ancient Buddhas and futuristic weapons to fine-art sculptures and dancing vegetables.

In 1993, Savage began concentrating his career on the special-effects industry, honing his skills through more than 100 television commercials and a dozen feature films, including “Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace” and “Episode II: Attack of the Clones,” “Galaxy Quest” and the “Matrix” sequels.

In 2002, Savage was chosen along with Jamie Hyneman to host “MythBusters,” which premiered on Discovery Channel in January 2003. Fourteen years, 1,015 myths, 2,950 experiments, eight Emmy nominations and 83 miles of duct tape later, the series ended in March 2016.

Today, Savage stars in and produces content for Tested.com, including behind-the-scenes dives into multiple blockbuster films (such as “Ghost in the Shell,” “Alien Covenant” and “Blade Runner”). He also produces and stars in his “Brain Candy” stage show with Vsauce’s Michael Stevens.

John de Lancie

De Lancie, an actor, director, producer, writer, singer, musician and voice artist, will be receiving FFRF’s first “Clarence” award — a statuette version of FFRF’s 7-foot statue on display in front of the site of the Scopes trial, in Dayton, Tenn. De Lancie spoke at that dedication and helped with the unveiling.

Well-known for portraying “Q” in the TV series “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” he has many film credits, including: “The Hand that Rocks the Cradle,” “The Fisher King,” “Fearless,” “Multiplicity,” “Women on Top” and “The Big Time.”

De Lancie has appeared in numerous television shows, including “The Librarians,” “Breaking Bad” and “The West Wing.”

He was a speaker at the Reason Rally in Washington, D.C., on June 4, 2016. He spoke in reference to his Star Trek character Q, “My name is John de Lancie, and I am a god. At least, I’ve played one on TV. And I’m here to tell you as a god that I was created by humans. The words I spoke were written by men and women, just like all the gods before me. My god creators wanted you to believe I was the omnipotent one.”

Sarah Haider

Haider is a co-founder of Ex-Muslims of North America (EXMNA), a group that advocates for the acceptance of religious dissent and works to create local support communities for those who have left Islam.

Born in Pakistan and raised in Texas, she spent her early youth as a devout Muslim. In her late teens, she began to read the Quran critically and left religion soon after.

Nowadays, Haider directs EXMNA’s Life Beyond Faith mini-documentaries, a series of video portraits of ex-Muslim atheists and humanists. She is also heading EXMNA’s Normalizing Dissent tour, and travels the United States and Canada to cover a range of issues related to apostasy in Islam. She is currently a columnist for Free Inquiry magazine. In addition to atheism, Sarah is particularly passionate about civil liberties and women’s rights.

She will receive FFRF’s Freethought Heroine Award.

Bailey and Doug Harris

Bailey Harris, 12, a sixth-grade student at Salt Lake City’s Open Classroom, will be receiving the $5,000 Beverly and Richard Hermsen Student Activist Award. When Bailey was 8, she was watching the episode of “Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey” in which host Neil deGrasse Tyson said, “The planets, the stars, the galaxies, we ourselves and all of life — the same star stuff.” Inspired, she immediately went up to her family’s computer and started writing what would eventually become the beautiful picture book, My Name is Stardust.

Bailey worked with her father, Doug Harris, over the next year to develop a story that they felt would teach children this concept, along with other areas of science such as evolution and astronomy, most effectively. After various versions of the story, and feedback from numerous parents, scientists, and children, the story for My Name is Stardust was finalized. Doug Harris gets a co-credit on the book.

Doug is a successful entrepreneur, special-interest writer and science education advocate.  He was a featured expert panel speaker at the 2017 BookCon in New York City on Science and Education. While releasing his book in 2017, he was interviewed by Helen Little for The Public Library Podcast on iHeartRadio about science, education and literature.

The second book in the series, Stardust Explores the Solar System, will be released in the fall.  The public will receive early access to the book through a Kickstarter campaign that launched in January. It will then be featured at Book Expo and BookCon in New York City in June, followed by an international book release in October.

Leighann Lord

Lord, a veteran stand-up comedian, will perform a stand-up routine at the convention. Lord has been seen on Lifetime, VH-1, Comedy Central, HBO and “The View.” She is a contributor to the Huffington Post and the author of Dict Jokes: Alternate Definitions for Words You’ve Probably Never Heard of But Will Definitely Never Forget and Real Women Do It Standing Up: Stories From the Career of a Very Funny Lady.

Lord was the New York City face of the African-Americans for Humanism outreach campaign sponsored by the Center for Inquiry and its Millions Living Happily Without Religion Campaign. In 2012, the group ran a media campaign that included billboards depicting Lord and other contemporary activists and organizers alongside historically prominent African-American humanists Zora Neale Hurston, Langston Hughes and Frederick Douglass.

Author Chris Johnson has featured her in The Atheist Book: A Better Life.

Debra Deanne Olson

Olson, along with Dr. Craig West Wilkinson, just authored a book about her atheist grandfather, The Honorable Culbert Levy Olson: Governor of California 1939-1943.  A review of the book was syndicated in more than 300 newspapers in early March.

She is a political, environmental and peace activist and held volunteer positions on both of Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaigns.

She was a national senior advisor and a fundraising consultant for the Kucinich for President campaign in 2003. She is founder of Peace Solutions.

Sarah Haider
Debra Deanne Olson
John de Lancie
Bailey Harris
Adam Savage
Salman Rushdie Photograph © Beowulf Sheehan

Olson is committed to fostering a culture of peace and connecting like-minded individuals and organizations to create a sustainable and healthy society. She has been an active member of the Clinton Global Initiative since 2006 and served as a member of the Business Council of Women for Hillary Clinton during the 2008 presidential primary.

Secular Invocation: Tom Waddell

Maine Senate, Feb. 15, 2018

Tom Waddell, president of FFRF’s Maine chapter, has now opened sessions of both the Maine House and the Maine Senate by reading a secular invocation, both believed to be firsts.

On Feb. 7, 2017, Waddell spoke before the Maine House and was then honored by FFRF with its “Nothing Fails Like Prayer” award, given out at FFRF’s annual convention.

This year, Waddell took it to the Senate, where he delivered the invocation on Feb. 15.

“Waddell made no reference to God or Jesus in his brief remarks, as many of the invocations that open sessions of the Maine Legislature do,” wrote Charles Eichacker of CentralMaine.com.

Waddell was invited to give the invocation by state Sen. Shenna Bellows, who said in an interview that she has tried to bring an array of people with religious and nonreligious views into the statehouse.

“The invocation before the Senate is supposed to be open to all people of all faiths, including no faith,” said Bellows, the former executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine. “I think that religious liberty is a founding principle in our country.”


Here are Waddell’s remarks:

Good morning. I am Tom Waddell, president of the Maine Chapter of the Freedom from Religion Foundation. We support everyone’s religious freedom by advocating for the separation of church and state.

As you fulfill the Senate’s solemn responsibility of making decisions that will affect everyone who lives in Maine, I urge you to rely on — and trust in — the collective character, honesty and integrity of your colleagues for guidance, today and every day.

The wisdom of our Founding Fathers has much to offer, as well, and I would like to close with words from two American presidents:

Thomas Jefferson reminds us that: “The purpose of government is to enable the people of a nation (or state) to live in safety and happiness. Government exists for the interests of the governed, not for the governors.”

John Quincy Adams inspires us with: “If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.”

Thank you all for the sacrifices each of you have made to be a member of the Maine Senate. We, the people of Maine, appreciate and rely on your collective wisdom and the personal commitment you have made to Maine’s future.

Thank you.

In Memoriam: Activist Anne Mardick dies

Atheist activist and FFRF Life Member Anne Mardick died on Feb. 15.

She had been a member of FFRF since 2008 and was a founding member of FFRF’s Valley of the Sun chapter in Arizona. She also founded and was president of the Greater Phoenix Chapter of Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

Mardick helped coordinate the billboard campaigns in Phoenix and Tucson in 2011. The billboards featured families, couples, a blind student with the statement: “Faith without reason is true blindness,” a Spanish-speaking participant and a plain-spoken bus driver.

Mardick was a board member of both the Secular Coalition for Arizona and the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona.

Besides being an FFRF Life Member, she was also a lifetime member of the Humanist Society of Greater Phoenix, the American Humanist Association and the National Center for Science Education. She was a Humanist minister and was the Humanist representative on the Arizona Interfaith Movement board of directors.

A retired telecommunications professional with nearly three decades of technical and leadership experience, Anne spent most of her career in new product development. She held director-level positions at both US West. (now CenturyLink) and Sprint. She earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration and a master’s degree in telecommunications.

Anne Mardick

Crankmail (April 2018)

Here we go with another installment of letters we have received from nonmembers, reprinted as received.

Sad: terminate your existence, because you obviously haven’t a molecule of decency. what’s even sadder is you chose this path? — Michael C. Risinger

Wasting time: I have only one thing to say to you people: Get the fuck over yourselves. There are real problems in the world that require solving. Stop wasting your time. Good gosh. — David Wetmore

I feel sorry for you: I am praying for all of you as your path is not going to end happy. When you leave this earth, you will be sadly disappointed that you have been wrong all along. Why would you want that for yourself? Why would you want that for your friends? Family? Kids? Don’t you deserve better? Why would you be so determined to go against God? Do you realize that HE is the creator of all things? I really truly feel sorry for you. — Kurt Sholly

Information: You’re stupid! — Jason Walker

Freedom: Why does the basic freedom and liberty of not wanting to pay for the consequences of a woman’s free choice and free will to behave and act like a slut and a tramp have to be “religious”?  If a woman wants to let a man defile her for her own pleasure out of wedlock, she can at least pay for contraception out of her own pocket.  Just further proof that these “freedom from religion” and atheist groups are simply anti-Christian socialist groups who are ironically doing the work of internationalist Talmudic Jewry.  There are plenty of sterile men and many who have had vasectomies that you sluts can pick from if you want to act like a $10 whore, don’t ask the rest of America to pay for your birth control pills unless you want to pay the rest of us for our greens fees — Jack Brandt

Atheists: When are you going to sue tow truck companies? Notice the towing piece in back is shaped like a cross. That can be your next project. How can atheists be offended by what they don’t believe in? If you were true atheists, you wouldn’t care. Why not just leave people alone, and live and let live? You would love living in North Korea where it is an atheist government. Christians have the life expectancy of dead men. — Patrick McCarthy

Interpretation: You need to “read” the Constitution, not interpret it. It IS a document that was drafted by the Founding Fathers, in very plain English, so ALL the common people could understand everything contained therein. There is no “separation of church & state” in this document, whatsoever. It states “Congress shall make NO law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”. Unless you are suffering from a cranial/rectal impaction, this should be very easy to understand. — Jeff Backus

u’r purpose: You are Bastards bound for hell! Stop what you are doing. — Ray Judkins

Religion in school: I just seen on the Cleveland Ohio news that u are complaining about a local high school near me that says a little prayer before there basketball games the school I am talking about West Branch My question is what are u doing to the schools that are teaching that Muslim garbage in schools across our country? Are there two different standards here or what ? To me Islam is not a religion and those type of people don’t deserve to be amoung us Americans they have there own part of the world and we have ours I will be waiting for your response thank you — Eric Neff

Shit hole arse wipes: By disbanding…I pray daily that all you reprobates wind up in hell where you belong…you are despicable…amen… — Allan Jones

Pray: You should be ashamed of yourself stopping people who want to pray from praying if you don’t want to pray that your choice to but the stop somebody else who wants to pray is just mean hearted don’t you have anything better to do then to bother kid our great country that everybody wants to come to was built on God why are you trying to destroy it — Gary Wagner

Wrong: Hello. This is Steve Johnson. You have misinterpreted the idea of Separation of Church and State.  I say shame on you for that.  The thing is this, the Freedom From Religion Foundation is an Anti-American organization.  It should be ashamed of itself.   I mean it, the Freedom From Religion Foundation consists of a bunch of pathetic, good for nothing dweebs who obviously don’t really give a care about the U.S. Constitution at all.  As such, the Freedom From Religion Foundation needs to get the heck out of the United States of America and never, ever come back.   The Freedom From Religion Foundation has absolutely no right whatsoever to be in the U.S of A. — Steve Johnson

Go away!: I saw your representative Dan on Ingram Angle. He is rude, disgraceful, arrogant and lacks the ability to present a cogent argument. I want nothing to do with your organization. —  Revonda Colbert

Nazis: Just wanted to let you know that you are anti fredumb if you boycott thinking of any type. God bless you and have a great day …..nazi thinkers. You are what make people depressed. — Jason Brusie

Black Collar Crime (April 2018)

Compiled by Bill Dunn


Arrested / Charged

Steven Winn, 33, Crandall, TX: 3 counts of sexual assault of a child. Winn, a youth pastor at Open Door Baptist Church, is accused of assaults on an alleged victim who is 15.

Open Door senior pastor Matt Jarrell hanged himself in jail in 2011 after his arrest on a rape charge in West Virginia. Source: Dallas News, 2-27-18

Philip “Flip” Benham, 69, Concord, NC: Communicating threats. Benham, an ordained Free Methodist minister who leads Operation Save America, is accused of threatening a woman at A Preferred Woman’s Health Clinic in Charlotte during a protest against legal abortion.

The clinic volunteer told a reporter Benham approached her “menacingly” and “repeatedly” and said “You are dead.” Benham responded that there was no such threat, that he actually told her she was “dead in her sins.”

Defending Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore last year against charges that he dated and assaulted girls in their teens, Benham said, “There is something about a purity of a young woman, there is something that is good, that’s true, that’s straight, and he looked for that.” Source: WSOC, 2-26-18

An unidentified imam in Temara, Morocco, is accused of sexual assaults on 6 children at a mosque where he had started an elementary school. After parents of a child reported an alleged assault, 5 other families made similar accusations.

Parents of an alleged victim reportedly witnessed the imam molesting their 8-year-old son after they were alerted by a watch group that he was alone with the boy at the school. Source: Morocco World News, 2-21-18

David Rowan, 62, Milton, FL: Sexual battery by an authority figure, 3 counts of rape and 2 counts of unlawful sexual contact. Rowan, pastor at Liberty Baptist Church, is accused of assaults on 14- and 15-year-old sisters at a hotel in Murfreesboro, TN, when he was guest speaker at a religious convention in 2014.

The girls and their mother knew him before his visit to Tennessee, a police report said: “The victims looked up to Pastor Rowan and counted on him for spiritual guidance.” Source: Murfreesboro News, 2-20-18

Anthony Morris, 49, Zelda Morris, 46, and Kamali Morris, 19, Toledo, OH: Aggravated robbery with a deadly weapon. Anthony Morris is pastor at St. Paul’s AME Zion Church, and Zelda and Kamali are his wife and daughter. They are charged in an incident with Nickema Turner, 39, who was teaching Sunday school when the Morrises allegedly attacked Turner, pointed a gun at her and took items from her purse. According to the police report, Zelda stated to Turner’s daughter, “You wanna know why this happened? It happened because your mom slept with my husband.” Source: ABC 13, 2-19-18

Aryeh Goodman, 35, East Brunswick, NJ: Engaging in prostitution with a child and endangering the welfare of a child. Goodman, a rabbi who operates a religious learning center (chabad) from his home and may be affiliated with another at a separate location, is accused of having sex Feb. 1 with a 17-year-old girl at a hotel.

Two others are charged with trafficking for allegedly selling the girl’s services to about 30 men in January and February. Goodman was sentenced in 2015 to 11 to 23 months in prison after pleading guilty to 2 counts of indecent assault involving a boy in 2001 at Camp Menachem in Pennsylvania, where he was a counselor. Source: Courier News, 2-19-18

Maurice Frazier, 51, Indianapolis: Coercion and enticement, sexual exploitation of a child, possession of child pornography, offense by a registered sex offender and 6 counts of receipt of child pornography. Frazier, associate minister at Nazarene Missionary Baptist Church, is accused of multiple assaults on a 14-year-old girl he met through the church.

He’s also accused of persuading the girl to send nude photos of herself and threatening to retaliate if she reported him to police, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office. Frazier is married with 4 children. Source: Indianapolis Star, 2-15-18

Otho Schilling, 58, Mount Hermon, LA: Theft of government funds, amounting to over $200,000. Schilling, pastor of a unidentified church in Bush between 2005-16, is accused of concealing his earnings and employment from the Social Security Administration while receiving Retirement, Survivors and Disability Insurance of $1,728 a month.

He had the church pay personal expenses such as health care and insurance premiums, car payments and a personal land note in lieu of being paid a salary, the indictment said. Source: Times-Picayune, 2-15-18

Brian S. Dicken, 37, Winchester, VA:  2 counts of taking indecent liberties with a child. Dicken, former associate pastor of Church of Christ at Mountain View, is accused of assaults on a girl younger than 18 in late 2014 and early 2015.

He’s listed as lead minister on the website for Broad Creek Christian Church, New Bern, NC, including a photo with his wife and 6 children. Source: Winchester Star, 2-15-18

Anthony Oelrich, 51, St. Cloud, MN: 3rd-degree criminal sexual conduct. Oelrich, pastor at Christ Church Newman Center Catholic Student Community, was arrested after an investigation of alleged sexual misconduct involving an adult woman.

In 2014, parishioners got a written notice that Oelrich was taking “voluntary leave for ‘depression, anxiety, and stress’ ” to receive treatment at St. Luke Institute, which provides mental health services for priests, deacons and members of religious communities. Source: St. Cloud Times, 2-13-18

Gerardo Martinez, 52, New Port Richey, FL: 2 counts of sexual battery/custodial authority solicits victim. Martinez, pastor of Miracle Christian Church, is accused of having sex with a 17-year-old girl on multiple occasions from April to October 2017 after telling her she had multiple personalities and that one of them was possessed by a demon.

They allegedly had sex in a back room at the church, at her home and in the parking lot of a Publix grocery store. Source: WFLA, 2-12-18

Douglas Rivera, 40, Baldwin Park, CA: Child molestation, indecent exposure and burglary. Rivera, pastor of God’s Gypsy Christian Church in Glendale, is accused of masturbating in his pickup parked outside a motel room occupied by 2 girls from China ages 10 and 13.

He masturbated and stared at the girls for about half an hour before knocking on the door, forcing his way inside and sexually assaulting one of the girls, alleged Covina police Lt. Trevor Gaumer. Surveillance video led to his arrest. Source: Valley Tribune, 2-12-18

An unidentified woman in her 50s was arrested in Israel and awaits extradition to Australia on 74 counts of sexual abuse of girls at an ultra-Orthdox school she headed in Melbourne. She allegedly molested 3 sisters separately at Adass Israel School from 2001-08 to “get them ready” for marriage. She fled to Israel in 2014.

The sisters allege they were targeted because they came from a dysfunctional home. Source: Haaretz, 2-12-18

Richard Cecil, 47, N. Fort Myers, FL: Soliciting prostitution. Cecil, the former pastor of The Father’s House who now runs a ministry with his wife from their home, is accused of offering to pay $200 to an undercover officer for sex at a hotel.

“Richard’s extensive Hebraic insight, humorous, dynamic and engaging style endear him to a wide spectrum of pastoral engagements and ministry opportunities,” said a Facebook post about the couple’s November appearance at Bible Temple Church in Toledo, OH. Source: WBBH, 2-12-18

Albert L. Phillips, 74, Sarasota, FL: Lewd or lascivious conduct on victims under 12 and under 16. A 15-year-old girl alleged to police in December that Phillips, former pastor of New Bethel Missionary Baptist Church, started touching her sexually when she was 4 and living with the Phillips family. Source: WFLA, 2-12-18

Sean M. Massaro, 24, New Milford, NJ: Theft. Massaro, director of children and youth ministries at All Saints Church, is charged with stealing $582 from the collection basket over a 5-week period. Church officials brought surveillance video to police. Source: Citizen Voice, 2-12-18

George N. Gregory, Munhall, PA: Open lewdness and indecent exposure. Gregory, pastor at Waterfront Christian Community Church, was allegedly found by police in the back seat of a vehicle with another man naked and tied up in the front seat.

A citizen called police after allegedly seeing the naked man exit the vehicle and expressed concern because it was parked in view of his daughter’s bedroom window.

“I was counseling a young man with a drug problem,” Gregory told a reporter. “It did turn strange, but it wasn’t my doing, OK?  . . . And I was adamant that I’m not participating in that way. And so that’s when the police pulled up, and they assume things, but I’m standing by my story.” Source: KDKA, 2-10-18

David Cooper, 43, Eloise, FL: Sexual battery and lewd exhibition on a victim under 12. Cooper, pastor of Mountain Movers Ministries, is accused of exposing himself 4 times last year to a 7-year-old girl.

According to the complaint, the girl told her mother that Cooper put his “pee pee” in her “no-no” several times and that Cooper told the girl that a woman she knew let him do it to her when she was little.

An affidavit alleged the woman, now 32, told investigators Cooper molested her for about 2 years, starting when she was 10. Cooper apologized to her several times in a phone conversation deputies listened to, Sheriff Grady Judd said. Source: Lakeland Ledger, 2-9-18

David P. Carson, 63, Tampa, FL: Sexual assault. Carson, pastor at In My Father’s House Church and a math teacher at Hillsborough Community College, is charged with assaulting a 14-year-old girl. Another adult allegedly witnessed part of the attack. Source: WFTS, 2-8-18

Caleb Gaston, 21, Wichita, KS: Aggravated indecent liberties with a child. Gaston, who worked at Kid Zones at both the Downtown and East YMCAs, is accused of assaulting a 4-year-old girl in January. Kid Zone employees watch children while parents are exercising or taking classes. Areas are surveilled by video.

Gaston’s employment at Plymouth Learning Center, a church preschool, was “terminated on 10/9/17 due to one complaint of inappropriate touching,” said a statement from Plymouth Congregational Church. Source: Wichita Eagle, 2-6-18

Barbara L. Fouts, 56, Dennison, OH: 2 counts of grand theft. Fouts, treasurer of Pleasant Valley United Methodist Church, is accused of stealing from the church from 2012-16. “The accountant found that there were $63,299.60 in disbursements that could not be accounted for due to lack of records,” said prosecutor Scott Deedrick. “There were $43,911.72 of disbursements not authorized by the [board.]” Fouts disbursed about $34,000 of that total.

“Of that amount, $24,283.67 is alleged to have been disbursed by [Fouts] to herself or for her benefit,” Deedrick alleged. Source: Times-Reporter, 2-6-18

W. Thomas Faucher, 72, Boise, ID: 10 counts of sexual exploitation of a child, 2 counts of distributing sexually exploitative material and 2 counts of possession of a controlled substance. Faucher, who retired in 2015 as pastor of St. Mary’s Catholic Church, talked in an online chat of his “desires to rape and kill children,” prosecutor Cathy Guzman said at a probable cause hearing.

He allegedly possessed and traded images of infants and toddlers subjected to sexual acts and other physical abuse. A search also found marijuana, LSD and Ecstasy, Guzman said. Source: Idaho Statesman, 2-5-18

Kenneth L. Fairbanks, 61, Greensboro, NC: 4 counts of committing a lewd and lascivious act on a child under 16. Fairbanks, pastor at Faithworks Ministry, is accused of assaults on 4 church members from 1997 to 2016. Source: WGHP, 2-1-18

Garry Evans, 72, and Gay Evans, 70, Rushville, IN: Criminal trespass. Gay Evans is also charged with resisting law enforcement. The couple are accused of refusing to leave a residence where they wanted to speak with their son’s girlfriend. A family member ended up chasing them off with a baseball bat.

Garry Evans, pastor of Rushville Baptist Temple, was arrested in October 2017 on multiple counts of child molestation and sexual battery involving girls ages 3, 5 and 7. He tried unsuccessfully to kill himself after another alleged victim came forward. It’s unclear if the sexual charges are tied to the trespassing. Source: Greensburg Daily News, 2-1-18

John A. Sarro, 76, Elkton, MD: Unlawful sexual intercourse and unlawful sexual contact. Sarro was pastor at St. Helena Catholic Parish in Bellefonte, DE, in 1991-94, when the crimes involving a girl under 16 are alleged.

He was removed from public ministry in 1997 by the Diocese of Wilmington after allegations of sexual abuse in the 1980s in New Guinea, where he was serving as a Marist missionary. He’s been living in a monitored residence since 2002, according to the diocese. Source: News Journal, 1-31-18

Dorothy Nicolo, 70, Tallahassee, FL: Grand theft, fraud to obtain over $50,000, illegal use of credit cards and passing a forged instrument. Nicolo, volunteer treasurer for 24 years at Aenon Baptist Church, is accused of stealing $119,000 from the church between 2012-17. Source: Tallahassee Democrat, 1-25-18

Matthew F. Pinder, 43, Palm Harbor, FL: Sexual battery with custodial authority. Pinder taught at Calvary Christian High School in 2009 when the incidents with a 16-year-old student are alleged. Before that he taught at Indian Rocks Christian School.

Authorities suspect there are other victims. Pinder allegedly admitted to detectives he assaulted the student at least twice. Source: Tampa Bay Times, 1-25-18

Harry Maxwell, 66, Shermans Dale, PA: Unlawful delivery of a controlled substance, criminal use of a communication facility and drug possession.

Maxwell, youth pastor at an unidentified church, is charged with selling the painkiller Oxycodone. Source: pennlive.com, 1-26-18

Ralph G. Stair, 84, Canadys, SC: 3 counts of criminal sexual conduct, assault with the intent to commit criminal sexual conduct, kidnapping, assault, burglary and criminal sexual conduct with a minor. Stair, founder of Overcomer Ministry, came under investigation after video surfaced from church services from last July to October. One clip shows  him calling a 12-year-old girl to the front and putting his hand between her breasts. “Growing up,” he said, adding while she returned to her seat, “I’m gonna touch those things till nobody else can touch ’em.”

Charges involve at least 35 alleged acts involving another girl in 1998-99. Stair pleaded guilty in 2002 to assault and battery for sexual touching of 2 underage girls from the church. Source: CBS Charleston, 1-18-18


Pleaded / Convicted

Tadhg O’Dalaigh, 74, Dublin: Guilty by jury of indecent assault on a 12-year-old boy at Christmas time in 1980 at an Irish boarding school where O’Dalaigh taught as a Sacred Heart Missionaries Catholic priest.

The complainant, now in his 40s, testified O’Dalaigh came in the sick bay to check his temperature: “He put his hand down and touched my testicles and penis. He did that. I just lay there. I didn’t know what to do. It was probably a minute, a minute and a half. That is a long time when he is at me. He stopped. He left.”

O’Dalaigh has earlier assault convictions in 1999 and 2014. Source: Irish Examiner, 2-22-18

Ifor Whittaker, 73, London: Guilty by jury of 7 counts of gross indecency and conspiracy for assaults on a boy between 1987-93, starting when the boy was 10 and Whittaker was an Anglican priest. Roy Cotton, a priest who died in 2006 and was never charged, facilitated the abuse with Whittaker, according to the prosecution. Source: BBC, 2-22-18

Charles A. Barnett, 72, an Australian Catholic priest sentenced to 6½ years in 2010 for molesting 4 teen boys between 1977-94, pleaded guilty to indecent assault and persistent sexual exploitation of 2 more victims. One boy testified Barnett sneaked into his room through a window to molest him. Source: ABC Online, 2-19-18

Donald C. Biggs, 39, Medford, OR: Pleaded guilty to transporting with intent to engage in criminal sexual activity. Biggs, youth pastor at Mountain Church, was accused of secretly recording girls in the nude at his home and on church trips between 2012-14.

It’s alleged he encouraged “messy” activities requiring students to change clothes or shower. At church camps he allegedly used “punishments” such as covering a camper in syrup and flour. Source: Mail Tribune, 2-16-18

Harry L. Thomas, 74, Medford Township, NJ: Pleaded guilty to aggravated sexual assault, endangering the welfare of a child and 3 counts of sexual assault. Thomas, pastor of Come Alive Church, admitted molesting 5 girls between the ages of 7 and 10 from 1999 to 2015.

Thomas founded Creation Festivals, which now bills itself as the largest U.S. Christian music festival, and Come Alive International, a missionary organization. Source: Courier Post, 2-16-18

An unidentified Catholic priest, 58, was arrested in Mexico City on charges of aggravated sexual abuse of a minor for allegedly assaulting a 12-year-old girl after her mother left her at church to study catechism. The girl fled and her mother contacted police. Source: AP, 2-16-18

Thomas Thanninilkumthadathil, 44, Kallara, India: Rape, theft, criminal intimidation and voluntarily causing hurt. Thanninilkumthadathil, a Syro-Malabar Catholic priest, is accused of raping and robbing a 42-year-old Bangladeshi woman from England after they met on Facebook.

The woman told police that he raped her repeatedly during her weeklong February visit and stole her gold jewelry, mobile phone and about $1,800. Source: The News Minute, 2-16-18

Matthew Tague, 44, San Marcos, CA: Pleaded guilty to lewd acts on a child under 14. Tague, pastor at North Coast Calvary Chapel, allegedly admitted to investigators that he repeatedly molested a girl in 2016-17 when she was 12 and 13. He turned himself in after his wife caught him molesting a relative, an affidavit said. Source: Union-Tribune, 2-15-18

John Bishop, 54, Vancouver, WA: Pleaded guilty to unlawful importation of a controlled substance. Bishop, pastor at Living Hope Church, was arrested at the Mexican border in San Ysidro, CA, in possession of 282 pounds of marijuana. Source: AP, 2-9-18

Lethebo Rabalago, the South African “Doom Pastor,” was found guilty of 5 counts of assault and of contravening the Agricultural Stock Remedies Act by a court in Limpopo province.

Rabalago, prophet of Mt. Zion General Assembly, sprayed the insecticide Doom on multiple congregants in 2016, claiming it could cure various ailments, including cancer and HIV. Source: BBC, 2-9-18

James D. Arbaugh, 40, Stuarts Draft, VA: Pleaded guilty to traveling in foreign commerce to engage in illicit sexual conduct with a minor. Arbaugh admitted “engaging in illicit sexual conduct” with at least 21 boys as young as 5 in Haiti as a Mennonite missionary between 2008-17. Source: Times-Dispatch, 2-6-18

Dennis Engelbrecht, 58, Nevada, MO: Pleaded guilty to illegally collecting $91,000 in Social Security disability benefits from 2011-15. Engelbrecht, pastor of Pentecostal Assembly of God, was paid a weekly salary of $650 but failed to report his employment status, prosecutors said. Source: Kansas City Star, 1-29-18


Sentenced

Jordan Baird, 26, Warrenton, VA: 8 months in jail, 5 years’ probation and $12,000 restitution to the victim’s family after a jury found him guilty of 5 counts of indecent liberties with a minor by a custodian. He pleaded no contest to electronic solicitation of a minor. Baird used his position as son of the leader of the Life Church and as a Christian pop singer to manipulate girls and women into having inappropriate relationships with him, prosecutors charged.

The judge barred testimony from 3 other alleged victims as prejudicial to Baird. According to testimony, the church ordered an investigation, which was conducted by Steve Dawson, a close friend of Baird and former co-pastor.

Prosecutor David Gross suggested Dawson left out key details of his probe when he was interviewed by police and refused to share his notes with law enforcement. Source: Prince William Times, 2-21-18

Steve Brack, Brookville, IN: 9 months’ home detention, 400 hours’ community service and $5,217 restitution after pleading guilty to felony theft. Brack was accused of stealing from Whitcomb United Methodist Church, where he was a trustee, and from the Brookville Kiwanis Club.

A State Police detective testified that the restitution was likely only a fraction of what Brack stole because the statute of limitations barred charges for older suspected thefts. A church member said profits from the church’s county fair food tent went up 50% after Brack was not allowed to handle money. Thousands of dollars are also missing from the 1999 sale of the church parsonage. Source: Democrat-American, 2-21-18

Alfredo P. Arias, 51, Aurora, IL: 205 days in jail, with credit for time served, and deportation to Colombia after pleading guilty to battery. Arias lost his religious worker visa after he was charged with fondling 2 girls under age 6 as pastor at Sacred Heart Catholic Church. Source: Chicago Tribune, 2-12-18

Robert Gamel, 67, Merced, CA: 4 years in prison after pleading no contest to possessing child pornography. During a probation check, Gamel, former lead priest at St. Joseph Catholic Church in Los Banos, was found to be in possession of the same nude images of a female teenage parishioner he was convicted for in 2016.

Gamel told investigators the photos he kept in a briefcase in a closet weren’t new and he wasn’t sure how to destroy them. “This isn’t rocket science,” Judge Jeanne Schechter said. “You just destroy it.” Source: Sun-Star, 2-8-18

Thirty-one Pakistani Muslims were sentenced for the April 2017 murder in Mardan of Mashal Khan, 23, a university student whom they accused of posting blasphemous material online. Imran Sultan Muhammad was sentenced to death, 5 others received life imprisonment and 25 others received 4-year sentences. Khan was stripped, beaten and shot before being thrown from his 2nd-floor dormitory.

Video footage shows a mob beating and stomping Khan’s lifeless body. A court determined the blasphemy charge was baseless. Source: AFP, 2-8-18

Benjamin Nelson, 27, Waco, TX: 20 years in prison after pleading guilty to online solicitation of a minor and 2 counts each of aggravated sexual assault of a child and indecency with a child. Nelson, pastor at Peoria Baptist Church and a seminary student at Baylor University, was accused of posing as a teen to meet and eventually seduce a 13-year-old girl. Source: Tribune-Herald, 2-6-18

Benjamin L. Petty, 36, Spencer, OK: 15 years’ probation, wear an ankle monitor for 2 years and sex offender registration after pleading guilty to rape, forcible sodomy and rape by instrumentation. Petty, a cook at a Texas church camp, was charged with raping a 13-year-old girl in 2016 after tying her up.

Prosecutor David Pyle said major factors in deciding not to seek prison time were that Petty is “legally blind” and that the family signed off on the plea agreement. The family has filed a civil suit. Defendants are the First Baptist Church of Terrell, the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma and the Country Estates Baptist Church. Source: newsok.com, 1-30-18

Joni Stinson, 42, Ottumwa, IA: 10 years in prison suspended, 5 years’ probation and $160,000 restitution after pleading guilty to theft as bookkeeper at Ottumwa Christian School since 2010. She has paid back $50,000 so far. Source: Ottumwa Courier, 1-26-18

Stephen J. Howard, 58, Fontana, CA: 308 years to life in prison for 32 convictions of lewd act upon a child, oral copulation of a person under 16 and sodomy of a person under 18. Before his 2014 arrest, Howard was lead pastor at Muscoy United Methodist Church.

Prosecutors said the 4 male victims’ current ages range from 14 to 36. Source: Fontana Herald, 1-25-18


Civil Lawsuits Filed

Cameron McDonald, Lexington, KY, pastor of Southern Acres Christian Church, is accused in a suit filed by church member James Keogh of embezzlement, unlawful conversion of funds and unjust enrichment for allegedly using $100,000 of a $170,000 donation to pay the mortgage on his home. Keogh claims the 2016 donation was meant to pay off the church’s $144,000 mortgage.

The complaint alleges McDonald fired the church’s office manager to stop her from providing financial information to law enforcement. Source: Herald-Leader, 2-20-18

Louis Brouillard, former Catholic priest, is accused by Guam plaintiff “ABL” of raping him at least 8 times in the parish rectory in 1971 when he was 14. Brouillard allegedly walked around naked before telling him it was “natural and normal” to have sex, the complaint says.

The church on Guam now faces 157 lawsuits seeking at least $1.03 billion in damages because of alleged abuse by priests and others associated with the church. Source: Pacific Daily News, 2-19-18

Joseph White, 81, founder of the Church of the Living God International, is accused in a suit filed by 5 male church members of sexual abuse and harassment over a period of more than 20 years. The Pentecostal church is headquartered in Columbus, OH, and has 102 locations worldwide. White, long dogged by abuse allegations, started it in 1994 after being forced out of the Church of the Living God.

Formal accusations were made last June to the church’s board of directors (2 members are White’s sisters) but results of its investigation haven’t been disclosed. Source: Columbus Dispatch, 2-6-18

John Wright, former pastor of Mid-City Church of the Nazarene in San Diego is accused in a suit of sexual harassment and rape by plaintiff Amy McClanahan, 23. The church is a co-defendant for alleged negligent hiring/supervision. McClanahan met Wright in 2014 when he was her professor at Point Loma Nazarene University. She told him that a family member had molested her and he offered to counsel her, the complaint says, and they eventually started having sex. Wright’s wife was co-pastor.

The Wrights have countersued, alleging the relationship was consensual and that McClanahan had “agreed at all times that she would keep the relationship secret from all other persons” and that she exposed the affair only after John Wright broke it off in October 2017. Source: San Diego Reader, 2-1-18

The Catholic Archdiocese of Santa Fe, NM, is being sued by 4 more men alleging sexual abuse as children by priests Sabine Griego and the late Wilfred Bombardier. Griego was removed from the priesthood in 2005. At least 74 similar suits have been filed in recent years. 

An Albuquerque man, now in his 50s, alleges Bombardier repeatedly molested him at Blessed Sacrament Parish and told him “participating in this special altar boy training was his ‘ticket to heaven.’ ” Source: Albuquerque Journal, 1-28-18

Robert and Cindy Litzinger, former senior pastors at the Church for Life in Santa Maria, CA, are defendants along with the church in a suit filed by parishioner “Jane Doe,” who alleges sexual battery, assault and harassment from 2014-16. Doe a mother of 2 in her 30s, asserts that she has discovered over a dozen women who had similar experiences. Cindy Litzinger assisted, facilitated and encouraged Robert’s conduct, the complaint said.

Doe alleges that in church premarriage classes, Robert told women how to masturbate and have an orgasm to be “prepared and willing to do whatever their husbands wanted” and shared photos of him and his wife in bed.

Robert Litzinger allegedly groped Doe’s breasts and genitals during a prayer group meeting at his home, which Doe complained about to Cindy, who allegedly called that an “innocent mistake.” Source: Santa Maria Times, 1-18-18


Civil Lawsuits Settled

First Baptist Church of Columbia, SC, agreed to apologize and pay $300,000 to settle a case involving a child who was allegedly molested by Andrew McCraw, volunteer youth mentor. “Joel Doe” and his parents alleged McCraw started molesting him about 6 years ago when he was 11.

“We are sorry that this young man was wronged and that our policies and procedures as well as our enforcement of those policies and procedures were insufficient to protect him,” said a statement read to parishioners at Feb. 4 services. A separate suit against McCraw is pending. Source: Baptist Press, 2-6-18

Finances

The Catholic Diocese of Rockville Centre, MD, awarded $500,000 to Thomas McGarvey for alleged long-term sexual abuse in the 1980s by priest Robert L. Brown through a compensation fund set up by the diocese.

“Whatever settlement they gave me is not going to wipe out the pain that I went through,” said McGarvey, who was 16 when he went to Brown for counseling. Brown died in the mid-1990s. Source: Newsday, 2-13-18

Walter Diggles, 61, pastor at Lighthouse Church in Jaspar, TX, and his wife Rosie Diggles have filed for Chapter 13 bankruptcy. They were convicted last year of wire fraud and money laundering for diverting $1.3 million in hurricane relief money but haven’t been sentenced.

From 2007-12 while executive director at the Deep East Texas Council of Governments, Walter Diggles funneled money to a nonprofit he ran and then to church accounts for his family’s personal use, court documents said. Source: Beaumont Enterprise, 1-12-18


Legal Developments

Fernando Sayasaya, a Catholic priest accused of molesting 2 North Dakota boys, was extradited from the Philippines. He’s charged with 2 counts of gross sexual imposition for alleged abuse of underage siblings from 1995-98 while assigned to 2 parishes in the Fargo area.

A Philippines court ordered his extradition in 2010 but he appealed and wasn’t arrested until late 2017. Source: AP, 2-15-18

A Brooklyn, NY, yeshiva agreed to pay the city $22,500 for continuing to hold religious services in a building the city deemed unsafe. Abraham Low, a rabbi and director of Yeshiva Kollel Tifereth Elizer, answered a criminal summons from the Department of Buildings and accepted the fine.

After a fire in August 2015, inspectors found the building had no certificate of occupancy and sprinkler system and was illegally occupied as a house of worship. Several orders to vacate the property were ignored. Source: NY Post, 2-11-18


Allegations

Church of England spending for sexual abuse issues has increased fivefold since 2014 and the church faces over 3,300 allegations of abuse by clergy and volunteers.

The vast majority relate to “children, young people and vulnerable adults within church communities,” Peter Hancock, bishop of Bath and Wells and the church lead bishop on safeguarding, told the general synod in London. A “deep sense of shame” pervades, he said. Source: The Guardian, 2-10-18

Catholic priest Eduardo Perez, a native Colombian who served parishes in Stockton and Modesto, CA, is being investigated by the Stockton Diocesan Review Board for alleged abuse of a 15-year-old girl who was a member of St. Stanislaus Parish in 1999. Modesto police have also been notified.

Perez later served St. Mary’s Parish in Stockton, where his replacement Dean McFalls resigned in 2013, telling parishioners he was about to become the father of a baby son and could no longer serve as a priest. Source: Stockton Record, 2-9-18

Ronnie Gorton, 39, Munford, TN, pastor of The Awakening Church, has been accused by a juvenile male of sexual assault, molestation and rape, most recently on Jan. 31. “Interviews are being conducted, evidence is being gathered,” said Billy Daugherty, Tipton County Sheriff’s Office chief deputy. “Currently these are just allegations. No warrants have been filed.”

Gorton’s friend told a reporter the pastor had a handgun and was talking about suicide, which law enforcement was notified about. Source: Covington Leader, 2-2-18


Removed / Resigned

Carlos Pineda Gomez, parochial vicar of Corpus Christi Catholic Parish in Council Bluffs, IA, was suspended due to an allegation of a “serious violation of boundary issues related to unwelcome advances toward an adult,” the Diocese of Des Moines announced. He was ordained in December 2016. Law enforcement has been notified. Source: Daily Nonpareil, 2-20-18

Sean Kerins, 27, West Middlesex, PA, was removed as a teacher at Kennedy Catholic High School and as pastor of Church of the Good Shepherd due to a series of inappropriate text messages to a student. Kerins was ordained last June and taught a sophomore course in morality and a senior course in Christian social living.

Diocese of Erie Bishop Lawrence Persico also announced the resignation of David Poulson, 64, pastor of St. Anthony of Padua Parish in Cambridge Springs, due to “credible allegations against Father Poulson regarding the sexual abuse of minors.” Source: Sharon Herald, 2-13-18

Email: [email protected]

Letterbox (April 2018)

Billy Graham was a bigot and charlatan

We decided to become Lifetime Members today, the same day funeral services are being held for Billy Graham. You cannot forget him spewing anti-Semitic and anti-LGBTQ remarks. He spent a lifetime getting extremely wealthy by exploiting the credulousness of Americans.

Tom and Gayle Reber

Kentucky


Company doesn’t reveal Christian agenda

I recently bought a plastic-sealed 2018 calendar and put it on my wall. Then I noticed a cardboard stiffener inside with a message by the co-founder of Dayspring cards. I went to its website and found it’s got a Christian agenda. So, with no disclaimer visible on the package, it was there to ambush people. It should have said the purchase was helping to further Christian endeavor/practices. It made me so angry that I contacted the company.

Linda Riess

New York


Religion wrong-headed on reproduction issues

We have to address the outcome of religious attitudes on human reproduction. This goal of unfettered reproduction is heading us toward massive human overpopulation. All of this, at the very least, is encouraged, especially by the Catholic Church, which prohibits contraception and even advises the least-educated that contraception is dangerous. What can the goal possibly be? Do they think ahead? What would life be like in an overpopulated world? I would find it horrific. This is what religion and ignorance would bring down upon us.

F. Frederickson

Oklahoma


Religious magazine shouldn’t be at library

I recently checked the free magazine rack at my local library and found a copy of Philadelphia Trumpet. Scanning through this periodical, I saw articles like, “How the wrangling over the Holy City hastens bible prophecy,” “The deadly climate change deception” and other scatological screeds. Of course, everything was backed up by some sort of “fact of prophesy.”

The big problem is that the magazine had a library address on the back, and when I checked the periodical section, sure enough, there were other issues with a handwritten label.

The magazine is published by the Philadelphia Church of God. I was shocked that our library would subscribe to something like this, so I brought up the issue with our librarian. Luckily, she is an intelligent, gracious woman. She told me she had contacted the magazine and was informed that it was a free religious publication sent out to numerous libraries.

The staff (volunteers) don’t know which ones are legit or not and simply put them on a shelf. Luckily, the librarian feels the same as us about religion (she told me one of her favorite authors is Philip Pullman).

She removed those magazines and will have a talk with the staff. The issue on the rack was out of place and I was, jokingly, told that Satan put the copy there and sent me to find it! During these critical times, we all must be vigilant.

Sweat the seemingly small stuff.

Jack M. Pedigo

Washington


FFRF should try to win the war, not battles

My fundamental question is: Should we keep winning and losing individual battles, or should we focus on winning the war waged by cults against our democratic republic, seeking to reduce our freedoms, trying to force us to abide with their ancient faiths, dangerous beliefs and destructive political, economic, social and life-threatening tenets?

The public-at-large does not understand that we (and such other caring entities) are not our country’s enemy and that our primary purpose is to assure government officials stop violating the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.

In order to do so effectively, our mission and goal should be that we the people force Congress to establish clear law and rule against the domestic interference and abusive dictatorial nature of cults (at times far worse than foreign enemies) in order to protect all citizens from the vast harm cults are dedicated to cause us.

Every government official shall abide with these laws or be charged with constitutional violations, from local mayors to the commander in chief.

And that Congress shall no longer permit the states or local government officials the right to violate our Constitution at will without legal recourse and penalties.

Harold Chanin

Florida


Anne Mardick will long be remembered

I have enclosed a donation to honor the memory of our dear friend Anne Mardick, who died on Feb. 15.

Anne served as president of our local chapters of FFRF and Americans United for the Separation of Church and State until her fragile health sadly precluded her participation.

Anne was a dedicated and passionate humanist who, despite years of living with severe pain, made her home available to many visiting humanist dignitaries.

Anne’s generosity was remarkable in so many ways, including her participation in the renovation of our Humanist Community Center in Mesa, Ariz. The greater Phoenix humanist community will long remember the numerous contributions of Anne Mardick.

Hal and Doreen Saferstein

Arizona


Graham was charismatic snake oil salesman

Billy Graham’s outsized influence with numerous presidents was a national scandal. Graham was nothing more than a charismatic snake oil salesman who preached to the people of the world that they were all “miserable sinners” destined for eternal hellfire unless they accepted his backwoods, bible-thumping fire-and-brimstone evangelical theology.

That was his so-called “good news.” Graham’s anti-Semitism was well documented, and he also was homophobic, advocating the discredited “conversion therapy” for gays.

The fact that this theocratic bigot lay in state in the Capitol rotunda, surrounded by a fawning bevy of leading political figures, including President Trump, was nothing short of disgraceful and represented a serious violation of the separation of church and state that the nation was founded on.

Dennis Middlebrooks

New York


‘I love receiving Freethought Today’

I love receiving Freethought Today. It’s very informative, creative and hopeful. 

I’m a new member and I think it would be fun to have FFRF return-address labels like the ones my friends use for endangered animals.

Cathleen Imp

Oregon


A sacrificial weekend

Gordon Lamb sent us this short discussion between God and Jesus regarding the crucifixion:

“Listen, son, here’s the con. We tell the suckers that I’m willing to sacrifice my son for forgiveness of their ‘sins,’ and they’ll absolutely eat it up. Think of the pure theater of it — dragged through the streets, flogged, a crown of thorns. . .”

“What?! Flogged!? A crown of thorns!? Since when does Jerusalem have a Folsom Street Fair?” Jesus stared at His Dad unbelievingly.

“Just listen, wouldja?” JeHoffa glared at his mouthy kid, thinking that maybe knocking up that Jewish girl might not have been the best idea. He went on to detail the high points: three years of cruising the back roads with his 12 fishing buddies, bringing wine to the weddings, treating his mother like crap while she thinks that he’s a god, only cleaning his house twice in three years, and the whole time cops hatin’ while he rollin’. A sort of Our Savior of the Rednecks gig. And appropriate for someone born in a barn.

Jesus looked on with a rather jaded, cynical eye while he listened.

“Just picture it — hanging from that cross, eyes turned heavenward, the soldiers throwing craps for your Crocs, thong and bathrobe. And when you complain that you’re thirsty, offering you some vinegar.”

“Sounds like most of the wines in the Hinnom Valley,” Jesus interrupted. “I mean, Me-sus Christ! I wouldn’t use that to treat toenail fungus!”

“My point,” Almighty God sniffed, “is you’ll be spending the rest of eternity up here in the Cloud Nine Sports Bar and Bordello. Not one of those yokels will hook up to the fact that when I said that ‘I’ve so loved the world that I gave my only begotten son,’ I only meant for 48 hours or so — less time than your mother spent in labor, after all.”

“And she still bitches about that,” Jesus grinned. “Especially after I teased Joseph about paternity suits.”

“Well, Joseph will have a little fun at your expense,” snorted The Almighty. “Joseph the Carpenter is the cross supplier to the Roman garrison.”

Gordon Lamb

Kentucky

Join FFRF’s online billboard campaigns

Show off your freethinking with FFRF’s two virtual billboard campaigns.

The “Out of the Closet” campaign allows you to proclaim your freethinking. Create your own message and add your own photo to make a unique virtual billboard. Go to ffrf.org/out.

The “Not Afraid of Burning in Hell” campaign is inspied by Ron Reagan’s irreverent 30-second TV commercial, in which he quips that he is “an unabashed atheist, not afraid of burning in hell.” Go to ffrf.org/unabashed.

It’s fun, it’s easy and takes less than a minute to complete! Once your cyberboard is approved by FFRF, you may post and tweet it. Our app lets you use it as your Facebook or Twitter image or even as your Facebook and Twitter banners.

Both campaigns offer weekly prizes based on staff picks. If your billboard is chosen as a staff “pick of the week,” FFRF will feature your billboard on Facebook and Twitter, and will mail your prize — FFRF’s popular “Out of the Closet Atheist” cap or “Unabashed Atheist – Not Afraid of Burning in Hell” T-shirt!

Tom Cara, president of the Chicago chapter of FFRF, was a recent staff pick for his billboard. He is shown wearing his “Unabashed Atheist” T-shirt prize. And Jerry Vaughan is wearing his new “Out of the Closet Atheist” cap. (It’s not lost on us that’s he’s standing just “out of the closet”!) And Carleton Coleman shows off his new cap.

Here are several of our recent staff picks. You could be next!

Freethought Books (April 2018)

The following books are by FFRF members on the topics of religion or freethinking. FFRF does not do traditional book reviews.


Status Quon’t: A Woman’s Perspective on How Christianity Was Never About God

By Katilyn Pulcher
$17.89 (paperback); $9.99 (Kindle)
2017 (Self-published)

The author describes her theory that Christianity was created by humans solely to control the behavior of other people, particularly women and homosexuals. She believes that religious leaders recognized fear as the number one source of human motivation and the fear of an immortal, all-powerful God as more paralyzing than fear of themselves, and thus claimed to have intimate knowledge of God’s wishes in order to influence others. The book encourages readers to reject the status quo and replace it with a status quon’t, which is described as an ever-evolving state of critical thought and personalized belief systems.


Mom, We’re Black!

By Peter A. Bobley
$17.50 (paperback); $5.99 (Kindle) Wall Street Rose Publishing 2017

We are all black Africans with the identical genetic code. We’re not French per se or Catholic per se. We’re human per se. Each of the 31 two-page spreads (text on left, cartoon on right) portrays an important element in history. Topics covered include the fictional and supernatural aspects of religion, how human IQs rose, the creation of language, the need for laws and money, admitting ignorance and the role of science, the subjugation of women, climate change and more.


Star Thistle

By Jim Gronvold
$14.99 (paperback); $9.99 (Kindle)
2017 (Self-published)

From tasting “wild sea/on a soft breeze” to expressing his conviction that “hallowed Nature/…needs no temple,” the concise lyrical poems in Star Thistle reflect the author’s view that “Life itself/is paradise.” Author Barbara Swift says, “The poems offer readers a look into the larger questions of the here and now, and what makes for a meaningful life.” Author Terri Glass says, “Slightly reminiscent of Emily Dickinson or Robert Frost, Jim Gronvold’s musings of life and death are deeply philosophical.”

Eric C.: Secular support in AA aids atheist Marine

This article first appeared in the October issue of Grapevine, the monthly magazine of Alcoholics Anonymous.

By Eric C.

Not only are there lots of atheists with decades of sobriety in Alcoholics Anonymous, there have always been atheists in foxholes.

A graduate of a Christian high school, I enlisted in the Marine Corps at age 19. I had already discovered that the more I studied the scriptures and the more earnestly I prayed, the more I doubted the existence of any kind of God. I’ve rediscovered this many more times through the years.

Five years into what would become a 25-year career in the Marines, I was diagnosed by a physician as an “acute, chronic alcoholic.” A Vietnam veteran with an impeccable service record, I was hospitalized briefly and introduced to Alcoholics Anonymous.

I was happy when I was told at my first meeting that AA is “spiritual, not religious,” and “not allied with any sect or denomination.” But my spirits fell when the meeting began with a prayer, followed by a ritual recitation that invoked the name of God no fewer than six times (“How It Works”). The meeting closed with the saying of the Lord’s Prayer.

It was instantly clear to me that AA was a religious cult in denial about being religious. So I didn’t come back to any meetings for years.

In the meantime, on several occasions I almost died from my alcoholism. My disease progressed through an additional five years in the Marines. The commandant of the Marine Corps then ordered me to the National Naval Medical Center at Bethesda, Md., for treatment of alcoholism. At least two good things happened to me the second time I was hospitalized.

First, a long-sober Marine master gunnery sergeant, who was a counselor at the treatment facility, helped square away for me the “higher power” question. He pointed out that all Marines have the same higher power — the commandant of the Marine Corps.

In addition, the master gunny noted that he and I had both been in harm’s way earlier in our careers.

We talked about a phenomenon with which we were both quite familiar, something known as “esprit de corps.” “Esprit” is the French word for “spirit.” And “corps” refers to a body of troops, in this case, our corps of Marines.

We knew from hard experience that when the situation is grave, Marines help each other survive by working together. In fact, another favorite term among Marines — “gung ho” — is an ancient Chinese battle cry that means “working together.”

The master gunny and I had both been in situations where we and those around us were scared out of our minds. But we knew that when Marines support each other selflessly, we can and do overcome our fear. In doing so, we gain an ability to beat seemingly insurmountable and life-threatening odds.

We knew that the bond Marines feel with each other, especially in combat, is best described as spiritual.

This is clearly not a supernatural power, but a deeply human power that has been proven throughout history to play a decisive role in turning potential defeat into victory on the battlefield.

Esprit de corps

“Esprit de corps is the same kind of spiritual power that AA has,” the master gunny explained. “People in AA call this power whatever they want.”

The second good thing that happened to me in treatment was that I found my first sponsor. I noticed him at an AA meeting they drove us to in a hospital van one evening. He was the one guy in the room at the end of the meeting whose lips weren’t moving when everybody else was holding hands and reciting the Lord’s Prayer.

My first sponsor, an atheist with 10 years of sobriety at the time, explained to me that even though much of the AA program borrows from religion, AA works just fine anyway, as long as you don’t drink, go to lots of meetings and take as many of AA’s suggestions as you can stomach.

Working the Twelve Steps to the best of my ability wouldn’t kill me, my sponsor said. Even as an atheist, he explained, I could work the Steps exactly the same way everybody else works them — imperfectly and according to my own understanding.

Before my first year in sobriety ended, my career as a Marine rocketed into a new dimension. The commandant ordered me back to college, where I completed my bachelor’s degree. Shortly after my second anniversary in sobriety, people were saluting me and addressing me as “sir.”

My attainment of officer rank led to a number of new and exciting assignments all over the world. Each time I moved, I found a new AA sponsor locally and tried to attend 90 meetings in 90 days. I also began sponsoring other men and got involved in AA service work.

During the Persian Gulf War, I was able to attend a few AA meetings at the Marine headquarters in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia. However, I spent most of my time out in the desert on the front lines. 

Atheist in fighting holes

For the record, Marines don’t have “foxholes.” We call them “fighting holes.” While under fire during Operation Desert Storm, I observed an important difference between the atheists I knew and others who might be inclined to spend time on their knees praying for divine protection. I found that the atheists could be counted on to do things that are actually useful, like digging better fighting holes.

Some years later, I found myself in Somalia in the midst of a civil war characterized by sectarian violence, famine and human suffering on a biblical scale. Even though we could find no sign of a “loving God” anywhere in Somalia, I and a few other military personnel decided to start holding AA meetings in downtown Mogadishu.

Our little group opted to meet outdoors in the shade of a tree because of the heat. That turned out to be a mistake. Our first meeting was broken up by sniper fire. Although the sniper was clearly a lousy shot, we decided to change locations.

We chose to move our meeting indoors behind concrete walls and simply ignore the heat. It was our group’s little joke that we closed our meetings “in the usual manner” by all shouting, “Incoming!”

Sober for 33 years

About a year after returning to the United States, I married a woman I’d met in AA who is also an atheist. We had two children before I retired from the Marines. Today, our kids are grown and doing well.

As of this writing, I have 33 years of sobriety in AA and my wife has 26 years.

But some in AA still “feel sorry” for atheists, just as our co-founder Dr. Bob said he felt about unbelievers in the Big Book. Some, too, remain convinced that those who say they won’t believe are “belligerent” and have a “savage” mind, as co-founder Bill W. asserted in the Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions.

My original atheist AA sponsor, with whom I remain in touch, has 43 years of sobriety in AA and is still clearly a thorn in the side of some of the bleeding deacons in his home group.

In recent years, I’ve a played a role in organizing a couple of secular “We Agnostics” meetings of AA in my community. I’ve also tried to be more vocal at other AA meetings about my lack of belief in any kind of God.

If AA is to survive and thrive in a world where increasing numbers of people, especially young people, are leaving religious beliefs behind them, as I did, my hope is that we will open the doors of our fellowship a little wider.

Eric C. is an FFRF member who lives  in Michigan.

Copyright © AA Grapevine Inc. October 2017. Permission to reprint AA Grapevine Inc., material does not in in any way imply affiliation with or endorsement by either Alcoholics Anonymous or AA Grapevine, Inc.

Valerie Tarico: Why is the bible so badly written?

By Valerie Tarico

Millions of evangelicals and other Christian fundamentalists believe that the bible was dictated by God to men, who acted essentially as human channelers. Each phrase is considered so

Looking into the bible.
Valerie Tarico

perfect that it merits careful linguistic analysis to determine God’s precise meaning.

If that were the case, one would have to conclude that God is a terrible writer. Although some passages in the bible are lyrical and gripping, many would get kicked back by any competent editor or writing professor — kicked back with a lot of red ink.

Mixed messages, repetition, bad fact-checking, awkward constructions, inconsistent voice, weak character development, boring tangents, contradictions, passages where nobody can tell what the heck the writer meant to convey .  . . .  This doesn’t sound like a book that was dictated by a deity.

A well-written book should be clear and concise, with all factual statements accurate and characters neither two-dimensional nor plagued with multiple personality disorder — unless they actually are. A book written by a god should be some of the best writing ever produced. It should beat Shakespeare on character development, Stephen Hawking on scientific accuracy, Pablo Neruda on poetry, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn on ethical coherence, and Maya Angelou on sheer lucid beauty — just to name a few.

No question, the bible contains beautiful and timeless bits. But why, overall, does it so fail to meet this mark? One obvious answer, of course, is that neither the bible — nor any derivative work like the Quran or Book of Mormon — was actually dictated by the Christian God or other celestial messengers. We humans may yearn for advice that is “god-breathed,” but in reality, our sacred texts were written by fallible human beings who, try as they might, fell short of perfection in the ways that we all do.

But why is the bible such a mixed bag? Falling short of perfection is one thing, but the bible has been the subject of literally thousands of follow-on books by people who were genuinely trying to figure out what it means. Despite best
efforts, their conclusions don’t converge, which is one reason Christianity has fragmented into more over 40,000 denominations and non-denominations.

Here are just a few of the reasons for this tangled web of disagreements and the terrible quality of some biblical writing (with notable exceptions) by modern literary standards.

Too many cooks

Far from being a single unified whole, the bible is actually a collection of texts or text fragments from many authors. We don’t know the number of writers precisely, and — despite the ancient traditions that assigned authorship to famous people such as Moses, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John — we don’t know who most of them were. We do know that the men who inscribed the biblical texts had widely different language skills, cultural and technological surroundings, worldviews and supernatural beliefs — along with varying objectives.

Scholars estimate that the earliest of the bible’s writers lived and wrote about 800 years before the Christian era, and the most recent lived and wrote almost a century after any historical Jesus would have lived. To make matters more complicated, some of them borrowed fragments of even earlier stories and songs that had been handed down via oral tradition from Sumerian cultures and religions. For example, flood myths that predate the Noah story can be found across Mesopotamia.

Bible writers adapted earlier stories and laws to their own cultural and religious context, but they couldn’t always reconcile differences among handed-down texts, and often may not have known that alternative versions existed. Later, variants got bundled together. This is why the bible contains two different creation myths, three sets of Ten Commandments and four contradictory versions of the Easter story.

Forgery and counterforgery

Best-selling bible scholar Bart Ehrman has written two books about forgery in the New Testament, texts written under the names of famous men to make the writings more credible. This includes the book of 2 Timothy, the one which claims that “all scripture is God-breathed.” Pseudonymous writing was so common among early Christians that nearly half of the books of the New Testament make false authorship claims or were assigned famous names after the fact. When texts claiming to be written by one person were actually written by several, each seeking to elevate his own point of view, we shouldn’t be surprised if the writing styles clash or that they espouse contradictory attitudes.

Lost in translation

The books of the bible were originally written in Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek, though not in the modern versions of these languages. When Roman Catholic Christianity ascended, church leaders embraced the Hebrew bible and translated it into then-modern Latin, calling it the Old Testament. They also translated texts from early Jesus-worshippers and voted on which to include in their canon of scripture. These became the New Testament. Ironically, some New Testament writers themselves had already quoted bad translations of Old Testament scriptures. These multilayered imperfect translations inspired key doctrines of the Christian faith, the most famous being the “virgin birth.”

Plus, an enormous amount of information is simply lost in translation. One challenge is that the meanings of a story, or even a single word, depend on what preceded it in the culture at large or a specific conversation, or both.

Inside baseball

A lot changes in 2000 years. As we read the bible through modern eyes, it helps to remember that we’re getting a glimpse, however imperfectly translated, of the urgent concerns of our Iron Age ancestors. Back then, writing anything was tremendously labor intensive, so we know that information that may seem irrelevant now (because it is) was of acute importance to the men who first carved those words into clay, or inked them on animal skins or papyrus.

Long lists of begats in the Gospels; greetings to this person and that in the Pauline epistles; instructions on how to sacrifice a dove in Leviticus or purify a virgin war captive in Numbers; ‘chosen people’ genealogies; prohibitions against eating creatures that don’t exist; pages of threats against enemies of Israel; coded rants against the Roman Empire. . .

As a modern person reading the bible, one can’t help but think about how the pages might have been better filled. Could none of this have been pared away? Couldn’t the writers have made room instead for a few short sentences that might have changed history: Wash your hands after you poop. Don’t have sex with someone who doesn’t want to. Witchcraft isn’t real. Slavery is forbidden.

Answer: No, they couldn’t have fit these in, even without the begats. Of course, there was physical space on papyrus and parchment. But the minds of the writers were fully occupied with other concerns. In their world, who begat who mattered(!) while challenging prevailing Iron Age views of illness or women and children or slaves was simply inconceivable.

It’s not about you

The Gospel According to Matthew (not actually authored by Matthew) was written for an audience of Jews. The author was a recruiter for the ancient equivalent of Jews for Jesus. That is why, in the Matthew account, the Last Supper is timed as a Passover meal. By contrast, the Gospel According to John was written to persuade pagan Roman prospects, so the author timed the events differently. This is just one of many explicit contradictions between the four Gospel accounts of Jesus’s death and resurrection.

The contradictions in the Gospel stories — and many other parts of the bible, are not there because the writers were confused. Quite the opposite. Each writer knew his own goals and audience, and adapted hand-me-down stories or texts to fit, sometimes changing the meaning in the process. The folks who are confused are those who treat the book as if they were the audience, as if each verse was a timeless and perfect message sent to them by God. Their yearning for a set of clean answers to life’s messy questions has created a mess.

The pig collection

My friend Sandra had a collection of decorative pigs that started out small. As family and friends learned about it, though, the collection grew to the point that it began taking over the house. Birthdays, Christmas, vacations, thrift stores . . . when people saw a pig, they thought of Sandra. Some of the pigs were delightful — lovely and well-crafted — some not so much. Finally, the move to a new house opened an opportunity to do some culling.

The texts of the bible are a bit of a pig collection. Like Sandra’s pigs, they reflect a wide variety of styles, quality, raw material, and artistic vision. From creation stories to Easter stories to the book of Revelation, old collectibles got handed down and inspired new, and folks who gathered this type of material bundled them together into a single collection.

A good culling might do a lot to improve things. Imagine a version of the bible containing only that which has enduring beauty or usefulness. Unfortunately, the collection in the bible has been bound together for so long that Christian authorities don’t trust themselves to unbind it. Maybe, deep down, bible-believing evangelicals and other fundamentalists suspect that if they started culling, there wouldn’t be a whole lot left. So, they keep it all, in the process binding themselves and our society to the worldview and very human imperfections of our Iron Age ancestors.

And that’s what makes the “Good Book” so very bad.

FFRF Member Valerie Tarico is a psychologist and writer in Seattle. She is the author of Trusting Doubt: A Former Evangelical Looks at Old Beliefs in a New Light and Deas and Other Imaginings, and the founder of WisdomCommons.org.