Mr. Moderator, distinguished Town Officials, my fellow citizens of Manchester-by-the-Sea. I’m honored to have been asked to deliver a nonsectarian invocation to begin our town meeting.
Most invocations start by asking to bow your heads. Instead, I would ask that you take a moment to look around the room at all the men and women here, in this moment, who have come together to share in this extraordinary and unique New England experience, and to dedicate ourselves to working toward the betterment of our town and its residents.
Tonight, in this place, there may be moments of tension, of ideological division, of frustration. But, this also a place where by the very fact of being human we have much more in common than we have differences. We share the same spectrum of potential for care, for compassion, for fear, for joy and for love.
Let us give thanks for all that we have, all that we cherish, and all that we possess — especially for the capacity to care and love, to improve our families, our community and ourselves. Whatever one’s viewpoint, either derived from faith or from reason and science, having the capacity to appreciate and thank others is ingrained in the DNA of the human psyche.
Let us also give thanks to our unpaid elected and/or appointed town leaders, and to the many volunteers, who are the heart and soul of our community. These people donate their time and talents to help all. Let us recognize and laud the sacrifices made by our town employees, especially our first responders — our police, firefighters and emergency medical technicians who risk their lives to safeguard all of us.
Carl Sagan once wrote, “For small creatures such as we, the vastness is bearable only through love.” I would add the word “understanding,” as well. In this room tonight, let us cherish our shared humanness, our shared capacity for reason and celebrate our shared respect for all the people of our town, for our Constitution, and for our democracy. And let us root our decision-making process in these values that are relevant to all Americans, regardless of our individual belief or nonbelief. Let us all commit to working together for a better Manchester-by-the-Sea.
Good Evening, Honorable Mayor and members of the Indio City Council.
My name is Francine Bellet, and I represent the over 400 members of the Freethinkers of the Coachella Valley and Desert Atheists Community, which include many residents of Indio.
I want to thank this body for honoring, respecting, and upholding rights of citizens under the United States Constitution, its First Amendment in the US Bill of Rights and amendments to International Religious Freedom Act, also known as the Frank R. Wolf International Religious Freedom Act, enacted by the US Congress and signed into law by our President last week.I want to thank this body for continuing the exercise of these rights, which respect the non-entanglement of government and religion, the separation of church and state, the recognition of not just freedom of religion, but also equal freedoms and equal protection under the laws for non-theists and theists alike, for believers and non-believers alike.
My being here tonight and addressing you for these secular comments is an example of the exercise of those same rights just mentioned [guaranteed by the US Constitution, First Amendment in the Bill of Rights, and the amendments to the International Religious Freedom Act], for which opportunity, I and many other citizens thank you.
May this body, the Indio City Council, continue to demonstrate respect, tolerance, inclusiveness, reason, and kindness, while it works in the best interests of all the citizens of Indio, non-theists and theists alike, for believers and non-believers alike.
Thank you, Honorable Mayor and members of the Indio City Council.
FFRF Member Bellett sent us this description of herself: “Francine Bellet has run afoul of those blurring the lines between church and state, and government insertion of religion into public education, ever since her kindergarten trip to visit Santa Claus at a local department store resulted in her defying a teacher who insisted it was OK to sit on the lap and talk to a fat, bearded stranger in a red suit, despite her parents’ warning never to talk to a stranger that they had not properly introduced her to. And she had never even heard of Santa Claus before, let alone been introduced to him by her parents. Since then, she has been motivated by interest in First Amendment rights, while a demonstrating student during the Sixties, to become a lawyer. After practicing for several years in Washington, D.C., as counsel to a joint congressional committee, and a couple of industry trade associations, she was recruited to the San Francisco Bay Area by a client company. She remained there, winding up practicing in Silicon Valley and starting and directing legal departments for high-technology companies. She recently semi-retired to the southern California desert.”
Norman Abernathy, 58, Conway, SC: 3 counts of assault and battery and 2 counts of criminal sexual conduct with a minor. Abernathy, youth pastor at Langston Baptist Church, allegedly fondled the private parts of 4 girls who were friends of his stepdaughter 4-5 years ago. At the time they were 15, 14 and 12. Source: WBTW, 7-19-18
Nison Y. Lemus-Alvarez, 37, Greeley, CO: Sexual assault on a child by a person in a position of trust and sexual assault on a child with a pattern of abuse. Lemus-Alvarez, the married congregation leader of La Iglesia de Restauracion, is accused of seducing a 16-year-old girl from the church in 2017. The girl alleges they engaged in foreplay and other sexual activity in his car but didn’t have intercourse. Source: Greeley Tribune, 7-19-18
Eric M. Zurheide, 31, Granite City, IL: Attempting to persuade or coerce a minor to engage in sexual activity. Zurheide, who worked as a youth pastor at Tri-City Assembly of God from 2013-16 and is a foster parent, was arrested at a McDonald’s after meeting with an undercover detective he believed to be the mother of a 14-year-old girl he wanted to have sex with. Police allegedly found a sex toy, lubricant and condoms in his car. Source: Post-Dispatch, 7-19-18
Don L. Dickerson, 57, Yukon, OK: Rape by instrumentation. Dickerson, chaplain at Kate Barnard Correctional Center, is accused of “intimate physical contact” with a female inmate between January and July. He has resigned. Source: The Oklahoman, 7-17-18
Kenneth S. Marshall, 36, Mathews, VA: Aggravated sexual battery of a minor and forcible sodomy of a minor through the use of mental incapacity or physical helplessness. Marshall, a volunteer youth mentor at Cornerstone Fellowship Church, is accused of molesting a 15-year-old boy. The alleged incidents didn’t occur at the church. Source: 13 News Now, 7-17-18
Kathryn M. Goff, 46, Beverly Hills, FL: Scheming to defraud less than $20,000 and grand theft of between $10,000 and $20,000. Goff, secretary of Beverly Hills Community Church, allegedly wrote 38 checks to herself for $19,426.59 in 2017-18. Source: Citrus County Chronicle, 7-16-18
Sean T. Jones, 42, Springfield, OR: Multiple counts of aggravated theft, forgery and computer crime. Jones, advancement director for O’Hara Catholic School in Eugene, is accused of embezzling $3,900 from the school and $50,800 from the Open Door Foundation, which provides school scholarships, during a 3-year period. Source: KEZI, 7-16-18
Kevin A. Berry, 32, Sedgwick, KS: Aggravated indecent liberties with a child aged 14 or 15 on Sept. 17. Berry is lead pastor at First Christian Church. A church board statement said the board has accepted Berry’s request for administrative leave “to give him time to work through the charges he is facing.” Source: Wichita Eagle, 7-14-18
Mark E. Aderholt, 46, Columbia, SC: Sexual assault against a child under 17 and 2 counts of indecency with a child. Aderholt is accused of assaulting a 16-year-old girl in 1997 in Arlington, TX, while he was a 25-year-old student at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Ft. Worth. Though he didn’t contest the findings of an internal investigation that he had likely assaulted the girl and resigned as a missionary, he went on to serve churches in Texas and Arkansas and as associate executive director of the South Carolina Baptist Convention before resigning in June. Source: Star-Telegram, 7-13-18
Oscar Munoz Toledo, 56, Rancagua, Chile: Abuse and statutory rape of at least 7 minors. Toledo, former chancellor of Santiago’s archbishopric, is the first active priest in Chile to be arrested for sexual abuse since a report ordered by Pope Francis revealed a culture of abuse and cover-ups for decades. Source: AP, 7-13-18
Brian “Rick” Kenyon Jr., 31, Lakeland, FL: Video voyeurism. Kenyon, pastor of the Church of Christ in Deltona, is accused of taking an upskirt photo in April of a 41-year-old woman who was putting his youngest child in a car seat in Kenyon’s church office at his request.
The woman told investigators that as she bent over to do so, she felt skin against her leg and turned to see Kenyon directly behind her pointing his cellphone under her. The church has fired him. Source: News-Journal, 7-13-18
James R. Messer, 46, Morristown, TN: Aggravated statutory rape and sexual battery by an authority figure. Messer, pastor at Cross Way Worship Center, is charged with raping a 17-year-old girl in the men’s bathroom at the church. He allegedly told police the sex was consensual. Source: WVLT, 7-12-18
Stephen Kilpatrick, 63, Forest, VA: 3 counts each of indecent liberties of a child younger than 15 and using a communications systems to facilitate offenses involving children. Kilpatrick, an associate math professor at Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University, often communicated with a person he believed to be a 13-year-old female “while at work in his office,” a search warrant alleged.
Jeremy C. Whorley, 29, Lynchburg, who works for the university while enrolled in a master’s program, is charged with 10 counts of possessing child pornograpy. Source: WSET, 7-11-18
Jonathan Young, 34, Benson, NC: 6 counts of rape of a child, 3 counts of statutory rape and 2 counts each of sexual offense and indecent liberties with a child. Young is a Sunday school teacher at Firstborn Baptist Church, where some of the incidents allegedly occurred between 2003-14. The youngest of 3 alleged victims, all girls, was 7. Source: WRAL, 7-3-18
Marcin Garbacz, 39, Rapid City, SD: Theft. Garbacz, chaplain at St. Thomas More High School, “was caught stealing money from the weekend collections” at St. Therese the Little Flower Parish, said a statement from Bishop Robert Gruss. Garbacz, a Polish immigrant ordained in Rapid City, is undergoing a psychiatric evaluation at a treatment center. Source: KOTA, 7-2-18
Michael Wallace, 25, St. Louis: False impersonation of a police officer. Wallace, former pastor of Abyssinian Baptist Church, is suspected of using flashing red and blue lights to clear traffic “so that he could get where he [was] going faster,” said police Sgt. David Horton. Source: KTVI, 6-28-18
Krzysztof T. Bauta, Port Aransas, TX: 2nd-degree felony theft. Bauta, removed in October 2017 as parish administrator at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church, is suspected of stealing over $150,000 from the church, including depositing checks designated for Hurricane Harvey relief into personal accounts. Source: KZTV, 6-28-18
David R. Fisher, 63, Huntingdon County, PA: Endangering the welfare of a child. It’s alleged that Fisher, pastor at an unidentified church, was told about the 2007 sexual abuse of a 14-year-old girl several times but failed to contact authorities. Source: Altoona Mirror, 6-28-18
Randy A. Westmoreland, 52, Valparaiso, IN: 2 counts of failure to report. Westmoreland, pastor of the Church of Jesus Christ, is accused of covering up alleged sexual abuse by his youth pastor son-in-law Jeffrey M. McGehee, 30, who is charged with sexual misconduct with a minor, vicarious sexual gratification, child solicitation and possession of child pornography. Westmoreland allegedly tried to cover up the incidents and told victims and church members to say nothing.
McGehee is accused of sending naked images of himself to a 15-year-old boy in 2017 and engaging in inappropriate physical contact. Westmoreland is also charged with failure to report alleged abuse of another 15-year-old boy by church member Valerie Clabaugh, 29. She’s charged with sexual misconduct with a minor. Source: nwitimes.com. 6-23-18
Leslie Kelly, 36, Chapmanville, W.VA: 3 counts each of attempted murder and domestic battery and 2 counts of child abuse creating risk of serious injury. The police report said Kelly tried to drown his wife and children, ages 6 and 3, while baptizing them in the bathtub at God’s command. Deputy Barry Mynes Jr. said Kelly told him, “I held them under water because I want them to go to heaven.” Source: WMAZ, 6-21-18
Sean D. Sound, 45, West Jordan, UT: 5 counts of aggravated child sexual abuse. Sound, a Mormon missionary, is accused of assaulting an 8-year-old girl. He served a church branch for natives of the Marshall Islands and hosted sleepovers at his home. Source: Salt Lake Tribune, 6-15-18
Michael M. Guidry, 75, Whiteville, LA: Molestation of a juvenile or a person with a physical or mental disability and contributing to the delinquency of a juvenile. Guidry, pastor at 2 Catholic parishes, is accused of assaulting a 16-year-old parishioner “several years ago” after giving him alcohol. The boy is now an adult. Source: KLFY, 6-14-18
Timothy Jeltema, 28, Tomball, TX: Online solicitation. Jeltema, Champions Forest Baptist Church youth pastor, is accused of sending nude photos of himself to an 18-year-old girl from the church and asking for nude photos of her. Since his arrest, several other juvenile girls have come forward. Source: Woodlands Patch, 6-13-18
Douglas Edwards, 59, Ketchikan, AL: 3 counts of sexual abuse of a minor. Edwards, pastor at First Baptist Church and a culinary arts teacher at Ketchikan High School, is charged with molesting a 14-year-old girl by groping her bare breasts inside her shirt on 3 occasions, once at the church when she was playing the piano. Source: KRBD, 6-12-18
Miguel Luna, 68, El Paso, TX: Aggravated sexual assault of a child. The alleged abuse spanned several years in the 1990s, ending only after the girl moved away. Luna was removed from the Catholic ministry after an inquiry by the Diocesan Review Board into other sexual misconduct allegations involving a girl in the 1980s. Source: El Paso Times, 6-11-18
Daniel J. Curran, 68, Newcastle, Ireland: Indecent assault of a male between August 1989 and August 1991. Curran, a former Catholic priest, has been convicted 5 times since 1995 of molesting children. Source: Belfast Telegraph, 6-11-18
Cynthia L. Heaney, 51, Round Rock, TX: Theft. Heaney is accused of stealing almost $4,000 in 2017 from an early childhood school operated by Lifepointe Fellowship Church in Hutto, where she handled financial matters. Source: American-Statesman, 6-11-18
Stephen M. Ward, 69, DeLand, FL: Using an electronic device to seduce/solicit/lure a child. Ward, a physical education teacher and volleyball coach at Stetson Baptist Christian School, is charged with sending sexually suggestive text messages to a 14-year-old girl that mentioned specific acts he could perform on her. The girl’s mother discovered the texts. Source: WKMB, 6-10-18
Kent Covington, 63, Rutherfordton, NC: Conspiracy to commit wire fraud. Covington, pastor at Word of Faith Fellowship Church, is accused of filing more than $250,000 in phony unemployment claims since 2008 for employees of companies owned by Word of Faith members, including his own plastics manufacturing firm.
Word of Faith member Diane McKinny, 65, is also accused of filing fraudulent claims. Church members Brooke Covington, Sarah Covington Anderson, Adam C. Bartley, Robert L. Walker Jr. and Justin Brock Covington are scheduled to stand trial on accusations they repeatedly beat a former congregant to drive the “gay demon” out of him. Source: Charlotte Observer, 6-8-18
Matthew E. Mellerson, 29, Richmond, VA: 6 counts of carnal knowledge of an inmate and 2 counts of sexually abusing an inmate. Mellerson, a sheriff’s deputy and chaplain at the Richmond Justice Center, is accused of assaults in September 2017 against male inmates. Source: WSET, 6-8-18
Douglas E. Harper, 39, Gandeeville, W.VA: Solicitation of a minor by use of electronic device. Harper, pastor at Living Water Church, allegedly sent sexually explicit text messages to a boy, 15, after they’d been on a church field trip. Source: WSAZ, 6-4-18
Douglas Parker, 57, Shawnee, OK: Felony child abuse. Parker, pastor at Dale Baptist Church and the “newly retired” principal at Virginia Smith Elementary School, is accused in a March 2 incident recorded on video involving a 6-year-old student who was brought to the principal’s office for misbehaving.
He allegedly wrapped his hands around the girl’s neck and tried to “place her against a door with the toes of her feet and nose touching the door,” the affidavit said: “The student was only witnessed resisting the force applied by Mr. Parker and not attempting to harm him or anyone else.” She sustained bruising on her nose. Source: The Oklahoman, 6-2-18
David J. Keener, 36, Fresno, CA: 3 counts of rape. Keener, pastor at Mt. Pleasant Missionary Baptist Church, is charged in Arkansas with sodomizing a relative starting in about 2000 when she was 9 and ending when she was 13 and both lived in Texarkana.
The girl gave investigators a copy of a Facebook message string between another female relative and Keener. “I saw where David confessed to the rapes and stated that he was sorry for what he had done but was in a dark place at the time,” a detective stated in the affidavit. Source: Texarkana Gazette, 6-1-18
Pleaded / Convicted
Chauncey Walker, 48, Wichita, KS: Pleaded guilty to aggravated indecent liberties with a child and aggravated indecent solicitation of a child. Walker, a youth pastor, teacher and soccer coach at Word of Life Church, admitted assaults on a girl in 2012-13. “She was 15 when it started, and it progressed from there,” Walker said on a recording made without his knowledge by a relative of the girl.
A plea deal calls for a sentence of 95 months in prison. He was initially charged with aggravated indecent liberties and 2 counts of criminal sodomy. According to the girl, they had sex at Ground Zero, in the church’s youth building, in Walker’s car and home and in several hotels. Source: Wichita Eagle, 7-20-18
Vitaly Korchevsky, 53, Glen Mills, PA: Guilty by jury of wire fraud, computer intrusion, money laundering and securities fraud. Korchevsky, pastor at Slavic Evangelical Baptist Church and a former Morgan Stanley vice president, was convicted of pocketing at least $14 million from 2011-15 by trading securities on information he gleaned from information stolen by Ukrainian hackers before being publicly released. Source: Bloomberg, 7-6-18
Deborah Marcellus, 63, Turtle Lake, WI: Pleaded guilty to wire fraud and filing a false income tax return, charges stemming from her embezzlement of $818,000 from St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Rice Lake, where she was director of development from 2011-17. Source: Sawyer County Record, 7-3-18
Luke W. Reese, 50, Indianapolis: Guilty by jury of criminal confinement with bodily injury, domestic battery and battery resulting in bodily injury. Reese, a Catholic priest allowed to be married due to a dispensation given former Anglican priests, allegedly slammed his wife into a wall at Holy Rosary Church, then forced her to have sex at home after tearing up her “slutty” clothes. Source: WXIN, 6-30-18
John M. Scheline, 41, Richland, WA: Pleaded guilty to attempted rape of a child. Scheline, former executive director of Ignite Youth Mentoring and pastor at Faith Assembly, was caught in a 2017 online sting in which agents posed as children as young as 11 or as parents offering their children for sex.
He answered an ad in July and discussed in detail what he would do with the 13-year-old boy. He was arrested trying to leave the apartment complex after a detective answered the door. Source: Tri-City Herald, 6-29-18
Allen Lehmann, 80, Louisville, KY: Entered an Alford plea to 5 counts of sexual abuse and 3rd-degree rape and sodomy for molesting 3 sisters under age 12 at his home from 1992-2001 when he was pastor at Trinity Chapel Assembly of God. The sisters have filed a civil suit against Lehmann and several church groups, alleging he was transferred when allegations surfaced. Source: Courier-Journal, 6-21-18
Raul Diaz Moreno, 54, Merced, CA: Guilty by jury of attempted murder, assault, aggravated sexual assault, sodomy by force, lewd acts and oral copulation with minors. Diaz Moreno, pastor of Victory Outreach Church, was accused of raping his 2 adopted daughters, who are sisters, and then trying to kill them and one sister’s boyfriend in 2016. The sisters were allegedly abused starting as early as kindergarten. Source: Sun-Star, 6-4-18
Harry Thomas, 75, Medford, NJ: 18 years in prison after a judge denied his request to withdraw his guilty plea. Thomas, pastor of Come Alive New Testament Church, was charged with a 2005 sexual assault on a 9-year-old, sexual contact with 3 girls aged 7 to 9 in 2000 and 2010 and exposing himself and endangering the welfare of a minor girl between 2008-2010. Prosecutor Stephen Eife called Thomas “a devil in disguise.” Source: NY Post, 7-29-18
Che Abdul Karim, 41, Kelantan state, Malaysia: 6 months in jail and fined $450 for marrying an 11-year-old girl in Thailand. Karim, an imam and rubber scrap dealer, was sentenced by a Malaysian sharia court and the marriage was invalidated. He already had 2 wives and 6 children. It’s suspected the girl’s parents were motivated to marry her off due to poverty. Source: Time, 7-10-18
Sarah E. Mitchell, 25, and Travis L. Mitchell, 22, Oregon City, OR: 6 years and 8 months in prison, with credit for 13 months already served, after pleading guilty to negligent homicide and criminal mistreatment. They failed to provide medical care to their newborn twin daughter Ginnifer, who died at her grandparents’ home last year of respiratory distress. They belong to Followers of Christ Church. Sarah didn’t know she was bearing twins, having had no prenatal care. The other twin survived. They were born 2 months early.
Three hours after Ginnifer was born, Travis Mitchell “laid on hands” while the family prayed as she labored to breathe and changed colors. “I knew she was dead when she didn’t cry out anymore,” her father said. The Mitchells had medical insurance through Travis’ job but chose not to use it. Prosecutors contrasted that with the regular veterinary visits the couple provided for their dog and cat. Source: The Oregonian, 7-9-18
Philip Wilson, 67, Adelaide, Australia: 12 months’ imprisonment with assessment for home detention after 6 months. Wilson, the archbishop of Adelaide, was found guilty of failure to report child sexual abuse. He’s the highest-ranking Catholic cleric in the world to be convicted of such an offense.
Wilson denied under oath that 2 altar boys told him they were molested in 1971 and 1976 by James Fletcher, a pedophile priest who died in prison in 2006. As Wilson left court, a bystander yelled “Can I spit on him?” Source: news.com.au, 7-3-18
Carlo A. Capella, 51, Vatican City: 5 years in prison and a $5,830 fine after pleading guilty before a Vatican court to distribution and possession of child pornography while serving as a diplomat for the Holy See in the U.S. and Canada. Further hearings will determine if he’ll be defrocked as a priest. Source: USA Today, 6-23-18
Jody Hilliard, 73, Duncan, OK: 25 years in prison with all but 7 years suspended after pleading guilty to 5 counts of lewd or indecent acts with a child under 12 while serving as assistant pastor at First Baptist Church. The 10-year-old victim alleged he touched her private parts and made her touch his. Source: KFOR, 6-21-18
Amanda M. Haumont, 36, Lincoln, NE: 2 years’ probation and restitution after pleading no contest to theft by unlawful taking while working as director of Little Lambs Child Development Center at Good Shepherd Presbyterian Church. She was accused of keeping at least 1 client’s cash payments for tuition and altering clock-in times so she was paid overtime for hours she never worked. The theft was estimated at over $21,000. Source: AP, 6-20-18
Michael LaVenture, 47, Roberts, WI: 3 years’ probation and restitution after pleading no contest to 3 counts of theft from New Centerville United Methodist Church in Baldwin, where his wife was volunteer treasurer. He’ll also spend 1 month in jail with work release during each of the next 3 years. Kara Amundson-LaVenture, 44, pleaded guilty earlier to stealing at least $203,000 over about 10 years and was sentenced to 2 years in prison.
“It was simple greed,” Circuit Judge Scott Needham said, adding that their combined annual income exceeded $300,000. Source: New Richmond News, 6-12-18
William C. Turner III, 28, Toledo, OH: 60 days in jail and a $600 fine after pleading no contest to unlawful restraint and public indecency.
Turner, former assistant pastor at Bethel Baptist Church, exposed himself several times in 2016-17 to a juvenile at the church. Source: Record-Courier, 6-7-18
Mohammed Rabani, 61, Sneinton, UK; 5 years in prison after being found guilty of 3 counts of indecent assault on a boy starting when he was 12 in 1990 and continuing for 2 years while Rabani was imam at an unidentified mosque. It wasn’t reported to police until 2015. Source: Metro UK, 6-1-18
Tadhg Ó Dálaigh, 74, Blackrock, Ireland: 12 months’ incarceration for indecent assault of a boy at a Catholic boarding school 4 decades ago. Ó Dálaigh, a member of the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart religious order, had previous convictions in 1999 and 2014 for molesting 2 boys while teaching in the 1980s. Source: Irish Times, 6-13-18
Danielle K. Farley, 33, Willmar, MN: A year and a day in jail suspended, 2 years’ probation and restitution of $16,759.42 to the United Church of Christ and its insurer after pleading guilty to theft while she was church secretary. The court also ordered her to complete a problem gamblers assessment. Source: West Central Tribune, 5-19-18
Civil Lawsuits Filed
Melvin K. Johnson, 81, Lehi, UT, is being sued by his daughter, Kristy Johnson, 55, who alleges he started molesting her when she was 6 and he worked for Mormon educational institutions and taught religion at Brigham Young University.
A documentary film includes corroboration from her siblings, who also allege abuse. Melvin Johnson says on camera at his home,“Years ago, I molested my daughters. All three of them. I knew it was wrong, but I did it. I was selfish.”
Church officials would counsel him or treat the case as an internal discipline matter, it’s alleged, but abuse was never reported to police. Source: Salt Lake Tribune, 6-29-18
Francis Nave, pastor of Sacred Heart Catholic Parish in Bath, PA, the Diocese of Allentown and Bishop Alfred Schlert are defendants in a suit in which the alleged victim says Nave orchestrated sexually explicit video sessions from the rectory while the boy was in his Virginia home in 2011, when he was 16 and 17. It’s alleged Nave had the boy masturbate on camera and engage in other sexual conduct under the guise of counseling to deal with his “issues.” Source: Morning Call, 6-26-18
A New Jersey plaintiff alleges Gittie Sheinkopf, a counselor she met at an ultra-Orthodox summer camp in 2010, seduced her that fall and started a year-long relationship that turned abusive. Leah Sokolovsky’s suit says she was 15 and Sheinkopf was 20 when the relationship started. They met at TheZone, a camp run by Oorah Inc., where Sheinkopf was assistant head counselor. About the camp, Oorah’s website says “the warmth of TheZone continues even after the summer ends. Campers enjoy meeting with their friends and keeping up with their counselors and staff members.”
Sokolovsky alleges she tried taking her to rabbinical court but Sheinkopf didn’t show up, so she posted a video on YouTube. Sokolovsky says in the video that Sheinkopf forced her to engage in sexual activity, eventually “digitally penetrating Ms. Sokolovsky’s vagina” in a manner “intended to cause her extra pain.” Source: The Forward, 6-6-18
Civil Lawsuits Settled
Delbarton School in Morristown, NJ — operated by the Order of St. Benedict of New Jersey and St. Mary’s Abbey — and the now-closed St. Elizabeth of Hungary School in Linden, entered a confidential settlement with 5 men alleging sexual abuse as children in the 1970s and 1980s. Three of the cases and 5 of 6 pending cases involve Catholic priest Timothy Brennan, convicted in 1987 of molesting a 15-year-old boy at Delbarton.
After news of the settlement became public, about 30 people came forward to accuse 13 abbey monks and a retired lay faculty member of abuse from 1968-99, according to a letter to alumni signed by abbey and Delbarton leaders. The accused were not named in the letter, which stated that “no restrictions have been placed on the victims’ ability to discuss their experiences.”
But Bill Wolfe, whose accusations resulted in Brennan’s conviction, said the school locked him into a nondisclosure agreement for decades. He’s still not allowed to speak about the amount of a 1988 settlement. “They fought me every step of the way. They attacked my family. They attacked my parents and they attacked me. They sued my attorney for representing me,” Wolfe said. “So the idea they’ve been open and honest and compassionate, that’s not been my experience.” Source: New Jersey Advance Media, 7-25-18
The Church of Scientology and former member and plaintiff Laura Ann DeCrescenzo settled a decade-old suit in Los Angeles for undisclosed terms alleging she was forced to work long hours as a preteen and was coerced into having an abortion at 17. DeCrescenzo alleged she was initially required to work daily from 8:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. for the church entity called Sea Org, which she didn’t leave until 2004 when she was 25. She further claimed she had an abortion in 1996 to show her loyalty to Sea Org, supposedly composed of the church’s most dedicated members. Source: Washington Post, 7-23-18
The Order of St. Augustine paid a total of $1 million to 5 men and 3 women who alleged sexual abuse by Massachusetts Catholic priests John Gallagher and Robert Turnbull in the 1970s and early 1980s. Both priests are dead. The victims were from 9 to 12 years old at the time. Source: Boston Globe, 7-17-18
St. Paul’s School in Concord, NH, affiliated with the Episcopal Church, agreed to a confidential settlement with former student William Foley, who alleged he was molested by teachers Robert Degouey and Steven Ball in the early 1970s. Foley’s abuse was documented in a 2017 report compiled by attorneys hired by St. Paul’s, which faces multiple lawsuits over sexual assault. Source: NHPR, 6-23-18
The Anglican Church of Tasmania will pay $15.2 million to about 200 victims of child sexual abuse. The church plans to sell 108 properties in order to make the payments with the remainder funded by individual parishes. Source: BBC, 6-5-18
Daniel McCormack, 49, a defrocked Chicago Catholic priest who’s served all of his 2007 sentence for molesting 5 boys, will not be released because a judge agrees with prosecutors he is a sexually violent person likely to reoffend. “I can’t disregard the fact that he has never been of the belief that he has a problem,” said Judge Dennis Porter. “The first [step] of treatment here is recognizing there’s a problem that has to be treated.”
He will be reevaluated annually. At least 25 boys and young men have accused McCormack of abuse. Source: Chicago Tribune, 7-18-18
Augustine M. Giella, a Pennsylvania Catholic priest who died in 1993 at age 72 while facing criminal charges, kept a collection of girls’ underwear that, according to investigators, he labeled with their names, along with photos of him in clerical garb with naked girls as young as 2 in sexual stances, including oral sex. Two sisters whose 2 other sisters were among his alleged victims are asking a judge to invalidate confidentiality agreements other family members made with the Diocese of Harrisburg in a suit involving a settlement with their sisters. They want to speak publicly about Giella. Source: AP, 7-2-18
Thomas Sullivan, a Massachusetts Catholic priest who Jim Graham believes is his father, stopped resting in peace in June as his corpse was exhumed for DNA tests to take place. After years of trying, Graham, 72, finally got permission from the Oblates of Mary Immaculate to dig up the grave. Sullivan died of melanoma in 1993.
Dr. Ann Marie Mires said the remains were so well-preserved that she could recognize Sullivan from photos she’d seen. The exhumation cost Graham about $10,000. Source: Boston Globe, 6-18-18
Former members of Twelves Tribes, a New York religious group that’s been called a cult, alleged on CBS “Inside Edition” that the fundamentalist group led by Gene Spriggs forces children as young as 9 to work in its factory packaging fancy soaps and other goods sold by Amazon, Whole Foods, Target and Walmart. It paid fines in 2001 and 2006 for labor-law violations.
Ex-member Sarah Williams, 34, “rejoined” the group to record hidden-camera footage of children, ages 9 and 10, working on an assembly line. Footage from its nearby farm showed a 6-year-old boy struggling with a heavy wheelbarrow. “It takes them being disciplined and spanked when they’re not obedient,” a man says on camera. Source: NY Post, 6-1-18
Removed / Resigned
Theodore McCarrick, 88, a Catholic cardinal and former archbishop of Washington, was removed from the ministry and allowed to resign by Pope Francis due to “credible” allegations he molested an altar boy in New York in the early 1970s, starting when the boy was 11. Several men studying to be priests have also accused him of sexual misconduct.
The church paid settlements to 2 alleged victims in 2004 and 2007. McCarrick, the highest-ranking Catholic official to be removed, retired in 2006. A Virginia man identified only by his first name James, who recently filed a police report, told a reporter McCarrick molested him for about 20 years. “I was the first guy he baptized. I was his little boy. I was his special kid. I was the kid he always sought out.” Source: nj.com/AP, 7-20-18
Dean Curry, 50, Tacoma, WA, pastor at Life Center Assembly of God, was dismissed after accusations were made publicly of misconduct with 4 women, which Curry denies, saying he’s always been faithful to his wife.
Complaints to the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the state Human Rights Commission came from church board member Julee Dilley, who with her husband left the church in 2016 over concerns about Curry’s conduct and the church’s response. Source: News-Tribune, 7-10-18
John Finley, 62, resigned as pastor of Bartlett Hills Baptist Church, Bartlett, TN, after admitting to inappropriate behavior with young females. The alleged incidents started 37 years ago at Travis Avenue Baptist Church in Ft. Worth, TX, where Finley served as youth minister for five years. “I made some poor choices and was involved with two females in inappropriate behavior,” Finley said. “There was no sex. Both ladies were over 18.”
The women who sent a letter that spurred his resignation say that’s not true, that they were 15 and 17 at the time and while it’s true he didn’t have sex with them, he’d touched one’s breasts and put the other’s hand on his naked erection. A third alleged victim also came forward. “Sarah Beth,” a pseudonym, alleged her abuse occurred from 1981-83.
Finley’s wife told a reporter, “I can tell you for certain it was no more than kissing.” Referring to Sarah Beth, she added, “She should be over this. She cannot live her life trying to destroy my husband.” Source: Star-Telegram, 7-9-18
James W. Clark, parochial vicar at 5 Pennsylvania parishes and chaplain at Uniontown Hospital, was removed by the Catholic Diocese of Greensburg, which issued a statement: “An allegation was received . . . against Father James W. Clark, which dates to events five decades ago, prior to his entrance into the seminary and ordination as a priest, while working as a janitor at the former St. James School in Apollo.” Source: Tribune-Review, 6-30-18
Pope Francis accepted the resignations of Chilean bishops Alejandro Goic Karmelic, 78, and Horacio del Carmen Valenzuela Abarca, 64. The pope earlier in June accepted resignations of 3 other bishops over allegations of a cover-up of sexual abuse. Source: Reuters, 6-28-18
C. Frank Phillips, 68, Chicago, was removed as pastor of St. John Cantius Catholic Parish due to allegations of improper conduct with adult men, said a letter from Phillips’ religious order. Source: AP, 6-25-18
Brad Waller, Savannah, GA, was removed as senior pastor at Grace Church of the Islands. In a public statement, he said: “I, Brad Waller, confess to the sin of abuse of authority in my role as a pastor. I have been rubbing the feet of men and youth in my care. There was a sexual element to this, however, physically it never went past foot-rubbing.”
Waller worked at Tates Creek Presbyterian Church from 1995-2006 in Lexington, KY. In a statement, pastor Robert Cunningham said that after interviewing people in Lexington, “other acts of abuse have been uncovered as well,” noting that “evidence is also beginning to emerge that conflicts with Brad’s statement that ‘it never went past foot-rubbing.’ ” Source: lex18.com, 6-25-18
Jacques Lacroix, 89, retired from the Catholic ministry after a video showed him slapping a crying 2-year-old during the boy’s baptism at the Collegiate Church of Champeaux in France. The video showed him loudly telling the boy to calm down and be quiet before squeezing his face and slapping him on the cheek. The parents then grabbed the boy away from Lacroix. Source: Metro UK, 6-23-18
While FFRF gets plenty of fan mail, we also get plenty of religiously fanatic mail. So in every issue we publish some of the more interesting, shall we say, criticisms. Printed as received.
Zealots!: I read an article today about you zealots becoming involved in a high school devotional in Arkansas. I would think you had better things to do with your tiny brains. Maybe you could all take up a hobby like bungee jumping in the Grand Canyon and stay out of other peoples affairs that do not concern you. Obviously leftards insanity influences your every action. Do the country a favor, close up your little shop of horrors, go start a commune in the desert far from civilization so as not to pollute society with your Marxist thinking. Actually a commune in Russia should make you quite happy. — Mike Lencioni
Ashamed: I am ashamed to say I was born in Wisconsin because of all the hate you create. I pray God will forgive you when you are standing in front of him explaining why you have spread such hate of God. — Shirley McKay
FFRF: Like all crazy terrified control freak Liberals you would rather teach people WHAT to think instead of HOW to think. It wont work. It didn’t work for Hitler or any of the other monster maniacals. Get a job, you’ll be happier. — Luke Van Horne
FU!: I DONT THINK YOU CORRUPT PUSSIES HAVE THE BALLS TO GO AGAINST THE DEMOCRATIC AGENDA.. CONSIDERING THE FACT THAT ALL OF YOU LEFT WING LIBERAL BITCHES ARE SING THE SAME SONGS ALL THE TIME, LIKE A BROKEN RECORD.. SO IN CLOSING, I WOULD LIKE TO SAY, “ GO FUCK YOURSELFS, AND ALL THE HOMO’S AND PEDOPHILES THAT YOU LOVE SO MUCH, ALONG WITH ALL THE ILLEGAL IMMIGRANTS AND MUSLIM LOVING FAGGOTS THAT YOU ARE SO CLOSELY PLAYING PUSSY WITH… UNTIL NEXT TIME… HAVE A NICE DAY !!! — John Flores
You guys suck: Assholes like you are destroying this country by trying to force your views on others instead of just letting people believe what they will. Bunch of self serving self important jerks. I do not care that you are athiest. does not bother me one bit what you believe or don’t believe. But what makes your views more correct than the other guys? I only care that assholes like you create fear and division by taking from others based on your beliefs or theirs. — JB Taylor
Hell is calling: Such an asshole group you have, enjoy hell, and quit ruining our country. Satan is the biggest loser, quit worshipping that pile of crap. God is in control despite you idiots. Every school shooting, the blood is on your hands…
— John Smith
What about my rights?: ok, you have your rights with the first amendment. but now you are infringing on my rights. Your located in WI. I don’t come and protest you, don’t come down here and stick your nose where it doesn’t belong. — David Williams
atheists: Police Officers lip-syncing to a song from God’s Not Dead? Oh, the absolute horror of it all. I encourage all you atheists to rethink your beliefs. Does the theory of evolution really hold up? Not in a billion years….not in 100 billion years. Evolutionists have no explanation whatsoever for the human eye. That is just one of thousands of examples. — Charley Larson
Terrible sign: Your public sign ON THE OUTSIDE OF YOUR BUILDING stating “FFRF ….Proudly Professional pains in the a$$ since 1978” is both offensive to me and my family and if not removed from the public’s view- having such offensive language… your organization will be notified of the actions that will follow. — Kenneth Cannon
Go to hell: Why cannot you people just stick your heads up your asses — Gary Jung
Discount: A church bulletin discount, that’s a problem to you imbeciles? You sensitive little not anywhere near as smart as you think you are morons see the RELIGION angle and it’s Katy bar the freaking door! Why can’t you just leave people alone? It’s not that hard. Especially when you realize just how fundamentally wrong on a subject as you are. Please just read the damn Constitution, will you? It’s pretty self explanatory. — Rob Collins
Assholes: You can go fuck yourself you atheist piles of shit! Go jump off a bridge. Satan is waiting for your pathetic worthless soul to torture for eternity. Before you are tormented for all of time stop fighting restaurants that give Sunday discounts to people who aren’t inbred trash like you — Jason Contreras
Go away!: Drop dead you sick assholes and may your filthy hoes suffer — Joe Turek
FFRF: you are a good example of a very stupid person i wonder about your parents sad !!!!! — John Riley
You are bad!!!: Disband your terrible, horrible organization. You are bad bad people — Graham Rogers
Burn in hell!: Freedom From Religion Foundation—regarding your bitching about the 10% church discount that you had a fit over…go fuck yourself you worthless atheist cocksuckers. I hope you and your POS of shit organization burn in fucking hell. — Ed Rylant
You can’t stop me: On a personal business decision, I have no problem with giving advice at a discounted rate, or at no cost to Christians. In fact I will take full advantage of the stupidity of atheists to separate them from their money. This is how the real world works. Your attorneys mean absolutely nothing to me. To stop my business activity you are going to have to kill me. Now, do what you need to do. — Richard Brisson
In online political surveys, we are prompted to check off what we think is most important for our representatives to work on. For the “Other” category, I have gotten into the habit of adding: “Get religion out of politics, education and science!”
I don’t believe in miracles, but who knows, if we all do that, it might eventually have an impact.
Lennon’s ‘Imagine’ not as atheistic as it seems
I think the newspaper is the best part of being an FFRF member.
I’d like to issue a counterpoint to Caren Campbell’s proposal (June/July 2018) that “Imagine” be our “anthem.”
Lennon was not an atheist. The song was inspired by a poem from Yoko Ono’s s book Grapefruit, and he told Playboy magazine he wrote the song as a prayer to god. The lyrics ask us to “imagine” there is no heaven, which assumes we all believe there is one. Two years before he wrote the song, he said “Whatever they celebrate, God and Christ, I don’t think it matters as long as they’re aware of Him and His message.” (eeek!) He did take a lot of heat for the “no possessions” part, given his wealth.
Other wrongly interpreted songs adopted as anthems include “Born in the USA,” “This Land is Your Land” and “American Woman.”
People are free to take from lyrics whatever they choose, of course. We don’t need an anthem (we have lots of terrific slogans!), but there are some fine songs about atheism/secularism (Dan Barker knows this).
I particularly like these lyrics from James Taylor’s “Up from your Life:” “So much for your moment of prayer; God’s not at home, there is no there there; lost in the stars, that’s what you are . . . left here on your own. You can only hope to live on this Earth, this here is it, no second birth, no starry crown.”
FFRF bumper sticker gets positive responses
With much apprehension, I placed my new
To my surprise, it has gendered nothing but gratifying responses.
One day, I noticed, as I approached my car in a parking lot, a white napkin tucked under my wiper blade. It read, “Have a blessed day.”
A week later, again in a parking lot, I was momentarily annoyed to see a car stopped directly behind me, blocking my exit. The driver lowered the window and asked where I bought the sticker. I gave her a brief sales pitch on the merits of FFRF. She said, before driving off, “My husband has a sticker that reads, ‘I evolved, you didn’t.’”
Another plus: Now I am very patient in Starbucks drive-throughs, knowing the person in the car behind me is getting a thought-provoking message.
I am now into my 90th year and would like to become a Life Member. Enclosed is my check. Does a Life Membership come with any guarantees? If I die, do I get a refund?
Howard K. Bostock
Many thanks to FFRF for student activist scholarship
I would like to thank the anonymous couple from the Northwest who provided the money to make possible the Thomas Jefferson Student Activist Award scholarship I received. Thanks to everyone at the FFRF for believing in me enough to offer me the award.
I cannot express the amount of appreciation and gratefulness I have toward FFRF. Your organization provides thousands of people a chance to safely resolve and/or pursue challenges of state/church separation, allowing ordinary citizens the opportunity to be powerful influencers in their local, state and federal governments. Everyone deserves an equal chance to express their faith or lack thereof. Everyone deserves the right to be free from intrusions that poison our governments and communities with bias and hate. The power of the people rather than the forces of religion should inspire the government. I hope you know that you made a profound impact on my life and will continue to do so. Thank you for all of your help, support and kindness.
Longtime member now FFRF Lifetime Member
I have no idea how long I’ve been a FFRF member! I suppose it has something to do with my age — 82. I’ve done a lot and seen a lot. The best thing I did was having a career in the Marines. Running a close second was joining FFRF.
I’m still a foxhole atheist defending our Constitution from enemies both foreign and domestic.
Enclosed please find my check for Life Membership.
Peter J. Viviano
‘Harry Potter’ phrase on shirt an ironic twist
I couldn’t help but laugh after reading the entry in the “Black Collar Crime” section (June/July issue) about Suzanne Owen, accused of seducing one of her students, because of the T-shirt she is portrayed in.
As any fan of the “Harry Potter” series knows, the phrase “I solemnly swear that I am up to no good” comes straight from the works of J.K. Rowling, whom evangelicals have castigated as promoting witchcraft, demonism and who knows what else. What is a teacher at an evangelical school doing wearing such a thing?
The irony of the whole thing is that, in the end, Harry is portrayed as a Christ-like figure, dying and returning to life in order to save all that is good. These people don’t seem to be able to face up to their own contradictions.
Seeing the world as more than black and white
Here’s an impious exhortation for your Letterbox, should you deem it worthy. It’s titled “Against Color Blindness.”
FFRF is pleased to announce that it has awarded $10,000 in scholarship awards in memory of Catherine Fahringer to four students chosen by the Black Skeptics of Los Angeles, an African-American atheist community-based group.
The scholarship is part of the First in the Family Humanist Scholarship program, which focuses on undocumented, foster care, homeless or LGBTQ youth who will be the first in their families to go to college.
According to BSLA founder Sikivu Hutchinson, “Secular African American youth disproportionately come from religious backgrounds and communities. These youth are often marginalized in K-12 and higher education due to their non-conformity. This scholarship program provides a platform for their voices and experiences.”
Fahringer was a San Antonio feminist and freethinking activist who ran a long-lived FFRF chapter and served on FFRF’s executive board for many years. She was especially interested in nurturing the next generation of freethinkers. She died in 2008.
Here are excerpts from the winners’ essays.
By Huanchun Xu
As an undocumented immigrant who will be the first in my family to go to college, I have met more barriers than other college applicants. I know how hard and stressful the application process can be. I spent so much time wondering how I can pay for everything. Can I apply for any financial aid or scholarships? These kinds of questions always bothered me because it took so long to find answers. I knew there must be others in the same situation, and I wondered how I might be able to help them.
I participated in the Freedom and Citizenship program, a summer-intensive project in political philosophy at Columbia University. Through the year-long civic action project, I wanted to do research to provide more information to undocumented students, especially about scholarships and college financial aid.
Our group made two goals: to educate others about undocumented immigrants and to inform undocumented immigrants about the college application process. We hoped more undocumented students could achieve their college dreams with our help.
For my part, specifically, I told my high school guidance counselor what I felt as an undocumented student when I applied to college. I explained our project to her, and even though my counselor was busy, I convinced her to help. At first, she decided to give me about 15 minutes for an interview to share my experience. After the interview, she decided to help. Between the two of us, we divided work in order to gather more information in a short time. The process was hard, tiring and complicated, but if people can understand the difficulties undocumented students face, then our hard work was worth it. The work we did is now available online at freedomandcitizenship.columbia.edu/immigration for free access.
Through the Freedom and Citizenship project, I hoped to make social change. Through the project, we tried to encourage people to think from different point of views, to think about why undocumented students must work so hard in order to enroll in college.
Xu, 20, graduated from Liberty High School Academy for Newcomers, in New York City. She is attending the Borough of Manhattan Community College with an emphasis in communication.
By Shalvit Grimes
The issue of access to education for girls of color is among the greatest social justice issues of our time. As of 2017, research shows that 130 million school-aged girls of color worldwide do not attend school. To put that number in perspective, that is just shy of the entire population of Russia. Can you imagine if all of the inhabitants of Russia were denied a basic elementary education? I firmly believe that, as a society, we are each responsible for standing up for human rights and for creating social change.
Humanism is the belief that all people, regardless of race, gender, socioeconomic standing or geography, should be treated equally. Through my research, I’ve learned that the inequality in access to education for girls is often rooted in social values that dictate that men are superior to women, religious beliefs about the proper role of a woman, and poverty, which demands that young girls stay home and take care of their siblings.
I was first exposed to the global girls’ education crisis in the seventh grade. At the suggestion of one of my teachers, my friends and I started a chapter of Girl Up at my middle school. Girl Up is sponsored by the United Nations and encourages students to create local clubs/chapters to raise awareness about the issue, to advocate for the rights of girls globally, and to raise funds to send girls to school.
Over the past six years I’ve served as president of my local chapter of Girl Up and have successfully sent 179 girls in the Republic of Congo to school.
In 2016, I was afforded the distinct opportunity to attend a conference with global leaders sponsored by the Let Girls Learn campaign, which is an initiative championed by Michelle Obama to bring US resources to assist in the fight to get girls of color educated. Being in a room with leaders from around the world to discuss strategies to reverse gender inequities showed me that social change is possible. I observed that while the world leaders present clearly had different religious and cultural world views, religion and politics did not enter the conversations. My intention is to one day be among those world leaders strategizing ways to reverse gender- and race-based inequalities.
Shalvit, 18, graduated from St. John’s High School in Washington, D.C. She is attending St. John’s University, with plans to major in criminal justice with a minor in social justice.
By Mike Grimes
In 2011, my family experienced the sudden and tragic death of my father. To say that the loss was heart-rending would be an understatement. It was my father who taught me the principles of humanism.
My father was on his way home from work when he was struck by a commercial truck. According to testimony, the truck driver had fallen asleep at the wheel. He woke up and tried to brake but they did not operate effectively. We later learned that the brake failure was attributable to deferred maintenance on the truck.
Despite the obvious fault of the trucking company, it put my family through hell in the following months. The irony of this was that the company’s website proudly proclaimed that they were a “Christian company” with deep “family values.” I learned quickly that their stated family values did not extend to my family.
My mother had to move quickly from mourning the loss of her husband to engaging in a brutal lawsuit with the company, which refused to admit fault. Our finances were already heavily dependent on my father’s income, and the added legal bills resulted in us losing our home. In the aftermath of my father’s death, I was overwhelmed by the generosity of family, friends and strangers who offered us shelter, meals, comfort and understanding during our period of homelessness.
The accident ignited a passion within me to care for the homeless and underfed and to practice the principles of humanism in all my affairs, specifically “to lead a meaningful, ethical life capable of adding to the greater good of humanity.”
I decided to dedicate my life to paying homage to my father’s legacy as a good humanist. I channel his spirit of giving and have made it a point to always look for new ways to give to those in need. I believe that the issue of homelessness could be eradicated if everyone took on a humanist belief.
My life before the loss of my father is one that I often dream of having back. However, in the time after the accident, I have grown to be a giving and charitable person, I have seen humanity at its best and I’ve gained a greater appreciation for humanism a
nd the potential for positive social change that it offers.
Mike, 19, graduated from The Potomac School in McLean, Va.. He is attending Honors College of Charleston where he is majoring in finance with a concentration in entrepreneurship and a minor in German.
By Desmyon Jones
In the seventh grade, I realized that I was different. The fear that my family would hate me encouraged me to conceal this information. The guilt that I felt transformed me from a bubbly child into a recluse who barely uttered a word. One day, my mother decided she’d seen enough of this behavior and confronted me, “Why do you look sad every time I see you?” Usually, I would just mumble “nothing” and quickly scurry off to my bedroom. However, this time I’d made the mistake of crying when she asked the question. I planned on repeating the phrase “nothing’s wrong” until she gave up and left me alone, but, for some reason, my body decided to betray me and did the exact opposite of what I told it not to do. With my head hanging low and my eyes blinded by wetness, I blurted out, “I think I’m gay.” She accused me of being possessed by the devil and left me with a lingering message: “The devil comes to steal, kill and destroy. He wants to tear you away from God.”
Many LGBTQ+ youth suffer from emotional distress that comes from being gay while also being a member of a faith that teaches its followers that homosexuals deserve to spend eternity in hell. Some people go as far as kicking their own children out of their homes or making them feel so unloved that they resort to taking their life. In fact, suicide has become the second-leading cause of death among young people. It sickens me to think that people who cause LGBTQ+ youth to live their lives in fear and shame believe they deserve a reward when they die.
As a non-white, non-straight, nonreligious female, I’ve gotten to experience firsthand how frightening it can be to try being yourself in a society that expects you to be like everyone else. Getting rid of religion in favor of humanism would ultimately lead to healthier family dynamics between LGBTQ+ youth and their relatives. It will create a society in which people aren’t acting self-righteous to appease some imaginary man in the sky, but doing their very best to let everyone know that they belong.
Desmyon, 18, graduated from the Mississippi School for Mathematics and Science in Columbus, Miss. She is attending the University of Memphis with plans to major in civil engineering.
remember a muggy southern Alabama afternoon in Fair Hope at a small clam chowder shop overlooking Mobile Bay. I was at the peak of my law school career with Liberty Law, spending my summer in a prestigious clerkship with the state Supreme Court, and sitting to my left was Chief Justice Roy Moore. His chief of staff was across the table, engaging the judge with intriguing conversation about their place in the conservative movement and my role as a future legal advocate for God’s America.
Impressed by the gravity of my place in the culture war, I turned to Moore to ask him about a mutual acquaintance of ours. Doug Philips was a pastor, author and major thought leader of the homeschooling movement, whose impassioned religious advocacy for patriarchy and family values had inspired my family and motivated me, in part, to pursue law.
The immediate reason for my bringing him up was his unfortunate falling out with the evangelical movement after a years-long sex scandal broke. It revealed Philips’ affair with his family’s underage nanny and had disastrous implications for the thousands of families within his sphere of influence, specifically the cancellation of his ministry’s signature annual event: the Witherspoon School of Law and Public Policy.
The Witherspoon School was an event hosted by Philips and keynoted by Moore. It sported the talents of a range of attorneys and legal scholars geared toward training a generation of young men how to “stand in the gates” (borrowing the Old Testament term) in positions of civic influence. The speakers taught us that the history of American law was lifted from the Torah, that conservative leaders of God-fearing states had the duty to interpose and nullify the unconstitutional actions of federal judges and lawmakers, and that it was a sin for women to seek public office.
I told the chief justice that I was sorry to see the end of this conference, in which he had had a vested interest and at which he had spoken several years running, and I mentioned that I had heard some talk of resurrecting it under new leadership after Philips had fallen into sin.
“I know,” said the chief justice. “It’s tragic when the devil can bring leadership into sin and bring godly organizations and movements with them.”
Saving us from Satan
I was chosen by God.
Not in any vague or subjective way, though. The creator of the universe revealed his inerrant word in the bible, laying out the literal historical and scientific truth of the cosmos and then called me — a foot soldier of the homeschooling movement — to conquer the social and political institutions of America and save Western civilization from Satan and the left, virtually identical though they were.
The simplicity of the whole thing was airtight with its internal consistency to the point that questioning any one part of it was nonsensical under the weight of the rest. The universe was 6,000 years old. All living things existed within unchanging created “kinds,” and the history of the ancient world all took place after a worldwide flood sometime around 2300 B.C.
We didn’t just tacitly acquiesce to this reality in the absence of contrary evidence; my family devoured creationism from conferences to books to alternative guidebooks and tours of the national parks to interpret geological and paleontological features in light of Noah’s flood.
It may be easy for an outsider to imagine these ideas on some survivalist compound in Wyoming or the trailer parks of Mississippi, but they weren’t. I grew up in deep blue Oregon, less than an hour’s drive from the Portland International Airport. If the recent national election hasn’t tipped you off, fundamentalists aren’t only necessarily out there in the hill country of eastern Kentucky or the small towns of the Oklahoma panhandle. They’re sitting beside you at Chili’s. They’re your co-workers and neighbors, and many of them live in a subculture you might not even know how to see.
Plugged into the right political machine, the zeal of God’s commission to take dominion over society has enabled the hostile takeover of nearly every institution of American democracy. With the stakes so high, I showed an early knack for public speaking and writing, activism, politics and the culture war. I fell in love with politics from the first time I volunteered for a campaign. When I was 15, I went down to California to volunteer for the Proposition 8 campaign, which amended the state Constitution to define marriage as one man and one woman. It passed.
When I was 16, I approached my pastor and told him I was interested in teaching and eventually preaching the word of God, so he coached me on how to study the bible in depth and preach it according to the strictures of its original meaning. When I was 17, I had made my rounds in conservative circles and started getting invited to speak at rallies and conferences as a sort of rising star for the new Tea Party movement that was sweeping the nation’s politics.
At 18, I moved to northern Virginia for my first full-time job at a consulting firm, where I raised money for major Republican organizations and campaigns. At 19, I earned my bachelor’s degree and went to a conservative Christian law school on a full-ride scholarship and worked as a legal advocate for theocratic values.
I’ve seen exactly what’s on the inside of the Religious Right because I was there. I know exactly what they want to accomplish in this country because I helped them implement it. I have felt the fire to take dominion over this wicked world in the name of Christ, because that fire burned in my heart as much as it has burned in anyone’s.
But now, here I am. How does a person escape this black hole of cognitive dissonance and self-reinforcement? How can you teach yourself to doubt, to question and ultimately to look your own identity in the face and say, “I was wrong”?
You might think I saw right through the propaganda, and I’d like to say that I did. But it wasn’t so simple. The process of reorganizing everything you think you know and eliminating the many things you believe when you discover they are false is a very long and gradual process. It’s hard to pinpoint a moment when the doubts began, but in many ways it began in the very core of who I always was — a questioner.
So, I visited churches of different Christian denominations in search of some core version of Christianity from which I could amputate all the baggage I had grown to doubt, and eventually explored the services of entirely other religions.
I dropped out of my part-time seminary program to shift that academic energy into philosophy. I explored the great thinkers of the world’s intellectual history and quickly found myself discovering real science.
All this left me living a troubling double life. On my own time, I soaked up the challenge of self-teaching science, philosophy and history in a way that brought the world around me into focus.
It came to a head in the summer of 2016. Organized hatred and bigotry were so deafening in our society that I couldn’t live with myself, knowing that I was actively a part of it. My own sampling of comparative religions had left me cynical that any of them had “the one true” answer, or even that such a search was meaningful at all. My reading had taken me to Stephen Hawking and Richard Dawkins, the final nails in the coffin of my longtime struggle to hold onto faith. I finally snapped.
I was in a Chick-fil-A in central Texas while I worked for a Republican statehouse campaign at the time. I remember vividly the instrumental-only Christian music that the restaurant was playing, so cleverly that a nonbeliever needn’t be offended by the cultural tropes of Christianity, but a believer would immediately know the songs. So the songs played, and my head filled in the words as they did, drudging up every memory I had of fundamentalist sermons, pseudo-scientific talking points, and the thousands of King James Bible verses I had committed to memory.
I lost it.
I dropped my book, went into the men’s room, sat on the toilet, and bawled my eyes out for an hour and a half. I was, as I finally admitted to myself, an atheist, a humanist and a progressive in soon to be more ways than I was prepared to understand. Everything that my old worldview had made clear to me about my place in the universe and the purpose of my life was gone. My family and friends would be devastated.
And the fire that I felt for the triumph of the gospel burns again, because I feel that fire for human progress and dignity. I channel it today into helping people like me who are still finding their way out, and advancing the message of curiosity and critical thinking that our world so desperately needs.
With all the skills and insights I gained as a professional conservative activist, I now lend my time as a full-time progressive activist. From that pathetic breaking point in a bathroom stall, I decided that my honor was not for sale, whatever the price may be. I know that for this wave of totalitarian fundamentalism there is no compromise, and as such we have no recourse but to defend our democracy against all the fear and hatemongering of the dark ages. And if they insist on declaring war upon all humanity, then we will stand beside our fellow human beings and cast at the feet of the tyrant the mandate of all nature: evolve or die.
FFRF Member Luke Douglas is a political consultant, progressive activist and writer. Since leaving fundamentalism and a political career in the Religious Right, he has been outspoken about his journey to secular humanism.
FFRF has persuaded a Tennessee state department to end its promotion of belief in a god.
FFRF wrote to the state’s Department of Children’s Services (DCS) warning it against endorsing religion to those wishing to become foster parents.
A concerned Tennessee resident who had gone through such training reported to FFRF that the department required aspiring foster parents to watch a video called “Characteristics of Resource Parents” that included a segment called “Spirituality.” The segment opened by explaining that “a belief in something greater than you that you can go to for peace and comfort” is necessary to face “the challenges of adding additional children to your family.” The introduction was followed by clips of foster parents discussing the importance of religion and reliance on God in foster care.
“By requiring potential foster parents to watch a video advocating for religious belief, the Department of Children’s Services is impermissibly endorsing religion and violating the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment,” wrote FFRF’s Patrick O’Reiley Legal Fellow Christopher Line.
The required video conveyed a discriminatory preference by Department of Children’s Services for foster parents with religious beliefs by implying that a belief in a higher power is required to be a foster parent. This misguided assertion is alienating to the nearly one-quarter of Americans who are not religious.
FFRF requested that the DCS discontinue using the portion of its training video that endorses religion. The department responded on July 23, informing FFRF that it had removed the video segment on “spirituality” from its foster parent training.
FFRF applauds the decision.
“A reliance on God is certainly not a prerequisite to good parenting,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “The Tennessee Department of Children’s Services has done the right thing by tossing the segment from its training.”
FFRF has successfully harmonized an Illinois public high school chorus with the Constitution.
Earlier this year, FFRF was informed that a public school madrigal chorus at Lincoln-Way West High School in New Lenox, Ill., performed at a Catholic church in Manhattan in December. The concert was part of the church’s Sunday morning worship services. Additionally, the chorus performed at other churches in 2014 and 2015. Online videos of the 2014 presentation show that prominent religious iconography was clearly visible, including a massive Latin cross just behind the chorus. In 2015, the chorus performed as part of an event that a church described as “a service in song.”
FFRF Staff Attorney Ryan Jayne sent a letter to Lincoln Way Community High School District 210 Superintendent R. Scott Tingley informing the district that the use of churches for public school programming is inappropriate and unconstitutional. Jayne pointed out that the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals — which has jurisdiction over Illinois — struck down another school district’s use of a church for school functions.
Other federal courts around the country have also struck down similar practices.
On July 12, Tingley responded, writing to FFRF that “Lincoln-Way Community High School District 210 madrigal groups will no longer perform at churches.”
FFRF is tipping its hat to the district for agreeing to stay within the bounds of our secular Constitution from now on.
“Religion is inherently divisive and the district made the right decision to end its church performances to become more inclusive of students of varying beliefs in its chorus program,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor.
FFRF has convinced a Tennessee school district to implement a corrective plan barring proselytizing assemblies from taking place.
A concerned student of the Oneida High School in Huntsville, Tenn., reported to FFRF that the school had allowed a local pastor to preach and evangelize to students at a mandatory assembly this past fall. Students at the school are required to attend monthly “character assemblies,” which are typically secular in nature. Last November, however, FFRF was informed that a local pastor began an assembly that was supposed to be on the secular topic of “friendship” by asking students to repeat the phrase, “God is good all the time, and all the time God is good.” He went on to instruct the students to turn to the person seated next to him or her to inform each other that Jesus loves them.
FFRF Legal Fellow Christopher Line wrote to Oneida Special School District (OSSD) Director of Schools Jeanny Hatfield on June 7 to warn against the inclusion of religious proselytizing in future high school assemblies.
In a letter received July 6, the legal counsel representing the school district informed FFRF that Hatfield and Oneida High School Principal Kevin Byrd understand that the district may not endorse religious practices and will comply with state and federal laws going forward.
“In an effort to preserve the integrity of our ‘character’ program and ensure that our students are protected from religious proselytizing the OSSD will require that an outline of the content of all presentations be submitted to the principal or his designee for review and approval prior to the presentation,” states the letter.