A federal appeals court has ruled that a 34-foot-tall cross in a Florida park is unconstitutional and must come down.
The decision is a resounding victory for the Freedom From Religion Foundation and the American Humanist Association.
In a pivotal federal decision released Sept. 7, the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a lower court judgment that ruled against the promotion of Christianity — and exclusively Christianity — by local government agencies.
However, the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which is representing the city of Pensacola in the case, announced Sept. 18 it had filed a petition with the Supreme Court asking the court to hear the case.
In 2016, FFRF and AHA filed suit against the city of Pensacola, Fla., on behalf of residents of the city troubled by a large, freestanding cross on city park property. The massive cross, located in Bayview Park and maintained by city officials, represents a troubling elevation of Christian faith above other beliefs.
The three-judge panel begrudgingly affirmed a district court decision because of a previous case, ACLU v. Rabun (from 1983), with virtually identical facts that had found a governmental cross unconstitutional. The panel cannot disregard that precedent without it being overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court, or without the full court of the 11th Circuit overruling itself.
In June of last year, Senior U.S. District Judge Roger Vinson ruled that “the Bayview Cross can no longer stand as a permanent fixture on city-owned property.” The white Latin cross owned, displayed and funded by the city of Pensacola towers over Bayview Park. The cross is also the site of numerous Easter Sunrise services, frequently co-hosted by Christian churches.
Vinson ordered the cross removed within a month. Lamentably, the city decided to waste more taxpayer funds by appealing the case to the 11th Circuit. The appeals court, in its wisdom, has affirmed the lower court’s ruling.
However, the appeals court decision is unprecedented not only because the judges indicated they did not want to rule in the Constitution’s favor, but also because two of the judges on the panel wrote separately to urge the court to
rehear the case en banc.
FFRF welcomes the judgment, though, regardless of the undercurrents.
“Reason and the Constitution have prevailed,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “The court has affirmed that individuals of minority faiths or no faith at all are full citizens of this country and may not be excluded or proselytized by their government.”
The American Humanist Association concurs.
“It’s reassuring that the court recognized the illegality of an overtly Christian cross conspicuously displayed in Bayview Park,” says Roy Speckhardt, executive director of AHA. “As the city of Pensacola complies with the court’s direction, it is our hope that this park becomes an inclusive space for all.”
The Becket law firm offered to appeal the ruling for the city for free and Pensacola Mayor Ashton Hayward accepted the offer.
“The city looks forward to being vindicated on appeal — as the majority of the court said it should be,” Hayward said in the release.
FFRF believes that the court will deny review or agree that the cross is unconstitutional and must be removed.
The plaintiffs in the case are Amanda Kondrat’yev; Andreiy Kondrat’yev; David Suhor and Andre Ryland. The case was brought by both FFRF and AHA, and handled by FFRF staff attorneys Rebecca Markert and Madeline Ziegler and AHA’s senior counsel Monica Miller and legal director David Niose.
Morris County, N.J., is asking the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn FFRF’s resounding victory this spring against taxpayer subsidy of churches.
The county, defended by the Catholic Becket Fund, wants the court to overrule the New Jersey Supreme Court’s decision against funding religious worship.
FFRF will be represented by renowned legal scholar Erwin Chemerinsky in opposing the Sept. 19 request. Chemerinsky is the dean of the University of California-Berkeley School of Law.
The New Jersey Supreme Court unanimously held in April that state taxpayers cannot be forced to pay to repair active houses of worship, several of which explicitly sought taxpayer funds in order to further their worship services.
This decision will save New Jersey taxpayers many millions of dollars and protects the religious liberty of all New Jersey residents.
Morris County churches are arguing that they are entitled to taxpayer funds, even though the New Jersey Constitution specifically forbids this religious use of taxpayer funds. One of these churches sought and received a grant to allow the church’s “continued use by our congregation for worship services.” Another received funds “to ensure continued safe public access to the church for worship.”
At the heart of the lawsuit, argued in New Jersey state court, is the New Jersey Constitution’s guarantee: “nor shall any person be obliged to pay tithes, taxes, or other rates for building or repairing any church or churches, place or places of worship, or for the maintenance of any minister or ministry, contrary to what he believes to be right.” Art. I, Para. 3.
Morris County is asking the Supreme Court to extend a 2017 case, Trinity Lutheran v. Comer, which held that Missouri could not exclude a church-owned playground from a secular funding program. The county made the same unpersuasive arguments before the New Jersey Supreme Court, which soundly rejected the county’s arguments. The state high court crucially noted that this case “does not involve the expenditure of taxpayer money for nonreligious uses, such as the playground resurfacing in Trinity Lutheran.”
FFRF, with the help of Chemerinsky, will file a response to the county’s petition, urging the court to reject the requested review.
“We’re confident that the U.S. Supreme Court will either deny review or will accept the case only to clarify that the New Jersey Supreme Court got the case exactly right,” FFRF Co-President Dan Barker said.
Plaintiffs in the case are David Steketee, an FFRF member, and FFRF itself. In New Jersey state court, Steketee and FFRF were represented by outside counsel Paul Grosswald and FFRF attorneys Andrew Seidel and Ryan Jayne, who will continue as co-counsel. Chemerinsky is one of the most cited legal scholars of all time and has argued several cases before the Supreme Court.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation is taking Mike Huckabee and the Citizens United Foundation to task for scurrilously using its name as a fundraising gimmick.
FFRF has obtained a recent letter that Huckabee wrote for the Citizens United Foundation. The undated letter entirely devoted to attacking FFRF runs to 10 pages and includes a request for a minimum donation of $22 and a petition that recipients are to sign and return to Citizens United. The letter states that it will be mailed to 2 million Americans. (For a fun point-by-point refutation, read the letter with FFRF’s annotations online at ffrf.org/attack.)
Huckabee is a former governor of Arkansas and Fox News host. He also lost twice in Republican presidential primaries. Citizens United is an organization that, in 2010, won a U.S. Supreme Court case which struck down a federal law prohibiting corporations and unions from making expenditures in connection with federal elections. In other words, the controversial outcome of the case equated corporations with people when it comes to political donations.
The letter from Huckabee and Citizens United is not simply dishonest, it contains patently false statements that damage, and are intended to damage, the reputation of FFRF. Worse yet, through this dishonesty and fear-mongering, Huckabee and Citizens United are striving to build up a $44 million theocratic war chest.
In one sense, FFRF is flattered, FFRF Co-Presidents Dan Barker and Annie Laurie Gaylor write in a letter to Huckabee and Citizens United. Huckabee’s letter recognizes that FFRF and its legal team have “done more than just about any other group” to buttress the constitutional wall of separation between church and state. Huckabee also admits that he “is afraid” of FFRF.
However, Huckabee’s letter overflows with lies, disinformation and misstatements. The biggest lie appears on page two and is repeated 13 times in various iterations: “The Freedom From Religion Foundation has launched a Campaign for an Atheist America that has one goal — to erase any trace of America’s Christian heritage from the public square.”
FFRF has launched no such campaign. Nevertheless, the letter even indicates that Huckabee and the Citizens United Foundation are familiar with various stages of the nonexistent campaign: “Urgent action is needed to stop the Freedom From Religion Foundation’s newest and most frightening plan — the next phase of their Campaign for an Atheist America.”
This appears to be a deliberate lie meant to scare people into donating to Citizens United.
In another lie, the letter states: “In Ohio, the Freedom From Religion Foundation sued to prohibit the Star of David from being displayed at a new Holocaust Memorial.” FFRF never sued over this memorial on Capitol grounds. FFRF simply wrote a letter suggesting that a secular memorial on Capitol grounds was more appropriate and inclusive than a sectarian memorial. Painting an artistic suggestion as an anti-Semitic lawsuit deliberately and dishonestly casts FFRF in a negative light.
Then there is this absurd and harmful paragraph: To the Freedom From Religion Foundation, you and I are “narrow minded” because we still believe in “old fashioned” Religious Values. Since you and I don’t think that things like pornography and crosses in urine are “art,” they firmly believe that they must sue the Heartland into accepting these things.
“The clear implication here is that FFRF has sued to force people to accept pornography and crosses in urine as art, an indefensible claim devoid of any basis in reality,” Barker and Gaylor write.
The state/church watchdog has never brought a lawsuit about pornography or urine-soaked crosses, much less one that forced people to accept them as art.
The Huckabee attack letter makes many statements that purport to be factual but are actually lies. Those statements injure FFRF’s reputation — and are intended to injure that reputation.
FFRF is formally requesting that Mike Huckabee and the Citizens United Foundation cease disseminating what it calls their smear letter or other lies about FFRF. The unvarnished truth is the least that their followers — and this country — deserve.
FFRF is excited to announce our 14 newest Lifetime Members and two new After-Life Members.
FFRF’s newest Lifetime Members are Leslie Dimmick, Michael Donovan, Benjamin Peter Fields, Richard Lunde, Anthony Martin, Shane McDaniel, Brian McDonald, Douglas Pierson, Clifford Raynor, Elizabeth Rose, Maria Pilar Susterich, Robert Taylor, Sue Taylor and Donna Watt. States represented are Alabama, Arizona, California, Idaho, Illinois, Minnesota, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, Washington and Wisconsin.
Individual Lifetime Memberships are $1,000, designated as membership or membership renewal, and are deductible for income-tax purposes.
Our two new After-Life Members are Shawn Flisakowski and William Weiss. An After-Life Membership is a $5,000 donation for those who want their donation to “live on” after them.
Sam Grover’s head was Photoshopped onto an image from the musical “Hamilton.”
When news broke of the Catholic Church’s most recent massive pedophilia scandal and cover-up, Bishop Robert Morlino of the Madison, Wis., diocese was quick to respond, like he was running out of time, with a letter blaming “a homosexual subculture” within the Church. When FFRF Associate Counsel Sam Grover read Morlino’s words, he called upon FFRF Director of Strategic Response Andrew Seidel to respond, invoking Hercules Mulligan’s call to Alexander Hamilton in the popular musical “Hamilton”: “Oh my God, tear this dude apart!” Which Andrew did, with a scathing op-ed published in The Capital Times in Madison.
Sam and his wife recently had a baby, giving Sam some late-night bottle-feeding time, when it was quiet uptown. In the room where that happens, Sam worked nonstop nourishing his creative side (as well as his child). In the following verses, Sam takes his shot, recreating Andrew’s rebuttal of Bishop Morlino based on two songs from “Hamilton” — “Farmer Refuted” and “You’ll Be Back.” Who can say no to this?
Hear ye, hear ye my name is Bishop Morlino
And I present free thoughts on the pedophilia scandals within the Catholic Church!
Heed not the public who scream “prosecution,”
There’re none with your interests at heart.
(Sam to Andrew)
Oh, my God, tear this dude apart.
Quitting the Church is not a solution.
Don’t let them lead you astray.
This scandal is not about me . . .
Let him be
They’re playing a dangerous game.
I pray that God shows you his mercy.
Shift blame, shift blame . . .
(Andrew, Morlino repeats)
Yo, he’d have the public deafened to the sound of screams but some
Prosecution is needed, the Nones are gonna
Win this, it’s hard to listen to you preach forgiveness.
Quitting the Church is the only way, honestly you shouldn’t even talk
What’s this about being gay?
That’s not even true, the culprit is you — we must talk about scandal
. . . is not about me
Ken Ham speaks more eloquently than thee
They’re playing a dangerous game
But strangely, your dogma’s the same
I pray that God shows you his mercy
He’s nonexistent firstly . . .
Quit the Catholic Church!
Quit the Catholic Church!
If you repeat yourself again I’m gonna
Honestly, look at me, please don’t read
With your interests
Don’t modulate the key then not debate with me
Why should a church survive and collect tithes after committing such atrocities?
Andrew Seidel, please
Look, I’d rather be religionless than involved in this mess, drop the niceties.
Silence! A message from the Church,
A message from the Church, a message from the Church!
They say, you’re not buying our lies, that this all can be blamed on the gays.
You cry, that protecting the priests isn’t worth the fate of one more child.
Too bad. We thought that we made an arrangement: your soul for your tithes, now you’re making us mad. Remember, despite all the scandals, we’re still your guide . . .
You’ll be back, soon you’ll see,
We still own you psychologically.
You’ll be back, time will tell,
You’ll recoil at the threat of hell.
Priests get moved, children fall,
You have kept the faith through it all,
And when push comes to shove,
We will scare you with eternal damnation to remind you of our love!
Da da da da da . . .
You say you care for the victims and your heart is torn
But you vote with your attendance every Sunday morn’ . . .
And no, don’t blame the prophets,
Cuz you’re our source of profits
Our sweet and steady profits
From which the Church will profit
Forever and ever and ever and ever and ever . . .
You’ll be back to the pews
Though you know we haven’t changed our views.
There’s no time to take stock
We’re far too busy tending to our flock.
We will claim we’ve changed our ways,
Though we’ll blame the victims and the gays
As we work to keep priests safe
You can’t trust us based on history, so you’ll trust us based on faith.
Congratulations to Steve Haack for winning FFRF’s caption contest from the September issue.
The winning caption was a limerick (of which we received more than one):
There once was a woman named Mary,
Whose impotent husband was wary,
So she claimed it was God,
Who had slipped her the rod,
It was really a shepherd named Larry.
Top runners-up include:
#MeToo — John Schaeffer and Lois Jean, sent separately.
All I did was go to confession! — Allen Misher
Thanks to all who participated. If you see any non-copyright-protected pictures or images (most likely that you take yourself) that you think would be good for a caption contest, please send them to [email protected].
Separation of church and state is among the most brilliant and crucial founding principles of this nation. . . . In fact, few things are more dangerous to both religious and secular rights than to pit the two against each other.
Newspaper editorial, “Breaching the wall between church and state,” calling out Josh Hawley, Missouri’s attorney general, the state’s Republican Senate nominee and a former constitutional law professor, for wanting to overturn the Johnson Amendment.
St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 8-28-18
“[Roncalli] should not be rewarded with state dollars if they choose to discriminate against employees simply based on who they love. The actions of Roncalli High School have unfolded in a manner that is contrary to the ideals I learned during my time there.
Indiana state Rep. Dan Forestal, in a statement about the Catholic high school that suspended a counselor after learning of her same-sex marriage. Forestal wants to introduce legislation that would block public money supporting Indiana’s school voucher program from being used at schools that discriminate against employees because of sexual orientation and gender identity.
WTHR-13 (Indianapolis), 8-15-18
I don’t even believe in God, but I’m going to thank her tonight.
Thandie Newton, who won an Emmy for her portrayal of sentient robot Maeve Millay on HBO’s “Westworld.”
I have written the Holy Father and called on him to cancel the forthcoming synod on young people. Right now, the bishops would have absolutely no credibility in addressing this topic.
Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput, asking the pope to cancel a bishop’s conference focusing on youth in the wake of the Catholic child sex abuse crisis.
USA Today, 9-3-18
They felt it was inappropriate to have “In God We Trust” on the school. The teachers were really upset about it. . . . I just don’t think anyone’s offended when they see a state seal.
Palm Beach County School Board member Karen Brill, after the board decided to replace the “In God We Trust” signs with the state seal, which does include the phrase. A new Florida law requires all public schools to post the phrase “In God We Trust” in a “conspicuous place” on campus.
My Palm Beach Post, 9-5-18
My mother is not watching. She says she doesn’t like watching white award shows because you guys don’t thank Jesus enough. That’s true. The only white people that thank Jesus are Republicans and ex-crackheads.
Michael Che, co-hosting the Emmys.
My father, the songwriter and producer Richard Rudolph, came from a family that was agnostic Jewish, because my grandfather didn’t like being told what to do. I remember my mom not even saying “God bless you,” She’d say, “Guhbless you,” because she didn’t want us to say “God.”
Actress, comedian Maya Rudolph, talking about how her family was committedly nonreligious.
New York Times Magazine, 9-15-18
I was quite keen on Jesus and toyed with Christianity in my teens. I went to bible classes with the vicar who lived next door, and I remember saying: “My uncle is a homosexual, would he be allowed into heaven?” The vicar paused, and at that moment I knew I was done with religion.
Emma Thompson, actor, in an interview with Michael Segalov of The Guardian.
The Guardian, 8-25-18
I can’t even explain how I am feeling right now. The long battle has been won. Finally we have been recognized by this country.
Bismaya Kumar Raula, after India’s top court decriminalized gay sex.
A federal appeals court on Aug. 28 said printing “In God We Trust” on U.S. currency is constitutional, citing its longstanding use and saying it was not coercive.
The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Paul, Minn., rejected claims by 29 atheists, children of atheists and atheist groups that inscribing the national motto on bills and coins violated their First Amendment free speech and religious rights.
While other courts have allowed the motto’s use on currency, Circuit Judge Raymond Gruender said it also did not constitute an establishment of religion under a 2014 Supreme Court decision requiring a review of “historical practices.”
Michael Newdow, a lawyer for the plaintiffs and an FFRF member, in an email called it “utterly revolting” that “the history of governmental denigration of a suspect class should trump [the] principle” that neutrality be the “touchstone” for analyzing claims under the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause.
Judge nixes prayer policy for Pennsylvania House
A federal judge has halted the Pennsylvania House of Representatives’ policy banning people who don’t believe in God from giving the invocations made at the start of each day’s legislative floor session.
U.S. Middle District Judge Christopher Conner sided with the freethinkers, represented by Americans United for Separation of Church and State, who challenged the policy that has limited the opening prayers to those who believe in God or a divine power.
Conner said the restrictions on who may serve as guest chaplain violate the U.S. Constitution’s prohibition on making laws that establish a religion.
Muslim court canes women for relationship
Two Malaysian women accused of pursuing a sexual relationship were caned in an Islamic court.
The women, who were convicted of “sexual relations between women,” were each struck six times with a rattan cane in front of witnesses in the Shariah High Court in the state of Terengganu, officials said.
The women, aged 22 and 32, were caned by a female prison officer, Malaysian news outlets reported.
Voters more open to nonreligious candidates
Just 25 percent of Americans say it’s very or extremely important that a candidate has strong religious beliefs, according to a poll by the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.
Only 19 percent consider it very or extremely important that a candidate shares their own beliefs, and nearly half say that’s not very important or not important at all.
But, still, a majority of Americans (57 percent) want the influence of religion on government policy to extend beyond traditional culture war issues and into policies addressing poverty. Americans are more likely to say religion should have at least some influence on poverty than on abortion (45 percent) or LGBT issues (34 percent).
At the highest levels of political office, it’s still rare for a politician to profess that he or she is an atheist; surveys indicate that roughly 10 percent of Americans are explicity atheist. Only one member of Congress, Rep. Jared Huffman, identifies currently as a nonbeliever.
Foster care, adoption program ends in Buffalo
Catholic Charities of Buffalo will end its foster care and adoption program because state rules that bar discrimination based on sexual orientation conflict with church teachings.
The agency has a contract with the Erie County Department of Social Services that expires in March. The state Office of Children and Family Services licenses Catholic Charities and other providers of these services.
The state requires contracting organizations to allow same-sex couples to adopt or to raise foster children. That directive, however, goes against the church’s position that marriage is between a man and a woman, Catholic Charities said in a statement.
Scotland no longer a faith-based country
The Humanist Society of Scotland undertook a survey to better understand the current spiritual and religious beliefs among the Scots. The results show the degree of change that has taken place in the country over the past few years. With over 1,000 participants, 59 percent of the individuals identified themselves as nonreligious. By gender, 62 percent of the women and 55 percent of the men stated they were nonreligious. Other results show that 51 percent of the individuals said they don’t believe life exists after death, 60 percent say that angels don’t exist,65 percent believe evil spirits don’t exist, and 67 percent don’t believe in divine miracles.
Atheist ‘churches’ can improve your well-being
According to a recent study published in the journal Secularism and Nonreligion, atheist “churches” can improve one’s well-being. Researchers showed that congregational-style meetings improve your well-being the same way it does if you go to church. The findings suggest that religious beliefs aren’t as important as previously thought when it comes to well-being.
The most important aspect of the services in terms of community building and friendship formation was socializing before and after services.
Results were published in the journal Secularism and Nonreligion.
“Secular congregations may be a good alternative for non-religious people who want the health benefits religious communities traditionally offer,” said Dr. Michael Price.
Batman is an atheist, DC Comics confirms
Batman apparently doesn’t believe in God. That revelation comes at the conclusion of Batman #53.
Batman’s religious confessions begin with Bruce Wayne, who is Batman’s alter ego, talking about his own theological background, raised as a Christian by his father. Though Wayne never quite believed in Christianity as a small child, he accepted it. That’s until his parents were murdered and he lost his faith.
Christian-only town votes to allow non-Christians
After being hit with a lawsuit for not allowing non-Christians to live in their town, members of the Bay View Association (which is associated with the United Methodist Church) in Michigan recently voted to allow non-Christians to purchase homes in their neighborhood.
The lawsuit filed last year by the Bay View Chautauqua Inclusiveness Group said the housing association was guilty of violating the First Amendment, the federal Fair Housing Act, Michigan’s Constitution and civil rights laws.
They argued that Bay View isn’t affiliated in any meaningful way with the UMC. They operate independently from it and they’re owned by a for-profit company. They also pay taxes, which proves it’s not church property. And it maintains “state-delegated police power.”
Judge: Christian flag barred from city flagpole
A federal judge on Aug. 29 rejected a Boston resident’s demand that the city be forced to fly a flag with a prominent cross over an event he says he wants to hold on City Hall Plaza next month.
U.S. District Court Judge Denise Casper rejected Hal Shurtleff’s request.
In his request for an injunction, Shurtleff argued Boston was violating his First Amendment rights to get his Christian flag on one of the three flagpoles on City Hall Plaza. Casper noted that the city has told Shurtleff he could hold his event there and unfurl any flag he wanted, just not from a city flagpole.
Devout parents arrested after son dies during fast
A Reedsburg, Wis., father and mother were arrested after their 15-year-old son died during a 40-day fast, according to the Reedsburg Police Department.
Kehinde Omosebi, 49, walked to the police department to report the death of his son on Sept. 2. When officers went to the family’s home, they had to force their way in through doors that had padlocks on the inside and found the boy “extremely emaciated and deceased,” Becker said.
An 11-year-old child was also found extremely emaciated but alive along with the mother, 48-year-old Titilayo Omosebi, who was also emaciated.
The father described himself as a “religious minister affiliated with Cornerstone Reformation Ministries.” The family started their fast on July 19.
No food was found in the home, and the mother and 11-year-old child were brought to a hospital for medical treatment, but Titilayo Omosebi refused, citing religious restrictions.
Fired for not going to bible study, worker sues
A 34-year-old man has filed an $800,000 lawsuit against a Albany, N.Y., construction company, claiming the owner fired him after he refused to attend weekly bible study.
Ryan Coleman’s lawsuit states that he discovered only after he was hired as a painter for Dahled Up Construction that the job entailed more than just fixing up homes. According to Coleman and his lawsuit, owner Joel Dahl told him all employees were required to partake in regular bible study sessions led by a Christian pastor during the work day, while on the clock.
Coleman told Dahl that the requirement was illegal, but Dahl wouldn’t budge, according to the lawsuit. In order to keep his job, Coleman obliged for nearly six months but ultimately told Dahl he couldn’t go, the suit says.
Law enforcement officials in at least eight states are considering how to investigate potential abuse cases in the Catholic Church after a report from a Pennsylvania grand jury found more than 1,000 victims and hundreds of predatory priests over the course of more than six decades. FFRF and survivors of clergy abuse are also urging the Justice Department to initiate a federal nationwide investigation.
“The Church’s claim of divine authority gives it coercive power over its congregants that allows it to get away with widespread crimes,” FFRF Co-Presidents Dan Barker and Annie Laurie Gaylor write to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. “Under Catholic Canon law, adherents are required to give a ‘religious submission of the intellect and will’ to their church. For millennia, the Church has used that power to suppress questions, doubts, and dissent. This leads to frequent unprosecuted crimes against child victims who are forced to remain silent by their parents under pressure from, and fear of, the Church.”
Survivors of sexual abuse by priests say the investigation by the grand jury should represent just the beginning of the process. The grand jury report was released in August.
“Pennsylvania and the attorney general there had the courage to take on a very powerful institution,” said Tim Lennon, president of the board of directors for the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP). “Any time there’s been an investigation, we find similar kinds of systematic coverup, systematic moving around priests to hide.”
Survivors also urged the pope and the U.S. Department of Justice to take steps to prevent more abuses and hold abusers accountable.
“They have plenty of evidence,” said Peter Isely, spokesman for the group Ending Clergy Abuse. “Let’s launch this investigation. Let’s do it now.”
Besides FFRF, SNAP and the Center for Constitutional Rights have also sent ajoint letter to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein demanding an “investigation and prosecution of high-level officials in the Catholic Church” for sexual crimes and cover-ups.
“It is long past time for the US Department of Justice to initiate a full-scale, nationwide investigation into the systemic rape and sexual violence, and cover-ups in the Catholic Church, and, where appropriate, bring criminal and/or civil proceedings against the hierarchy that enabled the violations,” the groups said in the letter.
As for the states’ investigations, each one will take a different approach because of the range of laws concerning the convening of grand juries and who has subpoena power. Attorneys general are gathering historical records from parishes and dioceses to conduct these investigations. The massive stores of private documents relating to sex abuse, compensation of victims, and transfers of offending priests were instrumental in the formation and impact of the Pennsylvania report.
Here are the states that have announced investigative initiatives so far:
Illinois: At least seven priests with connections to Illinois were named in the Pennsylvania report, which prompted Attorney General Lisa Madigan to ask to meet with state church officials regarding the report and sex abuse more widely. The Archdiocese of Chicago has agreed to meet Madigan.
Illinois Supreme Court Justice Anne Burke has also called for a new investigation, which the Catholic Church is doing, but she wants the probe to be done by the government, not be left to the Catholics.
“Only the civil authorities — who are solely disinterested, not convened by the church itself — can get to the bottom of how prevalent is this problem,” she said.
Kentucky: Deputy Attorney General J. Michael Brown announced that he will seek permission from the state legislature to open a statewide grand jury investigation.
Missouri: Attorney General Josh Hawley is working with the cooperation of the Archdiocese of St. Louis, which requested the probe, to investigate clerical records spanning decades. Missouri’s four other archdioceses are not yet under investigation, although Hawley has already asked them to hand over all available records.
The cooperation of various dioceses is vital to the investigation because in Missouri, the attorney general does not have the power to subpoena documents beyond those voluntarily provided by the church, or to convene a grand jury.
Hawley, who is running for Senate, has appointed a veteran sex crimes prosecutor to head up the investigation. He said the probe “is fast moving,” but he cautioned that the Pennsylvania report took almost two years to investigate and write. Hawley said his office would eventually issue a public report detailing its findings.
Nebraska: Attorney General Doug Peterson has asked (but not subpoenaed) the state’s three dioceses for their records. Likely to be particularly significant is the conservative Diocese of Lincoln, the only diocese in the United States not to subscribe to the 2002 Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, which is a zero-tolerance policy of reporting clerical sex abuse to legal authorities. The diocese is currently investigating six priests for alleged abuse.
New Jersey: Attorney General Gurbir Grewal announced the creation of a task force, as well as a hotline for abuse survivors to report their experiences directly with the state. The task force will be empowered to subpoena records from the state’s six dioceses.
The state will be watched closely because the majority of the allegations against ex-Washington, D.C., Archbishop Theodore McCarrick, who is accused of decades of sex abuse against both young seminarians and minors, took place there.
New Mexico: Attorney General Hector Balderas demanded that archdioceses turn over all documentation concerning child sex abuse to his office. Balderas, who has subpoena power but has not yet invoked it, wrote in a public letter that he hopes the church will take the initiative to make “a full, massive disclosure.”
New York: Attorney General Barbara Underwood has subpoenaed each of the state’s eight dioceses for records pertaining to child sex abuse. Her office has also set up a hotline for victims or witnesses of clerical child sex abuse to report incidents directly. The attorney general’s office does not have the authority to unanimously call a grand jury.
Wyoming: Cheyenne police have announced that they are investigating sexual abuse allegations against retired Wyoming bishop Joseph Hart, who has been accused of sexually abusing minors in Wyoming as well as in Kansas City, where he previously served as a priest. The Kansas City allegations first surfaced in the late 1980s and early ’90s. At that time, the Kansas City-St. Joseph Diocese did not find the allegations credible, but it did pay for counseling for one of the victims. More broadly, state police officials have asked clerical sex abuse victims to come forward.
Victims of abuse file class action lawsuit
Pennsylvania Catholics are suing all eight dioceses in the state, claiming that Catholic leaders there systematically covered up ongoing sexual abuse by priests.
The bombshell grand jury report released in August brought to light the widespread abuse and cover-up within the Catholic Church in the state.
A victim of abuse and the parent of a Catholic school student are inviting others to join them in the class-action lawsuit that they filed Sept. 17 in Allegheny County, Pa.
“This lawsuit is brought because defendants cannot be trusted to act on their own,” they wrote in their request to get others involved. “Indeed, through decades of choosing to defend their predatory clergy members over the children of Pennsylvania, defendants have enabled untold abuse and suffering by children, family members, and others, and have also created a clear and present danger that must be abated to protect the public from future and ongoing harm which is continuing every day it is not abated.”
Bringing the lawsuit are Ryan O’Connor, who says he was abused by a priest from age 10 to 12, and Kristin Hancock, a member of the Diocese of Pittsburgh. Both have children in Catholic schools. O’Connor represents the first class named in the lawsuit — victims of clergy sexual abuse — and Hancock, on behalf of her kindergartner son, represents the second class — children currently enrolled in Catholic schools and other programs.
They charge in their lawsuit that the eight dioceses in Pennsylvania are still engaged in an attempt to cover up sexual abuse.
As evidence, they say that at least 20 names in the grand jury report remain redacted because the church has fought to preserve the anonymity of some people accused in the report. And the grand jury report remains incomplete, they argue, because the church failed to document numerous reports of abuse over the years and because church leaders discouraged victims from reporting their sexual abuse at all.
Abuse victims top 3,600 in Germany, study finds
More than 3,600 children in Germany, most age 13 or younger, were sexually abused by Catholic clergy members over the past seven decades, a wide-ranging report has found. The report had not been made public, but the New York Times obtained a copy.
The study, which was commissioned by the Roman Catholic Church bishops’ conference in Germany, found that at least 1,670 church workers had been involved in the abuse of 3,677 children. That is 4.4 percent of the clergy.
The study, conducted by researchers from three universities over more than four years, was an ambitious effort to understand the scale of the abuse — and how it could have been systematically covered up for so many decades.
“We are aware of the extent of the sexual abuse that is supported by the results of the study,” said Bishop Stephan Ackermann of Trier. “It is depressing and shameful.”
They chronicle abuse cases from 1946 to 2014. Every sixth case of abuse involved rape, researchers found, and most of the victims were boys.
Christian Pfeiffer, a criminologist, said the report, damning as it is, is likely to underestimate the full extent of the scandal.
“The report does not give the full picture, and is not fully independent,” he said. “The degree of the cover up is stunning and beyond anything I had expected.”
Half of Dutch cardinals, bishops linked to abuse
A report linking half of the cardinals and bishops who served in the Netherlands between 1945 and 2010 to abuse cases has drawn the country’s Catholic Church into the church’s global sex abuse and cover-up scandal.
The leader of a group of Dutch victims of abuse by Catholic clergy called Sept. 17 for the church to make public all it knows about such cases if it wants to win back trust.
A report by Dutch newspaper NRC linked 20 of 39 bishops and cardinals to abuse. The paper reported that four bishops committed abuse and a further 16 senior clergymen transferred priests who had been accused of abuse to new locations.
The report was based on a 2011 Dutch Catholic Church report about abuse, victims’ testimony to a commission of inquiry and the newspaper’s own research.
Pope meets with U.S. bishops over abuse
Top American bishops met in the Vatican with Pope Francis on Sept. 13 to discuss the sexual-abuse crisis that the leader of the U.S. Catholic Church said has “lacerated” the church.
Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, was himself accused of covering up the actions of an abusive priest in his archdiocese — prompting questions about DiNardo’s fitness to lead reform efforts.
“It’s too early to say, but just looking at the case, it looks very bad. It seems like a violation — is he the guy who should be leading at this point?” David Gibson, the director of the Center on Religion and Culture at Fordham, a Catholic university, said of DiNardo.
Amid the crisis facing the church’s leaders, the bishops who met with Francis said very little about what they discussed.
Hotline swamped with new abuse allegations
Since the Pennsylvania grand jury report’s publication, people have made more than 1,130 calls to the phone line handling clerical sex abuse tips, which is managed by state Attorney General Josh Shapiro’s office. The attorney general’s office had to recruit additional staff from other departments to keep up.
Record settlement reached with 4 victims
The New York Diocese of Brooklyn and a co-defendant have reached a $27.5 million settlement with four men who were sexually abused as boys by a lay church education director, reports NBC News.
Each of the men, who have remained anonymous, will receive $6.875 million from the diocese and an affiliated after-school program under terms of the settlement.
It is the largest settlement involving abuse of minors by Roman Catholic Church figures. The men, who are now ages 19 to 21, said in court documents that they were repeatedly raped from 2003 to 2009 by Angelo Serrano, 67, a former director of religious education at St. Lucy’s-St. Patrick’s Church in Brooklyn.