Why is state government endorsing Christianity?

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This editorial ran in the Sioux Falls Argus-Leader on April 5 and is republished with permission.

For those paying attention, it appears that Christianity is being thrust upon South Dakotans in a more state-sanctioned manner these days. The reasons behind that are worth examining.

Gov. Kristi Noem signed into law in March a bill that requires public schools to prominently display the national motto, “In God We Trust,” starting in 2019-20. A prominent location is defined as a school entryway, cafeteria or other common area where students are likely to see it.

It’s reasonable to view this as an attempt to formalize Christianity as the state’s official religion in the eyes of those students, which violates the “establishment clause” of the First Amendment.

That clause forbids government entities from establishing an official religion or elevating one religion, which means state leaders have put their school districts on shaky constitutional ground.

Maybe that’s why the Legislature added language declaring that if displaying “In God We Trust” leads to a lawsuit, the attorney general will provide legal representation at no cost to the local district or school board.

If it sounds like South Dakota is bucking for a fight, perhaps mindful of a more conservative-leaning U.S. Supreme Court, they’re certainly not alone. Six states passed “In God We Trust” bills into law last year, and South Dakota was among 10 that either introduced or passed such legislation in 2019.

This is part of a national effort called “Project Blitz,” spurred by conservative Christian political groups that are pushing model legislation and other evangelical-based directives on receptive state capitals, with an eye toward greater national influence.

One such group, Capitol Commission, even handed out bibles stamped with the South Dakota state seal at a legislative coffee in Pierre in February.

The justification for “In God We Trust” legislation is that the Supreme Court has ruled in favor of using the phrase on U.S. currency and as a national motto due to “ceremonial deism” in those contexts, meaning they have become customary enough to be deemed nonreligious.

But bringing the phrase into public schools is more complicated, as evidenced by Supreme Court rulings that have struck down organized prayer at school assemblies and football games as unconstitutional.

“Anything that might send a message to our children that you have to be a Christian to be a full American is extremely problematic,” said Amanda Tyler, executive director of the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty, which is fighting against the recent spate of legislation.

More disturbing is that conservative Christian groups pushing these bills view “In God We Trust” as a preliminary step. Some states have moved to the next stage by seeking to pass “bible literacy” bills, which allow students in public high schools to study the Old and New Testaments. President Trump weighed in on these bills in January, calling them “great.”

Notably, the faith-based fervor of this movement comes at a time when organized religion has become less prevalent in American society.

The share of Americans who say they are “absolutely certain” God exists decreased from 71 percent in 2007 to 63 percent in a recent Pew Research Center study. The percentages who say they pray every day, attend religious services regularly and consider religion to be very important in their lives have also declined.

While South Dakota still has an overwhelmingly Christian population, times are changing. The Sioux Falls School District has become increasingly diverse, with 90 different languages spoken among its student body. Policies or symbols that exclude other faiths or alienate nonbelievers violate a fundamental mandate of publicly funded institutions.

This is not to say that Christianity is not part of the fabric of our society. The prevalence of faith-based groups and their efforts to promote spiritual and community growth is hard to ignore.

But religion at its core is a personal pursuit, meant to be shared with family and like-minded congregations. The trouble occurs when it is thrust upon those with different beliefs or no religious inclination at all. The day we make those people feel less a part of society is the day we lose track of the values that our country was built upon.

“I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should ‘make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,’ thus building a wall of separation between church and state,” wrote Thomas Jefferson in 1802.

There’s no telling what he might have thought of Noem’s decision to declare a Statewide Day of Prayer on April 7 as a means of “praying for the well-being” of those affected by recent flooding throughout the region.

It’s quite possible that Jefferson would have pointed out that Sunday is already a day of prayer and suggested a day of robust volunteerism instead.

They Said What? (May 2019)

When God is ready for us not to have fossil fuels, he’ll find a way.

Herman Cain, who was at one point expected to be President Trump’s nominee for the Federal Reserve Board of Governors, at a University of Kansas lecture.

Kansas City Star, 4-11-19

You literally double the risk of committing suicide if you don’t have religious belief.

Maryland Rep. Andy Harris, who also blamed gun violence on “an overall decrease in religiosity” and claimed that the U.S. was “founded on religious principles.”

Salisbury Daily Times, 3-18-19

We want to reshape Europe and re-Christianize it.

Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, in a 2017 interview with a Catholic TV station, cited in an article about Poland’s anti-immigration stance making an exception for Christian immigrants.

The New York Times, 3-27-19

In my lifetime I have never seen a more biblical president than I see in Donald Trump. . . . He is highly biblical and . . . we will in all likelihood never see a more godly, biblical president again in our lifetimes.

Former Minnesota state Rep. Michele Bachmann, on the radio show “Understanding the Times.”

Right Wing Watch, 4-15-19

The biggest threat to biblical principles today is the failure to apply a biblical standard of maleness and femaleness.

Mike Huckabee, former governor of Arkansas, in an interview.

The Christian Post, 4-5-19

The solution to climate change is not this unserious resolution, but the serious business of human flourishing — the solution to so many of our problems, at all times and in all places: fall in love, get married and have some kids.

U.S. Sen. Mike Lee, in response to the Green New Deal bill.

Twitter, 3-26-19

Good to see movie theaters across the country showing @UnplannedMovie — a deeply inspiring new pro-life film based on the best-selling book by @Abby Johnson. More & more Americans are embracing the sanctity of life because of powerful stories like this one.

Vice President Mike Pence.

Twitter, 4-1-19

It was remarkable — so we were down in the tunnels where we could see 3,000 years ago, and 2,000 years ago, if I have the history just right — to see the remarkable history of the faith in this place, and the work that our administration’s done, to make sure that this democracy in the Middle East, that this Jewish state, remains. I am confident that the Lord is at work here.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, an evangelical Christian, after touring the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and the tunnels beneath the Western Wall in Jerusalem.

The New York Times, 3-30-19

An out-of-state activist atheist organization is trying to force Mississippi to change our license plates because it includes our country’s motto: “In God We Trust.” Guess what: In Mississippi we do trust God. And I trust God will help them realize just how foolish it is for this atheist group to try to force their political correctness nonsense on our great state.

Mississippi Lt. Governor Tate Reeves, responding to an American Humanist Association’s letter stating: “The Supreme Court has made clear that the state cannot force motorists to display an ideological message they deem unacceptable on their license plates.”

The Friendly Atheist, 4-5-19

Why did pedophilia reach such proportions? Ultimately, the reason is the absence of God.

Former Pope Benedict, in a letter the Washington Post says was “devoted to clerical sex abuse in which he attributes the crisis to a breakdown of church and societal moral teaching.”

Washington Post, 4-11-19

I think it’s interesting in a profession where we all take an oath, that they would look at people who have strong faith as somehow not good people, when, if you’re an atheist, what does an oath mean?

Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, speaking at a banquet for the Pepperdine University School of Law.

Fox News, 4-11-19

Secular invocations on the rise since 2014

Linda Stephens
Linda Stephens is shown talking to the media following the Town of Greece vs. Galloway decision in 2014 in this screen capture from C-SPAN.

FFRF Lifetime Member Linda Stephens gave the following talk in Rochester, N.Y., at an event sponsored by the Rochester Chapter of Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

Something unprecedented happened in March at the Berea City Council meeting in Kentucky: An atheist delivered an invocation. In January, something similar happened at the Lubbock City Council meeting in Texas. And, a few months earlier, at the San Antonio City Council meeting, the same thing happened: An atheist delivered the invocation.

These are not isolated instances. Local and state governments all across the country, which begin their public meetings with prayers, are now besieged with requests to deliver invocations by nonreligious people. Such invocations have been delivered at city or town council meetings or at state legislature meetings in Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, California, Florida, Iowa, Maine, Missouri, Oklahoma, Washington, Colorado, Ohio, Tennessee, Illinois and in New York state, most notably in the town of Greece, N.Y. And all of this unusual activity has come about since 2014. Why is that?

It all has to do with a U.S. Supreme Court decision that came down that year. The case was called Town of Greece vs. Galloway & Stephens. In that case, Susan Galloway, who is Jewish, and I, an atheist, tried to get the town of Greece to stop beginning its town board meetings with prayers. At the time, it was the practice of the town supervisor to invite only local Christian clergy to deliver these prayers.

The Supreme Court ruled against Susan and me in a split decision, with the five conservative justices all siding with the town. In its decision, the court said that it was not a violation of the First Amendment to start off government meetings with prayers, even explicitly Christian ones. It was, after all, a tradition in this country. Never mind that lots of other traditions in this country have been given the heave-ho long ago. Remember slavery?

Be that as it may, the court did redeem itself in one way. In its decision, the court said that the government must “maintain . . . a policy of nondiscrimination” when it comes to choosing people to deliver these invocations.

This court case generated a huge amount of publicity. There were articles about it in The New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, USA Today, the Los Angeles Times and a host of other newspapers. A friend of mine even sent me a clipping about the case from her hometown newspaper in Ormond Beach, Fla. And there was other media coverage. Susan and I were interviewed on CBS, NBC and numerous other TV stations, local and national. I was even interviewed by a reporter calling from Bogota, Columbia. Susan was interviewed by the BBC.

So, I suspect that is one reason that so many nonreligious people started thinking that maybe it was time for them to start giving invocations. All of this publicity made them aware of what was going on in their local and state governments with regard to this issue.

The other thing that happened right after the 2014 Supreme Court decision came down was that a number of secular organizations started prodding their members to get involved in this issue. The Freedom from Religion Foundation initiated an annual contest encouraging members to deliver secular invocations before their local government meetings and awarded prizes for the best ones. [See accompanying page.]

At the same time, Americans United for Separation of Church and State started a campaign called “Operation Inclusion,” which encouraged people who, up to this point, had not participated in delivering such invocations to do just that. Americans United provided instruction about how to go about delivering a secular invocation. The American Humanist Association launched a program to train and encourage people to deliver secular invocations. All of these initiatives have contributed to a groundswell of enthusiasm among nonreligious folk to go knocking on the doors of their local governments.

Now, let me toot my own horn. The day the Town of Greece case was argued at the Supreme Court, Susan and I and our lawyers stood outside the courthouse as reporters swarmed around us. When it was my turn to speak, I said that I thought it was time that atheists and other secularists should follow the lead of the gay community and start coming out of the closet. I like to think that some nonreligious people who saw me that day on TV took my message to heart and decided to act.

So, how has all of this activity on the part of nonreligious people been working out? Well, for many, it’s worked out just great. It’s been “springtime for atheists,” as one writer described it.

Many government officials around the country have looked at that Supreme Court decision and decided that they were obligated by law to allow nonreligious people and other non-Christians to deliver invocations at their meetings.

Other government officials, however, have decided they don’t want nonreligious people or non-Christians giving invocations at their government meetings, so they’ve eliminated the practice altogether. Some have opted for a moment of silence instead.

Other government officials have eliminated the prayers before their meetings simply because they decided it was the right thing to do. One example where that happened is at the Waverly, Iowa, City Council.

After atheist activist Hemant Mehta on March 12 delivered an atheist invocation at the DuPage County Board in Illinois [see accompanying page], board members decided to reevaluate their prayer practice. [The board subsequently voted 11-6 in favor of continuing the invocations.]

Finally, there are the government officials who have put their foot down and decided no way were they ever going to let a nonreligious person deliver an invocation at their government meetings. A number of these cases have ended up in court. Dan Barker, the co-president of the Freedom from Religion Foundation, for example, is currently suing the U.S. House of Representatives and the Catholic chaplain who oversees the prayer program, because they won’t let him deliver an invocation. That case is tied up in the courts. [See Page 1.] Similarly, there is a case in Brevard County where the county commission won’t let nonreligious people deliver invocations. That case is also being litigated. And just recently, the county commissioners in Rowan County, N.C., lost a lawsuit about this issue and they now have to pay the ACLU $285,000.

There’s also been a lot of litigation going on about government prayers in Alaska. Recently, government officials in the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly decided they’d spent enough money on this issue. They now have a come-one, come-all policy. So, this year, as I understand, an atheist is going to deliver an invocation, as well as a Baha’i, a Wiccan and a Pastafarian (which is a member of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster).

So, should governments even have prayers before their meetings? No, of course not. Why? Because we’re a diverse country whose people have many different beliefs, and our government is supposed to be representing all of us, not just the Christian segment. Contrary to what some people in this country believe, we are not a Christian nation.

The Town of Greece Supreme Court decision was wrongly decided by five conservative justices. Justice Elena Kagan was one who dissented in that case. She had this to say in her dissent: “A Christian, a Jew, a Muslim (and so forth) — each stands in the same relationship with her country, with her state and local communities, and with every level and body of government. So that when each person performs the duties or seeks the benefits of citizenship, she does so not as an adherent to one or another religion, but simply as an American.” The town of Greece’s prayer practices, she added, “violate that norm of religious equality.”

One more thing I’d like to add: There has been a great deal written about this subject since the 2014 Town of Greece decision. To keep track of some of this information, I started a Facebook page titled “After Town of Greece.” So, if you want to learn more about this subject, you should check out that Facebook page (and “Like” it). In addition to the written articles, you’ll find many videos of invocations given across the country by nonreligious folk. And lastly, I will mention that two atheists will be delivering invocations at Greece Town Board meetings this year: I will be representing the Atheist Community of Rochester; and Carol Hope will be representing the Rochester Chapter of the American Humanists.

Progress can be slow, but when it happens, it’s nice!

Secular invocation: Deana Weaver

Deana Weaver poses with the parking sign outside the Pennsylvania Capitol building where she gave a secular invocation as guest chaplain on March 20.

Deana Weaver

Pennsylvania Senate

March 20, 2019

I am honored to be your guest chaplain for the state Senate, once again.

This morning, I strive to invoke your higher aspirations for the good of all of the people you have been elected to serve.

Invocations to open governmental sessions, such as this, are an American tradition designed specifically with the intent to provide this very moment . . . to breathe, to center yourself and to acknowledge that your role, your legislation, is not about the power of governance.

We the people have no Caesar. You are here as civil servants for a democracy that historically works to achieve equality and we the people recognize that government’s definition of equality has progressed and broadened throughout history to include and protect more and more of us, and so we pray. 

One principle that this great experiment of American democracy has taught us is that we are so much better when we work together in a spirit of inclusion. And so we pray.

We pray for this democracy of the people, by the people and for the people. We pray for government to serve all people equally.

So, let us pray.

May you choose the health, safety and welfare of your constituents over the seduction of personal and political gain.

May you find the courage to make wise decisions, having accepted this heavy responsibility, putting aside your personal and political differences, to serve all of your constituents equally.

May a guiding authority of your choice provide to you the willingness to work together for the good of we the people you serve in our still-less-than-perfect union.

This is our prayer.

Deana Weaver writes: At 59, I am the finished product of a lifetime of social progress through political pressure. In the ’60s I was raised with the images of the Vietnam War, peace protests and the assassination of a most eloquent president. In the ’70s, I wanted to burn my bra before I needed one. In the ’80s, I was grateful to have unchallenged control over my powers of reproduction. In the late ’90s, I bore three children, and, from the top of the new millennium, we raised them with a specific awareness that love and faith come in many flavors. And now, I’m mad as hell after watching all of the progress toward equality and women’s rights made over my lifetime evaporate in a misogynistic moment.

Secular invocation: Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta

DuPage County (Ill.) Board
March 12, 2019

These invocations often ask you to clasp your hands in prayer or to close your eyes. Instead, I encourage you to open them up and look around.

With your eyes open, you will find each other, all of whom were elected by the people in this community; all of whom have the capability of addressing the issues we face in an intelligent, rational, evidence-based way; all of whom have the ability to change your minds even after you think they’re made up.

You are the higher powers you’ve been looking for.

You have made sacrifices to be here and to serve your constituents. You have a willing and capable staff, as well as an entire community full of experts to turn to when you need help. We ask you to use your time to deliberate and debate, not pray and prostrate.

I urge you instead to remember the original motto of this nation, “e pluribus unum” — “out of many, one.” There’s a lot of important work to be done on behalf of us all, so I encourage you to spend no time on that which we know divides us when there are so many other important issues on which you can find common ground.

Let’s celebrate, instead, our shared humanity and our basic decency and do what’s best for the wonderfully diverse county that we are so fortunate to call our home.

FFRF Member Hemant Mehta is the editor of FriendlyAtheist.com, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the Friendly Atheist Podcast. He is a former National Board Certified high school math teacher in the suburbs of Chicago, where he taught for seven years. His books include I Sold My Soul on eBay, The Young Atheist’s Survival Guide, and Queer Disbelief (which he edited).

Secular invocation: Andre Ryland

Andre Ryland

Andre Ryland

Pensacola City Council

Feb. 14, 2019

Oh, great compelling mindful force that is the wisdom of experiential human life, be with these council members this evening as they try their very best to do the people’s business.

I call upon you, oh, great wisdom, to allow me to invoke these council members to an understanding of my words that explain our humanist aspirations to lead lives of a natural progressive lifestance, that affirms our ability and responsibility to lead meaningful, ethical lives capable of adding to the greater good of humanity.

And, to understand that we desire to be informed by science, inspired by art, and motivated by compassion. Affirming the dignity of each human being, we support the maximization of individual liberty and opportunity consonant with social and planetary responsibility.

We advocate the extension of participatory democracy and the expansion of the open society, standing for human rights and social justice, from the outcast leper to the homeless. And we assert that humanity must take responsibility for its own destiny. Therefore, we, as humanists, put our belief and faith and trust and hope in each other.

Oh, great quest of wisdom, be with us gathered here to recognize each other in equality, as equal members of the human race, and to not assume one or the other is not equal in the desire for our American Declaration of Independence’s clarion call of the pursuit of happiness and liberty and justice for all.

Oh, great caring force of wisdom, allow us all to hear the calls for this human need of common understanding to be one together and not separate and segregated in our learning.

Listen to the requests of humanity throughout the ages, for example, with the timeless call of the golden rule or understanding of the law of reciprocity, which is the principle of treating others as one would wish to be treated. It is a maxim of altruism seen in many human religions and human cultures. The concept occurs in some form in nearly every religion and ethical tradition.

This golden rule of reciprocity can also be explained from the perspectives of psychology, philosophy, sociology, human evolution and economics, which are the cornerstones of life.

Oh, great hope of wisdom, let us continue to garner the truth inherent in the golden rule with these tenets of ancient wisdom: Forgive one who wrongs you, join one who cuts you off, do good to one who does bad to you, and speak the truth though it weigh against yourself. 

Let us now be unbowed and unfettered by arcane doctrines borne of fearful minds in darkened times. Let us reason our solutions with agnosticism in all things, holding fast only to that which is demonstrably true.

Therefore, I finish this invocation for wisdom to you, the council of the city of Pensacola, with this:

We come here to do the business of local government, the deliberative body that is closest to “we the people,” and to democracy for which we stand.

As we gather, we are reminded that in our differences there is great strength. We do not all think the same way or believe the same things. Yet, we are linked by our common humanity and our shared origin of life, through hope and love.

When we work together to move our community forward in a spirit of mutual respect and common decency for all, we showcase what is best about our community, our state, and this,  one nation, indivisible, as its goal.

To be sure, we do not agree about everything. And we often feel fiercely protective of what we do believe. There is great passion in our beliefs, and great passion in our reasons, and rightly so.

But there is one thing on which we all can agree: We share the goal of making our community the best place it can be. Let us come together here tonight around that noble aim and common purpose, to be one human family — e pluribus unum, out of many, one.

As it is, and is to be, human.

FFRF Member Andre Ryland is a notary public and a celebrant of the Humanists of West Florida, a chartered chapter of the American Humanist Association.

Letterbox (May 2019)

Abbie McMillen helped paint these eggs, some of which were “deviled.”

This is why the religious have antipathy for gays

I just wanted to say that, as a life-long atheist, I’ve been thinking about many religions’ hostility toward gay people. It occurred to me that it all may have started from the fact that, in general, and certainly in biblical times, gay people didn’t reproduce, and the fact that gays weren’t adding possible new religious adherents to either the Jewish, Christian or Islamic faiths may have led those religions to declare that gays were an “abomination” and eligible to be stoned to death.

Mark Kernes

Barker’s book on free will  quite an interesting read

I just finished Dan Barker’s book, Free Will Explained, and was impressed with his erudite description of free will and hard determinism. The book took a lot of time and difficult study on Dan’s part, I’m sure. Thanks for the interesting read.

Keep up your magnificent work at FFRF!

George J. Saunders
New York

We should get more young people to read the bible

I am proud and pleased to support FFRF, now more than ever, and particularly your good work to encourage our youth in their move away from magic thought. We can all promote a wider study of the bible as part of this effort. While that mishmash of myth and authoritarianism may not be an easy read, it is its own best critic. We might suggest to the young people to read Genesis, Exodus and Leviticus, and then jump to Revelation in sort of a “dirty parts first” approach. I believe they would immediately find the contents to range from the ridiculous to the criminal.

Our future depends on rational responses to real challenges with a focus on the here and now, and I know that FFRF is a part of that.

Peter Norris

Predicting God’s role for people can backfire

As reported in the March “They Said What,” Sarah Huckabee Sanders said, “I think God calls all of us to fill different roles at different times and I think he wanted Donald Trump to become president, and that’s why he’s there.” I wonder if she thinks that 5- and 6-year-old kids should get cancer and that’s the role God has for them.

John Oman

Swearing in on bible was just part of the game

The act of refusing to swear in on a bible in court never occurred to me during my working years. I had to play the game and impress a jury with my opinion. As a forensic psychologist, I had to be able to communicate successfully with the jury. Had I ever, even one time, refused to swear on a bible, it would have ended my career in court because it would have been brought up every time and no one would have ever engaged me again on any case.

Tom Hannie

Unfortunately, AARP is a mouthpiece for religion

More God. Sigh.

Once again, the AARP has shown itself to be a mouthpiece for religion. I stopped attending my local AARP meetings because they not only prayed before meetings, but after them. One member introduced her guest as “my soul sister in Christ,” to thunderous applause from the crowd. Now, in the recent AARP magazine, there are three references to religion. Kathy Lee Gifford loves Nashville because everyone there believes in God, Dr. Pol’s parents taught him the Golden Rule (so did my parents, who were atheists), and, of course, let’s not forget its article about religion in movies. I guess that the AARP thinks that once you get old, you get (or need) religion.

Michelle Mead

I still believe humanity will let go of religion

I have a confession to make: I am one of those foolish optimists who still harbor the belief that humanity will someday divorce itself from religion and its convenient “logic.” And what lately bolsters my confidence are the reports I’ve been reading that, as a result of the clerical crimes against children that are still festering within the Catholic Church, many thousands of Catholics (particularly the young) are leaving their church — and not joining others.

I also believe that even if none of those crimes had happened, it’s only a matter of time before an increasing number of Catholics begin to distance themselves from the Church and declare themselves to be nonreligious.

After all, instead of believing only what they are told, more and more young people now view the supernatural with skepticism, as do many old-timers like myself who were indoctrinated in religion at a tender age, but no longer allow magical thinking to be a part of our lives.

David Quintero

Women lumberjacks mock my Paul Bunyan religion

I just bought some Brawny paper towels with women as lumberjacks on the packaging. This is very threatening to us old white males. If you give women equal rights, pretty soon everyone will want them.

I am sure my lord and savior, Paul Bunyan, will overlook this sacrilege of the Woodman religion [women as lumberjacks?!] and will forgive, but it is scary when my religious beliefs are questioned. I do have my revered Paint Chip from Babe the Blue Ox in Bemidji, Minn., and I worship my Axe, so life will go on for us who wear lumberjack shirts.

On another topic, I remember asking my dad — a white, World War II fighter ace and the first commanding officer of a jet squadron — what he thought of not standing for the Pledge of Allegiance. He told me he took an oath to serve, protect and defend the Constitution and did not fight for any banner, flag, or children’s prayer written by a Baptist minister.

When he was in his last days of cancer, I asked how he wanted his funeral. He said, “The same as your mom’s, and with a flag I earned on my casket. Ask the VFW not to send their honor guard and no marker on the tombstone saying ‘military.’” He believed all Americans were equal. I did as he wished, saluting him and not the flag.

Gary King

Are there logical answers to these questions?

I’m a new member and a former Roman Catholic, and I’m so glad I found you. There are questions I’d like to ask you because no religious person has ever been able to give me a logical answer.

1. If Adam and Eve were our beginning parents, then “God” must believe in and support incest, right? Otherwise, who was around to make whoopie with other than their own family members?

2. If “God” is so all-knowing and all-powerful, as the Catholic Church pounded into my head as a child, why does he send tornadoes to the most religious states in the union? And why does he kill so many religious people? And why are so many churches destroyed?

3. If the Catholic Church is so obsessed with letting every fetus turn into a child (including Hitler, Mussolini, etc.), then why are so many of its members molesting children and depriving them of a normal childhood?

Any logical answers?

R. Dean Tomich

Catholic scandals impact more than those involved

I recently attended an organ recital given by members of the local chapter of the organ guild. For the first time, the organ-playing priest, who is a member of this guild, appeared in civvies. We organists struggled to recognize him.

At the reception after, I asked him, in all politeness, how he was doing with the current barrage of negative publicity. Of his no collar, he said, “Sometimes you just need a break,” emphasis on “break.” He added, “I just get through each day one day at a time,” in a colorless voice.

This was the first time I have seen him with no enthusiasm. Usually, he likes to brag about his music program, narrating special services like a sports commentator. I expected to hear about the length and slowness of the procession of the Great Litany, which opens the first Sunday in Lent. Instead I heard him reminisce about when he was a Cub Scout.

So, when I say consequences, I don’t only mean when karma wreaks vengeance on a predator, a somewhat rare event. We can all relish the big drama. Instead, I think of each person who is impacted and whose life is diminished by the fallout. I think these little diminishments are important, too. The broad bringing down of others is a consequence we should take note of.

Mary Ann Fraser
New Jersey

I’m happy to tell people that I’m a devout STEMist

My Roman Catholic background as a member of the church choir, Catholic school and an altar boy did not blind me to the ridiculous notion of God. When I experienced the ineffectiveness of prayer and gave the notion a bit of critical thought, I realized that my parents used religion mostly to keep me in line.

The final nail in the coffin in my belief in God occurred the day that I visited an Army morgue in Saigon. During that visit, I saw the reality of religious beliefs. Before me lay about 900 American soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen. Many body parts were separated from their trunks. Some had severe burns, and other tragic, disgusting damage. I could not prevent myself from asking, “What kind of God would allow such an awful thing like this to happen”? There was then, and is now, only one response: There is no God; there never was.

I write this article 48 years after the event, in response to Bill Fritch, who wrote the article titled “Missed convention to become Life Member” in the March issue. Bill, you do not need to be labeled an atheist. You can, as I do, confirm yourself as a STEMist.

Yes, I firmly believe in science, technology, engineering and math. I have found that using the STEMist label negates the usual disgust communicated by religion believers when the label atheist is presented. I saw a woman wearing a shirt that read, “I Run on Faith,” to which I related, “I run on STEM. It is much more reliable.” She laughed. I doubt that she had any idea what I meant, but I felt happy that I had a rejoinder to her unwanted advertisement.

Richard Blanchette

Non-representative court is controlled by Catholics

Given the current composition of the Supreme Court, I humorously imagine, but somewhat fear, that this is how separation of church and state cases are being decided:

The six Roman Catholic justices walk into a bar. Over a beer or two, they first decide how much of the Catholic Church’s dogma should be forced on Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Jews and atheists.

After a few more beers, they decide that taxes paid by non-Christians should be made available to support Christian-related activities. They have a laugh awould be also viewed as secular symbols. They then toast to celebrate that, although Roman Catholics comprise only 20 percent of the U.S. population, they control the Supreme Court.

Michael Ware

Photo of ‘recycled’ church brought back memories

I’m a new member of the Freedom from Religion Foundation and just received the March issue of Freethought Today. It’s a very impressive publication.

I’m writing to share my enthusiast reaction after seeing the photos featuring “Former churches with better missions.” In the upper right corner is the church photo sent in by FFRF member David Nolley. I immediately recognized that church, as I was forced to attend Sunday school there as a little boy. It is in Lapeer, Mich., and the farm I grew up on is just a few miles away. I’m 75, and the memories I have of the church are fuzzy, at best. I have always loved the architecture of the little church and have wondered what became of it. It’s nice to hear that it has been “recycled” and is being loved in a useful way.

Keep up the good work. I’m glad I saw the Ron Reagan ad and became familiar with your foundation and the important work you are doing in reminding citizens that the U.S. Constitution makes it very clear that state and church must remain separate.

Dar Davis

An egg-celent way to spend an afternoon

On March 20, some friends and I decided to reclaim the ancient art of making “Ukrainian” dyed eggs, but without any of the elaborate Christian symbology that was imposed on this pagan springtime art form. Fittingly, we chose the vernal equinox as the appropriate date for an afternoon of fun and creativity. (Note the two “deviled eggs” in the center.)

Abbie McMillen

Gaylor’s ‘rapists’ column: informative, unapologetic

I have been an out-of-the closet atheist since birth, and a member of FFRF since forever.

I look forward to every issue of Freethought Today and read it almost “religiously,” with the Crankmail section among my favorites.

However, among all the excellent articles published through the years, Annie Laurie Gaylor’s “Priest rapists are tools of the Church, not of ‘Satan’” in the April issue, takes the prize! So well written, so informative, so right to the point — and so unapologetic for her opinion, shared fully by so many of us, but rarely expressed so clearly.

If I may add a thought of my own, it would be that in addition to the horrible physical rapes perpetrated by hundreds, if not thousands, of clergy through the ages, I believe that religion in itself is rape of the mind! It forces superstition on the young and innocent, contaminates their mind and prevents unimpaired development of their naturally given potential.

What a shame, and what a disaster that, in this country, despite our world leadership in so many fields, we are lagging badly behind the more progressive nations in the world, especially the Scandinavian countries, where religion has practically no impact anymore, except as a historic peculiarity. I have to emphasize one thing, though, from my upbringing in Norway: We had an hour of bible history every day in school, six days a week, from first year of elementary school through high school. The result was that those who weren’t already atheists were turned into atheists. We all learned far more about religion than many, if not most, church-goers in this country.

Jorg Aadahl

FFRF deserves upgrade to Lifetime membership

I believe that FFRF is the most important organization protecting our rights and freedoms.

So, please upgrade my membership to Lifetime status. (At the individual annual rate of $40 a year, I will break even in 25 years at the age of 99. Thanks for that incentive!)

Keep up the great work, especially the legal challenges.

James R. Baxter

Crankmail writers sure fit definition of ‘cranks’

I just finished digesting another of Freethought Today’s Crankmail section, and I had to ask myself: Who are all of these gaseous, angry crank writers anyway?

I went to my close friend — Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary — for a little help: “Crank: adjective: bent, distorted, out of kilter, loose.” That sure sounded applicable.

Question: Do these cranks actually subscribe to Freethought Today in order to get so cranked up?

Gary Grubb,
New Jersey

Editor’s note: No, almost all of the Crankmail we receive is because people contact us after they read or hear about something that FFRF does in their community.

Black Collar Crime (May 2019)


Compiled by Bill Dunn

Arrested / Charged

Gerold Langsch, 75, Austin, TX: Misdemeanor assault by contact. Langsch, pastor at St. Paul Catholic Church, is accused of sexually touching a woman in home hospice care while administering the last rites Oct. 5. In the arrest affidavit, the woman, who has severe complications from diabetes, alleged Langsch anointed her chest with holy water, massaged her breast and pinched her nipple while asking, “Does that feel good?”

She told police he also tried to slip his hand inside her diaper but was unable to and that she was left feeling like a “nasty, dirty piece of meat.” Source: AP, 3-20-19

Norman E. Washington Sr., 53, Bay Minette, AL: Enticing a child and 3 counts of 2nd-degree sexual abuse. Washington, pastor at Faith Community Full Gospel Church, was indicted by a grand jury. Source: WKRG, 3-16-19

Jean C. Jean-Philippe, 64, Homestead, FL: Sexual battery of an incapacitated victim. Jean-Philippe, pastor at Sacred Heart Catholic Church, is accused of drugging and assaulting a parishioner who brought him food. She alleged she lost consciousness after he gave her a drink and later woke up naked in bed next to him. Source: Miami Herald, 3-16-19

Epati “Pat” Lang, 38, Burien, WA: Rape of a child and incest. Lang, youth pastor at Divine Covenant International Church, is accused of repeated assaults on a family member, starting when she was 15. He also allegedly sent sexually explicit text messages to her and “threatened to kill any boyfriend she might have.” Source: KIRO, 3-14-19

John G. Allen, 75, York, PA: 4 counts of indecent assault and 2 counts of corruption of minors. Allen is accused of molesting 2 boys between 1997-2002 while they were 13- and 14-year-old altar boys at St. Margaret Mary Alacoque Church in Harrisburg, where he was pastor. Allen was removed from ministry in 2002 and defrocked in 2006. The extended statute of limitations for sexual crimes committed against minors allows charges to still be filed. Source: pennlive.com, 3-14-19

Sabine Griego, 81, Las Vegas, NM: Sexual penetration of a minor and coercion resulting in great bodily harm and mental anguish. He’s accused of raping a 9-year-old altar server when he was pastor at Queen of Heaven Catholic Church in Albuquerque in 1990 and continuing the assaults until he was transferred 2 years later when the girl was in 4th grade. It’s alleged the Archdiocese of Santa Fe knew of complaints about Griego as far back as the early 1990s and has settled with over 30 victims but never reported allegations to authorities. Not until 2005 was he removed from the priesthood.

Griego first assaulted “Jane Doe A” in the rectory, according to the arrest warrant, and made her clean up the vomit his attack caused. Another time, the warrant said, he became angry and slammed her face into a table, breaking her nose. She told her mother it happened in P.E. class. The warrant states he told he would kill her, cut out her tongue or hurt her mother if she told anyone. Source: New Mexican, 3-13-19

John Murray, 77, Newcastle, N. Ireland: 2 counts of indecent assault. Murray, a retired Catholic priest, is accused of assaults on 2 females on unspecified dates between 1976-82 when he was pastor at an east Belfast parish. Source: Belfast Telegraph, 3-11-19

David N. Powell, 67, Terre Haute, IN: Voyeurism with a camera. Powell, pastor at Grace Temple Church, is accused of taking a cellphone video of a Planet Fitness employee over the top of a closed bathroom stall. Powell, a fitness club member, allegedly had more images of nude men on his phone. The employee told police he’d seen Powell earlier standing naked in front of a mirror for longer than it would take a person to change clothes. Source: Tribune Star, 3-8-19

Pāvels Zeiļa, 73, a Latvian Catholic priest in the Diocese of Rēzekne-Aglona, and 2 unidentified men are accused of human trafficking and sexual abuse of a defenseless person involving a developmentally disabled adult male. A police unit combating trafficking and pimping received a tip last August from a nongovernmental organization that led to the investigation. Source: Latvian Public Broadcasting, 3-8-19

Gregory S. Reese, 45, Birch Tree, MO: Child molestation and 3 counts of statutory sodomy. Reese, pastor at Mountain View Assembly of God Church, is charged with having mouth-to-genital contact with a 14-year-old girl at his home. Source: News-Leader, 3-8-19

Armand D. Garcia, 49, Philadelphia: Rape, corruption of a minor and sexual abuse of a minor through the use of photographs, videotapes, depictions on computer or films. Garcia is alleged to have committed the crimes on Aug. 1, 2014, when he was pastor at Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic Parish, where he was assigned in 2011 after having taken a voluntary personal leave in 2010. He was transferred in 2014 to St. Martin of Tours Parish.

The alleged victim is a 16-year-old altar girl who was reportedly offered alcohol and marijuana during several encounters besides the one in August 2014, some of them recorded on video, a source said. Source: philly.com, 3-5-19

Manuel Guevara Fonseca, Heredia, Costa Rica: Sexual abuse against an underage person. Guevara, pastor at Santo Domingo Catholic Parish, was arrested a day after the Archdiocese of San José removed him for a complaint of “improper behavior toward a minor,” the prosecutor’s office said. A complaint was lodged with church officials in 2015 about the alleged incident 11 years ago when the complainant was a 12-year-old altar boy. Source: ameliarueda.com, 2-28-19

Peter McBride, 78, a Canadian deacon ministering at St. Helen’s Catholic Church in Vero Beach, FL, was charged with soliciting prostitution during a human trafficking investigation in which 173 people were arrested. “The Deacon’s permission to perform any public ministry in the Diocese of Palm Beach was immediately rescinded and his home Diocese in Canada was notified,” a church statement said. Source: tcpalm.com, 2-27-19

An unidentified Catholic priest from Cadiz City, Philippines, is charged with molesting a 4-year-old girl. Police and Gerardo Alminaza, Diocese of San Carlos bishop, declined to name the priest or the parish.

The alleged victim attends the church day care where the priest is assigned and where her mother works as a secretary, said Robert Mansueto, acting Cadiz police chief. He said the priest allegedly kissed the girl and touched her genitals on several occasions, the last on Feb. 8. Source: inquirer.net, 2-27-19

Jesus A. Castañeda Serna, 51, Fresno, CA: Multiple counts of sexual battery by representation of professional purpose. He’s accused of performing sex acts on 2 males while serving as pastor at Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe, an Anglican church where he served from 2007-17. Police believe there are many other victims, some of whom are undocumented and afraid to report the alleged abuse.

Police Chief Jerry Dyer said Castañeda Serna allegedly told followers they had sinned or were cursed and needed to be rubbed with “sacred oil” and that he had to examine their semen before they could be healed. Source: Fresno Bee, 2-26-19

Michael Wustrow, 56, Rockville Centre, NY: Receipt and possession of child pornography.  Until an FBI raid in September 2017, Wustrow directed 8 choirs at St. Agnes Catholic Cathedral, including a 50-voice choir for boys and girls in grades 1-2. He has a master’s degree in organ performance from Yale University and was set to start a new job as music director for the Diocese of Orlando in November 2017 but withdrew after the raid. Source: NY Daily News, 2-26-19

Pleaded / Convicted

Richard J. Shaka, 73, Blaine, MN: Pleaded guilty to criminal vehicular homicide involving grossly negligent driving in the death of Jenna Bixby, 30, who died when Shaka crossed the center line into her lane in February 2018. He’s the founding pastor of All Nations Christian Assembly and taught bible and theology courses at North Central University. Shaka’s blood alcohol was more than twice the legal limit. A plea deal calls for a relatively light sentence of 32 months in prison and 16 months’ supervised release.

Bixby, a 911 dispatcher at the Minneapolis Emergency Communications Center, was driving to work about 8 p.m. Her husband was listening to the dispatch audio and could hear an officer report the victim was “not breathing, unresponsive.” Two hours later, state troopers knocked on his door with the grim news. Source: KROC, 3-5-19

Donald L. Reynolds, 59, Edmore, ND: Pleaded guilty to felony theft for stealing $34,668 since 2004 as pastor of High Plains Ministry, a congregation of 6 merged Lutheran parishes. He resigned in June after being confronted. A plea deal calls for him to either serve a month in jail or complete 300 hours of community service, along with restitution and 3 years’ probation. Source: Grand Forks Herald, 3-4-19

Luckner Stimphil, 55, Brandon, FL, and Elwolfine Dufort, 31, Riverview, FL: Pleaded guilty to conspiracy to defraud the United States. Stimphil, pastor at First Calvary Family Life Ministry in Tampa, and Dufort, his daughter, agreed to pay over $11 million in restitution to the U.S. Treasury.

Stimphil operated a tax preparation business called Top Popular Tax from 2011 through at least mid-2015. Court records show the business submitted false information on clients’ Schedule C and 8863 forms, the latter associated with a claim for the American Opportunity Credit, and on other forms such as claims for the tax credit on fuels. Source: Business Journal, 2-28-19

Scott A. Patschke, 53, Wausau, WI: Pleaded guilty to child enticement for sending sexually explicit messages to a person he thought was a 15-year-old boy. Patschke, associate pastor at Trinity Lutheran Church, sent nude photos and tried to arrange a meeting in the bathroom of a Walmart in Rib Mountain. He was actually exchanging messages with members of a citizen-led sting group called Impact. Group members met him and recorded the interaction, then shared it with police. Source: Daily Herald, 2-26-19

Jordan D. Baird, 27, Warrenton, VA: Pleaded guilty to 2 counts of indecent liberties with a minor by a person in a position of trust for attempting to have sex with a 16-year-old girl from The Life Church in 2014 when he was a church youth leader and music teacher.

Baird served 8 months in jail in 2015 for taking indecent liberties with a minor and for sending suggestive messages to another teen girl. Source: Fauquier Times, 2-25-19


Francis McDermott, 75, Biddeford, England: 9 years and 11 months in prison after a jury found him guilty of 18 counts of gross indecency and indecent assault on 6 male and female victims under age 16 or 14, including a brother and sister, while he worked as a Catholic priest in 1971-79.

A female victim from Norwich told the court how he took advantage of her after her father died. “You put your hands down my knickers and snogged me. My first experience should not have been with a Roman Catholic priest who was 17 years older.”

Another woman told the judge she “naively felt I was complicit” and that “McDermott groomed me, my parents and my siblings,” calling him a “disgusting, despicable, lying monster.” Source: UK Mirror, 3-15-19

Michael A. Endicott, 75, Brisbane, Australia: 1 year in jail with all but 6 months suspended for convictions of indecent dealing with a child for taking nude photos of a boy when he was 9 and 13 and Endicott was a Catholic priest and teacher at Villanova College in the 1970s and 1980s. He told the court the photos were artistic rather than sexual. He pleaded guilty in 2010 to similar offenses involving another boy and received a suspended 1-year term. Source: ABC, 3-8-19

William E. “Tim” Smith Jr., 48, Palmer, TN: 9½ years in prison after a jury found him guilty of attempted rape of a child. Smith, pastor at Palmer Church of God, was found having sex in his truck in June 2018 with a 12-year old girl in a remote wooded area where deputies were looking for a stolen vehicle, said Grundy County Sheriff Clint Shrum. He was also found in possession of Schedule II prescription drugs. Source: WVTC, 3-8-19

Ryan C. Mutchler, 31, Beaverton, OR: 60 days in jail, 5 years’ probation and sex offender registration after pleading guilty to online sexual corruption of a child. Mutchler, a youth pastor at Mountain Park Church and band teacher at Aloha High School, befriended a 14-year-old girl in June 2018 at a church camp, started “sexting” her and suggested meeting for sexual activities. He later sent explicit messages to a detective posing as the girl and using her phone. Source: KOIN, 3-7-19

Taylor T. Martin, 23, Lincoln, NE: 1 year in jail after pleading no contest to debauching a minor in 2017 for kissing a 12-year-old boy in a church bathroom and asking if he could perform a sex act on him. The boy allegedly told Martin no and left. Martin was a youth leader at First Plymouth Congregational Church. Source: Journal Star, 3-7-19

Philippe Barbarin, 68, Lyon, France: 6 months in prison suspended and a fine of €45,000 ($50,600) after a court found him guilty of failing to report sexual abuse of Boy Scouts by Bernard Preynat, a priest in the Catholic Archdiocese of Lyon. Barbarin, a cardinal and archbishop, “made the choice in conscience, to preserve the institution to which he belongs, not to transmit them to justice,” said Brigitte Verney, president of the Lyon Criminal Court.

Preynat was first accused in 1991 and retired in 2015. He’s under indictment and awaits trial. Barbarin became archbishop in 2002. Source: NPR, 3-7-19

An unidentified priest, age 50, Canet-en-Roussillon, France, was sentenced to 15 years in prison for the rape and sexual assault of 3 male adolescents between 2006-09 when he was pastor of St. Joseph Catholic Parish. It was alleged in court that the bishop of the Diocese of Perpignan failed to investigate allegations about the Swiss-born priest. Source: La Croix International, 3-4-19

James Jackson, 50, W. Palm Beach, FL: 100 years in prison after a jury found him guilty of 11 counts of sexual activity with a child and lewd or lascivious molestation. He was arrested in 2016 after 3 underage girls told investigators he used his status as a pastor of a storefront church called Life in the Garden Ministries to groom them for sex during counseling sessions. He and his wife also ran a group called Positive Habitat for Aspiring Teens.

Valerie Jackson, 49, pleaded guilty to child abuse and child neglect charges in May 2018 and awaits sentencing. One girl testified she was a preteen when “sessions” with Jackson involved watching pornography on his laptop that led to sex. Source: Palm Beach Post, 3-1-19

Terry Millender, 54, Alexandria, VA: 8 years in prison after a jury found him guilty of multiple fraud counts while he was senior pastor at Victorious Life Church. His wife, Brenda Millender, was convicted on some counts and acquitted on others before a judge vacated all counts against her.

Court records said the pastor recruited investors in a $2-million scheme by saying he would use Nigerian oil deals to finance micro-loans to African entrepreneurs that would provide a high rate of return. In reality, he used the money to conduct high-risk day trades and buy a $1.75-million home. Source: Fox DC, 2-26-19

Ellis W. Simmons, 40: 11 years in prison after pleading guilty to criminal sexual conduct, admitting to 2 instances of sexual penetration of an 11-year-old girl in 1999-2000 and a 2005 instance with a 14-year-old girl. He was a youth pastor at St. Mark African Methodist Episcopal Church and at Calvary Baptist Church in Duluth, MN. He served time from 2013-17 in Illinois for molesting 3 girls ranging in age from 7 to 10.

Statements from both Minnesota victims were read at sentencing. “The choices this monster made left me broken physically, mentally and spiritually before I was even a teenager,” one wrote. “Saying out loud what he did was an unbearable task. He took away my ability to speak.” Source: News Tribune, 2-26-19

Civil Lawsuits Filed

Catholic priest Rigoberto Rivera and the Archdiocese of Santiago, Chile, are being sued for $530,000 by Daniel Rojas Alvarez, 43, an indigent man who alleges Rivera drugged and raped him in 2015. Rojas Alvarez alleges it happened at the cathedral, where he’d gone to get help to buy medicine for his daughter, and that when he later told Cardinal Ricardo Ezzati what happened, Ezzati told him to pray for Rivera, gave him $45 and asked him not to tell anybody else.

Pope Francis accepted Ezzati’s resignation as archbishop of Santiago in March, 2 years after he offered it. Source: AP, 3-22-19

The Diocese of Camden, NJ, St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Parish and deceased former Bishop Celestine Damiano conspired to cover up a 1962 assault by Richard Gerbino, pastor at St. Francis in Vineland, alleges a suit filed by a 73-year-old who says he reported the assault to another priest right away and was driven to see Damiano.

“Never speak of this again,” was Damiano’s response, the suit alleges. Ironically, the priest who drove him, John P. O’Connor, admitted molesting a boy in 1984 and was removed from ministry in 2002.

Plaintiff “A.S.” says his friend slept in O’Connor’s bed in the parish house on the night in question during a visit while O’Connor slept on the couch and he slept with Gerbino in his bed. Gerbino, now deceased, was O’Connor’s superior. The plaintiff was friends with O’Connor when he was in high school and O’Connor was a seminarian.

During the night, he alleges, Gerbino grabbed A.S.’s penis and tried to make the 16-year old touch his but he wouldn’t and fled the room. The diocese confirmed that it paid a settlement last year to the daughter of another of Gerbino’s alleged victims, Michael Kissell, who killed himself in front of her in 1970 when she was 7. Gerbino resigned from St. Francis in 1980 due to a drinking problem, it was reported at the time. Source: nj.com, 3-13-19

St. Bartholomew of the Apostle Parish in Scotch Plains, NJ, the Catholic Archdiocese of Newark and then-Archbishop John H. Myers are being sued for negligence by “Richard Roe,” who alleges he was molested by convicted priest Kevin Gugliotta when he was 11 in 2004, a year after church officials were told about allegations he assaulted Boy Scouts before becoming a priest.

Despite the allegations, Gugliotta was appointed head of youth ministry at St. Bartholomew and later transferred to a Mahwah parish. Roe, now 26, alleges he forced him to participate in oral sex, fondling and masturbation on trips and on church property. He pleaded guilty in 2016 in Pennsylvania with 20 unrelated counts of child pornography and was recently released from prison. Source: nj.com, 3-10-19

Close Israeli relatives of Eliezer Berland, 81, leader of the Shuvu Bonim Hasidic sect who was convicted of sex crimes in 2016, are being sued for alleged personal use of charitable donations totaling $13.76 million. Berland’s wife, son, grandson and 11 others are accused by Isachar Bar Hillel, who was appointed by the Justice Ministry to liquidate the assets of Shuvu Bonim. Bar Hillel determined much of the money went to buy real estate overseas, including in the Ukrainian city of Uman, a pilgrimage destination in Bratslav Hasidism. Source: Times of Israel, 3-4-19

The Diocese of Oakland, CA, and Bishop Michael Barber are being sued by “John Doe,” 26, a former seminarian who alleges he was blindfolded and raped by Catholic priest Van Dinh in the St. Michael’s Catholic Church rectory in Livermore in 2017. A warranted search turned up a glass meth pipe, thong underwear, a blindfold and sex toys.

Livermore police recommended charging Dinh with sodomy by force, violence or fear and oral copulation by force or fear, but the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office declined to prosecute without specifying why. Source: KNTV, 2-26-19

Civil Lawsuits Settled

The Diocese of Norwich, CT, agreed to pay former altar boy Jonathan Roy $900,000 to settle a claim he was molested “hundreds of times” by now-deceased Catholic priest Paul Hebert at Most Holy Trinity Parish between 1990-96, starting when he was 11. Hebert died in 2010. It’s alleged Hebert bought him expensive gifts, gave him money and plied him with alcohol to keep him under his control and that former Bishop Daniel Reilly knew or should have known that Hebert had engaged in deviant conduct with boys at St. Michael’s in Pawcatuck as far back as the 1970s. Source: Hartford Courant, 3-12-19

Mitchell R. Olson and Grace Ministry Center, Kimball, MI, settled for an undisclosed amount a suit filed by Justine L. Morden, now 21, who alleges sexual abuse by Olson when he was pastor of the church in 2016. Criminal charges were never filed. Olson resigned in October 2017 and now works as a realtor.

Morden’s family belonged to the church. After she approached him to learn how to get closer to God, she alleges, Olson arranged to come to her apartment to perform an anointing ceremony to cleanse her of her sins. According to the police report cited in the suit, Olson made “skin to skin contact” with her shoulders, breasts, stomach, buttocks and pubic region while applying oil. Source: Times Herald, 3-8-19

The Diocese of Rochester, NY, has offered a 5-figure settlement to a woman who accuses Janice Nadeau, 85, a retired Catholic nun, of physical and sexual assault when Nadeau was principal at St. Margaret Mary School in Irondequoit in 1977. The School Sisters of Notre Dame nun now lives in a long-term care facility and suffers from advanced dementia.

Her accuser, Christina Grana, 54, told a reporter that Nadeau “was the monster in my closet. She was the monster under my bed.” She and others described her as a harsh and aggressive disciplinarian who like to “pick on” students.

Grana said what set Nadeau off on that day in 1977 was a letter from her mother telling the nun that the kilt Grana wore as part of her school uniform as a 12-year-old was not too short; she had measured it and it was within the rules.

She alleges Nadeau slapped her and knocked her to the floor after reading the letter, then straddled her. “She kept yelling at me, saying, ‘You’re a slut’ and ‘You’re inviting rape and you’re going to get raped.’ ” Then she reached under Grana’s kilt and penetrated her, something Grana didn’t tell anyone for 41 years.

“I remember looking in the mirror and seeing handprints on my face,” Grana told a reporter. She remembers seeing blood in her urine. The diocese also interviewed her mother, eventually agreeing the claims were credible. Source: Democrat & Chronicle, 3-1-19

Legal Developments

Eric D. Readon, Miami Gardens, FL, was ordered to pay $3,000 plus 6.33% interest in a small-claims judgment for failing to deliver a car he was selling. LaTasha Blue sued Readon, pastor of New Beginning Missionary Baptist Church, in 2017 after she sent him $3,000 as a down payment. After 2½ years he hadn’t delivered the car and kept the money. A court document said the church was set to be auctioned off online in late April. Source: WPLG, 3-12-19

Jerred C. Peacock, 34, Estero, FL, had his bail revoked after he was found in his car Feb. 11 with the same underage girl he was accused of having sexual contact with in October. Peacock, a youth pastor at Living Waters Church, was arrested then for allegedly touching the 17-year-old’s genitals and having her touch his at his home while his wife was at work between March and August 2018. He was subject to a “no contact” court order after being charged with unlawful sexual activity.

Peacock was interviewed in February 2016 when he was youth pastor at The Church at Bradenton about his church holding a “Silver Ring Thing” event to promote teen abstinence. “It’s not talked about enough because it’s a little taboo,” Peacock said. “We want to create an open dialogue with teens.” Source: Naples Daily News, 3-13-19

Yona Metzger, 66, the former Israeli chief Ashkenazi rabbi who started serving 3½ years in prison in May 2017 for bribery, fraud and tax evasion, was freed after a parole board granted his request for a reduced sentence. The Supreme Court had already reduced his original 4½-year sentence by a year. Source: Arutz Sheva, 3-6-19

Albert Weathers, 46, Sterling Heights, MI: Open murder and use of a firearm in commission of a felony. Weathers, pastor at Logos Church in Detroit, is accused in the December death of Kelly Stough, a 36-year-old transgendered woman.

At Weathers’ preliminary hearing, Kyra Butts, another transgendered woman, testified that Weathers “was one of the guys that I hooked up with. He would drive around a lot before he would pick someone up.” Weathers also worked at Great Lakes Water Authority. Source: Detroit News, 2-25-19

Brian D. Batke, 72, Surrey, BC, a former Cloverdale Christian Fellowship Church elder charged with sexual assault and 2 counts of sexual exploitation, has chosen to be tried in February 2020 by a Supreme Court judge without a jury. Charges stem from incidents in 2005 when the alleged victim was a minor.

Samuel Emerson, 35, Cloverdale Christian pastor, and his wife Madelaine Emerson, 38, were charged in 2018 with 28 counts of sexual assault, sexual touching of a minor and threats to cause death or bodily harm. Their trials are pending. Source: Surrey Now-Leader, 2-22-19


Catholic priest John Paddack is accused by 5 New York men of sexual abuse when they attended schools and churches in the Bronx, Manhattan and Staten Island from 1988-2002. Msgr. Paddack, a former teacher and guidance counselor and now the administrator of the Church of Notre Dame, denies it and says the men see “a chance to make money.”

Four of the men spoke through a lawyer, choosing to remain anonymous, but Rafael Mendoza, who was a freshman at Cardinal Hayes High School in 1996, alleged Paddack would “unbuckle my pants and grab my genitals. His face would get bloodshot red.”

Another accuser who attended Cardinal Hayes and was an altar boy, described similar encounters. The New York Archdiocese’s Lay Review Board deemed a claim by one of the men as unsubstantiated in 2012. Source: NY Daily News, 3-18-19

The Diocese of Sioux City, IA, released a list of 28 Catholic priests credibly accused of sexual abuse of minors. One man on the list, George McFadden, has 39 allegations between 1960-85. The diocese paid victim Daniel Nash $150,000 in 2007 to settle his suit.

Now living on permanent disability in Ithaca, NY, Nash says McFadden raped him 2 or 3 times a week when he was an altar boy from 1969-72: “I became his concubine.” He hid his bloody underwear under a floorboard in his house. He told his father, who went to see McFadden, but Nash still had to keep serving Mass.

According to a September 2018 story, McFadden is 94 and living in Fort Wayne, IN. “I swear on my mother’s grave I never touched him,” McFadden told a reporter in February. Source: Daily Sentinel/Jefferson Herald, 2-27-19

Removed / Resigned

Geoffrey Brooke, Jefferson City, MO, was placed on leave as associate pastor at Immaculate Conception Catholic Church while alleged boundary violations with minors are investigated. He was ordained in 2015. Source: News Tribune, 3-16-19

David L. Poulson, 65, Erie, PA, sentenced in January to at least 30 months in prison for child sexual abuse as a Catholic priest, was defrocked by the Vatican. Source: CNN, 3-15-19

Mark Hession was placed on leave from duties in the Diocesan Tribunal of the Catholic Diocese of Fall River, MA, “because of conduct inconsistent with standards of ministerial behavior and in direct violation of the Code of Conduct for priests,” a statement said. Hession was pastor at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Parish in Seekonk until August 2018 when the diocese determined he had used church money on personal expenses. Parishioners also objected to “inappropriate communications” they said Hession sent them. Source: WCVB, 3-11-19

Thomas Dunavan, Falls City, NE, was placed on leave as pastor of Sts. Peter and Paul Catholic Church during investigation of allegations of sexual misconduct dating back about 20 years. Source: KSNB, 3-10-19

Daniel O’Hare was put on leave as pastor of Catholic parishes in Montgomery and Maybrook, NY, due to an allegation he molested a minor in the 1990s. O’Hare was ordained in 1965 by the late Cardinal Francis Spellman. Source: Times Herald-Record, 3-5-19

Miguel Flores, Bakersfield, CA, was placed on leave as pastor of St. Joseph Catholic Church during reinvestigation of sexual abuse claims involving a girl who was then 16. “The current allegation relates to a previous allegation of sexual abuse of a minor that was litigated in 2002, at which time Fr. Flores was acquitted,” Diocese of Fresno spokeswoman Teresa Dominguez said. “The current disclosure is considered credible which gave cause to reopen a diocesan investigation into the matter.”

A jury in 2002 found Flores not guilty of 3 counts each of forcible rape and sex with a minor and single counts of making threats and intimidating a witness. It was alleged he raped a San Joaquin girl who worked as his office assistant at churches in Tranquillity and Hanford. Source: bakersfield.com, 3-4-19

Carsten Martensen, Ithaca, NY, had his chaplain privileges revoked by Cornell University during investigation by the Jesuits USA Northeast Province of an allegation of sexual abuse of a minor in the 1970s. Martensen has worked in campus ministries for Cornell and Ithaca College since 2007 and has an “affiliated” chaplaincy with the Cornell Catholic Community. Source: Daily Sun, 3-3-19

Joseph E. Bradley, Owensboro, KY, was suspended by the Diocese of Owensboro after an allegation of sexual abuse of a minor while he was principal at Owensboro Catholic High School in the 1980s. He was ordained in 1975 and retired in 2011 and also was team chaplain for the University of Kentucky and University of Louisville men’s basketball teams. Source: WFIE, 3-1-19

Patrick Sullivan, ordained in 1982, was placed on leave as pastor of Catholic Churches in Hawley and Dilworth, MN, after an incident the Diocese of Crookston called “a boundary issue” with a minor that was not sexual or criminal. The diocese defines a boundary issue as language or actions “that would serve to benefit the needs of the giver rather than to serve the needs of the receiver.”

Sullivan was placed on leave in 2016 after a civil suit alleged he abused a 15-year-old boy while working at St. Mary’s Mission Church in Red Lake in 2008 and was reinstated after a diocesan review board deemed the allegation “not credible.” Source: Grand Forks Herald, 3-1-19

The Vatican permanently expelled Mauricio Víquez, 54, from the clergy, announced the Archdiocese of San José, Costa Rica. Víquez has been accused of molesting at least 9 minors and is a fugitive from justice believed to be in Mexico. Source: Tico Times, 2-26-19

An unidentified employee at Community Bible Church in San Antonio was fired after confessing to inappropriate text messaging with at least 8 boys in the youth ministry program, said lead pastor Ed Newton. Police are investigating. Source: KSAT, 2-24-19

Robert Gaudio, Chili, NY, was put on leave as pastor of St. Christopher’s Catholic Church during investigation of a recently received allegation of sexual misconduct with a minor in 1979. Gaudio, who was ordained in 1974, denies the allegation.

A statement from the alleged victim said he was a 14-year-old altar boy at St. Andrew’s Parish at the time: “Eventually, he started touching me like a friend would, putting his arm around me, that sort of thing. Then it progressed. He eventually started doing things to me that made me feel embarrassed, ashamed and hurt. I didn’t know what to do. I felt it was wrong. I finally resisted him, which was hard to do. How can you resist God’s representative on Earth? When I did, he immediately lost interest in me as an altar boy and as a friend. He terminated me as an altar boy.” Source: WHAM, 2-24-19


The names of former Milwaukee archbishops William Cousins and Rembert Weakland are being removed from buildings as part of the Catholic Church’s response wto clergy sexual abuse. The archdiocese admits that both men reassigned priests after claims of sexual abuse of minors were substantiated.

The Archbishop Cousins Catholic Center in downtown Milwaukee houses parish offices. Weakland’s name will be removed from the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist pastoral center. Source: AP, 3-19-19

Wojciech Polak, the Catholic primate of Poland, announced a total of 382 priests abused minors from 1990 to mid-2018. The figure includes 198 priests who molested minors under age 15 and 184 who abused victims between the ages of 15 and 18. Polak expressed “pain, shame and the sense of guilt that such situations happened.” Source: USA Today, 3-14-19

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As always, FFRF’s convention will be great

If you’ve never attended one of FFRF’s national conventions, you’ve really been missing out. Just ask anyone who has been to one (or more). But we offer you another chance this year when the 42nd annual gathering starts Friday, Oct. 18, and runs through, Sunday, Oct. 20, at the Monona Terrace Community and Convention Center, 1 John Nolen Drive, in Madison, Wis.

FFRF will be hosting an open house at Freethought Hall, FFRF’s national office, to kick off the convention on the morning of Oct. 18. The official starting time of the convention, at the convention center, is 1 p.m. on Oct. 18, continuing through Saturday night. FFRF’s membership and state representative meetings take place Sunday morning, ending by noon.

Overall, you can expect a weekend of great speakers, awesome people, good food, irreverent music and wonderful conversation. For full convention information, go to ffrf.org/convention2019.

Confirmed speakers for this year include:

Jeremiah Camara

During the 2-hour lunch break on Saturday, FFRF will be airing Jeremiah Camara’s movie, “Holy Hierarchy: The Religious Roots of Racism in America.” FFRF is offering grab-and-go box lunches for purchase (ahead of time) that can be picked up right outside the main ballroom where the movie will be shown. “Holy Hierarchy” explains how the belief in a supreme being in colonial Virginia led to notions of supreme human beings and how these notions morphed their way into the legal system.

Sarah Vowell

She is the New York Times best-selling author of seven nonfictions books on American history and culture. Her more recent books include Lafayette in the Somewhat United States, Unfamiliar Fishes, The Wordy Shipmates and Assassination Vacation. An atheist, she has been a columnist for Salon.com, Time, San Francisco Weekly, and is a contributing op-ed writer for the New York Times.

Rachel Laser

She will be accepting the $10,000 Henry Zumach Freedom From Religious Fundamentalism Award on behalf of Americans United for the Separation of Church & State (AU). Laser is president and CEO at AU. She is a lawyer, advocate and strategist who has dedicated her career to making our country more inclusive.

Hemant Mehta

Mehta, editor of FriendlyAtheist.com blog website, will be speaking on the topic of, “Is atheism still a taboo in politics?” He also appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the Friendly Atheist Podcast. He will also be receiving one of FFRF’s “Nothing Fails Like Prayer” awards and delivering his winning invocation prior to his talk.

Trae Crowder

He has recently earned national attention for his “Liberal Redneck” series of viral videos. Crowder has been performing his particular brand of Southern-fried intellectual comedy in the Southeast and beyond for the past six years.

Frederick Clarkson

Clarkson is a senior research analyst at Political Research Associates, a progressive think tank in Somerville, Mass. He is the author, co-author or editor of several books, including Eternal Hostility: The Struggle Between Theocracy and Democracy and Dispatches from the Religious Left: The Future of Faith and Politics in America.

Anthony B. Pinn

Pinn, who will be receiving FFRF’s Emperor Has No Clothes Award, is the Agnes Cullen Arnold Professor of Humanities and professor of religion at Rice University. He is the founding director of the Center for Engaged Research and Collaborative Learning also at Rice University.

Andrew L. Seidel

Seidel, an attorney and author, is the director of strategic response at FFRF, where he uses his law degree to challenge religious bullies. Seidel’s first book The Founding Myth: Why Christian Nationalism Is Un-American features a foreword by author Susan Jacoby and a preface by FFRF Co-President Dan Barker.

Mandisa Thomas

Thomas, who will be named FFRF’s 2019 Freethought Heroine, is the founder and president of Black Nonbelievers. She has a number of media appearances to her credit, including “CBS Sunday Morning,” CNN, and Playboy, The Humanist and JET magazines. Thomas currently serves on the Boards for American Atheists and the Reason Rally Coalition, and previously for Foundation Beyond Belief and the Secular Coalition for America.

Finally, if you need a place to stay, please reserve your rooms now to avoid disappointment!

Hilton Madison Monona Terrace, 9 E. Wilson St., Madison, WI 53703, the primary hotel. Call 1-877-510-7465 or 414-935-5941, or visit bit.ly/2SPTPlz and mention “Freedom From Religion Foundation.”

Sheraton Madison Hotel, 706 John Nolen Drive, Madison, WI 53713. Call 866-716-8134 or 608-251-2300 or visit: reservations.com/hotel/sheraton-madison-hotel, mentioning “Freedom From Religion Foundation.” Shuttle available.

Park Hotel Madison, 22 S. Carroll St., Madison, WI 53703 (3 blocks from Monona Terrace). Call 800-279-8811 or 608-285-8000 or visit parkhotelmadison.com, mentioning “Freedom From Religion Foundation.”

To sign up for the convention, return the handy registration form below or go to ffrf.org/convention2019.