Thomas Jefferson Student Activist award: Exposing teacher’s theology in biology class

Zoe Dean
Zoe Dean had to watch a video in biology class which showed this image of an “X” at the core of the Whirlpool galaxy 23 million light-years away, said in the video to represent the cross that Jesus was crucified upon. (Photo courtesy of

Zoe has received FFRF’s Thomas Jefferson Student Activist Award of $2,000, endowed by a generous couple who are FFRF members. Note: Although the Daviess (Ky.) County Public School District did not fire the teacher in question after Zoe blew the whistle on her proselytizing in biology class, the teacher has signed a letter of intent to resign. The Freedom From Religion Foundation worked with Zoe and her parents. Reports Legal Fellow Colin McNamara: “I’m incredibly proud of Zoe for her courage. She stood up for what was right in the face of resistance from an out-of-line teacher and complicit classmates, but she stood firm. Because of her report and the evidence she gathered, the district could not deny the massive Establishment Clause problem staring them square in the face, and they had no choice but to correct it. I’d also like to commend the district for the thorough investigation and stern disciplinary actions that they took to ensure that this teacher never pulls a stunt like this again.”

By Zoe Dean

It was a Friday when the “Skimehorn Incident,” as I’ve been referring to it, started.

A video was shown by Ms. Stefanie Skimehorn, the teacher, during my third block Pre-AP Biology class. The video consisted of a pastor excitedly talking about a galaxy that had an “X” at the center of it. He claimed that this “X” shape was actually a cross, meaning that humans, and everything else in this vast universe, must have been created by God. This was the second time my teacher had shown this kind of video in my biology class.

The first time this happened, Ms. Skimehorn announced that if any one of us were offended by the word “God,” we could leave the classroom or plug in ear buds. I considered it, but I realized that if I left or ignored the video, I would be ostracized. If anyone had stepped outside that classroom, they would have been painted as someone who was “offended” by the word “God.” I feared that people would view me as a hater of “God,” and as someone who cannot even tolerate hearing about it. I am not that person. Religion and mythology fascinate me, and I would love to learn more about it — in the appropriate context. Ms. Skimehorn’s instructions before the class made me feel that I had to watch the video or be seen as an intolerant child.

I couldn’t stay and I couldn’t go, so I did the only thing I thought could do at the moment: I took out my cell phone and started recording. I caught the entire “galaxy cross” sermon — and Ms. Skimehorn beside it — on video. This video had nothing to do with biology, let alone science. I was shocked that none of the other students seemed at all bothered by the video, showing no outward indication that they felt any concern.

After class, everyone was released to lunch. Usually there are one or two people left in the classroom, myself included, after the majority has rushed out. I noticed that someone else had stayed behind, someone who I’d never noticed staying behind before. I didn’t think much of it and just went on my way.

I sat down in the lobby to relax and watch YouTube videos. Just as I was getting settled and had a video up and my ear buds in, I heard someone call my name. I looked up and saw Ms. Skimehorn approaching me. I pulled out my ear buds as she sat beside me. She told me that another student had seen me recording her in class. This student claimed that I had texted the video to someone, saying that I’d been “forced to watch it.”

I admitted to her that I had recorded the video. However, I did not mention that I had also purposefully recorded her face, to allow for identification later on, in case there was something more to this whole situation. I had not actually managed to successfully send it to anyone, as the video file was too large, but I didn’t mention this.

Ms. Skimehorn then attempted to get me to delete the video. She had allowed me to work on projects alone in the past, which she brought up in requesting that I delete the video. It felt like she was forcing my hand, trying to get me to delete the recording by manipulating our relationship.

Just as I was starting to panic, Ms. Skimehorn turned for a moment to speak with someone else. When she returned, she asked if I had deleted the video. I told her I had, but I had not.

On Monday, I was called to the front office just as my first class was about to end. I grabbed my things, my heart pounding. While walking to the office, I phoned my father about what to do. He advised me not to respond to any questions about the incident and to have the vice principal call him. Vice Principal Lance Blue immediately told me that he had heard that I had been recording videos during class and wanted to know if it was true. I did as my father had requested and put him in touch with the vice principal.

As I was listening to the conversation, I noticed a couple of things in the office, including an image of horses with wording at the bottom: ‘”God,” “Jesus,” and “Christ,” and a cross with small lettering around the bold word, “Praise.”

Then I heard Vice Principal Blue tell my father that what I had done was illegal. I was terribly anxious.

I was released to my second block class. During my third block class — AP Biology with Ms. Skimehorn — I was told me to grab my things and go see Principal Matt Mason in the front office. I assumed I had been called down, but apparently Mr. Mason had no idea that I was coming.

Considering the obvious tension between Ms. Skimehorn and me, Mr. Mason suggested that I stay out of her class for the day. In my nervous state, I agreed and was sent to the guidance office, where I sat mostly in a tense silence as I attempted to take my mind off of the situation by doing school work, finding little success.

On that Tuesday, I was switched out of Pre-AP Biology into a different class — CP Accelerated Biology. This was a silver lining. Despite being a less “advanced” class than Pre-AP Biology, I actually liked it far better. The teacher didn’t switch off topic nearly as much and had a more professional feel to her style of teaching.

The rest of the week went by normally, although I still was slightly nervous whenever a school phone rang. I didn’t want to return to the front office for those tense conversations.

Things cooled down after that. I was unsure whether Ms. Skimehorn and Vice Principal Blue would face any consequences for their actions, and I frankly doubted it. Neither I nor my family received any notice on what the administration intended to do to make sure this didn’t happen again.

That’s when my parents contacted the Freedom From Religion Foundation.

FFRF took action almost immediately, sending a letter to the superintendent shortly after we reported the incident to them. Without FFRF keeping pressure on it, the school district probably wouldn’t have done anything. But with FFRF watching and waiting, the school actually did the right thing. FFRF uncovered records showing that Ms. Skimehorn had been severely disciplined for her conduct and was ordered to “discontinue utilizing any content or materials in [her] classroom that are of a religious-based nature from this point forward.”

I am so grateful to FFRF for its help.

I had thought Ms. Skimehorn was a good teacher. But, looking back, I can no longer consider that she truly cared about teaching us when she used her classroom to push her religious views.

Zoe, 17, will be a high school junior in the fall. “I have a passion for art and a love for animals. While I’m a visual artist, someone who works with media ranging from graphite drawings to ceramic sculptures, at heart I absolutely adore auditory art and music. Once in college, I will be working on a degree in zoology. But, as a side goal, I plan to learn a programming language so that I may create my own video games which, to me, is a fascinating art form in which a story can be told through an interactive world.”

Letterbox (June/July 2019)

Here’s one way to fight back against vouchers

Theocrats have been pushing a backdoor voucher scheme in several states. Here’s how it works: You donate money to an organization that awards scholarships to students attending private religious schools. The state allows you not only a deduction, but a dollar-for-dollar write-off on your taxes, so it costs you nothing. In effect, it makes you a legislator determining how tax dollars are allocated.

If my state ever enacts such a plan, I will start my own organization to collect money from secular citizens who dissent from this program and use it to fund students at a Buddhist school. (If there’s no Buddhist school, a liberal Quaker or Unitarian one will do.) This will boost diversity in the face of a government that improperly favors conservative Christianity. I will give an amount equal to my tax liability, starving the state of funds. Then I will notify the governor, the state’s revenue chief and my local legislator that I am legally (thanks to them) withdrawing all financial support from the state as long as they show such favoritism. I will encourage others to do the same, and I don’t care if it collapses as a result.

I urge everyone in a state that has such a scheme to fight back in this manner, using the law against itself. Unless the law goes, they’ll be powerless to stop us.

Stephen Van Eck

FFRF gains when I hold my tongue

In order to prevent myself from imploding, I needed to have a new strategy for dealing with religiosity at work. So, I am donating $1 to FFRF each time I want to do or say something I shouldn’t.

So far, $1 for not stopping the morning prayer group supported by HR.

Another $1 for not forming a mob against the physician who refused to provide care to a transgender person.

And $1 for not saying what was on my mind to the Mormon bishop faculty member.

Name withheld

Additions to the “You Might Be in a Cult” letter

In the April Letterbox, Alan Wagner listed many reasons why “You Might Be in a Cult If . . .”

Here are a few more I came up with:

• If you can be convinced that your own deity demands blood sacrifices because he is righteous, but the pagan god’s bloodlust is evil, you might be in a cult.

• If you can be convinced that threats of hellfire and damnation demonstrate your deity’s great love for humanity, you might be in a cult.

• If you can be convinced that making contraception less accessible prevents unwanted pregnancies and abortions, you might be in a cult.

• If you can be convinced that ancient Middle Eastern mythology can explain the origin of life on Earth, but modern scientific study of fossil evidence cannot, you might be in a cult.

It was such fun to write this letter to one of my most cherished publications.

Jehnana Balzer

We could use less lying by our officials

“Thou shall not bear false witness” has been for a very long time an instruction more often honored in the breach than in the observance. That would do, without attribution, on placards of all government and academic buildings.

Peter Kleinman

Let’s be proactive in denouncing superstition

I have always wondered what my response would be if a Fox News anchor asked me why I am “offended” by religious displays. They usually imply that the reason we are offended is that these are reminders of our sinful ways. I always thought I would say that I am not offended by violations of state-church separation, but just annoyed.

However, I know the best reason why we nonbelievers should object to manger scenes, Christian crosses, Ten Commandment monuments on government property, and even bibles in hotel rooms. It’s because these imply that someone thinks that I should believe in superstition and myth and that I cannot be good without these reminders.

Furthermore, if the wording or design of these icons and monuments were debated in the halls of legislatures or Congress, that could bring all secular and critical legislation to a standstill. Even if the will of the majority was honored, that would certainly lead to bad feelings among fellow legislators, because religion is very personal to most Americans. Their political differences are already bad enough without blatantly bringing religious opinion into the mix. This kind of corruption led to chaos in Europe prior to the Enlightenment.

When you face members of the media or politicians, please emphasize that supporting superstition and myth is not only unreasonable, but divisive and even embarrassing in these modern times.

Ron Herman
New Mexico

Dan Barker got through to teens at debate

I want to thank Dan Barker for the great job he did in his debate with pastor Charlie Salamone of Downtown Mission Church in Wausau, Wis., on April 25.

In the audience, within close proximity to where I was sitting, was a fairly large number of young people, mostly in their teens. They were hearing what you were saying. I could see this from the expression on their faces. To me, this underscores the value of these debates, as these kids may be hearing for the first time that the gods and the biblical stories surrounding them are largely fictitious. Hearing this from an intelligent rational adult has an inestimable value in shaping their lives. Well done!

Lance Lubach

Information officer had a great secular response

I listened to the public information officer for Jacksonville Fire and Rescue respond to a reporter’s question about a plane that slid off the runway in Jacksonville, Fla. She asked if he thought it was a miracle that there were no serious injuries in the accident. He responded, “I don’t take that kind of approach to anything. I’m much more of a secular kind of guy.” It was refreshing to hear someone in a government position avoid bringing religion into the conversation. I have no idea whether he wants any attention about his response, but I left him a voicemail thanking him for his secular response to the question.   

Pam Woddail

Catholic Church can’t be trusted to reform

Why do people presume to tell the Catholic Church how to behave honorably or regain credibility? Do they believe their advice will even be considered, let alone acted on? Writing that presumes to be logical or sensible only obscures the horrific facts of the abuse that clergy have perpetrated on vulnerable children and adults by holding out the hope that the church will reform itself. Ultimately, the Church has no intention of further depleting the already depleted ranks of clergy or exposing itself to further liability. Confession and self-reform are for the sheep.

Mary Ann Fraser
New Jersey

We should be leaders in promoting unity

I particularly enjoyed the Letterbox section of the April issue, especially the letters by Darlene Prescott and Brian Bolton. The letter from Alan Wagner on “You might be in a cult . . .” was priceless. However, I would warn FFRF and its members of the adage that “you catch more flies with honey than vinegar.” Hopefully, most people would accept humor as it’s intended (I loved it!), but belief in a deity provides many people with comfort that is critical to their well-being. We should not proselytize any more than we want to be proselytized. What is important is to explain why we want to be treated equally, in a way that doesn’t alienate reasonable people. Most religious people are not fanatics, and we mustn’t let the fanatics lead us to be involved in creating insurmountable divisiveness. We should be the leaders in promoting a unity in which everyone’s beliefs are treated equally.

Wendy Koch

We should focus on population control, too 

I’ve said it before, but concern of reef bleaching is like cutting off the rattlesnake’s tail instead of its head. Earth warming? Tiddlywinks. That’s an effect, not a cause, and the cause has been ignored.

I belong to both Negative Population Growth and Population Connection, but few are listening. The Earth’s axis spins on profiteering growth. Every sector of the economy wants growth in goods, profits and numbers. Politicians want more contributions and voters. Everyone wants more income so we can buy even more unnecessary things. We demand $1 strawberries and de-boned chicken, so we bring in masses of slave-era laborers.

Forests disappearing, replaced by millions of acres of guess what? Soybean fields or oil palm plantations. Fish species are disappearing. Why? There are over 7 billion hungry humans on Earth, demanding home and garden space, and we are in the midst of an extinction of our wild species. 

There will be another billion people within two decades. Environmental groups are priming the pump for their own causes, but they say nothing about this outrageous population surge. Africa cannot feed or house its teeming billions, and, by the end of the century, they may have 3 billion starving or impoverished.

Are we so nearsighted that we are unable to visualize the cause and only focus on the effects?

I belong to many secular groups, and they, and all other public interest groups, should refocus to include their concerns about population stabilization in the third world.

Here’s a farmers market analogy. If your market only sells corn, you get only corn customers. But if it also sells peaches, apples and tomatoes, it gets not only corn clients, but also peach, apple and tomato customers. Secular groups should jump into these population issues. It would bring additional members and monies and no dissent.

Scott A. Hunter

FFRF should send letter to editor with invocation

May I suggest, now that Dan Barker has been turned down from delivering a House invocation, that you send a letter to the editor to the Washington Post, setting forth the following secular invocation as the one you would have delivered:

“Let us rise each morning, and strive each day, to do only that which brings happiness and joy to others, and avoid doing things that cause others hurt and pain. Let us use our minds and our reason to foster behavior based on the mutuality and reciprocity inherent in human relationships, and let us always respect the dignity and worth of each other. And let us, above all, love one another, not to obtain rewards for ourselves now or hereafter or to avoid punishment, but rather always to bring each other contentment and peace. So be it.”

The readers of the Post would love it and would send in favorable replies.

Ted Utchen

Thanks for fighting for inmates’ rights

Back in 2016, FFRF Associate Counsel Sam Grover took the Virginia Department of Corrections to task and forced them to recognize secular humanism as a “religion.” This move was monumental and laid the groundwork for a series of changes that helped secularize a religiously oppressive environment.

With the help of Sam and FFRF Legal Fellow Colin McNamara, we have had a mandatory religious 12-step substance abuse program halted and replaced with a secular, evidence-based cognitive behavioral therapy substance abuse program with true efficacy. FFRF has put an end to inappropriate questions on inmates’ annual assessments that asked about inmates’ religious beliefs and church attendance, and which resulted in nonreligious inmates being punished with additional unnecessary and burdensome programming. And most recently, Colin had the warden at my facility take down an unconstitutional Ten Commandments display and a display chock-full of Christian propaganda from the facility’s law library.

After I brought these issues to FFRF’s attention, the Department of Corrections retaliated by transferring me to four different facilities in a one-year period. I made the best of this by reporting every state-church violation I came across, and by starting secular humanist communities at each of those facilities.

I am sharing this with you so you might understand just what a huge deal it has been for FFRF to stand up for nonreligious inmates in Virginia. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for everything FFRF does and continues to do. Sam and Colin have been remarkable and are owed the deepest gratitude from all the inmates of the Virginia Department of Corrections.

C. Todd Landeck

Road to atheism is paved by women

We can eradicate religion by educating women, especially girls. They will, in turn, teach their sons to respect women. In this regard, it seems that Judaism moved sooner than Christianity, which has moved faster than Islam. Nobel laureate Malala Yousafzai teaches us that a woman can make the largest step and greater acceptance of those that are different than ourselves.

For how many centuries have men shut down women from education? Suddenly, since the turn of the century, atheism has grown in tremendous leaps. Interesting how women’s rights have also grown in tremendous leaps!

It’s all about eliminating gods. We must continue the education of all girls throughout the world.

Josh Tico

U.S. is a secular nation, not a theocracy

Was it Gov. John Kasich or Rev. Kasich? Is it Gov. Mike DeWine or the Rev. DeWine? Keep God out of government! As the late Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black stated in 1962 in Engel v. Vitale, “A union of government and religion tends to destroy government and degrade religion.” Former Ohio Gov. Kasich should become a minister and not run for president, and Gov. DeWine should have placed his hand on the Constitution, not a stack of nine bibles! We are a secular nation, not a theocracy. Let us now sing John Lennon’s “Imagine.”

David A. Hancock

Frustration to elation on Sunday morning

My boyfriend and I were watching “CBS Sunday Morning” on May 12 when the show went to commercial, or so we thought. Then it became clear the local affiliate (Sinclair Broadcasting) had cut the show short in order for them to keep up with their hate propaganda in broadcasting “Full Measure with Sharyl Attkisson.”

We looked at each other and thought, “OK, now what?” We have been watching “CBS Sunday Morning” each week for the past 10 years and now this garbage will supersede it?

I had received an email from FFRF reminding us to watch the show for FFRF’s Steven Pinker commercial, but I had forgotten about the reminder by the time Sunday, May 19, rolled around. We were watching the show and just waiting to see if the station would do the same thing as the previous week.

We started to watch, and, at 9:02, my boyfriend said, “Well, it looks like enough people complained that they decided not to interrupt it.” As he said that, I turned toward the TV and there he was — Steven Pinker, right smack in the middle of my TV screen! I was speechless. I waited until the commercial was over and proceeded to jump out of my seat with a “woo-hoo”! This. Was. AWESOME.

Please find my enclosed check to go toward more commercials like this. I know they make a difference!

Jeannie M. Lahman

Cartoons, marquees, photos

Black Collar Crime (June/July 2019)

Compiled by Bill Dunn

Arrested / Charged

Kevin Garcia, 27, San Antonio: Sexual assault of a child. “The [alleged victim] revealed to the witness that [Garcia] has been molesting her since she was in the 7th grade,” an affidavit said. She’s now 15 and is related to Garcia, a pastor at Freedom Church. The affidavit said after the girl’s mother confronted him, Garcia moved out of the house. “[The girl] stated that she was always frightened and pretended to be asleep.” Source: Express-News, 4-12-19

Juan G. Garza-Gonzalez, 51, Wichita, KS: Suspicion of theft. Garza-Gonzalez is suspected in the theft of about $14,000 from Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church in S. Hutchinson, where he’s been pastor since June 2018. Source: KSNW, 4-11-19

Christopher D. Smith, 47, Columbus, GA: Child molestation, sodomy, contributing to the delinquency of a minor and 2 counts of aggravated child molestation. Smith, founding pastor of Word of Truth Outreach Ministries, was arrested after barricading himself with a weapon in a house. He’s been a fugitive since September 2018 on allegations from July 2017. Source: WTVM, 4-11-19

Jesse F. Hernandez Perez, 22, Anaheim, CA: Aggravated sexual assault of a child. Hernandez Perez, a music ministry leader at Iglesia de Restauración Santa Ana, is accused of assaulting an 11-year-old girl in a church bathroom during services in March and a 14-year-old girl while leading a youth program at his home in March.

The alleged assault in the bathroom was “extremely disturbing,” said police Sgt. Anthony Bertagna. “Apparently, there are multiple levels to this church, and one day a week the men and the women are supposedly separated and he took advantage of that.” Source: CBS-LA, 4-11-19

Than Jongthong, 38, and Bua Seenuan, 26, Nayong, Thailand: Possession of over 8,000 methamphetamine pills, an assault rifle and ammunition. Jongthong and Seenuan, a Buddhist monk and nun, respectively, were arrested in their separate living quarters in Wat Yothong Temple. Source: Bangkok Post, 4-9-19

Christopher Muggler, 26, Matthews, NC: 5 counts of sexual exploitation of a minor related to online activity. Muggler, who taught and coached at Covenant Day School and volunteered at Christ Covenant Church, was fired by the school after his March 26 arrest, a church statement said. Source: WSOC, 4-9-19

Franco Mulakkal, 55, Jalandhar, India: Rape, illegal confinement and intimidation. Mulakkal, bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Jalandhar, allegedly assaulted a Missionaries of Jesus nun at her convent during visits to the Kottayam district in Kerala in 2014-16.

Mulakkal, who wielded considerable influence over the order’s budgets and job assignments, called the charges “baseless and concocted” and said the nun was trying to pressure him to get a better job. He was released after his initial arrest last September but charges are now further formalized. Source: AP, 4-9-19

Alyson B. Saunders, 23, Greensboro, NC: 6 counts of sexual exploitation of a minor, 4 counts of indecent liberties and 2 counts each of sex offense on a child by an adult and crimes against nature. Saunders, who worked at Fellowship Presbyterian Church’s Fellowship Day School, is accused of crimes against children between the ages of 2 and 3 at the day care and on a changing room table. The crimes against nature charges involve a dog.

“The remaining details listed on the warrants are too graphic to report,” a news report said, adding that the alleged crimes occurred in January and February with 5 children, male and female. Saunders was linked to the allegations after an overseas child pornography arrest in London. Source: WGHP, 4-5-19

James L. Jenkins, 39, Knightdale, NC: Indecent exposure. Jenkins, upper campus dean of students and college counselor at Grace Christian School in Raleigh, is charged with exposing himself to 2 children waiting for their school bus near his home Dec. 19. Source: WRAL, 4-2-19

Christopher Cox, 41, Traverse City, MI: Possession with intent to deliver methamphetamine and 2 counts of criminal sexual conduct. Cox, pastor at Long Lake Church, is accused by a 19-year-old man of assault at Cox’s business office, where he allegedly lured him with a promise of crystal meth. He’s also accused of giving the man GHB, a “date rape” drug. Another alleged victim, age 26, later came forward with similar allegations. Source:, 4-1-19

Zachary J. Wachholz, 24, San Antonio: Suspicion of online solicitation of a minor. Wachholz, a middle school/high school ministry volunteer at Community Bible Church before he was fired in February, is accused of inappropriate behavior with several church teens. “We believe that this was limited to less than 10 victims, but clearly, even one victim is too many,” said a church statement.

It’s alleged Wachholz used Snapchat to message underage boys and that there was “limited physical contact with one teenager” away from the church. Source: Express-News, 4-1-19

Kirton Lashley, 57, Manhattan, NY: Rape and sex abuse. Lashley, pastor at Beulah Wesleyan Methodist Church, allegedly had sex with a woman in her 30s during therapy sessions from Oct. 2016-Dec. 2018 at the church. He’s licensed to practice therapy by the state Education Department. Under the law, a person in the care of a medical professional can’t consent to sexual activity with a provider.

In 2013 Lashley wrote an endorsement of the Christian sex book “Don’t Play with Me, I Am Life: Follow the Direction of Your Bishop (Penis)” by minister J.L. Lewis. The book “boldly explores and sheds light on how sexuality is intrinsically interwoven into fundamental facets of Christian doctrine,” Lashley wrote, adding that the “transformative” book “has the potential to pinpoint and assuage the dissatisfaction felt by men and women in regards to sexual gratification.” Source: NY Daily News, 4-1-19

Hector D. Mendoza-Vela, aka Hector David Vela, 42, Fremont, CA: 30 counts of suspicion of lewd and lascivious acts with a minor. Mendoza-Vela, pastor at Corpus Christi Catholic Church, came to the U.S. in 2008 from his native El Salvador.

The alleged abuse “occurred with one child victim over an 18-month period starting in 2016,” said an Alameda County Sheriff’s Office press release. At the time he was assigned to St. John’s Catholic Church in San Lorenzo. Source: Mercury News, 3-31-19

Anthony L. Brooks, 48, Florence, KY: 5 counts of 1st-degree sexual abuse. Brooks, pastor at Jesus House of Believers Worship Center, is accused of assaulting a female juvenile from July 2016 to January 2019. Source: WKYT, 3-29-19

Thomas J. Murphy, 65, and Ann M. Murphy, 61, Macungie, PA: (Thomas) theft by deception, theft by failure to make required disposition of funds received, receiving stolen property, secure execution of documents by deception and criminal conspiracy; (Ann) receiving stolen property, secure execution of documents by deception and criminal conspiracy. About $150,000 is involved.

The Murphys are married. He was principal from January 2010 through July 2018 at St. Francis Academy Regional School and a deacon at Most Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church. An audit allegedly showed a checking account funded solely by donations and reimbursements to the school and church linked to the couple. Both apparently had credit cards linked to the account using their home address. Source:, 3-28-19

Ryan D. Crawford, 32, Jacksonville, AR: Producing child pornography between Nov. 29 and Dec. 18, 2017, while he was associate pastor at First Baptist Church in Pineville, MO. Source:, 3-28-19

Shlome Katz, 32, Monroe, NY: Robbery and larceny. Katz and another alleged assailant still at-large are accused of assaulting a fellow Hasidic Jew who was attempting to submit a petition at the Monroe Town Hall to form a new Hasidic neighborhood next to Kiryas Joel. The other man allegedly drove off with the petition. They grabbed the petition from Herman Wagschal after approaching him from behind, hitting him on top of his head and punching and kicking him while he was on the ground. Source: Times Herald-Record, 3-28-19

Matityau Moshe Malka: Conspiracy and obstruction of justice. Malka, a member of the Guatemala-based, ultra-Orthodox Jewish sect Lev Tahor, is accused of being part of a conspiracy to kidnap children ages 12 and 14 in December from their mother Sara Helbrans. The children were later rescued in Mexico.

Lev Tahor allegedly wanted to recapture the older child, Yante, so she couldn’t testify against the cult and to reunite her with her adult “husband” Jacob Rosner, who was charged earlier with several other members. Source: NY Post, 3-28-19

William Oswald, 56, Prosperity, SC: 6 counts of criminal sexual conduct with a minor. Alleged victims are a child under age 11 and another between the ages of 11 and 14. Police said charges stem from when Oswald lived in S. Congaree from 1996 to 2001 and was part-time pastor at a church in Newberry. Source: The State, 3-27-19

Jim P. Arnold, 40, Modesto, CA: Continuous sexual abuse of a child, possession of an image of a minor engaged in sexual conduct, exploitation of a minor and using a concealed camera to secretly videotape another person on 3 occasions between March 2018 and February 2019. Arnold, a volunteer youth minister at Big Valley Grace Community Church, is accused of setting up a bathroom camera to record a family member showering.

Arnold’s wife has filed for divorce and was granted a restraining order after expiration of an emergency protective order. Source: Modesto Bee, 3-26-19

Aaron Zuniga, 28, Jacksonville, FL: Unlawful sexual activity with a minor. Zuniga, a high school teacher at Trinity Christian Academy, is charged with having sex with a student who came to his home to babysit Zuniga’s 10-month-old. An affidavit said the girl told police “she and the suspect flirted in person and via Snapchat text messages” and that there was a consensual “sexual encounter” on a living room couch while the baby was sleeping. Source: Action News Jax, 3-22-19

Pleaded / Convicted

Michael McNeil, 29, pleaded guilty to misdemeanor sexual exploitation of a minor while he was youth pastor at Christ Memorial Baptist Church in Williston, VT. The victim was a girl older than the age of consent but younger than 18.

After being charged in December, McNeil relocated to Kentucky, where he had moved from to “plant” a church in Vermont. He admitted enticing the girl, who was in a church youth group, to engage in sex acts. Under the law, because of his position and at least a 4-year age difference, the relationship was nonconsensual. A plea deal, if accepted by a judge, allows him to avoid jail time and stay off the sex offender registry if he has no further convictions for 5 years.

The girl’s mother told McNeil in court he had been a role model for her sons. “Just two weeks before you admitted to your behavior with [the victim], you were preaching to them about purity and abstinence. What kind of man does this? They trusted you to care for their souls, and in return, you harmed their sister in the most wicked of ways.” Source: Free Press, 4-12-19

Arthur J. Perrault, 81: Guilty by jury of abusive sexual contact with a minor under age 12 and 6 counts of aggravated sexual abuse. Perrault, a Catholic priest who fled New Mexico in 1992 and was arrested in Morocco in 2017, was convicted of assaults on an altar boy in 1991-92 at Kirtland Air Force Base and Santa Fe National Cemetery while he served a Catholic parish.

While the charges focused on a single accuser, at least 38 people, including a brother and sister, accused Perrault of abuse when they were children. Several testified at his trial. Source: New Mexican, 4-11-19

Lothar K. Krauth, 81, Great Falls, MT: Pleaded guilty to receiving child pornography. Krauth, a native German who became a U.S. citizen in 1986, was pastor at Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Parish from 1989-2014. He’s accused of receiving thousands of explicit images of children as young as 2 or 3. Source: Flathead Beacon, 4-9-19

Thomas P. Ganley, 63, Phillipsburg, PA: Pleaded guilty to sexual assault, admitting that between 1992-94 he orally and vaginally penetrated a girl who was at least 16 but less than 18. At the time, Ganley headed the youth ministry at St. Cecelia Catholic Church. He’s the first defendant to be charged and plead guilty in a case filed by the Clergy Abuse Task Force formed by Attorney General Gurbir Grewal last September. Source: Courier News, 4-8-19

Michael Guidry, 75, Morrow, LA: Pleaded guilty to sexual molestation of a juvenile. Guidry, pastor of St. Peter’s Catholic Church, was arrested in June 2018 after a deacon’s juvenile son alleged Guidry gave him alcohol and molested him in the priest’s residence. Source: Daily Advertiser, 3-29-19

Yesenia Gonzalez, 39, Kissimmee, FL: Pleaded guilty to larceny for stealing over $21,000 between January-March 2016 from Iglesia Apostólica Renovación Emmanuel in Stamford, CT, where she was secretary. Gonzalez has repaid most of the money. Source: Stamford Advocate, 3-29-19

Betty L. Wheaton, 80, Belpre, OH: Pleaded guilty to aggravated theft. She took $515,283.71 between January 2011 and July 2018 from the Bethel Lighthouse Baptist Church. “She was the treasurer of this church for 41 years,” said sheriff’s Det. Spencer McPeek. “But bank records only go back seven years. … It was basically going through the checks she wrote to herself.” Source: WTAP/Marietta Times, 3-29-19

Anthony Haynes, 40, Toledo, OH: Guilty by jury of conspiracy to engage in sex-trafficking with a minor, sex-trafficking of a minor, sexual exploitation of a minor and obstructing a sex-trafficking investigation, Haynes, pastor of Greater Life Christian Center, was accused of grooming a 14-year-old girl to have sex with him and fellow pastors Kenneth Butler and Cordell Jenkins.

The girl had moved in with Haynes’ family in 2014 after her mother could no longer provide adequate care for her or her siblings. Prosecutors said Haynes took her to another woman’s apartment, where he and the woman performed oral sex on each other in front of her. About a week later, the woman performed oral sex on her at Haynes’ church and after that she had sex with Haynes in various places, the now 19-year-old testified. 

“When she had sex with him, she got money. When she didn’t have sex with him, she got nothing,” assistant U.S. Attorney Alissa Sterling said. Jenkins, Butler and Laura Lloyd, Jenkins’ ex-wife, have all entered pleas in connection with their roles in the case and will be sentenced later. Source: Toledo Blade, 3-27-19

Robert J. DeLand Jr., 72, Freeland, MI: Pleaded no contest to criminal sexual conduct causing injury and gross indecency between males. DeLand, pastor at St. Agnes Catholic Church, was acquitted by a jury March 21 of 2 other criminal sexual conduct counts involving another teen.

That teen testified DeLand tried to grab his penis on May 14, 2017, in a church coatroom during a memorial service for a classmate who committed suicide. He also testified DeLand gave him $100 to buy the drug ecstasy. In the case in which DeLand pleaded no contest, the teen stayed in the priest’s condo in February 2018 and pretended to take ecstasy. He was equipped with a recording device provided by police. Source:, 3-26-19

Jermaine Grant, 43, Burlington Township, NJ, and Lincoln Warrington, 48, Teaneck, NJ: Pleaded guilty to tax evasion and conspiracy to defraud the U.S. government. Grant, leader of the Israelite Church of God in Jesus Christ, and church treasurer Warrington allegedly failed to report a combined $5.3 million in business income from the church from 2007-15, with a tax loss to the government of $1.9 million. Source:, 3-26-19

Philip Grandine, 32, Toronto: Guilty by jury of manslaughter. Grandine, former pastor of Ennerdale Baptist Church, was convicted of killing his pregnant wife Karissa in 2011 by drugging her with lorazepam. She became incapacitated and drowned in the bathtub. Grandine had access to the drug through his other job as a retirement home nurse.

A jury in 2015 acquitted him of murder and found him guilty of manslaughter, but a new trial was ordered after an appeal. Grandine had resigned as pastor after it came to light he was having an affair with a parishioner, who was also his wife’s friend. Another pastor agreed to give them marriage counseling if he stopped cheating and gave up pornography, conditions the couple accepted. Prosecutors alleged he uninstalled a computer pornography blocker 40 minutes before he called 911 about Karissa’s death. Source: CBC, 2-26-19


Jonathan M. Bailey, 37, New Orleans: 23 years in prison with no parole after pleading guilty in Mississippi to 2 counts of sexual battery of a child under age 14. Bailey, youth pastor at First Baptist Church, was sentenced to 10 years in prison in 2016 for sex crimes involving a 13-year-old female youth group member. The Mississippi charges stem from a group retreat in 2015 to the Seashore United Methodist Retreat Center in Biloxi. Source: WLOX, 4-13-19

Titilayno A. Omosebi, 48, Reedsburg, WI: 3 years in prison and 3 years’ probation after being convicted of child neglect for the August 2018 death of her 15-year-old son during a 44-day religious fast. He and his brother, 11, hadn’t eaten since mid-July, police said. The brother was so weak he couldn’t walk out of the home and was holding a bible when police arrived.

Omosebi was also emaciated but refused treatment for religious reasons. Her husband, Kehinde Omosebi, 49, also faces charges and has been found competent to stand trial. He described himself as a pastor with Cornerstone Reformation Ministries but authorities believe he made that up.

He told police this was the family’s longest fast and that they were waiting for a “blessing from God” that would ease their impending move to Atlanta. Source: WISC, 4-10-19

Joseph Alexander, 60, Gretna, LA: 19 months in prison after pleading guilty to stealing over $321,000 from the Franklin Ave. Church of Christ during a 7-year period starting in 2006. According to prosecutors, he stole the money to pay bills, fund family vacations to Alaska and Las Vegas and shop at the Apple Store and Victoria’s Secret for gifts to parishioners. Source The Advocate, 4-4-19

Paul Pavlou, 59, was sentenced to 10 years in prison after pleading guilty to 3 counts of sexual penetration of a 12-year-old boy while Pavlou was in an Australian Catholic seminary in 2003-04. Pavlou, a family friend, was counseling the boy while his father was dying of cancer. He’ll be eligible for parole in 7 years.

The victim, who didn’t go to police until 2016, testified he cried himself to sleep for years after the rapes. Pavlou was removed from the priesthood in 2009 after a conviction for assaults on a 14-year-old altar boy while he was pastor at a Healesville parish in 2005-06. Source: AAP, 3-31-19

John Praveen, 38, Rapid City, SD: 6 years in prison after pleading guilty to sexual contact with a child under age 16. Praveen, a Catholic priest and native of India, admitted in a signed document to touching the girl’s breasts outside her clothes in a basement classroom of the Cathedral of Our Lady of Perpetual Help. It was alleged he “solicited” the girl in a confession booth, found her as she tried to hide and reached under her sweater to touch her above her leotard.

Judge Robert Mandel called the prosecution’s recommendation for a 1-year-sentence “not adequate.” As part of the plea deal, the prosecution dropped another charge that allegedly occurred earlier in 2018. Source: Rapid City Journal, 3-29-19

Nancy L. Brann, 44, Windsor, ME: 2½ years in prison after pleading guilty to gross sexual assault and unlawful sexual contact. Brann, who taught at Coastal Christian School in Waldoboro, is accused of having sexual encounters, some in the classroom, with a student under age 14 in 2016. Superior Court Justice Daniel Billings said Brann “abused a position of authority and trust” and maintained contact with the boy after she was fired. Source: AP, 3-29-19

Vincent Lewis, 90, Coalisland, N. Ireland: 3 years in prison after pleading guilty to indecent assault and 5 counts of gross indecency with a child in 1983-86. He was sentenced in 2018 to 8½ years for molesting 3 other boys while he was a Catholic monk called Brother Ambrose at Our Lady of Bethlehem Monastery. The latest allegations occurred after he left the religious order. Source: BBC, 3-29-19

Stephen M. Arellano, 31, Las Cruces, NM: 71 months in prison after pleading guilty to traveling in interstate commerce for the purpose of engaging in sex with a minor. Arellano, an ordained youth minister at Apostolic Assembly Church, admitted traveling to El Paso, TX, in 2017 to engage in illicit sexual contact with a 15-year-old victim he knew through the church and their families’ relationship. Source: Sun-News, 3-28-19

Vitaly Korchevsky, 53, Brookhaven, PA: 5 years in prison, $250,000 fine and forfeiture of over $14 million on convictions for his role in what the FBI called the largest-known computer hacking and securities fraud scheme. Korchevsky, former pastor of the Slavic Evangelical Baptist Church and a Morgan Stanley vice president, profited from 2010-15 by trading securities on information he got from earnings reports and other announcements stolen by Ukrainian hackers before they were released publicly.

He told congregants after his arrest that his heart was “clean before the Lord.” Source: Christian Post, 3-22-19

Shawn Butler, 52, Hillsborough, NJ: 5 years in prison after being convicted of child endangerment and criminal sexual contact while he served in the youth ministry at Eternal Life Christian Center. It was alleged he improperly touched a girl, then age 16, several times between March and June 2014.

When he was charged in 2015, detectives also listed a 16-year-old girl he allegedly assaulted between July 2012 and August 2013. In 1990 he received a 7-year sentence after pleading guilty to sexual assault. At the time, he was on probation for a 1988 criminal sexual contact conviction. Butler also has a pending trial on whether he violated Megan’s Law by working at Eternal Life. Source:, 3-20-19

Civil Lawsuits Filed

The Washington Hebrew Congregation, a Reform synagogue that operates the Edlavitch Tyser Early Childhood Center, and its head of schools Deborah Schneider Jensen are being sued by 23 plaintiffs from 8 families who allege preschool teacher Jordan Silverman molested children ages 2-4 from March 2016 to August 2018. It’s alleged Jensen “ignored, rejected and purposefully silenced repeated warnings and expressions of concern, from parents and teachers alike” starting a month into Silverman’s tenure and says he was hired despite having no training or experience in early childhood education.

Silverman, who worked professionally in Vermont as a photographer for 16 years before moving to Washington in 2016, had not been charged criminally when the suit was filed. Both girls and boys were subjected to “demeaning and damaging forms of sexual abuse” that was “systemic and regular,” it’s alleged. Source: USA Today, 4-16-19

Sacred Heart Catholic Parish, Conroe, TX, and the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston are being sued by a plaintiff alleging his pastor, Manuel La Rosa-Lopez, exposed his penis to him in the confessional in 2000 when he was 15. He alleges it happened after he confessed “he was gay and that he had kissed a boy from school.”

The suit asserts La Rosa-Lopez asked “Where did you kiss him?” and he responded “In his garage.” After asking a series of “vulgar” questions, the priest opened the partition window and exposed himself, the suit alleges.

La Rosa-Lopez, 60, was charged last September with 4 counts of indecency with a child, stemming from alleged abuse of 2 other accusers who attended Sacred Heart as teens from 1998-2000. He’s long been accused of abuse, including by a woman who was underage in 2001. La Rosa-Lopez was admitted to the Shalom Recovery Center in 2002 before being reassigned. Source: KHOU, 4-5-19

Joseph Backowski and the Diocese of St. Cloud, MN, are being sued by Theodosia Orlando, who alleges Backowski, a Catholic priest, subjected her to “ongoing, unwelcome and offensive verbal and physical harassment” during the 5 months she worked for him and that the diocese failed to respond to repeated reports of misconduct. She was fired in January.

It’s alleged Backowski, 36, tried to manipulate Orlando, 32, into a sexual relationship with verbal and written come-ons like “dust the rust off your beauty” and prayed he wouldn’t “become a wolf to consume you like meat.” After he was sent to treatment, parish members were told it was because of a medical condition with no mention of harassment complaints. Source: Star Tribune, 3-29-19

The Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston, W.VA, former Bishop Michael J. Bransfield, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and 20 unnamed individuals are being sued by “J.E.,” who alleges Bransfield, 75, molested him as an altar server and later as his secretary. It’s alleged Bransfield drank at least half a bottle nightly of Cointreau liqueur and assaulted or harassed seminarians.

The other defendants are accused of various degrees of negligence. Similar allegations from other persons were lodged after Bransfield resigned in September 2018.

In a related suit, state Attorney General Patrick Morrisey alleged Bransfield and the diocese engaged in “intentional concealment” of predatory behavior by clergy and lay staff. The suit uses state consumer protection laws, with parents as “purchasers” of services for their children, to make its claims. “We believe this is the first lawsuit of its kind against the church,” Morrisey said in a statement. Source: WTRF, 3-27-19

Fred McDonald Jr., pastor of an unidentified Chicago church, is named in 4 civil complaints, including one in which he’s accused of conning a fellow pastor out of the home his late aunt left him. Harold Tidwell alleges McDonald convinced him to transfer the deed for the house so he could use it as collateral for a loan, then put the house on the market without paying him anything.

Another suit was filed by landlord Beverly Greene, who evicted McDonald from his church for being $6,500 behind in rent. Tyrone Handy, pastor of Build Up Community Church, got a $7,600 judgment against McDonald for shoddy roof repair that failed to fix leaks.

After a news crew went to McDonald’s home and talked to a woman who answered the door, McDonald’s lawyer called to say he would return the deed and Tidwell got a text message that said he would get his money back. “I don’t feel like I want to trust any more pastors and maybe not even religion from now on,” Tidwell said. Source: CBS Chicago, 3-25-19

Catholic priest James Grear, the Diocese of Lafayette, IN, Our Lady of Mount Carmel Parish and at least 100 other unidentified persons affiliated with the diocese or parish are being sued by 3 men alleging abuse by Grear when he was dean of students and taught English at Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory School in Indianapolis and was pastor at Our Lady of Mount Carmel in the mid-1970s and 1980s.

One plaintiff alleges he reported the abuse to the diocese but was told not to pursue it and to ask for God’s forgiveness. Grear, 77, was among 12 priests named last fall as having substantiated allegations of misconduct with a minor. Source:, 3-23-19

Civil Lawsuits Settled

The Catholic Diocese of Erie, PA, settled for $2 million a suit filed by a man alleging he was molested as a child by defrocked and convicted priest David Poulson, 65, when he was pastor at St. Anthony of Padua Parish in Cambridge Springs. According to charging documents in the criminal case, the plaintiff alleged Poulson made him admit during the sacrament of confession that he had sex. Poulson was also convicted of molesting another boy at a secluded hunting camp. Source: AP, 3-26-19

The Catholic Diocese of Bridgeport, CT, agreed to pay $3.55 million to 5 men alleging sexual abuse from the late 1980s to the early 2000s by 3 priests: Walter Coleman, Robert Morrissey and Larry Jensen. Jensen, defrocked in 2017, is the only one still alive. The diocese has paid $52.5 million to settle 156 allegations of abuse by priests since 1953.

Jensen said in an interview that “Children need to feel at home at their church. It is supposed to be a family feeling when they are here.” Source: CT Post, 3-20-19


Jeffrey E. Wall, Freeport, ME, and his business, The Lighthouse Events LLC, are accused of investment fraud by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. The complaint alleges he solicited about $3 million from nearly 150 investors by falsely promising to use their money to organize Christian music concerts and festivals but instead used the funds to pay off debts and investors from previous deals.

The company website says he and his wife are avowed Christians who have organized over 700 faith-based concerts since 2008. One email solicitation said, “Help us spread the message of Christ plus earn 20% on your investment.” Wall and Lighthouse have failed to repay about $1.6 million that was fraudulently collected, the SEC alleged. Source: Press Herald, 4-4-19

Legal Developments

The 17-year sentence of Catholic priest José Fernandez for molesting two 12-year-old boys in 2013-14 was confirmed by Spain’s Supreme Court. It also upheld 4-year sentences for the Romanian parents of a victim (they all lived with Fernandez). The other victim was an altar server. Source: AP, 4-10-19

Robert MacKenzie, 85, a semi-retired Scottish Catholic priest who’s worked in Canada since 1988, will be extradited to Scotland to face sexual and physical abuse charges alleged to have occurred between the 1950s to 1980s when he worked at St. Benedict’s Abbey, a boys school. It’s believed there may be as many as 38 victims. Source: CBC, 4-9-19

Nestor Villalobos, 51, Longmont, CO, remains subject to a restraining order that a judge expanded to include 2 new elements: stalking and sexual assault. Villalobos, pastor of Iglesia de Jesuscristo Palabra Miel, was accused of harassment in January by a 20-year-old former congregation member. “I have been sexually harassed by Nestor V. I have ignored him and told him to leave me alone, but he keeps trying to make contact,” the woman alleged. Source: WTKR, 4-5-19

The conviction of Clyde E. Brothers Jr., 68, Uniontown, PA, for corruption of minors and indecent exposure was overturned by the judge who sentenced him to prison. Judge Steven Leskinen “reluctantly” granted a defense motion to void the 5-year sentence due to the statute of limitations. Brothers, a Church of Christ volunteer youth minister who co-founded the church’s bible camp, was convicted in 2018 of lewd acts with boys at the camp in the early 1990s.

Brothers confessed 2 years ago to fellow camp board members to misconduct with “many, many, so many boys,” said Terry Lafferty, a board member and Church of Christ pastor. “He said, ‘I’m evil, just evil.’ ”

While setting aside the conviction, Leskinen noted that trial testimony suggested Brothers “committed similar acts in other states upon this or other victims from the same church.” Source: Christian Chronicle, 3-28-19

Hadmels DeFrias, 47, a defrocked New Jersey Catholic priest convicted in 2004 for molesting 2 brothers under age 14, is teaching English to children at a private school in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic, his native country. “I don’t see the children with those eyes anymore,” DeFrias told a reporter, adding that he’s been successfully treated for ephebophilia (sexual attraction to adolescents).

DeFrias also described himself as “a priest with the Progressive Celtic Church … within the Anglican tradition of churches.” Its website says it’s affiliated with a Celtic Anglican church in Syracuse, NY. “I’ve never heard of the Celtic Anglican church,” said Meredith Kadet Sanderson, Episcopal Diocese of Central New York spokeswoman. Source: NBC, 3-20-19


The law firm of Douglas, Haun and Heidemann in Bolivar, MO was recognized for obtaining a $20 million judgment in a child sex abuse case involving Branson’s Kanakuk Ministries. It was the largest plaintiff’s judgment in 2018 in Missouri.

The plaintiff was a man alleging he was repeatedly molested by Kanakuk summer camp director Peter Newman in the early 2000s when he was 10. Newman is serving 2 life sentences plus 30 years for assaulting 6 campers and admitted to molesting 13 others. The suit named Newman, Kanukuk Ministries and camp president Joe White as defendants. The camp’s revenues were $13.5 million in 2008, when White was paid $352,000.

It was filed in Texas primarily because the victim’s father learned about Kanakuk at a Promise Keepers event at Texas Stadium in Irving. The suit said Kanakuk recruits heavily in Texas and transports children to Missouri from a Dallas mall parking lot. Source:, 4-1-19

Email: [email protected]

Former churches with better missions

Betty Bowers to give God a performance review

Get ready for Mrs. Betty Bowers, America’s Best Christian™!

Betty will be performing this year at FFRF’s national convention in Madison, Wis., which takes place Oct. 18-20 at the Monona Terrace and Convention Center.   

If you’ve never heard of her, you’re in for a treat. Mrs. Betty Bowers is a satirical character played by comedian Deven Green and conceived and written by Andrew Bradley. Both will be participating at the convention. Betty’s convention speech is titled, “God Gets His Annual Job Performance Review from Mrs. Betty Bowers, America’s Best Christian™.”

In 2009, Bradley teamed up with Green to create Betty Bowers videos for YouTube. These videos are written and edited by Bradley, with Green co-producing and appearing as Betty. One of their earlier efforts, “Betty Bowers Explains Traditional Marriage to Everyone Else,” has gotten well over 2 million views on YouTube (and another 2 million views on Facebook). Betty has more than 600,000 followers on Facebook and more than 220,000 on Twitter.

“Bowers is a haughty, prim, conservative American church lady who lampoons and deconstructs many aspects of Christianity as practiced in modern America,” writes RationalWiki.

Bradley, an American humorist, has written or co-written three books about the two topics he was told never to talk about: religion and politics. This year, the New York Post labeled Betty Bowers “a top Twitter wag.” Bradley writes all of the content for Betty’s Facebook page, with those posts routinely appearing on millions of people’s pages each week. Bradley also is the creator of all content for Bowers’ Twitter account.

Bradley also served as one of the lead writers on other successful websites. Among them have been:, a full-throttle spoof of domestic fundamentalism; and, a satiric mirror of the White House website.

As for Green, besides portraying Betty Bowers, she has performed in the cult video series “Welcome To My Home” and “Welcome To My White House” parodies, as a judge on “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” proudly headlining Pride venues across the country, and playing sold-out music shows overseas, performing with the most famous drag queens in the world.

Also newly added to the convention lineup of speakers are authors Isaac Kramnick and R. Laurence Moore. Their talk will focus on their most recent book, Godless Citizens In A Godly Republic: Atheists In American Public Life. The two also combined to write The Godless Constitution: A Moral Defense of the Secular State.

Kramnick is a historian, social scientist and the Richard J. Schwartz Professor of Government at Cornell University. Moore is Howard A. Newman Professor of American Studies, Emeritus at Cornell University.

And Avinash Patil will be awarded the Avijit Roy Courage Award, which includes a crystal plaque and $5,000, on behalf of the Maharashtra Andhashraddha Nirmoolan Samiti (MANS), an organization dedicated to fighting superstition in India. It was founded in 1989 by Narendra Dabholkar, who was assassinated by religious extremists in 2013. Patil has been the executive president of MANS since 2010.

Note: Women’s reproductive rights champion Wendy Davis has withdrawn from the convention program because she is pondering running for Congress.

Other confirmed speakers include:

Jeremiah Camara, whose movie “Holy Hierarchy: The Religious Roots of Racism in America,” will be shown during the 2-hour lunch break on Saturday.

Sarah Vowell is the New York Times best-selling author of seven nonfictions books on American history and culture.

Rachel Laser 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).

Hemant Mehta, editor of blog website, will be speaking on the topic of, “Is atheism still a taboo in politics?” He will also be receiving one of FFRF’s “Nothing Fails Like Prayer” awards.

Trae Crowder has recently earned national attention for his “Liberal Redneck” series of viral videos.

Frederick Clarkson is the author, co-author or editor of several books, including Eternal Hostility: The Struggle Between Theocracy and Democracy.

Anthony B. Pinn, who will be receiving FFRF’s Emperor Has No Clothes Award, is the founding director of the Center for Engaged Research and Collaborative Learning at Rice University.

Andrew L. Seidel, director of strategic response at FFRF, will discuss his new book, The Founding Myth: Why Christian Nationalism Is Un-American.

Mandisa Thomas, who will be named FFRF’s 2019 Freethought Heroine, is the founder of Black Nonbelievers.

To kick off the convention weekend, FFRF will be hosting an open house at Freethought Hall 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. For full convention information, go to

If you need a hotel room, reserve it 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 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:, 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, mentioning “Freedom From Religion Foundation.”

Moore and Kramnick
Andrew Bradley
Deven Green (Photo by Brandon Rizzuto)
Avinash Patil