James A. Haught: ‘I’m in the last scene of the last act’

James A. Haught

By James A. Haught

I’m quite aware that my turn is approaching. The realization hovers in my mind like a frequent companion.

My first wife died a decade ago. Dozens of my longtime friends and colleagues likewise came to the end of their journeys. They number so many that I keep a “Gone” list in my computer to help me remember them all. Before long, it will be my turn to join the list.

I’m 88 and still work. I feel keen and eager for life. My hair’s still (mostly) dark. I have a passel of children, grandchildren and rambunctious great-grandchildren. I can no longer ski, ride my motorcycle, hike forest trails or sail my beloved dinghy on our small private lake. But I still relish symphony concerts and seek wisdom in our long-running Unitarian philosophy-and-science circle. I remarried an adorable woman in her 70s, and we enjoy our togetherness. But her health is fragile. Her turn is on the horizon, too.

I have no dread. Why worry about the inescapable, the utterly unavoidable, the sure destiny of today’s 7 billion? However, sometimes I feel annoyed because I will have no choice. I’m accustomed to choosing whatever course I want, but I won’t get to decide whether to take my final step. Damn!

I have no supernatural beliefs. I don’t expect to wake up in paradise or Hades, surrounded by angels or demons. That’s fairy-tale stuff. I think my personality, my identity — me — is created by my brain, and when the brain dies, so does the psyche. Gone forever into oblivion.

I’ll admit that some reports of “near-death experiences” raise tantalizing speculation about a hereafter. But, in the end, I assume those blinding lights and out-of-body flotations are just final glimmers from oxygen deprivation. I guess I’ll find out soon enough.

It takes courage to look death in the eye and feel ready. So be it. Bring it on. I won’t flinch. Do your damnedest. I’ll never whimper. However, maybe this is bluster and bravado, an attempt to feel strong in the face of what will happen regardless of how I react.

Unlike Dylan Thomas, I won’t rage, rage against the dying of the light. Instead, I plan to live as intensely as I can, while I can, and then accept the inevitable. I find solace in wisdom I’ve heard from other departees. Just before she died of ovarian cancer, one of my longtime friends, Marty Wilson, wrote:

“I often think of humankind as a long procession whose beginning and end are out of sight. We the living . . . have no control over when or where we enter the procession, or even how long we are part of it, but we do get to choose our marching companions. And we can all exercise some control over what direction the procession takes, what part we play, and how we play it.”

In The Fire Next Time, the brilliant writer James Baldwin stated:

“Life is tragic simply because the Earth turns and the sun inexorably rises and sets, and one day, for each of us, the sun will go down for the last, last time. Perhaps the root of our trouble, the human trouble, is that we will sacrifice all the beauty of our lives, will imprison ourselves in totems, taboos, crosses, blood sacrifices, steeples, mosques, races, armies, flags, nations, in order to deny the fact of death, which is the only fact we have.”

And legendary lawyer Clarence Darrow has offered us these thoughts:

“When we fully understand the brevity of life, its fleeting joys and unavoidable pains; when we accept the fact that all men and women are approaching an inevitable doom; the consciousness of it should make us more kindly and considerate of each other. This feeling should make men and women use their best efforts to help their fellow travelers on the road, to make the path brighter and easier . . . for the wayfarers who must live a common life and die a common death.”

My journey on the road has been proceeding for eight decades. Actuarial tables make my future so obvious that I can’t shut my eyes to it. Life proceeds through stages, and I’m in the last scene of the last act.

I have a pantheon of my favorite heroes: Einstein, Jefferson, Voltaire, Lincoln, Carl Sagan, Shakespeare, Martin Luther King Jr., Tolstoy, FDR, Beethoven, Epicurus, Gandhi, etc. They fill a different “Gone” list. They uplifted humanity, even transformed humanity, in their day — but their day ended, and life moved on.

My day was the 1960s, and ’70s, and ’80s, even the ’90s. I was a Whirling Dervish in the thick of everything. Life was a fascinating carnival. But it slides into the past so deftly, you hardly notice.

While my clock ticks away, I’ll pursue every minute. Carpe diem. Make hay while the sun shines. And then I’m ready for nature’s blackout, with no regrets.

FFRF member James A. Haught was the longtime editor at the Charleston Gazette and has been the editor emeritus since 2015.

Barbara G. Walker: I have no problem contemplating life’s end

By Barbara G. Walker


Barbara G. Walker

hey ask, “Aren’t you afraid of what might happen to you after you die?” Well, I don’t see that what will happen to me is anything particularly fearful. One way or another, my body will dissolve into its component atoms and be reabsorbed into the surrounding environment; and along with this general dissolution will go my brain, the mechanism of my consciousness. Thus, I will be unconscious forever, since I will no longer exist as a single entity. That’s hardly anything frightening. I have experienced periods of unconsciousness every night of my life and found no inconvenience in it. To me it makes perfect sense to call death the “final sleep.”

“But what about God?” they ask. “Aren’t you afraid that you may have to face him after all, and you might end up in a state of eternal torture?” But I can hardly fear any such abuse when all the nerves and synapses of my body and brain are long gone. How can sensations exist when there is no way to feel them? Moreover, I have nothing but contempt for a God who would be so sadistic as to create eternal hells for his allegedly beloved children, and would punish the most trivial offenses with something so drastic as eternal torture.

One of the Catholic Church’s favorite idols, St. Thomas Aquinas, revealed an amazing depth of sadism when he said that one of the greatest pleasures God would give the blessed souls in heaven would be a perfect view of all the tortures of the damned. Both Aquinas and his God fall far below my personal moral standards.

The other alternative, I was told in Sunday school, is going to heaven and spending all eternity joining the angels in singing praises to this incredibly egotistic deity who wants to be praised every second by everyone everywhere. In view of his offensive vanity, this God hasn’t much to offer.

Ancient sex-oriented religions claimed that paradise would resemble an eternal orgasm, but the patriarchal Judeo/Christian/Muslim “father” would have nothing to do with that idea. I’m not fond of choral singing, and the idea of having to do it forever sounded to me more hellish than heavenly. Surely nonexistence would be preferable to either of these alternatives.

Throughout the history of our civilization, it has been customary to locate heaven literally in the sky and hell below the Earth’s surface. Believers still speak of God looking “down,” and address their prayers upward. But we now know perfectly well what our atmosphere consists of, and also the space beyond it. We know as well what lies under the surface of the Earth, and it’s not a vast torture chamber.

No, I’m not at all afraid of death, but I am afraid of dying if it means a period of being in pain. I dislike pain. My mother died many years ago in far too much pain, because the social network to give her relief did not then exist. More recently, dying people can receive palliative lethal medications, thanks to the efforts of the esteemed Dr. Jack Kevorkian and the hospice movement. But this is still not in full legal recognition, and many religious authorities condemn it.

Mother Teresa was known to withhold painkilling drugs, even aspirin, from her suffering terminally ill patients, on the grounds that God intends their pain for the betterment of their souls. To my mind, the most acceptable death is one that can be painlessly administered at the patient’s request. Vets euthanize our beloved pets when it’s necessary; why can’t doctors do the same for our beloved relatives?

The real reason behind the church’s centuries-old battle against suicide was simple greed. As George Carlin once remarked, what God always wants is more money. When the Inquisition was in full swing, all the property of arrested victims was immediately seized by the church, a centuries-old habit that eventually made the church the richest organization in Europe. But if the victim managed to commit suicide before being taken to the torture chamber, the church was deprived of its loot. Therefore, suicides were condemned to the nethermost levels of hell.

Religion still seeks to control all of life’s important occasions: birth, baptism, marriage and death all present money-making opportunities for religions. It’s tax-free income, too. Thus, religious authorities want to keep these matters “holy” so they can make a profit from every ceremonial turning point of life. 

I am fortunate to have lived a long, productive, enjoyable life, and I have no problem with contemplating its end. Ever since I reached an age of reason, I have turned up my nose at this absurd hangover from a dark age, the vain, pompous, punitive all-male deity that many adults seem to think they still can’t live without.

Someday, in what I hope is the not-too-distant future, most of the world will finally realize how absurd the whole idea is, and celebrations of life’s beginnings and endings will become much more secular. And — not incidentally — last words will begin to make much more sense.

FFRF Lifetime Member Barbara G. Walker is a researcher, lecturer and author of 24 books.

FFRF’s guide to godless funerals and secular memorials


FFRF often gets requests about its “Godless Funerals and Secular Memorials” web page. We are reprinting it here with hopes it will be of use someday to you or loved ones.

(Or you can go to ffrf.org/publications/secular-funerals)

By Anne Nicol Gaylor

Freethinkers believe that a memorial service should celebrate life, not death. Memorials should honor the person who has lived, not be a vehicle to proselytize unsavory dogmas such as sin and salvation, as typical religious funerals often are. It is time to dispense with carbon-copy, fill-in-the-blank services read by clergy who use the occasion to promote religion, instead of honoring the individual. Freethinkers can specify “no religion” in their wills and papers, and freethinking families can likewise make clear they want no religious observances at funerals, the gravesite or memorials.

At the Freedom From Religion Foundation, we often hear horror stories about what happens when religious relatives put on godly funerals for people who were “devoutly unreligious.” We have heard of religious relatives throwing out valuable freethought libraries! We receive frequent requests from FFRF members who wish to ensure that their own memorials or those for nonreligious friends and relatives stay secular and true to the wishes of the deceased.

Memorials can be planned with readings from favorite poets and writers, with favorite music, with personal anecdotes told by friends and families, with family photos and other personal touches.

Another way to honor the living is to specify secular charities and organizations to donate in memory of the deceased. Friends and relatives who might never consider donating to such a charity often will honor such a request and this is a way for freethinking or progressive concerns to live after you.

Many freethinkers plan memorials rather than funeral services. Memorials have the advantage of giving grieving family and friends the chance to recover from the shock of sudden death, to make travel arrangements, and to fulfill obligations and legal duties before having to plan meeting logistics. Whether to hold a funeral or a memorial service is entirely a matter of family discretion and personal choice. Memorials are not reserved for those being cremated.

If a funeral (which includes a burial) is chosen, the timing usually takes place within a week of death. Individual state laws regulate when a burial must take place. Funeral homes can help a family consider the myriad small details, and there are also memorial societies that can help individuals plan details in advance of their deaths and save on expenses. No clergy is required to participate in any aspect of a funeral or burial.

FFRF is often asked: How do I make sure I am not given a religious burial? These requirements may be left with final papers, an “After I’m Gone” list left with trusted family, executor, or as a stand-alone instruction with your other important documents, clearly marked and signed. Do not rely on placing such a provision in a will, which likely will be read after burial or cremation. In Wisconsin, the Department of Health has an “Authorization for Final Disposition” form which allows someone to detail arrangements for a funeral or memorial (see “religious instructions”). Your own state may offer such a form.

There are no orthodox rules or religious rites that must be followed. Isn’t that nice?

Anne Nicol Gaylor was the co-founder of FFRF.

Reference books

Memorial Services For Women by Meg Bowman

A Humanist Funeral Service by Corliss Lamont

Funerals Without God: A Practical Guide to

Non-Religious Funerals by Jane Wynne Willson

Sample secular service

• Music

• Welcome

• Selected readings (if desired)

• Tribute/memorial portrait/eulogy (Prepared remarks)

• Song or music

• Personal memories (spontaneous memories shared

by participants)

• Song or music

• Closing words or thank you

• Closing music

• Invitation to reception

During the tribute or memorial portrait, a family member or a chosen speaker remembers the person who has died. This talk can incorporate personal anecdotes, achievements; whatever it is that best describes this person. Audience members can be invited to share memories.

You may wish to point out the skeptical views of the person being remembered. For example: ______ did not believe in life after death; _______ believed in life before death. But _______ does live on in a natural sense, in the memories of those who remain, _____’s children and grandchildren [if applicable], and in ______’s accomplishments. (This leads to the memorial portrait or tribute).

Most freethinkers craft their own unique program. A friendly colleague or family friend may officiate. Families personalize the event with picture boards or other memorial displays. Don’t be afraid to be different. Even a favorite recipe of a good cook — brownies, etc., — can be distributed (or served). Talented friends or family can be included in the program. Songs, music, poems or sayings personal to the deceased can be featured. Many memorials provoke as much laughter as tears. Music can begin and end the event, and be interspersed throughout.

Note: If religious relatives are involved, you may wish to include a “moment of reflection” to keep the peace.

Music suggestions

The favorite music of the person being memorialized is an obvious choice, and/or family favorites. There is no right or wrong. FFRF Member (and brave church/state plaintiff) Phyllis Grams, who was known for being organized and fearless, planned her own memorial service down to the final period, and chose as her selection a Frank Sinatra recording of “I Did It My Way” (causing a roomful of friends to erupt in affectionate laughter).

If you want your memorial service to include the music of freethinkers, please note the impressive roster of classical composers (and popular standards composers) who have been free of religion. (They may have been commissioned to write requiems, etc., but that was because the wealthiest clients were often churches and religious monarchs!) Nonreligious composers include: Faure, Bizet, Berlioz, Brahms, Copland, Debussy, Delius and Verdi. Classical composers who were not devoutly religious, rejected church teachings, or who were Deists include Beethoven, Mozart and Tchaikovsky. Chopin was not an atheist, but he had given up the Catholic Church at his death.

Songwriters who are/were not religious: Gershwin, Irving Berlin, Richard Rodgers, Hammerstein, Stephen Sondheim and Scott Joplin. The lyrics to “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” a comforting song that is a favorite worldwide, were written by atheist Yip Harburg. “Imagine,” by John Lennon, is another international favorite. Robert Burns was also an irreverent Deist who wrote many beautiful and meaningful songs.

Other ideas: “Danny Boy,” “To a Wild Rose” from Woodland Sketches by Edward Alexander MacDowell; “Wandering Westward” from Mark Twain; Fifth Symphony (New World), Second Movement, first third by Antonin Dvorak (a believer but he wrote beautiful music), “The Last Spring” by Edvard Grieg, Eine Kleine Nachtmusik by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Old Man River by Jerome Kern.


For more listings, go to ffrf.org/publications/secular-funerals.

Immortality by Felix Adler

When Great Trees Fall by Maya Angelou

Let There Be Light by Philip Appleman

The Dead by Rupert Brooke

Continuance by Samuel Butler

Unweaving the Rainbow (excerpt) by Richard Dawkins

Death Sets a Thing Significant by Emily Dickinson

The Bustle in a House by Emily Dickinson

Death by Epicurus

Do Not Stand At My Grave & Weep by Mary Elizabeth Frye

Sing Well! by Joyce Grenfell

Leavetaking by Mary Lee Hill

Dear Lovely Death by Langston Hughes

At a Child’s Grave by Robert G. Ingersoll

Mystery of Life by Robert G. Ingersoll

This is the Silent Haven by Robert G. Ingersoll

The World Sweeps On by Robert Ingersoll

A Pindaric Ode by Ben Jonson

An Epitaph by Walter de La Mare

No Single Thing Abides by Lucretius

In Flanders Fields by John McCrea

Dirge Without Music by Edna St. Vincent Millay

Sonnet by Elizabeth Morrow

Remember by Christina Rossetti

Song by Christina Rossetti

Epitaph by George Santayana

I Have a Rendezvous with Death by Alan Seeger

I Choose by Seneca

Sonnet CVIII by William Shakespeare

Adonais by Percy Bysshe Shelley

Prometheus Unbound by Percy Bysshe Shelley

Heritage by Theodore Spencer

The Faerie Queen by Edmund Spenser

Requiem by Robert Louis Stevenson

From the Garden of Proserpine by Algernon Charles Swinburne

In a Burying Ground by Sara Teasdale


Letterbox (June/July 2020)

Words, image help tell uncomfortable truths

I’m a Lifetime Member of FFRF and an active artist in Madison, Wis., who is working on “The Corona Chronicles.” It’s an ongoing project that is being catalogued by the State Historical Society and involves my photographs and recent headlines that I arrange.

I took this photo in a Catholic church in Portugal. (It couldn’t get any creepier.) I took information from an article in The New York Times about the Happy Science religion to finish this piece.

Thomas Ferrella

Coronavirus Chronicles

Please take this poll on end-of-life choices

We are longtime and Lifetime Members of FFRF who are on the board of Exit Options Inc. in West Virginia and would like to invite all FFRF members to take an anonymous nine-question survey on end-of-life choices, allowing you to communicate with policymakers about your own end-of-life wishes. 

What ways out would you like to have available for yourself if you were slowly dying of an incurable disease, in severe pain, throwing up everything that you swallowed? What would you want available for your loved ones if they were in that predicament?: Would you want the physician to prolong the agony as long as possible? Would you use hospice? Would you want to take an oral drug or an IV drug to end it all painlessly and quickly? Would you want to use a gun? 

Only three of those options are available in West Virginia and the majority of states. Please participate in the free anonymous multiple-choice poll to make your own wishes known to policymakers.   

The website and poll are sponsored by Exit Options Inc., a nonprofit advocacy organization. Go to exitoptions.org and select “Poll” from the menu. The website has a trove of information about the options already available to you. It also provides answers about what services hospice organizations can provide and whether you can travel to another state to take advantage of that state’s “death with dignity” laws. 

Larry and Beth Norman
West Virginia

Secular education will move society forward

Hello. This is in response to your Spring 2020 Appeal. I am more concerned than ever about the mixing of church and state, particularly by our elected leaders, who should be leading, not following. They are ignoring and avoiding the wonderful opportunity our First Amendment provides to accept science, new information and reason. Leave the ministers to private matters. Do not continue to force outdated information on Americans. People make gods, not the other way around.

Just think if we could get all high schools to teach students about Abrahamic gods in the same way they teach those same students about Roman gods. Same time frame, same people, same area of the world.

Keep up your good work. It only takes one generation, with a secular education, and with all of the wonders of what we have learned, particularly in the last 100 years, to move humanity to a much better place.

Dave Carter

FFRF deserves this $1,200 stimulus check

Here’s the $1,200 Donald Trump sent me. I can’t think of a better use for it than to fight his promotion of the “virus of religion.”

Don Fedock

Which state has most religious-trained teachers?

FFRF should sponsor a competition to determine which state has the most public school high-school science and social science teachers (as well as curriculum specialists, superintendents and school board members) who are graduates of religious colleges and universities, where they received religious indoctrination, which they now might be passing on to their students instead of the fact-based science and social science that the general public should expect them to teach.

Any FFRF member can participate in this competition because all public school systems are required to provide this information when properly requested.

Why graduates of religious institutions of indoctrination should still be allowed to be certified to teach in the public schools should be a national embarrassment.

FFRF is in the best position to call this matter to the attention of the general public.

William Dusenberry

‘The perfect god’ column tickled my funny bone

The first thing I do each time I receive Freethought Today is study the list of birthdays of freethinkers for the month. I always wish I could be included on that list!

In the May issue, I especially related to “Atheism became professor’s philosophy,” about Tom Shipka, as I, too, became an atheist through my philosophy course in college. Bertrand Russell was my first freethought teacher, and I idolized him.

But I especially want to commend Gene Twaronite’s essay, “A helpful guide to choosing the perfect god.” This hilarious satire really tickled my funny bone, and I was edified by his description of more powerful gods even than Yahweh, like Shiva the Destroyer. Shiva destroys the whole universe, while Yahweh is merely a burning bush. My favorite god has long been the Deist god, who asks nothing of you and gives nothing in return. But now, I can imagine the glory of Louis Armstrong, or Lord Satchmo, creating the whole universe with “a blow of his sweet trumpet, then singing softly to himself, ‘What a Wonderful World.’” Thank you for this wonderful essay!

Helen Bennett

The Founding Myth should be required reading

Just wanted to send a message of thanks for Andrew L. Seidel’s awesome book, The Founding Myth. It’s an inspiring read. Every high school in the country should reinstitute required civics classes and include this book as mandatory reading in the curriculum.

Thank you all so much for being who you are.

Janet Powers 

FFRF reassures us that     we are not alone

I’ve been a nonbeliever since age 12 and a hard-core atheist since age 18. I subscribe to Thomas Jefferson’s tolerance of religionists: “It does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are 20 gods, or no god. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.”

Your thoughts and beliefs are yours, but I will judge closely what you do. Those are my beliefs!

I chose to donate to your legal team because I know, as an ex-cop, when all else has failed, court is where it is settled.

Keep up the good work. You reassure us that we are not alone. And you piss off a lot of Texans.

Terry O’Donahue

FFRF’s coronavirus ad in NY Times was terrific

I just wanted to say what a terrific ad FFRF had in The New York Times on May 7. The focus on the need for reason, not prayer, to combat the coronavirus is beyond brilliant!

Fairfid M. Caudle
New York

I enjoy getting Haught’s freethinking blogs 

Just a note to say how much I’m enjoying James Haught’s blogs, which get emailed to me. They remind me of the pieces the late Robert Gorham Davis used to write for Freethought Today.

Andrew C. Jones

Editor’s note: You can find James A. Haught’s columns at patheos.com/blogs/freethoughtnow and you can sign up to have them emailed to you on that page. 

Coronavirus proves prayer’s ineffectiveness

If anything should prove the ineffectiveness of prayer, this coronavirus pandemic should prove it beyond a shadow of a doubt. Most responsible bishops, rabbis, imams and other assorted people of the cloth have respected and followed the advice of health authorities and closed their houses of worship. But why aren’t they in their respective churches, etc., lofting prayers to their respective imaginary friends in the sky? Except for a few fundamentalist preachers in the Bible Belt who think it’s a hoax, most religious leaders have enough sense to follow the advice of the medical community.

We owe the scientific and medical personnel our gratitude and appreciation, especially the doctors and nurses who have to treat those who have been stricken with COVID-19.

John Oman

We need more leaders who are evidence-based

Our county newspaper runs a quote across the top of each edition. On April 23, it was this one from Christopher Hitchens: “What can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence.”

I thought it was very relevant during this time. It’s no surprise that there’s a backlash over misinformation and lies on social media. Today, opinions adamantly asserted as undeniable truths are rampant. No sources or evidence are cited. This is a huge problem for our nation because some lawmakers don’t even conceal the fact they’re making decisions solely based on their beliefs, with no evidence to support them.

“Faith” is used as a sneaky and illegal justification to control our right to personal decisions, opposed to that of individual liberty, the foundation of our nation. I am sick of the “God” talk being used to explain and justify the pronouncements and acts of those elected to be our servants.

Since “faith” is just another way of saying “opinion, assertion or assumption without evidence,” let’s consider changing the tradition of personal oaths invoking a deity by prefacing them with “asserted God” or “supposed God.” That would be evidence-based and honest.

What I’m looking for is a slogan or catchphrase that’ll spread like a meme and change social perceptions of what people mean by “god,” and what that entails, while dismissing any deity being given credit for existing. Any suggestions?

Carl Scheiman

1935 $1 certificate is my prized possession

I just read Andrew L. Seidel’s book The Founding Myth and enjoyed it very much.

As I was reading Chapter 24 regarding “In God We Trust,” I couldn’t help but think of the $1 silver certificate (1935 F series) that I received as change while stationed in South Korea (1984-85).

It is one of my most prized possessions because it does not bear the words “In God We Trust” on it. What luck and irony that I would receive this as change years after it was made and while stationed in another country.

My first thought was that it was fake because I had never seen a silver certificate before and the design threw me off.

Thanks for all that you do.

Alicia M. Livingston
New York

Church-state separation is immensely important

I am so proud to be a member and am thoroughly enjoying my Freethought Today issues and the “Freethought Matters” TV shows. The Ron Reagan episode was outstanding! I have a tremendous amount of respect for him and I am honored to share his secular beliefs. Even though we’ve never met, I feel a kinship with him. He is a truly brilliant and honest person.

Please keep up the fight for separation of church and state! This is an immensely important issue to me, especially with this incompetent administration trashing the Constitution every 10 minutes! I’ve got your backs!

Please be safe and stay healthy!

Michael Hayes
New Jersey

Slavery and Christianity forever tied to each other

Could there be more than a single answer to the question of why millions of black people still cling to the religion of those who enslaved them, despite the fact that both the Old and New Testaments favor slavery?

Perhaps the most logical reason is that after their emancipation, blacks were hated even more by the whites who could no longer claim them as their property. Thus, it seems probable that blacks thought it prudent, for self-protection, to imitate the faith of those who had the power to harm them with impunity under the new name for slavery, “Jim Crow.”

And although I sympathize with the poor souls who feared the white’s sadistic rage, my admiration is for people like W.E.B. Du Bois, A. Phillips Randolph and Paul Robeson, whose legacy is social justice and a well-founded distrust of Christianity.

Here, for example, is my favorite quote about slavery and Christianity, which comes from Frederick Douglass, the remarkable orator, abolitionist and ex-slave:

“The slave dealer gives his blood-stained gold to support the pulpit — and the pulpit, in return, covers his infernal business with the garb of Christianity.”

David Quintero

Why do I need God if I’m ethical and moral?

Seeing all the online graduation ceremonies made me think of something that happened when I graduated high school. A neighbor lady was a hard-core Christian and was very welcoming to all the kids, so we hung out at her place a lot. She was always hoping to bring us to God, but I bugged her the most as an atheist.

She told me that as far as ethical and moral principles go, I was an ideal Christian. She said I could accept Jesus and not have to change at all and I would be saved. I replied that if I was ethically and morally principled as an atheist, then why would God punish me just because I didn’t embrace Jesus? To her mind, it was “But how could it hurt?” To me it was a matter of ethical principle, an attribute that she praised in me.

As a graduation gift, she gave me a bible. A friend thought that was disrespectful, and I agreed. After some consideration, I just threw it in the trash where I thought it belonged.

Peter Hall

Religious delusions won’t stop because of pandemic

One might hope that at least a few people would be cured of their religious delusions with what’s going on with the coronavirus pandemic. Sadly, that is not likely. The religionists have prayed their way through the bubonic plague, smallpox, diphtheria and the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918-19 and still have not grasped how pointless that is. Nothing fails like prayer.

David M. Shea

FFRF like a lighthouse in frightening times

In these frightening times, you are like a lighthouse, although I get discouraged by all the nonsense, such as a brain-dead evangelical holding a church services in Tampa, complete with 13 magical machines that supposedly instantly kill coronavirus. If there was a god, that jerk would be struck dead. Keep up the good work.

Peter Rode

Twaronite’s colum was worth my annual dues

Thanks so much for Gene Twaronite’s advice on choosing the perfect god (in the May issue). I harbored serious 6-year-old Christmas morning doubts when fewer than half my plastic animals fit intp my unseaworthy made-in-china plastic Noah’s ark. Gene’s piece by itself was worth my membership dues. In fact, I’m immediately upping my annual donation to $100. Swear to God.

David Sheehan

Succotash chowder recipe keeps me well-nourished

Thanks to all who edit the FFRF newspaper. The especially delicious succotash chowder recipe in the “Food for Freethought” column is keeping me well-nourished as I hunker down during the coronavirus pandemic.

David Staats

Black Collar Crime section is necessary

After hearing about FFRF, I joined almost immediately. I also sent a gift membership to one of my brothers. We are unabashed nonbelievers. Our father is an American Baptist minister who (along with the vast number of clergy) has “gotten away” with horrible crimes.

I can’t adequately describe my elation in reaching the Black Collar Crime section of Freethought Today.

I don’t know who Bill Dunn is, but I need to thank him. [Former Freethought Today Editor Bill Dunn compiles and writes the Black Collar Crime section.] So, to Bill and anyone who has worked on this section of the paper, thank you! This is necessary work. Keep it up!

Bekah K.

Let’s all try to be kind, respectful to others

I’m an 81-year-old gay man and, for some reason, I’ve become very nostalgic lately. I’m very proud and thankful that I found your organization and became a member a few months ago.

Gay people have been around as long as straight people. Wouldn’t it be nice if everyone could treat each other kindly? We don’t have to love or even like everyone, but at least show some respect for those who are different.

I treat people nicely. I don’t care about their sexual orientation, their political views, their race, creed, etc. I just care if they are good people.

Finding FFRF has been a positive thing in my life. I know there is no God because, if there is, he sure can be mean at times. Just look at all the people killed each year from natural disasters.

If God knows all and controls all, then he made those disasters, along with ticks, mosquitoes, flies and all other negative creatures on Earth.

R. Dean Tomich

Black Collar Crime (June/July 2020)

Compiled by Bill Dunn

Arrested / Charged

Brian Mahiques, 41, Concord, NC: 2 counts of statutory sex offense and 3 counts of indecent liberties with a minor. Mahiques, lead pastor of Encounter Church, is accused of offenses when he was youth pastor at Refuge Church in 2005–06 involving 2 members of the church youth group who were under age 16. Source: WCNC, 5-7-20

Kris Casey, Worcester, MA, pastor of Adams Square Baptist Church, was cited a second time and faces a $300 fine for defying Gov. Charlie Baker’s ban on gatherings of 10 or more people during the coronavirus state of emergency.

Casey was delivered a warning by Police Chief Steve Sargent, who handed him a letter after his first Sunday service April 26. Several days later, 56 people attended the service.

“You know, some people aren’t happy we’re meeting today,” said Casey during the April 26 service, which was also streamed online. “To them, I say I’m sorry. I’m sorry you feel that way, but I would rather upset your feelings than disappoint my God.”

If Casey violates the order again, he will face a $500 fine and a possible criminal charge. Source: WCVB, 5-3-20

Levi Esh Sr., 63, Pequea Township, PA: Felony and misdemeanor counts of failure to report to appropriate authorities. Esh was bishop for 2 Amish churches when a congregation member allegedly admitted to him in 2012 or 2013 that he’d molested 3 girls. The charge says that Esh didn’t contact police or social services and handled the matter internally.

John G. Beiler, 41, is accused of 9 sexual abuse counts involving the girls between 2011–15. According to prosecutors, Esh told Beiler to admit his sins to the girls’ fathers and was excommunicated from the church. Source: WGAL, 4-23-20

Burnice L. Mikell, 64, Opa-locka, FL: Aggravated battery on an elderly person. Mikell, pastor of Mt. Tabor Ministries, which rents space from Opa-locka Church of God, is accused of battery on Felipe Madrigal, 70, president of the Rotary Club of Doral.

Madrigal told police he had gone to the area to deliver 12 pallets of food when Mikell got angry that he wasn’t contacted first about the delivery. Mikell apparently thought the food was going to be donated to his church and not handed out that day, Madrigal said.

He told police that when he asked the pastor why he wasn’t going to help, he punched him in the face, knocking him out. “My phone went flying. It is broken.” Source: WPLG, 4-23-20

Menachem Hilel, 29, Ariel Balon, 37, and Moshe Blumenfeld, 20, New York City, were charged variously with assault, criminal trespass, resisting arrest, disorderly conduct and obstructing governmental administration for violating the city’s social distancing restrictions outside the world headquarters of Chabad-Lubavitch in Brooklyn.

“After numerous warnings from officers and continued disputes, three arrests were made,” NYPD Chief Terence Monahan wrote in a tweet. The temple is closed due to the coronavirus restrictions. Source: NY Post, 4-19-20

Richard O. Oduor, Rome: Negligently spreading an infectious disease. Oduor, a Catholic priest based in Italy, was charged in Kenya, where he presided over a relative’s funeral and several more Masses, distributed communion to congregants and failed to comply with quarantine regulations for travelers into Kenya, it’s alleged.

Oduor eventually tested positive for the coronavirus, was hospitalized for 2 weeks and has since recovered. He was charged after being released from the hospital. Kenyan officials were able to locate and quarantine about 130 people who had come into contact with him before he was diagnosed. Source: Catholic News Agency, 4-18-20

Wyndford Williams, Richmond, CA, pastor of All Nations Church of God in Christ, was cited for violating health ordinances enacted to slow the spread of COVID-19. He was the first Bay Area religious leader charged with such a violation.

A Contra Costa County sheriff’s deputy found about 40 people who were not social distancing or wearing masks at Easter Sunday services, spokesman Jimmy Lee alleged. “The deputy first spoke to the deacon and asked to speak to the pastor who was in front of the parishioners. The pastor was uncooperative and refused to talk to the deputy,” Lee said. Source: Mercury News, 4-16-20

Muhammad Saad Khandalvi, leader of a mosque in New Delhi’s Nizamuddin suburb, has been charged with culpable homicide not resulting in death for hosting a nearly month-long March gathering attended by thousands of adherents of Tablighi Jamaat, a worldwide Sunni Muslim group that promotes a pure form of Islam and uses missionaries.

The event has been linked to 1,023 COVID-19 cases across 17 Indian states. Police also arrested more than 2 dozen others, including 16 foreigners, who participated in the gathering. The mosque’s premises include dormitories to house hundreds of people. Some of the attendees were unable to return to their homes when countries locked down their borders. Source: BBC, 4-16-20

Thirteen people in a suburb of Split, Croatia, were arrested in front of a Catholic church where they had gathered to support a priest who held a Palm Sunday Mass with 20 worshippers present, breaching measures imposed to curb the spread of COVID-19.

Josip Delas, 70, who had been warned about breaching stay-at-home orders but still opened his church, was among those cited. Source: Balkan Insight, 4-14-20

Christian preachers Saw Kwe Wah and Saw David Lah and 2 others were charged in Myanmar by authorities for organizing religious gatherings in Yangon (formerly Rangoon) in defiance of a ban imposed in the wake of the coronavirus.

A video clip showed Lah telling worshippers they would be protected by Jesus. An official from the Health Ministry said at least 19 people who joined the ceremonies or were in contact with those who were present tested positive for the coronavirus. Source: Andalou Agency, 4-14-20

Fernando Aguas, Merced, CA, was cited for holding Easter Sunday services at Iglesia de Cristo with 50–60 people attending. “He put his entire congregation in jeopardy. One person could have showed up not knowing they’re infected [with COVID-19] and infected the entire congregation,” said Sheriff Vern Warnke.

Warnke rescinded the citation a week later after Aguas agreed to stop opening the church and instead visit people in their homes while ensuring social distancing. “You still have freedom of speech and freedom of religion, you’re just gonna have to do it a different way,” he said. Source: KFSN, 4-13-20

John McIntosh, Davis, IL: Criminal sexual abuse of a minor, alleged to have occurred last January. McIntosh is pastor at Cedarville Baptist Church, has been on the board of directors of a “crisis” pregnancy center and has worked summers for a Christian camp. He’s also accredited through the American Association of Christian Counselors. 

“John has been married to Lori, a truly God-given helpmeet, since 1998,” the church’s website says. “John and Lori have been blessed with three children.” Source: WREX, 4-7-20

Samuel George, Toba Tek Singh, Pakistan, who is pastor of Immaculate Conception Catholic Church, catechist Yousaf Masih and 2 others were cited for leading a public procession on Palm Sunday in violation of a law banning gatherings. Pakistan at the time had reported 3,864 cases of COVID-19 and 55 deaths. Source: UCA News, 4-7-20

Fifteen men in Lakewood, NJ, were charged with violating Gov. Phil Murphy’s executive order banning large gatherings after police broke up the funeral of Orthodox Jewish rabbi Chaim Moshe Strulovics, 72. About 70 people had gathered outside the synagogue, the Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office said in a statement, and became “unruly and argumentative” when police moved in.

Of the 1,200-plus confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Ocean County, Lakewood has about 36% of them, with a population of 103,000. At least 5 Lakewood rabbis have died of complications from the coronavirus. Strulovics had tested negative, his grandson said. Source: Washington Post, 4-3-20

Samuel Karyeah, 54, Gbarnga, Liberia: Statutory rape. Karyeah, dean of the Gbarnga School of Theology and senior pastor of a United Methodist parish, is accused of having intercourse with a girl, now 15, on multiple occasions from September 2019 through early 2020.

According to a family source, he promised to pay her school fees in exchange for sexual favors. Source: Liberian Daily Observer, 4-3-20

Augustine Yiga, Kampala, Uganda: Uttering false information and spreading harmful propaganda about the coronavirus. Yiga, pastor of Revival Christian Church and a father of 8, made a televised comment that “there is no coronavirus in Uganda and Africa.” At least 33 positive cases have been diagnosed in Uganda, according to Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.

Deogratius Kiibi, pastor of St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Mpigi, Uganda, was arrested for defying a presidential directive on religious gatherings. Seven parishioners in attendance while Kiibi was saying Mass were also charged.

President Yoweri Museveni on March 18 banned all mass gatherings to stop the spread of the coronavirus. Source: Daily Monitor, 3-31-20

John Orberg II, Glen St. Mary, FL: Child abuse. Orberg, pastor at Calvary Baptist Church in Macclenny, is accused of groping a 16-year-old girl in his home in January. The girl, a family friend, told police she was asleep on the couch and awoke to him lying beside her and rubbing the insides of her upper thighs.

Several phone calls between Orberg and the girl were monitored by detectives in which he didn’t deny the allegation and blamed his behavior on a medication he took that night. Source: Action News Jax, 3-30-20

Pauly Padayatty, 58, Koodapuzha, India, was arrested for celebrating a funeral Mass despite provisions enacted to prevent spread of the coronavirus. Padayatty, pastor of the Church of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, later apologized. More than 100 people attended.

Two other priests were charged after celebrating public Mass on March 19 after religious services were suspended due to the pandemic. The priests face 6 months in jail and a fine for violating restrictions. Source: AsiaNews, 3-23-20

Pleaded / Convicted

Kent Whitney, 38, Newport Beach, CA: Pleaded guilty to mail fraud and filing a false income tax return. Whitney, pastor of the now-defunct Church for the Healthy Self in Westminster, admitted he scammed investors in a church trust fund out of $33 million from 2014–19 by falsely claiming their money was safe and guaranteeing a high, tax-deductible return on investment in the reinsurance industry.

The online church was shut down in 2019 after the Securities and Exchange Commission filed a complaint and a judge froze church assets. Whitney founded the “virtual” church in 2014 after he finished serving 44 months for commodities investment fraud. Source: AP, 4-17-20


Clifford Whiteley, 73, Tipton, England: 9 years in prison after pleading guilty to sexual assault of a child and 3 other sex offenses more than 10 years ago when he was a Jehovah’s Witnesses elder.

Judge Paul Farrer told Whiteley he used religion “to convince your victim she was complicit in your wrongdoing and, in that way, sought to silence her and, sadly, you succeeded for many years.”

Prosectors said church officials refused to share with police what they had learned from Whiteley during a church investigation. Source: Birmingham Live, 4-12-20

An unidentified Catholic priest in Paris was fined $150 for celebrating Mass on the Saturday before Easter at St. Nicolas du Chardonnet Parish with about 40 people present during the coronavirus lockdown. Police shut down the service.

The church continued with live-streamed services on Sunday and Monday, although social distancing rules were observed. Source: Daily Mail, 3-13-20

Civil Lawsuits Filed

Catholic Charities, the Archdiocese of New York and Msgr. Kevin Sullivan are being sued for sex discrimination by Alice Kenny, 63, ex-director of special projects for the nonprofit.

“Mr. Sullivan has made it clear that physical attributes and not accomplishments are what matter most when it comes to female staff,” the suit alleges. “Facing out of the office, he keeps a life-size cutout of a scantily-clad Beyoncé for all of the employees at Catholic Charities to see.” The suit says Sullivan once mentioned that “Jennifer Lopez’s scant attire catches his eye.”

Kenny, who was hired in 2008, and other female staffers complained in 2016 about perceived harassment by senior manager Frederick Joseph, who resigned after an investigation. As retaliation, Kenny asserts, she was moved from an office to “a small desk in a hallway” and denied promotions before a 2019 demotion. Source: NY Post, 4-27-20

Hawaii Catholic clergy are among those accused in claims by at least 100 former students, medical patients and church members who came forward by the April 24 deadline for child abuse survivors to file.

“Some of the conduct is so reprehensible that you wouldn’t believe someone of the clergy would do it. But unfortunately, we’ve seen it over and over again,” said attorney Mark Gallagher, who represents dozens of victims.

Bishop of Honolulu Larry Silva acknowledged the suits at a Sunday Mass: “I cannot tell you how it turns my stomach to read of the abuse these people have suffered, and not only that, but how their faith was damaged.” Source: Hawaii News Now, 4-24-20

The Children’s Home, Winston-Salem, NC, and the Western North Carolina Conference of the United Methodist Church are being sued by a 59-year-old man who alleges he and other orphans were molested by a husband and wife serving as house parents in the early 1970s.

About 20 children lived in the cottage overseen by Bruce Jackson “Jack” Biggs and Beatrice Hatcher Biggs. Jack Biggs also served as a substitute preacher at the Christian facility. The plaintiff alleges he was sexually abused for about 3 years starting when he was 10 by both of the Biggses, who also encouraged him and others to touch the genitals of several girls.

The suit says the Biggses are believed to have been fired around 1973 due to abuse allegations. Beatrice Biggs, 82, who lives in a nursing home, is not a defendant. Her husband died in 2015. Source: Winston-Salem Journal, 4-17-20

The Catholic Diocese of Charlotte, NC, faces 2 new suits accusing 2 priests of sexual abuse. An unidentified Georgia plaintiff who was 14 in the 1970s when he sought help from Joseph Kelleher to deal with a family move, alleges he was molested. Kelleher died in 2014.

A North Carolina man alleges he was abused at age 14 by a different priest, Richard B. Farwell. “T.T.” alleges the abuse occurred after he told Farwell he had been raped by a truck driver while hitchhiking. Allegations about Farwell molesting boys first surfaced in 1985. He was criminally charged by Rowan County authorities in August 2019 and is free on bail.

Both men had previously sued the diocese in 2011 and 2012 but the cases were dismissed because too much time had passed. A “look back” provision enacted by legislators last November opened a 2-year window for child sexual abuse lawsuits to be filed, regardless of the statute of limitations. Source: Insurance Journal/Fox Charlotte, 4-15-20

The Catholic Archdiocese of New Orleans is being sued by a man alleging he was molested by James C. Collery, pastor of St. Ann Parish in Metairie in the early 1980s when he was a 10-year-old altar boy. Collery was ordained in 1948 and died in 1987.

“It is clear that because the Archdiocese knew about Collery’s sexual abuse of at least one minor in 1983, Collery could have been prosecuted within the statute of limitations had he been reported to police,” the suit says.

The suit adds that the archdiocese has “engaged in zero outreach to potential Collery victims which, upon information and belief, there are several.” Source: WVUE, 4-8-20

A suit naming the Catholic Diocese of Allentown, PA, alleges pedophile priest Robert G. Cofenas began molesting plaintiff “John Doe” when he was a 7-year-old altar boy at Holy Rosary Parish in Reading and continued the abuse until Doe, now 56, was in his 30s.

Cofenas was first identified in the 2018 statewide grand jury report on abuse in the church. The report said church officials were aware of Cofenas’ inappropriate contact with a boy in 1979 and that he admitted molesting boys in 1981 and 1986. He was defrocked in 2005 and died in 2013.

The suit also identifies former priests Stephen Halabura and James Agosta as among those who molested Doe. Halabura retired in 2008 and self-reported an incident of abuse in 2019, which the diocese referred to law enforcement. Agosta, who died in 1995, does not appear on the diocese’s list of credibly accused priests. Source: Morning Call, 3-31-20

The Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of New York and Long Island monastery priest Gerasimos Makris have been sued by former nuns Elizabeth Brandenburg and Maria Kallis, who for a decade were allegedly harassed and touched sexually by Makris and became outcasts in the church after they complained. Kallis allegedly bore the brunt of the sexual misconduct

The women felt so ostracized that they left the state in 2018 in order to feel safe. Makris allegedly apologized to them in 2017 and was returned to the pulpit after initially being banned amid the allegations.

Brandenburg, 38, and Kallis, 37, now live in Missouri and run a company that employs survivors of sex trafficking and sells soaps and candles. Source: NY Post, 3-20-20

Civil Lawsuits Settled

The Titus Trust (formerly the Twerne Trust), a British group that operates Christian resorts called “holiday camps,” settled a suit with 3 men and expressed “profound regret” for the abuse carried out by John Smyth, trust chairman from 1974–81. The scandal has embroiled the Church of England and Justin Welby, current archbishop of Canterbury, who worked at the camps in the 1970s and claimed to be unaware of Smyth’s abuse.

Settlement terms weren’t disclosed. An internal 1982 investigation found that boys were given “horrific beatings” while naked or seminude, mostly in Smyth’s garden shed, but the report was kept secret.

According to court documents, “The particular allegations are that [Smyth] made the complainants walk naked to the swimming pool at night; that he took showers with them in the nude; that he talked to them about masturbation and told them to be proud of their ‘dicks,’ as Jesus Christ had one; and that he assaulted them on their ‘rear bare buttocks’ with a table tennis bat.”

Smyth later moved to Zimbabwe, where he was the subject of fresh allegations, and then to Cape Town, S. Africa, where he was removed as a leader of his church after claims of inappropriate behavior 6 months before dying of a heart attack in 2018. Source: The Guardian, 4-5-20


The Catholic Archdiocese of Philadelphia has paid nearly $44 million in reparations to sexual abuse survivors, with the eventual total estimated at $130 million, Archbishop Nelson Perez announced. Since the Independent Reconciliation and Reparations Program was created in 2018, over 600 claims have been filed and 208 have been resolved, an average of  about $211,000 per claimant.

Funding has come from the “sale of certain Archdiocesan assets, borrowing, and risk mitigation payments from related ecclesiastical entities.” Source: Philly Voice, 5-6-20

The Catholic Diocese of Buffalo, NY, filed a motion in federal bankruptcy court seeking an injunction on lawsuits filed under New York’s Child Victims Act. About 250 suits have been filed since August, when the act gave victims 12 months to pursue even decades-old allegations.

The diocese said continued litigation would deplete its insurance reserves and reduce future settlements to survivors.

“This legal maneuver by the Diocese of Buffalo is just another example of the Catholic Church coldly putting its needs before the needs of victims,” said Boston attorney Mitchell Garabedian, who represents 39 clients suing the diocese.

The diocese previously announced it would end financial support and health benefits for 23 priests with substantiated abuse allegations starting May 1 as part of the bankruptcy process. The men were continuing to collect a salary or pension from the diocese, amounting to at least $600,000 a year in “sustenance” payments.

Three of the suspended priests had remained on the diocese’s payroll even though they hadn’t functioned as clergy in more than 25 years. The diocese later said that pension plans would not be affected by the decision. Source: Lockport Journal/Buffalo News, 5-4-20

The 3 Catholic dioceses in Colorado — Denver, Colorado Springs and Pueblo — have paid over $3 million to 28 survivors of clergy sex abuse as part of a claims review by the Independent Reconciliation and Reparations Program. The review is ongoing, with 91 claims received so far, with 9 denied.

A 263-page report released in October detailed the abuse of 166 children by 43 clergy since 1950. Those who accept money are barred from filing a lawsuit against the church. Source: Colorado Sun, 4-23-20

The Catholic Society of Christ Fathers’ appeal of a court order to pay a sexual assault survivor 1 million zloty ($237,000) and a monthly annuity of $190 was denied by the Polish Supreme Court.

A priest identified only as Roman P. was sentenced to 4 years in prison in 2010 for abducting a 13-year-old girl from her parents and raping her over a period of 10 months.

Church records show about 400 Polish Catholic clergy have sexually abused over 600 children since 1950. Bishops and religious order heads have consistently insisted they’re not legally responsible for offenses of their subordinates. Source: Reuters, 4-1-20

The Catholic Diocese of Erie, PA, suspended processing of sexual abuse survivor claims for at least 90 days due to what it called “economic turmoil” caused by the coronavirus. By December 2019 the program had already cost the diocese nearly $12 million.

About 40 claims are still pending. The Survivors’ Network of those Abused by Priests called the move “hurtful and deceitful” and said it showed that abuse survivors should seek justice through the courts rather than through church-run programs. Source: NPR, 3-26-20

Legal Developments

Paxton D. Singer, 25, Sugar Grove, IL, was denied reconsideration of a judge’s guilty verdict of his November 2019 disorderly conduct conviction for sending suggestive text messages to a 15-year-old boy who attended Harvest Bible Chapel, where Singer was a youth pastor.

Judge Michael Noland announced the decision in a 9-page ruling supporting his February decision to not order a new trial, a defense motion he had originally granted about 2 weeks after the trial. During the bench trial, he had acquitted Singer of solicitation of a minor. Defense attorney Terry Ekl then argued that another trial would amount to double jeopardy. Source: Daily Herald, 5-7-20

An estimated 2,500 ultra-Orthodox males attended the Brooklyn, NY, funeral of Rabbi Chaim Mertz, who died of COVID-19 complications. The NYPD broke up the crowd of mourners flouting the city’s social distancing guidelines but arrested no one and cited no one.

After the incident, Mayor Bill de Blasio tweeted a warning about future large gatherings amid the pandemic: “My message to the Jewish community, and all communities, is this simple: the time for warnings has passed. I have instructed the NYPD to proceed immediately to summons or even arrest those who gather in large groups. This is about stopping this disease and saving lives.”

A police spokesperson said officers responded to a synagogue on Kent Avenue in Brooklyn, where they issued 2 summonses over doors being chained from the inside. Another summons was issued for failure to social distance. Source: Newsweek/NY Daily News, 4-28-20

The Maine Supreme Judicial Court upheld 10 convictions of Ronald Paquin, 77, a defrocked Catholic priest sentenced to 16 years in prison in 2019 for sexually assaulting a boy multiple times in the 1980s. He has already served 10 years in Massachusetts for molesting another altar boy. Source: Press Herald, 4-23-20

The appeal of William “Tom” Faucher, 74, was unanimously denied by the Idaho Court of Appeals. Faucher, a Boise Catholic priest, pleaded guilty to 2 child pornography charges in 2018 and was sentenced to 25 years. The appeal claimed the sentence was excessive and constituted cruel and unusual punishment because the offenses were cybercrimes with no victim contact and didn’t take into account his age and poor health.

“The court considered each of the mitigating factors Faucher has identified on appeal and weighed them against the aggravating factors, including that Faucher lied about the nature of his crimes, minimized their significance, did not accept responsibility, and showed no remorse and that many of Faucher’s supporters were unaware of the nature and the scope of his crimes,” the opinion said. Source: Press-Tribune, 4-21-20

Orthodox yeshivas for boys in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, NY, are running underground schools in closed synagogues and apartment buildings despite social distancing requirements designed to slow the spread of coronavirus, a parent whose child attended one of the secret schools alleged to a newspaper.

The New York City Department of Health did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Williamsburg is a Haredi enclave home to the largest community of Satmar Hasidic Jews in New York City. Some classes, the source said, were broken into smaller groups to keep the numbers of students in a room at about 12, but some are running with full classes of 24 to 26. Source: The Forward, 4-20-20

Bernard McGarty, 95, La Crosse, WI, will no longer face prosecution for allegedly offering a woman $20 in May 2019 for sex, trying to kiss her and putting her hand on his genitals outside the public library.

District Attorney Tim Gruenke said given McGarty’s age and health problems and delays caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, he won’t face trial for 4th-degree sexual assault. McGarty paid a $250 disorderly conduct fine in 2014 for removing the covering from his groin and asking a Wausau massage therapist to rub his genitals. Source: WKBT, 4-6-20

Barry Freundel, 68, Washington, DC, a prominent Modern Orthodox rabbi convicted for secretly videotaping women in his synagogue’s mikvah bath, was released from prison early due to the coronavirus pandemic, announced Amy Zubrensky, an assistant U.S. attorney. “I know this news will be upsetting to many of you,” she said.

He was sentenced in May 2015 to 6½ years. His original release date was to have been near the end of 2021. “This early release, granting Freundel the ability to celebrate his own freedom together with Passover, is a final smack in the face to victims,” said a woman who wished to stay anonymous. Source: JTA, 4-1-20


Australian Catholic Cardinal George Pell, 78, is being investigated by police on a new allegation of child sexual abuse soon after the nation’s high court acquitted him on 5 historical child abuse charges. Pell spent over 400 days in jail after being convicted by a jury in December 2018. The appeals court ruled the jury should have found reasonable doubt as to his guilt.

The acquittal will likely be followed by a string of civil claims against Pell and the Catholic Church from abuse survivors and their families. “We will continue to pursue a civil claim on behalf of our client despite the high court’s ruling,” said attorney Lisa Flynn, representing a plaintiff alleging Pell molested his son as a choirboy. Source: The Guardian, 4-13-20

Allegations in Pakistan of sexual harassment, rape and physical abuse by Islamic clerics teaching in madrassas (religious schools) number in the dozens, an AP investigation showed. The AP documented cases through interviews with law enforcement, abuse survivors and their parents.

There are more than 22,000 registered madrassas in Pakistan, teaching over 2 million children, but many more are unregistered. Police said the abuse problem is pervasive and the scores of reports they receive are just the tip of the iceberg. None have resulted in the conviction of a cleric.

Officials said clerics often target young boys in a society where male interaction with girls and women is unacceptable and because boys are less likely to report assault. Source: AP, 4-13-20

A Muslim firefighter accused one of a trio of “three Hasidic Jewish teens” of deliberately sneezing on him while responding to a call in the Borough Park neighborhood of Brooklyn, NY. Omar Sattar, 33, tested positive 9 days later for COVID-19.

The boys “taunted [Sattar] and asked him if he was afraid of the coronavirus,” said a letter to department headquarters from Lt. Kasey Koslowski of Engine Co. 282. They then ran off. Source: NY Post, 4-3-20

Removed / Resigned

Auxiliary Bishop Joseph R. Binzer, second-highest ranking prelate in the Catholic Archdiocese of Cincinnati, resigned the post over how he handled complaints about accused priest Geoffrey Drew, charged in August 2019 with 9 counts of raping an altar boy. He will remain a priest.

Church officials now admit they had received complaints in 2013 and 2015 about Drew, which prosecutors said were inappropriate but not criminal.

The current charges stem from a man’s accusations that Drew, now 57, raped him in 1988–91, starting when he was 10. Drew was not yet a priest but led the music ministry at St. Jude School. Source: Cincinnati Enquirer, 5-7-20

The San Antonio Archdiocese removed Carlos Davalos as pastor of Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church in Helotes, TX, after 2 people accused him of sexual misconduct. A letter to parishioners alleged Davalos sent sexually inappropriate text messages to an adult parishioner earlier this year.

Five days after the first allegation, the archdiocese was informed that Davalos had addressed sexually inappropriate comments and questions to a minor. The allegation involving the minor was forwarded to the Bexar County District Attorney’s Office.

Patti Koo, who represents the Survivors Network for those Abused by Priests, called on the archdiocese to tell the public where Davalos is currently located and whether it’s near public spaces where children may be nearby. Source: KSAT, 5-7-20


James T. Hanley, 83, a New Jersey Catholic priest defrocked in 2003 after he admitted abusing over 20 boys over 14 years as far back as the 1960s, died of undisclosed causes at a nursing home.

Despite being laicized, Hanley had continued to receive a regular stipend from the church, said Paterson Diocese attorney Kenneth Mullaney.

The diocese settled lawsuits in 2004 with 21 of his accusers for nearly $5 million. “Now remember, Mark,” Hanley allegedly told Mark Serrano, who was 9 at the time he was molested in the 1970s, “this is our secret. This is something special that you and I share. Best not to share it with Mom and Dad.”

A new round of lawsuits started in 2019 under the state’s extended statute of limitations. Plaintiff “B.D.” alleged “he was abused by Hanley when he was 13, in or about 1968–69, and endured abuse similar to acts Hanley admitted to during a 2003 deposition — such as touching and rubbing of genitalia, oral sex, sexual use of a vibrator, open-mouth kissing and showing pornography,” records said. Source: nj.com, 4-29-20

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FFRF’s pet project

FFRF knows it’s a scary and unpredictable world out there right now, and while we continue to fight for your rights, we also hope to bring a smile to your face. So here is a look at the variety of pets of FFRF staff members, who are keeping us company as we shelter in place and work from home. We hope you enjoy. Stay safe, friends!