During the lunch break at FFRF’s 40th annual convention on Sept. 16 in Madison, Wis., a dozen freethinkers gathered in a side room at the Monona Terrace Convention Center to participate in a town hall-style discussion.
By Alec Loftus
“Are there secret atheists in Congress?”
“Is Google replacing God?”
You won’t hear these questions in the sleepy political town halls aired on CNN. But participants teed off on the topics without hesitation at the first-ever Secular Town Hall.
The event was produced by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, which works to elevate the voices of America’s fastest-growing religious demographic: nonbelievers.
Moderated by Emmy-awarded journalist Cara Santa Maria, the forum was held at the Monona Terrace in Madison this fall, featuring a dozen participants from a variety of states and professions.
The group included Baby Boomers, Gen Xers and students representing the Millennial generation. Ten of the dozen participants identified as atheists, with the others identifying as agnostic or secular.
According to Pew Research, nearly a quarter of Americans nationwide identify as nonreligious, representing a huge increase over the past decade. However, 91 percent of the 535 members of the U.S. House and Senate are Christians, and no member has publicly stated his or her disbelief in God.
Santa Maria asked participants if they think atheists are secretly serving in Congress.
“It’s statistically inevitable that some of the people in elected office are atheists,” responded Chris Calvey, a microbiologist from the Midwest. “But they are too afraid to be honest about it because they want to get re-elected.”
Added Calvey, “It’s currently political suicide to be open about your nonreligious views, but I think that’s changing as the demographics are changing.”
New groups like Run for Something and Our Revolution, born of the failed campaigns of Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, are recruiting thousands of young candidates to run for office, with an emphasis on supporting LGBTQ candidates and candidates of color.
If these organizations want to break the hegemony of the Religious Right, they could also issue a call for candidates who are open atheists.
According to Pew Research, Millennials are leading the exodus from organized religion in America. A full 35 percent of Millennials now identify as atheist, agnostic or “nothing in particular,” while three-quarters say they don’t attend church on any regular basis.
Participant Molly Hanson, a recent graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Madison who also is an editorial assistant at FFRF, said Millennials are turned off by organized religion because of its historically negative views of LGBT rights and marriage equality. She said that for Millennials, the technology in their pocket is their new religion.
“Technology is answering a lot of the mysterious questions that people needed religion for in the past. Now you can just ask Google,” said Hanson. “God isn’t as necessary anymore.”
When asked if atheists face discrimination, Marie Schaub, a mom from Pennsylvania, said that sometimes people confuse atheists with Satanists: “If we don’t believe in God, we certainly don’t believe in his enemy.”
Schaub told a story about her campaign to remove a massive Ten Commandments monument outside of her daughter’s middle school, which was successful with support from FFRF’s attorneys.
Another UW-Madison student, Micayla Batchlor, spoke about coming out of the closet as an African-American atheist and facing tension from her family and others in the predominantly Christian black community.
“With the stereotypes that go along with (being black), who would we be if we gave into those same stereotypes?” said Batchlor. “It’s hard for people to put me into a box, which I think shouldn’t happen in the first place.”
To elevate these voices, FFRF has been pushing public broadcasting networks to air the Secular Town Hall as educational programming to balance out their many hours of dusty, religious-themed shows like “Ancient Roads: From Christ to Constantine.”
“The secular demographic is the fastest-growing in America, yet the Religious Right controls all three branches of government,” said Santa Maria. “This town hall is designed to help people learn what secular Americans are passionate about.”
FFRF Member Alec Loftus is a Boston-based media consultant who helped produce the Secular Town Hall. He is a graduate of UW-Madison.
By Dan Barker
Central America has been battered by religion for centuries. Today, the evangelical invasion is challenging the Catholic Church in numbers and power. Even though Honduras and Guatemala are officially secular, their governments are entangled with religion.
But there is hope!
On Nov. 8, I flew to Tegucigalpa to participate in a number of events at the invitation of a vibrant new group of freethinkers, Librepensamiento Honduras (Honduras Freethought). As soon as I got off the plane, I was taken to the national Radio Globo for a lengthy live interview about atheism and secularism, and to promote our public events the next day. I was then interviewed by the famous Johnny Lagos, editor and publisher of El Libertador. Because of his work to expose corruption in government, Lagos was a target of an unsuccessful assassination attempt.
The next day, I appeared on two popular national morning television shows, for more than 30 minutes each, and recorded another national TV show on the right-wing SITV (which has been compared to Fox News), hosted by the famous “Chano,” which aired later in the week. They were all interested in my preacher-to-atheist story, and in the fact that there are active nonbelievers in the country.
I also spoke to a group of about 100 enthusiastic atheists, humanists and feminists at the Hotel Excelsior, and later to a similar-sized group, accompanied by a local comedy troupe.
On Nov. 10, before sightseeing in mountain towns outside of Tegucigalpa, I was invited to debate Carlos Portillo, a Christian pastor who is the former minister of religion for the Honduran government, on national CHTV, hosted by the well-known Armando Villanueva. That show (see bit.ly/2z70Bu3) lasted about 90 minutes. I pointed out that the biblical God is bloodthirsty and then asked, “Is genocide good?” Portillo responded that genocide is parcialmente bueno — partially good.
I was extremely impressed with the efforts, connections and successes of the young professional freethinkers working for a secular government in Honduras.
The following day, I flew to Guatemala City to participate in a conference put on by the Guatemalan Humanists. The event took place in a chapel in a former Jesuit seminary that has been converted by the Spanish government into a cultural arts center in the city of Antigua, the former colonial capital. Political scientist Carlos Mendoza and psychologist Natalia Marsicovetere joined me as we discussed “The politics of religion.” (See the event at bit.ly/2BaFJ2G)
The churches wield enormous power in Central America. They can marshal the vote, and the government knows it. When Portillo asked me on the air why the church, which is trusted by the people, should not try to clean up political corruption, I responded that you can’t cure one corruption with another corruption. The best hope for the world is a completely secular government.
FFRF Member Clem Wiechecki, 75, died from complications due to pulmonary fibrosis on July 1 with his wife Debbie by his side. The last words they said to one another were, “I love you.”
Clem was born July 20, 1941, in Hammond, Ind., to Clem and Mary (Stankovich) Wiechecki. He was a veteran of the United States Air Force, retiring in 1980 after 20 years of service. In 1983, he began work at for the U.S. Postal Service, which is where he met Debbie. They married in June 1996 and worked together until Clem’s retirement in 2004. The couple, along with their dogs and cat, enjoyed traveling and visited 42 states.
In September 2011, Clem was diagnosed with IPF (idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis), a terminal lung disease. Clem and Debbie became advocates to spread awareness about pulmonary fibrosis and participated in lung walks and climbs in Las Vegas as Team Clem vs. Pulmonary Fibrosis. Clem even climbed the Las Vegas Stratosphere, all 1,455 stairs, in February 2016.
Clem is survived by his wife Debbie, his sister Loretta Hamilton, four sons and their wives, 11 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
Clem donated his body to science with the hope of teaching more people about pulmonary fibrosis. He will be cremated at a later date. A celebration of life was held on July 29 at his home in Las Vegas. A military burial was held in San Antonio, Texas. Debbie will spread some of his ashes in the last eight states they needed to visit.
Donations can be made toward Debbie’s walks and climbs to help raise money to find a cure for lung diseases. Go to bit.ly/2hojrll to donate.
You know, am I mad at God? Yeah, I’m mad at him. I wish I had more protection. I wish this stuff didn’t happen. I can’t explain it to you. Yeah, I’m mad at him.
Bill O’Reilly, discussing the sexual harassment allegations that drove him out of Fox News earlier this year.
Reporters don’t understand religious liberty, where it comes from. It comes from God, not from the Constitution.
Senate candidate Roy Moore, after he was asked if he stood behind his previous comments that Rep. Keith Ellison shouldn’t be in Congress because he’s Muslim.
CBS News, 10-31-17
I hope the president and the GOP will put an end to the bull and baloney we Christians have been getting from the Freedom From Religion Foundation. That organization is more a threat to our freedom than North Korea, Iran and the Islamic State group.
Bill Mattern, in a letter to the editor.
Lancaster (Pa.) Online, 11-18-17
Work together for love to overcome evil, and do that by working with God. . . You work with God.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, pushing back against gun restrictions the day after a gunman killed 26 people in a Texas church.
Washington Times, 11-6-17
It’s disappointing, it’s sad, and this is what you’ll get from the far secular left. People who do not have faith don’t understand faith, I guess I’d have to say. And it is the right thing to do is to pray in moments like this, because you know what? Prayer works. And I know you believe that, and I believe that and when you hear the secular left doing this thing, it’s no wonder you have so much polarization and disunity in this country when people think like that.
Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, standing behind his claim to pray for the victims of the mass shooting in Texas.
Huffington Post, 11-6-17
All I really know is that Christians will always be attacked no matter what. It could be true, it could be false, but he’s led by God, and that’s all that matters.
Alabama resident Pamela Hicks, at a Dec. 14 campaign stop by Roy Moore, accused by multiple women of preying on them as teenagers.
New York Times, 11-16-17
If Jesus Christ gets down off the cross and told me Trump is with Russia, I would tell him, “Hold on a second. I need to check with the president if it’s true.”
Mark Lee, one of six Trump voters to appear on a CNN panel.
The Hill, 11-20-17
Compiled by Bill Dunn
Sayfullo Saipov, 29, Paterson, NJ: 1 count each of providing material support to terrorists and violence and destruction of a motor vehicle causing death. Saipov, a 2010 immigrant from Uzbekistan, killed 8 people on a New York City bike path on Halloween by running them over with a rental truck. As he jumped out of the truck, he yelled “Allahu akbar” (Arabic for “God is great”), the complaint said. Source: NY Times, 11-1-17
Harry Byrne, 96, Bronx, NY: 74 counts of possessing a sexual performance by a child. Byrne, a retired Catholic priest “had dozens of photographs on his computer of girls 8 to 14 years old performing sex acts with men or posing naked,” said Bronx District Attorney Darcel Clark.
Visitors to his room at the St. John Vianney Center for Retired Priests saw the photos, Clark said.
Byrne has criticized the church for mishandling clergy sex abuse. In 2010 he wrote, “In the U.S., not one cover-up bishop has been arraigned before church authorities for his part in the scandal.” Source: NY Daily News, 10-31-17
Lent C. Carr, 43, Raeford, NC: Felony worthless check and uttering a forged instrument with false endorsements. Carr is charged with deception involving a property where he established Emmaus Greater Pentecostal Assembly earlier this year.
It’s alleged he wrote a check on Oct. 13 for $9,050 to the tax office using a check belonging to the previous property owner. Carr found it inside the building, which is also his residence, and signed the prior owner’s name on it, a press release said. Source: Fayetteville Observer, 10-30-17
A. Gideon Jacob, 62, Tiruchi, India: Multiple charges related to trafficking of juveniles. Jacob founded Mose Ministries Home for Children, which he started in 1989 and operated with the Christian Initiative for India, based in Hamburg, Germany, before being taken over by authorities in 2015 when it housed 89 girls.
Police arrested Jacob in Chennai as he returned from Germany. He’d been sought since 2016, when he claimed he’d rescued the children from infanticide. The home was unregistered. Source: The Hindu, 10-30-17
Ermonte Moliere, 41, Houston: Soliciting prostitution. Moliere, pastor at First Haitian Community Church, was among 139 men arrested during a police sting in which suspects paid an average $60 door fee and $120 for sex acts. Source: Houston Chronicle, 10-26-17
Chandrama Raj, Patna, India: Rape. Raj, pastor of Indian Mission Church, a Pentecostal denomination, is accused of assaults on 2 women. “The pastor invited a member of his sect to his residence under the pretense of performing special prayers to cure her of mental disease,” said a police report about an accusation. Source: Matters India, 10-25-17
Keith D. Haskell, 55, Owatonna, MN: Impersonating a peace officer, felony use of tear gas to immobilize and 5 counts of 5th-degree assault. Haskell, pastor at Bridges of Hope Community Church, was charged after he saw 2 teen boys shoplifting snacks and followed them in his vehicle.
One of the teens, Abraam Rodriguez, admitted the thefts and told police “He’s like, ‘Put your hands up, put your hands up, I’m a cop. I need you to get out [of] the vehicle.’ ” Haskell told officers he was trying to make a citizen’s arrest. Source: WCCO, 10-25-17
Curtis Van Dam, 35, Sioux Center, IA: Felony lascivious acts with a child and lascivious contact with a minor, a serious misdemeanor. Van Dam, a teacher at Sioux Center Christian School, is accused of 2 alleged incidents in October. Source: KIWA, 10-23-17
Clinton Brackett, 32, Lindale, TX: Sexual assault. Brackett, director of student ministries at First United Methodist Church, was arrested due to information obtained from a state trooper’s traffic stop. Pastor Rick Ivey said although the alleged incident didn’t involve the church, Brackett has been fired.
He previously was youth and children’s minister at First Baptist Church in Ballinger. Source: Morning Telegraph, 10-20-17
Garry Evans, 72, Rushville, IN: 3 counts of child molestation, 4 counts of sexual battery and 5 counts of child solicitation. Evans, Rushville Baptist Temple pastor, is accused of incidents with girls ages 3, 5 and 7.
The 7-year-old alleged Evans touched her “nearly every time she went to church” and told police it happened when she was in his office to get candy from him. She said he touched her inside her pants and made her touch his penis. Source: Indianapolis Star, 10-19-17
Albert Lavador Jr., 48, Houston: Sexual assault of a child under 17. Lavador, youth pastor at Broadway Baptist Church, is accused of taking a 16-year-old girl from the congregation to a motel where they had sexual contact twice in June. Once he allegedly took her to McDonald’s afterward. He resigned in 2016 as a teacher at Houston Gateway Academy, a charter school next to the church. Source: KTRK, 10-18-17
Sunday Uko Akpan, Uyo, Nigeria: Murder. Akpan, an elder at Light of the World Mission Church, is accused of stabbing his 35-year-old wife to death in the presence of their 3 children, then later chopping up her remains and dumping them in a waste bin. Source: Daily Post, 10-18-17
Carl E. Stafford, 78, East Gosford, Australia: 13 counts of child sexual abuse. Stafford, a Marist priest removed from ministry by the Catholic Diocese of Broken Bay in 2010, is accused of molesting 3 boys in the 1980s and 199Os. Source: Newcastle Herald, 10-18-17
Klint A. Bitter, 34, Omaha, NE: Sexual assault of a child. Bitter, executive pastor of next generation ministries at Christ Community Church, is accused of assaulting a 15-year-old girl in the parking lot of a vacant supermarket last February. Authorities said the arrest is part of a wider investigation into human trafficking. Two other men have already been charged. Source: World-Herald, 10-17-17
Jill S. Docherty, 38, Franklin, PA: Theft by deception. Docherty is charged with stealing $6,596.63 from Tower Presbyterian Church, where she worked as a part-time secretary. An audit allegedly revealed she had been writing checks to herself. Source: Allied News, 10-14-17
John E. Harris, 40, Prattville, AL: One count each of sexual abuse and facilitating the travel of a child for an unlawful sex act. Harris resigned Sept. 3 as student minister at Glynwood Baptist Church, the church confirmed.
A testimonial on his website says, “His teaching is always pertinent and effective, and he always strives to reach even the most distant youth.” Source: al.com, 10-13-17
Rodney McManus, 49, East Palestine, OH: Attempted unlawful sexual conduct with a minor. McManus, New Life Outreach Center pastor, is accused of touching a girl’s genital area and placing her hand on his genitals multiple times between January 2014 and August 2017 when she was 14 and 15.
He met her at the Coffee Stop, which he owned with his wife and used for youth activities and church services. Source: WKBN, 10-13-17
Reid Buchanan, 63, Lexington, KY: 2 counts of sexual abuse of a minor. Buchanan, associate pastor at St. Luke United Methodist Church, is accused of multiple assaults on 2 girls. He’s on unpaid leave from the church.
One girl told police the abuse started when she was 12 and the other alleged it started when she was in the 3rd grade, including once on a mission trip. Source: WKYT, 10-12-17
Stephen M. Arellano, 30, Las Cruces, NM: Attempted production of child pornography, enticement of a child to engage in sexual activity and travel to meet a minor to engage in sexual conduct. Arellano, pastor of the Apostolic Assembly of the Faith in Christ Jesus, is accused of crimes between May and August involving a 15-year-old girl at a youth convention in Las Cruces and in El Paso, TX.
The assembly is a Pentecostal denomination founded in 1925 in California to serve Hispanics. Arellano is president of its New Mexico youth initiative. It’s alleged he knew the girl’s age because he helped make a video for her Sweet 16 birthday party. Source: News-Sun, 10-10-17
Jared M. Thomas, 34, Ridge Manor, FL: 2 counts of contributing to the delinquency of a minor. Thomas, First Baptist Church youth pastor, is accused of furnishing alcohol to minor girls after a high school volleyball match in September and touching a girl’s buttocks while making sexual remarks.
He allegedly told deputies the girls used the alcohol to make drinks named “Sex on the Beach.” Thomas and his wife record Christian rap music and call themselves Beyond Skillz. He’s also accused of breaking a window in the home after the girl locked him out. Source: Tampa Bay Times, 10-9-17
[First name unavailable] Devaraj, 65, Kerala, India: Child sexual abuse. Devaraj, a Church of South India priest (India’s largest Protestant denomination), is accused of assaulting a 10-year-old girl at the church. The girl’s father told police he witnessed it when he came to pick her up. Source: The Hindu, 10-9-17
Samuel Neipp, 34, Gilroy, CA: Suspicion of lewd and lascivious acts with a minor under 14, oral copulation, extortion and possessing child pornography. Neipp is a public school music teacher. The school band’s website says he’s also choir director for an unidentified church. Neipp’s LinkedIn account says he served as a Mormon missionary in 2002-04 in Estonia.
It’s alleged he had a 3-year sexual relationship with a student, starting when she was 13, and tried to blackmail her with nude photos, said police Sgt. Brian Spears. “We’ve received nonstop phone calls since 9 a.m. this morning,” he said, adding that some calls were from other potential victims. Source: Mercury News/KGO, 10-7-17
Lys W. Vincent, 45, Lawrence, MA: Breaking and entering in the nighttime with intent to commit a felony and burning of a building. Vincent, a deacon at Christian Church Voice of Salvation, is allegedly seen on surveillance video leaving the church 1 minute before the fire started, state police said.
A motive was not mentioned at his arraignment but a prosecutor later said Vincent had become disgruntled with the church. Gasoline odor was also detected on his sandals, investigators alleged. Source: Eagle-Tribune, 10-5-17
James Rhodes, 57, Mesa, AZ: Disorderly conduct and 7 counts of child molestation. Rhodes, who volunteered at Arizona Avenue Baptist Church in Chandler from 2003-09, met the alleged victim, who was 7 and 8 in 2008-09, through the church.
It’s alleged he was known for giving candy to children and would frequently have them sit on his lap while working in the church sound booth. He was also involved in bible study at the church and in members’ homes. Source: Arizona Republic, 10-5-17
Stephen J. Howard, 58, Muscoy, CA: Convicted by a jury of 32 counts of sexual abuse, including lewd acts on a child, oral copulation of a person under 16 and sodomy of a person under 18. Howard, pastor of Muscoy United Methodist Church, was accused of molesting boys as young as 9 going back to 1990. Source: San Bernadino Sun, 10-31-17
Robert Marsicek, 76, Milwaukee: Pleaded guilty to misdemeanor 4th-degree sexual assault after being originally charged with 1st-degree sexual assault, a felony. He’s accused of touching a girl sexually in 1st through 4th grades while he was pastor at St. Piux X Catholic Parish and School in 2007-11.
The complaint says Marsicek “was asked if he was aroused by boys and small girls and he stated ‘certainly I’m aroused — just the cuteness and beauty of them.’ He did admit to having erections while dealing with children and admitted that this did seem odd.” Source: WITI, 10-24-17
Joel Waltz, 48, Boone, IA: Pleaded guilty to 2 counts of sexual exploitation by a counselor or therapist. Court documents say Waltz and the victim, now 20, first met at Grace Community Church while he was a youth pastor and she was 11 and in foster care.
The girl told officers that Waltz texted her in 2012 and said he was in love with her but not to tell anyone. They first kissed when she was a high school junior. She sent him nude photos when she turned 17 and they first had sex on a church trip to Chicago. He resigned as youth pastor in March 2016. Source: Des Moines Register, 10-13-17
David R. Diehl, 40, Kentwood, MI: Pleaded guilty to accosting a child for immoral purposes. Diehl, co-pastor with his wife at Church on Fire, was caught in an online sting in which an undercover officer posed as a man willing to prostitute his daughters.
“Diehl admitted there was a strong possibility he would have met with Daddy Dave for the purpose of having sex with the 11-year-old girl if there was zero chance of Diehl being arrested by police or having to go to jail,” police Det. Matthew McLanin wrote in court documents.
Defense attorney Matthew Borgula called Diehl’s online conversation “disgusting” but said he didn’t commit a crime, only considered it. Source: mlive.com, 10-9-17
Trevon Gross, 47, Jackson, NJ: 5 years in prison and $12,000 fine for conviction on a scheme to help an illegal bitcoin exchange escape scrutiny from banks and regulators. Prosecutors charged that Gross, pastor of HOPE Cathedral, took bribes from the exchange, including $150,000 in donations to his church.
The trial followed an investigation into the JPMorgan data breach, which led to charges against 9 people. Source: Reuters, 10-31-17
Robert D. Wyatt, 51, Thornton, CO: 13 years in prison after pleading guilty to sexual assault on a child. Wyatt, assistant pastor at Agape Bible Church, started touching the victim inappropriately 3 years ago when she was 12 and he was home-schooling her at his residence. When she was 13, he offered to take her on a field trip but instead took her to a hotel and assaulted her.
At sentencing, District Judge Don Quick criticized the church and the girl’s father, saying they tried to shift blame to the victim and handle the matter internally without police involvement. “I’m still shocked at how certain adults responded to this,” Quick said. Source: KDVR, 10-31-17
Rhonda Kemp Shoffner, 41, Middletown, PA: 2½ to 5 years in prison after pleading guilty to aggravated assault of her preteen daughter for failure to properly recite bible verses in March. Prosecutors said the girl was forced to kneel on the bathroom floor and had her head slammed into the wall each time she made a mistake.
Shoffner had been on a 3-day drinking binge. Source: Fox 43, 10-26-17
William C. Pounds III, 49, Macon, GA: Life in prison with no parole after a jury found him guilty of malice murder. Pounds, pastor at King’s Chapel Memorial Christian Methodist Episcopal Church and an Air National Guard senior master sergeant, was convicted of the 2015 shooting death of his fiancée, Kendra Jackson, 46.
Pounds tried to make it look like Jackson killed herself after learning he was also engaged to another woman. During a 911 call, he can be heard telling the dispatcher “I was trying to take the gun away from her.” Source: Macon Telegraph, 10-24-17
James A. Johnson, 58, Martinsville, VA: 11 years in prison for convictions on distributing child pornography and 4 counts of aggravated sexual battery. Johnson, associate pastor at Mountain Valley Baptist Church, was a family friend of the victim, now 16, and touched her sexually when she visited his home in 2014-15.
According to testimony, Johnson also had neighborhood boys touch her and made a video of her touching herself and shared it. Source: Martinsville Bulletin, 10-21-17
Justin White, 38, Camby, IN: 7 years in prison with 4 years suspended after pleading guilty to 2 counts of contributing to the delinquency of a minor. White, who resigned as senior pastor at First Christian Church in March, admitted staging a home burglary with a 16-year-old in order to scam his insurance company. The boy alleged White owed him $11,000 for supplying him with hydrocodone and oxycodone. Source: The Republic, 10-20-17
George Waddles Sr., 69, Chicago: 30 months’ probation after pleading guilty to aggravated criminal sexual abuse. Waddles, former president of the National Baptist Congress and ex-pastor of Zion Hill Missionary Church, was charged with molesting a 15-year-old girl during a counseling session.
“You called my mom every Sunday to see if you could meet with me again, see if I forgave you and not press charges,” the girl said in a victim impact statement. Source: WLS, 10-20-17
Robert T. Davis, 51, Henrietta, TX: 8 years’ deferred adjudication after pleading guilty to sexual abuse of a child younger than 14 the day before his trial was to start. Davis, former Henrietta Church of Christ pastor and a teacher/coach at Wichita Christian School, was accused of incidents, including sexual penetration, between May 2009 and May 2013. He resigned as pastor in 2016 when the warrant was served. Source: Times Record News, 10-18-17
Samuel Hiller, 59, Queens, NY: 1 to 3 years and prison and $4 million restitution after pleading guilty to grand larceny for stealing state and local funds meant for 3- to 5-year-olds with special needs in 2005-12. Hiller, an Orthodox rabbi, was assistant director of Island Child Development Center. Source: NY Post, 10-17-17
Erik Hughes, 51, Mapleton, UT: Concurrent 1-to-15-year terms on 2 counts of forcible sexual abuse and zero to 5 years for tampering with a witness. Hughes, a Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints bishop, pleaded guilty to multiple assaults on 2 teen boys from his church ward over a period of years starting in 2012.
One victim alleged Hughes “touched and measured his penis” and gave him Viagra. Mormon bishops have duties similar to those of a pastor, priest or rabbi but are unpaid. Source: Salt Lake Tribune, 10-11-17
Jeffrey Bondi, 48, Virginia Beach, VA: 10 years in prison after a judge found him guilty in June of felony sexual penetration in 2001 when he was youth minister at Galilee Episcopal Church. Margaret Ann Viola, now 34, testified she was babysitting Bondi’s 3 children when he fondled and penetrated her digitally on the sofa. His pregnant wife wasn’t home. Viola reported it the next day to the church and Bondi resigned but no one told police.
Bondi now suffers from Parkinson’s and shakes from tremors. Allegations by 2 other female teens about assaults in 1997 and 1992 were admitted at trial. “Back then you were pretty much a serial sexual abuser and no one did anything about it,” Judge Thomas Padrick said at sentencing. “It’s just amazing.” Source: Virginian-Pilot, 10-10-17
Richard R. Boyle, 70, Portland, OR: 2 years’ probation, 40 hours’ community service, $200 fine and fees and loss of driver’s license for 90 days after pleading guilty to reckless driving. Boyle, rector of the Sanctuary of Our Sorrowful Mother, was involved in a 2004 crash on Interstate 5 when he was a Catholic parish priest in Cottage Grove.
He wasn’t ticketed at the scene but an arrest warrant was issued in 2005 after he missed a court appearance. His attorney claimed that Boyle had no idea he’d been charged with reckless driving until recently when he returned to Oregon after serving parishes in California and learned he was wanted.
The accident report said he’d made a U-turn in front of an oncoming vehicle and told a trooper he’d fallen asleep. An empty Xanax container was found in his car, and tests showed the presence of Ambien and a prescription antidepressant. Source: Register-Guard, 10-10-17
Robbie Wilkerson, 50, Chicago: 37 months in prison and $440,964 restitution after pleading guilty to wire fraud and money laundering. He’s founding pastor of New Birth Christian Center, which in 2008-10 operated a summer food program to provide meals to low-income students when schools were not in session. The program claimed to have provided about 267,000 meals but actually served fewer than 100,000.
Tasha Wilkerson, his wife, pleaded guilty to theft of government funds and was sentenced to 1 year and 1 day in prison and $40,001 restitution. Three other church officials pleaded guilty in May and were sentenced earlier. Source: Sun-Times, 10-7-17
The Catholic Archdiocese of Agana, Guam, has now been sued by 142 plaintiffs who allege sex abuse by clergy. Capuchin priest Jack Niland allegedly raped plaintiff “J.C.” during several confessions around 1979 when he was a 10-year-old altar boy. Niland is the 12th priest to be accused.
“During one incident, while J.C. was on his knees with his eyes closed confessing, Niland pushed J.C. forward and pulled J.C.’s pants down. Niland then hunched over J.C. and began penetrating him,” the claim says. Source: Pacific Daily News, 10-31-17
The Catholic Diocese of Yakima, WA, is being sued by a man, now 21, who alleges he was molested in 2012 by Gustavo Gómez Santos, 52, when he was pastor at St. Juan Diego Parish in Cowiche. The diocese removed him from ministry in June and is seeking to have him defrocked. Source: AP, 10-26-17
The Episcopal Diocese of Oregon and Bishop Michael Hanley are being sued for $845,000 by Mary Macy, former diocesan finance officer who alleges she was fired in 2016 for whistle-blowing about Hanley’s assault on a female priest and misuse of money.
Macy claims Hanley sexually harassed Margaret McMurren in Salem in 2014 while he visited her congregation, Prince of Peace Episcopal Church. McMurren’s attorney, Harris Matarazzo, told The Oregonian that at least 6 people witnessed the incidents. McMurren reported them to the church hierarchy. After an investigation, Hanley was told to have a “facilitated conversation” with McMurren to apologize but that never happened, Matarazzo said. Source: Oregonian, 10-25-17
Robert Genevicz, 67, Stratford, CT, is being sued for reneging on a civil settlement. Genevicz, former pastor of Stratford Baptist Church, had agreed to sell a house he owns in Maine to settle a claim brought by Cathy Devack, the daughter of an alleged victim. He’s accused of stealing nearly $400,000 from 2 parishioners, both now deceased, and pleaded guilty in February to larceny but hasn’t been sentenced.
“Defendant Genevicz has breached the agreement in that he failed to immediately list for sale with a licensed realtor that property located in Thomaston, Maine,” states the suit, which seeks an order forcing him to sell the house and turn over the proceeds. Source: CT Post, 10-23-17
The Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago is being sued for at least $100,000 by “John Doe,” who alleges he was sexually abused as a boy in 2000-06 by convicted child abuser and former priest Daniel McCormack. McCormack, 48, was recently declared by Cook County Judge Dennis Porter to be a sexually violent person, clearing the way for him to be incarcerated indefinitely even though he has served his entire sentence and was eligible for parole in 2009. Source: Sun-Times, 10-19-17
First Baptist Church, Columbia, SC, its pastor and 2 other staff members are defendants in a suit alleging that youth leader Andrew McCraw molested plaintiff “Joel Doe,” now 17, starting when he was 11 and continuing for several years.
To expose the church’s alleged pattern of concealing abuse, the suit seeks an order to unseal three sealed suits against First Baptist and an ex-deacon, John Hubner, 69, convicted in 2002 for lewd acts on a child and now serving a 36-year sentence. Source: The State, 10-13-17
Joe Bradley Petrey, Brookwood, AL, and 11 staff and board members of the Tuscaloosa County School System are being sued by Abigail Weissenbach, now 21, who alleges Petrey manipulated her into having sex when she was 17 and he was a 30-year-old teacher and coach.
Their relationship lasted about 18 months, it’s alleged, even though 2 other teachers first told administrators about it in late 2013. “He kind of coached me in Christianity and talked to me a lot about that and would ask me to sit behind his desk, and it really just grew from there really quickly and it turned into something before I really knew it was going down that path,” Weissenbach told a reporter.
The suit alleges Petrey told her that God told him in a dream to tell her she was beautiful and that he would “fondle her underneath a blanket” while he was showing movies in class. She’d earlier revealed to him she was sexually abused as a child. Source: al.com/NY Post, 10-12-17
A $500,000 settlement from the Catholic Archdiocese of New York was awarded to former priest Stephen Ryan-Vuotto through the archdiocese’s Independent Reconciliation and Compensation Program. Ryan-Vuotto alleged he was assaulted more than 50 times starting at age 14 with sex acts that ranged from fondling to sodomy between 1975-85 by Robert V. Lott, a priest who worked in the Greenwich Village and Harlem communities until his death in 2002.
Ryan-Vuotto was ordained in 1995. In 2008, he asked for a leave of absence after disclosing his own sexual abuse to superiors and now has left the church. Source: West Village Patch, 10-30-17
John Mulubwa, 50, Mansa, Zambia, was ordered to pay 10,000 kwacha ($990) to Chishala Kalukwembe, 34, for committing adultery with Kalukwembe’s wife. Mulubwa is an elder for Christian Missions in Many Lands. Kalukwembe sued after allegedly catching Mulubwa having sex with his wife “in the bush.” They’ve been married for 18 years. Source: Daily Mail, 10-26-17
Two New York Catholic dioceses will pay $1.8 million to settle with 6 victims of childhood sexual abuse by priests. Victims’ attorney Michael Reck, in revealing the payouts, also named 2 previously unidentified Bronx priests as predators: Herbert D’Argenio and Casper Wolf, both deceased.
One woman and 5 men were part of the settlement through the Independent Reconciliation and Compensation Program. “They did nothing to tell parents. And they did nothing to reach out to the survivors for years. Cardinal Dolan should be ashamed of this,” said victim Joelle Casteix, who was not part of the settlement. Source: NY Daily News, 10-25-17
Peter Miqueli, 54, a New York Catholic priest sued by parishioners in 2015 for alleged misconduct involving a gay “boy toy,” was ordered to reimburse St. Frances de Chantal Parish $22,450 but won’t be prosecuted for criminal misconduct, said Bronx District Attorney Darcel Clark. “This investigation by the Economic Crimes Bureau found that Father Miqueli was improperly reimbursed for personal expenses,” Clark said.
“The Archdiocese has attempted to investigate the other, more sensational, accusations of morally abhorrent behavior, but, to date, nothing has been brought forward to substantiate them, and Father Miqueli continues to deny them,” Clark added. Source: NY Daily News, 10-30-17
Court records of Catholic priests Sabine Griego, Jason Sigler and Arthur Perrault were ordered unsealed by New Mexico Judge Alan Malott. The records include correspondence of 3 Santa Fe archbishops and “pleadings, deposition testimony, investigative reports and settlement proceedings.”
Records available for public viewing won’t include settlement amounts paid by the archdiocese or names of alleged victims. Records were obtained in the course of lawsuits filed by attorney Brad Hall, who has brought more than 70 suits for plaintiffs since 2011. Source: Albuquerque Journal, 10-12-17
Ibrahim Omerdic, 62, Melbourne, Australia, is appealing to the Supreme Court his conviction for marrying a 14-year-old girl to a 34-year-old man, claiming the Islamic ceremony in November 2016 was not recognized by the federal Marriage Act so he should not have been charged.
Prosecutor Wendy Abraham said Omerdic, a practicing imam since 1987, should know that Islamic marriages are recognized under Australian law. Source: The Australian, 10-9-17
Kris Bauta, Port Aransas, TX, was removed as pastor of St. Joseph’s Catholic Parish “for the pastoral good of the church,” according to a letter from Bishop Michael Mulvey of the Diocese of Corpus Christi. Bauta said in published reports that he was not given a specific reason for the removal.
Media reported that diocesan officials met with parishioners, who were told Bauta was removed because an audit allegedly showed substantial financial discrepancies over a period of years. Source: KZTV, 10-23-17
Hubertus Leteng, 58, resigned as Catholic bishop of the Diocese of Ruteng, Indonesia, after a Vatican probe of allegations he had a mistress and secretly borrowed $124,000 from church entities without accounting for it.
Leteng claimed the money was spent to educate poor children but declined to provide details. The Vatican didn’t explain why Leteng was leaving before the usual retirement age of 75. Source: Crux, 10-11-17
Oscar Turrion, 49, Rome, resigned as rector of the Pontifical International College Maria Mater Ecclesiae, a Legionaries of Christ seminary. Turrion, a native of Spain, acknowledged he has fathered a son and a daughter with the same woman.
The conservative Catholic order said in a statement that Turrion would leave the priesthood. Marcial Maciel Degollado founded the order in Mexico in 1941. For decades, the Vatican dismissed accusations by seminarians that he’d abused them sexually but concluded in 2006 that accusations were true.
After Maciel’s death in 2008, it was revealed he’d fathered several children with at least 2 women and used illegal drugs. Source: Reuters, 10-7-17
Michael Hodges, Birmingham, AL, was removed as pastor of the Greystone campus of Church of the Highlands, which has 15 branches attended by over 40,000 worshippers. Chris Hodges, his father and church founder, said the removal was due to an unspecified “moral failing.”
Michael Hodges had been on the church staff since 2015 with other titles, including director of ministry partnership and placement and as a member of the Highlands College Team. Source: al.com, 10-6-17
The Diocese of Rockville Centre, Long Island, NY, is creating a compensation program for victims of clergy sex abuse. It’s the 8th-largest U.S. Catholic diocese with an estimated 1.4 million members.
The compensation program will be modeled on ones established by the Archdiocese of New York and the Diocese of Brooklyn. Victims deemed eligible for compensation must agree not to pursue legal action against the church in the future.
Attorney Michael Dowd said he has at least 35 cases in Rockville Centre, 80 cases in Brooklyn and 20 in the New York archdiocese. Source: Newsday, 10-7-17
Email: [email protected]
FFRF Member Karlen Keto showed the power of social media.
Karlen sent FFRF a newspaper clipping from the May 20 Brunswick (Md.) Citizen, written by John P. Flannery. Here is an edited version of that article.
“At last week’s Brunswick Council meeting, Mayor Jeffrey Snoots had a Christian pastor come to the podium to offer a prayer. What ensued afterwards was a flame of exchanges on social media, debating the question of whether the mayor’s impulse was a good idea.
“Phil said, as an objection, that it was ‘time to get the Satanists involved if you want religion in government.’ Karlen said, if this practice is going forward, ‘Be sure to include secular words of wisdom to open the meetings to even the field with sectarian prayers. Keep the wall of separation of church and state.’
“Keith said, ‘How about everyone keeps their religion to themselves so no one gets offended. If you want to pray, go to your place of worship.’ Snoots heard the debate and has discontinued the practice of prayer at the Town Council meeting.
“Last night was the first and last opening prayer,” he posted. “I will contact the other clergy who have signed up and let them know we ae not continuing the opening prayer.”
In his letter to FFRF, Karlen wrote: “I’m so proud that enough citizens spoke up to discontinue prayer at city council meetings. Only one prayer and the practice was halted.”
FFRF Board Member and Portland Chapter founder Cheryl Kolbe sent the following note to Cynthia Fuhrman, the managing director of the Portland (Ore.) Center Stage at The Armory.
“I recently attended ‘Fun House’ (an amazing play which was very well done). As they were opening the theater doors, I heard on the loudspeaker the lines something like: ‘We welcome all races, all religions, all countries of origin, all sexual orientations, all genders.’
“I am definitely in favor of being all-inclusive. If you continue to say this at performances, I wonder if you would consider including nonreligion in some way. As an atheist, all religions excludes me, as I do not have a religion. And the courts have been mixed concerning whether the term ‘religion’ includes those who have no religion. According to the IRS, there is a significant difference between a religion and any other 501(c)(3) organization.
“Thank you for considering this option. According to various studies, atheists are one of the most distrusted groups. Being clearly included in your statement would be most welcomed and positive.” — Cheryl Kolbe
The response she got from Fuhrman was: “As a fellow atheist, I appreciate your perspective on this (and hope I would even if I wasn’t). I’m open to your suggestions on this; and also interested in trying to be inclusive while not making the laundry list so long that our announcement isn’t actually heard! How do you respond to the idea of removing the “all religions” notation, and making it “all beliefs and creeds?” I like the idea of actually removing the word “religion,” because many people engage in spiritual practices that they would never classify as a religion; and those of us who don’t really identify with anything organized around theology could, I think, find ourselves in that language.”
Kolbe replied: “What about this language? ‘We welcome all races, all nationalities, all sexual orientations, all genders, and people of any religion or none at all.’”
Fuhrman responded: “I like your solution a lot! Simple and clear. It will take us a while to get everything updated (our statement in the printed playbill, for instance, and the one for the next three shows is already printed), but we can easily update our announcement!
Thanks for your good thinking on this, much appreciated.”
Here is FFRF’s latest installment of a variety of some of the mail it receives from nonmembers, reprinted as received.
I will pray for you: You hate “religion”. Does this also mean you refuse the existence of God? If so, what joy could you possibly find in life? How truly sad and miserable you must be when you try to understand life and there’s nothing there to turn to except your own ignorance. Your ego makes you force your uneducated beliefs upon others so they too will suffer. Are you that sick and twisted? I truly pity your God-given souls for what you’re doing. — George Rohrs
Recent interest in Alabama schools: It seems to appear that you have nothing better to do than to stick your nose into other people’s business, a habit that is prone to people from the northern region of this great nation. You threaten my school district and now you are after Birmingham. Let me tell you this, it was God, Guns and Guts that made this country free. Evidently, you all do not believe in that, so you can bring your law books, Supreme Court judges and your sorry ass, and I will meet you with my Bible, my guns and my guts at the Alabama border and we can fight it out and we will see who is standing when the battle is all over,the gun smoke clears I am fully confident that I will be standing . — Brad Strange
Alabama: Stay the hell out of Alabama none of y’all are welcome. Blow your smoke in California they’d love ignorance out there would fit right in. — Richard Haywood
HTHS: I am a resident of the town of Trussville, Alabama, and a 14 year old who currently attends this high school. I am asking you to step down your claims from your liberal soft spotted polytheistic loving minds. This is a Christian conservative community, who wants nothing to do with your ridiculous excuse for a “professional” business. I am asking you now to step down your claims. Your “concerned parent” is a butthurt nimrod like the rest of your organization. So, get out of our town, and go do something like get a girlfriend and move out of your parent’s basement for the first time. That is more professional and adult than this joke. — Caleb Hickman
Religion: You can help me by shoving your anti Christ agenda up your collective ass. Go screw yourselves and stop messing in others affairs and get the hell out of Alabama. — Alex Johnson
SAD: Sad that such SICK FUCKS as your kind even breathe. — Robert Clemons
Christian flags: Stop messing with Texans. There is no separation of Church and state. Constitutional Attorney KrisAnne Hall can prove that. — Carlina Gottschalk
Shame on you: There are a lot of scum bag organizatons, but you rank right near the top. Demanding that a Texas school remove a faith flag or you will sue. 29,000 sorry ass members and you drive the train, BS, scum bags. — William Leach
True Freedom From Religion: I AM A HIGH PRIEST IN THE OCCULT!! YET I AM MORE IN CONTROL OF MY MUCH DEEPER INTELLIGENT THOUGHTS & BELIEFS SO AS TO SEPERATE MYSELF FROM MOST OTHER PEOPLE BY ALLOWING EVERYONE TO FOLLOW THIER OWN PATHS IN LIFE!! I THINK YOU SHOULD FOLLOW THAT PATH AND BELIEF SYSTEM TOO & “”LET EVERYONE DO WTF THEY WANT TO””!! NO ONES FORCING ANYTHING ON YOU!! RETURN THE SAME RESPECT OR IN THE END YOU TOO SHALL END UP FULL OF VOID WORDS AND DESPISED BY THE MASSES!! IS THAT YOUR TRUE GOAL?? — Randall Richardson
God and Country: You need to keep your ass out of east Texas. — Garry Thomas
Reading Your Site for an Essay: When I first read some of the content on your site, I was angry. I was angry because you take texts from the Bible and twist them to mean what you want them to mean, not what they actually mean in the context they were written. It would be very easy for a person to believe that nonsense. After I prayed, I felt sorry for you. You don’t know or don’t want to admit that God is love. Let me put it in simple terms. Jesus had a purpose. Because we, human beings, are sinful, meaning we don’t always make good choices, God sent His Son Jesus to take our punishment so we wouldn’t have to. Is there anyone you would make that kind of sacrifice for? God doesn’t want us to be separated from Him for eternity. We choose. He gave us free will. We choose to either accept or reject Him. — Lena Walker
MY FREEDOM: EVERYTHING YOU STAND FOR IS TAKING OUR CHRISTIAN FREEDOMS AWAY!!!!! PEOPLE LIKE YOU ARE WHAT IS WRONG WITH MY COUNTRY!!!! I PRAY THAT YOU ACCEPT CHRIST BEFORE IT’S TOO LATE. LEAVE THE LaPOYNER, TEXAS FLAG ALONE, BECAUSE I GUARANTEE YOU THAT THOSE THAT BUILT THAT COMMUNITY, WOULD DEFINITELY NOT HAVE WANTED YOU THERE!! — Heather D. Montrose-Barker
FFRF Ruining America: You are a sad disgrace for an organization. You take rights away because our country has become too politically correct. I pray the Supreme Court one day shuts your group down. You will regret one day what you do. Hell is a hot place. — Ray Mashburn
F*ck You: Stay to hell out of South Georgia we will pray when we want to assholes ! Not from Coweta County but now you have my opinion !!! — Benjamin Kennedy
Your attack on prayers: I am black male Christian, and I heard about your attacks on Georgia high schools saying prayers during football practice. Let me tell you this, you pieces of atheist shit. You are a disgrace to this fucking country. It’s garbage like YOU that is causing all the “culture wars” which will inevitably lead to a civil war. And let me tell you this, I am locked and loaded and ready to fight you, you sick stupid pieces of fucking shit. You should TRY to tell ME that I can’t say what I want to say when I want to say it. I will take great pleasure in first tearing out your fucking atheist eyes with my bare fucking fingers. You are garbage. You are trash. You are filth. Get the fuck out of this fucking country, you pieces of fucking shit! How DARE you try to take away my freedom or the freedoms of my fellow Americans, you filthy fucking pieces of fucking shit! My uncle is a pastor, so what you got to say about that, you stupid COMMIES!! — Terrance DeShawn
Your souls: Save souls separation is devils way that is why mess today — Martha Racketa