FFRF’s Winter Solstice celebration!

FFRF Co-President Dan Barker plays piano while Susan Hofer sings some nontraditional tunes. The pair finished with a crowd sing-along of “Auld Lang Syne.” (Photo by Chris Line)
Ivy Barker is excited to take home some leftover cookies from the party. (Photo by Chris Line)
FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor holds up a copy of the full-page ad that would run the next day (Dec. 21) in the New York Times. The ad calls out President Trump for pushing an agenda that goes against the Establishment Clause of separating religion from government. (Photo by Chris Line)
Flowers, including this amaryllis, helped brighten the atmosphere on the next-to-shortest day of sunlight of the year. (Photo by Chris Line)
FFRF members and staff listen to Barker and Hofer during the Dec. 20 celebration. Donations by FFRF members and staff during the party raised nearly $500 and an overflowing bin with 130 pounds of nonperishable food items for Second Harvest Foodbank in Madison, Wis. (Photo by Chris Line)
Members were treated to appetizers, cheeses, “deviled” eggs and plenty of sweets. (Photo by Chris Line)
FFRF Member Jeff Brinckman, left, chats with FFRF Associate Counsel Sam Grover and Communications Coordinator Lauryn Seering. (Photo by Chris Line)
FFRF members and staff mingle before the start of the annual Winter Solstice party in the Charlie Brooks Auditorium at Freethought Hall. (Photo by Chris Line)

FFRF solstice greetings from around the country

Elaine Stone stands next to the Bill of Rights display sign she made by taking the image and printing it on an outdoor mesh in Walnut Creek, Calif. She writes: “FedEx/Kinko’s did a great job of reproducing it. I just wrote in permanent marker, ‘Solstice is the Reason for the Season.’ I didn’t go for an explanation of what it meant because all I cared about was that there was something there to counteract the large crèche that is there every year. I live in a senior community and the crèche and my sign are on private property. The really good news is that it hasn’t been vandalized (yet), in contrast to our previous three constructions, all of which were knocked down. It makes a real statement without being offensive. The sign has been received very well by the few I have encountered who have mentioned it.”
Dan Barker, right, is joined by other members of the Washington FFRF chapter, Unfettered Freethinkers of South Sound, which put up the sign outside the Capitol.
FFRF Member Paul Novak put up in the Iowa Capitol the Bill of Rights “nativity” display in December. The exhibit made its debut in 2016 in direct response to a nativity scene that went up for the first time in the Capitol. Among those who spoke at the nativity inaugural was then-Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad, who lent an official air to the proceedings. Branstad appeared to endorse the religious exhibit by remarking, “We are especially honored and pleased to have the nativity scene here in the Capitol building.” In December, Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds attended the opening ceremony of the Thomas More Society-installed nativity for its repeat run, as did a state representative. The impropriety of such piety in the heart of Iowa’s legislative body has obliged FFRF to put up its own “nativity.”
Members of the Greater Sacramento Chapter of FFRF were able to put up the “nativity” display outside the California Capitol in December for the second straight year. From left to right, chapter president Judy Saint, Kathy Johnson, Janet Thew, Karrie Lucas and John Lucas.

Another FFRF banner vandalized

Please join FFRF’s Resurrection Pledge Fund campaign

In what has unfortunately turned into an annual tradition, one of FFRF’s Winter Solstice banners was vandalized at the state Capitol in Washington.

Darrell Barker, president of FFRF’s chapter Unfettered Freethinkers of South Sound, got a call on Dec. 20 from someone at the Washington Capitol in Olympia saying that FFRF’s Winter Solstice sign was damaged. The banner sits not far from a nativity scene. On inspection, Barker saw that the ties had been cut and the frame twisted and toppled. Barker quickly restored the banner and frame.

The FFRF banner has been erected the last few years to counter a large nativity display that has appeared in recent times at the Capitol. In 2008, FFRF installed its sign inside the Capitol building to counter a life-sized nativity exhibit allowed for a second year within the Statehouse. Placement of the sign that year set off such a firestorm, when Fox News host Bill O’Reilly and others condemned its presence, that the governor ended public forums inside the Capitol. That was FFRF’s goal. However, the state is now permitting displays outside the Capitol, and a nativity scene has been placed there by a private group in a number of subsequent years. That’s why the FFRF banner is also on the scene.

The vandalism to the Washington display is just the latest in a line of misdeeds done to FFRF’s signs and banners. In early December 2016, one of FFRF’s signs was covered in spray paint in Boca Raton, Fla., within 24 hours of it being put up. Shortly thereafter, a Winter Solstice “Let Reason Prevail” banner Manassas, Va., was stolen. And in Shelton, Conn., a banner was slashed by a vandal a few days before Christmas.

To alleviate some of the problems with the vandalism, beginning in late 2015, FFRF created a Resurrection Pledge Fund so that those displays can be “resurrected” in a timely manner. Donors may pledge any amount, but would pay only if any of FFRF’s displays are stolen, vandalized or destroyed. Donate at ffrf.org/donate and select “Resurrection Fund” in the drop-down menu. With your help, we can ensure that thieves and vandals cannot censor FFRF’s freethought message without triggering a donation that will fund even more FFRF displays.

“Our sign is a reminder of the real reason for the season, the Winter Solstice,” says Dan Barker, Foundation co-president and brother of Darrell. “Christians don’t own the month of December.

FFRF’s Winter Solstice sign outside the Washington Capitol was vandalized.
Dan Barker, right, is joined by other members of the Washington FFRF chapter, Unfettered Freethinkers of South Sound, which put up the sign outside the Capitol.

Join FFRF’s ‘Out of the Closet’ virtual billboard campaign

Declare and share your nonbelief! Although the nonreligious — nearly one in four U.S. citizens — are a significant segment of the world population, many Americans have never knowingly met a nonbeliever. You can help dispel myths, educate and promote reason by  adding your voice, face and message to FFRF’s friendly neighborhood freethinker campaign.

FFRF’s “Out of the Closet” billboards and bus signs are going up around the country. Although we can’t put everyone on a real billboard, every nonbeliever can participate in this unique “cyberboard” campaign by going to ffrf.org/out. (Yours might even be chosen, with your permission, for an actual billboard.)

This is your chance to proclaim you’re a freethinker and why. It’s working for the gay rights movement. Now it’s time for atheists and agnostics to come out of our closet. Many faces make Enlightenment work.

To be most effective, keep your statement succinct. Participants may wish to coin a quotable quote about religion that you’d like to see on a real bus sign or advertisement, or to make an affirmative statement about being a freethinker. We encourage you to really “come out of the closet” and use your full name. Your “Out of the Closet” statement can become your Facebook or Twitter image, or even your banner.  You can include things such as age, title, occupation, location or description for a personal touch.

Out of the Closet

Secular invocation: Donald B. Ardell

Donald B. Ardell

St. Pete Beach, Fla.

City Commission

Nov. 28, 2017

Donald Ardell

FFRF Member Donald Ardell writes: “Knowing the mayor of St. Pete Beach, a fellow triathlete and good friend, I managed an invitation to deliver an invocation. I enjoyed the experience.”

Here is his invocation:

I rise to offer a secular invocation that speaks to all citizens of St. Pete Beach. No need to bow your heads or close your eyes to consider a few reflections upon ideals and values that permanently unite, as opposed to temporal issues that momentarily separate us — in St. Pete Beach and elsewhere in America.

We share values that override by many times the hot-button issues of the day that divide us.

Yes, the people of this town, like Americans in the great cities and rural communities across the land, have varying passions about our leaders and our political parties. We have very different preferences, for or against choices surrounding topics such as gun control, health care, taxation, family planning, immigration, global warming and religious privileges — and even a few not-so-great issues, like whether football players should be allowed to take a knee during the playing of the national anthem.

But the ideals and values we share can and surely will override these temporal perturbations. I refer to ideals and values not found in holy books, but in the U.S. Constitution and the Declaration of Independence. I refer to values concerning human rights, safeguards in favor of the family, provisions for education of the young, care for the health and well-being of all our people, support for critical thought, for reason and science and the pursuit of happiness.

These secular treasures give us our moral guides, regardless of which religions, if any, we embrace.

America’s greatest orator of the 19th century, Robert Green Ingersoll, suggested that intellectual liberty is our surest moral guide. Such intelligence leads to the growth of the ethical, of the idea of justice, of conscience, of charity and of self-denial, when necessary, for the common good.

Such liberty is as holy as our Constitution, as sacred as our flag. It is the blossom and fruit of justice, the perfume of mercy. Intellectual liberty, in summary, is the seed and soil, the air and light, the dew and rain of American progress, love and joy. 

If you have recently given a secular invocation, please join FFRF’s Nothing Fails Like Prayer contest.

In Memoriam: Janet Benshoof — A freedom fighter for women

By Annie Laurie Gaylor

Janet Benshoof

I opened my New York Times on Dec. 21 to be greeted with the sad news that “Janet Benshoof, women’s champion, dies at 70.” I immediately thought back to my opportunity to rub shoulders with this brilliant woman.

I met Janet — a brainy, Harvard-trained attorney who quickly became a star reproductive rights litigator and innovator — after inviting her to speak at FFRF’s national convention. I and my mother, Anne Gaylor, FFRF’s principal founder and an early abortion rights activist, were especially impressed with Janet’s commitment to abortion as a right under the Establishment Clause. She “got it,” clearly understanding the religious basis of the war against reproductive rights.

We invited her to a convention in 1992, but didn’t get to meet her until the following year. To our disappointment, a sudden illness forced her to cancel at the last minute. So we joked when introducing her in Huntsville, Ala., in 1993 that Janet was “a speaker worth waiting a year for.” And, indeed, she was.

In her talk, “Fundamental Rights and Fundamentalists: Is There a Middle Ground?” she told us, presciently: “When I talk about fundamentalism, I’m not just talking about the old-fashioned, conservative sects that we knew about 20 or 30 years ago. I’m talking about the growing political religious structure in this country that seeks to oppose religious freedom for everyone and impose a religious theocracy.”

We awarded Janet, as president of the Center for Reproductive Life & Policy, a “Civil Liberties Heroine” award. Among her many accomplishments up until that point was arguing a case before the Supreme Court against the Chastity Act passed by Congress. Janet argued against this based on the Establishment Clause, a strategy my mother and I felt had been sorely missing in legal arguments on the right to abortion. The Justice Department, ultimately, as a result of the court’s action in her case, was forced to adopt rigorous guidelines ensuring it didn’t promote religion.

She recounted that her first big abortion case was Harris v. McRae, lost by a 5-4 vote in the U.S. Supreme Court in 1980. That unfortunate ruling affirmed the right of Congress to pass the Hyde Amendment, cutting off federal funding for almost all abortions for women receiving Medicaid. Today, about 35 states likewise cut off state funding, leaving indigent women and the working poor out in the cold when it comes to exercising their constitutional rights under Roe v. Wade. (And that’s why I’m co-administrator of the Women’s Medical Fund volunteer abortion rights charity, which helped more than 1,000 such Wisconsin residents pay for abortion care in 2017.)

As Janet explained to our sympathetic audience: “The Supreme Court in McRae struck down our claim that the Hyde Amendment violated the Establishment Clause.” But she noted her strenuous objection to such reasoning: “There was no secular justification for this discrimination when you looked at the legislative history and when you looked at what the law could do in monetary terms.”

I was pleased to sit by Janet during the banquet before her award and get a little better acquainted. After the evening was over, I happened to pass by Janet speaking animatedly to her husband on a pay phone at an open booth near the hotel ballroom (remember, this was 1993). It’s said those who overhear talk about themselves often hear ill. But my gratitude for her outstanding legal activism and leadership turned even warmer when I heard her generally sing praises of the convention. She then pulled out a notepad and started to read notes she had taken during Dan’s concert of some of his witty lyrics. We felt we’d met a kindred “nonspirit.”

Her feisty activism included once taking out a full-page ad in The New York Times when she was with the ACLU to embarrass the state of Utah, after she discovered a provision on the books could be read to mean the death penalty for women who’ve had abortions. The provision was revoked.

But her career, as the Times’ significant obituary shows, extended far beyond the early 1990s when we’d been more closely observing it. Janet had initially directed the ACLU’s reproductive freedom project, then went on to found the separate Center for Reproductive Rights, a group that took the lead in litigating the endless attacks against Roe v. Wade. More recently, I learned, Janet established the Global Justice Center, which took such actions as training judges in Iraq on how to prosecute sexual violence against women under international law.

I was fascinated to learn that Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, as Janet’s longtime friend, had officiated at her wedding. And I was comforted by the Times’ report that five days before her death from a rare and aggressive cancer, Ginsburg had sent Janet a note reading, in part: “Martin Luther King said the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice. To make that so it takes people of your commitment, will and grit.”

Janet used her legal degree to become a freedom fighter for women and equal justice, making an enormous difference both to individual women and the law.

Janet Benshoof’s commitment to equal rights under the law — to the forgotten women deprived of abortion rights due to religiously inspired discrimination — wins her a special place in my roster of “immortals” — whose work and legacy  lives after them.

Annie Laurie Gaylor is co-president of FFRF.

Black Collar Crime (January/February 2018)

Compiled by Bill Dunn

Arrested / Charged

Harry L. Thomas, 74, Medford, NJ: Aggravated sexual assault, 3 counts of sexual assault and 4 counts of endangering the welfare of minors. Thomas, pastor at Come Alive Church, is charged with assaults against 4 minors between 1999 and 2015.

He’s also co-founder of Creation Festival, said to be the largest Christian rock festival in the U.S. Source: Courier-Post, 12-7-17

Renato C. Bosi, 57, Barrigada, Guam: Child abuse and 4 counts of criminal sexual conduct. Bosi, pastor of Living Lighthouse Church, a Baptist congregation, allegedly touched a teen girl’s private parts at his home in 2016. She told police that Bosi sent her inappropriate messages, including one that said, “Pastors get tempted, too.” Source: Pacific Daily News, 12-6-17

Mark W. Miller, 48, Sand Springs, OK: 2 counts of obtaining money by false pretenses over $500. Miller, lead pastor at Broadway Baptist Church, is accused of scamming 7 parishioners out of about $46,000 by borrowing money and refusing to pay it back. Sources said he has a gambling addiction. Source: Sand Springs Leader, 12-5-17

Pablo C. Cartagena, Panorama City, CA: Multiple sexual assault counts. Cartagena, youth pastor at an unidentified church on Van Nuys Blvd. from 2007-12, is charged with assaulting his 3 stepchildren and a 10-year-old family friend. Alleged victims are a girl between 6 and 12 years old in 2005-06, a teen girl assaulted twice in 2008-09 in the shower, a developmentally disabled girl assaulted in her bedroom in 2008-09, and the 10-year-old, assaulted in connection with a church function. Source: KABC, 12-2-17

Manuel Mora, 52, South Brunswick, NJ: Endangering the welfare of a child and criminal sexual contact. Mora, pastor at All Nations Church, is accused of having “ongoing sexual contact” with a 17-year-old girl. Source: nj.com, 12-1-17

Ricardo Bauza, Hobbs, NM: Misdemeanor criminal sexual contact. Bauza, pastor of St. Helena Catholic Church, has not been seen in Hobbs since August but an arrest warrant has been issued. According to the complaint, Bauza is accused of getting in the shower at the rectory with a 24-year-old church member who had asked to use Bauza’s shower because his wasn’t working and then washing the man’s genitals with a loofah and his hand.

The incident was first reported to the Diocese of Las Cruces, the complaint said. Bauza is diocesan co-director of vocations.

The complaint also states a woman told police she saw Bauza standing naked in a hallway twice in 2016 with his back turned to her as she was cleaning the rectory. She alleged she overheard him telling the man it was “okay” to shower with him, likening it to a “boy’s locker room.” Source: News-Sun, 11-30-17

Todd S. Tomko, 54, Quincy, IL: Felony cruelty to children and 3 counts each of aggravated sexual battery and indecent liberties with a child. Tomko, pastor of Parkview Church since his retirement as a U.S. Marine colonel in 2016, is accused of incidents with 3 alleged victims in Virginia starting in 2002.

Tomko was sentenced to 60 days’ confinement and fined $10,000 in May 2016 in Virginia after pleading guilty to conduct unbecoming of an officer and a gentleman for having an inappropriate relationship with a female Marine corporal. He also pleaded guilty to possession of anabolic steroids and unprescribed testosterone, violations of a military protective order and drunkenness at a court arraignment. Source: Herald-Whig, 11-29-17

Walter E. Brazington Jr., 55, Broken Arrow, OK: Procuring for prostitution and possession of a firearm while in the commission of a felony. Brazington, an “apostle and prophet” for the All Nations Evangelistic Team, is accused of operating a massage parlor where prostitution occurred.

“Walt has been preaching the gospel since 1981, and he isn’t stopping anytime soon! It is time for the final harvest to begin,” the All Nations website says. “In 1989, God completely and miraculously healed Walt from three incurable diseases — Leukemia, Mesothelioma and Cyclo Meglo Virus.

He was also healed of a sudden massive heart attack on Dec. 22nd 2008. (With that came a visit to heaven three days later on Christmas Day.)” Source: Tulsa World, 11-29-17

James F. Talbot, 80, Dittmer, MO: Gross sexual assault and unlawful sexual contact. Talbot, a Jesuit Catholic priest who was defrocked after a 2011 assault conviction in Massachusetts, is accused of molesting a preteen boy in 1997-98 when Talbot was pastor at St. Jude Parish in Freeport, Maine.

In 2003, 14 men reached a settlement of claims against Talbot totaling $5.2 million. Source: Press Herald, 11-28-17

Christopher Gattis, 58, Chester, VA: 3 counts each of 1st-degree murder and using a firearm in the commission of a felony. Gattis, Grace Lutheran Church youth ministries coordinator, is charged with shooting his wife Jeanett Gattis, 58, her daughter Candice Kunze, 30, and Kunze’s boyfriend, Andrew Buthorn, 36, on Thanksgiving Day. They all lived together.

The women’s bodies were found in the kitchen and Buthorn’s was in the front yard. Source: Times-Dispatch, 11-24-17

Romello Leach, 22, Colorado Springs, CO: 8 counts of sex assault on a child under age 15/pattern of abuse and sex assault on a child/position of trust. Leach, a licensed Protestant pastor associated with several churches that meet at the Satellite Hotel, admitted to his ex-wife that “it happened,” the arrest affidavit said.

According to the complaint, the girl called Leach with deputies present and he admitted he’d had sex with her “on at least four occasions and [was] the father of her child.” She gave birth on Sept. 15, about 2 months after turning 15. Source: KMGH, 11-23-17

Michael G. Rich, 56, Birmingham, AL: 3 counts of possession of child pornography. Rich, pastor of St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church, was arrested after police got a tip about his internet activity. During a 5-day sting operation, investigators identified 22 children who had been sexually exploited.

More than 2 dozen men were arrested, including 7 Alabamians who traveled to Columbus, GA, with the expectation of having sex with a minor. Source: ABC News, 11-21-17

Timothy Simon, 33, Stephenville, TX: Possession of or promoting child pornography. Simon is youth minister at Graham Street Church of Christ.

Stephenville Police Chief Jason King said the investigation began several weeks ago and is ongoing but declined further comment. Source: Empire-Tribune, 11-18-17

Felix Bamfo, Adidogomé, Togo: Murder. Bamfo, pastor of the Brotherhood of the Cross and Star Church, is accused of killing and dismembering the body of Evelyn Homawu near his home. Homawu’s husband told police she had gone to visit Bamfo on Nov. 12 and never returned. Bamfo’s wife and his son, Kindness Mba, 24, were also arrested. Source: Ghana News Agency, 11-17-17

Lee P. Wiegand, 63, Canby, OR: 9 counts of 2nd-degree sex abuse involving an underage female in 2011-12 when Wiegand was pastor at First Baptist Church and School. Police said the alleged abuse doesn’t involve the church or school. Source: KOIN, 11-16-17

Timothy Cohen, 63, Clifton Hill, Australia: 32 counts of indecent assault and gross indecency, including sexual penetration of a child. Cohen, an Anglican priest, is charged with incidents in the 1970s and 1980s.

He was convicted in 2015 of assaulting a 12-year-old girl in 1978 and received a suspended 3-month sentence. Source: Herald Sun, 11-12-17

Curtis Van Dam, 36, Sioux Center, IA: 101 felony counts and 39 misdemeanor counts related to child molestation involving several alleged victims under age 14. Van Dam taught 5th grade at Sioux Center Christian School but was fired after being arrested in October. He was also a youth sponsor at a local church.

The initial complaint alleged he had an 11-year-old disrobe and “urinate in a bottle” while he watched. Charges date from alleged incidents on school property starting in August 2014 and include mutual touching of genitals. Source: Des Moines Register, 11-10-17

Peter W. Leon, 66, Wells, ME: Endangering the welfare of a dependent person intentionally, knowingly or recklessly, criminal restraint, criminal trespass of a dwelling, criminal mischief and theft of less than $500. Leon, pastor of Wells Branch Baptist Church, is accused of trying to take over the finances of a wheelchair-bound elderly resident at an assisted living facility where he volunteered as pastor.

Leon allegedly took the woman without permission to her bank to withdraw money, although a conservator is in charge of her affairs, and changed the locks on her unoccupied former home to prevent it from being shown and sold. Source: Press Herald, 11-9-17

Gregory Bolusan, Henderson, NV: Burglary, attempted robbery and robbery. Bolusan, pastor at Grace Bible Church, is accused of taking about $64,000 in 3 incidents in August, September and October at the M Resort Casino, where his wife is a shift manager.

According to an online post, “Pastor Greg believes that the city of Las Vegas, also known as the city of sin, needs people who will take time to build authentic relationships by winning the lost into a relationship with Jesus.” Source: KTNV, 11-6-17

Larry J. Zeitzmann, 56, Washington, MO: Sexual misconduct and 3rd-degree assault. Zeitzmann, board president at Crosspoint Christian School, is accused of misconduct involving a 14-year-old female student. “We believe that there are more victims,” said prosecutor Bob Parks.

Zeitzmann allegedly told the girl he would leave his wife to marry her and that he “loved her very much,” the complaint said. Zeitzmann retired as fire chief in 2015. Source: Missourian, 11-4-17

Richard E. Jacklin, 65, Goodrich, IL: Aggravated sexual assault, criminal sexual assault and sexual misconduct. Jacklin, pastor at Sacred Heart Catholic Church, is accused of assaulting a Shapiro Developmental Center resident, a 39-year-old man with an IQ of 47 who is partially paralyzed.

Jacklin has provided written and verbal confessions, Kankakee County State’s Attorney Jim Rowe said at a hearing. Rowe said a Shapiro employee discovered Jacklin on his knees while performing a sex act on the resident. Source: Daily Journal, 11-3-17

Elliot J. Wickboldt, 30, McAllen, TX: Sexual assault and indecency with a child with sexual contact. Wickboldt, pastor of Awaken Church, is accused of having a sexual relationship with a teen girl from July 2015 to Oct. 12, 2017, according to a criminal complaint: “Wickboldt would tell her not to tell anyone or he would go to jail.” Source: KGBT, 11-2-17

Michael S. Cruse, 46, Columbus, MS: Illegal sex act/victim under 18 years of age and/or prohibited use of an electronic communication system to procure sex from a minor. Cruse, pastor at Restoration Life Church, was arrested in Danville, KY, by a detective participating in a sting in which Cruse thought he was meeting a 16-year-old boy.

Cruse was reportedly in Kentucky performing in a singing competition at a church. A TV station reported Cruse won the competition but was unable to perform in the grand finale that night due to his arrest. Source: WTVA, 11-1-17

James Stangle II, Circleville, OH: Soliciting prostitution and loitering to engage in solicitation. Stangle, lead elder at New Life Church, was arrested by undercover officers. Source: WSYX, 11-2-17

James Weldon, 55, Fleming Island, FL: Domestic battery. Weldon, pastor of Fleming Island Presbyterian Church until forced to resign last year in the wake of financial problems, is accused of spitting in his wife’s face, grabbing her by the jaw and slamming her head into the kitchen counter.

According to the arrest report, she defended herself with kitchen tongs and threw brownies in his face before fleeing their home. Source: WJXT, 10-30-17

Martin Ramos, 43, Madera, CA: Oral copulation, possession and distribution of child pornography and misdemeanor child molestation. Ramos, a Jehovah’s Witness elder at McKinley West Kingdom Hall, is accused of molesting a 17-year-old girl he mentored. He worked as a police dispatcher and had known the family for about 3 years. Source: Fresno Bee, 10-26-17

Pleaded / Convicted

Laurence Soper, 74, Rome: Guilty by jury of 19 counts of indecent and serious sexual assault. Soper, a Benedictine priest, was accused of abusing 10 boys at a Catholic school in London in the 1970s and 1980s. He moved to Rome in 2000 and fled to Kosovo with £182,000 from the Vatican bank after allegations were made in 2004. Source: BBC, 12-6-17

Robert Gamel, 67, Merced, CA: Pleaded no contest to possessing child pornography and guilty to violating probation. Gamel, lead priest at St. Joseph Catholic Church in Los Banos from 2009-14, is accused of possessing the same nude images of a teenage parishioner for which he was convicted in 2016 and served 6 months in jail.

During an April probation search at his home, the images from the 2016 conviction were found, printed on recycled church-related papers. Gamel told authorities “they were old photographs that he meant to get rid of but he had not gotten to.” Source: Los Banos Enterprise, 11-29-17

Joseph L. Niemeyer Jr., 56, Independence, KY: Pleaded guilty to 1st-degree sodomy and 4 counts of 1st-degree sexual abuse, all involving a girl younger than 12. Niemeyer, who with his wife was a youth ministry leader at New Banklick Baptist Church, also volunteered with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes club at Twenhofel Middle School.

Assaults occurred at the Niemeyer home and not at the school or church, prosecutors said. Source: Cincinnati Enquirer, 11-20-17

Jason M. Gorski, 44, Fort Mill, SC: Pleaded guilty to 2 counts of lewd or lascivious acts with a minor under 14. At the time of the assaults in 2007-08, Gorski was an elder of a Jehovah’s Witnesses congregation in Cypress, CA.

In 2009, 13-year-old “John Doe” reported the abuse to the congregation and Gorski was removed as an elder. The next year he moved to South Carolina and joined another Jehovah’s Witnesses congregation. Source: Orange County Breeze, 11-17-17


John B. Feit, 85, Scottsdale, AZ: Life in prison after a Texas jury found him guilty of raping and strangling Irene Garza, 25, a 2nd-grade teacher in 1960 in McAllen, Texas, where he was pastor at Sacred Heart Catholic Church. Feit, then 27, was implicated early on but was never charged due to the influence of the Catholic Church, especially when John Kennedy was running for president, prosecutors said.

A month before Garza disappeared, a female college student reported a man attacked her from behind in church and tried to suffocate her. Feit was charged with the attack, pleaded no contest and was sent to a treatment center for troubled priests in New Mexico, where he became a supervisor responsible for clearing priests for parish assignments.

Feit left the priesthood in 1972, married and worked at a St. Vincent de Paul charity in Phoenix. Source: AP, 12-8-17

Joel M. Waltz, 47, Boone, IA: 4 years in prison after pleading guilty to 2 counts of sexual exploitation of a minor while he was a youth pastor at Grace Community Church. Ames Police Cmdr. Geoff Huff said the victim met Waltz when she was 11 and was in foster care. She described him as a father figure before he told her he loved her when she turned 16 and started a sexual relationship with her. Source: Ames Tribune, 12-6-17

James G. Crawford, 56, Redding, CA: 4 years’ probation and payment of fees and fines after pleading no contest to 3 misdemeanor counts of child endangerment not likely to produce great bodily injury. Crawford, pastor of Westside Church of Redding, was originally charged with 31 criminal counts, including 22 felonies, for inappropriate touching of 3 underage girls over a span of 7 years. Source: Record Searchlight, 12-4-17

Shimen Liebowitz, 26, Kiryas Joel, NY: 2 years in prison with 15 months’ credit for time served after pleading guilty to conspiring to commit extortion. Co-defendants Aharon Goldberg, 56, an Israeli rabbi, and Binyamin Gottlieb, 34, received 3 years in prison and 1 year’s probation, respectively.

They were found guilty of paying a private investigator $73,000 to coerce a Brooklyn man into giving his estranged wife permission she needed under Jewish law to divorce him, a consent known as a get. The investigator recorded his conversations and turned them over to the FBI. Source: Times Herald-Record, 11-30-17

Charlie M. Hamrick, 55, Pensacola, FL: 6 consecutive life sentences after a jury found him guilty of 6 counts of capital sexual battery of a child under the age of 12. Hamrick was accused of assaults, including oral sex, on the victim, now 28, when he was his Sunday school teacher at Pine Forest United Methodist Church and the boy was between the ages of 8 and 11.

He still faces multiple related charges involving other alleged victims. One boy told police that Hamrick pushed his hand down his pants while riding with him on a 4-wheeler, saying the safest way to ride was with his hand around Hamrick’s erect penis. Source: News Journal, 11-29-17

An unidentified Ethiopian imam, 25, was given a noncustodial sentence of 18 months and was banned from Switzerland for 10 years after being found guilty of inciting violence by calling for the killing of Muslims who refused to join communal prayers and posting execution photos online.

The imam made the comments during Friday prayers at An’Nur Mosque in Winterthur in October 2016. He was also found guilty of working without a permit. The mosque closed in June. Source: rt.com, 11-23-17

Sunia Ha’unga, 66, Gisborne, New Zealand: Fined $4,500 after admitting to possession of excess crayfish and breaching the Fisheries Act. Ha’unga, pastor of the Methodist-affiliated Gisborne Tongan Church, had 130 crayfish hidden inside boxes of oranges. The daily limit is 6. Source: Gisborne Herald, 11-20-17

Gary Spear, 46, Mitchell, IN: 18 months’ house arrest and 18 months’ probation after pleading guilty to child seduction. Spear, youth pastor at Mitchell Church of Christ, victimized Jocelyn Schlegel, now 22. “He manipulated me by using everything against me that I told him in counseling,” she testified.

She met Spear when she was 14. She told the court that Spear liked her to call him “daddy,” a word she finds hard to say anymore. “He controlled every aspect of my life by inserting himself whenever he saw a need. I needed a father, and there he was. I didn’t have a boyfriend, so he filled that void, too,” Schlegel said. “He’s the most dangerous predator. He is not out in the bushes. He’s befriending your mom.” Source: Times-Mail, 11-17-17

Daniel P. Williams, 40, Huber Heights, OH: 60 days in jail, all suspended, and 1 year probation after pleading guilty to loitering to engage in solicitation. Williams, pastor at Arrowbrook Baptist Church in Xenia, was arrested in August and originally faced 2 more related counts. He is married and has a daughter. Source: WHIO, 11-17-17

Nikolai Kireyev, 39, Vitebsk, Belarus: 5½ years in prison for human trafficking. Kireyev, a Russian Orthodox priest, was found guilty of trying to take 2 women to Russia to work as prostitutes. A 19-year-old woman from Tajikistan was sentenced earlier to 5 years for pimping. Source: Radio Free Europe, 11-14-17

Barbara L. Snyder, 60, West Salem, WI: 4 years in prison and restitution after pleading guilty to wire fraud and making false statements for embezzling over $830,000 to support a gambling habit while she was secretary at St. Patrick’s Catholic Church in Onalaska. Snyder’s listing income of $162,949 in 2015 led to charges of false statements on her tax return for under-reporting income and failing to disclose its source.

Although she worked at St. Patrick’s for over 30 years, authorities could only verify thefts going back 9 years. Source: La Crosse Tribune, 11-11-17

Patrick McGinn, 56, Monaghan, Ireland: 3-year loss of driver’s license after pleading guilty to driving while intoxicated. McGinn, pastor of St. Joseph’s Catholic Parish, had blood alcohol 4 times over the legal limit when stopped at a checkpoint last July. Source: Irish Times, 11-10-17

Mohamad Jammal, Viborg, Denmark: 2 weeks in jail suspended for making comments deemed threatening, insulting or degrading to a group because of their race, color, national or ethnic origin, belief or sexual orientation. Jammal, an imam at an unidentified mosque, was quoted in a newspaper interview in 2016 as comparing gays to pedophiles after an attack at a Florida nightclub killed 49 people. Source: Fox News, 11-8-17

Fred Mack Jr., 65, Bolingbrook, IL: 10 years in prison after a jury found him guilty of predatory criminal sexual assault of a child. Mack was a church pastor and friend of the victim’s family when she was in 7th grade. She testified he assaulted her as many as 100 times in 2002-04. Source: Bolingbrook Patch, 11-6-17

Civil Lawsuits Filed

Dennis B. Zacheis, a Catholic priest removed from ministry in 2010 for alleged financial regularities in Sullivan, MO, is being sued in Illinois by Missouri resident Gary Klein, 55, who alleges Zacheis sexually assaulted him while he was pastor at St. Margaret Mary Alacoque Catholic Church from 1975-78.

He now lives in a private home, according to the Archdiocese of St. Louis. It’s unclear why the complaint was filed in Illinois. Source: The Missourian, 11-13-17

The Mormon Church and several stake leaders are being sued in West Virginia by 12 plaintiffs alleging sexual abuse as minors by Michael Jensen. He was sentenced to 35-75 years in prison in 2013 for sexual assault while in a position of leadership and counsel to young church members.

Among the allegations are claims that Jensen locked a 4-year-old girl in a room and forced her to touch him sexually and that a 2-year-old boy had “abrasions or burns” on his upper thighs and genitals after being babysat by Jensen.

The complaint said that instead of reporting alleged abuse to authorities, the Hedgesville Ward of the Martinsburg Stake  “did the opposite.” Source: KSTU, 11-20-17

Vincent Owens, pastor of Household Of Faith Empowerment Temple in Aurora, CO, and the owners of ViSalus, a Michigan company, are defendants in a class-action suit that calls ViSalus “a failed pyramid scheme” to sell weight-loss shakes, vitamins and energy bars.

Caprece Byrd, 51, Aurora, is a plaintiff. She alleges Owens, her former pastor, convinced her that selling ViSalus would be easy and that she and other distributors were promised equity at seminars held in the church basement.

According to the suit, “Stage-managed ‘get rich like me’ performances enticed innocent, unsophisticated people to buy distributorships, only to learn that the only way to make money from the distributor rights was to recruit others. Almost 400,000 people in the United States, including over 200,000 just in 2012 paid money to become a distributor and participated in a massive operation.” Source: KDVR, 11-8-17

Anglican priest William Morton and 3 Canadian Anglican bodies are defendants in a suit filed by Cynthia Mae Moore, 60, who alleges Morton threatened to skin her alive and scraped her breasts with a box cutter in 2015 during their nearly 4-year extramarital affair.

Morton was convicted in 2016 of 2 counts of assault with a weapon and received a 15-month conditional sentence, a jail term that can be served in the community if the offender abides by court-imposed conditions.

Moore worked part time in the church office when Morton started counseling her about her marital problems. They eventually started a “romantic relationship” after Morton, who was also married, told her numerous times that he loved her, the suit alleges. Source: CBC, 11-8-17

Legal Developments

James Rapp, 77, a defrocked Catholic priest sentenced to 20-40 years in prison in Michigan in 2016 for molesting at least 10 boys, had his appeal denied by a state court. “The fact that [Rapp] was incarcerated outside the state of Michigan for other criminal actions and therefore was unable during that time to return … is irrelevant,” stated the 3-0 opinion, which denied Rapp’s claim that the 6-year statute of limitations should have been followed.

The appeals court ruled that any statute of limitations was suspended when Rapp was locked up in Oklahoma on similar charges. He worked in 6 states before he was defrocked. “If there is a hell, you deserve to be first in line,” a victim told him at sentencing. Source: mlive.com, 11-25-17

James J. Cunneen, 58, a former Catholic Marist priest, was extradited to Australia from New Zealand on charges he molested 7 teen boys from a Marist school in Sydney between 1987-89. Cunneen left the priesthood in 1997 and has been running betting agencies in New Zealand after working for the Department of Education for 3 years. Source: ABC, 11-23-17

Fernando L. Sayasaya, a Filipino Catholic priest charged with molesting 2 boys in North Dakota churches in the 1990s, is being extradited to the U.S. after a court in Manila denied his appeal. After the allegations in 1998, Sayasaya received permission to fly to the Philippines for Christmas and never returned to the U.S. Source: CBS News, 11-22-17

Jonathan Wehrle, 67, Williamston, MI, was bound over for trial at the end of a 4-day preliminary hearing on 6 counts of embezzlement of $100,000 or more. It’s alleged Wehrle, pastor of St. Martha’s Catholic Church in Okemos, used parish funds to pay for work and materials at his 11,000-square-foot home. Auditors have said about $5 million is missing.

Wehrle claimed he’d arranged with a now-deceased bishop to use the parish funds, but witnesses said they had no knowledge of such an agreement. Source: State Journal, 11-17-17

The Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York has been ordered by a California appeals court to continue paying $4,000 for each day it does not turn over documents related to Osbaldo Padron’s 2013 suit against the Jehovah’s Witnesses for failing to warn congregants that alleged child abuser Gonzalo Campos was in their midst in San Diego. A lower-court judge ordered the daily fine last June. Watchtower hasn’t paid anything and the total has now mounted to over $2 million.

Padron, a former church member, alleges he was 7 or 8 when Campos molested him. After at least 7 more allegations were lodged about child abuse occurring between 1982-95, Campos fled to Mexico.

The appellate judges called the Watchtower a “recalcitrant litigant who refuses to follow valid orders and merely reiterates losing arguments.” Source: Center for Investigative Reporting, 11-16-17

Terry Wells, 42, Trenton, NJ, who pleaded guilty to theft by deception in September, had his sentencing delayed. Wells, pastor of My Brother’s Keeper Outreach Ministries, admitted taking $12,000 from the estate of a parishioner who died in June 2015.

As part of the plea, Wells was supposed to bring a $12,000 cashier’s check to court but only brought $5,800. He was ordered to pay the remaining $6,200 by Jan. 5 or be tried on all 23 charges listed on his indictment. Source: nj.com, 11-17-17

The trial of Jennifer McLeod, 36, Wheatfield, IN, a teacher at Hebron Christian Academy, ended after the jury was unable to reach a verdict on 2 counts of child seduction by engaging in fondling or touching with a child 16 to 17 years old. The high school sophomore alleged the first “unusual” incident occurred in April 2015 when McLeod gave him a ride to a friend’s house and pulled over along the way to show him a video about religion. McLeod then stated that she wished he was 18 because they couldn’t have sex until then, police said.

The boy said McLeod on the last day of the 2015 school year kissed him “romantically” after commenting about his genitalia. McLeod claimed he made up the accusations because he was having problems with the academy’s basketball program and coach and wanted to attend the school where his brother coached. Source: NWI Times, 11-2-17


Eric Gyan, pastor of St. Theresa of Avila Catholic Parish in Gonzales, LA, is being investigated by the Diocese of Baton Rouge for alleged abuse of a minor female in 1996, according to a press release. The diocese has notified “civil officials” of the allegation received in November. Source: WABY, 12-16-17

Catholic priests and nuns at a Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul orphanage in Lanarkshire, Scotland, were physically and sexually abusive, Theresa Tolmie-McGrane testified at a child abuse inquiry in Edinburgh. Tolmie-McGrane lived there from age 6 to 17 before it closed in the 1980s. In about 1970, she testified, she was dusting church pews when a priest sat her on his lap and made her perform a sex act. Another time a nun walked in during a similar incident: “She called me a whore, she took my left arm and yanked me out of his lap and flung me across to the wall.”

Then, Tolmie-McGrane alleged, another nun took her to the hospital and warned her not to tell anyone or she would break her other arm and that “lying to protect a man of God” was OK.

Sick children had their faces rubbed in vomit or told to eat it, she testified, and were beaten by nuns, sometimes with the crosses they wore.  Tolmie-McGrane said she twice told police officers about the abuse, which only resulted in more beatings. The answer she got in confession from other priests was to pray for the abusers, she said.

After an attorney at the inquiry said a nun had denied the allegations, Tolmie-McGrane, who works as a psychologist in Norway, replied, “All I can say is I have no reason to lie, but she maybe has a lot to lose.” Source: The Independent, 12-6-17

Now-deceased Catholic priest Thaddeus Kotik has been accused by 11 women of molesting them on Caldey Island off the coast of Wales in the 1970s and 1980s. A letter made public shows Kotik’s alleged abuse was reported to the Cistercian Order of the Strict Observance (Trappists) in 1990 but not to police. Kotik died in 1992.

The abbey has already settled with 6 plaintiffs, after which 3 more women came forward. Kotik befriended families who visited the island, the suit claims. After gaining parents’ trust, he would babysit and sexually abuse children, plaintiffs allege. Source: The Guardian, 11-21-17

Muslim madrassas in Pakistan are “infested” with sexual abuse, according to an Associated Press investigation that found hundreds of cases  reported in the past decade in religious schools but not prosecuted.

“There are thousands of incidences of sexual abuse in the madrassas,” said a senior government official, speaking anonymously for fear of retribution. In 2004, another official disclosed more than 500 complaints of sexual assaults against boys in madrassas. He has since refused to talk, and there have been no significant arrests or prosecutions. Source: AP, 11-21-17

A former senior staff member at the Friends’ School in Hobart, Tasmania, is accused of sexual abuse by students who attended the school decades ago. The school adopts principles from the Religious Society of Friends, commonly known as Quakers.

The person accused “has not worked at the school for numerous decades,” said principal Nelson File. The matter has been referred to police. The school is also investigating independently. Source: abc.net/au, 11-13-17

Removed / Resigned

Rodney E. Smith, Beaver Falls, PA, had his ministerial credentials revoked after he pleaded guilty in a church trial to charges related to $31,000 in missing or misappropriated funds while he was pastor of Chippewa United Methodist Church from 2001-17. He had retired after an audit of church finances and now faces a criminal charge of theft by failure to make required disposition of funds. Source: Post-Gazette, 12-4-17

Michael Henchal, pastor at St. Bartholomew Catholic Parish in Cape Elizabeth, ME, until retiring last July, was removed from ministry by the Diocese of Portland after it was discovered he was in a relationship with former parish administrator Kathy Jones. They’re now living together.

Bishop Robert Deeley told parishioners that Henchal, ordained in 1973, is not living up to his vows: “Retirement for a priest does not mean that he is absolved of the commitments and promises he made at ordination. As we all know, priesthood is a vocation, not simply a profession. This vocation includes perpetual celibacy.”

Online tax records show Henchal and Jones bought a house in New Braunfels, Texas, in June 2016. Source: Press Herald, 12-3-17

Van Dinh, Livermore, CA, pastor of St. Michael Catholic Parish, was put on leave by the Diocese of Oakland, which notified police after receiving an allegation of inappropriate behavior by Dinh. “The allegation did not involve a minor, but did fall within the protocol of the Diocese for clergy conduct,” a statement said. Source: KRON, 11-27-17

Nicholas Mishek, 26, Omaha, NE, dismissed as pastor at St. Robert Bellarmine Catholic Church after asking middle school students during confession if they masturbated or watched pornography, has been reassigned to St. Frances Cabrini Parish. The Omaha Archdiocese after outside psychological evaluations found him suitable to return to the ministry, a statement said.

In September, diocesan vicar for clergy Scott Hastings said the questions were a “serious boundary violation.”

Hastings said recently that Mishek isn’t specifically prohibited from seeing schoolchildren, but his immediate job, besides leading Mass, will be working with people in hospitals and retirement centers. Source: World-Herald, 11-24-17

Email: blackcollar@ffrf.org

“This one’s for GOP leadership.”

It Pays To Complain: New mayor ends invocation at city meetings

By Justin Scott

Justin Scott

On the morning of Jan. 8, exactly 280 days after I first complained, the new mayor of Waverly, Iowa, announced that there would no longer be controversial and divisive prayer at council meetings.

This came after the city experienced two consecutive years of predominantly Christian prayers led by Mayor Charles Infelt, a former long-time pastor, who violated the Lemon test and Establishment Clause by changing the previous prayer process with no secular purpose. (The previous practice included the mayor inviting various religious leaders to the council chambers to offer a prayer.)

I first challenged Infelt to provide a more inclusive prayer practice on the night of April 3, 2017. It was met with hostility by the mayor. At one point, I was told that if atheists don’t like his religious invocations, they should just “be tolerant” of his “theistic” prayers. I refused to be fazed or  back down.

Month after month, I’d speak up during public comments and demand a change in the prayer practice. Some council members joined in verbalizing their discomfort with prayer before meetings, but never pushed the mayor to change the process. Eventually, I was able to get the mayor to implement a formalized prayer policy, but only after I was quoted in the media as saying the whole prayer practice reeked of “Christian arrogance and Christian privilege.”

Believe it or not, Infelt did end up allowing a non-Christian to deliver an invocation, inviting a Muslim college student to deliver an Islamic prayer to open the first June 2017 meeting. Unfortunately, the next five meetings in a row all featured Christian prayers.

This all came to an end in December 2017, when a runoff election was held between Infelt and Dean Soash, thanks to a very small margin of victory by Infelt in the November 2018 election. To the surprise of many in Waverly, Soash won in a landslide, winning outright in all of Waverly’s five wards, as well as the absentee ballot total.

A few weeks after the election, Soash reached out to me and we agreed the best and only way forward for the city was without prayer.

Despite the fact that I never got the chance to deliver an invocation and despite the fact that it wasn’t  Infelt ending the prayer practice that he wrongly implemented, I am still overjoyed with the result, as it’s more than I was initially asking for. To know that I played a part in getting another city in Iowa to ditch a practice that left atheist and nonreligious citizens feeling unwelcome and like second-class citizens in their own city is very rewarding. It truly does pay to complain.

I want to thank Mayor Soash for sticking to his word of reaching out to me after being sworn in as the new mayor, listening to my concerns and taking bold action by discontinuing prayer. I also want to thank all of the support I received from citizens of Waverly — both atheist and religious — as well as the ongoing support from FFRF.

Justin Scott is an FFRF member from Iowa.

It Pays To Complain: Letter to mayor gets results

By Dianne Centa

I live in Portage County, Ohio, and had heard that there was a nativity scene on the courthouse lawn — from comments in the anonymous “Sound off” column of the local paper. Then the paper ran a photo and story about it. I responded with a letter and promptly received a reply from the mayor. What a pleasant surprise!

Dianne Centa

Here was my letter:

Mr. Mayor, It seems from the article in the Record Courier that you are supportive of the presence of a nativity scene on the courthouse lawn.  Let me remind you: it is impermissible for the government (city and county included) to promote a religion or to promote religion over nonreligion.

You say “it’s representative of large numbers of folks in Portage County” and “it’s been accepted by the majority of people.” This is irrelevant. Many of our laws, including the First Amendment, exist to protect the minority from the tyranny of the majority.

Remember that little phrase “separation of state and church.” (Before you object, I know that those words are not in the Constitution, but we all know that the meaning is there.) The nativity scene should be removed, or, if you want to create a mess, you could open up the courthouse lawn as an open forum. 

Let us, please, consider policy for next year and not repeat this violation. — Sincerely, Dianne Centa

Here was his rely:

Dianne, I have no argument with your position.  This will not be a problem next year.  Thank you for your comments. — Frank Seman