In Memoriam: Longtime member Al Fischer dies

Al Fischer

Alfred Kaufman Fischer, 94, of Phoenix, died on Jan. 1, 2018.  Al and his wife, Mildred, were ardent atheists and longtime members of the Freedom From Religion Foundation.

Al was born into a Jewish family in Cape Girardeau, Mo., and moved to New York City with his family at an early age. After going through his bar mitzvah at the age of 13, he told his parents that he didn’t believe in the religion and never wished to attend services again.

Al and Mildred Morris were married in 1950 and moved to Phoenix, where they resided for more than 65 years. Al had a varied career, mostly in the newspaper business. Al and Mildred established a local newspaper, The South Phoenix Round-up, which they published for seven years.

After receiving his bachelor’s degree from Arizona State, Al taught at Phoenix Union High School, then moved on to Scottsdale Community College, where he was the public information officer. In their spare time, Al and Mildred formed Golden West Publishers, which specialized in cookbooks and Western nonfiction. Together, they wrote a number of books, including Mexico’s West Coast Beaches, Arizona Cook Book, Arizona Crossword Puzzles, and Arizona Museums.  Al and Mildred traveled extensively in Europe, Russia and Mexico. 

Al was preceded in death by his wife, Mildred, in 2017, and is survived by his three children and their spouses, Linda and Dick Thomas, Lee and Shayne Fischer, Bruce and Bobbi Fischer, and three grandchildren, Phillip Horn, Aaron Salts and James Alfred Thomas.

In Memoriam: Norma Cunningham, former board member, dies at 100

Norma Cunningham
Norma and Joseph Cunningham ‘s wedding photo from Dec. 23, 1953.

Norma Steines Cunningham, long-time member and former Executive Board member of FFRF, died April 11.

Norma was a Life Member of FFRF, as is her husband, Joseph, and both have served on the Executive Board almost from its formation.

Norma was born Oct. 28, 1917, and grew up in St. Louis, where she was the valedictorian of the large Cleveland High School class of 1935, and earned a full four-year scholarship to Washington University in St. Louis.

Norma earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1939, and the same year received the Jesse Bar Fellowship Award, with which she acquired a master’s degree in Latin in 1940. She also is a member of the Phi Beta Kappa honor society. In addition, she served as co-chair of the Arts & Sciences Century Leadership Club of Washington University.

After graduation, she taught in St. Louis area schools for four years before moving to Mascoutah, Ill., in 1944. She worked in the Mascoutah High School for 31 years, teaching Latin, German and English. At Mascoutah, Norma was chair of the school’s Fine Arts department, also served on the Mascoutah Library board for many years and as a member of the Literary Society.

In December 1953, she married Joseph Cunningham, who was also a teacher at Mascoutah High School. They have two daughters — Kathryn, an attorney; and Linda, a medical doctor — and five grandchildren: Andrew, Sarah, Benjamin, Grace, and Alex.

Norma’s hobbies were reading and researching the genealogy of her paternal ancestors, Herman and Frederick Steines, who were pioneers in the St. Louis area in the 1830s. Norma and Joe spent many years traveling with their children, going to all 50 states plus Canada; and also visiting Europe, Scandinavia, Russia, Japan and China.

Norma used her fluency in German to translate the detailed diaries and letters from 1830-1835 of her great-grandfather, Herman Steines, and great-great uncle, Frederick Steines, who immigrated from Germany. These documents were printed into two large volumes and were donated to the Missouri Historical Society, the St. Louis City Library, and many relatives.

Her other interests include reading classical literature, listening to classical music, working crossword puzzles, and cooking. A few years ago, Norma entered the Southwestern Illinois Spelling Bee contest and won first place, often correcting the host’s pronunciation of various words.

Norma spent many happy hours entertaining family and friends over large elaborate meals at her beautifully set dining room table. She also was a recipe tester for Betty Crocker, sending in her comments and suggestions on improving the originals.

She loved flowers, particularly roses, visiting the Missouri Botanical Gardens, and was skilled at flower arrangement with blooms from her garden. Norma’s favorite TV program was “Jeopardy!” She recently got all five of the week’s Final Jeopardy questions correct.

Norma resided at the Silver Creek Assisted Living home in Mascoutah for the past five years, where she hosted family and friends for her 100th birthday celebration in October 2017.

“Norma was an extraordinarily loving wife, mother, and grandmother,” daughter Linda Cunningham said. “She was very proud of the accomplishments of her daughters and grandchildren, and took great pleasure in each one of their achievements.”

Black Collar Crime (May 2018)

Compiled by Bill Dunn

Arrested / Charged

Marcin A. Nurek, 37, Morristown, NJ: Criminal sexual contact and child endangerment. Nurek, a native Pole ordained last July as a Catholic priest, was indicted in March by a county grand jury. After his arrest last August on suspicion of wrongdoing, his assignment as parochial vicar at St. Catherine of Siena Parish in Mountain Lakes was canceled.

He allegedly followed a group of girls down a street in Boonton, then reached a hand under a 13-year-old’s skirt and groped her buttocks over her underwear, stating either “You’re sexy,” or “Hey, sexy,” authorities said. Source: AP, 3-26-18

Robert DeLand Jr., 71, Freeland, MI: Attempted 2nd-degree criminal sexual conduct/personal injury, 2nd-degree criminal sexual conduct and gross indecency between male persons. DeLand, pastor of St. Agnes Catholic Church, is charged with unwanted sexual contact with a 21-year-old man and with sexually touching a 17-year-old boy causing injury. About 6 others, including a female, have since come forward.

Police raided offices of the Diocese of Saginaw, the residence of Bishop Joseph Cistone and the rectory at the Cathedral of Mary of the Assumption. Prosecutor Mark Gaertner wouldn’t disclose what evidence was being sought. “Contrary to the statements of the diocese and the bishop that they would fully cooperate with law enforcement, they did not,” Gaertner said. Source: Detroit News, 3-12-18.

Ronald J. Dombrowski, 72, a priest at Holy Family Parish in Saginaw, was suspended in March due to an allegation of child sexual abuse. Gaertner said no charges have been filed against Dombrowski. Source: ABC News, 3-22-18

James Hackett, 41, Wampum, PA: Theft and receiving stolen property. Hackett, organist at St. Joseph the Worker Catholic Parish, is accused of stealing between $10,000 and $15,000 from the collection plate. An affidavit said marked currency was placed in a safe from which Hackett was seen on video removing money from envelopes. Source: Tribune-Review, 3-19-18

José Ronaldo Ribeiro, bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Formosa, Brazil, and 4 unidentified priests, a monsignor, a vicar general and 2 officials of the administrative curia are accused of stealing over $600,000 from church coffers to buy a cattle ranch, a lottery ticket shop and a truck.

Allegations of financial irregularity were first raised in 2010 against Ribeiro when he was bishop of the Diocese of Janaúba. Pope Francis transferred him to Formosa in November 2014. Source: O Tempo, 3-19-18

Heather M. Riggs, 42, Terre Haute, IN: Theft, check fraud, forgery, neglect of a dependent and 2 counts of dealing a controlled substance. During an investigation of a heroin operation, state police determined that proceeds were allegedly being paid from a bank account associated with Victory Christian Center, an Assemblies of God church where Riggs controlled the finances and her husband, Shawn Riggs, was pastor.

She’s also accused of taking cash from church offerings and buying drugs valued at $75,000 during the past 14 months, sometimes with children present. Shawn Riggs allegedly told police he was unaware of her drug use and hadn’t received a paycheck in several months but didn’t question it because the church was struggling financially. Source: Tribune-Star, 3-19-18

Saeed Abedini, 37, Lynchburg, VA: Violating a no-contact order. Abedini, a former Muslim who converted to Christianity and was jailed for 3 years in Iran for organizing underground “house churches,” is accused of sending derogatory text messages to his estranged wife in Boise, ID. He pleaded guilty to a similar charge in February 2017.

His wife Naghmeh Abedini brought nationwide attention to his plight in Iran and then filed for legal separation the day he arrived back in Boise in 2016. He told the judge in March that he left Boise 9 months ago and works now as a minister in Lynchburg. Source: Idaho Statesman, 3-19-18

Benjamin Baldiviez, 23, Mesquite, TX: Continuous sexual abuse of a child. Baldiviez is accused of molesting a child at Parkside Baptist Church between March and October 2017 during church-related events while he was a Sunday school teacher. Source: KDFW, 3-16-18

Harold Dien, 57, Colton, CA: 2 misdemeanor counts of annoying or molesting a child. Dien, pastor at Laguna Indonesian Seventh-day Adventist Church, was charged with incidents involving a girl in Loma Linda after a referral from Child Protective Services. Source: Redlands Daily Facts, 3-16-18

Juan A. Juarez Saravia, 35, Durham, NC: Taking indecent liberties with a child and 2 counts of sexual exploitation of a minor. Saravia, a traveling evangelical pastor who worked in the Hispanic community, allegedly set up a fake Facebook account to entice a 14-year-old Virginia girl into sending him explicit videos.

He was among 76 people arrested in several states in a sting that resulted in 13 children being identified as victims. Also arrested on 9 counts of exploitation was Richard W. Bell, 73, Moyock, NC, building and grounds trustee at New Moyock United Methodist Church. Source: WTVD, 3-16-18

Yacov Simmonds, 42, Winnipeg: 3 counts each sexual assault and sexual interference and 2 counts of invitation to sexual touching. Simmonds, a rabbi who worked for Chabad-Lubavitch of Winnipeg and its Jewish Learning Centre, fled last fall when he was charged for alleged incidents with 3 females between 1993-99. His whereabouts are unknown.

Police only recently released details of the charges in response to media inquiries although they were filed last October. Simmonds’ association with Chabad ended in May 2016 when he was paid a severance, a spokesperson said. Source: Canadian Jewish News, 3-16-18

Walter J. Ernst, 57, Monroe, AL: Theft: Ernst is charged with stealing $16,000 in September from Covenant Presbyterian Church, where he was treasurer, by wiring the money to his account. Source: News Star, 3-15-18

Michael Hari, 47, Clarence, IL: Several charges related to the August bombing of Dar Al-Farooq Islamic Center in Bloomington, MN, and illegal possession of a machine gun. Hari, a member of the Old German Baptist Brethren, and 2 alleged accomplices are also suspects in the November bombing of the Women’s Health Practice in Bloomington, IL.

Hari was convicted of child abduction in 2006 for taking his daughters, ages 13 and 15, from their custodial mother and fleeing to Mennonite communities in Mexico and Belize. Source: Chicago Tribune, 3-13-18

Donald R. White, Hannibal, MO: 2 counts of wire fraud. White, treasurer of Antioch Baptist Church, is accused of embezzling $320,888 from 1994 to 2016. White was a suspect in the theft of church funds just before the church was destroyed in a December 2016 fire, the cause of which was never determined. Source: Whig-Herald, 3-12-18

Andy C. Harris, 56, Bossier City, LA: Possession of a Schedule II controlled dangerous substance (methamphetamine) and possession of drug paraphernalia. Harris, senior pastor at Church of the Cross, an Assemblies of God congregation, resigned after being charged, church officials confirmed.

An affidavit alleged detectives found 3.4 grams of meth, along with a smoking pipe and snorting straw, at his home. Source: Shreveport Times, 3-9-18

Ronnie Gorton, 39, Drummonds, TN: 47 counts of child sexual abuse, including statutory rape of a boy under age 13. Gorton, worship leader of Awakening Church, was charged after deputies responded to a call about a suicidal man. Two male alleged victims have come forward. Source: WREG, 3-6-18

Larry A. Winn, 65, Dallas: Sexual assault of a child. Winn, who coordinated a bus ministry at Open Door Baptist Church in Mesquite for people needing a ride to Sunday services, is accused of assaulting a teen girl. His son, Steven Winn, 33, Crandall, an Open Door youth pastor, was charged in February with 3 counts of sexual assault of a child allegedly involving a 15-year-old girl. Open Door senior pastor Matt Jarrell hanged himself in jail in 2011 after his arrest on a rape charge in West Virginia. Source: Star-Telegram, 3-6-18

Richard J. Shaka, 72, Blaine, MN: Criminal vehicular homicide involving grossly negligent driving, driving under the influence of alcohol and driving with a blood-alcohol content greater than 0.08. Shaka, founding pastor of All Nations Christian Assembly, is accused of driving north in the southbound lanes in Brooklyn Park and killing another driver, Jenna Bixby, 30.

Bixby, a 911 dispatcher at the Minneapolis Emergency Communications Center, was driving to work about 8 p.m. Police said Shaka’s blood-alcohol content was 0.168. Source: Pioneer Press, 3-2-18

Luke Reese, 49, Indianapolis: Criminal confinement, domestic battery, kidnapping and intimidation. Reese, a former Anglican priest ordained in Texas as a married Catholic priest in 2016, is accused of terrorizing his wife of 25 years. They have 7 children and are now divorcing.

Reese belongs to Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter, a Houston-based order for former Anglicans that allows married priests. An affidavit said he made her kneel at the altar at Holy Rosary Catholic Church and threatened to choke her for having an alleged affair. The alleged abuse lasted about 18 hours and included Reese taking nude photos of her that he threatened “to send to everyone at their church.” Source: KTRK, 3-1-18

Christopher C. Stutts, 36, McCalla, AL: Sex abuse of a child under age 12 and 2nd-degree sodomy. Stutts, part-time youth minister at Westwood Baptist Church in Birmingham, is accused of assaults on a girl, now 14, starting 3 years ago and ending Feb. 23. His wife also volunteered at the church. Source: WBMA, 3-1-18

Spenser A. Farr, 24, Rolla, MO: 5 counts of statutory sodomy. Farr, student pastor at Hamlin Baptist Church, is accused of alleged incidents in 2012 and 2013. Court documents allege the abuse took place at public pools in Rolla and Steelville.

In Rolla in 2012, he’s accused of fondling a boy’s genitals when he was 12 or 13 while they were showering after swimming. He’s charged with molesting the other boy in Steelville about 30 times. After being fired as a lifeguard, he was hired at Hamlin Baptist, where he’s been fired. Source: WRAL, 3-1-18

Edward I. Espinosa, 41, Waco, TX: Misdemeanor prostitution. Espinosa, outreach pastor at Antioch Community Church, is charged with having sex last October at a massage parlor where Asian women were forced to provide sex.

Investigators found videos of men who paid for sex, according to arrest affidavits for Chun Yang Zhang, 47, Austin. She’s charged with human trafficking and operating a house of prostitution. Source: Tribune-Herald, 3-1-18

George P. Lee III, 44, Savannah, GA: Driving under the influence and failure to yield to a pedestrian in a crosswalk. Lee, senior pastor of St. John Baptist Church, was arrested at 2:30 a.m. Source: WSAV, 3-1-18

Joshua Clemons, 35, Denver: 3 counts of sexual assault on a child by a person in a position of trust. Clemons is accused of assaults on 3 female members of his youth ministry at Cross Roads Community Church in Parker.

He allegedly knew a Denver girl was 17 when he started having sex with her in 2014 when he was married. It’s alleged that on her 18th birthday, Clemons gave her a card that said “We’re legal.” Source: Denver Post, 2-28-18

Alvin Joiner, 60, DeKalb County, GA: Attempted kidnapping. Joiner, who held unspecified positions since 2008 with New Hope Cathedral and Ministries in Stockbridge before being ordained Jan. 7, is accused of accosting a teen girl outside her high school while he was delivering newspapers.

He “got out of the car and then guided her into his vehicle,” where the girl recorded the lewd conversation on her phone before Joyner let her go, alleged sheriff’s Lt. Christopher Rorey. Other girls have made similar allegations, Rorey said.

New Hope senior pastor Richard Leaphart said he did a background check on Joiner in 2008 and found nothing. But court records show he has 2007 convictions for solicitation for sodomy and pandering and idling for sex. Source: WSB Atlanta, 2-27-18

Stephen Couch, 41, Winnsboro, LA: 5 counts of molestation of a juvenile and 6 counts of prohibited sexual conduct between an educator and student. Charges stem from alleged incidents between 2004-16 with 5 male students at Apostolic Tabernacle Christian School, where Couch was principal until recently. Source: News-Star, 2-27-18

Yisroel (Stanley) Kleinman, 62, Queens, NY: Course of sexual conduct and other charges related to alleged serial abuse between September 2016 and September 2017 of an 11-year-old girl. Kleinman, a rabbi and 5th-grade Jewish studies teacher at Yeshiva Darchei Torah, was put on paid leave after his arrest. He’s accused of fondling a girl’s breasts and inserting his finger in her vagina on more than 2 occasions. Source: NY Daily News, 2-24-18

Pleaded / Convicted

James D. Worley, 45, Gresham, OR: Guilty by jury of 7 counts of sexual abuse of children under the ages of 14 and 12 between 2002-04. Worley, senior pastor at Powell Valley Church from 2012 until his 2014 arrest, faced more than 50 counts in 2 counties for alleged abuse of 2 former family members. He has remarried.

His mother, Connie Worley, pointed her finger after the verdict at Judge Beth Bagley and said “You, you.” Bagley replied, “Don’t you dare shake your finger at me” and found her in contempt of court, fined her $500 and ordered her to spend 24 hours in jail.

“I’m sorry, your honor,” Worley said as she was led away in handcuffs. “I bet you are,” Bagley replied. Source: Bend Bulletin, 3-14-18

Paul Moore, 82, Largs, Scotland: Guilty by jury of sexual abuse of 4 males between 1977-96 while he was a Catholic priest. The church never reported allegations and he was sent for treatment to Canada before reassignment.

One man, now 46, testified he was 5 when his teacher sent him to Moore for drawing a picture of Jesus with nipples. During the abuse, he said, “Time sort of froze. He had his hands running up and down my back. He kept saying I was a nice boy. I just wanted to get it over. I just wanted to get home to my mum.” Source: The Times, 3-15-18

Paul Burress, 43, Henrietta, NY: Pleaded guilty to misdemeanor sexual abuse for forcibly touching 3 women in his home in 2016-17. The charismatic pastor at Victory Church was featured in “Fight Church,” a 2014 documentary about mixed martial arts. A plea bargain calls for 1 year of probation and no incarceration. Source: Democrat & Chronicle, 3-14-18

Ignacio Villafan, 52, Tulare, CA: Pleaded no contest to embezzlement of about $425,000 from St. Rita’s Catholic Church, where he was pastor from 2005-12. Prosecutor David Alavezos said the church has sent his office a letter opposing any prison time for Villafan. Source: KFSN, 3-5-18

Andrew Rushford, 64, Yantic, CT: Pleaded guilty to 2nd-degree larceny in connection with the theft of $43,000 since 2013 from Grace Episcopal Church, where he was treasurer. Prosecutor Lawrence Tytla said several church members have asked the court for a suspended sentence and restitution. Source: Norwich Bulletin, 2-28-18

Ever Oliveros-Cano, 50, Menlo Park, CA: Pleaded no contest to child molestation and 2 counts of sexual battery. Oliveros-Cano, pastor at Senor Justicia Nuestra Church, is charged with abuse of 3 teen girls from 2011 to 2015. One of the girls alleged he told her he was “cleansing” her. Source: Daily Post, 2-28-18

Samuel Shaffer, 34, Cedar City, UT: Pleaded guilty to rape of a child. Shaffer, founder of a fundamentalist Mormon splinter group named Knights of the Crystal Blade, still faces charges in another county of child sodomy and bigamy. John Coltharp, 34, and Shaffer were arrested in December for hiding Coltharp’s children from his ex-wife.

Shaffer allegedly told police he married Coltharp’s 8-year-old daughter and Coltharp married Shaffer’s 7-year-old daughter. An affidavit alleges Coltharp planned to kill his son because he was “possessed by an evil spirit.” Source: Salt Lake Tribune, 2-21-18


Thomas Wood, 55, Lydiate, UK: 3-year community order [no incarceration] and 7-year sexual harm prevention order. Wood, pastor at Our Lady’s Catholic Church, pleaded guilty to possessing indecent images of children and 2 counts of making indecent images of children.

The charges said in November 2015 that Wood was among 47 people watching a video stream showing children age 10-16 being molested, and with 50 others watching a girl age 8-10 being raped by a man and 2 boys age 10-12 having sex. Source: Liverpool Echo, 3-22-18

Carlos López Valdés, 72, Tlalpan, Mexico: 63 years in prison and $4,000 damages to the victim, now 33, for raping him several times between 1994-98, starting when he was 11 and Valdés was pastor at San Agustín de las Cuevas Catholic Parish. Source: ACI Prensa, 3-13-18

Michael J. Hewitt, 71, Fremington, UK: 15 years in prison for convictions on 8 counts of indecency with children under age 16. Hewitt, a member of a Jehovah’s Witness congregation, “abused his position of trust to exploit the young girls for his own satisfaction,” Detective Constable Janet Williams told the court.

Two of the 3 girls were 5 when the abuse started in the 1980s. Source: BBC, 3-13-18

Musa Mulo, 63, Lugazi, Uganda: Life in prison after pleading guilty to raping a 2-year-old girl in 2012. Mulo, an imam at Kibubbu Mosque, was accused of assaulting a girl from the neighborhood at his home. After his arrest, a group of his followers destroyed the victim’s home, claiming her mother had framed Mulo. Source: Daily Monitor, 3-12-18

Rupert Clarke, 64, Manchester, Jamaica: 8 years’ hard labor. Clarke, pastor of Nazareth Moravian Church, pleaded guilty to having sex with 2 sisters under age 16. He was found in a parked car in a “compromising position” in December 2016 with the younger girl. Police later determined he had impregnated her sister. Source: Jamaica Gleaner, 3-9-18

Roshad Thomas, 41, Tallahassee, FL: 25 years in prison for convictions on 9 counts of lewd and lascivious molestation when he was a youth pastor at Calvary Chapel and a counselor at several other churches. The 10 male victims’ ages ranged from 11 to 16. Source WTXL, 3-8-18

James Nachtigal and Paige Nachtigal, North Newton, KS: 32 months in jail and 2 years’ probation for convictions of 3 counts and 2 counts, respectively, of child abuse after aggravated battery charges were dropped. They were charged in 2016 with starving and beating 3 children ages 11 and 15 who were adopted from Peru, where the Nachtigals had worked as missionaries. James Nachtigal was CEO at Kansas Christian Home in Newton and Paige was a missionary at World Outreach Ministries.

Although authorities received tips in 2014, it wasn’t until February 2016 when the 11-year-old boy was found walking in a field barefoot that anything was done. He told a state trooper he feared returning home because he hadn’t done his homework and that was a sin.

Abuse included broken bones from punishment and malnutrition. Starvation was so severe that when the children did get to eat, their bodies “didn’t know what to do” with the food, a pediatrician testified. Source:, 3-8-18

James Irwin, 69, Plymouth, IN: 2 years in a community corrections program after pleading guilty in a plea bargain to dealing a controlled substance and patronizing a prostitute. Irwin, director of Care and Share Ministries, was accused of offering 3 informants drugs and money for sex, which didn’t actually occur.

One woman, a recovering opiate addict, went to authorities after she saw how Irwin was exploiting people in need. Source: WSBT, 3-7-18

Trinette Johnson, 44, Violet, LA: 2 years in prison, suspended, and restitution for embezzling an estimated $102,000 from Greater Mount Olive Missionary Baptist Church between 2006-13 while she was secretary. Source: Times-Picayune, 3-5-18

Randy A. Johnson, 53, Dallas Center, IA: 5 years in prison, suspended, and 3 years’ probation after entering Alford pleas to child endangerment and indecent exposure. Johnson, pastor of Church of the Brethren, was charged with sexual abuse of his adopted daughter, now 17, for about 18 months when she was 12 and 13.

His wife, Kathy Johnson, knew about the abuse but did nothing despite being told multiple times, the victim stated in court. She wasn’t charged. Source: Des Moines Register, 3-2-18

Stephen T. Dougherty, 61, Bexar County, TX: 60 years in prison after a jury found him guilty of aggravated sexual assault involving a 13-year-old girl at her grandparents’ home in December 2011. Dougherty was removed that year from ministry as a priest with the Catholic Diocese of Corpus Christi.

The plaintiff alleges in a civil suit that he molested her from 2005-11 and that the diocese and Society of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity “engaged in a conspiracy to cover up the sexual abuse by Dougherty and other Catholic clerics.” Source: Caller-Times, 3-1-18

Bernard McGrath, 70, Dunedin, New Zealand: 33 years in prison with no parole for 21 years. McGrath, a brother in the St. John of God Catholic order, was convicted of raping a boy at the Marylands boarding school when he was 6. McGrath has served 4 previous sentences for molesting children and was most recently released in 2008.

The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse found that St. John of God had the highest number (40%) of alleged or convicted offenders of any Catholic order in Australia and New Zealand. The average was 7%. Source: Daily Times, 2-20-18

Civil Lawsuits Filed

Assemblies of God entities are being sued in Oregon for $42 million over child abuse allegations by 6 men who allege molestation in the 1980s by Ralph Gantt and Todd Clark, who were volunteers in the church’s Royal Rangers scouting program and later served time in prison. A similar 2016 suit was settled for undisclosed terms in October, said plaintiffs’ attorney Gilion Dumas.

The Royal Rangers’ mission “is to evangelize, equip and empower the next generation of Christlike men and lifelong servant leaders,” its website say. The Pentecostal denomination is based in Springfield, MO. Source: News-Leader, 3-11-18

Cynthia McCullough, Charlotte, NC, pastor of St. John AME Zion Church, is being sued by New York Life for falsely claiming the extent of her disability from a nervous system disorder called reflex sympathetic dystrophy, for which the insurance company paid her about $390,000 from 2010-17. McCullough claimed she was unable to bathe or dress herself and needed constant home care, according to the suit.

The company’s surveillance in late 2016 and early 2017 showed McCullough lifting objects into her SUV, pumping her own gas and visiting several businesses. Church Facebook photos also allegedly showed her going down a slide and playing the arcade game Skee-Ball. Source: Charlotte Observer, 3-10-18

Word of Life Ministries and Schools, Wichita, KS, and its senior pastor Robert J. Rotola Sr. are defendants in a $575,000 suit alleging its youth pastor Chauncey M. Walker, 48, sexually abused the plaintiff, now 20, nearly 300 times from 2012-15.

The suit contends the church failed to supervise Walker and tried to cover up allegations. Walker was jailed in August and is charged with aggravated indecent liberties with a child and 2 counts of criminal sodomy. Source: Wichita Eagle, 3-2-18

Talmud Torah Kaminetz, a Jerusalem ultra-Orthodox elementary school, is being sued by a former student who alleges abuse starting 18 years ago when he was in 3rd grade. A teacher and principal, both unidentified, are co-defendants.

He alleges the teacher repeatedly pinched his private areas during Torah testing sessions and that when he started to skip them, the principal punished him with a stick. In 6th grade, the claim says, the school called the boy’s mother to accuse him of spreading lies about rabbis and threatened expulsion. Source: JTA, 2-28-18

Civil Lawsuits Settled

The Catholic Diocese of Buffalo, NY, settled a sexual abuse suit with a Texas man, now 52, who alleged he was molested as an altar boy from 1979-82 by James A. Spielman, who left the priesthood in 1993. The diocese and Archbishop Walsh High School paid the victim $1.5 million in 2016, although media weren’t aware of the settlement until now. It was discovered in a search of federal court records.

The diocese has released a list of 42 priests removed or retired from ministry after allegations of sexual abuse of a minor. Of those, 24 are dead. Source: Buffalo News, 3-18-18

The Catholic Archdiocese of Seattle and the Franklin Pierce School District have settled for $2.45 million a suit filed by a man alleging he was sexually abused in the early 1980s by elementary teacher Edward Courtney. The archdiocese will pay $1.5 million and school district will pay $950,000.

It was alleged the archdiocese knew Courtney had abused students in its school system before he began teaching in public schools but failed to report him to authorities. Source: KOMO, 3-13-18

The Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York will pay an undisclosed amount to 2 plaintiffs who alleged sexual abuse when they were 7 years old by Gonzalo Campos, a leader at Jehovah’s Witness congregations in San Diego in the 1990s.

Campos was temporarily removed before returning and later admitted molesting at least 8 children between 1982-95. He fled to Mexico in 2010 and is still at-large. Source: Union-Tribune, 3-6-18

Legal Developments

Malka Leifer, 54, principal of a Jewish girls’ school in Australia who fled to Israel in 2008 after being accused of sexually assaulting students, must remain jailed until a decision is reached on extraditing her. A Jerusalem court ruled she is untrustworthy and a flight risk.

Leifer faces 74 counts of child sexual abuse involving at least 8 girls at Adass Israel School in Melbourne between 2003-08. She has 8 children of her own, several of whom accompanied her to Israel. Source: Times of Israel, 3-21-18


Joseph Bishop, 85, president of a Mormon missionary training center from 1983-86 in Provo, UT, is being investigated by the church for an alleged 1984 sexual assault at the center on a woman, now 55. She posed last December as a reporter and secretly recorded an interview with Bishop in Arizona.

He can be heard saying he doesn’t recall assaulting her and adds that maybe it’s “because my mind doesn’t want me to remember that.” On the recording, he admits giving another woman a back rub that got too “frisky,” apologizes repeatedly and says that for years he has struggled with a “sexual addiction.” 

County prosecutor David Sturgill said the statute of limitations expired 4 years after the alleged assault. Source: Yahoo! News, 3-22-18

Charles Oduro, 56, pastor of St. Catherine of Genoa Catholic Parish in Brooklyn, NY, is accused by his former secretary of repeated sexual innuendo and groping before she was fired. On a recording she made in January and gave to a newspaper, a man she says is Oduro is heard asking to kiss her in the rectory: “Just the lips, not the tongue.”

The man then asks, “So if we kiss, does that mean that we can’t f—?” She can also be heard saying “ouch” on the recording.

Spokeswoman Adriana Rodriguez said the diocese will now start providing back pay to the employee and classify her as being “on leave.” Source: NY Daily News, 3-9-18

Shambhala International, a form of Tibetan Buddhism with more than 200 international meditation centers, released an open letter admitting to major failures in how it has dealt with “abhorrent sexual behavior” by some of its teachers.

The governing Kalapa Council responded to an investigative report by U.S. member Andrea Winn, who wrote, “Known child abusers are freely active within the Shambhala community, some are even senior teachers. Meanwhile, many who have been abused have been left with no recourse but to leave the community to heal and move forward as best they can.” Source: The Guardian, 3-4-18

Norbert Orsolits, 78, a retired New York Catholic priest for the Buffalo Diocese, molested him nearly 40 years ago, Michael Whalen publicly alleged. Two days later, Bishop Richard Malone announced the Independent Reconciliation and Compensation Program administered by 2 former state Supreme Court justices.

The diocese estimates that since 1950 it’s received at least 100 claims against 53 clergy members and has paid out about $1.2 million in settlements. Source: Spectrum News, 3-4-18

Removed / Resigned

Dennis Riter was put on leave by the Diocese of Buffalo as pastor of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Catholic Church in Dunkirk, NY, due to allegations of child sexual abuse in the 1990s. A former altar boy named Matt alleged to media that Riter molested him about 20 times during a period of 3 years, starting when he was 6.

Another allegation involves an altar boy named Nick Caetano, who died 9 years ago. His mother, Sharon Caetano, said he came home from serving Mass at Our Lady of Perpetual Help in 1997 and told her “[Riter] went underneath my robe and tried to play with me on the altar.” She said she reported it to the diocese but said there were no ramifications other than Riter eventually taking a sabbatical and being transferred. Source: WKBW, 3-26-18

Armand Garcia, 48, Philadelphia, was put on leave as pastor of St. Martin of Tours Catholic Church on the same day investigators executed a search warrant at the parish rectory. A church spokesman said there’s an allegation of misconduct with a minor. Source:, 3-25-18

Michael R. Duesterhaus, 52, Winchester, VA, parochial vicar of Sacred Heart of Jesus Catholic Church, was placed on administrative leave during investigation of an allegation of sexual misconduct with a minor between 2001-04. Source: Winchester Star, 3-21-18

Andy Savage, 42, Memphis, TN, resigned as teaching pastor at his nondenominational megachurch, saying in a statement: “After much prayer and counsel, I now believe it’s appropriate for me to resign from my staff position at Highpoint Church and step away from ministry in order to do everything I can to right the wrongs of the past.”

He admitted sexual misconduct in 1997 when he was 22 and was a youth minister at a Texas Baptist church. Jules Woodson detailed in a blog what she said happened after Savage parked in a wooded area when he was taking her home from church after school. She was 17: “[H]e turned the headlights off. Suddenly, Andy unzipped his jeans and pulled out his penis. He asked me to suck it. I was scared and embarrassed, but I did it. I remember feeling that this must mean that Andy loved me. He then asked me to unbutton my shirt. I did. He started touching me over my bra and then lifted my bra up and began touching my breasts.”

A Christian publisher has canceled publication of Savage’s book “The Ridiculously Good Marriage.” He and his wife have 5 children. Source: NBC/WREG, 3-20-18

C. Frank Phillips, Chicago, founder of the Canons Regular of St. John Cantius, a Catholic religious order of men, was removed from ministry during investigation “of credible allegations of improper conduct involving adult men,” Cardinal Blase Cupich said in a statement. Source: Chicago Tribune, 3-19-18

Anthony Apuron, 72, suspended archbishop of the Catholic Archdiocese of Guam, was removed from office after a Vatican tribunal convicted him of unspecified charges in a sex abuse trial. The archdiocese had had nearly 160 clergy sex abuse lawsuits filed against it since 2016 that seek about $115 million in damages. Source: AP, 3-16-18

Jeff Windy, 47, was removed as pastor at 3 Catholic parishes in Ottawa, IL: St. Columba, St. Francis of Assisi and St. Patrick. No specific reason was given. Windy, a bodybuilder, was in federal prison from 2002-06 for making and distributing illegal steroids. Source: Ottawa Times, 3-13-18

Ken Engelking, Salem, OR, resigned as pastor of Morning Star Community Church after 4 women made abuse allegations against him and 2 more former church staff members and a member of an affiliated church. In a 23-page letter to the church board, the women chronicled accusations of an abusive, adulterous relationship involving Engelking and sexual assault and rape by 3 other men over more than 20 years and as recently as 2010. Source: Statesman Journal, 3-9-18

Jeff Countryman, Clearwater, FL, was fired as lead pastor of Country Side Christian Church for alleged theft. The church will not press charges since he has repaid the money, said to be less than $15,000. Source: Fox Tampa Bay, 3-6-18

Steven Krawatsky, 40, was fired as Judaic studies teacher at Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School in Pikesville, MD. The Orthodox rabbi was suspended after 3 allegations by underage boys. In August 2015, a 7-year-old told a forensic interviewer that Krawatsky offered him and another boy money to touch his penis. Two others later came forward. No charges have been filed. Source: Baltimore Sun, 3-2-18

John McAreavey, 69, resigned as bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Dromore, Northern Ireland, after he came under scrutiny for his role in handling complaints about pedophile priest Malachy Finnegan, who died in 2002 without being prosecuted. McAreavey, bishop since 1999, had celebrated Mass with him in 2000 and officiated at his funeral. Source: BBC, 3-1-18


They Said What? (May 2018)

When the cell of a pig is used and its genetic material is utilized in the production of food, the cell, in fact, loses its original identity and therefore cannot be defined as forbidden for consumption. It wouldn’t even be meat, so you can consume it with dairy.

Rabbi Yuval Cherlow, stating that cloned pig meat is kosher.

New York Post, 3-22-18

To think that man can alter the Earth’s ecosystem — when God remains omniscient, omnipresent and omnipotent in the current affairs of mankind — is to more than subtly espouse an ultra-hubristic, secular worldview relative to the supremacy and importance of man.

Ralph Drollinger, who leads weekly bible study meetings for members of Congress and Trump’s cabinet, including EPA chief Scott Pruitt.

Right Wing Watch, 4-3-18

Prosecutions have always been focused on the abortionist. There is no way a woman would go to jail let alone face the death penalty. The statute alone, the threat of prosecution, would dramatically reduce abortion. That is my goal.

Bob Nonini, candidate for lieutenant governor of Idaho. During a moderated candidate forum, Nonini nodded in agreement when asked if he supported the death penalty for the woman as a possible outcome for abortion.

Idaho Statesman, 4-3-18

This is part of our country’s history. Our nation was built on a Christian foundation. We need to make sure the children know that and pass it on to the next generation.

Louisiana state Sen. Regina Barrow, who introduced a bill that would require “In God We Trust” be taught and displayed in all public schools.

USA Today, 4-9-18

Crankmail (May 2018)

Let’s check in with how FFRF’s detractors are responding to our work around the country. All letters/emails are printed as received.

Repent: What gives you the right to force your small minority views on this country? I feel nothing but sympathy for anyone that hold your views. God will forgive you, if you just repent. I don’t think you have the courage to respond to this email.
Gary Kruse

LIES: You people are so misguided and your arguments are so weak and filled with lies . I hope that someday you learn the truth and the truth is you are wrong, there is a God, and we are free to worship him in this country! The violation I am reporting is in regard to your disgraceful and completely unfounded premises. You stand against the Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution.
James Bernthal

FFRF: You do not want me to contact you. You won’t like what I have to say — Lisa Rudisill

Pussies: Why are you such crybaby pussies? Why can’t you stand on your own two feet and ignore things you don’t agree with? Why must you cry like little bitches when you see the ten commandments? Why are you so weak and so frail that you fall into a panic attack at the first sign of religious paraphernalia? Stop crying every time you feel uncomfortable, only pathetically weak people would need to create/join a support group in order to cope with your unfounded and frankly pussy anxiety, then pretend to be strong and actually waste tax payer funds in order to fight your frivolous lawsuits. I have an idea, move to a country that bans religion, see how hapoy and hopeful their people are, like nkorea. Also, how do you survive with our currency having IN GOD WE TRUST on every note and coin? Do you go into a shell when ever you touch our currency? There are a lot of pathetic groups out there, you’re at the top!
Anthony D’Agostino

Study to show yourself truth: Why do you hide in darkness and tell lies ??? If there is any truth to your organization you would Founding Fathers document s and research the truth , which is they intended us to have a religion , Free from government , Not a government free from religion . There are plenty of country’s free from Religion , but this one was founded for our freedom of religion…..
Brenda Portman

Your work is done: Don’t worry dudes, you don’t have to waste your time to make an absolute godless nation.  The 10 Commandments are already out of our lives thanks to the ACLU, homosexuality is running rampant not only in America, bestiality and other weird behaviors are becoming the norm, and almost all Christian organizations are OK with evolution and LGBTs, etc. But what you love the most, there is a drastic reduction of attendance in churches, and many former “Christians” are joining the ranks of evolutionists.  What else could you ask for?  Just be a little bit patient for many more to agreeing with your godless philosophy because it is written “… when the Son of Man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth?” Luk.18:1-8 KJV — Gustavo Pomar

First-ever Congressional Freethought Caucus launched

FFRF is celebrating a major milestone in Congress for secular representation. Several representatives have announced the formation of a Congressional Freethought Caucus that will focus on promoting secular values and will give a voice to freethinking voters.

The new caucus was fittingly announced by Rep. Jared Huffman, D-Calif., the only openly nontheistic member of Congress, while accepting the Secular Coalition of America’s Visibility Award last Wednesday. The mission statement of the Congressional Freethought Caucus is “to promote public policy formed on the basis of reason, science, and moral values; to protect the secular character of our government by adhering to the strict Constitutional principle of the separation of church and state;  to oppose discrimination against atheists, agnostics, humanists, seekers, religious and nonreligious persons, and to champion the value of freedom of thought and conscience worldwide; and to provide a forum for members of Congress to discuss their moral frameworks, ethical values, and personal religious journeys.”

Nonreligious Americans — the so-called “Nones” — make up about one-quarter of the country but are massively underrepresented in legislative chambers. FFRF applauds Huffman and the other members of the Freethought Caucus for openly bucking the political tradition of throwing atheists and other freethinking constituents under the bus.

Other members of the Congressional Freethought Caucus include Rep. Dan Kildee, D-Mich., Rep. Jerry McNerney, D-Calif., Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Wis., and Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md. FFRF hopes that additional representatives will join their lead.

“We are delighted at the formation of a freethought caucus in Congress,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “Finally, the significant portion of Americans who are not religious will have representation in Congress.”

FFRF gets partial win in school nativity case

An appeals court decision by a three-judge panel on March 23 in a crucial FFRF Indiana case is a partial victory for our secular Constitution.

Each December, for nearly half a century, the Performing Arts Department of Concord High School in Elkhart, Ind., staged several highly religious nativity performances of its “Christmas Spectacular.”

FFRF and the ACLU of Indiana sued in the fall of 2015 on behalf of parents and students who were ostracized by the annual nativity pageant, which involved students acting out the biblical story while a teacher read aloud from the New Testament. When U.S. District Judge Jon DeGuilio issued a preliminary injunction in late 2015 against the live nativity, the school responded by placing mannequins on stage as a static nativity scene, while students performed the same Christmas songs, albeit without employee-led bible readings.

DeGuilio ruled last year that the live nativity was “an impermissible message of endorsement,” but that the school could continue displaying its static nativity scene. FFRF, the ACLU, and the ACLU of Indiana filed a brief before the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals contending that, given the previous version of the nativity performance, the modest changes made by the district would be viewed by the public as an attempt to preserve the school’s 45-year tradition of First Amendment abuse.

While the 7th Circuit decision acknowledged that it was a close call and that its ruling was confined to the specific facts before the court, ultimately it upheld the district court’s decision. Although FFRF is disappointed that the court was persuaded by the school’s superficial changes to its longstanding Christian performance, the court also affirmed that the plaintiffs are entitled to damages and a declaratory judgment that prior versions of the show violated the Establishment Clause, calling the live nativity in particular “problematic.”

Since FFRF was not challenging the entire performance, but only the final Christian portion, the court instead should have considered whether the school had a secular purpose in having students sing Christian songs about the birth of Jesus while displaying a nativity scene, which it plainly does not.

The court acknowledged that the show’s blatantly unconstitutional 45-year history affected its analysis, noting FFRF’s point that the school’s mannequin performance was “the same religious program, just with litigation-motivated edits.” But the court bizarrely concluded that the 45 years of promoting Christianity reduced the appearance of religious endorsement in the modified performance because the new version was “a major departure from [previous shows].” This reasoning is backward, since brazenly violating the Constitution for 45 years should lead to greater skepticism of the school’s intent to be neutral toward religion, not less.

Kansas county commissioner to nonbelievers: ‘Go to hell’

FFRF is appalled at a Kansas county commissioner’s censure of nonbelievers.

FFRF recently wrote to the Board of Sedgwick County Commissioners after a Sedgwick County resident was denied an opportunity to deliver a secular invocation before the board because his request was “not made on behalf of a religious group.” FFRF requested that the commission either end its practice of hosting prayers at meetings, or alter its invocation policy to ensure that it does not discriminate against atheists and freethinkers.

In response, County Commissioner Dave Unruh stated, “If you don’t believe [in God], it’s fine with me. I don’t care. Go to hell. It’s fine.”

Unruh’s comment was made at a Board of County Commissioners meeting on March 13, during a conversation with County Manager Mike Schole regarding FFRF’s letter:

Unruh: “Are we gonna get sued by those people who want us to not believe in God?”

Schole: “We have an executive session to talk about that tomorrow.”

Unruh: “Alright, I just keep wondering why are you so exercised about trying to prove to me something doesn’t exist? I mean it’s logically stupid. If you don’t believe it, it’s fine with me. I don’t care. Go to hell. It’s fine.” [laughs]

Schole: “I’m willing for my name to go to the Supreme Court.”

“Prayer at government meetings is unnecessary, inappropriate and divisive,” FFRF Patrick O’Reiley Legal Fellow Chris Line had written to the Board of Sedgwick County Commissioners. “However, if the Board insists on continuing to host prayers at public meetings, it must not discriminate against any person.”

Furthermore, a Sedgwick County code restricts those who can give an invocation to only religious leaders and clergy members, which is unconstitutional because it treats similarly situated persons differently. FFRF emphasizes that this provision of the Sedgwick County code cannot be enforced because treating an atheist or nonbeliever who wishes to give an invocation differently from a religious citizen constitutes discrimination.

FFRF defends ‘blasphemous’ TV show

FFRF is standing up for a popular TV show accused of blasphemy.

Louisiana state Sen. John Milkovich and two Baptist preachers, Larry Pridmore and Edward Roberts, have recently urged “the Louisiana Office of Economic Development to flatly reject [a] request for a $16.2 million tax refund check” for the AMC show “Preacher.” The complainants have stated their case plainly in the last sentence of their letter: “[T]he larger truth is that there is never a good time to reward production companies that trash our Louisiana values, mock our beliefs — and dishonor Christ.”

The trio is complaining about an episode of the show that aired many months ago, on Aug. 21, 2017, claiming it s

The AMC program “Preacher” has been targeted as blasphemous.

houldn’t be eligible for tax credits intended to encourage film production to Louisiana. They attempt to argue that one scene of less than five minutes, in an episode 44 minutes in length, in a season of 13 episodes, in a show with three seasons, constitutes “pornography” and that therefore all the tax incentives for the entire series should be revoked. The scene in question portrays Jesus having sex with a woman the night before he is to be crucified, and it is graphic with graphic dialogue. But graphic is not the same as pornographic and, in any event, the complainants’ true concern is a perceived insult to their religion, not the sexual content.

It’s obvious that the attack on the show as pornography is a pretext, FFRF charges. The complainants are seeking to penalize AMC and “Preacher” for the nonexistent crime of “blasphemy.”

Chaplain who censored Barker to step down

FFRF’s lawsuit to have nonbelievers included in our nation’s legislative chambers is not immediately affected by the announcement that the current House chaplain will retire, reportedly at the urging of Speaker of the House Paul Ryan.

“The in-house chaplain of the U.S. House of Representatives is stepping down [in May] after seven years in the post,” Roll Call reports. “Rev. Patrick J. Conroy, 67, a Catholic priest of the Jesuit order, has served in the post since 2011.”

Conroy is the defendant in a historic lawsuit filed by FFRF Co-President Dan Barker for barring him as an atheist from delivering a guest invocation. Also named as a defendant in Barker v. Conroy is House Speaker Paul Ryan, who oversees the chaplain’s office and who is also stepping down at the end of the current congressional term.

FFRF filed an appeal last December of a district court ruling that legitimized the current congressional marginalization of nonbelievers. U.S. District Judge Rosemary M. Collyer ruled in October against opening up the hallowed sanctum of our country’s lawmaking to freethinkers.

The case began when U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Wis., who represents Barker’s district in Madison, Wis., requested that Barker give the opening invocation. Usually, such sponsorship is all that is necessary to be named guest chaplain.

But Conroy purposefully stonewalled. Although the chaplain has no written requirements for guest chaplains, Conroy required proof of Barker’s ordination, which Barker, a former minister, produced. Then Conroy declared that Barker could not deliver the opening invocation because he lacks belief in “a higher power.” Barker responded by submitting a draft of his invocation, in which he noted that he could indeed invoke a “higher power”: “There is no power higher than ‘We, the People of the United States.’”