Gallery of photos/cartoons from June/July 2018 issue

FFRF on the Road

Rep. Jared Huffman to speak at FFRF convention

Rep. Jared Huffman, D-Calif., one of the founders of the recently announced Congressional Freethought Caucus, has agreed to speak at FFRF’s convention in San Francisco in early November.

Huffman will be accepting FFRF’s Emperor Has No Clothes Award, which is given to public figures who take on the fabled role of the little child in the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale and “tell it like it is” about religion.

Huffman joins a strong lineup of guest speakers for FFRF’s 41st annual the convention, which will be held at the Hyatt Regency, 5 Embarcadero Center, in downtown San Francisco on the weekend of Nov. 2-4.

Other speakers are:

Cecile Richards, the former longtime president of Planned Parenthood, is a national leader for women’s rights and social and economic justice, and the author of New York Times bestseller, Make Trouble. As president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America and Planned Parenthood Action Fund for more than a decade, Richards worked to increase affordable access to reproductive health care and to build a healthier and safer world for women and young people. She served as deputy chief of staff to House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi. In 2011 and 2012, Richards was named among Time magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in the World. She’s receiving FFRF’s Forward Award.

Salman Rushdie, one of the most celebrated authors of our time, will be receiving the Emperor Has No Clothes Award Friday afternoon. He has written several classic novels, influenced a generation of writers, and received the Queen’s Knighthood for his “services to literature.” His novels include The Satanic Verses, The Moor’s Last Sigh, The Ground Beneath Her Feet and 2008’s The Enchantress of Florence. His masterwork of magic realism, Midnight’s Children, won the presitigious Booker Prize.

Adam Savage is co-host of “Myth Busters,” on the Discovery Channel and is master of many trades. Savage has acted, designed, sculpted, anchored TV shows, and has been an educator. Savage’s special effects have been on view in a dozen feature films, including the “Matrix” sequels and “Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace.” He’ll be receiving The Emperor Has No Clothes Award on Saturday night.

John de Lancie, an actor, director, producer, writer, singer, musician, and voice artist, will be receiving FFRF’s first “Clarence” award — a statuette version of FFRF’s 7-foot statue of Clarence Darrow on display in front of the site of the Scopes trial in Dayton, Tenn. De Lancie spoke at the dedication. He is well-known for portraying “Q” in the TV series “Star Trek: The Next Generation.”

Ensaf Haidar is the activist wife of a Saudi freethinker whose persecution has caused global outrage. For the supposed crime of “apostasy,” Saudi blogger Raif Badawi was shockingly sentenced in 2013 to 600 lashes and seven years in prison, which was unbelievably increased to 1,000 lashes and 10 years in prison the following year (along with a hefty accompanying fine).  Haidar has become a secular activist in her own right, establishing the Raif Badawi Foundation for Freedom to spread progressive values in the Middle East and working tirelessly for Badawi’s release. Haidar will be receiving the third annual Henry Zumach Freedom From Religious Fundamentalism Award of $10,000.

Sarah Haider is a co-founder of Ex-Muslims of North America. She directs EXMNA’s Normalizing Dissent tour, and travels the United States and Canada to cover a range of issues related to apostacy in Islam. She is currently a columnist for Free Inquiry magazine. She will receive a Freethought Heroine Award.

Bailey Harris, 12, a sixth-grade student at Salt Lake City’s Open Classroom, will be receiving the $5,000 Beverly and Richard Hermsen Student Activist Award. She was inspired by an episode of “Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey” and wrote, along with her father Doug Harris, the picture book My Name is Stardust

Leighann Lord, a veteran stand-up comedian, will do stand-up routine at the convention. Lord has been seen on Lifetime, VH-1, Comedy Central, HBO and “The View.” She is a contributor to the Huffington Post and the author of Dict Jokes: Alternate Definitions for Words You’ve Probably Never Heard of But Will Definitely Never Forget and Real Women Do It Standing Up: Stories From the Career of a Very Funny Lady.

Debra Deanne Olson, who, with Dr. Craig West Wilkinson, just authored a book about her atheist grandfather, The Honorable Culbert Levy Olson: Governor of California 1939-1943. She is a political, environmental and peace activist and held volunteer positions on both of Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaigns.

Julia Sweeney, one of FFRF’s honorary directors, will perform a new stand-up routine called “Julia Sweeney: Older and Wider” for the FFRF audience on Friday night. She is a “Saturday Night Live” alum who created and portrayed the androgynous character “Pat.” She also created and performed several award-winning one-woman shows, including “God Said, Ha!”, “In the Family Way” and “Letting Go of God.”


Convention info

Convention registration is only $60 per member, $65 per companion, $110 non-member, and free for students and children. Sign up for the discounted package that includes the two group meals on Saturday and save $20.

The convention is being held at the downtown Hyatt Regency in San Francisco. The convention opens at noon on Friday, Nov. 2, with the program beginning at 1 p.m., continuing all day Saturday. It closes with a Sunday morning membership and state representative meeting ending by noon. See more details at ffrf.org/convention2018.

Rooms can be reserved for Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights at $235 plus tax. Phone directly to make your reservations: 1-888-421-1442 and use the code “Freedom From Religion Foundation.” Or go online at ffrf.org/convention2018 for full convention information or reserve rooms directly at bit.ly/FFRF2018. Don’t delay as rooms are going fast!

Jared Huffman

In Memoriam: Pleaman Shaver leaves legacy of serving humanity

Pleaman Shaver

FFRF Member Pleaman Shaver of Torrington, Wyo., died April 16.

An obituary written by his family began, “The speck of stardust known to the world as Pleaman F. Shaver died in the arms of his wife of more than 49 years with his children close by. The world was brighter because of him and dimmed substantially with his death.”

Shaver served 26 years in the U.S.  Navy, 13 years each in active duty and reserve. He also had a long career in the civil service, serving on both coasts, Germany, and Hawaii. He chose to continue to serve humanity by insisting that his body be donated to science.

Besides his wife, Marci, Shaver is survived by his daughter Misti Simms and her husband Warner of Tucson, Ariz., his son Pleaman A. Shaver of Torrington, two grandchildren, three siblings and numerous nieces and nephews.

He requested memorials be sent to FFRF or the ACLU or autism research.

In Memoriam: Atheist activist Marie Alena Castle dies at 91

FFRF Member Marie Alena Castle, 91, of Minneapolis, died May 25.

She was born Dec. 20, 1926. Marie was communications director for Atheists for Human Rights and also served as president of Minnesota Atheists for 10 years.

For her obituary in the Minneapolis Star Tribune, she wrote, “I have enjoyed being one of the luckiest people on Earth. Fate gave me a 91-year break from otherwise endless oblivion and a life filled with political skullduggery and social activism for the rights of workers, women, gays, and anti-war efforts. I built a dome home, raised five good kids, built atheist and political organizations, worked as a journalist, and wrote Divided We Fall: The Secular vs. the Sacred. None of this uphill climbing has been especially pleasant, but it has been interesting.”

Marie Alena Castle

In Memoriam: Peet Heuberger loved cars, sailing, opera

Peet Hans Heuberger

 

FFRF Life Member Peet Hans Heuberger died on April 28 at his home in Colorado Springs. Born on Nov. 23, 1933, in Bern, Switzerland, Peet lived in Switzerland until 1956, when he immigrated to the United States. He made his way across the United States, landing in Denver. He started work at Mountain States Volkswagen where he met his eventual wife, Carolyn. They eloped in 1957 and were married for 60 years.

Gary King of FFRF’s Colorado Springs chapter writes: “He was also instrumental in the forming of FFRF’s oldest extant chapter, as well as a willingness to pull out his checkbook whenever we needed funding. Pete would stay out of the spotlight and he and I would meet, usually at a little German place, for a pastry and his encouragement. He, along with John Murphy, Jeff Lucas and Jackie Marques, tried to keep this FFRF chapter stable, and Pete always insisted this chapter remain legit and avoid promoting individuals’ businesses and control.” 

As a young man, Peet loved cars and racing in Europe. His racing career gave him a knowledge of cars and repairs that led to his success in the automotive industry. He worked for his father-in-law, Will McConnell, until 1970, when he was able to open his own Volkswagen dealership in Colorado Springs. He opened the Subaru franchise in 1975, and from there he built a family dealership, which continues to this day as a family business. He was always proud of his employees and valued all the customers he served.

Peet was an accomplished sailor. He loved to sail and spent as much time as he could taking his friends sailing. He sailed his whole life and loved the adventure of it. Peet also loved the opera and, as a boy, went to the theater with his parents and enjoyed listening to opera as often as he could.

Peet was a generous and kind man, always willing to work hard and give to others. He and Carolyn were philanthropic to their causes in life. He was naturalized in 1990 and was proud to be an American citizen. He was always speaking up on politics and religion. One could debate with him for hours on any number of subjects.

He was preceded in death by his wife.

In Memoriam: Tom Nicol, brother of FFRF founder, dies at 94

Tom Nicol, 94, of Baudette, Minn., a member of FFRF since 1979, died on April 16 at Lakewood Care Center in Baudette after a sudden decline.

Tom was the last remaining sibling of Anne Nicol Gaylor, the principal founder of the Freedom From Religion Foundation. Born at home on a farm in rural Tomah, Wis., on March 15, 1924, to Jason Theodore Nicol and Lucy Sowle Nicol, Tom was an outdoorsman who became a pilot and pilot instructor, living for a time in Alaska.

He held a variety of jobs, including working in construction, fixing houses, and buying damaged cars from insurance companies to fix up and resell. Tom opened a shop, Tom’s Tackle, in Baudette in 1959, selling the store, which is still operating, after a few years in pursuit of new experiences. He officially “retired” in 1970, while keeping a hand in construction and “fix-up” work.

He was married to Alice (nee Brunson) for 71 years, who preceded him in death in December 2016. They have one son, Gary, who lives in Baudette.

“My dad stayed busy, and was fortunate that he enjoyed a lot of years of retirement, doing what he liked to do,” Gary told Freethought Today.

His three siblings preceded him: Jason Nicol, 45, died in Chicago in 1965; brother Robert Nicol, 90, died in New Auburn, Wis., in 2010, and sister Anne, 88, died in Madison, Wis., in 2015.

“I barely saw my uncle in person — it was very exciting the few times he popped in briefly to Madison — but he took a long-distance interest in FFRF. My mother spoke to him once a week, and he was sympathetic toward all her causes,” said FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. Tom and Alice were both major contributors to FFRF’s original Freethought Hall, purchased in 1990.

Tom Nicol sits with his sister Anne Nicol Gaylor, who was an FFRF co-founder.
Tom Nicol and his wife Alice on their wedding day in 1945.

Black Collar Crime (June/July 2018)

Compiled by Bill Dunn

Arrested / Charged

Joseph Marshall, Pensacola, FL: Battery on a law enforcement officer. Marshall, pastor at St. John Divine Missionary Baptist Church, is charged with failure to leave an area near the church on Easter Sunday after a woman and her 2 children were hit by a car.

The police report alleges that Marshall screamed and cursed at officers and had to be restrained by parishioners. The officer stated he “came at her as if he was going to attack” before he was pulled away and taken inside the church. Source: WEAR, 4-19-18

Andrew Dickson, 30, University City, MO: Child molestation and statutory sodomy. Dickson, youth pastor at Central Presbyterian Church in Clayton, is charged with fondling and engaging in oral sex with a minor from March 1 to April 1 at Dickson’s home. Source: Post-Dispatch, 4-16-18

Eduardo E. Cornejo, 34, Lexington, SC: Criminal sexual conduct. Cornejo is charged with assaulting a woman while he was an associate pastor at Columbia First Seventh-Day Adventist Church in 2017, where he was later terminated. Other alleged victims have since come forward. Source: WIS-TV, 4-16-18

Jon C. McKinney, 59, Terre Haute, IN: 1 felony and 2 misdemeanor counts of resisting law enforcement. McKinney, lead pastor at N. Terre Haute Christian Church, was allegedly “verbally aggressive and confrontational” with an officer he approached in a parking lot and was then followed home, where the situation escalated and he was tased, a Vigo County deputy said. Source: WTHI, 4-13-18

Melquisedec Chan, 52, Mission, TX: Aggravated sexual assault and practicing medicine without a license. Chan, co-pastor with his wife of Iglesia Vida Abundante, is accused of molesting an unconscious parishioner after injecting her with benzodiazepines.

Chan calls himself a “professional surgeon” on his website but isn’t licensed in the U.S., according to the Texas Medical Board. He’s been visiting the woman at her home “to follow up with her, after a surgery she got done in Mexico in which he was present,” the complaint states.

The woman’s brother told her he saw Chan placing his genitals in her mouth April 9 “while she was sedated,” the complaint states. Source: McAllen Monitor, 4-13-18

Suzanne L. Owen, 35, N. Fort Myers, FL: Custodial sexual battery. Owen, a married high school teacher at Evangelical Christian School, is charged with having sex off-campus with a male student in early April after texting for several weeks.

An online photo showed Owen wearing a T-shirt that says “I solemnly swear that I am up to no good.” A 2005 graduate of Free Will Baptist Bible College in Nashville, TN, she was a recent finalist for the Golden Halo award, given for excellence in the classroom. Source: News-Press, 4-12-18

Rosendo F. Dacal, 73, McCandless, PA: Solicitation of child pornography, unlawful contact with a minor and criminal use of a communications facility. Dacal, a permanent deacon at All Saints Catholic Parish and a county jail chaplain, allegedly sent and solicited obscene images from an undercover officer posing as a 14-year-old boy in December. Source: Post-Gazette, 4-11-18

Terry Wells, 42, Trenton, NJ: Insurance fraud. Wells, founder of My Brother’s Keeper Ministries, is charged with making false or misleading statements to Allstate Insurance about a car accident in January 2017. He pleaded guilty last September to theft by deception for bilking a deceased congregant’s estate out of $12,000. Source: The Trentonian, 4-10-18

Acton Bowen, 37, Southside, AL: 2 counts each of 2nd-degree sodomy and enticing a child for immoral purposes and 3 counts of sexual abuse. He’s accused of assaults on boys between the ages of 12 and 17 over a period of several years. He founded Acton Bowen Outreach Ministries and is a regular contributor on Fox News on religion. His wife has filed for divorce and was granted a restraining order. Source: Hoover Patch, 4-10-18

Johannes Vermeer, 58, Chilliwack, BC: 2 counts each of possession of child pornography and accessing child pornography. Vermeer was executive pastor of Main Street Church since 2009 before being fired recently.

“We actually reported this to police when we heard there was this activity on the computer system,” senior pastor Shawn Vandop said. Vermeer was also an executive committee member of the B.C. Conference of Mennonite Brethren Churches but is no longer listed on its website. Source: North Delta Reporter, 4-9-18

Prabhu, aka Balaganesh, 28, Chennai, India: Murder. Prabhu, a Hindu priest at Vadapalani Sivan Temple, allegedly confessed to killing his wife of 8 years with a hammer because the couple couldn’t have children. He and another priest, Manoj Kumar, are accused of staging a crime scene to make it look like robbery. Source: Times of India, 4-9-18

Carlo A. Capella, Vatican City: Suspicion of possessing and distributing child pornography online. Capella, a Vatican diplomat, was recalled from the Washington Embassy in September 2017 after authorities told the Vatican about a possible violation of child pornography laws.

Police in Windsor, Ontario, alleged Capella uploaded child porn from a social networking site during the 2016 Christmas holiday from Dec. 24-27. He’s in custody while Vatican prosecutors prepare the case. Source: USA Today, 4-7-18

Benjamin R. Roberts, 24, Abilene, TX: Indecency with a child and possession of child pornography. Roberts was an employee at Wylie Baptist Church’s Child Development Center and child care programs at 2 other Abilene churches. It’s alleged he downloaded child porn from July 19 through Sept. 26, 2017.

Police Sgt. Lynn Beard said Roberts admitted inappropriately touching a child under 12 last year and said police seized several electronic devices and a pair of child’s underwear during a search. There are 21 allegations of abuse, with 8 “confirmed” cases, the affidavit said. Source: KTXS, 4-6-18

David Holmes, 80, Council Bluffs, IA: Sexual assault of a child. Holmes, a Methodist pastor who retired in 2002, is accused of engaging in consensual oral sex in February 2017 in the Clarkson Hospital parking garage in Omaha with a 14-year-old boy he met on the dating app Grindr.

Holmes allegedly told police he then introduced the boy to Robert Recoy, 64, who was later found dead from an overdose in his kitchen. “It is believed Recoy took his own life due to this investigation,” an affidavit said. Source: KETV, 4-3-18

Robert Ross, 70, Mesquite, TX: Knowingly failing to make a required child abuse report. Ross, lead pastor at Open Door Baptist Church, allegedly ignored repeated sexual encounters between staff and a minor. Steven Winn, 33, a volunteer youth leader, is charged with 3 counts of sexual assault of a child. His father, Larry Winn, 65, Open Door’s bus minister, faces the same charge. Source: Fox 4, 4-3-18

Russell Davis, 65, Seabrook, NH: Rape, rape of a child with force and indecent assault and battery on a person 14 or over. Charges involve the same alleged victim and incidents in April 2004 in Massachusetts when Davis was a licensed (not ordained) United Methodist minister. A church spokesperson said his license was revoked in 2015 for reasons not related to sexual misconduct. Source: WMUR, 4-2-18

Noel Anderson, 22, McKinney, TX: Aggravated sexual assault of a child and 2 counts of indecency with a child/sexual contact. Anderson, a primary grade assistant at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, is accused of molesting 4 children between the ages of 2 and 6 during the past 7 years. Source: NBC-DFW, 4-2-18

Jeffrey D. Rolen, 66, Wise, VA: 10 counts of indecent liberties with a child. Rolen, pastor of Highlands Fellowship, is charged with sexual involvement with an underage female in the 1980s when he was director of Camp Bethel Ministries. Source: Times News, 3-30-18

Matthew D. Patterson, 45, Pittsburgh: 8 counts of aggravated sexual battery. Patterson, pastor until resigning last September of Nolensville Road Baptist Church in Nashville, TN, is accused of molesting multiple victims, mostly boys, from 1998 to 2017.

Children alleged he asked them to sit on his face and stomach, sometimes in their underwear. Patterson was a vocal opponent of 2003 anti-discrimination bills to protect jobs and housing for lesbians, gays and bisexuals. Source: The Tennessean, 3-30-18

William W. Williamson, 38, Dothan, AL: 3 counts of sexual abuse of a child less than 12 years old. Williamson, Mt. Gilead Baptist Church children’s pastor, allegedly assaulted 2 children at a church camp event. He’s married with 7 children. Source: WTVY, 3-30-18

Kirbyjon H. Caldwell, 64, Houston: 13 counts of wire fraud, money laundering and conspiracy to allegedly bilk millions of dollars from elderly and vulnerable investors. Gregory A. Smith, 55, Shreveport, LA, is also charged.

It’s alleged Caldwell used his influence as pastor of Windsor Village United Methodist Church and Smith used his influence as operator of Smith Financial Group LLC to lure investors to pay more than $1 million for Chinese bonds that aren’t recognized by China’s current government and have no investment value. The indictment said Caldwell “used religious references to give investors hope they would soon be repaid.” Source: CBS, 3-30-18

Melva Washington, 60, Duluth, GA: 2 counts of first-degree forgery, 4 counts of false statements or writings and 3 counts of unauthorized practice of law. Washington, head pastor at Anointed Vision Church, is accused of claiming she could help people apply for “Dreamer” immigration status, charging them between $500 and $1,000 but never delivering the help she promised and forging documents. There are more than 1,000 alleged victims, said detective Nermin Cultarevic. Source: WMAZ, 3-30-18

The unidentified treasurer at St. David’s Episcopal Church, W. Seneca, NY, has been fired for allegedly stealing at least $55,000 from the parish, said a letter from rector Claudia Scheda. The name and pronouns identifying gender were blacked out in the letter given to media. Police have been notified. Source WGRZ, 3-27-18

Hubon Sandridge, 67, Memphis, TN: Stalking. Sandridge, pastor at Thomas Missionary Baptist Church, is charged with sending sexually explicit messages on Facebook to a woman in February and March and continuing to do so after being warned by police to stop. Source: WREG, 3-25-18

Menachem A. Weiss, 46, Los Angeles: 2 counts of aggravated sexual assault. Weiss is accused of assaulting an underage male in 1999 when he was serving as a rabbi in Woodcliff Lake, NJ. Source: nj.com, 3-22-18

Chad A. White Sr., 44, Dayton, OH: Suspicion of rape and gross sexual imposition. White, pastor of Mt. Carmel Missionary Baptist Church, is accused of touching the breasts and other private areas of a 51-year-old woman in March and attempting “to have sexual conduct without her consent.” Source: Daily News, 3-23-18

Pleaded / Convicted

Anthony Morris, 50, Toledo, OH: Pleaded no contest to misdemeanor assault. He’s pastor at St. Paul’s AME Zion Church. His wife, Zelda Morris, 46, pleaded no contest to criminal endangering. Their daughter, Kamali Morris, 18, pleaded no contest to disorderly conduct.

Nickema Turner, a Sunday school teacher, told police she was assaulted by the Morrises and that Zelda Morris dumped out her purse and took some items. The pastor, she alleged, pulled a gun and pointed it at her. Source: Toledo Blade, 4-19-18

John Calnan, 79, Cork, Ireland: Pleaded guilty to sexual assaults on 3 girls in the mid-1970s while he was a Catholic priest. Calnan has 3 previous sexual assault convictions. For the latest, in March, he received a suspended sentence because the judge said it’s pointless to jail him at this point in his life.

In that case, he admitted penetrating a girl’s vagina in the school kitchenette while she made her First Confession. Source: Southern Star, 4-16-18

Alvin N. McNeil, 56, Prichard, AL: Guilty by jury of rape and sex abuse of a child under 12. McNeil was pastor of Open Door True Worship Apostolic Church when arrested in 2016 for raping and impregnating a 16-year-old girl. The girl’s mother alleged he also sexually touched the girl’s sister, age 11. Source: WKRG, 4-10-18

Stephen M. Arellano, 30, Las Cruces, NM: Pleaded guilty to traveling in interstate commerce to engage in sex with a minor. When arrested in October, he was pastor of Apostolic Assembly Church and was the church’s District of New Mexico youth president.

Arellano admitted traveling to El Paso, TX, to have sex with a girl. She was 15 when they exchanged nude photos by phone and when he helped make a video for her Sweet 16 birthday party. Source: justice.gov, 4-9-18

William T. Coontz, 51, Fort Lauderdale, FL: Guilty by jury of 3 counts of failure to pay taxes and 4 counts of aiding and assisting in the filing of false tax returns. Coontz was pastor of Rock Wealth International Ministries in Charlotte, NC, from 2010-14 and wrote books on faith and finances such as “Please Don’t Repo My Car” and “Breaking the Spirit of Debt.” He allegedly boosted his income by overbilling churches for travel expenses and by concealing money he made from speeches, books and other products. Source: WYFF, 4-4-18

Elozer Porges, 44, and Joel Lowy, 29, Brooklyn, NY: Pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud. The men, who worked at Central United Talmudic Academy, admitted scamming the federal government out of $3.2 million in funds intended to feed needy students from 2013-15. The funds were issued through the state Department of Health as reimbursement for meals that were reported but never served. Source: NY Daily News, 3-30-18

Janet Farquhar, 70, Port Seton, Scotland: Pleaded guilty to embezzling just over $100,000 between 2008-16 from Chalmers Memorial Church, a Church of Scotland parish where she was treasurer since 1999. Source: London Times, 3-30-18

Klint Bitter, 34, Omaha, NE: Pleaded guilty to attempted 1st-degree sexual assault. Bitter, youth pastor at Christ Community Church, arranged to meet a 15-year-old girl in 2017 through DeArch Stubblefield, then 18, via Craigslist. Stubblefield is serving consecutive 10- to 20-year terms for human trafficking and attempted aiding and abetting of sexual assault of a minor. Source: World-Herald, 3-27-18

Jonathan Foster, 35, and Grace Foster, 34, Upper Tulpehocken Township, PA: Guilty by jury of involuntary manslaughter and endangering the welfare of a child for the 2016 death of their daughter, Ella Grace Foster, 2, from untreated pneumonia. The Fosters, who belong to Faith Tabernacle Congregation, rely on faith healing and called their daughter’s death “God’s will.”

They’ve given up custody of 6 other children. The girl’s grandfather, who is church pastor, was charged with failure to report suspected abuse but the charge was dismissed. Source: Reading Eagle, 3-22-18

Sentenced

Victor Taxgomez, aka Ever Oliveros-Cano, 50, Menlo Park, CA: 8 years in prison after pleading no contest to child molestation and 2 counts of sexual battery. Taxgomez, pastor at Senor Justicia Nuestra, was convicted of assaults on 2 sisters and their friend, ages 13, 15 and 17, from 2011-15 while praying with and “cleansing” them. Source: Daily Journal, 4-16-18

Philip J. Murphy, 53, Sunshine, Australia: 12 months in jail, suspended, after pleading guilty to transmitting child pornography. Murphy, vicar at Holy Apostles Anglican Church, was charged with having numerous online and Skype conversations with men about pedophilia in 2016-17. His username was “Pervert.”

In one chat he said he wanted to molest children as young as 2, prosecutor Jessica Mackay told the court. In another chat with a man who said he had sons aged 2 and 4, Murphy replied “I’m in a very pedo mood.”

“I accept that there was no sexual activity with children, nor were there any photos or videos involved in these communications,” said Judge Phillip Coish, who ordered Murphy to undergo sex offender treatment. Source: news.com/au, 4-21-18

Paul Moore, 82, Largs, Scotland: 9 years in prison after a jury found him guilty of molesting 3 underage boys and a seminarian between 1977-96 while he was a Catholic priest. The church never reported allegations and he was sent for treatment in Canada before reassignment. The youngest victim was 5 when Moore assaulted him at his primary school. Source: BBC, 4-11-18

Robert J. Dando, 53: 9 years, 4 months in prison after pleading guilty to 13 counts of sexual abuse of boys aged 10 to 15 between 1985-2007 when he served Baptist churches in the UK. Dando was arrested last August after being deported from the U.S. after completing an 8-year sentence in Virginia. He had pleaded guilty to 4 counts of molesting the sons of family friends while on visits to their home over a period of several years. Source: BBC, 4-10-18

Matthew J. Tague, 44, Carlsbad, CA: 15 years in prison after pleading guilty to 2 counts of lewd act on a child. Tague, pastor at North Coast Calvary Chapel, was charged with molesting a girl in 2016-17 when she was 12 and 13. Tague’s wife, who is the girl’s legal guardian, caught him in the act in May 2017 and reported him to authorities.

The child was born with fetal alcohol syndrome, which made her more vulnerable to abuse and less likely to tell anyone, prosecutor Patricia Lavermicocca said. Source: Union-Tribune, 4-10-18

Brian P. Werth, 34, Rockville, MD: 3 years in prison for convictions of sexual offense and sexual abuse of a minor. Werth, a youth minister at St. Elizabeth Catholic Church, was charged with molesting a 16-year-old girl. They began texting in 2014, and on or about May 20, 2016, Werth kissed her and had other inappropriate contact with her during a youth event at the church, prosecutors said. Source: Rockville Patch, 4-5-18

Fernando D. Maldonado, 37, Martinez, CA: 34 years in prison for convictions on 23 counts of child molestation. Maldonado, pastor at Morello Avenue Baptist Church, fled to Mexico in December during his trial and was later captured in Cancun and extradited. He was accused of assaulting a parishioner for more than 2 years, starting when she was 13. Source: East Bay Times, 4-13-18

Chad A. Coe, 36, Elgin, IL: 7 years in prison after pleading guilty to aggravated criminal sexual abuse. Coe, a youth leader at First Congregational Church, was accused of grooming the victim when she was 14 and assaulting her at age 15 in the church basement.

Coe can have his sentence cut in half for good behavior. The victim and her family have sued Coe, the parish and the United Church of Christ Illinois Conference. Source: Daily Herald, 4-2-18

Wiley G. Leverett, 58, Centerville, GA: 35 days in jail, 11 months’ probation and $1,000 fine after a jury found him guilty of sexual battery of a child under 16 for touching a 9-year-old girl’s thigh while he drove a bus in 2012 for Solid Rock Community Church, where he was pastor. He was found not guilty of child molestation. He was originally indicted for touching 4 girls from age 8 to 16. Source: WMAZ, 3-29-18

Wilmer R. Cruz, 38, Lilburn, GA: Obstruction of law enforcement, aggravated assault against law enforcement, obstruction of a 911 call and related charges for a March confrontation with police officers looking for a 16-year-old girl reported missing. Cruz is pastor of Iglesia Cristiana Evangelica. His wife, Cristina Cruz, 37, and 2 teen sons also face charges.

As the family swarmed the officers trying to get the girl out of the Cruzes’ car, Cristina Cruz grabbed his Taser and pointed it at him, Sgt. Ryan Long testified. “I grabbed Mrs. Cruz by the arm and told her she was under arrest for grabbing my Taser,” Long said. “She refused and would only say ‘Jesus love me.’ ”

The girl is believed to be pregnant by the Cruzes’ 17-year-old son. Source: Daily Post, 3-28-18

Aracely Meza, 52, Balch Springs, TX: 99 years in prison and $10,000 in fines after a jury found her guilty of felony injury to a child causing serious bodily injury. Meza, co-founder with her husband of Iglesia Internacional Jesus es el Rey, was charged with starving 2-year-old Benjamin Aparicio to death over 25 days in 2015.

Meza claimed the boy was possessed by demons and that God told her to starve them out. A video shows her “rising ceremony” to resurrect him the day he died. Charges are pending against the boy’s parents, Zenon and Liliana Aparicio, who are followers of Meza. Source: Washington Post, 3-24-18

Civil Lawsuits Filed

Gregory M. Altermatt and the Catholic Archdiocese of Hartford, CT, are defendants in a suit filed by Matthew Cornell, who alleges Altermatt molested him in the 1970s and 1980s he was 7 to 15 years old. Altermatt, now on senior status as a priest and living in New Haven, hasn’t been criminally charged.

Cornell alleges after his mother died in 1979, the priest offered to help his father with child care because he also had a daughter who was developmentally disabled, then molested him at the rectory, the Cornell home, a movie theater and at Altermatt’s mother’s Florida condominium. Source: Hartford Courant, 4-18-18

The First Assembly of God Church, Olney, TX, and the North Texas District Council Assemblies of God are being sued for $1 million by the mother of an alleged sexual abuse victim of youth minister Ryan A. Winner, who was sentenced to 60 years in 2016 for producing child pornography.

The boy participated in the church’s Royal Rangers youth program when he was about 6 to 8 years old “at the behest of First AOG of Olney and … Winner,” the suit states. Source: Times Record News, 4-14-18

William Sheals, 71, and Hopewell Missionary Baptist, Norcross, GA, are being sued by Yvonne Byrd, who alleges Sheals pushed her so hard while blessing her at an altar call that she fell backward and suffered traumatic brain injury when her head hit the floor. Source: Journal-Constitution, 4-14-18

The Catholic Order of St. Augustine and Providence High School in New Lenox, IL, are defendants in a suit filed by Robert Krankvich, 38, who alleges he was “repeatedly orally and anally raped” in the mid-1990s by Richard McGrath, a priest and former principal at the school.

McGrath abruptly retired in December during a probe of “potentially inappropriate material on his mobile device.” That investigation was closed after McGrath refused to turn over his cellphone but the case is being reviewed, said state’s attorney spokesman Chuck Pelkie. Source: Sun-Times, 4-12-18

Adrian Cristobal, the former Catholic Archdiocese of Agana chancellor assigned to the Diocese of Phoenix, AZ, was called back to Guam after he was sued by plaintiff “J.L.C.” for allegedly molesting him as an altar boy from 1995-97. Source: Pacific Daily News, 4-11-18

Joseph L. Bishop, 85, and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have been sued by McKenna Denson, 55, who alleges Bishop raped her in 1984 when he was president of the LDS Missionary Training Center in Provo, UT.

Inside a “secret room” at the center, Bishop tore open her blouse and the seam of her skirt before penetrating her, Denson alleges. Earlier, she secretly recorded and shared with media a recent conversation with Bishop in which he admitted having a sexual addiction. Source: Salt Lake Tribune, 4-4-18

Jonathan Wehrle, pastor of St. Martha Catholic Parish in Okemos, MI, is being sued by the Princeton Excess and Surplus Lines Insurance Corp. Wehrle is charged with embezzling $5 million from the parish. His 6-bedroom, 12-bathroom home is in receivership.

The insurance company says it’s paid out about $2.5 million to the Diocese of Lansing so far to cover losses from the embezzlement. “While this suit is pending, nobody wants to see the property go to waste or be damaged before the property can be forfeited,” said company spokesman Randy Marmor. Source: State Journal, 3-30-18

Legal Developments

Kevin Wallin, 66, a Connecticut Catholic priest dubbed “Monsignor Meth” for his 2013 convictions for selling methamphetamine, will not be sent back to prison despite failing 6 required drug tests while on probation.

At a hearing, Judge Alfred Covello ruled against incarceration recommendations of the probation officer and U.S. attorney. Wallin told the court he was working on his addiction and is getting needed support from the community. Source: AP, 4-19-18

Major L. Hillman, 24, Lynchburg, VA, who’s serving a 6-year sentence for indecent liberties with a child in 2015, had his appeal denied by the Virginia Court of Appeals. While admitting to using Snapchat to exchange sexually explicit photos and videos while he was a youth pastor at Thomas Terrace Baptist Church, he argued that the judge erred in allowing evidence showing that he knew or should have known the girl was under 15 and that he had exposed his erect penis to her.

The  court rejected the claim that exposure requires a person to be in the physical presence of a victim and ruled that her age was documented in church records. Source: AP, 4-8-18

Richard C. Mick, 56, Sandusky, OH, sentenced to life in 2016 for raping a 5-year-old girl in 1999 and fondling an 8-year-old boy’s genitals in 2003 while he was pastor at Lighthouse Baptist Church, had his convictions overturned by an appeals court due to ineffective counsel. A new trial was ordered.

After the trial started, Mick’s attorney, K. Ronald Bailey, declined to participate further because the judge refused to delay it. He was held in contempt and served 30 days in jail. The state argued on appeal this was a ploy to get a mistrial declared.

Two more alleged victims testified during the trial, including Mick’s daughter, who testified he raped her twice, when she was 13 and 14 or 15. He still faces gross sexual imposition charges in another county. Source: Sandusky Register, 3-17-18

Allegations

Les Hughey, 64, senior pastor at Highlands Church in Scottsdale, AZ, coerced her in the 1970s into giving up her virginity and having sex with him when she was age 17-19, alleges Tracy Epler. At the time, Hughey was married and led her youth group at First Baptist Church in Modesto, CA.

“I was a good little girl and he was a powerful youth pastor,” said Epler, now 59. “I always cried after. I cried afterwards in the bathroom because I’m cleaning myself and I don’t know what it is.” She said church leaders told her to “bury the secret.”

At least 6 other women who were members of Scottsdale Baptist Church, where Hughey was youth pastor after being removed from the Modesto church, have since alleged he touched their genitals while giving “full-body” massages. He’s been placed on leave at Highlands Church.

“I sinned and harmed the most important relationships in my life,” Hughey said in an April statement to media. It called his infidelity “consensual relations with fellow college-aged staff.” Source: Modesto Bee, 4-21-18

Removed / Resigned

Joseph McLoone, 55, resigned as pastor of St. Joseph Catholic Church in Downington, PA, in the wake of allegations of financial irregularity and inappropriate relationships with adults. It’s among the largest parishes, with 4,700 families, in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, said spokesman Ken Gavin.

McLoone allegedly set up an off-the-books bank account in the parish’s name that only he could access. At least $50,000 worth of expenses and ATM withdrawals need to be explained, Gavin said. About $1,500 of “personal expenses of an inappropriate nature … were related to relationships with adults” who weren’t parish members, Gavin said. Source: philly.com, 4-15-18

William “Bill” Hybels, 66, resigned as pastor of Willow Creek Community Church in S. Barrington, IL. The church hosts about 25,000 worshippers each weekend at its main campus and 7 satellite sites. At least 7 women have accused Hybels of improper conduct and abuse of power.

Vonda Dyer, a former leader of the church’s vocal ministry, alleged Hybels kissed and caressed her stomach in an overseas hotel 20 years ago, and said she didn’t go public until now because she thought the encounter and others like it were isolated incidents. Source: Chicago Tribune, 4-10-18

Yousry “Yost” Zakhary, Woodway, TX, was removed as an elder at First Baptist Church after he resigned as Woodway city manager. Sandra Bickel, a 17-year city employee, alleged in a civil suit that Zakhary has “permeated” city offices with “ongoing lewd, inappropriate and sexualized comments often directed at specific female employees” and “engaged in sexualized, unwanted touching of multiple female employees and/or former employees.”

The suit alleges Zakhary ridiculed employees about their weight and breast size, took unauthorized photos of a woman and showed them to others. Source: Waco Tribune, 4-9-18

John Ferone, Cincinnati, was removed from the faculty at St. Xavier High School, a Jesuit school. Hamilton County prosecutor Joe Deters said Ferone was accused of soliciting sex from a student via a text message. 

Deters declined to discuss the message’s contents other than that it appeared to have been sent inadvertently. “Based on what we know now, there are not going to be any criminal charges,” Deters said. “If we need to follow up, we will.” Source: cincinnati.com, 4-9-18

Loften C. Thornton, a U.S. Navy chaplain since 1992, was removed as chaplain for the Marine Forces Reserve based in New Orleans. Two Department of Defense officials confirmed that authorities were examining video allegedly showing Capt. Thornton having sex with a woman at the Crown & Anchor Pub.

Pub owner Neil Timms said the incident took place in front of the pub near some picnic tables. Thornton presided over the memorial service in 2000 of 17 sailors killed in the USS Cole bombing in Aden, Yemen. Source: USA Today, 4-4-18

Frank M. Lenz was placed on administrative leave by the Catholic Diocese of Marquette, MI, due to a credible allegation of misconduct with a minor in the 1970s, which Lenz denies. He was ordained in 1969 and retired to senior priest status in 2007. Source: WLUC, 4-2-18

Frank Page, 65, resigned as CEO and president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s executive committee and from active ministry, a decision “precipitated by a morally inappropriate relationship in the recent past,” according to a statement. He’d also been serving since February as interim lead pastor at Hebron Baptist Church in Dacula, GA.

Holy Smoke cartoon

With 15 million members, the convention is the largest U.S. Protestant denomination. Source: The Week, 3-28-18

Other

James Csaszar, 44, a Catholic priest on leave as pastor of Church of the Resurrection in New Albany, OH, jumped to his death from the 82-story Radisson Blu Aqua Hotel in Chicago, Ohio investigators said. Two suicide notes were found.

The Diocese of Columbus had suspended Csaszar due to “questionable text and telephone communications” with a 16-year-old boy and “potential misuse of church funds” while he was serving at St. Rose of Lima Parish in New Lexington. Source: AP, 4-15-18

Eight Hindu men are charged with the rape and murder of an 8-year-old Muslim girl in northern India in January. She belonged to a mostly Muslim nomadic community in an area populated by a Hindu majority and was abducted while grazing horses. It’s alleged she was taken to a Hindu temple, where she was drugged and raped for 5 days before being strangled and dumped in a forest. Source: CNN, 4-13-18

Email: [email protected]

Letterbox (June/July 2018)

I became a U.S. citizen without invoking God

In April, I became a United States citizen without God’s help.

In the application form for naturalization, I mentioned I was not willing to take the full Oath of Allegiance to the United States, and explained that the oath was fine, except for the last four words (“so help me God”).

During the naturalization interview, I was asked why, and answered that I am an atheist and do not believe in God. The person said it was OK and that I would simply be able to skip those words during the actual oath ceremony.

It felt great not to invoke God’s help to become a U.S. citizen!

Pierre Willard

California


Grover’s presentation showed FFRF’s value

We recently attended our local Unitarian Universalist Secular Humanists meeting, where the presenter was FFRF’s Associate Counsel Sam Grover. It was one of the best presentations we’ve attended. Sam’s strategy of describing past and current FFRF legal cases, and then using each case to illustrate particular facets of the Establishment and Free Exercise clauses of the First Amendment, was both informative and effective.

Afterwards, we (my husband and I) talked about the importance, especially in today’s political climate, of understanding how constitutional law supports Jefferson’s wall of separation.

We’ve been FFRF members for a long time, but we decided that one concrete way we could support the maintenance of church-state separation would be for both of us to become Life Members.

Many thanks to Sam for a great presentation and to everyone at FFRF. We are grateful for the work you do.

Susan and Lee Eberly

Iowa


Good arguments can come from disgraced people

While I deplore the private life of Lawrence Krauss, his public pronouncements — which include his YouTube videos, books, essays and articles — are excellent exhibitions of secular humanist thought. I hope it’s OK to continue to use his public works, and to quote them, even if he is disgraced for his private life.

Obviously, anti-humanists will, in ad hominem style, denounce any arguments of his because of his private life. But a good argument is a good argument, no matter who says it. We freethinkers should, at least among ourselves, continue to use his public works; his private life doesn’t affect it.

Andrew Orrin Lutes

Kentucky


Anniversary special section is a keeper

The 40th anniversary insert in the April issue with the timeline and Annie Laurie Gaylor’s article is wonderful. It’s a keeper! Thank you!

Chuck Berry
Pennsylvania


Imagine’ would be a great anthem for FFRF

Freethought Today and the work accomplished by FFRF staff are first-rate and much needed in our “fairy-tale” society. Keep up the great work!

I also have a suggestion. If FFRF ever decides to adopt an anthem, may I suggest John Lennon’s beautiful “Imagine.” (The only change would be to the line, “a brotherhood of man.” I’m sure there must be an FFRF member that could come up with a substitute line that encompasses women and children, too.) Overall, however, the lyrics embrace the values, sentiments and beliefs of freethinkers.

Caren Campbell

Illinois

Editor’s note: FFRF has used the lyrics from “Imagine” in various ways over the years, including “Imagine no religion” on billboards, on FFRF merchandise and as opening music for Freethought Radio.


Hoping for replacement for lost membership pin

Dear FFRF stalwarts, enclosed is a check for you to continue to carry the critical struggle for state-church separation.

My Life Membership in FFRF has been a source of considerable pride for me and I have worn the badge celebrating that membership very often.

I don’t wear it anymore, though, because it came off in a D.C. taxi. I hope the badge was found and is now a tasteful accessory to the cabbie’s wardrobe.

My hope is that my donation might be enough to prompt you to send me another Life Membership pin to replace the one I lost.

More importantly, though, I hope the check helps keep your spirits up in these difficult times for the sentient. Like many people, I have trouble accepting the Trump administration because it is a threat to individual rights of almost every description.

John Reiser

Texas

Editor’s note: The pin is on its way!


Keep up your sense of humor despite vilification

The April issue of Freethought Today with coverage on Zenos Frudakis and Maryam Namazie was especially wonderful.

To help advance FFRF’s cause, I’ve included a check to be used for advertising. I believe this is a good strategy. It’s good to hear more and more citizens are coming around to the understanding the reality of religion in terms of social and political control.

It’s always gratifying to hear folks at FFRF maintain a sense of humor despite the grotesque and desperate attempts of ostracism, demonization and vilification, and to do so with such self-confident style!

Keep up the wonderful work ever so mindful of the Socratic suggestion, “The unexamined life is not worth living.”

Alan Maximuk

Iowa


FFRF deserves accolades for its legal successes

I am absolutely thrilled at the FFRF v. Morris County decision issued by the New Jersey Supreme Court. As a New Jersey resident and a Lifetime Member, I am especially proud of FFRF’s success in this matter.

On so many levels do FFRF and plaintiff David Steketee deserve congratulations!

When I first learned about FFRF by serendipitously finding your broadcast on Air America, I was impressed by your no-nonsense legal approach to defending the Establishment Clause. Your attorneys know the law and articulate it exceedingly well in court filings. You choose superior counsel. You foster and manage supportive relationships with member plaintiffs.

I am proud to be a Lifetime Member of FFRF. I know you will keep up the excellent work.

Eugene P. Provost

New Jersey


Black Collar Crime section draws me in

At 87, as I use up my remaining years on Earth, I write hundreds of letters about my causes and passions. I also browse the National Catholic Reporter and the National Catholic Register to see what the institutional church is doing to its members.

I am a member of FFRF and just finished reading your latest issue of Freethought Today. I don’t know why, but I am drawn to the Black Collar Crime section, probably because I have been a strident critic of the Catholic Church for decades.

I also bought Anne Laurie Gaylor’s book, Woe to the Women. It was a dazzling compilation of the nastiness of the bible, and I applaud her work, and that of FFRF in general.

John Minck

California


Yes, you can be both a patriot and an atheist

I am a veteran and an atheist. For years, I have made regular modest donations to the Veterans of Foreign Wars. I am not a member of the VFW, but consider its work to support veterans and their families to be worthwhile.

From time to time, the VFW sends out pre-printed cards to be signed and returned, and those  will be given to hospitalized vets as a gesture of appreciation.

The most recent one I received had the phrase “God bless you and God bless the United States.” I mailed this one back, unsigned, to the VFW headquarters with a letter stating that, as a nonreligious person, I could not sign it. I also offered that if the VFW did not care to receive donations from atheists, they should let me know. I have received no response. However, the organization continues to regard me as a “distinguished member of the VFW’s Patriot’s Circle.” Apparently, it is OK with taking money from a nonbeliever.

If anyone asks, yes, you can be a patriot and an atheist.

David M. Shea

Maryland


‘Badly-written bible’ column was wonderful

I’d like to give a special note of appreciation for Valerie Tarico’s article in the April issue, “Why is the bible so badly written?” Most of the Freethought Today articles are eye-opening and informative, but this one really struck a special note.

Raised evangelical, my brain was programmed to need to believe that the bible was a guidebook from God. As a physics student, it quickly became clear that there were huge flaws in the “Word.” Why did the all-knowing God neglect to tell his chosen people that the world is round? He knew that the Earth rotated around the sun but refused to tell us?

And then there are all of those rules about what to not eat. Why didn’t God just tell us about bacteria and viruses. The “For God so loved the world . . .” thing fell apart when I realized that the “all-knowing God” wrote us this huge human-life user’s manual, complete with a recent (2,000 years ago) revision, using hundreds of pages of begats, and didn’t care enough to tell us about atoms and supernova and all the other wonders that he supposedly created.

I learn so much by reading Freethought Today. Thank you for your fair and balanced tabloid.

Philip Lentz

Arizona


We, too, can fight small state-church battles

At an intake booth at the Barnes-Jewish West County Hospital in St. Louis, I was greeted by a wizened lady, possibly as old as me. Her name tag said “Dixie.”

As she asked the usual questions and keyed in my answers, my gaze was drawn to a sign on the small counter that separated us. It looked like a rubber eraser, only bigger, and it bore the message, “Jesus erases all of our mistakes.”

I pointed to the sign and said to Dixie, “I’m sorry, is this a Christian hospital?”

“Yes, BJC is Barnes-Jewish CHRISTIAN.”

“Is it ONLY a Christian hospital?” I asked.

“No, sir. Someone gave this to me as a gift, because of my faith.”

Dixie had further questions, and she asked them with an edge of crisp politeness. As she did, I jotted down her name and the offending message. Then I shifted gears.

“You know, if somebody gave this to you as a personal message, maybe it would be better to turn it so it faces you. Otherwise, it looks like it’s something the hospital is telling us, and that would be offensive to a lot of people.”

She finished her data entry, then turned to me and smiled. “Thank you. Thank you for putting it so kindly,” she said, reaching over to shake my hand. “I appreciate that.”

Later, as I passed by her booth on the way out, I was tempted to look, but decided that would send the wrong message.

Robert Gordon

Missouri


My one-act play was my own ‘clergy project’

I loved John Compere’s article in the May issue about his involvement in The Clergy Project and his experience as a doubting minister. Although I’ve never been a minister, I have a “clergy project” of my own.

One of the first Freethought Todays I read (in 1993) contained an article called “From Fear to Freedom,” by Professor Robert Arends, in which he wrote about being pressured by his father to become a minister (which had been the father’s own dream, but which he couldn’t achieve — so he’d make one of his sons achieve it for him!).

Being an actor and playwright, I wrote a fictionalized one-act dramatization of Arends’ story and called it “I’m on My Journey Home.”

The script sat in my dresser drawer until 2013, when I impulsively decided to enter it into the Community Theatre Association of Michigan’s (CTAM) Playwriting Award competition. Much to my surprise, it won! As part of the award, community theatres across Michigan were allowed to present the play, royalty-free, for the next two years. None did, but the play is now in CTAM’s script library.

It’s just too bad that, while I was writing the play, Arends died. I’d have loved to send him a copy. And it’s also too bad he didn’t live to see The Clergy Project — he would have felt right at home, I’m sure.

Andrew C. Jones

Michigan


Lack of divine mercy prompted this poem

My wife and I are Life Members of FFRF.

Over the years, I’ve written several poems that mock the absurdity of religion and supernatural claims.

My words are aimed at readers of all educational levels. 

Our loving little dog died a horrible death in the vet ICU after being torn apart by coyotes. The blatantly obvious absence of divine mercy in this world was the inspiration for this poem.

Don’t You Ever Tell Me

You say your Lord sees everything, from oh so high above

And fills this world with never-ending mercy, grace, and love

But where was he last Tuesday night when my precious little dog Jody

Was torn apart and left to die by a pack of wild coyotes

You can pray if you want, you can pray if you please

But don’t you ever tell me

To believe that childish fairy tale

And get down upon my knees

In war after war the faithful kneeled and prayed to their loving god Jesus

But the bombs still fell and the shells still burst and blew them all to pieces

They swear that he will heal you, if you just pray in his name

Tell that to the millions who prayed, and are still blind, deaf or lame

You can pray if you want, you can pray if you please

But don’t you ever tell me

To believe that childish fairy tale

And get down upon my knees

They say that he will hear you, if you just pray in his name

Your problems will all go away, this ain’t no silly con game

Tell that to the children who suffer and scream, as they die of growing cancers

They cry and beg and pray to Jesus, but never get any answers

You can pray if you want, you can pray if you please

But don’t you ever tell me

To believe that childish fairy tale

And get down upon my knees

Bruce Flamm

Maryland


FFRF Member Thomas Drolsum sent us this photo of him wearing the “Out of the Closet Atheist” cap he won as one of FFRF’s weekly virtual billboard winners. If you’d like a chance to win FFRF merch, join either our “Out of the Closet Atheist” or “Unabashed Atheist” campaign and create your own virtual billboard. It’s free! Just go to billboards.ffrf.org/out-of-the-closet or billboards.ffrf.org/unabashed.

Trump gives forgettable Memorial Day message

Memorial Day is a solemn and sacred national day of remembrance and reverence for the brave American military men and women who sacrificed their lives for this country.

President Trump tweeted a moronic and meaningless 45-word message to the nation, containing the insensitive terms “happy” and “nice,” 38 words of self-promotion, and only nine words mentioning our Memorial Day observance or fallen heroes and she-roes.

Trump, who dodged the Vietnam War because of bone spurs, needs to be enlightened that Memorial Day is not about him and not a “happy” or “nice” memorial. It is a sad and serious one about deceased patriots. He obviously does not comprehend its meaning or does not care. His tepid tweet was inconsiderate and insulting to all American families who lost loved ones to the tragedy of war and all American veterans who lost comrades.

Appropriate and respectful Memorial Day proclamations from patriotic past presidents can be easily checked on the internet and compared to Trump’s inappropriate and disrespectful tweet. “Make Me Great Again” Trump needs to spend less time promoting himself and more time demonstrating American presidential dignity.

John Compere

Brigadier General, US Army (Retired)

Disabled American Veteran (Vietnam)

Texas

Overheard (June/July 2018)

I can stand on a beach at sunrise with the most devout of religious people . . .
and I can weep with awe at this beautiful planet we live on. . . . I don’t use “God” and I don’t use “spirituality.” Those aren’t my particular terms. But “awe” is a good word that I do feel.

Swimmer Diana Nyad, an atheist, when asked if she feels more connected to her spirituality when she’s swimming in the ocean.

Sacramento News and Review, 3-8-18


It’s crazy for the government to hire a member of the clergy to lead Congress in prayer, unless somebody repealed the First Amendment while I was distracted.

Gail Collins, New York Times columnist, after Speaker of the House Paul Ryan dismissed House Chaplain Pat Conroy (and later reinstated him).

New York Times, 5-1-18


I used to think that the left was a little strident in demanding strict separation of church and state. But my views have changed as I’ve watched the Republican Party constantly try to inject Christianity into everyday political life. . . . Anyway, we don’t need a House chaplain so that Paul Ryan can fire him on his own way out the door.

Bret Stephens, New York Times columnist.

New York Times, 5-1-18


The state’s highest court has reached the only logical decision it could. The church/state line is not one that should be crossed or easily compromised. It’s a principle, indeed, that is as old as the nation or this state.

Editorial in response to FFRF’s victory in the Morris County, N.J., decision that the county had violated the Constitution in awarding grants to churches for preservation.

Glen Rock (N.J.) Gazette, 5-4-18


Many young people came to regard religion . . .
as judgmental, homophobic, hypocritical and too political.

E.J. Dionne, columnist for the Washington Post, in his column “No wonder there’s an exodus from religion.”

Washington Post, 5-6-18


Only 10 percent of Americans claim to be full-blown atheists. They deserve respect. To believe with seriousness that no hidden order or purpose whatsoever lies beyond the material world is to shoulder a weighty challenge in finding meaning in life.

Columnist D.J. Tice, in his column “Belief in God means what in America?”

Minneapolis Star Tribune, 5-6-18


One wants to be free to choose his death when death is at the appropriate time. I am very appreciative of the hospitality of the Swiss Federation and the ability that one has here to come to an end gracefully. [I would like to be remembered] as an instrument of freeing the elderly from the need to pursue their life irrespective.

Australian botanist David Goodall, 104, a nonbeliever, who gave himself a fatal dose of barbiturate on May 10, in Switzerland. He flew to Switzerland because Australian law did not permit him aid to take his own life.

New York Times, 5-10-18


If the irreligious ever get serious about flexing their muscles politically, a lot could change in this country, particularly on church-state separation issues.

Ed Kilgore, in the article, “Americans with no religion greatly outnumber white evangelicals.”

New York magazine, 5-11-18


With hope for a two-state solution nearly dead, current trends suggest that a Jewish minority will come to rule over a largely disenfranchised Muslim majority in all the land under Israel’s control. A rising generation of Americans may see an apartheid state with a Trump Square in its capital and wonder why it’s supposed to be our friend.

New York Times columnist Michelle Goldberg, in her column, “A grotesque spectacle in Jerusalem,” reacting to the opening of the U.S. embassy in Jerusalem while 59 Palestinians were killed and thousands injured at the fence separating Gaza from Israel.

New York Times, 5-14-18


Removing religious liberty protections in the name of religious freedom taints the cause. Honoring freedom for faith-based providers, while taking it away from people receiving services, is wrong.

Melissa Rogers, in her op-ed column, “President Trump just unveiled a new White House ‘faith’ office. It actually weakens religious freedom.”

Washington Post, 5-14-18


I’m exactly the opposite of religious, I’m anti-religious. I find religious people hideous. I hate the religious lies. It’s all a big lie. . . . I have such a huge dislike. It’s not a neurotic thing, but the miserable record of religion. I don’t even want to talk about it, it’s not interesting to talk about the sheep referred to as believers. When I write, I’m alone. It’s filled with fear and loneliness and anxiety, and I never needed religion to save me.

Acclaimed author Philip Roth, who died May 22, in an interview in 2005 with The Guardian’s Martin Krasnik.

The Guardian, 12-14-05


We have a strong protection of religious rights in this country, and it’s supposed to be a shield. But they are using it as a sword. The government is enabling people to force their religious beliefs on others as a condition to maintain their relationships with their children.

Human rights attorney Julie F. Kay, commenting on judicial decisions placing ultra-Orthodox Jewish law above secular law in New York.

New York Times, 5-27-18


Evolution will remain part of the education curriculum.

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey, after hearing that Arizona Superintendent of Public Schools Diane Douglas was working to weaken the state’s science standards by casting doubt on the theory of evolution.

Arizona Central, 5-29-18