Strong Backbone Student Activist Award: Taking on school’s violations paid off, eventually

Dustin Daniels

Dustin received a $1,000 “Strong Backbone Award,” which is generously contributed by an octogenarian member of the Freedom From Religion Foundation (who prefers anonymity) to celebrate his birthday. He likes to bestow the scholarship, via FFRF, upon a high school student or recent high school grad who has demonstrated a “strong backbone” in defending the separation of state and church and/or freethought.

By Dustin Daniels

All of this started when I was a 16-year-old sophomore who opposed a Ten Commandments plaque hanging inside my Tennessee high school.

After I lodged a complaint, controversy ensued, with hundreds of people inflamed about the complaint, which caused the Cumberland County School Board to ultimately vote to allow the decalogue to remain on the walls.

Despite this loss, there was little time to be upset because I knew more needed to be done, since the basketball team had a “character coach” who was leading weekly devotionals, religious messages were displayed everywhere and Christian music was blasted during classes. All of it had to be resolved.

I decided to continue fighting and give activism one more chance . . . or multiple chances.

FFRF stepped in and had to write numerous letters of complaint, sometimes over the same violation. Some people told me I was being too difficult, but I felt the students’ rights were of top priority. It didn’t matter how annoying the school officials thought the complaints were. Following the Constitution is not annoying nor is it too difficult.

Every day, I walked into a school that I felt lacked any respect for me or my rights. Each complaint took months to resolve, and, frustratingly, it seemed each time one violation was resolved, another would come up.

Finally, after nearly two years, there was success. The school district’s attorney agreed to conduct countywide training on religion in schools. Additionally, teachers who had repeat violations were warned of possible reprimand, and one principal agreed to watch over a sixth-grade history teacher accused of promoting Jesus in the world religions curriculum. Multiple religious displays have been removed and the basketball team was required to be inclusive.

We are still dealing with serious issues, such as the Ten Commandments plaques and school events in churches. However, as the old saying goes, “The wheels of justice turn slowly,” but they turn, nonetheless.

True religious freedom cannot exist when the government decides to be a church or a preacher. Seeing what happens when religion and government become too close made me realize the wall between church and state must remain tall and impenetrable. It is up to everyone to protect that wall and to never settle for less than what we deserve.

Dustin graduated high school early and will attend Roane State Community College. He hopes to go to law school after college graduation.

James A. Haught: Embrace honesty for a purpose-driven life

James A. Haught

By James A. Haught

Millionaire evangelist and author Rick Warren is correct: Having a purpose-driven life gives people meaning and goals. But he’s absurd in claiming that purpose comes from gods and devils, heavens and hells, miracles and messiahs.

I think the purpose that drives science-minded freethinkers can be summed up in a single word: honesty. It’s dishonest to claim to know supernatural things that nobody can know. Honest people want evidence and don’t embrace magical assertions without it. Simply to be honest about beliefs — that’s a powerful motive imparting purpose to skeptics.

Sixty years ago, when I was a gawky young news reporter, my mentor was a tough city editor who was a clone of H.L. Mencken. He sneered at hillbilly preachers in our Appalachian Bible Belt. As a naive wisdom-seeker, I asked him: “You’re right that all this bible-thumping is silly — but what’s the truth? Why is the universe here? Why does life exist? Why are we all doomed to die? What’s the meaning of everything? What truthful answer can an honest person give?”

He eyed me squarely and replied: “You can say: I don’t know.”

Bingo. That rang a clear bell in my mind, and it never left me. It showed me how to be honest in the face of bewilderment. An honest person admits inability to comprehend ultimate reality.

Later, as I studied, I learned that this same conclusion was reached by Ancient Greece’s great Epicurus — and by Omar Khayyam in his profound Rubaiyat — and by Jean-Paul Sartre and fellow modern existentialists — and by Zorba the Greek, whose questions exposed “the perplexity of mankind” — and by multitudes of other earnest seekers trying to discern what underlies our existence.

The honesty worldview can give you a sense that you are supporting factual reality. It makes you advocate science, democracy and human rights as the best tools to improve humanity. It gives you a personal identity — something worth fighting for.

Honesty makes us realize there’s no trustworthy proof that our minds will continue living after our bodies die. As far as we can tell, each person’s psyche is created by an individual brain — and dies when the brain does. Accepting the coming oblivion requires courage, but it’s the only honest stance. Wishing for immortality is self-deception.

When I foresee the abyss, the blackness of death ahead, it breeds existential gloom — a sense that everything ultimately is meaningless — a bleak awareness that our struggles soon will be forgotten and ignored, like those of past generations. I’m haunted by Macbeth’s rant: “All our yesterdays have lighted fools the way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle! Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage and then is heard no more. It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

Pointless floundering, soon to vanish into the forgotten past. That’s a dismal summation, and it rings true. Yet we nonetheless can develop purpose-driven lives that hold the gloom in abeyance, while we move onward.

We gain purpose by raising children, working at a satisfying job, sharing our life with a fond spouse or lover, relishing the serene joys of nature, etc. But those pursuits don’t address the ultimate questions that cannot be answered and never go away.

Historian Gleb Tsipursky of Ohio State University says trusting one’s own sense of integrity and belief in the scientific method imparts value.

“We as secular people can use science to fill that emptiness deep in the pit of our stomach that comes from a lack of a personal sense of meaning and purpose,” he wrote. “We can use science to answer the question: What is the meaning of life for you?”

He cited studies showing that people with strong convictions have better health and more happiness. “Discover your own sense of life purpose and meaning from a science-based, humanist-informed perspective,” he urged.

A wag replied: “My purpose in life is to feed my cat.” Well, simply ignoring the profound questions is a legitimate way to cope — but some of us can’t stop wondering. We know we will never find answers, yet we crave firm beliefs to keep us struggling onward.

The only approach that works for me is to repudiate imaginary spirits and support humanistic reality as the basis of life and society.

Ever since ancient Greece, the world’s greatest minds have searched for the purpose of it all — to no avail. But each secular humanist can acquire a personal purpose by embracing honesty and the scientific method. We can have purpose-driven lives by opposing self-proclaimed holy men who write books like The Purpose-Driven Life.

James A. Haught is editor emeritus of West Virginia’s largest newspaper, The Charleston Gazette-Mail.

Letterbox (April 2020)

Help get more freethought into libraries

A copy of Cartoons for the Irreverent and a copy of Freethought Today are available at McMinnville Public Library in Oregon.

In November, I ordered the book of Don Addis cartoons (Cartoons for the Irreverent) from FFRF, with the express purpose of gifting it to the McMinnville Public Library. After several months, it finally appeared on the “new books” rack. Maybe FFRF members could follow suit and get more freethought material into their local libraries. Throughout the years, I figure I have gotten at least 13 freethought books added to my local library system.

I am a longtime member of FFRF and have also succeeded in getting Freethought Today into four libraries.

Dan Hilbert
Oregon


Granddaughter immersed in ‘Freethought Radio

There’s no publication I anticipate seeing in my mailbox as much as Freethought Today, which is a true pleasure to read. It’s hard not to devour the entire issue in one sitting.

I have a story that I thought you might be interested in.

During the daytime on Thursdays and Fridays from early August through mid-November of 2019, my wife and I were watching our youngest granddaughter, from the time she was four months old to seven months old.

On virtually every one of those Thursdays and Fridays, I would take her for a stroller walk for nearly an hour, which just happened to be the perfect amount of time for listening to the previous week’s “Freethought Radio” podcast!

So, I’d put my phone in the back of the stroller, turn the volume up as high as I could to drown out any traffic noise, and happily listen to the podcast as I pushed the stroller along the sidewalks in our neighborhood.

Although at such a young age, it’s highly unlikely my granddaughter was able to grasp what was being said, I like to think that the enlightening freethought messages somehow found a way to enter her neural pathways anyway, perhaps predisposing her to a life as a freethinker.

Randy Hilfman
Washington


Senate chaplain said Lord would guide them

I was interested to hear the Senate chaplain (a position which should not exist) infer in one of his impeachment invocations (a ritual that should not exist) that the Lord, in its infinite wisdom, would guide the senators to make the right decision. Shows how much the Lord knows.

With President Trump declaring in the State of the Union address that he is going to put prayer back in the schools, looks like you folks at FFRF will have a busy year.

Finally, thanks for giving me a chuckle by publishing in the January/February issue the photo of the Alabama high school football team baptizing folks in a livestock watering tank.

Phyllis Murphey
California


Religion and morality are not synonymous

Many people believe that morality and their religion are the same — and that the more pious they display themselves, the more they will appear as paragons of virtue.

But we nonbelievers know better. How often, after all, has religion served as a charlatan’s mightiest fortress? And how many believers have sunk to the lowest depths of immorality, camouflaged by religion’s respectability?

When most Americans finally learn that religion and morality are not synonymous — and that religion itself often hinders morality, they’ll run like hell when they come across a politician who flaunts his or her faith like a shameless exhibitionist.

David Quintero
California


Hooray for FFRF’s TV ad during Dem debate

Bravo and thank you for running an ad during the Democratic debate on Feb. 5! Good job! I support you all the way!

Alan Iberg
Oregon


The Bladensburg cross case conundrum

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that an old and large concrete cross maintained with government funds on government property in Bladensburg, Md., did not violate the First Amendment requiring the separation of church and state because passage of time somehow diminished its Christian religion symbolism and rendered it historically secular. This specious solution ignored not only legal precedent but also several historic facts.

• The Second Commandment (Exodus 20:4, 34:17; Deuteronomy 5:8, 27:15) prohibits making or worshiping graven images or idols in the form of anything.

• Roman cross idolatry, violating the commandment, was created by early foreign priests to exploit vicarious guilt among fearful foreign followers. The Roman Catholic Church combined, construed and confused commandments to cover its blasphemous worship of Roman or Latin crosses. Copycat American Protestants inexplicably ignore the prohibition by also idolizing foreign crosses.

• Foreign execution crosses are negative and nefarious instruments of torture and death from an ancient barbaric empire. They are not American symbols, but foreign imports from the ancient Middle East by way of pagan Rome. American revolutionary, founder and second President John Adams opined,  “the most fatal example of the abuses of grief which the history of mankind has preserved — the cross.”

Unthinking Americans disrespect and disregard the biblical commandment by idolizing foreign crosses. Those who believe biblical scripture is the hallowed word of God, but pick what they prefer and reject the rest need to think again. Glorifying sadistic symbols of maiming and murder is sordid and sacrilegious.

The American flag, American eagle, Liberty Bell, Statue of Liberty, Liberty torch, Christian fish, dove with olive branch or divine assurance rainbow are more sacred symbols for American Christians.

John Compere
Texas


Camara’s ‘Holy Hierarchy’ is powerful, enlightening

I watched Jeremiah Camara’s movie, “Holy Hierarchy.” I did not realize how images of God, Jesus and even Mary as white people had such an effect. As a heathen (my term for myself), I had kept some religions images in my home. They are all as white as am I. I will now remove such images from display in my home. I will not give them away as that would continue the stereotyping. This is a very powerful and enlightening movie. I recommend that everyone should watch it.

Joe Gillis
Tennessee

Editor’s note: See page 15 to read Camara’s FFRF convention speech. Watch the film on Amazon Prime.


Church-state separation may not exist for long

In Lapeer, Mich., the police vehicles have “In God We Trust” on their license plates. In Marysville, Mich., the City Council is pressing for compulsory prayer back in the schools. At a national level, President Trump is giving free reign to the evangelicals to institute their agenda, which strongly supports prayer in school and forced recital of the Pledge of Allegiance.

If Trump wins a second term, no religions will exist in the United States except the evangelical church. The country will dissolve into a dictatorship.

These are pressing matters that are taking my time and which have me greatly concerned. These are truly desperate times for the United States. With the Trump administration, the separation of church and state has been and will be eroded to the point that “separation” will no longer exist. Trump has taken the power from Congress and has packed the courts. Without a revolution, I fear the separation of church and state will not be withheld.

Mark J. Taylor
Michigan


Freethought Today helps in these dark times

Thanks for all your great work. Reading Freethought Today puts me in a good mood, especially in these dark times. I’ve enclosed a check to become a Lifetime Member.

Janet Nye
Minnesota


Senators use religious ideology when voting

Our creepy creeping theocracy has now shifted into second gear. Have you noticed? The corruption and chaos of the Dark Ages have been brought to the United States of America by the Republican Party and Dictator Trump. They are debating who has the right prayers, who has real faith and who is a cult, and who is going to save this Christian nation from Democrats, socialists, liberals and secularists? Ultimately, from the devil! The myth and superstition is everywhere, just like in ancient times, and we must call it out for what it is: a tool of corrupt politicians.

Trump said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi can’t possibly be praying for him, because she is a “horrible person” and one of those Democrats who are “vicious as hell” and “stone-cold crazy.” He openly questioned her faith and whether “she prays at all.” He accused Democrats of conducting a “deranged crusade” against him. In fact, he and his oligarch conspirators are carrying out a Christian crusade to overturn the Constitution in favor of the Old Testament. After all, some of Trump’s supporters and he himself claim he was “chosen by God” or “heaven sent.”

Trump said Sen. Mitt Romney only used “religion as a crutch” when he decided to vote to convict him on the impeachment charge. And, of course, Romney is a Mormon, rather than a Christian evangelical. How is it that the Republican senators all voted as a solid block to acquit Trump (with the exception of Romney)? Religious ideology, that’s why.

Trump and the other oligarchs are using code words like “liberty” and “freedom” that to them mean individuals of privilege should not have to sacrifice anything for “social justice,” or to end discrimination or ensure civil rights or even clean air and water and social services. Their religion is so selfish that, if Jesus was real and returned to Earth, he would be horrified.

Ron Herman
New Mexico


Buy Founding Myth to donate to your library

In the December issue, there was the article “Pastor burns copy of The Founding Myth.”

This inspired me to purchase five copies of Andrew L. Seidel’s book, The Founding Myth, and donate them to my local public library. I recommend that every FFRF member purchase at least one copy of The Founding Myth and donate it to their public library. It’s a great way to promote freethought and provide some financial support to FFRF.

John Dunn
California


Creeds throughout time are devoid of reason

Throughout my upbringing, I was, as a matter of routine, obliged to recite a “creed,” i.e., a definitive statement of Christian faith. To learn that more than one of these devices was in common use among the various congregations in our town was something I found at the time to be only mildly perplexing. Little did I know that over the centuries, Christians have felt the need to develop well over 100 different creeds, each one as devoid of reason as the others.

Only recently did it occur to me that any one of us might put forth an equally valid, personal statement of faith. For example, the following creed says all anyone would ever need to know about the belief system I have come to embrace. And while others of you might find it interesting or even helpful, no one will be required to memorize or recite it.

An Atheist Creed

I believe everyone should have a chance to fly.

I believe in chivalry and sportsmanship

and that the Golden Rule is the best idea anyone ever had.

I believe undivided attention is the greatest compliment one can bestow

or receive.

I believe dog is humans’ best friend, that elephants have a mind and that even a moth can sense kindness.

I believe intelligence or stupidity may be inherited

but that ignorance is a choice.

I believe that everything which begins will have an end,

that there exist profound truths beyond our comprehension

and that humor affords our only sane retort.

I believe that love cannot save us,

yet is the one sure thing worth dying for.

I believe heaven is a moment,

that only the living can suffer hell

and that death is no more mysterious

than the flipping of a light switch to

Off.

Michael Brandt
Wisconsin


Does law still apply if roles are reversed?

What happens when the gay baker refuses to serve evil-gelicals?

Tim Scott
South Carolina


Donation to ad campaign will help your vital work

The transcriptions of the speeches given at FFRF’s annual conventions continue to be a favorite section of Freethought Today for this supporter.

I especially want to applaud you for having invited Rachel Laser of Americans United. She’s doing great work!

I have enclosed a check to be applied to your advertising campaign. It appears that, along with the prevailing sense of anomie running amok, it’s generating significant numbers of new members.   

As always, I  can depend on the superior sense of ethics which prevail at FFRF to continue your vital and wonderful work.

Alan Maximuk
Iowa

Crankmail (April 2020)

Here is this issue’s installment of Crankmail, where we republish, unedited, some of the mail we get at FFRF that doesn’t deserve Letterbox status. Not for the faint of heart. 

Abortion: You should not mislead people about what god says about abortion. Exodus 21 clearly says life for life. A baby can survive if born as early as 21 weeks. You better do a few more bible studies. — Dennis Zacharias

Bow to Christ: I just want to say that you guys can keep your liberal “freedom from religion” garbage in Wisconson. That junk isn’t welcome in WV. There are many in this state that still hold to godly principles and the truth of Scripture. It amazes me how organizations like this exist and take offense at these things and try to put a stop to it, and in turn disrespect and offend the Christians. Don’t give me that “separation of church and state” spill either. We both know that means that the state cant govern how the church operates and does not mean that Christian values cant be expressed publicly. If someone is offended then guess what? WHO CARES! One day you guys will bow before Christ, either as your Savior or your Judge. Rom 10:9 — Jayce Mersten

Hell: There are no atheists in hell,when they die and their souls see HELL,They believe but it.s too late — Roland Bouchard

u want a fight: Who in the hell are you to be telling people what is right or wrong. I find that when a person or group of people say that what I think,say,do,live is wrong then it’s time that I find that person or group and knock it on it fucking ass,then keep knocking down till they learn to leave me alone. So if it’s a fight u want it’s a fight u get you hitler loving sob’s — Robert Tess

Go pack sand: I have been reading numerous articles where the FFRF has threatened numerous sheriff’s around the country in regards to the “In God We Trust” stickers on the sheriff department vehicles and wearing their uniform while addressing church congregations they have been invited to speak at. From what I can gather, all of them have basically told your attorneys o pack sand and fuck off. I also find it refreshing to see the courts-of-law throwing your lawsuits out with “No Merit” rulings.  I interpret that to also mean the FFRF can pack sand and get fucked as well. I highly recommend the FFRF continue to file the frivolous lawsuits and am encouraging the governments affected to file for all court costs, time and a half for employees salaries wasted to respond to your games, fuel to travel to and from court, printer ink, paper, copier toner and any and all other taxpayer expenses for the waste of time you have created for nothing. Eventually, your supporters will begin to question the wisdom of wasting their money on lawsuits that continue to be without merit. Sincerely, — Andy Pastorini

Concord: Why do you force atheist  ideas on a Concord School district when most of the community is Christian?  Shall we start a “Freedom from atheists” group in order to protect my and my children’s rights.  One student in a school should not be allowed to choose what I watch!!! You are forcing what you believe on me.   STOP — Linda Junck

You bastards!: You demon possessed bastards want to attack Christians and Veterans like me huh?  Well you sons-of-bitches, when The Rapture happens and you get Left Behind, I can’t wait for World War 3…you’re going to get your asses kicked by God Almighty Himself when He pours out the 21 Judgments! Jesus Christ is going to make you all bow…whether it is on His right side for worship, or on His left for damnation! Fell free to get the hell out of my country that I served and buried over 25 of my friends & comrades!  Maybe you bastards can get traded: send you to Syria, Iraq, Iran, etc., and bring the women, children, and persecuted Christians here to the USA! God damn you, God damn your false teachings, and God bless the United States of America!!! — William Pasternak

God the creator: You do know it is scientifically impossible for space time and matter to arise from nothing, by nothing.( what the atheistic world view suggests)  Check out the first law of thermodynamics, “Energy can neither be created nor destroyed in nature” You atheists have a problem…If there is no God how did all this stuff get created??? — Michael Hartinger

Black Collar Crime (April 2020)

Compiled by Bill Dunn

Arrested / Charged

Larry E. Deutsch, 54, O’Fallon, MO: Possession of child pornography. Deutsch met his alleged teen victim through their Mormon Church ties. (A church statement said Deutsch hasn’t led a congregation since 2014.) After the girl moved with her family to Arizona in 2017, he stayed in touch with her even though her parents got a restraining order against him.

It’s alleged Deutsch coerced the girl into sending him nude images of herself in October 2019 and then sending her nude images of himself. Court documents say he flew to Arizona in February, bought her a 2020 Nissan Rogue SUV and drove with her to Missouri. She told police they had plans to get married in May 2021.

“Police have a compelling reason to believe there may be other victims,” a statement said. “Deutsch was known to have unsupervised contact with children as part of his leadership and service duties at various churches and youth organizations based in St. Charles County and Troy.” Source: KMOV, 2-21-20

Josue Romero, 46, Wendover, UT: 3 counts of aggravated sexual abuse of a child. Romero, pastor at New Life Ministries Baptist Church, is charged with inappropriate touching of a girl “about 20 times” from 2016–18 when she was in 5th–7th grades.

The girl, now 16, told police Romero touched her while they were “seated at a large table reading from the Bible with other children around, but no one could see because of the table,” during a sleepover at the church and while they were outside the church playing hide-and-seek. Source: Salt Lake Tribune, 2-21-20

Former Polish Catholic priest Jacek Miedlar, 31, was indicted on charges of hate speech and Holocaust denial. Miedlar’s religious order, the Congregation of the Mission, had banned him from public speaking, leading him to quit the priesthood in late 2016.

According to the prosecutor, Miedlar said this at a nationalist march in November 2017: “Dear ladies and gentlemen, that synagogues can stand here on our Polish soil in Wroclaw, and that [mayor] Dutkiewicz and Jews can get drunk at them with Talmudic hatred, this is only the result of our tolerance.”

Miedlar publicly set fire in 2018 to a portrait of deceased Prime Minister Tadeusz Mazowiecki, calling him a “communist scab” who “never concealed his Jewish-communist Bolshevik inclinations.” Although Mazowiecki was Catholic with no Jewish roots, his political opponents often accused him of Jewish descent to discourage people from voting for him. Source: Jerusalem Post, 2-20-20

Frederick J. Lutz, 76, Springfield, MO: Forcible sodomy, felony sex abuse and 2 counts of 2nd-degree statutory sodomy while he was pastor at St. Joseph Catholic Parish in Advance in January and February 2000.

Lutz allegedly called the 17-year-old boy, who had been doing yard work, into the rectory where Lutz was drinking alcohol and watching porn. The boy told police Lutz “blocked the door and would not let him out” until he performed and received oral sex and promised to come back the next day with marijuana.

Another boy filed a complaint with the diocese in 2006 that Lutz molested him in 1972 when he was 17 after a night of drinking. He alleged he woke up to Lutz masturbating him and that the next day at Mass, Lutz handed him a bible and wished him “good luck” in college. The diocese ignored the complaint. Source: Riverfront Times, 2-19-20

Christopher “Checkerz” Williams, 47, Baton Rouge, LA: Aggravated assault with a firearm, aggravated criminal damage to property, illegal carrying and discharge of weapons and reckless operation. Williams, lead pastor at Renew Church, was charged with firing a handgun at the driver of an 18-wheeler on I-10 after Williams’ vehicle struck the truck. He then fled the scene. Source: WBRZ, 2-18-20

Guia Cabactulan, 59, Marissa Duenas, 41, and Amanda Estopare, 48, Los Angeles leaders of the Philippines-based Kingdom of Jesus Christ Church, have been charged as part of an alleged scheme to trick followers into becoming fundraisers and arrange sham marriages to keep them in the U.S.

Former followers told the FBI they worked long hours soliciting donations for the church and were beaten and psychologically abused if they didn’t make daily quotas. Some described having to live in cars at truck stops.

Between 2014–19, $20 million was sent to the Philippines. Investigators documented 82 sham marriages over a 20-year period. Source: AP, 2-14-20

Stricjavvar F. Strickland, 37, Kalamazoo, MI: Misdemeanor assault and battery. Strickland, senior pastor at Second Baptist Church, is charged with striking a deacon at the church Dec. 15. Strickland claimed it was self-defense. Source: mlive.com, 2-12-20

Paul E. Lubienecki, 62, Hamburg, NY: 2 counts of cyberstalking. Lubienecki, an adjunct professor at Christ the King Seminary in East Aurora, is accused of making voicemail threats starting last August to TV news reporter Charlie Specht for his stories on abuse scandals in the Diocese of Buffalo and at the seminary.

“You’re still a bad Catholic and a horrible reporter,” a message on Specht’s phone said. “I hope to God I don’t see you walking around.”

Hours after the diocese announced on Feb. 4 the closure of the seminary, Specht gave a live report and received a call: “You must be so happy the seminary’s closing. You’re a bad person. I know where you live … I’m gonna find you. I’m gonna kill you.”

Lubienecki also allegedly left menacing messages for former diocesan employee Siobhan O’Connor and Fr. Ryszard Biernat. Source: WKBW, 2-12-20

Todd T. Hogue, 59, Curwensville, PA: 2 counts of 3rd-degree criminal sexual conduct. Hogue, pastor at Community Baptist Church since 2003, allegedly assaulted a 17-year-old girl at Lake Region Christian School in Baxter, MN, in 1987–88 when he was 27 and was a youth pastor at First Baptist Church and girls basketball coach.

Allegations include assault on several occasions before and after the girl’s 18th birthday, including sexual intercourse. The investigation revealed other instances of alleged behavior by Hogue, including snapping students’ bra straps and other inappropriate touching. Source: Brainerd Dispatch, 2-11-20

Jefferson Kwamina-Crystal, 65, Spartanburg, SC: 1st-degree sexual misconduct with an inmate. Kwamina-Crystal, a chaplain at Leath Correctional Institution in Greenwood, allegedly coerced an inmate to perform oral sex on him in his office between August and December 2019. Source: WSPA, 2-11-20

Taisha D. Smith-DeJoseph, 43, Willingboro, NJ: 13 counts of computer criminal activity, tax fraud, theft by deception and theft. It’s alleged she stole $561,777 from 2015–19 while overseeing finances at St. Paul’s Baptist Church, filed a fraudulent income tax return in 2017 and did not file at all in 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2018. Source: Philly Inquirer, 2-11-20

Ryan S. Walsh, 27, Gulf Breeze, FL: Transmitting obscene material to a minor, lewd and lascivious behavior involving a minor and use of a computer to solicit/seduce a child. Walsh, youth director at United Methodist Church, is accused of inappropriate touching, messaging and sending photos to a 13-year-old girl. Source: WALA, 2-10-20

Antonio Carlisle, 45, Jacksonville, FL: Sexual battery and sexual misconduct. Carlisle, senior pastor at Greater Truevine Missionary Baptist Church in Lake City and education supervisor at the Florida State Prison in Raiford, allegedly penetrated the victim anally with his penis without consent on Aug. 6. Source: Miami Herald, 2-7-20

David R. Darby, 41, Paris, TX: Aggravated sexual assault of a child. Darby, youth pastor at Freedom Church, is accused of an assault on Jan. 1, 2013. Source: KXII, 2-7-20

Jason Thomas, 40, Coppell, TX: Aggravated sexual assault of a child. Thomas, associate minister of worship at Valley Ranch Baptist Church, allegedly had sexual contact with a girl under 14 years old. Source: CBS Dallas, 2-7-20

Logan Wesley III, 56, Texarkana, AR: 18 felony counts related to alleged sexual abuse of 3 underage girls. Wesley, pastor of Trinity Temple Church of God in Christ, allegedly started molesting one of the girls when she was 12 and continued for several years on a regular basis. Source: Texarkana Gazette, 2-6-20

Elmer R. Perez, 45, New Bedford, MA: Witness intimidation, rape, aggravated rape and 2 counts of indecent assault and battery on a person 14 or older. Perez, pastor of Iglesia de Jesucristo, allegedly met the married parishioner at a market last October and convinced her to go to the storefront church, where the assaults took place. Prosecutor Zac Mercer said 5 women have come forward with assault allegations. One is pregnant. Source: Standard-Times, 2-3-20

David Desmond, Sioux Falls, SD: Grand theft embezzlement. Desmond resigned last July as pastor at St. Mary Catholic Church after being confronted about financial irregularities and frequent absences. An audit revealed over $95,000 worth of questionable disbursements over a 5-year period. Desmond’s whereabouts are unknown. Source: KELO, 2-3-20

Rolando Fuentes, 53, Anaheim, CA: Lewd acts with a minor, rape, sexual battery, domestic battery and child annoyance. Fuentes, pastor at Centro Familia Cristiano Peniel, has 3 alleged victims, including 2 juveniles. The church, founded by Fuentes and his wife in 2008, mainly serves Guatemalan immigrants. Source: KABC, 1-31-20

Frederick G. Smith, 50, Memphis, TN: Identity theft and 2 counts of theft of property over $10,000. It’s alleged that Smith, pastor of New Life Holiness Church, went in March 2015 to the home of church member Clevie Williams and asked her to be on a church board before obtaining personal information such as her Social Security and driver’s license numbers.

Williams said she soon began receiving credit card statements in her name showing charges of between $10,000 and $60,000. Carolyn Bussell, Williams’s daughter-in-law, said the money was used for all kinds of things. “They got dental work done to their teeth … hair extensions, $6,500 worth of shoes.”

Smith’s wife was initially charged with misdemeanors but she was not indicted due to insufficient evidence. Source: Fox Memphis, 1-31-20

Richard T. Brown, 78, Dittmer, MO: Aggravated sexual assault of a child. Brown, a Catholic priest living at a church treatment center for sex addicts, is charged with molesting a girl between the ages of 6 and 14 in 1989–96 in Texas.

Brown told a detective the girl was “fascinated” by him, “sat in my lap” and “was aggressively all over me,” an arrest warrant said.

Brown was forced out as pastor of Our Lady of the Lake in 1994 in Rockwall, TX, a year after another alleged victim told church leaders he abused her in 1981. He underwent therapy and continued to serve in adult-only ministries.

Brown allegedly admitted to Dallas detective David Clark in 2019 that he sexually abused as many as 50 children during his time at the Dallas diocese. “It should be noted,” Clark wrote in the affidavit, “Brown has not been investigated or prosecuted for any of his acts of sexual abuse against children.” Source: Dallas Morning News, 1-30-20

Pleaded / Convicted

Robert D. Adkins, 75, Ona, W.VA: Pleaded guilty to mail fraud. In a plea bargain, Adkins, volunteer treasurer at Antioch Baptist Church, admitted writing over $487,000 worth of checks to personal creditors without the knowledge of church leaders from 2012–18. The fraud charge stems from mailing a church check in December 2018 to a Texas creditor to pay his monthly payment on a 2016 Ford Escape. Source: WV MetroNews, 2-19-20

Brian D. Batke, 73, Surrey, BC: Pleaded guilty to sexual assault. Batke was associated with Cloverdale Christian Fellowship Church at the time of the 2007 assault of a minor. He was a church elder until 2005 and then served as a church director until 2007.

Samuel Emerson, a pastor at the church, was found guilty of sexual assault in November. Source: CBC, 2-18-20

Andrea Knecht (née Lightfoot), 34, Omaha, NE: Pleaded no contest to 1st-degree sexual assault. Knecht, a part-time coach at Marian Catholic High School in 2013, was charged with assaults on a freshman basketball player when Knecht was 27 and the girl was 14 and 15.

Knecht later married and had a child. “Phone records were gathered which showed hundreds of calls between the victim and the defendant during that time period,” prosecutor Molly Keane told the court.

The girl’s parents discovered the phone calls and the school told Knecht to stop contacting her. “The defendant then, according to reports, bought the victim a burner phone to continue their contact,” Keane said. She was eventually fired but the school never alerted police. The girl didn’t file a complaint to police until 2019.

According to its website, “Marian teaches the beliefs of the Roman Catholic faith in a caring and loving community atmosphere” to girls preparing for college. Source: World-Herald, 2-1-20

Sentenced

Kevin Lonergan, 31, Pottsville, PA: 1 to 2 years in prison and sex offender registration for 15 years after pleading guilty to indecent assault. Lonergan, pastor at St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church in Allentown, admitted rubbing his body against the 17-year-old victim’s body in 2018 and sending her 20 sexually explicit photos and a video.

Lonergan had been transferred in 2016 from another parish after a 15-year-old girl alleged he assaulted her. He was temporarily removed from ministry but later reinstated before his transfer.

“We are still transferring priests that molest children?” asked Judge Maria Dantos at sentencing. “If he had been sanctioned and fired, this victim would not be a victim.”

Lonergan apologized. “I am guilty of violating your trust and stealing your dignity as a person,” he told the girl. “My actions were disgusting and selfish.”

Dantos berated the priest’s many supporters who came to court. “There is no churchgoing person who should be supporting your actions. Period.” Source: Morning Call, 2-24-20

Orlando Martinez-Chavez, 48, Jersey City, NJ: 8 years in prison. Martinez-Chavez, a father of 3 and pastor at Iglesia Pentecostal Lirio de los Valles, was found guilty at trial of sexual assaults on a 10-year-old girl from the church. He later pleaded guilty to assaults on 2 other underage victims. Source: Daily Voice, 2-22-20

Olivet University, a San Francisco-based evangelical college, and 4 of its top executives with ties to media companies pleaded guilty in New York to falsifying business records and money laundering and were fined $1.25 million. The entities and leaders also have ties to controversial Korean-American pastor David Jang, whose expansive global network founded Olivet, the Christian Post, Christian Today and the International Business Times.

The media companies and Olivet inflated their financial standing to secure $35 million in loans to purchase high-end computer servers. They instead obtained cheaper servers (or none at all) and used the loans for their own operations as well as transferring funds to each other, according to the Manhattan DA’s office.

Olivet offers 21 degree programs to a student body of a few hundred mostly international students on visas from Korea and China. It’s accredited through the Association for Biblical Higher Education. Source: Christianity Today, 2-20-20

Robert D. Barkman, 66, Atlanta, TX: 30 years in prison after pleading guilty to possession of child pornography and 2 counts of promotion of child pornography. An investigation started in June 2019 when images were discovered on his computer at an unidentified church where he served as youth leader and secretary. He’s also a retired middle school teacher.

“According to investigators, it appeared that Barkman has been creating and holding child pornography since the early 2000s,” said a prosecution press release. Source: Texarkana Gazette, 2-10-20

Hugh Lang, 89, a retired Diocese of Pittsburgh Catholic priest, was sentenced to 9 to 24 months in jail on sexual assault convictions involving a boy who was 11 at the time and is now 30.

He accused Lang of taking him to an isolated basement room in Munhall, then forcing him to undress and masturbate him as punishment for making a joke to other altar boys about Lang drinking the communion wine. Source: Post-Gazette, 2-6-20

Thomas W. Steele, 63, Concord, NC: 73 to 100 months in prison and $123,367 restitution for embezzlement over $100,000 and 4 counts of exploitation of an elder adult. Steele, pastor of New Life Baptist Church, was convicted of stealing from an 85-year-old widow after the death of her husband in 2015. She had given Steele power of attorney. Source: WBTV, 2-3-20

Lincoln Warrington, 49, Teaneck, NJ: A year and a day in prison for his part as treasurer in a scheme to steal more than $5.3 million from the Israelite Church of God in Jesus Christ from 2007–15. Co-conspirator and pastor Jermaine Grant, 44, was sentenced to 18 months. Both pleaded guilty.

The Southern Poverty Law Center calls the Harlem-based church a black nationalist hate group. Grant has claimed that a black Jesus will return to Earth to kill and enslave whites. Source: Daily Voice, 1-30-20

Michael Sperou, 69, Portland, OR: 160 months in prison and $70,000 in victim damages after being convicted of sexually assaulting a child under age 12 on separate occasions between 1991–96. Sperou, senior pastor of N. Clackamas Bible Community Church, was found guilty of abusing girls who lived within the community, which some have called a cult. At the time it was called the Southeast Bible Church. Source: KATU, 1-31-20

Brian Stanley, 57, Coloma, MI: 60 days in jail, 5 years’ probation and 15 years’ sex offender registration after pleading guilty to attempted unlawful imprisonment of a 17-year-old boy in 2013 when he was pastor at St. Margaret’s Catholic Church.

Stanley immobilized the boy in plastic bubble wrap and covered his mouth and eyes with masking tape for over an hour before letting him go. Three other alleged victims have come forward, said prosecutor Alison Furtaw, including a boy who was 13, but those cases are past the statute of limitations.

“Although [Stanley] reports there was no sexual reason for doing this to the victims, they thought he was masturbating, but it was hard for them to tell because their eyes were taped shut,” Furtaw told the court. Source: mlive.com, 1-30-20

Civil Lawsuits Filed

St. Michael’s Catholic Church and St. Frances Xavier Cabrini Parish in Rochester, NY, are being sued for alleged 1969 sexual assaults of a Florida plaintiff. The man alleges he was molested by Fr. Benedict Ehman and another priest when he was 8 years old, sometimes singly and sometimes by both priests at the same time. Source: WROC, 2-19-20

The Catholic Archdiocese of Denver and Denver priest Andrew Kemberling are defendants in a suit alleging St. Vincent de Paul Catholic Parish and School at Kemberling’s direction used $2.2 million in restricted funds to cover things the money was not appropriated for over a 5-year period.

The total includes $250,000 from a fund to help a teacher at the school pay for the education of her 4 children after their father died of cancer. Source: CBS Denver, 2-18-20

The First Baptist Church of Hammond, IN, and David Hyles are being sued by Joy Rider, who alleges Hyles raped her repeatedly as a teen in the late 1970s when he was a youth pastor.

She alleges officials of the church and Hyles-Anderson College were complicit. David Hyles is the son of the church’s charismatic leader, the late Jack Hyles.

The suit asserts that after Rider’s father confronted church officials, he was given a lucrative job at Hyles-Anderson “in exchange for his silence and agreement not to take the allegations to law enforcement” and that David Hyles was moved to a Texas church. Source: nwitimes, 2-18-20

The Catholic Diocese of Paterson, NJ, is being sued over alleged abuse at the now-closed Don Bosco Technical High School in Paterson by a former student, who asserts he was molested by Sean Rooney, a priest and chemistry teacher, over 100 times in the early 1970s. Rooney’s last known address was in Tempe, AZ.

The website bishop-accountability.org noted Rooney was also accused in a 2013 suit of abuse of a 14-year-old seminary student at a retreat house in Massachusetts and at a seminary in New York. Source: nj.com 2-17-20

The Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles, former Archbishop Roger Mahony and former priest Michael Baker are being sued by a 32-year-old man who alleges Baker was returned to parish duties even after admitting to molesting him and other children.

Baker has been accused of molesting at least 23 men as young boys during his decades as a priest. He was convicted in 2007 and sentenced to 10 years. Source: KTLA, 2-12-20

Jerome Yeiser, a deacon at Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem, NY, is being sued for allegedly absconding with over $200,000 from at least 5 church families during the last 6 years. He allegedly used the money to pay for a personal trip, his daughter’s law school tuition and an IRS tax lien.

Yeiser and his wife Avis have faced many past charges of financial malfeasance, including $170,000 in civil judgments, $90,000 in unpaid tax liens, a home foreclosure, 3 bankruptcy filings and prosecution on more than a dozen federal criminal charges. Source: amny.com, 2-12-20

At least 20 former Jehovah’s Witnesses members in the UK are suing the church over historical sexual abuse. The Witnesses have a policy of not punishing child sex abuse unless another person besides the accuser has witnessed it or an abuser confesses.

Former elder John Viney, who alleges he was abused between the ages 9 and 13 by a distant family member who was an active Witness, said the church is “inadvertently” protecting abusers. “The way that Jehovah’s Witnesses handle matters within the congregation, it’s a closed shop,” Viney said. Source: BBC, 2-4-20

Kevin Vann, bishop of the (Latin Rite) Catholic Diocese of Orange and Edward Poettgen are being sued by a 28-year-old man who alleges Poettgen fondled and penetrated him twice at St. Polycarp School in Stanton, CA, when he was 6.

The plaintiff said that after he reported the alleged abuse in January 2019, Vann treated him like “an enemy of the church” instead of offering compassion. Poettgen is now assigned to St. Boniface Parish in Anaheim.

“They served subpoenas on my mother, my girlfriend and my employers, hoping to intimidate me but I will not be intimidated,” the plaintiff said. “I find strength in knowing that my actions will protect other children.” Source: KABC, 2-4-20

The Diocese of Buffalo, NY, and St. Timothy’s Catholic Church are defendants in a suit filed by a plaintiff who alleged oral and anal rape by St. Timothy’s pastor John L. Ducette starting in 1986 when he was 13. Ducette, who was also police chaplain for the town of Tonawanda, died in 2016 at age 79.

“Plaintiff estimates that Monsignor Ducette sexually assaulted and abused him over one hundred (100) times over the course of an eighteen (18) month period,” the suit alleges. “Monsignor Ducette wore his religious garb while sexually assaulting and abusing Plaintiff.” Source: Buffalo News, 2-1-20

Richard T. Brown, a recently arrested former Texas Catholic priest (see Arrested/Charged above), repeatedly raped an 8-year-old girl in the early 1980s after Sunday school at Holy Family of Nazareth Parish in Irving, according to a suit filed against the Diocese of Dallas.

The suit was filed on behalf of the alleged victim by her aunt. When they were alone, Brown allegedly told the girl “God said it was OK.” Now 45, “Jane Doe” struggles with drug addiction and living an independent life and doesn’t have a driver’s license, her aunt said. Source: WFAA, 1-30-20

Civil Lawsuits Settled

Ohio televangelist Ernest Angley and his Grace Cathedral megachurch in Cuyahoga Falls reached a confidential settlement in a suit filed by Brock Miller of Myrtle Beach, SC. Miller, a former church employee, alleged Angley abused and harassed him for a decade starting in 2004, forced him to get a vasectomy, inspected his genitals and asked him sexual questions.

Had the case gone to trial, attorneys had agreed the 98-year-old Angley wouldn’t be required to testify due to age-related maladies. Source: AP, 2-17-20

The Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles, Lawrence Lovell and the Claretian Missionaries agreed to settle for $1.9 million a suit filed by Richard Barrios, 47, who alleged Lovell molested him at San Gabriel Mission Parish from 1982–84 when he was 9 to 11 years old.

Lovell was convicted in 1986 in Los Angeles of abusing a 14-year-old boy and placed on 3 years’ probation. He later pleaded guilty after being transferred to Arizona to child molestation and sexual conduct with a minor and received a 14-year sentence. He’s scheduled to be released March 7, 2021. Source: L.A. Times, 1-30-20

Finances

The Catholic Diocese of Buffalo, NY, facing 260 lawsuits involving clergy sexual abuse, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Filings estimate between $50 million and $100 million in liability. The diocese already paid $17.5 million to 106 victims in 2018. Source: WKBW, 2-28-20

The Catholic Diocese of Harrisburg, PA, filed for bankruptcy, 6 months after disclosing it paid over $12 million to over 100 people sexually abused as children by its clerics. Twenty-three U.S. dioceses and religious orders, including one in Guam, have filed for bankruptcy.

The diocese told the court it has more than 200 creditors and estimated liabilities between $50 million and $100 million, with assets of less than $10 million. The diocese estimates it faces about 200 additional child sexual abuse claims. Source: AP, 2-19-20

The Catholic Diocese of Richmond, VA, announced creation of a compensation fund for victims after identifying nearly 50 priests credibly accused of sexual abuse of minors.

Survivors of clergy sex abuse had until April 3 to submit a claim. The program will be administered by BrownGreer, a Richmond-based settlement firm. Source: WWBT, 2-17-20

Disgraced Cardinal Theodore McCarrick secretly gave nearly $1 million to a controversial group of Catholic missionaries and supported leniency for its founder Carlos Buela after the Vatican sanctioned Buela in 2010 for sexual wrongdoing with minors. From 2004–17, McCarrick sent the Institute of the Incarnate Word in Argentina dozens of checks from a charitable account he controlled at the Archdiocese of Washington, according to church ledgers.

Buela was ultimately ordered to live in a monastery in Spain in 2016. McCarrick, defrocked in 2019 for sexual abuse, recently moved from a Kansas friary to an undisclosed location. Source: Washington Post, 2-17-20

Legal Developments

Thomas Ericksen, 72, a Catholic priest sentenced in 2019 to 30 years for sexual assaults on at least 11 boys, could be released on parole less than a year after being sentenced. According to a letter from the state Department of Corrections to victims, the Wisconsin Parole Commission will consider Ericksen’s request for parole in April.

“I couldn’t believe it,” said victim Steve Weix. “A lot of people just spent 10 years trying to get him convicted, and it finally happened in September. Now they’re already looking at paroling him in April?”

The sentence was described in the letter as “indeterminate,” meaning the judge has no control over how long Ericksen will actually serve. Because Ericksen committed the crimes before the state adopted “truth in sentencing” in 1999, his prison term is up to the Parole Commission.

Generally, inmates with an indeterminate sentence must serve at 25% of it, which is 7½ years for Ericksen. Source: Wausau Daily Herald, 2-20-20

John B. Feit, 87, died in a Texas prison only 2 years into his life sentence for the 1960 murder of 25-year-old Irene Garza, a school teacher and former Miss South Texas. Feit was living in Arizona when he was finally arrested in 2016. He left the Catholic priesthood in the early 1970s, married and had 3 children.

Trial testimony showed Garza was killed on Easter weekend after Feit heard her confession at Sacred Heart Parish in McAllen when he was 27. An autopsy revealed she had been raped while unconscious and was asphyxiated.

Prosecutor Michael Garza alleged Feit was sexually excited by the sound of women walking in high heels and by the sight of them kneeling for prayer. Evidence was also presented that the Catholic Church conspired with law enforcement to prevent a scandal and to shield Feit from being charged. The investigation died and the church transferred him. Source: McAllen Monitor, 2-13-20

The Pennsylvania attorney general’s office is investigating whether Jehovah’s Witnesses repeatedly failed to report child sexual abuse allegations. Mark O’Donnell, a former Witness, was interviewed last year at his home in Baltimore and testified before a statewide grand jury in Harrisburg, PA.

The Witnesses branch in Wallkill, NY, in a statement to USA Today, said it “cares deeply about children” and always tries to follow the law.

In 2018, a Montana jury awarded $35 million to Alexis Nunez, who said she was sexually abused for years by a member of the Thompson Falls congregation. Two others told elders in 2004 they were abused by the same man, but the elders never reported it to authorities.

The church appealed the verdict and the Montana Supreme Court ruled in its favor, finding that the lower court erred when it said Witnesses had a duty to report. Source: USA Today, 2-8-20

Peter Green, 56, a leader of a New Mexico paramilitary religious sect with anti-Semitic leanings who is facing multiple counts of child sex abuse charges, was released on house arrest despite protests from law enforcement. Green is a lieutenant colonel in the Aggressive Christianity Missions Training Corps near Grants.

His mother-in-law, sect leader Deborah Green, 71, was sentenced in 2018 to 72 years in prison for kidnapping, criminal sexual penetration of a minor and child abuse. Eleven children were rescued from the compound.

Cibola County Undersheriff Michael Munk said former members described leaders treating followers like slaves and physically beating children. Two other leaders are serving prison sentences. Source: AP, 2-4-20

Allegations

Abuse allegations by 2 women against Wesley Feltner, former lead pastor at Berean Baptist Church in Burnsville, MN, were deemed credible after a church investigation. Feltner behaved in a shameful way not “free from sinful habits” and deserved “rebuke or censure” in the eyes of church elders, according to a recent statement from the church to congregants.

JoAnna Hendrickson and Megan Frey, now in their mid-30s, said Feltner, now 41, dated each of them at the same time in 2002 when he was a youth pastor and they were 18.

Their accusations came to light last fall after Feltner applied for a position at a church in Clarksville, TN. Hendrickson and Frey created a website about their experiences and the church’s failure to take action. “We love Christ, we love the church, and the whole reason this is coming about is because the church needs to be saved from people like this,” Frey said.

The investigation also determined Feltner intentionally misused his church credit card, which officials said will be offset by reducing the amount they agreed to pay him when he resigned. Source: Star Tribune, 2-5-20

Rabbi Avraham Mordechai Alter, son of the leader of the ultra-Orthodox Ger Hasidic sect in Israel, is accused of sexual assaults by male yeshiva students in Jerusalem dating back 2 decades. His father, Yaakov Aryeh Alter, 80, learned years later about the accusations and removed him from the yeshiva, but authorities weren’t contacted and complainants have received no financial or emotional support.

It’s also alleged the Hasidic community paid about $86,000 to hush up the scandal, after which the younger Alter was moved to another Hasidic institution and the yeshiva was closed. Source: Haaretz, 12-22-19

Removed / Resigned

The Southern Baptist Convention expelled Ranchland Heights Baptist Church in Midland, TX, for knowingly hiring registered sex offender Phillip Rutledge as pastor in 2016. It’s the first church to be disfellowshipped by the denomination amid a heightened push to combat sexual abuse.

Rutledge was convicted of sexually assaulting two preteen girls in 2003. A deacon at the church told the local CBS affiliate in 2016 that “the vast majority” of members knew about Rutledge’s sex offender status. Source: New York Times, 2-19-20

Other

Ulysses Woodard, 44, co-pastor with his wife of True Word of Deliverance Church of God in Prichard, AL, killed himself with a handgun after shooting Alisha Woodard in the chest in the parking lot of Cornerstone Church in Mobile, where she had just finished preaching. They were recently estranged.

As police arrived, Woodard fled the scene in his vehicle but soon returned. As officers approached, he shot himself. His wife’s injuries were serious but not life-threatening. Source: Christian Post, 2-28-20

Richard Logan, 53, Sugar Land, TX, a former pastor and founder of the faith-based nonprofit Attack Poverty, fatally shot himself after killing his wife and son in the family home, then tried to strangle his daughter. Logan served as missions pastor at River Pointe Church for several years. Diana Logan, 48, was a small-group leader. Their son Aaron was 11.

Logan then drove to San Marcos, where his daughter Ambrielle is a senior at Texas State University and tried to strangle her before taking his own life, police said. Source: Christian Post, 2-14-20

Email: [email protected]

In memoriam: Diane Post was ‘my beautiful flower’

FFRF Lifetime Member Stephen Post wrote the following (edited for length) about his wife, FFRF Lifetime Member Diane Lynn Helder Post, who died Nov. 20, 2019. (She was born March 11, 1948.)

Diane didn’t like to talk m

Diane Post

uch about philosophy or religion, but she had a world-stance that was the foundation of how she viewed the world and approached her life. Diane rejected all supernatural claims, including gods, pseudoscience and superstition. She identified as a Secular Humanist, and we went to a number of their meetings and events.

Let me turn to Diane’s run under the sun:

Love of nature

• She totally loved this intricate and interrelated web of life that over eons has evolved “endless forms most beautiful” (Darwin).

• Our five acres of woods and garden is full of nature and was an immense joy to her. If she had time and the weather was good, she would be out there with a smile.

• She spent countless hours digging, planting and nurturing her garden and native plants, feeding the birds. (In really cold weather, she also fed the foxes and possums).

Love of science

• The first night we met at a dance she brought up topics such as the social structure of Bonobo chimpanzees, or black holes in space. She has told me that when she saw that I was familiar with and enjoyed those topics she realized we might be something special.

• The first time I was over at Diane’s house, I saw that she had stacks of Scientific American and Discover magazines in her bathroom. Once married, we got up to six science magazines per month. Diane read them all.

• I always have a nonfiction book going and Diane always enjoyed hearing me summarize the more interesting points. She got pretty familiar with relativity, quantum mechanics, materials science, molecular biology, evolution, computer science and so forth.

Notable traits

• Diane was very intelligent. She had a Master’s degree in statistics and another in data communications. She attained a high technical position at AT&T. She mastered my network modeling tool like a fish in water. As we extended the tool for our business, she and I always talked through the design of the complex algorithms and data structures.

• Diane also had a certain kind of whimsy and creativity that I found fun, but that also helped find out-of-the-box solutions, such as design issues in our product.

• Toughness and resilience. Diane worked through marital problems, single parenthood, breast cancer and developmental issues with her children.

• Diane was living the life she wanted with me. If she had wanted something different, she would have done it. She was happy.

Meaning of life

Diane realized that she was not simply an observer of life, but was an integral part of numerous vast and complex networks, such as the ecosystem, our nation, the economy, her family. There was also accumulated scientific knowledge, art and literature. These existed before her and were much greater than her. They were critical to sustain and enrich her life. Plus, she had compassion and altruism in her heart. She cared about people. She felt a sacred obligation to pitch in and work to leave the world better than she found it. The older she grew, the more she felt an obligation to posterity. She always researched political issues and voted, signed petitions, contacted lawmakers, volunteered at the polls and in the schools, and contributed to causes.

Our marriage

We found each other in our 40s and fell in love. We were together all the time, but I wish I had been wise enough to commit sooner than I did. She was my companion, my best friend, my lover and my true love. I’ll love her until I die.

Suppose you have a beautiful flower. You enjoy its beauty, perhaps especially because you know flowers don’t last long. Sure enough, the flower dies. You don’t think, “Damn, I miss that flower.” You think, “Wow, wasn’t that a beautiful flower!” Diane was my beautiful flower. The fact is that I do miss her, more deeply than I ever realized I could miss anyone. We’ve got to appreciate each other while we’re here and enjoy their remembered beauty when they’re gone. 

On reflection, I now see my loss and grief are good things. The more you love, the more you will grieve. It is just logic that they have to go together. If I embrace the love, I must also embrace the grief.  Her love was worth it. I am happy that so much of my time under the sun could be spent with Diane. The world is still wonderful and life goes on.

In memoriam: Bill Kocol was federal judge

Bill Kocol

The Honorable Judge William G. Kocol, an FFRF member, died Feb. 20 at age 71 with his husband Timothy Gajewski by his side at their home in Los Angeles.

Bill was born Nov. 5, 1948. With a law degree from University of Wisconsin, Bill was appointed a federal administrative law judge in 1992. Within the National Relations Labor Board, he defended the legal rights of union labor and the protection of workers. With over 40 years of distinguished service to the federal government, he retired in 2013. Bill and Tim were legally married in California in 2008.

His obituary in the Los Angeles Times requested that donations in lieu of flowers should be directed to FFRF.

In memoriam: Early FFRF volunteer Liz Uhr ‘felt strongly about the mission’

This photo from about 1966 shows Liz Uhr with her sons, Frank and Steve.
Liz Uhr is shown here with her son Frank and her three granddaughters.

FFRF Lifetime Member Elizabeth (Liz) Uhr died Jan. 9 in Minneapolis at the age of 90 after suffering a stroke on Jan. 3.

Elizabeth Stern was born on Dec. 23, 1929, in Washington, D.C., to Malcka (Razavsky) and Boris Stern. She and her sister, Naomi Rovner, grew up in D.C. She attended Swarthmore College, earning a B.A. in English literature in 1952. She married Leonard Uhr on July 1, 1949, and they moved to Ann Arbor, Mich. They had two boys, Frank and Steve. They moved to Madison, Wis., where both Liz and Len worked at the University of Wisconsin. Liz was an editor at the Institute for Research on Poverty and active with FFRF, Women’s Medical Fund and Planned Parenthood. Liz wrote fiction, including the novel Partly Cloudy and Cooler, published by Harcourt, Brace and World.

After Len’s death in 2000, Liz moved to Hawaii to be near her son, Frank. Liz enjoyed Hawaii and was active with the Hawaii Dog Park, enjoyed hiking, flowers and had many friends. In May of 2019, she moved to Masonic Care Home in Bloomington, Minn., close to her son Steve.

“Liz was very dear to me,” wrote Tamara Uhr, Liz’s daughter-in-law. “I have been married to Frank for nearly 30 years and Liz has been so wonderful to me. We spent many summers in Madison in the early 1990s and I remembered she loved volunteering at the Women’s Medical Fund and the Freedom From Religion Foundation. She took it very seriously and didn’t want to skip a shift. She felt strongly about the mission and the people she worked with.

“She donated her body to University of Wisconsin Medical School, but when she moved to Hawaii, she did it for the medical school here,” Tamara continued. “Her instructions were no ceremony, no funeral, no obituary, and if cremation remains get returned, she wanted them scattered in the Pacific Ocean.” 

Liz’s friend Jan Blakeslee of Madison said: “She was a woman of principle, a writer, mother, devoted friend and dog-walking companion of many years. She is missed.”

Annie Laurie Gaylor, FFRF co-president, said she, too, will miss her, but happily will be reminded of her every spring.

“Liz was an avid gardener, and I and other area friends still have popping up in in early spring some of the miniature irises she shared around, a fascinating mix of brown, blue, yellow and orange,” Gaylor said. “She was an absolutely lovely, gentle, supportive individual — but fierce in her support for reproductive rights and freedom from religion.”

Tamayo, Phelps-Roper, Singh join convention

Making worry-free convention arrangements

If you are concerned about how uncertainty over the coronavirus may affect plans for FFRF’s late November convention, worry no more! It’s full-speed ahead at FFRF with convention planning at present.

However, if it were to become incumbent upon FFRF to cancel the convention due to the coronavirus, your registration with FFRF would be fully refunded. Hotel reservations at the convention hotel site can be cancelled up to 72  hours before your first night’s reservation.

If you are traveling by air and like to book ahead, FFRF recommends booking a refundable ticket and/or purchasing flight insurance. Most carriers offer a refundable/rebookable ticket at a level beyond basic. Ask if you are not sure.

Sushant Singh
John Irving
Phil Zuckerman
Sikivu Hutchinson
Gloria Steinem
Megan Phelps Roper
David Tamayo
Katherine Stewart
Margaret Atwood

The Freedom from Religion Foundation has added more speakers — Megan Phelps-Roper, Shusant Singh and David Tamayo — to the illustrious lineup for the 2020 national convention in San Antonio from Nov. 13-15, along with a presentation from FFRF’s Freethinkers of the Year.

They will join legendary activist Gloria Steinem and literary titans Margaret Atwood and John Irving, along with many others, at the Hyatt Regency San Antonio on the famed Riverwalk. The convention venue is limited to about 900 attendees, so please plan ahead. For more details and to register for the convention, turn to the back page or go to ffrf.org/convention2020.

Megan Phelps-Roper was raised in the Westboro Baptist Church, the Topeka, Kan., church known internationally for its daily public protests against members of the LGBTQ community, Jews, other Christians, the military, and countless others. As a child, teenager and early 20-something, she participated in the picketing almost daily and spearheaded the use of social media in the church. However, dialogue with “enemies” online proved instrumental in her deradicalization, and she left the church and her entire way of life in November 2012. Since then, she has become an advocate for people and ideas she was taught to despise — especially the value of empathy in dialogue with people across ideological lines. In 2019, she wrote the book Unfollow: A Memoir of Loving and Leaving the Westboro Baptist Church.

She will be receiving the $10,000 Henry Zumach Freedom From Religious Fundamentalism Award.

Sushant Singh is an Indian actor and presenter known for his work predominantly in Hindi cinema. He made his film debut in 1998 with Ram Gopal Varma’s “Satya,” but rose to stardom with the 2000 film “Jungle,” and received rave reviews for portraying slain bandit Durga Narayan Chaudhary. He then went on to star in period dramas such as “Ambedkar” and “The Legend of Bhagat Singh,” and established himself in Bollywood. He has appeared in a few television shows also, and hosted the immensely popular crime show “Savdhaan India” from 2012 to 2019. He has also served as the Honorary General Secretary of CINTAA (Cine & Television Artistes Association), Mumbai. He has appeared in almost 50 movies since 1998.

Singh will be receiving the Avijit Roy Courage Award, which includes a crystal plaque and $5,000. The award honors the life and work of the Bangladeshi-American atheist and author assassinated in Bangladesh in 2015 by Islamist terrorists. Singh has been in the forefront of recent protests against the Hindu Nationalist government’s discriminatory slew of measures violating the secular Indian Constitution. He was let go for a while from his gig as the host of “Savdhaan India,” reportedly due to his outspokenness, but has continued his activism undeterred.

David Tamayo is cofounder and president of Hispanic American Freethinkers, which is the first and only national Latino nonprofit educational organization of its kind. He was vice president of the Reason Rally 2016, former host of the TV Show “Road to Reason – A Skeptic’s Guide to the 21st Century,” founding board director of Camp Quest – Chesapeake, and host of Contrapuntos podcast (featuring debates with preachers, science deniers, and other interesting personalities in Spanish). David is the chief information officer for DCS Corporation, a large aerospace engineering company in Washington, D.C. He holds a bachelor’s degree in computer science from George Washington University, and a master’s in management in information technology from University of Virginia.

Steinem and Atwood both will receive FFRF’s “Forward” Award, which is reserved for those who are moving society forward. The award includes a statuette designed by world-renowned sculptor Zenos Frudakis.

Steinem will take part in a conversation with FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor on Friday, Nov. 13, at 3 p.m., breaking for audience questions. A private reception with Steinem afterwards is sold out.

Steinem, who’s been billed as “the world’s most famous feminist,” is a journalist who co-founded Ms. Magazine in 1972, helped found the Women’s Action Alliance, the National Women’s Political Caucus, the Women’s Media Center, and was president of Voters for Choice, a political action committee, for 25 years. She is founding president of the Ms. Foundation for Women, Take our Daughters to Work Day, and many other initiatives. Her books include the bestsellers Revolution from Within: A Book of Self-Esteem, Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions, Moving Beyond Words, Marilyn: Norma Jean and My Life on the Road.

A life-long reproductive rights activist, Steinem has said: “Do not hang out any place where they won’t let you laugh, including churches and temples.”

“An Evening with Margaret Atwood” will take place Friday night, to include a conversation with journalist Katherine Stewart, who will be speaking herself on Saturday. Atwood has agreed to sign books after her talk. The book signing will be followed by a private reception, which is also sold out.

Atwood is the author of more than 50 volumes of fiction, poetry, children’s literature and nonfiction. Her best-known novels include The Handmaid’s Tale, The Edible Woman, The Robber Bride, The Blind Assassin, Oryx and Crake, which is being adapted into an HBO TV series by filmmaker Darren Aronofsky. A serialized adaptation of The Handmaid’s Tale has received 13 Emmy nominations and eight awards including for Best Drama.

Irving, who will receive FFRF’s Emperor Has No Clothes Award, has been nominated for a National Book Club Award three times, winning it in 1980 for The World According to Garp. In 2018, the Dayton Literary Peace Prize honored Irving with the Richard C. Holbrooke Distinguished Achievement Award. He won the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay for “The Cider House Rules” in 2000. He achieved international acclaim after the success of Garp. Many of Irving’s books, including The Cider House Rules (1985), A Prayer for Owen Meany (1989) and A Widow for One Year (1998) have been bestsellers.

Others confirmed to speak at the convention include:

• Journalist and author Katherine Stewart. In addition to conducting the on-stage interview with Margaret Atwood, Stewart will talk about her new book, The Power Worshippers: Inside the Dangerous Rise of Religious Nationalism. She is also the author of The Good News Club: The Christian Right’s Stealth Assault on America’s Children. In 2014, she was named Person of the Year by Americans United for her coverage of religion, politics, policy and state/church conflicts.

Phil Zuckerman is the associate dean and professor of sociology at Pitzer College, and the founding chair of the nation’s first Secular Studies Program at Pitzer College in Claremont, Calif. He is the author of several books, including What It Means to be Moral (2019), Living the Secular Life (2014), Society Without God (2008) and Faith No More (2012), among others. Zuckerman is also the editor of several volumes, including The Oxford Handbook of Secularism (2016) and The Social Theory of W.E.B. Du Bois (2004). 

• Black Skeptics Los Angeles founder, novelist and activist Sikivu Hutchinson, Ph.D, will be receiving FFRF’s Freethought Heroine Award. Hutchinson is an educator, author, playwright and director. Her books include Moral Combat: Black Atheists, Gender Politics, and the Values Wars (2011), Godless Americana: Race and Religious Rebels (2013) and the novel White Nights, Black Paradise (2015) on the Peoples Temple and the 1978 Jonestown massacre. She also wrote, directed and produced a short film of “White Nights, Black Paradise.”

Brian Bolton, an FFRF Lifetime Member, has recently endowed a professorship at the University of Texas at Austin that will focus on the growing segment of the population that adheres to a secular worldview. The executive wing of FFRF’s office, Freethought Hall, is named for Bolton, due to his support of FFRF’s headquarters expansion. FFRF will be publishing Bolton’s new work, tentatively titled Why the Bible Is Not a Good Book, this year. Bolton is a retired academic psychologist with a background in mathematics, statistics and psychometrics. He has edited and authored 10 books.

For more, go to ffrf.org/convention2020.

 

Conventional wisdom (San Antonio, Nov. 13-15)

Here’s what you need to know about lodging, schedule, meals, etc.

Join the Freedom From Religion Foundation in San Antonio for its 43rd annual convention from Nov. 13–15 at the Hyatt Regency San Antonio. (For information on the guest speakers, see page 23.)

General schedule

The official starting time of the convention, at the Hyatt Regency (123 Losoya), is 1 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 13, continuing through Saturday night. FFRF’s membership and State Representatives meetings will take place Sunday morning, ending by noon. Registration will open by 10:30 a.m.

An early-bird workshop by Andrew L. Seidel, director of strategic response, will take place at 11 a.m. and noon.

Plan to come early and/or stay late if you want to sightsee in this exotic locale. The hotel is less than five minutes from the Alamo and many other attractions. The convention schedule, as always, includes irreverent music, FFRF merchandise sales, complimentary snacks and beverages on Friday and Saturday afternoons and a Friday night dessert reception. 

The Hyatt Regency atrium in San Antonio.

Return the handy registration form on the right or sign up at ffrf.org/convention2020.

Registration

Registration for the convention is only $60 per FFRF member, $65 for a companion accompanying a member, $115 for nonmembers (or you can save money by becoming a member for $40). High school students or younger are free and the college student rate is $10.

Make your room reservations directly (see info box on this page). This convention is limited to 900 guests, so we encourage you to register early and book your hotel rooms as soon as possible. Sorry, no refunds after the Oct. 31 pre-registration deadline. 

Private receptions

On Friday afternoon from 4–4:45 p.m., there is a private VIP Book Signing /FFRF Fundraiser with Gloria Steinem.

Those who signed up for Steinem’s private reception will receive her most recent book, The Truth Will Set You Free, But First It Will Piss You Off! Thoughts on Life, Love, and Rebellion, signed by the author during the reception.

To cap off the Friday schedule, for those who signed up, there will be a VIP Dessert Reception/FFRF Fundraiser with Margaret Atwood, which takes place after her public conversation with Katherine Stewart.

Those attendees will receive Atwood’s most recent book, The Testaments, signed by the author during the reception.

Meals

Friday Dinner Reception ($60)

Hearty reception with beef steamship with horseradish cream, au jus and mini rolls; pulled BBQ pork slider with pickled onions on sesame roll; ranch spiced chicken satay with tomato BBQ dip; crudité including carrots, cucumbers, jicama and cauliflower with poblano hummus and spinach dip; Southwest Caesar salad (charred corn, black beans and croutons with Ancho Caesar dressing); self-serve mac & cheese station (white cheddar mac & cheese tossed with green chiles, mushroom and caramelized onions). Cash bar. Veggie/vegan options.

Saturday Nonprayer Breakfast ($50)

Eggs, potato, bacon, and fruit cup service, with orange juice, coffee and tea. Vegetarian/vegan option available.

Saturday Dinner ($90)

Caesar salad (Heart of Romaine, aged Parmesan, smoked garlic ciabatta croutons with creamy Caesar dressing); seared chicken breast with jalapeno-spricot glaze, melted leek and bacon jam; mascarpone risotto, and mixed cauliflower; chocolate cappuccino cake with vanilla whipped cream; coffee and tea. (Vegetarian/vegan option: Roasted acorn squash stuffed with vegetable and herb quinoa, coriander spiced carrot puree, aged saba.) Cash bar.

Immediately following the Saturday dinner in the Regency Ballroom, the evening program will be presented. As space allows, limited seating for non-diners will be provided.

Please note that meal costs reflect the cost to FFRF; we do not mark up these prices.