From my earliest childhood memories, I remember being terrified of death. I remember crying out to my dad from the dark of my bedroom as a 7-year-old, unable to sleep from my fear of death. “Daddy,” I’d wail, “what happens when you die?” “Your soul goes into a new baby,” he’d reassure me.
But that wasn’t reassuring. That wasn’t reassuring at all. What good is it to me if my “soul” goes into a new baby? If my soul is going to go into some next person, then presumably that means that my soul came to me from some previous person. But I don’t remember being that previous person. So, in the same way, when my soul goes into some next person, that next person won’t remember being me. What good was my dad’s version of reincarnation if my current consciousness doesn’t continue to my next incarnation?
I was terrified of death then and I stayed terrified of death for another 35 to 40 years.
I mean really terrified of death. I mean shooting-up-in-bed-in-the-middle-of-the-night-in-a-cold-sweat-screaming-”No!”-and-turning-on-the-light-hoping-upon-all-hope-that-the-reality-of-my-inevitable-and-ultimate-oblivion-was-just-not-true terrified of death. This was true in my teens, in my 20s, 30s and well into my 40s.
And then something happened. I realized one day that I wasn’t terrified of death anymore. I don’t know exactly when or how or why it happened, but it did. My sister noted that it seemed to happen right about the time that our dad died in 2001. My wife pointed out that it also happened right about the time that our children were born. I don’t know if either had anything to do with it or not, but it’s certainly a possibility, although I don’t for the life of me know why either would.
Perhaps my current lack of terror of death comes from realizing that my consciousness did not exist for the billions and billions of years before I was born. When I wake up in the morning and do not recall being aware during my previous night of sleep, I am not terrorized by the possibility that my consciousness did not exist for the last few hours.
I used to envision my existence after death as constituting my consciousness peering into the black abyss of oblivion.That was truly terrifying. Now, I realize that, after I die, I won’t be conscious and therefore I won’t exist. In addition to believing that “I think therefore I am” is true, I also believe that “I will not be when I am no longer thinking” is also true. After my body dies and my consciousness ceases to exist, there will be no “I” to peer into anything, which is a whole lot less scary than me peering into nothing.
I used to believe that God exists. I didn’t know that God exists, which is probably why I was terrified of death even when I believed that God exists.
But, at some point in time, probably when I was in my 20s or 30s, I stopped believing that God exists. I desperately wanted God to exist, I hoped that God does exist, I thought that it would be better if God did exist and that I would be happier if I believed that God exists, but somehow I came to believe that God does not exist. Even so, I thought it would be prudent to behave as if there were a God, hedging my bets just in case.
So, I continued to do the things that I thought (my Jewish) God wanted me to do and not do the things that I thought (my Jewish) God didn’t want me to do. I went to synagogue. I kept kosher. I observed the Sabbath. I rarely, if ever, bore false witness against my neighbor. And I made damn sure that my ox never gored my neighbor’s bull.
Not only did I think that it would be better if I believed that God exists, I thought that it was a good thing that most of the world did believe that God exists. When Marx said, “Religion is the opiate of the masses,” I replied, “Thank God, who wants a bunch of un-opiated masses running around loose?”
I used to envy people who believe that God exists. I thought that it was good for them to believe that God exists. I did not want to disabuse them of that belief. Except, of course, for those bible thumpers who always came around campus to preach the Word to us. They really annoyed me with their circular reasoning (“proving” the existence of God by citing the bible) and their absolute certainty (failing to admit even the remotest possibility of God’s nonexistence).
Since Oklahoma City and Sept. 11, I’ve started to believe that believing that God exists is not such a good thing. Thanks to Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris and others, I no longer believe that we need to believe that God exists in order to be good. And now I am slowly being convinced that, in the overall scheme of things, it would be better if none of us believed that God exists. It’s not the belief that God exists itself that is the problem. The problem is all the bad things done by people who believe that God exists because they believe that God exists.
Oh, sure, there are plenty of good people who believe that God exists, and they may even be good (or at least better than they would otherwise be) because they believe that God exists. But, when you look at the history of our world, and if you look around the world today, it’s hard to conclude that the world was and is better off because of all the people who believe that God exists. You don’t have to take my word for it. Go read Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris and others. They’ve done a better job than I ever could to make the case against God.
So, I used to believe that God exists, then I didn’t believe that God exists, but I wished that I did and was glad that others did, then I stopped wishing that I did believe that God exists, and now I’m getting to the point where I wish no one did.
And here I am today, a devout atheist, with no belief in a World to Come, with no expectation of a continued consciousness after this life ends, who nevertheless is not terrified of death.Don’t get me wrong; I’m still not happy about it, but at least it’s not keeping me up at night anymore.
FFRF Member Steve Mendelsohn is a patent attorney, amateur philosopher, and author (see “Freethought Books” on this page) and lives near Philadelphia with his wife Lynn, kids Lauren and Jack, dog Lilly, and cat Leo.
There are many religious believers in my life, most of whom are good people, kind, compassionate and empathetic in their everyday actions. It can be hard to square their beliefs with the god I was taught to believe in growing up as a Catholic.
As I started to question the god I learned about, I came to reject the narcissistic, sadistic and hypocritically judgmental deity of the bible. However, in my social circle, I was an anomaly. Somehow, the people around me were able to parse the good parts of the belief system from the objectively awful parts. I was taught that man was created in God’s image, but all the good people I know are nothing at all like the god of the bible.
One afternoon, my husband and I heard a lawnmower on our property and we looked outside to see our Christian neighbor with his lawnmower. When I asked him why he had mowed our lawn, he said that he had noticed that my husband’s work truck had stayed in the same place for several weekdays in a row. Aware that my husband was not one to let our lawn get to an unsightly length, he thought he may have been sick, and decided to mow it for us. It turned out that was exactly why our lawn had gone uncut, and we were grateful to our neighbor. The only reason that we knew our neighbor was a Christian was because he had politely invited us to a church service when we first moved in. We respectfully declined. That was the one and only time he mentioned it. For the entire time we lived next to him, we traded friendly words and kind favors.
However, other believers I know seem to emulate the dark side of the god of the bible. They are polite with their first invitation, expressing disingenuous understanding when the offer is declined. But they then continue with the questions and offers of salvation, moving from passive-aggressive comments to outward hostility when their invitations are repeatedly declined. They finally digress into open disdain and threats of eternal damnation, reminiscent of the god of my childhood nightmares — the one who would sentence otherwise good people to an afterlife of hellfire for the simple transgression of unbelief.
When I came to the conclusion that there was no god, there was a certain period of grief at the loss of the good parts of the god I was taught. He was the one who looked out for me, loved me and would invite me to hang out with my grandma when my life on Earth was over. So, I do understand the reluctance for some people to let go of that belief. It seems that sometimes, rather than give up the idea of God, people may reinvent him in an image that is moral, just and kind.
Ultimately, it is hard for me to understand how anyone can live their life believing they were created in the image of such a malevolent deity as the one depicted in the bible and not reject it outright. I think they actually have rejected that horrible deity, however. Maybe realizing that the one who found it necessary to drown the whole world except for one family and two of each animal was not worthy of worship. They simply recreated a god in their own images: A god that goes out of their way to help people and asks nothing in return. A god that really does love unconditionally. A god that created heaven for everyone — believers and nonbelievers alike. A god that couldn’t care less whether you believe or worship it.
While I do not believe in any gods, I do believe in the goodness of my fellow humans. They are the ones worthy of my praise and admiration.
FFRF Member Erin Louis lives in California with her husband and son. She’s a classically trained pastry chef, writer and unabashed atheist.
Here is your August assortment of sometimes vile, sometimes mean, but always interesting hate mail sent to FFRF. Printed as received.
God: I feel so sorry for all of you. God is REAL but it will be too late for you and your soul when you die. The Bible says it is appointed for man once to die and then judgement. You will stand before God- Jesus as your judge. If you did not accept Jesus as your Savior while on earth you will spend forever and ever and ever in HELL a HORRIBLE place. Why don’t you believe Jesus is God. Get the book by Lee Strobel The Case for Christ. He was an atheist but found OVERWHELMING evidence that Jesus is who He says He is and the Bible is TRUE. — Ben Boderinger
Change now!: I will say this and only say it as a favor to you pieces of shit from one human being to another. normal americans grow very weary of people like your organization stands for. You might want to check yourselves with your incessant need to trample on over half the countries ideals just because you have an evil judicial system at your back that mostly ignores the founders true intentions and our constitution true spirit. a day grows near when my countrymen may just decide enough is enough and that you and your ilk are a clear and present danger to the constitution and spirit of America We are watching you and your leftist agenda and constantly evaluating you and your filth to determine if you have finally overstepped your yourselves to a degree which we canno t let pass. I wish to impress upon you are very close to that edge of a cliff form which the sleeping giant may be awoken and you will rue the day. — Ryan Renshaw
Satan (Islam) comes to Kill: Satan comes to steal, kill, and destroy. Islam comes to steal, kill, and destroy. Obama comes to steal, kill, and destroy. Freedom from Religious foundation comes to steal, kill, and destroy. You might want to look over Islamic Laws becames Islam is now demanding Sharia Law in America and by July America will not have any more freedoms. August 21, plan between then and September 23 to have a nuclear attack in every major city in the USA. All white, black, Jews and Christians must die in the USA by September 23rd. My Curch complaint is to shut down every Islamic Mosque in America because America died from within because Islam is taking over from within. — Vic Ashcraft
Payback is coming: I’m not a religious person at all! But for you fuckers to file lawsuits against people who want to express their religious beliefs is beyond childish. Because you are a bunch of atheist who get offended by religious people is absolutely hysterical. It sounds like you are all nothing but a bunch of lawyers trying to find ways to sue people and make money. As the saying goes.., the only good lawyer is a dead lawyer! Now stop bothering people you fucking assholes! When the time does come you will get what is coming to you! — John Zukowski
Cowardice: You people suck. You are weak minded fools. We are going to take our country back and you are not a part of it. You are just haters that think you can separate religion from government. No where does the constitution call for that. Now crawl back into your hole. I will do every thing I can to defy everything you do and YOU CANT DO ANYTHING ABOUT IT. I will take a Christian flag into every government building and you can not stop me as you are not able COWARDS. It’s time we shut you hate mongers down.— David Kollars
Horrible people: You can all go fuck yourself’s. You are horrible people for making towns and cities remove crosses. I hope you all burn in hell! This is a nation founded on Christianity if you don’t like it get the fuck out! We don’t want you anyway! I hope God make the rest of your lives miserable!— Michael Rossman
Freedom from religion: It appears that much of the general public is either uneducated or just don’t care and I am sure it is some of the both. I include YOUR Organization within this bunch as well. YOU need to learn just what Separation from Church (Religion?) and State really means as well as the Freedom of Speech. You folks trying to add to the Constitution to read what you want it to read even though Some Prejudiced Courts allow you to get by will eventually back fire and fail. The Gay movement, Your Religious Fight, Black Lives matter and the list goes on will one day all Fall. I urge you all to learn the Truth and the Truth will SET you FREE Indeed; The Truth is that their is ONLY One God, One World, and one People and in that Order. Secondly, you all should invest just a few ounces of your energies in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Just as Important is the FACT of what is really going on here in America is found in II Timothy the Third Chapter of the Holy Bible and Not one of your L aw Books. The real deal is those who do not Repent, Accept Christ, and become a part of the Bride of Christ will be Rewarded ONLY with Eternal Hell Fire. — John Andrews
Lifetime Members George and Julie Iddon catch up on their Freethought Today reading out in the Arizona desert while doing social distancing and a 14-day self-quarantine. “A couple we met out in the desert were very interested in FFRF and its work, so we gifted them a copy of Freethought Today and an annual membership,” the Iddons write. “Their permanent home is in Milwaukee and they were unaware FFRF was located in Madison. While in Arizona, we drove down to Oro Valley and met up with Diane and Steve Uhl, author of Out of God’s Closet, and had an enjoyable lunch.”
It being an honor to have been a Lifetime Member of FFRF for many years, I decided to donate half of my $1,200 recovery money to your causes and the other half to the local homeless in the Coachella Valley. Keeping religion/state separate is one of the most important things to ensure a lasting freedom for a country that was started as secular state to remain so. It’s sad that most religious people don’t understand the importance of this separation. Keep up the good work.
Fred H. Spoerl
Here’s to remarkable job you do at FFRF!
As I was reading in horror a New York Times article (see page 5) on the crumbling of the wall between church and state, I was reminded that I keep meaning to drop you a note on the remarkable job you continue to do at FFRF. The regular emails I receive from you, as well as articles in Freethought Today, all reinforce your amazing, endless efforts and the terrific results you continue to achieve. Congratulations! I am so very proud to be a member of this magnificent organization.
I hope you and the whole FFRF organization are staying safe and healthy — thriving, actually — in this miserable pandemic.
Check from ‘Trump’ will actually get good use
I got a check from the government with the name “Trump” on it. My first impulse was to send it back. On second thought, I decided to get some positive use out of it by dividing the money among three groups I support. (If you’re interested, the other two were Planned Parenthood and a local food bank.)
David M. Shea
. . .
Donald’ Trump’s purpose for having his name printed on the stimulus checks backfired in my case. I’m turning the entire $1,200 over to FFRF to help in its fight against this blatant First Amendment abuses.
Do we need Congress to step in over justices?
It was appalling to read about the Supreme Court’s decisions that the Bladensburg and Bayview Park crosses were allowed to remain on government property.
If the Supreme Court continues to diminish the protections of the Establishment Clause, we the people might eventually need an act of Congress to enforce the separation of state and church. Maybe a Government Neutrality Restoration Act is asking too much, but how else can we prevent government entanglement with religion when the Supreme Court itself is entangled with religiously biased judges?
‘Blacklist’ character got it right on religion
We are currently watching the TV show “Blacklist.” On one of the shows, there was an argument regarding homosexuals, with the lead character stating something to the effect of “you’d rather cut off his penis than allow him to be gay?” Then he went into this verbatim quote: “Is it just me, or is it the human race armed with religion, poisoned by prejudice, and absolutely frantic with hatred and fear galloping pell-mell back into the Dark Ages?”
Three things I love about Freethought Today
The only contact I had with FFRF is through Freethought Today. I read every issue and find them very interesting. There are three features I particularly like:
1. “Former churches with better missions.” I am an amateur student of architectural history and I appreciate that many of these structures have historical importance, regardless of the original purpose for which they were built. I am glad to see they are being preserved and used for more secular purposes, especially beer halls, restaurants and brew pubs.
2. “Black Collar Crime.” It’s a much-needed collection of news items that have been sadly neglected by mainstream media. It brings together the crimes and other outrages that those frauds and mountebanks parading in clerical garb have done and are continuing to do to their customers.
3. “Crankmail.” I find this section, on the surface, hilariously funny. On the next level down, though, I have a feeling of sadness that such sentiments are actually written down and sent to you. I know you don’t make any of it up. You don’t have to.
There are enough idiots out there to supply your needs. It can be argued that our public school system has failed in its mission to give the students at least a minimal education. But I think it is more likely that these letter writers have failed the school system.
In closing, I just want to say thank you for you great work and keep it up.
Churchgoers should use Jesus, not medicine
All those people who flock to churches with the belief that nothing bad can happen to them in The House of God should be issued wristbands that read: “Do not treat me medically. Jesus will heal me.” That way there will be more hospital beds available for the rest of us.
May issue of Freethought Today is best one ever
I have been a member of FFRF for several years. I regularly read Freethought Today. The May issue was so good — in fact, it’s the best issue I can remember since I’ve been a member.
I’ve enclosed a $100 honorarium to buy lunch for the team that produced it. Or maybe buy a gross of face masks. Thanks!
Texas Editor’s note: Thanks so much, Fred!
Greenhouse column was terrific in May issue
Let me express my compliments on the May issue, which I truly enjoyed. There was interesting content and the format was clean and easy to read. It’s terrific that you were able to reprint New York Times columnist Linda Greenhouse’s essay. She is an amazing legal scholar (and a modest person with a commitment to causes that we value).
You all are obviously busy with serious work during these difficult times. Let me lighten things up by including a small piece below that I recently wrote.
Friend: What is the difference between atheists and agnostics?
Me: That’s easy. Atheists wear their atheist pin on their lapel whereas agnostics carry their atheist pin in their pocket.
Friend: Oh. And which are you, atheist or agnostic?
Me: How would I know? I’ve lost my pin.
New Mexico governor got it right on closings
Kudos to New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham for allowing the medicinal cannabis dispensaries to remain open as essential businesses, but ordered all churches closed, as they are not essential. I totally agree!
Church leaders must not have faith in prayer
If the pope and leaders of the Catholic church truly had faith in prayer, they would have allowed the public into the Vatican for Easter services. A telling decision.
Public’s ignorance must be discouraging to FFRF
I read FFRF’s posts on Facebook, and they fill me with wonder that you don’t get discouraged. So many politicians, being elected by an unthinking public, feel it’s their gawd-given right to punch holes in the wall between church and state. Well, thankfully, you don’t. I could just scream at the ignorance of the general public. Or maybe it’s their inertia. It is much easier to have another beer, switch channels on the TV and hope that you have merited some magic protection from a Sky Daddy.
Well, enough of my ruminations. Keep up the good work.
Dr. Peter G. Roode
Christian God doesn’t keep his promises
It appears to me that Dan Barker’s syllogism in his column in the May issue ends in a non-sequitur. The major premise that the Christian God promises to answer prayers coupled with the minor premise that prayers go unanswered does not lead to the conclusion that the Christian God does not exist. The most that can be concluded is that the Christian God does not keep his promises. The question about his existence is not addressed in the syllogism as it is structured. He simply is not as advertised.
However, the presence of evil in the world (e.g., COVID-19) means that the Christian God cannot be both pure love (1 John 4:8) and omnipotent (Mt. 19:26; Lk 1:37).
This was pointed out by Epicurus in his famous series of interrogatives: “Is god willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Then from whence comes evil? Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?”
In short, the presence of evil contradicts the qualities of character usually ascribed to him and goes a long way to undermining the claim that he exists.
I wish I could have chosen my own god
Gene Twaronite’s column on “Choosing the perfect god” was insightful and fun. I wish I could have chosen my god when I was a child. My choice would have been far different from my Catholic upbringing, and I would not have entered the seminary at the too-young age of 16. Thank you, FFRF, for showing me the way. I have allowed my children to choose their religion or lack of religion and they are quite content with their freedom from religion.
Maybe we do need prayers at dentist’s office
It was a little disturbing to find out that dentists have their own prayer. I had kind of hoped that dentistry was a practice based on science, experience and technology. But it does make sense.
It has been said “there are no atheists foxholes,” which is demonstrably untrue. However, in the dentist’s chair, I pray. Maybe it’s not “real” praying since I’m not praying to anyone. I’m just wishing real hard, but it’s certainly as close to prayer as I will ever get.
During what is probably the most extreme exercise of self-will, I give someone a substantial amount of money to crawl inside my mouth with sharp instruments and power tools for a purpose supposedly in my long-term best interests. During that I pray — I pray to be able to leave my body or to time travel to when I’m walking out of the office. I pray that I don’t gag. I pray to slip into unconsciousness, or at least for my body to relieve itself of the need to breath or swallow for the next 30 minutes. Of course, none of these wishes or prayers is ever answered.
Crankmail Christians are all brainwashed
I’d like to write a letter to all the so-called Christians in the Crankmail section. You people are really and truly brainwashed if you believe all that crap that’s in the bible. When it comes to BS, your bible is loaded with it. There isn’t one word of truth in your so-called holy book. Since you believe all that religious garbage, I have two words for you — prove it!
Eugene T. Bernascone
Phrase puts burden of proof where it belongs
In the June/July Letterbox, Carl Sheiman said that he was looking for “a slogan or catchphrase that’ll spread like a meme and change social perceptions of what people mean by ‘god,’ and what that entails, while dismissing any deity being given credit for existing.”
Years ago, a friend suggested that conversations with believers should always refer to YAG, or ‘your alleged god.’ This simple phrase puts the burden of proof where it belongs.
Tradition not privileged in U.S. Constitution
A report in the May issue showed that the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a 2018 ruling that it is not unconstitutional to make new citizens recite “so help me God” at the end of the Naturalization Oath. The excuse by U.S. District Judge William Young was that the phrase was a “well-established tradition” and was merely ceremonial.
This is a direct result of the Supreme Court’s conservative majority conjuring up excuses about history and tradition as ways to allow the Establishment Clause violations to continue. Nowhere does the Constitution privilege tradition, history, culture of ceremony over principles.
Violations became “historical” only because non-Christians, until recently, lacked the resources and organization to challenge them. Prohibition of same-sex marriage was traditional, but that tradition fell to principle. The same needs to happen to the Bladensburg cross, Pensacola cross, “so help me God,” etc.
Jurists who use history/tradition excuses to permit ongoing Establishment Clause violation are derelict in their duty to apply constitutional principles to the issues brought before them. They need to be impeached and removed before they cost the Supreme Court and more of its credibility.
Poem is my way of saying thanks to FFRF
Last July, I completed my 80th year and was inspired to write this poem for posterity. I’ve been an atheist for about 70 years. I can’t emphasize how much I appreciate Freethought Today and what FFRF is doing. Sharing this little piece of my life is my way of saying thank you for doing what you do.
Eighty years old and I’m slowing down
Getting closer to the time when I won’t be around
Being alive is still really good, don’t get me wrong
“Viviendo me vida,” and singing my song
There is something to be appreciated in every day
Some more than others, depending on what comes my way
I think more now than I ever have
Thinking to me is like a healing salve
Had a rough beginning as I look back
Growing up in a factory town called Pontiac
Didn’t like living in a real religious home
Hit the streets early and started to roam
Getting into trouble that seemed to be everywhere
By the time I was 15, I had more than my share
Got through it all, though it wasn’t a sure thing
Living the fast life, you never know what tomorrow might bring
But I had the strength and the will to survive
Though there were times I thought I might not make it out alive
Then I got turned onto books and set my mind free
Each day I set aside some time to think, because I can
And to appreciate my existence, and the person I am
I don’t need no religion, no beliefs and such
I am comfortable with evolution and don’t need a crutch
I like to think about this planet, revolving around the big ball in the sky
And ask myself questions like How? And Why?
I’ve come to the conclusion that no one knows
It is what it is, and for now that’s how it goes
Sometimes it seems like it’s all a fantasy
This awareness of life and its reality
Simply living my life for this short little while
Gives me a lot of satisfaction, and always brings a smile
Five members of the Catholic teaching order Clercs de Saint-Viateur du Canada were arrested for alleged sexual abuse of boys in their care between 1961-89. The men are between the ages of 78 and 88 and live in the Clercs de Saint-Viateur home in Joliette, Quebec
They face over 30 charges, including gross indecency, sexual assault and indecent assault. Fifteen alleged victims have recently come forward. A 2017 class action suit against the order includes at least 270 alleged victims involving incidents at 20 locations as far back as the 1930s. Source: CBC, 6-23-20
Charles Richmond, 30, Viroqua, WI: Sexual assault. Richmond, parochial administrator of Church of the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, is accused of assaulting the same child on at least 3 different occasions. He was ordained in 2015.
During his time in Chippewa Falls, Richmond was chaplain at McDonell High School and Notre Dame Middle School. The criminal complaint said a police officer interviewed a 19-year-old woman in March who alleged Richmond touched her sexually multiple times in her sophomore year before she turned 16. Source: Chippewa Herald, 6-17-20
Steven M. Glover, 42, Coventry, RI: Obtaining money over $1,500, larceny over $1,500 and fraudulent use of a credit card. Glover, who resigned as pastor of Sts. Rose and Clement Catholic Church in Warwick in August 2019, is accused of making personal purchases amounting to about $40,000 with a church credit card. Source: Providence Journal, 6-16-20
Esteban Ruiz, 21, Kearny, NJ: Sexual assault of a minor and endangering the welfare of a child. Ruiz allegedly assaulted a 16-year-old girl in April 2018 while he was a youth leader at Good Shepherd Church. When arrested he listed Centro de Adoracion in Hackensack as his current employer. Source: The Observer, 6-16-20
Marc V. Spera, 57, St. Petersburg, FL: Statutory sexual assault, unlawful contact with a minor, involuntary deviate sexual intercourse and related charges. Spera is accused of crimes as a teacher at Church Farm School in Exton, PA, where he worked from 1995 to 2010.
The school was founded in 1918 by an Episcopal clergyman as a boarding school for boys, mostly from single-parent homes. Edmund “Ned” Sherrill II, another Episcopal pastor, now heads the school.
The investigation started after a man told authorities last year he was molested by Spera when he was in the 7th and 8th grades in 2008–10. Spera also volunteered with the Boy Scouts of America from 1980 to the present. Source: Daily Local News, 6-12-20
Ray J. Wigdal, 61, La Crosse, WI: Possession of child pornography. Wigdal is CEO of the Mordecai and Esther Foundation. Its website says it provides medical care for children “born with bodily deformities” and other services to meet orphans’ needs in Sierra Leone and Pakistan. (Mordecai adopted his cousin Esther and raised her as his daughter in the Old Testament Book of Esther.)
Wigdal was at the center of a controversy in China in 2014 while caring for 11 orphans, including a girl named Phoebe. He claimed her fatal injuries were from a bicycling accident but media reports said the girl told hospital staff Wigdal had been hitting her. Source: La Crosse Tribune, 5-30-20
Christopher Keys, 56, Macon, GA: Solicitation of sodomy. Keys was fired as a youth pastor by Wesleyan Drive Baptist Church after a May 19 incident. Deputies had responded to a call about an armed robbery at a motel, where Keys claimed he was robbed by 2 black men.
Keys, who is married, allegedly told deputies he had answered a Craigslist ad to meet a man at the motel. It was determined there was no truth to his claim to have been carjacked from a CVS store. He told deputies “he did not want this to get out and that he did not want deputies to talk with his relatives,” a sheriff’s press release said. Source: Baptist Press, 5-27-20
An unidentified rabbi from the Shuba Israel congregation in Buenos Aires and 7 wedding party participants, including the bride and groom, were cited by police for violating the coronavirus lockdown banning public and religious events.
It was the third Jewish wedding in less than a week in the Balvanera area of the city, which is home to a large Orthodox population. Police took no enforcement action at the previous weddings. The Shuba Israel congregation has lost at least 2 members to COVID-19. Source: JTA, 5-26-20
Gustavo Gonzalez Zamora, 68, Lodi, CA: Multiple counts of child molestation alleged to have occurred between 1994–2000 when Zamora was a pastor at the Apostolic Assembly Church in Lindsay.
Zamora “abruptly left the church in 2000,” a sheriff’s statement said. He is now pastor at a Stockton church. Source: Times-Delta, 5-22-20
Roy N. Shoop, 55, Inola, OK: 6 counts, including lewd or indecent proposals or acts to a child under 16 and rape by instrumentation. Shoop, pastor at Cowboy Gatherin’ Church, is accused of crimes against 3 girls, ages 15, 13 and 12, who were either working on his farm or taking equestrian lessons from him between April 2018 and Jan. 3, 2020.
Sheriff Scott Walton said there may be other victims and that Shoop was cocky and arrogant toward deputies on the way to jail. Source: Fox 23/Tulsa World, 5-20-20
Chicago pastors Joe Wyrostek of Metro Praise International Church and Cristian Ionescu of Elim Romanian Pentecostal Church were cited for disorderly conduct for violating the Illinois “stay at home” order by holding services with over 10 people attending.
“If that’s what it takes to continue our mandate to serve our people, then it’s a price we are willing to pay,” said Ionescu, who is suing Gov. J.B. Pritzker over the restrictions. Source; NBC Chicago, 5-20-20
Gary J. Eaches, 41, Dickson City, PA: Indecent assault. Eaches, the father of 2 teens, allegedly admitted to police that he gave a 16-year-old girl alcohol and marijuana and improperly touched her. He had recently lost his job as pastor at United Baptist Church in Scranton.
Eaches describes himself on his Twitter page as “Aspiring Comedian, enjoy singing country music, #typeonediabtic, #chronicillness and struggles with #addiction.” On another post he’s singing the Hank Williams Jr. song “Whiskey Bent and Hell Bound.” Source: WNEP/Twitter, 5-18-20
Tony A. Shaw, 55, Sheridan, MT: Felony sexual assault. Shaw, pastor at Ruby Valley Baptist Church, is accused of inappropriate contact with a 14-year-old girl in the church basement, where another person allegedly witnessed the contact.
Sheriff’s officials said they had received an earlier assault complaint involving Shaw. Source: Montana Standard, 5-14-20
Yisrael Knopfler, 45, Lakewood, NJ: Obstruction, resisting arrest and violating the governor’s executive order by having a gathering of 10 or more. Police had responded to a report of a large gathering at the Orthodox rabbi’s home, where about 30 people were standing around a barrel fire in the backyard.
It’s alleged Knopfler threatened officers with a garden hose and tent pole, chest-bumped an officer before dropping to the ground and refused to walk to a police vehicle. Source: NJ 101.5 FM, 5-14-20
Nine Serbian Orthodox Church priests in Montenegro, including Bishop Joanikije Mićović of the eparchy of Budimlja and Nikšić, were detained by police for holding a procession attended by thousands in Nikšić despite a ban on gatherings due to the coronavirus.
Riots broke out after the arrests. The men were released after 72 hours. Montenegro, with 620,000 people, split from much larger Serbia in a 2006 referendum. The church is headquartered in Belgrade. Source: Reuters, 5-13-20
Pleaded / Convicted
Gregory Dow, 61, Lancaster, PA: Pleaded guilty to 4 counts of engaging in illicit sexual conduct with a minor in a foreign place between 2013 and 2017 while running the Dow Family Children’s Home in Boito, Kenya. Prosecutors said that when the abuse started, the victims were between the ages of 11 and 13.
He founded the home in 2008 after moving to Kenya with his wife and 6 children. “[Dow] purported to be a Christian missionary who would care for these orphans,” said U.S. Attorney William McSwain. Dow started the home independent of a mission organization but with financial support of churches and church members.
A plea agreement calls for him to serve 15 years and 8 months in prison. He pleaded guilty in 1996 to assault to commit sexual abuse in Iowa and received 2 years’ probation. Source: Des Moines Register, 6-15-20
Cesar A. Guerrero Jr., 42, Sharonville, OH: Pleaded guilty to coercion and enticement for engaging in sexual acts with a 17-year-old girl on 2 occasions in 2019 in his office at Mision Cristiana el Calvario.
According to the plea agreement, Guerrero told the girl, who’d been sexually molested in Guatemala, that he dreamed of her “dressed in white” while “walking in a dark place” with the only way to get out of the dark place was to have sex with him as a “cleansing process.” Source: WXIX, 6-11-20
Jerry Zweitzig, 71, Hatboro, PA: Pleaded guilty to manufacturing and attempted manufacturing of child pornography. Zweitzig, pastor at Horsham Bible Church until his 2016 retirement, admitted videotaping his abuse of an infant in 2010.
The video was discovered during a presentence investigation of a separate exploitation case in which he pleaded guilty in 2019. In that case he admitted molesting a girl from the ages of 5 to 11 and taping it. He also had a porn collection depicting over a thousand other children. Source: The Inquirer, 5-20-20
Jo Ann White, 60, Bristol, VA: 10 years’ probation and restitution of at least $300 a month after pleading guilty to theft of $60,000 or more for stealing over $65,000 from East Bristol Freewill Baptist Church, where she was treasurer and her husband was pastor until he retired at the end of 2019.
Church elders sought financial records from the Whites after checks started bouncing but they stalled in providing them, said current church secretary Beth Lester. Source: Herald Courier, 6-18-20
David M. Weltman, 29, Skokie, IL: Indeterminate prison term not to exceed 25 years after a jury found him guilty of sexual abuse. Weltman, the former director of Hillel House in Iowa City, IA, will have to serve at least 17½ years.
He was accused of sexually abusing a 9-year-old boy in a storage area at the Jewish student center during a Hebrew lesson in 2019. Judge Chad Kepros said although the sex act was short in duration, “the seriousness of the offense is not defined by length.”
Weltman told the court he hoped they see the “gross injustice of this egregiously long sentence.” Source: Press-Citizen, 6-12-20
Kevin P. Healy, 81, Napier, New Zealand: 9 months’ home detention after pleading guilty to 5 counts of indecency in the 1970s involving a girl aged 8 or 9 and her brother and another boy who were 12 and 13. Healy, a Catholic brother who taught school, took students on outings and to camps and was a regular visitor to families’ homes.
A male victim in court called the sentence as “a bit light.” The judge said he took Healy’s age and infirmity into account even though he had a previous conviction. Source: NZ Herald, 6-5-20
Brett J. Monroe, 39, Arlington, TX: 24 years, 3 months in prison after pleading guilty to sexual exploitation of a child. Monroe, associate pastor for 11 years at Heritage Baptist Church, admitted using his cellphone to secretly record underage females showering in his home and converting the videos into still images to trade online.
He was also a registered volunteer at Corey Academy of Fine Arts and Dual Language, formerly Corey Elementary School. Source: KTVT, 6-2-20
Phillip C. Loftis, 53, Silver Point, TN: 18 months’ probation after pleading guilty to solicitation of sexual exploitation of a minor and attempted statutory rape. Loftis, pastor at Herrens Chapel Church of Christ, engaged in an online conversation with an undercover agent posing as a 13-year-old girl and exposed himself in photos sent to the agent. Source: Herald-Citizen, 6-1-20
Ryan D. Crawford, 33, Austin, AR: 25 years in prison without parole followed by 20 years’ supervised probation and $2,500 in victim restitution after pleading guilty to producing child pornography. Crawford, assistant pastor at First Baptist Church in Pineville, MO, admitted touching a 9-year-old girl inappropriately and taking sexually explicit photos of her while she was sleeping. Source: Joplin Globe, 5-27-20
Alisa Haynes, 45, and Alexis Fortune, 25, Toledo, OH: 2 years and 4 years in prison respectively, after pleading guilty to tampering with a witness or victim. They are the wife and stepdaughter of convicted pastor Anthony Haynes, sentenced earlier to life for a sex-trafficking scheme involving a teen girl and several others.
“Ms. Fortune gave one of the victims a phone in order to leave not just one, but two voicemail messages recanting what the victim said to law enforcement officers about what happened in the underlying sex-trafficking case,” U.S. Assistant Attorney Ashley Futrell said. Source: Toledo Blade, 5-20-20
Civil Lawsuits Filed
The Catholic Diocese of Albany, NY, is being sued for failure to stop child sexual abuse by 2 now-deceased priests: J. Gregory Mulhall, who served as pastor of Annunciation Church in Ilion from 1961 until retiring in 1985, and Charles A. Gaffigan, who retired from Holy Mother and Child Parish in Lake Luzerne. Mulhall died in 2001 and Gaffigan died in 2015.
The law firms of Jeff Anderson & Associates and LaFave Wein & Frament have filed 74 such complaints. Source: Observer-Dispatch, 6-15-20
St. Demetrios Greek Orthodox Church, Jamaica, NY, the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America and former scoutmaster and teacher Lawrence Svrcek are defendants in a suit in which Svrcek is accused of molesting the plaintiff and other children in the 1970s and 1980s.
Plaintiff “C.R.” decided to come forward after learning about an earlier complaint against Svrcek. That 2019 suit also named the Boy Scouts of America and asserted Svrcek molested plaintiff “N.R.” from 1977–82 when Svrcek was a scoutmaster and a science and gym teacher at the church’s school. Source: Daily Eagle, 6-11-20
A Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints ward in San Jose, CA, is at the center of a suit alleging 2 underage sisters were molested between 2009–16 by Joseph Neipp, now 72. “In his actual or apparent authoritative capacity as the bishop of the Branham Ward, Neipp repeatedly engaged in inappropriate grooming behavior with children during Primary classes and on or around ward events including allowing small children to sit on his lap, and transporting plaintiffs and other young children alone in his vehicle to ward activities,” it’s alleged.
Even though Neipp was excommunicated due to an earlier complaint, church members weren’t told, so that “he was still regarded as bishop or ‘Father of the Ward’ and parents were under the impression that it was safe for children to be around him,” the suit alleges. Source: KUTV, 6-5-20
Douglas D. Thore, 72, former pastor of St. Nicodemus Lutheran Church in Marilla, NY, the parish and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America are being sued by 2 men now in their 30s who allege sexual abuse by Thore when they were teens. He resigned as pastor in 2004 after admitting to church officials he had sexual contact with 2 boys in the congregation years earlier.
Thore, who lives in Davenport, FL, told the court in a letter he can’t afford a lawyer. “I live in a mobile home built in 1984 which currently has little equity. I drive a 2010 Toyota Yaris with 135,000 miles on it. I budget every dollar to pay my bills and live on what is left over, trying to save for major repairs, such as replacing a hot water tank,” he said. “This is my life.” Source: Buffalo News, 6-4-20
The Allentown Catholic Diocese and Holy Guardian Angels Parish in Reading, PA, have been sued by Democratic state Rep. Mark Rozzi, who alleges he was molested ate age 13 by Edward R. Graff in 1984-85. The suit asserts that Graff was put on “sick leave” in 1979-80 and was sent to New Mexico in 1986 for “treatment of undefined but ‘serious’ conduct.”
He was eventually arrested in 2002 on child sex charges in Texas and died a month later in jail before facing trial. Rozzi learned about Graff’s history only after reading a statewide grand jury report. Source: Reading Eagle, 5-28-20
The Catholic Diocese of Rockville Centre, NY, is accused of invasion of privacy related to a suit that alleges Long Island priest Gregory Cappuccino repeatedly molested plaintiff Greg Hein, 52, at St. Anthony of Padua Parish in 1984.
Hein said he was contacted several months after filing his suit by an ex-roommate who had attended a drug abuse program with him in 2017 and had recently gotten a call from a church investigator. “I felt like I was being violated again,” said Hein. “How they got [his] information is just beyond me.”
“To possess this information is grossly improper and a violation of both Mr. Hein’s and [the roommate’s] right to privacy,” court papers state. Hein’s suit is among at least 44 filed against the diocese after the passage of the Child Victims Act. Source: NY Post, 5-24-20
CrossPoint Community Church (formerly First Baptist Church), Modesto, CA, and former youth pastor Robert Chapman are defendants in a suit filed by Carl Epperson and Larry Spencer, who allege Chapman, now in his 80s, molested them as teens.
The church has already settled a separate suit with survivor Jennifer Roach for $267,500 for abuse by youth pastor Brad Tebbutt in the late 1980s. A suit filed last October by Tracy Epler alleges she was assaulted by youth pastor Les Hughey in the 1970s.
Epperson said Chapman led a “Disciples Group … which was supposedly to help young teen boys with issues related to reaching puberty.” One night he awoke in Chapman’s camper on church grounds before an event to find Chapman masturbating him, the suit asserts.
Epperson alleges after he reported the abuse that detectives told him he “would be serving three to five years in California Youth Authority if I was lying. They asked, ‘Did you like it? Did you enjoy it? Did you ever think you might be homosexual?’ I remember telling myself, ‘You know what happened, don’t let these guys falsify what you know is true.’ ”
The case was closed without charges, Chapman kept his job and later assaulted another teen boy. He pleaded guilty to child molestation in 1987 and served 300 days in jail. Source: Modesto Bee, 5-23-20
The Catholic Diocese of Syracuse, NY, St. John the Evangelist School in Binghamton and school employee James Purtell are being sued by a 57-year-old man alleging deceased priest Thomas Keating molested him for 3 years starting in 1973 when he was 11.
Purtell is accused of making sexual comments to the plaintiff in 1973. He and Keating both used fear and intimidation to ensure the plaintiff’s silence, it’s alleged. Source: Press and Sun-Bulletin, 5-21-20
The Catholic Diocese of Allentown, PA, and St. Catharine of Siena Parish in Reading are defendants in a suit filed by Timothy McGettigan, a Texas man who alleges he was sexually abused and tortured by several priests in a church basement in the 1970s.
McGettigan alleges he was assaulted by Joseph Grembocki, David A. Soderlund and other priests he can’t identify. Grembocki died in July 2016. He is not named in the statewide grand jury report and no other accusation has surfaced. Soderlund was defrocked in 2005 and moved to Wyoming, where he was sent to prison for exploiting children and possessing child pornography.
The suit alleges Soderlund started a “single moms with kids” club to identify and groom vulnerable children. Over 50 Allentown Diocese priests have been accused of child abuse. Source: Morning Call, 5-20-20
The Catholic Diocese of Syracuse, NY, facing upwards of 100 lawsuits under the Child Victims Act, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Bishop Douglas Lucia said in a statement that the diocese will implement a victims fund charged with pooling money from the diocese and insurance carriers to assess the extent of coverage.
Syracuse is the third of New York’s 8 dioceses after Buffalo and Rochester to file for bankruptcy. Source: NY Post, 6-19-20
The Catholic Diocese of St. Cloud, MN, agreed to a framework for resolving clergy sexual abuse claims against the diocese and its parishes. It has received 74 claims of sexual abuse of minors involving 41 clergy.
The agreement includes a $22.5 million trust fund to compensate abuse survivors, a commitment to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection “in the near future” and to make public a list of all credibly accused clergy. Source: KSTP, 5-26-20
Retired Catholic Bishop Joseph Hart is still under investigation for alleged sexual abuse of over a dozen boys despite earlier claims to the contrary by a Wyoming prosecutor. Natrona County District Attorney Dan Itzen told Cheyenne police he is still pursuing charges and the case is still open. A prosecutor who later recused herself misread or misunderstood details in a probable cause affidavit, Itzen said.
Hart, 88, was a priest in Kansas City, MO, for 21 years before moving to Wyoming, where he served as auxiliary and then full bishop from 1976 until retiring in 2001. The first known allegations against him date to the early 1960s and were made in the late 1980s.
The Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph has settled suits with at least 10 victims. At least 6 men have come forward in the past 2 years to say he molested them in Wyoming. Source: AP, 6-23-20
Televangelist Jim Bakker filed a civil action in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri on behalf of his Morningside Church and Morningside Church Productions based in Blue Eye. Bakker hopes to thwart attempts by the Arkansas Attorney General’s Office to obtain personal information of congregation members as part of an investigation into Bakker’s promotion of Silver Solution, which he claims cures COVID-19.
Bakker is also under investigation in Missouri for his Silver Solution claims. In their complaint, Bakker’s attorneys claim he feels “divinely inspired” to offer Silver Solution to the world and that products like it “have been made available to this generation by God.”
It was announced in May that Bakker, 80, had suffered a stroke and would be taking a break from “The Jim Bakker Show” to recover. Source: Democrat-Gazette, 6-10-20
Donald C. Biggs, 41, a youth pastor at Mountain Church in Medford, OR, sentenced in 2018 to 15 years for secretly recording juvenile girls showering, was granted a public defender to help him apply for “compassionate release” from a Minnesota federal prison due to coronavirus concerns.
“I fear for my life based on the fact that I cannot ‘social distance’ in prison,” Biggs wrote in a May 14 letter asking for release “to go home to be with my loved ones to support them through this pandemic.”
Biggs made national headlines when the victim’s father and church member jumped the railing and punched him during sentencing. Charges against him were later dismissed. Source: Mail Tribune, 5-21-20
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo extended the deadline for filing childhood sexual abuse claims due to the coronavirus pandemic from Aug. 14 to Jan. 14, 2021. Cuomo said a reduction in court services has limited the ability of survivors’ attorneys to file and prepare cases.
It took more than a decade for the Child Victims Act to become law, as Catholic churches and other organizations opposed it year after year for liability reasons. “The decision to extend it through executive order is not terribly surprising to us,” said Dennis Poust of the New York State Catholic Conference. Source: Queens Courier/Crux, 5-11-20
Nicholas DiMarzio, bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn, NY, has been accused by a second man of abuse in the 1970s, when DiMarzio was a parish priest in Jersey City, NJ.
DiMarzio “repeatedly sexually abused” Samier Tadros starting when he was about 6 years old, according to a letter Tadros’ lawyer sent to the attorney representing the Archdiocese of Newark. The letter alleges the abuse happened in Holy Rosary Church.
“There is absolutely no truth to this allegation,” DiMarzio told The Associated Press. “We have uncovered conclusive evidence of Bishop DiMarzio’s innocence,” said Joseph Hayden, his attorney. Hayden declined to share the evidence with the AP.
Mitchell Garabedian, best known for focusing attention in 2002 on clergy abuse scandals in the Archdiocese of Boston, represents both accusers, who are ages 46 and 57 and live in different states. Source: Alton Telegraph, 6-4-20
Removed / Resigned
Jack Herron, Fargo, ND, a retired Catholic priest, was removed from public ministry by the Diocese of Fargo after a woman accused him of groping her in the church rectory when she was 15 or 16 in the 1970s.
“The canonical investigation and review by the diocesan review board is complete,” a statement said. “It was determined that Father Herron would not have faculties to engage in public ministry.” The diocese released a list in January of 31 priests, deacons and non-ordained individuals whom it believes have been credibly accused. Source: inforum.com, 6-18-20
Carlos Osorio of St. Louis Catholic Parish in Clarksville, MD, was removed from priestly faculties after alleged “sexual activity involving adults” was reported to the Archdiocese of Baltimore. Osorio, 36, is not expected to return to active ministry, said Mary Ellen Russell, director of community affairs for the archdiocese. Source: Baltimore Sun, 6-8-20
James Curtin, Lockport, IL, resigned as pastor of St. Dennis Catholic Parish after an inappropriate video was posted to social media. In a letter to parents, St. Dennis School said a student opened a Snapchat video which included Curtin and went viral.
Lockport police are investigating the video. The diocese said the video was not created with malicious intent but was done due to lack of knowledge of modern technology. Source: WGN, 5-14-20
Timothy Seavey, 31, Mesa, AZ, was removed as pastor at Queen of Peace Catholic Church and chaplain of Seton Catholic Preparatory High School amid allegations he sent “inappropriate images of a sexual nature” to a 17-year-old boy.
Allegations were reported to the high school and police after the boy recognized Seavey, said Detective Nik Rasheta. A complication is that the boy identified himself as 18 in his online dating profile. Mesa police said the investigation is active but no charges have been filed. Source: Mesa Tribune, 5-12-20
Father Sergei (né Nikolai Romanov), a prominent Russian Orthodox priest barred from public ministry in April for preaching about his anti-coronavirus views, took over the Sredneuralsk convent outside the city of Yekaterinburg and set up a perimeter of Cossack militia to guard the site. “Father Sergei literally removed the mother superior from management,” the Yekaterinburg Diocese told reporters.
The ultraconservative priest and former policeman previously spent 13 years in prison for murder. He faces an ecclesiastical court for defying bans on public ministry as well as a secular court on suspicion of inciting hatred. Source: Moscow Times, 6-17-20
Thomas J. Weston, 68, Laketown, UT, was found dead of an apparent suicide while awaiting trial on counts of sodomy on a child and aggravated sexual abuse of a child. The Rich County Sheriff’s Office received a report in January that Weston had assaulted a minor female relative “numerous times” dating back to 2018.
According to his obituary, “He served an honorable LDS mission in The Australia West Mission from 1971—1973. … Tom was a mountain of a man with a laugh to match. He served in various positions in his church and his community.” He and his wife were married in 1973 in the Ogden Temple and raised 4 children.
Sheriff Dale Stacey set up a monitored phone call Jan. 24 between the victim and Weston, during which Weston allegedly admitted to her he had one things that would “probably put me in prison the rest of my life.” Source: Uinta County Herald, 6-15-20
David A. Gross, 86, died of COVID-19 complications while incarcerated at Colorado’s Sterling Correctional Facility. Gross was a retired Air Force chaplain described as a “serial child molester” by the judge who sentenced him at age 79 to 10 years to life in prison.
Gross was arrested on suspicion of sexually touching 4 granddaughters as part of their “special relationship” with him. He pleaded guilty to sexual assault on a child by one in a position of trust. Source: Colorado Springs Gazette, 5-20-20
Darrin Patrick, 49, St Louis, died of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound. Patrick founded the Southern Baptist megachurch The Journey with his wife in 2002 and later served as a teaching pastor at the multi-site Seacoast Church based in South Carolina. He was a former chaplain for the baseball St. Louis Cardinals.
Patrick was fired in 2016 as pastor of The Journey for “deep historical patterns of sin” involving 2 women. After 26 months of “restoration,” he started working at Seacoast Church.
His friend Bob Oesch said Patrick would often ask people who “lived without God in their lives,” “How’s that working for you?’ “And that was a great way of getting people to see the value of putting God
in their lives,” Oesch said. “I still call it the Darrin question.” Source: Post & Courier/Religion News Service, 5-9-20
Weighing in at 438 pounds, I knew something had to be done to save my life. This “revelation” came to me just as I was hired full-time as a legal fellow for the Freedom From Religion Foundation in June 2017.
So, as my legal career began to take off, I decided to take off the pounds, too. I was tired of making excuses for my weight.
Being over 400 pounds doesn’t happen overnight. I grew up on fast food, soda and, really, any high-calorie food that I could get my hands on. Any fitness effort was always eclipsed by the massive amount of food I ate. By the time I graduated from high school, I was well over 300 pounds and growing.
The weight gain continued during my first couple years of college before I was finally able to stem the tide, temporarily, at least, for the first time in my life.
It was during this period that I discovered a love of playing ultimate frisbee. I also realized I enjoyed long walks while listening to audiobooks. It was during these walks that I first listened to The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins and God is Not Great by Christopher Hitchens. I had been an atheist since high school, but it was books like these that really solidified my beliefs and made me feel like I wasn’t alone.
Within the secular community, I finally found a place where I felt like I belonged. I became heavily involved (no pun intended!) in the Secular Student Alliance group at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater. I considered attempting to get an internship at FFRF, but, ultimately, I took one closer to home.
During this time, the weight seemed to melt off. I lost more than 80 pounds, going from around 350 pounds to 270.
Unfortunately, the weight loss didn’t last long. I graduated college in 2012 with a political science degree and no clear career path. I found a job in my hometown, working on cars for minimum wage.
Gone were the days of discussing philosophy, politics and the meaning of life. I lived with my parents and saved what I could, which wasn’t much. My weight skyrocketed. I was over 400 pounds during this time.
I knew I had to do something, anything, because the path I was on was leading toward total self-destruction. I quit that job and started studying full-time for the LSAT. During college, I had taken that test to get into law school, but I really didn’t do that much studying.
This time, however, I put in the effort. I studied for months, worked through multiple LSAT programs, took every practice test available and achieved a score that allowed me to attend the University of Wisconsin-Madison on nearly a full-tuition scholarship.
Things were looking up and, before starting law school, I was able to lose a little bit of weight. But the stress of law school led me back to my old ways and I quickly started to gain weight again.
Law school was especially hard for me because I wasn’t passionate about being a lawyer. My real interest was in atheism and secularism, but there is no such thing as a professional atheist. This time, I applied for and was accepted for a legal internship at FFRF during the summer after my first year of law school.
Within my first few weeks at FFRF, I knew that I had found my home. I spent the summer working with an incredible group of attorneys, protecting the separation of church and state and generally advancing the idea of a more secular society.
I interned at FFRF for more than a full year, which made my law school career advisor worry about me. She believed I was making a big mistake by only interning at one organization. But I had faith, so to speak.
Toward the end of law school, I applied to be a full-time legal fellow at FFRF. I was a bit worried, but optimistic, given my years of experience. Happily, I was offered the fellowship and, on June 1, 2017, started working at FFRF full-time.
With this new job now locked in, I knew it was time to make a change, a real change, in my health. I started with small adjustments to my diet — like removing fast food — and just kept eating less and less as my weight dropped. I went from drinking soda to low-calorie lemonade to flavored water. A typical day included a breakfast sandwich or wrap, a protein shake for lunch, and then chicken and vegetables for dinner. I didn’t count calories, but ate things that were lower in calories and low in carbs.
It wasn’t easy, sometimes I was hungry but my body was able to adapt to my new lifestyle pretty quickly. I made sure to allow myself to indulge when necessary, especially when my coworkers would bring in eclairs, candy, or various baked goods. I also had to give in whenever our amazing supporters would send pizzas, or other treats to the office for our staff to enjoy. It’s all about balance.
Within a year, I lost 180 pounds, going from 430 to 250 pounds.
When I first started my weight-loss program, I would walk a lot — two to three hours on workdays and five to eight hours a day on the weekends. At some point, I transitioned from just walking to running. My FFRF co-workers signed me up for a half-marathon as a “reward” for my hard work and progress. I only had six weeks or so to prepare. I started trying to run as far as I could without stopping. I ran my first half-marathon on Nov. 11, 2019.
Since then, I have been running every day. I’m now down to 170 pounds, meaning I’ve lost more than 250 pounds from my highest weight. With my new lifestyle that I am enjoying so much, I don’t expect that I will have to worry about becoming obese ever again.
And when my two-year legal fellowship ended, FFRF kept me aboard and hired me as a full-time attorney — a dream come true.
I have so much more left to achieve in my life and career, and I can now do so with a tremendous weight off of my shoulders.