In the News: December 2017

This statue has been covered up because of complaints it was too sexually suggestive.

Saint statue covered up for being too suggestive

A Catholic school in Australia has covered up a statue of a saint giving a loaf of bread to a boy after complaints that it was too sexually suggestive.

The statue of St. Martin de Porres at Blackfriars Priory School in Adelaide shows the bread being held at crotch level as the smiling boy gazes up with a hand reaching for the loaf.

The statue was made in Vietnam, but a local sculptor has been hired to redesign it.

Photos posted online show the statue first covered in a dark shroud, then placed behind a black fence.

Citing bible, EPA changes adviser rules

Referencing the Book of Joshua, EPA head Scott Pruitt announced sweeping changes to the agency’s science advisory boards. On Oct. 31, the EPA announced that scientists who receive EPA funding cannot serve on the agency’s three major advisory groups, opening the door to more industry participation.

Pruitt said, “Joshua says to the people of Israel: Choose this day whom you are going to serve. This is sort of like the Joshua principle — that, as it relates to grants from this agency, you are going to have to choose either service on the committee to provide counsel to us in an independent fashion or chose the grant. But you can’t do both. That’s the fair and great thing to do.”

A large coalition of science organizations, science advocates, environmentalists, and politicians lined up in fierce opposition to the policy changes, arguing the rules not only disqualify top environmental and health researchers from advising, but also favor scientists paid for by EPA-regulated companies.

Israeli paper: Biblical creation stories fables

The bible and its stories about the first man and the creation of the world are not true because there is no physical evidence to back it up, according to a new lengthy investigation from one of Israel’s top newspapers.

Haaretz compares accounts in the bible, from ancients Jews fleeing Egypt to descriptions of King David, and dismisses them all as fables.

The mounting evidence against the bible means fewer Americans than ever before are trusting scripture as gospel. Only 35 percent of Americans read the bible at least once a week, while 45 percent seldom or never do, the Pew Research Center reported in April.

Bible talks with teacher ended after complaints

Hudsonville Public Schools in Michigan ended faith-based discussions that Alward Elementary students were having over lunch with a teacher, following complaints by a civil rights group on behalf of parents.

“Every public-school teacher, principal, and superintendent should know that they are prohibited from engaging in any activity with students that involves religious beliefs, rituals, or doctrines,’’ said Mitch Kahle, spokesman for the Michigan Association of Civil Rights Activists and an FFRF Lifetime Member.

Kahle said his group was approached separately by two parents about teacher-led bible studies that had been ongoing this semester every Friday at lunch. He said parents informed the group that fifth-grade teacher Christopher Karel would read bible verses, tell a story or show a video and lead students in prayer.

Assistant Superintendent Scott Smith said he and Superintendent Nick Ceglarek met with Karel that day and, after confirming the allegation, immediately ended the lunchtime talks.

‘Nones’ more accepting of transgender identities

Among “Nones” — those who identify as atheist, agnostic or “nothing in particular” — 62 percent say they think a person’s gender is not necessarily determined by the sex they are assigned at birth, according to a new survey from the Pew Research Center.

The survey showed that nearly two-thirds (63 percent) of Christians in the United States say that whether someone is a man or a woman is determined by their sex at birth. Among Christians, 84 percent of white evangelical Protestants believe that gender is determined by sex at birth.

Most “Nones” (57 percent) say society has “not gone far enough” when it comes to accepting people who are transgender, and that transgender individuals should be allowed to use public restrooms corresponding to their current gender identity (70 percent).

Retreat from religion will accelerate

Projections from the General Social Survey show that, by 2030, a third of Americans will have no religious preference.

Since 1990, the fraction of Americans with no religious affiliation has nearly tripled, from about 8 percent to 22 percent.

Over the next 20 years, this trend is expected to accelerate. By 2020, there will be more “Nones” than Catholics, and by 2035, they will outnumber Protestants.

Religious beliefs are primarily determined by the environment people grow up in, including their family life and wider social influences. Although some people change religious affiliation later in life, most do not, so changes in the population are largely due to generational replacement.

Among people born before 1940, a large majority are Protestant, only 20–25 percent are Catholic, and very few are Nones or Others. But these numbers have changed rapidly in the last few generations: among people born since 1980, there are more Nones than Catholics, and among the youngest adults, there may already be more Nones than Protestants.

However, this view of the data does not show the effect of age. If religious affiliation increases or decreases, on average, as people get older, this figure could be misleading.

Trump clerical official promotes racist myths

The director of community outreach in the Department of Homeland Security once said that cities become “slums” because black residents are afflicted by “laziness, drug use and promiscuity.”

Rev. Jamie Johnson, who directs the Center for Faith-Based & Neighborhood Partnerships at Homeland Security, has also said that the Muslim faith’s only contributions to the world have been “oil and dead bodies.”

Johnson has been a frequent guest on Christian radio shows where he discussed at length the inferiority of black people, the monetary talents of Jewish people and the threats people of other faiths pose to U.S. Christians.

Diocese says 8 priests sexually abused children

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn revealed that 25 years ago, Jaime Lara, then known as the Rev. James Lara, was defrocked by the Vatican for sexually abusing children.

The Brooklyn diocese hid his secret from the public, but posted Lara’s name on its website, confirming that he had been defrocked for the abuse. The diocese also belatedly posted the names of seven other former priests who were defrocked for child sexual abuse offenses.

The public posting was meant to partly respond to victims and their advocates who have pleaded for decades for the publication of all of the names of priests credibly accused or defrocked for child sexual abuse, to prevent the abuse of more children. About 15 dioceses have published partial lists.

Those seven priests represent a fraction of the Brooklyn and Queens clergy implicated in the 233 claims before the compensation program, which is awarding settlements to victims who agree to drop further action against the diocese.

Woman sues to remove phrase from oath

An atheist woman seeking citizenship in Massachusetts is suing to remove the phrase “so help me God” from the United States citizenship oath.

Olga Paule Perrier-Bilbo, a French national who has lived in the United States since 2000 with a green card, says that the inclusion of the phrase is an unconstitutional violation of her religious freedom. Her lawyer, Michael Newdow, drew attention for a similar Supreme Court case in 2004, when he argued that the Pledge of Allegiance should be rewritten to omit “under God.”

This is Perrier-Bilbo’s second application for citizenship, according to The Sacramento Bee. The first time was in 2009, when she was offered the chance to participate in a private citizenship ceremony that would allow her to omit those four words. But the fact that the oath includes them at all is what she’s objecting to now.

GOP legislator quits after gay sex encounter

An Ohio Republican state legislator who consistently touts his faith and his anti-LGBT stances resigned after being caught having sex with a man in his office.

Rep. Wes Goodman, who is married, was seen having sex with a man inside his office. The witness told Ohio House Chief of Staff Mike Dittoe, who spoke with House Speaker Cliff Rosenberger, who then met with Goodman. Shortly after the meeting, Goodman resigned due to “inappropriate conduct.”

Goodman has consistently talked about “natural marriage” being between a man and a woman.

Goodman’s Twitter bio describes him as: “Christian. American. Conservative. Republican. Husband to @Beth1027.”

U.S. Rep. Huffman comes out as nonbeliever

U.S. Rep. Jared Huffman (D-Calif.) has come out saying that he does not believe in God, although he hesitates to call himself an atheist.

“I suppose you could say I don’t believe in God,” Huffman told the Washington Post. “The only reason I hesitate is — unlike some humanists, I’m not completely closing the door to spiritual possibilities.”

He also said there is too much religion in politics.

“I’ve seen religion wielded in such negative ways around here, lately,” he said. “[President] Trump does it all the time, so implausibly.”

Huffman said that he’s not hostile to religion, and he does not judge other people’s religious views. He added that he doesn’t believe his religion is necessarily relevant to the work he does.

Survey: More Americans choose no religion

A new report shows that more than one-third of those surveyed are atheist, agnostic or “nothing in particular,” and more than half rarely go to church.

According to the American Family Survey, which asked about views on family, politics and social issues, 34 percent of respondents said they had no religious denomination, compared to 33 percent who identified as Protestant and 21 percent who said they are Catholic.

Baptists made up the largest Protestant group, at about 32 percent, with 19 percent saying they belong to a nondenominational or independent church. Twenty-eight percent of those surveyed consider themselves “born-again” or evangelical Christians.

U.S. votes against death penalty ban for gays

A United Nations resolution banning the death penalty for homosexuality was opposed by a total of 13 countries in the U.N. Human Rights Council. While several were in Africa and the Middle East, the United States shockingly voted against the measure, as well.

The resolution passed on Sept. 29 despite U.S.’s vote, with 27 countries voting for the measure.

It was brought forward by eight nations — Belgium, Benin, Costa Rica, France, Mexico, Moldova, Mongolia, and Switzerland — that have made global LGBT rights a priority.

“It is unconscionable to think that there are hundreds of millions of people living in states where somebody may be executed simply because of whom they love,” responded the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association.

Previous efforts by Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Russia to block or water down the resolution failed

Good without God? More are saying it’s possible

Most U.S. adults now say it is not necessary to believe in God to be moral and have good values, according to the Pew Research Center.

The latest survey shows that 56 percent of Americans believe you can be good without God, up 7 percentage points since the last survey in 2011. Pew also reports that almost every religious group is more likely to say you don’t need God to be good than they did in 2011.

According to the Pew report, “This increase reflects the continued growth in the share of the population that has no religious affiliation, but it also is the result of changing attitudes among those who do identify with a religion, including white evangelical Protestants.”

The growth in the share of Americans who say belief in God is unnecessary for morality aligns with the growth in the share of the population that is religiously unaffiliated. In the 2011 Pew survey, religious “nones” constituted 18 percent of the sample. In 2017, the share of “nones” rose to 25 percent

Not everyone in U.S. has First Amendment rights?

Nearly one in five Americans incorrectly believes that Muslim citizens don’t have the same First Amendment rights as other American citizens. Also incorrectly, one in seven believes that atheists aren’t protected by those rights.

These are among the findings of a new study by the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania, which also found that a fraction of Americans surveyed — 15 percent — named freedom of religion when asked to name the rights guaranteed under the First Amendment.

Those rights are: freedom of religion, speech and the press, and the right of assembly and to petition the government.

“These results emphasize the need for high-quality civics education in the schools and for press reporting that underscores the existence of constitutional protections,” said Kathleen Hall Jamieson, director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center.

More than one-third of those asked (37 percent) could not, unprompted, name a single First Amendment protection.

And only a quarter of Americans (26 percent) could name all three branches of the government (legislative, executive and judicial).

New Zealand’s new prime minister agnostic

Jacinda Ardern, the head of New Zealand’s Labour Party, is set to become the country’s next prime minister. She is a former Mormon who became an agnostic in her 20s.

Ardern, 37, will be the youngest leader in New Zealand in more than 150 years. A staunch feminist, Ardern refused to answer whether she has considered having children, saying no male politician would be forced to answer that question.

Jacinda Adern
Jacinda Adern

She said that she left Mormonism because of its anti-gay prejudice. “Even before the Civil Union Bill came up, I lived in a flat with three gay friends and I was still going to church every so often, and I just remember thinking ‘This is really inconsistent — I’m either doing a disservice to the church or my friends,’” she said.

Clergy abuse records released in New Mexico

The Archdiocese of Santa Fe has released hundreds of pages of court records regarding sexual abuse allegations against clergy members following an order by a New Mexico judge, marking the largest disclosure of such records since alleged victims began suing the archdiocese nearly three decades ago.

The documents, released Oct. 18, include letters showing church leaders knew of sexual abuse allegations that had been leveled against three priests from the 1960s through the 1980s. The records show that the diocese repeatedly assigned priests accused of sexually abusing children to areas where they could abuse again, the Albuquerque Journal reports. The records include letters and reports from psychologists to church leaders that detail allegations against three priests.