In memoriam: The bright life of Paul Geisert

Paul Geisert

Many in the freethought world were saddened to learn of the death of Paul Geisert, who succumbed Nov. 17 to COVID-19 due to an outbreak in the congregate living community near Sacramento, Calif., where he had resided the past year.

An Ohio native, Geisert had a rather eclectic career, living and holding jobs in 11 states across his lifetime. Besides owning and running two businesses, all his creative work related in some manner to education, with most positions being as a teacher and/or instructional developer.

He pursued undergraduate studies in biology at the University of Toledo, did his master’s level graduate work at the University of Michigan, and then received his Ph.D. in instructional systems at Florida State University, co-authoring with his wife two college-level textbooks on instructional uses of computers.

He also authored numerous articles in science education and freethought publications, taking firm stances on behalf of authentic science in the face of creationist/religious intrusions into public education.

Besides his personal freethinking, Geisert was a nonconformist in several ways, almost approaching iconoclast status. While on the faculty of the University of Wyoming and being a highly innovative member of its Science and Mathematics Teaching Center (he won a national award for instructional development in college level biology there), he unpredictably departed academia after making local news by publicly turning down his academic promotion, choosing to pursue his own pathway as a freelancer instead.

Geisert is probably best known among organized freethinkers as the person who originated the noun identity term (“a bright”) as a positive way of presenting one’s all-encompassing outlook without making reference to religion. Although a great many atheists and agnostics would qualify for the descriptor, not all would do so, because fitting the definition means going beyond lacking deity-belief.

Brights have a naturalistic worldview, fully free of supernatural and mystical elements. No “woo-woo” for them. A bright would not credit as existing in reality any of the copious paranormal entities and agencies that inhabit human minds.

Geisert co-founded The Brights’ Network as an international online constituency of individuals holding a naturalistic outlook. Several notable freethinkers such as the magicians James Randi and Penn and Teller, and scientist Richard Dawkins, joined the network of registered Brights and drew attention to its existence. Unfortunately, the popular attributions were not always accurate, because the neologism was not invented to be a synonym for atheist.

Drawn to unconventional activities and unorthodox thinking, Geisert was a firm supporter of public education and the need for civic neutrality between religion and nonreligion.

Among other products, he co-produced “Different Drummers: Nonconforming Thinkers in History,” an instructional unit that California approved for classroom use. He also lobbied its Department of Education to press for inclusivity of nonreligious persons and points of view, thereby inducing new wording for the state’s curricular standards for social studies teaching. Paul became active in Objectivity, Accuracy, and Balance In Teaching about Religion (OABITAR) and wrote material for several of its projects, such as the website, “Teaching about Religion in Support of Civic Pluralism.”

Atheists and Other Freethinkers, the local group that Geisert co-founded in 1993 and served as an early president, continues to be active today (aofonline.org), as do other nonprofits that he helped to get going, such as Sacramento’s Reason Center (reasoncenter.org) and, of course, The Brights’ Network (the-brights.net).

Many who knew Geisert personally considered him a Renaissance Man, having proved himself just as handy under the hood of his Model A or two classic cars as in the bowels of an “old house renewal,” where he accomplished all the electrical, plumbing, carpentry, tiling, locksmith work, etc. by himself.

Among his many building projects, Geisert constructed two boats and even ground the lens for the telescope that he built. He was savvy in the kitchen and at the sewing machine, as well.

Despite having no deity-belief whatsoever and hence functionally an atheist, Geisert would not accept the label, despite friend Michael Newdow’s persuasiveness on the matter. “I see no reason to define myself by reference to religion; I am a bright.”

In memoriam: Ben Bova was science fiction author

Science fiction author and editor Ben Bova died of complications of COVID-19 and a stroke on Nov. 29 in Naples, Fla., at age 88.

He was the author of 140 books and edited some of science fiction’s best-known publications and served as the president of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America.

In an interview on FFRF’s Freethought Radio (July 18, 2009, which can be heard at ffrf.org/radio by scrolling to  that date), Bova said, “The Catholic Church teaches that faith is a gift from God, and it’s a gift I never received apparently. It always seemed kind of strange to me that we’re depending on this supernatural power and there’s no real evidence that it exists. . . . When I started understanding how science works, it occurred to me that there just is

Ben Bova at Minicon 8, 1974

no evidence that there is a God.”

Attracted to science but fearing he lacked the math skills for it led him to study journalism at Temple University in Philadelphia, which landed him a job in 1954 as a newspaper editor. He then worked as a technical writer for an aircraft company and as a writer for educational films at MIT.  He was working as a writer in 1969 for Avco Everett Research Laboratory, which built heat shields for the Apollo 11 module, when the first men landed on the moon.

He earned a master’s in communications from the State University of New York at Albany and a Ph.D. in education from California Coast University.

His increasing renown as a writer in the 1970s brought him the role for which he would be most acclaimed, editor of Analog, the popular science fiction magazine. As editor, Bova earned five consecutive Hugo Awards (1973 to 1977) and another in 1982 as fiction editor of Omni magazine.

After his first novel (The Star Conquerors in 1959), Bova wrote 140 futuristic and nonfiction books. The latest in his Grand Tour series was Uranus in July 2020.

He served as president of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America and a science analyst on “CBS Morning News.” He taught science fiction at Harvard and film courses at other institutions. He received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Arthur C. Clarke Foundation (2005), was elected a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (2001) and in 2008 won the Robert A. Heinlein Award “for his outstanding body of work in the field of literature.”

Bova’s writings predicted solar power satellites, the discovery of organic chemicals in interstellar space, the space race of the 1960s, virtual reality, human cloning, stem cell therapy, the discovery of ice on the moon, electronic book publishing and the Strategic Defense Initiative (Star Wars). His novel Mars Life (2008) explored the clash between science, politics and religion. His 1980 article in Discover magazine, “The Creationists’ ‘Equal Time,’” became an inspirational classic among freethinkers.

He married Rosa Cucinotta in 1953 while attending Temple University. They had a son and a daughter before divorcing in 1974, when he married Barbara Berson Rose. She founded the Barbara Bova Literary Agency. She died in 2009 of cancer in Naples, Fla. Bova married Rashida Loya, an anesthesiologist, in 2013.

Editor’s note: Most of this obituary comes from FFRF’s Freethought of the Day entry, which was compiled by Bonnie Gutsch and Bill Dunn. To see other entries in FFRF’s extensive list, go to ffrf.org/day.

Overheard (Jan/Feb 2021)

Through her attention-attracting assault on the public education system, Betsy DeVos has actually given the next secretary of education an opportunity — to recommit to public education as a public good, and a cornerstone of our democracy.

Jack Schneider  and Jennifer Berkshire, in the op-ed, “Trump’s Longest-Serving Cabinet Official May Start a Revolution.” The two are co-authors of A Wolf at the Schoolhouse Door.

Washington Post, 12-1-20


I once took heat for calling Betsy DeVos “dumb as a bag of hammers.” But after her 4 years as our Education Secretary, I now realize an apology is owed. To hammers.

U.S. Rep. Jared Huffman, after the secretary of education said that staff should “be the resistance” to the Biden administration.

Twitter, 12-16-20


The last thing this country with a rapidly increasing nonbeliever population needs, is for the Supreme Court to keep defining religious citizens as being in a class above all others, empowered with the ability to stomp out dissent or competing nonreligious views, even within government programs.

Attorney Tyler Broker, in his column, “Arguments for religious ‘accommodation’ have become tyrannical.”

AboveTheLaw.com, 12/14/20


If I get to the bottom of the Cracker Jack box and there’s a prize, I’m happy.  But if there isn’t, I just enjoy the Cracker Jack. My happiness here doesn’t depend on something that’s awaiting me after it. I don’t have a complex orthodoxy; I have a vague spiritualism that tells me if I live a good life, good things will happen. But I don’t have any expected reward or expected afterlife or anything like that. I just want to make the most of this life and make as positive an impact as I can on the people around me and be grateful for their love and attention and try to do something worthwhile, and no count on getting a do-over.

Actor Michael J. Fox, in an interview on “Fresh Air.”

NPR, 12-21-20

Crankmail (Jan/Feb 2021)

Well, FFRF’s detractors certainly had a field day after FFRF persuaded a Kansas school district to discontinue fundraising for Franklin Graham’s proselytizing Christian organization. Here is a very small sampling of the mail we got. (Printed as received. . . including an abundance of foul verbiage.) 

Ffrf: By keeping your mother fucking mouths shut about kids getting toys fromBGEA.does it make you feel good to take toys from children.you all are a bunch of bitches for doing that to that school.ill bet secretly you do pray to god. — Gordon L. Chambers

kids toys: What sort of sick fucks are you your hatred of religion has prompted you to send letters and take kids toys away? you seriously have to be some sick cock sucking mother fuckers. go fucking yourselves you fucking cunt whore pieces of shit. fucking dirty pieces of human shit — Robert Bailey

Kansas Christian: I will be donating $1000’s of dollars to to Liberty Middle School because of your harassment. Christians the world over do the most good for the poor and disenfranchised. Everyone knows it. — Cathy Goracke

assholes: go fuck yourselves ffrf,is it true all athiest women are sluts,if they would keep thier legs closed they wouldnt need to kill babies but then you dont believe in god so killing babies is ok.hopefully all athiest,liberals,progressives get covid and vanish from this planet,you people are a plague.liberal,athiest,progressives and dems are the biggest terrorist threats this country and constitution faces over all terrorist groups out there infact you fucking pigs are terrorist.so you think because damentia biden stole the election we are going to bow to fucking pig athiest,liberals and progressives go fuck your selves you pigs — Andy Konocki

xmas: you nasty cunts for stopping those kids from getting gilfs………i hope all you fuckers get shot …..you cunts — Wayne Beard

Kansas middle school: stick a crucifix up your ass until it comes out of the top of your skull — Mark Hittle

Evil Website: You are a evil place and should be removed from society. You will burn in hell for what you do to this great country. I hope and pray you lose every battle you try and do. My children will be taught there is a God which by the way there is a God so when you are on your death bed you will call out to God for sure. — Michael Wilson

Hey!: You really are a disgusting, piece of shit organization. You’re actions and fucking threats in Pratt, KS are reprehensible. Of course, we should all expect this from a fucked up state like Wisconsin and fucked up, Godless people like you are. ROT IN HELL — John Hoehn

Toys are bad: Did you karen motherfuckers really threaten a fucking school for collecting toys for less fortunate kids? Like are you fucking shitting me? what kind of absolute trashy fucking human shit are you? Hope y’all get run the fuck over & your families get covid. Scumy motherfuckers. — Janet Belfour

Fuck Off!: You can mind your own goddamn business is how you can assist me. Keep your nose and your bullshit out of Fannin county GA. If you don’t like it you can go fuck yourself. You goddamn liberal cunts!! — Geoff Parsons

Disgusting: Close your doors. After reading your page a bit and reading your website this is disgusting. You ARE the reason we have lost all morality in this world. You have a war on Christmas? Gtfo something that brings joy and happiness to so many you want to dismantle it? Im glad my parents hugged me enough to not hate someone with a different of opinion. — Patrick J. Henry

Letterbox (Jan/Feb 2021)

State-church separation fight is no small feat

On a cold Sunday morning in the Twin Cities of Minnesota, our feet are toasty warm with our FFRF stockings and our minds are being stimulated with a new episode of “Freethought Matters.”

The opening of this episode is from President John Kennedy, the first Catholic elected president. In that campaign, he needed to assure Protestants and secularists he accepted the constitutional concept of separation of government and religion.

“I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute, where no Catholic prelate would tell the president (should he be Catholic) how to act, and no Protestant minister would tell his parishioners for whom to vote; where no church or church school is granted any public funds or political preference; and where no man is denied public office merely because his religion differs from the president who might appoint him or the people who might elect him.”

FFRF is the premier organization today fighting every day for absolute separation of government and religion. “Freethought Matters” is central to the communication of that principal to everyday Americans. Thank you and keep up the good work.

Shirley Moll and Steve Petersen
Minnesota


Congrats to secular invocation winners

Congratulations to Sarah Ray and Ann Landman for their perseverance and courage in achieving the acceptance of their local city councils in Lake Wales, Fla., and Grand Junction, Colo., to allow them to give secular invocations. I hope that, in the not-too-distant future, all local and municipal governments in this country will adhere to what our founders intended to establish when they wrote the Constitution and the Bill of Rights — a permanent wall between religion and government.

Steve Taulbee
Maryland


Subtleties of Christian Nationalism at work

I received an email invitation from the Wall Street Journal. It’s a subtle but disturbing approach to establishing “trust” via covenant thinking, heavily influenced by David W. Miller, director of Faith and Work Initiative at Princeton. There is also a white paper link in the invitation. It seems to be an attempt to get corporate leadership to move in an ethical direction based on the “religious concepts” of ethics and trust. Unbelievably subtle.

And, the irony is that it’s sponsored by Philip Morris, the same company that spent millions during the 1950s and ’60s attempting to create distrust in the scientific research about the link between smoking and lung cancer. Kind of a dark history, indeed!

Michael Pettus
California


Black Collar Crime section is a must-read

I read in your December issue a letter from a reader suggesting that the paper should discontinue the Black Collar Crime section because he has no interest in the topic.

I completely disagree with his suggestion. Frankly, Black Collar Crime is the main reason I read Freethought Today. It is the way I learned of the crimes of four local clergy I went to school with or otherwise worked with in the past.

Please keep up the great work in this important section of your publication.

David Nason
Michigan

. . .

In the recent issue of Freethought Today, you printed a letter in which the writer stated that Freethought Today would be a better publication without the inclusion of Crankmail and Black Collar Crime. He stated he was “not interested in what these looney-tunes think and . . . less interested in what those creeps do to children and vulnerable adults.”

I disagree with him. In fact, my favorite part of Freethought Today is Crankmail and Black Collar Crime. I admit that my enjoyment does stem from schadenfreude at the knowledge that some people have paid for their crimes committed under the cover of their religious positions.

But, I also think these two sections are valuable because they instruct us as to the heinousness of these crimes and their perpetrators’ justification for their behavior on religious grounds. When I pass my Freethought Today on to friends, they always comment on the Crankmail and Black Collar Crime sections as being the most enlightening about the cause of separation of church and state. I would venture to say these sections open more eyes than more erudite and philosophical articles.

Georgellen Burnett
New Mexico


Scary flight was true test of the nonbeliever

About 10 years ago, I was flying out to Denver, and before boarding, I stopped in Hudson Books to grab something to read on the flight. I was very familiar with Christopher Hitchens’ work, but at the time I hadn’t gotten around to reading God Is Not Great. (It’s now so ragged and worn that it barely holds together.) I was pleasantly surprised to see it on the shelf, so I bought it.

The final approach to Denver International involved the worst thunderstorm I’d ever flown in, by far. I was thinking to myself, “How many of these passengers are praying their asses off for a safe landing, and here I am holding a book by one of the most prominent atheists of our generation?”

In several instances, I was all but certain the plane was going down, based on how turbulent it was. (Even the flight attendants were visibly terrified, which is never a good sign). That was my ultimate, “Well, I guess I’m all in” moment as a nonbeliever, and I can still remember it as vividly as if it happened yesterday. Obviously, the flight did land safely, but that was the closest thing to a “near-death experience” that I had ever encountered, and I decidedly was not praying to any deity to get me on the ground, but it happened anyway. Miracle? Hell no. Just amazing airmanship and modern technology.

Justin Pripusich
Illinois


FFRF does magnificent job with its fundraising

We have recently survived Black Friday, Cyber Monday and Giving Tuesday. On that Tuesday, my inbox had at least 50 requests for donations. In addition to this, my snail mailbox has as many as a dozen requests on a daily basis thought the year.

I am grateful to the Freedom From Religion Foundation for not using those methods. Twice a year you make a general request for funds allowing us to choose how we want our money to be used. It appears to me that FFRF does a magnificent job raising money without wasting envelopes, stationery and postage. Thank you.

Dick Hewetson
California


FFRF is an invaluable ally, amazing nonprofit

FFRF has been an invaluable ally and asset to our local freethought community here in southeastern Wisconsin. On two separate occasions, FFRF lawyers have written letters in response to violations in our towns of the Establishment Clause. Both times were efficient and effective, with a very short response time.

In 2017, a teacher in the public school district festooned her classroom with bible quotes and other Christian propaganda. After many complaints and lengthy meetings with the principal failed to convince the school to remove the material, FFRF lawyers drafted a letter challenging the constitutionality of the displays and demanding their removal. The resulting investigation by the school district resulted in a sweep of all schools and the eventual removal of the offending material.

More recently, the Racine, Wis., county government was discovered to have been awarding $50,000 annually to an evangelical Christian nonprofit called Youth For Christ in the form of a community and cultural grant. Similarly, the obvious nature of this violation prompted a letter from the lawyers at FFRF.  Although the facts of the letter were denied by the county, the grant subsequently disappeared from the next budget, due to fiscal shortfalls.

FFRF is well-run on a rarely seen level. Beside its legal support, it is extremely available to aid local chapters and members, including making appearances, welcoming visits to Madison, and lending support of any kind to chapter efforts. Both administration and staff are unfailingly pleasant, kind, patient and responsive. Every year, FFRF hosts an extravagant convention in a different city around country for the benefit of all members, everywhere. 

With podcasts, TV shows, newspapers, original entertainment, a world-class headquarters, it’s hard to catalog all the ways in which this nonprofit serves its constituency and the nation. Its spokespeople routinely appear before Congress or on national news outlets to fight for the rights of all Americans, while simultaneously creating community and solidarity on a grassroots level for its members.

Keep up the amazing work!”

Rob Moore
Wisconsin


Unfortunately, ignorance still reigns supreme

While Oregon has among the highest percentage of “Nones” in the country, churches and religious salespeople still dominate this state.

Here in Eugene, there are well over 100 Christian churches and two Christian colleges. Most nonprofits are Christian-oriented. Yet, there’s hundreds of homeless folks living on the streets of Eugene in tents. The hypocrisy is mind-boggling.

Wouldn’t you think these Christian priests/ministers would feel obligated to house homeless people in their churches? These parasites don’t even pay property taxes! If they did, homeless shelters and other needed community projects could be funded.

Christian preschools, bible camps and Sunday schools are still screwing up the minds of children with fairy tales of sky gods and divinely inspired books of hate and warmongering. But we allow this brainwashing to continue because it’s supported by our government and ignorant parents/guardians unwilling or unable to think for themselves.

The major problem we’re facing today is that there are far too many gullible, submissive people accepting the lies of religious salespeople, billionaire psychopaths and corporate-funded politicians.

Robert Simms
Oregon


Thanks to those who support bodily autonomy

As a woman in my late 30s, and a longtime FFRF member, it was discouraging to read in the FFRF membership survey that 80 percent of respondents are 60 or older and 70 percent male.

However, it was heartening to read that 98.8 percent of the respondents support legal abortion and Roe v. Wade.

As a woman who has attended many protests for the right of bodily autonomy, I’ve often been dismayed at how few men are in attendance. A large thank you to the old(ish) men (and all other members) of FFRF for being much needed allies.

I terminated an unattended pregnancy only a few years ago in my mid-30s. At the clinic, I was provided with a couple of ibuprofen. Only people with a driver would be permitted to get the strong meds for the procedure. I was perfectly comfortable with my personal health decision, but I was too embarrassed to call a friend to pick me up. Years later, I mentioned my abortion to a friend. “Oh, yeah, I had one in my 20s,” she said.

Given that one out of four women terminate a pregnancy by age 45, her response should not have surprised me. A year later, my friends, when telling me about their clinic visits, hopefully were not surprised when I said, “Oh, yeah, me too.”

And, so, my fellow atheists, agnostics, humanists and freethinkers, thank you for helping normalize the normal and not letting the detriment of Christian supremacy affect your commitment to a person’s own bodily autonomy. I’m hoping for a day when none of us is uncomfortable calling our friend to pick us up, so we can have the good meds.

Name, state withheld


Circumcision should be added to mutilation bill

Contrary to FFRF’s recommendation, Donald Trump (or Joe Biden) should NOT sign HR 6100, the Stop Female Genital Mutilation Act of 2020. The president should send it back to Congress and demand that boys also be included in the ban. And, FFRF should immediately amend its position on infant genital mutilation to include all children, regardless of gender. How can it be not OK to mutilate little girls, yet be OK to mutilate little boys?

Jay Clem
California


I’m grateful to watch ‘Freethought Matters’

I was lucky enough to tune in to recent episodes of “Freethought Matters.” I knew nothing of Ann Druyan until that show, to say nothing of her work and marriage to Carl Sagan. Wow. What a delightful conversation you had with her. I loved it.

Then, I just happened to tune into your show with John Davidson. Wow again. I never knew he was a freethinker and was delighted to hear him sing and play guitar. What an interesting interview.

Anyway, I am so grateful for your show.

Marilyn Fisher
Wisconsin


Thanks to FFRF ‘atheists’ for county seal change

Michael Powers, county executive officer of California’s Ventura County, sent me a letter with the recently launched new logo, which doesn’t have images of the Ventura Mission, cross or of missionary Junipero Serra. An earlier story in the Ventura County Star newspaper noted that “atheists” had objected to the county seal. The new logo is nice, and it seems to count as a step forward — away from Christian imagery in civic life.

Mitchell Dushay
California


‘Theo-plagiarism’ worthy of adding to lexicon

The quote from President Trump in the November “They Said What?” section, thanking the Christian God for the treatment Trump got at Walter Reed Medical Center, is a perfect example of “theo-plagiarism,” the act of giving credit to one’s own hypothetical deity for work done by humans.

We’ve long needed a word to describe believers’ nasty habit of thanking their god(s) for firefighters putting out fires, doctors saving lives, search parties finding lost hikers, and so on. “Theo-plagiarism” seems to fit.

Lee Helms
Michigan


‘Freethought Matters’ showed me I’m not alone

I want to let you know how much I appreciate FFRF TV show “Freethought Matters.” I love the people you interview (including Ann Druyan), the music and the testimonials before and after. It has been my gateway to people who share my recently formed thoughts on religion and God, so I now feel comfortable identifying as an atheist.

Cheryl Thompson
Wisconsin

Editor’s note: FFRF’s TV show “Freethought Matters,” goes up on FFRF’s YouTube channel every Thursday and now airs in 13 major cities on Sundays. To find out if your city broadcasts it, check out ffrf.org/freethought-matters.


Devilishly good cake was as good as its name

I decided to try Paul Gaylor’s “Devilishly Good Chocolate Cake” recipe from the “World Famous Atheist Cookbook.” It was my first time making a cake from scratch, and indeed, it turned out devilishly good (especially with the marshmallow buttercream frosting I also made)!

Andrew C. Jones
Michigan


Arthur C. Clarke had it  right about religion

On Dec. 16, mention was made of Arthur C. Clarke in FFRF’s Freethought of the Day. So, I thought it was a good time to write the following for those FFRF members who are also science fiction fans.

Clarke, in The Songs of Distant Earth, made a clear statement about religion that I wholly agree with. The “task” referred to is the winnowing of all human thought into compact information to be sent electronically with colonists to a new planet. What should be included for a fresh human start and what deleted? No developed human brains were being sent (only genetic material, in a form unspecified, to be turned into humans by robots for the first generation), so this would truly be a clean start.

“The task was, of course, impossible as well as heartbreaking. With tears in their eyes the selection panels had thrown away the Veda, the bible, the Tripitaka, the Quran and all the immense body of literature — fiction and nonfiction — that was based upon them. Despite all the wealth of beauty and wisdom these words contained, they could not be allowed to reinfect virgin planets with the ancient poisons of religious hatred, belief in the supernatural, and the pious gibberish with which countless billions of men and women had once comforted themselves at the cost of addling their minds.”

So, throw religion out; it does more harm than good. What should be indisputably true is that religion is not genetic and that anyone has to be taught to be religious. It is not part of the human genome. It is a human meme that we choose to propagate. As Clarke says, don’t let that meme infect the universe.

Karla Martin
Washington


Shirley Moll and Steve Petersen of Minnesota show off their FFRF socks.

Will bigots ever accept same-sex marriages?

Some bigots are shrewd enough to argue that it is they who are the victims of bigotry. For example, Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito complained that those who oppose same-sex marriage on the basis of their faith are unfairly called bigots by those who accept it.

If Alito had lived 100 years ago, I’m sure he’d have condemned anyone who accused faith-based opponents of interracial marriage as bigots. “Those against interracial marriages are not bigots,” he’d say. “No! They are defending a doctrine of their faith.”

Well, such marriages are legal now, and only the bigoted long for a return to the “good old days” when religiosity reigned supreme and imposed its will on all matters, including people’s most intimate behavior.  It is they who continue to insist that for a marriage to be legal, it must be between a man and a woman.

My only wish is that someday they’ll at least tolerate, if not accept,  same-sex marriage, as they now (I hope) tolerate interracial ones.

David Quintero
California

Black Collar Crime (Jan/Feb 2021)

Compiled by Bill Dunn

Arrested / Charged

Nathaniel S. Myers, 38, Clovis, CA: 6 counts of lewd and lascivious acts with a child. It’s alleged Myers molested multiple children under age 14 during the last 18 years “while actively working” at an unnamed church and as a landscaper, said a press release from the Fresno County Sheriff’s Office.

Online sources list Steve and Peggy Myers as teaching pastors at SouthPoint Church in Fresno. A Facebook page lists Nate Stephen Myers as a Worship Team Member at SouthPoint from 1995 to the present.

It’s believed there’s “a strong possibility” he may have victimized other children, the release said. Source: Fresno Bee, 11-26-20

Robert McKenzie, 49, Brooklyn Park, MN: 2 counts of 3rd-degree criminal sexual conduct. It’s alleged that McKenzie, co-founder of Word of Faith Ministries, molested a 17-year-old girl inside a residence in November. The church holds services at a St. Louis Park hotel.

Court papers stated he admitted touching the girl inappropriately, saying he “had a perverted thought.” Source: WCCO, 11-25-20

Michael M. Penkava, 71, Crystal Lake, IL: Misdemeanor violating reporting provisions. Penkava, a Jehovah’s Witness church elder, is accused of failing to notify police about an allegation that a male congregant was sexually abusing a family member. Source: Northwest Herald, 11-25-20

Mark A. Korando Sr., 69, Costa Mesa, CA: 2 counts of aggravated sexual assault of a child with a foreign object, 3 counts of oral copulation or sexual penetration with a child 10 or younger, 2 counts of forcible lewd act on a child and 7 counts of lewd or lascivious acts with a child younger than 14.

Police said Korando volunteered for years as a chaperone for children at a church identified as located in the 1700 block of Baker Street. The only church in that vicinity is Mesa Verde United Methodist Church at 1701 Baker St.

His arrest for alleged assaults on 2 sisters, ages 12 and 14, about 2 years ago came after their mother contacted police in September. As a chaperone, Korando helped take church youth groups out of state on trips to provide services to needy people. Source: CBS-LA, 11-25-20

Timothy L. Waters, 39, Elizabethtown, KY: 1 count each of 1st-degree sexual abuse, 3rd-degree sodomy and 3rd-degree rape. Elder Ben Ashlock of The Driven Church said Waters had volunteered with the church’s youth about “one year, more or less.”

An arrest affidavit said Waters was “in a position of authority” when he allegedly had sexual contact with a 16-year-old girl on multiple occasions. Vine Grove Police Chief Kenny Mattingly said his department became aware of the situation when an officer encountered Waters and the girl at a city park. Source: News-Enterprise, 11-25-20

Moises Norberto-Guerrero, 43, Greenville, SC: Criminal sexual conduct with a minor and 2nd-degree assault and battery involving alleged incidents between 2008–19 with several victims. It’s alleged that Norberto-Guerrero, pastor at Iglesia Pentecostal Jehovah Jireh, inappropriately touched a 7-year-old who attended church services, said a report filed Oct. 19. Another alleged victim came forward Nov. 16 and told police that Norberto-Guerroro touched him sexually on multiple occasions. Source: WYFF, 11-25-20

Venkataramanappa, 68, Chickballapur, India: Sexual assault. The Hindu priest is accused of raping a 10-year-old girl after luring her into his house next to the temple with promises of snacks. “The girl was taken to a hospital for a medical examination where doctors confirmed that she was raped,” a senior police officer said. Source: The Hindu, 11-25-20

Jason Carpintero, 51, Salisbury, NC: 5 counts of sexual exploitation of a minor and indecent liberties with children. Carpintero, a high school teacher’s aide with ties to several churches, is suspected of crimes against at least 2 children not from the school.

Carpintero’s résumé says he received a divinity degree from Asbury Theological Seminary in 2008 and that he was a pastor at 5 Methodist parishes from 2000–08. The United Methodist Church’s online directory confirms several of those pastoral appointments as well as several more at other churches. Source: Daily Independent, 11-24-20

Ronnie Upshaw, Gainesville, FL: Obstruction without violence, breach of the peace and breaching a county noise ordinance. Upshaw, pastor at Church of God the Bibleway, was arrested after police received noise complaints from apartment residents about loud music and preaching.

After refusing to stop, Upshaw is heard in a video saying, “Come on take me to jail, I’m ready to go. Jesus is the savior, Jesus is lord, Jesus is Christ, Jesus is a hero.” Source: WCJB, 11-23-20

Jacob Ouellette, 24, N. Myrtle Beach, SC: 2 counts of criminal solicitation of a minor. “I regret to have to inform you that Jacob Ouellette, director of youth ministry at Our Lady Star of the Sea Catholic Church and former employee at Holy Trinity Catholic School, has been arrested in connection with a multi-jurisdictional investigation targeting sexual exploitation of minors via the internet,” said a church statement.

He also volunteered at St. Andrew Catholic School for several months in 2019. Source: WBTW, 11-23-20

Andrey Kovalenko, 52, Bedford, OH: 10 counts of mail fraud. Kovalenko served as a priest at the Shrine of Mariapoch in Burton, St. John Byzantine Catholic Church in Solon and St. Eugene Byzantine Catholic Church in Bedford. The parishes are part of the Byzantine Catholic Eparchy of Parma. He is a native Russian who emigrated to the U.S. in 1996.

He is accused of looting the churches’ accounts of nearly $399,000 from May 2014 through July 2018. Source: Plain Dealer, 11-21-20

Isaiah J. Thompson, 37, Ft. Smith, AR: 2 counts of rape of a minor under 14 years old. Thompson is accused of assaulting 2 male minors when he was a youth ministry volunteer.

One man alleged he was sexually involved with Thompson from the time he was 7 and Thompson was about 17 and that the abuse occurred for over 15 years. Another man who attended the church as a child alleged Thompson started molesting him when he was 12.

Thompson was affiliated pastorally with Christ for the World Pentecostal Church and Bobby Hogan Ministries until he was fired in 2018. Source: KARK, 11-20-20

Angela J. Wagner, 50, Elm Mott, TX: Theft of more than $150,000 but less than $300,000. Wagner, secretary/treasurer since 2013 at First Baptist Church, allegedly stole over $173,000 by using the church debit card for personal expenses.

Her attorney, Rod Goble, said Wagner is “very sorry for her actions” that started in February 2017, adding that she has cooperated with authorities from the start. Source: Tribune-Herald, 11-19-20

Shepard Bushiri, Pretoria, S. Africa: Money laundering, theft and fraud. Bushiri, founder of a church called the Enlightened Christian Gathering, was arrested in his native Malawi along with his wife and 2 others on charges involving alleged fraud totaling $6.6 million.

He claims to be able to cure HIV and blindness with “miracle oil” and promises to deliver his thousands of followers from poverty. Authorities in Botswana shut down his church. Source: BBC, 11-16-20

A prominent rabbi from central Israel was arrested for allegedly molesting several of his students. Two complaints have been filed against the rabbi, whose identity remains under embargo. Police are investigating if there are others wary of coming forward.

The rabbi denies the allegations. Followers claim it is the work of a rival Haredi rabbi. Source: Israel Hayom, 11-15-20

George Swain, 71, Boston: Rape of a child and indecent assault and battery of a child under the age of 14. Swain is pastor at Greater Victory Temple, a Pentecostal church.

“During the timeframe of 1997 to 2004, the defendant is charged with sexually assaulting these three children at the time repeatedly and over years,” said prosecutor Audrey Mark. “He also provided them money.” Source: WCBV, 11-14-20

Anthony Laterza, 70, Lakehurst, NJ: 3 counts of possession of child pornography. Laterza served as a deacon at St. John’s Catholic Church in 2019. A forensic review of electronic devices seized from his home revealed apparent images of child pornography, said prosecutor Bradley Billhimer. Source: Manchester Patch, 11-12-20

Codie Malesker, Hastings, NE: 5 counts of mail and wire fraud. The indictment alleges Malesker used his employment as an insurance agent, construction company partner and as a pastor and board member at Faith Community Tabernacle to file fraudulent claims of over $107,000 from 2013–17 and collect the proceeds.

The church website lists him as administrator, sound manager, Praise Team member and bass guitar player: “Bro. Malesker assists the church in all business aspects of the church. He also preaches.” Source: Journal-Star, 11-10-20

Johnny Monderen, 49, Colorado Springs, CO: Sexual assault on a child by one in a position of trust, sexual exploitation of a child, misdemeanor menacing and unlawful display of sexually explicit matter.

Monderen, pastor at Church of the Son, is accused of assaults over a period of 3 years starting in 2017. It’s alleged assaults occurred after he would enter the child’s room when everyone was asleep and force the child to drink wine and beer. Source: KRDO, 11-2-20

Todd A. Foster, 52, McComb, MS: Carnal knowledge of a juvenile while he was a teacher and basketball coach in 2007 at Christian Life Academy in Baton Rouge, LA. Foster and his wife were pastors at The Well church in McComb before announcing in October they would be taking a sabbatical to “allow them a time of rest.”

Sara Gray-Foreman, Foster’s accuser, is a former Christian Life student who alleges he assaulted her at his home when she was 16. She told deputies she decided to report the incident because she learned he was leading The Well and feared what might happen to other children. Source: The Advocate, 11-2-20

Kevin F. Hite, 54, Radford, VA: Taking indecent liberties with a minor and 10 counts of unlawful carnal knowledge of a child aged 13 or 14. Hite, a church deacon and office administrator at HeartCry Missionary Society, allegedly had a sexual relationship with a girl, who is now a young adult, “over an extended period of time, beginning when the child was 13 years old.”

A search warrant alleges Hite admitted when interviewed by police that he and the girl exchanged nude photos, that he reserved a motel room for them and bought her a cellphone and paid for its service. Source: Roanoke Times, 11-1-20

Sean Higgins, 30, Palmyra, NJ: 28 criminal counts, including aggravated sexual assault and manufacturing child pornography. Higgins, youth pastor and music leader at Harbor Baptist Church and a teacher at Harbor Baptist Academy, is accused of posing as a teen girl named “Julie Miller” to trick unsuspecting boys on Snapchat and Instagram.

“When a boy would send a nude photo of himself, Higgins would instantly transform and warn the child, ‘I’ve got you,’ and threaten to circulate that photo if the child did not engage in additional sexual acts on camera for Higgins’s sick gratification,” prosecutor Scott Coffina said. Source: nj105.com, 10-30-20

Jarod Mills, 33, New Castle, OH: Importuning [requesting sexual services] and unlawful sexual conduct with a minor. Mills, pastor at Clifton Flats Alliance Church and an instructor at Butler County Community College, was among dozens of men arrested in a statewide anti-human trafficking operation.

The operation led to 109 victims being rescued and referred to social surfaces. Source: WKBN, 10-26-20

Edward Lilly, 70, Boothwyn, PA: 10 counts each of child pornography possession and depicting a minor child engaging in or simulating a prohibited sexual act and misdemeanor corruption of a minor. Lilly is pastor at the Christian Church of Chester, formerly White Rock Christian Church.

The alleged victim told police that in 2017 when she was 16, Lilly started to flirt with her at the market where she worked and that they began having sex after she turned 17. Lilly recorded the encounters on his cellphone. Source: Haverford Patch, 10-26-20

Pleaded / Convicted

Robert Shiflet, 50, Denton, TX: Pleaded guilty in federal court in Little Rock, AR, to 2 counts of transporting minors across state lines for unlawful sexual activity. Shiflet worked in Denton Bible Church youth ministry programs from 1995 to 2001.

According to the prosecutor, Shiflet assaulted a 15-year-old girl in 1997 on a church camping trip to the Buffalo National River in Arkansas. He also pleaded guilty to multiple assaults on a different girl in 2002–03 while working as a youth pastor in Little Rock. Source: Arkansas Times, 11-30-20

Manuel LaRosa-Lopez, 62, Richmond, TX: Pleaded guilty to 2 counts of indecency with a child. A plea bargain calls for him to serve 10 years in prison. La Rosa-Lopez admitted molesting a girl and a boy while he was a priest at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Conroe from the late 1990s to early 2000s.

Prosecutors said victims reported the abuse to church officials at the time but the allegations were never relayed to law enforcement. Source: KHOU, 11-17-20

Randolph Brown, 65, Cleveland: Pleaded guilty to 2 counts of compelling prostitution and was labeled a Tier II sex offender. Brown, pastor at Inner-City Missionary Baptist Church, was arrested in February 2020 in a sting targeting trafficking of underage girls who had run away from home. Source: WOIO, 11-12-20

Kent R.E. Whitney, 38, Newport Beach, CA: Pleaded guilty to mail fraud and filing a false federal income tax return. He used his Church of the Healthy Self in Westminster in a scam that took in $33 million and sent bogus reports to investors, prosecutors said.

He admitted to reporting his income in 2018 as $17,539 when it was actually at least $452,872. About $435,000 of that income came from the scam. Source: OC Register, 11-6-20

John Allen, 76, W. Manchester Township, PA: Pleaded guilty to indecent assault and corruption of minors for assaulting 2 altar boys between 1997 and 2002 when he was pastor at St. Margaret Mary Alacoque Church in Penbrook.

A plea bargain calls for him to serve 5 years’ probation. A state grand jury in 2018 identified Allen as one of 301 “predator priests.” The Diocese of Harrisburg expressed concern about his “sexual behavior” as far back as 1970. Source: York Daily Record, 11-5-20

Thomas Humphrey, 79, N. Amityville, NY: Guilty by jury of forcible touching. Humphrey, pastor at Hollywood Full Gospel Baptist Cathedral, was accused of sexual touching by a woman who worked with him producing a radio show on multiple occasions between April and September 2018. Source: Amityville Record, 10-29-20

Sentenced

Marcin Garbacz, 42, Rapid City, SD: 7 years and 9 months in federal prison for convictions on 50 counts of wire fraud, 9 counts of money laundering, transportation of stolen money and 5 counts of filing a false tax return.

Garbacz was ordered to pay $258,696 in restitution to the IRS and 3 Catholic parishes he served as pastor. He was accused of stealing from parish collections for several years and was arrested in May 2019 at the Seattle airport with a one-way ticket to his native Poland and more than $10,000 in cash.

At sentencing, he apologized to parishioners and said he was angry with Catholic doctrine that considers homosexuality to be “intrinsically disordered.” He identifies as gay.

He still faces federal charges of engaging in illicit sexual conduct in a foreign place and receipt of child pornography. The indictment alleges he traveled abroad in 2011 to engage in sexual conduct with someone under age 18. Source: KEVN, 11-23-20

Tobias Tissen, Sarto, Manitoba: Fines of $1,296 on each of 2 convictions for violating COVID-19 restrictions. Tissen, pastor at the Church of God, said he felt “honored” to be fined “for doing something that God wants me to do.”

The church itself was fined $5,000 and 5 others were given individual tickets of $1,296 after the church tried to hold a large drive-in service. They were blocked by Mounties, which led to over 100 cars lined up trying to get into the parking lot.

Fines totaling $180,000 were issued to people and businesses throughout the province for breaking public health orders. The area in the vicinity of the Church of God has a COVID test positivity rate of 40%, among the highest in North America. Source: CBC, 11-23-20

Timothy J. Hallows, 62, Kaysville, UT: 46 months in prison with credit for 13 months already served in jail after pleading guilty to possession of child pornography. He admitted having images on his phone of prepubescent children being sexually assaulted by adults and sending them to a woman in the Philippines in November 2019.

Hallows, a father of 5, was bishop of the Wellington Ward in the Kaysville Stake of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints when arrested. A probable cause statement said Skype filed a complaint about a user who shared child sexual exploitation materials. The user’s screen name was “timhallows.”

Investigators found files containing videos and photos showing nude or partially clothed prepubescent girls, some of whom posed with nude adult males. Source: KSL, 11-18-20

Mona McGrady, 62, Sonora, CA: 4 years and 4 months in prison after being found guilty by jury of sexual penetration with a foreign object and 2 counts of lewd or lascivious acts with a child aged 14 or 15. McGrady, former volleyball coach and sports coordinator at Mother Lode Christian School, was acquitted on 8 similar counts.

In lengthy testimony, she denied molesting 2 students between 1995–97 and said she has never been gay. Tom McGrady, her husband of 36 years who also taught at Mother Lode, testified for the defense. “Jane Doe 2” testified but her allegations fell outside the statute of limitations. Source: Union Democrat, 11-17-20

Bret Welty, 49, Boise, ID: 15 years in prison after pleading guilty to sexual abuse of a child younger than 16. Welty, pastor at Hard Rock Revival Church, was accused of assaulting a 15-year-old girl in August 2019.

The girl was staying with Welty’s family for the weekend, as the “family believed that spending time at the pastor’s home would be helpful” because of anxiety and family problems she was having, prosecutors said. Welty had her undress and touched her sexually for between 30 and 60 minutes, only stopping when his wife knocked on the bedroom door. They’re now divorced.

Welty admitted having “struggled with such behaviors before” but never with someone as young as the victim, court documents said. Source: Lewiston Morning Tribune, 10-28-20

Edward S. Thompson, 40, Eugene, OR: 125 years in prison for convictions on 4 counts of rape, 5 counts of sex abuse and 1 count of sodomy. When arrested in 2018, he was a music ministry leader at Christ Fellowship Church and former member of the Eugene Faith Center.

The female victim, under age 12, told a counselor that Thompson molested her while babysitting for “as long as [she] could remember.” The affidavit stated the abuse occurred between 2012–18. Source: Register-Guard, 10-17-20

Civil Lawsuits Filed

The Catholic Archdiocese of Newark, NJ, is being sued by a woman who alleges she was sexually assaulted by 2 nuns when she was 8 in 1969 and in 1971 by a priest at Immaculate Conception Parish and School in Montclair. William Dowd, the priest, lives now in Brick and was removed from ministry nearly 2 decades ago before being reinstated in 2007 after a church trial. The archdiocese settled a suit last October filed by a man alleging Dowd molested him as a child. Dowd is chaplain for the New York Giants NFL franchise.

John Baldante, attorney for plaintiff Mary Joy Morgan, said she told a therapist about the abuse years ago and in 2018 reported it to a priest at the Montclair parish, now called St. Teresa of Calcutta.

The suit accuses Sr. Maria Michael Garner, a teacher and administrator at Immaculate Conception Elementary School, of abusing Morgan several times a week starting in 1969 and Sr. Alice Bernadette, of helping restrain her for Dowd in 1971. Both nuns are dead.

Dowd’s abuse continued until 1975, when Morgan transferred to another school, it’s alleged. Source: northjersey.com, 11-30-20

The Catholic Diocese of Buffalo, NY, and 3 bishops have been sued by the state Attorney General’s Office for cover-up of sexual abuse by priests. The state will try to use civil laws governing religious charities and their fiduciaries to prove the diocese failed to follow policies enacted in 2002 by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

The suit seeks restitution and institutional changes and a ban on former bishops Richard Malone and Edward Grosz from management roles in any charitable organization.

Attorney General Letitia James alleges the men used bureaucratic maneuvers to shelter more than 2 dozen priests accused of harming children. Edward Scharfenberger is named as a defendant in his capacity as current interim administrator of the diocese. Source: NY Times, 11-22-20

The Vatican’s Holy See is being sued by 4 plaintiffs, “JA Doe 50-53,” men who allege sexual abuse by defrocked Cardinal Theodore McCarrick. One plaintiff is a priest. Plaintiffs’ attorney Jeff Anderson said it’s the first time an active clergy member has sued the Holy See regarding abuse.

Three of the plaintiffs were parishioners who allege McCarrick, 90, abused them as youths in the 1980s. The priest alleges McCarrick assaulted him at a beach house in New Jersey in the 1990s and that a fellow priest told him to forget what happened “for the good of the church.” Source: WNBC, 11-20-20

Concordia Preparatory School (formerly Baltimore Lutheran School) in Towson, MD, and the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod are being sued by a former student who alleges her reports of male student-athletes sexually assaulting and harassing her on campus in 2017–18 were ignored. Three similar suits were filed recently.

The plaintiff alleges as a freshman she was “cat-called” in hallways by males expressing a desire to have sex and that once she was lifted up with her legs pinned while she was grabbed and struck on her backside and thighs.

The girl later reported the assault to the headmaster, the dean of students and a guidance counselor, but no action was taken, according to the suit. The girl’s boyfriend, a Concordia alumnus, also wrote several emails to school officials calling for action on her behalf.

At least half a dozen female students met with administrators to report harassment, the suit alleges. The plaintiff later transferred to another school. Source: Baltimore Sun, 11-13-20

Civil Lawsuits Settled

Miracle Meadows School in Salem, W.VA, settled claims with 29 former students for $51.9 million. The claimants alleged to have suffered mental, sexual, and physical abuse by adults who ran the Christian boarding school founded in 1987 for at-risk and learning-disabled youth. It was shut down by the state in 2014.

School founder Susan Gayle Clark and the Seventh-day Adventist Church-North American Division were among the 14 defendants in the original suits filed in 2017. Clark pleaded guilty to child neglect, failure to report and obstruction of justice and received 6 months in jail and 5 years’ probation.

“The abuse suffered by these children would shock the conscience of any West Virginian,” said plaintiffs’ attorney Jesse Forbes. “They were stripped naked, handcuffed, sexually abused and kept in a 5-by-8-foot room with a coffee can for a toilet. This is the stuff straight from a horror movie.”

Although authorities mounted investigations as far back as 1999, it was hard to bring them to a conclusion since alleged perpetrators often came to the school on work visas and would be sent back to their home countries before they could be questioned. A state Supreme Court ruling in 2000 also limited officials’ access to medical records and their ability to interview students. Source: WV News, 11-12-20

Joseph Stone, pastor of Second Baptist Church in Starkville, MS, and head deacon Terry Miller were found liable by a civil trial jury for over $500,000 in damages in connection with a failed construction project that started in 2015.

The jury found that Stone and Miller conspired with the contractor and that Stone likely took kickbacks from the contractor, Donald Crowther, who has pleaded guilty to fraud. Source: WCBI, 11-4-20

Finances

The Catholic Diocese of Scranton, PA, paid $24.46 million to 213 survivors of sexual abuse through its Independent Survivors Compensation Program, now closed. Eleven offers were rejected by claimants, 25 offers remain outstanding and 46 were determined ineligible.

Accepting an offer means forfeiting the right to sue. The program was primarily funded by the sale of the diocese’s 3 long-term care facilities, which sold for about $26 million. Source: Diocese of Scranton, 10-29-20

Legal Developments

The Utah Supreme Court heard arguments in a case alleging 4 male elders of a Jehovah’s Witnesses congregation in Roy forced a 15-year-old girl to listen to a recording of a man raping her in 2008. Lower courts found the church was not liable under 1st Amendment protections.

The woman sued the elders, the church and its national organization, the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, in 2016, alleging she cried, shook visibly and pleaded for them to stop as they played the recording intermittently for at least 4 hours in 2008.

She alleges she was 14 when the pepetrator, a fellow Jehovah’s Witness, 18, bullied her increasingly and began sexually assaulting her in 2007. She gave the congregation’s leaders a recording of one instance. The church tribunal’s goal was to extract a confession that she had voluntarily engaged in sex outside marriage, her attorneys contend.

“The allegation here is a mental and emotional equivalent of waterboarding,” Justice Deno Himonas said. “I’ve been a judge for a long time and a lawyer for a long time. I’ve never seen, in court, anything like this that’s alleged.”

Church lawyer Kara Porter argued that the tribunal was trying to determine if the girl had sinned, a process the government isn’t permitted to meddle in. Church attorneys previously said the teen could have walked out of the meeting with her parents. Source: Deseret News, 11-9-20

Roy N. Shoop, 55, Inola, OK, has now been accused of molestation by 5 girls in 3 states, all under age 16 and as young as 12, who make similar claims that they were working at Shoop’s farm or taking riding lessons from him when molested. Shoop is pastor at Cowboy Gatherin’ Church.

Sgt. Bo Williams of the Rogers County Sheriff’s Office said he believes all 5 were groomed. “Kidding and joking, subtle touches. Stuff like that. There were statements made that ‘Oh, that’s just Roy being handsy.’ ” Source: News on 6, 11-9-20

Allegations

The New Zealand Royal Commission of Inquiry into Abuse is hearing from 23 people abused while in the care of the Catholic and Anglican churches and the Salvation Army. Frances Tagaloa, 52, testified she was sexually abused between ages 5 and 7 by Brother Bede Fitton, a Marist Brothers teacher.

“Brother Bede would be fondling me or would want me to take my pants off and stand me up on a table and get me to read books. I was not sure what else he was doing because I was reading a book.”

Tagaloa said she started processing what happened to her as a child when she was 17. “It just seemed strange to me that I had to go back to the Marist Brothers, to the very organization that allowed the abuse to happen. I had to go back to them to try and see if they would fix it or do anything about it, and it made me quite fearful.” Source: Radio New Zealand, 11-30-20

George W. Rutler, 75, a prominent New York City Catholic priest, author and host on the Eternal Word Television Network, is accused of forcible touching by a Bronx woman, Ashley Gonzalez, 22, who worked as an overnight security guard at his parish, St. Michael the Archangel in Manhattan.

She was on her second day of the job Nov. 4 when she alleges she saw him watching gay pornography on an office computer. Rutler’s weekly newsletter is carried by Church Militant, a right-wing Catholic website that rails against homosexuality. Gonzalez has shared an 18-second video with media of him watching the porn.

“He looked at me with a smile, looked away, and he put his hand inside his pants, and he was playing with himself,” Gonzalez alleged. When she tried to leave, she said, “He aggressively threw himself on me and grabbed me sexually, aggressively, and I was fighting him off of me.”

The Archdiocese of New York said in a statement that Rutler denies acting inappropriately but “has voluntarily stepped aside from the parish and is not currently serving as a priest.”

“[T]he NYPD takes sexual assault and rape cases extremely seriously,” said a police statement about its investigation of the allegation. Source: Daily Beast, 11-28-20

A Vatican investigation revealed how defrocked Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, 90, rose through the Catholic hierarchy to become one of America’s most powerful prelates despite longstanding allegations of sexual misconduct that ultimately led to his downfall.

Pope John Paul II personally made the decision to appoint McCarrick,” the report said, despite receiving a letter from John O’Connor, the archbishop of New York, that summed up allegations that McCarrick engaged in sexual conduct with another priest in 1987, that he had committed pedophilia with his “nephews” and that he shared a bed with young adult men and seminarians.

“What is now known, through investigation undertaken for the preparation of the Report, is that three of the four American bishops provided inaccurate and incomplete information to the Holy See regarding McCarrick’s sexual conduct with young adults,” a summary said. Source: NY Times, 11-10-20

State investigators have named 97 priests credibly accused of sexually abusing children within Florida’s Catholic churches. Prosecutors set up a hotline for clergy sexual abuse in 2018 and received 260 tips.

Investigators concluded none of the 97 can be prosecuted because they are either dead or the statute of limitations has expired. The report also revealed 81 priests who were relocated to Florida after being credibly accused of sexual abuse in other parts of the country.

“I feel bad for the Florida victims of past church assaults,” said Eugene Rosenquest of the Florida chapter of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. “Are they now left to twist in the wind?”

The report underscores the need for statute of limitation reform, he said, and for a “look back window” law like New York’s. Source: News 4 Jax, 11-9-20

Removed / Resigned

Francis “Frank” Lawlor, administrator of Sacred Heart Catholic Parish in Pittsfield, MA, was placed on administrative leave by the Diocese of Springfield. The leave is effective immediately “pending the outcome of a private legal matter,” said a post on the diocese’s website.

According to a police report, Lawlor was charged with open and gross lewdness after urinating outside a sandwich shop on May 10. He had been asked to leave the shop because he was not wearing a mask and following COVID-19 restrictions.

An employee told police that Lawlor was “spraying pee all over.” Lawlor admitted urinating on some bushes because he “couldn’t hold it any longer.” The case is still pending. Source: Berkshire Eagle, 11-16-20

Carl Lentz, 41, was terminated as lead pastor of Hillsong East Coast, a megachurch in Manhattan, NY. An email from Hillsong founding pastor Brian Houston cited “leadership issues and breaches of trust, plus a recent revelation of moral failures.”

The church also cut ties with his wife, Laura Lentz, 40, Hillsong co-pastor. Houston and his wife founded the original Hillsong in 1983 in Australia. It now has locations in 28 countries and, pre-pandemic, had an average 150,000 weekly attendees.

Carl Lentz famously baptized singer Justin Bieber in a bathtub at the Manhattan home of Knicks player Tyson Chandler in 2015.

Lentz’s former lover Ranin Karim, 34, a fashion designer and native of Palestine, detailed her alleged affair with him in a news interview: “We were obsessed with each other. He was like a drug to me. I was a drug to him.” Source: Religion News Service/NY Post, 11-10-20

Other

Joel Kolko, 74, a New York rabbi accused of molesting students at the yeshiva where he taught for years, died of COVID-19 while on a visit to Israel. Yeshiva Torah Temimah in Brooklyn paid $2.1 million in 2016 to 2 former students who accused Kolko of sexual assault.

The boys were 6 at the time of the alleged abuse. The school is facing several more suits accusing Kolko of abuse. Source: JTA, 11-10-20

Paul Shanley, 89, a former Massachusetts Catholic priest who served 12 years in prison for raping a boy at a Newton church in the 1980s, died Oct. 28. A cause of death was not provided.

Shanley was a popular street priest who ministered to gay and troubled youths. Decades later, dozens of men came forward with abuse accusations. He was defrocked and moved to an apartment in Ware in 2017 after being released.

Shanley’s outing and conviction were partly attributable to the Boston Globe’s landmark 2002 investigation that raised questions about widespread abuse among clergy and whether Archdiocese of Boston officials had looked the other way. The reporting led to a Pulitzer Prize and the 2015 Oscar-winning film “Spotlight.” Source: NBC Boston, 11-6-20

Cartoon

Email: [email protected]

Meet a member: Every day brings a new puzzle for Katya Maes

Name: Katya Maes.

Where and when I was born: Moscow, Russia, in 1969.

Family: Married with three kids and a dog.

Education: B.A. in history from University of California-Berkeley.

Occupation: Enigmatologist/cruciverbalist or, in other words, I put together crossword puzzles.

How I got where am today: Mostly by flying by the seat of my pants. Maybe that wasn’t always the best way, but it sure made the journey fun!

Where I’m headed: Into the complete unknown. I like to wake up not knowing what the day will bring. Schedules, though necessary for managing life in 2020, depress me.

Person in history I admire and why: I definitely don’t have any heroes. Heroes are supposed to be perfect, and I don’t think there are any perfect people out there. But I do admire people who are able to look at the world from different perspectives. Howard Zinn and Noam Chomsky come to mind.

A quotation I like: “Sometimes you have to forgo what’s popular for what’s important.” Mo’Nique said this in her 2010 Oscar acceptance speech for her role in “Precious.”

Things I like: Family traditions, our cabin, traveling, reading. I love old books.

Things I smite: When people rely on prayers rather than science, and when Christians claim that they, somehow, have a monopoly on morals.

My doubts about religion started: Never had any doubts! I was born an atheist.

Before I die: I would like to see what my kids end up doing with their lives. I know it will be something super interesting and satisfying.

Ways I promote freethought: By being vocal about my views, by volunteering for FFRF. Oh, and I do own a number of T-shirts with applicable messages!

Katya Maes

They Said What? (December 2020)

For many today, religious liberty is not a cherished freedom. It’s often just an excuse for bigotry, and it can’t be tolerated. . . . You can’t say that marriage is a union between one man and one woman. Until very recently that’s what the vast majority of Americans thought. Now it’s considered bigotry.

Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito, in a speech given to the Federalist Society, where he claimed that liberals pose a growing threat to religious liberty and free speech.

The New York Times, 11-13-20


The Church cannot support the acceptance of objectively immoral relationships.

Bishop Thomas Tobin of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Providence following Pope Francis’ support of same-sex unions.

New York Post, 10-23-20


We have a vaccine. The name is Jesus Christ.

John Hagee, the senior pastor of Cornerstone Church in San Antonio, in a sermon.

YouTube, 11-15-20


GOD IS IN CONTROL

Kayleigh McEnany, President Trump’s press secretary, early in the evening on Election Day.

Twitter, 11-4-20


God has already sealed the results of this election. He has sealed it in Heaven.

Former U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann, speaking during an election special airing on televangelist Kenneth Copeland’s Victory Channel.

The Friendly Atheist, 11-4-20

Freethought books

The following books are by FFRF members on the topics of religion or freethinking. FFRF does not do book reviews.

Freethinking Cryptograms

By Brooks Rimes

$8.95 (paperback)

Solving cryptograms is fun and these quotes will inspire! Respected and admired men and women have their quotes hidden here, including Abraham Lincoln, Benjamin Franklin, Billy Joel, Ernest Hemingway, Frank Lloyd Wright – a total of 191 different people. So sharpen your pencil, put on your thinking cap and start solving the 250+ puzzles!


Upon Further Review: The Search for Truth and Reality in the Abrahamic Faiths

By Emory Lynn

Paperback $23

Woods Lane Press LLC, 2020

Does the god of the Abrahamic faiths exist? What are the historical truths about Abraham, Moses, Jesus and Muhammad? How did our universe come to exist? How did human beings and other biological species come to exist? What is the source of purpose and meaning in our lives? This book is a journey of discovery based on 21 years of rigorous, comprehensive research into the truths proclaimed by the Abrahamic religions, with an emphasis on the world’s most popular religion — Christianity.


Freethinking Cryptograms
Upon Further Review
Time is Irreverent 3

Time Is Irreverent 3: Gone for 16 Seconds

By Marty Essen

$14.95 (paperback)

$4.99 (Kindle)

Encante Press, LLC, 2020

Marty Mann and Nellie Dixon are back for another irreverent, liberal, twisty, time-travel comedy. This time they have Noah’s Ark and Ronald Reagan in their sights. Time Is Irreverent 3: Gone for 16 Seconds is a thought-provoking satire that answers the questions, “If Noah boasted about the size of his ark, what else did he boast about?” and “What if you could kidnap Ronald Reagan and show him the Ghosts of Earth Yet to Come?” And yes, Jesus plays a mean electric guitar!

Letterbox (December 2020)

Thanks for celebrating ‘Day of the Dead’

Kudos to FFRF for celebrating a “Secular Day of the Dead!”

Yes, for centuries already my fellow Mexicans have celebrated “El Dia de los Muertos.”

On that day, families gather to honor their dead by enjoying life — they eat, they drink, and they make merry.

Aren’t we humans blessed to be so creative in our efforts to prevent the grim reaper from pouring vinegar into the tasty punch of life?

Mexicans have a popular proverb, which I’ll make an effort to translate: “El muerto a la sepultura, y el vivo a la travesura!” (“The dead we must bury, but while we live, let’s be merry!”)

David Quintero
California


FFRF’s online convention exceeded expectations

Congratulations on the excellent online convention and membership meeting. Kudos to the folks who made the technology work — an amazing accomplishment.

I very much enjoyed seeing and hearing from so many different staff members. Highlighting the behind-the-scenes staff showed the strength of this organization and added a personal feeling to the meeting. It is all too easy to forget that all that behind-the-scenes work is absolutely essential and a key to the success of an organization.

FFRF is so professional in everything it does, so it is no surprise that you were able to put together such an excellent online event. I’ve always particularly valued the legal summary at conventions. It is a very powerful statement on the importance and success of FFRF.

I expected a professional and engaging event, and, as is typical, you exceeded my expectations.

Thank you to all who were involved in the event!

Cheryl Kolbe
Oregon


Check for signs of religion before buying

I recently purchased a jar of exceptionally good pickles from a small company in the Midwest. As I emptied my shopping bag at home, I decided to read the ingredients label, and just to the side of the list was a reference to a bible verse from Psalms. I wondered just how much I am paying for and consuming that supports causes that I reject. I decided to be vigilant, and, interestingly enough, not more than two weeks later, I happened to read the inside lid of my organic egg carton. And there it was . . . a bible verse from Matthew. I have since taken it up a notch, now walking behind every contractor’s truck as they arrive at my property, wanting to verify that there are no bumper stickers or decals that support causes or a point of view that I find offensive. It’s amazing what I have encountered since initiating this practice. Bottom line: Two contractor bids rejected, no more fabulous pickles and a different egg brand.

Robert Laub
Missouri


Use these funds to help the FFRF legal team

I didn’t do an IRA direct contribution this year, but figured your legal department could use some help. Please accept my donation check as an incentive to hit the ground running as soon as the election dust settles. I’m seeing a long struggle ahead.

Name withheld
California


Ben Hart was highlight of FFRF’s online convention 

Thank you, thank you, thank you for a most wonderful Covid Convention!

From Dan Barker’s delightful and irreverent entertainment through the incredible accomplishments of FFRF’s legal team in 2020 (and a cameo by Ed Asner, as well!), it was a most informative afternoon. Worth far more than the price of admission, the virtual convention was indeed a true pandemic-era prize.

With all due respect to the FFRF staff, the clear superstar of the convention  was Ben Hart. As a native Ohioan, I was pleased that Ben led a life of bliss while living in that state. But once he had the audacity to toddle across the border into Kentucky . . . yeesh!

Anyone who thinks (as I once did) that his story is that of a dude trying to get a (super-duper!) vanity plate is completely missing the point. His eloquent, succinct and witty presentation of his years-long battle had me cheering. (And did I hear him correctly that he has been married to his lovely wife for 64 years? He hardly appears to be that old!) Ben Hart is a most engaging orator and is my new hero. He is FFRF-ing amazing!

Finally, a big shout-out to FFRF’s IT Director James Phetteplace for masterminding a flawless virtual presentation. Let’s face it, many of us have attended Zoom meetings crippled by technical snafus, but none of that occurred during the online convention. He made it all look like a piece of cake.

On a dreary and raw afternoon in Wisconsin during a surging pandemic, the convention truly inspired me and gave me hope for a better 2021. Best wishes for a restorative Winter Solstice, and above all, stay safe out there.

Charles T. Bingham
Wisconsin


Secular teenagers need our attention

Please let everyone know how proud I am to be part of an organization like FFRF, and how well conducted I thought the annual meeting was — very professional.

I’m especially pleased at the increased attention you are giving to our teenagers. The kids too often get left out of secular activities and they are our future. At Camp Quest, I got a chance to talk one-on-one with a lot of secular kids, and I hadn’t fully appreciated the discrimination they often must endure — and just at the stage in life when they are trying to figure out who they are. That discrimination includes everything from dating issues to being an outcast at the lunch table at school to not being allowed to go to certain classmates’ homes. And here I thought being a secular adult in the workplace was tough!

Donald Lewellyn
Texas


Paper would be better without two sections

I read with great interest the entire newspaper, with two exceptions: The “Crankmail” and “Black Collar Crime” sections. I’m not interested in what these looney-tunes think and I’m even less interested in what those creeps do to children and vulnerable adults.

I believe it’s a waste of print and wish you could condense those sections.

Other than that, I love reading about those victories in giving those so-called religious fanatics a lesson in what it means to be a secular democracy versus a theocracy. Keep up the good work!

Joseph DiBlanca
New York


Your values are what’s meaningful to you

Human psychology (predisposed to personification), alongside ignorance and fear, invented God. The human mind naturally wants the whole shebang to be about something, for it to be of great consequence, pregnant with meaning. The human mind wants its life to be lived within grand meaning.  We want everything — the universe, our world, our lives — to be purposeful, to be sanctioned with an external seal of approval.

We believe that while we may not know what God’s divine purpose is, surely we’re integral to it. Your birth ushers you into the meaning, purpose and significance of a divine order. You matter more than you know, but matter, you do. Our natural craving for external meaning has created God and kept God going.  (Taught to most people by their beloved parents, the very idea of God becomes loved. The trappings of religion fashion solidity onto airy ideas, while fellow worshippers bestow safety in numbers to farfetched beliefs.)

Lamentably, religion fosters and promotes the wrong expectation — that all of it, including our lives — has external meaning. No. The opposite is true.

We are just another animal in the animal kingdom. We are classified among the great apes. The meaning of life is to live well your animal existence. Don’t be too hot or too cold. Don’t be too hungry or too thirsty. Stay safe. Work for good health. If you love and are loved, that’s icing on the cake. Meaning comes from within — internally, not externally — from your values. Your values come from your DNA and experiences. If you value animals, then caring for animals will be meaningful to you. If you value a knowledge of history, then the study of history will be meaningful to you. Live in accordance with your values and your life will be meaningful to you. If your values are honorable and kind, your life will be meaningful to others, as well.

The body’s decline and death are inevitable and natural. At the moment of your death, all that you are vanish — no more thoughts, no more feelings, no more experiences. That fate awaits you, as it does all animals. For that is what you solely are — an animal. Don’t deny the facts. Don’t hide in illusion. Work to live well.

Brent London
California


Seeing faces of FFRF staff was wonderful

What a feat presenting the online convention this year.

Great job by all in pulling it all together and giving us a thorough and informative virtual convention.

It was wonderful seeing all the familiar faces, even consoling. It surely made me miss coming up to the office and seeing people in person.

I look forward to the day when we can safely be together.

Thank you and to all of the staff.

Linda Josheff
Wisconsin


Alabama case pushed me to become Life Member

I have been an atheist since I was 12. That’s when my parents gave me the choice to continue to go to church or not. I immediately opted out. Although we never discussed it, I am pretty sure my mom was a nonbeliever, as she is the one who pushed to not have me baptized, much to the astonishment and lifetime ire of my paternal Southern Baptist grandmother.

I have always enjoyed reading Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins. And back in 2014, I came across Dan Barker’s book Godless. I thoroughly enjoyed reading about his transformation from a preacher to a regular reasonable person. By the way, I loved the quote: “I was the guy you didn’t want to sit next to on the bus.”

It was at that time that I first found out about FFRF and I joined immediately, as I wanted to be part of a group that was standing up for the basic ideals of this country, which, for me, includes the ability to have all the religion/mythology you want, but keep it away from me and my government.

After reading Freethought Today and the story about the voter registration requirement in Alabama to sign off on “so help me God,” even though there is already case law in Torcaso v. Watkins on the books, it got my ire! As a result of that story, I have decided to become a Lifetime Member to help in your continued pursuit of reason and sanity. Keep up the necessary work!

David Ford
New Mexico


Congrats to secular invocation winners

Congratulations to Sarah Ray and Ann Landman for their perseverance and courage in achieving the acceptance of their local city councils in Lake Wales, Fla., and Grand Junction, Colo., to allow them to give secular invocations. I hope that, in the not-too-distant future, all local and municipal governments in this country will adhere to what our founders intended to establish when they wrote the Constitution and the Bill of Rights — a permanent wall between religion and government.

Steve Taulbee
Maryland


Baha’i faith no different than other religions

In James Haught’s piece in the November Freethought Today, James mentioned Baha’u’llah and the Baha’i faith. Years ago, a businessman in my hometown actually started a Baha’i Fellowship and attracted some members. I looked into Baha’i and briefly considered joining this fellowship as Baha’i sounded more interesting to me than the Christian sects I’d known. But, ultimately, it turned out to be just as conservative, just as pray-pay-and-obey as all the other churches in the area. (The business has long since closed, and the businessman has evidently left the area, taking his Baha’i Fellowship with him.)

Andrew C. Jones
Michigan