Meet a member: Radiologist seeks to increase activism

Steve Solomon and his wife Pam take a break during the Climate March in St. Louis.
Steve and Pam Solomon hold signs at the March for Science.

Name: Steve Solomon.

Where I live: Wildwood, Mo.

Where and when I was born: Chicago, 1959.

Family: My wonderful wife Pam and three great kids, Mike (and wife Kelsy), Brad and Cindy.

Education: B.A. in biochemistry and molecular biology from the Integrated Science Program at Northwestern University. MD from University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine; Diagnostic Radiology Residency at Mallinckrodt Institute of Radiology, Washington University.

Occupation: Radiologist.

How I got to where I am today: I grew up in a conservative Jewish family (medium “strength” Judaism, between Reform and Orthodox) on the north side of Chicago. I received an excellent early education in an enlightened Chicago public school during the Apollo era with a strong emphasis on math and science. It was there that my sense of awe and wonder of the cosmos was born along with my driving curiosity to understand it. After repeatedly finding answers in science and reality, religion faded from my mind. I was fascinated with the rapidly developing technology of that time, happily trading in my slide rule for a hand-held calculator and punch cards for a personal computer. I relished a good mystery, in fiction and in reality. I also loved the feeling I experienced when helping others. These factors led me to a career in medicine and, specifically, radiology, which combined cutting edge technology, image guided detective work, and helping patients. To date, I have had an enjoyable and rewarding 35-year career in radiology.

Where I’m headed: My medical career has occupied the lion’s share of my time, but it has been impossible to ignore disturbing changes in our country. The growing denial of science, experts and reality and the ever-increasing encroachment of religion on our secular government at all levels, especially in my Bible Belt surroundings. I became progressively alarmed by the lack of action on global warming, the anti-vax movement, and the scarcity of science-based governmental policies, to name but a few. When I could, I marched for science, climate action and justice, reproductive rights, and other important issues. I wrote letters and emails to elected officials and called their offices. As I wind down my radiology career over the next several years, I plan to dedicate much more time to activism for all the humanistic, state/church separation, and science/reality-based issues that are important to me. This includes in-person lobbying, penning letters to editors, and running for office, such as the local school board.

Person in history I most admire and why: Carl Sagan. Not only was he an accomplished scientist in many disciplines, including astronomy, astrophysics, cosmology, and astrobiology, and a respected author, he was also the first, best science communicator I had encountered. He argued the now accepted hypothesis that the high surface temperature on Venus was due to the greenhouse effect and made known the implications for our fossil-fueled “Pale Blue Dot.” His book, The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark, was my primer for critical and skeptical thinking and holds up well to this day. He narrated and co-wrote the award-winning 1980s television series “Cosmos: A Personal Voyage,” the most widely watched series in the history of American public television, introducing the joy and wonder of science to hundreds of millions of people around the world. If it’s one thing that has become abundantly clear to me, our shared acceptance and understanding of science is necessary for our future survival.

A quotation I like: “There is no God, and that’s the simple truth. If every trace of any single religion were wiped out and nothing were passed on, it would never be created exactly that way again. There might be some other nonsense in its place, but not that exact nonsense. If all of science were wiped out, it would still be true and someone would find a way to figure it all out again.” — Penn Jillette

Things I like: Humanism, science, music, exercising, reading (especially science fact, science fiction and fantasy), electric cars, renewable energy, my solar panels, and a good bourbon or single malt scotch.

Things I smite: Anything that tears away at the wall between state and church, “religious freedom” (in the backward perverted sense that my religion is free to trump your rights), racism, gender discrimination, loss of body autonomy, science denial.

My doubts about religion started: My doubt began in Hebrew school. As was the norm in the time and place I grew up, all Jewish children attended Hebrew school to learn about Judaism and to prepare for an eventual Bar or Bat Mitzvah. In my case, that was a wonderful mistake. Four days a week after school during fifth through eighth grade, I spent two additional hours in a “wholly” untenable reality which started me on my path to becoming a first-generation freethinker.

Before I die: There are places I’ve wanted to travel to and haven’t yet, although I’m limiting their number to reduce my carbon footprint. New Zealand is high on my list, along with the Galápagos Islands. I’d love to see a glacier while they still exist. I aim to learn a new language and the culture of the people that speak it. I especially yearn to catch up on my ever-enlarging Kindle library!

Ways I promote freethought: I am an After-Life and Immortal member of FFRF as well as a Missouri State Representative and belong to and support many other organizations that promote science, rationality and state/church separation. When asked, I admit to being an atheist and am always willing to engage in conversation about my beliefs or lack thereof. In my conversations and social media posts, I promote science, critical thinking, secularism and the simple truth that you can be good without a god.

Caption contest winner announced!

Congratulations to Joe Barcroft of Missouri for winning the September caption contest. Joe wins an FFRF T-shirt.

The winning entry is: . . . and they will know we are Christians by our love.

Runners-up are: Give Jesus your best shot. — Joe Hardesty

Yes, we welcome adherents of America’s two most powerful religions! — Michael Skolochenko

Relocate the “R” in “range” and you have “INDOOR ANGER.” — Darrell Barker

Also, there were numerous entries for “Praise the Lord and pass the

Caption contest


Thanks to all who sent in captions. If you’ve taken any photos that you think would be good for this contest, please email them to [email protected].

Regarding the caption contest photo, FFRF received this note from Terry Sunday of El Paso:

“A couple of years ago, when I applied for a Concealed Handgun Carry License, I had to take the practical shooting part of the state-mandated test on this very range. If you think the signs on the outside of the building are bad, the inside was worse. There were crosses, religious murals, bible verses, statues and other Christian paraphernalia on the walls, at the checkout counter, all around the store and everywhere I looked. Simply being in such a place gave me the willies. I had to buy an annual pass just so I could use the range one time for the test. I hated to give them a penny, but I had no choice if I wanted my license. Needless to say, I’ve never been back.”

Heads Up poetry column: Ars Poetica


Think of it, nine thousand

breakfasts together, and now

coffee again for the first time: what

a virginal movement it is, this

silvering together, every day

the very first day, every night

the first night, not a film replayed, more

like pages in a long book, strata

in these limestone hills we live in,

two billion years old.

We’re not yet as old as the limestone,

but we’re catching up—or rather,

reducing the proportion, like a kid brother

gaining on his elders; we’re gaining

on the limestone and

beginning to see

it’s an art, like Cellini’s, this

silvering—like poetry, reminding us

in its earnest, nagging way,

that every new minute we risk

immortality, surviving

for nine thousand days by luck or cunning;

but at the end we’re sent to press

with all our typos intact, fossils, captive

in the ancient rock. Meanwhile,

we’re all such fumblers, gauche,

all thumbs: maybe

poems and marriages deal

mostly in failures—on the way to shape,

nine thousand blemishes hitching a ride. Maybe

only a poem or a silver bowl

will tell us as well as love: that

these are the only raw

materials we have—the painful

moments of wonder,

the small, well-meant betrayals, rain

in the limestone hills.

Well, we’re not finished yet;

the revisions are still in process, a line here,

a day there, the whole thing

taking on a kind of polished

mutilation, a scarred silver florin,

a weathered hill,

an epic fragment.

There’s time yet to get it—not right,

of course, but anyway revised,

emended, more mature

in its lumpy way. Think of it,

two billion years of shaping:

it’s a beginning.

Letterbox (October 2020)

My father loved the FFRF Reagan ad

On the one-year anniversary of my father’s death, I am enclosing a check to FFRF in his memory. I would appreciate it if you would put this money toward your advertising budget. My dad loved the Ron Reagan commercial and if he knew in advance it was going to be aired, he would make a point to watch whatever program carried it.

My dad lived a long, happy and productive life and had his wits about him until the end. Although some expected him to make a deathbed conversion, Dad was a lifelong atheist, not afraid of burning in hell. I shared my issues of Freethought Today with him and he always enjoyed them.

Nancy A. Kopp

James A. Haught is a pillar of freethought

Thank you for publishing another fantastic short piece by James A. Haught. He’s a pillar of freethought in the vein of Voltaire, Thomas Paine, Christopher Hitchens, Dan Barker and countless others.

I look forward to each of these concise, insightful articles by James Haught. I wish he could keep on writing forever.

Bruce Kopetz

FFRF sticker should be made available to more

My FFRF bumper sticker (“Religion, the original fake news”) continues to draw attention and gives personal satisfaction. Now, when I am stuck in traffic, I am less annoyed knowing that the drivers behind me are receiving a thought-provoking message, piquing both their religious and political views.

I would like to encourage greater participation in displaying this message. If an anonymous member donated $500 and offered free bumper stickers to FFRF members requesting one, how many stickers would that be?


September issue was beautifully well-written

The September issue was beautifully well-written. Thank you, everyone, for your hard work on this!

Patrick Lindley

God born when we took madmen at their word

This little rant was inspired by two posts in rapid succession. (One preacher claiming that masks are satanic because God can’t hear you pray through a mask, and another saying that vegetarian burgers will alter your DNA so you are no longer human, and then Christ can’t save you.)

Only he heard the voices, no one else could, demanding he murder his child.

Some say God talked freely with people in biblical times, and now is silent because, you know, abortion and gay marriage.

Some say God was our first attempt to explain a world where sometimes the crops thrived and sometimes they failed.

Some say it’s been a protection racket all along. Pay up, people, or go to hell.

I say God was born when we took the madmen at their word, and every schizophrenic was a prophet. Even today, the Jim Bakkers and Joel Osteens and Pat Robertsons have their mansions and yachts and private jets, all because they imagine some private hotline to God. Think how much more so the ancients may have revered the madmen, chosen by God to hear his voice.

The founding patriarch of the revealed religions only spared his son’s life when the voice in his head said he could.

Linda Palter

Chief Justice Roberts lied regarding Espinoza

In the case of Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue, Chief Justice John Roberts said, “A state need not subsidize private education, but once it decides to do so it cannot disqualify some private schools because they are religious.” That would be good law if those were the facts of this case, but the state of Montana disqualified taxpayer aid to all private education, religious or not. Chief Justice Roberts lied!

Douglas Norberg

There’s only one way to argue with Christians

Miklos Jako’s column on how to argue with Christians could not be more wrong. While exchanging biblical jabs between a nonbeliever and a Christian might be entertaining, good theater at colleges, and fun between friends and even for writing books, it is pointless for a genuine refutation of Christianity.

For the latter, this is how it should go:

Nonbeliever: “Show me proof your god exists.”

Christian: “The bible says . . .”

Nonbeliever: “Stop! The bible is only relevant if it is the written word of your god. Until you prove your god exists, it is evidence of nothing. So again, show me proof your god exists.”

Sadly, for entertainment purposes, this is a very short exchange. But to “effectively” argue with Christians using their own scriptures makes no sense.

John Steiner

Thanks for getting rid of awful religious event

I just want to say thank you for working to get rid of the spring tea event in Muskogee County, Okla. I went to this in 2011 and it was really awful. I always wanted to make sure that nobody else would have to go, and I never had the resources or the power to make that happen.

Please keep fighting programs like this. Just because Muskogee isn’t doing this anymore doesn’t mean that other school districts aren’t. The speaker who spoke to us was Carol Sallee, and her website still markets her as a school speaker. I hope that someday Oklahoma is free from character-based abstinence programs that make girls feel like trash or, in the words of Carol Sallee, “a paper plate.”

Emily Dean

People are religious for comfort, the afterlife

I found it interesting that two articles on the same page in the August issue of Freethought Today seemed to me to be making unwarranted assumptions about the religious.

James Haught couldn’t imagine why anyone needs the supernatural when reality is so amazing, and Barbara Walker accuses religion of being a scam, as theologians try to adapt their doctrines to reality.  However, I don’t think the average religious American is being scammed into believing or needs to believe in something amazing. I think the religious are religious simply because they find it comforting to believe. They don’t need an amazing God — just one that assures them of an afterlife where they will be reunited with their dead loved ones and one they can pray to when times are bad (as an adult replacement for the parents children turn to for comfort).  Even if the theologians didn’t come up with reasons why prayers are not answered, people would still pray because they need the hope that prayers give them (just as gamblers keep gambling even if they rarely win).

I think these reasons are why humankind invented and maintains its religions, although I admit that, once religions become organized, scamming is inevitable.  It is evolutionarily helpful to be able to enforce norms that benefit the group, including soliciting donations that are used to benefit the needy.  However, absolute power (when you speak for God) corrupts absolutely, and the threat of hell can also be used to enforce things like requiring donations that are used mostly to benefit the church and those who run it, sending people to war to defend the beliefs that empower those who run the churches, or even just telling people they must believe without asking any pesky questions.  If those behaviors were all that people got from religion, though, humans would not be the religious people we are. My belief is that it is the comfort people derive from prayer and belief in an afterlife that maintains religion throughout diverse human societies.

Wendy V. Koch

Sacrificing of chickens is pure animal abuse

While I am disturbed at a number of the news items I see in Freethought Today (especially religious institutions stealing money from taxpaying Americans such as myself), as a strong opponent of animal abuse, I find the story about the “chicken sacrifices” in New York doubly disturbing — mostly for the fact that anyone is going after these cultists as a matter of health instead of for the sake of the poor animals!

Steven Evans

Cafeteria Christians are easier to convince

I always find articles, such as by Miklos Jako (August issue), on how to talk to the religious informative. But I disagree with the statement that “combating the conservative Christian is far more important.” It is very difficult to convince true believers to question their beliefs. I target cafeteria Christians because they’ve already taken a step away from core tenets. I think getting these people to stop calling themselves Christians and to stop donating to churches is a way to marginalize the conservative ones. But it is useful to pursue multiple strategies and I’m glad Jako tackles the harder problem.

Charles H. Jones

Seidel’s book earns place in living room

Andrew Seidel’s unapologetic and crushing critique of Christian Nationalism earned him a special spot in my living room. I went out and bought a plaque of the Bill of Rights and another copy of his book, The Founding Myth: Why Christian Nationalism Is Un-American. I’m hoping I get the chance to offer the book to someone, who, after visiting my house and seeing the plaque, is curious as to its purpose in my living room beside this book.

Of course, I bought these items using my Amazon Smile FFRF page, which gives a portion back to one of my favorite charities. Keep up the good fight, FFRF!

Richard Gibble

Editor’s note: Thank you, Richard. You may purchase an autographed copy from

A kinder, gentler Crankmail section?

While reading the Crankmail feature in the September edition of Freethought Today, I couldn’t help but notice a total lack of the usual profanity. So, I’d like to take this opportunity to compliment that particular group of individuals who wrote to FFRF to express their delusional, fantasy-riddled and irrational perspectives on religion and the separation of church and state, yet managed to do so without resorting to vulgar, crass and vile expressions of disagreement.

Marcia Goodman

FFRF let me identify as ‘chaplain,’ unlike others

I sent an email supporting Do No Harm and noticed that FFRF is the only entity soliciting my actions or funds that lets me identify myself as “chaplain.” I worked as hard in web-based and classroom study for The Humanist Society to certify me as a humanist chaplain as I did for my B.A. from Syracuse, my M.A. from The American University, and my commission in the U.S. Navy. I’m 83, and done with all that buryin’ and marryin’ stuff, but I’m still active in the VA’s InHome Visits Program. COVID-19 has cut us back to phone visits, but we still do what we can for disabled/homebound vets. Thanks for recognizing my validity!

Roy Bates
New York

Why does FFRF capitalize the word ‘God’?

I question why we capitalize the word “god” in Freethought Today.

God is no one’s proper name, it is just one of many possible deities. Would it not be better to simply name the deity in question, or use “deity” in place of “God”? If deities do not exist, why do we capitalize that which does not exist? Very illogical.

Alexander Wallace

Editor’s note: FFRF capitalizes “God” when it is used as the name of a particular god. Also, things that do not exist have names that are capitalized (i.e. Mickey Mouse).

When is enough biblical nonsense enough?

When is proof enough proof? The worldwide scientific community has sent satellite probes billions of miles into an unfathomable universe. They have thousands of photos of many of the billions of suns, moons, galaxies, etc., right down to active volcanoes, ice caps, giant geysers, etc. But the bible sums it all up in Gen. 1:16 — “God also made the stars.” Bingo! Creation completed in six days!

But one thing these probes haven’t seen is any sign of heaven — you know, that place where angels, gods, souls and Jesus traverse. I see how people can buy into the delusion of heaven because it can make them feel kind of OK with dying, since they’ll be there with only people who also believe and think as they do.

Just when is enough of this total nonsense enough?

Tony Spahn

FFRF helps give mother closure

I was reading my weekly emailed FFRF newsletter and was excited to read of your involvement with the Salem-Keizer (Ore.) School District. Your actions help me put closure to a situation I had with the district nearly 50 years ago.

I was the parent of two young boys who were enrolled in a Salem-Keizer elementary school. I’ll always remember the day my 8- and 6-year-old sons arrived home from school. They were the most excited I’d seen them. They flew into the house, each carrying a flyer inviting them to join a club — The Good News Club! The flyer promised them cookies, cupcakes, Kool-Aid, party games and bible stories. The best part: It was during school hours so they could miss their class to attend. All they needed was for me to sign the permission paper and they could both be club members.

One problem: Their father was Muslim and I was one of those cursed nonbelievers. I was a mother being faced with telling my two little boys that I wasn’t going to give my permission to them to be club members and party with their friends. (I had an epiphany when I was 7 years old. I was sitting in one of those little chairs at Sunday school listening to bible stories. Suddenly, it occurred to me that I was in a room full of people who were taking those crazy stories seriously. I was shocked and got out of the room as fast as I could. I never went back.)

What happened next was too lengthy to describe in detail. I met with their teachers, school officials, legislators, etc. The end result: My sons were the only students in their class who weren’t allowed to join the club. They were required to sit at their desks doing class work while all their friends partied. Further exacerbating the situation, my sons’ teachers were required to remain in the classroom to monitor my sons instead of taking a break in the teachers’ lounge. Thus, my sons were furious with me and their teachers were, likewise. Every week for the remainder of the school year we suffered because we weren’t “good Christians.”

Reading about Salem-Keizer in my FFRF newsletter reminded me of how angry I felt years ago when I was unjustifiably faced with either disappointing my children and remaining true to myself or conforming to the pressure of other peoples’ religious beliefs. I’ve never questioned that I made the right decision, but I still feel anger about being placed in the situation of having to explain to my sons why my beliefs ostracized them from their friends.

I’m an old grandmother now. My two grandsons attend Salem-Keizer schools. I’d like to make a donation to FFRF so you can continue the fight against religion in our public schools. I wish FFRF would have been around for me so many years ago. Maybe you can use my donation to help in the continuing effort to remove religion from our schools.

Judith Hassoun

Nancy Kopp writes: “This is a photo of my dad, Rudy Kopp, from about nine years ago. He was the best person I have ever known and was a wonderful example of how a nonbeliever can be an honest human being who was always trying to make the world a better place.”

Crankmail (October 2020)

Here is this month’s installment of Crankmail, letters and messages received by FFRF from some of its, shall we say, lesser fans. Printed as received.   

Just a comment: What a sad organization!!!!!!! — Sharon Kleis

No More: Look….. it’s time you rediculous troublemakers stop. You are bullying people by forcing them to take down things that in no way, shape, or form hurt you in the slightest. We dont harrass YOU because of your beliefs. Even though we know….you’re wrong we shake our heads and leave you in peace. What you are doing is unconstitutional. And it’s time for it to come to an end. Or else we…. as the majority can stand and fight back. It’s time to stop… the bullying. — Lloyd Reed Jr.

Abortion and Gods Word: Your article on WHAT DOES THE BIBLE SAY ABOUT ABORTION? is an atrocity, a mocking of God. The person or people who wrote this article are as lost as a goose in a hail storm. They do not know holy scripture and its contexts according to the love of God, why & how he destroys all evil even the women and children, to wipe evil off the earth, the generations of evil. God forbids abortion. It is murder. Whoever sheds innocent blood, will be judged by God on judgement day. I certainly do not support any shedding of innocent blood by any means or abortion even if it pertains to a womans life. That is one of the consequences of getting pregnant, unfortunately, but if you get pregnant that chance of dying is there, that’s the chance you take bringing in a life into the world. You have sex, you better be ready to get pregnant even if you take precautions and know that you could die giving birth or have life complications. — Terry Hurd

Noah’s ark: The Noah’s ark display is not hurting anyone and it is always some atheist fool who gets their panties in a twist if they see something like this. Would you have the same response if it was a Muslim display, I gather not, since FFRF would be too terrified to be labeled as Islamophobic in hear of having their heads cut off I bet. Anyway, just a reminder that God says that He will not be mocked, and what you sow you shall also reap in return. I pray that God will turn back on your own heads what you are doing to others. It would be a terrible thing if a freak tornado or earthquake were to destroy the FFRF headquarters there. By the way, don’t insurance companies refer to that as an “act of God.”  Rev. Robert Fritch


For God So Loved the World: (You have an open offer from God to receive his free gift of salvation. Won’t you consider accepting it instead of fighting Him? He does love you. I know you’ve wondered about it. While there’s still time. His offer isn’t open forever. That He Gave His Only Begotten Son — Arman Medosh

FFR: I wish EVERY person was FREE from ORGANIZED RELIGION . Yeshua Jesus is NOT a religion. He is THE WAY , THE TRUTH and THE LIFE and no man gets to the Father EXCEPT through HIM. Organized religion is man made AND NOT the truth in total. 99% truth and 1% lie is STILL a lie. Satan is trying to curb ANYTHING GODLY , TRUE GODLY , in this world and him and anyone that does not turn to the Creator of EVERYTHING , well, their destiny is the Lake of Fire FOREVER. — Elaine Gray

Black Collar Crime (October 2020)

Compiled by Bill Dunn

Arrested / Charged

Jose A. Lopez, 67, Mission Viejo, CA: Suspicion of committing lewd acts. Lopez volunteered as a pastor at Pacific Hills Calvary Chapel in Aliso Viejo from 2003–05 and at Compass Bible Church in Aliso Viejo from 2012­–20, according to the Orange County Sheriff’s Department.

He was arrested after the alleged victim reported Lopez started molesting her in 2010 when she was under 10 years old. She did not meet him through the church, authorities said.

Compass spokesman Brandon Mellor denied that Lopez had a pastoral role: “He never volunteered as a pastor at our church and he never volunteered in a role with kids in the children’s ministry at our church,” Mellor said in an email. “He served as a volunteer on a team of men that kept order in the parking lot.” Source: Pacifica Tribune, 8-28-20

John C. Sapp Jr., 34, Hartly, DE: 89 counts, including continuous sexual abuse of a child, sexual abuse of a child by a person of trust, 4th-degree rape with a victim under the age of 18 and unlawful sexual contact. Sapp, a married youth leader at Maranatha Fellowship near Dover, is accused of sexual involvement with 2 girls in the group he led for 3 years.

One girl told investigators she and Sapp began a “secret relationship” in 2017 when she was 15 and that they had sex 2 or 3 times a month until June 2019. The other girl told officers her “secret sexual relationship” started when she was 16 and went from January 2019 to January 2020. Source: News Journal, 8-26-20

Andrew Kawecki, 65, Scottdale, PA: Involuntary deviate sexual intercourse and 2 counts of indecent assault for alleged incidents when he was pastor at St. Cyril and Methodius Catholic Church in Fairchance. He’s accused of assaulting an 11-year-old altar boy multiple times from 2004–07.

Allegations include forced masturbation and oral sex. Kawecki has served at 15 parishes in the Diocese of Greensburg since 1980, most recently as a trust adviser to Conn-Area Catholic School in Connellsville and pastor of parishes in Scottdale and Everson. Source: Tribune-Review, 8-26-20

Shawn N. Waddell, 29, Warner Robins, GA: 3 counts of sexual exploitation of children and 4 counts of eavesdropping, surveillance or intercepting communication. Waddell, a part-time youth pastor at an unidentified church, is accused of alleged incidents involving 3 females in 2019–20, some tied to church-related functions. Source: WGXA, 8-26-20

Stricjavvar Strickland, 38, Kalamazoo, MI: 4 counts of 3rd-degree criminal sexual conduct, 4 counts of human trafficking of a minor for commercial sexual activity and 3 counts of child sexually abusive activity. Strickland, pastor at Second Baptist Church, is accused of crimes between 2015–18 involving teens between the ages of 15–17.

He allegedly paid teen boys $100 to $200 to have sex with his wife or to send him nude photos. Two of the 5 alleged victims were students at the public high school where Jazmonique Strickland worked as a secretary. She had not been charged as of this writing.

One boy told investigators he was given a car in exchange for letting the pastor perform oral sex on him. It’s also alleged that Strickland engaged in similar behavior years ago with his ex-wife when they lived in Mississippi.

He also faces a misdemeanor assault and battery charge stemming from an incident with a church deacon. The Stricklands have 8 children. Source:, 8-25-20

Michael Zacharias, 53, Findlay, OH: Coercion and enticement, sex trafficking of a minor and sex trafficking of an adult by force, fraud or coercion. Zacharias, pastor at St. Michael the Archangel Catholic Parish, is accused of engaging in sexual conduct with minors since the late 1990s.

According to court documents, Zacharias manipulated and coerced drug-addicted boys and men into having sex. At his own request, he had a “confession video” recorded in 2015 showing him fellating a male.

In the video he’s wearing clerical garb and at one point turns to the camera and says: “I first met [Victim #1] when he was in 6th grade at St. Catherine’s and I was a seminarian. I knew from the first time I saw him that I wanted to suck his —-. … I remember seeing him in the hospital, he had meningitis. I remember it was the two of us alone in the room. And I remember the back of his hospital gown opened up and I saw his a–. I wanted that sweet little a– right then.”

Victim #1 was found in possession of fentanyl in July, FBI investigators said. Source: News-Messenger/Findlay Courier, 8-18-20

Willie Forest, Goldwater, MS: 3 counts of child molestation. Forest, pastor of Springhill Missionary Baptist Church in Pope, may have had other victims, said District Attorney John Champion. Source: Fox 13 Memphis, 8-17-20

Donato Cabardo, 56, Jersey City, NJ: Harassment and 2 counts of criminal sexual contact. Cabardo, pastor at St. Paul of the Cross Catholic Church, is charged with touching a parishioner’s breast and buttocks and kissing her cheek between January and July in the church rectory. She first reported the allegations to the Archdiocese of Newark, which notified law enforcement. Source: Daily Voice, 8-17-20

Ian Reid, 32, Treadlight, Jamaica: Sexual intercourse with a person under 16. Reid, who is married and has a Christian music ministry in which he performs as “the Gospel Kid,” is accused of having sex with a 15-year-old girl in July in an abandoned building.

In a 2019 interview about being hit by a careless driver in 2010, Reid talked about deciding during a long recuperation to start going to church and joining Holiness Born Again Church of Jesus Christ: “One week, I was sitting at the back and the evangelist called me to sing a song. I closed my eyes so tight and took the microphone and started singing. When I finished singing the song, I saw everyone screaming and raising their hands. However, I thought they were laughing at me because I didn’t know how the Holy Ghost worked at that time.” Source: Jamaica Gleaner, 8-12-20

Kenneth C. Glasgow, 53, Dothan, AL: Unlawful possession of a controlled substance. Glasgow allegedly possessed crack cocaine when he was stopped for a traffic violation. He is co-founder of the Ordinary People Society, a ministry focused on addiction, poverty and life after incarceration.

Glasgow, a half-brother of the Rev. Al Sharpton, was arrested in January on a similar drug charge and for scuffling with and biting a police officer. Source:, 8-11-20

Keisha Christley, Roanoke, VA: Embezzlement. Christley, director of the preschool at St. Mark’s Lutheran Church, allegedly stole an undisclosed amount of money from the school between January 2016 and March 2020. The school is now closed for good due to lack of finances, Pastor James Armentrout announced. Source: WDBJ, 8-11-20

David Pettigrew, 48, Denison, TX: Transporting child pornography. Pettigrew, pastor of the Denison Church of the Nazarene since 2006, came to the attention of law enforcement officials through referrals from electronic surveillance providers and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

He is married to a teacher and they have 3 children, said the church’s website. Source: CBS Dallas, 8-7-20

José A. Mena, 60, Houston: Continuous sexual abuse of a child. Mena, pastor of Pueblo de Dios, is accused of sexually assaulting a 9-year-old boy as recently as April. Allegations date back to Jan. 1. Mena turned himself in on July 27. Source: KPRC, 8-7-20

Jonathan Tsai, 40, Los Angeles: Oral copulation of a person under 16, sexual penetration of a person under 16 and 4 counts of lewd acts on a child under 14. The complainant alleges Tsai molested her for 6 years starting at age 12 when he was youth pastor at Home of Christians Eastern Los Angeles. He’s now head pastor at the church, which has been renamed Abundant Life Ministries.

Two more women have reported assaults by Tsai when they were minors. Police in West Covina are investigating other allegations. Source: KABC, 8-6-20

Archie Emerson, 75, Smithfield, RI: 2nd-degree child molestation. Emerson, retired pastor at Ocean State Baptist Church, is accused of assaults on a girl between the ages of 6 and 11. Emerson “is shocked that someone would levy such horrific allegations against him,” his attorney said. Source: AP, 8-3-20

The unidentified chief priest of Singapore’s oldest Hindu temple was arrested on charges of criminal breach of trust as a servant. The Sri Mariamman Temple had lodged a complaint after finding that gold ornaments in the priest’s custody were missing.

The priest, age 36, was questioned and later returned the missing items, the temple said in a statement. Source: The Tribune, 8-2-20

Francis Hughes, 65, Queens, NY: Receipt and distribution of child pornography. Hughes, pastor of St. Pancras Catholic Church, allegedly shared nude images with a 15-year-old boy he met on the hook-up app Grindr in February.

The teen asked if he could send an explicit image to Hughes, according to the indictment. “I’d never get mad about that,” Hughes allegedly responded. “How would you like to be spoiled by your grandpa? … We can try to make it a regular thing.” Source: NBC New York, 7-29-20

Desmond Hicks, 34, George, Iowa: 2 counts of criminal sexual conduct. Hicks, former associate pastor of youth and worship at Cornerstone Free Church in Pipestone, MN, is charged with repeated sexual touching of a boy, now an adult, starting in 7th grade.

At the time, the boy was in foster care with Hicks’ now-wife, and would come to Pipestone to visit Hicks, who allegedly told police he thought the sexual contact was consensual.

“Desmond is the type of person that everybody falls in love with,” Cornerstone pastor Steve Stahl said when Hicks was hired in 2013. “He has musical talents beyond belief.” Source: Worthington Globe, 7-29-20

Denise A. Decker, 62, Duryea, PA: Felony theft and forgery and misdemeanor tampering with records. Decker, a 20-year employee of Nativity of Our Lord Parish, is accused of stealing $98,206 while she was church secretary.

She allegedly admitted stealing for about 5 years. Police began collecting the trash from the curb at her home and recovered 65 donation envelopes, the complaint said. Source: Citizens’ Voice, 7-23-20

Isac Calderon-Sierra, 22, Ville Platte, LA: 305 counts of possession of pornography involving juveniles under the age of 13 and 5 counts of sexual abuse of animals. Calderon-Sierra was a volunteer for a Catholic youth group that met at Our Lady Queen of All Saints Church.

When a reporter asked Blue Rolfes, Diocese of Lafayette communications director, when Calderon-Sierra volunteered or what his responsibilities were, she wouldn’t say. Source: Daily Advertiser, 7-23-20

Pleaded / Convicted

Wayne W. Allen, 69, Ft. Wayne, IN: Guilty by jury on 2 counts of child molestation. Allen, who has a doctorate from Concordia Theological Seminary and worked for 13 years as an overseas missionary with World Partners, was charged with assaults on a girl who stayed overnight twice at his home between April 2017 and May 2018. The girl alleged that he crawled into bed with her and used his hand to manipulate her genitals.

The judge declared a mistrial last November due to possible juror taint after it was reported that the juror was seen riding with her father to court and that the father had been in the courtroom during the trial. Source: NBC Ft. Wayne, 8-14-20

Todd Spain Jr., 27, Pelham, NH: Pleaded guilty to assaulting his wife at the time on a hike in July 2019. Spain was employed as a youth minister at Crossroads Church until 2 days after his arrest. His father is lead pastor at Crossroads.

Molly Spain alleged she and her husband got into an argument after he admitted to having an affair. “When she turned to leave the mountain, she was struck in the back of the head with a rock,” said an affidavit by Detective Brian King. She was taken to the hospital after calling 911 but wasn’t seriously injured.

The plea agreement calls for him to serve 30 days in jail on weekends, 40 hours’ community service, maintain good behavior for a year or serve another 23 months in custody and
undergo anger management training. Source: Eagle-Tribune, 8-11-20


Jack Trieber, Santa Clara, CA, was fined $10,000 for twice violating a health order by holding indoor services with vocal music at North Valley Baptist Church. Trieber justified the services by claiming the area was not a COVID-19 “hot spot.”

“He’s using the somewhat low numbers in Santa Clara County, which are the sign of success of their policies, to violate the policies and that’s not very good,” said Dr. Steven Goodman, Stanford University professor of epidemiology and associate dean of the school of medicine. Source: KPIX, 8-27-20

Rob McCoy, 56, Newbury Park, CA, who led services at Godspeak Calvary Chapel in violation of a health order, was held in contempt of court and his church was fined $3,000.

“They’re allowed to disagree with the court’s order but there are consequences for acting in violation of a court order,” said prosecutor Jaclyn Smith.

McCoy has been very vocal in urging other churches to resist public health orders. He ran as a Republican for state Assembly in 2014 and came within 5 percentage points of winning. Source: KABC, 8-21-20

David Astin, 38, Hermosa, SD: 3 years in prison, 3 years’ supervised release and restitution of $433,877 after pleading guilty to 3 counts of wire fraud involving a Rapid City anesthesiologist who was bilked. Judge Jeffrey Viken said he reviewed 23 pages of support letters written on Astin’s behalf that showed he had a strong religious background and was active in his church.

His attorney Paul Andrews said Astin’s religious convictions kept him from using his Social Security number because he belongs to an anti-government “sovereign citizens” movement. He fled during the investigation that started in 2008 to Guatemala, where he met his wife, with whom he has 8 children.

His father, Ward Astin, pastor of Christ’s Tabernacle Church for 19 years and also a sovereign citizen, was arrested for failure to obtain a state sales tax license for a business he had and pleaded no contest to a felony count in 2009. Source: Rapid City Journal, 8-8-20

David Lah, 43, Toronto, Canada, was sentenced in Myanmar to 3 months in jail for holding Christian church services in Yangon in defiance of a health order. Lah is a native Burmese. About 6% of Buddhist-majority Myanmar identify as Christian.

If people hold the bible and Jesus in their hearts, the disease will not come in,” he proclaimed in a video to a roomful of faithful. “The only person who can cure and give peace in this pandemic is Jesus.”

About 20 people who took part in his gatherings in April, including Lah himself, eventually tested positive for COVID-19. That led to a cluster of 67 cases. Source: Al Jazeera, 8-7-20

Civil Lawsuits Filed

St. Demetrios Greek Orthodox Church, Jamaica, NY, the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America and former scoutmaster and teacher Lawrence Svrcek are defendants in 12 lawsuits in which Svrcek is accused of molesting the plaintiff and other children in the 1970s and 1980s.

The latest suit was filed in Queens and alleges Svrcek molested “S.G.” starting in 1984 when the student attended Jamaica Day School, which was run by St. Demetrios Church. Source: NY Post, 8-22-20

The Catholic Diocese of Alexandria, LA, is the sole named defendant in a suit filed by “Lou Doe,” who alleges he was molested by Leo Van Hoorn in 1962–63 when he was in 1st or 2nd grade at Sacred Heart of Jesus School in Pineville.

Van Hoorn was suspended from active ministry in 1979, retired as a priest in 1983 and died at age 74 in 2006. The suit calls him a “diseased pedophile.” Source: Town Talk, 8-22-20

John J. Jenik, the Catholic Archdiocese of New York and Paul Gruber are being sued by Shawn Ganley, who alleges Gruber molested him at age 14 in the 1980s at Our Lady of Refuge School in the Bronx. It’s alleged Jenik was abusing minors himself when he “trafficked” Ganley to Gruber.

Gruber was convicted in the mid-1980s after another boy’s parents complained. He’s now a tutor in Arlington, VA. Jenik, 76, who oversaw the after-school program where Gruber volunteered, resigned as auxiliary bishop in 2019 due to a “credible and substantiated” abuse allegation. Source: NY Post, 8-15-20

Syracuse University, Syracuse, NY, is being sued for negligence by “John Doe,” who alleges former SU grad student and Olympic athlete Conrad Mainwaring, 68, sexually abused him. The school, founded in 1931 by the Methodist Episcopal Church, since 1920 has been affiliated with the United Methodist Church. Mainwaring ran the 110-meter hurdles in the 1976 Olympics for his native nation of Antigua and Barbuda.

According to a 2019 ESPN investigation, at least 41 men as young as 12 across 2 continents and 4 U.S. states have accused him of abuse, often while employed at prestigious institutions. Statutes of limitations have hindered criminal prosecution.

While working in student housing and counseling in 1987 at Caltech in Pasadena, he gave “Brian” a massage after a workout that ended in masturbating him, according to ESPN. Mainwaring was also certified in physiotherapy. “He was very clever, very diabolically clever because he was couching it as nonsexual,” as a way of achieving mental toughness, Brian alleged.

“I looked at him like a Christian disciple because he would intersperse his weird, wacked-out teaching with Bible aphorisms here and there,” said Brian, who is very religious. “Like cults use the Bible, he used it in a way that he knew had pull with me.” Source: Daily Orange, 8-14-20; ESPN, 8-1-19

The Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh, Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary Church, Cardinal Donald Wuerl and Bishop David Zubik are defendants in a suit brought by William Schneider, 65, who alleges he was 8 when he was molested in the 1960s by James Somma, a priest who died in 2004.

Schneider’s sister reported similar abuse to the diocese in the late 1990s but church leaders dismissed her claim and she died before filing a lawsuit. Another woman who reported abuse was allegedly told Somma shouldn’t be removed because of his “strong denial, sterling military career, the passage of time and [the alleged victim’s] admitted psychiatric treatment.” Source: Ellwood City Ledger, 8-12-20

The Catholic Diocese of Albany, NY, former Bishop Howard J. Hubbard and St. Francis of Assisi Parish are defendants in a suit filed by a South Carolina man who alleges he was 10 when Hubbard sexually abused him in 1975 during a church-sponsored bus trip to West Point Military Academy and on other occasions.

It’s the 5th suit alleging abuse by Hubbard. Abuse by another priest, Cabell B. Marbury, is also alleged. Marbury taught at Cardinal McCloskey Memorial High School in Albany. “This priest forced [the plaintiff] to touch him, and the priest touched him. He was also forced to have anal sex with this priest,” the suit asserts.

Hubbard retired in 2014, the same year Marbury died. Source: Times-Union, 8-12-20

St. Stephen’s Catholic Parish and School, Grand Island, NY, is accused by plaintiff “PB-22 DOE” of enabling now-deceased priest Lynn Shumway to molest him in 6th grade in 2009. It’s alleged Shumway “lured Plaintiff to the church bathroom” and “engaged in unpermitted, forcible and harmful sexual contact” during a school assembly.

Shumway, who wasn’t ordained until age 55, died in 2019 at age 71. He also taught Latin at Bishop Duffy High School. Source: WKBW, 8-11-20

Bridge Bible Church, Bakersfield, CA, and Eric Simpson, former pastor of transformation, are named in a suit filed by an anonymous plaintiff alleging Simpson abused his position as a Mennonite Brethren marriage counselor to make sexual advances.

The plaintiff and her husband were counseled by Simpson for 9 months starting in 2016. She alleges he started one-on-one therapy sessions with her in 2018, using “his position of authority and trust to initiate repeated physical contact of a sexual nature on Plaintiff. He also bombarded her with sexually explicit and graphic comments.”

Pastor Jeff Gowling later announced to the congregation that Simpson would no longer be working at the church because of “an inappropriate relationship with a female member.” He received a severance package and outside financial support and returned to counseling, now at Hume Lake Christian Camps. Source: Mennonite World Review, 8-10-20

Immaculate Conception Catholic Parish, Bloomfield, PA, Cardinal Donald Wuerl and Diocese of Pittsburgh Bishop David Zubik are being sued by Gennaro Greco, who alleges he was raped twice in 1967 as an altar boy by Leo Burchianti, parish pastor. Greco immigrated to the U.S. from Italy when he was 13.

A state grand jury report alleges Burchianti abused at least 8 boys between 1967–93 while being moved around to different parishes. He withdrew from the ministry in 2003 and died in 2013. The report said he received treatment on 3 occasions at church facilities for “inappropriate relationships with male minors” and that monetary settlements were made with 2 people in 1994 and 2008. Source: Tribune-Review, 8-7-20

New Mexico Catholic priests Roderick Nichols and Damian Gamboa, the Las Cruces and El Paso dioceses, 2 parishes where they served and the Order of Friars Minor are being sued by “John Doe” and “Jane Doe” for alleged child sexual abuse.

John Doe alleges Nichols molested him in the early 1990s when he was about 13 and Nichols was pastor at St. Vincent De Paul Parish in Silver City. Jane Doe alleges Gamboa abused her in the early 1980s when she was 13 or 14  and Gamboa was pastor of St. Francis de Paula Church in Tularosa. Source: Sun News, 8-4-20

Mark Rhodes, Wynantskill, NY, Victorious Life Christian Church of Troy and elder Dominick Brignola are defendants in a suit alleging plaintiff Abigail Barker was 5 in 1998 when she was molested by Rhodes while he was babysitting her and her younger brother. Barker is Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s deputy press secretary.

According to the suit, Rhodes removed “Plaintiff’s pajama bottoms and underwear, bringing his face up to her vagina and anus and touching her vagina with his face. … When Plaintiff disclosed the abuse, Defendant VLCC, its Pastor and Presiding Elder Defendant Dominick Brignola and Defendant Rhodes revictimized Plaintiff emotionally in an effort to silence Plaintiff and cover up the abuse.”

Rhodes worked at Victorious Life until 2011, and his wife remains a deacon there. Source: WAMC Public Radio/Noaker Law Firm, 8-4-20

The Catholic Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, MO, covered up abuse by priests known to be sexual predators allege suits filed by 2 plaintiffs. It’s alleged Darvin Salazar assaulted the plaintiff in the rectory at Holy Cross Catholic Church in July 2018. He is in the process of removing himself from the priesthood.

The other suit alleges John R. Tulipana assaulted the plaintiff several times when he was 13 in 1977 while serving as pastor at Coronation of Our Lady Parish in Grandview. Tulipana was barred from the ministry in 1994 and died in 2012.

The diocese paid $10 million in abuse settlements in 2008 and another $10 million in 2014 in cases involving 79 plaintiffs. Source: Insurance Journal, 8-2-20

Civil Lawsuits Settled

The Order of St. Augustine agreed to pay nearly $1.4 million to 11 abuse survivors (10 female, 1 male) who alleged Catholic priest John J. Gallagher molested them in the 1970s at St. Mary’s School in Lawrence, MA.

The order settled a previous suit by 3 women for $1 million in 2018. Gallagher, who died in 2006, also coached basketball and swimming. Source: Boston Herald, 8-28-20

The Catholic Diocese of Columbus, OH, will pay $1 million to Kevin Heidtman, now in his 30s, for abuse by Msgr. Thomas Bennett, a St. Charles Preparatory School teacher from 1964 until shortly before his death in 2008.

Heidtman’s attorney Konrad Kircher said the $1 million settlement amount is fair for Ohio, which caps civil damages at $250,000. If the case had gone to trial, that would have been the maximum amount of any award. Source: Columbus Dispatch, 8-26-20


A total of 503 people filed clergy abuse claims against the Catholic Diocese of Rochester under New York’s Child Victims Act that extends the time allowed to bring claims, which is double the projected amount.

That total is in addition to more than 30 people who already settled claims in 2019 through a mediator. The diocese earlier paid $1.6 million to other survivors before the new law took effect. Source: WHAM, 8-19-20

Legal Developments

In cases involving 2 Utah men charged in 2018, the state Supreme Court ruled unanimously that children who report sexual assaults don’t need to testify and confront their alleged abuser multiple times in court. One man is charged with abusing his 5-year-old daughter. The other, age 27, is accused of having sex with a 12-year-old girl.

The decision means that young people won’t have to testify at preliminary hearings except in rare circumstances. Recorded interviews can be used instead. The court ruled that a child victim could still be required to testify at a pretrial hearing if a defense attorney can show it’s needed to present evidence on a specific point material to the judge’s decision. Source: Salt Lake Tribune, 8-19-20

Islamic cleric Abdullah al-Faisal, aka Shaikh Faisal, 56, will stand trial on 5 counts of conspiracy as a crime of terrorism and soliciting or providing support for an act of terrorism after being extradited from Jamaica to New York City.

Born Trevor William Forrest and raised in an evangelical Christian family, Faisal was introduced to Islam in his mid-teens. He eventually moved to London, where he became a firebrand preacher in the late 1990s. He was convicted in 2003 of inciting violence, served 4 years in prison and was deported in 2007 from Britain and from Kenya in 2010.

In 2016, an NYPD undercover officer made contact with Faisal and they established encrypted communications, the indictment said. At Faisal’s urging, the officer traveled to the Middle East, where Faisal had promised to assist her in joining the Islamic State. Source: Washington Post, 8-14-20

Jeffrey McGehee, 32, Portage, MI, had his plea bargain rejected by Superior Court Judge Roger Bradford. McGehee, a leader at the Church of Jesus Christ in South Haven, pleaded guilty to dissemination of matter harmful of minors for sending nude photos and a video of himself masturbating to a 15-year-old boy in 2017.

McGehee had pleaded guilty to a single felony count of dissemination of matter harmful to minors, with the special prosecutor recommending only a year’s probation and no incarceration or sex offender registry. Four charges were dismissed.

The boy alleged to investigators that he was told to keep quiet by the church pastor and others, charging documents said. The pastor, who is McGehee’s father-in-law, was charged with 2 misdemeanor counts of failure to report for attempting to cover up the incidents. Those charges were dismissed in December. Source:, 8-10-20

N.Y. Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed legislation extending the 1-year window for Child Victims Act lawsuits to Aug. 14, 2021. Cuomo had extended the deadline in May to January 2021 due to coronavirus-related delays in the court system.

“The Child Victims Act has allowed more than 3,000 brave survivors to come forward to seek justice,” said Democratic state Sen. Brad Hoylman. “Yet it’s clear many New Yorkers who survived child sexual abuse haven’t come forward, especially during the COVID-19 crisis which has upended our courts and economy.” Source: Catholic News Agency, 8-3-20

The Catholic Episcopal Corporation of St. John’s is financially liable for sexual abuse at the Mount Cashel orphanage in the 1950s, ruled Newfoundland and Labrador’s highest court. The archdiocese must now pay about $2 million to 4 lead plaintiffs. Mount Cashel, operated by the Christian Brothers, was closed in 1990 and torn down in 1992. Source: Canadian Press, 7-29-20


Emil S. Payer, 75, Unity, IN, had his name added by the Catholic Diocese of Greensburg to its list of clergy with “credible and substantiated” claims of sexual abuse. Payer was convicted in 2014 of stealing $98,033 from the Church of the Seven Dolors in Yukon and was sentenced to 10 years’ probation and restitution.

He was removed from active ministry in 2011 when the theft was discovered. The diocese plans to reconsider Payer’s living situation on church property, said spokesman Jerry Zufelt. Source: Tribune-Review, 8-26-20

Robson de Oliveira Pereira, 46, a Catholic Redemptorist priest who is rector at the Basílica do Divino Pai Eterno in Trindade, Brazil, is under investigation for allegedly embezzling more than $21 million donated to the shrine.

Pereira, a media celebrity, manages a set of associations connected to the shrine, which is a popular pilgrimage site. It’s suspected Pereira used deception and shell corporations to mislead officials and create obstacles to the funds’ transparency while enriching himself and his associates. Source: Crux, 8-26-20

Four Catholic dioceses in Kansas — Wichita, Salina, Dodge City and Kansas City — plus the conservative Society of St. Pius X, a breakaway sect, have had 205 allegations of clergy abuse lodged, according to a probe by the state Bureau of Investigation.

The agency convened a 6-agent task force in early 2019 at the request of Republican Attorney General Derek Schmidt, who has opened 120 cases stemming from the allegations. The neighboring state of Missouri has a similar task force. Source: Wichita Eagle, 8-13-20

The Catholic Diocese of Covington, KY, announced that 59 priests and 31 others associated with the church — deacons, teachers, brothers, nuns and laypersons — sexually abused children since the 1950s. The report was compiled by a pair of former FBI agents. Of the accused priests, all but 14 are dead.

“I sincerely hope that this report will bring at least some sense of closure to those whose lives have been forever changed by the egregious behavior of those who were pledged to care for God’s little ones,” said Bishop Roger Foys. Source: WLWT, 8-1-20

Removed / Resigned

Virgil M. “Maxey” Wheeler III, 63, Old Metairie, LA, was removed as an ordained deacon at St. Francis Xavier Catholic Parish due to an allegation of abuse from 20 years ago. Wheeler’s attorney Eddie Castaing denounced the “scurrilous and false allegations.”

Wheeler is a prominent attorney who has served on the boards of directors for Archdiocese of New Orleans charities, including the Catholic Community Foundation. He won’t serve on any boards during the investigation, according to the archdiocese. He was among the 2007 alumni of the year at Loyola University. Source: WWL/Times Picayune, 8-4-20

John Ortberg, 63, Menlo Park, CA, resigned from Menlo Church, a megachurch he pastored for 17 years. He was placed on leave in late 2019 after elders learned he let a volunteer who had admitted an attraction to children work with them at the church. It later came out that Daniel Lavery, Ortberg’s son, had emailed the elders about the situation.

Ortberg returned to the pulpit last spring after an inquiry, but the issue flared up again after Lavery revealed that the accused volunteer was his younger brother, a fact Ortberg withheld from the congregation. Source: Washington Post, 7-29-20

Ibraheem Lunat resigned as imam at Masjid Al-Jumu’ah, a Muslim mosque in Bolingbrook, IL, after Instagram videos and photos posted by Lunat came to light.

“Hijabi season is now gone and hoe-jabi season is finally upon us,” Lunat said in a video that included a “checklist” of tips for women, such as using perfume “to let all the boys in town know you’re back and ready for business — huzzah, open sesame,” and wearing a “skintight” abaya, or overcoat, “to make that booty pop” and attract attention from “n——.”

Other posts included captions about “bagging your first cougar,” “smash a single mom” and an explicit joke about pedophile priests. Source: Religion News Service, 7-28-20

Rich Perry, former pastor at St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church in Missoula, MT, has been permanently removed from ministry due to credible claims he sexually abused a minor girl in the late 1970s or early 1980s in Seattle. Perry will live under a safety plan at Sacred Heart Jesuit Center in Los Gatos, CA.

Perry was sent to the center in October 2019 for a separate matter, after a woman came forward with a claim of “inappropriate contact,” which Perry admitted to at the time. Source: The Missoulian, 7-27-20


Francisco José Cox, 86, a Chilean archbishop removed from the priesthood in 2018, died without facing trial on allegations of sexually abusing minors. His death was due to “respiratory failure and multisystemic failure,” said a statement by the Schoenstatt Fathers, his original religious order, which was founded in Germany in 1914.

He was buried the same day he died, with only his 4 brothers present. Pope Francis removed Cox from the priesthood after an investigation conducted by the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Source: Crux, 8-14-20

Email: [email protected]

Steve Benson cartoon

Overheard (October 2020)

Ordinary people with extraordinary vision can redeem the soul of America by getting in what I call good trouble, necessary trouble. Voting and participating in the democratic process are key. The vote is the most powerful nonviolent change agent you have in a democratic society. You must use it because it is not guaranteed. You can lose it.

John Lewis, former U.S. representative and civil rights leader, in an op-ed he wrote to be published on the day of his funeral.

The New York Times, 7-30-20

Because the dominant framing of face coverings is that they are foreign, a sign of submission, and an assault to American values, our country is now unable to cover when it is literally an issue of life and death. Islamophobia has long been a danger to Muslim Americans’ health, but COVID-19 has made it clear that misperceptions about Muslim practices affect the health of non-Muslims as well.

Liz Bucar, in the article “Islamophobia and American’s problems with face masks.” Bucar is a professor of religion at Northeastern University., 9-3-20

I say this lovingly — not as an ideologue, but as someone who prides himself on being open to argument, interested in evidence — but I quite literally have no patience for climate change deniers. It’s completely inconsistent, that point of view, with the reality on the ground, the facts as we are experiencing.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom, discussing how the state will continue to pursue policies that combat climate change as California battles another round of deadly wildfires., 9-8-20

QAnon community construction, from the start, has emphasized a traditionalist American morality that is closely aligned with popular Christianity. “Q” himself posts in a style that both invokes evangelical talking points and encourages deep scriptural research.

Brian Friedberg, a senior researcher at the Harvard Shorenstein Center’s Technology and Social Change project, in the article “Evangelicals are looking for answers online. They’re finding QAnon instead.”, 8-26-20

They Said What? (September 2020)

He’s following the radical left agenda, take away your guns, destroy your 2nd Amendment, no religion, no anything, hurt the bible, hurt God. He’s against God.

President Trump, in an attack on Joe Biden, a lifelong Catholic, in a tweet.

Washington Post, 8-6-20

I’m going to call for three days of fasting and prayer for our state for July 20 through the 22. . . . This will be the spiritual diet and exercise that I, as a Catholic Christian, believe is very important anyway. So we’ll be doing lunch fasting for those three days and certainly praying as well, praying for the people of Louisiana, praying for those who are sick, praying for those who care for those who are sick, and certainly praying for the families of those who have passed on.

Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards, in a press conference.

Newsweek, 7-16-20

I’m not going to argue with you. Jesus is King. . . . Trump is the closest president we’ve had in years to allowing God to still be part of the conversation.

Billionaire rap superstar Kanye West, in an interview conceding that he is running for president as a spoiler to siphon votes from the Democratic challenger and continues to have a relationship with the Trump White House.

Forbes, 8-6-20

It’s fine that we minister to everyone. It’s not OK to have an abortion. It’s not OK to marry the same sex.

Paula White, White House “spiritual adviser” and leader of the government’s “Faith and Opportunity Initiative” program, in a sermon.

Right Wing Watch, 7-20-20

As a country, I would hope that a part of what we’re learning right now is the destructive aspects of loveless, godless leadership. Do not elect people that don’t have God and love in their hearts.

Actor Will Smith, during an interview with CNN’s Angela Rye.

The Friendly Atheist, 7-17-20

The left is going to tell you there’s this separation of church and state, and that’s just nowhere in the Constitution, nowhere in American law. That’s nothing that our founding principles ever, uh, derived whatsoever.

Jenna Ellis, President Trump’s senior campaign legal adviser, during a Zoom event hosted by Asian Pacific Americans for Trump.

The Daily Beast, 7-28-20

Tyranny is built plank by plank. The Jews didn’t one day get called to the edge of the railroad and told to get onto the boxcars.

Pastor Matthew Trewhella of Mercy Seat Christian Church in West Allis, Wis., comparing a potential mask mandate in Brookfield, Wis., to the Holocaust.

Fox 6, 7-23-20

I really do believe that those who are trying to undo this president, those who are trying to destroy me, trying to destroy Michael Flynn, who’s a very good man and great American patriot war hero, I do believe they’re satanic. . . . I don’t believe that any of these people involved in my prosecution are really believers in God.

Roger Stone, political consultant and adviser to Donald Trump who was convicted of obstruction, witness tampering and lying to Congress, in an interview with CBN’s David Brody.

Christian Broadcasting Network, 7-15-20

If aliens are real, salvation through Jesus Christ is the only way they enter heaven.

Texas state Rep. Jonathan Stickland.

Twitter, 7-24-20

Crankmail (September 2020)

Here is this month’s collection of contemptible correspondence collated for your consumption. Printed as received.

Cross on mural: Unless you live in my town, we will put crosses where we want. Do not ever tell our community what to place in a public place. Freedom from religion is your choice but your rights end where mine begin. — Barb Seversen

I have a question: why did you X some of the Ten Commandments is it because you broke some of the rules or is it because your life is so bad that you had to do that because I know the one thing I had asked God Jesus and the Holy Spirit for forgiveness and when I did I started to believe even more that I’m not selfish I don’t love money I don’t let money control me so my heart turn to kindness love caring so now that we love God Jesus and the Holy Spirit even more now they would never let any harm come to me and my husband because for one thing we really truly love God not out of fake oh an what we are saying is not a lie it’s the truth because nobody should never ever BLAME/HATE!! God Jesus and and the Holy Spirit. Or somebody doing something that they did on their own — Petra Vesperson

Freedom: Why must the intolerant left continuously push their agenda on the rest of us. We are a country based on Judeo Christian values and beliefs, there is much evidence of it thruout our history and it should be respected. Shame on you for imposing your views on what the majority of Americans believe, cherish and respect! — Rick Robinson

Thank you: This organization needs to close! Our foundation as a country is based on Christ and the recognition that we are all under GOD! I pray that you change your ways and he forgives you all from the terror that you breed. God have mercy for your souls. You’re the problem not the solution ! — Scot Nesom

APPALLED APPALLED APPALLED: North America was founded on Godliness. Check American coins “In God We Trust”. Ron Reagan is DISGUSTINGLY BOLD. My heart aches for blinded people like him. PLEASE don’t engage me in conflicting conversation. If Ron is ‘happy to burn in hell’, I won’t stand in his way. Very disappointed that your deplorable organization would would tie up airwaves that could be used for good. — Dick Janzen

You are what is wrong with America: We are praying for your salvation. But even as Atheists, how can you spread such hate across America. Have courage to be decent and don’t hide behind your weak arguments. You should be shut down as a domestic terrortist organization. I pray for peace in your empty souls. How sad and weak you must feel every day. Your ignorance and hate is well hidden by your arrogance. — Daniel McNeill

us constitution: Separation of Church and State is NOT in the US Constitution, you should actually take a moment to read it for once!. Americans are sick and tired of your organization destroying America. Which of the Ten Commandments is offensive? Nothing in them is destructive. We are not afraid of you and we will NOT give in to your organization, at all costs! Any court agreeing with you is declared incompetent and we will NOT comply with their rulings. The Bible is FACT, not an opinion. Evolution is fiction, get over it. Do what is right and disband your organization, you are NOT welcome in the USA, your organization is a cancer on humanity and should be removed. — Michael Henton

Constitution: Your organization is a shame and is disrespectful to the constitution – except for your beliefs. Never have i been so disgusted with people attacking religions for no reason. Atheism religion should be attacked also, and you are destroying hope in majority of people. You are a greedy, unjust organization and should be defended. Your organization is a manipulation of words to use to your advantage to encourage hate, and hopelessness in anything. You should be ashamed of yourselves but I am sure that you have no feelings. You are on the same level as a serial killer. You have made a mockery of the seperation of church and state and turned us into a hopeless country. , Horrible — Kathleen Hoffman

Ignorance: It’s okay, your limited minds will one day come to grasp the reality around you. You simply haven’t discovered that aspect of our existence yet. In the meantime, you might want to curtail your Nazi-like marches on the truth others have discovered, that you yourself have not. You might not look as foolish when you realize said Truth. Ironically, God will forgive your ignorance even though you refuse to forgive the “ignorance” of those who know the truth. — Juan de Santos

Letterbox (September 2020)

In my father’s footsteps as FFRF Life Member

It is the one-year anniversary of the death of my father, Dr. Ludwig Koukal. He was a Lifetime Member and I would like to follow in his footsteps and become a Lifetime Member.

While I was growing up, my father was a quiet atheist. Back then, it was not so easy to come out of the closet, so to speak, and admit or talk about being an atheist. After he retired and moved to Arizona, he became much more engaged and open about his atheism and his passion for the separation of state and church.

It took me a long time to be able to call myself an atheist without the fear or the disapproving or judgmental looks it could generate.

Keep up the good and important work that you do!

Lisa C. D’Andrea
New York

Loved the pet pictures in June/July issue

I appreciated seeing all the photos of your pets in the June/July issue. I turned straight to the back page to look at them. Thank you.

Theresa Kyte

I’ll let Mormons give me after-death baptism

This is regarding the two columns in the June/July issue: “I’m in the last scene of the last act” by James A. Haught and “I have no problem contemplating life’s end” by Barbara G. Walker.

If I were a “kid” in my 60s or mid-70s, those titles alone would have turned me off. But now, like many others my age, I just wish I could turn the sand clock of my life upside down when the last grain hits bottom.

Yet, as a most welcome alternative to mortality, those two articles are like a balm to my soul — oops, to my mind.

As a gesture of goodwill, and even though I’m an atheist, I’m leaving something to the Mormons in my last will. Because their church is obsessed with performing after-death baptisms, I’m allowing them to baptize not just me when I am dead, but also the worms feasting on my corpse.

After all, the gentle St. Francis called those lowly creatures “brothers and sisters.”  So, shouldn’t they too enjoy the bliss of Paradise?

David Quintero

FFRF should not have printed offensive letter

As a long-standing FFRF Member and member of the Lake Superior Freethinkers, I was very disappointed to see William Dusenberry’s letter (“Which state has most religiously trained teachers?”) printed in the Letterbox in the June/July issue.

I would think that such obvious discrimination would have been recognized by FFRF for what it is. The letter suggests that anyone who graduates from a “religious institution of indoctrination” should not be certified to teach in public schools.

I firmly believe in separation of church and state. But to assume that anyone who attended a religion-affiliated college must believe in such crap, much less would indoctrinate their students, is extremely offensive.

I graduated in 1970 from Augustana College, a Lutheran-affiliated private college. I’ve served the public for decades working for various nonprofits, and I met my wife at Augustana College. She became an incredibly talented and dedicated elementary public school teacher. I have always been an outspoken atheist, as was my now-deceased wife.

To suggest that one should be pre-judged based upon the school they attended is nothing short of blatant discrimination and should not be promoted by FFRF.

Kent Nusbaum

Editor’s note: FFRF allows the viewpoints of its members to be addressed in the Letterbox section, but FFRF does not necessarily endorse those viewpoints.

I share much in common with James A. Haught

I have much in common with James Haught. He is 88, I am 87. We are both contemplating the end of a good life. I recently was diagnosed with metastatic cancer. I spent 30 years in his beloved West Virginia. We are both outspoken atheists and, despite limits on our ability to enjoy nature and physical activity, we still enjoy a good concert. I share with James a definite lack of fear about the inevitable, except that the lovely music will end.

Harold L. Saferstein

Maybe God tests our willingness to find truth

Christians who don’t believe in evolution sometimes claim that the evidence for evolution in the Grand Canyon was planted by God to test our faith. Why don’t they use the same argument for explaining the errors in the bible?

It seems to me that the “evidence” God planted was not to test faith, which is a horrible concept, but more likely a test of our willingness to pursue and believe the truth, which is a great concept.

In other words, God will respect those who judge the geologists’ findings as real evidence that evolution is true. Those who blindly follow the cult and refuse to listen to reason will be frowned upon by God. Maybe — just maybe — atheists will go to heaven and believers will go to hell! But then, heaven and hell are just more false evidence for God. Darn it!

Alan Wagner

‘Cousin Charlie’ says ‘hi’ from California

I am delighted to announce that I have become a member of FFRF!

I find it interesting that you are headquartered in Madison, Wis., which is home to many of my relatives, all devout Catholics. Perhaps you can hand deliver copies of Freethought Today to them and just tell them they’re from “Cousin Charlie.”

Charles Oakey

Editor’s note: Sorry, Charlie, you’ll have to do that yourself.

Page of pet photos was fun diversion from world

Between COVID-19 and a moron mismanaging the country, these are tough, tough times. But someone with insight made a good call regarding the pet page in the June/July issue. Incarcerated at home with a White Power president, we badly need some fun and diversion.

I realize you all do serious and important tasks all day, but I was intrigued by [FFRF staffer Lauryn Seering’s pet gecko] Darwin! What does he eat? Is he nocturnal? How about personality? Lauryn has to be a great person to have such a great pet.

Thanks for your good work.

Helaine Flan
North Carolina

Find out the category of pro-lifer’s stance

The article in the August issue by Miklos Jako on “How to argue with Christians” is very good.

I ask the following question when talking with pro-life people: Is your opinion political, religious or philosophical? If political, shame on you.

If religious, St. Thomas Aquinas, the great Catholic theologian, said that the soul is not rational until “the body is ready to accept it.” And the bible says absolutely nothing about abortion.

If the argument is philosophical, then we can talk. The human brain does not start developing until the sixth week and it is not fully developed until the 33rd week after conception. If the brain fails, the individual is considered dead.

Dr. George Domingo

This poem on death is artful and comforting

Perhaps many of you admirable freethinkers know this poem. I find it not only confirmation of my lifelong freethinking beliefs, but artful and, yes, comforting. Thank you for all you do to lead humans out of the confines of certainty.

“Antidotes to Fear of Death” by Rebecca Elson.

Sometimes as an antidote

To fear of death,

I eat the stars.

Those nights, lying on my back,

I suck them from the quenching dark

Til they are all, all inside me,

Pepper hot and sharp.

Sometimes, instead, I stir myself

Into a universe still young,

Still warm as blood:

No outer space, just space,

The light of all the not yet stars

Drifting like a bright mist,

And all of us, and everything

Already there

But unconstrained by form.

And sometime it’s enough

To lie down here on earth

Beside our long ancestral bones:

To walk across the cobble fields

Of our discarded skulls,

Each like a treasure, like a chrysalis,

Thinking: whatever left these husks

Flew off on bright wings.

Alexandra Moffat
New Hampshire

What if Jesus was killed by guillotine?

What if the Romans had invented the guillotine? (They most certainly possessed the means.) What if they had adopted that eminently effective device for their routine disposal of undesirables?

Imagine Jesus having to drag one of those things through the narrow streets of Jerusalem. Would they have even bothered with the flogging and crown of thorns?

At Golgotha, would other guillotines have been waiting, in order that a brace of criminals be simultaneously decapitated to either side of him, or would all three have had to queue up for a single machine? Might authorities have then been tempted to impale Jesus’ head on the city wall as a trophy — miles perhaps, from the tomb —thereby seriously complicating a resurrection?

Or, interred disconnected, would the risen Christ have reappeared, noggin tucked gloriously under one arm, exhorting his mesmerized followers to “go and do likewise?”

And how would all that be enshrined today? Would church steeples everywhere feature spot-lit guillotines? Would some have a full-scale replica bolted to a wall behind the altar? Would the faithful wear tiny, gilded guillotines suspended from delicate necklaces? Would impressive rows of whitewashed guillotines stretch across the perfect green lawns of martial cemeteries?

The inventiveness of the Romans is legendary, exempli gratia, roads, bridges, aqueducts, concrete and indoor plumbing. Nonetheless, for public execution they settled on a technology that was cheap, easy to use and had no moving parts.

What if Pontius Pilate were to observe how in our time his go-to implement of torture, humiliation and death has become venerated, yea worshipped, as a symbol of everlasting life? Would he find it curious, laughable, dangerous or merely pathetic?

Michael Brandt

FFRF worthy of donation from my stimulus check

I received my check from the government and was stimulated to donate the funds to individuals in need and organizations doing worthy service. FFRF is the most important and effective organization protecting and defending our constitutional democracy.

I was particularly interested in the May issue article that presented the Jeff Sharlet convention speech about “The Family.” Margaret Atwood’s vision of Gilead is disturbingly possible. It was also stunning to recently learn that President Trump’s attorney Jay Sekulow came out of the Pat Robertson organization.

Please accept this donation and continue your good works defending our secular way of life.

James R. Baxter

Ban the Orthodox ritual of slaughtering chickens

In all probability, the disgusting and hazardous Bronze Age ritual known as Kaporos, in which thousands of chickens are slaughtered by Orthodox Jewish men, will most likely be allowed to proceed this year on the streets of Brooklyn as usual, the coronavirus pandemic notwithstanding. [See page 12 for news brief.]

The men twirl the doomed fowls around their heads three times before sacrificing them to Jehovah in the belief that their sins will be transferred to the birds.

Many New Yorkers, including some members of the Orthodox community, are calling on the authorities to prohibit this annual massacre, which poses a clear hazard to public health. However, the financially powerful, bloc-voting Orthodox community always gets it way with our pandering political leaders and judges, and has viewed itself as above secular laws for years, with good reason.

The defenders of this annual religious event point out that millions of chickens are slaughtered each year, but neglect to note that the industrial killing occurs indoors, subject to stringent regulations, and not on public streets, with thousands of men armed with knives crowded together, with the gory results splattered all over the ground, left to be cleaned up by the sanitation department at taxpayer expense.

The fact that the Orthodox Jewish community has been especially hard hit by Covid-19 due to its resistance to social distancing and large families makes it even more imperative that this event be canceled, if not abolished for good. This mass ritual slaughter has no place on New York streets or anywhere in the United States in the 21st century.

Dennis Middlebrooks
New York

Where do you ‘Freethought’? At the Louvre in Paris. We went and returned just prior to the shutdown. I brought my Freethought Today with my husband and we had our picture taken at the museum.
Tobin Wirt and Robert King

People are rational for all but Super Santa

I enjoy all the issues of Freethought Today, but I was especially captured by Ted Ottinger’s “Pondering death from different perspectives” column in the June/July issue. Like Ted, I’m a special educator by training. I have a brother who is a fundamentalist Mennonite, a sister who is a fundamentalist Mormon and I grew up in a very religious Mennonite home.

One thing that amused me for years is the ready dismissal by my fundamentalist relatives and others of things like fairies and elves, and especially Santa Claus, as myths because they are obviously inconsistent with rational analyses. They easily see the ridiculousness of belief in Santa, but not Super Santa!

So, I came up with a seasonal song about how this might go along with their beliefs:

You’d better watch out

You’d better comply

You’d better not doubt

I’m tellin’ you why

Super Santa’s comin’ to town!

He’s makin’ a list

Checkin’ it twice

Gonna reveal whose Santalogy’s right

Super Santa’s comin’ to town!

Funny, perhaps, but stranger to me than many things in this world is the application of science and reason to many things, perhaps most things, but adamant refusal to apply the same rationality and healthy skepticism to beliefs considered religious.

James M. Kauffman