Meet a staffer: FFRF’s McDonald relishes working on the front lines

Joseph McDonald

Name: Joseph F. McDonald

Where and when I was born: Madison, Wis., in 1991.

Education: All from UW-Madison — B.A. in psychology, ’14; B.A. in social welfare, ’14; Global Health Certificate, ’14; Master of Public Health, ’20; Juris Doctor, ’20.

Family: I am the second youngest of six children.

How I came to work at FFRF: I was, and still am, teaching public education and law at the University of Wisconsin-Madison when my mentor let me know that FFRF was hiring a legal fellow.

What I do here: I am the Patrick O’Reiley Legal Fellow. I primarily have the great privilege of advocating on behalf of members and nonmembers by writing letters to individuals and organizations who have violated the Constitution. I also work on various legal projects in our litigation and legal education teams.

What I like best about it: Not only do I get to advance the things that I believe in, but I also get to advocate for real people. Law school can be an exhaustingly hypothetical playhouse. FFRF’s attorneys, leadership and members make the legal landscape real and I get to be on the frontlines as a legal advocate.

What gets old about it: Working remotely! I know it’s not an inherent part of the job, but it is real, nonetheless. I started with FFRF remotely and I’ve only met a handful of people in-person. I’m excited for the world to get vaccinated so that we can return to the office.

Working from home has been: Exhausting! It’s by far the toughest part of the job. I’m a very person-centered advocate, so when I can’t discuss grievances and gripes in-person with my fellow attorneys, it makes the work all the more difficult.

I spend a lot of time thinking about: Whether I should exercise first or read. It is quite the morning dilemma. I then seem to default to wondering why I got a kitten as she attempts to bite my feet, which is normally how I start my day.

I spend little if any time thinking about: It’s counterintuitive to think about something to then say I don’t think about it. But something I scarcely think about? Harry Belafonte. Yeah, that seems random enough.

My religious upbringing was: I grew up attending a Christian African Methodist Episcopal Zion church. I attended Sunday school and sang in the choir.

My doubts about religion started: Pretty young. I’d say 8 years old. I started to see how people would treat certain folks in the church differently and even tell me not to associate with certain other children. But we were all members of the same church. And, over time, I understood that church was just a social club and religion was the arbitrary social rulebook. By the time I was 13, I realized it had little to do with goodness, but a lot to do with social order and money.

Things I like: Napping in a canoe on the lake in the summer sun.

Things I smite: People who assume their own rightness without ever challenging their own assumptions.

In my golden years: Assuming we’re talking about the crest of life and not the classic David Bowie song, I’d like to spend my time leading students on outdoor retreats.

Meet a member: Executive Board member passionate on state/church separation

Todd Peissig sells chances to win “clean money” (without “In God We Trust” on it) during the FFRF convention in Madison, Wis., in 2019.
(Photo by Ingrid Laas)
FFRF Board Member Todd Peissig

Name: Todd Peissig

Where I live: Medford, Wis.

Where and when I was born: Milwaukee in 1966.

Family: Mother, father and one sister — all atheists and all members of FFRF.

Education: Bachelor of science degree in pharmacy from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Why I volunteer for FFRF: I am passionate about state/church separation issues. Church violations do a tremendous amount of damage to many people. I was personally affected for many years, not being able to marry the person I love because same-sex marriage was NOT the law until 2015, all because it was opposed by the Religious Right.

What I do for FFRF: I am an FFRF Executive Board member, and we meet several times per year making  important decisions on the running of the organization and its employees, which is not only fascinating, but also very fulfilling.

What I like best about it: A very enjoyable part of my volunteering is getting to run the “clean money” raffles, along with my partner Eric, at the annual FFRF conventions. However, I consider it a privilege to be just a small part of FFRF, helping it to fight the battles of the state/church violations.

My religious upbringing was: My family was never deeply religious, however, my mother always thought attending church was important only because it was the “thing to do,” since most people where we lived attended church. She eventually realized the uselessness of church and now calls herself an atheist and, along with my father, is a proud Life Member of FFRF.

My doubts about religion started: As I made my way through middle school, then high school I became fascinated with science and realized that the religious teachings made no sense and many were, in fact, factually impossible. By the time I was 18 years old, I asked my parents if I could stop going to church and they were liberal enough to let me make my own decision.

So, I never stepped foot in a church again.

Three words that sum me up: Inquisitive, skeptical and passionate.

Person in history I admire and why: Michelangelo was an Italian sculptor, painter, architect and poet. He seems like he was extremely intelligent and a truly enlightened man for his time. In his lifetime, he was often referred to as Ill Divino (the Divine One) and it seems to me that if you are going to be “divine,” instilling a sense of awe in the eyes of your fellow man is one of the best ways you can accomplish it.

A quotation I like: “I may not agree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” — Voltaire

Things I like: FFRF, traveling all over the world with my partner, eating foods from different ethnic regions, reading, collecting art and antiquing.

Things I smite: State/church violations, right-wing politics, cold weather and desserts made with coconut.

Ways I promote freethought: Besides being a Life Member of FFRF, I am a member of several other freethought groups, always trying to educate myself on the current trends and issues. I always communicate freely with friends, family and co-workers my feelings on freethought issues and educate them on the harm that religion has caused humanity. I like to think that I may somehow “enlighten” them.

Overheard (April 2021)

No more hopes and prayers, thoughts and prayers. A vote is what we need, a vote, not thoughts and prayers.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, vowing that the Senate would vote on the Bipartisan Background Checks Act of 2021, which passed the House March 17 in a 227-203 vote.

Fox News, 3-17-21


I am being made a criminal for posting a f****ing photograph on Instagram. . . . We are going backwards in time, more backward thinking. It is a violation of the most basic human laws. . . . I don’t think the public know the details of the level of harassment I have been through. It is getting monstrous, and it is a growing tide of censorship and harassment.

Polish heavy-metal singer Adam “Nergal” Graski, after appealing a sentence for blasphemy after stepping on a photo of the Virgin Mary in an Instagram post.

The Irish Times, 2-24-21


It was not surprising that the majority of Pakistan chose to hail my father’s killer as a hero, as they are brainwashed into believing that blasphemy laws are essential to their existence.

Mashal Naseem, daughter of Tahir Naseem, the U.S. citizen who was murdered in Pakistan over blasphemy allegations.

Vice.com, 2-23-21


You used God to enslave my foreparents. You used God to segregate me in school. You used God to put me in the back of the bus. Have you no shame? . . . This is not about God. It’s about men who choose to discriminate against other people because they have the power to do so.

Rep. Al Green of New York, just prior to the U.S. House passing the Equality Act, in a speech targeted to Republicans who have claimed their religion led them to oppose civil rights protections for LGBTQ persons.

The Friendly Atheist, 2-27-21


The truth is, many conservative Christians embraced Rush Limbaugh because they had already embraced a faith that championed an us-vs.-them militancy, the denigration of liberals and feminists, the sexual objectification of women, an appreciation for coarse language and even violence when directed at the right targets, and a thinly veiled misogyny that kept women in their (God-given) place. . . . Crassness, callousness, righteous violence, and even sexual aggression are signs of God-given, testosterone-driven masculinity.

Kristin Kobes du Mez, in her article “No, Rush Limbaugh did not hack your parents’ Christianity.”

Religion Dispatches, 2-22-21


The case against “education savings accounts,” as those attempting to make vouchers seem more appealing call them, is not complicated. There is the issue of separation of church and state when sending taxpayer money to religious institutions. Private and charter schools don’t have to follow the same regulations that public schools do, leaving kids at risk.

Amy Moore, in an op-ed, “Iowa should renew its public schools, not abandon them.

Des Moines Register, 2-20-21


The Supreme Court has increasingly exempted religious believers from government regulations, and it is clear by their statements that individual justices on the right think religion is under siege in America.

Joan Biskupic, in the article, “Right-wing justices think religion is under siege. Will the full Supreme Court follow?”

CNN, 2-17-21


I’m actually not surprised that evangelicals are more likely to believe those kinds of things. Evangelicals are not socially isolated, but they are informationally isolated.

Samuel Perry, a professor of sociology at the University of Oklahoma, about how the QAnon conspiracy theory takes hold among evangelicals more than others.

FiveThirtyEight.com, 3-4-21


Atheists, in general, are understudied. And when they are studied, they are not studied well.

David Speed, professor of psychology at the University of New Brunswick in St. John, Canada.

Religion News Service, 3-4-21

Crankmail (April 2021)

Here’s your April version of emails, letters and social media comments FFRF receives from its, shall we say, critics. Published as received.

This months JOKE tv show!!: SECULAR JEWS!!! OK, YOU WANT FREEDOM FROM RELIGION. WHAT A GROSS BUNCH OF SCUMBAG LYING SCOUNDRELS!!!!!! YOUR MAIN ALLIANCE IS WITH “SECULAR”!?!?!?!? WHAT A JOKE. CHANGE WILL COME AND YOU SCUM LIARS CAN GO WITH YOUR “SECULAR” BED MATES. WHAT SCUM!!!!!!!!!! — Elliot Raj

Stop Praying: If you do not want people praying at Osceola County School Board meetings then you are what is wrong with this country! — Jackson Treadle

Evidence: like there is no God isnt evidence based at all and cant ever be disproved. There is no God and everything created itself please that defies the Laws of science the laws of thermodynamics evolution atheism a pipe dream a fantasy for grown is who dont want the truth because they want wickedness. Theres people smarter than these clowns who have literally tried to disprove scriptures and ended up receiving Jesus Christ as their personal Saviour. Jesus died for our sins was buried and rose again the third day FACT. The leaders hated him yet they never found even a nail of his but an empty tomb. — Christopher Rathmann

Our rights: You have the freedom to be in our Wonderful Country. We Do To. We Don’t tell you what to believe in and you have no right to tell us what we can do here in our country. If you don’t bwant God to be in your life that’s fine He doesn’t make you do that either. You Don’t have any Right to change our rights. You do your thing and we’ll do ours. If you don’t want to pray during a game or what ever your at that prays that’s find but Don’t push your stuff on us. I am so sick of you people coming in and pushing your ways on us. You Choose to Not Believe. Satan Believes in God and he trembles. Your choice. Don’t bow your head. — Linda Rentmeester

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

Godless: there is no good in a godless society. in a godless world there is no moral laws.  you are only proving how dumb you  god rejecting people are. you godless people have no moral foundation. ffrf is lying in their book. they promote the religion and cult of atheism. godless world view there is no such thing as good. there is no morality in a godless world view. humanist is purely a satanic religious cult just like atheism is,. — Dean Festiger

FFRF: 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 Dontang

Biting my tongue: I am a Christian…that said I have some decidedly un-Christian things to say to you regarding your recent threats of a lawsuit. I do hope that you see the irony in bullying people for what they believe, as that seems to be the sole purpose for your organizations existence, yet, you can’t just sit idly by and tolerate (another keyword you hobgoblins like so much but don’t understand fully) that you are not the majority. I’m not going to shout or even espouse hellfire & damnation as that would only fuel your hatred for every human being other that the infinitesimally small minority..  Quinn Perkolast

Go away!: You are a bunch of atheist who get offended by religious people is absolutely hysterical. It sounds like you are all nothing but a bunch of lawyers trying to find ways to sue people and make money. As the saying goes.., the only good lawyer is a dead lawyer! Now stop bothering people you fucking assholes! When the time does come you will get what is coming to you! — John Ably

Freethought books (April 2021)

Humankind’s Best and Worst Concepts
The Truth Shall Make You Free

The following books are by FFRF members on the topics of religion or freethinking. FFRF does not do book reviews. These books are not offered through ffrf.org/shop.


The Truth Shall Make You Free: How an All-American, Southern Boy and Preacher Became an Atheist

By Samuel W. Whitehead

$7.20 (Kindle)

$7.96 (Paperback)

Sam Whitehead was raised in a strict religious family and was a teenage preacher. At age 22, he began a 40-year quest of research and reflection to prove that his faith was the one “true” religion and that God was real. He reluctantly came to the conclusion that there is no God and that no religion is true. Staunch believers in God and readers who are trying to find their own truth will find Sam’s journey compelling. This serious work challenges believers to live up to their creed and reflects the humor in many situations along the way.


A Discussion of Humankind’s Best and Worst Concept: Reason, Belief, Faith, Religion and Science

By Kenneth Stueben

Paperback $14.99

Kindle $2.99

How do each of us come to believe what makes up our store of knowledge? What’s real or true and what’s not and why the difference is critically important to humankind. It progresses from mythological creation myths and superstitions to “New Age” beliefs to a summary of the countless gods of the past and then examines some of the religions that are common today. The author also discusses the bible, prayer and miracles, marriage, abortion, contraception and homosexuality. The benefits and down

Crazy Little Thing Called Love

sides of religion are discussed and that leads to another question­ — Would the world be better without religion?


Crazy Little Thing Called Love

By Graham Sale

Paperback $19.99

A collection of cartoons on God and religion by Pulitzer Prize-nominated cartoonist Graham Sale. His cartoons and illustrations have appeared in newspapers (including Freethought Today), magazines, advertising, books, clothing and other products around the world.

They Said What? (April 2021)

Becoming too closely aligned with militias — is that a bad thing?

Ryan Kelley, lead organizer of an armed protest at the Michigan Statehouse in April, quoted upon announcing his bid for governor.

The New York Times, 2-9-21


Not every issue is equal. This [abortion] is not climate change or immigration of taxes. The sanctity of human life, from conception to natural death, is a non-negotiable part of Catholic self-understanding.

Jose Gomez, archbishop of Los Angeles, president of the U.S. Catholic Bishops Conference, unilaterally condemning President Biden’s support for abortion rights in a statement issued on Inauguration Day (that contrasted its Inauguration Day welcome in 2017 to Donald Trump).

Los Angeles Times, 2-8-21


If they start canceling these American presidents, they’re gonna come after bible characters next. Mark my words.

Fox News host Bill Hemmer

Fox News, 2-19-21


It is a fiction that has been created by some people. There is no establishment of religion. That is very different than the prevention of religion.

Florida state Rep. Randy Fine, sponsor of a bill mandating moments of silence at the beginning of the school day.

Florida Politics, 2-16-21


Notes on the events of Jan. 6. The illusion of a participatory democracy has been burst. You already live in a cult/theocracy — I offer you Christian liberty in a Christian nation.

Fritz Berggren, a mid-ranking Foreign Service officer in the State Department, in a blog post shortly after the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. Berggren for several years has been publicly calling for the establishment of Christian nation-states.

MSN, 2-27-21


Well, I’m telling you when you get that, what do you care what someone else does, if that person wants to come to a mall and they don’t want to get a vaccine. This is our bodies, this is ‘mark of the beast’ stuff.”

Mike Lindell, the “MyPillow” CEO, on how vaccines are allegedly, according to a quasi-religious conspiracy theory, “the work of the devil and . . . that a person is unwittingly pledging allegiance to Satan.”

The Independent, 3-2-21


When men or women claim to be able to choose their own sexual identity, they’re making a statement that God did not know what he was doing when he created them. . . . When a nation’s laws no longer reflect the standards of God, that nation is in rebellion against him and will inevitably bear the consequences.

Rep. Greg Steube, R-Fla., during a House debate ahead of a vote on the passage of the Equality Act, which would ban discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Rep. Jerry Nadler responded perfectly: “Mr. Steube, what any religious tradition describes as God’s will is no concern of this Congress.”

RawStory.com, 2-25-21


[If America] loses its white demographic core and if it loses its faith in Jesus Christ, then this is not America anymore.

Nicholas Fuentes, organizer and host of the “America First Political Action Conference,” which was held concurrently in Orlando, Fla., with the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC).

Forbes, 2-27-21


I have done some research and would like to share it with you on the physical and emotional and even the mental injury to our bodies — and possibly even our souls — as healthy individuals are required to wear face masks.

Idaho Republican state Rep. Karey Hanks, speaking in favor of a bill that would prohibit any mask mandates issued by local government officials.

The Friendly Atheist, 3-4-21

Letterbox (April 2021)

Joe, 94, gets his Covid-19 vaccine

I just received my first Covid-19 shot, but oh, what a runaround I got because I didn’t have a certain bar code. I felt as though I was asking for a million dollars when I went for my vaccination and had to beg as my papers were not in order.

I said, “Have a heart. My hand shakes so much that I can hardly write my name. I do not have a printer on my computer, so I could not print out the bar code.” Apparently, our county has a short supply of vaccine and has to guard  it as if it is their money in the bank. Ha! I had zero reaction from the shot; just frustrated that there was so much red tape to get into the place.

When I was 17 and entered the Navy, we were given many shots on the same day. We walked down a single line, and doctors on both sides of the line were sticking needles in our arms without even looking at faces. One poor guy staggered backwards, and the pharmacists giving the shots, who looked at nothing except arms, shot him again in both arms. The poor guy then fainted and had to be carried away. 

Our arms were so sore from these shots that we were forced to do pushups to work the fluids on through our bodies. The next day I could hardly move my arms. Nothing like that occurs today as we all sit in our cars, roll down our windows, stick our arms out, and that is that. We didn’t even shut off our motors.

Instead of hoarding the formulas, the vaccine formulas should readily be given to more manufacturers, and the government could reimburse the original developers for their work.

Joe Cunningham
Illinois

Editor’s note: Joe, who turns 95 in April, is a longtime FFRF member who served on the FFRF Board of Directors for nearly 30 years.


FFRF Member Joseph Cunningham stands next to FFRF’s “Atheists in Foxholes” monument outside its national office in Madison, Wis. (Photo by Andrew L. Seidel)

‘Unity’ Super Bowl ad was too focused on religion

The Super Bowl ad by Jeep, featuring Bruce Springsteen and showing a church in the “center” of the country and promoting unity in the “Re-United States of America” left me flat.

The current religious make-up in America is about 25 percent nonreligious. So even though that church is “open to everyone,” as an avowed atheist, I have never set foot in it despite standing at that very spot. Do you think any other non-Christian is likely to enter that chapel?

A little history. In 1829, the Delawares were the first Indians to sign a treaty giving them land in what was to become Kansas. After 1830, the Cherokee, Chippewa, Delaware, Iowa, Iroquois, Kaskaskia, Kickapoo, Munsee, Ottawa, Peoria, Piankashaw, Potawatomi, Quapaw, Sac and Fox, Shawnee, Stockbridge, Wea and Wyandot lived there. Although these emigrant tribes were assured by the federal government that they would not be moved again, Kansas Territory opened for settlement in 1854 and once again forced the removal of Native peoples. Many more settlers moved into Kansas Territory after the Civil War, accelerating the movement of Indians off the land. This was displacement by white Christians citing a “manifest destiny” – Christian Nationalism. Placing a Christian chapel there has no purpose other than staking a territorial claim to a religious (white) supremacy.

There can be no unity until there has been accountability. As of now, half of us don’t believe the other half. How does wishing for unity without recognizing a common reality work? Ignoring facts and history will only get us further from each other.

Jack Shields
New Hampshire

Editor’s note: This (edited) letter was originally published in the Concord (N.H.) Monitor on Feb. 14.


Christian Nationalism is a threat to all of us

The horrible events at the Capitol in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 6 were a grim and frightening illustration of the violent potential inherent in the Christian Nationalist movement. The angry mob was seemingly intent on murder and one police officer was indeed killed during the tumultuous riot. Vice President Mike Pence narrowly escaped.

During the ransacking of the Capitol building, some members of the mob paused to pray to their Christian god. They truly believed that their violence was divinely sanctioned. This was the epitome of insane delusional thinking. Using religion to justify this horrendous violence calls to mind dark chapters of American history, where groups such as the Ku Klux Klan felt that the god of Christianity sanctioned a racist social system and the violence that was used to maintain it.

I once thought that American society had progressed beyond the violent Christian Nationalism of the past. I am no longer so optimistic. A new version of Christian Nationalism and its accompanying violence has arrived, and what we witnessed on Jan. 6 was as terrible as any similar events from history.

What can we do? I’m not sure what the solution is. I would hope that all FFRF members will read Andrew L. Seidel`s brilliant book The Founding Myth and educate themselves concerning the illiberal ideology called Christian Nationalism. It’s violent and it’s a threat to us all.

Robert Hunter
Illinois


Column on end-of-life options was appreciated

As a member of Compassion & Choices, I appreciated the article on end-of-life options. My father was very ill, and yet he managed to end his life with dignity, but alone. It would have been better if he could have had compassionate help.

On a lighter note: I love reading the very thoughtful student essays. Congratulations to all the entrants. And I enjoyed doing the crossword puzzle.

Kate Retzlaff
Wisconsin


Asner portraying Bryan seems counterintuitive

I found it interesting and beyond curious that Ed Asner played the real-life character of William Jennings Bryan, impassioned defender of the bible’s veracity, in the play, “Inherit the Wind,” a drama about the 1925 Scopes “monkey” trial.

The play’s protagonist, Clarence Darrow, in character and real life, defended the teacher who was being prosecuted for teaching evolution. Playwrights Robert E. Lee and Jerome Lawrence laced the Darrow character with brilliant arguments revealing the scientific nonsense of Bryan’s unfailing allegiance to scripture.

With Asner’s well-known political and theological positions, I would love to know how he prepared for a role that is so perfectly opposite of his personal beliefs.

Donald Marine
Arizona

Editor’s note: For the answer, watch the “Freethought Matters” interview with Asner (on YouTube).


Blog post calls out Biden’s religious moves

I want to thank Annie Laurie Gaylor for her blog post, “Drop the state religion blither-blather — We need ‘a new day.’” I had inwardly (OK, outwardly, too) recoiled when a Christian prayer was spoken at the civic observance at the Lincoln Memorial that millions of us were sharing, only to be confronted the very next day with that dreadful hymn, “Amazing Grace.”

I doubt those will be isolated instances in the Biden presidency. He has been steeped in the Catholic tea for 78 years. And, although we can be grateful that Biden won’t be grabbing women by their nether regions or inciting an insurrection, he will continue to step on that line separating state from church.

Your article brilliantly detailed the problems these religious actions present to a nation not united by Christianity. I’ve read it twice, shared it with others and saved it to read again someday when I need inspiration.

Marian Wiggins
Washington


Can we stop Florida’s voucher bill from passing?

Congratulations on the perfect rating from Charity Navigator. I’m not surprised, as I see the evidence of how my donations are used every time I read my Freethought Today (cover to cover). By the way, I love the addition of the crossword puzzle. 

I’m impressed by and grateful for FFRF’s accomplishments, transparency and accountability.    

However, I am concerned about Florida Senate Bill 48. It expands Florida’s school voucher programs to the detriment of public schools and the benefit of charter and private schools. The bill would reduce the frequency of audits, increase the yearly growth rate of the voucher programs, and expand the use of public funds for parents to “shop” for private schools or homeschool services. I believe this bill violates the separation of church and state by using public dollars to pay religious or church-affiliated school tuition. 

Yes, I’m already calling legislators to oppose the bill. I thought this might be worth a look for FFRF, or possible legal challenge if (when) it passes.

Thanks for all you do.

Heidi Juhl
Florida


Right-to-die issue has some important caveats

Thank you for the critical article by Lamar Hankins on the right-to-die issue in the January/February Freethought Today.

My late partner took advantage of our state’s Death with Dignity (DwD) program when she was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor. I am a promoter of both the DwD program and the Final Exit Network.

Some information in the article was new and welcome. However, a couple of comments are warranted. Outside of Holland and Switzerland, there are no countries that sanction euthanasia. Medical Assistance in Dying is not a euthanasia program in that one must be terminally ill to be eligible. Hopefully, over time, that will change.

Also, the term “state-sponsored suicide” is not applicable to the DwD programs. When my partner was diagnosed, we found there were two doctors, living here on our island in Washington, associated with the program. One helped write the state law.

He told us they went to great extremes to remove any suggestion of suicide from the bill and that the cause of death was listed as that which would have killed the person had they not enrolled in the program. This is critical for such things as insurance policies and other benefits that are usually withheld in the case of suicide. Terminology is important. That’s one reason I use the term “god-free” instead of “godless.”

Jack Pedigo
Washington


Ben Bova was inspiration as author and editor

I was saddened to hear of the death of Ben Bova. I was the one who brought him to FFRF’s attention as a possible guest on the Freethought Radio show in 2007. I had met Ben at the 1993 Isaac Asimov seminar in New York. Ben was one of the panelists (who made clear his atheism) at the seminar, which dealt with how space exploration could be used to benefit humanity.

He was a very congenial person. He told me that he was a frequent visitor to New York City and that his favorite restaurant was a place near Union Square called Paulie & Jimmy’s. I subsequently dined there a few times and it became one of my favorites.

As a science fiction buff, I have read a number of Bova’s novels and enjoyed them all. He was truly a major figure in the field of science fiction, both as an author and as an editor.

Dennis Middlebrooks
New York


There is help for those with religious trauma

I came across the Feb. 3 YouTube video from “The Hang Up” with Dr. Darrel Ray, with special guest Andrew L. Seidel. I had no idea about the Freedom From Religion Foundation organization before that.

Anyway, I’m an atheist and I’ve been in 12-step recovery for 36 years. I began an Adult Children of Alcoholics (ACA) meeting for atheists, agnostics, freethinkers, humanists and those struggling with the concept of a power greater than themselves. ACA is also a critical support need for people with religious trauma (as it often relates directly back to childhood dysfunction).

I’m also working to start ACA Agnostica. The need is real. We started small (two people) but are now up to three meetings a week with many more participants. If you don’t know about ACA, take the time to learn. Childhood trauma, coupled with religious trauma, is tough to recover from and we are here to help. 

Julianne Vered
Indiana


Carl Sagan story was reminder of ‘Planet’ poem

Hearing that Carl Sagan held his daughter above his head shortly after her birth and told her, “Welcome to the planet Earth” was a delight. I just heard this anecdote in your conversation with Sasha Sagan on the Freethought Radio podcast (Jan. 28), which I listen to every weekend as I prepare submissions of my poetry to various publishers.

I cannot resist sharing my poem “Welcome to the Planet,” written in 1990 and published in 2000 in my third book Portable Planet.

Thank you for all of your excellent work, and I hope you enjoy the poem.

Welcome to the Planet

a greeting to newborn humans

This day, we welcome you.

We teach our ways to greet you.

We are one kind among many the world encircles.

Touch all gently.

Our people are near us always.

Find yourself among the best.

Cities display our inventions and designs.

Watch, wonder, and wander away.

Highways are dark and long, concrete and crowded.

Make your own way.

Birds and beasts bring news of the planet.

Good news for your ears only.

The sea foretells the past and future.

Live now.

Soil is the source of the great and the humble.

See the small creatures close.

Mountains reveal nothing lasts.

Make peace with this.

Rivers flow in the direction of days.

Mark the many courses well.

Woods are where the world breathes.

Breathe deeply.

We greet you as your way begins.

Welcome to the planet.

Welcome home.

Eric Paul Schaffer
Hawaii


Crossword puzzle makes newspaper even better!

I was very pleased to find a crossword puzzle in Freethought Today. I think it makes an already excellent publication even better! Keep up the good work.

Darlene Fouquet
Colorado


Reading Crankmail offers a gamut of emotions

Count mine as a “yes” vote to keep the Crankmail section in this great publication. Reading those few inches of newsprint every issue, I experience the whole gamut of emotions: laugh-out-loud amusement, of course, and admiration for any public school teacher who keeps trying to teach grammar and spelling and science to such knowledge-resistant students.

Then I read the cranks’ outlandish threats (i.e., “Hopefully all atheists get covid and vanish”) and just feel puzzled. Didn’t these born-again MAGA’s waste the past year insisting that the virus is just a hoax dreamed up by secular politicians to stomp on their “religious freedoms”?

Now, suddenly, a miracle has transformed Covid-19 into a horrifying punishment for us freethinkers?

These are the cautionary lessons each Crankmail column teaches us. Reason and logic are ineffectual protections against religion. We need stringent laws to fortify the wall between state and church.

Jehnana Balzer
Arizona   


Atheists need to be seen as caring and moral

For those frustrated trying to reason with fundamentalist friends and relatives, don’t bother. After years of trying to reason with believers, I got nowhere. When one is taught that nonbelievers are enemies of God, it follows that they must be immoral, and if not hated, at least ignored. So, it occurred to me to try something different and nonthreatening.

Those of us who contribute to secular charities get “thank you” responses. I started a pile of these. Of course, they include the testaments from these organizations (Doctors without Borders, Human Rights Watch, Global Fund for Women, etc.) as to where the money goes and why (i.e., to relieve suffering, empower women, etc.).

I took that pile, put it in a large envelope and sent it to them with “Positive news” written on the envelope so they wouldn’t throw it away. I left out any commentary. My goal was to make it difficult to dismiss atheists as non-caring and/or immoral. We need to be seen as compassionate and moral.

Carl Scheiman
Maine


Media failed to tie riot to Christian Nationalism

As member and secular citizen, why is it that the legacy media fails to mention that the insurrection was led by Christian Nationalist zealots? All we hear about are the ties to white supremacy, but not the intersection of these two toxic ideologies. Thank you for the work you do and continue to do in defending the Jeffersonian wall of separation.

Christopher Kendel
Ohio


FFRF convention in Texas may not be safest place

Since FFRF announced the cancellation of last year’s convention in San Antonio, Texas, I am hoping that the virus conditions will allow for the 2021 conference [in Boston].

However, in the interim, Texas politics have become a national issue. Considering the profile of their gun culture and the ugly rise of Christian Nationalism, it might be a good time to reconsider the venue that might be an attractive target for the radicals in that state. Keep in mind the safety of those who want to participate in these events.

This is just my vote for a safer location, as I am looking forward to the return of in-person events that build consensus opinions and community.

Bette Hammerle Inman
North Carolina

Editor’s note: FFRF is always cognizant of safety issues when hosting its conventions and takes substantial precautions for the safety of its members. The 2021 convention is planned for Boston and then San Antonio in 2022.

Black Collar Crime (April 2021)

Compiled by Bill Dunn

Arrested / Charged

Isaias “Carlos” Vasquez, 44, Oxnard, CA: Oral copulation of a minor, penetration by a foreign object, 3 counts of lewd acts upon a child and 2 counts of unlawful sexual intercourse. Vasquez, a volunteer at Iglesia Pentecostes Un Nuevo Florecer, is accused of assaults on 3 girls he met at the church.

Law enforcement began investigating after a 14-year-old alleged Vasquez lured her to a motel in January under the pretense of a cleaning job and then assaulted her. After investigators were made aware of an alleged victim age 17, another 14-year-old contacted the Ventura County Sheriff’s Office, accusing Vasquez of assault on Jan. 31 in a car near Ojai. Source: Fox 11, 2-26-21

Alex T. John, 32, Lake Charles, LA: Indecent behavior with juveniles. John, youth pastor at Waters Edge Gathering Church and an adjunct instructor in digital arts at Sowela Technical Community College, allegedly had inappropriate communications with a juvenile under age 17 about 6 years ago. Source: KPLC, 2-26-21

Brandon Dasilva, 26, Terre Hill, PA: Criminal use of a communication facility, 4 counts of sexual abuse of children for disseminating child pornography and 26 counts of sexual abuse of children for possession of child pornography. Dasilva, pastor of student ministries at Weaverland Anabaptist Faith Community Church in East Earl, was arrested after a Homeland Security agent discovered an account on the social media app Kik had distributed 4 images of suspected child pornography.

He allegedly admitted he had been viewing child pornography for about 18 months and said he was ashamed and “hated himself” for his behavior, according to the complaint. Source: Fox 43, 2-25-21

Robert M. Blumenthal, 85, Randwick, Australia: 2 counts of sexual intercourse with a person under the age of 10 and 3 counts of sexual intercourse with a person under 16 who was under authority. Blumenthal, a defrocked Catholic priest, is charged with assaults on a 9-year-old boy at a school in Bathurst in the mid-1980s.

Blumenthal is the 14th priest or former priest to be accused by a task force established in 2008 to investigate indecent assaults of students at Bathurst schools between 1960–93. Source: Daily Mail, 2-18-21

James Johnson, 70, Jacksonville, FL: Lewd molestation and offenses against a student by an authority figure. He oversees the high school homeroom at New Beginnings Christian Academy and teaches history, science, bible and other electives.

The alleged victim was between the ages of 12 and 16. William Holland, senior pastor, said the school principal learned from a parent that a staff member may have been sending inappropriate messages to a student. Holland met with the parent the next day and filed a report with the sheriff’s office.

According to media, Johnson has posted several videos on the Lord’s Lighthouse Ministry’s Facebook page of him preaching. Source: WFOX, 2-18-21

John W. Gill, 63, Middleburg, FL: 2nd-degree murder in the shooting death of his brother Thomas M. Gill after an apparent domestic dispute. John Gill had non-life-threatening injuries believed to be self-inflicted.

His wife told police he had become emotionally or mentally disturbed and had led the Middleburg Open Bible Church out of their home. Nephew Matthew Gill said social media comments have been very difficult for the family: “It’s being shared back and forth and people that don’t want to see it, it’s popping up on their [Facebook] timelines. People saying that ‘It’s Jesus and it’s Middleburg. What do you expect?’ ” Source: News4Jax, 2-18-21

James Coates, Edmonton, Alberta: 2 counts of contravening the Public Health Act and a charge of failing to comply with a condition of an undertaking. Coates was arrested after police and health officials observed services at GraceLife Church, where he is pastor, and determined the church was again ignoring restrictions calling for attendance to be capped at 15% of capacity and requiring masks and physical distancing.

Coates was jailed after refusing to agree to bail conditions attached to his release. He was first issued a $1,200 ticket in December for contravening the health orders. Source: CBC, 2-17-21

Kandasamy Senapathi, 37: 5 counts of criminal breach of trust as an employee and 5 counts of breaching the Corruption, Drug Trafficking and Other Serious Crimes Act. He is chief priest of Singapore’s oldest Hindu temple, the Sri Mariamman Temple.

Kandasamy is accused of taking gold ceremonial ornaments from the temple and pawning them to shops between 2016–20. Pawn value of the jewelry was over $1.5 million, a prosecutor told the court. Kandasamy, an Indian national, allegedly transferred about $106,000 in proceeds out of the country.

His purported modus operandi was to pawn the ornaments, redeem them when he had the money and return them to the temple. But when the COVID-19 pandemic struck, he was unable to raise funds to redeem the items in time for ceremonies, his lawyer said. Source: The Hindu, 2-16-21

Dominic Muscante, 46, Glassport, PA: Indecent assault, endangering the welfare of children, unlawful contact with minors and selling/furnishing liquor to minors. It’s alleged he committed crimes at the Assembly of God Church (now River City Church), where he volunteered, and the Glassport Community Outreach food bank.

One girl told police she was between ages 13 and 15 when Muscante gave her alcohol and touched her sexually on several occasions, including during a Christmas party at the church and in his van during travel for the food bank.

The other girl alleged she was 6 when the abuse started and 19 when it ended. Source: Post-Gazette, 2-11-21

Christopher D. Lawton, 43, Greenfield, NH: 20 counts of aggravated felonious sexual assault with special enhancement. He is accused of assaults on a girl when she was 16 and 17 and he was her pastor in 2015-16 at Lamplight Christian Church, which he founded. He was originally indicted on 10 counts in October 2020. Source: Manchester Ink Link, 2-5-21

David Hornbuckle, 51, Fayetteville, GA: Sexual battery and 3 counts of child molestation. He is lead pastor at Whitewater Church, affiliated with the Assemblies of God. He and his wife, who have 5 children, started the church in 2008.

He was arrested after the sheriff was notified of an incident allegedly occurring in early January involving “inappropriate conduct” with “a juvenile known to him,” said Sheriff Barry Babb. Source: Fayetteville Citizen, 2-3-21

Drue J. Mordecai, 55, Santa Rosa, CA: 27 felony charges and 2 enhancements, including 9 counts of assaulting a minor with the intent to commit a felony and 5 of committing a lewd act with a child. The alleged victim and Mordecai attended New Vintage Church, where Mordecai was a volunteer group leader working with students for several years.

The alleged victim was 12 when the abuse started, the complaint said. Source: Press Democrat, 2-3-21

Christian Bileth, 55, Grand Rapids, MI: Embezzlement over $100,000. He is accused of stealing $812,000 from St. John’s United Church of Christ between 2014–19 when he was president of the church council.

He was also president of Core Audit Consultants, a company which is where it’s alleged he funneled the missing money. Source: WXMI, 2-3-21

Ira J. Summerlin, 74, York, SC: 3 counts of criminal sexual conduct with a minor. Summerlin, a youth group volunteer and longtime member at Central Baptist Church, is charged with improperly touching a 6-year-old girl who was sitting on his lap in January at a church function, behavior purportedly captured on video.

Further investigation showed other inappropriate behavior in 2020, resulting in 2 more criminal counts. Source: WBTV, 2-2-21

Keith and Carolyn Collins, 60 and 72, respectively, Ridley Park, PA: 12 counts each of theft by unlawful taking, theft by deception and receiving stolen property — all 3rd-degree felonies — 6 misdemeanor theft counts and 3 felony conspiracy counts. The couple, who are co-pastors of the Church of the Overcomer in Trainer, allegedly embezzled $109,206 from 18 court-appointed guardianships through Pinnacle Guardian Services, a company they owned.

Co-defendant Gloria F. Byars, Carolyn Collins’ sister, is facing 763 counts for facilitating about $3 million of fraud through various means. Attorneys for the Collinses contend they are guilty only of “bad bookkeeping” with no intent to defraud. Source: delcotimes.com, 1-28-21

Pleaded / Convicted

Roger VanRaden, 49, Rantoul, IL: Pleaded guilty to 2 counts of criminal sexual assault. The state dismissed 2 other counts in a plea bargain. The charges were filed in December 2019 for sexual activity occurring while he was an assistant pastor and youth pastor at Faith Baptist Church.

The victim was 18 when she revealed that she had been having sex with VanRaden for about 5 years, beginning in 2015 when she was 14, often at the church. Source: News-Gazette, 2-22-21

Trinity Bible Chapel, Waterloo, Ontario, was found in contempt of court after opening for in-person services and exceeding pandemic crowd limits on Dec. 27 and Jan. 3. “Six elders, including the pastor [Jacob Reaume] and the Trinity Bible Chapel corporation” had been charged for hosting a gathering exceeding the number permitted, said a statement from regional officials. Source: CBC, 1-26-21

Sentenced

John Allen, 77, W. Manchester Township, PA: 5 years’ probation after pleading guilty to 5 misdemeanor counts of indecent assault on 2 boys while he was a Catholic priest in Harrisburg. Defrocked in 2006, Allen was also deemed a sexually violent predator and will have to register with state police for life.

One accuser told detectives Allen grabbed his buttocks on multiple occasions in 1999–2002 when he was 10 to 13 years old. Another boy accused Allen of touching him on the buttocks and in the genital area multiple times in 1997–99.

A former altar boy filed a lawsuit in 2018 against the Harrisburg Diocese, claiming Allen “lasciviously leered at, groped and sexually molested [him] approximately a dozen times in different rooms at the church” between 1999–2002. The suit is still pending. Source: pennlive.com, 2-16-21

Hugh Graham, 60, London: 4 years in prison after pleading guilty to attempting to arrange the commission of a child sex offense, attempting to incite a child to engage in sexual activity, possessing an extreme pornographic image, possession of prohibited images of children and 3 counts each of making indecent photos of children and attempted sexual communication with a child. The offenses took place between May 2018 and December 2019 when he was pastor at St, Andrew’s United Reformed Church in Hampstead.

He posed to an undercover officer on the Grindr dating app as a 13-year-old boy. In a message from Graham to a victim he called himself “an open-minded perv” who was “not really interested in toddlers.” In another he wrote, “I’m hoping you aren’t a gang of blokes trying to trap me. I could get into trouble for chatting to you lol.”

Over 35,000 illegal images of children as young as about 3 and some wearing handcuffs were found in his possession. One laptop showed its user had been viewing such material since 2012. Source: Camden New Journal, 2-11-21

John R. McFarland, 68, Fullerton, CA: 15 years to life in prison after pleading guilty to 13 counts of lewd and lascivious acts with minors while serving as a United Methodist pastor at several churches. He was first arrested in December 2018 for molesting a girl under age 14. The counts stem from acts committed on 7 minor girls between 2002-18. Source: L.A. Times, 2-9-21

Gregory Dow, 61, Lancaster, PA: 15½ years in federal prison and $16,000 in restitution after pleading guilty to 4 counts of sexual abuse. Dow and his family started the Dow Family Children’s Home near Boito, Kenya, in 2008 and operated it for about a decade with funding from U.S. churches and faith-based groups, including Dow’s parish, LifeGate in Elizabethtown.

Prosecutors said he returned home in 2017 when Kenyan authorities began investigating abuse allegations. The FBI said he abused 4 girls, including 2 who were age 11 when it started. Prosecutors said Dow abused girls knowing that his wife, who helped run the orphanage, had taken them to have birth control devices implanted in their arms.

“Gregory Dow was the proverbial wolf in sheep’s clothing,” said Michael Driscoll of the FBI’s Philadelphia office. Source: CBS/AP, 2-4-21

Michael Mulenga, 49, Mandeville, LA: 5 months in jail after a judge found him guilty of simple misdemeanor battery. It’s alleged Mulenga, a visiting Catholic priest from Zambia, reached under a 75-year-old woman’s blouse several times in January 2020 while trying to seduce her at an Archdiocese of New Orleans independent living facility where he was chaplain.

Mulenga had administered the “last rites” to the woman’s late husband about 2 months earlier. She is suing him, the facility and its owner — the archdiocese’s Christopher Homes. Source: WWL, 2-4-21

William A. Metzger, 76, Baraboo, WI: 10 years in prison and 10 years’ extended supervision after pleading guilty to 1st-degree child sexual assault. Metzger, pastor at Open Door Baptist Church, was accused of assaulting a girl multiple times between August 2016 and December 2018, starting when she was 6.

According to the complaint, Metzger told authorities he had discovered the girl “fondling herself” and then showed her how, touching her inappropriately more than once, though he claimed he didn’t remember assaulting her about 10 times over a period of 2 years as she told her father in 2019.

Onlee Bowden, a Michigan woman, watched the hearing from a video feed in the Sauk County Victim Witness Office. She alleges Metzger assaulted her in the mid-1960s when she was 6 by telling her that he was teaching her how to masturbate. Source: News Republic, 2-3-21

James Glawson, 76, Exeter, RI: 40 years in prison after pleading no contest to 11 counts of 1st-degree sexual assault, including counts of oral sexual penetration with a “mentally disabled” person and 5 other males in the early 1980s.

He volunteered for the Boy Scouts from 1980 to 2018 and served as an assistant Catholic chaplain at a scouting camp in Hopkinton. Glawson apologized in court for his “evil ways” and said “It makes me sick to think of what I have done.” Source: Providence Journal, 1-28-21

Civil Lawsuits Filed

Nicholas DiMarzio — bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn, NY — Holy Rosary Parish in Jersey City, NJ, and the Newark Archdiocese are defendants in a suit filed by a Florida man alleging DiMarzio, 76, molested him in 1979–80, starting when he was 6.

Plaintiff Samier Tadros is represented by Boston attorney Mitchell Garabedian, who is also the attorney for another man who alleges DiMarzio abused him at St. Nicholas Parish in Jersey City in the 1970s. Garabedian said that suit is pending.

Since December 2019, when New Jersey suspended the statute of limitations for civil sexual abuse lawsuits for 2 years, 300 suits against Catholic dioceses have been filed. Source: northjersey.com, 2-22-21

Mitchell T. Rozanski, St. Louis Catholic archbishop, was part of “abhorrent attempts” to protect the reputation of the late Christopher J. Weldon, the former bishop of Springfield, MA, alleges a Massachusetts suit.

Other defendants are current and former officials of the Springfield Diocese, including longtime diocesan attorney John J. Egan. The plaintiff alleges Weldon molested him in the 1960s when he was an altar boy.

Rozanski, who served as bishop in Springfield from 2014–20, is accused of approving an official statement denying the Diocesan Review Board found a credible abuse allegation against Weldon when that statement was “patently false.” Source: Berkshire Eagle, 2-9-21

The Christian Brothers order is accused in a class-action suit of moving child abusers from the notorious Mount Cashel Orphanage in Newfoundland to Vancouver College and St. Thomas More School in Vancouver, BC, and to other schools.

Lead plaintiff Darren Liptrot alleges he was molested by his teacher, Edward English, convicted in the 1990s of multiple counts of gross indecency and assault against boys at Mount Cashel and sentenced to 13 years in prison. Source: Vancouver Sun, 2-9-21

Ben Lippen School (now called Columbia International University), a Christian school founded in 1940 in W. Asheville, NC, and former teacher and coach Pamela Kaye Herrington are being sued by Rachel Howald, 50, New York City, who alleges Herrington sexually assaulted her repeatedly in 1986–88 when she was 16 and 17.

Herrington was in her late 30s and unmarried when hired in 1982, claims the suit, alleging “Rachel was sexually abused by Defendant Herrington over and over again. … This abuse included but was not limited to, fondling Rachel’s breasts, squeezing Rachel’s nipples, and grinding her vaginal area aggressively into Rachel’s upper thigh or on top of Rachel’s vaginal area.”

Columbia International is a “Christ-centered” pre-K-12 school now located in Columbia. Source: Citizen Times, 1-29-21

John Asare-Dankwah, New Orleans, is accused in a suit by “A.A. Doe” of raping him at age 10 while Asare-Dankwah served as a priest in 2008 at Blessed Trinity Catholic Church in Broadmoor, AL. A Ghana native, he is now pastor of St. Peter Claver Catholic Church.

The suit alleges Asare-Dankwah anally raped Doe while hearing his confession in the anteroom of a chapel during a 7-day retreat in Montgomery and that he didn’t report it because he was too humiliated. At his grandmother’s funeral in September, he saw Asare-Dankwah officiating and had a flashback, it’s alleged. Source: Times-Picayune, 1-29-21

Hillsong Church, based in Australia, is being sued in Norwalk, CT, and in Australia. The Wall Street Theater Co., which Hillsong’s Connecticut branch rented for $6,000 a week, is suing for just over $100,000, alleging unpaid rent, theft of venue property and “immoral, oppressive and unscrupulous” actions.

In Australia, owners of nearly 300 expensive apartments are suing the megachurch and its development and property arm for $20 million, alleging structural defects that will lower future sale prices.

Dale Smith, whose company ran Hillsong Connecticut’s venue security, said he found the church to be more of a corporation than a religious institution. “It just seemed like a business, real robotic. Even the ones on the payroll seemed to be fighting, positioning in order to climb that ladder which, in my opinion, is not what a church is supposed to be.” Source: NY Post, 1-28-21

The Catholic Diocese of Trenton, NJ, is named in 2 complaints alleging sexual abuse by former priests Thomas A. Rittenhouse and Michael J. Teta. Rittenhouse is accused of abusing a minor while serving at Holy Cross Parish in Rumson in 1981-82. He died in 2006 and was later added to the diocese’s credibly accused list.

Teta is accused of abusing a minor while assigned to St. Joseph’s Parish in Bound Brook from 1974–77. Source: Rumson-Fair Haven Patch, 1-19-21

The Catholic Archdiocese of New York and St. Mary’s School in the Bronx are defendants in a suit alleging deceased priest and chess grandmaster William J. Lombardy molested Anthony Mazzucca and Joseph Telesca while they were altar boys and St. Mary’s students in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

Lombardy’s mentorship in 1972 of chess icon Bobby Fischer when he defeated Boris Spassky was detailed in the 2014 movie “Pawn Sacrifice.” The plaintiffs also allege sexual abuse by another priest at the school, Raymond Foster. Lombardy, who was ordained in 1967 and left the priesthood in the late 1970s, died in 2017 at age 79. Source: NY Post, 1-11-21

Civil Lawsuits Settled

The Catholic Diocese of Winona-Rochester, MN, announced settlement of clergy sex abuse claims from 145 survivors for $21.5 million. The settlement moves forward the diocese’s orrganization plan in U.S. Bankruptcy Court as part of its Chapter 11 filing in November 2018.

The diocese released the names in 2013 of 14 priests credibly accused of sexual misconduct with children from the 1960s through the 1980s. Source: Winona Daily News, 2-10-21

Legal Developments

Jack Schaap, 63, Hammond, IN, a Baptist pastor serving a 12-year federal sentence since 2013 for taking a 16-year-old girl he was counseling across state lines to have sex, had his petition for early release denied. Schaap told the court he needed to care for his parents, ages 86 and 84, whose health is failing.

U.S. District Court Judge James Moody rejected release, noting Schaap has expressed little remorse and would continue to pose a danger to others. He has “repeatedly couched his apologies and admissions in excuses, suggesting a deep-rooted failure to accept full responsibility for his actions,” Moody wrote.

In the past, Schaap blamed other factors, including the girl’s “sexual aggressiveness” and “experience.” He is housed at the Federal Correctional Institute in Ashland, KY, where he and over 300 others contracted COVID-19 last fall. His scheduled release date to a halfway house is Feb. 2, 2023.

Schaap claims to be a “model prisoner” but his record is not spotless, Moody wrote, noting he lost 27 days of good time credit with no visitors for 9 months after he was caught putting his hand in the “crotch area of a female visitor.” Source: Chicago Tribune, 2-16-21

North Dakota lawmakers rejected 3 bills expanding the statute of limitations for civil and criminal actions in childhood sexual abuse cases. “These bills were all about giving victims of child abuse hope. Hope after a life of hell,” said main sponsor Rep. Austen Schauer, R-West Fargo.

Shane Goettle, lobbyist for the State Association of Nonpublic Schools, testified the bills focused unfairly on private organizations. The Catholic Church does not testify on every bill it supports or opposes, said Christopher Dodson, general counsel for the state Catholic Conference, adding that the church agreed with Goettle’s testimony. Source: Fargo Forum, 2-15-21

Eliezer Berland, 83, leader of the Israeli Shuvu Bonim sect, is banned from communicating with his followers, ruled a Jerusalem court in setting terms of his release to house arrest. He must also post bail of $369,315 and pay for 24-hour private security to watch him.

Berland is accused of sex offenses and defrauding sick and elderly followers out of millions of shekels and has spent over a year in detention. Source: Times of Israel, 2-15-21

Marcelo D. Krawiec, 44, former rabbi of a Buenos Aires synagogue who is accused of sexually abusing at least 2 young men between 2010–18, is being sought by Interpol. He had been living in Israel since 2019 and re-entered Argentina on Nov. 17, 2020, staying for about a week before disappearing. Source: JTA, 2-13-21

Robert DeLand, 73, a Michigan Catholic priest convicted of sex crimes against a male teen in 2019, was granted parole. He was sentenced to 2 to 15 years in prison in April 2019. He will remain on probation for at least 3 years and will have to register as a sex offender. His status as a priest will be determined by the Vatican. Source: WJRT, 2-12-21

Master’s Ranch West, a Christian facility for troubled boys near Prescott, WA, is subject to a permanent injunction barring it from continuing to operate. Pastor David Bosley and his wife Tresa Bosley opened the unlicensed home in early 2020. They already were operating the Master’s Ranch Christian Academy in Missouri for about 7 years.

Missouri lawmakers are now trying to change the law to require more oversight of faith-based schools. Three Washington sisters have sued churches in Prosser and Tenino, claiming David Bosley abused them as children.

Academy employee Maxwell Shelter, 20, pleaded guilty to communication with a minor for immoral purposes for molesting the daughter of another staff member and was sentenced to 3 months in jail. Source: Tri-City Herald, 2-10-21

An attempt by the bankrupt Archdiocese of Santa Fe to block lawsuits accusing it of transferring millions of dollars in property to 93 parishes in order to shield assets from settlements in sexual abuse cases was blocked by a New Mexico judge.

The ruling lets suits by hundreds of victims proceed. The archdiocese filed for bankruptcy in 2018. The real estate assets could be worth over $150 million, according to Judge David Thuma.

Plaintiffs’ attorneys said the number of survivors is close to 2,000. The archdiocese said in 2019 that least 78 clergy members had been credibly accused of child abuse. Source: Santa Fe New Mexican, 2-7-21

A trial for Paul A. West, 60, a Franciscan Catholic friar accused of molesting students in the 1990s in Mississippi, was moved to April so he could undergo a mental evaluation. A grand jury indicted West on 2 counts each of sexual battery and gratification of lust. He  also faces a charge in Wisconsin of sexual assault of a child.

The Franciscan order settled sex abuse cases by secretly paying cousins Joshua Love and La Jarvis Love, both 37, $15,000 each and requiring them to keep silent about their claims. The payments were far less than what other Catholic sex abuse survivors have typically received. “They felt they could treat us that way because we’re poor and we’re Black,” said Joshua Love. Source: ABC News/AP, 2-7-21

Anthony Haynes, 41, former leader of the Greater Life Christian Center in Toledo, OH, was denied compassionate release. At the time of the ruling, Haynes had only served 18 months of a life sentence for facilitating a child sex trafficking ring with 2 other pastors.

Judge Bernard Friedman denied the request because Haynes provided little evidence of health conditions putting him at greater risk of having coronavirus complications, while mentioning the severity of the crimes.

“Based on the facts of this case, defendant could not be released without seriously endangering the community,” Friedman wrote. “This alone disqualifies defendant from consideration for compassionate release.” Source: Toledo Blade, 2-3-21

California Catholic bishops are asking a judge to throw out a law allowing accusers of clergy sexual abuse to sue even if they were molested decades ago. The state in 2019 provided a 3-year period starting Jan. 1, 2020 to file suits.

It also extended the age of people who could sue for childhood abuse from 26 to 40 after the extension expires and allowed triple damages in cases involving a “cover-up” of previous assaults by an employee or volunteer.

Plaintiffs’ attorney John Manly called the bishops’ motions “morally reprehensible and hypocritical,” adding, “They systematically violated reporting laws … lied to the families, lied to the media, lied to the faithful. Now what they are saying is, ‘Don’t allow our victims to hold us accountable.’ ” Source: KSBY, 1-28-21

Malka Leifer, 54, accused of 74 counts of rape and sexual abuse between 2004–08 when she was principal of an ultra-Orthodox Jewish school for girls in Melbourne, was extradited from Israel, where she fled in 2008 to avoid prosecution.

Australia has tried to extradite her since 2014. The case centers on the allegations of 3 sisters now in their early 30s — Dassi Erlich, Elly Sapper and Nicole Meyer — who say they were abused by Leifer.

Her trial is likely to be delayed until 2022 due to the coronavirus pandemic, said Nick Kaufman, her attorney. Kaufman also said that publication of photos of Leifer taken during her extradition undermined her dignity. [Ed.: He did not mention the dignity of her alleged victims.] Source: NY Times, 1-25-21

Numerous priests and other Catholic officials in North Dakota won’t be criminally charged for historical child sex abuse due to the statute of limitations, said Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem. Investigators spent 18 months reviewing files from the Fargo and Bismarck dioceses to determine if charges could be brought. The dioceses released lists in January 2020 with the names of 53 priests and others facing substantiated allegations.

Probable cause was found to bring charges against only 2 priests: Norman Dukart of Dickinson and Odo Muggli, a Benedictine at Assumption Abbey in Richardton.

Minnesotan Ted Becker, who alleges he was molested in the 1940s, expressed disgust at the news. “They knew that if they kept putting things off, eventually the statute of limitations would expire. That’s not what a responsible person, much less a responsible religious person, should do.” Source: Fargo Forum, 1-4-21

Allegations

Joseph Jablonski, a Catholic priest barred in 2014 from serving further in the Diocese of San Bernardino, CA, was allowed to return to priestly duties in Illinois despite allegations of sexual abuse by a California boy. The San Bernardino Diocese immediately notified Jablonski’s religious order, the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart, whose Chicago-area headquarters is in Aurora.

Records and interviews show that the order didn’t inform dioceses in Rockford and Joliet and the Archdiocese of Chicago about the allegations. “The provincial at the time didn’t feel any obligation to contact any other diocese,” said Richard Kennedy, who has led the order’s U.S. province since 2018.

Jablonski, now in his 70s, is leaving the order, Kennedy said. “If a complaint were filed today, it’d be handled in a much different way.” Source: Sun-Times, 2-19-21

The Catholic Archdiocese of Cologne “severely damaged” the process of owning up to decades of sexual violence against children, said a report by an independent German secular panel established in 2016. It decried the diocese’s internal review.

The Berlin-based panel referred to the “Cologne Archbishopric” but not to Archbishop Rainer Maria Woelki by name, and said that the public saw a “cover-up.”

Cologne cabaret artist and author Jürgen Becker, delivering a satirical online sermon from St. Agnes Church, alleged the archdiocese “systematically covered up the mass clergy sexual abuse for decades.” Source: Deutsche Welle, 2-16-21

Ravi Zacharias, who died in 2020 of cancer at age 74, engaged in “sexting, unwanted touching, spiritual abuse and rape” spanning many years and multiple continents, said a report released by Ravi Zacharias International Ministries, the global organization he founded.

Several months after his death, the magazine Christianity Today reported allegations Zacharias had groped and masturbated in front of several women who worked at a pair of day spas he co-owned near his ministry’s U.S. headquarters in Alpharetta, GA. He was married for 45 years.

“We believe not only the women who made their allegations public but also additional women who had not previously made public allegations against Ravi but whose identities and stories were uncovered during the investigation,” the ministry’s board of directors said in a statement.

Former Vice President Mike Pence spoke at his memorial service in Atlanta, calling him “a man of faith who could rightly handle the word of truth like few others in our time” and comparing him to Billy Graham and C.S. Lewis. Source: NY Times, 2-11-21

An unidentified Romanian Orthodox priest in Suceava is under investigation after the death of a 6-week-old hours after the baby’s baptism. An autopsy found water in the child’s lungs. The incident has sparked calls for the Orthodox Church to change baptism rituals that require 3 full submersions.

Church spokesperson Vasile Bănescu encouraged churches to instead sprinkle holy water over recipients. “It’s hard for us to understand why God let this happen.” Teodosie Petrescu, archbishop of Tomis and leader of the church’s conservative wing, disagreed: “These canons of faith will be available for another thousand years. That is why we will not change. We’re not intimidated.” Source: vice.com, 2-5-21

Removed / Resigned

Lee Reddyhoff, senior minister at Faringdon Baptist Church in Swindon, England, resigned after it was revealed he engaged in a secret relationship with a woman from the congregation. In a letter to church trustees, Reddyhoff acknowledged his conduct had fallen “below that expected” of him.

He also resigned as an accredited minister from the Baptist Union due to his “gross misconduct” and is considering his future outside of the ministry. Source: Swindon Advertiser, 2-19-21

Michoel Green, Westborough, MA, was fired as rabbi at Chabad of Westborough, a Hasidic community center, for social media posts railing against pandemic-related lockdowns, mask mandates and vaccinations.

“It’s NOT immunization. It’s pathogenic priming & mass sterilization,” Green wrote in January. In 2019 he had argued against getting the measles vaccine.

“It became clear that dismissal was our only choice,” said Mendel Fogelman, director of the Central Massachusetts Chabad. Source: Times of Israel, 2-3-21

Other

Paul Burak, 74, Palos Heights, IL, a Catholic priest accused of striking and killing a teacher and injuring another in a hit-and-run accident as they were leaving a parish Christmas party in 2019, died in his sleep Jan. 10.

A witness snapped a picture of Burak’s license plate, followed him and told him to go back to the restaurant. Burak returned and remained at the scene for a short time but didn’t tell police he had hit the women.

The DUI charge was dropped but the more serious felony of leaving the scene of a deadly accident remained. Civil suits were filed against him and he was on electronic monitoring at his condo for the criminal charge. Source: Orland Park Patch, 1-12-21

Email: [email protected]

Meet a Member: FFRF State Reps push for secular Kentucky

Mikel and Ed Hensley active in freethought community

Name: Mikel Hensley

Mikel and Ed Hensley with their daughter Cosima.

Where I live: Louisville.

Where and when I was born: I was born in Louisville in 1980 and grew up to the south of Louisville in Shepherdsville.

Education: Public schools from K–8, then homeschooled grades 9–12. Went to Trevecca Nazarene University for two years before getting out of there and going back home to attend the University of Louisville. Graduated with a bachelor’s degree in computer information systems and about 10 years later went to Jefferson Community and Technical College to get an associate’s degree in electrical technology.

Occupation: Electrical technician for a manufacturing organization.

How I got where I am today: One day at a time.

Where I’m headed: I don’t know.

Person in history I admire and why: Ruth Bader Ginsburg, for challenging the patriarchy all the way to the Supreme Court.

A quotation I like: “The nitrogen in our DNA, the calcium in our teeth, the iron in our blood, the carbon in our apple pies were made in the interiors of collapsing stars. We are made of starstuff.” — Carl Sagan, from “Cosmos.”

Things I like: Walks in the woods, looking at the stars, well done sci-fi shows like “The Expanse” and “Star Trek” and “The Mandalorian,” and spending time with Ed and Cosi.

Things I smite: Frickin’ conspiracy theories and pseudoscience and patriarchy.

My doubts about religion started: There are so many ways I could answer this. But I think one of the more major things was learning the actual history of Christianity while I was attending Trevecca Nazarene University and how the bible was compiled basically by councils of men who voted on what the “true” belief should be, and how the Christian sect that got to determine the “orthodox” views suppressed and demonized those who had different views. It was such a different history than what I was taught in Sunday school.

Learning about the history of the cosmos and about evolution and realizing religious authors I had trusted had given me misinformation about scientific fact also drove a nail into the coffin of my Christian belief.

Ways I promote freethought: I’m a State Representative for FFRF, edit and post the “Blasphemy in the Bluegrass” podcast, manage the website for Kentucky Secular Society, and help with organizing and promoting local events for atheists and freethinkers.

• • •

Name: Ed Hensley

Where I live: Louisville.

Where and when I was born: Dallas.

Family: I am divorced, widowed and married. Wife: Mikel; sons Jody, Scott and Braden; and daughters Taylor and Cosima.

Education: B.S. and M.S. degrees in computer science from Texas A&M University. I was a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Texas at Austin, but stopped work on my dissertation after my wife became ill and died.

Occupation: Software engineer.

Military service: I served seven years in Germany as a civilian with the Department of Defense.

How I got where I am today: I met my wife at a Louisville Atheists and Freethinkers meeting. Our dates included going to conventions and other events together, such as Jane Goodall or Richard Dawkins events.

Where I’m headed: Retirement from UPS to spend more time with family and more time on activism.

Person in history I admire and why: Charles Darwin and Werner Von Braun for their contributions to biology and space travel.

A quotation I like: “Faith is believing what you know ain’t so.” Mark Twain, from Following the Equator, Pudd’nhead Wilson’s Calendar.

Things I like: “Star Trek,” “Doctor Who” and other science fiction, national and state parks, travel.

Things I smite: Ark Encounter, violations of church-state separation, most TV sitcoms.

My doubts about religion started: I was brought up as a biblical literalist Southern Baptist in Texas. I left religion slowly from ages 18–24 as I read the bible and studied the early Christian churches and the formulation of the New Testament.

Before I die: I hope the church-state situation in the United States improves.

Ways I promote freethought: I’m a State Representative for FFRF, president of FFRF Kentucky, help organize the Kentucky Freethought Convention, and host the “Blasphemy in the Bluegrass” podcast.

They Said What? (March 2021)

It has been obvious for a while that Christians are under suppression. . . . All of the things the country was founded on are under attack. They are trying to get the name of God out of everything, especially the name of Jesus.

Adam Phillips, who attended the Stop the Steal march and Million MAGA March.

The New York Times, 1-1-21


A Tennessee county mayor said he wouldn’t order residents and visitors to wear masks until “the Holy Spirit” moves him to do so.

Lincoln County Mayor Bill Newman, who tested positive with COVID-19 less than a month after his statement.

AL.com, 12-21-20 


There is not one square inch of all creation over which Jesus Christ is not Lord. . . . We are called to take that message into every sphere of life that we touch, including the political realm. That is our charge. To take the Lordship of Christ, that message, into the public realm, and to seek the obedience of the nations. Of our nation!”

Sen. Josh Hawley, in a 2017 speech to the American Renewal Project.

The New York Times, 1-11-21


As White House press secretary, I never had to worry about the far left and their allies at CNN or The New York Times defining me, because I have a creator who’s already done that. I’m a Christian. A wife. A mom. A proud Arkansan. My opponents will do everything in their power to destroy me.

Sarah Huckabee Sanders, in a video launching her run for Arkansas governor.

YouTube.com, 1-25-21


[Philip Esformes spent his time in prison] devoted to prayer and repentance.

Donald Trump, citing reasons why he pardoned the former nursing home executive who orchestrated one of the biggest Medicare frauds in U.S. history.

The New York Times, 1-22-21


I must point out that our new president has pledged to pursue certain policies that would advance moral evils and threaten human life and dignity, most seriously in the areas of abortion, contraception, marriage and gender. Of deep concern is the liberty of the Church and the freedom of believers to live according to their consciences.

Archbishop José H. Gomez of Los Angeles, the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, on Joe Biden, a lifelong Catholic.

Washington Post, 1-28-21


You just ruled against God. Get ready for the judgment of God.

Pastor Tony Spell of Louisiana’s Life Tabernacle Church, after a judge denied his motion to dismiss the six criminal counts he faces.

The Friendly Atheist, 1-26-21


Why is it our people are so vulnerable to this stuff?

Lance Wallnau, the grandaddy of Christian Nationalism and 7 Mountain Dominionism, wondering why his followers are susceptible to “false prophecies” and conspiracy theories.

Washington Post, 1-14-21