Council member takes secular affirmation
Kristine Mackin, a new council member in Waltham, Mass., used a secular affirmation during her inauguration rather than the standard “so help me God.”
Instead of saying “I do solemnly swear,” Mackin said, “I do solemnly affirm,” and in place of “So help me God,” she said, “I do so under the pains and penalties of perjury.”
Pastor admits to ‘sexual incident’ with student
On Jan. 7, a Memphis megachurch pastor received a standing ovation during a church service after admitting he engaged in a “sexual incident” with a high school student 20 years ago.
The admission by the pastor, Andy Savage, came several days after a woman accused him of sexually assaulting her in 1998 when she was 17 and he was the youth minister at a suburban Houston church.
Savage did not tell the congregation at Highpoint Church exactly what took place in 1998, but he said that he had sinned, taken responsibility for it and never kept it a secret from church leaders.
“Jules, I am deeply sorry for my actions 20 years ago,” he said. “I remain committed to cooperate with you toward forgiveness and healing.”
After he finished addressing the congregation, church members stood and applauded him.
0% of young Icelanders think God created world
Less than half of Icelanders say they are religious and more than 40 percent of young Icelanders identify as atheist. The poll found literally no (0.0 percent) Icelanders under the age of 25 who accept the creation story of the bible (that God created the world).
The poll, done at the behest of the Icelandic Ethical Humanist Association, found that of those younger than 25, 93.9 percent said the world had been created in the Big Bang.
The poll also found a growing percentage of Icelanders support the full separation of church and state. Out of those who expressed an opinion on the subject, 72 percent supported the full separation of church and state.
West Virginia bill would require bible classes
West Virginia Republican state Sen. Mike Azinger has sponsored a bill that would require every school — whether public, private or parochial — to offer elective courses in Hebrew Scriptures, the Old Testament and the New Testament.
The Senate Education Committee met on Feb. 6 to discuss it, but the meeting was adjourned with no decision made.
State Sen. Mike Romano took issue with the proposed bill. “The state should make no law,” Romano said. “We’re making a law that promotes one specific form of Christianity over the others, to carry out some misguided gays, guns and abortion mandate.”
Florida city ends religious invocations
On Jan. 16, city commissioners in Longwood, Fla., ended the practice of beginning meetings with a religious invocation.
Instead, they voted unanimously to adopt a moment of silence. The change reverts the rules to what they were four years ago, when the invocations were added.
‘Bible literacy’ courses breaking law, ACLU says
“Bible literacy” classes being taught in some Kentucky public schools appear to violate the Constitution by promoting Christianity and “religious life lessons,” according to the American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky.
The ACLU’s finding, contained in a letter to the state Department of Education, follows its review of how some school districts have begun offering courses under House Bill 128, a measure passed last year by the Kentucky General Assembly to include “bible literacy” in public school curriculum.
Supporters of the law, including state Rep. D.J. Johnson, have argued the bible literacy curriculum would expand students’ knowledge of culture, history and society.
“Whether you believe that it’s the word of God or you think it’s a complete work of fiction, you can’t deny the impact it’s had on our culture,” Johnson told Courier Journal last year.
After Gov. Matt Bevin signed the bill into law, the ACLU sent open records requests to all 173 Kentucky school districts, seeking policies and curriculum for bible literacy classes, the organization said in a press release.
‘Good Christian’ parents allegedly tortured 13 kids
Thirteen brothers and sisters were allegedly held captive by their parents, some bound with chains and padlocks, until one of them escaped and called 911.
David Allen Turpin and Louise Anna Turpin were arrested in late January after police discovered their children (aged between 2 and 29) being tortured and chained to beds in their home in Perris, Calif.
Both parents were charged with torture and child endangerment, with a bail of $9 million each.
David Turpin’s parents, James and Betty Turpin, told authorities their son and daughter-in-law were “a good Christian family” and that they had so many children because God commanded them to. They also said the children were given “very strict homeschooling,” and would have to memorize long passages of the bible.
Atheists highly support abortion rights
According to a 2017 Pew Research Center survey, 87 percent of atheists and agnostics believe abortion should be legal in most or all cases.
That’s the highest of any group except for Unitarian Universalists, of which 90 percent support abortion rights. The lowest religious group are Jehovah’s Witnesses at 18 percent. Nearly half of Catholics (48 percent) support abortion rights, even though Church doctrine is against it.
‘In God We Trust’ in all Florida schools?
Every Florida school and school administrative building will have to prominently display “In God We Trust” under a bill moving through the Legislature.
State Rep. Kimberly Daniels said her bill will be a lesson to children about the national and state motto that’s printed on currency and included in the state flag.
The bill received unanimous approval Tuesday from the House PreK-12 Innovation Subcommittee.
Republican state Rep. Ralph Massullo said students should know about the state’s history, and as part of that history, “we do trust in God.”
Wildlife property of ‘Almighty God’?
An Oklahoma state senator has introduced a bill that would make all wildlife in the state the property of “Almighty God.”
Oklahoma Sen. Nathan Dahm wrote SB 1457 to amend a clause related to Oklahoma’s wildlife. Instead of saying that “all wildlife found in this state is the property of the state,” the wording would be changed to say that “all wildlife found in this state is the property of Almighty God.”
Dahm’s bill states that it would go into effect Nov. 1, 2018, if passed.
Teens least Christian generation in history
Teenagers today are the most non-Christian generation in American history, as only four out of 100 teens hold a biblical worldview.
The new study by Barna Group also shows that teenagers are at least twice as likely as American adults to identify as LGBT or as atheist.
The new study found that 12 percent of teens described their sexual orientation as something other than heterosexual. About a third of teens know someone who is transgender, and a solid majority (69 percent) say it’s acceptable to be born one gender and to feel like another.
The study indicates that 35 percent of Generation Z (born from 1999 to 2015) considered themselves to be atheist, agnostic or not affiliated with any religion. By comparison, only 30 percent of Millennials, 30 percent of Generation X and 26 percent of Baby Boomers said the same. The study shows that almost twice as many teens in Generation Z (13 percent) claimed to be atheist than Millennials (7 percent).
Praying football coach has appeal rejected
The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals sided with the Bremerton, Wash., school district in upholding a lower court’s decision that found the district was justified in firing football coach Joe Kennedy for his refusal to stop praying with his students after games.
Religion cited as root of world’s problems
In a recent Best Countries survey of more than 21,000 people from all regions of the world, the majority of respondents identified religion as the “primary source of most global conflict today.”
Spiritual beliefs create an inherent “us vs. them” scenario, experts say.
“When societies shatter, they generally shatter along tribal lines. People are seeing themselves as irretrievably different from their neighbors,” says Sam Harris, a neuroscientist and philosopher.
The divisions created by religion are deeper and potentially more harmful than those formed through other aspects of identity, such as race, nationality or political affiliations because they confront individuals with differing opinions on the ultimate purpose of life, experts say. More than 80 percent of those surveyed said that religious beliefs guide a person’s behavior.
“Religion often becomes the master variable,” Harris says. “It provides a unique reward structure. If you believe that the thoughts you harbor in this life and the doctrines you adhere to spell the difference between an eternity spent in fire or one spent on the right hand of God, that raises the stakes beyond any other reward structure on earth.”
Bill aims to protect prayer by coaches
High school coaches would be allowed to participate in student-led prayers before sporting events and talk about religion with students, according to a bill introduced in the Georgia Senate.
The legislation comes in response to a FFRF complaint against East Coweta High School head coach John Small, who prayed with his players after a football game last fall.
The proposal also protects students from discrimination for expressing religious viewpoints in homework, artwork and religious clubs.
In addition, the legislation sets aside a time for student speakers to talk about their religion or other topics before football games, designated athletic events, opening announcements for the school day and school assemblies.
New Religious Freedom Division added to HHS
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) on Jan. 18 announced the formation of a new Conscience and Religious Freedom Division in the HHS Office for Civil Rights.
According to the HHS website, “The Conscience and Religious Freedom Division has been established to restore federal enforcement of our nation’s laws that protect the fundamental and unalienable rights of conscience and religious freedom.”
But that opens up the possibility of discrimination, writes Jack Ende, president of the American College of Physicians, “[We] would be particularly concerned in the new HHS division takes any actions that would result in denial of access to appropriate health care based on gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, race or ethnicity.”