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Salt Lake Tribune 2-15-01
"We can't bring druids in and have a ceremony sacrificing a chicken," Van Wagoner said.
"We don't want to make it a circus sideshow."
  The case began in 1994 when Snyder sued the city of Murray after its officials refused to let him give
a proposed prayer considered by city leaders to be disparaging and disrespectful. Snyder's attempt
followed close on the heels of a 1993 Utah Supreme Court decision that allowed Salt Lake City to
have an opening prayer at council meetings.

   But Van Wagoner said Salt Lake City abandoned the practice when faced with a request from
Snyder, who wanted to offer a statement asking "our Mother in heaven" to "prevent these
self-righteous politicians from misusing the name of God in conducting government meetings."  

Deseret News 2-6-1. Utah Atheists  recruiting medley of prayer-givers

See the prayer              
 Palestinian jailed for logging on to Facebook as 'God' to criticize Islam 

The Salt Lake County Council reinstates public prayer at government meetings after a ten year hiatus.  American Atheists and Utah Atheists, though, aren't worried.  Plans are afoot to show lawmakers the error of their unconstitutional ways by having a medley of fringe religious groups invited to deliver an invocation.

Deseret News 2-6-1. Utah Atheists  recruiting medley of prayer-givers

 By   B R Y O N   S A X T O N   &  S H A W N   W I L L I A M S O N  --  Standard-Examiner staff

SYRACUSE -- Utah atheists are making good on their promise to deliver messages during the public prayer portion of city council meetings. A member of Utah Atheists exercised his legal right in replacing public prayer, reading from a prepared text to open the Syracuse council meeting Tuesday.

Later this month, the same group will open a Clearfield council meeting. Layton officials anticipate they will soon hear from the same group.

Julian Hatch, of the Board of Utah Atheists, opened the Syracuse council meeting by reading from a two-page text.

In the 90 seconds he was afforded by city policy, Hatch said how one-fifth of Utahns are non-religious and live under the tyranny of religion.

Hatch also said how the only country similar to the United States in its pledge of loyalty to a country and a flag was Nazi Germany, which was led by "religious tyrant" Adolph Hitler.

"This is the first time in Utah history that an atheist gave the opening prayer," Hatch said.

Syracuse recently adopted a policy that allows anyone who requests to do so to open the council meeting with an invocation or thought. The policy, which restricts individuals from opening a meeting more than once every three months, was adopted in response to a December 2003 letter from the Utah Atheists group sent to cities throughout the state challenging the use of prayer to open public meetings.

Hatch was only halfway through his text when his 90 seconds were up. Council members sat in silence as Hatch read his letter.

Outside the council chambers, Hatch said atheists simply want to put a stop to bringing religion into government.

"What good is 90 seconds of prayer going to make?" he asked. "If God didn't listen when they prayed in church, why would he listen here?"

Council members were more affected by the actions of Hatch and his colleagues than by his words.

"We allowed them to make two statements," said Syracuse City Councilman Jon Jepperson. "One was only 90 seconds. The other more pronounced statement was not to stand during the pledge of allegiance."

Utah Atheists are currently scheduled to open the Clearfield council meeting on Jan. 25.

To allow Utah cities to continue opening council meetings with prayer, many city attorneys recommended communities have invocations or devotions on a volunteer basis.

Layton Assistant City Attorney Steve Garside said that if public prayer is allowed by any religious denomination to be part of an opening ceremony, then cities need to afford the same opportunity to all groups.

"In Layton, it has been a positive thing," Garside said of the volunteer prayer policy the city adopted in April.

Clearfield City Recorder Nancy Dean said a person approached her about being part of the city's next council meeting. She said the opportunity is being offered on a first-come, first-served basis.

The disclosure came moments before the city's first council meeting of the year. The meeting also marked the return to an opening ceremony, marked by an opening prayer by Councilman Ivan Anderson.

He came down from the dais before the prayer, saying he was doing so to illustrate that he was praying as a resident and not as a member of the council.

Clearfield officials eliminated the practice of prayer in the first meeting of 2004, due to what some leaders saw as a possible mockery of the practice, initiated by letters from local atheists. The practice was restored after a year.

Mayor Tom Waggoner publicly lamented that the invitation for prayer hadn't generated response from residents. He noted many residents signed a petition asking that prayer be restored, but none has volunteered to be part of the ceremony.

While city officials haven't enlisted people to pray, it appears a statewide organization is actively recruiting atheists to be part of the city ceremony through a Web site, nowscape.com/pray/

Correspondent Antone Clark contributed to this story.

Copyright ©2005, Ogden Publishing Corporation

Clearfield City Council Meeting January 25, 2005 at 7 PM (801-525-2700)

Clearfield City Council Recorder Nancy Dean (801-525-2714) officially denied Utah Atheists to participate in the "Invocation" for the meeting since Stephen Clark, Chris Allan, and Julian Hatch are NOT residents of Clearfield City on Tuesday January 18, 2005. Clearfield could not provide any requirements for resident status. This was after inviting UTAH to participate the week before in an email after a personal visit was made by Julian Hatch to the office on January 11, 2005.

And after a news article in the Ogden Standard Examiner dated January 13, 2005 concerning prayers in Syracuse, Clearfield, and Layton specifically mentioned Clearfield Officials claiming Utah Atheists would give the Invocation at the 25th meeting. The attached article says: "Utah Atheists are currently scheduled to open the Clearfield council meeting on Jan. 25."

Also attached are the four Clearfield City Council meeting minutes over the past year where the prayer issue was discussed. There is not an electronic copy of the Resolution 2004R-20 adopted at the December 14, 2004 council meeting on the Clearfield City internet site, although Julian, Chris, and Stephen have paper copies of it. The two pertinent clauses in the invocation policy are listed below:

1. An invocation and the Pledge of Allegiance to the United States Flag will be given at the beginning of each regular Council meeting by a resident of Clearfield City.

2. The City recorder is hereby assigned to coordinate the invocation on a non-discriminatory basis.

5. If no one signs up to give the invocation by the Wednesday before the City Council meeting, or if the person who has requested to provide the invocation does not show up at the meeting in time to offer the invocation, then a member of the City Council will be assigned to give the invocation and lead the Pledge of Allegiance.

7. Those selected shall offer invocations that are non-proselytizing and shall not degrade any person because of religion, race, ethnic background, natural origin, sex gender or philosophy and shall not be crude, vulgar or offensive to the public sense of decency.

UTAH has the following objections:
1. "Invocation" connotes a similar religious exercise (invoking god) as "prayer" that SOS case determined was religious worship. It specifically directs what a person must do and atheists can't in good conscience pray or invoke supernatural spirits. We ask it be changed to something reflecting "generic opening thoughts" as dictated by SOS v whitehead.

2. Federal case law has determined that no citizen may be coerced into pledging loyalty or standing and reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. The ordinance ties the invocation with the pledge...even if invocation is considered non religious, the Pledge does have "Under God" in it and there is no opportunity for the participant to say something different or not include it in the ceremony. To give the invocation means you must recite the pledge.

2. We are "all" tax payers to the state and Federal govt. and Clearfield City gets funding from both sources. The SOS decision determined that the opportunity to participate must be allowed to everyone, otherwise the benefit could not be legally defensible as "indirect" and "all" could not have an equal opportunity to participate. The residency requirement is discriminatory.

3. Clearfield deliberately and knowingly deleted "non-denominational" from the resolution just prior to passage so they could pray to specific deity such as "Jesus Christ." This violates Federal case law.

4. Assignment of invocation and pledge to government official wrongfully forces these persons to participate in religion and coerces the pledge. Utah Atheists also finds it inappropriate for government officials to lead the pledge or prayer because it appears that government is sponsoring religious worship and loyalty oaths. This is not inclusive of all to participate in the meetings.

Atheists attack use of prayers at meeting  

  B y   A N T O N E   C L A R K       Standard-Examiner correspondent    Jan 27, 2005
CLEARFIELD -- The former state leader of a group of atheists criticized the City Council for reinstating prayer as part of its opening ceremony and said God is not a being, but a device used to fool, manipulate and trick people.
Chris Allen, of Salt Lake City, former state director of the Utah Chapter of the American Atheists, spoke out against the city's practice of having an invocation, or an opening ceremony, during the resident comment portion of Tuesday's meeting. Other atheists who echoed similar comments joined Allen.
His comments came after a potential confrontation during the invocation was abated.
Mayor Tom Waggoner chose to let Allen and other atheists speak during the resident portion at the end of the meeting, even though they are not city residents. In doing so, he defused a confrontation that Allen had planned to wage during the prayer.
Allen said he was prepared to make a statement during the prayer, so there would be something in the official record to record his disapproval of the process. Waggoner at first refused but then chose to accommodate Allen and others at the end of the meeting, by giving them three minutes apiece at the podium.
The city's second meeting of the year was opened with a prayer offered by Councilman Jim Barlow. Barlow offered the prayer when no one from the city was signed up to begin the meeting. It was Barlow who led the campaign to reinstate the practice after it was dropped in the first meeting of 2004, due to what some officials saw as a possible mockery of the practice, initiated by letters from local atheists. The practice was only restored after a year of wrestling with the issue.
City officials had been approached in early January by an atheist about signing up for the opening ceremony. But the practice is only open to residents of the city and Allen distributed a letter from Julian Hatch, who represented the Utah Atheists at a Syracuse meeting earlier this month. The letter claimed that nonreligious residents in the city are reluctant to come forward and participate, for fear of possible retribution "by the local government and other religious believers."
Waggoner said the idea of possible retribution against any who might come forth is ridiculous.
"I'm sure people in Utah are a little better than that," the mayor said.
Stephen Clark, of Salt Lake City, stressed the need for a separation of church and state and likened the trend of a form of religion in a public meeting to problems in Iran and Iraq, where he said there is no freedom because of the lack of such separation. Clark quoted the words of Jesus Christ, James Madison and Thomas Jefferson in making his case.
Harold Illig, of Salt Lake City, also spoke out against the practice of prayer and suggested that the ruler of the universe shouldn't be asked to care about the things that people care about. He said studies show there is no efficacy in prayer.
The city still has no one signed up to lead an invocation or opening ceremony for its next meeting, according to Nancy Dean, city recorder. Dean showed a new form that is being used by the city to handle such requests. The form clearly stresses that the applicant needs to be a resident of the city.
Dean has suggested the city will solicit potential participants in its March-April edition of the city newsletter.

Copyright ©2005, Ogden Publishing Corporation

August 10, 2004
PRESIDING: James Barlow Mayor Pro Tem

EXCUSED: Tom Waggoner Mayor

PRESENT: Ivan Anderson Councilmember
Marilyn Fryer Councilmember
Doyle Sprague Councilmember
Don Wood Councilmember

STAFF PRESENT: Jack Bippes City Manager
Jim Schilling Police Chief, Scott Hodge Public Works Director, Kay Chandler Economic Dev. Director, Kent Bush Planning/Zoning Admin., Gregg Benson Planner, Roger Bodily Fire Chief, Bert Pay Fire Department, Bob Wylie Finance Director, Mark Weekes Fire Department, Dave Youngberg Fire Department, Nancy Dean City Recorder, Janna Head Secretary

EXCUSED: Larry Waggoner City Attorney

VISITORS: Antone Clark – Standard Examiner, Boy Scout Troop 78 of the Clearfield Community Church, Shawn Wardle, Scott Wardle, Steven Rasmussen – South Clearfield Elementary School, C. Stratton, Royce Bodily, Bob A. Martin, Von Lokham, David Wardle – Scout Troop 308, Derek Wetenkamp,

Mayor Pro Tem Barlow informed the citizens present that if they would like to comment during the Public Hearing and Citizen Comments there were forms to fill out by the door.

Councilmember Sprague led the pledge of allegiance.


Jack Bippes, City Manager, explained at the request of Council member Barlow, the City Council discussed establishing a policy for holding an opening ceremony at regular City Council meetings on July 27, 2004. He reported the Council then directed the City Attorney to prepare a resolution on the policy for consideration.

Mayor Pro Tem Barlow briefed the Board about Mayor Waggoner’s letter pertaining to presenters if the motion passed, that was added to their packets, and read the letter as follows:

Dear Presenter,
Thank you for taking the time to volunteer to continue our tradition of presenting an invocation at the City Council meetings. We have found from long experience that an invocation at the beginning of City Council meeting helps create a thoughtful atmosphere in which to perform our services to the community.

We therefore request that your invocation comply with the following:

1. The invocation should not:
      a. include an attempt to convert or advance any particular faith, belief or philosophy;
      b. degrade any person because of religion, race, ethnic background, national origin, sex gender or philosophy;
      c. be crude, vulgar or offensive to the public sense of decency; and
     d. exceed two (2) minutes in length.

2. All such presentations will be made gratuitously and as a part of the Opening Ceremony of the City Council’s regular Tuesday meetings, which will also include a Pledge of Allegiance to the flag.

The City will not regulate or dictate the exact form or substance of an invocation. These guidelines are a request that all statements be sensitive to the feelings of others and promote understanding, elevate motives and create a more civil environment for conducting the public’s business.

Thomas C. Waggoner
Clearfield City Mayor

Mayor Pro Tem Barlow continued with an article he found on the Internet that he found interesting and worthy of sharing. He read:
The Office of the Senate Chaplain

When the Senate first convened in New York City on April 6, 1789, one of its first orders of business was to appoint a committee to recommend a candidate for chaplain. On April 25, the Senate elected the Right Reverend Samuel Provost, Episcopal Bishop of New York, as its first chaplain. Since that time, the Senate has been served by chaplains of various religious denominations, including Episcopalians (19), Methodists (17), Presbyterians (14), Baptists (6), Unitarians (2), Congregationalists (1), Lutherans (1), and Roman Catholic (1). The Senate has also appointed guest chaplains representative of all the world’s major religious faiths. In addition to opening the Senate each day in prayer, the current Senate chaplain’s duties include spiritual care and counseling for senators, their families, and their staffs – a combined constituency of over 6,000 people – and special Bible study groups, discussion sessions, and prayer meetings, including a weekly Senators’ Prayer Breakfast.

Mayor Pro Tem Barlow continued reading another article as follows:

Chaplain’s Office

Throughout the years, the United States Senate has honored the historic separation of Church and State, but not the separation of God and State. The first Senate meeting in New York City on April 25, 1789, elected the Right Reverend Samuel Provost, the Episcopal Bishop of New York, as its first Chaplain. During the past two hundred and seven years, all sessions of the Senate have been opened with prayer, strongly affirming the Senate’s faith in God as Sovereign Lord of our Nation. The role of the Chaplain as spiritual advisor and counselor has expanded over the years from a part-time position to a full-time job as one of the Officers of the Senate. The Office of the Chaplain is nonpartisan, nonpolitical, and nonsectarian.

Mayor Pro Tem Barlow commented that this would be another way to approach the opening ceremony issue—to have a City Chaplain who would be in charge of facilitating an opening exercise prayer.

Council member Fryer, quoting from the proposed Resolution 2004R-20, read:

“WHEREAS, presentations during the opening ceremonies are intended to be nondenominational and non-proselytizing in character;” and added that if no person comes forward to give the prayer, a member of the Council would be asked to say the prayer and she stated she did not know how to give a non-denominational prayer. She continued she could give a prayer of her own faith, but it would not be non-denominational. Mayor Pro Tem Barlow said he did not think the Resolution implied a certain religion. Councilmember Fryer said in order for a prayer to be non-denominational, it would need to be something like reading The Lord’s Prayer, which she didn’t think was a good idea. Mayor Pro Tem Barlow stated the phraseology could be changed. Councilmember Fryer stated she didn’t think she could comply with the resolution. Councilmember Wood suggested this issue be tabled while the Council looks into the employment of a City Chaplain to handle the opening ceremony prayer. He continued that the Chaplain could rotate on an annual basis, giving all denominations, faiths, sects, and religions an opportunity to participate. Councilmember Fryer said this would be fine. She said years ago, when she was in PTA, that different denominations were invited to come and open the PTA meeting with prayer. Jack Bippes, City Manager, suggested tabling the issue. Councilmember Wood also suggested tabling the matter in order to consult with Larry Waggoner, City Attorney. He added that if an individual is not able to come and participate after signing up, he would be responsible to find a substitute. Councilmember Wood said in consideration of members of the Council that are uncomfortable with this proposal, another format ought to be looked into, and stated, “By the same token, we stand here before this Meeting, and we pledge allegiance to a nation under God. The money in our wallets states, “In God we Trust”. The scouts that are here this evening have an oath in which they commit to do their duty to God and their Country. I, personally, when I walk through the front door of this building, I’ve made personal commitments and promises. I find it impossible for me to leave those at the front door. In addition to that, many of the people that have elected me to this office know that I have made those commitments and covenants, and they trust me. They think I’m a man of integrity, as they do you, or they would not have voted for you. I think for me to set those commitments aside and leave them at the front door is a breach of their trust. It is definitely a compromise of those covenants and commitments I have made as an individual. It is not my purpose to impose my religion on others, but with all the challenges this City has, I think we’re fools if we set our commitment and belief in Deity at the front door before we enter this building.” He then suggested tabling the issue until the City Attorney looks at this alternate option regarding a possible Chaplain.

August 24, 2004
PRESIDING: Tom Waggoner Mayor
PRESENT: Ivan Anderson Councilmember, James Barlow Councilmember, Marilyn Fryer Councilmember, Doyle Sprague Councilmember, Don Wood Councilmember



Larry Waggoner – In regard to the opening ceremony and prayer issue, Mr. Waggoner stated hiring a City Chaplain would not work. He said the City would still need to allow anyone that wanted to say a prayer to do so. To answer Councilmember Fryer’s questions about nondenominational prayer, he explained a nondenominational prayer is where you do not make reference to God as he or she or make reference to Jesus Christ. It could be considered partially religious. Councilmember Fryer said she didn’t know how to give a prayer like that. Mr. Waggoner said he didn’t either. Councilmember Fryer asked if the word “non-denominational” had to stay in the resolution or if it could be re-worded. Mayor Waggoner said it could be reworded. Larry Waggoner said it would have to be non-denominational because that’s the requirement. Councilmember Fryer pointed out she was not against having a prayer. Larry Waggoner said his suggestion right from the beginning was to not have a prayer. He further explained the reason why prayer was discontinued from Council Meetings at the beginning of this year was because he recommended removing prayer because by keeping it on, it would invite trouble. He advised those people who are religious to have their own personal prayer before coming to Council Meeting. He expressed about holding a non-denominational prayer in the opening ceremony, it would open up the possibility of a lawsuit or for someone to come and make a mockery of prayer. In referring to the prayer that the West Valley City man wanted to give (the man who brought this whole issue up), Mr. Waggoner commented it was nothing but a big farce; however, the Supreme Court would support it more than likely. Councilmember Anderson questioned if a moment of silence would be a viable option after the reciting of the Pledge of Allegiance. Larry Waggoner responded that would be a possibility. Mayor Waggoner stated if a moment of silence were held, it would still be open to anyone. Councilmember Anderson replied that anyone would have to be silent too. Larry Waggoner said just about any type of observance opens up the potential for problems. Larry Waggoner suggested the reference to God in the Pledge of Allegiance is about as far as the City should go. He added to the Council that nevertheless, they could choose what to do because they are the elected officials. Mr. Waggoner noted he prays all the time but not in public. Mayor Waggoner asked the Council if they would like to bring this matter back again to a future agenda. Councilmember Barlow said he would like to postpone it for a while because he will be out of town for the next Council Meeting.

Mayor Waggoner informed the Council to remain in the Council Chambers for a while because Nancy Dean, City Recorder, needed them to sign some documents.

There being no further business to come before the Council, Councilmember Wood moved to adjourn as the City Council and reconvene as the RDA at 7: 22 p.m., seconded by Councilmember Anderson. All voting AYE.

**The minutes for the RDA are in a separate location.**


This 14th day of September, 2004.
/s/Thomas C. Waggoner, Mayor

December 14, 2004
PRESIDING: Tom Waggoner Mayor
PRESENT: Ivan Anderson Councilmember, James Barlow Councilmember, Marilyn Fryer, Councilmember, Doyle Sprague Councilmember, Don Wood Councilmember

STAFF PRESENT: Jack Bippes City Manager, Larry Waggoner City Attorney, Jim Schilling Police Chief, Gregg Benson Planner, Scott Hodge Public Works Director, Bob Wylie Finance Director,
Tracy Heun Community Services Director, Nancy Dean City Recorder, Janna Head Secretary


Councilmember Barlow expressed he would like to approve the resolution with one change. He noted in Section 7, it reads: “Those selected shall offer invocations that are non-denominational, non-proselytizing and shall not degrade any person because of religion, race, ethnic background, national origin, sex, gender or philosophy and shall not be crude, vulgar or offensive to the public sense of decency.” Councilmember Barlow recommended striking out the words non-denominational, but leaving everything else as presented. Councilmember Fryer wondered if all the people who signed this petition would volunteer to come and give the prayer. Larry Waggoner, City Attorney, said that wouldn’t be a good idea because they were all from the same religion. He added citizens from different denominations should be encouraged to participate. He advised the Council that he did not recommend establishing this policy. Councilmember Wood noted the Council knew each other’s position through many discussions on the issue.

Councilmember Barlow moved to approve Resolution 2004R-20, with the deletion of the words non-denominational from Section 7, adopting a policy addressing holding an opening ceremony for City Council meetings and take appropriate action and authorize the Mayor’s signature to any necessary documents, seconded by Councilmember Wood. The motion carried upon the following vote: Voting AYE – Councilmembers Barlow, Fryer, and Wood. Voting NO – Councilmembers Anderson and Sprague.



A federal court ruled Tuesday that the city of Starke, Fla. violated the federal and state
constitutions by placing and maintaining a metal Christian cross on top of a municipal water
A resident of the town, aided by American Atheists and represented by attorney Frank
Shooster, challenged the display which had been erected over 30 years ago at the behest of
local officials, and was illuminated at night. The cross was also periodically maintained at
public expense.
U.S. District Court Judge John H. Moore, II found for the plaintiffs, and dismissed several
arguments devised by the City. Citing earlier legal precedents, the judge noted that the cross
was "indistinguishable from the ubiquitous crosses found on any number of churches within
the State of Florida and across the country symbolizing Christianity." He added in his written
"The display of the Cross on the water tower has the unconstitutional effect of advancing,
affirming, or otherwise validating Christianity ... To the objective observer, the combination of
the words 'STARKE' and the Cross on the water tower clearly communicates the City's
endorsement of Christianity..."
Edwin Kagin, National Legal Director for American Atheists, hailed the ruling as a "great
victory for the First Amendment separation of church and state."
"No government, whether federal, local or state, should be promoting sectarian religion and
using public money to build and maintain religious displays," Kagin added.
The City of Starke, Fla. removed the cross prior to today's finding. Judge Moore said that his
ruling of Summary Judgment was necessary to prevent the town government "at some point in
the future" from re-erecting the unconstitutional Christian cross on public property.
"Let's hope that city officials comply with the District Court and not try an 'end run' around the
First Amendment," said Mr. Kagin. "If they do, we'll be ready to fight this case again."



Rolly & Wells:  Main Street USA

During the recent LDS General Conference in downtown Salt Lake City,
an employee of Iggy's Sports Bar ventured onto the Main Street block the
church purchased from Salt Lake City for a plaza. But he was promptly
ordered by security guards to leave. 
His sin: He wore a T-shirt that said: "We believe in 10 percent beer and
3.2 percent tithing." 

Source: The Salt Lake Tribune,  April 25, 2001

Rolly & Wells: Working in Mysterious Ways

 Karen Kindred of Salt Lake City went to the Deseret Industries in the Sugar House area on a recent Sunday to donate clothes, shoes and small appliances.

She was greeted by a young man who told her she was not allowed to drop off donations on Sunday. The man admitted he was paid to work 12 hours each Sunday to ensure no one breaks the Sabbath by dropping off goods for the needy.

Source: sltrib.com   The Salt Lake Tribune,  June 18, 2001

Rolly & Wells:  Main Street USA
State school board keeps prayers

One morning a man comes into the church on crutches. He stops in front of the holy water and splashes some of it on both of his legs, then throws away his crutches. An alter boy witnessed the scene and runs into the rectory to tell the priest what he'd just seen. Without batting an eye, the priest says, "Son, you've just witnessed a miracle. Tell me, where is this man?"

"Flat on his ass, Father, over by the holy water."

Source: sltrib.com/search/ci_2596694


State school board keeps prayers
By R o n n i e   L y n n     The Salt Lake Tribune

They will be called "opening remarks" instead of "reverence," but under new bylaws passed Friday, state school board members may still begin their monthly meetings with prayers.
Board members also may invite patrons to give the opening remarks or choose not to address the board when it comes their turn.

Like many public bodies in Utah, board members take turns opening their monthly meetings with a prayer.
The bylaw change is the group's response to the Utah Atheists' complaint that the board not use its official power to promote personal religious agendas.

Some members wanted to nix opening remarks altogether, saying they distract the board and public from business.
"I am reluctant to have our meetings start out on an offensive note," board member Greg Haws said. "I would prefer to eliminate [opening remarks], get on with our business and start out on a happy note."

In the end, the board voted, 8-4, to broaden its policy by allowing members to invite constituents to share a prayer, poem or other insightful comments.

"I don't think prayer is necessary to have an effective state school board meeting, but at the same time, I'm concerned that we not become a nation who does not recognize the possibility of divine intervention in what we are doing and request it," board member John Pingree said.

Said fellow board member Bill Colbert: "Our country is founded on religious principles. . . . I think succumbing to a minority trying to force its way to make this society something they'd rather it be is wrong."

The new bylaws prohibit the board from previewing or editing opening remarks made by the public.

Gary Swenson led Friday's opening remarks with reverence for three teachers who made a difference in his life and then reading a prayer associated with American Indians' alcohol-awareness meetings. The prayer asked the "wind" for strength and wisdom.

Founders didn't want a national religion
Monday, February 11, 2008

Many of the founders of this nation were individuals who had abandoned European theocracies and desired to clearly separate an individual's beliefs from a national religion. It is clearly stated in Article VI of our Constitution that: "... no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States."

This does not prohibit any religious belief or lack of belief by an individual, but it does clearly state that our nation is not to be a nation defined by any religious belief.

George Washington and John Adams were both individuals of the Christian faith, but the United States was not founded as a Christian nation. A portion of the terms of the treaty with Tripoli, drafted in 1796 under George Washington and signed by John Adams in 1797, reads: "As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion; as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion or tranquility" (of others).

This separation of an individual's belief and the lack of a national belief is one of the great strengths of individual freedom within our nation.

David I. Rasmussen

Source:    standard.net

Religion, government work better separately
Monday, February 11, 2008

I write in response to the Jan. 31 letter "Founding Fathers' words evidence of beliefs": It is a risky game to use out-of-context quotes to make a case as to the full and true Christian beliefs of our Founding Fathers. These quotes can be countered easily by a simple search of the library or Internet.

To illustrate my point consider the following, taken from a page I found on the Internet: Thomas Jefferson, in a letter to William Short: "I have examined all the known superstitions of the world and I do not find in our particular superstition of Christianity one redeeming feature."

Adams signed the Treaty of Tripoli. Article 11 states, "The Government of the United States is not in any sense founded on the Christian religion."

Madison wrote, "Religion and government will both exist in greater purity, the less they are mixed together."

My bottom line is that argument by selected quotes does little to prove anything. The fact is that it makes not one iota of difference if our Founding Fathers were Christians or worshipped at the altar of Zeus, they were wise and rational men who realized that a state-supported religion was incompatible with a democracy, hence the first phrase of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion." God and Jesus are not mentioned at all in the Constitution; is there a significance to that?

Lee Witten

Source:    standard.net/live/opinion/letterstotheeditor/125431/

IRS probes pastor's Huckabee endorsement

By G I L L I A N   F L A C C U S

BUENA PARK, Calif. -
A Southern Baptist preacher who endorsed GOP presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee on church letterhead said Wednesday he was being investigated by the Internal Revenue Service for mixing religion with politics. ADVERTISEMENT

Rev. Wiley Drake, a prominent pastor in the Southern Baptist Convention, said he received a 14-page letter from the IRS on Feb. 7.

Under federal tax law, church officials can legally discuss politics, but they cannot endorse candidates or parties without risking their tax-exempt status. Most who do so receive a warning.

On Aug. 11, Drake wrote a press release on letterhead from the First Southern Baptist Church in Buena Park that announced his personal endorsement of Huckabee and asked all Southern Baptists to get behind the candidate.

"After very serious prayer and consideration, I announce today that I am going to personally endorse Mike Huckabee," the release said. "I ask all of my Southern Baptist brothers and sister to consider getting behind Mike and helping him all you can."

He continued: "I believe God has chosen Mike for such an hour, and I believe of all those running Mike Huckabee will listen to God."

The letter sent to Drake by the IRS also quoted from segments of the pastor's church-based Internet show, "The Wiley Drake Show." In the quotes, Drake endorsed Huckabee again.

"Yes, I endorsed him personally and yes, we use the First Southern Baptist Church. Yes, we broadcast the 'Wiley Drake Show' from the First Southern Baptist Church. Everything we do is under the auspices of the church," Drake said on the show...

Source:   news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20080214/

Thai monks told to behave on networking Web sites

Tue Mar 4, 2:02 AM ET

Thai officials urged Buddhist monks on Tuesday to avoid using social networking Web sites to woo women after an advocacy group found some monks were doing just that.

The request came as police in the northeast detained a monk accused of using a Web site to lure a woman to his temple and raping her.

"I call on Hi5 users to tell the monks to leave the site if they are found using it," junior minister Jakrapob Penkair told reporters after a Buddhist monitoring group said some monks were flirting on the Web site popular with Thai users.

Reports of monks caught using or selling drugs or having consensual sex with women are not uncommon in the Thai media, which reported on Tuesday a 23-year-old monk was caught raping a teenager he lured to his room through the Web site.

A senior Culture Ministry official said monks should not be banned from the cyberspace, but should turn this "crisis" into "opportunity" by bringing Buddha's teaching to the young.

"Instead of using the Net to flirt with young girls, monks should find ways to preach Dharma and lead them in the right direction," said Ladda Thangsupachai, head of the Cultural Surveillance Centre.

Reporting by N o p p o r n   W o n g - A n a n;     Editing by M i c h a e l   B a t t y e                Source:   news.yahoo.com/s/nm/20080304


Buttars is lying low in aftermath
He spends time in private discussions with colleagues, then leaves the Capitol early
By Cathy McKitrick    The Salt Lake Tribune

Referring to Sen. Buttars dealing with the fallout from his racially charged comment.

Sen. Chris Buttars [R-UT] spent another short day at the Legislature, trying to weather the fallout from his racially charged comment.

The West Jordan lawmaker spent much of Friday's Senate floor time in private discussions and left early, turning over the chairman's gavel of the afternoon Senate Health and Human Services committee hearing to Sen. Allen Christensen, R-North Ogden.

"My sense is he's very distraught," Senate President John Valentine said Friday.

The regional president of the NAACP has called on Buttars to resign for a comment he made Tuesday during a heated Senate floor debate on an issue with heavy impact to Buttars' district.



"This baby is black.
It is a dark, ugly thing.

Utah Senator Butters


Debunked:  urbanlegends.about.com
Link:  Prayer counters vision loss

One lawmaker referred to SB48 as the ugly baby bill. Buttars, during a passionate speech, picked up on the metaphor, saying, "This baby is black. It is a dark, ugly thing."

Valentine later announced there had been a breach of decorum and gave Buttars the floor. He apologized, denying racist intent.

The NAACP's Jeanetta Williams called for his resignation and the remark has caused something of a firestorm, with online comments, e-mails and letters to the editor.

Majority Leader Curtis Bramble said he spent 45 minutes with Buttars in Senate offices Friday morning talking about a range of issues.
"He was questioning, last session and during the interim, whether to run for re-election because of his health," Bramble said.

Resignation did not come up during recent conversations, said Valentine and Bramble. "I think the case is over and done," said Sen. Lyle Hillyard, R-Logan. "He'll make his decision [about his future in the Legislature] in three weeks."

Incendiary remark --




Public Prayer


LINK:  WA Atheists join Sign to Capitol X-mas Display 2008     Stolen


Atheist soldier says Army punished him
        By J O H N   M I L B U R N,  Associated Press

A soldier claimed Wednesday that his promotion was blocked because he had claimed in a lawsuit that the Army was violating his right to be an atheist.

Attorneys for Spc. Jeremy Hall and the Military Religious Freedom Foundation refiled the federal lawsuit Wednesday in Kansas City, Kan., and added a complaint alleging that the blocked promotion was in response to the legal action.

The suit was filed in September but dropped last month so the new allegations could be included. Among the defendants are Defense Secretary Robert Gates.

Hall alleges he was denied his constitutional right to hold a meeting to discuss atheism while he was deployed in Iraq with his military police unit. He says in the new complaint that his promotion was blocked after the commander of the 1st Infantry Division and Fort Riley sent an e-mail post-wide saying Hall had sued.

Fort Riley spokeswoman Alison Kohler said the post "can't comment on ongoing legal matters" and offered no further statement.

According to the lawsuit, Hall was counseled by his platoon sergeant after being informed that his promotion was blocked. He says the sergeant explained that Hall would be "unable to put aside his personal convictions and pray with his troops" and would have trouble bonding with them if promoted to a leadership position.

Hall responded that religion is not a requirement of leadership, even though the sergeant wondered how he had rights if atheism wasn't a religion. Hall said atheism is protected under the Army's chaplain's manual.

"It shouldn't matter if one is Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist or atheist," said Pedro Irigonegaray, an attorney whose firm filed the lawsuit. "In the military, all are equal and to be considered equal."

Maj. Freddy J. Welborn was named in the lawsuit as the officer who prevented Hall from holding a meeting of atheists and non-Christians. It alleges that Welborn threatened to file military charges against Hall and to block his re-enlistment. Welborn has denied the allegations.

The lawsuit alleges that Gates permits a military culture in which officers are encouraged to pressure soldiers to adopt and espouse fundamentalist Christian beliefs, and in which activities by Christian organizations are sanctioned.

Hall's attorneys say Fort Riley has permitted a culture promoting Christianity and anti-Islamic sentiment, including posters quoting conservative columnist Ann Coulter and sale of a book, "A Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam," at the post exchange.

The Pentagon has said that the military values and respects religious freedoms, but that accommodating religious practices should not interfere with unit cohesion, readiness, standards or discipline.

Mikey Weinstein, president and founder of the religious freedom foundation, said the lawsuit would show the "almost incomprehensible national security risks to America" posed by the military's pattern of violating the religious freedom of those in uniform.

"It is beyond despicable, indeed wholly unlawful, that the United States Army is actively attempting to destroy the professional career of one of its decorated young fighting soldiers, with two completed combat tours in Iraq, simply because he had the rare courage to stand up for his constitutional rights," Weinstein said in a statement.

Weinstein previously sued the Air Force for acts he said illegally imposed Christianity on its students at the academy. A federal judge threw out that lawsuit in 2006.

Source: news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20080306/ap_on_re_us/military_religion_lawsuit

Supreme Court Agrees To Hear Controversy Over Religious Symbols On Public Property
Monday, March 31, 2008

Utah Religious Group Seeks To Place Its 'Seven Aphorisms' Beside The Ten Commandments

The U.S. Supreme Court announced today that it will hear a Utah dispute that centers on the display of religious symbols on public property.

Americans United for Separation of Church and State said the case brings the high court back into a confusing and controversial area of constitutional law.

Pleasant Grove City v. Summum deals with a religious group called Summum, which sought to erect its “Seven Aphorisms” alongside a Ten Commandments monument in a public park in Pleasant Grove, Utah. The group said city officials cannot constitutionally approve the Commandment display while excluding other monuments.

A federal appeals court agreed, holding that it violates freedom of speech for government to allow one group’s message on public property and exclude another.

“If government creates an open forum, it can’t pick and choose among religions,” said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, Americans United executive director. “Government officials could have avoided this controversy by refusing to put up the Ten Commandments in the first place.”

Source: au.org/site/News2

Three Things About Islam

The statements of Osama Bin Laden & The Sayings of Ayatollah Khomeini

Non-Muslims Deserve to Be Punished
A report posted on Islam Watch, a site run by Muslims who oppose intolerant teachings and hatred for unbelievers, exposes a prominent Islamic cleric and lawyer who support extreme punishment for non-Muslims — including killing and rape.

A question-and-answer session with Imam Abdul Makin in an East London mosque asks why Allah would tell Muslims to kill and rape innocent non-Muslims, including their wives and daughters, according to Islam Watch.

"Because non-Muslims are never innocent, they are guilty of denying Allah and his prophet," the Imam says, according to the report. "If you don't believe me, here is the legal authority, the top Muslim lawyer of Britain."

The lawyer, Anjem Choudary, backs up the Imam's position, saying that all Muslims are innocent.

Click here to watch the interview with Islamic lawyer Anjem Choudary.

"You are innocent if you are a Muslim," Choudary tells the BBC. "Then you are innocent in the eyes of God. If you are not a Muslim, then you are guilty of not believing in God."

Source:  foxnews.com/story/0,2933,344409,00.html

They should have seen this coming...
Row over spiritualist regulations

Mediums and spiritualists fear changes to laws regulating the industry could leave them open to malicious civil action by sceptics.

The union representing spiritual workers is to lobby the government over changes to the industry's regulation.

The Fraudulent Mediums Act is due to be repealed next month and replaced by new EU consumer protection regulations.

The British Humanist Association said the change offered vulnerable people greater protection against fraud.

Under the 1951 Fraudulent Mediums Act, prosecutors have to prove the medium or healer had intended to be fraudulent in order to secure a conviction.

But under the EU Unfair Commercial Practices Directive, which comes into force in the UK on 26 May, it will be the medium's responsibility to prove they did not mislead or coerce vulnerable consumers.


The Spiritual Workers' Association says making mediums subject to the consumer-protection regulations does not recognise spiritualism is a religion.

It plans to lobby the government over the issue on Friday.

Its founder Carole McEntee-Taylor, told BBC News: "The problem is that it's turning spiritualism the religion into a consumer product, which it is not."

She said the change in law left mediums more vulnerable to prosecution.

She said: "The Fraudulent Mediums Act protected the medium

 because it meant person receiving the information was taking personal responsibility.

"We hope that the new regulations will make real changes to the current situation, where psychic practitioners are permitted to make completely unsubstantiated claims "

Hanne Stinson
British Humanist Association

"They would have to prove the medium was fraudulent or giving them
advice which make them make a decision which would cost them money."

The British Humanist Association's chief executive Hanne Stinson, said the current law was not fit for purpose.

He said: "We hope that the new regulations will make real changes to the current situation, where psychic practitioners are permitted to make completely unsubstantiated claims and to take payment for their services, without fear of legal action.

"It is high time that this industry is better regulated, with adequate protections for consumers."

Susie Collings, of the College of Psychic Studies welcomed the new rules, saying they would tighten standards, discourage "less than ethical" practitioners and make it easier for the public to understand what to expect from a reading.

However, she said: "There is always the possibility that mediums will be targeted by people intent on making money by suing what they see as easy targets and that is a big concern for the individual."

Source:  news.bbc.co.uk/go/pr/fr/-/2/hi/uk_news/7351199.stm

By B r o o k e   A d a m s   a n d   M a r k   H a v n e s    05-09-08

ST. GEORGE - Attorney General Mark Shurtleff called a raid on a polygamous sect's ranch in Texas no surprise given the group's resistant, secretive practices but said Thursday he would never authorize such a move in Utah.
"I know you are worried about that. We're not going to do it," said Shurtleff, drawing applause from a crowd at the Dixie Center packed with fundamentalist
Mormons. "We don't believe that is the answer."
It's been more than a month since Texas authorities took more than 400 children from the ranch, home to members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, because of abuse allegations.
But aftershocks of the event continue to reverberate through fundamentalist Mormon communities thousands of miles away, as shown during the fourth annual town hall meeting on polygamy at the Dixie Center.
At the back of the hall, a caution-yellow banner advertised the sect's Web site and thanked the public for its support.
About 500 people packed two ballrooms to listen to and question Shurtleff, Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard, Arizona lawmaker David Lujan, Safety Net Coordinator Paul Murphy and Don Timpson, a member of the fundamentalist group known as The Work of Jesus Christ.
Goddard called the Safety Net Committee, which brings together polygamous communities, law enforcement and service providers, a "movement" that would forestall a Texas-style raid.
"I think that action was in part because that fundamentalist discussion was not taking place," he said. "The feeling was if there were children in distress there was no way they could get their voices heard. That's not true of Arizona any more."
Shurtleff tried to quell some fears, even as he made it clear that Utah will continue to prosecute crimes that hurt women and children and said in particular that the "religious principle" of incest, practiced by a couple groups that allow close relatives to marry, was "something we will not stand for."
He said that Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman has asked FLDS leaders for a list of children and parents who are Utah residents as the first step in working to protect their interests in the Texas action.
He also asked for a show of hands of those related to children in custody. As many as 50 hands shot up. His office is looking into helping Utah relatives become foster parents to the FLDS children.
As in previous years, some audience members asked the attorneys general for help in pushing for decriminalization of polygamy, which they said would do more to open the closed communities than any prosecutorial action.
Shurtleff's advice: "Wait until after the election" to bring up any such proposals.
Timpson said removal of FLDS children in Texas could be tied back historically to Utah's move in 1935 to elevate polygamy from misdemeanor to felony status.
That caused polygamists to seek isolated locales safe from scrutiny.
"My belief is that the somewhat ill-conceived bigamy statute needs to be revised," he said. "It is outmoded [and] I doubt it would stand constitutional scrutiny at this time."
Lujan, an Arizona lawmaker, came under fire for proposed legislation that would bar men who married underage girls to get custody of their children in domestic disputes.
Earlier in the day, three panels spoke about media coverage of polygamous communities.
One panel, comprised of plural wives from all but the FLDS community, said media tend to miss the diversity of the various groups, which collectively have about 35,000 members.
Speakers from nonprofit social ser vice groups said that many children they deal with have little or no education and suffer emotional problems.
Michelle Benward, whose organization New Frontiers for Families began working with FLDS teens two years ago, said many of the children she helps have been torn by watching images of the raid on the FLDS ranch in Texas. The raid has "broken many hearts, she said.

Source: Salt Lake Tribune

LINK:  Polygamy

LDS says: Wikileaks web site violated its policy handbook copyrights
  Lisa Carricaburu

A Web site that publishes anonymous submissions of difficult-to-obtain or private documents describes the LDS Church Handbook of Instructions a source sent it as significant because "the book is strictly confidential among the Mormon . . . bishops and stake presidents and it reveals the procedure of handling confidential matters related to tithing payment, excommunication, baptism and doctrine teaching [indoctrination]."
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints doesn't see anything particularly secretive or sinister about the handbook used as a reference by church leaders, but that doesn't mean it wants it to remain available on Wikileaks or Web sites operated by the Wikimedia Foundation.
On Wednesday, spokesman Scott Trotter confirmed the church has sent a letter alleging copyright infringement and requesting that material be immediately removed from Web sites that have published it.
A church statement said it doesn't believe there's anything "particularly newsworthy" in the handbook. "The church regularly quotes from the handbook when giving policy positions to journalists," the statement said. "However, the material is copyrighted. . . . In this case we have simply notified a particular Web site that they have posted copyrighted material illegally and asked them to remove it."
A Tuesday article on Wikinews, a Wikimedia Foundation-operated site put together by volunteer editors, said the Wikimedia Foundation had received a copyright infringement claim from the LDS Church after Wikinews published an April 19 article describing material in the church handbook obtained by Wikileaks, an independent site not associated with Wikimedia.
Wikimedia spokesman Jay Walsh said Wednesday he knew of no letter from the LDS Church, but added that Wikinews has removed from its articles all descriptions from the handbook in qu estion.
Attempts to reach a Wikileaks representative Wednesday were unsuccessful.
However, the Tuesday Wikinews article quoted a Wikileaks spokesman as saying the material will not be removed.
"Wikileaks will not remove the handbooks [the Church Handbook of Instructions is a two-volume set], which are of substantial interest to current and former
Mormons," according to the article. "Wikileaks will remain a place where people from around the world can safely reveal the truth."
It was unclear Wednesday how the LDS Church will react if Wikileaks does not remove the handbook. "We'll cross that bridge when we come to it," Trotter said.

Source:  sltrib.com/news/ci_9264235


Government May Not Play Favorites Among Religions, Says AU's Lynn

Americans United for Separation of Church and State today urged the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn a lower court decision dealing with a controversy over the display of religious monuments in a Utah public park.

The case, Pleasant Grove City v. Summum, concerns an effort by a religious group called Summum to have its “Seven Aphorisms” displayed in a public park in Pleasant Grove, Utah. Summum argues that it should have the right to permanently display its religious code in Pleasant Grove City’s Pioneer Park because the public land already contains a Ten Commandments monument and other items.

The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of Summum on free-speech grounds. But Americans United and its allies argue that the case should really be looked at as a church-state controversy.

The Rev. Barry W. Lynn, Americans United executive director, said the case raises an important conflict over the value of religious neutrality.

“It’s not the government’s job to display the symbols of any faith,” Lynn said. “When government officials allow religious groups to place permanent monuments on public land, the government is accountable for the message.

“Our government,” he continued, “should not -- and, under our Constitution, may not -- pick-and-choose among religions. This principle stands at the very heart of church-state separation.”

The AU brief asserts that government cannot play favorites among religions and deny a minority religious request because of discomfort with the less-known religious views.

“Religion plays so central a role in civic as well as personal identity in American society that when government associates itself with, or expresses a preference for, any denomination, it marks those of other faiths with a badge of inferiority just as insidious as when government prefers one race to another,” asserts the brief.

The brief was prepared by Americans United Legal Director Ayesha Khan, AU Assistant Legal Director Richard Katskee and AU Madison Fellow Jessica Wolland, in consultation with attorneys affiliated with allied religious and civil liberties groups.

Joining Americans United on the brief are the American Jewish Committee, the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty, People For the American Way Foundation and the Anti-Defamation League.

* * *

Americans United is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom

New twist in tablets case:
U.S. anti-bias group wants focus to be church-state

By  E t h a n   T h o m a s     June 25, 2008

The Anti-Defamation League announced Tuesday that it has joined in a coalition brief, urging the U.S. Supreme Court to consider the church-state aspects of the case involving a religious group's desire to display a monument in a Pleasant Grove park.

A request by the religious group Summum asking Pleasant Grove to display a monument depicting the group's Seven Aphorisms was denied by the city, which has an existing Ten Commandments monument in the park.

In April of last year, the U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a Utah federal judge's decision that the city must open its park to other such monuments or remove them altogether for reasons of free speech. However, the ADL strongly feels that the case has been presented incorrectly as a free-speech case only.

"The case was presented in a strange way to the Supreme Court," said Steve Freeman, ADL director of legal affairs. "It involves a religious display on public property, which should naturally raise issues of church and state separation, but up until now it has been framed as only a free-speech issue."

The brief was filed this week to the court, and rather than take sides on the issue, the brief suggests that the issue is being looked at through the wrong lens.

"We make a point in the brief that if the court looked at the issue through a church-state lens, then the law prohibits government from discriminating against minority religions," said Freeman. "In essence the city should not be taking preference on certain denominations."

The ADL, which was founded in 1913, is the world's leading organization dedicated to fighting anti-Semitism. The ADL is also a strong advocate for church-state separation. In the coalition brief they joined with the American Jewish Committee, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty and People For the American Way Foundation.

"We hope they read it and take it into consideration; the justice system oftentimes looks at these types of briefs to aid in the case background," said Freeman. "We feel this is an extremely important aspect of the case, which is why we have taken the time to tell the court about this."


The power of prayer :
Qaeda wants Republicans, Bush "humiliated"

Libi, a top al Qaeda  commander  believed  to  be  living  in Afghanistan or Pakistan, called for God's wrath to be brought against Bush equating him with past tyrants in history.

"O God, humiliate Bush and his party, O Lord of the Worlds, degrade and defy him," Abu Yahya al-Libi said at the end of sermon marking the Muslim feast of Eid al-Fitr, in a video posted on the Internet.    ~ yahoo.com/news/nm/20081031/

Alaska Gov. Palin violated state-church separation
By G a r a n c e  B u r k e      Associated Press    October 12, 2008

WASILLA, Alaska — The camera closes in on Sarah Palin speaking to young missionaries, vowing from the pulpit to do her part to implement God's will from the governor's office.

What she didn't tell worshippers gathered at the Wasilla Assembly of God church in her hometown was that her appearance that day came courtesy of Alaskan taxpayers, who picked up the $639 tab for her airplane tickets and per diem fees.

An Associated Press review of the Republican vice presidential candidate's record as mayor and governor reveals her use of elected office to promote religious causes, sometimes at taxpayer expense and in ways that blur the line between church and state.

Since she took state office in late 2006, the governor and her family have spent more than $13,000 in taxpayer funds to attend at least 10 religious events and meetings with Christian pastors, including Franklin Graham, the son of evangelical preacher Billy Graham, records show.

Palin was baptized Roman Catholic as a newborn and baptized again in a Pentecostal Assemblies of God church when she was a teenager. She has worshipped at a nondenominational Bible church since 2002, opposes abortion even in cases of rape and incest, and supports classroom discussions about creationism.

Since she was named as John McCain's running mate, Palin's deep faith and support for traditional moral values have rallied conservative voters who initially appeared reluctant to back his campaign.

On a weekend trip from the capital in June, a minister from the Wasilla Assembly of God blessed Palin and Lt. Gov Sean Parnell before a crowd gathered for the "One Lord Sunday" event at the town's hockey rink. Later in the day, she addressed the budding missionaries at her former church.

"As I'm doing my job, let's strike this deal. Your job is going to be out there, reaching the people — (the) hurting people — throughout Alaska," she told students graduating from the church's Masters Commission program. "We can work together to make sure God's will be done here."

A spokeswoman for the McCain-Palin campaign, Maria Comella, said the state paid for Palin's travel and meals on that trip, and for other meetings with Christian groups, because she and her family were invited in their official capacity as Alaska's first family. Parnell did not charge the state a per diem or ask to be reimbursed for travel expenses that day.

"I understand the per diem policy is, I can claim it if I am away from my residence for 12 hours or more. And Anchorage is where my residence is and I'm based from. And this trip took about four hours of driving time and time at the event, so I did not claim per diem for this one," Parnell told the AP.

Palin and her family billed the state $3,022 for the cost of attending Christian gatherings exclusively, including visits to the Assembly of God here and to the congregation they attend in Juneau, according to expense reports reviewed by the AP.

Experts say those trips fall into an ethically gray area, since Democrats and Republicans alike often visit religious venues for personal and official reasons.

J. Brent Walker, who runs a group based in Washington, D.C., that advocates for church-state separation, said based on a reporter's account, Palin's June excursion raised questions.

"Politicians are entitled to freely exercise their religion while in office, but ethically if not legally that part of her trip ought to not be charged to taxpayers," said Walker, executive director of the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty. "It's still fundamentally a religious and spiritual experience she is having."

The Palins billed the state an additional $10,094 in expenses for other multi-day trips that included worship services or religiously themed events, but also involved substantial state business, including the governor's inaugural ball and an oil and gas conference in New Orleans.

Palin also submitted $998 in expenses for a June trip to Anchorage that included a bill signing at Congregation Beth Shalom synagogue, the only non-Christian house of worship she has visited since taking office, according to the McCain campaign.

In response to an AP request, Comella provided a list showing that since January 2007 the governor had attended 25 "faith-based events," including funerals and community meetings held at churches. Many did not appear on the governor's schedule or her travel records.

Palin has said publicly her personal opinions don't "bleed on over into policies."

Still, after the AP reported the governor had accepted tainted donations during her 2006 campaign, she announced she would donate the $2,100 to three charities, including an Anchorage nonprofit aimed at "sharing God's love" to dissuade young women from having abortions.

An AP review of her time as mayor, from late 1996 to 2002, also reveals a commingling of church and state.

Records of her mayoral correspondence show that Palin worked arduously to organize a day of prayer at city hall. She said that with local ministers' help, Wasilla — a city of 7,000 an hour's drive north of Anchorage — could become "a light, or a refuge for others in Alaska and America."

"What a blessing that the Lord has already put into place the Christian leaders, even though I know it's all through the grace of God," she wrote in March 2000 to her former pastor. She thanked him for the loan of a video featuring a Kenyan preacher who later would pray for her protection from witchcraft as she sought higher office.

In that same period, she also joined a grass-roots, faith-based movement to stop the local hospital from performing abortions, a fight that ultimately lost before the Alaska Supreme Court.

Palin's former church and other evangelical denominations were instrumental in ousting members of Valley Hospital's board who supported abortion rights — including the governor's mother-in-law, Faye Palin.

Alaska Right to Life Director Karen Lewis, who led the campaign, said Palin wasn't a leader in the movement initially. But by 1997, after she had been elected mayor, Palin joined a hospital board to make sure the abortion ban held while the courts considered whether the ban was legal, Lewis said.

"We kept pro-life people like Sarah on the association board to ensure children of the womb would be protected," Lewis said. "She's made up of this great fiber of high morals and godly character, and yet she's fearless. She's someone you can depend on to carry the water."

In November 2007, the Alaska Supreme Court ruled that because the hospital received more than $10 million in public funds it was "quasi-public" and couldn't forbid legal abortions.

Comella said Palin joined the hospital's broader association in the mid-1990s. Records show she was elected to the nonprofit's board in 2000.

Ties among those active at the time still run deep: In November, Palin was a keynote speaker at Lewis' "Proudly Pro-Life Dinner" in Anchorage, and the governor billed taxpayers a $60 per diem fee for her work that day.

Palin also is one of just two governors who channeled federal money to support religious groups through a state agency, Alaska's Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives. Palin has made it a priority to unite faith communities, local nonprofits and government to serve the needy, bringing her high marks — and $500,000 — from the Bush administration.

In fiscal year 2008, Alaska was one of only four states to receive $500,000 in federal grant money from the national initiative.

"The governor has a healthy appreciation for faith-based groups that serve Alaskans in need," said Jay Hein, who until recently directed national faith-based initiatives at the White House. "The grant speaks to their organizational strength, and the dynamism of Alaska's operation."

Several Catholic and Christian charities received funding, including $20,000 for a Fairbanks homeless shelter that views itself as a "stable door of evangelism and Christian service" and $36,000 for a drop-in center at an Anchorage mall that seeks to demonstrate "the unconditional love of Jesus to teenagers."

The state ensures all faith-based groups keep a strict separation between their work in the community and their prayer services to ensure recipients don't feel coerced, said Tara Horton, a special assistant to the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services. Though staffers reached out to nonprofits and religious groups of many faiths, mostly Christian organizations applied for funding, she said.

In June, when Alaska legislators decided to cut $712,000 in state support for the office, Parnell sent lawmakers an urgent letter asking them to put it back in the budget. A small portion of state funding was later restored.

"Gov. Palin is motivated by the needs out there, and faith-based and community initiatives are a great way to do that," Parnell said. "It matters not to state government what religion people belong to, so long as they are serving the public and the money they receive is used appropriately."

Still, a state worker who directs an Anchorage-based group that advocates for church-state separation, Lloyd Eggan, said Palin's administration hasn't done enough to assure voters that government money doesn't support ministry.

"That sort of thing is exactly what courts have said is barred by the First Amendment," Eggan said.

source: deseretnews.com/article/1,5143,705254723,00.html

Atheists Criticize Court Ruling allowing Sectarian Prayer

American Atheists today criticized a ruling by the 11th U.S. Circuit
Court of Appeals allowing sectarian prayers before government meetings
in Cobb County, Ga.

The court ruled 2-1 that Cobb County's practice of opening meetings with
prayers that include references to specific deities is constitutional.

Edwin Kagin, American Atheists Legal Director, said "This is a major
change toward establishing a theocracy. Government-sponsored prayer is
clearly unconstitutional, and this point had been established and
re-affirmed several times before this terribly misguided decision"

David Silverman, National Communications Director, explained "The whole
point of the separation of church and state is the requirement that
government treat all citizens equally. This ruling gives government the
power to do the exact opposite as of now, some people in Cobb County
have a right that others do not, simply because of their beliefs. Some
are recognized, acknowledged, and welcomed, and some are not. A
two-class system has been imposed, and it's ludicrous that
any court or any citizen would think this is a good idea. "

For more information contact:
Ed Buckner, President (770) 432-3049
Edwin Kagin, National Legal Director (859) 384-7000
Tel.: (908) 276-7300   Fax: (908) 276-7402

Web Posted: June 26, 2006    American Atheists Magazine

Chester (Chuck) Smalkowski, a member of American Atheists living in
Hardesty, Oklahoma, has been found Not Guilty on all counts by a
twelve person jury in Guymon, Texas County, Oklahoma.

Chuck, together with his family, is featured on the cover of the
current issue of American Atheist Magazine. At the 2006 Annual
Convention, the Smalkowski Family was presented the American Atheists
Award for Valor, now prominently displayed on the wall of their home.

The Smalkowski case attracted national attention after Nicole
Smalkowski was kicked off of the girls' basketball team after refusing
to stand in a circle with her teammates on the gymnasium floor of the
Hardesty public High School and recite the "Lord's Prayer." After
school officials learned that she and her family were Atheists, lies
were created about her as grounds to take her off of the team.

When her father Chuck discovered conclusively that public school and
law enforcement officials had lied to him about his 15 year old
daughter, he and Nicole and her mother Nadia went to the home of
principal Lloyd Buckley to attempt to discuss the matter with him.
Outside of his front fence, the principal struck Chuck, who blocked
the blow. Both men fell to the ground and Buckley sustained minor
injuries, the provable origins of which were strikingly contrary to
his under oath trial testimony. Buckley then took out misdemeanor
criminal assault charges against Chuck. After Smalkowski rejected the
offer to drop the charges if he and his Atheist family left the state,
the charges were raised to a felony. Chuck called American Atheists
for help.

On June 22, 2006, after only a little over two and a half hours of
deliberation, a span of time that included dinner, the jury found
Chuck "Not Guilty" of the felony charge of assault and of two lesser
included misdemeanor assault charges.

Edwin Kagin, National Legal Director for American Atheists and his
wife Helen drove from Kentucky to Guymon, Oklahoma for the five day
trial. Edwin had become registered as an attorney in Oklahoma for the
purpose of assisting Tim Gungoll, Chuck's attorney from Enid,
Oklahoma. Mr. Kagin conducted the voir dire of the prospective jury,
gave the opening and closing statements in the case, cross examined
the Superintendent of the Hardesty public schools, David Davidson, and
conducted the direct examination of the defendant Chuck Smalkowski.
Tim cross examined the other prosecution witnesses and conducted the
direct examination of Nicole and Nadia Smalkowski.

The Atheist and Christian attorneys worked together effectively for
the cause of justice and to vindicate an Atheist falsely accused.

The true significance of this trial is that this is the first case we
know of in American jurisprudence where Atheism has been directly used
in as a defense in a criminal trial.

Edwin introduced himself to the jury as National Legal Director for
American Atheists and asked the prospective jury in the Oklahoma
panhandle if they could accept the testimony of an Atheist over that
of a professed Christian. When the jury looked at him blankly, the
judge asked the prospects if they understood the question. One woman
spoke for many in the group by asking "What is an Atheist?"
Edwin explained that an Atheist was a person who did not believe in a
god or gods or in a supernatural world, and that the defendant and his
entire family were such persons. Many of the prospects said they
could not believe such a person over a Christian and were struck for
cause. To their credit, many members of the jury panel, including two
ministers' wives, told the judge they could not be fair to an Atheist
in such a situation and were excused.

Edwin also told the prospective jurors that his co-counsel Tim Gungoll
believed Jesus Christ to be his personal savior and that Tim was a
practicing Roman Catholic who asked if the jury might feel him a
hypocrite to his faith for defending Chuck. Ultimately a jury of
twelve was seated who had sworn that they could believe the testimony
of an Atheist over that of a Christian.

In closing argument, Edwin told the jury that it really should not be
necessary for an Atheist to tell them it is wrong to lie under oath,
as he reminded them the Christian school officials and the police had
done in their sworn trial testimony. "Thou shall not bare false
witness against thy neighbor. Ninth Commandment. Eight if you are
Roman Catholic," Kagin said.

The jury believed the Atheists. Unanimously.

The night of the verdict, tornados of unusual violence descended on
the panhandle of Oklahoma. The home of the Principal who had brought
the false charges against Chuck Smalkowski was severely damaged.

This fact has no relationship whatsoever to the verdict.

A civil lawsuit in Federal Court, with the Smalkowski Family and
American Atheists as Plaintiffs, is contemplated.

by Chester Smalkowski
Web Posted: July 8, 2006     American Atheists Magazine

From the AANEWS      atheists.org/aanews  Editor: Below, we are
reproducing, "as is" and un-edited, the account circulating on the internet
and the democraticunderground.com web site penned by Chester Smalkowski and
aptly titled "Just Another Salem."

It is his personal story about the ordeal he and has family have been swept
up in after their daughter, Nadia, refused to join a prayer circle during a basketball game at
their local high school. Nadia, instead, recited the "godless" Pledge of Allegiance.

From there, events went out of control. Chester Smalkowski and family
members attempted to hold a conversation with the high school principal.
That turned into a physical altercation, Mr. Smalkowski was arrested under a
battery of charges, and the authorities offered to dismiss the case if the
Atheist family fled the state.

American Atheists joined in the subsequent criminal case, and Chester Smalkowski --
battling incredible "Bible Belt" odds in the courtroom -- was found innocent of the charges.
News of that can be found on the American Atheists web site.

Edwin Kagin National Legal Director for American Atheists, is preparing a federal
action which will touch on a number of issues in the Smalkowski case including violations
of this Atheist family's civil rights.

Chester Smalkowski vented his thoughts about this experience on a blog.
AANEWS is reproducing this story for the benefit of our readers, unedited
and in its original format. This conveys the honest, emotional, "from the
heart" sentiments of Mr. Smalkowski, and constitutes one man's recollection
of an agonizing experience due to religious intolerance and fanaticism.
American Atheists welcomes support so that we may continue our efforts on
behalf of Chester Smalkowski and his family.
There are lessons to be learned. Perhaps the most important, though, is that
"it can happen here," in America, in the year 2006.

-- Conrad Goeringer,

AANEWS - American Atheists

The bailiff took the piece of paper from the foreman of the jury and handed
it to the Judge. He opened the paper and while staring at it he nodded. The
courtroom was silent and the jury stared straight ahead.

   I have been in many situations where my life or limb were on the line but
I was still in the game and had a hand to play. But not here, here I just
sat waiting for the verdict.

   Though I worried about being sent away for five years on bogus charges,
my dread was the Christian mob. They knew I must be found guilty in order to
slow or stop the civil case being filed in Federal court. Since the start of
my daughter's stand against the public schools disregard for the law of the
land, it was imperative to run us out of the county to make any civil action
non valid. With me in jail for five years running my family out would be a
whole lot easier, or so they might have thought.

   The courtroom was packed for it is the Bible belt. There was no love in
this courtroom.

   The loving Christians brought their children to hear the verdict. They
brought the town. They brought ministers. I even saw another Judge in the
back of the room. The Judge who in an earlier hearing while slapping an inch
thick stack of papers on his bench saying with a list of witnesses this big
you had better be a good boy. It was lies then, it was lies now and the DA
knew it! (She was later forced to hand over a written statement she denied
for over a year existed!) People prayed openly for a conviction. Many
holding their bibles. During the trial the Prosecutions side of the
courtroom was packed. Only my son and Edwin Kagin's wife, Helen sat behind
me, but now there was not enough room in the whole courtroom.

   Yet now the so-called victim, the 325 lbs victim, the ex Marine, hurrahs,
was nowhere to be found. Neither was the woman assistant district attorney
anywhere to be found. Whose vindictive, bogus case this was from the start.

   What sort of place is this?

   Well this is not the place for a little debate in a coffee shop with the
sweet salt air rolling up from San Francisco bay. This is a place where the
children write on their schoolbooks the south will rise again. This is a
place where they say that black people caused slavery! Where they burn rock
Mormons are the tools of Satan. That my daughter is gay cause only
homosexuals vote for Kerry and Christians vote for Bush. Atheists worship
Satan! Where religious fanaticism is fused with political rhetoric and
political leaders pander to this madness. This place has a sickness, a
malignant disease and it is spreading. Edwin saw it first hand.

   There has not been many a trial with a Not Guilty verdict in this county
for years. The head DA is good friends with the self-righteous in the
courtroom and greets them all by name. You know the type.

   Many old women in the courtroom are taking notes. Others have been taking
notes at every hearing for the past year and a half! They strain to listen
not wanting to miss one juicy word. With the pens and pads they write
continuously. The pads shaking with every push of the pen. Even writing down
what my children spoke amongst themselves.

   Blue gray haired old Christian spinsters bitter for wasting all those
fruitful years now just waiting for those pearly gates. These are truly the
wicked. You have seen them before. With their bogus self-righteousness they
strut and sneer. How far we have not come.

   Others had walked out into the hall and warned a police witness saying
that justice must be served, that justice better be served. The judge called
a hearing on the threat.

   He warned the crowd that if it happens one more time he would have no
choice but to throw out the case. He was between a rock and a hard place. He
knows my lawyers are watching and the loving Christians are out for my
blood, and they are watching too. The law, elections and politics were all
in play. The Judge left the court for his chambers and stayed away for a
quite awhile.

   The Christians, the loving Christians! Praying to a God whose wings are
dripping in the blood of innocent men, woman and children down through the
ages. Truly hypocrisy is one of their commandments and the blood of the
innocence one of their sacraments!

   Christian against Christian, Christian against Moslem, Christian against
Mormon. Basically Christian against anyone or anything that challenges their
pathetic little fairy tale.

   Go to any Indian reservation and see the lies and broken promises by a
country with "Under God" in their pledge.

   I assume I need not have to explain about the loving hymns sung in church
on Sunday and beatings of black slaves on Monday. But on Monday night the
good old Master has a little tippy toe over to slave huts for a little brown
sugar. While the queen of the manor is in the master bedroom past out on an
opium tonic. Praise the Lord!

   Well that was then but now the court was about to hear the verdict. There
was a feeding frenzy about to begin with the dirty little atheist and his
family put in their place with him in jail and the family run out of town.
Like the teacher told my daughter "This is a Christian country and if you
don't like it get out!"

   I could hear my heart beat in my ears and I dreaded the cheers from the
righteous mob that were about to begin. The pain of having my family being
in the front row to witness this swirling cesspool of hatred come to its
inevitable end with my head on a pike, sucked the air right out of my lungs.

   It was truly just another Salem. Different time and place. Same
characters with new names. Oh, no gallows or big oak tree this time. But if
they could they surely would. How far we have not come. I know, I already
said that but do you really understand what a tragedy it means? The whole
universe is ours if we want it but instead we must gravel in the dirt having
to debate the obvious.

   I have been standing against injustice most of my life. It is my nature.
I am a child of the 60's and proud of it. But what of my poor family? They
stood so proud and strong. They are tougher than I will ever be. I had told
them do not cry. Do not give these bastards any satisfaction. I told my wife
if I see you cry I will surely loose it. I said it is in the Federal courts
we will set things right and send that wall higher than it has ever been. On
the wall behind us was a painting of the signing of the Declaration.

   The judge handed the verdict to the clerk. The only sound was the paper.
The paper in the clerk's hands with the hand written words that spelled my
doom, my family's fate and the inevitable cheers from the Christian mob.

   With my guts in my throat and no air to breathe. The court clerk read the
decision of the jury.

   We the jury find the defendant:
On the charge of Aggravated Assault and Battery:   Not Guilty!
On the charge of Assault and Battery:  Not Guilty!
On the charge of Assault:  Not Guilty! 
On the charge of Battery:  Not Guilty!

   Not a word, not a sound. The lynching had been cancelled. I took my first
free breath in almost two years. I looked at the jury and mouth the words
thank you. I gazed at the floor as floodgates opened, I dared not move my
head that others might see. Charley don't cry, but free air has its effects.

   With all their praying, lies, crooked cops, warning that justice better
be done, packing the courthouse with their followers, Even a teacher on the
jury who had taught at the Hardesty School. (Our motion to take her off the
jury denied.) Not guilty was still the outcome. The evidence was obvious.
This was a bad case. And 12 men and women had the guts.

   From the start of this legal fight my lawyers said Atheism must be kept
out. That it was a no go in the Bible belt. I was just adamant that Atheism
be brought in. For it is the reason. It was the motive for all the lies and
hate. I felt it was about time that this dirty little secret of hate,
persecution, Christian madness and hypocrisy is brought out into the light
of day. When I told my lawyers this they all gave me the same bewildered

   So one by one, I dropped one lawyer then two. Then I had a hard time in
finding another one. My third lawyer was still trying to convince me to keep
my atheism out even up till the day of the trial. I still said no. Somewhere
along the line I talk to the ACLU out of San Francisco. Who let me know my
first civil lawyer was not telling me the whole story. I was advised by them
and many others to complain to the Bar about him.

   You see he never told me that the prayer in itself is illegal. That the
schools in this area were not following the state and federal funding
guidelines. When I asked him after finding out from the ACLU. He said yes it
is against the law.

   I told him I want to have it stopped. He told me he would not for he was
a Christian and he believed there should be school prayer. His statement
floored me for it bordered on madness. I said what you believe and what you
do for a client is two different things and that you took an oath. He still

   It did not matter to him that I had already given him $10,000 dollars. He
knows we are not rich. So I wrote a letter to him to complain about his
refusing to take my daughters civil case where it should have gone from the
start. And I asked for my money back. He sent me a bill for another $5000
saying it was the charge for reading my letter and wasting his time.

   In my search for a civil attorney it became clear that no one would touch
this case. In all of Oklahoma I could not find an attorney. My criminal
attorney said he would look at it but only after I paid him his $15000 for
the criminal case. He sent me a letter that the funds for the criminal were
coming too slow and suggested that I seek other counsel for the civil
matter. But even after he got his $15000 he would only take it if I paid him
more. (Now that I have won the criminal case he wants on the civil. Suffice
to say he is off the civil!)

   Eventually I contacted the American Atheist, which was referred to me by
Edward Tabash, who was referred to me by a Mr. Robert Tierman. I told them
my problem in finding an attorney willing to take church and state case in
which the people are blatantly breaking the law. Yet no one will take it.
American Atheist, being out of another state, could not refer me to anyone.
But they said they would try to help. The ACLU out of Oklahoma City refused.
They sent me some standard letter. It really hurt that I did not even rate a
return call or a reason. I felt betrayed, lost and confused.

   Was this the United States? Where freedom reigns?

   The whole family was under constant stress. Police trying to get search
warrants to the property by having ex-employees file false statements. Other
cops trying to hire ex-cons to beat me up. The whole town knows of it! The
Sheriff trying to have my bond pulled by the bail bondsman when there was no
legal way to do it. My kids have been out of school since November.
Principal's son saying should he get a gun when he sees my daughter and my
son. DA has yet to reply to our concerns. The Department of Human Services
comes to my place saying they received a complaint that I starve my kids. It
was even obvious to them the charge was bogus.

   We have become very good at using back roads. The police follow us
around. Traffic tickets that when challenged were dropped in court. Not to
mention the stares and whispers, the betrayal from employees, one of my
healthy dogs dying. Brush fires starting up upwind.

   An FBI agent even said, "You aren't kidding". When it was obvious someone
followed us and was watching our meeting out in the middle of nowhere. I was
told about a few things. All I can say is that some of the crooks out here
now charged with crimes wore badges and guns! But he could not help my
family and me. Not without witnesses willing to come forward. One scared
witness left the state. The last words she spoke to me were, Chuck I don't
want to end up dead in a ditch!

   Just what you would expect life to be like out here in the Bible belt!

   The roller coaster of emotions we went through every minute, every day.
It was truly a hell. There were days we spoke little. Other days we spoke
late into the night. You get to a point you become numb, but it doesn't
last. For it is all aboard and you are on the roller coaster again.

   My poor family. They were standing tall. But they would not even be in
this place if it were not for me and my bright idea about centralizing our
business. We all missed the desert. The free open Mojave Desert. My family
did not ask for this. They deserved better. I saw them all suffering.

   Many a night I would sit in the barn alone with a pint of scotch and look
at the high beams and the rope on the wall.

   Then out of the blue my wife received a call from Ellen Johnson who said
they had a lawyer that can help us, an Edwin Kagin who is their legal
director. Well I called him up, and our civil case is up and running.

   Edwin Kagin also by my request came to my criminal case for the two cases
are obviously interrelated. There were also other reasons.

   Simply stated without Edwin Kagin, Ellen Johnson and American Atheist I
would be in jail now, or worse. Without them, we would have no federal case
on separation of church and state. The only group, the only lawyer that
would stand with my family and me to protect the wall and not cringe at me
wanting to put atheism as part of my defense.

   In Edwin's opening statement American Atheist magazine was shown. The
crowd almost rioted. He explained that Atheism was not a dirty word and that
it was a conclusion. That my family and I are not devil worshippers. We just
have no Gods. It was the basis of the case. It was the danger. It was the
truth. Yet the only lawyer to go there freely was Edwin Kagin.

   In a world where superstition is the norm and those who seek another path
are ridiculed or worse. Being an atheist takes guts. Freedom is never freely
given. The good fight is always there.

   Oh you can hide yourself in the latest sitcom or have one or two more
scotch and waters but the good fight is still there. You can run to your
malls and buy yourself crazy with credit card frenzy. But the good fight is
still there. You can look away and deny allegiance. But the good fight is
still there. These are the times that try men's courage. You can debate till
you're blue in the face. It will not change a damn thing.

   Our forefathers are on our side in this fight. Trust me. From Adams to
Madison to Jefferson and Paine they all knew the dangers of a Theocracy.
They wrote the Constitution to assure it. And within the federal courts we
can protect this nation from a Theocracy.

   The wall between the church and state must stand. But the wall is being
battered and cracks now appear. The Christians are at the gate attempting to
breach the wall and send us back down the road to an age of darkness,
bloodshed and fear. My family and myself are willing to stand and fight the
good fight. If we lose some skin, so be it. We have no more else to give. We
are financially done. Thanks to American Atheist, Ellen Johnson and Edwin
Kagin for the first time we do not fight alone.

   Please stand together with us and fight the good fight. The fight that
our forefathers began. Lets make the wall so high between Church and State
that they who wish to tear it down will know better and be content with
staying in their churches.

   For freedom has never been free! There can be no freedom for all if the
wall does not stand.

   The wall must stand.
Chuck, Nadia, Nicole, Czeslaw and Bridgette Smalkowski

Copyright (c) 2008 American Atheists, Inc.      atheists.org   All  rights reserved.    Reprinted by permission

Ky. atheists want God out of homeland security
State law requires office to acknowledge divine help in anti-terror efforts

FRANKFORT, Ky. — A group of atheists filed a lawsuit Tuesday seeking to remove part of a state anti-terrorism law that requires Kentucky's Office of Homeland Security to acknowledge it can't keep the state safe without God's help.

American Atheists Inc. sued in state court over a 2002 law that stresses God's role in Kentucky's homeland security alongside the military, police agencies and health departments.

Of particular concern is a 2006 clause requiring the Office of Homeland Security to post a plaque that says the safety and security of the state "cannot be achieved apart from reliance upon almighty God" and to stress that fact through training and educational materials.

The plaque, posted at the Kentucky Emergency Operations Center in Frankfort, includes the Bible verse: "Except the Lord keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain."

"It is one of the most egregiously and breathtakingly unconstitutional actions by a state legislature that I've ever seen," said Edwin F. Kagin, national legal director of Parsippany, N.J.-based American Atheists Inc. The group claims the law violates both the state and U.S. constitutions.

But Democratic state Rep. Tom Riner, a Baptist minister from Louisville, said he considers it vitally important to acknowledge God's role in protecting Kentucky and the nation.

"No government by itself can guarantee perfect security," Riner said. "There will always be this opposition to the acknowledgment of divine providence, but this is a foundational understanding of what America is."

Center of legal battles
Kentucky has been at the center of a series of legal battles involving religious issues in recent years, most involving displays of the Ten Commandments in public buildings. One case went to the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled in 2005 that such displays inside courthouses in two counties were unconstitutional.

Kentucky isn't the only state dealing with religious issues, but Ed Buckner, president of American Atheists, said it's alone in officially enlisting God in homeland security.

"I'm not aware of any other state or commonwealth that is attempting to dump their clear responsibility for protecting their citizens onto God or any other mythological creature," Buckner said.

State Rep. David Floyd, R-Bardstown, said the preamble to the Kentucky constitution references a people "grateful to almighty God," so he said he sees no constitutional violation in enlisting God in the state's homeland security efforts.

"God help us if we don't," he said.  
              Source: msnbc.msn.com/id/28029857/

WA. Atheists add Sign to Capitol X-mas Display in 2008

Saturday, November 29, 2008 – updated: 12:22 pm PST December 1, 2008

OLYMPIA, Wash. -- An atheistic sign is included in the state Capitol's holiday display that includes a holiday tree and a Christian nativity scene.

The sign, a new addition this year, is sponsored by the Freedom from Religion Foundation. The sign reads, "Religion is but myth and superstition that hardens hearts and enslaves minds."

Annie Laurie Gaylor, foundation co-president, said in a prepared statement that the sign is a reminder of the "real reason for the season, the winter solstice." The solstice, on Dec. 21 this year, is the shortest day of the year.

The Capitol has had a holiday tree, provided by the Association of Washington Business, for 19 years.

In 2006, it was joined by a menorah sponsored by a Seattle Jewish group. A menorah is a candelabrum that recognizes Hanukkah.

That prompted a lawmaker from Spokane to stage a protest at the Capitol, demanding the holiday tree be called a "Christmas tree." It also led a local real estate agent to sue the state to allow the nativity display depicting the birth of Jesus.

There have been no requests for a menorah display this year.

The tree -- officially called the "Capitol Holiday Kids Tree" -- is part of a charity drive for rural fire departments.

A lighting ceremony for the tree -- up to 30 feet tall -- is scheduled for 6 p.m. Friday
.              Source:  k i r o t v . c o m

Washington Atheists' Sign Stolen From Capitol

B y M a l l o r y S i m o n CNN Dec 2008

An atheist sign criticizing Christianity that was erected alongside a Nativity scene was taken from the Legislative Building in Olympia, Washington, on Friday and later found in a ditch.

An employee from country radio station KMPS-FM in Seattle told CNN the sign was dropped off at the station by someone who found it in a ditch.

"I thought it would be safe," Freedom From Religion Foundation co-founder Annie Laurie Gaylor told CNN earlier Friday. "It's always a shock when your sign is censored or stolen or mutilated. It's not something you get used to."

The sign, which celebrates the winter solstice, has had some residents and Christian organizations calling atheists Scrooges because they said it was attacking the celebration of Jesus Christ's birth.

"Religion is but myth and superstition that hardens hearts and enslaves minds," the sign from the Freedom From Religion Foundation says in part.

The sign, which was at the Legislative Building at 6:30 a.m. PT, was gone by 7:30 a.m., Gaylor said.

The incident will not stifle the group's message, Gaylor said. Before reports of the placard's recovery, she said a temporary sign with the same message would be placed in the building's Rotunda. Gaylor said a note would be attached saying, "Thou shalt not steal."

"I guess they don't follow their own commandments," Gaylor said. "There's nothing out there with the atheist point of view, and now there is such a firestorm that we have the audacity to exist. And then [whoever took the sign] stifles our speech."

Gaylor said that police are checking security cameras pointed at the building's entrances and exits to see if they can see anyone stealing the sign.

"It's probably about 50 pounds, " Gaylor said. "My brother-in-law was huffing and puffing carrying it up the stairs. It's definitely not something you can stick under your arm or conceal."

The Washington State Patrol, which is handling the incident, could not be reached for comment.

Dan Barker, a former evangelical preacher and co-founder of the group, said it was important for atheists to see their viewpoints validated alongside everyone else's.

Barker said the display is especially important given that 25 percent of Washington state residents are unaffiliated with religion or do not believe in God. (A recent survey by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life found 23 percent of Washingtonians said they were unaffiliated with a religion and 7 percent said they didn't believe in God.)

"It's not that we are trying to coerce anyone; in a way our sign is a signal of protest," Barker said. "If there can be a Nativity scene saying that we are all going to hell if we don't bow down to Jesus, we should be at the table to share our views."

He said if anything, it's the Nativity scene that is the intrusion.

"Most people think December is for Christians and view our signs as an intrusion, when actually it's the other way around," he said. "People have been celebrating the winter solstice long before Christmas. We see Christianity as the intruder, trying to steal the holiday from all of us humans."

The scene in Washington state is not unfamiliar. Barker has had signs in Madison, Wisconsin, for 13 years. The placard is often turned around so the message can't be seen, and one year, someone threw acid on it, forcing the group to encase it in Plexiglas.

In Washington, D.C., the American Humanist Association began a bus ad campaign this month questioning belief in God.

"Why believe in a God?" the advertisement asks. "Just be good for goodness sake."

That ad has caused the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority to field hundreds of complaints, the group said, but it has heard just as much positive feedback, said Fred Edwords, the association's spokesman.

Edwords said the ad campaign, which features a shrugging Santa Claus, was not meant to attack Christmas but rather to reach out to an untapped audience.

Edwords maintains the campaign began in December mostly because the group had extra money left over for the year. The connection to Christmas is a coincidence, he said.

"There are a lot of people out there who don't know there are organizations like ours to serve their needs," Edwords said. "The thing is, to reach a minority group, in order to be heard, everyone in the room has to hear you, even when they don't want to."

The ad campaign, Edwords said, is to make people think. He said he doesn't expect to "convert" anyone.

But the Christian Coalition of America is urging members to oppose the advertisements.

"Although a number of humanists and atheists continue to attempt to rid God and Christmas from the public square, the American people are overwhelmingly opposed to such efforts," Roberta Combs, the group's president said in a press release.

"We will ask our millions of supporters to call the city of Washington, D.C., and Congress to stop this un-Godly campaign."

As far as the criticism goes, Edwords said there are far more controversial placards in Washington.

"That's D.C. -- this is a political center," he said. "If I can see a placard with dead fetuses on it, I think someone can look at our question and just think about it."

The anger over the display in Olympia began after it was assembled Monday. The sentiment grew after some national media personalities called upon viewers to flood the phone lines of the governor's office.

The governor's office told The Seattle Times it received more than 200 calls an hour afterward.

"I happen to be a Christian, and I don't agree with the display that is up there," Washington Gov. Christine Gregoire told The Olympian newspaper. "But that doesn't mean that as governor, I have the right to deny their ability to express their free speech."

For some, the issue isn't even that the atheists are putting their thoughts on display, but rather the way in which they are doing it.

"They are shooting themselves in the foot," said iReport contributor Rich Phillips, who describes himself as an atheist. "Everyone's out there for the holidays, trying to represent their religion, their beliefs, and it's a time to be positive."

The atheist message was never intended to attack anyone, Barker said.
"When people ask us, 'Why are you hateful? Why are you putting up something critical of people's holidays? -- we respond that we kind of feel that the Christian message is the hate message," he said. "On that Nativity scene, there is this threat of internal violence if we don't submit to that master. Hate speech goes both ways."

Source: cnn.com/2008/LIVING/12/05/atheists.christmas/index.html

Robert Tilton: From downfall to windfall: Living on a prayer
Tilton's ministry reaching out again, raking in millions

Tulsa World / May 4, 2003          B y   Z i v a   B r a n s t e t t e r

More than 10 years after his ministry collapsed in scandal, Robert Tilton is reaching millions of television viewers with his pitches for money, living comfortably in south Florida and maintaining a connection with Tulsa.

Far from shrinking into obscurity, Tilton is reaping millions from his mailing list and daily shows on Black Entertainment Television. He has formed two companies, bought a 50-foot yacht and purchased a $1.3 million piece of oceanfront property in Miami Beach through his company, records show.

And although Tilton's downfall began when prayer requests sent to him were thrown away in Tulsa trash Dumpsters, prayer requests sent to his Tulsa post office box two years ago were apparently still being discarded. A woman who spent two days opening mail to Tilton told the Tulsa World that she and other workers were instructed to remove the cash and checks and throw away the letters and prayer requests written to Tilton.

Tilton did not return calls seeking comment. In a letter to the Tulsa World, he wrote: "For years, we have taken great care to assure that all prayer requests are delivered to me personally and prayed over by me. Written instructions are always given with each communication by this ministry to ensure that prayer requests are to come to me personally."

James Ferris, a Tulsa attorney who has helped Tilton set up several business ventures, declined to answer questions regarding Tilton:

"I'm not a very good PR person, and you know how lawyers are about confidentialities. I'm not sure how much I could tell you. Everything I would have to say about the ministry would be good, of course."

A longtime business partner, Dan Moroso, also refused to discuss Tilton. Moroso said he had not done business with Tilton "in a long, long time."

Moroso is listed as the vice president of Liberator Productions, a Miami, Fla., company, in a filing dated May 29, 2002, and Tilton is listed as the president of the for-profit company. Property records show Moroso lives several blocks away from the home Tilton is building in Miami Beach.

Tulsa attorney Gary Richardson filed several lawsuits against Tilton on behalf of people who had filmed testimonials or donated money to Tilton. One of the suits resulted in a $1.5 million verdict against Tilton but was reversed on appeal.

"He's a great communicator and very effective at touching people in their emotions and motivating them," Richardson said. "He's an enjoyable person to be around, but you just want to keep your hands on your pocketbook."

Richardson said Tilton's followers are often in desperate situations.

"The people that these guys so often attract are people that are going under for the third time. If you looked up and saw a straw on the surface of that water, you would still reach for the straw."
Brain-eating rats

In 1991, ABC-TV's "PrimeTime Live" program reported that Tilton's Word of Faith World Outreach Center Church, then based in Dallas, was making $80 million a year from followers through its direct mail campaign. At the time, Tilton's television show, "Success-N-Life," was broadcast by 200 stations nationwide and his church claimed 10,000 members. "PrimeTime Live" suggested Tilton's ministry engaged in mail fraud and showed contributors' letters, many of them requests for help, in a trash Dumpster outside Commercial Bank of Tulsa. A Tulsa recycler said he also found thousands of prayer requests for Tilton's ministry among the waste sent to him by a company that handled Tilton's mail.

The program sparked an investigation by the Texas attorney general and numerous lawsuits. Stations canceled Tilton's television program until it eventually went off the air.

He divorced his first wife, Marte Tilton, in 1993, and married evangelist and former beauty queen Leigh Valentine the following year.

Two years later, his first wife sued for more than $1 million and his marriage to Valentine ended in a bitter public feud. Valentine alleged Tilton, in a drunken rage, verbally abused her, claimed he was the pope and thought rats were eating his brain. She eventually lost her claim to church assets.

Tilton has since married a Florida woman, Maria Rodriguez.

Tilton sold his Dallas church in 1999 for $6.1 million. At the time, headlines dubbed Tilton a "beleaguered TV preacher" and news coverage portrayed a man beset by marital and financial problems. But he was already well into his comeback.

During testimony in his divorce from Valentine, Tilton testified that he was bringing in about $800,000 per month and living aboard a $450,000 yacht in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Records show the 50-foot yacht, named the Liberty Leigh, was registered to Tilton.

Tilton returned to the air in 1997, buying time on independent television stations in several large cities. The following year, his program began airing on Black Entertainment Television.

Tilton's show airs on the network for one hour each morning at 3 a.m, as well as 6:30 a.m. on Mondays and 10 p.m. Sundays. The network said it has a potential audience of 74 million homes, although it had no figures on individual viewership of Tilton's show.

Ole Anthony, the founder of the religious watchdog group the Trinity Foundation, said Tilton pays $50,000 per month for the air time. The foundation, based in Dallas, was largely responsible for exposing Tilton's practices in 1991.

Anthony estimates that Tilton's ministry is grossing $24 million a year and that most of his shows are reruns or repackaged versions of older shows.

"With no production costs, a fraction of his former TV time budget, his net must rival that of the good old days with absolutely no effort on his part," Anthony said.

"The purpose of all of it, including the prayer line, is to get names and addresses, which are the key to successful direct mail."

Tilton's Miami, Fla., studio has an ancient Rome theme, complete with faux stone pillars and vine-covered walls, piles of faux boulders, urns and other artifacts.

The shows feature testimonials from working-class people who say they experienced a financial turnaround after giving hundreds or even thousands to Tilton. During one recently aired show, Tilton, clad in a tailored brown suit, urges viewers to make a financial "vow" to his ministry even if they are in debt.

"Anyone can give when things look good, but when you give out of want, when things don't look good . . . it releases faith," he says.

Tilton exhorts viewers toward the end of his show to make a $1,000 vow because "my God is going to supply your need.

"Thank God we have freedom of religion in America, that I can boldly proclaim these powerful truths to you."

As the show continues, Tilton reads the names and hometowns of viewers who have called to pledge money. At the end of the program, a gospel singer performs while Tilton sits at an imposing stone desk nearby. Tilton gleefully claps his hands as an assistant hands him stacks of yellow pledge sheets.

Those who call a toll-free number broadcast on his show and give their address are placed on the ministry's mailing list. They receive two or three mailings from Tilton each month.

Tilton's mailings promise a financial windfall from God if the recipient will only donate to his ministry. Some letters request specific amounts, such as $200. Many mailings contain trinkets such as packets of anointing oil, miracle bracelets, prayer cloths and large posters of Tilton grimacing in prayer.

The mailings request that do nations and prayer requests be sent to a Tulsa post office box.

Two years ago, employees who opened the mail were instructed to remove the money and throw out the letters and prayer requests, according to a Tulsa woman. Patricia Morrow said she worked for Mail Services Inc. for two days in 2001, opening letters addressed to "Rev. Tilton" and taking out the cash.

Morrow, 63, said she got the job through an employment agency. Morrow said she worked for two days in the basement of the Kennedy Building in an old bank vault opening hundreds of letters. The building at 321 S. Boston Ave. is the same address where Tilton prayer requests were found in Dumpsters in 1991.

"They were all addressed to this Rev. Tilton," Morrow said of the letters she opened.

"You're sat down in a cubicle and given a letter opener. You have bundles and bundles of mail and a trash bin beside you. You slice open the envelope, take the money out and throw the letter away in the bin."

She said another employee came by to empty the trash bins regularly and a manager collected the cash and checks from employees who opened the letters.

"The bins are picked up and emptied into trash sacks and put into a special room. They weren't there the next day."

Morrow said there was no attempt to keep the letters together and it was apparent that no one planned to read them. But Morrow read many of them during her two days with Mail Services Inc.

"You cannot help but read them," she said. "All these letters were like, 'Pray for me,' because they were terminal or their son is terminal or there was no money for food . . . desperate situations."

She said nearly all of the letters she opened were from rural Florida or rural Georgia and they often contained cash in odd amounts.

"There would be like $17, and the letter would say, 'I realize I have to give $2 more than I usually give.' "

She described the letter writers as lonely homebound people in rural areas wanting help from God.

Morrow said there were about a dozen other women opening mail and several told her that employees were expected to open enough letters to produce $1,000 per hour.

"It was an unstated criteria that you open enough envelopes to generate $1,000 an hour. It was unbelievable, literally unbelievable."

After opening the letters for two days, Morrow said she told a manager at her employment agency that she had concerns about what was going on there.

"I told her that it was getting to me about these letters and could she find me another job?"

Morrow said she was then told to leave Mail Services' office immediately and not finish the work day.

Officials at the Kennedy Building would not comment on whether Tilton's mail was still being opened there.

Tilton is still listed as pastor of a small church, Church Triumphant, that meets in an office building in Farmers Branch, Texas. During worship services last Sunday, about 70 people attended and sang for an hour while a four-member church band played.

Bob Wright preached a sermon focusing on prosperity. Wright, who also operates a used-car dealership in Dallas, said that he had faith that God would send people to Wright's car lot.

A woman who attended the service said Tilton preached at the church about one year ago and she was unsure when he would return.

Property records list the owner as Church Triumphant and list the same Tulsa post office box used by Tilton for several for-profit corporations. Wright did not return calls seeking comment.

Anthony said Tilton maintains an affiliation with the church so that he can maintain his organization's tax-exempt status as a church and avoid filing financial returns.

"Their moral code is not the Bible. Their moral code is the IRS code," Anthony said.
Miami Beach property

In addition to operating his ministry, Tilton has formed several for-profit companies in Florida and Oklahoma, records show. Tilton formed Venetian Way Holdings Inc. three years ago. The company lists its address as 320 S. Boston Ave., the address of Ferris, Tilton's Tulsa attorney. According to its incorporation papers, the company exists to hold title to property for a tax-exempt organization.

Records show Venetian Way Holdings paid $1.39 million for a 12,000-square-foot lot on an island fronting the Biscayne Bay in Miami Beach two years ago.

Building permits have been issued for a two-story, single-family home with a tile roof, pool, spa and terraced deck. The holding company takes its name from the street on which the home sits: Venetian Way.

Tilton listed himself as owner of the property in a building permit request for a burglar alarm.

Tilton also formed Liberator Productions Inc. three years ago, with Moroso as vice president and Barbara Miller of Tulsa, as secretary-treasurer. The company lists a Tulsa post office box as its address.

Mail-order faith comes with accessories

Trinkets -- including oil, a bracelet and the "Green Financial Prayer Cloth" -- are supposed to bring wealth. God wants to make you rich, promises "Pastor Bob" Tilton, and Tilton will send you financial prayer cloths, posters of himself, packets of oil and other trinkets to make it happen.

Those who send money to Tilton's ministry through his daily shows on Black Entertainment Television wind up on his massive mailing list. His mailings, several each month, urge recipients to send money to Tilton's Tulsa post office box.

Letters are personalized, with the recipient's first name and hometown sprinkled throughout. All are signed "Bob" in handwriting and "Pastor Bob Tilton" underneath.

Here are excerpts from several recent mailings:

Feb. 22: "I've sent you this packet of oil to help you release your faith for your emergency miracle," states the letter. "Use it to anoint whatever represents your Emergency Crisis. If it's a financial crisis, anoint your wallet or billfold or checkbook."

The letter ends by asking for a "sacrificial gift of $20 or the largest gift you can possibly give even if you have to scrape the bottom of your meal barrel."

March 1: A thick mailing includes a large poster of Tilton with one hand raised and his eyes closed tightly, surrounded by 21 squares marking a calendar. The mailing includes 21 stickers that recipients are to peel off and affix each day to the poster. It also includes a red "prayer of agreement miracle cloth" and three forms that recipients can return along with financial donations during each week of the 21-day prayer "campaign."

Tilton is pictured throughout the mailing grimacing in prayer, on his knees praying and clutching a red cloth and praying.

"Take the enclosed poster of me and my hand and put it up on your refrigerator or a mirror . . . somewhere so that you'll see it every day. Then every day for the next 21 days . . . lay your hand on top of mine and agree with me for your miracle," the letter states.

The letter also directs recipients to trace their hand on a "miracle request" form and return it with the red prayer cloth. Tilton promises to take the requests and cloths "to my prayer room or my prayer altar on my daily TV program, Success-N-Life."

The letter ends by requesting "your best financial gift as an expression of appreciation."

"You don't buy God but all throughout the Bible, when people came to God with prayer requests, they always brought a quality offering."

March 28: A four-page letter includes a fluorescent pink cotton cord, which Tilton calls an "Ezekiel 16:11 bracelet." The letter instructs recipients to "place this miracle faith bracelet around your right wrist right now.

"I am coming against the spirit of poverty that is trying to cut off your money supply. . . . Get out your largest bill and lay it under this miracle bracelet that I have given you. . . . Give God your biggest and best."

The letter includes a form on which recipients can check off a list of ailments or financial problems and return it to Tilton with their largest bills.

It also includes testimonials from people such as "Earl," who claims his family income jumped from $9,000 per year to more than $94,000 two weeks after his wife began sending money to Tilton.

April 8: "In Jesus' name, I am sending you this Green Financial Prayer Cloth for you to defeat Satan's plan," states the letter, which contains a strip of thin, green fabric.

Recipients are directed to write the date, time and their name on the cloth. "Place this Green Financial Cloth under your pillow and allow God's spirit to rest upon you as you sleep tonight. Tomorrow, remove the Green Financial Prayer Cloth, touch it to your heart, your forehead and your pocketbook."

The letter suggests a financial donation to Tilton of $107, $177 or an amount decided by the recipient. It contains a wish list of items that recipients can check off, including: "a better job," "new clothes," 'a loan" and "a newer car."

April 14: "I must tell you boldly: God wants to make you rich. . . . God wants to make a millionaire out of certain ones who receive this letter. Is it you?"

The letter includes a large slip of paper fashioned into a $1 million bill and a penny glued to the reverse side. The bill includes a checklist of desires, including a new home, new car, a piece of real estate or money for vacation.

"I want you to put a checkmark on the back of the Million Dollar Bill of what you need or desire, and send it back to me, along with a Seed Faith Gift of $200. . . . This ministry has given you spiritual food, so it's time to pay your tithes."

Source: rickross.com -- TV preachers

Robert Tilton on Wikipedia

Robert Tilton video

Pope praises Galileo's astronomy
Pope Benedict had been accused of condoning the heresy charge

Pope Benedict XVI has paid tribute to 17th-Century astronomer Galileo Galilei, whose scientific theories once drew the wrath of the Catholic Church.

The Pope was speaking at events marking the 400th anniversary of Galileo's earliest observations with a telescope.

He said an understanding of the laws of nature could stimulate appreciation of God's work.

In 1992, Pope John Paul said the church's denunciation of Galileo's work had been a tragic error.

Galileo used his scientific methods to demonstrate that the Earth revolved around the Sun and not the other way around.

His view directly challenged the church's view at the time - that the Earth was static and at the centre of the universe.

Galileo was accused of heresy in 1633 and forced to publicly recant his theories.

He lived the rest of his life under house arrest at his villa in the hills outside Florence.

Pope Benedict had been criticised in the past for appearing to condone the heresy verdict against Galileo.

Source: news.bbc.co.uk

Bush Aides Say Religious Hiring Doesn’t Bar Aid
  By   C H A R L I E   S A V A G E          October 17, 2008

WASHINGTON — In a newly disclosed legal memorandum, the Bush administration says it can bypass laws that forbid giving taxpayer money to religious groups that hire only staff members who share their faith.

The administration, which has sought to lower barriers between church and state through its religion-based initiative offices, made the claim in a 2007 Justice Department memorandum from the Office of Legal Counsel. It was quietly posted on the department’s Web site this week.

The statutes for some grant programs do not impose antidiscrimination conditions on their financing, and the administration had previously allowed such programs to give taxpayer money to groups that hire only people of a particular religion.

It’s really the church-state equivalent of the torture memos... that allows religious organizations to get federal funds without complying with anything.”

But the memorandum goes further, drawing a sweeping conclusion that even federal programs subject to antidiscrimination laws can give money to groups that discriminate.

The document signed off on a $1.5 million grant to World Vision, a group that hires only Christians, for salaries of staff members running a program that helps “at-risk youth” avoid gangs. The grant was from a Justice Department program created by a statute that forbids discriminatory hiring for the positions it is financing.

But the memorandum said the government could bypass those provisions because of the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act. It sometimes permits exceptions to a federal law if obeying it would impose a “substantial burden” on people’s ability to freely exercise their religion. The opinion concluded that requiring World Vision to hire non-Christians as a condition of the grant would create such a burden.

But several law professors who specialize in religious issues called the argument legally dubious. Ira C. Lupu, a co-director of the Project on Law and Religious Institutions at George Washington University Law School, said the opinion’s reasoning was “a very big stretch.”

And Marty Lederman, a Georgetown University law professor who worked in the Office of Legal Counsel from 1994 to 2002, said the memorandum’s reasoning was incompatible with Supreme Court precedent. He pointed to a 2004 case, in which the court said government scholarships that could not be used to study religion did not substantially burden recipients’ right to practice their religion because they could still study theology with their own money.

In the same way, Mr. Lederman said, World Vision is free to have an anti-gang program that hires by faith without using taxpayer money.

The Justice Department “stands strongly behind the opinion, which is narrowly drawn and carefully reasoned,” Erik Ablin, an agency spokesman, said in an e-mail message. “Most of the criticisms that have been outlined against the opinion are thoroughly addressed in the opinion itself. Each of them lacks merit.”

Carl H. Esbeck, a University of Missouri law professor and architect of the religion-based initiative movement, also defended the opinion, saying the Religious Freedom Restoration Act compelled the department’s conclusion. “I understand that liberal law professors don’t like this,” he said. Why, he asked, should World Vision “be denied the opportunity that everyone else has to compete for funding simply because of their religion?”

The Office of Legal Counsel issues interpretations of the law that are binding on the executive branch and often rules on matters that are difficult to get before a court. Under the Bush administration, it has drawn sharp criticism for issuing opinions that provide legal cover for controversial policies preferred by administration officials.

In 2002, for example, the office secretly signed off on the use of harsh interrogation techniques despite a statute and treaties forbidding torture. The memorandum’s legal reasoning was strongly criticized by legal scholars after it was leaked to the public, and the Justice Department rescinded it.

Christopher E. Anders, senior legislative counsel to the American Civil Liberties Union, said he was alarmed by the 2007 memorandum’s conclusion that the government does not have a “compelling interest” in enforcing a federal civil rights statute.

“It’s really the church-state equivalent of the torture memos,” Mr. Anders said. “It takes a view of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act that allows religious organizations to get federal funds without complying with anything.”

Professor Lupu did not go that far, but said the opinion made “an aggressive reading of ‘substantial burden’ in a way that is not consistent with what courts and other agencies have done in the past, and it is designed to serve the president’s political agenda.”

Mr. Bush, whose strongest political base has been religious conservatives, has made lowering barriers to government financing of such groups a priority.

In January 2001, Mr. Bush’s first two executive orders created an Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives in the White House and in five federal agencies, telling them to ease the way for church groups to win grants for social work, like homeless shelters.

Mr. Bush also asked Congress to make it legal for religious groups to win grants even if they discriminate against people of other faiths when hiring for taxpayer-financed posts. He said it was not fair to force them to give up their identities in order to compete for grants. When Congress failed to pass such a bill, Mr. Bush issued an executive order that made the changes on his own for most federal programs.

But statutes trump executive orders, and a few grant programs — including the one involving World Vision — had independent antidiscrimination requirements.

Since then, some social conservatives have advanced the view that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act might be used to nullify such restrictions.

In 2003, Mr. Lupu said, the Department of Health and Human Services issued a regulation for substance abuse and mental health program grants that advanced such a view, and in 2007 — several months after the Office of Legal Counsel memo was
secretly completed — the Justice Department quietly changed its grant application rules to reflect that view.

But the release of the 25-page opinion this week is the “most elaborate and carefully reasoned effort by the Bush administration to justify its conclusion” that such grant conditions are legally obsolete, Mr. Lupu said.

The next administration would be free to rescind the memorandum. Both major party nominees for president, Senators John McCain and Barack Obama, have said they would continue allowing religion-based groups to participate in federal grant programs. But Mr. Obama has also said taxpayer money should not go to programs that discriminate by faith in hiring, a condition Mr. McCain has not embraced.

Barry Lynn, president of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, said he hoped the opinion would not stand. “The Bush administration has been trying to allow religious recipients of tax dollars to discriminate in hiring,” he said. “No Congress intended that. The Constitution does not permit it. And this memo is just one more example of this administration subverting Congressional and constitutional intent in pursuit of a forbidden goal: discrimination in hiring.”     
Source: nytimes.com/2008/10/18/

    Bush - MUSEUM O' FARTS - FAITH-BASED       

Scholars Doubt Truth of Exodus
Did Moses Exist ?
Did Mohammed Exist ?


Logan politician doesn't have a prayer
January 8, 2009

It was obvious why Logan Councilwoman Laraine Swenson complained about being misquoted in a Herald Journal story, “Logan council puts prayer aside.” It's never a good idea to separate church and state in Utah, and Swenson would have hell to pay for eliminating the so-called opening ceremony that includes a prayer or "thought."

Unfortunately for Swenson, Herald Journal reporter Karen Lambert taped the interview and the paper put the transcript [.pdf ] on line to defend itself. Here's an exerpt:

Laraine Swenson: . . . the policy changed a couple of years ago. So, to comply with state law we’ve called it an opening ceremony. You can’t call it an opening prayer.
Karen Lambert: Right, but are you still going to be doing a prayer and so on and so forth?
LS: Um, as of now, we’re going to try a different format and leave the ceremony off.
KL: What does that mean? Does that mean there won’t be different religious leaders invited to come and give a thought, or a prayer, or—
LS: It does. Uh huh.
KL: OK, and what’s the reason for that?
LS: Um, just because it’s difficult to get people to come. Some people are uncomfortable with it. It’s not required by law. Um, it cuts into the time of our meeting and so I just thought that I would try just going with the Pledge of Allegiance rather than a ceremony.
And who’s uncomfortable with it?
LS: Um, I don’t really want to say. It’s not me. (Laughs.) I’m always happy to say the prayer. But, I
have just been told that some people are, you know, not uncomfortable with the ceremony itself, but
participating in it. And I don’t — Does the county do it?
KL: Um, I don’t know. I don’t cover the county.
LS: I’m thinking they don’t.*
KL: I know some other entities do and some don’t. So, I’m not sure.
LS: Well, and you know, it used to be that when I first started it was called the opening prayer and
everyone gave their prayer and then when they changed it to a ceremony, um, probably the majority of
the time — other than when religious leaders have been invited — it hasn’t been a prayer, it’s been just
kind of a patriotic thought and my thinking was that we could dispense with the patriotic thought and
do the Pledge of Allegiance.
KL: Right. OK. And I’ve noticed there are quite a few different religious leaders from different
congregations that have been there, though, and been invited, so—
LS: Uh, huh. If someone would like to volunteer, I would certainly put them on the agenda.
     ( See Tom Snyder's MURRAY CITY OPENING PRAYER )
It’s not that I’m trying to shut anything down. I’m happy to have that, but, and if people would like to volunteer
I would be happy to have them come and I’ve enjoyed that, having the Cache Community Connections
participate. But generally they come, they do the ceremony, and then they leave.

Now, not only does Swenson look like a godless Bolshevik, but her pants seem to be on fire.*

* Rule 13 of politics: Never call someone a liar.

Source: blogs.sltrib.com/slcrawler/2009/01/

Richard Dawkins launches 'There is no God' signs on buses across Britain
By  R u t h   G l e d h i l l

The archsceptic professor Richard Dawkins today launched Britain's first atheist campaign posting the message: "There's probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life" on the side of 800 British buses.

The posters – launched in conditions cold enough to freeze a presumably non-existent hell over – coincided with the Christian feast of the Epiphany, when according to tradition three magi from the East presented the baby Jesus with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.

Dr. Dawkins, speaking at the launch in Central London, said he would have rather not had the word "probably" in the advertisement. He said the existence of God was about as likely as that of the tooth fairy.

Organizers of the four-week campaign said they had included the word "probably" because they did not want to be dogmatic in the way that so many religious leaders are.

The campaign was conceived by Ariane Sherine, a comedy writer who dreamed of just one bus going around London with an atheist slogan after she saw a similar advertisement for Christianity on the back of a bus.

She was upset to click on the web link it suggested and be directed to a site prophesying a future of hellfire and brimstone for all non-Christians. She determined to do what she could to offer non-believers a more life-affirming message and wrote about it in an online forum.

Her campaign sparked a massive and instant response and was taken up by the British Humanist Association and the scientist and Professor Dawkins, who pledged £5,500 of his own cash.

The organisers were astounded when with 24 hours of launching a fundraising campaign to get one bus on the road, their target of £5,000 was exceeded by thousands.

Within four days more than £100,000 had poured in, mainly in small amounts such as £5 and £10 from individuals. To date the campaign has raised £135,000 and Britain's atheists and agnostics are still contributing, in spite of the recession.

This means the number of buses and the length of the campaign were both increased beyond the organisers' most ambitious prayers.

Ms Sherine said she had been amazed and delighted by the response which had been totally unexpected. She said: "You wait for ages for an atheist bus, then 800 come along at once. I hope they'll brighten people's days and make them smile on their way to work."

Hanne Stinson, chief executive of the British Humanist Association, said: "The incredible response to the Atheist Campaign shows just how many atheists out there have been looking for a voice. Now that the buses are rolling out across the country, I feel sure that everyone with non-religious beliefs who spots one of these buses on the streets will be delighted to see what this amazing appeal has achieved."

The buses will run in cities including London, Manchester, Birmingham, Glasgow, Edinburgh, York, Leeds and elsewhere, as well as parts of Devon.

In London they will coincide with a poster campaign on the London Underground with statements such as Emily Dickinson's: "That it will never come again is what makes life so sweet," and Albert Einstein's: "I do not believe in a personal God and have never denied this but have expressed it clearly."

Many Christian groups and churches welcomed the campaign for putting God into such a prominent position in the public eye.

Paul Woolley, director of the religious think tank Director of Theos, said: "We think that the campaign is a great way to get people thinking about God. The posters will encourage people to consider the most important question we will ever face in our lives.

"The slogan itself is a great discussion starter. Telling someone 'there's probably no God' is a bit like telling them they've probably remembered to lock their door. It creates the doubt that they might not have.

"A new Theos research study, to be published next month, shows that there are as many people finding God in Britain today as losing their faith, so this campaign is speaking into a very live debate."

Mike Elms, a Fellow of The Marketing Society and former Chief Executive of ad agency Ogilvy and Mather, said that the campaign could play a role in the revival of Christianity.

Mr Elms said: "For too long, the British public has been able to dodge the 'God choice' - is there or isn't there? - by scribbling C of  E on their hospital admission form. But now atheists are challenging us to make that choice one way or another. The atheist campaign opens the door toward a very public debate on the existence and nature of God."

The Methodist Church also welcomed the campaign. The Rev Jenny Ellis, spirituality and discipleship officer, said: "We are grateful to Richard for his continued interest in God and for encouraging people to think about these issues. This campaign will be a good thing if it gets people to engage with the deepest questions of life."

She disputed that thinking was anathema to religion. "As Christians, we respond to Jesus' call to love God with our minds as well as our hearts, souls and strength. Christianity is for people who aren’t afraid to think about life and meaning. John Wesley, the founder of Methodism believed that no one should be saved from the trouble of thinking, because that is the path to understanding God."

Other campaigns by the British Humanist Association include the abolition of faith schools and of the 26 bishops in the House of Lords.

Perhaps reflecting this as much as the weather, the established Church of England was frostier than its fellow Christians.

A spokesman said: "We would defend the right of any group representing a religious or philosophical position to be able to promote that view through appropriate channels. However, Christian belief is not about worrying or not enjoying life. Quite the opposite: our faith liberates us to put this life into a proper perspective. Seven in ten people in this country describe themselves as Christian and know the joy that faith can bring."

The campaign has also been picked up internationally by Spain's Union of Atheists and Freethinkers, Italy's Union of Atheists, Agnostics and Rationalists and the American Humanist Association.               Source: timesonline.co.uk

   Dawkins at Amaz!ng Randi convention

Illinois 'moment of silence' is law ruled unconstitutional
By M I K E   R O B I N S O N     | AP Legal Affairs Writer
January 21, 2009

CHICAGO - A federal judge ruled Wednesday that the state law requiring a moment of silence in public schools across Illinois is unconstitutional, saying it crosses the line separating church and state.

"The statute is a subtle effort to force students at impressionable ages to contemplate religion," U.S. District Judge Robert W. Gettleman said in his ruling.

The ruling came in a lawsuit designed to bar schools from enforcing the Illinois Silent Reflection and Student Prayer Act. It was filed by talk show host Rob Sherman, an outspoken atheist, and his daughter, Dawn, a student at Buffalo Grove High School in suburban Chicago.

Gettleman's ruling was not a surprise. He had already ruled in favor of Sherman in two previous decisions.

As passed by the Illinois General Assembly, the law allows students to reflect on the day's activities rather than pray if that is their choice and defenders have said it therefore doesn't force religion on anyone.

But Gettleman upheld critics such as the American Civil Liberties Union, who say the law is a thinly disguised effort to bring religion into the schools.

The "teacher is required to instruct her pupils, especially in the lower grades, about prayer and its meaning as well as the limitations on their 'reflection,"' Gettleman ruled.

"The plain language of the statute, therefore, suggests and intent to force the introduction of the concept of prayer into the schools," he said.

It remained unclear if Gettleman's decision would end the dispute or merely signal a fresh battle in a federal appeals court.

State Sen. Kimberly Lightford, D-Chicago, the chief sponsor of the legislation, said she hoped Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan would appeal.

"I strongly feel and I still believe that children should have a moment of silence at the beginning of the school day," she said in a telephone interview from Washington where she celebrated the inauguration of President Obama.

Sherman said that "at last year's gay pride parade, I personally asked Lisa Madigan to not appeal this decision."

"Because if she appeals it to the right-wing 7th Circuit I'll lose, just because they make decisions based on politics, not the facts of the law," Sherman said.

Madigan spokeswoman Robin Ziegler said the attorney general was reviewing Gettleman's decision and would have no immediate further comment.

Adam Schwartz, senior staff counsel of the American Civil Liberties Union, said the organization was pleased with the decision "to strike down a statewide law that coerced children to pray as part of an organized activity in our public schools."

He noted that students remain free to pray on their own in a non-disruptive manner throughout the school day.

Defense asks for No Mormons on murder trial jury

Rico Perea is accused of killing two people at a wedding party in OGDEN, Utah (AP) - An attorney for a man charged with aggravated murder have filed a motion to keep off the jury any members of the Mormon church who might believe that the only way for him to be forgiven by God is to be executed.

Sharon Sipes, a public defender for Riqo Perea, filed the motion in 2nd District Court. She says a belief among members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is that the only way to receive true forgiveness from God after committing a serious offense is to shed one's own blood.

Sipes says that although the church has indicated blood atonement isn't part of official doctrine, members widely believe it.

Perea, 21, is charged with two counts of aggravated murder in a gang-related 2007 shooting. Perea could face the death penalty.

Source: kutv.com

Italy's Anti-cross judge cleared
Luigi Tosti vows to continue battle   (ANSA) - L'Aquila, February 17 - 2009

An Italian judge campaigning against the presence of crosses in public buildings on Tuesday got a jail conviction quashed for refusing to enter courtrooms unless crucifixes were removed.

Italy's supreme court overturned judge Luigi Tosti's May 2007 seven-month sentence for refusing to carry out his official duties.

Tosti called the sentence ''an important one'' and vowed to carry on his battle.

''It's either me in the courtroom, or crosses''.

The court prosecutor had argued for leniency, saying that since Tosti was replaced by another judge, he should get a new trial on the minor charge of disrupting judicial activity.

But the Cassation Court judges went further and issued a full acquittal, saying that ''no crime was committed''. Tuesday's hearing took place with no crosses in the room.

Tosti, 60, has already had one ban and is currently serving another for refusing to sit in a courtroom in the Marche town of Camerino.

He has repeatedly refused to take part in proceedings unless the cross in the courtroom was taken down and ''the secular nature of the assembly restored''.

The Italian judiciary's self-governing body, the Supreme Council of Magistrates, removed Tosti from his post in February 2006 and cut off his pay because of his ''unjustifiable behaviour''.

The decision, which reignited debate on crucifixes in public buildings, came after Tosti was convicted by a criminal court a month before.


Crucifixes are not mandatory but customary in Italy's public buildings.

Catholicism is not Italy's state religion and the separation of Church and State is set down by the postwar Constitution and mandated by a 1984 Concordat that ended most of the Catholic Church's privileges.

In practice, with Catholicism being such a part of Italy's cultural identity, local bodies decide whether they want crosses in the courthouse.

Similar arrangements are in place in other public buildings - most notably schools, where there have been a raft of polemics.

Judge Tosti first made headlines in April 2004 when he threatened to place symbols of his own Jewish faith, like the menorah candle-holder, in his Camerino court.

He later changed his mind after the Union of Italian Muslims (UMI) went to Camerino to demonstrate their support for his initiative.

The UMI is headed by Adel Smith who for some time has been in the public spotlight for his campaign to have crosses removed from schools and hospitals.

In 2003 Smith won a court order for the removal of crosses at the school his children attended. The order was later reversed after a nationwide protest.

Judge Tosti insists that defendants have the constitutional right to refuse to be tried under the symbol of the cross.

The Constitution, he says, establishes the separation of Church and State and gives equal status to all religions.

This means that judges and lawyers can refuse to perform their duties under the symbol of the cross which would violate a defendant's right to a fair trial and counsel, he argues.

However, the Constitutional Court ruled in December 2004 that crosses should stay in courts and classrooms.

The Court did not give a juridical explanation for its ruling, and many felt it had washed its hands of a political hot potato.

If it had upheld the separation of Church and State, the high court would have sparked outraged reactions from conservatives who were already incensed when some schools dropped Christmas plays and creches to avoid hurting the feelings of Muslim children.

The row even prompted a reaction from Pope John Paul II, who stressed that Christmas cribs were a part of Italy's Catholic heritage.

photo: a reluctant Tosti pictured in 2004

Deseret News reporters protest...

B y   P a u l   B e e b e
Salt Lake Tribune www.sltrib.com

Nine Deseret News reporters and an intern removed their names from stories they'd written Tuesday to protest the demotion of two editors and policies they believe are reshaping the paper into a specialized publication catering only to

The action came after editor Joe Cannon and managing editor Rick Hall announced Chuck Gates, deputy managing editor, would become a special writer and Julianne Basinger, business editor, would become a copy editor.

Gates and Basinger reportedly are critics of the LDS Church-owned paper's increasing embrace of topics thought to please its mostly LDS readership. Cannon has said the strategy makes financial sense at a time when most U.S. papers are struggling. The News and The Salt Lake Tribune , which is owned by MediaNews Group, are partners in a joint operating venture that sells advertising for, prints and distributes both papers.

Cannon and Hall also announced Tad Walch, a Utah County reporter, would become city editor. All changes were effective immediately.

Gates did not return calls seeking comment. Basinger declined to discuss her reassignment.

Most of the reporters who pulled their names cover state government and politics. They were Lee Davidson, Bob Bernick, Lisa Riley Roche, Art Raymond, Amy Joi O'Donohue, Wendy Leonard and James Thalman. Police reporters Ben Winslow and Pat Reavy and legislative intern David Servatius also took part.

The boycott was meant "as a show of support for Chuck and Julianne, and also a protest about how the decision was made and also the fact that the decision was made," said Josh Loftin, state government editor and grandson of Glen Snarr, former chairman of the News .

Loftin said he suggested to his reporters that they withhold their bylines. He said he informed Hall, who did not object.

"If they want to express themselves that way, they certainly can," Hall said.

He said no one who took part will be punished. He said he did not know whether the paper has a policy that forbids reporters from removing their names from stories.

Cannon has been controversial since he was named editor of the News in December 2006. An attorney, lobbyist and former head of the Utah Republican Party, he had no journalism experience before assuming the top editorial job at Utah's second-largest paper.

Source -- unverified -- this arrived via email

High court's Summum ruling not all bad, says attorney
By K r i s t e n   M o u l t o n    The Salt Lake Tribune

Summum, a small Salt Lake City religious group that wants to place a granite marker in a Pleasant Grove park, may have lost its first battle before the highest court in the land.

But Summum attorney Brian Barnard said the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling Wednesday opens the door to a new constitutional challenge as the case returns to U.S. District Court in Salt Lake City.

"It's like they are handing it to me on a silver platter," said Barnard, who intends to amend the lawsuit, adding church-state separation claims.

Likewise, the American Humanist Association cheered the court's decision, saying it provides a path to getting all Ten Commandments monuments off public property in America.

The Supreme Court ruled unanimously Wednesday that Pleasant Grove did not violate Summum's free-speech rights when the city refused permission for Summum to place a marker listing its Seven Aphorisms in Pioneer Park.

The 10 Commandments monument that is already in Pioneer Park is clearly government speech, not private speech protected by the First Amendment's Free Speech Clause, said the court in an opinion written by Justice Samuel Alito.

Cities and other government entities have a right to select monuments that reflect the local aesthetics, history or culture, the opinion said.

"City parks, ranging from those in small towns, like Pioneer Park in Pleasant Grove City, to those in major metropolises, like Central Park in New York City, commonly play an important role in defining the identity that a city projects to its own residents and to the outside world," the opinion said.

A public park can provide a "soapbox" for a range of orators, "but it is hard to imagine how a public park could be opened up for the installation of permanent monuments by every person or group wishing to engage in that form of expression," the opinion said.

Pleasant Grove Mayor Mike Daniels, who was in the courtroom when the case was argued last November, said the decision affirms what the city believed all along: The park reflects the city's identity and culture.

"[The decision] means the city can continue to collect and display artifacts relevant to its history in its outdoor park," Daniels said Wednesday.

He said the fact that the court was unanimous in its decision was reassuring, although he acknowledged the case is not over.

The attorney who argued the case for the city called it a "landmark" decision that will act as a bookend on years of litigation about display of the Ten Commandments around the country.

"This decision represents a resounding victory for government speech," said Jay Sekulow, chief counsel for the American Center for Law and Justice. "The decision gives government the right to speak for itself and the ability to communicate on behalf of its citizens."

Now that the Supreme Court has determined that the Ten Commandments monument in Pleasant Grove constitutes that city's speech, Barnard will amend the Summum lawsuit to claim the city is blurring the church-state line, a claim that has not been raised in the case. The U.S. Constitution's Establishment Clause forbids government from favoring one religion over another.

The American Humanist Association announced in a news release that it will help Summum pursue the claim -- or file its own.

"We humanists are ready to argue that Ten Commandments monuments in U.S. public parks are unconstitutional government endorsements of religion," said Bob Ritter, legal coordinator for the Appignani Humanist Legal Center of the American Humanist Association, in a news release.

The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty praised the court's conclusion that governments can accept some monuments in public parks and reject others.

"The Court has carefully drawn a line between private speech and government speech that protects both local governments from a wave of clutter and religious speakers from government discrimination," said Eric Rassbach, national litigation director of the Becket Fund, in a prepared statement.

Before the Pleasant Grove case, a number of Utah governments, facing lawsuits and preliminary court losses, chose to move Ten Commandment monuments rather than allow Summum to place markers of its Seven Aphorisms.

Ogden, Salt Lake County, Murray and Tooele City all removed Ten Commandment monuments. Most ended up on private property.

Tribune reporter D o n a l d   W.   M e y e r s  contributed to this story.

Source: arrived via email, ostensibly Salt Lake Tribune article

Surprises pop up in new survey of U.S. Mormons
B y   P e g g y   F l e t c h e r   S t a c k    07/31/2009

On July 24, the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life released an extensive statistical portrait of Mormons in the United States.

It drew on answers by self-identified members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to Pew's U.S. Religious Landscape Survey in 2007.

Though it will come as no surprise to Utahns that most Mormons are church-attending, Bible-believing Republicans, some of the other results may be less predictable. For instance, Latter-day Saints are more likely to attend church and less likely to home-school or attend religious schools than the general population.

Here are some of the findings:

Comparative size Mormons make up 1.7 percent of the American adult population, a proportion that is comparable in size to the U.S. Jewish population but more than Jehovah's Witnesses (0.7 percent), Buddhists (0.7 percent), Muslims (0.6 percent) and Hindus (0.4 percent).

Age, gender and family  Two-thirds (66 percent) of Latter-day Saints are under age 50, compared with 59 percent of the public as a whole. Most Mormons are women (56 percent).

Marriage  Nearly three-quarters of Mormons (71 percent) are married, compared with just more than half (54 percent) among the general population. Only Hindus (78 percent) are more likely than Mormons to be married. Mormons (83 percent) and Hindus (90 percent) also are the most likely of all

the major religious traditions to be married to someone of the same faith.

Family size  Latter-day Saints are widely known for having large families and, indeed, about half the nation's Mormons (49 percent) have children under age 18 living at home, with one in five (21 percent) saying they have three or more children at home. Only Muslims are similarly likely to have large families: 47 percent of Muslims have at least one child living at home and 15 percent have three or more.

Race  Nearly nine in 10 U.S. Mormons (86 percent) are Anglo, compared with 71 percent of the general population. Just 3 percent of Mormons are African-American and 7 percent are Latino. Other predominantly Anglo religious groups in the United States include Jews (95 percent), members of mainline Protestant churches (91 percent) and Orthodox Christians (87 percent).

Education  Six in 10 Mormons (61 percent) have at least some college education, compared with half the overall population. However, the proportion of Mormons who graduate from college (18 percent) or receive postgraduate education (10 percent) mirrors the population as a whole (16 percent and 11 percent, respectively).

Converts  Nearly half the LDS converts (48 percent) are above age 50, compared with about three in 10 lifelong members (29 percent). Converts also tend to be less educated than nonconverts (16 percent did not graduate from high school, compared with just 6 percent of lifelong members), and they earn decidedly lower incomes (40 percent pocket less than $30,000 a year, compared with 21 percent among nonconverts).

Converts are more likely than lifelong Latter-day Saints to come from minority racial and ethnic groups. They are less likely than lifelong members to be married (64 percent vs. 74 percent).

A quarter of current Mormons (26 percent) are converts to the faith. This is a much higher proportion than among Catholics (11 percent) and Jews (15 percent) but significantly lower than among Buddhists (73 percent), Jehovah's Witnesses (67 percent) and Protestants (45 percent, when those who have switched from one Protestant family to another are included, such as Baptist to Methodist; if changes within Protestantism are omitted, the figure is 16 percent). Of those who have converted to Mormonism, roughly half (13 percent of Mormons overall) were raised Protestant, one in four (7 percent of Mormons overall) were raised Catholic and one in five (5 percent of Mormons overall) were raised without a religious affiliation.

Retention  Mormons boast a relatively high retention rate of childhood members compared with other major religious traditions. Seven in 10 of those raised LDS (70 percent) still identify as Mormon, a figure roughly comparable to that seen among those raised Catholic (68 percent are still Catholic) but somewhat lower than among those raised Protestant (80 percent are still Protestant and 52 percent remain in the same Protestant family). Jehovah's Witnesses have a lower retention rate (37 percent are still Jehovah's Witnesses).

Of those who leave Mormonism after being raised in the faith, half (15 percent of those raised LDS overall) convert to a new religion, while the other half (14 percent overall) become unaffiliated.

The Bible  More than nine in 10 Mormons (91 percent) say the Bible is the God's word, while a majority of Mormons (57 percent) say it should not be taken literally.

Church attendance  Mormons rank among the most active of the major religious traditions in terms of attendance at religious services. Fully three-quarters (76 percent) say they attend church at least once a week, compared with 39 percent among the general population.

Home schooling  Mormons are less likely than the public overall to home-school or send their children to a religious school; 6 percent say they do so, compared with 15 percent among the general population.

One true church  Most Mormons (57 percent) say theirs is the one true faith, with a sizable minority (39 percent) taking the opposite view. More than six in 10 younger Mormons (62 percent) say theirs in the one true faith, compared with roughly half (48 percent) of Mormons 50 and older. LDS men are more likely than women (64 percent vs. 52 percent) to say theirs is the one true faith.

Utahns and others  Utahns are much less likely than Mormons from other states to share their faith with others at least once a week (13 percent vs. 37 percent), they are more likely to say theirs is the one true faith (63 percent vs. 51 percent) and they more heavily favor preserving traditional beliefs and practices (77 percent vs. 63 percent).

Politics  Nearly two-thirds (65 percent) of Mormons say they identify with or lean toward the Republican Party, while a fifth (22 percent) say they are Democrats. Mormons in the West are significantly more likely than members from other regions to identify as Republican (68 percent vs. 55 percent).

Among the general public, two-thirds (62 percent) say the government should do more for the needy, while only about half the Mormons (49 percent) say this. More than four in 10 Latter-day Saints (42 percent) say government cannot afford to do much more to help the needy, compared with 29 percent among the population as a whole.

Most Mormons (55 percent) said in summer 2007 that strong environmental laws are worth the cost. Half (51 percent) say it is best to be active in world affairs, and 37 percent say the nation should focus more on problems at home. Jews are the only other major religious tradition in which a majority leans toward involvement in international affairs (53 percent).

Those who are married are significantly more likely than unmarried
Mormons to identify as conservative (66 percent vs. 43 percent) and Republican (70 percent vs. 52 percent) and to oppose legal abortion (73 percent vs. 63 percent).

pstack@sltrib.com   Source:  sltrib.com/faith/ci_1294

More and More Americans Say They Have No Religion
R A C H E L   Z O L L  |  March 2009

A wide-ranging study on American religious life found that the Roman Catholic population has been shifting out o of the Northeast to the Southwest, the percentage of Christians in the nation has declined and more people say they have no religion at all.

Fifteen percent of respondents said they had no religion, an increase from 14.2 percent in 2001 and 8.2 percent in 1990, according to the American Religious Identification Survey.

Northern New England surpassed the Pacific Northwest as the least religious region, with Vermont reporting the highest share of those claiming no religion, at 34 percent. Still, the study found that the numbers of Americans with no religion rose in every state.

"No other religious bloc has kept such a pace in every state," the study's authors said.

In the Northeast, self-identified Catholics made up 36 percent of adults last year, down from 43 percent in 1990. At the same time, however, Catholics grew to about one-third of the adult population in California and Texas, and one-quarter of Floridians, largely due to Latino immigration, according to the research.

Nationally, Catholics remain the largest religious group, with 57 million people saying they belong to the church. The tradition gained 11 million followers since 1990, but its share of the population fell by about a percentage point to 25 percent.

Christians who aren't Catholic also are a declining segment of the country.

In 2008, Christians comprised 76 percent of U.S. adults, compared to about 77 percent in 2001 and about 86 percent in 1990. Researchers said the dwindling ranks of mainline Protestants, including Methodists, Lutherans and Episcopalians, largely explains the shift. Over the last seven years, mainline Protestants dropped from just over 17 percent to 12.9 percent of the population.

The report from The Program on Public Values at Trinity College in Hartford, Conn., surveyed 54,461 adults in English or Spanish from February through November of last year. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 0.5 percentage points. The findings are part of a series of studies on American religion by the program that will later look more closely at reasons behind the trends.

The current survey, being released Monday, found traditional organized religion playing less of a role in many lives. Thirty percent of married couples did not have a religious wedding ceremony and 27 percent of respondents said they did not want a religious funeral.

About 12 percent of Americans believe in a higher power but not the personal God at the core of monotheistic faiths. And, since 1990, a slightly greater share of respondents _ 1.2 percent _ said they were part of new religious movements, including Scientology, Wicca and Santeria.

The study also found signs of a growing influence of churches that either don't belong to a denomination or play down their membership in a religious group.

Respondents who called themselves "non-denominational Christian" grew from 0.1 percent in 1990 to 3.5 percent last year. Congregations that most often use the term are megachurches considered "seeker sensitive." They use rock style music and less structured prayer to attract people who don't usually attend church. Researchers also found a small increase in those who prefer being called evangelical or born-again, rather than claim membership in a denomination.

Evangelical or born-again Americans make up 34 percent of all American adults and 45 percent of all Christians and Catholics, the study found. Researchers found that 18 percent of Catholics consider themselves born-again or evangelical, and nearly 39 percent of mainline Protestants prefer those labels. Many mainline Protestant groups are riven by conflict over how they should interpret what the Bible says about gay relationships, salvation and other issues.

The percentage of Pentecostals remained mostly steady since 1990 at 3.5 percent, a surprising finding considering the dramatic spread of the tradition worldwide. Pentecostals are known for a spirited form of Christianity that includes speaking in tongues and a belief in modern-day miracles.

Mormon numbers also held steady over the period at 1.4 percent of the population, while the number of Jews who described themselves as religiously observant continued to drop, from 1.8 percent in 1990 to 1.2 percent, or 2.7 million people, last year. Researchers plan a broader survey on people who consider themselves culturally Jewish but aren't religious.

The study found that the percentage of Americans who identified themselves as Muslim grew to 0.6 percent of the population, while growth in Eastern religions such as Buddhism slightly slowed.

On the Net: Survey results: americanreligionsurvey-aris.org/       Source: huffingtonpost.com/2009/

Criticism not bigotry

Public Forum Letter   Salt Lake Tribune

In "Bigotry against
Mormons apparently acceptable in Utah" (Opinion, March 21, [ sltrib.com/ci_11960981]), Dennis Clayson advocated a dangerous form of political correctness, sometimes called "religious correctness" -- that religious beliefs are exempt from criticism simply because they have a basis in faith.

Specifically, Clayson argues that we have "an obligation to treat the religious beliefs of well-meaning people with restraint and respect" (emphasis added).  This is ridiculous.

Faith is a choice. It therefore makes no sense to insist that we respect silly, ignorant or dangerous religious beliefs. Should we respect religious beliefs or practices such as the fatwa against Salman Rushdie, honor killings or female genital mutilation? Those who endorse them are "well meaning" -- they believe they are doing the right thing -- even though we (may) disagree with them.

Religious beliefs are no different than any others in America's venerable "marketplace of ideas." It is my obligation to challenge and perhaps oppose ignorant, ridiculous and dangerous beliefs, no matter what their basis.

None of this is intended to condone disrespect or violence toward any individual. But pretending that someone else's beliefs are worthy of respect, when they're not, is a disservice to all.

Ken Roach

Salt Lake City

Source:  Ken Roach: sltrib.com/opinion/

Oklahoma Legislature Investigates Richard Dawkins' Free Speech
March 20, 2009        B y   G r e g  L u k i a n o f f

Well, it's official: Oklahoma's state legislature is investigating the University of Oklahoma for hosting a speech by evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins.

As I noted in a post over the weekend at Dawkins' website, the legislature first considered two resolutions condemning both Dawkins and the theory of evolution as "an unproven and unpopular theory." (I highly recommend reading both of the proposed resolutions.) Despite their efforts, the legislature failed to prevent Dawkins from speaking on March 6 to an audience of thousands at the University of Oklahoma.

Last week, however, I received multiple reports that the legislature was now investigating the speech, and I wrote the University of Oklahoma President David Boren directly asking to know if this was true.

Sure enough, I just received confirmation today in a letter from the Open Records Office at the University of Oklahoma. The letter confirms that on the day of Dawkins' speech, Oklahoma State Representative Rebecca Hamilton requested substantial information relating to the speech from Vice President for Governmental Relations Danny Hilliard. Representative Hamilton's exhaustive request included demands for all e-mails and correspondence relating to the speech; a list of all money paid to Dawkins and the entities, public or private, responsible for this funding; and the total cost to the university, including, among other things, security fees, advertising, and even "faculty time spent promoting this event."

Rick Farmer, the director of committee staff for the Oklahoma House of Representatives, also wrote the University on March 12, requesting confirmation that Dawkins had indeed waived all compensation for the speech.

Now some of you--though I hope not too many--may wonder: "What's wrong with the legislature investigating a speech by a famous evolutionary biologist at a public university?" Well, a lot of things, actually. As I wrote in my post on Dawkins' website:

If this investigation is indeed taking place, what the state legislature needs to understand is that in court cases dating back to the days of the House Committee on Un-American Activities, even investigating clearly protected speech on the basis of its viewpoint violates the First Amendment.

Think about it: If every time a student or faculty member invited, say, Rick Warren to speak on campus, they knew they would be subjected to a thorough and time-consuming investigation by state officials, you can all but guarantee that schools across the country would think twice before inviting Rick Warren. This would be a great way for state legislatures to chill speech they dislike without ever having to find the speaker guilty of a single thing. Talk about your un-American activities.

Given the fact the legislature clearly is concerned with nothing other than Dawkins' viewpoint, such an investigation is improper and should end immediately.

Now that we know this investigation is going on, many questions still need to be answered: What does the state legislature plan to do with this information? Does this mean that any time Richard Dawkins or other evolutionary scientists give speeches about evolution in Oklahoma, they too will be investigated? And perhaps most importantly: Doesn't the Oklahoma legislature have anything better to do?

I think I know the answer to the last question, but I think it's time the Oklahoma Legislature answered the first two. Stay tuned.

Source: huffingtonpost.com/greg-lukianoff

Richard Dawkins launches 'There is no God' signs on buses across Britain

Pilot jailed for Sicily air crash

An Italian court has jailed a Tunisian pilot who paused to pray instead of taking emergency measures before ditching his plane, killing 16 people.

A fuel gauge fault was partly to blame for the crash off Sicily in 2005 but judges convicted Chafik Garbi of manslaughter, jailing him for 10 years.

Six others, including the co-pilot and head of the airline Tuninter, were jailed for between eight and 10 years.

The accused will not spend time in jail until the appeals process is completed.

''This was an unprecedented sentence but we have always maintained that it was an unprecedented incident,'' Niky Persico, a lawyer for one of the victims, told Italy's Ansa news agency.

''Never before in the history of aviation disasters has there been such a chain of events and counter-events.''

Fuel gauge

The twin-engined Tuninter ATR-72 turboprop aeroplane was flying from the Italian city of Bari to the Tunisian island of Djerba on 6 August 2005, when it ran out of fuel and came down in the sea some 13km (eight miles) off the northern coast of Sicily.

Out of the total of 34 passengers and five crew on board, 23 survived. Many had to swim for their lives, while others clung on to floating pieces of the fuselage.

The Italian National Air Safety Board (ANSV) found in 2007 that the plane had run out of fuel because it had failed to take on enough before leaving Bari.

It said this was the result of a faulty fuel gauge, which had been installed the previous day by the maintenance arm of Tunisair, owner of Tuninter.

Ground crew had installed a fuel gauge designed for the ATR-42, which is similar to the ATR-72 but has smaller fuel tanks, the ANSV found. The same conclusions were reached by the manufacturer.

Prosecutors say that after both the plane's engines cut out, the pilot succumbed to panic, praying out loud instead of following emergency procedures and then opting to crash-land in the Mediterranean instead of trying to reach the nearest airport



Members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostates...
Source SLTRIB.COM:  BYU's Universe reprints issues of The Daily Universe due to front page typo.

  "It would have been worse if it were done   intentionally, as some have thought. But after talking to  the people, we found it was an innocent mistake."  

Evans said one of the students involved was in tears over it.  A story on the Universe's Web site stated this was the first time in more than 30 years that the paper had to trash an edition. [They take their  truth seriously, these Mormons do -- Ed.]

Utah GOP reject 'Satanic' resolution
By Donald W. Meyers  The Salt Lake Tribune   Updated: 04/25/2009

Orem - Utah County Republicans defeated a resolution opposing well-heeled groups that a delegate claims are pushing a satanic plan to encourage illegitimate births and illegal immigration.

Don Larsen, a Springville delegate, offered the resolution, titled "Resolution opposing the Hate America anti-Christian Open Borders cabal," warning delegates that an "invisible government" comprised of left-wing foundations was pumping money into the Democratic Party to push for looser immigration laws and anti-family legislation.

Larsen said Democrats get most of the votes cast by illegal immigrants and people in dysfunctional families.

But it's not the Democrats who are behind this strategy, Larsen said. It's the devil.

"Satan's ultimate goal is to destroy the family," Larsen said, "and these people are playing a leading part in it."

Larsen's resolution contained quotes from the New Testament on the battle between good and evil. The copy of the resolution handed to delegates stated it "fulfills scriptural prophecies about our times."

Larsen offered a similar resolution at the 2007 convention. That also was defeated by delegates.

David Rodeback, a delegate from American Fork, urged delegates to forcefully reject the resolution, as it would do the party more harm than good.

Rodeback said the religious language Larsen used would push people away from the GOP.

Joel Wright, a Cedar Hills delegate, agreed. He said George W. Bush was able to win the presidency because he had 40 percent of the Latino vote, while John McCain was defeated when he only got 28 percent of Latino ballots.

"We are not going to be the majority party if we keep pushing the Latinos out," Wright said.

But Cameron Sevy, a Provo delegate, said the GOP shouldn't be ashamed to say that America is a Christian nation.

Source: Salt Lake Tribune

 3 Pizza Moslems get Life at Ft. Dix:

Dritan Duka, 30, and his brother, Shain Duka, 28, were sentenced to life in prison plus 30 years and Eljvir Duka, 25, was sentenced to life in prison.  They plotted to kill soldiers at Fort Dix in New Jersey.

Three Brothers Get Life Sentences In Fort Dix Case

b y   T h e   A s s o c i a t e d   P r e s s

NPR.org, April 29, 2009.   Three immigrant brothers involved in a plot to kill military personnel, possibly on Fort Dix, were sentenced Tuesday to spend the rest of their lives in prison.

The government had said the men were familiar with the Army post because their father's pizza shop delivered there, and it presented the case as one of the most startling examples of homegrown terrorism.

Dritan, Eljvir and Shain Duka professed their innocence in courtroom speeches before U.S. District Judge Robert Kugler handed down their sentences. Two other men were to be sentenced Wednesday.

 They were known for taking pizza to homeless people.

3 Pizza Moslems get Life at Ft. Dix

"Being in prison and knowing you are innocent is
 a great feeling in the sight of God,"

~   Eljvir Duka, 25.         ~ Story            Source NPR.org, April 29, 2009

All five were convicted by a jury in December of conspiracy  to kill military personnel but were acquitted on attempted   murder charges. Four of them also were convicted on   weapons offenses.

Two of the Duka brothers, Dritan and Shain, were given   sentences of life plus 30 years because of one of the   weapons counts against them.

Defense lawyers and the men's relatives said the sentences were expected, but the relatives also said they were unjust.

The men also were ordered to pay a total of $125,000 in restitution to the Army, which beefed up security at Fort Dix after hearing about the investigation into the plot.

In meting out the sentences, the judge agreed with prosecutors that the case was shocking.

"But for the intervention of the FBI, at some point in the future," he said, "they would have killed people."

Early in the daylong court proceeding, the judge asked Deputy U.S. Attorney William Fitzpatrick whether it made sense to sentence the conspirators to life in prison with no chance of parole given that people convicted of murder in most states at least have the possibility of parole.

"Yes it is," Fitzpatrick said. "The fact that they didn't have an opportunity to carry it out should not be a benefit."

The men were arrested in May 2007. Prosecutors say they had taken training trips to the Pocono Mountains in Pennsylvania and scouted out Fort Dix and other military sites.

Five service members in uniform sat in the back of the courtroom as the sentences were handed down Tuesday.

During the sentencing hearing, the Duka brothers told the judge they were innocent and were convicted because of their unpopular political views. They blamed the government's use of two convicted criminals as paid informants in the case, claiming those informants cajoled them into saying they would take up arms against the U.S.

"The innocent are in prison while the true criminals are being rewarded heavily," lamented Shain Duka, 28.

"Being in prison and knowing you are innocent is a great feeling in the sight of God," said Eljvir Duka, 25.

Relatives and a neighbor of the men also spoke in the hearing, laying out how the brothers were brought to the United States illegally as boys from the former Yugoslavia as their parents sought a better life.

Dritan Duka, 30, and his brother, Shain Duka, 28, were sentenced to life in prison plus 30 years and Eljvir Duka, 25, was sentenced to life in prison.

The brothers were raised for a time in Brooklyn, then moved to Cherry Hill, a comfortable suburb of Philadelphia, a dozen years ago after Dritan Duka, now 30, had gotten into legal trouble.

All three had criminal histories dating to their teenage years. Among them: drug offenses, eluding police and driving with a suspended license.

Michael Huff, a lawyer for Dritan Duka, said that becoming more involved in the Muslim faith turned them around.

The men, all school dropouts, owned a pizza shop together and later a roofing company.

Their father, Ferik Duka, told how they supported the family when he was injured in a car accident and were known for taking pizza to homeless people.

"I wish all the children of human beings," the elder Duka said, "are like my sons."

Survey: Support for terror suspect torture differs among the faithful

Story Highlights
* 742 American adults surveyed on use of torture against suspected terrorists
* 54% of those who go to services at least once a week say it's often or sometimes OK
* In survey, people unaffiliated with any religious group were least likely to back torture
* President of National Association of Evangelicals yet to comment on survey

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The more often Americans go to church, the more likely they are to support the torture of suspected terrorists, according to a new survey.

More than half of people who attend services at least once a week -- 54 percent -- said the use of torture against suspected terrorists is "often" or "sometimes" justified. Only 42 percent of people who "seldom or never" go to services agreed, according the analysis released Wednesday by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life.

White evangelical Protestants were the religious group most likely to say torture is often or sometimes justified -- more than six in 10 supported it. People unaffiliated with any religious organization were least likely to back it. Only four in 10 of them did.

The analysis is based on a Pew Research Center survey of 742 American adults conducted April 14-21. It did not include analysis of groups other than white evangelicals, white non-Hispanic Catholics, white mainline Protestants and the religiously unaffiliated, because the sample size was too small. See results of the survey

The president of the National Association of Evangelicals, Leith Anderson, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The survey asked: "Do you think the use of torture against suspected terrorists in order to gain important information can often be justified, sometimes be justified, rarely be justified, or never be justified?"

Roughly half of all respondents -- 49 percent -- said it is often or sometimes justified. A quarter said it never is.

The religious group most likely to say torture is never justified was Protestant denominations -- such as Episcopalians, Lutherans and Presbyterians -- categorized as "mainline" Protestants, in contrast to evangelicals. Just over three in 10 of them said torture is never justified. A quarter of the religiously unaffiliated said the same, compared with two in 10 white non-Hispanic Catholics and one in eight evangelicals.     
Source:  Arrived via email

    Back to 
Religion in the News
    The Potato QUIZ !
    Q: Where did you get the GOLD with which your churches are gilded?

Why the Faithful Approve of Torture

Friday 01 May 2009   by S u s a n   B r o o k s   original @ The Washington Post

Story Highlights
Prisoners at Guantanamo Bay --
A recent poll shows the more often you go to church, the more you approve of torture.

The more often you go to church, the more you approve of torture. This is a troubling finding of a new survey by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. Shouldn't it be the opposite? After all, who would Jesus torture? Since Jesus wouldn't even let Peter use a sword and defend him from arrest, it would seem that those who follow Jesus would strenuously oppose the violence of torture. But, not so in America today.

Instead, more than half of people who attend worship at least once a week, or 54%, said that using torture on suspected terrorists was "often" or "sometimes" justified. White evangelical Protestants were the church-going group most likely to approve of torture. By contrast, those who are unaffiliated with a religious organization and didn't attend worship were most opposed to torture - only 42% of those people approved of using torture.

One possible way to interpret this extraordinary Pew data is cultural. White evangelical Protestants tend to be culturally conservative and they make up a large percentage of the so-called Republican "base". Does the approval of torture by this group demonstrate their continuing support for the previous administration? That may be.

But I think it is possible, even likely, that this finding has a theological root. The UN Convention Against Torture defines torture as "any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person..." White Evangelical theology bases its view of Christian salvation on the severe pain and suffering undergone by Jesus in his flogging and crucifixion by the Romans. This is called the "penal theory of the atonement" - that is, the way Jesus paid for our sins is by this extreme torture inflicted on him.

For Christian conservatives, severe pain and suffering are central to their theology. This is very clear in the 2002 Mel Gibson movie, The Passion of the Christ. Evangelical Christians flocked to this movie, promoted it and still show it in their churches, despite the fact that it is R-rated for the extraordinary amount of violence in the film. It is, in fact, the highest grossing R-rated movie in the history of film. The flogging of Jesus by the Romans goes on for fully 40 minutes. It is truly the most violent film I have ever seen.

The message of the movie, and a message of a lot of conservative Christian theology, is that severe pain and suffering are not foreign to Christian faith, but central.

Of course, this is an interpretation of Jesus life, death and resurrection that I reject. It is also an interpretation that I believe has done a lot of harm through the centuries. I think it is impossible, yes, impossible, if you read the Gospels, to make the case that God wanted Jesus tortured for the sins of humanity. But that is an interpretation that has sometimes been made in the history of Christianity and the social and political fallout has been, and is today, that torture is OK, maybe even more than OK. This Pew finding may just be another in a long line of horrible historical examples of that.

      Source:  Arrived via email

For more information, please contact:
Dave Silverman, Vice President and Communications Director  732-648-9333
Kathleen Johnson, Vice President and Military Director 318-542-1019
An Atheist public policy group today called upon Congress to investigate
the unauthorized distribution of bibles by U.S. military troops in
The incident was revealed on the Al Jazeera television network, and
consisted of video shot by a U.S. filmmaker.  It shows military
chaplains at Bagram Air Force base planning distribution of bibles
printed in the native Pashto language to Muslims.  Such an act
reportedly violated regulations.
Kathleen Johnson, Military Director for American Atheists says that the
year-old video footage is "a public relations disaster for the United
"This film depicts our troops as modern-day 'crusaders' who are out to
proselytize and convert Muslims," said Johnson.  "We're supposed to be
fighting terrorism and helping the Afghanis build a new civil society
that educates women, protects human rights and brings economic
development.  Religious conversion is not and should not be on our
government's to-do list."
Dave Silverman, Communications Director for American Atheists, said that
Congress needs to investigate.  "We've been told that the Bibles were
destroyed when the Al Jazeera documentary came to light; what we don't
know is whether this practice is continuing, and we can't trust the
military brass on this issue."
"We already know that the chaplains were trying to cover-up the incident
when they claimed that the bibles -- printed in a foreign tongue -- were
for 'personal use.  That doesn't make sense."
Silverman also cited a sermon by Lt. General Gary Hensley, chief of
military chaplains in Afghanistan, preaching that troops were followers
of Jesus Christ and should "be witnesses for him."
"This is mixing private religion with an official military mission.  No
branch of our government, including the Pentagon, should be promoting
religion, especially when Islamic fundamentalism is one of the major
problems in Afghanistan."
AMERICAN ATHEISTS is a nationwide movement that defends civil rights for
Atheists; works for the total separation of church and state; and
addresses issues of First Amendment public policy.

Scientology on trial in France

The Church says it cannot be responsible for individuals

The Church of Scientology has gone on trial in the French capital, Paris, accused of organised fraud.

The case centres on a complaint by a woman who says she was pressured into paying large sums of money after being offered a free personality test.

The church, which is fighting the charges, denies that any mental manipulation took place.

France regards Scientology as a sect, not a religion, and the organisation could be banned if it loses the case.

It will be the first time the church has appeared as a defendant in a fraud case in France. Previous court cases have involved individual Scientologists.

Books and medication

The woman at the centre of the case says she was approached by church members in Paris 10 years ago, and offered a free personality test. But, she says, she ended up spending 21,000 euros ($29,400, £18,400) on lessons, books and medicines she was told would cure her poor mental state.

Her lawyers are arguing that the church systematically seeks to make money by means of mental pressure and the use of scientifically dubious "cures".

A lawyer for the church, Patrick Maisonneuve, said: "We will contest every charge and prove that there was no mental manipulation."

The church's spokeswoman in France said it was being "hounded" by the French courts.

Scientology was founded in the United States in the 1954 by science-fiction writer L Ron Hubbard. High profile supporters include the Hollywood stars John Travolta and Tom Cruise.

In Germany last year, it was declared unconstitutional.

However, a Spanish court ruled that the Church of Scientology of Spain should be re-entered into the country's register of officially recognised religions.

Source: BBC news.bbc.co.uk

Oklahoma's Ten Commandments struck down
Court smites Oklahoma courthouse 'Ten Commandements' display

       June 9 2009   Trina Hoaks    Atheism Examiner

American United for Separation of Church and State praised a federal appeals court for striking down a government display of the Ten Commandments in Haskell County, Okla.

The appellate panel, composed of three George W. Bush appointees, ruled that most people would perceive the display of the monument and the battle to keep it up as religious efforts.

Reversing a lower court, the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously declared unconstitutional [pdf] the eight-foot-tall religious display, which was erected at the local courthouse in 2004 after a campaign by a local minister and his supporters.

“This decision should send a clear message to politicians and religious leaders: Thou shalt not mix church and state,” observed the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. “Our courthouses should focus on the Constitution and civil law, not religious law.”

Americans United, which filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the Green v. Haskell County Board of Commissioners case, noted that the monument displays the Protestant version of the Commandments and that it contains the text of the Mayflower Compact on the other side.

The appeals court traced the history of the monument, noting that commissioners frequently invoked religious language in defending it. One commissioner said, “I’m a Christian, and I believe in this. I think it’s a benefit to the community.”

The appellate panel, composed of three George W. Bush appointees, ruled that most people would perceive the display of the monument and the battle to keep it up as religious efforts.

“We conclude, in the unique factual setting of a small community like Haskell County, that the reasonable observer would find that these facts tended to strongly reflect a government endorsement of religion,” wrote the court. “In particular, we find support for this conclusion in the public statements of the Haskell County commissioners.”

Lynn said the court made the right call.

“The display of religious documents like the Ten Commandments properly belongs to religious leaders, not government officials,” he said. “I hope county officials have learned an important lesson about launching ill-considered religious crusades.”

Lynn noted that Oklahoma legislators recently passed a law calling for a display of the Ten Commandments on the grounds of the state capitol. In light of this ruling, he said, lawmakers might want to reconsider the wisdom of that action.

Source:  examiner.com/x-2044-Atheism-Examiner~y2009m6d9-Court-smites-Oklahoma-courthouse-Ten-Commandements-display?cid=examiner-email


Dutch muggers caught on Google street view camera
Fri Jun 19, 2009 1:14PM EDT    AMSTERDAM (Reuters) -

Dutch twin brothers who mugged a teenager in the northern town of Groningen were arrested after being caught on camera by a car gathering images for Google's online photo map service, police said.

The pair stole the 14-year-old boy's mobile phone and 165 euros ($230) in cash last September.

"The picture was taken just a moment before the crime," a police spokesman said.

In March, the victim recognized himself and the two robbers while surfing Google Maps, which has a "Street View" feature allowing users to see images of buildings. The images are usually taken by a camera mounted on a car.

After an investigation by the police, one of the 24-year-old twins confessed to robbing the boy.

Source: tech.yahoo.com

Turkish TV gameshow looks to convert atheists
By D a r e n   B u t l e r

ISTANBUL (Reuters) - What happens when you put a Muslim imam, a Christian priest, a rabbi and a Buddhist monk in a room with 10 atheists?

Turkish television station Kanal T hopes the answer is a ratings success as it prepares to launch a gameshow where spiritual guides from the four faiths will seek to convert a group of non-believers.

The prize for converts will be a pilgrimage to a holy site of their chosen religion -- Mecca for Muslims, the Vatican for Christians, Jerusalem for Jews and Tibet for Buddhists.

But religious authorities in Muslim but secular Turkey are not amused by the twist on the popular reality game show format and the Religious Affairs Directorate is refusing to provide an imam for the show.

"Doing something like this for the sake of ratings is disrespectful to all religions. Religion should not be a subject for entertainment programs," High Board of Religious Affairs Chairman Hamza Aktan told state news agency Anatolian after news of the planned program emerged.

The makers of "Penitents Compete" are unrepentant and reject claims that the show, scheduled to begin broadcasting in September, will cheapen religion.

"We are giving the biggest prize in the world, the gift of belief in God," Kanal T chief executive Seyhan Soylu told Reuters.

"We don't approve of anyone being an atheist. God is great and it doesn't matter which religion you believe in. The important thing is to believe," Soylu said.

The project focuses attention on the issue of religious identity in European Union-candidate Turkey, where rights groups have raised concerns over freedom of religion for non-Muslim minorities.

Detractors of the ruling AK Party government, which is rooted in political Islam but officially secular, accuse it of having a hidden Islamist agenda, a charge it denies.

Some 200 people have so far applied to take part in the show and the 10 contestants will be chosen next month.

A team of theologians will ensure that the atheists are truly non-believers and are not just seeking fame or a free holiday.

(Writing by Daren Butler; Editing by Dominic Evans)

Source:  reuters.com

LDS may have posthumously baptized Obama's African ancestors
Church declines to say whether rites performed.
B y   M a t t   C a n h a m    The Salt Lake Tribune

Updated: 07/23/2009

 Washington -- Mormons have not only posthumously baptized President Barack Obama's mother into their faith, but they may have performed the ritual for the president's African ancestors as well, including his father, grandfather and great-grandfather, according to researcher Helen Radkey.

She has uncovered records in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saint's new FamilySearch database that include personalized identification numbers for Obama's relatives, including his father, Barack Obama Sr.

The president's father was Muslim, but later in life became a nonbeliever, according to the family.

Records in the FamilySearch database do not indicate if the "baptism for the dead" ceremony was actually performed in an LDS temple, saying only that the information is "not available."

Radkey, a Salt Lake City-based researcher critical of the practice, provided The Salt Lake Tribune with the documents. Earlier this year, Radkey found records that confirmed the "baptism for the dead" of Stanley Ann Dunham, Obama's mother, who died in 1995, took place on June 4, 2008, in the Provo temple.

"Baptizing Obama's African relatives, or putting their names in the LDS temple system for them to be posthumously baptized, is offensive because it sends a wrongful message that Obama's ancestors were of inferior religious stock," Radkey said.

LDS Church spokesman Scott Trotter declined to comment about the specifics involving Obama's family, but has previously confirmed the Dunham baptism. At the time, he said it ran counter to the faith's policies. Mormons are only supposed to submit names for baptism for people they are related to.

He promised to investigate what he called "a serious matter."

"While the vast majority of names submitted by church members fall within applicable guidelines, it is virtually impossible to ensure that no improper submissions will be made," Trotter said.

Source:  mormoncurtain.com/

 LINK:  Ear Candles


Islamic jihadists meet in Chicago: Atheists urge 'measured response'
July 22, 2009

 An atheist public policy group today urged secularists and religious groups alike -- including moderate Muslims -- to speak out against the violent and authoritarian agenda voiced by extremists meeting in Chicago.

Hizb ut Tahrir -- a Sunni organization with reported ties to 9/11 terrorists including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed -- held a conference Sunday, "The Fall of Capitalism and the Rise of Islam." The group denied that it preaches violence, but critics say that it advocates theocracy and jihad. A video promoting the conference linked the West to a range of ills including militarism, drug use and even divorce. It showed a Muslim rally with a banner declaring "Freedom of Speech is an Attack on Islam."

Ed Buckner, President of American Atheists, urged religious and non-religious groups to denounce the Hizb ut Tahrir

agenda for violence and intolerance.

"The 'enemy' they cite is free markets, free ideas, and freedom from imposed religion," said Buckner. "We know that is not what most Americans want, including, we hope and think, the vast majority of Muslims who, while religious, accept the values embodied in the Constitution, including free expression."

Buckner added that he opposes calls by some religious and social conservatives who want to ban meetings and other peaceful activities by Hizb ut Tahrir. "If we start banning speech and public meetings, the jihadists have won. The best antidote to hateful and ill-informed speech, as Jefferson reputedly said, is more speech, not censorship."

Dave Silverman, Communications Director for American Atheists, said that if Hizb ut Tahrir "does not cross the line into violence and terrorism, they deserve the same Constitutional protections as anyone else in America."

"The fact that they were able to hold this conference shows how weak their intellectual position is, and how robust a free, secular society can be," said Silverman. "We encourage everyone, including the vast majority of American Muslims, to use that First Amendment freedom and speak out against the theocratic agendas of Hizb ut Tahrir and, yes, the American religious right as well."

Boko Haram -- Education Forbidden: Islam
In Nigeria, an Islamist Expansion     
B y   W I L L   C O N N O R S

ABUJA, Nigeria -- An Islamic fundamentalist group in northern Nigeria expanded its attacks into three additional states on Monday, a day after at least 50 people died during fighting between the group and security forces in Bauchi State, aid workers and police said.

On Monday, fundamentalist group Boko Haram, which means "education is prohibited" in Hausa, launched attacks in three northern states, where at least 100 bodies were counted by a reporter in Maiduguri, the capital of Borno State, the BBC reported. Casualty figures couldn't be confirmed.

Fighting was also reported in Kano and Yobe states. Police spokesmen didn't respond Monday to requests for information.

Boko Haram on Sunday attacked a police station in the northern city of Bauchi after several of the group's leaders were arrested last week. Police responded to Sunday's attacks by converging on several of the group's hideouts, killing at least 50 members and arresting more than 100, police spokesmen said.

The arrest of nine Boko Haram members on Friday appeared to be the catalyst for the recent attacks, which were carried out by about 70 men armed with homemade grenades, sticks and knives. A cache of explosives and weapons was found at one of the group's hideouts in Bauchi, the police said.

The four states affected by the recent fighting are among 12 northern Nigerian states that practice a relatively benign form of Islamic Shariah law.

Boko Haram, which is seeking a stricter adoption of Shariah, has aligned itself with the Taliban and al Qaeda but has no known ties to militant Islamist groups outside Nigeria.

"The movement has been building up for some time and attracting a lot of young people," said Nnamdi Obasi, an analyst for the International Crisis Group, who recently traveled to the northern areas where the militants operate. "They have a total lack of faith in the Western system," he said. "It is a symptom of much deeper problems; economic and social issues are at the heart of the matter."

Northern Nigeria, once a textile and agricultural hub, is now home to some of the most underdeveloped states in the country.

A police spokesman in Bauchi said police had been monitoring the group for the past three to four months, after the group began "preaching fundamentalism."
Source: T h e   W a l l   S t r e e t   J o u r n a l ,   p a g e   A 1 0.

Russian pupils can study religion, ethics
Friday, July 24, 2009

BARVIKHA, Russia — Russian President Dmitry Medvedev announced aa pilot project Tuesday that will require schoolchildren to take classes in religion or secular ethics.

The proposal is part of a Kremlin effort to teach young Russians morals in the wake of a turbulent period of uncertainty following the collapse of the officially atheist Soviet Union.

Medvedev said preteen students at about 12,000 schools in 18 Russian regions would take the classes. They will be offered the choice of studying the dominant Russian Orthodox religion, Islam, Buddhism or Judaism, or of taking an overview of all four faiths, or a course in secular ethics.

Students and their parents must be allowed to choose freely, Medvedev said in addressing top clerics and officials at his residence outside Moscow. "Any coercion, pressure will be absolutely unacceptable and counterproductive," he said.

By 2012, the classes might be expanded nationwide, Medvedev said. The pilot project includes about 20 percent of Russia's schools.

The offer of a choice appeared aimed to ease concerns that Russian Orthodoxy will be forced on schoolchildren as the church gains influence and tightens ties with the state.

Mandatory classes in Orthodox culture were introduced in a few Russian regions three years ago, but they alarmed adherents of other confessions who said religion has no place in schools in a secular state. The classes also were criticized as being reminiscent of the forced study of communism or scientific atheism during Soviet times, with one mandatory ideology being substituted with another.

Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill has long pushed for the introduction of Orthodox classes in schools, but he was careful not to criticize the president's initiative. "The free choice and alternatives could serve as the basis for a system" of religious classes, he said.

Medvedev emphasized that the classes will include only "the largest of Russia's traditional religions" — Orthodox Christianity, Islam, Judaaism and Buddhism. He omitted other faiths, such as Roman Catholicism or Protestantism, which the Orthodox Church accuses of proselytizing.

Some nonreligious Russians complain that the church has tailored its doctrine to suit the government, which has justified Russia's retreat from Western-style democracy by saying the country has a unique history and culture.

Church and state are officially separate under the post-Soviet constitution, but Orthodox leaders seek a more muscular role for the church, which has served the state for much of its 1,000-year history.

The Russian Orthodox Church counts in its congregation more than 100 million people in Russia and tens of millions elsewhere. But polls show that only about 5 percent of Russians are observant believers.

Source:  deseretnews.com/article/705318986/Russian-pupils-can-study-religion-ethics.html

God Bless You! Idioms for Those With the Cold and Flu Illness
The Historical Origins Behind Expressions Connected to Getting Sick
B y   J E N N Y   C H A N       A B C   N e w s   M e d i c a l   U n i t       Oct. 25, 2008

You wake up on a cold winter's morning and find you're feeling "under the weather." You're sneezing, coughing and hacking up a storm, signs that you'll be spending your day sick and "groggy."

Most people use these and other phrases and expressions without much thought while in the throes of a cold or flu. They are so commonplace that there's little thought given to where these sayings come from.

"There are many wags and wiseacres in the world, and these people often use puns, metaphors, and word play to create striking new phrases," said Paul McFedries, author of "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Weird Word Origins" and owner of wordspy.com, a Web site dedicated to tracking new words and phrases that enter the English language.

"Words and phrases stick around in language most often because they fill a gap in the language," McFedries added.

Throughout time, people have come up with creative ways to describe the symptoms of getting sick, many of which have become staples in our common everyday speech.

Historically, being downtrodden with an illness was seen as a religious phenomenon.

During the 16th, 17th, 18th centuries, the idea was that death "had something to do with God's will," said Dr. Howard Markel, professor of the history of medicine and of pediatrics and communicable diseases at the University of Michigan Medical School in Ann Arbor.

Even the term influenza has religious origins. A word with Italian origins, it was used to show that the influence of epidemics was "either of the stars or the devil," Markel said. "During the Renaissance, epidemics were seen as an act of God."

Several of the expressions we use to describe cold and flu sufferers have these religious etymologies, as well as nautical and military origins.

We have gathered several of these words and idioms and the stories behind them, and invite you to browse through them.

'God Bless You'
We say it in response to someone sneezing, almost automatically, but what is the story behind "God Bless You"?

There are several different theories behind why this commonly used phrase is said in reaction to a sneeze.

One tale hails from the time when an outbreak of Bubonic Plague hit Rome during medieval times.

"In 590 [A.D.], Pope Gregory I ordered the citizens of Rome to pray to fend off an outbreak of the Bubonic Plague," author McFedries said.

"Since people of the day thought a sneeze was a symptom of the plague, they would say 'God Bless You' to the sneezer."

Another belief is that when one sneezes, their heart stops. Saying "God Bless You" is believed to make the sneezer return to life or make their heart continue to beat.

The act of sneezing itself is viewed as positive or negative, depending on the story to which you subscribe.

The positive explanation states that sneezing helps cleanse the body of evil spirits.

Contrary to that belief, a sneeze was also seen as a bad omen.

"People used to believe that your soul was thrown from your body during a sneeze," McFedries said.

It is believed that the departure of one's soul from you body left him or her unprotected from evil spirits. After sneezing, the body was susceptible to invasion by the Devil himself.


All of 1969's
the past

2009 AANEWS  #1267...  an excerpt. 
A M E R I C A N   A T H E I S T S    A A N E W S
           #1267                                                                                   8/07/09
 atheists.org                americanatheist.org                atheistviewpoint.tv

A Service of AMERICAN ATHEISTS, a nationwide movement that
defends civil rights for non-believers; works for the total separation of
Church and State; and addresses issues of First Amendment public policy.
"ATHEIST is really a thoroughly honest, unambiguous term, it admits
of no paltering and no evasion, and the need of the world, now as
ever, is for clear-cut issues and unambiguous speech."
-- Chapman Cohen

In This Issue...
* Blackwater probe, suit -- Christian Supremacist, an Army of Templars?
* Worth Noting -- More C-Street expose!


Founders Family Funded Religious Right Groups

The controversial private security army once known as "Blackwater"
is at the center of new allegations involving everything from murder
to illegal arms dealing .

A former employee of the firm -- now known as XE -- and an
ex-Marine who served as a security operative under contract
in Iraq -- gave depositions which were filed this past week in
federal court. Identified as "John Doe One" and "John Doe Two,"
the pair made explosive allegations against Blackwater founder Erik
Prince. According to a story in The Nation magazine, Prince "may
have murdered or facilitated the murder of individuals who were
cooperating with federal authorities investigating the company."
One portion of the affidavit claimed that Mr. Prince "views himself
as a Christian crusader tasked with eliminating Muslims and the
Islamic faith from the globe."

Indeed, Mr. Prince is an unabashed Christian evangelical with a
family pedigree of support for religious extremism. He is the
son of the late Edgar Prince, a wealthy Michigan industrialist and
vocal born-again Christian who bankrolled a number of organizations
including James Dobson's Focus on the Family, Promise Keepers,
and Donald Wildmon's American Family Association. He also provided
the seed money for Gary Bauer's Washington, DC-based Family Research
Council. Wife Elsa was active in the semi-secret Council for National
Policy, (Board of CNP Governors, 1996 and 1998) a meeting venue
for conservatives and religious right leaders.

The elder Prince also funded Christian evangelical ministries like
Gospel Communications International, a Michigan-based outreach which
produces proselytizing films. Today, that ministry has expanded to
include a number of internet-based projects including The Navigators,
Intervarsity Christian Fellowship and Children's Bible Hour

Erik Prince's sister, Betsy, married Richard DeVos, President of
the multi-level marketing giant Amway. DeVos's involvement in
religious right politics dates back to the 1970s when he helped
found the so-called "Third Century Movement" which grew out of a
series of secret meetings in Washington, DC. According to author
and historian Sarah Diamond ("Spiritual Warfare, The Politics
of the Christian Right"), this was the genesis of the modern
religious right. Also "present at the creation" were Bill Bright
(Campus Crusade for Christ); insurance magnate Arthur De Moss; and
then-Congressman John Conlan. DeVos also bank funded the FRC's
glitzy Washington, DC office building. Wife Betsy was prominent
in the "school choice" movement, and at one time served as Chair
of the Michigan Republican Party.

Erik Prince was born in 1969, gained entrance to the U.S. Naval
Academy, but transferred to Hillsdale College in Michigan and
graduated in 1992. He served as an intern for George H.W. Bush in
1990, and two years later joined the Navy SEALS. From there, he
inherited an estimated $1.3 billion from the sale of his father's
company, Prince Automotive, and in 1997 established the Blackwater
firm. From there, Prince operated under a Byzantine array of names
including Blackwater Security Consulting (2002), and quickly won
crucial government contracts. In 2007, Erik Prince testified before
Congress during a probe of allegations that Blackwater operatives
engaged in misconduct in Iraq and Afghanistan. Prince resigned as
Blackwater CEO; meanwhile, the company morphed into XE. Prince has
retained his title as Chairman, though, and according to published
reports claims little involvement in day-to-day operations.

The depositions filed in federal court portray Erik Prince as a
driven, ruthless paramilitary boss with a Christian supremacist
vision of global affairs. "John Doe #2" stated in his deposition:

""Mr. Prince intentionally deployed to Iraq certain men who shared
his vision of Christian supremacy, knowing and wanting these men to
take every available opportunity to murder Iraqis. Many of these
men used call signs based on the Knights of the Templar (sic),
the warriors who fought the Crusades."

The deposition continues:

"Mr. Prince operated his companies in a manner that encouraged and
rewarded the destruction of Iraqi life. For example, Mr. Prince's
executives would openly speak about going over to Iraq to 'lay
Hajiis out on cardboard.' Going to Iraq to shoot and kill Iraqis
was viewed as a sport or game. Mr. Prince's openly and consistently
used racist and derogatory terms for Iraqis and other Arabs, such as
'ragheads' or 'hajiis'."

Despite growing problems over the Blackwater-XE operations, Prince
has continued the family legacy of serving as philanthropist for
religious right interests. He serves as Vice President of the Edgar
and Elsa Prince Foundation, which according to Salon.com provided
$630,000 in funding over a three-year period to the Family Research
Council, and over $500 to the Focus on the Family. Erik Prince
is on the board of the group Christian Freedom International,
a nonprofit mission to assist "Christens who are persecuted for
their faith in Jesus Christ."

He has also contributed money to the Alliance Defense Fund, a
religious advocacy and legal group that defends school prayer,
posting of the Ten Commandments on public property and other

Along with the federal investigation into Blackwater and XE,
there is a civil suit filed on behalf of Iraqis by the Center for
Constitutional Rights. All of this may shed more light on the
secretive, "private army" which, say some critics, is the modern
day equivalent of the crusaders.

Links to Resources used in this story:  thenation.com/doc/20090817/scahill

Blackwater Founder Implicated in Murder A former Blackwater employee
and an ex-US Marine who has worked as a security operative for
the company have made a series of explosive allegations in sworn
statements filed on August 3 in federal court in Virginia. The two
men claim that the company's owner, Erik Prince, may have murdered
or facilitated the murder of individuals who were cooperating with
federal authorities investigating the company. The former employee
also alleges that Prince "views himself as a Christian crusader
tasked with eliminating Muslims and the Islamic faith from the
globe," and that Prince's companies "encouraged and rewarded the
destruction of Iraqi life."

   en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Erik_Prince  Wikipedia entry on Erik Prince -- useful links.

The Man Behind Blackwater Dutiful and intense, son of a self-made
billionaire, Erik Prince is an adventure seeker and conservative
true believer. An exclusive. By Evan Thomas and Mark Hosenball |
NEWSWEEK From the magazine issue dated Oct 22, 2007.


An Egyptian River Runs Through Washington : Summer of Denial During
mid July, the Senate Judiciary Committee held hearings on Judge
Sonia Sotomayor's qualifications for the Supreme Court. The Solon's
oratory focused on themes of some fictional world, not one threatened
by global warming and diving economies. Scientists regularly
predict dire consequences if current production and consumption
practices continue, but southern Republicans emphasized the country's
"fundamental" issues: the rights to own guns and numchuks, plus the
sins of abortion, affirmative action and liberal-activist judges who
allow "foreign law" to stain our judicial system. Simultaneously,
news of record June foreclosures and higher unemployment competed
with stories of three self-righteous, high-level, elected Christians
who practiced the very sins against which they had preached.


Feds probe multi-million dollar "racing ministry" The pastor of
a Sterling church says the IRS is investigating his control of
church finances, which include $8.5 million in church real estate
and hundreds of thousands of dollars' worth of vehicles that he
and his wife use in a "racing ministry."


Feds can seize Dinosaur Adventure Land A ruling this week says the
nine properties that make up Dinosaur Adventure Land, and two bank
accounts associated with the park will be used to satisfy $430,400
in restitution owed to the federal government. Kent Hovind, who
founded the park and his ministry, Creation Science Evangelism,
is serving 10 years in federal prison as a result of a tax-fraud
conviction for failing to pay more than $470,000 in employee taxes in
a long-running dispute with the Internal Revenue Service. Kent Hovind
was found guilty in November 2006 on 58 counts, including failure
to pay employee taxes and making threats against investigators.


Beyond belief: Atheists push for greater visibility and acceptance
There's nothing unusual about churches advertising Sunday services,
but South Florida atheists are turning that idea on its head:
Why not promote the belief that there is no God? ``Most people
are under the impression that atheists lack morals and ethics. We
are trying to dispel that myth,'' said Ken Loukinen, founder of
the 400-member Florida Atheists and Secular Humanists, which is
sponsoring a controversial billboard in Broward County. Being a good
person doesn't require God,'' the sign declares. ``Don't believe
in God? You're not alone!''

 Surprises pop up in new survey of U.S. Mormons On July 24,
the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life released an extensive
statistical portrait of
Mormons in the United States. It drew on
answers by self-identified members of The Church of Jesus Christ
of Latter-day Saints to Pew's U.S. Religious Landscape Survey
in 2007. Though it will come as no surprise to Utahns that most
Mormons are church-attending, Bible-believing Republicans, some of
the other results may be less predictable.


Supreme Court to be asked to hear Ten Commandments case The
U.S. Supreme Court will be asked to resolve the controversy over a
Ten Commandments monument on the Haskell County courthouse lawn,
Alliance Defense Fund attorney Kevin Theriot said Friday. "We
are planning on filing a petition for certiorari with the Supreme
Court," said Theriot, of Leawood, Kan.By a 6-6 vote, the full 10th
U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals declined Thursday to rehear the June
ruling of a three-judge panel, which held that the monument violates
the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.

Church-state groups concerned about nominated Army secretary
Organizations that advocate the separation of church and state
say they are concerned about President Obama's pick as Secretary
of the Army. Brent Walker, executive director of the Baptist Joint
Committee for Religious Liberty, said July 30 that U.S. Rep. John
M. McHugh, a five-term Republican from New York, has a voting record
that shows he is no friend to religious liberty. Critics say John
McHugh's voting record in Congress suggests he has little regard
for separation of church and state. Walker said McHugh, who is
expected to be confirmed at the conclusion of hearings before
the Senate Armed Services Committee, has a background that is
"generally well-suited for the job," but his voting record "raises
serious questions about his understanding of the constitutional
restraints on government in matters of religion."

Catholic bank owned pill shares A Roman Catholic bank in Germany
has apologized after admitting it bought stocks in defence, tobacco
and birth control companies. Der Spiegel newspaper discovered the
bank had invested 580,000 euros ( 495,310, $826,674) in British arms
company BAE Systems. It also invested 160,000 euros in American birth
control pill maker Wyeth and 870,000 euros in tobacco companies.
The bank apologised for behaviour "not in keeping with ethical

Study: Religiosity of Humanities Students Most Likely to Wane
Results from a recent study on the impact of a college student's
major on their religiosity have led researchers to conclude that
postmodernism, rather than science, is the greatest antagonist of
religiosity. Researchers at the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor drew
the conclusion after finding that majoring in Humanities or Social
Sciences has a significant negative effect on religious attendance
and self-assessed importance of religion in one's life."Because
we consider both the Humanities and many of the Social Sciences
particularly strongly imbued with Postmodernism, we take this as
evidence for a negative effect of Postmodernism on religiosity,"
they state in their report, which was released last month. Meanwhile,
majoring in the Biological Sciences and the Physical Sciences has
a much smaller negative or no effects on religiosity.

Iowa Atheists and Freethinkers launch awareness campaign The group
Iowa Atheists and Freethinkers (IAF) has launched an advertising
campaign on the sides of 20 transit buses in Des Moines. The ad
features an image of a blue sky with clouds and the words "Don't
Believe in God? You are not alone."

Acknowledging existence of atheists is too offensive for Des Moines
After a wave of complaints, Des Moines Area Regional Transit buses
will no longer display advertisements that acknowledge the existence
of atheists in Iowa. The ads, which said, "Don't believe in God? You
are not alone," first went up on buses Saturday and were removed
by Tuesday. Gov. Chet Culver said he was "disturbed" by the ads.

Texas gov. urges Christians to get involved in politics According
to MySanAntionio.com, during remarks this past Sunday at New Life
Christian Center, Governor Perry said Christians should be involved
in politics. He also said freedom of religion should not be confused
with freedom from religion.   
Reprinted by permission.

Bus driver suspended; refused to drive bus with atheist ad
August 19, 2009    Trina Hoaks

Advertisements reading “Don't believe in God?
You are not alone
” have been on, off, and now back
on Des Moines buses in recent weeks. A driver refused
to drive a bus bearing the ad.

The Des Moines, Iowa, bus driver who refused to drive a bus with the above ad on it has been suspended from her job. According to a report, Angela Shiel refused to drive the bus because the ad of the Iowa Atheists and Freethinkers goes against her Christian faith. The 8-year employee faces termination.

According to the report, the general manager of Des Moines Area Regional Transit Authority (DART), Brad Miller, said that "DART policy states that drivers cannot choose which buses they drive." He said, "'Drivers are not permitted to reject a working bus. It's a very fundamental policy for DART. ... It's an essential rule that we will maintain.'"

Of course, this brings up a whole new issue. Do government employees have the right to refuse to do their job if it is against their religion? Now I cannot imagine that it is written anywhere in Christian documentation that "thou shalt not steer a bus bearing ads of the fool who hath said in his heart or out-loud or in print that there is no God." So, it is difficult to see how this would be against her religion. It may sting her religious "sensibilities" a tad, but how can doing her job, in this instance, be against her religion?

According to the report, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa, Ben Stone, said, "'As a government agency operating a public forum, DART and all of its employees, including its drivers, are required to follow the First Amendment. Since DART managers cannot claim a religious reason to censor bus ads, neither can drivers.'" He went on to say, "'When you work for the government, part of your job is to respect the rights of your fellow citizens, and you cannot use your religious beliefs to evade that responsibility.'"

Shiel's husband reportedly said that his wife should have the right to refuse to drive a bus with the atheist ad on the side. He said that making her drive one of those buses is like telling her to be "'two-faced for the fact that she wants an income.'"

A Des Moines civil rights lawyer, Roxanne Conlin, has gotten in on the controversy saying that Shiel has the right to refuse to drive the bus and that making her drive it may violate her rights. She said that DART should accommodate Shiel in respect of her religious beliefs if they can reasonably do so. "For example", the report said, "DART might have been able to transfer her to a different bus or let her do desk work."

It will be interesting to see how this all plays out. It seems, though, no matter what, when it comes to running these ads, DART is damned if it does and damned if it doesn't... at least for now.

Source: Examiner.com    More...


An Atheist-First Amendment public policy group charged today that NASA
is violating the separation of church and state by permitting a "space
missionary" memento on the latest Discovery Space Shuttle Mission.

On board the shuttle is a piece of an airplane that crashed in Ecuador
in 1956 that carried members of the Missionary Aviation Fellowship. One
of the shuttle astronaut contacted the Idaho-based group proposing that
the item be taken into space as part of a government-funded exploration
project. The event has re-ignited enthusiasm by religious groups for
"space missionary" proselytizing.

"This is an inappropriate and unconstitutional use of resources,"
charged Dr. Ed Buckner, President of American Atheists. NASA is a
scientific and exploratory agency that is funded by taxpayers. Its
mission should not include religious grandstanding, or efforts to use
outer space as a pulpit for religion."

Coincidentally, Dr. Buckner's late father, Rev. James C. Buckner of St.
Christopher's Episcopal Church in League City, Texas, collaborated with
Apollo 8 astronaut Cdr. Frank Borman to insert religion on the first
lunar orbital mission in 1968. That mission included a Christmas Eve
religious service as the spacecraft circled the Moon -- and prompted an
unsuccessful lawsuit by American Atheists founder Madalyn Murray O'Hair.
Ed Buckner stressed that "I loved my father, though I disagreed with him
then and of course now. I did not reject my father when I rejected
theism nor became an Atheist out of rebellion. I became an Atheist
because theism ceased to make any sense to me."

Dave Silverman, Vice President and Communications Director for American
Atheists said that in addition to being inappropriate and illegal, using
NASA to promote sectarian religion "could fuel international tensions
and resurrect images of American-sponsored proselytizing in the Middle
East and elsewhere."

"This is supposed to be a 'new era' for international respect and
cooperation," said Mr. Silverman. How do you think the non-Christian
peoples of the world react when they see Americans pushing Christianity
even in outer space?"

AMERICAN ATHEISTS is a nationwide movement that defends civil rights for
Atheists; works for the total separation of church and state; and
addresses issues of First Amendment public policy.

Idiot Yettaw: Suu Kyi visitor tells of 'sorrow'
The man who swam to the lakeside home of Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi has spoken of his sorrow that his action led to her arrest and trial.

John Yettaw told the BBC that he had a dream that Ms Suu Kyi was going to be murdered, and swam to her home wearing home-made flippers to warn her.  Mr Yettaw was sentenced to seven years in prison but is now back home after US Senator Jim Webb intervened.

Ms Suu Kyi was sentenced to 18 months' further house arrest.

Mr Yettaw, a devout Mormon from Falcon, Missouri, told the BBC's Newshour programme that he had had many strong visions or dreams which he called "impressions" or "camcorder moments".

In one he says he foresaw an official plot to murder Ms Suu Kyi and this prompted him to swim twice to her home to warn her of the danger.

On the first occasion he says he left some Mormon scriptures for her but did not enter her home.

As he left he was challenged by an armed guard. He says he shook hands with the guard who then walked away and he took a taxi away from the scene.

Another dream
But he again swam to her house in May after another dream.

"I had been researching Myanmar (Burma) and researching about the internally displaced families and about the numbers of people who had been murdered and then about the numbers of people through the Cyclone (Nargis) and then about Aung San Suu Kyi's release date and I went to sleep that night and I had a dream that when she was released she was going to be murdered and I saw a plot," he said.

He said that he believed the inevitable publicity surrounding his trips would make it impossible for the Burmese military authorities to carry out their alleged plan to assassinate her.

"When I was in the water the first time... I had seen myself returning to the house and being in her house two days. When I had the dream of the assassination I thought: OK, I'll go back and I will share with her this message.

"I shared with many people that I had this overwhelming feeling that I was going to be imprisoned and become a political prisoner. The theme was that the eyes of the world would be on Aung San Suu Kyi and that this would spare her life, that the junta (Burma's military government) would not dare try to assassinate her."

Mr Yettaw, 53, said that when he arrived at Ms Suu Kyi's home for the second time she was "shocked" to see him.

"When i got in to talk to Aung San Suu Kyi I said there's a plot to assassinate you," he said. "She said: 'If I die I die.' I said no way, Burma needs you."

Both Mr Yettaw and Ms Suu Kyi were arrested and the pro-democracy leader was charged with breaking the terms of her house arrest by sheltering Mr Yettaw.

Mr Yettaw, who suffered ill health during his detention, spoke of his sorrow that his actions had led to Ms Su Kyi's arrest.

"I was sorrowful that she was arrested," he said. "I had impressions that I would be on trial and that Aung San Suu Kyi would either testify for or against me but not that she would be placed on trial because I think that if I had seen that I wouldn't have done it."   
Source: news.BBC.co.uk

 LINK:  New Charity Scams using Burmese dissidents

Atheists say NASA is violating separation of state and church
September 2, 2009 by Trina Hoaks

An Atheist-First Amendment public policy group charged [last week] that NASA is violating the separation of church and state by permitting a "space missionary" memento on the latest Discovery Space Shuttle Mission.

On board the shuttle is a piece of an airplane that crashed in Ecuador in 1956 that carried members of the Missionary Aviation Fellowship. One of the shuttle astronaut contacted the Idaho-based group proposing that the item be taken into space as part of a government-funded exploration project. The event has re-ignited enthusiasm by religious groups for "space missionary" proselytizing.

"This is an inappropriate and unconstitutional use of resources, "charged Dr. Ed Buckner, President of American Atheists. NASA is a scientific and exploratory agency that is funded by taxpayers. Its
mission should not include religious grandstanding, or efforts to use outer space as a pulpit for religion."

Coincidentally, Dr. Buckner's late father, Rev. James C. Buckner of St. Christopher's Episcopal Church in League City, Texas, collaborated with Apollo 8 astronaut Cdr. Frank Borman to insert religion on the first lunar orbital mission in 1968. That mission included a Christmas Eve religious service as the spacecraft circled the Moon -- and prompted an unsuccessful lawsuit by American Atheists founder Madalyn Murray O'Hair. Ed Buckner stressed that "I loved my father, though I disagreed with him then and of course now. I did not reject my father when I rejected theism nor became an Atheist out of rebellion. I became an Atheist because theism ceased to make any sense to me."

Dave Silverman, Vice President and Communications Director for American Atheists said that in addition to being inappropriate and illegal, using NASA to promote sectarian religion "could fuel international tensions and resurrect images of American-sponsored proselytizing in the Middle
East and elsewhere."

"This is supposed to be a 'new era' for international respect and cooperation," said Mr. Silverman. How do you think the non-Christian peoples of the world react when they see Americans pushing Christianity even in outer space?"

Source: www.examiner.com

AMERICAN ATHEISTS is a nationwide movement that defends civil rights for Atheists; works for the total separation of church and state; and addresses issues of First Amendment public policy.

Star City

 Zvezdny Gorodok
   (Zvyozdny Gorod)


Star City Star City Entrance

Star City Entrance Gate
   Inside Mir

Freedom From Religion Foundation to appeal 'Under God' decision

The Freedom From Religion Foundation and its family of local plaintiffs will appeal the decision last week by U.S. District Judge Steven J. McAuliffe, District of New Hampshire, to dismiss their challenge of a state law requiring daily recitation of the religious Pledge of Allegiance in public schools.

Plaintiffs include a Hanover couple, "Jan and Pat Doe," who are atheist and agnostic respectively, and are members of the Foundation with three children in the public schools. The Foundation, on behalf of its New Hampshire members, is a plaintiff. The suit named Congress, and three local school districts.

Members of Congress intervened, as did the Knights of Columbus and a variety of individual religionists.

The judge in the case was married to Christa McAuliffe, the teacher who died in the space shuttle disaster of 1986. The Foundation's attorney, Michael Newdow, of Sacramento, made international headlines when the 9th U.S. Court of Appeals ruled in his favor in 2002 that "under God" in school pledges was unconstitutional. Circuit Judge Alfred T. Goodwin, a 79-year-old Nixon Court appointee, famously wrote: "A profession that we are a nation 'under God' is identical to a profession that we are a nation 'under Jesus,' a nation 'under Vishnu,' a nation 'under Zeus,' or a nation 'under no god.' " That historic ruling was vacated after the Supreme Court invalidated Newdow's standing.

Newdow, an emergency room doctor who moonlights as a state/church attorney, relaunched the lawsuit in California, which he won at the district court level. The appeal of his victory by California schools has sat at the 9th Circuit for more than two years. The Foundation's New Hampshire case was filed two years ago in October.

Said Annie Laurie Gaylor, Foundation co-president: "We strongly disagree with McAuliffe's characterization of 'under God' in the pledge as 'a permissible acknowledgment of the nation's religious heritage and character.' This ignores the history of the pledge. It was written in 1892 by a liberal clergyman with no references to a god. Only in 1954, after lobbying by the Knights of Columbus and other religious groups, did Congress tamper with the pledge, ruin the rhythm and divide our previously indivisible nation by inserting 'under God.'

"We further disagree that our founders would not have considered the godly reference to be an establishment of religion, as the judge claims," Gaylor added.

"Our founders left god out of the Constitution. Our founders adopted a secular motto, 'E Pluribus Unum,' and they didn't pray at the constitutional convention, which shows intent."

Dan Barker, Foundation co-president, criticized the Court's suggestion that the Pledge of Allegiance has to be considered "as a whole." McAuliffe compared "under God" in the pledge to nativity displays on public land approved by the Supreme Court because they include "secular trimmings."

"This is throwing aside 70 years of passionate precedent by the Supreme Court conferring special protections upon the rights of school children to be free from government-fostered religion," Barker noted.

The judge agreed a one-time prayer at a public commencement ceremony would be constitutionally intolerable, yet overlooked the fact that nonreligious children are subject to a daily religious recitation that ties patriotism to godliness. Even though the law permits children to abstain, the daily message of government endorsement of belief in a god cannot be escaped, Barker added.

"We thank Mike Newdow, who is very brilliant and very dedicated, and has generously undertaken this litigation on a contingency basis, with the Foundation paying only costs," Gaylor said.

"We are also grateful for the determination and commitment of our New Hampshire parent plaintiffs, without whom the case could not be taken," added Barker. The Foundation also thanks the New England donor who has contributed toward legal costs.

Source: http://www.examiner.com

FFRF sues IRS, Geithner and California over 'Minister of Gospel' tax benefits

The national Freedom From Religion Foundation, along with 21 of its California members, has filed a nationally-significant federal lawsuit in Sacramento, challenging tax benefits for "ministers of the gospel," commonly known as "the parsonage exemption."

Ministers, who are paid in tax-free dollars, also may deduct their mortgage interest and property tax payments. Under both Federal and California law, allowances paid to "ministers of the gospel" are not treated as taxable income, unlike the situation for other taxpayers. Only "ministers of the gospel" may claim these benefits, so the statutes convey a governmental message of endorsement, unconstitutionally favoring religious employees and institutions over all others, the Foundation maintains.

The lawsuit was filed on Friday, Oct. 16 in California Eastern District Court, Sacramento office. Judge William B. Shubb will preside over the case. Attorney Richard Bolton, Madison, Wis., with local counsel Michael Newdow, Sacramento, represent the Foundation and its plaintiff members. The Madison, Wis.-based state/church watchdog serves as a national association for freethinkers (atheists and agnostics), and is the largest such association in the United States, with more than 14,000 members.

The Foundation seeks a declaration that, on their face and as administered, provisions allowing tax benefits for "ministers of the gospel," provided for by the IRS and Treasury Department, violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. FFRF requests that the Court enjoin any allowance or grant of tax benefits for ministers of the gospel under §§107 and 265(a)(6) of the Tax Code. Similarly, the Foundation challenges Sections 17131.6 and 17280(d)(2) of the California Revenue and Taxation Code, which correspond to the IRS codes, and "have the same constitutional defects and infirmities."

Defendants are Timothy Geithner, Secretary of Treasury, Douglas Shulman, Commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service, and Selvi Stanislaus, executive officer of the California Franchise Tax Board, who are all providing tax benefits only to "ministers of the gospel," rather than to a broad class of taxpayers.

The exemptions permit clergy to deduct from their taxable income housing allowances furnished as part of compensation. The unique benefits to clergy date to 1954, when Congress amended the Tax Code to permit all clergy to exempt their housing costs from their incomes taxes. U.S. Rep. Peter Mack, author of the amendment, declared:

"Certainly, in these times when we are being threatened by a godless and antireligious world movement we should correct this discrimination against certain ministers of the gospel who are carrying on such a courageous fight against this foe. Certainly this is not too much to do for these people who are caring for our spiritual welfare."

Section 107(2) allows ministers to avoid paying taxes on income declared to be a "housing allowance." The privilege also permits churches to save money on clergy salaries. Most notorious, clergy may "double-dip": deduct their mortgage payments and real estate taxes from income tax, even though they paid for these with tax-exempt dollars, amounting to a government subsidy solely for clergy. In 2002, Congress acted to protect the exemption, after the IRS sued over an abusive housing allowance taken by Rev. Rick Warren, by limiting deductions in future to "reasonable rental value."

"All other taxpayers pay more because clergy receive this privileged benefit, not available to any other class of American," said Annie Laurie Gaylor, Foundation co-president.

"The income taxation of ministers of the gospel under the general rules that apply to other individuals would not interfere with the religious mission of churches or other organizations or the ministers themselves," the legal Complaint maintains. The statutes are not an accommodation of religion, therefore, but a subsidy.

The Supreme Court has previously ruled that a tax benefit given only to religion violates the Establishment Clause
(Texas Monthly, Inc. v. Bullock, 1989).

The IRS provisions also create an entanglement between government and church, because they require that a "minister of the gospel" must be "duly ordained, commissioned, or licensed" in order to be entitled to tax benefits. This determination requires the IRS and Treasury to "make sensitive, fact-intensive, intrusive, and subjective determinations dependent on religious criteria and inquiries." The government must determine whether certain activities constitute "religious worship" or "sacerdotal functions," whether a member of the clergy is "duly ordained, commissioned, or licensed," whether a Christian college is "under the authority" of a church or denomination, etc.

"The actions of all the defendants have the effect each year of excluding hundreds of millions of dollars from taxation," and this exclusion is valuable only to ministers of the gospel." These tax preferences "also enable churches and other religious organizations to reduce their salaries and compensation costs."

Because employees of secular organizations, such as FFRF, are not allowed these tax preferences, secular organizations "incur comparatively greater compensation costs," placing FFRF and other non-eligible groups at a "competitive disadvantage."

In 2002, a case went before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals when the IRS sued Rev. Rick Warren of Saddleback Valley Community Church, who had claimed all or nearly all of his housing costs for several years as a tax-free parsonage allowance. With the Ninth Circuit poised to rule against Warren, Congress immediately passed the Clergy Housing Allowance Clarification Act of 2002 to moot the case. From 2002 onward, the act restricted the parsonage exemption to "reasonable rental value."

"We warmly thank our Sacramento-area members for joining our lawsuit, and making this litigation possible by serving as state plaintiffs," said Foundation Co-Presidents Dan Barker and Annie Laurie Gaylor.

Named plaintiffs are: Anthony G. Arlen,  Karen Buchanan,  Wendy Corby,  Charles and Collette Crannell, Kristi Craven,  Paul Ellcessor,  Billy Ferguson,  Kathy Fields,  Carey Goldstein,  Pat Kelley,  Richard Moore,  Ken Nahigian,  Mike Osborne,  Paul Storey,  James Morrow,  Joseph Rittell,  Susan Robinson,  William M. Shockley,  Debora Smith,  Elisabeth Steadman.

More About: Lawsuits · Freedom From Religion Foundation

2009 - A pictorial retrospective
2009, marks the beginning of a major push around the globe to encourage atheists to come out, to be counted, and to be heard. Atheist activists literally took their campaign to the streets.

This pictorial retrospective highlights some of the billboards, bus ads, and subway ads that appeared around the world throughout the year that sent a message out to atheists everywhere - you are not alone.          Source:  Trina Hoaks   www.examiner.com

LINKS: Atheists Billboards, Ads, and Signs of 2009       News from the past:

The Atheist Recruiting Machine

From subway ads to “Blasphemy Day,” nonbelievers are proselytizing louder than ever. But as they draw more converts, are they in danger of losing their unique brand of faith?

America has long dotted its landscape with billboards that advocate a relationship with God. (A Southern favorite: “If you think it's hot here, imagine hell.”) Ads that suggest shunning Him, however, are newer territory.

Yet last week, a consortium of atheist groups rolled out an ad campaign doing just that. Coming a year after London’s city buses were plastered with adverts that stated flatly, “There’s probably no God. Stop worrying and enjoy your life,” New York City’s subway trains were plastered with similar ads asking bleary-eyed commuters, “Are you good without God?”

“We’ve been being nice for decades and look where it’s got us. Now that we’ve been taking the gloves off, we seem to be getting somewhere.”

It’s the latest promotional push by a special interest group that has grown increasingly vocal. Over the past couple of years, atheists have come to see themselves as a cohesive demographic that should advocate on its own behalf. And such efforts seem to be working—the American Religious Identification Survey recently found that the number of people who claimed “no religion” had nearly doubled recently, to 15 percent.

“We’ve been being nice for decades and look where it’s got us. Now that we’ve been taking the gloves off, we seem to be getting somewhere.”

“We've been being nice for decades and look where it’s got us,” says Richard Dawkins, the author and biologist who has perhaps become atheism’s loudest activist, and who was behind the London bus ads. ”Now that we've been taking the gloves off, we seem to be getting somewhere.”

But not all atheists are comfortable preaching the gospel of the nonbeliever. After all, the New York advertising effort could be seen as something most atheists consider repugnant: evangelizing. Dawkins admits to his own zealotry in his fight against what many atheists call irrationalism in his latest book,
The Greatest Show on Earth, in which he compares creationists to Holocaust deniers. “I think it’s reasonable to carry on with a certain amount of zeal when there's evidence that people out there still don't get it,” he says.

But should atheists proselytize with a passion akin to the loudest bible thumpers? It’s a question that has divided the atheist community into two schools of thought. And ironically, it’s a split that somewhat resembles the one among born-again Christians, between those who advocate a fire-and-brimstone approach (“Accept Jesus or burn in hell”) and those who want to bring newcomers into the fold with a gentler message that sells a warmer (and, in the case of younger Christians, cooler) brand of Christianity. For some atheists, the very idea of aggressively spreading the word of no-God is practically sinful.

These two philosophies are fracturing organizations at the top of the atheist activism food chain. Consider the Center for Inquiry, atheism's top think tank and one of the groups behind New York’s “Good Without God” campaign. The Center’s founder, Paul Kurtz, one of humanism's eminences grises, preaches maximum tolerance. His life's aim, he told me, is to “make it so a person can be a nonbeliever in our society and be respected and accepted.” As such, he thinks it’s counterproductive to preach against religion. “You can't begin by calling people names,” says the 85-year-old Kurtz. “It's self-destructive to nonbelievers.” When Kurtz’s own organization supported international “Blasphemy Day” in September (a day dedicated to openly criticizing all things God), Kurtz wrote a column in Free Inquiry magazine, an atheist publication put out by the Center for Inquiry, comparing the day to “the anti-Semitic cartoons of the Nazi era.” He continued, “There are some fundamentalist atheists who have resorted to such vulgar antics to gain press attention.”

Feds move to seize 4 mosques, tower linked to Iran

NEW YORK – Federal prosecutors took steps Thursday to seize four U.S. mosques and a Fifth Avenue skyscraper owned by a nonprofit Muslim organization long suspected of being secretly controlled by the Iranian government.

In what could prove to be one of the biggest counterterrorism seizures in U.S. history, prosecutors filed a civil complaint in federal court against the Alavi Foundation, seeking the forfeiture of more than $500 million in assets.

The assets include bank accounts; Islamic centers consisting of schools and mosques in New York City, Maryland, California and Houston; more than 100 acres in Virginia; and a 36-story glass office tower in New York.

Confiscating the properties would be a sharp blow against Iran, which has been accused by the U.S. government of bankrolling terrorism and trying to build a nuclear bomb.

A telephone call and e-mail to Iran's U.N. Mission seeking comment were not immediately answered.

John D. Winter, the Alavi Foundation's lawyer, said it intends to litigate the case and prevail. He said the foundation has been cooperating with the government's investigation for the better part of a year.

"Obviously the foundation is disappointed that the government has decided to bring this action," Winter told The Associated Press.

It is extremely rare for U.S. law enforcement authorities to seize a house of worship, a step fraught with questions about the First Amendment right to freedom of religion.

The action against the Shiite Muslim mosques is sure to inflame relations between the U.S. government and American Muslims, many of whom are fearful of a backlash after last week's Fort Hood shooting rampage, blamed on a Muslim American major.

"Whatever the details of the government's case against the owners of the mosques, as a civil rights organization we are concerned that the seizure of American houses of worship could have a chilling effect on the religious freedom of citizens of all faiths and may send a negative message to Muslims worldwide," said Ibrahim Hooper, spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

The mosques and the skyscraper will remain open while the forfeiture case works its way through court in what could be a long process. What will happen to them if the government ultimately prevails is unclear. But the government typically sells properties it has seized through forfeiture, and the proceeds are sometimes distributed to crime victims.

"No action has been taken against any tenants or occupants of those properties," U.S. attorney's office spokeswoman Yusill Scribner said. "The tenants and occupants remain free to use the properties as they have before today's filing. There are no allegations of any wrongdoing on the part of any of these tenants or occupants."

Prosecutors said the Alavi Foundation managed the office tower on behalf of the Iranian government and, working with a front company known as Assa Corp., illegally funneled millions in rental income to Iran's state-owned Bank Melli. Bank Melli has been accused by a U.S. Treasury official of providing support for Iran's nuclear program, and it is illegal in the United States to do business with the bank.

The U.S. has long suspected the foundation was an arm of the Iranian government; a 97-page complaint details involvement in foundation business by several top Iranian officials, including the deputy prime minister and ambassadors to the United Nations.

"For two decades, the Alavi Foundation's affairs have been directed by various Iranian officials, including Iranian ambassadors to the United Nations, in violation of a series of American laws," U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said in a statement.

There were no raids Thursday as part of the forfeiture action. The government is simply required to post notices of the civil complaint on the property.

As prosecutors outlined their allegations against Alavi, the Islamic centers and the schools they run carried on with normal activity. The mosques' leaders had no immediate comment.

Parents lined up in their cars to pick up their children at the schools within the Islamic Education Center of Greater Houston and the Islamic Education Center in Rockville, Md. No notices of the forfeiture action were posted at either place as of late Thursday.

At the Islamic Institute of New York, a mosque and school in Queens, two U.S. marshals came to the door and rang the bell repeatedly. The marshals taped a forfeiture notice to the window and left a large document sitting on the ground. After they left a group of men came out of the building and took the document.

The fourth Islamic center marked for seizure is in Carmichael, Calif.

The skyscraper, known as the Piaget building, was erected in the 1970s under the shah of Iran, who was overthrown in 1979. The tenants include law and investment firms and other businesses.

The sleek, modern building, last valued at $570 million to $650 million in 2007, has served as an important source of income for the foundation over the past 36 years. The most recent tax records show the foundation earned $4.5 million from rents in 2007.

Rents collected from the building help fund the centers and other ventures, such as sending educational literature to imprisoned Muslims in the U.S. The foundation has also invested in dozens of mosques around the country and supported Iranian academics at prominent universities.

If federal prosecutors seize the skyscraper, the Alavi Foundation would have almost no way to continue supporting the Islamic centers, which house schools and mosques. That could leave a major void in Shiite communities, and hard feelings toward the FBI, which played a big role in the investigation.

The forfeiture action comes at a tense moment in U.S.-Iranian relations, with the two sides at odds over Iran's nuclear program and its arrest of three American hikers.

But Michael Rubin, an expert on Iran at the American Enterprise Institute, said the timing of the forfeiture action was probably a coincidence, not an effort to influence Iran on those issues.

"Suspicion about the Alavi Foundation transcends three administrations," Rubin said. "It's taken ages dealing with the nuts and bolts of the investigation. It's not the type of investigation which is part of any larger strategy."

Legal scholars said they know of only a few cases in U.S. history in which law enforcement authorities have seized a house of worship. Marc Stern, a religious-liberty expert with the American Jewish Congress, called such cases extremely rare.

The Alavi Foundation is the successor organization to the Pahlavi Foundation, a nonprofit group used by the shah to advance Iran's charitable interests in America. But authorities said its agenda changed after the fall of the shah.

In 2007, the United States accused Bank Melli of providing services to Iran's nuclear and ballistic missile programs and put the bank on its list of companies whose assets must be frozen. Washington has imposed sanctions against various other Iranian businesses.

Source: yahoo.com

Atheist student groups flower on college campuses

By ERIC GORSKI – Sat Nov 21, 2:05 pm ET

AMES, Iowa – The sign sits propped on a wooden chair, inviting all comers: "Ask an Atheist."

Whenever a student gets within a few feet, Anastasia Bodnar waves and smiles, trying to make a good first impression before eyes drift down to a word many Americans rank down there with "socialist."

Bodnar is the happy face of atheism at Iowa State University. Once a week at this booth at a campus community center, the PhD student who spends most of her time researching the nutritional traits of corn takes questions and occasional abuse while trying to raise the profile of religious skepticism.

"A lot of people on campus either don't know we exist or are afraid of us or hate us," says Bodnar, president of the ISU Atheist and Agnostic Society. "People assume we're rabble-rousing, when we're one of the gentlest groups on campus."

As the stigma of atheism has diminished, campus atheists and agnostics are coming out of the closet, fueling a sharp rise in the number of clubs like the 10-year-old group at Iowa State.

Campus affiliates of the Secular Student Alliance, a sort of Godless Campus Crusade for Christ, have multiplied from 80 in 2007 to 100 in 2008 and 174 this fall, providing the atheist movement new training grounds for future leaders. In another sign of growing acceptance, at least three universities, including Harvard, now have humanist chaplains meeting the needs of the not-so-spiritual.

With the growth has come soul-searching — or the atheist equivalent — about what secular campus groups should look like. It's part of a broader self-examination in the atheist movement triggered by the rise of the so-called "new atheists," best-selling authors who denigrate religion and blame it for the world's ills.

Should student atheist groups go it alone or build bridges with Christian groups? Organize political protests or quiet discussion groups? Adopt the militant posture of the new atheists? Or wave and smile?

As teenagers move into young adulthood, some leave God behind. But not in huge numbers.

More than three-quarters of young adults taking part in the National Study of Youth and Religion profess a belief in God. But almost 7 percent fewer believe in God as young adults (ages 18 to 23) than did as teenagers, according to the study, which is tracking the same group of young people as they mature.

What young adults are less likely to believe in is religion. The number of those who describe themselves as "not religious" nearly doubled, to 27 percent, in young adulthood.

Growing hostility toward religion was found, too. About 1 in 10 young adults are "irreligious" — or actively against religion — after virtually none of them fit that description as teenagers.

At Iowa State, most of the club's roughly 30 members are "former" somethings, mostly Christians. Many stress that their lives are guided not by anti-religiousness, but belief in science, logic and reason.

"The goal," said Andrew Severin, a post-doctoral researcher in bioinformatics, "should a PhD student in biophysics, "should be to obtain inner peace for yourself and do random acts of kindness for strangers."

Severin calls himself a "spiritual atheist." He doesn't believe in God or the supernatural but thinks experiences like meditation or brushes with nature can produce biochemical reactions that feel spiritual.

When the ISU club began in 1999, it was mostly a discussion group. But it soon became clear that young people who leave organized religion miss something: a sense of community. So the group added movie and board-game nights and, more recently, twice-monthly Sunday brunches to the calendar.

"It's nice to be around people who aren't going to bash me for believing in nothing," said Bricelyn Rector, a freshman from Sioux City who, like others, described community as the club's greatest asset.

Members also seek to engage their peers at Iowa State, a 28,000-student science and technology school where the student body leans conservative. There's a "Brews and Views" night at a local coffee house and talks by visiting speakers common to any college campus.

"This is not a group of angry atheists. It's a group of very exuberant atheists," said faculty sponsor Hector Avalos, a secular humanist and well-known Biblical scholar who used to be a Pentecostal preacher. "Their primary aim is not to destroy the faith of Christians on campus. It's more live and let live."

The "Ask an Atheist" booth is the club's most visible outreach. On a recent Friday, a handful of members stand ready to intercept students on their way to eat lunch or withdraw money from a nearby ATM.

Traffic is slow. Scott Moseley, a Bettendorf, Iowa, senior, stops for a polite conversation.

He explains that he was raised Methodist, has a Buddhist friend and dates a Wiccan.

"My entire concept of one religion is kind of out the window," Moseley says.

Bodnar, an ex-Catholic married to a Buddhist, recommends the local Unitarian Universalist congregation, a haven for a grab bag of religious backgrounds and a few members of the ISU Atheist and Agnostic Society.

The closest thing to a confrontation comes when another student, a baseball cap pulled tight to his brow, talks briefly about heaven before he mutters, "I can't listen to you guys," and walks away.


On most college campuses, secular groups take shape when non-believing students arrive and find a couple-dozen Christian groups but no home for them. It isn't that atheism is necessarily growing among students — surveys show no uptick in the number of atheist and agnostic young adults over the last 20 years.

But the greater willingness to speak out, paired with the diversity within the movement, has resulted is a patchwork of clubs across the country united in disbelief but different in mission.

At Texas State University in San Marcos, a group of freethinkers led by a former Lutheran organizes rock-climbing outings and has co-sponsored a debate with a campus Christian group.

The University of South Florida is home to two active clubs: a freethinkers group that held a back-to-school barbecue and an atheist group that protested an anti-abortion group's campus visit.

Still other clubs embrace rituals. At the University of Southern Maine, a secular humanist organization has celebrated HumanLight, a secular alternative to Christmas and Hanukkah.

Just in the past year, the Iowa State club has evolved in new directions. Some are things churches have traditionally done — like the club's first foray into volunteerism, sleeping outside in cardboard boxes to raise money for homeless youth.

Others get at the heart of tensions within the atheist movement. The club worked with a Methodist church on a gay rights candlelight vigil, a gesture that would make some atheists cringe.

"The trouble is, any time you start working with other groups, religion starts coming in," said Victor Stenger, an adjunct professor of philosophy at the University of Colorado and author of "The New Atheism: Taking a Stand for Science and Reason."

"People bring up Jesus, they're trying to proselytize, trying to get people to go to church," Stenger said. "The atheist groups just can't put up with it. They have to argue against it."

More recently, the ISU club's non-confrontational philosophy has been tested by a debate over the fate of a small chapel at Memorial Union on campus.

The club has avoided taking a position because members are divided. Some want the chapel's religious symbols — including an eight-foot wooden cross — removed on First Amendment grounds. Others fear repercussions and don't think a fight is worth it.

"The point of the club is not to make waves or controversy," said Bodnar, adding that she is uncomfortable with "calling out religion as wrong."

Some club members would like to be more confrontational when circumstances merit. Junior Brian Gress was interested in participating this fall in a nationwide "Blasphemy Day," a stick in the eye to religion. But the club passed and the idea fizzled.

"You should always try to make friends, but there are certain things about religion that can't be tolerated," Gress said. "Basically, the intolerance of religion can't be tolerated."

Most affiliates of the Secular Student Alliance fall somewhere between militant and why-can't-we-all-just-get-along, said Lyz Liddell, senior campus organizer for the Columbus, Ohio-based group.

"College students can be a little more susceptible to the more reactionary anti-religion voices, partly because it's so new to them," she said. "My impression is after a couple of years, they mellow out."

Christian Smith, director of the Center for the Study of Religion and Society at the University of Notre Dame and a principal investigator on the youth and religion study, said campus atheist groups are better off without militancy. Young adults are taught their entire lives to be nonjudgmental, that different points of views are OK and that there is no one truth, he said.

"Emerging adults are just not into trying to make other people be or do something," Smith said. "If I were advising atheists and humanists, I would say their long-term prospects are much better if they can successfully create this space where people view them as happy, OK, cooperative, nice people."

At Iowa State, what one club member describes as a band of misfits and outcasts is trying to carve out a space where atheists who raise a fist and atheists who wave and smile can coexist peacefully.

Source: news.yahoo.com

Helen Radkey: She is out to "get" the Mormon Church
By Peggy Fletcher Stack    The Salt Lake Tribune     12-04-09

Helen Radkey
sits in her tiny Millcreek apartment amid images of Buddha and Egyptian sun gods, good-luck charms, sacred texts, tarot cards and a makeshift shrine to a Catholic saint, complete with a relic. Her refrigerator is awash in photos of children, grandchildren and friends from around the country and across the globe.

Both bedrooms are piled high with box after box of file folders, evidence of her decadeslong drive to undermine the LDS Church's temple ritual in which living
Mormons are baptized for a person who has died.

Each folder contains the name and personal information of an individual who has been posthumously baptized. She found the data through the church's Family History Library, poring over its genealogical records and looking for those people she believes ought not be there -- from Catholic saints to offshoot polygamists to infamous scoundrels such as
Adolph Hitler and famous people such as President Barack Obama's mother.

Since 1993, she has garnered widespread media attention with every new find. She traveled to Rome several times to "warn" Vatican officials of the growing warmth between Utah's Mormon and Catholic leaders, reporting proxy baptisms of dead Catholics, including martyrs and saints.

"Radkey has become an irritant to Mormon officials and the church faithful, who wince each
 time a newspaper reports her latest find in LDS baptismal records.

sltrib.com            LINK: : Hitler's Mormon baptism         Dean  Hovey, a mean little guy... 

She alerted Jewish genealogists that Mormons were not keeping their 1995 agreement to stop baptizing Holocaust victims.

Radkey has become an irritant to Mormon officials and the church faithful, who wince every time a newspaper reports her latest find in LDS baptismal records.

"I call her the Erin Brockovich of the Mormon/Jewish controversy," says New Jersey resident Gary Mokotoff, past president of the International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies who signed the agreement and feels indebted to Radkey for what he considers impeccable research. "You can defame her any way you want personality-wise, but she's still a whistle-blower."

Righting wrongs
Radkey's quest to eliminate LDS proxy baptisms may seem an odd obsession for a Catholic-turned-Mormon-turned-New-Ager from Hobart, Australia, but in many ways it fits neatly with the bulldog for justice she always has been.

Radkey descended from Irish Catholics on her father's side and British convicts and free settlers on her mother's. Her mom, a Protestant who converted to Catholicism at her marriage, often took Radkey and her brother to cemeteries, which is where young Helen first developed an interest in genealogy and a reverence for the dead.

Radkey attended Catholic schools, but eventually went looking for another faith. In 1963, two Mormon missionaries knocked on the door where she was a wife and mother. For eight long years, her husband refused to let her join this American-born religion, but Radkey was determined. In 1971, she relinquished the marriage and custody of her son and daughter for a chance to join.

"I gave up everything for the church," she says.

Later that year, Radkey met Stuart Olmstead, an American who was living in Australia. He also joined the LDS Church; they were wed and later "sealed" in a Mormon temple. They had identical twin sons after moving to Sydney, hundreds of miles to the north.

That's where Radkey's sense of fair play kicked in.

In a neighboring LDS congregation, four members were excommunicated after a disagreement with LDS officials in Sydney. The ouster outraged Radkey, who complained loudly about the treatment.

As punishment for speaking out, Radkey says, she and her husband were dis-fellowshipped, a step just short of excommunication, and stopped attending. Three years later, she condemned blind obedience in a tract called Free Agency in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Australia and distributed 300 to 400 copies to members in the area.

Then it was Radkey's turn to be excommunicated, but she long since had stopped believing in Mormon doctrine. She ultimately came to see LDS teachings as "poppycock" and the church as an oppressive institution, even a cult.

"I'd lost a sense of there being one true church," she recalls, "and began to explore universal principles."

In 2001, Radkey attended the viewing of LDS general authority Loren C. Dunn, a mission president in Sydney during her falling-out with the faith. Standing over Dunn's casket, she said, "I forgive you."

Moving to Utah
On a December 1980 visit to Boston, Radkey heard Neil Diamond's "America" and promptly decided to move here. The family settled in Kentucky, where Olmstead's family lived, but the marriage didn't last.

In 1984, she moved with her sons to the heart of the LDS Church: Utah.

"I had some unresolved concerns with Mormonism," Radkey says. "I thought I could help
Mormons who had gone through what I had. I felt like I had to finish something."

She also had a premonition that she would have something to do with Jews.

"The Jewish imprint had been on me for a long time," she says. "I developed a passion for the Holocaust. I have five crates of Holocaust books, took Israeli dancing and even took Hebrew classes."

In Utah, she met Anthony Radkey, who worked in a flour mill and installed windows. Before she would marry him, Radkey insisted the nonpracticing Mormon have his name removed from LDS Church records. That marriage ended in 1992.

While the twin boys developed their athletic prowess, Radkey spent time doing psychic readings, studying various spiritual traditions and occasionally prancing around the house, crooning Diamond's hits.

She applied for and became a minister in the Universal Life Church because, she says, it didn't have a particular dogma, just promoted justice. Plus, she adds, "you can never be disbarred or excommunicated."

Radkey did feel that her boys needed a religious identity, so she sent them to St. Ann Catholic Parish and School in Salt Lake City.

That didn't satisfy her, either. She pulled the twins out of Catholic schools and sent them to Highland High, where they won tennis titles and earned scholarships to Gonzaga, a Catholic university in Spokane, Wash.

"It was an interesting childhood," says Matthew Olmstead, one of her 34-year-old sons and an information-technology-management consultant in Los Angeles. "She was on a crusade ... to single-handedly take down the Mormon religion. She was so consumed by that, we had a hard time relating to it."

Today, Olmstead respects his mother's work against proxy baptisms, but doesn't share her need to fight the practice.

"She sends us e-mails all the time, I feel bad because we can't read it all," he says. "I couldn't care less what Mormons do behind closed doors in their temples. I don't see the impact that [proxy baptism] has. It's all based on a belief system, and, if you don't buy into it, it's not going to move you."

Still, he recognizes it's a cause that keeps his energetic mother going.

"She needs to have a project to keep her busy. If not this, it would have been something else," says Olmstead, who, like all her children, remains close to Radkey. "She's very smart but could have done better if she had gone into business."

Birth of an obsession
In July 1993, just as the twins were graduating from high school, Radkey traveled to the (Jesuit) Martyrs' Shrine in Ontario, Canada. Moved by what she saw, she returned to discover that Mormons had performed proxy baptisms for Gabriel Lalemant and the other martyrs.

Thus began her dogged effort to publicize every posthumous LDS baptism that might offend others' religious sensibilities, beginning with Roman Catholics. In the mid-1990s, she remained focused on Catholic names, reporting findings to the Salt Lake City Diocese's bishop, George H. Niederauer, who dismissed her concerns.

After 1995, when LDS officials agreed to remove more than 350,000 Jewish Holocaust names from their records, Radkey explored whether those names were back on the list. By 2000, she reported some 19,000 names had reappeared.

In September and October 2002, she met with Family History Library officials to offer them her research for a price -- $30,000 and a continuing fee of $18 an hour, according to the Jewish magazine Forward -- but the LDS Church declined.

Instead, the Jewish Holocaust group compensated her for the hours and hours she had spent scrutinizing LDS genealogical records for Jewish-sounding names of people who died in Europe between 1942 and 1945.

Today, when she uncovers in those temple records any names she considers inappropriate or outrageous -- such as Anne Frank, Sen. Edward Kennedy or the recently canonized Catholic saint Father Damien -- she often alerts the press.

"I don't think it's right to impose [LDS] rituals on those who didn't share their beliefs when they were alive," she says. "We should be letting souls rest in peace and let them be who they were."

Mormons believe they have a spiritual mandate to offer the faith to those throughout human history who didn't have a chance to embrace it while they were alive. They see proxy baptisms as invitations, not compulsions. Those who have passed on can either accept or reject the ordinance.

This doctrine - offering salvation to as many as possible - drives the church's genealogical mission.

If Radkey succeeded in scuttling the practice, the church no longer would feel compelled to collect and maintain all those records -- a loss to Mormons and non-Mormons alike.

Those most harmed by last year's Vatican edict to stop allowing LDS researchers to copy parish records were, ironically, Catholics.

"Most parishes can't or don't answer letters because they are understaffed and their highest priority is the living, as it should be," Kathy Kirkpatrick, a Quaker and past president of Salt Lake City's professional genealogist association, said at the time. "Most folks don't have the resources to visit a parish in person ... and sometimes even a personal visit doesn't get access to the records."

Anti-Mormon allies
Not surprisingly, Radkey has defenders and critics -- in and out of the LDS Church. She declines to name any Mormon friends for fear of reprisals against them. But she gladly claims career anti-Mormons Sandra Tanner and Michael Marquardt among her admirers.

Neither of them is as consumed by the proxy-baptism issue, but both support her efforts.

Tanner, who, with her late husband, Jerald, created Utah Lighthouse Ministry to "document problems with the claims of Mormonism and compare LDS doctrines with Christianity," calls Radkey an "indefatigable researcher" who "has done a phenomenal job."

Marquardt, a researcher of early Mormon history, helped Radkey assemble the materials she took to Rome. He praises her work ethic. "She spends hours doing this, looking up names and locations. As far as I know, it's always checked out."

In recent years, Radkey talked about her work at the annual meeting of American Atheists and posted her research findings on mormoncurtain.com, a site for ex-Mormons to share their stories and "recovery."

Radkey's longtime Salt Lake City friend Lynda Marsh sees a softer, gentler side to this genealogical pit bull.

"Helen can come across as looking like a hard woman, but don't be fooled, she's not," Marsh says. "She has a lot of compassion as well. She'll go the extra mile for a person. She did it for me when my husband was sick."

Marsh acknowledges Radkey's persistence can be annoying.

Once she starts talking about one of her pet issues, it's hard for her to stop. She frequently goes on tangents, piling detail upon detail from her encyclopedic mind, often dropping name after name she has discovered in the LDS library system. She cannot resist writing letters of complaint to newspapers on everything from prayer at public meetings and school choirs singing at religious services to the Catholic stance on gay marriage.

"Helen is a very dedicated person, not only to her research projects but to everything she undertakes," says Marsh, a former Mormon who shares Radkey's concerns about proxy baptisms. "Whether working on a job or with mentally disabled people, she gives her all to it. She's very dedicated to detail. What can you say when she's so passionate about it?"

Negative energy

Critics see it differently.

Rabbi Benny Zippel of Salt Lake City's Congregation Bais Menachem is equally distressed by the posthumous baptism of Holocaust victims, believing that a conversion requires a full-fledged, conscious willingness. Any kind of proxy baptism "is morally offensive and deeply hurtful to both the survivors of the Holocaust," he says, "as well as to the souls of those who died and laid down their lives for their faith."

Still, when Radkey came to him for support, he wanted nothing to do with her efforts.

"I don't like nurturing or enhancing negative energy," Zippel says. "I have been here for 18 years, enjoyed a very positive, enriching experience interaction with the LDS Church, with [former] President [Gordon B.] Hinckley and now with President [Thomas S.] Monson. I don't want to get involved with anything that is damaging to other people."

Gordon Remington, a Protestant professional genealogist, appreciates the use of the LDS Family History Library. He is fully aware of the theological reason Mormons gather the data and is not offended by it.

But Remington is offended by any individuals who use the Family History Library for personal and/or professional research yet seek to criticize or undermine the purpose for which the library exists.

"From the standpoint of a professional genealogist," Remington says, "I find that unethical."

Radkey says she is finished digging up questionable proxy baptisms. After completing a writing course at Salt Lake Community College, she plans to pen a screenplay about serial killer Ted Bundy, aka Theodore Robert Cowell.

Although Bundy joined the LDS Church when he was alive, he nonetheless was posthumously baptized in a Mormon temple.

Who discovered this? Helen Radkey.


Source: sltrib.com


An enthusiastic crowd estimated at nearly 300 people turned out
for a rally this morning in front of the state capitol building in
Austin, Texas to protest proposed changes in how subjects ranging
from history to science will be taught in public schools.

A religious-right faction on the board last month recommended
sweeping changes in the content of textbooks. Proposals called
for downplaying secularism, the Enlightenment and even Founders
like Thomas Jefferson in favor of a renewed emphasis on religion
as a positive force in American history. In place of the "Sage of
Monticello," one member suggested that students learn more about
religious leaders like John Calvin.

Several speakers addressed today's event including Dr. Ed Buckner
President of American Atheists. A message of support from author
and Atheist Christopher Hitchens was also read. More details will
follow in the next edition of AANEWS.

While Texas citizens were mobilizing against the new guidelines,
however, on of the most strident members of the Board of Education
announced that he will propose even more radical changes before
the Board meets again this week.

Ed Buckner of American Atheists

Member Don McLeroy (R. - College Station)
told reporters that that he will attempt to
mandate that eighth-graders study the issue of
state-church separation from what the Dallas
Morning News described as "a different
perspective." The paper is reporting that
students would "contrast the Founders' intent
relative to the wording of the First Amendment's Establishment
Clause and Free Exercise Clause with the popular term 'Separation
of state
and church.' "


We know of no spectacle more ridiculous - or more contemptible - than
that of the religious reactionaries who dare to re-write the history
of our republic. Or who try to do so. Is it possible that, in their
vanity and stupidity, they suppose that they can erase the name of
Thomas Jefferson and replace it with the name of some faith-based
mediocrity whose name is already obscure? If so, we cheerfully
resolve to mock them, and to give them the lie in their teeth.

Without Thomas Jefferson and his Declaration of Independence,
there would have been no American revolution that announced universal
principles of liberty. Without his participation by the side of
the unforgettable Marquis de Lafayette, there would have been no
French proclamation of The Rights of Man. Without his brilliant
negotiation of the Louisiana treaty, there would be no United States
of America. Without Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, there would
have been no Virginia Statute on Religious Freedom, and no basis
for the most precious clause of our most prized element of our
imperishable Bill of Rights - the First Amendment to the United
States Constitution.


God Is Not Great:

How Religion Poisons
by Christopher Hitchens

A page from this book -- on Masturbation, Islamic style


This noted British-American author, journalist and literary critic, has been a columnist at Vanity Fair, The Atlantic, The Nation, Slate, and a variety of other publications. Hitchens is also an outspoken atheist and antitheist. His bestselling book, God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything explores how religion has impacted and influenced the world in a negative way. Writes Booknotes:

“Hence, he (Hitchens) believes that religion is manmade, and an ethical life can be lived without its stamp of approval.” -- Booknotes

We make no saint of Thomas Jefferson - we leave the mindless
business of canonization and the worship of humans to the fanatics
-but aware as we are of his many crimes and contradictions we say
with confidence that his memory and example will endure long after
the moral pygmies who try to blot out his name have been forgotten.

As Abraham Lincoln died, after a cowardly shot in the back from
a racist traitor, Secretary of War Edwin Stanton sighed and said:
"Now he belongs to the ages". Or did he say "Now he belongs to
the angels"? In a roomful of highly literate and educated officers
and physicians, in an age of photography and stenography, and with
newspaper presses around the corner on Pennsylvania Avenue, there
was no agreement among eye-and-ear witnesses as to what Stanton
had actually said.

Those of us who write and study history are accustomed to its
approximations and ambiguities. This is why we do not take literally
the tenth-hand reports of frightened and illiterate peasants who
claim to have seen miracles or to have had encounters with messiahs
and prophets and redeemers who were, like them, mere humans. And
this is also why we will never submit to dictation from those who
display a fanatical belief in certainty and revelation. They try to
tell us that to do otherwise is to collapse into "relativism". But it
is they who wish to promote the life and work of Jefferson Davis -
an advocate of slavery, backwardness, treason and disunion - to an
equality with Lincoln, who suffered agonies of doubt, who never
joined a church, who was born on the same day as Charles Darwin
and who introduced his colleagues to the work of Thomas Paine -
and who was the last brave casualty of a war: a war begun by
devout and fanatical Christians, that preserved our Union and in
the end led to the striking of the shackles from every slave. It
was inscribed in the documents of the Confederacy that the private
ownership of human beings had a divine warrant. And so it did -
to the everlasting shame of those who take the Bible as god's word.

It is notorious that the news of the Emancipation Proclamation
was kept from the people of Texas and not celebrated until
"Juneteenth". There may be those in Texas now who believe they can
insulate their state - a state that had its own courageous revolution
- from the news of evolution and from the writing in 1786 of a
Constitution that refuses to mention religion except when demarcating
and limiting its role in the public square. But we promise them today
that they will join their fore-runners in the flat-earth community,
and in the mad clerical clique of those who believed that the sun
revolved around the earth. Yes, they will be in schoolbooks -as a
joke on the epic scale of William Jennings Bryan. We shall be fair,
and take care to ensure that their tale is told.

As President, Thomas Jefferson received a letter from a
concerned group of Baptists in Danbury, Connecticut. These people
were the objects of persecution and the victims of discrimination,
and they beseeched Jefferson to uphold their liberties. Of whom were
they afraid? It should be remembered, and taught in our schools,
that these poor Baptists were afraid of the Congregationalists of
Connecticut, who subjected their fellow-Christians to insult and
insecurity. Thus it was the secular and unbelieving Jefferson who
insisted that, by means of a "wall of separation" between religion
and government, all faiths and communities could take shelter under
the great roof of the godless Constitution. From that day to this,
the only guarantee of religious pluralism has been the secular law.

We inherited these principles and these freedoms and we here
highly resolve that we shall pass them on, as we will pass
on an undivided Republic purged of racism and slavery, to our
descendants. The popgun discharges of a few pathetic sectarians
and crackpot revisionists are negligible, and will be drowned
by the mounting chorus that demands: "Mr Jefferson! BUILD UP

-- Christopher Hitchens

by Brian Barnard, Esq. (Utah Legal Clinic)

Salt Lake city, May 2, 2010 -- 

 This weeks' decision by the United States Supreme Court dealing with the Roman Cross in the California Mojave Desert does not directly effect our pending case and appeal dealing with the Utah Highway Patrol Crosses. The Supreme Court reversed the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals and told that lower Court to reconsider its decision. That early decision had determined that Congress' enactment transferring one (1) acre of land containing the cross to the private group, the VFW, violated a prior injunction prohibiting the cross on federal land. The Supreme Court told the 9th Circuit that it had not properly considered the context and the significance of Congress' reasons and the underlying facts for enacting that land transfer.

The Supreme Court decision did not directly address whether a Roman / Latin cross is or is not exclusively a religious symbol. The decision did not say whether a cross can be displayed on government property nor under what circumstances. Several of the justices made asides about those questions but those comments (called dicta) were not determinative of the limited issue actually before the Court and thus carry no weight. Therefore, the Supreme Court decision does not give the 10th Circuit any mandate as to how it should decide our pending appeal.

Our appeal was argued in Denver on March 9, 2009. I believe the 10th Circuit has been waiting on the Supreme Court to decide the Mojave Cross case before deciding our Utah Highway Patrol Cross Case. The 10th Circuit did not get much actual guidance.

There are significant differences between the Mojave cross case and our case. I remain optimistic that the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals will rule in our favor.

The differences include:

The Utah Highway Patrol crosses have the official logo of the UHP prominently displayed on them.
There is no disclaimer indicating they are a private project.
The majority of them are unquestionably on government property.
The crosses on prominent display (not in the middle of a barren desert).
Two of the crosses are on the lawn in front of a government office building.
The program is of recent origin.
The crosses were protested immediately upon the program's commencement.

I anticipate a decision very soon from the 10th Circuit in our appeal. I also anticipate requests for reconsideration and further appeals after that.

If you have questions, please let me know.

Brian B.

Updte: Brian Barnard explains his recent victory in the Tenth Circuit Court: The Utah Highway Patrolmen's cross case.
Listen to the speech here.

Vatican excludes Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens from atheist debate guest list
May 2010  Atheism Examiner by Trina Hoaks

In an effort to improve relations between non-believers and the Catholic Church, the Vatican has decided to host a series of debates in Paris. The pope ordered that a foundation be established to facilitate open dialogue between atheists and agnostics and top Catholic theologians.

The foundation, Courtyard of Gentiles, which was set up by the Pontifical Council for Culture, hopes to host the debates next year. Even though the church is opening its doors to atheists, they are being selective about which atheists will be allowed to participate. According to a report on The Independent Web site, "militant" atheists, especially those who have "high public profiles such as Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens will not be invited."

The president of the Pontifical Council for Culture, Archbishop Gianfranco Ravasi, told the National Catholic Register earlier this month that they were prepared to host non-believers who were of the "noble atheism or agnosticism" persuasion. He said that "polemic" non-believers like Piergiorgio Odifreddi, Michel Onfray, Richard Dawkins, and Christopher Hitchens would not be invited. He added that those kind of atheists meet the truth with "irony and sarcasm."

Source:  examiner.com

Lawyers battle over definition of religion
C h a r l e s  Le w i s,  N a t i o n a l   P o s t   · Thursday, Jun. 17, 2010

A strong selling point of the Church of the Universe is the use of marijuana as a sacrament -- so assuming someone is inclined to indulge, the church is a godsend.

That link to the divine, however, did not stop police three years ago from charging two of the brethren with possession of marijuana for the purpose of trafficking.

Now the case, which began in April, is in one of the more unusual phases to ever take place in a Canadian court room: A debate over what exactly constitutes a religion and even whether such a definition is even possible.

Brother Peter Styrsky and Brother Sharooz Kharaghani -- two bearded, gnome-like men who sport funky wool caps to court and whose supporters in the gallery smell vaguely of something illegal -- believe their freedom of religion, under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, had been violated.

The two men are ministers at the "G13 Mission" in Toronto, which is a church, an organic plant store and allegedly an illegal source of marijuana.

"This is an inside joke among people who like to smoke marijuana," suggested Crown attorney Nicholas Devlin during cross-examination of a senior member of the Church of the Universe, in April.

On Monday, Mr. Devlin called to the witness stand Katherine Young, a professor of religion at McGill University, to articulate what a religion is and then to show why the Church of the Universe is more of a club to smoke pot than a real faith.

Prof. Young herself warned that trying to come up with a definition is an enormous problem for scholars because of the complexity of religious beliefs. Indeed, defence lawyer George Filipovic attacked Prof. Young's theories under cross-examination, charging that her definition was arbitrary, too specific and her research into the Church of the Universe would be "laughed at by fellow academics and would never have been written by a respectable scholar."

Prof. Young looked at the characteristics of major and minor religions and then compared those characteristics with the Church of the Universe. She studied major and minor religions and created a list of 10 common denominators that she said all faiths had: a supernatural dimension, whether it be God, gods, ghosts or spirits, or an ultimate experience; a way to help people to live with such paradoxes as life and death, good and evil, and order and disorder; a source of authority from a scripture or ancestral teachings or a magisterial structure like the Catholic Church; a system of symbols; sacred times, such as holy days, and sacred places, such as temples or pilgrimage routes; a series of repeatable rituals; an ethical system and taboos; a comprehensive way of life; the ability to sustain a group, not just individuals; and an identity or tradition that can be passed from one generation to the next.

Prof. Young said she could not see anything that resembled ritual, sacred spaces or symbols, or helped its members deal with life's paradoxes in the Church of the Universe.

The only "scripture" or other literature she could find was from Cannabis Culture magazine, a secular journal, and some information on a web site. "The group raises a lot of suspicions," she said. "It's not clear if it's a religion or a front [for protection against marijuana laws]."

She also said the group did not require obligations from its adherents and the general teaching was "do anything you want to do" -- a characteristic she had not found in any other accepted religion.

"If there are no obligations then you are left with anything you want it to be," she said.

Mr. Filipovic said Prof. Young's definition of religion was far too specific and many notable scholars have put forth definitions that were far broader. He quoted William James, the philosopher who authored The Varieties of Religious Experience, who wrote: "[R]eligion shall mean for us the feelings, acts, and experiences of individual men in their solitude, so far as they apprehend themselves to stand in relation to whatever they may consider divine."

Mr. Devlin mentioned Sir Edward Tylor, an a renowned anthropologist, who thought religion could be boiled down to just a belief in a spiritual being.

Mr. Filipovic added that at least two established religions, the Quakers and Unitarians, forego creeds, use little or no symbols, and will often meld traditions of other faiths into their worship. He also challenged the idea of endurance. Fifteen years ago, he said, Falun Gong had not a single member. Within six years the movement had grown to an estimaged 70 million members, far surpassingmany religions that are hundreds or thousands of years old.

The trial will continue later this summer.

Source: nationalpost.com

Chaplain "protected" By God—and by an Atheist--at War
SANGIN, Afghanistan—They say there are no atheists in foxholes. There's one on the front lines here, though, and the chaplain isn't thrilled about it.

 Finding Happiness at Work

Navy Chaplain Terry Moran is steeped in the Bible and believes all of it. His assistant, Religious Programs Specialist 2nd Class Philip Chute, is steeped in the Bible and having none of it.

Together they roam this town in Taliban country, comforting the grunts while crossing swords with each other over everything from the power of angels to the wisdom of standing in clear view of enemy snipers. Lt. Moran, 48 years old, preaches about divine protection while 25-year-old RP2 Chute covers the chaplain's back and wishes he were more attentive to the dangers of the here and now.

It's a match made in, well, the Pentagon.  "He trusts God to keep him safe," says RP2 Chute. "And I'm here just in case that doesn't work out."

The 460 Army, Navy and Air Force chaplains deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan are prohibited from carrying weapons, counting on their assistants and the troops around them for protection. It can be a perilous calling. On Monday, Chaplain Dale Goetz, 43, of White, S.D., and four other soldiers were killed by a roadside bomb near Kandahar. Capt. Goetz is the first Army chaplain killed in action since the Vietnam War.

Army chaplains represent 130 religions and denominations, including Catholicism, Judaism, Islam and Buddhism. The military says it's common for assistants to be of different faiths from the chaplains they support, or of no faith at all.

"They don't have to be religious," says retired Navy Capt. Randy Cash, who served 30 years in the Chaplain Corps and now is its historian. "They have to be able to shoot straight."

Source: current.com/news

Atheists Billboard: It's "Like They're Poking A Finger In Your Eye"
OKLAHOMA CITY - Atheists have erected a billboard seeking fellow non-believers, drawing criticism from ministers in a state where more than 8 out of 10 people say they are Christians. More

Mormon Prophecy Behind Glenn Beck's Message
b y   D a n a   M i l b a n k

In one of his first appearances on Fox News, Glenn Beck sent a coded message to the nation's six million Mormons -- or at least those Mormons who believe in what the Latter-day Saints call "the White Horse Prophecy."

"We are at the place where the Constitution hangs in the balance," Beck told Bill O'Reilly on November 14, 2008, just after President Obama's election. "I feel the Constitution is hanging in the balance right now, hanging by a thread unless the good Americans wake up."

The Constitution is hanging by a thread.

Most Americans would have heard this as just another bit of overblown commentary and thought nothing more of it. But to those familiar with the White Horse Prophecy, it was an unmistakable signal.

The phrase is often attributed to the Prophet Joseph Smith, founder of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or Mormon Church. Smith is believed to have said in 1840 that when the Constitution hangs by a thread, elders of the Mormon Church will step in -- on the proverbial white horse -- to save the country.

"When the Constitution of the United States hangs, as it were, upon a single thread, they will have to call for the 'Mormon' Elders to save it from utter destruction; and they will step forth and do it," Brigham Young, Smith's successor as head of the church, wrote in 1855.

Was it just a coincidence in wording, or was Beck, a 1999 Mormon convert, speaking in coded language about the need to fulfill the Mormon prophecy? A conversation on Beck's radio show ten days earlier would seem to rule out coincidence. Beck was interviewing Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah, also a Mormon, when he said: "I heard Barack Obama talk about the Constitution and I thought, we are at the point or we are very near the point where our Constitution is hanging by a thread."

"Well, let me tell you something," Hatch responded. "I believe the Constitution is hanging by a thread."

Days after Beck's Fox show started in January 2009, he had Hatch on, and again prompted him: "I believe our Constitution hangs by a thread."

Large numbers of Mormons watch Beck, but likely an even larger number of his viewers and radio listeners are evangelical Protestants who have no idea that Beck is preaching to them an obscure prophecy of the Latter-day Saints -- a faith many conservative Christians malign as a cult. In addition to the coded allusions to the White Horse Prophecy, he often brings Mormon theology into his broadcasts (he touts the thinking of late church president Ezra Taft Benson and he frequently promotes the work Mormon conspiracy theorist Cleon Skousen) but without identifying them with the LDS church.

Before the Mormons went west, Smith traveled to Washington seeking help for his oppressed followers and received nothing but frustration. Rather than turning on the government, however, "They considered themselves the last Real Americans, the legitimate heirs of the pilgrims and Founding Fathers," Pat Bagley wrote in the Salt Lake Tribune. "And, they believed, the very survival of the Constitution depended on the Saints. From Smith on, LDS leaders prophesied the Constitution would one day hang by a thread, only to be saved by Mormons."

A compilation of church leaders' statements over the years by the journal BYU Studies shows this strain of thinking. Though there are doubts about whether Smith actually wrote the phrase "hang by a thread," his successors left no doubt about the theology behind it. Orson Hyde, a Smith contemporary, wrote that Smith believed that "the time would come when the Constitution and the country would be in danger of an overthrow; and said [Smith]: 'If the Constitution be saved at all, it will be by the elders of this Church.'"

The church's fifth leader, Charles Nibley, believed that "the day would come when there would be so much of disorder, of secret combinations taking the law into their own hands, tramping upon Constitutional rights and the liberties of the people, that the Constitution would hang as by a thread. Yes, but it will still hang, and there will be enough of good people, many who may not belong to our Church at all, people who have respect for law and for order, and for Constitutional rights, who will rally around with us and save the Constitution."

The prophecy was renewed with each generation of church leadership. "The prophet Joseph Smith said the time will come when, through secret organizations taking the law into their own hands . . . the Constitution of the United States would be so torn and rent asunder, and life and property and peace and security would be held of so little value, that the Constitution would, as it were, hang by a thread," church apostle Melvin Ballard said in 1928. "This Constitution will be preserved, but it will be preserved very largely in consequence of what the Lord has revealed and what this people, through listening to the Lord and being obedient, will help to bring about, to stabilize and give permanency and effect to the Constitution itself. That also is our mission."

And now it is Beck's mission. Secret organizations? Tramping on liberties? Breakdown of law and order? Shredding the Constitution? Betraying the Founders? This is the core of Beck's message, in his own words: "Some people in the government seem to have a problem, you know, shredding the Constitution." And: "You're trying to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States, friends. It's in trouble." And: "He" -- that would be Obama -- "is going to bring us to the verge of shredding the Constitution, of massive socialism."

But there is a Beckian twist in his version of the prophecy. Unlike the church leaders' versions, Beck's vision carries the possibility of a bloody end. On the night of Feb. 24, 2009, Beck outlined this prospect for his viewers. People who "don't trust the government," he said, would "see the government as violating the Constitution, and they will see themselves as defenders of the Constitution. Not a good mix. Then they take matters into their own hands."

It was Glenn Beck in a nutshell: White Horse Prophecy meets horsemen of the apocalypse.

Adapted from Tears of a Clown: Glenn Beck and the Tea Bagging of America, released October 5, 2010 by Doubleday.

Source:  HuffingtonPost.com

FBI files shed light on Ezra Taft Benson, Ike and the John Birch Society
By L e e D a v i d s o n Nov 14, 2010

Link to the full story here - The Salt Lake Tribune

Ezra Taft Benson, left, Secretary of Agriculture, reaches over to get some
papers as he meets with President Dwight D. Eisenhower in the president's
 temporary offices in the Gettysburg Hotel, Aug. 19, 1959.

His letter to FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover was packed with political dynamite, so Ezra Taft Benson marked it “personal-confidential.”
Benson --- the only man to serve in a presidential Cabinet and later lead a worldwide church, the Mormons --- was attempting to convince Hoover that the John Birch Society [Wikipedia] was a clear-thinking anti-communist group. So he wrote how it had convinced him that a friend of theirs had been a tool of the worldwide communist conspiracy.
That friend was none other than former President Dwight D. Eisenhower, for whom Benson had served as secretary of Agriculture from beginning to end of his eight-year presidency.
“In my study of the [communist] conspiracy, which I am sure is weak compared with your own, the consequences of Mr. Eisenhower’s actions in dealing with the communists have been tragic,” Benson wrote.
He argued to Hoover, whom he viewed as a friend and fellow fighter of communism, that Eisenhower helped communism’s spread more than he hurt it, perhaps because it had been the expedient thing to do for an ambitious politician.
That and other letters in Benson’s thick FBI file, obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request, suggest that Benson was an early tea partyer --- one who would become an inspiration 50 years later for that modern movement.
Like the current tea partyers, Benson worried about threats to freedom and the Constitution. He feared that too many powerful officeholders --- up to and including the U.S. president --- were not standing up for the Constitution, and instead aided its enemies, out of ambition, expediency or other, more sinister motives.
The New Yorker magazine, in its Oct. 18 issue, included Benson as one of the tea party’s ideological founding fathers --- which it called its “confounding fathers” ---noting how Benson’s public writing and speeches are quoted and admired by commentator Glenn Beck, an icon of the movement.
(It also noted how Beck, who is LDS, actively promotes the works of the late Utah author/activist Cleon Skousen, who denounced communist corruption in the U.S. government while defending the John Birch Society.)
The FBI files on Benson show a behind-the-scenes battle in which he sought to persuade the bureau not to condemn the John Birch Society, formed in 1958 by Robert Welch and named for a missionary-turned-soldier killed by Chinese communists after World War II.
Interestingly, files also show that Hoover’s FBI twice spied on Benson --- possibly for Eisenhower --- to determine whether he might resign from the Cabinet during times of widespread criticism. Files also show that Hoover lied in later years to avoid Benson, seeking to distance himself from Benson’s support of the Birch Society.
Looking back -- Benson’s son, Reed, and Reed’s wife, May Hinckley Benson, said in a recent Salt Lake Tribune interview in their Provo home that they are not surprised about the views contained in the FBI files.
They watched up close as Ezra Benson formed a hatred of communism because it destroyed personal and religious liberty. He sometimes expressed frustration to them that Eisenhower and America were not doing more against it.
Friends and allies -- Amid the spying by Hoover, the FBI director managed to leave the impression with Benson that they were friends and fellow fighters against communism.
Files show they exchanged copies of books and speeches. Hoover sent messages of encouragement when Benson was sick and when his stepmother died. He wrote a note of thanks for Benson’s service when he left the Cabinet. He also once invited Benson to have his son, Reed, apply to become an FBI agent.
In turn, Benson invited Hoover to speak at an LDS Church general conference (which Hoover declined), to attend a concert by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir with Benson’s wife, to allow the LDS Church’s Deseret Book Co. to print a compilation of Hoover’s speeches (which did not happen), and even to attend a song recital by one of Benson’s daughters.
“I realize that only in the next life will we fully appreciate all you have done to preserve freedom in this country,” Benson wrote Hoover in 1965. “I am most grateful for your exposure of the communist conspiracy and for the wonderful organization you have established in the FBI.”
Frustrations -- But Benson was not so happy with others in the Eisenhower administration.
Reed Benson said his father tried to persuade the State Department, for example, to rethink its support of Fidel Castro in Cuba after Agriculture attachés warned Benson that supporting him could lead that country to communism.
He was also upset at Eisenhower’s orders for Benson to take Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev to an agricultural experiment center near Washington in 1959. Benson said in a 1967 speech, “I opposed his coming then, and I still feel it was a mistake to welcome this atheistic murderer as a state visitor.”
With such frustrations, Benson became involved with the John Birch Society once he had left office. After Reed Benson lost a run for Congress in 1962, he said the society approached him, and they found they shared beliefs.
“The John Birch Society believed in less government, more individual responsibility and a better world,” Reed Benson told The Tribune.
When the society offered Reed a job as its Utah coordinator, FBI logs show that his father made a phone call wanting to know what the bureau felt about the group. It was the beginning of Benson’s defense of the society.
An agent wrote, “I informed him off the record … that to my knowledge the FBI has not investigated the John Birch Society.”
The agent added in summary of the conversation, “Benson has reached the conclusion the society is doing a lot of good in combating communism and feels that it is patriotic in its motives.”
Benson also told the agent that he hoped to soon meet with Hoover in Washington “to confer with him about the menace of communism and the role of the Birch Society.”
Because of that, officials at FBI headquarters wrote a briefing paper to prepare Hoover in case Benson called.
Calling the society “probably the most publicized right-wing extremist group in the country,” they recommended keeping Benson away from Hoover --- including lying, if necessary, to say that Hoover was unavailable to talk to Benson.
Godless communism -- On May 17, 1965, Ezra Taft Benson wrote to Hoover with a plea. “Word has come to me, not yet fully confirmed, that some of our liberal ‘soft-on-communist’ groups are planning to put pressure on you to come out with a statement against the John Birch Society.” He urged Hoover not to do so.
“It is my conviction that this organization is the most effective non-church group in America against creeping socialism and godless communism,” Benson wrote.
Hoover, however, in response to a question at a news conference soon thereafter, said he had little respect for the society or its founder, Robert Welch.
After Hoover’s disavowal of Welch, Benson decided to meet with Hoover to explain his support of the society and how Welch’s writings had convinced him that Eisenhower aided communism.
Files show that Hoover’s aides twice told Benson that he was unavailable for such a meeting --- as memos had advised them to do. So Benson wrote Hoover the sensitive “personal-confidential” letter of May 28, 1965, outlining his conclusions about Eisenhower.
Benson also soon sent a book by Welch titled The Politician, noting it was what led him to his conclusions about Eisenhower.
In the book, Welch argues that Eisenhower was either ignorant, a politician blinded by opportunism or was “consciously aiding the communist conspiracy” --- and said it really didn’t matter because “they all come to the same end … namely tragedy.”
Benson wrote Hoover that he inscribed the following words on the flyleaf of the book after he first read it:
“Have just finished this shocking volume. ... While I do not agree with all or the extent of some of the author’s conclusions, one must agree that the documented record makes the thesis of the book most convincing.
“How can a man [Eisenhower] who seems to be so strong for Christian principles and base American concepts be so effectively used as a tool to serve the communist conspiracy?
“I believe the answer is found in the fact that these godless communist conspirators and their fellow travelers are masters of deceit --- who deceived the very elect. How our people need to be alerted and informed.”
Benson added that he hoped the $1 book would be made available widely.
“This story must be told even at the risk of destroying the influence of men who are widely respected and loved by the American people. The stakes are high. Freedom and survival are the issues,” he had written in his copy of the book.
Benson also wrote of Eisenhower: “I presume I will never know in this life why he did some of the things he did which gave help to the [communist] conspiracy. It is not my divine prerogative to know the motives of men. It is easier, however, to judge the consequences of man’s actions.”
Noncommittal -- Hoover sent back only a short note: “It was indeed thoughtful of you to furnish me your views regarding the John Birch Society and its head.” He concluded simply, “I have taken note of your impressions.”
Such impressions would lead Hoover to take the advice of aides and largely cut contact with his friend.
That included declining an offer to have the LDS Church-owned Deseret Book Co. publish a compilation of Hoover’s speeches. Aides warned that because of Benson’s letters, “If we were to go along with this project, it could in some way be used to the advantage of the John Birch Society.”
Still, Benson kept up cordial correspondence with Hoover over the following years --- and sent him John Birch Society materials on several occasions. In 1971, he again requested a meeting with Hoover while Benson was in Washington for a few days for a church conference.
FBI headquarters staff also frowned upon that request.
“It is not believed that the director should take time from his busy schedule to meet with Mr. Benson, as it is very possible that he would bring his son Reed Benson with him for that meeting,” who, the memo said, was then the national director of public relations for the John Birch Society.
When Reed Benson called to check on the availability of Hoover to meet with him and his father, FBI memos say, “The director indicated at the time he was booked solidly” --- as memos from staff had suggested he should say.
Hoover died only a few months after that last requested meeting. Benson would live another 22 years --- enough time to ascend to the presidency of his church and to see the fall of communism in Eastern Europe. He spoke little of that fall, however, focusing on more spiritual matters of his church, including urging LDS members to constantly read the Book of Mormon. Benson died at age 94 in 1994.

T h e   H u f f i n g t o n   P o s t
Bill O'Reilly Doubles Down On God Controlling The Tides:
How Did The Moon Get There?

By  N i c h o l a s   G r a h a m    Posted: 02/ 2/11

   How Did The Moon Get There?

The Fox News host took a lot of heat for claiming that science cannot explain why the tides occur in such a regular fashion when in fact the tides are the combined effects of the gravitational forces exerted by the Moon and the Sun and the rotation of the Earth.

O'Reilly remains unimpressed:  "Okay, how did the Moon get there? How'd the Moon get there? Look, you pinheads who attacked me for this, you guys are just desperate. How'd the Moon get there? How'd the Sun get there? How'd it get there? Can you explain that to me? How come we have that and Mars doesn't have it? Venus doesn't have it. How come? Why not? How'd it get here?"

In fact, prevailing scientific theory is that the Moon formed as the result of a massive impact with Earth; Mars has a Sun and two moons; etc, etc. Bad Astronomy has an exceedingly thorough examination of just how wrong O'Reilly is for those interested in the gory details.

Thus the score remains O'Reilly - Zero, Science - Infinity.

Source: HuffingtonPost.com

 Washington Post
Jehovah's Witnesses case in Puerto Rico

 B y D A N I C A C O T O W a s h i n g t o n P o s t            Feb. 9, 2011

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico -- A federal appeals court in the United States has ordered gated communities across Puerto Rico to grant access to Jehovah's Witnesses so they can engage in their First Amendment right to proselytize.

The ruling comes nearly seven years after two religious corporations filed a lawsuit against the government of the U.S. Caribbean territory arguing that Jehovah's Witnesses were being denied several rights, including freedom of speech, religion and travel.

Unlike in the U.S., where streets inside gated communities are private, they are considered public thoroughfares in Puerto Rico even though gates are allowed to be erected to control a neighborhood's entrances.

William Ramirez, director of the American Civil Liberties Union chapter in Puerto Rico, praised the ruling.

"Door-to-door communication is a vital means of dissemination for small groups with limited resources to spread their message," he said Wednesday.

A three-judge panel in the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeal in Boston called the case "novel and difficult" in its nearly 30-page decision issued Monday.

The panel ruled Puerto Rican gated neighborhoods cannot have locked and unmanned gates that bar access to public streets. It said they have to hire guards, unless the community can provide a substantial justification for not doing so.

"Conceivably, a controlled access area might be very small, its residents' resources very limited, or both," the ruling said.

The panel ordered Puerto Rico's district court to enforce its ruling and review any objections that communities might file.

While ruling for the rights of Jehovah's Witnesses to be given access, the appeals panel upheld a 2005 district court ruling that found constitutional a Puerto Rico law allowing neighborhoods with controlled access and giving guards the right to request names and identifications of any visitors.

"Compared to an airport search, a few questions about identity and purpose for entering an urbanization seem tame indeed," the ruling stated.

The ruling also technically applies to Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Rhode Island because they are covered by the 1st Circuit. But it is unlikely to have any impact there since U.S. law considers streets inside gated communities to be private, said Paul Polidoro, assistant general counsel for the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York Inc., which oversees administrative issues for Jehovah's Witnesses.

Luis Pabon Roca, a lawyer who represented the northern municipality of Caguas, said he considered the ruling a victory because the law allowing for gated communities was upheld as constitutional.

"In my opinion, the lawsuit was not needed," he said. "Jehovah's Witnesses have access just like any other citizen in Puerto Rico."

Several attorneys representing other municipalities in the case did not return calls for comment.

The appeal was filed by the Christian Congregation of Jehovah's Witnesses in Puerto Rico and the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York Inc.

They estimate that Jehovah's Witnesses in Puerto Rico have been barred from entering 587 gated communities in 57 municipalities, representing a total of more than 67,000 residences. They say only about half of Puerto Rico's gated communities have guards.

Puerto Rico has 318 Jehovah's Witnesses congregations, for a total of about 25,000 members.

Source Washington Post

Faith-based Groups get Stimulus Millions
F r e e t h o u g h t   T o d a y, Dec. 2010, p. 15

A December 3 story in Politico said faith-based groups have received about $140 million from the $787 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Politico searched the database at Recovery.gov and found that Catholic groups got the most ($90 million), followed by Protestants ($45 million) and Jewish groups ($6 million).

Castleton United Methodist Church in Indianapolis bought a heating and cooling system. St. Laurence O'Toole Catholic Church in Laramie, Wyoming, installed new windows in its school. Christian Churches United of the Tri-County Area, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, spent its $120,000 on food and shelter for homeless people.

"It kind of fell from the sky, and it was unbelievable that we had this much extra money," said Jackie Rucker, Christian Churches executive director.

Obama "took what President Bush did and has expanded it," said Rev. Larry Snyder, Catholic Charities USA president.

Are religious people easy targets for scams?
D a l l a s    B a p t i s t    S t a n d a r d
By  N i c o l e    N e r o u l i a s,   R e l i g i o n   N e w s   S e r v i c e  Feb. 24, 2011

WASHINGTON (RNS)—Major frauds exposed by federal investigators in recent years have targeted Jehovah’s Witnesses, Baptists and other religious groups, from $190 million lost in a three-year scam promoted by a Christian radio host in Minnesota to an estimated $1.4 billion conned from thousands of Utah Mormons.

Is it simply too easy for con artists to prey on people of faith?

“We’ve seen where it’s an outsider who has come into the fold, and we’ve seen some where it’s a person who has been a member of the community for decades,” said Lori Schock, director of investment education and advocacy for the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

“We’ve had cases where people quote Scripture, that the Lord wants you to make money. And when the house of cards comes crashing down, the victims sometimes lose more than just their money. Sometimes, they lose their faith, and it’s extremely sad.”

Why do religious groups make such easy targets? For one, a swindler who professes the same faith, or belongs to the same congregation, has an easy time earning trust, however misplaced. Duped investors, meanwhile, also hesitate to suspect or report on one of their own, Schock added.

Although the FBI’s Utah Securities Fraud Task Force has issued a warning to members of the Latter-day Saints, the SEC hasn’t examined whether religious groups are more susceptible to “affinity fraud”—scams that target specific demographics, whether evangelical Christians or the elderly. But researchers say it’s a question worth considering.

Harvard scholar Robert D. Putnam and Notre Dame’s David E. Campbell found a connection between religiosity and trust in others in working on their book, American Grace: How Religion Unites and Divides Us. Based on Harvard’s 2006 Faith Matters Survey, Putnam and Campbell conclude religious people are viewed as more trustworthy by both religious and nonreligious Americans, and they also tend to be more trusting of others.

“The underlying issue, I think, is the question of mutual trust,” agreed Nancy Ammerman, a Boston University professor of religion and sociology. “These schemes rely on and exploit that trust, and people within religious communities tend to have high levels of trust for others within their community."

There’s also ease of access, Ammerman said.

“Conversations are easy to strike up, and everybody’s got a directory or an e-mail list or at least people they talk to at coffee hour. The social connections are there, and that makes it easier for someone with something to sell to get new customers."

Anson Shupe, an Indiana University sociologist and author of several books on faith-based fraud, said his own research indicates evangelicals, Mormons and black churches are most susceptible, while Catholics are relatively protected by a dense, hierarchical network of clergy supervision.

“Protestants and Mormons tend to believe that there is a sort of straightforward relationship between keeping the tenets of the faith and contributing financially to it, and then reaping rewards in the here and now,” he explained. “Some pastors preach a one-to-one relationship between worldly prosperity and attendance to matters of faith."

But Earl Grinols, a Baylor University economics professor, believes any correlation between faith and fraud stems from a “mistaken” perception that religious people as easily misled. That prompts con artists to disproportionately target them, along with the elderly and the newly affluent.

“It’s the ease of identifying and finding people in the group to scam, and that the perpetrators have a misperception that these members are more naive,” he said. “They may tend to view (Christians) as more simple, maybe more easily led."

Schock urged potential investors to check with the regional SEC office before handing money over to potential con artists, whether it’s a longtime congregant in good standing, a religious leader who has been endorsed by fellow clergy, or someone who promotes an investment that appears faith-friendly, such as church bonds.

“Trust, but verify,” she said. “If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.”

Source:  BaptistStandard

A deity diverse and divisive            New Zealand Herald
B y  G r e g   A n s l e y                                          Mar 26, 2011

In the wide, red land led by an atheist and where evolution has prevailed in its political war with creationism, God has not died. But Australia's almighty has become a far more diverse and divisive deity, still influencing laws and values and maintaining the potential to undermine social cohesion.

The complexity of beliefs haunts policies and legislators. Christians fear suffocation by political correctness and attack from opposing fundamentalism; Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists complain of bias; pagans rail against marriage laws and the ban on pagan chaplains in the military.

Indigenous Australians say their spirituality has been bundled with paganism and dismissed as a valid belief system, further undermining their ability to manage their affairs, and damaging the fragile process of reconciliation.

Laws and customs lodged in traditional Christianity are seen as discriminatory and insulting by other religions. Anti-terror legislation amassed after the September 11, 2001 attacks are regarded by Muslims as an assault on Islam, potentially increasing the alienation that security agencies fear will fuel home-grown jihadists. The impact of religion is felt in federal and state Parliaments, by planning authorities, in schools and workplaces, and in the streets.

This week, Prime Minister Julia Gillard, raised in a Methodist home but now an atheist, repeated her belief in the nation's basic Christian cultural foundation, again rejecting same-sex marriage and euthanasia, endorsing the views of both Parliament's religious right and the nation's wider social conservatism.

Laws, policies and practices remain a highway strewn with landmines: passions and difficulties have grown with a rapidly changing nation, presenting what the Human Rights Commission says is a "vastly more complex religious landscape" than even a decade ago.

The commission's new report on freedom of religion and beliefs was not released until after politicians were briefed in Canberra. Researchers spoke to 274 religious and secularist groups, with Governments, human rights groups and ethnic and city councils, and received more than 2000 submissions.

Their study included Christian denominations from Anglicans and Catholics to Jehovah's Witnesses, Mormons, Christadelphians and Orthodox churches; and to Jews, Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, atheists, humanists, skeptics, rationalists and pagans.

"The research shows there is a need for education about religions, if we are to reduce ignorance and fear, while promoting inter-group respect," Human Rights Commissioner Graeme Innes said.

Belief in some form of deity remains strong. A 2009 Australian National University survey of social attitudes found 45 per cent of Australians agreed "there is something beyond this life that makes sense of it all", while a third were not sure and 22 per cent disagreed.

But this is a country where Chinese has replaced Italian as the second language and Buddhism is the second-largest religion after Christianity. Even so, the report's findings supported Gillard's instincts: many Australians believe strongly that the nation's values and culture are based on Christian teachings, and these values are reflected in its public ethos and institutions, legal system, and its social and political structures.

"The Christian heritage was seen as critical to how Australia or the Australian Government deals with immigration, legislation, social norms and practices," the report said. "It was seen as crucial to the way Australia understands and identifies itself as a nation."

The report found changes wrought by migration had been too rapid and too diverse, and that new religious diversity challenged, even threatened, the nation's traditional values and social cohesion. It also found widespread concern that too much deference was accorded religious minorities - especially Muslims - at the expense of mainstream values, and that appeasing minority groups threatened core social values.

But minority communities were "acutely aware" of difficulties in making their voices heard and in practising their religion, especially in the face of concerted local opposition, and through reactions to their clothes and appearance.

And while there was broad agreement in the need for education about religion, huge gulfs separate views on how this should be achieved.

Many believed faith-based education was needed to offset the failure of government schools to instill core values, and upheld the right and responsibility of parents to raise their children with these values.

Others argued that faith-based schooling undermined multi-culturalism and tolerance by locking children into their parents' faith, encouraging indoctrination.

Non-Christians were also angered by the expectation that people should swear oaths on the Bible, that Parliaments were opened only by Christian prayers, and that no provision was made for non-Christian holy days in the workplace.

Buddhists complained that visiting monks and nuns under vows of poverty had problems gaining visas and, like Hindus, Muslims and pagans, faced difficulties with burial laws and practices.

Orthodox Christians worried that anti-noise bylaws could prevent midnight bellringing at Easter, Seventh Day Adventists had problems in observing the Sabbath on Saturdays, and Jehovah's Witnesses and Christian Brethren sought recognition of their beliefs against voting, which is compulsory in Australia.

Humanists complained of exclusion and bias in Governments, Jews' institutions and organisations continued to be targets for violent attacks or vandalism. Pagans said they were incorrectly associated with Satanism, faced restrictions on advertising, and were often refused the use of scout or church halls for events.

Muslims reported discrimination against women wearing the traditional hijab head covering, problems in obtaining permission or raising funds to build mosques, schools, and community centres, and workplace difficulties with prayer, dress and fasting during Ramadan.

The report found widespread and deep-seated concern about Islam among other Australians, including perceived intolerance of criticism, punishment for apostates, gender inequality, and the threat of fundamentalist Islam, heightened by a sense that Governments appeased Muslim communities, and that Islam received preferential treatment.

The report also noted arguments that the Muslim community's belief that it was being targeted by security laws had contributed to a climate of fear. Sikhs also felt threatened by harsh anti-terror laws.

"Counter-terrorism legislation has had an enormous impact on ethnic and minority communities, and the effects have been particularly disproportionate on Muslim communities," the Australian Muslim Civil Rights and Advocacy Network told researchers.

"The breadth of the laws, their discretionary or selective application and the way in which the police and security agencies use their extended powers, constrain basic freedom of association, speech and belief."

Source:  NZHerald.co.nz

How to become an exorcist

To become an exorcist you must be a Roman Catholic priest and have permission from your bishop to join the International Association of Exorcists.

T E L E G R A P H . C O . U K       by  H e n r y   S a m u e l   i n   P a r i s         30 Mar 2011

The body, which meets in secret every two years was founded in 1993 by Father Gabriele Amorth, the official exorcist of Vatican City in the Diocese of Rome, with the aim of increasing the number of official exorcists worldwide.

Since 2005, Catholic priests can sign up to learn how to cast away evil spirits from the possessed at the Vatican-backed college, the Athenaeum Pontificium Regina Apostolorum in Rome.

It runs a two-month course to teach the "spiritual, liturgical and pastoral work involved in being an exorcist."

According to Father Giulio Savoldi, Milan's official exorcist, requirements include "the supernatural force – the presence of God – and then suggest that the man picked to do this kind of work be wise and that he should know how to gather strength not just from within himself but from God." The Roman Catholic's new Exorcism Rite, which was updated in 1999 for the first time since 1614, stresses the importance of distinguishing who is really in need of an exorcism.

Father Savoldi said: "Those studying to become exorcists should also study psychology and know how to distinguish between a mental illness and a possession. And, finally, they need to be very patient." He said the priest who undertakes the office should be himself a holy man, of a blameless life, intelligent, courageous, humble. He should avoid in the course of the rite anything resembling superstition and he should leave the medical aspects of the case to qualified physicians.

The exorcism should take place in the church or some other sacred place, but can be done in a private house with witnesses.

All idle and curious questioning of the demon should be avoided, and the prayers and aspirations should be read with great faith, humility and fervour, and with a consciousness of power and authority.

The crucifix, holy water, and, where available, relics of the saints are to be employed during exorcism. If expulsion of the evil spirit is not obtained at once, the rite should be repeated, if need be, several times.

The exorcist should be vested in cassock, surplice, and a violet stole.

Source: telegraph.co.uk

Pakistan's blasphemy vigilantes kill exonerated man
B y   N i c k   P a t o n   W a l s h,   C N N,   A p r i l   1 4,   2 0 1 1

Despite being cleared of blasphemy, Mohamed Imran was killed by vigilantes

Talahore, Pakistan (CNN) -- Mohamed Imran had been accused, jailed, tried and cleared: if anything, society owed him a debt as a man wrongfully accused.

But his crime was blasphemy. He was meant to have said something derogatory about the prophet Mohammed, so in Pakistan justice worked a little differently.

Two weeks after he returned to his small patch of farmland on the rustic outskirts of Islamabad, his alleged crime caught up with him.

Two gunmen burst into the shoe shop where he sat talking to a friend. Imran tried to duck, to seek cover behind the man next to him -- terrified so greatly for his own life that he perhaps forgot about those around him.

But the gunmen found their target and Pakistan's controversial blasphemy laws claimed another victim.
His brother Ikram told CNN: "When I saw him lying there, I felt the blood leave my body, and that I was now alone."

Now Ikram has only his brother's unmarked grave to visit, next to the plot of land close to what was once the source of Mohamed Imran's livelihood. This farmland no longer feeds his family, who have moved away to live under the charity of a friend. The threats remained.

We found his daughter, four-year old Kazma who knew her father was dead but somehow felt he would come back. His wife was in tears, but remarkably maintained that the blasphemy laws were important as they protect the Muslim faith. It was hard to tell whether she believed that or was speaking out of self-preservation.

Two high-profile politicians have this year been assassinated for their criticism of the blasphemy laws: Punjab governor Salman Taseer and minorities minister (and Christian) Shahbaz Bhatti.
Some observers see their deaths and the climate of rage around the blasphemy laws as symptomatic of a broader rise in fundamentalist tendencies in Pakistan.

Others say that religion is all many people have, given the levels of poverty and state dysfunction, and that they don't like it being insulted. It's reported that more than 30 of the hundreds of people convicted under the blasphemy laws have been killed by vigilantes. The state has yet to execute anyone for this crime.
The curious part about this blasphemy case -- and many other such convictions and allegations under the controversial law -- is that they do not specify what the accused is meant to have said.

The first complaint delivered to the police in 2009 refers to a conversation Imran allegedly had with another man in a cafe, but says the exact blasphemous phrase cannot be repeated as that too would be an act of blasphemy.

By the time we get to the court appearance earlier this year, the charge is clearer (but we won't repeat it here, given the sensitivity of the matter). You are left wondering whether by this stage of the case many had already found reason to damn Imran.

All the same, this level of evidence was not enough for the judge, who released Imran. But it was enough for the gunmen.

We went into the nearby town to talk to clerics at the local mosque. Some accused these holy men of fueling the anger against Imran. Incidentally, Imran was a Shia, and hence a minority often targeted in Pakistan.

As soon as we got out of the car near the mosque and showed our cameras, tempers frayed. They didn't care why we were there, they just saw us as outsiders, perhaps American spies.

We left promptly, ever more aware of the growing rage on Pakistan's ordinary streets, fueled by generations of poverty, decades of what many see as government ineptitude and years of foreign intervention.

Source: CNN

Happy International Blasphemy Day!

Appeals court hears case of Jehovah’s Witness in need of transplant

By  B R A D   C O O P E R           Wed, Apr. 20, 2011

The Kansas City Star

TOPEKA | A Kansas appeals court poked and prodded Wednesday, but kept returning to the same question.

What compelling reason did Kansas have for refusing to pay for a woman’s request — based on her religious faith — to undergo a bloodless liver transplant that could be done only outside the state?

The answer could decide whether 64-year-old Mary Stinemetz, a Jehovah’s Witness from Hill City, Kan., can replace her failing liver that has left her near death after 20 years of illness.

“Don’t you have some type of compelling state interest to deny this, and what is that compelling interest?” Judge Stephen D. Hill asked the state’s lawyer, Brian Vazquez.

Hill’s comments came during a nearly hourlong session of the Kansas Court of Appeals, which generally allots about 30 minutes to hearings.

Stinemetz contends the state is violating her religious freedom under the U.S. Constitution and the Kansas Bill of Rights, which guarantee the right to worship “according to the dictates of conscience.”;

The state is willing to allow Stinemetz to get a liver transplant, paid for by Medicaid, at the University of Kansas Hospital. But she would have to compromise her Jehovah’s Witness principles, because she would receive a blood transfusion, which she believes violates God’s law.

Stinemetz could undergo bloodless transplant surgery in Omaha, Neb., but Kansas is refusing to pay for the out-of-state procedure when a transplant is readily available at KU.

Stinemetz’s case rests partly on U.S. Supreme Court precedent from 1963, which holds the government needs a compelling state interest to justify infringing on someone’s right to freely exercise religion.

Vazquez acknowledged there was little, if anything, in the court record to show a compelling state interest. However, he contended that a 1990 Supreme Court decision from Oregon eliminated the need to show a compelling interest.

In that case, the court ruled that government could adopt laws that might burden someone’s religion as long as the law was neutral and didn’t target a specific religious faith.

The court is expected to issue a ruling later.m.

Source: Kansascity.com.html

Who picks which religions are sacred?
National Post    by J o h n   M o o r e     May 26, 2011

This newspaper roundly condemned the province of Quebec’s religious studies curriculum in an editorial published May 24, “Moral relativism in the classroom.” The program, known as Ethics and Religious Culture, dares teach children that all religions are worthy of respect. The editors wrote: “Normative pluralism is moral relativism, the notion that there is no single truth and that all religions are of equal merit and equal worthiness of admiration.”;

By scoffing at the idea that all faiths are equal, the editorial board leaves unanswered the question of which are better or more truthful than others (it might also be asked why an editorial board that favours small government would want the state to make such a decision, but I digress). By what measure shall we establish the relative merits of religions? Shall it be by seniority? Sheer numbers? Heaven forbid that we anoint one or the other based on reason or evidence.

It makes perfect sense to many that Christianity outranks, say, Scientology, by virtue of the fact that one has been around for 2,000 years while the other was cooked up a mere half-century ago. But by this measure do we throw Mormonism into question for having existed only slightly longer than L. Ron Hubbard’s mischievous invention? With Mormons running for president of the United States, am I at risk of a Human Rights Tribunal complaint if I point out that the faith has something in common with Scientology in that both were founded by men who might easily be described as self-aggrandizing cranks?

And if we are to defer to faiths on the basis of longevity, then surely the National Post should accord more respect to druids and pantheists.

If we rank faiths by sheer numbers is Christianity 20% more important or truthful than Islam? Is Rastafarianism a lark by virtue of the fact that it has a mere 500,000 adherents? Never mind that all of the major faiths are riven with schisms that further reduce their collective numbers. The Russian Orthodox Church was in spasms for years over how many fingers one should use to cross oneself. Sunni and Shia Muslims are similarly obsessed with prayerful gestures.

Nor can one religion be compared to another on the basis of theological rigour. Just because two men with PhDs can debate the immaculate conception of Mary doesn’t make the event more believable than the notion that Jesus appeared to Sun Myung Moon in 1935.

The Post’s editors complain that religious parents “do not want their children to learn that Christianity and pagan Animism and tinfoil hat science fiction are equally true.” And why not? Are their faiths so weak that they fear without the silo and blinkers of Sunday school or the temple that their children will be lured away from such self-evidently superior creeds? The truly faithful need not fear exposure to the faith of others.

The real problem is that if one or several religions are deemed sacred while the others are dismissed as cults, obsessive compulsive disorders and curiosities, then the door is thrown open to the incoherence of all faiths. Why should the origin tale of the Old Testament be regarded as any more significant than the notion that the world was created on the back of a turtle? The real fear of the faithful is that when religions are held up to rational scrutiny each is as irrational as the next. Atheists have everything to gain from the idea that there is some normative means of comparing one faith to another.

Religious and moral instruction is the role of parents. They are free to teach their children than the world is 10,000 years old or that if they whirl in circles they will achieve ecstasy. In school, children will learn that their classmates hold many other things sacred and that stubborn righteousness does not mean that one tenet automatically bests another.

National Post

John Moore is host of Moore in the Morning on NewsTalk 1010 AM Toronto. He was raised on the Bible and thinks it is an excellent book.

Source: FullCommentNationalPost

Day of prayer violates separation of state & church

Houston Chronicle Op-Ed, June 17, 2011

As Houston clergy, we write to express our deep concern over Gov. Rick Perry's proclamation of a day of prayer and fasting at Houston's Reliant Stadium on Aug. 6. In our role as faith leaders, we encourage and support prayer, meditation and spiritual practice. Yet our governor's religious event gives us pause for a number of reasons.

We believe in a healthy boundary between church and state. Out of respect for the state, we believe that it should represent all citizens equally and without preference for religious or philosophical tradition. Out of respect for religious communities, we believe that they should foster faithful ways of living without favoring one political party over another. Keeping the church and state separate allows each to thrive and upholds our proud national tradition of empowering citizens to worship freely and vote conscientiously. We are concerned that our governor has crossed the line by organizing a religious event rather than focusing on the people's business in Austin.

We also express concern that the day of prayer and fasting at Reliant Stadium is not an inclusive event. As clergy leaders in the nation's fourth-largest city, we take pride in Houston's vibrant and diverse religious landscape. Our religious communities include Bahais, Buddhists, Christians, Hindus, Jews, Muslims, Sikhs, Unitarian Universalists and many other faith traditions. Our city is also home to committed agnostics and atheists, with whom we share common cause as fellow Houstonians. Houston has long been known as a live-and-let-live city where all are respected and welcomed. It troubles us that the governor's prayer event is not open to everyone. In the publicized materials, the governor has made it clear that only Christians of a particular kind are welcome to pray in a certain way. We feel that such an exclusive event does not reflect the rich tapestry of our city. Our deepest concern, however, lies in the fact that funding for this event appears to come from the American Family Association, an organization labeled a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. The American Family Association and its leadership have a long track record of anti-gay speech and have actively worked to discriminate against the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community. The American Family Association and its leadership have also been stridently anti-Muslim, going so far as to question the rights of Muslim-Americans to freely organize and practice their faith. We believe it is inappropriate for our governor to organize a religious event funded by a group known for its discriminatory stances.

As religious leaders, we commit to join with all Houstonians in working to make our city a better place. We will lead our communities in prayer, meditation and spiritual practice. We ask that Gov. Perry leave the ministry to us and refocus his energy on the work of governing our state.

This article was submitted by Rev. Dr. Jeremy Rutledge, minister, Covenant Church, Alliance of Baptists/American Baptist Churches; Rev. Douglas Anders, conference minister, South Central Conference of the United Church of Christ; Rev. Paul Beedle, Unitarian Universalist; Rev. Dr. Ginny Brown Daniel, minister, Plymouth United Church, UCC; Rev. Beth Ellen Cooper-Davis, minister, Northwoods Unitarian Universalist Church; Rev. Michael Diaz, director of connections, Resurrection Metropolitan Community Church; Rev. Pat Farnan, Resurrection Metropolitan Community Church; Rev. Lura Groen, pastor, Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church; Rev. Teddy Hardy, minister, St. John United Church of Christ; Rev. Lori Keaton, United Church of Christ; Rev. Harry Knox, senior pastor, Resurrection Metropolitan Community Church; Rev. Janice Ladd, executive pastor, Resurrection Metropolitan Community Church; Rev. Dr. Becky Edmiston-Lange, co-minister, Emerson Unitarian Universalist Church; Rev. Mark Edmiston-Lange, co-minister, Emerson Unitarian Universalist Church; Rev. Mona Lopez, volunteer staff clergy, Resurrection Metropolitan Community Church; Rev. Laura Mayo, minister, Covenant Church, Alliance of Baptists/American Baptist Churches; Rev. Dr. Daniel O'Connell, senior minister, First Unitarian Universalist Church; Rev. David Pantermuehl, Grace United Church of Christ; Rev. Adam Robinson, assistant minister, First Unitarian Universalist Church; Rev. Ken Richter, senior minister, First Congregational Church, UCC; Rev. Bill Royster, United Church of Christ; Rev. Sam Schaal, transition minister, Bay Area Unitarian Universalist Church; Rev. Robert Tucker, executive director, Foundation for Contemporary Theology; Rev. Ernie Turney, pastor, Bering United Methodist Church; Rev. Bonnie Vegiard, Unitarian Universalist.

Source: Read more: www.chron.com

Minority Rules: Scientists Discover Tipping Point for the Spread of Ideas

In this visualization, we see the tipping point where minority opinion (shown in red) quickly becomes majority opinion. Over time, the minority opinion grows. Once the minority opinion reached 10 percent of the population, the network quickly changes as the minority opinion takes over the original majority opinion (shown in green). (Credit: SCNARC/Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute)

ScienceDaily (July 26, 2011) — Scientists at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute have found that when just 10 percent of the population holds an unshakable belief, their belief will always be adopted by the majority of the society. The scientists, who are members of the Social Cognitive Networks Academic Research Center (SCNARC) at Rensselaer, used computational and analytical methods to discover the tipping point where a minority belief becomes the majority opinion. The finding has implications for the study and influence of societal interactions ranging from the spread of innovations to the movement of political ideals.

"When the number of committed opinion holders is below 10 percent, there is no visible progress in the spread of ideas. It would literally take the amount of time comparable to the age of the universe for this size group to reach the majority," said SCNARC Director Boleslaw Szymanski, the Claire and Roland Schmitt Distinguished Professor at Rensselaer. "Once that number grows above 10 percent, the idea spreads like flame."

As an example, the ongoing events in Tunisia and Egypt appear to exhibit a similar process, according to Szymanski. "In those countries, dictators who were in power for decades were suddenly overthrown in just a few weeks."

The findings were published in the July 22, 2011, early online edition of the journal Physical Review E in an article titled "Social consensus through the influence of committed minorities."
An important aspect of the finding is that the percent of committed opinion holders required to shift majority opinion does not change significantly regardless of the type of network in which the opinion holders are working. In other words, the percentage of committed opinion holders required to influence a society remains at approximately 10 percent, regardless of how or where that opinion starts and spreads in the society.

To reach their conclusion, the scientists developed computer models of various types of social networks. One of the networks had each person connect to every other person in the network. The second model included certain individuals who were connected to a large number of people, making them opinion hubs or leaders. The final model gave every person in the model roughly the same number of connections. The initial state of each of the models was a sea of traditional-view holders. Each of these individuals held a view, but were also, importantly, open minded to other views.

Once the networks were built, the scientists then "sprinkled" in some true believers throughout each of the networks. These people were completely set in their views and unflappable in modifying those beliefs. As those true believers began to converse with those who held the traditional belief system, the tides gradually and then very abruptly began to shift.

"In general, people do not like to have an unpopular opinion and are always seeking to try locally to come to consensus. We set up this dynamic in each of our models," said SCNARC Research Associate and corresponding paper author Sameet Sreenivasan. To accomplish this, each of the individuals in the models "talked" to each other about their opinion. If the listener held the same opinions as the speaker, it reinforced the listener's belief. If the opinion was different, the listener considered it and moved on to talk to another person. If that person also held this new belief, the listener then adopted that belief.

"As agents of change start to convince more and more people, the situation begins to change," Sreenivasan said. "People begin to question their own views at first and then completely adopt the new view to spread it even further. If the true believers just influenced their neighbors, that wouldn't change anything within the larger system, as we saw with percentages less than 10."
The research has broad implications for understanding how opinion spreads. "There are clearly situations in which it helps to know how to efficiently spread some opinion or how to suppress a developing opinion," said Associate Professor of Physics and co-author of the paper Gyorgy Korniss. "Some examples might be the need to quickly convince a town to move before a hurricane or spread new information on the prevention of disease in a rural village."

The researchers are now looking for partners within the social sciences and other fields to compare their computational models to historical examples. They are also looking to study how the percentage might change when input into a model where the society is polarized. Instead of simply holding one traditional view, the society would instead hold two opposing viewpoints. An example of this polarization would be Democrat versus Republican.

The research was funded by the Army Research Laboratory (ARL) through SCNARC, part of the Network Science Collaborative Technology Alliance (NS-CTA), the Army Research Office (ARO), and the Office of Naval Research (ONR).

The research is part of a much larger body of work taking place under SCNARC at Rensselaer. The center joins researchers from a broad spectrum of fields -- including sociology, physics, computer science, and engineering -- in exploring social cognitive networks. The center studies the fundamentals of network structures and how those structures are altered by technology. The goal of the center is to develop a deeper understanding of networks and a firm scientific basis for the newly arising field of network science. More information on the launch of SCNARC can be found at http://news.rpi.edu/update.do?artcenterkey=2721&setappvar=page(1)

Szymanski, Sreenivasan, and Korniss were joined in the research by Professor of Mathematics Chjan Lim, and graduate students Jierui Xie (first author) and Weituo Zhang.

Source: ScienceDaily.com

Jurors cover their mouths and cry as graphic sex tape is played in court   

A jury has found polygamist religious leader Warren Jeffs guilty of child rape.

The leader of a polygamist sect of Mormonism known as the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints (FLDS), was found guilty of forcing two teenage girls into "spiritual marriage," and fathering a child with one of them when she was 15.

Jeffs says he does not need to be near death for his wives to have sex with him. (54 sec.) More...

Atheist Hater 'Mabus' Faces 16 Charges for Online Threats

The Montreal man who had been wanted by police for allegedly making online death threats against people all over the world appeared in court on Friday to face 16 charges.

Known online as “David Mabus”, Dennis Markuze of St. Laurent has been charged with uttering death threats and for criminally harassing seven victims.

Two charges were laid against him Wednesday -- and an additional 14 were added on Friday.

Markuze has been sent for a 30-day psychological evaluation at Montreal’s Pinel Institute and will appear in court again on Sept. 19. Officials did not initially reveal the suspect’s name but it had been widely believed by alleged victims that Markuze was the culprit.

The arrest came roughly one week after 5,000 people signed a petition demanding an investigation into the threats. Police began investigating the online activity of a Montreal man following the onslaught of complaints.

The suspect allegedly created accounts on Twitter and other online message boards.

From these accounts he reportedly sent insults and threats, specifically targeting atheists, scientists and journalists.

Messages often involved expletives and indicated people would be executed.

He also reportedly told online users they would be subjected to the judgment of God.

With files from Global Montreal reporter L i s a   F i s e t.
Global Montreal

Victory!  Man Threatens Atheists Online - Jailed

Aug 15, 2011
After nearly 5,000 people signed the petition calling on the Montreal Police Department to investigate the thousands of death threats issued by Dennis Markuze,  the Montreal Police have responded via Twitter that the case is officially open.  

Markuze has been threatening atheists, scientists, writers, public figures and their friends for more than a decade under the pseudonym of “David Mabus.”  As the threats began to increase in intensity and frequency, his victims decided it was time to take action.  

Kyle VanderBeek, a San Francisco-based engineer with Change.org, launched the campaign after he became a target of Mabus’ attacks.  He cites a blog entry written by Montreal-based journalist William Raillant-Clark about Mabus as the inspiration for his petition on Change.org.  “I started the petition hoping to gather together the affected community and unite our voice,” states VanderBeek.  

Social media sites like Facebook and Twitter and attention from other prominent bloggers spurred an incredible amount of interest which overwhelmed the Montreal Police.  “The deluge of signatures on the petition caused the Montreal Police to tweet several times, asking us to stop.”

Local news soon picked up the case and spread it to wider national and international news outlets.  Along the way, computer security expert Tim Farley joined the effort, gathering evidence and coordinating communication between targets, various local police departments across the US, and the Montreal police.  A detective then began contacting several targets who had filed police reports to gather information and evidence for the case.  

“I'm pleased that the petition had its desired effect,” says VanderBeek.  “Combining the petition, a local stake-holder, and media coverage has resulted in attention from police on this matter.  It has even gotten the attention of Mabus himself, who has been quiet since Friday.  We will now leave the matter in the capable hands of the Montreal Police and legal authorities.”

So thank you and congratulations to the nearly 5,000 supporters who decided enough was enough with Mabus’s death threats.  Now he has the opportunity to be brought to justice and to stop the senseless and violent threats.

Source: Change.org


Bolivian Mennonites Jailed for Serial Rapes

BBC News    26 August 2011

A court in Bolivia has sentenced seven members of a reclusive conservative Christian group to 25 years in prison for raping more than 100 women.

The men, members of a Mennonite group, secretly sedated their victims before the sex attacks.

The victims' lawyer said the 2000-strong Mennonite community where the rapes happened welcomed the sentence.

The group follows a strict moral code and rejects modern inventions such as cars and electricity.

An eighth man was sentenced to 12-and-a-half years for supplying the sedative used to drug the women.

The rapes happened in the Mennonite community of Manitoba, 150km (93 miles) north-east of the city of Santa Cruz.

Shocking crimes
The court heard that the men sprayed a substance derived from the belladonna plant normally used to anaesthetise cows through bedroom windows at night, sedating entire families.

They then raped the women and girls. The youngest victim was nine years old.

Mennonite Churches descend from Protestant communities in Europe
There are said to be some 1.5 million Mennonites worldwide
Mennonites follow the teachings of Menno Simons, a 16th Century religious leader from what is now the Netherlands
Recent figures suggest there are 15,400 Mennonites in Bolivia
The exact number of those raped is not clear. Some women had no recollection of being raped, while others feared being ostracised in the deeply conservative community, lawyer Oswaldo Rivera said.

Mr Rivera said almost 150 had taken part in the trial, but he feared there could be another 150 too ashamed to give evidence.

He said some feared they would not be able to find a husband if it was known they had been raped, as women are expected to abstain from sex until marriage.

Prosecutor Freddy Perez said colony elders suspected something was wrong when they wondered why one man was getting up so late in the mornings, and they decided to shadow him.

He was then spotted jumping through a window into one of the victim's houses.

The BBC's Mattia Cabitza in Santa Cruz said it proved difficult to gather evidence from the victims because of the community's isolation and patriarchal structure.

The convicted men were also accused of threatening the fathers of some of the victims not to speak out.

Irreversible damage
Many of the victims speak only low German, the language of the Mennonite founding fathers, and have never learned Spanish.

There are some 30-40,000 Mennonites in Paraguay and Bolivia.

While many of them are indistinguishable from their neighbours and have religious beliefs very similar to mainline Protestant and Evangelical groups, others reject modern life and live in isolated communities.

Manitoba Colony, where the rapes happened, is an ultra-conservative community, with no paved roads or electricity.

Its members move around by horse-drawn buggy and dress in traditional Mennonite dress.

Mr. Rivera welcomed the sentences but said he feared some of the women had suffered irreversible damage.
Muslim medical students boycotting lectures on evolution... because it 'clashes with the Koran'     By D A I L Y   M A I L   R E P O R T E R

Muslim students, including trainee doctors on one of Britain's leading medical courses, are walking out of lectures on evolution claiming it conflicts with creationist ideas established in the Koran.

Professors at University College London have expressed concern over the increasing number of biology students boycotting lectures on Darwinist theory, which form an important part of the syllabus, citing their religion.
Conflict: An increasing number of Muslim biology students are boycotting lectures on the theories of Charles Darwin

Similar to the beliefs expressed by fundamentalist Christians, Muslim opponents to Darwinism maintain that Allah created the world, mankind and all known species in a single act.

Steve Jones emeritus professor of human genetics at university college London has questioned why such students would want to study biology at all when it obviously conflicts with their beliefs.

He told the Sunday Times: 'I had one or two slightly frisky discussions years ago with kids who belonged to fundamentalist Christian churches, now it is Islamic overwhelmingly.

They don't come [to lectures] or they complain about it or they send notes or emails saying they shouldn't have to learn this stuff.

'What they object to - and I don't really understand it, I am not religious - they object to the idea that there is a random process out there which is not directed by God.'

Earlier this year Usama Hasan, iman of the Masjid al-Tawhid mosque in Leyton, received death threats for suggesting that Darwinism and Islam might be compatible.

Sources within the group Muslims4UK partly blame the growing popularity of creationist beliefs within Islam on Turkish author Harun Yahya who, influenced by the success of Christian creationists in America, has written several books denouncing Darwinist theory.

Yahya associates Dawinism with Nazism and his books are and videos are available at many Islamic bookshops in the UK and regularly feature on Islamic television channels.

Speakers regularly tour Britain lecturing on Yahya's beliefs.

One such lecture was given at UCL in 2008 and this year's talks have been given in London, Manchester, Leeds, Dundee and Glasgow.

Evolutionary Biologist and former Oxford Professor Richard Dawkins has expressed his concern at the number of students, consisting almost entirely of Muslims, who do not attend or walk out of lectures.

Source: DailyMail.co.uk

Mormonism besieged by the modern age
By P e t e r   H e n d e r s o n  and  K r i s t i n a   C o o k e

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah - A religious studies class late last year at Utah State University in Logan, Utah, was unusual for two reasons. The small group of students, faculty and faithful there to hear Mormon Elder Marlin Jensen were openly troubled about the future of their church, asking hard questions. And Jensen was uncharacteristically frank in acknowledging their concerns.

Did the leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints know that members are "leaving in droves?" a woman asked.

"We are aware," said Jensen, according to a tape recording of his unscripted remarks. "And I'm speaking of the 15 men that are above me in the hierarchy of the church. They really do know and they really care," he said.

"My own daughter," he then added, "has come to me and said, 'Dad, why didn't you ever tell me that Joseph Smith was a polygamist?'" For the younger generation, Jensen acknowledged, "Everything's out there for them to consume if they want to Google it." The manuals used to teach the young church doctrine, meanwhile, are "severely outdated."

These are tumultuous times for the faith founded by Joseph Smith in 1830, and the rumbling began even before church member Mitt Romney's presidential bid put the Latter-Day Saints in the spotlight.

Jensen, the church's official historian, would not provide any figures on the rate of defections, but he told Reuters that attrition has accelerated in the last five or 10 years, reflecting greater secularization of society. Many religions have been suffering similarly, he noted, arguing that Mormonism has never been more vibrant.

"I think we are at a time of challenge, but it isn't apocalyptic," he said.

The LDS church claims 14 million members worldwide -- optimistically including nearly every person baptized. But census data from some foreign countries targeted by clean-cut young missionaries show that the retention rate for their converts is as low as 25 percent. In the U.S., only about half of Mormons are active members of the church, said Washington State University emeritus sociologist Armand Mauss, a leading researcher on Mormons.

Sociologists estimate there are as few as 5 million active members worldwide.

In Africa and Latin America, however, Jensen said that interest in the LDS was so strong that the church has cut back baptisms in order to better care for new members.


With defections rising, the church has launched a program to staunch its losses. The head of the church, President Thomas Monson, who is considered a living prophet, has called the campaign "The Rescue" and made it his signature initiative, according to Jensen. The effort includes a new package of materials for pastors and for teaching Mormon youth that address some of the more sensitive aspects of church doctrine. "If they are not revolutionary, they are at least going to be a breath of fresh air across the church," Jensen told the Utah class.

All this comes as the public profile of America's Mormons had been raised by two pop-culture hits: the recent TV series "Big Love" and the current Broadway hit, "The Book of Mormon." The attention, says church spokesman Michael Purdy, is a "double-edged sword."

It has been an opportunity to educate the public about Mormonism and fight misconceptions. For example, the "I am a Mormon" ad campaign, which features stereotype-busting Mormons who are black or single parents, helped boost chat sessions on the church's website to more than a million in the last 12 months.

The curious find a family-focused church with socially conservative values that teaches Christian principles and believes Christ appeared to founder Joseph Smith in America, where Smith established the new religion.

Church members are satisfied with their lives, content with their communities, strongly see themselves as Christian and believe acceptance of Mormons is increasing, a recent Pew Research poll of people who describe themselves as Mormon found.

But on Broadway, the church's gospel and missionary zeal are mocked. And the Web has intensified debate over the truth of the history the church teaches.

Not since a famous troublespot in Mormon history, the 1837 failure of a church bank in Kirtland, Ohio, have so many left the church, Jensen said.

"Maybe since Kirtland, we've never had a period of - I'll call it apostasy, like we're having now," he told the group in Logan.

Then he outlined how the church was using the technologies that had loosened its grip on the flock to reverse this trend.

"The church has a very progressive research and information division, with tremendous public opinion surveyors," he said. Among other steps, it has hired an expert in search-engine optimization to raise the profile of the church's own views in a web search.

Researchers note a rising tide of questions from church members about the gospel according to Joseph Smith's The Book of Mormon, the best known of the Latter-day Saints' scriptures. Over the years, church literature has largely glossed over some of the more controversial aspects of its history, such as the polygamy practiced by Smith and Brigham Young, who lead the Mormons to Utah.

The church denied the higher priesthood to blacks until 1978 and still bars sexually active homosexuals from its temples. The church's active role in promoting California's Proposition 8, which outlawed gay marriage, drove away some its more liberal members.

Moreover, church leaders have taught that the Book of Mormon is a historical document -- not a parable -- so the faithful are startled to find articles on the internet using science to contradict it.

For example, the book describes Israelites moving in 600 BC to the Americas, where they had horses and other domesticated animals. But Spaniards introduced horses to the New World many centuries later, and extensive DNA studies have failed to find any genetic link between Israelites and Native Americans, suggesting instead that North America's indigenous population came across the Bering Strait from Asia many thousands of years ago.

"I think you can find scientific studies coming down on both sides, but the Book of Mormon doesn't live or die on scientific evidence," Jensen said.

But Christian Anderson, 41, a non-practicing Mormon in Columbia, South Carolina, for years filed away on a mental "shelf" concerns about the historical veracity of the religion's central text and its socially conservative views. "It came to a point where the shelf was too heavy," he said. He quit attending service, telling himself, "Ok, I'm done."

That's a common story to PhD student John Dehlin, who conducts conferences nationally for "unorthodox Mormons" wrestling with doubts and has a podcast, mormonstories.org.

"I think this is an epidemic for the church," said Dehlin. "Most of the people we cater to have been life-long members."

The church is particularly concerned, however, about its younger members -- the ones who are asked to dedicate two years of their life to spreading the Mormon gospel.

"It's a different generation," Elder Jensen told the group in Logan. "There's no sense kidding ourselves, we just need to be very upfront with them and tell them what we know and give answers to what we have and call on their faith like we all do for things we don't understand."


Certainly the church can change, as it did a generation ago in admitting blacks to the higher priesthood. And it has now reached out, quietly, to the gay community.

LDS support of Prop 8 became a lightning rod both inside and outside the Church. There were demonstrations in Salt Lake City, which is home to the Mormon tabernacle but was also just named the "the gayest city in America" by the Advocate magazine, crediting its numerous gay-friendly bars, book stores and neighbourhoods. In the wake of the Prop 8 battle, Brandie Balken, executive director of gay rights group Equality Utah, was one of five gay advocates who met with three LDS officials to ease tensions.

What was supposed to be a half hour or hour meeting stretched to two hours. Participants took turns describing their background. Balken talked about her love of gardening -- and the pain infusing the family of her wife, who was the only gay child in a big LDS family.

Most of the church members present said they weren't aware of anyone they knew being gay, but they had heard from parents whose gay children were no longer speaking to them and who felt caught between their religion and their family.

There was no immediate agreement. But the Church did in 2009 support a job and housing anti-discrimination measure in Salt Lake City, saying that opposing discrimination was a separate issue from same-sex marriage. Now Utah Democratic Senator Ben McAdams and Republican Representative Derek Brown are proposing a similar statewide bill, and the Church's position on that will be significant.

I have never ever been associated with an organization that changes as fast as the Mormon church," said former church researcher Ray Briscoe, 79, whose investigations helped spur movement on issues such as the treatment of blacks.

"I don't think God was ever against blacks in the priesthood. We just had to grow up enough to accept it," he said. As for gays -- "it will get there, in my judgment."


This crisis of faith in the LDS church remains largely offstage in the race for the presidency. Mitt Romney's religion has been less of a prominent issue on the campaign trail this time around than in 2008.

Still, in heavily evangelical South Carolina, Romney won only one-tenth of the vote among those who said a candidate's religious beliefs mattered to them a great deal.

Many evangelicals say they do not consider the LDS church to be Christian.

And to some voters, Mormonism remains a complete enigma. During the South Carolina primary, one Mormon woman there said an acquaintance was surprised to see her driving a car, confusing Mormons with the Amish.

Individual Mormons are encouraged to participate in public life, including running for office and supporting candidates, but the church officially stays out of electoral politics. It won't allow its property to be used for polling, unlike many other churches, and has been careful not to run the "I am a Mormon" ads in early primary states.

But that's not to say church leadership isn't watching Romney's campaign with interest.

"There have been discussions at LDS church headquarters about both the positive and negative aspects of Romney's presidential bid," a person briefed on the talks said. "One concern is that Romney's campaign could further energize evangelical antipathy toward the church. Another concern is that he could take positions that would complicate the church's missionary efforts in the U.S. or other countries such as in Central and South America."

But on the positive side, the person said, "having a Mormon president could raise the church's profile and legitimize it in other countries."

(Reporting By P e t e r   H e n d e r s o n  and   K r i s t i n a   C o o k e,  editing by L e e   A i t k e n)
Source:  REUTERS

The Moscow Times:  Superstition Hot Line to Open
07 February 2012    The Moscow Times

The Russian Orthodox Church is planning to open a hot line later this month to help fight "superstition" and promote the practice of confession instead, RIA-Novosti reported.

The phone line will allow people interested in religion to get clear answers from an operator about the practices of the church and reasons to attend services. Operators will have a higher theological education.

In a statement, the church said the program is designed to help believers who "found themselves under the influence of destructive cults and sects."

"People come to church and cannot always get a full answer to their questions because the priest may be busy or absent," missionary priest Dmitry Berezin told RIA-Novosti. "We want people to be able to get to a clear response with no superstition, which arises as a result of ignorance."

The service will be available to the faithful in Moscow and the surrounding region and will soon be expanded nationwide, the news agency reported.

"The trial run of the project will begin in Moscow and the Moscow region to better understand its strengths and weaknesses," Berezin said. "In the future we plan to launch it at the national level."

Scientology officer Debbie Cook testifies she was put in "The Hole,'' abused for weeks

Tampa Bay Times    By J o e   C h i l d s and T h o m a s   C.  T o b i n    February 10, 2012

SAN ANTONIO, Texas — Scientology executive Debbie Cook was on the phone with church leader David Miscavige when she heard someone pounding at her office door at a church compound in California.

Not wanting to hang up on her angry boss, who was complaining about her performance, she didn't answer the knocks. The pounding stopped, but someone was prying open her office window. Two male church employees crawled in.

"Are they there?" Miscavige asked.

Yes, Cook answered.

"Goodbye," the church leader said.

The men took Cook away to a place called the "The Hole," two doublewide trailers on the church's 500-acre California compound where, other high-ranking church defectors have told the Tampa Bay Times, Miscavige sent underperforming executives. The windows were covered with bars, and security guards controlled the only exit, Cook said.

Cook said she was held there seven weeks with more than 100 other Scientology executives. They spent their nights in sleeping bags on ant-infested floors, ate a soupy "slop" of reheated leftovers and screamed at each other in confessionals that often turned violent. For two weeks, she said, Miscavige had the electricity turned off as daytime temperatures in the desert east of Los Angeles topped 100 degrees.

Cook testified Thursday that the experience in the summer of 2007 gave her nightmares and was part of the reason she was so eager to leave the Scientology staff later that year and sign a severance agreement never to speak ill of the church.

"I would have signed that I stabbed babies over and over again and loved it. I would have done anything basically at that point," she said during several hours of sworn testimony in San Antonio district court.

The church is suing Cook and her husband for violating the terms of the agreement when she sent a New Year's Eve email urging fellow Scientologists to help reform the church's fundraising tactics and other practices.

Thursday night, church spokeswoman Karin Pouw said Cook's testimony is false. Cook voluntarily entered into the agreement, Pouw said, and "now clearly is bitter and is falsely vilifying the religion she was once a part of."

The church and Cook agreed to certain obligations, Pouw said. "Miss Cook and her husband have breached that agreement. The defendants and their lawyer are trying to divert the court with false claims and wild tales."

Church lawyer George H. Spencer Jr. said Cook's testimony was irrelevant and argued that regardless whether her statements were true, she ratified the contract by accepting $50,000.

"This is a straightforward contract case," he argued before District Judge Martha Tanner. Testimony continues today.

Cook's attorney, Ray Jeffrey, argued the duress she suffered in the years and months before signing the agreement rendered the document unenforceable.

Cook's testimony took listeners through an extraordinary tale: from the church's "Hole" in the California desert, to the Clearwater campus that is home to Scientology's spiritual mecca, to her escape in 2007 that ended when a church team tracked her to a South Carolina restaurant and boxed in her car in the parking lot.

Once the respected head of the Clearwater operation and known to Scientologists worldwide, Cook said she was "basically imprisoned" in Clearwater during her final months with the church.

She said she was confined to the church's Hacienda Gardens residential compound on Saturn Avenue, prevented from leaving by guards, gates, high fences, motion detectors and security cameras. At work in Scientology's downtown buildings, she said, she was followed during her daily routine by a church official assigned to make sure she didn't escape; she was even followed into the restroom.

Through the years, Cook said, she witnessed physical attacks and mental abuse on church executives by Miscavige or by those acting on the leader's orders.

She described a 12-hour ordeal at the California base where she was made to stand in a trash can while fellow executives poured water over her, screamed at her and said she was a lesbian.

She said she saw Miscavige attack church executive Marc Yager, punching him in the face and wrestling him to the ground. She also recounted how church executive Mark Ginge Nelson was punished for objecting to violence he saw in "The Hole."

Cook said she saw Nelson taken to another room, where he was beaten by a Miscavige assistant and two other men for two hours. She said Nelson also was made to lick a bathroom floor for at least 30 minutes.

Cook said Miscavige once ordered his secretary to slap her, and she fell over into some chairs. She said he also ordered his communication officer to break her finger. The officer bent it back, she said, but did not break it.

Another time, she said, Miscavige marched around a large conference table looking as if he wanted to choke her but ended up grabbing her shoulders and yelling at her.

In May 2007, Cook got a reprieve from "The Hole" when she was summoned back to Clearwater to help Miscavige prepare for a major church event that would attract 2,000 Scientologists to Ruth Eckerd Hall. She worked there several more weeks, rejoining her husband, church staffer Wayne Baumgarten, but not telling him what happened in "The Hole." She said it would have been "very treasonous" to say anything.

Later that summer, Cook said she and her husband said they had had enough. One morning, a church staffer drove them to the church dining hall in downtown Clearwater and went inside to get them some breakfast. Cook jumped into the driver's seat, drove to a rental car company and left the church vehicle in the lot.

In a rental car, the couple drove to see Cook's father in North Carolina but were intercepted and persuaded to return to Clearwater to properly separate from the church staff. If they didn't go along, she said, a church official said her husband's Scientology relatives would sever all contact with him.

Cook said they were told the process would take a couple of days. But after three grueling weeks, Cook told her guards that she had called her mother and told her to call Clearwater police if she wasn't released in three days. She also conveyed in a letter that "if that didn't work I would take whatever steps necessary, like slitting my wrists."

The church's legal team sought to counter Cook's duress argument by showing a video of Cook initialing the contract, agreeing with a church attorney that the church had helped her and accepting a $50,000 check that was later deposited in her account. She agreed she was under no pressure to sign. She also acknowledged she had criticized church leadership and disclosed information she knew about the church and its staff.

Scientology hearing ends abruptly

San Antonio Express     By J o h n   M a c C o r m a c k     February 10, 2012

A legal battle between the Church of Scientology and a former top church official that has included accounts of abuse and harsh treatment ended abruptly Friday.

“We have elected to withdraw our request for an injunction at this time,” Scientology lawyer George Spencer Jr. told Judge Martha Tanner. “Going forward in the case this way will prevent the defendant from using the court as a pulpit for false statements.”;

And while Spencer expressed confidence that his client would prevail by filing for a summary judgment before trial, it was also clear that the church's legal strategy of suing Cook had backfired badly.

Her sworn testimony Thursday included lurid accounts of beatings, confinement and forced confessions under the alleged direction of longtime church leader David Miscavige.

It was clear from Spencer's remarks to the judge that the church wanted to avoid more bad publicity.

Cook, 50, spent 29 years with the church, rising to become its top official in Clearwater, Fla., the church's spiritual headquarters, before leaving under adverse circumstances in 2007.

According to a church spokeperson, she was treated with dignity and respect, until she was expelled in 2007, and has since become a heretic spreading lies and false stories.

Her account from the stand Thursday was somewhat different.

Her testimony also included accounts of being confined against her will by church officials on at least three occasions, including a horrific seven-week stint in “The Hole,” where church leaders were sent after falling out of favor.

After a later confinement, she testified that she was finally allowed to leave after threatening to commit suicide or bring in the police. Church officials had her and her husband, Wayne Baumgarten, sign extensive non-disclosure agreements.

Each was also given $50,000, which the church argued made the agreements binding.

Her lawyer, Ray Jeffrey, argued Thursday that the contracts were non-binding because they were imposed under “extreme duress.”;

Soon after, the pair moved to San Antonio, and for the next five years, they kept a low profile. That ended in late December when they sent out a lengthy email to several thousand Scientologists that was mildly critical of church leadership.

Claiming she had broken the contract and disparaged the church, the church responded by suing her in Bexar County, seeking at least $300,000 and enforcement of the non-disclosure contract.

The church also obtained a temporary restraining order, prohibiting them from talking about the suit or about Scientology, and that was the matter being heard this week by Tanner.

When the hearing ended Friday, Spencer declined to comment.

Jeffrey, however, who had been expected to put witnesses hostile to the church on the stand, declared the outcome “a victory.”;

“I'm exhausted but I feel good about it. We've won,” he said, declining further comment.

Yvonne Schick, 63, of Austin, a former church member watching the proceedings, said she was not surprised by the church's decision to end the proceeding.

“They miscalculated by letting things get to the point where Debbie Cook got on the stand and testified, although I don't know that it could have gotten any worse than it was yesterday,” she said.

“Because of how well-known and respected she was by people inside the church, this will be bad for morale and cause more people to exit,” she said.

Steve Hall, another former church member, who was also involved with the elite Sea Org group, agreed that the church had blundered by bringing suit against Cook and Baumgarten.

“I was a friend of Debbie Cook and still am. And I worked for David Miscavige for a long time,” said Hall, who maintains a website highly critical of the church.

Hall said he left the church in 2004 because he was disturbed by the rising levels of abuse and violence.

“I saw David Miscavige physically attack people on four occasions, and others where he ordered people beaten,” he said.

And he said, the church leader probably reacted badly at how the hearing had gone Thursday.

“Knowing David Miscavige, there was a spectacular meltdown yesterday. I bet he went berserk,” he said.
Source:  mySanAantonio.com

Judge Throws Out Charge For Harassing Atheist Calling Victim A Doofus

Ernie Perce, an atheist marched as a zombie Mohammad in the Mechanicsburg Halloween parade. Then Talaag Elbayomy, a Muslim stepped off a curb and reportedly attacked Perce for insulting the Prophet. Then Judge Mark Martin threw out the criminal charges against Elbayomy and ridiculed the victim, Perce. The Judge identifies himself as a Muslim and says that Perce conduct is not what the First Amendment is supposed to protect. [UPDATE: The judge says he is not a Muslim despite what is heard by most listeners on the tape. That being the case, the criticism of the comments remains.]

Bystander screams
"We're in America!"

Perce is the American Atheists’ Pennsylvania State Director and marched with other atheists, including one dressed as a creepy Pope. Here is the tape of the incident:

Perce says that Elbayomy grabbed him and tried to take his sign. Elbayomy was at the parade with his wife and children and said that he felt he had to act in the face of the insult. The officer at the scene, Sgt. Brian Curtis, correctly concluded that Perce was engaged in a lawful, first amendment activity. He therefore charged Elbayomy. While it looks like an assault, he was only charged with harassment.

The case, however, then went to District Judge Mark Martin who not only threw out the charge of harassment but ridiculed Perce as a “doofus.” He also proceeds to not only give an account of his own feelings (and say that he was offended personally by Perce’s action) but suggests that Elbayomy was just protecting his “culture.” The judge not only points to the Koran in the courtroom but his time in Muslim countries as relevant to his deliberations. Putting aside the problem of ruling in a case where you admit you have strong personal feelings, the lecture given on the first amendment is perfectly grotesque from a civil liberties perspective.

Here is part of the hearing transcript:

"Well, having had the benefit of having spent over two-and-a-half years in predominantly Muslim countries, I think I know a little bit about the faith of Islam. In fact, I have a copy of the Quran here, and I would challenge you, Sir, to show me where it says in the Quran that Muhammad arose and walked among the dead. I think you misinterpreted a couple of things. So before you start mocking somebody else’s religion, you might want to find out a little more about it. It kind of makes you look like a doofus. …

In many other Muslim-speaking countries, err, excuse me, many Arabic-speaking countries, predominantly Muslim, something like this is definitely against the law there, in their society. In fact, it could be punished by death, and frequently is, in their society.

Here in our society, we have a Constitution that gives us many rights, specifically First Amendment rights.
It’s unfortunate that some people use the First Amendment to deliberately provoke others. I don’t think that’s what our forefathers intended. I think our forefathers intended to use the First Amendment so we can speak with our mind, not to piss off other people and cultures – which is what you did.

I don’t think you’re aware, Sir, there’s a big difference between how Americans practice Christianity – I understand you’re an atheist – but see Islam is not just a religion. It’s their culture, their culture, their very essence, their very being. They pray five times a day toward Mecca. To be a good Muslim before you die, you have to make a pilgrimage to Mecca, unless you’re otherwise told you cannot because you’re too ill, too elderly, whatever, but you must make the attempt. Their greeting is ‘Salam alaikum, wa-laikum as-Salam,’ uh, ‘May God be with you.’

Whenever it is very common, their language, when they’re speaking to each other, it’s very common for them to say, uh, Allah willing, this will happen. It’s, they’re so immersed in it. And what you’ve done is, you’ve completely trashed their essence, their being. They find it very, very, very offensive. I’m a Muslim. I find it offensive. I find what’s on the other side of this [sign] very offensive. But you have that right, but you are way outside your bounds of First Amendment rights. …

I’ve spent about seven years living in other countries. When we go to other countries, it’s not uncommon for people to refer to us as ‘ugly Americans.’ This is why we hear it referred to as ‘ugly Americans,’ because we’re so concerned about our own rights, we don’t care about other people’s rights. As long as we get our say, but we don’t care about the other people’s say."

The judge’s distorted view of the first amendment was magnified by Elbayomy’s counsel, R. Mark Thomas who called this lecture “a good dressing down by the judge. The so-called victim was the antagonist and we introduced evidence that clearly showed his attitude toward Muslims. The judge didn’t do anything I wouldn’t have done if I was in that position.”

I fail to see the relevance of the victim’s attitude toward Muslims or religion generally. He had a protected right to walk in the parade and not be assaulted for his views. While the judge laments that “[i]t’s unfortunate that some people use the First Amendment to deliberately provoke others,” that is precisely what the Framers had in mind if Thomas Paine is any measure.

Notably, reports indicate that Elbayomy called police because he thought it was a crime to be disrespectful to Muhammed. The judge appears to reference this by noting that in some countries you can be put to death for such an offense. Those countries are called oppressive countries. This is a free country where it is not a crime to insult someone’s religion — despite a counter-trend in some Western countries.

I also do not see how the judge believes that he has the authority to tell a religious critic that “before you start mocking somebody else’s religion, you might want to find out a little more about it.” Let alone call a person a “doofus” because he opposes religion.

To make matters worse, the judge is reportedly threatening Perce with contempt for posting the audio of the hearing.

The reference to the cultural motivations for assaulting Perce seems to raise a type of cultural defense. I have spent years discussing this issue with state and federal judges on the proper role of culture in criminal and civil cases. This is not a case where I would view that defense as properly raised. There are certainly constitutional (and yes cultural) norms that must be accepted when joining this Republic. One is a commitment to free speech. If culture could trump free speech, the country would become the amalgamation of all extrinsic cultures — protecting no one by protecting everyone’s impulses. Those countries referenced by the court took a different path — a path away from civil liberties and toward religious orthodoxy. It is a poor example to raise except as an example of what we are not. The fact that this man may have formed his views in such an oppressive environment does not excuse his forcing others to adhere to his religious sentiments.

Martin’s comments also heighten concerns over the growing trend toward criminalizing anti-religious speech in the use of such standards as the Brandenburg test, a position supported by the Obama Administration.

There are legitimate uses of the culture defense. However, when it comes to free speech, that is not just our controlling constitutional right but the touchstone of our culture.

I can understand the judge’s claims of conflicting testimony on the crime –though it seems to be that the officer’s testimony and the tape would resolve those doubts. However, I view this as an extremely troubling case that raises serious questions of judicial temperament, if not misconduct.

Source: JonathanTurley.org

US Supreme Court declines to hear ex-Idaho school's case
By J E S S I E L. B O N N E R, Associated Press    Mar 26, 2012

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — A defunct Idaho charter school exhausted its appeals Monday in a legal battle with state officials who barred the use of the Bible and other religious texts as a historical teaching tool in the classroom.

The U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear Nampa Classical Academy's federal lawsuit. The Alliance Defense Fund, an Arizona-based group representing the school's founders, expressed disappointed with the decision.

"When government officials ban the objective study of all religiously-themed texts — like the Bible, the Iliad, and the Odyssey — it does nothing but dumb-down public education," said senior counsel David Cortman.

He called the decision "regrettable" particularly given the high court's previous ruling on the issue.

The Supreme Court banned ceremonial school Bible readings in a 1963 ruling but said "the Bible is worthy of study for its literary and historic qualities" so long as material is "presented objectively as part of a secular program of education."

That opinion found the Bible may constitutionally be used in an appropriate study of history, civilization, ethics, comparative religion, Cortman said.

"We trust the court will reaffirm that conclusion in the future," Cortman said.

Public schools nationwide have traditionally avoided Bible courses — and the potential controversy surrounding them — but hundreds do offer voluntary classes.

In Idaho, the founders of Nampa Classical Academy tangled with state officials over the use of the Bible and other religious texts shortly after opening in August 2009 with more than 500 students.

The academy filed a federal lawsuit against Idaho officials in 2009. That was after the Idaho Public Charter School Commission adopted a state deputy attorney general opinion that found the state constitution "expressly" limits use of religious texts.

The academy has argued that the practice goes unchecked elsewhere in Idaho.

U.S. District Judge Edward Lodge dismissed the lawsuit in May 2010, determining the state's ban on religious texts didn't violate the school's rights. The charter school commission closed the academy a month later citing troubled finances, thought officials pressed on with their lawsuit.

The academy challenged Lodge's ruling in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, where a three judge panel upheld the lower court decision. The Alliance Defense Fund petitioned the Supreme Court to hear the case in December.

The high court did not give a reason when declining to hear the case.

Source: http://www.kboi2.com/news/local/US-Supreme-Court-Nampa-Classical-Academy-Bible-Case-144260945.html?m=y&smobile=y

State of Utah pays nearly $400,000 to settle UHP crosses case
By C h r i s   V a n o c u r
   Link    Utah Atheist Groups Pressure City over Christian Concert (.pdf)

SALT LAKE CITY (ABC 4 News) - The seven year court battle over those controversial UHP crosses is now officially over.

It ended this week with the state paying nearly $400,000 dollars to take care of someone else’s legal costs.

In the beginning, there was a lawsuit.

Brought by atheists, it claimed UHP crosses honoring fallen troopers violated the separation of church and state.


And in the seventh year, it was finally settled.

I N   M E M O R I A M
1945 - 2012

Brian Barnard represented atheists   and  polygamists, panhandlers and prisoners.

  Link:   Utah pays ~ $400,000 to Brian Barnard to Settle UHP Crosses Case

The attorney for the atheists, Brian Barnard, told ABC 4,

"From the beginning, it was apparent that these crosses were unconstitutional."

While Barnard is happy the state has now paid his legal costs, he also says the whole lawsuit - and the costly payout - could have been avoided,

"The state and the Highway Patrol Association would not engage in any kind of a discussion to solve the problem."

But ABC 4 News has also learned that the actual cost of this lawsuit is more than what is on the check.

For starters, Barnard says, the check is supposed to be for $388,050 dollars and not the $380,050 thousand it’s made out for.

And, as Barnard reminded us, that's just to pay his legal bill,

"Not only were there attorney fees incurred by the plaintiffs, there were attorneys fees incurred by
the defense attorneys, that's time spent by the attorney general's office."

In other words, there was time and effort spent by state lawyers in what turned out to be a losing battle.

Barnard wonders if taxpayer money could have been better spent elsewhere,

"All of that could have been avoided simply by moving the crosses."

ABC 4 is told the nearly $400,000 dollars from the state comes from Utah taxpayers and was not covered by insurance.

Source: abc4.com/content/news/


Founder of Utah chapter of American Atheists in 1979,
National Board Member; Utah's
co-Director and
Director until 5/2012.

   Utah Atheist Leader Retires After 33 Years
 by J e s s i c a   G a i l     05-11-2012       KCPW.org/
(KCPW News) To believe or not to believe? Today, more Utahns are choosing life without religion. KCPW’s Jessica Gail takes a look at the state’s growing community of active atheists, and what’s made it easier for some to take the “leap of faith” away from faith.

   Listen          Source: KSPW.org/blog/

 When Utah lost its legal battle to keep its cross memorials for highway patrol troopers, the taxpayers got stuck for $388,050, despite "free" legal help from the Liberty Institute, ACLJ, Becket Fund, and others. See above. A parade of religious right organizations and politicians supported the cross case, but the Supreme Court said no. Utah removed the crosses.

~ Chris Allen
Schulenburg, Texas

A Year After the Non-Apocalypse: Where Are They Now?
A reporter tracks down the remnants of Harold Camping’s apocalyptic movement and finds out you don’t have to be crazy to believe something nuts.

By T O M   B A R T L E T T           May 18, 2012

For a while, their message was everywhere. They paid for billboards, took out full-page ads in newspapers, distributed thousands of tracts. They drove across the county in RVs emblazoned with verses from the books of Revelation and Daniel. They marched around Manhattan holding signs. They broadcasted day and night on their network of radio stations. They warned the world.


Camping first falsely
predicted that the
world would end
on Sept. 6, 1994,
then again on
May 21, 2011, and
finally on Oct. 21

That warning turned out to be a false alarm. No giant earthquake rippled across the surface of the earth, nor were any believers caught up in the clouds. Harold Camping, the octogenarian whose nightly Bible call-in show fomented doomsday mania, suffered a stroke soon afterward and mostly disappeared from sight. The press coverage, which had been intense in the weeks leading up to May 21, 2011, dwindled to nothing. The story, as far as most people were concerned, was over.

But I wanted to know what happens next. If you’re absolutely sure the world is going to end on a specific day, and it doesn’t, what do you do? How do you explain it to yourself? What happens to your faith in God? Can you just scrape the bumper stickers off your car, throw away the t-shirts, and move on?

In order to find out, I got to know a dozen or so believers prior to the scheduled apocalypse. I sat at their kitchen tables, attended their meetings, tagged along on trips to Wal-Mart, ate pizza in their hotel rooms, spent hours with them on the phone. Then, after Jesus was a no-show, I stayed in contact with them—the ones who would talk to me, anyway—over the following days and months, checking back in to see how or if their thinking had changed.

Tom Bartlett
Tom Bartlett is a science
reporter for the Chronicle
of Higher Education.
His articles have appeared
in the Washington Post, the
New York Times,
Utne Reader, Slate,
and others.


I learned a lot about the seductive power of radical belief, the inscrutable vagaries of biblical interpretation, and how our minds can shape reality to fit a narrative. I also learned that you don’t have to be nuts to believe something crazy.

“I Can’t Afford to Doubt”

On the night of October 22, 1844, they huddled in a barn in Port Gibson, New York. They stood by the graves of their departed loved ones in Sugar Hill, New Hampshire. In Cincinnati, Ohio, 2,000 of them walked through downtown and climbed a hill to a park overlooking the city. Inside homes, on rooftops, in fields, alone or en masse, they waited for God.

These were devotees of William Miller, the prosperous farmer turned self-taught biblical scholar. It’s impossible to know for sure how many people he persuaded that the world was ending; estimates range from 50,000 to one million. Anyone who read a newspaper at the time would have been familiar with Miller’s prognostications. Along with those who identified publicly as Millerites, there must have been many more who privately took his warnings to heart.

More than a century later, a young social psychologist named Leon Festinger took an interest in the Millerites. What intrigued Festinger was why the failure of Miller’s multiple prophecies had done little to discourage the faithful. Miller had predicted the end of the world more than once. The end of the world hadn’t come. Shouldn’t that have been enough? Festinger wrote the following in his 1956 classic, When Prophecy Fails: “Although there is a limit beyond which belief will not withstand disconfirmation, it is clear that the introduction of contrary evidence can serve to increase the conviction and enthusiasm of a believer.”

When the world failed to end, they clung more tightly to their belief. Rather than folding, they doubled down.

Festinger wanted to understand this phenomenon. The Millerites were long gone so instead he focused on Dorothy Martin, a suburban homemaker who believed that she was able to communicate telepathically with superior beings from the planet Clarion. They told her things and she wrote down what they said. One thing they told her was that a giant flood was going to submerge North America but, before it did, Martin and a handful of acolytes would be rescued by a flying saucer.

Dorothy Martin wasn’t exactly William Miller but she would do in a pinch. Festinger and his fellow researchers went undercover, posing as believers to gain the trust of Martin and company. What emerged from Festinger’s research was the concept of cognitive dissonance—the stress created when a person holds two contradictory ideas simultaneously. Even when reality clearly failed to line up with belief, Martin continued to believe, as did some (though notably not all) of her followers. One of those followers explained it this way: “I turned my back on the world. I can’t afford to doubt.”

A Perfect Puzzle

May 21 believers couldn’t afford to doubt either. Whenever I met one, I would ask: Is there any chance you might be wrong? Could someone have miscalculated, misunderstood a verse, botched a symbol? Just maybe?

I asked this question of a believer in his mid-twenties. He started listening to Harold Camping’s radio show in college and immediately went out, bought a Bible, and immersed himself in it. After graduation, he took a job as an engineer at a Fortune 500 company; a job he loved and a job he quit because he thought the world was ending. He wrote the following in his resignation letter: “With less than three months to the day of Christ’s return, I desire to spend more time studying the Bible and sounding the trumpet warning of this imminent judgment.”

He would not entertain the possibility, even hypothetically, that the date could be off. “This isn’t a prediction because a prediction has a potential for failure,” he told me.

“Even if it’s 99.9 percent, that extra .1 percent makes it not certain. It’s like the weather. If it’s 60 percent, it may or may not rain. But in this case we’re saying 100 percent it will come. God with a consuming fire is coming to bring judgment and destroy the world.”

I encountered this same certainty again and again. When I asked how they could be so sure, the answers were fuzzy. It wasn’t any one particular verse or chapter but rather the evidence as a whole. Some believers compared it to a puzzle. At first the pieces are spread out on a table, just shards of color, fragments of meaning. Then you assemble, piece by piece, finding a corner here, a connection there, until you begin to make out a portion of the picture, a glimpse of the scene. Finally, you only have a few pieces left and it’s obvious where they go.

A psychologist might call this confirmation bias, that is, the tendency to accept only evidence that confirms what you already believe, to search for pieces that fit your puzzle. We’re all guilty of it at times. But that label doesn’t fully explain the willingness to suspend disbelief: Believers selectively accepted evidence that caused them to quit their jobs, alienate friends and family, and stand on street corners absorbing abuse from passers-by. There is something else going on.

It’s been noted by scholars who study apocalyptic groups that believers tend to have analytical mindsets. They’re often good at math. I met several engineers, along with a mathematics major and two financial planners. These are people adept at identifying patterns in sets of data, and the methods they used to identify patterns in the Bible were frequently impressive, even brilliant. Finding unexpected connections between verses, what believers call comparing scripture with scripture, was a way to become known in the group. The essays they wrote explaining these links could be stunningly intricate.

That intricacy was part of the appeal. The arguments were so complex that they were impossible to summarize and therefore very challenging to refute. As one longtime believer, an accountant, told me: “Based on everything we know, and when you look at the timelines, you look at the evidence—these aren’t the kind of things that just happen. They correlate too strongly for it not to be important.” The puzzle was too perfect. It couldn’t be wrong.

Not that believers didn’t have their doubts in the beginning. Everyone I talked to assured me that they, too, weren’t sure at first. But after a certain point, maybe without consciously realizing it, they made a decision to abandon those doubts, to choose to believe. A young mother tried to help me understand the evidence before throwing up her hands. “It’s about the believers and the unbelievers, you know?” she said.

“They’ve been around forever and as much as we’re positive, there are going to be people who are going to question it because they don’t believe, if you know what I mean? If you believed it you’d be as sure as I am.”

“God’s Not Going to Let Us Down”

Some believers stayed up all night. They watched TV or sat in front of their computers, hitting refresh on their browsers, confident that reports of a massive earthquake originating near New Zealand would soon appear. Other believers went to sleep, assuming that they would awaken in the presence of the almighty.

When the sun rose on May 21, they were taken aback. Maybe it would happen at noon. When noon passed, they settled on 6 p.m. When that came and went, some thought it might happen at midnight. Or perhaps it wouldn’t happen until May 21 was over everywhere on the planet. “It will still be May 21st in American Samoa (last time zone before the International Date Line),” someone posted on Latter Rain, an online forum for believers.

By Sunday morning, new theories were floated. “It was God’s plan to warn people. It was His purpose to hide the true meaning behind May 21. It’s about us suffering what He went through,” a believer commented. One hypothesis had it that three days would elapse before the actual rapture, just like the three days between Jesus’s crucifixion and resurrection. Someone else wondered if it might be seven days considering that seven is a holy number, or forty, the same amount of time Noah was forced to sail around with a boatload of animals.

When those deadlines passed, another narrative took shape. What happened was a test. God knew that believers would be mocked when He failed to return on the assigned date. Would believers hold firm or would they allow the jeers of the world to weaken their resolve? The Lord was separating the wheat from the chaff, they liked to say, paraphrasing Matthew 3:12. It helped that Camping, before he vanished from the airwaves, had seemed to endorse this view.

When a prophecy fails, it’s crucial that a group’s leaders provide an alternate explanation of what happened, or what didn’t happen, according to Lorne Dawson, a professor of sociology at the University of Waterloo, who has studied apocalyptic sects. “The followers of the group are so heavily invested that they have tremendous incentive to accept these rationalizations,” he said. But the revised story needs to be issued rapidly—wait too long and your followers will fall away.

The conversation shifted from why there was no earthquake on May 21 to whether the “door to salvation” was now closed. Rather than believers getting called up, as they expected, perhaps non-believers had been shut out, forced to continue on minus any hope of eternal life. The proofs for this were elaborate and hard to follow, much like the proofs for May 21, and constructing them provided a much-needed outlet for the intellectual energy of the more studious believers.

Now that there was no possibility of salvation, there was no obligation to spread the message. Indeed, there was nothing to do except wait patiently for October 21 when the earth would be divinely incinerated.

As it turns out, believers had insisted for years that the earthquake and the rapture would take place on May 21—but the world wouldn’t be destroyed by fire for another five months. This wasn’t a new date. They knew all along that October 21 was significant. Believers concluded it was God’s merciful nature that had spared the unsaved the terror and torment of an earthquake. “If we have to endure til October 21, I’ll prayerfully do it with a merry heart,” a believer wrote online.

While there were no public displays in the lead up to October 21, there were powerful private emotions. “Of course I’ll be disappointed if it doesn’t happen,” a believer who had helped organize the RV caravans prior to May 21 told me. “But I feel like God’s not going to let us down.”

A father of three boys who works in the financial industry told me he was fairly sure this would be the end. Not a hundred percent, but close. After May 21, his faith was so shaken that he apologized on Facebook to the friends he had tried to convert. But as October 21 drew closer, he found himself wanting to believe again. “I’ve been convinced for 10 years that this would be it,” he said. “I think it will be the end of everything.”

Another engineer I came to know had spent most of his retirement savings, well over a half-million dollars, taking out full-page newspaper ads and buying an RV that he had custom-painted with doomsday warnings. Even when I pressed, he wasn’t willing to admit any doubts about whether October 21 would really, finally, be it. “How can you say that when you see that all this beautiful information is in the Bible?” he asked me, his voice rising. “How can everything we’ve learned be a lie?”

“I Was Part of a Cult”

What happened after May 21 matches up fairly closely with what scholars of apocalyptic groups would expect. The so-called disconfirmation was not enough to undermine the faith of many believers. From what I can tell, those who had less invested in the prophecy were more likely to simply give up and return to normal life. Meanwhile, those who had risked almost everything seemed determined to reframe the prophecy, to search the scriptures, to hang on to the hope that the end might be nigh.

I was struck by how some believers edited the past in order to avoid acknowledging that they had been mistaken. The engineer in his mid-twenties, the one who told me this was a prophecy rather than a prediction, maintained that he had never claimed to be certain about May 21. When I read him the transcript of our previous interview, he seemed genuinely surprised that those words had come out of his mouth. It was as if we were discussing a dream he couldn’t quite remember.

Other believers had no trouble recalling what they now viewed as an enormous embarrassment. Once October came and went without incident, the father of three was finished. “After October 22, I said ‘You know what? I think I was part of a cult,’” he told me. His main concern was how his sons, who were old enough to understand what was going on, would deal with everything: “My wife and I joke that when my kids get older they’re going to say that we’re the crazy parents who believed the world was going to end.”

In the beginning, I was curious how believers would react, as if they were mice in a maze. But as time went on I grew to like and sympathize with many of them. This failed prophecy caused real harm, financially and emotionally. What was a curiosity for the rest of us was, for them, traumatic. And it’s important to remember that mainstream Christians also believe that God’s son will play a return engagement, beam up his bona fide followers, and leave the wretched remainder to suffer unspeakable torment. They’re just not sure when.

Among those I came to know and like was a gifted young musician. Because he was convinced the world was ending, he had abandoned music, quit his job, and essentially put his life on hold for four years. It had cost him friends and created a rift between some members of his family. He couldn’t have been more committed.

In a recent email, he wrote that he had “definitely lost an incredible amount of faith” and hadn’t touched his Bible in months. These days he’s not sure what or whether to believe. “It makes me wonder just how malleable our minds can be. It all seemed so real, like it made so much sense, but it wasn’t right,” he wrote. “It leaves a lot to think about.”

Source: religiondispatches.org

How Critical Thinkers Lose Their Faith in God

Faith and intuition are intimately related
In one activity, Gervais and Norenzayan gave participants
sets of five randomly arranged words (such as "high winds
the flies plane") and asked them to drop one word and rearrange
the others to construct a more meaningful sentence
(such as "the plane flies high"). Those participants who
unscrambled sentences that contained words related to
analytical thinking (such as "reason" or "ponder") were less
likely to express agreement with the statement that God
exists. People's prior belief in whether God exists, as measured
several weeks before the study took place, was found to be
unrelated to the results.

In another experiment, the investigators used an even
more subtle way of activating analytic thinking: by having
participants fill out a survey measuring their religious beliefs
that was printed either in a clear font or in one that was
difficult to read. Prior research has shown that a difficult-to-read
font promotes analytic thinking by forcing volunteers to
slow down and deliberate more carefully about the meaning
of what they are reading. The researchers found that participants
who completed a survey that was printed in an unclear
font expressed less belief as compared with those who filled
out the same survey in the clear font.

These studies demonstrate yet another way in which our
thinking tendencies, many of which may be innate, have contributed
to religious faith. It may also help explain why the
vast majority of Americans tend to believe in God. Because
system 2 thinking requires effort, most of us tend to rely
on our system 1 thinking processes whenever possible.
-- D a i s y G r e w a l  (Scientific American)

Link    Utah Atheist Groups Pressure City over Christian Concert (.pdf)
By   L i s a   S c h e n c k e r    Jul 20, 2012

A Wisconsin-based atheist and agnostic organization has jumped into the debate over a Christian concert planned for next week in Draper.

A lawyer with the Freedom From Religion Foundation sent a letter to Draper Mayor Darrell Smith on Friday urging him to "cease using Draper City resources and taxpayer funds to plan, organize and promote a religious concert."

The foundation promotes separation of church and state and its membership consists of "atheists, agnostics and skeptics," according to its website.

Attorney Andrew Seidel didn't threaten any legal action in the letter but requested "a response in writing about what steps you are taking to ensure constitutional dictates are being followed." The letter also asks that the Mayor's Office disassociate itself from "hosting, organizing or otherwise coordinating religious events in the future."

City spokeswoman Maridene Hancock declined Friday to comment on the letter, noting that city officials have been busy with the annual Draper Days.

Contemporary Christian music star Michael W. Smith says that the atheists lawsuit threat



Initially, the Draper city council backtracked and decided to cancel the event due to Ouzts' concerns. However, they reconsidered after several complaints were leveled by people planning to attend the Smith concert

Controversy erupted over the concert, a performance by Christian artist Michael W. Smith planned for July 24 at the Draper Amphitheater, after resident Todd Ouzts threatened to sue the city over the event. In response to that threat, the Draper City Council decided Tuesday night to cancel the show.

That decision drew outrage from a Utah evangelical group, which said calling off the show amounted to an assault on religious freedom.

The council then reversed itself Wednesday, reinstating the performance.

"As we thought about it and analyzed it, we don’t feel like we’re promoting a religion," Councilman Troy Walker said Wednesday. "We feel like we’re putting on a performance like we do every summer."

But some, such as the Freedom From Religion Foundation, allege that Draper violated the Constitution by putting money toward the event, titled "Wonder, Worship and Glory." Draper put $21,500 toward the concert, expecting to recoup those funds through ticket sales.

Source:  SLTrib.com

Gunmen in Pakistan Murder Female workers Who Were Giving Polio Vaccines

By D E C L A N   W A L S H  &  D O N A L D   G .   Mc N E I L   Jr.    Dec. 2012

Scientists, with the help of public-health workers, have managed to wipe just two diseases from the face of the earth: smallpox and rinderpest (otherwise known as cattle plague). This year, it had begun to look as if we would soon add another name to that list, a virus that has been a paralytic threat for millennia: polio.

The effort took a devastating
step backward yesterday,
with the news that six
public-health workers were
killed in Pakistan;
all had been administering
polio vaccines.


The effort took a devastating step backward yesterday, with the news that six public-health workers were killed in Pakistan; all had been administering polio vaccines. Earlier this year, the World Health Organization declared the eradication of polio to be a world-wide health emergency (a designation which makes it easier to release funds). It did so primarily because the end seemed in sight. Just three countries continue to report infections: Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Nigeria. As soon as the news of the murders spread, however, the health minister for Pakistan’s southern Sindh Province put a halt to the vaccination program, which had employed more than twenty-four thousand aid workers. The risks of this detour, which will leave tens of thousands of people vulnerable to new infections, cannot be overstated.

Nobody has yet claimed responsibility for the coordinated attacks, but the Taliban has opposed polio vaccination vigorously. Taliban leaders have issued several religious edicts saying that the U.S. runs a spy network under the guise of a vaccine program. Now, there is no question that this is a depraved, heartless, and sickening act. But, as I wrote in a post here more than a year ago, the claim about the C.I.A. is not entirely untrue. In 2011, American intelligence, in a stunning display of arrogance, stupidity, or both, faked a vaccination drive as a cover for its attempt to pin down the location of Osama bin Laden. (The idea was to get DNA samples from the children in the Abbottabad compound while injecting them with a dummy vaccine, and then compare them to those of bin Laden’s relatives.) There is a history here, and somebody in the American intelligence community should have known it. The world was close to eradication in 2004 as well. Then several mullahs in northern Nigeria campaigned against polio vaccinations—claiming they were part of a Western plot. The result was that people who were infected went to Mecca on the hajj and spread their disease to people from many countries.

Pakistan’s attitude toward those who are associated with the C.I.A. has not exactly been a secret. After the raid on bin Laden’s compound, the doctor who tried to obtain the DNA was arrested and sentenced to thirty-three years in prison. I don’t mean to lay these crimes on anyone other than the murderers. But the sickness and death caused by a renewed polio epidemic in South Asia would make today’s tragedy seem small. Again, we should hold the killers responsible for this terrible reversal. But at least some of blame lies in the swamplands of Langley, Virginia.

Source:  NyTimes.com

Scientology and the cloak of religion
By N e i l   M a c d o n a l d,   C B C   N e w s     Jan 30, 2013

Scientology is a religion. Of that there is no doubt.

    Actor Tom Cruise, one of Scientology's more
    prominent adherents, gives a speech at the
    inauguration of a Scientology church in Madrid
    in 2004. (P a u l   H a n n a   /   R e u t e r s)

The U.S. Internal Revenue Service says so, and in this country, that's pretty much the final word.

The designation means a lot legally, but as a matter of objective fact it is neither a laurel nor a pejorative.

It merely lumps Scientology in with all the other belief systems, from the Big Three of monotheism, with their billions of followers and hundreds of sub-sects, right down to self-proclaimed prophets seeking to found new faiths.

To each his own gods and rituals. For those of us who live wholly in the secular world, no religious doctrine is more or less credible, or worthy of ridicule, than any other.

The law must look upon all religious belief with indifference, and does, at least in most Western nations.

But, after reading Lawrence Wright's searing new investigative book, Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief, my usual indifference has given way to concern.

On second thought, make that fright. And not just about L. Ron Hubbard's secretive army of adherents.

Because Wright's book demonstrates in granular detail what an organization with enough money and zealous acolytes can do once it has wrapped itself in a religious cloak: assault, conspire, burgle, forge, perjure, spy, bully and intimidate anyone who gets in its way.

Convince your flock that they are above earthly laws, and they go about their task with, well, religious ferocity.

Dirty tricks
In Scientology's case, as Wright explains, the church targeted any and all opponents to an almost unimaginable degree.

It coordinated campaigns to smear and frame investigative journalists, driving one courageous author, Paulette Cooper, to waste away and contemplate suicide (until the church file on Cooper was uncovered by the FBI).

Defectors from Scientology were tracked down and punished. In one case, an apostate died during her "treatment" — extended solitary confinement and controlled diet.

Then the church targeted the medical examiner who had refused to rule the death an accident. (She changed her ruling to "accidental," satisfying the church, and then retired, becoming a recluse.)

In fact, if Wright's meticulous research is correct, Scientology's nasty methods triumphed in just about every case.

Not only could the U.S. government not protect the individuals from the savagery of Scientology's dirty tricks department, it couldn't even protect itself.

After the FBI uncovered evidence in the 1960s that Scientology had systematically infiltrated government departments with church spies, Scientology's tax-exempt status was revoked, triggering a two-decade war with Washington.

According to Wright, the church in that time filed 2,500 lawsuits, swamping government lawyers. Scientology agents dug into the private lives of IRS staff, looking for evidence of drinking or marital cheating, then planted news stories on them.

It offered a $10,000 reward for dirt on the tax agency.

Body armour
Eventually, the IRS backed down, defeated. But fight any temptation to cheer.

Effectively, what we have here is a profit-making machine that disregarded the law to pursue restitution of its tax-exempt status, which in turn made it even more potent, even more immune to the rules that govern the rest of us.

Yes, other big profit-making entities push government around, too — just take a look at Wall Street — but none has the body armour of a church.

Skeptical? Ask yourself this: If it were proved that senior employees of Microsoft, or Bank of America, had been sexually assaulting minors worldwide for decades, overwhelmingly young boys in their care, and senior company management had been complicit, either ignoring the abuse or actually taking steps to cover it up in order to protect the company's image, how long would it be before that company would be facing a Justice Department strike force? Or bankruptcy?

Yet the Roman Catholic Church was, at most, dented by such horrific revelations. Individual priests have been charged worldwide, yes. But efforts to hold the church hierarchy responsible for the crimes that were covered up have been exceedingly rare.

Inevitably, that is because of the severe pushback that any large religious organization can command if it feels threatened.

Populated by aliens
A signal moment for Scientology came in the mid-1980s, during a lawsuit that threatened to make public some of its doctrinal secrets.

Scientologists believe Earth was formerly called Teegeeack and was populated with aliens by a dark lord named Xenu, who stuffed them into volcanoes and destroyed them with hydrogen bombs.

The spirits of these aliens subsequently attached themselves to humans, but they can be shaken free by a series of very expensive counselling courses offered by, of course, Scientology. Such courses can easily eat up life savings, and have.

The church believed that the public revelation of these secret beliefs would hold it up to ridicule, perhaps even permanent damage.

So Scientologists attacked the lawyer suing them, bugging his home and infiltrating his office. They harassed the judge, going so far as to involve his son, who was gay.

When none of it worked, they tried to flood the legal process and gum up release of the documents, which were nonetheless published in the Los Angeles Times.

But the church was wrong about the damaging potential of its secret doctrine. The revelations caused some tittering, and vanished.

Perhaps that is because while the doctrine might have indeed been fantastical to some, it's hardly unusual.

Tens of millions of Americans take other such stories as the literal truth: Mormons with their belief in extraterrestrial life and the supernatural qualities of their undergarments; Christians with their talking snake and virgin birth; Muslims with their flying horse and human ascension to heaven; the Raelians with their group sex, spaceships and swastikas.

The list is infinite. But in a democracy, the state must regard all such ideas as equally valid.

And the fact is, no one has anything to fear from religious parables and doctrine, as long as they remain in church.

The trouble almost always begins when people begin to think that divine laws supersede those of their fellow human beings. The fact that religions enjoy certain immunities from taxation, and from what goes on between spiritual adviser and believer, doesn't help.

Source:  http://www.cbc.ca/news/world/story/2013/01/29/f-rfa-macdonald-scientology.html

A day in the life of a Scientologist
By D a n i e l P i o t r o w s k i January 26, 2013

I'm at a Scientology church and the Scientologists are pinching me.

They've even left a mark, they're going at it that hard. Although I'm not entirely sure what they're hoping to achieve.

I'm in a bit of pain here, at a Sydney Scientology church, because I'm on a tour they've offered to journalists.

Earlier this week, the Church fired off an email to reporters offering private tours of one of their six Australian places of worship.

Why? Most likely in an attempt to improve their public image.

Because while the Church of Scientology is a household name - thanks to celebrity believers Tom Cruise and Kirstie Alley - they have a terrible problem.

Many Australians think they are absolutely bonkers. For a number of reasons, the most significant being that they apparently believe that 75 million years ago, an alien warlord brought negative spirits to Earth which plague humanity to this day.

Then there are the allegations that their supposed 'science' is a crock, that they're in it to make money, that they exploit child labor... which Scientologists generally say are malicious lies told by former believers.

And then there are other public image problems, like Tom Cruise's prominent role in the Church.

There are signs that this negative perception has damaged the local Church. Last year one of the Church's most prominent figures resigned, taking a dramatic swipe at the Scientology leadership.

And figures from the latest Census report that the number of Scientologists in Australia dropped significantly over the last decade – by more than 13 per cent between 2006 and 2011.

So I took the Church up on their offer of a private tour because I wanted an answer to a simple question.

Are these people really as crazy as they're made out to be? From their unusual uniforms to a strange pinching examination, today news.com.au takes a firsthand look.


Not your average church

One thing stands out when you walk into a Scientology church -- this isn't your traditional place of worship.

It's futuristic. Some would even say it's cool. Don't think of wooden pews, or kindly old men offering confession. (And no, there aren't any stained glass windows of Tom Cruise jumping on Oprah's couch).

Imagine a military base in a sci-fi thriller. There's a dash of Star Wars in the air, with all the fluorescent lights around. The concourse roof is a mirror. And nearly everyone is dressed like they're in the Navy.

I walk in and step towards their reception desk when the Church's long-time Australian spokeswoman, Virginia Stewart, pops up out of nowhere.

"Daniel? I saw you come in," she says, shaking my hand and beginning to show me around the facility.

But first, I've got a few questions. Men and women are milling around in white-collared shirts, black pants and shoes. Kind of like they were inspired by Cruise in Top Gun. Some even have patches on their shoulders indicating their high-ranking. What's with the dress code?

"The staff in this church are members of the Sea Org," explains Ms Stewart -- one of the few people dressed in your typical business-wear.

The "Org" are the Church's most dedicated members, who have committed their lives to the religion.

That explains why ranks in the religion are military-based. For instance, the founder of Scientology, science fiction author L. Ron Hubbard, held the Church's top rank - "Commodore".

The Org even have a cruise ship anchored in the Caribbean, the Freewinds, which they use as a religious retreat, says Ms Stewart. (A poster in the church has the vessel PhotoShopped into Sydney Harbour. It's never visited Australia.)

But you really can't get too far into a conversation with a Scientologist without asking about--

"--the alien thing?" Ms Stewart sees where I'm steering our conversation and rolls her eyes. "We only ever hear about that from the media."

'The alien thing' is what's popularly known as Scientology's creation theory -- their 'Jesus moment'.

Ex-followers have spilled to the media that Scientologists believe, in a nut shell, that an alien warlord brought evil spirits to Earth 75 million years ago.

Warlord Xenu's galaxy was overpopulated, so he dropped billions of aliens in Earth's volcanoes and hydrogen bombed them to smithereens.

Their disembodied souls apparently exist today and produce warped emotions in humans -- unless humans follow Scientology beliefs.

The Xenu thing has been mocked relentlessly, most memorably by an 8-minute segment on South Park.

The Church of Scientology has strenuously denied the alien story, claiming that people only cite it to ridicule them. And their Australian arm says: "Scientology has no religious belief that we are descended from aliens or have aliens living inside us."

If the Church does follow alien beliefs, as has been indicated, it's something the Church wishes to keep top secret.

How you become a Scientologist

In 2008, a Church of Scientology promotional video featuring Tom Cruise was leaked onto the internet. Cruise said: "I think it's a privilege to call yourself a Scientologist, because it's something you have to earn."

As far as I can see, "earning" the right to be a Scientologist involves a lot of hard work... (One wall of the Church even has a 'star chart' - like you would see in a primary school classroom - that monitor how far individual Scientologists have progressed in their coursework.)

And some money, too, that goes into maintaining the Church. They compare it to parishioners funding a Reverend.

At the beginning, though, it seems like a walk in the park. New recruits go through what is essentially a three week detox involving vitamins, tests and sitting in a sauna.

But there is a reason part of the Scientology Church building is more reminiscent of a university library than a religious institution.

To be a Scientologist, you have to study the "scriptures" of the religion in the chronological order L. Ron Hubbard wrote them, by participating in various courses.

Some of the courses can take weeks to complete and are sold as lessons that can improve your life, such as "How To Get Motivated" and "How to Improve Relationships". The upper limit is between $700 and $1400.

I peak into one of the classrooms. Everyone looks very absorbed in what they're studying. What are those two Sea Org officers doing at the head of the classroom, though?

Ms Stewart tells me the officers are monitoring for "physiological signs" that the students are "not understanding" the course content.

That is, if the supervisors see that you look bored or tired or listless, they'll be sure to get you back on the straight and narrow.

It's a hardcore study camp.

The Scientologists were not the only ones being monitored. I am too.

Another Church spokeswoman, Sei Broadhurst, follows me around holding a white iPhone in her hand. I believe she is recording our conversation.

Unusual practices

As a Scientologist, you have "the ability to create new or better realities", Cruise explained in his famous leaked interview.

And Scientology's spokeswoman Virginia Stewart gave me a practical demonstration of another part of the process they are required to follow to reach that point.

They use a method they call "auditing".

We're walking down a long corridor in the "auditing" wing of the Church. And Ms Stewart is explaining how auditing is essentially the religion's twist on counseling.

It involves the use of an "E-Meter", a low voltage electrical device which (the Scientologists say) can measure changes in electrical charges in the body that are caused by "emotional distress". A counsellor walks a Scientologist (or prospective one), through the implications of the machine's results.

A pamphlet explains the process is designed to help "guide you onto your personal path to success ... ultimately becoming an expert on the subject of you".

Once a newcomer has completed the auditing process they are judged as reaching a "state of Clear" – when somebody is no longer affected by irrational fears.

Little booths branch off from the corridor we are standing in, with two chairs, a table and an E-Meter in each one.

But I can hear an eerie, white noise coming from the corridor.

What is that sound? I wonder. "Is that noise from the E-Meters?" I ask.

Oh, that. The Scientologists explain the noise is all about privacy. Ms Stewart says it's used to block out sound so people cannot hear what's going on in the booths. And so they don't get disturbed by things happening outside.

In Scientology, no one can hear you being audited.

"Every corridor has the white noise," she explains, matter-of-factly.

The final test

Given what I've just seen, it's with some hesitation that I'm submitting to an E-Meter test. Plugging yourself into an electrical device for a strange religion is unnerving.

I'm gripping onto the handles of the device and I can feel an electrical sensation beneath my fingertips.

The Scientologists get me to "think about a recent argument I've had".

That's supposed to make the meter on the device move. It doesn't, leaving the Scientologists disappointed.

They tell me that pain is apparently supposed to get a reaction from the device. So Ms Stewart starts pinching me.

It does nothing. They keep at it, but all it does is leave a mark on my wrist.

"Have you had any drugs or alcohol?" one of their spokespeople asks me after another lacklustre result. Nope. It's 11am on a Thursday.

The meter does jump dramatically when I think about another incident in the past that gets me a little worked up...

But honestly, I reckon that might have been because my hands might have moved during the process.

Ms Stewart says the process does not work if someone is a non-believer or not interested.

Maybe that was it. Maybe I'm just skeptical. Or maybe it's all a complete hoax.

It's worth pointing out the American Psychiatric Association has advised against psychiatrists practising Scientology techniques.

A different kind of people

The Scientologists emphasise that they're well-meaning. And they're perfectly friendly. They send volunteers to disaster zones like Queensland after the 2011 floods. They don't stop talking about spiritual growth.

"It helps us know real answers to what life is," Ms Stewart says as we start to wrap up.

But they've also been ridiculed in the media, and slagged as a "criminal organization" in federal Parliament by Senator Nick Xenophon. Any attempts to rehabilitate their image will take years - if they can.

They worry about being "treated unfairly" by the media and reckon their religion isn't all that different to any other.

Around the end of our chat I ask Virginia Stewart, who has been the Church's spokeswoman since 1996, how long she's been with the church. Turns out she has been with them all her life.

But to an outsider like me, the Church's practices just seem bewildering.

It's lucky they pinched me.

If they didn't I probably would've had to do it myself -- so I wouldn't pass it all off as a strange dream.

With or without aliens.

Source:  AdelaideNow.com.au

Mormon church traces black priesthood ban to Brigham Young
By P e g g y   F l e t c h e r   S t a c k     T h e   S a l t   L a k e   T r i b u n e


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