Soldier Sues Army, Saying His Atheism Led to Threats
By NEELA BANERJEE
Published: April 26, 2008
FORT RILEY, Kan. — When Specialist Jeremy Hall held a meeting last July for atheists and freethinkers at Camp Speicher in Iraq, he was excited, he said, to see an officer attending. But minutes into the talk, the officer, Maj. Freddy J. Welborn, began to berate Specialist Hall and another soldier about atheism, Specialist Hall wrote in a sworn statement. “People like you are not holding up the Constitution and are going against what the founding fathers, who were Christians, wanted for America!” Major Welborn said, according to the statement.
Major Welborn told the soldiers he might bar them from re-enlistment and bring charges against them, according to the statement.
Last month, Specialist Hall and the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, an advocacy group, filed suit in federal court in Kansas, alleging that Specialist Hall’s right to be free from state endorsement of religion under the First Amendment had been violated and that he had faced retaliation for his views. In November, he was sent home early from Iraq because of threats from fellow soldiers.
Eileen Lainez, a spokeswoman for the Defense Department, declined to comment on the case, saying, “The department does not discuss pending litigation.”
Specialist Hall’s lawsuit is the latest incident to raise questions about the military’s religion guidelines. In 2005, the Air Force issued new regulations in response to complaints from cadets at the Air Force Academy that evangelical Christian officers used their positions to proselytize. In general, the armed forces have regulations, Ms. Lainez said, that respect “the rights of others to their own religious beliefs, including the right to hold no beliefs.”
To Specialist Hall and other critics of the military, the guidelines have done little to change a culture they say tilts heavily toward evangelical Christianity. Controversies have continued to flare, largely over tactics used by evangelicals to promote their faith. Perhaps the most high-profile incident involved seven officers, including four generals, who appeared, in uniform and in violation of military regulations, in a 2006 fund-raising video for the Christian Embassy, an evangelical Bible study group.
“They don’t trust you because they think you are unreliable and might break, since you don’t have God to rely on,” Specialist Hall said of those who proselytize in the military. “The message is, ‘It’s a Christian nation, and you need to recognize that.’ ”
Soft-spoken and younger looking than his 23 years, Specialist Hall began a chapter of the Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers at Camp Speicher, near Tikrit, to support others like him.
At the July meeting, Major Welborn told the soldiers they had disgraced those who had died for the Constitution, Specialist Hall said. When he finished, Major Welborn said, according to the statement: “I love you guys; I just want the best for you. One day you will see the truth and know what I mean.”
Complete article at:
There can be no freedom OF religion WITHOUT freedom FROM government promoted religion.
The Pledge of Allegiance is a national symbol, and as such all Americans should be able to freely participate in reciting it, especially students in public schools. However, the words “under God” are clearly a promotion of a specific religious belief. These words, added by Congress in 1954, are in violation of the First Amendment – “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion…”
We all have the right to pledge allegiance to our country without at the same time making a specific religious statement. It is also unconscionable to ask any American to remain silent while another American promotes their beliefs with governmental authority.
This is as un-American as you can get.
We have a solution for this problem. A solution that unites ALL Americans and respects the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
The Pledge in use today, written by Francis Bellamy in 1892, was modified by the U.S. congress in 1954 by adding the words “under God” and in effect turning it into an unconstitutional public prayer. There are millions of Americans who believe in God but do not believe they are “under” God. Some find God within their own hearts while others believe they are part of –not under– a divine power or sacred universe. Still others do not believe in God at all. The religious beliefs of these Americans are violated by our government, in schools, in public meetings, or anywhere the Pledge is recited. Because of a desire to avoid !st Amendment conflicts, many simply avoid reciting the Pledge.
At this time of needed national unity, we propose a compromise. Whether you consider yourself Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist, Hindu, Pagan, Atheist, Humanist, etc…., as Americans we all recognize that the strength of this country is based on its plurality of cultures and beliefs. True patriotism is not shown by how often you wave the flag or say the Pledge, but by the respect you accord the primary pillar of our democracy, the Constitution of the United States.
We ask the U.S. Congress to pass a resolution restoring the Pledge of Allegiance to its original wording, as recited by all Americans during WWII. A Pledge that can be recited by ALL Americans again, especially school children, and that will respect the First Amendment.
What can you do?
Contact your Congressional Representative and ask them to restore the Pledge to its original pre-1954 form.
Easy for Them to Say – COLUMN By DOUG THOMAS
April 23, 2008
Once again, the issue of prayers in public places has been raised in Ontario. Premier Dalton McGuinty has asked a committee of Members of Provincial Parliament (MPPs) to decide whether Ontario’s legislature should continue to start its daily sessions with “The Lord’s Prayer.” Christians have expressed shock and dismay that anyone should suggest ending the practice.
As usual two issues come to light. First, the majority Christian population claims that the province was founded entirely on Christian principles. Second, acceptance of such prayers is supposed to be a minor inconvenience for us humanists, but losing them a major inconvenience for Christians.
The majority of Upper Canada’s (Ontario’s) European population was certainly Christian. Whether that population lived exemplary Christian lives and founded Upper Canada based on Christian values is quite another matter.
In 1785, the British divided the old province of Québec into Upper and Lower Canada to provide a haven for anglophone loyalists, and made the Church of England the only official church of the province. Freedom of religion was not, apparently, a founding principle for our province.
Slavery was legal in Upper Canada and many of the aforementioned loyalists brought theirs with them.
Radical Jack Simcoe, sent to Upper Canada as its military governor to get him and his liberal views out of the British House of Commons, managed to get slavery abolished in the province starting in 1793. Those founding Christian fathers, you see, argued that they would lose money if they lost their slaves. They had to be cajoled into a phasing out of slavery. Any slave child born after 1793 would be free. But, any black slave born before then was free only after becoming twenty-five years old.
Women were not considered to be persons until 1929, although that was a federal prerogative and, in spite of Sir John A. Macdonald’s suggestion in 1872, women were not given the vote by those “founding Christians” until the early twentieth century.
I don’t know many Christians in this province who would support these ideas now, but they are adamant that the province and its legislature were founded on Christian principles.
Complete article at:
Doug Thomas is an English teacher and novelist, an agnostic member of SOFREE (Society of Ontario Freethinkers), and a Canadian nationalist fanatic who has written a Humanist version of O Canada in both official languages. His novel, The Bloody Boy, is available through Keltoi Publishing.
CHRISTIAN THEOCRATS USE THEIR MEGAPHONE TO PUSH “TEN COMMANDMENTS COMMISSION”
By Bill Berkowitz, Media Transparency
For the past two years, Congress has designated the first weekend in May as “Ten Commandments Weekend.” Wonder why?
By Mel Seesholtz, Ph.D.
Online Journal Contributing Writer
Don Wildmon and his “American Family Association” just love to hurt American businesses and the families they support. Their modus operandi is launching campaigns and boycotts against any company that treats its gay and lesbian employees equally or has the audacity to advertise in gay-oriented publications. They don’t give a damn about the families that might be hurt, including families they claim to be representing and “protecting.”
WHAT DO CHRISTIAN FUNDAMENTALISTS LISTEN TO ON THEIR IPODS?
By Alexander Zaitchik, AlterNet
Daniel Radosh takes readers on a trip to the parallel universe of Christian pop culture — be prepared for a very weird, tame ride.
God: The Failed Hypothesis
A paperback edition of the New York Times bestseller God: The Failed Hypothesis ($18.95, April 2008) by physicist Victor J. Stenger
features a powerful new foreword by Christopher Hitchens, author of the #1 bestseller God Is Not Great, plus a new postscript by Stenger in which he addresses criticisms of the first edition. Stenger is a research fellow of the Center for Inquiry and a fellow of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry.
In the foreword, Christopher Hitchens has written a stunning endorsement Victor Stenger’s work, stressing the importance of the book’s overall contribution. Hitchens asserts that the non-scientist “infidel community” is indebted to Stenger.
Hitchens says, “with the arrival on the scene of Victor Stenger’s book, the already-revived and extended argument for unbelief has undergone a sort of quantitative and qualitative acceleration. One side in this dispute is going to have to yield.” Hitchens also calls God: The Failed Hypothesis “extremely tough and impressive…a great book…a huge addition to the arsenal of argument.”
In God: The Failed Hypothesis Stenger contends that, if God exists, some evidence for this existence should be detectable by scientific means, especially considering the central role that God is alleged to play in the operation of the universe and the lives of humans. Treating the traditional Judeo-Christian and Islamic God concept like any other scientific hypothesis, Stenger examines all of the claims made for God’s existence. After evaluating all the scientific evidence, Stenger concludes that beyond a reasonable doubt the universe and life appear exactly as we might expect if there were no God.
From: Center for Inquiry Transnational centerforinquiry.net
By PZ Myers, Pharyngula
Meeting of Bush and the Pope doubles your oppressive fun!
Center for Inquiry Raises Concerns over Civics Textbook
(Amherst, New York) –The Center for Inquiry (CFI), an international think tank promoting science and secularism, released a 25-page report today detailing what it calls “egregious errors” sufficient enough to warrant “immediate correction,” in a widely used civics textbook found in many secondary schools around the country, including advanced placement courses. CFI believes that the textbook American Government: Institutions and Policies, 10th edition, (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2006) contains inaccurate and misleading statements, in particular in its analysis of global warming and certain constitutional law issues. In response, CFI’s legal experts have analyzed the textbook and prepared a critique that sets forth recommended changes.
Derek Araujo, a lawyer and executive director for CFI’s New York office, spearheaded the textbook review project. Araujo stated that he was “surprised and dismayed that a textbook used in advanced placement courses would contain clearly erroneous statements about significant issues, such as global warming and school prayer.” Araujo recruited leading scientists, including Stuart D. Jordan from NASA, to provide their assessment of the book’s treatment of global warming.
CFI’s critique focuses on six areas: the science of global warming; the legality of school prayer; the significance of the Supreme Court’s decision in Lawrence v. Texas; the alleged influence of the religious concept of “original sin” on the structure of the Constitution; the meaning of the Establishment Clause; and the significance of the Supreme Court’s decision not to hear a case (what lawyers refer to as the denial of a writ of certiorari).
Ronald A. Lindsay, CFI’s general counsel, characterized the errors as “significant and inexcusable. For a civics textbook to state—as this book does—that the Supreme Court will not allow students to pray in schools betrays either a serious misunderstanding of the law or a willingness to have the textbook serve as a propaganda vehicle for the Religious Right.”
CFI maintains that it is very important for civics students to obtain accurate information about our Constitution, our legal system and public policy issues, and that instructional material should be objective and free of ideological bias.
The textbook critique was researched and written by Araujo, Lindsay, and Jordan. A downloadable PDF copy of the full report is available online at http://www.centerforinquiry.net/uploads/attachments/CFI_Textbook_Critique.pdf
The Center for Inquiry is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit educational organization, comprising the Council for Secular Humanism, the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (CSI), and the Committee for the Scientific Examination of Religion (CSER). Headquartered in Amherst, New York, the Center for Inquiry strives to promote rational thinking in all aspects of life. The organization’s Web site can be found at www.centerforinquiry.net .
N.J. High School Football Coach Has No Right To Encourage Student Prayers, Federal Appeals Court Says
April 15, 2008
Three-Judge Panel Rules Unanimously That Coach’s Actions Had The Effect Of Endorsing Religion
Americans United for Separation of Church and State praised today’s federal appeals court ruling that a New Jersey high school football coach does not have a constitutional right to engage in religious activities with students.
The 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously rejected a legal challenge filed by Coach Marcus Borden of East Brunswick High School. Borden said he wanted to bow his head and “take a knee” with players before football games while allegedly voluntary prayers were recited by students.
The court, noting Borden’s 23-year history of organizing and leading prayers with players, said his actions, would be construed by a neutral observer as promoting religion.
“Public schools have the right and responsibility to protect students from religious coercion,” said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. “Parents, not public school staff, have the right to determine what religious exercises, if any, their children take part in.”
Borden’s actions came under scrutiny when parents complained about his prayer practices. At one point, the coach allegedly told athletes who did not want to participate in the prayers that they could wait in a bathroom. After some cheerleaders voiced concerns about Borden’s promotion of religion, they were attacked and called obscene names on a student-run blog.
After a lower court ruled in Borden’s favor, Americans United agreed to represent the East Brunswick Public Schools. AU Assistant Legal Director Richard B. Katskee argued the Borden v. School District of the Township of East Brunswick case before the 3rd Circuit.
The three-judge panel held that the school district’s policy prohibiting staff participation in student prayer was not unconstitutional, rejecting Borden’s claims that the policies violated his constitutional rights.
“We find that, based on the history of Borden’s conduct with the team’s prayers, his acts cross the line and constitute an unconstitutional endorsement of religion,” wrote Judge D. Michael Fisher. “Although Borden believes that he must continue to engage in these actions to demonstrate solidarity with his team, which is perhaps good for a football team’s unity, we must consider whether a reasonable observer would perceive his actions as endorsing religion, not whether Borden intends to endorse religion.”
Continued Fisher, “[I]n Borden’s case, the conclusion we reach today is clear because he organized, participated in, and led prayer activities with his team on numerous occasions for twenty-three years. Thus, a reasonable observer would conclude that he is continuing to endorse religion when he bows his head during the pre-meal grace and takes a knee with his team in the locker room while they pray.”
The appellate panel said the school policy on religion was necessary to ensure the separation of church and state.
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
Americans United for Separation of Church and State www.au.org
We need more than religion and guns
April 20, 2008
DONALD A. SMITH GUEST COLUMNIST
Barack Obama has been called “elitist” for suggesting that bitterness about economic troubles causes the working poor to cling to guns and religion.
The point isn’t that guns and religion are bad. The point is that for millions of lower- and middle-class Americans, concern about religion and guns unreasonably overrides their own self-interest.
As Thomas Frank showed in his 2004 book “What’s the Matter with Kansas? How Conservatives Won the Heart of America,” support for conservatives is often strongest in the poorest counties. Through clever marketing, conservative strategists convinced millions of lower- and middle-class voters that conservatives will defend them against the elitist and decadent values of secularism, gun control, gay rights, abortion, Hollywood, consumerism, taxation and Big Government.
That is odd, because under conservative policies, corporations and the rich get tax cuts, government handouts and lenient regulations.
The working class gets guns, religion and layoffs. Their sons and daughters (poorly educated in underfunded schools) are sent on extended tours of duty to fight and die in a debilitating and disastrous war for oil. Gasoline is nearing $4 a gallon and cars guzzle gas, but public transportation is inadequate.
Americans subsidize Big Oil and send hundreds of billions of oil dollars overseas each year. Though we spend far more per capita on health care than other nations, for tens of millions of Americans health care is unaffordable. Our petroleum-based food supply is laden with sugar, fat and hazardous chemicals — encouraged by farm subsidies that stimulate overproduction to ensure low commodity prices for giant food companies.
Meanwhile, many are losing their homes because of the subprime mortgage crisis — a result of the deregulation of the mortgage industry — while corporate executives rake in unconscionable salaries.
To fix what ails America, we need more than religion and guns. We need competent government.
Complete article at:
Donald A. Smith of Bellevue is a Democratic precinct committee officer.
MEN OF THE CLOTH: THE VATICAN ISN’T SO FAR FROM FUNDAMENTALIST MORMONISM
By Katha Pollitt, The Nation
When it comes to keeping women in their place, polygamous Mormon fundamentalists and the Pope have a lot in common.
National Day Of Prayer Showcases Intolerant Religious Right Agenda, Says Americans United
Government Officials Should Not Promote Dobson Prayer Task Force Events, Church-State Watchdog Group Says.
April 25, 2008
Intolerant Religious Right groups are dominating observance of the National Day of Prayer and government officials should refuse to lend them support, says Americans United for Separation of Church and State.
The congressionally mandated National Day of Prayer scheduled for May 1 this year has been largely hijacked by the Religious Right and is being used as an opportunity to promote a far-right religious-political agenda.
“In many cases, this event is more about politics than prayer,” said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. “It’s just another excuse for the Religious Right to attack church-state separation.”
The press release from AU’s Press Center, provides an update. We hope you’ll read it. Please consider visiting the Press Center regularly where you can read a variety of breaking news.
This special alert also contains some other news and links we think you’ll enjoy.
National Day of Prayer Frequently Asked Questions
From AU’s Blog
April 25, 2008
The Bush Bros. Wrecking Company: George And Jeb Attempt To Demolish The Church-State Wall
Yesterday wasn’t a great day for church-state separation. President George W. Bush convened a White House summit on ways to finance faith-based schools, and Jeb Bush’s allies took a major step towards erasing religious liberty protections from the Florida Constitution.
For more news from Americans United, visit our press center. You can also read and discuss recent topics related to church-state separation by visiting our blog, The Wall of Separation.
Americans United for Separation of Church and State * 518 C Street NE, Washington, DC 20002
Former Charlotte Priest Accused Of Sex Abuse Out Of Jail … and more
WSOCtv.com – Charlotte,NC,USA
CHARLOTTE, NC — A former Charlotte priest is now out of jail. The Mecklenbug County Sheriff’s Website reports Robert Yurgel was released just after 4 pm on …
Priest-Sex Abuse Case Comes to an End
WRTA – Altoona,PA,USA
By Chris Forshey
After years of legal wrangling, a long-time priest-sex abuse case in Blair County has come to an end. The Altoona-Johnstown Catholic …
Accused priest took job with church
Stamford Advocate – Stamford,CT,USA
In a visit to the United States last week, Pope Benedict spoke several times about the child sex abuse scandal, which has cost dioceses a total of $2 …
Catholic priest sex abuse case carries on
KTVZ – Bend,OR,USA
COM Lawyers met Monday behind closed doors with a judge in Bend Monday to talk about the future of a sex abuse case against the Catholic Diocese of Baker. …
three thousand words
What Would Republican Jesus Do?
Jeff Danziger: Pope, Cardinal Law, US Visit
Mike Peters: pope, bishops …