Freethought Today November 1995


Denver Rewards Baptists

Mayor Wellington Webb of Denver arranged about $1 million in taxpayer subsidies to lure the National Baptist Convention to choose Denver to host its 1997 convention.

About 50,000 Baptists are expected to descend on Denver.

The President of the convention told the Rocky Mountain News: "The mayor wouldn't take no for an answer. Everyone has really rolled out the red carpet." The newspaper reported that the city wooed the Baptists with a package of discounted hotel rooms, free use of the Colorado Convention Center, free use of the Red Rocks Amphitheater for one day, 25 cellular phones and some free transportation.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, represented by attorney Robert R. Tiernan, successfully sued Mayor Webb several years ago for illegally using his mayoral office to declare and organize a "Day of Prayer." A court ordered him to issue a formal statement disassociating his mayoral office from the event.

Soon after, Webb used his mayoral office in conjunction with a Colorado Prayer Luncheon, and is one of several state officials being sued by the Foundation.

He testified in his defense that he liked to welcome all groups to his city. However, Webb spurned an invitation from the Denver chapter of the Foundation to attend the Foundation's recent annual convention there. Webb was invited to speak at the FFRF "nonprayer breakfast."

Fleecing The Sheep

Conspicuous by his absence at the annual Philadelphia Leadership Prayer Breakfast was Jack G. Bennett, Jr., under federal fraud investigation and the subject of a lawsuit in the collapse of his Foundation for New Era Philanthropy. Mayor Rendell said the scandal does not tarnish the religious community--"we must not retreat because there are wolves in sheep's clothing," but described New Era as an "insidious scheme" to his audience of 1,200. Philadelphia Inquirer reporter David O'Reilly wrote that "Rendell's stern words . . . were not shared by most of the others who had gathered."

Bennett, known for his "heartfelt" prayers, had taken a leadership role on the prayer breakfast's steering committee. More than half of the nearly 300 groups claiming losses on their investments with New Era are evangelical Christian groups, many losing more than a half-million dollars.

B.C. Freethought Haven

British Columbia boasts the highest percentage of Canadians claiming no religion--30% compared to the national average of 12%. That works out to 987,000 people, who, according to the 1991 census, recorded being atheists or agnostics or had no religion. In Greater Vancouver, 31% choose "none" when asked their religious affiliation.

Writes reporter Mia Stainsby with the Vancouver Sun (10/11/95), there are many reasons for this. "It's a gorgeous province with more tempting things to do than go to church or a temple on Sunday. We're said to be a more pleasure-loving province. The 'nones' group is top-heavy with young people, who also are attracted to B.C."

Nothing Fails Like Prayer

A snowbound man whose pickup was stuck in the Klamath Mountains put his faith in God and slowly starved to death, while clear pavement leading him to safety was just around the corner. Teenagers found the body of DeWitt Finley last May, along with numerous religious letters. One read:

"I have no control over my life its all in His Hands. 'His will be done.' Death here in another month or so, or he sends someone to save me."
The former fundraiser for World Vision was snowbound on Nov. 14 and checked off his calendar through Jan. 19, writing "The most wonderfull thing out of this ordeal has been the never ending fellowship with the Lord."

Associated Press reported there was no sign he ever left his truck. Depending on the weather, locals say, he would only have had a few yards or a few miles to walk before reaching clear pavement.

Falwell Scores Touchdown

After Jerry Falwell filed a lawsuit against the NCAA, it "clarified" its unsportsmanlike conduct rule, which bans players from removing helmets, taunting the crowd, dancing, or kneeling in prayer on the field after touchdowns or big plays. Falwell dropped his lawsuit when the NCAA said players can momentarily pray at the end of a play if it does not draw attention to themselves.

The NCAA said it did not attempt to "ban" prayer but to curb in-your-face religious gloating and showboating by players. Kathryn Reithe, NCAA spokeswoman, said they have not changed the rule, only explained it to Falwell and his Liberty University.

Rev. Rossi On The Loose

Charismatic Rev. Richard Rossi, sentenced to 4-8 months for aggravated assault in the June 1994 beating of his wife, was released from county prison early for "good behavior" after 3 1/2 months on August 29. Rossi, of Butler, Pennsylvania, pleaded no contest, after his first trial ended in mistrial. He claimed a man who looked just like him assaulted his wife on a rural road as the couple was house-hunting. After coming out of her coma, his wife identified him as the assailant. Following pressure from family and congregation, she recanted. Rossi was accused of trying to kill her because he was having an affair.

Religious Tragedies

Christian Right Wrongs

Flight From Reason

About 200 concerned scientists, doctors, philosophers, educators and thinkers convened for a national three-day meeting at the New York Academy of Sciences, "The Flight From Science and Reason," organized as a call to arms. They were urged to defend scientific methodology and counterattack against faith healing, astrology, religious fundamentalism and paranormal charlatanism, as well as "post-modernist" critics of science.

Dr. Wendy Kaminer of Radcliffe College in Cambridge, warned that America is fascinated with "angels" and "out of body" experiences, and is discarding the habit of critical thinking.

"The dissemination of pseudoscience, including such things as the fascination with near-death experiences, the growing belief by Americans--34% of them--in reincarnation, and such books as the bestseller 'Abduction: Human Encounters with Aliens' by Harvard University's John E. Mach, are dangerous. They help to break down the standards of reason, and that can lead to such vicious doctrines as Aryan theories of race, and Lysenkoism," she said.

"It's time to get nasty--to launch a crusade against quackery," opined Dr. Saul Green, formerly a biochemist at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Institute of New York.

Baptist Temple Loses Exemption

The IRS and Indiana revenue officials have revoked the license of the Indianapolis Baptist Temple. The IRS would not give media specifics, citing privacy, but admitted that general reasons for revocation are using church funds for political purposes and the pocketing of assets by an individual. Pastor Greg Dixon, notorious former Moral Majority vice president, insisted the temple's exemption was not revoked, but only that of a corporation once associated with it, and likened the IRS to the Gestapo and KGB. Dixon refuses to pay liens of $3.6 million against the Temple for not withholding income tax and Social Security from employee payroll checks.

Canadian Court: Child's Rights

Parents cannot deny their children necessary medical treatment such as blood transfusions because of their own religious or moral beliefs, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled recently in a unanimous decision. It rejected a challenge by a Jehovah's Witness family whose infant daughter was given a life-saving blood transfusion against their wishes:

"A parent's freedom of religion does not include the imposition upon the child of religious practices which threaten the safety, health or life of the child" wrote Justices Iacobucci and Major.

Politics Of Death

The Altoona-Johnstown Catholic Diocese has essentially told members of a dissenting congregation to drop dead--only it will refuse them the right to be buried in church cemetery plots they have already paid for. The Tribune-Democrat recently reported that Pennsylvania Bishop Joseph Adamec, notorious for fighting civil lawsuits by victims of molesting clergy, announced in the diocesan newspaper that former members of a Catholic church in Lilly who have formed a congregation under the Polish National Catholic Church may not make use of their paid burial sites. A similar decree by a Pittsburgh diocese was successfully challenged in court.

Embezzling Epidemic

A San Francisco priest was charged in August with 22 counts of theft and embezzlement of an estimated $600,000 from church accounts in the Archdiocese of San Francisco. Rev. Martin Greenlaw, described as a "popular pastor" who raises money for church missions, used 31 different credit cards, lived lavishly and collected valuable furnishings. The diocese is also suing Greenlaw in civil court.

This scandal follows revelations that a former treasurer of the Episcopal Church misappropriated $2.2 million for personal use during a period of acute financial stress for the denomination. Ellen F. Cooke hired limos, bought jewelry, paid for school tuition, and diverted $90,000 to her husband's church.

God Thanked For O.J. Verdict

The acquittal of superstar O.J. Simpson on charges of murdering his wife and her friend was met with many prayers. "I just lifted my head up and I said 'Praise God,' " said Rosey Grier, football-player-turned-minister.

"I was always in prayer. I knew my son was innocent," said Eunice Simpson, who credited the "prayer of the righteous" for the verdict and said Simpson women spent the night before the verdict praying and crying together.

A large crowd at the First African Methodist Episcopal Church in Los Angeles erupted in prayer while watching the verdict on big-screen TV.

O.J. himself, according to defense lawyer Johnnie Cochran on Dateline, prayed with Cochran right after the verdict was read before leaving the courthouse. Cochran started his news conference on a religious note, just as he had concluded his closing statements: "I want to thank God. He always directs our paths and He is worthy to be praised." Source: National & International Religion Report, 10/16/95

School Bible Studies Escalate

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in California ruled in late September that public high schools must permit student bible study on campus during lunchtime if they allow other noncurricular student activities to meet then. A student sued under the Equal Access Act after officials at San Diego's University City High School banned her bible club from meeting during lunch.

The White House intervened to persuade the Justice Department to file a brief in support of lunchtime bible meetings. Also filing briefs in support were Pat Robertson's American Center for Law and Justice, the National Council of Churches, National Association of Evangelicals and the Southern Baptist Convention. The student was represented by the Rutherford Institute.

Bush Appears At Moonie Event

Former President George Bush and his wife Barbara were scheduled to speak in September in Japan before a group connected with the Unification Church of the Rev. Sun Myung Moon. His wife founded the Women's Federation of World Peace, which held a "Global Family Festival" on Sept. 14 in Tokyo Dome baseball stadium. The visit was condemned by some Japanese for lending legitimacy to the South Korean religious group at a time when Japan is edgy about unorthodox religious activities.

Marilyn Quayle was a guest speaker at last year's festival. Moon spent a year in prison for tax evasion in 1982. In September, he was served with papers in Anchorage naming him in a $720 million Alaska fish price-fixing lawsuit.