Published by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc. FFRF.org

In the News (December 2018)

Vol. 35 No. 10 December 2018

Texas keeps Moses in U.S. history curriculum

The Texas State Board of Education voted Nov. 14 to keep Moses in high school U.S. history standards.

Ken Mercer and other conservative members of the board argued for keeping Moses in as an influence on the country’s Founding Fathers. They cited Gov. Greg Abbott, who had weighed in on the matter on Twitter in September, saying, “Eliminating Moses as one of our law-givers is contrary to factual history and to #SCOTUS precedent.”

“Gov. Abbott . . . [is not one of] our Founding Fathers,” Board member Erika Beltran replied, arguing no proof exists that Founding Fathers were influenced by Moses.


Report: Saudi Arabia worst in world for atheists

In its seventh Freedom of Thought report, the International Humanist and Ethical Union listed Saudi Arabia as the worst place in the world for atheists. Others near the bottom of the list include Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan and the Maldives.

Saudi Arabia passed a law in 2014 that describes atheist thought as a kind of terrorism. The country also has been prosecuting liberal campaigners and activists.

At the top of the list for best places for atheists are, in order, Belgium, the Netherlands, Taiwan, Sao Tome and Principe, Nauru, Japan and France.


Greece to separate church and state

Greek Prime Minister Alex Tsipras announced plans in early November to disestablish the Church of Greece. Tsipras, whose Syriza party was elected on a secular manifesto in 2015, has secured the backing for the move from Archbishop Ieronymos II, head of the Greek Orthodox Church.

The prime minister intends to amend the Constitution of Greece to remove references to the church and define the Greek state as ‘religiously neutral.’ In exchange for the church’s support for secularization, the government has agreed to award an annual fixed subsidy to the church. Priests will cease to be counted as government employees.


‘Pro-life’ bill could allow for death penalty

Ohio Republicans are considering a bill that would redefine and ban abortion, and potentially punish people with severe criminal penalties if they perform or undergo an abortion.

The bill, HB 565, was introduced in March and is currently awaiting consideration in the health committee. From fertilization to birth, the “unborn human” would be included under the definition of person in the criminal code.

Also in Ohio, the House, in November, passed one of the most restrictive abortion bills in the country. It would penalize doctors for performing an abortion when a fetal heartbeat can be detected, as early as six weeks into the pregnancy, often before women are even aware they are pregnant.

There are no exceptions for rape, incest or danger to the life of the pregnant person.


AG opens probe into abusive priests in D.C

D.C. Attorney General Karl A. Racine said Oct. 23 that his office has begun an investigation of sexual abuse by Catholic clergy in the Archdiocese of Washington, the latest in a string of state-level law enforcement officials now looking into the Catholic Church’s handling of abuse complaints.

Pope Francis accepted Cardinal Donald Wuerl’s resignation as Washington’s archbishop amid an uproar over a Pennsylvania grand jury report that depicted systemic abuse in the Catholic Church across the state, including in Pittsburgh, where Wuerl had been a bishop.

Racine has limited power to prosecute crimes in the district, where felony cases are handled by the U.S. attorney’s office.

However, he is opening a civil investigation under his authority to enforce D.C. law governing nonprofit organizations.


Alaska archdiocese launches commission

The Archdiocese of Anchorage is launching an independent commission on sexual abuse to review all personnel files of those who have served in the region since 1966 and plans to release names of any Catholic church workers in their purview with credible sexual misconduct claims against them.

The move mirrors that of other U.S. dioceses that have launched similar efforts in an attempt to respond to the ongoing sexual abuse crisis in the Catholic Church.


Nevada Hilton replaces bibles with Constitution

In place of the bible so often found in bedside drawers throughout the nation’s hotels, the ownership of the Hilton Garden Inn in Nevada has opted for a copy of the U.S. Constitution.

Management at the hotel confirmed that there are copies of the U.S. Constitution in every room but declined to provide more details on the change.

Some hotel chains looking to attract younger Millennial guests — dubbed the least religious generation in American history — have eschewed bibles.


Supreme Court to take Bladensburg cross case

The Supreme Court agreed Nov. 2 to decide whether a 40-foot cross in the median of a busy suburban Maryland highway is a secular memorial to those who died during World War I or an unconstitutional government endorsement of religion.

The so-called Peace Cross, made of granite and cement, was built in 1925 as a tribute to local men who died during World War I. It was paid for by local families, businesses and the American Legion. But the giant cross sits on a piece of land that has been owned since 1961 by a state commission that pays for its maintenance and upkeep.

The challenge to the cross began with the American Humanist Association.


Atheist minister allowed to keep her job

Atheist Toronto United Church minister Gretta Vosper will be allowed to keep her job.

Toronto Conference, the Rev. Gretta Vosper, and West Hill United Church said in a joint statement Nov. 7 that the parties had “settled all outstanding issues between them.”

The General Council of the United Church of Canada had started proceedings in a formal hearing to decide whether to place the ordained minister on the Discontinued Service List (Disciplinary).

A Toronto Conference interview committee said in a September 2016 report that it had found Vosper unsuitable for ministry, because she was no longer in “essential agreement” with the church’s statement of doctrine and was “unwilling and unable” to reaffirm the vows she made when she was ordained in 1993.


Appeals court sides with state over busing

Federal judges backed Wisconsin state schools Superintendent Tony Evers’ decision to not require a public school district to provide busing to students attending a private religious school.

Parents of students at St. Augustine School and a conservative legal firm sued Evers and the Friess Lake School District in 2016 after the district and Evers said the students did not qualify to ride district buses to school for free.

Under state law, public school districts are required to bus private school students, but only to one school per religious denomination in an attendance area.

Because students were already being bused to another Catholic school, the St. Augustine students were denied free transportation by Evers’ Department of Public Instruction and the district.

The parents appealed a lower court’s ruling siding with Evers and the district. On a 2-1 vote, a panel of the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld that ruling Nov. 8.


Vatican: U.S. bishops must delay taking action

The Vatican has told the US. Conference of Catholic Bishops to delay voting on measures to hold bishops accountable for failing to protect children from sexual abuse, the president of the conference said in a surprise announcement Nov. 12.

For weeks, the U.S. Catholic bishops have trumpeted a series of reforms they had hoped to make after what one cardinal called the church’s “summer of hell.” Those reforms must be approved by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

The Vatican’s late intervention, ordered by its Congregation for Bishops, essentially puts the American bishops’ reforms on hold.