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

In the News (June/July 2019)

Vol. 36 No. 05 June/July 2019

Abuse survivors left out of boys ranch’s history 

Men who were physically abused during the 1950s through 1980s at Cal Farley’s Boys Ranch are upset that their experiences are being airbrushed from the history of the ranch’s 80th anniversary celebration. Over 100 have come forward with stories of abuse at the privately operated home for at-risk youths near Amarillo, Texas.

Farley’s “offers professional therapeutic services in a Christ-centered atmosphere,” its website says. Allan Votaw, 66, who came to the ranch at age 5 with two brothers and spent 10 years there, remembers a “horror house” where staff whipped children until they were bruised and bloody and some were molested by older boys. “You lived in fear, you totally lived in fear,” said Votaw.

Beatings came for everything from forgetting a bible verse to getting a bad grade, it’s alleged.

Although the ranch is now offering to pay for counseling, the statute of limitations bars legal remedies. Ranch President Dan Adams said he believes the men but doesn’t want their stories included in the ranch’s account of its history or as part of a book and film being produced for the anniversary. Farley is not accused of abuse but was in charge during the period in question. The city of Amarillo named a Civic Center building the Cal Farley Coliseum after him in 1989. He was honored by the U.S. Postal Service with a “Great Americans” 32-cent stamp in 1996.

Janet Heimlich, founder of an Austin-based nonprofit called the Child-Friendly Faith Project, is leading a group of men who are sharing their experiences. Heimlich, who is a longtime FFRF member, is the author of the 2011 book Breaking Their Will: Shedding Light on Religious Child Maltreatment.

Movie pushes Poland to confront abuse by priests

In Poland, the two-hour documentary about abuse of children by priests, “Tell No One,” has been viewed online more than 21 million times since its release May 11.

Much of the abuse outlined in the movie took place in the 1980s. The revelations from the movie forced people to consider how Poland’s Pope John Paul II failed to take action to protect children.

As public outrage has grown, the government has been forced to respond. Parliament moved toward imposing harsher punishments for those who abuse children, and eliminating the statute of limitations on prosecution of such crimes.

After protests, Brunei says it won’t execute gays

Brunei announced on May 5 that it would not carry out executions by stoning for people convicted of adultery and gay sex, after widespread international protest over the brutality of such penalties.

Critics of the country’s newly enacted Islamic laws said several other harsh punishments remain on the books, including whipping and amputation, and they have called for continued opposition until the laws are completely revised.

The sultan of Brunei, Hassanal Bolkiah, said that his country had gone decades without carrying out the death penalty and that it would continue its de facto moratorium on executions despite the new punishments codified in April under a harsh interpretation of Islamic law.

Buffalo police ordered to not arrest priests

The Buffalo, N.Y., police department were ordered not to arrest Catholic priests, according to a story in the Buffalo News. Instead, the police alerted the bishop’s office to any illegal activities.

The policy “only extended to Catholic priests,” former vice squad Detective Martin Harrington told the News. “If we caught clergy from other religions, we arrested them.”

“Something that serious, if it had been reported to our detectives, would have come to my attention,” former Buffalo Police Commissioner R. Gil Kerlikowske told the News. “I believe the church hierarchy would deal with these things themselves as opposed to going to police. It’s only in recent years that people are finding out that things were not being done properly.”

UCSF drops affiliation with Catholic hospitals

University of California-San Francisco announced May 28 that it has dropped plans for an expanded affiliation with Dignity Health, a Catholic hospital chain that puts discriminatory restrictions on abortions, transgender care and other services.

The decision reflects concerns that had been raised among UCSF medical professionals and advocates for women’s health care and LGBTQ advocates about the proposed affiliation.

Fundamentalist groups pour millions into Europe

Christian right fundamentalists linked to the Trump administration and Steve Bannon are among a dozen American groups that have poured at least $50 million of “dark money” into Europe over the last decade, OpenDemocracy reported in late March.

These groups have backed “armies” of ultra-conservative lawyers and political activists. A number of them appear to have increasing links with Europe’s far right and are spending money on a scale “not previously imagined,” according to lawmakers and human rights advocates, who have called the findings “shocking.”

None of these American groups discloses who its donors are — though at least two have links to famous conservative billionaires, such as the Koch brothers and the family of Betsy DeVos, Trump’s education secretary.

Michigan AG announces arrests for clergy abuse

Michigan law enforcement officials made their first arrests in a statewide investigation into Roman Catholic clergy sexual abuse, the state’s attorney general announced on May 24.

Five former Catholic priests have been charged with criminal sexual conduct, Attorney General Dana Nessel said at a news conference. But hundreds, or even thousands, of alleged victims could still remain across the state, she said.

“This is just the tip of the iceberg,” she said. “We anticipate many more charges and arrests.”

The charges were the latest effort by law enforcement nationwide to hold Catholic officials accountable for sexual abuse in the church. Four of the former priests were arrested in Arizona, California, Florida and Michigan. The fifth faces possible extradition from India.

60% would consider voting for an atheist president

A 2019 Gallup poll showed that 60 percent of U.S. voters would have no problem if a presidential candidate is an atheist, the highest percentage to date. However, it still ranks second to last, behind only a “socialist.”

When it comes to analyzing the atheist support base, 71 percent of Democrats were comfortable with an atheist candidate, compared to only 42 percent of Republicans. Age matters too, with 72 percent of all voters below 34 years willing to support any openly atheist candidate compared to  54 percent of the 55 years and up voting population. Also, people with higher formal education support atheism more than the less educated.

Irony alert: Ark park sues over rain damage

Ark Encounter, Ken Ham’s monument to biblical literalism in Kentucky, is suing insurance carriers over coverage for rain-related damages to the property.

It is seeking to recoup what it says were $1 million worth of repairs, as well as attorneys’ fees and costs, and an unspecified amount of punitive damages.

After slightly higher than normal rains, a slope abutting an access road near the ark began to fail. Eventually, a “significant landslide” took out a barrier along the road. The theme park reported the property damage to its insurance companies.

But the insurance companies denied claims for the improvements, saying that the policy had an exclusion for correcting design deficiencies or faulty workmanship.