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

In the News (March)

Vol. 37 No. 02 March 2020

Jews, atheists know most about the Holocaust

A new Pew Research Center poll of 10,971 Americans shows that fewer than half of Americans can correctly cite the number of Jews killed in the Holocaust — 6 million — and even fewer correctly answered that Adolf Hitler became chancellor of Germany through a democratic political process.

While nearly half of Americans got at least three of the four questions on anti-Semitism right, some groups did better than others. Jews, agnostics and atheists got most of the questions right. Mainline Protestants, Mormons, Catholics, evangelical Protestants and Americans who describe their religion as “nothing in particular” answered about half of the questions correctly.

Most Americans (69 percent) know the Holocaust took place roughly between 1930 and 1950. And they know the Nazis created ghettos where Jews were forced to live (63 percent).

Database available of credibly accused priests

ProPublica has collected the 178 lists released by U.S. dioceses and religious orders and created a searchable database that allows users to look up clergy members by name, diocese or parish. This represents the first comprehensive picture of the information released publicly by bishops around the country. Some names appear multiple times. In many cases, that accounts for priests who were accused in more than one location. In other instances, dioceses have acknowledged when priests who served in their jurisdiction have been reported for abuse elsewhere.

To see the database, go here: projects.propublica.org/credibly-accused/

Church of England: Sex for married heteros only

The Church of England has stated that sex belongs only within heterosexual marriage, and that sex in gay or straight civil partnerships “falls short of God’s purpose for human beings.”

Bishops have issued pastoral guidance in response to the recent introduction to mixed-sex civil partnerships, which says: “For Christians, marriage — that is, the lifelong union between a man and a woman, contracted with the making of vows — remains the proper context for sexual activity.”

The Church of England doesn’t permit same-sex marriage. It allows clergy to be in same-sex civil partnerships as long as they are sexually abstinent.

Minnesota church to usher out older members

The Grove United Methodist Church in Cottage Grove, Minn., will be closing in June, but reopening in November with a much younger parish crowd.

The current members, most of whom are over 60, will be told to worship elsewhere. Officials say the church needs a reset, and reopening the church is the best way to appeal to younger people.

Rev. Dan Wetterstrom said that Methodists’ regional Annual Conference is paying $250,000 to restart the church.

The older members will not be physically barred from attending, but the expectation is that they will not.

“We are asking them to let this happen,” said Wetterstrom. “For this to be truly new, we can’t have the core group of 30 people.

“This whole plan makes me sick. I believe it’s evil,” said William Gacksetter, one of the current older parishioners.

New York town won’t say pledge at meetings

In New York, the Town of Enfield Board will no longer recite the Pledge of Allegiance after it voted to end the practice at its first meeting of the year with two new board members.

Citing the separation of church and state, the idea was floated by new Board Member Stephanie Redmond to remove the words “under God” from the pledge, which is said at the open of public meetings.

The first meeting of the year is often an organizational meeting. As the board considered a procedure for meetings, Redmond questioned if they could remove the specific language from the pledge. Redmond expressed that the language in the pledge contradicted the board’s mission of inclusion.

Judge allows lawsuit against Pittsburgh diocese

A Pennsylvania judge ruled Jan. 9 that a lawsuit can move forward against the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh.

The suit by parents and survivors of sexual abuse by clergy members claims the diocese became a public nuisance because they didn’t fulfill obligations under state law to report abusers.

It was originally filed in September of 2018 against each diocese in the state.

The plaintiffs are not seeking any monetary awards from the suit; instead, they say they want names and information of the alleged abusers to be made public.

Attorney Benjamin Sweet insists there’s plenty more that could be revealed, including information about the church’s religious order.

Some evangelical groups shift to ‘church’ status

The Washington Post has reported that several major evangelical organizations have shifted from nonprofit status to “church” status with the IRS, allowing them to keep private exactly how their money is being spent and the salaries of their most highly paid employees.

The IRS status change allows these groups, including Focus on the Family and the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, to avoid filing a form that makes details of their institution’s finances public.

The Post reports that leaders of the groups say they are changing their status to avoid administrative costs; some also believe that this status with the IRS could allow them extra religious freedom protections in potential lawsuits over LGBT rights. The potential cost of applying to be a church is that the organizations cannot campaign on behalf of politicians or devote a substantial part of their work to lobbying on legislation. Critics say the option deprives the public of important information about how the tax-exempt organizations are operating.

Tennessee discriminates against same-sex couples

Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee signed into law a bill that allows private adoption agencies to refuse to place children with a family that conflicts with their religious beliefs.

It states that “no private licensed child-placing agency shall be required to . . . participate in any placement of a child for foster care or adoption when the proposed placement would violate the agency’s written religious or moral convictions or policies.”

The legislation also prohibits any civil actions being taken against faith-based adoption agencies that refuse on religious grounds to place children in homes they morally disagree with, notably same-sex couples.

Pete Stark dies; was first nonreligious U.S. Rep.

The first openly nonreligious member of Congress, former U.S. Rep. Pete Stark Jr., 88, died Jan. 24 at his home in Harwood, Md., of leukemia.

Stark received FFRF’s Emperor Has No Clothes Award, reserved for public figures who make known their dissent from religion, in 2010.

“Our Emperor Award is for those who ‘tell it like it is about religion,’” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “Clearly, Pete Stark’s philosophy was to ‘tell it like it is,’ period. We honor his forthrightness and generosity to the freethought movement, and his lifetime accomplishments.”

Fortney Hillman “Pete” Stark Jr. was born Nov. 11, 1931, in Milwaukee. He graduated in 1953 from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, then served in the Air Force before receiving a master’s degree of business administration from the University of California at Berkeley in 1960.

After being elected to the House of Representatives in 1972, Stark spent 40 years in Congress, but it was 13 years ago, in 2007, when he announced he was nontheistic (although he called himself a Unitarian). 

Stark was known as a staunch backer of health care for all. He helped put together the Affordable Care Act, played a key role in establishing the COBRA program, which became law in 1986, and was an architect of the 1986 Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act.