U.S. Military Hosts First Event for Athiests, Agnostics

Weekly summary of world news

Norm Olson April 3, 2012




For the first time, the U.S. military has hosted an event meant for atheist and agnostic soldiers on the grounds of the Fort Bragg Army base in North Carolina, reports The Christian Post. Prominent British atheist Richard Dawkins was a speaker on Saturday. “We’re never antagonistic toward religious believers, we’re antagonistic toward religious belief,” he claims. “There is no good, honest reason to believe in a god or gods of any kind, or indeed in anything supernatural. The only reason to believe something is that you have evidence for it.” “We got any Darwin fans in the house?” asked Baba Brinkman, a rapper, before launching into a song about evolutionary biology. The Delaware-based Stiefel Freethought Foundation, which promotes and supports the free thought movement, had donated $70,000 for the event. The post commander had earlier refused to allow the festival to be held on the main parade field. The festival was conceived as a reaction to a Billy Graham event, which atheist groups objected to, alleging it was an army-sponsored platform to seek converts. Retired Navy Chaplain James Klingenschmitt earlier told The Christian Post that when the Billy Graham event was held, atheists threatened lawsuits, wrongly arguing that an “evangelistic rally” jointly sponsored by U.S. military personnel and evangelical Christian churches and ministries violates the U.S. Constitution and must be canceled.

Other news:

  • The hostile environment against Wisconsin’s Gov. Scott Walker (R) has led to the firing of a school custodian because of the pro-governor sign on her car, reports onenewsnow.com. After a school official complained, the company told Mary Taylor of Diversified Building Maintenance to remove the sign or face the consequences. When she refused, Kyle Olson of the Education Action Group says the company followed through on its threat and fired her. “What we’re seeing in Wisconsin and around the country is that there is this super charged political environment that the unions have brought into our schools, where there [are] these complaints, . . . fights and petitions and all that sort of stuff,” he lamented. Olson places the blame for this acrimonious and hostile environment at the feet of teachers unions. “Again, their agenda is very clear,” he said. “They want collective bargaining, they want higher wages, they want to pay as little as possible for health insurance—all those sorts of adult issues. They’re not in the interest of children.” After a local radio personality spotlighted Taylor’s situation, the EAG president reports that the company was shamed into rehiring her. She has, however, been assigned to a different district.
  • For years starting in the mid-1990s, millions from around the globe visited a humble church in Florida’s Panhandle for lively Pentecostal revival services where believers flocked on stage to be healed by God of cancer, addiction, and broken hearts. At its height, the “Brownsville Revival” drew as many as 5,500 people a night for six years—estimates put the total between 2.5 million and 4.5 million people. Donations poured in as the Brownsville Assembly of God added staff, built a massive new sanctuary, and opened a school for preachers. In the decade after being the home of the largest Pentecostal outpouring in U.S. history, the church has been on the edge of financial ruin, reports the AP. It racked up $11.5 million in debt, to be paid after the out-of-town throngs and its former pastor moved on. The red ink is mostly unknown outside the congregation. “Every Monday I find out what the (Sunday) offering was and we decide what we can pay this week,” said the Rev. Evon Horton, Brownsville’s current pastor. “The good news is last week we paid our mortgage. The bad news is it drained our bank accounts.” The paid staff is down to six from around 50, and the newsletter is printed monthly instead of weekly. About 800 to 1,000 worshipers total attend two Sunday services, but most pews go empty in the 2,200-seat sanctuary. Another 2,600-seat sanctuary built just for the revival is used for a gym, community classes, and storage. The church has trimmed millions off its debt by selling property and slashing expenses, and it’s raising money to pay off the remaining $6.5 million. The problems at Brownsville, said the AP report, look familiar to Howard Snyder, a professor at Tyndale Seminary in Toronto who has studied revivals. When the dust settles after a spirited revival, churches can be left with divisions and no long-term plan. “Revivals may produce rapid growth,” he wrote in an e-mail. “But new converts or adherents need teaching, discipling, spiritual formation over time, and often the church’s leadership fails to understand this and provide for it. So very easily, ‘what goes up comes back down.’”
  • Conventional wisdom might hold that churches can never legally get involved in politics, but when it comes to issues—and specifically for , ballot initiatives dealing with the definition of marriage—churches actually have wide latitude, says an attorney well-versed in IRS law, reports Baptist Press. Voters in up to five states this year will vote on the definition of marriage—North Carolina’s vote on May 8 is the first—and many churches already are involved, urging their members to stand up for the Biblical definition of marriage as being between one man, one woman. Still, many churches are hesitant to speak up, fearful that doing so is a violation of IRS law and could endanger their tax-exempt status. Erik Stanley, senior legal counsel for the Alliance Defense Fund, says that pastors and congregations have nothing to fear. Under IRS law, churches cannot endorse candidates, but they can lobby for specific legislation—here, ballot initiatives—provided that the time and money spent doing so is less than 5 percent of their overall operation and budget, Stanley said. “I cannot foresee any situation where a church would come anywhere close to violating that prohibition,” Stanley told Baptist Press of the 5 percent limit. “Essentially, a church would have to devote itself almost wholeheartedly to lobbying efforts in order to be at risk.” Stanley went one step further, saying that churches not only are allowed to take public stands on ballot initiatives, but they should do so. Pastors and churches, Stanley said, can legally gather signatures for petitions, even within the church building itself; urge members to support or oppose an initiative; hand out literature for or against an initiative; hold meetings geared specifically toward the initiative; and preach sermons on the issue, urging members to vote a certain way.
  • Columnist Eric Peters has come out eyeing what will happen if ObamaCare is held constitutional, reports godfatherpolitics: “In law, precedent is everything. Because it becomes practice. Once a given thing is countenanced by the courts, it becomes the basis for countenancing other, similar-in-principle things. Some 25 years ago, when the courts ruled it was within the government’s constitutional authority to stop motorists at random, without even the pretext of probable cause (as clearly demanded—without qualification—by the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution), a precedent was established. Today, we are subject to random stops—and random searches—at any time, just about. It has become a routine—and routinely accepted—practice. If the government has the authority to force each of us to buy a health insurance policy on the basis of ‘interstate commerce’ or some appeal to the collective greater good—then a new precedent will have been established. Why, having gone this far, stop there? Do you imagine the government will stop there? Has it ever once, having expanded its authority, failed to expand upon that authority? Why not also force people at gunpoint to buy life insurance? As things stand, there are families left without a breadwinner—and the breadwinner’s income—following an untimely death. Perhaps some people cannot afford to buy life insurance. Surely life insurance is just as vital to interstate commerce—and the ‘security’ provided by a policy just as much a ‘right’ as the ‘right’ to health care? Precisely the same arguments can—and will—be used. . . . If the Supremes hold ObamaCare ‘constitutional’ then we no longer have a Constitution. What we will have is the precedent of unlimited, open-ended federal authority—which in short order will become the routinized practice of forcing each of us to do (and buy) literally anything.”
  • A new review of data collected from 1974 to 2010 has found that public perception of science and trust in its findings has drastically fallen for those who consider themselves politically conservative, reports conservativebyte.com. Gordon Gauchat, a sociology professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill who reviewed the data from the General Social Survey, found that conservatives have had the most variation in trust of scientific data, while moderates and liberals have remained constant in their confidence levels. It wasn’t always this way for conservatives. In 1974, 48 percent of conservatives reported having “a great deal of trust in science.” At this time, Gauchat states in the report conservatives had the “highest trust in science, relative to liberals and moderates.” The decline from there was gradual, according to Gauchat. By 2010, only 35 percent of conservatives reported having “a great deal of trust in science.”
  • Although it opened only in 390 theaters, the anti-abortion drama October Baby, starring John Schneider, earned the second-highest-per-screen average, bringing in almost $2 million in ticket sales, reports christiancinema.com. October Baby follows the emotional journey of a young woman who learns that she was almost aborted, but at the last minute was instead given up for adoption. The film almost didn’t see the light of day. “This film couldn’t find a home, no studio wanted to touch it. It was considered too controversial,” Erwin continued. “There was a real moment of despair at one point, the film wasn’t finished, and nobody would take a look at it. But every time we screened it, it attracted such intense emotional reactions. So we had to raise the money ourselves, and the release process took much longer than we wanted.” According to Dr. Ted Baehr, founder of the Christian movie site movieguide.org, the success of October Baby can be attributed to a strong Christian and moral worldview that touched the hearts of those who saw it. He says it’s important for more audiences to have the chance to see it too. Erwin said they are hoping for a wider release next month, and communities are so desperate to see the film they are forming “action squads” in which Christian schools, churches, and residents are coming together and agreeing to buy a certain amount of tickets to cover costs. “We don’t have the deep pockets and resources that big studios have,” Erwin added. “So we have to take the long approach. But people are really getting behind this and rallying. People identify with it, that’s why the film worked.”
  • President Barack Obama’s wait-until-after-the-election comment to Russian President Dmitry Medvedev that an open microphone caught could pose a serious problem for the president’s re-election bid, according to Karl Rove, reports newsmax.com. Obama didn’t realize the mic would pick up his comments when he told Medvedev that issues such as missile defense would be best handled after the election when he would “have more flexibility.” “By telling Mr. Medvedev and his patron, the once-and-future Russian President Vladimir Putin, that he will have ‘flexibility’ after the American election on Russian demands opposing a U.S. missile defense for Europe, Mr. Obama is in effect saying he is ready to do something the Russians will like but that the American people won’t,” the former top aide to President George W. Bush wrote. Rove added that Obama’s remarks in Seoul, South Korea, could confirm to voters that he’s “not shooting straight with the American people.” “Is Mr. Obama also concealing unpopular domestic policies he’ll spring on the country in a second term? What the president calls ‘flexibility’ with Russian autocrats, American voters will likely view as a lack of candor with them,” Rove wrote on the Fox News website. “If that’s the case, it could seriously undermine the president’s chances for re-election.
  • Members of three evangelical churches in southern Laos began reclaiming their church buildings confiscated by Lao authorities in a daring move to worship during Palm Sunday, the countdown to Easter, a representative told Worthy News. “Members of the Kengweng Church” in Kengweng village “gathered for worship services outside of the church building for the first time since the authorities confiscated the building,” said Sirikoon Prasertsee, director of Human Rights Watch for Lao Religious Freedom, whose advocacy group is in close contact with the Christians. “At the same time, Christians in Dongpaiwan village also assembled for worship outside of the church building that was sealed by the authorities,” he added. He corrected previous reports that members of Kengweng Church removed a padlock and entered the church, saying “in the last minutes, prior to removing the padlock, they decided to conduct the worship service outside of the church building.” Yet they still plan “removing the padlock next week if there are no problems before next Sunday,” explained Prasertsee. “Although they are risking being arrested and detained en masse, Lao Christians hope to reclaim church properties that belong to them,” he stressed.
  • The Department of Justice has given up its bid to prosecute a pro-life counselor and agreed to pay her $120,000 in a case a judge said never should have been brought, reports Fox News. Mary Susan Pine, who stands outside abortion clinics and advises women not to have the procedure, was accused of blocking a car from entering a Florida abortion clinic in 2009. In December, a judge threw out the case, in which the government sought $10,000 in fines and a permanent injunction barring Pine from counseling women outside the Presidential Women’s Center in West Palm Beach, Fla. The government had been appealing the ruling until it was announced Monday it would no longer pursue the case. Pine’s lawyer said she was a victim of a politically driven prosecution. “It is irresponsible for the U.S. Department of Justice to place politics above principle when deciding to prosecute, and thus attempt to silence, a pro-life sidewalk counselor without any evidence of wrongdoing,” Mathew Staver, founder and chairman of Liberty Counsel, said in a statement. “When the nation’s highest law enforcement officer files suit against any citizen, the suit must be based on the law coupled with compelling evidence. Anything less is an abuse of the high office.”