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There Are Limits—Not all those who wish to read from the Bible are welcome at West Virginia’s Shepherd College. When forty-nine-year-old Barbara Marie Harm ison wanted to do just that, campus police told her she needed permission from the student affairs department. She may have forgot to tell them she planned to preach naked, and when she went ahead and did so, she was arrested and charged with indecent exposure, disturbance of school, and disorderly conduct.
A Step Back—Times are hard in one of the world’s biggest financial centers, so people are resorting to supernatural means to improve their lots. Da Siu Yan is an ancient Chinese ritual that promises to curse one’s enemies. For $6.50, a customer can have one of the many elderly women who practice it on the streets of Hong Kong swear at, pound on, then burn a piece of paper with the image of the person the client is upset with. Hong Kong is experiencing high unemployment and a record rate of bankruptcies, so business is brisk. Official reaction is mixed. Complaints about sidewalks littered with burned paper have to be addressed, but the government also sees money to be made from regulating the practice and using it to attract tourists.
It Wasn’t God on High—Perhaps Jesus was responsible for healing people in his lifetime, but according to High Times magazine, the reason was not supernatural but a cannabis extract present in anointing oil. Kaneh-bosem in an oil-based carrier is capable of being absorbed through the skin and could have been responsible for healing of eye and skin diseases reported in the Gospels. Writer Chris Bennett says a cannabis extract was also present in incense at that time.
Secularists Stay Away—If a Jew doesn’t intend to practice a religiously observant life, he or she should forget about migrating to Israel. So says an Orthodox member of the Israeli Cabinet, Health Minister Nissim Dahan. His remarks, made at a convention of Jewish Orthodox leaders from around the world, were condemned by other Israeli officials.
A Tic Is Just a Tic—A law student at Pat Robertson’s Regent University has won a financial settlement in his suit against the school. It had suspended him and ordered him to get counseling after other students accused him of being beset by a demon and “being cursed by God for being sinful” after he developed a facial tic.
Catholic Hospitals Restrict Emergency Contraception Treatment
A survey of U.S. Catholic hospitals has found most will not provide emergency contraception (EC) treatment to patients who have requested it, even if they are victims of rape. In addition, these hospitals also failed to refer women to places where they could receive such services.
Ibis Reproductive Health surveyed all 597 Catholic hospital emergency rooms in the United States for the study. Only 5 percent provided EC upon request. Twenty-three percent provided EC only to rape victims. The majority, 55 percent, would not provide EC under any circumstances, and two-thirds of the referrals they provided for such care proved to be dead ends.
Charlotte Ellertson, Ibis’s president, noted that EC is endorsed by the Food and Drug Administration, the American Medical Association, and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. “It’s been proven safe and effective for more than thirty years,” she said. “It’s absolutely standard therapy for women who want to prevent pregnancy after unprotected sex.”
The Catholic hospitals who deny patients EC may be on a collision course with state law, according to Frances Kissling, president of Catholics for a Free Choice, which released Ibis’s study. Washington and Illinois already require hospitals to administer EC or provide meaningful referrals, and California will follow suit next month.
Mormons Still Baptizing Jews
According to the Cleveland Jewish News, Mormons are still posthumously baptizing deceased Jews into the Mormon faith to save their souls. They include Albert Einstein, Irving Berlin, baseball great Hank Greenberg, Gilda Radner, and twenty thousand Holocaust victims. Names are also added on the list of baptismal candidates by Mormon followers who research their family trees and submit their non-Mormon ancestors.
The Jewish community asked the Mormons to stop this practice seven years ago, and the church signed an agreement to do so. It apparently has not kept up its end of the bargain, but says it will try again. Mormon officials contend that no harm is done because, once a Jew gets to heaven, he or she can decide whether or not to stay there. But, presumably, a decision against will return that person to hell or maybe back to the coffin, where his or her non-Chris-tian soul will be forever imprisioned.
Muslim Fundamentalists Make Hay with Shuttle Disaster
According to some Middle Eastern Muslims, the explanation for February 1’s catastrophic failure of the space shuttle Columbia is not so hard to come by. It was a sign from God that U.S. policy in the Mideast is wrong.
New York Times reporter Neil MacFarquhar talked to people in the streets of Cairo, Egypt, to get their reaction. They connected the disaster to the Israeli astronaut on board and said God’s intentions could not be misinterpreted since the spacecraft began breaking up over Palestine, Texas (it actually began coming apart over California). Some people also expected the Muslim community to be tainted with charges of terrorism if it were found that the Indian astronaut on board was Muslim (she was Hindu).
Others said that shuttle tragedies had only occurred during Republic administrations that have had unfavorable policies toward Muslims, and that this shuttle mission involved spying in Iraq.
Saints on the Fast Track
Mother Teresa moved a step closer to sainthood when Pope John Paul II credited her with a miracle at the end of last year. Her beatification will occur in October. The pope waived the five-year waiting period after death to start the process. Another miracle must be attributed to Mother Teresa before she can become a saint, but the church should have no trouble finding one if they apply the same standards as used in the first case.
The miracle in question involved a woman who was supposedly cured of a stomach tumor after an image of Mother Teresa was placed on her abdomen. But doctors had told church officials that Monica Besra was being treated with drugs for meningitis and an ovarian tumor.
Meanwhile, Opus Dei founder Josemaría Escrivá de Balaguer recent-ly completed the abbreviated road to sainthood. The organization, which has about 80,000 members worldwide and recruits from the academic and political fields, has been described as the Catholic version of the Moral Majority.
Pope John Paul II has elevated more than 460 people to sainthood in his twenty-four years as pope.
Edis, Hoodbhoy Win Forkosch Awards
The Council for Secular Humanism is pleased to announce the winners of the Morris D. Forkosch Awards for 2002. The Forkosch Awards are given for best humanist book and best article in Free Inquiry magazine.
The Forkosch Award for best book goes to The Ghost in the Universe: God in Light of Modern Science by Taner Edis (Prometheus, 2002), which defends a naturalistic interpretation of contemporary physics. The book was excerpted in the Fall 2002 FI and favorably reviewed in the Winter 2002/03 FI.
The Forkosch Award for best article goes to Pervez Hoodbhoy for “Muslims and the West After September 11,” which appeared in the Spring 2002 issue. This article, based on Hoodbhoy’s speech at the November 2001 Center for Inquiry conference in Atlanta, received extensive media attention and was reprinted in the Washington Post.
Edis and Hoodbhoy will accept their awards at the Council for Secular Humanism’s conference in Washington, D.C., in April.
The Latest From Scalia
“It is a Constitution that morphs while you look at it like Plasticman,” Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia recently told a gathering in honor of Religious Freedom Day in Fredericksburg, Virginia. He said the framers of the Constitution never intended to remove God from government. “That is contrary to our whole tradition, to ‘in God we trust’ on the coins, to Thanksgiving proclamations, to (congressional) chaplains, to tax exemp-tion for places of worship which has always existed in America.”
New Territory Brings New Problems—Filmmakers have made what they claim to be the first Israeli-Arab pornography movie. In it, the featured couple begin their acquaintance in Hebrew but then slip into their native Arabic as the action heats up. Although the amateur actors may be lovers or even married in real life, the Muslim community in the town of Tira where they both live was so outraged that they beat them in public. The woman’s relatives disowned her. She claimed she performed in the movie to feed her family.
Join the Crowd—The president of the Unitarian Universalists says he will push to add belief in God to the denomination’s statement of principles. The Reverend William Sinkford, once an atheist, says the change would attract members and increase the church’s influence in world affairs. The statement of principles is expected to be revisited at the Unitarian Universalist national convention in June. Opposition is expected from at least some quarters of the diverse membership.
Elvis Is King! I Mean, Jesus Is King!—Try these words the next time you feel like singing “Blue Suede Shoes.” “Well it’s one for the father, two for the Son, three for the Holy Spirit and your life has just begun.” And there’s this for the chorus: “You can do anything but don’t turn Jesus away.” That’s what “Rockin’ Reverend” Dorian Baxter at Christ the King Graceland Independent Anglican Church of Canada leads the crowd in, as he sports an Elvis hairdo and outfits. The church remains independent as Anglican leaders frown on the tactics, which the reverend claims brings in followers.
When Multiculturalism Goes Too Far—Greenland’s top civil servant wanted optimum conditions for government operations, so he brought in an Inuit healer to chase evil spirits away from public offices. It didn’t work: his decision cost him his job and brought down the government. Some of the former Danish territory’s 56,000 inhabitants practice native Inuit traditions in music and dance, but most belong to Denmark’s Lutheran church.
Oops—Kentucky Mountain Bible College has asked its telephone company for a change in number. It doesn’t think the exchange prefix “666,” is appropriate. In Christian Circles, 666 is regarded as the biblical mark of the beast. “No one wants to be part of the mark of the beast,” said an employee at the school, which has eighty-five students. The Access Point company says it will comply with the school’s wishes as soon as possible.