Americans United To Honor Investigative Journalist And Youth Activist During Awards Ceremony

September 30, 2014  |  permalink

Author Katherine Stewart And Student Gracie Bedi To Receive Recognition During Nov. 10 D.C. Event

A journalist who exposed the Religious Right’s efforts to infiltrate America’s public schools and a Mississippi student who bravely challenged unlawful religious activity at her public high school will be recognized by Americans United for Separation of Church and State on Nov. 10.

Katherine Stewart, author of The Good News Club: The Christian Right’s Stealth Assault on America’s Children, will receive Americans United’s Person of the Year Award.

Stewart’s book dissects an evangelical Christian movement aimed at students attending public elementary schools. Called “Good News Clubs,” the effort focuses on children who are in many cases too young to read. Sponsors of the clubs, which often meet immediately after school, believe that even very young children can make professions of faith. Many parents view the program as an ecumenical Bible study and aren’t aware of its hardcore fundamentalist slant.

Kirkus Review said of Stewart’s book, “Solid reporting… compelling investigative journalism about an undercovered phenomenon.” The Minneapolis Star-Tribune noted “the book is an important work that reveals a movement little discussed in the mainstream media, one Stewart worries is poised to damage ‘a society as open and pluralistic as ours.’”

In addition, Gracie Bedi will receive Americans United’s David Norr Youth Activist Award. Bedi sued her school, Northwest Rankin High School in Flowood, Miss., after the school held Christian assemblies sponsored by Pinelake Baptist Church. (The Youth Activist Award is named in honor of the late David Norr, who staunchly backed the principle of church-state separation and generously supported Americans United for more than 25 years.)

“Katherine Stewart and Gracie Bedi are courageous individuals who, in two very different ways, exposed the machinations of those who would turn our public schools into centers for preaching,” said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. “We are pleased to have the opportunity to honor two activists of this caliber.”

The awards ceremony will take place during a luncheon meeting of the Americans United Board of Trustees in Washington, D.C.

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Are You Doing Your Part in the Baby Wars?

June 22, 2013  |  permalink

Are the culture wars determined by demographics? Population-minded economists predict that larger birthrates among the religious, coupled with declining birthrates among religious moderates and the nonreligious, will shape the outcome of our present-day battles over the proper role of religion in government. Our culture wars, they say, are decided by a “competition of cradles.” The fly in the ointment, of course, is that soon after leaving those cradles, children develop an ability to think for themselves, and don’t always behave – or vote – the way their elders would like. My latest in Religion Dispatches.

Panel on Religious Child Abuse at the AHA

June 03, 2013  |  permalink

I recently spoke at the national convention of the American Humanist Association as part of a panel on religious child harm, sponsored by the Richard Dawkins Foundation. I was honored to share the stage with Liz Heywood, who was raised in a Christian Science family, and who told a heart-wrenching story of being denied medical care for a severe bone infection, ultimately resulting in the loss of a leg. Janet Heimlich, author of Breaking Their Will: Shedding Light on Religious Child Maltreatment, which examines religiously-motivated child abuse and neglect, described her new initiative, the Child-Friendly Faith Project, a nonprofit organization that educates the public about the impact that belief and faith practices have on children in America. Richard Dawkins moderated.
The topic of child harm is a challenging one. When we approach the subject of religious initiatives in public education, we often do so in a legalistic frame of mind. We talk about the Constitution, the Separation of Church and State, and the legal advocacy groups that are advancing a radical right-wing agenda. But we lose sight of the fact that little children are involved, and that the greatest harms are not to our high-flown principles, but to the children themselves.
Focusing on that harm raises some uncomfortable thoughts. Uncomfortable not just because we are talking about the extremely unpleasant facts of psychological and physical abuse of children, but also because facing these harms forces us to question even some of our own principles. It forces us to confront what we mean by religious tolerance or religious freedom.
We like to think that we should have complete freedom of religion in our society. But what happens when the religion and the abuse of children are inseparable? What happens when religion is bound up with manipulating and even terrorizing small children? That is the uncomfortable fact that I face, in researching some of the groups that are involved in the most successful efforts to insert their religion in public schools. Please view our panel at the AHA website,

Freethinkers’ Response to Bible Distribution in Schools

May 01, 2013  |  permalink

As a rule, it is a bad idea to turn public schools into battlegrounds for religious missions. But as long as fundamentalists insist on distributing Bibles in public schools, it is only fair that those with different perspectives are able to do the same thing on equal footing.

On Thursday May 2, in reaction to a Bible distribution that was allowed to take place in January, freethinkers and atheists are organizing a passive distribution of literature on 11 public high school campuses in Orange County, Florida.
Many of the works submitted to the district, including The Truth by 19th century freethinker Robert G. Ingersoll and Letter to a Christian Nation by Sam Harris, have being disallowed. Approved handouts include FFRF materials, “What is Wrong with the Ten Commandments?” “Ten Common Myths about Atheists,” and “Why Women Need Freedom From Religion.” Also permitted is The Age of Reason, Thomas Paine’s classic challenge to institutionalized religion and the legitimacy of the Bible.

“We want to close the door to religion in schools, not open it to Freethought,” said David Williamson, organizer of the Central Florida Freethought Community, which is participating in the efforts. But, he added, “If they’re going to have a religious discussion on campus, we need to be a part of it.”

Minority Rule

April 23, 2013  |  permalink

The culture war allows an increasingly militant minority of Americans to sustain the delusion that it speaks for the majority. By wrapping guns and crosses in American flags, this group derives power from falsely believing that they represent the “real America”. And as they become bolder in their claims, those of us who, in fact, represent the majority – supporting equitable policies on taxation, gun safety, access to reproductive care and the like – tend to limit ourselves. We begin to believe that we represent a minority in our country. But as the latest Gallop and Pew polls show, in fact, we don’t. My take in the Guardian.

Can Religious Tolerance Trump Bigotry?

April 18, 2013  |  permalink

The resentments that extremists have long used to stoke the culture wars will go away to the extent that people come to understand that their own problems have nothing to do with the demons with which they have long been associated. The more people realize that the problems facing their children have nothing to do with the gay couple next door, for instance, the harder they are to manipulate. Change also comes from those who understand that the valuable parts of any religion – the instructions to love thy neighbor and so on – are not compatible with bigotry and division. If the price of commitment to religion is support for the politics of hate, then the price is simply too high. My take in the Guardian.

North Carolina Bill to Establish State Religion Pulled

April 05, 2013  |  permalink

Imagine an America where, if you want to be a school official or run for state office, you have to prove that you are a certain kind of Christian. Imagine an America where official meetings begins with prayers that infidels will come to know the Lord.

Eight North Carolina legislators and the House Majority leader put forward a bill that would have made this possible, declaring that the U.S. Constitution’s church-state separation provisions applied only to the federal government and not the states. The bill was withdrawn days later when media coverage noted that their point was the same one that the South Carolinians made before the Civil War with respect to secession. My take here.

Good News Clubs and the “Gay Agenda”

March 26, 2013  |  permalink

In honor of today’s SCOTUS hearings on California’s same-sex marriage ban, let’s review the writings of some of the Child Evangelism Fellowship’s keynote speakers. The first set of quotes are from Charles Ware and his book Darwin’s Plantation: Evolution’s Racist Roots (with Ken Ham, 2007, Master Books).

“The homosexual agenda is extending its tentacles throughout the United States culture via media, entertainment, education, and the political system.” (p. 168)

“If homosexual relationships are legitimized based upon personal desires, where does society draw the line with other deviant and destructive behaviors that some find despicable? What makes marriage to children, multiple parties, deceased individuals, or animals wrong?” (p. 172)

In the name of “sexual preference,” countless families have been sacrificed on the altar of personal passion. When some homosexuals “come out,” they fracture family bonds and promises. Spouses who believed they were secure in a relationship til death find themselves deceived and abandoned due to a greater commitment to one’s personal desire than one’s promises.” (p. 177)

So keep that closet door shut! Now let’s hear from Mathew Staver, president and founder of Liberty Counsel, which provides Good News Clubs and the CEF with their legal backup. Staver published a book in 2004 titled Same-Sex Marriage, Putting Every Household at Risk (Broadman & Holman).

“The same-sex marriage movement is radical at its very core and will surely destabilize society. While the cameras are rolling and the journalists are writing, the face of same-sex marriage movement may present itself as tolerant, even mainstream, but the agenda is intolerant and radical. If the camel’s nose ever gets underneath the tent, the tent is history.” (p. 55)

Confused by this mysterious “gay agenda,” to say nothing of camels, I begin to get a grip on Staver’s thinking when he sets aide his obsession with gay peoples’ private business and starts talking about heterosexuals. “To sanction same-sex marriage would be to say that there is no relevance to gender and thus result in the abolition of gender,” he writes.
In other words, if differences between women and men are not reinforced by federal statutes, they will magically vaporize.

Boy Scouts Godless and Gay Policies Result of Religious Takeover?

March 19, 2013  |  permalink

My piece in today’s Guardian on the BSA drew this interesting comment:

“I was a Scout in NYC in the 60s and 70s and tolerance ruled. We were Jews, Chinese, Protestants, Blacks and we didn’t meet at a church. The focus was on nature and the outdoors. I honestly did not think of the Scouts as a particularly religious group. The ‘under God’ statement was about par with the pledge of allegiance. At summer camp Towadena we each had to attend some kind of religious service. I was Unitarian and had Chinese, Muslim and non-practicing friends (hey, this was New York). We created a lovely Native American service in the woods. It was all slightly hippyish and no one cared.

Membership is less than 30% of what is was in my day and the dramatic decline has been disproportionately among liberals, moderates, and seculars. The anti-gay ban has helped to exacerbate their hemorrhage. The secular troops of my day, sponsored by the Elks or the local firehouse, are largely a thing of the past.

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Child Evangelism Clubs in Public Schools?

March 14, 2013  |  permalink

I’m a staunch advocate of the rights of free speech and the free exercise of religion. But last week’s North Carolina protest against Good News Clubs in public schools expresses a legitimate concern. The issue with Good News Clubs isn’t about the exercise of Constitutional rights; it’s about the fraudulent invocation of those rights in a way that tends to subvert the Constitution.
My take in the Atlantic.

Protest at Good News Spectacular

March 07, 2013  |  permalink

Winston-Salem citizens who support the separation of church and state plan to stage a protest at yet another Good News Club Spectacular. The first protest is the subject of a documentary by Scott Burdick titled “Sophia Investigates The Good News Club.” Since it was uploaded last month, the film has been viewed over 20,000 times on Youtube.
The fresh protest at the Winston-Salem event will also be filmed by Burdick. The controversy has received coverage in the Winston-Salem Journal, , MyFox8, and others.
I applaud efforts by Winston-Salem community members to speak up for the constitutional principle of the separation of church and state. The Good News Club may present itself as a benign effort to share its religious views with small children. But its real purpose in being in the public schools is to convince small children —many of whose families do not share the group’s fundamentalist Christian beliefs—that the school endorses a particular variety of religion. Deceiving small kids in public schools into thinking that there is a state-sponsored religion is not part of the free exercise of religion. Furthermore, it compromises the educational mission of schools, and degrades support for public education as a whole.

Is a Public School Yoga Program Religious?

March 05, 2013  |  permalink

The National Center for Law & Policy, a legal organization whose work is motivated by a desire “to keep the doors open for the spread of the Gospel of Jesus Christ” and whose chief attorney has been affiliated with the ADF, is representing a family suing the Encinitas Union School District, alleging that its yoga program is religious. The case raises intriguing questions about the separation of church and school. As I explain in my article for Religion Dispatches, there are so many religious programs – overwhelmingly from the conservative end of the evangelical spectrum—in public schools today that the fuss over yoga is a bit like worrying about a stain on your blouse when your trousers are covered in mud.

Sophia Investigates The Good News Club

February 07, 2013  |  permalink

I am delighted to be featured in a new documentary titled “Sophia Investigates the Good News Club.”  The film is on Youtube and can be viewed here. FIlmmaker Scott Burdick and his team put a lot of hard work into it, and have created a very thought-provoking and watchable 36-minute window on the religious fundamentalism that is forcing public schools to subsidize and promote its agenda.

Science versus Creationism in Australia’s Schools

December 03, 2012  |  permalink

The debate over science education in Australia’s state schools is heating up. It appears that in some state schools, creationism is entering the science curriculum. Link to details here.
Note the comments of Queensland Teachers’ Union president Kevin Bates at around the 18 minute mark, in which he refers to creationism as an ‘alternative theory’ while injecting the word ‘balance’.

Unaffiliated America Takes a Bow

December 03, 2012  |  permalink

In the last election, approximately one in five voters had no religious affiliation. Like any group of this size, the religiously unaffiliated aren’t monolithic. About a third self-identify as atheists, while the rest say they are agnostic, “spiritual but not religious,” or simply uninterested in religion. They are spread fairly evenly across education and income levels. And they are politically diverse when it comes to economic ideas. But they do agree by and large on one thing: that mixing religion with politics is a bad idea. And they went 70 percent for Obama. Read more in my latest piece for Religion Dispatches.

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The Book
The Good News Club, by Katherine Stewart

The Good News Club: The Christian Right’s Stealth Assault on America’s Children

About the Author
author Katherine Stewart Katherine Stewart has written for The New York Times, the Atlantic, and the Guardian. She lives in New York City. More →


Americans United To Honor Investigative Journalist And Youth Activist During Awards Ceremony

September 30, 2014

Are You Doing Your Part in the Baby Wars?

June 22, 2013

Panel on Religious Child Abuse at the AHA

June 03, 2013

Freethinkers’ Response to Bible Distribution in Schools

May 01, 2013

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