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11'War on Easter' in Wisconsin Between Christians, Atheists

The "War on Easter" frenzy has officially begun in Madison, Wis. where the atheist group Freedom From Religion Foundation and the Christian group Concerned Women for America are competing with opposing messages at the State Capitol building.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation has set up a sign that reads "Nobody died for our sins, Jesus Christ is a myth."

Concerned Women for America set up a display that includes a Christian cross and pro-life literature, noted Fox News.

Annie Laurie Gaylor, co-president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, said in a press release:

It's unfortunate to see a sectarian symbol [a cross] that is increasingly used as a symbol of political intimidation in our state capitol.

It's also unfortunate to see women serving as a front for a patriarchal religion based on women's subservience and second-class status. This is the same group that helped defeat the Equal Rights Amendment citing its allegiance to biblical principles, instead of civil liberties under our secular government.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation also claims that someone tried to mangle their sign, but they got it back and put it back up.

Sources: Fox News and Freedom From Religion Foundation

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11Mayor Bans Atheist Display to Not Upset Christian ‘Prayer Station’ (Video)

Warren, Mich. Mayor Jim Fouts is refusing to allow a “Reason Station” inside the city hall's atrium because it would upset a Christian "Prayer Station," which already resides there.

The "Reason Station" was proposed by Douglas Marshall, who is part of the group Freedom From Religion (video below).

Marshall's "Reason Station" would promote reason and logic, as well as the separation of church and state.

“I do view this a violation of my free speech rights,” Marshall told the Detroit Free Press.

“It seems to me that the mayor allows free speech in the atrium as long as he agrees with the speech,” added Marshall. “If he doesn’t, he denies speech he doesn’t agree with in the atrium.”

While explaining his denial of Marshall's free speech request, Mayor Fouts told My Fox Detroit, "I emphasize one thing: The government cannot restrict an individual's freedom of speech, but an individual cannot restrict the government's freedom of speech."

In his denial letter, Mayor Fouts reportedly wrote to Marshall:

To my way of thinking, your group is strictly an anti-religion group intending to deprive all organized religions of their constitutional freedoms or at least discourage the practice of religion. The City of Warren cannot allow this.

Also, I believe it is group’s intention to disrupt those who participate in the Prayer Station which would also be a violation of the freedom of religion amendment. For these reasons, I cannot approve of your request.

Sources: Detroit Free Press and My Fox Detroit

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11Minnesota Cult Leader On the Run From 59 Charges of Sexual Misconduct With Minor 'Maidens'

Victor Arden Barnard, a minister who claimed to be the messiah and dressed to match, is now facing 59 counts of criminal sexual conduct for abusing girls who came to live at his compound.

Barnard, 52, is the founder of a Minnesota cult where he ministered to his “maidens,” a group of virginal girls and women who came to receive his teachings. Two girls who were sent to live with him at River Road Fellowship camp near Finlayson, Minn., at the ages of 12 and 13 have come forth with accusations that Barnard sexually abused them.

But Barnard guarded his cult carefully, making it difficult for authorities to infiltrate. For more than two years, the Pine County Sheriff’s office has been investigating the leader.

"The really difficult element about going in and trying to investigate this is that they're a very tight religious sect," said Chief Deputy Steven Blackwell. "It's very difficult to get answers and information from that kind of community."

The probe started when a 24-year-old woman, referred to in the complaint as “B,” said she and her family joined the “fellowship” in 1998. Two years after that, Barnard established a “Maidens Group” of virgins who were never supposed to get married and lived with Barnard, apart from his wife and kids, in “Shepherd's Camp.”

"Barnard repeatedly preached to [B] that he represented Christ in the flesh, that Jesus Christ had Mary Magdalene and other women who followed him, that King Solomon slept with many concubines, that the firstborn child was to be sacrificed to God, and that it was normal for Barnard to have sex with her because it was in God's Word," the complaint states.

Jess Schweiss, one of the two women who came forward, expressed her relief that after so many years of confusion, she will have justice.

"I feel bad in one sense that I am taking Victor's life away from him by putting him behind bars, but then again, he took my life away from me, which I should have had," she said. "So, I feel that — for lack of better words — I think I'm even." 

Since Schweiss’ parents are still in the cult, she may have to testify against them.

Running from the charges filed last week, Barnard is thought to be somewhere near Seattle or Tacoma. Authorities have issued a nationwide warrant for his arrest.

Sources: New York Daily News, KMSP-TV

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11Boston May Suffer Another Terrorist Attack, Warns Christian Radio Host (Audio)

American Family Association radio host Sandy Rios claimed today that the anniversary ceremony yesterday for the victims of last year's Boston Marathon bombing may have opened the city up for another terrorist attack.

According to RightWingWatch.org, Rios warned that because "we" have denied and ignored God, there may be another "onslaught" (audio below).

The anniversary event was not a religious service, but The Los Angeles Times reports that Vice President Joe Biden did mention God at the ceremony, "We will never yield, we will never cower, America will never ever, ever stand down. We are Boston. We are America. We respond, we endure, we overcome, and we own the finish line! God bless you all, and may God protect our troops.”

The Associated Press notes that bombing survivor John Wallis said, "We certainly experienced a terribly tragic moment for a lot of people, but at the end of the day, we're okay and that was God's grace letting us be okay."

There were reportedly other mentions of God and religious leaders also spoke, but that didn't satisfy Rios who slammed the city's "Boston Strong" slogan.

"Only by God’s grace was it not worse than it was, only by God’s grace Boston could’ve been wiped out, there could’ve been thousands of casualties, it could’ve been a whole lot worse, they could have been devastated as a city, they could have been in a situation where they couldn’t recover," said Rios. "It’s only by God’s grace and mercy that it wasn’t worse than it was. It was not because of ‘Boston Strong.'"

"And I have to say, because we have denied him and ignored him and refused to acknowledge him, we cannot assume and in fact we can probably likely count on the fact that God, unless he does on behalf of the people that are called by his name, those of us that serve him, unless he hears our prayers above what we see happening in this country, I’m not sure that there will be something to stop the next onslaught," added Rios.

Sources: RightWingWatch.org, The Associated Press, The Los Angeles Times

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11NYPD Shuts Down Controversial Muslim Surveillance Unit

After a long controversy, the New York Police Department has dropped its Muslim surveillance project. The squad, known as the “Demographics Unit” and now renamed the “Zone Assessment Unit,” used plainclothes detectives to spy on the conversations and day-to-day activities of New York’s Muslim neighborhoods.

The effort went as far as logging the conversations Muslims had in restaurants, as well as tracking the places they lived, worked, traveled, and prayed. Anyone in traditional Muslim clothes was a potential target.

The decade-long surveillance program never generated a single terrorism lead, the police acknowledged in 2012.

Civil rights groups protested the spying, probed by a series of investigative stories by the Associated Press that prompted two federal lawsuits. A senior FBI official also spoke out against the surveillance, arguing that it actually harmed national security efforts by creating distrust for law enforcement in Muslim communities.

The New York Times reports that the decision to close the unit is a first sign that the department’s newly appointed commissioner, William J. Bratton, is easing off the counter-terrorism efforts that mounted after 9/11.

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio called the move "a critical step forward in easing tensions between the police and the communities they serve, so that our cops and our citizens can help one another go after the real bad guys.”

The American Civil Liberties Union wrote last October that 125 groups had asked the Justice Department to investigate the surveillance program, including the ACLU.

"The NYPD's surveillance program has stigmatized Muslims as suspect and had deeply negative effects on their free speech, association, and religious practice,” said Hina Shamsi, director of the ACLU's National Security Project.

But the ACLU points to other, ongoing practices in the NYPD that will continue despite the fact that the surveillance program has been dismantled, including targeting mosques as “terrorism enterprises” and discriminatory use of surveillance cameras.

Muslim advocates are still concerned about where the collected data is going—and if the practices are really going to stop.

"This was definitely a part of the big puzzle that we're trying to get dismantled," Linda Sarsour, executive director of the Arab American Association of New York, told the Associated Press at a private meeting last week announcing the shuttering of the unit. “But this doesn't necessarily prove to us yet that these very problematic practices are going to end."

Sources: New York Times, ACLU, Associated Press

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11Atheist Foundation Claims Clemson Football Coach Dabo Swinney Violates Players' Freedom of Religion

The atheist Freedom From Religion Foundation wrote a letter of complaint to Clemson University asking it to keep religion out of its football program.

The Foundation claims that coach Dabo Swinney is mixing up football with religion by organizing Bible studies and devotionals and distributing Bibles to players.

"What we have observed in the records is that the football coaching staff is doing a number of things to promote Christianity to their student-athletes," said Foundation staff attorney Patrick Elliot.

The Foundation submitted an open records request in February to gain access to emails and other materials showing that the school was blending the lines between church and state.  

It also asks that the university get rid of its chaplain position, occupied by a former Clemson player, James Trapp.

"What we'd like to see is the end of this chaplaincy position and end to Bible distributions by coaches, an end to devotionals scheduled and put on by coaches and staff. The coaches need to step back and just coach (football) and not coach in religious matters."

Cathy Sams, the university's chief public affairs officer, said there’s no evidence that Swinney hasn't forced his players to participate in religious activities.

"I can't comment on any of the specifics in the letter or any of the specific concerns," Sams said. "No one is required to participate in any religious activities related to the football program. It's purely voluntary. Religion and faith is a big part of Coach Swinney's personal beliefs, but it is in no way required. There is no mandatory participation."

Swinney, who has signed an eight-year head coaching deal worth more than $27 million, is open about his Christian beliefs.

“To be here as the head coach at Clemson, that doesn’t just happen,” Swinney said when he was named head coach in 2008. “I hope people will really listen to me when I tell them what my secret to success is, and that is to put your eyes on the Lord in everything you do, and believe in yourself, and don’t quit.”

Elliot says that while the coach Swinney certainly has the right to believe whatever he wants, he violates players’ constitutional rights by inflicting Christianity on them, pointing out that coaches have a “tremendous influence” on players.

"He has every right to be a religious person and to engage in these activities. But he doesn't have the right to do that as a part of his university coaching position. There needs to be a complete separation between his religious views and demonstrating that and encouraging that with people under his charge,” Elliot said.

Sources: Greenville Online, The State

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11Cleveland Taxi Drivers Won't Promote Gay Games Because of Religious Beliefs

Some taxi cab drivers who work the Cleveland Hopkins International Airport have told their companies that they do not want to drive cabs that include signs for the upcoming Gay Games in Cleveland.

According to the Associated Press, 10,000 athletes are expected to be part of the Gay Games in Cleveland Aug. 9 – 16.

Several drivers who work for Ace, Americab, and Yellow Taxi objected to the signage on their rooftops based on their religious beliefs.

Patrick Keenan, general manager of Americab, claims two Muslim taxi cab drivers objected to the cabs with the signs.

"We don't have any objections to the signage," Keenan told Cleveland.com. "We're fully supportive of the games. We're not in concert with [the protesting drivers] on that. We don't share those views."

The Cleveland Hopkins International Airport, which sells the ad space on the cabs, has made a deal with the cab companies to replace those drivers who are offended by the Gay Games signs.

Sources: Associated Press and Cleveland.com

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11Radio Pastor Kevin Swanson Hates on Gays and Graham Crackers, Calling Nabisco 'Wholesome' Ad 'Disgusting'

In a hateful and perplexing response to Nabisco’s “Wholesome” Honey Maid advertisement, pastor Kevin Swanson of Generations Radio compared homosexuality to “axe murder” and “cannibalism.”

The Honey Maid ad, which features several diverse families enjoying s’mores and Teddy Grahams with the tagline “This is Wholesome,” drew controversy for including a gay couple.

Swanson spoke of “axe murder” and “homosexuality” in the same breath when slamming the ad on Friday.

"When you come down to things like axe murder or homosexuality and you say, ‘We’re really going to promote it and we’re going to encourage everybody in America to engage in this or at least support this thing,’ there will be people on the other side who will take an adamantly opposed position to your support of axe murdering or homosexuality," he told co-host Steve Vaughn. "They will be intolerant — they will be very intolerant of that which is evil, like axe murdering."

Swanson also predicted that despite the number of positive comments on the ad, Nabisco would “lose business” because of the “28 percent, 38 percent, 47 percent of the market that will not go with it.”

He went on to call same-sex marriage “egregious,” accusing its supporters of championing the agenda of ancient Rome’s most notorious tyrant.

“So their decision to step out and say, ‘we’re going to take the lowest road possible on this, we’re going to support one of the most egregious things ever concocted since Nero — Nero being the one who came up with homosexual marriage, the namesake for it — we’re going to support the Neronic agenda,’ there will be I think 28 percent, 38 percent, it may eventually go as low as 28 percent, but you’re still going to get a pretty substantial bunch of Americans that will say, ‘Hey, this is disgusting, Nabisco is disgusting.’”

Swanson previously directed his anti-gay ire at another prime target, the Oscar-winning Disney movie “Frozen.”

"I’m guessing the majority of American parents don’t want their little boys turning into sodomites, at this point," he said. "My guess is that 60 to 70 percent of them would say, 'That would be my worst nightmare.'"

Sources: Right Wing Watch, Huffington Post

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11Christian Group Opposes Boycotts Against Conservative Companies, Not Pro-Gay Ones (Video)

Tony Perkins, head of the Christian-based Family Research Council, recently slammed gay rights activists who called for a boycott of Chick-fil-A two years ago because the company's CEO, Dan Cathy, opposed gay rights.

In a recent interview with USA Today, Cathy changed his tune. "All of us become more wise as time goes by," he said. "We sincerely care about all people."

Perkins has called for and/or supported boycotts against Starbucks, Girl Scout Cookies, Betty Crocker, McDonald's and Wal-Mart when those companies advocated gay rights, reports RightWingWatch.org (video below).

On Saturday, Fox News host Mike Huckabee told Perkins that no one has targeted CEO Howard Schultz of Starbucks. Huckabee also claimed the gay rights boycotts (a form of free speech) were trying to “silence” political speech.

Fox News ran the headline "Bullying From the The Left" at the bottom of the screen as Perkins lamented that gay rights groups were "rolling over our freedoms and liberties."

"What they're wanting to do with this is silence the vast majority of Americans who do not agree with them," added Perkins. "That will be detrimental to our system of government."

However, Perkins was not able to cite one example in which gay rights groups had legally silenced anyone from using free speech.

Sources: RightWingWatch.org and USA Today

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11Palestinian Professor Condemned For Leading First Student Trip to Auschwitz

A Palestinian professor who took 27 college students to visit Auschwitz returned home to find that his fellow Palestinians had branded him a traitor.

The trip led to accusations of treason and brainwashing when an article about it was published in the Palestinian newspaper al-Quds. The university also dissociated itself from the trip.

Professor Mohammed S. Dajani said he expected “complaints” about the controversial field trip but not the ferocity with which he was met.

“I believe a trip like this, for an organized group of Palestinian youth going to visit Auschwitz, is not only rare, but a first,” Dajani told the Washington Post. “I thought there would be some complaints, then it would be forgotten.”

The Al-Quds University professor led the trip to the concentration camp during fraught U.S.-moderated peace talks between Israel and Palestine. Rumors circulated that the trip was paid for by Jewish organizations when it was, in fact, sponsored by the German government.

Dajani said he wished to correct his students’ perceptions of the Holocaust, as many Palestinians believe that the Holocaust is exaggerated or used as propaganda by Jews and Israelis.  

“They said, ‘Why go to Poland? Why not teach our young people about the Nakba?’ ” Dajani said, referring to the “catastrophe” of the 1948 war between Arabs and Israelis, which led to the creation of the state of Israel.

The professor co-authored a New York Times op-ed in 2011, titled “Why Palestinians Should Learn About the Holocaust.”

“One of the sad realities of many modern Arab societies is that Arab students have been denied history, their own and the world’s,” Dajani wrote with Robert Satloff, a Jewish-American historian. “This is particularly true of the Holocaust.”

Others have stood up for Dajani in the midst of the controversy. 

“He is a theologian and a pragmatist, and in that regard, he is unique here. He is also extremely brave,” said Matthew Kalman, a commentator at the Israeli daily newspaper Haaretz who broke the Auschwitz trip story. 

Sources: Washington Post, New York Times, Haaretz

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