Churches denounce children as ‘witches'; 1000s of kids maimed and killed

Image: Accused child witches in Nigeria

“Accused child witches Jane, left, and Mary, right […] Jane’s mother tried to saw off the top of her skull after a pastor denounced her and Mary.” Source : AP, MSNBC

With Halloween just around the corner, many kids in the US will soon be joyfully donning witch costumes and visiting haunted houses at their local churches. In many parts of Africa, however, the subject of witches is no laughing matter at church.

MSNBC reports that, according to an investigation by the Associated Press, an increasing number of children are being maimed or killed because churches are accusing them of witchcraft. According to MSNBC,

“Pastors were involved in half of 200 cases of “witch children” reviewed by the AP, and 13 churches were named in the case files.”

Unfortunately, this isn’t limited to a couple hundred cases. Over the last ten years, in just two states in Nigeria,

“around 15,000 children have been accused [of witchcraft] and around 1,000 have been murdered. In the past month alone, three Nigerian children accused of witchcraft were killed and another three were set on fire.”

In many cases, the churches involved are affiliated with churches in the US, who defend themselves by saying that they are unaware of what’s going on. And more local churches are reportedly turning to the practicing of finding witches because it is profitable to them. According to a member of the Children’s Rights and Rehabilitation Network,

“Even churches who didn’t use to ‘find’ child witches are being forced into it by the competition. They are seen as spiritually powerful because they can detect witchcraft and the parents may even pay them money for an exorcism.”

So if anything, the situation seems to have worsened since I last posted about a couple of months ago. It’s good that this crisis is starting to get into the public light a little more, but that isn’t enough since at least some of these people believe they are doing what God wants them to. Churches in the US, whether directly linked to the congregations that are conducting these literal witch hunts, or just sending missionaries over to Africa, need to spread the message that witch burning and mutilation is not okay.

My hunch is that some church leaders may be shying away from a public campaign against these horrible attacks on children because the Bible actually does say that witches shouldn’t be allowed to live. (Unfortunately for these children, it doesn’t say how to tell when someone is or isn’t a witch.) I would think it’s hard for Christians to tell people to disregard something that is right there in the Bible, without worrying about throwing the whole thing into question. But with thousands of children suffering and dying, I don’t know how they can remain silent.

Will health care reform have a ‘prayer’? Let’s hope not.

Faith Healer CatSource of image: http://linkhead.wordpress.com/2007/01/

Believers in faith healing could be exempted from mandates, and faith healers could be paid with federal funds, if health care reform provisions under consideration are adopted by Congress. A petition has been launched to ask Congress not to sneak this public funding and endorsement of religion into the final health care package.

I’ve read several articles about this, but this one from the St. Petersburg Times brings up several important issues.

  • Some versions of the health care reform bill would allow believers to opt out of insurance mandates for religious reasons. You can be for or against mandated insurance (it’s hard to tell which Obama is!), but allowing people to say that they don’t want coverage because of their religious beliefs seems like an unfair exception. So you can opt out, as long as you say you believe in a God who’s against modern medicine? There would be exceptions for people below a certain income level as well, but both believers and non-believers can be poor. If you’re a non-believer and not poor enough, I guess you’re stuck in the system. Maybe it’s a ploy to get more people to reconsider becoming religious!
  • Parents who opt out of health care could also opt their children out of life-saving health care procedures, too. The government would be in effect sanctioning parents from withholding health care on religious grounds. This would likely lead to even more deaths of children whose parents refuse to get them proper medical treatment and just want to pray over them instead.
  • Providers of faith healing, including Christian Scientists, could now be reimbursed for not providing medical services and instead praying to God to heal people. American Atheists spokespeson David Silverman is quoted in the article as saying “Faith healers are not practicing real medicine […] The health care crisis is a very real problem, and we do not need the federal government coming in and saying that witch doctors or prayer is a real solution to a medical problem”

With so many options still under consideration, it’s hard to know what will make it into the final reform, if any reform even passes. But it is alarming that people elected to Congress think it is not only legal, but a good idea for the government to promote people shunning medecine for faith healthers, to consider paying religious organizations for trying to pray away an illness, and to exempt people from requirements everyone else has to follow just for religious reasons.

If you don’t want Congress to support faith healing, you may want to consider signing this petition or contacting your Congressmen and women so they know that not everyone thinks that faith healing is the solution to America’s health care ills.

Thanks to Johnny from Think Atheist for mentioning the petition.

Should ministers have to pay taxes?

IRS.svgIRS logo

Churches in the US are given a lot of benefits by the government, including tax exemptions on property tax, donations, social security taxes, and sales tax.

But did you know that preachers also personally receive hefty tax breaks from the IRS at everyone else’s expense? According to ABC News Sacramento, a lawsuit filed this week in Sacramento against the IRS, Timothy Geithner, & the state of California will help determine whether it’s legal for preachers to get a free pass on taxes that other citizens must pay.

According to the Freedom from Religion Foundation:

“Ministers, who are paid in tax-free dollars, also may deduct their mortgage interest and property tax payments. Under both Federal and California law, allowances paid to ‘ministers of the gospel’ are not treated as taxable income, unlike the situation for other taxpayers. Only ‘ministers of the gospel’ may claim these benefits”.

No matter what your stance is on whether churches should get tax exemptions, these ministers-only tax exemptions go even further. Unlike charity laws which give tax benefits to both secular and religious organizations, these laws give benefits only to ministers. In some cases, clergy even “double-dip“: they “deduct their mortgage payments and real estate taxes from income tax, even though they paid for these with tax-exempt dollars, amounting to a government subsidy solely for clergy,” according to FFRF.

In a secular nation, which has a constitution prohibiting the establishment of religion, it seems both illegal and unjust that ministers of any income get a free ride on taxes everyone else has to pay. Just like everyone else, some men and women of the cloth make little money, while others are multi-millionaires. So why shouldn’t they be taxed at the same rates as everyone else? The rest of the country shouldn’t be made to pay more taxes to make up for this unfair exception.

Freedom of religion should allow ministers to worship, not to cheat the tax system at taxpayer expense.

“No God” is trending right now on Twitter

TwitterNo God

As of 9:25 am Central Time, “No God” has gone from 8th or 9th to 2nd on the Trending Topics. **UPDATE** As of 9:40 am, it is now the top trending topic. Some people are voting for Know Peace = No God / No God = Know Peace, while others are voting for No God = No Peace. Check it out and make your voice heard!

No God on Twitter

Even if it’s not an in-depth discussion of religion, it’s apparently getting people thinking about the topic, which I think is a good thing.

Good people will do good things, and bad people will do bad things. But for good people to do bad things — that takes religion.” — Steven Weinberg.

**ANOTHER UPDATE (Wed, Oct. 21)** Here are posts on Daily Atheist and The Examiner which attempt to track down the beginning of the “No God” blitz on Twitter yesterday. It appears that the start of it may have been @RevRunWisdom trying to get “Know God Know Peace, No God No Peace” to spread on Twitter, only to have it backfire.

Site is back up

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/1/1e/Sunrise_over_the_sea.jpg
Image retrieved from “http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Sunrise_over_the_sea.jpg

My site is finally back up, in (nearly) the same state it was a little over a month ago. I apologize for any inconvenience to my vistors during this period.

My blog was hacked because my hosting company refused for over a month to upgrade WordPress to the most current version, even though a well-known exploit was out there and I asked them on several occasions to upgrade their installation. When I was hacked, because of their outdated version of WordPress, they refused to help me in a timely manner to get my site back to normal.

I was able, mostly on my own, to get my site back up and running. This took a while since Google needed to be convinced that my site was safe, and I needed to figure out how to install WordPress on my own. I am running my own installation now so I do not need to rely on my hosting company’s (lack of) upgrades to ensure the security of my site and its visitors.

My site is now safer than ever, and I should be able to do what my host is unable or unwilling to do: keep WordPress up-to-date. Now that I’m back online, I hope to post tomorrow with some new Atheist/Freethought news, and post links and articles regularly from here on out.