dallasnews.com article from David Wallace Croft
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Atheist writings may reflect secular panic
03:18 PM CDT on Saturday, August 4, 2007
Christopher Hitchens' book God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything has sold briskly since it was published in May, and his debates with clergy are drawing crowds at every stop.
Sam Harris was a little-known graduate student until he wrote the successful The End of Faith and its follow-up, Letter to a Christian Nation. Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion and Daniel Dennett's Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon struck similar themes -- and sold.
"There is something like a change in the zeitgeist," Mr. Hitchens said, noting that sales of his latest book far outnumber those for his earlier work that challenged faith. "There are a lot of people, in this country in particular, who are fed up with endless lectures by bogus clerics and endless bullying."
Richard Mouw, president of Fuller Theological Seminary, a prominent evangelical school in Pasadena, Calif., said the books' success reflects a new vehemence in the atheist critique.
"I don't believe in conspiracy theories," Dr. Mouw said, "but it's almost like they all had a meeting and said, 'Let's counterattack.' "
The writers do see themselves in a battle for reason in a world crippled by superstition. In their view, Muslim extremists, Jewish settlers and Christian right activists are from the same mold, using fairy tales posing as divine scripture to justify their lust for power. Bad behavior in the name of religion is behind some of the most dangerous global conflicts and the terrorist attacks in the U.S., London and Madrid, the atheists say.
As Mr. Hitchens puts it: "Religion kills."
But the Rev. Douglas Wilson, senior fellow in theology at New Saint Andrews College, a Christian school in Moscow, Idaho, sees the books as a sign of secular panic. Nonbelievers are finally realizing that, contrary to what they were taught in college, faith is not dead, he says.
Religious challenges to teaching evolution are still having an impact, 80 years after the infamous Scopes trial. The dramatic growth in home schooling and private Christian schools is raising questions about the future of public education. Religious leaders have succeeded in putting some limits on stem-cell research.
And the first federal curbs on an abortion procedure in a generation recently came from the U.S. Supreme Court after decades of religious lobbying for conservative justices.
"It sort of dawned on the secular establishment that they might lose here," said Mr. Wilson, who has written the book Letter From a Christian Citizen in response to Mr. Harris and has debated Mr. Hitchens on ChristianityToday.com's blog.
"All of this is happening," Mr. Wilson said, "precisely because there's a significant force that they have to deal with."
"There is this general sense that evangelicals have really gained a lot of power in the United States," said Christian Smith, a sociologist of religion at the University of Notre Dame, and that "the Bush administration seems to represent that in some significant ways."
"A certain group of people sees it that way, and that's really disturbing," he said.
Dr. Mouw said conservative Christians are partly to blame for the backlash. The rhetoric of some evangelical leaders has been so strident that the leaders have invited the rebuke, the seminary president said.
"We have done a terrible job of presenting our perspective as a plausible world view that has implications for public life and for education, presenting that in a way that is sensitive to the concerns of people who may disagree," he said. "Whatever may be wrong with Christopher Hitchens' attacks on religious leaders, we have certainly already matched it in our attacks."
The trade journal Publishers Weekly in May reported that "in recent months, a number of anti-religion books have elbowed pro-religion manifestos by Tim LaHaye and others out of the way and taken over the lists."
Given the popularity of the anti-religion books so far, publishers are likely to roll out more (including one from Mr. Hitchens that's on the way, The Portable Atheist).
Lynn Garrett, senior religion editor for Publishers Weekly, says religion has been one of the fastest-growing categories in publishing in the last 15 years, and the rise of books by atheists is "the flip side of that."
"It was just the time for the atheists to take the gloves off," she said.
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Carrollton atheist couple appeals ruling protecting moment of silence
07:39 AM CST on Friday, January 25, 2008
By KATHERINE LEAL UNMUTH / The Dallas Morning News kunmuth@...
An atheist couple on Thursday appealed a federal judge's decision upholding the state's law requiring schoolchildren to observe a moment of silence at the start of the day.
David and Shannon Croft of Carrollton are appealing the decision to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals through their attorney, Dean Cook. Earlier this month, U.S. District Judge Barbara M.G. Lynn ruled the law was constitutional.
The Crofts had argued it was unconstitutional and amounted to required prayer. The 2003 Texas law allows students to pray, reflect or meditate during the minute.
The couple sued Gov. Rick Perry and the Carrollton-Farmers Branch school district after they said a district teacher at Carrollton's Rosemeade Elementary School old their son the minute was a "time to pray." The suit against the school district was later dismissed.
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Harris County loses lawsuit over Bible monument
12:41 PM CST on Monday, November 26, 2007
HOUSTON -- The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday declined to review lower court rulings that a monument outside a courthouse featuring the Bible should be removed and that Harris County must pay the legal fees for the woman who sued over the monument.
Harris County Attorney Mike Stafford had asked the high court to vacate a ruling by U.S. District Judge Sim Lake, who sided with a woman who sued in 2003 claiming a monument featuring the King James version of the Bible was offensive.
The county also had asked the New Orleans-based 5th Circuit Court of Appeals to declare the case moot because the monument has been moved from the courthouse.
The monument, recently removed during courthouse renovations, had been in place since 1956 to honor a Houston businessman for his contributions to homeless programs.
A three-member panel of 5th Circuit Court ruled 2-1 more than a year ago to uphold Lake's ruling that the display violated the establishment clause of the First Amendment. The clause says Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.
The full 5th Circuit earlier this year upheld the ruling and ordered the county to pay legal fees.
"The ruling by Sim Lake was a very accurate ruling and actually depicts the law," said Randall Kallinen, an attorney for the woman who brought the lawsuit, Kay Staley.
Kallinen said that under the law, when a government is found to impede civil rights, it is responsible for legal fees arising from lawsuits challenging the conduct.
A spokesman in Stafford's office said the county attorney was not aware of the ruling and had no immediate comment.
"This case has always been about religious freedom," Kallinen said. "In the United States, we are a nation of many religions. And to stick with one sect of Christianity, that one respresented by the King James version Bible only, is not what America is about."
In the appeals court ruling, a majority of judges said preserving Lake's ruling would serve judicial and community interests by discouraging refiling of lawsuits on the same issues by the same parties.
In its ruling earlier this year, the appeals court said it was not informed the monument had been moved until four days before it heard oral arguments in the case.
"Should we vacate, Staley will be denied her judgment, not because her claim lacked merit, nor because of her choices or acts, but for the reason that Harris County, by it's 'last-minute' voluntary acts, removed (temporarily) the monument from public viewing," the appeals court wrote.
County officials had argued such a monument on public property did not violate the Constitution if it has religious content.