Entries in Religion (14)


Parents May Sue Over Yoga Lessons in Public Schools

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(SAN DIEGO) -- Parents in a southern California community are considering legal action over the constitutionality of a form of yoga being taught to their children, which they claim is introducing religion into public schools.

Last month, half of the students attending classes in the Encinitas Union School District K-6 elementary schools in San Diego North County began taking Ashtanga (Sanskrit for "eight-limbed") yoga for 30 minutes twice per week. In January, the other half will begin the lessons.

Concerned parents have now retained constitutional First Amendment attorney Dean Broyles, who says that Ashtanga yoga is a religious form of yoga, and that religious aspects have been introduced into the schools.

"The poses and positions are acknowledged by Ashtanga and Hindi yoga as forms of worship and prayers to Hindu deities," he told ABC News. "They have a spiritual and religious meaning behind them."

Broyles said that although he was at first skeptical that there were truly religious belief and practices being taught to kids, the more he investigated and spoke with parents, the more he realized it was a constitutional issue.

Broyles says that he brought up the matter at a Encinitas Union School District (EUSD) trustees meeting, along with 60 concerned parents, on Oct. 9. Now the EUSD trustees will be reviewing whether the grant money violates the religious freedom of students and parents.

The yoga, which is being taught in all nine of the schools in the district, is being funded by a $533,000 grant from the Jois Foundation, a nonprofit that promotes Ashtanga yoga across the world. All of the instructors teaching the students are certified and trained by the Jois Foundation in Ashtanga yoga.

Broyles points to hedge-fund billionaire Paul Tudor Jones and his wife Sonia Jones, who is a known dedicated disciple of Sri Pattabhi Jois, the recently deceased master of Ashtanga yoga, as the money behind the EUSD yoga program. The district's program will be studied by the University of Virginia and University of San Diego to look at benefits of Ashtanga yoga, as outlined in a letter sent to parents by EUSD Superintendent Tim Baird.

"The study will look at the way that public school systems can impact student learning, health, positive relationships, and overall wellness through the implementation of a holistic approach to student wellness," Baird said in the letter.

Calls placed by ABC News to Superintendent Baird were not immediately returned.

The Tudor Joneses, Broyles says, were instrumental in the founding of the Jois Foundation and put up the money for the EUSD Ashtanga yoga grant. He says that parents are now not only questioning Hindu religion entering their schools, but the validity if this study being undertaken.

"We think that children are being used as guinea pigs," he said. "Following the money, you see what's going on … It would be like a charismatic Christian organization funding classes in worship and praise, and also funding a research center at a public university that is studying whether this is an effective form of exercise."

Broyles says that it has been argued that the in-school yoga programs have been stripped of their spirituality. But he says that kids in EUSD are being exposed to Hindu thought and belief within the school.

"On the wall there was a poster that showed the Ashtanga, or 8-limbed deity. There are words showing what the limbs are," he said. "The ultimate goal is to be absorbed into the universe, which is called Samadhi. They had a poster depicting that. Fundamentally it is a Hindu religion being taught through Ashtanga yoga."

Children are also being taught eastern meditation techniques to calm themselves, where one clears the mind of all thoughts, poses that were imparted by Hindu deities, and in one class were trained in drawing mandalas, according to Broyles.

Parents also raised specific concerns about the program aside from the religious aspects, saying that the fact that kids are taking 60 minutes of the 100 minutes per week allotted for physical education to do yoga is inappropriate. Broyles said that for 40 minutes per week the kids are not getting PE, and that they're not offering anything for kids that are opting out of the program.

Broyles says that there are some yoga enthusiasts in favor of the program; he says that people in the district don't really understand eastern mysticism, yoga's roots in Hinduism, and what's being taught.

"If we were introducing Christian worship of bowing, there would be outcry in the community," he said. "It's dangerous to kids."

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Oregon Faith Healer Parents Get Probation in Son's Death

Hemera/Thinkstock(PLEASANT HILL, Ore.) -- The "faith healer" parents of an Oregon teenager who died due to a lack of medical care will be required to contact a doctor when any of their other six children are sick for more than one day, according to the terms of their probation.

Russel and Brandi Bellew were sentenced to five years of probation on Tuesday after they pleaded guilty to negligent homicide in the death of Brandi's biological son, Austin Sprout, 16. An autopsy found Austin died of an infection caused by a burst appendix.

The couple, along with their six surviving children, belongs to the General Assembly and Church of the First Born, which eschews modern medicine. The group takes its belief from a New Testament passage in the Gospel of James that says the sick should be prayed over and anointed with oil, according to Rick Ross, an expert on cults.

"They take this verse out of context and take it to mean this is the only thing you can do while sick," Ross said. "In their mind they see it as a choice not between the church and saving the life of their child, they see it as a choice between God and me."

Bob Schrank, an attorney for Brandi Bellew, said despite the couple's beliefs, they are "committed to complying with their conditions of probation."

In December, Sprout became ill with cold and flu-like symptoms. Instead of getting him medical attention, the couple chose to pray. Sprout died five days before Christmas.

"According to the group and its leaders, if someone goes to the doctor for medical care, they have gone against God," said Ross.

After an autopsy, the Bellews were arrested in February and were barred from speaking to each other since they were co-defendants in the case, Schrank said.

"[Russel] was allowed to come to the home to visit the kids but [Brandi] couldn't be there. The rule was they couldn't have contact," Schrank said.

Schrank said the Bellews, who did not offer a statement in court, are "great parents" and "at least 20" people sent letters vouching for them.

In August, prosecutors met with members of the Bellews' church to discuss state child neglect laws and to let them know choosing not to seek medical care for a child would not be tolerated, the Eugene Register Guard reported.

Prosecutor Erik Hasselman told the newspaper congregants seemed to be receptive.

"This is not a denomination that feels that its faith is at odds with the laws of the community," he said.

The case is one of many in which parents have been held criminally responsible for neglecting to seek medical attention for their children.

Earlier this year, an Oklahoma woman was found guilty of second degree manslaughter and sentenced to two and a half years in prison.

Prosecutors said Susan Grady, who belongs to the Church of the First Born, chose to treat her 9-year-old son's diabetes complications with prayer. He died days later.

Last year, Dale and Shannon Hickman, an Oregon couple who belonged to the church, were sentenced to 75 months in prison after they failed to seek medical care following the birth of their premature son at home. The baby died nine hours later.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Deeply Religious Parents Often Reluctant to Cease Medical Care

Hemera Technologies/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- When a child is seriously ill or injured, parents understandably move heaven and earth to save them.  However, a new study has found that sometimes deeply religious families test the limits of medical science by asking doctors to go to extremes to prolong life.

Writing in the Journal of Medical Ethics, the investigators reviewed 203 cases over a three-year period that involved end of life decisions.  In the majority of instances, parents ultimately agreed to end treatment after meeting with caregivers and discussing the options.  But in a small number of cases -- just 11 -- the parents insisted on continuing intensive care while they prayed for divine intervention and a complete cure, even after being told there was no hope for recovery.

Such scenarios bring up all sorts of ethical and legal dilemmas for medical caregivers who must try to balance a parent's wishes with what they think is best for their patient.  Arthur Caplan, the head of the division of medical ethics at NYU Langone Medical Center, says in most cases, they ultimately advocate for the patient.

"You have to take beliefs into account but you can't let any parent for any reason hijack what you as a doctor believe is in the child's best interest," he says.  "If you think what they want will cause pain and suffering and further treatment is pointless, a doctor should not do it even if the parents say Jesus spoke to them."

In situations where parents refuse lifesaving medical care on religious grounds the law is clear: Doctors can go to court and legally compel them to accept treatment if it is deemed life saving.  But when the tables are turned and parents insist on sustaining life by any means, few doctors are willing to make it a legal matter.  The authors of the study say it's time for this to change.

"Spending a lifetime attached to a mechanical ventilator, having every bodily function supervised and sanitized by a carer or relative, leaving no dignity or privacy to the child and then adult, has been argued as inhumane," they say in an accompanying editorial.  "We suggest it is time to reconsider current ethical and legal structures and facilitate rapid default access to courts in such situations when the best interests of the child are compromised in expectation of the miraculous."

Not all religious leaders agree.  J.R. Brown, a spokesman for the New York chapter of Jehovah's Witnesses, says that parents should be allowed to do everything they can so long as it doesn't violate scripture.

"How many times have we heard stories where physicians say the situation is hopeless and the patient goes onto make a miraculous recovery?" he asks.

The majority of physicians are not unsympathetic to parents of faith.  Dr. Ian Holzman, chairman of the medical ethics committee at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City, stresses that the main thing caregivers must do is respect parental faith and try to honor their beliefs as long as there is no undue harm to the patient.  And he points out, sometimes it's just a matter of demonstrating a little empathy.

"Some parents will never make a decision to discontinue life support.  They will never say don't do everything even when they understand that 'everything' may mean torture for their child," he says.  "But often they are OK when the physician says enough is enough."

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Religious Faithful Lack Logic, Study Implies

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- A rare and controversial study merging science and faith suggests that analytic thinking, a process that favors reason over intuition, promotes religious disbelief.

Canadian researchers used math puzzles and “priming,” a technique that plants subtle suggestions in pictures and text, to persuade more than 650 believers and non-believers to think analytically. They then used surveys to probe religious beliefs, from faith in God to the power of prayer.

“If you can get people to engage in analytic thinking, whether it’s by looking at pictures or showing them difficult-to-read text, analytic thinking promotes religious disbelief,” said Will Gervais, a PhD student in psychology at the University of British Columbia and lead author of the study published today in the journal Science. “This indicates that analytic thinking is one of many factors affecting people’s religious beliefs.”

In the first of five tests, people who solved a math problem analytically rather than arriving at the intuitive answer were more likely to report religious disbelief. For example: A bat and a ball cost $1.10 in total. The bat costs $1.00 more than the ball. How much does the ball cost? The intuitive answer is $0.10; the analytic answer is $0.05.

In the second test, subjects were randomly assigned to look at one of four images. Those who viewed Rodin’s “The Thinker,” which was previously found to prime analytic thinking, reported having weaker religious beliefs. The third and fourth tests used words like “think,” “reason,” and “rational” to prime analytic thinking, which was also linked to religious disbelief.

In the fifth test, 91 people who rated their religious beliefs on a survey in a hard-to-read font were more likely to report religious disbelief than 91 subjects given the same questions in an easy-to-read font. The difference in font is a subtler way to prime analytic thinking, Gervais said.

“If people find something hard to process, it engages analytic thinking,” he said. “It’s a neat manipulation.”

Intuitive thinking, a mental shortcut that bypasses reason, is linked to stronger religious beliefs.

“It’s largely intuitive processes that let people form religious beliefs,” said Gervais. “If you’re surrounded by a lot of other religious people publically demonstrating their faith, you’re more likely to develop those beliefs.”

The study does little to calm the culture clash between science and religion.

“Religion versus science; believers versus atheists; our evidence doesn’t say much about those debates,” said Gervais. “But it sheds light on one cognitive factor that may influence where people stand on those debates.

It also challenges the notion that religious beliefs are set in stone.

“People have this impression that they’re really core, central beliefs that don’t change. But we know people’s religious beliefs can vary across situations and across their lifespan,” Gervais said.

But devout believers may be shocked to hear their faith can wax and wane with tricky tests.

“I suppose some people might find it surprising,” Gervais said, “that really subtle experimental manipulations might be able to temporarily alter religious beliefs.”

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Attending Religious Services Makes People Happier, Survey Finds

George Doyle/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- If you’re down in the dumps and not feeling especially happy about anything, a trip to a religious service could be the thing that puts you in a better mood.

Findings in the latest Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index shows people who attend services at a church, synagogue or mosque frequently experience more positive emotions and fewer negative emotions than folks who attend less often or never at all.

Researchers conducted the survey by asking at least 1,000 Americans each day about the positive and negative emotions they experienced the previous day.

Positive emotions include smiling and laughter, enjoyment, happiness and learning or doing something interesting.

Negative emotions include sadness, worry, stress and anger.

Overall, 52 percent of Americans reported experiencing none of the four negative emotions the previous day, but 30 percent did report experiencing two or more of them.  Nearly five percent said they experienced all four in one day.

Similarly, 55 percent of Americans reported experiencing all four positive emotions at least once in any given week.  Four percent experienced none of the positive emotions the previous day, and about five percent experienced only one positive emotion.

The survey, which is based on interviews with more than 329,000 U.S. adults, found that frequent church-goers average 3.36 positive emotions per day compared to an average of 3.08 among people who never attend.

In addition, frequent church-goers also report experiencing a mood boost on Sundays while most other Americans see a decline in their mood.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Polling Location May Influence Vote, Study Finds

Ethan Miller/Getty Images(WACO, Texas) -- A new study adds to growing evidence that where you vote might affect how you vote.

When asked about gun laws, the death penalty and climate change, people responded with more conservative views if a church was nearby, the study found.

"One of most common polling places in the United States is a church," said Jordan LaBouff, a psychology lecturer at the University of Maine and lead author of the study published in the International Journal for the Psychology of Religion. "This study definitely demonstrates it can change attitudes.  The extent to which those attitudes change how people behave at the ballot box is the next question."

LaBouff and colleagues from Baylor University surveyed 99 people outside either religious or nonreligious landmarks in London and Maastricht, Netherlands.  Regardless of their religious views, people surveyed near a church responded with more conservative views on a range of political issues, from border patrol to gay marriage.

It's still unclear whether polling location can influence the outcome of a vote, but LaBouff said it's worth investigating.

"I don't think we can definitely say these potential changes in attitudes are threatening the validity of the electoral process, but in some cases you're talking about a fraction of a percent," he said.  "Any time decisions are being made -- particularly if they're decisions that relate to social issues and national policy -- we should pay attention to the context in which those decisions are made."

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Religious Believers Don’t Trust Atheists, Says New Study

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(EUGENE, Ore.) -- If an atheist ran for president, a recent poll suggests, he or she wouldn’t win many votes.

That might be at least partly because of the main reason religious people dislike atheists: They think nonbelievers can’t be trusted, according to a new study.

“Where there are religious majorities -- that is, in most of the world -- atheists are among the least trusted people,” said the study’s lead author, Will M. Gervais, a doctoral student at the University of British Columbia, in a press release from the University of Oregon, where a co-author is an assistant professor. The research was published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

In six separate studies, the researchers asked 770 people -- American adults and Canadian college students -- a number of questions. In one study, when presented with a description of an untrustworthy person, participants said they believed that description represented atheists and rapists to a similar degree and wasn’t as representative of gays, feminists, Christians, Jews or Muslims.

Another co-author, the University of British Columbia’s Ara Norenzayan, said one of the reasons for doing the study was a recent poll that found that only 45 percent of Americans who responded would vote for an atheist presidential candidate. Those who were polled said atheists least represented their vision of America.

“Outward displays of belief in God may be viewed as a proxy for trustworthiness, particularly by religious believers who think that people behave better if they feel that God is watching them,” Norenzayan said in the news release. “While atheists may see their disbelief as a private matter on a metaphysical issue, believers may consider atheists’ absence of belief as a public threat to cooperation and honesty.”

Atheists also tend to trust religious people more than they trust other atheists.

“Those people who did not identify with a religion still tended to find believers to be more trustworthy,” said the third co-author, Azim Shariff of the University of Oregon.

That’s because people trust “those who fear supernatural punishment,” Shariff added, and because atheists aren’t especially vocal, powerful or connected.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


How's God Doing? Survey Says...

Hemera Technologies/Thinkstock(RALEIGH, N.C.) -- In a survey conducted by Public Policy Polling in North Carolina, just 52 percent of respondents said they are happy with the job God is doing.

The respondents were asked, “If God exists, do you approve or disapprove of its performance?”

Forty percent said they were unsure and 9 percent said they did not approve of the job that God was doing.

The survey involved 928 American voters.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Oregon Baby May Go Blind Because of Faith-Healing Parents

George Doyle/Thinkstock(OREGON, CITY, Ore.) -- Oregon doctors have said that Alayna Wyland, an 18-month-old with a massive growth covering her left eye, may go blind because her parents refused to get her medical treatment on religious grounds.

On Thursday, jury selection continues in the trial of Timothy and Rebecca Wyland, who have been charged with first-degree criminal mistreatment of their child, only days after the state House passed a bill to be tougher on faith-healing parents.

The Wylands, who are 43 and 22, respectively, and are members of the Followers of Christ Church, told authorities they believed that prayer and anointing oils would heal their daughter's hemangioma, an abnormal growth of blood vessels that was occluding her vision.

In the past two years, Oregon's Clackamas County has prosecuted two other couples from the same church whose children died from untreated ailments.  One, Jeff and Marci Beagley, were convicted of criminally negligent homicide last year and sentenced to 16 months in prison after their 16-year-old son, Neil, died of complications from an untreated urinary tract blockage.

About 300 children die a year at the expense of their parents' religious beliefs, according to the Iowa-based organization, Children's Healthcare is Legal Duty, a group that advocates for tough penalties against those who seek exemption from child abuse laws.

Under Oregon law, parents have a "legal duty" to provide care for their children, and those who "knowingly withhold physical care or medical attention," can be prosecuted, according to Michael Regan, senior deputy district attorney in Clackamas County.

Child welfare officials reported the Wylands, who said they would not seek medical care for their daughter unless it was court-ordered, according to Regan.  The baby was taken into state custody last July and has been treated with medication.  It is not clear if vision will ever develop in that eye, he said.

If the Oregon House follows the Senate's action earlier this week, religious beliefs "would not be a defense for harm to a child for any crime," according to Regan of the district attorney's office.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Atheists Have Best Sex Lives, Claims Psychologist

Stockbyte/Thinkstock(TOPEKA, Kan.) -– Darrel Ray, raised a fundamentalist Christian in Topeka, Kan., shed a heavy cloak of guilt surrounding sex after he left the church in the late 1970s, and wondered if his experience reflected that of others.

Now he's completed research that he said bore out his hypotheses -- that religion and good sex don't mix. In an online survey of 14,500 people who had come from a religious background, he discovered that once they had abandoned their churches, their sex lives improved.

In his survey, "Sex and Secularism," Ray drew a direct correlation between guilt and sexual behavior. Not surprising, but he also learned that guilt eventually subsides.

"We find guilt is a pretty big thing," said Ray, the author of, The God Virus: How God Infects Our Lives and Culture.

Atheists, he concluded, had the best sex of all. "They can speak with some authority," he said. "They were raised in very secular homes."

All his respondents -- over 18 and all sexual orientations -- had abandoned their churches and described themselves as agnostic or without a religious belief.

Once they left religion, more than 50 percent saw improvements in their sex lives, 29.6 percent saw no change and 2.2 percent said it was worse, according to his survey.

Those who had grown up in the most conservative churches -- based on their teachings on sex and invocation of guilt -- reported the highest satisfaction levels after leaving religion behind.

All of the people who were questioned were found to have sex around the same number of times a week. They also became sexually active at similar ages.

Those who had been raised Mormon showed the highest rating among those who had sexual guilt with an average score of 8.19 out of 10. Others with similar responses were Jehovah's Witness, Pentecostal, Seventh Day Adventist, and Baptist.

Catholics, on the other hand, rated their guilt at 6.34 and Lutherans came in at 5.88. Atheists and agnostics were the lowest in guilt at 4.71 and 4.81.

People who had abandoned their beliefs said their sex lives were "much improved" and rated their new experiences on average as 7.81 out of 10.

His research has not been peer-reviewed.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio