Times Leader Interview 11/25/10

A holiday from controversy

Luzerne County’s diverse lawn display apparently satisfies religious and secular people alike.

By Jennifer Learn-Andes jandes@timesleader.com
Luzerne County Reporter

A seasonal display has returned to the Luzerne County Courthouse lawn, with the traditional Nativity mixed in with Santa,
a Menorah and candy canes.
A seasonal display that includes a Nativity has returned to the Luzerne County Courthouse lawn, and King’s College senior Justin Vacula said he’s fine with it.
Vacula was the target of backlash last year when he initiated a complaint about the display that led to its removal.
After legal research, county officials set up a more diverse display that is being repeated this year.
According to a resolution recently adopted by commissioners, the display must now include a menorah, Santa Claus, snowman, snowflake, Christmas tree with a Kwanzaa symbol ornament and a sign that reads, “Luzerne County celebrates its cultural heritage this holiday season.”
Courthouse workers say finishing touches to the display will be made early next week.
Vacula said he has no problem with this arrangement, as opposed to last year’s initial display that isolated and illuminated the Nativity.
“This seems to be the way to go. Now everything is together as a unified display,” said the 22-year-old Exeter native.
His decision to turn to the American Civil Liberties Union and Americans United for Separation of Church and State last year turned him into somewhat of an outcast.
Vacula said he was inundated with hate mail, paper and electronic, and one local radio station described him as the third most hated local person after former county judges Michael Conahan and Mark Ciavarella, who were implicated in the federal corruption probe. People called for him to be expelled from King’s College, he said.
There were also demonstrations outside the courthouse before the Nativity was returned to the courthouse lawn, and a page was set up on the Facebook social networking website to criticize Vacula, he said.
“I received a lot of after-death threats. People said I’d be tormented for eternity, and that they wanted to watch it happen. People said they hoped I’d get shot and hit by a van and die,” Vacula said.
In retrospect, Vacula said people turned it into a religious debate, when he thought of it as a legal one.
“It was a legal issue. Whether you’re a believer or not, I think everyone should be in support of separation of church and state. People didn’t understand that,” Vacula said.
He said he doesn’t regret his stance, though he wishes he had been better prepared for the “hysteria.”
“I thought there would be a backlash, but I didn’t think it was going to be as big as it was,” he said.
Vacula, an atheist who posts his views at greenatheist.blogspot.com, said he accomplished his goal: ensuring that the county complied with the law.
He said many came forward to support him in that goal, though some didn’t openly show it.
“People said I was taking away Christmas. That’s impossible to do. People can put anything they want in their yards. They can meet with their family at Christmas and go to Mass,” he said.
Jennifer Learn-Andes, a Times Leader staff writer, may be reached at 831-7333.

TV Appearance on Local News

You can view the clip of my interview concerning Westboro Baptist Church’s announced protest of a military funeral procession here [link no longer working]. Start at the 19:15 to get the full story about the funeral of fallen soldier Dale Kridlo. My interview starts at 23:20. The buffering speed is slow, but it loads.

Mother Teresa

Months ago, I gave a 50 minute Power Point presentation about Mother Teresa in my Catholicism class coupled with a clip from Penn and Teller’s Bullshit! television show. I wanted to show the Christopher Hitchens documentary about Mother Teresa, but the teacher said that the caricature of Mother Teresa in the background was a “character attack” and I wasn’t able to show the documentary. Anyway, I’d love to burst the bubble of many people who think Mother Teresa was an awesome individual because she possessed and advanced and twisted morality and did a tremendous amount of harm to the world. This post won’t be something like an essay, but will touch on many different topics and reference several sources and quotes by Mother Teresa herself. Enjoy.

Read More

God, Moral Obligations, and The Problem of Evil

I’ve touched on the problem of evil in previous posts, but I’d like to specifically craft an argument here that demonstrates that God should have moral obligations to prevent and stop evils just like we would expect humans and superheroes to stop evil. If God is all-loving, we should expect him, to stop evil. Would we also expect to see a hostile universe to humans if an all-loving, all-knowing, and all-powerful (omni-god) created it? Read More

I’m interviewed by local author Kenny Luck


A few months ago, I was interviewed by local author Kenny Luck about my complaint against the nativity scene at the Luzerne County Courthouse. I discuss my background, the nativity, atheism, and much more in a 40 minute audio interview [file no longer available].

I’m going to be featured in a chapter of his upcoming book, NEPAtized, that is scheduled to be relased in April of 2011.

Since 2008, Northeastern Pennsylvania has been the crossroads for presidential politics, the national media, and, above all: Fraud. Dominating the headlines are stories of greed and controversy; news reports that reveal the corrupt, the immoral, and the idiotic. With so much attention given to the region in recent years, it inevitably leads one to ask: Who and what defines us?

NEPATIZED! investigates the most recent scandals, controversies, and corruption in Northeastern Pennsylvania. With more than thirty interviews by local politicians, media figures, and activists, this book takes a critical look at some of the people and events that have redefined the region. Lou Barletta’s anti-minority rage; Bishop Martino’s divinely-inspired bigotry; and Steve Corbett’s cacophonous diatribes are all part of, what the author calls, “a spectacle of unequivocal idiocy.”

With wit and intellect, author Kenny Luck’s fact-filled expose, complimented by Ted Michalowski’s engaging illustrations, explores the region through the people who have helped to mold it: Lackawanna County Recorder of Deeds Evie Rafalko McNulty, former WILK host Kevin Lynn, Filmmaker Josh Fox (“Gas Land”), Political Scientist G. Terry Madonna, Union Leader Michael Milz, Blogger Dan Cheek, and King’s College student Justin Vacula tell the recent story of Northeastern Pennsylvania in their own words, their roles in shaping it, and their grievances against it.