How do you like them apples? With 67% of Washington citizens unchurched, the state is second only to Oregon in the number of people with no religious affiliation, according to Glenmary [Catholic] Research Center, Nashville, Tenn. Last year's American Religious Identification Survey 2001 found 25% of Washingtonians said they had no religion or called themselves atheists, agnostics or secular. Source: Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Sept. 19, 2002; USA Today, March 7, 2002
Majority opposes vouchers. The 34th annual poll of 1,000 adults, conducted by the Gallup Organization for the educational group Phi Delta Kappa, found 52% oppose the use of state vouchers. However, voucher support is up to 46%, from last year's 34%. Source: Reuters/Washington Post, Aug. 21, 2002
Kiwis go secular. About two-thirds of New Zealanders get married through a secular celebrant, rather than clergy. About 28% say they do not believe in a god. Source: Bureau of Statistics Social Trends Report, June 4, 2002, Sydney Morning Herald, June 5, 2002
Many Kiwi pols secular, too. At the opening day of New Zealand's parliament, 66 members swore oaths on the bible, 50 MPs made nonreligious affirmations, and one used a Koran. Source: New Zealand Herald, Aug. 26, 2002
25% of Aussies nonreligious. According to the latest census, 25% of Australians identify themselves as having "no religion" (or declined to answer the question), putting unbelievers neck-in-neck with Catholics (26.6%). Just over 15% classified themselves as atheists or agnostics in 2001, down from 16.5% who did so in 1996. Australia has more Buddhists than Baptists, and more Hindus than Jews. Source: The Australian, July 2, 2002; The Age, June 17, 2002
The Farce is with them. More than 70,000 fans of the "Star Wars" movies identified their religion as "Jedi" during last year's Australian census, making Jedites 0.37% of the nation's population. The Jedites braved a warning they could be fined $1,000 for the prank. Source: AP Australia, Aug. 27, 2002
Aussies eschew ministers, too. More than 50% of Australian couples choose a civil celebrant rather than a minister to perform wedding ceremonies, according to the New Australian Bureau of Statistics. Source: The Australian, Aug. 26, 2002
Scottish skeptics. "So few people now go to church that researchers say Scotland can no longer be considered a Christian nation," contends Edinburgh Evening News. Only 12% regularly attend worship in the Church of Scotland, which is called the "Kirk" (real attendance is considered lower as people tend to exaggerate church attendance).
More than 60% rarely or never go to church at all. Just as many people say they belong to no religion (37%) as claim to be Church of Scotland (37%). The study was published in the "Kirk's" magazine, Life and Work, and was conducted by sociologists Prof. Steve Bruce and Tony Glendinning, Aberdeen University, who found "massive indifference" to organized religion. Source: Edinburghnews.com, May 23, 2002
Alabama full of surprises. A newspaper poll found that 31.6% of respondents checked "none at all" when asked which worship service they prefer. Source: Montgomery Advertiser, Aug. 20, 2002
Church attendance slipping. The born-again Barna Research Group reports that despite a brief post-9/11 surge, churchgoing in the U.S. has gone back to normal. In some cases, attendance has slipped. Source: Wall Street Journal, 9/11/02
Speak Chinese? Although most world books put the nonreligious at a quarter of the world population, demographers for the World Christian Encyclopedia claim 15.2% of the world's population (918 million people) are atheists and agnostics, with the bulk of them (500 million) living in China. Christian demographers put Christianity at 33% of the world's population. Source: Washington Times, Aug. 15, 2002
Doubting clergy. A third of Church of England clergy doubt or disbelieve in the physical resurrection of Jesus; only half "are convinced of the truth of the virgin birth," according to a poll of nearly 2,000 of the church's 10,000 clergy. Only half believe faith in Jesus is the only route to salvation. Source: Christian Research, Daily Telegraph (UK), July 31, 2002
Grooming unwanted pregnancies? Except for a handful, most of the 230 U.S. Roman Catholic colleges and universities fail to provide condoms or other contraceptives on campus. Source: AP, Aug. 10, 2002
Commentary on Mormondom. Anti-depressant drugs are prescribed in Utah more often than in any other state, at a rate of nearly twice the national average. Source: National study: "Prescription Atlas," Jan. 2002 update, Los Angeles Times, Feb. 20, 2002
Bankrupt theology? Utah residents, 70-79% of whom are identified as Mormon, are more likely to file for bankruptcy than residents of any other state.
Roughly 1 of every 35 Utah households filed for bankruptcy from March 31, 2001, to March 31, 2002, while the national average is 1 of every 69 households.
Financial experts point to low per-capita income, large families, weak job market, high cost of living, the young population, and the fact that Mormons tithe 10% of their income to the church. Source: AP, Aug. 23, 2002
Mormons 6th largest sect. The Mormon church, now the 6th largest religious body with 4,224,026 members, is the fastest-growing church in the nation, increasing by 19%. Source: Glenmary [Catholic] Research Center, Nashville, Tenn., Salt Lake Tribune, Sept. 18, 2002
Pope Day debt. World Youth Day organizers of the pope's July visit to Toronto announced a cash shortfall of up to $30 million. The city spent $6.9 million on the $80 million event. Source: AP Canada, Aug. 8, 2002
Who's teeing off. Golf Magazine recently surveyed its readership and found that 83% of U.S.-born players identify as conservative Christians (67% of foreign-born are liberal).
Although 68% favor prayer in public schools, nearly as many are pro-choice, consider sexual preference a personal matter, and even more favor stricter gun control laws. Source: Golf Magazine, May 2002
Parental denial. Half of all mothers of sexually active teenagers erroneously believe their children are still virgins, according to a report by researchers at the University of Minnesota Adolescent Health Center.
Mothers' frequency of religious observance had no correlation with their children's sexual activity. Source: (Journal of Adolescent Health), New York Times, Sept. 5, 2002
Give us ERA! To celebrate the 82nd anniversary of Women's Equality Day on Aug. 26 (the date when U.S. women won the vote), U.S. Rep. Carolyn Maloney, NY, commissioned a national poll of 500 about the Equal Rights Amendment, defeated by the religious right in the 1980s.
The findings: 96% favor legal protection of women's rights; 85% erroneously believed those rights are already in the U.S. Constitution, and 69% support amending the Constitution to include language specifically protecting women's rights (there was 58% support among Republicans). Source: Womensenews, Aug. 26, 2002
Richard J. Koenig, 69, of La Crosse, Wis., died July 17, 2002, at his home. Dick was "John Doe" in the Freedom From Religion Foundation's suit challenging the Ten Commandments monument in a La Crosse park. His wife, Sue Mercier, also a Foundation member, is principal plaintiff in the continuing lawsuit.
Dick was a Korean War veteran, having served four years in the U.S. Navy. He worked as a manager for AT&T Communications for 30 years before retiring in 1989.
Born and raised a Catholic, Dick spent two years in a seminary before realizing that Catholicism and religion in general did not work for him. A kind, gentle man known for his energy, creativity, intelligence and curiosity, Dick will be greatly missed by his wife, Sue, his children, stepchildren, brothers, and all those who knew him.
A non-public service road, approximately 0.75 miles long, connects a state route with the state park campground. A parcel of land is owned by the Methodist Church approximately half a mile from the state route. Between the church property and the campground is the campers' playground. On the boundary of the campground is a large wooden sign that reads "Campers Chapel," at least 100 yards within state property. It appears that the chapel was created for the exclusive purpose of servicing the state campground.
* * *
A volunteer at the Old Man's Cave entrance station told us in May 2001 that the chapel was on private property owned and administered by the Methodist church out of The Plains, Ohio. She said the campground donated water and forwarded any problems or situations to the Methodist Council. The campground kept a key to the facility. The opening date for the chapel is Memorial Day Weekend each year.
Tammy and I attended services at Campers Chapel at 10am in early June 2001. Just prior to the beginning of the service, a rather obnoxious bell was rung which could be heard throughout the campground. As the outdoor amphitheatre was still wet from a recent rain, eight campers were invited into the cabin for the service. A woman explained that the Methodist church owned the property and that a variety of laypersons staff the chapel. The service lasted about an hour. Tammy and I kept a low profile while the service dragged on. While walking back through the campground, we observed flyers advertising the Sunday service at many of the campsites.
At the campground office, we asked a volunteer about the service road which was used by the church volunteers to get to the chapel. We were told that it was closed to public use and that a state park ranger would issue a ticket if a vehicle was caught using the road. This evidently did not apply to church personnel.
As we were chatting with the volunteer, a couple from the chapel stopped by to drop off the keys to the chapel. The volunteer said that the park kept the keys all week until the next Sunday service. She also said that park employees "watched over" the chapel facility and contacted the Methodist Council if there were any problems. Further, the park donated the water used by the chapel. Along the wall was a holder containing pamphlets printed by the Methodist church advertising the chapel. Along with a reproduction of the campground map were two Ohio State government emblems.
We also discovered that the large wooden map of the campground in the campground office prominently noted the Campers Chapel. The map of the campground also listed the Campers Chapel as well as the State Parks of Ohio website.
We next stopped at the ranger's office where it was confirmed that the service road to the chapel was closed to public vehicles except for church volunteers.
Tammy sent an email to the Hocking Hills Park Manager, Steve Bennett, requesting a meeting to discuss our concerns. In late June, we reviewed with him the inappropriate if not illegal relationship between the state park and the Methodist church. Mr. Bennett agreed to review the complaint and get back to us. The meeting was very cordial. No timetable was set, however.
Tammy wrote a letter to Mr. Bennett thanking him for meeting with us and listing the points of discussion. She included some references to relevant court cases and citations from the Ohio State Constitution.
She received an email acknowledgment from Mr. Bennett saying that the distribution of religious flyers by church staff in the campground had been discontinued. He also promised to meet with an official at the Division of Parks.
After we had not heard anything for a couple of months, Tammy sent an email in September to Kim, a Division of Parks employee, listing the violations of state/church separation.
After nearly four months had passed with no answer to our concerns, Tammy sent another email making these requests:
• The removal of the chapel reference on the map contained within the www.hockinghillspark.com website.
• The removal of the reference to the Campers Chapel on the paper map labeled "Old Man's Cave Campground Map."
• The removal of any references to the Campers Chapel.
• The secession of park personnel or park volunteers assuming custodial duties of the chapel facility, including the storage of chapel keys at the park.
• Halting the restriction of use of the township road to chapel personnel.
• The prohibition of chapel personnel from distributing religious literature on park property.
• The removal of the "Campers Chapel" sign located near the northern boundary of the campground.
In November, Tammy received an email from Ronald Kus, the Business Group Manager for the Division of Parks, saying he would be the person responsible for investigating our concerns and would respond in three weeks.
Annie Laurie Gaylor of the Freedom From Religion Foundation sent a letter that month to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources in support of our efforts.
In December, Tammy received a letter from Mr. Kus, saying that he had met with members of the church who agreed to remedy all of our concerns. He stated, "Our position is that all groups and people are treated equally. We will not give one group any privilege or right that we do not afford others."
The listing of the Campers Chapel on the Hocking Hills State Park website was removed by March 25, 2002.
In April, Tammy and David visited the campground again. The large map within the campground office still showed an arrow pointing to the Campers Chapel. In addition, the handout map of the campground underneath the glass at the outside self-register kiosk also had an arrow pointing to the Campers Chapel.
The wooden sign at the edge of the north side of the campground had been removed and was leaning against the outside of the main chapel building. There was no ground disturbance, which we would have expected to detect if utility work had recently been done to sever the water line from the park to the chapel. We took digital photos.
Tammy then sent an email to Mr. Kus which reviewed what had and what had not yet been accomplished, such as the waterline to the church not yet removed, the Campers Chapel sign across from site 141 not removed, and the Campers Chapel sign remaining on the property owned by the church.
"I still fear that a camper may not realize that the 'Campers Chapel' is private property owned by the church and may wrongly believe that the park endorses the Campers Chapel. I suggest that ODNR request that the words 'Owned and Operated by the Athens District of the United Methodist Church--Established 1967' be added to this sign to avoid any confusion as in the legal case summarized below."
Ron Kus replied promptly, agreeing to all of our requests.
In May, David visited the campground. All references to the chapel on campground facilities had been removed. Although the same campground maps which listed the Campers Chapel were being used, every map had the corner cut off upon which the Campers Chapel notation was written.
Memorial Day weekend is the customary start of the church's proselytizing season for the Campers Chapel. We visited the chapel on opening day and not only was there no service but another Campers Chapel sign that was legitimately on church property had been removed.
* * *
As we have no visible way of verifying that the water has been shut off to the chapel, it appears that we have won on all counts. We plan to periodically visit and poke around to make sure the church does not become entangled in that particular park again. Ohio has many fine parks, which we visit, and we are always watchful of any similar situations. We did notice, while on a trip through Pennsylvania last year, that there is a state park that apparently has a riverside chapel on state property. . . .
"I don't know that atheists should be considered as citizens, nor should they be considered patriots. This is one nation under God."--Vice-President George H. W. Bush, 1987
"Americans practice different faiths in churches, synagogues, mosques and temples. And many good people practice no faith at all."--President George W. Bush, 2002
Those two quotes, to me, are symbolic. They mark 15 years of progress for the rights of nonbelievers. A Republican President, supported and elected by theocrats, acknowledges that nonreligious people can be good. Ludicrous comments by Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson blaming secularism for the destruction of the Twin Towers were condemned by virtually everyone, including President Bush. Similarly asinine comments by leggy columnist and talking head Ann Coulter got her fired from National Review. Ben Stein, actor and conservative writer, immediately apologized for making comments insulting to atheists. I see all this as the beginning of equal rights for nonreligious people.
Our ranks are growing. The increase in the number of nonbelievers goes hand in hand with the increase in how we are seen in society--the larger and more visible a minority we are, the more respect we will get. According to the monumental "2001 American Religious Identification Survey" prepared by the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, the percentage of people calling themselves "nonreligious" more than doubled from 1990 to 2001, with 14.1% of the US population calling themselves nonreligious. American culture is growing more diverse. The United States has benefited from the "brain drain" from other countries and the many professors, scientists and doctors from abroad with different religious beliefs.
Why are there more nonreligious people today than ten years ago? I think there are many reasons, including the internet, religious scandals, monumental advances in science and an improved and increased portrayal of freethinkers in popular media.
In early 1994, I wrote an article about the internet and freethought for Freethought Today, predicting that the internet would potentially be the greatest thing ever to happen to freethought. Currently, the Secular Web (www.infidels.org), the largest freethought-related website, gets over 300,000 unique visitors per month. Many other freethought-related websites are also very popular.
The internet reaches an important demographic that organized atheism/humanism has generally been unable to reach: young people. This is critical, so that as people intellectually mature they have readily available sources from the atheistic point of view. I think my prediction of eight years ago has come to pass, and I claim no psychic powers.
Another reason why the ranks of nonbelievers have increased is the occurrence of religious scandals, from the Protestant televangelists of the late eighties to the molesting priests of today. Aside from the horrors that the victims of these scandals face, these scandals do have a side benefit: Religion cannot be regarded as beyond reproach when priests are molesting six-year-olds or mansion-dwelling televangelists are swindling elderly people out of their pensions and are involved in sex scandals. These scandals often catalyze a re-thinking of religious beliefs.
As history has shown, scientific breakthroughs tend to make religion superfluous. It happened with advances in evolutionary biology, astronomy and cosmological physics. Two advances are currently emerging that also threaten religious dogma: the genome project and cloning. Life becomes less mysterious and more scientific. (It also will have benefits in preventing genetic diseases and enhancing the quality of life of humankind.) The controversial advances in cloning cut at the philosophical concept of identity, which often has spiritual overtones. If scientists can clone life in a laboratory, what need is there for a deity?
The amount of atheism and satire of religion in popular culture is another important reason for an increase in freethought. Freethinkers have always been well-represented in intellectual publications. Fine humanistic writers like Katha Pollitt and Wendy Kaminer write for The Nation and other intellectual political publications. Nonbelievers dominate science and are well-represented in academic writings. Where we have been unrepresented is in popular culture. Traditionally, nonreligious people were portrayed as sinful or "lost" in movies and TV programs. If there was an atheist character, that person was evil or misguided and eventually "saw the light." Religion was beyond reproach. This has changed.
Radio "shock jocks" have done a lot to knock religion off its pedestal. They are typically on the air over 20 hours per week. They reach millions of people, a high percentage of whom are very dedicated fans. This genre, of course, is not for everyone and shock jocks do offend many.
One "shock jock" is Los Angeles-based Tom Leykis, an outspoken atheist. Leykis frequently has a segment called "Ask the Atheist," during which callers ask him questions about atheism. As can be expected, many of these callers are ignorant theists who challenge him. With a quick, sometimes acid wit he answers them and always comes across looking more reasonable than they. Leykis has also outspoken about priest molestation in Southern California. Thanks to one caller and Leykis' persistence, a molesting priest has been removed from a school where he was teaching. Leykis has also begun a weekly feature called "Tom's Confessional," in which people who had been molested by clergy call up and describe their experiences. If the victim is willing, Leykis' producers contact the relevant civil authorities. There has been no shortage of callers and several members of the clergy are being investigated due to the Leykis show.
Religious satire and freethought can be found in other forms of popular culture. The animated series "The Simpsons" and "South Park" have a long history of religious satire. One episode of "South Park" features a view of hell filled with everyone from ministers to entertainers. When a Protestant minister in hell protests, Satan explains he chose the wrong religion--Mormonism was the correct one. Heaven is shown full of men with white shirts and black ties. Another comedy, "The Daily Show," featured a segment called "Godstuff" in which Jon Bloom (Joe Bob Briggs) ran clips of televangelists ranting, and then commented on them in an irreverent way. Jen, one of the major characters in "Dawson's Creek," a show hugely popular with teenagers and young adults, is an atheist. This is, perhaps, one of the reasons conservative groups want this show off of the air.
Legendary comedian George Carlin, who is routinely critical of religion, has a hilarious bit in which he claims not to believe in God but in Joe Pecsi, because Joe "looks like a guy who can get things done." Other comedians, including Rick Reynolds, Janeane Garafalo, Bill Maher and the late Bill Hicks, have used their stand-up acts to effectively satirize religion. "Sin City" magicians Penn and Teller, both hardcore atheists, claim that atheism and skepticism are an integral part of their successful stage show. During an appearance on Mormon Donny and Marie Osmond's television show, Penn and Teller signed an autograph for them. Penn signed, "There is no god." Teller followed, "He's right."
Mainstream movies like "The Contender" and "Contact" feature atheistic characters positively in leading roles. Other movies like "Sirens" and "Chocolat" give whimsical views of humanism overtaking Puritanism, in the forms of sexuality and gourmet chocolate, respectively.
Rock music, especially modern or alternative rock, often has atheistic or skeptical overtones. Along with his schlock persona, Marilyn Manson's lyrics and performances are laced with anti-religious messages. Bands like Godsmack, Nine Inch Nails, Everclear, Rage against the Machine, Tool, Metallica, R.E.M., Bad Religion and Rush feature atheistic lyrics, though more subtly than Manson.
Bad Religion has a famous symbol, a "crossed out cross." Their lead singer, Greg Graffin, splits his time being lead singer for the band and working on his Ph.D. in evolutionary biology at Cornell University. Rush has a long history of skeptical and humanistic lyrics. Their 1991 album "Roll the Bones" may be the most humanistic album in rock history. Rush's lyrics are so deep that atheist philosopher Robert Price, a Jesus Seminar Fellow, wrote a book with his wife, analyzing Rush's philosophical vision.
Where do we go from here? I think the best thing we as atheists, humanists, agnostics, freethinkers, can do is to set good examples. When people get to know us, like us, and respect us, and then later learn we are nonreligious, we help destroy the stereotypes and prejudices that people have. People learn that we don't have horns, we're not evil. We're simply your friendly godless neighbors.
When Atheists and Other Freethinkers of Sacramento adopted a highway in 1995, we wondered how much negative attention we would receive. Would we have to fend off the "religious nuts"? Would motorists target us, swerve onto the shoulder to frighten us, throw tomatoes? Seven years later such aberrant thoughts are just that: aberrant. Most drivers zip on by, a few toot their horns, smile, and wave. None gives us a problem.
We have maintained our two-mile stretch of highway longer than any other group in the Sacramento area, and lately we have received unasked-for but welcome attention. A local television news show used our sign as a lead-in when explaining another community work adoption program. A few days later the Travel section of the Sacramento Bee newspaper mentioned our sign in an article about traveling north of Sacramento.
Bee staff writer Will Evans, in his description of the highway, mentioned "the one adopted by Atheists and Other Freethinkers." It was a joy to see, especially when Highway 99 runs the entire length of the state of California, and our two-mile section is a few miles north of Sacramento. People have evidently taken notice of the sign as well as the clean stretch of highway.
The recent gratuitous use of our name and sign made me think that many times we nonbelievers exaggerate the animosity toward us by the general public.
Also, it may be that Dr. Michael Newdow's suit regarding the elimination of "under God" in the pledge has helped create a climate in our area in which open communication is increasingly possible. However, I really believe that the general public is more neutral about us than we think.
My husband and I belong to several freethought organizations, among them the Humanists of Hawaii. Shortly after we became members, we noted that every Martin Luther King Day the people of Hawaii hold a large parade in Honolulu. Marchers include members of groups as diverse as union groups, women's groups, and church groups. We suggested that HOH join. Members were reluctant. They were afraid they'd be attacked verbally or people would throw things at them. Now, the Humanists of Hawaii have participated two years in a row with nothing but positive feedback.
When contemplating being more forthright, I think of a friend of mine. She grew up toeing the Roman Catholic line, believed in an omniscient god through the birth of her ten children, but is now a model of freethinking.
No one who knows her is ever in doubt about her "non" beliefs. She's an example for the rest of us. I believe that now with government so virulently religious, if we don't speak out we will live to regret it.
We must let elected officials know that we are vocal and voting.
That doesn't mean groups and individuals will not encounter difficulties. Dr. Newdow has received nasty calls and threats. Atheists and Other Freethinkers of Sacramento gets an occasional hateful message on the voice mail. But for the main part we get no flak.
Lately, I took a personal risk. I live in an age-restricted community where Christianity is a given, where a Jewish Friendship Circle didn't evolve until the community was a few years old. It is a constant fight to get people to call it a Winter Holiday party instead of Christmas party. This week I put an ad in our monthly newsletter saying a nontheistic group was forming, and those interested should call me. I gave my telephone number. It will be interesting to see how many freethinkers respond. I have already identified ten and certainly there should be others.
My husband and I identified ourselves as humanists almost a quarter of a century ago. At that time we did not know freethought organizations existed. We thought we were alone in the world. Over and over people who discover FFRF, AAI, AHA or any of the other freethought groups say essentially the same thing. So it behooves us to be more upfront--not risking our jobs or well-being, but using common sense in coming out--to friends, to co-workers, to our communities. According to recent statistics, 30 million of us embrace nontheistic views. Let's make it count.
When a terrible disaster happens--an air crash, a flood, or an earthquake--people thank God that it wasn't worse. (But then why did he let the earthquake happen at all?)
Or, even more childish and self-indulgent: "Thank you God for the traffic jam that made me miss that plane." (But what about all the unfortunate people who didn't miss the plane?)
The same kind of infantile regression tempts us when we try to understand the natural world.
"Poems are made by fools like me . . . But only God can make a tree."
A pretty song, but an infantile explanation. It's too easy. Lazy. The moment we put a little effort into thinking about it, we realise that God the creator is no explanation at all. He constitutes a bigger question than he answers.
Once, we couldn't do any better. Humanity was still an infant. But now we understand what makes earthquakes; we understand what made trees. Not just trees like oaks and redwoods, with their underground root system like a huge, upside-down tree.
The arteries that leave the heart branch and branch again like a tree. There are about 50 miles of blood vessels in a human body.
Nerve cells, too, branch like trees. They are so numerous in the teeming forest of your brain that, if you stretched them end to end, they would reach right round the world 25 times.
In the face of such wonders, do you fall back, like a child, on God? "It's so wonderful, so complicated, only God could have done it."
It's tempting, isn't it? But it's not a real explanation. Not the kind of explanation that actually explains anything. And it's nowhere near as poetic as the true explanation.
Because the beauty is that humanity has grown up. We now know the true explanation. It's gloriously simple once you get it, and more wonderful than our forefathers could ever have imagined. It makes use of yet another tree. The family tree of life. It began with something smaller than a bacterium, and it branched and branched to give all the species that have ever lived, whether extinct like the dinosaurs, or still hanging on like our own. Evolution really explains all of life, and it needs no supernatural intervention of any kind.
The adult response is to rejoice in the amazing privilege we enjoy. We have been born, and we are going to die. But before we die we have time to understand why we were ever born in the first place. Time to understand the universe into which we have been born. And with that understanding, we finally grow up and realise that there is no help for us outside our own efforts.
Humanity can leave the crybaby phase, and finally come of age.
Now there's a thought for more than just a day!
The Ten Commandments monument never should have been placed in Cameron Park. It was wrong to erect it there nearly 40 years ago--whatever the purported reason--and it's wrong to leave it there now.
We can't have freedom "of" religion--that is, the freedom to worship (or not) as our hearts and reason tell us--without freedom "from" religion. To make a free choice, we must be free from religious requirements.
Some of the complainants in the current court case consider themselves religious, and some don't. Some have won awards for service to the community. Some have done graduate work in theology. All thought long and hard about the decision to sign on to the Freedom from Religion Foundation's lawsuit--not because they doubted their stand on moving the monument but because they feared repercussions from elements of the religious right not exactly known for rational thought.
Some people say the monument honors young people who banded together to fight the Mississippi River flood in the mid-1960s. But before you jump on that bandwagon, take a look at the monument: There's no mention of the flood or the brave folks who helped save the city. What connection do the Ten Commandments have with fighting a flood? Why not a statue of a bucket-wielding teenager, a woman filling sandbags, a man hoisting them against the rising floodwaters?
Look at what the monument actually depicts: an eagle, the U.S. flag, two Stars of David, two stone tablets (seemingly the tablets that Charlton Heston carted down the mountain).
Then read the actual words that the city government is endorsing by keeping the monument in the park. Are you comfortable requiring La Crosse residents to believe only in religions that follow one god, who must be worshipped on a certain day? Do you believe, as the city essentially is saying, that Hindus, Buddhists, and others don't belong in the Coulee region?
It's a diverse world, folks, even in La Crosse, Wis. And no one religion holds all the answers for everyone.
Those of us who have joined the lawsuit to move the monument--and the hundreds of people who have contacted us to applaud our decision--are not antireligion. We want to protect freedom of religion by ensuring that church and state stay separate. Allowing the monument to remain in a city park erodes religion's constitutional protections.
People who argue that the monument belongs in Cameron Park because this is somehow a "Christian" country are blinded by their own religious zeal. They don't see that they've become what their religious forefathers tried to escape--proponents of an official state religion.
With the so-called "sale" of the park land to the Eagles, the city has admitted that the monument does not belong in the park. This "sale" is a sham, a ruse. If city officials believe this is a good idea, why didn't they "sell" the park land before? Why was it offered only to the Eagles? Why is the city refusing to sell other parcels of the park to others for other monuments? The answer, of course, is because a bare majority of the City Council is desperately trying to keep the monument in a place where they know it has no legal business. This is the distorted outcome of a corrupted process.
What, then, to do? Many people are saying, "Why not move the monument to the Episcopal church on Main Street?" The church wants it, and the monument would be seen by far more people than in its current location. Main Street is a lot busier than King. Please remember: Those of us who want the monument moved aren't against the Ten Commandments--we're against maintaining that monument in a city park.
The Constitution, not the Ten Commandments, makes this country unique in the world. If you're interested in what can happen in a country with an "official" state religion, consider Afghanistan under the Taliban, or Spain during the Inquisition. That's what happens when government dares to dictate religious beliefs.
The U.S. Constitution promises that no despot can force a particular religion on the American people. Unlike many countries, the United States' founders believed that people should make up their own minds and hearts about religious matters.
The County of Santa Barbara removed a Christian cross from Manning Park in August, in response to a challenge to its legality by Foundation member Roger S. Schlueter, chairman of the Humanist Society of Santa Barbara.
In late June, Schlueter was alerted to the presence of a wooden cross, approximately 10 feet in height, in Manning Park, which is owned and maintained by Santa Barbara County. His brief investigation revealed that the cross had been maintained by the county for decades.
Schlueter wrote a letter to the Santa Barbara County Parks Commission asking that it be removed, citing various legal precedents.
Rick Wheeler, Interim Director of the Department of Parks and Recreation, forwarded the letter to county counsel. Acting promptly on counsel's advice, they removed the cross.
"It is heartening to see the county react promptly and effectively in removing the cross. This ensures that the wall of separation between church and state remains intact and respected in Santa Barbara County," said Schlueter.
Schlueter noted that other local governments in California "have expended thousands of dollars and wasted years fighting the removal of other Christian crosses located on public lands in the state."
"Kudos to Roger for his significant First Amendment victory," added Anne Gaylor, Foundation president.
In a surprise development, the State of Wisconsin did not appeal the Freedom From Religion Foundation's landmark legal victory declaring direct public funding of "faith-based" social services unconstitutional.
"Our legal win sets a firm precedent against Pres. Bush's push to expand so-called 'charitable choice,' " said Foundation President Anne Gaylor.
In a January 7 ruling, U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb of the Western District of Wisconsin declared unconstitutional the grant of $850,000 in unrestricted public funds to Faith Works, a Christian treatment program in Milwaukee for male drug abusers.
The Foundation's lawsuit resulted in the first legal victory in the nation against "faith-based" funding by government. Congress adopted guidelines in 1996 permitting some federal programs to fund churches and "faith-based" groups without requiring them to create a secular arm, remove religious symbols or stop proselytizing.
In a follow-up July 26 ruling, Crabb decided against the Foundation's separate challenge of indirect public funding of Faith Works through state contracts.
The Foundation is appealing that decision to the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.