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Lauryn Seering

Lauryn Seering

A Freedom From Religion Foundation letter of complaint resulted in removal of Gideon bibles from hotels from a third public university. FFRF received word Sept. 3 from the general counsel at Pennsylvania State University that bibles have been removed from the Nittany Lion Inn and the Penn Stater Conference Center Hotel in State College. Both are run by the university. 

FFRF Staff Attorney Elizabeth Cavell wrote Penn State President Eric Barron on June 6 after receiving a complaint about bibles being encountered at the Nittany Lion Inn. 

“State-run colleges have a constitutional obligation to remain neutral toward religion. When a government entity like PSU distributes religious material to visitors, it has unconstitutionally entangled itself with a religious message, in this case a Christian message,” Cavell wrote. 

“As you may know, the mission of the Gideons is to ‘win the lost for Christ.’ The Gideon bible and the Gideons’ efforts to proselytize have frequently brought about conflict with nonreligious persons and persons from minority faiths. Individuals, not the state, must determine what religious texts are worth reading,” she added. 

FFRF complaints removed bibles late last year from the University of Wisconsin-Extension’s Lowell Hall in Madison, and earlier this year from Iowa State University hotel guest rooms. 

“No nonreligious hotel guests should have to pay high prices to be proselytized in the privacy of their own bedrooms,” said FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “The bible calls for killing nonbelievers, apostates, gays, ‘stubborn sons,’ and women who are not virgins on their wedding nights. What is obnoxious in a private hotel, however, becomes inappropriate and unconstitutional in state-run lodgings.” 

Gaylor added, “So we’re grateful to Penn State for making this decision to respect all its hotel guests and stay above the religious fray.”

The Allegheny County Council in Pittsburgh, Pa., will vote on Sept. 9 on whether to post a plaque declaring “In God We Trust” in the Gold Room of the County Courthouse.

This proposal is the brainchild of State Rep. Rick Saccone, who wants the motto to appear in public buildings, including schools, throughout the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. FFRF filed a previous suit challenging Saccone when he declared to the Pennsylvania House that 2012 was “The Year of the Bible.” 

The proposal is sponsored by Councilwoman Sue Means, who insists that the motto is “patriotic,” thereby inappropriately suggesting a religious litmus test for good citizenship. However, two committee members, Michael Finnerty and Barbara Daly Danko, have raised objections about this overtly religious phrase. 

“Most people in the United States are Christian, but the other people are American, too, and we need to watch what we’re doing here,” Councilman Finnerty told the Post Gazette.  

Councilwoman Danko added that she feared the message isn’t inclusive and that: “It’s religion disguised as history.”  

The proposal also suggests adding “E Pluribus Unum” (the original secular motto, “From many [come] one”) and Pennsylvania’s secular state motto, “Virtue, Liberty, and Independence.” Although FFRF has no objection to the latter two mottos, they appear to be red herrings to disguise the real objective of Saccone: to post the exclusionary and religious “In God We Trust” motto on as many municipal, city and county buildings as possible. 

(Please notify FFRF immediately if this campaign to add “In God We Trust” on public buildings comes to your town or city. You can email  or report a state/church violation using our form here.) 

 TAKE ACTION

See contact information following Talking Points. 

The proposal will be voted on at the next county meeting on Tuesday, September 9th. The meeting starts at 5 p.m. at the County Courthouse (436 Grant St., Room 119). If you live in the Pittsburgh area, plan to attend this meeting if possible to voice your opinion. Please also phone or email your councilperson if you live in Allegheny County, identifying yourself as a constituent. 

Others: Please contact members of the Allegheny County Council via phone or email today or as soon as possible, to voice your opposition to adding “In God We Trust” in the County Courthouse. Please thank Councilman Finnerty and Councilwoman Danko for raising objections to this unnecessary and divisive proposal. 

 TALKING POINTS

Read FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor’s letter to President John DeFazio for additional talking points. 

Use your own words or cut and paste wording below. If you live in Allegheny County, please be sure to indicate you’re a local citizen. 

[I am a citizen of Allegheny County.] As someone who does not believe in or “trust” in a deity, I strongly oppose the proposal to post a public display of the words “In God We Trust” on the Allegheny County Courthouse. The phrase is not representative of myself and the approximately 20% of all Allegheny County residents (and one in three young adults) who, according to Pew Research Center, now identify as nonreligious. 

To be truly accurate, the phrase should say "In God SOME of Us Trust," and wouldn't that be silly? “In God We Trust” is a johnny-come-lately motto that was not adopted until 1956 during the Cold War. 

The Allegheny County Council is elected to represent all citizens, including those of us who do not believe in a monotheistic god or any gods. Please reject this divisive and religiously exclusionary proposal. 

 CONTACT

To email all County Council members: 

John DeFazio
President

(412) 350-6516

Heather S. Heidelbaugh
Council At-Large

(412) 350-6520

Thomas Baker
District 1

(412) 350-6525

Jan Rea
District 2

(412) 350-6530

Edward Kress
District 3

(412) 350-6535

Michael J. Finnerty
District 4

(412) 350-6540

Sue Means
District 5

(412) 350-6545

John F. Palmiere
District 6

(412) 350-6550

Nicholas Futules
District 7
Vice-President

(412) 350-6555

Dr. Charles Martoni
District 8

(412) 350-6560

Robert J. Macey
District 9

(412) 350-6565

William Russell Robinson
District 10

(412) 350-6570

Barbara Daly Danko
District 11

(412) 350-6575

James Ellenbogen
District 12

(412) 350-6580

Amanda Green Hawkins
District 13

(412) 350-6585

The county also provides this online form to add comments and suggestions.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation continues to object to the Indiana Department of Natural Resources’ decision to accept a wooden religious sculpture in Whitewater Memorial State Park. FFRF wrote to the DNR Aug. 20 to urge rejection of the proposed statue, an 8-foot-tall, chainsaw-carved veterans memorial that includes a prominent white cross. 

DNR Director Cameron Clark wrote to the Union County Development Corp., which arranged for the statue, on Sept. 2, stating that he was “pleased to accept [their] gift on behalf of the citizens of Indiana and the Indiana Department of Natural Resources.” Clark dictated the sculpture be placed directly next to the park’s administrative office, in part to provide “proper visibility.” 

Gov. Mike Pence issued a statement in support of the sculpture: “So long as I am governor, I will defend the right of Hoosiers to display this sculpture in Whitewater Memorial State Park as a lasting tribute to the service and sacrifice of all who have worn the uniform of the United States.” He added, “The freedom of religion does not require freedom from religion.” 

FFRF noted in its letter that the memorial did not in fact honor all veterans. “[T]he Christian-only memorial will send a message that the government only cares about the deaths of Christian soldiers, not Jewish, other non-Christian and nonreligious soldiers,” Senior Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert wrote. 

Markert continued, quoting a federal court decision, “Although the cross serves as a tombstone, a religious symbol is not necessary to mark a grave, and . . . the use of a religious symbol where one is not necessary evidences a religious purpose.” 

“The freedom of religion does require freedom from religion,” said FFRF Co-President Dan Barker, “because the freedom of religion means nothing without the freedom to dissent. And Governor Pence should be free from religion when acting in his role as a public servant.” 

Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor added, “FFRF has no objection to veterans memorials, but they cannot be used as a subterfuge to put Latin crosses on government land. Whitewater Memorial State Park should not host a monument that appears to say ‘We only care about your service if you’re a Christian. Other religious believers and atheists and agnostics don’t deserve recognition.’ There are many atheists in foxholes, and 24 percent of FFRF membership is made up of veterans or active military.” 

FFRF will work with its local Indiana members to determine further action if the DNR does not reconsider its decision.

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