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Lead Us Not Into Penn Station:Provocative Pieces

National Convention

October 7-9, 2016

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Published by FFRF

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Lauryn Seering

Lauryn Seering

1MNStAints
The Freedom From Religion Foundation is inviting Midwesterners to a "godless game" on Saturday, July 16. The "St. Paul Saints" will be renamed "Mr. Paul Aints" for the evening at an event that FFRF is co-sponsoring with the Minnesota Atheists for the third consecutive year.

Tickets can be purchased at Saintsgroups.com (password is 2016atheists). The Infield (aka "Infidel") section has sold out, but a few general admission seats are available.

The player jerseys will feature a modified "Aints" team logo, and include the scarlet "A" popularized by Richard Dawkins. The unsaintly jerseys will be autographed by players and auctioned off during the game, with proceeds going to Camp Quest, Minnesota Atheists and FFRF.

FFRF Co-President Dan Barker will be on hand at the game, singing the national anthem to start things off. He will also be speaking before the event at a local library, giving a talk and signing copies of his latest book, "God: The Most Unpleasant Character in All Fiction," from 1-2:30 pm at the Rondo Library (461 Dale St N) in town.

"All nonbelievers are hitting a home run with this game," says Barker. "There's nothing quite like it on Wrigley Field."

The first pitch against the Fargo-Moorhead Redhawks is scheduled for 7 p.m., but grilling and tailgating will start in the southeast parking lot at 3 p.m. Food and drink will be plentiful.

There will be skeptic-themed antics between innings, such as a "Doubting Thomas, " who will go around the stadium wearing a shepherd's robe vocally doubting things and questioning calls from umpires during the game. Local atheists will have a greeting table by the entrance with some free items, including the popular Get Out of Hell Free cards in the style of the Monopoly board game. FFRF and Minnesota Atheists will have banners strategically displayed at CHS Field.

The motto of Minnesota Atheists is "Positive Atheism in Action," so it is asking fans to give up their "soles" for charity. A team of volunteers designed large wooden crates for fans to donate their gently worn shoes for individuals and families experiencing poverty. All of the shoes collected will be sent directly to the secular global nonprofit Soles4Souls, which will then distribute the shoes to those in need.

It takes a special team to feature an "Atheist Night" game like this, especially since religious belief has such a strong presence in baseball and all other professional sports.

The St. Paul Saints ownership includes Mike Veeck and Bill Murray (yes, that Bill Murray). The Saints have one of the most competitive teams in the American Association league and are expected to make the playoffs again this year.

If people can't make it but would still like to support the only atheist-themed baseball team in the history of professional sports, they can purchase a replica newly designed Mr. Paul Aints T-shirts for $20 (two for $35). Proceeds directly benefit FFRF and Minnesota Atheists. 

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a nationwide nonprofit that educates on nontheism and safeguards the constitutional separation between state and church, with nearly 24,000 nonreligious members all over the country, including more than 500 in Minnesota.

1delaware
 The Freedom From Religion Foundation is objecting to a Delaware county's repeated grants to religious groups for religious purposes.

FFRF wrote the Sussex County Council on Feb. 9 regarding a $10,000 grant to Delmarva Teen Challenge, a religious ministry that purports to help drug addicts by converting them to Christianity. The money paid for a fundraiser for the religious group. The county responded that it would consider FFRF's input for similar grant requests in the future. That's why FFRF is dismayed that the council has continued to fund religious ministries with taxpayer money.

On June 21, the council voted unanimously to award $2,500 from Councilman Samuel Wilson's discretionary grant account to Grace-N-Mercy Ministries, a Christian church in Greenwood, "for youth camp expenses." In its grant application, the ministry stated that the grant would be utilized for expanding its summer youth camp, which "combines the social recreation and team building activities of a traditional summer camp with the faith-based principles of a vacation bible school."

The Vacation Bible School is an overtly religious curriculum aimed at indoctrinating young children in Christianity. Its website states that "after every Bible story, kids will hear how that story ties into God's bigger story—his plan of salvation! Each day kids will learn about Christ's sacrifice for them and be challenged to respond to God's love in real and meaningful ways." The county apparently took no steps to ensure that the $2,500 would be used for entirely secular purposes. Although the Grace-N-Mercy Ministries' grant application plainly stated the religious nature of the camp, the audio recording of the council meeting demonstrates that councilmembers voted on the grant without even discussing the possibility that the funds will be inappropriately used to promote religion.

On June 28, the council decided to give $2,000 to yet another summer bible camp, Nanticoke Young Life. The group's website makes clear that its primary goal is to convert kids to Christianity. The County Council again awarded the money without discussing whether it was proper to force Sussex County taxpayers to fund a sectarian religious event.

"The Supreme Court has consistently held that direct grants to religious institutions require appropriate safeguards against the money ever being used for religious purposes," FFRF Legal Fellow Ryan Jayne writes in a letter to Sussex County Attorney J. Everett Moore Jr. "The county violates both the Delaware and U.S. Constitutions when it uses public money to maintain a ministry or to fund religious activities." 

FFRF says that this pattern of unconstitutional grants must stop and that Sussex County councilmembers may not use discretionary funds to promote their personal religion or religion in general. It requests that the county respond in writing with steps it is taking to stop its regular practice of allowing councilmembers to fund religion with taxpayer money.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a nationwide nonprofit that educates on nontheism and safeguards the constitutional separation between state and church, with nearly 24,000 nonreligious members all over the country, including in Delaware.

1MissouriChurchThe Freedom From Religion Foundation has co-filed a brief before the U.S. Supreme Court supporting the denial of a Missouri grant to a church.

The Trinity Lutheran Church in Columbia, Mo., is appealing the refusal of a state grant for the upgrading of a playground at a preschool it runs. FFRF joins the brief filed by the American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Missouri.

"Missouri could not have included Trinity Lutheran Church in the grant program without violating the First Amendment because the Establishment Clause squarely prohibits direct payment of taxpayer funds to churches and other houses of worship," states the brief. "In short, Missouri's decision to exclude Trinity Lutheran Church from the program was not merely permissible; as a constitutional matter, it was required."

The brief reminds everyone that the use of taxpayer dollars to aid churches was one of the greatest concerns of the framers of the U.S. Constitution and, in large part, animated the passage of the Establishment Clause. James Madison and Thomas Jefferson recognized that compelling taxpayers to provide direct financial support to houses of worship encroaches on the right of conscience and threatens our freedom to decide for ourselves which faith to practice and support, or whether to follow any faith at all. Madison was adamant that even "three pence" in aid was too much of a threat to religious liberty.

"This court's Establishment Clause jurisprudence has few bright-line rules, but in this instance, the court should reiterate that our historical aversion to direct taxpayer funding of churches is one line that may not be crossed, no matter how well-meaning the government program may be," says the brief. "Strict enforcement of this constitutional boundary is essential to maintaining the delicate balance that the framers sought to create in singling out religion for special protection."

Tying houses of worship financially to the state also undermines religious freedom by inviting the government to scrutinize and oversee their operations. Despite any short-term gain for the government-funded religious institution, in the long run, religious liberty is corroded, and, in the case of direct aid to a church, church autonomy is impeded, the brief asserts.

Additionally, the limited record before the court shows a significant risk that the church will use its taxpayer-improved playground for religious activities, the brief contends. Trinity Lutheran Church integrates religious teaching into all aspects of the preschool and is, therefore, likely to use its taxpayer-financed playground for religiously oriented activities.

For all these reasons, the various organizations co-filing the brief urge the U.S. Supreme Court to reaffirm that, under the First Amendment, the government may not provide taxpayer dollars directly to churches and other houses of worship.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a nationwide nonprofit organization dedicated to the separation of state and church, with almost 24,000 nonreligious members across the country, including more than 300 in Missouri. Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel was FFRF's point person on the brief.

FFRF is a non-profit, educational organization. All dues and donations are deductible for income-tax purposes.

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