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Lead Us Not Into Penn Station:Provocative Pieces

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October 7-9, 2016

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Lauryn Seering

Lauryn Seering

1ColoClerkA Colorado county clerk has removed an overtly religious poster from the office where citizens, including same-sex couples, get their marriage licenses after the Freedom From Religion Foundation complained.

Two of FFRF's complainants have confirmed that the poster is down and was likely removed on Thursday, the day after FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel asked Elbert County Clerk Dallas Schroeder to put him in touch with his attorney.

"We're glad that the poster, which was meant to intimidate LGBT citizens and promote Schroeder's personal religion, has been removed from government property," Seidel said. "The government must remain neutral on matters of religion and quoting the bible is hardly neutral."

Schroeder had made it clear in emails that he is against same-sex marriage, and had a poster created by a local artist to put up in the office, so "there is no way to miss it if you are in for a marriage license," he wrote.

In an email exchange between several county clerks discussing how to handle same-sex marriage licenses, Schroeder wrote on Aug. 9: "It is a picture of a bride standing on a hill with the groom walking up the hill to meet her. On the bottom I have a portion of the verse in I Corinthians where Paul says, 'Each man should have his own wife, and each woman her own husband.' And cite the verse."

Initially, Schroeder believed he was following the letter of the law.

"I am not denying anyone service," he wrote. "My thought process is that they have to see the poster and if they choose to violate God's written Word, then that is on their head. I have warned them."

But after being sent several letters from Seidel and asking to speak with his lawyer, Schroeder apparently relented and removed the poster, at least from the sight of county constituents.

FFRF is a national nonprofit organization representing about 23,000 members across the country, including more than 650 members in Colorado with chapters in both Colorado Springs and Denver.

WinterSosltice2015
This display will be going up soon at the Texas State Capitol. Pictured: FFRF's legal department and executive directors. Photo- Andrew L. Seidel.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation has acquired a permit to place its Bill of Rights "nativity" display in the Texas Capitol Building, to balance a Christian nativity there. FFRF's display setup event will take place on Friday, Dec. 18, at 9 AM. The location is the Ground Floor Rotunda in the Capitol Building, located at 1100 Congress Avenue in Austin, Texas.

All are welcome to help FFRF celebrate the Winter Solstice and the "birth" of the Bill of Rights on Dec. 15, 1791.

FFRF is a state/church watchdog with about 23,000 nonreligious members, including nearly 1,000 in Texas.

"We're very grateful to Texas State Rep. Donna Howard for agreeing to sponsor our 'equal time' display," said FFRF Staff Attorney Sam Grover. A state sponsor is required by Capitol rules. The display is privately funded and is not endorsed by the state.

The Bill of Rights "nativity" features Founding Fathers Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and George Washington gathered in reverence before the Bill of Rights, overseen by the Statue of Liberty. In addition to the "nativity," the display will also feature a sign celebrating the Winter Solstice:

WinterSolsticeGreen

"We'd prefer that the government stay out of the business of promoting religion or irreligion on governmental property," said FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. "But, because a private group received permission to erect a Christian nativity in the Capitol Rotunda, we think there should be 'room at the inn' for all points of view at this time of year."

The Bill of Rights was adopted on Dec. 15, 1791. The Winter Solstice — what FFRF deems "the real reason for the season, a natural holiday" is the shortest, darkest day of the year, occurring this year on Dec. 22.

FFRF invites area freethinkers to attend the placement of its solstice display on Friday, Dec. 18 at 9:00 a.m., "to celebrate diversity, freethought, the Winter Solstice, and the freedoms we all share in the United States, thanks to our Bill of Rights."

Colorado Mesa University in Grand Junction will no longer distribute bibles to nursing school graduates as part of their "pinning" ceremony after the Freedom From Religion Foundation and the Western Colorado Atheists and Freethinkers sent complaint letters. FFRF learned of the Gideon bible distribution in November from several CMU students and community members.

College President Tim Foster announced on Nov. 18: "I have sought legal counsel and researched legal precedent. I have listened to the divergent viewpoints of others. Taking all that into consideration, the bible give-away at the pinning ceremony will be discontinued."

Nursing students had apparently been told the bible distribution was a "non-negotiable" part of the ceremony.

"Thrusting bibles at students — who may be of varying faiths or no faith — at graduation is coercive, embarrassing and beyond the scope of our public higher education system," wrote Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel in his complaint letter to Foster. "This matter is especially troublesome in light of the wide range of cultures and faiths that were represented at graduation."

Northern Illinois University in DeKalb promptly removed all Gideon bibles from the Holmes Student Center Hotel after getting an Oct. 20 complaint letter from FFRF Legal Fellow Ryan Jayne, who wrote, "Certainly, if guests want to read this religious text during their stay, they can bring their own copy or access any of the numerous churches or libraries near the university."

The next day, Gregory Brady, deputy general counsel, responded that the university "will be removing any such bibles from their hotel guest rooms."

"We're grateful to NIU for so promptly making a decision to respect all of its hotel guests and stay above the religious fray," said FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. She and her husband, Co-President Dan Barker, were staying at the hotel while in town to speak to a Secular Student Alliance chapter when they discovered the bibles in the room.

"The bible calls for killing nonbelievers, apostates, gays, 'stubborn sons,' and women who transgress biblical double standards. What's obnoxious in a private hotel, however, becomes inappropriate and unconstitutional in state-run lodgings," commented Gaylor.

State universities in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Oregon and Iowa have also recently removed bibles from guest rooms after being contacted by FFRF.

(You can purchase bible warning labels online at ffrf.org/shop.)

By Paul Heffron and Jerry Rauser

It was 20 years ago today, Mr. Barker taught the band to play. Yes, it was Dan's inspiration that help start the Freethought Band almost 20 years ago. We played for the parties, picnics and other atheist-humanist community events in the Twin Cities area of Minnesota.

We used Dan Barker songs, other songs we'd located and sometimes modified, and some we'd written ourselves. To be freethought songs, they had to have a vocal with a freethought message. Fortunately, we had a good vocalist.

We played not only for the social events of Minnesota Atheists and Humanists of Minnesota, which were often joint, but also for the American Atheists national conference when it was in Minneapolis, for Camp Quest Minnesota and for the wedding reception of two local freethinkers. We always performed as volunteers, without compensation. Music clearly added a lot to our local activities.

We eventually made a CD and gave one to each of our fellow freethinkers at our solstice party. We decided not to charge anything for the CD and to make it part of a new project of promoting freethought music. Dan and Annie Laurie Gaylor interviewed Paul on their Freethought Radio program in 2012 when he said he'd send the CD free to listeners who requested it. This was the beginning of sending the CD without charge to people all over North America.

We created a website, FreethoughtMusic.org, for the project. It has resources for those interested in freethought music. The website for our CD, FreethoughtBand.org, makes some of our songs available.

Recently, we did a national survey on the use of music by atheist and humanist groups. Results are posted on the "Articles" page of FreethoughtMusic.org. A significant number of groups answered that they were using or wanted to use music in their meetings. As you would expect of freethinkers, there was a variety of approaches to the use of music.

We also noted the addition of music at most national and regional freethought conferences, the continued production and performance of music by Dan Barker, the coverage of music and musicians in Freethought Today and Freethought of the Day, coverage in other national atheist and humanist magazines, and coverage in some recent freethought books.

The good news is that the new secular movement has acquired a noteworthy musical dimension that seems likely to grow.

Highlights for us were the times when Dan came to the Twin Cities to speak and entertain and play with the Freethought Band. The most recent highlight was hearing Dan play the Steinway grand piano at the new FFRF building open house in October. He invited Paul to play a number, and he chose to play Dave Brubeck's signature song, "In Your Own Sweet Way" because that's the way we freethinkers do it.

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FFRF defends besieged Texas teacher

FFRF stood up for a middle school teacher in Katy, Texas, who came under fire for a critical thinking exercise that appeared to offend some people for its questioning of whether God is real.

As part of the West Memorial Junior High classroom exercise, the teacher had students respond to simple phrases, asking whether they were factual claims, opinions or commonplace assertions. "The fastest land dwelling creature is the Cheetah," read the first prompt on the exercise worksheet. "There is a God," read the second.

A 12-year-old student was apparently so distraught that she went to a school board meeting and complained that she had an "assignment that questions my faith and told me God was not real."

"It appears this young student expected the teacher to profess that God is a fact," FFRF Co-Presidents Annie Laurie Gaylor and Dan Barker wrote in an Oct. 30 letter to Katy ISD Superintendent Alton Frailey. "Yet famous passages from the bible as well as many denominational doctrines would agree with this teacher's categorization that God is not taken on fact or evidence. 'Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.' — Hebrews 11:1."

Two days after the board meeting, the district held a press conference and confirmed that after discussing the situation with the teacher and 11 students, it found that "the teacher did not ask students at any point to deny God. According to the teacher and students interviewed, she emphasized to the students that there are different cultures, religions and views."

But Frailey also said, "No student should ever be forced or threatened with a failing grade for not denouncing his or her faith. I will not tolerate that at all."
Based on the report from the district FAQ page online, no mention of a failing grade was given to any student (because the exercise was not to be graded) and no one was forced to denounce their faith.

KTRK reported that the worksheet will not be used again in class.

Gaylor and Barker defended the teacher and the exercise. "It is a pity that confused thinking and thin skins by some believing students and their parents can rule the day at your junior high school. The exaggerated fallout from this exercise clearly demonstrates the great need for more, not less, instruction on critical thinking skills. It should not be verboten or controversial to ask students to assess whether a claim is factual. It is this kind of 'head in the sand' attitude that accounts for the deplorable state of science understanding in our nation, including the fact that about half of all adults reject evolution, which is a fact."

Frailey also stepped close to the church/state line when he proclaimed in his statement that he's "a life-long Christian."

"It is unfortunate . . . that you as superintendent felt incumbent to disclose you are a 'life-long Christian,' which should be entirely irrelevant in overseeing the district's secular public schools," the letter said.
FFRF has 790 members in Texas.

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