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Lauryn Seering

Lauryn Seering

%865 %America/Chicago, %1998

Saga Of A Civil Rights Complaint

April 1998

The following correspondence documents a Civil-Rights victory. See story on page 1.

October 23, 1997

Dear Mr Kopp:

We are writing to inform you that, under the Civil Rights Act, it is strictly illegal to discriminate (or show favoritism) on the basis of religion. As an official "place of accommodation" Ken Kopp's Fine Foods has violated the Civil Rights Act by offering Catholics who have gone to Mass a discount not offered to other shoppers.

The federal code reads: "All persons shall be entitled to the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages and accommodations of any place of public accommodation . . . without discrimination or segregation on the grounds of race, color, religion, or national origin."

Our Foundation has stopped this type of church-bulletin discount violation in other parts of the country. We have never encountered before your particular offensive practice of singling out members of one particular denomination for favoritism! Your message is certainly coming out loud and clear: only Catholic customers are truly valued. As an atheist customer who has frequented your store an average of twice a week for the past six years or more, to the tune of probably $100 a week on average, I'd appreciate one of these special coupons myself!

We are requesting that you immediately cease and desist offering and honoring this illegal promotion. Please note that it would be illegal even if you offered the same to nonCatholic church-goers as well. Please advise us promptly of your compliance with the Civil Rights Act, so that we may regard this as a closed case.

Annie Laurie Gaylor, Staff
FFRF, Inc.

October 28, 1997

Dear Ms. Gaylor:

Please be advised that this office represents Ken Kopp's Fine Food. This is a follow-up to your letter of October 23, 1997.

From the conclusions drawn in your correspondence, it appears that you are unaware of our client's business practices. Our client does advertise citywide in the Madison newspapers, and locally in neighborhood publications. Coupons are available and advertisements are placed in church bulletins. If a coupon from a church bulletin is brought to the store for redemption, it is honored regardless of anyone's denomination, belief or non-belief. Coupon presenters are not questioned about their beliefs or denomination or whether they attended Mass. Anyone presenting the coupon and making a $20.00 purchase receives a gallon of milk without further inquiry.

Our client is proud of its years of service to people of all creeds. Your patronage and, those sharing your beliefs, have always been and will always be welcomed. You advised that you are "an atheist customer who has frequented [the] store an average of twice a week for the past six years or more, . . ." Your actions confirm the fact that you are not denied access to the store, that your patronage is neither unwelcomed, objectionable nor unacceptable. There is, accordingly, no unlawful discrimination, nor violation of any local, state or federal civil rights legislation, nor is there a violation of Wis. Stats. � 106.04(9), Wisconsin's Public Place of Accommodation statute.

Pursuant to your request, I enclose a coupon from a church bulletin for your free gallon of milk. This coupon is redeemable and available to persons of all creeds and beliefs. It may be redeemed at Ken Kopp's Fine Foods in the same manner as those who pick up the coupon at Sunday Mass. You are also welcome to take advantage of future coupons. This Church is only a few blocks from your home. Simply stop at the Church any Sunday and pick up a bulletin which contains the coupon. In that manner, should you desire and elect, you will be treated as any other coupon-redeeming customer and neighbor regardless of your religious affiliation or beliefs.

As a personal aside, until a year ago, I was a resident of the Monroe Street neighborhood and lived in that neighborhood for thirty-two years. I have seen many changes in the neighborhood. One of the great strengths of the neighborhood has been the coexistence and tolerance the neighbors and businesses show one another regardless of individual beliefs and socio-economic backgrounds. I empathize with you to the extent you find a small percentage of our client's marketing "a particularly offensive practice." The neighborhood has always been one that prides itself on understanding and tolerance as opposed to looking for ways to be offended. Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc. is a tribute to this tolerance and exemplary of the fact that not all offensive behavior is illegal. Your letter understandably expresses your desire not to be treated unfavorably because of your beliefs. That courtesy has been extended to you by Ken Kopp's Fine Foods and its employees. I am assuming you will extend the same courtesy to my client.

If you have any further questions in regard to this matter, do not hesitate to contact me.

Timothy C. Sweeney

November 17, 1997

Dear Mr. Sweeney:

We represent the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc. We are writing you on its behalf with regard to your October 28, 1997 letter to Annie Laurie Gaylor concerning Ken Kopp's Fine Foods.

Your letter states that because Ms. Gaylor has not been denied access to Ken Kopp's and because her patronage is neither "unwelcomed, objectionable nor unacceptable," there has been no violation of any local, state or federal civil rights legislation, including the state's public accommodations law. However, the public accommodation laws are not so restricted in their scope. Both the state and City of Madison public accommodation laws prohibit price discrimination by places of public accommodation based on race, gender, religion or other specified factors. See sec. 106.04(9), Stats.; Madison General Ordinances sec. 3.23(5). Novak v. Madison Motel Associates, 188 Wis. 2d 407, 525 N.W.2d 123 (Ct. App. 1994). Offering a discount only to members of a particular religious group is prohibited by those laws, regardless of whether other customers' business is welcome.

In Novak, the Wisconsin Court of Appeals held that the state public accommodations law prohibited the Holiday Inn East Towne from offering free drinks to women only during its "ladies' night" promotion. (It also noted that the Madison ordinance parallels state law.) In rejecting the hotel's arguments, the court noted that the hotel's "interpretation would permit offering free drinks (or other discounts) to persons of one race and not to persons of another race, or to persons of one religion and not to persons of another religion. This is inconsistent with the obvious goal of the statute and is an unreasonable interpretation of the statute." Id. at 415 (emphasis added).

Your letter states that the coupon "is redeemable and available to persons of all creeds and beliefs." That is not what the coupon states, of course--it expressly conditions redemption on going to Mass. Moreover, regardless of whether anyone at the store actually questions the customer whether he or she attended Mass, the plain wording of the coupon discourages any customer who has not attended Mass from attempting to use it. Assuming that the great majority of Ken Kopp's customers are honest, they likely would not wish to engage in misrepresentation by presenting the coupon without having attended Mass. In the words of Mr. Kopp himself, as quoted in the October 23, 1997 Wisconsin State Journal, "if they didn't [attend Mass], then they're lying . . ."

We also question the asserted availability of the coupon to individuals who are not members of the church. Unless the church is prepared to print a large number of bulletins and make them freely available to all requesters--and it is doubtful that the church's printing budget contemplates such a public service--the practice of providing promotional coupons solely in church bulletins constitutes an unlawful preference for church members.

There is nothing in the state or local public accommodations laws that would prohibit Ken Kopp's Fine Foods from offering discount coupons in a church bulletin, provided that the same offer is extended to others on a non-discriminatory basis. That requires that the coupons not express a preference for certain religious practices and that the coupons be made as readily available to non-church members as they are to church members, through an in-store display or newspaper advertisement. Accordingly, in the interest of resolving this matter without the need to involve the relevant city or state administrative enforcement agencies, we ask on the Foundation's behalf that Ken Kopp's Fine Foods modify its promotional practices by deleting all references to attending Mass from its promotions and by making its coupons freely available to the general public.

We look forward to a response at your earliest convenience.

Jeffrey J. Kassel

December 15, 1997

Dear Mr. Kassel:

This is a follow-up to your letter of November 17, 1997. Therein, you cited Wisconsin Statutes, Madison General Ordinances and Novak v. Madison Motel Associates, 188 Wis. 2nd 407, 525 N.W.2nd 123 (Ct. App. 1994) as support for the premise that:

"Coupons not express a preference for certain religious practices"; and
"Coupons be made readily available to non-church members as they are to church members, through an in-store display or newspaper advertisement."
We both appear to be in agreement that the Madison General Ordinances Section 3.23(5) is very similar to the applicable Wisconsin Law, Wis. Stats. 106.04(9) and address the City and state public accommodations law.

It must initially be determined which, if any, of the subsections of Wis. Stats. 106.04(9) apply. There does not appear to be any issue in regards to an admission charge, lodging prices, automobile insurance, or rent, thereby eliminating subsections 1, 1m, 3m, 4 and 5 of Wis. Stats. 106.04(9).

I repeat our position as expressed to Ms. Gaylor in my letter of October 28, 1997 that Ms. Gaylor had not been denied access to our client's premises and that her continued patronage is demonstrative of the fact that her patronage is not unwelcome, objectionable or unacceptable. This was not an attempt to oversimplify the applicable statutes, nor an attempt to "restrict" the public accommodation laws as alleged in your letter of November 17th. Rather, it was a statement which demonstrates that Wis. Stats. 106.04(9)(3) (one of the only two possible remaining applicable subsections) does not apply to this fact situation.

Accordingly, we are left with the analysis of whether the sole remaining subsection of the Wisconsin Statutes, Wis. Stats. 106.04(9)(2), is applicable. Said subsection prohibits ". . . preferential treatment to some classes of persons in providing services or facilities in any public place of accommodation or amusement because of . . . creed . . ." There appears to be a threshold issue of whether the lack of creed constitutes "creed" as used in the statutes. The only statutory definition of "creed" that I was able to locate was in Wis. Stats. 111.337(1), defining "creed" as used in the employment discrimination context. Therein, the statutes defines[sic] "creed" as "religious observance or practice." It is my understanding that the whole basis of Ms. Gaylor's objection, as well as the basic premise of your client "Freedom From Religion, Inc.," is that they are opposed to and reject any religious observance or practice. Does lack of creed constitute creed? If lack of creed does not constitute creed, Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc. is not a member of a protected class entitled to the protection of Wis. Stats. 106.04(9).

There appears to be an additional threshold issue of whether the purchase of goods in excess of $20 and the corresponding gallon of milk are "services or facilities" as used in Wis. Stats. 106.04(9)(2). In this regard, Novak provides us with some direction. In Novak, Madison Motel contended that the drinks in a bar were not "services or facilities," but rather "goods" and therefore not covered by this section. In disagreeing with Madison Motel, the appellate court stated:

"A bar is providing a service when it sells drinks to customers for consumption at the bar. Customers go to a bar to buy drinks, but also to sit in the establishment and, usually, to socialize. A bar offers more to its customers than the opportunity to purchase goods, which they could purchase at retail stores." (emphasis added)

In our case, it appears clear that a grocery store is certainly distinguishable from a bar. Our client's grocery store is a retail store. The gallon of milk and the $20 of other grocery goods are clearly "goods" and not "services or facilities." In all of the years which our client has operated the grocery store, there has never been an incident of someone sitting in the establishment, opening and consuming their gallon of milk in the store for the purpose of socializing. It is certainly not the practice of grocery store customers, nor the intent of grocery stores that the goods sold will be consumed on the premises in a social atmosphere.

If your client can overcome on the initial threshold issues of "creed" and services or facilities," the next issue would be whether Wis. Stats. 106.04(9)(2) prohibits the coupon as presently offered. Again, I refer you to my correspondence with Ms. Gaylor in regards to the business practices of my client to determine whether or not preferential treatment does in fact occur in the redemption of the coupon. If the milk and the groceries are not "goods" and if lack of creed constitutes creed, there does appear to be amendments we can make to this coupon to eliminate any and all questions of whether or not it constitutes a preference.

The final issue is whether the statutes, ordinances, and/or case law require a merchant, who elects to and pays for the coupon to be printed in an[sic] church bulletin, to incur the expense of making that same coupon available in some place other than the church bulletin. I find no basis in the statutes or ordinances that require a private merchant to incur the additional advertising expense to make the availability of that coupon more convenient to your client and others simply because your client and others do not want to stop by a church and pick up the coupon. It is difficult to believe that the legislative intent of Wis. Stats. 106.04(9)(2) requires that any coupons of any retail merchant published in a church bulletin must be made readily available through in-store displays or additional newspaper advertisements. The reasonable extension of this provision would be to require a retail merchant who places a coupon in a liberal publication, newsletter, or newspaper to also make this coupon available through an in-store display or require the merchant to purchase additional advertising in a conservative newspaper. "Political beliefs" are a protected class under the Madison Ordinances. Likewise, if a merchant publishes a coupon in a publication, newsletter or newspaper that targets women, must the merchant also make this coupon available through an in-store display or require the merchant to purchase additional advertising in a similar media which targets men? Following your position, a merchant would be so required, or be in violation of Wis. Stats. 106.04(9)(2) for giving preferential treatment in a place of public accommodation because of sex. Would a coupon in Ebony magazine require your suggested remedial action? The analogies would lead to unreasonable results which are not consistent with the legislative intent of Wis. Stats. 106.04(9), or Madison General Ordinances 3.23(5). I was unable to locate any case law supportive of your position that any coupon which may be published in a publication which may be allegedly more convenient for some would have to be made available to all through an in-store display or counter-balancing advertisement. This is an over-burdensome and unreasonable standard upon retail business owners, especially small neighborhood businesses, that was not intended by the legislation.

After you have had an opportunity to review this matter and discuss the same with your client, please contact me so that we may further discuss this matter. We look forward to your response at your earliest convenience.

Timothy C. C. Sweeney

December 29, 1997

Dear Mr. Sweeney:

Thank you for your letter dated December 15, 1997 responding to ours of November 17, 1997 regarding the coupon promotion offered by Ken Kopp's Fine Foods.

Your letter challenges our assertion that the public accommodations law prohibits discounts in the sale of goods based on creed. Your clients' position, it appears, is that a seller of goods may discriminate on the basis of religion by offering a discount only to those of a particular faith. Does your client believe that it would be permissible for a hardware store to offer a discount only to Jews or Muslims? Or that a pharmacy could offer sale prices only to non-Catholics? Yet that is exactly what Ken Kopp's Fine Foods has done, by offering its free-milk promotion only to those who attend Catholic Church.

We do not agree with your contention that sec. 106.04(9)2 is the only statutory provision at issue here. Section 106.04(9)1 provides that no person may "[d]eny to another . . . the full and equal enjoyment of any public place of accommodation because of . . . creed. . . . Whether or not Ken Kopp's Fine Foods says that it welcomes the patronage of all persons, its coupon promotion operates to deny non-Catholics the full and equal enjoyment of the store because they have no opportunity to take advantage of a discount offered only to church members.

Your suggestion that the statutory prohibition against discrimination based on creed does not ban discrimination against nonbelievers is without merit. In the context of the federal laws banning employment discrimination based on religion, the courts have held that Title VII "protects those who refuse to hold, as well as those who hold, specific religious beliefs," Shapolia v. Los Alamos Nat'l Lab., 992 F.2d 1033 (10th Cir. 1993), and have specifically found that atheists are protected by laws banning religious discrimination. Young v. Southwestern Savings and Loan Ass'n, 509 F. 2d 140 (5th Cir. 1975). There can be little doubt that the public accommodations law would be similarly interpreted.

As you know, the Freedom From Religion Foundation objects both to the wording of the coupon, which conditions its use on attending Mass, and to the exclusive distribution of the coupon in church bulletins. Your letter does not attempt to defend the coupon's wording; indeed, you indicate some willingness to eliminate that restrictive language. We would appreciate a clear statement with regard to whether your client is, in fact, prepared to eliminate that language.

The other issue concerns the restricted distribution of the coupon. You compare the placement of the coupon in a church bulletin to a coupon published in a liberal newspaper or a magazine such as Ebony, which "target" certain audiences. Those publications are not comparable to a church bulletin, however, because they are generally available to the public. A church bulletin, in contrast, is not merely directed at a particular readership, but is distributed solely to those who are members of or attend the church. While you suggest that our clients could pick up the coupon at the church, we doubt that Madison churches see their role as providing marketing support for your client's business promotions. Nor is there any reason why a customer should be compelled to visit a church to be able to get a good deal on a gallon of milk.

Your client's restrictive promotional practice denies to our clients and others, based on creed, the "full and equal enjoyment" of Ken Kopp's Fine Foods. If your client is unwilling to change its marketing promotions to eliminate this discriminatory practice, the Freedom From Religion Foundation intends to pursue its legal remedies. Under sec. 106.04, Wis. Stats., a complainant has the option of filing an administrative complaint with the Equal Rights Division or bringing an action directly in circuit court, with the full range of remedies provided by sec. 106.04(10)(e)1. City ordinances also provide an administrative remedy, and we note in that regard that if the holder of an alcohol beverage license has been found to engage in discrimination, the city attorney is required by ordinance to commence a proceeding for the revocation, suspension or nonrenewal of that license. Madison Gen. Ord. Sec. 3.23(9)(c)2.b.

We hope that this matter can be resolved without the need for the initiation of formal proceedings. We look forward to your proposal for a prompt resolution.

Jeffrey J. Kassel

March 5, 1998

Dear Mr. Kassel:

Please be advised that our client has discontinued the coupon ad which was the subject of our correspondence over the last several months. Our client has, accordingly, modified its promotion.

Timothy Sweeney

%905 %America/Chicago, %2003

A Piece Missing at Peace Rally

Vol. 20 No. 2 - Published by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc. - March 2003

Praise Peace, Not God

By Annie Laurie Gaylor

Dan and I timed a brief mid-February vacation in New York City to take in comedian Julia Sweeney's new monolog, "Julia Sweeney in the Family Way," at the Ars Nova theater. Julia, the "Saturday Night Live" alumna and actress, was a popular speaker at the Freedom From Religion Foundation's most recent convention.

We were thrilled when we realized our last day in New York City would coincide with the huge peace rally scheduled there and in some 600 other cities around the world on Saturday, Feb. 15.

Julia Sweeney's monolog about how she came to adopt a baby girl in China was very, very funny. Thanks to Julia's hospitality, it was topped off by meeting the tiny subject of the monolog herself, Mulan, now three, a vivacious, adorable little personality in her own right. (Freethought news scoop: Julia is beginning to schedule her newest monolog: "Letting Go of God.")

This was my first visit to Manhattan, so Dan and I spent an enjoyable two and a half days sightseeing. But by Saturday, I was ready to start marching. You may know that city authorities refused a permit for a march, or even to let us congregate in front of the United Nations building, a refusal upheld by two courts.

Hoping for the best, Dan and I set off for the noon rally at about 10:30 a.m. from our hotel at 45th Street and Eighth Avenue, walking a long mile toward First Avenue, the site of the rally. Dan got a lot of laughs carrying a homemade sign with his personal pun: "Bush is a bad precedent." Packing light, I only had a piece of bright pink cardboard bedecked with two relevant bumperstickers and a little scrawled advertisement, "Bumperstickers available" (always the freethought saleswoman).

Reaching Third Avenue, we realized we were in for an endurance contest. Police had barricades up along the sidewalks, and had totally shut off side streets that led directly to the rally. Instead, they slowly herded us (there is no other word) for blocks and blocks away from the rally site before letting us turn toward Second and then First Avenues. We later learned that marchers filled First, Second and Third Avenues all the way from 51st to 80th Street!

At least we had our march of sorts, however poorly the city had planned for it. There was no room and no way to contain us. Confrontations took place on Third Avenue later as marchers, dangerously overcrowded, had no choice but to overflow the barricades. Almost 300 were arrested, some simply for doing what I had done--walking in the street to avoid overcrowded sidewalks.

We kept moving like cattle, finally squashed into pens erected on First Avenue. We came to a dead halt six or seven blocks from the rally. Utterly smashed, I was contemplating being the first in our block to climb over a barricade, until I spotted a police officer sauntering by with a German Shepherd. Was that necessary, Mayor Bloomberg?

The diverse crowd was extremely good-natured. In too-close proximity, we smiled at each others' signs. A grandmotherly woman passed out Girl Scout Thin Mints. I chatted briefly with a female professor from Iran. She shrugged off the unhappy crowd conditions but told me she was so dismayed to realize she was using the same slogans against Bush that she had used against rulers back in Iran. With a wicked wind blowing up from the East River, we were slowly freezing. Protesters took every opportunity to clap, cheer and jump up and down.

As the rally began, heard through loudspeakers, at least three or four "reverends," maybe more, invoked their respective gods. There was a Baptist minister or two, a rabbi, and preachers sprinkled throughout the program, such as Al Sharpton. It's one thing if a speaker mentions personal beliefs--but scheduling formal prayers and invocations excludes so many of us. Just as a welcome secular speech began by actress Susan Sarandon, the loudspeakers by us turned to static.

This was too much for me: I hadn't come to the rally just to freeze, smother and hear only prayers! Although it looked impossible, we politely elbowed our way through wall-to-wall protesters until we came to an intersection. There was no way out of our corral.

Since the coast looked clear, I climbed over the barricade. Dan followed eventually (son of a police officer, he is usually very law-abiding), and we slowly worked our way through two more pens until we could see and hear again, getting about five blocks from the stage.

A monitor screen displayed the speakers: many local activists, some celebrities such as Harry Belafonte and Rosie Perez, a few politicians, Palestinians, Israelis for peace, Arab Americans and representatives from around the world. Although we missed a lot, we heard enough to realize that many speakers were liberally peppering their remarks with "God," reassuring the crowd that "God is on our side," or ending remarks with "God Bless America." Dan and I periodically exchanged glances of wonderment, and muttered, "They sound just like George Bush!"

(I later read European coverage contrasting the religious nature of American peace rallies with Europe's pronounced secularism.)

The final straw was special guest Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa. (I do give him great credit for attending.) He expansively told us "God was smiling" on all the people down the avenue. Tutu always argued from divine authority against apartheid, rather than as a civil libertarian ("We are all God's children."). Although I clapped enthusiastically at Tutu's secular follow-up remarks, I wondered if nonbelievers--after all, we are 14% of the U.S. adult population--would ever be acknowledged or represented at this huge rally!

Feminist singer Holly Near saved the day, when she launched without preamble into her feisty song, "I Ain't Afraid."

I ain't afraid of your Yahweh
I ain't afraid of your Allah
I ain't afraid of your Jesus
I'm afraid of what you'll do in the name of your god.
She took a minute to explain that we shouldn't do stuff in the name of a god or divide ourselves by religion. I sensed no crowd comprehension. But after her song, when I put down my sign to tie a shoe, a little girl read it and asked if she could buy a bumpersticker. Her father stepped forward and handed me a dollar for "Imagine no religion."

We know freethinkers were there in full force, are here in full force. We just haven't made it to the radar screen of the media, politicians or the public. We need to demand representation of our reason-based views. Analyzing the growing crises out of context, without acknowledging the role religion plays in war, in suppression of civil liberties and in terrorism, is like trying to solve a jigsaw puzzle when vital pieces are missing.

Annie Laurie Gaylor is editor of Freethought Today and the anthology Women Without Superstition: No Gods - No Masters: The Collected Writings of Women Freethinkers of the 19th & 20th Centuries.

%905 %America/Chicago, %2000

The Facts vs. "The O'Reilly Factor"

December 2000
"Giving Blondes a Bad Name"

By Annie Laurie Gaylor

The day after Joseph Lieberman's now-infamous remarks on religion to a black congregation in Detroit, I got a call from Fox TV network inviting me to appear on "The O'Reilly Factor."

As I had never heard of this show, I couldn't help asking the polite assistant: "The host isn't one of these 'hate radio' types, is he?" I was assured that Mr. O'Reilly belonged more in the "devil's advocate" category.

I was the only guest interviewed via satellite hook-up at a local studio for a five-minute opening segment, taped that afternoon and airing that night. The taping started with Bill O'Reilly's opening editorial, called "Talking Points."

He called it "ridiculous" and "madness" to contend it is "dangerous" to "talk about God and to pray in public," attacking the recent court decision against student-led football prayers in public schools. "Spirituality is a positive in our selfish society and if that opinion hurts somebody's feelings, I'm not sorry at all." Then he introduced me, and the fireworks began.

Although I felt brow-beaten during the quick interview, I left the studio mostly bemused.

At 7 p.m. we turned on the TV to watch how it came off. A teaser on Lieberman, O'Reilly's editorial and my interview started the show. When an increasingly excited O'Reilly proceeded to call me "crazy" for correctly stating there were no prayers at the Constitutional Convention, my shocked 24-year-old stepdaughter Kristi loyally exclaimed, "Dad, you shouldn't let him treat her that way!" Even cool and collected Dan shook his head in amazement.

I have to admit I was surprised when my November Brill's Content informed me that O'Reilly appears on its list of this year's top 50 influential members of the media, and that his book is on the New York Times bestseller list. I thought readers might be interested in what O'Reilly's "influential" views are. Here is the transcript from the interview:


O'Reilly: Now our story tonight: Senator Joseph Lieberman's spirituality on the campaign trail. Some people don't like the fact that he often talks about God.

(Videotape of Lieberman in a church, saying, "I hope that it will reinforce a belief, that I feel as strongly as anything else, that there must be a place for faith in America's public life.")

(Different cutaway of Lieberman: "The profound and ultimately most important reality is that we are not only citizens of this blessed country, we are children of the same awesome God.")

O'Reilly: Joining us now from Madison, Wisconsin, is Annie Laurie Gaylor, co-founder of the Freedom From Religion Foundation. So you have a beef with Senator Lieberman?

Gaylor: We certainly do, because Senator Lieberman is saying that there is no freedom from religion under our Constitution, and that is implying that there is no right to reject religion, and that freethinkers--atheists and agnostics--are somehow "less equal" than believers.

O'Reilly: I didn't hear him say that, Ms. Gaylor.

Gaylor: Yes, he said there is freedom of religion but no freedom from religion.

O'Reilly: But I didn't hear him say that nonbelievers were less equal than believers, did you?

Gaylor: This is certainly the implication--

O'Reilly: Oh, the implication? Okay. All right, go ahead.

Gaylor: And he's also courting and sparking a very divisive public debate on religion, saying things like morality is based on a belief in God, and our nation is based on a belief in God, and it makes me wonder if Senator Lieberman is running for Vice-Rabbi rather than Vice-President.

O'Reilly: All right. But if 90% of the population of America believes in God, as they do, the polls show that, and if the founding fathers based the legal system on Judeo-Christian tradition--

Gaylor: No.

O'Reilly: --which they did--

Gaylor: No, they certainly didn't.

O'Reilly: Oh, yes they did. I mean, look. Anybody who reads history, who reads the letters of Thomas Jefferson to James Madison, knows that the framers of the Constitution took into account the Ten Commandments and basing the religious aspect of the government, in the sense that they say this is right, this is wrong, this is what they do and this is what they don't do.

Gaylor: No, I think that Senator Lieberman and you, possibly, have never read our U.S. Constitution--

O'Reilly: Yes, I have.

Gaylor: It is a godless Constitution, and the only references to religion in it are exclusionary. And if you contrast our Bill of Rights, which is couched in positives, the rights we have, versus the Ten Commandments, which are all negative, I think you can see no comparison. There is no religion in our Constitution, and we should be proud of the fact that we were the first country to adopt a secular Constitution.

O'Reilly: Well, look. In every meeting of the framers they had a prayer.

Gaylor: No, that was--

O'Reilly: Yes, they did!

Gaylor: No.

O'Reilly: Yes, they did! In the records of the meetings there is the prayer, Ms. Gaylor.

Gaylor: No, no. Ben Franklin said that they should pray and there was nobody else who wanted to and it's in his records--

O'Reilly: That's not true, that's absolutely not true.

Gaylor: You're confusing the Articles of Confederation with--

O'Reilly: George Washington, in George Washington's letters--the Articles of Confederation I'm not confusing with the Constitution. I know the difference. In George Washington's letters about the formation of the government, God is mentioned all the time.

Now, Senator Lieberman. We may disagree on this and I'm not saying that you're not entitled to your opinion, but I'm quoting historical documents, and if you're going to say that I'm wrong, I'm going to say you're crazy.

But, in this case, Senator Lieberman is basically saying, exercising his freedom of speech, by giving his opinion of what America is and should be. What's wrong with that?

Gaylor: He has crossed the line, not only of what is proper for a politician but what is good manners. I mean we've all been told you don't bring up religion at a party or social gathering, and he's simply pandering. And he's running as Mr. Holier-Than-Thou--

O'Reilly: Wait a minute, wait a minute.

Gaylor: --to pander to voters.

O'Reilly: Let's make it a little personal. If I run for office and I say, you know, one of the reasons I want to be in a position of power is to help other people, because I'm a follower of Jesus Christ and that's what he did, am I wrong?

Gaylor: Well, I think that is what George Bush has said, and many people are very alarmed--

O'Reilly: Are you? Would you say I would be wrong to say that?

Gaylor: I think that if you, at every opportunity, would preach at people who are basically a captive audience, using--

O'Reilly: No, I'm not preaching, I'm just saying I want to help people, because Jesus Christ did.

Gaylor: You are a public servant. You are running for an office that is paid with tax dollars--

O'Reilly: Yah.

Gaylor: --and you have no business telling people what religion they should--

O'Reilly: I'm not telling people anything. I'm telling you what I believe, and you're trying to deny my freedom to do that.

Gaylor: And I think that everyone should beware of pious politicians--

O'Reilly: Well, that's fine.

Gaylor: And it does raise the question, why does Senator Lieberman--

O'Reilly: But you take it further, Ms. Gaylor. You take it further.

Gaylor: What?

O'Reilly: You say they shouldn't be able to say that, and that's wrong.

Gaylor: No, I'm saying it's inappropriate. And I think that he has crossed the line, and it is time for the public to say enough of this! We want to hear your views on politics. We don't need to hear your views on--

O'Reilly: Well, Ms. Gaylor, we respect your opinion. I think you're absolutely dead wrong about your history and I hope you'll go back and read it, and perhaps we'll have another discussion.

Gaylor: Read the Constitution!

O'Reilly: I have, many times. Thank you very much for appearing.


For the record, of course I think candidates may express, but should not campaign on, their views on religion, although I prefer the Bill Bradleys of the world who keep it to themselves.

After the show aired, I went out for some errands. When I got back, Kristi informed me a woman had gone to the trouble of hunting me down and calling long distance to argue. When Kristi told her I wasn't home, she tried to argue with Kristi, saying I was too ignorant to be allowed on "national TV," and concluding her rant with this clincher before slamming down the phone: "You tell that Annie Laurie Gaylor for me that she gives blondes a bad name!" (Which is a neat trick, considering I'm not blond.)

I was surprised how many acquaintances caught the show. We also heard from people around the country who wanted to learn more about our group, and received an email from Nat Hentoff, who kindly faxed his column to us on the Lieberman matter.

Liz Uhr, a longtime volunteer at our office (and one of the smartest and best-read women of my acquaintance), had the moxie to tune in the show the following day, convinced O'Reilly would have to retract. She turned out to be right in her hunch, although the "retraction" left something to be desired.

"Well, I hope you saw our report last night about politics and religion," O'Reilly said. "I was so steamed after the segment that I decided to make it the subject of this evening's Talking Points memo. My guest was Annie Laurie Gaylor, the co-founder of the Freedom From Religion Foundation. Ms. Gaylor's contention is that the founding fathers wanted no spirituality whatsoever associated with the governance of America. I said she was flat out wrong.

"Now after the program I went home and hit my library." What followed was self-serving, but O'Reilly did sneak into the middle of it a semi-mea culpa: "The Constitution itself is a secular document. . ."

Sometimes, in this business of educating about the separation of church and state, we have to be content with tiny victories.

October 2001

By Annie Laurie Gaylor

I couldn't help taking great delight in Jerry Falwell's shoot-himself-in-the-foot remarks over the September 11 terrorist attacks on our nation.

"I really believe," Falwell said on that now-famous "700 Club" appearance to a nodding Pat Robertson on Sept. 13, "that the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians, who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People For the American Way, all of them who tried to secularize America, I point the finger in their face and say you helped this happen."

We at the Freedom From Religion Foundation--although among those who try to "secularize America"--began to feel a little left out! But we were not to be totally forgotten by the "faith-heads," to borrow a Richard Dawkins term.

Following the announced proclamation of a "Day of Prayer and Remembrance" by President Bush, we began to get calls from reporters at daily newspapers around the country, asking whether we had a general statement.

We obligingly released one on September 13 [see next page], warning of the dangers of religious patriotism and a "God is on our side" mentality.

An obscure Wisconsin legislator subsequently issued a press release about our press release, calling us "unAmerican," promising to "chasten" us from the floor of the State Assembly (when it reconvenes), and urging everyone to phone or email us to "tell them to stop their assault on American values."

A Christian radio station heard around the country took up the cudgel, and soon indignant believers were clogging our email inboxes and tying up our phone lines.

I've always maintained if religion is good for anything--it is good for a laugh.

These emails reminded me, however, that if you've heard one "I'm praying for you," or one "You're going to hell," you've heard them all. I can testify that mindless religious mantras grow quickly tedious, especially when you hear them hours on end, phone call after phone call. Many of the women, most with Southern accents, sounded sweetly misguided; we started "taking messages" and thanking them for their prayers in equally syrupy tones. Several of the elderly women who phoned or emailed humorously expressed the wish that "God will soon reveal himself to Anne Gaylor." One even said she hoped God would expose himself to her (talk about a black collar crime!)--not a wish my mother shares.

Men were more belligerent. We received one threat, a signed email with the subject heading: "Mouth Shut." We don't usually print gratuitous profanity in this newspaper, but this, after all, comes from a "good Christian":

"You clueless motherfuckers. Keep your moralless comments to yourselves. It is MY right which is stated in the constitution to seek out you bastards. If there is any good thing to come of these events of the past week, I hope it is the EXTERMINATION of pricks like you!!! Read your fucking currency. In GOD we trust. If you really don't believe it, don't spend it and get the fuck out of here and start your own country."

A friendlier message from a woman started: "Honey, you had better change your ways. 'VENGENCE [sic] IS MINE SAYS THE LORD.' Even the people who bombed the WTC had a FORM OF FAITH." She lamely added: "Not that I approve of the way they expressed it by killing many inocent [sic] people."

My favorite was from the person who told me "you women need to go live in the Taliban and then open your mouths." Adding that I had the right to be "FREE from RELIGEON" (his spelling), he then asked me why I had to be "so STUPID."

But the people who count were very supportive. A leading scientist at Stanford reported that our statement is now posted on his lab wall. A prize-winning journalist thanked us for our "very intelligent statement which I'm sure will be almost universally ignored. People are too busy rushing to church and oiling up their machine guns," as she put it.

No sooner had that furor died down than my Sept. 24 appearance on Fox News Network's infamous "O'Reilly Factor" on the same subject started up the emails anew.

O'Reilly introduced me in tones of incredulity as among "those who think religion is actually to blame for the atrocity." When O'Reilly started out the interview by asking what would I be doing if I were Bush, I replied: "I wouldn't be praying, and I wouldn't be urging citizens to go to church and to pray and to worship, and to unite behind the very force that caused the problem in the first place, which is religion." (Thank you, Richard Dawkins.)

O'Reilly insisted it is "rogue people who are hiding behind that religion, not the theology itself" which is to blame.

"The Koran does say that you should kill infidels and unbelievers and blasphemers, and so does the Hebrew Bible. And Jesus said 'he came not to bring peace but a sword.' They all have the same root warrior deity who believes in scorched earth policies," I answered.

O'Reilly ignorantly denied the existence of this famous Jesus quote (Matt. 10:34), had me repeat it two more times, and heckled me about it. Then he told me: "You don't know anything about religion. How can you be against something that you know absolutely nothing about?"

In turn I asked him: "How could you deny that religion is the problem?"

Although incessantly interrupted, I did manage to add that if it weren't for religion, we wouldn't have had the bombings of the World Trade Center. "We wouldn't have had 19 young men willing to sacrifice themselves-- because what else motivated them, but their religious belief in an afterlife, and that they would be rewarded in paradise, that they would have their 72 virgins because they were dying as martyrs? This is a religion-fueled terrorism. There's no question about it."

Amazingly enough, O'Reilly admitted that the promise of a martyr's paradise played a role, but after lengthy speechifying insisted the bombings were strictly political.

"That is part of it," I agreed, "and we are also perceived as a secularist nation, and they have the same problem with our country that another fundamentalist has, and that's Jerry Falwell, who is the flip side of the coin of bin Laden. All the fundamentalists are the same."

Even O'Reilly would not defend Jerry Falwell.

"But you believe if we were a godless nation as you would have us, atheistic, that we wouldn't have any problem with anybody?" he jeered.

I quoted Pascal's line: "Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from religious conviction." I added: "We would not have had this history of warfare and bloodshed. More people have been killed in the name of a god than for any other reason." Thinking of John Lennon's song "Imagine," I added I did believe it would be a paradise on earth with no religion.

This elicited something I thought was long defunct--commie-baiting, and an additional assertion that the Nazis were "atheistic."

I took satisfaction in replying, "Hitler belonged to the same religion as I think you do. He was Catholic."

O'Reilly, stammering and stuttering indignantly, lectured me: "See, look, Miss Gaylor, number one you need to do, is go back and read the bible, I know you don't like it, and number two, get a history book."

Leaning toward the satellite hookup camera, I told him I have read the bible, "and I have read history, and Hitler was a Catholic and this is a fact that has been censored, but it is true."

(I love getting the last word.)

Given the viewership of that show, the fact that they put me on as the last guest of that seemingly endless hour, and that I was bullied mercilessly, I think it's astonishing that we received roughly the same number of contacts from "pro" as from "con" viewers. As a result, the Foundation has sent out material to several dozen highly motivated freethinkers around the world, and has received other media invitations.

One supportive viewer, "Daniel," went to all the trouble of transcribing the entire interview (excerpted above).

Typical was the emailer who wrote: "I am so happy to find out that an organization like yours exists."

Another emailer, "David," wrote rather poignantly:

"It was great to hear you say that religion is the root cause of many of the world's problems. I have made that exact speech to virtually everyone I know and I don't think I've ever had anyone agree with me. I can't tell you how relieved I was to hear you say those words. It is mind-boggling that only a very small percentage of the world's population can see something so obvious."

Echoed another "isolated atheist" viewer: "Imagine my elation when you popped up on the screen on Monday night's 'Factor.' "

A history professor from Great Britain emailed me a copy of his letter to O'Reilly: "Bill, wake up and blow the dust off your history book (if you have one)."

"The perennial excuse that terrorists (and the Crusaders, and the Inquisitors, etc.) are merely blasphemers perverting their faith is pitifully weak. The reasoning boils down to this: religious folks can't be evil, because if they're evil, they're not really religious. Logically speaking, a perfect circle," wrote a sympathetic "Jeremy," from Ohio.

Wrote another viewer:

"I have come to the conclusion that O'Reilly strives to advance the veiled cause of Catholicism. I almost fell out of my chair when the lady pointed out to Billy O. that he shared the same religious background as Herr Hitler."

One especially kind emailer even said: "O'Reilly would do well to invite you back on a regular basis. In fact, you should have your own program."

A Ph.D. emailed consolingly: "His general arrogance probably won you more converts than if he had been a responsible interviewer."

Perhaps, but it also encouraged the hateful tone taken by most of the "anti" responses. "Forget about fighting to abolish religion," wrote a self-described Catholic. "We should be fighting to abolish STUPID people and you are one of them." He then went on to chivalrously express the hope that I would not produce any children. (In his parents' case, it's too late.)

"Salman" wrote me (with unintentional humor): "You stupid athiests [sic] never learn. I don't think I've seen someone deserve hell so bad."

In fact, "William" informed me I am worse than the Taliban leader. "You will be placed on our soon to open website as 'the stupidest person in the world.' It was going to go to the Taliban leader, but he at least knows better." A number of the "antis" reiterated the view, which I find frightening, that unbelievers are worse, by virtue of their unbelief, than the religious terrorists whose actions killed more than 6,000 civilians in one day.

Bob Orloski, indicating an address of Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, wrote:

"I can't help but wishing pain, grief and physical harm to you and your ilk! . . . david koresh and jim jones were of the same mold as you . . . you filthy, liberal, brain-dead communist! Wouldn't it be something if our president and military decided to rid the world of bottom-feeding terrorists as yourself. Terrorists don't have to carry guns . . . thier [sic] forked tongues can do just as much damage to the peace of our society as a plane into the side of a building killing thousands of innocent people!

"May you suffer horribly in your life, may your band of brainwashed followers turn against you someday, and may you die a miserable, lonely death . . . soon!"

I nearly preferred that threat to an email with this cloying imagery from "Shay":

"Jesus loves you so, so, so much. He wants to cradle you in His arms and shower His kisses and affection on you. . . . He loves you Annie. The Lord would not let me go to sleep tonight until I sent you this message."

I not only thought "godless commie"-baiting was in the past, but it's been at least 25 years since I heard any woman accused of having "penis envy." That is, until "Mark" emailed me this charming missive:

"From time to time, people need to be reminded that drooling Godless theophobic idiots with penis envy such as yourself still exist."

Talk about atavistic! "Hootch" told me: "You should give up your pen and take up your position as a woman, speak only when spoken to, stay pregnant and barefoot, do the chores and submit to your man whenever he feels the need for it. This is a mans [sic] world, let men run it."

Funny, that's what bin Laden, the Taliban, and Jerry Falwell are saying, too.

Annie Laurie Gaylor is editor of Freethought Today and 'Women Without Superstition: No Gods--No Masters: The Collected Writings of 19th & 20th Century Women Freethinkers.' She also is the author of a book about bible sexism, 'Woe to the Women: The Bible Tells Me So.'

%861 %America/Chicago, %2000

In Defense of "Godlessness"

Freethinkers are often treated as second-class citizens, particularly when they speak up for their rights or bring legal challenges to uphold separation of state and church. Even those who merely question government endorsement of religion are subject to increasing harassment, ranging from threatening Ku Klux Klan communications to spiteful and misleading editorial comment.

The current religious revival is breeding ignorance, ill will and an increasing willingness on the part of the public--and our public servants--to pledge allegiance to religion instead of to 'E Pluribus Unum.'

Narrow religious indoctrination demands that respect for tolerance, facts and open inquiry be stamped out, preaching instead blind acceptance of the reigning authoritarian dogmas. The lie that America was founded as a "Christian nation" is being used to spread intolerance of nonChristians and freethinkers.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation works to ensure that the voice of freethought is not censored and that reason and free inquiry are not stifled through religious intimidation.

What Is Freethought?

Freethinkers are skeptics--atheists, agnostics, rationalists and secular humanists--who form their opinions about religion based on reason, rather than tradition, authority or established belief. The word freethought is a reminder that religion does not countenance freedom of thought.

Who Are Freethinkers?

Those who question religious dogma have been among the leaders of progressive thought, helping to advance knowledge, compassion and status. Had all humans obediently and literally accepted scripture on blind faith, we would not have democracy, public education, women's rights, the pursuit of science and medicine, or the abolition of slavery.

To name just a few freethinkers: American Red Cross founder Clara Barton, birth control proponent Margaret Sanger, physicist Albert Einstein, entrepreneur/philanthropist Andrew Carnegie, inventor Thomas Edison, physicist Marie Curie, feminists Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, journalist H.L. Mencken, philosopher Bertrand Russell, attorney Clarence Darrow, labor activist Joe Hill, reformer Jane Addams, painter Joseph Turner, poets Robert Burns and Percy Shelley, dancer Isadora Duncan, biologist Charles Darwin, psychologist Sigmund Freud, composer Johannes Brahms.

Historically, the term "freethinker" also encompassed the nonChristian Voltairean Deists of the Age of Reason who believed only in a nature's god, such as patriot Thomas Paine, and presidents Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and John Adams.

Historically, the United States Was Not Founded as a 'Christian' Nation.

The United States was the first nation to establish the complete separation of church and state. The founders of our country knew that religion is divisive, and that more people have been oppressed, tortured and murdered in the name of a god than for any other reason. Thomas Jefferson wrote of the "remarkable proof of the universal spirit of religious intolerance, inherent in every sect, disclaimed by all while feeble, and practised by all when in power. Our laws have applied the only antidote to this vice, protecting our religious as they do our civil rights by putting all on equal footing" (1818 letter to Mordecai Noah).

Legally, Americans Are Free To Reject Religion.

As Thomas Jefferson wrote: "The legitimate powers of government extend to such acts only as are injurious to others. But it does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods, or no god. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg" (Notes On Virginia).

The U.S. Constitution guarantees freedom of religion and freedom from religion. The Constitution is itself a godless document. The only references to religion in it are exclusionary, such as that there shall be no religious test for public office (Article 6, Clause 3).

The First Amendment mandates that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof," which applies to citizens of every state through the Fourteenth Amendment. The U.S. Supreme Court has consistently ruled that the state must be neutral toward religion.

The intact Lemon test demands that statutes must have a secular purpose, a primary effect that neither advances nor inhibits religion, must not foster excessive entanglement of government with religion, or foster political divisiveness along religious lines.

Thomas Jefferson was the major architect of the "wall of separation between church and state," even coining the phrase (1802 letter to the Baptists of Danbury, Ct.). He authored the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom (1786), which inspired the First Amendment's "establishment clause" drafted by James Madison, and which is now replicated in differing versions in state constitutions.

Jefferson wrote: "to compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves is sinful and tyrannical. . ."

The statute orders that no citizen "shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burthened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer, on account of his religious opinions or belief; but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish, enlarge, or affect their civil capacities."

Morally, Most Freethinkers Simply Use the Yardsticks of Reason and Kindness.

Morality is human-made, not ordained. Freethinkers judge conduct by its intent and consequences to the welfare of individuals, humankind and the planet as a whole. Freethinkers are responsible for their own actions, and do not blame or credit the supernatural, or respond to bribes of an "afterlife" or threats of hellfire. The only "higher power" we can truly invoke lies in our own minds and our own intelligence.

While critical of religion, freethinkers do not condemn religionists as "bad" people. As Bertrand Russell put it: "Cruel men believe in a cruel God and use their belief to excuse their cruelty. Only kindly men believe in a kindly God, and they would be kindly in any case."

Intellectually, Freethought Is Respectable.

Freethinkers refuse to suspend critical judgment when evaluating the claims of religion or reading "holy books." Freethinkers ask the basic questions which must be asked of any religion: "Is it true?" "Is it moral?" "Is it the best possible answer?"

Freethinkers observe that each religion, sect and even congregation thinks that it has the "one true faith," that all other religious convictions are wrong, and that only true believers will be rewarded. Even a child knows that these conflicting claims can't be all true. Freethinkers simply believe in one less religion than everybody else.

Freethinkers accept the natural world, and reject the unproved and primitive supernatural myths about gods, devils, angels, magic, life-after-death and the suspension of natural laws ("miracles") through wishful thinking ("prayer"). We hope that someday humanity will outgrow god-ideas much as children outgrow literal belief in Santa Claus.

As Thomas Jefferson noted: "Reason and free inquiry are the only effectual agents against error."

� by Annie Laurie Gaylor, FFRF, Inc. 2004

January/February 1996

Editor's Corner

By Annie Laurie Gaylor

In these sometimes grim days under the sway of the Religious Right, you take your humor where you can find it.
Paging through a recent issue of "Focus on the Family with Dr. James C. Dobson," I found this little gem: "Courtship Makes A Comeback: Dating in the Nineties," by Jim and Anne Ryun, who, with their four adult children, run a ministry in Kansas. Jim Ryun is the three-time Olympian and world-record holder in the mile. Yes, another Jock for Jesus.

The article explains the family's philosophy toward dating, which is actually a philosophy of nondating, dubbed "courtship."

"Courtship can mean different things in different circles, but for our family it means that if a young man wants to date one of our daughters, he contacts the father and asks to take the daughter out," explain Mama and Papa Ryun. (The article adds magnanimously and parenthetically, "Of course, the mother can take this role in families where the father is not available.")

This is actually a little misleading, since permission is never granted to "take the daughter out."

Courtship, the Ryuns explain, "means that the young man must be spiritually and financially prepared to marry her if they fall in love. Otherwise, don't even bother starting a relationship."

Redundantly, the Ryuns add that "this effectively means no courtship or dating during the high school years, and perhaps not until after college graduation."

Here is a blow-by-blow description of a heavy date, Ryun-style:

"If a young man is interested in a young woman, he starts by praying about the relationship. With a go-ahead from the Lord and his parents, he then approaches the girls' parents. The parents pray and, if the young woman has a reciprocal interest in the young man, her father talks through courtship and its expectations with the fellow."
Wouldn't you love to eavesdrop on this conversation?!
If the fellow passes muster, there's still no date.

"Before a young man and woman actually begin courting, the girl's father and the interested fellow spend time getting to know one another. This relationship may be built through shared activities or--in cases where the two do not live near one another--through letters and telephone calls."
Do you get the picture? The Dad actually does the dating, not the daughter! Yes, indeed, the Ryuns write: "In our home, a young man interested in Heather or Catharine is apt to find himself playing basketball with Ned and Drew [their brothers], or helping out in the kitchen after dinner."
But wait, there's even more fun in store for the young man "interested" in Ryun's children.

"Courtship activities may include a family missions trip, prison ministry, or similar service-oriented endeavors. The idea is to give the young couple an opportunity to spiritually mature as they fulfill God's call on their lives."
There is no indication of any serious suitor, except for this chilling reference: "one of our children became seriously interested in a person who, we [we?!] later realized, was not the right choice in God's eyes."
Courtship is not without stiffer criteria. "Each person should demonstrate spiritual depth, a strong biblical character, financial responsibility, sexual and emotional purity, and the ability to lead a simple, practical life."

Dutiful younger daughter Catharine is quoted pathetically saying that the courtship process allows her to "concentrate my energies on doing what God wants me to do, rather than on what I want to do."

Little is said about the two sons in Ryun's patriarchal business arrangement except that "they must meet the same guidelines before they can begin courting a young woman."

While the "process" has apparently effectively scared away any would-be suitors, the Ryuns rave that it has brought their family "together in laughter and in tears [I can believe that], and it has encouraged us to pray." (Who else but their immediate family can they be together with, under the circumstances?)

Needless to say, none of their children is married, engaged, or, one gathers, "courting." They are ages 20 through 25. "[B]ut we aren't worried, since we know God has a plan for their lives."

I think it would be nice if society downplayed the dating pressures kids often feel by middle school, and encouraged postponing marriage until both parties are mature, have finished schooling and are income-earning.

But if this doesn't describe the Ultimate Paternal Control Freak, what would qualify? Daughters are clearly possessions in this household. This father's obsession with what he calls his daughters' "sexual and emotional abstinence" strikes me as very unwholesome.

I am not making this up. This appeared in the November 1995 issue of Dobson's mag.

National Day Of Prayer "Update"

Speaking of "kingmaker" Dobson, did you know he is behind the annual "national day of prayer" fuss? Under Reagan, of course, Congress took action to declare the first Thursday in May as a "National Day of Prayer," fixing what had been a roving date since the scheme was inaugurated in the 1950's. Fundies now use it as an organizing tool at every level of government.
Dobson has appointed his wife, "Mrs. James Dobson (Shirley)" as "Chairman" of the National Day of Prayer Task Force, headquartered in Colorado Springs. The group boasts that in 1995, evidently for the first time, it had achieved its goal of bullying every governor in the United States, plus the governors of Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, into declaring a "national day of prayer." The group managed this because Lowell Weicker is no longer governor of Connecticut. (State/Church advocates remember Weicker with fondness--he actually made ringing speeches when he was in Congress endorsing the Establishment Clause.) The group claims that observances were held on capitol building steps in more than 40 states last year. Secretary of Education Richard Riley and Air Force Chief of Staff General Ronald Fogleman were among the speakers at a Capitol Hill observance.

Did you know that this task force has what it calls a "tiny little staff of five"? That's more full-time staff members than the Freedom From Religion Foundation has ever boasted! And organizing one day of prayer is all this task force does!

Incidentally, the December newsletter, called "Prayer Lines," reports that four of the five staff members are new moms. Ken Waggoner on the staff is pleased as punch to announce that "All four new moms have elected to stay home full time, so we're in the process of rebuilding our team here at NDP."

Deep thinker Kay Parker, a coordinator, offensively writes:

"I believe, very strongly, that the turning of our nation to a more conservative nature and the 1994 elections are results of the prayers that were offered on the National Day of Prayer, but I also believe the forewarnings we're receiving (hurricanes, drought, flooding and the Oklahoma bombing) are a taste of the judgment that could come to the United States. There is much work to be done to bring revival and repentance to this nation."

Christians love to feel persecuted and Parker is no exception: "your victories came with a price, didn't they? In so many ways, the enemy tried mightily to derail the most celebrated and observed day in NDP history. My heart breaks over your stories--how much you went through on the front lines!"

The "Sixth Annual Coordinator's Conference," an entire 3-day convention, met in January in Colorado Springs, simply to help plan for the 1996 Day of Prayer.

One might hope that politicians would grow wary and weary of such folk. One pushy tactic is the "Adopt-a-Leader Kit. "Includes cards for writing your leader, prayer reminders and a journal to track your requests and answers" for only $12! You send a postcard telling your "leader" that "you've adopted them," and monthly notecards thereafter. Can you imagine the poor members of Congress and governors who are the recipients of this harassment-in-the-guise of prayer? On second thought, perhaps those quivering towers of legislative jelly, so eager to pander their religiosity, deserve Focus on the Family!

Nothing Fails Like Prayer

"Nothing Fails Like Prayer," as the Foundation bumpersticker notes. Unfortunately, the fundies really know this is the case, too. They're not just praying anymore. The day of prayer newsletter exhorts:
"Prayer is not an excuse for non-action. Rather, prayer is the proper preparation for action." So said Pastor John Perkins during a seminar following the National Prayer Breakfast last February--a breakfast which was attended by the President and members of Congress.
Another writer instructs in "expressing your faith in action." In addition to the usual fundamentalist pastimes, recommended are some decidedly temporal actions:
"Write congressmen, broadcast networks or sponsors"
"Support candidates with time, finances and votes"
"Follow the Lord's leading to serve on local commissions, civic projects, etc."
It's that "et cetera" that really bothers me. Also, this advice: "Testify to an unbeliever." We freethinkers all know what that means!
Yes, this is the new, improved fundamentalism, which seeks not just to proselytize the daylights out of every innocent bystander but seeks a theocratic takeover of our government. And proclamations are only the beginning, but are an important symbolic first step.

If you can persuade public officials to urge citizens to pray, to read the bible and to give thanks for their alleged Christian heritage, you can change public perceptions about the role of public officials, rewrite history, create precedent . . . and you're well on your way to a theocracy even without amending the Constitution.

The Foundation has suggested its own proclamations. Many others could be suggested. We're too busy plugging the hole in the "wall between church and state" to have the luxury of going into the window-dressing proclamation biz fulltime, as have Dobson's prayer taskforce, and the Laymen's National Bible Association.

Nevertheless, every public official who misuses his or her office to exhort constituents to worship should be hearing from freethinkers, and be asked instead to affirm secular values and principles.

Vol. 21 No. 3 - Published by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc. - April 2004

By Annie Laurie Gaylor

The Associated Press ran a charming photograph in March of the beaming Mayor of San Francisco beside two blushing brides--dressed identically in light veils and strapless white wedding gowns.

That winsome photo captured the festive, celebratory flavor of the mayor's insurrectional initiative to permit gay marriages in San Francisco. Mayor Gavin Newsom happens to be married (to a woman) and happens to be what is obviously a very liberal Catholic. No matter; he is heroically challenging his Church's sway, and upholding the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution in its place.

More than 4,000 gay couples got hitched in San Francisco over the course of a month. More than 3,000 had made appointments to get licenses at the time a court halted the parade.

The ripple effect has been amazing. Mayor Jason West of New Platz, N.Y., followed suit. Although he was charged with a misdemeanor, before you know it, a second East Coast mayor had stepped forward. This one not only offered to perform gay marriages, but announced he'll be marrying his gay partner, too.

In Portland, Ore., where the Multnomah County commissioners approved gay marriages starting March 3, the county witnessed as many marriages there in seven days as are usually recorded in the course of a third of a year. More than 2,000 gay marriages took place in less than three weeks, winning Portland the title as new "gay marriage capital."

In Massachusetts, whose Supreme Court got the ball rolling in November with its landmark ruling ordering the legislature to permit gay marriages, polls have shown more than half the state supports legalizing gay marriage.

No one knows what will happen in the complicated court battles to ensue. But doesn't it seem we have passed some point of no return?

In this era of revolving-door marriages, shouldn't our marriage-trumpeting society be giving its secular blessings to couples so touchingly eager to pledge their love and commitment to each other? Who really wants to go around hurting the feelings of same-sex partners, anyway?

Religionists, that's who. The county board in uneducable and religion-drenched Rhea Co., Tenn.--home of the Scopes trial, and our current lawsuit over blatant religious instruction in the public schools--voted unanimously on March 16 to "ban" homosexuals. Two days later, the board had the grace to rescind that vote. Associated Press reported that 12 year old Caitlin Kinney, accompanying her mother to the meeting, said: "I think they should go further, try to see if they can ban them. It's not a Christian thing."

Religious homophobia knows no bounds if it is now asking little girls to put on the badge of hatred and do its dirty work for it. (Such youthful bigotry should not be surprising, considering that Rhea County children have been unlawfully proselytized by fundamentalist Christians in their public schools for over half a century, a practice halted by the Foundation's federal court victory there, now on appeal.)

The "March madness" gay marriage phenomenon has produced an unexpected dividend. Before, the concept of a civil union (currently only lawful in Howard Dean's Vermont) was a political hot potato. Suddenly, many public officials are nominally endorsing the idea. Even Bush--who, kowtowing to the religious right, immediately endorsed a constitutional amendment to limit marriage to "one man and one woman"--said state legislatures should be left to define "legal arrangements other than marriage."

(Of course, in March it was revealed that homosexuals can now be fired from the federal workplace because of their sexual orientation, under a ruling by the Office of Special Counsel. According to The Federal Times, the White House has begun deleting references to discrimination based on sexual orentation from government websites.)

Is reserving "civil unions" for gays, while keeping "marriage" for heteros, truly an acceptable compromise? The idea is to entrust the state with civil unions (for any couple, gay or straight), while "marriage" would be left to the church. In the recent debate, marriage has been continually referred to as a church institution or sacrament. The clear implication is that a strictly secular ceremony ain't the real thing, but hey--those of us who are atheists and agnostics get married, too!

Redefining "marriage" as a strictly religious institution is deeply troubling, with grave implications for the rights of nonbelieving couples, gay or straight. All marriages are "civil" in nature (jokes aside). The state requires that all couples apply for and file civil marriage licenses with designated government bodies. Clergy are simply among the pool of recognized officiants.

Religious denominations should not be given a monopoly on marriage, nor should the powers of civil officiants, such as judges and justices of the peace, be limited to issuing some pale imitation of a marriage license.

To date, only the Unitarian Universalists and the United Church of Christ wholeheartedly approve gay ministers. They are the only major denominations embracing same-sex marriages. (Cheers for the two UU ministers criminally arrested for performing gay weddings in Ulster Co., N.Y.) The United Methodist Church has a "don't ask, don't tell" policy that actually bans "self-avowed homosexuals" as ministers. That denomination just placed Rev. Karen Dammann on humiliating "trial" for being an open lesbian, after she married her partner in March. (She was exonerated, but the policy wasn't altered.)

In Wisconsin, our notably Neanderthal legislature in March rushed through a bill to amend the state constitution--the first of two required in consecutive sessions before a referendum would be held--to prohibit gay marriages and facsimiles thereof. The overbroadness of the wording would forbid civil unions, and jeopardize existing domestic partnership benefits.

Some 13 other states are entertaining similar designs to amend their constitutions to ban gay marriages, although the feds might beat them to it. At least Congressional backers of such an amendment announced they are retooling their proposed amendment to permit legislatures to create civil unions.

True, reasonable people, freethinkers and gay rights activists included, can disagree philosophically over "civil unions" versus "same-sex marriages." But it must be pointed out that the only organized opposition to gay rights and gay marriage comes from "faith-based" groups and their leaders.

The Episcopalian/Anglican church is falling apart over the ordination of one gay bishop. The Mormon church has long underwritten anti-gay marriage lobbying campaigns. The Roman Catholic church deserves the prize as arch opponent of gay rights. Last July, the Vatican declared global war against gay marriage, openly ordering Catholic politicians to vote in lockstep against such legislation, saying Catholic politicians are "obliged" to oppose "the legal recognition of homosexual unions," because to do otherwise is "gravely immoral." Their career celibates, especially in Massachusetts and the Canadian provinces (three as of March) where courts have now approved gay marriages, are openly lobbying their congregations.

At the annual conference in Dallas of U.S. Catholic bishops in November, aggressive statements against contraception, abortion and same-sex unions were issued. The U.S. Conference will soon announce (I can hardly wait!) how they intend to punish Catholic politicians who vote against Catholic doctrine.

In Wisconsin, we saw a foreshadow of hierarchical micromanagement of Catholic politicians. Bishop Raymond L. Burke of La Crosse sent out intimidating warning letters last year to selected public officials, warning them they were not Catholics in good standing for voting against church social policy.

Not to let fundies off the hook, Lou Sheldon of Traditional Family Values and others in the religious right are openly colluding to make the nonissue of gay marriage the main issue of the 2004 elections. Gay marriage has become the ultimate "gotcha."

As Nation columnist Katha Pollit has wisely written: "Gay marriage--it's not about sex, it's about separation of church and state."

Robert Reich warned recently in Prospect magazine: "Gay marriage [is] another front in the religious wars. . . . there is no room for liberty in a theocracy."

Finding succor in hateful biblical injunctions against gays, Roman Catholics, Mormons, Southern Baptists, and other fundamentalist denominations may pretend to love that "sinner." But they sure preach intolerance against the civil rights of the "sinning." Religion, that 800-pound gorilla in every gay living room, needs to be called to account.

Annie Laurie Gaylor, a co-founder of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, is editor of Freethought Today. She and Dan Barker were married in 1989 by a county judge in Wisconsin in a civil, secular ceremony.

%855 %America/Chicago, %1995

Every Knee Shall Bow

October 1995

By Annie Laurie Gaylor

I recently spent the weekend with the Christian Coalition. I wasn't exactly a spy at the annual "Road to Victory" conference in Washington, D.C. on September 8-9, 1995. Prof. Michael Hakeem has given me a more honorable sociological title: that of "participant observer."
When I saw a blurb advertising the Christian Coalition conference, I couldn't believe what a rogues' gallery would be convening--collected together would be many of the most obnoxious and sinister right-wing power brokers imaginable.

A parade of some 42 featured speakers was scheduled over an intense, two-day period. Besides Pat Robertson and Ralph Reed of the Christian Coalition, speakers included Newt Gingrich, Judge Robert Bork, Jay Sekulow of the "ACLJ," William ("Mr. Virtuous") Bennett, Phyllis Schlafly, Watergate's star convict Chuck Colson. Plus most of the announced GOP candidates would be dancing in attendance: Phil Gramm, Robert Dole, Bob Dornan, Lamar Alexander, Richard Lugar, Pat Buchanan and "Ambassador" Alan Keyes.

Once I signed up under a pseudonym, I started to feel like the Christian Coalition's best buddy, receiving several calls at home in the evenings from convention staff members asking for my "alter ego."

Next to phone was "Jinny," the Wisconsin Christian Coalition leader. I worried about her a bit. At a recent hearing on an antiabortion bill at the Wisconsin capitol, she had aggressively tracked down my mother, whom I was standing beside, demanding her name, and introducing herself proudly as the Christian Coalition state "chairman." Her phone conversation was equally aggressive: When would I arrive? Where was I staying? Would I attend the Saturday state caucus? I determined to avoid this woman at all costs.

Dan, my personal expert in fundamentalism since he had been one, informed me that I should not be seen without a bible. He even inscribed a bible with various fundamentalist platitudes, dedicated to my fictitious personage, just for authenticity. I borrowed a costume-jewelry cross and packed my "Republican outfit," a conservative suit-dress.

I had planned to arrive mid-afternoon on the Thursday preceding the Friday and Saturday conference in time to visit the U.S. Capitol and locate the sculpture of feminists housed in its bowels which had recently been in the news. Busts of Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucretia Mott and Susan B. Anthony had been given to Congress in 1921 by the National Woman's Party. The depictions of our great feminist foremothers soon found their way into the "crypt," underneath the rotunda.

Feminists had asked that the statue be moved back to the rightful position in the rotunda in time to celebrate the 75th anniversary of women's right to vote on August 26, 1995. The resolution passed the Senate, but guess on whose desk it languished? Newt Gingrich was "too busy" to attend to it, and the sculpture remains buried in the crypt (see photo, page 4), where I am sure Newt & Co. plan to symbolically bury all women's rights.

As all well-laid plans stray, so did mine. Plane delays kept me from arriving until after federal buildings closed for the day, and my lost luggage was not delivered until bedtime.

I arrived at the Washington Hilton by 7:30 a.m. (6:30 CST) and registered without a hitch. The scene in the enormous ballroom resembled a political convention. I grabbed an obscure seat in the very back.

A big disembodied baritone voice boomed out introductions, while an irritating spotlight roved the room wildly in accompaniment to marching-as-to-war music set way past the ear-piercing 60-decibel range. It was obviously enjoyed by the enormous audience of roaring, cheering, ovationing, clapping Christians.

A pallid-eyed Ralph Reed, as boyish-faced as ever, welcomed us after we Pledged Allegiance, stood and prayed for an antiabortion invocation (there were three or four invocations and all strayed into antiabortion ideology) and listened to an emotional rendition of the National Anthem. Some participants "amen'ed" following every Pledge of Allegiance.

Ralph informed us that 4,164 people had registered, making it this year's "largest gathering of pro-family activists." "Pro-family," I soon discovered, is the new euphemism of the Religious Right. Having already usurped "pro-life," as if the rest of us are "pro-death," the Religious Right is now determined to paint itself as the only Americans who have families or care about them!

Reed introduced the conference's theme, not an original idea but repeated by many speakers: "We will ride in the back of the bus no longer. People of faith are taking their seat at the table." (That might be all right if I didn't have a sneaking suspicion that the rest of us are on the menu!)

Reed's speech was arrogant, taking full credit for the November election and all resulting changes. Since the last convention had taken place, he boasted:

"Tom Foley has been replaced by Newt Gingrich.

"George Mitchell has been replaced by Bob Dole.

"Howard Metzenbaum, one of our favorite members," he said sarcastically, "has been replaced by a pro-family, pro-life Catholic.

"Ann Richards is doing Dorito commercials.

"Mario Cuomo has begun a second career.

"I know Rush Limbaugh. Rush Limbaugh is a friend of mine. You, sir, are no Rush Limbaugh." (Many appreciative jeering guffaws from audience.)

"These political swaps are like CBS deciding to replace Connie Chung with Newt Gingrich's mother. (Pause) Keep praying.

"Because of the efforts of people in this room and millions like you, Jocelyn Elders is the former Surgeon General.

"As we go into 1996," said this man with a perpetual chip on his shoulder, "prepare yourself for the same kinds of insults and taunts . . . They had names for candidates who were guilty of the unpardonable crime of going to church, and," he added hastily, "synagogue, reading the bible, and praying daily. They call them extremist, radical right-wing, Christian Coalition types. We call them Senator, Congressman, Governor." Unspoken, of course, was the thought that Reed intends to add to his list the title of President.

After catty remarks about the much-booed President Clinton and others, Reed summarized his goals:

Passing vouchers for religious schools. ("I want to live in a nation where the President and First Lady aren't the only Americans in public housing who can afford to send their child to private school.")
Banning "partial birth" abortion (whatever that is).
Ending government funds to Planned Parenthood.
Abolishing the much-hated Department of Education.
Passing a constitutional amendment, the "Religious Equality Amendment," needed, he averred, because "students in a public school or citizens in the public square [are] discriminated against for expressing their religious beliefs."
After telling various phony-sounding horror stories about discrimination against Christians, Reed noted "the most important thing--which candidate will win your support."
Don't you consider that an odd remark from the executive director of an organization avowedly nonpartisan, which is prohibited by law from endorsing any candidates?

Daily press quoted him widely when he said: "We do not seek to be a wholly owned subsidiary of the Republican Party or any party."

His boss, the televangelist, must have much-aggravated the stealthy Ralph when, later during the conference, Robertson admitted the real goal--to make the GOP a wholly owned subsidiary of the Christian Coalition (more about that later).

"The question, as we go into 1996, is not who we will endorse, but who will endorse our agenda," Reed added.

He concluded with a sermon: "My prayer today is, as the world looks at you and us as a movement . . . that they see followers of a humble carpenter from Galilee whose followers would have crowned Him King. He chose the humility of the cross instead . . . We bear the name which is above every name. ÔEvery knee shall bow, and every tongue shall confess.' Our responsibility is not to win," he demurred with forked tongue, "but to be found faithful when He returns; our burden, to remember whom we serve."

By the conclusion of this speech early Friday morning, I noticed comedian Al Franken (of "Saturday Night Live"), looking distressed, walking rapidly past. Sitting on steps two seats away from me, he made some whispered criticisms to a companion. The woman next to me hushed him in an irritated voice. In my confederate pose, I felt kind of bad. During the noon hour, I had even more mixed feelings when I saw all the picketers outside the hotel. It took every ounce of self control not to join them!

When the few scheduled breaks came, it was a relief to walk the mile or so to my own hotel through blocks of restaurants and Embassy Row, and see the diversity of normal Americans going about their day, oblivious to the machinations of the Christian Coalition. Perhaps that comfort was illusory. While we go about our daily lives, is the Religious Right stealing our country? Then again, chances were good that most of the people I passed in the street were at least nominally Christian, and, in Washington, D.C., conservative. While it seems possible to have a Religious Right takeover, is the Christian Coalition ever apt to be mainstream in most parts of our nation? The extreme Christian Coalition depends on stealth and low voter turnout, not mass appeal. I hope.

What were the other participants like? I did see some Total Women in the audience, wearing five coats of mascara, big hair and dressed for success. But these were Total Women who looked more like lobbyists than stay-at-home wives. The more typical participants were portly men, looking very Baptist, with paunches and gray hair, often accompanied by their wives. There were many twenty and thirty-somethings in the crowd, most of them looking like young professionals.

But you know what I didn't see? Anyone holding bibles. I kept my heavy one in my carryall until I could unload it. I was also one of the few women wearing crosses! I was glad to doff my borrowed cross during the second day of the conference (it made me feel like I was in a vampire movie). I can only conclude that I was seeing a new kind of Christian, one unfamiliar to someone like Dan, whose Christian missionary career had been noticeably devoid of politics. This is the new breed of Christians who plan to "take over the country," as both Pat Robertson and Reed have promised to do.

The only person who came up and asked me why I was there was a reporter with Associated Press from Washington, D.C. Since I was sitting amidst participants, I replied vaguely until his questions became too pointed, and finally drew him aside and explained my presence, hoping he would be intrigued and ask more about it. He displayed not one iota of interest in hearing from the "other side," but politely promised not to blow my cover.

By the conclusion of the conference, I felt numb. My ears were numb! Everyone seemed to be an assaultive clapper! Imagine 4,200 people all clapping at the same time as loudly as possible every few minutes all day for two days! It became deafening. I sought out what seemed to be a corner for young(ish) women, but once in a while some man sat next to me and felt compelled to clap as loud as possible right in my ear. I finally turned to one fellow and said, in my best Scarlett O'Hara imitation, "My, you can certainly clap loudly." To his credit, he seemed to get the hint and reduced the volume, and, even better, soon left.

The Friday evening "entertainment" preceding speeches by Pat Robertson, Etc., was a real test of endurance. Special effects included psychedelic crosses whirling around the front wall. The evening preceded with the ubiquitous Pledge and Prayer. The first entertainer was Steve Fry, who sang in something described as a "Praise and Worship" style. He put up some impossible-to-read lyrics on a projector, but most everyone seemed to sing along with familiarity to the repetitious, droning songs. This is the best entertainer the Christian music industry has to offer? Pathetic! He kept urging the crowd to stand at attention to his bible-based songs, and soon the conference changed eerily from political rally to prayer meeting. Every time the word "Lord" was sung (constantly), many waved their hands in caressing gestures, as if hoping to feel their invisible God.

When I thought I couldn't bear much more of this, in came Phil Driscoll, a self-conscious Rod Stewart wannabee in Christian drag, who alternated rock vocals with saxophone all at the top of his lungs, interjecting mindless religious injunctions. Even the prayerful woman next to me was covering her ears. But the crowd waxed enthusiastic for a very long half hour.

Pat Robertson, introduced with great fanfare, bragged in his inimitable quavering voice--which sounds like he is ignoring some urgent call of nature--about how quickly he has met many of his original goals, such as having a "conservative majority" in Congress. Then he made his mistake. The chubby-cheeked Christian entrepreneur said another goal was to become a "significant" voice in the GOP (stands for God's Own Party, I guess). "Actually, I said something else, but Ralph told me I couldn't say it because the press is here," he added. "The Press," of course, picked up on Robertson's admission that he plans to take over the GOP. He may be shrewd but he's not too smart.

In another dumb blooper, Robertson whined: "And now they accuse us of being power-mad and of stealth tactics because we go knocking on doors and tell them to vote for candidates." Lobbying groups with c(4) status are forbidden to tell people to vote for candidates.

While waxing rhapsodic that "God plus one equals a majority," Robertson claimed the Christian Coalition is dominant in Republican parties in 18 states and has substantial input in another 13 states. He urged more seats in the House filled by representatives with political agendas "sent by heaven."

The gist of his speech was nostalgia for the 1950's. (He made me nostalgic for the 1970's.) Until 1960, he said, "our nation considered itself one nation under God" and "public affirmations to God were considered an essential part of education." Abortion was illegal in every state, and "We were proud to be considered as god-fearing, patriotic American citizens." He vowed to repeal every Supreme Court decision in the 1960's and 1970's, "with the exception of civil rights legislation which we do not particularly want to reverse." The federal government was spoken of as the enemy in biblical terms of vituperation. "We must return to biblical morality and reliance on self, not the federal government," he said.

In a masterpiece of self-contradiction, Robertson blasted federal money subsidizing "the having of illegitimate children by unmarried mothers," then sanctimoniously called every baby "a creation of God." The crowd "amen'ed." He concluded by vowing to work "until this nation is once again One Nation Under God."

Another full day of gruesome personalities was on the Saturday agenda. I made a getaway while the extremely popular pre-lunch speaker Alan Keyes was still making his mean-black-preacher antiabortion pitch, rushing back to my hotel to get my camera, taking a taxi to the Capitol and finally locating the elusive suffragist statue in record time. I got back just a bit late, having neatly avoided any chance of running into my state caucus, to the three workshops. Imagine my distaste to find myself waiting beside Ron Rosenberger, the smug, unattractive student and Christian convert responsible for the Supreme Court decision ordering the University of Virginia to subsidize his puerile Christian rag! Yuck! Rosenberger joined Judge Roy Moore, the adversary of our Alabama chapter, in giving a presentation on the need to force religion into public spheres. Moore sported a dismayingly goofy grin.

Pat Buchanan was the evening's keynote, the Christian Coalition's golden boy. In case you didn't catch his speech on C-Span, it is summarized on the following pages. He gave a poor, mumbling, disjointed speech--and he was a professional speechwriter! That didn't bother his 4,200 fans, many cheering, "Go Pat Go!"

As I left the conference hall for the final time, I got a big kick out of seeing two cute young men with big smiles across their faces walking through the hall, wearing shorts, earrings and holding hands. Take that, Pat!

I flew home by way of Chicago, where my twin brother had arranged to pick me up for a rendezvous with a visiting cousin and a friend from high school to go see the spectacular Monet exhibit at the Chicago Museum of Art. I'm not sure what Monet's religious views were, but his artistry is a secular celebration of the natural world. I have always found the impressionist exhibits an antidote to the dark, bleak, crude Middle Ages religious art that fills museums. Everywhere I looked at this exhibit, I saw beauty. Monet proved an ideal antidote to the Christian Coalition.

But make no mistake. We have entered a new and frightening era where political decisions are not being made behind the doors of smoke-filled rooms, but behind the doors of churches. Ralph Reed bragged that the Christian Coalition distributed 17 million Congressional scorecards and 43 million "nonpartisan" educational voter guides last year. (Nonpartisan? Republican candidates get their names capitalized!)
"Onward, Christian Soldiers" was not played during the conference, but it was full of Christian soldiers marching as to war, very confidently, I might add. They are organized, motivated, well-funded and have the ear of Congress. A shocking number of politicians are part of the Christian Coalition, and the rest appear afraid to cross them.

I haven't heard so much unself-conscious talk about "revolutionaries" since the sixties--of course, these people feel they are redressing the "wrongs" of that decade. They are obsessed with banning abortion. Their newest enthusiasm is for parochiaid through vouchers. Governor Tommy Thompson of Wisconsin wasn't there, but he and his scheme to fund religious schools in Milwaukee with tax money was praised repeatedly by the power brokers. They mean to destroy our public schools. But the threat to our liberties is larger than the sum of the Christian Coalition's legislative agenda. I couldn't help remembering that Adolf Hitler initially came to power by the ballot box.

The most alarming development was the announcement of a Catholic version of the Christian Coalition, which will work in tandem with Robertson's group, largely fundamentalist and Southern Baptist. Keith Fournier, a Catholic Christian Coalition founder, said that when Europeans came to this continent, "one of the first things they did was to plant a cross and dedicate this country [sic] to Jesus."

Need I point out that if they combine forces, Catholics and fundies are demographically a majority? They intend to distribute "voter guides" to as many churches as they can, the Sunday before election day. As Robertson has put it, "We have enough votes to run the country" (Washington Post, Aug. 19, 1985).

If you can, infiltrate your state and regional Christian Coalition training conferences, and use the information gathered there to expose and counter this insidious movement.

A song kept running through my head during the conference, a verse of Kristin Lems' ever-topical Days of the Theocracy:

"They're sitting at the Capitol,
They're voting on our lives.

If we don't stop them soon

Our freedom will not long survive."

%896 %America/Chicago, %1996

Hands That Prey On Sunday Morning

November 1996

By Annie Laurie Gaylor

With Ralph Reed boasting that the Christian Coalition would be distributing 45 million "voter guides" in 125,000 churches on Sunday, Nov. 3, the eve of the U.S. presidential election, I got curious about what would be happening in local churches.
After scrutizining the "Worship Directory" in the Saturday dailies, I decided to try "Lake City Church," a large and prosperous-looking evangelical church on the outskirts of Madison, Wisconsin. Meanwhile, Dan ventured to "fair Verona," a conservative suburb, trying out a tiny evangelical church there.

When I walked in the door of Lake City Church, I was handed a church bulletin, stuffed with announcements. When I sat down in a pew and examined everything -- BINGO! There it was: a red and black printed half-page flyer, comparing the voting records of Bill Clinton and Bob Dole on one side, and the candidates in two Congressional districts on the other.

I had expected to find political information in this church, but I had not expected to find politicians staring up at me from a church bulletin! Actually, as you can tell from reproductions on this page, photos of the two clearly not-favored Congressional candidates did not appear. This literature was about as subtle as the hymn "Onward, Christian Soldiers." Everyone looking over this material clearly would realize which candidates their church expected them to vote for.

I was curious about what the pastor might say about the election, so stayed for most of the (interminable) service. We had to literally "stand up for Jesus" during a half-hour of tuneless pop "praise" music. The words, projected by an overhead, were all variations on a theme of "God is great, good, all-mighty, wonderful, incredible, holy, hallowed, precious and adorable," and therefore worthy of endless flattery and groveling worship from unworthy, sinning, dirty humans. This was followed by a ceremonial "speaking in tongues" by a woman, during which everyone prayerfully bowed heads, after which her gobbly-de-gook was "interpreted" for us by a man who could miraculously divine God's will! Imagine!

During "announcements,"--BINGO again. The pastor reminded everyone of the upcoming election and told us to "pray" about it, so that "Thy Will Be Done" and God, in essence, would put the right people in office.

The Christian Coalition obviously was circulating many of these flyers in my district and an adjoining one, for the handout was paid for and authorized by the national Coalition. This strategy was replicated throughout our state and throughout every state in the union. An Associated Press photograph of Ralph Reed appearing in the nation's Sunday newspapers showed him holding up a flyer identical to the one I was handed -- only the reverse side, focusing on Congressional races, varied from district to district.

When Dan and I compared notes, I found that the smaller congregation he visited had also indulged in politics. The West Madison Bible Church displayed election material as handouts on their tables. Samples were available of the election propaganda of the National Right to Life (sic) Committee, including copies of its October 9, 1996 newspaper featuring a color photo of Dole and Kemp on the cover, and the National Right To Life's presidential voter guide. Dan was able to pick up a copy of the 1996 "election year edition" of the Christian Coalition Congressional Scorecard, recording its positive 77% rating for the local GOP member of Congress.

The Christian Coalition, under tax law, must be and declares itself as nonpartisan. Yet its Congressional scorecards run the names of Republicans, but not Democrats, in all-capitals! More Christian "subtlety"?

Ralph Reed isn't even attempting to hide the Christian Coalition's affiliation with one political party. An Associated Press story out of Cincinnati by Kevin O'Hanlon reported on Nov. 3, in the lead sentence:

"Christian Coalition leader Ralph Reed said Saturday that a massive grassroots effort by his organization this weekend will help Republicans retain control of Congress and make the race for the White House close."

Martin Luther King, Jr. once called Sunday morning the most segregated hour in Amerca. Is it now becoming one of the most politicized?

Nonprofit lobbying groups are strictly forbidden from endorsing candidates or distributing material which clearly shows a group's preference for candidates in elections. The Christian Coalition has crossed that line in putting out its election-eve, biased and partisan materials.

The Federal Election Commission is suing the Christian Coalition for irregularities associated with the 1994 Congressional elections. The Foundation is concerned that this lawsuit will go the way of the lawsuit against Pat Robertson for election irregularities in his 1988 presidential race. That suit was quietly dropped this year after the statute of limitations ran out. There is also concern that the lawsuit does not address the critical problem of a lobbying group organizing almost exclusively through the ready-made captive audience of tax-exempt churches. (Not to mention the corollary conflict-of-interest when such churches may be used as polling sites.)

Should the Christian Coalition's basic stealth strategy of organizing tax-exempt churches go unchallenged, it ultimately will swing control of elections squarely to the hands that pray on Sunday mornings.

%895 %America/Chicago, %2002

Voucher Ploy Makes No Sense

Vol. 19 No. 2 - Published by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc. - March 2002

By Annie Laurie Gaylor

The day oral arguments on the Ohio school voucher case were heard before the U.S. Supreme Court, I was one of several guests invited to discuss the topic on arch-conservative Alan Keyes' TV talkshow "Making Sense" on MSNBC.

Barry Lynn, director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, joined me in one segment as an able advocate of secular public-funded schools.

Keyes asked what is wrong with giving parents a "choice" to send children to religious schools.

"It involves state funding of indoctrination," I replied. "And let's look who the big beneficiary is of the voucher programs in Cleveland and Milwaukee. It's the Roman Catholic Church. Two-thirds of these schools that are being used are Catholic. We're bailing out the failing Catholic church [schools] with this.

"It's something that could topple not only the wall of separation between church and state, but it could destroy our public school system, which is supposed to be the great melting pot.

"There's no virtue in religiously segregated schools. People shouldn't pat themselves on the back for wanting to segregate children on the basis of their religion. Church schools are not better schools. I think that the Supreme Court, if it approves this, could ruin our country. I think that Bin Laden would support the Cleveland program. Look where the terrorists came from: the religious schools.

"And they're divisive. Look at the example of Ireland, what was happening to the Catholic children last September, being assaulted on the way to school, because we have religiously segregated systems in that country where the Protestants and the Catholics never meet.

"I think that our public schools are the richness of our country, and we should be supporting them."

I could only shake my head for most of the rest of the discussion, which, contrary to the show's title, did not make much sense.

A pro-voucher guest, Caroline Hoxby, made the voucher movement's most disingenuous, dishonest and insincere case--that defunding public schools in favor of private (religious) schools actually helps struggling public schools.

Hoxby claimed her studies showed test scores had improved in Milwaukee Public Schools as a result of the voucher "competition" (ignoring the effects of Wisconsin's SAGE program to limit class sizes, for instance). The mind-boggling irony is that Milwaukee's voucher schools are exempt from such standardized testing! There is zilch accountability, with harsh standards for public schools and very few for voucher schools.

So much is at stake with the similar voucher program in Cleveland now before the Supreme Court. The facts are so damning. More than 99% of the approximately 4,000 students enrolled in the 6-year-old Cleveland voucher program attend religious schools.

If that's not enough evidence of state subsidy and endorsement of religion, look at the cozy set-up: Just as in the Milwaukee voucher program, state checks for vouchers of up to $2,250 a year are sent directly to the schools for parental endorsement.

Where public dollars go, public accountability should follow. Yet Cleveland voucher schools don't even have on-site inspection. Voucher schools can apply for exemptions from Ohio standards on open records, teacher certification and background checks, and fire, health and safety inspection laws.

A notorious case exposed by the Cleveland Plain Dealer involved the Islamic Academy School of Arts and Sciences, which operated under voucher funding for two years. Its 110-year-old building was a fire and lead-paint hazard, a majority of instructors lacked state teaching licenses, and one had even been convicted of first-degree murder. A state audit found misuse of $70,000 in tax dollars when the school claimed tax money for students who were not enrolled.

The Golden State Christian Academy, a parent-run school, taught students by videos provided by the Pensacola Christian Academy, "dedicated to serving the Lord through Christian education." After two years it was finally defunded for gross noncompliance, including keeping no immunization records, and safety lapses.

The tax money, of course, is raided from the Cleveland district's portion of the state Disadvantaged Pupil Impact AID program, with Cleveland schools losing up to $11 million a year in such aid (and estimated to climb to as much as $22 million this year).

Voucher schools can exclude many disadvantaged students, such as those learning English as a second language or severely handicapped children. About the time the voucher program started, all-day kindergartens in many Cleveland public schools were cut--due to lack of money. Tax money could be used for reading programs Cleveland schools would like to inaugurate, and to keep class sizes smaller, a proven method for improving learning. The predictable effect has been that the operating costs of the Cleveland public schools have continued to climb, while it is losing significant state aid.

About a third of the children in the Cleveland program, ballyhooed as helping low-income children, were already enrolled in private schools by their families. The U.S. Court of Appeals, in ruling the program unconstitutional, noted that almost 40% of students receiving vouchers in the 1999-2000 school year were above the poverty line.

A state-ordered audit found that $1.4 million was spent on transportation in the first year, mostly in funding $15-$18-a-day taxi rides, compared to average nonvoucher transportation costs of $3.33 per day. More than $419,000 in overbilling by taxi companies since 1997 was uncovered in January 1999.

Study after study has found no statistical difference in scoring for students in public versus voucher schools. Studies have found lower grades for voucher students attending new start-up schools, according to People for the American Way.

Of course, while these problems with voucher schools are maddening, they are not the point. The issue is whether, under our Constitution, taxpayers can be forced to subsidize religious schools. Many of the remarks by Supreme Court Justices at the Feb. 20 oral argument strayed distressingly far afield of this essential question of law and principle.

Did you know the Catholic Conference of Bishops first began campaigning in the 1880s to force the government to fund its parochial schools? More than a century of lobbying has finally paid off.

If religious prayer and worship in taxpaid public schools are unconstitutional, as the Supreme Court has held since 1948, how then could it be lawful to coerce taxpayers to support and maintain religion-based schools that conduct daily prayer sessions, masses and religious proselytizing that are at the very heart of their religious missions?

And how can we taxpayers possibly afford to fund two systems: one secular, the other religious? It would bankrupt the country, and eviscerate the very heart of the First Amendment.

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