FFRF was denied space by Clear Channel Outdoor to place light-hearted billboards promoting freethought in Pitman, N.J., after being censored by Pitman city officials. Although FFRF had a contract with the company signed 11 months ago for three particular billboards, Clear Channel announced in late November that FFRF’s proposed signs could not appear within a half mile of a church.
Since all three (conveniently) are within a half mile of a church, Clear Channel severed the contract.
FFRF first wrote a letter of complaint to Pitman in 2011, when a local resident alerted FFRF to a Knights of Columbus “Keep Christ in Christmas” banner placed every December over a main street by the Pitman Fire Department. FFRF discovered the Knights did not obtain a permit for their banner.
When FFRF sought in 2012 to put up its own seasonal rejoinder, “Keep Saturn in Saturnalia,” the borough required a permit, then denied FFRF’s application. Last December, FFRF put up billboards to counter the city’s continued favoritism of the Christian banner. Two men tried to burn down the Saturnalia billboard, but it wasn’t damaged.
“The most disappointing thing is that this reinforces criminal behavior. The arsonists were trying to censor FFRF’s message, and Clear Channel has now rewarded that felonious behavior,” said Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel, who is dealing with Pitman for the fourth year.
According to nj.com, Mayor Russ Johnson said the “Keep Christ in Christmas” banner represented the “spirit of Pitman” and said he hoped it would do so “for another 40 years.”
“This blackout of freethought views in Pitman is the product of government favoritism of religion and censorship of dissenting views,” said FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor.
FFRF member and Rhode Island freethought activist Debbie Flitman (above left), assisted by FFRF member Tony Houston, for the second year in a row erected FFRF’s “no gods” winter solstice sign in the Rhode Island Capitol in late November. In response, Republican state Rep. Mike Chippendale posted an attack about FFRF’s display on his public Facebook page. Chippendale posted a rant, later removed, about how “atheists just can’t keep their non-beliefs to themselves.”
There are even more secular signs up this year to counter the nativity scene in the Capitol, which was given a big ceremony in December. The secular responses include a Tree of Knowledge by the Humanists of Rhode Island (led by Steve Ahlquist), a display by the Community of Reason and several others.
Robert McClain’s op-ed published Nov. 26 in the Newark Advocate in Ohio:
Let’s set the record straight regarding the Freedom From Religion Foundation and its complaint against the Licking Valley School District by responding to a letter published Nov. 15. I will attempt to talk Mr. McBride down off the high horse from which he impugns FFRF’s mission and its executives. The author is entitled to his opinion, but not to create his own facts, an unsavory but common habit of Christian apologists.
FFRF exists for two reasons: to promote the constitutional principle of the separation of church and state, and to educate the public on matters related to nontheism. If Licking Valley obeyed the laws prohibiting the promotion of any religion (in this case the Christian faith) on public property by publicly paid employees, FFRF would have no reason to send warning letters. Since coaches like Randy Baughman are paid roughly $5,714 in public funds, and the coach and players were praying on a publicly financed field at a publicly financed high school, the complaint is legitimate.
Mr. McBride claimed in his letter to have “learned” about FFRF, but I submit that his idea of “learning” has nothing to do with fact gathering and more to do with insult and innuendo. Charity Navigator, an online rating system for nonprofits, gives FFRF a rating of 97 out of 100, higher than AARP (88), the Southern Poverty Law Center (87) or the American Family Association (92), a Christian advocacy group. In short, FFRF exceeds all reasonable standards of transparency and accountability, which is more than can be said for the Vatican, the Southern Baptist Convention or virtually any religious institution. Unlike religious bodies, FFRF files a complete IRS form 990 detailing all income and expenses each year. Unlike more than 1,600 churches just this year, FFRF does not engage in electioneering via the pulpit or church bulletin, and obeys all laws governing nonprofit institutions. These are the facts, stubborn as they are for the author to entertain.
What appears to stick in the author’s craw the most is that his Christian privilege was violated because people of his faith were asked to obey the law. The law applies to all citizens. FFRF launches more complaints against Christian institutions because Christians are the most frequent violators of the law. FFRF has never denied anyone the right to practice their religion in any manner that respects the law. The author should learn to deal in facts, not religious ranting.
Name: Robert McClain.
Where I live: Brunswick, Ohio.
Where and when I was born: Johnstown, Pa., 1959.
Family: Pamela, my wife, and sons, Sean, 19, and Corvus, 16.
Education: Some college; financial services professional (Series 6).
Occupation: Insurance sales, life and annuity.
How I got where I am today: A high school English teacher who molded my writing, and an ability to find solutions to other’s problems
Where I’m headed: Down a path that insists nontheists deserve a place at the table politically.
Person in history I admire: Alan Turing (1912-54), British mathematician and the father of theoretical computer science and artificial intelligence.
A quotation I like: “To argue with a man who has renounced the use of reason is like administering medicine to the dead.” (Thomas Paine, “The American Crisis”) These are a few of my favorite things: Churches converted to useful, practical or humanitarian purposes, Ken Ham’s withering debate defeat by science guy Bill Nye, “Hitchslaps” and cooking for a crowd of friends.
These are not: “Filler” words (like . . . y’know, umm, etc.); bad writing; poor design; the blood and treasure wasted on religion.
My doubts about religion started: At 11 years old, when a couple of door-to-door fundamentalists cornered me on my paper route and harangued me about not being saved. Before I die: There will be an atheist senator or president.
Ways I promote freethought: Fighting fundamentalists in print, in person and in the education system.
I wish you’d have asked me: Can you juggle? Yes.
I also wish you’d have asked me: Do you encourage your children to be freethinkers? My breakfast bar was a place for math. science, logic and discussions of theism. I always told my boys that if they wanted to go to church, I would take them. If they wanted to be Christians, I would understand but expected them to explain why choosing this path made logical sense. They knew about theistic influences in America and how dangerous it is for freedom when the priest and politician join forces.
Sean could go toe to toe with any priest or minister he encountered by age 11 or 12, and by 15 there was not a Christian in his peer group willing to argue with him in class discussions. He knew their book, and he knew Christianity’s horrific history of bloodletting, conquest and genocide. He knew more about their religion than the kids themselves did.
Four elected officials in Lake Worth, Fla., walked out in protest Dec. 2 before atheist Preston Smith, 34, started his invocation to open the city commission meeing. Commissioner Christopher McVoy was the only one to stay, as did the city manager and city attorney. Mayor Pam Triolo and three commissioners left the chambers. “Free speech works both ways,” Triolo told WPTV. “You can say what you want and I can choose to leave.”
Walking out was “very un-American, and a slap in the face to the principles people fought very hard to make sure we had those rights,” McVoy said. “If we choose to have an invocation, we have a responsibility to respectfully listen.”