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Lead Us Not Into Penn Station:Provocative Pieces

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October 7-9, 2016

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Lauryn Seering

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Photo above: FFRF’s new ‘atheist marquee.’ 

 Below: The marquee was the idea of FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie. Photos: Andrew Seidel.1marquee

While almost every Christian church in the United States — and according to Churchrelevance website, that’s about 320,000, including 1,250 megachurches — proselytizes its views and doctrines via a church marquee, there has been no marquee that promotes freethought. Until now. 

FFRF, the nation’s largest association of freethinkers (atheists and agnostics) debuted a prominent digital marquee as part of the grand opening Oct. 9 of its newly expanded office building, Freethought Hall, in downtown Madison, Wis. 

“What the freethought movement has needed is a marquee of its own,” maintains Annie Laurie Gaylor, FFRF co-president and co-founder. 

While many church marquees feature hell and brimstone, putdowns of nonbelievers or have been regularly utilized to lobby against gay rights, abortion rights, etc., Gaylor says FFRF will keep its marquee “upbeat and positive” while still forthright. 

So far, the marquee has commemorated the birthdays of freethinkers (“Happy birthday, John Lennon ‘Above us only sky;’ “Happy birthday, Eleanor Roosevelt: ‘Everyone has the right to freedom of thought.’ ” ), quoted Thomas Paine (“My country is the world, to do good is my religion”), and featured FFRF’s suggestion for a replacement national motto (“In REASON We Trust.)” 

Today’s marquee wishes a happy birthday to one of its well-known honorary directors, Katha Pollitt, a feminist, poet and atheist who writes the “Subject to Debate” column for The Nation. 

“We’re putting freethought on the map,” adds FFRF Co-President Dan Barker, “and we want Freethought Hall to be a landmark.” Last week the state/church watchdog also debuted its Atheists in Foxholes monument, honoring the service of the quarter of the military that identifies as nonreligious. The corresponding marquee read: “Saluting Freethinking Veterans.” 

FFRF’s expanded offices, which include a five-story addition, also feature a life-like, life-size mannequin of Charles Darwin that greets visitors to FFRF’s Joel B. Landon and Wanda K. Beers Freethought Library, among other highlights. View photos taken by FFRF Legal Extern Chris Lines of FFRF members and visitors meeting Mr. Darwin.

Nonbelief Relief, a new humanitarian agency for "atheists, agnostics, freethinkers and their supporters to improve this world, our only world," is announcing its first grant: $20,000 to Doctors Without Borders (Médecins Sans Frontières). Nonbelief Relief is a venue for nonbelievers to give assistance as nonbelievers.

"We think it's important that it be known that secularists are just as charitable, if not more charitable than the religious, but have simply lacked the infrastructure to give as a united group under the banner of freethought," says Nonbelief Relief President Annie Laurie Gaylor, who also serves as co-president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation.

The Nonbelief Relief board voted to give the grant following the Oct. 3 aerial bombing by the U.S. military of a Doctors Without Borders hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan, killing 22 people: 12 staff members and 10 patients, including three children. Another 37 people, including 19 staff members, were injured.

The AC-130 aircraft "raked the medical compound with bursts of cannon fire, potentially even using high explosive incendiary munitions, for more than an hour," according to The Washington Post

"The attack constitutes a grave violation of International Humanitarian Law," Doctors Without Borders noted, calling an it "attack on the Geneva Conventions" and a "war crime." It's seeking an unprecedented independent investigation by the International Humanitarian Fact-Finding Commission. 

The hospital is the only facility of its kind in northeastern Afghanistan and has provided free high level "life- and limb-saving trauma care" for four years. Last year, more than 22,000 patients received care there and more than 5,900 surgeries were performed.

The main hospital building housing the intensive care unit, emergency rooms and physiotherapy ward was repeatedly and "very precisely" hit during bombing raids at approximate 15-minute intervals between 2:08 and 3:15 a.m. "Patients who were unable to escape burned to death as they lay in their beds," said a Doctors Without Borders press release.

"President Obama expressed regret over the tragic incident and offered his thoughts and prayers on behalf of the American people to the victims, their families and loved ones," a White House statement said.

"Regret, thoughts and in particular prayers do not accomplish a thing," said Dan Barker, Nonbelief Relief vice president and FFRF co-president.

"We know that 'Nothing fails like prayer,' in the words of FFRF's principal founder, Anne Nicol Gaylor. Freethinkers believe in 'Good works, not long prayers,' as Anne Royall, our country's first secular lobbyist, put it," Barker added.

Others on Nonbelief Relief's board are: Lisa Strand, FFRF's director of operations; Stephen Hirtle, FFRF's chair and professor at the University of Pittsburgh; and Madison, Wis.-area businessman Jim Zerwick, who proposed the donation to Doctors Without Borders.

FFRF is the sole member of the charity. Individuals and FFRF members may help support Nonbelief Relief's efforts to support organizations such as Doctors Without Borders by designating an online donation for Nonbelief Relief

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

FFRF has received a 4 star rating from Charity Navigator

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