By Annie Laurie Gaylor
Freedom From Religion Foundation
The theocratic blogosphere is a-twitter with "shocked" blogs condemning FFRF's nontract, "An X-Rated Book: Sex & Obscenity In The Bible." Setting the blogosphere off was a story in CNS News ("The right news, right now") warning readers: "This story includes a lewd image . . . some readers may find disturbing." The article reports that FFRF plans to distribute our pamphlet, along with several other books and materials critical of religion, in January to public high schools in Orange County, Fla.
In classic "slay the messenger, not the message" hype, Christian news sites and bloggers claim to be greatly offended by the sketch on our nontract of a sexist bible grabbing a woman. None apparently is offended at the sexually violent and pro-rape content in the book they worship and seek to distribute to public high school students.
Last year we decided to "fight fire with fire" by seeking to distribute freethinking materials to counter so-called "passive distribution" of bibles by a Christian ministry at 11 high schools in the Orlando, Fla. area. We carefully chose a variety of materials to test the school's so-called "public forum," including several of our nontracts outlining problems with the bible. When Orange County Public Schools censored most of FFRF's proffered materials, while permitting the bible distribution to carry on, we were forced to file a federal suit. (By the way, when this bible distribution took place, CNS News failed to warn: "This book contains many lewd images some readers may find disturbing.")
During our litigation in Orange County schools, we pointed out the irony of the schools allowing distribution of a book containing violence, graphic and often depraved sexual descriptions, among many other objectionable passages, while censoring freethinking points of view factually reporting about what's in this so-called "good book."
In June 2014, the school district entered a motion to dismiss our lawsuit "unconditionally," agreeing we may distribute these materials on Freedom of Religion Day (Jan. 16), the same day World Changers of Florida will be back in the schools with their X-rated bibles. And we'll be there too. We're happy to see the controversy. We don't think bibles, or literature critical of bibles, should be distributed by outside interest groups in our public schools and we hope the controversy will ultimately shut down this inappropriate forum. But if it doesn't, at least students will be offered both sides of the story.
This controversy provides an opportunity to tell the story behind the cartoon depicting a sexually assaulting "holy book." I had been genuinely shocked and horrified by the degrading treatment of women in the bible when I read it for myself in my early 20s as a college student. For instance, examine this sick passage in Isaiah 3:16:
Moreover the LORD saith, Because the daughters of Zion are haughty, and walk with stretched forth necks and wanton eyes, walking and mincing as they go, and making a tinkling with their feet:
Therefore the LORD will smite with a scab the crown of the head of the daughters of Zion, and the LORD will discover their secret parts.
As editorial editor of The Daily Cardinal student newspaper at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, I loved working with a talented young artist on staff named Alma Cuebas, who specialized in depicting egalitarian "ugly women." For a column about biblical misogyny, Alma fashioned a memorable drawing of a lascivious bible starting to assault a woman. Alma's iconic drawing appears with some others by her in a book on bible sexism, "Woe to the Women: The Bible Tells Me So," which I was asked to write for FFRF.
In the 1990s, when FFRF added to our collection of "nontracts" one called "An X-Rated Book: Sex and Obscenity in the Bible," I naturally recalled Alma's sketch of the sexist bible grabbing a woman, and we put that on the cover. Our nontract begins: "Let us introduce you to parts of the Holy Bible which you have not heard about in sermons from the pulpit, that may shock and dismay you and should certainly convince you that the bible ought to be X-rated.
"Below you will find a pornographic view of sex and women, lewdness, depravity and sexual violence often ordered or countenanced by the biblical deity. Don't take our word for it — look it up for yourself." A long list of bible citations follows, some silly, some gross, others horrific, many woman-hating. The nontract concludes with a favorite quote by Thomas Paine from "The Age of Reason":
"Whenever we read the obscene stories, the voluptuous debaucheries, the cruel and torturous executions, the unrelenting vindictiveness, with which more than half the Bible is filled, it would be more consistent that we called it the word of a demon, than the word of God. It is a history of wickedness, that has served to corrupt and brutalize [hu]mankind."
While FFRF has appealed parts of the ruling over our freethought lit distribution to the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, we have the OK to distribute all of our submitted literature, including previously censored literature. And we're inviting all comers to join us. The Satanic Temple has asked to distribute its coloring book. What do public schools expect when they open the door by permitting passive distribution of the Christian bible? They cannot engage in viewpoint distribution once they create such precedent.
It's FFRF's devout hope that our tactics will teach the schools not to set up irresponsible and unwise religion-based "forums" targeting a captive audience of students, making use of the machinery of tax-supported school buildings. Schools exist to educate, not to proselytize, or to act as conduits for recruiting evangelists (or atheists).
Will FFRF materials be there on Jan. 16? You betcha! We thank our hardworking local plaintiff and organizer David Williamson, director of FFRF's chapter, the Central Florida Freethought Community, for making the distribution possible. And FFRF will unapologetically distribute our nontract, "An X-Rated Book."
P.S. My mother Anne Nicol Gaylor, as FFRF's principal founder, was equally taken with Alma's "ugly women." She asked Alma to illustrate four short vignettes that open FFRF's first book, "The Born Again Skeptic's Guide to the Bible" by Ruth Hurmence Green. Our favorite of these illustrations is Alma's depiction of Adam and Eve. A pudgy finger is pointing out of a cloud at the fully frontally naked and embarrassed looking Adam (sporting an angry scar over his rib), who in turn is pointing to Eve holding a half-bitten apple, who in turn points to the snake, wearing a Mafia-like hat with a cigarette falling out of his mouth. This charming ink sketch, used in some early ads for Ruth's book, inevitably was censored by a few squeamish publications, apparently for Alma's "sin of omission" for failing to include a deferential fig leaf for Adam.
Let's hear it for blasphemy!
FFRF sent a letter Sept. 2 to Joseph Olchefske, president of Calvert Education Services in Hunt Valley, Md., about inclusion of religious material in mandatory assignments used in public schools’ virtual (online) curricula. It was brought to FFRF’s attention by 8-year-old Florida student Emarie Wakefield and Rachel Spiller, her mother.
A complaint letter was also sent Sept. 2 to the superintendent of Lee County Schools in Fort Myers, Fla.. The school district supervises Emarie’s online instruction, which uses the Calvert curriculum, including an assignment called “Let’s Read a Poem.” One poem (actually a hymn) is titled “God be in my head” and starts “God be in my head, and in my understanding” and concludes with “God be at mine end, and at my departing.”
Other selections were misattributed and very age-inappropriate, FFRF noted, including passages from the Song of Solomon, the most notoriously erotic book of the bible with its thinly veiled allusions to oral sex such as “he feedeth among the lilies” and “his fruit was sweet to my taste.”
Superintendent Nancy Graham had told the family in correspondence that some school staff told her “separation of church and state” is not in the Constitution and is not a legal standard. FFRF noted that the Supreme Court has used the phrase to interpret the First Amendment as far back as 1878. Graham also misinterpreted the Establishment Clause. In his response, Calvert CEO Richard Rasmus denied any intent to promote religion and claimed content was chosen for its “literary, cultural, historical or other educational value.” He closed with, “We appreciate the professional manner in which you have raised your concerns.”
FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel rebutted the claim of nonreligious significance in a response to Rasmus and again decried the “shoddy scholarship,” writing, “In light of your response, we must contact the organizations that have accredited Calvert materials and provide them with copies of this letter and ask them to revisit your accreditation. Of course, if you wish to provide assurances that these four ‘poems’ will be removed, that will prove unnecessary.”
In his Sept. 25 response, Calvert CFO Todd Frager wrote, “We have removed the selections in question. We will remove the digital text immediately and we will no longer print the selections going forward. Feel free to call me with any additional comments or concerns.” FFRF is proud to announce a $1,000 student activist award to Emarie and to share what she wrote about her experience:
My Little Voice
By Emarie Wakefield
(with help from Mom)
When I was interviewed by the local news station about my objection to prayers (as well as bible passages and misauthored prayers being passed off as “poems”) in my public virtual school’s curriculum, many people had a lot to say against me. Many people said I wasn’t old enough to have a voice, an opinion or freedom. I’m little, so I’m just learning about history, but so far I haven’t found an age limit on freedoms.
Lincoln didn’t say “conceived in liberty for those who are over school-aged.” I know this. I had to recite the opening to the Gettysburg Address. The First Amendment isn’t only for grown-ups.
I live and grow in a humanist home. I’m taught every day that my little voice makes a big difference. I know that some people are told they are too little to speak up, but in my home I’m taught that when I see something wrong, it’s my job to speak out loud to change that.
I’m proud of my freedom as an American. Since I do not believe that there is some being in control of everything, I know that it’s going to be me that has to do the work to get things done. It’s the job of all of us. We have to work together as a big team to make this planet a better, kinder and happier place to live. No one is going to magically fix it for us.
If I had just stayed quiet and “did the homework I was told to do,” then what about the children that came after me that weren’t told that freedom belongs to them, too? Others can do as they are told when their freedoms are being taken from them, but as for me and my little voice, we’re off to big places.
When a lot of those little voices come together, it gets too loud to ignore. Humanity, come with me. Let’s do big, wonderful things, because even a little voice is equal under our laws. That’s a self-evident truth.
I have so much gratitude to the Freedom From Religion Foundation for this scholarship, because education makes little voices louder.
Rachel Spiller writes:
This is incredible news! We are elated! We did, however, eventually remove Emarie from the Lee County School system. It became more and more apparent every day that no one was actually reviewing the materials that were being passed on to our children in the Lee virtual program.
Every day there were serious “mistakes” in their online testing and otherwise that made us realize that to leave her in this curriculum would be disregarding our parental responsibilities. We are currently doing home education while we assess our options. You’d be surprised at what Emarie endured during the press coverage of this. Of course there were “trolls” that even went so far as to say that they hoped she died, but there were many amazing strangers that encouraged her. One such example was Jonathan Mann, a musician well-known for turning Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s Hobby Lobby dissent into a song. He wrote a song called “Ignore the Trolls” for her, and the blog SheKnows also did a wonderful piece. Please feel free to point to a Facebook “public figure” page that we administer for Emarie: facebook.com/EmmieOutLoud/. We started the page because she hoped to encourage other young people to become involved in volunteerism. (Her nickname is Emmie, and she chose “OutLoud” after a Coco Chanel quote: “The most courageous act is still to think for yourself. Aloud.”)
Emarie is also outspoken on LGBT rights and volunteers by my side at the LGBT community center in our area (pridecenterswfl.com/), where she sometimes leads anti-bullying youth rallies.
Emarie is also involved with a charity called “Pushing Daizies” that raises money to send low-income children to art and music camp. She also participated in the “No One Else Can Play Your Part” campaign for World Suicide Prevention Day.
Her first taste of activism was when she, by her own choice and will, decided to march with the Occupy movement in Birmingham, Ala., when she was 5. She woke me that morning and told me we had to go to the march or ”the people with all the money and resources will win.”
It was a long march on those tiny little legs, but she did not complain a single time. She can still lead the Occupy callback chant to this day and is proud to have taken a place in democracy.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation called on the superintendent of Gallia County Local Schools in Patriot, Ohio, to recall and replace a 2014 elementary school yearbook whose cover features a large Latin cross.
FFRF, which has 21,500 members nationwide, including 600 in Ohio, wrote Superintendent Jude Meyers on Sept. 26, asking him to investigate and take action over a state/church violation that is “beyond comprehension” at Addaville Elementary. The horizontal arms of the cross on the bible-like cover carry the word “Believe.”
“The inclusion of the Latin cross, which is the preeminent symbol of Christianity, on a public elementary school yearbook is illegal,” noted Rebecca Markert, FFRF senior staff attorney. “It is beyond comprehension that public school officials would have allowed this publication to be printed with sectarian religious imagery and then distributed to young schoolchildren.”
“Religion is a divisive force in public schools,” Markert reminded the district. More than a quarter of the U.S. population either identifies as nonreligious (20%) or practices a non-Christian religion (5%).
She noted that whether or not the yearbook was published by the district or a private entity is “legally immaterial.”
FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor commented, “The cover of this yearbook would be appropriate at a Catholic or sectarian school, but it’s an egregious violation in our secular elementary public schools.”
The district contacted FFRF to indicate it would ensure that the Parent Teacher Organization would be told it could no longer use a religious cover for the yearbook. The district said the PTO was responsible for printing the book and that the cover did not have district approval.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation’s ad featuring Ron Reagan describing himself as “an unabashed atheist” was rejected for airing by CBS, not only by “60 Minutes” (the desired placement), but for any CBS show.
The ad debuted last May on both “The Daily Show” and “The Colbert Report” on Comedy Central.
A CBS agent indicated that the ad was rejected “for words and tone.” The celebrity endorsement features the son of President Ronald Reagan, self-described as “a lifelong atheist,” plugging FFRF:
Hi, I’m Ron Reagan, an unabashed atheist, and I’m alarmed by the intrusion of religion into our secular government. That’s why I’m asking you to support the Freedom From Religion Foundation, the nation’s largest and most effective association of atheists and agnostics, working to keep state and church separate, just like our Founding Fathers intended. Please support the Freedom From Religion Foundation. Ron Reagan, lifelong atheist, not afraid of burning in hell.”
The rejection was shocking, since FFRF aired a 30-second spot on national CBS in 2012, rebutting Rick Santorum’s remarks dissing candidate John F. Kennedy’s pro-state/church separation speech before Houston ministers in 1960. That ad was accepted to run on “The CBS Evening News” and “CBS Sunday Morning.”
“It appears that if a public figure makes a simple declarative statement in support of state/church separation, FFRF and atheism, it’s too hot to handle for CBS,” said FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor.
“It seems that excess gas, erectile dysfunction and other intimate bodily functions, not to mention ads wherein political candidates viciously attack each other, are acceptable,” added Dan Barker, who co-directs FFRF. “But the plain-spoken, witty and slightly irreverent remarks of a well-known figure identifying as atheist are too much for the delicate sensibilities of CBS’ censors.”
“Why are atheism and freethought still treated as socially unacceptable, even though fully a fifth of the population has no religion today?” Gaylor asked. “If anything should be socially unacceptable, it ought to be blind deference to religion.”
Reagan is an FFRF honorary director who received the Emperor Has No Clothes Award from FFRF in 2004 and gave an acceptance speech at the 2009 national convention in Seattle. As liberal as his famous father was conservative, Reagan stopped going to church when he was 12 and has publicly stated he’s an atheist numerous times.
The New York Times asked him in 2004, in an interview that ran three weeks after his father died, if he’d like to be president. “I would be unelectable,” Reagan said. “I’m an atheist. As we all know, that is something people won’t accept.” View the 30-second spot at FFRF’s website, ffrf.org.
On Nov. 4 voters in Hawaii will decide whether the state should use public money to fund private preschool programs, including religious preschools. The proposed amendment—CON AMEND: Relating to Early Childhood Education—would amend Section 1 of Article X of the Constitution of Hawaii to allow the appropriation of public funds “for the support or benefit of private early childhood education programs,” including religious programs. The state constitution currently prohibits the use of public tax dollars to benefit private schools.
Many Hawaiian preschools are faith-based, housed in places of worship, and include sectarian curricula, teaching, and instruction. In funding these preschool programs, the state, in essence, would be paying private religious institutions to indoctrinate children far too young to decide religious issues for themselves.
The Hawaii State Teachers Association (HSTA) reportedly objects to the Early Childhood Education amendment because it views the change as a voucher program that will take money from public schools to benefit private schools. Nothing in the language of the proposed amendment limits the use of these funds. In other words, there are no safeguards in place to ensure that public funds are used only for secular purposes. “Such privatization also would allow public funds to be used for religious education and other religious purposes, weakening the wall between church and state,” said Alan Isbell, Waikuku Elementary School Teacher and HSTA representative.
To prevent your taxpayer money from funding private religious schools, spread the word that the Early Childhood Education amendment is bad for Hawaii’s public schools and undermines state/church separation. Please VOTE NO on Nov. 4.