FFRF urged members to get involved with state/church issues in their areas by contacting local officials to put forth the secular viewpoint:
• The Clark County Board of County Councilors in Vancouver, Wash., is considering a proposal to post "In God We Trust" in the county's main public hearing room. "A lot of times we drift away from it," said Councilor Tom Mielke, who suggested the display.
• Mayor Lupe Ramos Watson of Indio, Calif., decided to end the Indio City Council's practice of opening meetings with a prayer. "We need to respect all beliefs and absence of beliefs," she said, reported in The Desert Sun. Councilman Mike Wilson has strenuously opposed the change. FFRF urged members to thank the mayor for a courageous stand.
• Two Mississippi state representatives, Tom Miles and Michael Evans, are proposing to make the bible the state book. Miles said that since Mississippi has a state bird, a state flower and even a state toy, it should have a state book, reported The Clarion-Ledger.
• New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo stopped by a Sunday service at Mt. Vernon's Grace Baptist Church on Jan. 18 to announce the creation of the Office of Faith-Based Community Development Services. The office's first effort will be a $50 million grant program.
• Ohio recently unveiled plans for Community Connectors, a program that provides funds for local networks of volunteers and organizations to mentor students in disadvantaged schools. Superintendent of Public Instruction Dr. Richard A. Ross, whose department is charged with administering the program, added an unnecessary requirement: any organization that wants to participate must partner with "a faith-based organization."
Feeling the pressure from FFRF and others, the state "clarified" its requirement to include "organizations whose mission is based on the belief that every child's life has a purpose."
"The change doesn't clarify anything, it just makes the program's requirements more confusing," noted FFRF Legal Fellow Katherine Paige. "The principle that our lives have a purpose is distinctly religious, and 'values' is usually code for Christian Right values."
"This is just as absurd as it would be to require all faith-based organizations to partner with atheistic groups that believe there is no cosmic 'purpose of life,' " added Co-President Dan Barker. FFRF continues to monitor the situation."
Boards say no to meeting prayer
Concord [Calif.] City Council meetings will stay prayerless after the council's two-person Policy Development Committee on Jan. 12 declined to forward a council member's proposal to start meetings with prayers. The council had stopped praying about 40 years ago.
Councilwoman Laura Hoffmeister and Mayor Tim Grayson agreed prayer is divisive, reported the Contra Costa Times. Hoffmeister recalled that when the council allowed prayer in the 1970s, the proceedings often devolved into a "three-ring circus."
Hoffmeister added, "I think it's a slippery slope. There are just too many issues about who might or might not be allowed or might be offended."
Concord resident Roylen Stack told the council she opposed prayer. "Are we going to allow Druids to come in and speak? There are a whole bunch of things that people believe in."
• • •
The Easton [Pa.] Area School Board voted 5-4 on Jan. 13 against starting meetings with prayer, reported the Express-Times. Solicitor John Freund said 3rd Circuit appeals decisions are clear: Prayer will open the district up to legal challenges.
"My issue comes back to the legal issue," said board member Robert Fehnel. "The last thing we need is more controversy."
The district was ordered to pay $385,000 in fees and damages last year to students who won a legal challenge that let them wear "I Heart Boobies" breast cancer awareness bracelets.
GAO notes drop in IRS charity exams
A Dec. 17 U.S. Government Accountability Office press release said that Internal Revenue Service budget cutbacks have led to a steady decline in the number of charitable organizations audited. In 2011 the examination rate was 0.81% compared to 0.71% in 2013. Examination rates in 2013 for individual taxpayers and corporations were 1% and 1.4%, respectively. (1.4 percent).
The Exempt Organizations division of the IRS is responsible for making sure religious institutions comply with the law. FFRF sued the IRS for failure to enforce the law against church politicking. Last August, U.S. District Judge Lynn Adelman granted a joint motion for dismissal but said FFRF could renew the lawsuit if the IRS reverts to its previous inaction.
Greece elects atheist prime minister
Alexis Tsipras took his oath of office today in Athens. He said he promised to uphold the Constitution and look out for the welfare of Greeks. Tsipras is an atheist, so he refused a religious oath — the custom in this Greek Orthodox country. He's the first prime minister to do so.
News story, "Greece's Left-Wing Prime Minister Takes Charge"
National Public Radio, 1-26-15
Wisconsin FFRF member Ken Proulx, who is 90, notes, "The pope was saying it's wrong to kill in the name of God. Why, the Catholic Church got where it is by killing people, with a history as black as the ace of spades. In Spain alone, 25,000 people were killed during the Inquisition."
Ken counts among "the best years of my life" his public school education in a one-room schoolhouse in the Midwest, where the teacher paid him 50¢ a week in 1935 to be "janitor" and keep the woodstove fed and cleaned.
"The worst years of my life" were spent in parochial school in the third and fourth grades. Ken called it "an injustice" and still remembers the sharp sting of the nun's pointer on pupils' hands.
Name: Matthew Stark.
When and where I was born: New York City, Jan. 27, 1930. I lived in New York until I went to school at Ohio University in Athens, Ohio.
Where I live: My wife, Terri, and I have two homes, one in Minneapolis and the other in Fort Myers, Fla. We're snowbirds.
Education: Two degrees at Ohio University: English and B.S. in education, 1951. I earned a master's in educational psychology in 1959 from the University of Minnesota at Minneapolis and a Ph.D. in educational administration and counseling, Western Reserve University, 1963.
Occupation: In my first post-graduate job, I recruited, trained and supervised advisers to students in dorms, as well as to the fraternities and sororities at the University of Minnesota. I immediately changed the "house mother" title, with their agreement, to "house directors." Labeling them "house mothers" was insulting. I developed programs where they could take any course they wanted for free.
I stayed at the U of M as adviser to Students' Extracurricular Activity, reporting to the dean of students and president. We developed programs to involve students in extra curriculum, including for extra credit. Then I set up the Office of the Coordinator of Human Relations Programs. Martin Luther King Jr. and I developed a program where students at University of Minnesota were trained by me and others to go down South to Montgomery, Selma, etc., live there and work with black and white people positively concerned about race relations. I met Dr. King through the ACLU and was his legal liaison.
When I retired from the university, I became the first paid director of the Minnesota Civil Liberties Union (1973–87), after having serving as volunteer president. I did what executive directors do: I dealt with the media, schools and colleges, etc. I was either the plaintiff or recruited plaintiffs for litigation and recruited lawyers to do volunteer work for the MCLU.
Person in history I admire: Donald G. Patterson, head of the psychology department at the University of Minnesota, and one of the main founders of the Minnesota Civil Liberties Union, and Earl Larson, now a federal district judge, also involved in the original founding of the MCLU.
These are a few of my favorite things: I love to fish, walk in the woods and around the lakes in the Twin Cities. I've done a lot of fishing in Canada and Minnesota. I love to sit with my friends in a tented area outside, enjoying the lake and sunset, talking and drinking cold beer.
These are things I smite: Teachers at public schools who impose their religious views on their students. The most serious problem we're facing in this world is overpopulation — the Earth cannot sustain the millions upon millions of people living on it.
A quotation I like: Coined myself: Civil liberties are essential if we're going to have a democracy.
My doubts about religion started: When I was a kid. My family was primarily Unitarian. I was astonished by what I read and saw about religion and how people I liked were treated because of their diverse religious views, or their sexuality. It always bothered me.
There's a book written by Dick Hewetson [a longtime FFRF state representative] about the MCLU and my role in it: History of the Gay Movement in Minnesota and the Role of the Minnesota Civil Liberties Union.
Ways I promote freethought: I have and will continue to support public education and my belief that all students ought to go to public schools. I support organizations with which I have fundamental agreement, such as FFRF, and I think what you guys are doing is absolutely wonderful.
I helped take cases to keep religion out of government as director of the Minnesota Civil Liberties Union. I'm proud of being grand marshal in the Twin Cities Gay Pride Festival in 2008 and to have received a variety of local, educational, humanist and atheist awards.
I was always extremely interested in separation of church and state. When I was in public school, they had the kids praying, so I blew the whistle as a student. Later in my life, when I came across FFRF, of course, I was absolutely delighted. I worked with Anne Nicol Gaylor and even sent FFRF a check to help put up a portrait of her in the new lobby!
By James A. Haught
Did you know that nearly all 50 states have religious preambles affixed to their state constitutions, in brazen violation of the First Amendment's decree that government cannot dictate supernatural faith?
Some of these holy declarations date back to the 1700s. They're little-noticed, because hardly anyone reads state constitutions. Yet they exist as official government proclamations.
Four states (New Hampshire, Oregon, Tennessee and Virginia) don't use preambles but include "worship maxims" within their constitutions.
Court challenges to them could fail, because judges often pretend that governmental religious declarations aren't actually religious. For example, after members of Congress pandering to religious believers branded "In God We Trust" on money and inserted "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance, federal courts shrugged off these church-state breaches, saying they're merely "ceremonial deism" with no "significant religious content."
In May, the Supreme Court said it was OK for the town of Greece, N.Y., to open council meetings with prayers exalting "the saving sacrifice of Christ on the cross." Five conservative justices ruled that such invocations are merely "ceremonial." (Perhaps, privately, they understand that public prayers are meaningless lip service that nobody believes.)
Any intelligent person can see that official government decrees of supernatural belief are gross constitutional violations. Court rulings to the contrary are absurd, almost comical.
If anyone wants to tackle the holy preambles and worship clauses in the 50 states, I wish them god(less)speed. Here's an alphabetical list of the relevant clauses:
Alabama 1901: We the people of the State of Alabama, invoking the favor and guidance of Almighty God, do ordain and establish the following Constitution.
Alaska 1956: We, the people of Alaska, grateful to God and to those who founded our nation and pioneered this great land.
Arizona 1911: We, the people of the State of Arizona, grateful to Almighty God for our liberties, do ordain this Constitution.
Arkansas 1874: We, the people of the State of Arkansas, grateful to Almighty God for the privilege of choosing our own form of government.
California 1879: We, the People of the State of California, grateful to Almighty God for our freedom.
Colorado 1876: We, the people of Colorado, with profound reverence for the Supreme Ruler of the Universe.
Connecticut 1818: The People of Connecticut, acknowledging with gratitude the good Providence of God in permitting them to enjoy.
Delaware 1897: Through Divine Goodness all men have, by nature, the rights of worshipping and serving their Creator according to the dictates of their consciences.
Florida 1845: We, the people of the State of Florida, grateful to Almighty God for our constitutional liberty.
Georgia 1777: We, the people of Georgia, relying upon the protection and guidance of Almighty God, do ordain.
Hawaii 1959: We, the people of Hawaii, grateful for Divine Guidance, establish this Constitution.
Idaho 1889: We, the people of the State of Idaho, grateful to Almighty God for our freedom, to secure its blessings.
Illinois 1870: We, the people of the State of Illinois, grateful to Almighty God for the civil, political and religious liberty which He hath so long permitted us to enjoy and looking to Him for a blessing on our endeavors.
Indiana 1851: We, the People of the State of Indiana, grateful to Almighty God for the free exercise of the right to choose our form of government.
Iowa 1857: We, the People of the State of Iowa, grateful to the Supreme Being for the blessings hitherto enjoyed, and feeling our dependence on Him for a continuation of these blessings.
Kansas 1859: We, the people of Kansas, grateful to Almighty God for our civil and religious privileges.
Kentucky 1891: We, the people of the Commonwealth of Kentucky, grateful to Almighty God for the civil, political and religious liberties.
Louisiana 1921: We, the people of the State of Louisiana, grateful to Almighty God for the civil, political and religious liberties we enjoy.
Maine 1820: We, the People of Maine, acknowledging with grateful hearts the goodness of the Sovereign Ruler of the Universe, and imploring His aid and direction.
Maryland 1776: We, the people of the state of Maryland, grateful to Almighty God or our civil and religious liberty.
Massachusetts 1780: We, the people of Massachusetts, acknowledging with grateful hearts the goodness of the Great Legislator of the Universe, in the course of His Providence, an opportunity and devoutly imploring His direction.
Michigan 1908: We, the people of the State of Michigan, grateful to Almighty God for the blessings of freedom.
Minnesota 1857: We, the people of the State of Minnesota, grateful to God for our civil and religious liberty, and desiring to perpetuate its blessings.
Mississippi 1890: We, the people of Mississippi in convention assembled, grateful to Almighty God, and invoking His blessing on our work.
Missouri 1845: We, the people of Missouri, with profound reverence for the Supreme Ruler of the Universe, and grateful for His goodness.
Montana 1889: We, the people of Montana, grateful to Almighty God for the blessings of liberty.
Nebraska 1875: We, the people, grateful to Almighty God for our freedom.
Nevada 1864: We, the people of the State of Nevada, grateful to Almighty God for our freedom.
New Hampshire 1792 (Part I. Art. I. Sec. V): Every individual has a natural and unalienable right to worship God according to the dictates of his own conscience.
New Jersey 1844: We, the people of the State of New Jersey, grateful to Almighty God for civil and religious liberty which He hath so long permitted us to enjoy, and looking to Him for a blessing on our endeavors.
New Mexico 1911: We, the People of New Mexico, grateful to Almighty God for the blessings of liberty.
New York 1846: We, the people of the State of New York, grateful to Almighty God for our freedom, in order to secure its blessings.
North Carolina 1868: We, the people of the State of North Carolina, grateful to Almighty God, the Sovereign Ruler of Nations, for our civil, political, and religious liberties, and acknowledging our dependence upon Him for the continuance of those.
North Dakota 1889: We, the people of North Dakota, grateful to Almighty God for the blessings of civil and religious liberty, do ordain.
Ohio 1852: We, the people of the State of Ohio, grateful to Almighty God for our freedom, to secure its blessings and promote our common welfare, do establish this Constitution.
Oklahoma 1907: Invoking the guidance of Almighty God, in order to secure and perpetuate the blessings of liberty.
Oregon 1857 (Bill of Rights, Art. I. Sec. 2): All men shall be secure in the Natural right to worship Almighty God according to the dictates of their consciences.
Pennsylvania 1776: We, the people of Pennsylvania, grateful to Almighty God for the blessings of civil and religious liberty, and humbly invoking His guidance.
Rhode Island 1842: We the People of the State of Rhode Island, grateful to Almighty God for the civil and religious liberty which He hath so long permitted us to enjoy, and looking to Him for a blessing.
South Carolina 1778: We, the people of the State of South Carolina, grateful to God for our liberties, do ordain and establish this Constitution.
South Dakota 1889: We, the people of South Dakota, grateful to Almighty God for our civil and religious liberties, establish this.
Tennessee 1796 (Art. XI): That all men have a natural and indefeasible right to worship Almighty God according to the dictates of their conscience.
Texas 1845: We the People of the Republic of Texas, acknowledging, with gratitude, the grace and beneficence of God.
Utah 1896: Grateful to Almighty God for life and liberty, we establish this Constitution.
Vermont 1777: Whereas all government ought to enable the individuals who compose it to enjoy their natural rights, and other blessings which the Author of Existence has bestowed on man.
Virginia 1776 (Bill of Rights): Religion, or the Duty which we owe our Creator, can be directed only by Reason, and that it is the mutual duty of all to practice Christian Forbearance, Love and Charity towards each other.
Washington 1889: We the People of the State of Washington, grateful to the Supreme Ruler of the Universe for our liberties, do ordain this Constitution.
West Virginia 1872: Since through Divine Providence we enjoy the blessings of civil, political and religious liberty, we, the people of West Virginia, reaffirm our faith in and constant reliance upon God.
Wisconsin 1848: We, the people of Wisconsin, grateful to Almighty God for our freedom, domestic tranquility.
Wyoming 1890: We, the people of the State of Wyoming, grateful to God for our civil, political, and religious liberties.
James A. Haught, longtime editor of the Charleston Gazette in West Virginia, is the author of the 2010 book, Fading Faith: The Rise of the Secular Age.
Name: Robin Buckallew.
Where I live: Hastings, Neb.
Where and when I was born: Alameda, Calif., 1960.
Family: My husband, Fritz, a retired librarian who shares my love of good books, art movies and theater; my son, Chris, 32, who now lives in Alameda and works with computers; my Irish setter, Murph, who never demands to be the center of attention and has managed to prevent the postman from breaking into the house and killing us.
Education: I have bachelor's degrees in political science and biology, an M.S. in biology, a Ph.D. in environmental science and a master of fine arts in playwriting.
Occupation: I teach environmental science and other science courses to college students.
Military service: None, but I did volunteer with Service to Military Families at the Oklahoma City Red Cross for three years.
How I got where I am today: It was a combination of genetics and environment, and my family can take substantial blame (or credit) for both! I was raised in a fundamentalist Christian family but created havoc by starting to ask questions when I was 10. I stopped praying, but continued asking questions. Instead of going to heaven, I decided to go to college.
Where I'm headed: I hope I'm headed for Broadway (as a playwright, not an actor), but I'd be content with the small stage. Then, when it's all over, I plan to be fertilizer. That seems to me the most fitting end for someone who has spent years studying plants.
Person in history I admire: Robert Ingersoll — not only a great thinker but a great orator and an all-round good guy. Charles Darwin, who was willing to set aside what he thought was true and accept what the evidence showed. I wish we could all do that. Lorraine Hansberry, who managed to get to Broadway in spite of being female, black and a nonbeliever.
A quotation I like: "I did not see why the schoolmaster should be taxed to support the priest, and not the priest the schoolmaster." — Henry David Thoreau.
I also like Carl Sagan's answer to a young man worried how he would have meaning in his life if there were no God: "Do something meaningful."
These are a few of my favorite things: My husband, sunsets, cats, reading, photography, theater. Any activity that managed to combine all of these into one would be my idea of "heaven."
These are not: People who go on about my "god-given gift." People who say there is a reason for everything. People who can't figure out whether to use to, too or two. Porch missionaries who insist on asking me how I explain everything around us and argue when I answer evolution and organic chemistry. Athletes who point to the sky every time they score.
My doubts about religion started: When I was 10 and my grandmother gave me my first "grown-up" bible. I actually read it, and the stories didn't quite match what was in my bible stories for children book. Then, when I went to high school, I began to doubt even more when I learned mythology. So many gods, most of whom no one believes in anymore, caused me to wonder about "my" god. I wrote a letter to the ancient Greeks to explain what we believed, and realized it sounded as weird as what they believed.
Still, I didn't use the word "atheist" to describe myself until I was 45. I called myself a deist for a while, then used agnostic. Once I started calling myself atheist, people always said, "Surely you mean agnostic," which only made me more likely to use atheist, because I will no longer let other people define for me what I believe.
Before I die: I would like to complete my women of the bible play series and manage to put on a festival of them. I would like to take a tour of Europe. I would like to discover and name a previously unknown species of plant.
Ways I promote freethought: I am the faculty adviser for the secular student club at our college, and I have brought in speakers. I have a local atheist meet-up that currently has about 32 members. I wear my freethought T-shirts around locally and on trips to Lincoln and have had conversations with people about freethought as a result. I write freethought novels. I am currently working on starting a freethought play festival, and as soon as I find a venue, I have some theater professionals who are willing to help me.
I wish you'd have asked me: What freethought books have I written? I have written several books that are freethought fiction. Four are currently in print. The first I wrote was called The Diary of Mrs. Noah. It is a new take on what is obviously a myth. The second is called Transformation. It takes place in a world where the church has taken over, banned the birth control pill and women working, and just in general made a nuisance of themselves. Yesterday & Tomorrow is about a woman who meets a man claiming to be the devil, which leads to a rethinking about who is really good and who is evil.
The last one, Alpha & Omega, is about the adventures of a police detective who encounters a very old man claiming to be Paul of Tarsus. Paul leads him on a battle against the Catholic Church. This is actually a trilogy, but the last two aren't out yet. I am also working on a book of freethought short stories called The Wandering Atheist that is still in the editing process.
December and January complaint letters went to:
Contact: Wis. Dept. of Revenue, Madison
Violation: The department put up a display featuring a cross, stars of Bethlehem, and religious messages, many emphasizing the word "JESUS" in large, bold font.
Contact: Douglasville, Ga.; Saltillo, Miss.; Rolling Hills, Calif.; Bandera County, Texas; Fayette County, Texas; Poplar Grove, Ill.; Trenton, Mich.; Grundy County, Ill.; North Ogden, Utah; Rainbow City, Ala.; Roane County, W.Va.; Elkhorn, Wis.; Brodhead, Wis., Walworth County, Wis., Glencoe City, Ala.; Higginsville, Mo.; and New Orleans.
Violation: These cities hosted nativity scenes on public property or endorsed live nativity displays.
Contact: Grapevine-Colleyville ISD, Texas
Violation: Cross Timbers Middle School partnered with Grace Christmas Cottage, an overtly Christian organization, to run a holiday gift program.
Contact: Montgomery, La.
Violation: The town hosted a Christmas celebration which was advertised on the town's Facebook page under a large banner of a nativity scene that said "The Town of Montgomery is PROUD to keep CHRIST in our Christmas celebrations."
Contact: Copperas Cove ISD, Texas
Violation: Two Halstead Elementary teachers taught students the story of Jesus' birth and explained that Christmas celebrates his birthday.
Contact: Mooresville Graded School District, N.C.
Violation: A teacher at Park View Elementary School taught students the Christian nativity story and made them draw part of the nativity. Another teacher polled students about whether they were Christians.
Senior Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert noted that FFRF staff attorneys sent 1,053 official complaint letters in 2014. The letters resulted in 219 legal victories to date, with more to follow.
Texas topped the list of states that got the most letters, followed by Florida, California, Ohio, Georgia, Alabama, Wisconsin, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Oklahoma rounding on the top 10.
Top 10 issue areas were schools, miscellaneous, nativity/holiday displays, legislative prayer, chaplains, religion in the workplace (tie with prayer breakfasts), church bulletin discounts, Good Friday closings and religion in the military.
FFRF's four-story building and general expansion has been the topic of two local profiles in its hometown of Madison, Wis.
FFRF's growth made the Jan. 3 front page of the Wisconsin State Journal in a story by Doug Erickson, "Busy time for Madison nonprofit," which featured sneak preview photos of the building's interior. Doug quoted Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor saying of FFRF's prominent downtown location, two blocks from the Capitol: "We like to be in the thick of things." She added: We see more growth, more productivity."
The story mentioned principal founder Anne Nicol Gaylor, 88, and her fiscal conservatism, which made possible the reserves that, combined with membership generosity, made the capital campaign possible.
The article pictured Dan Barker, FFRF co-president, touring the "Above Us Only Sky" Kenneth Proulx Cupola, the Charlie Brooks Auditorium with its Steinway concert grand, contributed by Diane Uhl, and balconies. Read the story at http://bit.ly/1At2iup.
Isthmus, Madison's news weekly, ran a Jan. 29 cover story, "Freedom From Religion Foundation: The nation's largest group of freethinkers strives to improve the image of atheists," by Steven Potter. The in-depth story touches on FFRF's lawsuits, activist and freethought point of view.
Read the Isthmus story at http://bit.ly/1zNT2mt.
FFRF legal staff sent a wide variety of complaint letters in December, including the following. (See sidebar for Christmas and crèche complaints.)
Contact: Cherry Creek School District, Colo.
Violation: Teachers at Pine Ridge Elementary School hung two religious displays for Veterans Day: a "God Bless You" bulletin board and the poem/hymn "Lord, Guard and Guide."
Contact: Palm Beach County Commission, Fla.
Violation: Commissioners take turns saying prayers at meetings, typically asking citizens present to rise for the invocation.
Contact: Texas A&M University, College Station
Violation: The college broadcasts prayers over the intercom at every Corps of Cadets meal.
Contact: Wicomico County Public Schools, Md.
Violation: Northwestern Elementary School described Mardela Springs Wesleyan Church as its "official Faith-Based Partner." Students reportedly know the church's pastor as the "school pastor," and the church started an evening kids' program at the school through which "many children have been introduced to the Gospel and have given their hearts to Jesus."
Contact: Akron Public Schools, Ohio
Violation: A teacher at Buchtel Community Learning Center started and runs a religious club at the school.
Contact: San Juan USD, Calif.
Violation: A Spanish teacher showed a religious movie whose plot revolved around many aspects of Catholicism.
Contact: Oxford City Schools, Ala.; Cartersville City Schools, Ga.; Craven County Schools, N.C.
Violation: The districts hosted bible distributions.
Contact: Seminole County Schools, Fla.
Violation: Students at Lawton Chiles Middle School were presented with four cards to choose from to send cards to soldiers. One included a bible verse and another depicted a nativity scene.
Contact: Laurens County Schools, Ga.
Violation: Schools in the district regularly organize prayers before athletic events.
Contact: Brownwood Police Department, Texas
Violation: The department employs a police chaplain.
Contact: Vallejo City USD, Calif.
Violation: Superintendent Ramona Bishop appeared in her official capacity in a promotional video for a Christian dominionist group.
Contact: Clairton City School District, Pa.
Violation: Football coaches at Clairton High School engage in postgame prayers.
Contact: La Porte ISD, Texas
Violation: La Porte Junior High was scheduled to hold a choir concert in a church.
Contact: Mobile County Public School District, Ala.
Violation: A Semmes Elementary School teacher's Thanksgiving study guide included overly religious descriptions of the holiday.
Contact: Marshall County Schools, Ky.
Violation: Benton Elementary School gave parents an ad for a religious program with school forms.
Contact: Frontier Central School District, N.Y.
Violation: Big Tree Elementary School's principal regularly discusses religion at school-sponsored events. Past statements reportedly included, "We need more prayers in our school," and, "I run Big Tree as a Christian school."
Contact: Pennsauken Public Schools, N.J.
Violation: Pennsauken High School featured religious content, including prayers, hymns and a religious speaker at its senior awards ceremony.
Contact: Sheridan County School District #2, Wyo.
Violation: K-Life, a Christian youth group, circulates in school lunchrooms to proselytize and advertise K-Life.
Contact: Joshua ISD, Texas
Violation: A cross hung on the wall of the ninth-grade campus building.
Contact: Newton County Commissioners, Ga.
Violation: The commission approved a religious display that included the Ten Commandments.
Contact: City of Barberton, Ohio
Violation: The city's offices close on Good Friday.
Contact: Bartow County Schools, Ga.
Violation: Euharlee Elementary School showed students a Christian film.
Contact: Cleburne County Public Schools, Ala.
Violation: An eighth-grade teacher assigned her students two religious books.
Contact: Okaloosa County School District, Fla.
Violation: Ruckel Middle School held a choir concert in a church sanctuary. The pastor addressed the audience and introduced the program.
Contact: Pratt USD 382, Kan.
Violation: Staff at the Haskins Learning Center distributed gifts to students with tags quoting the John 3:16 bible verse.
Contact: Moore County Schools, N.C.
Violation: Pinecrest High School held a soccer team awards banquet that began with a prayer for all students and attendees.
Contact: Wakulla County Commission, Fla.
Violation: The commission was considering a proposal to add "In God We Trust" to its chambers.
This speech was given on October 24, 2014, at FFRF's 37th annual convention at the Biltmore Hotel in Los Angeles.
For a long time, FFRF has been offering the "Emperor Has No Clothes" award to prominent people who tell it like it is about religion. It comes from the Hans Christian Andersen story about the naked emperor who pretended he was wearing clothes, and the young boy who was unafraid to say, "He's got nothing on!"
Today we're very honored to present this award to an internationally known paleoanthropologist. He's worked in Ethiopia, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan. For the past 40 years, he's conducted field and laboratory research. You might know Donald C. Johanson as the discoverer of the fossil Lucy.
Lucy, the first discovered member of Australopithecus afarensis, thought to be a distant ancestor of modern humans, was dated to 3.2 million years ago. Five years ago, I had what was very close to, or maybe parallels a religious experience, when I was in Times Square at the Discovery Center where Lucy is on display. I was the only one in the room, looking at what I thought was my great-great-great-great-grandma. I got goose bumps.
Donald is now the founding director of the Institute of Human Origins, an evolution think tank at Arizona State University. We've been inviting him for many years to our convention to speak, but it always coincided with some expedition he was going on. We have limited copies of his beautiful book called Lucy's Legacy: The Quest for Human Origins.
He's an ardent freethinker and nonbeliever. We're excited to be featuring Donald in an upcoming FFRF educational ad in Scientific American.
[Presenting award]: Thank you for telling it like it is, and saying that the emperor has no clothes.
By Donald C. Johanson
Thank you so much! Wow, we're really here. What a wonderful introduction. I was sitting over there thinking, "Who's he talking about?" You know, often I go to a sold-out crowd and they all think that Don Johnson [the actor] is coming to speak. They don't read very well.
I was thinking that I haven't read the fine print on what it means to agree with and accept this [award], so I thought I would bring it up at the beginning and ask that if I have a born again experience, do I magically see clothes on this sculpture?
This has been a very important part of my life, the study of who we are and where we come from. It has immense implications, philosophical and otherwise, everything from medicine to how we look at and treat one another.
I truly believe in understanding the deep roots of humanity, and the very simple fact that we now know it is based on an "out of Africa" experience, is vital to knowing who we are.
For so many years, beginning in 1856 with the discovery of the Neanderthal skull in Germany, all these white European males got together and figured out that Europe was the finishing school for humanity. Well, that's all, as we say, ancient history.
A guiding principle for me throughout my career has not necessarily been discovery-driven, to find a specimen, although I did, on the 24th of November, 40 years ago. Somebody asked me, "What's the big difference between you and Lucy?" I said, "Well, when I look at Lucy, she doesn't look a day older."
As I was saying, it wasn't necessarily that I was hoping to make this colossal discovery of a creature that has become pretty much an icon in terms of paleontology or paleoanthropology, but it was to understand our place in nature. The book that launched my intrigue about where we've come from was a book entitled Man's Place in Nature by Thomas Henry Huxley, who was a tea-drinking buddy of Charles Darwin.
They often sat and noodled on the question of human evolution. I can see them in Darwin's garden in Kent while they discussed how they were going to bring this shocker to the Victorian world of Great Britain, that we actually descended from the apes. Darwin, as you well know, was very reluctant to do that because he didn't want to upset the household, as his wife Emma was very religious.
And he only said that light would be thrown on the origin of man, until 1871 in his Descent of Man, when he articulated a number of scenarios for that. I read Man's Place in Nature and realized the importance of this subject, for which paleoanthropology wasn't really a moniker until the late '50s or so. I realized that we have a remarkable record preserved in Earth's geological strata that connects us with the past, with each other, and I think very importantly, connects us with the natural world.
We know, every single one of us in this room, who the creator was — Mother Nature. I will have much more to say about that as we get into this discussion.
Dinosaurs 'left behind'
Someone said, "What was the most surprising thing about discovering Lucy?" I said, "Well, nobody even knew she was missing."
I've also been asked to comment on why I'm an atheist. I've always been an atheist. I didn't have to be converted to atheism. I went to church when I was about 12 years old. I remember it distinctly in Hartford, Conn. Some friends, who were Scandinavians, too, convinced me. They said, "You should come to the Svedish Lutheran Church here on Sunday to see vat they are talking about."
So I got up unusually early, disturbing my mother, who said, "Ver are you going?" I said, "I'm going to church." She said, "Vat are you doing that fer?" Anyway, I went to church and came home, and then she said, "Deed they ask you fer money?" I said, "Yeah, they did."
And she said, this little uneducated housekeeper from Sweden who immigrated when she was 16, deciding the New World was where everything was happening, "The first thing they'll do is control you, then they will instill fear in you, and then they will take your money."
So at about 11 or 12, I went to see my mentor, who was a German anthropologist (big surprise) whom I'd met one day, and he gave me a short course in comparative religions, how every society has, does and will have some sort of creation myth. Of course lots of them were much more intriguing than a virgin birth or Noah's ark — how'd you like the job of cleaning the poop up on that? — or original sin.
The thing that alarmed me most about Noah's ark was that if this creator and Noah were such wonderful people, why did they leave the dinosaurs behind?
I began to realize that believing in a creator being — someone I couldn't see, someone who's keeping track of me, someone I'd be afraid of — was really not my cup of tea. I was much more of a freethinker, as we say, and as I went through high school, I had a very adequate education at a public high school, which we should all bring back.
I lived in Berkeley for years, and my favorite bumper sticker said, "If you think education's expensive, try ignorance." During my education, I began to really understand that if I were to believe in this mythical creator — you know we only had one choice, right, since the downsizing? If you lived in Greece, we'd have a whole bunch of gods we could have prayed to, but now, with cutbacks and so on, we're down to one — that I would have to unfortunately totally reject my objectivity and logic and leap into total fantasy.
I just couldn't see the benefit of that.
A grand theory
As we all know, if someone in the church doesn't know, they say, "Therefore, God," and I say "I don't know, let's find out." Science is such a rewarding, creative and charming way of looking at the universe. So why do people so resist evolution, the grand unifying theory of biology?
Think about this. Bring it up at the next astrophysics talk you go to when they explain the origins of the cosmos and string theory and particles that go faster than the speed of light so that they're younger when they extinguish than when they were born. You go home and think that it was all very logical and someone goes, "What was the talk about?" You say, "Well, I just, I don't know exactly." They're trying to figure out the grand unifying theory of the universe, right? It's a pretty big question.
Yet a retiring Englishman who went off on a five-year boat cruise once figured out the grand unifying theory of biology. The robustness of the "theory" of evolution is that: The same tenets that Darwin suggested and proffered in the middle 1800s are still the core ideas of biology. If Darwin were sitting in the back of the room and I mentioned DNA, he wouldn't have a clue. He didn't know things were inherited. He observed and interpreted and understood how important that elusive thing natural selection is, and how powerfully explanatory it is.
I suspect most people just don't think. I don't want to be too anti-clerical or anti-church; I respect people's beliefs and I don't try to destroy them. I understand that if you were born in X culture, you believe in X god, and if you were in Z culture, you believe in Z god, and so on. Before I knew about FFRF, I used to say that we have freedom of religion, but not freedom from religion in America.
Darwin, if he were alive today, would probably be very happy with this poster ["In Reason We Trust"]. I want you to support science and reason. So take God's name off our money we all worship and replace it with "In Science We Trust." I don't think we'll do that, but we do need to get God's name off our money. There's no question.
The anti-science aspect of religion is what bothers me most intensely. It's personified in this cartoon: "Welcome to church, you won't be needing that [your brain] in here." Just take this brilliant organ out that has evolved over 6 million years of natural selection, that happens to put us at the pinnacle of intelligent life on the planet, in the solar system, and maybe even in the universe, to be so bold.
In whose image?
I think we have been given the wrong name by the Swede, Linnaeus, who called us Homo sapiens, meaning "wise man." You read the same newspaper stories I do — people shooting people on high school campuses, etc., etc., going after people with axes in New York. We are wise men? We are still a work in progress, a long way from where we should call ourselves human.
A more appropriate name would be Homo egocentricus. Whom do you think about most of the time? Come on admit it, even as an atheist, it's yourself. We think about ourselves. We think about our parents, grandparents, children, grandchildren, maybe five generations of time. But the Earth is billions of years old; life is 3.5 billion years old on this planet. We believe that we're the pinnacle of evolution, that everything was designed to make white European males.
There's something very impersonal to most people about natural selection. It isn't touchy-feely like a god that creates us in his image. Who'd he look like? You? You? You? We created him in our image, obviously, not in his image.
You often see, and sometimes even television documentaries go at this from the wrong perspective, that Darwin is dead. No argument with that. He is dead, I agree. Evolution is just a theory. Right, you know what? Isaac Newton is dead, too. But gravity ain't going away, even if his ideas were called the "theory" of gravity.
I regularly lecture at colleges, universities and museums. It's always interesting to say, "Raise your hand if you believe in evolution." And you know, there's a certain percentage that do. I say, "It may all surprise you that I don't believe in evolution" — there's this big sigh of relief — "any more than I believe in gravity." It doesn't take belief; this is a fact. If you let something go, it's going to fall to the ground. You don't have to believe in gravity, it is a fact.
In biology, going back to Darwin, I think it was Dobzhansky, the great geneticist, who said that "In biology, nothing makes sense except in the light of evolution." Evolution is a fact, it's not good, it's not bad, it has no moral compass. Just like gravity, it doesn't care if your grandmother's favorite Dresden china falls to the floor in the middle of an earthquake (which we could have any minute here).
Evolution doesn't care if tens of thousands of people die of Ebola. Ebola doesn't kill you because you're a bad person or some kind of deviant. It kills you very simply because you don't have a resistance to Ebola. Those who live through Ebola who had no medical care probably have a resistance to Ebola. I've never heard anybody say, like with sickle cell anemia and malaria, let's go find out why those people didn't die from Ebola.
From my perspective, I think that a scientific strategy, especially a biological one, with a full understanding of natural selection, gene recombination, mutation, etc., and a more aggressive approach to Ebola, would have gone much further than we have come thus far. But the West, which has the ability to do that, was fiddling away while Ebola was burning its path through western Africa, decimating people and setting its sights on places like Europe and North America.
Human beings care. That's one of the marvelous exciting things about us. That's also why I love dogs. They care, too, but we care because of our family values, because of our moral compass, because we are human beings and because we are alive. We so often forget what that means.
Richard Dawkins, my distinguished friend, says essentially, "We are the lucky ones because we're going to die." Why are we going to die? Because we were born. If there were two genes' difference, you would not be you. You would be someone else.
We need to cherish that, and we have to understand that this is an exciting opportunity to be alive and not sit around and worry about some omnipotent being keeping score to decide whether we're going to end up in eternal ecstasy or unending damnation. As I say, how could he have time to keep score on each one of us? He's so damn busy helping people sink 6-foot putts in Arizona and get extra points in football games. He doesn't have time to keep track of us.
The problem is that people's prayers don't get answered. Why? Well, here it was in The New Yorker [cartoon]: "God finds all the prayers of mankind in his spam folder." We now have an explanation.
One of the things about natural selection, which we all grow up learning, is the survival of the fittest. I was taught by my mentor at age 13 that it's really the elimination of the unfit. If you think about it, that's a better way to look at it.
The problem with natural selection is you can't weigh it, you can't see it, you can't buy it from Edmond's Scientific, it doesn't come in the color blue or in G flat major. It is that fact — one cannot see it, we can only see the results of it — that makes people so reluctant. They have to see a guiding hand or a guiding force that they can imagine or pray to.
Bad rap for atheists
Atheists, and I guess there are a few in this room, get a pretty bad rap, very often. Religious people accuse us of lacking morals, having no family values. Well, unless I'm reading the wrong newspapers, I don't recall any atheists out there beheading people, stoning women or burning people at the stake.
We're accused of not being spiritual. Look at that earthrise over the moon. Does that move you, does that touch you? Does that excite you? Walking home where I live most of the time now, in San Francisco, feeling the heavy fog caress my face at night, watching nesting birds and chicks born in a window box, these are moments of great inspiration and great spirituality. Our world is filled with endless moments of inspiration, real inspiration, available to each and every human being endowed with a conscious brain created by evolution. We need not rely on creation myths for inspiration.
Atheists are accused of not playing fair since we don't teach creationism in science class. Well, if you're going to teach creationism, why don't we teach astrology with astronomy? In medical school we'd have to teach witchcraft along with medicine, and alchemy with chemistry. Where's it going to end?
OK, you American Airlines pilots, today we're going to discuss the flat Earth. You get on a plane in L.A., you're hoping to see the Metropolitan Opera in New York, and the pilot believes in a flat Earth? You'll never get there.
Our main duty in getting to one of the core issues of what I'm talking about tonight is to reawaken a "reverence" for the natural world and our place in it. [We have a duty] to respect the creativity of the true creator, Mother Nature, to protect her, to take seriously our responsibilities as the most creative, but also the most destructive species that's ever lived on Earth.
The future is in our hands, and it is time that we stop turning our back on the natural world and start listening to her and working with her.
The Creation Museum [in Petersburg, Ky.] is one of our favorite places. Where else can you witness the science of cavemen cavorting with their favorite pet dinosaur, Skippy, 5,000 years ago?
Is this a time warp and we're back in the Dark Ages or something? This is lying, cheating, deceiving, warping and perverting people's knowledge. To make what? Money. How much money does the Creation Museum make at the same time it destroys young peoples' opportunities to look at the world through an open mind. That's what upsets me probably more than anything else about the museum.
Of course I thought I'd show you the great breakthroughs in science, from Marie Curie to the great accelerators and how much has been accomplished in religion. Well, part of my mission in life has been to educate people about the fossil evidence for human evolution.
A born-again, Francis Collins, asked me to give the single most important talk that I've given in years, on Darwin's 200th birthday, at the National Institutes of Health. He's deeply religious and is the head of the National Institutes of Health. What was most interesting about that morning when I was given 20 minutes to talk about 6 billion years of evolution — I spoke very quickly — was the tea time. Collins, whom I knew and had debated, and I had a huge interchange where he said, "Well, there are just some things that science can't explain." I said, "Yes, then it's not science."
Yet he in his liberated world invited me to give one of the keynote speeches. But the most important part of that exposure was the tea, when a couple of real scientists with white coats and nametags and all that came over. They said, "We just wanted to tell you how much we enjoyed your talk. We had no idea there was this much evidence for human origins. Because all we do is peer through these electron microscopes at microscopic things; we don't look at the big picture. Thank you for coming here and helping us understand who we are, where we come from and why we should be so grateful to be human."
That was unbelievable satisfaction.
This is the first shot [slide projection] of Hadar, Ethiopia, that I saw in 1972. It was a spiritual moment for me, looking out on these vast badlands, heavily dissected, eroding, layer after layer, rich in fossils. I was still at graduate school at the University of Chicago and this to me was — we shouldn't use that word "epiphany" — but it certainly was for me.
Tonight I was asked to say a few words about it, and it will only be a few words. You see me in the background, much thinner than I am today. My graduate student, in the foreground, is doing all the work. I was walking back to my Land Rover, glanced over my right shoulder and saw a piece of arm bone from an elbow, that little fragment of bone which allows you to flex and extend your arm, was the first piece of Lucy that I recognized.
I knew that because of all the studies in graduate school, anatomy, osteology, the study of bones and all that. And we were rewarded with this 3.2 million-year-old skeleton that picked up the popular moniker of Lucy, after "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds," which came from the Beatles tape that was playing that evening.
This woman on the expedition said, "If you think it's a female, Don, we should call her Lucy." I said, "Excuse me, I'm a Ph.D. We don't give cute little names to our fossils."
Well, you know what happens when the genie is out of the lamp. The next morning: "Are we going back to the Lucy site? Do you think we'll find more of Lucy's skeleton? How old do you think Lucy is?" She became an individual and now she is iconic. Some people think she's the dinosaur in Chicago, Sue [a T. rex discovered in 1990 in South Dakota].
Lucy is really the poster child for paleoanthropology and human origins. When you read about new fossil finds, they're either younger than Lucy, older than Lucy, more complete than Lucy, not as primitive as Lucy, or whatever. So this was a remarkable discovery for me. It launched an incredible 20-year series of expeditions. We now have over 400 specimens of Lucy's species, Australopithecus afarensis.
It also stimulated scientists, mostly young scientists, as it always is — the silverbacks like myself are more reluctant to change — to develop new methodologies and ways of understanding, examining and studying these specimens. She did play a very important role beginning in 1974.
And if you go to the Creation Museum, there she is. She's a four-legged, quadrupedal knuckle-walker. This is because of Dr. Ham. I don't know what he got his doctorate in, may have been one of those things you get at Sears [Dr. of literature, Liberty University].
There ain't no way that Lucy was walking on her knuckles and forelegs. A child goes in, sees this and is impressed by it. The child doesn't know one way or another.
My grandchild, Brendan, went to the California Academy of Sciences — he's 3 years old — with his father. His father says, "Let's take a picture next to Lucy, the thing your grandfather found." He refused to get his picture taken until I came and stood next to it. He knows that Lucy walked upright, doesn't bother him. It doesn't bother him that she's very old. He thought it was so neat that she came from apes.
It's terribly important that we don't shut these minds down so early. The longer you have a mind that is shut down the more time there is to develop and reinforce bigotry.
Make real sacrifices
Here [in a cartoon] he's saying, "Look, it's not personal, it's religious." There have been so many sacrifices in religion — burning at the stake, beheading people, stoning people to death or ripping their hearts out and eating a live pumping heart (if you're an Aztec) — what's that left us with? A bunch of dead bodies.
It didn't do much to stop the volcanic eruption, the drought never ended, it didn't dispel the locust invasion, did it? No, it did nothing. Yet you're going to be surprised that tonight I'm going to propose that all of us begin to make some real sacrifices.
What might those sacrifices be? Clean up the oceans. Quit throwing everything just because it disappears into oceans. Stop overfishing species that you hope will forever be present and available to you. When was the last time you saw orange roughy on a menu? Twenty years ago, and now it's gone.
Make some real sacrifices, sacrifices to Mother Nature, who will, unlike the false gods to whom we have made sacrifices, reward you. I guarantee that. Clean up the oceans, and you will live a healthier life. You will reduce the carcinogenic toxins that pollute our fish and poison us. Clean up our air, reduce carbon emissions and make a sacrifice. Buy a car that doesn't go as fast, that doesn't look as jazzy. Find alternate sources of power and build more efficient cars.
We will be rewarded with what? Healthy clean air with reduced pulmonary disease, and we'll all breathe a sigh of relief. I could go on and on about this, but I think you all get the gist. We live in a beautiful world.
Here [photograph] I was at Bryce Canyon not long ago. It is stunning to be out with nature. We're the fortunate ones, as I said. Each and every human being is, because we were born. It's our primary duty on this planet to be the guardians of its future for our children, grandchildren and many generations beyond that.
We need to stop being Homo egocentricus and start to become a more deeply contemplative species that makes decisions intelligently, not out of fear or self-interest and not because of how much money we're going to make. Make decisions that will help us regain the balance between ourselves and our creator, Mother Nature.
It's time, really, that as we look back on 4 million years of evolution, 3 million with Lucy. She is a link, not the missing link but one that reminds us of our link to the natural world.
Lucy didn't know where she was going; we don't know where we're going. She didn't know that her descendants would end up as Homo sapiens, but it's an interesting perspective to know that we are united by our past, that we have this commonality of beginning, that we undoubtedly will have a common future, and I think a common destiny globally.
The most important thing from here on forth is to stop acting as if there's some place else for us to move to. We are destined to be on, as my late friend Carl Sagan said, "this pale blue dot." Let's take those responsibilities seriously.
Thank you very much.