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Lead Us Not Into Penn Station:Provocative Pieces

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Lauryn Seering

Lauryn Seering

Justin Scott
Waterloo, Iowa, City Council
May 2, 2016

FFRF Member Justin Scott, also a member of the Cedar Valley Atheists and Eastern Iowa Atheists, delivered the first secular invocation in Waterloo, Iowa, City Council history. He also accepted the mayor's issuance of a "Day of Reason" proclamation for May 5, 2016, for the city. See page 19.

Thank you, mayor and council members, for this opportunity to hopefully provide an inspirational start to your meeting tonight and do so from a minority point of view. My name is Justin Scott. I am a proud atheist here in Waterloo and I stand before you all humbly representing the Cedar Valley Atheists, the Eastern Iowa Atheists and the growing and vibrant secular community across Waterloo and Iowa.

The secular community is made up of atheists, agnostics, humanists, secularists and skeptics predicated on community without the aid of the supernatural. It is also committed to defending and strengthening the separation of church and state while promoting positive non-theism and critical thinking. Regardless of the label they identify with, these are happy, compassionate and productive members of our society and I am proud to be representing them in this chamber tonight.

Tonight, as our elected officials work to make the best decisions for the city of Waterloo and the residents who call it home, instead of closing our eyes and bowing our heads in prayer, let us instead keep focused on the serious issues that our city government faces. And as our elected officials take on these issues in their thankless positions, let us all embrace the indelible words of some of the most influential freethinkers, past and present, starting with one of the leading astronomers of our time, Dr. Carl Sagan.

And I quote: Every one of us is, in the cosmic perspective, precious. End quote.

Regardless of the issues that get deliberated by this body tonight and in the future, regardless of the accomplishments and shortcomings of this chamber, it's with the sentiment of Dr. Sagan's comment that this chamber should conduct its business tonight and going forward. Each of us in here and across this city is precious; no citizen is more important than any other.

Let this chamber keep in mind that with every yay or nay vote, precious lives of Waterloo citizens will be affected, hopefully for better, but some for worse. While coming to their decisions, this chamber should rely solely on reason, observation and experience, or what Robert Ingersoll, "The Great Agnostic" of the mid-1800s, referred to as the "holy trinity of science."

Let this chamber deliberate with the understanding that not everyone in the room shares the same values, the same life experiences or same religious beliefs. These differences can help to enrich these governmental tasks but only when they aren't used to limit or censor free speech, denigrate or treat certain groups as second-class citizens or promote religious belief over nonbelief or one religious belief over all the others.

Let this chamber keep in mind that, in every circumstance, the minority viewpoint is just as valuable as the majority one. The rights and dignity of all Waterloo citizens should be respected regardless of their race, gender identity, sexuality, religious belief or lack thereof, for the future and well-being of our great city is enriched only when its diversity is embraced and equality for all is held as a guiding principle. With this said, I appeal to this chamber to follow one of the many tenets of humanism that reads, "We are concerned with securing justice and fairness in society and with eliminating discrimination and intolerance."

Let this chamber never forget that even though their beliefs often inspire their decisions, many decisions have real-world implications so they should never be made in haste. Every decision made in this chamber should be the product of informed reason, inquiry and skepticism. As the 18th-century philosopher David Hume reminds us, "Reason is, and ought only to be the slave of the passions, and can never pretend to any other office than to serve and obey them."

Just as you've welcomed an atheist to take part in this invocation process for the first time, you are encouraged to build on tonight to make your government even more open and accessible to more people, which will help make it as inclusive as possible. Open your arms to other Waterloo citizens living in the shadows of a certain minority group; together we truly will achieve more and the experience will be much more rewarding.
In closing, I'd like to leave you with a thought from Thomas Paine, Founding Father of the United States and English-American political activist: "The world is my country, all mankind are my brethren, and to do good is my religion."
Thank you.

Cheryl Kolbe
Clark County Board
Vancouver, Wash.
April 5, 2016

Cheryl Kolbe is the president of the Portland Area Chapter of FFRF, which she started in 2013. She first learned about FFRF from its billboard campaign in Portland in 2008 and attended her first convention in 2009 in Seattle. In 2012 she was elected an FFRF state representative.

Please be seated during this secular invocation.

Let us think about trust. Trust is the firm belief in the reliability, truth, ability or strength of someone or something.

What do the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights and the Constitution say about trust? Trust isn't mentioned in the Declaration of Independence or in the Bill of Rights. Our Constitution references an office of honor, trust, or profit, a reference to executive branch positions, and trust connotes the idea of a public trust that accrues to the office holder.

Some quotes on trust:

Paulo Freire, a Brazilian educator: "The trust of the people in the leaders reflects the confidence of the leaders in the people."

Our president, Barack Obama: "If the people cannot trust their government to do the job for which it exists — to protect them and to promote their common welfare — all else is lost."
May we treat each other with respect and courtesy. May we listen, not just to give the person their turn, but to hear and think about the value of their viewpoint.
It is easier to trust people who are most like us. Yet, in government, the challenge is to build trust in your very diverse community. May we recognize that we have many varying viewpoints, and may we recognize which of those viewpoints are relevant to county business and which are not.

"In God We Trust" reflects the view of many people. Those of us, like me, who do not trust in a god or any gods, are not part of 'we' and have a very different view. I encourage Clark County, as you move forward, to be as inclusive as possible.

When conducting Clark County business, let us all demonstrate to each other that we are trustworthy. With trust in each other, may we build a stronger and better Clark County.
Note: In February 2015 Clark County councilors voted to prominently display 'In God We Trust' in the main hearing room. That display is now on the wall.

Elizabeth Murad
Martin County Board
Stuart, Fla.
May 3, 2016

FFRF Member Elizabeth Murad was a nun for 13 years before leaving the Catholic Church in 1971 and becoming an atheist. She lives in Florida.

On behalf of the Humanists of the Treasure Coast, I would like to thank Martin County commissioners for inviting us to deliver today's invocation.

Let's begin this and every meeting with hope, reason and compassion. Let's put aside our personal differences and work toward the greater goal of building consensus in Martin County. Let's not be swayed by personal biases as to race, gender, politics or any of the things that may divide us.

Let's seek to find areas of agreement and work from there rather than focus on our differences. Let our voices be strong but respectful.

We are a Christian, Jewish, Muslim, humanist and atheist nation of people. We are a secular nation, with plenty of room for all of us in our beliefs and convictions.
So let's avoid the pitfalls that seem to swallow up so many political bodies. Let's envision a county dedicated to the well-being of all of our citizens.

Finally, let's show the world, or at least Florida, that we can disagree without rancor, name-calling or denigration of other views.

Thank you.

I have been a longtime member of FFRF, but, alas, not lifetime. I have terminal pancreatic cancer. However, because I am an atheist, I am not the least afraid of death. It is just as the great Raymond Chandler called it: The Big Sleep. And I like taking naps!

I am an atheist for many reasons, starting with the great atheist philosophers and essayists who have come before us, including Bertrand Russell, Robert Ingersoll and Sigmund Freud, and of course, the "New Atheists," Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett, A.C. Grayling, Steven Pinker and many others. Gore Vidal's essay "Monotheism and its Discontents" in The Nation magazine several years ago greatly influenced me.

But I am also, and most importantly, an atheist because of the wonderful community you have created with your great organization and expressed so beautifully and articulately in Freethought Today. I love the work you do in fighting the encroachment of religion into schools and government. I love the intelligent speeches from your conventions. I also love the essays from students, which make me confident that the future is in good hands. I love perhaps most of all the letters to the editor, which tell of personal journeys people have taken to a life of reason and rationality.

Now I live the fullest life I can, traveling as much as possible, visiting friends and family and watching baseball and my favorite movies and TV shows. I am not in pain, my chemo sessions are now benign and I am happy. Death is just part of life that we all must face. Because I am an atheist, I will not go into that "Big Sleep" with any fear that some utterly cruel fiend, whom many irrational people worship, is going to send me to an eternity of torture, which so many other dying people still fear today, much as they have done throughout history. I feel immensely sad for those people who have such fear of "what realms may come," that the last moments of their lives will be filled with abject terror. My last moments will be filled with life, friends, family and love.

Anthony G. Arlen
California

Anthony was born Oct. 13, 1949, and graduated from U.C.-Berkeley and Hastings College of Law. He practiced in the Sacramento area for 34 years until retiring in 2014. He has a wife, two sons and two daughters.

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Sharing the crank mail

Here's another installment of the sampling of the mail we get at FFRF from some of our critics. All are printed as received.

Question: hi, i was wondering why, if there is no god, the world seems to be on the way to fulfilling the bibles prophesies. (i.e. one world government, the beast, etc,) what i'm mainly concerned about is not getting the mark of the beast. — Joe Makowski, Ohio

It's Only The Beginning: Fkd-up-asshole? Obama and his fkd-up asshole? "justice" department forcing the North Carolina governor (and every federally-funded university, college, school, even tax-exempt church, synagogue, mosque, and all other IRS-monitored non-profit businesses across America) to let so-called "transgendered transsexual" males sneak or barge into female restrooms, changing rooms, and open-shower locker rooms to molest, rape, then dismember terrified little girls might only be the beginning. Wait until they demand such perverts invade private residences all across the United States to do the same thing, imposing the tyrannical excuse of "non-discrimination" for "civil" "rights." — Delbert Frank

Freedom from atheists: You will be happier in Siberia — Liv, Nevada

East Liverpool High School: I recently read in our local paper about the FFRF threatening ELHS to remove the Lord's Prayer from graduation. I was part of the 2013 graduating class from ELHS, and I don't think that it is right for you people to dictate what the students can or cannot sing. I think that you need to butt-out, and leave it up to the students. This has not been an issue before. Mind your own business, no one is being hurt! I understand that it is a public school, and the school cannot force the students to participate. However, as a matter of fact, it is AGAINST The Constitution to prevent students from choosing to sing the song, and I dearly hope that they will choose to sing it any how. — Michael Trew, Ohio

You disgust me: I'm watching my local news in Jacksonville and see where you have decided to push back against Duval County Schools for allowing prayer at functions that involve the school system. You should mind your own liberal business in Wisconsin and stay out of my city. The paper you print your threats on should be red, the color of Hell because that's where you're going if you keep this type of nonsense up. This Country was founded on the principles of God, Faith in God and Country. If you don't like it then leave. Canada is just up the road, I suggest you start there.
— Ryan Pahlow, Florida

Despicable!: You people are nothing but a hate group. Your actions speak loudly on that fact. Why the heck do you go out and actively seek to bother people who don't bother you? You're not intellectuals or even intelligent in the basic sense for that matter. An intellectual is above attacking people, their faith and things that don't hurt anyone. Hatred exactly the same as the KKK or New Black Panthers.
— James Cook

Genoa High school: I just want you to know that you have awaken the sleeping giant in our community for those of us who believe in the cause of Christ. You KNOW that the constitution was not created to literally separate the government from the church but it was created to protect the church from the government AND ANYTHING THAT WOULDS SUPPRESS FREEDOM OF RELIGION. And you if you don't know this then you need to read your history books again as to why this Country was founded. You may try and remove everything that speaks to the cause of Christ in this Nation, but you cannot remove it from the hearts of people in this world. He has already won that victory. I do not believe that anyone in your organization finds hope or peace in your "freethinking" philosophy. That kind of peace and hope comes from Jesus Christ alone. — Shirley Braatz

Banning religious music: Having "Religious" Music banned from graduation is going against The Lord, who CREATED you for HIS purpose. If you don't like him, keep it to yourself. Religious music does not promote religion, it promotes a relationship with Jesus Christ, therefore Christianity is not a religion it's a founding faith in Jesus Christ, having a close relationship to him has lord and savior of your life. I am so disappointed in cults and antichrists trying to break that belief I believe in down. How dare you. That is blasphemy!!!! My heart breaks for you. Why would you want to bring down the creator of the universe who loves you doing that???? Huh? I'm so highly upset the way this world is turning into. If you would only think about his sacrifice for us, before banning that, you would realize how wrong you are and how right I am. It hurts me to see this kind of behavior! — Joshua Richardson

Constitution: I find it funny you claim to take people to court, public, when you are a minority, I will not only donate to lawyers to stop you but the 1st ammendment gaurentees me freedom of religion not from. You must stop stupid stuff,look at how we were founded And the seperation of church and state is not in the constutition — Matt Roberts

Idiots: You are all idiots taking God out of the school system. That's what's wrong with America! — Jason Carboni

Your agenda: I've read a lot of news lately about your group writing to places all over the world demanding the removal of Religious themes. This angers me intensely. Why do you insist on doing Lucifer's work? Do you really think Lucifer can be trusted? Do you really believe if you follow Lucifer's will, you will be rewarded in this life or the next? Millions have been duped by Lucifer and your group is one of them. Sadly, there isn't a Freedom from People with Low IQ's foundation, then people could just worship God freely without being worried about upsetting some atheists feelings. Oxymoron if I ever heard one. An atheist with feelings? yea, it' doesnt sound right, does it. — Jim James

port neches: dont know how yall think u won in port neches tx.basically the city bitch slapped yall in the face cause now the cross will be a permanent fixture in port neches park.yall need to go where ppl want yall we dont want yall down here — Paul Marshall, Texas

Please forward this to your attorney: You do not have a say on private property or in cemeteries. Cemeteries is considered private property by law nationwide. I will tell all local, national and worldwide media to ignore your want for media attention and do not broadcast about your org or your agenda. We can sue you for discriminating against Christians. That would hold in court nationwide. — Mike Palmer

By Dan Barker

He was "my only father," which is how I referred to him in the dedication of my book, Losing Faith in Faith. He died on the evening of May 13 at the age of 90. Dad's death occurred on Friday the 13th, which he would have appreciated, since he spent his final decades as a proudly non-superstitious person.

Our mom had died in 2004, but thanks to my brother Darrell and his wife Suzan, a geriatric nurse, Dad was able to live out his life at home in Shelton, Wash., his needs tended by a loving family to the very end.

Dad was a member of the Lenape Tribe (Delaware Indians), which had been Christianized by Baptists and Moravians in the 1830s. His family's memories involved regular church-going. His grandmother Lizzie's favorite song, while raising a large family in Indian Territory before and after Oklahoma statehood, was "Rock of Ages." Jack and Lizzie's son Herbert moved to California in the 1920s with his 18-year-old half-Cherokee wife Marie. Norman Secoyah Barker, the second of their four boys, was born the year of the Scopes Trial. (They knew how to spell "Sequoia," but preferred the Indian way of writing the name of the man who invented the Cherokee alphabet.)

Dad had played the trombone every day of his life since high school. You can see him playing trombone in some old movies from the 1940s, most notably in Irving Berlin's 1948 "Easter Parade," where Judy Garland puts her arm around him while singing "I Want To Go Back To Michigan (Down on the Farm)."

Dad was an original member of Hoagy Carmichael's band "The Teenagers," who played during Hoagy's "Something New" radio show on Mondays in 1945–46. Dad met my mother Patricia (Patsy) in a dance band. That was the night his brother Ray got sick and needed him to sub for him on the trombone. Norman accompanied Patsy while she sang "These Foolish Things," then made the not-so-foolish decision to get married in 1947.

After playing in Big Bands during the 1940s, Dad found religion in a big way. He threw away all his "worldly" records, went to bible school and became a church lay leader. During my teen years our born-again evangelical family used to perform and preach at California churches: I played piano, my brothers played trumpet and trombone, my Mom sang beautifully, and Dad preached and played the trombone.

Norman was an Anaheim City Police officer for 22 years. He says one of the high moments of his career was when he pulled over his mother-in-law for speeding through town. He gave her a warning and a smile.

Like my Dad, I went to bible school and ended up preaching the "good news" of hell for 19 years. When my parents got my 1984 letter of deconversion to atheism, they were surprised, but eventually both became atheists. Mom, a Sunday School teacher, was first to deconvert. She told a reporter that she was much happier as a nonbeliever because "I don't have to hate any more." Dad threw in the towel a couple of years later after some friendly theological back-and-forth correspondence between the two of us. In the late 1980s, a happy nonbeliever, he told a reporter: "You think it's hard being a Christian in today's world? Try being an atheist!"

Dad kept up his musical chops as long as possible. In his late 80s he bought one of those orange plastic trombones that weigh only 3 pounds and sound just as nice.

At the very end, Dad put down his instrument and said he was ready to go. He was suffering from Parkinson's. The days were becoming impossibly difficult. He had stopped eating and drinking. Darrell and Suzan took him to the emergency room where he was diagnosed as terminal and allowed to be taken home under hospice care.

After he was admitted to the emergency room, his eyes closed in resignation (or determination), a nurse came in and asked him, "Are you ready to go see the angels and Jesus?"

Dad opened his right eye and stared at her. "No!" he said firmly.

"Dad is an atheist," Suzan informed the nurse, who never said another word.
He died five days later, asleep in his own bed without pain.

Dad didn't believe in life after death. All he wanted was to be buried next to Patsy in Mountain View cemetery in Mesa, Ariz., near where they had lived in retirement for a quarter century.

There will be no funeral or formal memorial service. Sometime in the near future, Darrell and I and some close family members will bury his ashes next to Mom's grave. Norman and Patricia Barker, long-time supporters of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, are honored on the wall of tiles in the vestibule of Freethought Hall, the national offices of FFRF.
Twenty hours after Dad's death, I played in a jazz band in Baraboo, Wis. He would have wanted me to keep gigging. In his memory, as my daughters Glen (Sabrina) and Rebecca were listening, we played "These Foolish Things."

Dad was a constant positive presence. He was very smart and extremely talented. His ego was secure. Relaxed and happy with life, he felt no need to be ambitious or aggressive. He was quick with a joke or a pun, delivered wryly with a repressed grin and sideways glance. He rarely complained about anything, even when we thought he should be more assertive about wrongs he had suffered. He was genuine, humble and unpretentious, with a smiling sparkle in his eye that gave away the fact that he had life all figured out. Family, friends and music — that's all that mattered.

Dan Barker is co-president of FFRF.

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In memoriam: Beatrice ‘Betty’ L. Petz

In memoriam: Beatrice 'Betty' L. Petz
1929-2016

FFRF member Beatrice "Betty" Lorraine Petz died April 29, 2016. She was born on Oct. 24, 1929, in Firozpur, India, where her father was stationed while in the British Army.

She later moved to Scotland, where she lived until 1948 when she met her future husband, Ralph Eric Petz. They married on June 8, 1948, and were married for 50 years before Ralph died in August 1998. Betty lived in Winona, Minn., for 53 years, living in the same home before moving to Sugar Loaf Assisted Living. She was actively involved at the Winona Art Center, where many of her oil paintings were displayed. She also was a talented seamstress, cook, gardener and landscaper. Betty traveled extensively in her lifetime throughout the United States, Asia and Europe, and made frequent visits to Scotland, Ireland and England to visit family. She was known to family and friends as being spunky, intelligent, independent, with liberal views on religion and politics.

She is survived by daughters Diane Petz and Jackie Petz; and son, Bruce Petz and his wife, Jan Petz. She is survived by grandchildren Jon Scharmer-Weinberg and his husband Edje, Jeffrey Scharmer and his wife Joan, Jessica Pena, and Andrew Petz and his wife Sarah. She also has seven great grandchildren.

Betty's daughter Diane wrote to FFRF and wanted to take over her mother's membership. "My mother was very forthright in telling our family about her beliefs," Diane Petz wrote. "Over the years, I have come to appreciate her views. I respect all beliefs and also believe strongly that one's religious beliefs should definitely stay out of politics."

In memoriam: David Groethe, former FFRF Chair

1926 – 2016

Freethought Today is very sad to report that David Groethe, 90, who was chair of FFRF's Executive Board for more than two decades, died of cancer on March 30 at his home in Pine Island, Minn.

He is survived by his wife, Mary, also a longtime FFRF member and former FFRF state representative. David and Mary were very early members, joining FFRF in 1978, the year it went national. David retired from the board in 2013.

Born on Jan. 1, 1926, in Rapid City, S.D., David studied for two years at Black Hills State, then had a diverse career, most recently running a photo finishing lab in Sioux Falls, S.D. The couple remained active and traveled around the country in retirement.

He and Mary married on Feb. 5, 1971, a second marriage for both. They had six children or stepchildren, 10 grandchildren and five great-grandchildren between them.

"He loved FFRF. It was a big part of his life," Mary told FFRF. "Religion was one of the things that always bothered him. He needed the scientific method, not a belief system."

David and Mary were cheerful fixtures at annual FFRF conventions for three decades, often volunteering to staff FFRF book tables. David and Mary attended one convention with custom-made caps embroidered with "Out of the Closet Atheist." The caps were so popular that FFRF asked permission to use the idea for its sales catalog, where they are a staple.
"We'll miss David's enthusiasm, his chuckle and his practical good sense," said Dan Barker, FFRF co-president.

Set your sights on FFRF's convention

With the Reason Rally now in the rear-view mirror, it's time to turn your freethinking attention to FFRF's annual convention.

With some of the biggest names in freethought set to speak at the 39th annual convention from Oct. 7–9 in downtown Pittsburgh, you don't want to miss out.

And, of course, don't forget about the tour of Frank Lloyd Wright's architectural masterpiece Fallingwater on the first day of the convention. (See below for details.)
FFRF has again collected an impressive list of speakers to inform, educate, entertain and amaze you.

A keynote speaker will be Lawrence Krauss, the internationally known theoretical physicist, author and director of the Origins Project at Arizona State University and Foundation Professor in the School of Earth and Space Exploration and the Physics Department at ASU. Krauss has won numerous international awards for both his research and his efforts to improve the public understanding of science. He is the only physicist to have received the top awards from all three U.S. physics societies, and is the author of nine books including bestsellers The Physics of Star Trek and A Universe from Nothing. Krauss starred in a feature-length documentary called "The Unbelievers," which followed Krauss and Richard Dawkins around the world as they discussed science and reason.

He will receive the Emperor Has No Clothes Award from FFRF.

Another keynoter will be none other than Daniel Dennett. He, along with Dawkins, Sam Harris and the late Christopher Hitchens, have been called the "Four Horsemen of New Atheism." Dennett is co-director of the Center for Cognitive Studies at Tufts University, is the author of many books, including Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon. Dennett said the title of his convention speech will be, "Has the dam broken? Omens and worries."

The newest honoree to the convention lineup of speakers is Rafida Bonya Ahmed, a humanist activist, author and moderator at the award-winning Bengali blog Muktomona. She is the widow of Dr. Avijit Roy, a well-known writer, blogger, and activist who founded Muktomona as an online platform for Bengali-speaking freethinkers. Horrifyingly, Avijit was hacked to death by Islamic militants during a book-signing trip to Dhaka, Bangladesh, on Feb. 26, 2015, and Bonya was gravely injured. She has been working with international and local communities to help Bengali bloggers, intellectuals and activists. She was the keynote speaker for the mini-convention at the Reason Rally on June 5.

Other speakers include:

Jerry A. Coyne, professor emeritus in the Department of Ecology and Evolution at the University of Chicago, who has written 119 scientific papers and 150 popular articles, book reviews, and columns, and a trade book about the evidence for evolution — Why Evolution is True, which was a New York Times bestseller. His second book, Faith vs. Fact: Why Science and Religion are Incompatible was published in May 2015. Coyne plans to speak on the topic of "Evolution and Atheism: Best Friends Forever." He previously was honored with FFRF's Emperor Has No Clothes Award.

Susan Jacoby is the author of 11 books, most recently, Strange Gods: A Secular History of Conversion, which came out in March. Her articles have appeared frequently in the op-ed pages of The New York Times, including one in February, "Sick and Tired of 'God Bless America.'"

Jacoby is a previous recipient of FFRF's Freethought Heroine Award.

Lauri Lebo is an author, radio station owner and former reporter from Harrisburg, Pa., where she was the principal local reporter covering the Kitzmiller v. Dover trial in 2004-05 while working for the York Daily Record. She was featured prominently in the Nova documentary Judgment Day: Intelligent Design on Trial, both because of her coverage and because her father, who owned Christian radio station WWII-AM in Harrisburg, sided with the Dover school board in the controversy. After more than 20 years as a journalist, she left reporting to write The Devil in Dover, a book about the Kitzmiller trial and its effects on Dover.

Honoree Marie Schaub is the only named plaintiff in an ongoing case near Pittsburgh. She joined FFRF in 2012 to ask the New Kensington-Arnold School District to remove a 6-foot-tall granite monument depicting a copy of the Ten Commandments that is prominently displayed in front of the public high school her child was scheduled to attend.

FFRF Co-President Dan Barker will speak about his lawsuit against Congress and also about his new book, God: The Most Unpleasant Character in Fiction.

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