Letter Box

"Hallelujah for Successful Complaint"
Here in Litchfield, Minnesota, Community Education is a part of the public school system, a tax-funded entity designed to provide opportunities for students and adults to enrich their lives and make maximum use of the public school facilities. Year-round activities such as recreation programs, sports, lessons, classes for kids and adults are just a few of the offerings.
Imagine my surprise last spring (2002) when I read the publicity announcing an upcoming Easter Cantata musical which was being co-sponsored by Community Education and the local Ministerial Association, with plans being made to make it an annual event! Though it was too late to change the sponsorship for 2002, I felt I should try to "educate" the school superintendent and the school board. It didn't seem justifiable that taxpayers should finance a musical, religious experience for adults.
A letter to the Freedom From Religion Foundation produced a quick and firm letter from Annie Laurie Gaylor to the school superintendent. The result was an affirmation by the superintendent and the board that Community Education will not be co-sponsoring any more religious musical cantatas. We decided to "wait and see." This year, 2003, the Ministerial Association sponsored The Messiah without the support of Community Education. Thanks to FFRF!
What is so amazing is that people just don't get it. Last year, "after the letter," one of my acquaintances told me that her pastor (one of the choir singers) had told the congregation: "There's people in this town who don't want us to sing about Jesus! What kind of sick people are they?" Of course, she didn't know I was that sick person.
Jean Christensen
Minnesota
Editor's note: Jean can't give all the credit to FFRF. She kept up a diligent correspondence with officials over this violation. Having a local complainant willing to speak out and monitor the situation made all the difference in stopping this violation.

Thank You, Mr. Barnett
When I received a recent membership renewal notice, I decided not to renew because I have been unemployed off and on for the last year.
Last week I received the April edition of Freethought Today. After reading this latest edition, I decided that I enjoy reading your publication too much to not receive it anymore.
Your organization makes me feel that there is actually hope for reason, compassion for the suffering of this world and lifting humankind out of ignorance and hate.
William Barnett
Oregon

"Time Traveling" with George
To paraphrase Carl Sagan, FFRF is a "candle in the dark." Freethought Today puts a big smile on my face when it hits my mailbox here in the conservative Christian suburbs of Sacramento.
Thanks to you I no longer feel alone in a loony, superstitious country. And thanks to you also, I read George Erickson's wonderful book Time Traveling with Science and the Saints which I highly recommend for its adventure and relevant freethought content.
Keep up your marvelous work and know you are appreciated.
Brian E. Mulvey
California
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I am quite well-read and have graduate degrees from both Norway and California, but this George Erickson's Time Traveling to be one of the most important books I've ever read! It belongs in every library in the world and should be mandatory reading in all high schools and universities.
Jorg Aadahl
California
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Just had to tell you how much I'm enjoying George Erickson's book, Time Traveling. My thanks to Mr. Erickson for making these signed copies available to FFRFers at a reduced price, and to Freethought Today for informing us of this great bargain!
Brenda Donoho 
Michigan

Editor's note: George Erickson is renewing his offer to send an autographed copy of Time Traveling with Science and the Saints (Prometheus Books, 180 pp.), which lists at $24.95, to FFRF members for only $22 including postage. Be sure to identify yourself as an FFRF member for this special rate. Write: George Erickson, 2300 17th St NW, New Brighton MN 55112. Thank you, George!

"Sign Me Up for Another Year"
Sign me up for another year's membership, and my favorite paper which I greatly look forward to every month.
Turned 70 in November; getting up there now. One of the real good things about being an atheist is that when you leave this world you don't have to worry about meeting your maker and explaining your wild life.
Keep up the great work.
Bob Stuckert
California

A "Tonic" for Old Age?
Please renew our subscription to Freethought Today. It is the best reading we get and is the best "tonic" that we take for our battle with old age (we are both 81).
Thanks for all the hard work the Foundation is doing to help preserve what the founders gave us. If they were alive today, to see what you are doing, they would be proud, too.
It was wonderful to read the April issue that featured my dear friend, Norman B. LeClair's article, "Delusional Madness," and that his art work is finding a home in the Foundation.
Wendell and Opal Carrick
Florida

Doing What "God" Does Best
I would like to say a few words about the recent tragic events in Texas. It seems to me that every bible-believing Christian should find it easy to believe that God told a woman to kill her own children. It would certainly be in accordance with His hideous nature. After all, He's the One who told Abraham to kill his son (Genesis 22). He's the One who murdered all the first-born in Egypt, including the animals (Exodus 12:29). He's the One who commanded Joshua to "destroy all that breathed" on a certain portion of land (Joshua 10:40). He's the One who killed 50,070 men for looking inside a box (1 Samuel 6:19). He's the One who told the Israelites to "utterly destroy" the Amalekites, including every man, woman, child, baby, and all animals (1 Samuel 15:3).
He'sthe One who had 42 little children torn to pieces by bears for making fun of a prophet (2 Kings 2:23-24). He's the One who sent a flood to wipe out every life form on the planet simply because people were behaving the way he made them to behave (Genesis 7:23). I could cite many more disgusting examples from "the Good Book" to demonstrate the boundless cruelty of this bloodthirsty deity, but these should be sufficient to show that He is the greatest mass-murderer in history! So it should come as no surprise if He's still doing what He does best: killing people.
Isn't it perfectly logical to expect that a god who ordered so much killing in ancient times would continue to do so in modern times? Especially since He Himself said, "I am the Lord and I do not change." (Malachi 3:6). Of course, the biggest mystery of all is why anyone would want to worship a god like this.
Gary Depiro
Massachussetts

"Freethought Today--My Savior"
Just when I think I may be asphyxiated by the acrid smoke of religion the mail girl delivers a breath of fresh air and I eagerly inhale every word. Freethought Today--my savior! Keep those issues coming.
I am grateful to all inside and outside of FFRF who have struggled--and continue to struggle--in the battle to maintain a separation between church and state. Your determination in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds is truly commendable.
Jane Minner
Florida

Sullied by Theological Overcrust
Legislation to enhance the penalty for arson when it involves a place of worship has passed unanimously in the Illinois House of Representatives and is now in the Senate Rules Committee.
Arson normally is a Class 2 felony punishable by 3 to 7 years imprisonment and also is a probational offense. The new bill would classify arson of a place of worship as a Class 1 felony punishable by 4 to 15 years imprisonment, and it would be a nonprobational offense. The legislation was introduced as a result of St. Michael's Catholic Church in Wheaton being burned to the ground by an arsonist in March 2002.
This proposed legislation is clearly an endorsement of religion by our legislature and thus a violation of the First Amendment's establishment clause. A church is made of wood, brick or steel like any other building, so what makes its burning more deserving of a greater penalty than any other form of arson? DuPage County State's attorney Joe Brikett, who suggested the legislation, makes it clear when he tells us, "We all know that a church is not simply a building. These structures, because of what they represent, must be vigorously protected. It is tragic that a building dedicated to religious worship was destroyed by such a callous act of violence."
Our wisest course of action would be to keep god and religion out of these matters and to keep our criminal laws as neutral and objective as we can rather than to sully them with an overcrust of theology. We do not need a theocracy in the State of Illionis.
Theodore M. Utchen
Illinois

They Don't Hear Unbelievers
In February, when the court upheld the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals' decision that "under God" doesn't belong in the Pledge of Allegiance, 94 senators, including mine, Sens. Cantwell and Murray, endorsed a resolution defending the monotheism-promoting pledge.
I wrote to both senators and indicated my displeasure with their failure to defend the separation of church and state. I sent my comments to Cantwell using the contact form on her website. I didn't mince words. The first sentence read, "It is disappointing that you voted to defend the placement of the words 'under God' in the Pledge of Allegiance."
Cantwell promptly sent an e-mail that included the following text (and I'm not kidding): "You will be pleased to know that on March 4, I joined with 93 of my Senate colleagues to pass another resolution expressing support for the Pledge of Allegiance in response to the Feb. 28 decision." I will be pleased?! What part of "disappointing" didn't Cantwell understand?
Thinking that it might be a fluke, I completed the same Web form a few days later. My first letter had been unambiguous, but this time I was even more direct. Again, I received the identical reply.
Does Cantwell use computers to automatically scan, categorize and respond to letters? Or did a human read my letter but just didn't care enough to send an appropriate reply? I'm not sure which is worse.
Matthew J. Barry
Washington

An Exchange of Ideas
Geoff Alexander (letter May 2003) is "wholly in favor" of the U.S. invasion of Iraq. He considers "this position to be a moral one" and believes "that the United States is taking the high road of ridding the world of a tyrant and a menace."
There is almost no tyrant in the Mideast or elsewhere who was not at one time on the payroll of the United States. The U.S. helped Saddam to power in 1979, "leaned toward" Iraq for the next 10 years, supplied him with "weapons of mass destruction," encouraged and materially assisted in his war of aggression against Iran, tolerated all his publicly known crimes, and initially gave its OK to his plan to invade Kuwait. "We made the guy," as one commentator puts it.
The "moral high ground" of the U.S. is oil. In 1983, Donald Rumsfeld (yes, the main warmonger in the present administration) visited Baghdad on behalf of an oil pipeline which Bechtel Corporation wanted to build. This was at about the time when Saddam started to use poison gas against Iran. At the time, Rumsfeld said many nice things about Saddam. Today, Bechtel, together with Halliburton, Dick Cheney's old company, have landed major contracts in "rebuilding" Iraq.
The world is definitely better off for being rid of Saddam. But Saddam was never the "menace" that the White House propaganda made him out to be. U.S. citizens need to be better informed, get off their high moral horses, and think of less violent and more respectful means of dealing with the rest of the world.
Ernst Kallenbach
Florida
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The last thing I'd want to do is alienate a Life Member of the Freedom From Religion Foundation by challenging his warning to "Steer Clear of War" in the May issue. But I'm hoping that member will use his good judgment as a freethinker to hear why it's necessary to discuss war-related topics among ourselves, particularly in regard to a born-again president who ignores his savior's plea to "love your enemies," "turn the other cheek," and "resist not evil."
Besides George W's hypocrisy, another strong argument can be made as to the real reason Bush felt compelled to invade (he called it "liberate") Iraq. I remember a spokesman for the administration appearing on a PBS newscast when the war was nearing its climax. I'll never forget what he said: "When we win this war--and believe me, we will--President Bush will be so popular, he can get anything he wants from Congress."
Now if you add those sentiments to Bush's close ties to the Religious Right, you can see that he has successfully used the "threat of terrorism" to popularize not only himself, but his anti-democratic agenda. Let us never forget that one of his top "unofficial" advisors has been televangelist Pat Robertson, who suggested that the then-candidate Bush take the Florida recount directly to the conservative Supreme Court, and suggested to the newly appointed president that ultra-conservative John Ashcroft would make "a great attorney general."
When a U.S. president has to rely solely on the bloodshed of war to divert public attention from his disastrous policies at home, we cannot afford to "steer clear of war." We need an exchange of ideas now more than ever. Our democracy is in grave danger of becoming a theocracy--and war only seems to add momentum to the effort.
Herb McClelland
Ohio

Atheists in Foxholes and Labs
I have enclosed some news items of interest, in particular a news story that our serial-killer suspect, while fleeing from the law, set up a bible study class. One person who met him in Atlanta, Ga., is quoted as saying, "He talked about the bible a lot. Let me tell you, he knew the bible." Another said, "I prayed with this man." If he's guilty, he's going to have many bible buddies in prison. Based on what I've read, I think I'm going to start answering Christians who claim, falsely, that there are no atheists in foxholes by pointing out there are no atheists in prison cells, but a whole lot of them in science labs!
William Sierichs Jr.
Louisiana

Nurturing Freethought Along
Tom and I are nurturing a 17-year-old nephew along in his thinking. He was raised in the Catholic Church and is understandably having a lot of doubts now. In a recent e-mail conversation, he made this observation:
"As I was browsing through web pages, I was thinking about the war a little and how all the Christian sites were gung-ho about war in Iraq. They say that there's no such thing as an atheist in a foxhole. I say that if there was a God, there wouldn't have been a foxhole."
Elsa Kramer
Indiana

"Atheists Fighting for Survival"
Below is a letter that I wrote to someone who sent me an unsolicited religious email. It's not much, but I'm fighting back and I'm not giving up or shutting up:
I never object when someone prays before dinner at their house, or when I'm dining with them. I think it's respectful to wait the 30 seconds for my companions in that circumstance. But when you make it public, over a loudspeaker, that's forcing your beliefs on me. You want to pray, do so to yourself or go to church--no one is stopping you. But please respect me enough to not drag me into it.
I want the original Pledge of Allegiance back, the pre-1955 one that included all Americans. I want the same respect for my beliefs that theists demand for theirs. Although we may have a majority of Christians, we are not a Christian country, nor were we founded on Christian principles. Christian beliefs were deliberately left out of our constitution--along with all religious beliefs for a policy of neutrality. Our founding fathers were very aware of what effect mixing church and state had, and were very careful to avoid that. In fact, in 1797 America made a treaty with Tripoli, declaring that "the government of the United States is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion." This reassurance to Islam was written under Washington's presidency, and approved by the Senate under John Adams. You will also find no reference to god in the Constitution--not one.
The day that theists are forbidden by law from holding public office (as atheists are in five states), or when they are forced to stand by while their tax dollars go toward atheist initiatives (as atheist tax dollars go towards "faith based initiatives"), the day that they are told "the majority rules so you have no rights," or that you're not a patriot because of your beliefs, is the day that they will know what atheists go through. Theists may consider themselves to be "fighting back" but atheists are fighting for survival.
Keep church and state separate!
Karen Hastings
APO

Atheist in a Foxhole Speaks Out
I'd like to comment about the recent proliferation of the myth that "there are no atheists in foxholes."
This is insulting to at least 30 million Americans who have chosen a life of science and reason over one of ignorance and superstition. You can throw a dart at a map of the world today and see what religion has done for humanity.
I have not been in a foxhole, but I have had melanoma, a life-threatening form of cancer, twice, undergone "shark-bite surgery," oral and intravenous chemotherapy, and I never once put myself in superstition's hands. I put my faith in science and medicine. That begins with education.
I would suggest Carl Sagan's The Demon-Haunted World and any of the works by Richard Feynman (the guy who figured out the O-ring problem on the Challenger explosion). Mark Twain and Thomas Edison were atheists or freethinkers, to name just a few.
Twain said, "The only thing wrong with the Baptists is that they don't hold them under the water long enough."
Edison said, "All bibles are manmade."
Like the great Feynman, "All I'm interested in is the truth, not what will make me feel better."
Russ Cardwell
Florida

Way to Go, Kelly!
Editor's note: This letter originally appeared in the June 2, 2003, issue of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. It was written by Kelly Dennis, an office assistant "alumna" who worked for several years for the Foundation after she graduated from college, and is now working at a book publishing company. Way to go, Kelly!
For two days running, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel gave front-page coverage to a high school student who wanted to sing a religious song at her graduation ceremony (May 29-30). Both days, this story was placed next to articles on potential peace agreements in the Mideast. But wait: Isn't it wanting to impose religion on others that has fueled war and terrorism in the Middle East? Winnecone High School was right to balk at Rachel Honer's wishes. A religious song performed at a public school has a way of establishing a particular religion at that ceremony and school. Rather than praising Honer for honoring her personal religion, let's admit she's simply imposing private beliefs on classmates in a public setting.
As a country, it's important we recognize that the separation between church and state is exactly what distinguishes the United States from so many countries in the Middle East. It's what protects our independent and comparatively revolutionary rights. A graduation ceremony is not intended to honor religion; rather, it is a time to celebrate that our young people have learned to think for themselves.
Kelly Dennis
Wisconsin

"Religion Brings Out the Worst"?
Being a subscriber to Freethought Today, I look forward to every issue.
I especially enjoy your "Sharing the Nut Mail" with us. It truly is amazing what kind of "kooks" are out there and how vicious their letters are to FFRF. Religion surely brings out the worst in most people.
Hope to see this "Nut Mail" column on a regular basis.
Victor Sturman
Wisconsin

Prof. Marcus Meets DeMille
I read Dan Barker's article, "It's All Showbiz" (May 03) with special interest because I knew Prof. Marcus well during the period shortly after the release of "The Ten Commandments."
I had been friendly with his son, Phil Marcus, for some time during the period 1953-58, and Prof. and Mrs. Marcus often welcomed me into their home. Ralph and I hit it off, though our areas (he in Greek, Oriental Languages & Literature and I in Physics) were quite different.
I remember his recounting his experience with the DeMille organization. As you noted, they wanted to have the 10 Commandments written in the Hebrew of the (supposed) period of Moses. Marcus was perhaps the world's greatest expert on Semitic languages throughout the biblical and post-biblical periods, so they asked him. He was a bit nonplussed, since there are no records of Hebrew writing (if indeed such yet existed) at that time. But he wanted to help, so he used the Phoenician script of the period (Phoenician is--or was--a Semitic language not far removed from Hebrew) and, using the oldest known (but much more recent) rendering of the 10 Commandments, wrote out the brief text that appears both in the movie and, in miniature, on the granite slabs.
For his efforts, he told me, he was rewarded with four tickets to the first Chicago showing of the movie. My memory is not too clear, but they may have paid him $200 in addition. In any case, he was told later that he could have billed them for a much larger sum, but he was not a man who had much interest in money. He found the experience interesting, especially the meeting with DeMille, some or most of the stars, and other Hollywood notables (for whom he held little if any awe). He told me, wryly, "I think Charlton Heston brought a terrific sense of humor to his conceptualization of the role of Moses."
Unfortunately, Prof. Marcus died about 1956 or '57. Mrs. Marcus sold me his desk--the one on which he had written nearly all the works that made him a leader in his field--for $25, and I (and later my wife) used it till 1992. At that time my father died and I inherited his desk which was rather like Marcus's but in better condition. So we sold the Marcus desk together with a lot of the furniture from my father's home, for which we had no space. As far as I know, it's still out there.
Larry Lerner
California

"Where Would My Child Be Safer?"
Mike Price, Alabama's would-be coach, was reportedly seen in a topless bar in Pensacola, Fla. To the University's Board of Directors, Coach Price committed a mortal sin and was excommunicated from Alabama. The Board of Directors of the Crimson Tide is the equivalent of the College of Cardinals of the Catholic Church.
Imagine if the Church had been in charge of Alabama football when this happened. First there would have been the grand cover-up. Then Price would have been sent for evaluation. After a short time, Price would have been declared cured of desiring women and transferred to, say Auburn, to be their coach.
No one at Auburn would have known that Price likes to visit topless bars.
The next time Price was caught, he would be sent to yet another university in the middle of the night to become their athletic director. Again, no one would be told why.
Compare Athletic Director Mal Moore to Archbishop Lipscomb of Mobile and the Board of Directors to the College of Cardinals. Now ask yourself, "Where would my child be safer, in a Catholic Church or the University of Alabama?"
Hank Shiver
Alabama

Divine Intervention for Hangnails?
"President Bush, who was visiting Little Rock, Ark., said Monday that the federal government would move as quickly as possible to help the storm-damaged areas.
" 'Nature's awfully tough at times, and the best thing we can do right now is to pray for those who have suffered,' he said." (Msnbc.com, 5/6/2003)
Well, dag nab it. The logic of this escapes me. Our glorious pres is assigning blame for the tornado onto nature, which presumably is under the control of his god. If prayer works, I would think the smart money would pray in advance of a tornado to have god shunt it off to an unpopulated area.
What good is praying after the devastation takes place? I know, it's a feel good thing. Seems to me that the best thing we can do right now is have humans pitch in and help with the cleanup. If we wait for god, the mess will be sitting there forever.
I am convinced that the president cannot confront a hangnail or give a speech of any length without pleading for divine intervention.
Allen Wick
Wisconsin

South Carolina Is Challenging
Just a short note to say thank you for Robert Sapolsky's address at the "Emperor Has No Clothes" Award presentation.
Having been a former pastor for 26 years, I can appreciate his insights on belief and biology. It was a short but fascinating description of denominations, ministers, elders and members I have observed through the years. I knew religion was based in our needs, fears and hopes, but this was a very excellent description of how it springs from the brain and mind. Thanks for the insights.
I also had a great laugh at the Cadaver Christian Outreach sign. I passed that sign myself a few months ago and had to turn around to read it again. At least there is one church that can admit to being dead outright . . . ha.
Living around some of the most fundamentalist thinking in America can be challenging here in South Carolina. One never knows at Easter whether there will be real people on crosses in front of the church, as there has been in the past, or if the "Hell House" sponsored by locals to scare kids into obeying the Baptist Church will make as big a Halloween hit as in years past.
I personally find Hell House to be child abuse.
Dennis Diehl
South Carolina

Leno Poses a Good Question
This is from Jay Leno's monolog on the Tonight Show recently:
"There's more and more information coming out about that Colorado climber who cut off his own arm. This is an amazing story, unbelievable. He says he felt a 'presence' when he was out there, like God gave him the strength to do this courageous act.
"Now, if God was there, why didn't He just move the damn boulder?"
Don Worrell
Alabama

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