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Away with the manger, in with the solstice!

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Statement by the Freedom From Religion Foundation on placement of its Winter Solstice nativity at the Wisconsin Capitol:

 

For a fact, the Christians stole Christmas. We don’t mind sharing the season with them, but we don’t like their pretense that it is the birthday of Jesus. It is the Birthday of the Unconquered Sun — Dies Natalis Invicti Solis

Christmas is a relic of Sun worship.

For all of our major festivals, there were corresponding pagan festivals tied to natural events. We’ve been celebrating the Winter Solstice, this natural holiday, long before Christians crashed the party. For millennia, our ancestors in the Northern Hemisphere have greeted this seasonal event with festivals of light, gift exchanges and seasonal gatherings.

The Winter Solstice is the reason for the season. The Winter Solstice, on Dec. 21 this year, heralds the symbolic rebirth of the Sun, the lengthening of days and the natural New Year.

We nonbelievers are quite willing to celebrate the fun parts of anybody’s holidays. We just want to be spared the schmaltz, the superstition, and the state/church entanglements.

The customs of this time of year endure because they are pleasant customs. It’s fun to hear from distant family and friends, to gather, to feast, to sing. Gifts, as freethinker Robert Ingersoll once remarked, are evidences of friendship, of remembrance, of love.

The evergreens displayed now as in centuries past flourish when all else seems dead, and are symbols, as is the returning Sun, of enduring life.

In celebrating the Winter Solstice, we celebrate reality.

We are unveiling a tableau that celebrates the human family, reason and the Winter Solstice.

• Our wise-people depict the atheists and scientific giants, Darwin and Einstein, who have enlarged human understanding of the natural world far more than the bible or any “holy books.” They were both nonbelievers as was progressive reformer Emma Goldman, representing wise women everywhere. The irreverent literary genius Mark Twain is added for good measure.

• Although Venus, like Mary, was a mythical fertility figure, this image, after which a planet was named, represents our solar system. 

• Thomas Jefferson, a Founding Father, was a passionate advocate of separation of religion and government and would have disavowed Christian devotional scenes on state property.

• Our “angels” are also natural. The Statue of Liberty symbolizes freedom, and the astronaut represents the human achievements of science unfettered by religious dogma. 

• Our baby was chosen partly for simple egalitarianism, and partly because it’s high time we adore female children as much as male children, and to acknowledge that humankind was birthed in Africa.

FFRF would vastly prefer that government buildings and seats of government be free from religion, and irreligion. It is divisive. The rotunda is getting very cluttered. But if a devotional nativity display is allowed, then there must be “room at the inn” for all points of view, including irreverency and freethought. 

FFRF gratefully acknowledges the exceptional carpentry work and enthusiasm of Andrew Seidel. Thanks also to Katie Daniel, Melanie Knier and Scott Carney for their invaluable help in creating the natural nativity on very short notice. Part of this statement was adapted from a 1985 Winter Solstice speech by Anne Nicol Gaylor, FFRF president emerita.

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Getting school to act on rental charge for church

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Shortly after I got back home from the FFRF convention in October in Portland, Ore., I started hearing advertisments on the radio where I live in Clarkston, Wash. The ads were for a church called Canyons Church and its services at the Clarkston High School auditorium.

This is our public high school of which I am a 1980 graduate. I thought this was curious — having church at the public high school. When, eventually, I saw a huge billboard advertising Canyons Church at Clarkston High School (with no disclaimer by the school), I decided I should look into this situation.

I went to “Legal” at ffrf.org/ and clicked on “State/Church FAQ” on the dropdown. I scrolled down and found “Churches Meeting at Public Schools.” FFRF said I could do a public records request and would have to pay for copies of the information I am requesting.

The FAQ said to (1) ask the school district for a copy of the rental contract; (2) ask for verification that rent has been paid up to date; (3) ask for a copy of the school district’s rental rate schedule to confirm that rent is reasonable. 

I emailed the superintendent with the public records request on Nov. 11. He replied on Nov. 13 that he would have the information to me by Nov. 20. On Nov. 19, I received a phone call from Wendy, the executive director for financial services, who said  I could pick up the information at the school district office.

I paid $1.05 for the copies (eight pages) and went home to study them. A cover letter was attached and in part said, “The third request asks for the current payment status of the Canyons Church account. Canyons Church is paid up through June 24, 2012. The district is at fault for not billing beyond this date (up until Friday, Nov. 16, 2012) due to a glitch in our system that we corrected on Friday. Invoices totaling $4,648 were sent to Canyons Church on Nov. 16.”

Hopefully, the church is up to date and will stay that way.

FFRF’s FAQ also advised to monitor signs and disclaimers. I did not find any signs at the school other than on the day of the service. There was, however, no disclaimer on the billboard in neighboring Lewiston, Idaho.

One last thing: The contracts state that all charges associated with use of facilities will be paid in full within 10 business days of receipt of invoice from the district. Yet the June 24 billing invoice date was 8/31/12, it was mailed on 9/11/12, due date was 9/30/12, and finally the invoice was paid on 10/15/12 (15 days late and apparently without penalty).

This whole process was quite exciting, I must admit. What shall I do next?

[Editor’s note: You’re doing fine, Jeff, but keep your powder dry. We try to gear FFRF’s FAQ to citizen activism as much as possible, depending on the situation.]  

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In the News

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Where atheism gets
you a death sentence 

A new study by the International Humanist and Ethical Union in Switzerland shows that atheists and other religious skeptics suffer persecution or discrimination around the world and in at least seven countries can be executed if their beliefs become known. The IHEU issued the report on the United Nation’s annual Human Rights Day on Dec. 10.

The report, “Freedom of Thought 2012,” said “there are laws that deny atheists’ right to exist, curtail their freedom of belief and expression, revoke their right to citizenship, restrict their right to marry.”

According to the survey of about 60 countries, nations where atheism or defection from the official religion can bring capital punishment are Afghanistan, Iran, Maldives, Mauritania, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Sudan.

The report also notes policies in some European countries and the U.S. that favor the religious while excluding nonbelievers.

In the U.S., a social and political climate prevails “in which atheists and the nonreligious are made to feel like lesser Americans, or non-Americans,” the report said.

In at least seven U.S. states, constitutional provisions bar atheists from public office. One state, Arkansas, has a law that bars atheists from testifying in court, the report said.

 

Judge to archdiocese: Give up abuse files 

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Emilie Elias on Dec. 10 ordered the Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles to turn over secret files it’s had for decades on 69 priests accused of sex abuse. Elias gave the archdiocese until Dec. 27 to give her the files. She set a date for early January to hear arguments from priests who want to keep their files private.

The Los Angeles Times reported that the order came five years after the 2007 settlement of $660 million with more than 550 alleged victims of 245 priests.

Ray Boucher, lead plaintiff’s attorney, estimates the archdiocese has files on 80 more priests that it is not turning over to the judge. He also said documents on priests who belonged to Catholic religious orders are also missing.

 

Film documents
abuse by Wis. priest

“Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God” opened in U.S. theaters in November and will air on HBO in February. The film centers on four men who attended St. John’s School for the Deaf in St. Francis, Wis., as boys and were sexually molested.

“A lot of individual stories had been done about clerical sex abuse, but I hadn’t seen one that really connected the individual stories with the larger coverup by the Vatican, so that was important,” director Alex Gibney told Reuters.

In a letter to the Vatican in 1998, the year he died, Fr. Lawrence Murphy admitted molesting some 200 deaf boys over two decades beginning in the 1950s.

 

‘No faith’ gains in United Kingdom

The Independent reported Dec. 10 that the number of persons with no religious faith in the U.K. rose from 14.8% in 2001 to 25.1% in 2011.

During that period, the number of Christians fell from 37.3 million to 33.2 million. The proportion of Muslims rose from 3% to 4.8%. Hinduism claims 1.5%, Sikhism 0.8% and Judaism 0.5%. About 180,000 claimed to be followers of the Jedi religion featured in “Star Wars,” down from 400,000 in 2001.

 

Mothers ‘maimed, forgotten’ in Ireland

“The imperative to bear as many children as possible crippled hundreds of Irishwomen,” Marie O’Connor writes in a column titled “The maimed and forgotten mothers” in The Irish Times. Catholic hospitals encouraged doctors to treat difficult childbirths with a symphysiotomy, a procedure that severs the pelvic joint, instead of doing a caesarean section.

According to O’Connor, the church preferred the symphysiotomy because it could widen the pelvis, “enabling an unlimited number of vaginal deliveries.

“But when it went wrong, which was often, the women suffered chronic pain and incontinence, and many could barely walk. . . . Doctors in every other Western country shunned the operation, but in Ireland it was performed on some 1,500 women between 1944 and 2005. About 200 victims survive today, most of them disabled. Yet they can’t seek redress in the courts, because it only recently became public that these operations were unnecessary, long after the statute of limitations expired.”

 

Bible favorite book, child favorite porn

A Manchester, N.H., lawyer with ties to a conservative Christian law firm took a teen girl to Canada, had her engage in sexual activity and convinced her to let it be filmed, according to federal indictments reported Nov. 17 by the Concord Monitor.

Lisa Biron, 43, is charged with transportation with intent to engage in criminal sexual activity, seven counts of possession of child pornography and five counts of sexual exploitation of children.

Biron is associated with the Alliance Defending Freedom, which, its website says, is committed to keeping “the door open for the spread of the Gospel” by advocating for “religious liberty, the sanctity of life, and marriage and family.” In Concord, she worked with ADF to defend a Pentecostal church in its tax fight against the city.

She recently served on the board of directors at Mount Zion Christian Schools in Manchester. On her Facebook page, which was been removed, she listed the bible as her favorite book.

Police began investigating after receiving a tip from a man who said he’d seen child porn on Biron’s computer. 

 

Priest on abuse list
now that he’s dead

Fr. Donald Musinski has been added to the Archdiocese of Milwaukee’s list of clergy restricted because of substantiated allegations of sexual abuse of children, 15 years after the victim first accused him, the Journal Sentinel reported Dec. 1.

The archdiocese did not announce Musinski’s addition to the list, possibly because he is deceased, said spokeswoman Julie Wolf. He died at age 69 in 2006. He was ordained in 1962 and served parishes in Milwaukee, Belgium and Johnsburg before retiring in 1999.

The victim, Karen Konter, now 54, reported Musinski to the archdiocese in 1997. She said Musinski began molesting her when she was 8, progressing to rape by the time she graduated from eighth grade. She said the priest took advantage of her, “an isolated and ostracized little girl, hobbled by polio and numerous surgeries,” as the Journal Sentinel put it, at St. Adalbert’s on Milwaukee’s south side.

U.K. Scouts mull
atheist membership

The Telegraph reported Dec. 3 that the British Scouting movement is working on plans to draft an alternative godless oath and let atheists become full members and group leaders for the first time. For more than 40 years, versions of the promise have existed allowing Muslims to pledge allegiance to Allah and Hindus to substitute the words “my Dharma.”

The traditional pledge mentions “duty to God and to the Queen, to help other people and to keep the Scout Law.”

Scouting founder Robert Baden-Powell in his book of advice for boys, “Rovering for Success,” compared atheism to gambling, excessive drinking, smoking and syphilis as a danger to be avoided.

 

Bible played role
in boy’s death

Police said 7-year-old Roderick Arrington was beaten to death by his parents because he didn’t read the bible and do his homework, the Las Vegas Sun reported Dec. 3. The boy’s stepfather, Markiece Palmer, 34, and mother, Dina Palmer, 27, were charged with murder, child abuse and neglect.

Roderick died after being taken to the hospital on Nov. 30. A doctor reported he had fixed pupils, bruises all over his body and buttocks showing “fresh open wounds.
Markiece Palmer told police he spanked his stepson because he lied about reading a chapter in the bible and didn’t do his homework. He admitted he hit the boy on multiple occasions with his belt, a spatula, a wooden paddle and his hands.

On one Facebook photo, Markiece Palmer wrote, “My babies they make me happy. GOD bless the children!!!”

On another photo of the boy, Dina Palmer wrote, “I wanna do better 4 my son, my family, myself, 4 you LORD!!!!!!!!”

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Member tries to rid Iowa city park of nativity

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FFRF member Aiyanna Looney did stellar work in Oskaloosa, Iowa, trying to rid City Square Park, which is a public park, of a nativity scene. After she photographed it Dec. 5, she contacted FFRF Staff Attorney Stephanie Schmitt, who responded promptly:
“If you could forward me those photos, that would be very helpful. Are there other nonsectarian displays up? Context is extremely important in these cases — also if there is a sign or something that indicates this was put up by anyone other than the city.”

Aiyanna noted in response that there were no other religious displays present. “There is a faux lighted pine tree with a star topper by the nativity, but no sign that states it’s a holiday tree or Christmas tree, or who placed the tree in the park. There is no sign that states the nativity was placed by anyone other than the city.”

She contacted Oskaloosa City Manager Michael Shrock Jr. about the religious display on public property. Her letter included this: “The use of government property to promote Christianity as superior to other faiths, religions and secularism is abhorrent. The city of Oskaloosa needs to take responsibility for this discriminatory display and remove the nativity or create an exhibit that is representative of everyone who lives in Oskaloosa and Mahaska County.”

On Dec. 7, Aiyanna emailed FFRF that the nativity was removed the day before and that Shrock told her that he didn’t want an open forum and had the nativity removed. 

UPDATE: Right before Freethought Today went to press, Aiyanna shared a voice mail left on her phone from council member Aaron Ver Steeg, who said, “I seen your letter. … I just feel that people like you — if you don’t want to look at something, look the other way — and you still have the freedom to move out of Oskaloosa.”

UPDATE 2: At a special Dec. 12 council meeting for “discussion and possible action on establishing a policy for decorations and event use in the city square,” Shrock backtracked.

The Oskaloosa Herald reported that the City council voted to return the nativity to the park: “They voted to add to the decorations within the city square so that it’s not just a nativity scene, but is accompanied by a Christmas tree as well as other secular holiday decorations.”

After the meeting, Aiyanna emailed: “I get the impression that no other faiths, or nonfaiths (atheists and agnostics), will be represented when the nativity is replaced in the park, and the city is going to use a ‘three reindeer rule’ regarding the city square: The 1985 Supreme Court ruling known as the ‘reindeer rule’ requires any religious display on public property to be balanced by secular displays in order to avoid any hint that the state is endorsing religion.”

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

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