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A Very Taxing Problem

In 1989 a jury decided that a $2 million parking lot owned by First Baptist Church in San Antonio should be exempt from property taxes. This four-day trial of First Baptist Church's suit against the Bexar (County) Appraisal District (B.A.D.) was another step in a case that had been in the courts for five years.

It is bad enough that a church parking lot should be tax exempt at all, but this particular parking lot is leased out on weekdays to the Valero Energy Corporation which pays the church a handsome $111,000 a year!

I had been following the various struggles of churches vs. tax-man for some time, and had great admiration for Walter Stoneham, the chief appraiser at B.A.D., because he had been trying to tidy up some sloppy records and disparities in property evaluations. The churches came under his scrutiny and never has there been such wailing and gnashing of teeth by local clergy. With the parking lot war still going on in the background, B.A.D. decided to place a ball field owned by Baptist Temple on the tax rolls. The newspaper headlines heralded a "Holy war," and quoted men of the cloth as saying they would wage a "crusade." To convince B.A.D. that the ball park contributed to worship, a seventh-grader was quoted, "We come out here and play a lot, sometimes with people who aren't members of the church. We play with them and share Jesus Christ with them." Oh, neato!

There was a battle with a Catholic college over the home of its president which the church maintained should be tax exempt. The fact that a good mile or two separated the house from the college, and that the house was in one of San Antonio's more affluent neighborhoods, did not deter those Catholic hands from reaching into the taxpayers' pockets. This time that hand got slapped by B.A.D.

I lost track of the parking lot struggle until March 7th, when WOAI radio called to tell me that the Supreme Court had just decided to let First Baptist Church keep a property tax-exemption for their parking lots. I was invited to speak on the subject the next morning with Ron Aaron the drive-time host, our one voice of sanity in this crazy community. The news about the decision depressed me so much that I didn't ask for details; I just accepted the invitation. I figured the morning paper would feed me the particulars, which it did, but what a stunner! It wasn't the Texas Supreme Court, it was the United States Supreme Court! It had, without comment, rejected the argument of Bexar County officials that a state law unconstitutionally gives churches a tax exemption that isn't granted to secular charities. What a low blow!

There are four or five other churches that rent out parking lots which have up to now been on the tax rolls. The last paragraph of the newspaper article informed me that St. John's Lutheran Church will seek an exemption for its downtown parking lots, including spaces leased to a parking lot business.

And this, my friends, is only the beginning. --Catherine Fahringer

Published in Back Issues
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Prayer Conflict Moves To Appeals Court

Unable to obtain an injunction to stop Colorado government officials from hosting and speaking at a prayer luncheon, the Freedom From Religion Foundation, its Denver chapter and individual plaintiffs Robert Fenn and Lee Whitfield are taking their case to the Colorado Court of Appeals.

Among the defendants named in the suit are Roy Romer, Governor of Colorado, Chuck Berry, member of the Colorado legislature and Speaker of the House of Representatives, Wellington Webb, Mayor of Denver, and Bill Ritter, Jr., Denver District Attorney.

"It is truly astonishing," wrote Attorney Robert Tiernan in his introductory statement on behalf of the Foundation, "that these defendants would choose, at this time, to use their offices to host and actively participate in a prayer activity. Just three months ago, Defendant Webb was enjoined by the Denver District Court from officially endorsing and promoting a city-wide day of prayer."

In that suit the court said that prayer is "exclusively a religious act." It held that Mayor Webb's conduct would be "interpreted by a reasonable person as government endorsement of religion." That conclusion, Tiernan argued, was equally applicable to the Colorado Prayer Luncheon.

District Court Judge Larry J. Naves, in denying the injunction, agreed that the defendants were giving the appearance of government endorsement.

"Clearly," Naves wrote, "in this fashion these Defendants intentionally closely associate themselves with the sponsorship of the luncheon, while making it more attractive to attend. Additionally, all of the individual Defendants, with their official titles printed after their names, are scheduled to participate in the luncheon program as speakers. These factors--allowing themselves to be listed as public officials who are also Host Committee members and their direct participation in the luncheon program--provide a sufficient connection between the conduct to which Plaintiffs object and the government so that their individual actions may reasonably be treated as that of the state."

However, in denying the injunction Naves applied the Lemon test in an unusual fashion, finding that the prayer luncheon had a secular purpose and was not "motivated wholly by religious considerations." He also decided that the primary effect of the prayer luncheon was not to advance religion and that "the luncheon does not convey the message of endorsement of religion." Since the government officials only lent their names, presence and speeches to the luncheon, he said, there was not excessive entanglement.

"The Lemon test has long been a comforting mainstay to those of us who care about separation of state and church," said Anne Gaylor, Foundation president. "And here comes a judge who stands it on its head! We have admired Lemon for its clarity. It has been an island, a beacon, in a constitutional morass. Yet Naves decided none of the Lemon provisions applied in this case."

The three-pronged Lemon test asks three question. Does the action or statute in question have a secular purpose? Is the primary effect to advance religion? Will the actions result in excessive entanglement of the government with religion?

In his conclusions Judge Naves leaned heavily on the example set in Washington D.C., where annual prayer breakfasts are held with participation of government officials.

"Of course the Foundation believes the D.C. prayer breakfasts are a violation, and we regret that they never have been challenged," Gaylor said. "As Attorney Tiernan has pointed out, the Establishment Clause prohibits government from endorsing or promoting religion, and when government officials act in their official capacity, they are, in fact, the government."

The Colorado Appeals Court is expected to take up the case sometime during the summer.

In Wisconsin, the Foundation asked the State Ethics Board to investigate a complaint that state Rep. Susan Vergeront had used her official stationery, office, and state-paid assistant to promote a prayer breakfast in Madison. Predictably, the Ethics Board found no problem.

In Missouri, a complaint came from Cape Girardeau regarding a Mayor's Prayer Breakfast, with featured speaker Cal Thomas. A huge newspaper advertisement featured a letter signed by Mayor Francis Rhodes using his official stationery to invite "everyone" to attend. The Foundation has asked for complete information regarding the sponsorship of the function, including what public money has been expended. The affair, the Seventh Annual Mayor's Prayer Breakfast, is held in a publicly-owned facility, the "Show-Me Center."

Published in Back Issues
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Dr. Eric T. Pengelley

I was born (1919) in Toronto, Canada. My mother was a Nova Scotian and a nurse, while my father was an engineer and from Jamaica. In 1919 they were both freshly discharged from military service in WWI. It is worth recording, as they frequently explained to me in later years, the horrors that WWI imposed on their generation, and I have never forgotten them. They were all devoutly Christian nations (with God on their side!) as they went about the business of slaughtering each other in a "war to end wars."

As the English poet, J. C. Squire, wrote at the height of the war:

God heard the embattled nations shout and sing
'Gott strafe England'--
'God save the King.'
'God this', 'God that'--
and 'God the other thing'
'My God,' said God,
'I've got my work cut out.'

Needless to say his poem was banned. Anyone who might think we are just a little less hypocritical today, should read the Presidential proclamation #6243, February 3rd, 1991, of President George Bush, issued during the Gulf War. He managed to get in God, the Almighty, our Lord, Heavenly Father, etc. etc., 12 times in one page! Quite apart from that, he was blatantly preaching religion from the White House at the taxpayers' expense in defiance of the constitution.

At the age of 3 I left Canada for Jamaica, where my father became the chief engineer and manager of a sugar estate. I am happy to record that both my parents were essentially areligious, and as a child I was raised without any formal religious instruction, for which I have always been grateful. In the 1920s, Jamaica was still very much a British crown colony, with a population of less than 1% very privileged ruling whites, and more than 99% blacks, most of whom lived in complete poverty. My family lived in what would now be described as the lap of luxury, waited on hand-and-foot by black servants. The servants were all devoutly Christian (it was their opium!), and although largely subdued, cowed and loyal, the dangers to the whites were great enough that my father had a loaded revolver handy by his bed, and would not have hesitated to use it.

I remember my childhood years in Jamaica with pleasure, being largely unaware of the social injustices that surrounded me, somewhat like Mark Twain, who never questioned the slavery around him--"it was preached from the pulpit as a holy thing" he said. The principle negative things that I remember were all the health hazards, for preventive medicine was still very primitive, particularly in the tropics. I escaped malaria (though my younger brother didn't), and I remember my cousin dying from diphtheria, he was literally strangled to death at age 7. I have asked many times since what kind of a God it is that stands idly by and watches a little child being strangled to death. We children all got whooping cough, measles, chicken pox etc., and we were all loaded with parasites; pinworms, tapeworms, roundworms, hookworms, flatworms, and ringworms, to say nothing of jiggers, ticks, lice and god knows what! All this was the norm, especially for children.

At the age of 9, I was sent 4,000 miles to boarding school (all boys) in England. This was also the norm for so-called "colonial" families. In fact I was considered a year late, I should have gone at 8! During the next 8 years, I crossed the Atlantic by boat 14 times. The routine was that the journey took 2 weeks each way, so that during the summer holidays of eight weeks (the only time we ever saw our parents), we spent 2 weeks going out to Jamaica, 4 weeks there, and 2 weeks going back to England. The principle purpose of the boats, however, was not to carry passengers, but bananas to England. As the crew said when their officers' backs were turned, "every banana a guest, every passenger a pest!" However, I must say that the journeys on those boats were one of the highlights of my life. Today it is a millionaire's way of traveling, the rest of us having to crowd into those overgrown sausages called jet airliners.

It was at boarding school that my religious indoctrination in the Church of England began. From Monday to Saturday we boys compulsorarily attended chapel morning and evening. In addition after morning chapel we were instructed in the Bible and Christianity. Over a period of time we had to learn verbatim the "Sermon on the Mount," chapters 5, 6 and 7 of St. Matthew. On Sundays we had to learn, again verbatim, the Collect for the day, before all trooping off to the local church for the usual Sunday service, and again chapel in the evening. At the age of 13, I was confirmed in the Church of England, after "suitable" indoctrination in its meaning and significance, which included a smattering about sex, taught by a very embarrassed clergyman who was a bachelor!

Needless to say it left us with a host of inhibitions, guilt feelings, etc., and more confused than ever. The culmination of this was the confirmation service itself, conducted by a bishop, and the following morning we all attended "holy communion." It is the only time I have ever attended this ritual, for I found it absolutely disgusting--"eating the body and drinking the blood of Christ!" However for me there was something worse, namely the constant reminder of the central image of Christianity--the crucifixion. This horror simply played on my mind, and filed me with fear and revulsion. Anyone who forces such an image (to say nothing of the concept of "hell"!) on little children, I would consider to be guilty of mental terrorism. Not for one moment would I shield children from learning the realities of this world (both past and present), but to hold something as repulsive as crucifixion and the myth of "hell" constantly before their developing minds is both cruel and pathological.

On thinking back over all this, my overwhelming impression is what a terrible waste of time and monstrous distortion of the educational process. I also have a strong sense of resentment against the overall Christian establishment who were responsible for the indoctrination. At the very least, they should have been willing to admit and incorporate counter opinions and views into the general educational process. But of course that's not what people who indoctrinate want! Fortunately for me, this whole indoctrination was too late, as I was passed the formative years (about 3-7) when it began, and in my late teens and early twenties I was able to shake it off with relatively little trauma. Compared to some poor people I escaped and recovered fairly easily. I was subconsciously (perhaps not so sub!) questioning it while I was still being indoctrinated, but it isn't easy for a small boy to rebel under those circumstances. Sometime after I left school I read Bertrand Russell, and he unquestionably gave me the final incentive to dump religion from my mind. All told it took about 10 years, but even then I was merely neutral to it. It took me a lot longer to understand its basic evil, namely that it persuades people to abandon their power to reason and let other people (usually priests in one form or another) do their thinking for them, which in turn makes them easy dupes for charlatans, con men and frauds in any form. Religion has an inhibiting influence in both mind and body on human progress, and since our humanitarian impulses are based on reason, they also are inhibited. It seems to me that once people get caught up in the religious trap, they continue to indoctrinate themselves and addicts to it: "Pray-pay-obey and you'll be OK!" becomes a way of life. Marx was right, it is the "opiate of the masses."

At the age of 18, I found myself back in Canada and working for a bank, but in 1939 WWII began and after a short spell in the Canadian Army I transferred to the Air Force (radar) where I spent the next 5 years, all of it in the European theatre. As wars go, I had an "easy war," did what I was ordered to do, got shot at, bombed, V-1d and V-2d, but fortunately for me they always missed! I was finally discharged in October 1945. As the war was coming to an end and for sometime afterwards, we gradually became aware of what is now called "the holocaust," but what was conveniently forgotten at the time, and still is, was that Germany was a Christian nation, and Hitler himself was a lifelong Roman Catholic. He was confirmed in 1904, received B's in religious instruction, and attended a Benedictine monastery school for a while, where he considered becoming a priest. He never renounced Roman Catholicism and he was never excommunicated. On top of that, Pope Pius XII (Pacelli) knew exactly what was going on in those concentration camps, and never once even raised a word of protest--all he did was pray! If he'd had any conscience or guts, much of that never would have happened. It should also be noted that the "Nazi holocaust" was by no means the only one perpetrated by Christianity, there have been several others.

Anyway, the war was behind me. I got a diploma in hotel management, and spent some time in the hotel business. However, far more important was that I got married in 1948 to my darling wife, Daphne, whom I first met during the war in England, while she was in the British Air Force. We were married for over 41 years. We had 2 children, a son who is now a professor of mathematics, and a daughter who is nurse. Not long after I was married I want back to the University of Toronto and, with the help of my very supportive wife, I eventually got a BA in Biology and finally a Ph.D. in Physiology. It was during this time that I developed a deep interest in the history of science and its inevitable conflict with religion; and in particular the impact of evolutionary theory on our way of thinking, and its principal architect, Charles Darwin. This has been a lifelong interest for me, and led to my understanding of the destructiveness of the monotheistic religions (primarily Christianity, Judaism and Mohammedanism).

I was 40 when I received my Ph.D. at the University of Toronto, and then came to California, where for 25 years I was a "ladder faculty" professor in the University of California at the Riverside, Santa Barbara, and Davis campuses, retiring as Professor Emeritus in 1984. During those 25 years, besides undergraduate and graduate teaching, I did extensive research in animal physiology and the history of biology, wrote many scientific papers and books, traveled and lectured widely in Europe and North America, and was always "involved" socially and politically as well. In retirement, I still lecture (by request only) on the history of biology and medicine, and am also "involved" in environmental, population, euthanasia and freethought issues--my latest effort being a lecture entitled "Why I Reject Christianity."

I am now 74 and a very reluctant widower, my wife having died of cancer in 1990. I was personally able to nurse her at home during her terminal illness until she died in my arms. It was during this time that I became acutely aware of the need for compassionate laws for the terminally ill, commonly called euthanasia. I soon learned of the religious opposition to this, principally from Roman Catholic priests, and my contempt for them has steadily increased. Nevertheless I hope to live to see euthanasia in this country a reality, and I spend a great deal of time working towards that end. It will be a happy day for me, and a worthy legacy of my late wife, if I live to see this achieved and the revolting morality of the Pope and his subservient priests totally annihilated.

Prof. Pengelley, a Foundation member from California, has written books and technical papers about Behavioral Physiology, as well as a book about the history of biology and medicine. He collects rare books, especially Darwinia. An active letter-writer, he is a member of environmental, population control, euthanasia and women's organizations.

Published in Back Issues

The Freedom From Religion Foundation protested "a flagrant violation of state/church separation" at the Bergen County Division of Youth & Family Services (DYFS), following an announcement in March by its district office manager that troubled families will be advised to go to church and turn to religion for help.

DYFS office manager Joan Sergi claimed religion is the answer for social problems, and that the county needs to turn to churches to relieve overworked county staff.

"Not only is it unconstitutional for a county worker to promote church attendance or belief in religion, it is difficult to imagine a worse cop-out!" wrote the Foundation in letter of complaint about the Bergen County policy to Nick Scalera, state director of DYFS in Trenton. The Foundation called upon Scalera to launch an immediate investigation of the illegal use of county/state offices and resources for religious purposes.

Ms. Sergi not only advised caseworkers to promote church attendance, but has formed an official Bergen Co. "Inter-Religious Outreach Committee," including 14 DYFS staff on it. The county agency also is compiling a list of religious entities offering "spiritual" help and religious counseling to distribute to clients.

The Foundation warned, "Such referral is not only naive and illegal, but would seem to open the county to legal risk if harm occurs through the church. . . . The efficacy of such advice, however, is secondary to the fact that it is illegal."

The Foundation's complaint, joined by that of its New Jersey chapter director Jo Kotula, was publicized widely through Associated Press in New Jersey.

The Foundation also complained to official parties concerning the much-publicized case of the Fort Worth, Texas federal judge who sentenced a woman and her four children to attend Sunday church services for a year as a condition of probation on a drug charge. The sentence by U.S. Dist. Judge David O. Belew, Jr., who co-founded a nondenominational church, delighted the defendant, who is the daughter of a preacher. The Foundation noted religion had already failed to solve this religious woman's problems, and that the judge broke the guarantees of the Texas constitution in giving a criminal a choice between going to church and going to jail.

In a related story of outrageous judicial prejudice, a municipal court judge in Cincinnati, Ohio, claims he sees Jesus on a pillar at the Hamilton County Courthouse: "I saw his crown of thorns, a bloodstained eye, his beard, the look of sorrow on his face. I felt I got a wake-up call from God."

Judge Leslie Gaines sent a letter to reporters before Easter urging others to pray at the pillar every day, as he does.

"A judge has a right to personal religious beliefs, however bizarre, but should not be urging citizens to pray at a county courthouse! How could nonChristians and nonreligious citizens feel comfortable in his courtroom?" the Foundation asked.

Published in Back Issues
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Letter To The Pope

In July, 1993, prior to Pope Paul II's much-touted visit to Denver, Colorado, Mr. Murphy wrote the following letter to the Pope. There was no answer.

Dear Pope:

After forty years of carrying a burden that is not mine, I want to hand it to you. The press quotes you as saying you have "recently" been made aware of perverts within your priesthood. Your bishops have known about it and have been covering it up as a matter of course. Apparently, they haven't informed you of their criminal complicity.

From 1953, when I was seven years old, until 1951, when I was eleven, I was sexually molested by Leonard Abercrombie, then of the Denver diocese. I am but one of several.

It occurred at Camp Saint Malo, and also the rectories at Hugo and at Roggen, Colorado. My mother and father, Gertrude and Martin J. Murphy, lifelong devout Catholics, were friends of this priestly pedophile and of course, had no suspicion that he was a pervert disguising himself as a priest.

My father went to Archbishop Vehr to find out why Abercrombie was sent to the hinterlands instead of keeping the urban parish where he formerly was assigned. Vehr could never divulge the reason but would only say, "Marty, the Church has its reasons." In 1961, my father, not satisfied with this, went to Washington DC to meet with the Papal Nuncio on Abercrombie's behalf. He was received because my mother is a recipient of pro ecclesia from Pope John XXIII which apparently carries the privilege of audience. No explanation was forthcoming in this venue either.

Strange thoughts and feelings come over a young altarboy when the object of his respect comes at him with an erection. They are still with me.

It's strange, but I can almost forgive the corpulent Abercrombie for he was, and probably still is, a very sick person--but I will never forgive that so-called "great churchman" Archbishop Vehr for failing to protect me and the others that I know of and those I do not. Vehr took Abercrombie from the city and placed him in the country after reports of his pedophilia were forthcoming. The circumstantial evidence is overwhelming, especially when it is coupled with the Roman Catholic Church bishops' pattern of criminal behavior in mollifying scandal at the expense of its children.

Now you are coming to Camp Saint Malo and according to the press, you want us to know you are concerned about the children. It took a while (centuries?), but it is refreshing to know that change is in the air. I hope it is not just fiscal damage control, as I understand over half a billion has already been paid out. I don't want your money but I do want your ear.

I am writing this letter to have my name added to the list of victims, and Abercrombie and Vehr's to the list of criminals who crashed through the lives of children so long ago. I am trying to engage in a little damage control of my own by getting this incubus off of me and onto you, your bishops, and your church where it belongs.

Last year I shared the overwhelming hurt I felt with my sister, Sheila. I told her that I shared Abercrombie's conduct with my aged parents several years ago and they acted as if I was lying. I told her it hurt me to be ignored and to be shown Christmas cards from Abercrombie as if I had never said a word to them. I told her I did not feel that I was worthy of respect, in my parents' eyes. She called Abercrombie in California and he acknowledged to her that I had told the truth. To his discredit, he denied the accusations of the other victims named. My mother and father finally believe me and it helped ease my resentment, anger and disbelief. One blindfolded by dogma and religious fanaticism cannot see the blindfold because of the blindfold. The criminal clergy have been with us for a long, long time and the harm they have caused is multigenerational. That is why it is so shocking to read the news reports wherein you state that "recently" you have become aware of the crime and the harm. "Misdeeds," I think you called it. Since when is an abomination graced with such a mild term?

I have had charity taught to me by a red faced nun wielding a thick ruler (St. Mary's Grade School, Colorado Springs, Colorado); been knocked out by a violent priest (Mark Jackson, OSB, formerly of The Abbey in Canon City, Colorado); had my girlfriend pawed by a drunken priest at Regis University, and you know, none of this really bothered me. I'm one of those people who never have to worry about being sucked into a cult as I have been immunized by Abercrombie's penis. Unfortunately, it also immunized me from true intimacy and trust. That's what I'm working on now and writing you this letter is part of that endeavor. I feel better already.

I'm not a member of your church and haven't been since it happened so long ago although I went through the motions, much like an indentured servant because I had no choice. Your church never wanted to know how I felt--only what I did, and of course, I could not tell.

But I'm telling now. I have choice now and long after I left your church, I found a kind God of my own understanding. While you are walking around the skirts of Mount Meeker at the beautiful Camp Saint Malo, perhaps you could give some thought, not just to the youth of today, but the youth of yesterday, and do something about the children who are being hurt and the hurting children still within us.

Maybe the thought might strike you, as it strikes me, that it is another perversion to run a cabalistic church that prefers a sick, single male as a priest and role model over a healthy, married woman or man. But that's another issue--or is it?

The Paulist philosophy which demeans women, chattelizes children, and endorses the elitism of one type of genitalia over another is absurd and even laughable but for the Tophet it causes. If you have enough courage to go out in public wearing that silly dress and hat, you could certainly admit that a big mistake has been made and help all of your children, especially those who divorced you.

The writer, a Foundation member, practices law in Colorado. He describes his community as "the Wheaton of the West, the Vatican of the fundamentalists, the home of Amendment Two and headquarters of about 85 religious organizations." Mr. Murphy "fights off boredom" with a weekly call-in radio show: "Murphy's Law." He says, "It gets hot every once in a while when I do nothing more than simply state facts that the religious right would just as soon not hear." He is a graduate of Regis College with his law degree from the University of Wyoming.

Published in Back Issues

The Freedom From Religion Foundation wants you to help give perspective to a Texas school district over allowing religious "run-through" banners displayed by school cheerleaders on the field during school football games. The Kountze ISD Board of Trustees has asked for public input.

FFRF maintains that banners on the football field are perceived as official messages of the school and as such, may not endorse Christianity. FFRF contacted the District in the fall and requested that the religious banners no longer be used. In September of 2012 the District's former superintendent agreed and disallowed religious messages on the run-through banners. Liberty Institute, on behalf of school cheerleaders, filed suit against the district. A Texas court granted a temporary injunction, which allows the religious banners until trial in June.

The cheerleaders and their advocates have claimed the messages painted on the banners are "inspirational." But, the messages are insulting and exclude members of the community who are non-Christians, non-religious, or Christians who do not subscribe to divisive biblical messages being promoted by the school at a football game.

"If God is for us, who can be against us? Romans 8:31," read one of the banners displayed by cheerleaders in school uniforms. Others have said:

But thanks be to God, which gives us Victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. 1 Cor. 15:57

I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. Phil. 3:14

I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me in Christ Jesus. Philippians 3:14.

The banners marginalize community members who are not in agreement with the proselytizing messages. FFRF disputes Liberty Institute's position that the banners are merely private speech. Because the banners are school-sponsored speech they must follow the Establishment Clause of the Constitution.

Take Action!!

The Kountze Independent School District is receiving comments on the religious banners through Friday. FFRF encourages you to speak out and let the District know that the divisive banners are unwelcoming and that the Board should take action to prevent the District's display of biblical banners.

Contact

Interim Superintendent Reese Briggs
Click on the link below to send him an email:
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Kountze Independent School District
PO Box 460
Kountze, Texas 77625
Phone: (409) 246-3352
Fax: (409) 246-3217

Contact the local media

Email a letter to the editor of the area's newspaper, The Beaumont Enterprise:
http://www.beaumontenterprise.com/opinions/letters/submit/

Talking Points

One sentence is sufficient. Your own words are best. But you may wish to copy this paragraph in your correspondence:

I support Kountze ISD's original decision to stop the display of bible verse banners on the football field.

Cheerleaders and other representatives of the school should not misuse the privilege the school confers on them to promote Christianity.

The banners confer an appearance of official school endorsement, and marginalize members of the community who do not conform to the religious beliefs espoused in the messages. Please put an end to school-sponsored religious banners and show respect for the Establishment Clause and the rights of conscience of all members of our pluralistic society.

Thank you. (Sign name)

News Background

KHOU-TV

The New York Times

Published in Active Action Alert
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Good Friday Protest

This op-ed piece was sent to all Wisconsin dailies before Good Friday.

By Annie Laurie Gaylor

One of the more popular bumpersticker slogans of the Freedom From Religion Foundation reads: "Nothing Fails Like Prayer." Think about it. Could anything be more useless than beseeching supernatural assistance, or indulging in wishful thinking to try to suspend the laws of nature? Our cemeteries, after all, are full of people who prayed to live. The unanswered prayers would fill our universe!

If private citizens choose to pray instead of taking useful action to solve a problem themselves, that is their business. But here in Wisconsin, those of us who eschew prayer become criminals each year on Good Friday.

Few people know about Wisconsin statute 895.20, which orders: "On Good Friday the period from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. shall uniformly be observed for the purpose of worship."

This statute is flagrantly unconstitutional, giving legislative preference to the worship of Christianity, mandating citizens' behavior over one religion's holy day, and violating our Wisconsin Constitution. The state constitution guarantees that the state may not interfere with the "rights of conscience," which Statute 895.20 clearly does, nor shall "any preference be given by law to any religious establishments or modes of worship" (Article 1, Section 18).

If the Good Friday statute were broadly enforced, the results would be tyranny. Could shopkeepers be hauled off to jail for staying open during these hours? Could freethinkers, atheists, agnostics, Jews and other nonChristians be arrested for failure to observe the Christian worship of Good Friday? Currently, the effect of this statute is to close down public institutions. Public schools, the University of Wisconsin, city and state government buildings, and libraries close. The Freedom From Religion Foundation regularly receives complaints from UW students who are inconvenienced when college libraries close to observe Good Friday.

This state/church violation creates contempt for religious freedom. Even more pernicious, I believe, is the fallacious idea that an observance of prayer is a praiseworthy accomplishment.

That is why the Freedom From Religion Foundation annually challenges freethinkers (atheists and agnostics) to set an example for Christians by "doing good" on Good Friday. As the l9th-century freethought orator Robert Ingersoll observed, "The hands that help are better far than lips that pray."

This Good Friday challenge originated with a stalwart volunteer from Alabama, freethinker Pat Cleveland, who explains: "It's not that freethinkers aren't good every day. What triggered my idea was that this would be a way to make it truly a good day, if freethinkers in the country would be visibly helping."

Since many people are given the day or afternoon off from work in order to pray, many of our Foundation members take the opportunity to volunteer instead, including: helping the elderly, neighbors and children, escorting women patients at abortion clinics, donating blood, participating in other needy causes, donating money or doing something in support of the very precious principle of state/church separation.

The Attorney General of Wisconsin should issue a long overdue opinion striking the unconstitutional mandate to worship on "Good Friday" from our statute books. But, in the meantime, Wisconsin citizens interested in making this Friday a "good" day should skip the prayers, and do something truly useful or helpful with the extra time.

Published in Back Issues
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No Longer "Awash In Religion"

Rick Geraci and I have been telephone acquaintances for a bit over a year. He was alerted to my TV access program, Freethought Forum, by a Christian friend who suggested it might be "right up your alley." Rick got my number off the screen and called.

Rick told me that he worked as an escort at the State Hospital. After learning that he wasn't the only freethinker in the world, and after becoming a member of the Foundation and our chapter, he had someone to voice his concerns to about the heavily Christian ambience at the hospital.

During the 1992 Christmas season, hospital escorts discussed putting up a decorative Christmas message to the patients and signing all their names. Rick said that if it was going to be heavily Christian, they couldn't count on his signature.

Well, the decorative "billboard" (nearly six feet long and about 3 1/2 feet wide) was hung. It featured a little church with an oversized cross on it, a star, of course, and astonishingly, some trees in full leaf. Since Rick, who is the only artistic one of the group, was not asked to participate, the "artwork" was extremely bad.

Rick decided to contribute his own greeting: a neatly printed, trimmed poem about the solstice. Within a couple of hours, it disappeared. At the end of the day his supervisor called a meeting to discuss the hanging of things on walls. Rick asked what had become of his poem. The supervisor said that he had taken it down, torn it up and thrown it away. He then proceeded to lay down the rules of what could be displayed. Every thing was to be neat and framed. Keep in mind that the Christmas scene was on butcher paper with raggedly torn edges.

Rick let the matter drop, but began revving up well ahead of time in 1993. As it was the custom at the hospital to hold regular meetings to discuss gripes that the employees might have, Rick brought up the expression of religious beliefs. He felt that a fair policy should be established and that he ought to be included. If others could wear Jesus T-shirts, then he wanted to wear his "I'm your friendly neighborhood atheist" one. This sparked a heated discussion of some length which was not commented on in the minutes as read at the next meeting.

Last October Rick wore his friendly atheist T-shirt and was promptly told by his immediate supervisor in no uncertain terms that he was not to wear any shirts, badges or anything else that made any statement about atheism. Rick wrote to the superintendent regarding this public chastisement, saying that he felt that this was "a personal attack on my freedom of religious expression and freedom of speech as guaranteed in the Constitution." He further stated that he wanted "to be afforded the exact same rights and privileges governing the display of religious ideation now enjoyed by all other employees of the San Antonio State Hospital."

The letter of reply, written in November by the superintendent, stated that while he supported Rick's right to his beliefs, "I can safely say that professional staff engaged in treatment perceive the slogans as having a high risk of affecting some of the patients adversely," admonishing him to "refrain from wearing such slogans at S.A.S.H."

Rick again wrote for clarification. Was everyone allowed to wear whatever symbols or slogans they liked while he could not? This letter was never answered, so on December 24 Rick wrote again.

Rick described all of the religious decorations and symbols with which he was confronted daily. He got tired after the eleventh. The six creches were combined as only one of those eleven. Poor Rick was awash in religion!

This letter prompted an invitation to Rick from the superintendent to meet with him in person for a discussion. Surprisingly, he told Rick that because he himself was Catholic, he was never really aware of all the symbols that Rick had mentioned. He further stated that he would have the hospital attorney discuss the matter with the head office in Austin.

Nothing happened overnight, of course, but in early February Rick received a letter from his superintendent saying that, "In consultation with our Legal Office and Director of Clinical Services, I have determined that buttons and/or clothing worn by individuals which reference 'religious beliefs' will be allowed. 1) Patients need to adjust to a diversity of beliefs, and 2) this organization must not be perceived to be suppressing or endorsing specific individual beliefs." But it gets even better! The superintendent went on to say that he was appointing a temporary task force to help formulate a final directive regarding these issues and that he would like Rick to be a member of it to assist in establishing "guidelines regarding what may be perceived as 'State-sponsorship' of particular religious practices."

I perceive this as a solid win for Rick due to his perseverance, patience, diplomacy, unfailing good humor and courtesy in dealing with the industrial-strength Christians he works for and with. Cheers, Rick! It was a well carried-out campaign, and your example may give others the courage to wage similar ones.

Postscript: After this article was completed, the numerous religious symbols, including crosses and an open bible, were removed from the State Hospital lobby.

Published in Back Issues
%957 %America/Chicago, %2013

Boy Scouts May Not Discriminate

In The Court of Appeal of the State of California Fourth Appellate District Division Three

Michael Randall et al.,
Plaintiffs and Respondents,

v.

Orange County Council,
Boy Scouts Of America,
Defendants and Appellants.

Appeal from a judgment of the Superior Court of Orange County, Richard O. Frazee, Sr., Judge. Affirmed in part and reversed in part with directions.

Hughes Hubbard & Reed, George A. Davidson, Carla A. Kerr, John Kralik IV, and Lois C. Moonitz for Defendant and Appellant.

Jon W. Davidson, Paul L. Hoffman, and James Grafton Randall for Plaintiffs and Respondents.

Does the Unruh Civil Rights Act (Civ. Code, § 51, et seq.) apply to the Orange County Council of the Boy Scouts of America? Yes. May the council, the only named defendant, discriminate on the basis of religious beliefs or lack of religious beliefs? No.

I

This is an appeal from an action for injunctive relief and statutory damages ($250) on behalf of eleven-year-old twin brothers, plaintiffs Michael and William Randall, who were members of Cub Scout Den 4, Pack 519, located in Anaheim Hills. The boys prevailed at trial, obtaining an injunction barring defendant Orange County Council, Boy Scouts of America or any packs or dens from excluding them from scouting or advancing in the organization based on their religious beliefs.

Den 4 has five or six members who attend the same neighborhood school Pack 519 is comprised of Den 4 and a half dozen others and affiliated with defendant Orange County Council, Boy Scouts of America. The pack has no assets, but is operated by a parents' committee chartered by the county council.

The Randalls had advanced several scouting ranks when their family moved to the Den 4 neighborhood in 1990. At the boys' fourth or fifth meeting in the new den, the den mother read the first "achievement" in the Bear Book, the instruction manual for the next Cub Scout ranking, the Bear Badge. Quoted directly from the book, it reads as follows: "We are lucky. The people who wrote and signed our Constitution were very wise. They understood the need of Americans to worship God as they choose. A member of your family will be able to talk with you about your duty to God. Remember, this achievement is part of your Cub Scout Promise: 'I, _____________, promise to do my best to do my duty to God and my country . . .'

"Requirement

"Practice your religion as you are taught in your home, church, synagogue, mosque, or other religious community.

"I worship God: in song[,] in prayer[,] in study[,] and by kind and thoughtful acts toward others."

Alternatively the achievement could be attained in the following way: "Many signs remind us of God. Among them are a 6-pointed star, a cross, and a crescent. There are many other religious symbols. One of them may appear on a special emblem you may earn to wear on your uniform.

"Learn more about your faith from your rabbi, minister, priest, imam, elder, or other religious leader.

"Requirement

"Earn the religious emblem of your faith."

According to defendant, Michael and William responded that they would have a problem because they did not believe in God and were atheists. This caused some commotion among the other boys, and the den mother removed the twins from the room. She asked what they did believe in; and they replied, "themselves." The boys testified the word "atheist" was not in their vocabulary and was suggested by the den mother. They denied disrupting the meeting.

In any event, the boys' parents were informed of the religion achievement requirement and told their sons could not continue in scouting if they did not believe in God. With their mother as guardian ad litem, the boys' attorney father soon brought suit.

II

It has long been the law of California that the Boy Scouts, on the national and council levels, are businesses subject to regulation under the Unruh Act. (Curran v. Mount Diablo Council of the Boy Scouts (1983) 147 Cal.App.3d 712, 717.) Nothing in the evidence produced below calls the Curran decision into question. Indeed, the facts established at trial strongly support its conclusion.

The Unruh Act has been amended three times since 1983; and while the Legislature is considered to be familiar with appellate opinions, it has not chosen to overturn Curran. Neither has the Supreme Court which recognized its appearance in passing in a similar holding in Isbister v. Boys' Club of Santa Cruz, Inc (1985) 40 Cal.3d 72, 81, footnote 8. More recently, the court refused to jettison Curran in Harris v. Capital Growth Investors XIV(l991) 52 Cal.3d 1142, 1155; and Harris may be the most restrictive interpretation of the Unruh Act in the history of the Supreme Court. In Hart v. Cult Awareness Network (1993) 13 Cal.App.4th 777, 787, the same division of the Second District distinguished, but did not overrule, its decision in Curran.

Relying on Hart, however, defendant claims application of the Unruh Act would violate its constitutional right of free association. It made the same argument in Curran; and the court answered, "Taking this principle [the right to free association] literally as 'governing' would afford protection to the most flagrant form of discrimination under the canopy of the right of free association. The answer is, of course, that those with a common interest may associate exclusively with whom they please only if it is the kind of association which was intended to be embraced within the protection afforded by the rights of privacy and free association. (See Note, Association, Privacy and the Private Club: The Constitutional Conflict (1970) 5 Harv.C.R-C.L. L.Rev. 460, 466-467.) 'The character and extent of any interference with the freedom of association must be weighed against the countervailing interests.' (Note, Sex Discrimination in Private Clubs (1977) 29 Hastings L.J. 417, 422.) Accordingly, these constitutional provisions only restrain the Legislature from enacting antidiscrimination laws where strictly private clubs or institutions are affected." (Curran v. Mount Diablo Council of the Boy Scouts, supra, 147 Cal.App.3d at pp. 730-731.)

Were we writing on a clean slate, the Hart opinion (refusing to require the Cult Awareness Network to admit members of the Church of Scientology) might give pause. But the specific issues before us concerning application of the Unruh Act to the Boy Scouts were resolved over a decade ago. Sound principles of stare decisis, particularly in view of the reaction (or lack thereof) to Curran by the Legislature and the appellate courts, persuade us it should be followed. A settled rule in an area of sensitive social policy should not lightly be brought into question.

III

The council does have one point, though. Oddly, the superior court drew an injunction specifically naming packs and dens, while recognizing in the statement of decision that none was before the court. That portion of the injunction must be annulled accordingly. It is axiomatic that only parties to actions may be enjoined. Packs and dens are not merely companies and platoons in the same army; they are loosely led and virtually autonomous in the community.

Randall pere probably appreciated the distinction because neither the pack nor the den was made a party. (See Roberts v. United States Jaycees (1984) 468 U.S. 609.) And, as noted in footnote 7, they have different legal positions. No pack or den should have been enjoined who had not been named in the complaint or intervened in the action.

To summarize, the Orange County Council, Boy Scouts of America can hardly be considered the religious organization the dissent proclaims, since any creed will meet its requirements. The county council is a business, a fairly big business. But businesses entertaining religious preferences may not discriminate on that basis. (Pines v. Tomson (1984) 160 Cal.App.3d 370.) The council could have no compelling justification for discriminating against children because of their current notions concerning the subject of God. Indeed, such discrimination would appear to contradict a variety of the principles of the congressionally chartered Boy Scouts of America.

The judgment is affirmed in part and reversed in part with directions to delete all references to packs and dens from the permanent injunction. Each side shall bear its own costs.

Crosby, J.; Concurring: Sonenshine, J.

Published in Back Issues
%955 %America/Chicago, %2013

Randalls Win Round Two

Randalls Win Round Two

A California appeals court rebuked Boy Scouts of America by ruling on February 28 that twin freethinkers cannot be expelled from an Orange County Scouting troop because they don't believe in a deity.

The 4th District Court of Appeal ruled 2 to 1 that the Orange County Council of the Scouts is a business as defined by law, and therefore may not discriminate on the basis of religion.

The original lawsuit was filed in early 1991 on behalf of William and Michael Randall, now 12, by their attorney father James Randall, when the boys were summarily expelled from Cub Scouts after entering a new troop in conservative Orange County. The lower court upheld the Randall family's contention that the discrimination violated the state Unruh Civil Rights Act, applying to businesses. The ACLU is assisting Randall in the appeals process.

The appellate court agreed with the lower court: "The council could have no compelling justification for discriminating against children because of their current notions concerning the subject of God. Indeed, such discrimination would appear to contradict a variety of the principles of the congressionally chartered Boy Scouts of America."

Justice Thomas F. Crosby Jr. with Justice Sheila Prell Sonenshine concurring, ruled that the Boy Scouts of Orange County are a business, with retail stores, $9 million in assets, an annual $4 million budget, and three large recreational centers.

Justice David G. Sills wrote a 12-page dissent complaining that "there are those who still seek membership in an organization which teaches duty to God and country and the virtues of order and discipline."

While contending it is a private organization which may discriminate against nonreligious families, Boy Scouts relies on privileges from taxpayers, including recruitment and waived rental fees in many public schools, fundraising benefits by public employees, complimentary access to state and federal parks, and other hand-outs. It also gets about 25% of its funding from United Way, even though United Way's own guidelines require recipient organizations to be nondiscriminatory.

Last December, Boy Scouts of America won a challenge by Elliott Welsh of Illinois in federal court against its discriminatory practices. The U.S. Supreme Court let stand an appeals court ruling saying that federal anti-discrimination laws do not apply to Boy Scouts of America. However, the Randall case is based on state civil-rights law, not federal, so was not affected by the precedent.

Valerie Randall told Freethought Today: "The boys passed into Boy Scouts in June of 1993. They follow the program without limitation, but do not state the word 'god' when saying their oath. They have fully participated in all the troop's campouts, a recent ski trip, a food drive to feed the homeless, and all fundraising activities. They have already earned their first four merit badges. We joke that they've already earned their Law merit badges by proxy!"

The Orange County Register editorialized against the ruling as "totalitarian," but the Los Angeles Times supported the ruling, noting:

"It ought to be enough that William and Michael Randall, twin brothers in Orange County, say they enjoy being Boy Scouts and have no intention of imposing their views on anyone else. But they have had to change troops because of ill feeling over their refusal to profess belief in God. And the county chapter of the Boy Scouts of America wants to exclude them from membership altogether." The newspaper advised Boy Scouts to "drop the matter, to avoid putting the boys through further litigation and scrutiny."

Below, the major portion of the court decision is reprinted.


California Appellate Court Rules

Boy Scouts May Not Discriminate

In The Court of Appeal of the State of California Fourth Appellate District Division Three

Michael Randall et al.,
Plaintiffs and Respondents,

v.

Orange County Council,
Boy Scouts Of America,
Defendants and Appellants.

Appeal from a judgment of the Superior Court of Orange County, Richard O. Frazee, Sr., Judge. Affirmed in part and reversed in part with directions.

Hughes Hubbard & Reed, George A. Davidson, Carla A. Kerr, John Kralik IV, and Lois C. Moonitz for Defendant and Appellant.

Jon W. Davidson, Paul L. Hoffman, and James Grafton Randall for Plaintiffs and Respondents.

Does the Unruh Civil Rights Act (Civ. Code, § 51, et seq.) apply to the Orange County Council of the Boy Scouts of America? Yes. May the council, the only named defendant, discriminate on the basis of religious beliefs or lack of religious beliefs? No.

I

This is an appeal from an action for injunctive relief and statutory damages ($250) on behalf of eleven-year-old twin brothers, plaintiffs Michael and William Randall, who were members of Cub Scout Den 4, Pack 519, located in Anaheim Hills. The boys prevailed at trial, obtaining an injunction barring defendant Orange County Council, Boy Scouts of America or any packs or dens from excluding them from scouting or advancing in the organization based on their religious beliefs.

Den 4 has five or six members who attend the same neighborhood school Pack 519 is comprised of Den 4 and a half dozen others and affiliated with defendant Orange County Council, Boy Scouts of America. The pack has no assets, but is operated by a parents' committee chartered by the county council.

The Randalls had advanced several scouting ranks when their family moved to the Den 4 neighborhood in 1990. At the boys' fourth or fifth meeting in the new den, the den mother read the first "achievement" in the Bear Book, the instruction manual for the next Cub Scout ranking, the Bear Badge. Quoted directly from the book, it reads as follows: "We are lucky. The people who wrote and signed our Constitution were very wise. They understood the need of Americans to worship God as they choose. A member of your family will be able to talk with you about your duty to God. Remember, this achievement is part of your Cub Scout Promise: 'I, _____________, promise to do my best to do my duty to God and my country . . .'

"Requirement

"Practice your religion as you are taught in your home, church, synagogue, mosque, or other religious community.

"I worship God: in song[,] in prayer[,] in study[,] and by kind and thoughtful acts toward others."

Alternatively the achievement could be attained in the following way: "Many signs remind us of God. Among them are a 6-pointed star, a cross, and a crescent. There are many other religious symbols. One of them may appear on a special emblem you may earn to wear on your uniform.

"Learn more about your faith from your rabbi, minister, priest, imam, elder, or other religious leader.

"Requirement

"Earn the religious emblem of your faith."

According to defendant, Michael and William responded that they would have a problem because they did not believe in God and were atheists. This caused some commotion among the other boys, and the den mother removed the twins from the room. She asked what they did believe in; and they replied, "themselves." The boys testified the word "atheist" was not in their vocabulary and was suggested by the den mother. They denied disrupting the meeting.

In any event, the boys' parents were informed of the religion achievement requirement and told their sons could not continue in scouting if they did not believe in God. With their mother as guardian ad litem, the boys' attorney father soon brought suit.

II

It has long been the law of California that the Boy Scouts, on the national and council levels, are businesses subject to regulation under the Unruh Act. ( Curran v. Mount Diablo Council of the Boy Scouts (1983) 147 Cal.App.3d 712, 717.) Nothing in the evidence produced below calls the Curran decision into question. Indeed, the facts established at trial strongly support its conclusion.

The Unruh Act has been amended three times since 1983; and while the Legislature is considered to be familiar with appellate opinions, it has not chosen to overturn Curran. Neither has the Supreme Court which recognized its appearance in passing in a similar holding in Isbister v. Boys' Club of Santa Cruz, Inc (1985) 40 Cal.3d 72, 81, footnote 8. More recently, the court refused to jettison Curran in Harris v. Capital Growth Investors XIV (l991) 52 Cal.3d 1142, 1155; and Harris may be the most restrictive interpretation of the Unruh Act in the history of the Supreme Court. In Hart v. Cult Awareness Network (1993) 13 Cal.App.4th 777, 787, the same division of the Second District distinguished, but did not overrule, its decision in Curran.

Relying on Hart, however, defendant claims application of the Unruh Act would violate its constitutional right of free association. It made the same argument in Curran; and the court answered, "Taking this principle [the right to free association] literally as 'governing' would afford protection to the most flagrant form of discrimination under the canopy of the right of free association. The answer is, of course, that those with a common interest may associate exclusively with whom they please only if it is the kind of association which was intended to be embraced within the protection afforded by the rights of privacy and free association. (See Note, Association, Privacy and the Private Club: The Constitutional Conflict (1970) 5 Harv.C.R-C.L. L.Rev. 460, 466-467.) 'The character and extent of any interference with the freedom of association must be weighed against the countervailing interests.' (Note, Sex Discrimination in Private Clubs (1977) 29 Hastings L.J. 417, 422.) [¶]Accordingly, these constitutional provisions only restrain the Legislature from enacting antidiscrimination laws where strictly private clubs or institutions are affected." ( Curran v. Mount Diablo Council of the Boy Scouts, supra, 147 Cal.App.3d at pp. 730-731.)

Were we writing on a clean slate, the Hart opinion (refusing to require the Cult Awareness Network to admit members of the Church of Scientology) might give pause. But the specific issues before us concerning application of the Unruh Act to the Boy Scouts were resolved over a decade ago. Sound principles of stare decisis, particularly in view of the reaction (or lack thereof) to Curran by the Legislature and the appellate courts, persuade us it should be followed. A settled rule in an area of sensitive social policy should not lightly be brought into question.

III

The council does have one point, though. Oddly, the superior court drew an injunction specifically naming packs and dens, while recognizing in the statement of decision that none was before the court. That portion of the injunction must be annulled accordingly. It is axiomatic that only parties to actions may be enjoined. Packs and dens are not merely companies and platoons in the same army; they are loosely led and virtually autonomous in the community.

Randall père probably appreciated the distinction because neither the pack nor the den was made a party. (See Roberts v. United States Jaycees (1984) 468 U.S. 609.) And, as noted in footnote 7, they have different legal positions. No pack or den should have been enjoined who had not been named in the complaint or intervened in the action.

To summarize, the Orange County Council, Boy Scouts of America can hardly be considered the religious organization the dissent proclaims, since any creed will meet its requirements. The county council is a business, a fairly big business. But businesses entertaining religious preferences may not discriminate on that basis. ( Pines v. Tomson(1984) 160 Cal.App.3d 370.) The council could have no compelling justification for discriminating against children because of their current notions concerning the subject of God. Indeed, such discrimination would appear to contradict a variety of the principles of the congressionally chartered Boy Scouts of America.

The judgment is affirmed in part and reversed in part with directions to delete all references to packs and dens from the permanent injunction. Each side shall bear its own costs.

Crosby, J.; Concurring: Sonenshine, J.

Published in Back Issues
%953 %America/Chicago, %2013

Spring Is The Reason For The Season

This essay was submitted to various national daily newspapers as an equal-time Easter-time article.

Spring is here again, and we all have reason to enjoy the season. But judging from the press, the weeks following the vernal equinox appear to be the almost exclusive property of those who believe that a savior-god rose from the dead.

We are not all Christians. The "resurrection" of the soil, sun, and the vitality of life have been celebrated since long before biblical times. Christians have simply borrowed most of these pagan fertility rituals for themselves.

"Easter" was a pagan spring goddess (Eastre, Astara), and inadvertently became inseparable from Christianity because of a King James mistranslation of "Passover" (pascha) in Acts 12:4. Easter bunnies, eggs, and cuddly chicks point to animal fecundity, and flowers such as the Easter Lily symbolize the long-awaited renewal of the earth.

Most ancient cultures, dependent on crops, had a concept of the death of the old year and the resurrection of the new. Many symbolized this cycle with animal sacrifice. A few groups sacrificed humans, and some even executed the king. Jews and Christians copied this idea of blood sacrifice to appease the fickle deities.

Chrishna was a Hindu god born Dec. 25 to a royal virgin named Maia and adopted by a father who was a carpenter. Since 1200 BC his followers celebrated his crucifixion, resurrection and ascension. Tammuz of Syria rose from the dead for the salvation of the world. Prometheus (547 BC) was nailed by the hands and feet to Mount Caucasus, with arms extended, and resurrected after a great earthquake. The Persian sun god Mithra (born Dec. 25 of a virgin, worshiped by first-century Roman soldiers) was executed and rose from the dead. It is easy to see that the Jesus story was cut from the same fabric as these ancient fertility myths.

There is no historical confirmation for the Christian resurrection outside the New Testament in the first century. The earliest possible (and quite dubious) extrabiblical mention of Christianity comes from Tacitus in the 2nd century, and he ignores the resurrection altogether. (The much heralded paragraph in Josephus was a 4th-century Christian interpolation.)

About 180 AD the highly respected Church father Irenaeus wrote that Jesus was not crucified, but lived to be about 50 years old.

The biblical resurrection accounts are wildly contradictory. Christian scholar A. E. Harvey said "it is impossible to fit their accounts together into a single coherent scheme." Albert Schweitzer said "[t]here is nothing more negative than the result of the critical study of the life of Jesus."

How many of us on the eve of the 21st century believe that dead bodies emerged from the graveyards of Jerusalem, as Matthew reports happened at the crucifixion, parading around like the Living Dead? Such an event should have caught the attention of someone.

And what about the reported darkness at the crucfixion? Passover is near the full moon: a solar eclipse can only occur during the new moon.

Mythology aside, Christians and non-Christians alike have plenty to celebrate this season: another year of promise, opportunity, and joy. Spring is here, and life is good!

Dan Barker is the author of Losing Faith In Faith: From Preacher To Atheist and works for the Freedom From Religion Foundation in Madison, Wisconsin.

Published in Back Issues
%951 %America/Chicago, %2013

Lips, Lunch & Prayer

Below is a description of the Colorado Prayer Luncheon which was the subject of a lawsuit taken on behalf of the Foundation by attorney Robert Tiernan.

Well, we ate, listened and they prayed. An exercise in passivity. Ho Hum! Now what?

The Colorado Prayer Luncheon on March 4, 1994 was promoted as "a coming together of schools, churches, agencies, state and municipal leaders to reverse family disintegration and moral decline." What was accomplished? Was there an outcome? It looked exactly like the preacher preaching to the choir. Everyone was well-dressed (at $22.00 per ticket, who else could afford to attend?), probably 85-90 percent white and obviously on their best behavior. There was no interaction, no questions or comments, because there was absolutely no provision for anything of that sort. There was nothing particularly friendly in the atmosphere and everyone seemed to converse only with those who came as their partners or in a group.

The crowd was dismissed at 2:00 pm at which time vague "Breakout" sessions were announced. Out of 900 attendees (as reported by the Post and probably plumped up) there were 25-30 bodies at the breakout. Maybe I should have stayed to see what transpired (or didn't) between these few more dedicated individuals but my "spirit" had waned.

Now for some program highlights and comments. First you will be happy to know that we got their attention. Every speaker opened with some comment about the hearing of the Freedom From Religion Foundation's lawsuit.

Gov. Roy Romer was in Florida on a business trip, so his younger son, Chris, stood in for him. He told a story of "borrowed" gum and a 120-mile trip to make restitution, demonstrating how his father taught morals and values.

Next, Denver Mayor Wellington Webb started by mentioning the hearing and also referred to the previous lawsuit forcing the city to distance itself from a Day of Prayer, without acknowledging his chastisement and subsequent court-ordered apology. He called himself "a Baptist before he was Mayor" and said those in office should not have to give up freedom of expression and personal beliefs. He then stated that he had placed his left hand on a bible when he was first sworn into office as mayor and "if there was no conflict there [church and state] there shouldn't be here."

Then there was U.S. Rep. Joel Hefley who said he "fully expected to be in jail this afternoon" and that the "founding fathers didn't expect us to pack into a bag who we are as we approach the gold dome." He also poured forth about the "frightening experience" of going to congressional sessions where everyone is Democrat or Republican and how opening with a prayer breakfast means so much to conveying a sense of camaraderie. He went on to say that these are enjoyed by representatives from around the world regardless of their religious beliefs and how these prayer breakfasts are being imitated by other countries all over the world.

Chuck Berry, Speaker of the House of Representatives, gave a short Old Testament reading. Read for yourselves, if you like, Psalm 102:1-2 and Proverbs 3:5-7. Chuck gave his parents the credit for teaching him bible reading. I think the Proverbs reading says, in effect, "Don't think."

Don Reeverts of the Denver Leadership Foundation then led a prayer for Colorado and its leaders: Bill Clinton, Congress, Gov. Roy Romer, the Legislature, Mayor Wellington Webb, all mayors across our state and other local officials, judges and law enforcement, educators, business and professional leaders and civic leaders. He ended with "those caught in crime and the fatherless and motherless." Were we or most of the population included in that prayer? Maybe if we consider freethinkers as educators.

A former gang member from Los Angeles, Eddie García, gave a personal testimonial about his life of crime before finding God. He now has a wife, four children and metal supports for his spinal column since having a lift truck fall on him. He said he "wouldn't know right from wrong" without his "confrontation with God."

Reeverts introduced Bill Ritter, Denver District Attorney, with a wonderful testimonial to Ritter as "hard to beat" and glowing references to his beautiful wife and children and how they had been lay missionaries in Zambia from 1987 to 1990. Was Ritter the token Catholic? Maybe there was a token Muslim, Jew or Hindu in the crowd also. I know there were a couple of atheists there.

Ritter was the best thing on the menu because he didn't sound like a preacher, he sounded like a sociologist. However, the information he presented was probably already known to that audience. More preaching to the choir.

By the time a closing prayer was offered by Jill Armstrong, a student at C.U. Boulder, I had tuned out. We were dismissed.

Some final thoughts. The purpose of this function supposedly was to implement a plan and start something rolling but all I heard was rhetoric. The question still remains, what did the prayer luncheon do? Did it serve a practical purpose? Who benefited from it?

The most obvious answer to the last question, in my perception, is the politicians who participated. The Prayer Luncheon gives them a platform on which to be perceived as Good Guys. Moral men, espousing values, willing to help and in a position of power that is capable of producing results. The voters will remember the good vibrations at the ballot box.

This feel-good image that the politician leaves with the audience is the same effect of prayer. Who benefits from prayer? The one who prays. What do they get? They get the perception of being good, having done good, having made an effort. It's a bargain. It doesn't take much effort and very little time is necessary. You can do it anywhere: in the bathroom, during commercial breaks or at lunch with your Big Mac. It's a wonder Americans don't do more of it since we love bargains, something for nothing or the perception of something for nothing.

The problem of course is that we feel so good that we do nothing else. Everything is taken care of and is out of our hands, at least until next prayer time. We have done our part and now it's up to God. Nothing fails like prayer.

Lora Attwood is a Foundation member from Colorado who left the Jehovah's Witnesses at age 17, married a freethinker 43 years ago, and raised two daughters, "All of whom have done well without the benefit of religious teaching. A family can have values without being coerced by threats of hell or rewards of heaven."

Published in Back Issues
%949 %America/Chicago, %2013

Anne's Column

Florida Foundation member Julius Wernicke, a firm advocate of women's rights, attended much of the recent trial in Pensacola of Michael Griffin, the confessed and duly convicted murderer of Dr. David Gunn. Gunn was shot in the back by Griffin at a Pensacola abortion clinic on March 10, 1993. Mr. Wernicke kept us supplied with clippings and reports of the trial which attracted international attention.

Murderer Griffin's background is filled with religion.

Griffin's father described his son as "a religious person all his life," attending a Methodist church as a child and teenager. Reportedly, he was molested by a youth minister. Griffin joined a fundamentalist Assembly of God church seven years ago. That church's pastor told reporters Griffin was abusive to his family, "slapping around" his wife and two daughters, and was finally asked to leave the congregation because he was "incorrigible." (If they kick you out of an Assembly of God church, you're pretty bad!)

At the time of his arrest Griffin had been attending another fundamentalist church called Charity Chapel. There the congregation was asked to pray for his troubled marriage. Griffin also was meeting regularly with John Burt, another fundamentalist minister and abortion opponent who served 60 days in jail in 1993 for his terrorist activities at abortion clinics. Burt supplied Griffin with antiabortion literature and films and invited him to join the regular picketing at the Pensacola clinic where Dr. Gunn worked and was slain.

Griffin originally asked to defend himself, but later agreed that a criminal attorney should be hired. An insanity plea apparently was considered but dropped when examining doctors found him mentally competent. One psychologist did describe him as "a chronically maladjusted person most likely suffering from a personality disorder with prominent paranoid features."

While awaiting trial, Griffin corresponded with another fundamentalist bible fanatic, Rachelle Shannon, who was convicted in March of attempted murder in the shooting of Dr. George Tiller last August in Wichita. Tiller was wounded in both arms, but was able to return to work.

Griffin's trial lasted two weeks, including one week of jury selection. The jury deliberated less than three hours.

Foundation member Julius Wernicke had praise for the prosecution, especially assistant state attorney Jim Murray.

"He was impressive," Julius told us. "He gave a masterpiece of a closing statement that lasted 90 minutes, and he never faltered."

Griffin was sentenced to life in prison with no possibility of parole for 25 years.

NOW, in a candlelight ceremony, has placed a plaque in memory of Dr. Gunn on Cordova Square in Pensacola.

Anne Gaylor is Foundation co-founder and president.

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