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Support Christ and Your Local Library

Imagine my surprise when I saw the following inscription on a walkway outside the brand new public library: "Christ Died For Our Sins. He Rose Again. 1 Cor 15:3-4." I rubbed my eyes in hopes that I was hallucinating, but the message was still there when I stopped.

King County's new Redmond Regional Library is right next door to the old one. The new building is an attractive addition to the city of Redmond, Washington, and it's located on a busy street about a block from city hall. The walkways along three sides of the library contain 3,000 square red bricks.

I learned that the Friends of the Redmond Library (FRL) were selling engraved messages on these bricks as a fundraising effort for the new building. The tiles were 6" by 6" and cost $40, $45, or $50, depending on the length of the caption. There were no--repeat, no--restrictions on the content of the messages.
Plague of Jesus Bricks
When I first saw the "Christ" brick on that fateful day in early 2000, only about one-third of the bricks had inscriptions. Those that had messages were closest to the library's two entrances. The FRL told me that there would be another engraving during the summer or fall. Future engravings would apparently spread outward from the entrances to the side streets. So the "Christ" brick, being part of the first engraving, was very close to one of the entrances, only about 20 feet away. A very prominent location.

But that wasn't the only brick with religious wording. Located near the opposite entrance, also only about 20 feet from the door, was this brick: "Christ Is Risen. He Is Risen, Indeed." Another brick encouraged patrons to "Read About Jesus." Another: "Read Your Bible; Prevent Truth Decay." Another tile read, "Thy Word Is A Lamp To My Feet And Light For My Path." Still another: "Psalms 119:160. All Your Words Are True." And, of course, there was a "John 3:16" brick.

It was like a plague! And there were about 2,000 blank bricks remaining, all waiting to be infected with more of this religious proselytizing! I began to have visions of Redmond pastors telling their congregations all about the new library and suggesting that everyone buy a brick for Jesus. Can you imagine a public library surrounded by thousands of "Jesus Loves You" tiles? That thought might keep you awake at nights, so I suggest you repress it immediately.

The library's fundraiser on the face of it was a great idea, at least the way the FRL and the King County Library System (KCLS) likely envisioned it. They probably thought the vast majority of people would place their family names on the bricks to show their support for the library. Perhaps they thought a few might engrave pleasant "We love books" messages. And there are many tiles with exactly that.

The mistake the library made was not placing any restrictions on the content. Perhaps it should have had a guideline that prohibited political, religious, and vulgar messages. Or perhaps it should have had an even more restrictive policy where only family names were allowed. But the library didn't think it through and opened the floodgates. And now we have several Jesus bricks on the grounds of the library--and more to come--and they will stay there as long as the library stands. That didn't sit well with me.
Plan A: Remove the Religious Bricks!
So I decided on a two-prong attack. First, I would attempt to get the religious tiles removed. If that failed, I would then test the content-neutral policy of the library by purchasing my very own engraved bricks and suing the library if it refused my requests.

So in May 2000, I wrote a letter to Bill Ptacek, the director of the KCLS, saying that the "Christian inscriptions on government property are a blatant violation of the separation of church and state." I mentioned that the Supreme Court had let stand a ruling that allowed a school to ban a citizen from displaying the Ten Commandments on the school's baseball field fence, even though the citizen was willing to pay for the message and even though the school had accepted nonreligious messages (Di Loreto v. Downey Unified School District). So if that school could ban religious messages from its fence, the library could certainly ban religious messages from its walkways. I asked that the religious tiles be removed immediately.

Ptacek responded in a timely manner but said that the library and its grounds served as a public forum, thus the KCLS could not "restrict speech in public areas except to serve a compelling governmental interest." The religious tiles would stay.

I have a problem with authority, so I pursued the matter by writing to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). In my letter, I explained why I thought the public forum argument wasn't sufficient in this case:

"A citizen can certainly display a temporary sign in a public forum such as Washington DC's Lafayette Park, but that doesn't mean a citizen can purchase a permanent structure inscribed with Christian verses (e.g., Ten Commandments) and have it placed forever in that public park. Also, according to KCLS's logic, a library could constitutionally sell sections of wall space and allow citizens to permanently place the Ten Commandments on the internal or external walls of the library. This would be a clear violation, regardless of whether the inscriptions were purchased by the government or by a private citizen."
Okay, How about a Disclaimer
The ACLU didn't agree that the religious bricks should be removed (or at least it thought the courts would not agree). But the ACLU did think a prominent disclaimer should be posted near the bricks to indicate that the government did not sponsor the inscriptions.

ACLU attorney Aaron Caplan wrote to Ptacek in June, asking for a disclaimer. In the letter, Caplan explained that a 1995 case (Capitol Square Review and Advisory Board v. Pinette) "makes clear the need for a disclaimer where private religious speech in a public forum consists of structural displays." Caplan even suggested wording for the disclaimer.

Caplan also creatively pointed out (with a hint of humor) that the library had opened a Pandora's box:

"The Friends of the Library web site does not provide any subject matter limitation or other guidelines. Thus, the library would accept tiles that said both 'Jesus Saves' or 'Religion is the Opiate of the Masses.' In a designated public forum operated on the content-neutral principles you describe, the library would also be obliged to display tiles that said 'Keep Abortion Legal,' 'US Out of UN,' 'Vote Jones for County Commissioner,' 'Jimmy Is A Creep,' 'White Power,' 'The Holocaust Is A Hoax,' or 'Overdue Fees At This Library Are Too High.' "

On July 3, 2000, attorneys for the KCLS replied to Caplan: "While the Library District does not agree with the legal conclusions in your letter, the Library District is willing to provide a disclaimer regarding sponsorship of the tiles." The wording was almost identical to that proposed by Caplan:

"About the Tiles: The inscribed tiles you see on the walkway were purchased by individual library supporters, who chose the messages. The views expressed on the tiles are those of the sponsors, not the King County Library System. To sponsor additional tiles, contact the Library staff or the Friends of the Redmond Library."

The library placed this disclaimer on two 11 1/2" by 11 1/2" plaques, one near each entrance to the library.
Plan B: Get My Own Bricks! (Insert Evil Laughter Here)
So I didn't succeed in getting the offensive tiles removed, but at least it is now abundantly clear that the government didn't sponsor the religious messages.

Onto the second part of my strategy! I now filled out order forms for four bricks of my very own and sent them to the FRL. I decided that my messages had to push--if not exceed--the boundaries of good taste. Why? Because if the County decided it couldn't bear to have my words appear on its property, then I hoped the library--knowing that the ACLU was breathing down its back--would reverse its decision, remove the religious bricks, and henceforth refuse to accept any religion-related messages (including mine).

Less ideally, the library might refuse to engrave my messages but keep the religious tiles, in which case the ACLU would likely have threatened a lawsuit.

The third option was that the library would actually accept my requests. In that case, the library would learn that its free-for-all collection of commemorative bricks was a bad idea, and perhaps the KCLS would discourage other libraries from making the same mistake.

The result? The library mailed me a confirmation letter and subsequently engraved my messages in the fall of 2000, exactly as ordered and without any complaint whatsoever! Here, without further ado, are my four messages that now appear permanently (barring any God-inspired vandalism) on the library's walkway, sorted from least to most offensive:

(1) First Amendment: Keep Church & State Separate

(2) Evolution Is A Fact. Read About It.

(3) Jehovah, Allah, Zeus, Thor & Brahma. They're All Myths.

(4) God Kills Babies. Read 1 Samuel 15:3. And God Is Love??

I hasten to add that I never would have dreamed of placing such inscriptions on the grounds of a library under normal circumstances. I don't think it's the place for personal sentiments, especially controversial ones. Yes, my statements are true (well, okay, God didn't actually kill babies because he doesn't exist), but I don't normally go out of my way to offend. However, if Christians (or any other religious folks) decide to shove their religion down my throat, and if the government facilitates their efforts, then I'm going to play ball, too. If you can't beat 'em, join 'em.
The More the Merrier
By the way, when I mailed in my brick orders, I also encouraged other nonreligious folks to buy tiles. You will not be shocked to learn that our very own FFRF purchased a tile: "Freedom From Religion Foundation. WWW.FFRF.ORG". I was very pleased to see the name and Internet address of our fine organization etched permanently in the walkway. I can easily imagine curious library patrons writing down the web address and visiting the site to learn more about our group.

Others who took me up on my suggestion had this witty message engraved: "With Soap, Baptism Is A Good Thing. Robert Ingersoll."

As expected, the latest engraving also added at least one other religious brick: "God Can Change Life." I am very happy to report that the Gods of Juxtaposition smiled upon me and placed that tile directly next to my "God Kills Babies" tile. It's a beautiful sight.
Other Cases: Public Schools and Public Park
Raising money through bricks or tiles is apparently becoming a popular activity. And it has spawned other controversies. In October 1999, the Rutherford Institute sued Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, for removing ceramic tiles that contained religious content.1 The tiles had been purchased by friends and relatives of students murdered by Klebold and Harris. The tiles had been placed above lockers in the school's hallways. One tile said, "Jesus Christ Is Lord." Another said, "There Is No Peace, Says The Lord, For The Wicked."

The Rutherford Institute also sued an upstate New York public school in September 2000 after the school removed bricks with messages such as "Jesus Saves" and "Jesus Christ Is The Lord Of This School."2 A Jewish woman had complained about the Christian inscriptions, so the school placed a disclaimer near the walkway: "The messages on this walk are the personal expressions and contributions of the individuals of Mexico Academy and Central School Community." The woman then decided to buy a tile that said, "Keep Abortion Legal." Realizing that it had stepped into a quagmire, the school refused her request, removed the previously accepted religious bricks, and forbade such inscriptions in the future. That's when the Rutherford Institute stepped in.

In June 2000, the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), a group founded by Pat Robertson, sued a school district in Tennessee to force the inclusion of a brick at the entrance of the new Westview Elementary School.3 The brick in question contained the name of a student along with the words "To the Glory of God." Although the school had placed no restrictions on the content of the bricks, the school excluded the brick for fear it would indicate governmental endorsement of religion. But in August, under pressure from the ACLJ, the school district reversed its decision, installed the brick, and paid the ACLJ $7,500 in court costs.

Early in the heated debate, the principal of Westview, Margo Williams, observed, "If we allow something about God, a Satan worshiper could expect the same thing. If we do it for one, we would have to do it for all. And we would be mortified if that happened." ACLJ representative Stuart Roth responded by saying, "If they countered with the hypothetical parade of horribles, that's never enough to violate somebody's freedom of speech. There are always opinions we don't like. That's what happens when you live in a free society."

I'm going to save Roth's quote, because if the ACLJ ever sues the Redmond Library for displaying bricks that are deemed offensive to Christians, I plan to throw his statement back in the ACLJ's face.

The city of Newburyport, Massachusetts, also found itself embroiled in controversy when it removed two commemorative bricks from the city's Woodman Park. The city had not placed restrictions on content, but removed the two bricks--"Jesus Loves You" and "For All The Unborn Children"--in response to citizen complaints. In January 2001, the ACLJ once again reared its ugly head with a federal lawsuit that demanded the return of the two bricks to the park's walkway.4

Ben Bull of the ACLJ stated, "The heavy hand of censorship of the local government has no place in quashing a person's religious expression." Of course, local governments have no business placing permanent Christian inscriptions on public property, either.
Hurry While Supplies Last!
By the way, more than a thousand bricks are still available at the Redmond Library. Feel free to download the order form from the Redmond Library's website at : www.kcls.org/red/tilesale.html and get your own personal message inscribed. Sure, Christians will step all over your brick, but they won't like it one bit!

Matthew Barry is a Foundation member from Washington.
Footnote
1 www.salon.com/news/feature/1999/10/07/columbine/index.html
www.freedomforum.org/templates/document.asp?documentID=8465
www.rutherford.org/contrib/columbine.asp
2 www.freedomforum.org/templates/document.asp?documentID=3724
www.au.org/churchstate/cs5008.htm
3www.tennessean.com/sii/00/08/02/brick02.shtml
www.timesfreepress.com/2000/JUN/06JUN00/NEWSBRI06.html
www.timesfreepress.com/2000/AUG/02AUG00/TEASER01LINKCT.html
http://aclj.org/news/NR_000801.asp
www.atheists.org/flash.line/prayer20.htm
4 www.freedomforum.org/templates/document.asp?documentID=12924
http://aclj.org/news/nr_010123_bostonbrickpavers.asp

Published in Back Issues

A lawsuit to halt pervasive illegal religious practices in public schools in Rhea County, Tennessee was filed in the courtroom of Chief Judge Edgar, United States District Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee, on April 26 by the Freedom From Religion Foundation. Dayton, Tennessee, of Scopes Trial fame, is the county seat.

"This case arises out of the policy, practice and custom of the defendants in promoting the teaching of religion to public school children in Rhea County," the complaint states, "by permitting college students from Bryan College to attend classes and teach 'the Bible' to students in grades K-12."

Co-plaintiffs "John Doe" and "Mary Roe" are seeking confidentiality "for fear of physical and/or economic harm from persons favoring such unconstitutional programs," the complaint states.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation was contacted by the plaintiffs last year who sought help to end illegal bible study in the classroom, distribution of bibles in classrooms, and other First Amendment violations.

The Foundation sent an official letter of complaint on Sept. 27, 2000, to Susan Porter, Rhea County Superintendent, who is named as a defendant, enumerating the various prevailing Supreme Court decisions which the practices violate. The Foundation requested that the schools stop teaching and endorsing Christian religious beliefs and practices. As a result of the letter, the Rhea County Commission on October 17, 2000, adopted a unanimous resolution approving the bible classes. Also named as defendant is Jimmy Wilkey, County Executive for Rhea County, Tennessee.

"Plaintiffs Jane Roe and John Doe object to the misallocation of public facilities and public school time, paid for at taxpayers' expense, for the purpose of teaching public school children religious beliefs and practices to which they personally do not subscribe," the complaint says. "Plaintiff Roe's children are of tender years and are, therefore, extremely vulnerable to such religious proselytization."

The lawsuit invokes more than 50 years of U.S. Supreme Court precedent against such practices, including the landmark McCollum v. Board of Education 333 US 203 (1948), striking down religious instruction in public schools.

Doe v Porter can be found online at: http://www.ffrf.org/news/daytoncomplaint.html

Published in Back Issues
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Superstition Flourishes

"Here is a newspaper article--front page ('Saintly Assistance: Burying miniature statue of St. Joseph in yard said to be helpful when selling a home,' New Castle News, April 5, 2001)--and the plastic St. Joseph's kit used to bless and sell homes here in New Castle during the year 2001!" writes Pennsylvania Foundation member Dale Anderson.

Dale kindly mailed the Foundation office a sample of the "graven images" apparently buried in many New Castle backyards.

"We expect this type of gross superstition to flourish in places such as Mexico, South America, Spain, etc., but this archaic cancer still haunts 'modern families.' " he writes.

"Robert Ingersoll said it well when referring to 'poison from the mother's milk' given in love to the innocent child. Thus is the torch of human reason polluted."

Freedom From Religion Foundation staffers Annie Laurie Gaylor and Dan Barker admiring primitive superstition circa 21st century U.S. Catholicism--a $6.99 plastic 'St. JosephÕs statue,' courtesy of member Dale Anderson.
The 'St. Joseph's Kit' testimonial. The Catholic entrepreneur reassures customers that the "statue does not necessarily have to be buried, but can instead be displayed in the house or in the front yard."

Setting the Record Straight

At the National Commemoration of the Days of Remembrance at the U.S. Capitol on April 19, President Bush said:

"Tyrants and dictators will accept no other gods before them. They require disobedience to the First Commandment. They seek absolute control and are threatened by faith in God. They fear only the power they cannot possess--the power of truth. So they resent the living example of the devout, especially the devotion of a unique people chosen by God."

The Freedom From Religion Foundation wrote Bush documenting the Christian origins of anti-Semitism.

"The very week of your statements on the Holocaust we see continued examples of breathtakingly insensitive Christian anti-Semitism in this country:

Johnny Hart's 'B.C.' Easter Day cartoon and Easter commentary by the darling of the Christian right, Paul Weyrich, declaring that "Christ was crucified by the Jews.' "

To read the entire letter, see: http://www.ffrf.org/news/holocaust.html

Published in Back Issues

When Mark Twain died in 1910, he was an international superstar and an American institution. He was America's knight errant against sham, cant, and pomposity in places high and low. His signature white suit, shock of gray hair, walrus moustache, and omnipresent cigar were etched in the national consciousness. Wherever he went, ebullient crowds applauded his droll wit and cornpone wisdom, journalists wheedled piquant quips, hosts vied for after-dinner remarks. He was toasted by royalty, wooed by moguls, embraced by the intelligentsia. Andrew Carnegie donated a thousand dollars to spread "a new Gospel of Saint Mark" (an anti-imperialist tract). Charles Darwin kept a Twain volume on his nightstand. William Dean Howells, a lifelong friend and esteemed arbiter of belles lettres, dubbed him "the Lincoln of our literature."

Only a handful of intimates knew this revered creator of Tom Sawyer, Becky Thatcher, and Huck Finn had died a bilious adversary of the Almighty. In his twilight years, Twain's volcanic pen belched ceaseless vitriol against his Maker. Spewed into letters, notebooks, essays, dialogues, autobiographical dictations, and sundry fragments, none of this uneven gallimaufry was published in his lifetime. This was gospel for the future.

At seventy-two, Twain wrote: "I expose to the world only my trimmed and perfumed and carefully barbered public opinions and conceal carefully, cautiously, wisely, my private ones."1

Impressed by the audacity of his naughtiness, he initially reckoned the world would need 500 years to catch up. Later, in a flush of philanthropy, he revised the estimate to 2006 CE.

Twain's private opinions had never been arrestingly pious. His father, who died when Mark was twelve, was an easygoing Hannibal lawyer and storekeeper, whom the son would later suspect of having had an agnostic bone or two. His Presbyterian mother showed flashes of heterodoxy. In his autobiography, Twain recalls her sympathy for Satan because he never got to tell his side of the story. Like Tom and Huck, his alter egos, young Twain preferred smoking, cussing, spelunking, and lollygagging to sermons, Sunday school, and other heavy-duty moral cleansers. When he did attend to religion, his empirical proclivities threatened orthodoxy. After his bible teacher had explicated the verse "Ask and ye shall receive," Twain spent three days praying for gingerbread. When none materialized, he filched a convenient piece. He concluded that prayer is an inferior mode of acquisition.

As an adult, he adopted the Christianity of enlightened liberalism, congenial with his burgeoning deism. He discarded heaven and hell, the immortality of the soul, and the divinity of Jesus Christ. From Thomas Paine, whom he had read in his cub pilot days, Twain imbibed the idea that religions derive their authority from spurious claims by their founders that they had received revelations from God, transmitted to posterity as incontrovertible holy writ. Bibles diminished the grandeur of the real God by straitening "him" to the narrow confines of parochial imaginations.

The true revelation was Nature, best apprehended through science. Twain touted reason and logic as antidotes to ignorance, superstition, and humbuggery of every ilk.

Compared with the majestic pageantry of astronomical phenomena, church creeds seemed insular, petty, and egoistic. In a letter to Howells, Twain recounted the constricting effect of his sister-in-law's religiosity on his brother Orion: "She is saturated to the marrow with the most malignant form of Presbyterianism--that sort which considers the saving of one's own paltry soul the first & supreme end & object of life, so you see she has harried him into the church several times, & then made religion so intolerable to him with her prayings & Bible readings & her other & eternal pious clack-clack that it has had the effect of harrying him out of it again."2

Despite his strictures on church and bible, Twain long retained respect for Jesus. He told Orion: "Neither Howells nor I believe in hell or the divinity of the Savior, but no matter, the Savior is none the less a sacred Personage, and a man should have no desire or disposition to refer to him lightly, profanely, or otherwise than with the profoundest reverence."3

When Twain married the wealthy Olivia Langdon, of Elmira, New York, in 1870, he wasn't averse to her conventional piety. At this time, according to Howells, Twain was still "far from the entire negation he came to at last."sup>4 Livy's ardor for church, bible reading, and family prayers certified her virtue. Like many men of his era, Twain believed the female aptitude for spirituality exceeded the male's. Deferentially, he acquiesced in his wife's faith. He offered morning prayers and daily readings from Scripture. He desisted from snide remarks about the Book. He regularly attended a church pastored by his friend Joseph Twichell--a "progressive Christian," Twain enthused.

Temporarily, at least, he slipped comfortably into the vestments of Christian respectability. Even after the punctilious phase of his piety had waned, he observed an extended truce with orthodoxy. Forty years of halcyon fortune shored up his subterranean optimism.

Then, in the 1890s, he was buffeted by a series of blows from which he never recovered.ÊSpeculative investments brought him to bankruptcy, his oldest daughter, Susy, died of meningitis, his youngest, Jean, was diagnosed an epileptic, Livy began a slide into lasting invalidism (she died in 1904), and Twain's own health was in eclipse. "Having long derided the notion of special providence," said John Tuckey, a Twain scholar, "he was now forced to consider himself the personal victim of a scheme of providential retribution."5

When the crushing afflictions were visited on him, Twain reacted like an irascible Job. He struck back at the Almighty with his best weapon, words--feverishly, obsessively, endlessly, but never publicly, discharged. Firing these paper bullets of the brain momentarily eased his leaden grief.

For a time, his rancor was confined to the Old Testament God, whom he had intellectually, but never emotionally, sloughed off. Twain "could never quite free himself from reading the Bible with fundamentalist passion," said Twainian Stanley Brodwin, "even as he ridiculed it in the name of reason."6

Jehovah, Twain calculated, was statistically the biggest mass murderer in history.ÊOffended, he reflexively slew everything in sight: "All the men, all the beasts, all the boys, all the babies, all the women and all the girls, except those that have not been deflowered. What this insane Father requires is blood and misery; he is indifferent as to who furnishes it."7 Nothing drove Jehovah's dudgeon higher than minor lapses in hygiene. Anyone "who pisseth against the wall" was sure to provoke "a wholesale massacre."8

Despite the recurrent bludgeonings, the pious confer on the brutal autocrat epithets of love and respect: "With a fine sarcasm we ennoble God with the title of Father--yet we know quite well that we should hang his style of father wherever we might catch him."9 "There is only one Criminal," catechized Twain, "and it is not man."10

Before long, Twain's ire extended to Jesus Christ--a.k.a. Jehovah "after he got religion."11 The all-new Jehovah was not an improvement. He had added braggadocio and deceitfulness to his repertoire of defects. "His Old Testament self is sweetness and gentleness and respectability compared with his earthly self. In Heaven he claims not a single merit and hasn't one--outside of those claimed by His mouth--whereas in the earth He claims every merit in the entire catalogue of merits, yet practices them only now and then, penuriously."12 With some historical legerdemain, Twain credited (or discredited) Jesus with the invention of hell. This was the most egregious rascality imaginable because it deprived the wretched human race of its lone solace, eternal rest. Thus, "the meek and gentle Savior was a thousand times crueler than ever he was in the Old Testament."13

Eventually, Twain's odium encompassed the stolid Designer of the deists. He, too, was destitute of morals. As the author of natural law, he was culpable for the thousand shocks flesh is heir to. Twain was stupefied by "the all-comprehensive malice which could patiently descend to the contriving of elaborate tortures for the meanest and pitifulest of creatures."14 The effectiveness of the traps, pitfalls, and gins, Twain mused, in no way depended on obtrusive intervention:

"He could invent the tortures and set in motion the laws and machinery which should continue them through all time without his supervision, then turn His attention elsewhere and trouble himself no further about the matter."15 The cosmic Watchmaker could install automatic detonating devices. This absentee knavery was worse than Jehovah's in-your-face immediacy.

Twain's anger was aggravated by the supposition that God, were he genially inclined, could eliminate all unhappiness. Twain ridiculed the moral axiom that suffering builds character. It was more apt to destroy than to edify. Twain inverted Alexander Pope's cheery maxim that "whatever is, is right." Since God is malevolent, reasoned Twain, whatever is, is wrong. Twain obsessively documented the wrongness: "The day we are born he begins to persecute us. Even our littleness, our innocence, our helplessness cannot move him to any pity, any gentleness. Day after day, week after week, month after month, the wanton torture goes on."16 Twain frequently chanted litanies of ailments: "Mumps, measles, whooping cough, croup, tonsilitis, diphtheria, asthma, bronchitis, itch, cholera, cancer, consumption, scarlet fever, yellow fever, bilious fever, typhus fever, hay fever"--the list was endless. In sum, the paragon of animals "is but a basket of festering offal provided for the support and entertainment of swarming armies of bacilli, armies commissioned to rot him and destroy him, each army equipped with a special detail of the work"17

Twain oft rehearsed the ubiquitous malignity of the fly. God gives it its orders: "Depart into the uttermost corners of the earth, and diligently do your appointed work. Persecute the sick child; settle upon its eyes, its face, its hands, and gnaw and pester and sting; worry and fret and madden the worn and tired mother who watches by the child, and who humbly prays for mercy and relief with the pathetic faith of the deceived and unteachable."18

Twain couldn't imagine himself as heartless as he supposed God to be: "I often put a dog on the fire and hold him down with the tongs, and enjoy his yelps and moans and strugglings and supplications [in reality, Twain was kind to animals], but with a man it would be different. I think that in the long run, if his wife and babies, who had not harmed me, should come crying and pleading, I couldn't stand it; I know I should forgive him and let him go, even if he had violated a monastery."19 So, too, others: Most people are "better, kinder, gentler, more to be respected, honored, and esteemed" than the Deity they ostensibly revere.20

Viewing Satan as a heroic rebel against the real Archfiend, Twain often used him as a mouthpiece. In "That Day in Eden," Satan commiserates with the fallen Adam and Eve, baffled by God's punishment: "Poor ignorant things, the command of refrain had meant nothing to them, they were but children, and could not understand untried things and verbal abstractions which stood for matters outside of their little world and their narrow experience."21

Twain deprecated the Moral Sense (he always capitalized it), a legacy of the mythic Fall, as the fount of immorality. By allowing humans to distinguish good and bad, its sole effect was to tempt and to enable us to do evil. Without it, we would live in a state of idyllic innocence, unafflicted by conscience. With it, we are inferior to the creatures, spared the accursed faculty: "Whenever I look at the other animals and realize that whatever they do is blameless, I envy them the dignity of their estate, its purity and its loftiness, and recognize that the Moral Sense is a thoroughly disastrous thing."22

Like a Calvinist sans the grace, Twain dwelt in an absurd universe where human automatons trick themselves into believing they are autonomous. All the while, the cosmic Puppet Master is pulling the strings: "Man is a poor joke--the poorest that was ever conceived--an April-fool joke, played by a malicious urchin Creator with nothing better to waste his time upon."23 Being nothing but an "automatic mechanism, man is not to blame for what he is. He didn't make himself. He has no control over himself." Yet the cosmic Sadist "punishes man for doing things which from the beginning of time He had intended that he should do." Hence, only "unthinking fools" believe they have an "obligation to God and owe Him thanks, reverence, and worship."24

Occasionally, Twain sought refuge in solipsism. After his wife's death, he wrote Joseph Twichell: "There is nothing. There is no God and no universe, there is only empty space, and in it a lost and homeless and wandering and companionless and indestructible Thought. And I am that thought. And God, and the Universe, and Time, and Life, and Death, and Joy and Sorrow and Pain only a grotesque and brutal dream, evolved from the frantic imagination of that same Thought."25

In his grief and despair, Twain arrived at an endgame of utter nihilism.

An atheistic observer might be tempted to descry in Twain's fate an exemplum on the perils of anthropomorphic theism. I'll resist. At the end, for Mark Twain, nothing short of death would do. He had been stretched out on the rack of the world too long. Fame, Love, Riches, Pleasure --these, he said, were life's false gifts. Death was the only true boon.

Gary Sloan writes: "I am a retired English professor in Ruston, Louisiana. Besides many articles in academic journals, I have written for U. S. News & World Report, The Skeptic, Free Inquiry, The Humanist, American Atheist, The Freethinker (London), The American Rationalist, Exquisite Corpse, Impact, and other popular publications. I have also written commentaries for the Scripps-Howard news service. My thrill-packed saga ÔEpistolary Adventures in the Bible Belt' appears in the March 2000 issue of Freethought Today."

Footnotes

1 Darrel Abel, American Literature, vol. 3 (New York: Barron's Educational Series, 1963), p. 28.

2 Twain-Howells Letters, ed. Henry Nash Smith and William Gibson (Cambridge: Belknap Pr. of Harvard UP, 1960), p. 256.

3 Twain-Howells, p. 238.

4 William Dean Howells, "My Mark Twain," in The Shock of Recognition, vol. 2, ed. Edmund Wilson (New York: Grosset & Dunlap, 1955), p. 679.

5 Mark Twain, Fables of Man. Ed. John Tuckey (Berkeley: U of Cal. Pr., 1972), p. 130.

6 "Mark Twain's Masks of Satan: The Final Phase," American Literature 45 (1973), p. 215.

7 Mark Twain, Letters from the Earth, ed. Bernard DeVoto (New York: Harper & Row, 1963), p. 52.

8 Letters from the Earth, pp. 50-51.

9 Mark Twain, "Reflections on Religion," ed. By Charles Neider, Hudson Review 16 (1963), p. 348. This is a convenient compilation of Twain's late eruptions.

10 Mark Twain, The Devil's Race-Track: Mark Twain's Great Dark Writings, ed. John Tuckey (Berkeley: U. of Cal. Pr., 1980), p. 7.

11 Letters from the Earth, p. 45.

12 "Reflections," p. 335.

13 Letters from the Earth, p. 46.

14 "Reflections," p. 347.

15 Mark Twain, What Is Man? And Other Philosophical Writings (Berkeley: U. of Cal. Pr., 1973), p. 486.

16 What Is Man? p. 478.

17 What Is Man? pp. 87-88.

18 Fables of Man, p. 113.

19 What Is Man? pp. 116-117.

20 What Is Man? p. 483.

21 Mark Twain, The Complete Essays of Mark Twain, ed. Charles Neider (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1963), p. 672.

22 What Is Man? p. 475.

23 Twain-Howells, p. 689.

24 "Reflections," pp. 351-352.

25 Mark Twain, MT's Mysterious Stranger Manuscripts, ed. William Gibson (Berkeley: U. of Cal. Pr., 1969), p. 30.

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In The News

Charitable Choice Unproved

The colleague of President Bush's new "faith czar" John J. DiIulio, told the New York Times (April 24, 2001) there is scant evidence that religious programs are effective, or work better than secular social service programs.

"From the left to the right, everyone assumes that faith-based programs work," said Prof. Byron R. Johnson, University of Pennsylvania. "Even the critics of DiIulio and his office haven't denied that. We hear that and just sit back and laugh. In terms of empirical evidence that they work, it's pretty much nonexistent.

"We've created an office out of anecdotes."

Johnson joined the Center for Research on Religion and Urban Civil Society, started by DiIulio, last year. DiIulio now leads the White House Office on Faith-Based and Community Initiatives.

Division over "Faith-based" Funding

The Mormon Church in April announced it would not seek funding under President Bush's "charitable choice" proposal to give tax money to overtly proselytizing churches and groups to provide social services. While the Mormon church eschewed such grants itself, spokesman Dale Bills said: "We're neutral. That's not saying we think it's wrong for every organization, but we just don't need it."

Top Roman Catholic social action official, John Carr, however, went on record saying Bush's "faith-based" plan has "the right tone." The secretary of the Department of Social Development and World Peace for the U.S. Catholic Conference told the Wisconsin Catholic Conference in April:

"We're open to the 'faith-based' initiatives."

A poll released on April 10 by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life found that three of four people surveyed favor "government funding of faith-based organizations," but 78% would be opposed if groups receiving tax money are allowed to hire only people of the same faith. Majorities also opposed giving tax money to unfamiliar, nonWestern or new religions. Only 38% favored allowing Muslim mosques or Buddhist temples to apply for funding, 29% approved the Nation of Islam, and 26% the Church of Scientology.

"Bigots" on GOP Faith Board

Republican Congressional leaders came under fire for appointing two controversial ministers to a GOP summit on faith-based initiatives.

Two Wisconsin Democrats opposed the appointment of former Green Bay Packer Reggie White as one of 31 advisers to the April 25 summit. In 1998, White told the Wisconsin legislature that homosexuality is a sin, and made many stereotypic racial remarks.

Also drawing objections was the appointment of Cleveland minister Bishop J. Delano Ellis, who in 1994 gave a radio sermon calling Jews "carnal, selfish . . . dirty and lowdown and wicked." Ellis is pastor of the Pentecostal Church of Christ.

Other GOP advisers included Rev. Lou Sheldon, head of the "Traditional Values Coalition."

Alabama House OK's Decalog Bill

The Alabama House voted 93-0 in late April to allow public schools to display the Ten Commandments in exhibits with "other historic documents," such as the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights and Magna Carta.

The state Senate already approved a proposed constitutional amendment to allow schools and other public buildings to display the Commandments alone.

Colorado Decalog Challenged

The ACLU in April sued officials in Grand Junction, Col., on behalf of five residents objecting to the presence of a bible tablet outside City Hall, which was given to the city in the 1950s by the Fraternal Order of Eagles. The council voted in March to allow it to remain outside City Hall with a "disclaimer" that there was no intent to establish a religion. It also drew up plans to transform the area into a "cultural heritage" plaza.

Mayor Gene Kinsey lost his bid for re-election in April, which he attributed to his vote to move the tablet.

Bible Mural Suit Dismissed

U.S. District Judge Charles N. Clevert of Milwaukee on March 29 dismissed a lawsuit by two students who sued the Kenosha Unified School District, Wis., after it barred them from including a cross in their bible club mural.

The "Trojans Loving Christ" were allowed to paint a permanent mural that depicted a bible, but were told by the principal not to use a cross.

Muslim Student Sues Louisiana School

A Muslim student, 11, filed a lawsuit on April 10 against the Rapides Parish School Board, La., claiming she was forced to accept a bible, participate in a "Jesus" game at school, and was told by classmates she would "burn in hell."

Joe Cook, director of the Louisiana ACLU, which filed the lawsuit in federal court, said: "This little girl has been the target of severe persecution and harassment by her classmates because of her religious beliefs."

The principal, John Cotton, presented the child's fifth-grade class with bibles on Dec. 14, 2000, in his office, while wishing each of them a "Merry Christmas." When Hesen Jabr said, "No thank you," the principal pressured her to accept it. Other classmates harassed her as a "Jesus hater."

Cotton has been distributing bibles in school for 35 years.

Five days later, her teacher arranged a quiz game about Christmas and Jesus, suggesting that Hesen serve as scorekeeper because she "might not know the answers to the questions."

North Dakota Pushes Religion

The North Dakota Senate in April approved a bill earlier passed in the House to permit schools to show "a religious object or document of cultural, legal or historical significance" as part of a broader historical display.

Until 1980, North Dakota's public school and college classrooms were required by state law to display "the Ten Commandments of the Christian religion." A federal judge declared the 1927 law unconstitutional after a suit was filed by Grand Forks residents.

Gov. John Hoeven has already signed into law a bill that explicitly allows "voluntary prayer or religious speech" any time student secular speech is allowed. It would also allow school boards to establish a minute of silence for meditation or prayer.

Ex-Nun Details Priest Abuse

Nuns are exploited for sex by priests, claims former nun Yvonne Maes of North Vancouver in an interview (Vancouver [B.C] Sun, March 29, 2001):

"The women's orders are very poor in Africa. If some priests want to target them for sex, they don't have a hope in hell. The bishops wouldn't listen to any of their complaints," said Maes, who worked as a Catholic high school teacher and principal for most of her 21 years as a nun in Lesotho.

Maes, who wrote The Cannibal's Wife: A Memoir (Herodias, 2000) was sexually abused by a white Catholic priest in Lesotho when she was 45. She also counseled many Innu Indian men in Canada who were abused by clergy, including several who filed lawsuits.

African nuns were exploited for sex by priests because, unlike prostitutes, they were free of AIDS, according to recent reports based on signed testimonies of high-level nuns and doctors, authorized by two Catholic groups, Caritas International and the Catholic Agency for Overseas Developments. Catholic researchers found a "high incidence" of abortions among nuns and novices in Africa. The Vatican had been presented with damning reports in 1995, but only acknowledged the issue in March.

Sexual exploitation of nuns is also common in Brazil, Colombia, India, Ireland, Italy, New Guinea, the Philippines and the United States.

One priest was accused of preying on so many nuns there were 20 pregnant at one time.

No Tax $$ for Tucson Prayer

Taxpayer money cannot be used to support a religious organization, a federal appeals court ruled in March, in overturning an earlier order that Tucson, Az., reimburse a Christian group that rented a park.

An 11-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals vacated a decision by the circuit's 3-judge panel that had ordered Tucson to pay the group $340 for expenses related to a National Day of Prayer event. For the 8-3 opinion, Judge Marsha S. Berzon wrote: "The federal Constitution provides all the defense Tucson needed in this lawsuit."

Film: Pope Traitor to Jews

Left-wing Greek filmmaker Konstantinos Costra-Gavras, after a four-decade delay, is directing a film that will portray Pope Pius XII as a traitor to Jewish victims of the Holocaust.

The film, whose working title is "The Vicar," will be based on the play "The Deputy," by German dramatist Rolf Hochhuth, published in 1963. Bucharest will stand in for Rome during the filming since the Vatican is not cooperating. Peter Ustinov and Dustin Hoffman reportedly have been approached about the role.

British Catholic historian John Cornwell's book Hitler's Pope, documenting that Pius turned a blind eye to Hitler's atrocities, has fueled opposition to the beatification process of Pius, the last step before canonization.

Maryland: Church Can Discriminate

The Maryland Court of Appeals on April 13 dismissed lawsuits by three employees fired from a church school because they were not affiliated with the Southern Baptist Church.

The employees had invoked a local law allowing religious groups to hire employees of a particular religion only "to perform purely religious functions." The court unanimously overturned that portion of the Montgomery County law. Eighteen school employees were fired in 1996 for being the wrong religion.

Check All Catholic Clergy, Staff

A report released in April commissioned by the British Roman Catholic church advises that police should check all clergy, staff and volunteers in the Catholic Church to stamp out sexual abuse of children. Also advised was a national database for all candidates for the ministry.

The report recommended setting up a national child protection unit with a representative designated in every parish. Bishops and religious superiors should not overrule selections boards.

The report in part was influenced by the decision of Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, Archbishop of Westminster, to assign a priest to the Gatwick airport chapel despite concerns about his conduct. The priest was subsequently convicted in nine sex attacks, including one with a boy he met at the chapel, serving 42 months in prison.

Twenty-one Catholic priests in England and Wales were convicted of offenses against children between 1995 and 1999.

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Letter Box

"A Glorious Moment"

My husband Guy and I were present on April 15 when a wonderful verdict was handed down in Bob Tiernan's roadside memorial case for Rodney Scott in Adams County, Colorado. The judge meticulously researched and laid out every legal argument in state law against these noxious things. His exposition will undoubtedly be used to decide future state cases. It was a glorious moment.

I especially enjoyed two articles in the last issue of Freethought Today: Atheist movie reviews and Calida nightgowns/Sierra Outpost.

We delayed seeing "Chocolat" because of a dreadful review in Time. After seeing it, we realized the reviewer must have been personally offended by the freethought slant; there's no other valid reason for anything but praise. It's now our second-favorite recent movie, after "The Cider House Rules" which, while not openly atheistic, was clearly freethinking.

I nominate last year's foreign movie "Butterfly" for mention in Freethought Today. It takes place in a Spanish village in the 1930s; the plot revolves around the elderly male schoolmaster, who is an atheist, and a small boy whom he takes under his wing and teaches the truly important things of life. The atheist character is clearly shown to be the most kind and ethical person in the village. This movie has a superb plot, acting and atmosphere; it's also a heart-breaker.

I wrote to Sierra in 1998, asking that the John 10:10 be removed from the catalogue. You can see how much impact that had!
Victoria D. McCoy
Colorado

You Are Gooder than an Angel

"You are gooder than an angel" is a Southern way of saying thank you to someone for an exceptionally kind act. A nonSoutherner may say, "Those rednecks don't know how to speak good English. 'Gooder' is not even a real word."

Well, Southerners know that too. And Southerners know that a more proper way of speaking would be to say, "You are better than an angel," but would it have the same impact? To say "gooder" makes people perk up and ask themselves, "Did I hear that correctly?"

The answer is "Yes, you did. And I have something to add to that. I ain't never heard of no angel doing a good deed for nobody." That may be grammatically atrocious, but it sure gets the point across.

All this talk about how wonderful angels are, and about having "faith" in angels because they do so much good is sheer unadulterated nonsense, like Santa Claus or the tooth fairy, and grown people should have better sense than to succumb to a belief that has been manufactured by some really slick con artists to make people believe in something that they should know has not even a remote relationship to facts. The writers of nonsense books and the manufacturers of trinket angels have struck gold in the pockets of the gullible and have extracted the gold from those pockets just as slickly as a pick-pocket.

"Enough all ready," to borrow a phrase from New York. Until you find an angel who has done a kind deed for you, forget about angels, because you are gooder than an angel.
David B. Higginbottom
Florida

Dan's "Hymns" Advance Freethought

Dan Barker's "Friendly Neighborhood Atheist" disc set of music and songs constitutes a major contribution to the advancement of freethought ideas. It gives freethinkers an alternative to defend, dispute and debate in sharing their perspectives on the subject of religion. Entertainment and amusement are wonderful methods to advance an idea. Even the most devout will be able to find an area of agreement in some of the songs.

It would seem appropriate to have the words and music available in printed form, i.e., a freethinker's hymn book!

I plan to do my part by making the set a gift of choice for all on my gift list this year and start now with an order of five sets. My prior order has been depleted or spoken for.
Boyd C. Baird
Michigan

"Bringing Ingersoll to Life"

I've been enjoying listening to Dan Barker's "Friendly Neighborhood Atheist" CD. My favorites include "The World Is My Country," "Declaration of the Free," "You Can't Win with Original Sin," and "Higher Mind," among others. But the jewel for me is "Love." Thanks for bringing Ingersoll's words to life in song.
Dan Lewandowski
Texas

Greetings from New Zealand

We are in New Zealand until next February. Wanted to stay longer and outwait GW but immigration says we can only stay a year.

You might be interested to know that 27% of the citizens here declared NO RELIGION on the 1996 census. They are doing another this year and it will be interesting to see how that part comes out. With 27% on our side, we have a lot more clout, and the politicians know it!

Even the people who profess to be Xian don't seem to take it very seriously. When there is a column from a preacher in the Auckland paper, the next day there are several letters disagreeing and none agreeing. So different from our Colorado Springs paper which is just the opposite.
Jack Midling & Dean Morgan
New Zealand

The Gods Within Us

The premise of a recent book titled The "God" Part of the Brain--A Scientific Interpretation of Human Spirituality and God by Matthew Alper (Rogue Press, New York, 2000) is that the spiritual function of the human brain has developed (as have all other functions, such as the senses, language, music, mathematics, etc.) through natural evolutionary processes to act as a sort of safety valve to assist human beings to cope satisfactorily with their certain mortality.

On p. 79 of the book, Alper asserts:

"If what I am suggesting is true, it would imply that God does not exist as something 'out there,' beyond and independent of us, but rather as the product of an inherited perception, the manifestation of a biologically-based evolutionary adaptation that exists exclusively within the human brain.

"If such a hypothesis is correct, it would imply that there is no spiritual reality, no God or gods, no soul, and no afterlife. Such spiritual concepts as these would only exist as manifestations of the particular way our species has been 'wired' to perceive reality.

"In such a light, humankind can no longer be viewed as a product of God, but rather, God must be viewed as a product of human evolution, the perceptual manifestation of our species' inherent cognitive processing."

It appears that this "god-notion" may not necessarily be located in any one specific part of the brain, but perhaps is a general function which acts to restrain other functions. In my opinion, Matthew Alper's proposal is one with which all who are interested in knowing more about the evolutionary approach to spirituality should be familiar. This 185-page paperback book is available in many libraries and on order through any good bookstore.
Glenn M. Hardie
British Columbia, Canada

"Be Good for Goodness Sake"

Days later, I am still charged up by Dan Barker's excellent talk "How to be good without god" at UC Berkeley, March 21, sponsored by SANE, the famous university's only specifically nonreligious group (they have 37 religious groups!).

Dan is a delight to listen to; with his wit, wisdom and experience from "been there, done that," he held the audience spellbound, responded to numerous questions with additional enlightenment--and deflected with great tact and compassion the expected standard challenges from a few dogmatic souls in the packed auditorium, apparently disturbed by Dan's logic.

The United States is the only industrialized, so-called developed country where religion has such a stranglehold on the populace. Especially in the Scandinavian countries and most of central Europe, the title of Dan's talk would sound ridiculous, as if there ever were any doubt that you can be good without religion.

Religion's own miserable track record as well as a rich assortment of freethinkers having lived good lives and done good deeds throughout centuries of human history, make the opposite question more logical: "How can you be good with god?"

Only in America does the religious crowd claim monopoly on Christmas; in most other countries it is a secular event. The word "Christmas" doesn't exist in other languages. Only the equivalent of "Yuletide" is used. There is no "Christ"-infested name for the event, which, by the way, existed long before the Christian movement got the idea to jump on the already popular solstice bandwagon and subsequently redefined the "birth" of a questionable figure.

Thank you Dan. You have done good.
Jorg Aadahl
California

P.S. Dan's book Losing Faith in Faith--From Preacher to Atheist should be required reading in high school!

"Kudos to Dan"

Thank you for sending me the notice of the debate on the existence of god that was held at Arizona State University on April 11, 2001. I attended the debate, and enjoyed it. I was impressed with Dan Barker's aptitude and calm deportment. He convincingly expounded the atheist's side of the issue, and astutely pointed out the implausibility of some of Bob Siegel's egregious claims, such as the ability of a material object to interact with an immaterial object and that the rightness and wrongness of actions depends on god. In short, he cogently argued that the belief in god is simply untenable and unnecessary.

I am grateful to have had the opportunity to be present at a widely-attended event at which theism was open for debate instead of unthinkingly assumed.
Sandra Woien
Arizona

"You Can't Herd Cats

On April 11, 2001, I had the privilege of attending a debate at Arizona State University-Tempe, between Dan Barker and Bob Siegel, a Christian minister. I persuaded my 22-year-old daughter to accompany me, telling her it would be good for developing her skills in argumentation for college English. We brought note pads and pens to jot down the principle arguments and ideas. The main point that occurred to us was that the Christian argument is pretty flimsy. It boils down to the fact that they want to believe there is a god and that they are resistant to reason, historical evidence and science.

The lecture hall was packed with both infidels and believers. Some of us proudly wore our Atheist T-shirts. The crowd was very enthusiastic and pretty well-behaved for such a controversial debate. Arizona is certainly not the Bible Belt, although some of our legislators think it should be. The best part of the evening was having the opportunity to meet Dan Barker and Annie Laurie Gaylor. They radiated warmth and intelligence, and were very gracious.

It was wonderful to be able to meet so many other atheists, who, as a rule, are above average in intelligence, nonconformists, and have a great sense of humor. I felt that all of the freethinkers were thrilled to be in a room with other atheists. Usually we can't discuss our position with anyone. It's too bad you can't herd cats or organize atheists on a grand scale.
Karen G. Brown
Arizona

Passport to Fundie Land

This past Sunday when I went out to get my newspaper, it was wrapped not in the usual clear plastic cover but one completely immersed in religion! It also had this "so-called" passport to the newest attraction here in Mouseland.

I had to laugh when I read the first paragraph that Marvin Rosenthal wrote, thanking me for my interest in the holy land experience and for requesting my passport visitor's guide.

I did not request anything! It was foisted upon me by happening to subscribe to the Orlando Sentinel. Everybody that subscribes got one whether they wanted it or not. (Same as the Jesus videos mailed every household here in central Florida.)

I would rather put a match to my $17 than spend it on this trash!
Joan Rotenberger
Florida

Camp Fire An Alternative to BSA

As the plaintiff in a current lawsuit against the Boy Scouts of America and my local school district, I often hear that I am trying to harm boys by eliminating a "character building" organization from the schools.

I have recently learned that an Ann Arbor, Michigan, BSA pack has disaffiliated itself from the BSA and has joined the Camp Fire Boys and Girls. This organization offers many of the same opportunities as the BSA, but is explicitly non-discriminatory against any group. There are many different ways to defeat the BSA's discriminatory practices, but this to me seems like a particularly effective way.
John Scalise
Michigan

"Wanton Idolatry"

In all these attempts to get the Ten Commandments posted, why doesn't anyone ever bring up "Which Ten Commandments?"

The Roman Catholic Commandments are different from the Jewish and Protestant Commandments. The Catholics deleted the second commandment, split the tenth in two, and renumbered them so they would still come out to ten. Why? Because they wanted to keep their idols, and numerous "images of things in heaven," which are forbidden by the original commandments.

This is why, for centuries, Protestants despised Catholics as "Papist idolaters." Before everything got nice, the statement was often made that the Catholics only had Nine Commandments. Think of it--if you can eliminate a Holy Commandment, what integrity do you have left?

Recently, the Town of Lexington, Massachusetts, was embroiled in a creche debate (it was eventually removed). One letter writer pointed out in the Boston Globe that people who were claiming "tradition" were way off the mark. In fact, in the years at the beginning of our nation, Christmas itself was outlawed as pagan, and the residents then would have regarded a creche as wanton idolatry, distinctly Catholic papist paganism.
Ken Falor
Massachusetts

Sleepless in Seattle

I am a chemist working at the Boeing Space Center in Seattle. Also, I am a graduate student at the University of Washington. I mention this to identify myself as a person trained in the methods and practice of critical thinking. Last night I had a bit of insomnia and I saw Dan Barker on television at 3 a.m. The program was a debate at Bellevue Community College from Feb. 29, 2000. I am writing to ask if a recording of this debate is available, or if it will be aired again. I found your discussion extremely interesting.
Rick Morgan
Washington

Editor's note: Videos of the debate, "Does God Exist?" Phil Fernandes vs. Dan Barker, Bellevue Community College, can be ordered for $20 ppd, Sales Dept., FFRF, P.O. Box 750, Madison WI 53701.

"Artistic Folks Are Freethinkers"

While clipping coupons I found this ad for Artistic Checks indicating that "Artistic Folks are Freethinkers"! What a great surprise! I wonder if they really mean it?
Karen Buehlman
Wisconsin

"Can't Afford Not to Renew"

In last month's "Letterbox," a woman wrote that she renewed her subscription, saying she had lots of expenses right now, but decided she couldn't afford to drop her membership.

I feel the same way she does. I can't afford to give up my FFRF newspaper, either!
Doris Edge
Georgia

Surrealistic Circle of Time

It seems that I have traversed a surrealistic circle in my life. As a child I lived on a ranch outside of Campwood, Texas. My Uncle managed a ranch in the area also and I was often there playing with my cousins--riding horses, swimming in the creek, chasing goats. They were wonderful, idyllic days of youth, suffused in that golden glow of sunlight drifting through the leaves of oak trees. Days of dust in Texas heat. Sundays at the Baptist Church.

I grew up knowing the name of Madalyn Murray O'Hair. I didn't really understand why she was so hated in Texas, because I didn't really understand what an atheist was. But then I didn't really understand all the hooplah over the bible and religion, even though I went to Baptist Sunday School, Sunday Service, Wednesday Prayer Meeting, Summer Bible School, sang in the choir, went to Baptist summer camp. It was more a social thing for me, but there were times that it made me very uncomfortable and I didn't know why.

It took many years to come to where I am today. Today I am an atheist or nontheist and the Freedom From Religion Foundation was the door to my enlightenment. The journey from my childhood was a long, hard one, and I have arrived in this spot only to find that Madalyn Murray O'Hair's body, and her family's bodies, were found on the ranch I played on so long ago, the ranch my Uncle managed.

I made a journey back to that place several years ago, when my Uncle was dying of cancer. The ranch was still the place of my memories, but the children were all grown and gone. I went into Campwood and stood in the middle of Main Street in the afternoon heat looking up and down the main road. There was not a person to be seen and/or vehicle moving. Everything was as I'd left it in my childhood, as though time had stood still.

And so I come to that surrealistic circle of time; from the place of her death sprang a life that carries on her work and dreams.
Kathy A. Beer
Colorado

First Amendment No-Brainer

When I followed up on a recent Oakland Press article about a local school district's debate on sex education, I got a real shock. State law here specifically requires the public schools to include "local clergy" on their sex-ed advisory board!

380.1507(5) ". . . A school district shall not offer this instruction unless an advisory board is established by the district board to periodically review the materials and methods of instruction used, and to make recommendations to the district regarding changes in the materials or methods. The advisory board shall consist of parents having children attending the district's schools, pupils in the district's schools, educators, local clergy, and community health professionals."

Even worse, according to the staff of my state representative, there are no written guidelines to control the selection process. Apparently the method of compliance is completely at the discretion of each school board. Obviously this puts a government body in the business of deciding which religions are acceptable and which aren't!

I've already complained about it to my representative's staff, telling them that eliminating this provision should be a First Amendment no-brainer, but they assure me that there aren't enough legislators who have enough backbone to do the right thing.
Lee Helms
Michigan

Skewering Sacred Cows

. . . Benign? Like Mother Teresa?

John Senter Compere ("Is Religion More the Problem than the Answer?" April 2001) has done a monumental job of going from minister to atheist, but I feel his statement, "It was and is genuine and benign like Mother Teresa . . ." must be challenged. From what I have read about Mother Teresa, she was anything but benign.

I have read from many sources about her beliefs, her "care facility," where she got her money, how she spent it, and how she conducted her life. I suggest one particular source: Missionary Position: Mother Teresa in Theory and Practice by Christopher Hitchens. He also produced a TV program concerning Mother Teresa's life that was called "Hell's Angel" aired in the United Kingdom. The title was chosen by the network. He preferred "Sacred Cow."
Jan King
Texas

Why a Capital G?

"God" gets a lot of attention in discussions about religion, and all its trappings. I think that using the word in a singular manner gives it far too much credibility. All references to the idea should be made as such: "a god," "your god," "the god" or even "gods," plural. I mean, why one, why not 20? I'd like to see quotes used around the word. I'd like to see the word in lower case only, so as to give it the lack of respect that it deserves; I mean it is only an idea, not a tangible entity. Why a capital "g"?

When I tell someone that I am an atheist (and I had that great pleasure a couple of days ago when a Jehovah's Witness came to my door) I tell them that I don't worship or believe in a god; I have no personal god.
Alan Phenix
New Hampshire

"Fanatics Have Gone Too Far"

I enjoyed Annie Laurie Gaylor's article ("Calidas, Yoga & the Getting of Wisdom," March 2001) mentioning the religious reference in the Sierra Outpost catalog. I, too, spotted that bible quotation quite some time ago in one of the catalogs I received from them. I wrote to them and expressed my displeasure at being hit upon with bible verses in a mail order catalog for nonreligious products. I told them that I was very much offended at this attempt to impose their brand of religion into my life, and that it was going to result in a loss of my business.

A couple of years ago I had a similar experience when I requested a catalog from a company called "The Model Shop." As I thumbed through the catalog, I quickly found several model car kits that I wanted to order. Upon reaching the centerfold, however, I was very dismayed to find a religious tract stapled into the catalog.

I immediately wrote a letter to the company and told them that their desire to proselytize their customers had cost them my business. I also made it clear to them that they would likely lose many other orders from the other atheists and nonChristian religionists who might receive their catalogs.

It's bad enough that we have to put up with being proselytized by Christians at every turn, via television, radio, newspapers, magazines, tracts left in many public places, not to mention being approached and bothered by "missionaries" and zealots at shopping centers and even on our own doorsteps. But when we have to put up with bible tracts and verses in mail order catalogs, I think these religious fanatics have gone too far.

If any other members of the Freedom From Religion Foundation happen to get catalogs from these religious zealots who think it is their sacred duty to push their religion along with whatever products their company sells, I hope they will let the company know that their merging of religion with business has cost them some money. Furthermore, I hope that my fellow Foundation members will likewise refuse to do business with companies that display the "Jesus fish" in their advertisements and on their company vehicles.
Willard Wheeler
California

Secret to Co-existence

My present situation is interesting. I am in a small Spanish evening class with two Mormons and an agnostic who has several atheist friends (including me).

The teacher is a Mormon ex-Catholic Mexican. We all get on wonderfully and have very good-humored discussions, as the textbooks are modern and surprisingly frank.

The secret, I think, is tolerance, that "genial, good-natured tolerance" that Bertrand Russell decided is most lacking in the modern world. If only we could clone these nice people . . .
Sheila Somner
Arizona

Religion Equals Legal Extortion?

People's fear of the unknown, especially fear of death, allows them to be willing victims of organized religion. By convincing gullible people to go to church each Sunday, and donate hard-earned money, ministers are nothing more than con men. They make promises they can't keep. How can you promise people they will go to "heaven" when there isn't any such place? Religion is nothing more than legal extortion.

The sad thing is people spend their entire lives living in a world of "make believe," with little to show for it when their lives end. Instead of believing in god, they could accomplish much more by just believing in themselves. Be your own person, make your own decisions, reject religion.
Tom McFarland
Michigan

Seeking Secular Currency

Niko Theris ("Letterbox," Jan/Feb. 2001) says he obliterates "In God" from "In God We Trust" on paper money.

I simply add the word "NOT," in underscored block letters after the word "Trust," so it then reads: "In God We Trust NOT."
Andy Vena
Pennsylvania

David Briars Not Forgotten

The late David Briars of Craftsbury, Vermont provides us with a good example of what one person can do for the freethought movement. In the early '90s he set out, much on his own, to create a needed freethinker's directory which was first published in 1991. In the small town where he lived, David experienced much opposition to his freethought beliefs, but he never backed down.

In the introduction to the 1993 second edition of Freethinker's Directory, he wrote, "Most of us have felt the debilitating isolation and self doubt that comes from living in a world where religion and mob-thinking define the meaning of contentment, morality and self-worth . . . It is quite an experience to sit in a room full of people who value their freedom from religion. There is a feeling that iron bands have been taken off of the head. Atheists are not necessarily perfect humans, but in some special way they are clean, alive, and determined to find their own answers to life's problems as autonomous thinking beings."

Two publications are making use of Briars' directory. First, it is being continued as The Freethought Directory: An International Guide to Organizations in the Community of Reason, edited by Victoria McCoy and Thomas J. Ebacher. It has over 240 pages in contrast to the 60 pages of Briars' 1996 fourth edition. And his material was used in the new Who's Who in Hell: A Handbook and International Directory for Humanists, Freethinkers, Naturalists, Rationalists, and Non-Theists which was edited by Warren Allen Smith.

Freethinkers who stand up to be counted are not forgotten. Thank you David!
James L. Sanders
Arizona

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"Wise and Wonderful" Agnostic Cinema

Here's a nearly foolproof way to find good flicks that freethinkers will enjoy: Find out which ones Michael Medved doesn't approve of.

Medved, longtime film critic and self-proclaimed "cultural crusader" for the faith-based family values crowd, used to be the host of "Sneak Previews" on public television. Now his daily three-hour radio program, broadcast from Seattle and funded by the Salem Radio Network ("Christian Radio's #1 News Network") reaches "1.8 million listeners in 118 markets coast to coast."

SRN (of Irving, Texas) boasts "the finest anchors and reporters in Christian journalism" and is the billing address for Medved's personal website, where his movie reviews and other addled opinions are archived. He's also a board member of the Dove Foundation, an organization that rates movies on the basis of "traditional Judeo-Christian values."

I knew I wanted to see the film "Chocolat" even before Annie Laurie Gaylor gave it a four-pansies rating (March 2001). Medved had already warned against it. "This . . . will only attract unthinking flies," he opined. "[Producer] Harvey Weinstein is so determined to show the horrid, intolerant, cruel nature of religious conservatives that he tries to do so by recreating an irrelevant and implausible struggle."

Similarly, Medved panned "The Contender," which Annie Laurie re-commended. "[A] feminist fantasy," said the cultural crusader, that could be the most disappointing and annoying movie of the year. "A woman's Ôsacred' right to choose is the most important value in this movie."

Medved has a well-established history of criticizing those he finds at odds with his supposedly Judeo-Christian values. In addition to movie reviews, his website also offers examples of his Golden Turkey Awards--snide comments on people and activities he believes are misguided or silly. Targets of his criticism include efforts to end racism and hate speech, the Million Mom March to promote handgun controls, Democrats, environmentalists, gays and lesbians, controversial art exhibits, and, of course, any effort to keep religion out of public schools.

I first became aware of his involvement with the Christian right when "Hollywood vs. Religion" aired in 1996 on a PBS affiliate station owned by a private university in Indianapolis. The title and content of the film reflect Medved's book Hollywood vs. America, in which he depicts the film industry as an anti-religious cabal.

"It's important to understand that it's not some sort of organized conspiracy--a bunch of people in a room somewhere planning how they're going to knock organized religion," Medved says in the film. "What we are talking about is a tightly-knit creative community whose members happen to share some similar unspoken values and biases. And one of those biases involves a sincere and deep-seated contempt for organized religion."

Credits at the end of the film indicate that it was produced and directed by Michael Pack of Manifold Productions, Inc., for the Chatham Hill Foundation, another Christian-funded organization based not far from SRN in Texas. (Pack is a fairly well-known conservative filmmaker who has brought us, among other "documentaries," two films on Newt Gingrich.)

An Internet search revealed that Focus on the Family had put its Christian muscle into marketing the video through a mass mailing that announced the show's satellite feed in November 1995. Postcards sent to religious leaders and other supporters asked that they contact their local PBS affiliates to request that the program be telecast. Clergy were asked to inform their congregations and request their cooperation in the effort.

I contacted my local PBS affiliate to complain that "Hollywood vs. Religion" had been aired without comment about its political underpinnings, and was told by the station manager that they had received a number of calls. He invited me to participate in a panel discussion about the controversial film, and I accepted.

In a subsequent phone conversation, the station's news director revealed that Medved himself would also sit on the panel, and I (foolishly) said that I intended to bring up the nature of the film's production and distribution and the lack of disclaimer on it. The brave news director left me a voice-mail message around midnight, withdrawing the invitation for me to participate. My message to him, asking for confirmation of the time and location of the event so that I could sit in the audience, brought no reply.

The local media folks who were allowed to sit on the panel were all in fawning agreement with Medved. Only one panelist was brave enough to wonder if erosion of moral values could be fairly blamed on Hollywood, but he prefaced his remarks by saying, "I'm a man of faith also--just so you don't think I'm a godless atheist."

My friends and I were allowed to sit in the audience but were forced to submit our questions on index cards, promptly ignored. Instead, Medved carried on uninterrupted, denouncing the film industry as malicious and stupid and showing "disregard for the fundamental truths that animate the lives of most people."

Films that address those "truths" have been few and far between since "The Sound of Music" (1965), according to Medved. He offers as personal favorites such antiques as "Angels with Dirty Faces" (1938), "Boys Town" (1938), "Going My Way" (1944), "The Bells of St. Mary's" (1945), "It's a Wonderful Life" (1946), "My Darling Clementine" (1946), "The Ten Commandments" (1956), "The Robe" (1953), "Samson and Delilah" (1949), and "Ben Hur" (1959). These movies portrayed faith and religious leaders in positive ways and were box-office hits. Priests used to be handsome, he laments. Nowadays they are "far less appealing."

Medved doesn't like "The Three Musketeers" (1993 version) because it portrays Cardinal Richelieu as a sexual predator. "Sister Act" is acceptable because its view of Catholicism is "benign," but "Household Saints" offers a cynical view of the church. "Agnes of God" is objectionable in many ways, not the least of which is Jane Fonda's role as an atheist psychiatrist.

A practicing Jew, Medved objects to humorous portrayals of Orthodox Judaism in "Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex," "Radio Days," and "Enemies, a Love Story."

Other films he finds unacceptable: "City of Joy" (spirituality cut out of the original story); "Doc Hollywood" (set in South Carolina, but no churches shown); "Hocus Pocus" (elevates a feminist type of spiritual practice); and "Little Buddha," "Heaven and Earth," and "Malcolm X" (offer positive views of non-mainstream religions).

"Star Trek V" has an anti-religious subtext. "We're No Angels" portrays religion as a crutch that doesn't reflect eternal truths. "At Play in the Fields of the Lord" characterizes religion as hocus-pocus. In "King David" the main character loses his faith. The Jesus in "The Last Temptation of Christ" "bears no resemblance to the Jesus of the New Testament . . . but is deeply troubled and possibly insane."

All of this is because "the religious practices of the people who create movies are very different from their audiences," he states. "[L]ess than 10 percent of the entertainment industry's leaders participate in religious services of any kind," he asserts, citing a 1982 study "recently confirmed by the University of Texas."

In movies, "ministers are murderous, evangelists are suckers and dupes, and fundamentalists want to take over the country," Medved wails, but "agnostics are always wise and wonderful."

Is that the result of deep-seated contempt for religion, or just an accurate reflection of our society? Medved makes a wonderful critic-in-reverse: I used the movies lambasted in Hollywood vs. Religion as a viewing guide, and have enjoyed every one of them.

Foundation member Elsa F. Kramer is a militantly agnostic magazine journalist and book editor in Indiana.

Nominate Favorite Freethought Flicks

Have a favorite movie with a nonreligious character/theme? Send the movie title and a short (paragraph or so) description/synopsis to Freethought Today, PO Box 750, Madison WI 53701; This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. . When we collect enough reader recommendations, we'll publish them so others won't miss out on any of those rare freethought moments at the movies.

Published in Back Issues

Religious conservatives can't have it both ways. They can't spend tax money to support faith and at the same time say it is wrong to criticize faith. Money always comes with strings attached.

This goes beyond putting religious slogans on money and outlawing first-class mail on Sunday. And it goes beyond the problems of the "establishment" clause of the First Amendment and extending the heavy hand of government to private charities. It goes to a rule of fair play: You get to criticize something if your taxes pay for it.

That rule applies now since President Bush has called for more tax dollars for "faith-based" organizations and has appointed a faith czar--social scientist John DiIulio--to oversee this new and unprecedented church-state effort.

Nor does an open door to "all faiths" bar criticism. That only shifts criticism to the concept of faith itself. And there are at least three reasons to criticize faith of any species.
Faith is unwarranted belief. Faith is belief without evidence or despite evidence to the contrary. Faith occurs when a person believes that something is true even though he suspects it is false. It takes large doses of such faith to support the very existence of casinos, psychic hotlines, astrology columns, mall Santas and most organized religions.

Perhaps the mother of all faith is belief in some form of life after death. A recent Time/CNN poll found that 81% of Americans believe in an eternal afterlife. But science has found no more evidence for an afterlife than it has found for Santa's workshop at the North Pole. The almost universal faith in an afterlife seems to be nothing more than group denial of death.

The faithful often reply that scientists engage in faith and that science itself is a religion. Scientists do engage in faith for a moment when they guess at a new claim of mathematics or when they put forth a new factual claim about the world. But the guesses and claims are provisional. Logic or facts can knock them down, and they usually do. Religious faith is belief despite such logic or facts. A case in point is Faith Czar DiIulio's faith in his own program: "There are, as yet, no suitably scientific studies to Ôprove' the efficacy or cost effectiveness of faith-based approaches to social ills."
Faith often gets it wrong. Faith has costs even though it seems to be an intellectual free lunch. Consider our faith in beating the odds. The National Council on Problem Gambling found that in 1997 Americans lost more than $50 billion on lotteries and other forms of legalized gambling. That was more money than they spent on all movies and music and sporting events combined, and they did this despite the published odds that all such bets would lose on average. Hence, Las Vegas will likely remain this country's top tourist destination. Faith is even more dangerous when it dictates morality. The faithful have all too often been willing to die or kill for their notions of spiritual right and wrong. The record here is bloody and ranges from the ancient state-run religions of Egypt and Babylon to the current violence between Muslims and Christians in Kosovo. Most of the 30 or so armed conflicts in the world stem from faith-based disputes.

Then there is John Ashcroft, the new attorney general. He admitted the strength of his faith in a 1999 interview in the Pentecostal magazine Charisma: "It's said that we shouldn't legislate morality. Well, I disagree. I think all we should legislate is morality." And Ashcroft made clear in a 1999 speech at Bob Jones University that his faith trumps all else: "America has been different. We have no king but Jesus." But what if nonChristians don't want Jesus as their "king"?
Faith undermines critical thinking. The whole point of critical thinking is to root out error and unwarranted belief. Do we want jurors to use faith to reach a verdict? Do we want citizens to use "faith-based reasoning" when they weigh the claims of politicians or advertisers or anyone else who tries to sell them something? Don't the claims of racists, cultists and dictators rest on faith and not on evidence or reason?

And faith is no friend in the classroom. The goal of learning is to teach students to think critically for themselves. A good teacher does not want students to take what he says on faith. Students should question the grounds for what he says. They need to learn how to derive conclusions from assumptions and how to judge the accuracy of an argument's assumptions. The rules of logic and evidence apply just as well to the study of Greek mythology and comparative politics as they do to the study of atoms and genes. No one gets an A for saying, "It's true because I believe it's true." Yet that is just the admission ticket to faith-based belief schemes from astrology to most organized religions.

Most Americans are saturated with faith. Tax subsidies would only encourage more of it. What we need is more critical thinking. We need more doubt.

Bart Kosko is on the electrical engineering faculty at USC and author of "Heaven in a Chip" (Random House, 2000).

This article originally appeared in The Los Angeles Times on Feb. 19, 2001, is reprinted with permission of the author.

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Freethought Factoids

Tiny church attendance. Adult church attendance in Britain is at 7.7% and only 2% now attends an Anglican church regularly. Source: Economist/New York Times, Dec. 22, 2000

A Titan trend. Nashville churches reported a 50% decrease in church attendance on the Sunday of the Titans' 11:30 a.m. home game in January, a dip that is part of a larger trend of sabbath apathy. Source: The Tennessean, Jan. 14, 2001

Beware pious politicians. 74% polled think politicians who talk about their faith 'are just saying what people want to hear.' Source: Nov. poll, 1,507 U.S. adults, Public Agenda; AP, Jan. 10, 2001

Up to 13%! Agnostics, atheists and nonreligious citizens are 13% of the population. Source: Nov. poll, 1,507 U.S. adults, Public Agenda; AP, Jan. 10, 2001

Help! The world's population of 6.1 billion--which doubled since 1950--is projected to swell to 9.3 billion in the next half century, with nearly 9 of every 10 people living in a developing country. Source: U.N. Population Division study; AP, 2/28/2001

Agnostic president has work cut out for him. Ricardo Lagos, Chile's president since March 2000, is a socialist agnostic and in his second marriage in a Catholic country where most divorce is illegal and abortion is banned. Source: The Economist/New York Times, Sept. 8, 2000

Uh-oh. The United States, with 62.5 million Roman Catholics (22.7% of the population), has the third-largest Catholic population, after Brazil and Mexico. Rhode Island is the only state with a Catholic majority (64.3%). Source: 2001 Catholic Almanac/AP, Feb. 7, 2001

16% Canadians nontheists. 84% of Canadians say they believe in God. Source: Ipsos-Reid/Globe and Mail, Jan. 6, 2001

Catholicism rules Wisconsin? Only 13% of groups receiving public funding offered birth control education as a way to assist "W-2 recipients" (formerly welfare clients in Wisconsin) to get off financial assistance, but 76% of recipients indicated they wanted birth control counseling. Source: Single Mother Needs Assessment Study, Dieringer Research Group (March 2001) (Submitted by Nora Cusack)

Dutch vs. dinosaur mentality. The teen pregnancy rate for 15- to 17-year-olds is 9.9% in the United States with its federally-mandated "abstinence" programs, but is less than 1% in Holland, which offers liberal sex education and free contraception. Source: "Teen Pregnancy 'Virtually Eliminated' in The Netherlands," Reuters Health, March 2, 2001

Beware motoring men of god. Insurers Bell Direct found that 29% of clergymen have had road accidents, compared with 26% of estate agents and only 19% of teachers. Source: [London] Sunday Mail, Feb. 11, 2001

Majority opposes public vouchers. More than half (54%) of Wisconsin citizens oppose using tax money for private (mostly religious) schools. Source: Wisconsin Public Radio and St. Norbert College poll; Capital Times [Madison, WI], April 27, 2001

Scots awa' wi' church. Europe is considered a "post-Christian" society. In Scotland, less than 10% of Christians regularly go to church. Source: Newsweek, April 16, 2001

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"Blasphemy" in Kansas200

Foundation staff member Dan Barker, a former evangelical minister who is now an atheist, spoke at Kansas State University-Manhattan, about "Losing Faith in Faith" on April 9. The event was the kickoff for "Freethought Week" organized by Individuals for Freethought (IF), a KSU campus student group.

The large auditorium was standing-room-only, packed with believers and unbelievers who were mainly polite and attentive. The only rudeness came from a local Baptist minister who stood up and interrupted the meeting, yelling "Blasphemy!" along with a loud rant about "judgment day." Otherwise, the talk was well received by students and covered favorably by the campus newspaper. A Political Issues instructor gave extra credit points to students who attended and wrote a paper on the speech.

Dan also performed a freethought concert at the Manhattan Unitarian Fellowship on Sunday, April 8, and did a campus radio interview the following morning, during which the student host played Dan's freethought blues, "You Can't Win with Original Sin."

Individuals for Freethought gave Dan one of their new orange T-shirts, sporting a bright yellow smiley face with the words:

"Smile. There is no hell!"

Thanks to Amy Walker, Leslie Veesart, Keiv Spare and Paul Youk for transportation, and to Marolyn Caldwell, Steve Mull, Amy & Marc Walker for hospitality.

Atheism debated in Arizona
"God is a Baritone!"

Dan Barker participated in a debate at Arizona State University-Tempe, with Bob Siegel of "Mission to the Americas" on April 11. The event was arranged by the Humanist Society of Greater Phoenix, spearheaded by hard-working Foundation member Susan Sackett, and co-sponsored by the ASU Freethought Society.

Almost 600 people attended the overflow debate. Many were seated on the floor and stood in the foyer, with about 100 turned away.

The Arizona Republic featured a pre-write in its Sunday edition.

Dan's father was in the audience, the first time he was able to attend one of Dan's debates. "I want you to meet Norman Barker," Dan said, when introducing him, "my only father."

During the debate, Siegel said he knows a god exists because he has a "personal relationship" and has had "personal encounters" with him, even hearing his voice.

"What does God's voice sound like?" Dan asked Siegel during the cross-examination. "Is he a tenor or a baritone?"

"He's a baritone," Siegel responded with a straight face.

After the event, a young man told audience member Joy Berry, a children's author: "I hadn't thought about it very much before, but I guess I'm an atheist!"

Dan extends thanks to Susan Sackett and the ASU Freethought Society, who were able to arrange the successful debate on less than a month's notice.

Published in Back Issues
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'Tooning Out Religion

The smorgasbord of editorial cartoons on these two pages is a sampling of those presented by Steve Benson, the Arizona Republic's Pulitzer-prize winning cartoonist, before the annual convention of the Freedom From Religion Foundation in St. Paul last fall.

"'Tooning Out Religion" was an encore presentation by Steve, who accepted a "Tell It Like It Is! Freethought in the Media" award at the 1999 annual convention.

Steve is the grandson of the late Mormon "prophet" Ezra Taft Benson, the former Secretary of Agriculture under Eisenhower.

He graduated cum laude in political science from Brigham Young University, 1979. Steve and his wife Mary Ann Christensen broke with the Mormon Church in 1993 in disagreement "over its doctrines on race, women, intellectual freedom and fanciful storytelling." Now an openly-admitted secular humanist atheist, Steve lists among the benefits of leaving religion, "another day off, a 10 percent raise and getting to choose his own underwear."

The headline-making cartoonist and his wife reside in Gilbert, Arizona, with their four children, "all of whom live under assumed names."

He recently completed a term as president of the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists.

His cartoons appear in about 130 newspapers and magazines nationwide.

Steve was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for editorial cartooning in 1993, and has placed first in Best of the West editorial cartooning in 1991, 1992, 1993, 1994, 1995, 1998, and 1999. He cites his proudest achievement as receiving the "Parched Cow Skull Award" from the Arizona Office of Tourism for "the least positive contribution" to the winter visitor industry.

Since 1997 he has worked as a sworn police officer for the State of Arizona. When pulling over motorists who ask him what they've done wrong, Steve has been tempted to reply, "Do I have to draw you a picture?"

Among his many hobbies, Steve cares for a popular home zoo of dozens of small animals that includes (not counting his children) ferrets, iguanas, tortoises, birds, rabbits, rats, mice, dogs, and cats. He says working with the animal kingdom helps him "better understand lower forms of life--namely, politicians and the clergy."

His work proves the old adage, "a picture is worth a thousand phone calls."

Steve will present "'Tooning Out Religion" on July 6 at the Lake Hypatia Independence Weekend hosted by the Foundation's chapter, the Alabama Freethought Association.

Published in Back Issues

Jesse Ventura
Ted Turner
Janeane Garofalo

Katha Pollit
George Carlin
Andy Rooney

An annual award recognizing statements about the shortcomings of religion by public figures was announced in April by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, a national group working to educate about freethought and to protect the constitutional principle of separation of church and state.

The award, a statue, is based on the folk tale "The Emperor Has No Clothes," the Hans Christian Andersen story of two con men, weavers, who convince a gullible emperor that the cloth they supposedly have woven is so exquisite that only the very wise can see it. The emperor parades before his subjects in his imaginary finery until a child calls out: "But the emperor has no clothes!"

Religion, freethinkers contend, has a similar imaginary base.

The Emperor statue is described by Foundation president Anne Gaylor as "an engaging, golden figure clad only in shoes and a fig leaf" and carrying a mirror and sceptre. It was produced by the same firm that does the "Oscars."

The six public figures named for the awards are: Katha Pollitt, columnist; Andy Rooney, CBS commentator; Ted Turner, CNN founder; Janeane Garofalo, comedienne-actress; George Carlin, standup comic; and Jesse Ventura, Minnesota governor.

Gaylor noted that Katha Pollitt, a columnist for The Nation, consistently points out religion's devastating effects on women; Andy Rooney has written of his long-held freethought views; Ted Turner regularly is called on the Christian carpet for his candor; Janeane Garofalo and George Carlin both have witty, popular routines challenging religion's claims; and Jesse Ventura made lasting news with his Playboy interview (Nov. '99): "Organized religion is a sham and a crutch for weak-minded people who need strength in numbers."

The Foundation presented its debut Emperor award to Nobel Laureate Steven Weinberg, a renowned physicist, at the Foundation's convention in San Antonio, Texas (Nov. '99).

Prof. Weinberg said: "Religion is an insult to human dignity. With or without it you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion."

The Foundation plans to make the awards an annual April event to coincide with the anniversary of Thomas Jefferson's birth (April 13, 1743). Jefferson, whose writings criticized religion and who especially valued separation of church and state, was one of the most skeptical of U.S. presidents.

The "Emperor" award was suggested and financed by a West Coast Foundation member who wishes to be anonymous.

Awards have been mailed or UPS'ed to recipients, except for Katha Pollitt who will be presented with hers in person when she comes to Madison to speak at the Foundation's 2001 convention the weekend of Sept. 21-23.

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"Wise and Wonderful" Agnostic Cinema

Here's a nearly foolproof way to find good flicks that freethinkers will enjoy: Find out which ones Michael Medved doesn't approve of.

Medved, longtime film critic and self-proclaimed "cultural crusader" for the faith-based family values crowd, used to be the host of "Sneak Previews" on public television. Now his daily three-hour radio program, broadcast from Seattle and funded by the Salem Radio Network ("Christian Radio's #1 News Network") reaches "1.8 million listeners in 118 markets coast to coast."

SRN (of Irving, Texas) boasts "the finest anchors and reporters in Christian journalism" and is the billing address for Medved's personal website, where his movie reviews and other addled opinions are archived. He's also a board member of the Dove Foundation, an organization that rates movies on the basis of "traditional Judeo-Christian values."

I knew I wanted to see the film "Chocolat" even before Annie Laurie Gaylor gave it a four-pansies rating (March 2001). Medved had already warned against it. "This . . . will only attract unthinking flies," he opined. "[Producer] Harvey Weinstein is so determined to show the horrid, intolerant, cruel nature of religious conservatives that he tries to do so by recreating an irrelevant and implausible struggle."

Similarly, Medved panned "The Contender," which Annie Laurie re-commended. "[A] feminist fantasy," said the cultural crusader, that could be the most disappointing and annoying movie of the year. "A woman's Ã"sacred' right to choose is the most important value in this movie."

Medved has a well-established history of criticizing those he finds at odds with his supposedly Judeo-Christian values. In addition to movie reviews, his website also offers examples of his Golden Turkey Awards--snide comments on people and activities he believes are misguided or silly. Targets of his criticism include efforts to end racism and hate speech, the Million Mom March to promote handgun controls, Democrats, environmentalists, gays and lesbians, controversial art exhibits, and, of course, any effort to keep religion out of public schools.

I first became aware of his involvement with the Christian right when "Hollywood vs. Religion" aired in 1996 on a PBS affiliate station owned by a private university in Indianapolis. The title and content of the film reflect Medved's book Hollywood vs. America, in which he depicts the film industry as an anti-religious cabal.

"It's important to understand that it's not some sort of organized conspiracy--a bunch of people in a room somewhere planning how they're going to knock organized religion," Medved says in the film. "What we are talking about is a tightly-knit creative community whose members happen to share some similar unspoken values and biases. And one of those biases involves a sincere and deep-seated contempt for organized religion."

Credits at the end of the film indicate that it was produced and directed by Michael Pack of Manifold Productions, Inc., for the Chatham Hill Foundation, another Christian-funded organization based not far from SRN in Texas. (Pack is a fairly well-known conservative filmmaker who has brought us, among other "documentaries," two films on Newt Gingrich.)

An Internet search revealed that Focus on the Family had put its Christian muscle into marketing the video through a mass mailing that announced the show's satellite feed in November 1995. Postcards sent to religious leaders and other supporters asked that they contact their local PBS affiliates to request that the program be telecast. Clergy were asked to inform their congregations and request their cooperation in the effort.

I contacted my local PBS affiliate to complain that "Hollywood vs. Religion" had been aired without comment about its political underpinnings, and was told by the station manager that they had received a number of calls. He invited me to participate in a panel discussion about the controversial film, and I accepted.

In a subsequent phone conversation, the station's news director revealed that Medved himself would also sit on the panel, and I (foolishly) said that I intended to bring up the nature of the film's production and distribution and the lack of disclaimer on it. The brave news director left me a voice-mail message around midnight, withdrawing the invitation for me to participate. My message to him, asking for confirmation of the time and location of the event so that I could sit in the audience, brought no reply.

The local media folks who were allowed to sit on the panel were all in fawning agreement with Medved. Only one panelist was brave enough to wonder if erosion of moral values could be fairly blamed on Hollywood, but he prefaced his remarks by saying, "I'm a man of faith also--just so you don't think I'm a godless atheist."

My friends and I were allowed to sit in the audience but were forced to submit our questions on index cards, promptly ignored. Instead, Medved carried on uninterrupted, denouncing the film industry as malicious and stupid and showing "disregard for the fundamental truths that animate the lives of most people."

Films that address those "truths" have been few and far between since "The Sound of Music" (1965), according to Medved. He offers as personal favorites such antiques as "Angels with Dirty Faces" (1938), "Boys Town" (1938), "Going My Way" (1944), "The Bells of St. Mary's" (1945), "It's a Wonderful Life" (1946), "My Darling Clementine" (1946), "The Ten Commandments" (1956), "The Robe" (1953), "Samson and Delilah" (1949), and "Ben Hur" (1959). These movies portrayed faith and religious leaders in positive ways and were box-office hits. Priests used to be handsome, he laments. Nowadays they are "far less appealing."

Medved doesn't like "The Three Musketeers" (1993 version) because it portrays Cardinal Richelieu as a sexual predator. "Sister Act" is acceptable because its view of Catholicism is "benign," but "Household Saints" offers a cynical view of the church. "Agnes of God" is objectionable in many ways, not the least of which is Jane Fonda's role as an atheist psychiatrist.

A practicing Jew, Medved objects to humorous portrayals of Orthodox Judaism in "Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex," "Radio Days," and "Enemies, a Love Story."

Other films he finds unacceptable: "City of Joy" (spirituality cut out of the original story); "Doc Hollywood" (set in South Carolina, but no churches shown); "Hocus Pocus" (elevates a feminist type of spiritual practice); and "Little Buddha," "Heaven and Earth," and "Malcolm X" (offer positive views of non-mainstream religions).

"Star Trek V" has an anti-religious subtext. "We're No Angels" portrays religion as a crutch that doesn't reflect eternal truths. "At Play in the Fields of the Lord" characterizes religion as hocus-pocus. In "King David" the main character loses his faith. The Jesus in "The Last Temptation of Christ" "bears no resemblance to the Jesus of the New Testament . . . but is deeply troubled and possibly insane."

All of this is because "the religious practices of the people who create movies are very different from their audiences," he states. "[L]ess than 10 percent of the entertainment industry's leaders participate in religious services of any kind," he asserts, citing a 1982 study "recently confirmed by the University of Texas."

In movies, "ministers are murderous, evangelists are suckers and dupes, and fundamentalists want to take over the country," Medved wails, but "agnostics are always wise and wonderful."

Is that the result of deep-seated contempt for religion, or just an accurate reflection of our society? Medved makes a wonderful critic-in-reverse: I used the movies lambasted in Hollywood vs. Religion as a viewing guide, and have enjoyed every one of them.

Nominate Favorite Freethought Flicks

Have a favorite movie with a nonreligious character/theme? Send the movie title and a short (paragraph or so) description/synopsis to Freethought Today, PO Box 750, Madison WI 53701; This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. . When we collect enough reader recommendations, we'll publish them so others won't miss out on any of those rare freethought moments at the movies.

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Scalia Hypes "Dead Constitution"

Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia is a judicial version of a bible literalist, according to Foundation president Anne Gaylor, who, with other Foundation staff members, recently picketed Scalia when he spoke in Madison, Wisconsin.

At two Wisconsin university appearances in March, Scalia decried the idea of the Constitution as a living document:

"A dead Constitution--that's what I'm selling," Scalia told a closed audience at the University of Wisconsin Law School on March 15. He said his mission was to persuade them "to love a dead Constitution."

According to the Capital Times [Madison, WI] coverage, Scalia hinted that he would not find a constitutional right to women's suffrage under the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution, saying only the 19th amendment passed in 1920 provided that right. Scalia added:

"If you don't like the white males, persuade the people and lead a revolution. And you'll get beat, too."

Scalia calls himself an "originalist" or "textualist," saying judges must preserve the original meaning of the two-centuries-old Constitution. The Constitution provides no right to die, no right to an abortion, and no ban on the death penalty, he said. By implication he appears to believe there is no constitutional right to contraception.

"The death penalty--that's a laugher. Right to die--forget about it. Right to abortion--the same thing," according to Wisconsin State Journal coverage of the speech.

Scalia seemed to dismiss the broad liberties provided in the Bill of Rights: "The majority wins. If you don't believe that, you don't believe in democracy."

Scalia, a Roman Catholic, was valedictorian at a Jesuit prep school. He worships at a suburban Virginia parish popular with conservative Catholics, which erected a monument to "unborn children" to symbolize opposition to abortion. He is the father of nine children.

In 1971 Nixon gave Scalia his first political appointment. President Reagan appointed Scalia to the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia in 1982. Four years later, Reagan successfully nominated him to the Supreme Court.

Scalia became an outspoken opponent of affirmative action in the early 1980s. His dissenting votes have upheld prayer at public school graduations. Scalia wrote the decision handing George W. Bush the presidency.

Scalia may see his dream of a "dead constitution" realized, given the fact that Bush is expected to replace two or more justices during his term, including "swing" voter Justice Sandra Day O'Connor. Her replacement by a Scalia/ Thomas clone would ensure a 5-4 rightwing majority on the high court.

Published in Back Issues

The Freedom From Religion Foundation has called on the U.S. Agency for International Development to investigate allegations that a federally funded quake relief project in El Salvador is overtly proselytizing.

According to an expose in The New York Times (March 5), AID has granted more than $200,000 to Samaritan's Purse, whose president and CEO is Franklin Graham, son of Billy Graham.

In a letter to Don Pressley, Acting Administrator of AID, the Freedom From Religion Foundation called for an immediate probe and audit, and urged him to freeze further aid. The Christian ministry reportedly is slated to receive a second similar grant to continue its Christian mission in El Salvador.

Samaritan Purse's website describes itself as "a nondenominational evangelical Christian organization providing spiritual and physical aid to hurting people . . . with the purpose of sharing God's love through his son, Jesus Christ . . . to promote the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ."

According to Times reporter David Gonzalez's lead sentence, the evangelical relief group "has blurred the line between church and state as its volunteers preach, pray and seek converts among people desperate for help."

"This is not just a misuse of the public's money to promote religion, but to promote evangelical Protestantism in a predominately Catholic country," the Foundation wrote Pressley.

"If Samaritan's Purse wishes to conduct prayer meetings, to convert Catholics to Protestantism and to 'preach the word of God and receive the word of God,' it must do its mission without public funding, endorsement and support," said the Foundation.

Especially indicting is the statement of a needy villager quoted by the Times: "They said a lot, but the principal thing was god and that earthly things do not matter."

"We imagine Franklin Graham has many nice earthly things, and that it would matter a great deal to him were he homeless from an earthquake, and expected to attend Catholic mass to receive tax-paid help," noted the Madison, Wis.-based Foundation.

Also quoted by the Times was Dr. Paul Chiles, director for Samaritan Purse's project in El Salvador: "We are first a Christian organization and second an aid organization. We can't really separate the two. We really believe Jesus Christ told us to do relief work."

Granting tax money to a pervasively sectarian relief group is being justified by "charitable choice," promoted by Pres. Bush and Sen. Jesse Helms. In its letter of complaint, the Foundation noted that Bush's scheme to promote "charitable choice" beyond welfare reform at the federal level has not been authorized by Congress. "Nor has the untested concept itself passed Constitutional muster."

The Foundation currently has a lawsuit in federal court challenging the use of welfare reform money to subsidize an overt Christian ministry for addicts, which will be the first "charitable choice" lawsuit to be adjudicated in the nation.

"If it wants public money, this Christian group needs to play by the rules, to create a secular arm and be scrupulous in separating its private religious agenda from its public purpose of helping disaster victims," said a Foundation spokesperson. Religious activities conducted as part of federally-funded programs are believed to violate federal and contract guidelines. The Foundation has made a request to review the project application and AID regulations on religion under the Freedom of Information Act.

Write:
Mr Don Pressley, Acting Administrator
U.S. Agency for International Development
Ronald Reagan Bldg
Washington DC 20523
202/712-4810 Fax 202/216-3524

Published in Back Issues
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Overheard

I don't believe in God.

--Actor Javier Bardem (nominated for "best actor," "Before Night Falls")
New York Times, March 4, 2001

I'm an atheist, although I had to look up the word in the dictionary way back when I realized I didn't believe in god as an all-seeing thing. I believe in Darwin and the natural world.

I don't like the way organized religion manipulates people. I don't like wars in history that have been about differences in religion. And what is this thing about swearing on the Bible in court? I don't need that to tell the truth.

--Choreographer Paul Taylor
"Paul Taylor, Ballet's Beloved Enemy"
New York Times, March 4, 2001

The obituaries in the newspapers and on television [of Steve Allen] were well done but none mentioned what ended up being an obsession with Steve. He was a student of the Bible and a dedicated atheist intent on proving the Bible was a seriously flawed book that many people who profess to live by it, don't know or understand.

--Andy Rooney
Press-Enterprise, Nov. 5, 2000

"Church admits to shortage of miracles."

--Headline
The [London] Times, June 8, 2000

You have been chosen by God to lead the people.

--Rev. Mark Craig to Dubya
Dec. 14 victory sermon New York Post, Dec. 15, 2000

There is, indeed, little question that religion--or, if one wants to be nice about it, the name of religion--has become increasingly associated with conflict around the globe. From Kosovo to Khartoum, from Jerusalem to Jakarta, the struggle for power and pelf both within and between countries can often now be cast in religious terms.

--Book Editor Mark Silk
Religion on the International News Agenda [Charleston] Gazette-Mail, Nov. 26, 2000

Terrific news from the Archbishop of Canterbury: we have become a society of atheists. In a startlingly pessimistic analysis of the role of the church in contemporary Britain, Dr. George Carey admits that "a tacit atheism prevails" and that people have stopped believing in life after death.

--Joan Smith
The Guardian, Oct. 30, 2000

I was looking at this woman [one of several CNN Washington newsroom employees with ashes on their faces] and I was trying to figure out what was on her forehead. At first I thought you were in the [Seattle] earthquake. I realized you're just Jesus freaks. Shouldn't you guys be working for Fox?

--Ted Turner
New York Post, March 8, 2001

If the outrage directed at the Taliban for destroying ancient religious figures were instead channeled into rescuing the living from the hell that is Afghanistan, there would be much more to celebrate [on this International Women's Day].

--Glenda Holste
St. Paul Pioneer Press, March 8, 2001

I was born in Hildale, Utah, the 25th child of 31 total among my father's four wives. My mother was the third wife. Polygamy goes back on my mother's side clear to the days of Joseph Smith. That's eight generations of polygamy. . . .

We were just little girls in odd clothes and funny hair who thought we were going to hell if we didn't obey. Who would think, right here in the United States of America, fathers are trading their daughters away like trophies? It's brainwashing and slavery. It's a complete system of organized crime right in our backyard that for some reason the government has simply chosen to ignore.

--Laura Chapman, molested by her father, quit school at 11 to work without pay, married to a stranger at 18
Denver Post, March 4, 2000

Stephen Jay Gould . . . [in his book Rock of Ages] dubs his redemptive breakthrough Noma--an acronym for Non-Overlapping Magisteria . . . . The idea is that scientists and representatives of religion should agree to a "principled and respectful separation" of their activities. . . .

Noma is a non-starter, destined to plunge to the ocean floor straight from the launching ramp. . . The most obvious [reason] is Gould's glaringly inadequate account of religion. None of the things we normally associate with religion--churches, priests, dogma, belief in the supernatural, worship of a God or gods--are, Gould tells us, necessary to religion . . . [As for scientists] the suggestion that their expertise has nothing to contribute to moral discussion is tantamount to saying that moral discussion is better conducted by the ignorant.

. . . Superstition is merely faith by another name.

--Reviewer John Carey
Sunday [London] Times, Jan. 28, 2001

I think of them [convents] as dark centres of attempted brain-washing, run by women who take out their sexual frustrations on innocent children with a zeal bordering on sadomasochism. . . .

I remember being told when I was about 12 that my mother was "a slut," that I had "the mark of the Devil" and would probably go to hell because I had a "lazy eye."

--Eve-Ann Prentice
"I think of nuns as dark sadists" [London] Times, Sept. 21, 2000

The alternative to thinking in evolutionary terms is not to think at all.

--Sir Peter Medawar
Nobel-prize winning British biologist
"Faith-Based" Funding

. . . It seems likely that the Office of Faith-Based Initiatives will soon become a highly effective patronage scheme.

--Joe Conason
New York Observer, Feb. 12, 2001

White House Correspondent Helen Thomas: Mr. President, why do you refuse to respect the wall between the church and the state? And you know that the mixing of religion and government for centuries has led to slaughter. I mean, the very fact that our country has stood in good stead by having the separation--why do you break it down?

Pres. Bush: Helen, I strongly respect the separation of church and state--

Thomas: Well, you wouldn't have a religious office in the White House if you did. . . . You are a secular official. And not a missionary.

--Bush's first press conference
Feb. 22, 2001

Our founders expected that Christianity--and no other religion--would receive support from the government. They would have found utterly incredible the idea that all religions, including paganism, be treated with equal deference.

--Family Research Council Press Release
Associated Press, Sept. 26, 2000

I have a problem with the teachings of Scientology being viewed on the same par as Judaism or Christianity.

--George W. Bush campaign remarks
New York Times, March 7, 2001

So why not augment all this [church-run charities] with a little governmental largess? Because even religious institutions that place a high value on serving the poor almost always place a higher value on saving souls. They should. That is why they exist in the first place.

. . . to suggest that the government should shift part of its welfare burden to churches, through tax-supported subsidies, is folly. Who will do due diligence on thousands of tiny projects to ensure that religion and government stay separate? Who will keep my church, or any other, from slipping federal funds from one pocket to another?

--Rev. Forrest Church
All Souls Unitarian Church
New York Times, Dec. 25, 2000

Those of us who live in New York can tell you how many problems arise when church and state start drifting together. This is the place where parking regulations turn into faith-based initiatives. . . . Everybody wants a piece of the action. . . . the New York political theory [is] that the way to honor the dignity of faith is by passing special-interest legislation for every religion in sight.

--Gail Collins
"Faith and Parking"
New York Times, March 7, 2001

At the national Prayer Breakfast, President George W. Bush said, "Faith crosses every border and touches every heart in every nation."

Yes, and sometimes the faithful carry bombs across borders to kill and maim people of different faiths. . . .

If tax money eventually goes to churches for charity work, the devil will be in the details.

--Rowland Nethaway
Cox News Service Columnist
New York Times, Feb. 2, 2001

If you add religious passion to what are now merely public policy debates, you promptly add an element of fanaticism that can only destroy democracy.

We have only to look at Afghanistan and Iran to see what comes of mixing religious zealotry with politics.

--Columnist Molly Ivins
West County Times
Dec. 23, 1999

Published in Back Issues

It was a miscarriage of justice when the Missouri Supreme Court ruled unanimously on February 13 to uphold the constitutionality of a statute requiring a "So help me God" oath on a tax form.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation and our Missouri plaintiff Robert Oliver take some consolation in the Court's ruling that Mr. Oliver is permitted to strike the words "So help me God" from his personal property tax assessment form. But the Court should have overturned the statute for two reasons.

First, as the decision admits, "The guiding principle is that no one can be required by the government to acknowledge the existence of, or belief in, a deity." Then why did the Court approve a religious oath on a tax form?

Second, it should have invalidated the statute because it creates a double standard, requiring a mandatory oath to a deity on tax assessment forms for citizens in third and fourth class counties, but not imposing a religious oath on citizens in first class counties. Those living in first class counties are given the standard warning of the "pains and penalties" of perjury--which is the only appropriate way a government should remind its citizens of the legal implications of signing a statement attesting to the truth.

The unmistakable implication is that people who live in poorer, less populated counties need to be reminded of the wrath of a deity in order to be honest. A news reporter researching this issue concluded that this double standard dates to the turn of the 20th century when concern (or stereotypes) about the making of "moonshine" in rural areas was rampant!

People of good sense and good will should be able to agree that the State of Missouri is wrong in imposing a religious oath upon some of its citizens for discriminatory reasons.

If a resident of a third or fourth class county fails to sign the oath containing "So help me God" on the property tax assessment form, the statute provides for a misdemeanor conviction, with fines and jailtime penalties. Those living in first class counties who have scruples against signing a religious oath face no such dilemma or threat of prosecution.

The facts of this case are straightforward. Our plaintiff Robert Oliver refused in good conscience to sign the religious oath on his 1998 personal property tax form when he noticed it contained the words "So help me God." Instead he wrote and signed his own affirmation "under penalty of perjury," which the Christian County assessor's office refused to accept. This placed Mr. Oliver in legal jeopardy.

The state tax commission eventually instructed the assessor's office to accept Mr. Oliver's altered form in that particular instance. But later that spring the state tax office ordered all third and fourth class counties to comply with the statute, mandating the oath must be signed and must end with the words "So help me God."

That is when we decided to go to court.

Our lawsuit correctly invoked the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment and its corollary clause in the Missouri State Constitution, both of which prohibit states from making or enforcing any law abridging the privileges or immunities of citizens or denying any person "the equal protection of the laws."

The equal protection clause of the federal constitution was originally adopted to guarantee the rights of freed slaves, although its protections encompass anyone who faces invidious forms of discrimination.

Missouri Supreme Court Justice Ronnie White himself publicly and recently faced discrimination when his nomination to a higher court was sabotaged by John Ashcroft. How could Justice White and other justices so cavalierly dismiss the rights of another set of minorities?

Our complaint and briefs correctly pointed out that the Missouri Constitution provides for a far stricter separation of church and state than the federal constitution. Justice Michael A. Wolfe, who wrote the decision for the court, interpreted this to mean:

"Oliver and the Freedom From Religion Foundation seem to read our constitution as being hostile to religion."

That is untrue. We properly read the Constitution as requiring government neutrality toward religion and irreligion. We notice the Court did not argue that the absence of "So help me God" from tax forms designed for residents of first class counties indicates government "hostility."

The Court insultingly suggests that a person who wishes to make a secular statement should sign the "affirmation and simply ignore, without deleting, the references to 'swear' and to 'So help me God' . . . In any event, when a taxpayer opts to affirm, the words 'So help me God' are surplus." The court fails to note that neither the form nor the statute provides the taxpayer with a way to "opt to affirm." Ending a so-called "affirmation" with the words "So help me God" renders an affirmation absolutely meaningless.

This Court decision is doublespeak! Carving out an exception for one Missouri citizen does not address the inequity of the wording and the statutory double standard.

On one matter we do agree with the Court. That is when it admits that the religious oath "is indeed an invitation to express a belief in God."

The solution now rests with the Missouri Legislature, which should ensure that citizens in all its counties are given secular wording on tax assessment forms.

--Annie Laurie Gaylor
Freethought Today editor

This op-ed was published by several Missouri daily newspapers.

P.S. Five Missouri State Supreme Court judges were appointed by John Ashcroft when he was governor. Ashcroft-appointed justices are: John C. Holstein, Stephen N. Limbaugh Jr., William Ray Price Jr., and Duane Benton. Judge Stephen N. Limbaugh Jr., is the cousin of Rush.

Published in Back Issues

A complaint by the Freedom From Religion Foundation has halted an entanglement between a Methodist church and the public school district in Clio, Michigan.

The city had agreed to donate $500 toward a "leadership seminar" conducted at the New Covenant Free Methodist Church being simulcast to more than 1,200 churches across the nation on March 24.

A few days before the seminar was to take place, the church wrote Clio and other government sponsors to say it was no longer expecting them to honor their pledges. The letter was sent as a result of the Freedom From Religion Foundation's complaint, which was publicized in Clio, Flint and by media throughout Michigan.

Featured at the seminar was Weslyn-affiliated pastor, John C. Maxwell, founder of Atlanta-based INJOY. The president of INJOY told the Clio Messenger (March 18):

"We feel privileged to be the first to tap into its effectiveness in the Christian community to train more than 100,000 business leaders through the local church."

According to INJOY's website, "From the very start, our purpose was to help churches and church leaders to realize their full potential."

In her March 7 letter of complaint, Freethought Today editor Annie Laurie Gaylor wrote Mayor Thomas Yost: "While this church is free to privately advertise its seminar and invite whomever it wishes to attend, the city is not at liberty to expend public money for a seminar that is being set up for a national simulcast for churches."

She cited Art. I, Sect. 4 of the Michigan Constitution forbidding government contributions or support "of any place of religious worship," or drawing money from the treasury "for the benefit of any religious sect or society."

The Clio Messenger later reported that the Clio Chamber of Commerce, the Vienna township, and the Clio Board of Education had also each pledged $500. The charge to attend the seminar was $40.

In addition, the Foundation is pursuing two First Amendment violations in the Clio Area Schools:
The district is setting up a program pairing a minister from the Clio Ministerial Association with each district school. Pastor Herb Smith of New Hope Wesleyan Church was quoted in the Clio Messenger (Feb. 25), saying: "If kids solicit prayer, we're there."

Every minister is Christian. The program is patterned after one in the Linden Schools in which one minister "often came at lunchtime and passed out suckers" and "was very popular," according to a report in the "School Bell," the Clio school's newsletter.

In her letter of complaint to Supt. Fay Latture, Gaylor wrote:

"To give the Ministerial Association access to students is tantamount to the school system saying, 'Come, proselytize our captive audience of students.'"
The Clio Area Schools also announced it is considering an entanglement with the New Covenant Free Methodist Church, which has an FM license, to let it broadcast school games and possibly work with broadcast classes at the church radio station.

The Foundation pointed out it recently put a stop to a similar violation in a public school working with a church radio station in the Northwest, calling the arrangement illegal because it appears to unite the radio station's Christian message and the public schools.

"It is impossible to avoid endorsement and entanglement issues. Promotions and announcements of school events and times would be sandwiched in between Christian messages, and the whole process would be permeated with religion."

An attorney retained on behalf of the school district has contacted the Foundation to say he is researching the Foundation's complaint, which has received statewide news coverage.

You can write the Clio Area Schools about this violation:
Supt. Fay Latture
Administration Bldg
430 N Mill St.
Clio MI 48420

Published in Back Issues

"Are you aware that the Col. Bob Wilderness area on the Olympic Peninsula of the State of Washington is named after our Great Agnostic? Also Ingersoll Peak?"

So queried a recent email to our office from T. R. (Tom) Weston, of Washington State.

And no--we were not aware, were you?

Mr. Weston kindly sent documentation and some of the history of this "mini-wilderness" area and how it came to be named after Col. Robert G. ("Col. Bob") Ingersoll.

Wrote Mr. Weston:

"I live very close to the Olympic peninusla and have spent a good part of my time hiking the trails and climbing the mountains of both the Park and the Forest. I work two days a week as a volunteer trail worker for the Forest Service.

"Having been in the Col. Bob Wilderness Area and known about it for 50 years, I was astonished to find out it was named for one of my heroes. Incidentally, this information was given to me by a Forest Ranger with 20 people present and only I had ever heard of Robert Ingersoll!"

The 12,120-acre area surrounding Colonel Bob Peak near Lake Quinault was designated a wilderness in the late 1970s or early '80s.

Ingersoll was America's most feted 19th century freethinker, a wildly admired orator, national figure, and celebrated family man who commanded huge audiences and speaking fees, as well as affectionate praise from the leading reformers of his day, such as Mark Twain, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and another "Fighting Bob," Robert LaFollette. An influential political figure and attorney, Ingersoll was friend to four presidents. It was traditionally believed among his wide audience of fans that Ingersoll only missed being nominated to run as Illinois governor, then as probable president, due to his unstinting dedication to freeing minds from superstition.

As the Chicago Tribune wrote after his death in 1899:

"Splendidly endowed as he was he could have won great distinction in the field of politics had he so chosen. But he was determined to enlighten the world concerning the 'Mistakes of Moses.' That threw him out the race."

One of Ingersoll's many admirers was John N. Locke. On July 23, 1893, he and his son Robert and another Quinault Valley resident, Clarke Peeler, began ascending "Old Baldy," believed to be the highest of a series of peaks in the area. The party ascended Mount Baldy, according to a Daily World [Aberdeen, WA] newspaper recap, only to discover another peak rose 400 or 500 feet higher about half a mile away.

When they reached the summit of the highest peak, they beheld a "grand panorama--the great Grays Harbor county, the Juan de Fuca straits and Vancouver Island all in view," according to the Aug. 17, 1893, edition of The Washingtonian.

This report said the men "christened" the 4,500-foot peak Mount Ingersoll.

Robert Locke himself wrote the federal Board of Geographic Names a slightly differing account:

"My father remarked the tall, rugged mountain standing out above its fellows reminded him of Colonel Ingersoll and he believed he would name it Colonel Bob after him."

The compliment was brought to the attention of Ingersoll, according to the Washingtonian article, who "graciously accepted it" and sent a copy of one of his books to the climbers.

By 1932, the Board of Geographic Names had made "Colonel Bob" official.

The Forest Service crew didn't inspect the area until 1900. Some residents traditionally climbed the peak on the Fourth of July to get snow to make ice cream. Colonel Bob was chosen as a fire lookout in 1932 because of its high elevation, although the lookout was abandoned in 1946, was partially destroyed by weathering in 1966, and was burned in 1967 because it was considered a safety hazard.

An article by Jim Miller appearing in Signpost (Jan. 1990) recounting a trek up the peak describes Ingersoll as "a reverse Jerry Falwell of sorts." Since the trail from Lake Quinault is 7.2 miles, Miller and companions took a shorter four-mile trek from Pete's Creek trail near the Humptulips River at 1,000 feet elevation, starting from the campground in the Campbell Tree Grove. Miller wrote that after a steep ascent up a trail built for management, not recreation, the "tiny mountain top could barely hold a dozen people who were good friends."

A trip to this namesake might be one "pilgrimage" that would gain Col. Bob's approval!

Annie Laurie Gaylor is editor of Freethought Today.

 

Published in Back Issues
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A Feast of Freethought

During a period of three weeks, in this bastion of Catholicism, there were three different types of freethought entertainment. The two local stage productions were previewed and reviewed as what they were: works about freethought people and their history. The third was the professional film, Chocolat, the only one of the three productions which was not specified in reviews as being of any special interest to freethinkers, or as having any freethinking/atheist characters.

The Contender, released earlier, was similarly slighted, and I am speaking of reviews in The New Yorker, a magazine I had considered a rather sophisticated one. Apparently the A-word is a no-no even in the Big Apple.

The stage performances of Comfort and Southern Discomfort at our San Antonio Jump-Start Theatre were promoted and reviewed by writers for our local conservative newspaper as precisely what they were: about freethought and freethinkers. The word atheist (gasp!) was even used.

The Jump-Start productions were a complete surprise to our local freethought group (modestly known as Freethinkers Association of Central Texas because of the irresistible acronym). Fortunately, the guest speaker at our Solstice party knew what was going on at the Blue Star Arts Complex (which houses the Jump-Start Theatre), and, after meeting us, told the playwright of Comfort to get in touch with us because we were heavily involved in trying to preserve the history of Comfort. Bingo! Dianne Monroe called and was promptly invited to speak to our group.

It was like old-home week because her play was about the early freethinkers of Comfort, Texas, focusing on a mother and daughter who journeyed a hundred miles to cover the body of their son/brother with rocks to protect him until such time as he could be brought back to Comfort for burial. This young man was one of the Union loyalists massacred at their Nueces campsite by Confederate troops while trying to escape Texas. After the return and burial of the bodies of the victims in Comfort, a granite obelisk was placed to mark their gravesite. It is the only Civil War monument located deep in Confederate territory which is dedicated to the Union. It is appropriately known as the Treue der Union Monument.

Dianne informed our group that she had become curious about Comfort history after reading a couple of articles in the Express-News concerning the limestone cenotaph that present-day freethinkers had placed and planned to dedicate in honor of early freethinker settlers of that community. The furor over this mention of history (and its rejection) had piqued Dianne's interest and curiosity. With some historical sleuthing and her creative mind, she wrote her play, Comfort, which was scheduled to open not long after our undedicated limestone memorial had been stolen and dumped in a pasture. All the timely coincidences made us an anticipatory audience for the two freethought productions.

Having met Dianne, and knowing that Freethought Forum was soon to have a studio date for taping four of our access shows, we invited her to be a guest on one of them. The TV show would give her an opportunity to do some promo for the Jump-Start productions. She was tied up, but suggested we might be able to get S.T. Shimi, the creator of the other freethought entertainment, Southern Discomfort. Shimi accepted, in spite of a heavy rehearsal schedule, and proved to be a spectacular guest. Being a dancer, her every gesture was a visual treat, and her voice was strong and resonant for such a tiny person. She is exotically from Singapore, but came to the states to attend college at Dartmouth. While there, she read about the aims and ambitions of Jump-Start (highly laudable: to give the voiceless a voice), and appeared on their doorstep after one short telephone call to make contact. Shimi's Southern Discomfort was a solo dance-theatre piece. Through dance and spoken text, Shimi told of her mental journey from her Evangelical Christian childhood to adult atheism, and her physical journey from Singapore to South Texas (by way of New Hampshire). It was a new art form for me, and I loved it.

Shimi is proudly atheistic, and spurns the word "spiritual," voicing objection to it every time it is mentioned. Because she is an artist, people insist that there is a "spiritual" dimension to her performances. That, she vehemently denies. Art is art; and trying to link it with a meaningless word makes no sense to her. Hear! hear!

Both Comfort and Southern Discomfort received excellent reviews in our local paper. We freethinkers thought they were super, but it was nice to read in one review that: "Provocative and bold, Southern Discomfort is also a hugely entertaining piece of theater." The review of Comfort stated that "Dianne Monroe has crafted a moving drama based on actual events that few Texans know much about." One line of the play, spoken by the narrator who tied the history and drama together, "reminds us of something disturbing," continued the reviewer, which indeed it does. To move among Confederate soldiers, freethinker men would dress as women because women were essentially "unseen."

How strange that a conservative local paper could report so openly of freethought and freethought history, while that dimwitted reviewer at The New Yorker gave such a vapid account of Chocolat. Well, of course it's a fairy tale, but it's a fairy tale for atheists. An atheist moves to a small French town, filled with repressed, bigoted, sour people, and brings joy and love of life's pleasures to all but one of its citizens. That's my kind of fairy tale and, as soon as I can buy a video of it, I plan to watch it once a week until it comes true.

Catherine Fahringer is a Foundation officer and freethought activist living in San Antonio.

Published in Back Issues

I think a case can be made that religion gets a free ride in this country.

"Never discuss religion or politics with your customers" is a standard business maxim. The reason is obvious. People's religious and political belief systems are apt to be untouchable by logic. Or evidence. Or anything else approaching intelligent discourse. And a businessperson cannot risk alienating potential customers by challenging deeply-held notions and expect to stay in business.

Fair enough. Business success is tough enough to achieve under the best of circumstances; no sense deliberately making it harder.

But what about the larger public arena? Politics certainly gets its share of public discussion, with supporters and detractors on almost every subject vigorously arguing their positions.

But have you noticed, the same cannot be said for religion? It's almost automatically assumed as a good thing, the foundation of our country. Even when some bizarre event involving religion comes along, like the Heaven's Gate cult mass suicide, it is presented as an anomaly, not as an extreme case of what may be troublesome about religion in general.

What, pray tell, could possibly be troublesome about religion in general, you ask. Plenty. But first, permit me a brief diversion to give you some perspective on where I'm coming from. Honest debate requires it.

I have up-close and personal knowledge about religion from the inside. I was born into and raised in an extremely religious tradition. My father was a Southern Baptist minister. He was the fourth generation minister in his family, with his great-grandfather having come to America as a missionary to Native Americans. My mother's family is also deeply steeped in religious vocation, with ministers and missionaries all over the place.

It was and is genuine and benign, like Mother Teresa, not charlatanesque like the TV evangelist type.

So having been baptized a Christian at age eight, with a tearful profession of faith in Jesus as is customary in such churches, I "surrendered" to the ministry at age 13 or so. I preached my first sermon when I was 15, began leading "youth-led revivals" shortly thereafter, served two stints as a student summer missionary in Alaska, and was ordained a full-fledged minister at age 18, serving as pastor of two rural churches throughout my college days. I was the featured speaker at many functions of the college ministerial society, since platform skills came somewhat naturally to me because of my background.

I loved what I was doing and couldn't have been more sincere. Except for one thing. I began to think for myself. Serious questions about the religious indoctrination I had imbibed began in college, even though I attended a conservative religious institution. They continued in seminary. When I sought answers, I was told, "Kick the rock. When you've finished kicking it, you'll know it's a rock." And other no-think pap of that genre. Well, it wasn't so. The more I investigated the basic tenets of the faith, the more certain I became that Christianity was no more valid than any of the religions I had been taught were false.

Nonetheless, I loved being a minister and wanted to serve people. I decided to try to ignore my inability to believe such basic doctrines as biblical inspiration, the divinity of Jesus, the necessity of religious salvation, and plunge into living a devout life of service in a simple setting. Although I had been something of a star during seminary days, often preaching at the campus church to my fellow students and professors, upon graduation I refused to play politics and accepted a simple country church.

I served this and then a similar one in the poor part of the city for seven years. It became increasingly harder to do with integrity. At age 32 I faced a choice: either get out of religion or risk becoming publicly phony and privately cynical, as I saw happening to many of my minister friends. I chose to get out. Five more years of graduate school gave me a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology and my subsequent career.

Now, let's return to my opening contention that religion is being given a free ride. What I mean is the automatic assumption that religion is a good thing, that it makes people better, that America was founded on religious principles, that without religion immorality would completely take over. Horsefeathers!

John Lennon's signature song "Imagine" was, unfortunately, ahead of its time. What if there were no religion? Well, let's see.

1. Most of the world's wars would not have been fought. Start with the wars the bible glorifies against the "enemies of God" and come all the way through the Holy Roman Empire, the Crusades, the cruel colonization of less developed countries by Christian countries who were sure God was on their side, to the modern-day conflict in the Middle East between warring factions who are all convinced they have religious sanction for their battles.

2. Many of the worst atrocities would not have been committed. I'll mention just a few. The Inquisition in which believers (people of religious faith all) were tortured and killed because their brand of orthodoxy was not acceptable, burning at the stake of religious reformers who dared deviate from the party line, witch trials and drownings of innocent, simple people (most of them women) who found disfavor with religious (most of them male) leaders, slavery of Africans by staunch religious people who justified it on biblical grounds, and the shameful treatment of Native Americans who were considered savages in spite of their deep respect for the land and for the sanctity of their word (in stark contrast with their Christian plunderers).

3. Insidious prejudice could not hide behind religious shields. Without question one of the most powerful appeals of religion is the desire to be a part of the in-group. Religion promises that in spades, all the while claiming (and perhaps intending) to be egalitarian. When you've gone through the initiation ceremony, sort of like the plebes at a military institute, it's just real easy to feel superior to those who haven't. Such prejudice, sometimes masquerading as evangelistic concern, is pandemic with religions.

4. All the money spent in support of organized religion would be available for more direct, more useful humanitarian effort. Think of the multiplied billions of dollars that have been poured into organized religion through the centuries. The temples, the cathedrals, the mosques, the churches. Edifices that glorify some god? Not unless the god is an idiot. It's easy to see that the religious gurus of primitive cultures, however sincere they were, however revered, were a drain on the system. Somebody else had to do the work they were not doing, to say nothing of their demands for sacrificial giving to the god they represented. Today's professional religionists, again however sincere, are no different. They have to be paid, and their churches have to be supported.

5. It would be clearer that, although all people are created with equal rights to the pursuit of happiness, not all people are equally likely to live responsibly, no matter what. The church (as a symbol of organized religion) has some very good, generous, unselfish people in it. It also has some very bad, stingy, selfish people in it. If religion really, in and of itself, had the power to change people, all religious people would be benificent and kind. I don't mean "without sin," to use the common religious phrase; I just mean basically good. Anybody with half a smidgen of intellectual honesty knows that's not the case. It isn't clear whether there is a higher percentage of responsible people within religion than without, but I suspect that if there is, it isn't statistically significant.

We operate on the assumption that the overwhelming majority of people believe religion is important and good. I challenge that assumption. We know that at least half the population of this country seldom or never attends a religious function. If we think about it, we also know that a hefty percentage of those who are active religiously do so for something other than religious reasons. Community approval, social contacts, business and political expectations. I don't know how large the percentage of people who are genuinely faithful is, but I suspect it's much smaller than the noise it makes.

People have every right, of course, to be as religious as they choose, so long as the practice of their religion doesn't infringe on the rights of others. Many, many good, honest, sincere people are totally convinced that their religious views are not only right, but are what make them good, honest, and sincere. My parents are among them. I respect them, all the sincere believers. I also think they are, unfortunately, deluded. Even so, their very goodness has seen religion do many humane and wonderful things--education, hunger relief, care for the homeless. These things often need some sort of organization to occur effectively. It just doesn't have to be a religious organization, based on superstitious notions about salvation and eternal life.

I would like to see a world in which, instead of pouring our resources of time, money and energy into religious coffers, we tried building a more humane society among those who are so inclined. And that we quit assuming that religion is sacred.

Oops! If religion isn't sacred, is anything? Perhaps not.

Or perhaps everything is.

John S. Compere, Ph.D., is a retired clinical psychologist and professional speaker, who was an ordained Baptist minister until age 32. He is a new Foundation member from Oregon.

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Faith-based Initiative a Bad Idea

The current administration's proposed legislation to grant money from federal tax coffers to "faith-based organizations" to help provide services to various needy groups should be studied carefully . . . and then voted down! Unless, in the unlikeliest of outcomes, there is some way to guarantee absolutely that none of this tax money would be used for religious indoctrination, either actual or implied.

I cannot imagine how such a guarantee could be made--or policed.

It is not that I am against the activity of churches and other faith-based groups in remediating human suffering. Quite the contrary. I wish a much larger percentage of the budget of religious groups was invested in such "good Samaritan" activities instead of in the usual "pad the pews" kind of expenditure. More power to the many church programs that are designed to help those in need.

My concern is that we must be "Simon" pure in our respect for the separation of church and state that the Founding Fathers wisely wrote into our Constitution. Jefferson and Madison were quite clear that state-sponsored religion leads to incredible abuse of individual freedom of conscience, a sine qua non of the land of the free.

Joe Lieberman's reported statement during the recent presidential campaign that "freedom of religion doesn't mean freedom from religion" is dead wrong. It means both or either.

Although many of the early European settlers of this continent were motivated by the desire to flee religious persecution, they were not always careful, once having gained freedom for themselves, to allow others to dissent from their own religious views. But by the time of the American Revolution and the subsequent drafting of the Constitution, it was clear to the framers that all faiths should be allowed and respected and that none should be officially promoted or sponsored.

The path of granting tax money to religious organizations is a slippery slope, however well-intentioned the proposal. Funds in most such organizations are fungible, meaning that money used in one activity is interchangeable with money used in another activity. It is easy to see how $1,000 of tax money for a nonsectarian part of a program frees up a similar $1,000 from adherents for the religious aspect of a program, effectively subsidizing the religious contributions with tax dollars.

Further worries from some religious leaders also deserve careful attention. Such as the possibility (likelihood?) that with federal dollars comes federal control, a quick way to dilute the essential elements of such programs. Another potential outcome stems from a predictable psychological phenomenon, namely that when easy (read that "from the tax coffers") money appears on the horizon, charitable giving by members and adherents tends to dwindle. The idea that "if the government is going to do it, I don't need to deprive myself to make it happen" is as old as organized government itself.

Another concern is whether fringe religious movements, like Louis Farrakhan's group, which endorses racial enmity, or L. Ron Hubbard's Scientology movement, which has a ton of philosophical ambiguities, would be included. The answer was given that if a group preached hate, it wouldn't be included. But who makes those decisions? And is it smart to grant that kind of power to fallible human beings with their own biases and agendas? Hardly!

There is no disputing the evidence that many faith-based programs have generated outstanding results. Whether these results are actually due to the underlying philosophy of the group sponsoring the program (as opposed to the fact that somebody seems to care and that participants begin to really believe things can be better) is immaterial. So long as the programs are entirely voluntary and the money used to support them is entirely voluntary, it essentially doesn't matter why a given program works, only that it works.

But the dangers of beginning to subsidize with tax dollars humanitarian programs that have a religious belief system central to their method and mission are very real. The time in recent human history when religion and government were inextricably entwined is not referred to as the Dark Ages for nothing. When a scientist like Galileo, whose telescopic sightings supported Copernicus' theory that the earth revolved around the sun, was placed under house arrest for the last eight years of his life because his scientific opinions were not consonant with accepted religious belief, this began to signal the end of such a dark period. But a return to such insistence on religiously "correct" positions is not totally unthinkable. Consider what has happened in Iran and Afghanistan in recent years when the dominant religion came to power.

Religious belief, or lack of it, must remain a private matter with no sanctioned government support or involvement whatsoever.

Religious humanitarian programs are alive and well. May their tribe increase. But let's tell the government "thanks, but no thanks." And let's keep trying to make life better for as many people as we can, whether such efforts are motivated by religious doctrine or just simple human caring.

John S. Compere, Ph.D., is a retired clinical psychologist and professional speaker, who was an ordained Baptist minister until age 32. He is a new Foundation member from Oregon.

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State/Church Bulletin

Circuit Approves Jesus Motto

The full 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on March 16 that Ohio's New Testament motto, "With God, all things are possible," is permissible, overturning a 6th Circuit 3-judge panel and a lower court ruling declaring the motto unconstitutional.

The 9-4 decision said that because the state does not attribute the quote to its source, Jesus, it is therefore acceptable. The motto, adopted in 1959, is found on official stationery, tax forms, and now a bronze plate in a sidewalk entrance to the Statehouse.
Back-Door Vouchers

The U.S. Senate Finance Committee on March 13 approved a legislative package, Affordable Education Act of 2001, with an amendment letting parents open tax-free $2,000 savings accounts for children's K-12 education expenses--including religious-school tuition. President Clinton had twice vetoed similar legislation.

Teachers' unions called the scheme "back-door vouchers," saying it would drain tax dollars from public schools to subsidize families who already can afford private schools. Bush has proposed allowing families up to $5,000 per child for K-12 school expenses.
Utah: No Clergy Malpractice Suits

The Utah Supreme Court on March 16 banned lawsuits over allegations of clergy malpractice, unanimously upholding a trial judge's decision to dismiss a child rape victim's lawsuit against the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. All five judges are Mormon.

The victim said her bishop and stake president were negligent over her plea for help after being sexually abused at age 7 by a teenaged church member. They counseled her to "forgive, forget and seek atonement," later referring her to an unlicensed counselor who advised her not to call police.
Colorado Follows Suit?

The Colorado House Judiciary Committee voted 7-6 to send a bill to the full Senate limiting grounds on which sexual assault victims may sue churches, despite two hours of emotional testimony by victims and their advocates in late February. Witnesses included Mary Moses, who won a $1 million judgment against the Colorado Episcopal Diocese over sexual misconduct by a bishop who counseled her. "I will wear an invisible scarlet letter for the rest of my life," she told the committee.

"Under this bill the church asks to be exempted from the damage they cause," said Joyce Seelan, an attorney who represented a family victimized by a pastor.
Jehovah's Witnesses Scandals

A recent examination by the Louisville Courier-Journal of Jehovah's Witnesses court cases in Maine, New Hampshire and Texas shows that the confidential church disciplinary process may be allowing molestation to continue.

Church members and the public are put at increased risk by common secretive practices and a belief that reporting on members' suspected crimes breaches church confidentiality. Jehovah's Witnesses require either the offender's confession or at least two witnesses to the offense. Church policy allows "repentant" molesters to continue evangelizing door to door.

The newspaper began investigating church policy after the resignation of a western Kentucky church elder who objected to the practices. William H. Bowen resigned Dec. 31 as chief elder of the Draffenville congregation: "I refuse to support a pedophile refuge mentality that is promoted among bodies of elders around the world. Criminals should be ousted, identified and punished to protect the innocent and give closure to the victim."
Catholics Lobby against Healthcare

The Roman Catholic Church in New York State is demanding a "conscience clause" be adopted by the state legislature to exempt religious organizations opposed to birth control from any law mandating contraceptive coverage. The "denial clause" would exempt social service organizations, hospitals and Catholic-affiliated colleges, many of which receive public funding.
Mississippi Thrusts God on Students

Mississippi Gov. Ronnie Musgrove signed a law on March 23 mandating that public schools display "In God We Trust" in classrooms, cafeterias and auditoriums.

"Our nation was founded as a godly nation and we put it on our money," Musgrove declared. The law, which the ACLU has threatened to challenge, will take effect July 1. It requires the slogan to be displayed on a framed background of at least 11-by-14 inches. Although no money was appropriated to pay for the slogans, the American Family Association plans to donate 32,000 "In God We Trust" posters.

A related bill, HB 220, was introduced in Tennessee to amend the state flag by adding "In God We Trust" on a perpendicular bar of blue. Rep. John Windle claims the "public welfare requires it."
Senate Chaplain Amasses Power

Senate Chaplain Rev. Lloyd John Ogilvie has expanded his ministry with an unprecedented mix of public and private monies, according to a Feb. 21 report in the Wall Street Journal.

Ogilvie uses donations from a Christian group to purchase copies of his own books to distribute to the Senate. His writings sell in the Senate gift shop. He is lobbying to create a "Faith and Freedom" stairwell running up to what the Journal calls "his handsome new Capitol offices," which used to house the Senate library.

The founding fathers "believed in the separation of Church and State. They did not believe in the separation of God and State," Ogilvie wrote the Senate Rules Committee leadership about his proposal.

Ogilvie holds lunchtime bible series, mainly funded by a nonproft group whose mission is the "propagation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ," advertising his sessions with colorful posters.

Although Senate rules forbid such conflicts of interest as Ogilvie receiving royalties for the sale of his books at the Senate, he has received royalties, which a publisher told the Journal were an "accounting error."

Patron Trent Lott, GOP leader, helped Ogilvie distribute a bound copy of the chaplain's prayers as a "keepsake" after Clinton's impeachment trial. Asks Journal reporter David Rogers, "Has Mr. Ogilvie become more than the chaplain was meant to be? . . . [he is] living proof of how muddy those lines [between church and state] already have become in Congress. . ."
Milwaukee Vouchers Expanded?

Wis. Gov. Scott McCallum's state budget would expand eligibility for the Milwaukee voucher program, the only court-approved scheme in the country permitting tax money to pay for parochial education. His proposal would permit low-income children, the intended recipients, to continue to receive public money for private school tuition even if their parents' incomes rise 185% above limits. The program, with 9,638 students, costs $49 million this year. Voucher schools receive $5,326 per student this year.

In related developments:

A Lutheran group plans to build a government-funded Lutheran school to "proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ" in Milwaukee's poverty-stricken Metcalfe Park area. The overt use of the voucher program to build a congregation, as well as the backers' frank admission that the gospel-proclaiming school could not begin without tax funding, has brought scrutiny to the proposal. The plan is to open a school next fall and expand it into a church.

Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice John Wilcox agreed in March to pay a $10,000 fine and accept responsibility for the illegal actions of his campaign, settling one of the state's most egregious corruption cases. A "nonpartisan" get-out-the-vote group illegally spent $200,000, mostly from out-of-state school voucher advocates, to promote Wilcox. After winning, he voted to uphold Milwaukee's controversial voucher program in 1998, which funnels millions of tax dollars to religious schools. The state elections board filed civil charges in 2000.

Incomprehensible Legislators

Michigan: A bill was recently introduced to force teachers to call evolution an unproven theory and to include references to "competing theories" in class lessons, including the claim that life is the result of a creator. State Rep. Robert Gosselin, R-Troy said, "The whole theory of something coming out of nothing is, to me, incomprehensible."

Arkansas: A committee of the legislature recommended on March 20 that the "theory of evolution" be banned from textbooks: "Do you believe you were descended from a monkey? If we teach kids that they were descended from monkeys, don't you think they'll act like monkeys?" asked Rep. Denny Altes.

North Dakota: The Senate voted in February to approve a bill allowing schools to display the Ten Commandments in classrooms as part of an exhibit of "historical documents." The House approved legislation permitting school boards to allow voluntary classroom prayers to be led by a teacher or student.
Nothing More Divisive than Prayer?

Florida: Mixing prayer and politics at a city council meetings in Melbourne invoked criticism after Rev. Richard Beyer ended his Jan. 9 invocation by thanking God that George W. Bush won the election because Clinton had vetoed a bill banning so-called "partial birth" abortions. The city code requires an invocation. Controversy has also dogged prayers before the Cocoa Beach city commission, who asked local ministers to stop using "the Lord's name," in vain. They continue to do so.

Maryland: Blessings in the name of "Jesus the Lord" before the Montgomery County Council have created controversy since last fall. The Washington Post reports that virtually every meeting of the Fauquier county board of supervisors begins with an invocation of Jesus. The Anne Arundel county board meetings often start with the Lord's prayer. The Fairfax Board of Supervisors opens with a moment of silence, rejecting an experiment with prayer in the early 1990s, and the D.C. Council also avoids religion.

Minneapolis: A Jewish car salesman fired after questioning his boss' Christian proselytizing recently filed a lawsuit for religious discrimination in U.S. District Court under the Minnesota Human Rights Act and the U.S. Civil Rights Act. Ira Chemers said his boss opened all management meetings with prayers to Jesus Christ, and, shortly before firing him in February 2000, said: "I want everyone in this organization to be Christian."

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Alabama Decalog Amendment Opposed

The Freedom From Religion Foundation sent the following letter to the Governor of Alabama regarding a proposal to amend the Alabama State Constitution to permit Ten Commandments to be posted in public buildings. The amendment, Senate Bill 83, passed a Senate committee 9-0 on March 6 and goes before the full Senate. It is promoted by Dean Young of the Christian Family Association, one of the supporters of commandment-loving Roy Moore, now state Chief Justice.


Gov. Don Siegelman
Alabama State Capitol
600 Dexter Ave
Montgomery AL 36130

Dear Gov. Siegelman:

On behalf of our Alabama membership, which boasts a very active and concerned state chapter, we are writing to urge you to reconsider your voiced support for Senate Bill 83, to amend the Alabama State Constitution to permit Ten Commandments to be posted in public schools and buildings.

We believe it would reflect poorly on the stature of a governor to endorse a campaign which is so clearly unconstitutional.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Stone v Graham, 449 U.S. 39, 1980, that a Kentucky statute requiring the posting of the Ten Commandments in public school classrooms is unconstitutional. As the Court wrote:

"The pre-eminent purpose for posting the Ten Commandments on schoolroom walls is plainly religious in nature. The Ten Commandments is undeniably a sacred text in Jewish and Christian faiths, and no legislative recitation of a supposed secular purpose can blind us to that fact. The Commandments do not confine themselves to arguably secular matters, such as honoring one's parents, killing or murder, adultery, stealing, false witness, and covetousness. Rather, the first part of the Commandments concerns the religious duties of believers: worshipping the Lord God alone, avoiding idolatry, not using the Lord's name in vain, and observing the sabbath day."

Under the U.S. Constitution, a state cannot post and endorse religious edicts from one religion's "holy book." Nor would the U.S. Supreme Court countenance an amendment to Art. 1, Sect. 3 of the Alabama State Constitution which so clearly contradicts the broad religious liberties guaranteed in that section! Posting Ten Commandments by the government violates freedom of conscience, compels citizens to attend and contribute to religious worship and appropriates state property for religious reasons--all forbidden under Art. 1, Sect. 3.

The First Commandment alone makes it obvious why the Ten Commandments may not be posted in public buildings and schoolrooms. Government has no business telling citizens which god they must have, how many gods they must have, or that they must have a god at all!

The proposed amendment raises the thorny question of which Ten would be posted and endorsed by the State of Alabama: the Hebrew, the Catholic or the Protestant version? The only "ten commandments" so identified in the bible lists as its tenth commandment, "Thou shalt not seethe a kid in its mother's milk." (Ex 34: 14-28) Does the State of Alabama plan to set itself up as arbiter over which set of commandments is religiously correct?

This campaign by religious extremists serves only to excite prejudices, promote religious divisiveness, distract lawmakers from real issues, and irresponsibly jeopardizes taxpayers' money in an expensive, losing battle.

We urge you to set an example of respect for the constitutional separation of church and state by opposing this misguided measure.

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Ye Olde Walls of Separation

Despite six centuries of pounding, the wall of separation between church and state stands higher and thicker than ever, boosted by vigorous defenders and supportive Supreme Court rulings going back to the late 1940s in the face of relentless assaults from religious zealots.

Many people, including a lot of secularists, believe Thomas Jefferson coined the "wall of separation" metaphor in his letter to the Danbury (Conn.) Baptist Association on Jan. 1, 1802. Religious Right propagandists like this belief because it lets them claim Jefferson was espousing an eccentric idea outside the mainstream of opinion among America's Founders. After all, he was in France when the Constitution was written and therefore could not know what its authors intended.

In fact, the metaphor was more than 200 years old when Jefferson popularized it.

The union of church and state had been under attack in England since at least the 16th century. Richard Hooker, a defender of the Anglican Church who died in 1600, wrote that dissenters demanded that "the walls of separation between [church and commonwealth] must for ever be upheld." This is the oldest written use of the "wall(s) of separation" metaphor I can find, although it may have appeared earlier in dissenters' pamphlets that Hooker drew upon.1

The 17th-century Baptist leader Roger Williams, who founded Rhode Island after his expulsion from Massachusetts, was another advocate of church-state separation who used the metaphor. After Boston leader John Cotton wrote a letter defending Williams' banishment, Williams wrote in his answer "that when they have opened a gap in the hedge or wall of Separation between the Garden of the Church and the Wildernes of the world, God hath ever broke down the wall it selfe, removed the Candlestick, &c. and made his Garden a Wildernesse, as at this day. And that therfore if he will ever please to restore his Garden and Paradice again, it must of necessitie be walled in peculiarly unto himselfe from the world, and that all that shall be saved out of the world are to be transplanted out of the Wildernes of world, and added unto his Church or Garden." He explained the necessity of separating the "holy from unholy, penitent from impenitent, godly from ungodly. . ."2

In the 1600s and 1700s, the English government loosened the Church's iron control in a series of parliamentary acts and royal edicts that gave some legal tolerance to nonAnglican Protestants and even Roman Catholics, who still were subject to various forms of oppression, such as double taxes. The laws also mandated religious tests--anyone holding public office had to swear an oath that included support for the Church of England and its specific doctrines. These tests applied, in theory, to England's American colonies, although greater religious diversity was tolerated in individual colonies, such as Puritan-run Massachusetts.

Dissenters in England did not accept the limited intolerance. In the 1760s, English essayist James Burgh condemned repression of Roman Catholics in his book "Crito" and declared, "I should have been rather inclinable to think, that the less the church and the state had to do with one another, it would be the better for both." He later declared, "I desire, that there may not be among you so much as a shadow of authority in religious matters. If you be christians, stand in awe of him, who has said, 'My kingdom is not of this world. The rulers of the gentiles exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. Ye are all brethren.' " Burgh demanded, "Build an impenetrable wall of separation between things sacred and civil," citing the metaphor Hooker had assailed earlier and that Jefferson made famous later.3

The English dissenters didn't win their last big battles until the late 19th century, but American dissenters won a crushing victory in the passage of the United States Constitution, written in 1787 and ratified in 1788. Against 1,400 years of Christian theology and political theory, the Constitution makes no reference to God or Jesus and establishes no state church or god. Even worse to contemporary Christians, Article 6 decreed, ". . . no religious Test shall ever be required as a qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States."

Even the oath of office for the president was strictly secular. The phrase "so help me God" that some presidents have added has no legal status whatsoever.

Christians understood what this meant, as James Madison explained in an Oct. 17, 1788, letter to Thomas Jefferson when he discussed his fears about adding a Bill of Rights to the Constitution: ". . . because there is great reason to fear that a positive declaration of some of the most essential rights could not be obtained in the requisite latitude. I am sure that the rights of Conscience in particular, if submitted to public definition would be narrowed much more than they are likely ever to be by an assumed power. One of the objections in New England was that the Constitution by prohibiting religious tests opened a door for Jews Turks & infidels."4

Christians in several states argued for a state religion. At the Massachusetts ratifying convention, in a discussion on Jan. 31, 1788, Colonel William Jones was paraphrased as arguing, ". . . that the rulers ought to believe in God or Christ - and that however a test may be prostituted in England, yet he thought if our publick men were to be of those who had a good standing in the church, it would be happy for the United States--and that a person could not be a good man without being a good Christian."

At the North Carolina ratifying convention, in a discussion on July 30, 1788, the Rev. David Caldwell argued, in paraphrase, ". . . that some danger might arise. He imagined it might be objected to in a political as well as in a religious view. In the first place, he said there was an invitation for Jews, and Pagans of every kind, to come among us. At some future period, said he, this might endanger the character of the United States. Moreover, even those who do not regard religion, acknowledge that the Christian religion is best calculated of all religions to make good members of society, on account of its morality. I think then, added he, that in a political view, those gentlemen who formed this Constitution, should not have given this invitation to Jews and Heathens. All those who have any religion are against the emigration of those people from the eastern hemisphere."

And in a letter to the American Mercury of Hartford, Connecticut, published Feb. 11, 1788, William Williams assailed the ban on religious tests, recommending "an explicit acknowledgment of the being of a God, his perfections and his providence . . . to have been prefixed to, and stand as, the first introductory words of the Constitution . . ." Williams added that, despite what he regarded as a flaw, he felt the Constitution was too important to be rejected.5

The actual preamble states six purposes for the Constitution, all purely secular. Some opponents of the Constitution criticized it because it did not go far enough in establishing freedom of religion and other rights. Their objections led Madison to push the Bill of Rights through Congress in 1789, after Jefferson persuaded him they were needed. The arguments for freedom of religion usually pointed out the country's religious diversity and the impossibility of searching people's hearts to determine if they had taken a religious oath honestly.

For example, at the Virginia ratifying convention, in a June 25, 1788, speech, Zachariah Johnston argued: "We are also told that religion is not secured--that religious tests are not required.--You will find that exclusion of tests, will strongly tend to establish religious freedom. If tests were required--and if the church of England or any other were established, I might be excluded from any office under the Government, because my conscience might not permit me to take the test required. The diversity of opinions and variety of sects in the United States, have justly been reckoned a great security with respect to religious liberty. The difficulty of establishing an uniformity of religion in this country is immense. . . ."6

The Constitution's authors made no secret of why they wanted a secular state. In a letter of Jan. 24, 1774, to his friend William Bradford, Madison complained, "That diabolical Hell conceived principle of persecution rages among some and to their eternal infamy the Clergy can furnish their Quota of Imps for such business. This vexes me the most of any thing whatever. There are at this in the adjacent County not less than 5 or 6 well meaning men in close [jail] for publishing their religious Sentiments which in the main are very orthodox. I have neither patience to hear talk or think of any thing relative to this matter, for I have squabbled and scolded abused and ridiculed so long about it, to so little purpose that I am without common patience. So I leave you to pity me and pray for Liberty of Conscience to revive among us."7

In his "Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments," dated June 20, 1785, to the General Assembly of Virginia, in opposition to state taxes for the support of churches, Madison began:

"We the subscribers, citizens of the said Commonwealth, having taken into serious consideration, a Bill printed by order of the last Session of General Assembly, entitled 'A bill establishing a provision for Teachers of the Christian Religion,' and conceiving that the same if finally armed with the sanctions of a law, will be a dangerous abuse of power, are bound as faithful members of a free State to remonstrate against it and to declare the reasons by which we are determined." Madison follows with a number of arguments against the government dictating religious beliefs and support.8

This petition, signed by numerous Virginians of various religious sects--particularly Baptists, who suffered the most under religious persecution, as Madison's 1774 letters point out--helped turn the tide against the bill and toward Jefferson's "Statute for Religious Freedom," which was passed Jan. 16, 1786, in amended form under Madison's political guidance. In contrast to the legal "toleration" granted by governments to religious minorities, which could be withdrawn at whim, the statute guaranteed freedom of religion as a basic right.

Jefferson, a lawyer, noted laws mandating the burning of heretics--which never occurred in Virginia--and says, ". . . an act of assembly of 1705, c. 30, if a person brought up in the Christian religion denies the being of God, or the Trinity, or asserts there are more Gods than one, or denies the Christian religion to be true, or the scriptures to be of divine authority, he is punishable on the first offence by incapacity to hold any office or employment ecclesiastical, civil, or military, on the second by disability to sue, to take any gift or legacy, to be guardian, executor, or administrator, and by three years imprisonment, without bail. A father's right to the custody of his own children being founded in law on his right of guardianship, this being taken away, they may of course be severed from him, and put, by the authority of a court, into more orthodox hands." This type of tyranny led to his famous denunciation of Christian governments throughout history for imprisoning, torturing and executing dissenters.9

In a book defending the various state constitutions--prior to the writing of the U.S. Constitution--Adams repudiates the "Christian nation" theory of government, by saying the state governments were "erected on the simple principles of nature."

He later adds, "It will never be pretended that any persons employed in that service had interviews with the gods or were in any degree under the inspiration of Heaven, more than those at work upon ships or houses, or laboring in merchandise or agriculture."10

Although Benjamin Franklin considered religion important to society (at least in his youth), he held to a Deistic view of god, was tolerant toward a variety of religions, and scorned theological discussions, preferring talks on morality. In a letter on Oct. 9, 1780, to his friend Richard Price of England, Franklin argued for freedom of religion and, in effect, church-state separation by opposing religious tests. "I am fully of your Opinion respecting religious Tests; but tho' the People of Massachusetts have not in their new Constitution kept quite clear of them, yet, if we consider what that People were 100 Years ago, we must allow they have gone great Lengths in Liberality of Sentiment on religious Subjects; and we may hope for greater Degrees of Perfection, when their Constitution, some years hence, shall be revised. . . . for I think [religious tests] were invented, not so much to secure Religion itself, as the emoluments of it. When a religion is good, I conceive that it will support itself; and, when it cannot support itself, and God does not take care to support, so that its Professors are oblig'd to call for the help of the Civil Power, it is a sign, I apprehend, of its being a bad one."11

Finally, George Washington made it clear that he had no use for religious tyranny. Not only did he never declare any belief in Christianity--he went to church often but refused to take the sacraments, a fundamental test of Christianity--but Washington wrote a Jewish congregation in Newport, R.I., in a letter dated Aug. 18, 1790, that, "All possess alike liberty of conscience and immunities of citizenship. It is now no more that toleration is spoken of, as if it was by the indulgence of one class of people, that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights. For happily the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens, in giving it on all occasions their effectual support."

In a letter on March 24, 1784, to his aide Tench Tilghman, Washington asked him to hire some craftsmen, saying, "If they are good workmen, they may be of Assia, [sic] Africa, or Europe. They may be Mahometans [Muslims], Jews, or Christian or any Sect--or they may be Atheists . . ." Washington clearly set no religious tests for his employees and did not see atheists as a danger. 12 Three years later, he took this attitude to the Constitutional Convention, of which he was chairman and which created a godless government.

The U.S. Constitution thus was not some radical innovation but a reflection of prevailing attitudes on religion. This point is emphasized by Jefferson and Madison in later years when they defended the separation of church and state. Thus Jefferson wrote to the Connecticut Baptists, "Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man and his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legislative powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should 'make no law respecting an establishment of religion, of prohibiting the free exercise thereof,' thus building a wall of separation between church and State." Some historians have suggested Jefferson found the "wall of separation" metaphor from "Crito," quoted earlier.13

Madison praised the benefits to society and religion alike in the "total separation of the Church from the State" in a letter on March 2, 1819, to Robert Walsh; and criticized a government religious proclamation in a letter dated July 10, 1822, to Edward Livingston, in which he argues for "a perfect separation between ecclesiastical and civil matters." Madison also praised separation and denounced religious persecution in his "Detached Memoranda"; noted a failed attempt to limit freedom of religion to Christians in the Virginia religious-freedom law; condemned the appointment of chaplains to Congress as a violation of equal rights and the Constitution; and criticized presidential proclamation of days of thanksgiving, etc., particularly John Adams', who issued a specifically Christian proclamation.14

It's clear that church-state separationists are the defenders of the original intent of the majority of our Founders. Those people, including some Supreme Court justices, who argue that the Founders wanted general support for religion and only opposed establishing a particular sect in power, are grotesquely distorting our history and rewriting the Constitution without authority. The wall of separation metaphor was a well-known shorthand expression of one side of the church-state debate--the side that won with the passage of our godless Constitution.

William Sierichs is a native of Hopewell, Va. He earned a bachelor's degree in journalism from Louisiana State University in 1974, and worked as a reporter or editor on newspapers in Jackson, Miss.; Monroe and Shreveport, La.; Texarkana, Texas; and Baton Rouge, La., where he is a copy editor. He has won several state or regional journalism awards for news reporting, investigative reporting, editorial columns and headline writing in Louisiana, Arkansas and Texas.

Author's note: I have quoted the various sources in their original spellings, capitalization and punctuation, which can differ from modern forms. In a couple of places, I have inserted necessary explanatory material in []. Anyone interested in a more in-depth discussion of the freedom from/of religion clauses in the First Amendment should read Origins of the Bill of Rights, (1999, New Haven: Yale University Press) by Constitution scholar Leonard Levy, who trashes the Religious Right's distortions of history in chapter 4. As a historical footnote, Levy includes the various versions of the amendments that became the Bill of Rights as they passed through Congress. What we call the First Amendment originally was the third of 12 amendments submitted to the public. The first two amendments--dealing with congressional districting and pay--did not pass, making the third amendment our First Amendment.

1 Richard Hooker's "Of the Lawes of Ecclesiasticall Politie" is excerpted in "Divine Right and Democracy - An Anthology of Political Writings in Stuart England," edited by David Wootton, 1986, New York: Penguin Books. The quote is from Hooker's Book 8, seventh assertion, part I, on pages 219-220. Book 8 was not actually published until 1648, but editor David Wootton says scholarship supports Hooker's authorship. Page 214

2 "Mr. Cottons Letter Lately Printed, Examined and Answered," Roger Williams, 1644, London, from "The Complete Writings of Roger Williams," Vol. I, edited by Reuben Aldridge Guild, Russell & Russell Inc., New York: 1963, page 108; I have left Williams' spelling intact, changing only his 17th-century "f's" to "s's" for the convenience of modern readers.

3 "Crito or, Essays on Various Subjects," was published in two volumes--Vol. 1 in 1766, Vol. 2 in 1767, both in London, no publisher listed. Although the books were published anonymously, James Burgh is generally credited with being the author. The first quote is in Vol. 1, page xi; the second is in Vol. 2, page 111; the "wall of separation" quote is in Vol. 2, page 119

4 "Writings," James Madison, 1999, New York: The Library of America, page 420

5 The quotes are from "The Debate on the Constitution," Vols. 1 and 2, Bernard Bailyn, editor, 1993, New York: The Library of America. Jones' quote is in Vol. 1, page 920. Caldwell's quote is in Vol. 2, page 908. Williams' quote is in Vol. 2, page 194

6 Johnston's quote is in "The Debate on the Constitution," Vol. 2, pages 752-753

7 "Writings," Madison, pages 7, 8

8 "Writings," Madison, pages 29-36

9 "Writings," Thomas Jefferson, 1984, New York: The Library of America, from "Notes on the State of Virginia," Query XVII, pages 284-285. In a Feb. 10, 1814, letter to Dr. Thomas Cooper, Jefferson outlined his researches into the history of law and pointed out the pagan, Anglo-Saxon origin of English common law and, by extension, American law, contrary to claims that Christianity was the source of our legal doctrines. Pages 1321-1329

10 "John Adams," Vol. 2, Page Smith, 1962, Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday & Company Inc., page 692, from Adams' "Defence of the Constitutions"

11 "Writings," Benjamin Franklin, 1987, sixth printing, New York: The Library of America; on the importance of religion, page 149; his Deism and religious attitudes in his "Autobiography, pages 359-360 and 1382-1383--the latter suggesting some modification of his earlier ideas about the importance of religion; on religious tests, pages 1030-1031

12 "Writings," George Washington, 1997, New York: The Library of America, pages 767, 555-556

13 Quote from letter to the Baptists in "Writings," Jefferson, page 510; on "Crito's" possible influence on Jefferson, see The Godless Constitution, 1997, Isaac Kramnick and R. Laurence Moore, New York: WW. Norton & Co., page 97

14 "Writings," Madison, letter to Walsh, page 727; letter to Livingston, page 788; "Detached Memoranda," page 759; Va. religious-freedom law, page 761; on chaplains, pages 762-763; on religious proclamations, pages 764-776

Published in Back Issues
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Atheist Chic at the Movies?

"Chocolat," a sleeper hit based on a fable set in a small French village in 1959, proudly boasts an atheist heroine.

The audience in the packed theater in Madison, Wis., where I recently saw the film erupted in spontaneous cheers and claps of approval when the main character, Vianne, played by Juliette Binoche, gently announces her refusal to go to Mass, and is identified as an atheist.

The plot, based on a novel by Joanne Harris, revolves around the disruptions and transformations that occur when Vianne blasphemously opens a "chocolaterie" during Lent. It's full of great supporting performances by Johnny Depp, Judi Dench, Leslie Caron, and Lena Olin. Victoire Thivosol is especially appealing as Anouk, Vianne's young daughter, who has an imaginery kangaroo named Pantouf. (It's PG-13 but was suitable for our unworldly 11-year-old.) The film, with a definite anticlerical bent, is directed by Lasse Hallstrom ("The Cider House Rules").

If you go see this movie, better stick some emergency chocolate rations in your pockets--the chocolate scenes are mouth-watering.

Another new-release Miramax film (not so hot) that features an atheist character is "Bounce," with Ben Affleck and Gwyneth Paltrow. Affleck's atheism is briefly revealed when the recovering alcoholic criticizes AA's higher-power routine. Fortunately the movie portrays the secular redemption of this atheist.

These atheist protagonists join last fall's "Contender," directed by Rod Lurie, whose heroine (played by Joan Allen), a U.S. Senator nominated for the vice presidency, coolly admits her atheism and support for the separation of church and state at a confirmation hearing.

And isn't it nice that both Allen and Binoche are up for a "best actress" Oscar for their portrayals of these freethinking characters? In other Oscar atheist trivia, Steven Soderbergh, director of two of the films nominated as "best movie of the year"--"Traffic" and "Erin Brockovich"--recently replied "no" when The Onion asked him, "Do you believe in God?"

Could it be atheism is becoming chic?

--Annie Laurie Gaylor
Freethought Today editor
Nominate Favorite Freethought Flicks

Have a favorite movie with a nonreligious character/theme? Send the movie title and a short (paragraph or so) description/synopsis to Freethought Today, PO Box 750, Madison WI 53701. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

When we collect enough reader recommendations, we'll publish them so others won't miss out on any of those rare freethought moments at the movies.

Published in Back Issues

The Missouri Supreme Court handed down a unanimous decision on Feb. 13 upholding the constitutionality of a statute prescribing a "So help me God" oath on a tax form challenged by the Freedom From Religion Foundation and its Missouri plaintiff Robert Oliver.

The decision, written by Justice Michael A. Wolfe, did offer one consolation: ". . . Oliver is entitled to a declaratory judgment that he is free . . . to cross off 'So help me God,' if he so chooses."
The decision stopped short of ordering any revision of the tax form.

The statute makes failure to sign the oath a misdemeanor, and imposes fines and/or jailtime.

Only Missouri citizens living in third or fourth class counties are forced to sign a religious oath.

Robert Oliver, who lives in Christian County, refused to sign the oath in January 1998, writing and signing his own affirmation "under penalty of perjury" which the Christian County assessor's office refused to accept. The assessor referred him to the state tax commission, which told the assessor's office to accept the form.

When the state office issued a memo ordering all third and fourth class counties to comply with the statutes and retain "So help me God" in the oath, the Foundation filed suit in federal court. The lawsuit was thrown out, with the federal judge ruling tax law challenges must be filed in state court. The Foundation refiled, losing at the county level.

But Foundation president Anne Gaylor said, "We truly did expect to prevail at the Missouri Supreme Court on our claim that the Missouri statute violates the equal protection clause."

The 13-page decision admits the use of the oath "is indeed an invitation to express a belief in God." Ronnie White was among the justices signing it.

"Oliver and the Freedom From Religion Foundation argue that the Missouri Constitution, in article 1, sections 5 to 7, has a greater wall separating church and state and that, whatever the outcome under the First Amendment, the Missouri Constitution makes the reference to God unconstitutional. Oliver and the Freedom From Religion Foundation seem to read our constitution as being hostile to religion," wrote the court.

The Court suggests a person who wishes to affirm could simply sign the "affirmation and simply ignore, without deleting, the references to 'swear' and to 'So Help me God'. . . . In any event, when a taxpayer opts to affirm, the words 'So help me God' are surplus."

Of course, ending an "affirmation" with the words "So help me God" renders that affirmation meaningless, Gaylor noted. She called the decision "doublespeak."

The Foundation has 30 days to review its options.

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Sleeping with Extraterrestrials

This speech was delivered before the twenty-third annual national convention of the Freedom From Religion Foundation in St. Paul, Minnesota, on Sept. 16, 2000, where Wendy Kaminer was named "Freethought Heroine" 2000.

Hello, you godless sons of bitches.

I'm honored to be your Freethought Heroine this year, though I have to say that calling me a heroine implies that there's some sort of courage in what I do, and I don't think that my work is particularly courageous, considering that I'm based in that hotbed of Unitarianism, Cambridge, Massachusetts. You don't find me in the Bible Belt getting into fights with people who want to force my children to pray. That's what takes real courage. Lawyers at the ACLU often say that the bravest people in the world are our clients. Some of our clients also number among the biggest jerks in the world and that's how they come to be our clients. But, many of them are noble, brave people who put much at risk to stand up for their rights, the rights of their children, and the rights of other people in their communities. If I were to nominate some freethought heroes and heroines of the year, I might pick a collection of ACLU clients.

Enough about heroism. Let's talk about freethought. I read in Talk magazine recently, that Jane Fonda had found god. And I thought to myself, "well, of course, she has," because Jane Fonda is a weathervane of popular culture. She was an antiwar protester when that was the thing to be and then she was an aerobics queen in the 1980s and now she's a child of god. So if you needed any further proof that we're in a period of religious revivalism you can point to Jane Fonda's reported conversion.

Or, of course, you could listen to Joe Lieberman, whose political platform seems to be his religious faith. I don't think anything this year has shown more clearly the link that most people make between morality and religion than the naming of Joe Lieberman as Democratic vice presidential candidate. When Gore needed to establish his morality and to distance himself from Bill Clinton, he picked someone who is aggressively religious.

There has been a lot of breathless talk about the "breakthrough" achieved by the Democrats in putting a Jew, an Orthodox Jew, on the national ticket, but I suspect that Lieberman had a much greater chance of being picked for vice president than any number of secular Protestants, not to mention any liberals. After Lieberman was named there was a wonderful cartoon in the Boston Globe by Dan Wasserman, who's a very good political cartoonist, showing a picture of a woman looking over Lieberman's republicanesque voting record on issues like missile defense, HMO's, and social security, and saying to him, "Funny, you don't look Democratic."

It wasn't surprising to hear Joe Lieberman repeat the canard that the First Amendment protects freedom of and not freedom from religion, though it was a little discouraging. I don't know who authored that particular phrase. I've heard it from such disparate politicians as Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan. You hear it all the time. It's irritating because it so clearly misapprehends the First Amendment. Of course the Constitution protects my freedom from Lieberman's religion and his freedom from Al Gore's religion, but you all know that.

It seems to be equally evident that politicians have every right to talk about their religious faith--incessantly, if they must--and Lieberman now claims that he only wants to inject religion into public discourse, not into public policy. In fact, a couple of days after he made his statement claiming that religion was essential to morality and encountered criticism, he sort of took it back. One of his spokespersons said something like, well, you have to understand that he was in a church when he said that--suggesting that we shouldn't have taken his remarks so seriously.

I suppose we can hope that he's insincere. But Lieberman should not be surprised when some people wonder if all this godly discourse might be a prelude to some godly policies. Especially when he suggests that we can somehow achieve freedom of religion without freedom from religion as well. Lately I've been yearning to be free of the moralistic banalities of this excessively pious presidential race. Can't we just stipulate that all of these candidates believe in god quite fervently and regularly pray? Apparently not. Only a small minority of Americans seems to want to be free from religion, though in general I think that they do want freedom from particular religions, especially the ones of which they don't approve.

These have been good years for religion and spirituality movements, which makes them very good years for satirists and social critics. Stories about the supernatural abound. Tales of angels, aliens, conversations with god or the spirits of the deceased, adventures in ESP and reincarnation all compete in the marketplace with established religious beliefs. I always include the broad range of New Age beliefs and popular superstitions, including some popular therapies, in my critique of irrationalism. I hope that when you all talk about freedom from religion you also talk about freedom from superstition in general.

Lately we do have a lot of superstition about, but culture is like real estate--it's cyclical. Sometimes reason is up and sometimes it's down, and sometimes religious faith and magical thinking reign--most of the time it seems. You can find periods in the early 20th century when reason seemed to be ascendant, but for the most part you'd be hard-pressed to find any period in human history when the vast majority of people didn't harbor superstitions of one kind or another. And for the past couple of decades, reason has been in a downturn, at least in popular culture, despite all the scientific advances and our reliance on technology. Actually, New Age culture reflects a very conflicted relationship with science: it combines hostility toward science with a desire to appropriate scientific credibility and expertise, which is why people like Deepak Chopra like to make meaningless references to quantum physics. Chopra, for example, talks about taking us "beyond the quantum," or he prescribes "quantum" exercises for us.

But for all their pseudo-scientific palaver, New Age gurus perpetuate and exploit the myth that our society is excessively rational and that we need to put cold reason aside and embrace our intuitive powers--what pop therapists like to call our "feeling realities." Think with your heart and not with your head was one of the mantras of the recovery movement, and pop-spirituality books like The Celestine Prophecy commonly denigrated reason as the last resort of the unenlightened. The current wave of religious revivalism, which includes New Age and established faiths, encourages a celebration of ineffable, intuited truths: non-rational truths about the existence of god, the reality of heaven, the presence of guardian angels and other spiritual wishes or ideals.

I'd like to talk to you today about irrationalism and the likely effect of faith and piety on public policy, but first I want to spend just a minute or two telling you something about my own attitudes towards religious belief. I'm personally irreligious, just about completely irreligious. [clapping] You don't have to clap for that. I hope that you wouldn't dislike me if I harbored some religious beliefs. Which leads me to my next point: I'm not a proselytizing atheist. In fact, I hesitate to call myself an atheist because I don't really want to define myself in opposition to religion. One of my friends says that she calls herself an agnostic, not an atheist, because to call herself an atheist makes religion seem too important.

I also don't consider myself especially hostile toward religion in general though I may take issue with particular theologies and their effect on the culture. I don't have a lot of patience for all the nonsense produced by some gurus of New Age, although there's probably just as much nonsense that comes out of established religion. One of the main differences, though, between established religions and New Age is that established religion is--established--which means that it's institutionalized. There's a lot of corruption that follows from that but there's also some social utility. Look at the historic contributions made by religious movements and organizations to social justice and welfare. Religion is a complicated phenomenon. You can't reasonably assert that no good has come of it.

I'm also very deeply committed to preserving religious freedom regardless of the form it takes. What's more fundamental than the right to believe and worship as you choose? And, while I consider faith a very poor substitute for empirical reasoning when we are deciding matters of public policy, I don't share the view of some atheists that religion can't coexist with reason or common sense. I find categorical denunciations of religious belief as simplistic as categorical denunciations of disbelief.

So, I'm not about to offer you a version of Jesse Ventura's attack on religion, though I did find his mockery of religion extremely refreshing, mostly because it's so exceedingly rare. It was hard to believe that an elected official was standing up and debunking belief in god. It was quite refreshing. But his assertion that religion is for weak-minded people was a bit facile. Religion attracts strong-minded, highly intelligent people as well as the weak and the stupid and that's what makes it interesting. If it only attracted stupid people, if it were nothing but a collection of banalities, it would be unintriguing and much less powerful.

What you can learn from studying pop-psychology, pop-spirituality, and religious revivalism is that intelligence is often compartmentalized, and that highly intelligent people can be what you might consider very unsophisticated about belief in the supernatural. Upwards of 95% of Americans reportedly profess belief in god. Now you can't possibly think that everyone in this room is smarter than 96% of all Americans. I surely don't. I imagine that there are people who believe in god who are even smarter than we.

It should be obvious that religious people can be equally acquainted with virtue and vice, passion and viciousness, just like nonreligious people, and it's extremely difficult, probably impossible to quantify the historic effect of religious belief on human welfare. The only generalization about religion that ever appealed to me was Mary McCarthy's remark that religion is good for good people.

Usually it makes little sense to talk about religion in general; like the weather, it's highly variable. Despite outbursts of ecumenism, people involved in different religious sects embrace different beliefs about the almighty and the nature of human virtue. Does godliness require that women wear veils or that children be beaten with belts? Does it oppose abortion or support reproductive choice? We can talk about the Catholic Church's opposition to abortion rights; we can also talk about the role that the liberal Protestant clergy played in the early years of the pro-choice movement. Does religion encourage or prohibit interracial marriages? Religion played a fairly strong role in the maintenance of Jim Crow laws; some white supremacists thought that the division of the races was divinely ordained. Religion also played a very important part in the civil rights movement. What notion of godly virtue does a Pentecostal Christian share with a Christian Scientist, a Muslim fundamentalist, a Unitarian-Universalist, a Scientologist, a Reform Jew and a Spiritualist? So often when people talk about religion in America today they should really be talking about sectarianism.

One of the perils posed by contemporary religious revivalism is the tendency to treat belief in a god simplistically as if it were a monolithic unmitigated good, as if faith were always a virtue and never a vice. I realize that fringe movements, like the Branch Davidians, the Hare Krishnas, and a range of insular totalistic groups that we label cults, are scorned or feared, not praised. But they are often viewed in the mainstream as perversions of religion, not exemplars.

The exaltation of religious belief is often a triumph of circular reasoning. It's easy to assert that religion inculcates virtue if you limit your definition of true religion to the groups that seem virtuous to you. And that is pretty much what people do. I am very wary of generalizing about religion. John Dewey said we should never talk about religion in the singular, we should only talk about religions, plural. But, as a social critic, I am in the business of making generalizations, and I think that we can engage in some generalized discussions about the phenomenon of religious faith, the willingness or capacity to believe in deities, angels or miracles, whatever forms they take. We can identify basic human needs served by various religions: the craving for immortality or cosmic justice.

It may be fun to debunk religion (it's often fun to debunk whatever is held sacred), but if you want to be effective in combating the real dangers of organized religion, you have to respond sympathetically to the existential anxieties that fuel religious belief. Life is a series of losses: we're going to lose all the people that we love, we're going to lose ourselves. I don't feel at all contemptuous of people who turn to beliefs in eternal life that I don't share. I understand why people who lost their children in the late 19th century turned to mediums to try to communicate with them.

It is obvious that the promise of immortality greatly enhances the appeal of western religions and contemporary New Age movements. Popular spirituality books tell us that there is no death, and there are a lot of immortality options in the New Age. Either we'll be reincarnated or transformed in some mysterious higher form of energy. Or, with the right attitude and diet we can essentially live forever. That's Deepak Chopra's message. Established western religions generally tell us that if we behave, we will ascend to heaven. According to a 1990 Gallup poll (this is one of my favorite statistics), some three-quarters of Americans believe that they are going to heaven. You have to wonder who they think is consigned to the other place.

People seem likely to believe what they want to hear or what they fear; in either case, emotion preempts reason. So it's not surprising that terrifying accounts of alien abductions coexist in a popular culture with bedtime stories about guardian angels who offer unconditional love. With faith on the ascendant, tales of the supernatural enjoy considerable appeal. We live in very credulous times, so when I talk about the rise of irrationalism, I am talking about credulity, gullibility. I'm talking about the decline of skepticism. I'm concerned with the ways in which our culture celebrates faith and devalues reason and applies habits of faith to questions that require empirical analysis, notably questions of public policy.

It is, for example, perfectly appropriate to take on faith assertions about the divinity of Jesus or the assertion that god loves you: You can only take that on faith. But it is not appropriate to take on faith that ending welfare benefits will end teenage pregnancy. That is an assertion about an empirical reality. Conclusions about, say, the efficacy of the drug war or the power of Christian Science healers to cure cancer ought to be demonstrated empirically.

The irrationalism that discourages questioning and empirical analysis is one very important legacy of the therapeutic culture. And by the therapeutic culture, I mean the ethics and the values that derive from popular therapies, notably the recovery movement, the 12-step movement. It has contributed greatly to the current religious revival.

Consider the quasi-religious reliance on personal testimony. The therapeutic culture exhorts us to substitute feelings for facts, to take personal testimony at face value, especially when it relates to searing personal experience, notably child abuse, sexual abuse. If we cross-examine someone offering testimony of abuse or question her credibility we're accused of perpetuating the abuse. At the very least, cross-examination is considered a breach of etiquette. We're expected to judge the truth of an assertion by the passion or apparent sincerity with which it is offered, as if people were never delusional or simply convincingly dishonest. We're supposed to take stories about extraterrestrials, guardian angels, ghosts and other supernatural occurrences at face value, as well, and in fact the authors of pop-spirituality books depend on our willingness to suspend disbelief and take them at their word when they tell us stories about communicating with god, with the angels or their dead grandparents.

I can't stress strongly enough how much this reliance on personal testimony and this mandate that we take personal testimony at face value contributes to the irrationalism that abounds today. It comes right out of popular therapies, and popular therapies took it straight from the religious tradition of testifying and the conflation of feelings about god's immanence with facts about his existence. There are times, of course, when religious truths are appropriate and irreproachable. There are times when therapeutic truths or feeling realities are perfectly appropriate--in a therapist's office, for example, although even therapists have to be concerned with distinguishing emotional and historical truths. A statement like "my father never understood me" is a subjective emotional truth. A statement like "my father raped me" asserts an objective truth. It's a claim about a historical fact that needs to be investigated.

What are the dangers of confusing feelings with facts? Consider the results of importing therapeutic notions of truth into the courtroom. We saw a rash of wrongful child abuse cases in the 1980s and 90s and the imprisonment of people for crimes that were probably never committed. These cases reflected in part a failure of reason and the confusion of justice with therapy. Believe the children, people said. Take their stories at face value even when the stories were completely unbelievable. A courtroom ought to be a realm dominated by facts, not feelings; by reason, not faith. You should never be discouraged from cross-examining anybody who's making an accusation of criminality.

So, when I talk about the rise of irrationalism, in part I'm talking about an inappropriate reliance on personal testimony as the source of objective truth. I'm talking about confusing the realms of faith and reason. As I've said, people derive a lot of comfort and maybe even some enlightenment from their subjective intuitions about unverifiable spiritual truths, and I don't deny or even want to address the very private benefits of irrationalism. I'm interested in its public perils, in the perils of piety as well as the perils of all the irrationalism spawned by the New Age movements.

One obvious peril is the rise of sectarianism and the marriage of particular religious beliefs with government. Of course, politicians have a right to talk about their faith; but it's irritating and unsettling to hear them use professions of religious faith as signals of their own essential goodness, and when they equate belief in God with goodness, it's easy to suspect that they're beginning to make the case that a good government is a godly one.

That's a very popular belief, because many people do derive their ideals and visions for a just society from their religions, which is not necessarily something I lament. In fact, as a secular person, I'd feel a lot better about George Bush if I thought he really was a good Christian who followed the teachings of Jesus. There might be a lot less people executed in Texas if he were. He might actually become a compassionate conservative.

That's another way of saying that we can learn a lot more about George Bush and all the others by studying their records and observing their behavior than by listening to their declarations of religious faith. The belief that godliness is essential to good government is, at best, inane. You can find people who love God on both sides of most of our controversial debates. So it would be nice if religious people, notably religious people in public life, would acknowledge that religion is not an exclusive source of moral teachings. They need to recognize that freedom from religion does not entail freedom from ethical constraints. I think we need to make clear to the extent that we can how the equation of faith with goodness results in a kind of moral shallowness.

And that brings me back, in conclusion, to Senator Lieberman. I want to spend a couple of minutes talking about his morality. What evidence do we have of Lieberman's goodness? He's pious and puritanical. He represents one traditional American model of morality, and that's what's so depressing. Because if Lieberman is such a deeply moral man who felt that he had to denounce Clinton two years ago because he had an illicit affair with an intern, why was he silent in 1992 when his good friend Bill Clinton rushed back to Arkansas during the presidential campaign to execute Ricky Ray Rector, a convicted murderer who had been effectively lobotomized by a self-inflicted bullet.

I'm not suggesting that no good people support capital punishment, though I do think it is an immoral practice that most good people would oppose if they had good information about it. But the execution of Rector was particularly heinous and most of all violated the religious norms that have shaped our rules about capital punishment. Rector had blown away part of his brain, so he didn't understand what it meant to be executed. He asked if he could save his dessert for after the execution. Legal prohibitions against executing the insane reflect the religious notion that we shouldn't kill people who aren't aware of what they've done and don't have an opportunity to repent and maybe achieve salvation before dying.

This particular drama of sin and redemption is a Christian one. I doubt, however, that Rector's execution seemed appropriate to Joe Lieberman because he's Jewish. I think that only an agnostic or an atheist would find a kind of mercy in the execution of someone who is incapable of anticipating his death. In any case, Jews are supposed to care about justice, if not mercy, and Lieberman has demonstrated very sporadic support for it. He strongly supported some of the most unjust federal laws of recent decades: the 1996 counter-terrorism bill, for example, which greatly limits the right to appeal state court convictions in federal court, and which also allows people to be imprisoned and deported on the basis of secret evidence. In other words, the FBI can come to your door in the middle of the night and say, "We're putting you under arrest," and when you ask "Why are you putting me under arrest," they answer, "We can't tell you. It's a secret." There are, I think, a couple of dozen people in jail under this provision, which targets Muslims and Arab-Americans, not surprisingly. (Prejudice does carve out exceptions to the conventional notion that religious faith makes people good.)

You don't have to be religious to oppose laws like this. All you need is a moral code that mandates some respect for fairness and human rights. So I'd welcome a campaign that revolved around moral questions, like the morality of racial profiling, the nation's prison system, or the war on drugs. But issues like these are political taboos. In their drive to control the center, Lieberman and other moderate Democrats have abdicated moral responsibility for criminal justice. It is, by the way, very important for atheists, agnostics, and skeptics not to retreat from the battleground of moral debate. Don't be afraid of using words like morality and talking about what you think is right or wrong. How else can you make the point that you don't have to be religious to care about morality?

It's been nearly ten years since Democrats coopted Republican rhetoric and a Republican agenda on crime control, with some religious fervor. When Clinton signed the very repressive 1994 federal crime bill which includes new federal penalties for drug crimes, among other things, he said that he was doing god's work. Recently Democrats have adopted what used to be a Republican posture on religion. Having thoroughly corrupted the justice system, politicians are now targeting faith. If I believed in the devil, I'd imagine him rejoicing.

Wendy Kaminer, Affiliated Scholar at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, is a columnist for The American Prospect and is Contributing Editor at The Atlantic Monthly. She serves on the National Board of the American Civil Liberties Union. A lawyer and social critic, she writes about law, liberty, feminism, and popular culture. She received a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1993. Her commentaries have aired on NPR's "Morning Edition." Her articles and reviews have appeared in the New York Times, The Nation and Newsweek. Her books include: Sleeping with Extra-Terrestrials: The Rise of Irrationalism and Perils of Piety (1999), I'm Dysfunctional, You're Dysfunctional and A Fearful Freedom: Women's Flight from Equality.

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Apostates R Us

Many humanists suffer from a condition known as apostasy. Fortunately, this condition is not a disease of any sort; indeed, it can be considered more as a cure. It is neither painful nor debilitating, though one may suffer withdrawal symptoms for a short period. However, it is contagious, and those who have it should spread its positive effects as far and wide as possible.

Apostasy is the conscious rejection of previously-held religious beliefs of any kind; those who do so are called apostates. In this respect they differ from other humanists, agnostics, or atheists who have never held religious beliefs. It may be comforting to know that, according to many studies, apostates display certain uniformities and thus cannot be considered as aberrations.

According to B.P. Beckwith1, apostates are generally well-educated, have higher than average levels of intelligence, and enjoy better than average economic circumstances. In North America, people tend to become apostates at younger rather than older ages, are more predominant in the West, and are most likely to be male. Beckwith attributes these characteristics to the growth of knowledge, education, freedom of expression, social reform, health care, and the rise of logical positivism and scientific method, among other factors.

Another researcher, D.G. Bromley2, made a study of what he termed religious disaffiliation occurring in American mainstream and alternative religious groups. He also examined the rapid growth of those who claimed no religious affiliation in the first place, as well as apostates from any one group who adopted another (usually more liberal) set of beliefs.

As can be imagined, Bromley found the whole topic to be incredibly complex, with problems stemming from inconsistent questionnaires, non-uniform terminology, conflicting methodology, and the variety of studies of the many social and psychological consequences of apostasy, both for groups and individuals concerned. He further dealt with the special difficulties of apostates from the more extreme of the cult groups (such as the Moonies, Jonestown, and Heaven's Gate) and with attempts at what is popularly called deprogramming.

One final reference here deals with a detailed study by Caplovitz3 of religious drop-outs among college students, in which factors such as parental relationships, peer pressure, radical political orientation, and individual commitment to intellectualism and rationality are cited as significant. For readers who are apostates from mainline or fringe religious organizations and who may find this topic of interest, there is a wealth of useful material just waiting to be absorbed in any well-stocked city or college library.

Foundation member Glenn Hardie was a founding member of the B.C. Humanist Association, on whose Board he served for many years. He is also a member of the Humanist Association of Canada and the American Humanist Association. He holds a Bachelor's degree in Philosophy, a Master's degree in Adult Education, and professional diplomas in Construction Economics and Property Appraisal. Now retired, he taught project costing at the B.C. Institute of Technology and at the School of Architecture at U.B.C. He is married, with two grown children.

Footnotes

1 Beckwith, B. The Decline of Religious Faith. Beckwith Publications, CA 1985

2 Bromley, D.G. Falling from the Faith. Sage Publications, CA 1988

3 Caplovitz, S. The Religious Drop-Outs. Sage Publications, CA 1977

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Calidas, Yoga and the Getting of Wisdom

This business of "the getting of wisdom" has been a slow process for me. As one "for-instance," I have to admit it's taken me--a native-born Wisconsin citizen--most of my life to figure out how to keep warm in winter.

Since I'm a walking buff and have always walked to classes or work every day (a good 45 or 50 minutes), dressing defensively is essential. I met my annual Waterloo trying to keep my toes warm, finally learning only after many years that lightweight hiking boots--not warm-looking fleece boots--are the ticket. A revelation! That and other slowly acquired bits of knowledge ensure that I can happily walk three miles to work even in subzero temperatures. It's a small adventure, Woman Vs. Nature, that I can win--although I am always aware that Nature would gladly freeze me to death should I stop moving.

Ditto for how long it took me to find a warm winter nightgown. Since flannel sheets work, I always assumed flannel nightgowns must be the warmest albeit not the most fashionable. But somehow I was always cold in them. When my mother began singing the praises of the Calida nightgown for warmth, I was skeptical. These are classic ballet-length nightgowns made of the lightest-weight "green" cotton (no formaldehyde), with a graceful cut and nothing to bind. They are produced in Switzerland and sold in this country by several catalogs, such as Garnet Hill. The "luxury item" price alone kept me from trying them out.

One birthday several years ago, my mother presented me with my first Calida. I was immediately converted. (Mothers are always right.) Nothing compares to Calida's softness. It has taken me many cold years to learn that the secret to staying warm is having an air pocket around you, not being cloaked in heavy layers.

Even though its durability makes a Calida gown practical in the long run, it is pricey. So last fall I was delighted to find a Calida gown at nearly half-price in a catalog called "Sierra Outpost" out of Wyoming. It specializes in reduced-price brandname hiking and outdoor gear, but has apparently found a market for seconds and overstocks of the coveted Calida.

Only one problem with the classic Calida nightgown--it's too hot for summer. Leafing through a "Sierra Outpost" catalog last month, I spotted advertised seconds of some sporty, short Calida nightshirts I'd never seen elsewhere.

Eager at the prospect of acquiring a Calida cool enough for summer, I turned to the order blank. I was disappointed I couldn't make a phone order that day--closed on Sundays, kind of unusual in these days of 24-hour-a-day catalog companies. Then I spied the reason why. There, right on the order form, was a drawing of an American eagle with the bible quote, "Jesus said, 'I have come that they may have life and have it to the full.' John 10:10." Yuck.

After laughing out loud at the absurdity of it, I realized I faced an ethical dilemma.

What would you do? I haven't decided. Since "the customer is always right," I may try one more order, with a letter, to see if I can educate this company that not all customers appreciate being preached at. But I'll probably forfeit my longed-for Calida and tell them why they've lost a customer. (If you've ever ordered from this catalog, please complain, too: 1-800-713-4534.)

The day after making this unpleasant discovery I went to my yoga class, held at a public hospital. (Doctor's orders--chronic tendinitis in both elbows.)

After a particularly grueling workout, my personable teacher instructed all of us to end the session by putting our hands in a "prayer" position with thumbs at sternum. Okay. We'd done that before--and it's good for my arms. But this time, she instructed us to chant over and over between breaths: "God and me are one. Me and God are one." I was too startled (and exhausted) to do anything but engage in passive disobedience. As far as I am concerned, what makes this chant a truly unpardonable sin is its bad grammar!

This was too much! Religion with my nighties, and now with my exercise class?

When I got home and told Dan about it, he said disbelievingly (with the fervor of the deconverted): "You didn't complain?!" I replied that I was mulling over the right approach.

I've opted for my concept of subtlety. I arrived early for my next class wearing a "Friendly Neighborhood Atheist" sweatshirt and a smile, as befits the message. My instructor's eyes flickered over my shirt, looked away, and eloquently glanced back. There was no "God" chant this time. But I'm planning to wear the shirt every session, just to make sure.

Besides the secret to warm feet, something I've also been slow to grasp is the infinite chutzpah of the religionist. And they always get you when you're cold or tired.

Annie Laurie Gaylor is editor of Freethought Today and the anthology, Women Without Superstition: "No Gods - No Masters." The Writings of 19th and 20th Century Women Freethinkers.

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Flak for "Faith" Funding

Flak for "Faith" Funding

Trying to keep money given to religious organizations from being used for proselytizing is hopeless; money is fungible, a wonderful word meaning "interchangeable." If you give money to a church for one purpose, that in turns helps fund the church's other purposes since, obviously, it has more money. . . .

As that great orator, the late Texas state Rep. Billy Williamson of Tyler, once declared during a debate over state aid to Baptist-sponsored Baylor, "Yew CAAAAAAAN'T trade the cross for the cookie jar!"

--Molly Ivins, Ft. Worth Star-Telegram columnist
"Bush's World of Fuzzy PolicyThinking", Feb. 1, 2001

I am for faith-based programs, after-school programs, senior citizens programs, transportation ministries. But I fear federally funded, faith-based initiatives. Don't let them get into your books, because they are wolves in sheep's clothing. Money is seductive; the church needs money, but it needs independence even more!

--Rev. Jesse L. Jackson sermon
Ebenezer AME Church, Fort Washington
Washington Post, Feb. 4, 2001

I believe that a democratic polity requires a secular state: one that does not fund or otherwise sponsor religious institutions and activities; that does not display religious symbols; that outlaws discrimination based on religious belief, whether by government or by private employers, landlords or proprietors--that does, in short guarantee freedom from as well as freedom of religion. Furthermore, a genuinely democratic society requires a secular ethos: one that does not equate morality with religion, stigmatize atheists, defer to religious interests and aims over others or make religious belief an informal qualification for public office. Of course, secularism in the latter sense is not mandated by the First Amendment. It's a matter of sensibility, not law. Politicians have a right to brandish their faith and attack my secular outlook as hollow. That they have such a right, however, does not mean exercising it is a good idea. Politicians also have a right to argue that Christ's teachings are essential to public morality, but few would dare devalue the citizenship of Jews in such a fashion. Why is it more acceptable to marginalize the irreligious with appeals to God and faith?

--Ellen Willis
"Freedom From Religion," The Nation, Feb. 19, 2001

This whole thing is a religious-liberty nightmare. You can't have federal funds supporting sectarian proselytizing.

--Baptist Rev. C. Weldon Gaddy
Executive Director, Interfaith Alliance Time, Jan. 30, 2001

And official promotion of religion even when it's not specific can reach a point where it infringes on the rights of nonbelievers. President Bush has cut off family planning funds for international organizations that finance abortions on the grounds that money given for one thing frees up money for the other. But he does not apply the same logic to his plans to subsidize church-based education. If a birth-control grant to some agency amounts to taxpayers funding abortions, why isn't a grant to a church school essentially forcing me to pay for candles and incense?

--Michael Kinsley, Editor of Slate
New York Times, Jan. 26, 2001

Government neither should impose nor finance religion. Without the utmost scrutiny Bush's initiative could result in the outright government subsidy of religion in the name of social services. . .

One must wonder if David Koresh would have come knocking on the door of the Office of Faith-based Initiatives to get in on some of the federal funds. And we wonder on what grounds the office would say that Koresh's religion was any less legitimate than the mainstream faiths that most people see performing the work that Bush envisions.

--Editorial
Waco (TX) Tribune-Herald, New York Times, 1/31/01

. . . here and in the not-so-free countries of the world, the "freedoms from" were just as critical as the "freedoms to"--that is, the freedom from hunger, from oppression, from persecution and yes, from religion.

It is that wonderful wall of separation between church and state that guarantees these freedoms . . .

I feel my democratic freedom from religion is being violated by President Bush's executive order establishing the White House Office of Faith-based and Community Initiatives. . . .

The issue is whether our tax dollars should support sectarian efforts that violate our rights to freedom from religion.

--Julio Noboa
"U.S. a democracy, not theocracy" San Antonio News-Express, Feb. 3, 2001

Americans may not be able to recite the [first] amendment, or perhaps even explain it, but they are instinctively uncomfortable when their government appears to promote one religion over another, or allows discrimination based on religion, or interferes in the freedom of a church or synagogue or mosque. If executed carelessly, Mr. Bush's plan could spring all three of those traps.

--Laurie Goodstein
New York Times, Feb. 4, 2001

. . . even the staunchest defenders of faith-based programs, like Professor Olasky, admit there is little statistical evidence to show treatment based on religious conversion is any more effective than secular, therapeutic programs.

. . . religious organizations are, by their very nature, evangelical. And for the government to fund them, or support them in any way at the expense of other social programs, could make society's neediest vulnerable to religious coercion in exchange for basic services.

--Christian Science Monitor
Daily Herald, Jan. 30, 2001

. . . Bush has already shown that he won't fund groups that don't adhere to his particular set of moral beliefs. In his first full workday as president, he announced he was yanking funds to overseas organizations that use their own money to provide abortions or abortion counseling. . .

The infusion of religion into government is at the very heart of the revolution that created America. The colonists rebelled not only against the Church of England but also against the Puritanism and Calvinism that forced the citizenry to conform to particular religious views or face the government's wrath.

What Bush risks doing is establishing the legitimacy of one religion over all others, and this is just what our founding fathers didn't want.

--Joan Ryan
"With a Hand on the Bible" San Francisco Chronicle, Jan. 30, 2001

The very first act of the new Bush administration was to have a Protestant Evangelist minister officially dedicate the inauguration to Jesus Christ, whom he declared to be "our savior." . . .

The plain message conveyed by the new administration is that Bush's America is a Christian nation, and that nonChristians are welcome into the tent so long as they agree to accept their status as a tolerated minority rather than as fully equal citizens. In effect, Bush is saying: "This is our home, and in our home we pray to Jesus as our savior. If you want to be a guest in our home, you must accept the way we pray."

But the United States is neither a Christian nation nor the exclusive home of any particular religious group. NonChristians are not guests. We are as much hosts as any Mayflower-descendant Protestant. It is our home as well as theirs. And in a home with so many owners, there can be no official sectarian prayer. That is what the First Amendment is all about, and the first act by the new administration was in defiance of our Constitution.

--Alan M. Dershowitz
Los Angeles Time

Bush says he will take international aid away from family planning clinics that in any way, shape, or whisper tell women where they can get an abortion. To Bush, this is a game of Ping-Pong, and now he has the paddle. . . . Bush reinstated the gag rule with the confidence that, aside from Planned Parenthood, Capitol Hill Democrats will not dwell long--or at all--counting the bodies of poverty stricken and sexually trapped women in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. . . .

According to the World Health Organization, complications from pregnancy and childbirth kill 600,000 women every year. . . .

Before Reagan, the United States was seen as a leader in helping nations provide access to family planning. Clinton had begun reasserting that leadership. Bush is taking us back to a blindness about the bodies. He is taking us back to a time when, as far as abortion goes, we were a developing nation.

--Derrick Z. Jackson
"Bush's Cruel Trip Backward", Boston Globe, 1/26/01

. . . I envision a country where untold billions of taxpayers' dollars flow through the government to those religious groups who backed winning candidates, just as parishioners' contributions flow through their churches to the candidates on whom they wager.

. . . The First Amendment also guards against another serious danger. This is the temptation for the state to co-opt religious leaders, appropriate religious symbols, and play on religious sentiments, subverting them all to rally for leaders and policies that cannot be defended in rational debate.

--Prof. Bruce Lincoln
University of Chicago, "Dubya, Defender of the Faith" TomPaine.com

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Hundreds of thousands of tax dollars have been approved by the National Institutes of Health to fund a Christian "prayer intervention" study involving African American women with breast cancer.

Freethought Today has learned that the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, a component of NIH, has approved the grant to Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore. Consulting is Dr. Harold Koenig of Duke University's Center for the Study of Religion, Spirituality and Health, known for his espousal of religion as medicine.

Tax money is slated to fund a study of "a personal and group prayer intervention" on 40 African American women, with 40 others randomly assigned to a control group.

Dr. Koenig told Freethought Today several years of funding are needed because it will take a long time to locate 80 African American women in the Baltimore area who qualify for the study.

Subjects will meet with "Comfort Leaders,"--"a team of African American breast cancer survivors and persons with a background in spirituality" who will receive special training--at a home or "church visit."

The concept, the grant writers noted, is derived from "The Witness Project," previously funded in part by the Centers for Disease Control, based on the precept that "in church people witness to save souls. At the Witness Project, they witness to save lives."

"The CL will meet with the woman and provide her with a small book of inspirations," according to the study abstract. "She will assist the woman in organizing a prayer group of 5-8 women from her church or from her personal network."

The subjects will be given "the Comfort Guide that contains 24 weeks of spiritual messages based on Biblical scripture that guide the prayer for any given week. The women will be offered instruction as to how to gather for prayer and personal witnesses. . . . select[ing] a symbolic scriptural word that to them will signify their recognition of a 'divine presence.' Twice each day the patient is to use the Centering Prayer word to focus on a feeling of peace and inner spirituality. . . ."

The study abstract mentions the researchers' concerns that other prayer by the women and their social network could "replicate or compete with the effects of the study's prayer groups," but considers this "unlikely." The study selects otherwise healthy subjects who are most likely to do well--women with early stage breast cancer who have had no spread to lymph nodes and have undergone a lumpectomy and radiation therapy but no chemotherapy (Stage 1 and 2 local tumors).

"Women who do not identify with a religious orientation or who do not wish to use prayer groups will also be excluded. It is expected that this will be a rare case if it does occur at all," the abstract adds.

Various blood, saliva and urine tests will be taken at intervals of one month and six months to measure "the impact of the prayer intervention" on "stress." Although it is a four- or five-year funded study, the subjects themselves receive only six months of "intervention."

They also note that after six months, the control group will be offered the religious materials and an introduction to prayer groups and "centering prayer," because this "is ethical given the known benefit of prayer. . ."

The grant abstract cites as rationale for the study the "abysmal physical and psychosocial outcomes in African American women with breast cancer and their almost 100% use of prayer for coping."

The researchers also cite a study showing that a majority of African American women "preferred spiritual healing over traditional allopathic medicine, actually causing a delay in seeking care."

"This raises a question," said Freethought Today editor Annie Laurie Gaylor. "If African American women already disproportionately favor prayer and religion for comfort during illness, yet 'have a poorer prognosis at every stage of breast cancer,' as the researchers report, then the conclusion would seem to be that religion is detrimental, rather than beneficial. Ethics should dictate that medically sound methods, not superstition, should be proposed to improve medical outcomes for African American women with breast cancer."

The study does not compare prayer with other activities that could be surmised to reduce stress or make patients feel special, such as instruction in relaxation techniques.

Despite a request on Dec. 1 made under the Freedom of Information Act, Freethought Today has been unable to date to obtain a full copy of the grant proposal detailing requested amounts and salaries. Diane M. Becker, the professor of medicine who is slated to be in charge of the medical monitoring of the women, refused to release that data. She told Freethought Today her best estimate is that approximately $123,000 of tax dollars annually for four years would be appropriated.

An Oct. 5 NIH news release reported that $8 million will be given to a cancer center at Johns Hopkins headed by Adrian S. Dobs, M.D., to implement four projects, one of which "will examine the effects of prayer on disease recurrence, immune and neuroendocrine function of African American women with breast cancer." What has not been disclosed is how the $8 million grant will be divided among the four studies.

Dr. Koenig estimated late last year in a conversation with Freethought Today that between $750,000 and $800,000 over five years would be appropriated. According to a report in Research News & Opportunities in Science and Theology, (Nov. 2000) funded through the Templeton Foundation, Dr. Koenig "hopes that research such as this will help open the door to more studies on the effects that prayer may have on other diseases. . ."

Freethought Today is pursuing its Freedom of Information Act request to confirm how much tax money is in jeopardy.

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The following statement was released on January 29, 2001, by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, a Madison, Wis.-based national association of freethinkers (atheists and agnostics) working to protect the constitutional separation of church and state since 1978.

President Bush's newly-announced initiatives on religion pose the most serious assault on the constitutional separation of church and state in our history. Today Bush announced the creation of an "Office of Faith-Based Action" and his intention to tax the American public to support a $24 billion give-away of public funds to church-related groups over the next 10 years.

People who care about our Constitution and its protections should be outraged. It would be difficult to exaggerate the constitutional peril of Bush's full frontal attack on the Establishment Clause.

What is being proposed is a massive religious tax upon the American public. Individuals will be taxed to support places of worship, denominations and ministries which violate their conscience.

Many Americans are descended from immigrants who came to this land to escape such mandatory tithes and taxation, who believed it to be unconscionable to be forced to support churches against their consent. As Thomas Jefferson wrote in the Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom:

"[T]o compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of [religious] opinions which he disbelieves is sinful and tyrannical."

That statute, upon which many state constitutions are predicated, noted that no citizens "shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry, whatsoever." The assurance that citizens cannot be compelled to attend or support a place of worship against their consent has been a cornerstone of our secular republic.

"Charitable choice" is a misleading euphemism for Bush's proposal to fund overtly-religious organizations at all federal branches. Americans will have no choice when we're taxed to support religions under the guise of social services. Needy social service recipients who are at the mercy of religious social services will have no practical choice when they are handed bibles with their soup bowls, or are prayed over when they are seeking a bed for the night. Those applying for jobs with public-funded religious organizations will have no choice if they are hired or fired for religious reasons, because "faith-based" public-supported charities are legally permitted to engage in religious discrimination.

No needy person receiving assistance paid for with public funds should ever be proselytized. The automatic tax-exemption accorded churches is based on the assumption that they will use donations for charitable purposes. Individuals are free to seek out private religious counseling and churches are free to open their doors to the needy. But no religious proselytizing ought to be allowed if the public, made up of a diversity of Christians, atheists, Jews and others, is footing the bill.

Religious social services are already eligible for and already receive significant amounts of public funding. Appropriately, religious social services receiving tax dollars have been required to create a secular arm and a separate account, to remove religious symbols and agree not to proselytize a captive audience coming to them for help. Bush is proposing to remove all these constitutional safeguards and give proselytizing groups carte blanche with public funds.

There is no end to the potential conflicts of interest. For instance, when a Southern Baptist church receives public funds, will it advise battered women to "submit graciously" to their husbands, as their denomination's doctrine now requires? In a small town where a fundamentalist group gets the corner on tax dollars, where will a suicidal gay teenager turn when he needs help? Surely not to a fundamentalist group that considers gays "sinners" and even "abominations." What help can a teenaged girl seeking contraception receive from a public-funded Roman Catholic group freed by Bush's initiatives to force its religious doctrines on public recipients?

Current charitable choice laws do not ensure that recipients would be notified of the right to secular alternatives, or that secular alternatives in fact are available. Nor does it make fiscal sense to set up two forms of public-funded social services, when a secular social service agency can serve everyone, offends no one and does not ride roughshod over freedom of conscience.

We urge all Americans who value our secular Constitution to speak out and oppose Bush's alarming actions and proposals.

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Anatomy of a Prayer Breakfast

The piety of politicians is legendary, so it should not have surprised us when Wisconsin Lt. Gov. Scott McCallum announced he would start his inaugural day with a prayer breakfast.

McCallum follows Tommy Thompson as Wisconsin's governor, since President Bush appointed Thompson to his cabinet to head the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

McCallum's prayer breakfast would be held in his home town of Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, newspapers announced. Naively, we envisioned a setting in a church basement, or possibly the banquet room of a local hotel.

But then came the surprising news. The prayer breakfast would take place at the publicly-owned Commons of the Fond du Lac branch of the University of Wisconsin, and, according to McCallum's office, would be paid for with public funds.

Whoa! A Foundation letter went out to McCallum challenging the constitutionality of this action and encouraging a secular inaugural.

The response from a staffer was that the media got it wrong! It wasn't a prayer breakfast after all; it was an inaugural breakfast, and taxpayers would not be paying for it. It would be paid for by McCallum's campaign fund. Now we had two versions of what was going on.

Trying to figure out the puzzle, we got a copy of the press release sent from McCallum's office announcing the prayer breakfast. Indeed, it was not a media error. It was there in black and white in the press release, "prayer breakfast."

We confirmed with the University in Fond du Lac that rent was being charged for the Commons (a modest $150.00), although exactly who is paying for that and for the catering is still unclear. The final program referred to an inaugural breakfast, but it was reported that a Catholic priest prayed, an Episcopal clergyman prayed and an obscure civil servant prayed. Which would have been acceptable had the ceremony been conducted privately, not on the taxpayers' dollar, and not in a taxpayer-owned public building.

There is no question that religion is intruding more and more in government, at every level. Our objections may not always be heeded, but they must be made.

We urge each reader to constitute a Committee of One to protest state-church entanglement at the community level, as well as in state capitals and Washington, D.C.

One of the reasons President Bush feels free to launch his mammoth, unconstitutional state-church entanglement projects is because there has not been enough pressure and an outcry against entanglement at lower levels.

Churches and tax-exempt religious property abound in our country. Let politicians practice their religion there.

--Anne Nicol Gaylor
President
Freedom From Religion Foundation

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State/Church Bulletin

7th Circuit: Remove Decalog

The U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on Dec. 13 that a Ten Commandments monument on the lawn of the municipal building in Elkhart, Ind., is unconstitutional.

The appeals court overturned a 1999 district court ruling dismissing the challenge.

In its 2-1 ruling, the court said that constitutional principles "simply prevent government at any level from intruding into the religious life of our people by sponsoring or endorsing a particular perspective on religious matters."

Citizens are required to "come into direct and unwelcome contact with the Ten Commandments to participate fully as citizens of Elkhart," the court ruled, nor could the 6-foot tablet be stripped of its "sacred significance."

Plaintiffs are Elkhart residents William A. Books and Michael Suetkamp.
Kentucky Officials Show Contempt

Officials in McCreary and Pulaski counties rehanged the Ten Commandments in their courthouses in defiance of a federal judge's order. The ACLU filed a motion on Dec. 7 asking that the officials be held in contempt. The officials filed a legal memo in late December insisting the commandments are not "religious" in their overall display of "historical" documents.
Pastors Oppose Courthouse Nativity

Thirty-two pastors signed a letter to county officials in Lafayette, Ind., opposing a Nativity display on the Tippecanoe County Courthouse lawn in December.

The county banned such displays in 1999 after allowing a creche on the courthouse lawn every Christmas for nearly 30 years. After a group of two dozen residents petitioned commissioners to change the policy, the pastors noted, "Their agenda is not reflective of the mainstream Christian community."
Christmas Lawsuit on Appeal

A federal appeals judge told litigant Richard Ganulin of Cincinnati in December that he must show how the celebration of Christmas as a national legal holiday harms nonbelievers.

Judge Boyce Martin Jr. said philosophical or religious objections are not enough to support a lawsuit asking to scrap the designation of Christmas as an official holiday. Martin is one of three judges hearing the case at the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

"As a matter of law, it cuts me out, it excludes me, I'm an outsider, I'm an observer. It's a sectarian celebration," Ganulin said.

Ganulin, who sued the federal government in 1998 (and was a speaker at the 1998 FFRF convention), said he is not attacking Christmas, only the unconstitutionality of the federal law making it a national holiday.

A federal judge in December 1999 threw out Ganulin's lawsuit, saying he lacked standing and failed to show how the legal holiday harmed him.
Mojave Cross Removed

The National Park Service agreed in late October to remove a Christian cross from the Mojave National Preserve in San Bernardino County, Calif.

The site of the cross was routinely used as a gathering for Easter and other memorial services, but was not open as a venue for other forms of religious expression, according to the ACLU of Southern California. The complaint was brought by a former Park Service employee.

"Leaving a cross standing on federal land when a service is over promotes Christian beliefs over others, which is not the role of the government. Federal park land is for all of us, whether we are Jewish, Buddhist, Christian, Muslim, or none of the above," said Peter Eliasberg, staff attorney.
Bad Postal Precedent

The U.S. Postal Service announced late last year its plan to issue a postage stamp in 2001 to recognize the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Fitr, or "feast of fast breaking," that marks the annual fasting month of Ramadan.

Although the Post Office regulations forbid issuance of religious stamps, the Post Office began issuing "Madonna & Child" stamps in the 1960s. U.S. Muslim groups have lobbied for a stamp for years.

Since there are some 29 million unreligious Americans in this country compared to between five and 10 million Muslims, where is the postage stamp in homage to freethought?
Religious Extortion?

The White Meadow Temple, a Conservative synagogue in New Jersey, filed suit this fall against a congregation member who quit the congregation, contending it was owed $1,455.02, including attorney's fees. Rockaway resident David Slossberg quit the temple in 1996, after being defrauded by an Orthodox Jewish business partner who later went to jail for his crimes. Slossberg told the rabbi he did not have the money to pay dues, nor did he wish to belong anymore.

The synagogue claims Slossberg signed an agreement, which it cannot produce, pledging "dues, assessments, pledges or donations" for the year 1996.
Rather Pathetic

Charles Coppinger, 36, the Arizona Legislature's chaplain for the last four sessions, went on a 90-hour "spiritual fast" in late December to save his job, spending his nights outside the state capitol in an armchair, drinking diluted juice and taking only restroom breaks.

The Senate announced on Jan. 22 it will no longer have a chaplain, but will keep open the chaplain office for visiting clergy invited by lawmakers "to attend their spiritual needs."

Coppinger, whose position was funded privately, revealed last fall that he is gay, resulting in consternation by his conservative supporters. Also causing consternation was a revelation that he had settled embezzlement charges with a previous employee.
State Tax Dollars at Work

New York State taxpayers have spent nearly $2.5 million under the Clean Water/Clean Air Bond Act to spruce up churches, synagogues and houses of worship around New York.

The Albany bureau of the Syracuse-Herald Journal (Dec. 18) revealed the legislation authorizing the $1.75 billion bond act, approved by voters in 1996, provides money to preserve properties listed on the state and national registers of historic places. Although the bill did not specify houses of worship among properties eligible for funding, it did not rule them out.

The Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation that administers grants to houses of worship requires that all work be exterior. State parks commissioner Bernadette Castro told the Herald-Journal: "The commissioner does not want something done that will allow only the congregation to enjoy, but rather the whole community to enjoy." The houses of worship are supposed to produce matching grants.
HUD Chastises Lutheran Program

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development "chastised" Lutheran Social Services of Northern California on Nov. 6 for placing HIV/AIDS patients in residential hotels that violate city housing codes and state elevator safety laws, according to the San Francisco Examiner.

HUD official Joan Hall said: "We made it clear that under HUD programs, we expect our housing funds are going to be used to house people in decent, safe and sanitary environments."
Council Prayer Criticized

The City Council in Redwood City, Calif., is unusual among Bay Area cities in starting meetings with a prayer led by local ministers. For the past two decades, Pastor Dennis Logie of Sequoia Christian Church has orchestrated the invocations as president of the Redwood City Clergy Association.

Following criticism by the ACLU, Mayor Ira Ruskin said he found the worship ritual "thought provoking." Council member Colleen Jordan told the San Mateo Daily News: "I believe government was never intended to be godless."

ACLU attorney Margaret Crosby, while admitting the Supreme Court ruled legislative prayer is allowable in the Marsh vs. Chambers case out of Nebraska in 1983, points out the California Constitution is far stricter than the federal.
Bible Classes Create Strife

Controversy is following adoption of bible classes at high schools, such as a class at Duncanville High School, Tex., taught by a retired pastor and former bible college professor. As many as 200 Texas public schools may offer bible studies, although the Texas Education Association doesn't keep track.

The Duncanville class is not a "bible as literature" class. The entire fall semester is spent on the "Old Testament" and the spring semester on the "New Testament." Students must memorize the books of the Old Testament and weekly assigned bible verses, "identify leading kings of Israel and Judah," and memorize the 23rd Psalm, among other assignments.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation launched a major complaint to the TEA in 1995, calling the Texas bible courses "Glorified Sunday School," and noting some school districts were actually using curriculum written for Sunday schools.

In Illinois, the Messac County High School is offering a course on the bible for the 2001-02 school year as an elective "history" class for juniors and seniors.

"To teach it as history, you have to teach facts and accept miraculous events," said ACLU spokesperson Ed Yohnka. "How do they plan to handle teaching the parting of the Red Sea, the Plagues of Egypt or being led by the voice of God? We find this whole approach to teaching bible in public schools troubling."
Utah Tax Credit Urged

A Republican state legislator plans to sponsor a bill in the 2001 session to grant taxpayers up to $2,500 in tax credits for sending students to private and religious schools. State Rep. John Swallow contends it's all in the name of "helping" public education. "We need to get our children taught on someone else's nickel. It's one way to save public schools," was Swallow's unusual rationale. The plan would siphon off $2,500 per student that would otherwise go to public schools.

A new nonprofit group called Children First Utah has raised $1.35 million--$1 million of that coming from John Walton, son of Wal-Mart's founder--to help send low-income children to private schools. Walton is helping to fund 76 Children First affiliates nationwide, then lobbying government to take over the programs. Utah has the smallest percentage of children attending private schools in the nation, at about 2.6% compared to the national average of 11%. Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt does not support tuition tax credits.
Polygamy Will Be on Trial

The first trial for polygamy in Utah since the 1950s has been delayed until late spring, but is putting the practice under the spotlight.

Tom Green, 52, who lives in a cluster of mobile homes in the desert with his 5 current wives and their 29 children, is charged with four counts of bigamy and one count of criminal nonsupport for $50,000 in welfare the state gave his family, as well as one count of child rape.

That charge stems from having sex with his common-law wife Linda, now 28, when she was 13. He married the 5 wives, including two sets of sisters, when they were between 13- and 16-years old. Green has had 10 wives since 1970. It took a 26-page diagram to illustrate all of Green's marriages, divorces and offspring.

Gov. Mike Leavitt, who himself is descended from a polygamous great-grandfather, originally did not favor prosecution of violations of Utah's 105-year ban on plural marriage.

"But this is a man who has taken 13- and 14-year-old children, deprived them of any education, married them, impregnated them, required the state to pay the bill and has raped a 13-year-old girl.

"If we can't prosecute for conduct like Tom Green's, we have no business prosecuting crime," Leavitt said.

The Utah legislature raised the state's minimum marriage age from 14 to 16 in 1998, after Tapestry Against Polygamy, a group of former polygamous wives, championed the reform.
Japanese Proposal Alarms Buddhists

Japanese Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori, who just survived a recent no-confidence vote, has caused consternation by campaigning to emphasize religion in schools. Mori wants to update national curriculum guidelines for the first time since 1947, including placing "a perspective on religion" in public schools.

"We absolutely must not repeat the mistakes of prewar Japan, when the freedoms of thought and religion were trampled by compulsory religious education," wrote the head of a Buddhist group, Daisaku Ikeda. Shinto was Japan's state religion during World War II.

Last May, Mori got in trouble for saying, during a speech to Shinto religious officials, that Japan was a "divine nation" centered on the emperor.
Iranian Journalist "Defames Clergy"

The chief editor of the weekly magazine Cinema-Sport, journalist and cleric Ali Afshai, was defrocked and sentenced in late December to four months in prison for "defaming the clergy."
Prisoner: Police Used God

Condemned murderer Raymond Morrison Jr., 32, argued before the Florida Supreme Court in early January that it should overturn his conviction and death sentence because Jacksonville police took advantage of his Christian beliefs to get a confession.

Police officer Antonio Richardson, a church pastor, "ministered" to Morrison during the investigation and took him to the police department chapel. Morrison said he was coerced into giving a statement implicating him in the 1997 stabbing of an elderly, disabled man. Public Defender Chet Kaufman said police used church and religion as "law enforcement arms":

"They talked about prayer, they talked about getting right with God, they talked about being saved."

Published in Back Issues
%767 %America/Chicago, %2013

Don't Do What Jesus Would Do!

As a guide for choosing attitudes and behavior, many Christians encourage young persons and others to ask, "What would Jesus do?" That slogan is often abbreviated on Christian jewelry and other items as "WWJD." The idea is that if people would think and act the way Jesus did, the world would be a better place.

But is a WWJD mindset really what the modern world needs? If advocates of that philosophy would examine Jesus as depicted in the bible, they might realize that his views can cause great harm to individuals and communities.
Violence

What would Jesus do about the problem of violence in society? The bible indicates he would make it worse by promoting violence as a favored method of dealing with problems. Unlike modern civilized people, he did not limit the acceptability of violence to situations requiring self-defense or the defense of others.
Violent Afterlife

Jesus taught that when he returns to earth, he will cause infinitely more gratuitous violence than is contained in any slasher film. At that time, he will send his angels to gather people and cast them into a furnace of fire, where there will be wailing and gnashing of teeth.[1] Also at this glorious homecoming, he will order persons to "[d]epart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels."[2] The book of Revelation tells us that this everlasting inferno is a place where people are tortured forever,[3] where "the smoke of their torment ascendeth up for ever and ever: and they have no rest day or night. . . ."[4] That hideous state of affairs is illustrated in Jesus' story of the beggar Lazarus who went to heaven and the rich man who was consigned to Hades. Jesus described the rich man as suffering torment in the flames.[5]

Elsewhere, he indicated that the same fate will befall everyone who does not accept his message.[6] This will include the vast majority of humanity.[7] Thus, we have the role model of the WWJD folks causing not only the death but eternal torture of billions of people--many of them simply because he disapproves of their religious beliefs.
Violent Parables

Jesus' parables contain further illustrations of the types of violence he supported. By failing to condemn the violent acts described in those stories, Jesus implied that such behavior was acceptable.

Consistent with his other teachings about the afterlife, Jesus approved of torture in a parable relating to Judgment Day. This story involves a king who forgave a servant's debt but later found the same servant treating harshly a debtor of the servant. Jesus asserted that the king became angry and delivered the servant "to the tormentors, till he should pay all that was due. . . ." Jesus went on to say that God will do the same to people who do not forgive the trespasses of others.[8]

There is also a parable in which Jesus condoned dismembering people. That story concerns a servant who, after being put in charge of his master's property, began to bully the other servants and eat and drink with drunken friends. Jesus explained that if the master returns when the servant does not expect him, the master will cut that unfaithful servant in pieces.[9]

Jesus endorsed the killing of defenseless people for their political differences, when he related a parable about a nobleman who went to a far country to receive a kingdom and then returned. Jesus described the new king as ordering that "those mine enemies, which would not that I should reign over them, bring hither, and slay them before me."[10]

In a parable involving servants waiting for their lord to return from a wedding, Jesus supported the beating of people. He explained that the servant who knew his lord's will but failed to do it "shall be beaten with many stripes." And the servant who did not know his lord's will but "did commit things worthy of stripes, shall be beaten with few stripes."[11]

Kidnapping and the violent treatment of the victim are other actions Jesus favored, in a parable that compares the kingdom of heaven to a king who made a marriage for his son. When the king saw a guest who was without a wedding garment, he told his servants to "[b]ind him hand and foot . . . and cast him into outer darkness; there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth."[12]

So in these parables, Jesus spoke approvingly of persons who torture, dismember, slay, beat, kidnap and otherwise cause extreme misery. He applauded this behavior, and indicated that he and his Father will do the same to people. That lesson, in fact, appears to be the point of the parables. Do we really want persons to think of these actions when they ask, "What would Jesus do?"
Violent Laws

Another way that Jesus espoused violence was by supporting the Law of Moses. He said he did not come to abolish that Law but to fulfill it.[13] He warned that anyone who sets aside even the least of the Law's demands, and teaches others to do so, will be lowest in the kingdom of heaven.[14] According to him, it is "easier for heaven and earth to pass, than one tittle of the law to fail."[15]

This approval of the Law of Moses means endorsement of that code's horrible requirements concerning the death penalty. The Mosaic Law prescribes execution as the punishment for cursing one's parents;[16] being a stubborn and rebellious son;[17] being a witch, medium or wizard;[18] worshiping gods other than Jehovah;[19] enticing a friend or family member to worship other gods;[20] working on the Sabbath;[21] gathering sticks on the Sabbath;[22] not being a virgin on one's wedding night (applies to women only);[23] blasphemy;[24] adultery;[25] and homosexuality.[26]

The method of carrying out the executions was normally stoning.[27] For other infractions of the Mosaic Law, the punishment could be a flogging.[28] For certain violations, the penalty was mutilation or amputation.[29] It is hard to imagine how anyone with a brain or heart could uphold such a barbaric and absurd legal code.
Violence Incited against Family Members and Others

Jesus not only implied that he approves of violence in this life, but explicitly asserted that he intends to cause it. Contrary to the "peace on earth, goodwill toward men" talk during the Christmas season, Jesus stated: "Suppose ye that I am come to give peace on earth? I tell you, Nay; but rather division . . ."[30] This divisiveness clearly includes violence, for he said he "came not to send peace, but a sword."[31]

In connection with his promise to send a "sword," he explained that he will "set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law."[32] And he predicted that "a man's foes shall be they of his own household."[33] Thus, he advocated divisiveness within families and the use of violence against one's own family members.

Among all Jesus' violent teachings, parents would be wise to consider that one, in particular, when deciding whether to have their children ask, "What would Jesus do?"
Family
Hate Your Family

Besides endorsing violence against family members, Jesus showed in other ways that he is not a supporter of family values. He never married or fathered children; instead, he urged people to hate their families and themselves. In his words: "If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple."[34]
Desert Your Family

Jesus encouraged people to abandon their families and promised rewards for doing so. He said: "There is no man that hath left house, or parents, or brethren, or wife, or children, for the kingdom of God's sake, Who shall not receive manifold more in this present time, and in the world to come life everlasting."[35] He even criticized a man for wanting to say goodbye to his family before leaving to follow him.[36]
No Divorce

There were moments when Jesus apparently had a mood swing regarding his view that people should hate and leave their spouses. But here he swung too far in the other direction, by prohibiting all divorce.

On the subject of divorce, he said: "What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder. . . . Whosoever shall put away his wife, and marry another, committeth adultery against her. And if a woman shall put away her husband, and be married to another, she committeth adultery."[37] He additionally claimed that anyone who marries a divorced woman commits adultery.[38] On occasion, though, he backed away from a total prohibition on divorce, by allowing it in situations where a spouse has committed "fornication."[39]

Unfortunately, by preventing divorce in all other situations, his teachings require spouses to stay married even when love has irretrievably died, such as where one of them turned out to be extremely abusive and exploitative. To prohibit divorce and remarriage in those cases is simply a prescription for human misery.
Abuse Your Children

Jesus also endorsed child abuse. He specifically approved the Mosaic Law's command that, "Whoso curseth father or mother, let him die the death."[40] He denounced the Pharisees for not following that cruel and nonsensical instruction, which he described as a "commandment of God."[41]

From these teachings, many persons guilty of neglecting or abusing their family members could receive a green light to continue by asking, "What would Jesus do?" Others would be encouraged to behave likewise. And some spouses who are the recipients of that treatment would have to endure it and not leave the marriage.
Health Care
Spurn Medical Science

What would Jesus do about the issue of health care in society? He would increase health problems by discouraging reliance upon medical science. He taught nothing about germs, bacteria, sanitation or medical science. Rather, he promoted the idea that disease is caused by demons or sin, and that cures should be obtained by supernatural means. He pointed to demon possession as the cause of epilepsy,[42] blindness,[43] muteness,[44] insanity,[45] convulsions[46] and crippling disability.[47]
Rely on Supernatural Cures

As for the supernatural methods of curing such problems, Jesus explained to his disciples that certain types of demons can only be exorcised by prayer and fasting.[48] On another occasion, faith was the remedy he prescribed, when he cured a leper and then told him that "thy faith hath made thee whole."[49] He also advocated laying hands on the sick as a means of healing, when he promised that a sign shown by believers is that "they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover."[50]

Forgiveness of sin and avoidance of sin are other methods he supported for curing and preventing illness. Right before healing a man who had palsy, Jesus told him: "Son, thy sins be forgiven thee."[51] And after healing a man who had been crippled for thirty-eight years, Jesus admonished him to "sin no more, lest a worse thing come unto thee."[52]

It is noteworthy that, on one occasion, his cure of choice involved cruelty to animals. He healed a demon-possessed madman by sending the demons, at their request, into a herd of about 2,000 swine. The pigs then ran into a sea and drowned.[53]

Because Jesus thought that the cause of maladies is spiritual, it is understandable that he would recommend supernatural cures rather than scientific ones. But the error of these teachings is shown by the many tragic cases of people--often children--who have died from treatable illnesses after ignoring medical science and following what Jesus did about sickness.
Handle Deadly Snakes and Drink Poison

Jesus also had other views that cause illness and death. He said that his followers can take up serpents--not excluding poisonous ones--without being harmed.[54] And he stated that believers may "drink any deadly thing" without suffering adverse effects.[55] Would the WWJD crowd want their children acting on these teachings?
Sex

No discussion of Jesus' unhealthy teachings would be complete without mentioning his views on sexuality. Jesus had some downright crazy and pernicious ideas about that subject.
Abhor Sexuality

He was so opposed to sex that he thought people should be sent to Hell for having a sexual desire. He taught that "whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart."[56] The book of Galatians informs us that adulterers shall not inherit the kingdom of God.[57]
Mutilate Your Body

To avoid being eternally tortured for having a natural sexual urge, Jesus recommended self-mutilation. He said: "And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell."[58]

He made similar recommendations for preventing other types of sexual activity. Apparently referring to masturbation, he advised that "if thy right hand offend thee, cut it off, and cast it from thee . . ." to avoid being sent to hell.[59]

And he endorsed castration. He told his followers that "there be eunuchs, which have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven's sake. He that is able to receive it, let him receive it."[60]

Do the WWJD people really want persons to hate sexuality and mutilate themselves in an effort to avoid sexual desire and activity?
Rudeness, Name-calling and Insults

Jesus could be quite rude to people. After he accepted a Pharisee's invitation to a meal, the Pharisee asked him why he did not wash before partaking of the food. Jesus then went into a tirade against the Pharisees, accusing them of injustice and calling them fools and hypocrites. He also said there was nothing inside them but greed and wickedness, which seems inconsistent with the fact that one of them had just invited him to the meal. And he didn't let up this verbal attack after a lawyer protested that he was insulting them.[61] On another occasion, Jesus labeled the Pharisees and scribes as hypocrites, blind guides, fools, serpents, vipers and murderers.[62] This name-calling is hardly the way to win friends and influence people.[63]
Temper Tantrum

The same can be said of his rudeness in the temple. There, Jesus overturned the tables and chairs of the sellers and moneychangers, scattered their coins, and used a whip to drive them and their animals out.[64]

Many judges today would not only impose a fine and jail time for such vandalism and physical assaults, but would also sentence the offender to attend conflict resolution classes.
Insults Mother

Although it is difficult to top rudeness in a place of religious devotion, Jesus did so by being discourteous to his mother. While he was at a wedding, she informed him that there was no wine. His curt retort was, "Woman, what have I to do with thee? mine hour is not yet come."[65]
Inconsiderate to the Poor and Hungry

Moreover, Jesus likely was discourteous to many people when he, while hungry and looking for food, became piqued at a fig tree that had no figs. The season was not right for the tree to have figs, yet he cursed it and caused it to wither.[66] As a result, no one--including the poor and hungry--could obtain figs from that tree in the future.
Callous to the Sick and Suffering

One of the worst examples of his rudeness--and downright callousness--was shown when a Canaanite woman begged him to help her daughter, who she said was being tormented by a demon. When the woman pleaded for aid, Jesus ignored her at first. Then he explicitly refused to assist her, saying he was sent only to the house of Israel. After that, while she continued her pathetic begging, he added insult to injury by stating that it is not proper to take the children's bread and cast it to "dogs" such as her. He only relented and healed her daughter after the woman argued that "the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their masters' table."[67] Apparently, if she had not come up with that response, Jesus would have let her and her daughter continue suffering even though he had the power to stop it at any time. Such a man in no way deserves to be a role model for young people.
Productivity, Possessions and the Pursuit of Happiness
Reject Material Possessions

Jesus' teachings are inconsistent with developing productive citizens and eliminating poverty. Our society offers financial rewards to motivate persons to produce goods and provide services that satisfy the needs of others. But Jesus taught people to reject material possessions and financial gain.

He advised a wealthy young man to "sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me."[68] After the young man went away sad, Jesus told his disciples: "It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God."[69]

Along the same lines, he said "whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be my disciple."[70] He also taught that a person cannot serve God and money.[71] And he said, "Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth . . . But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven. . . ."[72]

Clearly, Jesus was opposed to capitalist self-interest as a means of motivating people to be productive and useful.
Eschew Food and Happiness

Along with preaching against material possessions, he opposed having enough to eat and otherwise enjoying life. He proclaimed: "[W]oe unto you that are rich! for ye have received your consolation. Woe unto you that are full! for ye shall hunger. Woe unto you that laugh now! for ye shall mourn and weep."[73] Poverty, hunger and sorrow were what he advocated for this life. He stated: "Blessed be ye poor: for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are ye that hunger now: for ye shall be filled. Blessed are ye that weep now: for ye shall laugh."[74]

Thus, unlike the Declaration of Independence, Jesus did not endorse the "pursuit of happiness." Happiness was for an afterlife, not this life. As a result of these teachings, parents can lead their children to throw away the American Dream by encouraging them to ask what Jesus would do.
Don't Bother Planning

The success of most human enterprises is highly dependent on good planning, but Jesus denigrated that activity. He taught his followers: "Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. . . . But seek ye first the kingdom of God . . . and all these things shall be added unto you. Take therefore no thought for the morrow. . . ."[75]

In other words, Jesus believed that by focusing on spiritual matters, a person's material needs would be supernaturally met. He therefore saw no reason to think about physical requirements or plan to meet them. Instead, he thought that any physical needs could be met by simply asking God.

He proclaimed: ". . . What things soever ye desire, when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them."[76] Reasonable people know that the world does not operate in this manner. The countless unanswered prayers demonstrate that it does not work this way. By telling persons to have no desire for material goods, to not be concerned about obtaining food or clothing, to make no plans for the future, to not think about the next day, and to expect their physical needs to be supernaturally met, Jesus prescribed an attitude likely to produce drifters, derelicts and lunatics rather than productive and valuable members of society.
Justice
Injustice in this Life

Jesus' philosophy also is antithetical to producing justice in society. One of his commands was to "Judge not, and ye shall not be judged. . . ."[77] That teaching would eviscerate the justice system by completely eliminating the judiciary.

But under his philosophy, there would be no need for judges anyway. He said to "resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also."[78] He further ordered that "him that taketh away thy cloak forbid not to take thy coat also. . . . [A]nd of him that taketh away thy goods ask them not again."[79]

Under those doctrines, his followers are not to oppose crimes against persons or property. They are even to allow criminals to obtain more than they sought in the first place. The upshot is that crime pays in this life, criminals go unpunished and the victims receive no recompense for the harm done to them. It would be difficult to come up with a philosophy better calculated to produce evil, injustice and misery.

Although Jesus' followers are supposed to accept the shaft in this world, he promised that their docility will ultimately work to their advantage in the next life. He assured them that, "Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth."[80]
The Innocent Punished in an Afterlife

Jesus promised that there will be punishment in the afterlife, but his views of justice are logically deficient on that subject, too. One of the basic requirements of justice is that the innocent shall not be punished. Jesus taught, however, that his generation would have to answer for "the blood of all the prophets, which was shed from the foundation of the world . . . From the blood of Abel unto the blood of Zacharias . . . verily I say unto you, It shall be required of this generation."[81]

The people of Jesus' time were certainly innocent of harming prophets who lived and died before the existence of that generation. Nevertheless, Jesus proclaimed that his contemporaries would be called to account for the harm done to those ancient prophets.
Disproportionate Punishments in an Afterlife

In order for justice to be upheld, there also must be proportionality between offenses committed and punishments administered. That is one of the principles underlying the U.S. Constitution's Eighth Amendment, which prohibits cruel and unusual punishments.

But Jesus preached that "he that shall blaspheme against the Holy Ghost hath never forgiveness, but is in danger of eternal damnation."[82]

According to the bible, the Holy Ghost is part of the Godhead,[83] so it is hard to see how that being could be harmed by the words of a puny human being. Yet Jesus indicated that eternal punishment--with no forgiveness--was an appropriate penalty for this harmless act.

Likewise, Jesus claimed that "whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire."[84] Although calling someone a fool is usually rude (such as when Jesus did it), advocating eternal punishment for that reproach is absurdly disproportionate.

The same conclusion applies to his teaching that people deserve eternal damnation for refusing to believe he is the Son of God.[85] The failure to accept that belief harms no one. Yet Jesus required infinite punishment for disbelief in his divinity.

Jesus would flunk out of law school his first year for clinging to such ideas about justice.[86] Children should not be taught to think that way.
Religious Persecution a Natural Byproduct

Regarding Jesus' teaching that unbelief deserves eternal punishment, a further problem is that it can lead to religious intolerance and persecution. If a society really believes that holding incorrect religious views causes people to be eternally tortured, it is logical for that society to view the proponents of heretical religious beliefs as the worst possible wrongdoers in society.

Under that line of thinking, the harm inflicted by other criminals is limited to this world, but the act of promoting erroneous religious doctrines produces infinitely more harm. It causes the eternal torture of the souls of persons who adopt the mistaken religious views. Stopping the proponents of unorthodox theological ideas then becomes imperative. The rationale is that, just as there is a right to use force to protect oneself and one's family from physical harm from a criminal, there is justification to use force to stop those whose promotion of false religious views can harm the eternal fate of people's souls. The result is religious intolerance and persecution.

Further incitement for that attitude is contained in the Mosaic Law's requirement that blasphemers should be put to death, as mentioned above in connection with Jesus' support for the Law of Moses.[87]
Conclusion

So here we have it, the person the WWJD folks point to as an exemplar of virtue! He is a man who supported the use of extreme and unnecessary violence--including torture, dismembering, slaying, beating, and kidnapping--in dealing with people. He also wanted the death penalty imposed for a multitude of trivial acts.

Moreover, he promoted division in society; encouraged persons to hate, abandon, and use violence against their families; prohibited people from divorcing abusive spouses; taught that disrespectful children should be killed; discouraged medical treatment by favoring spiritual means for curing illness; was cruel to animals; said his followers could handle deadly snakes and drink poison; abhorred sexual desire and activity and encouraged persons to avoid both by mutilating their bodies; hurled insults and engaged in rude name-calling; treated his mother discourteously; vandalized property and physically assaulted people; failed to show consideration for the interests of the poor, the sick, and others; wanted people to give away all their property and have no desire for financial gain; espoused hunger and sorrow; denounced planning and self-reliance; said that innocent people should be punished for the wrongdoing of others; promised horrible punishments for harmless acts; and promoted religious intolerance and persecution.

With Jesus holding such views, no wonder the great nineteenth-century agnostic Robert Ingersoll said that if a man were to follow strictly the teachings of the New Testament, he would be insane.88 And insanity is exactly what the WWJD philosophy is. Its supporters need to wake up to the fact that they are advocating extremely irrational and harmful doctrines.

Joe Sommer is an attorney with the state government of Ohio. He received a B.B.A. from Ohio University and a J.D. from the University of Toledo. A member of the Freedom From Religion Foundation for over 20 years and currently a board member, he has also been active with the Humanist Community of Central Ohio for many years. Additional writings by him are posted on his website at www.humanismbyjoe.com.
Footnotes

1 Matthew 13:41-42
2 Matthew 25:41
3 Revelation 20:10-15
4 Revelation 14:11
5 Luke 16:19-31<
6 Mark 16:16; Revelation 21:8
7 Matthew 7:13-14
8 Matthew 18:23-35
9 Matthew 24:45-51
10 Luke 19:11-27
11 Luke 12: 47-48<
12 Matthew 22:2-14<
13 Matthew 5:17
14 Matthew 5:18-19
15 Luke 16:17
16 Leviticus 20:9
17 Deuteronomy 21:18-21
18 Exodus 22:18; Leviticus 20:27
19 Deuteronomy 17:2-5
20 Deuteronomy 13:6-11
21 Exodus 31:15
22 Numbers 15:32-36
23 Deuteronomy 22:20-21
24 Leviticus 24:16
25 Leviticus 20:10. (At John 8:1-11, however, Jesus arguably did not support enforcement of this provision in the story of the women caught committing adultery. But that story is not in the earliest and most reliable New Testament manuscripts.)
26 Leviticus 20:13
27 E.g., Deuteronomy 13:6-11; 21:18-21; 22:20-21; Numbers 15:32-36
28 Deuteronomy 25:1-3
29 Leviticus 24:19-20; Deuteronomy 25:11-12
30 Luke 12:51
31 Matthew 10:34
32 Matthew 10:35
33 Matthew 10:36
34 Luke 14:26
35 Luke 18:29-30
36 Luke 9:61-62
37 Mark 10:9, 11-12; Luke 16:18
38 Matthew 5:32; Luke 16:18
39 Matthew 5:32; 19:9
40 Mark 7:10-13 and Matthew 15:4-6 (Jesus is referring in these verses to Exodus 21:17 and Leviticus 20:9.)
41 Mark 7:7-13 and Matthew 15:1-6
42 Matthew 17:14-21
43 Matthew 12:22
44 Id.
45 Mark 5:1-13
46 Mark 1:23-27
47 Luke 13:11-13
48 Matthew 17:14-21
49 Luke 17:12-19 (And at Mark 5:25-34 and Luke 8:43-48, Jesus healed a woman and then said her faith had cured her.)
50 Mark 16:17-18 (Also, at Mark 8:22-25, Jesus healed a man by laying hands on him.)
51 Mark 2:3-12
52 John 5:8-9,14
53 Mark 5:1-13 and Luke 8:26-33 (Matthew 8:28-32 says the demons were driven from two men.)
54 Mark 16:17-18
55 Id.
56 Matthew 5:28
57 Galatians 5:19-21
58 Matthew 5:29
59 Matthew 5:30
60 Matthew 19:12
61 Luke 11:37-52
62 Matthew 23:13-36
63 See generally, Carnegie, Dale, How to Win Friends and Influence People (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1981)
64 Matthew 21:12-13; John 2:13-17
65 John 2:1-3
66 Mark 11:12-14 and 20-21
67 Matthew 15:22-28
68 Matthew 19:21; Luke 18:22
69 Matthew 19:24; Luke 18:25
70 Luke 14:33
71 Luke 16:13
72 Matthew 6:19-20
73 Luke 6:24-25
74 Luke 6:20-21
75 Matthew 6:25-34
76 Mark 11:24 (Similar teachings are at Matthew 21:22 and John 14:12-14, 15:7, and 16:23-24.)
77 Luke 6:37
78 Matthew 5:39
79 Luke 6:29-30
80 Matthew 5:5
81 Luke 11:50-51
82 Mark 3:29
83 I John 5:7
84 Matthew 5:22
85 Mark 16:15-16
86 For additional examples of disproportionate punishments, see the above discussion of Jesus' support for the death-penalty provisions of the Mosaic Law.
87 See footnotes 19, 20 and 24, above, and the accompanying text.
88 Greeley, Roger E., (Ed.) The Best of Robert Ingersoll (Buffalo: Prometheus Books, 1983), p. 6.

Published in Back Issues
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Doomsday

True, the rabid Christian Right only represents a small percentage of the population, but they still number in the millions of organized, dedicated ditto-heads. The leading fanatical religious groups have a combined income of hundreds of millions per year. In militant followers and financial resources, we don't compare in the slightest!

To make this nightmare apocalyptic, consider: If we are to believe the polls, about 90% of Americans are favorable to Christianity. At least 70% believe in angels. About 60% accept as true the salient myths and dogmas of the Jesus Cult. Slightly over one-third believe in the literal inerrancy of the bible. Over 30% are convinced that Christ will return in their lifetimes!

This collective idiocy is due to two interlocking conditions: The tax exemptions for religion permit the fanatics to amass great wealth from donations and business ventures. Hence, they lack for little in spreading their propaganda and effecting political influence. Their task is made incredibly easier by our shoddy educational system. Our schools, at nearly all levels, seriously neglect the teaching of a comprehensive history and comparison of religions. Even when taught, such courses are frequently biased or otherwise inadequate. Virtually absent from curricula are courses that touch upon critical thinking and the need for skepticism. A religion-toadying mass media don't help. The United States has some of the world's finest research institutions, but on average, we are a country of general knowledge and scientific illiterates. Small wonder that among advanced nations, ours is the most religious by far.

It must be impressed upon the freethought community, and anyone else who will listen, that the horrors of the Middle Ages, when Christianity was in absolute control, were not the result of an off-beat biblical interpretation, just one of many possible renderings of Scripture. It is the only logical interpretation possible if the Bible is assumed to be true in every word and to reveal god's will accordingly. The logical end point of rigid belief in biblical inerrancy is brutal theocracy with the stifling of secular learning, the gory suppression of dissent, and the extermination of "witches." The medieval inquisitors, torturers, and gatherers of wood for execution pyres were merely being consistent.

The Christian or biblical reconstructionists whose raison d'etre undergirds the "thinking" of Pat Robertson and his ilk, openly advocate the killing of those with whom they disagree or are found morally lacking in their opinion. Though the lash of the Christian Right now falls heaviest upon abortion physicians and the sexually "immoral," all not in their camp must be made aware that they are next on the list. (See, for example, Frederick Clarkson, Eternal Hostility: The Struggle Between Theocracy and Democracy.)

The rabid members of the Christian Right are so dedicated to their awful cause because they think they are buying a niche in "heaven" and avoiding the "hell" reserved for the rest of us. No matter how groundless and utterly silly this is, to deeply believe it is powerful motivation. Regretfully, history shows that irrational fanaticism frequently overwhelms reason. We must be equally dedicated ourselves to maintain what freedom we have left and leave a world worth living in for our descendants. To fail means an eventual return to the Dark Ages with modern technology to enforce control. (All freethinkers must become activists!)

Alex Simpson
Alaska

Published in Back Issues
%767 %America/Chicago, %2013

Doomsday

True, the rabid Christian Right only represents a small percentage of the population, but they still number in the millions of organized, dedicated ditto-heads. The leading fanatical religious groups have a combined income of hundreds of millions per year. In militant followers and financial resources, we don't compare in the slightest!

To make this nightmare apocalyptic, consider: If we are to believe the polls, about 90% of Americans are favorable to Christianity. At least 70% believe in angels. About 60% accept as true the salient myths and dogmas of the Jesus Cult. Slightly over one-third believe in the literal inerrancy of the bible. Over 30% are convinced that Christ will return in their lifetimes!

This collective idiocy is due to two interlocking conditions: The tax exemptions for religion permit the fanatics to amass great wealth from donations and business ventures. Hence, they lack for little in spreading their propaganda and effecting political influence. Their task is made incredibly easier by our shoddy educational system. Our schools, at nearly all levels, seriously neglect the teaching of a comprehensive history and comparison of religions. Even when taught, such courses are frequently biased or otherwise inadequate. Virtually absent from curricula are courses that touch upon critical thinking and the need for skepticism. A religion-toadying mass media don't help. The United States has some of the world's finest research institutions, but on average, we are a country of general knowledge and scientific illiterates. Small wonder that among advanced nations, ours is the most religious by far.

It must be impressed upon the freethought community, and anyone else who will listen, that the horrors of the Middle Ages, when Christianity was in absolute control, were not the result of an off-beat biblical interpretation, just one of many possible renderings of Scripture. It is the only logical interpretation possible if the Bible is assumed to be true in every word and to reveal god's will accordingly. The logical end point of rigid belief in biblical inerrancy is brutal theocracy with the stifling of secular learning, the gory suppression of dissent, and the extermination of "witches." The medieval inquisitors, torturers, and gatherers of wood for execution pyres were merely being consistent.

The Christian or biblical reconstructionists whose raison d'etre undergirds the "thinking" of Pat Robertson and his ilk, openly advocate the killing of those with whom they disagree or are found morally lacking in their opinion. Though the lash of the Christian Right now falls heaviest upon abortion physicians and the sexually "immoral," all not in their camp must be made aware that they are next on the list. (See, for example, Frederick Clarkson, Eternal Hostility: The Struggle Between Theocracy and Democracy.)

The rabid members of the Christian Right are so dedicated to their awful cause because they think they are buying a niche in "heaven" and avoiding the "hell" reserved for the rest of us. No matter how groundless and utterly silly this is, to deeply believe it is powerful motivation. Regretfully, history shows that irrational fanaticism frequently overwhelms reason. We must be equally dedicated ourselves to maintain what freedom we have left and leave a world worth living in for our descendants. To fail means an eventual return to the Dark Ages with modern technology to enforce control. (All freethinkers must become activists!)

Alex Simpson
Alaska

Published in Back Issues
%767 %America/Chicago, %2013

Doomsday

True, the rabid Christian Right only represents a small percentage of the population, but they still number in the millions of organized, dedicated ditto-heads. The leading fanatical religious groups have a combined income of hundreds of millions per year. In militant followers and financial resources, we don't compare in the slightest!

To make this nightmare apocalyptic, consider: If we are to believe the polls, about 90% of Americans are favorable to Christianity. At least 70% believe in angels. About 60% accept as true the salient myths and dogmas of the Jesus Cult. Slightly over one-third believe in the literal inerrancy of the bible. Over 30% are convinced that Christ will return in their lifetimes!

This collective idiocy is due to two interlocking conditions: The tax exemptions for religion permit the fanatics to amass great wealth from donations and business ventures. Hence, they lack for little in spreading their propaganda and effecting political influence. Their task is made incredibly easier by our shoddy educational system. Our schools, at nearly all levels, seriously neglect the teaching of a comprehensive history and comparison of religions. Even when taught, such courses are frequently biased or otherwise inadequate. Virtually absent from curricula are courses that touch upon critical thinking and the need for skepticism. A religion-toadying mass media don't help. The United States has some of the world's finest research institutions, but on average, we are a country of general knowledge and scientific illiterates. Small wonder that among advanced nations, ours is the most religious by far.

It must be impressed upon the freethought community, and anyone else who will listen, that the horrors of the Middle Ages, when Christianity was in absolute control, were not the result of an off-beat biblical interpretation, just one of many possible renderings of Scripture. It is the only logical interpretation possible if the Bible is assumed to be true in every word and to reveal god's will accordingly. The logical end point of rigid belief in biblical inerrancy is brutal theocracy with the stifling of secular learning, the gory suppression of dissent, and the extermination of "witches." The medieval inquisitors, torturers, and gatherers of wood for execution pyres were merely being consistent.

The Christian or biblical reconstructionists whose raison d'etre undergirds the "thinking" of Pat Robertson and his ilk, openly advocate the killing of those with whom they disagree or are found morally lacking in their opinion. Though the lash of the Christian Right now falls heaviest upon abortion physicians and the sexually "immoral," all not in their camp must be made aware that they are next on the list. (See, for example, Frederick Clarkson, Eternal Hostility: The Struggle Between Theocracy and Democracy.)

The rabid members of the Christian Right are so dedicated to their awful cause because they think they are buying a niche in "heaven" and avoiding the "hell" reserved for the rest of us. No matter how groundless and utterly silly this is, to deeply believe it is powerful motivation. Regretfully, history shows that irrational fanaticism frequently overwhelms reason. We must be equally dedicated ourselves to maintain what freedom we have left and leave a world worth living in for our descendants. To fail means an eventual return to the Dark Ages with modern technology to enforce control. (All freethinkers must become activists!)

Alex Simpson
Alaska

Published in Back Issues
%766 %America/Chicago, %2013

Secular CD Makes History

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is pleased to announce the release of its first musical CD: "Friendly Neighborhood Atheist," featuring Dan Barker, the first CD of its kind. The 2-CD collection of contemporary and some historic freethought music contains 34 songs--more than two hours of secular entertainment!

The listener-requested compact disk set includes 31 digitally remastered favorites from the Foundation's three previously released cassettes: "My Thoughts Are Free" (1987), "Reason's Greetings" (1992) and "Freethought Then & Now" (1999)--plus three new releases. The cassettes will remain in stock for anyone preferring tapes.

Included in the new CD are many of Dan's oft-requested songs, such as the very first freethought song he wrote after leaving the ministry, the bluesy "You Can't Win with Original Sin." Other favorites include: "Nothing Fails Like Prayer," a cha-cha traditionally performed at the Foundation's annual convention during the "nonprayer breakfast;" Dan's touching renditions of Ingersoll prose and poetry in "Love" and "Declaration of the Free"; "The Battle of Church & State" (to the tune of "Jericho"); the "Stay-Away Pope Polka"; and of course, "Friendly Neighborhood Atheist," his conception of what Mr. Rogers might sing to children . . . were he an atheist.

Among the historic songs are a rousing rendition of the feminist anthem of 1912, "Bread & Roses"; Joe Hill's "Preacher & the Slave" performed with Kristin Lems; the German freethought song from the 1500's, "Die Gedanken Sind Frei" ("thoughts are free"), also with Kristin; and Tom Lehrer's ever-popular "Vatican Rag."

Joining the tried and true are three new songs by Dan recorded for this collection. "Freedom From Religion," an energetic rock-ballad a la Elton John, based on Foundation president Anne Gaylor's saying that "there can be no religious freedom without the freedom to dissent," will make you smile. "We, The People," a driving mambo (complete with freethought background vocals), affirms America's secular heritage. "Lucifer's Lament" is a tongue-in-cheek, laid-back hip-hop, complaining that the Man Upstairs is upstaging the devil. Dan begins the song on the lowest note of the piano, and had fun playing the "Onward, Christian Solders" interlude in the locrian mode (the "Devil's mode").

The attractive 2-CD collection is available for $20.00 postpaid (that's 59¢ a song!) from the Freedom From Religion Foundation, PO Box 750, Madison WI 53701. Order it online here.

Also on the album: "Sunday Morning Blues"; "The World Is My Country," waltz based on Thomas Paine; "God's Grandeur," a "showtune," lyrics by Philip Appleman; "I Don't Need Jesus" and "Life Is Good!" in "gospel" style; "Blood Brothers," "Promise of Dawn" and "Higher Mind" ballads; "Freethinker Blues"; "Reincarnation," lyrics by cowboy poet Wallace D. McRae; "Just Say 'NO' To Religion," protest rock; "FFRF," lyrics by Ruth Green; "No Gods, No Masters," tribute to Margaret Sanger; "The World's Need," by Ella Wheeler Wilcox; "The Time To Be Happy Is Now," waltz based on Ingersoll's creed, with children's vocals; "The Trinity," hilarious rendition of Ingersoll; "Vicar of Bray," amusing 18th-century English ballad; "No Hurry To Die," humorous rhumba for kids of all ages; "Solstice Tribute," turning a Christmas carol on its head; and "Benediction," a secular "hymn" by Sherry Matulis.

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Darwin Updates the Book of Genesis

In his 1859 book, On the Origin of Species, Charles Darwin offered a novel explanation for the earth's diversity of plants and animals. All the myriad forms, he wrote, came into being through "natural selection" much as new varieties of dogs and pigeons are brought into being through artificial selection. Natural selection, at first called a theory, eventually won a place in world thought as an established principle. The transformation of genetic lines through time by means of natural selection came to be known as evolution.

Darwin's idea emerged in a century when leading scientists were beginning to doubt current estimates of the earth's youthfulness (a few thousand years). They were also learning that certain faunas and floras which had been fossilized long ago differ greatly from those still alive. They were beginning to recognize the what of changes in life's patterns but were still unclear as to the how and why. They could only imagine the hidden forces that might have caused some species to vanish from the fossil record while allowing others to survive.

Darwin based his explanation of three known qualities of living organisms. First, no two individuals are identical. (Today, we know the main reasons for variation, including genetic mistakes and genetic drift, the random shuffling of genes during reproduction, and hybridizing in the wild.) Second, every organism produces more offspring than it needs to replace itself. Witness the male rabbit, successfully fertilizing forty females in one day, and the oyster, shedding 60 million eggs in a season. Third, every organism is continuously engaged in what Darwin called the struggle for life--the struggle to find food and shelter; the struggle against pathogens, predators, and competitors; and the struggle against environmental hazards such as drouth, storm, flood, wildfire, and frost.

So, Darwin reasoned that the interplay among these forces brings about "the preservation of favoured races" or (in later editions of The Origin) "survival of the fittest." In this context, the fittest are simply the ones that contributed most to the gene pools of later generations. Fitness can thus be judged only in hindsight, by studying the success or failure of the individual genetic line through geological time. Darwin's conclusion "was essentially statistical and based on population dynamics" (Nobel prize-winning immunologist Sir Peter Medawar).

Natural selection has been proved and its pace has been measured in at least a hundred studies of plants and animals in the wild and in studies of microbes in cultures. For example: English sparrows were brought to eastern North America around 1850. In the next century and a half, their descendents spread rapidly over the entire continent from Canada to Central America, meanwhile evolving into three distinct varieties which are now fully equivalent to wild zoological subspecies. And, in test-tube studies (where bacteria can clock up a new generation every 3.5 hours) scientists recently ran natural selection "fast- forward." The bacteria, which at the start of the run had been randomly divided into three populations, evolved after ten years into three genetically distinct strains.

In certain intellectual backwaters of America, however, Darwin's idea is still rejected by millions who insist that only Almighty God could have created the splendid Circus of Life in which Homo sapiens plays the star performer. These millions--the "creationists"--argue that, because a clear explanation for life's rich diversity was written in the Book of Genesis nearly two thousand years ago, all secular revisions should be ignored or even opposed.

But the creationists' point is rebutted by men and women who hold that the Genesis story is only a myth. They see no need to bring magic into the debate; they choose a natural over a supernatural explanation. As did Darwin himself. He died disillusioned with divine intervention in earthly matters. "There seems to be," he wrote, "no more design in the variability of organic beings and in the action of natural selection, than in the course which the wind blows."

Curiously, he had written earlier (in the first edition of The Origin) that life had "been breathed into a few forms or into one . . ." In the second (1860) edition he added, to the word "breathed," the words "by the creator." Some believe that the kindly Darwin made this addition to reassure his deeply devout wife that evolution is, after all, the handiwork of a Purposeful Mind.

Harvard University's Stephen Jay Gould points to "the embarrassing paradox of a technological nation [America] entering a new millennium with nearly half its people actively denying the greatest biological discovery ever made." He is referring, I think, to a recent survey of more than 1,200 college freshmen, in ten different schools, which indicated that 45 percent were skeptical of the "theory" of evolution.

Should we condemn those who reject Darwin's grand idea or, rather, should we pity them in their ignorance? Should we condemn American education at elementary and middle-school levels for failing to stimulate intellectual curiosity? Answers to these questions will vary with one's cultural background.

John Maynard Smith, among the greatest of twentieth-century evolutionary scholars, wrote in 1993 that Darwin's idea "is the only workable explanation that has ever been proposed for the remarkable fact of our own existence, indeed the existence of all life wherever it may turn up in the universe."

Natural selection, while deceptively simple at first glance, still poses many problems in its finer machinery. The evolutionary biologists, historians, and philosophers who are searching for solutions are surely reaching levels of spiritual exhilaration that others reach in probing the mysteries of religion.

After earning a Ph.D. in Zoology at the University of Washington, Victor Scheffer entered service in 1937 in the federal Bureau of Biological Survey as a wildlife management biologist. On a National Science Foundation grant, he studied at Cambridge University in 1956-57, where he wrote his first book, Seals, Sea Lions, and Walruses (1958).

Eleven other books, most of them dealing with outdoor values and biology, would follow. The Year of the Whale (1969) helped spark the marine mammal conservation movement of the 1970s.

Dr. Scheffer taught at the University of Washington as a part-time lecturer from 1966 to 1972. He served as chair of the first U.S. Marine Mammal Commission from 1973 to 1976.

His honors include awards from the Department of the Interior, the John Burroughs Memorial Association, the Nature Conservancy, the Society for Conservation Biology, the American Society of Mammalogists, and the Society for Marine Mammalogy.
Norton's Darwin Just Released

The Third Edition of Norton's Darwin (Indiana University), edited by poet and Darwin scholar Philip Appleman, a Foundation member, has just been released.

The critical edition examines the history of ideas preceding and following the watershed of the Origin of Species, Prof. Appleman writes, and "situates the current evolution controversies in their rich and intriguing context."

Although the 1970 Norton Critical Edition served for 30 years as a standard college textbook, the third edition is so radically revised that "it is virtually a brand new book," and of interest to the general reader.

New work is included by Richard Dawkins, Edward O. Wilson, Kevin Padian, Eugenie C. Scott, Steven Pinker, Daniel Dennett, Michael Ruse, Frans de Waal, Noretta Koertge, George C. Williams, George Levine, Stephen Jay Gould, Gillian Beer, Ernst Mayr, and many others. A new introduction by Philip Appleman is included.
Celebrate Darwin Day
Born February 12, 1809

". . .For my part I would as soon be descended from [a] baboon . . . as from a savage who delights to torture his enemies . . . treats his wives like slaves . . . and is haunted by the grossest superstitions."--Darwin, Descent of Man

"I can indeed hardly see how anyone ought to wish Christianity to be true; for if so the plain language of the text seems to show that the men who do not believe, and this would include my Father, Brother and almost all my best friends, will be everlastingly punished.

"And this is a damnable doctrine."

". . . The old argument of design in nature, as given by Paley, which formerly seemed to me so conclusive, fails, now that the law of natural selection has been discovered. We can no longer argue that, for instance, the beautiful hinge of a bivalve shell must have been made by an intelligent being, like the hinge of a door by a man. There seems to be no more design in the variability of organic beings and in the action of natural selection, than in the course which the wind blows. Everything in nature is the result of fixed laws. . .

"The state of mind which grand scenes formerly excited in me, and which was intimately connected with a belief in God, did not essentially differ from that which is often called the sense of sublimity; and however difficult it may be to explain the genesis of this sense, it can hardly be advanced as an argument for the existence of God, any more than the powerful though vague and similar feelings excited by music. . .

. . .The mystery of the beginning of all things is insoluble by us; and I for one must be content to remain an Agnostic.--Darwin, Autobiography (1958 version, restoring the original omissions from Darwin's Life and Letters of Charles Darwin, published posthumously in 1887)

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"We Done Good"

Clarence Reinders, a Life Member of the Foundation, was principal plaintiff in the lawsuit by the Freedom From Religion Foundation challenging a shrine to Jesus in a public park in Marshfield, Wisconsin. The city responded to the lawsuit by selling the land under the statue to a group formed to "save" it. The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in the Foundation's favor, ordering the erection of disclaimers and a fence to differentiate the shrine from the rest of the park.

 

I must admit that I was somewhat disappointed that we were unsuccessful in removing the religious idol from the public park.

However, the more I look at the accompanying picture the more I am convinced that this was the best possible outcome of our efforts.

The Praschak Memorial Group could have moved the idol to another location and the City of Marshfield could have saved itself $60,060.00 of our legal expenses plus other expenses, like the cost of the erection of the fence and the two large disclaimer signs, and that would have been the end of it. Case closed. In a short time nearly everyone would have forgotten all about it.

But now our successful defense of the First Amendment will be long immortalized. We have encaged behind an iron fence for all to see the central figure of a major religion. There are two huge disclaimer signs stating affirmatively the principle of separation of church and state. And this will be ongoing into the distant future.

Whenever anyone looks at the idol in its newly-imprisoned setting he/she will see the fruits of our labors in defense of the First Amendment. With the fence and disclaimer signs we have left our freethought mark of state/church separation for posterity.

The idol cannot now be viewed except through our American secular lens, driving home daily to the viewers their true First Amendment rights. The religious shrine will now be viewed, surrounded and sanitarily confined, by a memorial to the First Amendment.

We done good.

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"God Made Them Do It"

God sent attackers. Two Rastafarians who set a cathedral ablaze and killed a nun in St. Lucia in the Caribbean, told police they were sent by God to combat corruption in the Roman Catholic Church. Source: Associated Press/Lincoln [NE] Journal/Star, Jan. 2, 2001

Bible made him do it. A court in Cranbrook, British Columbia, rejected defendant Darryl McDowell's plea that the bible gave him the right to discipline his family with a 30-inch wooden rod, finding him guilty of assault in early November.

God's warrior nabbed. A Pennsylvania man who said God called him to be a "warrior" by killing abortion providers and who claimed "the Lord made me invisible" once when escaping from police was convicted in Illinois of various federal charges. Source: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Dec. 7, 2000

Religion dangerous for mental health. Mississippi mother Sharon Cross Gray told neighbors that Jesus and God told her to stab her 2-year-old daughter on the front steps of her church. The condition of the toddler was not reported. Gray's sister was found innocent by reason of insanity for killing her son, 11, by slitting his throat in 1998. Source: [Macon] Telegraph, Nov. 29, 2000

Muslim tragedy. San Francisco-area police have charged Kenneth Earl Tyson Jr., with killing girlfriend Naima Melody Johnson the day after she removed her traditional Muslim headdress and put on makeup to serve as maid of honor at a friend's wedding. Source: AP/Inland Valley Daily Bulletin [Ontario, CA], Dec. 15, 2000

Couple acquitted. A faith-healing couple was acquitted of child abuse charges for waiting hours to seek medical help after their 2-year-old son died from brain-swelling after being stung 432 times by yellow jackets. Prosecutors were forbidden to tell the jury that Whylie and Kelly Johnson, Melbourne, Fl., belong to a Christian sect equating medicine with sorcery. Source: Los Angeles Times, Aug. 4, 2000

Ouch! Convicted Brazilian rapist Flavio dos Santos Cruz, 23, sliced off his penis and flushed it down the toilet, saying the amputation would bring him closer to God, citing instructions from the Sermon on the Mount. Source: Reuters, Jan. 5, 2001

God is a nudist? An agitated man apprehended by police in Oshkosh, WI, for walking naked down a street explained "I am God," and recommended that "all people should get undressed." Source: Capital Times, May 24, 2000
Ashcroft: "Jesus Is King"

Former Missouri U.S. Senator John Ashcroft, expected as of presstime to be approved as U.S. Attorney General, was handpicked by the Religious Right, according to a news story in the Jan. 7 New York Times. The Times noted that if confirmed, Ashcroft "would reach the highest office ever attained by a leading figure of the Christian right."

In response to media pressure, Bob Jones University, where Ashcroft accepted an honorary degree in 1999, released the video transcript of his remarks there. Ashcroft told the segregationist college:

"Unique among nations, America recognized the source of our character as being godly and eternal, not being civic and temporal. And because we have understood that our source is eternal, America has been different. We have no king but Jesus."

In a statement, the Foundation noted: "The founding fathers who threw off the yokes of kings and monarchies likewise ensured through our founding document that government and citizens would not be yoked by the tyranny of religion. . . .

"Ashcroft's intemperate, inaccurate and inflammatory remarks at Bob Jones University raise a red flag that should alarm any thoughtful individual. Many U.S. citizens are unbelievers, Jews and other nonChristians who do not recognize Jesus as 'king,' nor do the vast majority of nominally religious, unchurched Americans."
BSA, UW Tie Leaves "Sauer" Taste

The Freedom From Religion Foundation contacted the University of Wisconsin-Madison in January over its concerns about UW men's hockey coach Jeff Sauer fundraising for the Boy Scouts of America on UW time. The local Boy Scouts of America, in a news release announcing a $3.5 million fundraising drive, said Sauer would "kick off" the fundraising at a UW hockey game.

"We believe that Mr. Sauer is free to aid the Boy Scouts as much as he likes--but only on his own time and property," Annie Laurie Gaylor wrote Chancellor John Wiley.

The University responded that Sauer would not be allowed do a fundraising pitch at the game. However, officials said any groups that sell group tickets at a discount are introduced before the game. The troop was also given use of a suite where Sauer greeted ticketholders prior to the game.

Gaylor censured the University for failing to join the many cities, public schools and corporations that have have cut off ties with Boy Scouts.

The Union of American Hebrew Congregations, representing the leadership of Reform Judaism, sent a memo in January to Reform Congregations nationwide urging them to sever ties with Boy Scouts because "of values and ethics that conflict with ours."

Churches and rightwing groups are threatening to overturn anti-gay ordinances in Broward County and Miami-Dade County, Florida, in response to cut-offs of public aid to Boy Scouts.

Published in Back Issues
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Letter Box

Greetings from the South Pole

Greetings from Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station, Antarctica. Jon Emanuel here, member since 1993.

If you're wondering what I'm doing down here, the answer is cooking dinner for our crew of 220+ scientists and the people who support them. This is my second tour proudly supporting science as a contractor to the National Science Foundation.

I'm sending a photo I thought you might enjoy. It was taken on the Solstice.

In it, you'll find the spot marking the Geographic South Pole---the very bottom of the globe. That's me holding a copy of Freethought Today, which I brought all the way down here from my home in Alaska. The copy is wrapped around the actual "South Pole" marker--thereby crossing every time zone and line of longitude on the planet. "Freethought Around the World"---pretty cool, eh?

Hope you're all having a great time up there--I hear it's colder there than it is here! I should be visiting Wisconsin sometime in the spring. I'd love to stop by the Hall and say hello.

Jon Emanuel
Alaska
Let Reason Prevail

Kudos for your placement of the "Winter Solstice" plaque in the Capitol rotunda in Madison, Wisconsin.

I recently showed friends from abroad (Netherlands and Taiwan) the architecture of the Capitol. Both were impressed that such a magnificent structure could be left open to the public without guards or security of any noticeable sort. My explanation was that, as a free nation, trust is placed in the judgment of the people who own the building (that is, the general public) to use and protect their own resources.

When we came across the Winter Solstice plaque, I was struck by the fact that our conversation about freedom was so boldly reflected in your statement. There, amidst the tree and otherwise relatively subdued holiday displays, was the beautiful line, "Let Reason Prevail." It struck a chord in me. I think I shall adopt it as my personal motto.

At home, I found your website and sent the quote to several friends.

Craig Walker
Wisconsin
Kudos for Eric Zorn, Student Essays

I loved "No Graven Images & Other Reflections," by Chicago Tribune columnist Eric Zorn (Dec. 2000). It is total common sense, easy to read. Every word is exactly what I wish I had the talent to formulate and express.

I wonder how long until our rural area will have journalists like Mr. Zorn? Our only paper continues to appall my senses with extreme right-wing opinions from columnists and the editor!

Freethought Today "washes" my mind of the daily pollution I suffer here in Mormon country!

I always am impressed with the student essays you publish. They are wise way beyond their years!

Connie Chabot
Idaho
Proudly, Unequivocally Secular

When I received the December Freethought Today, which I usually read from cover to cover (always a joy), I had to read the back page first, lured by the headline ("The Facts vs. The O'Reilly Factor").

No need to guess how O'Reilly would do on the Foundation's State/ Church Quiz. He is obviously a bully pulpit tactician. His weak-kneed semi-mea culpa, "The Constitution itself is a secular document," is evidence that he got a lot more intelligent flak than he is willing to acknowledge.

As for FFRF & Freethought Today and all you good people involved, I acknowledge and shout with fierce enthusiasm, "Long may you continue in your great work."

As for me, I'm proud to be unequivocally secular--like the Constitution.

Mildred Perpigna
Washingto
Why Didn't I Think of That?

Recently I was in Border's bookstore and came across a book titled A Complete Idiot's Guide to the Bible.

How come I did not think of this title?

T. Hartin
Illinois

Editor's note: In addition to this book, which is for real, there is also one titled "The Complete Idiot's Guide to the World Religions" and another called "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Prayer"!
Counterbalance Welcomed

If the ranks of freethinkers indeed include billionaires, such as Bill Gates and Warren Buffett, as indicated in "Who's Who in Hell?" (Dec. 2000), one wonders why we do not hear of their contributing significant sums to the cause. Such would be a welcome counterbalance to the many opposing contributions coming from the Wal-Mart, Domino Pizza, and other such fortunes, not to mention the huge amounts raised by televangelists.

Just think what might be accomplished if freethought controlled a media empire comparable to Pat Robertson's!

John G. Fletcher
California
Two Dedicated Members

My daughter is about to turn 18 and I could think of no more appropriate coming-of-age gift than her own membership in the Freedom From Religion Foundation. She has lived vicariously through mine for the six years I've been a member now and has even emailed you about issues that concerned her. She looks forward as much to my copy of Freethought Today as I do, though she waits patiently for me to finish it first. I thought it about time she got her own.

It will be a real pleasure to receive two issues at our address. Rest assured you have two dedicated members here.

Donna Hamel
New York
Visitors Like Freethought Today

I have been enjoying Freethought Today for the past few months. My brother-in-law and his wife, who were visiting from Canada for Thanksgiving, had the same reaction I did when they saw an issue of it--they had to have it!

I would like to purchase a subscription for them.

Thank you! Keep up the great work you are doing for all of us freethinkers!

Colleen A. Zaccaria
Pennsylvania
Thumbs Down on Templeton

After many years of membership in the American Association for the Advancement of Science, I sadly must allow my membership to lapse because of the unfortunate relationship with the Templeton religious organization.

Over 90% of top scientists are nontheists, and should be aware of the terrible history of suppression of science by religion that continues to this day. I do not want any interference with cloning and genetic engineering (it could prolong my life) because the religious think it might be some god's exclusive business.

Until this relationship ends, I cannot continue to support AAAS.

J.B. Osborne Florida
Credit Atheist, Not Miracle

Some need proof that atheists can be good folks:

As I walked down the street, returning from holiday food shopping, I looked down and saw a beautiful wallet. I picked it up. To my surprise it was full! This happened at a bus stop so I was sure it had been dropped as the owner boarded.

At home I went through the wallet and found a name and address but no phone number. The owner lived only a few blocks away, so I decided to deliver it. My knock was answered by a woman who summoned her son, saying, "Your wallet has been miraculously found!"

Both hugged and kissed me, then invited me in and told me the real story. He had been robbed at gunpoint--almost killed! They both had been distraught ever since.

Their appreciation and constant reference to god encouraged me to say I was an atheist. They were astonished! They now have personal experience with the fact that atheists can be good folks and this was a surprise.

June Krebs
Pennsylvania
Bible Belt Time Travel

I recently made a 28-day trip from California to New York and back. Part of what made it pleasant was playing Johnny Appleseed. The only difference was that I did not plant apple seeds, but thought seeds, FFRF "nontracts."

I left nontracts everywhere I went, particularly at public telephones. I found it gratifying that perhaps someone with lingering doubts, especially in the so-called bible belt, would be pulled over to reason if they read it.

Also, when paying for services, I used cash. I offered bills that had the words "In God" from "In God We Trust" obliterated. Altogether I must have distributed over 200 nontracts and bills totaling over $1,000. It's fun and I recommend it to other freethought travelers, no matter what their mode of transportation.

By the way, when traveling east, you will set your clock back one hour as you enter each time zone so that you're in the same time frame as those who live there. When you enter the bible belt, set it back 2,000 years for the same reason.

Niko Theris
California
Uneasy in Religious State

I just wanted to thank you for the work you do. I came upon your website about two years ago, when I was a student at the University of Oklahoma. It had a profound effect on my thinking, as I had been a member of a Southern Baptist Church for my entire life (no big surprises there, coming from Oklahoma).

I was struggling with some doubts that I had about my faith, which can be largely attributed to the philosophy classes I was taking in school. I was feeling a lot of guilt, and was still holding on to my irrational fear of the possible consequences of not believing. Most of my family and friends are extremely religious, and I was concerned about the possible impact that my lack of belief could have on those relationships. Once I read the story of Dan Barker's experience with some of these things, I felt much more confident about my position. I now have a son who is 19 months old, and he will be raised in an environment where he is free to think and decide for himself.

Living in a very religious state, it is not always easy to hold the views that I do. I often visit the Freedom From Religion website, and it helps me gain some perspective. You do really great work.

Courtney Kneifl
Oklahoma
Catholic Component of Supreme Court

It cannot be denied that Justices Scalia, Thomas and Kennedy consider all abortion to be murder. They are bound to do so by the infallible Papal Encyclical of Pope John Paul II, "Evangelium Vitae," which they consider a "higher law" than the U.S. Constitution that they swore to uphold.

Let's face it, they believe that a Bush Presidency will lead to a Supreme Court that will overrule Roe v. Wade and approve parochial school tax vouchers; while a Gore Presidency may not, and that these "higher law ends" justify the means--the U.S. Supreme Court's 5-4 political intervention in the Florida 2000 election to prevent a full hand count of votes, a fateful precedent to interfere in all future state elections.

Who knows what some future American Mussolini, Stalin or worse, will do some day with such a power?

The tragedy is that such unprincipled opportunism destroys the integrity of the Presidency, the separation of church and state, and the balance of powers that our forefathers gave their all to establish. The Justices' names will live in infamy.

John Tomasin, Esq.
New Jersey
Try Subversive Wording

In his great student essay "One Nation . . ." (Nov. 2000), Eric Breitenstein related how he would get through the choral recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance at school, by substituting subversive words of his own choosing.

I had a similar experience years ago, when I participated in a Twelve-Step program, and each meeting ended with everyone joining hands and reciting the Lord's Prayer. As an atheist, I just couldn't bring myself to say those words, and yet I didn't want to make a fuss or to draw attention to myself. So I composed my own prayer, to sound so much like what everyone else was saying that nobody noticed me, no matter how loudly I "prayed":

Our Powers are within,
Whatever be their name.
What they have done, what still may come,
This Earth can yet be as Heaven.
Live then this day, and without dread,
And forgive your own trespasses
As you forgive those who trespass against you.
And be not led into temptation,
But flee away from evil,
For Time is the Healer,
With power to restore me,
Forever and ever, Amen.

Richard Packham Oregon
Dear Dr. Laura . . .

OK. We capitulate. After being emailed and sent umpteen copies of the below clever, anonymous letter circulating everywhere, we're finally publishing it in Freethought Today for the record. It's worth reading, again!

Thank you for doing so much to educate people regarding God's law. I have learned a great deal from you, and I try to share that knowledge with as many people as I can. When someone tries to defend the homosexual lifestyle, for example, I simply remind him that Leviticus 18:22 clearly states it to be an abomination. End of debate.

I do need some advice from you, however, regarding some of the specific laws and how to best follow them.

When I burn a bull on the altar as a sacrifice, I know it creates a pleasing odor for the Lord (Lev. 1:9). The problem is my neighbors. They claim the odor is not pleasing to them. How should I deal with this?

I would like to sell my daughter into slavery, as it suggests in Exodus 21:7. In this day and age, what do you think would be a fair price for her?

I know that I am allowed no contact with a woman while she is in her period of menstrual uncleanliness (Lev. 15:19-24). The problem is, how do I tell? I have tried asking, but most women take offense.

Lev. 25:44 states I may buy slaves from the nations that are around us. A friend of mine claims that this applies to Mexicans but not Canadians. Can you clarify?

I have a neighbor who insists on working on the Sabbath. Exodus 35:2 clearly states he should be put to death. Am I morally obligated to kill him myself?

Lev. 20:20 states that I may not approach the altar of God if I have a defect in my sight. I have to admit that I wear reading glasses. Does my vision have to be 20/20, or is there some wiggle room here?

I know you have studied these things extensively, so I am confident you can help. Thank you again for reminding us that God's word is eternal and unchanging.

Anonymous

Published in Back Issues
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Teaching Evolution, State By State

The following article was written for Freethought Today by the author of the famous Fordham Foundation report grading the teaching of evolution state-by-state.

In response to the flurry of public interest in education over the past few years, every state except Iowa has published a set of curriculum standards in every subject studied from kindergarten through high school. These standards usually take the form of a sort of laundry list, specifying what every public-school student should know at specified grade levels. As a scientist, I have taken a particular interest in the science standards.

In 1997 I was asked by the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, a conservative Washington-based education think tank, to evaluate all the science standards that were current at the time. It took me several months to plow through the stuff, and the results were published by the foundation in March 1998 in a report with the heavy title "State Science Standards: An Appraisal of Science Standards in 36 States." To put it bluntly, a lot of states did not do very well.

By 1999 there had been so much activity in revising old curriculum standards and publishing new ones that the foundation published a re-evaluation. I was again asked to review the science standards and the results were published in The State of State Standards 2000, which covered English, history, geography and mathematics as well as science. By late 1999, 46 states had published science standards. Their quality ranged from excellent to simply awful.

In the course of these reviews, it became clear that a major factor in the variation of quality from state to state was the treatment of evolution, and the Fordham Foundation asked me to make a specific study of the way that evolution is treated in state science standards. The results of this study, which covers 49 states and the District of Columbia, were published in September 2000 in a report entitled "Good Science, Bad Science: Teaching Evolution In The States."

The report addresses three main questions:
In learning about the history of life on earth, and the related histories of the universe and the nonliving earth, what essentials should students learn as they progress from the primary grades through high school?
On what religious and political grounds do creationists (and other less visible groups of anti-evolutionists) object to the learning of science, and what pseudoscientific alternatives do they offer?
How well do various states outline the scientific essentials in their K-12 science standards, and to what extent do they degrade those standards by responding to creationist pressures?

Before giving the results of the state-by-state study, let me expand a little on the nature of the political/religious issues that work against a proper treatment of science, particularly in the biological realm. In the broad sense, almost all of science is the study of the way that various systems evolve over time. The systems can be as large as the universe itself or as small as a neutrino; the relevant time scales can be as long as billions of years or as short as attoseconds. Biology is no exception; its central organizing principle is the evolution of living things. Without evolution, biology is no more than a vast, bewildering array of facts. One can teach a sort of natural history without evolution--"This is a horse and this is a rose"--but one runs into trouble almost immediately when some clever student asks, "Why are horses and roses different from one another?"

The difficulty arises, as most people know, from the conflict between the realities of science and the fanciful world views that arise from certain religious and ideological positions. The best-known anti-evolutionists are the subset of Protestant fundamentalists called young-earth creationists. These are the folks who believe that the first few chapters of Genesis from Adam and Eve to Noah are the basic textbook for all the sciences, and that the genealogies of the Old Testament are the proper foundation for the chronology of the universe.

There are other screwballs as well, with conflicting views. Black Muslims, for instance, believe that the universe is trillions of years old, and some Native American tribes consider that their ancestors have lived in the traditional tribal territories forever. Just as the fundamentalist creationists underestimate the age of the earth by a factor of a million or so, the Black Muslims overestimate by a thousandfold and the Indians are off by a factor of infinity.

Other ideologues object to evolution for different reasons. On the political left, Marxists object to evolution because it implies that human behavior is determined at least in part by our biological history. This conflicts with the Marxian principle that all the ills of society are due to socioeconomic injustice, and that the future will see the emergence of the New Socialist Man who is without vices. On the political right, a general disgust with the current social order (which is seen as grossly immoral) is associated with a yearning for an absolutism that extends from the moral sphere to the objective scientific world. For many if not most absolutists, an eternal, immutable set of moral standards implies the existence of a deity. And what better proof of the deity's existence can one have than the assertion that he/she/it is intimately, continually, and visibly directing the processes of nature? This is the position held by a new group of creationists, called intelligent-design advocates (IDers for short.) They tend to be slick, sophisticated, and free of the redneck image that adheres to the young-earth creationists.

Unfortunately, the desire to inject a deity into natural processes is inconsistent with the operational processes of science. As soon as one explains any natural phenomenon as the result of supernatural action, the path to further explanation is closed, and that is the end of science. Even from the point of view of the more thoughtful religious person, this supernaturalist position is unacceptable. Science progresses in spite of those who are satisfied with the "God did it" explanation. As scientific knowledge expands, the realm of the supernatural shrinks and the deity who manipulates it becomes what theologians call the "God of the gaps"--not a very satisfactory god at all.

All of these ideologies, whether religious or political, are committed to a world-view incompatible with science. The scientist investigates the way nature works; whether the scientist "likes" that way or not is of no consequence. The ideologue, on the other hand, decides how nature must work to fit preconceived notions. This, of course, cannot lead to expansion of knowledge about nature.

As a practical matter, it is the young-earthers who have had by far the greatest influence to date on state science standards. However, I think we will hear much more from the intelligent-design advocates in the future.

Some states have yielded to a greater or lesser extent to creationist pressures. They do this in one or more of several ways. Here are the major tactics used:
The standards may include many of the central principles of evolution--usually briefly--but the word evolution is carefully avoided. Inaccurate and misleading euphemisms such as "change over time" are used instead of the "E-word." Alabama, Florida, Illinois, and Mississippi are among the fifteen states that do this to a greater or lesser extent.
Biological evolution is simply ignored. Geological evolution, the history of the solar system, and cosmology may be treated to some extent, often even employing the word evolution. Fossils are sometimes mentioned, but only in the context of geology, not biology. Only four states (Kansas, Mississippi, Tennessee, and West Virginia) ignore evolution completely but only ten have a completely satisfactory coverage of the subject.
Creationist jargon and misinformation are used. Examples are: "Some scientists believe that life evolved . . ."; "Describe the strengths and weakness of various theories of the history of life"; "Natural selection can maintain or deplete genetic variation but does not add new information to the genetic code." Eight states do this.

A point scale was developed to evaluate the degree to which each of the state standards gave a good account of evolution and avoided creationist pseudoscience. Each state was scored and letter grades A to F-minus were assigned.

The map (shown below) shows the situation as of August 2000. Since then, however, several states have made or are making revisions. In Kansas, the voters kicked out several creationist members of the State Board of Education, and we can expect a set of pretty good standards to replace the F-disaster that is now in place. Alabama seems to be in the continuing process of ridding itself of the influence of former governor and redneck par excellence Fob James, and will likely move up from F. The Pennsylvania Board of Education, sadly, seems determined to degrade a set of draft standards that merit an A to a C; it remains to be seen whether the creationists will prevail there.

The map teaches us an important lesson. Not all the worst-performing states are in the Bible Belt, and many states outside the Bible Belt do badly. For example, North Carolina's standards are among the best in their treatment of evolution and South Carolina's are very good. Maine, New Hampshire, and Illinois do badly. Good science is not simply a matter of geography. This is an important point because it is a snobbish as well as damaging misconception to shrug one's shoulders and write off the inhabitants of this or that region as incorrigible or ineducable.

Good science is not a matter of politics, either. Many political conservatives seem to hold the view that one cannot be a genuine conservative unless one is a creationist, too. This position has often been set forth in such publications as the Wall Street Journal and the American Spectator. In the wake of the publication of my report, the director of the Fordham Foundation, a man of impeccable conservative credentials, has endured a great deal of flak from some of his political associates, especially those who are IDers.

What does the future hold? At the moment, the creationists are probably losing more ground than they are gaining, but that is most likely a temporary situation. As the political situation evolves, creationist claims evolve as well, and the creationists are not going to go away. As the map suggests, local vigilance is essential if we are to give the best education possible to all the members of the next generation. The reports cited in this article may be found at the Fordham Foundation website, http://www.edexcellence.net. For a briefer analysis, see the BioScience Productions, Inc. website at http://www.actionbioscience.org/education/lerner.html.

Lawrence S. Lerner is emeritus professor of physics and astronomy at California State University, Long Beach. He has been a Foundation member since 1985. A briefer version of his official report was published in Nature, September 2000. ("Good and bad science in US Schools: One-third of US states have unsatisfactory standards for teaching evolution.")

Published in Back Issues

Proclaiming itself as the largest Catholic civil rights organization in the US, the Catholic League identifies anti-Catholicism opinions in the media and brands them as bigotry. The league's president, Dr. William Donohue, takes pride in dissuading and intimidating media from airing this rather liberal interpretation of bigotry. Donohue holds a PhD in Sociology, is an adjunct scholar at the Heritage Foundation and sits on the board of directors of the National Association of Scholars. (Additional credentials include a masters in Homophobia and certification as a fully brainwashed believer in creationism.)

Even many mainstream and progressive Catholics are offended by Donohue's reactionary positions and attitude. During a debate against Christopher Hitchens last March, Donohue celebrated the fact that a Catholic priest now occupies the congressional chaplaincy to the chagrin of hypocritical Protestant congressman. Many mainstream and progressive Catholics would prefer to see the end of the chaplaincy as it is a violation of Church/State separation and was always occupied by Protestants until now.

One of the many borderline comments made by Donohue during the debate was: "If we lived in a sane society, we would close down the Department of Education and give every single dime to the Catholic Church to defend the poor."

Pat Robertson would probably disagree although he probably has a similar conviction concerning Southern Baptism.

Clever to call itself a civil rights organization in order to manipulate a media that is often sympathetic to civil rights causes, the league is an organization designed not only to get its wrongful ideas voiced but also to suppress opposition in the media. We, as humanist activists, should not allow the Catholic League to issue wrong-minded propaganda without challenge from our quarter.

The league's research director, Robert Lockwood, constructs reports defending Church positions and activities. He has presented a deeply flawed report titled Pope Pius IX. The report is a defense of Pius--the kidnapper who was beatified and praised by Pope John Paul this past September 3 despite protestation from many progressive and mainstream Catholics.

Pius issued a document titled Syllabus of Errors in 1864. In it, he condemned separation of church and state, freedom of the press, atheism, rationalism, etc. Although Lockwood offers excuses for the positions on church/state and freedom of the press, he writes that atheism and rationalism "remain worthy of condemnation today." This presents a dilemma for the Catholic League. If we condemn Catholicism, the league labels us bigots. If condemnation of Catholicism should be labeled bigotry, then condemnation of rationalism/atheism should be labeled bigotry. Thus Lockwood, and presumably the league, would be labeled bigots. Lockwood's and Donohue's brains reside in a curious world of one-way streets where the only thing that is circular is their reasoning. If we attack what they cherish, we're bigots. If we were to object to their condemnation of atheism/rationalism, they would label us oversensitive atheists demanding political correctness.

Lockwood's defense of Pius' opposition to separation of church and state references Bismarck's Prussia where the church was made subservient to the state. The excuse is that this subservience is what Pius opposed. Lockwood doesn't mention that in the United States, separation of church and state was already protected by the Constitution's establishment clause. Pius' condemnation was aimed at our type of church/state separation as well as Prussia's inferior model.

Regarding condemnation of free press, Lockwood avers that Pius was responding to a "viciously anti-Catholic press and a journalism that had no norms of objectivity or balance." Here, I feel compelled to concede that in the vein of the old adage, "it takes one to know one," the viciously anti-Jewish Pius, as purveyor of the papal states' own biased newspapers and magazines, was eminently qualified to identify abuses of the "free press."

Lockwood fatuously claims that a reason Roman Jews were required to live within walled in ghettos prior to Pius' reign was to "protect Jews from mob attack." He neglects to mention that the Catholic Church, at various times, required Roman Jews to wear emblems when they walked outside the ghettos. If the Church worried over Jews becoming victims of mob attack, it wouldn't have required Jews to wear bulls-eyes.

Pius IX, is the Pope that ordered six-year-old Edgardo Mortara kidnapped in 1858 from his Jewish family in Bologna. Edgardo had been baptized by a Catholic servant without the parent's knowledge. Catholic canon law held that children of Jewish/ Infidel parents should not be baptized without parental consent but if an effective baptism did occur, then the child must not be brought up by the parents. Heads of nations, newspapers, Jews and even many Catholics called for the return of the boy but Pius refused.

Lockwood clearly implies that although Pius ordered the kidnapping, and even though the kidnapping is indefensible, we cannot hold Pius responsible for having committed this immoral act. He states that Pius was "a man of his times in regard to the question of religious tolerance." Lockwood sidesteps the issue of personal responsibility for one's actions.

Ayatollah Khomeni was certainly a man of his times in regard to the question of religious tolerance among his circles within the fundamentalist community. Surely, Khomeni's followers did what they believed was right within Islamic law when they kidnapped infidels. Surely, Usama Bin Laden is a man of his times in regard to the question of religious tolerance among his circles. Or do only saintly Popes qualify for this excuse in the Catholic League's foggy world of one-way streets?

The corollary to Lockwood's claim is that Pius was "a man of his times in regard to the question of religious intolerance." This is one of many disingenuous word manipulations employed by Lockwood in his report.

Lockwood's report indicates that some claimed that the six-year-old Edgardo "showed immediate signs of the desire to live the Catholic faith, eagerly following the guards into church to celebrate Mass. The exact story, of course, will never be known of these early days as it became wrapped up in propaganda from both sides."

This is beyond obnoxious. Lockwood is writing about a six-year-old boy. Six-year-old boys were tricked into walking out into Nazi firing squads because they thought they were going to play soldier. Lockwood knows no shame. Notice how he arrogantly equates the "propaganda" of the pro-kidnappers to the "propaganda" of the anti-kidnappers in an attempt to appear evenhanded.

The report states repeatedly that Pius was not an anti-Semite. One cannot help but note the strategic quality of this assertion. That Hitler's anti-Semitism and the Church's anti-Jewishness were two different and unrelated types of hatred is a tenuous notion at best, false at worst. In Pius' case, the notion becomes downright silly when we consider the quote that the future saint called Jews "dogs" (Some Pius apologists have claimed this quote is not documented but it is. David Kertzer translates and discusses the passage in his new book, which is currently in press, The Popes Against the Jews: The Vatican's Role in the Rise of Modern Anti-Semitism (Knopf, 2001). Kertzer found the quote in Pasquale De Francisis(1872), Discorsi del sommo pontefice Pio II, vol.1.)

Pius put the sanctity of a Catholic ritual ahead of the sanctity of the family.

Today's Pope beatified Pius and praised him as someone to be imitated. How does September 3's beatification of a kidnapper tie in with the alleged pro-family stance of Catholicism? Know that Donohue's Catholic League will never answer this question with clarity.

The icing on this reeking cake of sludge is that Donohue's so called Catholic civil rights group's research director saw fit to write a 41-page paper on Pius IX yet never saw fit to express once in that paper any sorrow for the unjust, immoral travesty perpetrated against the Mortara family by an infallible saint to be. Civil rights organization--give me a break!

Steve Hirsch has been a professional investor for the past ten years. A Life Member of the Foundation, he lives in Florida with his wife and children. On behalf of the Sunshine State, he pleads for forgiveness from the ancient god of voting, Electus.

Published in Back Issues
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"Black Day at Bad Rock"

"Black day at bad rock" was the headline for The Hill Country Recorder on January 10, 2001.

In an excellent front-page write-up, Newton Renfro recounted the story of the theft of the 32-ton cenotaph from City Park in Comfort, Texas, on December 21, 2000. This memorial, to the German Freidenker founders of the settlement of Comfort in the mid-1800s, was financed almost entirely by present-day Freethinkers, and Freethinker and Atheist organizations, the major of these having been the Freedom From Religion Foundation.

The limestone megalith memorial was installed on a concrete foundation in July of 1998, and its presence was soon felt. By September the conservative Christians of the Comfort community realized that Atheists! might have contributed to this project, which meant, of course, that Comfort might well become a "Mecca for Atheists." Newspaper editorials spoke of the "tainted" funding of the rock which was sure to spread a "miasma of atheism" over the community.

During the two-year-plus controversy over this memorial, the rock stood in the park without its historical plaque and without dedication. There were rumors that it was to be removed, but no attempt was made to inform the donors. The rumors of threats came and went without any official notification of plans to remove the rock from Comfort. Those of us who wrote some of the movers(literally!)-and-shakers of Comfort never received replies to our queries.

When the rock was removed, without rumor or notification, the word of its disappearance spread to some of the donors via e-mail, but not until after the holidays. When we did learn that it was gone, we also knew the name of the crane company which had hauled it off, the name of the person who had made the arrangements with the crane company, and the actual location of the limestone cenotaph, thanks to our own Hill Country Nancy Drew, Julie Fisher, and our urban Nancy Drew, Terrellita Maverick.

It is difficult to recount the entire story of the rock's theft with a straight face because it is so Mack Sennett's Keystone Kops from start to not-quite finish. For one thing, the person who made the arrangements for the rock's removal was Gary Lindnor, the former head of the Comfort Chamber of Commerce. It seems he told the crane company that he was the mayor of Comfort. This is interesting largely because Comfort has no mayor; it is an unincorporated community.

Chatting up some folk in Comfort, Julie learned that the rock had been trucked out of town and was seen heading for Center Point. Additionally, she learned that some folk in town were actually speaking of the "theft" of the rock. So off she drove in the direction the 100-ton crane had taken. Sure enough, about two miles out of Comfort, and across the county line, she came upon the Home-of-the-Crane. No mistaking it. It was a Texas version of the Grand Canyon, but filled with much heavy-duty equipment. Julie found the one human being in the vicinity, and proceeded to question him. He obligingly gestured to her to follow his vehicle and he would lead her to the rock.

A short distance from Home-of-the-Crane was a very large, newly built white mansion in the middle of nowhere, which Julie described as more impressive than Tara. Julie's guide motioned her to the rear of the house where there was a small pasture (or large backyard), fencing in two placid cows and a reclining thirty-two-ton limestone rock. Julie whipped out her camera and proceeded to photograph the rock in its new bucolic location.

Our dauntless Nancy Drew then went to the front door of the mansion and rang the bell. Two women appeared, and Julie asked them if they knew where the Comfort rock was. They seemed not to comprehend what she was saying, and to be puzzled by her question.

"Well," said Julie, "it's in your backyard/pasture, and I wanted you to know that . . . just in case the police come looking for stolen property." Were they surprised that a rock the size of a schoolbus was in their backyard/pasture? If so, their demeanor did not betray it, nor did they show signs of fear or guilt.

But surprises were in store for the donors of the cenotaph when reporter Renfro's article hit the newsstand. The picture accompanying the article was taken by a Bill Bourland, whose marriage to Jolene a year earlier had been solemnized in the shadow of the rock. They were sentimentally attached to it and, just happening by the park during the theft, did not hesitate a wink to race for a camera to record the kidnapping of their wedding site.

Meanwhile, our urban Nancy Drew, Terrellita Maverick, was quick to get on the phone, and her results were triumphant. She arranged for us to have an appointment on January 11 with the attorney who is the head of the San Antonio ACLU chapter. Besides that, she learned that a report on the megalith's structure had been made to the rocknapper, and she obtained a copy of this two-page document. It had been sent to the Kendall County Courthouse (constructed of limestone), attention: Judge Bill Goodin.

The report begins, "Gentlepersons:", and ends with the horrific warning that a small child could be injured while climbing on the rock, and that not a day goes by that something of this nature does not occur. (The last account I read of a rock catastrophe, aside from earthquakes and rockslides, was that of a man visiting a gravesite and leaning on the tombstone which instantly self-destructed, breaking the visitor's foot.) The engineers' report ended with the paragraph, "Thus we have no choice but to state that, in our opinion, this megalith is a danger to the public and should be removed immediately. Certainly before the next freeze."

The report had gone into great length about the fissures of the rock filling with water and freezing, which would then cause the rock to break apart. Water in Texas is a rarity in the summer months. Freezing can occur in December. The report was issued on August 21. The rock was removed on Dec. 21. Hmmm. Actually, the closest the rock came to being a danger to anyone was when the crane was trying to wrench it from its 4-feet-deep foundation and the flatbed nearly flipped over as concrete and limestone reluctantly parted company.

The appointment with the SAACLU attorney took place as scheduled, and I wish I could describe that gentleman's face as he raptly absorbed the story of the cenotaph as put into chronological order by our eloquent spokesperson, Howard Thompson.

When Howard had finished, Mr. Pina looked around the table at us--Ruth Lett, Sally Chizek, Terrellita Maverick, Julie Fisher, Howard and me--and said, "I can't tell you how much I admire you people." I went into euphoric shock. Fancy someone admiring atheists!!!

Four days later I am still walking a few feet off the ground, and feeling optimistic about what might come of our case . . . if we have one.

It's a big dream, but I dare to dream that one of President Clinton's and Joseph Lieberman's favorite quotes, "In this country we have freedom of religion, but not freedom from religion," will be revealed to the whole country as the blatant perversion of the U.S. Constitution that it is. It is a thoughtless quote from Stephen L. Carter's book, The Culture of Disbelief, and it is demeaning to the millions of us who dare to think, and know that, as Anne Gaylor has said, "There can be no religious freedom without the freedom to dissent."

Catherine Fahringer is a Foundation officer from Texas.

Published in Back Issues
%754 %America/Chicago, %2013

"Black Day at Bad Rock"

"Black day at bad rock" was the headline for The Hill Country Recorder on January 10, 2001.

In an excellent front-page write-up, Newton Renfro recounted the story of the theft of the 32-ton cenotaph from City Park in Comfort, Texas, on December 21, 2000. This memorial, to the German Freidenker founders of the settlement of Comfort in the mid-1800s, was financed almost entirely by present-day Freethinkers, and Freethinker and Atheist organizations, the major of these having been the Freedom From Religion Foundation.

The limestone megalith memorial was installed on a concrete foundation in July of 1998, and its presence was soon felt. By September the conservative Christians of the Comfort community realized that Atheists! might have contributed to this project, which meant, of course, that Comfort might well become a "Mecca for Atheists." Newspaper editorials spoke of the "tainted" funding of the rock which was sure to spread a "miasma of atheism" over the community.

During the two-year-plus controversy over this memorial, the rock stood in the park without its historical plaque and without dedication. There were rumors that it was to be removed, but no attempt was made to inform the donors. The rumors of threats came and went without any official notification of plans to remove the rock from Comfort. Those of us who wrote some of the movers(literally!)-and-shakers of Comfort never received replies to our queries.

When the rock was removed, without rumor or notification, the word of its disappearance spread to some of the donors via e-mail, but not until after the holidays. When we did learn that it was gone, we also knew the name of the crane company which had hauled it off, the name of the person who had made the arrangements with the crane company, and the actual location of the limestone cenotaph, thanks to our own Hill Country Nancy Drew, Julie Fisher, and our urban Nancy Drew, Terrellita Maverick.

It is difficult to recount the entire story of the rock's theft with a straight face because it is so Mack Sennett's Keystone Kops from start to not-quite finish. For one thing, the person who made the arrangements for the rock's removal was Gary Lindnor, the former head of the Comfort Chamber of Commerce. It seems he told the crane company that he was the mayor of Comfort. This is interesting largely because Comfort has no mayor; it is an unincorporated community.

Chatting up some folk in Comfort, Julie learned that the rock had been trucked out of town and was seen heading for Center Point. Additionally, she learned that some folk in town were actually speaking of the "theft" of the rock. So off she drove in the direction the 100-ton crane had taken. Sure enough, about two miles out of Comfort, and across the county line, she came upon the Home-of-the-Crane. No mistaking it. It was a Texas version of the Grand Canyon, but filled with much heavy-duty equipment. Julie found the one human being in the vicinity, and proceeded to question him. He obligingly gestured to her to follow his vehicle and he would lead her to the rock.

A short distance from Home-of-the-Crane was a very large, newly built white mansion in the middle of nowhere, which Julie described as more impressive than Tara. Julie's guide motioned her to the rear of the house where there was a small pasture (or large backyard), fencing in two placid cows and a reclining thirty-two-ton limestone rock. Julie whipped out her camera and proceeded to photograph the rock in its new bucolic location.

Our dauntless Nancy Drew then went to the front door of the mansion and rang the bell. Two women appeared, and Julie asked them if they knew where the Comfort rock was. They seemed not to comprehend what she was saying, and to be puzzled by her question.

"Well," said Julie, "it's in your backyard/pasture, and I wanted you to know that . . . just in case the police come looking for stolen property." Were they surprised that a rock the size of a schoolbus was in their backyard/pasture? If so, their demeanor did not betray it, nor did they show signs of fear or guilt.

But surprises were in store for the donors of the cenotaph when reporter Renfro's article hit the newsstand. The picture accompanying the article was taken by a Bill Bourland, whose marriage to Jolene a year earlier had been solemnized in the shadow of the rock. They were sentimentally attached to it and, just happening by the park during the theft, did not hesitate a wink to race for a camera to record the kidnapping of their wedding site.

Meanwhile, our urban Nancy Drew, Terrellita Maverick, was quick to get on the phone, and her results were triumphant. She arranged for us to have an appointment on January 11 with the attorney who is the head of the San Antonio ACLU chapter. Besides that, she learned that a report on the megalith's structure had been made to the rocknapper, and she obtained a copy of this two-page document. It had been sent to the Kendall County Courthouse (constructed of limestone), attention: Judge Bill Goodin.

The report begins, "Gentlepersons:", and ends with the horrific warning that a small child could be injured while climbing on the rock, and that not a day goes by that something of this nature does not occur. (The last account I read of a rock catastrophe, aside from earthquakes and rockslides, was that of a man visiting a gravesite and leaning on the tombstone which instantly self-destructed, breaking the visitor's foot.) The engineers' report ended with the paragraph, "Thus we have no choice but to state that, in our opinion, this megalith is a danger to the public and should be removed immediately. Certainly before the next freeze."

The report had gone into great length about the fissures of the rock filling with water and freezing, which would then cause the rock to break apart. Water in Texas is a rarity in the summer months. Freezing can occur in December. The report was issued on August 21. The rock was removed on Dec. 21. Hmmm. Actually, the closest the rock came to being a danger to anyone was when the crane was trying to wrench it from its 4-feet-deep foundation and the flatbed nearly flipped over as concrete and limestone reluctantly parted company.

The appointment with the SAACLU attorney took place as scheduled, and I wish I could describe that gentleman's face as he raptly absorbed the story of the cenotaph as put into chronological order by our eloquent spokesperson, Howard Thompson.

When Howard had finished, Mr. Pina looked around the table at us--Ruth Lett, Sally Chizek, Terrellita Maverick, Julie Fisher, Howard and me--and said, "I can't tell you how much I admire you people." I went into euphoric shock. Fancy someone admiring atheists!!!

Four days later I am still walking a few feet off the ground, and feeling optimistic about what might come of our case . . . if we have one.

It's a big dream, but I dare to dream that one of President Clinton's and Joseph Lieberman's favorite quotes, "In this country we have freedom of religion, but not freedom from religion," will be revealed to the whole country as the blatant perversion of the U.S. Constitution that it is. It is a thoughtless quote from Stephen L. Carter's book, The Culture of Disbelief, and it is demeaning to the millions of us who dare to think, and know that, as Anne Gaylor has said, "There can be no religious freedom without the freedom to dissent."

Catherine Fahringer is a Foundation officer from Texas.

Published in Back Issues
%753 %America/Chicago, %2013

Three Flawed U.S. Frauds

The conduct of the founders of the major religions that were birthed in America would not be welcomed by their followers of today. Their extreme drive and genius were accompanied by conduct outside the precepts that undergird the religious institutions they created.

Joseph Smith (1805-1844) was a magnetic leader, carrying his Mormon flock through mass migrations and rebirth in Ohio, Missouri and Illinois.

Setting aside judgment on his constant claim of communication with God, we can be struck by his genius in gathering and maintaining the adulation of thousands in a short and openly self-indulgent life.

His positive attributes of character were marred by obsessions in sexuality, vanity and autocratic control. He may have had as many as fifty wives, according to eminent biographer Fawn M. Brodie in her definitive classic No Man Knows My History: The Life of Joseph Smith (Random House, 1995). The "wives" were almost always episodes of adultery, usually preceded by a ceremonial "seal for eternity," whereas the original primary husband--including many of Smith's associates--was sealed only for life. Smith acquired a new one on average almost monthly during the 1840s. This was the birth of the half-century of officially sanctioned polygamy in the Mormon Church.

The Mormons' diligence, growth and political solidarity under Smith's directives created fears and enmity wherever they were. They also had militia units. Smith was killed by a mob who stormed the jail in Carthage, Illinois, on June 27, 1844. His followers were forced from nearby Nauvoo, and Brigham Young led an epic ordeal to Utah. Brodie states: "And it was the legend of Joseph Smith, from which all evidences of deception, ambition and financial and marital excesses were gradually obliterated, that became the cohesive force within the church."

Vivid examples of the obliteration process are part of the incredible true-crime classic, The Mormon Murders, by Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith (Weidenfield & Nicolson, 1988). It also introduces one to many facets of Mormon culture and history.

Mary Baker Eddy (1821-1910) lived in a time when faith healers were common and her Christian Science Church was the major survivor.

Among detached or critical biographers of Mrs. Eddy (that is, authors who did not avoid information critical of her) were Georgine Milmine, Frederick Peabody, Edwin Dakin, Ernest Bates/John Dittemore and my source, Julius Silberger Jr., M.D., a psychiatrist.

Mary Baker (twice a widow, once divorced) spent much of the first half of her life bedridden, allegedly using illness to control people and get attention. Her hypochondria brought her acquaintance with mental healer Phineas Quimby, who it has been said was the inventor of her basic teachings--which she denied in her successful years.

Whatever her obviously formidable accomplishments, she dismissed several capable aides, and afterward mobilized followers to mentally ward off the "malicious animal magnetism" she felt that the ex-aides were mentally exerting against her. Her paranoia and vindictiveness triggered deviousness. In one instance, her husband and current chief aide were arrested and charged with conspiring to have the previous chief aide assassinated. They avoided conviction. The Silberger book is replete with a lifetime of manipulations.

L Ron Hubbard (1911-1986) was a pulp fiction writer who became a leader in science fiction until his Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health came out in 1950.

Commercialization of its treatment plan flourished, then floundered, until rescued by Wichita businessman Don Purcell. Hubbard's disregard for expenses and past debts led to lawsuits by Purcell. With the ownership of the Dianetics trademark contested, Hubbard renamed his (refurbished) approach Scientology and then fulfilled an earlier prediction: "If you want to make real money, start a religion." That helped Hubbard avoid taxes and medical practice restraints and to become fabulously wealthy.

Scientology "auditing" involves a multi-step hypno-psychoanalytic procedure based on superficial groundings, having value in some cases but questioned by professional therapists for others. "Auditors" were trained by the Hubbard organization, generating profits.

One cannot briefly portray Hubbard's awesome imaginative talents or his unbelievable history of deceit and arrogance, but let us quote Los Angeles Judge Paul Breckenridge in a denial of sealing Scientology records: "The evidence portrays a man who has been virtually a pathological liar when it comes to his history, background and achievements. The documents in evidence additionally reflect his egotism, greed, avarice, lust for power and vindictiveness and aggressiveness against persons perceived by him to be disloyal or hostile." (This from Bare-Faced Messiah: The True Story of L. Ron Hubbard by Russell Miller [Henry Holt, 1987]. Another source was L. Ron Hubbard: Messiah or Madman by Bent Corydon and L. Ron Hubbard Jr. [Lyle Stuart Inc., 1987].)

Rather than confront an adult daughter who sought to meet him for the first time, Hubbard had an emissary deny his paternity to her face. He tried to erase from history a bigamous marriage with her mother.

Hubbard did not "die," it is alleged. The official revelation to 1,800 followers at the Hollywood Palladium was that he had discarded his body and chosen to move to his next level of research externally. This was in keeping with his many stories of previous lives, including reincarnation from lives millions of years before on other planets.

The late Sidney Harris provided an explanation of such baffling happenings in a 1985 newspaper column headed "Lying to yourself produces [the] most frightening evil of all." Harris was not thinking particularly of religious founders, of course:

"Most people seem to value sincerity as a value more than I do. But sincerity is not an independent value, like truth. If you are wrong, the more sincere you are, the more damage you can do, and the more wrong-minded followers you are able to attract."

Basil Conrad, a member from Michigan, is a retired charitable agency administrator.

See also Joseph Smith and the Origins of the Book of Mormon (McFarland & Co., 2000), a comprehensive history of the Mormon fraud by longtime Foundation member David Persuitte.

Published in Back Issues

The Freedom From Religion Foundation has called on President George W. Bush to drop his campaign pledge to establish an unconstitutional Office of Faith-Based Action in the White House. Bush also plans to use federal funds to encourage the 50 governors to establish state versions.

Former Indianapolis Mayor Stephen Goldsmith has been touted as the probable appointee for White House director of the Office of Faith-Based Action. In 1997, Goldsmith created a "faith-based" initiative called the Front Porch Alliance, with a staff of nine and a budget of $800,000, which doled out $300,000 in grants to churches and inner-city groups.

Creation of the office is in concert with Bush's pledge to spend $8 billion in expanding "charitable choice," in which churches and religious groups receiving federal funding to provide social services may now proselytize. Bush's transition spokesperson Scott McClellan said on Jan. 7 that "reaching out to faith-based groups that have a proven record of saving and changing lives is a top priority of President-elect Bush."

The primary engineer of "charitable choice" was John Ashcroft, Bush's controversial nominee for Attorney General, who as U.S. Senator pushed through a "charitable choice" amendment to the 1996 Welfare Reform Act at the eleventh hour. The Freedom From Religion Foundation launched what is believed to be the nation's second challenge of "charitable choice," in an October lawsuit against public funding of "Faith Works," a religious group that received Bush's blessings during a campaign stop.

Bush met with 30 ministers and religious leaders in a closed meeting in Austin on Dec. 20 to discuss his plans to greatly enlarge "charitable choice" and the role of churches in federally-funded welfare programs.

Bush has pledged to end regulations prohibiting religious groups from participating in federal programs, to make it easier for churches and charities to be given tax funds to operate federal programs, and to create tax breaks to increase charitable donations.

Many clergy members have indicated wariness of the concept. "There are many religious traditions in this land. How do we guarantee that minority religions have the same access that majority religions have?" the Rev. C. Welton Gaddy, executive director of the Interfaith Alliance, told the New York Times (Dec. 21).

The American Jewish Committee's Richard Foltin warned: "There's no way to harness this power of religious organizations without doing damage." Brent Walker, executive director of the Baptist Joint Committee, said: "We think it's unconstitutional [and] will result in invasive regulation and excessive entanglement between church and state."

A survey released in January by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life shows a slim majority of Americans repudiates the concept of "charitable choice." Thirty-one percent said such an arrangement is always a bad idea, and a quarter, 23%, approved public money to religious social services--but only if they stay away from religious messages. Forty-four percent said giving government money to religious groups is a good idea. The poll of 1,507 adults by Public Agenda was taken in November, and has an error margin of 3%.

Bush's first official act as president-elect was attending a special prayer service in his honor. At that December service, Mark Craig, pastor of a Dallas Methodist church, compared Bush to Moses: "You were chosen by God, as was Moses, to lead the people."

The Foundation wrote the president-elect on Dec. 15, reminding him that the U.S. Constitution provides for a strictly secular presidential oath of office, and asking that Bush not use "religious ad libs" or the bible in taking the godless oath. The letter generated some national coverage.

Art. 2, Sect. 1, Clause 8 provides: "Before he enter on the execution of his office he shall take the following oath or affirmation: 'I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States."

"With sycophantic ministers saying Bush was 'chosen by God, as was Moses, to lead the people,' we think it is important to remind Bush that it will be his job to protect, preserve and defend the separation of church and state," noted Foundation president Anne Gaylor.

The Foundation followed up with a letter in early January to Chief Justice William Rehnquist, who administers the presidential oath, noting that "longtime persistence in an abuse of the Constitution is not rationale for continuing such a violation."

The Jan. 20 inauguration began with an invocation and ended with a benediction. Afterward, Bush signed his first two directives, one on ethics regulations for government employees, the other designating Sunday, Jan. 21, as a National Day of Prayer.

His prayer proclamation called on Americans "to bow our heads in humility before our heavenly father, a God who calls us not to judge our neighbors, but to love them, to ask His guidance upon our nation and its leaders in every level of government."

The Bush Administration in January also maintained it would press for passage of its private school voucher proposal, despite advice by GOP strategists that vouchers would face an uphill battle, and vocal opposition by Democrats in the narrowly divided Congress. Bush's first legislative priority will be "education reform," including a proposal to give families in failing schools $1,500 in federal money to use for any education expense. If public schools fail to measure up to Bush standards for three consecutive years, parents would be given vouchers to send kids elsewhere.

Senator Trent Lott, the majority leader, told CNN's "Late Edition" on Dec. 17: "I think maybe the word [vouchers] is part of the problem. Maybe the word should be 'scholarship.' " Already more than 15,000 children, most living in Milwaukee, Cleveland and Florida, receive public vouchers to attend private (mostly religious) schools, with another 50,000 children given scholarships by rightwing pro-voucher philanthropists.

The term "compassionate conservative," as Bush describes himself, was coined by advisor Marvin Olasky, a self-described Jewish communist turned born-again Christian, who is a professor of journalism at the University of Texas-Austin. Olasky's book, Compassionate Conservatism (2000), features an introduction by Bush, and reprints a Bush campaign promise to fund religious groups. The term "compassionate conservative" signals support of taxpayer funding to religious groups to provide most government social services, according to an analysis of Olasky's book by Doug Saunders of the Toronto Globe & Mail (Jan. 13, 2001). In a nutshell, Olasky believes poverty is caused not by a lack of money but by a lack of moral values.

To register your views on the creation of an Office of Faith-Based Action in the White House, you may write President George W. Bush, The White House, 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington DC 20502. The White House comment line is 202/456-1111.

Published in Back Issues
%750 %America/Chicago, %2013

You Won't Believe You're Reading This

Safer to be a freethinker. A sheep being raised for sacrificial slaughter butted a worshipper in Cairo off the top of a three-story building, causing severe injuries. Source: AP/San Francisco Examiner, Jan. 3, 2001

"She shall be scourged." Nigerian teenager Bariya Ibrahim Magazu, 17, who recently gave birth after being coerced by her father to have sex with three of his associates, received 100 lashings with a cane on Jan. 22 for having premarital sex and for "falsely accusing men." Her Islamic court sentence of 180 lashes was reduced after an international outcry. Source: Globe & Mail, Dec. 28, 2000; AP, Jan. 23, 2001

Woe to the women. Saudi Arabia's mutawa, religious police who earn bounty for arrests, are still terrorizing women ten years after women protesters held a "drive-in" to defy a ban on women driving and enforcement of sharia, fundamentalist Islamic law. Saudi women may expose only hands and sometimes kohl-rimmed eyes and hennaed feet, and may not travel, go to school or get a job without written approval of a male relative. Source: Washington Post, Dec. 9, 2000

Hairy men only need apply. Afghani's Taliban issued an edict that men without beards will be denied jobs and services, because a "beard is the tradition of Islam's prophet Mohammad." Source: Reuters, Nov. 18, 2000

Another eagerly awaited edict. The Taliban announced the death penalty for anyone who converts from Islam to another religion, and for any non-Muslim trying to win converts. Source: AP, Jan. 11, 2001

Ironic, isn't it? A vicar was forced to apologize for telling an assembly of 217 children, ages 7-11, that Father Christmas does not exist. Source: Daily Mail [Great Britain], Dec. 15, 2000

Women: shut up. The judicial body of the Presbyterian Church in America cleared a Tennessee pastor of charges of violating church doctrine forbidding women from preaching, concluding the female guest speaker did not preach but gave a "presentation." Said cleared Rev. John Wood: "It's a very emotional issue with a lot of fellows who believe if women start speaking in church it's a slippery slope, and the next thing you know we'll be ordaining women." Source: The Tennessean, October 22, 2000

We'll take the leftovers! Nestl? withdrew a white chocolate Aero bar with a cranberry flavor marketed as "Stuff Xmas! Treat Yourself!" from British shelves after the Church of England condemned it as "offensive." Source: [London] Times, Nov. 9, 11, 2000

Those wild & crazy monks. Buddhist monks are under surveillance in Thailand after a series of sex and financial scandals, including drinking, pornography, carousing in karaoke bars, and sleeping with women. One monk bought a collection of 60 vintage Mercedes Benz from donations raised to help disadvantaged youth. Source: Irish Independent, Nov. 2, 2000

Oh . . . go to hell! "Science is using evolution theory to make kids go to hell," maintains Florida evangelist Kent Hovind of Science Evangelism, who has taught high school math and science but (not surprisingly) has no science degree. Source: Philadelphia Inquirer, Nov. 10, 2000

Will Earth be flat? Answers in Genesis plans a March unveiling of a $14 million, 95,000-square-ft Creation Museum and Family Discovery Center dedicated to the "history of the world according to the bible," near Hebron, KY. Source: Associated Press, 11/22/00

Exorcism a booming business. The Los Angeles Times reports the ancient ritual of exorcism, which fell out of favor in the Age of Reason, is flourishing once more in the Age of the Internet. Some 20 official U.S. Catholic exorcists are outnumbered by about 600 evangelical/Pentecostal exorcists. Source: Washington Post, Dec. 7, 2000

Christian family scandals. John Bircher John G. Schmitz, a Southern California rightwing leader, died in January. In 1982, the fierce opponent of sex education and proponent of "family values" was exposed for having a pregnant mistress and a 15 month old son. His daughter Mary Kay LeTourneau, now 35, was convicted in 1997 in Washington state for having a sexual relationship with her 13-year-old student, with whom the married, imprisoned mother has now borne two children. Source: AP, Jan. 11, 2001

Gospel: not "good news" for gays. U.S. Rep. Jim Kolbe, R-AZ, was disinvited by the Gospel Rescue Mission to be a volunteer at a Tucson homeless shelter's Thanksgiving dinner because he is gay. The mission compared homosexuals to "adulterers, liars and thieves." Source: Tucson Citizen 11/25/00

Both are addictive substances. A church which meets in a public school has raised local ire by mailing an ad to 10,000 homes in Royal Oak, MI, depicting an empty vodka bottle with the slogan "Absolut Truth Straight From God." Source: Daily Tribune

No way to treat Archimedes. After nearly 1,000 years, the earliest known copy of Archimedes' mathematical theorems, worth $2 million and written over by a 12th-century monk to make a prayer book, has been restored by the Rochester Institute of Technology. Source: Photonics Spectra, April 2000

Jesus junk mail. Whether they wanted them or not, 1.1 million households in 10 U.S. cities got an 83-minute movie of the life of Jesus in early December. Orlando churches raised nearly $1.3 million to send the videos to half a million central Florida homes. Source: Los Angeles Times, Dec. 6, 2000 & AP, Dec. 12, 2000

Methodists disown Mormons. The United Methodist Church General Conference, citing "radically differing" doctrines, has determined that Mormons are not Christians, and, should any wish to convert to Methodism, must undergo "intensive exploration and instruction in the Christian faith" before rebaptism. Source: Press-Enterprise, May 11, 2000

A supernatural alibi. Prior to the conviction of Gary Paul Karr, 51, on extortion and other charges relating to the disappearance of the Murray-O'Hair family, Karr's attorney Tom Mills blamed a higher authority for O'Hair's apparent murder: "When someone spends 30 years cursing and deploring God, it wouldn't surprise me if one day He grew weary of it. Mr. Karr has maintained that he did not kill her or her staff. If they are gone, and who knows if they are, perhaps no human was responsible for their disappearance from the earth." Source: American-Statesman, March 30, 2000

Talk about ego! The pope, age 80, is being marketed as a comic-book hero in a Vatican-approved serial depicting "the real life and true adventures of 'Karol Wojtyla: Pope of the Third Millennium.' " Source: Associated Press

Geez, leave atheists out of it! In denouncing McDonald's inroads in Rome, the Catholic newspaper Avvenire declared fast food fit only for atheists, or perhaps Lutherans. Source: Reuters/Irish Times, Nov. 11, 2000

Reflects well on Clinton. Pope John Paul II told the Italian weekly magazine Oggi: "The only leader I did not manage to have a proper conversation with was Clinton. I was speaking and he was looking at one of the walls, admiring the frescos and the paintings. He was not listening to me." Source: Reuters, Jan. 11, 2001

Bill of Rights "ungodly." The Vatican called the Charter of Fundamental Rights adopted by the European Union summit "ungodly" for sanctioning gay unions, showing "excessive tolerance" toward Muslim immigrants, and for being a "communist plot." Source: [London] Times, Dec. 2, 2000

Unholy See? The Vatican bank is fighting a California law designed to help elderly Holocaust survivors achieve resolution of Nazi slave labor claims during their lifetimes. Source: www.vaticanbankclaims.com, Dec. 29, 2000

Suffer the children to suffer. The head of Mother Teresa's Missionaries of Charity order admitted one of her nuns had used a hot knife to burn the hands of four street children in Calcutta as discipline for stealing. Source: Irish Times, Sept. 22, 2000

Nuns with "bad" habits. Drama chiefs banned nuns from entering Julie Andrews lookalike contests at karaoke shows in Yorkshire commemorating the 35-year-old film "Sound of Music," complaining nuns were walking away with top prizes of champagne, chocolates and videos at similar contests in London and Oxford. "This is taking the prizes away from those people who have actually dressed up for the night," said a spokeswoman for Limelight Entertainment. Source: The Northern Echo [UK], Oct. 11, 2000

Don't keep on truckin'. The 55 "trans-denominational" truck chapels run in 24 states by the Ga.-based Truckstop Ministries are getting some competition. Rev. John A. Jamnicky is leaving his post as O'Hare Airport's Catholic chaplain to oversee his denomination's first trucker ministry. Source: Chicago Sun-Times, Nov. 27, 2000

"You killed Jesus!" About 50 students from the Catholic Loyola Academy, Wilmette, Illinois, chanted an anti-Semitic taunt, "You killed Jesus," during a heated basketball game against a rival high school on Nov. 22. Source: Chicago Tribune, Dec. 1, 2000

Blessed are the pizza makers? Some 2,000 pizza chefs participated in a special delivery of pizza on Oct. 25 to His Awfulness the Pope, receiving in return a blessing for his Jubilee of the Pizza-Makers. Source: Baltimore Sun, 10/26/00

Unsporting Christianity? Animal rights activists denounced the Georgia-based Special Youth Challenge Minisries for taking a group of disabled teens on a hunt consisting of shooting trapped animals on a ranch. Source: Sun-Sentinel, July 15, 2000

Just what Georgia needs. Silver Dollar City, Inc., which proclaims "Christian values," announced plans for a $100 million theme park on Southern history and heritage at Stone Mountain, Georgia, the birthplace of the Ku Klux Klan and already home to a bas-relief memorial to Confederate leaders. Source: New York Times, Oct. 8, 2000

Published in Back Issues

December is not just for Christians. Many unbelievers like to mark the Winter Solstice with food, family, music and gifts--pagan traditions that pre-date Christianity, recognizing the shortest day of the year. Last December the Gaylor/Barker family celebrated the "reason for the season" with a festive Solstice party, including a nontraditional dinner of Annie Laurie's Cornish Pasties and baked custard and a traditional exchange of gifts.

My main gift this year was quite extravagant: a PalmPilot. Besides debates, concerts and speeches for the Freedom From Religion Foundation, I also do more than a hundred jazz piano gigs each year, so my calender gets pretty complicated. The little pocket electronic organizer is helping a lot. I am enjoying learning how to "go electronic" with my datebook and addresses.

I like to read manuals. After completing the basic documentation, I borrowed PalmPilot: The Ultimate Guide from my sister-in-law Lisa, who also got a PalmPilot at the same party. (The whole world is going electronic!) The book comes with a CD containing thousands of programs and files that can be transferred to the handheld unit. I can install American & European literature, philosophy, religion, science, menus, (not-so) famous novels, the Koran, Book of Mormon--and the whole bible, in case I can't get through the day without a dose of "divine inspiration."

Imagine my surprise, while browsing the general Literary folder, to spot a file called "Dear Believer," between "DC Comics" and "Dennis Miller--The Rants." "Dear Believer" happens to be the title of a Foundation nontract I wrote in 1987. I couldn't imagine that a freethought piece would be awarded such a spot, or even be included at all, but I had to check it out.

Sure enough, when I opened the file, I found that it is indeed the Foundation's nontract #2. (The term "nontract"--a tract for nonbelievers--was coined by Annie Laurie.)

"Dear Believer" is the nontract that was blocked by Indiana Gov. Evan Bayh from being placed alongside Gideon bibles in state-owned hotel rooms in 1990 because its hard-hitting criticism of the bible was considered "blasphemous." The issue generated a lot of publicity and the offending nontract was reprinted in Harper's Magazine.

Now, it's a literary classic!

I wonder if Bayh got a PalmPilot for Christmas.

Dan Barker, a former minister, is a staff member of the Freedom From Religion Foundation.

Published in Back Issues

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