The Freedom From Religion Foundation is challenging Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear's use of state resources to promote a prayer breakfast March 13 at the Frankfort Convention Center.
In a March 3 letter to the Democratic governor, FFRF Senior Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert noted that a press release about the so-called "nondenominational" event "leads one to believe that the government is the sponsor of the breakfast and not a private individual or organization."
The release also includes a prayer breakfast link on the governor's portion of kentucky.gov. The governor's home page includes a tab at the top promoting the breakfast.
Markert added, "While elected officials may of course attend private functions on their own time in their personal capacity, it is a misuse of office for the governor or his staff to promote, organize or cosponsor activities such as prayer breakfasts or to lend the governor’s name to a “Governor’s Prayer Breakfast.”
FFRF, a national state-church watchdog with about 20,000 members nationwide and 168 in Kentucky, last contacted Beshear in 2012 about his sponsorship of annual prayer breakfasts.
"By sponsoring or co-sponsoring a Prayer Breakfast, which calls Kentucky citizens to prayer, you abrogate your duty to remain neutral," Markert wrote. "The event sends a message that the governor of Kentucky prefers and endorses religion over nonreligion and more specifically, the Christian faith. Moreover, these actions exclude and offend a significant portion of the population, which is non-Christian or nonreligious."
Using recent polling data, FFRF estimates about 400,000 Kentuckians are nonreligious.
FFRF has good reason to believe that Beshear sent prayer breakfast invitations, which included the official state seal, to the bulk of state employees from his state email address, an apparent violation of the Internet and Electronic Mail Acceptable Use Policy, which states, “Internet and E-mail resources, services and accounts are the property of the Commonwealth of Kentucky. These resources are to be used for state business purposes in serving the interests of state government.”
Markert added, "We urge you to cancel this event immediately and to remove anything indicating official government sponsorship from the website, reservation forms, media packets, décor, etc. . . . If you wish to be a part of this event you may do so only in your capacity as a citizen, not as governor. In addition, FFRF filed an open records request for financial records for prayer breakfasts from 2011-14, copies of any correspondence from state employees related to the four events and copies of invitations or other correspondence to and from breakfast speakers.
This year's scheduled keynoter is Jacob Tamme, tight end for the National Football League's Denver Broncos and University of Kentucky graduate. "Off the field, Jacob is outspoken about the important role his faith plays in his life," the governor's website says.
The Tennessee Board of Judicial Conduct's public censure March 3 of a former magistrate for changing a baby's first name from "Messiah" to "Martin" was set in motion by a formal complaint by the Freedom From Religion Foundation.
FFRF is a national state/church watchdog based in Madison, Wis., with 20,000 nonreligious members, including nearly 300 in Tennessee. Senior Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert formally requested in an Aug. 14 letter that the board investigate and properly sanction the magistrate.
Child Welfare Magistrate Lu Ann Ballew had presided over a hearing Aug. 8, 2013, in Cocke County Chancery Court in Newport. Although the boy's first name was not among the reasons for the hearing, Ballew decided to change it, saying, "Messiah is a title, and it's a title that has only been earned by one person and that one person is Jesus Christ." (WBIR-TV interview)
In her letter to Timothy Discenza, disciplinary counsel of the board, Markert pointed out that Ballew had violated Canons 1 and 2 of the state Code of Judicial Conduct by imposing her own religious beliefs on the parties, signaling "that she is incapable of offering justice to those who espouse a different point of view or who practice a different religion or no religion."
Discenza announced yesterday that a panel of the board voted unanimously for a public censure, described as the most serious sanction the board could take against Ballew, who was removed from her position last month.
Discenza agreed that Ballew had violated several sections of the code of conduct, including those that require judges to rule with impartiality and fairness and without bias or prejudice.
Read ABC Nashville's story about the development.
Have you contacted Gov. Jan Brewer yet asking her to veto SB 1026? Phone her office now: (602) 542-4331
Statement by Dan Barker & Annie Laurie Gaylor
Freedom From Religion Foundation
The newest threat to religious liberty is the campaign to pass legislation permitting individuals or businesses to impose their religious beliefs on unwilling others.
The Arizona Legislature last Thursday passed SB 1062, to allow business owners to invoke personal religious beliefs as an excuse to deny gays service. This prompted one witty Tucson pizzeria owner to put up a sign giving tit for tat, saying: "We reserve the right to refuse service to Arizona legislators."
It's kind of a warped version of the Golden Rule, which, phrased in the positive, has always had a dangerous "escape clause." "Do unto others as you would have them do onto you" could be a license to preach at others (if you like being preached at), to hurt others (if you're a sadomasochist) or, in this case, to exhibit bigotry toward others (if you're a bigot). The superior rule far predating Christianity is expressed in the negative: "Do not do to others what you don't want done to you."
According to The New York Times, similar "religious protection legislation" has been introduced in Idaho, Mississippi, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Dakota and Tennessee, with efforts stalled in Idaho, Kansas and Ohio.
The bill, while couched as antigay, is so broad it allows any person, business or church to cite religion as a defense if the government or an individual claims they're being discriminated against. Think about all those floral shops in Rhode Island that refused to take FFRF's order for a bouquet of roses to atheist student plaintiff Jessica Ahlquist. FFRF is pursuing redress under the Civil Rights Act, but if Gov. Jan Brewer signs the Arizona bill into law, such discrimination would be lawful — indeed, encouraged. The bill could permit individuals to break nearly any law and cite religious freedom as a defense, as Arizona Democrats pointed out.
The Civil Rights Act came into being to ensure that basic services (such as food, accommodations, medical care) couldn't be denied because of the customer's or patient's race, ethnic heritage, religion or gender. The Arizona bill and the religious bigotry fueling other such bills pose a serious threat to the Civil Rights Act, equal protection under the law and harmony and good will in our nation.
The chain store Hobby Lobby, which is suing Kathleen Sebelius, is likewise invoking "religious beliefs" to defy the guarantees of the Affordable Care Act, because its fundamentalist founder wants veto power over which forms of contraception his women employees may use.
Brewer vetoed a bill similar to SB1062 last session. It's encouraging that the outcry against this bigoted bill prompted three Arizona Republican senators, including the senate majority whip, came forward yesterday with a change of heart on their vote.
To protect true religious liberty it's crucial for these mischief-making pieces of legislation to be vetoed, voted down and ridiculed out of existence.
A sampling of the voluminous crank mail recently received by FFRF, printed in all its grammatical glory:
You say there is no afterlife: One day when you stand before Jesus himself and look into his all knowing eyes ready to be judged and cast into hell-fire you will know then that there is afterlife. But also if you die before that and the instand you die you will drop into the pits of hell-fire itseld instantly. You should talk to a doctor that while resusitating a dieing man he heard the man as he regained conscienceness began to scream “I’m in hell pull me out” and begged the Dr. to not let him die. That doctor was an atheist until then, but he became a believer after seeing the fear in that man’s face shaking horibly. — Homer Bentley, Texas
Christmas/winter sulstice: Why aren;t you brave enough to attack other religions like Islam, Satanism, Buddhism etc. Are you really that gutless that you only pick on Christianity, the religion you know won’t attack you back. I pity you as you must be miserable bastards.
— Gary Hooper, Kemp, Texas
Free thought: Your organization is setup almost exactly like a church ie: your president/copresident are your pastor and his wife, then your vice presidents are top deacons or elders, then you have the rest of your deacons and staff that work at the church during the week between services. Just thought you should know. — Monroe Smith II, Bryan, Texas
Hypocrites: Some police officers decided they wanted to march against violence with some people of faith. Your group ihreatened a law suit against the police department? Who the f**k do you think you are? I’m not even a full blown christian. I was once an athiest, on my way converting to Christianity. Take your threatened lawsuit and shove it up your ass. — RYAN MCGAHA
Hell: Have fun in HELL.....it is HOT....JESUS SAVES YOU FROM THIS!!!!!! — John Thompto, California
separation of church and state: Satan would be proud as you have followed every deceit possible. i mourn for your soul as i looked at the site. I am glad that you help people as this is good, but other than that, it is scary. I pray to the only true God that you may return to truth as you once knew or at least participated in. — Paul Somner
Pathetic: The name GOD or a cross or commandments on a building needs to be removed because it offends you? Bunch of damn cry babies. Don’t look at it when you go by. Religion offends you but a strip club doesn’t or a xxx video store doesn’t? So its ok for your children to look at strip clubs or porn movie stores. Wow what great parents you are. I don’t see you suing any satanic cults or these groups that sacrifice live animals. — Paul Smith
To Dan Barker: We say Merry CHRISTmas at our house and no it’s not a myth. It turns out that the winter solstice you reference is not on Christmas Day, something you may or may not know. — d w
Upon reflection: I was going to contribute to your group, but after rationally thinking about it, I don’t believe you actually exist. I’ll put the checkbook away. — Yes Abs
Hoover High School church graduation: Some anonymous person complained about this ceremony? I find that hard to believe. If the person truly complained, they should come out from behind the coward’s cloak of anonymity and face the people of North Canton’s Class of 2014. The ceremony has now been relocated to an inferior facility that is a dinosaur in a terrible section of downtown Canton. Because of your organization, my son’s 89 year old grandmother, who is oxygen dependent and in a wheelchair, will not attend his graduation as she considers it too much of a burden on us to get her back and forth and into the facility. Keep that in mind as you high five each other over this “victory”.
— Drew Gonyias, North Canton, OH
religous freedom: You will never win. Our faith in GOD as christians will ALWAYS trump your lack of it. Enjoy this short life...hell fires burn hot...you’re not against BB-Q right? — JoLynn Bolden
Your wrong: I thought that I had seen it all in this End Time generation, but now what I am seeing from our Atheistic community is the worst by far. There has always been unbelievers, and as we get closer to the tribulation, the bible predicts that this situation want get better but worse. However, in previous generation atheist understood that you can’t have democracy with out Jesus and the bible, so they respected what the religious community did for the world by giving hope to the hopeless. A belief in God is what helps a drunk, put down the bottle after 20 years of hard drinking, and helps a prostitute, give up there life of selfish, pursuits to live a saintly life with Jesus. If life is so great without God why not move to atheistic China, or Russia were there a dictator telling you what to wear, and how to wear it. — Jordan Wells, Indianapolis
ur assholes: u r ass==== and penis lickers. — bart simpson, 10 dick drive, irwin, pennsylvania
bill boards: How dare you push your communist ideals off on my children. Its your business if you are atheists, but my business when you put up nasty dirty bill boards for my children to see. If your the children of the devil that is your business, but don’t try to push your nasty evil views on all of us. — sharon howard, madera, calif.
God loving: i learned about your bogus bullshit trying to look at some news you are not news you are not america maybe you you would be better off in russia,maybe iran i have no respect for you or your rights if you notice i did nt call you out you called us out get over it and go ahead and get out of our good country nazi trash like you have ruined america for all of us. — good ol religious arky
Happy Solstice?!?! You liberal bleeding heart scumbags will be the downfall of this nation, but not without a fight. Honor and respect the history and heritage of our country’s Judeo Christian values or get the fuck out. Where would you be without this nation’s Judeo Christian heritage? Worked out well for Lenin’s commie atheist experiment didn’t it? You will burn in Hell. Enjoy! — Matthew Stevens, California
Atheists? Who keeps the sun just far enough away for warmth, light for plants, animals? Who feeds the birds? Who thought up all this? Atheists insult their own intelligence. We all get to meet JESUS. Never has JESUS/GOD been taken out of schools, poems, songs, books, till now. I hear JESUS’ footsteps. HE is walking towards you. — Lance Thomas, Savannah, Ga.
Reality: If there was proof that contradicts your beliefs, would you be willing to listen? Let me know. — Drake Kent, Marlinton, W. Virginia
Just A Hate Letter: Seriously guys, what the fuck? There is nothing wrong with religion. It brings people hope and happiness. Shoving this bullshit down the throats of everyone is not fair. It’s annoying to see people like you make being an atheist a struggle. I hope everyone in your pathetic fucking organization gets shot in the dick. Even the female members. — Brandyn Silva, Vacaville, Calif.
(The following letter by FFRF member Marty Rush was printed Nov. 5 in The Mountain Mail in Salida, Colo. It’s part of an ongoing debate between Marty and a local fundamentalist Christian.)
You have to admire Ide Trotter for his everlasting effort to convert me to Christianity. The effort is unnecessary, however, since I already believe in a higher power. I know it sounds crazy, but I have an omnipotent imaginary friend and he runs the universe.
His name is Fred.
Fred created everything that exists from nothing between 6,000 and 14 billion years ago. Which pretty much makes him omnipotent.
I say Fred is imaginary because no one really sees him but me.
Not that I see him in the normal way. No, Fred is more like — a presence. I can feel him sometimes, flowing through me. But even without seeing him face to face, I know Fred is real.
I talk to him. And he talks to me. In fact, we have regular conversations, Fred and I.
Fred tells me all kinds of things. How to judge right from wrong. What goals I should have in life. Even what to eat for breakfast sometimes. But it’s more than that.
Fred has also revealed the secrets of the universe to me. How he created our world. And how it will end. (In a violent cataclysm, unfortunately.) Fred has a plan for humanity, you see.
My friends are concerned about my belief in Fred. Maybe it’s the suddenness of it.
I just found Fred last week. Before that, life was truly bleak. Outwardly, I seemed OK, but inside, I was miserable. I didn’t know why I was even alive. And I was afraid of dying.
Fred has changed all that. Now my life has meaning. I understand how I fit into Fred’s cosmic design. Plus, I get to talk with the guy who created it all. Pretty cool.
But people have doubts about me, and about Fred. They say Fred doesn’t exist. They think I’m having some kind of hallucination.
I beg to differ. I’m confident in the truth of Fred’s existence. I know Fred is real, and I can prove it.
It’s in the Book of Fred.
The Book of Fred was written, a long time ago, by someone who apparently had the exact same omnipotent imaginary friend as me. The Book of Fred says that Fred created the universe. It lists Fred’s rules for ethical living and recounts Fred’s many miracles.
It’s all there in black and white.
Sadly, my friends dispute the truth of the Book of Fred. But as it says in the book, “Anyone who disputes the truth of the Book of Fred is way stupid and eternally damned.”
Of course, I’ve been adding to the book all the new stuff Fred is telling me, so I have the true updated word of Fred (if anyone’s interested).
Personally, I’d hate to be caught unprepared when Fred finally gets fed up and destroys the world. He’s going to do it, too.
But omnipotent imaginary friends are like that, as Ide could certainly tell you.
Freethought Today is very sorry to report the death of longtime FFRF member Bly Marion Allen, 93, Altoona, Wis., on Nov. 1, 2013.
Born in Lindsborg, Kan., on July 12, 1920, Bly was one of nine children born to Eben and Dora (Herman) Johnson. She married Roy Allen in 1957. Roy was a widower with two young children, Michael, 8, and Peggy, 7. They were married 45 years.
Bly earned a B.A. in 1946 from Marymount College in Salina and an M.A. in 1950 from the University of Chicago. She was assistant dean of women and a counselor for 20 years at Northern Illinois University in DeKalb. Her passion for education continued throughout her life. She was an avid reader, gardener and political activist and loved to write about her memories of growing up on a farm in a Swedish community. She was a member of the Unitarian Universalist congregation in Eau Claire. Her dream of controlling her manner and time of death was realized as she passed away peacefully under hospice care within days of leaving her independent living situation.
Bly will be dearly missed and is survived by her daughter, Sarah (Ted) Welter; stepson, Michael (Christine) Allen; son-in-law, Steve Arnold; three grandchildren, Kate (Dave) Ullman, Charles and John Welter; and two sisters, Wanda Block and Minnie Beck. She was preceded in death by husband, Roy Allen, and daughter, Margaret (Peggy) Allen.
Bly attended many Wisconsin-based FFRF conventions and was an occasional visitor at Freethought Hall over two decades. Anne and Annie Laurie Gaylor and FFRF staffers recall many lovely conversations with Bly, an ardent freethinker and supporter of state/church separation.
A Unitarian Universalist memorial service was held Nov. 10 in Eau Claire.
Name: Eric C. Sanders.
Where I live: Macomb County, Mich.
Where and when I was born: Detroit, Jan. 19, 1950.
Education: Two semesters at Wayne State University; the full course at Electronic Computer Programming Institute, Detroit (1971); variety of trade courses from McCormack & Dodge and IBM, along with lots of on-the-job training.
Occupation: First I was a kitchen boy at a Girl Scout camp, then everything from short-order cook and pizza delivery boy to mainframe computer operations, to 20 years’ mainframe computer programming to cabbing, and now retail service in a gun shop.
How I got where I am today: Luck. My bum knee got me out of the Army on a medical discharge after being drafted in spite of a doctor’s note, but my discharge was a week too early to qualify for G.I. benefits. As a result, I never finished a degree and lost a house. While a student at computer school, though, I met a fellow who wound up recommending me for progressively better jobs in information technology.
Finally, my job was eliminated, and I was invited to go someplace where my lack of a degree would not be important. Then an acquaintance was fired from the job I now hold. That’s only half of the story. I know no one up there likes me.
Where I’m headed: Short term? I’m going to find out whether my investment choices, along with Social Security and what earnings I can garner, will support me the rest of my life. Long term? Recycling, obviously.
Persons I admire: Anyone who can stay cool while his tectonic plate heads hellward — haven’t known that many such people, certainly not admirable ones.
Not personally known? Writers Bob Heinlein and Louis L’Amour, Medal of Honor winners Audie Murphy and Rodger Young, cartoon creators R. Crumb and Michael Maltese, and singers Eddie Van Halen and Janis Ian. Plus the person who first thought up writing and reading -— greatest invention in history.
A quotation I like: There are a bunch. Ecclesiastes 9:11. 1 Corinthians 13:2. Matthew 25:40. Henry James on the three things important in human life (all end in “be kind”).
“People said there was one law for the rich and one law for the poor, but it wasn’t true. There was no law for those who made the law, and no law for the incorrigibly lawless. All the laws and rules were for those people stupid enough to think like Cockbill Street people.” (Terry Pratchett)
And lastly, Abraham Maslow: “He that is good with a hammer tends to think everything is a nail.”
These are a few of my favorite things: A companion who listens. Foley that means it [accurate sound effects]. Tenderloin (skillet fried). Meatloaf that’s meatloaf. Snacks unconcerned with nutrition. Beautiful women who love to eat and drink. A book, or a movie, that is its own story. Any pistol with inverse rails. Folks who carry concealed, unconcerned with fashion. Manual transmissions. Air conditioning (thank Willis Carrier)!
These are not: Wal-Mart. Nutritious “snacks.” Religious people who do not know God, let alone Her shoe size. Teachers who don’t. Cooks more concerned with presentation than with comfort. Parents who shouldn’t. Governments.
My doubts about religion started: My childhood researches into the art and science of shoplifting led to me being sentenced to read the Revised Standard Version from cover to cover. The content was my first real brush with formal English literature, but it did not persuade me that its writers knew anything that I didn’t. It was just too inferior to really imaginative fiction, such as the works of Heinlein or Conan Doyle.
What I wished for as a child: Real proof that I was important to someone else — important for a reason unique to me.
Ways I promote freethought: Speaking and writing to anyone and everyone, always the truth as closely as I can discover it.
From left at the Tallahassee debate were Gary Whittenberger, Dan Barker, Bryan O’Neal, Mark Hohmeister and a representative of Ratio Christi.
A question long discussed around campfires, in caves, dorm halls, churches, classrooms, coffee shops and various other settings throughout history is “does God exist?” And so it was on Sept. 10 at the Challenger Learning Center in downtown Tallahassee, Fla.
Arguing for the affirmative position was Bryan O’Neal, professor of theology and dean of faculty at the Moody Bible Institute in Chicago. Taking the negative position was Dan Barker, an evangelist turned atheist and co-president of the Freedom from Religion Foundation in Madison, Wis. Debate moderator was Mark Hohmeister, associate editor of the Tallahassee Democrat.
The event was hosted by the Center for Inquiry-Tallahassee. Co-sponsors included Ratio Christi, Freethinkers’ Forum, the Unitarian Universalist Church of Tallahassee, Tallahassee Atheists, First Coast Freethought Society, Humanists of Florida Association, Joan Patterson, Neil Mooney and Richard and Elaine Hull.
For more than two hours, the debaters vigorously defended their positions before an audience of 175 and afterward answered audience questions and engaged in informal discussions and book signings.
Seventy-eight percent of the audience completed an opinion survey consisting of one question posed before the debate and two questions posed after the debate. They were asked to answer the question “Does God exist?” (pre- and post-debate), choosing among five options: “definitely yes, probably yes, can’t decide, probably no, and definitely no.”
The definition of “God” used in the survey was one commonly held among believers in the “Abrahamic faiths” and one which the debaters had agreed to use prior to the debate. “God” was defined as “a being, intelligent agent, or person who is all-knowing, all-powerful, and perfectly good, who created the cosmos and is the supreme moral authority.”
Audience members were also asked near the conclusion “Who won the debate?”
Before the debate, 21.3% of those who completed the survey answered they were theists or believers in God, 5.1% said they were agnostics or undecided, and 71.3% identified as atheists or nonbelievers. Overall, 11.8% thought O’Neal won the debate, 69.9% thought Barker won and 11% thought it was a tie. Given the composition of the audience, this result was not too surprising.
Minds were changed
Although most people (82.4%) didn’t change their opinions about the existence of God from before the debate to afterward, 24 persons (17.6%) did. Of these individuals who had a change of mind, 16 (66.7%) changed in the direction of diminished belief in God, four (16.7%) changed in the direction of increased belief, and for four others (16.7%), the direction of change was ambiguous.
For those who began the debate as atheists, 3.1% thought O’Neal won, 84.5% thought Barker and 8.2% thought it was a tie. For the agnostics (who marked “can’t decide”), 14.3% favored O’Neal, 57.1% favored Barker and none thought it was a tie.
The most surprising result came from the theists, among which 37.9% thought O’Neal won, 31% thought Barker won and 24.1% thought it was a tie. Almost as many believers perceived Barker as the winner as thought O’Neal won.
For those who changed their belief about the existence of God, changes were in small increments, as might be expected in a 150-minute debate. Twenty of 24 (83.3%) who changed their minds did so by only one level. For example, the most common change to “Does God exist?” was from “probably no” to “definitely no.”
One surprising and rather disappointing fact was that before the debate, the religious community of Tallahassee did not come forward to support O’Neal even though he is an articulate apologist and a Presbyterian. Of five local Presbyterian churches which were invited to be debate co-sponsors, two declined and three never responded. Of approximately seven other religious groups invited to be co-sponsors, only one (Ratio Christi) agreed to support O’Neal and the debate’s goals.
This general lack of support seems inconsistent with a well-known bible verse (1 Peter 3:15): “But sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence.”
These survey results are consistent with a general U.S. trend toward secularization. On religious issues, most people are not changing their minds but some are, and among those who are, most are becoming less religious.
FFRF member Gary Whittenberger is a retired psychologist and current secretary of the Center for Inquiry–Tallahassee.