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I remained seated. I, and a few of my friends, endured the nasty comments from other students. I actually called some of those other students friends. I did not always remain seated for the Pledge of Allegiance. Honestly, I had trouble ignoring other students telling me that I had to stand up.

So I developed several versions of the Pledge, for example: "I pledge allegiance to the Republic of El Salvador, and to the dictatorship for which it stands, one nation under Me, with liberty and justice for about six people," or, "I pledge allegiance to the Iron Fist of America, and to the corporate oligarchy for which it stands, one nation under Pat Robertson, with liberty and justice for Fundamentalists." In other words, I was destined to never be the Homecoming King. But my smallish act of defiance got me thinking: Why should I have to skip over a part of the pledge to my country? Why should there be a de facto establishment of the existence of a god (which everyone assumes to be the Christian one) every day in my public school?

The clear answer is that I should not have to skip a part of the Pledge any more than I, or anyone else, should have to have a government-sponsored deity shoved down our throats each morning at school. What is worse than having to either remain seated or skip over parts of the Pledge of Allegiance is that most students have no idea that they cannot require other students to stand up and pledge to the flag. In my AP English class, one fundamentalist student was almost screaming at me for not doing so. I had never seen someone get so close to a self-induced coronary. Lucky for both of us we were good friends and had been so since grade school. I replied to his beseeching that there was no law saying one had to stand for the Pledge and that the Supreme Court had actually ruled against any such laws. Because we respected each other, this tit for tat never amounted to anything, but most people do not have the luxury of growing up with someone who turns out to be an opponent. Many people, otherwise lacking any common interests, view those of another faith, a different version of one's own faith, or of no faith, as enemies. Healthy discussions degenerate into vituperative attacks and disgusting rumors. Enmity emerges from the ashes and we soon have another holy war, Inquisition, Crusades, or Salem under humanity's proverbial Bible Belt.

First, religion does not belong in public schools because it is divisive. It engenders a smug, holier-than-thou attitude that makes students, teachers, and administrators believe it is okay to violate the rights of others. And what hasn't been done in the name of God? Hitler based his anti-Semitism on the Bible, even going so far as to state that killing the Jews would make him a doer of the Lord's work. The website of the Ku Klux Klan is so blatantly Christian that I'm waiting for them to get Pat Robertson's Pious Award. Osama bin Laden seems like a religious individual. Maybe Congress should ask him to open the legislative sessions with a non-sectarian, non-proselytizing prayer. Perhaps the Catholics and Protestants of Northern Ireland could teach us a few things about church/state separation. What about Waco or Jonestown?

All this may seem out of proportion to having to say the Pledge every morning. But think about it: The goal of Pat Robertson, James Dobson, Jerry Falwell, et al., is not to force people to say "under God" each day, or to keep "In God We Trust" on our money. Their goal is a Christian version of Iran. Total theocracy. In no uncertain terms the Religious Right does not care about the family, liberty, freedom, the Bill of Rights, the Constitution, the free market, or anything remotely ensconcing the rights of man above the rights of a god. They crave souls. Like any addict, any path to the drug is acceptable. Saying "under God" now means one may be under someone's version of God's iron fist later. Step up the dose little by little. Tax exemptions, Blue Laws, post office closings, ceremonial deism (God on coins, Pledge, etc.), vouchers, "faith-based partnerships," political meddling, blasphemy laws, direct funding of churches, and finally our nation becomes the Religious Right's wet dream: Welcome to the Christian States of America.

That is why it is important to say that religion most certainly does not belong in public schools. That is why church/state violations of any kind must be fought. Students should not have to skip over the words "under God"; those words should not be there. Period.

In addition, religion should not be in public schools because it is false. As atheists, we frequently ignore or do not even consider that point. Religion is false. Evolution should be taught in biology classes, creationism in humanities. Evolution is a fact, creation is a myth. Public schools should be neutral about the existence of a god, even if everyone were to agree that a god existed. This is not to say that lively debate should not occur in public schools. Far from it, I discussed the non-existence of God as part of a presentation I did in my AP English class on Dante's Inferno. I argued with my fundamentalist friend in class as well. But the government did not sponsor my presentation, nor my discussions with my friends. I did not borrow the band's sound system and announce during football games that God was a fiction. I did not force people to remain seated during the Pledge of Allegiance or tell everybody to say, "one nation, without God . . . "

When someone asks me the greatest reason for not having government-sponsored religion in public schools, perhaps the best answer would be because there should not be government indoctrination in something as important a topic as God. Would a Christian want government-sponsored atheism? Then I say get the State out of the metaphysics business all together. Religion is divisive, false, and far too important a topic to trust to the government. Forget the metaphysical, it can't even fix the physical. That sounds like a ringing endorsement for keeping religion out of public schools.

Eric Breitenstein graduated at the top of his class (out of approx. 330) from Gulf High School in New Port Richey, Florida. He attends the University of Florida in Gainesville and will major in journalism. He enjoys photography, biking, writing, and reading. His favorite author is Bertrand Russell.

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You Won't Believe You're Reading This

Pizza Extremists. The Ava Maria School of Law, MI, bankrolled with $50 million by Domino's Pizza founder Tom Monaghan, opened for biz in August with 77 students. Combining legal theory with staunch Catholic theology, the law school--whose governing board includes Henry Hyde and Catholic officials, and whose staff includes Robert Bork--is expected to train a cadre of antiabortion lawyers. Source: Associated Press, 8/25/00

Making Gays Latter-day Lepers. At its 170th Semiannual General Conference in Salt Lake City, tens of thousands of Mormons twirled handkerchiefs and gave a "Hosanna Shout" at the dedication of a new church conference center, as LDS Church officials promised to continue active anti-gay lobbying attacks. Source: Salt Lake City Tribune, 10/9/00

Not A Good Day. Police arrested the parents of a 17-year-old Bronx youth for severely beating their gay son with a lead pipe while yelling, "God will punish you for your lifestyle." The parents' answering machine greets callers with the salutation: "God bless you. You have a good day." Source: New York Daily News, 8/13/00

Muslim Wife-Beating Urged. A Spanish Koranic scholar's book Women in Islam describes how to bring rebellious women into line: hit without leaving marks. Blows should be administered to feet and hands with a rod that "is not too thick," writes Mohamed Kamal Mostafa. Source: The Telegraph [UK], 7/23/00

Ditto, Turkish Handbook. The Muslim's Handbook by cleric Kemal Guran, published by a state-funded religious foundation in Turkey, prescribes wife-beating and polygamy, shuns contraception and even music, which is sinful because it "arouses sexual desire." It advises readers "not to strike the woman's face" but to hit her "gently" elsewhere "just as a warning." Source: The Telegraph [UK], 8/12/00

Bishop Blames Rape Victims. As a Mexican state debated a proposal to jail rape victims who have abortions, Guadalajara Bishop Juan Sandoval Iniguez blamed women for rape "because the way they dress is provocative. Women must be more decent and not encourage it." Source: Reuters, 8/17/00

Polygamy USA. It is not unusual for a single family in Colorado City, AZ, home to the polygamous Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, to have 50 members, according to Ben Bistline, a local historian. Prophet Rulon Jeffs, 92, whose recent order caused a mass exodus from public schools this fall, reportedly has 16 wives and as many as 90 children. Source: Los Angeles Times, 10/10/00

Muscular Christianity. A grandmother, 63, was the second person in her parish to be arrested in connection with homophobic harassment of Rev. Neil Follett, the vicar of St Paul's, Knightsbridge, who fled in fear of his life last summer. Source: [London] Times, 8/18/00

One Can Believe This. Arizona's House Chaplain, the GOP-appointed Rev. Charles Coppinger, 36, explained he realized he is gay last spring, but it took him half a year to work up the courage to tell lawmakers. Source: Arizona Republic, 10/11/00

Rodney Lyle Scott is a thirty-four-year old mechanic who works for United Airlines. He travels daily to and from Denver International Airport on Interstate 70, which is the main east-west highway in Colorado. Rodney is divorced and has joint custody of his three-year-old daughter.

In recent years, private citizens have erected a number of Christian crosses and other religious memorabilia along the median strip of Interstate 70. These displays mark the spots where loved ones died in traffic accidents although, in one case, a cross marked the area where a murdered woman's body was thrown from her assailant's car. So many crosses have been erected that Rodney Scott has likened it to driving through a graveyard. This phenomenon has not been restricted to Interstate 70. Crosses are cropping up on other highway rights of way all over Colorado and, we understand, in other states.

With all due respect to the grieving families, about two years ago FFRF's Colorado Chapter asked the Colorado Department of Transportation, commonly known as "CDOT," to stop this use of State highways to promote Christianity. This led to a program whereby CDOT, upon receiving a complaint, would first offer the family which had erected the memorial an opportunity to remove it. If that was not successful, CDOT would remove and dispose of the display itself.

Although a number of religious objects were removed under this program, it proved to be unsatisfactory primarily because, usually within days, the object would reappear at the same location. For this reason, the Colorado Chapter filed a written request with CDOT asking (1) that fines be assessed against the party or parties who erected a display and (2) that CDOT's maintenance crews routinely remove these objects regardless of whether their presence had been brought to official attention by the Colorado Chapter.

Ironically, just about the time this request was made, a Colorado State Trooper noticed Rodney Scott's pickup truck sitting in the median strip one evening alongside Interstate 70 about 25 miles east of Denver. He also noticed some religious paraphernalia in the back of the truck and questioned Scott. Satisfied that nothing was wrong, the Trooper left but not until he had made a note of the license plate number on Rodney's truck.

Things get a bit fuzzy after that. However, it appears that several people complained to the authorities that their Christian crosses had been removed from the Interstate 70 median strip and an investigation was initiated by the local sheriff's department. The State Trooper who had taken Scott's license number heard about the investigation and contacted the sheriff, who then questioned Scott. In the course of this questioning, Scott was not advised that he had a right to say nothing, that anything he said could be used against him and that he had a right to consult with a lawyer. This is the Miranda warning that is so often ignored by the authorities.

It was determined that Scott was probably the culprit who removed the crosses. An effort was first made to charge Scott in Arapahoe County because that was where he was originally spotted by the State Trooper. However, the Arapahoe County District Attorney refused to file charges, so Scott was charged in Adams County. The District Attorney in Adams County is a mean-spirited, politically ambitious person and undoubtedly saw this case as a career stepping-stone.

Curiously, Scott was not charged with theft of a roadside memorial. Instead, he was charged under a little-used law making it a crime to "desecrate an object venerated by the public." This has all the indicia of a crime against religion. The word "desecrate" means to destroy the sacredness of, and "veneration" is synonymous with worship. Our legal system has a long history of rejecting crimes such as blasphemy and heresy, so a major issue in the case will be whether the law violates the Constitutional principle of church/state separation.

At the arraignment, Scott was offered a plea bargain whereby he would only be fined $50 if he pled guilty. Scott refused and the case has been set for trial in early December.

We are now in the "discovery" phase of the case. This means that Scott is entitled to receive all documents relating to the case that are in the hands of the prosecution. One such document is a letter written by CDOT about two years ago advising a private citizen to remove a roadside cross which he complained about. On the basis of this, we asked that Scott's case be dropped, but the District Attorney refused. The prosecution's position on this issue is that the authorization was limited to the person to whom the letter was written and no one else. Odd, to say the least.

We are now in the "discovery" phase of the case. This means that Scott is entitled to receive all documents relating to the case that are in the hands of the prosecution. One such document is a letter written by CDOT about two years ago advising a private citizen to remove a roadside cross which he complained about. On the basis of this, we asked that Scott's case be dropped, but the District Attorney refused. The prosecution's position on this issue is that the authorization was limited to the person to whom the letter was written and no one else. Odd, to say the least.

The trial promises to be interesting. Assuming for the sake of argument that Scott did remove the roadside crosses, does this constitute "desecration"? What is an "object venerated by the public"? Will a survey be taken to establish this? What about those people who find roadside crosses repulsive? Will this be taken into account in determining whether the public venerates them? How can CDOT give one citizen authority to remove a roadside memorial and then have the government turn right around and file criminal charges against another person who did the very same thing? What gives people the right to erect private memorials on property owned by all the taxpayers? And what recourse does a citizen have if the government does not fulfill its responsibility by seeing to it that public property is not used to promote religion? If the government refuses to take a patently unconstitutional display down, doesn't the public have the right to do so?

At the arraignment, the presiding Judge insisted that the trial should not take more than one day. He reluctantly set it for a two-day trial but we believe that it will take the better part of a week. This could create some friction with the Judge so, thankfully, under our system of justice, Scott is entitled to a jury trial. Empanelling the jury to make sure that there are no jurors who are biased in favor of religion or opposed to separation of church and state could take an entire day.

Meantime, we have filed a motion with the Judge to dismiss the case on two grounds: first, that the criminal statute has the effect of unconstitutionally endorsing religion and, second, that the statute is unconstitutionally vague because it does not set an objective standard against which an alleged wrongdoer's actions can be measured. That motion is pending before the Judge and we are not optimistic that it will be granted. The usual response from a Judge is to allow the case to go to trial and let the jury decide.

After the case has been tried or in the unlikely event the Judge dismisses it, we shall do a follow-up on the results.

Attorney Robert R. Tiernan is a Foundation member who directs the Denver FFRF chapter. He is representing Rodney Scott pro bono.

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Tennessee Schools At It Again

On behalf of a family in Dayton, Tennessee, the national Freedom From Religion Foundation is protesting pervasive religious influence in the town's public schools, including:

bible study in the classroom, conducted during school hours by an outside group of fundamentalist Christians from Bryan College
distribution of bibles in classrooms by the Gideon Society
morning bible reading over the intercom followed by a moment of silence; and
the posting of overtly religious messages by some teachers on the walls and doors of classrooms

The school board more than a year ago voted not to stop the bible classes.

Dan Barker, a spokesperson for the Foundation, which has members in the Dayton area, as well as throughout Tennessee, and in every state, sent an official letter of complaint to Superintendent Susan Porter, Rhea County Schools, enumerating the various prevailing Supreme Court decisions which the practices violate.

Under McCollum v. Board of Education, 333 U.S. 203, 212 (1948), religious instruction in the public schools is unconstitutional. The U.S. Supreme Court has let stand two lower court rulings barring distribution of Gideon Bibles on school property: Tudor v. Board of Education of Rutherford, 14 J.N. 31 (1953), cert. denied 348 U.S. 816 (1954), reaffirmed in Berger v. Rensselaer, 982 F.2d, 1160 (7th Cir.) cert. denied, 124 L.E. 2d 254 (1993). A moment of silence with religious intent was halted as unconstitutional in Wallace v. Jaffree, 472 U.S. 38, 72 (1985). Stone v. Graham, 449 U.S. 39 (1980) outlawed the posting of the Ten Commandments in public schools because they are religious.

The Tennessee Constitution also forbids such entanglements, stating that: ". . . no human authority can, in any case whatever control or interfere with the rights of conscience; and that no preference shall ever be given, by law to any religious establishment or mode of worship." (Article I, Declaration of Rights)

In his letter, Barker noted that the family complainants object to "the indignity that their children (as young as kindergarten!) experience while being forced to sit through the indoctrination of someone else's religion in their own public school system."

The Foundation called for assurance that these blatantly illegal practices will be halted immediately.

"Seventy-five years after the Scopes Trial, is this where the Dayton public schools want to be--illegally promoting religion and violating the law?" Barker asked.

"The Dayton schools need to evolve," Barker added.

Chattanooga radio stations have been covering the story, as well as the Chattanoogan. After a story about the issue ran in the Dayton Herald-News (which is editorializing in favor of the bible classes), a second family with children in the Dayton schools contacted the Foundation to join the complaint.

As of press time, no formal answer to the Foundation's September 27 letter has been received from the school board, although Superintendent Porter has reportedly told the media that she is not afraid of a lawsuit, asserting that 99.9% of the community supports religion in the schools.

Bryan College is the bible school in Dayton that was founded in the name of William Jennings Bryan, who debated Clarence Darrow during the famous 1925 Scopes trial in that town.

%679 %America/Chicago, %2013

Tennessee Schools At It Again

On behalf of a family in Dayton, Tennessee, the national Freedom From Religion Foundation is protesting pervasive religious influence in the town's public schools, including:

bible study in the classroom, conducted during school hours by an outside group of fundamentalist Christians from Bryan College
distribution of bibles in classrooms by the Gideon Society
morning bible reading over the intercom followed by a moment of silence; and
the posting of overtly religious messages by some teachers on the walls and doors of classrooms

The school board more than a year ago voted not to stop the bible classes.

Dan Barker, a spokesperson for the Foundation, which has members in the Dayton area, as well as throughout Tennessee, and in every state, sent an official letter of complaint to Superintendent Susan Porter, Rhea County Schools, enumerating the various prevailing Supreme Court decisions which the practices violate.

Under McCollum v. Board of Education, 333 U.S. 203, 212 (1948), religious instruction in the public schools is unconstitutional. The U.S. Supreme Court has let stand two lower court rulings barring distribution of Gideon Bibles on school property: Tudor v. Board of Education of Rutherford, 14 J.N. 31 (1953), cert. denied 348 U.S. 816 (1954), reaffirmed in Berger v. Rensselaer, 982 F.2d, 1160 (7th Cir.) cert. denied, 124 L.E. 2d 254 (1993). A moment of silence with religious intent was halted as unconstitutional in Wallace v. Jaffree, 472 U.S. 38, 72 (1985). Stone v. Graham, 449 U.S. 39 (1980) outlawed the posting of the Ten Commandments in public schools because they are religious.

The Tennessee Constitution also forbids such entanglements, stating that: ". . . no human authority can, in any case whatever control or interfere with the rights of conscience; and that no preference shall ever be given, by law to any religious establishment or mode of worship." (Article I, Declaration of Rights)

In his letter, Barker noted that the family complainants object to "the indignity that their children (as young as kindergarten!) experience while being forced to sit through the indoctrination of someone else's religion in their own public school system."

The Foundation called for assurance that these blatantly illegal practices will be halted immediately.

"Seventy-five years after the Scopes Trial, is this where the Dayton public schools want to be--illegally promoting religion and violating the law?" Barker asked.

"The Dayton schools need to evolve," Barker added.

Chattanooga radio stations have been covering the story, as well as the Chattanoogan. After a story about the issue ran in the Dayton Herald-News (which is editorializing in favor of the bible classes), a second family with children in the Dayton schools contacted the Foundation to join the complaint.

As of press time, no formal answer to the Foundation's September 27 letter has been received from the school board, although Superintendent Porter has reportedly told the media that she is not afraid of a lawsuit, asserting that 99.9% of the community supports religion in the schools.

Bryan College is the bible school in Dayton that was founded in the name of William Jennings Bryan, who debated Clarence Darrow during the famous 1925 Scopes trial in that town.

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Clarence Reinders: Freethinker of Year

Foundation Life Member Clarence R. Reinders was named "Freethinker of the Year." He was unable to attend the Foundation's 23rd Annual Convention in person, but sent this acceptance speech.

 

I wish to thank the Freedom From Religion Foundation for naming me "Freethinker of the Year." I am delighted to accept this award. It is like receiving the Congressional Medal of Honor for fighting and being wounded in a fierce war in defense of the First Amendment to the Constitution. After all, that's what I really am, a defender of the first clause of the Bill of Rights, i.e., the separation of church and state.

I am honored to have fought and prevailed in keeping the church and state separate because it is between these two powerful governing forces, one "sacred" and the other secular and profane, that freedom of the individual is given a chance to survive and thrive, where free men and women can think and believe and act freely. What a privilege to have been given the opportunity to be a foot soldier in service to such a noble cause.

On June 19, 2000, the U.S. Supreme Court, by a vote of 6 to 3, handed freethinkers everywhere a huge victory. Like the successful appeal, by a 3 to zero vote, of the Jesus idol in the Marshfield Park, it was a strong decision in upholding the first clause in the First Amendment of the Constitution which bars government from establishing religion.

The Santa Fe Independent School District in suburban Houston, Texas, had a policy which allowed an elected student representative to deliver a public prayer before home high school football games. The Supreme Court banned this student-led prayer. You all probably remember reading about this. But what you may be unaware of is that this suit was not brought to the court by a bunch of us "immoral" atheists attacking religion in public life. Irony of ironies, it was brought by a Catholic family and a Mormon family, two Christian minorities bobbing in a sea of the majority Southern Christian Baptists in the very hostile buckle of the Bible Belt.

But what most people are unaware of is that these two families--one Catholic and one Mormon--had their identities sealed by the courts. That fact speaks volumes about their fear of reprisals from their loving Southern Baptist Christian friends and neighbors and the courts' concern to protect their lives, limbs and property from the depredations of their fellow Christians. So much for Christian love.

Yet in order to challenge the statue of Jesus in a Marshfield public park a named citizen of Marshfield had to step forward, identify himself and sign his name on the dotted line of the legal complaint.

Freedom From Religion needed someone with legal standing, a foot soldier on the frontline to be shot at and I gladly agreed to be that sitting duck. In fact I volunteered. My Christian wife who had supported me in my beliefs, i.e., disbelief of all religious belief systems, had died. My career as a motel owner/operator in Marshfield was near its end. I was in my late sixties. If I didn't finally take a stand for liberty of conscience and do it now, when?

Anne Nicol Gaylor had asked me many years ago when I first became a member of Freedom From Religion to sue the city regarding the Jesus shrine in the Marshfield park. But I could not do it at that time and she understood. I was fearful about how this basically Christian community and my Christian wife would react. But conditions change and become ripe for ideas whose time has come. And we as atheists, agnostics, skeptics and humanists--our time has finally come.

I knew it wasn't going to be any cake walk and that I would be the target of much Christian hate. So I bought a telephone answering machine and a tape recorder to record the calls and settled in for the inevitable hostile reaction to the lawsuit. I knew it wasn't going to be pretty but was totally unprepared for the violent and vitriolic ad hominem attacks on me as the mere messenger. After all, I only said, "The emperor has no clothes." And the good loving Christian community was really steamed at me for having said it. They never addressed the issue of the unconstitutionality of a religious statue in a public park.

Instead I was called all kinds of names and invited to leave this god-fearing country if I didn't like it here. One fellow knew of an island in the ocean where I could go. A doctor's wife from the Marshfield Clinic said I would be lucky if I didn't get my house egged. And so on. All recorded on tape. I even had a news reporter and a policeman together listen to some pretty nasty threats. Naturally after it was reported in the Marshfield News-Herald that their phone messages were being recorded the volume of phone calls trailed off.

I did however receive three anonymous phone calls from supporters who were fearful of giving their names and phone numbers. Two upfront outspoken supporters called, one of whom was Bernie Ehrman, a Freedom From Religion member who has since died. The other was a very sharp local lady. I also had three or four supporters drop by in person at the motel to give me encouragement, one of whom was my doctor from the Marshfield Clinic. So we as atheistic and agnostic individuals are not so alone as we may seem. Definitely a despised minority but definitely not alone.

Whenever there would be some report in the newspaper as the lawsuit progressed there would be a flurry of letters to the editor. Sometimes four or five letters on this issue dominated the comment section. I clipped and saved them all. The vast majority of them, like 20 to 1, were in favor of keeping the idol in the park. They thought that the majority in Marshfield should rule and that I as part of the minority should just accept it and when I drove by the idol I should just look the other way. They just didn't get it that the Bill of Rights is not about majority rule but about the protection of the minority within the majority.

They thought that Anne Gaylor and that atheistic organization in Madison should keep their noses out of the way they ran the parks in Marshfield. They just didn't understand that to protest an egregious violation of the First Amendment is everyone's secular civic duty and that the benefits of the defense of the First Amendment accrue just as well to them. The day is fast coming when, because of projected future demographic multicultural changes, the Christian majority will become the Christian minority and then they will be most thankful for the religious protections secured by the First Amendment.

As soon as the lawsuit had been filed against the city of Marshfield, the city immediately knew that it was in an indefensible position and was in violation of the First Amendment. First it put up a disclaimer sign saying that it did not endorse any particular religion. Then it quickly sold 15 hundredths of an acre of the public park to the Praschak Memorial Fund and smugly thought it was off the unconstitutional hook. Then Freedom From Religion sued the city and the Praschak Memorial Fund as still being in violation of the separation of church and state because the shrine would still appear to be in a public park. Judge Shabaz found otherwise and the case was appealed to the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago where, to my wonderment and surprise, it found 3 to zero in our favor.

I never in my wildest dreams ever thought we would get more than one vote on our side. Three to zero! What a victory! The Jesus idol was found to be in violation of the First Amendment. We were vindicated. That's what we had claimed all along and we were right. The emperor did indeed have no clothes.

Now a final delicious irony. The Praschak Memorial Group in collusion with the City of Marshfield fought to keep the statue in its present high visibility and prime location on Highway 13 as a welcoming figure to travelers entering and exiting Marshfield on the south side. All north and south traffic is funneled on that one road only. You had to drive by the idol unless as a native of Marshfield you knew of one back street to avoid it. I was several times counseled to use this detour since I was so offended by the sight of their precious Jesus. What a juicy propaganda location to display their cherished idol for all to see.

Even with a fence around it and two disclaimer signs, the city and the Praschak Memorial Group think that they have nevertheless won. After all, they did not have to move the idol which still commands its high visibility location. For, as they say in real estate, the three most important features of a property are location, location and location.

However, the State of Wisconsin is building a bypass around and through the city. Guess what? That bypass will become Highway 13. And the street ahead of the idol will no longer be the official Highway 13 but just plain South Central Avenue. The upshot will be that the vast majority of the traffic that enters and leaves the city will no longer be forced to travel past the idol. What delicious just deserts!

We did not succeed in moving the religious statue out of the public park but benevolent and capricious fate intervened and moved the highway away from the shrine, thus effectively negating the propaganda value of its prized location.

And they say there is no god!

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Overheard - Religion & Politics

"Holy Joe," get out of the pulpit and come back to earth.

That's the message for Joe Lieberman, the religion-drenched Democratic veep candidate who talks as though God were his campaign manager.

And it goes for George "Dubya" Bush, Al Gore and any other tub-thumping pols who hammer their religion as a cheap campaign ploy.

Cool the gospel singing, guys, and climb off the sawdust trail.

Sandy Grady
Philadelphia Daily News, Aug. 31, 2000

This is a presidential campaign. Not a holy war.

If it doesn't stop soon, the Constitution doesn't have a prayer.

Philadelphia Daily News Editorial
Aug. 30, 2000

The time has come for all the candidates on the national tickets to reaffirm their belief in the constitutional separation of church and state. . . .

When it comes to religion and the campaign, one might ask: "Which side is God on?"

The same question might be asked of the defiant students and parents, urged on by some pastors and Christian broadcasters, who stood in the bleachers in high school stadiums across the South last weekend to recite the Lord's Prayer before the opening kickoff.

All the candidates have to do is look around the world to see how well religion and politics mix.

The Founding Fathers certainly knew and protected us from the combination.

Reporter Helen Thomas
"Keep the Wall Between Church and State"
New York Times, Aug. 30, 2000

The president is not the moral leader of his people, no matter how often he prays or mentions God's name. He was never intended to be the moral leader, and it is unhealthy when candidates for president present themselves or are regarded in this way, especially when they think they have a pipeline to God. . . .

Religifying politics tempts politicians to messianic delusion. And politicizing religion cheapens and corrupts the spirit. If we return to the wisdom of the founders on this point, excessive public expressions of religious piety will be regarded with suspicion. Our motto should be: 'By their deeds shall we know them.'"

Former Senator Eugene J. McCarthy & Keith C. Burris
"The Singular Piety of Politics"
New York Times, Aug. 31, 2000

When religion controls government, it is not a pretty sight. . . . When the government gets involved [in religion], someone's rights inevitably are going to be trampled.

Rev. Brian Harbour
Oct. 1, 2000 D.C. sermon (President Clinton in audience)

Those who would use government to push religion on their fellow citizens dishonor their political heritage as Americans, and belittle the freedom of conscience granted to each and every one of us. They need to go into a nice quiet closet and think about that.

Columnist Jay Bookman, Atlanta
New York Times, Sept. 1, 2000

For a man with one divorce under his belt, Lieberman [has shown] a distressing tendency to cast stones at a man whose marriage lasted.

I am reminded of President Truman's warning about people who pray too loud in church. The old Missouri Baptist said that loud prayers always made him think "you'd better go home and lock up your smokehouse."

Robert Reno, Newsday
Arizona Republic, Sept. 1, 2000

I believe Lieberman slept through his Yale Law School classes on the First Amendment. Americans as individuals are among the most religious people on Earth. But America as a country has no religious mandate. . . . And the First Amendment does indeed protect us from government-fostered religion.

Columnist Lars-Erik Nelson
N.Y. Daily News, Aug. 30, 2000

. . . Lieberman's words suggest that the doubters, skeptics and old-fashioned village atheists are somehow less worthy than others in what has become a faith-based democracy. . . . They may not be a potent voting bloc, they may not be targeted by the Democratic ticket, but nonbelievers have an equal claim to the First Amendment.

Columnist Walter Shapiro
"Freedom isn't only for the believers"
USA Today, Sept. 1, 2000

Politicians who invoke God's name insult those of us who recognize no establishment of religion in our personal lives. . . .Lieberman, Gore and Bush aren't likely to become ayatollahs, but I wish they would give us some freedom from religious sermons.

Columnist Rob Morse
"Let those without sin cast votes"
San Francisco Examiner, Aug. 30, 2000

One danger of piety on the campaign trail is that it equates faith with good citizenship. . . . The argument that religion is essential to moral behavior is insulting and dangerous. A second danger is that this campaign will make religion a credential for public office.

Minneapolis Star Tribune Editorial
"Holier than thou"
Aug. 31, 2000

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The Host and Hostess with the Mostes'

Early in August I received a phone call from an FFRF member in Brownsville, Texas, telling me that the big news down in the valley was that a German high school exchange student had been booted out of the host family's home. The reason? The German student was an atheist. Horrors!

The weird thing about the story was that the student had plainly filled out the required papers and had put a-t-h-e-i-s-t in the space for religious preference. The host family (C-a-t-h-o-l-i-c) was given that information before the student was assigned to them and had expressed no alarm or displeasure.

The coordinator for the local chapter of SHARE! High School Exchange Program had been quoted as saying, "We exist so that we can help people from other countries learn about Americans, to develop an understanding and a tolerance."

It wasn't quite clear to me who was to develop the tolerance, but the American family certainly flunked it bigtime. As for learning about Americans, the German student learned very quickly that "tolerance" meant control. When invited to attend Mass with them, Martin demurred politely. The host family quickly called Yvette Coffman, Texas State Director of SHARE! High School Exchange Program, and told her that things were not working out because the German boy would not attend Mass with them, thus exhibiting a distinct disinclination on his part to partake in the exchange of tolerance.

Of course I do not know the full story of what was said, or how much time elapsed between the opening of the door of the Catholic family's home to the exchange student, and the slamming of it behind him (about a week, I think). Nevertheless, it put Ms. Coffman in a terrible fix, but, in her unflappable manner, she found the student a temporary home until she could find a more stable host family for this sixteen-year-old pariah.

News of this act of American tolerance reached the ears of a reporter at the McAllen newspaper. He wasted no time in spreading the story, which resulted in Ms. Coffman being bombarded with offers from families wanting to take in the homeless student. He was placed . . . take a deep breath . . . with another Catholic family! However, they had read the whole sad tale and were eager to remove the stain of intolerance from the Catholic escutcheon. So far as I know, the family and the exchange student are getting along peacefully.

On September 20, I received a phone message from Ms. Coffman, requesting I return her call so that we could discuss something that was on her mind. I wasted no time in doing so. She had been delightful when I had called her last August to express concern from the freethought community, and our wish to help with the placement of the evicted student.

I was now further delighted when she said that she had been thinking about foreign students and host families and realized that the program's contact for these families was largely through the churches. Since many of the foreign students were atheists, she felt that they were not given a wide enough option regarding host families. Did my heart jump for joy? Right out of my mouth.

Ms. Coffman suggested that perhaps atheist groups should be informed of this fact and would be inclined to volunteer as hosts. I assume that terms such as freethinker, humanist, rationalist, etc., would also be welcome designations. However, do remember that the word atheist is not, in more enlightened countries, the big scary horned beast that it is here in the United States.

Knowing many freethinker folk, of one designation or another, I feel confident that many of them have hosted a foreign exchange student at one time or another. This program is the sort that would be appealing to them. However, I think that, possibly, these nontheist families never registered their true religious nonpreference in the space provided, maybe daring to go so far as writing the word "none" as a response. I know that in civic activities we have all learned that it is better not to advertise.

I am aware that British and European citizens do not regard religion with the same adolescent fanaticism as do a vast number of Americans, but it never entered my mind that in one mainstream activity, the exchange student program, our nonbelief category would be wanted, needed and welcomed!

There's a big push here in Texas for host families for the 2001 spring semester. Wear your religious dis-preference proudly and print your preferred freethinker designation on the forms you may request from:

The Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs
United States Department of State
475 Washington Blvd. Ste. 220
Marina del Rey, CA 90292
Tel: 1-310-821-9977 or
1-800-321-3738
Fax: 1-310-821-9282
E-mail:

In Texas, contact:

Yvette Coffman
TX State Director
1-972-727-7966 or 1-800-941-3738

Waste no time; go for it

The writer is a long-time Foundation activist and officer who lives in San Antonio, Texas.

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"Exorcism" in the News

Chicago Archdiocese Hires Exorcist

The Archdiocese of Chicago secretly appointed a fulltime exorcist nearly a year ago, whose task is to "heal those afflicted by the Evil One," according to a page one story in the Sept. 19 Chicago Sun-Times.

The archdiocese's "spokesman on exorcisms," the Rev. Robert Barron, told the newspaper there is a "world of angels and devils, fallen angels."

The Rev. James LeBar, an exorcist for the Archdiocese of New York, appointed by the late Cardinal John O'Connor, says there has been a "large explosion" of exorcisms (from zero to 300) over the past decade in New York.

"As people lose their respect and reverence for life, spirituality and human beings, the devil can move in," LeBar warned.

Among the Catholic Church's ten warning signs of possession: "aversion to all things spiritual" and "hidden insights into a person's private life, or past sins."

Both LeBar and the Chicago exorcist agreed the newly re-released 1973 movie, "The Exorcist," accurately portrays the exorcist ritual. LeBar added: "In one or two cases, there was an extraordinary amount of gagging."
Pope Fails in Exorcism

Pope John Paul II carried out an impromptu exorcism in September upon a teenage girl, after the church claimed she began "screaming insults in a cavernous voice" during a general audience in St. Peter's Square.

The pope's chief "Satan-buster," Father Fabriele Amorth, told Italian media that when Vatican guards restrained the 19-year-old, she displayed "a superhuman strength" in trying to free herself. The pope then "exorcised" and prayed over her, but later admitted failure.
"She Was Possessed"

Police found the lifeless body of seven-year-old Aaren Dunn, who had been baking cookies with her sister, on the kitchen floor of her home in Manitou Springs, Colorado, after her father sliced her throat from ear to ear, slashed her carotid artery, stabbed her chest and fractured her left upper arm.

Robert Walter Dunn, 51, who faces first-degree murder charges for the June 26 killing, turned himself in to police, his hands soaked in blood, saying: "I killed the devil. She was possessed; I killed the devil."

The Denver Post (June 28) reported the little girl liked to play dress-up, read books, eat macaroni and cheese, and would have entered the third grade this fall.

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Foundation Protests Court's Catholic Bias

Divorcing parents in Washington County, Wisconsin, are being ordered by the Court Commissioner to take a seminar conducted by Catholic Charities, and to pay a $25 fee to the Catholic organization. The court describes the program as "nationally licensed" and in use in Milwaukee and other counties.

"Divorcing parents should not be compelled by our courts to go to a Catholic organization and pay them for a seminar," said Anne Nicol Gaylor, Foundation president. "This program should be conducted by a neutral facilitator with payment, if necessary, to the county or the state.

"This particular state/church entanglement is especially troubling for parents who regard the Catholic Church as destructive in its attitudes toward women's equality, reproductive rights and divorce," Gaylor said.

On Oct. 4, the Foundation, on behalf of a local complainant, wrote the Honorable Jeffrey Jeager, Assistant Family Court Commissioner, State of Wisconsin Circuit Court, Branch II, Washington County, asking that he halt this "illegal, unconstitutional abuse."

"The Wisconsin Constitution (Art. I, Sect. 18) says that no person shall be compelled to support religion. Yet this is what is what is happening as your court is now administering the program," Gaylor wrote.

The Washington County complainant who contacted the Foundation was given no comparable secular counseling alternative. Parents must attend the seminar under penalty of contempt of court.

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

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