"Hallelujah for Successful Complaint"
Here in Litchfield, Minnesota, Community Education is a part of the public school system, a tax-funded entity designed to provide opportunities for students and adults to enrich their lives and make maximum use of the public school facilities. Year-round activities such as recreation programs, sports, lessons, classes for kids and adults are just a few of the offerings.
Imagine my surprise last spring (2002) when I read the publicity announcing an upcoming Easter Cantata musical which was being co-sponsored by Community Education and the local Ministerial Association, with plans being made to make it an annual event! Though it was too late to change the sponsorship for 2002, I felt I should try to "educate" the school superintendent and the school board. It didn't seem justifiable that taxpayers should finance a musical, religious experience for adults.
A letter to the Freedom From Religion Foundation produced a quick and firm letter from Annie Laurie Gaylor to the school superintendent. The result was an affirmation by the superintendent and the board that Community Education will not be co-sponsoring any more religious musical cantatas. We decided to "wait and see." This year, 2003, the Ministerial Association sponsored The Messiah without the support of Community Education. Thanks to FFRF!
What is so amazing is that people just don't get it. Last year, "after the letter," one of my acquaintances told me that her pastor (one of the choir singers) had told the congregation: "There's people in this town who don't want us to sing about Jesus! What kind of sick people are they?" Of course, she didn't know I was that sick person.
Jean Christensen Minnesota
Editor's note: Jean can't give all the credit to FFRF. She kept up a diligent correspondence with officials over this violation. Having a local complainant willing to speak out and monitor the situation made all the difference in stopping this violation.
Thank You, Mr. Barnett
When I received a recent membership renewal notice, I decided not to renew because I have been unemployed off and on for the last year.
Last week I received the April edition of Freethought Today. After reading this latest edition, I decided that I enjoy reading your publication too much to not receive it anymore.
Your organization makes me feel that there is actually hope for reason, compassion for the suffering of this world and lifting humankind out of ignorance and hate.
William Barnett Oregon
"Time Traveling" with George
To paraphrase Carl Sagan, FFRF is a "candle in the dark." Freethought Today puts a big smile on my face when it hits my mailbox here in the conservative Christian suburbs of Sacramento.
Thanks to you I no longer feel alone in a loony, superstitious country. And thanks to you also, I read George Erickson's wonderful book Time Traveling with Science and the Saints which I highly recommend for its adventure and relevant freethought content.
Keep up your marvelous work and know you are appreciated.
Brian E. Mulvey California
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I am quite well-read and have graduate degrees from both Norway and California, but this George Erickson's Time Traveling to be one of the most important books I've ever read! It belongs in every library in the world and should be mandatory reading in all high schools and universities.
Jorg Aadahl California
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Just had to tell you how much I'm enjoying George Erickson's book, Time Traveling. My thanks to Mr. Erickson for making these signed copies available to FFRFers at a reduced price, and to Freethought Today for informing us of this great bargain!
Brenda Donoho Michigan
Editor's note: George Erickson is renewing his offer to send an autographed copy of Time Traveling with Science and the Saints (Prometheus Books, 180 pp.), which lists at $24.95, to FFRF members for only $22 including postage. Be sure to identify yourself as an FFRF member for this special rate. Write: George Erickson, 2300 17th St NW, New Brighton MN 55112. Thank you, George!
"Sign Me Up for Another Year"
Sign me up for another year's membership, and my favorite paper which I greatly look forward to every month.
Turned 70 in November; getting up there now. One of the real good things about being an atheist is that when you leave this world you don't have to worry about meeting your maker and explaining your wild life.
Keep up the great work.
Bob Stuckert California
A "Tonic" for Old Age?
Please renew our subscription to Freethought Today. It is the best reading we get and is the best "tonic" that we take for our battle with old age (we are both 81).
Thanks for all the hard work the Foundation is doing to help preserve what the founders gave us. If they were alive today, to see what you are doing, they would be proud, too.
It was wonderful to read the April issue that featured my dear friend, Norman B. LeClair's article, "Delusional Madness," and that his art work is finding a home in the Foundation.
Wendell and Opal Carrick Florida
Doing What "God" Does Best
I would like to say a few words about the recent tragic events in Texas. It seems to me that every bible-believing Christian should find it easy to believe that God told a woman to kill her own children. It would certainly be in accordance with His hideous nature. After all, He's the One who told Abraham to kill his son (Genesis 22). He's the One who murdered all the first-born in Egypt, including the animals (Exodus 12:29). He's the One who commanded Joshua to "destroy all that breathed" on a certain portion of land (Joshua 10:40). He's the One who killed 50,070 men for looking inside a box (1 Samuel 6:19). He's the One who told the Israelites to "utterly destroy" the Amalekites, including every man, woman, child, baby, and all animals (1 Samuel 15:3).
He'sthe One who had 42 little children torn to pieces by bears for making fun of a prophet (2 Kings 2:23-24). He's the One who sent a flood to wipe out every life form on the planet simply because people were behaving the way he made them to behave (Genesis 7:23). I could cite many more disgusting examples from "the Good Book" to demonstrate the boundless cruelty of this bloodthirsty deity, but these should be sufficient to show that He is the greatest mass-murderer in history! So it should come as no surprise if He's still doing what He does best: killing people.
Isn't it perfectly logical to expect that a god who ordered so much killing in ancient times would continue to do so in modern times? Especially since He Himself said, "I am the Lord and I do not change." (Malachi 3:6). Of course, the biggest mystery of all is why anyone would want to worship a god like this.
Gary Depiro Massachussetts
"Freethought Today--My Savior"
Just when I think I may be asphyxiated by the acrid smoke of religion the mail girl delivers a breath of fresh air and I eagerly inhale every word. Freethought Today--my savior! Keep those issues coming.
I am grateful to all inside and outside of FFRF who have struggled--and continue to struggle--in the battle to maintain a separation between church and state. Your determination in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds is truly commendable.
Jane Minner Florida
Sullied by Theological Overcrust
Legislation to enhance the penalty for arson when it involves a place of worship has passed unanimously in the Illinois House of Representatives and is now in the Senate Rules Committee.
Arson normally is a Class 2 felony punishable by 3 to 7 years imprisonment and also is a probational offense. The new bill would classify arson of a place of worship as a Class 1 felony punishable by 4 to 15 years imprisonment, and it would be a nonprobational offense. The legislation was introduced as a result of St. Michael's Catholic Church in Wheaton being burned to the ground by an arsonist in March 2002.
This proposed legislation is clearly an endorsement of religion by our legislature and thus a violation of the First Amendment's establishment clause. A church is made of wood, brick or steel like any other building, so what makes its burning more deserving of a greater penalty than any other form of arson? DuPage County State's attorney Joe Brikett, who suggested the legislation, makes it clear when he tells us, "We all know that a church is not simply a building. These structures, because of what they represent, must be vigorously protected. It is tragic that a building dedicated to religious worship was destroyed by such a callous act of violence."
Our wisest course of action would be to keep god and religion out of these matters and to keep our criminal laws as neutral and objective as we can rather than to sully them with an overcrust of theology. We do not need a theocracy in the State of Illionis.
Theodore M. Utchen Illinois
They Don't Hear Unbelievers
In February, when the court upheld the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals' decision that "under God" doesn't belong in the Pledge of Allegiance, 94 senators, including mine, Sens. Cantwell and Murray, endorsed a resolution defending the monotheism-promoting pledge.
I wrote to both senators and indicated my displeasure with their failure to defend the separation of church and state. I sent my comments to Cantwell using the contact form on her website. I didn't mince words. The first sentence read, "It is disappointing that you voted to defend the placement of the words 'under God' in the Pledge of Allegiance."
Cantwell promptly sent an e-mail that included the following text (and I'm not kidding): "You will be pleased to know that on March 4, I joined with 93 of my Senate colleagues to pass another resolution expressing support for the Pledge of Allegiance in response to the Feb. 28 decision." I will be pleased?! What part of "disappointing" didn't Cantwell understand?
Thinking that it might be a fluke, I completed the same Web form a few days later. My first letter had been unambiguous, but this time I was even more direct. Again, I received the identical reply.
Does Cantwell use computers to automatically scan, categorize and respond to letters? Or did a human read my letter but just didn't care enough to send an appropriate reply? I'm not sure which is worse.
Matthew J. Barry Washington
An Exchange of Ideas
Geoff Alexander (letter May 2003) is "wholly in favor" of the U.S. invasion of Iraq. He considers "this position to be a moral one" and believes "that the United States is taking the high road of ridding the world of a tyrant and a menace."
There is almost no tyrant in the Mideast or elsewhere who was not at one time on the payroll of the United States. The U.S. helped Saddam to power in 1979, "leaned toward" Iraq for the next 10 years, supplied him with "weapons of mass destruction," encouraged and materially assisted in his war of aggression against Iran, tolerated all his publicly known crimes, and initially gave its OK to his plan to invade Kuwait. "We made the guy," as one commentator puts it.
The "moral high ground" of the U.S. is oil. In 1983, Donald Rumsfeld (yes, the main warmonger in the present administration) visited Baghdad on behalf of an oil pipeline which Bechtel Corporation wanted to build. This was at about the time when Saddam started to use poison gas against Iran. At the time, Rumsfeld said many nice things about Saddam. Today, Bechtel, together with Halliburton, Dick Cheney's old company, have landed major contracts in "rebuilding" Iraq.
The world is definitely better off for being rid of Saddam. But Saddam was never the "menace" that the White House propaganda made him out to be. U.S. citizens need to be better informed, get off their high moral horses, and think of less violent and more respectful means of dealing with the rest of the world.
Ernst Kallenbach Florida
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The last thing I'd want to do is alienate a Life Member of the Freedom From Religion Foundation by challenging his warning to "Steer Clear of War" in the May issue. But I'm hoping that member will use his good judgment as a freethinker to hear why it's necessary to discuss war-related topics among ourselves, particularly in regard to a born-again president who ignores his savior's plea to "love your enemies," "turn the other cheek," and "resist not evil."
Besides George W's hypocrisy, another strong argument can be made as to the real reason Bush felt compelled to invade (he called it "liberate") Iraq. I remember a spokesman for the administration appearing on a PBS newscast when the war was nearing its climax. I'll never forget what he said: "When we win this war--and believe me, we will--President Bush will be so popular, he can get anything he wants from Congress."
Now if you add those sentiments to Bush's close ties to the Religious Right, you can see that he has successfully used the "threat of terrorism" to popularize not only himself, but his anti-democratic agenda. Let us never forget that one of his top "unofficial" advisors has been televangelist Pat Robertson, who suggested that the then-candidate Bush take the Florida recount directly to the conservative Supreme Court, and suggested to the newly appointed president that ultra-conservative John Ashcroft would make "a great attorney general."
When a U.S. president has to rely solely on the bloodshed of war to divert public attention from his disastrous policies at home, we cannot afford to "steer clear of war." We need an exchange of ideas now more than ever. Our democracy is in grave danger of becoming a theocracy--and war only seems to add momentum to the effort.
Herb McClelland Ohio
Atheists in Foxholes and Labs
I have enclosed some news items of interest, in particular a news story that our serial-killer suspect, while fleeing from the law, set up a bible study class. One person who met him in Atlanta, Ga., is quoted as saying, "He talked about the bible a lot. Let me tell you, he knew the bible." Another said, "I prayed with this man." If he's guilty, he's going to have many bible buddies in prison. Based on what I've read, I think I'm going to start answering Christians who claim, falsely, that there are no atheists in foxholes by pointing out there are no atheists in prison cells, but a whole lot of them in science labs!
William Sierichs Jr. Louisiana
Nurturing Freethought Along
Tom and I are nurturing a 17-year-old nephew along in his thinking. He was raised in the Catholic Church and is understandably having a lot of doubts now. In a recent e-mail conversation, he made this observation:
"As I was browsing through web pages, I was thinking about the war a little and how all the Christian sites were gung-ho about war in Iraq. They say that there's no such thing as an atheist in a foxhole. I say that if there was a God, there wouldn't have been a foxhole."
Elsa Kramer Indiana
"Atheists Fighting for Survival"
Below is a letter that I wrote to someone who sent me an unsolicited religious email. It's not much, but I'm fighting back and I'm not giving up or shutting up:
I never object when someone prays before dinner at their house, or when I'm dining with them. I think it's respectful to wait the 30 seconds for my companions in that circumstance. But when you make it public, over a loudspeaker, that's forcing your beliefs on me. You want to pray, do so to yourself or go to church--no one is stopping you. But please respect me enough to not drag me into it.
I want the original Pledge of Allegiance back, the pre-1955 one that included all Americans. I want the same respect for my beliefs that theists demand for theirs. Although we may have a majority of Christians, we are not a Christian country, nor were we founded on Christian principles. Christian beliefs were deliberately left out of our constitution--along with all religious beliefs for a policy of neutrality. Our founding fathers were very aware of what effect mixing church and state had, and were very careful to avoid that. In fact, in 1797 America made a treaty with Tripoli, declaring that "the government of the United States is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion." This reassurance to Islam was written under Washington's presidency, and approved by the Senate under John Adams. You will also find no reference to god in the Constitution--not one.
The day that theists are forbidden by law from holding public office (as atheists are in five states), or when they are forced to stand by while their tax dollars go toward atheist initiatives (as atheist tax dollars go towards "faith based initiatives"), the day that they are told "the majority rules so you have no rights," or that you're not a patriot because of your beliefs, is the day that they will know what atheists go through. Theists may consider themselves to be "fighting back" but atheists are fighting for survival.
Keep church and state separate!
Karen Hastings APO
Atheist in a Foxhole Speaks Out
I'd like to comment about the recent proliferation of the myth that "there are no atheists in foxholes."
This is insulting to at least 30 million Americans who have chosen a life of science and reason over one of ignorance and superstition. You can throw a dart at a map of the world today and see what religion has done for humanity.
I have not been in a foxhole, but I have had melanoma, a life-threatening form of cancer, twice, undergone "shark-bite surgery," oral and intravenous chemotherapy, and I never once put myself in superstition's hands. I put my faith in science and medicine. That begins with education.
I would suggest Carl Sagan's The Demon-Haunted World and any of the works by Richard Feynman (the guy who figured out the O-ring problem on the Challenger explosion). Mark Twain and Thomas Edison were atheists or freethinkers, to name just a few.
Twain said, "The only thing wrong with the Baptists is that they don't hold them under the water long enough."
Edison said, "All bibles are manmade."
Like the great Feynman, "All I'm interested in is the truth, not what will make me feel better."
Russ Cardwell Florida
Way to Go, Kelly!
Editor's note: This letter originally appeared in the June 2, 2003, issue of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. It was written by Kelly Dennis, an office assistant "alumna" who worked for several years for the Foundation after she graduated from college, and is now working at a book publishing company. Way to go, Kelly!
For two days running, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel gave front-page coverage to a high school student who wanted to sing a religious song at her graduation ceremony (May 29-30). Both days, this story was placed next to articles on potential peace agreements in the Mideast. But wait: Isn't it wanting to impose religion on others that has fueled war and terrorism in the Middle East? Winnecone High School was right to balk at Rachel Honer's wishes. A religious song performed at a public school has a way of establishing a particular religion at that ceremony and school. Rather than praising Honer for honoring her personal religion, let's admit she's simply imposing private beliefs on classmates in a public setting.
As a country, it's important we recognize that the separation between church and state is exactly what distinguishes the United States from so many countries in the Middle East. It's what protects our independent and comparatively revolutionary rights. A graduation ceremony is not intended to honor religion; rather, it is a time to celebrate that our young people have learned to think for themselves.
Kelly Dennis Wisconsin
"Religion Brings Out the Worst"?
Being a subscriber to Freethought Today, I look forward to every issue.
I especially enjoy your "Sharing the Nut Mail" with us. It truly is amazing what kind of "kooks" are out there and how vicious their letters are to FFRF. Religion surely brings out the worst in most people.
Hope to see this "Nut Mail" column on a regular basis.
Victor Sturman Wisconsin
Prof. Marcus Meets DeMille
I read Dan Barker's article, "It's All Showbiz" (May 03) with special interest because I knew Prof. Marcus well during the period shortly after the release of "The Ten Commandments."
I had been friendly with his son, Phil Marcus, for some time during the period 1953-58, and Prof. and Mrs. Marcus often welcomed me into their home. Ralph and I hit it off, though our areas (he in Greek, Oriental Languages & Literature and I in Physics) were quite different.
I remember his recounting his experience with the DeMille organization. As you noted, they wanted to have the 10 Commandments written in the Hebrew of the (supposed) period of Moses. Marcus was perhaps the world's greatest expert on Semitic languages throughout the biblical and post-biblical periods, so they asked him. He was a bit nonplussed, since there are no records of Hebrew writing (if indeed such yet existed) at that time. But he wanted to help, so he used the Phoenician script of the period (Phoenician is--or was--a Semitic language not far removed from Hebrew) and, using the oldest known (but much more recent) rendering of the 10 Commandments, wrote out the brief text that appears both in the movie and, in miniature, on the granite slabs.
For his efforts, he told me, he was rewarded with four tickets to the first Chicago showing of the movie. My memory is not too clear, but they may have paid him $200 in addition. In any case, he was told later that he could have billed them for a much larger sum, but he was not a man who had much interest in money. He found the experience interesting, especially the meeting with DeMille, some or most of the stars, and other Hollywood notables (for whom he held little if any awe). He told me, wryly, "I think Charlton Heston brought a terrific sense of humor to his conceptualization of the role of Moses."
Unfortunately, Prof. Marcus died about 1956 or '57. Mrs. Marcus sold me his desk--the one on which he had written nearly all the works that made him a leader in his field--for $25, and I (and later my wife) used it till 1992. At that time my father died and I inherited his desk which was rather like Marcus's but in better condition. So we sold the Marcus desk together with a lot of the furniture from my father's home, for which we had no space. As far as I know, it's still out there.
Larry Lerner California
"Where Would My Child Be Safer?"
Mike Price, Alabama's would-be coach, was reportedly seen in a topless bar in Pensacola, Fla. To the University's Board of Directors, Coach Price committed a mortal sin and was excommunicated from Alabama. The Board of Directors of the Crimson Tide is the equivalent of the College of Cardinals of the Catholic Church.
Imagine if the Church had been in charge of Alabama football when this happened. First there would have been the grand cover-up. Then Price would have been sent for evaluation. After a short time, Price would have been declared cured of desiring women and transferred to, say Auburn, to be their coach.
No one at Auburn would have known that Price likes to visit topless bars.
The next time Price was caught, he would be sent to yet another university in the middle of the night to become their athletic director. Again, no one would be told why.
Compare Athletic Director Mal Moore to Archbishop Lipscomb of Mobile and the Board of Directors to the College of Cardinals. Now ask yourself, "Where would my child be safer, in a Catholic Church or the University of Alabama?"
Hank Shiver Alabama
Divine Intervention for Hangnails?
"President Bush, who was visiting Little Rock, Ark., said Monday that the federal government would move as quickly as possible to help the storm-damaged areas.
" 'Nature's awfully tough at times, and the best thing we can do right now is to pray for those who have suffered,' he said." (Msnbc.com, 5/6/2003)
Well, dag nab it. The logic of this escapes me. Our glorious pres is assigning blame for the tornado onto nature, which presumably is under the control of his god. If prayer works, I would think the smart money would pray in advance of a tornado to have god shunt it off to an unpopulated area.
What good is praying after the devastation takes place? I know, it's a feel good thing. Seems to me that the best thing we can do right now is have humans pitch in and help with the cleanup. If we wait for god, the mess will be sitting there forever.
I am convinced that the president cannot confront a hangnail or give a speech of any length without pleading for divine intervention.
Allen Wick Wisconsin
South Carolina Is Challenging
Just a short note to say thank you for Robert Sapolsky's address at the "Emperor Has No Clothes" Award presentation.
Having been a former pastor for 26 years, I can appreciate his insights on belief and biology. It was a short but fascinating description of denominations, ministers, elders and members I have observed through the years. I knew religion was based in our needs, fears and hopes, but this was a very excellent description of how it springs from the brain and mind. Thanks for the insights.
I also had a great laugh at the Cadaver Christian Outreach sign. I passed that sign myself a few months ago and had to turn around to read it again. At least there is one church that can admit to being dead outright . . . ha.
Living around some of the most fundamentalist thinking in America can be challenging here in South Carolina. One never knows at Easter whether there will be real people on crosses in front of the church, as there has been in the past, or if the "Hell House" sponsored by locals to scare kids into obeying the Baptist Church will make as big a Halloween hit as in years past.
I personally find Hell House to be child abuse.
Dennis Diehl South Carolina
Leno Poses a Good Question
This is from Jay Leno's monolog on the Tonight Show recently:
"There's more and more information coming out about that Colorado climber who cut off his own arm. This is an amazing story, unbelievable. He says he felt a 'presence' when he was out there, like God gave him the strength to do this courageous act.
"Now, if God was there, why didn't He just move the damn boulder?"
Don Worrell Alabama
In my half century in Mormonism, I was often amused by my Catholic acquaintances' ignorance of the history of their church. Later I was embarrased to realize the same charge could be leveled at Mormons themselves. The half-dozen cases itemized in Freethought Today (April 2003, p. 6) are typical of polygamous Joseph Smith/Brigham Young wannabe prophets. But the character of the founders of the Mormon church is a sandy foundation for the ambition of their imitators.
In his life-long prowl, Joseph Smith collected 33 documentable surreptitious "wives."1 The fifteenth was Sarah Ann Whitney (1825-73), married to Smith by her father on 27 July 1842. Three weeks later, in hiding from the law, Smith directed her parents to bring Sarah to him.
To her he wrote: "My feelings are so strong for you. . . . Come and see me in this my lonely retreat. . . . I have a room entirely by myself. The only thing to be careful of is to find out when Emma [his legitimate wife] comes then you cannot be safe, but when she is not here, there is the most perfect safety. . . . Burn this letter as soon as you read it; my life depends upon it."2
On 29 April 1843, Smith publicly married Sarah to Joseph C. Kingsbury in what the latter called a "pretended marriage," in order to throw Emma off the track. On one occasion, he posted a lookout to make sure no one saw him climb through a back window for a night's tryst with another of his "wives." And he disguised his first polygamous wife in men's clothing, so that she would pass unobserved.
In 1877, John Doyle Lee blew the whistle on another cruel practice: "In Nauvoo [Illinois] it was the orders from Joseph Smith and his apostles to beat, wound, and castrate Gentiles."
He instanced the case of Bishop Warren Stone Snow of Manti, San Pete County, Utah. "He had several wives, but there was a fair, buxom young woman in the town that Snow wanted for a wife. She thanked him for the honor offered, but told him she was then engaged to a young man, a member of the church, and consequently could not marry the old priest. He told her it was the will of God that she should marry him, and she must do so; that the young man could be got rid of, sent on a mission . . . that, in fact, it was contrary to do the wishes of the authorities, so a promise made to the young man was not binding."
The girl and her fiance both refused to give her up. Ordered to go on a mission, the man refused. Snow decided that he should be castrated, saying, 'When that is done, he will not be liable to want the girl badly, and she will listen to reason when she knows that her lover is no longer a man.' "
The bishop called a meeting of the priests. The young man refusing again, the lights were put out, and an attack was made. "He was severely beaten, and then tied with his back down on a bench, when Bishop Snow took a bowie-knife, and performed the operation in a most brutal manner, and then took the portion severed and hung it up in the school-house on a nail." The man dragged himself away to some haystacks, where his friends found him the next day.
Later Snow talked to the people about their duty to the church, and their duty to obey counsel, and the dangers of refusal, and then publicly called attention to the mangled parts of the young man . . . and stated that the deed had been done to teach the people that the counsel of the Priesthood must be obeyed."3 The young woman was then forced to marry him.
A few weeks later, a Bishop Blackburn shouted in a Sunday meeting of all ages and both sexes, "I want the people of Provo to understand that the boys in Provo can use the knife as well as the boys in San Pete. Boys, get your knives ready, there is work for you!"
According to Young's counselor Wilford Woodruff, "When the circumstances were told, President Brigham Young sustained the brethren who presided at Provo."4 Historian D. Michael Quinn (excommunicated in 1993) discovered that Young also approved the castration by Warren Snow: "In May 1857 Bishop Warren S. Snow's counselor wrote that twenty-four-year-old Thomas Lewis 'has now gone crazy' after being inflicted by Bishop Snow. When informed of Snow's action, Young said 'I feel to sustain him.' " Snow was continued in office, given a personal blessing by Young in 1861, and in 1867 was given the opportunity to preach in the Mormon tabernacle. So Lee's conclusion that "Brigham Young did nothing against Snow" has been proved to be truthful.5
If such evidence concerning Smith and Young were more widely known, perhaps excitable opportunists in the Mormon church would be less inclined to imitate the pattern of these exemplars of integrity and honesty, who never hesitated to exploit and oppress any women who crossed their paths, all the way from Emma Hale Smith to . . . Elizabeth Smart.
1Todd Compton, In Sacred Loneliness: The Plural Wives of Joseph Smith (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1997), pp. 1-23, 342-63, passim.
2Dean Jessee, editor, The Personal Writings of Joseph Smith (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1984), pp. 539-42, with a photographic reprint of the letter.
3Jerald and Sandra Tanner, editors, Salt Lake City Messenger (P.O Box 1884, SLC 84110) No. 92 (April 1997), "Mormonism's Early Secrets," pp. 11-13, citing Lee's Confessions, first published as Mormonism Unveiled.
4Wilford Woodruff's Diaryfor 2 June 1857 and later (vols. 5:54-55, 571, and 6:319), quoted in Tanner.
5D. Michael Quinn, The Mormon Hierarchy: Extensions of Power, Vol. 2 (Salt Lake City: www.utlm.org, 1997), pp. 250-51.
David L. Kent is a Texas Foundation member, father of five thriving atheists, author of Barbados and America and other genealogical source books, and patron of the book arts. He was a Mormon from 1948 to 1999.
Karl Rove runs into the Oval Office, shakes its current occupant awake and tells Dubya he has "really exciting news!"
Rove adds: "Well, there's good news and bad news. But first the good news. You'll never guess who's on the phone! It's God . . . he's come back to earth to meet with you and answer your prayers! He's going to help you install a theocracy in the USA, just like we've been wanting!"
Bush: "Then what's the bad news?"
Rove: "He's calling from Mecca."
The state of the separation of church and state today in our country is no laughing matter.
Of course, the punchline of that joke is the rub. You saw that Pat Robertson, on the 700 Club in March, actually said, "It's going to be absolutely imperative to set up a constitution and safeguards that say we will maintain a secular state" in Iraq.
Robertson and his cohorts "get" it when the theocracy would be Muslim, but they can't wait to install Jesus Christ as head of our country.
Why is religion bad for government?
You've read the many eloquent quotes: Madison warning of the bloodstained strife when religion and state unite; Thomas Paine noting that persecution is not an original feature in any religion, but is always the strongly marked feature of religions established by law; Jefferson referring to "this loathsome combination of Church & State" (letter to Clay, 1815).
But maybe you'll be as startled as I was when, in preparing for this workshop, I realized the onslaught against the Establishment Clause in just the last month. It's an eye-popping list.
Bush didn't just declare war against Iraq. He's declared war against the Jeffersonian wall of separation between church and state. We are seeing whole chunks of it dismantled before our eyes.
The list below is a small sampling of the recent entanglements between the federal government and religion, revealing an ominous trend toward theocracy.
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April 3. Rev. Franklin Graham announces in an op-ed piece in the Los Angeles Times that his questionable Christian relief agency, Samaritan's Purse, is lying in wait to attack Iraq with their "20,000 ambassadors of Christ," to "share their faith" along with their relief supplies. Ditto for the Southern Baptist Convention.
The Pentagon, knowing of the plans of this bible brigade to descend on Iraq, nevertheless invited Rev. Graham to give a Good Friday sermon at the Pentagon. Muslim employees naturally protested, since Graham has called the Islam religion "very wicked and evil."
Army Col. George Campbell, in defending the invitation, missed the point entirely, saying: "The service on Friday is not a political service. I don't anticipate Rev. Graham will talk about anything except the death and resurrection of Christ."
April 11. U.S. Secretary of Education Ron Paige told the Baptist Press, which did not misquote the substance of his remarks, that:
"All things equal, I would prefer to have a child in a school that has a strong appreciation for the values of the Christian community, where a child is taught to have a strong faith." This figurehead of our public secular schools also indicated his support for taxpaid vouchers for religious education.
The Baptist Press reporter was fired for some extraneous minor misquotes when this blew up in the press; Paige, who was asked to resign by many groups (including the Foundation) and several politicians, remains the "champion" of our public schools.
April 18. The Boston Globe in May revealed some very bad news on the faith-based front that quietly happened in April. The U.S. Dept. of Labor adopted some good guidelines on April 4 prohibiting job training grants to be used for instruction in "religion, worship, prayer, or inherently religious practices," to purchase "sacred literature" (such as bibles), or to promote religion.
On April 18, the references to "sacred literature" and secular requirements were deleted.
Late April. A U.N. committee on violence against women tried to pass wording that religion and custom should not be used to excuse such violence. These conclusions were tabled, after objections by Iran, Egypt, Sudan and the United States.
Many newspapers carried reports over the "surprise" of our government that Shiites plan to capitalize on the war, take over Iraq with a Muslim theocracy and install sharia laws. Naturally this is frightening especially to the women of Iraq, who have enjoyed western-like freedoms and have all but disappeared from public life since the U.S. launched its war.
How can Iraqi women count on the U.S. to defend women's rights, given this U.N. vote, the cut-off of family planning/maternal health money to the U.N. by Bush, and our country's record of voting in a bloc with Islamist and Catholic regimes in the U.N. on population, AIDS, children's and women's rights?
April. The Associated Press revealed that six Christian fundamentalist members of Congress are living in housing subsidized by a secretive religious fellowship that funds the National Prayer Breakfast, raising many concerns. Harper's magazine in March carried an in-depth report on this fellowship, with its 70-odd years of historic ties to fascist dictators, among many world leaders.
April 30. U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft asked the Supreme Court to toss out the 9th Circuit ruling against "under God" in the Pledge, saying:
"Our religious heritage has been recognized and celebrated for hundreds of years in the National Motto ("In God We Trust")."
This motto was adopted in 1956, of course. Ashcroft also said in April that the "U.S. has God's special blessing."
May 1. Ashcroft participated in a National Day of Prayer rally at Capitol Hill. According to Associated Press:
"Attorney General John Ashcroft says President Bush commands America's armed forces, but 'understands that it is faith and prayer that are the sources of this nation's strength.' "
AP also reported:
"An organizer of the event on Capitol Hill asked God to make the United States a righteous example as Iraqis struggle to establish their own democracy."
What's wrong with this picture?
If I had a chance, I would remind Ashcroft and National Day of Prayer organizer Shirley Dobson of Focus on the Family what everyone in this room knows:
We are a secular, democratic republic, governed by the rule of law, not the bible. Our constitution is godless and our sovereignty rests in "We, the People," not in a divinity. Ours was the first godless constitution ever adopted, and it is no coincidence that it is the longest-lived constitution in history.
AP reported that Alabama's Attorney General Bill Pryor, nominated by Bush for a seat on the 11th Circuit, filed an "interesting" brief with the Supreme Court on Feb. 18 of this year. In the brief Pryor compared homosexual acts with "necrophilia, bestiality, child porn, incest, and pedophilia."
Yes, Pryor filed this brief even before "Mr. Faith-Based Leader" Rick Santorum, No. 3-ranking Republican in the Senate, made his infamous April 21 statements about gays to Associated Press.
May 7. I was pleased to see that the National Association of Evangelicals meeting in D.C. "rebuked" Rev. Franklin Graham over his comments on Islam. They also "rebuked" Rev. Jerry Vines, past prez of the Southern Baptist Convention, for calling Muhammad "a demon-possessed pedophile," and "rebuked" Jerry Falwell, for calling Muhammad "a terrorist." But the Administration and the Pentagon have not rebuked them, and have in fact rewarded Rev. Graham.
Early May. Not to let the evangelicals off the hook. . . . Some of them met with Benny Elon, Israel's minister of tourism, who came to Washington to court officials--and the Christian Coalition, CBN, Gary Bauer and other evangelicals--to ask them to lobby against Bush's "roadmap for Middle East peace," a two-state solution. Evangelists believe Israel is the site of the second coming, so they are important political allies to Israel in opposing a state for Palestine. The religion-inspired Mideast mess continues.
The U.S government launched an Arabic language satellite TV news station for Muslim Iraq, produced at the studio of Grace Digital Media in DC, which shares phones and offices with "Grace News Network," dedicated to transmitting "evidence of God's presence in the world today."
Mayor Anthony A. Williams of the District of Columbia caved into the Administration and endorsed vouchers for DC schoolchildren, who would attend mainly parochial schools with funds robbed from public schools.
May 8. The Senate Judiciary Committee voted to approve Bush's nominee Carolyn B. Kuhl for the 9th Circuit despite her gruesome record, especially on abortion rights and women's rights. Sen. Orrin Hatch (Mormon-UT) lauded her record as "exemplary." Evidently he can't tell the difference.
May 8. The House voted 220-204 on party lines to allow private groups receiving federal job training money to discriminate in hiring on the basis of religion, nullifying a prohibition in force for two decades. House Democratic leader Rep. Nancy Pelosi, CA, called it "profoundly unwise to allow the federal government to fund religious discrimination."
As far as I'm concerned, this House vote cancels out the April 9 pseudo-victory of passage of the so-called "Care Act" without specific reference to religion, which has been hailed by some as a great victory for state/church separation. It did fail to deliver what Bush asked for, which was full faith-based funding. But of course, Bush issued an executive fiat on Dec. 12 calling for faith-based funding of religious social services throughout federal government, making the bill redundant. It's scary that the House in May went along with job-based discrimination, one of the primary stumbling blocks for Bush's original faith-based initiatives bill.
* * *
Focus on the Family, by the way, is giving Bush only a "B" grade for his work on faith-based funding, since he failed to win Congressional endorsement, and a future president could revoke Bush's executive order calling for full faith-based funding. In early May their website also bragged that no legal challenges of faith-based funding have been won.
They manage to overlook our very important case, Freedom From Religion Foundation v. Tommy Thompson [later Scott McCallum] & Faith Works, which was the first lawsuit challenging faith-based funding to be fully adjudicated and won. Federal Judge Barbara Crabb last year found in our favor. She said the government grant of more than $800,000 to a group whose mission was "to lead homeless addicts to Christ" amounted to public-funded indoctrination and is illegal.
Her ruling was not appealed. It was a nationally significant victory, especially since Bush as a candidate had stopped by Faith Works in Milwaukee to "bless" the program and promise to funnel billions of dollars to similar faith-based schemes.
Unfortunately, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals issued an opinion against us in April in a secondary part of our Faith Works lawsuit challenging indirect state funding. Judge Posner ruled that the referral and subsidy of parolees by the state to the Faith Works program is tantamount to the school voucher program approved by the Supreme Court in Cincinnati last year. We have asked for an en banc hearing before the 7th Circuit, contesting the tortured reasoning.
Meanwhile, we carry on. We just filed a new federal lawsuit, challenging a labyrinthine faith-based entanglement between two Montana state offices with the "Montana Faith-Health Cooperative." State and federal taxpayers are subsidizing the activities in the faith-health cooperative, as part of the Montana State University-Bozeman and the Montana Office of Rural Health.
Our attorney is also working on what will, we believe, be the first direct challenge at the cabinet level of public grants to multiple faith-based social service agencies.
* * *
In conclusion, we are seeing a fundamentalist Christian shadow government (maybe not so shadowy) in our own land.
We are seeing public officials, especially at the federal level, thumbing their noses at our precious Establishment Clause in their eagerness to unite church and state.
We have the religious right in control of all three branches of the federal government, with a minimum rightwing 5-4 control of the Supreme Court. As a writer in The Nation recently put it, the three federal branches are "all singing from the same hymnal."
It's truly time for all of us to take alarm and redouble any efforts we can make, as individuals and as members of organizations, at the local, state or federal level, to defend the besieged wall of separation.
The definitive American Religious Identification Survey reveals that the number of "nonreligious" American adults more than doubled between 1990 and 2001, while the number of "religious" and "Christians" declined. The "nonreligious" are now the fastest-growing segment of the population at 14.3%.
There are a lot more of us than Mormons (1.4%), Jews (1.8%), or Muslims (.3%), who are after all considered respected minorities whose rights as nonChristians deserve protection. When the ARIS survey asked how many adult Americans consider themselves secular, our numbers increase to 16%!
Flex some muscle!
Abuse Your Illusions: The Disinformation Guide To Media Mirages and Establishment Lies, a just-issued anthology edited by journalist Russ Kick, includes the chapter "Did Jesus Really Rise From The Dead?" by Dan Barker of the Freedom From Religion Foundation.
Among the 44 contributors, who include investigative journalists, researchers, commentators, dissidents and academics, are Howard Zinn, Daniel Ellsberg, Thomas Szasz, Paul Krassner, Diane Bloom and Greg Palast. In addition to Barker's critique of the Christian legend, the section "Belief" contains articles on "Islamic Censorship" by Howard Bloom, "The Virgin of Medjugorje" by Jonathan Levy, "L. Ron, Sirhan, Manson and Me" by Paul Krassner, and "Mormon Racism: Black is Not Beautiful" by Richard Abanes.
The book is the third in Kick's popular series of anthologies that includes You Are Being Lied To and Everything You Know Is Wrong (which contains "Why Women Need Freedom From Religion" by Freethought Today editor Annie Laurie Gaylor).
The oversized softcover book, 350 pages, retails for U.S. $24.95. ISBN 0-9713942-4-5. The book is readily available at bookstores and online.
While on a brief vacation with my parents in Door County, Wis., we dashed into the small-town grocery store to select a video appropriate both for them and my 13-year-old daughter. The pickings were dismayingly slim.
Sabrina couldn't make up her mind, we had a long ride back to the cabin, and it was getting late. So when I spotted a new release ballyhoo'ed by Walt Disney Home Entertainment as an "adventure" story starring Anne Hathaway ("The Princess Diaries"), I promoted it. I was in such a hurry I barely scanned the description and didn't even notice the title, "The Other Side of Heaven." Sabrina, to her future credit, balked a bit but I talked it up and we checked it out.
We started watching the video, with fond expectations of an adventure starring a young man and woman in a wilderness survival film, as promised by the photo on the cover.
The movie, set in the 1950s, began on a jarringly maudlin note: we find out the main character, John, played by Christopher Gorem, is from . . . Idaho? Then a little bomb is dropped. He and his girl friend Jean (Hathaway) are attending . . . Brigham Young University? Next he announces that he has to go away on a three-year "mission"!
We turned to each other in astonishment. It dawned on me that somehow I'd managed to inflict a Mormon movie upon my freethinking family! I didn't even know this genre existed, much less that I should beware of such films at the "new release" rack.
Finding it hard to believe that Walt Disney would put its name on pure proselytizing pablum, I held out hope a few minutes longer for some redeeming plot twist: the Mormon missionary has a faith-shattering experience, or maybe his girlfriend has to come to his rescue. He gets eaten by a South Pacific version of a crocodile, hopefully?
There was no plot twist.
No, it turns out I had chosen a movie based on "the actual experiences of Elder John H. Groberg," and his laughably inflated memoir, In the Eye of the Storm, published by a Mormon book company.
John is sent to the Pacific island of Tonga where he meets his companion Mormon missionary, an ever-smiling young local man who knows the ropes and who speaks the lingo, but who servilely follows his fish-out-of-water colleague around as if John were a young god. (John certainly acts like he thinks he's God.)
This missionary is insufferable. He goes so far as to "forbid" a convert who is twice his age to do something. No matter what is happening--typhoons, near starvation, jungle temperatures, surviving the night in the ocean after a tidal wave, resurrecting a "dead" boy, you name it (he does everything but deliver a baby)--his white-shirt-and-tie wardrobe almost always stays clean and pressed. Now, that's a miracle!
Life on Tonga brings few wrinkles, no sweaty stains to his Mormon uniform, nor does Tonga culture penetrate his vacant commitment to preaching "the Gospel" at them. They obviously know nothing they can teach this 18-year-old "Elder." Actor Gorem's empty righteousness is almost too convincing; I half-expected his character to suddenly do something perverted, or go off the deep-end.
Perhaps the most ridiculous moment comes when the island teenage temptress, Mariama, gamely drops her skirt (off-camera) for John. He virtuously averts his gaze, while coaxing her to come to the beach to learn about "eternal love," pulling out his handy bible! (I wonder if he mentioned the Mormon polygamy and eternal spiritual baby-making awaiting her in "the other side of heaven"?)
By the movie's improbable end, he's converted the entire island, even taking out little skiffs into the vast ocean to missionize other islands. The multitudes are converted. Like transplanted plantation "darkies," the islanders tearfully turn out to sing him a harmonious farewell (with John and Mariama exchanging significant goodbye glances). They ought to have branded a giant "M" on John's Mormon underwear, because this movie is clearly introducing a new action figure: "Super-Mormon."
Hathaway's role was mere window-dressing. They used her name and very pretty face to suck in viewers, even delaying the release of the movie until after her hit, "The Princess Diaries," came out and she could give the film name recognition.
I had assumed the Mormon Church must have somehow bribed Disney into releasing it directly to home video. It turns out it was released theatrically, "in locales such as Salt Lake City."
But it was skewered by the critics, according to the reviews posted at Rottentomatoes.com:
"It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that this is a Mormon family movie, and a sappy, preachy one at that," wrote Jeffrey Bruner, Des Moines Register.
"The film's implicit premise is that the faith of the Tonga people is in every way inferior to that of John."-- Jay Boyar, Orlando Sentinel.
"Although based on a real-life person, John, in the movie, is a rather dull person to be stuck with for two hours." --Gregory Avery, "Nitrate Online."
"Its appeal will probably be limited to LDS Church members and undemanding armchair tourists."--Ken Fox, TV Guide's Movie Guide.
"Much of what is meant to be 'inspirational' and 'uplifting' is simply distasteful to audiences not already sharing the movie's mindset."--MaryAnn Johanson, Flick Filosopher.
"There's a disturbing 'Great White Hope' undertone to 'The Other Side of Heaven' that subtly undermines its message of Christian love and compassion."--Al Brumley, Dallas Morning News.
"Insufferably naive."--Harvey S. Karten, Compuserve.
"Your stomach for 'Heaven' depends largely on your appetite for canned corn."--Michael O'Sullivan, Washington Post.
Well, you get the idea.
* * *
First-time writer/director Mitch Davis is (surprise, surprise) an alumnus of Brigham Young, who had wanted to make a movie about Mormon missionaries since serving his own mission in Argentina. He modestly described his movie as "swashbuckling and romantic and epic." He added: "There wasn't a lot of door-knocking going on." (Oh boy, we'll rent that one next.)
In investigating how Disney's name ended up on this Mormon movie, I did some sleuthing on the internet. I still haven't figured out how the filmmakers persuaded Disney to distribute the video, thereby ensuring some financial success and that many unsuspecting parties will be duped into renting it. I did learn that Davis was hired by Disney after college, and also worked at Columbia Studios. A Mormon website revealed that Davis obediently put his movie career on hold when he was "called as a Bishop" for five years, but he's obviously back with a vengeance.
Producer Jerry Molen, also a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints formerly known as Mormons, counts "Schindler's List" in his co-producer credits. The Mormon website reports that Molen supposedly wanted to "tell the story of Mormonism in the same way 'Schindler's List' tells part of the story of Judaism." As Dave Barry would say, I am not making that up.
Watching "The Other Side of Heaven" was such an unexpectedly silly and incongruous experience that it has now entered the family freethought lexicon. Sabrina is still periodically entering the room singing out "Super-Mormon!" I haven't belly-laughed so much during a movie in years. But, you had to have been there.
Video renter, beware!
P.S. Promoters of "The Other Side of Heaven" heavily recommended an earlier movie by a Mormon filmmaker, "God's Army," released in 2000. The promotion graphic says it all--it shows a row of white-shirted boys invading Los Angeles.
That would be enough to scare any gangs!
Annie Laurie Gaylor is editor of Freethought Today day and the anthology Women Without Superstition: No Gods - No Masters.
In 1998, under President Bill Clinton, the United States acquired a new tool to interfere in other countries' affairs: the International Religious Freedom Act. The new law was introduced by Senator Joseph Lieberman (D-CT) and Senator Don Nickles (R-OK) and was approved by the U.S. Senate by a 98-0 vote. The law was the direct result of the lobbying of Congress by many faith-based organizations during the 1980s and 1990s.
The stated purpose of the International Religious Freedom Act was to identify a wide range of diplomatic and economic tools that the U.S. government might utilize to encourage freedom of religion and conscience throughout the world. In reality, as is often the case in political matters, the "Religious Freedom" Act is really a misnomer. It easily could have been called the "Freedom for America to impose its religion and politics on other countries" Act.
An Office was subsequently created and mandated by the Act: the Office of International Religious Freedom, located in the Bureau for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor of the U.S. State Department (note: during the Middle Ages, the Catholic Inquisition was called the "Holy Office").1
It is headed by an Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom and is responsible for issuing an annual report on the status of religious freedom and persecution in all foreign countries by September of each year.2 On the basis of this report, the State Department designates "countries of particular concern" for their "systematic, ongoing and egregious" violations of religious liberty. These countries are then subject to punishing actions, including economic sanctions, by the United States.
It is easy to see how this new American religious messianism could become a censorship tool in the government's hands and taint the entire American foreign policy. The government could not only sponsor religious freedom and religious tolerance within its borders and abroad, but could embark upon the business of actively promoting religion and violating other countries' sovereignty. A U.S. Religious Chief Inquisitor would roam the world to make sure that American religious orthodoxy is followed in the American way. Religion, or the lack of religion, could become a political tool to denounce, condemn and attack other countries outside the international law framework and outside the United Nations.
Freedom of religion also means freedom from religion, because each individual has the fundamental right of conscience. Imposing religion is the exact opposite of freedom. It is ideologically totalitarian in nature, as it has been amply demonstrated throughout history. If, under the cover of freedom of religion, the U.S. government were to become a public promoter of religion around the world, it would be doing so in violation of the U.S. Constitution. No public money should ever be used to promote religion.
Already, the U.S. government has denounced countries, such as Germany, France and Greece, as being not religious enough, because they don't let some religious cults have complete liberty of action within their borders. A case in point is the U.S.-based and commercially oriented Church of Scientology.
For instance, the German government has concluded that the Church of Scientology is not a religion but a commercial enterprise, and should be regulated as such. French authorities also view the Church of Scientology with suspicion and don't recognize it as a religion. They consider it to be a totalitarian organization, opposed to democracy, and an economic enterprise that sells goods and services for money, and which, therefore, should pay taxes.
The cult, founded in 1954 by U.S. science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard, was also denounced in Greece because although it had obtained a license to operate as a non-profit, public interest organization, it was seen instead as an organization devoted to making money, besides putting people's mental and physical health at risk by practicing a variety of mind-control techniques. In Belgium, France, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Spain, Israel, Mexico and the United Kingdom, the sect pays taxes as a commercial enterprise.
What the U.S. government wishes is to be able to prevent democratic governments in Europe and elsewhere from protecting their countries against foreign invasion by U.S. commercial organizations disguised as religious organizations. All these countries have constitutions that protect freedom of religion and of conscience, and do not need a foreign power to teach them lessons on the means to preserve freedom and liberty. In fact, the democratic country which nowadays has the most laws on its books restraining freedom and liberty is the United States of America, with its Patriot Act and similar legislation that suspend the right of habeas corpus and even allow the establishment of concentration camps.3
Rodrigue Tremblay is Professor Emeritus of Economics and of International Finance at the UniversitŽ de MontrŽal. Dr. Tremblay holds a Ph.D. in Economics from Stanford University. He is the author of numerous professional articles and books, including a basic textbook in economics. He was the President of the North American Economics and Finance Association in 1986-87. His latest book was published in Paris and Montreal on February 12, 2003, in French, under the title "Pourquoi Bush veut la Guerre" [Why Bush Wants War] (Les Intouchables).
1 The Office works in cooperation with the independent U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. The latter was also created by the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998, as a separate and independent source of policy recommendations on religious freedom for the president, secretary of state and Congress. The Commission issues its own report, but has only advisory and monitoring authority, unlike the Office in the State Department, which has the authority to act.
The United Nations also has an organization devoted to religious freedom. In 1986, the U.N. Commission on Human Rights established the office of the Special Rapporteur on Religious Intolerance, now the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief. The U.N. Commission issues reports on a variety of countries, regarding religious freedom.
2 In May 1999, Robert A. Seiple was sworn in as the first Ambassador-at-Large. Tom Farr is the director of the Office of International Religious Freedom at the Department of State and is responsible for preparing its annual report.
3 The U.S. military manages such a concentration camp in Guantanamo, a U.S. military base in Cuba, where prisoners are kept indefinitely, without the protection of the Geneva Convention and without the protection of the U.S. Constitution.
Helen Thomas, First Woman of Journalism
Thomas, 82, is known for opening presidential press conferences with the first question, and for closing them with the courtesy of "Thank you, Mr. President."
"You have no idea how often I've wanted to say, 'NO thank you, Mr. President,' " she quipped.
Thomas, whose columns have sharply rebuked the president's faith-based initiatives plans, noted: "Atheists pay taxes, too!"
She warned that the stature of the United States is in jeopardy:
"The past is prologue. We have lost our halo. We are feared, not revered. If you care about your children, or grandchildren, wake up!"
When asked by Freethought Today day to compare today's climate with McCarthyism, Ms. Thomas was silent for a long moment, then replied:
"McCarthyism was limited in scope. This is all-pervading. I have never had this sense before that it's everywhere."
NARAL President Kate Michelman: "We are going to
wake up one day and find out we are not in the same country."
Photo by August Berkshire.
Kate Michelman, President of NARAL Pro-Choice America
Michelman proclaimed herself a humanist who believes in "the supremacy of reason as a monument to human dignity and a means to social progress."
Michelman pointed out that the White House has seen the successful confirmation of 124 nominees to the federal and appeals courts, nearly all of them with "judicial philosophies that would make your hair stand on end."
"People have suspended disbelief that we can lose rights in America," but "we are barreling toward that destination," with Roe v. Wade "hanging by a thread."
"The Bush Administration is going to remake our courts and we are going to wake up one day and find out we are not in the same country."
Gloria Feldt, President of Planned Parenthood
Although she identified herself as Jewish, Ms. Feldt said: "We share a philosophy that it's not what you believe in life that counts--it's what you do."
Feldt said being a "progressive in the 21st century" is a lot like being Jewish in Odessa, Tex., where her young children were told they had "black hearts" because they had not "accepted Jesus."
"Religious freedom is a lot like reproductive freedom. To be religious or not, or be a parent or not, is our choice. The founders believed in separating the sacred from the secular."
The White House is "packing courts, only nominating judges who 'know our rights come from God.' "
The "Born Alive Infants" Protection Act, which Bush will sign, confers legal personhood on fetuses, and describes "unborn children" as "created in God's image."
The funding of abstinence programs in schools, which forbid teaching about contraception, shows the "abstinence of commonsense."
"Hypocrisy is the common denominator for self-righteous idealogues. William Bennett is the favorite hypocrite of the day. He ought to be called 'The Bookie of Virtues.'
"George Bush is born again, when once would have been quite enough."
Nevada freethinkers Jennifer and Clark Adams are pictured presenting entertainers Penn and Teller with the Emperor Has No Clothes statuette on behalf of the Foundation, following one of their May shows in Las Vegas.
Teller is pointing to the Emperor.
The award recognizes public figures for "plain speaking" on religion. The statuette depicts the legendary emperor of the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale. Recipients are considered to be like the small boy in the fairy tale who "tells it like it is" about religion.
Several Foundation members, pleased with Penn and Teller's skeptical slant and remarks, and their new Showtime show "Bullshit!", nominated the pair, including Clark Adams, a Life Member of the Foundation.
Previous recipients include Nobel Laureate Steven Weinberg, British scientist Richard Dawkins, Stanford Prof. Robert Sapolsky, editorial cartoonist Steve Benson and Nation columnist Katha Pollitt.
Clark and Jenn, big fans of P&T, encourage freethinkers to visit www.sho.com to submit a comment through the "contact" link to support renewing "Bullshit!" on Showtime, a pay-TV premium channel.
Bobbie Howard, an Arizona Foundation member who also nominated Penn & Teller for the award, noted their website contains this statement: "Both Penn and Teller are outspoken atheists and skeptics. They are great admirers of James (The Amazing) Randi and his attitudes toward paranormal and pseudoscientific claims." Penn refers fans to an article by Richard Dawkins about science and religion.
Their web site is http://pennandteller.com/sincity/.
All 50 state attorneys general have officially urged the U.S. Supreme Court to review the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals decision declaring "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance to be unconstitutional.
U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft in late April also asked the Supreme Court to toss out the 9th Circuit ruling, making a brief and erroneous public statement: "Our religious heritage has been recognized and celebrated for hundreds of years in the National Motto ('In God We Trust')."
As numerous newspapers on the history of the pledge have reported since last summer's ruling, the pledge was not amended to include a reference to a deity until 1954, more than 50 years after it was first written.
The Elk Grove Unified School District urged the Supreme Court in May to consider reversing a ban on the Pledge of Allegiance without even reviewing the lower court decision. The "summary reversal" requested by the California district is usually reserved for cases in which a lower court steps far out of line.
The school's petition claims the "national uproar" caused by the decision shows that "the reference to God in the pledge is interwoven in the fabric of our society."
A 3-judge panel of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals governing many western states initially ruled last summer in favor of atheist dad Michael Newdow, M.D., also an attorney, who is taking the case himself. The school district asked the entire appeals court to reconsider the ruling, but on Feb. 28, that request was denied. The ruling, however, was modified to apply only to the Pledge of Allegiance in public school settings.
Newdow therefore is also asking the U.S. Supreme Court to review his case, requesting that it uphold the original decision ruling the use of "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance to be unconstitutional in all circumstances.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation will be filing a friend of the court brief on behalf of Newdow's request for cert. Denver attorney Robert R. Tiernan's brief calls the religious intrusion in the pledge to be "an affront to the many loyal Americans who do not believe in or worship a god."
"For almost fifty years the phrase 'under God' in the pledge of allegiance has been a major burr in the saddle of millions of Americans who do not believe in or worship a god. There are an estimated 30 million adult citizens in the United States who do not believe in god or adhere to organized religion."
Tiernan cites polls showing a "growing climate of intolerance in this country toward atheists and unbelievers."
"Government endorsements of religion exacerbate this problem by creating the impression that god is an integral part of our system of government and that rejecting this notion is tantamount to treason. It has thus become fashionable to condemn those who refuse to recite a religious pledge as 'unAmerican.' "
The story began when a number of local organizations held a "Meet the Candidates" forum prior to the last Charleston City Council election. Each sponsoring organization was allowed to ask one question of the candidates on the panel.
The organization to which I belong, the Secular Humanists of the Lowcountry, asked this: "As you know, the City Council starts meetings with a prayer. Since you will represent all your constituents, not just those who are religious believers, will you consider periodically allowing nonbelievers to give the invocation?"
Kwadjo Campbell was the only candidate who agreed. After winning the election, he invited me to give the invocation at the council meeting on March 25. (See sidebar.)
An invocation is usually, but not always, a prayer. So why would an atheist like me want to give an invocation at a City Council meeting? Certainly not because I wanted to offend religious council members--in fact, I prepared an inclusive invocation that I hoped all would appreciate. I looked forward to the presentation with the hope it would encourage more tolerance toward everyone in the community.
As Mayor Riley introduced me, I was startled to see several City Council members leave the room. When I finished the invocation, council members Bleecker, Gallant, George, Gilliard, Lewis, Waring and Campbell (who had arrived late to the meeting) walked back in, just in time to recite the Pledge of Allegiance.
Two of the councilmen who left, Wendell Gilliard and Robert George, later stated their reasons in a March 27 Post and Courier article. Councilman Gilliard said an atheist giving an invocation is an affront to our troops, who are "fighting for our principles, based on God." I guess Gilliard apparently believes our troops are involved in a holy war. However, we are not the Taliban.
Each is free to base his or her principles for going to war or objecting to it on the dictates of personal conscience. The principles of our country, on the other hand, are based on our secular Constitution, which makes no mention of God. That same Constitution guarantees the right of all citizens to be represented and not shunned by their elected officials, regardless of the religious beliefs of those officials.
Councilman George said he "would not have been comfortable had he stayed." He then gratuitously said about me, "He can worship a chicken if he wants to, but I'm not going to be around when he does it." Perhaps Councilman George does not realize that many of us who stand politely for religious invocations believe that praying to a god makes no more sense than praying to a chicken.
In trying to understand the walkout, I contacted some of the council members who had participated. Councilman Gallant gave me a biblical justification from Psalm 14:1: "The fool says in his heart, 'There is no God.' They are corrupt, their deeds are vile; there is not one who does good." He went on to tell me, as did other council members, that the walkout was not personal.
I knew the walkout was not personal, because those who left did not know me personally. I knew they could not have left because of the words in my invocation, since they did not stay to hear them. Frankly, I would have been less upset had the walkout been personal.
My goal was not so much to be liked by council members as for them to listen to one more segment of the community they represent.
In recent years, Charleston has taken steps to become a progressive city that celebrates, rather than fears, its diversity. The walkout, however, vividly shows that we are still engaged in one of the last civil rights struggles in which blatant discrimination is viewed as acceptable behavior. Of course, bigotry exists everywhere, but it is especially lamentable when public acts of intolerance at government functions are later defended in the media by government officials.
As one who tries to turn lemons into lemonade, I have noticed some positive results stemming from this incident. The Associated Press distributed the story of the walkout to newspapers around the country. I have heard from Christians in many places, including Charleston County, who repudiated what they called the "unChristian" behavior of the council members. I've made some new friends from such encounters. A Christian Forum website posted nearly 200 messages on the walkout.
People sent me a number of scriptural passages both for and against the action taken by council members. One argument for the walkout is in II Corinthians 6:14-15. "Believers must not commune with unbelievers. What fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness, light with darkness, believers with infidels?" I also received citations from Christians opposed to opening the council meetings with a prayer. They sent me this, from Matthew 6:5-6. "When you pray, be not like the hypocrites who love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. When you pray, enter into the closet, shut the door, and pray to thy Father in secret."
Please permit an atheist to give an interpretation of this last biblical passage. I think it distinguishes between vertical and horizontal prayer. Vertical prayer is directed upward and can be done silently. Horizontal prayer must be audible because it is meant to be heard by other humans. May I suggest a way for Charleston City Council to become more inclusive without offending anyone? Start each meeting with a moment of silence.
South Carolina Foundation Life Member Herb Silverman is a College of Charleston professor and president of Secular Humanists of the Lowcountry. This was adapted from an article appearing in the Charleston Post and Courier on April 14, 2003.
My Atheist Invocation
by Herb Silverman
Thank you for this opportunity to "invoke" a minority point of view. Each of us is a minority in some way. It might be race, religion, sexual orientation, nationality, or any other aspect in which we may be regarded as different. Each of us is also part of some majority. It is when we wear our majority hats that we need to be most mindful of how we treat others. We must pledge our best efforts to help one another, and to defend the rights of all of our citizens and residents.
What divides us is not so much our religious differences in this diverse country, but the degree of commitment we have to equal freedom of conscience for all people.
We are gathered today, both religious and secular members of our community, with the shared belief that we must treat our fellow human beings with respect and dignity.
In this invocation, I don't ask you to close your eyes, but to keep your eyes constantly open to the serious problems that city government can solve or improve. I don't ask you to bow your heads, but to look up at what you can accomplish by applying your considerable talents and experience to the issues that confront us.
As you work together on behalf of all who live in this city, may you draw strength and sustenance from one another through reason and compassion.
I'd like to close in a bipartisan manner by quoting from two presidents I greatly admire--one a Republican and the other a Democrat.
First, the Republican:
When I do good, I feel good; when I do bad, I feel bad. That is my religion.--Abraham Lincoln
And now, the Democrat:
It's remarkable how much you can accomplish if you don't care who gets the credit.--Harry S. Truman
Atheist Invocation Upheld in Utah
The Utah Supreme Court, in a 4-1 ruling on April 11, blessed the right of an atheist to deliver the invocation before the city council in Murray, a suburb of Salt Lake City.
Tom Snyder, 71, had filed suit in state court in 1999 when the council refused him equal access to deliver the pre-Council prayer. The court cited a 1993 decision upholding Salt Lake City's right to hold prayers during official events, as long as the opportunity to deliver the prayer was "nondiscriminatory."
Snyder's "prayer" follows:
"Our mother, who art in heaven (if, indeed, there is a heaven and if there is a god that takes a woman's form) hallowed be thy name, we ask for thy blessing for and guidance of those that will participate in this meeting and for those mortals that govern the state of Utah;
"We fervently ask that you guide the leaders of this city, Salt Lake County and the state of Utah so that they may see the wisdom of separating church and state and so that they will never again perform demeaning religious ceremonies as part of official government functions;
"We pray that you prevent self-righteous politicians from misusing the name of God in conducting government meetings; and, that you lead them away from the hypocritical and blasphemous deception of the public, attempting to make the people believe that bureaucrats' decisions and actions have thy stamp of approval if prayers are offered at the beginning of government meetings;
"We ask that you grant Utah's leaders and politicians enough courage and discernment to understand that religion is a private matter between every individual and his or her deity; we beseech thee to educate government leaders that religious beliefs should not be broadcast and revealed for the purpose of impressing others; we pray that you strike down those that misuse your name and those that cheapen the institution of prayer by using it for their own selfish political gains;
"We ask that the people of the state of Utah will some day learn the wisdom of the separation of church and state; we ask that you will teach the people of Utah that government should not participate in religion; we pray that you smite those government officials that would attempt to censor or control prayers made by anyone to you or to any other of our gods;
"We ask that you deliver us from the evil of forced religious worship now sought to be imposed upon the people of the state of Utah by the actions of misguided, weak and stupid politicians, who abuse power in their own self-righteousness;
"All of this we ask in thy name and the name of thy son (if in fact you had a son that visited Earth) for the eternal betterment of all of us who populate the great state of Utah.