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So help me Zeus! – O’Reilly v. FFRF

Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel, carrying on a long FFRF tradition of protesting the use of the bible and an oath to God at presidential swearings-in, sent an appeal to President Barack Obama immediately after he was reelected, asking him to “go by the book” (the Constitution, not the bible).

FFRF has asked every president since its founding, starting with Jimmy Carter, to eschew the bible and “So help you God” at presidential inaugurations. The U.S. Constitution, in Article II, Section 1, Clause 8, specifies:

“Before he enters on the execution of his office he shall take the following oath or affirmation: ‘I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the office of president of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States.’ ”

Missing from those instructions is any reference to the bible or God. In response to Andrew’s letter, Fox TV invited him to debate archconservative pundit Bill O’Reilly. Andrew clearly won, but you be the judge by viewing it at bit.ly/VkzMcl.

Andrew said (amid numerous interruptions by the host) in response to O’Reilly’s claim that the “overwhelming majority” of Americans want the bible in the inauguration: “That’s actually not accurate. The Freedom From Religion Foundation’s membership has exploded over the past five years. We have 19,000 members now; 19% of this country now consider themselves nonreligious; 35% of this country under the age of 30 consider themselves nonreligious. The demographics are shifting.”  

He also pointed out that the will of the majority is irrelevant and the bible is barbaric: “The Bill of Rights exists to protect the minority from the tyranny of the majority. We are a nation of laws and neither our laws nor our morality are founded upon the bible. Religion gets its morality from us, not the other way around. . . . The bible exhibits a Bronze Age morality that treats women as chattel, human beings as property and punishes innocent children for the crimes of their parents to the third and fourth generations, and that’s just the first set of Ten Commandments!”

The subject of Martin Luther King Jr. came up briefly, since Obama swore on one of his bibles, giving Andrew an opening to quote from King’s famous letter from the Birmingham jail criticizing the “pious irrelevancies and sanctimonious trivialities” of many white churches.

Read Andrew’s letter (Nov. 9, 2012) and FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor’s statement about the Inaugural (Jan. 20, 2013) at ffrf.org/news-releases/.

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Sharing the Crank Mail

Below, a representative sampling of recent emails from “loving Christians,” usually in response to news coverage of FFRF’s state/church work. Grammmar and spelling are uncorrected. Warning: Some language and suggestions are X-rated. 

 

Jackson Middle School: LEAVE THE SCHOOL ALONE OR YOU CAN JUST PLAIN LEAVE THE COUNTRY!! GOD BLESS AMERICA you are not American. — Laura Chastain, Riviera Beach, Fla. 

 

Jesus: Jesus said to kiss his ass!!! And burn in hell!! — C.R., Hickory, N.C.

 

Your the reason: Your group is one of the rason United States Of America is in the moral decay that is is!!! You take the foundation that we were founded on out of my Country! Take your leftest lawsuits and go hug your bulshivik president! — “Michigan” 

 

Communists: Yes,you all are a pawn of the Communists and the Socialist Obama administration. — Guy Melton, Okla. 

 

Really?: You people are all a bunch of a$$holes, and are exactly what is wrong with this country. Hope you all end up in hell, like the rest of the heathens. — Mike Dufala, Easley, S.C.

 

A Disgusting Bunch of Bastards: Maybe the time has come for the country to have Freedom from you “Freedom From Religion” bunch of warped bastards. — David Marcontell, Midlothian, Texas

 

Happy Solstice: MERRY CHRISTMAS AND GOD BLESS....YOU WORTHLESS MOTHERFUCKERS!!!!!

 

From Seattle: Merry Christmas pinheads.

 

Merry CHRISTmas: Your group is useless. — Erik Czarnik 

 

rights: you crackpots make me sick the U S constitution says freedom OF religion not from religion.I find you crackpots very offencive so GORW UP — Rick Marsh, Kan.

worthless: your group is as unAmerican as you can get and bent on the destruction of America. Do you remember One Nation Under God, if you don’t like it GET OUT.

 

Chambersburg Glee Club: If this is such a bad place THEN GET THE FUCK OUT ASSHOLES and leave high school kids out of it! GET A LIFE AND LEAVE THE REST OF US ALONE!!! TAKE YOUR UNHAPPINESS SOMEWHERE ELSE AND STOP TRYING TO WRECK EVERYTHING THAT IS GOOD AND WHIOLESOME IN THIS GREAT COUNTRY! —  Geoff Ackley, Hartland, Wis.

read this: do everyone a favor and just kill yourselves . Would be no great loss to anyone . you are a bunch of self-centered narrow-minded assholes that force your beliefs on everyone else . who gives a fuck what you think — Joe Public, Texas

 

Who cares: u people have got to be the biggest bunch of fucking losers that I have ever encountered. There are no negative effects of a society that has a moral religious base. Go to a gov’t funded housing project and you will see lazy immoral bums that today’s society thinks it is fair to takeuchi money to support these lazy bums. It would be my guess that you and your kind support an incompetent idiot lik — James Eck

 

fuck off: you fucking people need to mind your own fucking back yard not any one elces i have photos of you people defacing others property and im sending them to world news — “Shit Head” 

 

Information: You do realize you work for Satan right? You think you are a free thinker, but he has you right where he wants you. Repent, before it’s too late. — Brian Jones

 

Nativity Scene Athens,Tx: Why don’t you keep your Yankee bullshit outta TEXAS. Nobody here gives a damn about what you think. — Ryan Ragsdale 

 

hell: hope you have fun in hell my granny is the devil and she is gonna make you pay for not minding your own damn business if you don’t like it don’t go around it what the hell if I want to go to the capitol and see the ten commandments you are violating my civil rights because I cant and will sue your ass in court so its a never ending battle hurry up and die so the us native americans can have our land back and our rights. — Steven Flowers

 

freedom from religion: You now have yourselves to blame for what happened in Connecticut.....you want more freedom from religion, or freedom from God I should say? You are to blame. — David Hess

 

Stay out of our schools business: YOU AITHEST LIBERALS ARE THE REASON WHY THE SHOOTING AT BOTH SANDY HOOK ELMENTERY AND COLUMBINE HAPPENED AND IF YOU KEEP IT UP WITY WANTING TO TAKE CHRIST OUT OF SCHOOLS AND EVERYTHING ELSE YOU ALL ARE GOING TO BE CONDAMNED TO AN ETERNITY IN HELL WITH THE DIEVL YE GENERATION OF VIPERS! — Colin Stanley

 

Jackson county ohio: Stay out of jackson county with your anti Christian views. We don’t respect you. And I don’t know one person in this county that has any use for you or your opinions. God bless you and have a nice day. — Carl Detty, Oak Hill, Ohio

 

Jackson Ohio: Keep your nose out of our schools leave up the picture of Jesus. If we had more pictures of him in schools maybe we would have less shootings in schools. How dare you but in.

 

Jackson, Ohio: I am going to start off by saying this organization needs to stay out of Southern Ohio, especially schools. So mind your own damn business, which should be at the very least in Wisconsin not all the way down here in Southern Ohio. — Eric Castle, Ohio

Staying out of Ohio: TO WHOM IT CONCERNS, YOU ARE A WISCONSIN BASED, NOT FOR PROFIT(BUT GETTING MY TAX DOLLARS)BUSINESS. IF YOU DO NOT APPROVE OF A PICTURE OF MY SAVIOR, I HAVE AN IDEA,KEEP YOUR ASSES IN WISCONSIN AND DON’T WORRY ABOUT WHAT WE ARE DOING IN OHIO! — Bobby McKenzie, Ohio 

 

Religion: If a picture of Jesus bothers your group so much, then don’t go where it is. I think that is what is wrong with our younger generations today, some idiots, like your group don’t have anything better to do than remove GOD from the classrooms. — Anna Brown, South Shore, Ky.

 

Hipocrits: Not having a picture of Christ is an illegal endorsement of atheism. I want separation of your church from my state. Such Hypocrits — Spencer Mason, Salt Lake City, Utah

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‘Do good on Good Friday’

In the spirit of 19th century freethinker Robert Green Ingersoll, who wrote, “Hands that help are better far than lips that pray,” FFRF annually challenges freethinkers to set an example for religionists by ‘doing good on Good Friday.’

The annual challenge was inaugurated in the early 1990s by Pat Cleveland, a founder of the Alabama Freethought Society, FFRF’s longest-running existing chapter.

“It’s not that freethinkers aren’t good every day,” says active volunteer Pat. “But this will be a way to make it a truly good day, if all freethinkers in the country would be visibly helping.”

FFRF overturned a statute making Good Friday a state holiday in Wisconsin. But in all too many regions, there are still government-fostered holidays for Good Friday. FFRF encourages you to take advantage to donate blood, donate a free afternoon to the needy or other worthy causes.

You may want to advertise your “good deeds” on FFRF’s online members-only forum or on our Facebook page.

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In Memoriam: Ann E. Zindler, 1935–2012

Ann Elizabeth Zindler, 77, Columbus, Ohio, died of metastatic breast cancer at her home after a heroic battle of more than four years’ duration.

Ann Hunt was born Feb. 25, 1935, in Ann Arbor, Mich. She studied art and biology at Eastern Michigan University. She managed a women’s dormitory at the University of Michigan before moving in 1967 after her marriage in 1964 to New York, where she worked as a glasswright known for her acid-etched stained glass creations.

She served as joint director of the Central Ohio Chapter of American Atheists after moving to Columbus in 1983. Ann became the principal artist and art and layout editor for American Atheist Press. She devoted her life to the advancement of reason and with her husband, Frank, labored to guard the wall of separation between state and church. She was a member of Planned Parenthood and NARAL, Zero Population Growth, the Audubon Society and American Atheists.

Survivors include her husband of 48 years, Frank, an FFRF member; a daughter, Catherine; and three grandchildren; all of Columbus.

FFRF offers its sincerest condolences to the Zindler family.

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In Memoriam: James Schiller, 1937–2012

James Joseph Schiller, Denver, died Dec. 6, 2012. He was born in in 1937 in St. Louis, Mo.

He attended New York University, where he met his wife, Susan. They lived in New York while he attended the New School for Social Research, where he obtained his master’s degree. He earned a post-master’s at Johns Hopkins University.

His first teaching position was in Atlanta. James and Susan lived in Baltimore for 23 years and then in the Denver area for 22 years. Their daughter, Julia, and grandson, Nicolas, live in New Zealand, which was a favorite vacation destination for James and Susan for many years.

James was a member of the Humanists of Colorado and the Freedom From Religion Foundation. “FFRF was very important to James and remains very important to Susan,” notes Tim Bailey, Humanists of Colorado president and FFRF member.

A humanist celebration of life memorial is being planned for March and will be announced. Condolences can be mailed to Humanists of Colorado, Box 461112, Glendale, CO 80246, or emailed to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to FFRF, Box 750, Madison, WI 53701.

FFRF’s sincerest condolences go out to the Schiller family.

Michael Christopher Deanhardt, 76, Anderson, S.C., died Dec. 19, 2012, at the Rainey Hospice House.

He was born Oct. 7, 1936 in Anderson to Melvin and Ellen (Wilson) Deanhardt and worked as a self-employed mason.

Deanhardt, a longtime FFRF member and man of good humor, was for years called “the most prayed for man in Anderson” due to his ongoing campaign to get local government boards to stop praying at their meetings. He was also a committed activist on behalf of civil rights, abortion rights, labor rights and separation of state and church.

The Anderson Independent Mail in a profile mentioned “the faded bumper sticker on his pickup read: ‘When the rapture comes, can I have your truck?’ ”

In a 2008 column in that paper, Deanhardt wrote: “We are not willing to cede the moral high ground to the fundamentalists of the religious and political right who are using the language of faith, religion and politics to advance a narrow-minded, mean-spirited agenda, which is built on what we consider to be immoral values of intolerance, exclusion, division, discrimination and repression.” 

He is survived by his wife of 55 years, Anita Story Deanhardt, five children, nine grandchildren, five great-grandchildren, two brothers and two sisters.

FFRF offers its sincerest condolences to Michael’s family.

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Make it Great, not Good, Friday!

It’s encouraging to see our secular movement growing and gaining strength. We are meeting, networking, organizing, participating and proliferating.

As our numbers increase, so does membership in the growing number of secular organizations. We are receiving national and international media attention, with the important message of reality-based alternatives to lives and minds dimmed and shackled by the influences of religion and its myths and superstitions.

Each day, friends, neighbors and fellow citizens who share our worldview are standing up, speaking out and accepting their role in what may be the most important and consequential social change in the history of humankind. It is the evolution and transition from a world of mythological beliefs and practices toward lives, societies and nations founded upon science, facts and reason. 

Many of us seem to lack the perceived freedom, social support or opportunity to make our freethought known to others. Yet, freethinkers today are much like those minority groups which have gone before us to proudly proclaim their identity, become recognized and ultimately accepted as equals in the political process and to claim their rightful place in society.

Nothing is more important to our future success than for nontheists to “come out” to their families and friends, their coworkers and communities. One has to wonder, for each one of us who is openly nontheist, how many of our family members and friends secretly share our rejection of religion and dogma?

On March 29, the day known as Good Friday to Christians, public attention, popular discussion, social practices and media coverage worldwide will focus on thea Christian myth — Jesus dying on the cross, then rising from the dead to save humankind from sin. Most of us don’t get this at all, but what an opportune time for nontheists and secularists to plan, organize and publicize a nationwide, or even worldwide, effort to encourage those of like mind to “come out” en masse.

We can create a back story now to next year’s Good Friday, one which encourages public discussion, facilitates conversations and provides nontheists with the opportunity and moment to openly join us in this most important of social change movements.

Good Friday? No, it will be a Great Friday! We can own this. Great Friday can become our annual, purposeful, secular response and alternative to yet another religious holiday.  

We have the message. We have the resources. We have this opportunity.  

 

Gary McIntyre, a Kentucky resident most of his life, was “saved” while growing up Baptist. He started to question religion in college and remembers giving a Speech 101 presentation on “something you feel strongly about.” It was titled “Why I Am Not a Christian” and drew mostly negatives reactions.  

He considered himself an agnostic much of his adult life but now says atheist and humanist more accurately describes his worldview. Gary joined FFRF in the mid-1980s after seeing Dan Barker on a television morning show.

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State/Church Bulletin

Indiana rep pushes school Lord’s Prayer

Indiana state Sen. Dennis Kruse, R-Auburn, filed a bill which would let public schools have students recite the Lord’s Prayer daily. The bill received first reading Jan. 9.

SB 251 states that “the governing body of a school corporation or the equivalent authority of a charter school may require the recitation of the Lord’s Prayer at the beginning of each school day. The prayer may be recited by a teacher, a student, or the class of students.”

It further states, “If the governing body or equivalent authority requires the recitation of the Lord’s Prayer under subsection (a), the governing body or equivalent authority shall determine the version of the Lord’s Prayer that will be recited in the school corporation or charter school.”

The bill lets students or “the student’s parent” choose to not participate.

The South Bend Tribune in a Jan. 11 editoral called the bill a bad idea and urged Gov. Mike Pence to veto it if the Legislature passes it, predicting that “long years of legal challenges would certainly drain the state treasury and end in defeat” if it became law.

 

Domino’s founder: Birth control ‘immoral’

Tom Monaghan, devout Catholic and founder of Domino’s Pizza, is suing the federal government over mandatory contraception coverage in the new health care law. Monaghan called contraception a “gravely immoral” practice, according to the suit, in which he and Domino’s Farms, Ann Arbor, Mich., are plaintiffs.

According to a Dec. 15 post on Domino’s Facebook page, Monaghan sold the company in 1998: “His views are not our views, nor are his actions in any way related to our actions.”

A Wikipedia entry says Bain Capital bought Domino’s in 1998, netting Monaghan about $1 billion, before it went public in 2004.

 

Egyptian atheist gets three-year sentence

A Cairo court sentenced atheist Alber Saber, 27, to three years in prison Dec. 12 for blasphemy and contempt for religion. Alber was accused of posting clips online of the short film “Innocence of Muslims,” which sparked violent and deadly protests throughout the Middle East.

“This is an outrageous verdict and sentence for a person whose only ‘crime’ was to post his opinions online,” Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui of Amnesty International told The Associated Press.

Saber, while awaiting trial, was attacked by other prisoners while guards allegedly looked the other way. He’s appealing the sentence. “Egypt is a religious state,” he said. “If you disobey the norms, you get judged and sentenced.”

 

Montana high court rules against Hutterites

The Montana Supreme Court ruled Dec. 31 that forcing the Big Sky Colony of Hutterites to pay workers’ compensation insurance for jobs outside the colony is not an unconstitutional intrusion into religion.

The 4-3 decision upholds a 2009 law. The Associated Press reported that Montana has about 50 Hutterite colonies with about 100 members each. Many have expanded into nonfarm ventures, including construction, and are able to bid lower than private firms because of their communal living arrangements.

 

Silence substituted
for ‘offensive’ prayer

Boyle County’s Fiscal Court in Danville, Ky., has voted to stop starting its meetings with prayers. Instead of a prayer on Jan. 22, there was a moment of silence.

Harold McKinney, judge executive, said he received a camplaint from a person who found the prayer offensive. “After I looked at it, thought about it, the way to do this is to say we’re not going to impose Protestant prayer on those who may not believe in that way,” McKinney told WTVQ in Lexington.

The board was also concerned about legal costs if they kept praying.

 

Louisiana board deals blow to creationism

The Orleans Parish School Board in New Orleans voted unanimously Dec. 18 in favor of two policy amendments proposed by outgoing president Thomas Robichaux.

One amendment added “zero tolerance” to the parish’s “bullying, intimidation, harassment and hazing” policy. The other addressed concerns about mention of creationism, intelligent design and “revisionist history” in textbooks.

The textbook selection update said: “No history textbook shall be approved which has been adjusted in accordance with the State of Texas revisionist guidelines nor shall any science textbook be approved which presents creationism or intelligent design as science or scientific theories.”

It also applies to teachers: “No teacher of any discipline of science shall teach any aspect of religious faith as science or in a science class. No teacher of any discipline of science shall teach creationism or intelligent design in classes designated as science classes.”

 

Wash. pastor prays against gay marriage

Washington state’s opening legislative session in Olympia got off to a rocky start Jan. 14, reported the Seattle Times.

In his invocation, Rev. Jon Sanné prayed for the strengthening of marriage “as You ordained it for our good and Your glory.”

“Completely inappropriate,” said Sen. Kevin Ranker, D-Orcas Island. “Regrettable,” said Seattle Sen. Ed Murray, the Democratic leader. They said all pastors are told in advance to keep prayers nondenominational and nonpolitical.

Sanné, pastor of  Calvary Chapel, hosted a rally at the church against marriage equality in September wich featured Rick Santorum. The church donated $5,000 to the campaign against legalization. 

 

Teacher has bible
but no job now

You’ve got to love how this story starts:
“Just moments before the Phillipsburg [N.J.] Board of Education voted Jan. 14 to terminate a substitute teacher who showed a student a bible, a sudden downpour of rain could be heard hitting the roof of the middle school meeting area.” The WFMZ-TV reporter further mused, “Was there some sort of message to be gleaned from this meteorological event?”

The board had just unanimously approved, with abstentions from three new members, Superintendent George Chando’s recommendation to terminate substitute teacher Walter Tutka three months after he was removed from teaching. Last fall he is alleged to have told a middle school student, who was last in line to leave class, that “the last will be first, and the first will be last” and showed him the passage in his personal bible.

The board wouldn’t disclose the reason for removing Tutka from the substitute list for the rest of the year.

Neighbors target skeptics in senior living

Some seniors living at La Costa Glen retirement community in Carlsbad, Calif., told KERO News they’re being targeted by residents for their nonreligion, the station reported Dec. 26.

“They said, ‘She is a sinner. She’s going to hell and she’s going to burn forever,’ ” said Brigit Smith-Clarke, 84, who started a group called Atheists Anonymous.

It started with 16 members two years ago and has grown to nearly 100 seniors. Smith-Clarke said people are calling her things such as “anti-Christ” and “Jew-lover.” She said she was raised Christian but “is tired of pretending.”

“I think it’s a big place and people do all sorts of things,” said activities coordinator Michelle Chaffee. “It’s not typical of what we see here normally.”

Chaffee says it’s the A-word that is the problem. “That has turned a lot of people off.”

 

U.S. House proclaims Darwin Day

U.S. Rep. Rush Holt, D-N.J., introduced H.Res. 41 declaring Feb. 12 as Darwin Day in recognition of “the importance of science in the betterment of humanity.”

Holt, who has a doctorate in physics, introduced the resolution to honor Charles Darwin’s 204th birthday:

“Whereas Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution by the mechanism of natural selection, together with the monumental amount of scientific evidence he compiled to support it, provides humanity with a logical and intellectually compelling explanation for the diversity of life on Earth. . .”

Humanity, individuals over religion 

FFRF awarded Antwon a $250 scholarship, thanks to an essay competition endowed by Professor Brian Bolton.

 

By Antwon Kennedy

 

The need for separation between religion and government is as important today as it has been since the introduction of the Establishment Clause in 1789. History shows that combining the two entities can have dangerous consequences. The Pilgrims, for example, when King James came into power, almost lost their lives after voicing their concerns about the Church of England and had to flee to avoid persecution.

Today, religious interests still want to influence public opinion and politics. A preacher recently spoke out in favor of physically abusive corrective actions toward children, backed by biblical teachings. Religious organizations are opposing contraceptive coverage in their employees’ insurance plans. These actions endanger our youth and strip individuals of their right to choice in family planning by placing the decision-making process in the hands of religious groups.

CNN reported: “Sean Harris, the pastor of Berean Baptist Church in Fayetteville, North Carolina, told his congregants in his sermon on April 28, ‘Dads, the second you see your son dropping the limp wrist, you walk over there and crack that wrist.’ He continued, ‘Man up, give them a good punch, OK. You’re not going to act like that. You were made by God to be a male and you’re going to be a male’ ”

The pastor later claimed he was misunderstood, saying he wasn’t advocating abuse of homosexual children. What is certain is that combining church and state would give the government power to support and uphold the pastor’s words because the bible states in Proverbs 22:15, “Folly is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline drives it far from him,” and in Proverbs 23:13, “Do not withhold discipline from a child; if you strike him with a rod, he will not die.”

Both passages confirm the acceptance of child abuse. Even more so, the greatest argument for the bible’s standpoint on child abuse is that God sent his son to Earth so that people could abuse him and hang him on a cross.

Mixing religion with politics is a recipe for the reversal of human choice and liberty. If politicians give in to the demands of a set religion, we face being confined to the constraints of the religious doctrine at hand.

An example of this process of constraint: religious organizations fighting to not have to include contraceptive coverage in insurance plans for their employees. These organizations are forgetting about the right of the individual to make her own choices. They are confining their employees to limited choices in the types of health services available to them.

If politicians continue to show favoritism to religious groups, citizens risk losing the rights that generations have fought for and the freedoms that make America the great country that it is. Laws must be uniform for all.

In this election year, we need to let politicians know that just because a religious doctrine says it is acceptable to beat children, we will not stand for child abuse. We need to let politicians know that we do not need to make concessions for religious organizations that want to modify laws so that they can limit the health care options of those caught under their vise.

If we concede on one issue, the stage will be set for more concessions until we are a nation under the laws of a particular religious doctrine. Our citizens, in fear for their lives, will begin to flee just as the Pilgrims did centuries ago from England.

We do not need to repeat a past that did not work. That is why in this election year, we need separation between religion and government. 

 

Antwon Kennedy, 32, Marietta, Ga., is a junior working toward a bachelor of business administration degree in finance at Kennesaw State University.

 

 

Theocracies are
deadly to freedom 

FFRF awarded Anastassia a $250 scholarship.

 

By Anastassia Smorodinskaya

 

During the recent presidential election, it became clear that we as a nation are moving further and further away from our constitutional right to the separation of church and state. Most disheartening is that with so many examples of failing theological governments throughout the world, American politicians and citizens alike turn a blind eye to the fact that God and government are indeed a very dangerous mix. 

Mideast nations serve as prime examples. The elections in Egypt were supposed to be a celebration of newfound democracy, yet citizens who don’t adhere to fundamentalist Islam live in fear of losing their rights to religion. Decades of civil unrest and bloodshed in Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Iran and Pakistan should steer the U.S. away from letting power fall into the hands of theocrats.

I am even starting to see an unhealthy partnership of church and state in my native Russia, a nation which less than 100 years ago denounced all religion in favor of atheism. The nation has started using the Russian Orthodox Church to justify blatant violations of human rights and freedom of speech, as made evident by the imprisonment of the female punk band Pussy Riot. Putin’s government is making an example of Pussy Riot for anyone else who dares speak out against Putin, but is doing so under the guise of defending religion.

In turn, the church has shocked the international community by siding with Putin’s dictatorial regime instead of practicing the Christian notion of forgiveness. This scenario shows how mixing religion and politics can lead to loss of civilian freedom and to the corruption of religious institutions themselves.

In America, the lines are blurring, as made evident by nearly every hot-button issue debated by rival political parties. The most obvious example is legalization of same-sex marriage, an issue that should be treated as a question of human rights, but instead has been argued by politicians on the basis of populist religious morality, showing blatant disregard for the Establishment Clause.

Women’s rights to birth control and family planning have also come under scrutiny from conservative Christians who, tragically, are gaining leverage in the Republican Party. 

When I see religion making its way into political debates, scenes from the dystopian novel “The Handmaid’s Tale” by Margaret Atwood spring to mind. It depicts the U.S. after it has been taken over by an extreme fundamentalist Christian group that strips women of their rights and forces them into roles of pious servitude.

It is ironic that while many Americans fear losing their freedom to Islamist groups like al-Qaida, they are blind to the fact that Christianity is slowly seeping into the pores of government, with equal potential to do serious damage to constitutional rights. 

It would behoove all Americans to keep in mind that we must vote for the candidate who best protects our constitutional liberties and not for one whose decisions will be based on the moral compass of a particular religion. Rev. Otis Moss III said it best in a sermon he delivered to his Baptist congregation in Chicago:

“To claim that the president of the United States must hold your theological position is absurd. He is president of the United States, not president of the Baptist Convention, not president or bishop of the sanctified church. He is called to protect those who are Jew and gentile, male and female, young and old, gay and straight.”

That powerful statement perfectly sums up the way Americans need to look at government. Sadly, the fact that Moss felt compelled to make the plea shows that too many are still inclined to vote in the name of God. 

 

Anastassia Smorodinskaya, 25, was born in Moscow, Russia. She moved to the U.S. at age 6 and grew up in the quiet college town of Middlebury, Vt. She graduated from Eckerd College in 2008 as a communications major and theater minor. She’s enrolled in Columbia University’s master’s program for broadcast journalism.

 

 

Wanted: Separation of state, church

 

FFRF awarded Justin a $250 scholarship. 

 

By Justin Vacula

 

Four recent Establishment Clause issues in Pennsylvania — legislation declaring 2012 “The Year of the Bible,” sectarian governmental prayer, coercion of citizens who dare to remain seated for governmental prayer, and intentions to fund religious schools with taxpayer monies — should convince Pennsylvanians that they need separation of religion and government.

Lawmakers seemed to neglect Section 3 of the state Constitution, which states, “All men have a natural and indefeasible right to worship Almighty God according to the dictates of their own consciences,” and “no human authority can, in any case whatever, control or interfere with the rights of conscience, and no preference shall ever be given by law to any religious establishments or modes of worship.”

The “noncontroversial” resolution declaring “The Year of the Bible” said there was a “national need to study and apply [its] teachings,” and claimed that “renewing our knowledge of and faith in God through holy scripture can strengthen us as a nation and a people.”

“The dictates of conscience” in the Constitution were trampled on because the resolution took sides on theological issues and recommended religious actions.

Another obvious example of religion and government being a dangerous mix is the constant stream of unconstitutional sectarian governmental prayer during House of Representatives sessions. Many contain specific references to Christianity, with Jesus Christ dying on a cross to save people from sin, Jesus Christ as “Lord and savior,” “God in heaven” and “the maker of heaven and earth.”

Unconstitutional prayers also exist in a background of coercion directed at citizens who dare to remain seated during prayer. Individuals, before entering the guest chambers, view a prominent sign which encourages people to stand for prayer. Then the House speaker asks people to stand.

On one occasion, I remained silently seated while taking notes on a tablet. An armed security officer approached me and repeatedly asked me to stand to “show respect.” Two requests — from the House speaker and a sign — were not enough.

Another insidious foray by lawmakers concerned a school voucher program in which public funds, instead of funding public schools which must educate children regardless of their religious upbringing or belief, would fund private schools. Many are religious and exist primarily to indoctrinate impressionable minds, compel students to participate in school-led prayer and teach “young Earth creationist” doctrine instead of sound science.

When I peacefully protested a rally, holding a sign calling for separation of church and state, at which pious politicians assembled to urge lawmakers to vote for the school voucher program, I was told that I should go back to my “community of privilege” and send my children “to whichever school I wanted to whether they be atheist schools or not.”

That was said to me from the podium by state Sen. Anthony Williams, who angrily added, “By the way, this is my rally, not yours,” and “These are our dollars, not just yours. These are our children, not yours. These are our school systems, not yours, and by the way, this has nothing to do with separation of church and state.”

At the voucher rally and with the coercion I faced for staying seated for governmental prayer, I was made to feel like a political outsider. A climate of divisiveness — pitting citizens against lawmakers acting in pious unconstitutional manners — was created in which I, as a citizen of Pennsylvania, while peacefully objecting to that which I saw as unconstitutional, was poorly treated.

If lawmakers had remained neutral on matters of religion while acting in their official capacities to serve all citizens, there would have been no divisiveness.

The above situations create a compelling case for freethinkers, and even religious Pennsylvanians, to be concerned with matters of separation of church and state. Establishment Clause violations are especially grievous in election years because pandering politicians are seeking votes while lawmakers who otherwise would object to the violations may not because they fear losing support from their constituents.

 

Justin Vacula, Exeter, Pa., 23, is a graduate student at Marywood University studying mental health counseling. He has a bachelor’s in philosophy and psychology from King’s College, is active in the NEPA Freethought Society and blogs at examiner.com/user-justin-vacula.

Justin was also a plaintiff in FFRF’s lawsuit challenging “The Year of the Bible” in Pennsylvania. He recently spent a lot of time getting FFRF’s Winter Solstice banner included in the Wilkes-Barre Public Square holiday display. The banner was vandalized and later reinstalled.

 

Government for the people, not the god  

 

FFRF awarded Ashley a $250 scholarship.

 

By Ashley Miller

 

Religion, in the hands of the power hungry, is a dangerous thing, and you’ll find few groups more power hungry or more religious than U.S. politicians. That only one member of Congress admits to being a nonbeliever speaks volumes about the usefulness of professed religious devotion for those seeking office.

Politicians fall all over themselves to prove their support of religion. In the past decade, Congress has unanimously reaffirmed “In God We Trust” as the national motto three times. Countless bills are presented with hopes of winning the religious base. Even if sponsors don’t think they will pass, they want credit for proposing them.

Sincere or cynical, politicians know that pandering to the religious gets them votes and, just as importantly, gets them money.  The relationship between religious money and the state has always been problematic, but never more so than it is today.  And fighting against that relationship is never more important than in an election year.

Every year, the churches of America get $71 billion in tax breaks thanks to very generous exemptions.  The American taxpayer has to cover the lost revenue, forcing the population to subsidize organized religion.  Churches pay no property taxes, write off housing expenses for their clergy, do not pay sales tax on anything they sell, and do not pay taxes on the money they earn.  US churches own $400 billion in untaxed land and the Church of Scientology alone earns over $500 million untaxed dollars annually.  Donations to these churches are written off individuals’ taxes, even if those churches spend little money on charitable works -- churches, unlike other charitable organizations, don’t have to publicly disclose what they use the money for; they are automatically exempt.

So, what do the religious use the money for?  Rather than focusing on charity, they have used their untaxed income to wage war on our secular Constitution, to try to force the Christian version of Sharia law onto the American people.

Churches use this money to support their campaigns against gay marriage. Groups like Focus on the Family are funded almost entirely by the Catholic and Mormon churches. Proposition 8, the amendment to the California Constitution that overturned the right to gay marriage, raised over $40 million, $20 million of which came from Mormons.  At the urging of their church,   Mormons provided over half the funds that helped Proposition 8 pass. When the California government was alerted to this, not only did the LDS church not lose its tax-exempt status, they were fined only $5,000, practically an invitation to do it again.

Churches use this money to promote their choices for judicial nominations. Justices in South Carolina have given reading assignments from the bible as punishment for crimes as serious as vehicular homicide.  Of the nine justices on the Supreme Court, six are Roman Catholics and three are Jewish, in a country that is 24% Catholic and 2% Jewish.  These judges ensure the bench is biased in favor of religion and that bias encourages decisions like Citizens United, which allows the religious to spend unlimited funds on pushing their political agenda.  

Churches use this money to push religion into the public classrooms of America, to make sure after-school programs have access to children, to remove evolution and Thomas Jefferson from schoolbooks, and to force non-religious students to listen to and participate in prayers on secular campuses.  Religious exemptions don’t just hurt the education of young people; they can also lead to disease and death.  In many states, religious schools are exempt from government oversight, which has led to deaths of children through poor care and negligence.

Churches use this money to promote their hatred for women.  In 2011, there were 1,100 bills about reproductive rights introduced at the state level. There were bills that force women to accept a transvaginal exam to get an abortion; that have nearly gotten rid of abortion clinics altogether in states like Mississippi; that allow doctors in Arizona to lie to women if they think it will prevent them from having an abortion; that charge women with manslaughter for having miscarriages; that allow doctors and pharmacists to refuse to give birth control to women.  All of this in a country where being pregnant is more dangerous and more expensive than in many other industrialized nations.  Even bills to make the life-saving, cancer-preventing HPV vaccine mandatory have been vetoed out of fear that it would encourage girls to have sex; in South Carolina, the governor vetoed a bill that would allow schools to simply tell parents the vaccine exists.  These bills are so cavalierly anti-woman; women are dying in this country because of religious interference.

And, before you blame this entirely on the religious right, the Democrats are guilty as well.  President Obama prevented Plan B from becoming over-the-counter, despite the recommendations of the medical community, primarily because he wanted to avoid the Christian backlash.  Democrats are just as afraid of the repercussions of upsetting the godly, and just as interested in getting their money.

Before you despair, there is good news.  The non-religious population is growing and becoming more vocal and actively fighting the destruction of separation of church and state.  There are things we can do to fight back.  We can support organizations like the Secular Student Alliance, Secular Coalition for America, Freedom From Religion Foundation, and the many other secular institutions in our country.  We can vote for the candidates that don’t pander to the religious, if they can be found.  And, if they cannot be found, we can follow the lead of people like Pete Stark and Cecil Bothwell, and run for office ourselves.  Our Constitution clearly states that God and government do not go together, and we must fight for a government that is truly representative of “we the people,” all of us, not just those under the command of a fictitious and very wealthy deity.

 

Ashley Miller, 28, grew up in Litchfield, S.C., and attends the University of South Carolina as a second-year Ph.D. candidate. She holds a master’s in radio, film and television production from Florida State University and B.A. in film studies from Emory University.

The students all received $250 awards. Special thanks to John Moe and Dean and Dorea Schramm for underwriting.

Mission for humanity

By Cheyenne Tessier

My knees were sore. I got down and prayed for wind, joining hands with dirty-faced working men and the long-skirted women. And the wind came.

It was a miracle, I convinced myself, a missionary in a hell-stricken place, the daughter of two devout Christians. Yes, I was blessed.

We were told not to give our food to the starving children because it would start a riot, so we gave them bibles, telling them this is the right way. Do not live with the devils of your ancestors, children. We played and danced.

Then we sat on the air-conditioned bus and ate sandwiches and drank soda, but the children could not drink their bibles. Soon the girls would turn to prostitution to feed themselves, but God was with them, so we gave them bibles as if we offered salvation to a system that was, in the first place, polluted by missionaries.

We didn’t give them work, only scripture. We didn’t heal their water supply, only offered a prayer for their souls. And then we came home, our work done. I hung my Haitian flag above my bed. Many nights I stared at that flag, praising myself as a hero. But doubt is the greatest of infections, and soon I was overcome with questions. 

I attended church less and less. I could not think about the evil I had done by starving a community for some faraway god, who didn’t laugh or learn or die of malnourishment. 

If there were no heaven and no hell and no God, I wonder if we would share our food and water and shelter instead of our “wisdom.” I wonder if all the love, focused away from the skies and onto humanity, would be enough to eliminate hunger and educate every child to care for our Earth instead of our unreachable skies.

My proudest moment as a freethinker was inviting my former congregation to a benefit I held, in the name of humanity, after the 2010 Haiti earthquake. I proved that it does not take a zealot or a missionary to change the world, but as Margaret Mead said, “It takes a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens.” 

That night, I gave back to Haiti the sandwiches I had stolen from it. 

When I am asked, “Are you doing it with a church?” I quietly reply, “No. I am on a mission, but I am not a missionary.”

Cheyenne Tessier, 18, Hudson, N.H., is enrolled at The George Washington University in Washington, D.C., to study international affairs and Arabic.

Light bulb in the pews

By Zach Gowan 

I was raised by my mom, who never exposed me to a particularly religious environment. As a result, I never really found myself subscribing to any religion. I never thought about the fact that I wasn’t religious. Put simply, I just wasn’t. However, around seventh and eighth grade, certain events occurred that brought my attention to religion and its effects in society.

My dad came back into my life in middle school. He and I were never able to form a relationship before this time. He had gotten himself in order and met a woman whom he soon married. As a result, I would go down to their house and visit every other weekend.

My dad had gotten back into going to church by this point. His wife and her children were religious as well, so all of them went to church. They would bring me along. I didn’t really have a choice. They just made me go. If I ever voiced the fact that I didn’t want to go, I would risk hearing a lecture about how I’d go to Hell if I didn’t participate in their religion. This continued throughout middle school.

My previously religiously apathetic self was dissipating. Now that I was regularly being exposed to religion, I was starting to form opinions of it. And honestly, I didn’t like it. I completely disagreed with all the things I would hear in the sermons. I couldn’t stand the hate that the preachers would spout about nonbelievers, homosexuals, and so on. On the whole, I just couldn’t understand why people would buy into this stuff.

Eventually, in eighth grade, a particular sermon at church caused my logical faculties to finally kick in (they would improve and enhance over the following years, but this was when reason truly started to play a role in my opinion of religion). It was a sermon about homosexuality and how it’s supposedly a sin. The preacher used an analogy to demonstrate the point. It went a little something like this: You can’t take an electrical plug and plug it into another one. It has to be plugged into a socket. Similarly, a socket can’t receive another socket. It has to receive a plug. Therefore, homosexuality is wrong. Obviously, the plug represents the male reproductive organ, and the socket represents the female reproductive organ. The “logic” here was that if putting a plug into a plug or a socket into a socket is wrong, then the same principle must apply to humans. I instantly saw how fallacious and absurd this was. To use this analogy, you have to assume that the only thing that matters in a relationship is sex, which is an odd assumption for a typically anti-sex group of people to make.

But the absurdity of the argument isn’t what bothered me. The primitive and old-fashioned conclusion (that homosexuals are bad) isn’t what bothered me. It was the fact that everyone in the room blindly bought into the blatantly illogical argument. No one gave it a second thought. They just accepted it because the preacher said it.

This moment was a critical one for me. I would consider myself to have been a budding freethinker at the time, as I was forming my own opinion of religion and its teachings through reason, even if I was just starting out. Looking back on that day, I’m proud of my refusal to accept the preacher’s words at face value. I think religion has its place in society, but I do not like its potential to brainwash people. Fortunately, I was able to escape that brainwashing and from that point on, I can think for myself.

Zach Gowan, 17, was born in Philadelphia and is attending the University of South Carolina in Spartanburg to major in English.

 

 

 

Absolved from unnecessary confusion

By Abigail Dove 

“I hope and suspect that you have not moved into unnecessary confusion,” read my grandfather’s letter in troubled script. 

I am “blessed” in the statistical sense to have a father, who, despite being a church elder, will agree to read and discuss selections of Richard Dawkins’ writing after only mild coercion, and a mother who volunteers as a Sunday School teacher only out of a profound desire to avoid interaction with the vociferous social conservatives who frequent the adult classes.

I suppose it is fitting that my grandfather’s Presbyterian ministry embraces an idealistic simplification of God as the embodiment of love and not the terrifying entity that his denominational fellows theorize entertains himself by dangling sinners over a flaming abyss. 

But despite my grandfather’s remarkable open-mindedness, he was alarmed when my father inadvertently revealed that I, his supposedly pious granddaughter — whom he personally baptized with water he collected from the Jordan River — was not the staunch Christian he anticipated.

When his concerned letter arrived a few weeks later, my parents advised me to downplay the issue for convenience. Couldn’t I, they pleaded, simply feign agreement? Easy for them to say.

The early emergence of my atheism could stunt my relationship with my grandfather. Here I was presented with the perfect gateway to honest, open dialogue. Besides, as a casual skim through the Old Testament will reveal, lying has adverse consequences. 

So began our tense correspondence, an ongoing dialogue on belief. In a stream of lengthy letters, he expressed his confusion over why, in my WASP-y world free of creationism, homophobia, sexism and the other oft-targeted shortcomings of religion, I am so opposed to the church.

I desperately tried to articulate that his beloved moderate institutions, though conceivably palatable, enforce the notion of religion as an indispensable component of society, thus shielding fundamentalist faiths from criticism and letting hordes of potentially great future scientists and thinkers receive a life of miseducation under the guise of respect for religious diversity.

He remained steadfast in his belief that Christian education spreads essential virtues. I found myself struggling to find a delicate way to express that my Sunday School experience enlightened me only to new techniques of eye-rolling. 

I labored over each letter so as to completely address his questions while remaining both respectful of his life’s work. Amid piles of discarded drafts, I questioned whether it was my place to express even courteous disapproval over this wise, gentle man’s philosophy. Awaiting his responses, I imagined him poring over my tortured writings, insulted and mired in disappointment.

At his funeral, I sat sobbing in a sea of Presbyterian ministers arguing over the mechanics of when, in the biblically unaddressed circumstance of a fatal coma, the soul leaves the body. “Are you the atheist?” demanded one of the many pastors there. “Your grandfather used to read parts of your letters at some of our meetings. It meant so much to him that one of his grandchildren took an interest in discussing the subject.”

In a sense far different from the one my grandfather had in mind, he had absolved me of “unnecessary confusion.” I now know with certainty that no decent individual will see ignominy in freethought or free dialogue. 

 

Abigail Dove, 18, Collegeville, Pa., was valedictorian at Perkiomen Valley High School and is attending Swarthmore College to major in neuroscience and minor in cognitive science.

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