Do the atheists in Wisconsin realize they’re going to hell?
Bill O’Reilly’s comment on FFRF’s legal victory in getting a nativity scene removed from public property in Ellwood City, Pa.
“The O’Reilly Factor,” 11-13-12
Under Orders should be in every rucksack for those moments when Soldiers need spiritual energy.
Endorsement by Gen. David Petraeus of a chaplain’s anti-atheist book subtitled A Spiritual Handbook for Military Personnel
Huffington Post, 8-17-12
OkCupid is the only free service that assists nonbelievers with specific advice, statistics and tests. Last December, self-identified atheist users were sent “12 Days of Atheist Matches,” and current members can take an “atheist test” to find those with similar levels of nonbelief. The site’s “Darwin Test” looks to match those with similar attitudes about evolution (sample question: Are most people a) good? b) evil?).
News story, “At OKcupid, being an atheist is a date-maker, not a deal-breaker”
Religion News Service, 11-13-12
Rabbis launch war on self-locking doors.
Headline on news story about an Orthodox “Yichud” prohibition meant to limit occasions of sin by men and women not married to each other
I’m moving to Australia, because their president is a Christian and actually supports what he says.
Post-election Tweet by Kristen Neel, 18, a Georgia Republican, apparently unaware that Julia Gillard, Australia’s prime minister (not president), is a female atheist who is politically progressive
Sydney Morning Herald, 11-8-12
One in 20 is a minimum. It might be one in 15, perhaps not as high as one in 10.
Des Cahill, Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology professor, on the number of Catholic priests in Melbourne he estimates from court records are child sex offenders
The Age, 10-24-12
Australians know, from the revelations that they’ve read in recent weeks, that too many children have suffered child abuse but have also seen other adults let them down. They’ve not only had their trust betrayed by the abuser, but other adults who could have acted to assist them have failed to do so.
Prime Minister Julia Gillard, ordering a federal inquiry into cover-ups of sexual abuse by persons associated with religious and state institutions, schools and community groups
Associated Press, 11-12-12
The Rev. Bill Effinger, pastor of Holy Name Parish from 1972 to 1992, took Adam under his wing in 1987 to help the boy consider a possible future in the priesthood. After two overnight trips, Adam stopped talking about wanting to be a priest.
News story, “Sheboygan [Wis.] family shares its story of priest abuse to help others come forward”
Wausau Daily Herald, 10-29-12
The ads that come up from the Republican campaigns sound like the letter.
State Sen. Tim Mathern, D-Fargo, on a letter by Bismarck Bishop David Kagan to be read in all North Dakota parishes that says abortion, euthanasia, embryonic stem cell research and same-sex marriage “are never acceptable”
Fargo Forum, 10-25-12
[C]ourts have held, and Texans believe, that cheerleaders are a special subset of students, and not just for the reasons dramatized in John Hughes movies and Taylor Swift songs. They’re not people who happen to be standing on the football field, exercising their right to free speech. They’re deputies of the school administration; they speak for the school, not themselves.
Op-ed, “Consider the cheerleaders,” on the controversy caused by FFRF’s complaint against stadium banners with bible verses
The Economist, 10-24-12
I thought, “Wow, there’s not someone watching me all the time? That’s a wonderful freedom!” So I shed that.
Rapper and foxhole atheist Greydon Square, on losing his religion as a student at Arizona State University
LA Weekly, 11-14-12
No matter what the title is, what the subject is, I’m using it as an excuse to tell stories.
Atheist entertainer Penn Jillette, on the release of his new book Every Day Is an Atheist Holiday!
Washington Examiner, 11-13-12
In her Oct. 3 letter (“Defend our monument”) on the Ten Commandments plaque at Valley High School, Helen Snyder writes that “Anyone who follows the good morals listed in the Ten Commandments is a good citizen. I wonder if our atheist friends have ever read them.” Her position is the exact opposite of the Founders’, who would find abhorrent any religious test for “good citizenship.” Religious freedom does not include the right to use the instruments of government to promulgate religion. This step-by-step intrusion of religion into official government activities, which include public schools, is paving the way for a Christian religious dictatorship in which atheists would be deemed “bad citizens.”
Amesh Adalja, Butler, Pa., letter to the editor on a case in which FFRF has filed a lawsuit
Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, 10-27-12
I read a lot of books about science and the history of religion. One of my heroes is Christopher Hitchens, who was a game-changing anti-religious writer — showing it up for what it is. I don’t understand why someone can spout their God stuff, but atheists have always had to keep quiet. Just because you have an opinion, it doesn’t mean it has to be respected unless it is supported by evidence. We live in the most exciting time in the history of the sciences. Reading about that is far more exciting than reading about a burning bush or a guy who builds an Ark.
Ryan Walkinshaw, executive chairman of the U.K. Gloucester pro rugby team
Daily Mail, 10-29-12
Nude Woman Who Was Shot Described as Religious, Caring, Modest
Headline on a story about a Florida woman, 42, shot to death when she showed up uninvited and naked with a gun at a private party and confronted off-duty police officers
Tampa Bay Times, 10-31-12
A high-quality person who has passion for football and cares about faith, family and football.
Interim head coach Bruce Arians, on what type of player the Indianapolis Colts are looking for to join the NFL team
NBC Sports, 10-31-12
It’s not wrong to have strong faith in whatever you believe in. I’m like George Carlin, I pray to the sun and Joe Pecsi because the odds of getting my prayers answered are still 50/50 but I can see my Gods. But seeing and believing have historically been two different things, and that’s fine. Just don’t bring it into the workplace where discrimination can occur.
Writer Josh Hill, “Colts may be discriminating against atheists in hiring practices”
The FanSided Network, 11-2-12
Lack of visibility for atheists and prevalence of deference to religious authorities has contributed to a generally passive and docile attitude that is too often mistaken for humility and for a virtue. This false humility, and the false arrogance that atheists are often accused of, reveal a system of values that has little respect for empirical and scientific evidence and too much undeserved respect for religions that are ostentatious about a moral superiority that they sorely lack.
Contributing writer Hiram Crespo, “Revising views on atheism”
Northeastern Illinois University Independent, 10-31-12
FFRF’s letter got this illegal Ten Commandments display removed.
Among many recent FFRF victories banishing religion from government was the removal of a very large, very unconstitutional Ten Commandments monument from the police department in Brandon, Miss.
A local resident was taken aback by the bible display and contacted FFRF. To the rescue came Staff Attorney Patrick Elliott, who told Mayor Tim Coulter in a Sept. 24 letter that “any reasonable observer would view it as an endorsement of religion by the city of Brandon. This display is unmistakably stamped with the city government’s approval, as it is prominently placed directly inside of the city’s most important government offices.”
Elliott cited a Supreme Court ruling that called the Ten Commandments an “unmistakably religious statement dealing with religion’s obligations and with morality subject to religious sanction.”
Residents have informed FFRF that the display was removed sometime in October.
An FFRF member sent this photo taken on Oct. 22 at the First Conservative Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Fla., as an example of church electioneering. There was also a Romney for president sign and one that said, “If you want to keep your job, pray the president loses his job.”
The Freedom From Religion Found-ation has filed a historic challenge by suing the Internal Revenue Service over its failure to enforce electioneering restrictions against churches and religious organizations.
Calling the lack of enforcement a violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment and of FFRF’s equal protection rights, the state/church watchdog filed the lawsuit Nov. 14 in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin.
A widely circulated Bloomberg News article quoted Russell Renwicks of the IRS Tax-Exempt and Government Entities division, saying the agency has suspended tax audits of churches. Although an IRS spokesman claimed Renwicks “misspoke,” there appears to be no evidence of IRS inquiries or enforcement action in the past three years.
Other news sources, such as The Associated Press, claim the IRS hasn’t been auditing churches since 2009.
FFRF is asking the federal court to enjoin the IRS commissioner from continuing “a policy of non-enforcement of the electioneering restrictions against churches and religious organizations.”
Additionally, FFRF seeks to order the IRS “to authorize a high-ranking official within the IRS to approve and initiate enforcement of the restrictions of §501(c)(3) against churches and religious organizations, including the electioneering restrictions, as required by law.”
As many as 1,500 clergy reportedly took part in a mass violation of the electioneering restrictions on Sunday, Oct. 7, notes the legal complaint, which also references “blatantly political” full-page ads by the Billy Graham Evangelical Association running on the three Sundays leading up to the Nov. 6 election.
“[I]n recent years, churches and religious organizations have been blatantly and deliberately flaunting the electioneering restrictions of §501(c)(3),” the complaint asserts.
FFRF has more than 19,000 members nationwide “who are opposed to government preferences and favoritism toward religion.” FFRF is a tax-exempt organization that “must and does abide by the electioneering restrictions of §501(c)3.” FFRF is regularly contacted by its members and members of the public over specific and general violations of church electioneering restrictions, and FFRF staff attorneys regularly ask the IRS to investigate such violations.
This non-enforcement “constitutes preferential treatment to churches and religious organizations that is not provided to other tax-exempt organizations, including FFRF,” the complaint notes. “Churches and religious organizations obtain a significant benefit as a result of being non-exempt from income taxation, while also being able to preferentially engage in electioneering, which is something secular tax-exempt organizations cannot do.”
This preferential tax exemption involves more than $100 billion annually in tax-free contributions to churches and religious organizations in the United States.
After news of the lawsuit became the No. 1 item on Reddit, an online social network, almost 70,000 people flooded FFRF’s website to read about the case. Unfortunately, the spike took down the site intermittently.
Attorney Richard L. Bolton, the litigator, who is with Boardman Law Firm in Madison, Wis., and has been working with FFRF for more than a decade, reported receiving almost 100 adulatory emails from strangers around the world, thanking him for his role in the case. Bolton said this is unprecedented in his experience as an attorney.
Biologist Jerry Coyne of the University of Chicago, author of Why Evolution Is True, wrote in his November blog, “We now get revenge: the FFRF sues the IRS for failure to enforce tax laws on churches,” adding that he considers FFRF “the most effective secular organization in the U.S. That’s largely because instead of hosting endless ineffectual meetings with the same speakers, or navel-gazing about internal divisiveness, the FFRF actually does something: through scrupulous monitoring of the government and judiciously filing lawsuits, the FFRF fights an endless battle against the brushfires of religious enthusiasm that threaten to incinerate our Constitution.”
Thanks to Coyne’s blog, which pitched membership, Reddit’s notice and other news stories, many new supporters have found and joined FFRF.
In addition to reporting the Graham ministry’s electioneering to the IRS, FFRF has sent more than 27 letters of complaint to the IRS involving other such violations so far this year. Recent complaints include:
• Green Bay Bishop David Ricken, who wrote an article on diocesan letterhead inserted in all parish bulletins about voting and choosing the president and other offices. Ricken warned that if Catholics vote for a party or candidate who supports abortion rights or marriage equality, “you could be morally ‘complicit’ with these choices which are intrinsically evil. This could put your own soul in jeopardy.”
• Peoria Bishop Daniel Jenky, who, in an April homily, sharply criticized President Barack Obama, saying Obama was “following a similar path” as Hitler and Stalin. Jenky said “every practicing Catholic must vote, and must vote their Catholic consciences.”
• Madison Bishop Robert Morlino, who wrote a Nov. 1 article, “Official guidelines for forming a Catholic conscience in the Diocese of Madison,” published in the Catholic Herald, spelling out “non-negotiable” political areas. “No Catholic may, in good conscience, vote for ‘pro-choice’ candidates [or] … for candidates who promote ‘same-sex marriage.’ ”
• A church marquee saying “Vote for the Mormon, not the Muslim! The capitalist, not the communist!” in front of the Church in the Valley in Leakey, Texas.
The federal lawsuit is FFRF v. IRS, (12-cv-818). The case is before U.S. District Judge William M. Conley. Tax-deductible donations to FFRF’s Legal Fund are gratefully accepted. Read the complaint, hyperlinked in FFRF’s news release, by scrolling to Nov. 14, 2012:
A sampling of letters and emails, grammar and spelling uncorrected, from people you might say are on the fence about FFRF’s work:
Haven’t you puppets of Satan learned your lesson yet? What do you not understand about DON’T MESS WITH TEXAS!! — Sally Chambless
Stay out of Texas, Nevada, Utah, Arizona and New Mexico. Heck, stay out of all 48 states. WI and CA dont count. — Johnathan King
keep your God hating out of Texas and AWAY FROM MY CHILDREN! You are horrible people and i can only hope god will wipe the earth clean from freaks like you!!!! — Stephanie Roberts
You heathens should rot in hell. You are all a disgrace to this country and no doubt lack patriotism and faith in the USA. Go someplace else and practice your depraved desires. — Ian Scott, Lake Forest
Texans believe in God. Take your athiest beliefs and stick them where the sun does not shine. — Steve
i hope you keven waldon and all your followers die a horrible death, you will pay for your actions. you are some of the lowest life forms on the earth. i spit on your grave.
You people must live under a rock. You are the lowest form of life on this earth.Do you slither out each day thinking how you can force your will on people? I’m sure you are slimey scum that really hate yourself and want others to join you under your rock, Slimey scum bags,I hope your spouse gives you AIDS. — Mike Pahl, Mt Home
FUCK YOU, BASTARDS AND SONS OF SATAN! GO TO HELL FROM WHERE YOU BELONG.
BURN, BASTARDS, BURN! — Thomas Greene, Clarksville, Tenn.
Taking out the trash
FREEDOM FROM ASSHOLES AND BLITHERING IDIOTS. Our goal is to round up all the liberals, fags, perverts, atheists, anarchists, secular stooges, victims of cranium void, those that are stuck on stupid, and the rest of the human swill soiling our country and ship them to anywhere but here. — Zen Ram
All Pulblic Prayer
When we pray, plug your ears, walk away, do a little dance or stand on your head. Build your own schools, restaurants and malls. Keep your taxes to fund your non religious community. We do pray. We will pray. If it bothers you, run! You need to go away and establish places where religious freedom is not allowed (build a compound). Your organization and all of those who feel religious freedom is wrong are guilty of committing treason. What a shame there is no prison that has a Zero tolerance for religion.
— Susan Voce, Madison
Stay the &^%$ out of PA
THIS COUNTRY WAS NOT FOUNDED ON MINORITY (WHINERS) RULE. I HAVE NO PROBLEM WITH YOU BEING AGNOSTIC. SCREW YOU ASSHOLES. — Greg Sensabaugh, South Park
Austin Texas Cheerleaders
Take that law suit hang out your ass like an anchor and chain aboard ship! — Arthur Windell, Caldwell
I love JESUS
your a retard and your wasting your life. SUCKS TO BE YOU — Sam Stevens
I hope when you sue that town in Texas for displaying religious freedom, you will lose. I hope that they squat over your atheist chest and take a fat dump on it. — Regards,
Freedom of Religion
If you are right about religion, you are going to buuuuuurn for your lies, desception and trickery. I hope you fall on your butt and there is a very very large and sharp stake underneath you. — Steve Smith
God is watching you Judas’ and you will surely be punished for denying his existence. Ignorant fools. — Phil Selfridge
I am OFFENDED!
All I have left to do now is to pray for you LOUDLY in every government funded place I am in. God BLess You. — Steven R. Phillips, Waukesha, WI
Name: Steve Salemson.
Where I live: In a condo on Madison’s southwest side.
Where and when I was born: Louisville, Ky., in 1943.
Family: One younger sister, two sons and daughters-in-law, three delightful grandchildren.
Why I volunteer for FFRF: I want to support the organization in addition to simply being a dues-paying member.
What I do as a volunteer: Help around the office with anything that needs doing.
What I like best about it: The fascinating people who work there.
My day job was: Associate director of the University of Wisconsin Press (now happily retired).
Education: Four years of music studies at the Ecole Normale de Musique de Paris, playing French horn in the Haifa Symphony Orchestra, B.A. in linguistics from Queens College (City University of New York), M.A. in liberal studies from Duke University.
These three words sum me up: Inquisitive, broad-minded, multilingual (fluent in English, French and Hebrew, somewhat less fluent in Macedonian and conversant in German, Spanish and Italian).
My freethought heroes are: Albert Einstein, Bertrand Russell, Joe Hill.
Things I like: Balkan folk dancing, biking, downhill skiing, Paul Robeson recordings, the Green Bay Packers, Schubert lieder and Mahler symphonies, doing The New York Times crossword puzzle every day, and almost any ethnic cuisine.
Things I smite: Xenophobes, cockroaches, the New York Yankees.
Name: Dan Nerren.
Where I live: Sand Springs, Okla., a Tulsa suburb.
Where and when I was born: Tupelo, Miss., 1948.
Education: B.S. in education, Southwest Missouri State University, 1971.
Occupation: Retired railroad worker.
Military service: U.S. Army, 1971-73, Wurzberg, Germany.
How I got where I am today: Life is much about unlearning incorrect ideas. Unfortunately, many people never see this. Few there be who have a sense of their own acculturation.
Person in history I admire: Carl Sagan.
A quotation I like: “For me, it is far better to grasp the Universe as it really is than to persist in delusion, however satisfying and reassuring.” (Carl Sagan)
These are a few of my favorite things: Playing piano, reading, volkswalking [noncompetitive, 5K or 10K outdoor walk].
My doubts about religion started: I spent the summer of 1966 working at a church retreat in New Mexico. I was exposed to many sermons. It was there that I began to question the whole scheme.
Ways I promote freethought: I’ve been a Foundation member since 1989. I’m active in a local Unitarian Universalist congregation, Church of the Restoration, so named to indicate the congregation’s desire to bring restoration to the Greenwood District of Tulsa. Greenwood was destroyed in the infamous 1921 race massacre in north Tulsa, where vigilantes took to the skies in aircraft to strafe the helpless black citizens below.
I was instrumental in founding the American Humanist Association chapter in Tulsa in 1988. I later organized an atheist meetup group and stay active in other freethought groups. My next project will be leading a Unitarian Progressive Book Club discussion group, starting with Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States.
Editor’s note: Dan also performed an invaluable service for FFRF several years ago by indexing and binding 10 years’ worth of Freethought Today issues. This is a tremendous resource for research and for the legal staff.
Dan Nerren’s secular invocation
On Thursday, Aug. 30, Dan Nerren treated the Tulsa City Council to a first — the first atheist “invocation” at a Tulsa council meeting.
For months the council had refused to stop praying to open its meetings, then eventually agreed to let previously excluded groups address the council. A local Americans United member asked Dan if he would give a secular address.
“I went to the Internet to see what was out there and soon discovered a secular invocation written by Andrew Lovley of the South Maine Association of Secular Humanists, which he had used to speak to his local governmental body. I adapted Lovley’s words to the Tulsa situation.”
The speaker is also expected to lead the Pledge of Allegiance. A TV reporter noted Dan omitted “under God.”
“Had he been listening carefully, he would have discovered another change I made to the pledge,” said Dan. “I closed the pledge not with ‘with liberty and justice for all’ but with ‘with liberty and justice its goal.’ Liberty and justice have not become a reality for many citizens. My son, watching from his home on the cable access channel, caught my change.”
In what could be called a sad commentary, extra security was in place for the meeting because it was announced beforehand that a godless person was giving the invocation. However, Dan said, “There were no problems, no protesters. Everything went smoothly.”
Let us open our hearts to the welfare of all people in our community by respecting the inherent dignity and worth of each person, and realize that our differences of race, religion and party affiliation are merely superficial. Our common humanity unites us all, and may we recognize that through our interdependence we share a common fate.
In order to achieve the greatest good as citizens of Tulsa, it is important for us to maintain an open mind, and honor and respect the human rights of each other. We should consider the benefit provided by differing perspectives, and be willing to question assumptions that serve only to obstruct our path to progress.
Rather than bowing our heads and closing our eyes in deference, we should open our eyes widely to face the reality that confronts us, without losing sight of our ideals of what we could achieve.
Through the prudent use of reason and compassion, we can ensure the success of this great city.
Lastly, we must remember that in the face of adversity we need not look above for answers, but instead recognize the proven potential within ourselves and in each other to overcome any challenges we face.
By Henry Steinberger, Ph.D.
When people have a problem with addictions, where can they turn? Most people can name only Alcoholics Anonymous and other 12-step groups. Most treatments centers and courts refer people to them, but many people have a problem with this.
Though some people manage to take the helpful fellowship and ignore the higher-power/god talk, many of us who reject theism and supernaturalism will forgo help rather than seek a so-called “spiritual awakening” and accept a “higher power,” who, if prayed to in the right way, removes one’s “defects of character.”
Worse, when a person rejects the 12 steps for all of these legitimate reasons, they are accused of being in denial about their problem and receive threats that they will end up in jail, insane or dead if they don’t accept the 12-step solution, as if there is no other path to recovery.
U.S. courts have consistently ruled that 12-step programs are religious for purposes of the First Amendment and forbid their mandated or coerced imposition. Further, research has demonstrated that although participation in these groups is usually helpful, regular attendance and real participation were more likely when the individual’s degree of religiosity was congruent with that of the group (Atkins and Hawdon, 2007).
But accurate information about secular options rarely comes from the underinformed and biased sources often unwillingly providing it. After all, religious movements have a commitment to winning new converts, not providing alternatives.
But secular alternatives do exist.
SMART Recovery (SR) has built its science-based, self-empowering, abstinence program on empirically tested methods. Besides the mutual support found in its almost 800 face-to-face meetings worldwide and daily online meetings, SR offers recovery tools proven effective in research. Its Four Point Program aims at (1) motivation to abstain, coping with cravings, managing problems such as negative emotions, and finding a life with balance. Like AA, lifetime abstinence is the goal, and meetings and help are free. Unlike AA, lifetime abstinence need not require lifetime attendance at meetings.
SMART stands for Self-Management And Recovery Training and is not claiming to be smarter than other groups. It’s recognized by many professional health organizations and governmental agencies, which are listed and linked at smartrecovery.org/linkpage.htm.
SR’s website (smartrecovery.org) provides links to other secular groups, which do not always reciprocate. SR’s tag line is “Discover the Power of Choice.” That includes the choice to quit using and the choice of one’s recovery path.
Other secular recovery
These recovery programs are also secular and free:
Women For Sobriety aims for abstinence and offers volunteers the opportunity and training to become meeting “moderators.” Dr. Jean Kirkpatrick started WFS out of dissatisfaction with AA’s focus on lessening hubris — more of a problem with men, whereas women (and minorities) often need to be empowered rather than further humbled.
Her “New Life” program is based on positive thinking and metaphysics, so it may not meet everyone’s definition of secular, but it’s not a theistic spiritualism. The website (womenforsobriety.org) doesn’t link to other groups or list its meetings (perhaps for security), so you have to contact the central office to find a group.
Secular Organizations for Sobriety (aka Save Our Selves) is affiliated and supported by the Center for Inquiry of Los Angeles, thus affirming its humanist credentials. A dominant figure, James Christopher, started SOS. Meeting leaders are all recovering people.
The program might be described as the 12 steps minus the god stuff. The website (cfiwest.org/sos) provides a list of meetings but no links to other programs.
LifeRing started when Martin Nicolaus, head of SOS publishing, broke with that organization to start a group “not affiliated” with any other (like CFI). He claims that each person creates their own program, but his books provide theory and structure. Volunteer “conveners” are all recovering people. The website (lifering.org) lists meetings but does not link to other groups.
Moderation Management, unlike all the other groups, is not abstinence-based. The secular, science-based program is not for alcohol-dependents (alcoholics). MM provides safer responsible drinking limits and guidelines. It’s a 9-step program to help people cut down or quit, and either outcome is considered a success.
Volunteers include people who have never had an alcohol problem. The website (moderation.org) lists live and online meetings and links to other programs.
For the “never addicted” reader who wants to help, SMART Recovery volunteers include both never-addicted and recovering people, all of whom receive training in facilitating meetings.
Rational Recovery is often mistakenly offered as a secular alternative to AA, but RR stopped offering free self-help meetings in the mid-1990s. It’s a for-profit company that sells seminars, DVDs and some fine secular self-help books, but it’s not a self-help group.
Why am I interested in providing secular options?
My step-grandfather, Jacob Benjamin, who wrote “Did Jesus Ever Live or Is Christianity Founded Upon A Myth?” under the pseudonym Historicus, was a devout atheist and science-minded for his time, but he engaged in secret maintenance drinking during the day and a family-destroying binge every night. He ruined my mother’s life and his own, which revealed to me a societal need.
I believe he might have been helped if there had been a secular alternative available back then. It is my hope that with this information more people in our FFRF and related communities will support and volunteer to help offer these secular options.
Dr. Steinberger, an FFRF Life Member, is a licensed psychologist. He holds the Certificate of Proficiency in the Treatment of Alcohol and Other Psychoactive Substance Use Disorders from the American Psychological Association and is a past member of the SMART Recovery board of directors. He’s the editor/author of The SMART Recovery Handbook (2nd Ed., 2004) and is a volunteer adviser to SMART. He specializes in science-based, secular approaches to addiction treatment.
By Tim Earl
In the fall of 2011, after hearing one too many invocations praising Jesus at our City Council meeting in Portage, Mich., I decided to do something about it.
I was still thinking about it when Dan Barker spoke at a Center for Inquiry event in Grand Rapids. Afterward, as Dan was signing my copy of Godless, I mentioned it to him. He encouraged me to address the issue with the council.
When I said that I had tried without success to find a “secular leader” to give a secular invocation, Dan suggested that I offer to do it myself. So, in my letter to the council, I did make that offer. They did not address it at the next meeting, but it was on the agenda for the one after that, but unfortunately I was out of town on business and couldn’t attend.
I watched the video later and was told by the city clerk that I would be scheduled to give a secular invocation at a later date. (In November, I received a copy of the 2012 invocation schedule which included my name for a July meeting, with a form letter thanking me for serving the community by participating in the process).
When I attended the next meeting and thanked them for considering the matter, one council member came up to thank me for bringing it up, saying she thought on occasion that the invocations went too far.
It was interesting to watch the video of the council’s discussion about my letter. The city attorney said that he felt the council was not violating any law. One council member asked if there were invocation guidelines given to people, for example, to avoid overly sectarian language. The attorney advised the council against doing that, fearing it would become de facto policy and open the city up to a lawsuit for violating it later.
Here is the text of my invocation:
“I represent no congregation or denomination. But I appreciate the invitation to give this invocation on behalf of the nonbelievers in our city, which includes those who do not subscribe to any particular religious sect and those who deny the existence of a god altogether.
It can be easy to forget or pretend that we don’t exist because we are a small minority, but we are a rapidly growing minority, so we do appreciate the chance to get our seat at the table.
We include doctors, lawyers, teachers and people of all walks of life who live moral lives and contribute to the welfare of our community. As a veteran, I can even assure you that there are indeed atheists in foxholes. With that said, thank you again for the opportunity.
And so, while I would prefer that the practice of invocations be discontinued, I recognize that that is unlikely to happen here in the near future, so I thank you again for this opportunity to represent a minority viewpoint.
And so, without appealing to a higher power which I do not believe exists, I ask each one of you to put forth your best effort to listen intently, resolve differences, find common ground and advance the progress and prosperity of our community.
Because with or without prayer, that’s what needs to be done, and prayers don’t pay the bills, or maintain the roads, or do any of the work that this council and our city manager do so effectively on our behalf. As human beings, all we can do is use the talents and wisdom which nature, our education and experience have given us to overcome the challenges we face.
And when the task before you is difficult, I ask that you not to look upward for guidance from some higher power which is most likely an outgrowth of our own fear of mortality, but instead look inward to your own sense of morality and reason, and also look outward to the members of this community who come forward to lend their support and assistance.
Only through a spirit of cooperation and unity can we continue to make the city of Portage such a wonderful place to live, work, and raise our families.
In closing, it’s important to remember that you don’t need a god to hope, to care, to love or to live. And we don’t need one to help conduct city business.
During the meeting, the council approved four churches as polling places (out of 21 precincts). I told the council I opposed “forcing citizens to enter a house of worship to exercise their most cherished democratic right.” I noted studies that have shown a link between how people vote and where they vote.
After the meeting, a council members thanked me for coming and said she was going to share the video with her atheist friend. She asked about alternative voting locations. The mayor and others joined in and we had a nice discussion. They gently suggested that, having brought it up, I should be willing to help find a solution. I’m still working on that.
Two interesting things happened at the next meeting two weeks later. Before the meeting, the mayor took the Catholic priest scheduled to give the invocation aside and appeared to ask him to avoid sectarian language (which he avoided). I’m not sure if the mayor did that because he saw me there or not, but I found it encouraging.
Then, as I was leaving, a man asked to speak with me. (He was a police detective, I learned during the conversation. City policy is to have at least one officer at every meeting.) He said he found my invocation at the previous meeting offensive. He felt that I had insulted religion in general and Christianity in particular.
We had an interesting discussion, which brought out all the same tired old arguments like “the minority forcing the majority to accept their position.” I shot them all down. After about 10 minutes, he said we would never agree but said he felt better talking about it.
FFRF member Tim Earl was born and raised in Detroit by a non-practicing Protestant father and a “pre-Vatican II” Catholic mother and attended Catholic schools K-12, including an all-male Christian Brothers high school. He served in the Navy from 1996 to 2004, including service as chief engineer of the destroyer USS Fletcher in the opening months of the 2003 Iraq War.
“Part of what finally pushed me over the edge to nonbelief was being exposed to Islam firsthand while in the Middle East. Seeing how passionate these people were about their beliefs, I started thinking about the mutual exclusivity of the world’s major religions. I finally finished this journey of self-discovery when I read The God Delusion. I realized that I was indeed an atheist and that there was nothing wrong with that. When I told my wife, a secular Jew who had never really discussed religion with me, she said, “It’s about time. Welcome to the club.” We now raise our two daughters, ages 4 and 7, with no religious tradition.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation has once again qualified for inclusion in the Combined Federal Campaign (CFC).
The CFC is the only officially sanctioned program for soliciting federal government employees on behalf of charitable organizations. The CFC conducts annual campaigns in the workplace and allows federal employees to make donations through payroll deductions or other forms of payment to an approved list of charities. It’s part of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management.
FFRF, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, was first included on the CFC list of eligible charities in 2008. “Federal workers had contacted the Foundation in the past, noting the many religious charities on the listing, and wishing there were a nontheist alternative,” said Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor.
“We’re delighted to announce now again in 2012 that our activities throughout the United States, including the many scholarships we grant students, helped FFRF meet the rigorous eligibility criteria,” Gaylor said.
To FFRF’s knowledge, it’s the only freethought group on the list, which includes hundreds of religious groups. All dues and donations are deductible for income-tax purposes.
“Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc.” will appear in the listing of “National/International Independent Organizations” that’s published in each local campaign charity list in the early fall.
The solicitation period for 2012 campaign donations is Sept. 1 through Dec. 15. Deadlines vary by region. The CFC code that donors will use to designate their contribution to FFRF is 32519.
CFC donors contributed more than $63,000 to FFRF in 2010 and more than $88,000 in 2011.
Another way to give is via matching grant donations, which have become a significant boost to FFRF in recent years. Many companies offer to match (fully or a percentage of) their employees’ donations to charitable nonprofits. These matches multiply the impact of the initial donation to further FFRF’s goals.
Gaylor added, “It is recommended that all CFC donors check the box to include their name and mailing address (in addition to your email) with the donation. Donors will receive an acknowledgment from FFRF when we receive pledge notification (throughout the year). If you do not receive that acknowledgment, please contact FFRF to be sure we have been given your name and information about your pledge.”
Charity Navigator gives FFRF its highest rating of four stars, which means “exceeds industry standards and outperforms most charities in its cause.”