On behalf of a family in Dayton, Tennessee, the national Freedom From Religion Foundation is protesting pervasive religious influence in the town's public schools, including:
bible study in the classroom, conducted during school hours by an outside group of fundamentalist Christians from Bryan College
distribution of bibles in classrooms by the Gideon Society
morning bible reading over the intercom followed by a moment of silence; and
the posting of overtly religious messages by some teachers on the walls and doors of classrooms
The school board more than a year ago voted not to stop the bible classes.
Dan Barker, a spokesperson for the Foundation, which has members in the Dayton area, as well as throughout Tennessee, and in every state, sent an official letter of complaint to Superintendent Susan Porter, Rhea County Schools, enumerating the various prevailing Supreme Court decisions which the practices violate.
Under McCollum v. Board of Education, 333 U.S. 203, 212 (1948), religious instruction in the public schools is unconstitutional. The U.S. Supreme Court has let stand two lower court rulings barring distribution of Gideon Bibles on school property: Tudor v. Board of Education of Rutherford, 14 J.N. 31 (1953), cert. denied 348 U.S. 816 (1954), reaffirmed in Berger v. Rensselaer, 982 F.2d, 1160 (7th Cir.) cert. denied, 124 L.E. 2d 254 (1993). A moment of silence with religious intent was halted as unconstitutional in Wallace v. Jaffree, 472 U.S. 38, 72 (1985). Stone v. Graham, 449 U.S. 39 (1980) outlawed the posting of the Ten Commandments in public schools because they are religious.
The Tennessee Constitution also forbids such entanglements, stating that: ". . . no human authority can, in any case whatever control or interfere with the rights of conscience; and that no preference shall ever be given, by law to any religious establishment or mode of worship." (Article I, Declaration of Rights)
In his letter, Barker noted that the family complainants object to "the indignity that their children (as young as kindergarten!) experience while being forced to sit through the indoctrination of someone else's religion in their own public school system."
The Foundation called for assurance that these blatantly illegal practices will be halted immediately.
"Seventy-five years after the Scopes Trial, is this where the Dayton public schools want to be--illegally promoting religion and violating the law?" Barker asked.
"The Dayton schools need to evolve," Barker added.
Chattanooga radio stations have been covering the story, as well as the Chattanoogan. After a story about the issue ran in the Dayton Herald-News (which is editorializing in favor of the bible classes), a second family with children in the Dayton schools contacted the Foundation to join the complaint.
As of press time, no formal answer to the Foundation's September 27 letter has been received from the school board, although Superintendent Porter has reportedly told the media that she is not afraid of a lawsuit, asserting that 99.9% of the community supports religion in the schools.
Bryan College is the bible school in Dayton that was founded in the name of William Jennings Bryan, who debated Clarence Darrow during the famous 1925 Scopes trial in that town.
Foundation Life Member Clarence R. Reinders was named "Freethinker of the Year." He was unable to attend the Foundation's 23rd Annual Convention in person, but sent this acceptance speech.
I wish to thank the Freedom From Religion Foundation for naming me "Freethinker of the Year." I am delighted to accept this award. It is like receiving the Congressional Medal of Honor for fighting and being wounded in a fierce war in defense of the First Amendment to the Constitution. After all, that's what I really am, a defender of the first clause of the Bill of Rights, i.e., the separation of church and state.
I am honored to have fought and prevailed in keeping the church and state separate because it is between these two powerful governing forces, one "sacred" and the other secular and profane, that freedom of the individual is given a chance to survive and thrive, where free men and women can think and believe and act freely. What a privilege to have been given the opportunity to be a foot soldier in service to such a noble cause.
On June 19, 2000, the U.S. Supreme Court, by a vote of 6 to 3, handed freethinkers everywhere a huge victory. Like the successful appeal, by a 3 to zero vote, of the Jesus idol in the Marshfield Park, it was a strong decision in upholding the first clause in the First Amendment of the Constitution which bars government from establishing religion.
The Santa Fe Independent School District in suburban Houston, Texas, had a policy which allowed an elected student representative to deliver a public prayer before home high school football games. The Supreme Court banned this student-led prayer. You all probably remember reading about this. But what you may be unaware of is that this suit was not brought to the court by a bunch of us "immoral" atheists attacking religion in public life. Irony of ironies, it was brought by a Catholic family and a Mormon family, two Christian minorities bobbing in a sea of the majority Southern Christian Baptists in the very hostile buckle of the Bible Belt.
But what most people are unaware of is that these two families--one Catholic and one Mormon--had their identities sealed by the courts. That fact speaks volumes about their fear of reprisals from their loving Southern Baptist Christian friends and neighbors and the courts' concern to protect their lives, limbs and property from the depredations of their fellow Christians. So much for Christian love.
Yet in order to challenge the statue of Jesus in a Marshfield public park a named citizen of Marshfield had to step forward, identify himself and sign his name on the dotted line of the legal complaint.
Freedom From Religion needed someone with legal standing, a foot soldier on the frontline to be shot at and I gladly agreed to be that sitting duck. In fact I volunteered. My Christian wife who had supported me in my beliefs, i.e., disbelief of all religious belief systems, had died. My career as a motel owner/operator in Marshfield was near its end. I was in my late sixties. If I didn't finally take a stand for liberty of conscience and do it now, when?
Anne Nicol Gaylor had asked me many years ago when I first became a member of Freedom From Religion to sue the city regarding the Jesus shrine in the Marshfield park. But I could not do it at that time and she understood. I was fearful about how this basically Christian community and my Christian wife would react. But conditions change and become ripe for ideas whose time has come. And we as atheists, agnostics, skeptics and humanists--our time has finally come.
I knew it wasn't going to be any cake walk and that I would be the target of much Christian hate. So I bought a telephone answering machine and a tape recorder to record the calls and settled in for the inevitable hostile reaction to the lawsuit. I knew it wasn't going to be pretty but was totally unprepared for the violent and vitriolic ad hominem attacks on me as the mere messenger. After all, I only said, "The emperor has no clothes." And the good loving Christian community was really steamed at me for having said it. They never addressed the issue of the unconstitutionality of a religious statue in a public park.
Instead I was called all kinds of names and invited to leave this god-fearing country if I didn't like it here. One fellow knew of an island in the ocean where I could go. A doctor's wife from the Marshfield Clinic said I would be lucky if I didn't get my house egged. And so on. All recorded on tape. I even had a news reporter and a policeman together listen to some pretty nasty threats. Naturally after it was reported in the Marshfield News-Herald that their phone messages were being recorded the volume of phone calls trailed off.
I did however receive three anonymous phone calls from supporters who were fearful of giving their names and phone numbers. Two upfront outspoken supporters called, one of whom was Bernie Ehrman, a Freedom From Religion member who has since died. The other was a very sharp local lady. I also had three or four supporters drop by in person at the motel to give me encouragement, one of whom was my doctor from the Marshfield Clinic. So we as atheistic and agnostic individuals are not so alone as we may seem. Definitely a despised minority but definitely not alone.
Whenever there would be some report in the newspaper as the lawsuit progressed there would be a flurry of letters to the editor. Sometimes four or five letters on this issue dominated the comment section. I clipped and saved them all. The vast majority of them, like 20 to 1, were in favor of keeping the idol in the park. They thought that the majority in Marshfield should rule and that I as part of the minority should just accept it and when I drove by the idol I should just look the other way. They just didn't get it that the Bill of Rights is not about majority rule but about the protection of the minority within the majority.
They thought that Anne Gaylor and that atheistic organization in Madison should keep their noses out of the way they ran the parks in Marshfield. They just didn't understand that to protest an egregious violation of the First Amendment is everyone's secular civic duty and that the benefits of the defense of the First Amendment accrue just as well to them. The day is fast coming when, because of projected future demographic multicultural changes, the Christian majority will become the Christian minority and then they will be most thankful for the religious protections secured by the First Amendment.
As soon as the lawsuit had been filed against the city of Marshfield, the city immediately knew that it was in an indefensible position and was in violation of the First Amendment. First it put up a disclaimer sign saying that it did not endorse any particular religion. Then it quickly sold 15 hundredths of an acre of the public park to the Praschak Memorial Fund and smugly thought it was off the unconstitutional hook. Then Freedom From Religion sued the city and the Praschak Memorial Fund as still being in violation of the separation of church and state because the shrine would still appear to be in a public park. Judge Shabaz found otherwise and the case was appealed to the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago where, to my wonderment and surprise, it found 3 to zero in our favor.
I never in my wildest dreams ever thought we would get more than one vote on our side. Three to zero! What a victory! The Jesus idol was found to be in violation of the First Amendment. We were vindicated. That's what we had claimed all along and we were right. The emperor did indeed have no clothes.
Now a final delicious irony. The Praschak Memorial Group in collusion with the City of Marshfield fought to keep the statue in its present high visibility and prime location on Highway 13 as a welcoming figure to travelers entering and exiting Marshfield on the south side. All north and south traffic is funneled on that one road only. You had to drive by the idol unless as a native of Marshfield you knew of one back street to avoid it. I was several times counseled to use this detour since I was so offended by the sight of their precious Jesus. What a juicy propaganda location to display their cherished idol for all to see.
Even with a fence around it and two disclaimer signs, the city and the Praschak Memorial Group think that they have nevertheless won. After all, they did not have to move the idol which still commands its high visibility location. For, as they say in real estate, the three most important features of a property are location, location and location.
However, the State of Wisconsin is building a bypass around and through the city. Guess what? That bypass will become Highway 13. And the street ahead of the idol will no longer be the official Highway 13 but just plain South Central Avenue. The upshot will be that the vast majority of the traffic that enters and leaves the city will no longer be forced to travel past the idol. What delicious just deserts!
We did not succeed in moving the religious statue out of the public park but benevolent and capricious fate intervened and moved the highway away from the shrine, thus effectively negating the propaganda value of its prized location.
And they say there is no god!
"Holy Joe," get out of the pulpit and come back to earth.
That's the message for Joe Lieberman, the religion-drenched Democratic veep candidate who talks as though God were his campaign manager.
And it goes for George "Dubya" Bush, Al Gore and any other tub-thumping pols who hammer their religion as a cheap campaign ploy.
Cool the gospel singing, guys, and climb off the sawdust trail.
Philadelphia Daily News, Aug. 31, 2000
This is a presidential campaign. Not a holy war.
If it doesn't stop soon, the Constitution doesn't have a prayer.
Philadelphia Daily News Editorial
Aug. 30, 2000
The time has come for all the candidates on the national tickets to reaffirm their belief in the constitutional separation of church and state. . . .
When it comes to religion and the campaign, one might ask: "Which side is God on?"
The same question might be asked of the defiant students and parents, urged on by some pastors and Christian broadcasters, who stood in the bleachers in high school stadiums across the South last weekend to recite the Lord's Prayer before the opening kickoff.
All the candidates have to do is look around the world to see how well religion and politics mix.
The Founding Fathers certainly knew and protected us from the combination.
Reporter Helen Thomas
"Keep the Wall Between Church and State"
New York Times, Aug. 30, 2000
The president is not the moral leader of his people, no matter how often he prays or mentions God's name. He was never intended to be the moral leader, and it is unhealthy when candidates for president present themselves or are regarded in this way, especially when they think they have a pipeline to God. . . .
Religifying politics tempts politicians to messianic delusion. And politicizing religion cheapens and corrupts the spirit. If we return to the wisdom of the founders on this point, excessive public expressions of religious piety will be regarded with suspicion. Our motto should be: 'By their deeds shall we know them.'"
Former Senator Eugene J. McCarthy & Keith C. Burris
"The Singular Piety of Politics"
New York Times, Aug. 31, 2000
When religion controls government, it is not a pretty sight. . . . When the government gets involved [in religion], someone's rights inevitably are going to be trampled.
Rev. Brian Harbour
Oct. 1, 2000 D.C. sermon (President Clinton in audience)
Those who would use government to push religion on their fellow citizens dishonor their political heritage as Americans, and belittle the freedom of conscience granted to each and every one of us. They need to go into a nice quiet closet and think about that.
Columnist Jay Bookman, Atlanta
New York Times, Sept. 1, 2000
For a man with one divorce under his belt, Lieberman [has shown] a distressing tendency to cast stones at a man whose marriage lasted.
I am reminded of President Truman's warning about people who pray too loud in church. The old Missouri Baptist said that loud prayers always made him think "you'd better go home and lock up your smokehouse."
Robert Reno, Newsday
Arizona Republic, Sept. 1, 2000
I believe Lieberman slept through his Yale Law School classes on the First Amendment. Americans as individuals are among the most religious people on Earth. But America as a country has no religious mandate. . . . And the First Amendment does indeed protect us from government-fostered religion.
Columnist Lars-Erik Nelson
N.Y. Daily News, Aug. 30, 2000
. . . Lieberman's words suggest that the doubters, skeptics and old-fashioned village atheists are somehow less worthy than others in what has become a faith-based democracy. . . . They may not be a potent voting bloc, they may not be targeted by the Democratic ticket, but nonbelievers have an equal claim to the First Amendment.
Columnist Walter Shapiro
"Freedom isn't only for the believers"
USA Today, Sept. 1, 2000
Politicians who invoke God's name insult those of us who recognize no establishment of religion in our personal lives. . . .Lieberman, Gore and Bush aren't likely to become ayatollahs, but I wish they would give us some freedom from religious sermons.
Columnist Rob Morse
"Let those without sin cast votes"
San Francisco Examiner, Aug. 30, 2000
One danger of piety on the campaign trail is that it equates faith with good citizenship. . . . The argument that religion is essential to moral behavior is insulting and dangerous. A second danger is that this campaign will make religion a credential for public office.
Minneapolis Star Tribune Editorial
"Holier than thou"
Aug. 31, 2000
Early in August I received a phone call from an FFRF member in Brownsville, Texas, telling me that the big news down in the valley was that a German high school exchange student had been booted out of the host family's home. The reason? The German student was an atheist. Horrors!
The weird thing about the story was that the student had plainly filled out the required papers and had put a-t-h-e-i-s-t in the space for religious preference. The host family (C-a-t-h-o-l-i-c) was given that information before the student was assigned to them and had expressed no alarm or displeasure.
The coordinator for the local chapter of SHARE! High School Exchange Program had been quoted as saying, "We exist so that we can help people from other countries learn about Americans, to develop an understanding and a tolerance."
It wasn't quite clear to me who was to develop the tolerance, but the American family certainly flunked it bigtime. As for learning about Americans, the German student learned very quickly that "tolerance" meant control. When invited to attend Mass with them, Martin demurred politely. The host family quickly called Yvette Coffman, Texas State Director of SHARE! High School Exchange Program, and told her that things were not working out because the German boy would not attend Mass with them, thus exhibiting a distinct disinclination on his part to partake in the exchange of tolerance.
Of course I do not know the full story of what was said, or how much time elapsed between the opening of the door of the Catholic family's home to the exchange student, and the slamming of it behind him (about a week, I think). Nevertheless, it put Ms. Coffman in a terrible fix, but, in her unflappable manner, she found the student a temporary home until she could find a more stable host family for this sixteen-year-old pariah.
News of this act of American tolerance reached the ears of a reporter at the McAllen newspaper. He wasted no time in spreading the story, which resulted in Ms. Coffman being bombarded with offers from families wanting to take in the homeless student. He was placed . . . take a deep breath . . . with another Catholic family! However, they had read the whole sad tale and were eager to remove the stain of intolerance from the Catholic escutcheon. So far as I know, the family and the exchange student are getting along peacefully.
On September 20, I received a phone message from Ms. Coffman, requesting I return her call so that we could discuss something that was on her mind. I wasted no time in doing so. She had been delightful when I had called her last August to express concern from the freethought community, and our wish to help with the placement of the evicted student.
I was now further delighted when she said that she had been thinking about foreign students and host families and realized that the program's contact for these families was largely through the churches. Since many of the foreign students were atheists, she felt that they were not given a wide enough option regarding host families. Did my heart jump for joy? Right out of my mouth.
Ms. Coffman suggested that perhaps atheist groups should be informed of this fact and would be inclined to volunteer as hosts. I assume that terms such as freethinker, humanist, rationalist, etc., would also be welcome designations. However, do remember that the word atheist is not, in more enlightened countries, the big scary horned beast that it is here in the United States.
Knowing many freethinker folk, of one designation or another, I feel confident that many of them have hosted a foreign exchange student at one time or another. This program is the sort that would be appealing to them. However, I think that, possibly, these nontheist families never registered their true religious nonpreference in the space provided, maybe daring to go so far as writing the word "none" as a response. I know that in civic activities we have all learned that it is better not to advertise.
I am aware that British and European citizens do not regard religion with the same adolescent fanaticism as do a vast number of Americans, but it never entered my mind that in one mainstream activity, the exchange student program, our nonbelief category would be wanted, needed and welcomed!
There's a big push here in Texas for host families for the 2001 spring semester. Wear your religious dis-preference proudly and print your preferred freethinker designation on the forms you may request from:
The Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs
United States Department of State
475 Washington Blvd. Ste. 220
Marina del Rey, CA 90292
Tel: 1-310-821-9977 or
In Texas, contact:
TX State Director
1-972-727-7966 or 1-800-941-3738
Waste no time; go for it
The writer is a long-time Foundation activist and officer who lives in San Antonio, Texas.
Chicago Archdiocese Hires Exorcist
The Archdiocese of Chicago secretly appointed a fulltime exorcist nearly a year ago, whose task is to "heal those afflicted by the Evil One," according to a page one story in the Sept. 19 Chicago Sun-Times.
The archdiocese's "spokesman on exorcisms," the Rev. Robert Barron, told the newspaper there is a "world of angels and devils, fallen angels."
The Rev. James LeBar, an exorcist for the Archdiocese of New York, appointed by the late Cardinal John O'Connor, says there has been a "large explosion" of exorcisms (from zero to 300) over the past decade in New York.
"As people lose their respect and reverence for life, spirituality and human beings, the devil can move in," LeBar warned.
Among the Catholic Church's ten warning signs of possession: "aversion to all things spiritual" and "hidden insights into a person's private life, or past sins."
Both LeBar and the Chicago exorcist agreed the newly re-released 1973 movie, "The Exorcist," accurately portrays the exorcist ritual. LeBar added: "In one or two cases, there was an extraordinary amount of gagging."
Pope Fails in Exorcism
Pope John Paul II carried out an impromptu exorcism in September upon a teenage girl, after the church claimed she began "screaming insults in a cavernous voice" during a general audience in St. Peter's Square.
The pope's chief "Satan-buster," Father Fabriele Amorth, told Italian media that when Vatican guards restrained the 19-year-old, she displayed "a superhuman strength" in trying to free herself. The pope then "exorcised" and prayed over her, but later admitted failure.
"She Was Possessed"
Police found the lifeless body of seven-year-old Aaren Dunn, who had been baking cookies with her sister, on the kitchen floor of her home in Manitou Springs, Colorado, after her father sliced her throat from ear to ear, slashed her carotid artery, stabbed her chest and fractured her left upper arm.
Robert Walter Dunn, 51, who faces first-degree murder charges for the June 26 killing, turned himself in to police, his hands soaked in blood, saying: "I killed the devil. She was possessed; I killed the devil."
The Denver Post (June 28) reported the little girl liked to play dress-up, read books, eat macaroni and cheese, and would have entered the third grade this fall.
Divorcing parents in Washington County, Wisconsin, are being ordered by the Court Commissioner to take a seminar conducted by Catholic Charities, and to pay a $25 fee to the Catholic organization. The court describes the program as "nationally licensed" and in use in Milwaukee and other counties.
"Divorcing parents should not be compelled by our courts to go to a Catholic organization and pay them for a seminar," said Anne Nicol Gaylor, Foundation president. "This program should be conducted by a neutral facilitator with payment, if necessary, to the county or the state.
"This particular state/church entanglement is especially troubling for parents who regard the Catholic Church as destructive in its attitudes toward women's equality, reproductive rights and divorce," Gaylor said.
On Oct. 4, the Foundation, on behalf of a local complainant, wrote the Honorable Jeffrey Jeager, Assistant Family Court Commissioner, State of Wisconsin Circuit Court, Branch II, Washington County, asking that he halt this "illegal, unconstitutional abuse."
"The Wisconsin Constitution (Art. I, Sect. 18) says that no person shall be compelled to support religion. Yet this is what is what is happening as your court is now administering the program," Gaylor wrote.
The Washington County complainant who contacted the Foundation was given no comparable secular counseling alternative. Parents must attend the seminar under penalty of contempt of court.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation is charging officials at the University of Wisconsin-Madison with stonewalling the Foundation's request to investigate a religion question posed to prospective UW Women's basketball recruits.
Among the facts collected for a dossier on each prospective recruit by the UW women's basketball program is "Religion." Foundation president Anne Gaylor said she believes this may be unlawful, and, at minimum, considers it "certainly inappropriate."
This is the third major complaint the Foundation, a national watchdog group based in Madison, has made to the UW-Madison about coach Jane Albright, a self-described born-again Christian.
The Foundation protested when the coach arranged an exhibition game with the Christian Athletes-in-Action in November 1995, permitting religionists to distribute proselytizing material to the crowd during halftime, and to hold a religious postgame service. The Foundation also notified the UW that the coach was using campus mail to proselytize, and had instituted regular pre-game prayers.
The Division of Inter-Collegiate Athletes responded to the Foundation's complaint with a June 14, 1996 "policy clarification," saying it will maintain an environment "free of harassment or intimidation based on religion beliefs or practices." The statement concludes: "The mission of the Division does not include sponsoring religious events or activities."
However, the very month the clarification was issued, the Foundation was contacted by the family of a young girl enrolled at the coach's summer basketball camp for 4th to 12th graders, reporting Albright included proselytizing sessions. Following the Foundation's request that this be investigated, UW-Madison Chancellor David Ward wrote the Foundation on June 26, 1996, promising that "future camps will not include any policy violations."
"It does appear that Coach Albright is uneducable on this issue," Gaylor noted. "Wouldn't she be happier working at a Christian college?"
Gaylor also expressed dismay at the "prying" quality of the questions in the dossier, which records personal information on the prospect's "boy friend," "best friend," and "kind of car," as well as religion.
Albright told the Capital Times (Oct. 4) that if a "girl" would mention that she attends church every Sunday, Albright would arrange a visit to church if the recruit visited campus.
A backlash against the discriminatory policies of Boy Scouts of America is sweeping the nation, following the 5-4 ruling on June 28 by the U.S. Supreme Court affirming the club's constitutional right to exclude gays as members and troop leaders.
Over the past 20 years, BSA has aggressively denied memberships both to gays and to boys whose families are not religious. Gay groups are joining the call of freethinkers to lobby school districts to stop sponsoring Boy Scout troops. Associated Press reports that schools, which give Scouts many special perks, sponsored 10,653 Boy Scout and Cub Scout troops last year--about 9% of all troops.
According to USA Today (Oct. 9), Boy Scouts of South Florida just lost nearly $350,000 in public money and charitable aid, after a "domino effect" of denial of funds from traditional supporters. United Way of Broward County, the Broward County government and the cities of Miami Beach, Manors and Fort Lauderdale have severed ties with Boy Scouts.
The state of Connecticut has dropped Boy Scouts from the list of charities state employees can contribute to through payroll deductions, prompting a retaliatory lawsuit by Boy Scouts.
A community school district in Manhattan has withdrawn support of Scouts. The Minneapolis school system in early October voted to stop sponsoring two dozen troops with almost 900 members.
School Board member Joann Elder, Madison, Wisconsin, who has a gay son, is asking to re-examine a district policy charging Scouts the same low rental fee charged to nondiscriminatory groups. Following a complaint by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, the school board in 1994 started charging rent to Scout troops.
The United Way of Evanston, Illinois, voted in September to stop its $5,000 annual donation.
The school district in Framingham, Massachusetts, voted in September to end Scout recruitment through its schools. "It may be that the Scouts won the battle but end up losing the war," town manager George King told USA Today.
City Council members in Tucson, Arizona, voted on Sept. 25 to cut public funding to Boy Scouts and any other organization deemed discriminatory. That will cost Catalina Council $20,000 next year. The city may also withhold its $1.7 million contribution to the local chapter of United Way. But a policy change banning employee donations to Boy Scouts via the city of Tempe caused such an uproar it was reversed on October 5.
The ACLU filed suit in August to revoke a 50-year lease with the city of San Diego, which rents Balboa Park to the Scouts for $1 a year.
About 24 chapters of United Way, whose 1,400 chapters contribute more than $8.7 million to Scouts, have ended or redirected donations.
A backlash against the backlash is also occurring. U.S. Rep. Tom Tancredo, R-CO, introduced the Scouts Honor Act to protect Scouts from punitive measures by any entity receiving federal funds. Several conservative Arizona lawmakers vowed to support legislation to penalize cities that "discriminate" against Scouting.
Youth Today recently published an article by Patrick Boyle claiming that BSA's stance against gays is a "case of money and Mormons." Boyle notes the Mormon Church sponsors about 31,000 Scout units--more than any other group, accounting for 12% of all troops and involving 400,000 boys. The Mormon church filed an amicus brief with the Supreme Court supporting the Boy Scout anti-gay policy. In total, 65% of all Scout units are sponsored by religious organizations, according to the BSA.
"If the Boy Scouts stand for discrimination, they should stand alone," the Freedom From Religion Foundation reiterated in letters to public officials, the United Way, and various school organizations following the June decision.
"We urge freethinkers to continue pressuring school districts and government to sever ties with Boy Scouts, based on the group's religion-based bigotry against both freethinking boys and gays," said Foundation president Anne Gaylor.
“Library Display Criticized” was the heading of a recent letter to the editor published by The Columbian, a newspaper in Vancouver, Wash. The letter read in part:
“Upon entering the Cascade Park Community Library ... I was disturbed by the blatant promotion of atheist/secular humanist authors and books displayed prominently in the front window. Included were atheist authors such as Richard Dawkins, Bill Nye, Christopher Hitchens, with books titled Living Without God, The Portable Atheist and Women Without Superstition.”
The letter continued: “I was thinking to myself, is this even constitutional from an American First Amendment perspective? Also, even if it is legal, is this something the taxpayers of Vancouver would approve of, considering it is their millions in tax revenue that keep the library up and running?”
Well, this “unconstitutional” display was put up by the Humanists of Greater Portland, which has been placing displays in public libraries and colleges for more than 10 years. This was only the second time that patrons have voiced a concern about our displays. (The other time was when some church members questioned the display, but then they put up their own bible-based display a month or two later.)
We set up our book display at the Cascade Park Library in early January. The very next day the librarian called asking us if we had a list of the books in the case. She said that a number of people had already expressed interest in the display.
One of our members quickly made copies of the list and dropped them off at the library. One library patron commented on our HGP Facebook page that she “almost cried with joy” when she saw the titles of the books in the display case.
The letter critical of our display was published in the paper late in January, and the online comments immediately poured in, coming from as far away as New Jersey and New York. The online response was overwhelmingly positive and supportive:
• “Fantastic! I know the library has featured differing philosophies and religions in the past, so in fairness this is a good thing.”
• “Libraries are among the last bastions of free speech and the open exchange of ideas in our culture. We cannot grow as human beings unless we challenge and question, and allow others to challenge and question our received beliefs and opinions. I applaud the staff at Cascade Park . . . for their willingness to initiate a conversation about true freedom of (and from) religion. (I am not an atheist, by the way.)”
The icing on the cake was a follow-up letter to the editor from the executive director of the Fort Vancouver Regional Library District. She wrote in part:
“I was heartened to read the many online comments about the letter that articulated the important mission FVRL has as a public library in supporting diverse points of view and interest through our collections, services and programs.”
The director continued: “Public libraries exist to offer access to ideas and information from a variety of perspectives. A democracy can only be healthy and vigorous if we both learn and explore our differences as well as our common ground. If we are fulfilling our responsibility, FVRL libraries will promote understanding, prompt a conversation, encourage a healthy debate, and — yes — sometimes strike a nerve. It’s what good public libraries do.”
Our humanist group has been overwhelmed by the response of the citizens of Vancouver, the staff at FVRL and the online comments in support of our display at their library. We hope the person who wrote the initial letter to the editor criticizing our display will apply through the library to set up a display of books that support his position.
The library director said it best: “Public libraries exist to offer access to ideas from a variety of perspectives.”
Deanna Sewell is a longtime member of FFRF and the Humanists of Greater Portland. For the past eight years, she’s been putting up six or seven humanist book displays at area public libraries each year. Deanna is also the proud owner of godless “clean” money she won at the 2001 FFRF national conference in Madison, Wis.