It is absolutely outrageous that the Boy Scouts of America, which has proudly excluded both atheists and gays from its membership, announced yesterday that lifting its ban on gays — but not atheists — is on the agenda for the biannual meeting of its national board in February.
BSA spokesperson Deron Smith said a change in policy toward atheists is not being considered because "Duty to God" is one of its basic principles.
With one in five Americans — and as many as one in three young people — identifying as nonreligious, clearly millions of nontheistic families and their sons are being treated as undesirable members by BSA. It should not be socially acceptable to exclude either gays or atheists. Talk about proof of who's on the bottom of the social totem poll in our culture!
BSA has always falsely advertised that "any boy may join" and has relied upon and received major governmental favors. In the 1970s, discrimination against atheists became entrenched as BSA adopted a religious litmus test, forcing parents of boys interested in joining to sign a "Declaration of Religious Principles" returned with membership fees. The declaration states: "The Boy Scouts of America maintain that no member can grow into the best kind of citizen without recognizing his obligation to God."
No one can grow into the best kind of citizen being told it is good form to discriminate against nonreligious children. BSA needs to be reminded it is not what you believe that makes you a good person, but what you do. Wrapping oneself in a mantle of piety is often counterproductive of moral action, as witnessed by the way in which "God belief" was used by BSA to justify excluding gays and atheists.
Challenge the kneejerk assumption that professing an orthodox belief in an unprovable deity has anything at all to do with ethical conduct. Clearly, the outcome of such piety for BSA is immoral — it places dogma over people, in this case real children, teenagers and volunteer leaders who are being shunned for holding the intellectually respectable position that we need proof before swallowing dogmatic claims.
Religion builds walls between children, and religious litmus tests have no place in a fraternal organization with a congressional charter.
The media, in covering this story, properly recite BSA's unkind history of bigotry against gays and gay families. These same mean practices have also personally harmed and stigmatized nontheist families and Scouts. (And it should be remembered that many gays are nonbelievers who would still, on that score, be unwelcome in BSA.)
Here are just a few of the many instances of ostracism and discrimination on the basis of religion practiced in recent decades by local and national BSA leaders:
• Stripping model Boy Scout Darrell Lambert of Oregon of his Eagle Scout badge in 2002 because he is an atheist. Darrell was a Scouting and community volunteer who had won first place in his state athletic medicine competitions and volunteered as a search and rescue worker. He was singled out for his atheism by his district commissioner, who told the class an atheist cannot be a good citizen.
• Denying 6-year-old Mark Welsh of suburban Chicago of the right to join Tiger Cubs, after being solicited through his public school. When his father encountered the Declaration of Religious Principles and explained to BSA officials he could not in good conscience sign it, Mark was told he was an undesirable candidate and left the sign-up meeting in tears.
A lawsuit under the Civil Rights Act was lost to BSA, which has vigorously defended its exclusionary policies in many court battles, including its exclusion of gays in a Supreme Court test.
• Twins William and Michael Randall were expelled with no warning from the Orange County Cub Scout pack despite three years of Scouting experience. The BSA appealed their challenge under the California Unruh Civil Rights Act and won the right to expel the twins. An agnostic den leader who sent a supportive letter to the Randalls was expelled, a common practice against those within BSA who have protested bigotry at the national level.
BSA has finally considered lifting its bigotry against gays after decades of protests and cut-off of major favors by corporations, public schools and some governmental bodies. That BSA is at least willing to reconsider its bigotry against gays shows it has listened to protest. Contact BSA immediately to urge it to take this opportunity to stop giving merit badges for bigotry — either against nontheists or gays.
It must be noted that the motion pending at its national board meeting is more than flawed. The Boy Scouts of America which had no problem dictating from the top down its absolute exclusion of gays in the past, announced it "would not, under any circumstances, dictate a position to units, members, or parents. This would mean there would no longer be any national policy regarding sexual orientation," but chartered groups (many of them Mormon) could "select leaders consistent with each organization's mission, principles, or religious beliefs."
Contact and call BSA now!
Phoning is most effective! 972-580-2000
Email contact form: http://www.scouting.org/ContactUs.aspx
Alternate Phone (National Help Desk): 877-272-1910
Wayne Brock, Chief Scout Executive
1325 W. Walnut Hill Lane
Irving, Texas 75015-2079
(Writing letters to the editor and commenting at online sections at news sites and social media are also in order.)
14 Ways to Get Active, Right Now!
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker has declared Jan. 22 — the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade — as "Protect Life Day."
The opening line of his pandering proclamation is blatantly untrue. He states that the U.S. Supreme Court decision "legalized abortion for any reason for the full nine months of pregnancy in all of the United States."
Roe v. Wade legalized abortion in the first trimester without restrictions; it limited regulation in the second trimester to protect the woman's health and safety; and it gave the government the right to restrict or bar third trimester abortions.
Statistics show that about 87% of abortions take place in the first trimester, with 12% occurring after 12 weeks of pregnancy. Only about 1.3% are performed after the 20th week. Late-term abortions are usually to save a pregnant woman's life, such as when a woman discovers she is carrying a dead or brainless fetus.
Walker should retract and apologize to the citizens of Wisconsin for his shameful misstatement. Truth should matter, even to a fundamentalist.
We didn't elect Walker "Fundamentalist in Chief." He should keep his absurd Religious Right opinions to himself.
* * * *
We should be honoring, not casting aspersions, on this landmark decision for women's rights. As Margaret Sanger noted so many years ago in her quest to bring contraception to women, "No woman can call herself free who does not own and control her body. No woman can call herself free until she can choose consciously whether she will or will not be a mother."
The Freedom From Religion Foundation would not exist were it not for the Religious Right's war on reproductive freedom. My mother, Anne Nicol Gaylor, had her eyes opened to the harm of religious sway over secular law when she founded the Wisconsin Committee to Legalize Abortion in 1968.
Tagging along with her as a junior and senior in high school, my eyes were also opened. Seeing the Wisconsin Capitol rotunda and hearing rooms crowded with nuns, priests and bussed-in Catholic schoolchildren invoking "God" and the bible in all their testimony, we realized that while there were many women's groups chipping away at women's oppression, none was going to the root of the problem: organized religion.
I still remember my own and my mother's ecstatic joy when we first heard the news about Roe v. Wade on Jan. 22, 1973. The brutal battle, state by state, to try to decriminalize abortion had been ended in one fell swoop. We didn't know then how vicious and unrelenting the religion-fueled anti-choice movement would be, but here we are 40 years later, and Roe, while a bit battle-worn, is still the law of the land. My mother has written about the historic fight to overturn antiabortion laws in Wisconsin in her book, Abortion Is a Blessing.
Today, at 86, she is literally still answering the daily calls for the Women's Medical Fund, the abortion-rights charity she co-founded (with other atheists such as professor Robert West) in the 1970s. This pure charity has helped pay for abortions for more than 20,000 Wisconsin women — indigent women who should qualify for medical assistance but who are denied the right to abortion due to the Religious Right lobby, which has cut off abortion funding in Wisconsin and in many states and federally under the Hyde Amendment.
Daily she takes calls from teenagers, rape victims, victims of domestic abuse, those with many children already, ill and homeless women, living in conditions few of us can imagine, who find themselves with an unwanted pregnancy and no place to turn.
We are winning the reproductive war. We see U.S. Catholic bishops defeated in their attempts to sabotage the contraceptive mandate and bishops overseas failing to stop state-funded contraception in the Philippines. But as we celebrate 40 years of freedom for women, we must redouble our efforts to end the religion-fostered cut-off of public assistance for indigent women needing abortion care in the U.S. These forgotten and disenfranchised women deserve the same right to constitutional privacy, to control their own bodies, as the more affluent.
Atheists do indeed start and run charities. Please read the Women's Medical Fund's letter of appeal to learn more about the need. I challenge everyone who is offended by Governor Walker's proclamation, who has the means to do so, to fight back by making a charitable donation to the Women's Medical Fund.
Annie Laurie Gaylor is author of Woe to the Women: The Bible Tells Me So and is editor of the anthology Women Without Superstition: No Gods — No Masters.
At Zócalo, Mexico City’s central plaza, are (left) professor Jerry Coyne, author of Why Evolution Is True, Gerardo Romero Quijada, founder and activist with Mexican Atheists; and FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. (Their spread-out arms are in honor of Dan Barker, who does this trademark pose wherever he travels.) They were sightseeing after the conclusion of the second colloquium on Mexican atheism Nov. 2-3. Gaylor spoke at the conference, as did Coyne, Michael Shermer and several Mexican scientists and freethinking activists. The Governor’s Palace in the background features a major Diego Rivera mural which is strongly anticlerical and explicitly celebrates Mexico’s formal separation between state and church.
By Dan Barker
Freedom From Religion Foundation
FFRF members Steve Aldred (left) and Daniel Saiz (right) joined FFRF Co-President Dan Barker for a post-debate reception.
I’ve done more than 100 debates as an atheist, but really looked forward to my first visit to Oxford, England, to debate the proposition, “This House Believes in God.” Members of the Oxford Society invited me, Michael Shermer and Peter Millican (philosophy, Hertford College) for a formal debate Nov. 8.
We teamed up against theists John Lennox (well-known Oxford professor of mathematics and philosophy), Peter Hitchens (journalist, author and former atheist) and Anglican priest Joanna Collicut (co-author of The Dawkins Delusion).
It was a formal black-tie evening, so I brought my nice tuxedo that I use for playing jazz gigs and country clubs. I’m sure I was the only person in the room with piano keyboard suspenders.
The Oxford Union is “the world’s most prestigious debating society, with an unparalleled reputation for bringing international guests and speakers to Oxford.” Founded in 1823, it welcomes and encourages controversy. “The Oxford Union believes first and foremost in freedom of speech: nothing more, nothing less.”
Many of the protocols of modern-day British Parliament stem from Oxford Union customs. Eleven British prime ministers, starting with W.E. Gladstone, have been officers or members. Dozens of other members have gone on to become nationally and internationally prominent figures.
Famous speakers at the Union include many presidents and prime ministers, actors, sports figures, authors, journalists, the Dalai Lama, Malcolm X, Salman Rushdie, Mother Teresa, Philip Pullman, Stephen Hawking and Albert Einstein.
The formality was enhanced by the fact that Richard Dawkins was in the audience. After a delicious supper and preliminaries, the main event began. We spoke with no microphones in the formal Debate Chamber, with hardwood floor and busts of famous people around the red walls.
We stood on respective sides of a practical table on the floor (no lofty pulpits), with most of the audience at the same level, and many in the balconies above us. We were each allotted 15 minutes.
John Lennox, our most formidable and articulate opponent, went first, speaking for the proposition. John has a likable relaxed personality, a warm avuncular style with an Irish twinkle in his eyes.
Atheism is illogical, Lennox asserted, because “nothing comes from nothing.” There is no contradiction between science and faith. An immaterial God is free to show himself to us in a material way using revelation, and the historical fact of the resurrection of Jesus is clear evidence for the existence and power of such a being.
According to Lennox, the constants (forces or parameters) of the cosmos are so exquisitely balanced that if one of them were off by the tiniest fraction, we would not be living in a universe hospitable to life. Besides, without a belief in the Christian God, there is no hope.
I spoke next, for the opposition. It was my job to introduce the main ideas in opposition to theistic belief, putting as much as possible on the table for our opponents to rebut and setting the stage for Michael and Peter to drive the points home using their considerable areas of expertise.
I prepared a 10-minute opening, anticipating that I might appreciate the extra five-minute elbow room to insert specific rebuttals or allow interruptions from the floor. I turned to Lennox and said, “If nothing comes from nothing, God cannot exist.” A god, if such a being exists, is not nothing. To exclude the desired conclusion from the premise is to beg the question.
Smuggling God into the reasoning that is supposed to prove his existence also results in an incoherency, a “married bachelor,” a something that comes from the nothing from which something cannot come. If “God” is defined as an omniscient being with free will, then he cannot exist.
If you know the future, you cannot have free will. Foreknowledge of your own decisions rules out any ability to change your mind. You are a robot, not a personal being.
In response to interruptions, I briefly sketched the cumulative case that belief in a god suffers from serious deficiencies: lack of coherent definition, lack of evidence, lack of good argument (many theistic arguments are merely “god-of-the-gaps” explanations), lack of moral and theological agreement among believers, lack of good response to the problem of evil, and the lack of reliability of so-called holy books.
I turned to Lennox to counter that the resurrection of Jesus is the worst example anyone could offer as evidence for a god, and explained why. I ended with the fact that there is no need for a god: Tens of millions of good people have lives of purpose, morality, love, meaning, happiness, beauty and hope without such a belief.
As I returned to my seat next to Michael Shermer, he said “Bravo! You nailed it!” and we did high fives.
Then it was Joanna Collicut’s turn to argue for the proposition. I listened carefully, ready to take notes, but her monotone remarks were so vague, so Sunday morning sermonish, I really don’t remember what she said.
Michael Shermer virtually leaped to the table to take up for the opposition. He made the case that god beliefs are neurological, psychological, sociological, anthropological and historical. He challenged the audacity of pretending that out of the thousands of gods and religions, you just happen to possess the correct one.
“I simply believe in one less god than you do,” he said, eliciting much laughter and applause. He talked about pattern recognition and agency detection, Type 1 versus Type 2 errors (thinking the noise in the grass is the wind rather than a predator), showing that god belief is a Type 1 error (false positive) that was useful to our prescientific ancestors for survival reasons.
Very different Peters
Then came Peter Hitchens, the believing Anglican brother of Christopher Hitchens. (If anyone doubts the fact of evolutionary variation, just look at those two brothers.) Hitchens was combative and unfriendly, pitching ad hominem assaults. “I decided that I would abandon any pretense at being Mr. Nice Guy,” he wrote the next day. “Why would anyone want the universe to be a pointless chaos, where our actions could be judged only by their immediate observable effects, a universe utterly without the hope of justice, where death was the end and the deaths of those we loved extinguished them irrevocably? Well, the question, once asked, rather answers itself, doesn’t it?”
Hitchens apparently does believe all questions answer themselves because he brusquely declined interruptions from the audience.
Peter Millican, on our side, was last. He was brilliant and deftly handled the theistic arguments raised by Lennox, responding with philosophical rebuttals to the “fine tuning” argument, and the problem of evil. If there actually were an afterlife, how would future “justice” make our current suffering any less harmful?
When he sat down, I said, “Strike three! They’re out.” And I was right. At the end of the event, President John Lee announced to the audience that they were to “vote with your feet.” Our side won.
So although the exact proposition was indeed about belief and not knowledge, I think it is fair to say that it has been decided, by an Oxford vote no less, that there is no god.
Below, a small but representative sampling of disturbing emails recently received by FFRF from “loving” Christians, usually in response to news coverage of FFRF’s state/church work. Grammar and spelling are uncorrected. Warning: Language and suggestions are commonly X-rated.
The Lord: please keep your liberal ideas in wisconsin. Texas is a Christian state and we do not appreciate your interfering in our schools expression of love and faith in our Creator. Just remember JESUS IS LORD!! — Steve Rousseau
Texas cheerleader: Stay out of Texas. We dont need your non beleiving ways here. Dont stand behind the Courts or threatining lawsuits. Come here and meet us face to face. — Richard Zelenuk, Arlington
Football Banners: Suck it up and hang it out your atheist ass. — Arthur Windell, Caldwell
YOU ARE DUMB GAY IDIOTS SENT TO RUIN AMERICA: There are people who understand the truly American anti-gay dream. We want to live in a world with “In God We Trust” on the currency. Think of all of the people who died to preserve Christianity from terrorists. — Tiger Gibbons
Marbury, AL High School: You need to stay out of our business. This is Alabama, and we do as we please. — John Hazel
Tennessee: You need to leave Tennessee alone. Keep your views if you like... Just don’t bother us. I realize that people have rights... We have moving trucks here if people don’t like it here.
religion: YOU PEOPLE ARE FULL OF SHIT. IF SOMEONE DOESN’T LIKE THE SIGNS THEY CAN DO 1 OF 2 THINGS: IGNORE THE SIGN OR 2 MAKE A BIG DEAL ABOUT AND SOMEONE IS GOING TO WHOOP YOUR SORRY ASSES. — Daniel Berney
RELIGION: yOU AND YOUR TEACHINGS ARE WHAT IS WRONG WITH THIS COUNTRY NOW. tEACHING CHILDREN THERE IS NO GOD LEADS THEM TO BELIEVE THEY CAN DO WHAT EVER THEY PLEASE AND THEIR IS NO RESPECT FOR ANYTHING. wHEN THE TIME COMES,AND IT WILL IT WILL BE TO LATE TO ADMIT HOW VERY WRONG AND EVIL YOU WERE AND ARE! pLEASE DO NOT CONTACT ME AS THERE IS NOTHING I WANT OR NEDD TO HEAR FROM THE LIKES OF YOU. — Nancy Grant
Tennessee: hope you needle ducks enjoy hell stay out of Tennessee stop by Caryville and see me idiots you speak with a forked tongue. — Dave Johnson
how much I dont like freedom from religion: This country, built and fought for by my forfathers has turned into a scary place to live because people like you are to worried about treating people fairly, who dont deserve to be treated fairly — Jeremy Miller, Woodstock
Suggestion: All you exist for is to undermine the moral fabric of this nation as it was historically founded. Since you all are so unhappy with that why not move ?
Suggestions: Try: Iran, N.Korea, Russia, China, Cuba, spread your poison there you will be more than welcome since you share the same ideology. I picked the other selection below for the CPUSA! — Doc H.
Texas Cheerleaders: With the recent injunction that was granted to the Cheerleaders it looks like God is tell you to “ shove your organization right up your ass “ don’t you agree! — Mike Hunt
Bible verses at Alabama football games: Those of us down here take our religion seriously and if we choose to carry signs with Bible verses at football games, well it’s really none of your business. Perhaps you should read your Bible more often. — Pam Cory
schools: Look you need to leave marbury high school alone y’all just want to mess with somebody and you need to leave the alone . They are doing nothing wrong they are not hurting no one so just go crawl under a rock and leave them .dont come down her messing with us or watch what happens !!! watch what god can he can make anything happen so leave us alone don’t miss with us or will mess with you — Robert Harmon, Prattville
TENNESSEE/GEORGIA: Tell me do you have any problem spending he U.S. money that has IN GOD WE TRUST printed on the face, I suspect not, you hipocrit. Say up North and leave us alone. I hope you burn in Hell. — Pat Guffey, Soddy Daisy
schools and prayers: just fuck off. if you dont want to hear it. just stand and shut the fuck up. — “Who cares”
Alabama: you guys are a bunch of fuken cocksucker fuk you all ahhahahahah we need freedom from you fagotts yoru the reson the whole county going to hell you think it funny 0-o open your eyes look what you made no god it all hell enjoy its allover — Don Hively
Football prayer at games: Hi I’m a conserned student at a school that no Longer has prayer before football games.... — Josh