The Freedom From Religion Foundation and local members placed a sign Dec. 17 in the Rhode Island Capitol in Providence that says there are “no gods” and declaring “At this season of the winter solstice, may reason prevail.”
FFRF, a Madison, Wis.-based national state/church watchdog with nearly 20,000 members, placed the sign to counter the numerous manger scenes now appearing in the Capitol. FFRF’s sign, with a stained glass motif, joins other secular displays by the Humanists of Rhode Island and the Secular Coalition of Rhode Island.
The sign, composed by Anne Nicol Gaylor, FFRF co-president emerita, reads in full:
“At this season of the winter solstice, may reason prevail. There are no gods, no devils, no heaven or hell. There is only our natural world. Religion is but myth and superstition that hardens hearts and enslaves minds.”
“We don’t think religion, or irreligion, belong at the seat of state government,” said FFRF Co-President Dan Barker. “But there has to be ‘room at the inn’ for dissenting points of view once the state opens up its government buildings to religious displays.”
Barker added that FFRF’s sign celebrates the winter solstice, “the real reason for the season.”
Saturday, Dec. 21, the shortest, darkest day of the year, traditionally is a time of “pagan revelry” in the Northern Hemisphere since it heralds the “rebirth” of the Sun.
S.C. atheists barred from volunteering
Upstate Atheists, a freethought group in the Spartanburg, S.C., area, was barred from volunteering at the Spartanburg Soup Kitchen, according to an Oct. 23 story in the Herald-Journal.
Eve Brannon, 25, Upstate Atheists president, said the group would instead hand out 300 “care” packages to the needy on Oct. 26. Packages contained socks, gloves, toothpaste, toothbrushes, combs, soap, rain ponchos, snacks, shaving razors, antiseptic wipes, deodorants, tissues and gum.
“I told them we wouldn’t wear our T-shirts. We wouldn’t tell anyone who we are with. We just want to help out,” Brannon said. “And they told us that we were not allowed.”
Lou Landrum, Soup Kitchen executive director, told the Herald-Journal she would resign before she let atheists volunteer and be a “disservice to this community.”
“This is a ministry to serve God,” she said. “We stand on the principles of God. Do they think that our guests are so ignorant that they don’t know what an atheist is? Why are they targeting us? They don’t give any money. I wouldn’t want their money.”
Landrum added, “They can set up across the street from the Soup Kitchen. They can have the devil there with them, but they better not come across the street.”
Legion pulls support over pledge refusal
American Legion Post 134 in Morton Grove, Ill., withdrew its financial support for the city park district because park board member Dan Ashta refuses to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance. Post Commander Joseph Lampert confronted Ashta at the Oct. 24 board meeting.
Ashta thanked Lampert for speaking his mind, according to the Morton Grove Champion, but stood his ground, as he did earlier when he told the village clerk that “I feel like we’re compelling people to speak,” adding that the First Amendment affords the right to also not speak.
Ashta objected to making people pledge allegiance to a government they might oppose. He said people with objections to religion or religious objections also shouldn’t have to feel isolated or unwanted for not standing.
“I think the Constitution is what makes this country great and worth making sacrifices for. Countries with weak constitutions usually don’t last,” Ashta said.
Post 134, with about 800 members, contributes $2,600 annually to city-sponsored events.
Christian college group flush with cash
InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, headquartered in Madison, Wis., had just over $99 million in 2012-13 revenues, according to an Oct. 9 InterVarsity press release. That amount puts InterVarsity atop a list of Wisconsin nonprofits compiled by KerstenDirect, a Texas fundraising and marketing agency. The ranking doesn’t include hospitals, universities, museums and several other categories of nonprofits.
InterVarsity’s National Service Center in Madison serves over 1,600 staff, including field staff who work with 909 InterVarsity chapters on 590 college and university campuses across the U.S.
Bus driving pastor
fired for prayer
George Nathaniel, 49, Richfield, Minn., was fired Oct. 30 as a bus driver for refusing to stop leading students in prayer. The private contractor fired him after getting repeated complaints from the Burnsville-Eagan-Savage School District.
Nathaniel is pastor at the Elite Church of the First Born and Grace Missionary Baptist Church, reported the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. Nathaniel said he drove school buses in Wisconsin and Georgia before coming to Minnesota and that he’s always prayed with students.
“We got to get Christians to be able to be Christians and not have to be closet Christians. You have something good, you are going to share it with somebody.”
He allegedly waited till the last child got on the bus before starting the daily prayers, which lasted about seven minutes.
Catholic ‘Red Mass’ draws high court
Five U.S. Supreme Court justices attended the annual Catholic “Red Mass” at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle in Washington on Oct. 6, as did several members of Congress and Denis McDonough, White House chief of staff. Attending were Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. and justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, Stephen Breyer and Elena Kagan. (The first three are Catholic and the last two are Jewish.)
The Mass continued a 60-year-old tradition and is intended to bless the upcoming work of the Supreme Court and other judges and public officials, reported the Legal Times. The name refers to the bright red vestments worn by clergy and to the red flame symbolizing the Holy Ghost.
In Stars of David, a 2005 book by Abigail Pogrebin, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said of the Red Mass, “I went one year and I will never go again, because this sermon was outrageously anti-abortion. Even the Scalias, although they’re very much of that persuasion, were embarrassed for me.”
to have baby
The Nebraska Supreme Court, in a 5-2 decision Oct. 4, denied a 16-year-old girl’s request for an abortion, saying she had not shown that “she is sufficiently mature and well informed to decide on her own whether to have an abortion.”
The girl lives with foster parents because she was taken away from her biological parents due to physical abuse and neglect. At the parental rights hearing, she told the court she was pregnant and couldn’t support a child or be “the right mom that [she] would like to be right now.” She also told the court she feared losing her placement in foster care if her highly religious foster parents found out she was pregnant.
The district court judge, Peter Batallion, appears to have served in the 1980s on the Omaha committee for Metro Right to Life, according to the Houston Chronicle. Batallion allegedly told her “when you have the abortion, it’s going to kill the child inside of you” and asked if she would “rather do that than risk problems with the foster care people.”
boycott over prayer
American Legion Post 311 in Hawley, Pa., said if its chaplain isn’t allowed to pray at the Veterans Day ceremony at Wallenpaupack Area High School, members will boycott the ceremony.
The post chaplain has never prayed at the annual ceremony, but when Commander William Kennett heard that graduation prayers were no longer allowed [following a complaint by FFRF last June], he asked if that applied to the Veterans Day event. Yes, it does, he was told, reported the Pocono Record.
In a letter to the editor, Pat Thompson, Legion executive board member, spread a widely believed myth: “There are no atheists in foxholes. Saying a prayer does not establish a religion.”
loses law license
Former Kansas Attorney General Phillip Kline lost his law license indefinitely Oct. 18 after the Kansas Supreme Court unanimously ruled he violated ethics rules in his prosecution of abortion providers, including the late Dr. George Tiller.
The court, in a 154-page decision, found that Kline, attorney general from 2003-07, demonstrated “overzealous advocacy” and failed to operate “within the bounds of the law,” reported the National Law Journal.
Kline, now an assistant professor at Christian-oriented Liberty University School of Law in Lynchburg, Va., can’t seek bar readmission for three years.
He was at the center of controversy in 2006 when a memo from Kline to his staff was leaked. In the memo, he told staff how to form a campaign committee for him at each church to “encourage people to contribute and volunteer.”
God in Air Force
oath now optional
The U.S. Air Force Academy has made “so help me God” optional in its honor code after being pressured by the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, CNN reported Oct. 25. The oath reads “We will not lie, steal, or cheat, nor tolerate among us anyone who does, so help me God.”
Cadets had been required to recite the oath at the end of basic training. It’s also taken yearly by all cadets to reaffirm their commitment to the honor code, said academy spokesman Maj. Brus Vidal.
The academy respects “the ability of our cadets, Airmen and civilian Airmen to freely practice and exercise their religious preference — or not,” a statement said.
Mikey Weinstein, MRFF’s founder and president, said he intends to sue unless the offending phrase is removed, even if it’s optional. “If the words are still there and you don’t say [them], you turn yourself into a tarantula on a wedding cake.”
FFRF halts Ohio flagpole prayer
FFRF successfully ended a “See You At The Pole” event at Columbia High School in Tiffin, Ohio, after learning that a teacher organized and promoted the event, going so far as to order pizza and lead the students in prayer. The school principal also participated, promoting the event through the school’s morning announcements and commenting that he thought prayer was “an important thing to do.”
Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel sent a letter Oct. 8 to Superintendent Don Coletta to explain the violation: “Faculty participation and organization of a prayer event is inappropriate and problematic. Even if a prayer event in your school is hosted by a student organization, adult participation or promotion is impermissible. While the school cannot prohibit students from organizing or participating in a prayer event, the Supreme Court has stated that public school employees, including teachers, must refrain from actively participating in religious activities.”
Coletta responded Oct. 14: “I have taken steps with both individuals (and others) to make sure our personnel are both aware of the legal boundaries and that they act within them. I intend to monitor this situation in an effort to ensure both the rights of students and the obligation of the District are honored.”
Teacher: Freedom ‘comes from God’
A Michigan social studies teacher will no longer be allowed to distribute and display a poster with the Pledge of Allegiance alongside a message asserting that “our freedom ultimately comes from God” and that the founding fathers felt similarly.
Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel sent an Oct. 11 letter to Superintendent Tim Haist of Big Rapids [Township] High School: “While the recitation and display of the Pledge of Allegiance in a public school is permissible, promoting and displaying religious arguments alongside it are not. The poster’s assertion overlooks many statements from this country’s founders which acknowledge their secular principles, and thus flatly ignores the secular position on the issue.”
The posters were produced by Gateways to Better Education, a Christian group whose mission is to inject “faith in the public schools” and to teach students “about the importance of the bible and Judeo-Christian history, thought and values.”
Haist replied Oct. 14 that the teacher in question had been told that “District policy states that we can ‘neither advance nor inhibit religion.’ ” Haist said the teacher was also given a document stating, “While Michigan standards do include an exploration of the American government and its foundation, including fundamental ideas and philosophical and historical origins through investigation, I struggle to see the connection between the pledge and this standard. The pledge in not a foundational document. As we both know, it was written over 100 years later and not adopted by our government until 1954.”
He also encouraged the teacher to write a lesson plan about the pledge’s revisions and their historical context.
FFRF grounds prayer
at Atlanta airport
A staff member at Hartsfield–Jackson Atlanta International Airport attended an employee and customer satisfaction luncheon that was organized by the airport, which is owned by the city of Atlanta and is the busiest U.S. airport. The lunch began with a Christian prayer, during which guests were instructed to bow their heads. It included readings of bible verses and was led by a Christian chaplain.
Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel contacted the airport on behalf of the local complainant, pointing out that such prayer “creates acrimony, makes minorities feel like political outsiders in their own community, and shows unconstitutional governmental preference for religion over nonreligion.”
An airport representative responded in late summer, stating that FFRF’s concerns were taken very seriously, and that personnel conducting an upcoming customer service event were “committed to abiding by all applicable laws and City policies.”
VA: Stop mandatory treatment prayers
Military veterans sent to substance abuse treatment by the Sacramento Veterans Administration in California will be offered an alternative to religious programs because of an FFRF letter of complaint.
FFRF was contacted by a veteran who said that in his program, he was forced to take part in prayers and meetings that emphasized God. Despite multiple talks with counselors about his beliefs, he was threatened with expulsion if he so much as stepped out of the room during prayers.
Staff Attorney Patrick Elliott wrote to the VA on July 23: “[N]o government program can require participation in religious activity or promote one religious view over another. It seems that nothing is being done to protect the rights of conscience of those who are nonreligious.”
Elliott pointed out that 23.1% of all military personnel identify as atheist, agnostic or having no religious preference.
The Department of Veterans Affairs responded Oct. 22, stating that it was “reinforced to D&A Detox that they are not to require attendance in prayer activities to remain in treatment; reinforced with them that they should not stigmatize any Veteran who opts out of such activities; [and] reinforced with VA staff to ask about objections to 12-Step model programs in considering program placement.”
Praying Arizona coach ordered to stop
The football coach at Sunrise Mountain High School (Glendale, Ariz.) will no longer be allowed to force students to pray or pressure them to join the school’s Christian club, nor will faculty be allowed to participate in the club, due to a complaint letter from FFRF.
FFRF’s complainant reported that head football coach James Carter made all players hold hands and pray to Jesus Christ before and after football games or face reduced playing time. Carter also reportedly pressured players to join Christian Club on Campus (CCC). Several other teachers also participated in CCC.
Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel wrote to the school district, pointing out it’s unconstitutional for coaches to organize, lead, participate in or force players to pray. Seidel also noted that the Equal Access Act says school employees may only be present at religious groups in a nonparticipatory capacity, and that such groups must be student-initiated and student-run.
The school district responded promptly to say that all parties named in the letter had been contacted and claiming the district would “continue to educate all personnel in order to ensure adherence [to federal and state laws].”
ousted at lunch
FFRF has stopped the practice of allowing preachers and pastors to enter Pedro Menendez High School in St. Augustine, Fla., during the lunch period and pressure students to attend their churches and church functions.
According to the complainant, youth pastors “quite intrusively butt into conversations” to ask students to attend religious events.
Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel sent an email to the school district to detail how this practice raises serious constitutional and liability issues for the school: “This predatory conduct should raise many red flags, especially if there are no security measures in place to keep such visitors out or if these religious visitors are not subject to the same security measures that other visitors may be.”
An attorney for the district responded Oct. 29: “We have terminated [the pastors’] standing invitation to visit the school at lunchtime.”
for secular club
After a contentious six-month struggle narrowly avoiding a lawsuit, James Bowie High School in Austin, Texas, has decided to allow senior Nick Montana to form his club. The group in question? A secular student alliance, which would provide a community for nonreligious teens.
Principal Stephen Kane had repeatedly refused to approve the group, but school attorneys ordered him to relent after Montana reached out to two national secular nonprofits, the Secular Student Alliance and the Freedom From Religion Foundation. The organizations declared the school’s change of course a victory for atheist equality.
Struggles like Montana’s are common occurrences across the country. In a new effort to defend students’ rights, SSA and FFRF have formed a partnership.
Citing the federal Equal Access Act and the First Amendment, the partnership appealed to Kane to stop stonewalling Montana. The law requires schools with extracurricular clubs to treat all student groups equally, regardless of viewpoint. Once FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel weighed in for the partnership, it took four working days for school attorneys to order Kane to approve the group.
Montana’s efforts took six months from the time he first asked to start the student group. School administrators had delayed approving the group, and later suspended it when it tried to meet unofficially. Federal law and school policy state that a group shall be approved once a student has a faculty sponsor and submits a constitution, which Montana did. Two other groups submitted requests and were approved while Montana’s languished.
Montana’s controversy comes as America youths are becoming more secular and increasingly organizing around their secular identities. A 2012 Pew Research Center survey found that the percent of millennials 18-29 reporting doubts about the existence of God has doubled in five years, from 15% in 2007 to 31% in 2012. In the same time period, the SSA exploded with growth, from 81 campus groups to 357. They support 402 groups today, 52 of them at high schools.
in Tenn. schools
FFRF has stopped several First Amendment violations in Franklin County Schools, Franklin, Tenn.
Senior Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert sent a letter in early September about a memo circulated last December to parents of children attending North Lake Elementary. The memo said “Merry CHRISTmas” and mentioned that parents need to teach their children the “real reason for the season.”
Markert additionally noted that candy canes were distributed by one teacher with a story attached claiming the origin of candy canes is religious: “The candymaker made the candy in the form of a ‘J’ to represent Jesus, who came to earth as our savior. . . Thinking that the candy was somewhat plain the candymaker stained it with red stripes. He used three small stripes to show the stripes of the scourging Jesus received, by which we are all healed. The large red stripe was for the blood shed by Christ on the cross so that we can have the promise of eternal life.”
Markert noted that Snopes has debunked this evangelical legend.
In October, Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel contacted the district yet again regarding a complaint that a teacher at South Middle School had passed out bibles with bookmarks warning that people who do not believe in Jesus are damned. Seidel wrote, “Parents who send their children to school in your district entrust teachers to use their positions of authority and influence for secular educational purposes, not to indoctrinate 6th graders in the teacher’s personal religion.”
A lawyer for the district has responded that while the school board hadn’t been aware of the bible and candy cane distributions, those practices would be halted immediately: “That’s done, that’s over.”
FFRF also asked the North Lake Elementary PTO to stop praying before meetings, noting the practice is divisive. According to the Herald Chronicle, board member Chris McDonough suggested a moment of silence: “There are people in this county who do not go to churches, who do not believe the same things you do, and we have to make it possible for those people to feel comfortable as well. The majority doesn’t rule.”
On Oct. 14, the school board voted to sever all connections with the PTO, which no longer has official standing or district affiliation.
Tenn. judge cited
for nixing Messiah
On Aug. 14, FFRF Senior Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert wrote to Timothy R. Discenza, disciplinary counsel for the Tennessee Board of Judicial Conduct in Nashville, to lodge a formal complaint about Lu Ann Ballew, a child support magistrate. Ballew had presided over a child support hearing Aug. 8 in Cocke County Chancery Court in Newport to settle a dispute over a 7-month-old’s last name.
At the hearing’s end, Ballew ordered the boy’s name changed from Messiah DeShawn Martin to Martin DeShawn McCullough. According to an interview with WBIR-TV in Knoxville, she said said the name change was warranted because “[T]he word Messiah is a title, and it’s a title that has only been earned by one person and that one person is Jesus Christ.”
Ballew further said that a child named Messiah would have a hard time growing up in a county with a large Christian population: “It could put him at odds with a lot of people, and at this point he has had no choice in what his name is.”
In FFRF’s complaint, Markert noted that such conduct “send a clear message to nonbelievers and those who practice minority religions that [Ballew] is not neutral and that she will abuse her position to advance her own Christian views. Ms. Jaleesa Martin, the child’s mother, stated ‘I was shocked. I never intended on naming my son Messiah because it means God, and I didn’t think a judge could make me change my baby’s name because of her religious beliefs.’”
The parents appealed and another judge ruled in September that Ballew’s ruling was unconstitutional. The parents continue to call their son Messiah DeShawn McCullough. Messiah’s siblings are named Micah and Mason.
On Oct. 23, a three-member investigative panel of the judicial board concluded there was “reasonable cause to believe [Ballew] has committed judicial offenses” and ordered the board’s disciplinary counsel to file charges, Reuters reported.
The panel cited a clause of the judicial code that says religion and other personal biases must not play a role in rulings. Ballew has 30 days to file a response.
Messiah was the 387th most popular name for boys born in the U.S. in 2012, according to the Social Security Administration. There were 762 applications for boys named Messiah in 2012. In 2011, there were 368 Messiah requests.
Charter school agrees to stop prayer
Indian River Charter High School in Vero Beach, Fla., has halted graduation prayers. After receiving a report that a student started the 2013 ceremony with a Christian prayer, Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel wrote to the school district June 4: “[T]he Supreme Court has settled this matter — high school graduations must be secular to protect the freedom of conscience of all students.”
The district responded in late August, stating it would remove invocations from future graduation programs.
I like to say thanks to God and the glaciers.
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, on the state’s abundant deposits of coarse-grained “fracking” sand in demand worldwide
Capital Times, 10-10-13
The people of this state need a candidate who can clearly and unapologetically articulate Biblical values without fear or compromise. They need a candidate who will tell the simple truth that abortion is murder, and homosexuality is condemned by God (but that Jesus forgives and heals those who repent).
Press release from “kill the gays” Pastor Scott Lively, proclaiming “humanism breeds corruption” and announcing his run for governor of Massachusetts
Scott Lively Ministries, 9-30-13
Pray that conservatives in the House and Senate will not succumb to a godless compromise and that the Senate will not try the “nuclear option” (change Senate rules to require just 51 not 60 votes to end a filibuster and force a vote). Pray that the American people will wake up and demand that their senators defer implementation of Obamacare and find a responsible compromise on the continuing resolution and debt ceiling.
Plea to the Family Research Council’s “prayer team”
Holly and I made a decision to build a house. It’s a big house. It’s a beautiful house. It’s 8,400 square feet of heated living area to be exact. That’s a big house, no doubt about it.
Steven Furlick, pastor of Elevation Church, Charlotte, NC, addressing news reports about the couple’s $1.7 million home, which totals 16,000 square feet in all
Charlotte Observer, 10-27-13
The Constitution would not have been written by Freemasons. They go against God. . . . You cannot serve two masters. You cannot serve two masters. Praise be to God. Lord Jesus Christ.
Dianne Reidy, U.S. House stenographer, shouting from the dais during a vote on whether to end the government shutdown
For the past 2 and ½ weeks, the Holy Spirit has been waking me up in the middle of the night and preparing me (through my reluctance and doubt) to deliver a message in the House Chamber. That is what I did.
Dianne Reidy, email to Fox News host Greta Van Susteren
Washington Time, 10-18-13
The priest who does not pray cannot live chastity, which is a gift from God. He should live obedience and poverty. In these days, one has to be more and more careful, because we are like sheep among the wolves.
Cardinal Juan Luis Cipriani, archbishop of Lima, on recent clerical scandals in Peru
National Catholic Register, 10-17-13
O.J. is very religious now, and he’s been counseling other inmates with bible studies for months. When I talk to him on the phone, all he wants to discuss is religion. He’s obsessed!
O.J. Simpson associate Norman Pardo, who says the 66-year-old, eligible for parole in 2017, wants to launch a worldwide crusade called “Holy Safari!”
National Enquirer, 10-17-13
Rules grow like barnacles on a ship: They’re easy to pick up and hard to remove, and they really slow us down. The writ of Sarbanes and Oxley wounded the entrepreneurs in ways that only decades can heal. Consider abolishing some rules every now and then, as a sign of your love for your people.
Forbes contributor Todd Hixon, “An Entrepreneur’s Prayer For Better Government”
I don’t want to support lesbianism, I don’t want to support Planned Parenthood, and I don’t want to support abortion. And if that be the case, I’m not buying Girl Scout cookies.
Radio host Kevin Swanson, also a teaching elder at Reformation Church, which meets at Clear Sky Elementary School in Castle Rock, Colo.
New York Daily News, 10-22-13
God will help us. That is our prayer.
Duraimony Dickson, pastor of Houston Tamil Church near Rosharon, Texas, on a fire of unknown origin which destroyed the church
We don’t cater to you people.
Comment allegedly made by a Hobby Lobby employee in Marlboro, N.J., to a customer asking why the store doesn’t stock bar mitzvah cards
Hopelessly Partisan blog, 9-27-13
They do not value children the same way that you do. You cannot bring a child into this world with someone who does not value the child as God does and as you do.
Mark Driscoll, pastor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle, reason No. 3 of “9 reasons to not marry someone who’s pro-choice”
If I go to my service tonight and God moves on me, and I mean the Holy Ghost anoints that place and you got people shouting, you got people getting saved, people getting healed, delivered and God moves on me to pull out a four-and-a-half-foot rattlesnake and it lays fangs into me, if I’m anointed by God, that snake is not going to harm me. I don’t care if it bites me 20 times, there’ll be no harm.
Pastor Andrew Hamblin of Tabernacle Church of God in LaFollette, Tenn., on “Snake Salvation”
Christian Post, 10-23-13
It was staggering to me that thereâ€™s the statistics that were thrown out about the number of people in this world who are not familiar with Jesus Christ and the Gospel, and the numbers were really, really something that I would have never guessed in this day and age that it would be that way.
Mayor Robert Willey, Easton, Md., speaking at the 31st annual Mayorâ€™s Prayer Breakfast at the Tidewater Inn
Star Democrat, 10-28-13
Jesus died for our freedom. And Jesus destroyed Satan so that we could be free, and that is manifested in what is called the Constitution of the United States. God created this nation and God created the Constitution. It is written on biblical principles.
Former U.S. Rep. Tom DeLay, R-Texas, interview with Pastor John Hagee
Global Evangelism Television, 10-20-13
I’m not religious in terms of believing in organized religion. If you look at the genocide that happened in the witch hunts and the killing of women, it was about wiping out female power.
Actress Julia Ormond, who plays a witch in Lifetime’s new series “The Witches of East End”
MCT News Service, 10-4-13
Secularism and excellence in moral reasoning are what’s necessary for a high standard of human rights. So today at the dinner table, ask your kids where their rights come from. I have rights, you know. Really!? From where? Push them! Teach them a lesson! Because if you don’t push them now, they’ll be pushed, shoved and shot by religious fanatics later.
“Atheist in Wheaton” [Ill.] James Kirk Wall
Ghana’s economic productivity is under threat because workers are spending too much time at all-night church services, according to a senior cleric.
News story quoting Rev. Frimpong Manso, head of the Assemblies of God Church in Ghana, where two-thirds of the population is Christian
The Guardian, 10-28-13
If you believe that the world is only 6,000 years old, as some of these people do, given that the true age of the Earth is 4.6 billion years, it’s equivalent to believing the width of North America is 8 yards.
Biologist Richard Dawkins
“Real Time With Bill Maher,” 10-25-13
I was once Christian. But I sincerely considered the matter and found no evidence to support faith. I then decided to change for a more positive and healthy perspective on life, love and compassion. As I moved away from religion, I found both peace and a lot of good, similarly minded people. So if some think I’m going to hell, I’ll probably be in better company than those who would condemn me for this.
Ricky D. Smith, Danville, Ky., letter to the editor
[If] I were a coach, even a Christian one, I would not want team prayers at all. That’s because it’s no better for team-building than it is for nation-building, which our founders wisely recognized. And that’s because, obviously, you exclude every player who doesn’t believe in the prayer leader’s god, or doesn’t believe in any god, or is just smart enough to see the folly of praying to a peaceful god when playing a game as violent as football.
Columnist Dan DeWitt, an atheist, on a Florida school superintendent’s memo asking coaches to not lead prayers
Tampa Bay Times, 10-8-13
Sing “The Star-Spangled Banner” or do something else to make it a grand occasion. Don’t appropriate religion for that purpose. Keep religion separate and special and have the sphere of government be religion-free so that everyone feels equally included. I think that is the American tradition.
Ann Althouse, University of Wisconsin-Madison law professor, arguing against prayer at events such as graduations
Wisconsin State Journal, 10-6-13
I’m suggesting we take holy books out of the process. Instead, people will have to show they understand they could be sent to prison if they don’t tell the truth.
Ian Abrahams, Bristol, UK, on a Magistrates’ Association proposal to stop having witnesses swear on the bible in court
Charisma News, 10-14-13
She called me a filthy little liar and gave me a big dose of castor oil. I couldn’t keep it down — threw up.
Witness in the trial of Fr. Finian Egan, alleging a nun disciplined her for reporting Egan molested her when she was 10
Sydney Morning Herald, 10-14-13
I can stand at the beach’s edge with the most devout Christian, Jew, Buddhist, go on down the line, and weep with the beauty of this universe and be moved by all of humanity, all the billions of people who lived before us, who have loved and hurt and suffered. To me, my definition of God is humanity and is the love of humanity.
Endurance swimmer Diana Nyad, 64, telling host Oprah Winfrey that she’s an atheist
“Super Soul Sunday,” 10-13-13
Doesn’t it just plain suck that the Old Testament isn’t cool anymore? The book’s got everything: genocide, incest, and even talking donkeys! That’s why David Tuchman has taken it upon himself to rehabilitate the text as OMGWTFBIBLE.
From comedian David Tuchman’s “new take on the Old Testament,” recorded live in New York City the third Monday of every month and available by podcast
Tablet Magazine, 10-14-13
I’m quite sure a Christian would not be happy if the town meeting began by everybody announcing how thankful they were we’ve finally learned there is no God. One could say it’s just teaching Christians to be tolerant of atheists, but nobody would or should take that seriously.
Arnold Loewy, Texas Tech University law professor, arguing that government meetings shouldn’t start with prayer
Lubbock Avalanche-Journal, 10-20-13
Archbishop Michalik’s words make us feel fear and revulsion.
Ewa Orlowska, victim of a Polish pedophile priest, on Archbishop Jozef Michalik’s comment that a troubled child “seeks closeness with others and may get lost and may get the other person involved, too.”
Associated Press, 10-22-13
We’re pretty sure all babies are born atheists and, rather than commit them to some religion before they’re old enough to have a say (let alone control their pooping functions), we’d rather celebrate their undoubted belief in Mummy and Daddy.
Kickstarter promotion for baby shoes by Atheist Shoe Co. in Berlin
It’s time for the atheist movement to get off the political sidelines. It’s time to truly help this country become a better place to live for all its citizens. The recent Values Voter Summit demonstrated that the likely 2016 GOP frontrunners and its base wish to transform America’s secular state into a tyrannical theocracy — a nirvana absent gays, liberals, immigrants, Muslims and science books. If the atheist movement doesn’t evolve into a politically agitated, unified and mobilized Secular Left, then the Christian Right might just get its way.
CJ Werleman, author of Crucifying America and God Hates You. Hate Him Back.
Gay marriage, pot, religion’s the next one to fall.
Entertainer Bill Maher
“Real Time With Bill Maher,” 10-25-13
[A Catholic] professor once asked me, “When I talk about God, I mean love and justice and reconciliation, not a man in the sky. You talk about love and justice and reconciliation. Why can’t you just call that God?” I replied, “Why must you call that God? Why not just call it what it is: love and justice and reconciliation?”
Chris Stedman, assistant humanist chaplain at Harvard University
Sky News reports today that in Britain, increasing numbers of prison inmates are being bullied into converting to Islam. The Prison Officers Association says this is a result of the growing influence of Muslim gangs in British prisons. Some victims have been terrorized by the gangs. But there is also concern that some of the converts could become radicalized. 13% of Britain’s prison population is Muslim.
Blog synopsis of growing British prison problem
Religion Clause, 10-20-13
[Barack Obama] believes government is your God.
Rev. Rafael Cruz, Purifying Fire Ministries pastor and father of Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, speaking at a National Federation Of Republican Assemblies prayer breakfast
In your lifetime, much of your potential, or lack thereof, can be known simply by swabbing the inside of your cheek. Are we prepared to select out the imperfect among us?
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., warning a packed house at the late Rev. Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University in Virginia that scientific advancements will lead to eugenics and more abortions
Associated Press, 10-28-13
The Freedom from Religion Foundation and the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio have settled a lawsuit against the Jackson City School District in Jackson, Ohio, with the district agreeing not to continue to display a portrait of Jesus.
FFRF Senior Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert wrote a Jan. 2 letter of complaint on behalf of parents with students at the school, provoking Superintendent Phil Howard to publicly vow that the “Head of Christ” painting would only be removed by court order.
That order came in October in the form of a consent decree mandating that the portrait be permanently removed from school property. Parties agreed to a financial settlement requiring the school to pay the plaintiffs a combination of damages and legal fees totaling $95,000. FFRF’s share of the legal fees was $7,500.
“We’re pleased that the plaintiffs — parents and students — whose identities will be protected, will each receive $3,000 in claims and damages,” said FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “It’s just and appropriate that students and parents who risk public exposure amid threats of retaliation for speaking up for the First Amendment should receive damages and that public school officials who violate the First Amendment be held accountable.”
The portrait was posted prominently in Jackson Middle School but was later moved to the high school after the ACLU and FFRF filed the lawsuit. The school tried to argue that the portrait was part of a “limited public forum,” but eventually agreed in court to remove it from the school, reportedly to avoid “risking taxpayer money.”
The school district worked with an upstart Texas Religious Right group, the Liberty Institute, that proclaims at its website: “We have never lost a case to the ACLU, [or] Freedom From Religion Foundation.” (This was FFRF’s first case in which the Liberty Institute had interceded.)
Negotiations were stalled when it was discovered that the portrait had never actually been removed from the school. It had been moved to an art closet and was “resurrected” for a prayer meeting on the school lawn, which was attended by school faculty and administrators on the National Day of Prayer last May.
This violation of the court agreement prompted another round of legal filings by both sides, delaying the settlement and increasing legal fees, all of which, as the ACLU of Ohio pointed out, was unnecessary. FFRF received a small portion of the legal fees payment.
The case was before Judge Algenon L. Marbley, U.S. District Court in the Southern District of Ohio.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation filed a lawsuit Nov. 1 in California state court against the city of Pismo Beach, challenging prayers at city council meetings and the city chaplaincy post.
The U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments Nov. 6 in a related and closely watched case involving a challenge by two plaintiffs to Christian prayer by the town of Greece, N.Y. The plaintiffs are women, one atheist and one Jewish, who are seeking to invoke protections under the U.S. Constitution.
FFRF’s new lawsuit invokes only the California Constitution’s No Preference and Establishment Clauses, as well as a civil rights provision. Regardless of how the Supreme Court decides the Greece case, FFRF’s case can proceed, and could carve out protections against government prayer for all citizens in the country’s most populated state.
Plaintiffs are FFRF, which has about 2,800 California members, and local FFRF member, Dr. Sari Dworkin, who is also a member of Atheists United of San Luis Obispo, which brought the First Amendment violation to FFRF’s attention. AUSLO and FFRF have been preparing the suit for more than a year.
Dworkin, who identifies as “an atheist Jew,” was surprised to encounter the council’s Christian prayers, which “cause her to feel offended, disenfranchised, and intimidated about participating in her own government.”
Pismo Beach established an official city chaplaincy in 2005, appointing a Pentecostal preacher, Rev. Paul Jones. He’s affiliated with the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel, which emphasizes “speaking in tongues” (although he has refrained from doing that during city council prayers). Jones delivered 112 of the 126 prayers scheduled by the council between Jan. 1, 2008, and Oct. 15, 2013. All but one of the 126 prayers were addressed to the Christian god.
In virtually every city prayer, Jones pressured citizens and the council to live a Christian lifestyle, to vote for “righteous” leaders and to make decisions that honor Jones’ particular god. The board meets twice a month.
At least 54 of the prayers contained a “Christianized” view of history. FFRF’s legal complaint documents several egregious examples, including Jones’ claim that:
• The Constitutional Convention approved a prayer motion (there was no such prayer).
• James Madison said our government was based on the Ten Commandments (he did not).
• George Washington claimed it was impossible to govern without the bible (fabricated quote).
• James Madison read from the bible at the Constitutional Convention (untrue).
FFRF seeks a declaration that the prayers violate the California Constitution. The complaint also alleges that the prayers violate California civil rights laws by coercing and forcing citizens to undergo Christian worship if they wish to participate in their government. FFRF is also challenging the establishment of a city chaplaincy.
FFRF thanks Dworkin, attorney Pamela Koslyn for taking the case pro bono, FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel, AUSLO for its support and AUSLO members for prayer transcription.