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Pious mayors, governors and other public officials prayed in record numbers in early May across the land for national and state Day of Prayer events and local prayer breakfasts.

FFRF’s legal staff headed by Senior Attorney Rebecca Markert sent letters of objection to Govs. Scott Walker (Wisconsin), Steve Beshear (Kentucky), Mike Beebe (Arizona), Jerry Brown (California), and Rick Scott (Florida). Letters were sent to mayors in Carmel, Ind., Biddeford, Maine; Zephryrhillis, Fla.; Bentonville, Ark.; Tampa, Fla.; and Florence, Ala. A complaint also went to the federal Bureau of Reclamation. Other letters went to:

• Mayor Larry Melton, Odessa, Texas. An open records request showed the city’s public information coordinator promoted the mayor’s prayer event with a press release and scheduled many interviews promoting it. The city secretary, Norma Aguilar, coordinated the prayer logistics, signed the contracts, etc. This year’s keynote speaker, Rev. Don Piper, author of “90 Minutes in Heaven” and “Heaven is Real,” charged a $2,500 honorarium plus expenses. The city actively solicited sponsorships, apparently during the business day.

• Rogers, Ark. Mayor Greg Hines’ Prayer Breakfast was organized and sponsored by the Mayor’s Office with tickets sold at City Hall.

• Springdale, Ark. Tickets for the Mayor’s Prayer Breakfast could be purchased at the Mayor’s Office. Markert noted that while Greg Sprouse could attend a privately sponsored event in his personal capacity, “It is absolutely unlawful, inappropriate and unseemly, under the First Amendment to host such an event or work in tandem with event organizers to put on the breakfast.”

FFRF received some editorial support for its view, including from the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette on May 14:

“The cities should not be seen as contributing in any way to the organization of these prayer breakfasts which, while open to everyone, are obviously Christian-oriented events (the one in Rogers was held at Cross Church). A city employee using time on the clock to sell tickets or perform other work related to the breakfasts is crossing the line. Someone else can do this kind of work strictly on a volunteer basis without using resources bought by the taxpayers. That might satisfy the group from Wisconsin, but more importantly, it’s the right thing to do.”

FFRF keeps fighting nativity nonsense

The Ellwood City, Pa., nativity saga in response to an FFRF complaint continues. In April, the Citizens Nativity Location Committee submitted a plan to create a public forum in front of the Municipal Building.

The forum, consisting of one lot, would only allow displays from Dec. 5 through Jan. 15 and be assigned on a first-come, first-served basis. Nonresidents would have to wait 30 days before submitting applications. Borough Councilman John Todorich admitted to the Ellwood City Ledger that the purpose of the policy is to keep out FFRF: “We need to make it tight enough that we don’t have off-the-wall groups come in here and force our hand.”

Nativity Committee Vice Chairman Mike Parisi’s Facebook comments were illuminating: “This proposal will allow us to keep the Nativity Display right where its [sic] at.”

Staff Attorney Patrick Elliott, with research and drafting assistance from Andrew Seidel, FFRF constitutional consultant, sent a follow-up letter to the borough’s solicitor explaining the pitfalls of the open forum policy:

“Other local governments have opened forums to encourage nativities with disastrous results. Santa Monica, Calif., was swamped with controversial displays and a cumbersome lottery system after opening a public forum. Loudoun County, Va., opened a forum, and the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, the Jedis, and atheists raised displays next to a crèche. Both Loudon County and Santa Monica are considering closing the forums they opened less than three years ago.”

Citing Supreme Court precedent, the letter hammered home the fact that “government may not grant the use of a forum to people whose views it finds acceptable, but deny use to those wishing to express less favored or more controversial views.”

The letter also cited a string of court precedents to show that ”freedom of speech cannot be burdened, inhibited, or contingent upon residency.”

The Borough Council has not voted on the proposal and no vote is scheduled.

Town welcomes signs of biblical proportions

FFRF is working to cement what looked like a victory in Sylvania, Ala., but has stalled after the cooperative mayor was forced to resign in the wake of allegations of sexual misconduct.

The town of about 2,000 features four “Welcome” signs which include bible verses, erected at public expense in various locations. A week after FFRF Staff Attorney Patrick Elliott’s letter of complaint April 17, Mayor Mitchell Dendy agreed to paint over the unconstitutional endorsements of religion.

Then, a few days later, Dendy got a pink slip from DeKalb County Sheriff Jimmy Harris, who fired him as the county’s chief jail administrator, the Fort Payne Times-Journal reported. The Town Council accepted Dendy’s resignation as mayor May 1. Citizens have also petitioned to rename Dendy Road.

Harris said Dendy was fired for repeated violations of departmental policy and procedure directives related to alleged sexual misconduct, improprieties and harassment.

The council called a special meeting May 8 and, without discussion, voted 5-0 to put the verses back on the signs. Council member Tony Goolesby claimed that Dendy never told the council about FFRF’s letter or his decision to blot out the verses because the town couldn’t afford a legal battle.

“The council doesn’t feel like it is a violation,” Goolesby said. The quotations are now back on signs.

FFRF would like to sue if the quotes aren’t removed, said Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “Legally, this is sort of a slam dunk.”

FFRF requests probe of Illinois bishop

FFRF Senior Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert sent a letter April 20 to the Internal Revenue Service to alert the agency to political comments by Catholic Bishop Daniel Jenky in his April 14 sermon at St. Mary’s Cathedral in Peoria, Ill.

Jenky sharply criticized President Barack Obama and referred to the 2012 presidential election, stating, “Hitler and Stalin, at their better moments, would just barely tolerate some churches remaining open, but would not tolerate any competition with the state in education, social services, and health care. In clear violation of our First Amendment rights, Barack Obama, with his radical, pro-abortion and extreme secularist agenda, now seems intent on following a similar path.

“Now things have come to such a pass in America that this is a battle that we could lose, but before the awesome judgment seat of Almighty God, this is not a war where any believing Catholic may remain neutral. This fall, every practicing Catholic must vote, and must vote their Catholic consciences, or by the following fall our Catholic schools, our Catholic hospitals, our Catholic Newman Centers, all our public ministries — only excepting our church buildings — could easily be shut down.”

Markert’s letter to the IRS Exempt Organizations Examination Office in Dallas noted that such speech is illegal campaign intervention for a tax-exempt organization, according to IRS regulations which ban participation in “any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for public office.”

While leaders of religious groups may express opinions on political matters as individuals, they are precluded from making “partisan comments in official organization publications or at official functions of the organization.”

The letter identified key factors the IRS uses to determine if advocacy is political campaign intervention. Whether the statement:

• Identifies one or more candidates for a given public office.

• Expresses approval or disapproval for one or more candidates’ positions and/or actions.

• Is delivered close to the election.

• Makes reference to voting or an election.

• Addresses an issue distinguishing candidates for a given office.

• Is part of an ongoing series of communications on the same issue that are made independent of any election.

• Is related to a nonelectoral event such as a scheduled vote on specific legislation by an officeholder who also happens to be a candidate for public office.

The letter added, “Despite not saying specifically ‘Vote against Barack Obama,’ the bishop’s comments make it abundantly clear that he is opposed to Barack Obama as a candidate. Given that he gave these partisan comments at an official church function — the ‘Call to Catholic Men of Faith’ service — Bishop Jenky violated the 501(c)(3) tax-exempt rules, which prohibit electioneering.”

The letter requested an immediate investigation and action to remedy any violations.

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Help us save a preacher

FFRF announces fund to aid nonbelieving clergy

FFRF has announced a fund to help “save a preacher,” in coordination with the Clergy Project, created to help clergy who have become nonbelievers and are looking for an exit strategy to a secular life.

The project has grown in one year to more than 223 participants, the majority former clergy who act as a support system for about 60 members who are still in active ministry. There are more than 60 pending applications, indicating many secret unbelievers in the pulpits of the world.

Funds donated to the Clergy Project will be used for:

• Scholarships for educational retraining. It’s hard for someone with a divinity degree and a history of preaching to find new employment, especially in today’s economy.

• Temporary hardship grants. Some of the clergy in the project tell heartbreaking stories of being unceremoniously thrown out into the street (literally, in one case!) and locked out when their nonbelief became known.

• Maintenance of the forum. The Clergy Project forum is a secret, invitation-only online sanctuary where former and active nonbelieving clergy can talk freely, comparing stories, suggesting resources, sharing concerns, asking for help and finding a sympathetic nonjudgmental community of others who have wrestled with this unique situation.

The initial funding came mainly from the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science, with many hours donated by former clergy, including forum facilitator Dan Barker, FFRF co-president, and other FFRF members who are former clergy. Many have contacted Dan after reading his books, Godless and Losing Faith in Faith: From Preacher to Atheist, which relate his personal experiences.

Members currently come from the U.S., Ireland, Australia, South Africa, England and Canada, as well as a few non-English-speaking countries.

“It is hard to think of any other profession which it is so near to impossible to leave,” writes Dawkins. “If a farmer tires of the outdoor life and wants to become an accountant or a teacher or a shopkeeper, he faces difficulties, to be sure. He must learn new skills, raise money, move to another area perhaps. But he doesn’t risk losing all his friends, being cast out by his family, being ostracized by his whole community. Clergy who lose their faith suffer double jeopardy. It’s as though they lose their job and their marriage and their children on the same day. It is an aspect of the vicious intolerance of religion that a mere change of mind can redound so cruelly on those honest enough to acknowledge it.”

The Clergy Project arose from discussions between Dawkins, Barker and Tufts University philosophy professor Daniel Dennett. Dennett, best-selling author of Breaking the Spell, and researcher Linda LaScola, published a preliminary study of “Preachers Who Are Not Believers,” in March 2010 in Evolutionary Psychology and The Washington Post. They are currently working on a broader follow-up study.

Teresa MacBain, whose recent dramatic “coming out” from the ministry made headline news (including positive interviews on NPR and CNN) has volunteered to be project acting director. Forum administrator is “Adam,” still a conservative minister in the South, and “Chris,” who started as an active clergy but recently made his escape from the pulpit. “Catherine,” a minister from Canada, is acting secretary, under the acting board members, including Barker. FFRF members and former clergy John Compere and Stephen Uhl, recent clergy “graduate” Jerry DeWitt and other former clergy help screen new applicants.

To donate to FFRF’s “Clergy Project” fund, select it from the drop-down list at or earmark checks, with donations deductible for tax purposes, to FFRF, P.O. Box 750, Madison WI 53701.

FFRF’s routine letter of complaint April 13 to Mayor Leo Fontaine, Woonsocket, R.I., over a Latin cross at city Fire Station No. 2 has provoked near-hysteria.

Rhode Island Attorney General Peter Kilmartin publicly “applauded” the mayor and City Council for “preparing to fight the attack by the Freedom From Religion Foundation.”

State Rep. James McLaughlin, D-Cumberland, introduced an overtly unconstitutional bill, H8143, to classify any “traditional, cultural or community” memorial as “secular property” even if it’s religious. Mayor Fontaine called FFRF “a couple of knuckleheads out of Wisconsin,” and on a local radio show said “I pray for people like this.”

Although FFRF has not sent a cease-and-desist letter threatening to sue, the city of Woonsocket has raised $15,000 for a fund to defend against a potential lawsuit. On May 2, more than 600 noisy protesters, carrying flags, crosses, godly signs and “Save the Cross” buttons rallied next to the cross, as “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” played, including many from the American Legion. The Legion mission statement ties “God and country.”

Former state Adjutant General Reginald Centraccio said he was drawing a “line in the sand,” saying the Legion is “going to battle against these atheists all the way back to Wisconsin.” (The “battling” seems to be a plethora of late-afternoon phone calls laced with profanity to FFRF’s office.)

Despite denials by city officials that the Latin cross has a Christian meaning, Roman Catholic Bishop Thomas Tobin addressed the rally, saying: “This is about presence of God in our lives and in our society. These are attempts to render our society bereft of moral values. If we don’t stand up we are complicit in the death of God in our society. I’m proud to stand here with you today to defend the presence of Christ in our lives.”

The cross was a gathering point for local observations of the National Day of Prayer on May 3.

A cross was erected in 1921 as part of a monument in memory of a local soldier killed in France in World War I. In 1952, the cross monument was apparently replaced with a new cross and rededicated both to the WWI soldier and three local brothers who died in World War II.

FFRF also complained about the Fire Station’s website whose rudimentary “memorial” page shows a guardian angel comforting a firefighter. The site also has a poem entitled “The FireFighters Prayer.”

Senior Staff Attorney Rebecca Market noted in her letter that “The Latin cross at the fire station demonstrates Woonsocket’s preference for Christianity over other religions and nonreligion. Such government endorsements of religion runs afoul of the Establishment Clause of the United States Constitution.”

The mayor initially opined it may be necessary to move the monument to private property. City Council President John Ward said the city, which is in dire financial straits, couldn’t afford a costly legal battle. “I would not vote to pay to defend it,” Ward said.

The claim is also made in an April local news story that no local person complained and that FFRF routinely patrols the whole country looking for such violations.

“That charge is absurd,” said Annie Laurie Gaylor, FFRF co-president, noting that a Woonsocket resident who regularly drives past the Christian display found it offensive and contacted FFRF for help.

“Our small staff is besieged with requests from members of the public who are upset about state-church violations,” Gaylor said. “We only wish public officials who knowingly violate the Constitution could be held personally responsible for flouting the law. Nearly 30% of Americans are non-Christians and 15% are not religious. Firefighters should be there to serve everyone, regardless of religious views.”

She added, “Of course we have no objection to war memorials, but they cannot be used as a subterfuge to post large permanent Latin crosses on government land. Cities can’t host monuments that appear to say, ‘We only care about your service if you are a Christian. Jewish, atheist or other non-Christians killed in U.S. wars don’t deserve recognition.’ There are many atheists in foxholes, and 24% of FFRF membership are vets or in the military, which is consistent with the number of nontheists in the military generally.”

U.S. District Judge Michael Urbanski, Western District of Virginia in Roan­oke, heard oral arguments May 7 in a case brought by a student and parent over a school Ten Commandments display. In an unexpected move, the judge referred the case to mediation. If no settlement is reached, he’ll rule on both parties’ motions for summary judgment.

FFRF and the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia sued the School Board of Giles County, Va., last September for unconstitutionally endorsing religion by displaying the Ten Commandments in a hallway at Narrows High School in Narrows.

FFRF originally objected to the display in December 2010 when the commandments were posted in all six county schools. The Superintendent responded by taking the displays down, then the school board put them back up after the public pressured the board. On advice of legal counsel, they were again later removed.

Last June the board voted 3-2 to put the Commandments up along with other documents in the misguided belief that the documents would put the display on stronger legal footing. Included were a depiction of Lady Justice, “The Star-Spangled Banner,” the Bill of Rights, the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, the Declaration of Independence, the Virginia Declaration of Rights, the Mayflower Compact and the Magna Carta.

At the hearing, Urbanski commented on how he viewed the board’s vote: “It’s clear to me that when the school board voted, there was one thing on their mind. And that was God.”

Urbanski suggested compromising by omitting the first four commandments, which have explicitly religious references. He asked both sides if the commandments could be edited and reportedly said, “If indeed this issue is not about God, why wouldn’t it make sense for Giles County to say, ‘Let’s go back and just post the bottom six?’ ”

FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor said she doesn’t buy the suggested compromise and referred to the Supreme Court’s McCreary ruling on the commandments:

“They proclaim the existence of a monotheistic god (no other gods). They regulate details of religious obligation (no graven images, no sabbath breaking, no vain oath swearing). And they unmistakably rest even the universally accepted prohibitions (as against murder, theft, and the like) on the sanction of the divinity proclaimed at the beginning of the text.”

Plaintiffs’ briefs highlighted the religious fervor that led to the display and to statements made by board members. In one deposition, board member Joseph Gollehon said he voted for the display because “I am a Christian” and felt that the commandments “was a great thing if you can live by it.”

Liberty Counsel, associated with Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University, represents the board and helped craft the current display. In briefs, Liberty Counsel argued that the board opened up a forum for private displays and that the school has a secular purpose for the commandments because they’re integrated into the history curriculum.

ACLU Attorney Rebecca Glenberg noted at the May 7 hearing that there are no cases that have allowed the commandments in a public school. Walt Hopkins, a professor who studies First Amendment law at Virginia Tech, observed the argument and told the Roanoke Times, “It was not a good day for Giles County.”

Mediation with Magistrate Judge Robert Ballou is expected to occur sometime in the next few weeks.

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Equal Treatment

FFRF Co-President Dan Barker was one of the performers March 31 at Rock Beyond Belief, the first-ever nontheist festival on a U.S. military base. “We’re sending a message,” said Justin Griffith, an Army sergeant and former evangelical Christian stationed at Fort Bragg who organized event. Griffith, an FFRF member, told Reuters that “Foxhole atheists are out there fighting for your rights. Please return the favor.” FFRF and its Raleigh chapter, the Triangle Freethought Society, also hosted a booth.

FFRF’s full-page ad, “It’s Time to Quit the Catholic Church,” ran in The Washington Post (A5, main section) and on the back page of the Washington Express on May 8. The Express is free to Metro riders and D.C. residents. Express distributors wore the ad on their vests (see photo).

The provocative ad, couched as an open letter to “liberal and nominal” Catholics, asks, “Will it be reproductive freedom, or back to the Dark Ages? Do you choose women and their rights, or Bishops and their wrongs?”

The ad was similar to the full-page ad that appeared in The New York Times in March, which is still creating shockwaves among conservative religionists.

“It’s a disgrace that U.S. health care reform is being held hostage to your church’s irrational opposition to medically prescribed contraception,” the ad states. “No political candidate should have to genuflect before the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.”

“Join those of us who put humanity above dogma,” FFRF’s ad urges.

The Washington Post ad features a cartoon by the late Don Addis, a longtime FFRF member, showing a priest under a “Family Planning” banner counseling a woman: “Plan on a family.” It also includes the line, “Life begins at excommunication.”

The ad blasts the church’s “pernicious doctrine that birth control is a sin” and the “Respect for Rights of Conscience Act” introduced into Congress to impose church dogma on employees. FFRF warns the liberal Catholic that the church is “launching a ruthless political Inquisition in your name.”

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FFRF banner rises from dead in Illinois

FFRF placed its second “Nobody died for our ‘sins.’ Jesus Christ is a myth” banner April 11 in a city park in Streator, Ill. The replacement banner featured a postscript, “Thou shalt not steal.” FFRF’s first banner was erected April 5 and was stolen April 7.

FFRF Attorney Patrick Elliott and student intern Ryan Hettinger made the 6-hour roundtrip drive from Madison, Wis., to Streator to personally rehang the banner.

The 8-foot by 3-foot banner, which was up until mid-April, was placed on behalf of a local resident with city permission to counter a religious cross display that had sat on city property since early March. This is the fifth straight year that park-goers and passersby have been told via a prominent sign that “Jesus died for your sins.”

Last December, Elliott had written Mayor Jimme Lansford to protest a nativity scene at the same location, with a sign saying. “Unto you is born the Savior Jesus Christ the Lord,” also a recurring violation. The city responded by claiming the park was a “public forum” and other viewpoints could be offered.

“In reality, as this crime reveals, the only viewpoint that is going to be permitted in Streator is the dominant religion,” said FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “There are tax-exempt churches throughout Streator where it is appropriate to place Christian crosses and displays. A public park is not one of them.”

FFRF offered a $1,500 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the perpetrator(s). The theft and vandalism to the banner’s supporting posts are classified as misdemeanors. Since FFRF’s nonreligious message was targeted, the act also qualifies as a Class 4 felony under Illinois’ hate crime law.

FFRF is a national state/church watchdog with over 18,000 nonreligious members nationwide, including nearly 700 in Illinois.

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FFRF wins Colorado Day of Prayer appeal

A unanimous three-judge panel of the Colorado Court of Appeals ruled May 10 in favor of the Freedom From Religion Foundation’s challenge, originally filed in 2008, against gubernatorial proclamations of a Colorado Day of Prayer.

Judge Steve Bernard, with concurrences by Judges Alan Loeb and Nancy Lichtenstein, overturning a lower court decision, ruled in favor of FFRF’s lawsuit: “A reasonable observer would conclude that these proclamations send the message that those who pray are favored members of Colorado’s political community, and that those who do not pray do not enjoy that favored status.”

Bernard wrote that the six litigated Colorado Day of Prayer proclamations (from 2004-09) violate the Preference Clause of the Religious Freedom section of Colorado’s Constitution because the content is “predominantly religious; they lack a secular context; and their effect is government endorsement of religion as preferred over nonreligion.”

The proclamations “have the primary or principal effect of endorsing religious beliefs” and “convey a message that religion or a particular religious belief is favored or preferred.” The 74-page decision noted that the “inclusion of biblical verses and religious themes,” statements urging “that individuals will unite in prayer” and the governor’s signature, imprimatur and seal make “no doubt here that the religious message is attributed to the Governor.”

Bernard wrote, “The proclamations serve an exclusively religious purpose,” and are “addressed to the public generally . . . extend[ing] beyond the walls of the legislative assembly, or the boundaries of the graduation hall, to the borders of the State.” He noted that they “reflect an official belief in a God who answers prayer. At the same time, for those who do not believe in such a God, the proclamations tend to indicate that their nonbelief is not shared by the government that rules the State. In so doing, they undermine the premise that the government serves believers and nonbelievers equally.”

The decision continued, “They are not a small part of something larger that serves a secular purpose. Rather, they stand, individually and collectively, as a call to ‘actual worship or prayer’. . . . Indeed, the proclamations, by themselves, are reasonably viewed as exhortations to participate in ‘official prayers’ that have been composed as ‘part of a religious program carried on by the government.’ This effect is amplified by the biblical verses and religious themes.”

The appeals court noted that Gov. Bob Ritter even spoke at a private Colorado Day of Prayer celebration on the steps of the Capitol in 2007.

The judges said that “religious liberty is “abridged when the State affirmatively sponsors the particular religious practice of prayer.” The individual has the “right to refrain from accepting the creed established by the majority.”

Bernard pointed out that all the proclamations were issued in response to annual demands from the National Day of Prayer Task Force, based in Colorado Springs, Colo., which was seeking gubernatorial support for its overtly theocratic mission.

FFRF won a historic federal district court ruling, FFRF v. Obama, in 2010, when U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb declared the federal National Day of Prayer unconstitutional. FFRF demonstrated the religious origins of the 1952 and 1988 acts of Congress, introduced by Rev. Billy Graham and other evangelists. The evangelical National Day of Prayer Task Force — based at Focus on the Family headquarters — has essentially served as an arm of the government since 1988 by organizing government prayer day events that exclude non-evangelical Christians.

In 2011, the 7th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals threw out FFRF’s standing, but the Colorado appeals court affirmed standing to sue, without offering a legal judgment on the National Day of Prayer itself. No court has ever upheld the day of prayer on its merits under the Establishment Clause.

The appeals court is remanding the case to the trial court to consider whether a permanent injunction should be entered.

“We’re exulting over the fact that reason has prevailed and constitutional rights have been affirmed,” said Annie Laurie Gaylor, FFRF co-president.

FFRF thanks its local plaintiffs and members Mike Smith, David Habecker, Timothy G. Bailey and Jeff Baysinger, who made the challenge possible. FFRF congratulates its litigation attorney Richard L. Bolton.

FFRF, with Arizona members and pro bono help from attorneys Richard Morris and Marc Victor, is also in state court in Arizona challenging the Arizona Day of Prayer.

Read the Colorado appeals court decision at (scroll to May 10, 2012).

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Overheard May 2012

[T]he National Day of Reason is about taking time to improve our communities. Every year, events are held on this day that demonstrate the desire of secular Americans to help their fellow citizens and our nation as a whole. Community service events, such as food drives and blood drives, are just some of the ways that people will be working to help those in need on the Day of Reason and throughout the year. I encourage everyone to join in observing this day and focusing upon the employment of reason, critical thinking, the scientific method, and free inquiry to improve our world and our nation.
Rep. Pete Stark, D-Calif., U.S. House floor statement recognizing May 3 as the National Day of Reason
Congressional Record, 4-27-12

About 1,520 results; About 36 results
Google News search results respectively for “National Day of Prayer” and “National Day of Reason,” both observed on May 3, 5-4-12

The truth is way too dangerous.
Alex Aan, 30, imprisoned in Indonesia for posting “God does not exist” on Facebook
The Guardian, 5-3-12

In a statement released today, God, the supreme being and creator of the universe, confirmed that he has once again postponed the transfer of the planet Earth to the meek.
Satirical news story
The Smew, 5-1-12

Had the Year of the Bible been declared by the Catholic Church, the Lutherans, the Methodists, the Pentecostals, just about any religious group one can name, there wouldn’t be any issue whatsoever. But it wasn’t a religious group that drove this designation. It was our state government, and the members of that body should know better.
Rahn Forney, editorial page editor, criticizing Pennsylvania lawmakers for declaring 2012 as the Year of the Bible, an action FFRF is suing over
Lebanon Daily News, 4-19-12

I think it’s time the church ceases to protect the bad priests. The representatives of the church did wrong to cover up and hide this problem.
Mary Mignogno, nurse and Catholic school volunteer, on Pennsylvania parishioners being told Fr. Robert Brennan was removed because he had Lyme disease instead of the real reason, that he was accused of molesting a boy
Norristown Times Herald, 5-8-12

At the time, industry and science reflected an enlightenment mindset. People believed freedom of thought and industrial growth would bind and unify the new country, not religion or God.
Todd Imhof, whose company auctioned for $1 million a 1792 “silver plug” penny, which says “Liberty Parent of Science & Industry” instead of “In God We Trust”
ABC News, 4-19-12

Nothing fails quite like prayer. One of the reasons we’ve been fighting the War on Terror is because of religion. You rely on your buddies.
Scott Otto, an atheist and Iraq and Afghanistan veteran, now an anthropology major at Eastern Illinois University in Charleston
The Daily Eastern News, 4-18-12 

That’s what’s unique about both militant nationalists and militant Islamists. We do believe in an afterlife, at least many of us do, because we are Christians.
Anders Behring Breivik, describing himself as a “militant Christian” in court in Norway at his trial for killing 77 people last July
The Guardian, 4-18-12

I won’t point fingers, but it’s suspicious, given the circumstances.
High school senior Jacob Nantau, Middle Lake, Saskatchewan, whose car was vandalized several times after he voted against having prayer at a graduation banquet.
Regina Leader-Post, 4-24-12

I think it’s time for me to move to Japan. When I said that I was an atheist, everyone insulted me and the legal authorities jumped on everything that I wrote on Twitter. I am perhaps the first person anywhere in the world to be the object of a judicial inquiry for declaring that they are an atheist.
Composer/pianist Fazil Say, on the rise of conservative Islam in his native Turkey
Al Arabiya, 4-23-12

What would Jesus do with the U.S. economy?
First sentence in a news story headlined “Christians Debate: Was Jesus For Small Government?”
National Public Radio, 4-16-12

Bottom line, we are saying do not attempt to pass a policy based on this statute unless you want to have lengthy litigation.
Wayne Blanton, Florida School Boards Association executive director, on a new law that lets students give “inspirational messages,” including prayers, at school functions
Orlando Sentinel, 4-11-12 

I invite you to visit the Ali Forney Center, only 30 blocks from St. Patrick’s Cathedral, and meet with youths whose Catholic parents drove them from their homes. I want you to hear them tell you what it is like to have their parents be ashamed of them, and tell them that they are against God. I want you to see what their lives are like alone, unloved, and abandoned in the streets. I hope that by meeting our kids you can understand the pain and anguish you help to cause.
Letter from Joseph Amodeo, Executive Committee member of the Junior Board of Catholic Charities, to Cardinal Timothy Dolan, after which Amodeo resigned from the board
Huffington Post, 4-5-12 

Ban on Gideon Bible handout at public schools sparks torrent of hate mail
Headline on news story about a Canadian school district
Toronto Star, 4-8-12

We inhabit a polity now saturated with religion. On one side, the Republican base is made up of evangelical Protestants who believe that religion must consume and influence every aspect of public life. On the other side, the last Democratic primary had candidates profess their faith in public forums, and more recently President Obama appeared at the National Prayer Breakfast, invoking Jesus to defend his plan for universal health care.
Columnist Andrew Sullivan, “Christianity in Crisis”
The Daily Beast, 4-2-12 

It was kind of like looking at a black-and-white picture and seeing someone wearing a yellow hat. It just seemed odd to me.
Robert Kane, testifying at the trial of Fr. James Brennan how the image has stuck in his head of seeing the priest massage the bare back in 1990 of a boy after a youth baseball game
Philadelphia Inquirer, 4-11-12

I hope this organization helps skeptic students “come out” with their beliefs. We hope to build an accepting community for an otherwise largely stigmatized movement. Long-term, I hope the club grows to have an impactful presence on the QU community and ideally strip away the heavy negative view of secular thinking, especially atheism, which seems to meet the most hostile opposition.
Co-founder Julia Olson of the Quinnipiac University Atheist, Humanist and Agnostic Association in Hamden, Conn.
The Quad News, 4-22-12

We understand that in some Islamic states, gay people are persecuted and executed for their sexuality. It was an ideal opportunity to challenge the notion of acceptance and tolerance. As we began kissing, the Muslims began chanting, “Burn in hell.”
Gregory Storer, on kissing his partner in front of Muslim protesters at the Global Atheist Convention in Melbourne, Australia
GNN, 4-16-12 

Atheists are like snowflakes — no two are the same. You find very few that reach a conclusion to the “God question” the same way. We are just a group of people who lack a belief in God or gods, but we have different beliefs outside of that.
Brandon Moore, North Carolina State graduate student in biomanufacturing and engineering
Technician, 4-30-12

Even as Republicans try to wrestle women into chastity belts, the Vatican is trying to muzzle American nuns. How can the church hierarchy be more offended by the nuns’ impassioned advocacy for the poor than by priests’ sordid pedophilia? The church leadership never recoiled in horror from pedophilia, yet it recoils in horror from outspoken nuns.
Columnist Maureen Dowd, “Bishops play church queens as pawns”
New York Times, 4-28-12

In reality, as I worked through them, I found that religion had so many holes in it, that I just progressed through stages where I couldn’t believe it.
Teresa MacBain, Tallahassee, Fla., a former Methodist pastor who has embraced atheism
National Public Radio, 4-30-12

Don’t just read verbatim the text on a PowerPoint slide or merely describe an image being shown. “That’s a totally naked man” adds no real informational value to the presentation. Tell us something about the naked man we don’t know just from looking at his picture. Maybe he loves soccer, maybe he’s a Freemason. Make him more than just another naked man who showed up mysteriously in your presentation. Otherwise the audience will end up in “PowerPoint Hell.”
Columnist Chris Nerney, on an Irish priest whose photos of nude men were mistakenly shown to parents of children preparing for First Communion
IT World, 4-30-12

Harbor of Light Publishing Releases Simple-Minded Guides for Bible Reading
Press release headline from Newnan, Ga., company on its Redneck’s Guide series, 5-2-12 

I am a victim of rape by a priest.
Megan Peterson, 22, speaking outside the Pastoral Center of the Diocese of Winona, Minn., about being raped at age 14 for 10 months by a Catholic priest who fled to India
Winona Daily News, 5-2-12

Obviously, there are millions of very smart and generally rational people who believe in God. Obviously, this study doesn’t prove the nonexistence of God. But it poses a challenge to believers: If God exists, and if believing in God is perfectly rational, then why does increasing rational thinking tend to decrease belief in God?
Harvard University psychologist Joshua Greene
Scientific American, 4-26-12

This service has a very right-wing bent, a born-again slant. It’s not inclusive to any religion.
Paul Goleb, New Britain, Conn., an atheist protesting the National Day of Prayer event inside City Hall in Middletown, Conn.
Middletown Patch, 5-4-12

I’ve gotten a lot out of [the atheist] community. This is kind of a way for me to do something for the community that uses my skills and knowledge. I don’t think there’s been anything done like this.
Bill Lehto, Farmington, Minn., who founded Freethought House to publish a collection of 35 essays by Minnesota atheists
Farmington Independent, 5-5-12 

Residents of states that have laws banning gay marriage have 11% more porn subscribers than states that don’t restrict gay marriage. I wonder what passage of the bible they twist around to rationalize that little hobby.
Syndicated columnist Lloyd Garver
Springfield State Journal-Register, 5-10-12

Evidently Jesus was so filled with rage that he was speechless. I am confident he condemned [gay marriage] all the time in private, when he was hanging out with those other 12 dudes at their elaborate dinner parties, where they all sat on the same side of the table, just living the bachelor life together, drinking wine and working on their washboard abs.
Stephen Colbert, on being unable to find any words about homosexuality attributed to Jesus
“The Colbert Report,” 5-10-12

The larger concern with secularism is that it damages people, and that it actually keeps people from being reasonable with one another. It creates a great level of intolerance for people of faith. I think secularism for Pope Benedict is a feature of this growing bifurcation between faith and reason.
Chad Pecknold, assistant professor of systematic theology, Catholic University of America
Catholic News Service, 4-20-12

Research scientists have proven that the miracles described in The Bible and in films like The Ten Commandments really DID occur, The ENQUIRER has learned!
News story, “Scientists: Bible Miracles Really Happened!”
National Enquirer, 4-5-12

He’s an atheist like the rest of his party. They’re all atheists.
Conservative pundit Ann Coulter, who also called President Obama “the jug-eared lunkhead in the White House” in a speech at Missouri State University
Springfield News-Leader, 4-11-12
Hitler and Stalin, at their better moments, would just barely tolerate some churches remaining open, but would not tolerate any competition with the state in education, social services and health care. In clear violation of our First Amendment rights, Barack Obama, with his radical, pro-abortion and extreme secularist agenda, now seems intent on following a similar path.
Bishop Daniel Jenky, Diocese of Peoria, Ill., addressing “A Call to Catholic Men of Faith” rally and march
The Catholic Post, 4-14-12

It’s imperative that we reach into the arsenal of history and discover the weapon that defeated Adolph [sic] Hitler.
Christian author Brad Fenichel, calling for a May 3 National Minute of Prayer, a World War II “phenomenon which was widely credited, by contemporary people of faith, for the demise of the Third Reich” 
Christian Newswire, 4-16-12 

At first she was talking about public displays of affection, and she turned around and she directly pointed to the gay people and said, “If you’re gay you’re going to hell, and if you’re pregnant, your life is over.”
Student Amber Whittiemore, on remarks made to students by Dorothy Bond, high school principal in Brownsville, Tenn., who resigned after they were made public
ABC 24, 2-28-12
I would not vote for a man who was an atheist because I believe you need to have an acknowledgement or a reverence or a fear for almighty God.
Anne Graham Lotz, Rev. Billy Graham’s daughter
“Meet the Press,” 4-8-12

As much as we love the Brewers, unlike Jesus, they didn’t die for your sins. With regard to beer and brats on Good Friday, let’s just say that’s why God created the three-game series.
Milwaukee Archbishop Jerome Listecki, telling Catholic baseball fans they must be wiener-less
McClatchy News Service, 4-7-12

The Associated Press reported May 14 that seven people are plaintiffs in an appeal of a federal judge’s decision ordering removal of the prayer banner from Cranston West High School in Rhode Island. Three are Cranston West students, three are graduates and one is from North Providence.

The Cranston School Committee has agreed to pay half the $150,000 legal costs the city was ordered to pay the ACLU, which represented Jessica Ahlquist, the student who contested the banner in her school auditorium. She’s received a student activist award and $10,000 from FFRF.

Superintendent Peter Nero said the banner, which was glued to the wall, was removed March 3 at a cost of about $2,500 and is stored in an undisclosed location. It took 11 hours to sandwich it between two plywood boards and carve around the boards to extract a 4-foot by 8-foot slab of sheetrock.

Jessica and her family are still being threatened. She made public a letter she received in April:

“The cops will not watch you forever. We will get you good. Tell your little asshole sister to watch her back. There are many of us, ‘Crusaders,’ we have a better [sic] pool going to see who gets you first! Your fuckin old man better move or keep you locked up if you know whats good for you. We know where he works, what kind of cars you have + the plate numbers of the cars. Get the fuck out of R.I. you bitchin whore. You are nothing more than a sex-toy of a slut. Maybe you will gang-banged before we throw you out of one of our cars. WE WILL GET YOU — LOOK OUT!”

Arizona religious bills signed into law

Ariz. Gov. Jan Brewer signed a bill May 11 to let religiously affiliated employers exempt contraceptive services from employees’ health insurance plans. The new law will apply exclusively to those entities whose religious beliefs are central to their operating principles, and for whom providing coverage for contraception could pose a moral conflict or religious objection.

The law expands the definition of a “religiously affiliated employer” to include any organization whose articles of incorporation explicitly state a religious purpose, and whose religious beliefs play a fundamental role in its function.

Brewer also announced she has signed a bill that expands the “conscience clause” so that pharmacists, physicians and other health care workers won’t lose their professional licenses for denying services on religious grounds.

The Associated Press reported that proponents admit there are no known incidents of “faith-based discipline” in Arizona. Republican Sen. Steve Yarbrough, bill sponsor, said it’s “fundamentally wrong” that if “you don’t affirm the particular lifestyle, then your license is going to be at risk.”

[Editor’s note: Yarbrough must believe that women having reproductive choice, even in cases of rape or incest, is a “lifestyle.”]

Brewer signed a bill into law April 17 to let public high schools offer an elective bible course called “The Bible and Its Influence on Western Culture.” Guidelines say the course must address the influence of the bible on laws, history, government, literature, art, music, customs, morals, values and culture.

Arizona is the sixth state to allow such a course.

Georgians can choose plates praising God

Nontheists will subsidize believers starting July 1 in Georgia, when new license plates with an “In God We Trust” option become available.

All plates are being replaced by a new design. The free “In God We Trust” sticker replaces the county of residence designation.

Kansas board shies from sectarian prayer

The Reno County Commission, Hutchinson, Kan., directed legal staff to draft a new prayer policy despite pleas to continue a long tradition of mostly Christian prayer to open meeting, the Hutchinson News reported May 8.

The board agreed to seek clergy to offer nonsectarian prayers, but if no one is available, to ask for a moment of silence of have a commissioner lead the prayer.

Florida board allows adult-led prayer

The Clay County School Board, Green Cove Springs, Fla., voted 3-2 on April 19 to allow prayer on school grounds by outside groups. First Coast News reported that all adults must give name, address and birth date 10 days in advance so a background check can be done. Prayers have to end 30 minutes before the school bell. The organizer has to provide insurance coverage for every person attending.

Pastor Ron Baker’s insistence on praying on school grounds drove the new policy. Baker said he will hold prayer events one foot off school property every morning. FFRF had complained, prompting the school district to shoo Baker away. Then the district reneged.

“I was convinced from the beginning we’d find some unity in this to protect the rights of our students, who always have the right to have prayer at the school,” said Superintendent Ben Wortham.

Noted FFRF Co-President Dan Barker: “This is predatory conduct involving adults praying at school as small children arrive.”

Parents ‘privatize’ so graduates can pray

Students and parents at Lakeview Public High School in Columbus, Neb., thumbed their noses at the Constitution again this year by opening and closing the May 13 graduation ceremony in the school gym with prayer.

ACLU of Nebraska has been contesting the prayers since 2001. To get around the law, graduations are organized and sponsored by parents, who rent the gym ($150 this year). The printed program and an announcement said the graduation was “private” and “not sponsored by Lakeview Community Schools.” Attendees were asked to stand for prayers.

“People who don’t have religion, we respect them by not making them pray, and then they can respect us by just sitting there in silence and they don’t have to pray,” senior Aysha Janssen told KTPM News.

Mojave cross allowed back on mountain

The latest decision in an 11-year court battle over a Latin cross called the Mojave cross on federal land in the desert near Baker, Calif., came April 23. U.S. District Judge Robert Timlin signed an order allowing the cross to return to Sunrise Rock, where it was first placed in 1934 and branded as a war memorial.

The ACLU sued in 2001. After Congress in 2003 approved a sham “public for private” land swap with the pretense that the cross would no longer be on public land, the legal wrangling continued. The case went to the U.S. Supreme Court in 2010, when a 5-4 decision said the cross could stay but sent it back to lower courts to review the land swap.

Timlin’s order said the National Park Service will transfer the title for the one-acre public parcel the Barstow Veterans of Foreign Wars Post in exchange for five acres of donated land near Cima.

The Park Service will fence the site, with visitor access, and post signs saying it’s private land. A plaque will say it’s a veterans memorial.

Gideons get booted by Ontario school

Christian bibles and materials from all religious groups are banned in the Bluewater School District in Chesley, Ontario. The 8-3 vote by district trustees April 17 ended more 60 years of free bibles distributed by Gideons International to fifth-graders.

“We cannot include everyone’s God, so we should not allow any,” trustee Fran Morgan told the Owen Sound Sun Times.

“This is a secular school system,” said trustee Marg Gaviller. “There are lots of other opportunities for people to get their bibles.”

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