It Pays to Complain: November 2010

‘Our Father,’ who art on hold

FFRF Staff Attorney Patrick Elliott wrote the Greenwood Township supervisors in Atlantic, Pa., in September about inappropriately opening meetings with sectarian prayer and listing it on the agenda. “Our complainant informs us that . . . before the start of each meeting, Chairman [Cecil] Stevenson says, ‘The secretary will now lead us in the Lord’s Prayer, followed by the Pledge of Allegiance.’ ”

Elliott noted that supervisors have instituted a prayer practice of one religion, Christianity, for governance, to the exclusion of all others and nonbelievers.

A township attorney responded in late October that, in his opinion, a case currently before the 3rd Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals will determine how municipalities may open meetings with “legislative prayer.” He asked that the Foundation hold any lawsuit in abeyance until the court ruled.

On Nov. 2, the Meadville Tribune published a story headlined “Prayer cut from meeting after group complains.” The story said that Supervisor Diane Adsit announced before the Nov. 1 meeting that prayer will not open meetings until the 3rd Circuit rules on the case or FFRF “agrees to not sue the township.”

Mount the barricades via Action Alerts

FFRF’s online Action Alerts let members flex their collective muscle to help resolve state-church issues and react quickly when public officials take potshots at nonbelievers. After four out of five San Diego County [Calif.] supervisors voted down a proposal to redirect $20,000 from a “County Neighborhood Reinvestment Program” grant to an anti-abortion group called Life Perspectives, FFRF Staffer Bonnie Gutsch organized the Oct. 11 alert.

It encouraged members to thank supervisors who voted against giving money to a religious group falsely billing itself as a secular charity. A county investigation showed Life Perspectives had developed a “biblically based” curriculum for private schools, in addition to its anti-choice programs, and had gotten more than $100,000 through the county program since 2006.

An Oct. 19 alert titled “Educate a Harvard professor” took on political scientist Robert Putnam’s questionable claim about the paucity of atheists in America.

Putnam was on PBS discussing his book, American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us, with interviewer Paul Solman:
SOLMAN: Is there bad news?
PUTNAM: Yes. It used to be, in the 1950s, that most Americans were kind of in a moderate, not very intense religious middle. And we have moved toward the extremes of being either very religious — this is the sort of evangelical Protestant part of the religious spectrum — or very nonreligious. This is the more secular, not really atheist. Almost no Americans say that they’re atheist, but they’re certainly not churched. That’s especially true for younger people.
SOLMAN: How many people are atheists in America?
PUTNAM: Almost nobody. In our — among our 3,000 people — we had two people who, when we asked them what they were religiously, said they were atheist or agnostic.
“Please take a moment to politely educate Dr. Putnam that there are atheists, agnostics and other freethinkers (whatever they like to call themselves) everywhere in the United States, in rising numbers,” Gutsch told members. “You may wish to tell Dr. Putnam that you disagree with his categorization of the growth of the ‘very nonreligious’ as ‘bad news,’ but thank him for acknowledging the growing irreligiosity of young people.”
Action Alerts are limited to FFRF members and subscribers to Freethought Today. Sign up at:

Why can’t Jesus love you at church

From FFRF’s website contact form — — Oct. 24: Use this as appropriate, but please do not disclose my name or location.

Jesus Loves You. That’s what the sign(s) said. Sign(s) because there were actually two of them, visible to traffic turning into the driveway to a public elementary school from either direction.
I wrote to the principal — no legalese, no case citations, just a few facts, briefly enumerated. The sign expresses a sectarian religious belief, and as such has no place on the grounds of a public school, I wrote. Public schools, like our state and federal governments, must remain neutral in matters of religion.

The sign constituted an endorsement of a particular religion and made “outsiders” of students and parents who did not share that particular deity or belief. It doesn’t matter who placed the sign, it is on public school property and it doesn’t belong on public school property. If school authorities know who placed the sign, advise them to come and retrieve it. If ownership of the sign is unknown, then school authorities should remove it.

In less than a week, I received an even shorter response. The principal had forwarded my letter to the district superintendent, who replied: “The sign in question was not placed on the property by the school or the district.  We were also unable to determine ownership of the sign. To avoid any free speech or vandalism issues, we contacted the Sheriff’s Department about the sign and its location.

The sign you referenced has been removed from the utility pole outside of the school.”

If there’s a lesson to be learned, it might be: Act, people, do something! Write to somebody. Let them know that separation of church and state is not a myth. Let them know it’s not OK to trample the First Amendment. Explain to them where they are wrong. Ask them to correct the problem. And get it all in writing! — Name witheld

Squeezin’ reason on Oregon calendar

If the National Day of Reason makes it into the Diversity Events Calendar published by three Oregon state agencies, you can credit Carol Stoddard.

She works for the state Department of Education. The annual calendar is a joint project of the Department of Human Services, Office of Multicultural Health and Department of Administrative Services. In 2008, Stoddard submitted the National Day of Reason (held on the first Thursday in May to counteract the National Day of Prayer) for inclusion on the 2009 calendar. It didn’t make it, nor did it in 2010, despite her eloquent plea: “The goal of this effort is to celebrate reason — a concept all Americans can support — and to raise public awareness about the persistent threat to religious liberty posed by government intrusion into the private sphere of worship.”

In her letter last May to the DHS affirmative action office, Stoddard said: “The fact that the summary for the National Day of Reason makes reference to the recently declared unconstitutional “National Day of Prayer” is all the more reason to include it, in light of the fact that national and local leaders are disregarding that ruling. Acknowledging reason, thinking, and rationality across a diversity of cultures for all humans is surely something your office would promote.”

In a June 28 e-mail, Joseph Hesting, affirmative action officer, replied: “You correctly point out that DHS acknowledges major religious holidays, and that will continue because it is important for us to be aware of holidays important to our co-workers or clients. I will make a note for next year to include the National Day of Reason in the calendar.”
— Bill Dunn

Freedom From Religion Foundation