Ministerial housing allowance goes before court once again
FFRF has filed a federal brief supporting its long-running challenge of the preferential tax treatment that the IRS provides to ministers of the gospel.
FFRF's brief, filed before U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb in Madison, Wis., on April 5, forcefully argues that the IRS is discriminating by allowing clergy — and only clergy — to exclude cash payments for housing from taxable income.
FFRF Co-Presidents Dan Barker and Annie Laurie Gaylor, as well as the estate of President Emerita Anne Nicol Gaylor, were denied a similar benefit, although FFRF designates a housing allowance for them. Attorney Rich L. Bolton, who authored the brief, writes, "The Supreme Court has refused to allow government to preferentially favor religion with tax breaks that are not generally available to other taxpayers."
Besides the direct advancement of religion, the housing allowance fosters excessive government entanglement with religion. FFRF points out: "In order to ensure that this preferential tax benefit is limited to religious officials, §107(2) requires complex determinations relating to the tenets, principles and practices of those churches that provide their clergy with cash housing allowances."
The IRS and several churches that intervened in the case filed on March 8 for summary judgment. FFRF's response brief debunks many of their claims. Both the IRS and the churches contend that the housing allowance, passed by Congress in 1954, is on par with housing provided more generally "for the convenience of the employer." But FFRF counters: "The historical evidence indicates that §107(2) was actually intended to provide a financial benefit to religious clergy without regard to any 'unique' housing relationships." The principal sponsor, Rep. Peter Mack, argued during hearings, "Certainly, in these times when we are being threatened by a godless and anti-religious world movement we should correct this discrimination against certain ministers of the gospel who are carrying on such a courageous fight . . . caring for our spiritual welfare."
FFRF and its members first brought suit to challenge the housing allowance in 2009 in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California. The case was later moved to Wisconsin, after the U.S. Supreme Court issued a decision in another case limiting who may challenge certain government tax expenditures.
In 2013, U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb ruled in FFRF's favor, finding that the clergy housing allowance was unconstitutional. She wrote that "the exemption provides a benefit to religious persons and no one else, even though doing so is not necessary to alleviate a special burden on religious exercise."
The decision provoked a national near-hysterical outcry from churches and ministers, with practically every denomination, including the Unitarians and liberal Jewish, filing briefs against FFRF. FFRF has referred to the case as "David vs. Goliath" because virtually all religious groups weighed in against FFRF's challenge to religious privilege.
In 2014, the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Barker and Gaylor did not have standing to bring the case because they hadn't yet sought a refund of their housing allowance from the IRS. Accordingly, Barker and Gaylor filed for a tax refund in 2015 and were denied a housing allowance by the IRS.
In a June 27, 2016, letter the IRS stated, "IRC Section 107 specifically requires that to exclude a housing allowance from income you must be a minister of the gospel. The IRS does not have the authority to interpret this to include anyone other than those who meet this definition." This proves the point FFRF is attempting to make in its lawsuit.
The case, Gaylor v. Lew, Case No. 3:16-cv-00215-bbc, is before Judge Barbara Crabb, U.S. District Court, Western District of Wisconsin.
By Derek Mathias
A few months ago, one of the many fundamentalist Christians I've argued with on YouTube claimed that President Obama is the Antichrist, and that he would seek a third presidential term.
Being aware of how our government works, I immediately bet the guy $1,000 that Obama would step down after his second term. My fundie opponent was hesitant, but I challenged him to have the courage of his convictions and put his money where his mouth is. He finally agreed to take the bet, but with one change: If he won, he wouldn't take my money, but I would instead have to delete all of my anti-theism videos and never make another such video ever again. Of course, I agreed immediately.
As the weeks went by, I kept up a dialog with the guy so that he wouldn't forget about our deal. And on Jan. 20, as you know, I won the bet. Of course, I was disappointed that we now have a wee-handed tangerine tweet monkey as our president, but at least I had $1,000 coming to me from my fundie opponent. To his credit, with a little appeal to his honor, he sent the money.
This bet was about teaching a lesson, not about enriching myself, so I wanted to donate the money to a worthy organization. To that end, I've sent a $1,000 donation to the Freedom From Religion Foundation to become a Life Member . . . because I just like the poetic justice of fundies helping to finance an atheist organization.
Unfortunately, the only lesson my opponent learned is not to make bets with me. But there is an important lesson here that we can all take away from this: If people make essentially impossible but testable claims based on the bible or any other scripture, then bet them $1,000 that it won't happen. If they're hesitant, goad them by appealing to their convictions. After all, their religion teaches them not to doubt their beliefs:
• James 1:6 — But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind.
• Matthew 21:21 — And Jesus answered them, "Truly, I say to you, if you have faith and do not doubt, you will not only do what has been done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, 'Be taken up and thrown into the sea,' it will happen."
• Matthew 14:31 — Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, "O you of little faith, why did you doubt?"
It's galling to them when an atheist is more willing to put his certainty on the line than they are. Not only should you end up with some money you can use to do some good, but you may even teach someone that claims based on faith are indistinguishable from claims based on fantasy.
Oh, and one last thing: Thanks, Obama!
Derek Mathias, who creates antitheistic YouTube videos with the username "Underlings," is from California and also a member of FFRF's Greater Sacramento Chapter.
FFRF is excited to announce that well-known comedian Paula Poundstone, an "out" atheist, will perform at its 40th annual convention.
Poundstone joins Nation columnist, writer and poet Katha Pollitt as two of the latest additions to the impressive convention lineup for the weekend of Sept. 15-17 at the Monona Terrace Convention Center in Madison, Wis.
Poundstone is one of America's top comedians. She is listed in Comedy Central's list of "100 Greatest Stand-Ups Of All Time" and has also won an American Comedy Award for Best Female Standup Comic. She routinely identifies as an atheist in her performances. Among Poundstone's claims to fame is her regular appearances as a panelist on NPR's funny weekly news quiz show, "Wait Wait . . . Don't Tell Me."
In 2016, Paula voiced the character "Forgetter Paula" in Disney/Pixar's Academy Award-winning animated feature film, "Inside Out." In June 2016, her first double-live CD, "North By Northwest: Paula Poundstone Live!" debuted at No. 1 on both Amazon's "Hot New Releases – Nonfiction" and "Comedy CD" lists.
In 1992, she became the first woman to host the prestigious White House Correspondents dinner in its 72-year history.
She joins an already strong cast of speakers and entertainers for the exciting convention. Others on the docket include Pollitt, Maryam Namazie, Steven Pinker, Cara Santa Maria and Michelle Goldberg, to name a few.
But the convention is more than just speakers and entertainers. Start it off with a tour of the newly remodeled and expanded Freethought Hall on the morning of Friday, Sept. 15. It's only a couple blocks from the convention site. Visit the third-floor Freethought Library, where you can get your picture taken with a life-sized replica of Charles Darwin.
After the Freethought Hall tour, take a trip around Lake Monona on a cruise boat, where you'll spend two hours on the picturesque lake, which includes great views of the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed convention center. The convention officially starts with speakers and awards at 3 p.m. Friday, which is an earlier start than usual. For dinner on Friday, join us for the Wisconsin Tailgate Party buffet, which will feature the Forward! Marching Band.
(For more information about the convention, turn to page 23 or go to ffrf.org/outreach/convention.)
The other scheduled speakers at the convention include:
Pollitt is well known for her column in The Nation, "Subject to Debate," which the Washington Post has called "the best place to go for original thinking on the left." She will be receiving FFRF's Forward Award at the convention.
In 2011, the New York City native won the American Sociological Association Award for Excellence in the Reporting of Social Issues. Her 1992 essay on the culture wars, "Why We Read: Canon to the Right of Me . . ." won the National Magazine Award for essays and criticism, and she won a Whiting Foundation Writing Award the same year. In 2013, her column won a Maggie Award from the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, as did her 1993 essay "Why Do We Romanticize the Fetus?"
She has previously received FFRF's Emperor Has No Clothes Award and Freethought Heroine Award.
Namazie is an Iranian-born secularist and human rights activist, commentator and broadcaster living in London. The spokesperson for Iran Solidarity, One Law for All and the Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain will be receiving the 2017 Henry H. Zumach Freedom From Fundamentalist Religion Award.
Harvard's Pinker is FFRF's honorary president, a cognitive scientist, psychologist, linguist, and popular science author. He is one of the world's foremost writers on language, mind and human nature. He is a previous winner of FFRF's Emperor Has No Clothes Award.
Cara Santa Maria
Santa Maria is a Los Angeles-area Emmy and Knight Foundation Award- winning journalist, science communicator and host of the weekly science podcast, "Talk Nerdy with Cara Santa Maria" and cohost of the popular "Skeptics' Guide to the Universe." She'll receive FFRF's Freethought Heroine Award.
Goldberg, from Brooklyn, is an author, columnist for Slate and frequent MSNBC commentator on the Religious Right. Goldberg's first book, Kingdom Coming: The Rise of Christian Nationalism, was a finalist for the 2007 New York Public Library's Helen Bernstein Book Award for Excellence in Journalism.
Veal is president of People of Color Beyond Faith, president and host of the Black FreeThinkers Radio Network, IT trainer, and community and social justice activist.
Zimmerman is an American satirical singer-songwriter and guitarist with a repertoire of irreverent songs. He wrote a series of satirical musical revues in the 1980s that were produced by the San Jose Repertory Theatre.
Frudakis, of Philadelphia, is an award-winning sculptor of public monuments, portrait statues, busts and figurative sculptures. He'll be talking about creating his newsmaking statue of Clarence Darrow, to be installed in July on the lawn of the Rhea County Courthouse, site of the Scopes Trial, in Dayton, Tenn.
Brent Michael Davids
Davids is an American composer and flautist and is a member of the Stockbridge Mohican nation of American Indians. He has composed for Zeitgeist, the Kronos Quartet, Joffrey Ballet, the National Symphony Orchestra, and Chanticleer.
Helton, a 12-year-old seventh-grader from Kentucky, will give a short talk about her activism, including sitting down for the Pledge of Allegiance and successful efforts to get her public school to stop playing religious songs.
Freethinkers of the Year
A roster of victorious state/church plaintiffs will be named Freethinkers of the Year. Marie Schaub is the successful plaintiff in FFRF's lawsuit against a Pennsylvania school district over a Ten Commandments monument outside her daughter's high school. (See page 5.) Jesse Castillo and Kevin Price were victorious in removing Christian crosses from Brewster County sheriffs' cars. Jerry Bloom, the plaintiff in FFRF's successful federal lawsuit, FFRF and Jerome H. Bloom v. City of Shelton, Conn., filed last year against censorship of FFRF's winter solstice display.
FFRF Co-President Dan Barker will also perform at the piano with his own repertoire. As always, FFRF's legal team will present its yearly Accomplishments panel, revealing the inside scoop on FFRF's 2017 legal cases. The legal department includes Staff Attorneys Rebecca Markert, Patrick Elliott, Andrew Seidel, Elizabeth Cavell and Sam Grover.
For full convention information, go to ffrf.org/outreach/convention.
Name: Sue Kocher.
Where I live: Raleigh, N.C.
Where and when I was born: Grand Rapids, Mich., in 1956.
Family: I am second oldest of five children — one of the smaller Catholic families in our neighborhood at the time. My father was a devoted Catholic and deacon, but he died of a heart attack at 48, when I was 8 years old. My mother returned to waitressing and raised us on her own, with the help of Social Security and veteran's benefits — my father having served as a radioman in WW2. It was a bit rough sometimes, but we had what we needed.
I have lost two siblings — my elder sister to illness, my baby sister to estrangement. She no longer speaks to me except to spew anger and hatred because of my atheism and liberal politics. Fortunately, I still have two siblings that I love and enjoy: my dear brother (who is also an atheist) and a younger sister (also atheist, though not very "out" or thoughtful about it).
Education: I had a wonderful mentor in my childhood who helped me navigate the mystical waters of college applications and financial aid. Thanks to her, I was accepted into a small liberal arts college, tuition-free, and graduated in 1979 with a major in anthropology. I became aware of the Peace Corps, and thought that would be a wonderful way to live and learn in a completely different culture before pursuing my studies in anthropology. I fancied being an ethnographer like Margaret Mead. Ha! So I went to Thailand as a volunteer for two years, working in family planning and village development in the poor provinces of the Northeast. I also worked in the Cambodian refugee camps that were hurriedly erected along the border after the end of the Vietnam war, during the genocidal campaign of the Khmer Rouge.
How I got to where I am today: Those two years in Thailand changed my life in so many ways. I gave up my plans for an academic career because, by then, I was hooked on travel and language learning. I realized no one was hiring ethnographers anymore, so I would more likely wind up teaching Anthropology 101 somewhere and being pressured to publish. The question was how to support myself and still be able to live in interesting places. The answer was to get a master's degree in teaching English as a Second Language.
Which I did, at the University of Hawaii — those were some wonderful years! After my graduate studies, I taught academic English reading and writing in Japan, Australia and Turkey over a period of 12 years. Along the way I married a Turk, and we moved from Istanbul to North Carolina in 1996 — both of us ready for a career change. I've been here ever since — he moved on after an amicable divorce.
Occupation: I work at a large corporation that produces complex analytics software for various industries around the world. I started as a technical editor, and eventually worked out a niche for myself as corporate terminologist. What I do is maintain a database of terms, definitions and usage standards that we use in our software and documentation. I get to interact with people in all areas and levels of the company and it keeps me on my toes.
My doubts about religion started: Looking back, I realize that I had doubts at a very young age. I don't remember ever really believing in Santa Claus; I remember pretending to believe. It was the same with religion. My mother had tried to continue our father's religious tradition, sending us to parochial school through the fifth grade. But her heart wasn't in it, and looking back, we kids were all pretty much pretending our way through Mass, confessions, and the rest of it. I remember making up sins in the confessional because I either felt I hadn't sinned enough to waste the priest's time, or I just couldn't remember them all. I remember thinking how silly it was to be assigned 20 Hail Marys and 10 Our Fathers by a man who was supposedly taking orders from God — but who was really just a man.
I kept a churchy journal when I was in third grade at Catholic School — someone had stolen it and ditched it in the boiler room, where it was found and returned to me 20 years later! I didn't write in it much — mostly about the reptiles and amphibians I caught and kept as pets, or how much I disliked the bully at school who tripped me so that he could see my underwear under my plaid uniform skirt. But I found one page that stated, "Oh, how I love Jesus!" and I chuckled to myself, remembering how I wrote those words on Pascal's wager — not believing it, but covering my bases just in case.
My first anthropology class was life-changing, because there I learned how vastly different human cultures are, how it's possible for people to hold completely different views of reality and spirituality, and to be entirely convinced that "ours is the one, only and best" way to see the world. Studying the cargo cults of Melanesia, which were so bizarre and irrational, I realized that my own childhood religion was equally bizarre. I began to see all religions as culture-bound artifacts, serving various social and political interests, and no divine purpose.
When I lived in Thailand, I dabbled a bit with Buddhism. But when I saw Buddhism in practice, and met revered monks who lazed around smoking and eating like kings, and who sold amulets of themselves for good luck — I was disillusioned.
It wasn't until I moved to North Carolina and became involved with skeptics groups, and later joined an atheist meetup, that I realized: That's what I am! I am an atheist! And the more I learn, the more proud I am with this identity.
Person in history I admire: Oh, there are so many. But Anne Nicole Gaylor, principal founder of the FFRF, feminist, activist, crusader for reason, is right up there. She was a pioneer, intelligent and fierce. Richard Feynman was a pretty awesome guy. He was brilliant, he was hilariously funny, and he genuinely cared about the human race and about all life on our beautiful planet. Most of all, he was filled with wonder and awe about the world around him, and knew how lucky he was to have experienced it for even a day, much less for a long lifetime.
Quotation I like: Anything by Dorothy Parker. Here's one: "The cure for boredom is curiosity. There is no cure for curiosity." Also, anything by Jack Handy. Here's one: "If a kid asks where rain comes from, I think a cute thing to tell him is 'God is crying.' And if he asks why God is crying, another cute thing to tell him is 'Probably because of something you did.'"
These are a few of my favorite things: Finding an interesting creature and knowing what it is — or finding out what it is. I love growing, eating and sharing edible plants. Zoos, especially if they're well designed and full of "enrichment" stuff. Walks in the woods with my dogs. My dogs, period. Calling my hens and seeing them all run at me with their stomping, swinging gait, like so many little fluffy dinosaurs.
These are not: Climate change and weirdly scary weather. The continuing pretense on the news and in conversations that there's time to do something about it later. Our reactionary Republican leaders in North Carolina. People getting away with negligent homicide or murder caused by religious fervor. People who run over turtles trying to cross the road, or who honk at me when I stop traffic to usher the critter to the shoulder.
Before I die: I want to see the Grand Canyon, Machu Picchu and the Galapagos.
Ways I promote freethought: My work with Triangle Freethought Society, of which I am a founding member, is my approach toward thinking globally while acting locally. I think it's imperative that we normalize atheism if we are to have any hope of replacing religion with reason. I've dabbled in activism through various groups and for various causes, but now I consider atheist activism the most economical way to spend my activist time.
Virtually every issue that I care about — social injustice, income inequality, homophobia, climate change, nukes, war, environmental degradation, erosion of abortion rights, you name it — is aided and abetted by religious belief, and/or by the rich and powerful who use religion to further their aims.
'Scopes Monkey Trial' defense attorney to be honored in July
A statue of "Scopes Monkey Trial" defense attorney Clarence Darrow will join that of his legal counterpart in the 1925 case outside the famous courthouse in Dayton, Tenn., this summer.
Darrow is the lawyer who defended John T. Scopes against creationist prosecutor Williams Jennings Bryan, a three-time presidential candidate.
The sculptor is Zenos Frudakis, who is a member of FFRF and will speak at FFRF's 40th annual convention in Madison, Wis., the weekend of Sept. 15-17. The installation of the statue is expected to take place on July 13, with the dedication on July 14. That is also the first day of the Scopes Trial Play and Festival.
A sculpture of Bryan was installed in 2005 and is on the south side at the front of the Rhea County Courthouse. The Darrow statue will be placed adjacent to the Bryan statue on the north side.
"Ralph Green, president of the Rhea County Historical and Genealogical Society, said the statue will make for a more complete story of the trial," writes Ben Benton of the Chattanooga Times Free Press. "He said it lends authenticity to the play, which relies 'about 90 percent' on the trial transcripts. Green said historical society members felt Darrow would balance the story and give visitors to Dayton a look at the 'two giants,' who faced off over topics that still stir controversy and drew the world's eyes and ears to a small town in Tennessee."
But many people in the conservative town are not in favor of the Darrow statue, writes Benton.
"Bill Hollin, a 23-year Rhea County commission veteran, is opposed to the Darrow statue because of his own religious beliefs and because he sees no reason to celebrate the man who lost the trial and whose opponent contributed so much to Dayton. 'There's a lot of people in the community that oppose it,' Hollins said."
"That's strange, to put a statue of a liberal in Dayton," Mike Scott told the Times Free Press. "But you can't tell which side is the right unless you see the left."
In July 1925, Dayton High School teacher John T. Scopes went on trial for violating state law by teaching that human beings evolved from a "lower order of animals." Scopes was convicted and fined $100, but the decision was reversed two years later by the Tennessee Supreme Court. The case raised debate on issues such as separation of church and state, academic freedom and the relationship between science and religion.
In 1977, the National Park Service named the Rhea County Courthouse a National Historic Landmark.
The events of the trial were made into the 1960 movie, "Inherit the Wind," a fictionalized version of the trial starring Spencer Tracy as the Darrow character and Fredric March as the Bryan character.
Please look for more information on this Darrow statue project in FFRF's May appeal, arriving via U.S. mail.
You're cordially invited to Freedom From Religion Foundation's Clarence Darrow Dinner Party in Chattanooga on Thursday, July 13, celebrating the installation that day of a statue of the famed Scopes Trial litigator in Dayton, Tenn. The dinner party will be followed with the public dedication of the statue in Dayton on Friday. Dayton is about 40 miles from Chattanooga.
That Friday also marks the first day of the 29th annual Scopes Trial Play and Festival. You may wish to top off the day by going to the reenactment of the Scopes Trial play, performed annually in the historic court-house where the Scopes Trial took place in Dayton. The historic court-house and museum may be toured, and was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1977.
Talented sculptor Zenos Frudakis (see story above) will give a short visual presentation at the dinner party and FFRF Co-President Dan Barker will entertain at the piano. Special guest will be Nicole Jacobsen, who grew up in Dayton and whose family members were the unnamed plaintiffs in FFRF's federal lawsuit ending a legacy of the Scopes trial — weekly bible instruction in the public schools by bible students from William Jennings Bryan Bible College. FFRF and the brave family won the case at the district level and at the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals in 2004.
Register for Darrow Dinner Party now!
Registration per person is $45, which covers the "Southern Exposure Buffet," 20 percent service charge and 9.25 percent state tax. See menu below. Registration will be cut off on Wed., July 5, or when capacity is reached.
Register online at ffrf.org/Darrowdinner. Or register by phone at: 800/335-4021 Central weekdays.
Courtesy hotel block – reserve now!
While rooms last, the Chattanoogan Hotel, 1201 Broad St., Chattanooga, Tenn., site of the dinner party, is holding a courtesy block of rooms on Thursday and Friday, July 13-14.
Make your own reservations, using the code "Clarence Darrow Party." (FFRF's event webpage, ffrf.org/Darrowdinner, will also link directly to the hotel registration while rooms last.) Register promptly to avoid disappointment. Other nearby hotels include the Marriot and Staybridge. The rate of $149 plus tax includes free WiFi.
Downtown Chattanooga has a lot of charm, offers attractions and easy walking, a variety of restaurants, an aquarium, a riverfront, an art district and pedestrian bridge.
Scopes Trial play tickets
Purchase tickets directly from the Tennessee Valley Theater at 423.365.PLAY (7529), Website: scopesfestival.com. (Tickets were not yet available for sale as of press time.) The play is conducted over two weekends, July 14-15 and July 22-23, at the Rhea County Courthouse, 1475 Market St., Dayton, TN 37321. Space is limited!
Reserve promptly to avoid disappointment.
Southern Exposure Dinner Buffet
$45 includes 20 percent service charge and 9.25 percent state tax
Confetti Cole Slaw
Three Bean Salad
Panzanella Salad (Chattanooga Sourdough)
Cajun Fried Turkey Breast, Blackened Turkey Gravy
Marinated Pork Shoulder, Carolina Clear BBQ
Slow Cooked Roast Beef, Pan Sauce
Classic Mac n' Cheese with Aged Cheddar & Gruyère Cheese
Beer Braised Collards
Sweet Potato Mash with Brown
Sugar-Maple Butter & Pecans
Fried Green Tomato Slices, Roasted Red Pepper Chèvre Remoulade Cornbread Muffins, Honey Butter | Yeast Rolls | Biscuits
Includes coffee, tea, sweet tea, & desserts: Strawberry Short Cake | Banana Pudding | Fried Apple Pies | Pecan Pie
By Jeremy Wood
On the morning of Sunday, Feb. 12, while playing with my kids at the playground of our neighborhood public elementary school in Hobbs, N.M., I noticed some crosses in a window facing the playground. This area of the school is mostly offices and large rooms, but since most of the rest of the window was blocked, I wasn't sure what room the crosses were in. My children and I go to this park often, and this is the first time we had seen the crosses.
The next morning, I went to the school and asked if they were aware of the crosses in the window and that the presence of the crosses was a violation of the Constitution. The woman explained that she was unaware of them and that my description of where they were outside would not be sufficient for her to ascertain where they might be in the building, and that my only option would be to call the district administration office.
So I called there and, after explaining the situation to the receptionist, was transferred to Terry Lopez, who introduced herself as the superintendent. Lopez informed me that she would look into the matter.
That first set of crosses was, thankfully, removed that afternoon. Unfortunately, while walking home, I noticed that another cross had popped up in what appeared to be a first-grade classroom. I called and thanked Lopez for the removal of the first cross and explained that another had popped up. She said she would "let them know."
The next day, noticing the cross was still in the classroom window, I called just to make it clear that I wasn't going to just go away, and this is when I first started feeling like I was getting the runaround. I went to school district website and found that Lopez was actually assistant to the superintendent and that TJ Parks was superintendent.
I emailed Parks and Lopez reminding them that all Americans are entitled to the same freedoms and asking them to uphold the Constitution. Happily, the crosses were removed soon after.
This was an eye-opening experience. I approached for help other people who have claimed to be friendly toward nonbelievers and was laughed at and told, "People aren't gonna go for that around here." While I am thrilled that the superintendent upheld the Constitution, this whole situation has showed me exactly how precarious our position is as nonbelievers in a tiny town.
FFRF proud co-sponsor of two-day event in London on July 22-23
Notable freethinkers from around the world will come together this summer in London for a weekend of discussions and debates on freedom of conscience and expression.
The International Conference on Freedom of Conscience and Expression in the 21st Century will be held July 22-23 and is co-sponsored by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, among several other organizations.
FFRF Co-Presidents Annie Laurie Gaylor and Dan Barker will among the more than 60 people scheduled to speak or perform during the conference. Discussions will include topics such as censorship and blasphemy laws, freedom of and from religion, apostasy, the limits of religion's role in society, LGBT and women's rights, atheism, secular values and more.
Other noted speakers include activist, blogger and writer Bonya Ahmed (who spoke at FFRF's 2016 convention in Pittsburgh), scientist and author Richard Dawkins, philosopher A.C. Grayling, singer Shelly Segal, columnist for Charlie Hebdo Zineb El Rhazoui (who was out the day of the massacre), and and Iranian-born rights activist Maryam Namazie, who organized the prestigious conference. Namazie will be receiving the Henry H. Zumach Freedom From Fundamentalist Religion Award at FFRF's 40th annual conference in Madison the weekend of Sept. 15-17. (See pages 23-24 for FFRF convention details and information.)
The conference will highlight the voices of people on the front lines of resistance — many of them persecuted and exiled — as well as address challenges faced by activists and freethinkers. It will also elaborate on the links between democratic politics and free expression and conscience, promote secular and rights-based alternatives, and establish priorities for collective action.
Speakers will come from dozens of countries around the world, including Algeria, Bangladesh, Canada, Egypt, France, India, Iran, Iraq, Iraqi Kurdistan, Ireland, Lebanon, Malaysia, Morocco, Nigeria, Norway, Pakistan, Palestinian Territories, Poland, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Sweden, Switzerland, Syria, Turkey, Tunisia, United Kingdom, Ukraine, United States and Yemen.
The conference is sponsored by FFRF, Atheist International Alliance, Bread and Roses TV, Centre for Secular Space, Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain, Culture Project, Euromind, Equal Rights Now, Fitnah, National Secular Society, One Law for All, Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science, Southall Black Sisters, and Secularism is a Women's Issue.
For more information or to sign up to attend the conference, go to secularconference.com.
By Jim Helton
When the Tri-State Freethinkers originally thought about adopting a highway, I could think of no better place to do it than in front of Ken Ham's Creation Museum in Petersburg, Ky. We have been cleaning the highway for four years now.
As a group, we do about 40 volunteer projects every year. By far, our members' favorite event is cleaning the highway leading to the Creation Museum. We adopted the highway as a way for us to clean up the environment, as well as let the people know driving by that there are rational people living in Kentucky.
When Ham first saw our signs, he wrote a blog post that basically thanked us for keeping the highway clean, but also said that we were still going to burn in hell.
He also sent us the following invite: "For our part, we would be willing to meet with these local freethinkers and chat with them. Let's establish a dialogue and have a free exchange of ideas." We tried to take him up on his offer, but as of today, Ken Ham has not sat down with us.
To be perfectly honest, I'm surprised it took this long for someone to vandalize our signs. While we were planning the protest of the opening of the Ark Encounter last July, we were surprised to discover that the highway in front of the life-size "replica" ark was available to be adopted. So, we adopted that one as well.
We will continue to clean up after Ken Ham on the highways and in our local schools.
Jim Helton is president of the Tri-State Freethinkers.
New study puts number of nonbelievers much higher than previously thought
Trying to figure out how many Americans who don't believe in God is a tough undertaking for any researcher.
Asking people simply if they are atheists doesn't generate a correct number, researchers say, because many people think the word "atheist" is too negative and don't want to be associated with it. But even asked if they don't believe in God, the number of respondents is still likely highly under-representative of the actual number, because people, in general, aren't willing to divulge that information openly.
But two psychologists from the University of Kentucky think they have found a better method. And their results are surprising.
Will Gervais and Maxine Najle have determined, with a somewhat high margin of error, that 26 percent of Americans are atheists.
"We can say with a 99 percent probability that it's higher than 11 percent," Gervais said.
Most reputable polls have shown that about 10 percent of Americans don't believe in God, and that number has been growing every year. But no poll has ever made the leap to say that a quarter of the population are atheists, although a quarter identifies as "nonreligious."
"There's a lot of atheists in the closet," Gervais said. "If they knew there are lots of people just like them out there, that could potentially promote more tolerance."
Gervais and Najle have submitted their results to the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science.
To get a more accurate reading on the number of atheists, Gervais and Najle set up a test of 2,000 people.
Half of the participants were asked to read through a list of statements such as "I am a vegetarian" or "I own a dog." Instead of answering yes or no to each, the participants only had to write down the number of statements that were true for them. Using this method, participants don't have to directly acknowledge any specific condition.
The other half of participants got the same list, but with one statement added: "I believe in God."
By comparing the responses between the groups, the researchers could then estimate how many people don't believe in God. (Because both groups should, in theory, have a similar number of vegetarians, dog owners, etc., any increases in the number of agreed-to statements from the first group to the second should be reflective of the number of people who don't believe in God.)
Gervais and Najle replicated the study with a second sample of 2,000 participants, and got similar results to the first study.
As for the veracity of this research, the psychologists admit that it does have a wide margin of error, but they do stand by their contention that the number of reported nonbelievers around the country has been continually underreported.
"In time, we'll hopefully be able to refine our methods and find other indirect measurement techniques," Gervais says.