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Lead Us Not Into Penn Station:Provocative Pieces

National Convention

September 15-17, 2017

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Published by FFRF

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Lauryn Seering

Lauryn Seering

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, thanks to the support of its members nationwide, is proudly underwriting an impressive monument to the eminent civil libertarian who fought perhaps the most famous legal battle in U.S. history.

The statue of legendary lawyer and rationalist Clarence Darrow is to be dedicated on Friday, July 14, right in front of the site of the historic Scopes evolution trial: the Rhea County Courthouse in Dayton, Tenn.

A local statue of Darrow's legal adversary, William Jennings Bryan, given to the county by the William Jennings Bryan College, inspired talented sculptor Zenos Frudakis, FFRF and others to seek to remedy the "missing link." Darrow will soon take his rightful place adjacent to Bryan on the courthouse lawn. Darrow defended John Scopes when he was charged with teaching evolution at the 1925 "trial of the century."

Frudakis, based in Philadelphia, is creating the 7-foot bronze statue of the famed attorney, to be installed July 13 upon a 3-foot high base. Frudakis is a renowned American sculptor who has created an extensive, award-winning collection of more than 100 bronze sculptures in public and private collections. FFRF is contributing the lion's share of costs: $150,000, made possible through the generosity of its members.

The dedication will begin in front of the courthouse at 10 a.m. on Friday, July 14, and will include actor John de Lancie, who played Q in "Star Trek: The Next Generation." Andrew Kersten, author of the 2011 biography, "Clarence Darrow: American Iconoclast," will speak about Darrow and his "frenemy" relationship with Bryan. Kersten is dean of the College of Letters, Arts and Sciences at the University of Idaho-Moscow. Margaret Downey with the Freethought Society will emcee. FFRF Co-Presidents Dan Barker and Annie Laurie Gaylor will also say a few words. Barker, a professional musician, will set the tone prior to the dedication by a rendition of twenties music. The short dedication will end with Frudakis unveiling his creation.

The 2017 Scopes Trial and Festival will kick off shortly after with bluegrass music, booths and other festivities.

"We're thrilled to be working with an internationally known sculptor in making this gift, not just to Rhea County and its historic courthouse, but to posterity," says Gaylor. "This magnificent statue of Darrow will enhance Rhea County's history, and be a draw for generations to come."

FFRF is holding a Clarence Darrow Celebration on Thursday, July 13, the evening before the dedication, at The Chattanoogan Hotel, in Chattanooga, Tenn. This includes a Southern buffet, more music by Barker, socializing, speakers Frudakis and Kersten, guests of honor Nicole Jacobsen, Ro Frudakis and William Dusenberry. Fred Edwords of the American Humanist Association, which forwarded donations of several hundred dollars toward the statue, will say a few words. Pre-registration is required. Advance registration for the private event is required.

FFRF also encourages participants to join FFRF and its guests at the kickoff on July 14 of the annual Scopes Trial play, which is held in the courthouse itself. Purchase tickets here.

Click here to make a tax deductible donation to FFRF for the artistic project (use the dropdown to designate for the Darrow statue).

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The Freedom From Religion Foundation is protesting explicitly religious correspondence that regularly originates from an Indiana government office.

A concerned local resident informed FFRF that condolence letters on behalf of "North Township Trustee Frank J. Mrvan and staff" to express sympathy for recent deaths of constituents carry an overt religious message. They state, in part:

Whereas God in His infinite wisdom has removed [the deceased] from your midst, He has not removed him from your heart. One of God's own, we celebrate his "Homecoming," where he has been given a new heavenly body that will enter into the presence of the Lord and rejoice among the angels.

The letters go on to quote from a devotional passage in the bible: "Trust in the Lord with all thine heart and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thine ways acknowledge Him and He shall direct thy path."

The North Township Trustee office provides social services for residents of the area.

FFRF understands and appreciates that the township wants to express its respect for deceased recipients. However, FFRF points out the trustee's office can draft condolence letters that do not endorse a particular religion and are respectful of the township's duty to remain neutral on religious matters.

The U.S. Supreme Court has held that public officials may not seek to advance or promote religion, FFRF reiterates. When Mrvan corresponds on North Township letterhead, it creates the unmistakable appearance that the views expressed are made in his official capacity as trustee.

"Government officials can worship, pray, and participate in religious events in their personal capacities," FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel writes to the North Township Trustee office, based in Hammond, Ind. "But they are not permitted to use their government office to provide credibility or prestige to their religion. Their office and title belong to 'We the people,' not the office's temporary occupant." 

And, as a trustee for the township, Mrvan represents a diverse population that consists not only of believers, but also atheists and agnostics. Overall, 23 percent of Americans identify as nonreligious, and another 6 percent practice non-Christian faiths. Blatantly religious condolence messages are certain to bring an unwelcome and even offensive message to many grieving households. Not all families are comforted by the thought that their loved one is rejoicing among the angels. Worse, nonreligious families are likely to receive an alternate message: that the township shares the Christian belief that nonbelievers, potentially including the deceased, are sent to hell. While these letters are unconstitutional regardless of the recipients' religious views, they are especially inappropriate in this context.

"Public officials cannot assume that their constituents share a set of religious convictions or find comfort in sectarian condolences," says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. "The United States is comprised of many strands — including numerous varieties of religious and nonreligious beliefs."

FFRF asks for the North Township trustee office to stop sending out religious condolences.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with more than 29,000 members across the country, including over 400 Hoosiers. Its purpose is to protect the constitutional principle of separation between state and church and to represent the views of freethinkers (atheists, agnostics, and nonbelievers).

Photo via Shutterstock

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