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October 9-11, 2015

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Lauryn Seering

Lauryn Seering

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Letterbox

Place for religion isn't government

Thanks for all the great work you FFRF realists do. It's sad we have to have a group as such, to bring sanity to the world, but I am afraid if we don't exist there will be more 9/11's and worse (even from the Christian religion). They must stay in their place, and that is not in the government. I am enclosing a check for $500 toward a Lifetime Membership. I will be sending another check for the same amount next month.

At the age of 77, I'll keep reading as long as the eyes hold out and I am breathing.

Bob MacArthur
Massachusetts

Appreciate 'fine job of educating'

I would like to change my membership in FFRF to Lifetime. You will find enclosed a check for $1,000.

The best way to describe my feelings is that I am proud to be a member. I feel that pride every time I read about how FFRF takes action against the unending efforts by those who want to impose their religious beliefs on others through government action and/or at publicly funded venues. It is amazing to me how insensitive and uninformed many religious people are as shown by their behavior. FFRF does such a fine job of educating all of us on issues of separation of church and state and other matters concerning religious belief and lack thereof.

You have changed the way I think about religion, taught me how to have an intelligent discussion about the separation of church and state with others and made me feel good, even anxious, to come out of the closet as an atheist. Thank you!

Rob Haworth
Maryland

• • •

Congratulations to FFRF on being identified by [Jerry Falwell's] Liberty Counsel as one of the staunchest supporters of the separation of church and state!

Ken Crosby, After-Life Member
Texas

• • •

As an active member of FFRF, I have five words to submit to the Letterbox: Socrates died for our sins.
Best wishes.

George Singer
Rhode Island

Thanks for Charlie Hebdo donation

I am so proud of you for your donation to Charlie Hebdo, I am sending you a check for $100 in support of your efforts.

Your courage should set the example for every publisher who writes about the tragedy.

Charlie Sitzes, Lifetime Member
Indiana

Here's to health, happiness in 2015

As the old year ends, I look back on some quotes and sayings, some unattributed, that I found throughout the past year that will follow me into the new, providing guidance and some smiles. Hopefully, you will find one that starts 2015 off well for you.

"We must become the change we want to see in the world." (Mahatma Gandhi)

"Show me a person who has never made a mistake and I will show you someone who has never achieved much." (Joan Collins)

"If you tell the truth, you don't have to remember anything."

"If you lend someone $20 and you never see that person again, it was probably worth it!"

"A society grows great when old people plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in."

"Only the guy who isn't rowing has time to rock the boat." (Jean-Paul Sartre)

"The best theology is probably no theology; just love one another." (Charles Schulz)

"Nothing is impossible. Some things just are less likely than others."

"I can explain it to you. I can't comprehend it for you."

"Do not speak unless you can improve the silence."

"Reason makes me an atheist; community makes me a humanist."

"Religion is indulged rather than discussed."

"Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again more intelligently." (Henry Ford)

"The deepest sin against the human mind is to believe things without evidence." (Thomas Edison)

Diane Uhl
Arizona

Fire station Jesus sign was offensive

I live about a half mile from Utica, N.Y., where FFRF contested the "Happy Birthday Jesus We Love You" sign outside a firehouse. I do not belong to a formal synagogue, church or mosque. I am offended by the firehouse sign.

I very much appreciate and support your actions with the mayor regarding the sign.

Name withheld
New York

What would Jesus drive? Dollar rental!

While renting a car recently at the airport in Jacksonville, Fla., I noticed a sign in the booth of the Dollar rental office that read "God Bless You!" I spoke to the manager and told him that I did not think that mixing religion with business was a good idea, and that the sign may be offensive to others of different faiths and beliefs. I said that I did not need to be "blessed."

After picking up my rental, as I was driving out, I noticed that the sign was taken down. Keep up the great work.

Phil Kellerman
New York

Remembering Rushdie in Hebdo wake

The day that they put a fatwa on Salman Rushdie was the day 27 years ago that I ordered The Satanic Verses. I hope you saw the wonderful quote from Salman after the terrorism in Paris:

"Religion, a medieval form of unreason, when combined with modern weaponry becomes a real threat to our freedoms. This religious totalitarianism has caused a deadly mutation in the heart of Islam and we see the tragic consequences in Paris today. I stand with Charlie Hebdo, as we all must, to defend the art of satire, which has always been a force for liberty and against tyranny, dishonesty and stupidity. 'Respect for religion' has become a code phrase meaning 'fear of religion.' Religions, like all other ideas, deserve criticism, satire, and, yes, our fearless disrespect."

I miss Christopher Hitchens terribly, but he couldn't have stated it any better than his friend Salman (but I'm probably wrong; Hitchens would have no doubt been better).
Free press is a must in our society!!

Greg Stuart
Indiana

Hotel bible inserts a wonderful idea

I was so impressed with the "To whomever opens this bible" insert that Jamie Tobitt has placed in several hundred hotel Gideon bibles over the years that I printed copies to do the same in my travels. I recently stayed at six hotels in California, Nevada and Utah and, to my surprise, I found a bible in only one.

We're making progress! Keep up the good work.

Don Stockard
California

Mich. college students appreciate FFRF

I'm honored to share some wonderful news about a First Year Experience (FYE) course that I teach at Central Michigan University in Mt. Pleasant. Last semester, I had the pleasure of working with 40 students entering their first year of college. My class, FYE 101, is considered an introductory course for first-time students (freshman and transfer). I work with students who have shown in high school, and desire to continue to show in college, an interest in diversity, multiculturalism and inclusion.

During the semester, I've asked the students to complete a major community service project. This assignment allows groups of students to coordinate all aspects of creating a project, from creation to involvement to execution and presentation. Steps included, but were not limited to: 1) research/knowledge/service; 2) awareness; and 3) fundraising. They were also asked to write a five-page paper about their experience.

I'm excited to say that your organization was chosen as a recipient of one of the eight group's fundraising efforts! On behalf of Amanda Corder, Lauren Ouellette, Sydnee Alexander, Jasmine Smith and Husayn Jaber (Multicultural Advancement Scholars), please accept this check for $43.52 to use toward the continued success of your organization. In addition, I have included and mailed under separate cover a banner the students signed.
We appreciate your work and the services you provide to make someone's life just a little bit better.

Traci L. Guinn, Ed.D.
Michigan

'Death with dignity' an important fight

Barbara Mancini's story [Dec14] about her struggle, and sad failure, to achieve a "death with dignity" for her father brought me back to my own story. My mother, who was dying of ovarian cancer, wanted desperately to die, and I found a way to help her do that.
After writing about this in my book Last Wish, I heard from many people with a dying loved one who had the same reasonable wish: a swift, painless death. Anyone who has been through this understands the good sense in allowing physicians to help. It's the safest way to make sure the passage from life to death goes smoothly.

I, too, am a member of Compassion and Choices, an organization that assists people who are in this situation and fights for legalization. Many religious people are in favor of such change. Some of them are Catholic. A major foe of physician-assisted death, however, is the well-funded Catholic Church.

The word "mercy" comes up often in Catholic teachings. Unfortunately, it is not applied in cases of dying patients, who simply, and reasonably, want a decent way out.

Betty Rollin
New York

Pope off the mark on insulting religion

Thanks, Annie Laurie [for her blog "We can and we must make fun of faith"], right on the money! The pope opposes negative comments about religions because he doesn't want bricks thrown at his glass house. So while it sounds as if he is defending the idea of respect, he is really trying to protect Catholics from being a target.

When people hide behind religion to excuse extreme behavior, it is well past the time to be polite in our denouncement of this façade. Popes are considered infallible to orthodox Catholics, but we say that no one is entitled to respect simply because they hold a title (let alone be considered infallible).

Respect is earned by deeds. When religious leaders earn our respect, we will give it. Religions themselves — that's another matter.

Jerry Gilbert
Colorado

Terror threat requires rethinking tactics

Though I am a Life Member committed to a secular society, I have come to the conclusion that it is immediately imperative for the secular community to reach across the aisle and build strong bridges with theists from the currently predominant religion in America in order to protect against the immeasurably greater threat to civil liberties that will manifest from the inevitable rise of radical Islam within American borders.

I am deeply thankful to FFRF for its indefatigable pursuit of secular liberty, but I don't want to look back with regret 30 years from now at all the time we squandered writing to local governments about [what to me are relatively inconsequential things like nativity scenes].

As my heroes Annie Laurie and Dan well know, fighting militant theism with reason is not like fighting fire with fire. It is not even like fighting fire with water. It is like fighting fire — with a flashlight. We have no time to fight this fire with flashlights.

All theism, if unchecked, leads to theocracy. But not all theocracies pose the same danger. We needn't look too far to find other nations which have already surrendered to the "religion that must not be insulted."

I regret this conclusion, but I am convinced that joining forces with our Christian countrymen is the only way to secure long-term freedom for secularists.

Frank Mercer
Washington

Jesus Christ real Super Bowl superstar?

After Seattle's comeback win over Green Bay, fans of faith and football admired the Seahawks as the players knelt in prayer to personally thank God for their miraculous victory. Other fans may have been tempted by a less visceral moment to question why such an omnipotent God was lounging around the clouds in a No. 12 jersey watching football while ignoring deadly natural disasters, worldwide diseases and a host of daily atrocities of men against men, women and children.

Regardless of your persuasion, we know that our hardworking Seahawks may, or may not, win the next Super Bowl. And even in 2015, some may believe that the outcome of the "big game," followed by hurricanes, pandemics and wars will be positively altered by prayer if you just have faith. Let's see what happens.

Patrick Sebald
Washington

Scientific theories always open to revision

I'd like to comment on [student essayist] Benjamin Carter's comment about scientific theories being constantly disproven. While it's true that many ideas have been accepted and later proven false, it's usually the details that are revised and not the vigorously tested general ideas.

Copernicus was wrong about circular orbits of planets, Newton about the immutability of space and Einstein about the cosmological constant. Biologists argue over the modes of evolution and physicists the existence of dark matter. But centuries after Newton came up with his laws of mechanics, they are still used every day by engineers. We still believe that planets orbit around the sun and that the cosmological constant has a logical explanation. Biologists still have no question about the phenomenon of evolution.

Rather than a house of cards that will be knocked down one day, vigorously tested scientific theories are more like blueprints of partially mapped houses that may be revised upon further knowledge, but the existence of which are in no doubt.

Tsee Lee
New York

Population problem tied to religious belief

There are two basic problems on this planet: the human population explosion and religion. The two feed on each other like parasites, forever hungry. As the population grows, people become poorer and more desperate. Poverty reduces their opportunities to become more educated, and they become less willing or able to question authority. That delights religious leaders who prey on uneducated people.

This never-ending cycle decreases the opportunity for education and produces people who believe the lies of religious leaders, the very same imams and bishops who brainwash those that follow them into believing that to have many children is the will of some "god."

And on it goes relentlessly toward a self-prophesied Armageddon.

Charles W. Brown
California

Exhibiting no shame about 'coming out'

I'm a longtime member who eagerly reads each issue of Freethought Today. It's very interesting and annoying that so many increasingly arrogant religious bigots persist in ignoring the legal realities underlying separation of state and church as they initiate battles they cannot win.

In the science of evolution, there are two terms that describe the significance of changes that occur within species over time. "Rudimentary" anatomical or physiological features are ones that are becoming more apparent and significant for success of the species over time. "Vestigial" features are those that are becoming less prominent as they become less important for the survival of the species.

Human culture also evolves, and beliefs and "facts" that were once universally accepted are discarded, most often as scientific research and discovery fill in gaps in our knowledge. For example, we now know that the Earth is not flat and that natural phenomena like earthquakes and lightning are not caused by temper tantrums of imaginary beings.

In human cultural evolution, superstitions and religious mythology fit the "vestigial" category. Over time they will disappear from human experience altogether, if our species survives long enough. I find it very encouraging that the membership of FFRF and other freethinking groups is growing and, in polls, more and more people are publicly professing no religious belief.

I began to lose what little belief I had in religious mythology when I went to college and began an extensive study of biology and evolution. As my knowledge increased, my awareness of the silliness, and the destructiveness, of the biblical Genesis story also increased.

Largely because of what I've learned through FFRF and the stories told by others who have put aside their vestigial belief in ridiculous mythology, when the subject of belief comes up in conversation I no longer just say that I'm not religious. I state that I am an atheist.

I think it's important that we "come out" to show others that we have no shame in our choosing knowledge over ignorance and blind obedience to stuff we just know can't be true.

Robert C. Van Fleet
California

Stealth fundamentalists stalking Texas

On the day before Texas Gov.-elect Greg Abbott's inauguration, a news story showed Gov. Rick Perry "passing down" a bible said to have been handed from Texas governor to governor since 1925. Perry was heard telling Abbott that the governor's primary duty is to be a servant of the people and quoted from the Book of Matthew.

It's no secret that Abbott, and the lieutenant governor-elect, Dan Patrick, are both creationists eager to pass legislation mandating the teaching of intelligent design alongside evolution in public schools. Both are advocates of school vouchers for private and parochial schools, taking students out of the public school system. Both oppose abortion rights, marriage equity and birth control.

Both are what I like to call "stealth fundamentalists," public officials or those seeking office who disguise their real agendas by avoiding discussion of religious issues during campaigns, but who, once elected, unveil a radical fundamentalist Christian agenda.

Only time will tell how Texans will suffer for it in the days, months and years to come.

Jack Mathys
Texas

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Meet a member

Name: James Downard.

Where I live: Spokane, Wash.

Where and when I was born: Spokane, Sept. 22, 1952.

Family: Two sisters and a brother still living, plenty of nieces and nephews far and wide.
Education: B.A. in history, Eastern Washington University.

Occupation: Former inventory/supply worker, now retired (on extremely inadequate Social Security).

How I got where I am today: Muddling along one day at a time as best I can, trying to enjoy myself but not making a nuisance.

Where I'm headed: In my TIP (Troubles in Paradise) anti-creationism project, I hope to help limit anti-evolutionist popularity. The initial PDFs and links are online at www.tortucan.com, a very much no-frills page so far.

The TIP project is a methods-based ("follow the sources") approach that bypasses the usual and often distracting "religion vs. science" fistfight in order to to pull the rug out from under the anti-evolutionists. Sound documenting of sources is something they can't do at all, let alone well enough to win, so it seems a good idea for us to play those cards right off the bat.

Person in history I admire: Stephen Jay Gould, as prickly a "paying attention to details" guy as ever there was, and whose ideas (from spandrels to NOMA) have sparked my and others' thinking. For example, my pocket definition of religion ("a neotenous spandrel sustained as a Scorched Earth defense") owes a lot to Gould's concepts and terminology.
A quotation I like: William James, sent a questionnaire in 1904 about religious beliefs of prominent persons and their dependence on "the authority of the bible," replied succinctly: "No. No. No. It is so human a book that I don't see how belief in its divine authorship can survive the reading of it."

These are a few of my favorite things: Music (classical and otherwise), movies (and their music), studying science and history in many forms, designing an amusement park (my grand and obviously unbuilt "Nat Park" plan that had as brief blip of "fame" in our local KSPS public TV's 1990s documentary "Memories of Natatorium Park.") They still air it around the Fourth of July.

These are not: People who seriously think things like anti-evolutionism are good science and the people who (knowingly or not) elect them to boards of education or state legislatures or Congress. I devised the "Tortucan" concept to account for how people can so easily do those sorts of things (search on youtube.com for "tortucan" videos).

My doubts about religion started: I was raised in a family of very much ex-Mormons, where there was no religious upbringing or discussion of religious matters whatsoever. My mother (very politically conservative but also very nonreligious) went ballistic when she found out that our first-grade class was marched once a week to religious instruction at a Spokane church. She thought public school was where you were supposed to get educated, not indoctrinated, and pulled me out immediately. I spent the time reading on my own at school while the class dithered away the hour at the church. But she did send us all to Sunday school, just so we'd be exposed to it and could make up our own minds (none of us became converts from the experience).

We were living in California by the time I was dispatched to Methodist Sunday school in the early 1960s, which didn't last long. I was summarily asked to leave (much like Carl Sagan's fictional Ellie Arroway in Contact) for asking too many questions about the biblical flood (my dinosaur collecting and encyclopedia reading having had its baneful influence on me already).

The big mistake they made at Sunday school, though, was giving me a nice Revised Standard Version of the bible, complete with a plethora of bottom-of-the-page cross references. That's how I first spotted that the Davidic genealogy of Joseph listed in Matthew didn't match the one given in Luke. I notice that not all bibles make the mistake of putting cross references right there for people like me to follow up more easily!

Before I die: I would like to enjoy at least a bit of whatever posthumous fame I may have earned.

Ways I promote freethought: Over the years, I've become active in the Spokane Secular Society and the Inland Northwest Freethought Society, the latter now an FFRF chapter. I've helped organize and staff the annual Darwin Day display at the downtown RiverPark Mall. I'm also the atheist blogger on the award-winning Spokane Faith & Values website (www.spokanefavs.com) where my "Ask an Atheist" button gets plenty of traffic.

The big thing on my plate is the online anti-creationism project, which has expanded to cover over 35,000 sources (including over 13,000 technical science works aimed at "flattening" over 6,000 anti-evolution sources). Nothing on this scale has existed before. Those who want to help the TIP baby grow and thrive can find a link at www.tortucan.com/ because I can't quite do it alone (it takes a secular village sort of thing).

I'm also on Facebook and Twitter, where I've been usefully applying TIP methods to short-circuit anti-evolutionists.

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Churches in schools debated on MSNBC

A Religious Right scheme to "plant a church in every school" was one of the topics covered in a Jan. 31 segment of MSNBC-TV's "Melissa Harris-Perry Show," featuring FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor and Katherine Harris, author of The Good News Club: The Christian Right's Stealth Assault on America's Children.

FFRF's complaint over such an entanglement at Apopka High School in Orlando, Fla., was reported by Harris in her Jan. 14 article in The Nation headlined "The movement to put a church in every school in growing."

The Venue Church, which operates inside three public schools in Orange County, Fla., has as its goal "To plant a congregation in every Central Florida school zone in the next 10 years." FFRF, which has an ongoing federal lawsuit over bible distribution in Orange County Public Schools, has repeatedly complained to the district about a number of problems.

The church vows it will never own its own building. Its motto is "Partnering with schools and communities to serve students and families to gain the privilege of sharing the love of Jesus for eternal impact."

FFRF complained, among other things, about Todd Lamphere, Venue's co-founder and pastor, being designated as the school football team's "chaplain" (as well as chaplain of its bowling team!). The district subsequently renamed him "life coach" and continues to justify Lamphere's active school presence, which includes organizing "mission trips" for students.

Harris and Gaylor debated the topic with a Methodist evangelist.

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Unleashing the atheist within

By Jennifer Wilson

My parents raised me with a profound respect for science but not with religion. My physicist taught me that there are certain laws of nature that the universe abides by, and even though we cannot understand everything, these laws exist and allow us to survive.
My respect for science has never led me to belittle religion or those who believe. It simply allows me to justify a world in which the answer to "What is the meaning of life?" is just as easily nothing, as it is God, nirvana or the number 42.

I had a Catholic friend in junior high who tried to pique my curiosity. She talked about religion a lot. I only mentioned my nonbelief when I was asked what church I went to. When we were 14, out of the blue, she told me that I could come to Mass with her anytime and said, "I pray for you a lot because I'm worried that you're going to go to hell."
The sentiment came from her heart, a place full of compassion for others, but I was taken aback. In my head I told her she should save her prayers for people who actually want them, but aloud I just said, "Thank you, that's very thoughtful."

Whether it was by telling me about Jesus Christ in the middle of an abortion debate or trying to debunk decades of scientific inquiry while discussing creationism, my classmates found ways to poke the atheist within me.

The vast majority of students at my small Lutheran college in Minnesota are Christians. I was hesitant to attend because of that, but I felt at home on the campus, the academics were rigorous and the financial aid they offered was stellar.

Three problems faced me: biblical studies, theological studies and ethical studies requirements. One day in my first-semester class called "Bible in Film," the professor did the unthinkable: He asked those of us who believed in God to raise our hands. I was the only one who didn't. He then asked me to justify my nonbelief.

Two weeks into college, in a room full of strangers (and my roommate), I froze up, unable to justify myself or even ask the simplest of questions as a rebuttal: "Why do you believe in God, professor?" For the rest of the semester, my peers met my opinions with glares of disdain and immediate counterattacks.

That first semester was rough, but I've become more confident in expressing my opinions. I've used my nonbelief to instigate discussion rather than argument.

I've always been an atheist, and I always will be, no matter how many of my peers poke at the atheist within me, trying to stamp it out.

Jennifer Wilson, 21, was born in Geneva, Switzerland, and lived in France the first eight years of her life but considers Lawrence, Kan., her hometown. She's a senior majoring in English and mathematics at St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minn. She wa awarded $200 for this essay.

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NLRB rules against Lutheran college

The National Labor Relations Board ruled against Pacific Lutheran University’s claim that it’s exempt as a religious institution from NLRB jurisdiction. The decision allows contingent faculty (non-tenure track) to unionize at the school in Tacoma, Wash., reported the Chronicle of Higher Education in December.

A 1980 U.S. Supreme Court case, National Labor Relations Board v. Yeshiva University essentially barred full-time faculty at private colleges from forming unions. But the board ruled it had jurisdiction because the university “does not hold its petitioned-for faculty members out as performing any religious function” and that it had failed to prove that full-time contingent faculty members exercised managerial authority.

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