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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

1CherokeeGAThe Freedom From Religion Foundation is asking that a Georgia county agency cancel an upcoming creationist outing.

The Cherokee Recreation and Parks Agency is organizing a trip to the Ark Encounter and Creation Museum for senior community members from Oct. 2-5. The Ark Encounter, recently constructed in Kentucky, is a Christian ministry run by the creationist Ken Ham, who also built the notorious Creation Museum. Ham has been clear about the proselytizing nature of his projects from the beginning. In his June 27, 2016, letter entitled, "Our Real Motive for Building Ark Encounter," he lays out a clear, evangelistic goal:

We are eagerly approaching what I believe will be a historic moment in Christendom. It's the opening of one of the greatest Christian outreaches of our era: the life-size Noah's Ark in Northern Kentucky. . . . The [Creation] Museum and Ark direct people to the Word of God and the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Ham quotes bible verses to further illuminate his motive before finally stating it plainly: "Our motive is to do the King's business until He comes. And that means preaching the gospel and defending the faith, so that we can reach as many souls as we can . . . millions of souls will hear the most important message of all . . . a message of hope from the holy, righteous Judge who, despite our sin, wants us to spend eternity with Him!"

Ham's explicit declaration of his theme parks' purpose makes it constitutionally impermissible for a government agency to organize a visit there.

"It is a fundamental principle of Establishment Clause jurisprudence that the government cannot in any way promote, advance, or otherwise endorse religion," FFRF Staff Attorney Elizabeth Cavell reminds Cherokee County Attorney Angela Davis. "Advertising and organizing such an event sends the message that residents are expected to support such religious events." 

Such an endeavor also alienates those Cherokee County residents who are not Christian and who are nonreligious. Approximately one-fourth of the American population is nonreligious, and roughly 30 percent count themselves as non-Christian.

"These theme parks have on display nothing but unscientific balderdash," says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. "A government agency cannot — and should not — be organizing excursions to such nonsensical creations."

FFRF is requesting that the Cherokee Recreation and Parks Agency cancel the October outing to the two creationist entities.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with more than 29,000 members and chapters across the country, including almost 500 members and a chapter in Georgia. Its purpose is to protect the constitutional principle of separation between state and church, and to educate the public on matters relating to nontheism.

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An Indiana school district has promised the Freedom From Religion Foundation that graduation prayers will not occur again in its schools.

A concerned Elkhart Community Schools parent contacted FFRF to report that the 2016-17 graduation ceremony at the Roosevelt STEAM Academy began with a prayer. The speaker asked the audience to stand and bow their heads, and then led a sectarian Christian prayer, concluding with "In Jesus' name, Amen."

"The Supreme Court has continually struck down prayers at school-sponsored events, including public school graduations," FFRF Legal Fellow Ryan Jayne wrote to Elkhart Community Schools Legal Counsel Douglas Thorne last month. "School officials may not invite a student, teacher, faculty member, or clergy to give any type of prayer, invocation, or benediction at a public school event." 

This prayer is especially egregious when involving a captive group of impressionable elementary-age school children, FFRF added. Parents, not public schools, are responsible for the religious or nonreligious upbringing of their children. And courts have continually reaffirmed that the rights of minorities are protected by the Constitution. It makes no difference how many students want prayer or wouldn't be offended by prayer at their graduation ceremony.

The school district has assured FFRF that it will adhere to the First Amendment.

"Our obligation to maintain a status of religious neutrality is communicated to our staff at all levels on a regular basis and I am, by copy of this letter, reminding our building principal on the importance of maintaining this status at all school functions," Thorne responded. "We will continue in our efforts to meet those obligations." 

FFRF is pleased that its reasoning made an impact.

"School districts have an obligation to ensure that students — especially elementary-school-age kids — do not have a particular religion imposed on them," says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. "We trust that Elkhart school officials will keep the promise they've made to us."

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with more than 29,000 nonreligious members across the country, including 400-plus in Indiana. FFRF's purpose is to protect the constitutional principle of separation between state and church.

1judge-wayne-mack abtpgThe Freedom From Religion Foundation is moving forward in its legal fight to stop a Texas justice of the peace from imposing prayers at the start of each court session. On Wednesday, July 12, FFRF filed a response to deny Judge Wayne Mack's motion to dismiss its legal challenge in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas in Houston. Along with three local plaintiffs, FFRF is suing Mack to stop his inappropriate practice of opening each session of his court with prayer

Mack, as a Montgomery County justice of the peace, has jurisdiction over minor misdemeanor offenses and lesser civil matters, including juvenile cases. Montgomery County is north of Houston, and its county seat is Conroe.

"Defendant Wayne Mack now urges the court to turn a blind eye to the inherently coercive authority of a judge within the unique context of his courtroom and rule that plaintiffs have failed even to state a claim on which relief could be granted," FFRF's brief states. "Defendant Wayne Mack's Motion to Dismiss should be denied in its entirety."

In its response, FFRF analyzes the four major reasons that Mack provides in support of his motion. FFRF contends that none of the arguments is persuasive and demolishes them.

FFRF has more than 29,000 members, with 1,200 living in Texas, including plaintiff "Jane Noe," who has appeared before Mack on official business. Plaintiff "Jane Doe" is a licensed attorney who has appeared before Mack on at least four separate occasions. Plaintiff "John Roe," a self-employed attorney who regularly represents clients in front of Mack, "is religiously unaffiliated and objects to being subjected to religious prayers" in a courtroom. All object to courtroom prayer and felt compelled to remain in the courtroom during Mack's prayers at risk of jeopardizing their cases and careers, or their clients' cases.

On June 7, the state/church watchdog filed a brief opposing Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton's request to intervene in the case. He held a press conference on May 17 to announce his intent to interfere with the lawsuit. FFRF called out Paxton for his "hyperbolic speculation" and set the record straight on the attorney general's deliberate mischaracterization of the issues raised in FFRF's lawsuit. 

FFRF and its plaintiffs are being represented by FFRF Staff Attorney Sam Grover, with FFRF Staff Attorney Elizabeth Cavell serving as co-counsel. Attorney Patrick Luff of the Luff Law Firm in San Antonio is serving as local counsel. Freedom From Religion Foundation et al. v. Judge Wayne Mack has case number 4:17-cv-881

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The Freedom From Religion Foundation is aiming for a city-owned community center in Minnesota to be secular and inclusive of everyone in the community.

The city of Corcoran is allowing a church to run a city-owned and city-funded community center. A concerned local resident contacted FFRF to report that the city worked with Maple Hill Estates and Mobile Hope, a local Christian ministry, to secure a Community Development Block Grant through Hennepin County in order to build the center. The community center, known as "Hope Center," is owned by the city of Corcoran but is operated by Mobile Hope. A contract between the city and Mobile Hope states that up to 35 percent of the programming at Hope Center may be religious..

There are a number of serious constitutional problems with this arrangement between the city and Mobile Hope. The community center is a city-owned facility and may not be used for religious activities or to promote religion unless a private party is renting space at the community center at a reasonable rental rate. In this case, the church is actually running the city's community center.

The city's agreement with Mobile Hope flies in the face of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, as well as the Minnesota Constitution.
The Establishment Clause of the First Amendment prohibits the government from financially supporting churches. The city appears to endorse religion when it allows a ministry to promote religion or hold religious programming at a city-owned and government-funded facility outside of a rental arrangement.

"In Tilton v. Richardson, the Supreme Court struck down government funding of a building on a private university because the university's promise not to use the building for religious purposes expired after 20 years," FFRF Legal Fellow Ryan Jayne writes to Corcoran City Administrator Brad Martens. "Here, Mobile Hope is already using the city's community center for religious purposes, and the city has agreed to oversee its own building's activities for only a certain period of time. This is unconstitutional."

The Minnesota Constitution prohibits the city from financially assisting churches: "Nor shall any man be compelled to attend, erect or support any place of worship, or to maintain any religious or ecclesiastical ministry, against his consent." When the city contributes taxpayer funds toward a facility managed by a Christian ministry that the city allows to promote Christianity as part of the facility's scheduled programming, it unconstitutionally compels taxpayers to support that ministry, FFRF adds.

The city of Corcoran must disentangle itself from this arrangement with Mobile Hope, FFRF asserts. The simplest solution would be to prohibit any religious programming or religious promotion at Hope Center unless Mobile Hope rents space at the center for privately sponsored religious events. If Mobile Hope is unwilling to manage the city's community center in an entirely secular fashion, the city must either replace Mobile Hope as the center's managing organization or sell the facility to Mobile Hope.

"A public community center should be that: welcoming and inclusive for all members of the community," says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. "A ministry cannot be allowed to hold exclusionary programs inside such a venue."

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with more than 29,000 members and chapters across the country, including 500-plus and two chapters in Minnesota. FFRF's purposes are to protect the constitutional principle of separation between state and church and to educate the public on matters relating to nontheism.

1DarrowStatueDedicationThe Freedom From Religion Foundation is proudly financing a monument to the illustrious civil libertarian and lawyer who legally battled on behalf of science.

The statue of Clarence Darrow is to be dedicated on Friday, July 14, right in front of the site of the historic Scopes evolution trial he so famously participated in: the Rhea County Courthouse in Dayton, Tenn. Darrow defended John Scopes when he was charged with teaching evolution at the 1925 "trial of the century."

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 imbalance. Darrow will take his rightful place adjacent to Bryan on the courthouse lawn.

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 9:45 a.m. on Friday, July 14, and will include actor John de Lancie, who played Q in "Star Trek: The Next Generation" and portrayed Darrow in a play about the Scopes trial. 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, an FFRF state representative who is with the Freethought Society of Philadelphia, will emcee. FFRF Co-Presidents Dan Barker and Annie Laurie Gaylor will say a few words. Barker, a professional musician, will set the tone prior to the dedication with a rendition of '20s music. The short dedication will end with Frudakis unveiling his creation.

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

"We're dedicating this magnificent statue to history," says Gaylor. "The monument is a tribute to a civil libertarian and freethinker who fought for science and rationality — to have them prevail for all time to come."

FFRF is holding a Clarence Darrow Celebration Dinner Party 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, and guests of honor Nicole Jacobsen and Ro Frudakis. Fred Edwords of the American Humanist Association, which forwarded donations of several hundred dollars toward the statue, will say a few words, as well as William Dusenberry, the FFRF member who first suggested the statue.

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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FFRF wants Oregon roadside cross removed

1SalemCrossThe Freedom From Religion Foundation is asking that a big cross on public property be relocated.

A concerned local resident informed FFRF that a large roadside cross, about 4 feet tall, is on permanent display in Salem off of Kuebler Boulevard just west of Stroh Lane. Reportedly, the city maintains the grass around the display, leading one to believe it is now city property.

"The religious significance of the Latin cross is unambiguous and indisputable," FFRF Managing Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert writes to Salem Mayor Chuck Bennett. "A majority of federal courts have held displays of Latin crosses on public property to be an unconstitutional endorsement of religion." 

In the only case to date addressing the constitutionality of roadside crosses, the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals found roadside crosses on government land to be an unconstitutional government endorsement of Christianity. The crosses were unconstitutional despite the fact that the crosses were privately funded, owned and maintained and the private agency retained the right to remove them at any time.

That's why it is blatantly unconstitutional for the city of Salem to display a patently religious symbol like a Christian cross on a public roadside. The Kuebler Boulevard cross unabashedly creates the perception of government endorsement of Christianity. And it conveys the message to the 30 percent of Americans who are not Christian, including the 23 percent of Americans who are not religious, that they are not "favored members of the political community," to quote the U.S. Supreme Court. The cross has an exclusionary effect, making non-Christian and non-believing residents of Oregon into political outsiders.

"The city shouldn't be spending scarce public resources in the maintenance of a sectarian agenda," says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. "Many taxpayers in Salem would object to their hard-earned money going toward sprucing up crosses."

FFRF is asking the city to immediately move the cross from Kuebler Boulevard — and any other Latin cross display on Salem public property — to a more appropriate private location.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with 29,000 members and chapters across the country, including more than 700 members and a chapter in Oregon. Its purpose is to protect the constitutional principle of separation between state and church, and to educate the public on matters relating to nontheism.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is proudly awarding more than $10,000 to the winners of its 2017 annual essay contest for minority high school students.

The nation's premier freethinkers' organization has announced the 14 winners of the 2017 David Hudak Memorial High School Essay Contest for Students of Color. High school seniors of color were asked to write a personal persuasive essay about what they would like to tell a believer in their life about why they chose the path of freethought, with reference to challenges they've faced as a freethinker of color.

The winners are listed below, with their age, the college or university they will be attending, the award amount and the title of their essay. A couple has generously added a $100 bonus to any winner who is a member of a secular club, which is reflected in the total. FFRF has paid out $10,050 in award money for the contest this year.

First place
Lydia Mason, 18, New York University ($3,000), "Breaking the Chains"

Second place
Uma Kokilepersaud, 17, University of Maryland ($2,000), "We Are Enough"

Third place
Lauren Greenlee, 18, University of San Francisco ($1,000), "I'm Alone in the Universe and That's Okay"

Fourth place
Lizeth Ortega-Luna, 18, Pomona College ($750), "In Whom Do I Trust?"

Fifth place
Celestina Garcia, 18, Indiana University ($500), "The Other Side of Morality"

Sixth place (tie)
Sarah Espada, 18, Cedar Crest College ($400), "What I'd Like Believers to Know"

Sixth place (tie)
Evann Bailey, 18, University of Tennessee-Chattanooga ($400), "Rejecting Generational Illusions"

Honorable mentions ($200 each)
Aven Turner, University of Illinois
Dominic Ryan Vince Cruz, Washington College
Adwoa Debrah, New York University
Shejan Heaven, University of Georgia
Miaun McCloud, Grand Valley State University
Erin O'Malley, University of Rochester
Dylan Palmer, New York University

"We congratulate our winners, whose essays are particularly memorable," says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. "But we were impressed by the moxie, humanity and thoughtfulness of all the entries."

Essays will be reprinted or excerpted in the August issue of Freethought Today, FFRF's newspaper. All students who entered will receive a student membership

FFRF has offered essay competitions since 1979. This contest is named for the late David Hudak, an FFRF member who left a bequest to generously fund a student essay contest. FFRF will soon be announcing winners of its other high school essay contest, open to all, its college contest and its graduate student competition.

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