PLEASE JOIN US!   We meet on the first Sunday of each month in downtown Duluth at the Radisson Hotel (Location Map)
            Socializing begins at 9:00 am.
            Optional breakfast buffet at 9:30 am.
            Presentation from 10:00 until about 11:30.

            Co-Host: David Broman - (218) 349-7455
            Co-Host: Jim Lyttle - (218) 464-1652
             Videographer - Jan Resberg

April, 2016 Newsletter of the Lake Superior Freethinkers
Gail Matthews, editor – wyncie1@gmail.com  
April 3RD - Radisson Hotel - 9:00 AM Social – 9:30 Breakfast - 10:00 Presentation  

Prayer and Politic
Members of the Arizona House can sign up to lead the daily morning prayer, and Representative Juan Mendez has things he'd like to say -- things about science and nature and humanity. But for years, he says, he's been denied the chance to lead the invocation out of concern that he wouldn't mention God in his remarks.

On Thursday, Mendez was finally able to deliver his own version of a prayer when a colleague offered up his slot. Mendez's remarks held true to his values as a nonbeliever, which in turn angered some of his colleagues and put the hotly contested issue of separation of church and state back in the spotlight.

During his invocation, Mendez expressed gratitude for the "pluralistic society" he represents, as well as the "beauty of our multicultural state that reflects our diversity of color, of heritage, of religion and lack thereof. "He encouraged lawmakers to "accept each other for our differences" and suggested that religious faith isn't necessarily a prerequisite for having a moral compass.

"We need not tomorrow's promise of reward to do good deeds today," Mendez said in his invocation. "For while some may seek the assistance of a higher power with hands in the air, there are those of us that are prepared to assist directly, with our hands to the earth. Take these words to heart as we move this great state of Arizona forward. It is our responsibility to honor the Constitution and the secular equality it brings. And so shall it be."

For House Majority Leader Steve Montenegro, a Christian minister, those words didn't suffice. Montenegro has taken the position that all prayers must include a reference to a higher power - which Mendez's didn't. Almost as soon as Mendez finished speaking, Montenegro called upon the Rev. Mark Mucklow to fulfill that criterion.

"At least let one voice today say thank you," Mucklow told the chamber. "God bless you and bless your families for the time you sacrifice and are away from them down here late at night. Father give back to them that time. Multiply it back to them and give them harmony and peace in their families. Father may they draw close to you and Father may we all be grateful for the work they do today. In Jesus' name we pray. Amen."

With that, Montenegro declared that official business could begin. And when it did, a number of Representatives made it clear that they saw Mendez's behavior as nothing less than an attack on their faith.

"I'm saddened and offended that a member of this body would knowingly disregard our call for prayer and our House rules," said state Rep. Mark Finchem. He went on to argue that the "republican form of government came out of the Book of Exodus" -- a questionable claim -- and said prayer was needed for the purpose of "lifting this body up" to God.

And Rep. Kelly Townsend stated that "It's not time to be proselytizing even if you're proselytizing something that's not a religion." It's not clear which part of Mendez's invocation could be considered "proselytizing" -- at least any more so than Finchem's -- but in any case, such behavior would be illegal under Town of Greece v. Galloway, the most recent Supreme Court case on the issue of church/state separation. In their 2014 ruling, the justices held that religious prayer in government meetings is constitutional as long as there is a policy of nondiscrimination and as long as the invocations don't proselytize or denigrate people of any faith, or lack thereof.

Groups like the Freedom From Religion Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to defending the separation of church and state, say these protections apply to nonbelievers as well. Andrew Seidel, an attorney for the FFRF, said that putting a halt to government prayer would be the most obvious way to avoid controversies like this. Until then, he believes government must respect the diversity of people's religious views, or lack thereof, in the public sphere.

"In a pluralistic society like ours, when the government opens the door to religion, officials should expect to hear messages they don't like," Seidel said. "Government officials are free to pray at any time, before, during, or after their meetings. But that is not enough for some. Some need to be seen praying. They want to use religion to pander and, in the process, they denigrate themselves, their office, their community, and their religion."

Zenaido Quintana, chair and acting director of the Secular Coalition for Arizona, maintained that Mendez's invocation fell within the boundaries laid down by the Supreme Court. But he also raised concerns about what he sees as persistent discrimination against Mendez over his outspoken atheism.

"It certainly violates the spirit of Greece v. Galloway, that you not discriminate against minority religions," he said. "That you'd have a number of lawmakers jump on Rep. Mendez in an effort to intimidate or embarrass him."

Quintana said that response from Mendez's fellow lawmakers suggests the whole thing may have been a "bit of a setup." “Montenegro had his minister standing by to provide an invocation within his criteria," he said. "Then he systematically had several of Mendez's fellow legislators effectively criticize him on the floor for speaking his truth."

Stephanie Grisham, a spokeswoman for Montenegro, said the majority leader interprets Greece v. Galloway as only protecting the right to deliver an invocation that's religious in nature. "Prayer is prayer," she said. Grisham said a chaplain is present at every Arizona House session, and that the other lawmakers who objected to Mendez's remarks Thursday did so of their own volition.

Quintana said he believes Mendez's public dressing-down is a symptom of a widespread disrespect in the state legislature for religiously unaffiliated people -- a population that's growing nationwide. "We are a very diverse state, and increasingly so, and the diverse elements in these kinds of beliefs are getting more and more disparate," he said. "There's lots of them, and they're also getting more and more vocal. There's real unhappiness arising from this, and we just need to make sure that our elected representatives are aware of it."

The Nones
The “nones,” a category that includes people who self-identify as atheists or agnostics, as well as those who say their religion is “nothing in particular,” now make up 23% of U.S. adults, up from 16% in 2007. But there is more to the story. To begin with, this group is not uniformly nonreligious. Most of them say they believe in God, and about a third say religion is at least somewhat important in their lives.

At the same time, between the Pew Research Center’s two Religious Landscape Studies – conducted in 2007 and 2014 – we also see consistent evidence that the “nones” are becoming less religious. For example, the share of religious “nones” who say they believe in God, while still a majority, has fallen from 70% to 61% over that seven-year period. Only 27% of “nones” are absolutely certain about God’s existence, down from 36% in 2007. And fully a third of religiously unaffiliated Americans (33%) now say they do not believe in God, up 11 percentage points over that time.

Similar trends are seen on some other key measures of religious engagement. The share of religious “nones” who say they seldom or never pray has risen by 6 points in recent years, and now stands at 62%. And a bigger proportion of the unaffiliated now say religion is not important in their lives (65%) than said this in 2007 (57%).

Data from the survey can be combined with U.S. population figures to estimate the total number of what might be thought of as “nonreligious” Americans at 36.1 million in 2014. (These are adults who are not affiliated with a religious group and who also say religion is not important in their lives.) As of 2007, there were only 21 million “nonreligious” adults who fit this description.

The question of why the “nones” are growing less religious does not have a simple answer. But just as is the case for why “nones” are growing as a share of the U.S. public, generational replacement appears to be playing a role. Religiously unaffiliated Americans are younger, on average, than the general public to begin with, and the youngest adults in the group – that is, those who have entered adulthood in the last several years – are even less religious than “nones” overall.

Freethought Quotes by Notable Freethinkers
Sin lies only in hurting others unnecessarily. All other “sins” are invented nonsense. Robert A. Heinlein

Live a good life. If there are gods and they are just, then they will not care how devout you have been, but will welcome you based on the virtues you have lived by. If there are gods, but unjust, then you should not want to worship them. If there are no gods, then you will be gone, but you will have lived a noble life that will live on in the memories of your loved ones. Marcus Aurelius/Meditations

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