May, 2016 Newsletter of the Lake Superior Freethinkers Gail Matthews, editor – firstname.lastname@example.org
First Sunday - Radisson Hotel - 9:00 AM Social – 9:30 Breakfast - 10:00
Presentation Facilitators: David Broman - 218-349-7455, Bill Guse - 834-4583, 343-4806
Program " “Climate Change and its Implications for Health and Humans Services in Minnesota”
The program this month will be presented by David X. Swenson, PhD, a forensic psychologist and director of the MBA in Rural Health at the College of St. Scholastica. He is a consultant for the courts, law enforcement, schools and mental health programs in Minnesota and Wisconsin. Dave’s presentation will focus on climate change, how it occurs, and the impact that it will likely have on our region in all areas of our lives. Hopefully, this presentation will increase our understanding and encourage discussions on how to deal with the effects it will bring into our lives and our environment. For a detailed description of Dave’s talk, check out the website at www.lsfreethinkers.blogspot.com
Freethought Quotes by Notable Freethinkers
“There is no such source and cause of strife, quarrel, fights, malignant opposition, persecution, and war, and all evil in the state as religion. Let it once enter our civil affairs, our government would soon be destroyed. Let it once enter our common schools, they would be destroyed . . . Those who made our Constitution saw this, and used the most apt and comprehensive language in it to prevent such a catastrophe.”—Justice H.S. Orton of the Supreme Court of Wisconsin, concurring opinion in Weiss v. the District Board, decided on March 18, 1890, ruling bible readings and devotionals in public schools unconstitutional
Religious Wars-Special Report
The governor of Texas is facing a federal lawsuit from the Freedom From Religion Foundation. It's over an FFRF display the group said Governor Greg Abbott removed from the state house. That's just one of two federal cases filed in courts last week by the group and one of countless cases across Texas.
While most cases in Southeast Texas are not yet in the courts, there are nearly half a dozen communities receiving letters from the Freedom From Religion Foundation demanding changes. Now both believers and non-believers are speaking out at a time when the controversy seems to be reaching a boiling point.
Thousands of crosses lie made and ready to go from the lot of Summer's Abby Flooring Center to homes across Mid-County and beyond. "Literally hundreds of people come here every day and we can't make them fast enough," owner Chris Johnson said.
"From what I understand they're in two other countries, Canada and Mexico, and they're probably in about 18 different states and I can't tell you how many towns in Texas," Johnson said.What began as a reaction to the Freedom From Religion Foundation's request to remove the cross from Port Neches Park has turned into an organization, Little White Crosses USA.
"This has brought our community together," Johnson said. "This town in Port Neches is more connected now than I've ever seen it in my lifetime." It's just one Southeast Texas community where the debate about religion and government is at the forefront.
"So the same group is doing the same bullying, intimidation game to the other communities that they're doing to Kountze so somebody has to take a stand," attorney David Starnes said. He represents cheerleaders in Kountze. They argue students can display Bible verses on run-through banners at football games.
Last month, the Texas Supreme Court ruled the Ninth Court of Appeals in Beaumont must decide whether those banners are private or government speech.
In Hardin Jefferson ISD (Independent School District), the FFRF has sent letters, as recently as last month, recommending the student group Hawks for Christ disband, arguing it's not student run.
Wednesday, Hardin Jefferson ISD released this statement to KFDM News: "HJ ISD disputes the claims made by the FFRF. The District has and will continue to ensure that we act in accordance with federal and state law. In addition, we will provide an environment that protects the rights of all who work and learn in HJ ISD."
The FFRF asked the Kirbyville Police Department to remove "In God we trust" decals from its vehicles. "I mean every day we trust in God to keep us safe," Kirbyville Police Sgt. Josh Hancock said.
"They feel like we're attacking and persecuting them or trying to take their rights away when in fact a lot of these times we're just asking to keep government neutral," Joshua Hammers, a member of Orange County Atheists, said.
"It's actually a privilege, it's not a right for them to have these things," Hammers said. "So when other groups are coming in to try to put up our own banner or things like that we're challenging that privilege that they've always held."
The challenge last year was in the form of more than a thousand letters of complaint from the FFRF all across the country.
"We non-believers are just as much a part of the country as anyone else," Dan Barker said. Barker, a former preacher, is the co-president of the FFRF.
"Religious minorities are one hundred percent citizens. Nobody's a higher class, nobody's an inside group, there's no outside groups and the courts have consistently said that America is great because of that neutrality, because of that equality among all people," Barker said.
Barker said the group represents more than atheists in seeking what he calls equality and a secular government.
"We are not roaming the country trying to find violations. We're not some outside group going out around Southeast Texas to try to find somebody breaking the law," he said. "We are contacted by people in your area, people who live in that town who call us or send us an email saying that you won't believe what they're doing. Well of course we've seen it so much we do believe it."
The FFRF said there are about 1,000 members in Texas. "We just want everyone to have an equal voice," Amber Barnhill said. "Neutral doesn't mean against and equality doesn't mean oppression."
Barnhill said she is an FFRF member, as well as a part of Southeast Texas Atheists Helping the Homeless and the American Humanist Association.
She said in the wake of the letters, she has received threatening messages."I needed to be dragged, burned at the end of a rope, and dragged by my hair," Barnhill said.
"Controversy starts when people start trying to use government to express their religious or non-religious viewpoints," attorney Tom Oxford said.
Oxford has tried cases centering on church and state. "I think that what we're seeing today is some of the beliefs that aren't the standard Christian beliefs are becoming more comfortable in expressing their opinions and because of that we're seeing a little bit of new tension," Oxford said. "But in the end that's all good, because when you hear about other opinions, whatever your belief system is, if you hear about those other beliefs it gives you a chance to reconsider, to look at your beliefs and hopefully become stronger in your faith."
A focus on faith that even prompted Congressman Randy Weber to visit the cross at Port Neches Park. He said the city has his full support in keeping it there.
"Others have said freedom is under attack and religion is under attack, rather, in America and I agree with that," he said. "I think Americans ought to be tired of it, they ought to rise up, say enough's enough, we're tired of the vocal minority, the vocal few. You know and say this is the way things are in America, this is certainly the way things are in Texas, certainly the way things are in Southeast Texas, certainly the way things are in Port Neches."
The yards marked by little white crosses, are a display of faith ."They might take the cross out of the park but they'll never take Jesus out of our hearts as Christians that's for a fact and I think Christians are taking a stand right now," Chris Johnson said.
The controversy is not likely to end soon, but bridging our differences is a common hope among FFRF supporters.
Patheos Hosting Freethought Now
A blog by FFRF staff members titled Freethought Now! Is being hosted by Patheos, a website dedicated to providing a credible dialogue on religion and nonreligion. Freethought Now! Will be part of the Atheist Channel on Patheos, which hosts about 40 blogs, including Hemant Mehta’s popular “The Friendly Atheist”. Patheos hosts more than 500 other religious blogs and is accessed by millions of readers every month.
Some recent blogs are Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel’s “Hobby Lobby, owners under investigation for looting artifacts,” Staff Attorney Sam Grover’s “Arizona’s anti-abortion law leads schools astray,” and Co-President Dan Barker’s “Let’s ask for bible-free rooms.”
FFRF expects the new collaboration will increase its visibility and membership. Most Patheos traffic comes from social media. Some blogs get millions of hits a month. In addition to exposing FFRF’s writing activism and vision to a new audience, it will generate a modest income for our nonprophet.
Access the FFRF blog at patheos.com/blogs/freethoughtnow/