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


October Newsletter of the Lake Superior Freethinkers

Courtesy of Mark Woodcock, who is filling in for Gail Matthews

Register now for FFRF’s 39th national convention in Pittsburgh
You aren't going to want to miss the 2016 FFRF national convention in Pittsburgh held the weekend of Oct. 7-9!
The national convention, hosted at the Wyndham Grand hotel in downtown Pittsburgh, will include such notable speakers as cognitive scientist Daniel Dennett, award-winning author Susan Jacoby, biology professor Jerry Coyne and theoretical physicist and author Lawrence Krauss.
After eight years as a closeted atheist in the Bible Belt, a former conservative pastor will be coming out publicly at the convention. "Adam Mann" is co-founder of The Clergy Project, a group for current and former religious professionals without supernatural beliefs. Media outlets are interested in covering Mann's announcement.
Another co-founder of the Clergy Project who will speak at the convention is Linda LaScola. She is co-author, with Dennett, of Caught in the Pulpit: Leaving Belief Behind and Preachers Who Are Not Believers. She is also editor of the Patheos blog, "Rational Doubt: With voices from the Clergy Project." Linda is a clinical social worker with years of professional experience as a qualitative researcher and psychotherapist.
The Clergy Project was also founded by FFRF's Dan Barker and Dennett, who will be one of the convention's keynote speakers. His Saturday night speech is titled, "Has the dam broken? Omens and worries."
Friday night's keynote speaker will be Krauss, the internationally known theoretical physicist. He will receive the Emperor Has No Clothes award from FFRF.
Jacoby is the author of 11 books, most recently, Strange Gods: A Secular History of Conversion. Jacoby is a previous recipient of FFRF's Freethought Heroine award. Coyne is professor emeritus in the Department of Ecology and Evolution at the University of Chicago. He has written 119 scientific papers and 150 popular articles, book reviews and a trade book about the evidence for evolution — Why Evolution is True.
Humanist activist Rafida Bonya Ahmed, who survived a machete attack in Bangladesh, will receive FFRF's new "Forward" award. Author Lauri Lebo, who covered the Kitzmiller vs. Dover trial, will be named 2016 Freethought Heroine. Marie Schaubwill speak after being honored as an "atheist in a foxhole" by FFRF for her work as plaintiff in a case against a school district for having a granite Ten Commandments monument in front of a high school. FFRF College essay contest winner Nadia Duncan will also speak.
And, of course, FFRF's Barker will take to the podium to discuss his lawsuit against Congress and his new book, God: The Most Unpleasant Character in All Fiction.
And before you get to see and listen to all these great speakers, don't forget about the tour of Frank Lloyd Wright's Falling Water on Friday. It's a great way to kick off convention weekend!
For more information on convention specifics, click on these links.

Atheists Behind Indiana School’s Ban of Student-Led Prayer at Kindergarten Graduations

Tempie Williams (L), 12, Dallin Cogbill, 13, and Kade Harkness, 13, bow their heads in prayer during a vigil for Marine Lance Cpl. Squire K. "Skip" Wells, one of the five military servicemen slain last week in Chattanooga in a domestic terror attack, at Sprayberry High School in Marietta, Georgia July 21, 2015. Wells, 21, a reservist, was the youngest victim of an attack being investigated as an act of domestic terrorism. He was killed last Thursday when authorities say Mohammod Youssuf Abdulazeez opened fire at a Naval Reserve Center in Chattanooga, Tenn., slaying Wells and three other Marines. 

At the urging of America's largest secular legal organization, a public elementary school will no longer allow prayer during its kindergarten graduation ceremonies.
Springs Valley Elementary School in French Lick, Indiana, drew the ire of the Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation after it's kindergarten graduation ceremony last May included a prayer offered by a 5 or 6-year-old student. The ceremony include an invocation and a designated time for prayer was listed on the ceremony program.
After the ceremony, a parent who was upset that the event included a prayer alerted FFRF. In August, FFRF legal fellow Ryan Jayne sent a letter to Springs Valley Community Schools Superintendent Tony Whitaker, arguing that the school had committed a "constitutional violation."
"Including religious rituals, such as prayer, in school-sponsored functions shows school endorsement of religion, which violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution," Jayne said in the letter.
"The Supreme Court has continually struck down prayers at school-sponsored events, including public school graduations," Jayne continued, arguing that it is a "settled matter" that public school graduations must remain "secular."
Jayne cited the 1992 case of Lee v. Weisman, where the Supreme Court ruled that schools cannot sponsor clergy to come to the school and conduct prayer. Jayne also cited the 1962 case of Engel v. Vitale, which ruled that school officials may not compose an official school prayer. Jayne additionally cited the 1963 case of Abington v. Schempp, where the Supreme Court declared school-sponsored Bible reading to be unconstitutional.
Finally, Jayne cited the 2000 case of Santa Fe Independent School District v. Doe, where the Supreme Court ruled that any kind of policy permitting student-initiated prayer at school football games is unconstitutional.
"The courts have continually reaffirmed that the rights of minorities are protected by the Constitution," Jayne wrote. "It makes no difference how many students or parents want prayer, or would not be offended by prayer, at their graduation ceremony."
Jayne concluded by contending that "it is coercive and inappropriate" for the school to have a student-led prayer. And said it is "especially egregious when the prayer is delivered to a captive group of impressionable school children as young as 5 years old."
Jayne asked the school district to inform FFRF in writing of how it plans to alleviate the organization's concerns.
In a letter dated Sept. 8, Whitaker replied to Jayne's letter by stating that the school district will comply with FFRF's demands.
"Springs Valley School Corporation will eliminate from any future kindergarten graduation ceremonies the section on prayer and will not allow any prayer at the graduation," Whitaker's letter reads.
Now that the school district is seemingly banning "any prayer" from its graduation ceremonies, it should be noted that courts and the federal government have ruled in the past that if a student is selected to speak at a ceremony and offers a prayer or religious sentiment as part of his or her speech, then that is not a violation of the Constitution as long as the student wasn't urged by school officials to express religious views.
According to a 2003 guidance issued by the Department of Education, school authorities may not "structure or administer such rules to discriminate against student prayer or religious speech."
"For instance, where schools permit student expression on the basis of genuinely neutral criteria and students retain primary control over the content of their expression, the speech of students who choose to express themselves through religious means such as prayer is not attributable to the state and therefore may not be restricted because of its religious content," the guidance says. "Student remarks are not attributable to the state simply because they are delivered in a public setting or to a public audience."
"As the Supreme Court has explained: 'The proposition that schools do not endorse everything they fail to censor is not complicated,' and the Constitution mandates neutrality rather than hostility toward privately initiated religious expression," the guidance continued.

Read more at Christian Post

The Human Freedom Index is an interesting analysis of several broad measures of human freedom, defined for purposes of this report as “the absence of coercive constraint.” It uses 76 distinct indicators of personal and economic freedom in the following areas:

  • Religion
  • Security and Safety
  • Movement
  • Rule of Law
  • Association, Assembly, and Civil Society
  • Expression
  • Relationships
  • Size of Government
  • Legal System and Property Rights
  • Access to Sound Money
  • Freedom to Trade Internationally
  • Regulation of Credit, Labor, and Business
 To access a PDF of this interesting report click HERE.

As Lake Superior Freethinkers look ahead to the November elections, parsing fact from fiction, with regard to the claims of political candidates, can be difficult. A project of the Annenberg Public Policy Center, called FactCheck.org, aims to be a good non-partisan purveyor of truth. Click HERE to access their website.

AND… In the further interest of differentiating fact from fiction…

I took my first philosophy course in the late 1980’s – Introduction to Philosophy – taught by David Cole at the University of Minnesota, Duluth. To this day I credit Dave for being my favorite teacher in 18 years of education, and for being the impetus for my changing majors from biology to philosophy. Of the many topics covered in that introductory course, I found J.L. Mackie’s paper “Evil and Omnipotence” to be a particularly persuasive, concise, and easily understandable argument, for why the Christian God cannot exist.
Here is a link to the late J.L. Mackie’s work: Evil and Omnipotence
John Leslie Mackie (1917 – 1981), was an Australian philosopher. He made important contributions to the philosophy of religion, metaphysics, and the philosophy of language, and is perhaps best known for his defense of moral skepticism.

Many people find reading philosophy to be the equivalent of taking sleeping pills.

For the minions who instead live by the dictum, “What would Brad Pitt have to say about this?” - this one’s for you:

And rest assured, LSF makes every effort to be fair and balanced, so we will be giving equal time to Angelina Jolie's side of the argument in the November edition of the LSF newsletter.

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