Salman Rushdie: ‘The lunatics are running the asylum’

Author Salman Rushdie speaks at FFRF’s national convention in San Francisco on Nov. 2, 2018.
(Photo by Chris Line)
Salman Rushdie takes a moment to pose with young author Bailey Harris. (Photo by Chris Line)

Distinguished author Salman Rushdie spoke at FFRF’s national convention in San Francisco on Nov. 2, 2018.

He was introduced at the convention by FFRF’s Communications Director Amit Pal:

“Salman Rushdie is one of the most celebrated writers and public intellectuals of our time and the author of a dozen novels, including the Booker Prize-winning Midnight’s Children and The Satanic Verses, and, most recently, The Golden House. He was knighted by Queen Elizabeth in 2007 and has served as president of the PEN American Center.”

Rushdie received FFRF’s Emperor Has No Clothes Award, which is given to public or well-known personalities who “tell it like it is” about religion.

As part of Rushdie’s speaking agreement, he would not allow FFRF to reproduce his speech in print, nor would he allow it to be videotaped or audiotaped. (One more reason to attend FFRF’s conventions in person!) But we did take notes, and here are a few of the notable lines and observances from his humorous, informative and interesting talk.

The magic of the language of truth is the only magic in which I believe. And I have to believe, and I think we must all believe, that, in the end, the truth will set us free.”

When Christopher [Hitchens] finished his book God Is Not Great, I was one of the people that he sent it to as an early reader. I told him, half-jokingly, that the title was one word too long. He could usefully delete the last word. He ignored my advice.”

Some religious people can perpetrate attacks on other folks by redefining the word ‘liberty’ to mean something like ‘divinely authorized bigotry.’ Refusing to serve gay people in stores or to certify their weddings is an example of this kind of Bible Belt liberty.”

We live in this age in which there is an unprecedented attack on truth itself, in which deliberate lies are masked by the accusation that those who would unmask them are indeed the liars. We live in the age of the world turned upside down. The lunatics are running the asylum.”

I have nothing but admiration these days for the diligence with which the news media, under ferocious attack, have held to their vital ideal that the truth is the truth and lies are lies and has continued to do its work. If these are the enemies of the people, then I am happy to be named among them.”

It’s interesting that we live in a time when the Second Amendment is sacrosanct with the First Amendment under attack every day.”

The gods were born because human beings did not understand the world. . . . Let us be clear here. The gods did not create us in their image. We created them in ours.”

Because [The Satanic Verses] was sort of obscure and religious and weird, [people thought] I must be obscure, religious and weird. But I have no idea how many times people came up to me and said, ‘I read The Satanic Verses. Who knew it was funny?’ And I said, ‘Well, people who read it did.”

Here’s what happens in human history: Ethics change as societies change. And one definition of a free society is that in such a society, morality advances through discussion and argument and the examination of its own ideas. A society can, at one point, accept slavery and then, at another point, it can decide that it’s a terrible idea. It can at one point deny women the right to vote and then it can change its mind about that or it can be pressured into doing so. The point is that argument, the battle about ideas, is the way in which free societies move forward.”

I think the one thing we can now say with a high degree of certainty is that the answers given by every single one of the world’s great religions, and many of the smaller ones, too, are 100 percent incorrect. We are no longer those ignorant people who had to tell ourselves those fables. Science has better stories, and many of them are verifiable. But what is even better is that science is willing to say that it doesn’t know everything.”

The subject of godlessness is still pretty unusual in America. It’s certainly unusual to find oneself in such a sizable gathering of the ungodly [here at FFRF’s convention]. In many halls where one finds oneself at the lecture podium, if you talk about your disbelief in any form of religion, you hear noises of shock in the darkness. Gasps. Sharp intakes of breath. Little nervous giggles. In America, you can’t get elected dog catcher if you can’t prove that you go to church every Sunday.”

To tell you the truth, I never even thought of myself as a writer who was primarily a writer about religion. I mean, it wasn’t my plan. I wrote one book in which there was something about it and suddenly people began to think that that’s what I was. Actually, I’m really not, because religion, as I’ve been trying to explain, is something I don’t like. Who wants to spend their lives writing about things they don’t like? Well, Kafka.”

Convention speech — David Kolyanides: The Christian Taliban in public schools

Criminal law attorney David J. Kaloyanides speaks to the crowd at FFRF’s national convention in San Francisco on Nov. 3, 2018. (Photo by Ingrid Laas)
Attorney David J. Kolyanides, FFRF Director of Strategic Response Andrew Seidel and FFRF Legal Director Rebecca Markert worked on the Chino Valley Unified School District case together. (Photo by Chris Line)

This is an edited version of the speech given by David J. Kalyonides on Nov. 3 at FFRF’s national convention in San Francisco. He was introduced by FFRF Legal Director Rebecca Markert:

David J. Kaloyanides has been the lead litigator in FFRF’s victorious challenge of prayers and religious rituals by the school board in Chino Valley, Calif. David has been practicing law in the federal courts for over 25 years. A graduate of Loyola Law School of Los Angeles, he has been lead trial counsel in more than 300 federal cases. David is a certified specialist in criminal law, certified by the California Board of Legal Specialization, and his practice includes complex criminal defenses in both state and federal court.

Please welcome David Kalyonides.

By David J. Kolyanides

Let me set the stage. The school district in Southern California — Chino Valley Unified School District — has approximately 50,000 students. The board of education is its governing body. It has five elected members and one student representative. Three members of our board come from Calvary Chapel of Chino Hills, a dominionist church. Dominionism is this idea that comes out of Genesis that God gave authority and power and dominion to God’s people over the world and everything in it. They ascribe to extremist Christian views; they seek to impose strict codes of conduct; they seek adherence to their views without question; they seek political control. They are the Christian Taliban. Taliban is a plural of Talib, which is a Pashto word for student, which would make you think they want to learn. They don’t.

The Chino Valley Board of Education had an informal policy of allowing an invocation to begin all its meetings. Back in 2010, when two of the members from this Christian Taliban church — James Na and Andrew Cruz — became members of the board, parents got a little upset. They started complaining, but that fell on deaf ears. Parents then reached out to FFRF.

My relationship with FFRF started a little over four years ago. [FFRF constitutional attorney] Andrew Seidel called me and we chatted about how we could make this relationship work. My children go to school in the Chino Valley Unified School District. (A little plug for my boys: They’ve been protesting the pledge since fifth grade.)

FFRF sent a complaint letter to the district saying, “Hey, you know, you guys are violating the Constitution. You’ve got to stop. This is a school. The law is clear. Schools and prayers don’t mix.”

We heard about a case called the Town of Greece vs. Galloway. It was about invocations for city councils. The Supreme Court, in a very poorly reasoned decision by Justice Kennedy, basically said, “Look, legislative bodies in this country have a long tradition of opening prayer for their sessions. Congress has been doing it even before the Constitutional Convention.”

There’s also a case called Marsh, which applied that rationale to state legislators back in 1983. Town of Greece applied it to town councils. So, the Christian Taliban had its hook. They sent out notices to thousands of school districts in the nation, essentially stating: Here’s how you get prayer back into school. Here’s what you have to find. Here’s the resolution you have to adopt.

FFRF started going back and forth with the school district. It wasn’t complying; it wasn’t listening. So, we sued. Mike Anderson agreed to be our named plaintiff. He had two daughters in the district at the time. Then we added Larry Maldonado as a named plaintiff. He has a son in the district. All in all, we had 22 plaintiffs — teachers, parents, students. Most of them were suing as plaintiffs under the name of Doe to protect their identity, and the court allowed us to do that.

More than a prayer case

Now, this is not just a prayer case. It’s not. Yes, it nominally involved these invocations, which, by the way, are only given by Christians, are always very sectarian, and most of the people giving it come from the Taliban church, Calvary Chapel of Chino Hills.

California is about 20 percent Nones. You know, us Nones, not the other nuns. One to 2 percent of the United States population are Jewish. One to 2 percent are Muslim. One to 2 percent are Buddhists, and 1 to 2 percent are Hindu. Chino Valley is different. The Nones are around 40 percent. Buddhists are around 10 percent. Hindus around 5 percent. But only Christian pastors were invited to come and give the invocation, which is a violation of what the Supreme Court said in Town of Greece.

Also, invocations had to have the purpose of solemnizing the proceeding, not preaching or proselytizing. And it was supposed to be directed to the legislators. Well, this is all kind of irrelevant because school boards are not legislative bodies. They run the district. They run the school. These are individuals who act as prosecutor, judge, jury and executioner of the students. They are not legislators. And this became very critical in our case.

So why is it not just a prayer case? Because the board meetings, which are public, are where students not only attend, but participate. They are showing their science fair awards. They are receiving accolades. They are being disciplined. Some have to go because they’re about to be expelled. This is a meeting for the students.

But here’s what the board members did:

• In May 2014, board member James Na told the audience, “God appointed us to be here, whether you are teachers or staff members or principals or director’s assistant superintendents.”

• At another meeting, Andrew Cruz said, “Anything you desire, depend on God” and then thanked a principal who prayed for the students every Saturday. No other board member tried to stop them or made any comment contrary to this.

• Cruz, at another meeting, stated to the audience, “If we have confessed our sins and ask God’s forgiveness, we simply need to keep a forward focus toward the goal of pleasing Christ, because he died for our sins, according to the scripture. He was buried, and he was raised on the third day, according to the scriptures. Now, that’s the gospel.”

Judged by Jesus

So, we have our lawsuit in federal court. The board wanted to be judged by Jesus. I love this part. They got their wish. United States District Judge Jesus Bernal granted our motion for summary judgment. A motion for summary judgment is when there are no disputes of fact and you don’t need a trial because all the facts are in line and nobody disagrees as to what those material facts are. Trials are about determining the facts, but when all you need to do is apply the law to those facts, you can just ask the judge to determine that. So, we brought our motion for summary judgment, and Judge Jesus agreed and imposed a permanent injunction against the board. And awarded attorney’s fees.

Well, the board was upset with its free legal advice from the Pacific Justice Institute and hired Advocates for Faith and Freedom, which is affiliated with the Alliance for Defending Freedom.

So, we go up to the 9th Circuit. Andrew Seidel and Rebecca Markert worked very hard on the briefing. And then we had the oral argument on Nov. 8, 2017. (And I do want to thank also the legal team from Americans United who, along with Andrew and Rebecca, helped prepare me.) The 9th Circuit, in a per curiam decision, which means “of the court,” ruled “Yeah, you guys [Chino Valley United School District] are wrong. You violated the Constitution. The injunction stands.” [applause]

I want to read from the opinion: “In California, an employee of a school district — meaning a person employed by the board — may exercise over students the amount of physical control reasonably necessary to maintain proper and appropriate conditions conducive to learning. The school district also holds a more subtle power over the students’ academic and professional futures.”

This is why it was important. Unlike the legislative sessions in Marsh and Town of Greece, where constituents may replace legislators and need not fear their exercise of comprehensive control, students do not enjoy that autonomy. The fact that this was a student-focused meeting was critical to the 9th Circuit’s decision.

[Editor’s note: The Chino Valley School District voted 3-2 on Jan. 17 not to appeal the case to the Supreme Court.]

But here’s where the coming storm is: What the Religious Right is doing, what the dominionists are doing, what the Christian Taliban is doing is something that I think we need to be focused on. We’re looking at Congress and our federal elected officials and maybe even our state officials. But they’re going for local government. That’s where the battle is. And what’s the one thing nobody really pays attention to on their ballot? The school board. And now the Religious Right is trying to get out of the Establishment Clause and calling this a matter of free speech. So that’s the next battle line.

Thank you so much for having me. Keep fighting this fight.

Brian Bolton: God hates gays — The bible tells me so

This is an engraving by Gustave Dore, from the 1866 Dore bible. In this engraving, Lot and his daughters are fleeing Sodom, as Lot’s wife is turned into a pillar of salt after she looks back. The city was destroyed because of homosexuality.
Photo courtesy of Shutterstock
Members of the Westboro Baptist Church, which is against homosexuality, picket local churches in Topeka, Kan., during Sunday morning services in this 2015 file photo.

By Brian Bolton

Fundamentalist Christians continue to express their hysterical reactions to the new reality of marriage equality in contemporary America. For example, Religious Right lawyer Matt Staver declared that same-sex marriage is “the beginning of the end of Western civilization.” Sen. Rand Paul echoed this apocalyptic appraisal, saying that same-sex marriage constitutes a “moral crisis.” An avalanche of similar doomsday prophesies was unleashed by overwrought fundamentalist leaders, suggesting that God’s wrath would punish a nation awash in sin.

Illustrating the extreme response to legalization of same-sex marriage, the Texas Republican Party has incorporated the fundamentalist perspective into its platform, asserting that “homosexuality is a chosen behavior contrary to God,” and calling for reversal of the U.S. Supreme Court decision that legalized same-sex marriage. The Texas Republican manifesto repeatedly condemns public accommodation laws that “require business people to compromise their Christian convictions,” emphasizing that to be forced to serve LGBT customers violates their constitutional rights. They demand exemption from allegedly unjust regulations through the passage of so-called “religious liberty laws.”

The undisputed empirical fact is that fundamentalists have lost the battle against same-sex marriage. The public strongly favors marriage equality, with 60 percent supporting and 35 percent opposed. Approval among young adults is even higher at 75 percent. All major segments of the religious spectrum have moved toward greater acceptance of same-sex marriage during the past 20 years, with current approval rates estimated for the unaffiliated (80 percent), Catholics (60 percent), mainline white Protestants (60 percent), black Protestants (45 percent), and white fundamentalists (20 percent). These average round figures are based on the results of various surveys conducted by reputable religious polling organizations.

While change has been slow, a number of mainline Protestant denominations now routinely ordain gay ministers and marry gay couples, based on the theological argument that Jesus was an advocate of inclusion. Even in fundamentalist churches, there has been an active minority movement toward tolerance, acceptance and recognition of LGBT Christians, with some congregations and denominations becoming openly “gay affirming.” Organizations like Evangelicals for Marriage Equality, the Gay Christian Network, and the Reformation Project are reaching out to major fundamentalist organizations and denominations for dialogue.

What caused the shift?

Several factors have helped to bring about one of the most dramatic shifts ever observed in modern American attitudes. First, the role of parents of gay children has been substantial, especially through organizations like Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG). Most Americans can empathize with parents caught in the agonizing dilemma of family commitment versus faith conviction. Prominent political parents like Dick Cheney, Rob Portman and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen have put a human face on this difficult issue.

Second, the welcoming acceptance of LGBT students by their peers at all educational levels, especially in the middle and high schools, has certainly been influential. Third, the persuasive argument for the majority of religious believers is the oft-repeated dictum that LGBT people are also God’s children and deserve the same rights and respect as everyone else.

In this article, I review and summarize what the bible actually says about marriage and homosexuality. This documentation establishes a basis for exposing and persuasively arguing against fundamentalist Christians’ dishonest theopolitical agenda directed at same-sex marriage and LGBT Americans. Fundamentalists hope to accomplish their goal of denying equality under the law to gay people through promotion of misnamed religious freedom legislation.

One man, one woman?

Fundamentalists define marriage exclusively as a biblically approved relationship between one man and one woman, with no other permissible arrangements. For example, Texas Republicans assert that God-ordained traditional marriage is between “a natural man and a natural woman.” This definition is affirmed by numerous scriptural verses (e.g., Genesis 2:24; Exodus 21:22; Deuteronomy 24:5; Proverbs 5:18-23; Hebrews 13:4; 1 Peter 3:1-7). Jesus also endorsed the conventional view of marriage (Matthew 19:4-9; Mark 10:6-9).

However, it is important to recognize that Hebrew history provides many illustrations of another apparently acceptable form of family alliance, known as polygyny. This term refers to a circumstance in which one man has multiple wives and concubines (e.g., Genesis 4:19, 16:1-4, 29:15-30).  Three prominent Old Testament patriarchs who enjoyed this type of union were Gideon (Judges 8:30), David (2 Samuel 3:2-5, 5:13-16), and Solomon (1 Kings 11:1-3). Three other forms of marriage sanctioned in the bible are slave (Exodus 21:1-11), captive (Deut. 21:10-14), and levirate (Deut. 25:5-7). It appears that the fundamentalist definition of marriage is not the only God-ordained marital configuration.

Scripture also provides ample evidence of another type of nontraditional affiliation: homosexuality. Male shrine prostitutes (referred to as homosexuals, sodomites or dogs) participated in worship rites at some temples in ancient Israel. The practice was routinely condemned (Deut. 23:17-18; 1 Kings 14:23-24) and two kings attempted to terminate the activity (1 Kings 15:12; 2 Kings 23:7). Five verses are suggestive of homosexual orgies (Psalms 22:11-20; Isaiah 57:8; Habakkuk 2:15-16; 2 Peter 2:7-14; Jude 7-13).

What was Jesus’ orientation?

The gospel is ambiguous about a question that opponents of same-sex marriage studiously avoid: What was Jesus’ sexual orientation? It is helpful to consider several subsidiary questions. Who was the disciple Jesus loved? Who was the disciple who laid his head on Jesus’ bosom at the last supper? See John 13:23-35, 19:26-27, 20:2-4, 21:7, 20, 24 for elaboration. Note that the Greek words translated as love refer to personal affection and intimate relationships.

Who was the jealous disciple and why did he betray Jesus with a kiss, and then admit that Jesus was innocent, before committing suicide? See Matthew 26:49, 27:3-5; Mark 14:44-46 for clues. Jesus addressed him as “friend” at Gethsemane (Matthew 26:50). The Greek word for this salutation has clear sexual connotations. What activity did Jesus engage in at the foot-washing ritual after the last supper with only a towel around his waist? See John 13:2-15 for details. Of course, the foot is widely recognized as an erotic object and feet may be a euphemism for private body parts.

What was Jesus doing at the back of the garden at Gethsemane while the disciples were sleeping? See Matthew 26: 36-45; Mark 14: 32-40; Luke 22: 43-44 for elaboration. Who was the naked youth fleeing and does his appearance suggest an illicit encounter? (See Mark 14: 51-52). In any discussion of homosexuality, participants should be prepared to ask about Jesus’s sexual orientation.

As with Jesus, Paul’s sexual proclivities have been the subject of detailed examination, suspicion and conjecture. It is Paul’s relationship with the runaway slave Onesimus that has provoked the most questions about his unusual interest in men (Philemon 1:10-20; see also Romans 7:18-23). But Paul and Jesus diverge completely in how they express their attitudes toward homosexuality. As documented in the next section, Paul formulated an unequivocal position, whereas Jesus never directly condemned homosexuality.

How ironic that the unconventional lifestyles of the two principal founders of Christianity would raise so many problems for bible-believing fundamentalists who absolutely loath gay people and reject the constitutional concept of marriage equality for them.

Mandated execution?

This section renders all earlier discussion and scriptural conclusions moot, because marriage is irrelevant for dead sinners, and this is why the bible doesn’t prohibit or even mention same-sex marriage. As the verses quoted in this segment conclusively demonstrate, God and his chief spokesmen (Moses, Jesus and Paul) made unequivocal statements about mandatory capital punishment for homosexuals, including lesbians.

First, God’s definitive action in the gruesome tale of Sodom and Gomorrah is summarized.

All the men from every part of the city of Sodom called out to Lot, “Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us so that we can have sex with them.” Then the Lord rained down burning sulfur on Sodom and Gomorrah and the entire plain, destroying all those living in the cities (Genesis 19: 4-5, 24-25).

This horrific story makes absolutely clear God’s abhorrence of homosexuality and the appropriate punishment warranted — burning alive. The episode also illustrates God’s preference for collective punishment. In addition to the homosexual men of Sodom, all other residents were also incinerated, including women and children (we reasonably assume), plus all innocent citizens of Gomorrah and the other two major cities of the plain, Admah and Zeboiim. (Only the little city of Zoar was spared.)

Second, Moses’ statement as part of the law revealed to him by God is unambiguous and impossible to misconstrue. If a man has sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They are to be put to death (Leviticus 20:13).

Third, Jesus, endorsed every word and action contained in the Hebrew Covenant. Of course, the son would fully support the father’s commands. “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the law until everything is accomplished” (Matthew 5:17-18). Note that Luke 16:17 repeats Matthew 5:18.

Jesus also invoked the terrible fate of the residents of Sodom and Gomorrah in condemning those who rejected him and his revolutionary message (Matthew 10:15, 11:23-24; Luke 10:12). Thus, Jesus was knowledgeable about the Sodom and Gomorrah story and we assume that he understood the justification for God’s fiery judgment on all residents (Luke 17:29), thus endorsing his father’s penchant for collective punishment.

Fourth, Paul clearly approved of execution for homosexuals, including lesbians and other “perverts.” Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error. Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them (Romans 1:26, 27, 30).

The entire passage from Romans describes homosexuals as degenerate criminals comparable to those who commit every type of illegal and immoral behavior. It is important to emphasize that Paul extends Moses’ definition of homosexuality to include women. Three other passages in Paul’s epistles contain additional condemnation of homosexuals (1 Corinthians 6:9-10; Colossians 3:5-6; 1 Timothy 1:8-11). See Romans 9:29, 2 Peter 2:6, and Jude 7 for more references to Sodom and Gomorrah.

Discrimination protection?

“Religious liberty laws” have their genesis in the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act that dates back to 1993. Interestingly, it was then-Gov. Mike Pence’s signature on Indiana’s RFRA in 2015 that initially propelled him to heroic status and subsequently to infamy among fundamentalist voters for championing “religious freedom” from public accommodation laws and then collapsing when business leaders told him to rescind the Indiana RFRA or else — which he quickly did.

More than 20 state legislatures across the country have considered various types of so-called “religious liberty laws” that would allow fundamentalist Christians to refuse to provide services to LGBT people, thereby expressing their merciless imprecation of homosexuality. Most of these efforts have failed, due primarily to criticism from the business community, including large corporations like Wal-Mart, sports organizations like the NCAA and NBA, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. When legislators have been obstinate as in North Carolina, the financial punishment has been severe.

Religious liberty legislation was conceived of and promoted by fundamentalists to demonstrate their outrage at what they claim is the defilement of God’s sacred institution of holy matrimony. Underlying this manifest anger is their bible-based revulsion directed at homosexuality, which they call an abomination and sin against God. While same-sex marriage is the ostensible target of their wrath, the emotional fuel for this extreme reaction is generated by less than 4 percent of Americans who identify as LGBT and whose very existence fundamentalists find to be so upsetting.

The obvious question is: Why don’t these anti-gay, scripture-citing fundamentalist zealots who oppose same-sex marriage so vehemently and assert that homosexuality is an abhorrent sin just obey God’s clear command? Why don’t they advocate execution of homosexuals just as God authorizes? Why do Bryan Fischer, Mike Huckabee, Sarah Palin, Mike Pence, Tony Perkins, Matt Staver, Phil Robertson and other fundamentalist spokespersons refuse to invoke God’s unequivocal mandate to kill homosexuals?

The answer to this question is simple: They do not possess the courage of their claimed Christian convictions. All of them know that the bible requires execution of homosexuals, because anti-LGBT activist pastor Kevin Swanson reminded them of this scriptural decree at last year’s National Religious Liberties Conference. If they really respected God’s perfect word, they would initiate a national movement to encourage state legislatures to enact laws that would expand application of the death penalty to homosexuals. Surely, they could ask the federal courts to include this provision in the U.S. criminal code, a request that follows logically from their (bogus) claim that the U.S. Constitution is based on the bible.

Of course, this will not happen because the disingenuous fundamentalists know that their reputation as a national laughingstock would be exacerbated by these bible-based proposals. In other words, they are cowards for Christ. By refusing to endorse execution for homosexuals, fundamentalists again demonstrate that they are willing to adopt theopolitical positions, like advocacy for “religious liberty laws” that avoid the public ridicule associated with invoking God’s unambiguous command. This is just one more example of their biblical dishonesty.

What should humanists do?

Fundamentalists have recently escalated their assault on the LGBT community with the development of “Project Blitz.” This infamous ecclesiastical action plan expands Christian nation ideology to include a focus on what these extremists deem to be acceptable sexual expression. Specifically, they demand that lawful sexual behavior be restricted to relations between heterosexual, married couples and that discrimination against LGBT people be legalized by approving religious exemptions to civil rights legislation.

To thwart their hateful agenda, it’s necessary to directly confront fundamentalist Christians about their blatant biblical hypocrisy. Their claim that God only endorses marriage between one man and one woman is false. Their unwillingness to discuss Jesus’ sexual orientation is simply denial of an embarrassing possibility. Their refusal to acknowledge that God requires execution of homosexuals is outright dishonesty. Rather than addressing the issue truthfully, they use the deceitful subterfuge of attacking same-sex marriage by demanding exemption from public accommodation laws that they allege violate their constitutionally guaranteed religious freedom.

Fundamentalists assert that people who support same-sex marriage are rejecting biblical authority, when in actuality it is the fundamentalists themselves who disregard God’s clear commandments on this subject and numerous others. Fundamentalists in the United States falsely accuse their fellow Americans of persecuting them because of their avowed sincere commitment to obeying God’s word, a charge that is not true. Everyone recognizes that fundamentalists do have the constitutional right to hate and condemn LGBT citizens; however, they do not have the legal right to discriminate against this small minority or anyone else.

Humanists should take appropriate action to expose the dishonest fundamentalist jihad against the gay community. It is not enough to defend the rights and dignity of LGBT people. It is essential that humanists publicly expose fundamentalists’ false assertions, biblically dishonest claims and devious legislative strategies.

There are many opportunities and venues for disseminating the biblical truth about homosexuality and same-sex marriage, including letters to the editor, op-ed essays, call-in radio programs, community forums, public demonstrations and legislative hearings. Humanists should make clear that their targets are false claims and unbiblical actions, and not the fundamentalists themselves. As they say, hate the sin but love the sinner.

FFRF Lifetime Member Brian Bolton is a retired psychologist living in Texas.

James A. Haught: Religion fading as intelligence rises

Three wise men by Steve Benson
James A. Haught

The Religion News Foundation, Religion News Service, Associated Press and The Conversation recently announced the creation of a global religion journalism initiative, an effort to expand religion news reporting in the United States and around the world.

The initiative is funded by a $4.9 million grant from Lilly Endowment.

The endowment says part of its mission is to “deepen and enrich the religious lives of American Christians” and to “foster public understanding about religion and help lift up in fair and accurate ways the contributions that people of diverse religious faiths make to our greater civic well-being.”

Columnist James A. Haught, former editor of West Virginia’s largest newspaper, The Charleston Gazette-Mail, said he “suspects that Lilly is trying to buy a whitewash to offset endless ugly headlines about religious horrors and cruelties around the world. I wanted to give the project a jolt. Half sarcastically, I offered to write ‘curmudgeon columns’ for the Lilly-funded enterprise. Here is my first one (which I assume is doomed to rejection).”

By James A. Haught

Supernatural religion is a colossal system of falsehoods. Invisible gods, devils, heavens, hells, angels, demons and other magical church entities don’t actually exist. They’re just concoctions of the human imagination. Yet they’re the basis of a trillion-dollar labyrinth of worship around the planet.

Widespread belief in such spirits shows a deep flaw in the supposedly logical minds of our species. It’s akin to fairy tale beliefs of children.

The most dishonest people are clergy who endlessly declare God’s commands, as if an imaginary being really gave commands. I wonder how many ministers realize, at least subconsciously, that they’re spouting lies?

Studies show that religious skeptics have higher intelligence than religious believers. Maybe that’s why brilliant thinkers throughout history have doubted religion.

In Ancient Greece, thinker Prodicus reportedly said: “The gods of popular belief do not exist.”

In medieval times, while the Holy Inquisition burned skeptics, Michel de Montaigne wrote: “Man is certainly stark mad. He cannot make a worm, yet he will make gods by the dozen.”

As American radicals launched the first modern democracy, Thomas Jefferson wrote: “The day will come when the mystical generation of Jesus, by the supreme being as his father in the womb of a virgin, will be classed with the fable of the generation of Minerva in the brain of Jupiter.”

Jefferson also wrote, in an 1820 letter, that ministers “dread the advance of science as witches do the approach of daylight.”

Thomas Edison scoffed: “Religion is all bunk.”

Albert Einstein told The New York Times in 1930 that he couldn’t believe in a personal god, adding: “Neither can I believe that the individual survives the death of his body, although feeble souls harbor such thoughts through fear or ridiculous egotism.”

There you have it. The brightest people have always known that supernatural church dogmas are untrue.

The Flynn Effect shows that the average American I.Q. rises three points per decade. Educated folks are getting smarter. Maybe that’s why religion is dwindling rapidly in the United States, as it has done in Europe.

At least one-fourth of American adults now say their religion is “none” — and the ratio is one-third among those under 30. Supernatural faith is dying, right before everyone’s eyes. A new secular age is taking shape. Scientific honesty prevails. Hurrah.

It may seem harmless that millions of older Americans still attend church and pray to imaginary spirits that don’t exist. But religion has a dark side that is profoundly harmful.

It has cropped up since the time of human sacrifice, Crusades, Inquisitions, witch hunts, holy wars and pogroms against Jews.

Today, the vile side of faith erupts in Muslim suicide massacres, child molestation by Catholic priests (and Protestant evangelists), opposition to the teaching of evolution, resistance to sex education and birth control, cruel hostility to gays, opposition to lifesaving stem cell research, etc.

Another vile aspect of religion is the adherence of white evangelicals to the Republican Party. Jesus was allegedly a liberal who urged followers to help the poor, feed the hungry, heal the sick, clothe the naked and aid underdogs.That’s the formula of the social “safety net” backed by Democrats. Yet, white fundamentalists vote overwhelmingly for the GOP, which seeks to slash the safety net. In effect, those believers oppose Jesus.

It’s fortunate that supernatural religion is fading as America grows more intelligent. Bring it on. The faster the better.

James A. Haught is editor emeritus of West Virginia’s largest newspaper, the Charleston Gazette-Mail.

Daniel C. Dennett: Clergy disbelief confessions come to life

From left, Dan Barker, Daniel C. Dennett, Carter Warden and Linda LaScola discuss The Clergy Project with audience members during FFRF’s annual convention in Pittsburgh in 2016. Warden, who used the pseudonym Adam Mann, publicly came out as an atheist at the convention after decades as a Christian minister. (Photo by Ingrid Laas)
Daniel C. Dennett

By Daniel C. Dennett

Confidential confessions of disbelief by practicing clergy are gripping revelations of what it is like to be caught in a web of evasion.

When my wife Susan read the final draft of Caught in the Pulpit: Leaving Belief Behind, the book Linda LaScola and I wrote about the confidential interviews Linda had conducted with nearly 30 nonbelieving clergy, her immediate reaction was that this would make a stirring play. She was right. Linda and I joined forces with New York City playwright Marin Gazzaniga, who, supported by a grant from the Richard Dawkins Foundation, combed through the thousands of pages of transcripts and assembled a play drawn directly from their interviews.

As someone with little prior knowledge of the theater world, I have been fascinated by the huge team effort required to bring a play to life. Since our initial project had been under my direction at Tufts University, Gazzaniga had to get certified by Tufts’ Internal Review Board for human subjects research before she could gain access to the highly confidential transcripts. Also, Linda contacted study participants to ask their permission to use their transcripts in the play. Marin’s first script, the product of intense artistic decision-making, guided (and complicated) by intense editorial discussions among the three of us, was given a private reading in New York in 2015. The invited audience of theater people were on the edge of their seats, but our verdict was: electrifying, but too long.

So it was back to the drawing board, this time in partnership with the award-winning New York theater company The Civilians, renowned for its “investigative theater” productions. Through further readings and workshops, our creative team took the script on a journey of simplifications, unifications, re-orderings, subtle tweaks and a bounty of insights from director Steve Cosson, dramaturge Jeremy Stoller and a fine cast of actors. This work culminated in February, in the form of a stunning pair of performances (still “on book,” but highly rehearsed) at Princeton’s Lewis Arts Center. 

So, after several years of revisions and workshop readings with professional directors and actors, the play is ready for production, with a new title based on the pseudonym of one of the study participants: “Adam Mann (Not His Real Name).”

We can now say (with relief!) that the most uncertain aspects of this project are behind us. Yes, we have a moving, tightly integrated, roller-coaster ride of a play to show the world. We have attracted the interest of a wide swath of people in the world of theater, and our executive producer, Megan Kingery, is hard at work lining up potential theaters, talent, and — most important — the financial support we need to get the play on the boards.

Telling the stories of the courageous participants of the original study through the medium of theater has been fascinating and challenging, and has only deepened how moved I am by their brave and often desperately lonely journeys.

Those who wish to support the future development of “Adam Mann: Not His Real Name” can donate to the show at:

Daniel C. Dennett, a co-founder of The Clergy Project, is the co-director of the Center for Cognitive Studies and the Austin B. Fletcher Professor of Philosophy at Tufts University and an honorary director of FFRF.

Abdullah Al Masud: ‘Islam is a prison without bars and borders’

FFRF sent a $5,000 stipend this spring to Abdullah as part of its “secular underground railway.”

By Abdullah Al Masud

I was born in 1985 into an ultra-orthodox Muslim family. My father, a lifelong Muslim cleric, worked at different mosques throughout Bangladesh. From my childhood on, I studied in Qawmi Madrasah, an orthodox Islamic education institute with branches in Bangladesh, Pakistan and India.

Qawmi Madrasah is designed like a boarding school. Madrasah provided very little freedom, either mental or physical. We were taught and forced to recite the Quran and the Hadith from dawn to dusk. The madrasah is nothing but a systematic brainwashing machine, where a young undeveloped mind is forged

Abdullah Al Masud
Students study at Qawmi Madrasah, an orthodox Islamic education institute in Bangladesh. (Photo courtesy of United News of Bangladesh)

into a sixth-century primitive Arab mind. We are taught to see how the sixth-century tribal desert man used to see, thus it is very difficult for one to come out of that trance, let alone leave such an idea.

Muslim men are deprived of sex, thus Qawmi Madrasah is a pedophilia factory. Child sex is a common phenomenon almost in madrasahs, where children are sexually abused and mentally tortured. It teaches to hate those outside of Islam, both individually and collectively. Islam is a prison without bars and borders that imprisons humanity.

Yet, major political leaders from all political parties in Bangladesh promote the Qawmi Madrasah and encourage Islamic clerics to propagate radical Islam throughout the community just to turn people’s eyes away from development and free thinking.

After graduation from Qawmi Madrasha, I worked as an imam in many mosques for 12 years and was a principal of the famous Qawmi Madrasah in the Dhaka Cantonment. But I have always had a relentless quest for answers to the millions of questions that randomly popped in my head. Because of that frequent questioning, I suffered many brutal beatings at the hands of my madrasah teacher and also from my own parents, but I just couldn’t simply stop. My compulsive nature of asking “Why this? Why that?” emotionally drained me, though I still had faith in Islam.

Reforming Islam

So, I wondered how Islam could be reformed. I took refuge in books. I read whatever I could put my hands on, whenever and wherever I found them. In madrasah, the only language we were expected to learn is God’s language — Arabic. There were a lot of books and news I came across in regard to freethinking. Most of it was in Bengali. I had to smuggle Bengali books into the madrasha. Without any institutional support, I taught myself enough English to where I could at least read and understand the basics.

From the get-go, I knew how vile Islam could be, but I just couldn’t get out of it because Islam permeates all spheres of existence. But I truly believed in not harming any person, no matter their caste, creed or religion. I was searching for the good things of Islam that could be compatible with civilization.

Finally, I went to Mecca as a pilgrim in 2016 to find out if there was any better version of Islam than what was practiced in Bangladesh. I prayed days at a time for salvation. However, my salvation never came. The almighty’s promise always came empty, devoid of love, just like the desert is devoid of water, thus life. I realized humanism is the only religion in the universe and I left Islam.

I have weighed every opportunity to speak without compromising my personal safety, but Islam brainwashes everyone to a point that no one is as important as Muhammad. The love of Muhammad supersedes all forms of love that exist in any human relationship. Whomever is perceived to have strayed is immediately purged by death. It doesn’t matter who they are — even one’s wife and children eavesdrop and betray their relation for the love of Prophet Muhammad and his teaching. I knew, but never could fathom such betrayal until it happened to me.

Threats on my life

When my wife found out about my views, the reaction was immediate and swift. I was given an ultimatum: either renounce my view or get a divorce. I still love my wife, with whom I have two beautiful children. I knew if my wife leaked any such information to any of her friends or anyone whom she thinks she could trust, that would mean the immediate death penalty. Yet, still I tried to stay with my family. Then one morning I received a text stating: “Mr. Masud, come back to Islam or we will kill you, just like how the bloggers were killed.”

Coincidently, I had already decided that I must leave if I hoped to stay alive. So, I bought a ticket to get away. I received that serious threat six days prior to my departure.

I called my contact and asked for advice. I was advised to leave immediately, whatever way I could. That day I was free, as if I was a newborn taking the first breath out my mother’s womb. I flew to India and started my new life. I have been trying to alert the Muslim community through a YouTube channel. Now I am receiving death threats on a regular basis here, also.

My goal is to get the imam out of Islam. If I am able to get these religious leaders out, then the students will follow, and will provoke questions in them, which will eventually lead them to the truth that Islam is not what they are told or know.

I left my two beautiful children so that they won’t get deprived and blindfolded by the religion they think is full of piety. I believe there is no country in Southeast Asia that can offer me enough security where I can write for the rest of my life. Ever since I left my native country, I was lucky to have some well-wisher who stood next to people like me as a backbone in all phases.

My earnest humble request to the international community is to grant people like myself a safe place and financial support.

A modern-day Islamic renaissance is about to take place in the Indian subcontinent and ground zero is Bangladesh.

Voices from people like us must be heard while Islam metastasizes.

Dan Watson: Stepping out from the shadow of my father

Dan Watson
Paul Watson with his son, Dan, and daughter in 1965.
Paul Watson in 1970.
Guru Ralph Houston in 1969.

By Dan Watson

Throughout the late 1940s and 1950s, most of my family and relatives were very much involved in a religious cult called Agni Yoga.

Agni Yoga is one of the occult neo-Theosophical religious doctrines produced by Russians Helena and Nicholas Roerich around 1920. It was supposedly transmitted to Helena Roerich by spiritual or supernatural means via table rapping and telepathy from Madame Blavatsky’s spiritual mentors she referred to as Master Morya and Master Koot Hoomi. It is loosely based on Blavatsky’s writings from her works Isis Unveiled and The Sacred Doctrine. It is a philosophy of living ethics blending aspects of Hinduism and Buddhism and combining them with Christianity. So, you get the law of karma and reincarnation mixed in with some of the teachings of Jesus.

In these teachings, God was not a personal god, but rather more of an abstract concept. For example, God is in us all and everything around us. Jesus Christ, on the other hand, was considered to be an actual historical figure that walked the Earth in biblical times as an ascended master. This philosophy encourages striving for enlightenment through daily meditations and prayers. It was referred to simply as “The Teaching.”

By the late 1950s, there were small groups of Agni Yoga followers popping up in various parts of the country. My grandparents would host weekly Agni Yoga meetings at their home in the San Francisco Bay area on Thursday nights. They would also host special meetings once or twice a year whenever Guru Ralph Houston came to town.

Houston lived in upstate New York in an old mansion he called the Ashram. He was a direct disciple and student of Nicholas Roerich. Sometime in 1959, the young man who would become my father began attending the classes my grandparents were hosting. He was an artist living in a friend’s garage and was a beatnik. This is where my father met my mother. They began dating, fell in love, got married and I was born in 1961.

Father became a leader

My father excelled at understanding the “Teachings” and, as time went by, he became the leader of the classes. He started to gain many followers and eventually began taking students on a probationary level toward discipleship. “The Meetings” were held at our house every Thursday evening. My bedroom was right next to our living room, where my father would hold his classes. I was allowed to leave my bedroom door open so I could listen to the adults’ conversations. Listening in on all of my father’s classes over the years, I remember the many times I heard him give his standard lecture to his students about how there was a “delicate silver cord” connecting all of us to the Hierarchy and to the Masters and that the very moment you doubt or question anything from the Teachings, this delicate cord would be severed forever and your connection with the Hierarchy and the Masters would be forever lost. You would then become a “dark one” working for the dark side against the brotherhood of light and you would no longer be protected by the Hierarchy.

The first time I heard this, I instinctively thought it was nonsense. At that moment, I realized I had doubted my father, Guru Houston, the Masters, the Hierarchy of Light, and the Teachings. I could not help it — it was an automatic response. I had committed the unforgivable sin — I doubted.

I was conflicted about this for a very long time, but I never dared tell anyone. What if my parents discovered that I had turned over to the dark side? Did they already know? Could they see it in my face or in my aura? Could Guru Houston sense it from his Ashram all the way from New York? What would I do if they kicked me out of the house for doubting the Teaching?

I was only 9 years old, incapable of taking care of myself. If my loving grandparents found out, would they turn against me? My whole social circle was totally engrossed in this religion. I kept my mouth shut about it and no one ever seemed to know, so eventually I figured it really didn’t matter.

‘What a scam’

It wasn’t until years later that I fully understood what my father was doing. “What a scam,” I thought. If you were to believe his sales pitch, that meant you had to believe everything my father said was the undisputed truth because he was the guru and claimed to be in direct contact with the Masters and the Hierarchy of Light. This gave him total control and power of his flock and he knew it.

I observed this control mechanism work very well for many years. As I grew older and wiser, I could see this pattern and system of fear-based control ingrained in numerous other religious doctrines. I think that playing the role of leader and guru might have gone to my father’s head, and he may have indulged himself with the adulation of some of the female students. For whatever reasons, my parents announced to my sister and me that they were splitting up and that Dad would be moving out.

This happened about the same time that Guru Houston informed us that soon many natural catastrophes would be plaguing the Earth and society would be breaking down, that we should prepare to leave the populated areas of the cities and suburban areas. We were told to pool our money together and purchase land in the Oregon wilderness and build a commune and Ashram there where we could all live together and be safe from the chaos and dangers of the approaching apocalypse.

So that’s just what the group did. Someone was put in charge of finding and purchasing the land, someone was put in charge of overseeing the construction and fabrication of the structures, living quarters and ashram. When the time came, we were to sell off our homes, cars and other unnecessary belongings and move into the new compound safe from all the crazy people.

This project was about halfway completed when Guru Houston unexpectedly suffered a heart attack and died. Things got really weird after that. I noticed drastic changes taking place in the behavior of the adults. With Houston gone, things soon fell apart.

Power struggle

The men in charge could not get along and there was a leadership power struggle going on. I remember that the land was eventually sold off, but I don’t think everybody got their money back from that fiasco.

Shortly after my father’s girlfriend moved into his new home, his followers found out that he had left his wife and two children without any child support. One night, they all confronted him about this and shamed him into eventually giving my mother the lawful minimum monthly amount of support. Things were never the same between my father and his flock after that.

As time went on, his followers slowly dropped off until he found himself sitting there by himself on Thursday nights. He maintained the delusion that he was still a guru and was well on his way to becoming an ascended master. He continued to hold meetings all by himself for over a year. He eventually moved up to a secluded part of northern California near the Oregon border, where he continued to study the teachings of Agni Yoga and hold his solitary Thursday night meetings. It was observing my father’s rise, success and failure as a cult leader that set me on the path to seek the truth, a truth free of delusion.

It wasn’t until I got much older that I began reading, researching and studying the origins of Christianity, the bible, Theosophy, Madame Blavatsky and the historicity of Jesus. I eventually came to the realization that I was an atheist. However, with this realization came the oppressive feeling of being trapped and unwelcome in a world full of mostly superstitious believers.

The way I see it, humanity is still very much in its infancy. It is very slowly evolving, just like everything else on this planet. Naturally, some life forms will evolve faster than others. I like to think that atheists are a small but growing number of members of the human race who are evolving perhaps a little faster than the rest of the herd — evolving beyond the need for superstition, beyond the need for belief in God or other myths.

Dan Watson works as a computer repair technician and lives with his wife Rebecca in Castro Valley, Calif.

Erin Louis: Mom is not in heaven, but she still lives on

Mother by Steve Benson
Erin Louis

By Erin Louis

As I got into my car to leave my mother’s house late in the summer of 2013, my mother said to me, “If I don’t make it, I promise I will prove to you that there is an afterlife.”

She was preparing to go into surgery the following day. I had driven to her house to help her clean and prepare for her recovery when she returned home. Earlier in the visit, we had been discussing my atheism and nonbelief in an afterlife. Having been raised strictly Catholic, at 71 she had let go of a lot of the dogma associated with her religion, but held on to the belief that there was a loving god who would reward her for her struggles on Earth with an eternity in heaven.

Although she had tried to instill the same faith in me, by the time I had reached the age of reason, I had come to the conclusion that there was no god. This did not bother my mother, in spite of her beliefs, because she knew in her heart that God would not punish good people even if they denied his existence. She firmly believed that I was a good person and would not suffer the eternal damnation preached by the nuns of her youth.

Heaven as a salve

The idea of an afterlife was a concept that proved more resistant to my logical mind than the idea of a personal god. Whenever an elderly relative died, there was the comfort of knowing that they were no longer suffering, that they had gone to a “better place” filled with their loved ones that had gone on before them. Although it was inconsistent with my sense of reality, I found it easier to not apply reason or logic to this concept. Especially as a child, the idea of heaven provided a much-needed salve to the pain of loss. 

As I grew older, I could not escape the fact that I really didn’t believe our consciousness survived outside of our physical selves. The only evidence I had seen to the contrary was the occasional compelling ghost story. But, eventually, I had to concede that this life was all we got. My beloved kitty would not greet me in the arms of my grandma when I died. There would be no endless bowls of my favorite ice cream for all eternity. I had to accept the fact that this life was my one and only, and I had better get to living.

I had found the concept of an afterlife to be a hindrance to actual life. If everything was to be so much better after I’m dead, why bother living now? Why not jump in front of a bus? Why bother living through the trials and tribulations of life on Earth? If you’re looking forward to heaven, then aren’t you just waiting to die? 

My mother’s surgery did not go as planned. After a week of ups and downs, my siblings and I made the awful decision to remove our mother from life support. I held the hand of the priest along with my family as he delivered the last rites to my dying mother. My beliefs, or lack thereof, had absolutely no bearing about how I felt. My goal was to honor my mother and her wishes. Over the next 12 hours, as my mother’s body shut down, my brother and I held her hands. I held on to her well after she was gone, unable to believe that it was over. My brother finally had to explain to me that the heart beats registering on the machine were not our mother’s, but my own. Devastated, my brother and I finally left the room.

Trying to believe

The next few days and weeks were a blurring whirlwind of emotion and grief. Explaining to my 8-year-old son that grandma was gone is still to this day the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. As my mind began to process the events, I thought that I might revert to my childish belief in heaven. My family talked of our mother riding her lawnmower or playing her piano in heaven. I desperately wanted to believe. I tried.

The crushing pain of this loss was something I didn’t think I could bear. My stubborn nonbelief rivaled my mother’s absolute faith. No matter how hard I tried, I was utterly unable to take comfort in something that I simply couldn’t believe to be true. Through all this, I never let my family know how I really felt. In fact, I was jealous of their beliefs and the relief it provided them.

Well-meaning people talked about how she was in a better place or about how energy doesn’t die.  Maybe I should find a medium to contact her? If I only opened my mind, she would reveal herself to me.  All the good intended advice was in vain. As much as I desperately wanted to believe in any, if not all, of it, my stubborn unopened mind simply refused.

In trying to process my grief, I began to look to the things she left behind. My mother was an accomplished musician. I sat at her piano, desperately hoping to somehow feel her essence. I wore her sun hat, listened to her music, and looked at photos of her, thinking maybe I could start to fill the hole she had left in my life. But her things were just things. They invoked memories, but utterly failed to fill the void.

One day, I passed by a mirror in my house and out of the corner of my eye, I saw my mother. I stepped back and looked again and only saw myself. Later, I passed by the same mirror, and once again I saw my mother out of the corner of my eye. I stopped and looked again, this time slightly changing the angle of my face, and there she was. My mother was looking back at me. In my eyes, I saw her. I saw her in the slight crookedness of my smile. I saw her in my nose. I even caught a glimpse of her in my rear end. In my son’s retelling of one of my mother’s off-color jokes, I heard her. I started to see her everywhere. It was then that I realized that mom was not in heaven riding her lawnmower. In fact, she never left. At least not entirely.

She lives on in me, and, in turn, will live on in my siblings. She lives in my son, and my nieces and nephews. She lives on in the minds of all the people she touched in her life. The healing started then. I didn’t need to imagine her in paradise. I didn’t need to wear her sun hat or sit at her piano. I needed only to look in the mirror. She would be very pleased to know that she did prove an afterlife to me. She lives on in me.

FFRF Member Erin Louis lives in northern California with her husband and son. She’s a classically trained pastry chef, writer and unabashed atheist.

Crankmail (June/July 2019)

Here is our latest installment of letters and emails we’ve received recently that aren’t quite fit for our Letterbox page. Printed as received (so turn away if you don’t like profanity!).

Worship Him: If you are alive, you might have one last chance, just thing about how the evil is playing with your mind, he is lying to you, he doesn’t want you, he is using you and he only wants to devour you. The Wrath of God is prepared for him and everyone who worship him, for every single evil thing that he did, and he knows it, he just doesn’t want you to know that. !! Be a GLADIATOR for GOD !!! — Daniel Cindea

Jesus and God!: FFRF your full of crap!!! Dumb bastards always looking for something to come against GODWhen does the holy ghost apeare? When do angels ever apeare, at what time? There is a (and are a lot of) mistakes in the bible, sure. But does that mistake include Jesus. No. It includes some serious later alteratios into putting the men in power to be powerfull, like Mithraists and getting some stupid stuff like easter to be associated with Jesus. — Misael Torres

The real truth: If your FFRF are really to follow truth, you should and could find God is the truth. I am a woman who has been educated and raised in an panganist and atheistic country, but when I decided to find the truth of this world, after a lot reading materials, I found Jesus is the ‘maybe-truth’ and then after my trying to believe in Him, I found He is the living God who like to react to me and keep a good relationship with me even if I can not see Him. Yes, He is the truth of all the world. Your FFRF bahaviors against God are really hurting God’s love to you and you have to have enough understanding to realize that kicking a spur will at last hurt yoursevlves the most. — Mary Wang

God Bless America: if you don’t like God Bless America I pledge allegiance to the flag or anything else in God we trust get the f*** out of my country you c*********** motherfuker you spend another one of my f****** dollar bills because in God we trust is all over them assholes may your building fall to the ground in a sinkhole with all of you in it — Robert Traxler

Prayer: My prayer is that Disgusting Organizations like your Shit-Hole organization Kiss My Veteran Ass. Learn to mind your business. — Anthony Boxelder

Your scum: You can all just get a life!! Your absolutely pathetic humans who have nothing to do then cause pain to others. Who the Fuck care if people want to say God bless America?? Why do you Fucking care?? You seriously need to get a life!! Do you really believe that people are gonna stop praying to their God because your offended about something? — Jeff Redenholt

Demand to remove crosses: Please come on down to our little town. Introduce yourselves to everyone you see on the street. Lets see how that ends up. — John Gall

Animas H.S.: On the teacher being dismissed at Animas H.S. FUCK YOU Anytime you jagoffs come to Chicago let me know Be more than glad to meet one of you fucking assholes — William Bertucci

Religion: So you go after a High school since he allowed athletes to wear a donated T-shirt man you thugs should be proud of your selfs lol that’s ok Christ will return then he will be Gods right hand man during your judgement that will be hilarious to see — Steven Reagan

Future: This is a messege for your organization, this is not a messege of candemnation but a warning, You and your organization are haters of all that is good, there will come a day when you and your entire organization will be judged according to your works, in that day you will face a Holy God, a God you have mocked, a God you have fought against, let me tell you its a terrible thing to fall in the hands of the living God, there you will have to answer for all your crimes, for all the times you have lied stolen, committed adultry, and all the times you blasphed against his Holy Name, if you dont repent from your crimes against God, and accept Jesus as your Lord, He will be your Judge in that day, and you will all have part in the Lake Of Fire, where the smoke of your torment will arise forever and ever and where your worm never dies. Rember this messege that day, you wont be able to say no one warned you! — Kevin Diaz

Your group’s ignorance: You are fools who don’t know real science when you see it. And there is no such wording in the Constitution as speration of church and state. One nation under God is still our country’s moto. — Marvin Kraus

10 Commandments: You people make me sick you remind me so much of the American Civil Liberties Union sticking your nose in where it doesn’t belong if this nation would follow the 10 Commandments more closely it would be a much better country to live in our moral standards with people like you exist and it becomes a joke another words but out this doesn’t concern you — Doug Willoughby



John Flores

Your time is coming: No belief in God is the unpardonable sin. May God have mercy on your soul. For you to try and convince others there is no God, may someone hunt you down like a rabid dog. You add no value to human existence. — Tammy Jensen

Linda Greenhouse: Let’s not forget the Establishment Clause

This article first appeared in the New York Times and is reprinted with permission.

By Linda Greenhouse


Linda Greenhouse
Image provided by Shutterstock

happened to be in Dublin in May when the Alabama Legislature voted to ban abortions. Foreign travel tends to enhance a person’s perception of what’s happening back home, and that was certainly true for me on this trip.

It’s almost exactly a year since Irish voters, by an overwhelming two-thirds majority, threw off the shackles of the Roman Catholic Church and repealed the country’s constitutional provision banning abortion. On May 26, voters defied the bishops again and repealed the provision that requires at least four years of living apart before a couple can apply for a divorce. (Ireland legalized same-sex marriage by popular vote back in 2015.)

Back in Alabama, the state’s governor, Kay Ivey, issued this official statement when she signed the abortion ban into law: “To the bill’s many supporters, this legislation stands as a powerful testament to Alabamians’ deeply held belief that every life is precious and that every life is a sacred gift from God.”

People in Ireland, so many of whom have relatives in the United States, are watching closely. Una Mullally, a prominent columnist for The Irish Times, reflecting on a recent trip to New York for a conference on reproductive rights, had this to say in a column recently: “So much of what we see with anti-abortion movements — in which religious fundamentalism, fake news, propaganda and hysteria are embedded — comes from the American playbook, so it behooves us to keep a close eye on what’s happening in the U.S. right now.”

Becoming a theocracy

I lack the social science expertise to explain the opposite trajectories of our two countries: Ireland marching proudly into the future, while the United States is reconfiguring itself into a theocracy that would have appalled our Founding Fathers. (Abortion, by the way, was legal at the nation’s founding, and for much of a century afterward.)

But I do know something about the United States Constitution. If the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause means anything, it has to mean that God’s will cannot be a constitutional justification for a law that erases an individual right.

I’m realistic about this. I’m not expecting judges to embrace the Establishment Clause as the basis for invalidating the Alabama Human Life Protection Act, and I’m not expecting even progressive politicians to call out the religious basis for the wave of anti-abortion laws, of which Alabama’s is the most extreme. But it’s past time for the rest of us to step back and consider the impact of religion’s current grip on public policy — not only on the right to abortion, but on the availability of insurance coverage for contraception in employer-sponsored health plans and on the right of gay and transgender individuals to obtain medical services without encountering discrimination.

The Establishment Clause says, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.” But we don’t hear much about it these days. It has shrunk noticeably at the hands of the current Supreme Court, in contrast to the First Amendment’s other religion clause, the Free Exercise clause, much in favor with today’s majority. The only Supreme Court justice who ever linked abortion and the Establishment Clause was John Paul Stevens, now nine years into retirement and, at age 99, author of a new memoir.

Webster case relevant

Thirty years ago, in a case called Webster v. Reproductive Health Services, the court considered a Missouri law that placed several restrictions on access to abortion. The law contained a preamble declaring it to be a “finding” of the state legislature that “the life of each human being begins at conception.” Was such language constitutional? That was one question in the case, but Chief Justice William Rehnquist’s opinion for the court ducked it. The preamble stated an “abstract proposition” that “does not by its terms regulate abortion,” the chief justice wrote. “We therefore need not pass on the constitutionality of the act’s preamble.”

Stevens, alone, disagreed. The preamble was “an unequivocal endorsement of a religious tenet of some but by no means all Christian faiths,” he wrote in his separate opinion. It “serves no identifiable secular purpose,” he continued, adding, “That fact alone compels a conclusion that the statute violates the Establishment Clause.”

Each side attracted supporting briefs from religious organizations, a total of 67 friend-of-the-court briefs in all. In words that are perhaps even more relevant today than they were 30 years ago, Stevens explained: “Bolstering my conclusion that the preamble violates the First Amendment is the fact that the intensely divisive character of much of the national debate over the abortion issue reflects the deeply held religious convictions of many participants in the debate.” He concluded, “The Missouri Legislature may not inject its endorsement of a particular religious tradition into this debate.”

There was once a robust Establishment Clause conversation surrounding restrictions on abortion. In 1976, just three years after the Supreme Court decided Roe v. Wade, Congress enacted the Hyde Amendment, cutting off abortion coverage for poor women under the Medicaid program. The legislative debate was replete with references to the “immortal soul” of a fetus and even to Herod’s “slaughter of the innocents.” A representative of the United States Catholic Conference was highly visible as an adviser to the members of the House of Representatives who were negotiating with senators on the amendment’s final form. The lawsuit that abortion rights groups filed immediately after the law’s passage prominently included the Establishment Clause in contending that the amendment was unconstitutional. But that argument never got traction, either with the federal district judge who declared the Hyde Amendment unconstitutional or with the Supreme Court, which reversed that decision and upheld the amendment in 1980.

The court will face another Establishment Clause test, which it will predictably fail, in a year or so when it confronts the Trump administration’s Religious Exemption Rule. This rule grants employers who have religious objections to birth control an opt-out from the Affordable Care Act’s mandate to cover contraception in the employee health plan. The rule represents a metastasis from the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision in 2014, which granted an exemption on the understanding that female employees would get their birth control coverage directly from the employer’s insurance carrier. But the Trump rule offers no such workaround. Women with the misfortune to work for anti-contraception employers will become second-class citizens, their statutory right to full health care benefits sacrificed to protect the boss from complicity in the sin of birth control.

Two federal district courts have issued injunctions to bar the rule from taking effect, based on faulty administrative procedure rather than on constitutional grounds. The cases are now at the court of appeals level. In the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, 14 leading scholars of the Constitution’s religion clauses have filed a brief arguing that the rule manifests unconstitutional “religious favoritism,” an “unyielding preference for religious interests over any conceivable secular interest,” while shifting “serious burdens to third parties.”

More lawsuits to come

In May, the administration issued an expanded “conscience rule” to permit health care workers, down to the level of receptionist, to opt out of involvement with procedures to which they have moral or religious objections. Another new rule to be issued shortly would limit protections for transgender patients seeking even ordinary health care by expanding opt-outs for providers who have religious objections to treating them. These new measures, carrying out the president’s pledge to serve the interests of his allies on the Religious Right, will undoubtedly be the subject of lawsuits.

As I said earlier, I’m a realist. There is no chance the Supreme Court will be receptive to Establishment Clause arguments. That’s all the more reason not to lose the Establishment Clause from our working civic vocabulary.

Indeed, before the end of the current term, we will have a better idea of whether there’s anything left of the Establishment Clause when the court decides the pending case on the constitutionality of a 40-foot cross on public land in Maryland. [FFRF filed a friend of the court brief in the case.] Lurking in the background of this case is the argument that the Establishment Clause permits any religious favoritism short of actual coercion of non-adherents. You don’t like the public display of sectarian symbols? No problem — no one’s making you look at them.

It took Ireland many years and much pain to claim the secular freedom its people now enjoy. It’s taking us just a few years of disingenuous politics to hurl us backward to a place many of us never imagined.

Linda Greenhouse, the winner of the 1998 Pulitzer Prize, writes about the Supreme Court and the law. She reported on the Supreme Court for The New York Times from 1978 to 2008, and is the author of several books.