Crankmail (January/February 2018)

Here is the latest batch of mail we received that doesn’t quite cut it for our Letterbox section. Printed as received.

Crossville, TN.: Get out of Crossville, Tennessee and stay out. Your presence here offends me. I demand that you stop any and all action in Cumberland County. We believe in God here and do not need any of your stupidity here. Our State law allows the Ten Commandments in our schools and the first Amendment to our Constitution does as well. I do not see what is so hard to understand about that. — William Ward

Beaufort county schools: A heartfelt ‘screw you’ for your organizations bullying tactics and threats that caused Beaufort county schools to halt a VOLUNTARY mentoring program. I could understand if it was FORCED. What a sack of nuts, worse than the Spanish during the inquisition. I guess this is what happens when micro-penises unite. This organization is nothing more than a collective of angry, disaffected, loser adults with nothing else worth doing. — Lucion Depot

Education: your groups views are ill-advised, unfounded, Unconstitutional. Your ignorance has no shame–most Americans are ignorant of their history. Can I volunteer to travel to your group and teach AMERICAN HISTORY? — Steve Cordell

Recent Cowardice: 1. Go to hell 2. Take your colleagues with you. 3. Mind your local issues. 4. In conclusion go to HELL! You represent the scum of the scum of the earth. — David McLendon

Senator Logan: You fucking people make me sick. Nothing better to do but complain about a State Senator, not even in your State, volunteering for a charity. Fucking liberals. — Brian Koskelowski

School prayer: You bullies suck ass !! GO GOD !!! Pussies — Duncan Joyns

You: Shows what fucking morons and haters you are. Karma coming for you! PRAYING for you!! NOT! Karma is coming…your mama sick? Karma! Dog die? Karma! Fuck off!! — Barbara Theisen

Small orgination files lawmsuit: I see in Evansville you are protesting a coach of a football team praying with his players. Can you say Adolph Hitler? Your little organization is no better than him. Communists! — Jay Beier

God Loves you: God forgives you all, and God still loves you. it is not to late to change… one day one of your kids or family is going to be on their death bed, and who are you going to pray to? — David Poole

VIOLATION: ACCORDING to the FOUNDING FATHERS of the U.S. YOU ARE a VIOLATION of the Constitution go to Washington D.C. and try to find a building in that city that DOESN’T HAVE SOMETHING about GOD and the BIBLE in it or on it…. Do YOURSELVES and this COUNTRY a favor and GET OUT and TAKE ALL of the LIBERAL POLITICIANS with you Because NONE of you BELONG HERE you are NOT AMERICAN CITIZENS. — Paul Chandler

The First Amendment: The first amendment gives us Freedom of religion(not from it). Basically, your organization is unconstitutional. — Stephen Johnson

Religion: I am no atheist or liberal. I detest both and they are close minded and fucked up in the head. Unlike you morons I think for myself and I oppose religion too but at least I know what I’m talking about. You idiots don’t think or speak for me. I do that for myself. This is a totally clueless organization — Richard Thorpe

Perish: All of you perish in your total wickedness!!! — Ron Witt

Flag: Go to HELL!!!!! Oh wait a minute, you all are already headed there!!!!!!! BWAHHHHHHHHH! — Don Antifall

I’d like to donate: It must suck to be on the wrong side of everything. I’m sure if you ever have a horrendous accident and are near death you will be begging God to save you or spare your child. What a bunch of useless douchebags. — Billy Johnson

Pathetic:  If the bible is “so bad” then go write your own bible and then try to get people build their lives around it. I’ll be happy to read the inevitable shitty writings that you’ll come up with. The only good thing atheists do, is to unite religious people in their hatred of the pathetic, useless atheists. — Whitney Deangelo

THIS IS OUR TIME: Freedom From Religion Foundation is the rebirth of the Communist Party. Social Haters, Sicko Perverts. America, let’s start identifying these animals by name and address. It is time to start cleaning these vial animals from our towns, let’s send them back to hell. We have cleaned our town, and other towns are starting. Put a name and face on the Haters. Seek out this Vile Animal and Destroy it. — Abner Lansing

Crankmail comes via both email and postal mail.

Letterbox (January/February 2018)

Thanks for restoring Ingersoll statue

Here is a photo of us from our visit to the restored Robert G. Ingersoll statute in Peoria, Ill. Thank you to FFRF for spearheading the restoration of freethinker Ingersoll and keeping his proud heritage alive and remembered.

Steve Petersen and Shirley Moll are shown at the foot of the Robert Ingersoll statue.


Washington Post guilty of Christmas overkill

I know it was the Christmas season, but the Washington Post was guilty of dismal overkill on the subject, including treacly sermons from pundits such as E.J. Dionne (“The radical Christmas miracle”) and Michael Gerson (“A season of hope, even in a time of grief”).  Plus, there was stuff in the paper about evangelicals who were gaga over a trip to the Bible Museum, and budding journalists from an evangelical school who think it’s OK to twist reality and facts to suit their bible-based beliefs.

This is not a Christian nation. Some, like myself, believe religions bear much responsibility for the bigotry and hate in the world. (Evangelicals are taught to despise LGBT people, for example. Why do we take their ugly beliefs seriously?) How about greater respect for reason and less for superstition?

How about an interview with a scientist, atheist or humanist? How about a story about somebody who finds meaning in leading a good life without an imaginary friend called God? Our rational voices should be heard, too.

Carolyn D. Lewis


FFRF desperately needed in our country now

Once again, please accept the enclosed $1,000 check as an unrestricted gift to help further the courageous, principled work of FFRF.

I thought our country had reached a low point in 2016, but we have sunk even lower, and our nation even more desperately needs FFRF. As a Life Member, I remain extremely grateful to FFRF leadership, management and staff members for their dedication and perseverance.

Scribner Messenger


No more worthy cause than being a Life Member

Thank you for all you do each and every day to protect our democracy and work to maintain the separation of state and church. Words cannot express my profound gratitude and appreciation. I am proud to be a member of this awesome organization!

Becoming a Life Member of FFRF is something I’ve been considering and wanting to do for a while. But then life happens, I get busy and just put it off. Not this year. Now, perhaps more than ever in our nation’s history, I need to become a Life Member. I can’t conceive of a more worthy cause.

Kathy Johnson


Young freethinker ran away from nightmares

I was pleased to see Ron Reagan’s TV ad. It has now been many months and several editions of Freethought Today later. You have my thanks.

I actually became aware of my freethinker self 50 years ago, when I was in first grade. I was agnostic before I knew what it meant.

I’ve read testimonials, such as Jackie Brown’s article in the December issue. I can empathize with her. Adults can place guilt and doubt inside a kid’s head. I have a narrative of my own.

When I was young, I attended Sabbath School. One morning, the teacher tested me.

“Do you love Jesus?” she asked. “Yes, I love Jesus,” I answered. She asked if I love my mom and dad. “Yes, I love my mom and dad.” Then she asked if I love Jesus more than mom and dad. I said, “No. I love my mom.”

She then told me if I didn’t change my ways and put Jesus before everyone, including my mom, I was on my way to perdition. Guilt. That’s a heavy load to put on a 6-year-old.

I started having a recurring dream. A booming voice would come down and say, “Rodney, I’m watching you!” I was scared.

In first grade, I got my first pair of tennis shoes. I could run so fast the wind would blow back my hair. The dream came again that night. “Rodney, I’m watching you!” I remember I took off running. I yelled back over my shoulder, “Oh, yeah? Try and catch me!”

Brave words for a first-grader. I never had the nightmare again.

Rod Lewis


Anne Nicol Gaylor quote a rebuttal to Newton’s 

Here is the letter to the editor I wrote that appeared in the Concord Monitor:

“Atheism is so senseless . . . this did not happen by chance,” says Sir Isaac Newton, implying the existence of a divine planner. Trouble is, as great a scientist as he was, science has marched on and we need not rely on the supernatural to explain the operation of our solar system. Physics and astronomy do that quite nicely. Please allow a rebuttal to his dubious insight about atheists with a quote from a freethinker. “There are no gods, no devils, no angels, no heaven or hell. There is only our natural world. Religion is but myth and superstition that hardens hearts and enslaves minds.” — Anne Nicol Gaylor, Freedom from Religion Foundation. I would dearly like to see this quote posted as prominently as Sir Isaac’s. I can provide more quotes from modern and historical freethinkers, if the Monitor is so inclined, to provide a challenge to religious thinking.

Jack Shields

New Hampshire

Here’s a meaningful gift for FFRF and my love

As a Lifetime Member and proud sponsor of a paving stone at your headquarters, I would like to sponsor a Lifetime Membership for my best friend, love of my life and wife (all one person!) who I was very fortunate to meet in this one and only life.

Thank you for all that you do legally and for your monthly publication. Both are greatly appreciated.

Unfortunately, imaginary friends and imaginary lines are the greatest threat that we can, hopefully, survive.

As Carl Sagan said, make it meaningful.

Matthew J. Koch


FFRF provides light in revolting times

What a year! As we drown in the undertow of relentless greed, corruption, deception, privatization of all things public and spikes in hate crimes, we find ourselves incredulous that the perverse tax reform legislation will widen inequality gaps and redistribute wealth up to the top 1 percent.

And yet, in the midst of relentless political and (un)natural disasters, we have been so inspired by the 98 percent of black women in Alabama who saved democracy (again) and the courage of women across the country to stand up and speak out against sexual violence in Hollywood, Congress and the media. We honor the DACA youth, indigenous leaders and (un)documented immigrants who collectively resist. We so respect Colin Kaepernick and those athletes who took a knee and we support queer and trans youth who demand dignity and bathrooms. We stand in solidarity with #blacklivesmatter and #metoo, galvanizing a nation in resistance.

And on our list of thanks, we are so grateful that your organization continues to carve a vibrant, loving corner for peace, justice and imagination in deeply contentious times.

The Fine Family Foundation has meager resources, but boundless appreciation for what you do. In that spirit, we send you a small contribution to honor the light you keep lit even during these “revolting” times.

Thank you for the sweet slice of justice you create.

Board Members

Fine Family Foundation

New York

FFRF gives me support I had been missing

I’m a new member to FFRF as of March 2017. I want to thank you for all that y’all do up there in Wisconsin, as we say here in Arkansas. It’s quite challenging at times living here among all the evangelical Christians, but you make it much easier.

I felt at first that I had no support (as in “support group”) from people, but now I feel like I have a specific support system when watching “Ask an Atheist,” listening to Freethought Radio, and reading Freethought Today. I‘m quite thankful.

Richard M. Thomas


Donation will help hold up wall of separation

Kindly accept my donation of $5,000 for 2017. This past year has been, and I do not doubt that future years are going to be, profoundly challenging for American nonbelievers. I hope my donation will serve as an adequate expression of my confidence in you as defenders of the wall of separation of state and church and will materially help you in that regard.

James Wood Bailey

New Jersey

Are we not drawn onward to new era?

I have charitable donation money burning a hole in my pocket this year and I thought of you. Thanks for all you do.

One of my hobbies is palindromes, and I hereby volunteer to be your official palindromist whenever the “spirit” arises.

This one is about a guy who slangily tells his religious friend that there is one important issue to be aware of: There is no all-seeing all-knowing deity and the Freedom From Religion Foundation opens up one’s mind to see this clearly:

Dog, one to note: No seer. FFRF frees one to note no god.

Hope this brought a smile to your face.

Win Emmons


Year in review: FFRF prevails in record 9 lawsuits in 2017

By Rebecca Markert

FFRF prevailed in nine lawsuits last year, the most ever in a single year for FFRF, with three of those victories occurring in the span of eight days. FFRF also filed four new lawsuits in 2017. It won:

FFRF v. City of Shelton

FFRF, with member Jerome H. Bloom, filed suit March 22, 2016, in U.S. District Court, Conn., against the city of Shelton and its mayor and parks director after their request to put up a display in a city park was denied. In February 2017, FFRF reached a successful settlement with Shelton in which the city agreed not to allow private unattended displays in Constitution Park, the source of the original censorship.

FFRF v. New Kensington-Arnold School District

FFRF and two parents filed suit on Sept. 14, 2012, against the New Kensington-Arnold School District in Pennsylvania in a challenge to a 6-foot-tall Ten Commandments monument in front of Valley High School. The federal lawsuit was victoriously settled on Feb. 15, 2017, when the school district agreed to remove the Ten Commandments marker and pay attorneys’ fees.

FFRF v. City of Santa Clara

FFRF, with member Andrew DeFaria, sued the city of Santa Clara, Calif., on April 20, 2016, to remove a large Latin cross from a city park. FFRF initially complained to the city about the unconstitutional display in 2012. In January 2017, the city removed the cross and donated it to Santa Clara University, a Catholic institution. The settlement was finalized in March 2017 and the city of Santa Clara agreed to pay attorney fees.

FFRF also won in the first round in the following lawsuits:

Kondrat’yev v. City of Pensacola

FFRF and the American Humanist Association filed suit over a government-owned cross in the city of Pensacola, Fla., on May 4, 2016. On June 19, 2017, Senior U.S. District Judge Roger Vinson ordered the cross in Bayview Park removed within 30 days. The city has retained the Becket Fund for its appeal to the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and oral arguments are set to be heard by the court in the spring.

FFRF v. Gov. Greg Abbott

FFRF filed a federal lawsuit on Feb. 25, 2016, challenging the removal of its approved Bill of Rights display from the Texas State Capitol by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott only three days after it was erected on Dec. 18, 2015, lambasting it as indecent, mocking and contributing to public immorality. On Oct. 13, 2017, U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks ruled that Abbott violated FFRF’s free speech rights. Abbott is appealing the ruling.

Gaylor v. Lew

FFRF renewed its challenge against the clergy housing allowance, which permits clergy to be paid partly through a housing allowance, which is subtracted from taxable income. FFRF Co-Presidents Annie Laurie Gaylor and Dan Barker’s request for a housing allowance refund for the year 2012 was denied by the IRS. On Oct. 6, 2017, U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb issued a declaration that the tax benefit is unconstitutional. In December 2017, she issued an order to the IRS to stop enforcing the exception.

FFRF v. County of Lehigh

FFRF and several of its local members filed suit on Aug. 16, 2016, against Lehigh County, Pa., to remove a Latin cross from the official county seal and flag. On Sept. 28, 2017, Judge Edward Smith ruled that the Lehigh County seal and flag violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. The county has voted to appeal FFRF’s victory.

Williamson, et. al. v. Brevard County

FFRF, together with Americans United for Separation of Church and State, the American Civil Liberties Union, and the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, filed a federal lawsuit on July 7, 2015, challenging censorship of nontheists by Brevard County (Florida) Board of County Commissioners. On Sept. 30, 2017, U.S. District Judge John Antoon struck down the Brevard County, Fla., Board of County Commissioners’ exclusion of nontheists from giving pre-meeting invocations. The county has filed a notice of appeal.

FFRF v. Mercer County Board of Education

FFRF filed a civil rights lawsuit against Mercer County Schools on Jan. 18, 2017, over the school system’s egregiously unconstitutional “Bible in the Schools” classes for elementary school students. The bible instruction, taught by itinerant teachers who possess “a degree in Bible,” begins in first grade. Classes are held weekly and include creationism and other religious instruction. The district dropped the bible classes as a result of FFRF’s lawsuit. So, on Nov. 14, 2017, Judge David Faber dismissed the case on jurisdictional grounds, finding that one family did not have standing and that the case was not yet “ripe” for review. Two of the plaintiffs filed an appeal to the 4th U.S.  Circuit Court of Appeals. FFRF could refile the lawsuit should the school system resume bible classes.

FFRF files 3 new lawsuits

FFRF v. Judge Wayne Mack

FFRF filed a lawsuit against Justice of the Peace Wayne Mack on March 21, 2017, due to his refusal to end the practice of opening each of his court sessions with chaplain-led prayer.  FFRF is joined by several local plaintiffs, including Jane Doe and John Roe, attorneys who regularly practice before Judge Mack, and Jane Noe, a Montgomery County.

Hart v. Thomas

FFRF and the ACLU of Kentucky filed suit on Nov. 22, 2016, on behalf of Ben Hart, who was denied a personalized license plate by the state of Kentucky. Hart’s request for a personalized license plate reading “IM GOD” was rejected by Kentucky DMV officials who claimed the message was “obscene or vulgar,” but then later said that it was because the plate was “not in good taste.” The lawsuit challenges certain portions of the regulations governing personalized license plates as unlawful, namely those that allow government officials to deny plates based on vague notions of “good taste” as well as those barring personalized plates from communicating religious, anti-religious or political messages.

FFRF v. Trump

On the National Day of Prayer (May 4, 2017), FFRF filed a lawsuit against President Trump, challenging his “religious liberty” executive order as it pertains to church politicking. As advertised by Trump, the executive order effectively provided preferential treatment to churches and would result in obligations on secular nonprofits that are not imposed on churches. In motions to dismiss filed in August and December, Trump’s lawyers admitted the religious liberty order does nothing and that the current law is unchanged. In response, FFRF voluntarily dismissed its federal lawsuit in December.

Rebecca Markert is FFRF’s legal director.

Egyptian committee seeks to criminalize atheism

The Committee on Religion in the Egyptian Parliament has disclosed plans to pass into law a bill that makes atheism a criminal offense.

Current law says atheists can be prosecuted for expressing their disbelief in public, but the committee’s proposal would go further and criminalize disbelief itself.

In 2014, shortly after Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi was sworn in as Egypt’s president, the government announced that it was preparing a national plan to crush atheism.

A few months later, Al-Shabab, a government-linked newspaper, stated that atheists were “the country’s second enemy after the Muslim Brotherhood” and quoted a psychologist saying that “atheism leads to mental imbalances and paranoia.”

Saudi Arabia adopted a similar position in 2014 when “promotion of atheist thought” became officially classified as an act of terrorism.

Bangladeshi social media activist detained

Bangladeshi immigration police detained Asaduzzaman Noor, known as Asad Noor on his YouTube channel, at Dhaka airport on Dec. 25.

Inspector Mohammad Shahidullah said hundreds of Muslims staged demonstrations against Noor in 2017 after the head of an Islamic seminary filed a case against him.

“The charge against him is that he hurt religious feeling by mocking Prophet Mohammed and made bad comments against Islam, the prophet and the Koran on Facebook and YouTube,” he said.

Noor was charged under Bangladesh’s strict internet laws and could face up to 14 years in jail if found guilty.

Rights groups have accused the Bangladesh government of muzzling dissent and targeting atheist bloggers who have used social media to criticize religion.

In 2013, four Bangladeshi bloggers were arrested after nationwide protests in which Islamic groups demanded the execution of atheist commentators. They were later freed.

In recent years, atheist and secular voices have been targeted by Islamist extremist groups, who have hacked to death a dozen bloggers, publishers and activists, and forced others to flee overseas.

In Malaysia, ‘active persecution’ of atheists

Malaysia has been singled out and listed among seven countries worldwide that practice “active persecution” of the nonreligious in a global index released Dec. 5, following a so-called “hunt” against atheists starting earlier this year.

In 2017’s Freedom of Thought Report by the International Humanist and Ethical Union, Malaysia was given a score of 4.5, with 5 being the worst possible score.

Malaysia had scored 4 for the categories of “Constitution and government” and “Education and children’s rights,” but 5 for “Family, community, society” and “Freedom of expression, humanist values.”

“This country is found to be declining, with human rights including freedom of thought and expression under serious assault,” the report said of Malaysia.

Shahidan Kassim, minister in the Prime Minister’s Department, had said that in Malaysia, atheists should be “hunted down” by authorities.

Mohammad Alkhadra: Atheist in Jordan finds safe haven in U.S.

Nonbelief Relief aids Mohammad Alkhadra to escape potential death 

Nonbelief Relief gave Mohammad Alkhadra $5,000 to help get him safely out of Jordan and to Austin, Texas. He is an American citizen who grew up in Jordan and faced death threats because of his outspoken atheism.

A Jordanian civil engineer and a human rights activist, Alkhadra founded the Jordanian Atheists Group in 2013. He later organized help for endangered ex-Muslims to leave the country.

After receiving the aid from Nonbelief Relief, he messaged FFRF, writing, “Thank you so much. I don’t know where I would be right now without your help.”

Here is his story:

By Mohammad Alkhadra

Muhammad Alkahadra

“Jordanian writer Nahid Hattar killed outside the Supreme Justice Court.” That 2016 headline did not just deliver the shock and sorrow of losing a prominent writer and an atheist in Jordan, it felt that he could have been any of us.

On Sept. 25, 2016, Hattar was killed by three bullets outside the court in the Jordanian capital of Amman, where he was standing trial on charges of insulting God after he shared on social media a cartoon depicting a bearded man lying in bed with two women and smoking, asking God to bring him a drink.

I thought about Hattar’s murder for a long time and I realized that as an atheist in Jordan, just one social media post that attracts local attention is what could be the end.

I was given the Islamic name Mohammad Alkhadra long before I knew I was one. Now, at the age of 25 with five years of being an atheist, the fact of being born in a Muslim family strikes fear in me and fellow ex-Muslims.

It all began with my curiosity: Why would one follow the religion of his family just because he was raised in it? Isn’t it just like the pagans who refused Islam because they thought they were right based on being raised pagans? How do we know what we know?

As my search into becoming a more reasoned Muslim continued, I was baffled by the ability of the faithful to highlight only the peaceful and moral aspect of their faith, while negating what would be considered inhuman in Islamic history and sharia. As I was on the path of learning how to convince people of Islam, I had to first figure out how to convince them of Allah.

But then I watched Richard Dawkins talking about evolution on YouTube. Evolution wasn’t something we really studied in school. I really wanted to know why this evolution theory existed, as it looked like rubbish to me. But I soon realized how uneducated I was, and the deeper I went, the more I believed that the concept of God itself was unreasonable.

I thought I was the only guy in Jordan who came up with this scary concept. I actually cried when I saw a two-hour program on the history of the universe. How small are we in this universe, and how important we think we are to imagine that everything has to revolve around us.

I later found a Facebook group for atheists in Jordan. It didn’t have much activity, and had zero action outside the realm of what we thought was the safe internet. It was a lonely period, where everyone around you is different and you don’t know what would happen if you spoke about your ideas. If everyone who thought like I did kept it to themselves, I would probably be in some country preaching Islam. Or worse, I might have joined those who want to achieve the caliphate.

I started commenting on public posts, and although I did get a few negative reactions, some people contacted me and told me they thought in a similar way. I added them to that group and finally decided that it was time to create a community for us. We no longer had to be alone in real life.

There were 28 of us who showed up. Men and women from all backgrounds, from ages 16 to 45. It was fulfilling that we could actually have a part of our lives where we had like-minded friends — a family of those facing threats of death.

Many of those gatherings happened before I received a call that one member, who had recently joined us, was in danger. He used to be an imam and his appearance on the “Black Ducks” show, run by Egyptian Ismail Mohamed, made him the most well-known apostate in Jordan.

We thought that Jordan, instead of places like Pakistan or Saudi Arabia, was a safe haven, but it wasn’t. We got him a safe place to stay and later got him out of Jordan.

We are not Islamophobes, but we are the ones who will be sent to jail for blasphemy or be killed under Islamic law. I chose to speak against this madness in July in London at the International Conference on Freedom of Conscience and Expression, the largest gathering of ex-Muslims in history.

The moment I returned from London to the airport in Amman, the police looked at me as if I were smuggling something. Many people are detained by the intelligence service upon arrival for all sorts of reasons. I was afraid it was my turn. Once I was safe at home, I got notices from fellow atheists to delete all messages linking me to them. Everyone was then afraid to contact me because if I got arrested, they thought I would bring down the whole community with me.

I spent the last five years not knowing whether every time I left the house would be the last time. After the speech in London, it was at every moment I wondered that. I then met with a friend who got a message from a U.K. number telling him that Hattar is gone, and soon you will be gone, too. If that was the case for him, what awaits me?

Previously, I had received messages like “We will come cut your family in front of you before we kill you,” but that was a while ago. However, once the video of me speaking at the conference was available, I knew it was only a matter of time before it got shared around enough until someone carried out my death sentence.

And that is why I have sought refuge in the United States.

They Said What? (January/February 2018)

Today, we no longer recognize the universal truth that God is the author of our life and liberty. Abortion, sodomy and materialism have taken the place of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. . . . We have stopped prayer in our schools. . . . We have even begun to recognize the right of a man to claim to be a woman, and vice versa. Immorality sweeps over our land.

Roy Moore, in his “campaign statement” following his election loss to Doug Jones for the open Alabama Senate seat.

ABC News, 12-13-17

I’d gladly execute a convicted adulterer, sodomite or bestialiter. Biblical law is a blessin’.

Larry Secede Kilgore, Republican challenger to Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, in a tweet that has since been taken down., 12-22-17

You can stay if you want because you need it more than we do.

President Trump, telling reporters to stick around for the prayer before a cabinet meeting.

USA Today, 12-20-17

I trust in a big God. I feel like I was wildly successful. . . . I didn’t win, but I moved the debate. So I didn’t shed a tear when I left the contest because I felt like, you know, I fulfilled the calling that God gave me. So the question is, am I being called to do this now? I don’t know.

Michele Bachmann, former Congresswoman, asserting that she “was supposed to run for president” in 2012 in order to make the repeal of Obamacare the central issue of the Republican platform, and is now thinking about running for the Minnesota U.S. Senate seat vacated by Al Franken.

The Jim Bakker Show, 12-27-17

We admire him. He’s our hero. It’s like having the Stanley Cup come to your tournament. He’s so cool, so identifiable.

Angèle Regnier, co-founder of Catholic Christian Outreach, on St. Francis Xavier, whose right forearm, thought to have baptized tens of thousands of converts, will be “on tour” through Canada. He died in 1552.

CBC News, 1-3-18

The reason is God lays claim to all firsts. So when you keep for yourself something that belongs to God, you are desecrating what is to be consecrated to God.

Paula White, one of Trump’s “spiritual advisers,” who wrote on her website that followers should send her donations of up to one month’s salary, and that those who don’t could face “consequences” from God, as he demands the money as a “first fruits” offering.

Huffington Post, 1-9-18

Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian: No, Christians don’t face persecution in the U.S.

This column originally ran in the Washington Post on Dec. 12 and is reprinted with permission.

By Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian

One word explains why a record number of white evangelical Christians threw their support behind a lewd, religiously illiterate presidential candidate last year. The same word also explains why 65 percent of white evangelicals in Alabama supported accused child molester Roy Moore in his unsuccessful campaign for the Senate.

That word is not “abortion.” It’s not “homosexuality.” It’s not even “racism.”

The word is “persecution.”

According to a survey by the Public Religion Research Institute, a majority of white evangelicals believe that Christians face discrimination in the United States and are more likely to say that Christians, rather than Muslims, experience this.

Evangelicals supported first Donald Trump and then Moore because they view both as protectors.

Persecution refers to systematic religious discrimination and marginalization. It is the opposite of power. A weak group can be persecuted, but a powerful group cannot.

Are Christians a weak and marginalized group?

Here are the facts. Christians are vastly over-represented in national politics, not underrepresented. While roughly 70 percent of the U.S. population identifies as Christian, 91 percent of Congress identifies as such — a percentage that has remained roughly the same since the 1960s. The proportion of Christians in many state legislatures is even higher. Every member of the Supreme Court appears to be religiously affiliated (though not all of them are Christian), and no atheist has ever sat on that court. That overrepresentation means that either Christians have superior access to the mechanisms of electioneering or that being Christian is such a boon to candidacy that most people claim to be Christian regardless of their personal beliefs. Either of these possibilities fully precludes the possibility that Christians as a group experience formal marginalization or informal scorn that bars them from the halls of power. The opposite is true.

Meanwhile, atheists and the religiously unaffiliated — the supposed perpetrators of anti-Christian persecution — are vastly underrepresented in government. In fact, there is only one religiously unaffiliated member of Congress, Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz. There are no open atheists.

If someone writes a book claiming that global warming is a hoax, we ask, “What is your evidence?” We do not pat them on their heads, express appreciation for how genuine their feelings are, and leave it at that.

But when someone published a book claiming that American Christians face looming persecution and even extinction, as influential Christian columnist Rod Dreher did in his best-seller The Benedict Option, journalists did not ask, “What is your evidence?” It doesn’t seem that anyone has interviewed sociologists and political scientists, or even quoted basic statistics, to see whether this claim squared with reality.

New York Times columnist David Brooks’ main criticism of the book was that Dreher “answers secular purism with religious purism” — not that the fundamental claim of his book was wildly inaccurate. A nearly 8,000-word New Yorker profile plumbed the depths of Dreher’s personality and family life without ever addressing whether his book had any basis in reality. A recent Washington Post article referred to Christians as “beleaguered.”

Why are we reluctant to challenge such claims? It’s the result of a tacit social contract, an uneasy truce after the 20th-century wars over science and the role of religion in the public sphere. According to this social contract, institutions outside the religious sphere will not use scientific methods to criticize religious beliefs, so long as those beliefs are not combined with sweeping political claims that extend far beyond the walls of the church.

The reluctance to fact-check Dreher, or any other Christian claiming persecution, is the social contract at work. We journalists inherently understand that we must suspend our usual judgment when writing about religion.

But evangelical Christians have long chafed at the strictures of that social contract. Now, with the election of Trump and the rise of Moore, they are in open rebellion against it. They want their beliefs to extend outside the walls of their churches and into bakeries, businesses, doctor’s offices, public bathrooms, Congress, the court system and the presidency — and they don’t want these actions to be subjected to legal and social scrutiny. They take such scrutiny, and any resulting opposition, as persecution. It’s a powerful rallying cry that has now swelled into a force capable of rewriting laws and oppressing the truly vulnerable.

When Christians make factually untrue claims that then go on to influence elections, law-making and eventually the lives of people outside the walls of the church, that social contract has been violated.

That means that journalists and public intellectuals can no longer give a pass to Christians who claim persecution. We must fight falsehoods with the full force of our professional training — logic, facts and research. This does not mean attacking Christian religious beliefs themselves, but rather, challenging inaccurate assertions about the state of the world we all share.

How will we know when American Christians are genuinely under threat? When they start changing their names from the obviously biblical “Andrew” and “Mary” to the more secular “William” or “Jennifer” in order to avoid hiring discrimination. When Christians in Congress hide their faith and instead loudly claim to be atheists. When Christians are regularly blocked from buying homes or renting apartments in the good parts of town. When the president of the United States calls for Christians to be banned from the country. Then we can start taking claims of religious discrimination at face value.

But until such times, American Christians who say they are being persecuted are simply wrong.

Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian is a contributing writer at Foreign Policy magazine.

President Trump is supported by evangelicals because, in part, they view him as a protector against Christian persecution. (Photo by Shutterstock)
Bethany Allen-Ibrahimian

Brent Michael Davids at FFRF convention

“I was going through old photos my grandmother had, and I found one of me at age 4,” Brent Michael Davids writes. “And amazingly, in the background, is the very field I could not reach, across the very road I was prohibited from crossing, though it’s not visible in this photo. Someone took a photo of me at the time I still had my imaginary cornstalk friend.”
Brent Michael Davids is a citizen of the Stockbridge-Munsee Band of the Mohican Nation. (Photo by Ingrid Laas)
Brent Michael Davids (Photo by Ingrid Laas)
In his speech to the FFRF convention audience, Brent Michael Davids said, “I came to realize that the church was being run by old white men in the back of the sanctuary, basically making things up as they went along.” (Photo by Ingrid Laas)

Convention speech: Brent Michael Davids — Do you know an American Indian atheist?

Here is an edited version of the speech given by Brent Michael Davids at FFRF’s 40th annual convention in Madison, Wis., on Sept. 16, 2017.

FFRF Co-President Dan Barker introduced him:

I’ve known Brent Michael Davids for quite a while. If I can use the word in a nonreligious sense, we’re kind of like brothers. He is a member of the Mohican tribe of Indians, and I’m a member because of my great-grandmother of the Delaware Lenape tribe. They are somewhat related tribes. 

Brent Michael Davids is an internationally acclaimed multi-award-winning composer. He’s composed orchestral pieces, done a lot of film composing and composed for the Kronos Quartet and the Chanticleers. He was named by the Kennedy Center as one of 25 top American genius composers, he’s toured internationally, the Rockefeller Foundation gave him an award and the National Endowment for the Arts has named him among the most-celebrated choral composers. He integrates his vast knowledge of American Indian culture and traditions, including his ability to play flute, with Eurocentric orchestration.

Welcome, Brent Michael Davids.

By Brent Michael Davids

Brent Michael Davids is a citizen of the Stockbridge-Munsee Band of the Mohican Nation. (Photo by Ingrid Laas)

I’m slightly intimidated because I’m sure the audience is brilliant, and I don’t usually speak in front of people. I’m usually behind the scenes writing the music, and someone else is doing the performing. Yes, I’m a composer of concert music and film scores. And I’m a citizen of the Stockbridge-Munsee Band of the Mohican Nation. I live on my reservation here in Wisconsin, but we’re not originally from here.

We’ve had our own “trail of tears” several times, removed from our original territory in New York and Massachusetts, from what’s now called the Hudson River. The original name of the river is “Mahheconnituck.” “Mohican” means the “People of the ever-moving waters” and refers to the Mahheconnituck, which rises and falls with the ocean tides. Our population in the 1600s was 22,000, and our current population is 1,500.

If you’re familiar with the fictional book by James Fenimore Cooper, I often say I’m the “next to the last of the Mohicans”! Our tribe is younger than Dan Barker’s tribe, the Lenni Lenape; we refer to his people as the “grandfather” nation, but we belong to the same Algonquian language family.

Cornstalk girl

My first self-awareness of nonbelief came by way of a recurrent daydream about a cornstalk girl across a road that I was prohibited from ever crossing as a 4-year-old boy. At that time, as a child, I felt that this cornstalk girl and I had a mental connection, so we could speak together without saying anything out loud. She was way across the road at sunset, in a corn field I could never visit, her tassel hair ablaze in gold and orange as the light went low over the horizon. Sometimes the field looked like it was set on fire, and we mentally talked till sundown.

But one day I wondered, “How is this possible?” There are no wires, and thoughts carried by the wind don’t make sense. The wind is flowing in only one direction, and our communication is two ways. And, we’re talking much faster than the air would allow (the reasoning of my 4-year-old self).

What was interesting is that I had a fleeting intuition that the cornstalk girl’s thoughts were actually my own, “Ah, she’s me!” I’d invented an imaginary friend.

Later, I was baptized into a church, grew up in it, and forgot my former daydream completely. I accepted all the beliefs and practices of Christianity as normal, without questioning them, and tried my best to be good.

One summer, I went to a church camp and had a great time. Of all the church activities, summer camp was my all-time favorite. After a wonderful time at camp, I came back to normal church life in Chicago.

Our priest asked me if I might organize others to collect the offertory, as they were making an effort to include young people in church activities. I was 15. I agreed, and asked another person to help me collect the donations. Our job was to walk up and down the aisle and pass a bowl around to everyone.

A few days later, my parents got a call from the church, and they had a concerned look on their faces. The priest had phoned to schedule what was called a “priesthood visit” with me. These “visits” had two purposes, either to admonish someone for doing wrong, or to talk about advancing one’s service into the priesthood. My folks and I thought perhaps the church was grooming me to become a deacon, after my successful coordination of the offertory.

Two priests came one evening and whisked me off to a nearby restaurant for a talk. They admonished me for doing something against the church, and threatened to revoke my membership if I didn’t repent. Apparently, I was not supposed to ask a girl to assist in the offertory. I simply nodded, giving assurances that I did not know I had done anything wrong.

The girl I had asked to assist me was a friend from camp. At camp, friends would always ask others to help out with everything. I was shocked that I had done anything wrong. It was also shaming, because word spread and rumors started about my possible transgressions.

I was treated as a sinner who had wronged God, and I had no idea why. I felt the opposite, in fact. If I had done something so evil, why didn’t I feel bad about it? I was imagining that people who are truly bad must really enjoy their evil acts, so in my own lack of remorse, I thought I must be really evil!

But then, I started to realize there’s a difference between what church people think versus their religious claims. And I further reasoned, if that were true, than there’s no single Christianity, because there must be as many different Christianities as there are Christians. I reasoned that a singular Christianity doesn’t exit, and therefore the claims to knowing the “one true religion” are a falsehood. I came to realize that the church was being run by old white men in the back of the sanctuary, basically making things up as they went along. The cornstalk girl dream returned.

Around that time, I started composing music. I also eventually went on to study religion, and worked toward both music and religion degrees simultaneously. I finished the master of music degree, but not the master of religious studies. My music career took off, but I had gained what I wanted from the religious studies. I wanted to get the same training as those two priests. I suppose one could say I lost my faith, but for me it was more like remembering my nonbelief. In the end, I recaptured the memory of my inquisitive, creative, little boy self who had confidence in his own intuition.

Invisible Indians

Today there are 567 federally recognized Indian nations. The current Indian population in America stands at 0.9 percent, where it was once closer to 100 percent. America was founded on a systemic genocide to obtain rich land and resources. But, America moreover identifies itself with Gov. John Winthrop of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, who paraphrased from the Sermon on the Mount, saying that the colonists would create “a city upon a hill.”

Seeing America as a beacon for the rest of the world is a more palatable alternative to the darker truth. Today, America’s genocide is ignored — effectively rendered invisible.

Equally so, America’s living reminders also are ignored. The indigenous history of America is not far from the minds of the tribes, however, and it also shapes Indian attitudes toward belief and nonbelief.

The first colonial encounters led to murderous land grabs, in what I think of as the “Extermination” period. The idea was to satiate the hunger for land and resources by compelling the signing of exploitative treaties and killing the inhabitants.

The myth of Christopher Columbus in 1492 stains our textbooks because he was really a murderous slave trader who didn’t even set foot in America. He funded his trips with the promise of a return in gold and spices, which he would take from whomever he conquered.

In 1609, Hendrick Hudson first sailed into the Mahheconnituck on a ship called the Half Moon, and met two Mohicans on the shore. A retelling of the encounter in 1881 by John Heckewelder, an American missionary, describes Hudson’s lust for land.

“[Hudson’s men] asked only for so much ground for a garden spot as, they said, the hide of a bullock would cover or encompass, which hide was spread before them. The Indians readily granted this apparently reasonable request; but the whites then took a knife, and beginning at one end of the hide, cut it up to a long rope, not thicker than a child’s finger, … they then took the rope at one end, and drew it gently along, carefully avoiding its breaking. It was drawn out into a circular form, and being closed at its ends, encompassed a large piece of ground. The Indians were surprised at the superior wit of the whites, but did not wish to contend with them about a little land, as they had still enough themselves.”


The first official Indian reservations were established under President Grant in the 1870s, mostly in response to the discovery of gold in Indian territory (though removal to lands later designated as reservations were set up under the 1830 Indian Removal Act, and the 1851 Indian Appropriations Act). The desire for Indian land was at a fever pitch, and Indians were being forcibly removed all across the country.

However, in 1879, a Ponca chief named Standing Bear faced the extinction of his people in a forced removal. A third of his tribe had already died from it. With the help of a newspaper man, Standing Bear sued Gen. Crook and the U.S. Army for violating his civil rights. He won the case, and the court ruled that Indians are “persons within the meaning of the law” and could not be forced onto reservations.

So, in 1879, Indians were finally considered people, and Standing Bear’s case effectively ended the reservation roundup period.

Well, Indians could now sue the government, so the next idea was to indoctrinate the children. The first boarding school, Carlisle Indian Industrial School, was founded in 1879 by Capt. Richard Henry Pratt. Pratt got the idea for Carlisle from his work at Hampton, a school for freed black slaves. Pratt’s motto was “Kill the Indian within him to save the man,” and the boarding school was a forced assimilation factory.

Very young children were sent alone by train to Carlisle for periods of five years, prohibited from contacting their families. Not speaking English, they often didn’t know where they were going or why. When they arrived, they were placed three to a room, from differing tribes, so they would be forced to speak English as a common language. Their hair was chopped short, which to them was a signifier of death. They were prohibited from their own cultures and forced into Christianity, including daily mealtime hymns.

They were malnourished, frightened, abused, and some even died at the school. In 1914, the school came under federal investigation for alleged misconduct. In 1918, the school was closed. But many more schools, modeled on Carlisle, appeared in the West.

Through all of these periods, and several others not mentioned, American Indians have suffered from abusive stereotyping. In Gov. Winthrop’s time, from writings in his journal, we know that Indians were viewed as “devils” who lived in a nature that was considered heinously “evil.”

The first colonists faced harsh conditions and they viewed nature as malevolent. Indians were viewed as wild savages. Jump ahead to a later century, and writers like Henry David Thoreau and Walt Whitman exemplified a modern change, with the idea of nature being inherently good. At this point, Indians had a benevolent nature, but, still plagued by the primitive stereotype, became “noble savages.”

Even today, Christian Indians, traditional Indians, city Indians, reservation Indians and nontheistic Indians all live under the shadow of pervasive stereotypes and abusive history. And unlike the beacon of the United States of Amnesia, we see it face-to-face.

Indian atheists

So, do you know an American Indian atheist? If you know Dan Barker and perhaps come to know me, then the answer is yes. And maybe you know others, too. Of course, all Indians are not alike. The cultures are different, and so are the languages and modern realities. The 0.9 percent indigenous population suffers the greatest hardships per capita, the highest rates of suicide, alcohol abuse, fetal-alcohol syndrome, incarceration, unemployment — you name it. But American Indians have a unique view of the world, one that values extended kinship ties not only for humans, but for animals and Earth, as well.

Not to call what Indians do “religion,” perhaps “life-way” is better, but whatever we call this, it’s not proselytizing, and it’s not hierarchical. Indian life-ways exist in systems of cause-and-effect and of reciprocity, where the definition of personhood may extend outside the human species, and Indian life-ways don’t traditionally seek dominion over the Earth. They are life-and-death systems of reciprocity where the nonhuman “others” are seen as extended kin — family.

So, where a Western view might advocate saving an exotic species from extinction (man vs. nature), an Indian view might wish to form a kinship relationship with a nonhuman “relative” and find a balance for mutual benefit. It’s not a dominionist view, like time inching its way along a ruler. It’s cyclic and relational thinking.

I personally think it’s at this level of Indian reciprocity — the life-and-death, barter-and-exchange, cause-and-effect world of extended kinship ties that extend beyond humans to the Earth and everywhere — where I see potential intersections with those of us who are the “Nones.”

Yes, there are magical stories in Indian life, a continent formed on the back of a giant turtle, animals changing into people changing back into animals again, cannibal giants like Bigfoot and Sasquatch, abominable snow beasts roaming the land eating people, giant thunderbirds swooping down to snack on your children, or hungry witches that live inside the rocks.

There are Indians who take these magical stories as actual history, and some who see them as cultural or allegorical stories. Some American Indians deny the fact of evolution by natural selection, preferring that the first Indians were formed from clay, or Christian Indians who believe they descended from Adam and Eve.

But some Indians are also scientists, like Fred Begay, a distinguished nuclear scientist who worked at the Los Alamos labs.

He had an interesting idea to use the Navajo stories about “light” to help inspire his research on lasers to heat plasma. We also have Indian atheists such as writer Sherman Alexie, who tweeted, “Being atheist means you’ll argue with grown-ass adults who essentially believe in Santa,” and Jimi Hendrix, who said, “Music is my religion.”

I wonder if the current 24 percent statistic of the number of Nones in America holds true for American Indian populations, too. I can’t find any studies about that. But some of the Indian stories already leave a door open, if we wanted to troll the Christian God story.

The Yaqui creation story, for example, describes a time before God. The Indians were already there, prior to God, challenging the notion of an all-powerful creator of the universe. One day, the Indians heard a tree start singing. No one understood. After a special person arrived to translate, they learned the singing tree is God speaking about his coming arrival. Some Indians chose to accept God and become Yaqui, while others decided not to accept him and became ants who live underground.

So, God wasn’t around at the beginning, and didn’t create the universe or the Indians or the trees!

But, for example, the scientific method is cause-and-effect, and — minus the magical stories — the American Indian life-ways are, as well. What I’m suggesting is that there may exist, at a basic level, a ready-made meet-up for Indians and atheists. It would require more interaction, more understanding, and the formation of genuine relationships.

The arts may be another way for Indians and atheists to meet. Writer Heid E. Erdrich is an atheist and a poet. She writes, “As an Ojibwe tribal member, I come from deeply faithful people whose spiritual beliefs and practices infuse culture, language, governance, medicine — everything. And yet, as I open my life to my inherited culture, I find . . . my belief or lack thereof does not matter to my engagement of Ojibwe ways.

“Still, it pains me that my poems, and most Native American writers’ poems, are inevitably read as spiritual, which means religious.

“The idea of an American Indian atheist is unusual at best, unthinkable at worst. . . And now I shall make a profession of faithlessness. It seems required. As an atheist, I am not sure I can satisfy.

“I engage many Ojibwe practices as part of my way of living a good life, yet in my core understanding of the way of creation, I do not believe one all-powerful deity exists. To put it more directly, I have faith in and relation to creation itself rather than faith in a creator.”

Julia Sweeney at FFRF convention

FFRF Honorary President Steven Pinker bends over to give Julia Sweeney a hug following Pinker’s speech at the convention on Sept. 16. (Photo by Ingrid Laas)
FFRF Legal Director Rebecca Markert, left, stands with Julia Sweeney and Julia’s daughter, Mulan, for a quick photo during the convention. (Photo by Ingrid Laas)
Julia Sweeney has been a cast member on “Saturday Night Live” and has authored several books and written and performed several one-woman monologues. (Photo by Ingrid Laas)
Julia Sweeney hams it up for the camera at FFRF’s convention. (Photo by Ingrid Laas)
Comedian and actress Julia Sweeney, an FFRF honorary director, regaled the FFRF convention audience with humorous takes on religious movies.
(Photo by Ingrid Laas)