FFRF takes on Trump’s travel ban

On March 30, FFRF filed an amicus brief before the U.S. Supreme Court opposing the latest version of President Trump’s travel ban on immigration from several Muslim-majority countries.

Never in the history of the United States have our immigration policies and procedures been used to deny opportunity to religious groups and to favor a particular religion, FFRF asserts. The current administration’s orders and proclamation regarding a ban on travel targeting six majority-Muslim countries, motivated by the religious makeup of those countries, sullies that history. The purpose is to codify religious discrimination to further the myth that the United States is a Christian nation rather than a pluralistic society built on the hard work of immigrants and refugees of all religions and none at all.

The Trump administration’s history of excluding from entry to the United States immigrants and non-immigrants from selected majority-Muslim countries violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, which FFRF works to protect and defend. FFRF notes that the order’s underlying purpose is religious: to ban a religious minority (Muslims) and to favor Christians. The brief also makes the contention that the travel ban contravenes Article VI of the U.S. Constitution, which prohibits a religious test for office or public trust. It would create precedent that could be used to target not only religious minorities, but also the significant minority today that identifies as nonreligious.

The order is not tailored to address the president’s supposed purpose, FFRF maintains. Less than a quarter of Muslim-Americans involved in violent extremism of any kind have family ties to the six countries designated in the order.

For over a year, the Trump Administration has engaged in a campaign of religious discrimination and favoritism that will not stop until the Supreme Court unequivocally strikes down its religious purpose as unconstitutional. Trump has never recanted calling his immigration policy a “Muslim ban,” and he has never disavowed such a purpose when issuing the original and follow-up orders.

After issuing his second executive order on the ban, Trump stated, “[p]eople, the lawyers and the courts can call it whatever they want, but I am calling it what we need and what it is, a TRAVEL BAN!” He also described the second order as a “watered-down version of the first order,” which had been found unconstitutional by the 4th and the 9th U.S. Circuit Courts of Appeal. (FFRF filed an amicus brief in those cases that were before the Supreme Court last fall, as well.)

Trump issued his third executive order on Sept. 27, 2017, which contained the same travel ban intent as in the first two orders. He repeatedly linked the current executive order to previous orders, calling it a “larger, tougher, and more specific” ban.

Trump’s statements show that each of the travel ban orders was motivated by a desire to give preference to one favored religion and to discriminate against unpopular religious minorities.

In the News (May 2018)

Nonbelievers on the rise in Europe

A recent survey shows that a majority of young adults in 12 European countries have no faith, with Czechs coming in as the least religious of those countries.

The survey of 16-to-29-year-olds found that 91 percent of that age group in the Czech Republic report they have no religious affiliation. Between 70 percent and 80 percent of young adults in Estonia, Sweden and the Netherlands also say they are nonreligious.

The most religious country in Europe is Poland, where 17 percent of young adults define themselves as nonreligious, followed by Lithuania at 25 percent.

The figures are published in a report, Europe’s Young Adults and Religion, by Stephen Bullivant, a professor of theology and the sociology of religion at St Mary’s University in London.

Religion is “moribund,” he said. “With some notable exceptions, young adults increasingly are not identifying with or practicing religion.”

No ‘atheist’ chaplains, lawmakers tell Navy

A Navy board determined that Jason Heap, a secular humanist, was qualified for the chaplain corps until Congress stepped in.

Once lawmakers got wind that Heap’s application had advanced, they acted to get it rejected. Forty-five Republican representatives signed a March 9 letter to the chief of naval personnel stating, “We are concerned that the Navy is taking steps to expand the chaplain corps beyond its focused purpose . . . the chaplaincy was designed to facilitate the exercise of religious belief, not philosophical belief.”

GQ lists bible as a book ‘you don’t have to read’

The editors of GQ recently put together a listing of “21 Books You Don’t Have to Read” after they “realized that not all the Great Books have aged well.”

Here is what it said about the bible: “The Holy Bible is rated very highly by all the people who supposedly live by it but who in actuality have not read it. Those who have read it know there are some good parts, but overall it is certainly not the finest thing that man has ever produced. It is repetitive, self-contradictory, sententious, foolish, and even at times ill-intentioned.”

Other books on the list include The Catcher in the Rye, The Old Man and the Sea, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and Catch-22.

Va. GOP leader dumped

after Christianity claim

Virginia’s Republican Party has booted a member of its leadership whose controversial remarks underscored divisions in the era of President Trump. Fredy Burgos was voted off the State Central Committee.

Burgos faced a backlash from party leaders when he posted a Facebook comment saying that only Christians are fit to run for office. The comment was viewed as anti-Semitic because Burgos had been campaigning for Tim Hannigan in his successful bid over Mike Ginsberg, who is Jewish, to become the party’s committee chair in Fairfax County.

‘In God We Trust’ in all Louisiana schools?

A bill unanimously advanced through the state Senate Education Committee March 22 would require each public school in Louisiana to display the motto “In God We Trust.”

The bill, introduced by Sen. Regina Barrow, would require each school district to display the national motto in each school by the 2019-20 school year.

“We have an obligation to ensure students have that introduction because we cannot always assume that it’s necessarily happening at home,” Barrow said.

The Tennessee Legislature recently passed a similar bill that is heading to the governor’s desk for signature. Similar legislation also has popped up in Arkansas, Florida, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Wyoming.

Judge: Humanism a faith group in N.C. prisons

The North Carolina prison system must recognize humanism as a faith group and allow its adherents behind bars to meet and study their beliefs, a federal judge ruled.

The American Humanist Association and a North Carolina inmate serving a life sentence for murder sued state Department of Public Safety officials in 2015.

They accused prison leaders of violating the religious establishment and equal protection clauses of the Constitution by repeatedly denying recognition of the requests of the inmate, Kwame Jamal Teague.

In the order, U.S. District Judge Terrence Boyle wrote that prison officials failed to justify treating humanism differently from those religions that are recognized behind bars.

Federal prisons began recognizing humanism as a faith group in 2015 after similar litigation was filed.

N.Y. Jewish schools get special considerations

New York lawmakers accused state Sen. Simcha Felder of basically holding the state’s $168 billion budget hostage until the state agreed not to interfere with the curriculum at the private Jewish schools, known as yeshivas. Critics have accused the schools, which focus on the study of traditional Jewish texts, of leaving students without a basic command of English, math, history or science.

When the final budget passed, the legislation included special standards for schools with especially long school days, bilingual programs and nonprofit status — in other words, yeshivas.

While the bill broadened the criteria for evaluating the so-called “substantial equivalency” of the schools’ curriculum to the public school version, it also for the first time granted the state education commissioner explicit authority to evaluate that equivalency — a power previously reserved for individual school districts. Critics have suggested that school officials in New York City have ignored the subpar education at yeshivas because of the Jewish community’s political clout.

Commandments display reinstalled in Arkansas

A Ten Commandments monument has been replaced and reinstalled at the Arkansas Capitol on April 26 after the first version was destroyed when a driver plowed into it.

State Sen. Jason Rapert, who sponsored the original monument, founded the American History and Heritage Foundation, which raised over $85,000 for a new monument, and which will include concrete barriers for protection.

The original monument, which was also put up at private expense, was destroyed in June when a Christian driver hit it with a car less than 24 hours after it debuted.

Michael Tate Reed II was accused of the crash but was declared unfit to stand trial in November, according to Arkansas Online. FFRF and others plan to sue over the action.

White evangelical men strongly support Trump

A record number of white evangelical Christians say they support President Trump.

According to a poll from the Public Religion Research Institute released April 19, 75 percent of white evangelicals said they had a favorable view of the president and just 22 percent saying they had an unfavorable view.

And white evangelical men are the most likely of that group to back the president, with 81 percent holding a favorable view of Trump, compared with 71 percent of white evangelical women.

This is a dramatic jump in support for Trump when compared to the rest of the population, with a recent poll from ABC News/Washington Post putting the president’s approval rating at just 40 percent.

Study: More government, less religious belief

Researchers have shown that better government services are linked to lower levels of strong religious beliefs.

The study, “Religion as an Exchange System: The Interchangeability of God and Government in a Provider Role,” was published April 12 in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.

Basically, the model states that if people can get what they need from the government, they’re less likely to turn to a religion or a divine power for help.

Authors Miron Zuckerman and Chen Li of the University of Rochester and Ed Diener of the Universities of Utah and Virginia wrote that their findings suggest “that if the function that religiosity provides can be acquired from some other source, the allure of religion will diminish.”

The study also showed a delayed link between government services and levels of religiosity. In one example, between 2008 and 2013 in the United States, “better government services in a specific year predicted lower religiosity one to two years later,” researchers wrote.

“If a secular entity provides what people need, they will be less likely to seek help from God or other supernatural entities. Government is the most likely secular provider,” the researchers concluded. “Better government services were related to lower levels of religiosity.”

The findings “imply that the government can provide an extra layer of security . . . that might help people cope with future needs, both expected and unexpected, and as such, might reduce dependence on God or other supernatural entities,” researchers wrote. “If the benefits acquired in the religious exchange can be acquired elsewhere, religion becomes less useful.”

In 2013, Zuckerman, the paper’s lead author, published a study with other Rochester researchers finding that the more intelligent someone is, the less strong his or her religious beliefs tend to be.

Head’s Up: A poetry column by Philip Appleman


Come sing to me in the garden,

Of a bowl and a lute and a kiss.

Like the zephyrs that whisper in Eden,

Sing of thrushes and blushes and bliss.

Sing a tune of the blooming of jasmine,

Of stars in the far morning air,

Yearning arms in a tracery casement,

And maidens ineffably fair,

Of ambrosia and nectar and jewels,

And meadows and magic and youth,

Of ecstasy, tears, and avowals,

And towers and trumpets and truth …

Alas, with a crackle of crystal

The silver streams muddy to lead,

And the bulbuls and parakeets listen

To the wail of an age that is dead.

Now passion is a pimp for any preacher,

And spring is holding out for bigger tips.

The nymphs are casting leers like any lecher,

And a desert has buried our gardens and sighs

with a blast from its hot prosy lips.

From Karma, Dharma, Pudding & Pie

© Philip Appleman.

Philip Appleman is a Dis­tinguished Pro­fessor Emeri­tus at In­dia­na Uni­ver­si­ty. He is editor of the Norton Critical Edition of Darwin. He and his playwright wife, Marjorie Appleman, are both “After-Life” Members of FFRF. Phil’s books: ffrf.org/shop.

Overheard (May 2018)

I’m not religious now, I would say, but there’s no way that you are raised in that environment, and also grow up singing that music, without it having an impact on your life.

John Legend, discussing his religious upbringing while preparing to portray Jesus in “Jesus Christ Superstar” during a live television even on Easter.

New York Times, 3-29-18

This inability to correctly read Scripture is both a political and theological problem—and one that’s intrinsic to modern American Christianity. . . . White evangelical Christianity is built to cherry-pick, and the politicians of the Religious Right are particularly adept at doing it.

Dianna Anderson, reporter for Slate, in her article, “Bad religion: Why do Republican politicians keep getting Scripture wrong?”

Slate, 4-6-18

If you were worried that the amount of money flowing into politics was bad for our democracy, imagine what will happen when you add a divine exception, allowing partisans to spend freely on behalf of their chosen candidates and causes under the cover of churches. . . . When challenged about their blatantly partisan activism, these groups invariably cry out that their religious liberty is under attack. It isn’t.

Author Katherine Stewart in an op-ed, “When is a church not a church?”

New York Times, 4-17-18

I’m not religious now, I would say, but there’s no way that you are raised in that environment, and also grow up singing that music, without it having an impact on your life.

John Legend, discussing his religious upbringing while preparing to portray Jesus in “Jesus Christ Superstar” during a live television even on Easter.

New York Times, 3-29-18

This inability to correctly read Scripture is both a political and theological problem—and one that’s intrinsic to modern American Christianity. . . . White evangelical Christianity is built to cherry-pick, and the politicians of the Religious Right are particularly adept at doing it.

Dianna Anderson, reporter for Slate, in her article, “Bad religion: Why do Republican politicians keep getting Scripture wrong?”

Slate, 4-6-18

If you were worried that the amount of money flowing into politics was bad for our democracy, imagine what will happen when you add a divine exception, allowing partisans to spend freely on behalf of their chosen candidates and causes under the cover of churches. . . . When challenged about their blatantly partisan activism, these groups invariably cry out that their religious liberty is under attack. It isn’t.

Author Katherine Stewart in an op-ed, “When is a church not a church?”

New York Times, 4-17-18

It’s none of the government’s business why a woman is getting an abortion.

Salman, after the Arizona House passed a bill that would require women seeking abortions to fill out an invasive questionnaire that asks the reason for the procedure.

Huffington Post, 4-11-18

“God Enriches” is not the historical use, nor is that the state motto.

Arizona state Rep. Athena Salman, an atheist, after the Arizona House voted to amend the law so that the English translation of the state motto, “Ditat Deus,” could be posted in classrooms. After passing the state Senate earlier, the bill is heading to Gov. Doug Ducey.

Associated Press, 3-4-18

The idea that suddenly if kids are praying, or if kids are under orders to pray, that it’s going to solve everything — that’s just the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard.

Mark Desetti, a lobbyist for the Kansas National Education Association, after hearing Kansas state Rep. Randy Garber claim that putting prayer and the bible back in schools would solve problems in school.

Wichita Eagle, 4-7-18

FFRF welcomes 32 new Lifers

FFRF is proud to announce and recognize its 32 newest Life Members, two After-Life Members and two Immortals.

The new After-Life Members are James Dulak and Kris Fulmer. After-Life Membership is a tongue-in-cheek-named donation category of $5,000 for those who want their donation to “live on” after them. 

FFRF’s 32 newest Life Members are Mary Arnold, Dr. Daniel R. Bowden, Andrew Broad, Meta Calder, Joel David, Lee Eberly, Susan Eberly, Michael Easterday, Barbara Freeman (gift from Susie York), Michael Galli, Susan Gilmore, Susan Gruen, Dr. Paul Heffron, Lucinda Hope (gift from Susie York), Dr. Karl A. Illig, Charles Ted Jackson, Steven Jervis, David Lippes, Paul Marcussen, Teresa Massagli, Brendan P. Merk, Alvin Miller, Jet Mitchell, Peter Norris, John Osberg, Colleen Pace, Bryan Rau, Sherry Sheng, Maria Traversa (gift from Adam R. Rose), Karen Truskowski, Julia Whitsitt and one who wished to remain anonymous.

Individual Life Memberships are $1,000, designated as membership or membership renewal, and are deductible for income-tax purposes, as are all dues and donations.

States represented are: Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Massachusetts, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, North Carolina, Nebraska, New Hampshire, Nevada, New York, Ohio, Oregon, South Carolina, Tennessee, Washington and Wisconsin.

The latest Immortals are Douglas Reynolds and Julia Fike Roberts. The Immortals category is a donation designation for those kind members who have contacted FFRF to report they have made provisions for FFRF in their estate planning. Thank you all!

Meet a Member: Life goes swimmingly for former Olympian

Name: Rada Owen.

Rada Owen participated in the 2000 Summer Olympics and is a World University Games champion. She also was a 14-time All-American swimmer for Auburn. (Submitted photo)

Where I live: Los Angeles.

Where and when I was born: Richmond, Va., in 1978.

Education: B.A. in mass communication from Auburn University.

Occupation: Swim coach and instructor.

Military service: None, but I’m very thankful for those who do serve!

How I got where I am today: With a lot of support from my family, hard work and some natural ability, I was able to receive a full athletic scholarship to the school of my choice. I chose Auburn University, and from there I attained what is considered the pinnacle of my sport when I swam for the United States in the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney, Australia. Having the title of Olympian in front of my name presented more opportunities for me that I may not have had otherwise. However, I honestly didn’t think I would end up with a career in the swim world; I initially wanted to be far from it. After venturing out in the workforce for a bit, I realized my forte, and my passion, is sharing the sport of swimming with others, so I returned “home” to the pool.

Where I’m headed: Probably to a pool! I’m quite content with where I am in life, but I hope in the future to be able help more people (and animals) who aren’t as fortunate.

Person in history I admire and why: JK Rowling. How she went from being a single mom in poverty to the first billionaire author who created a world so beloved by millions is the ultimate success story to me (though I don’t necessarily measure success monetarily). Plus, I wish I had half of her Twitter wit.

A quotation I like: “The hardest thing in this world is to live in it. Be brave. Live.” — Buffy in “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.”

These are a few of my favorite things: 

1) Poking around antique stores.

2) Buffalo wings, which is the one food I can’t let go of as I transition to eating more vegan.

3) The charities Wings of Rescue, Swim Across America and Modest Needs.

These are not: People who don’t park properly. (It’s the L.A. girl in me.)

My doubts about religion started: As early as I can remember. I always felt weird and unusual that I couldn’t wrap my head around the idea of a magic man in the sky. I couldn’t understand why people didn’t believe in Santa, yet believed in a god; it just didn’t make any sense to me.

Before I die: I would like to swim in all five oceans!

Ways I promote freethought: I don’t promote it too much, because of the nature of my job, but I do try to drop little freethought/nonbelief nuggets in any conversation that touch on religion, just to get people thinking. You never know how that may resonate with a person.

Major court victory! FFRF saves N.J. taxpayers millions

The Presbyterian Church in Morristown, N.J., asked for $1.04 million in grants from Morris County that would allow “continued use by our congregation for worship services.”

FFRF has earned a huge victory in court that will save New Jersey taxpayers several millions of dollars by terminating an unconstitutional boondoggle.

The New Jersey Supreme Court, in a 7-0 decision April 18, upheld the state Constitution’s ban against taxpayer funds being used for “building or repairing any church or churches.” In Freedom From Religion Foundation v. Morris County, FFRF and member David Steketee filed suit in late 2015 against the county, challenging public grants of millions of tax dollars to repair or maintain churches. The state high court’s ruling corrected a lower court’s shocking refusal to apply the state Constitution’s plain command.

FFRF and Steketee originally protested more than $5.5 million in funding to churches since 2012 by the Historic Preservation Trust Fund. The lawsuit specifically challenged $1.04 million in allotments to Presbyterian Church in Morristown, which, in the words of the church, would allow “continued use by our congregation for worship services,” as well as disbursements to St. Peter’s Episcopal Church to ensure “continued safe public access to the church for worship.” All of the churches that received the grants have active congregations.

FFRF contended the grants violate the unambiguous command of Article I, Paragraph 3 of the New Jersey Constitution that guarantees: “nor shall any person be obliged to pay tithes, taxes, or other rates for building or repairing any church or churches, place or places of worship, or for the maintenance of any minister or ministry, contrary to what he believes to be right.” This taxpayer protection predates the creation of the United States and was seen by Thomas Jefferson and other Founders as an essential guarantee to prevent the government from establishing religion and forcing citizens to support churches or religions in which they disbelieve.

The lower court ruling claimed an unprecedented exception to this admirably clear command, holding that Morris County was justified in ignoring this constitutional mandate because the funds were part of a historic preservation program.

Fortunately, the state’s top court has corrected this mistake, overruling the trial court and holding that the New Jersey Constitution means exactly what it says.

“We find that the plain language of the Religious Aid Clause bars the use of taxpayer funds to repair and restore churches, and that Morris County’s program ran afoul of that longstanding provision,” the Supreme Court states. It agrees with FFRF’s central contention that not being taxed to support a church is a central issue of religious freedom of conscience.

In an editorial by the Times of Trenton (N.J.), it sided with the judge’s decision.

“Taxpayers should have no obligation to pay for the upkeep or the preservation of those facilities, no matter how old, or how architecturally valuable, they may be,” the editorial board wrote.

FFRF cannot emphasize enough the significance of the N.J. Supreme Court decision.

“This is not just a win for secular citizens, but for every New Jersey taxpayer,” explains FFRF constitutional attorney Andrew L. Seidel. “Governments in New Jersey cannot force Muslims to bankroll temples and yeshivas, compel Jews to subsidize Christian churches and Catholic schools, force Christians to fund mosques and madrassas or nonbelievers to support any religion. It’s a win for all.”

FFRF is a nationwide nonprofit organization dedicated to the constitutional separation of state and church, with more than 33,000 members across the country.

FFRF extends its gratitude to plaintiff David Steketee, who has vigorously fought to uphold the rights of Morris County taxpayers since before this case was filed. The lawsuit was handled by attorney Paul S. Grosswald. Seidel and FFRF Staff Attorney Ryan Jayne were co-counsel.

FFRF to bible museum: Don’t bear false witness

The Museum of the Bible recently opened in Washington, D.C. FFRF has sent officials a letter asking them to correct inaccuracies and misrepresentations. (Museum of the Bible image)

FFRF has a message for the recently opened Museum of the Bible: Thou shalt not bear false witness.

FFRF has sent museum officials a letter unmasking serious inaccuracies and misrepresentations and asking them to correct the record.

On a recent visit to the museum, FFRF Co-Presidents Dan Barker and Annie Laurie Gaylor, accompanied by FFRF Director of Strategic Response Andrew Seidel, noticed significant factual problems. As well they could. A Pew 2010 survey revealed that atheists and agnostics scored best on religious knowledge, including biblical literacy. Barker, a longtime minister before “seeing the light,” has debated extensively on the bible. Gaylor’s book on the treatment of women in the bible is called Woe to the Women: The Bible Tells Me So.

At the museum’s dedication ceremony, Executive Director Tony Zeiss boasted, “Our scholars vet everything that you’ll see in the exhibits for accuracy and authenticity.” The museum’s “International Advisory Council” is charged with “appl[ying] a final layer of scrutiny to all materials to advise about the cohesiveness, accuracy, fidelity and cultural sensitivity of the museum’s content.” It is falling short on these fronts, says FFRF.

FFRF is calling upon museum officials to suspend a five-minute, $8 ride named “Washington Revelations” that is on the second floor. Exhibits on that floor are billed as demonstrating “the enormous influence the bible has on nearly every aspect of life.” Throughout the ride, and indeed throughout the entire second floor, the museum stretches the truth to argue for a biblical influence on our secular government that is superficial or absent. Some of these quotes do not even come from or were not influenced by the bible, while others do not demonstrate the biblical influence the museum claims.

“It should be possible for the museum to make its case that the bible is a well-known and well-quoted book without resorting to exaggeration, bowdlerizing or outright fabrication,” Barker and Gaylor write. “In the interests of intellectual honesty, the record needs to be corrected. These seemingly deliberate distortions call into question the entire fidelity of the museum.”

FFRF is pleased to see Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s “The Woman’s Bible” mentioned in the museum. But the deceptive marketing of Stanton, an arch-critic of the bible, as if she were inspired to work for women’s rights and women’s votes by the bible itself, is shocking, say the FFRF co-presidents. Stanton was an agnostic who penned an 1896 essay entitled, “The Degraded Status of Woman in the Bible.” The title says it all, but she was also explicit within the book: “So far from woman owing what liberty she does enjoy to the bible and the church, they have been the greatest block in the way of her development.” The FFRF co-presidents overheard a docent tell a tour group that Stanton was inspired by the bible in her work for women’s suffrage. “Nothing could be further from the truth,” they note.

There are problems in the museum’s depiction of the country’s founders, too. In a video recording of two actors reading Thomas Jefferson and John Adams quotes, the sayings by Jefferson in particular are bowdlerized.

One of the few pieces in the museum that is not a facsimile is Arnold Friberg’s 1975 oil painting (on loan to the museum) of George Washington kneeling in prayer at Valley Forge. The prayer did not happen. Historians agree on this point.

The museum does have a few redeeming features. There is an exhibit showing a photograph of Vashti McCollum (a past FFRF honorary director) reading a newspaper announcing her 1948 historic win before the U.S. Supreme Court. The accompanying text notes: “The court found, ‘beyond all question,’ that the First Amendment bans religious instruction in public schools.”

But such positive aspects are far outweighed by the negatives.

In general, the museum appears to be relying on the perceived superficiality and short attention span of its target audience to create an exaggerated impression of the social and historical influence of the bible. The record needs to be corrected, FFRF co-presidents assert, for the museum to live up to its promise of “accuracy and authenticity.”

Andrew Seidel: Museum fails to meet even low expectations

Andrew Seidel gets ready to make his foray into the Museum of the Bible.

This column first appeared on patheos.com/blogs/freethoughtnow

By Andrew Seidel

“If you’re trying too hard, that’s the ultimate sin.” — John Waters

Desperate. Trying too hard. Overdone. That’s the Museum of the Bible.

The museum is the pet project of Steve Green, owner of Hobby Lobby. FFRF and I have battled and beaten Green on the bible before. He wanted to put a class in Oklahoma public schools that was full of proselytizing, bad history and abysmal scholarship, so my expectations for the Museum of the Bible were low.

But I wanted to be impressed. I wanted to learn something. I wanted to be pleasantly surprised by a fair-minded presentation. With a few notable exceptions, however, the museum failed to meet even my low expectations.

The good

Let’s be charitable and do the exceptions first. Three things stood out.

First, the museum has a working reproduction of Gutenberg’s printing press. A docent helped children print off their own pages, from Isaiah, on the press to take home. That was objectively cool. After all, the Gutenberg bible’s historical significance is beyond question. That significance, though, is not because of the book’s content, but because of the technology that produced it. Gutenberg’s bible wasn’t earth shattering; his movable type and press were.

Gutenberg was impressive.

Second, two massive bronze doors lead into the museum (which, according to staff, are not really doors as they don’t open or close). Gutenberg’s press produced text in two columns, and each door is a massive reproduction of one of those columns of text. That is impressive.

Finally, in a tiny display case called “The Bible and The Supreme Court,” there appeared a Topps collectible card of Supreme Court litigant and champion of the First Amendment, Vashti McCollum. McCollum took a fight to that court over using public schools to preach religion — and won. The display case could have been better and more balanced, but was intrigued by the Topps card of Mrs. McCollum, even though I haven’t been able to find one of my own.

Mrs. McCollum is Topps.

That’s about it.

The bad

The rest of the museum felt like it was trying too hard to prove something that isn’t there.

I spent most of my time on the second floor, which is meant to show the “Impact of the Bible in America.” It argues that “the bible helped inspire the country’s ideas about democracy and the belief that religious liberty was essential to its success. It influenced many national debates, including the abolition of slavery and campaigns for civil rights.”

On this floor, the museum’s desperation begins to show. It claims the bible influenced fashion because crosses and religious art appear on clothing. I guess.

The exhibit on the bible’s influence in Hollywood is just a string of clips shown in a mini-theater.

From religious movies like the “Ten Commandments” to “X-Men 2,” which simply shows a Catholic character reciting the Lord’s prayer, to a Book of Revelation misquote in “Ghostbusters,” the clips fall short of the goal. And, given American Christianity’s insistent attacks on Hollywood as being anti-Christian, the exhibit seems a bit fatuous and self-contradictory.

Then there is the ride. Yup, a ride. “Washington Revelations” is a simulated flight over D.C. in which you “fly” to various landmarks and “learn” about the bible’s influence on those monuments as the “wind” ruffles your hair.

In this ride, the museum truly revealed a bias it had been trying to hide beneath a layer of pseudo-scholarship. Perhaps the most egregious example of this attempt to prove an influence where none exists is when the ride claims that the Book of John influenced Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. The ride explains:

“In his Gettysburg Address, President Lincoln drew inspiration from the bible: ‘that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.’ John 16.”

This is simply not true. Read both the texts yourself (they’re only a few hundred words).

The ride also claims that a quote from Thomas Jefferson’s “Notes on the State of Virginia,” which appears in his memorial, refers to Psalm 145:17-19. It doesn’t.

This isn’t the only problem. The ride concludes at the top of the Washington Monument, telling viewers, “Laus Deo or ‘praise be to God’ is carved into the very tip of the Washington Monument” with the supposed bible reference, “Psalm 146:1-2,” onscreen. But if that’s a Latin phrase from that verse of the bible, it should appear in the Latin translations of Psalm 146. It does not. The phrase is not in any of the Latin bible translations available.

The ride also deliberately conflates government monuments with privately erected monuments, including one in Arlington National Cemetery and some quotes on Union Station, to give the impression of a greater influence than otherwise exists.

At the very least, I was hoping to see some cool history. But so many of the exhibits I got excited about turned out to be reproductions or facsimiles. It made me wonder if the more legitimate and established institutions were reluctant to get in bed with the museum, if only because it infamously purchased thousands of artifacts ISIS smuggled out of Iraq.

And the ugly

When you tire of the museum desperately throwing itself at you like a randy drunk at Mardi Gras, you exit through the gift shop.

Here’s where Steve Green, purveyor of cheap religious trinkets made in China and marked up to absurd prices, lets his religious flag fly. The gift shop stock seemed higher quality than the average garbage one finds in Hobby Lobby, but it was still overpriced. For all your chintzy crystal needs.

Here, too, the Museum of the Bible sets aside its manufactured veneer of scholarship and ecumenicalism. On the bookshelf is a volume by Steve Green called Faith in America. The book’s cover features one of Hobby Lobby’s deliberately misleading Fourth of July advertisements. The book is full of these misleading quotations and largely features Green recounting a conversation with the Christian propagandist David Barton.

Green’s book is light on content: It’s really just showcasing Hobby Lobby’s ads. These ads are meant to appear historic, but deliberately edit and alter the Founding Fathers’ words in subtle ways to change their meaning and push the “U.S. as a Christian nation” narrative. It’s a perfect metaphor for the museum as a whole.

The Museum of the Bible is free, but somehow is still not worth the price of admission.