Honorable mention — High school essay contest: Trinitey Hayward 

Trinitey Hayward

Evolution and religion in Arkansas

By Trinitey Hayward 

Teaching high school students about evolution is treated as optional in my home state of Arkansas. When my 10th-grade science teacher made learning about it required in his class, some of my religious peers dug into Common Core standards to justify that they should not have to write an essay about Charles Darwin’s discovery. Despite his best efforts to make noncommittal statements, it became obvious that our teacher was an atheist. My peers, who had liked our teacher until this point, began to despise him.

More important than their hatred of the views he tried to hide was their hatred toward one of the most important scientific discoveries of all time: evolution. Those who believe that the Earth is only a few thousand years old say that evolution is “just a theory.” These people place absolute faith in the uneducated writing found in a book thousands of years ago, but refuse to have faith in almost every scientist on the planet who agree that evolution is a reality. When a large portion of Americans disregard a repeatedly confirmed scientific theory, it has an impact on how quickly the field can progress. Public opinion does affect how easily scientists can study a topic.

When Charles Darwin did finally publish his research, a storm of religious leaders immediately dismissed his conclusions because his findings did not support the story of creation in Genesis. Religious people stopped at nothing to allow only their views to be mainstream. Arkansas passed a law that banned teaching evolution in schools because they feared it would make Christianity less credible. Luckily, a Supreme Court ruling made this unconstitutional. Local and state legislatures around the country even tried to conjure a scientific alternative to evolution, which was thinly veiled creationism.

These actions are direct attacks against science and logic. Public schools have been mandated by the state government. Since there is supposed to be a separation of church and state, schools should also be secular institutions. Many Southern states invoke this separation when they feel their religion is being oppressed in school, but this principle suddenly does not exist when their religion is overstepping its bounds. Separation of church and state is inherently a double-edged sword, to protect people of any and all religious groups. “In Science I Trust” because this type of hypocrisy has surrounded me for my whole life living in the Bible Belt. As an atheist in Arkansas, I have watched and been dumbfounded as ideas backed by years of science get thrown away because it does not fit with my friends’ and family’s views. I trust in science because it does not require faith — it only needs objectivity.

Trinitey, 18, is from Harrison, Ark., and attends the University of Arkansas. “My major is in finance because I would love to spend my time helping the disadvantaged better their financial situations,” Trinitey writes. “I have not been allowed to attend protests due to my parents’ rules, but I plan on attending protests while living on campus.”

Honorable mention — High school essay contest: Shamsul Haque 

Shamsul Haque

Facts over fear

By Shamsul Haque 

Humans discriminate, Covid-19 does not. Regardless of religion, race or skin color, viruses affect all human beings. At a time when millions of people were dying from Covid-19, the answers were not found in blind faith to a higher being, but rather by trusting science. Religion is driven by fear. Fear of the unknown. Science is driven by facts. Facts which are well-known.

For centuries, civilizations have turned to religion to justify their actions and unexplained phenomena. But when it comes to solutions to real-world issues, only science has been proven to provide us protection. In fact, religion proved to be a barrier to a swifter recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic.

If humans trusted facts over faith, thousands of lives could have been saved. Unfortunately, people were determined to congregate in groups despite scientific evidence indicating gatherings would only exacerbate the spread. Individuals held an illogical belief that they were protected by their faith.

At a time when thousands were dying daily in New York, an Orthodox Jew wedding attended by thousands formed a super spreader event only making things exponentially worse. Greek churches continued to perform services in which worshippers sipped from the same cup believing they were protected from the virus.

Most recently, in India, worshippers believed that they could ward off Covid-19 by smearing cow dung on themselves. Not only is this not effective, but the practice also increases the risks of other diseases, like black fungus.

Furthermore, despite all evidence proving the effectiveness of vaccines against the virus, many worshippers refuse vaccinations based on falsehoods. Many renounce vaccines believing that the vaccines are developed from aborted fetuses, contain pig gelatin or that vaccines decrease fertility. To overcome this resistance, religious leaders often need to justify to their followers that the need to vaccinate is for the greater good in protecting life. Ultimately, everything comes down to science when trying to determine the moral thing to do. If everyone put their trust in science rather than faith, then Covid-19 would not have spread to where it is today and vaccine hesitancy would not exist, leading to the extinction of the virus altogether.

Shamsul, 17, is from Springfield, Va., and attends the University of Virginia. “Ever since I was young, I have been interested in science and the intricacies of our surroundings,” Shamsul writes. “In high school, I tutored peers for three years and expect to continue tutoring while attending college. I intend to major in engineering then pursue an entrepreneurship in the field to help those less fortunate.”

 

 

Honorable mention — High school essay contest: Neil Dervis

Neil Dervis

Ignorance leads to death

By Neil Dervis 

Throughout my life as a person and student, atheism and belief in science have been integral to who I am. I have grown up as a third-generation atheist and as a result, trust in science is essential to my belief system. Through my parents’ organization, Central Florida Freethought Community, I have attended many science-related talks and get-togethers that expanded my realm of thinking. These meetings instilled in me a sense of constant skepticism that is not taught within most churches. My constant skepticism ensures that I make well-informed decisions and do not believe information at face value, especially from someone I do not trust or from an organization that embraces faith over science. This has helped me during the current pandemic more than ever.

Some of the more religiously inclined individuals have put themselves and their families at risk by believing that God and faith in religion will protect them from the threat of the Covid-19. This false sense of security, while initially comforting to them, is dangerous because choosing to ignore the facts and science about the disease and relying on faith alone could result ultimately in sickness and death. This lack of trust in science and misplaced trust in religion could cost people their lives and the lives of those they love.

Some religions preached against wearing masks and against practicing social distancing as mandated by the CDC. As a result, more people were infected with this disease and some died. In London, Orthodox Jews refused to listen to scientists’ advice about the dangers of large group gatherings and, as a result, 64 percent were infected compared with the UK’s average of 7 percent, according to the BBC. To top it all off, even when masks and social distancing were mandated by a science-based organization, the religiously inclined individuals preached against the measures that were proven to help fight off Covid-19 and save lives.

I observed during my senior year in high school how some students would use the idea taught by religion that “when your number is up, your number is up.” In other words, when God decides you will die from Covid-19, there is nothing you can do. So, these students refused to wear masks. They threw parties during the apex of the pandemic, completely discarding the science behind the spread of this disease.

I believe that skepticism should be a more integral part of a school’s curriculum to help ensure misinformation does not get shared.

Lastly, I think my exposure to countless scientific talks boosting my belief in science through the Central Florida Freethought Community has helped make me a less ignorant person and possibly could have saved my life.

Neil, 18, is from Oviedo, Fla., and attends the University of Central Florida. “My mother and step-father created the Central Florida Freethought Community, CFFC, when I was in middle school,” Neil writes. “As I grew up, they gave me responsibility for the organization’s sales of merchandise. Every summer, I visited my dad, who is a civil engineer, in the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. I plan to major in psychology to become a psychiatrist with my own practice.”

 

 

 

Honorable mention — High school essay contest: Elizabeth Andraschko

Aborting religious dominance over reproductive health care

By Elizabeth Andraschko 

“As for women of whom you fear rebellion, convince them, and leave them apart in beds, and strike them” (Quran 4:34); “A wife who refuses to perform any kind of work that she is obligated to do, may be compelled to perform it, even by scourging her with a rod” (Torah, Isshut 21:10); “For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does” (1 Corinthians 7:4).

Despite representing various cultures, populations and religions, these scriptures unanimously preach that men must control women’s bodies. These discriminative messages are being broadcast globally — as 84 percent of the global population practices religion — which increases misogyny and sexism, particularly around abortion.

Abortion has been restricted or banned in many countries because political leaders prioritize promoting religious agendas rather than protecting reproductive health care. In the United States, the government predominantly reflects the patriarchy with cis-heterosexual, white, male, Christian constituents. Consequently, minority groups such as women and trans men are denied influence in legislation regarding their rights, including access to abortions. This lack of representation manifests itself through sexist punishments that affect only those who receive the abortion, such as fetal homicide laws and mandated funerary services. With no repercussions for the sperm donor who customarily identifies as male, these laws serve to oppress those with uteruses instead of equally reprimanding the collective couple.

Equity for these minorities will not be achieved until scientific evidence replaces religious influence in health care. Empirical research shows that proper abortions are safe and without lasting repercussions: one in four women will have an abortion before the age of 45, and “only 0.23 percent . . . resulted in a major complication.” However, in countries where abortions are heavily restricted, both the number of total abortions and the proportion of unsafe abortion procedures increases. Unsafe abortions are defined as those “carried out either by a person lacking the necessary skills or in an environment that does not conform to minimal medical standards”; these procedures make up 13 percent of maternal deaths, killing 47,000 annually.

Continuing to withhold abortions despite the research discouraging restrictions demonstrates how religious leaders utilize spirituality to mask their intentions of maintaining dominance over people with the ability to give birth.

Although some individuals believe religion will absolve their strife, it is imperative that society utilizes science to make decisions regarding greater populations. Thoughts and prayers will not impact maternal mortality prevention nor terminate fertilization by rape, but safe abortions can. Our leaders must replace their outdated, unfounded religious beliefs with scientifically authenticated legislation to promote equity of all genders and their rights to reproductive healthcare.

Elizabeth Andraschko

Elizabeth, 19, is from Spring Park, Minn., and attends the University of Wisconsin. “I intend to graduate and begin my career in New Zealand,” Elizabeth writes. “Eventually, I would like to move back to the United States and have a leadership role in the Environmental Protection Agency, working toward the mitigation and replacement of fossil fuels with sustainable energy.”

 

 

Honorable mention — High school essay contest: Ainsley Anderson

Keeping Arkansas SAFE from religion

By Ainsley Anderson

Watching my close friends’ experiences with religion was like watching a strange television show — so different from my upbringing. My mom is a true atheist and proud of it. She taught me the art of skepticism and individuality. She and I were both raised as outsiders in the South, surrounded by religion and its suffocating grip on progress. I watch my friends making careful science-based decisions for many parts of their lives, except when it comes to religion. I’ve come to realize that it’s not just a TV show, it is reality. Being raised by my family completely free from religion has let me see the effects such intense and blind faith can have on our world.

I have chosen to put my faith, or rather trust, into science. My rationale is simple — faith and religion has and continues to be detrimental to progress. In my home state of Arkansas, with a church on almost every corner, our state legislature takes great pride in legislating in the name of God. In April, our legislature passed the Save Adolescents from Experimentation (SAFE) Act, putting Arkansas on the hate map again as the first state to pass a bill restricting access to gender-affirming health care for anyone under 18. During the session, a senator directly quoted the bible, voicing her support for the bill targeting the LGBTQ+ community. The First Amendment of the Constitution centers around the idea of separation of church and state. These lawmakers ignore the document that they so proudly stand behind when it supports their cause. The hypocrisy is pungent.

This issue is personal for me, as my younger sibling is a part of the LGBTQ+ community. It is absolutely terrifying to witness the effects this bill has already had, not only on my sibling, but on other trans youth. A pediatric doctor in Arkansas recently testified that just in the last week after the bill was passed there were “multiple kids in our emergency room because of attempted suicide.” Science tells us that gender-affirming care saves lives. Ignoring that science is dangerous — religion gives our lawmakers an excuse to proceed with ignorance. Science, in this case, would literally save lives. And religion got in the way. It’s time to make religio

Ainsley Anderson

n something that is only seen on television and remove the barriers that blind us to science.

Ainsley, 18, lives in Little Rock, Ark., and attends Tulane University.

“I was president of several clubs, including Junior Civitan, Women in STEM, and Young Democrats, and was also captain of the varsity girls soccer team,” writes Ainsley. “I plan to get my undergraduate degree in environmental engineering and go on to graduate school.”

 

Honorable mention — High school essay contest: Benjamin Ash

In skepticism I trust

By Benjamin Ash 

Science unarguably changes. Theories are forged by a thousand different voices, evolving in the wake of new research. The scientific method demands incessant alteration and perfection because all objective study is based on the same principle: skepticism, the relentless (and often tiresome) acquisition of the truth.

Scripture also unarguably changes, or, rather, the interpretation of scripture changes. However, these interpretations do not work to lift one another to a common truth, but rather compete for mass conversion. Religion must defeat skepticism and demand unquestioning faith from its believers or else it will eventually cease to exist. For this reason, faith is prioritized over scientific thought often because it seems to promise immovable certainty and celestial security.

Further, the interpretation of institutionalized religious doctrine is passed down from very specific, limited pools of people, while scientific theory — though often operated by professionals — is available to have its claims tested by anyone.

For instance, citizen science programs encourage the public’s involvement in experimentation and analysis of experts’ findings. Yes, the priest may disguise his ignorance with a friendly disposition toward skeptical questions, but faith is altogether destroyed by an embrace of the analytical and the critical.

As academia pushes onward, the church must either bow its head and give ground or dig in its heels. It often being the latter. Faith has historically hindered the advance of scientific progress. One famous examination of this conflict occurred in U.S. schools in the early 20th century, when Christian institutions resisted the teaching of evolution and insisted instead upon biblical literalism. Evangelical lawyer William Jennings Bryan defended his absolutism during the 1925 Scopes trial, swearing by geocentrism and the truth of the story of Jonah and the whale, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Faith cannot coexist with skepticism: when one admits that the whale didn’t swallow Jonah, it is a slippery slope to the church’s irrelevance.

Skepticism’s importance rises beyond the realms of science and study to the mechanisms of a fair and equitable society. Operating on intangible, unobservable truths, society regresses to the days of arbitrary medievalism, censorship, and hostile conservatism, quaintly wrapped under the claim of a benevolent God.

I find myself more comfortable in skeptical limbo and would rather continue to admit that I know very little about the world and evolve my own beliefs in the aftermath of scientific discovery, and live in a society that does the same.

My trust does not lie in those who say they are correct, but admit that th

Benjamin Ash

ey may be wrong.

Benjamin, 17, is from Gilbert, Ariz., and attends Arizona State University.

“I am an aspiring writer, having won an honorable mention at the National Scholastic Writing Competition and a second-place award in the National Youth Classical League essay contest,” Benjamin writes. “I aim to be a university history professor, with an undergraduate double major in history and political science and a minor in East Asian studies.”

 

 

They Said What? (September 2021)

The bible and the Constitution are not supposed to be separate.

Josh Mandel, candidate for U.S. Senate and former Ohio state representative.

Twitter, 7-2-21


It would be a real pleasure to lacerate your body with my nicest knife and leave it to rot in the woods.

N’Aissita, an 18-year-old female psychology student reacting to a post by a 16-year-old French girl for saying, “I hate religion. The Koran is a religion of hatred.” Thirteen people are being tried for online harassment of her.

The New York Times, 7-6-21


He’s helped out where he could. He’s offered to call donors. We actually had our first D.C. march because he called me and he said, “You need to go to the Supreme Court.” I said, ‘”All right, my captain.”

Far-right activist and devout Catholic Ali Alexander, leader of the “Stop the Steal” movement, praising U.S. Rep. Paul Gosar, who has ties to racists, white supremacists and the white Christian identity movement.

The New York Times, 7-6-21


There’s a big misconception when it comes to separation of church and state. It never meant that Christians shouldn’t be involved in politics. It’s just loving the city. Being engaged. Our children are in public schools. Our cars are on public streets. The reality is that people who don’t align with the church have hijacked everything. If I ever get elected, my only allegiance will be to the Lord.

Steve Penate, former Fort Worth mayoral candidate, in the article, “An American Kingdom,” with the subhead “A new and rapidly growing Christian movement is openly political, wants a nation under God’s authority, and is central to Donald Trump’s GOP.”

Washington Post, 7-11-21


I don’t know about you guys, but I think climate change is — as Lord Monckton said — bulls—. By the way, it is.

Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson, referring to British conservative climate change denier Lord Christopher Monckton, when Johnson was speaking to Republican Women of Greater Wisconsin Luncheon in Wauwatosa, Wis.

Wisconsin State Journal, 7-8-21


Do you believe in God?

Sen. John Kennedy, questioning assistant attorney general nominee Hampton Dellinger, who had said, “If there were no Republican men in elected office, there would be no abortion bans.” 

Salon.com, 7-28-21


It’s happening. When more scientists are saying there’s an intelligence behind the universe, that’s basically what the Templeton Foundation is about: We don’t live in only a materialistic world. Francis Collins drove home that in every single cell in your body there’s a code of several billion instructions. Could that be chance? No. There’s no actual reason why things should be the way they are, and chance mutations couldn’t possibly lead to the complexity of life on earth. This blurring between science and religion is happening more and more. Scientists are more willing to talk about it.

Famed biologist Jane Goodall, after receiving the 2021 Templeton Foundation Award.

Salt Lake Tribune, 5-21-21


The easiest way to make the delta variant go away is to turn off CNN. And vote Republican.

U.S. Rep. Lauren Boebert, in a since-deleted tweet.

Forbes, 7-12-21


Think about what those mechanisms could be used for. They could then go door-to-door to take your guns. They could go door-to-door to take your bibles.

U.S. Rep. Madison Cawthorn, speaking of the Biden administration’s plan to go door-to-door to reach millions of unvaccinated Americans.

The New York Times, 7-19-21

John Compere: Happy birthday to our secular Constitution!

John Compere
U.S. Constitution

By John Compere

The U.S. Constitution will be 234 years old on Sept. 17th, which is Constitution Day. This annual national observance commemorates the day in 1787 when our Constitution was signed by 39 Founders at the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia. It also celebrates American citizenship. 

Knowledge of constitutional history is lamentably lacking, although educational programming is federally mandated. Understanding begins with our original establishment and governing document — the Constitution itself. 

The Constitution’s Preamble states six secular reasons our nation was created by and for “We the People.” The Constitution establishes our secular democratic government. The Bill of Rights (first 10 Amendments) provides our individual liberties (1791). The 14th Amendment guarantees all persons born or naturalized in the United States are citizens and citizens of the state where they reside (1868). 

The Constitution created three separate and equal government branches for a check and balance on power. The legislative branch enacts law (Article I), executive branch executes law (Article II), and judicial branch interprets law with authority on all Constitution cases (Article III). 

Article V provides only two ways to amend the Constitution: (1) constitutional convention requiring two-thirds of state legislatures to convene and enact amendment, then ratification by three-fourths of states (0 amendments); or (2) amendment enactment by two-thirds of Congress, then ratification by three-fourths of states (27 amendments).

Many Americans do not know what our Constitution says regarding religion, according to the Pew Research Center. The Constitution contains no deity reference and Article VI commands that “No religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.” (This lawfully separates religion from government and protects government from religion). 

The First Amendment provides our historic trinity of religious liberties: 1. Freedom from government established or endorsed religion.

2. Freedom of religion or no religion.

3. Freedom for religious speech (lawfully separating government from religion and protecting religion from government).

Government neutrality is required regarding religion (neither anti-religion nor pro-religion, but religion-neutral). The genesis of the First Amendment was the 1785 Virginia Religious Freedom Statute, authored by Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, which mandated “No man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever.”

The United States was the first nation in history that was independently established by and for the people, without acknowledging a higher authority (emperor, monarch, dictator, deity, religion, scripture, etc.). There were no public prayers opening or closing the 116-day Constitutional Convention. James Madison reminded delegates of the secular purpose: “This is derived from the superior power of the people.”

More than 80 percent of colonists did not belong to religion establishments in 1776. More than 50 percent of Americans are not members of a church, synagogue or mosque today.

It is fact: History and law show that our Constitution created a secular republic, not one based on a religion. The 1797 Treaty of Tripoli publicly proclaimed to the world: “The United States of American is not in any sense founded on the Christian religion.” This international legal document was negotiated and written during President George Washington’s first administration, unanimously ratified by the Senate and signed by second President John Adams.

World history records the human harm caused when governments and religions combine. Separation of church and state is a liberty of free people keeping government out of religion and religion out of government originating during the 18th Century European Age of Enlightenment. It was clearly intended by our Founders as provided by their governing documents, indisputably documented by historic records, publicly acknowledged by presidents since the nation’s founding and judicially confirmed as the law of our land. Even Jesus allegedly separated government and religion (Matthew 22:21; Mark 12:17).

The United States became the first nation to constitutionally provide freedom of belief and a model for the historic Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the United Nations in 1948, declaring “Everyone shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion.” 

Native American contribution and influence have also been officially acknowledged: “The contribution of the Iroquois Confederation of Nations to the development of the United States Constitution” and “the confederacy of the original 13 colonies into one republic was influenced by the political system developed by the Iroquois Confederacy as were many of the democratic principles which were incorporated into the Constitution itself.” (100th US Congress Resolution)

We are one nation under our Constitution. It is the Constitution in which we trust. We celebrate with patriotic pride our American Constitution and citizenship. 

FFRF Member John Compere is a retired Texas lawyer, retired U.S. judge and Texas rancher.

Letterbox (September 2021)

Thanks to those who pay for FFRF billboards

The newest FFRF billboards are eye-catching and brilliant!  

It’s possible that another member-funded billboard also caught my eye a couple of Decembers ago when I was riding in a taxi. From a distance, I recognized a classic FFRF billboard illustration and tingled with frisson as the taxi drew close enough to read the header. I was harshly prevented from reading, when the driver shrieked, “Don’t look at that!” She took her eyes off the road for so long that, fearing a collision, I bellowed back “Keep your eyes on the road!” It was a terrifying moment. So, when Freethought Today reported on the member who received death threats after funding an anti-religious billboard, I wondered whether it was the same one. If it was, then I offer my profound thanks. I regret that we never met. Thank you and best wishes to the new billboard patron, too.

Wisconsin


Book highlights how religion got us into war

I highly recommended the book by Laurence Moore and Isaac Kramnick, Godless Citizens in a Godly Republic, whether you “believe” or not!

From the book, with reference to Guardian newspaper records:

Then President George W. Bush pointed to his faith as the reason for embarking on war: “I am driven with a mission from God. God told me, ‘George, go and fight these terrorists in Afghanistan.’ And I did. And then God would tell me, ‘George, go and end the tyranny in Iraq.’ And I did.”

Indeed, Bush did, backed by lies about Iraq’s WMDs and his desire to get Osama bin Laden, which he soon lost interest in, leaving it to President Obama to neutralize.

Where is “God” now to help clean up the mess that he inspired godly G.W. Bush to make worse in his name?

California 

Editor’s Note: Godless Citizens is available at ffrf.org/shop.


Puzzle in paper made me crossword enthusiast 

I recently became a member of Freedom From Religion Foundation. After quickly scanning through my copy of Freethought Today, I immediately return to the crossword puzzle [created by FFRF Member Katya Maes]. I’ve never been a crossword puzzle enthusiast, but this puzzle gets me every time! It’s a gem! 

California


Red Pill Festival is by and for oddballs 

In Helena, Mont., the “Red Pill Festival prescribes conservatism, conspiracies,” according to the local newspaper headline. The Red Pill event pushes for the community to adopt Christian values by running conservative candidates for school boards, city councils and county commissions.

During the festival, you’ll hear opinions that the government spread Covid-19 in the air, much like crop-dusting, that the government is planting microchips in people via the vaccine, and that civil war could be averted if women stayed where they belong — at home, and presumably, pregnant. I am relieved that only 200 oddballs went to the festival. But even 200 oddballs are too many. 

It is gratifying that church attendance is down and membership in FFRF is up.

Montana


Give ’em a taste of their own medicine

FFRF’s two most recent Freethought Today papers were exceptional. Especially loved, in the August issue, was Gary Wills’ column on U.S. bishops being wrong about Biden and abortion, and Sage Miller’s essay about when he found his irreligion. And the page 1 article about the Trump White House working with Ralph Drollinger’s Capitol Ministries is positively hair-raising.

In commenting on Lee Leimberg’s letter to the editor, I’d like to add how I handle unwanted religious proselytizers who appear at my door.  When I answer the door, and they (always two) identify themselves, I exclaim cheerily, “Oh, I have something I’d like to read to you!’’ They always smile hopefully. I then commence reading Marilla Ricker’s fine words: “A religious person is a dangerous person. He may not become a thief or a murderer, but he is liable to become a nuisance. He carries with him many foolish and harmful superstitions. That is what makes trouble. Nothing is so worthless as superstition.”

By this time, the abashed visitors are slowing backing away. If they back away before I have finished reading the piece, I follow them down the driveway. This stops the unsavory interruption in my day.

Wisconsin


Jan. 6 Capitol attack was religionist insurrection 

Regarding the Jan. 6 insurrection, failed coup, and lethal attack on the U.S. Capitol, perhaps you remember the flags, banners and signs reading “Jesus Saves” and “Trump Is President, Christ Is King.” 

Those folks holding those signs weren’t separated from their tour groups; they were there to represent a very broad contributing factor to that traitorous action: religion. We know that Rep. Liz Cheney is missing or disregarding this fundamental element of that day because in her remarks to the committee investigating that incident, she stated, “But, in the end, we are one nation under God.”

No, we are NOT one nation under God, no matter how much believers want to make that true. Our rights in America are based on the U.S. Constitution, which has no more to do with Jesus than our country has to do with Allah, Jupiter, Kali, Shiva or Thor. 

I believe we must directly confront the threat of white Christian supremacy to our nation.

Hawaii


Why should churches get a tax exemption?

I enjoyed reading the winning law student essays on issues concerning the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. While doing so, it occurred to me that I have long been disturbed by the IRS tax exemption granted to churches, which seems to be an arrangement that intrudes upon the separation of church and state, at least insofar as the rationale for doing so involves considering churches to be some form of charitable organization. Are they? I think not, since the revenue they collect goes mostly, if not entirely, to promote and maintain their own self-serving needs.

While doing a bit of research on the tax exemption question, I found an article from the Los Angeles Times (Sept. 23, 2008), and thought that it would be of interest to Freethought Today readers. You can read it here: lat.ms/2TKuewY

I’m looking forward to attending my first FFRF convention in November.

California


Superintendent deserved to be chastised by FFRF

I just wanted to thank you for chastising the Miami-Dade Public Schools superintendent for his outrageous religious graduation speech. I am a product of that school system. My parents taught in it, my friends teach in it, and I am still an active property taxpayer in that county. I want everyone I know to see this as an outrage.

I used to think he was a good superintendent, but no longer. I don’t think this would have happened in 1973 when I graduated high school, however. The religious groups, including the American Association for Christian Athletes, were given free rein to operate on school grounds.

I hated it then, and I hate it today. Thank you for the great work you do in protecting our democracy and freedoms. 

Florida


Insect’s name just needs one letter changed

Just catching up on my reading of the May issue and saw the letter from Dave Glenn in response to the praying mantis cartoon from the March issue. Dave suggested a new name for this insect, focusing on how its front legs, which resemble praying hands, in fact are claws used to grip victims so they can be eaten alive.

I see no need to change the name, just one letter of the spelling. Instead of praying mantis, preying mantis. That would also serve us well when clergy or leaders say, “Let us pray,” when perhaps their intention is “let us prey.”

New York


Not everything is black or white, up or down

In general, much of humankind has not learned to critically think in the “gray zone.”

Many bipolar positions that are emphatically touted take on the essence of being right or wrong, good or evil, always or never, left or right, up or down, everything or nothing, atheistic or theistic.

The motivation to live life with extreme convictions may be an unconscious attempt to reduce existential fears and anxieties surrounding and understanding the ultimate unknown — death. 

People often take a firm position of belief rather than accept that most of life’s challenges fall in the “in-between or sometimes” category. Many answers that we seek will probably remain unknown. The trick to achieving peace of mind is to not stop pondering, but rather to stop concluding.  

Pennsylvania


The Christian god’s name is not God, it’s Jealous

I wish to make a clarification: “God” is not a personal name.

It is what one is alleged to be, not whom one is alleged to be. Just like a CEO is a CEO, like a car is a car, and a dog is a dog.

People, by and large, are truly ignorant of the fact that the “Abrahamic” deity has a name. “Do not worship any other god, for the lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous god.” (Exodus 34:14) 

Jealousy is a petty human emotion. Therefore, the man-made, flawed deity figure, is not a god.

Texas


Communion just another of the fictions of bible 

The Catholic Church’s communion ritual has always baffled me.  

According to the bible (Matthew 5:17), Jesus (a devout Jew) spoke these words: “Do not imagine that I have come to abolish the law. . . In truth I tell you, until heaven and Earth disappear, not one dot . . . is to disappear from the law.” 

Well, Mosaic law forbids drinking blood. Isn’t it reasonable then, to surmise that not even figuratively would Jesus invite his disciples to drink his blood? Even supposing that the Last Supper actually took place, that repulsive, cannibalistic juxtaposition of the wine of the Eucharist turning into the blood of Jesus is just another among the bible’s many fictional stories. 

California


Best, worst to uphold state/church separation

The best record for upholding the separation of church and state goes to Thomas Jefferson.

While James Madison was the workhorse in terms of the separation of church and state, Jefferson was the trailblazer, making the defense of religious liberty one of the hallmarks of his career. Jefferson was considered a Deist who valued reason over revelation and rejected traditional Christian doctrines, including the virgin birth and resurrection of Jesus. Jefferson won the presidency in 1801 after a vicious campaign in which he was vilified as an atheist. A man of contradictions, even today the slaveholding Jefferson is seen as an icon of individual liberty. 

The worst record for upholding the separation of church and state goes to Dwight D. Eisenhower.

A deeply religious man, Eisenhower was the first and only president to write and read his own prayer at his inaugural ceremony. In 1954, Eisenhower signed into law adding the phrase “under God” to the Pledge of Allegiance. Two years later, Eisenhower signed a law officially declaring “In God We Trust” to be the nation’s official motto (supplanting “E Pluribus Unum”) and also mandating that the phrase be printed on all American paper currency. 

Ohio


Abortion choice shouldn’t need any explanation

I’m a new Lifetime Member. Thank you for the opportunity to contribute to the discourse!  

And thank you to letter writer Brianna Knoppow (August issue) for making the excellent point that we shouldn’t be supporting rape/incest exceptions to anti-abortion laws. Not only do they codify the idea that women should have a reason that is approved by someone else in order to have an abortion, the incest clause doesn’t even make sense. Is it about a biblical injunction against incest? Is it coded language for a fetus who may have genetic differences that result in a disability? If the latter, then it is ableist, and inconsistent — why isn’t the right supporting abortion exceptions for disabilities in general (which we also shouldn’t support)?

Abortion should be a woman’s right and a woman’s choice, without explanation or excuses. The term ‘rape or incest’ has been in the exception language for so long that I think we often forget to question it. 

Minnesota


Georgia sheriffs ram religion down our throats

Thank you all for getting on the sheriff of Polk County, Ga., regarding his religious proselytizing. He, and my sheriff in Bartow County, Ga., continue to ram all this religion stuff down our throats. Every time I see a government (county) vehicle with “In God We Trust” on it, I cuss. And I, as a 38-year resident, helped pay for it. Why should that be there?

Georgia


Making abortion illegal won’t stop abortions

Many thanks to the FFRF staff for consistently bringing timely and interesting articles to us with each edition of Freethought Today. I found the article “Pro-lifers disregard for pregnant people” by Monica Hesse in the August issue to be very informative and thought-provoking.

It’s important for us to understand that the Religious Right is actually waging a war on a woman’s right to obtain a safe and legal termination of her pregnancy, all the while believing that they will be stopping all abortion procedures. But abortion will still not be stopped.

We need to remember what that was like before Roe v. Wade. Many will die or suffer from severe infection with resulting infertility. Women who are found out and the providers who performed the procedures will face fines and prison time. 

As Hesse pointed out so well, it ultimately comes down to denying women the right to decide for themselves what is best for them both physically and mentally. In no other area of medicine is a person forced to undergo risky procedures or medical treatment without their consent after the risks and benefits have been clearly explained. Once a woman is denied the right to terminate a pregnancy, she is in effect being forced to undergo a process/procedure that has very real risks and life-changing consequences.

Will the majority of the U.S. population allow the minority to force this upon us? I can only hope not!

Florida


How does God justify its existence?

Thank you for Freethought Today. I read it religiously.*

The article by Ann L. Lorac in the June/July issue raised an interesting point which triggered a question which I have never heard addressed. Her sibling asked, “What is the purpose of living if there is no god?” But I have never heard anyone ask what is the purpose of God? How does God justify its existence?

You previously received a letter suggesting that you reduce or eliminate the Crankmail** and Black Collar Crime sections. Please do not do that. I always enjoy reading them, even though they are often horrifying. Apparently, no one can hate like a really religious person. Similarly, no one can justify cruel or vicious conduct like a really religious person.

Keep up the good work!

New York

* Sorry, I could not resist.

** I see it as hate mail.


Freethinkers’ voices still being dismissed

Relating to James A. Haught’s column in the August issue, he gives us examples of how and why freethinkers’ voices are not welcome in most media. But one thing stands out in his column and the historical record: Religions fight dirty.

Christianity alone has shoved its doctrines on innocent children and societies for centuries. During most of that time, it has killed, suppressed, jailed and banished individuals who have not agreed with its interpretation of reality. 

In all that time, however, it has never proven its claim to be true. Yet, we have been made to hear only its side of things, while our voices are still being dismissed and denied. Isn’t it time we demand equal time?

Thomas Jefferson regarded religions as “opinions” and said, “No man has a right to force his opinions on another.” Yet, here we are in the 21st century, dealing with religious privilege, exceptions to laws and the allowance to discriminate based on religion, supported by a government and legal system established to prevent anyone’s opinions from claiming exemptions to the laws made to protect everyone. 

Maine

Convention information

Hotel reservations

The convention hotel is the Boston Park Plaza, 50 Park Plaza at Arlington St., Boston. The convention rate is $189 single, double, triple or quad. Suites are $389 and up. Attendees should call the Central Reservations Office (617-379-7129). Please ask for “Freedom From Religion Annual Convention.” The hotel will discount self-parking to $30 per day at Motor Mart Garage.

The cut-off date for reserving rooms is 5 p.m. Eastern on Oct. 18, 2021. FFRF urges you to plan ahead and reserve early to avoid disappointment.

Meals

In addition to offering several complimentary food or dessert receptions, the convention will include four optional group meals. FFRF does not mark up meal prices, which include 17 percent gratuity, 10 percent taxable administrative fee and 7 percent sales tax.

A robust and tasty box lunch, $60, will be offered at Friday noon for participant convenience, concurrent with Andrew Seidel’s Christian nationalism workshop.

Choices include:

• Grilled Chicken Caesar Wrap

• Turkey BLT Wrap

• Grilled Vegetable Wrap

Wraps will be served with roasted vegetable penne salad, Cape Cod potato chips, a piece of whole fruit, a freshly baked cookie and choice of assorted soft drinks or bottled water.

A Southern barbeque buffet, $65, with vegetable chili and cornbread muffin, rotisserie chicken with BBQ sauce and greens, carved brisket with mac and cheese and fruit kabobs will take place from 5–7 p.m. Friday.

FFRF’s Non-Prayer Breakfast, $45, includes scrambled eggs, bacon and breakfast potatoes, assorted pastries, juice, coffee and tea, with vegetarian/vegan options.

The Saturday banquet dinner of $95 will include Maple Glazed Statler Breast of Chicken with buttermilk mashed potatoes, seasonable autumn baby green salad with roasted beets, quinoa, goat cheese, apple cider vinaigrette, and Boston Cream Pie. The vegetarian option is Butternut Squash Ravioli.

A two-hour lunch on your own is scheduled for Saturday to permit some fresh air, sightseeing or relaxation between events.

The Boston Park Plaza itself offers a variety of dining options: Kozy Korner for drinks, lunch or dinner in Off the Common, the uber-modern steakhouse Strega Italiano just off the lobby, and classic Irish pub J.J. O’Connor’s, just outside the entrance. The Back Bay Boston neighborhood offers a variety of restaurants.

Plan time to sightsee

The Boston Park Plaza is in the officially recognized neighborhood of Back Bay Boston, built on reclaimed land in the Charles River basin. It’s home to a number of restaurants, glitzy stores, skyscrapers, the commercial strips of Newbury Street and Boylston Street, the residential brownstones of Marlborough Street and Copley Square, a grassy plaza within walking distance. The hotel is about a mile from the Charles River Esplanade, a waterfront haven for runners.

You may wish to take a self-guided Freedom Trail tour of historic Boston sites, or sign up on your own for a guided tour on Thursday or Sunday at thefreedomtrail.org or choose any number of other tour options.

Covid-19 rules – vaccinations required

The event is limited to FFRF members and their guests who are fully vaccinated* for Covid-19. Please be sure to indicate on the registration form whether you have been vaccina

The Boston Park Plaza is site of FFRF’s 2021 national convention, Nov. 19-21.

ted. FFRF reserves the right to request proof of vaccination. *Only exception: If you are under a physician’s explicit instructions not to be vaccinated for Covid-19 due to health/immunity issues.

The great news is that atheists as a group in the United States are the most likely and willing to be vaccinated. We fully expect the event to reach “herd immunity.” FFRF staff members are fully vaccinated.

Please note that the Boston Plaza Hotel is adhering to all federal, state and local guidelines and does not at this time require its staff to be vaccinated.

The hotel has indicated it will follow whatever protocol, as yet unknown, is required by the government at the time of FFRF’s convention.

Although FFRF will not require masking for vaccinated individuals, unless CDC, Massachusetts or Boston rules change and require them, convention participants of course are free to wear masks. FFRF will be offering its popular masks, with the slogans “FFRF,” “Science is Golden” and “In Science I Trust,” at no cost during the convention.

The conference room will be set up for about 800 seats in the usual theater format, which does not allow for social distancing. 

However, FFRF will inform participants of any requirements requested by authors during book signings, such as masking or social distancing.