In memoriam: Gary Dann empowered others

Gary L. Dann
Gary Dann poses next to some resting seals in the Galapagos.

Gary L. Dann, atheist and father of FFRF’s Director of Governmental Affairs Mark Dann, died on May 13, 2021, after a high-risk surgical procedure.

“People can have a sense of humor, be an atheist or an iconoclast,” said Mark during the eulogy at the funeral. “Gary Dann was all of those things, and he did them well with aplomb. He always brought along people for the ride in life and people always wanted to join him. He never isolated. He always included.” 

Formerly of Shaker Heights, Ohio, Gary was married to his wife Carol for 52 years. He was a graduate of The Ohio State University, where he was a member of Phi Sigma Delta. 

He was also in the Army Reserves while working as a successful insurance and financial planner, and later founded Concorde Financial. He was a season ticket holder of the Philadelphia Eagles and previously of the Cleveland Browns. 

Gary, a member of FFRF, was an avid tennis player who studied Spanish, visited Civil War sites, collected and sent innumerable email jokes, and sun-worshipped on the beach. As an active tutor and volunteer with Hopeworks Camden and the Interfaith Homeless Outreach Council (IHOC), he enjoyed seeing others become independent and live their lives on their own terms.

“One of Dad’s many gifts was empowering others with dignity so they can be themselves and stand up to others who weren’t going to let that happen,” Mark said during the eulogy. “His wisdom, steadfastness, and kindness were unmatched, and we all felt it.

 “Later in life, as a devout atheist, he would substitute ‘God’ or ‘the Lord’ with ‘Casper the Friendly Ghost’ in his head. It wasn’t: ‘Praised are you, the eternal one, our God, ruler of the cosmos.’ It was: “Praised are you, Casper the Friendly Ghost, ruler of the cartoons.’” 

He will be greatly missed by his numerous friends, family and loved ones.

They Said What? (August 2021)

I want to speak with you about the greatest threat to religious liberty in America today: the increasingly militant and extreme secular-progressive climate of our state-run education system. . . . Now we see the affirmative indoctrination of children with a secular belief system and worldview that is a substitute for religion and is antithetical to the beliefs and values of traditional God-centered religion.

Former Attorney General William Barr, speaking to the right-wing group Alliance Defending Freedom.

Raw Story, 5-26-21


If the left whines, like they do, like a spoiled brat often enough, they succeed in canceling so many voices of truth. And now that they are whining like, if I may say it, the pansy babies that they are, to cancel me. . . . God is still the best doctor and prayer is still the best medicine.

Rev. James Altman, pastor of St. James the Less Roman Catholic Church in La Crosse, Wis., after being asked by the La Crosse Diocese to step down because of several concerns, including Covid-19 vaccine misinformation.

NBC News, 5-24-21


Prayer is powerful. And I encourage all Utahns, regardless of religious affiliation, to join together on this weekend of prayer.

Gov. Spencer Cox, seeking divine intervention in a proclamation declaring a “weekend of prayer” to alleviate a statewide drought (which failed).

Salt Lake Tribune, 6-3-21


I’m a teacher, but I serve God first. And I will not affirm that a biological boy can be a girl and vice versa because it is against my religion. . . . And it’s sinning against our God.

Byron Tanner Cross, who was suspended from his job as a gym teacher in Virginia because he refused to acknowledge transgendered individuals. Cross is now suing the school district.

The Friendly Atheist, 6-4-21


The Gestapo wants to see your papers, please.

Wisconsin state Rep. Shae Sortwell, comparing a nonprofit children’s museum in Stevens Point, Wis., to the Nazi Germany’s police force because the museum is asking people older than age 5 who are not vaccinated against Covid-19 to continue to wear masks during their visits to the indoor space.

Wisconsin Public Radio, 6-8-21


I don’t believe in evolution. I believe in God.

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, speaking to Steve Bannon on  “Real America’s Voice,” where she argued that Dr. Anthony Fauci should be criminally charged over the Covid-19 pandemic.

Raw Story, 6-8-21


This is unusual for Wisconsin. Most people in Wisconsin say, ‘You are in our prayers; we are praying for you.’   . . . But you got some people here that are just sort of nasty at some points.

Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson, after being booed by attendees at a Juneteenth Day event in Milwaukee.
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 6-19-21


The idea that you can just push God out of every institution and be successful, I’m sorry, our Founding Fathers did not believe that.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, after signing into law a bill that requires schools to hold a one- to two-minute moment of silence at the start of each day in public schools.

FloridaPolitics.com, 6-14-21


I do think it is not a stretch to say, for all of us who’ve prayed for deliverance from Covid-19, the vaccines are an answer to that prayer. That is very much consistent with the way God often responds to our needs — by working through human capabilities that we’ve been given as a gift by the creator.

National Institutes of Health Director Dr. Francis Collins, an evangelical Christian.

Religion News Service, 6-1-5-21

Meet a Member: Pentecostal preacher became an atheist

Sam Whitehead
Sam Whitehead sits on his motorcycle at a corner in Winslow, Ariz., made famous in the Eagles song, “Take It Easy.”

Name: Sam Whitehead.

Where I live: Marietta, Ga.

Where and when I was born: A farmhouse in Grant, Ala., in 1950.

Family: My lovely wife Vicki, and Miles, a miniature schnauzer. No children, but I have two younger brothers and several nephews and nieces.

Education: Bachelor’s and master’s business degrees with emphasis on personnel management and finance from Georgia State University in Atlanta.

Occupation: Retired from a 44-year career with one of the largest petroleum transportation companies in the world. Mostly worked in human resources management and public affairs. 

How I got where I am today: Hard work and perseverance. I had to pay my own way through college and went from the mailroom to ever-increasing responsibilities during my career.

Where I’m headed: An enjoyable retirement with travel, playing music with my friends and spending time with friends and family.

Person in history I admire and why: Bob Dylan. He is the musical artist I wish I had been. As a teen in the 1960s, I aspired to be a singer/songwriter like the members of the Beatles.  My friends and I wrote songs and dreamt of fame and fortune.  It was in the 1970s that I became a Dylan fanatic. His body of work is astounding and I have seen him numerous times in concert.

A quotation I like: “This above all: To thine own self be true.” — William Shakespeare.

Things I like: Music, cars, motorcycles, dogs, “Gunsmoke.” 

Things I smite: Religious privilege, people who expect the government to take care of them. 

My doubts about religion started: As a child, but really took off at age 22, when I set out to prove to myself that God was real.

Before I die: I hope to see another Bob Dylan concert and that he invites me to the stage for a duet on “Blowin’ in the Wind.”  

Ways I promote freethought: I support my local Freethought Society and attend the meetings. I am also quick to point out, whenever the opportunity arises, that America is NOT a Christian nation. I also published a book (The Truth Shall Make You Free: How an All-American, Southern Boy and Preacher Became an Atheist) in 2020 about my 40-year quest of research and reflection to prove my faith was the one true religion and that God was real. I reluctantly came to the conclusion that there is no god and that no religion is true. 

I wish you’d have asked me: What is one of my favorite songs? “Let it Be” by the Beatles. “When I find myself in times of trouble . . .”

Stardust expands its universe

 

Elle and Bailey Harris
Stardust game

By age 12, Bailey Harris was already an author. Along with her father, Doug, they co-wrote My Name is Stardust, which was released in 2017 and had already sold thousands of copies by the time she spoke at FFRF’s 2018 convention in San Francisco. (FFRF awarded Bailey its Beverly and Richard Hermsen Student Activist Award of $5,000.)

Bailey, now 15, has helped create more in the Stardust line, which now includes a new board game called “Go Extinct! Stardust Catches the Carnivores. According to the StardustScience.com website, the game is a “special edition of the award-winning Go Extinct! tabletop card game, incorporating artwork and concepts from the Stardust series of science books for young readers. Players complete sets of animals based on actual genetic clades, working to collect the most sets by inferring the other player’s cards and identifying common ancestors on the evolutionary tree.”

But that’s not all for Bailey. Doug Harris says Bailey is working on the outline for a new book series called Stardust & Friends. They will explore Earth with famous scientists from the past. (In the first book, they will go on an adventure to the Galapagos Islands with Charles Darwin.) 

And Bailey’s sister, Elle, 10, is also involved in what has seemingly become the family business.

Elle the Humanist, which contains a foreword by philosopher and author Daniel Dennett, is an illustrated children’s book that “presents humanist ideas and ethics in a way that’s warm, welcoming and accessible for young readers.” 

You can see all of the Stardust-themed items for sale, including four jigsaw puzzles, at StardustScience.com/collections/all.

It pays to complain: Missouri city council ends invocations

Ethan Gabel

FFRF Member Ethan Gabel researched all of the invocations given at the Kirksville, Mo., City Council meetings since 2005.

His results showed that there have been more than 330 invocations given and almost every single one of them had been a prayer, mostly delivered by Christian clergy members.

So, Gabel emailed the council with his new-found information, hoping to get the council to stop the religiously infused invocations. 

“Regardless of intent, it appears that the Kirksville City Council itself endorses Christianity above all other religions and is actively ignoring the doctrine of church-state separation enshrined in the United States Constitution,” Gabel wrote in his emailed letter. 

Gabel’s letter worked.

As reported by Austin Miller in the Kirksville Daily Express, “The Kirksville City Council is ending the customary invocation that has kicked off its meetings for many years.”

Now, instead of the invocation prior to council meetings, there will be a “reading of the city’s mission and vision statements and then a moment of silence for personal reflection,” according to the Daily Express. 

Several councilmembers agreed with Gabel. 

“[The invocation] is not called a prayer for a reason,” said Councilmember Jessica Parks, as reported in the article. “However, it feels like a prayer and it pretty much has been.”

She added later: “I think it’s a good reminder for us to remember who we represent when we come to our meetings, that we’re not representing ourselves and our own wants and desires. We are representing the citizens.”

Councilmember John Gardner agreed. 

“I’m not sure I’ve ever been anywhere . . . where an invocation really, essentially, wasn’t a prayer,” he said. “That’s what they’ve always been. That’s probably not their definition and certainly not their connotation, so I understand the intent. I just think what we would end up getting is a lot of people doing Christian prayers. That’s a large part of our community . . . but we’re the city government. We’re not a church, we’re not a religious institution, and we represent all people.”

Crankmail (August 2021)

We hope you enjoy this month’s edition of the Crankmail missives sent to FFRF. Printed as received.

Evil: It must be devastating to your “non profit” knowing there are over 550 witnesses confirmed Jesus is alive and well after dying for mine and your sins on the cross. There’s a hot hell waiting for those that use their life to deny his name! “EVERY KNEE WILL BEND & TONGUE WILL CONFESS THAT JESUS IS LORD.” Sorry to break it to you all but In the end God wins. — Bo Dyer 

Fools: If you don’t believe in any G_d, how could you possibly be offended by those that do. If you are smart enough’s to discern there could be no Creator, why could you possibly be offended by those that acknowledge someone you feel doesn’t exist? Why would freedom of thought be ended because of your opinions? Fool! — Rodger Jennings 

You are so fucked: So. You “atheists” really think it’s about religion?? You have no clue what the hell you’re even talking about. Interested in a good debate?? Come see us at Cornerstone Church of Clarion. Maybe we get the Holy Spirit to set you on fire — Jared Evans 

your threat to this country: You may assist me–rather the RESPECTABLE citizens of this country–by leaving it. Atheism is NOT a religion. You do have the right not to believe in God but you do NOT have the right to try to change the foundation of this country. If you don’t like that religion is practiced here then GET THE FUCK OUT. I wish you this–you get a terminal case of the drizzling shits & live forever with it, with only coarse sandpaper with which to wipe your sorry ass. Oh…by the way…did I mention I am an atheist? But I am a DECENT atheist, not a disgusting one like you. — Monica Thacker 

Moral decline: I just want to congratulate FFR and the ACLU (Anti Christian Liberal Union) for being MAJOR contributors to the moral decline in America. Since you two worthless groups have pursued the destruction of organized religion the moral decay of society has grown. — Jack Pengstad

Facts: First of all: Shame on you. I am going to tell you a truth and you better believe it or I WILL bankrupt you. “Separation of Church and State” is NOT in the United States Constitution. That is a FACT!!!!!!!!!!!!! Anybody disagree, then you really do not know the truth. Rescind your dispute NOW or I will see you at the Supreme Court, and you will be declared a terrorist organization. I am tired of the lies that the organizations like FFRF promote. The First Amendment states in part “freedom of religion” NOT ‘freedom from religion’. You would not exist if it were not for the founding of our nation and the certain unalienable rights that ONLY our Creator could avow to us. FACT! Please apologize. Thanks! — Vincent DeJung

Are you stupid.: Your group needs to stop demanding people to take down there faith in GOD.Its our right to pray and no place in our Constitution does it say are mean,the government has the right to take it away.If someone gets offended by it then to bad this country needs God.And if they come to this country to live they need to respect our laws and valuse as we do theres. — Theodore SpahnHorrible!: Freedom from religion? What we need is freedom from socialism. Over 100 million victims in the 20th century alone. How do you folk sleep at night? — Jonathan Roester

Prayers: If you do not want people praying at Osceola County School Board meetings then you are what is wrong with this country! — Jackson Bachmann

True Christians: An atheist knows nothing about Christ or Christians. Jesus is not political. He does not favor one party over another. Was Trump a decent president, I think so. Was he God’s gift to us? God let Him win. Was he a Christian, he was a baby, Christian. Is Biden a Christian? I say no. Why, because he is doing what the Bible says is wrong to do. Sitting in a Catholic pew does not make a person a Christian. Pelosi proves that. — Ben Young

Overheard (August 2021)

Today we have other ways of policing morality, but this evolutionary heritage is still with us. Although statistics show that atheists commit fewer crimes than average, the widespread prejudice against them, as highlighted by our study, reflects intuitions that have been forged through centuries and might be hard to overcome.

Dimitris Xygalatas, associate professor of anthropology and psychological sciences at the University of Connecticut, in his column, “Are religious people more moral?”

Yahoo News, 5-25-21


They didn’t care about the democratic process; they cared only about what they believed. This is what happens when you mix politics with a religion that has decided to go off the rails. You have people who become radicalized.

Historian Anthea Butler, regarding how the Jan. 6 insurrection was largely started by conservative Christians talking about how they needed to take back the country and how God ordained Donald Trump to be the president, in the article “Nationalism, American evangelicals and conservatism.” 

Penn Today, 5-19-21


Their pervasive theology shapes policies that cause women untold suffering. . . . It’s also the specter that makes women forgo hysterectomies because, we are told, it’s better to endure suffering than lose the possibility of giving birth. . . . Catholics should ask themselves whether the church’s anti-abortion fight is less about babies and more about controlling women’s fertility and, with that, women’s freedom. . . . Giving pregnant people the legal right to have control and agency over their bodies translates to other aspects of their lives, namely the capacity to claim political, economic and social autonomy.

Jamie Manson, president of Catholics for Choice and a former columnist for The National Catholic Reporter, in her column, “The Catholic Church’s reproductive fight is about controlling women’s freedom.”

The New York Times, 5-27-21


People who profess no religion live in constant fear of their lives and safety. They live in fear of being tortured or disappeared, summarily executed, or taken to a mental hospital for leaving a religion or for holding and expressing blasphemous views and opinions.

Leo Igwe, in his column “Freedom of religion or belief and nonreligious persecution in Nigeria.”

NewsGhana.com, 6-2-21


If a taxpayer-funded religious social services organization can discriminate against individuals based on the assertion their sexual orientations are inconsistent with the organization’s own religious tenets, it can almost certainly discriminate against individuals whose religious beliefs are inconsistent with its religious tenets.

Samuel Brunson, prior to the Supreme Court decision in Fulton vs. Philadelphia, where the court ruled that Catholic Social Services may discriminate against families headed by same-sex couples when providing taxpayer-funded public foster care services.

Religion News Service, 5-28-21


It’s almost like leaving a cult, and you’re about to do something that your religion frowned upon for the first time.

Lydia Greene, on how she was able to get out from under the online conspiracy theories about Covid-19 vaccines.

CodaStory.com, 5-28-21


How can Jews believe in an omnipotent, beneficent God after Auschwitz? Traditional Jewish theology maintains that God is the ultimate, omnipotent actor in the historical drama. It has interpreted every major catastrophe in Jewish history as God’s punishment of a sinful Israel. I fail to see how this position can be maintained without regarding Hitler and the SS as instruments of God’s will. To see any purpose in the death camps, the traditional believer is forced to regard the most demonic, anti-human explosion in all history as a meaningful expression of God’s purposes. The idea is simply too obscene for me to accept.

Richard L. Rubenstein, theologian, in his 1966 book After Auschwitz: Radical Theology and Contemporary Judaism. Rubenstein died May 16. 

The New York Times, 6-5-21


Secularization or rationality has little chance of correcting or convincing QAnon believers. . . . The beliefs of QAnon followers are decidedly irrational, and no rational arguments will address them. 

Rabbi Brad Hirschfield, president of the National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership, in his column “What nonbelievers don’t get about conspiracy beliefs.”

Religion News Service, 6-7-21


For me, the parallel is that I think a lot of people want to see Jan. 6 as the end of something. I think we have to consider the possibility that this was the beginning of something.

Cynthia Miller-Idriss, director of the Polarization and Extremism Research and Innovation Lab at American University, who notes the rise of Naziism was preceded by a series of attacks, failed coups and other efforts to undermine democracy.

New York Times, 6-10-21


If you doubt that a threat of violence exists, look at the recent poll from the Public Religion Research Institute and the Interfaith Youth Core, which shows that a dangerous QAnon conspiracy theory is believed by 15 percent of our fellow Americans — including almost one in four Republicans, 14 percent of independents and even 8 percent of Democrats. 

Barbara Comstock, a Virginia Republican and lawyer and former member of Congress, calling for an investigation into the Jan. 6 Capitol riot.

New York Times, 6-10-21


Viewed through a contemporary, secular lens, a community built around a charismatic founder and dedicated to the lionization of suffering and the annihilation of female selfhood doesn’t seem blessed and ethereal. It seems sinister.

Columnist Michelle Goldberg, in her column, “Was Mother Teresa a cult leader?”

The New York Times, 5-21-21

Letterbox (August 2021)

Secular schools allow all to be included

This is an edited version of a letter to the editor of the Canton, Ohio, Repository newspaper by FFRF Member N.D.

I appreciate the April 4 column mentioning the recent Gallup poll that ‘’the number of Americans connected to a house of worship has fallen to 47 percent for the first time in 100 years,’’ which I see as good news. People are beginning to realize that you can be moral without attending church, because you don’t need religion to tell you that getting along with others and not hurting them is the right thing to do. 

As for the letter complaining about the Repository’s Easter page, I thought it was just fine, but it does bring up the question of the paper recognizing no other holidays at all, or holidays from other cultures, which would include: Ramadan, Eid al-Fitr,  Juneteenth, Diwali, Indigenous People’s Day (replacing Columbus Day), Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa, to name just a few. I would also add that religion and secular beliefs should be about compassion for all, and tolerance, tolerance for the LGBTQ+ community, reproductive rights, and supporting the separation of church and state, and that if you use religion to justify sexism, homophobia, and anti-choice rhetoric, then your beliefs are hurtful, wrong and immoral.

Keeping religion out of public schools and the government is the right thing to do, because, by being secular, we’re including everyone, and that’s what compassion without religious discrimination is really about.

N. D.
Ohio

FFRF’s Markert really helped us understand 

Thank you so much for FFRF Legal Director Rebecca Markert’s participation in our conference in late May. Even though I am a member of FFRF, I learned so much more with her presentation. It is scary out there, that’s for sure.

I am mailing an official letter along with a check as an expression of our gratitude for the presentation.

Hope to see you in November in Boston at your conference.

J.K.
Cultural and Secular Jewish Organization

Freethinkers should be aware of logical fallacies

We freethinkers have a reputation as critical thinkers to uphold. Being conversant with logical fallacies should be a part of the Atheist Life Skill set, and not just to avoid their use, but to detect their use by others.  

In addition to Tom Shipka’s key logical fallacies, as presented in the May issue, there are more than 100 others. LogicallyFallacious.com is a good trainer. You can also search how to stop a logically fallacious argument dead in its tracks, or at least gain time to organize your high-information atheist position.

Atheists in small mean-spirited Christian towns can benefit from a fallacy recognition strategy. It is useful to deflect admonitions to join a church, when our polite “No, thank you” triggers their “Why not? We do so much good for the community.” Ha! Did they just use Appeal to the Bandwagon, Appeal to Emotion/Duty, and Appeal to Patriotism/Localism?  You might recognize this as the False Cause of equating religion with good citizenship.

Whenever you perceive a surface logic and a simultaneous sense of skeezy mental residue that prompts a conclusion of, “I just don’t buy it,” check for logical fallacy.

S. P.
Wisconsin

Rape/incest excuses for abortion aren’t needed

As always, your coverage of the right for women’s bodily autonomy is greatly appreciated. However, in the May issue, you maligned one of the anti-abortion states when stating there were not “exceptions for rape or incest.” That phrase made me cringe! I request that you please not use it anymore. It distracts and detracts from your point and insinuates that a person needs an excuse in order for an abortion to be permissible. 

It also, importantly, gives a stamp of approval for the use of TRAP (Targeted restrictions on abortion providers) laws, since, hey, in many places you can get an abortion if there’s rape or incest, so, see, abortion must still be legal then! There are two excuses to get it! Using that phrase also distracts from the fact that abortion is being chipped away at. Focus on what we’re losing. 

Also, do you really think a bunch of hardcore Christian neocons are going to even believe a woman when she claims to be raped? (Just ask Betsy DeVos.)  

B. K.
Washington, D.C. 

FFRF should make room for non-atheist voices

My husband and I are members of FFRF, yet I have noticed a sentiment which permeates almost all of your literature that I am uncomfortable with: There doesn’t seem to be any space at FFRF between flat-out atheism and a God-fearing religious crackpot.

Most who speak for your publication seem to be persons who have escaped some abusive religious upbringing, which colors every transaction regarding their ideas of separation of church and state. To me, one is not a prerequisite for the other. In fact, a person could be extremely religious and still agree with your agency’s bottom line on church/state separation.

I would definitely not call myself an atheist because I do believe there is an order to the universe and in nature (e.g. how the planets stay aligned around the sun, etc.), but I do not need to attach that to any positive or negative outcomes, or creator sky-God myth, but neither do I credit science with explaining all of it, ultimately.

I don’t think it’s necessary, nor emotionally healthy, to take an “all or nothing” stance about spirituality or the mysterious order of the universe, because then we start to imagine that we meek humans and our little brains are powerful enough to understand and control it all. I’d definitely like to hear from more people in between atheism and ex-religious victim in your organization’s collective voice. Remember, atheism is a powerful, but not necessarily correct, religion, too!

M. E.
New York

Editor’s Note: Thank you for your support of FFRF. FFRF is not an “atheist organization,” it is an umbrella organization for freethinkers of any ilk. We wanted to create an organization that Thomas Paine, a deist in the classic Enlightenment sense, would have joined. Although the majority of our members is atheist, we welcome agnostics, skeptics, humanists, etc. FFRF was founded by Anne and Annie Laurie Gaylor, respectively second-generation and third-generation freethinkers who did not come from a religious background.

Day of Reason should be NYC holiday if others are

The New York City public schools were closed on May 13 for the Muslim holiday of Eid-al Fitr and the Catholic holiday of “the Ascension.” The public schools were never closed for religious holidays back in the 1950s and 1960s when I attended them, except for the winter and spring recesses, which conveniently overlapped with Christmas and Easter. These holidays, however, are still not official public school holidays.

Under our wretched, faith-pandering mayor, Bill de Blasio, various religious holidays (Jewish, Muslim and Chinese) have been added to the school calendar. 

It seems that the public schools are closed more often than they are open. The Day of Reason, however, is not a public school holiday here in the so-called “liberal” Big Apple. So much for the separation of church and state in New York City!

D. M.
New York

Unfortunately, religion will always be with us

Ann L. Lorac’s column (“All of our gods come from within ourselves” in June/July issue) offered a thought-provoking distinction between faith and religion. But her hope for eliminating religion is unattainable. Faith, i.e., belief in some supernatural existence, will always develop into religion. 

The human mind is sufficiently conscious to be able to ask, “why?” And when a conscious mind asks a question, it must be relieved with an acceptable answer. But to solve the unanswerable, man creates god(s) to conduct all unexplainable phenomena. 

Humans also recognize that they are mortal. Demand for an afterlife is an obvious reaction to salve the pain of this finality and has brought comfort to most of humanity.

Finally, life is simply not fair. Thus, there should be a Final Judgement Day to rectify this malevolence of existence and of our fellow man. 

These three foundations for creating religion are found in all societies and their various religions, each believing they are the one true religion, of course. Therefore, the goals of our FFRF are best kept to our efforts to keep religious controls out of governmental systems with no expectation or energy expended to try to eliminate religion or disabuse its followers of their faith/religion. Any hope of eliminating religion will fail because of human psychological needs, but keeping the various perversities of various religions from impinging on the lives of non-members must be absolute if truly free, democratic societies with equality for all are to exist. 

The more we can grow FFRF, and other similarly inspired organizations, the closer to a truly free and equal society we can become.

G. H.
Maryland 

Capital punishment needed for Christianity

While reading Brian Bolton’s essay on how the bible supports several execution methods in the June/July issue, I was reminded of St. Paul’s contention (1 Cor. 15: 3, 14, 17) that capital punishment was a foundational component of the Christian religion, i.e., that in order for Jesus to expiate original sin he had to be crucified by the Romans, which would then allow him to “rise from the dead.” So, without capital punishment, there would be no Christianity.

T. D.
Wisconsin

Prison system in U.S. uses religion to coerce

As a military inmate for more than a decade, I can attest that religion, especially Christianity, is used as a pervasive tool of coercion. Minor examples include recreational opportunities available only to members of preferred religions and priority access to voluntary treatment programs. More extreme examples can be found when inmates seek parole or clemency, with parole boards praising religious activity or condemning lack of faith. 

I am not persecuted for my humanism, just quietly denied opportunity. Yet, I face the choice of professing a religion I have no faith in, or possibly serving more years in confinement than I would with a simple betrayal of self.

I refuse to claim a religion that minimizes the human cost of my crimes and claims I am forgiven because I ask. 

If rehabilitation is to be possible in America’s prisons, we must stop treating them as warehouses for the undesirable, and look deeply into their reform. If the task falls not to the freethinker, then who will it be taken up by?

E. M.
Kansas

Why do some religions object to vaccinations? 

When I read Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont’s statement in the June/July “Overheard,” my first thought was, “Good for you, guv.” My second thought was “Wait a minute. Just what is the religious objection to vaccinations, exactly?” I’m embarrassed to admit that I don’t know. I’m fairly certain that none of the traditional religious texts mentions vaccine. So, what is the religious exemption based on?

D. F.
Colorado 

After seeing religion up close, I became an atheist

I have enclosed a contribution to become a Lifetime Member. I appreciate your support of independent thinkers.

When I was in fourth grade, I loved dinosaurs and evolution sounded right to me. When I asked my public school science teacher why he did not teach evolution, he dodged the question. He had 10 kids and was Catholic.

My parents sent my older sister and me to Spokane Valley Episcopal Church, led by a charismatic minister. My sister found out he was abusing altar boys and my mom confronted the minister and others in the congregation. This was in the 1960s and no one believed her. The minister kicked us out of the church about a week before my confirmation. I never got to wear that new white dress.

As an adult, I worked as a graphic designer for a children’s hospital. It would take an evil God to invent so much disease and suffering for children and teens. Science, doctors and nurses were the true helpers.

Weighing evolution and science against the corruption of the church made becoming an atheist an easy choice for me.

G. K.
Washington

Rabblerouser lifted my mood after bad day

June 22 was a bad day for the secular voters of Arizona who support public education. In the dead of night, this state’s marginally Republican Legislature had passed a nakedly partisan budget negating our repeated rejection of school vouchers and our popular demand — via the passage of Proposition 208 — that fat-cat Arizonians pay higher taxes to support teachers and students. 

The next day, in a deep funk while shopping for books, I suddenly began laughing and immediately cheered up. So, I give a big “thank you” to the unknown monkey-wrenching Arizona freethinker who lifted the New American Standard bibles from the “Religion” rack at Barnes & Noble and stuffed them on the “Fiction” shelf and the “Horror” display where they belong!

J. B.
Arizona 

Southern Baptists focused on schisms, not love 

Fascinating! In a recent newspaper column, “Tensions high with Southern Baptists,” which filled almost the entire page, I counted 78 words of schism relationships — fights, contentious, takeovers, battles, wars, allegations, cutting ties, etc. — and never once saw the one word that I thought was the purpose of Jesus’ mission here on Earth: love! Is it no wonder why, for the first time in Gallup’s 80-year history of asking this question, that formal church membership has dropped below 50 percent in 2020.

L. F.
Indiana

Thanks to Steve Neubauer for his years of PP work

I just want to thank Steven Neubauer (“Religion haunts a women’s health clinic” in June/July issue) for his years of service as security officer at Planned Parenthood. That’s a tough job, and it shouldn’t be. Those so-called Christians can be so mean.

M. A. C.
Texas

Everyone should watch the Scientology series

I recently watched the “Leah Remini: Scientology and the Aftermath” series on Netflix. I would strongly recommend it to all FFRF members.

The most important things I learned from the series are:

• That Scientology’s 501(c)(3) status was allowed in 1993 only after aggressive harassment of IRS individuals. 

• That members are routinely abused with no recourse except to lose all connections with one’s family. 

• That the church systematically violates requirements for nonprofits, notably that an organization not be involved in anything illegal and not stockpile revenue, but must engage in activities of a charitable, religious or educational manner.  

As an FFRF Life Member, and more importantly, as a taxpayer, I think FFRF should officially recognize this injustice and join others’ efforts to oppose this “church.” 

D.M. S.
Arizona

When ‘God’ talks, it’s listening to yourself

I’d like to comment on two items from Freethought Today. I always read it cover to cover.

First, the article in the June/July issue by Ann L. Lorac (“All of our gods come from within ourselves”) has some good and varied points to make. I have found that when people relate to a god — for instance, how the god talks to them, shows them the solution to a problem, etc. — that they are really listening to their own brain. In effect, they are worshipping their own brain.   

Also, the letter from Phyllis Murphey about the term “passing away” made me think of something I read: The only one passing away is an errant throw by a quarterback on a football team.

Keep up your wonderful, always fair and honest, work.

P. H.
California

What to say in search of the lost Jesus

Suppose someone appears at your front door and asks, “Have you found Jesus?”

You might respond earnestly, “I didn’t know he was lost.”

They might say, “He isn’t really lost.”

You could respond, “Well, there you are.” [SLAM]

L. L.
Maryland

Donation made in loving memory of Gigi Gillis

I have enclosed a check for $500, donated in loving memory of “Gigi” Gwendolyn Gillis, a Lifetime Member of FFRF. Gigi so enjoyed attending your conventions and reading your newspaper.

J.W.

California

Can we all live to be as old as Noah?

In David Brooks’ June 3 New York Times column “You may live a lot longer,” he noted that “People are living longer, staying healthier longer and accomplishing things late in life that once seemed possible only at younger ages.”

Brooks, it appears, isn’t aware, that according to the bible (which is from the supposedly inerrant word of God), people (such as Noah) lived for about 900 years, when the Earth’s human population was about 12 million or so.

Now, the human population is closing in on 8 billion.

So, if the human population can return to what it was, during the time of Noah, maybe we’d all have the potential to live for a thousand years. But, to do that, we’d need to use birth control — which we won’t, because both today’s GOP and the Roman Catholic Church oppose the use of birth control.

W. D.
Oklahoma

Meet a member: Life Member Marian Wiggins went from faith to reason

Marian Wiggins

Name: Marian Wiggins

Where I live: Bremerton, Wash.

Where and when I was born: Tulsa, Okla., in 1949.

Family: Sister, age 68; younger brother died at 60, four years ago.

Education: Speech-language pathology at Oklahoma State University and postgraduate studies at University of California at Santa Barbara and University of Washington. Deaf studies and American Sign Language at Seattle Central Community College.

Occupation: Retired speech-language pathologist; former senior editor at Gospel Light Publications.

How I got where I am today: As a speech-language pathologist (SLP), I worked in clinics, hospitals, private practice and the public schools. Due to my professional background as an SLP and as an editor, I have skills that allow me to volunteer as an English tutor at Kitsap Immigrant Assistance Center, edit blog posts for the atheist-activist Valerie Tarico (valerietarico.com), and sit on the Kitsap County Developmental Disabilities Advisory Council Board of Directors.

Where I’m headed: I’m headed where we’re all headed (and it isn’t heaven or hell). In the meantime, I maintain a healthy diet and do some form of exercise daily in my home gym (which includes stretch bands, several pairs of hand weights and a BodyBlade, currently in a corner of my study).

I’m learning (and loving) t’ai chi and I’m in a book club and a dinner group. The plan is to stay healthy and helpful and connected for as long as possible, and then to die with a heart full of gratitude for all who helped me have a life well-lived.

Person in history I admire and why: This one’s so difficult to answer; I can add new people to the list almost every day. Today I choose Darnella Frazier, the young teen who bravely filmed the police officers who knelt on George Floyd, even after being told by one of them to stop. I don’t know that I would have been so brave at that tender age. Her footage marked a turning point in our understanding of the depth and breadth of the fears of Black Americans.

A quotation I like: “Nothing fails like prayer.” — Anne Nicol Gaylor. (I doubt a week goes by that I’m not reminded of this quotation.)

Things I like: Sunshine, walks, books, coffee, friendships, classical music, books, good wine, dark chocolate, a gentle Pacific Northwest rain, and — need I say it again? — BOOKS!

Things I smite: Meanness, racism, xenophobia, misogyny, bullying.

My doubts about religion started: The seed of doubt was planted in 1984 by Dan Barker (yes, that one) while I was at Gospel Light Publications, trying to locate him so that we could start our annual collaboration on the Vacation Bible School Mini-Musicale. No longer in L.A., he’d moved to Madison, Wis., and had announced that he was an atheist, of all things! That revelation, coupled with my near-daily work with the bible while developing children’s Sunday School and VBS curricula, enabled me to understand how someone could make that long and tangled journey. I had no idea I’d soon be making a similar journey, myself. Or did I? Denial is a mysterious force.

Before I die: I want to conduct a “Swedish death cleaning” of my closets, files, cupboards, garage (shudder!) — meaning that I want my heirs not to hate me for leaving loads of sorting to them.

Ways I promote freethought: Supporting Valerie Tarico’s atheist-activism by editing her articles and by daily curating the news for her; sharing with others articles of hers and of those in Freethought Today; talking to others about my journey from faith to reason.

I wish you’d have asked me: Who has had the greatest impact on your life? My paternal grandfather was a self-taught man, having dropped out of school in eighth grade (1908) to help support his family. He was a voracious reader, an entrepreneur, a leader in his community (Tulsa, Okla.), and a kind and loving grandfather. Luckily for me, he lived next door. He taught me the value of study, the wisdom of both saving and sharing money, the undying necessity of truth, and the importance of a strong and a gentle character. I think of him — and am so grateful for him — every day.

They Said What? (June/July 2021)

God came knocking on my door disguised as an angry mob.

Mark McCloskey, the lawyer facing felony charges for pointing a gun at Black Lives Matter protesters, during the announcement of his Senate run to replace retiring Missouri Sen. Roy Blunt.

Washington Post, 5-19-21


Joe Biden’s National Day of Prayer Proclamation has been released and it doesn’t even mention God once! How do you release a proclamation about prayer and not mention God at all? Of course, it mentions climate change & racial justice. Truly, this is pathetic . . . and not surprising!

David Brody, Christian Broadcasting Network’s chief political correspondent.

Twitter, 5-5-21


When the restrictions were put on the church, it crossed the line from what we could do, which was buy groceries, and what we couldn’t do, which was worship as we want to worship. Praise God.

Texas state Sen. Donna Campbell, one of many Texas lawmakers who are trying to ensure closures of houses of worship by government officials don’t happen again.

Texas Tribune, 4-28-21


Our creator endowed us with the right to life and yet millions of children lose their right to life every year because of abortion. In Texas, we work to save those lives.

Gov. Greg Abbott, signing a ban on abortion. 

The New York Times, 5-20-21