Letterbox (Jan/Feb 2021)

State-church separation fight is no small feat

On a cold Sunday morning in the Twin Cities of Minnesota, our feet are toasty warm with our FFRF stockings and our minds are being stimulated with a new episode of “Freethought Matters.”

The opening of this episode is from President John Kennedy, the first Catholic elected president. In that campaign, he needed to assure Protestants and secularists he accepted the constitutional concept of separation of government and religion.

“I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute, where no Catholic prelate would tell the president (should he be Catholic) how to act, and no Protestant minister would tell his parishioners for whom to vote; where no church or church school is granted any public funds or political preference; and where no man is denied public office merely because his religion differs from the president who might appoint him or the people who might elect him.”

FFRF is the premier organization today fighting every day for absolute separation of government and religion. “Freethought Matters” is central to the communication of that principal to everyday Americans. Thank you and keep up the good work.

Shirley Moll and Steve Petersen

Congrats to secular invocation winners

Congratulations to Sarah Ray and Ann Landman for their perseverance and courage in achieving the acceptance of their local city councils in Lake Wales, Fla., and Grand Junction, Colo., to allow them to give secular invocations. I hope that, in the not-too-distant future, all local and municipal governments in this country will adhere to what our founders intended to establish when they wrote the Constitution and the Bill of Rights — a permanent wall between religion and government.

Steve Taulbee

Subtleties of Christian Nationalism at work

I received an email invitation from the Wall Street Journal. It’s a subtle but disturbing approach to establishing “trust” via covenant thinking, heavily influenced by David W. Miller, director of Faith and Work Initiative at Princeton. There is also a white paper link in the invitation. It seems to be an attempt to get corporate leadership to move in an ethical direction based on the “religious concepts” of ethics and trust. Unbelievably subtle.

And, the irony is that it’s sponsored by Philip Morris, the same company that spent millions during the 1950s and ’60s attempting to create distrust in the scientific research about the link between smoking and lung cancer. Kind of a dark history, indeed!

Michael Pettus

Black Collar Crime section is a must-read

I read in your December issue a letter from a reader suggesting that the paper should discontinue the Black Collar Crime section because he has no interest in the topic.

I completely disagree with his suggestion. Frankly, Black Collar Crime is the main reason I read Freethought Today. It is the way I learned of the crimes of four local clergy I went to school with or otherwise worked with in the past.

Please keep up the great work in this important section of your publication.

David Nason

. . .

In the recent issue of Freethought Today, you printed a letter in which the writer stated that Freethought Today would be a better publication without the inclusion of Crankmail and Black Collar Crime. He stated he was “not interested in what these looney-tunes think and . . . less interested in what those creeps do to children and vulnerable adults.”

I disagree with him. In fact, my favorite part of Freethought Today is Crankmail and Black Collar Crime. I admit that my enjoyment does stem from schadenfreude at the knowledge that some people have paid for their crimes committed under the cover of their religious positions.

But, I also think these two sections are valuable because they instruct us as to the heinousness of these crimes and their perpetrators’ justification for their behavior on religious grounds. When I pass my Freethought Today on to friends, they always comment on the Crankmail and Black Collar Crime sections as being the most enlightening about the cause of separation of church and state. I would venture to say these sections open more eyes than more erudite and philosophical articles.

Georgellen Burnett
New Mexico

Scary flight was true test of the nonbeliever

About 10 years ago, I was flying out to Denver, and before boarding, I stopped in Hudson Books to grab something to read on the flight. I was very familiar with Christopher Hitchens’ work, but at the time I hadn’t gotten around to reading God Is Not Great. (It’s now so ragged and worn that it barely holds together.) I was pleasantly surprised to see it on the shelf, so I bought it.

The final approach to Denver International involved the worst thunderstorm I’d ever flown in, by far. I was thinking to myself, “How many of these passengers are praying their asses off for a safe landing, and here I am holding a book by one of the most prominent atheists of our generation?”

In several instances, I was all but certain the plane was going down, based on how turbulent it was. (Even the flight attendants were visibly terrified, which is never a good sign). That was my ultimate, “Well, I guess I’m all in” moment as a nonbeliever, and I can still remember it as vividly as if it happened yesterday. Obviously, the flight did land safely, but that was the closest thing to a “near-death experience” that I had ever encountered, and I decidedly was not praying to any deity to get me on the ground, but it happened anyway. Miracle? Hell no. Just amazing airmanship and modern technology.

Justin Pripusich

FFRF does magnificent job with its fundraising

We have recently survived Black Friday, Cyber Monday and Giving Tuesday. On that Tuesday, my inbox had at least 50 requests for donations. In addition to this, my snail mailbox has as many as a dozen requests on a daily basis thought the year.

I am grateful to the Freedom From Religion Foundation for not using those methods. Twice a year you make a general request for funds allowing us to choose how we want our money to be used. It appears to me that FFRF does a magnificent job raising money without wasting envelopes, stationery and postage. Thank you.

Dick Hewetson

FFRF is an invaluable ally, amazing nonprofit

FFRF has been an invaluable ally and asset to our local freethought community here in southeastern Wisconsin. On two separate occasions, FFRF lawyers have written letters in response to violations in our towns of the Establishment Clause. Both times were efficient and effective, with a very short response time.

In 2017, a teacher in the public school district festooned her classroom with bible quotes and other Christian propaganda. After many complaints and lengthy meetings with the principal failed to convince the school to remove the material, FFRF lawyers drafted a letter challenging the constitutionality of the displays and demanding their removal. The resulting investigation by the school district resulted in a sweep of all schools and the eventual removal of the offending material.

More recently, the Racine, Wis., county government was discovered to have been awarding $50,000 annually to an evangelical Christian nonprofit called Youth For Christ in the form of a community and cultural grant. Similarly, the obvious nature of this violation prompted a letter from the lawyers at FFRF.  Although the facts of the letter were denied by the county, the grant subsequently disappeared from the next budget, due to fiscal shortfalls.

FFRF is well-run on a rarely seen level. Beside its legal support, it is extremely available to aid local chapters and members, including making appearances, welcoming visits to Madison, and lending support of any kind to chapter efforts. Both administration and staff are unfailingly pleasant, kind, patient and responsive. Every year, FFRF hosts an extravagant convention in a different city around country for the benefit of all members, everywhere. 

With podcasts, TV shows, newspapers, original entertainment, a world-class headquarters, it’s hard to catalog all the ways in which this nonprofit serves its constituency and the nation. Its spokespeople routinely appear before Congress or on national news outlets to fight for the rights of all Americans, while simultaneously creating community and solidarity on a grassroots level for its members.

Keep up the amazing work!”

Rob Moore

Unfortunately, ignorance still reigns supreme

While Oregon has among the highest percentage of “Nones” in the country, churches and religious salespeople still dominate this state.

Here in Eugene, there are well over 100 Christian churches and two Christian colleges. Most nonprofits are Christian-oriented. Yet, there’s hundreds of homeless folks living on the streets of Eugene in tents. The hypocrisy is mind-boggling.

Wouldn’t you think these Christian priests/ministers would feel obligated to house homeless people in their churches? These parasites don’t even pay property taxes! If they did, homeless shelters and other needed community projects could be funded.

Christian preschools, bible camps and Sunday schools are still screwing up the minds of children with fairy tales of sky gods and divinely inspired books of hate and warmongering. But we allow this brainwashing to continue because it’s supported by our government and ignorant parents/guardians unwilling or unable to think for themselves.

The major problem we’re facing today is that there are far too many gullible, submissive people accepting the lies of religious salespeople, billionaire psychopaths and corporate-funded politicians.

Robert Simms

Thanks to those who support bodily autonomy

As a woman in my late 30s, and a longtime FFRF member, it was discouraging to read in the FFRF membership survey that 80 percent of respondents are 60 or older and 70 percent male.

However, it was heartening to read that 98.8 percent of the respondents support legal abortion and Roe v. Wade.

As a woman who has attended many protests for the right of bodily autonomy, I’ve often been dismayed at how few men are in attendance. A large thank you to the old(ish) men (and all other members) of FFRF for being much needed allies.

I terminated an unattended pregnancy only a few years ago in my mid-30s. At the clinic, I was provided with a couple of ibuprofen. Only people with a driver would be permitted to get the strong meds for the procedure. I was perfectly comfortable with my personal health decision, but I was too embarrassed to call a friend to pick me up. Years later, I mentioned my abortion to a friend. “Oh, yeah, I had one in my 20s,” she said.

Given that one out of four women terminate a pregnancy by age 45, her response should not have surprised me. A year later, my friends, when telling me about their clinic visits, hopefully were not surprised when I said, “Oh, yeah, me too.”

And, so, my fellow atheists, agnostics, humanists and freethinkers, thank you for helping normalize the normal and not letting the detriment of Christian supremacy affect your commitment to a person’s own bodily autonomy. I’m hoping for a day when none of us is uncomfortable calling our friend to pick us up, so we can have the good meds.

Name, state withheld

Circumcision should be added to mutilation bill

Contrary to FFRF’s recommendation, Donald Trump (or Joe Biden) should NOT sign HR 6100, the Stop Female Genital Mutilation Act of 2020. The president should send it back to Congress and demand that boys also be included in the ban. And, FFRF should immediately amend its position on infant genital mutilation to include all children, regardless of gender. How can it be not OK to mutilate little girls, yet be OK to mutilate little boys?

Jay Clem

I’m grateful to watch ‘Freethought Matters’

I was lucky enough to tune in to recent episodes of “Freethought Matters.” I knew nothing of Ann Druyan until that show, to say nothing of her work and marriage to Carl Sagan. Wow. What a delightful conversation you had with her. I loved it.

Then, I just happened to tune into your show with John Davidson. Wow again. I never knew he was a freethinker and was delighted to hear him sing and play guitar. What an interesting interview.

Anyway, I am so grateful for your show.

Marilyn Fisher

Thanks to FFRF ‘atheists’ for county seal change

Michael Powers, county executive officer of California’s Ventura County, sent me a letter with the recently launched new logo, which doesn’t have images of the Ventura Mission, cross or of missionary Junipero Serra. An earlier story in the Ventura County Star newspaper noted that “atheists” had objected to the county seal. The new logo is nice, and it seems to count as a step forward — away from Christian imagery in civic life.

Mitchell Dushay

‘Theo-plagiarism’ worthy of adding to lexicon

The quote from President Trump in the November “They Said What?” section, thanking the Christian God for the treatment Trump got at Walter Reed Medical Center, is a perfect example of “theo-plagiarism,” the act of giving credit to one’s own hypothetical deity for work done by humans.

We’ve long needed a word to describe believers’ nasty habit of thanking their god(s) for firefighters putting out fires, doctors saving lives, search parties finding lost hikers, and so on. “Theo-plagiarism” seems to fit.

Lee Helms

‘Freethought Matters’ showed me I’m not alone

I want to let you know how much I appreciate FFRF TV show “Freethought Matters.” I love the people you interview (including Ann Druyan), the music and the testimonials before and after. It has been my gateway to people who share my recently formed thoughts on religion and God, so I now feel comfortable identifying as an atheist.

Cheryl Thompson

Editor’s note: FFRF’s TV show “Freethought Matters,” goes up on FFRF’s YouTube channel every Thursday and now airs in 13 major cities on Sundays. To find out if your city broadcasts it, check out ffrf.org/freethought-matters.

Devilishly good cake was as good as its name

I decided to try Paul Gaylor’s “Devilishly Good Chocolate Cake” recipe from the “World Famous Atheist Cookbook.” It was my first time making a cake from scratch, and indeed, it turned out devilishly good (especially with the marshmallow buttercream frosting I also made)!

Andrew C. Jones

Arthur C. Clarke had it  right about religion

On Dec. 16, mention was made of Arthur C. Clarke in FFRF’s Freethought of the Day. So, I thought it was a good time to write the following for those FFRF members who are also science fiction fans.

Clarke, in The Songs of Distant Earth, made a clear statement about religion that I wholly agree with. The “task” referred to is the winnowing of all human thought into compact information to be sent electronically with colonists to a new planet. What should be included for a fresh human start and what deleted? No developed human brains were being sent (only genetic material, in a form unspecified, to be turned into humans by robots for the first generation), so this would truly be a clean start.

“The task was, of course, impossible as well as heartbreaking. With tears in their eyes the selection panels had thrown away the Veda, the bible, the Tripitaka, the Quran and all the immense body of literature — fiction and nonfiction — that was based upon them. Despite all the wealth of beauty and wisdom these words contained, they could not be allowed to reinfect virgin planets with the ancient poisons of religious hatred, belief in the supernatural, and the pious gibberish with which countless billions of men and women had once comforted themselves at the cost of addling their minds.”

So, throw religion out; it does more harm than good. What should be indisputably true is that religion is not genetic and that anyone has to be taught to be religious. It is not part of the human genome. It is a human meme that we choose to propagate. As Clarke says, don’t let that meme infect the universe.

Karla Martin

Shirley Moll and Steve Petersen of Minnesota show off their FFRF socks.

Will bigots ever accept same-sex marriages?

Some bigots are shrewd enough to argue that it is they who are the victims of bigotry. For example, Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito complained that those who oppose same-sex marriage on the basis of their faith are unfairly called bigots by those who accept it.

If Alito had lived 100 years ago, I’m sure he’d have condemned anyone who accused faith-based opponents of interracial marriage as bigots. “Those against interracial marriages are not bigots,” he’d say. “No! They are defending a doctrine of their faith.”

Well, such marriages are legal now, and only the bigoted long for a return to the “good old days” when religiosity reigned supreme and imposed its will on all matters, including people’s most intimate behavior.  It is they who continue to insist that for a marriage to be legal, it must be between a man and a woman.

My only wish is that someday they’ll at least tolerate, if not accept,  same-sex marriage, as they now (I hope) tolerate interracial ones.

David Quintero