Letterbox (May 2020)

Cartoon by Steve Benson

Stay strong on the front lines, FFRF!

As a longtime FFRF member, I just want to thank you so much for the outstanding work of your entire staff. You guys are my heroes! I used to do radio and TV debates with religious leaders, but I lost so many fans and clients that I was forced to stop. I’m glad you guys are still on the front lines fighting religious insanity. Please keep doing this critically important work.

Steve Siebold
Georgia


Despite ruling, public crosses are coercive

Relying on the Bladensburg cross Supreme Court decision, the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed itself and decided that a Christian cross located on a government-owned park in Pensacola, Fla., does not violate the Constitution. 

The court opined that a cross somehow loses its religious significance to make it neutral based on the lapse of time. That is, a miracle of transmutation occurs.

These judicial decisions remind me of a rally for the Combined Federal Campaign that I was mandated to attend when working as a federal civil service employee. The executive who led the fund-raising event told us that while we were not obligated to contribute, “I don’t understand how anyone would not want to support this worthy cause. And think how a supervisor might evaluate a promotion package when considering a candidate who was not a team player.” Any way it might be rationalized, his talk was coercive. I was all for contributing to a worthy cause through a payroll deduction. However, I was not comfortable with the threat because it violated governmental standards of ethical behavior.

Similarly, I am all for religious folks celebrating their faith with public displays of a cross — just not on government property and with public funds utilized for upkeep. I believe government support for religious symbols violates my First Amendment rights to practice religion (or no religion) without government intrusion. Like the donation for promotion pitch, the crosses are coercive.

Plus, I dislike legal sophistry by a court to reach a predetermined conclusion.   

Marv Friedlander
Virginia


A new secular ‘Dentist’s Prayer’ is needed

Here is my letter that was printed in the March issue of the American Dental Association News:

I commend the ADA’s decision to take a neutral policy stance with respect to religion; rescinding “The Dentist’s Prayer” and permitting a moment of silence at the start of meetings to accommodate prayer or personal reflection. Unfortunately, judging from his letter to the editor, Dr. Joseph Kalil, author of “The Dentist’s Prayer,” remains unconvinced that religion should not be endorsed by a secular, science-based organization like the ADA.

In hopes of combatting this and with the hope of convincing my colleagues who hold strong convictions of faith to remain ADA members, I offer my version of “The Dentist’s Prayer.”

Thank you, O ADA’s Diversity and Inclusion Committee, for the privilege of being a member of a professional organization that remains neutral with the respect to the religious beliefs or lack thereof of its members. May I always be treated with no more and no less reverence than every other dues-paying human life that upholds the ethical principles of the ADA. Help me and each member understand that what unites us as an organization must be stronger than what divides us, or surely we shall perish. I am proud to be a member of a professional health care organization that does not accommodate any member at the expense of another. We can certainly remain respectful of the religious beliefs of each member while barring any religious endorsement or favoritism. As H.L. Mencken put it: “We must respect the other fellow’s religion, but only in the sense and to the extent that we respect his theory that his wife is beautiful and his children smart.”

Frank A. Cornella, D.D.S.
Missouri 


Catholic Church needs to be safe, ethical

Sunday morning I witnessed my neighbors coming back from an early morning car trip. They were dressed up and when they exited their car they were holding palm leaves. Obviously, they went to a Palm Sunday service. Unfortunately, the governor of Pennsylvania exempted religious gatherings from stay-at-home orders and social distancing mandates. Gov. Tom Wolf “suggested” that religious gatherings limit themselves to 10 people. It was a suggestion, not a mandate. Gatherings of even 10 people are unhealthy, risky and unethical, for attendees and for all with whom they come in contact. To make matters worse, the woman went into the house to retrieve her shopping bags for her trip to the store!

I shudder to think of how many COVID-19 infections will result because the Catholic Church was allowed to remain open. Catholic leaders nationwide should have figured out a way to convey their religious doctrine safely and ethically.

Margaret Downey
Pennsylvania


Donation honors wife, who broke free from religion

This $500 donation to FFRF is in honor of my wife, Heather, who grew up in an extremely evangelical Christian home. Her mother was a worship leader and her father was highly involved in church politics. She shed her religious shackles and hasn’t looked back. We are raising our children in a secular household and plan on making a donation to your foundation yearly as a way of teaching our children how important the separation of church and state is. I am so proud of my wife for being strong enough to break the chains of religion and to live her life fighting for those less fortunate and those chastised by the Christian community.

Jacob Smith
Washington


Trump doesn’t care about prayer, vouchers, etc.

Andrew Seidel’s column (March issue) on the State of the Union Address was excellent. I appreciate all that he pointed out. However, the way it was written, one might think that President  Trump actually cares about Christianity and believes in what he says. I do not believe he is a Christian nor a religious person at all. I do not believe he cares at all about school prayer, vouchers, reproductive rights, banning abortion (how many abortions might he have paid for?), public religious displays or even Christian Nationalism. He only cares about himself! Courting evangelicals and Christian Nationals benefits his political success and therefore he does it. My wish is that future articles about Trump and/or his administration will be more clear about his intentions. I don’t mean to be a critic of the good work Seidel and everyone else at FRFF is doing. I am most grateful. I only want us to be clear about this man’s beliefs.

Jay Jaffee
Minnesota


Is it time to create ‘atheist’ schools?

I mentioned in a discussion with a family member that I was really unhappy with the Florida Legislature making public schools put “In God We Trust” in a prominent place. I was shocked when she turned and literally screamed at me that “It’s only words! If you don’t like it, go build atheist schools!” I told her I believed in the separation of church and state.

Now, with all the voucher programs, I’m wondering if there isn’t something in this suggestion and want to pass it along to smarter people than me.

What if we did start building state-of-the-art schools teaching top scientific fields and devoid of religion? Require religious/atheist studies and separation of church and state classes. Get donor and government school funding and figure out some way to make it free.

Maybe they would begin to draw in more youth wanting to be the best and the brightest. Maybe corporations and organizations would begin to rank the schools the best in the country.

We should mull on this some more. Thank you for all you do.

Cherie Ohlsson
Florida


Ancient Greeks had it right on separation

In the third chapter of The Greek Commonwealth by Alfred Zimmern, the author traces the court system from family to tribe to church. This was a system fraught with injustice. The 5th century BCE Greeks decided on a different path. Quoting Zimmern: “It was at this point the city state and its magistrates first intervened decisively in criminal affairs.” The early Greeks saw the wisdom in a law judge and not a priest or tribal leader, and the importance of written law.

So, we have the Greeks of 2,500 years ago setting up a great example to allow the law of the land to be applied rationally by a public servant-layman, pursuant to a code, and not the whims of an ignorant, superstitious and often deranged religious zealot.

And, in America, we have been trying to keep the wall between church and state intact with dubious success (e.g., the changes of our national motto “In God We Trust” in the 1950s). The founders would have been appalled. 

The current Christian politicians will not cease in trying to tear down the wall. Trump’s federal judicial appointments may make the job complete. I am certain from my reading about our founders that the ancient Greeks were an inspiration and a model, and they would not be pleased with the current Christian politicians today who either don’t know the first 10 words of the Bill of Rights, or they just don’t care.

On that note, I have gladly enclosed a check for my FFRF membership renewal.

Jim Martin
Florida 


Christians should heed gospels on prayer

If more Christians (particularly those in places of high power) read the gospels, perhaps they’d stop clamoring for compulsory prayers in public schools, during graduations, high school athletic events and other government-sponsored activities.

In Matthew 6:1–6, this is how Jesus instructed his followers to pray: “When you pray, do not imitate the hypocrites: They love to say their prayers standing up for people to see them. But when you pray, go to your own private room, shut yourself in, and so pray to your Father who is in that secret place, and your Father who sees all that is done in secret will reward you.”

What could be easier to understand? The gospels encouraged frequent prayer and prayer meetings, but never to coerce any one to join the faithful in their prayers — or to intimidate those who don’t pray.

David Quintero
California


Being member of FFRF is the best antidote

I found out that my parents’ church received a $2.4 million  small business loan as part of the COVID-19 bailout and I wanted to throw up. I decided the best course of action was not to throw up or argue with my parents, but to stop procrastinating and become a member of FFRF. I have been a fan for years and I am in a great place financially, all things considered

I hope my small $250 contribution helps you continue your great work. Thank you, thank you and thank you for representing my rights!

Eli Steiger
Colorado


Religious gatherings repugnant to rest of us

While many of us already recoil at the Trump administration’s unrepentant (pun intended) efforts to devolve this country into a theocracy, even the faithful should be outraged by the blatant “business as usual” attitudes of self-righteous church leaders who hosted large Easter gatherings in spite of the “Pearl Harbor moment” that the COVID-19 crisis now represents.

All people have a right to their beliefs (or lack thereof), but not to the extent of needlessly sickening thousands of people outside their houses of worship. This is especially repugnant to the 25 percent of us who are either atheist, agnostic or unaffiliated, not to mention adherents of other faiths. To coin an old legal adage, “your right to wave your fist stops at my nose.”   

Intrusion of bronze-age folklore into secular governance is nothing new, but deliberate exposure of innocent people to life-threatening illness is quite another matter entirely, and this particular variety of flagrantly ignorant behavior rises well beyond the pale.

These credulous zealots are thankfully still a minority (at least for now), but their behavior threatens to undermine the positive results of stay-at-home orders that have been dutifully abided for weeks by the rest of us. If you want true respect for your religious beliefs, do not sit quietly while a few ignorant people worsen an actual crisis by creating an imaginary one.

As the movie character Forrest Gump so eloquently stated: “Stupid is as stupid does.”

Justin Pripusich
Illinois


Science is our best chance against pandemic

Looking to religion as the answer to a pandemic is simply Dark Ages misguided thinking.

In his classic book from over 100 years ago, A History of the Warfare of Science With Theology in Christendom, historian Andrew Dickson White has several chapters contrasting the failures of religion and the successes of science in dealing with plagues and other medical issues over the centuries.

Regarding the Western world’s transition from reliance on Greek science to Dark Ages religion and then to Enlightenment science, White summarizes: “Just in proportion as the world progressed from the sway of Hippocrates to that of the ages of faith, so it progressed in the frequency and severity of great pestilences; and . . . just in proportion as the world has receded from that period when theology was all-pervading and all-controlling, plague after plague has disappeared, and those remaining have become less and less frequent and virulent.”

History shows that humanity is infinitely better off relying on science instead of ancient religious texts that are the product of a pre-scientific, ignorant and superstitious past. As the physicist and philosopher Victor Stenger said in our own time: “Science flies you to the moon. Religion flies you into buildings.”

Joe Sommer
Ohio


Joining as Life Member since the need is great

I have been wanting to do this for some time and finally I feel financially able to get a Lifetime Membership. Right now, above all times, we absolutely need the work that you do. Please keep up your good work and thank you for doing it.

Andrew Stover
Pennsylvania


Why is death rejected by the religious?

Most discussions about religion focus on the existence and nature of God, rarely on death.

Sometimes I will ask a believer, “What were you thinking 10 years before you were born?” They always answer, “Nothing.” Then I go in for the kill and say, “That’s what you’ll be thinking 10 years after you’re dead.”

Here is one of my favorite (stolen) lines: “Life is a tiny existence of life between two vast eternities of nothingness.” I like the symmetry.

I will never understand how the reality of human death is rejected by the human majority. When you’re dead, you’re dead.   

Thomas Hug
New Jersey


Faith in prayer doesn’t beat evidence

As an atheist since age 12, I am a bit perplexed about reactions to the coronavirus pandemic. For instance, why did the pope cancel services? Doesn’t he trust God to protect Catholics against infection, or at least protect him?

For that matter, why do religious people everywhere not think that prayer may be enough protection? Why do religious people think that God, whom they believe decides everything, would, on a whim, unleash this deadly virus and at the same time saddle America with a doofus president who is clueless on how to deal with it?

I think a lot of religious people are good, kind, generous, altruistic true believers. I think even more are selfish hypocrites. But I think they are all a bit unrealistic putting all their faith in something so far removed from reality and lacking even an iota of evidence.

Allan Provost
Florida


Too bad we don’t have Loring Miner leading us 

To help you weather the pandemic, I am renewing my membership and becoming a Lifetime Member.

In John Barry’s book, The Great Influenza: The Epic Story of the Deadliest Plague in History, is a description of the Kansas country doctor who first detected that flu among his farm patients and tried to warn the world:

“Loring Miner was a big man who didn’t suffer fools, especially when he drank, which was often. A certain rebelliousness was part of his bigness, as well. He hadn’t seen the inside of a church in years. Periodically, he reread the classics in Greek.”

I wish he was in charge of the United States’ COVID-19 task force instead of that wax museum theocrat Mike Pence.

Jehnana Balzer
Arizona