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A Ghost Story Even I Can Believe

Fri, 09/12/2014 - 11:49

Many stories describe supernatural events that turn skeptics into believers. This is not one of those stories. I have not had a “road to Damascus” experience, though my worldview did change a little after hearing about ghosts from Will Moredock, a professional tour guide in my hometown of Charleston, South Carolina.

Full disclosure: I interviewed Will for this article shortly after Will interviewed me for a piece in the Charleston City Paper about our local secular humanist group and our billboard, 20 Godless Years in the Holy City!

Will is a member of the Unitarian Church, a secular humanist, and a Charleston guide for Ghost and Graveyard Walking Tours. Ghosts, like fine restaurants and antebellum houses, are among the many attractions in this historic city, but I thought that Charleston ghosts, as in the film Ghostbusters, were only created for laughs and commercial success. (Coincidentally, Ghostbusters star Bill Murray lives near Charleston.)

 

Continue reading at Faith Street >>

Who’s Afraid of a (Mostly) Fictional Bible?

Tue, 09/09/2014 - 15:01

a recent OnFaith piece by an anonymous pastor at a mainstream evangelical church asked, “Who’s Afraid of a (Partly) Fictional Bible?” I understand why the pastor might have wanted anonymity. See, for instance, Caught in the Pulpit: Leaving Belief Behind, where clergy reveal in confidential interviews how their lives of service are overshadowed by hypocrisy as they contemplate taking a leap from the faith of their congregants.

Although religionists often have heated arguments and even wars over holy book interpretations, our secular government does not condone killing for blasphemy. However, Christians may certainly fire sect leaders and shun family members for “incorrect” interpretations of their Bible. Literalists often disagree on what the Bible literally says, while non-literalists frequently disagree on which parts to take literally. Most Christians I know believe something equivalent to: “The Bible is literally true, except for what I say is allegorical.”

I agree with Pastor Anonymous when he criticizes people for reading “our twenty-first century lives into a book composed in an ancient and wholly different world.” However, we part company when he says that even the made-up stories “tell us the truth about God and his purposes.” Really? How can that be when the Bible mainly tells us the views of scientifically ignorant, misogynistic, and homophobic writers who were a product of their times? I regard the Bible at its best as akin to Aesop’s fables, with some positive moral lessons and universal truths (along with talking animals). I’ve written here about the value I find in the Bible.

 

Continue reading at Faith Street >>

Secular Coalition to March from Supreme Court to Congress Tomorrow

Sun, 09/07/2014 - 22:00

 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
September 8, 2014

Washington, DC - The Secular Coalition for America and supporters will march from the Supreme Court to the Capitol tomorrow to draw attention to outrage over the Supreme Court's decision in the case Burwell v. Hobby Lobby. The Coalition will carry a "wall" of 1,600 knitted "bricks" collected from around the world during its Knit a Brick campaign this summer.

The yarn wall is meant to symbolize a rebuilding of the wall of separation between religion and government that opponents feel has been threatened with the Court's decisions in Hobby Lobby in June and Town of Greece v. Galloway in May.

On July 1, the Secular Coalition urged people who were outraged about the Hobby Lobby decision to knit a 6-inch by 3-inch brick to be added to the wall. Supporters from 48 states and five other countries mailed in or sponsored bricks.

Secular Coalition for America president, Amanda Metskas, said the wall is a visual demonstration of people's anger about the Hobby Lobby decision and a constructive way to show lawmakers in Congress that they have the ability to change it.

"The Court's decision allows business owners to impose their religious preferences on their employees and interfere with the employees' personal health care choices," Metskas said. "It's an issue that will impact Americans of all different backgrounds, which is why we've had such a strong show of support for this campaign-not just from the nontheist community, but from religious allies as well."

Date: Tuesday, September 9, 2014
Time: 11:30 am (gathering), 12:00pm (marching)
Place: Supreme Court of the United States (1 First St NE, Washington, DC)

Following the march, the Secular Coalition plans to present the wall to the White House at a later date. 

CONTACT: Lauren Anderson Youngblood, SCA Director of Communications, at lauren@secular.org or (202)299-1091 ext. 205, cell (202)630-9725

 

 

5 Books All Atheists and Other Outsiders Should Read

Tue, 08/26/2014 - 07:58

Each of the books below changed my worldview and my way of thinking to varying degrees. They are listed in the order I read them — and all but the last I read before the age of 20, when most of us are probably more open to learning about and considering new ideas. 

1. The Bible by authors unknown

I “knew” as a trusting child that the Bible was God’s word, and consequently the most important book in the world. I learned Hebrew in my Orthodox school by reading the Hebrew Bible (which we called Torah). We were praised for our ability to read fluently and follow rituals, but not so much for understanding what we were reading. Later we learned to translate and to converse in Hebrew. And, thankfully, my best Hebrew teachers encouraged us to question. And unlike Ken Ham, I found no answers in Genesis.

Teachers in my public school in the 1950s used to start the morning by reading biblical passages. One passage from 1 Corinthian 13:11 captured my evolving views about the Bible: “When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things.”Long before Judy Collins had any hit songs, I could say: I’ve looked at Torah from both sides now, from Orthodox Jew and atheist, too. But it’s Torah’s illusion I recall. I really don’t know Torah at all.

For better or worse, the Bible and the monotheistic religions it spawned have deeply influenced our culture and the world. For that reason alone, the Bible is worth reading. I regard it like Aesop’s fables, with some moral lessons and universal truths (along with talking animals). My problem isn’t so much with so-called holy books, but with adherents who take them literally. I’ve written hereabout the value I find in the Bible.

 

Continue reading at Faith Street >>

Prayer: What Is It Good For?

Tue, 08/19/2014 - 07:58

The 1969 protest song "War" asks "What is it good for?" and answers "Absolutely nothing!" If I substituted "Prayer" for "War," I would qualify my answer with "Almost nothing."

Prayer can be good for its placebo effect when believers feel they are doing something constructive, which might "cure" a psychosomatic disorder. On the other hand, replacing accepted medical practices with prayer has led to countless preventable deaths and injuries.

Many well-meaning people rely on prayer because it makes them feel upbeat when they don't know what action to take in a situation that is out of their control. Regardless of logic and statistical evidence to the contrary, fervent believers remain convinced that there is a god who listens to prayers. I've heard comments like "Sometimes our prayers are answered and sometimes they are not" and "God answers all prayers, but sometimes the answer is no."

Prayer can also be good for providing a sense of community to those who hope to achieve a desired outcome. But such prayers might not always be for outcomes beneficial to all, as depicted in Mark Twain's "The War Prayer," a prayer for the suffering and destruction of enemies, as typified by "O Lord our God, help us to tear their soldiers to bloody shred." This "prayer" was left unpublished until years after Twain's death because his family considered it too sacrilegious.

 

Continue reading at the Huffington Post >>

How Atheists Can Overcome a Reputation of Arrogance

Fri, 08/08/2014 - 14:49

I can empathize with religious groups whose mission is to convert everyone in the world, since I think the world would be better if everyone “saw the light” of secular humanism. But whether religious or secular, I believe the best form of proselytizing is to lead by example. I think Matthew 7:16 had it right — “By their fruits you shall know them.”

What follows are two lists that relate to atheist’s interactions with religious people. The first suggests ways we can change people’s views of atheists, and the second is about how, on some fronts, we’re not all that different from religionists.

Rather than seek converts to atheism, I think we atheists mostly want our worldview to be respected in a culture that has at least two pretexts for disliking us.

The first is that you can’t trust atheists because they don’t believe in a judging God who will reward or punish them in the afterlife.

This allegation is foolish and demeaning. I’ve been asked in conversations and on talk shows, “What keeps you from committing rape, murder, or anything else you think you can get away with?” My response is, “With an attitude like that, I hopeyou continue to believe in a god.”

 

Continue reading at Faith Street >>

An Invitation to Exorcise an Atheist

Fri, 07/18/2014 - 08:48

The phrase “More Catholic than the Pope” usually refers to someone who is more religiously strict than the Catholic Church requires. Gordon Klingenschmitt, Republican nominee for Colorado House of Representatives District 15, is not Catholic, but I’d add him to the club.

Klingenschmitt was upset when the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a lower court ruling against a Wisconsin public school district that had been holding graduation ceremonies in a local church. He assumed that atheists were responsible, and responded, “I have a solution. Let’s do an exorcism and cast the devil out of them and then they’ll feel comfortable when they walk into church.”

Klingenschmitt had previously claimed that President Obama’s support for gay marriage showed that Obama must be possessed by demonic spirits. He’s also said that Jesus will eventually rule against gay marriage and toss all gays into hell. It’s bad enough that Pope Francis and other Catholic clergy perform exorcisms on the gullible faithful in their own Church, but Klingenschmitt wants to exorcise the devil from everyone who disagrees with his theological and political views.

I rarely feel I can speak for all atheists, but I’ll make an exception for Gordon Klingenschmitt: Dear Gordon, I don’t know what your problem is with atheists, but it won’t be resolved with exorcisms. Any attempt to cast the devil out of atheists would be about as effective as my attempting to cast the Tooth Fairy out of you. We atheists can easily get rid of any evil spirits you dream up by simply not believing in them.

 

Continue reading at Faith Street >>

45 Days of Secularism - What Has YOUR Voice in DC Been Up To?

Thu, 07/17/2014 - 09:39

 

We've had a busy summer so far, but it's not time to cool off yet!  View this email in your browser

It's a hot, hazy and humid summer in D.C., but the Secular Coalition for America hasn't let that slow us down. These last 45 days have been jam-packed with action, organizing and lobbying that I'm sure will make you proud. 

We held our best Lobby Day yet, we've been working to block a WWII memorial prayer plaque, and we've been hard at work fighting to correct the Court's disastrous Hobby Lobby decision with our action alerts, lobbying efforts and #KnitABrick campaign. But we've also been speaking at conferences, training awesome interns, and supporting the work of our state chapters.   All of these efforts are going strong while the Vice President of the Secular Coalition for America Board, Patty Guzikowski, heads up the search for a new Executive Director. Patty is chairing the search committee and the committee is working with a professional executive search firm to pull in the best and brightest candidates to lead the SCA into the future. 

You'll hear more from Patty and the Board of Directors about the search process soon. In the meantime, check out what we're up to!  (Sorry the list is a bit long. Okay, I'm not really sorry the list is long!)

Here's a taste of what we've been doing for the last 45 days: 

Hobby Lobby Supreme Court Decision

  • Our #KnitABrick campaign in response to the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision is beginning to draw national media attention. We’ve collected over a hundred bricks and are still going strong--the deadline for bricks has been extended to August 5th!
  • We continue to work with lawmakers on a legislative “fix” for this horrible Supreme Court decision. Just this week we sent an action alert in support of Senator Patty Murray’s (D-WA) bill.
 
Lobbying & Legislation
  • We continue to participate in weekly meetings with the White House.
  • This summer we’ve held more than 20 in-person meetings with U.S. Senators directly, discussing a variety of secular issues.
  • We are in the process of planning a Congressional Hill briefing for the fall educating lawmakers on the nonreligious community and our issues.
  • We have partnered with the American Humanist Association on securing a 2015 Darwin Day resolution in Congress.
  • We were successful in removing language supporting the significance of the “spiritual leadership” of military chaplains from a major defense bill.
  • We successfully blocked efforts to add a religious exemption to the Affordable Care Act’s individual health coverage mandate.
  • We’ve had increasing success in persuading our LGBT allies to reject religious exemptions in LGBT anti-discrimination efforts with our “No Hate No Exceptions” campaign.
  • The SCA joined 98 organizations in a letter to the President, urging him to reject religious exemptions in his LGBT anti-discrimination executive order, gaining significant media attention.
  • In June, we held our annual Lobby Day and Secular Summit, during which we made more than 60 Congressional office visits, and were addressed by four sitting members of Congress—more than any other secular event in history! Watch the speeches on our YouTube channel.
 
Movement Unity & Training
  • We’ve trained six up-and-coming secular activists in our intern program this summer! Some of our interns were recently interviewed by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) on the role of nontheism among American youth.
  • We’ve been on the road attending conferences across the country including the Secular Student Alliance East & West, American Humanist Association, Unitarian Universalists General Assembly, The Amazing Meeting!, and even Pride events in New York, Baltimore and Washington, D.C.
  • The Secular Coalition is a main contributor to the Openly Secular campaign, in conjunction with the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science and the Secular Student Alliance. The SCA has been hard at work gathering personal discrimination stories to raise awareness about the victimization secular Americans face when they are open about their non-belief.
  • We continue to host our weekly National Movement Calls every Thursday at 12 noon ET. (To participate dial (559)726-1300, enter code: 953064. View past agendas or listen to past calls here.)
 
State Chapters
  • The Secular Coalition for Oregon went head-to-head with the Good News Club's national spokesperson, John Luck, on Oregon Public Broadcasting's flagship radio program, "Think Out Loud."
  • The Secular Coalitions for Massachusetts and Rhode Island teamed up for a joint demonstration to protest the Hobby Lobby decision.
  • The Secular Coalition for North Carolina held its first state Lobby Day.
  • We are working with the Secular Coalition for Texas to plan their state Lobby Day for February of 2015 -- the one month every two years that the TX state legislature is in session
    .
SCA in the News
  • The Secular Coalition this summer has been mentioned in several articles by major news publications including a U.S. News & World Report article on the prayer plaque on the WWII memorial, the Washington Post and more.
Thank you for everything you do to help the Secular Coalition for America fight for your rights as a Secular American.  All of you who respond to action alerts, share our stories on social media, work with your state chapters, attend our events, and support us financially make the Secular Coalition for America great. We're proud to represent you in Washington, D.C. and we hope we're continuing to make you proud too! 

Have a wonderful summer. 
 
Sincerely,
 

Amanda Metskas
President

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Personal Stories From Lobby Day 2014

Wed, 07/16/2014 - 13:58

This piece reprinted with permission from the July/August 2014 Freethought Society newsletter. www.ftsociety.org.  The Freethought Society is a member organization of the Secular Coalition for America.

 

Margaret Downey:

The first time I ever lobbied in person regarding any type of legislation was in 2002 when I joined a coalition to speak out against President George W. Bush’s initiative to exclude faith-based and community organizations from abiding by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination based on religion, race, sex, and national origin. The Bush Faith-Based Hiring Initiative allows a religious organization to discriminate on the basis of religion when it hires employees and also permits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

I was asked by a coalition to represent the nontheist community in an effort to stop the initiative from being made into law (via Executive Order) and soon lobby visits took place in Washington, D.C. All went well until we visited the office of then Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum. He is Catholic and a staunch Republican. Even though we had an appointment with Santorum’s legislative aide, Santorum came out of his office to greet us. I was standing at the back of the line. Santorum’s official photographer was also there and he took a photo each time a hand was shaken and a few nice words were exchanged.Santorum smiled and chatted with each representative as he walked down the line, posing for photos along the way. He was pleasant to the Quaker, the Ethical Culturist, the Secular Jew, and the Unitarian Universalist. When Santorum greeted me, he warmly clasped my hand and said, “So who are you?”I told Santorum my name and proudly stated, “I represent the fastest growing minority in America.”

Still holding my hand, he smiled and said enthusiastic-ally, “Well, what minority is that?” “The nontheist community,” I stated.

Santorum instantly and coldly let go of my hand and snarled, “You mean atheists?”

“Yes,” I said, and before I could say one more thing, Santorum turned on his heels and told the photographer, “No more photos.”

Santorum went into his office and abruptly slammed the door. The group was taken aback. We were left to speak to only the aide, who took us to a conference room across the hallway.

One by one, we presented our objections to the initiative. The aide stated that Santorum himself only hires like-minded individuals and that religious institutions should have that ability as well. Still upset about the way Santorum treated me, I chimed in saying, “Oh, so Santorum does not like to hear opposing commentary or different perspectives?”

The aide said, “Well, that would not be a pleasant working atmosphere.”

“So, you are saying that Santorum surrounds himself with a bunch of yes-men, then,” I stated.

“I am not a yes-man,” the aide proclaimed.

Needless to say, I was not making any Brownie points and the coalition became quite uncomfortable. I decided then and there that I needed a lot more training to ever become a good lobbyist. Twelve years later, I decided to try again.

The Secular Coalition for America (SCA) hosted a Lobby Day and Summit June 12-14, 2014. The training, literature and speeches SCA provided during the conference certainly changed my mind about lobbying and I now want to engage in this activity more often.

I know, from experience, how difficult it is to organize and execute a successful conference. It takes almost a year to find a location, book speakers, organize an agenda and pre-arrange for big and small things to go well. There is also a tremendous amount of pre-event work that needs to be done to set lobby appointments and to develop helpful literature. It was obvious to me that former executive director Edwina Rogers had devoted a lot of time, energy and passion into the summit and lobby day. 

While she is no longer working for SCA, her fantastic organizational skills were evident and appreciated throughout the conference. 

Kelly Damerow, SCA’s Director of Federal and State Government Affairs, and SCA Interim Executive Director Amanda Metskas led the event with efficiency. It was impressive to see them execute the agenda with style. 

On the first day, we heard speeches from Congressmen Rush Holt (D-NJ) and Robert Scott (D-VA). We also enjoyed speeches by Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), and Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren (D-CA). It was record-setting to have four politicians address the secular community on the first day of the summit.

After the speeches, people brain-stormed in assigned groups and issue talking points were distributed. 

The Pennsylvania group was assigned the issue of secular tax reforms to be discussed at the office of Senators Pat Toomey (R-PA) and Bob Casey (D-PA). The Pennsylvania group consisted of Brian Fields, Alan Gold, Glen Loev, and me. After a quick bite to eat, we ventured out to present our perspectives.

The first stop was at Toomey’s office. We were impressed with the Legislative Correspondent Katie Cessar. She took notes and seemed very impressed with our declarations against tax loopholes allowed to religious institutions. We used mega-churches as one example of abuse, pointing out that money goes to fund mansions and jets instead of being used for good causes – which is why most people donate to their churches. 

What really got the attention of Cessar was the disclosure that $16.75 billion additional annual revenue could be generated if the IRS were to revoke the tax-exempt status of churches that violate 501(c)3 limitations. When we visited with Casey’s legislative aide, Pablo Rojas, we presented the same facts. Rojas, however, was keenly interested in our talking point about the Catholic Church being able to bypass the IRS when accounting for money in and money out. Pedophile lawsuits are being settled with donations that most parishioners intended to be used for community services. Tax reforms are needed, we claimed, for these and many other reasons.

I was proud to tell Rojas about the good work the nontheist community does – all the while abiding by IRS regulations, submitting accountability forms and following through with earmarked donations. I told him about the Foundation Beyond Belief and he took notes. I was also very pleased to tell him about the huge increase of secular Hispanics. Fields showed him a chart demonstrating the increasing numbers of nonbelievers in America and Rojas asked to keep it. The chart revealed, that according to 2012 statistics, the percentage of the population that identifies as atheist or agnostic is estimated to be between 5.7 and 6.8 percent. This percentage outnumbers the combined membership of Jews, Muslims, Mormons, Buddhists, Hindus, Jehovah’s Witnesses and many other Orthodox religions! When I sent the “thank you” card, I also sent Rojas information about the Hispanic American Atheists and Freethinkers group. Who knows, he may show up in Puerto Rico when the first Hispanic Atheist conference takes place in 2015.

Our last visit was to Pennsylvania Representative Pat Meehan’s (R-PA) office. Legislative Assistant Amanda Lincoln met with us about the harm school voucher programs cause to the public school system. We expressed concern that taxpayer money is helping to fund religious education. The entanglement violates the principle of separation of religion and government. The fact is that 80% of the students participating in a voucher program in just the D.C. area attend religious schools. The blank stare we received from Lincoln indicated that she was not interested. She did not take notes and seemed bored. 

When we asked for her business card, she said, “I will get you each one.” She did not return to the meeting room, but stood outside near the exit indicating that the meeting was over and it was time for us to leave. Even with the cold reception, I followed up with a “thank you” card and provided information about the shawl I was wearing. She had said she liked it very much and wondered where I had purchased it. I bet not many visitors follow through with fashion leads like I did!

The rest of the SCA summit was extremely educational. I enjoyed meeting more SCA staff and was impressed with all the workshops I attended. Lauren Anderson Youngblood, the SCA Director of Communications, con-ducted a superb media training class. Friday afternoon panel discussions were enlightening and there are too many speakers to name in this article. Suffice it to say that each panelist did a remarkable job in conveying important facts and information. I thanked all of them for participating.

I would like to see a bigger FS effort to get participants to the next SCA lobby day event. We need a volunteer to research van rentals and/or organize a car-pooling system. A room share effort would surely help raise participant numbers. Please contact FS if you would like to be the Lobby Day volunteer.

 

Brian Fields:

On June 12, 2014 I joined lobbying efforts with Margaret Downey, Glen Loev and Alan Gold. Together we visited the offices of Senators Pat Toomey (R-PA) and Bob Casey (D-PA).

We also visited the office of Representative Patrick Meehan (R-PA). We spoke with staffers at all three offices. The goal with Senators Toomey and Casey was to educate their staffs regarding tax loopholes for churches. The staffers in both offices were friendly, and to our surprise, Toomey’s office was actually more friendly. We thought that Casey’s Catholic background might have caused some resistance, but that was not the case.

Both Senate offices were interested in the $16.7 billion a year in taxes that churches don’t pay. Additionally, Toomey’s office wanted to hear more about the tax exemption for ministers’ housing, even when the houses are multimillion dollar properties owned by well-known ministers! Both senators’ offices said they had never heard our arguments before.

We spoke with Meehan’s office regarding vouchers. His staff was polite, but icy. We were told that Meehan hasn’t taken a position on vouchers. His staff was interested, however, in the statistics showing nontheists as a growing voting block. I had a chart that illustrated how nontheists outnumber many major voting blocks, and the woman we spoke with seemed very interested in those numbers. However, when we finished our presentation, we were shuffled out fairly quickly. I think that we had a very productive day. I was very encouraged by the interest from the senators’ offices, and hope to get the opportunity to talk with them again.

 

Alan Gold:

The SCA Lobby Day and Summit event was a unique experience. It’s always nice when fellow atheists get together, and when nontheists from all over the United States meet it is truly a delight.

Participants in this year’s lobby day hailed from 28 states and the District of Columbia. I loved meeting everyone at the summit. Our fellow nontheists are friendly and interesting. Lobbying was fun and educational. I really enjoyed spreading the word about the secular, humanist, and atheist causes to the politicians’ offices. I was thrilled to actually meet Senator John McCain (R-AZ) as he walked the corridors of the Russell Senate Office Building. He was in a hurry, so I said I was a big fan of his. He perked up and was very nice and even suggested we take a selfie!

The cost of the conference was reasonable. The part I liked the most was getting to know the speakers, leaders, and activists in the nontheist community. Next year I hope many more people will attend. Car pooling would make the trip go faster. The Pennsylvania group was comprised of only four representatives and I know we can do better.

The group talked to representatives from Pennsylvania, State Senators Pat Toomey (R-PA) and Bob Casey (D-PA). They were attentive and took notes. We did make an impression. Then I split off and went with SCA staffer Sarah Cohen to visit my home Congressman Michael Fitzpatrick (R-PA). His intern gave us a lot of time so I was able to cover much more than the two topics assigned: taxation of churches and climate change. I pushed for teaching science in the science classroom, not religion. The woman said in high school and through college she had no idea what evolution was.

I came to the conference mainly because I had heard about it from Edwina Rogers. She is no longer with SCA and will be missed. Margaret Downey, Glen Loev, and Brian Fields made lobbying a wonderful experience for me. Try not to miss the next one. I know that I will be there!

 

Glen Loev:

This was the second time I attended the two-day annual SCA Summit and Lobby Day event in Washington, D.C., and it was, for the second time, a great experience. 

On the first morning of the event, attendees were treated to speeches from 3 sitting members of the United States House of Representatives, and one sitting Senator. A question and answer session followed each presentation. How incredibly impressive is that! 

Last year, only one senator and one representative spoke at the summit. This year, four members of the highest legislative body in our country took time out of their busy schedules to speak to a group of atheists about issues of interest to us, and to show us that they were on our side in these issues! 

I didn’t count the number of attendees at the event, but would guess there were about 100. How much more impressive it would have been to those members of Congress, and how much more clout we might have, had there been 1,000 of us in attendance!

In the afternoon of the first day, there was a very informative how-to session on lobbying, going over the points that SCA’s Director of Federal and State Government Affairs Kelly Damerow felt would be most helpful for us to present and discuss with Representatives and Senators. We were divided into groups and given background information to review. We were also provided packets of information to leave at the various offices we visited. We had time to practice in advance in regard to what and how we were going to present our legislative requests during the actual lobbying meetings.

Margaret Downey, Alan Gold, Brian Fields and I first visited with a staff member from the office of Senator Pat Toomey (R-PA.) The representative we spoke with was friendly and seemed sincerely interested in what we had to say on the topic of tax code reform. 

Our second visit was to the office of Senator Bob Casey (D-PA). His representative also was friendly, interested in what we had to say, and intimated that he was a kindred spirit. Representatives of both senators were gracious, appreciative of our comments on tax reform, and willing to have a photo taken with us after our meeting.

All of us were feeling very good about how our first two meetings went. Unfortunately, our last meeting didn’t go as well. We met with a staff member from the office of Representative Pat Meehan (R-PA). While she was polite, her lack of questions and general reception (best described as “icy”) gave all of us the impression that she was not pleased at meeting with a group of atheists. She made it clear that Representative Meehan did not agree with our position on school vouchers, and after the requisite “thank you for visiting” she refused to be photographed with us. Even if our efforts in this last case weren’t effective, at the very least we showed that atheists are becoming a greater force to be reckoned with.

That evening, back at the hotel where the lobby event was held, there was a complimentary cocktail party for conference attendees and a screening of Contradiction, a film that examines the effects of faith among African Americans. 

The next day there were several presentations, workshops and discussions on topics such as supporting science in lawmaking, empowering nonreligious youth, strategies for student advocacy on school campuses, working with other movements and the religious on areas where we have common goals, communications, and press relations. There was also a workshop on lobbying at the state level.

This was an excellent event, planned and executed very well by the SCA staff. I would highly recommend to readers of this newsletter that they consider attending next year’s SCA Summit and Lobby Day. Thanks to generous donations, the cost of the event, which includes breakfasts and lunches on both days, is usually very reasonable. But most important, it is a unique and special experience being able to meet and interact not only with representatives of our nation’s major secular organizations and to represent FS, but especially to be pro-active, talking with those who have so much power to influence the direction of our country.

 

Pictured right in the Senator Bob Casey meeting room are (left to right) Glen Loev, Brian Fields, Pablo Rojas, Margaret Downey and Alan Gold. 

Casey defeated incumbent Republican U.S. Senator Rick Santorum in the 2006 election. He is the first Democrat to be elected to a full term and win reelection in the U.S. Senate from Pennsylvania since Joe Clark won reelection in 1962.

Casey played basketball (thus the framed jersey), and during the year he taught 5th graders at the Gesu School in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, he coached basketball.

 

 

The office is located in the beautiful Russell Senate Office Building in Washington, D.C. In 1972, the Senate named the Old Senate Office Building after Senator Richard Brevard Russell, Jr., a Democrat from Georgia who had served from 1933 to 1971. A statue of Senator Russell stands in the Russell Building rotunda. The building also became familiar to moviegoers as the setting for such classic Hollywood films as Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939) and Advise and Consent (1962).

 

This piece reprinted with permission from the July/August 2014 Freethought Society newsletter. www.ftsociety.org.  The Freethought Society is a member organization of the Secular Coalition for America.

One of America’s Best Kept Religious Secrets

Tue, 07/08/2014 - 09:13

Unsurprisingly, Christianity is the largest religion in all 50 states. Surprisingly, Bahá’í is the second largest religion in my home state of South Carolina. This news inspired two local papers, the Charleston Post and Courier and the Charleston City Paper, to write articles about Bahá’ís. It also inspired me, an atheist, to attend a local Bahá’í meeting.

There are more Bahá’ís in South Carolina than Jews, Muslims, and Hindus combined; however, Bahá’ís do not outnumber atheists and agnostics. “Nones” (those with no religious affiliation) have grown to 15 percent nationally and 10 percent in South Carolina. And in a 2013 national survey of “nones,” atheists and agnostics were 50 percent of online respondents and 36 percent of those interviewed by telephone. Taking the lower percentage, more than 100,000 atheists and agnostics live in South Carolina compared with about 18,000 Bahá’ís.

The Bahá’í Faith likely became popular in South Carolina because of Louis Gregory, who was born in 1874, was raised in Charleston, and was one of the founders of the Bahá’í Faith in America. After this grandson of a slave became a Bahá’í in 1909, he travelled the country promoting racial equality. Gregory married a white Bahá’í woman in 1912, an act that was considered a crime at the time in parts of the country. The Louis G. Gregory Baha’i Museum is located in downtown Charleston.

Bahá’ís and atheists have not been very public about their views because they’ve been demonized within their surrounding cultures. The Bahá’í Faith began in Iran in 1844 when a young man now known as the “Bab” (meaning “gate” or “door” in Arabic) claimed to be the promised redeemer of Islam. The Bab also said that a second divine messenger would usher in the age of peace and justice promised in Islam. The Bab alienated Islamic clergy and was executed by a firing squad in 1850 at the age of 30. One of the Bab’s followers, Bahá’u’lláh, revealed in 1863 that he was the messenger foretold by the Bab. The teachings of Bahá’u’lláh are the foundation of the Bahá’í Faith.

Continue reading at Faith Street >>

One of America’s Best Kept Religious Secrets

Tue, 07/08/2014 - 09:13

Unsurprisingly, Christianity is the largest religion in all 50 states. Surprisingly, Bahá’í is the second largest religion in my home state of South Carolina. This news inspired two local papers, the Charleston Post and Courier and the Charleston City Paper, to write articles about Bahá’ís. It also inspired me, an atheist, to attend a local Bahá’í meeting.

There are more Bahá’ís in South Carolina than Jews, Muslims, and Hindus combined; however, Bahá’ís do not outnumber atheists and agnostics. “Nones” (those with no religious affiliation) have grown to 15 percent nationally and 10 percent in South Carolina. And in a 2013 national survey of “nones,” atheists and agnostics were 50 percent of online respondents and 36 percent of those interviewed by telephone. Taking the lower percentage, more than 100,000 atheists and agnostics live in South Carolina compared with about 18,000 Bahá’ís.

The Bahá’í Faith likely became popular in South Carolina because of Louis Gregory, who was born in 1874, was raised in Charleston, and was one of the founders of the Bahá’í Faith in America. After this grandson of a slave became a Bahá’í in 1909, he travelled the country promoting racial equality. Gregory married a white Bahá’í woman in 1912, an act that was considered a crime at the time in parts of the country. The Louis G. Gregory Baha’i Museum is located in downtown Charleston.

Bahá’ís and atheists have not been very public about their views because they’ve been demonized within their surrounding cultures. The Bahá’í Faith began in Iran in 1844 when a young man now known as the “Bab” (meaning “gate” or “door” in Arabic) claimed to be the promised redeemer of Islam. The Bab also said that a second divine messenger would usher in the age of peace and justice promised in Islam. The Bab alienated Islamic clergy and was executed by a firing squad in 1850 at the age of 30. One of the Bab’s followers, Bahá’u’lláh, revealed in 1863 that he was the messenger foretold by the Bab. The teachings of Bahá’u’lláh are the foundation of the Bahá’í Faith.

Continue reading at Faith Street >>

Secular Coalition Condemns SCOTUS Decision to Strike Down Contraceptive Coverage Requirement

Mon, 06/30/2014 - 11:46

Washington, DC -- The Secular Coalition for America today condemned the Supreme Court’s decision in the Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores and Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp. v. Burwell cases. In a 5-4 decision, the Court said that the government failed to show that the mandate is the least restrictive means of advancing its interest in guaranteeing cost-free access to birth control.

The Supreme Court’s decision, announced today, affirmed an opinion of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit in the Hobby Lobby ruling and reversed the opinion of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit in the Conestoga case.

Amanda Metskas, President of the Secular Coalition for America, said today’s decision by the court will allow employers to impose their religious beliefs on their employees and interfere with the employees’ personal health care decisions.

“This is a sad day for anyone who believes in true religious freedom. With this decision the Supreme Court set a terrible precedent for religious interference in individual choice,” Metskas said. “This decision allows for-profit business owners to impose their religious preferences and practices on their employees, leaving the religious freedom of millions of Americans at the mercy of their individual employers.”

The Secular Coalition for America will continue to work to strengthen the secular character of the government by educating lawmakers at both the federal and state levels.

CONTACT: Kelly Damerow, Director of Federal and State Affairs, Secular Coalition for America, 202-299-1091 ext. 204 (o), 202-630-0801 (c). Kelly will be available for interviews outside of the Supreme Court on Monday.

 

 The Secular Coalition for America is a 501(c)(4) organization that serves as the national lobby for atheists, agnostics, humanists, freethinkers, and other nontheistic Americans. Composed of 16 diverse voting member organizations and over 175 associate, endorsing and allied organizations, SCA works to protect and strengthen the secular character of our government as the best guarantee of freedom for all. For more information, please visit www.secular.org.

####


Secular Coalition Condemns SCOTUS Decision to Strike Down Contraceptive Coverage Requirement

Mon, 06/30/2014 - 11:46

Washington, DC -- The Secular Coalition for America today condemned the Supreme Court’s decision in the Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores and Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp. v. Burwell cases. In a 5-4 decision, the Court said that the government failed to show that the mandate is the least restrictive means of advancing its interest in guaranteeing cost-free access to birth control.

The Supreme Court’s decision, announced today, affirmed an opinion of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit in the Hobby Lobby ruling and reversed the opinion of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit in the Conestoga case.

Amanda Metskas, President of the Secular Coalition for America, said today’s decision by the court will allow employers to impose their religious beliefs on their employees and interfere with the employees’ personal health care decisions.

“This is a sad day for anyone who believes in true religious freedom. With this decision the Supreme Court set a terrible precedent for religious interference in individual choice,” Metskas said. “This decision allows for-profit business owners to impose their religious preferences and practices on their employees, leaving the religious freedom of millions of Americans at the mercy of their individual employers.”

The Secular Coalition for America will continue to work to strengthen the secular character of the government by educating lawmakers at both the federal and state levels.

CONTACT: Kelly Damerow, Director of Federal and State Affairs, Secular Coalition for America, 202-299-1091 ext. 204 (o), 202-630-0801 (c). Kelly will be available for interviews outside of the Supreme Court on Monday.

 

 The Secular Coalition for America is a 501(c)(4) organization that serves as the national lobby for atheists, agnostics, humanists, freethinkers, and other nontheistic Americans. Composed of 16 diverse voting member organizations and over 175 associate, endorsing and allied organizations, SCA works to protect and strengthen the secular character of our government as the best guarantee of freedom for all. For more information, please visit www.secular.org.

####


Why I Wish Pope Francis Was Joking about the Devil (and Other Beliefs)

Fri, 06/20/2014 - 09:30

In an unintentionally funny comment, progressive Catholic theologian Vito Mancuso said about Pope Francis’ old-school interpretation of the devil and the need for exorcists:“He is opening the door to superstition.” Where to begin when describing a Catholic door that for centuries has been more open than the mythical Pandora’s box? In fact (really, in fiction), the Pandora myth deserves credit for a foundational myth in Catholic theology.
As the story goes, Pandora, the first woman, was given a box (actually a jar) and told never to open it. Of course, the curious Pandora did open it, whereupon evil escaped and spread throughout the world. So it seems that Pandora committed the original “original sin.”
Eve, the first woman according to the Genesis myth, was also led by curiosity to bring evil into the world. While both myths are unbelievable, people in pre-scientific times used “just so” stories to explain unknown origins. The Greek word “theodicy” is an attempt to reconcile traditionally divine characteristics of omnibenevolence, omnipotence, and omniscience with the occurrence of evil or suffering. I don’t think such reconciliation is possible, but that’s not a problem for atheists like me.
This brings me to Pope Francis’ belief in Satan as the cause for evil, which I don’t find any more superstitious than many other Catholic beliefs. 
 
Continue reading at FaithStreet >>

Why I Wish Pope Francis Was Joking about the Devil (and Other Beliefs)

Fri, 06/20/2014 - 09:30

In an unintentionally funny comment, progressive Catholic theologian Vito Mancuso said about Pope Francis’ old-school interpretation of the devil and the need for exorcists: “He is opening the door to superstition.” Where to begin when describing a Catholic door that for centuries has been more open than the mythical Pandora’s box? In fact (really, in fiction), the Pandora myth deserves credit for a foundational myth in Catholic theology.

As the story goes, Pandora, the first woman, was given a box (actually a jar) and told never to open it. Of course, the curious Pandora did open it, whereupon evil escaped and spread throughout the world. So it seems that Pandora committed the original “original sin.”

Eve, the first woman according to the Genesis myth, was also led by curiosity to bring evil into the world. While both myths are unbelievable, people in pre-scientific times used “just so” stories to explain unknown origins. The Greek word “theodicy” is an attempt to reconcile traditionally divine characteristics of omnibenevolence, omnipotence, and omniscience with the occurrence of evil or suffering. I don’t think such reconciliation is possible, but that’s not a problem for atheists like me.

This brings me to Pope Francis’ belief in Satan as the cause for evil, which I don’t find any more superstitious than many other Catholic beliefs. 

 

Continue reading at FaithStreet >>

Why I’m Faithless at OnFaith

Fri, 06/20/2014 - 09:28

This is my 184th article for OnFaith since I started writing for the publication back in November of 2008. OnFaith was founded by Sally Quinn and remained at the Washington Post until late 2013, when it moved to FaithStreet. What I liked about writing for OnFaith at the Post, aside from it being part of a prestigious newspaper, was that it featured contributors who covered the full spectrum of religious and nonreligious views. On the other hand, FaithStreet is not a street on which I live. Its work is primarily about connecting people to faith communities, but I’m more interested in disconnecting people from faith communities and connecting them with atheist and humanist communities.

Out of the approximately 150,000 words that I’ve written for OnFaith a few have involved positive comments about religious leaders and issues they’ve espoused, but I’ve not had one positive word about “faith.”

Initially, I didn’t think I’d be contributing very often — if at all — to the newest iteration of OnFaith, nor did I think the new editors would be interested in my contributions. The first piece I pitched for the new OnFaith, entitled “A Dangerously Incurious Pope,” was rejected, and later published here. I assumed my relationship with OnFaith was over, and so I published with Huffington Post and elsewhere. Then a “miracle” occurred when I was invited by OnFaith to give an atheist’s perspective of Lent.

What you’re reading now is my tenth piece for OnFaith at FaithStreet. I prefer “preaching” to religious believers on FaithStreet rather than to those whose views are similar to mine. Jesus purportedly went where the sinners are, and I like to go where the “faith-ers” are. I also think OnFaith’s Patton Dodd is an excellent editor. He improves my articles but doesn’t try to soften my criticisms of religion. (That’s what my spouse does).

Continue reading at FaithStreet>>

Why I’m Faithless at OnFaith

Fri, 06/20/2014 - 09:28

This is my 184th article for OnFaith since I started writing for the publication back in November of 2008. OnFaith was founded by Sally Quinn and remained at the Washington Post until late 2013, when it moved to FaithStreet. What I liked about writing for OnFaith at the Post, aside from it being part of a prestigious newspaper, was that it featured contributors who covered the full spectrum of religious and nonreligious views. On the other hand, FaithStreet is not a street on which I live. Its work is primarily about connecting people to faith communities, but I’m more interested in disconnecting people from faith communities and connecting them with atheist and humanist communities.

Out of the approximately 150,000 words that I’ve written for OnFaith a few have involved positive comments about religious leaders and issues they’ve espoused, but I’ve not had one positive word about “faith.”

Initially, I didn’t think I’d be contributing very often — if at all — to the newest iteration of OnFaith, nor did I think the new editors would be interested in my contributions. The first piece I pitched for the new OnFaith, entitled “A Dangerously Incurious Pope,” was rejected, and later published here. I assumed my relationship with OnFaith was over, and so I published with Huffington Post and elsewhere. Then a “miracle” occurred when I was invited by OnFaith to give an atheist’s perspective of Lent.

What you’re reading now is my tenth piece for OnFaith at FaithStreet. I prefer “preaching” to religious believers on FaithStreet rather than to those whose views are similar to mine. Jesus purportedly went where the sinners are, and I like to go where the “faith-ers” are. I also think OnFaith’s Patton Dodd is an excellent editor. He improves my articles but doesn’t try to soften my criticisms of religion. (That’s what my spouse does).

Continue reading at FaithStreet>>

SCA Morning Read 6/20/14

Fri, 06/20/2014 - 09:25

 

Politics

 

Republicans Court Religious Conservatives At Faith And Freedom Conference      
The Huffington Post - 06/20/2014
Republicans Court Religious Conservatives At Faith And Freedom Conference WASHINGTON (AP) New Jersey Gov. WASHINGTON (AP) New Jersey Gov. Chris...
+MORE

 

 

Secularism

 

A New Website for Atheists Who Have Suffered the Death of a Loved One      
Patheos Blogs - 06/19/2014
...reactions she received from well-meaning friends and family members, atheist Rebecca Hensler began a Facebook group called Grief Beyond Belief: That...
+MORE

 

 

Education

 

California School Faces Lawsuit After Censoring Bible Reference from Graduation Speech      
The Desert Review - 06/20/2014
California School Faces Lawsuit After Censoring Bible Reference from Graduation Speech by KEN KLUKOWSKI -Breitbart News BRAWLEY Local school...
+MORE

 

Climate Change Debate: Coming Soon to a School Near You      
US News & World Report - 06/20/2014
...'anti-human' messages and atheism. Political debates surrounding climate change andcreationism are now making their way into America's schools, as...
+MORE

 

 

General

 

My Turn: Christian persecution in America? Not so much      
Gaston Gazette - 06/20/2014
...the Obama administration to remove Bibles from Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. There was never any effort by the administration...
+MORE

 

 

Science

 

Evolution experts convene at Raleigh Convention Center      
Charlotte Observer - 06/19/2014
Workshops include subjects such as genome software school and Evolution 101 for high schoolteachers. Members of the public can get in on some of the...
+MORE

 

 

States

 

De Blasio More Willing Than Bloomberg to Blur Lines Between City Hall, Religious Groups      
NY1.com - 06/20/2014
...More Willing Than Bloomberg to Blur Lines Between City Hall, Religious Groups Mayor Bill de Blasio is much more willing than his predecessor...
+MORE

 

 

World

 

Pastafarian's Licence and Firearms siezed over ID photo      
LiveLeak.com - 06/20/2014
Pastafarian's Licence and Firearms siezed over ID photo A South Australian atheist who successfully had his gun licence printed with a photo of him wearing...
+MORE

 

SCA Morning Read 6/20/14

Fri, 06/20/2014 - 09:25
  Politics   Republicans Court Religious Conservatives At Faith And Freedom Conference       The Huffington Post - 06/20/2014 Republicans Court Religious Conservatives At Faith And Freedom Conference WASHINGTON (AP) New Jersey Gov. WASHINGTON (AP) New Jersey Gov. Chris... +MORE     Secularism   A New Website for Atheists Who Have Suffered the Death of a Loved One       Patheos Blogs - 06/19/2014 ...reactions she received from well-meaning friends and family members, atheist Rebecca Hensler began a Facebook group called Grief Beyond Belief: That... +MORE     Education   California School Faces Lawsuit After Censoring Bible Reference from Graduation Speech       The Desert Review - 06/20/2014 California School Faces Lawsuit After Censoring Bible Reference from Graduation Speech by KEN KLUKOWSKI -Breitbart News BRAWLEY Local school... +MORE   Climate Change Debate: Coming Soon to a School Near You       US News & World Report - 06/20/2014 ...'anti-human' messages and atheism. Political debates surrounding climate change andcreationism are now making their way into America's schools, as... +MORE     General   My Turn: Christian persecution in America? Not so much       Gaston Gazette - 06/20/2014 ...the Obama administration to remove Bibles from Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. There was never any effort by the administration... +MORE     Science   Evolution experts convene at Raleigh Convention Center       Charlotte Observer - 06/19/2014 Workshops include subjects such as genome software school and Evolution 101 for high schoolteachers. Members of the public can get in on some of the... +MORE     States   De Blasio More Willing Than Bloomberg to Blur Lines Between City Hall, Religious Groups       NY1.com - 06/20/2014 ...More Willing Than Bloomberg to Blur Lines Between City Hall, Religious Groups Mayor Bill de Blasio is much more willing than his predecessor... +MORE  

  World   Pastafarian's Licence and Firearms siezed over ID photo       LiveLeak.com - 06/20/2014 Pastafarian's Licence and Firearms siezed over ID photo A South Australian atheist who successfully had his gun licence printed with a photo of him wearing... +MORE  

Amanda Metskas to Serve as Acting Chief Executive of SCA

Thu, 06/19/2014 - 11:37

The Secular Coalition for America is pleased to announce that SCA Board of Directors President, Amanda Metskas, will serve as the acting chief executive of the Secular Coalition effective immediately. In this role Metskas will be responsible for overseeing the day-to-day operations of the Coalition on an interim basis.

Metskas has served on the Secular Coalition Board of Directors since 2009, including roles as Vice President (2013) and President, beginning in January of 2014.

Metskas has served as the Executive Director of Camp Quest, one of the Secular Coalition's voting member organizations, and Vice President of the Humanist Community of Central Ohio.  In 2009, Metskas co-authored "Raising Freethinkers: A Practical Guide for Parenting Beyond Belief", with Dale McGowan, Molleen Matsumura and Jan Devor.  She holds an M.A. in political science from The Ohio State University, and a B.A. in international relations and psychology from Brown University.

The Secular Coalition for America Board of Directors has formed a search committee, led by Vice President, Patty Guzikowski, which will carry out the formal search for a Executive Director.

The Secular Coalition Board of Directors was restructured in January of 2014 to boost organizational independence. The Coalition also hired an independent accounting firm to handle the organization's accounting needs going forward. Additionally in January, the Board of Directors named as its new treasurer, H. Alexander Satorie-Robinson, formerly a practicing CPA, with over 25 years of non-profit financial management expertise.

The Secular Coalition Board of Directors looks forward to the continued growth and success of the Secular Coalition, now in its twelfth year.