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Billy Graham, Oliver Sacks, the Ten Commandments and Christian nationalism

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Billy Graham, Oliver Sacks, the Ten Commandments and Christian nationalism


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We achieved a lot within a truncated time span this week — and our work from before the long weekend is still reverberating.

We had objected some days ago to the planned inauguration of a Billy Graham statue in the U.S. Capitol building, and the premier news agency covering faith and freethought picked up on this when the event actually took place.

“As our nation faces unparalleled threats to our secular democracy,” the Religion News Service quoted FFRF Co-President Dan Barker from our press release, “it’s unfortunate to see the personification of white Christian nationalism given such an honored perch inside the seat of our democracy.”

CNN notices our objection to La. 10 Commandments measure
We’ve been a part of an outspoken coalition opposing a bill in Louisiana that will mandate a Ten Commandments display in every classroom — and CNN noticed:

In a joint statement, the American Civil Liberties Union, the American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana, Americans United for Separation of Church and State and the Freedom from Religion Foundation said they were “deeply concerned” by the legislation.

“This bill is unconstitutional. The state may not require public schools to display the Ten Commandments in classrooms. Many faith-based and civil-rights organizations oppose this measure because it violates students’ and families’ fundamental right to religious freedom,” the statement reads. “We are closely monitoring this situation and urge Louisianans to let the governor know that he should veto this bill. Politicians should not be forcing religious scripture on students. Our public schools are not Sunday schools, and students of all faiths — or no faith — should feel welcome in them.”

Louisiana is a bastion of bad bills
The Bayou State seems to be a bastion of bad bills. We warned that the passage of a terrible measure there banning medication abortion without a prescription is evidence that religious anti-abortion crusaders don’t intend to stop until they ban abortion nationwide. “This new law, which essentially legislates an unscientific, minority religious view about when life begins, is unconscionable,” said FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor.

Missouri school drops prayers at FFRF insistence
Our work continued unabated at the local level — with some success. It took a bit of effort but we convinced a Missouri school district to stop scheduling prayers at a high school’s commencement. Our research and requests finally won the day.

“The district undertook a comprehensive review of its policies and procedures for its high school graduation ceremonies,” the legal counsel for the district replied. “Following this review, the district is changing the structure of its high school graduation ceremonies. Going forward, the district is removing the student-led invocation from its high school graduation ceremonies.”


No student athlete coercion, we warn Va. schools
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We insisted that Chesterfield County Public Schools in Virginia stop a high school lacrosse coach from coercing student athletes into prayer. The coach even posted a photo of one of the prayers on his personal Facebook page. “[The coach] has clearly crossed the constitutional line by directing and encouraging student athletes to engage in prayer while acting in his official capacity as a district employee,” FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line has written to the district.

Texas GOP wants a Christian nationalist society
Louisiana doesn’t seem to be the only repository of bad ideas. The Texas GOP voted at its recent convention to weaponize Christianity through a proposed party platform that openly inserts Christianity into government institutions, as FFRF Action Fund (FFRF’s lobbying arm) spotlighted. “The Texas Republican Party platforms have always been extreme,” said FFRF Action Fund President Annie Laurie Gaylor, “but unfortunately now we have to consider it an arbiter of national goals of the GOP. These planks are profoundly un-American.”

Alabama headed in same direction as Texas
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With Texas leading the way, can Alabama be far behind? FFRF Action Fund’s “Theocrat of the Week” is Alabama Lt. Gov. Will Ainsworth, a repeat Christian nationalist opponent of ours who has gotten into a tiff with us again. The Fund celebrates its “Secularist of the Week,” Jess Piper, for her commitment to secular and progressive values in rural Missouri.

A coalition that includes us is fighting an Okla. religious public charter school
We are glad to be a part of secular groupings, and one such alliance is busy in Oklahoma fighting a proposed religious charter school. The coalition of plaintiffs seeking to block such a school asked the District Court of Oklahoma County today to issue a temporary injunction. “To protect public education, the separation of church and state, and all Oklahomans’ religious freedom, it’s crucial that the court prevent the state from funding St. Isidore and recognizing it as a public charter school until decisions have been reached in the cases brought by our plaintiffs and the attorney general,” the organizations said in a joint statement.

Hindu nationalism in India — and what we can learn from it
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Our television show, “Freethought Matters, is on summer hiatus but our other media offerings are going strong. This week on FFRF’s Facebook Live “Ask an Atheist” feature, I joined FFRF Deputy Legal Director Liz Cavell to discuss the ongoing Indian general election, Hindu nationalism, and what American secular advocates can learn to keep state/religion separation safe in America. Watch the discussion here.

Remembering Oliver Sacks fondly
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After FFRF Legal Fellow Hirsh Joshi discusses his recent Missouri victory on the most recent Freethought Radio show, co-hosts Dan Barker and Annie Laurie Gaylor talk with neurology Professor Susan R. Barry about her fascinating new book, Dear Oliver: An Unexpected Friendship with Oliver Sacks. (The neurologist and bestselling author was an FFRF awardee and honorary director.)

The return of sexism
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FFRF Contributing Writer Barbara Walker emphasizes in her most recent column that the fountainhead of sexism in Western civilization has been religion.

“It was religion that obliterated the mother goddess in favor of the father god. It was religion that transferred the supposed essence of human life from mother-blood to semen,” she writes. “It was religion that insisted on patriarchal rules of marriage and inheritance. It was religion that sanctioned abuse and enslavement of wives. It was religion that so despised women as to torture and burn countless among them during five centuries of dominance by the Inquisition in Europe. It is religion that still supports sexist doctrines.”

Barbara echoes what we’ve been saying since FFRF’s founding, which was in good part due to the role organized religion has played in harming women’s rights. With your help, we ceaselessly strive to counter organized religion in this and numerous other social spheres.

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