By Amit Pal
Director of Communications
Freedom From Religion Foundation
We at the Freedom From Religion Foundation this week battled on behalf of science — and the Constitution.
Firing a salvo for all things scientific, we released a video featuring our Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel exposing the very unscientific Ark Encounter park in Kentucky. Take a look, if you haven’t already.
Andrew penned an accompanying blog, laying bare the absurdity of the whole project. “Every sign brought to mind a child caught standing over a pillaged birthday cake, icing smeared all over his face, vehemently denying an obvious truth,” he wrote.
The Trump administration also let off a volley — but against science. Populated by religiously motivated climate denialists, it undid the Obama administration’s efforts to combat global warming.
“The only afterlife we ought to care about is leaving our descendants and our planet a secure and pleasant future,” we stated in response. “We have a duty to our children and grandchildren, to posterity, to the other species we share our planet with, to ensure our world is habitable for the future.”
If only the other side was willing to listen to us.
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Talking of science, what’s up with NASA? In this era of scarce public funds, it handed out more than $1 million to a Christian theological outfit — with questionable financial ties between the grant official and the nonprofit head honcho further darkening the transaction. Andrew and our diligent interns combed through hundreds of pages and discharged a missive at NASA asking for an inquiry.
Defending our Constitution
In addition to defending science, we were busy protecting our Constitution. In service of that, we (with the help of our local chapter) put up a dozen billboards all over the Denver area (home of Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch) proclaiming: “The only wall we need is between church and state.”
We also pushed back against the idea of a constitutional convention to rewrite our country’s foundational document, a process that could easily be hijacked by the Religious Right. “To keep our Republic, We the People must quash the call” for such a convention, we warned.
It’s their reverence for the Constitution that led us to salute two local Ohio officials who resigned to uphold our freedoms. The village of Carey’s Mayor Armand Getz and Law Director Emily Beckley received so many threats for stopping the Lord’s Prayer and the Pledge of Allegiance from being recited at Village Council meetings that they announced they would be resigning effective April 1. FFRF applauded their courage and urged them to stay on.
“It’s stirring to actually find examples of public officials jeopardizing their positions for the sake of the Constitution,” said FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “We are in awe of Mayor Getz and Legal Manager Beckley.”
Now, if only their counterparts in New Mexico were as well-versed in constitutional principles. Officials in Taos, N.M., are getting their knickers in a twist because we’re asking them to remove a cross from a war memorial on the main town plaza. “Local elected officials are vowing to fight tooth and nail to keep the cross on the Plaza,” reports the Taos News. Perhaps we can arrange for the former officials from Carey to pay them a visit and tutor them on constitutional basics.
Stopping little girls from being harassed
Our case on behalf of the Constitution in West Virginia against the Mercer County school system was bolstered this week when an additional plaintiff joined it. Elizabeth Deal had to move her daughter Jessica out of the school system to end harassment at the hands of her classmates — and marginalization at the hand of school authorities during “Bible in the Schools” classes. FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor noted, “Here, you have a real life example of a child being harassed and abused due to a school district’s insistence on hosting illegal religious instruction.”
Former Boston Globe education editor Linda K. Wertheimer had a moving op-ed (with a huge shout-out to us) about the mistreatment and exclusion she suffered as a little girl due to being non-Christian in a school system that had religious instruction. The trouble started when she left the classroom during the religion education classes.
“My peers noticed my absence, and some questioned why I left,” she writes. “‘I’m Jewish,’ I said. They asked if I believed in Jesus. I said no. ‘You’re going to hell,’ they said. For the first time in my life, I felt different and embarrassed because I was a Jew.”
This is why we do the work we do — to make sure that children with minority beliefs or no belief do not get ostracized, bullied and harassed in public schools the way Jessica and Linda were.
And it is to ensure this — and the larger principle of keeping religion out of the public sphere — that we alert you to urgencies around the country. This week, we asked you to support a secular affirmation in the New Jersey court system, oppose stealth religious school bills in Florida and Oklahoma, and to put the brakes on a Tennessee proposal to place “In God We Trust” on all of the state’s license plates. (And, of course, we requested you to thank the brave mayor and legal manager in Carey, Ohio.)
All of this — and we mean all of this, science, Constitution, and otherwise — was made possible only due to your munificence and encouragement.
P.S. On our radio show this week, we had on an Andrew and an Andrews: Our Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel talked about his adventure filming the FFRF commercial at the Ark Encounter, and former Christian-radio-host-turned-atheist Seth Andrews discussed his freethinking journey.
FFRF is a national nonprofit dedicated to keeping state and church separate and educating about nontheism. For more information and a copy of our paper, Freethought Today, please click here