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Letterbox (August 2019)

‘Oprah’ episode showed trio’s courageousness

I just watched the video of Annie Laurie Gaylor, Anne Nicol Gaylor and Dan Barker on “Oprah” in 1984 and felt compelled to express my complete admiration. I am overwhelmed by their courage and sagacity at such a time. I was an atheist then, about 25 years old, but not nearly as conscious as they were. I wish I had seen that show back then. I’ve been listening to the new atheists debates and shows for the past few years, but it is clear that those three people were way ahead of all us. (I donate to FFRF via Amazon Smile, but will be talking to my wife about becoming members in remembrance of that program.)

David Quinn-Jacobs
New York

Ancestor fought against archbishop of Canterbury

I went on recently and managed to trace one branch of my paternal family tree to Anglo-Norman nobles in England as far back as the 11th century. One of my direct ancestors was Ranhulf de Broc, a royal official under Henry II and an ally of the king in his conflict with Thomas Becket, the archbishop of Canterbury, who excommunicated Ranhulf de Broc no fewer than three times. Way to go, Ranhulf! Three was the charm in his case. De Broc was with the four nobles who murdered Becket in Canterbury Cathedral in 1170. While the four went inside to confront Becket, de Broc ordered armed men under his command to surround the cathedral and prevent any interference on the part of the townspeople. He was amply rewarded by Henry II for his loyalty and service. A very interesting anti-clerical great-great-grandfather many times removed!

Dennis Middlebrooks
New York

Thanks for your efforts against Justice Mack

As a long-standing member of FFRF, I wish to thank you heartily for bringing me news and updates on your organization’s activities. One recent article was of particular interest to me: the continuing effort to bring Texas Justice of the Peace Wayne Mack into compliance with the Constitution.

It caused me enough heartburn that I sent Mack a letter about his inability to conform with constitutional requirements in his courtroom.

Here is what I wrote to him:

“After a professional lifetime in the criminal courts, including 16 years on the misdemeanor bench in two states, I read of your bringing prayer into the courtroom with shame and astonishment. If the constitutional mandate to keep separate church and state is too complex a concept for you, then perhaps you ought to focus on a simpler idea: the summoning of religious messaging into a court of law is neither relevant nor material.

“In addition, what you are doing invites the impression that some of the rulings that you may make could be grounded not upon the law and provable facts, but upon your religious perceptions. The valid concern is, in fact, the foundation of the Founders’ wise prohibition that you now so blithely ignore.

“Perhaps you should rethink your professional calling and go into the ministry rather than the courtroom.”

Judge Steven Wallace (retired)

Steve Benson IS, not was, an Eagle Scout

I am pleased to see that Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist Steve Benson’s art, wit and reason are now part of the FFRF family. I’d like to amend the statement made in Freethought Today, however, that Steve Benson “was an Eagle Scout.” Steve Benson IS an Eagle Scout. Once a young man earns the rank of Eagle Scout in the Boy Scouts of America, he is always an Eagle Scout.

Bob Jochums

Giving memberships as gifts helps everyone

My partner Laurie and I are proud Life Members of FFRF. As Life Members, we are no longer obligated to pay annual membership dues. However, we wouldn’t be Life Members if we did not strongly support the FFRF mission. So, we still send monetary gifts to FFRF as our finances permit.

Over the last few years, we have begun to give our periodic donations as gift memberships whenever we can. This is money that we intend to donate to FFRF’s “use as you choose” fund anyway. A household membership for three years is just $150. Laurie and I get credit for a deductible donation and the satisfaction that comes with helping the organization. FFRF gets the financial support, as well as a boost in membership numbers. Our friends get a free (to them) membership. We think everybody wins.

Some of our friends are mildly interested in FFRF, and we hope that their gift memberships will encourage them to continue their memberships and become more active and supportive FFRF members. Others would like to support FFRF, but just can’t find the spare bucks. We are proud to help both types. We would encourage other FFRF members to do the same for their friends who are not members but would like to be.

Hal Webre

Crankmail is so bad, it can’t be real, right?

I have been a subscriber to Freethought Today for several years. I value honesty and forthrightness in all of your articles and columns. However, there is one section I find troubling: Crankmail. I find these letters — filled with vulgarities, misspellings and shocking ignorance — don’t ring true. Frankly, I wonder if they are made up by your staff members. Please assure me and your readers these letters are authentic.

Lawrence Power

Editor’s note: Yes, all of the Crankmail missives are indeed from real mail we receive. We literally couldn’t make this stuff up (or wouldn’t waste our time trying to)! 

Non-Christians demand rightful place in public

Today, it’s hard to keep up with all the news. That’s why many Rochester, N.Y., residents may have missed this: The Barna group, a Christian polling firm, just released its latest list of the most “post-Christian” cities in the nation. Guess what? Rochester, N.Y., made it into the Top 10.  That’s right, for over 50 percent of our residents, Christianity has gone by the wayside.  To identify the “post-Christian” places on the list, pollsters used 16 criteria to identify a lack of Christian identity, belief and practice. Among these criteria were the following: Do not believe in God. Identify as atheist or agnostic. Disagree that faith is important in their lives.

All of this will come as no surprise to Boston University law professor Jay Wexler, whose new book, Our Non-Christian Nation, describes how atheists and other non-Christians are demanding their rightful place in public life.

Linda Stephens
New York

Pennsylvania vouchers in effect for 3 years

In the June/July issue, Stephen Van Eck of Pennsylvania wrote about the backdoor vouchers scheme now active in several states. He wrote, “If my state ever enacts a plan, I will start my own organization” to fund liberal schools. I’m writing to say that Pennsylvania has had a plan for the past three years. It’s called the EITC plan — Education Improvement Tax Credit plan.

Recently, Gov. Tom Wolf vetoed legislation to increase the amount of this backdoor credit by $100 million. The current amount available is $160 million. We need to stop giving away our tax dollars when we are already funding public schools.

Helen Andrews

Finally joining FFRF in honor of my father

I just wanted you to know that in recognition of our nation’s errant direction, illustrated by  the Supreme Court’s decision regarding the Bladensburg cross, I have decided (finally) to join FFRF.

I am starting with a basic individual membership, supplemented with a small additional contribution, but will shortly settle on a greater annual level. I take this step in honor and appreciation of my father and his sharing with me that, when it comes to religion, each person needs and has a right and responsibility to make her or his own “reasoned” judgment.

He felt this was a personal decision, not one that was to be inherited or blindly adopted from another person or family. I believe he was a wise man and I celebrate the freedom he offered me.

Collin Minert
New Jersey