Letterbox (June/July 2019)
Here’s one way to fight back against vouchers
Theocrats have been pushing a backdoor voucher scheme in several states. Here’s how it works: You donate money to an organization that awards scholarships to students attending private religious schools. The state allows you not only a deduction, but a dollar-for-dollar write-off on your taxes, so it costs you nothing. In effect, it makes you a legislator determining how tax dollars are allocated.
If my state ever enacts such a plan, I will start my own organization to collect money from secular citizens who dissent from this program and use it to fund students at a Buddhist school. (If there’s no Buddhist school, a liberal Quaker or Unitarian one will do.) This will boost diversity in the face of a government that improperly favors conservative Christianity. I will give an amount equal to my tax liability, starving the state of funds. Then I will notify the governor, the state’s revenue chief and my local legislator that I am legally (thanks to them) withdrawing all financial support from the state as long as they show such favoritism. I will encourage others to do the same, and I don’t care if it collapses as a result.
I urge everyone in a state that has such a scheme to fight back in this manner, using the law against itself. Unless the law goes, they’ll be powerless to stop us.
Stephen Van Eck
FFRF gains when I hold my tongue
In order to prevent myself from imploding, I needed to have a new strategy for dealing with religiosity at work. So, I am donating $1 to FFRF each time I want to do or say something I shouldn’t.
So far, $1 for not stopping the morning prayer group supported by HR.
Another $1 for not forming a mob against the physician who refused to provide care to a transgender person.
And $1 for not saying what was on my mind to the Mormon bishop faculty member.
Additions to the “You Might Be in a Cult” letter
In the April Letterbox, Alan Wagner listed many reasons why “You Might Be in a Cult If . . .”
Here are a few more I came up with:
• If you can be convinced that your own deity demands blood sacrifices because he is righteous, but the pagan god’s bloodlust is evil, you might be in a cult.
• If you can be convinced that threats of hellfire and damnation demonstrate your deity’s great love for humanity, you might be in a cult.
• If you can be convinced that making contraception less accessible prevents unwanted pregnancies and abortions, you might be in a cult.
• If you can be convinced that ancient Middle Eastern mythology can explain the origin of life on Earth, but modern scientific study of fossil evidence cannot, you might be in a cult.
It was such fun to write this letter to one of my most cherished publications.
We could use less lying by our officials
“Thou shall not bear false witness” has been for a very long time an instruction more often honored in the breach than in the observance. That would do, without attribution, on placards of all government and academic buildings.
Let’s be proactive in denouncing superstition
I have always wondered what my response would be if a Fox News anchor asked me why I am “offended” by religious displays. They usually imply that the reason we are offended is that these are reminders of our sinful ways. I always thought I would say that I am not offended by violations of state-church separation, but just annoyed.
However, I know the best reason why we nonbelievers should object to manger scenes, Christian crosses, Ten Commandment monuments on government property, and even bibles in hotel rooms. It’s because these imply that someone thinks that I should believe in superstition and myth and that I cannot be good without these reminders.
Furthermore, if the wording or design of these icons and monuments were debated in the halls of legislatures or Congress, that could bring all secular and critical legislation to a standstill. Even if the will of the majority was honored, that would certainly lead to bad feelings among fellow legislators, because religion is very personal to most Americans. Their political differences are already bad enough without blatantly bringing religious opinion into the mix. This kind of corruption led to chaos in Europe prior to the Enlightenment.
When you face members of the media or politicians, please emphasize that supporting superstition and myth is not only unreasonable, but divisive and even embarrassing in these modern times.
Dan Barker got through to teens at debate
I want to thank Dan Barker for the great job he did in his debate with pastor Charlie Salamone of Downtown Mission Church in Wausau, Wis., on April 25.
In the audience, within close proximity to where I was sitting, was a fairly large number of young people, mostly in their teens. They were hearing what you were saying. I could see this from the expression on their faces. To me, this underscores the value of these debates, as these kids may be hearing for the first time that the gods and the biblical stories surrounding them are largely fictitious. Hearing this from an intelligent rational adult has an inestimable value in shaping their lives. Well done!
Information officer had a great secular response
I listened to the public information officer for Jacksonville Fire and Rescue respond to a reporter’s question about a plane that slid off the runway in Jacksonville, Fla. She asked if he thought it was a miracle that there were no serious injuries in the accident. He responded, “I don’t take that kind of approach to anything. I’m much more of a secular kind of guy.” It was refreshing to hear someone in a government position avoid bringing religion into the conversation. I have no idea whether he wants any attention about his response, but I left him a voicemail thanking him for his secular response to the question.
Catholic Church can’t be trusted to reform
Why do people presume to tell the Catholic Church how to behave honorably or regain credibility? Do they believe their advice will even be considered, let alone acted on? Writing that presumes to be logical or sensible only obscures the horrific facts of the abuse that clergy have perpetrated on vulnerable children and adults by holding out the hope that the church will reform itself. Ultimately, the Church has no intention of further depleting the already depleted ranks of clergy or exposing itself to further liability. Confession and self-reform are for the sheep.
Mary Ann Fraser
We should be leaders in promoting unity
I particularly enjoyed the Letterbox section of the April issue, especially the letters by Darlene Prescott and Brian Bolton. The letter from Alan Wagner on “You might be in a cult . . .” was priceless. However, I would warn FFRF and its members of the adage that “you catch more flies with honey than vinegar.” Hopefully, most people would accept humor as it’s intended (I loved it!), but belief in a deity provides many people with comfort that is critical to their well-being. We should not proselytize any more than we want to be proselytized. What is important is to explain why we want to be treated equally, in a way that doesn’t alienate reasonable people. Most religious people are not fanatics, and we mustn’t let the fanatics lead us to be involved in creating insurmountable divisiveness. We should be the leaders in promoting a unity in which everyone’s beliefs are treated equally.
We should focus on population control, too
I’ve said it before, but concern of reef bleaching is like cutting off the rattlesnake’s tail instead of its head. Earth warming? Tiddlywinks. That’s an effect, not a cause, and the cause has been ignored.
I belong to both Negative Population Growth and Population Connection, but few are listening. The Earth’s axis spins on profiteering growth. Every sector of the economy wants growth in goods, profits and numbers. Politicians want more contributions and voters. Everyone wants more income so we can buy even more unnecessary things. We demand $1 strawberries and de-boned chicken, so we bring in masses of slave-era laborers.
Forests disappearing, replaced by millions of acres of guess what? Soybean fields or oil palm plantations. Fish species are disappearing. Why? There are over 7 billion hungry humans on Earth, demanding home and garden space, and we are in the midst of an extinction of our wild species.
There will be another billion people within two decades. Environmental groups are priming the pump for their own causes, but they say nothing about this outrageous population surge. Africa cannot feed or house its teeming billions, and, by the end of the century, they may have 3 billion starving or impoverished.
Are we so nearsighted that we are unable to visualize the cause and only focus on the effects?
I belong to many secular groups, and they, and all other public interest groups, should refocus to include their concerns about population stabilization in the third world.
Here’s a farmers market analogy. If your market only sells corn, you get only corn customers. But if it also sells peaches, apples and tomatoes, it gets not only corn clients, but also peach, apple and tomato customers. Secular groups should jump into these population issues. It would bring additional members and monies and no dissent.
Scott A. Hunter
FFRF should send letter to editor with invocation
May I suggest, now that Dan Barker has been turned down from delivering a House invocation, that you send a letter to the editor to the Washington Post, setting forth the following secular invocation as the one you would have delivered:
“Let us rise each morning, and strive each day, to do only that which brings happiness and joy to others, and avoid doing things that cause others hurt and pain. Let us use our minds and our reason to foster behavior based on the mutuality and reciprocity inherent in human relationships, and let us always respect the dignity and worth of each other. And let us, above all, love one another, not to obtain rewards for ourselves now or hereafter or to avoid punishment, but rather always to bring each other contentment and peace. So be it.”
The readers of the Post would love it and would send in favorable replies.
Thanks for fighting for inmates’ rights
Back in 2016, FFRF Associate Counsel Sam Grover took the Virginia Department of Corrections to task and forced them to recognize secular humanism as a “religion.” This move was monumental and laid the groundwork for a series of changes that helped secularize a religiously oppressive environment.
With the help of Sam and FFRF Legal Fellow Colin McNamara, we have had a mandatory religious 12-step substance abuse program halted and replaced with a secular, evidence-based cognitive behavioral therapy substance abuse program with true efficacy. FFRF has put an end to inappropriate questions on inmates’ annual assessments that asked about inmates’ religious beliefs and church attendance, and which resulted in nonreligious inmates being punished with additional unnecessary and burdensome programming. And most recently, Colin had the warden at my facility take down an unconstitutional Ten Commandments display and a display chock-full of Christian propaganda from the facility’s law library.
After I brought these issues to FFRF’s attention, the Department of Corrections retaliated by transferring me to four different facilities in a one-year period. I made the best of this by reporting every state-church violation I came across, and by starting secular humanist communities at each of those facilities.
I am sharing this with you so you might understand just what a huge deal it has been for FFRF to stand up for nonreligious inmates in Virginia. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for everything FFRF does and continues to do. Sam and Colin have been remarkable and are owed the deepest gratitude from all the inmates of the Virginia Department of Corrections.
C. Todd Landeck
Road to atheism is paved by women
We can eradicate religion by educating women, especially girls. They will, in turn, teach their sons to respect women. In this regard, it seems that Judaism moved sooner than Christianity, which has moved faster than Islam. Nobel laureate Malala Yousafzai teaches us that a woman can make the largest step and greater acceptance of those that are different than ourselves.
For how many centuries have men shut down women from education? Suddenly, since the turn of the century, atheism has grown in tremendous leaps. Interesting how women’s rights have also grown in tremendous leaps!
It’s all about eliminating gods. We must continue the education of all girls throughout the world.
U.S. is a secular nation, not a theocracy
Was it Gov. John Kasich or Rev. Kasich? Is it Gov. Mike DeWine or the Rev. DeWine? Keep God out of government! As the late Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black stated in 1962 in Engel v. Vitale, “A union of government and religion tends to destroy government and degrade religion.” Former Ohio Gov. Kasich should become a minister and not run for president, and Gov. DeWine should have placed his hand on the Constitution, not a stack of nine bibles! We are a secular nation, not a theocracy. Let us now sing John Lennon’s “Imagine.”
David A. Hancock
Frustration to elation on Sunday morning
My boyfriend and I were watching “CBS Sunday Morning” on May 12 when the show went to commercial, or so we thought. Then it became clear the local affiliate (Sinclair Broadcasting) had cut the show short in order for them to keep up with their hate propaganda in broadcasting “Full Measure with Sharyl Attkisson.”
We looked at each other and thought, “OK, now what?” We have been watching “CBS Sunday Morning” each week for the past 10 years and now this garbage will supersede it?
I had received an email from FFRF reminding us to watch the show for FFRF’s Steven Pinker commercial, but I had forgotten about the reminder by the time Sunday, May 19, rolled around. We were watching the show and just waiting to see if the station would do the same thing as the previous week.
We started to watch, and, at 9:02, my boyfriend said, “Well, it looks like enough people complained that they decided not to interrupt it.” As he said that, I turned toward the TV and there he was — Steven Pinker, right smack in the middle of my TV screen! I was speechless. I waited until the commercial was over and proceeded to jump out of my seat with a “woo-hoo”! This. Was. AWESOME.
Please find my enclosed check to go toward more commercials like this. I know they make a difference!
Jeannie M. Lahman