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Supporting Civil Rights for Atheists and the Separation of Church and State
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You KNOW it's a Myth!
Statistics show that nearly 50 million Americans are atheists. Some use names like freethinker, agnostic or humanist to describe or modify their position, but atheism (the absence of a belief in a deity) is broad, and encompasses all those terms. If you don't have an active belief in a god, you're an atheist. It's a very good thing!
Millions of atheists are closeted, choosing to go along to get along, and feigning religion to their friends, family, and coworkers. American Atheists understands the pressure to fit in, but we maintain that for people to love you, they must know the real you.
We also assure you that, like every other person in this country, you know FAR more atheists than you think.
American Atheists has been fighting for atheist civil liberties since 1963. Our goal is equality for atheists. We want laws to be applied evenly (which mandates a total separation of church and state), and the elimination of the societal and political stigmas of being, loving, or representing an atheist.
American Atheists is not afraid to raise a voice or a picket sign to protect our rights or convey our points. We take positions that need to be taken, file lawsuits that need to be filed, and say the things that need to be said, even if it's unpopular or controversial. This is why we've earned our reputation as the \Marines of atheism.\
This page highlights some common general and seasonal issues facing atheists today; what we say, why we fight, and how you can learn more. The rest of the site is extensive, so take your time, and enjoy yourself. You've found people like you.
Meet us in person! National Convention
What do you know?
Chances are, if you're reading this, you don't believe in the fable of Adam and Eve and the talking snake. You probably think it's a story, created out of ignorance, to explain the origin of life. You probably don't believe that Adam literally ate a fruit, resulting in God expelling him and Eve out of the idyllic Garden of Eden.
In other words, you know that's a myth.
Right so far? So if Adam and Eve and the Talking Snake are myths, then Original Sin is also a myth, right? Well, think about it...
- Jesus' major purpose was to save mankind from Original Sin.
Original Sin makes believers unworthy of salvation, but you get it anyway, so you should be grateful for being saved (from that which does not exist)
Without Original Sin, the marketing that all people are sinners and therefore need to accept Jesus falls moot.
All we are asking is that you take what you know into serious consideration, even if it means taking a hard look at all you've been taught for your whole life. No Adam and Eve means no need for a savior. It also means that the Bible cannot be trusted as a source of unambiguous, literal truth. It is completely unreliable, because it all begins with a myth, and builds on that as a basis. No Fall of Man means no need for atonement and no need for a redeemer. You know it.
But can you really KNOW?
Of course you can. Theists love to validate their myths by trapping atheists into a philosophical discussion of knowledge and certainty. According to some theists, we can only be \pretty confident\ of everything since we don't know everything. I guess they can only be equally sure that their gods exist.
In the movie The Matrix, we learn that life is an illusion, pumped onto our brains by robots via a wire stuck in our heads. Good movie, but can you prove it false, with 100% certainty? Even if the writers came to your living room and told you they made it up, they could be mere illusions placed in your head for some unknown reason by the same unknown aliens.
So, is The Matrix fiction? How about Santa Claus? Zeus? Perhaps the mouse in your hand is an all-powerful ruler of the universe cleverly disguised as a mouse? How absurd does something have to be before we can comfortably call something fiction?
In the end, humans have to accept reality as, well, reality. There are unknown possibilities, and then there is fiction. Atheists know fiction when we see it -- all gods were invented by humans, and none is more valid than any other. You know it, just as well as you know anything at all.
Christianity stole Christmas.
Christians don't own this holiday, and never did. Christianity is neither the first, nor the 5th, nor the 10th mythology to adopt the Winter Solstice as their major day. Mythra, Bel, Krishna, Horus, and even the Mayan Qetzalcoatl were all born on the Winter Solstice. Jesus, if you believe the Bible, was actually born in the Spring, but early Christians changed it to mesh with other mythos (look it up). Learn more
Indeed, none of the trappings of Christmas are Christian. All of it predates Christianity. Yuletide, and Yule logs come from the Pagan holiday of Yule (the pagans also took the Solstice for their own). Santa Claus is Nordic, Germanic, or Celtic, depending on who you ask, and there were no tinsel-covered evergreens in Bethlehem -- that's Pagan too.
Christians don't deserve a monopoly on holiday cheer. We all own a piece of the Solstice (whatever you call it).
For years, we have been accused of having a \war on Christmas\ and making people say \Happy Holidays\ instead of 'Merry Christmas\, without even considering the truth of the issue. Yet, there have been no lawsuits or threats of lawsuits to change what people say. People can say whatever they want, but private corporations like Macy's and Target know that there are many holidays being celebrated, including the solstice, and that inclusiveness is better that divisiveness. They therefore ask their employees to use the broader, more inclusive greeting. It makes them more money, so they acknowledge everyone, and we think that's a pretty good idea.
A Federal Religious Holiday?
\But nobody is forcing Christmas on you!\ We hear that all the time, too, when we mention the repugnance of Christmas being a federal holiday. Christmas is the only religious holiday that shuts down the government and yes, that in and of itself, forces all citizens to celebrate this religious holiday. Ramadan, Passover, and other religious holidays don't affect the whole country in this way, but Christmas is enforced by government rule. We cannot use the bank, we cannot get mail, we cannot conduct business of any kind. We are forced to observe other people's religious holiday, and that's wrong.
By the way, this is also the reason that Christmas is so commercialized. If you force all people to observe it, they will naturally observe the aspects with which they can most readily identify -- the commercialism. This is why Christmas is more about gifts than it is about Jesus, much to the dismay of those very people who demand everyone take it seriously.
In the end
It's not a war on Christmas, rather it's a war on intolerance and ignorance. It's a war on false gods, false prophets, and false promises. It's a war on unearned rights, unwarranted exclusivity, and unrighteous divisiveness. It's a good and just war, fought without violence, against a behemoth known as organized religion. We are outnumbered and outfunded. Our only weapons are the truth and the means to spread it. Hence the billboard, the web site, the magazine, the TV show, and the convention.
It's working. We're growing. Atheism is the fastest growing segment of the population in respect to religious belief (or the lack of it) in the country, and the future looks bright. American Atheists has been protecting the separation of church and state since 1963, and we will continue the fight until we achieve true equality in the laws, as well as the hearts and minds of America's citizenry. Atheism can never go away, because it's the unassailable, provable, logical truth.
But then again, you knew that too.
Happy holidays, and pass the eggnog.
Pagan Origins of the Christ Myth - A compact but informative booklet by John G Jackson
Christianity Before Christ - A complete look at how Christianity was stolen from other gods, also from Jackson
A Christmas Sermon by Robert Green Ingersol - The Great Agnostic's newspaper sermon and the controversy it raised
The Battle for Christmas - Stephen Nissenbaum rediscovers Christmas's carnival origins and shows how it was transformed, during the nineteenth century, into a festival of domesticity and consumerism.
The UFO of Bethlehem - Bible scholar Frank Zindler critically examines the Star of Bethlehem legend
What I want for Christmas - By Robert G. Ingersol
Purchase your Seasonal Gifts and don't forget the Greeting cards!
We need your support! Join American Atheists -- Contribute -- Donate a Car or Boat
Donations are tax deductible*
*Consult your tax professional
3 2012-02-28 20:16:18
138 125 0 Testimony to US Civil Rights Commission
Testimony to US Civil Rights Commission
This is a copy of the testimony given to the U.S. Civil Rights Commission on Friday, August 21, 1998 by Ellen Johnson, President of American Atheists.
Since 1963, despite more than three decades of legislation and court rulings, the issue of religion in our nation's public schools remains a controversial and contentious subject. As the courts have moved to uphold the constitutional separation of church and state, the issue of student religious expression and the inclusion of religion in public school curricula have become divisive.
Some of this is due to a biased redefinition, not only of the First Amendment (both the free exercise and establishment clauses) and its precise legal meaning, but how it is to be applied in public school classrooms and other school-related activities such as sporting contests or graduation ceremonies. American Atheists takes the position that court rulings such as MURRAY v. CURLETT (1963), ENGEL v. VITALE (1962), LEE v. WEISMAN (1992) and LEMON v. KURTZMAN (1971) and the Federal Equal Access Act define the proper roles in our civil institutions of both the free expression and establishment clauses of the First Amendment.
In the United States there are over 350,000 churches, mosques, chapels, temples, and other \houses of worship.\ This figure does not include the many \weekend congregations\ that gather in rented halls, hotels rooms or even private homes. Churches of many faiths are represented in listings in the \yellow pages\ of phone directories. Newspapers often include a Religion Section, with advertisements and listings of services. There is ample and abundant opportunity, for those of a religious inclination, to worship not only in these venues with others of like-minded worldviews, but in the privacy of their own homes without having to bring religious ceremonies and rituals into the public schools.
Thus it disturbs us, as state-church separationists, that so much is done to magnify the issue of religion in public schools and to inject religious themes, activities, organizations, and content into what should be a secular institution having the primary goal of educating students and preparing them for societal integration and the workforce.
In addition, most of the political and social discourse concerning freedom of religion in our nation's public schools has focused on how best to accommodate the needs of those who wish to express their religious views, or engage in religious activity - everything from praying (or leading others prayer, or praying during a school event in front of others) to forming worship or study groups. Little, if any discussion has ever covered the problems associated with that religious expression, or the rights of students to freedom from religion.
In addition, the public school system is the only viable educational system which is available to all American families. As in the past, the responsibility for educating the America of tomorrow rightly rests with the public schools.
As such, the public schools are the inheritors of parental trust. Parents send their children to the public schools with an implied agreement that the school will provide them with a safe environment and protect them from outside, unwanted and intrusive religious activity or requirements into the educational milieu. Children attend the public schools where they are not supervised directly by their parents, but are placed in the trust of educators to be educated, not indoctrinated.
Unfortunately, the American experience over the last few decades has demonstrated that religious proselytizing has been directed toward our children not only against our wishes, but especially when they are beyond or outside of our direct supervision.
While religious expression in the public schools has been justified on the basis of freedom of speech, American Atheists is concerned that \improper\ religious expression - specifically during official school activities like classes, school choirs or athletic events where the students often comprise a \captive audience\ -- violates the rights of Atheist students, or even members of minority sects. Some, but not all, of the issues germane to this have been addressed in guidelines and other documents, including the JOINT STATEMENT OF CURRENT LAW, RELIGION IN THE PUBLIC SCHOOLS issued by a coalition of religious and civic groups in April, 1995.
We also cite the guidelines on religious expression which were issued by the U.S. Department of Education in August, 1995, at the direction of President Clinton, and the 1986 Federal Equal Access Act which sought to clarify the rights of \religious groups\ to establish \clubs\ in the public schools.
However the problem, still not addressed by our government, is how best to protect - not just in theory, but in law - the rights of students to be free from religious intrusion, harassment or even verbal or physical assault if they choose to exercise their freedom from religion.
We note the many cases (as in Alabama, for instance) where students who chose to opt out of religious activities are marginalized, insulted and harassed; in some cases, threats and physical violence have been used against those students and their families. American Atheists has received reports from across the nation of students in hallways being accosted by \prayer bullies.\ In addition, some religious clubs - as in the example of the one at Heath High School in Paducah, Kentucky - conduct their activities not in the privacy of a meeting room (as most other student groups might do) but in hallways or lobbies, sometimes obstructing entrances or positioning themselves so that others must take notice.
Unfortunately, neither the \Joint Statement of Current Law, Religion in the Public Schools,\ nor the Equal Access Act provide sufficient legal mechanisms to penalize and prevent religiously motivated harassment in the public schools.
The establishment clause of the First Amendment was intended to prevent the sorts of abuses that are taking place in our public schools today by keeping the spheres of public education and religious indoctrination separate. Once that clause is breached, however, abuses occur.
It is not always realistic to assume that administrators, counselors or other officials in a school where such activities take place can \self-police\ or correct the problem. In fact, in many cases, they are all too often the cause of the problem.
This suggests to us that much more needs to be done in defining and enforcing guidelines having to do with the rights of the many students who choose to remain free from such religious activities.
Government statements and guidelines do not go far enough in discussing or protecting the rights of those students (including Atheist students) who do not wish to pray, or attend religious clubs or Bible-study groups, or be proselytized in their schools.
• In DeKalb County, Alabama, for instance, there have been recurrent problems involving student religious expression over a school public address system, in class rooms and at athletic events. Federal Judge Ira DeMent, who overturned Alabama's school prayer law, has had to admonish and warn Christian administrators that continued opposition to the guidelines he affirmed in his rulings could result in further legal action. The court has had to actually field \monitors\ in these schools to insure that the First Amendment is recognized and to serve as information resources for any students, teachers or administrators who have questions. Unfortunately, not all public officials have cooperated with Judge DeMent. Alabama Governor Fob James has spoken favorably of those students and administrators who \resist\ the court's order, and Attorney General Pryor has actively distorted the meaning of the guidelines. And in late July, 1998, a finding by one of the court-appointed monitors, Rev. Chriss Doss, a Baptist minister and educator at Samford University in Birmingham, raised questions about the involvement of a high school principal (Gary Carlyle, Sylvania High School) in encouraging students to join in reading \The Lord's Prayer\ at a May 26 graduation ceremony, an activity that contravened the Federal court order pertaining to the separation of church and state.
• In 1996 the Washington State Attorney General issued a ruling that officially sponsored prayer at public high school graduation ceremonies was unconstitutional after two students, one an Atheist and the other a Baptist, filed suit to stop the prayers.
• In New York, a teacher was recently dismissed for allegedly leading her sixth-grade students in prayer and healing services. While she gave students who did not wish to engage in this activity the \option\ of spending time on a classroom computer instead, her actions were nevertheless highly inappropriate and she was dismissed. Her case is on appeal.
• In Jackson, Mississippi, the local school superintendent was the target of gunfire after suspending a principal in Jackson for allowing Christian prayers to be read over the school's public address system.
• Again, in Mississippi, Lisa Herdahl's son was required to wear a football helmet, or musical headphones, or leave the room because he refused to participate in organized religious rituals with the majoritarian sect (Baptist). He was Lutheran.
• In Oklahoma, Ms. Jo Ann Bell, a mother and homemaker, was assaulted in a parking lot and her home burned down after she protested school-sponsored religious activity.
• In Dunn, N.C., Laurey and Rick Wyble received harassing phone calls, were called \communists\, and were driven from their home for protesting sectarian bible classes in their son's public elementary school.
• In Columbia, S.C., Henry Jordan, a state school board member, and member of the Christian Coalition, proposed the posting of a version of the Ten Commandments in the public schools. When asked about the sensitivities of minority religions to his suggestion, he remarked, \Screw the Buddhists and kill the Muslims - and put that in the minutes!\
• Attempts by Christian-oriented groups such as Family Friendly Libraries to limit our children's access to library and internet resources continue unabated. They are entitled to impose such limits on their own children, but are they not legally empowered to make such choices for our children as well.
• In May of this year the American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon went to court on behalf of an Atheist family from Portland, to prevent the Portland School District from actively participating in the recruitment of Cub Scouts at Harvey Scott Elementary School. The suit was filed on behalf of Nancy Powell and her son, Remington Powell, who was in the second grade.
After-school staff assisted Cub Scout recruiters in placing wrist bands on students that urged them to join Cub Scout Pack 16.
The suit argued that the recruitment of students to join the Cub Scouts during school hours and on school property is unconstitutional because the Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts are required by the Boy Scouts of America to refuse membership to boys who do not \profess a belief in God, recognize an obligation to God and declare a duty to God.\
In most school districts throughout the country, proper limits concerning the expression of religious beliefs by students are generally (but not always) observed.
If there is a lesson here, though, it is this:
Our public schools are considered not educational centers, but a locus for \culture war\ battles waged by certain sectarian groups who seek to introduce prayer, religious proselytizing or inappropriate religious content into the public school curricula (such as \creationism,\ \ bible history\) and other extracurricular activities (such as sporting events, graduation ceremonies and other school- sponsored presentations).
STUDENT RELIGIOUS EXPRESSION
1) The Equal Access Act (EAA) requires the elimination of all non-curriculum related clubs as a response to the denial of the legitimate rights of other groups.
We disagree with that remedy. By eliminating all clubs, the schools thus deny the free speech rights of everyone, in order to accommodate the prejudices of some.
• In Utah, for instance, the EAA was supported in order to defend the \free speech rights\ of students who wanted to form religious clubs; but when a gay- straight student support group was founded, however, Senator Orin Hatch and other EAA proponents quickly abandoned their enthusiasm for free speech. Sen. Hatch declared that the purpose of Equal Access was not to permit the establishment of \those sorts of clubs,\ only religious groups. In addition, a student group that supports homosexual rights sued Cherry Creek Public Schools in January of this year for refusing to recognize it as an official club at Smoky Hill High School.
The \Equal\ in Equal Access needs stronger protection and enforcement.
2) The EAA, in our opinion, does little to establish and protect freedom of speech for all students.
There is no mechanism for safeguarding the rights of students who may, and frequently are, subject to religious harassment. The whole question of the status of religious expression by students in public schools has been demonstrated to be a highly emotional and controversial issue - outside the normal rules of decorum observed by other student groups. Unlike chess or computer clubs, religious clubs in schools have been surrounded by an aura of controversy.
• One such controversy is the nature of bible/prayer \clubs\ themselves. First hand observation and additional anecdotal evidence reveals that these are not student \clubs\ in the traditional sense. Rather, they consist of religious ritual, scriptural readings, songs, prayers and similar activities usually reserved for the church setting. In effect, these clubs become satellites of the local church for proselytizing and recruitment in the schools - a fact that should give pause to civil libertarians and parents everywhere.
One of our members related the following events at her Oak Ridge High School in Conroe, Texas. Remember, this is just one school.