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Apr 06 2008

Atheist News from Edwin Kagin



KENTUCKY ATHEISTS NEWS & NOTES Date: April 06, 2008


Kentucky Atheists, P.O. Box 48, Union, KY 41091; Email: [email protected]

Phone: (859) 384-7000; Fax: (859) 384-7324; Web: http://www.atheists.org/ky/

Editor’s personal web site: www.edwinkagin.com

Editor’s personal blog: http://edwinkagin.blogspot.com

Edited by:

Edwin Kagin, Kentucky State Director, American Atheists, Inc.

(AMERICAN ATHEISTS is a nationwide movement that defends civil rights for nonbelievers; works for the total separation of church and state; and addresses issues of First Amendment public policy.)

I WAS BORN AN ATHEIST JUST LIKE EVERYONE ELSE

To Unidentified Recipients:

Atheist father sues to keep son out of St. Xavier High School

By Andrew Wolfson[email protected] • April 6, 2008

As a practicing Catholic whose eighth-grade son, Michael, has always attended parochial schools, Susan Bisig says it would be best for him to attend St. Xavier High School.

The 144-year-old Catholic secondary school also happens to be Michael’s first choice.

But Bisig’s ex-husband, David Ryan, an atheist who has joint custody of their 14-year-old son, wants Michael to attend a nonreligious high school.

And he says the Kentucky Constitution is on his side because it says no one shall be “compelled to send his child to any school to which he may be conscientiously opposed.”

The battle between Ryan and Bisig, both commercial pilots, has landed in Oldham County Family Court, where Judge Tim Feeley has said he will decide within the next couple of weeks where 14-year-old Michael Ryan will attend high school next year.

Whichever parent wins will pay Michael’s tuition, Feeley said.

The bigger picture

The case presents broader questions about both the separation of church and state and the freedom to practice religion, say lawyers for both parents, as well as experts on family and constitutional law.

During a one-day trial last Wednesday, both parents said they had the best interests of their child at heart.

Bisig said that she thought Michael would have an easier time transitioning to St. X, given that he’s attended St. Aloysius, a Catholic school in Pewee Valley, since kindergarten.

“It’s a natural progression, and I think he will thrive in that environment,” she said. “And it is where he wants to be.”

But Ryan, who professes not to believe “in any god nor the existence of a supernatural world,” said that Michael will be better off in a school without religious ties that promotes free inquiry, not “a certain belief system.”

In court papers, Ryan has said that “Any parochial school controlled by the Catholic Church will teach and attempt to indoctrinate my son into a belief system which I reject.”

Ryan said his son’s choice of St. X is to be expected, given that “his frame of reference is the Catholic school system.”

Secular vs. Spiritual

Testifying as an expert witness for Ryan, retired Georgia educator Edward Buckner, who has been active in atheist causes, said that Michael would be better off with a secular education, rather than one whose catechism teaches that his father’s beliefs are sinful.

Ryan testified that his comparison of student-teacher ratios and other factors at local high schools showed that that Kentucky Country Day or South Oldham High School would be better for his son.

But a therapist and a “parenting coordinator” appointed by the court both testified that Michael would do better at St. X, in part because he wants to go to that school.

Robert Stenger, a University of Louisville professor who has taught constitutional and family law, said that while an eighth-grade student doesn’t have “final decision-making authority,” the law increasingly recognizes the autonomy of adolescents, especially where the minor “makes what appear to be well-founded decisions. Attending St. X is such a decision.”

Stenger said that Ryan’s case would be stronger if his ex-wife and son had chosen a school with a poorer academic reputation, such as a new school that forces religion “into classroom offerings in every subject” and where a judge could seriously question the academic integrity of the education the child would receive.

A double-edged sword

Stenger, who previously taught in the school of religion at University of Iowa and has a doctorate of theology from Catholic University of America, also noted that the father’s constitutional argument cuts both ways.

“The mother has equal constitutional rights not to have the court forbid a school because it is religious,” he said.

“If the father were to win, it would put the authority of the court against religion, which both the federal and state constitution forbid,” Stenger said.

“It could be called establishing atheism.”

David Friedman, the general counsel for the ACLU of Kentucky — which is not involved in the case — said that judges have to be neutral toward religion when determining a child’s best interests.

“A judge who always thinks it’s in a child’s best interests to go to a religious school would stray from that principle,” he said, “just as would a judge who never thinks that’s in the child’s best interests.”

Case a long time coming

Ryan and Bisig were married for eight years before they divorced in 1999, said Bisig’s lawyer, Sandra Ragland.

Ryan objected a few years ago to sending Michael to St. Aloysius, but Feeley told him then to take up the issue when the family was considering high schools.

Ryan is represented by Ed Kagin, a Boone County lawyer who is national legal director for American Atheists, an advocacy and education group founded by Madalyn Murray O’Hair, best known for a lawsuit which led to the Supreme Court ruling that ended the practice of daily prayer in American public schools.

The Ryan case has been followed closely on atheist and secular humanist Web sites, including NoGodBlog.com.

Kagin noted that the section of the Kentucky Constitution that Ryan is relying on has been cited by fundamentalist home-schooling parents in successful fights against having to send their children to public schools.

Section 5 of the state Bill of Rights says that “no preference shall ever be given by law to any religious sect … nor shall any man be compelled to send his child to any school to which he may be conscientiously opposed.”

Ryan said the legal dispute has given him and Michael “a greater understanding and acceptance of each other’s beliefs.”

Bisig said that Michael, an excellent student, toured several high schools before picking St. X.

“This is something he wants, and I definitely support it because it would be great for him,” she said. “It is what is in his heart.”

Reporter Andrew Wolfson can be reached at (502) 582-7189.

http://www.courier-journal.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20080406/NEWS01/804060502&referrer=FRONTPAGECAROUSEL

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AMERICAN ATHEISTS ACTION ALERT

http://www.atheists.org

April 2, 2008

AMERICAN ATHEISTS ACTION ALERT ~ April 2, 2008

FLORIDA LATEST BATTLEGROUND IN EFFORT TO

UNDERMINE EVOLUTION, GOOD SCIENCE IN CLASSROOMS

LEGISLATORS NEED TO HEAR FROM US NOW!

Aided by a prominent pundit and commentator, anti-evolution groups in Florida are pushing legislation that would ban any action against a teacher who “objectively presents scientific information” critical of “biological or chemical evolution.”

Ben Stein, quiz show MC and former speech writer for Presidents Gerald Ford and Richard Nixon, hosted a press conference recently at the Florida capitol to rally support for bills in the state legislature. The measures are seen as a reaction to new teaching standards for public schools which emphasize greater use of the word “evolution” instead of euphemistic phrases like “biological change over time.” They also mandate that schools place greater emphasis on teaching evolution as a unifying principle in all scientific fields.

Opponents of evolution, though, deny that the proposed legislation is meant to smuggle creationism or so-called “Intelligent Design” into public school science classes. The sponsor of the House version, HB 1483, Rep. Alan Hays(R-Umatilla) claimed that the purpose of the bill is to discourage “harassment, undue penalties and any other type of ostracism. The Senate version is SB 2692.

Stein insisted that he was in Florida not to lobby for the legislation but to demonstrate his “star power.” Reporters at the press conference were invited to attend a private screening of his forthcoming film, “Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed” in which he states that scientists questioning evolution are often harassed and intimidated for their views. According to an AP report, the film includes footage of Adolf Hitler and extermination camps to news of current efforts to punish opponents of Darwinism.

The National Center for Science Education (http:///www.natcenscied.org/ ) is one of many groups speaking out against the legislation. An NCSE spokesperson said that the bills were “introduced to satisfy the demands of Florida creationists disappointed by the state Board of Education’s vote on February 19, 2008 to adopt a new set of state science standards in which evolution is presented as a ‘fundamental concept underlying all of biology.’ “

The Florida Citizens for Science (http://www.flascience.org) is also opposing the two bills, and have on-line resources which allow you to communicate with state lawmakers.

Ellen Johnson, President of American Atheists warns that the Florida bills could become “boilerplate” legislation for other states where creationists are working to promote their religious views in public schools. “These measures are trying to erode the idea that our schools should teach sound science,” said Johnson. “No one would propose similar bills that would apply to ‘questioning’ mathematics or the fact that the Earth revolves around the Sun. The Florida legislation is just a ruse to introduce creationism and other religious doctrines into our public schools.”

This isn’t about “free speech,” or presenting students with legitimate “alternatives” in the classroom.

UPDATE: Last Wednesday, SB2692 cleared the Florida Senate’s Pre-K Through 12 Education Committee in a 4-1 vote, and now moves to the Senate Judiciary Committee. There has not been subsequent action on the House version. Members of the entire Florida Senate need to hear from us now to stop this damaging legislation!

You can help defend the teaching of good science in our public schools. We urge you to reach out to lawmakers in Florida, or any other state where this type of legislation is introduced. Visit the FCS web site, as well as the Florida Senate page at http://www.flsenate.gov . Also express your opinion in public forums — radio call-in programs, town meetings, and of course the “letters” column in your local newspaper. By taking action now, we can stop efforts to erode good science programs and our public school system!

(AMERICAN ATHEISTS is a nationwide movement that defends civil rights for Atheists, Freethinkers and other nonbelievers; works for the total separation of church and state; and addresses issues of First Amendment public policy.)

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THE POPE IS COMING AMERICA…

AND WE’ll BE READ
Y TO PROTEST THE VATICAN’S

OPPRESSIVE AND THEOCRATIC AGENDA

FOR OUR COUNTRY AND THE REST OF THE WORLD!

POPE BENEDICT, a/k/a Joseph Ratzinger — formerly head of the Holy Inquisition and now Pope of the Roman Catholic Church — is coming to visit the United States/ Leading clerical and political figures — including President George W. Bush — will be meeting in him during papal visits to Washington, DC and New York City.

AMERICAN ATHEISTS will be hosting peaceful demonstrations in both cities to protest the papal agenda for cultural, social and political hegemony. We invite all Atheist, Freethought, Secular Humanists and other nonbelievers to join us in speaking out. Whatever label you use to describe your nonbelief and opposition to clerical authoritarianism of all denominations – whether you’re a Rational, a Bright, a Humanist, Agnostic, Atheist, or a strict Separationist — we welcome you!

WASHINGTON, DC.

April 16, 2008

The Pope will join Bush for a reception on the south lawn of the White House. Join us beginning at 10:00 AM across the street from the White House in Lafayette Park. Bring signs and banners conveying a polite but firm message in opposition to the Vatican/Ratzinger agenda. There will be a brief program of speakers including:

* ELLEN JOHNSON, President of American Atheists

* ARLENE-MARIE, President of Michigan Atheists and State Director, AA

* MARGARET DOWNEY, President of Atheist Alliance

* FRED EDWORDS, Director of Communications, American Humanist Association

* CHRISTOPHER ARNTZEN, President, Gay and Lesbian Atheists and Humanists

* RICK WINGROVE, Capitol Hill Representative, Virginia Director, American Atheists

Lafayette Park is convenient to the McPherson Square station of the METRO (http://www.wmata.com/metrorail/Stations/station.cfm?station=36).

For further information, contact RICK WINGROVE at [email protected] .

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NEW YORK CITY, NY.

April 18-20, 2008

The pope is scheduled for two days of events in New York City, and so far the police have not announced specifics on when or where demonstrations will be permitted. We will post that information as soon as we have it.

In the meantime, stay in contact with KEN BRONSTEIN of NYC Atheists. Reach Ken through [email protected] .

(AMERICAN ATHEISTS is a nationwide movement that defends civil rights for Atheists, Freethinkers and other nonbelievers; works for the total separation of church and state; and addresses issues of First Amendment public policy.)

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Grayson County display banned

10 COMMANDMENTS RULED RELIGIOUS ENDORSEMENT

By Brett Barrouquere
ASSOCIATED PRESS

A federal judge has permanently barred a Kentucky county from using the Ten Commandments as part of a “Foundations of American Law and Government” display.

U.S. District Judge Joseph H. McKinley said the Grayson County display has the “effect of endorsing religion.” McKinley’s ruling upholds a preliminary injunction issued in 2002 that resulted in county officials taking down the Ten Commandments, but leaving the frame on display.

No public money was used to set up the display in the county courthouse in Leitchfield, 75 miles southwest of Louisville.

The Rev. Chester Shartzer put up the display, without a public ceremony or public prayer. Two Grayson County residents and the American Civil Liberties Union sued in 2001, claiming the intent of the display was religious and therefore unconstitutional.

The display originally included the full text of the Mayflower Compact, the full text of the Declaration of Independence, the Ten Commandments, the full text of the Magna Carta, the Star Spangled Banner, the National Motto together with the Preamble to the Kentucky Constitution, the Bill of Rights, a picture of Lady Justice together with an explanation of the significance of each of the documents.

McKinley found that the intent of the display was religious, not educational, in part because it came after the county failed to put up only a Ten Commandments display and Grayson County Fiscal Court members discussed what to put with the Ten Commandments to avoid objections from the ACLU.

“An objective observer would understand that the Foundations Display’s sponsor desired to post the Ten Commandments in the Courthouse for purely religious reasons and counseled the Grayson County Fiscal Court on how to accomplish this to avoid Objection by the ACLU,” McKinley wrote in a 23-page decision filed Friday.

David Friedman, general counsel for the ACLU of Kentucky, said the government shouldn’t endorse or promote a specific religious belief.

“People should not be made to feel like second-class citizens in their own community because they may not share the prevailing religious view — especially in a courthouse,” Friedman said.

Mat Staver, who heads the conservative Christian legal group Liberty Counsel and represented Grayson County in the case, said McKinley’s decision will either be appealed or a modified display will be put up. Staver said the county is on sound legal ground because appeals courts, including one that oversees Kentucky, have upheld “the exact same display.”

“One thing is clear,” Staver said. “This is not the end of this case. It’s just the beginning.”

The case was filed in 2001, but put on hold while other legal disputes involving public displays of the Ten Commandments were heard in court.

The U.S. Supreme Court in 2005 ruled that displays inside the McCreary and Pulaski county courthouses were unconstitutional, but the U.S. 6th District Court of Appeals said a Mercer County Courthouse display that incorporated other historical documents was constitutional.

http://www.realcities.com/mld/kentucky/news/local/states/kentucky/counties/franklin/18524327.htm

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AMERICAN ATHEISTS, INC.

http://www.atheists.org

http://www.americanatheist.org

For more information, please contact:

Rick Wingrove, Capitol Hill Representative (703) 433-2464 Ken Bronstein, NYC Atheists (212) 535-7425

ATHEISTS CALL FOR DEMONSTRATIONS AS POPE BENEDICT VISITS WASHINGTON, NEW YORK

Atheists, Freethinkers, Humanists and other secularists will be on hand when Pope Benedict XVI visits Washington, DC and New York City as part of his visit to the United States April 15-20, 2008.

Peaceful demonstrations in both cities will focus on numerous issues related to the Holy See.

Ellen Johnson, President of American Atheists, said that the group was organizing protests “to speak out against the Vatican’s faith-based cultural, political and social agenda for America and the rest of the world.”

“The United States is based on civil liberties and the separation of church and state,” said Johnson. “The Vatican has been in the forefront to oppose secularism, rights for women, intellectual freedom and other enlightened values.”

Johnson added that American Atheists organized the first protest against a pope in the United States in 1979 during Pope John Paul II’s visit to Chicago.

The demonstration in Washington, DC will take place on Wednesday, April 16, 2008 with a rally in Lafayette Park across the street from the White House beginning at 10:00 AM. Pope Benedict XVI will be at a reception with President Bush. Further information can be found at http://www.atheists.org/temp/popeVisit2008.html or by contacting Rick Wingrove, Capitol Hill Representative for American Atheists through [email protected] .

In New York City, Ken Bronstein of the NYC Atheists is organizing a protest. He can be reached through [email protected] .

AMERICAN ATHEISTS is a nationwide movement that defends civil rights for Atheists; works for the total separation of church and state; and addresses issues of First Amendment public policy.

American Atheists, Inc.

P. O. Box 5733

Parsippany, NJ 07054-6733

Tel.: (908) 276-7300

Fax: (908) 276-7402

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