KENTUCKY ATHEISTS NEWS & NOTES Date: October 16, 2008
Kentucky Atheists, P.O. Box 666, 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
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.)
IT IS OKAY TO BE AN ATHEIST
To Unidentified Recipients:
Roy Zimmerman will do a house concert in Union, Kentucky at 8:00 pm. on Friday, October 17, 2008. The noted singer songwriter will do “funny songs about ignorance, war, and greed.”
Admission is $15 at the door. For information and reservations, email [email protected]
NKU to host interactive mock trial on creation science and evolution in the classroom
News from NKU…
Thursday – October 16, 2008
For immediate release…
HIGHLAND HEIGHTS, Ky. – On Oct. 22, Northern Kentucky University will host a unique interactive mock trial that will turn local citizens into jurors on the hotly-contested issue of whether public school science teachers should be allowed to teach creation science, which attempts to use scientific means to prove the Genesis account of creation.
The trial, which will take place at 7 p.m. at NKU’s University Center Otto M. Budig Theater, is free and open to the public. It is sponsored by the Northern Kentucky Forum, the NKU Scripps Howard Center for Civic Engagement and Nonprofit Development and the NKU Chase College of Law Center for Excellence in Advocacy.
The first 200 people in attendance will have an opportunity to serve as jurors, using small remote control clickers to register their opinions both before and after the trial. At the conclusion of the proceeding, they will decide the case.
“It is part of the mission of the Scripps Howard Center to conduct public forums,” said Mark Neikirk, the Centers executive director. “I’ve heard President Votruba state many times that a college campus should be a safe place for difficult conversations.” Neikirk said that while the evolution/creation science debate is a difficult conversation, he felt it could be more productive if held as a mock trial.
The Trial: Scott v. Chandler County School Board
The trial centers around the termination of fictitious biology teacher Susan Scott (a traditionally trained evolution adherent), who according to her complaint, encouraged students to “explore creation theories.” Scott, who will be played by Simon Kenton High School teacher Heather Mastin, is suing the fictitious Chandler County School Board for wrongful termination and seeks reinstatement, compensatory damages and a judicial declaration that the school board violated her First Amendment rights.
Scott will be represented by local attorney Phil Taliaferro, who will argue that teaching creation theory is not only permitted in Kentucky, but legally protected. The defendant, Chandler County School Board, will be represented by local attorney Margo Grubbs, who will argue that Scott’s termination was justified under existing law.
Scott’s chief witness will be the real-life Dr. Ben Scripture, who received his Ph.D. in biochemistry from the University of Notre Dame in1998. Dr. Scripture has earned degrees from the University of California at Berkeley (a A.B. in zoology) and Grace Theological Seminary (M.Div.). Dr. Scripture has published articles in the Journal of Biological Chemistry and the Journal of Molecular Biology. He hosts weekly radio programs, “Scripture on Creation” and “That’s What Scripture Says” on radio stations in Fort Wayne, Ind., and Indianapolis, and on the Good News Network stations covering the southeastern region of the U.S.
The school board will be represented in court by fictional superintendent Bryan Boone, who will be played by retired Boone County Superintendent Bryan Blavatt. Its key witness will be real-life evolution advocate Ed Kagin, a Union, Ky., attorney. Kagin is a founder of the Free Inquiry Group and co-authored The Fundamentals of Extremism: The Christian Right in America. He is the originator of Camp Quest, the nation’s first residential secular summer camp. He has run unsuccessfully as “the candidate without a prayer” for the Kentucky Supreme Court and Senate. Kagin is the national legal director for American Atheists and was awarded “Atheist of the Year” by that group in 2005 and 2008.
As is so often the case, the legalities of the issue aren’t black and white. Kentucky has fairly strict guidelines that suggest evolution-only instruction, but also has a pro-Genesis statute. And, of course, the question isn’t confined to the Commonwealth. It is playing out again in the national political debate – as it so often does – and is heating up in a number of states.
The trial judge will be played by retired Kenton County Circuit Court Judge Doug Stephens.
Northern Kentucky Forum
The mock trial is the first of what Northern Kentucky Forum, a partnership between the Scripps Howard Center, Legacy and Vision 2015, hopes will become monthly events that attract diverse audiences, advocate for public dialogue but not any one position, provide for audience input and allow all sides of a given issue to be represented. “We’ll always be looking for a way to bend the format,” Neikirk said, “to look at issues in a different way.”
The next forum will be held Nov. 12 and will focus on the results of the presidential election and what impact it will have upon the region. Other upcoming forum topics tentatively planned include Northern Kentuckys role in Frankfort; public education; energy policy; and diversity in the region.
More atheists are sharing their views
Increasingly vocal minority fights the influence of religious groups
By Peter Smith • [email protected] • September 24, 2008
When she first logged onto an atheist Web site five years ago, Mikel Childers’ hands were shaking.
Since she was a teen, she had harbored growing doubts about the conservative Christian faith, “but I was so programmed against the word atheist,” she said.
When she eventually decided she was one, a “feeling of almost euphoria” descended upon her, said Childers, now 28.
“I no longer had to justify why a good and loving God would allow (bad) things to happen,” she said.
Her experience is shared by others who are part of Louisville Atheists and Freethinkers, a loosely organized group that meets monthly in an upstairs room at Kaelin’s Restaurant for burgers, drinks, discussions and fellowship. About 35 attended a recent meeting.
“We believe in living for this life and this world and using science and reason to understand the natural world better,” said John Armstrong, one of the organizers.
They’re part of an increasingly vocal minority of atheists, and other Americans who claim no religious affiliation, who are fighting the influence of religious groups on politics, schools and scientific research.
The percentage of religiously unaffiliated Americans has doubled since 1990 — rising to 16 percent.
That growth represents one of the largest trends in American religion today, according to a poll released earlier this year by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life.
About 2 percent each describe themselves as “atheist” or “agnostic.” Most of the rest say they’re nothing in particular — and half of that group actually still has religious beliefs or practices.
Twelve percent of Kentuckians and 16 percent of Hoosiers have no affiliation with any religion, according to the survey, which didn’t provide a breakdown by state of how many describe themselves as atheists.
Those trends coincide with the rise of the “new atheism” — attacks on religious dogma mounted by such best-selling authors as Richard Dawkins (“The God Delusion”) and Christopher Hitchens (“God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything”).
The Sept. 11, 2001, attacks by Muslim terrorists “brought a lot of people here,” Armstrong said. “But you really don’t even need to go to 9/11 for an example of why religious certainty about things nobody can be certain about is dangerous.”
Members of the Louisville atheists group also say they want to combat conservative Christians’ political activities in areas ranging from embryonic stem-cell research to creationism to courthouse postings of the Ten Commandments.
Martin Cothran, senior policy analyst of the Family Foundation of Kentucky — which has worked alongside religious groups endorsing conservative causes such as the 2004 constitutional ban on same-sex marriage — said he welcomed the atheists’ involvement.
“As long as they believe in the legitimacy of people of faith furthering what they believe, I don’t see any problem with groups like this furthering their agenda,” he said.
Religion and voting
In recent years, religious practice has been one of the leading indicators of voting patterns.
The more frequently people attend worship, the more likely they are to vote Republican.
And while Democrats are struggling to regain some of that voting share, they won the religiously unaffiliated vote by a 75-25 percent margin nationwide in the 2006 congressional elections, according to exit polls.
In this year’s 3rd District rematch, Republican Anne Northup leads among those who attend worship frequently, while incumbent Democrat John Yarmuth leads among all the rest, according to a SurveyUSA/WHAS-TV poll in July.
Atheist group member Alan Canon of Louisville, who often wears a pin with a scarlet-letter “A” to prompt conversations about atheism, grew up in a fundamentalist household and was a Bible camp prize winner.
But his family also valued science, and he ultimately couldn’t reconcile the two.
“For people openly to say they’re atheist is similar to gay people coming out,” Canon said. “It’s not popular at all for people to say they’re atheist, especially in these parts.”
Members of the Louisville Atheists and Freethinkers reflect the complexities presented in the Pew survey — that people with no religious affiliation often have some religious practices.
Some meditate or practice Wiccan spiritual rituals, tied to the rhythms of nature.
Several belong to Unitarian Universalist churches, which have no theological creed but proclaim values of love, justice and truth-seeking.
“We do believe in spirituality,” said David Cooper, 59, who belongs to Thomas Jefferson Unitarian Church. “It may not necessarily be a type of theistic spirituality.”
Religious groups, meanwhile, are responding to the new trends.
The Kentucky Baptist Convention — alarmed by a 2004 report showing one-third of Kentucky adults with little or no church connection — has seen many churches work to be more “culturally relevant,” said Larry Baker, director of new work and associational missions.
“We have to meet people exactly where they are, respect them as individuals and then share boldly and with clarity about what we believe about our relationship with Jesus Christ,” he said.
Others are finding common ground with atheists.
The Rev. David Emery, pastor of Middletown Christian Church, recently led a sermon series on the recent atheist best-sellers.
While he criticized them for ignoring the positive work of religious people for social justice, he applauded them for raising issues of religious violence and the problem of suffering.
“The questions that these atheists raise are questions people of faith have also, that they haven’t been given permission to ask,” he said.
Reporter Peter Smith can be reached at (502) 582-4469.
Atheists seeing their numbers rise
By Peter Smith
The (Louisville, Ky.) Courier-Journal
Published: October 11, 2008
LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Alan Canon grew up in a fundamentalist household and was a Bible camp prize winner. But his family also valued science, and he ultimately couldn’t reconcile the two and became an atheist.
“For people openly to say they’re atheist is similar to gay people coming out,” said Canon, of Louisville, who often wears a pin with a scarlet-letter A to prompt conversations about atheism. “It’s not popular at all for people to say they’re atheist, especially in these parts.”
He’s part of an increasingly vocal minority of atheists and other Americans who claim no religious affiliation. The percentage of religiously unaffiliated Americans has doubled since 1990, rising to 16 percent. That growth represents one of the largest trends in American religion today, according to a poll published this year by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. Some of the religiously unaffiliated say they want to combat conservative Christians’ political activities in areas such as embryonic stem-cell research, creationism and courthouse postings of the Ten Commandments. Religious groups, meanwhile, are responding by trying to make churches more culturally relevant or by finding common ground with atheists.
Among the religiously unaffiliated, about 2 percent each describe themselves as “atheist” or “agnostic,” according to the Pew survey. Most of the rest say they’re nothing in particular — and half of that group actually has religious beliefs or practices.
Members of a Louisville group, Louisville Atheists and Freethinkers, reflect the complexities presented in the Pew survey. Some meditate or practice Wiccan spiritual rituals, tied to the rhythms of nature. Several belong to Unitarian Universalist churches, which have no theological creed but proclaim values of love, justice and truth-seeking.
“We do believe in spirituality,” said David Cooper, 59, who belongs to Thomas Jefferson Unitarian Church in Louisville. “It may not necessarily be a type of theistic spirituality.”
Religious affiliation matters in this election year because religious practice has been one of the leading indicators of voting patterns in recent years. The more frequently people attend church services, the more likely they are to vote Republican. While Democrats are struggling to regain some of that voting share, they won the religiously unaffiliated vote by a 75-25 percent ratio nationwide in the 2006 congressional elections, according to exit polls.
The Kentucky Baptist Convention, alarmed by a 2004 report showing that one-third of Kentucky adults had little or no church connection, has seen many churches work to be more culturally relevant, said Larry Baker, director of new work and associational missions.
“We have to meet people exactly where they are, respect them as individuals and then share boldly and with clarity about what we believe about our relationship with Jesus Christ,” Baker said.
Other groups are finding common ground with atheists.
The Rev. David Emery, pastor of Middletown Christian Church in Louisville, recently led a sermon series on the best-selling atheist books. While he criticized them for ignoring religious people’s work to improve social justice, he applauded them for raising issues of religious violence and the problem of suffering.
“The questions that these atheists raise are questions people of faith have also, that they haven’t been given permission to ask,” Emery said.
© 2008 Deseret News Publishing Company | All rights reserved
From reader Len:
An addendum to News&Notes is in order, I think. Please see this article:
Sarah Palin’s church hopes to ‘pray away the gay’ and convert homosexuals to heterosexuals
September 7, 2008
FROM ASSOCIATED PRESS
ANCHORAGE, Alaska — Gov. Sarah Palin’s church is promoting a conference that promises to convert gays into heterosexuals through the power of prayer.
‘‘You’ll be encouraged by the power of God’s love and His desire to transform the lives of those impacted by homosexuality,’’ according to the insert in the bulletin of the Wasilla Bible Church, where Palin has prayed for about six years.
Palin’s conservative Christian views have energized that part of the GOP electorate, which was lukewarm to John McCain’s candidacy before he named her as his vice presidential choice. She is staunchly anti-abortion, opposing exceptions for rape and incest, and opposes gay marriage and spousal rights for gay couples.
Focus on the Family, a national Christian fundamentalist organization, is conducting the ‘‘Love Won Out’’ Conference in Anchorage, about 30 miles from Wasilla.
Palin, campaigning with McCain in the Midwest on Friday, has not publicly expressed a view on the so-called ‘‘pray away the gay’’ movement. Larry Kroon, senior pastor at Palin’s church, was not available to discuss the matter Friday, said a church worker who declined to give her name.
Gay activists in Alaska said Palin has not worked actively against their interests, but early in her administration she supported a bill to overrule a court decision to block state benefits for gay partners of public employees.
At the time, less than one-half of 1 percent of state employees had applied for the benefits, which were ordered by a 2005 ruling by the Alaska Supreme Court.
Palin reversed her position and vetoed the bill after the state attorney general said it was unconstitutional. But her reluctant support didn’t win fans among Alaska’s gay population, said Scott Turner, a gay activist in Anchorage.
‘‘Less than 1 percent of state employees would even apply for benefits, so why make a big deal out of such a small number?’’ he said.
‘‘I think gay Republicans are going to run away’’ if Palin supports efforts like the prayers to convert gays, said Wayne Besen, founder of the New York-based Truth Wins Out, a gay rights advocacy group. Besen called on Palin to publicly express her views now that she’s a vice presidential nominee.
‘‘People are looking at Sarah Palin as someone who might feasibly be in the White House,’’ he said.
Copyright 2008 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
Also from reader Len:
They’re still around. They probably vote as well.
From the article:
But are there any genuine flat-earthers left? Surely in our era of space exploration – where satellites take photos of our blue and clearly globular planet from space, and robots send back info about soil and water from Mars – no one can seriously still believe that the Earth is flat?
Flat earth theory is still around. On the internet and in small meeting rooms in Britain and the US, flat earth believers get together to challenge the “conspiracy” that the Earth is round.
“People are definitely prejudiced against flat-earthers,” says John Davis, a flat earth theorist based in Tennessee, reacting to the new Microsoft commercial.
“Many use the term ‘flat-earther’ as a term of abuse, and with connotations that imply blind faith, ignorance or even anti-intellectualism.”
Mr Davis, a 25-year-old computer scientist originally from Canada, first became interested in flat earth theory after “coming across some literature from the Flat Earth Society a few years ago”.
“I came to realise how much we take at face value,” he says. “We humans seem to be pleased with just accepting what we are told, no matter how much it goes against our senses.”
Mr Davis now believes “the Earth is flat and horizontally infinite – it stretches horizontally forever”.
“And it is at least 9,000 kilometres deep”, he adds.
James McIntyre, a British-based moderator of a Flat Earth Society discussion website, has a slightly different take. “The Earth is, more or less, a disc,” he states. “Obviously it isn’t perfectly flat thanks to geological phenomena like hills and valleys. It is around 24,900 miles in diameter.”
Palin has blurred church-state line, review finds
By Garance Burke
Published: October 12, 2008
WASILLA, Alaska — The camera closes in on Sarah Palin speaking to young missionaries, vowing from the pulpit to do her part to implement God’s will from the governor’s office.
What she didn’t tell worshippers gathered at the Wasilla Assembly of God church in her hometown was that her appearance that day came courtesy of Alaskan taxpayers, who picked up the $639.50 tab for her airplane tickets and per diem fees.
An Associated Press review of the Republican vice presidential candidate’s record as mayor and governor reveals her use of elected office to promote religious causes, sometimes at taxpayer expense and in ways that blur the line between church and state.
Since she took state office in late 2006, the governor and her family have spent more than $13,000 in taxpayer funds to attend at least 10 religious events and meetings with Christian pastors, including Franklin Graham, the son of evangelical preacher Billy Graham, records show.
Palin was baptized Roman Catholic as a newborn and baptized again in a Pentecostal Assemblies of God church when she was a teenager. She has worshipped at a nondenominational Bible church since 2002, opposes abortion even in cases of rape and incest, and supports classroom discussions about creationism.
Since she was named as John McCain’s running mate, Palin’s deep faith and support for traditional moral values have rallied conservative voters who initially appeared reluctant to back his campaign.
On a weekend trip from the capital in June, a minister from the Wasilla Assembly of God blessed Palin and Lt. Gov Sean Parnell before a crowd gathered for the “One Lord Sunday” event at the town’s hockey rink. Later in the day, she addressed the budding missionaries at her former church.
“As I’m doing my job, let’s strike this deal. Your job is going to be out there, reaching the people — (the) hurting people — throughout Alaska,” she told students graduating from the church’s Masters Commission program. “We can work together to make sure God’s will be done here.”
A spokeswoman for the McCain-Palin campaign, Maria Comella, said the state paid for Palin’s travel and meals on that trip, and for other meetings with Christian groups, because she and her family were invited in their official capacity as Alaska’s first family. Parnell did not charge the state a per diem or ask to be reimbursed for travel expenses that day.
“I understand the per diem policy is, I can claim it if I am away from my residence for 12 hours or more. And Anchorage is where my residence is and I’m based from. And this trip took about four hours of driving time and time at the event, so I did not claim per diem for this one,” Parnell told the AP.
Palin and her family billed the state $3,022 for the cost of attending Christian gatherings exclusively, including visits to the Assembly of God here and to the congregation they attend in Juneau, according to expense reports reviewed by the AP.
Experts say those trips fall into an ethically gray area, since Democrats and Republicans alike often visit religious venues for personal and official reasons.
J. Brent Walker, who runs a group based in Washington, D.C., that advocates for church-state separation, said based on a reporter’s account, Palin’s June excursion raised questions.
“Politicians are entitled to freely exercise their religion while in office, but ethically if not legally that part of her trip ought to not be charged to taxpayers,” said Walker, executive director of the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty. “It’s still fundamentally a religious and spiritual experience she is having.”
The Palins billed the state an additional $10,094 in expenses for other multi-day trips that included worship services or religiously themed events, but also involved substantial state business, including the governor’s inaugural ball and an oil and gas conference in New Orleans.
Palin also submitted $998 in expenses for a June trip to Anchorage that included a bill signing at Congregation Beth Shalom synagogue, the only non-Christian house of worship she has visited since taking office, according to the McCain campaign.
In response to an AP request, Comella provided a list showing that since January 2007 the governor had attended 25 “faith-based events,” including funerals and community meetings held at churches. Many did not appear on the governor’s schedule or her travel records.
Palin has said publicly her personal opinions don’t “bleed on over into policies.”
Still, after the AP reported the governor had accepted tainted donations during her 2006 campaign, she announced she would donate the $2,100 to three charities, including an Anchorage nonprofit aimed at “sharing God’s love” to dissuade young women from having abortions.
An AP review of her time as mayor, from late 1996 to 2002, also reveals a commingling of church and state.
Records of her mayoral correspondence show that Palin worked arduously to organize a day of prayer at city hall. She said that with local ministers’ help, Wasilla — a city of 7,000 an hour’s drive north of Anchorage — could become “a light, or a refuge for others in Alaska and America.”
“What a blessing that the Lord has already put into place the Christian leaders, even though I know it’s all through the grace of God,” she wrote in March 2000 to her former pastor. She thanked him for the loan of a video featuring a Kenyan preacher who later would pray for her protection from witchcraft as she sought higher office.
In that same period, she also joined a grass-roots, faith-based movement to stop the local hospital from performing abortions, a fight that ultimately lost before the Alaska Supreme Court.
Palin’s former church and other evangelical denominations were instrumental in ousting members of Valley Hospital’s board who supported abortion rights — including the governor’s mother-in-law, Faye Palin.
Alaska Right to Life Director Karen Lewis, who led the campaign, said Palin wasn’t a leader in the movement initially. But by 1997, after she had been elected mayor, Palin joined a hospital board to make sure the abortion ban held while the courts considered whether the ban was legal, Lewis said.
“We kept pro-life people like Sarah on the association board to ensure children of the womb would be protected,” Lewis said. “She’s made up of this great fiber of high morals and godly character, and yet she’s fearless. She’s someone you can depend on to carry the water.”
In November 2007, the Alaska Supreme Court ruled that because the hospital received more than $10 million in public funds it was “quasi-public” and couldn’t forbid legal abortions.
Comella said Palin joined the hospital’s broader association in the mid-1990s. Records show she was elected to the nonprofit’s board in 2000.
Ties among those active at the time still run deep: In November, Palin was a keynote speaker at Lewis’ “Proudly Pro-Life Dinner” in Anchorage, and the governor billed taxpayers a $60 per diem fee for her work that day.
Palin also is one of just two governors who channeled federal money to support religious groups through a state agency, Alaska’s Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives. Palin has made it a priority to unite faith communities, local nonprofits and government to serve the needy, bringing her high marks — and $500,000 — from the Bush administration.
In fiscal year 2008, Alaska was one of only four states to receive $500,000 in federal grant money from the national initiative.
“The governor has a healthy appreciation for faith-based groups that serve Alaskans in need,” said Jay Hein, who until recently directed national faith-based initiatives at the White House. “The grant speaks to their organizational strength, and the dynamism of Alaska’s operation.”
Several Catholic and Christian charities received funding, including $20,000 for a Fairbanks homeless shelter that views itself as a “stable door of evangelism and Christian service” and $36,000 for a drop-in center at an Anchorage mall that seeks to demonstrate “the unconditional love of Jesus to teenagers.”
The state ensures all faith-based groups keep a strict separation between their work in the community and their prayer services to ensure recipients don’t feel coerced, said Tara Horton, a special assistant to the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services. Though staffers reached out to nonprofits and religious groups of many faiths, mostly Christian organizations applied for funding, she said.
In June, when Alaska legislators decided to cut $712,000 in state support for the office, Parnell sent lawmakers an urgent letter asking them to put it back in the budget. A small portion of state funding was later restored.
“Gov. Palin is motivated by the needs out there, and faith-based and community initiatives are a great way to do that,” Parnell said. “It matters not to state government what religion people belong to, so long as they are serving the public and the money they receive is used appropriately.”
Still, a state worker who directs an Anchorage-based group that advocates for church-state separation, Lloyd Eggan, said Palin’s administration hasn’t done enough to assure voters that government money doesn’t support ministry.
“That sort of thing is exactly what courts have said is barred by the First Amendment,” Eggan said.
Our De-Baptism stun has gotten over 10,000 viewers on YouTube: