Letter-Writing: Ten Tips

There are many forms of activism, but one of the better forms is letters to the editors of newspapers. Newspaper letters allow the readers to hear opposing views and they give the Freethought community the opportunity to dispel any misinformation or mythinformation and to educate the public about any issue that is relevant to Freethought.

Since the advent of the Internet, this has become truer because newspaper readers have expanded from the newspaper’s circulation to their online readers as well. There are only small amounts of newspapers that do not include their letters section online.

We will discuss the fundamentals behind letter writing and provide ten tips for improving your chances of a newspaper printing you on a regular basis.

There are two types of letters written to editors of newspapers; responsive and initial. Responsive letters are written in response to an already printed editorial or letter and usually are comprised of rebuttal information or clarifying information. Statistically, most letters to editors from the Freethought community are responsive in nature.

Initial letters are ones written without prompting from a previously printed editorial or letter. We write initial letters to inform the public about a subject or to speak out against something in the news or something we have seen in public.

The major reason for this separation is that an initial letter will become susceptible to responsive letters from the non-Freethought community, at which point you may be required to offer a counter-rebuttal.

It was this necessity for counter-rebuttal that prompted me to form a group of letter-writers to help. Most newspapers have a limit to the number of letters you can have printed in a period, which is usually one letter every thirty days.

Limitations such as this can make it difficult to get into a debate via the letters section of your local newspaper. This is where the tag-team effort can help. If you have a group of letter-writers that can cooperate, each one can submit counter-rebuttals or clarifying letters in response to other rebuttals. This prevents letter saturation on your part and allows a diverse group of people and ideas to get involved.

The group I formed was the Freethinkers’ Letter-Writing Cooperative (FLWC). The group ultimately “franchised” out and changed names. There was at one time a Georgia FLWC, Florida FLWC, Alabama FLWC, and Tennessee FLWC.

The Alabama group consisted of over 80 volunteers at its peak. Some volunteers were prolific writers and wrote all the time. Some volunteers helped on an “as-needed” basis and other volunteers only acted as ghostwriters, either writing or submitting. The volunteers were mostly Alabamians, but there were volunteers as far away as California and New York.

The letter-writing campaign was hugely successful. Our best print ratio was 5:1, which meant that we had four Freethought letters printed to every letter that needed a Freethought response.

The best thing about the FLWC and writing letters in general is that it encourages others to write. When we wrote letters and they appeared in the newspapers, the local freethinkers saw our letters. Our letters let them know that they were not alone and that others out there agreed with their feelings and thinking.

This often gave them the courage to write their own letters. Most of the newspapers that FLWC started monitoring had no Freethought voice at all. After a few FLWC Volunteer letters were printed, we started to notice “friendly” letters appearing. The local freethinkers were getting the courage to write after seeing our letters.

After a while, the local freethinkers would write so much that FLWC could abandon the newspaper and let the locals handle it. This was the ultimate accomplishment for FLWC. Abandoning a newspaper was good news – not bad; it meant that the locals had been inspired and given courage and that we did our job.

FLWC no longer exists because it we needed it no longer. Local Freethinkers in the states we monitored took over the job. Most of the FLWC volunteers continue to write letters to their local newspapers.

Everything boiled down to the local freethinkers. You are the local freethinker for your area newspaper. Are you inspired? Are you writing? Are you encouraged? Do you encourage others?

TEN TIPS for being printed

1. STICK TO ONE TOPIC: Do not go from topic to topic in your letter. If you are responding to a letter that has spouted a lot of misinformation, just pick one and cover it. We know that for every sentence of mythinformation it takes several paragraphs to correct. Use your paragraphs wisely and stick to one subject. If more subjects need to be covered, have a friend write another letter to cover one of them.

2. SPEAK SOFTLY: Do not be too brash or abrasive unless it is necessary to make your point. The sheep will not listen to you if you howl like a wolf. Be caring, compassionate, understanding, and stick to the information necessary. There are times were abrasive letters are necessary and after a while you will learn to recognize when that time comes.

3. NO AD HOMINEM: Try not to personally attack a previous letter-writer or editorialist. Stick to the facts and present your case. There’s nothing wrong with saying someone else was wrong, incorrect or even “misled”, but do not resort to name-calling. As always, there are certain circumstances where name-calling is appropriate; for example, calling Judge Moore a “bigot” is okay – after all, he really is a bigot. ;-)

4. AVOID SPECIFIC NAMES: When responding to letters try not to use the previous writer’s name. Use statements like “a previous letter writer” or a “recent writer stated…” By avoiding using the person’s name, you can reduce the “friend effect,” which is what happens when you piss another writer off and he or she gets all their friends to berate you in letters. There are of course exceptions. It is best to use a person’s name when responding to figures of authority or persons that have made derogatory or similar remarks and need to be publicly embarrassed.

5. DON’T GENERALIZE: Avoid generalizing statements that could alienate a larger portion of the population that otherwise would have supported you. Do not say things like “all Christians.” Be specific and cite facts and evidence to back up your claims. You will find that many in the religious community will support you on many issues, but will quickly drop you if you make sweeping comments that target everyone instead of the offenders.

6. NAME SOURCES: When quoting statistics or data, make sure you quote the source for your data. Do not give anyone the opportunity to say that you made your data up – provide the source. There are two ways to do this, either put the source in parenthesis after your data or include the source in your statement. For example: According to the Department of Education less than 30% of all public schools still had mandatory prayer and Bible-reading prior to the 1963 Supreme Court decision. (Or) Less than 30% of all public schools still had mandatory Bible and prayer prior to the 1963 Supreme Court decision (Source: Dept. of Education).

7. SIMPLIFY YOUR LETTER: Not everyone out there is a genius. Your letter should appeal to the largest percentage of the reading population – not just the intellectual elite. Avoid words that people have to look up in the dictionary (This can be difficult when talking about scientific issues.). Avoid using examples that confuse people. Use analogies if you think they will help people understand your point. Keep in mind that estimates indicated that the average reading and comprehension level is at an eighth-grade reading level.

8. FOLLOW NEWSPAPER GUIDELINES: Make sure you know the guidelines for letter submission by newspapers. Most newspapers have a word count limit and all newspapers require some information be included with the letter. Find your newspaper’s requirements online or in the hard print and make sure you follow those guidelines exactly.

9. USE EMAIL – NOT PAPER: Most newspapers accept mailed letters, but there a greater amount of work goes into putting mailed letters into print. Someone has to take your hand-written or typed letter and retype it, which means more manual labor is involved. If you email your letter, all they have to do is cut and paste. It is easier for them. If they receive two letters about the same subject and one is an email letter – they will more than likely pick the email letter because it involves less work. Remember, people are inherently lazy, including your newspaper editor. :)

10. KEEP TRYING!: Do not get frustrated when your letters are not printed. Keep trying. Your newspaper gets many letters and they will not always print your letters. Keep track of your letters in conjunction with the submission timeline requirements of your newspaper and just submit another one after the required time. If yours are not printed – have your friends send in letters addressing the same issue. The important point here is to get the opposing view out there – not to get your name in the newspaper. Sure, it feels good to see your name in print, but the bottom line is the information – not the signer of the letter.

Next, we will look at a few hot topics and some examples of letters that newspapers printed.

Letters: Evolution vs. Creationism

Let us look at letters printed in Southeast newspapers that specifically address the evolution and creationism conflict. The bold titles are the actual titles used by the publishing newspaper.

I wrote this letter after reading a letter by a Biblical literalist espousing creationism and using Dr. Behe as a means to put down evolution. I am surprised that Biblical literalists use Dr. Behe to support their cause. I used the author’s use of Behe as a tool to delve into the subject of evolution versus abiogenesis and the confusions surrounding it. This allowed me to cover two subjects by using one as a lead-in to the other.

Creationist’s Black Box
Printed in the Montgomery Advertiser (Montgomery, AL)
I’m surprised to see Creationists latching on to Dr. Michael Behe’s book, Darwin’s Black Box. I’m not surprised by creationists warming up to legitimate scientists – the Creation Science movement is not scientific and is severely lacking in real scientists.

What does surprise me is that Behe’s book clearly supports the theory of evolution. Behe states emphatically that he accepts evolution and the theory of evolution. Behe has a problem with abiogenesis – life’s beginnings. Behe thinks that “irreducibly complex” organisms could not have formed by “chance”. Behe thinks a creator-God started life and evolution was its tool.

The confusion over the difference between evolution and abiogenesis is a problem. Evolution deals with how live evolved after it was formed. Abiogenesis deals with how life was formed before it evolved. There are many hypotheses for how life formed, but no solid theories.

The mistake many people make is placing God into the gaps of knowledge. If we don’t understand it then we say, “God did it”. The God of the gaps is getting smaller, though. They used to say “God did it” about lightning and thunder until science figured it out.

We may never completely know how life formed, but that doesn’t mean we should give up and resolve ourselves to the old excuse of ignorance, “God did it”.

Blair Scott
Mobile, AL

I wrote the next letter after reading a letter from a creationist that insisted that Bombardier Beetles were perfect examples of “irreducible complexity” and design because the chemicals were highly explosive and the beetle should “self-destruct.” This letter is a perfect example of sticking to one subject. The letter I responded to covered many different topics, but I chose to respond to just one. I asked a couple friends of mine to send in responses that covered other aspects of the original letter.

Beetlejuice
Printed in the Anniston Star (Anniston, AL)

Holy Cow! Look at that “explosion!” It must be divine intervention!

I can’t believe Creationists are still using the Bombardier Beetle argument (Bombardier beetles, May 2nd). The bombardier “argument” was disproved back in 1978 when Creationist Duane Gish was shown that he had mistranslated the works of Dr. Schildknecht.

Secretion glands in the beetle produce hydroquinones and hydrogen peroxide that collect in separate reservoirs. The chemicals are squeezed into a reaction chamber where catalases and peroxidases are added, which causes hydrogen peroxide to break down and catalyzes the oxidation of the hydroquinones into p-quinones. This reaction releases free oxygen and generates enough heat to bring the mixture to a boiling point. The chemicals are expelled “explosively” through the tip of the abdomen.
Creationists say mixing these chemicals causes an explosion. That is not true. The Institute for Creation Research (ICR) started this misinformation when Duane Gish insisted it is true during debates and the ICR web page (even after being proven wrong in 1978).

The beetle does not use an inhibitor because no explosion occurs. The chemicals produce heat that causes the pressure to rise and the chemicals are forced out. Perhaps the Creationists were confused when we said that it “exploded” out of the abdomen with force? Force caused by the heating of the chemicals and release of free oxygen.

Lower species use quinones (arthropods) and many species of beetles contain chemical reservoirs and other creatures use chemicals as defense mechanism (skunk, spitting cobra and wasps for example).

Blair Scott
Mobile, AL

There are many misconceptions about evolution out there, but there are the standard five that we always see. A little reading and research will clear up these misconceptions, but most people are too lazy to do their own research and rely on what their preachers or creation “scientists” tell them. Letters that address these simple misconceptions make a difference because even a lazy person is willing to read the letters section of a newspaper. You may not change their mind, but you might at least get them thinking, and at a minimum, you will reach out to those that are curious about the subject.

Evolution Is Not “Just a Theory”
Printed in the Mobile Register (Mobile, AL)

Why do so many people lack a basic understanding of the theory of evolution? A letter to the editor started off by saying, “I believe it is time to look into just what it is” (No matter the theory, it comes back to God, July 19), and then failed to mention anything dealing with the theory of evolution.

So let’s really look into it and clear up a few misconceptions that the general public has.

1. Evolution is not “just a theory”. Science is not the cop on the beat that walks into a crime scene and says, “I have a theory about this!” Science is the forensics and pathology that studies the evidence, empirical data, laboratory results, et al., and then formulates a theory. In other words, science uses evidence to formulate a conclusion that does not contradict with the evidence. Scientific theory is not, “something that is believed but cannot be proved.” That is the definition of faith.

2. Evolution is a fact and theory. It is a fact because we see it happening right now (over 200 examples of speciation in my lifetime alone) and we see it in the fossil record. The Theory of Evolution is the how and why (the mechanism). Contrary to popular belief, evolution, as a fact, was known prior to Darwin’s theory of natural selection. Darwin was proposing the how and why of the already known facts.

3. The theory of evolution does not deal with the origins of the universe, the planets, or life. The theory of evolution deals with how life evolved after it began. There are several theories and hypotheses to explain how life began. This is why many people that believe in a god accept the theory of evolution as scientifically sound. They believe that God was the “spark” that created life and evolution took over form there. The Vatican has even officially accepted evolution. Of course the Vatican added the caveat the God was the guiding hand (the mechanism – theory part) of evolution (the fact part).

4. Man did not evolve from monkeys or apes. When people make this statement it shows a clear ignorance of the fundamentals of evolutionary biology. Man evolved alongside the modern primates and not from them. That means we had a common ancestor prior to the australopithecines that branched off into separate sub-species.
Before we dismiss the theory of evolution as “just a theory”, we should really look into it and learn the basics of evolution and what scientific developments have occurred since Darwin. Evolution has not been proven wrong and the supporting evidence continues to stack up on a daily basis. Get the facts – then decide.

Let’s learn it before we dismiss it. Forget about the misinformation we have heard about evolution and let’s research it for ourselves. Make your own decisions. Don’t let others, myself included, make that decision for you.

Blair Scott
Mobile, AL

In the next letter, I used some generalities from the letter I am responding to in order to jump into a specific topic about dating methodologies. I had seen the mollusk dating “error” argument before and felt this was a good medium to clear up the misconceptions about it and explain why the dates were so off from the actual age of the mollusks. Any opportunity to clear up misconceptions and perform a little scientific education is always a good opportunity.

Get the facts
Printed in the Anniston Star (Anniston, AL)

A letter writer (March 1) accused The Star of being one-sided in its presentation of evolution vs. creationism. Someone needs to accuse the writer of presenting misinformation, Creationist propaganda and mythology as truth.

The writer insists evolution has never been proven because it is just “an idea.” It amazes me how creationists refuse to understand how theory is used in science. Continued incorrect use of theory means they are blatantly lying for the faith or they refuse to accept anything that contradicts the faith.

Many Creationist organizations say that contradictory evidence is planted by Satan to fool mankind or placed by God to test faith. Where do they come up with this stuff?

The writer said carbon-dating refutes evolution in one full sweep because it dates mollusks as 3,000 years old. He hasn’t done his research. Mollusk shells give off an age older than they are because they are made from older material.

For example, carbon dating of my house would place the mortar at 5,000 years old, the wood at 700 years old, and the cement as a hodgepodge of differently aged material. Does this mean my house is 5,000 years old or does it mean the materials that I used are 5,000 years old? Use carbon dating on the living tissue of a mollusk and it dates correctly.

Evolution was a fact long before Darwin proposed the mechanism of evolution that he called Natural Selection. Evolution has been demonstrated and the evidence in support of evolution is overwhelming.

You’d be amazed what you can learn when you look for the truth instead of faith justification.

Blair Scott
Mobile

Evolutionists catch a lot of grief for not covering “all the bases” when debating. This is a valid argument in the sense that it used, but it becomes invalid when taking into consideration what it takes to dispel information. A sentence of bologna takes a paragraph or more to dispel. A minute of misinformation takes 15 minutes or more to clear up. A debate or letter format leaves little room for science, which is why it is important to stick to one topic and get friends to cover other topics from the same letter.

In this letter, I broke one of my tips and used a small bit of ad hominem. I felt it was necessary in this case because the EvC debate had been raging for some time in the Macon Telegraph. A few weeks after this letter was printed, the editor of the Macon Telegraph contacted us and said he would publish no more letters on the evolution versus creationism topic. In the end, the pro-evolution letters outnumbered the pro-creationism letters. The paper printed letters from as far away as New York and California during this extended EvC debate in the letters section.

Get the facts – then decide on your own
Printed in the Macon Telegraph (Macon, GA)

I understand Stringer’s frustration at the evolution-creationism debate (Time to define life debate, July 25th). I often find myself banging my head against a brick wall during debates with creationists, which I equate to arguing the existence of Santa Clause with a 5-year-old.

Stringer over-simplified the issue. Perhaps that is the problem? In newspaper letters and public debates there are too many details left unsaid.

What we often see from creationists is the scattergun tactic. They produce a slew of “arguments” in one letter/debate and expect evolutionists to effectively refute all those arguments in a small paragraph or a few minutes in a debate.

This leaves evolutionists in a catch-22 position: keep it simple, which does no justice to the scientific method or the evidence, or skip most of the arguments and only cover one or two, which leaves the impression that the leftover arguments cannot be refuted.

Perhaps I can simplify the debate more accurately for Stringer?

Evolution: Scientific evidence indicates that life evolved from simple organisms to increasingly more complex organisms over billions of years.

Creationism: God did it 7,000 (+/-) years ago and you have to have faith – not evidence.

The best advice I have for Stringer and others is to do your own investigating. This is not a decision that should be made after reading a letter in a newspaper or hearing a debate at your church. Take the time to research the issue and get all the facts. Make an educated decision and make it with the confidence that you have taken into consideration all the evidence. Don’t let someone else decide the issue for you – decde it for yourself.

Blair Scott
Mobile, AL

I modified a letter to the State Board of Education for the next newspaper letter. Small changes allowed the letter to accommodate the rules of the newspaper for print. The great thing about the Mobile Register is that it allows 500-word letters, which is the most of all the newspapers that FLWC monitored. The more word allowance you have, the more space you have to express your view and clarify your position.

Let’s Put Science Back In Our Classrooms
Printed in the Mobile Register (Mobile, AL)

I want to address some concerns I have about the teaching of evolution in Alabama. I browsed the new Course of Study: Science (COSS) and noticed a marked improvement in many areas. However, I still find the areas within the COSS that address the theory of biological evolution to be seriously lacking and filled with creationist language left over from earlier influences in 1995.

DUH!

Former Governor Fob James was able to use his position on the State Board of Education in 1995 to give special privileges for the ultra-conservative group, Eagle Forum.
The fact that such a group could dictate policy to the SBOE and decide what our children will learn is seriously disturbing. It is more disturbing to note that the changes made were never given time for public comment. The public comment period was only for the earlier released COSS and not the tampered version.

While America is a Democracy, we recognize a structured hierarchy when it comes to issues like education and science. Education is not a democratic process where the majority dictates curriculum (If it were, we would teach astrology in science.)

Because of the Eagle Forum’s influence, we are left with the damage and no efforts to repair it. The damage introduced the misleading and grossly inaccurate “evolution disclaimer” on all textbooks that discuss evolution. The combination of a watered-down COSS and an “evolution disclaimer” has given teachers the needed excuse to skip those chapters.

High school students and graduates told me that their science teachers said that if they were going to college they had to learn evolution on their own. The teacher was not going to cover it because it was “too controversial”. How can we declare to prepare our children for secondary education when we blatantly ignore lessons necessary for secondary education?

The changes made to the COSS in 1995 and the insertions of the “evolution disclaimer” have done a great disservice to our schoolchildren. I beseech the state board to rectify this situation and return the evolution references back to their original form prior to the 1995 tampering. I beseech the board to eliminate the inappropriate “evolution disclaimer” that portrays a scientific ignorance within Alabama and deprives Alabama’s schoolchildren of a proper education.

If the Eagle Forum were truly concerned about “just a theory,” its adherents would have created “disclaimers” for the theories of gravity, nuclear fusion, quantum physics, mathematics and others. The disclaimer is an embarrassment to Alabama, and costs money that is better suited for buying equipment or getting rid of portables.

As a parent I want my children to learn about religion at home and not from a science teacher. I want a science teacher to teach science. Let’s put science back in the classroom where it belongs. Restore the COSS to its original form and remove the “evolution disclaimer” that disgraces Alabama’s education system.

Blair Scott
Mobile

I sent the next letter to Rep. Sharon Broome in Louisiana. Rep. Broome introduced legislation that called evolution racist and demanded its removal from all public schools. In the end, the Louisiana legislation voted her proposal down. I meant for the letter to be a sarcastic jab at Rep. Broome. However, she took the letter seriously and sent me a reply with a brand new copy of the book One Blood by Answers in Genesis creationist Ken Hamm (worst apologetics you have ever read).

Open Letter to Rep. Sharon Broome, Louisiana
Sent to Louisiana Representative Sharon Broome
Rep. Sharon Weston Broome
PO Box 52783, Baton Rouge, LA 70802

Dear Rep. Sharon Weston Broome,

Subject: HCR-74

As the founder of AARDVARK (Alabamians Against Racism, Discrimination, Vivisection, Authoritarianism, Revolutionism, and Kenosis) I wanted to personally thank you for your efforts to legislate against racist ideologies and in particular Darwinism and Evolutionism.

It is a shame that the House amended HCR-74 to remove the references to Darwinism and Evolutionism and their racist roots and continued use in such deplorable mindsets such as Eugenics. Regardless of the arguments being put forward that Darwin’s personal feelings are irrelevant to the modern science behind the theory of evolution, the fact remains that evolution was used in past times and continues to be used in modern times by a few small radical groups as a way to promote racism.

Anything that promotes racism (regardless if only small radical groups are using it or original intent) should be labeled as racist and appropriately outlawed. That brings me to one of the largest racist ideologies running rampant in our modern society. I am of course talking about the Bible.

In your endeavor to rid Louisiana (let’s hope it catches on in other states as well) of racist ideologies I am sure you can appreciate the racist ideologies of the Bible and that you will want to fight this ideology equally as hard as you are rallying against Darwinism and Evolutionism.

Eradicating racism is the ultimate goal here. We cannot take into consideration any benefits the ideologies may have had before they are used for racist propaganda. We cannot concern ourselves with innocents when labeling any ideology as racist.

The House amended HCR-74 because they were afraid to speak out against the innocent evolutionists that are not racists. They were afraid to offend those that embrace Darwin for his science and condemn his society for its racial overtones. They were afraid to speak out against the few that have scarred evolutionism by making it a racist ideology.

You were not afraid to make those judgments and we applaud you and commend you for your willingness to stand up against the “politically correct” and make the necessary judgments against all Darwinists, even if they didn’t accept the racist tones of Darwin in his social context.

The Bible was used to promote slavery and was an arguing point for condoning slavery before and during the Civil War. The Old Testament clearly establishes rules for defeating “inferior races” and provides rules and guidelines on how to treat slaves (Leviticus 25:39-55, for example.). How can we let this racist ideology continue?

With groups like Christian Identity, KKK, Aryan Nation, and others using the Bible (Christianity) as a rallying cry for racism and racial hatred, the choice becomes clear; the Bible must be labeled as racist and ultimately outlawed.

It is our duty as warriors against racism to eradicate it in all forms regardless of its origin (which you admiringly did with HCR-74). Like you did in HCR-74 with Darwinism and Evolutionism, we must not be afraid to speak out against the innocent Bible readers that are not racists. We must not be afraid to offend those that embrace the Bible for the good and condemn the bad. We must not be afraid to speak out against the few that have scarred the Bible and made it a racist ideology.

Because of your willingness to speak out against all because of the behavior of a few I know I can count on you to declare war on the Bible for the few that have made it such a racist flashpoint.

I am looking forward to hearing from you and hearing your ideas on how best to eradicate the racist ideology of the Bible.

Respectfully,
Robert Scott, Founder, AARDVARK

The Eagle Forum is a real problem in Alabama. They have manipulated the State Board of Education and have been in bed with several governors. Their influence is scary. When Mrs. Kendall started sending letters to editors to denounce evolution, we knew it was time to fight back. The Eagle Forum has made its intent clear about the evolution disclaimers and getting evolution removed completely from Alabama science textbooks. The need to refute these letters was very important. Pro-creationism letters from “Tom, Dick, or Harry” can be entertaining to respond to, but we must rebut anti-Evolution letters from organizations.

Real agenda
Printed in the Birmingham Post Herald (Birmingham, AL)

Several weeks ago, Joan Kendall of the Eagle Forum described Alabama’s biology textbooks as full of “overstatements, omissions and inaccuracies.” She used this as an excuse for her organization’s unconstitutional influence over the state Board of Education.

If the problem is discrepancies in the textbooks, then the board should purchase new textbooks without errors or demand those textbooks from the publisher. Why waste money on disclaimer stickers in the textbooks?

How do inaccurate drawings in textbooks disprove evolution, anyway? The fact that biology textbooks don’t have updated artwork to replace Haeckel’s embryonic drawings is a mistake of the publisher — not evolutionary biologists.

Don’t let Kendall fool you. Her real agenda is to remove evolutionary biology and replace it with creationism.

The courts ruled that creationism couldn’t be taught in public school. This forced creationists to find new tactics. Creationism evolved into “Intelligent Design” and creationists started attacking textbooks instead of the science.

The disclaimer uses language that is clearly from creationist manipulation of the SBOE. It is a shame that Alabama’s SBOE can be so easily manipulated by a fringe group of biblical literalists and fundamentalists.

Eagle Forum members may be scientifically illiterate, but they are not stupid. They know the disclaimer creates controversy and controversy prevents teachers from covering the subject. They have effectively stopped the teaching of evolution in Alabama.

Blair Scott
Mobile, AL

After many letters back and forth, it seemed appropriate to become brutally honest and cut right to the point. I also felt it necessary to cover the confusion between evolution and abiogenesis because people mixed it up in several letters. I used the abiogenesis issue as a lead-in to the main root of the conflict between evolution and creationism.

Root of conflict
Printed in the Times Daily (Florence, AL)

A recent writer spoke out against evolution but only ended up showing his ignorance of the theory (“An orderly plan,” Dec. 15).

While the writer certainly has a right to an opinion and is protected by the Constitution to believe whatever he wants, be that creationism, flat-earth or a geocentric solar system, he should at least know something about the subject he is speaking out against. The classic cliche; know thy enemy.

No evolutionary biologist that I know of has ever said that we “evolved from something out of a mud hole” or that we came from chaos. I would remind the writer that the Bible says God created from chaos.

Evolutionary biology does not address the origins of life – that is called abiogenesis. Evolutionary biology deals with how species evolved AFTER THE ORIGIN OF LIFE.

There are two aspects of evolution that are often confused. Evolution has occurred and is occurring. We see it in the fossil record and we see it today. Insects evolve and become tolerant of insecticides. Viruses and bacteria evolve and become tolerant of antibiotics and other drugs. New species evolve in the rain forests as Homo sapiens drastically alters the environment.

The second part of evolution is the mechanism or the “how and why” of evolution. This is the part that the theory of evolution covers.

Before hypotheses become theory they must pass continuous testing. There can be no evidence that contradicts the theory – or the theory fails. Evolution is one of the soundest scientific theories around.

Let’s be honest about this and get to the root of the conflict. Since evolution occurred, it means that Adam and Eve didn’t exist, there was no Tree of Knowledge or tempting serpent, which means there was no Original Sin or fall of man. Without the concept of Original Sin and the fall of man, the death of Jesus is meaningless and he died in vain.

Unlike the discoveries of an elliptical Earth and heliocentric universe, the science of evolution goes straight to the theological heart of Christianity and other creation mythologies.

Creationists aren’t fighting science – they are fighting for the very foundation of their religious faith. I guess that’s only a problem for Biblical literalists.

Blair Scott
Mobile, AL

Letters: Ten Commandments, Bible & Prayer in School

Now we will look at letters printed in Southeast newspapers that specifically address the issue of religion in public schools. The bold titles are the actual titles used by the publishing newspaper.

I wrote the first letter in response to a letter that was friendly to the Freethought cause. The original letter said that putting the Bible in school would cause children to see the flaw. I agreed and used his letter to highlight the problems encountered with Bible courses in public schools. At the time that his letter appeared, Florida was in the news because of an incident in one of its Bible classes. The timing was perfect.

Keep Bible out of history class
Printed in the Mobile Register

While Mr. Miles presents a valid viewpoint in that students studying the Bible are likely to see the serious flaws contained therein, there are other issues that should be addressed as well. The Bible contains countless contradictions and errors that are usually not discussed in a church setting. Many Christians do not know the history of their Bible nor do they know the contradictions that the Bible contains.

The Bible does not belong in a History class – it belongs in a Mythology class next to the teachings about Zeus, Thor, Nimrod, Mithras, Ra, Horus and others. While there are cities and some characters in the Bible that are “historic” that does not make the Bible a historic document. Accounts of Genesis, global floods and mass genocide as dictated by a “Supreme Being” are not historic – they are fables and fairy tales.

One need only look at Florida in the recent discovery of questions on tests in the Bible History elective. The question, “Why is it hard for a non-Christian to understand things about God?” was on one of the tests. How do questions like that relate to Bible History? Answer: they do not. The Christian view on the Bible and the bias toward the views will rear its ugly head in any class designed to teach Biblical “history”.

So how do we resolve this problem and appease everyone? Teaching the Bible in public school borders on the violation of Church and State – especially with questions like the one above. The way around it is to teach a class that discusses ALL sacred texts. The texts of Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Judaism, Satanism, Wicca, Shamanism, African religions, Afro-American religions, Buddhism, Confucianism, Gnosticism, Hasidism, Jainism, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormonism, Protestantism, Roman Catholicism, Sikhism, Sufism, Tantrism, Taoism, Zen, and Zoroastrianism (just to name a few).

The teacher of this class has to ensure that their own beliefs do not allow them to represent any of the texts in a dishonorable view and show their texts as “the only good book.” Personally, I think this is impossible – especially for Christians. Their own book compels them to preach and spread the “word.”

Offering Bible Study as an elective is a violation of Church and State because it only endorses (regardless of the flaws discussed or encountered during study) one religion. If a High School is going to offer Bible Study they should also offer an elective class to study every other sacred book on the planet – and show no prejudice.

Mr. Miles noted, “The Bible has had a profound influence on Western civilization…” But what has that profound influence been? Has it been positive or negative? Will both the positive and negative influences be discussed?

In summary I think that a non-biased study of the Bible will help reveal its flaws and in the long run may help people stray from the one-sided lectures they receive at their places of worship. A non-biased Bible study may help teenagers to become freethinkers and allow them to see the Bible for what it truly is for the first time. That is something that is not happening in the Christian churches around the world.

Offer a class that discusses all religious texts (both theistic and atheistic) in a non-biased way. Are you a proponent of all-around religions history or are you a proponent of the Christian Agenda? To find out just ask yourself this question, “Is it okay for a school to offer a class that teaches the “history” of Satanic, Wiccan, and Shamanistic books in the same class as the Bible?” If you answer “yes” then you are truly for educating children. If you answer “no” then you are pushing an agenda – and it has nothing to do with education.

Blair Scott
Mobile, AL

I submitted a letter to the Mobile Register during the news uproar over the Supreme Court decision about the Good News Club in New York. Most atheists across the nation were upset over the decision. I saw the decision as a good thing and for more than one reason. After submitting the letter, the Mobile Register asked me to expand on the issue and turn it into an editorial. The editorial ran front page in the Insight section of the Mobile Register and included photos and an original piece of art. I was surprised how much the Mobile Register put into the piece.

Spontaneous Prayer
Why an atheist supports Supreme Court rulings on school prayer
Special to the Register by Blair Scott

Those of you that have read my letters in the Register and know of my organization – the Mobile Area Freethought Association – know that I’m a strong atheist, skeptic, and a staunch supporter of the Constitution of the United States.

Specifically, I’m a strong supporter of the First Amendment and the “Establishment Clause” (or as Thomas Jefferson put it, the wall of separation between church and state).

That’s why you may be surprised, when it comes to two recent Supreme Court actions that have most separationists in an uproar, that this atheist and constitutionalist agrees with the Supreme Court’s actions regarding prayer in Alabama and the Good News Club in New York.

Why am I going against the grain of the majority of separationists and atheists regarding these Supreme Court actions? The simple answer is because I am a Constitutionalist that firmly believes that the Constitution provides rights and protections to everyone fairly and equally, and therefore endorses no particular group. I demand constitutional equality for all and special treatment for none.

Let’s look at the two cases separately:

The Supreme Court’s choice not to hear the Alabama case styled “Chandler v. Siegelman” could be interpreted one of two ways, depending on which position you support. One interpretation is that in refusing to hear the case, the justices felt that an earlier case (“Santa Fe ISD v. Doe”) already addressed the issue. The other interpretation is that in refusing to hear the case, the Supreme Court agreed with the lower court.

Which view you hear may depend on what the agenda is of the person telling you his or her view.

I agreed with the Supreme Court in “Santa Fe ISD v. Doe,” because the prayers in question were not spontaneous, and were clearly meant to intimidate a captive audience. The court was equally clear when it said that “spontaneous” was constitutional.

What made Alabama different is that “Chandler v. Siegelman” attempted to prevent spontaneous prayer at sports events, and therefore violated the constitutional rights of students to pray on a personal level.

Both decisions were correct and not contradictory. The first decision ensures that public schools do not pawn off what is illegal for schools to do onto the students, and it also ensures that captive audience tactics are not employed. The second ensures that students are free to pray on a personal level, without censorship.

The first decision ensures that prayers are not solicited for graduation ceremonies, while the second ensures that students can pray on their own at graduation ceremonies.

Jesus loves football! I wonder who his bookie is?

The first decision prevents the majority from trampling on the rights of the minority, and the second ensures that everyone is treated equally. The Supreme Court has insured, regardless of the interpretation you have of what its refusal means, that a pagan student can pray at his or her graduation, a Christian can pray at his or her football game, and an atheist will not be subjected to evangelical prayers over the public address system. The Jew or Mormon sitting next to the atheist can pray on his or her own, too.

Every religion and non-religion is given equal access. The Muslim can offer his prayer alongside the Christian, because each has equal value under the watchful eyes of the Constitution.

What about the Good News Club in New York? I disagree with the tactics used by the club, and of course I disagree with its theology. However, I respect the group’s constitutional right to have those views.

The right to have beliefs, and the right to have beliefs respected, are two different things. One is a constitutional right and the other is not.

The Good News Club was meeting after school hours, and required permission slips from parents in order for the children to attend. The GNC had every right to use the school after hours, just as much as the Future Black Leaders of America, Spanish-American Club and the Chess Club.

Keep in mind that this case revolved around extracurricular clubs and not curriculum-related clubs (such as the Debate Club, the Science Club or the Student Government Association).

This was not a “separation of church and state” issue, because the school was not endorsing Christianity by letting the GNC use the facility after hours. The school was endorsing extracurricular activities without specifying any one activity over another.

The school’s choice to deny the GNC access was an overreaction caused by a misunderstanding of the Establishment Clause.

Not endorsing a religion is not the same thing as denying religious groups access. As long as access is available for all religious groups then there is no endorsement of a particular religion.

The Supreme Court’s decision leaves every school with two choices: ban all extracurricular activities, or allow all groups (religious and non-religious) the same access. A lot of schools are already choosing to ban all extracurricular activities in order to avoid having to give access to clubs that they see as “bad”.

The Supreme Court’s decision means that, as an atheist and the president of MAFA, I could sponsor a Young Freethinkers Club after hours at schools. It means that the schools will have to allow the local Pagan group access to their buildings after hours. It means that atheist, Christian, Buddhist, Muslim, Hindu, pagan and other groups must have equal access to students after school ends.

Each group is allowed equal access under the Constitution, and the school is endorsing none of them by allowing all of them access.

Christian groups like the American Family Association are ecstatic about the Supreme Court’s decision. I’m curious to see what groups like the AFA will do when pagan, atheist, Muslim and ACLU groups show up to sponsor after-school groups. Instead of complaining about the Good News Clubs, atheist groups should be forming their own groups to get into the schools.

Bravo to the Supreme Court for maintaining equality and allowing all religious groups access to public schools after hours – regardless of how many gods they believe in, or if they believe in no gods at all.

Blair Scott is the president of the Mobile Area Freethought Association and Atheism Awareness.
NOTE: The Mobile Atheists replaced MAFA.

The insistence that the government “kicked God out of school” in 1963 is one of the silliest things people can say. When said, no one really pays that much attention to it. I decided to pay attention and respond. The issue of being able to kick an omnipresent and omnipotent being out of anything is another issue altogether.

Prayer still allowed
Printed in the Clarion-Ledger (Jackson, MS)

Why do people insist prayer has been taken out of school? Why is the general public ignorant about the separation of religion and government and what it means?

Why is it so hard for people to comprehend the difference between private prayer and forced or mandated prayer? School children and faculty can pray all they want on a personal level – provided it doesn’t interrupt the classroom environment. What the faculty cannot do is facilitate, mandate, endorse or promote one religion over another – and that includes leading children in prayer.

This should be an easy concept to grasp. You, as an individual, can pray all you want. The school, as a representative of the government, cannot force you to say a prayer – regardless of your religious beliefs or non-beliefs.

I wonder if the pro-mandatory prayer enthusiasts would be so enthusiastic if forced prayers were to Allah, Vishnu, Buddha or Ra? I have this sneaky suspicion that the Christian majority would be the first to demand that religion and government remain separate if non-Christian prayers were mandated.

Pray to your god all you want, but don’t force others to pray to your god – that’s what they do in Afghanistan.

Blair Scott
Mobile, AL

Any time you can capitalize on the “kicked God out of school” argument is a good time. It is especially good if you can use that time to expand on another item that is often associated with that “kicking God out;” school crime.

Schools safe without Bible
Printed in the Daily Advertiser (Acadiana, LA)

Why do so many people think school crime went up after 1963, the year forced prayer and Bible reading was found to be unconstitutional?

If you look at school-related crime statistics (source: DOE) you’ll see crime went down in after 1963. Today, school violence is at one of its lowest points and schools are statistically the safest place for kids.

So where did the idea that there is an increase in school violence come from? First, mass media and 24/7 cable networks. A school shooting in Detroit was not news in Los Angeles or it was mentioned in passing. Now we see school shootings on every channel when they occur and we hear about them for weeks.

If you want to stop school violence you don’t do it by forcing prayer, the Ten Commandments or Bibles down the throats of students. If they don’t listen to those at home what makes you think they will at school?

If you want to stop school violence then punish bullies and ensure that all students are given equal access to all scholastic assets. Make sure the playing field is even for everyone.

I wonder if proponents of forced prayer in school would be as enthusiastic if the prayers were to Allah or Vishnu?

Blair Scott
Mobile, AL

One of the best forms of education when it comes to the general perception that “atheists are evil” is to do something that really shocks them. Something perceived as good in their eyes. Something they were never expecting to see an Atheist do. Show up at a mission to help prepare or serve meals wearing a Freethought shirt, for example. This case in Decatur, Alabama really threw the locals for a loop when the only group that stood up and defended a Christian girl’s religious freedom was a group of Atheists.

It should be noted that Mr. Cook never replied and the anonymous waitress never contacted us. No other groups offered to defend this young woman. MAFA members wrote to the school in Decatur and reminded them that denying students religious freedom is not synonymous with the separation of church and state.

Group ready to defend Christian
Printed in the Decatur Daily (Decatur, AL)

I read with great concern a letter by Carlos Cook on Jan. 13. Mr. Cook relayed a story of a waitress suspended for three days because she said, “Thank you, Jesus” after a moment of silence.

While Mr. Cook’s assertion that we’re a “Christian nation” is incorrect, that doesn’t take away from the fact that this individual’s civil rights, in the form of freedom of religion and speech, may have been violated. If the accusations are correct, they are likely the result of teacher ignorance of law.

Either way, the situation needs to be rectified and the school informed of the law and specifically, what the teachers and staff can and cannot do regarding religion.

Students can pray any time, read sacred texts (provided it doesn’t interfere with class), and they can say, “Amen,” “Jesus loves you,” “God bless you,” “Allah lives” and “Praise Mithras” all day if they want.

The law doesn’t say students must leave religion at home. The law doesn’t require teachers and staff to leave religion at home.

The law prevents teachers and staff from directing, facilitating, mediating, mandating or otherwise endorsing a particular religion or religious belief. This means teachers cannot lead students in prayer, schools cannot hold assemblies for student prayer revivals, and staffs cannot endorse the Christian Athletes Association over the Student Pagan Association — they must be treated equally.

As the president of the Mobile Area Freethought Association, I offer MAFA’s services to the young woman in defending her rights and educating her school in the proper law and First Amendment rights of students. MAFA believes everyone has the right to worship as they see fit — even those that we disagree with theologically. MAFA, a group of atheists, agnostics and deists, will be happy to defend the rights of a Christian denied her religious freedoms.

Blair Scott, president
Mobile Area Freethought Association
Mobile, AL

The hypocrisy of the religious that demand religion on school never ceases to amaze me. They espouse “religiosity” when they really mean “Christianity.” Catching them in public, especially in a public forum like a newspaper, is especially heartwarming for me. I admit it – I feel good when I catch the hypocrisy and rub it in the public outhouse. It is a warm-fuzzy thing…

Religious ‘encouragement’?
Printed in the Macon Telegraph (Macon, GA)

It was with great disappointment that I read Mr. Mills’ pseudo-rebuttal to my letter (No ‘Religious Right’ on August 23rd).

Mr. Mills expects us to believe that religious “encouragement” is not the same thing as forced religion. I wonder if Mr. Mills would mind me actively encouraging his kids in the ways of Buddhism? If Mr. Mills doesn’t mind the encouragement of religion then I’m sure he won’t mind if we start the morning off in his children’s class with a Wiccan prayer? Perhaps we can encourage religion with his children by reading the Qu’ran in school?

For some reason I think Mr. Mills will only mind religious encouragement if it is based on the Christian religion. When Mr. Mills understand why he doesn’t want his kids religiously encouraged in another religion then he will begin to understand why I don’t want my kids religiously encouraged in his.

Blair Scott
President, Mobile Area Freethought Association
Mobile, AL

Again it was time to knock down the paper wall that is “kicked God out of school.” The responsive letters to these were the same thing just regurgitated in different ways to match the nonsense in the letter to which I was responding. Now and then, you have to add something different and make the point better or with the use of an “intellectual stiletto.” Those are always fun.

Is school violence new?
Printed in the Birmingham News (Birmingham, AL)

A recent letter-writer would have us believe that when God, Bible, and prayer were in school there was no violence (“Bible in school provided peace”, April 1st).

Is violence in school new? If you think so I recommend reading the book “Evolution of School Disturbance in America: Colonial Times to Modern Day” and learn about the history of violence in schools.

Some insist violence appeared overnight when “God was kicked out of school”. When the Supreme Court found forced religion in school as unconstitutional, less than 35% of all schools still used such tactics (source: DoE).

The statement tries to make causation from correlation. During that same time the Civil Rights movement was happening, America was recovering from two world wars in a 35-year spread, Elvis was “hip” and women were gaining rights. Why don’t they blame those for causing this apparent rise in violence?

Putting “God back in school” will not solve the violence (and never has). Looking at per capita statistics of believers versus non-believers in prisons I could make causation from correlation and say that “God, Bible, and prayer” cause violent crime (source: FBoP). That’s not my style, though.

Blair Scott, founder
Mobile Area Freethought Association
Mobile, AL

Florida had its fun with Bible classes so Louisiana decided to follow Florida’s example. The letters began quickly and the responses began to pour in. The Bible class proposal in Louisiana was one of the best campaigns and print ratios that the FLWC ever had. The “friendly” letters began to pour in from local readers to help. Ultimately, it did not make a difference to the board: they voted for it anyway. What it did do was educate the public about the fallacy of Bible courses in public schools and it got many people on the side of separation – people that wrote letters to the newspapers. We found the best method to use was not to ridicule the Bible, but to defend it.

Keep Bible sacred – not secular
Printed in the Houma Courier (Houma, Louisiana)

If a preacher defends Bible courses in secular schools is he really defending the word of God?

If we put the Bible in a classroom environment as “literature”, it is no longer the word of God. The Bible, as literature, becomes a book equal to Moby Dick, To Kill a Mockingbird and the works of Shakespeare.

Do we want the Bible as nothing more than a work of literature where the authors are not spreading the Gospel, but are on equal terms with Tom Clancy, Stephen King and other writers? Do we really want the Bible in a class that specializes in evaluating fictional works?

Those demanding the separation of religion and government to keep the Bible out of school are doing a better job of defending the word of God. By demanding the Bible remain out of public schools they are ensuring our children learn the Bible as the word of God instead of as fictional piece of literature to be torn apart and criticized by students – to be evaluated by teachers that may not teach the Bible the way we want our kids to be taught about the Bible.

Let’s make sure the Bible remains sacred instead of secular – keep it out of literature classes and keep it in our churches, our hearts and our homes.

Blair Scott
Mobile, AL

9/11 opened a new can of hyper-religiosity in a post-Bush victory that was already steeped in religiosity. This made life a little more difficult for Atheists, especially those in the South, and especially cumbersome for letter-writers. A few letters a week that needed a response quickly turned into several each day. It finally came down to picking the letter that needed the most attention and ignoring the other ones. The ones we went after the most were those that were using 9/11 as an excuse to return forced religion to the schools.

Difference between established and freedom of religion
Printed in the Birmingham News (Birmingham, AL)

People seem to think public prayer was against the law before September 11th. The law is clear-cut regarding school and government endorsed religion.

People can pray all they want. People can gather and hold prayer vigils if they want.

The law states that teachers/faculty cannot lead students in prayer, Bible-reading or religious ceremony. Government officials cannot force employees to attend prayer meetings or Bible studies.

There is a difference between freedom of religion and established religion.

You have the right to be Christian, Jew, Muslim, atheist, Buddhist or anything else. You have no right to force others to your religion. You can be a Christian because the government is not establishing Islam. You can be a Buddhist because the government is not establishing Christianity.

Since the tragedy we’ve seen a decline in religious freedom. Mandatory school prayer gatherings, state-sponsored religion, pious political pulpits and other establishments of religion destroy freedom of religion.

We must ensure freedoms – including religious freedom.

For those desiring a Christian Nation there is one question you must ask before pursuing it: What denomination will rule America? Baptist? Methodist? Catholic? Adventist? Mormon?

Blair Scott
Mobile, AL

Going after generalized statements is easy enough. Going after someone that blatantly wrote misinformation, especially misinformation that is provable as such, is even easier… and more fun. Public humiliation (tactful though), can be a great tool for quieting some people. Mr. Murphy has not submitted another letter in a long time…

Prayer Monitors not federal marshals
Printed in the Anniston Star (Anniston, AL)

Mr. Murphy is entitled to his opinion, but he should present factual information to support his opinion (School prayer, April 10th).

Mr. Murphy wrote that Judge DeMent used federal marshals to monitor schools for violations of a court order concerning school prayers (Chandler v. James, 1997).

That is absolutely false. Monitors assigned by DeMent were state administrative employees. Monitors were only assigned to schools that violated the court order.

If Mr. Murphy read the order he would know that voluntary student prayer was not “in violation.”

CNN’s Law section states, “DeMent was careful to strike down only instances of school-sponsored religious activity, and his decision contains a lengthy passage affirming the rights of students to pray voluntarily on their own time.”

The important part of the whole episode is overlooked. DeMent noted serious abuses in DeKalb schools. The abuses were so serious that monitors were needed (periodically – not permanently) to ensure compliance. The monitors wouldn’t have been needed if the schools obeyed the order.

Of course the order wouldn’t have been needed if DeKalb schools followed federal and state constitutional law in the first place. School-sponsored prayer and religious activities are against the law – period. Student religious activity and prayer is ok. Why do some find that so hard to understand?

Blair Scott, President
The Mobile Atheists
Mobile, AL

When the Santa Fe ISD v. Doe case broke, the media was all over it. Soon after, the religious thugs were threatening to hold organized spontaneous prayers at football games across the South. The ostracizing of people not participating in prayers increased. MAFA was very busy during that time with prayers at local high schools and getting our “Matthew 5:5” billboards ready for action. I wrote a letter to the Mobile Register and they asked me to turn it into an editorial.

Prayer Ruling Doesn’t Threaten Personal Religious Beliefs
Printed in the Mobile Register (Mobile, AL)
Blair Scott is founder of the Mobile Area Freethought Association.
By BLAIR SCOTT
Special to the Register

For some reason, many people seem to feel threatened by the premise of “the separation of church and state,” or more specifically, the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. They seem not to understand what the Establishment Clause means and what it accomplishes for – not against – them.

As the founder of the Mobile Area Freethought Association, I find myself in debates over this issue a lot. A collection of freethinkers, rationalists and constitutionalists who work with Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, People for the American Way and the Interfaith Alliance, MAFA allows freethinkers to gather with like-minded individuals and help to protect the personal rights of all beliefs.

An argument that I often hear is that the First Amendment “does not say separation of church and state.” This argument is correct; the literal statement does not appear. Of course, “the right to a fair trial” is not in the Bill of Rights, either. It is inferred, just as the separation of church and state is inferred.

What the First Amendment says is, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” What that means is that no law can be made that establishes a particular religion or a state religion.

Our forefathers fled England to escape religious persecution and an established religion. They understood what it meant to live in a country ruled by a majority religion.

The wording of the First Amendment allows all religions equal rights, and prevents any particular religion from gaining the upper hand and getting special rights. It allows all religions “the free exercise thereof.”

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled as it did last week on the stadium prayer in Texas because the situation prevented minority religions from “the free exercise thereof.”

Many Americans fear that the Establishment Clause means they cannot worship their gods or practice their beliefs outside their homes and churches. This is an unfounded fear. The Establishment Clause means that the government, and representatives thereof, cannot pass laws that endorse or favor a particular religion or religious belief. It prevents the majority religion from dominating minority religions.

In the days since the decision by the Supreme Court, I have heard much rhetoric. And yet, what the Supreme Court said is that facilitated or mandated “captive audience” prayer by school officials is unconstitutional because it favors a specific religion. Fans, football players, coaches, band members and anyone else can pray if they want to, as long as the school does not endorse or facilitate the prayer.

Mormons, Catholics, Jews, pagans and others were denied equal opportunity, and therefore the majority ruled over the minority without regard for the rights of the minority. And if a large Christian denomination discriminates against a fellow Christian denomination, then what chance do non-Christians have?

Alabama’s Judge Roy Moore, famous for his violation of the separation of church and state, has refused non-Christians the opportunity to pray in his Etowah County courtroom. What message does that send to non-Christians who are standing before him facing judgment?

Former Gov. Fob James once said Muslims should not hold positions as judges in America. And President George Bush once said, “I don’t know that atheists should be considered citizens, nor should they be considered patriots. This is one nation under God.”

The Establishment Clause is intended to prevent such beliefs from being imposed on others. Moore, James and Bush can believe what they want (it is their personal right), but they cannot force those beliefs on others.

I often hear that “They are taking away our right to religious freedom and freedom of speech.” How are “they” doing that? No one has gone into homes and removed religious icons, or closed churches, or prevented anyone from personally praying.

Religious prejudice is often the unspoken “rights violation.” The media have a part to play in this, of course. During the trial of the man accused of kidnapping and murdering Madalyn O’Hair, her atheism was pronounced in the headlines as if it were something of an unknown phenomenon. (Example: “Atheist trial to begin.”) Why was her atheism important? The fact that she was kidnapped and murdered should have been important.

The local media certainly don’t help. When the Supreme Court’s ruling was announced, a television station reported that “prayer is out when school is in.” That was completely misleading and false. The ruling does not say that children cannot pray or bring their sacred texts to school.

Children can pray in the classroom, gather and pray, and hold Bible studies at their schools, as long as the schools’ staffs do not mandate, facilitate or endorse the events and do not interfere with the curricula or the ability of other students to go about their business.

Our Constitution is based on personal freedoms and the guarantee thereof. The Establishment Clause does not prevent anyone from having personal beliefs, or from exercising and worshipping according to those beliefs. What it prevents is those personal beliefs being amassed to oppress the personal beliefs of others. We have a tendency to forget that the rights guaranteed to us are personal rights, guaranteed to us as individuals, and not as groups.

See you at the Pole is big down here in the South. People anticipate the event and organize it ahead of time (so much for spontaneous prayer). Just because it is big does not mean you cannot pick at it.

Students don’t organize it
Printed in the Anniston Star (Anniston, AL)

Mrs. McGuffey beseeched kids, teachers and parents to get involved in Christian-oriented student clubs (See you at the Pole, Oct. 10). I wonder if Mrs. McGuffey would be enthusiastic for student clubs for Islam, Buddhism, Wicca, atheism, Judaism or others?

Oops… sorry… wrong pole.

The concept of ‘See You at the Pole’ is legal. The problem is students are often not the organizers of this event. Organization often comes from a national group and sometimes faculty actively recruits students. Active involvement of staff recruiting students is illegal. Staff can participate in prayer, but they cannot promote the event or recruit students for the event.

There is nothing illegal about students being religious in schools as long as they don’t interfere with the class. Staff cannot promote or facilitate religious activities.

Most problems we see with religion and public schools come from ignorance on both sides of the issue. Some schools overreact, violating student’s religious freedoms. Other schools under react or actively engage in illegal activity.

If everyone understood why separating religion and government is important and we understood what is and is not illegal then there would be minimal problems.

Christian students can have clubs – as long as Islamic, Jewish, atheist, Buddhist and other students can have clubs, too.

Blair Scott
Mobile, AL

The Bible class debate in Louisiana continued to rage and in the middle of the debate were Atheists and other Freethinkers from around the country. It was obvious that Louisiana had no regard for the separation of church and state. Defending the Bible instead of attacking it was working in several areas, but we needed something else.

Which interpretation will be taught?
Printed in the Houma Courier (Houma, LA)

I’ve watched the go-around over the Bible with some amusement.

Those supporting the Bible have done so in such varied and unique ways as too encourage the argument that the Bible is not static, but has thousands of sects and millions of interpretations.

“Which interpretation will be taught?” is a valid question.

My point is there are many questions about the Bible and proposed course beyond the simple church-state issue that is being raised. There are tons of questions remaining to be answered.

Who will pick the teachers? Can schools guarantee non-bias from the teachers? What interpretation will be used? What school of Biblical scholarship will be selected as the curriculum base?

Will students be allowed to criticize and will that criticism be answered objectively? Will the Bible be treated in a literary sense as fiction or non-fiction? Will it be evaluated for inconsistencies, errors and other literary problems?

These questions must be address and answered clearly before we get to the bigger question, “Should the Bible be taught in public schools?”

Blair Scott
Mobile, AL

Write a letter to the editor of your newspaper – start a worthwhile habit.

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