Letters

Rainbow flag in Hillsborough County
Submitted to the Hillsborough County Commissioners

I find it interesting that until 2015, the confederate flag flew in the county center without concern for whom it offended, and it offended a lot more than 1 anonymous person. And Mr. White “passionately” opposed the removal of this flag. During this same year, while he was not concerned about offending a large segment of the population, the commission voted for Mr. White to be the Chaplain of the Board. Not only should the commission not have a chaplain, if it has to have a chaplain, it should at least pick someone whose ideas of religion are more in tune with the community than what I see from Mr. White.

In 2016 it would be reasonable to assume that no one would be offended by the sight of a rainbow flag, especially after such a horrendous event as that in Orlando. While the killing of gay people may be ok with tea party republicans, and some christians, the vast majority of the population find the slaughter of a group of people to be the more offensive action than the flying of a flag. Especially when a citizen of the county was among the murdered.

Personally I find official prayers before county commission meetings to be more offensive and exclusive of a vast part of the population than any flag could ever be.

The Orlando Shooting
The letter was printed in the Orlando Sentinel

Atheists of Florida (AoF) is saddened by the shootings at Pulse nightclub on Sunday morning. The members of AoF wish to extend condolences to the victims, their friends and families in this terrible time.
AoF urges calm and reason in this time when despair deepens in the face of rage expressed by those who feel the defense of their religion requires them to exercise homicidal violence against those with competing views and different lives.

For we Americans, honoring the hard won struggle against the continuous attempted hegemony of fanatical religious believers, this terrible massacre demonstrates yet again hows difficult it is to build a true democracy.

Disagreement is essential to human progress. The freedom to hold and express religious, political, and social views are a personal right that is protected by constitution of the United States, especially the First Amendment. In order to accomplish this goal it is imperative to protect the secular nature of the state.

“Only a life lived for others is a life worthwhile.” – Albert Einstein

We encourage all people who can to donate blood (the blood bank is now full but asks for donations to continue over the next several days) and to donate to the Equality Florida fundraiser for the victims’ and their families.


Letter to various Florida newspapers, Bill of Rights Day
The letter has been printed in the following newspapers:

Dec 15th is the 224th anniversary of the ratification of the Bill of Rights to the United States Constitution. These amendments granted to the individual citizen, contain many of the rights we associate with being American – from the freedom of speech to freedom of religion. These were written by James Madison in response to calls for greater constitutional protection for individual liberties. Many felt that there was not a limit placed on government power in the constitution as written, while others argued that the states kept any powers not given to the federal government and thus there was not a need for changes to the constitution to protect individual liberty.
While all of the protections afforded by the first 10 amendments to the U.S. Constitution are important and vital, and limit the powers of the government; atheists and many others find special comfort in the first amendment. Among other important rights, it contains the “establishment clause”, forbidding the congress from passing laws that establish a specific religion, or limiting Americans from practicing their own religion in whatever form that takes (well, with certain limitations, no human sacrifices allowed). By not establishing a government mandated religion, like many European countries and as many of the colonies were under British rule, our form of government allows people to choose their own religion. Thus Catholics are not forced to support Protestants, Jews are not forced to support Islam, and atheists are not forced to support any of them. While there are disputes about what constitutes support (for example, I would argue that the exemption of paying property tax on land owned by a religious institutions but not used for religious purposes is a violation), the government applies these exemptions equally to all religious groups, and none are given special favor. The Bill of Rights exists primarily to protect the rights of individuals, not institutions or churches.
We can disagree on what constitutes a religion, but The Civil rights Act of 1964 states “To be a bona fide religious belief entitled to protection under either the First Amendment or Title VII, a belief must be sincerely held, and within the believer’s own scheme of things religious.” (USCA Const. Amend 1: Civil Rights Act 1964 701 et seq., 717 as amended 42 USCA 2000-16) Thus almost anything can be a religion. In 1985 the court said “…the Court has unambiguously concluded that the individual freedom of conscience protected by the First Amendment embraces the right to select any religious faith or none at all.”
Thus the individual liberty we have to hold and advocate for our personal religious, political, or philosophical views is protected, with no prior restraint. We should all celebrate the Bill of Rights, not just on Dec 15th, but every day of the year.

Letter to Sandy Harrison, Principal A. Crawford Mosley High School

Dear Ms. Harrison,

According to an article at WJHG (http://www.wjhg.com/home/headlines/Mosley-coach-and-students-talk-God-and-the-gridiron-351905311.html) football coach Jeremy Brown is quoted as saying that “if every kid on our football team is saved then I’ve been successful as a coach.” Mr. Brown also talks about this as “maybe not politically correct”, however this has nothing to do with political correctness but with the constitution of the United States. Most public employers in the state of Florida require employes to sign a loyalty oath, pledging allegiance to the Constitution of the United States. Did Mr. Brown sign such an oath? If he did, then perhaps he should review what that means.

As you may well know, in the case of Santa Fe Independent School Dist., 530 U. S. 290, the courts ruled that a school district’s policy of permitting student-led, student-initiated prayer before football games is unconstitutional. It is also unconstitutional for a school official, including a coach, to initiate or lead a team in prayer. (Doe v. Duncanville Independent School Dist., 70 F. 3d 402 (5th Cir. 1995).) It appears that Mr. Brown goes well beyond praying with students, but includes the proselytizing of them. Because teachers hold such a special status in the school and are viewed as government officials speaking to a group that is both a captive audience and extremely impressionable, religious speech by teachers or other school personnel will be seen as a state endorsement of religion.

Perhaps Mr. Brown should consider changing careers, since he clearly is more interested in preaching than in teaching sports to his students.

We look forward to hearing your responses to these concerns, and we want you to know that many in Florida will be behind whatever plans you will implement to ensure the establishment clause is observed by all of your personnel.  The situation is being followed closely by many of your fellow citizens with an interest in the integrity of our constitutional order.  We have no reason not to be confident that you will exercise your authority in a way that will be a compliment to your country and its future.

Yours in reason,
Judy Adkins
President, Florida Atheists

Letter to Jeff Eakins, Hillsborough County School Superintendent

Re: Idlewild Baptist Church Partnership

Dear Mr. Eakins,

I am writing to express our concerns after reading the Tampa Bay Times article, When a Church’s Mission is Helping Public Schools, the Boundaries Are Not Always Clear, dated November 15, 2015. I have also read the concerns expressed by the Jewish Community Relations Council, and agree with the concerns expressed in their letter. Rather than repeat those concerns here, I will address our additional concerns.

The article states that the district€ decided to put the “in partnership” with Idlewild Baptist Church€ and the church’€™s logo on the shirts. This to me indicates a serious lack of knowledge of the establishment clause by district employees. How are you planning on addressing this issue?

Where are the guidelines for “€œgroup” volunteers? I checked the websites, http://www.sdhc.k12.fl.us/ and serve.mysdhc.org, and found only the information for individual volunteers.

  • Are the volunteers who provide direct services at the school, such as washing teachers’€™ cars, required to file a volunteer application? Are these volunteers vetted as other volunteers are?
  • The €œ”Guidelines for Guest Speakers” states that “Promotion of your business€ is prohibited”. Does this apply to non-profits and “€œfaith based” groups?

While we feel the schools should be fully funded and not need the service of volunteers to provide essential services, we understand that, for now, this is not the case. However, we do want to ensure that volunteers are not taking advantage of the situation to proselytize the teachers, employees, or students.

We look forward to hearing your responses to these concerns, and as with the Jewish Community Relations Council, we want to know who will be responsible for the implementation and oversight of partnerships (with all religious groups, not just IBC), and programs to ensure the establishment clause is observed.

Yours in reason,
Judy Adkins
President, Florida Atheists

 

Christian Nation

Letter to editor of Tampa Tribune

In the letter titled “Christian nation” published Nov 28th, 2015, Chuck Graham states that the United States of America was and has always been a Christian nation. What evidence does he offer for this? Where in the constitution of the United States of America does it state that our country is an officially Christian nation? Where in the constitution does it refer to God, Jesus Christ, or Christianity? Why does it ban “religious tests” for public office? We were the first nation in history to abolish religious requirements for office holding. Why does the First Amendment bar all laws “respecting an establishment of religion”? The Declaration of Independence refers to “the Creator”, however, it doesn’t say Jesus was the creator or refer to Jesus in any way. Many of the founding fathers were deists; they believed in God but saw God as someone who set things in motion and then stepped back, a supreme architect if you will, but certainly not the object of worship associated with any of the traditional religions.

From the beginning, conservative Christians have attacked the constitution because it lacked references to God and Christianity, predicting that an angry God would crush us, that because of this lack of connection to Christianity the constitution or the country would be destroyed. In the nineteenth century, there was an unsuccessful move to amend the constitution acknowledging God and Jesus as ruler among the nations, and establish that the United States had a Christian government. If it is the case that the United States of America was officially Christian, why any need to amend the Constitution?

We should all be concerned with standing by our constitution and its enduring guarantee of true religious freedom by recognizing that the choice of a religion or any other significant belief or expression is first among the essential political rights we enjoy.

School Board makes wise decision
I would like to thank the Hillsborough County School Board for their recognition of diversity in the community by rejecting an opening prayer. While the recent supreme court decision certainly opens the way for prayer to be included, by observing a moment of silence the Board respects the ability of all participants to reflect on the seriousness of their responsibilities in a manner that is appropriate.

Judy Adkins
Tampa, FL 33625
President@athesitsoffloridainc.org

School Board Email Clearing House at Hillsborough County Public Schools, FL
**** CONTACT INFORMATION ****
Name: Judy Adkins
Reply Preference: Email
Phone:
Email: President@athesitsoffloridainc.org

*** To ALL Board Members Re: Judy Adkins 432825268_3 ***

***** QUESTION/CONCERN *****
Concern/Question: A media report.
Details: According to today’s Tampabay Times the board rejected Dr. White’s motion to open the meeting with a prayer. The members of Florida Atheists would like to thank you for your consideration of the diversity in the community. While the recent supreme court decision certainly opens the way for prayer to be included, by using a moment of silence you allow all participants to reflect on the seriousness and responsibility of the situation in a manner that is appropriate for them.

From IP Address: 108.33.34.211

***** End *****

High court okays legislative prayer - Breaching the wall
One looks at the headline hardly able to believe it is real. “Legislative prayer”? Our highest court, the one that supposedly gives us the final interpretation of our Constitution, “okays legislative prayer”?
The descriptive passage explains: “All nine justices endorsed the concept of legislative prayer, with the four dissenters agreeing that the public forum ‘need not become a ‘religion-free zone,’ ‘ in the words of Justice Elena Kagan.”

Doesn’t the First Amendment to the Constitution infer that all government should be a religion-free zone? Could this latest reference to religion be a very small step toward the violation of a fundamental concept of our government?

Abigail Ann Martin, Brandon

Bishop's home is modest by comparison - Take away the tax break
This article says Bishop Robert Lynch’s home “is assessed at $492,236. … tax-free.” Tax-free? Why am I being required to subsidize the bishop’s home, or anything related to the Catholic Church — or any church? Tax the churches. It’s only fair.

Joe Reinhardt, Pinellas Park

Pinellas Park City Council
Dear Ms. Bradbury, Mr. Mullins, Mr. Butler, Mr. Taylor, and Ms. Johnson:
I am writing on behalf of Florida Atheists (aka Atheists of Florida Inc.) in support of the Freedom From Religion Foundations (FFRF) request to remove the display of a bible and to cease including religious literature in citizens’ water bills. As stated so clearly in the letter FFRF sent to you on January 13, 2014, the display of the bible on the City Council dais constitutes religious endorsement, and thus violates the First Amendment of the U.S. constitution. In fact, as Ms. Johnson may remember, representatives from our organization visited the Pinellas Park City Council meeting in April of 2010 to request this same bible display be removed.

The inclusion of church flyers in the water bills may be even more egregious. Depending on how this information is obtained and who has the right to have flyers included with the water bill (or any other communication from the city.) Please send a copy, or online reference, to the policy that regulates advertisements of community events in utility bills. We wish to be certain that all community groups have equal access to any such distributions.

All we ask is that the city be respectful of all religious, and non-religious, citizens of the community. A civil and secular government is not a victory for any organization, but a victory for all citizens who savor the peace and domestic tranquility that comes from an atmosphere of mutual respect for what is essentially a private choice.
Since symbols play a powerful role in defining religious differences, their public presence in the centers of governmental power and decision making can be a troubling source of suspicions that special treatment and favor is being extended to those whose symbols are thus represented. I feel certain that you would want to present a welcoming face to all who come before you hoping for the fair and just treatment you surely work hard to be sure they receive.

Sincerely
Judy Adkins
President
Florida Atheists
5103 S West Shore Blvd,
Tampa, FL, 33611

One Reply to “Letters”

  1. Many of us have always been fascinated with the history, culture, art and religion of ancient Egypt. It was a culture that lasted for over 3,000 years and was the first great empire. However, although the culture was long lived, it too functioned on the fact of humankind’s penchant for denial and self-delusion (as Stephen Pinker, cognitive psychologist and linguist has pointed out in “The Blank Slate”). It was maintained by their religion, with its hundreds of gods and temples. The idea of human resurrection has a history extending over millennia. It was part of the Egyptian Osiris myth and the belief in the Pharaoh’s resurrection and life after death (an oxymoron), thus the impetus for embalming, mummification and the building of the pyramids, magnificent cultural and engineering achievements. Other cultures also had resurrection myths and reincarnation, and it is a central part of Christianity with its belief in Jesus’s being a “god” and his resurrection. To a considerable degree organized religion is based on humankinds, ignorance, fear, guilt and recognition and terror of death. In that regard organized religions are sort of con jobs, frauds, and lies based on ignorance of the real, natural world and how it works. What is really feared is the loss of memory, consciousness and the self. However, at death, although individual memory, consciousness and self is lost, the body’s component parts are not completely destroyed because energy and matter are never destroyed for it is only transformed (E=Mc2), and returns to its original particle and sub-particle components. We are, as Carl Saigon noted, “star stuff” and will return to that state.
    There is of course, a higher power, nature, the natural world, which we as a species delude ourselves in believing we can control, just like the ancient Egyptians, who believed that through their many gods, temples, and prayers they could control the Nile and therefore their climate and environment. Certainly, human history, cultures and art are fascinating. However, the human species over the millennia demonstrates an appalling ignorance about nature and the natural world and its workings. Will we continue in that deluded tradition?
    However, the Egyptians, were different from us in that they recognized and had a reverence for the beauty of nature and its importance to their relationship to the environment. This is reflected in their monumental constructions and thousands of hieroglyphs, which are abundant in the depiction of plants and animals of all kinds relating to the life giving Nile. We unfortunately, do not as a modern species, nor do many of our contemporary cultures, have this reverence for nature and the environment. And unless we change, our “gods” will not save us.

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