Public School Athletics No Place for Religion

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Another victory for the Separation of Church and State in our Kentucky public schools!

Tri-State Freethinkers recently wrote a letter to Russellville High School regarding a photo posted to social media a sign quoting the Book of Romans from the Christian Bible. Some may think that a football game is an extra-curricular activity and therefore would not be subject to the same rules regarding the separation of church and state. The following is a quote from our letter:

On June 19, 2000, the Supreme Court heard a case in which a Texas school board policy that allowed “student-led, student initiated prayer” before varsity high-school football games was a violation of the First Amendment’s establishment clause. Santa Fe Ind. Sch. Dist. v. Doe makes clear that football games are school-sponsored activities that are important to many students, and that it is not permissible to force students to have to choose between attending games or being exposed to unwelcome religious displays or messages.

The school sponsorship of a religious message is not only illegal, but also problematic because it sends a message to students and community members who practice a minority religion or are not religious “that they are outsiders, not full members of the political community” while sending “an accompanying message to adherents that they are insiders, favored members of the political community.” Santa Fe Indep. Sch. Dist., 530 U.S. at 309-10 (quoting Lynch v. Donnelly, 465 U.S. 668, 688 (1984) (O’Connor, J., concurring)). Russellville High School must strive to be an inclusive environment for all students, regardless of their religious or nonreligious views.

Tri-State Freethinkers recently received a letter from the superintendent stating that the athletic director had addressed the violation. We thank them for their compliance and hope that they continue to protect the constitutional right of their students to a public school education free from state endorsement of religion.

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Parents, students, teachers, or members of the community: please send any violations of the separation of church and state to tsfreethinkers@gmail.com. 

Ark Encounter School District Flooded with Separation of Church and State Violations

November 15, 2016grantcounty
For Immediate Release
Contact: tsfreethinkers@gmail.com

Ark Encounter School District Flooded with Separation of Church and State Violations

Tri-State Freethinkers, the nonprofit organization that led the Ark Encounter Protest this past summer, have since been inundated with documented violations of the separation of church and state stemming from the very county the Ark Encounter resides, Grant County. Violations, some dating back as far as 2009, include misuse of school communications to promote religious events, Christian and bible displays in school offices, religious themed homework assignments in Chemistry class, and the harassment of children reading books about evolution.  

Possibly the most troubling report Tri-State Freethinkers received was that regarding current Athletic Director Brian Smallwood. Pastor Smallwood is listed as Campus Minister on Grant County High School’s website. He additionally serves as Youth Minister to Dry Ridge Baptist Church and lists his mission as “to REACH non -Christian students, to help them SHARE in God’s Word, to OFFER themselves in SERVICE to Christ, and to CARE for one another, while enabling students to understand and recognize who Jesus Christ is, and what it is to live for Him only.” Pastor Smallwood used Grant County School newsletters to promote church events and fundraisers for church mission trips.

Given the variety and pervasiveness of the violations reported, Tri-State Freethinkers demanded that the District address the specific violations reported, and requested the District train all employees about their obligation to remain neutral toward religion under the Establishment Clause.

It is clear why Answers in Genesis President, Ken Ham, chose Grant County for the location of the controversial Ark Encounter Park. Ham has clearly benefited from the blind eye turned by local officials, much to the detriment of future generations.

Full Text of Grant County Letter

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About the Tri-State Freethinkers
Tri-State Freethinkers is a social, academic, and activist group with over 1500 members in Kentucky, Indiana, and Ohio. They are advocates for equal rights and the separation of church and state. They empower members to make positive change by giving back to the community. They encourage critical thinking and decisions based on facts, logic and reason, not superstitions, myths, or dogma.

The Tri-State Freethinkers reaffirms its support of women, LGBTQ people, minorities and the rationally minded

Election season has finally come to a close and the outcome couldn’t be more foreboding for atheists, freethinkers, members of the LGBTQ community, minorities and those who support equal rights and the separation of church and state.

With the election of Donald Trump and Mike Pence, in addition to what is now a conservative majority House of Representatives and Senate – not to mention  near-certain appointments of ultra-conservative Supreme Court justices in the future, we are left with a choice: Either wallow in self-pity or rise up and stand together, determined to fight back against the regressive ideologies of those who will soon be in power.

2016 presidential election results
2016 presidential election results

The Tri-State Freethinkers would like to take this opportunity to reaffirm its support of all groups that could be negatively impacted by this outcome.

We support women. With our longstanding relationship with Planned Parenthood, we will continue to fight policies that would negatively affect women’s health issues and rights.

We support the LGBTQ community. We understand that many LGBTQ people are living with uncertainty of how the coming years will affect them. We stand with you and are here for you. We will do everything in our power to protect your rights.

We support all races and ethnic groups. We stand for equality and diversity. There are hate groups in our own backyard and they must be challenged. We cannot afford to remain silent. Silence only benefits the oppressors.

We support science. Decisions should be made on facts and evidence, not beliefs. Our representatives have the right to their own personal religious beliefs, but they do not have the right to impose those beliefs on others.

If you are among these groups, or if you’re an ally, we welcome you. We offer you a place to be yourself and an opportunity to be part of a strong, local non-profit that will work with and for all who desire more inclusion, more diversity, more acceptance, more rationality and fewer restrictions on our freedoms. Find out more by exploring our event calendar and consider adding your strength to ours.

What can you do?

TSF Meetup Event
Attend this free event
  • Attend this event (pictured above) by the Tri-State Freethinkers on how to identify church/state separation violations.
  • Support groups in favor of the separation of church and state, both nationally and locally, with your time and money (see list below).
  • Spread awareness of the issues. Talk to people, both online and in person.
  • Become educated on what your representatives are doing, contact them to get your voice heard and vote. Here’s how to find who represents you.

Fighting back will not be free. Volunteers are needed for activism, community service, education and social events (our ACES). Here is a list of organizations that need your support:

If you just need a drink or people to hang and game with, try these social groups:

We hope to see you at an upcoming Tri-State Freethinkers meetup. If you aren’t local, please consider supporting us with a donation.

“United we stand.” This phrase is more important now than ever.

Beware of “Bless the Children” Day

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A frightening new trend for public schools has been to propose a “Halloween Alternative” in their school called “Bless the Children Day” sponsored by local churches. Disguised as a fall festival, this unnecessary entanglement of religion and government is a violation of the separation of church and state. Public schools should not host, endorse, or promote religious events and any violations should be sent to us immediately at tsfreethinkers@gmail.com.

Below is an excerpt from our letter to a Kentucky school who is promoting a “Bless the Children Day” event all over their school and Church’s Facebook page.

Elementary school parents contacted us on to report that Woodland Elementary School has been hanging posters around the school and sending home handouts with students advertising a “Community Fall Festival” with the heading “BLESS THE CHILDREN DAY” to take place on Monday, October 31st. It is advertised on the website for Heritage International Christian Church and the church’s Facebook page also created an event for the school sponsored Bless the Children Day. Photos are enclosed for your review.

As you are aware, public schools have a constitutional obligation to remain neutral toward, religion, and it is well settled that schools may not display religious messages or iconography. See generally Doe v. Cheatham County Board of Education; Stone v. Graham 449 U.S. 39 (1980); Everson v. Board of Education 330 U.S. 1 (1947); and Garcetti v. Ceballos 547 U.S. 410 (2006). It is therefore inappropriate for the elementary school to promote religion, either in school, or after school during community events.

The school sponsorship of a religious message is not only illegal, but also problematic because it sends a message to students and community members who practice a minority religion or are not religious “that they are outsiders, not full members of the political community” while sending “an accompanying message to adherents that they are insiders, favored members of the political community.” Santa Fe Indep. Sch. Dist., 530 U.S. at 309-10 (quoting Lynch v. Donnelly, 465 U.S. 668, 688 (1984) (O’Connor, J., concurring)). Woodland Elementary School must strive to be an inclusive environment for all students, regardless of their religious or nonreligious views.

Woodland Elementary School must make certain that it does not unlawfully endorse religion, either in the classroom or after school during community events. Parents, not the school, are responsible for determining the religious or nonreligious upbringing of their children and each student has an independent right of conscience that must be respected. On behalf of the students and parents of Woodland Elementary School, we request that you cancel this event and remove all endorsing signage from the school immediately. In addition, we recommend the school avoid any future events in conjunction with Heritage International Christian Church or any other religious organization.  Please inform us in writing of the steps you are taking to ensure that the school remains in compliance with the First Amendment.

 

 

There are some people who still believe the Earth is flat

There was a time in human history when people truly thought the Earth was flat. The great thinkers of that era no doubt looked across the glorious plane before them and smiled to themselves. They had it all figured out. Figures like Emperor Constantine (272 – 337), the first Roman emperor to claim conversion to Christianity, claimed a round Earth was the belief of heretics, pointing to scripture as the final answer on the matter.

We live at a fortuitous point in time in many ways. The Internet, space exploration, ever-expanding knowledge on genes, an (admittedly slow) advancement toward more sustainable methods of travel and power and so on – it’s all happening right now. I say this knowing that many generations before us going back centuries marveled at their own point in time thinking they were the most fortunate or sophisticated. In the future, I’m sure more advanced people will look back on us and feel shocked that anyone lived like we do. Hopefully we at least got the shape of the Earth right.

It may surprise you to learn that, despite people as far back as Eratosthenes the Greek (276 BCE – 194 BCE) determining the spherical shape of the Earth without leaving Egypt, there are some who still firmly believe in a flat Earth. While many self-proclaimed Flat Earthers may not be serious about this claim, it’s difficult to tell (see Poe’s Law). Adherents are either the world’s most dedicated trolls or they’ve truly been sucked into the great conspiratorial unknown. (Fun fact: Even famous rapper B.o.B believes the Earth is flat, releasing a song called “Flatline” all about it.)

For proof that I’m not making this up, see the website of the Flat Earth Society, where I’ve had an active forum account for over six years. I can’t help it – I absolutely love conspiracy theories. Not because I believe in them, but because the fact that other people do fascinates me. And let me tell you from firsthand experience: Flat Earthers are fact-dodging, deflective, utter deniers of reality. They deny the moon landings out of necessity, claim that NASA is pulling a fast one on basically the entire planet (for… some reason) and, while they don’t outright claim a connection to Christianity, many seem to adhere to a kind of fundamentalist Christian dogma. Add in some Jew hating and you have one fun group.

It is not my goal or purpose here to debunk the concept of a flat Earth. Many other scientists and science enthusiasts have worked on this task already. As with anyone hellbent on believing in their conspiracy theory of choice, whether it be the supposed evils of vaccines or the flatness of the Earth, you can’t easily convince these people to abandon their beliefs with facts and reason, so I won’t even try. My only goal is to have a little fun discussing Flat Earthers and some of the crazy stuff that comes out of their (flat?) world. If you want a very entertaining overview on the issue, see this wonderful video by YouTube user Vsauce.

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Illustration 1: The model of the flat Earth from the Flat Earth Society’s FAQ page.

So what are some things Flat Earthers actually believe? Basically, the Earth is a flat plane with the “north pole” as the central point and an ice wall (which we commonly call Antarctica) surrounding the entire edge, although I’ve seen some claims of an infinitely expanding flat planet. Gravity doesn’t exist and objects just fall (no hint as to why). A quick look at the Society’s FAQ page, archived here as of 9/26/2016, shows us some other gems. While I won’t go through every single point, some examples and my commentary follow.

Is the flat Earth connected to any religion?

“While almost every religion shares a common worldview of a dome shaped earth, we have no official connection with any established religions. However, it would be impossible to deny the strong historical ties with Christianity by past Presidents of the Society.”

While they are being honest on both counts, alleged proponents of the idea seem to betray their religion when replying to comments on various websites like YouTube. While one cannot say for certain if these people are in fact actual proponents and not just trolls or fakes, the issue comes up so frequently that it’s at least worth noting that there does seem to be a connection between Christianity and Flat Earthers. Although the Bible never explicitly says if the Earth is flat or not, there are some verses that have been used to back up flatness claims. Isaiah 40:22 says, “It is he who sits upon the circle of the Earth.” Job 38:14 states, “The Earth takes shape like clay under a seal.” Whether or not these verses intended to state the actual shape of the Earth is another story unto itself, but they have been used as biblical “proof” of the Earth’s flatness in some believers’ minds.

What is some of the evidence you have?

“There are several readily apparent proofs of the planets flatness. The horizon always rises to meet eye level – which is impossible on a ball earth. The surfaces of bodies of water has been shown to be level. If the Earth was a Globe, this would not be the case. There is no visible curvature to the horizon even from airplanes. We don’t even have a full shot of the Earth rotating from space! One almost has to ask – is there any real evidence the Earth is a Globe?”

This is where some of you may start head scratching. These are just brief answers in a FAQ collection, but hyperlinks are super easy to insert. Where is their support for their claims that the horizon “always rises to meet eye level” (what does that even mean?) and that bodies of water have “been shown to be level?” Unfortunately the author did not include them.

The curvature claim is where things get really interesting. Passenger jets fly at an altitude of about 30,000 feet (5.6 miles). At this height, it would indeed be difficult to detect the curvature of something as massive as Earth. (And while we’re on the subject, if we use the Antarctica-bordered model of a flat Earth as pictured above, wouldn’t a flat disc like that have a visible curvature as well where the planet’s boundary is? So if Flat Earthers are denying curvature, are they then denying their own non-infinite model?)

Setting aside space flight, NASA and any government-related proof of the spherical Earth since they simply won’t accept it, it’s fortunate for us that there have been numerous students and amateurs who have sent inexpensive, simple cameras into the atmosphere high enough to detect curvature. Typically, the setup requires a camera, a method to get the camera high enough (a balloon) and a tracking device. Photographs can then be taken without a conspiratorial government getting involved. I give you this project by a Cub Scout group and this one by a couple MIT students which both hit a height of 20 miles. In the former, the kids used a GoPro Hero 3+ (specs here).

Despite these experiments that anyone can do with a couple hundred bucks, there is still ardent denial, usually in the form of claiming the cameras are using a fisheye lens. But even if that issue hasn’t been corrected for, the central horizontal axis of all fisheye lenses will be an axis free of distortion. Despite this knowledge, the denial still occurs.

Why Would People Lie About The Shape Of The Earth?

“There are three common explanations for this, but in the end without toppling the Planar Conspiracy there is no real way to know.

  • To Maintain Legitimacy: During the Cold War we faked the moon landing. Shortly after they realized the reason they could not reach the moon was due to the flatness of the Earth. They were stuck in a lie, and had to continue it or lose legitimacy of our governments. Even today we would still hold onto this lie due to role Science plays in our ruling government.
  • To hide the truth of the Bible.
  • To Gain Power and Money: By siphoning off the space budgets and denying the world the resources of the Antarctic they gain a considerable amount of power and wealth.”

Planar Conspiracy. It has a ring to it, I must say. My comments to this trio of points are

  • Instead of owning up to the “truth,” they just dug their heels in for fear of their reputation? I don’t know where Flat Earthers have been, but people aren’t exactly thrilled with our government and somehow it remains legitimate. Also, I believe they are confused about science “ruling” our government. While I yearn for the day when all of our representatives consult facts and evidence when making decisions, right now many politicians are actively working against science and reason. Notable individuals include Matt Bevin, Mike Pence and Ted Cruz.
  • Earlier they claimed there was no connection between flat Earth “theory” and the Bible, but suddenly there are people out there trying to hide the Bible’s truth. Interesting.
  • Power and money. The goals of any evil organization or person. This could be the start of the next great Austin Powers plot.

What does the map of the Earth look like then?

“As evidenced by the logo of the United Nations the Earth is a round disk of indefinite dimensions. The geographic North Pole is located in the center of the disk, and the Antarctic lies around the outer edges.”

Even the UN is in on it. For reference, here is their logo.

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Illustration 2: The UN logo.

Apparently it’s just not possible that the UN wanted a logo that was capable of showing all the nations instead of the limited view we’d have if it was a spherical representation or if it was a region-centric version we’d have with the typical north-up iterations of globe projections. Flat Earthers also don’t seem to put a lot of stock in mankind’s ability to measure things, what with the whole “indefinite dimensions” phrase.

What Is Gravity?

“Gravity as a theory is false. Objects simply fall.

In the flat earth community there are several theories as to why this happens. Some attempt to explain this with use of mechanics like electromagnetism, density, or pressure. Others make use of traditional mathematics, such as the infinite plane model, and others a new look at the problem – such as the non-euclidean model.

What is certain is sphere earth gravity is not tenable in any way shape or form.”

Despite the fact that recently gravity waves have been confirmed to exist which, you know, would require gravity itself to exist, Flat Earthers apparently maintain this position. Perhaps because under a flat model, the Earth simply couldn’t maintain its shape if gravity were to exert itself upon the disc. Or perhaps it’s because the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO), which made this observation, is funded by the National Science Foundation, which is a US government agency and obviously evil. Or something.

Lastly, we’ll look at this point.

Is There An Edge To The Earth?

“The Flat Earth Society, along with previous notable flatists such as Samuel Shenton and S. Rowbotham, believe there is no end to the Earth and that it continues indefinitely. The only edge to the earth is the one you are standing on. Some math describing this can be found in our blog article The Mathematics of an Infinite Earth.”

This is an interesting answer, and one that contradicts their response to the question about the map of the Earth when they stated, “…and the Antarctic lies around the outer edges.”

That earlier answer implies an edge, but this answer raises questions. Is there more of Earth to discover? More people, land, bodies of water or features? Or are we confined by an ice wall and whatever might lie beyond is inaccessible? Why have we not discovered more of the Earth in the past decades given our technological advancements? Why is there a model given on their own FAQ page of a limited disc when they then claim an indefinite plane? These are questions we may never know the answers to. Hypothetically, if the ice wall and indefinite plane ideas are combined, I’d like to see an adventure film where the characters find a way beyond the wall and explore the limitless expanse. It makes for interesting science fiction/fantasy at any rate.

There is so much more one could look at. From the FAQ page to the site’s library and forum, there is enough content to keep any curious individual going for a long time. While I don’t necessarily recommend following in my footsteps and sinking a large amount of your life into the site, it is worth a visit and it’s also worth being aware people like this exist. Perhaps they are all just trolling us, but there are stranger things in this world to behold, so I wouldn’t put this level of intellectually disingenuous thought beyond anyone. It is tin foil hattery, plain and simple.

I’ll leave you with this humorous comic.

Jesus and Mo comic
Illustration 3: Jesus and Mo talk the flat Earth and scripture. Source here.

Victory for the Separation of Church and State: Conner Christian Breakfast Club

Tri-State Freethinkers received an e-mail from a concerned parent and student at Conner Middle School in Northern Kentucky. The parent explained that last year, the school had a Baptist group come in the mornings to meet with students in the building, bring them breakfast, and minister to children. The group suddenly quit meeting last year, but to the parent’s surprise, the group was announced to begin again for the 2016 school year.

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The Tri-State Freethinkers wrote a letter the day before the group was scheduled to meet, to the school principal, copying the Superintendent, informing them of the violation, and reminding them of the State’s duty to remain neutral with regards to religion. Here is an excerpt from our letter:

School endorsement of Christianity is particularly troubling for those parents and students who are not Christians. The “[s]chool sponsorship of a religious message is impermissible because it sends the ancillary message to members of the audience who are nonadherents ‘that they are outsiders, not full members of the political community and accompanying message to adherents that they are insiders, favored members of the political community.” Santa Fe Indep. Sch. Dist. v. Doe, 530 U.S. 290, 309-10 (2001)(quoting Lynch v. Donnelly, 465 U.S. at 668)(O’Connor, J., concurring).

It is a violation of the Establishment Clause for Conner Middle School to promote, organize, or host religious instruction in the school. Even the name of the program, Conner Christian Breakfast Club, sends a clear message to students and their families that this program is supported by the school.

Tri-State Freethinkers received word from a teacher working within the school that within a few hours of the letter being sent, an announcement was made that the Breakfast Club was cancelled. We then received a letter from the school district’s attorneys.

They stated that because the group had never met, that there was no violation, and the school was “proceeding in accordance with policy and applicable law”.

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While we are disappointed that the school hides behind the fact that our notice was what prevented the group from meeting, we are nonetheless happy that the students of Conner Middle School will not be subjected to the school’s unconstitutional endorsement of Christianity.

UC SSA Students Letter to Gov. Kasich

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The following is a letter sent from Taylor Haynes, President of the University of Cincinnati Secular Student Alliance, to Governor John Kasich, regarding his comments about atheism.


Governor Kasich,
As a group of concerned citizens, we were troubled by your recent comments regarding Daniel Radcliffe and atheism. Seemingly unprovoked, you declared that Mr. Radcliffe being an atheist is “a weird thing.”
For you to say that there is something “wrong” with him being an atheist singles out a considerable portion of your constituency. Based on the 2014 findings of the Pew Research Center, those not identifying with any religion made up 22.8% of the population, which is markedly higher than the 16.1% that identified as such only seven years earlier. Not only are the non-religious a sizable segment of the population, but they are a quickly growing one as well. In Ohio alone, the non-religious make up millions of citizens; they are all around you, and you likely interact with some of them every single day. Making such a comment that alienates such a large portion of your constituency indicates a certain separation between you and the people you are supposed to be serving.
Further, we find it especially troubling that your comments serve to suggest that you are no ally to secularism, a pillar of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, a document which you are sworn to “support, protect, and defend.” We hope that this is not the case and that you fully support the First Amendment, but your comments are concerning in this regard.
The University of Cincinnati Secular Student Alliance is an affiliate organization of the Secular Student Alliance, a nationwide educational non-profit organization. We place high value in scientific reason and secularism. Many of our members are atheists, and there is nothing “wrong” nor “weird” about being so.
I hope that you will take some time to become better acquainted with the non-religious portions of your constituency and address your recent comments. I look forward to hearing from you.
Sincerely,
Taylor J. Haynes
President, UC SSA

The main obstacle to equality is religion.