‘Atheists’ bus ad lawsuit continues, trial approaches

A court date concerning the NEPA Freethought Society’s rejected ‘Atheists’ bus ad is approaching following new court documents released on April 10, 2017.

In April of 2015, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and Schnader Harrison Segal & Lewis LLP representing the Northeastern Pennsylvania (NEPA) Freethought Society filed a free speech lawsuit against the County of Lackawanna Transit System (COLTS) following COLTS’ refusal to display a bus advertisement with the word ‘atheists.’ In July of 2015, COLTS filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit to which ACLU and Schnader responded. The motion to dismiss was denied in January of 2016. COLTS has since responded in February of 2016, and depositions took place in 2016.

Most recently — on April 10, 2017 — United States District Judge Malachy E. Mannion signed documents denying both parties’ summary judgments to resolve the issue outside of court. There will be a pre-trial conference and a trial date will be set.

Stay tuned for more updates and see past information concerning the lawsuit, some of which was linked above, here.

New documents are available below:

COLTS Summary Judgment Opinion

COLTS Summary Judgment Order

 

Conversation with Escaping Atheism

I recently spoke with Max Kolbe, formerly known as Dean Esmay, of the Escaping Atheism project and recorded the discussion for public consumption. I hoped to host a discussion to discuss outright contempt Kolbe has for atheists, misconceptions I believe he has about atheists/atheism, and our philosophical differences.

For instance, Kolbe has a strong distrust of atheists. He says he would not vote for an atheist running for public office and claims that atheists have no morals or firm ethical base, thus they should not be trusted and Christians should ‘assume betrayal is in the cards.’ Kolbe paints atheist groups as a toxic hate cult, dangerous, and having contempt for Christians stating “Christians are nothing but ni**ers to atheists.” Kolbe sees strong arguments for belief in God. We discuss some of this and more in our close to 45-minute discussion presented below.

I won’t offer much comment in this piece, but may respond at greater length to some points in the video beyond responses I had to Kolbe in the discussion itself. Sadly, much of the conversation from Kolbe was filled with personal attacks and strong language rather than inquiry into issues. However, I was extremely patient and did not respond in kind. As I said in the video, I do not prefer a caustic approach and treat others by standards of how I would like to be treated even if I believe others are behaving in a nasty manner. I’m generally not one to take offense, but it’s worth noting here — as I did in the discussion itself — that lamenting others’ poor behavior while behaving in a disrespectful manner is not advisable.

Atheist YouTube personality NoelPlum99 has responded to some content from Escaping Atheism which you can find here, here, and here.

Future content on my YouTube channel will likely be focused on Stoic Philosophy as has been the recent trend — mentioned in the conversation with Kolbe — talk about applying a practical philosophy to enrich everyday life.

Reason Rally 2016 Afterthoughts

with Freethought Society's Tree of Knowledge at 2016 Reason Rally
with Freethought Society’s Tree of Knowledge at 2016 Reason Rally

I reflect on the 2016 Reason Rally following my experience in Washington D.C., respond to criticisms of the event, and comment on the state of the secular movement.

I attended the 2016 Reason Rally to take a break from my usual schedule; have a fun social experience; connect and reconnect with people involved with atheism, skepticism, humanism, and secularism including two friends I spent most of the weekend with; help support the event by being physically present; and hear thoughtful speakers and entertainers. I had an excellent weekend and am happy I attended the 2016 Reason Rally.

Sadly, the event’s attendance seemed to be much lower than figures of close to 20,000 attendees who had appeared at the first Reason Rally in 2012 despite projections of the 2016 Reason Rally having 30,000 attendees and being the largest ever gathering of secularists in the United States. Perhaps a few thousand included the event this year.

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I’m pictured in the crowd from the 2016 Reason Rally livestream.

Hemant Mehta, blogging for his website Friendly Atheist, offers some thoughts — many of which I agree with — on  why the attendance was so low. In addition to Hemant’s thoughts, I think that a wider array of events that atheists, skeptics, humanists, and secularists can attend (the community has grown since 2012 leading to more conferences, meetups, and other events) may have lead to the low numbers. Perhaps people allocated their money and time toward other events and opted to not attend the 2016 Reason Rally.

Indeed, people with more influence or a bigger following in the atheist community could have boosted the attendance of the 2016 Reason Rally. People like Dr. Peter Boghossian, Michael Shermer, Hemant Mehta, Sam Harris, Neil DeGrasse Tyson, Seth Andrews, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Julia Galef, Michael Nugent, and Tim Minchin may have helped boost attendance. Maybe presidential candidates like Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton, or Gary Johnson would have been welcome additions? …and maybe a performance by Nightwish would have been awesome too :)

Photo with Penn Jillette. Weight loss x2.
Photo with Penn Jillette. Weight loss x2.

Thunderf00t (see here, here, and here) also comments on the 2016 Reason Rally noting that influence of social justice warriors/social justice within the atheist community is to blame for the low attendance. Like Thunderf00t, I think that the parasitic incursion of social justice and feminism has severely blighted the community. After all, I was ‘witch of the week‘ on many occasions from 2012 to 2014 as feminists and social justice warriors, as we now would call them, spent a good deal of their efforts to tarnish my name and ‘drum me out’ of the community like they did to Thunderf00t. Hell, much of the vitriol directed at me from feminists is still prominent in my Google search results years later!

I haven’t recently written much about or engaged with the online drama or blogosphere because I’ve been focused on other efforts and decided not to spend so much time reading blogs, forums, and following the drama. I have, though, remained active within the secular community by attending group meetings, hosting group meetings, attending speaker events, hosting discussion groups, speaking at a college campus, working behind the scenes on a lawsuit, and most recently attending the 2016 Reason Rally. I also share articles of interest to those in the community and stay up-to-date on non-drama news. I also don’t blog as much as I used to, but am still active in many ways.

I doubt that the 2016 Reason Rally’s code of conduct — something I think should be eliminated or reduced to ‘attendees are expected to act in accordance with local, state, and federal laws — as Thunderf00t noted had much to do with the low attendance numbers. Indeed, feminists and social justice warriors may have had influence on such a policy as this was a point of focus in their circles, but I think the real detriment, what could be a salient reason for the low attendance of the 2016 Reason Rally, is that the actions of feminists and social justice warriors are associated with people becoming less interested in secular events.

Photo with Hemant Mehta
Photo with Hemant Mehta

Thunderf00t asks whether the community is “worth saving,” presumably because feminists and social justice warriors have inflicted a good deal of harm upon the community in his eyes (I agree), but I think that the movement — even though rally attendance was low — is vibrant and important. Personally, I’m most involved with local groups as I noted and find a good sense of community. I find people who are interested in conversation. I find authentic and open-minded people who are fun to chat with. I find very little, if any, drama from online circles rearing its ugly head in local group meetings.

The bastions of drama within the community are severely on the decline are no longer being invited to speak at events. Need I name names? Surely many I could name weren’t speaking at the 2016 Reason Rally even though they were offered stage-time in 2012.

Low attendance aside, I had a great time at the event. I took numerous photographs (see my album here on my public Facebook profile), enjoyed meeting people for the first time, saw familiar faces, was entertained, and now look forward to a future Reason Rally. I think that although the attendance was low, success was had on many levels: people were energized and inspired; felt a sense of community; celebrated at a well-structured event; met like-minded people; and had a fun time.

Passersby also asked what the event was about; people told me they are atheists and that this was their first major event; and people attended the advocacy events prior to the rally. I’m sure, too, many other attendees will offer a positive report and a positive outlook for the future of the secular community no matter how blighted it was or is due to the actions of feminists and social justice warriors.

As always, feel free to comment below.

Video: Television appearance on religion in society

I recently appeared on the WFMZ-TV television program ‘Business Matters’ based in Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley representing the NEPA (Northeastern) Pennsylvania Freethought Society for the segment ‘What is the Role of Religion in Today’s Society?’

I appeared on a panel discussion alongside a Catholic representing the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, Evangelical Christian representing the Liberty Worship Center, a Muslim representing the Muslim Association of the Lehigh Valley, and a Jewish rabbi representing the Congregation of Brith Sholom.

I wasn’t able to offer lengthy thoughts because the panel was fast-paced, included many members, and tackled various topics, but I enjoyed the experience, was able to get my point across, and look forward to returning for a future episode. Thanks to the crew at WFMZ-TV and ‘Business Matters’ for the invitation. Thanks to Lehigh Valley Humanists for suggesting I appear on this program.

Watch the video below

on WFMZ-TV’s website:

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YouTube:

As always, feel free to comment below.

An atheist’s thoughts on ‘God’s Not Dead 2’

http://www.godsnotdead.com/
http://www.godsnotdead.com/

God’s Not Dead 2,’ much like its predecessor ‘God’s Not Dead’ (read my thoughts on ‘God’s Not Dead’ here), advances the idea that contemporary Christians are persecuted for their beliefs largely by atheists in positions of power. Christians in ‘God’s Not Dead 2’ are painted as martyrs under attack who can lose everything as a result of an atheist agenda to ‘prove God is dead once and for all,’ but ought to prefer (and welcome) persecution rather than ‘staying silent.’

Ms. Wesley, played by Melissa Joan Hart, is a public school teacher who responds to a student asking whether Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr’s perspectives on non-violence were similar to those of Jesus. Rather than answering in the affirmative or dodging the question in some manner (rather than injecting religious teachings into a public school history class), Ms. Wesley quotes a Gospel verse in the classroom and is later reprimanded. Instead of apologizing and agreeing not to quote scripture as school board members suggest, Ms. Wesley is sued by the ACLU who ‘dreams of a case like this.’

Throughout the film, Pureflix, the film’s creator, presents many scenarios – both relevant to the main plot and not — which they believe are indicative of Christian persecution. A public school football coach objects to being asked to refrain from prayer and moments of silence at football games. A minister – also a juror in Ms. Wesley’s court case – is arrested for failing to produce documents related to his sermons (the movie doesn’t directly explain why he was issued with a subpoena, but whatever…). Christians talk about coming persecution that has been ignored which will culminate in government saying what can and can’t be said in churches. Saying ‘God bless you’ might result in breaking the law in time to come.

The movie’s ending encourages viewers to contact Alliance Defending Freedom if they are being ‘challenged for living their faith,’ presents a laundry list of cases in which people were allegedly persecuted, and encourages people to tweet with the hashtag ‘TheHumanRight’ joining a movement noting that silence is the enemy of truth. Christian band Newsboys sings ‘Don’t let them silence you. You’ll wish you spoke your mind’ and ‘When did it become a rule not to say your name in school?’ Newsboys lyrics also encourage people to be guilty, speaking about God even if it gets them convicted.

As expected, PureFlix, producers of ‘God’s Not Dead 2,’ once again paints atheists as vindictive, heartless, intolerant, and rude. Unlike previous Pureflix films, there are no scenes including a breakup between a couple because a woman is soon going to die (How could you do this to me? We had a commitment!) or an atheistic philosophy professor telling his Christian student that he’s going to take pleasure in failing him, but there are new scenes taking jabs at atheists.

According to the main character’s father or grandfather, atheism takes away hope (and also doesn’t take away the pain). Freethinking parents seem to show no grief following the death of their son and are just ‘over it’ following the loss – so much so that they don’t speak with their daughter about the loss on-screen, are merely focused on work-related tasks, and have ‘people from a charity place’ (for some reason they don’t mention The Salvation Army) collect the son’s possessions. A student, presumably an atheist, says he wouldn’t die for his beliefs and the Christian teacher notes that ‘some don’t have that courage.’

http://godsnotdead.com/videosphotos
http://godsnotdead.com/videosphotos

A father slaps his college-aged son across the face, tells him he has disgraced his family, disobeyed, says that he is foolish for throwing away everything his family has done, and that he is no longer his son…all for becoming a Christian. The son says that he is willing to throw away everything for Jesus (there’s that martyr encouragement again) and later opts to become a minister.

After a minister collapses in a courtroom, an atheist attorney says that this proves there is no god.

Parents engage in a lawsuit on their daughter’s behalf because they believe this will help her get into an Ivy League school through the prestige of being in the case and with the money won from judgment. They don’t bother to ask about her thoughts, though, and many talk about how she is a minor whose rights and views don’t matter in the eyes of the court. Atheists want to dismiss jurors who enjoy the television show ‘Duck Dynasty’ or who have have served in the military because they resemble ‘God and country.’

Cameos from Lee Strobel, Gary Habermas, Mike Huckabee, and other Christian authors grace the cast and courtroom. The case itself, involving some of these Christian authors, is painted as ‘faith being on trial’ and aims to prove Jesus was a historical figure (the defense maintains that if Ms. Wesley merely quoted a historical figure she was not preaching, but rather just answering a question). The author of a book ‘Cold Case Christianity‘ argues that the reliable eyewitness testimony of the Gospels is sufficient to establish Jesus was a historical figure and Lee Strobel says that because our calendar was split into A.D. and B.C. Jesus’ existence is vindicated.

Although the movie paints Ms. Wesley as being unfairly persecuted and her right to believe in God on trial, I think this description misses the mark. The movie actually presents a compelling case for Ms. Wesley’s remarks being constituted as an endorsement of religion and preaching in the classroom, but she is ultimately found innocent (did God intervene?) following a passionate dare from her attorney challenging the jurors to convict her: “In the name of tolerance and diversity, stomp her out!” He talks about how she should be the last spark of faith in society and that if people fail to hide their beliefs they should be arrested by ‘enforcement on the end of a gun.’

http://godsnotdead.com/videosphotos
http://godsnotdead.com/videosphotos

Ms. Wesley may of course engage in religious activity in her private life, but in her capacity as a public school teacher, she shouldn’t preach in the classroom. She’s not being sued because she is religious or because she merely mentioned Jesus, but rather because she unnecessarily quoted scripture in the classroom; she didn’t ‘just answer a question honestly’ as the movie argues.

After all, the atheist attorney noted in courtroom proceedings that faith and Christianity were not on trial, but rather Ms. Wesley was on trial for giving an endorsement of what she believes as a Christian. Ms. Wesley, he noted, took an innocent question and used it as a moment to preach similar to how a devout Muslim quoting the Koran in a class – chapter and verse – would be reasonably viewed as giving an endorsement of the Koran, presenting it as superior to other faiths. This all was lost on the film’s producers, though, but at least one line of reasonable argumentation was presented by an atheist in the film.

Even if one were to argue that there is a lack of merit in the lawsuit against Ms. Wesley, many Establishment Clause violations are apparent throughout America – some much more serious than a teacher quoting scripture in a classroom as a response to a student’s question…and these are not instances of faith being on trial, Christians’ rights being stomped out in the name of tolerance and diversity, or a campaign to prove that God is dead. Christians are simply not being persecuted in a manner this movie or other PureFlix films suggest.

Read more thoughts about this film on Friendlyatheist.com.

Read my thoughts on the PureFlix film ‘Do You Believe?’ here.