10/12 Times Leader article

Photo c/o of The Times Leader, no photographer credit was affixed to the picture in the original article
Photo c/o of The Times Leader, no photographer credit was affixed to the picture in the original article

I was interviewed for an October 12 The Times Leader article which reports on the Public Square Rosary Crusade I protested and interviews me and Bill Dickerson of the NEPA Freethought Society concerning our protest.

For more background on the Public Square Rosary Crusade and my protest of it please read my thoughts on the event, my press release announcing a protest, another newspaper article in which I appeared, and afterthoughts reported on Brave Hero Radio. The protest was offered due to the event’s flyer promoting governmental prayer and opposing secularism.

The Times Leader article, partially reproduced for purposes of archive, is available below. Click the article’s title for the full, original article. Feel free to comment here and on the article itself, especially in response to other commenters.

W-B rosary rally met with passive protest

October 12. 2013 11:18PM
JON O’CONNELL joconnell@timesleader.com

WILKES-BARRE — Worshippers took turns reciting portions of the rosary Saturday in Our Lady of Fatima Grotto in quiet reverance.

Behind them, two protesters stood for the length of the service, which was part of a national Catholic event called Public Square Rosary Rally. The protesters stood equally as quiet but holding a sign that read “Nothing Fails Like Prayer.”

The two men, Justin Vacula and Bill Dickerson, said they attended not to cause anger, but to tell the worshippers prayer has never effectively solved anything and they should not depend so heavily on it. They had been joined by a third person but he left shortly after the service began.

Some commenters, at the time of this posting, considered the protest to be disrespecting people and urged that atheists should respect the beliefs of people. I am not sure what it means to respect one’s beliefs. Beliefs are not entities which can be respected or disrespected. Saying that prayer fails is not disrespectful of persons, but rather is sharing my perspective concerning the efficacy of [intercessory] prayer. Prayer has simply not been demonstrated to be effective and thus will not fix the problems which ails the United States. Government leaders will not, contrary to what the America Needs Fatima organization thinks, benefit from prayer.

If I were to protest with a sign saying “Catholics are stupid” or something similar, a case can be made for disrespect, but merely pointing out that nothing fails like prayer is not disrespectful of persons; nothing fails like prayer is a response to a particular claim, a belief which is not vindicated by evidence. I did not disrupt the rally, say anything nasty about or to any of the protesters, and even protested on the opposite side of the street. Mere disagreement is not disrespect.

Sometimes messages from atheists can be viewed as ‘hard-hitting’ because we are challenging cherished beliefs. When challenging cherished religious beliefs, people may consider a simple message like nothing fails like prayer to be offensive, but instead of claiming offense and considering atheists disrespectful, they should examine belief in the efficacy of prayer and wonder why we are saying what we are saying. Where is the evidence that intercessory prayer has an effect? Is there good reason to believe that government leaders praying to God will receive some special wisdom or invoke a deific intervention?

The “Nothing Fails Like Prayer” banner spawned in response to the Circle the Square with Prayer event which commemorated the National Day of Prayer – an egregious violation of church/state separation with blatantly Christian roots which the United States government endorses and has defended. The banner returned in protest of the Public Square Rosary Crusade because of the overlap between religion and government which was suggested in the event’s flyer. I can’t “live and let live” as some religious people (and even atheists) tell me as long as the wall of separation of church and state continues to be eroded (and people claim that my opposition to religious belief is disrespectful of persons).

Public Square Rosary Crusade protest afterthoughts

Protesting outside "Public Square Rosary Crusade" event holding FFRF "Nothing Fails Like Prayer" banner
Protesting outside “Public Square Rosary Crusade” event holding FFRF “Nothing Fails Like Prayer” banner

My protest of today’s Public Square Rosary Crusade went well (see a press release announcing the protest, an interview I had with a newspaper reporter, and more thoughts I offered on the event prior to the protest). A full report will be contained within tonight’s October 12 episode of Brave Hero Radio.

Alongside fellow secularists and atheists from the NEPA Freethought Society, I held the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) “Nothing Fails Like Prayer” banner outside the event; posed for a picture and answered questions for an interview to be included in an upcoming newspaper article; and conversed with a woman who engaged me in conversation (I also invited her to call the show tonight). Sadly, attendees largely refused to converse with us – much unlike those who attended the Circle the Square with Prayer event I protested in May 2013.

Passerby were mostly indifferent save one person who flipped the bird, one person who shook his head in disgust, and a person who gave a ‘thumbs up.’

The Public Square Rosary Crusade was similar to a standard Catholic mass; the event included many prayers asking for God to intercede in human affairs, the song “God Bless America,” a sermon urging people to maintain faith in God in spite of  ‘tempests in our lives,’ and appeals for non-believers to turn to God so that they can know him and go to Heaven.

Banners reading “As human efforts fail to solve America’s key problems, we turn to God, though His Holy Mother, asking His urgent help” surrounded the grotto.

Photos from the protest are to come.

Tune in tonight for a full report and to call the show. If you miss the live broadcast, follow the same link for an archived version. See the episode description below.

Justin Vacula — joined by Karla Porter — will discuss his experience protesting the “Public Square Rosary Crusade” in Wilkes-Barre, PA hours following the event. See Vacula’s press release announcing the protest for more information. Fellow protesters are also welcome to join the discussion.

As always, callers, no matter their viewpoints, are welcome to join the discussion. Call the number on your screen, 718-766-4598, or click the Skype-to-call button on the show’s page when the show goes live to join the caller queue.
 
Listen live, join the live chat, and use the same link following the live broadcast to stream and/or download the archived show.
 
Opening music is provided by memewar.net. Break music is provided by Phil Giordana.
 
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10/11 Citizens’ Voice interview

FFRF "Nothing Fails Like Prayer" banner on Public Square in Wilkes-Barre
FFRF “Nothing Fails Like Prayer” banner on Public Square in Wilkes-Barre

I recently spoke with a reporter for The Citizens’ Voice concerning my upcoming protest of the “Public Square Rosary Crusade” in which I and other local secularists will advocate for separation of church and state and rebut religious claims such as the efficacy of prayer.

Feel free to comment on the article or share your thoughts here.

Following is the interview – reproduced here for purposes of archiving:

Group to stage protest for religion, government separation

A protest group wants a clearer separation between religion and Wilkes-Barre city government.

On Saturday, members of the group are hitting the streets with a banner reading, “Nothing Fails Like Prayer” to get their message across.

“We think our leaders should fix this world we’re living in instead of yearning for another one,” the co-organizer of the protest, Justin Vacula, said.

Vacula and members of the NEPA Freethought Society, a local group of atheists, agnostics and secularists, will stage a peaceful protest at noon Saturday on North Street, near the Our Lady of Fatima grotto.

Vacula said the protest is intended to spark conversation and fight the overlap between religion and government. The organization is not looking to stir up tension, he said.

In a press release announcing the event, Vacula focused on members of the Wilkes-Barre city council who begin meetings with prayer, which he says is “inappropriate and potentially illegal.”

“We don’t think prayer will answer real-world (problems),” Vacula said. Government-led prayer, he said, has not resolved poverty, unemployment and other issues in Wilkes-Barre.

About 10 protesters are expected to join Vacula. He encourages the public to join in.

“Every person has inherent dignity and should be treated with respect, whether or not they share our beliefs,” Diocese of Scranton spokesperson Bill Genello said in an email Thursday. “We also believe that the Church has the right and the duty to offer its voice to the discussion of public policy issues to ensure that the welfare of all is protected.”

Genello also said that any discourse Saturday should be “conducted in a respectful manner.”

This will not be the first time the NEPA Freethought Society has brought out the “Nothing Fails Like Prayer” banner, as earlier this year, it was displayed on Public Square in Wilkes-Barre.

“I think this will be the perfect place for that banner,” Vacula said.

mbufano@citizensvoice.com

570-821-2056, @CVBufano

Upcoming discussion with Pastor Dan Nichols on religious faith, atheism

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE October 9, 2013
Media Contacts: Justin Vacula, justinvacula [at] gmail.com
Dan Nichols, dan [at] restoredchurch.org

Pastor and atheist to host open-to-the-public discussion on religious faith, atheism 

Wilkes-Barre – Pastor Dan Nichols of Restored Church and atheist activist Justin Vacula of the NEPA Freethought Society will meet for a friendly two hour open-to-the-public discussion concerning religious faith and atheism on Sunday November 3, 2013 in the Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania Downtown Arts building located at 47 North Franklin Street. The discussion begins at 7:00PM Eastern Time. Doors open at 6:30PM.

Nichols and Vacula will share their personal stories, explain their perspectives pertaining to religious belief, and engage in respectful critical discussion. Audience members will be invited to present questions to both participants following the discussion.

Parking is available across the street. Parking signs will be posted.

Donations are appreciated and will be accepted at the event to help fund the Downtown Arts building.

The event will also be streamed live online and later archived via Vacula’s online radio show — Brave Hero Radio — for those who may not attend.  Online and in-person viewers may also participate in a live chat streaming during the event.

Event attendees may RSVP for and talk about the event through Facebook at tinyurl.com/faithdiscussion.

Dan is a follower of Jesus who has preached to thousands of people across America since becoming a traveling Christian speaker in March 2010. He was officially ordained in September 2011. Dan is currently finishing two master’s degrees from Baptist Bible Graduate School and Baptist Bible Seminary located in Clarks Summit, PA. He is now a full-time church planter whose first church plant Restored Church recently launched in September 2013 in Downtown Wilkes-Barre. Dan recently married his best friend Joy and they live in South Wilkes-Barre. Since High School, Dan has aggressively chased answers to questions challenging Christian belief as well as the reasons behind the answers.

Justin Vacula — writer for justinvacula.com — is a public speaker, debater, atheist activist, and an activist for the separation of religion and government who hosts the NEPA Freethought Society Podcast and Brave Hero Radio. He has participated in previous formal debates and has spoken at various conferences and events. Vacula received bachelor’s degrees in Philosophy and Psychology and the distinguished W.A. Kilburn Memorial Award for Philosophy from King’s College. He is currently enrolled in Marywood University’s graduate-level Mental Health Counseling program. Justin holds leadership roles as the co-organizer, spokesperson, and a board member of the NEPA Freethought Society.

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