My speech at 2012 PA State Atheist/Humanist Conference

Pennsylvania Nonbelievers, one of the organizations which made the 2012 PA State Atheist/Humanist Conference a reality, recently uploaded my speech from the conference. Some parts of my speech were read from an essay I had written concerning separation of church and state issues in the state of Pennsylvania in which I have been directly involved with or otherwise impacted in some way.

I spoke about Pennsylvania’s ‘Year of the Bible’ legislation, sectarian governmental prayer in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, coercion of citizens who remain seated for governmental prayer, proposed school voucher programs for religious schools in Pennsylvania, my “Atheists.” bus ad which was rejected on grounds of being ‘controversial’ and ‘an attack on religion,’ and much more.

During the question and answer session, I spoke about handling conflict and how individuals who do not deal well with conflict can contribute to activism, roles people can play in the secular movement, religious school vouchers, styles of atheist activism, and the “Atheists.” bus ad.

Enjoy the speech and, as always, comment below!

Here is the text of the essay which informed this speech:

As a resident of Pennsylvania, it is quite apparent to me that the continual intersection between religion and government interferes with democracy and threatens the Establishment Clause. While religious belief injected into the workings of democracy in Pennsylvania is harmful, it seems especially harmful in an election year when pious politicians pander to religious constituents while lawmakers who might otherwise dissent in cases of governmental wrongs are afraid to dissent. Considering at least four recent Establishment Clause issues in Pennsylvania — legislation declaring 2012 to be “The Year of the Bible,” sectarian governmental prayer, coercion of citizens who dare to remain seated for governmental prayer, and intentions to fund religious schools with taxpayer monies — should convince Pennsylvanians to realize that they need separation of religion and government.

Pennsylvanian lawmakers have recently seemed to neglect section three of Pennsylvania’s state constitution which states, “All men have a natural and indefeasible right to worship Almighty God according to the dictates of their own consciences” and “no human authority can, in any case whatever, control or interfere with the rights of conscience, and no preference shall ever be given by law to any religious establishments or modes of worship.” A guideline such as this, if followed, would preserve a separation of church and state in Pennsylvania, but it has been ignored.

One particular piece of legislation that seems to be a clear example of religious pandering is the unanimously affirmed House Resolution No. 535, a ‘non-controversial resolution,’ which declared 2012 as “The Year of the Bible” in Pennsylvania. Not only did the resolution inform Pennsylvanians of a “national need to study and apply the teachings” of the Bible, but it also included language of – when referring to the Bible – ‘holy scriptures,’ ‘the word of God,’ and noted that “renewing our knowledge of and faith in God through holy scripture can strengthen us as a nation and a people.” ‘The dictates of consciences,’ mentioned in Pennsylvania’s constitution, seem to be trampled upon because this resolution takes sides on theological issues and recommends actions — religious in nature — which Pennsylvanians should undertake.

Another obvious example of religion and government being a dangerous mix is the constant stream of unconstitutional sectarian governmental prayer during House of Representatives sessions. While some governmental prayers may be considered non-denominational, even though they seem to reference Judeo-Christian beliefs, many contain specific references to Christianity; Jesus Christ dying on a cross to save people from sin, Jesus Christ as a ‘Lord and Savior,’ the apostle Paul, ‘God in Heaven,’ and ‘the maker of Heaven and Earth’ are phrases expressed during governmental sessions.

Unconstitutional prayers also exist in a background of coercion directed toward citizens who dare to remain seated during prayer. Individuals, before entering the guest chambers, view a prominent sign which encourages people to stand for prayer. Before the prayer, the house speaker personally asks people to stand. On one occasion in which I had attended a House session, after being aware of requests to stand, I remained silently seated while taking notes in a tablet. An armed security officer had approached me and repeatedly asked me to stand to ‘show respect.’ Two requests — from the house speaker and a sign — were not enough.

Another insidious foray of Pennsylvanian lawmakers concerned a ‘school voucher’ program in which public monies — instead of going to public schools which must provide for children in Pennsylvania regardless of their religious upbringing, religious belief, or religious persuasion of parents — would fund private religious institutions which exist with a primary intention to indoctrinate impressionable minds, compel students to participate in school-led prayer, and teach young earth creationist religious doctrine instead of sound science. The ‘school voucher’ system, if passed, would have been an affront to the state constitution because lawmakers would have given preference to religious establishments – many of which would have been Christian institutions – and compel people to fund religious worship against their natural and indefeasible rights as mentioned in the state constitution.

When I had peacefully protested a rally – holding a sign which called for a separation of church and state — in which pious politicians assembled to urge lawmakers to vote in favor of the school voucher program, I was told — by one of the speakers State Senator Anthony Williams — that I should go back to my ‘community of privilege’ and send my children ‘to whichever school I wanted to whether they be atheist schools or not’. State Senator Williams, talking at me from his podium, became quite angry and said, “By the way, this is my rally, not yours” and “These are our dollars, not just yours. These are our children, not yours. These are our school systems, not yours and by the way, this has nothing to do with separation of church and state.”

In the case of the school voucher rally and the coercion I faced as a result of my remaining seated for governmental prayer, I was made to feel like a political outsider. A climate of divisiveness – pitting citizens against lawmakers acting in pious unconstitutional manners — was created in which I, as a citizen of Pennsylvania, while peacefully objecting to that which I saw as unconstitutional, was poorly treated. If lawmakers were to have remained neutral on matters of religion while acting in their official capacities to serve all citizens, there would have been no divisiveness.

Legislation declaring 2012 to be “The Year of the Bible,” unconstitutional governmental prayer, the coercion of citizens who remain seated for governmental prayer, and school voucher programs aiming to fund religion create a compelling case for freethinkers – and even many religious Pennsylvanians – to be concerned with matters of separation of church and state. Establishment Clause violations are always a problem, but they are especially grievous in election years because pandering pious politicians attempt to gain votes while lawmakers who otherwise would object to Establishment Clause violations may not because they fear losing support of constituents.

Interview with Dan Barker – Podcast #22

Episode 22 of the NEPA Freethought Society Podcast is now available! I interviewed Dan Barker, co-president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, shortly after the 2012 PA State Atheist/Humanist Conference at which both of us had spoken. This podcast episode is also accompanied by a Youtube video which is a live recording of the interview – thanks to the podcast’s producer Jason Gogola.

What contributions have freethinkers made to the history of music? Can atheists properly enjoy music with religious themes? What, exactly, is a ‘botched faith healing?’ What does the FFRF do to guard the principle of church/state separation? What are effective ways to engage religious believers? Find these answers and more by listening to and/or watching the Youtube video.

Visit the NEPA Freethought Society’s podcast page for the downloadable/streamable podcast, the Youtube video, a link to the podcast on iTunes, and much more. ‘Like’ the podcast on Facebook and subscribe to the podcast’s RSS feed.

My conference doubleheader

The last weekend of September was extremely busy, fun, and rewarding. I had been invited to speak at NEPA BlogCon and the PA State Atheist/Humanist Conference which had taken place on Saturday and Sunday of the same weekend. Both conferences were fantastically organized; they were well-promoted, sold out or close to it, ran on schedule, had great food options for attendees, tended to speakers really well, and were very professional. I look forward to attending and perhaps once again speaking at both events next year.

Both NEPA BlogCon and the PA State Atheist/Humanist Conferences were new events; these conferences had not taken place before. Since this is the case, and because both conferences had gone really well, the organizers of the conferences should get even more credit for successful events. First-time conferences are especially difficult because organizers do not have experience from previous conferences, are taking a huge gamble because they do not have an established group of people attending, and are relatively new to conference organizing (provided they had not done so in the past).

At NEPA BlogCon, I appeared on the “Using Media Effectively” panel and mostly discussed the podcast which I host. I provided tips to audience members and suggested for persons with podcasts to invite prominent and up-and-coming persons for episodes in order to grow an audience, establish credibility, gain new viewers, and offer new perspectives to audience members. My speech will soon be available and will be posted for your viewing pleasure.

At the PA State Atheist/Humanist Conference, I signed a memo of understanding with the Secular Coalition for Pennsylvania for which I had been appointed to be co-chair. After the signing ceremony, I spoke about church/state violations in Pennsylvania which had particularly impacted me. During the question and answer session, I answered a question from Sharon Hill who had asked — in light of my history dealing with controversy and being a controversial figure — what advice I would have for people who don’t deal well with controversy yet still want to be involved in the secular community as activists. My speech and the Q&A session should also soon be available.

 

Here I am with Jason Gogola, the media producer of the NEPA Freethought Society Podcast, and Dan Barker — the co-president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation — who will be featured in the next episode of the podcast. Dan had graciously agreed to be interviewed and then joined Jason and I for dinner after the conference.

 

 

 

 

 

…and here I am at the NEPA Blogcon afterparty with conference attendees and entertainers of the Antipode Dance team.

Photo from The Citizens’ Voice

NEPA BlogCon 2012

 

NEPA BlogCon 2012 is a day-long event which will be taking place on September 29 at Luzerne County Community College in Pennsylvania from registration at 8AM to the after-party ending at 7PM. This event is the first of its kind in the Northeastern Pennsylvania area offering panels and presentations discussing branding, HTML, SEO, content strategy, Google, sharing content, community management, monetizing, and all things blogging.

I have been invited to speak on the ‘Using Media Effectively’ panel to represent the NEPA Freethought Society Podcast which currently boasts 18 episodes – in addition to my recent “Does God Exist?” debate with Dr. Ronda Chervin and many recorded episodes that have not yet been released  — and is approaching its one year anniversary. I have recently authored a guest post for NEPA BlogCon 2012 concerning civility and rationality as a precursor to the panel discussion on which I will be participating. Read More

PA State Atheist/Humanist Conference

 

The PA State Atheist/Humanist Conference in Harrisburg, PA is upcoming! The conference will be taking place from Friday, September 28 (with registration and a welcome event) to Sunday, September 30. This conference is the first of its kind, as far as I know, in Pennsylvania and promises to be a great event featuring many well-known and burgeoning names in the secular movement (see the speaker list and read the above flyer).

I will be speaking and attending this event on Sunday (I will be speaking at another conference, NEPA BlogCon 2012, representing the NEPA Freethought Society Podcast, on Saturday) and will be happy to meet fans, represent SkepticBlogs, and get to know persons I have never met.

Read More