Rick Wingrove and Larry Mendoza Address Loudoun County Board of Supervisors

If you have been following the events on the Court House Lawn, you will have observed that December of 2011 was  a very controversial and highly contentious episode in the ongoing saga of the Court House lawn displays. Members of Beltway/NOVA once again placed a number of displays on the lawn in response to the annual County-facilitated christian nativity display.

Beltway/NOVA members and friends had permits for 6 of the 9 available spots. There was a great Spaghetti Monster Display, and an Open Letter from Jesus to christians, and one celebrating the Separation of Church and State.  Lydia provided a beautiful tree of knowledge. We provided the “Seasons Greetings” display pictured in the Dec. 11 post below. But, the display that caused the most uproar from the local christian community was the Skeleton Santa on a cross, discussed in the Dec.6 post below.

Following the December media circus about the lawn displays, the County has temporarily suspended all displays on the lawn. In January, following the installation of the newly elected, all-republican Board of Supervisors, Rick Wingrove and Larry Mendoza spoke at the monthly Board of Supervisors, urging them to end all displays on the lawn. We also urged them to cease the new practice  – since the election of the new board – of opening sessions with christian prayer.

We were accused in the local press of being “threatening”. It is not a threat to warn a child that they are about to burn their fingers – it is useful knowledge that can prevent costly, painful mistakes. We were informing them that continued endorsement of christian displays and opening with sectarian prayer exposed the County to potential litigation. Very expensive litigation which they would probably lose. But, no one wants to file a lawsuit because it would probably cost the County north of $1 million. We would rather they simply honor the letter and the spirit of the Constitution and just stop.

It is our desire to bring the County into voluntary compliance with the Constitution principles of church/state separation. That is why we have used a gentle approach with the County, taking advantage of our legal right to put displays on the lawn. Our displays have been tasteful and attractive, and have not directly attacked any one’s religion, although each and every one of them has been denounced as attacking christianity. We have stayed away from direct criticism, confining our argument to Separation.

We have attempted to do this as cordially as possible, to comply with County rules, and to use free and public access to the Board to express our concerns. Watch the video (sorry, it’s a little hard to hear) and see for yourself.

Bible Reading Marathon Under Way on Government Property

Even as Loudoun County has placed a “moratorium” on all unattended displays on the Court House lawn, they continue to accept and approve permits for other interest groups, particularly religious groups. The moratorium is in place until they figure out how to keep the atheists off the lawn while allowing  the christians on with some semblance of legal ass coverage.

Currently, Loudoun County (LoCo) is one of dozens of municipalities in the US who are allowing a concerted effort to deny and destroy the wall of separation between religion and government.

This aggravated denial of Separation is galling, when it is not comical. On one hand they are engaged in an effort to erase the distinction between religion and government, and doing so in full collusion with the all-republican County Board of Supervisors.

On the other hand, their effort to reach a wide audience is a failure. The picture tells the tale.

Failure of Faith

Turnout is almost non-existent.

 

FESTIVUS 6

Our 6th annual Festivus party will be held on Saturday, Dec. 8th, starting at 6:00PM.  No need to bring anything – food, drinks, and entertainment will be provided.

To RSVP, go to NOVA Atheists website:  http://www.meetup.com/NOVA-Atheists/events/90972732/

Be there or hear about it later!

Notice To Our Members and Donors

We would like to inform our members and donors of a legal dispute in which Beltway Atheists is currently involved.

On March 15, 2011, Beltway Atheists Inc. applied for a trademark with the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). It was approved for publication on June 27, 2011 and published for opposition in the Trademark Official Gazette (OG) on August 30, 2011 (http://tarr.uspto.gov/tarr?regser=serial&entry=85267284).  We did so to protect our brand so we can accomplish our stated mission.

On September 28, 2011, 2 days before the opposition deadline, a trademark opposition was filed by “Capital Beltway Atheists”, an unincorporated association, by its officers Shelley Mountjoy and Christopher Arntzen,” claiming exclusive rights to the name Beltway Atheists (http://ttabvue.uspto.gov/ttabvue/v?pno=91201790&pty=OPP&eno=1). It is the opinion of the Board of Directors of Beltway Atheists Inc. that this opposition is completely without merit and we intend to fight this opposition and defend our trademark vigorously. Our trademark was created in 2005, in continuous operation since then, Incorporated in 2008, and received official non-profit status in 2010. If we do not defend our name, it will minimize our effectiveness in the local community, and Beltway Atheists could no longer exist.

As a result of this dispute, Beltway Atheists Inc. has retained the services of a lawyer to defend our trademark.

We’d like to apologize to our donors for any delays caused by this legal issue to the goals and activities of Beltway Atheists and our social arm NOVA Atheists, and thank you for your continued support and contributions.

Sincerely,

Rick Wingrove, CEO of Beltway Atheists Inc.

Rick is Profiled in the Washington Examiner

On Sunday, January 1, 2012, Rick Wingrove was profiled in The Washington Examiner. On Sundays, The Examiner runs a regular, full page feature called Credo. Credo has previously featured people like Christopher Hitchens and Barry Lynn as well as local religious and political figures.

You can read Rick’s Credo page online: http://washingtonexaminer.com/local/people/2011/12/credo-rick-wingrove/2047971

Or you can read the PDF version of the page, pictured above: http://beltwayatheists.org/pdf/RickWingrove_Credo.pdf

 

NOVA Atheists Display Is Now Up

Our Seasonal Attack on Christianity

On Saturday, Dec. 16, we put up our own display on the Loudoun County Court House lawn. The NOVA display, like all of our previous displays, failed to trash christianity or to attack christmas. The local christian community is, predictably, outraged at the anti-christian, anti christmas hate speech in our display. The obvious lesson here? Haters are just gonna hate. And facts are irrelevant.

Our display followed a week of controversy following the vandalism of the Skeleton Santa display.

Jeff Heflin, son of a NOVA Atheists member, but who refers to himself as a christian, put up a skeleton in a Santa suit on a cross. It was clearly stated in his Permit Application to the county that the art piece was critical of the takeover of christmas by big box commercialism. This would seem to be something that christians and atheists agree on. But naturally, the display evoked the usual knee-jerk, sky-is-falling, full martyrdom response we get from the christian community for any perceived insult, such as our continued attempts to exercise our free speech rights.

The legally permitted display was vandalized in broad daylight, on government property, in front of a Channel 9 camera and in front of a Loudoun County Sherriff’s Deputy, by a local christian woman who imagines that the test of Free Speech is whatever offends her. The Deputy walked around the vandal and forced the news camera off the Court House property, then walked back past the vandal, refusing to “get involved in all that,” and disappeared back into the County offices. Despite the fact that the footage of the vandalism, showing the woman boasting of her righteous indignation, and of the Deputy ignoring the crime, was shown twice on Channel 9, there has been no arrest.

That the christian community was absolutely wrong about the display did not alter their narrative, that it was an atheist attack on christianity. And their lament included the usual nonsensical contradiction. They would, in one breath, claim to be an overwhelming majority, apparently thinking that the rights of minorities depend upon the  permission of the majority, and, in the next breath, claim to be oppressed by atheists, even as they stand holding a sign asserting that only 2% of Americans are atheists.

But the christian community never fails to deliver. The following email, sent to each board member of Beltway Atheists,  would seem to represent the sentiment of some of the more adamant, vocal, and impulse control-challenged members of the christian community:

sigh, you people suck for what you are doing in Leesburg, assfucking clowns if you ask me…since you are open minded and tolerant, send your whore wives over and let me skull fuck them while you watch…you cocksuckers are nothing more than pussy ass contrarians that are full of shit and can kiss my motherfucking ass…I love free speech too you limped dick pussy ass motherfuckers…love and joy, Stace.

Hey, Stace! Learn that in church?

Rick Wingrove to appear on Thom Hartmann’s The Big Picture

Rick will appear on Thom Hartmann’s cable program, The Big Picture, tonight at 9:00. The discussion will be about American Atheists’ aerial banners which were flown in 26 states on July 4th. The banners are intended to make the point that atheists are patriots and that the U.S. is not a christian nation.

The show will air locally on cable but is not available everywhere.

DC Metro Area
Comcast -­ channel  274;
Verizon Fios -­ channel  455;     
Cox Cable -­ channel  473;     
RCN Cable -­ channel 33;     
Over the Air -­ digital channel 30.4;     
Dish Networks (DC Area Only) -­ channel 8084.

More information about Thom Hartmann available here: http://www.thomhartmann.com/tv

Rick Wingrove on CNN

On the American Atheists 4th of July Banners

Rick Wingrove, head of Beltway Atheists, Inc., and Virginia State Director for American Atheists, will appear on CNN Sunday Morning on Sunday, July 3, at 8:30 AM. Rick will be interviewed by the host, T.J. Holmes, regarding the aerial banners that American Atheists will be flying over 26 American cities on the 4th of July.

There are 2 banners: One says, GodLESS America; the other says, Atheism is Patriotic.

The purpose of the banners is to raise awareness of atheists in American and to make the point that atheists are patriotic Americans and proud citizens with rights fully equal to the most adamantly religious.  The banners will also illustrate the point that Separation of Church and State is built into the very fabric of the Constitution.

American Atheists is already meeting stiff resistance to both the message and the method. Some opponents complained heatedly about the billboards – which were enormously successful for raising awareness and raising funds, as well as getting a lot of airtime for atheists on the news channels. But most opponents simply hate the messengers and the message and would silence us if possible. There is already near apoplexy in certain parts of the christian community.

Nevertheless, watch Rick on Sunday and look for a banner flying near you on July 4th!

Time State Cities Location
1200-1300 Alabama Orange Beach, Gulf Shores, Dauphin
Island
State Line to Bayou la Batre
1900-2000 California Los Angeles, Santa Monica Santa Monica to Manhatten Beach
0900-1000 Colorado Denver Greely Stampede
0900-1000 Conn. Mystic, New London, Groton Mystic, Stonington, Sandy Point, New London
1100-1200 Florida Miami Beach, South Beach South Beach to Lauderdale
1030-1200 Illinois Racine, Zion, Libertyville Racine South to Zion -Waukegan – Libertyville -Highland Park to Grays
Lake
0900-1000 Indiana Lake Potaka, Paoli Patoka Lake / Paoli Area
1030-1230 Louisiana Mandaville, Covington,
Abita Springs
Mandaville Seafood Fest/ Mandaville Downtown
1500-1600 Mass. South Cape Cod Osterman to Chatham Beaches
1900-2000 Michigan Detroit Downtown/ Heart Plaza
1300-1400 Minnesota Parade Forrest Lake, Roseville Parade Forrest Lake/ White Bear Lake/ Roseville Fest
1100-1200 Mississippi Biloxi, Gulfport Biloxi Beaches
1000-1100 Missouri Lake of the Ozarks Osage Beach
0800-0900 Nebraska Lake Whitney Chadron/Lake Whitney
0900-1000 New Jersey Long Branch, Sandy Hook Beaches Long Branch To Sandy Hook Beaches
1000-1100 New York Harbor, Liberty Island Harbor Liberty Island
1500-1600 N. Dakota Grand Forks Grand Forks/Downtown
1700-1900 N. Carolina Coast South border to 20 miles Myrtle Beach, then up/down coast until 7
1900-2000 Ohio Toledo Downtown/ Zoo Amphitheater
1600-1700 Oregon Portland, Vancouver Downtown Vancuver & Portland/Stadium
1000-1100 Rhode Is. Coast Westerly, Watch Hill, Misquamicut, Weekapaug, Charlestown, Green Hill, Matunuck, Point Judith, Scarborough, Narragansett
1000-1100 S. Carolina Myrtle Beach N. Myrtle Beach to Garden City
0900-1000 S. Dakota Rapid City Downtown/Parade
1600-1700 Texas Ft. Worth, Arlington Rangers Pregame
1700-1800 Wash. Seattle Gas Works Park Myrtle Edwards Beach
0900-1000 Wisconsin Racine, Milwaukee Racine – Oak Creek – Bayview – Greenfield and back to Racine via Franklin

Breakfast with Richard Dawkins

Dr. Richard Dawkins

On Monday morning, April 4th, a small group of 30 people sat down to Breakfast with Dr. Richard Dawkins. The event was a fundraiser for Beltway Atheist Inc., arranged because of our affiliation with American Atheists, and the close cooperative realtionship between American Atheists and the Richard Dawkins Foundation.

The Breakfast was held at Busboys and Poets in Shirlington, Virginia. Despite taking place at 9:00AM on a Monday morning, all available seats were taken. There was no one present who had not read The God Delusion.

Rather than make a prepared speech, Dr. Dawkins headed an open discussion. Tables were set up conference-style, so everyone had an opportunity to engage directly in the discussion with Dr. Dawkins.

Discussion touched lightly on Evolution – since there was no dissent in the room – and focused more on Science education, the way it is currently failing in the US, and possible approaches to begin to reverse the downward trend. No one can dispute that Science education has been under attack in the US and has sustained damage under the assault from the radical christianism of the right. It will take a focused and sustained effort from the Community of Reason to repair the damage.

One of the most practical and realistic suggestions made by Dr. Dawkins was, in confronting school systems that are permitting the science of evolution to be silenced and supplanted the science with stealth creationism, to keep the science separate from Atheism. In other words, don’t make the debate about atheism or that is all it will be about. Make it about Science and stay on point.

Additionally, monitor your kids’ schools, find out what is going on in science classes and find ways to document religious intrusions.
Also present was Dave Silverman, president of American Atheists, who spoke about the growth and outreach of a revitalized American Atheists Organization, recoverning from a decade of decline to take an aggressive new lead in the advancement of atheism, and in defending the Constitutional separation of religion and government.

Present at the Breakfast were people who drove in from Baltimore and Richmond, and one guy who flew in from Chicago for the event. There were at least 3 teachers, one EMT, the local head of CFI, and one high school student cutting class. There were student leaders from American University, VCU, and Johns Hopkins in Baltimore. It as a diverse cross section of the Atheist community who took advantage of a very rare opportunity.

This was a very unique opportunity to meet and talk directly with one of the most recognizable and accomplished  people in the Atheist community – someone whose book is probably visible from where you are sitting.

With the generous donation of time and resources by The Richard Dawkins Foundation and American Atheists, Beltway Atheist raised $5000 which will be applied towards the goals in our mission statement: the advancement and acceptance of atheism, the advancement of science and science education, and the defense of separation of church anxd state.

A Small Victory

Thomas Jefferson

In March, even as Einstein was still sitting proudly on the lawn of the Loudoun County Courthouse in downtown Leesburg, I submitted an application to the county to put up our next display in April.  By luck, Thomas Jefferson has an April birthday. It just seemed ideal for our next exercise in free speech.

This morning my application was denied in a terse email from the county. Back to that in a minute.

As many of you know, Beltway Atheists is engaged in  a program I informally call Science on the Lawn, although it will inevitably include figures related to Separation. This all started before Christmas of 2009 when the county, fearing it would get sued, decided with the help of the ACLU, that if they wanted to keep the Nativity scene they had hosted for the last 40 years, they were going to have to let others put displays on the Courthouse lawn. So we did.

Free speech is a tricky thing, as the county has discovered. It turns out that certain elected officials were not counting on people, especially the atheist community, actually using it. And they seem less than enthusiastic about it now that we are actually taking advantage of it. For Christmas of 2010, the atheist community put up displays in 6 of the 10 available spots on the Courthouse lawn including the coveted corner spot where the nativity scene had always been set up.

Some local officials have made no secret of their disdain for our very presence. Prior to our Einstein display, another member, Larry M. and I attended a Grounds Committee meeting to observe the process and to make sure that no one was trying to screw us. Someone was trying to screw us. One member of the community clearly resented our presenced and seized on a technicality to try to deny us a permit. The technicality? We had not stated a specific numbered spot where we wanted to place our display. That was not an oversight – it was what we had been instructed to do by the county when there were applications for all of the spots. We were told not to ask for a specific spot because they would be handed out on a first come, firt served basis. Besides, there were no other applications for displays, so I wasnt competing agains anyone for a spot!

So when the surly board member tried to pull that , I quickly pulled out the extra copy of the application that I had brought with me, scribbled in a plot number and put it in his hands. Figuratively speaking, his head exploded. But we got our permit.

So anyway, this morning our permit for April was denied. I suspected that that might happen because there were other members of the Grounds committee who were also openly contemptuous of our assault on the regular order in the county. Another clue was when the contact for the Grounds committee emailed me a few day ago asking me to submit the content of our display in advance for consideration. I declined to do that. To do so would have been an agreement to censorship – a concession that the content was subject to the approval of people who had previously tried to prevent our participation.  The denial email stated the failure to submit content for approval as the reason for the denial.

So, I pulled out the General Rules on the county website. These are the rules the county agreed to and put into effect less than a year ago –  rules they grudgingly agreed to so that they could continue to invite the religious displays onto the lawn with legal coverage. And, just as I thought, the rules do not require anyone to submit their content for approval.

I immediately responded to the denial email, informing the county that the committee was once again seizing on a technicality to deny me permission to put up a display, but with one major difference: this technicality was not in the published rules.

I also wrote an appeal letter to be hand delivered to the office of the County Administrator the next day. As I carefully constructed a very grown up sounding appeal making my case point by point, I had no idea that it would never be delivered.

Late in the day, the Chairman of the Grounds committee called me at home. When I met him at the committee meeting  we attended, I immediately pegged him as a closet atheist and an ally. I was not mistaken. He told me that he wanted to help me get my permit through so that I could put up the Jefferson banner as requested in time for Tom’s birthday. He was going to walk it around to the other members and get it approved by the next day.

But, disappointingly,  he asked me to submit the contents of the banner for approval because it was the only way he would be able to get signoff from a mojority.

Just to put it behind us, Ioffered this compromise: I said I would, as a courtesy to the committee,  provide the text of the banner to him IF he would first get a statement from the committee acknowledging that what they were asking was not required by the rules.  The committee chairman said he would see if he could get some version of that statement agreed to by a majority.

Less than a half hour later, the chairman called me back and told me that I was correct, that I was absolutely NOT required to submit content for approval and that my permit had been approved.

If you are keeping score, that’s a clean win. Thomas Jefferson will go up as scheduled in April. This has been a very long day.

Application Submitted for April Display

Today, I submitted the application to the Loudoun County VA committee that approves displays on the Cour House lawn. The April display will feature Thomas Jefferson, whose birthday is on April 13th, and will focus on Separation of church and state.  This follows February’s Darwin Display and March’s Einstein Display which is still up at the Loudoun County Court House. 

The Darwin and Einstein are part of our Science on the Lawn series. The Jefferson Display will be the first banner in our Separation on the Lawn series.

We intend to put a banner on the Court House lawn every month this year.

Einstein on the Court House Lawn

Continuing our series of Science on the Lawn displays atthe Loudoun County Court House, is our lates banner honoring the towering scientific achievements of Albert Einstein. Al’s birthday is Monday March 14th. The banner will go up on Saturday March 5th at 1:00 PM and will remain up for 2 weeks. The banner is sponsored by American Atheist, NOVA Atheists, and Beltway Atheists, inc.

Celebrating Science and Reason on the Court House Lawn

Charles Darwin on the Court House Lawn

Beltway Atheist, Inc. placed a  banner honoring Charles Darwin on the Loudoun County Virginia Court House lawn from Feb. 5 – Feb. 19. Darwin’s birthday is February 12th.

The Darwin banner follows the very successful holiday season in December. Atheists put up displays on 6 of the 10 spots allocated by the county.

The Darwin banner is the first in a series of banners, displays, and signs that will be going up on the court house lawn to honor Science and Reason. In March – pending approval of my recent permit application – we will be putting up another banner honoring  Albert Einstein, whose birthday falls on March 14.

We hope to continue almost every month for the calendar year with banners honoring Thomas Jefferson, Carl Sagan, and others. The religious community garners the county government’s endorsement every christmas. We chose to use the court house lawn as a platform to gain tacit recognition, by the county government, of Science and Reason – an honorable cause and one that is entirely compliant with the Constitution .

Naturally, these banners cost money.If you would like to help, please click the Contribute button and make a donation that will help us continue this sign project.

Rick Wingrove
Beltway Atheists, Inc.

Non-Profit Status Approved

As of Monday, October 25th, 2010 , Beltway Atheists Inc. is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. All donations are tax deductible.