The Atheists Are Coming! The Atheists Are Coming!

Reason Rally on the Mall is a milestone event for the growing atheist movement

(Published in the Washington Post Local – March 22, 2012)

On Saturday, March 24, 2012, the National Mall in Washington will play host to what is expected to be the largest gathering of atheists in history. Dubbed Reason Rally, it will be attended by thousands of atheists, agnostics, humanists, freethinkers, and non-believers of every stripe. It’s being called Secular Woodstock. Music will be provided by the band Bad Religion.

But, the rally will be more than a soggy mosh for the religiously unpersuaded. Reason Rally will show that all the cool people are atheists now and that the days of consent by silence are over. It’s an appeal to millions of hidden atheists to come out of their closets and join the fun.

Not to overstate the case, but Reason Rally has been 2,000 years in the making. For most of the last 20 centuries, atheism was highly lethal. There were always plenty of non-believers, but Darwinism actively selected against the outspoken. Religious dissent was brutally discouraged and driven underground. The scope of non-beliefis only now becoming apparent.A large public gathering of atheists is a relatively new thing in the world, enabled by two pivotal events in human history: the U.S. Constitution and the invention of the Internet. The Constitution guarantees that the rights of the irreligious are exactly equal to the rights of the aggressively pious. The Internet had Christians and Atheists arguing over evolution in ALL CAPS by the end of the first day

The Constitution gave us the rights but the Internet gave us the voice. After two millennia, atheists had a way to find each other and to demonstrate that we are not the hell-bound, baby-eating monsters that the preachers warned you about. It turns out that we are everywhere and we are here to stay. We are your friends, family, neighbors, plumbers, politicians, and your IT guy. We are patriotic Americans who love our country and do not, as is often suggested, have to move to Russia.

Instead, we are just going to have a big party on the National Mall.

To put it in perspective, the rally is not likely to rival the sea of people at Obama’s inauguration. But, it’s not the numbers that make Reason Rally an important event. It is the spectacle of thousands of deity-free Americans, on the Mall, carrying smart, funny signs and listening to the notorious evolutionist, Richard Dawkins, explain why reality is important.

According to the most recent American Religious Identification Survey, over 75 million Americans are not Christians. Over 50 million of those have no religious affiliation and profess little or no belief in a supreme deity. These are the “Nones” and their numbers have doubled since 1991. The few thousand godless Americans you will see on the Mall are just the tip of a large iceberg – with a Darwin fish on the side.

Reason Rally will give a heads up to those who have been reluctant to recognize the mushrooming numbers and the growing political presence of secular Americans. There are millions of us, with legitimate concerns about government endorsement of religiosity. Like women and birth control, we deserve a seat at the table when the adamantly religious are deciding our fate.

Reason Rally is happening because it’s time for Secular Americans to be seen and heard, to defend science, and separation of church and state. We’ll be on the Mall because it’s time to push back against the creeping theocratization of America.

Full [unedited] Text of Rick’s Article @ The Washington Post

The War On Christmas

The historic Loudoun County Court House in Leesburg Virginia is the site of an ongoing clash
over religious displays on the lawn. A Nativity scene has been placed on the lawn at Christmas
for decades. No other signage or displays were permitted. This amounted to privileged access, a
special right provided to the local christian community by county government.

Two years ago, the Grounds Committee, tasked with preserving the lawn and the century old
Sycamores, recommended that no more displays be placed on the lawn. There was an immediate
backlash from the religious community, bemoaning the war on Christmas and the unconscionable
attack on Christianity.

The Board of Supervisors, predictably caved, ignored the recommendations of the grounds
committee, and permitted the religious displays to remain.

But, then they did a curious thing: they consulted the ACLU. The Board was advised that access
for one required access for all. The Board decided to give free speech a chance on the lawn and
began permitting up to 10 displays on the lawn. The local religious community was enthusiastic
about free speech, possibly feeling that free speech was a more solid footing for the continued
hosting of the christian displays.

In 2010, members of the Atheist community in Loudoun County acquired permits for 7 of the 10
available spots on the lawn. The religious community’s enthusiasm for free speech was
immediately revealed as the thin ruse that it was.

The religious community, as it turns out only believe in their own free speech. They railed to
the Board and in the media to expel the secular displays from the lawn, calling them an attack
on Christianity and an attempt to destroy Christmas.

Some of the displays were tongue in cheek, such as the Jedi and the Flying Spaghetti Monster.
others were more abrasive, and openly questioned some core tenets of the Christian mythology,
like the Santa/Easter Bunny/Jesus comparison. Others were more obtuse, honoring the
Constitution and Separation of Church and State.

Over the last year, members of NOVA Atheists and Beltway Atheists have put a banner on the lawn
every month, celebrating persons or events pertaining to Science or Separation. Again, all have
been condemned as attacks on Christianity. All of the banners can be viewed at beltwayatheists.org.

While it is entirely legal to criticize religion in this country, and there is much to be
critical about, the monthly signs have never been directly critical of Christianity and only
mildly and tangentially critical of religion.

The main function of the signs have been to demonstrate that the Board and the religious
community were being disingenuous by facilitating the religious displays under the banner of
free speech. Their knee-jerk, sky falling, full martyrdom response more than makes the point.

This has all come to a head following the appearance of a display on the lawn which outraged
the local christian community. The display was a skeleton Santa on a cross. As one local new
camera rolled, a local Leesburg woman, short on understanding and high on sanctimonious rage,
went on to the Court house grounds and vandalized the display. She did this in broad daylight,
in front of a camera, and, to make it much worse, in front of a Loudoun County Sheriff’s
Deputy.

The Deputy’s response to the vandalism of a legal display on government property was to ask the
reporter to get off of government property because news cameras are not permitted on the
grounds. The Deputy then walked past the vandal, declining to “get involved in that” and went
back in the building.

Every regional news outlet picked up the story and were regaled with hyperbolic wailing about this
unconscionable attack on Christianity.

This would be terrible… if it were true. As it turns out, the artist who placed the display
is a Christian. AND, as it clearly states on his permit application, this was a commentary on
the death of the true spirit of Christmas, sacrificed on the altar of Big Box commercialism –
something that both atheists and Christians agree on.

Is there a lesson in all this? Yeah, several.

First, the ballistics, the hyperbole, the wailing and gnashing of teeth from the christian
community is frequently divorced from relevant facts.

Second, the secular displays are not a war on Christmas – most of us celebrate the holiday in a
fairly conventional way and have never suggested that anyone change that.

Third, The best place for the religious displays is on religious property. It is fully
protected and no one cares about that. No ones rights to practice their religion are diminished
by putting up any kind of religious display they want on their own property.

Fourth, The religious groups do not have an absolute right to occupy government property. It is
by permit only. Permits can be denied.

Fifth, our only aim is to honor and protect the Constitution by making sure that the Separation
of Church and State is rigorously observed.

We want all display banned from the court house lawn so that the Separation deniers cannot use
government property for the support, endorsement, and advancement of their own selfish and
partisan religious purposes. Government should never be in the business of propping up
religion.

– By Rick Wingrove

EDITED: http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/skeleton-santa-and-other-secular-displays-dont-equal-a-war-on-christmas/2011/12/07/gIQABR9CuO_story.html

Our November Banner – Carl Sagan

Carl Sagan, who introduced many of us to the Cosmos, is honored in our November banner. In his book The Demon-Haunted World, Dr. Sagan reminds us that Reality is always preferable to comforting superstitions – a sentiment embraced by all rational people. Dr. Sagan’s birthday is November 9th.

Our October Banner – Imagine!

John Lennon - Imagine

Imagine

The poignant lyrics of John Lennon’s Imagine, serve as a defacto atheist anthem to many of us. John’s October birthday gives us ample reason to remind the public of not only his life and music, but of the message in his music, that the world would get along fine without religion. So, for our October display on the Loudoun County (VA) Court House lawn, we remember John Lennon and his tribute to freethought.

Science on the Lawn

The best idea anyone ever had.

On August 20, 1858, Charles Darwin first published a synoptic version of On the Origin of Species in the Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society of London. Darwin’s Law is the foundation of all biology. With Evolution, biology is coherent and discoverable – without Evolution, biology makes no sense at all and we would be left with only Bronze-age mysticism. After 150 years, Darwin’s law is universally acknowledged by Scientists and remains uncontradicted by a single shred of evidence. In fact, it is reconfirmed daily with the discovery of every new addition to the fossil record.

Darwin’s synthesis of Evolution by natural selection is not merely earthshatteringly brilliant, it has been called the best idea anyone ever had. Given that, Darwin’s first publication of On the Origin of Species is certainly noteworthy and is the subject of our banner for August.

We will be erecting the banner in our usual spot on the Loudoun County Courthouse lawn – at the corner of King and Market Streets in old town Leesburg, VA.  The public is invited to attend .

Atheists Among Us

This article appears in the Washington Post On Faith section (Saturday July 22, 2011 – http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/guest-voices/post/panelist-atheists-among-us/2011/07/22/gIQA4JzoTI_blog.html). The print version was edited for space. This is the unedited version. – RW

You know that guy down the street? Nice guy, about 50, IT consultant, first guy on the block to clear his walks and mailbox after every snow, fought in Desert Storm, keeps his yard immaculate, put two daughters through college, donates to the VFD and for breast cancer research, remodeled his own basement, and puts up a flag every 4th? That guy?

Well, that guy is an atheist. Not a communist, never been in jail, and doesn’t eat babies. Just an atheist, without all that other stuff. An atheist in America in the 21st century has nothing to do with the former Soviet Union. Nor, despite what you might hear in church about the degenerate character of an atheist, is he anymore likely to end up in prison than anyone else in the general population.

The new atheist is a different kind of animal that bears no resemblance to the villainous monsters the churches have warned us about for the last fifteen hundred years. The new atheist is no longer a social pariah, though a lot of political resistance and faith-based bigotry still exist.

Despite that, non-believers enjoy the full protection of the Constitution, and possess exactly the same rights as the most religious of Americans. Still, it took the advent of the internet for non-believers to find each other and to find their voice.

Largely as a result of the electronic emergence of the vocally irreligious, America’s religious makeup is changing rapidly. The American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS), conducted in 1990, 2001,and 2008, shows that America is trending rapidly away from Christianity, falling from 86% to 76% of the population in only 18 years.

One in four Americans is not a Christian. That’s 75 million Americans. Over 50 million of those claim no religious affiliation. ARIS refers to them as the “Nones”. This begs the question – how, exactly, is ‘atheist’ defined? Technically an atheist is simply someone who does not believe the ancient deities are real. That definition describes 12-15% of Americans, though only 1-2% refer to themselves as atheists. But, that is likely the result of fifteen hundred years of bad press.

The Nones (including non-believers and the unaffiliated), by the way, are the 3rd largest “religious” group  in the survey, outnumbering Jews, Muslims, Mormons, Buddhists, Hindus, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Southern Baptists combined. An additional irony is that even though 76% of Americans are nominally Christian, only 70% of Americans believe in a personal god. Go figure.

The average atheist in America is invisible. Many choose silence rather than upsetting their family, or for fear of losing their job, and most are not inclined to activism. That’s because ,for most of the last two thousand years, it was highly lethal to raise your hand when the question was asked.

But, atheists are everywhere. They are your family, friends, neighbors, co-workers, cops, doctors, businessmen, celebrities, and the guy who fixes your computer. They are educated, they raise families, they hold jobs, they are active in their communities, they play by the rules, and are generally happy to fly under the radar of the professional evangelizers. So, when you say you don’t know any atheists, what you are really saying is that you don’t know who the atheists are.

And that guy the cops frog marched out of his house last week at 3:00AM?  He’s your five term representative who ran on family values and has a wide stance. His humiliating arrest, for purchasing meth from a gay prostitute, came as he was awaiting sentencing for tax evasion on income from a sweat shop in Saipan, and still reeling from his indictment for child porn.

Well,
that guy’s not an atheist.

I’m just sayin’.

June Display Is UP:John Adams and the Treaty of Tripoli

On June 7, 1797, the U.S. Senate ratified a treaty. No big deal – they do that all the time. What was different was that this particular treaty, early in our history as a nation, contained the following sentence:

” As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion,—as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquility, of Mussulmen,—and as the said States never entered into any war or act of hostility against any Mahometan nation, it is declared by the parties that no pretext arising from religious opinions shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries.”

What is interesting about this treaty, especially given our current political climate, is that it explicitly denies any alleged relationship between the Constitutional government of the United States and the christian religion. Further, this treaty was UNANIMOUSLY ratified by the Senate and signed by our second president, John Adams.

Imagine getting anything containing that verbiage through Congress today.

Nevertheless, Our June display on the Loudoun County, Virginia Courthouse lawn is up, reminding those who have forgotten that our government has nothing to do with the gods of the bronze age and that our government, does not, in any way, endorse theocracy; our government is a FIREWALL against theocracy.

Science On The Lawn

Our  Free Speech campaign continues on the lawn of the Loudoun County Virgina Courthouse. The campaign features banners honoring Science and Scientists, and, alternately, persons or events pivotal to our Constitutional Separation of Church and State. Indeed, whatever the subject, the real point is Separation. We make our point by simply being there.

 This Month – May 2011 – we are featuring Science, with a great quote from A.C. Grayling’s new book, a humanist bible, appropriately called “The Good Book”. The quote is from Genesis 2 Verse 1.

Thomas Jefferson On The Lawn

Thomas Jefferson On The Lawn

Our monthly banner on the Courthouse lawn celebrates the birthday – April 13 –  of  Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence, author of the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, Founder of the University of Virginia, and third President of the United States.

Thomas Jefferson also coined the term “Separation of Church and State” in a letter to the Danbury Baptists in 1802. Separation of Church and State is shorthand for the absence in our Constitution of an official religion. Thomas Jefferson and the majority of the Founders agreed that it religion was a matter of personal choice and not a matter for the government to decide for all.

Hence, the Framers drafted a Constitution which outlines the form and function of our government in exquisite detail. The document devised the three branches of government, the division of powers, and the checks and balances between the branches.

The Framers also inserted two explicit prohibitions and two implicit limitations on religion in the Constitution. Explicitly,  Article Six prohibits a religious test for elected or appointed office under the Constitution. Explicitly,  The First Amendment prohibits the imposition by law of an official religion.

The “free exercise” places an implicit limitation on religion because everyone has free exercise; the free exercise of one person stops halfway to the next person.

But the Big Implication is that the Framers, when designing our government,  defining the domains and the powers of the branches, and the rights of the people, provided no role for any religion in our government for any religion.

That fact alone is fatal to all christianist proclamations about a “christian nation”.

You can see the banner through April 24th at the corner of King and Market Streets, on the Courthouse lawn in old downtown Leesburg, Virginia.