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!

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.

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

 

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

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?

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.

Our Firewall Against Theocracy

The Constitution provides no role for religion in governance.

Our September banner on the lawn of the Loudoun County Courthouse in Leesburg, VA commemorates the adoption of our Constitution by the Contitntal Congress on September 17, 1787.

Our Constitution spells out, in great detail, the form and function of the United States of America. The roles, the powers, and the limitations of government are well defined. Our Constitution is entirely secular and provides absolutely no role for religion in governance. Further, there are two prohibitions in the Constitution which apply ONLY to religion: Article Six PROHIBITS religious tests for public office; and the First Amendment PROHIBITS any special privileges, rights, or recognition for any religion under the law.

This means that all persons can expect fair and equal treatment under the law regardless of their opinions on religion. All persons can believe and practice any religion they choose, or none at all, and no one can impose their beliefs on any other person by coercion, or by force of law. What could possibly be fairer than that?

 

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’.

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

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.

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.

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.