Humanism on the Move


Sept. 2, 2009

American Atheists won a legal challenge over a law requiring the Kentucky Office of Homeland Security to acknowledge "the dependence on Almighty God as being vital to the security of the Commonwealth." A Kentucky Circuit Court ruled that the law violated the separation of church and state.

Judge Thomas D. Wingate wrote that the purpose of the legislature's action "was to declare publicly that the position of the Commonwealth of Kentucky that an Almighty God exists and that the function of that God is to protect us from our enemies," and that this was a violation of the state and federal constitutions.

"Kentucky lawmakers tried to exploit the threat of terrorism to promote religion, and ignored the many citizens of the Commonwealth who are Atheists, Freethinkers, Humanists and other nonbelievers," said Ed Buckner, President of American Atheists. "We are pleased to see that the court saw through this charade."

The Florida Atheists and Secular Humanists are displaying their billboard, which reads "Being a good person doesn't require God. Don't believe in God? You're not alone!" in Oakland Park, Florida.

"Most people are under the impression that atheists lack morals and ethics. We are trying to dispel that myth," said Ken Loukinen, founder of the group.

The billboard had previously been displayed in Fort Lauderdale, where it was met with protests from residents. The first of its kind in Florida, it joins many atheist and humanist billboards in other states, sponsored by the American Humanist Association, UnitedCOR, and others.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation sent a letter to Lake Local Schools in Uniontown, Ohio, asking them to remove references to God in the district's publications or Web postings. The letter was sent in response to the discovery of the school district's mission statement, which includes valuing "belief in God and religious freedom."

"They're saying they don't value you unless you believe in a god," said Annie Laurie Gaylor, co-president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation.

Superintendent Jeff Wendorf said that school officials and their lawyers are looking into the complaint. The phrase had been part of Lake Local School's mission statement for many years, but had recently been brought to FFRF's attention by district residents.

Hemant Mehta, author of the popular blog The Friendly Atheist and the book I Sold My Soul on eBay, has been made the target of attacks from the conservative Illinois Family Institute. The battle began after Mehta criticized Laurie Higgins, director of the Division of School Advocacy for IFI, for warning families to avoid Millennium Park in Chicago, where a nation-wide "kiss-in" was planned. Higgins retaliated by e-mailing administrators and school board members at Neuqa Valley High School, where Mehta works as a math teacher, warning them that Mehta promoted his atheist views on his blog and that parents would find this troubling.

"He, of course, has a First Amendment right to write whatever he pleases on his blog ‘The Friendly Atheist' during his free time," Higgins wrote in the letter, "But it's unfortunate that a role model for students would write some of the things he writes."

Mehta responded in The Friendly Atheist, "What my private life (i.e. this site, the volunteer work I do with non-theistic groups, etc.) has to do with my ability to teach high school math, I don't know. I keep them separate….I would never talk about my religious beliefs in class."

Mehta has not lost his job, and was publicly supported by many school board members.

The Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers and the Secular Student Alliance have teamed up to award grants to support nontheist military student leaders. It will award $500 to a student leader who has demonstrated excellence in both military and nontheist activities. The program also will encourage student organizations to reach out to ROTC programs to demonstrate nontheist and community support.

Applications will be accepted until October 13, 2009.