The Arkansas Society of Freethinkers (ASF) objects to SB939, introduced by Sen. Jason Rapert (R-Bigelow). The bill, as amended on Friday, would require the Secretary of State to erect a Ten Commandments monument on the grounds of the Arkansas state capitol.
“If this bill becomes law, there will definitely be a lawsuit against this purely religious monument,” said Anne Orsi, an attorney and spokesperson for the society. The bill states that the purpose of the monument is not to establish religion, but does not specify what secular purpose the monument might serve.
LeeWood Thomas, the group’s media liaison, said that ASF is skeptical that any secular purpose exists, “Sen. Rapert wants to legislate which of the multiple versions of the commandments the State of Arkansas will officially recognize. If that’s not establishment of religion, nothing is.”
SB939 cites Van Orden v. Perry, a 2005 U.S. Supreme Court decision that held a monument with the Ten Commandments that had been donated to the state of Texas by a private organization four decades before was permitted. The same court held exactly the opposite, though, in McCreary County v. ACLU, a companion case decided the same day, in which the government had erected the monuments and there was no secular purpose.
As submitted, the bill provides that if anyone sues the state to have the law and the monument declared unconstitutional, the Attorney General could request that the Liberty Institute, a conservative Christian legal defense organization based in Texas and lost the McCreary case, to provide the state’s defense. Legal defense of state laws is the role of the Arkansas Attorney General, with other attorneys being hired only in unusual circumstances.
Two years ago attorney Matthew Campbell sued Secretary of State Mark Martin for improperly hiring outside attorneys rather than using the Attorney General’s office. Campbell said, “For over 80 years, the legislature has made clear that the decision whether to hire outside counsel lies with the Attorney General, and Arkansas law reflects this discretion to this day. Sen. Rapert, perhaps worried that the Attorney General will see his bill for the unconstitutional act that it is, has built in a provision to usurp the Attorney General’s role in determining when to hire outside counsel and which outside counsel to hire. In addition to being improper, this seems to illustrate that even Sen. Rapert knows that the bill is unconstitutional and would only be defended by a group as overly partisan as he is.”
The primary mission of the Arkansas Society of Freethinkers is to protect separation of church and state.
22 Oct 2013
For Immediate Release
(Little Rock, Arkansas: October 22, 2013) Atheists, agnostics, humanists, and other secular people from all over Arkansas are traveling to Little Rock for the second annual Reason in the Rock conference. The two-day event will be held beginning at 9:00 a.m., Saturday, October 26 and Sunday, October 27, 2013, at the Riverfront Wyndham Hotel at #2 Riverfront Drive, in downtown North Little Rock, Arkansas.
The Arkansas Society of Freethinkers is hosting the conference. Local and nationally-known speakers will represent varied aspects of the secular movement, and will address matters of personal liberty, public policy, and science education. Chris Borecky, President of the Arkansas Society of Freethinkers, said, “Reason in the Rock will promote a healthy dose of skepticism, secularism, and of course, the separation of church and state.”
In 2012, Reason in the Rock was a one-day event, featuring nine respected and well-known leaders in the freethought and skeptic community. Reason in the Rock is the only conference of its kind in Little Rock, and it attracted people from all over Arkansas and from surrounding states.
“This year, Reason in the Rock will be a two-day event with twice as many respected speakers, more diverse topics, and more for the audience,” said Anne Orsi, the event’s lead organizer with the Arkansas Society of Freethinkers. “We want to reach out to Arkansans who value a secular government, humanist action, and good science education. The secularist voice is not as loud here as it is elsewhere. We want freethinkers in Arkansas to know they aren’t alone.”
The conference opens Saturday morning with the often-controversial president of American Atheists, David Silverman. Matt Dillahunty of the Atheist Experience television broadcast from Austin, Texas, will speak Saturday afternoon. Saturday evening, the documentary “No Dinosaurs in Heaven” will be followed by a discussion with film maker and science education advocate Greta Schiller. Dan Barker, President of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, will open Sunday’s programming, which closes Sunday with a presentation by author and former Pentecostal pastor Jerry DeWitt.
Among other notable speakers will be Zack Kopplin, a student activist known nationally for garnering the support of over 70 Nobel laureates to combat Louisiana’s law permitting the teaching of creationism in public school science classes. Dr. Jason Wiles of Syracuse University and Dr. Johnny Stine of North Coast Biologics in Seattle, WA, two biologists with Arkansas roots, will talk about their own experiences with science education in Arkansas. Phil Ferguson, a member of the national board of directors of the Secular Student Alliance will be discussing how young people explore and abandon religion. William A. Cash, Jr., the director of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission office in Little Rock, will address the intersection of religion and the workplace.
Rachel Johnson is one of two speakers addressing sexuality. The other is Dr. Darrel Ray, author of the bestselling book The God Virus, will discuss elements of his 2012 study and book Sex and God: How Religion Distorts Sexuality in his presentation when he asks, “Did Jesus Masturbate?” as he explores the sexual mythology of religious culture.
Programming includes a segment of the popular “Skeptics in the Pub” by Little Rock skeptics Kyle Sanders and Ben Bell. Sam Kooistra of the Arkansas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, and former Rep. Dan Greenberg, president of the Advance Arkansas Institute, will participate in a moderated discussion about the death penalty. Lecia Brooks, Outreach Coordinator for the Southern Poverty Law Center in Montgomery, Alabama, will speak on “The State of Hate and Intolerance in America.”
This year, the Arkansas Society of Freethinkers will again present the Randall “Doc” Fleck Common Sense Plus Award to recognize an individual who has contributed significantly to secularism. Dr. Fleck was one of the primary activists in the Arkansas secular movement and was instrumental in organizing a number of the secular movement’s groups around the state. He died in 2012 after a lengthy illness.
The conference is free and open to the public but there is limited seating. All interested in attending should register on the conference’s website at www.reasonintherock.org where they will find links to nearby lodging and opportunities to donate.
The Arkansas Society of Freethinkers is a non-profit corporation belonging to a group of secular organizations within the Central Arkansas Coalition of Reason. The Arkansas Society of Freethinkers promotes the secular, non-theistic, humanist viewpoint as a valid contribution to public discourse. It advocates the strict separation of church and state, and hosts weekly events geared to encourage and facilitate dialogue in matters of science, reason, critical thinking, and tolerance.
More information about the organization is available on its website at www.arfreethinkers.org.
# # #
07 Dec 2012
In November 2012, one of the board members of the Arkansas Society of Freethinkers was approached by the mother of a public elementary school student. Her child had come home with a permission form requesting that she be allowed to attend a performance of “Merry Christmas, Charlie Brown” at a local evangelical church. This play is based on the cartoon special “A Charlie Brown Christmas” that we’ve all grown up with. The mother was dismayed because, while she didn’t want to disappoint her child, she strongly objected to using public school time to have the kids see a play with religious content at a church. At the climax of the story Linus recites a long passage from the Gospel of Luke to explain the “real” meaning of Christmas.
The mother asked what ASF could do. She was adamant about remaining anonymous. She didn’t want her child singled out as “different” and she certainly don’t want to expose the child to potential bullying. Since the child’s teacher actually had a role in the performance, she don’t want to subject that child to possible disfavor from the teacher due to the teacher’s resentment. The mother did not want her child to have religious exposure during public school class time, and she objected to her child being sent to another classroom to spend idle time during the public school day while the rest of her classmates went to church.
We gave a local TV reporter a copy of the letter sent home about the play. Although the mother agreed to speak with a reporter by phone as long as she was not being recorded, she refused to speak on camera even if her identity were obscured. The reporter interviewed ASF spokesperson Anne Orsi on camera. He attempted to get a statement from the church and from the school, but no one from either the church nor the school would speak to him.
Everyone loves Charlie Brown. Every kid enjoys Christmas. This is not a war on Christmas, and it is certainly not a war on Charlie Brown. It is a war on public school children being pressured to go to a play with religious content at a large evangelical church. Taking public school children to a church to see a play with significant religious content doesn’t just blur the line between church and state, it oversteps it entirely. The “opt out” provision is for the children to go to another classroom to idly wait for their classmates to return. If the parents do not compromise their own religious beliefs and allow the school to send their children to a religious program, their children will be singled out as “different.” Because the religious content is sugar-coated with Charlie Brown, even the children want to go to the play. Children tend to like going on field trips no matter what they are because field trips are a welcome break from the classroom routine.
Non-Christian parents have a tough time in a predominately-Christian society when it comes to teaching their children their own religious perspective. That is why separation of church and state is so vitally important. The point of separation of religion and public school is not to hurt Christians, but keep religion a personal matter, not a state-sponsored one.
This event was free to the public. Any and all of these children can go with their parents outside of school hours. This would not be news if the teacher involved with the play had simply distributed the flyer for her class to take home and for the parents to bring their children or not as they wished.
There are children of faiths other than Christianity in our public schools, and children of no faith at all. There are even families of certain Christian denominations that may object to the content of the play for other reasons. Parents are reluctant to speak out because their children want special time away from the classroom, and because they don’t want their children labeled as “different.” A special trip away from the classroom is something no child wants to miss, but when that trip includes significant religious content, parents who are not of that religion find themselves in a difficult position. They can let their children go to the religious event and subject them to indoctrination in someone else’s religion, or they can refuse permission and let their children be singled out and possibly bullied for being “different.”
If the point of the trip was to expose public school children to live theater, there were and are other choices. The Arkansas Rep does a great job, as does the Arkansas Arts Center with its Children’s Theater, and other plays throughout the year are performed by non-religious organizations at non-religious locations students can attend.
The Arkansas Society of Freethinkers will intervene for these parents to the extent we can so that they and their children can retain their privacy and anonymity.
The local news story was picked up by a CBS station in Atlanta. It was picked up by Todd Starnes of the Fox News Network, and the comments on the blog and on his Facebook post linking to the blog were predictably hateful and intolerant. They exemplify why these parents want to remain anonymous and why they don’t want their children singled out.
They also exemplify how the point of the objection is completely disregarded: no one hates Christmas, and no one hates Charlie Brown. What we object to is having public school time devoted to religious activities.
21 Nov 2012
For Immediate Release
(Little Rock, Arkansas: November 21, 2012.) The Arkansas Society of Freethinkers today rejected the claim that it is making war on Christmas. The group came under fire this week when it championed concerns voiced by parents of a local elementary school child. The child’s school had organized a field trip to a church to see a play with religious themes, and the parents felt this was a violation of the separation of church and state that put them and their child in an awkward situation.
“Those who stand up for the rights of children to be free from coercion aren’t making war either on religion or Christmas,” said ASF spokesperson LeeWood Thomas. “Rather, this is a case of a church forming an alliance with local government to violate religious freedom. So we in the Arkansas Society of Freethinkers feel compelled to take a stand on behalf of the parents under the U.S. Constitution.”
The ASF is a Little Rock-based secular group which, in conjunction with the Central Arkansas Coalition of Reason, acts as a watchdog for violations of the separation of church and state.
The controversy began when Terry Elementary School notified parents of a field trip to see “Merry Christmas Charlie Brown,” a live theatrical production at a Little Rock evangelical church. The notice said, “This production will expose your child to the amazing world of theater productions and enhance your child’s creative imagination in the area of dramatic arts. . . . This production does expose your child to Christianity through some of the songs and scenes. (If you prefer your child to not attend the program they may stay at school and be allowed to sit in another classroom. Please let your teacher know if your child will not be attending).”
The parents in question, who wish to remain anonymous, felt they were being forced to choose between maintaining their family religious beliefs versus their child being singled out and possibly ostracized or bullied. So they contacted the ASF last week for help.
“Merely allowing a child to opt out of a school-sponsored religious activity during the winter holidays is no solution,” said Anne Orsi, a Little Rock attorney and ASF vice president. “Such a situation exposes the children of minority faiths and outlooks to majority pressure and victimization. Thus the religious rights of children are being violated along with their right to privacy.”
The Charlie Brown play is scheduled for the weekend of December 14-16, and a charity drive is associated with it.
“There are plenty of non-religious theatrical productions at secular venues in Little Rock,” LeeWood Thomas added. “There is no need to mingle religion with public education. Public schools shouldn’t take children to churches to see plays with religious content during regular classroom instructional time.”
Anne Orsi spoke to a local television reporter on the matter earlier this week, after which the story was picked up by news networks and bloggers across the country. Comments then began appearing online accusing her group of waging war on Christmas and on Charlie Brown.
“This isn’t about Charlie Brown or Christmas,” Orsi said today. “It’s about the separation of church and state. Public schools educate children of every faith tradition. We must be sensitive to that and never allow public schools to promote one brand of religion over any other.”
Those familiar with “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” the annual animated television special on which the play is based, have noted that the story has significant New Testament content. “Not every religion accepts the New Testament as holy,” Thomas said. “Therefore, such a sectarian religious bias in a school-sponsored event excludes Jews, Muslims, Hindus, and many others, including the non-religious.”
“This puts non-Christian parents in a quandary,” Orsi added. “Their children want to attend a play with beloved characters rather than be warehoused in another classroom. If the parents deny their child permission to attend the play on religious grounds, their child will be singled out as being different from the majority of her or his classmates. And this awkward situation is unacceptable.”
The parents who originally raised this issue chose to remain anonymous to protect their children from potential bullying as well as possible backlash from their child’s teacher, who has a role in the production. With the matter having gone public, angry and threatening comments seen on blog posts and news sites have reinforced their concerns. Thus the parents, together with the ASF, are asking that all Little Rock public schools respect the law requiring the separation of church and state.
# # #
The Arkansas Society of Freethinkers ( http://arfreethinkers.org/ ) is part of the Central Arkansas Coalition of Reason (http://www.CentralArkansasCoR.org). Both advocate freedom of and from religion, as well as separation of church and state.
For more information contact:
Arkansas Society of Freethinkers and
Central Arkansas Coalition of Reason
Arkansas Society of Freethinkers
Arkansas Society of Freethinkers
05 Sep 2011
Frostcall is a blog out of Austin, TX, hosted by an ex-Christian couple that are now atheists. They contacted our media rep, LeeWood Thomas, about doing an interview. LeeWood talks about what our group has done in the community in the past and ideas for the future, and also about our recent bus ad campaign.
31 Aug 2011
The godless find a voice.
by Doug Smith
It’s said there are no atheists in foxholes, and that’s baloney, according to a military man we’ll call “Brad.” At an atheists’ social gathering in Little Rock, Brad told a reporter that as an Air Force pilot, he’d been in situations where his life was in danger, and on those occasions, the farthest thing from his mind was seeking assistance from an omnipotent Santa Claus.
“In an emergency, you do what you’ve been trained to do,” he said. “If you’re praying, you’re not doing the very thing you need to be doing, your job.”
Brad recalled that when the airline pilot Chesley Sullenberger was asked if he’d prayed while facing great hazard during a memorable incident over New York in 2009, Sullenberger had replied that passengers were probably taking care of the praying; he personally had been too busy setting his airplane down safely in the Hudson River.
(August 12, 2011) Godless bus ads will now roll in Little Rock. On Thursday, federal Judge Judge Susan Webber Wright ruled in favor of the United Coalition of Reason (UnitedCoR), and against the Central Arkansas Transit Authority (CATA) and its advertising agent, On the Move Advertising (OTM), for declining to run $5,260.00 worth of bus ads aimed at attracting local atheists and agnostics in Central Arkansas. The queen-sized ads, that were to be placed on the sides of 18 buses serving Little Rock’s Riverfest, would have said: “Are you good without God? Millions are.” A blue sky with clouds was to be the background behind the words.
12 Aug 2011
Refusing group violates speech rights, judge rules
Linda Satter – Arkansas Democrat-Gazette
Aug 12, 2011
If Central Arkansas Transit Authority is going to give some groups a forum by allowing them to advertise on the sides of its buses, it can’t refuse others, a federal judge said Thursday, finding that the system violated a non-theist group’s First Amendment rights in refusing its ads questioning the existence of God.
By Suzi Parker
LITTLE ROCK, Ark | Thu Aug 11, 2011 9:06pm EDT
(Reuters) – A federal judge ruled on Thursday that the free speech of a coalition of atheists had been violated when Little Rock’s public bus line denied them the right to place $5,000 worth of ads on city buses.
DATE: August 9, 2011
By Suzi Parker
LITTLE ROCK, Ark | Reuters
The Central Arkansas Coalition of Reason alleged in a lawsuit that the Central Arkansas Transit Authority and its advertising agency are discriminating against the group because they’re being required to pay tens of thousands of dollars to put $5,000 worth of ads on 18 buses.
08 Jun 2011
Are you good with the Central Arkansas Transit Authority? I’m not.
by Max Brantley, Arkansas Times
It’s real simple. The bus company, heavily subsidized by local tax money, turned down more than $5,000 in bus advertising because its designated ad agency didn’t like the religious content of the message shown here. The United Coalition for Reason wanted to run it, as a tame statement that atheists and agnostics are not bad people.
06 Jun 2011
Posted: Jun 01, 2011 9:50 PM CDT
An Atheist group is taking a local transit authority to court.
The United Coalition of Reason (United COR) filed a federal lawsuit today against the Central Arkansas Transit Authority (CATA) along with their advertising agency On the Move advertising claiming their First Amendment speech was violated after trying to advertise which stated “Are you good without God? Millions are.”
United COR wanted the buses to have these bulletins by Riverfest.
Gerry Schulze said he’s a member of United COR and he’s also the attorney representing them in this lawsuit. “Once they throw their advertising space open, it should be open without discrimination,” said Schulze.
He said On the Move Advertising charged them $5,000. On top of that total, On the Move asked for an insurance deposit incase any bus suffered damage because of the ad’s message. Shulze said in the nearly 40 cities where this ad is already running, if there’s vandalism it’s graffiti.
“Here, we’re being told well we want you to put up $36,000 dollars plus provide us a million dollar insurance policy because we’re afraid someone will through a Molotov cocktail at the bus,” said Shulze.
CATA’s attorney, Jess Sweere said they never refused the advertisement.
“In order to protect themselves, they felt it was appropriate to request a refundable damage deposit,” said Sweere. He said United COR was the first to be asked to provide a deposit, but there’s a reason for it.
“We’ve never received information from any of the other advertisers that their ads were subject to receiving vandalism,” said Sweere.
He said they’re willing to work through negotiations even without a deposit.
“It appeared that they were more interested in getting free publicity by filing a lawsuit than paying for the ads,” said Sweere.
Shulze said it is absolutely not for just publicity.
“We wouldn’t have paid for advertisements in 36 different jurisdictions, if all we really wanted to do was file a lawsuit.” CATA has used churches as advertisers in the past.
It will be in Judge Jay Moody’s court.
02 Jun 2011
By Jake Sandlin
Arkansas Democrat Gazette
Thursday, June 2, 2011
LITTLE ROCK — A national organization filed a federal lawsuit Wednesday against Central Arkansas Transit Authority and its advertising agent over bus ads the group said CATA rejected because the signs promoted atheism.
The advertisements, set against a background of blue sky and clouds, would have read: “Are you good without God? Millions are.” It would also have included a website address.
The lawsuit, filed by the United Coalition of Reason, alleges that CATA refused the advertisements, originally proposed in February, by wanting to “impose burdensome requirements” on the coalition by requiring a liability deposit up to $36,000 against potential damages to buses because of the advertisements’ nontheistic message.
|Updated: 6/01/2011 6:03 pm||Published: 6/01/2011 9:17 am|
United Coalition of Reason says it wanted their ad to run on buses going to and from Riverfest last weekend. It didn’t happen. And they say that’s because CAT singled them out.
The ad reads “Are you good without god? Millions are.”
But the Coalition of Reason says it isn’t good with the publicly funded Central Arkansas Transit Authority refusing to run the ad without special requirements. So the group is taking CAT to federal court.
“It’s really unfortunate because we have very little tax money to go around as it is,” LeeWood Thomas says. “The last thing I want to do is spend more of it on what should be plain as anybody should see, come on, its free speech.”
The lawsuit claims cat required the atheist group to spend more than $30,000 in insurance because of fears the ad could lead to vandalism.
But Thomas says the group has had no problem with its winter solstice display on the capital grounds or the “adopt a highway” sign on La Harpe in downtown Little Rock.
“We’ve not seen any vandalism,” Thomas says. “There’s no reason to believe the bus ads would be vandalized either.”
COR says it is not asking for anything unprecedented, citing faith based advertisements already on the side of Central Arkansas Transit buses”
CAT isn’t talking about the case on-camera Wednesday but its riders are.
“Its up to the provider,” rider Don Jackson says. “CAT has a right to express who gets to advertise on their buses since they go everywhere.”
“That would be fine with me, it wouldn’t be a big deal,” rider Ron Flakes says. “If the taxpayer is paying for it, you got to go with it.”
But right now the “good without god” ad isn’t going anywhere.
Lawyers for CAT say they approved the advertisement artwork in March and that the problem now is between the atheist group and the transportation providers ad agency “On The Move”, which is a for-profit venture.
Attorney Jess Wweere adding that allegations that CAT conspired to censor any group is false and that the atheist group’s main objective is publicity.
For Immediate Release
(Little Rock, Arkansas, June 1, 2011) A federal lawsuit was filed today against the Central Arkansas Transit Authority (CATA) and its advertising agent, On the Move Advertising, for declining to run $5,260.00 worth of bus ads aimed at attracting local atheists and agnostics. The queen-sized ads, to be placed on the sides of 18 buses serving Riverfest, would have said: “Are you good without God? Millions are.” A blue sky with clouds was to be the background behind the words.
The Complaint and a motion for a preliminary injunction were filed at [time] at the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas, 500 West Capitol Avenue, Little Rock, AR 72201, by the United Coalition of Reason (UnitedCoR). UnitedCoR is a national organization, headquartered in Washington DC, which focuses on organizing local atheist and agnostic groups into coalitions and funding their bus and billboard ad campaigns. Legal services were donated by the Appignani Humanist Legal Center of the American Humanist Association, also headquartered in Washington DC. The attorney of record is J.G. Schulze of Baker Schulze & Murphy of Little Rock.
16 Dec 2009
Reported by: David Goins
|Updated: 12/17/2009 8:35 am||Published: 12/16/2009 3:35 pm|
“We feel great about it, we’re ecstatic that we could get this up,” Tod Billings with the Free-Thinkers said.
There’s a little more to see at the state Capitol this holiday season. The Arkansas Society of Free-Thinkers putting up a winter solstice kiosk just feet from a nativity scene. “I am very proud to see the two of them standing side by side,” Billings said.
By JILL ZEMAN BLEED Associated Press Writer
14 December 2009
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) – A secular display celebrating the winter solstice and “freethinkers” such as Albert Einstein and Bill Gates can be placed at the state Capitol alongside a traditional Christian nativity scene, a federal judge said Monday.
The Arkansas Society of Freethinkers sued last week after Secretary of State Charlie Daniels rejected its proposal, saying it wasn’t consistent with the Capitol’s other decorations and displays. The group asked for a quick hearing before the winter solstice, which is Dec. 21.
|Updated: 12/11/2009 8:42 am||Published: 12/10/2009 9:46 pm|
An Arkansas group is suing Secretary of State Charlie Daniels. Group members claim Daniels violated their first amendment rights by denying them access to put up a display at the state capitol.
The Arkansas Society of Freethinkers is a non-profit group that doesn’t believe in any god. The group seeks to promote its ideals, such as the winter solstice holiday. The Freethinkers submitted paperwork two years in a row to promote their message at the capitol and were denied each time.
10 Dec 2009
For Immediate Release
10 December 2009
LITTLE ROCK, AR –The ACLU of Arkansas filed a federal lawsuit today charging Arkansas Secretary ofState Charlie Daniels with violating the free speech rights of The Arkansas Society of Freethinkers by barring them from erecting a temporary Winter Solstice display on the grounds of the state Capitol. An application by the Freethinkers to erect a display was rejected despite the fact that the proposed display meets the requirements of the state capitol display policy and despite the presence of another display on the grounds.
By John Lyon
Arkansas News Bureau
23 December 2008
LITTLE ROCK — A nativity scene on the grounds of the state Capitol has again drawn the attention of groups who say the display violates the separation of church and state.
The Madison, Wis.-based Freedom From Religion Foundation and the Arkansas Society of Freethinkers have posted a billboard in North Little Rock in response to the nativity scene and what they claim is the state’s refusal to allow a display offering an alternative viewpoint.
The billboard is designed to resemble a stained-glass window and includes the words “Beware of Dogma” and the foundation’s name and Web address. The sign went up last week beside a bridge connecting Little Rock and North Little Rock.