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.


Charlie Brown Article Saline Courier


ASF Media Representative, LeeWood Thomas

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.

LeeWood Thomas on Frostcall

The godless find a voice.
by Doug Smith
Arkansas Times

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.

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Richard Sheppard Arnold United States Courthouse.

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.

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Richard Sheppard Arnold United States Courthouse, Little Rock

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.

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By Suzi Parker
LITTLE ROCK, Ark | Reuters

A coalition of atheists is accusing Little Rock’s city bus line of violating their rights to free speech in a fight to place ads on public buses praising a God-free lifestyle.

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.

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08 Jun 2011

Pray for CATA

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.

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Atheist Group Takes CATA to Court

Posted: Jun 01, 2011 9:50 PM CDT

Updated: Jun 06, 2011 2:13 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.

By Jake Sandlin
Arkansas Democrat Gazette

Thursday, June 2, 2011

CAT bus at the Little Rock main bus station

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.

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Reported by: David Goins
Updated: 6/01/2011 6:03 pm Published: 6/01/2011 9:17 am
LITTLE ROCK, AR – An atheist group is taking Central Arkansas Transit Authority to federal court saying the bus system and its advertising agency On The Move Advertisement are denying their free speech rights by rejecting a proposed advertisement. CATA says United Coalition of Reason is out for publicity.The ads were to launch the new Central Arkansas Coalition of Reason (Central Arkansas CoR), a collection of ten area atheist and agnostic groups. The ads would have directed people to the, inviting them to consider joining any of the groups in the coalition. But after negotiations with CATA broke down in March, UnitedCoR decided to sue.

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.

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.

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Winter Solstice Display Atheist

Winter Solstice Display headed for the state capitol

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.

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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.

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Freedom from Religion Foundation_Atheist_Dogma

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.

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