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.

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.

#   #   #

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:

LeeWood Thomas
Media representative
Arkansas Society of Freethinkers and
Central Arkansas Coalition of Reason
501-765-4287
LeeWoodThomas@yahoo.com

Anne Orsi
Vice President
Arkansas Society of Freethinkers
501-416-6568
anne.orsi@arfreethinkers.org

Susan Heffington
President
Arkansas Society of Freethinkers
501-420-2966
arkansasfreethinkers@mac.com

Richard Sheppard Arnold United States Courthouse

(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.

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CATA bus arriving at the River Cities Travel Center in downtown Little Rock displays empty ad space.

DATE: August 9, 2011

At a hearing this coming Thursday, August 11, the United Coalition of Reason brings its lawsuit, filed June 1, before a judge in federal court. This is Case 4:11-cv-00450-SWW.

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CATA bus arriving at the River Cities Travel Center in downtown Little Rock displays empty ad space.

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.

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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.

The ACLU lawsuit asks the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas to order Daniels to grant the Freethinkers permission to put up their display.

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