New York Sen. Andrew Lanza working to censor American Atheists over Times Square billboard

New York State Senator Petitions For Times Square Boycott As Atheists Fire Back

American Atheists: “Revoking Our Nonprofit Status is an Abuse of Power”

New York Sen. Andrew Lanza is pictured in this undated photo.

New York Sen. Andrew Lanza is pictured in this undated photo.

Cranford, NJ—On Tuesday, American Atheists released an open letter chastising State Senator Andrew Lanza (R-NY) for abuse of power as an elected official regarding his Friday, December 13 press release attacking the atheist group. The open letter is here.

The press release, published on Lanza’s official government website, calls for the revocation of the fifty-year-old organization’s 501(c)(3) nonprofit status. The release further announces a petition for the removal of a billboard placed in Times Square by the organization. Lastly, the senator called for his supporters to “send a message” by boycotting Times Square just weeks before Christmas and New Year’s Eve.

“This is shockingly wrong,” said American Atheists President David Silverman. “An elected official, in his official capacity, is trying to silence us, and hurt local businesses in the process. Why? Because he opposes our message on religious grounds? The First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States guarantees our right to free speech. Revoking our nonprofit status is an abuse of power and we will not be bullied. He should be ashamed and the people of New York should be ashamed.”

Earlier this month, American Atheists launched a billboard campaign in Times Square with the simple message that nobody needs Jesus in order to have a great Christmas. Many conservatives in the media, including Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity, have taken personal offense, calling the billboard an attack.

“In two weeks, a million people are going to descend on Times Square for the 110th anniversary of the ball drop,” said Public Relations Director Dave Muscato. “Senator Lanza simply cannot be serious. We have broken no laws. We have infringed on no one’s rights. The senator has no right to trample on the Constitution by removing our billboard. He has no right to revoke our nonprofit status and no legitimate justification for even suggesting it. He has no right to hurt thousands and thousands of people’s incomes with his ridiculous sanction on Times Square businesses. This is the lowest form of pandering and posturing I have ever seen.”

The billboard, an animated display running 15 seconds every 20 minutes, was displayed on Broadway between 46th and 47th Streets adjacent to TKTS and Duffy Square, facing east. More information about the billboard, including video of the animation and still images with press licenses for distribution, are available here.

The billboard campaign moved to Penn Plaza on Monday December 16, where it will run through the New Year. The new location is a massive 3-billboard digital display running every 5 minutes on the east side of 7th Avenue between 32nd and 33rd Streets in New York City.

The billboard campaign runs just months ahead of American Atheists’ 40th National Convention.

The annual convention will feature such speakers such as NFL star Chris Kluwe, Survivor®: Philippines grand prizewinner Denise Stapley, Grammy-nominated Spin Doctors bass player Mark White, Reverend Barry Lynn of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, Maryam Namazie of the Council of Ex-Muslims, popular bloggers PZ Myers and Greta Christina, and American Atheists President David Silverman. The convention will also feature a costume party, live music, stand-up comedy, an art show and silent auction, national and local exhibitors, and childcare options for attending families. The convention takes place the weekend of April 17-20, 2014 in Salt Lake City, Utah.

My attorney general Bill Shcuette thinks his right to oppress should not be oppressed

SCOTUS to mull your employers’ ability to dictate what medical procedures & medicine they insure based on their religious beliefs

bill schuetteThe U.S. Supreme Court granted review of a pair of cases dealing with an employer’s ability to dictate to its employees which medications and medical procedures their healthcare insurance will cover.

Claiming they have the right to decide how employees are cared for medically, the two cases are  Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores  and Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp. v. Sebelius.

Michigan wrote the multi-state amici brief in support of the  Conestoga   case on behalf of Michigan, Ohio, and sixteen other states.

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette is in favor of allowing businesses to decide which medicines and medical procedures its employees are insured for based on his notion that prohibiting your boss from doing so is somehow an infringement on your employers free speech and/or right to practice his religion.

Arguments before the court are expected to be held March 2014. Under the mandate promulgated by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), employers would have to provide their workers with insurance coverage that could include emergency birth control.

Schuette, defending an employers right to dictate how his employees live, said, “Religious liberty is America’s first freedom. I am pleased our nation’s highest court will hear arguments to defend the First Amendment for all, not just a few dictated by the federal government.”

Several Michigan-based businesses have filed their own challenges to the HHS mandate, including Autocam Corp, Domino’s Farms, Weingartz Supply Company, Eden Foods, and Mersino Management, all which Schuette supports.

Appignani Humanist Legal Center letter to Mississippi school that violated seperation of church and state

April 11, 2013

Re: Unconstitutional Christian Assembly at Northwest Rankin High School

Mr. Frazier:

we the peopleWe were recently contacted by several Northwest Rankin High School students who informed us that the school held a mandatory assembly during school hours at which a pervasively Christian presentation was made by members of Pinelake Baptist Church

This practice is unquestionably a serious violation of the separation of church and state required by the Constitution.

The American Humanist Association (“AHA”) is a national nonprofit organization with over 10,000 members and 20,000 supporters across the country, including in Mississippi. Our purpose is to protect one of the most fundamental principles of our democracy: the mandate requiring separation of church and state embodied in the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.

The First Amendment “command[s] that there should be ‘no law respecting an establishment of religion.’”

Lemon v. Kurtzman, 403 U.S. 602, 612 (1971). This includes any state-sponsored religious activity in a pubic school. A religious activity is “state-sponsored” under the Establishment Clause if “an objective observer in the position of a secondary school student will perceive official school support for such religious [activity].” Board of Educ. v. Mergens, 496 U.S. 226, 249–50 (1990). Northwest Rankin High School officials, by sponsoring a Christian presentation, have clearly violated the Establishment Clause.

On Tuesday April 9

th, you sent an e-mail to all faculty members at around 9:00 a.m. instructing them to send students to a last-minute mandatory assembly in the Performing Arts Building (“PAB”) without mentioning the purpose of the assembly.1 As revealed in a video of the entire event presented to us, once the students and faculty arrived in the PAB, a representative from Pinelake Baptist Church started to give a presentation about finding “hope” in “Jesus Christ.” After a short introduction, he played a video for the students. In the video, two young men were interviewed who had once led “troubled” lives. To find hope, the men described various behaviors such as turning to drugs, sex, cutting, suicide, and the like. They then explained how turning to Jesus Christ solved their problems and recommended that other

1 The substance of the email, with names and e-mail addresses redacted, is available here:

2

people turn to Jesus Christ as well. The video immediately delved into a full-blown lecture of the supposed miracles, powers, and teachings of Jesus Christ and encouraged all students to turn to him.

Once the video ended, the Baptist Church representative summarized the video in regards to how Jesus Christ helped the young men and other troubled teens, and told the students that Jesus could help them too. He went on for about five minutes or so explaining the story of Jesus, his supernatural powers, and how those who do not believe in Jesus should do so now. Concluding this discussion, the representative led the students in a Christian prayer.

At no time did a school official turn off the video. Indeed, the presentation was mandatory and faculty stood near the exit door, preventing students from leaving. According to the students, a principal harassed several students who attempted to leave and told them to sit back down.

Pursuant to Supreme Court precedent, the school’s sponsoring of and affiliation with, as well as endorsement of, Christianity through this event was unconstitutional.

2 In Lee v. Weisman, a middle school principal invited “a rabbi to deliver prayers at the graduation exercises.” 505 U.S. 577, 581 (1992). The Court observed that “there are heightened concerns with protecting freedom of conscience from subtle coercive pressure in the elementary and secondary public schools.” Id. at 592. As a result, the Court concluded that prayer during a school ceremony “bore the imprint of the State and thus put school-age children who objected in an untenable position,” by forcing the student to choose between religious conformity and missing graduation. Id. at 590. The Court reasoned:

2

See e.g., Santa Fe Independent School Dist. v. Doe, 530 U.S. 290, 309-10 (2000); Lee, 505 U.S. at 590; Sch. Dist. of Abington Tp., Pa. v. Schempp, 374 U.S. 203 (1963); Engel v. Vitale, 370 U.S. 421, 425 (1962); McCollum v. Board of Education, 333 U.S. 203 (1948). See also Cole v. Oroville Union High Sch. Dist., 228 F.3d 1092, 1101–03 (9th Cir. 2000) (ruling that sectarian and proselytizing valedictory speech at graduation would violate the Establishment Clause); S.D. v. St. Johns County Sch. Dist., 632 F. Supp. 2d 1085, 1096 (M.D. Fla. 2009) (Because school officials selected a song for students to sing in an assembly with a sectarian and proselytizing message, and students who refused faced being excluded from the assembly or possibly being ostracized, was a governmental advancement or promoting of a religion in violation of the First Amendment; a preliminary injunction was granted).

The undeniable fact is that the school district’s supervision and control of a high school graduation ceremony places public pressure, as well as peer pressure, on attending students to stand as a group, or, at least, maintain respectful silence during the Invocation and Benediction. This pressure, though subtle and indirect, can be as real as any over compulsion[, because] for many, if not most, of the students at the graduation, the act of standing or remaining silent was an expression of participation in the rabbi’s prayer.

Id

. at 592–93. Thus, “for the dissenter of high school age, who has a reasonable perception that she is being forced by the State to pray in a manner her conscience will not allow,” compels religious participation and is “forbidden by the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.” Id. at 593, 599.

The “Establishment Clause plainly forbids public schools from sponsoring an official prayer for young children.”

Mellen v. Bunting, 327 F.3d 355, 376 (4th Cir. 2003). It is also well 3

settled that public schools are prohibited from devotional reading of Bible passages to students.

Hall v. Bd. of Sch. Com’rs of Conecuh County, 656 F.2d 999 (5th Cir. 1981) (primary effect of Bible literature course was advancement of religion, in violation of Establishment Clause). See also Meltzer v. Bd. of Pub. Instr. of Orange County, Fla., 548 F.2d 559 (5th Cir. 1977) on reh’g, 577 F.2d 311 (5th Cir. 1978). Certainly, urging students to turn to Jesus Christ and making repeated references to his teachings in the Bible cannot be understood as anything but direct promotion of religion and Christianity specifically.

That the person delivering the presentation was a student representing Pinelake Baptist Church does not absolve the school and its officials from liability. See

Santa Fe, 530 U.S. 290 (student-led, student-initiated invocations prior to football games violated Establishment Clause); Cole, 228 F.3d at 1104. It is sufficient that the presentation was school-sponsored and held on school grounds during class-time.3 The fact that this event was mandatory, and was promoted by the school principal only compounded the Establishment Clause violation.

3

See e.g., Doe v. Duncanville Indep. Sch. Dist., 70 F.3d 402 (5th Cir. 1995) (School district’s practice of allowing its employees to supervise student prayers during basketball practices and games violated Establishment Clause).

Making attendance voluntary would not cure the constitutional infirmity. The “‘government may no more use social pressure to enforce orthodoxy than it may use more direct means.’”

Santa Fe, 530 U.S. at 312. The school cannot host, during school hours, a presentation promoting Christianity or any other religion. While students can host individual, private student-group meetings promoting religion during lunch or recess hours, the school can take no part in it.

The event promoted by this school was conducted during class-time and was mandated by the principal. It has hard to imagine a more blatant violation of the Establishment Clause than the one complained of herein. The law prohibiting this type of endorsement and coercion is well-settled. As such, not only will the school, in its official capacity, be liable for this constitutional infringement pursuant to 42 U.S.C.A. § 1983, but the school officials responsible for the event will be

personally liable too, in their individual capacities.

This letter serves as official notice of your unconstitutional conduct and as a demand that you terminate this and similar programming immediately. We specifically insist that you cancel the similar presentation scheduled for Friday, April 12, 2013.

Sincerely,

William Burgess

Public school identifies itself as “christian” on facebook

This school in northern Michigan chose to identifiy itself on facebook as a "Christian" school despite the fact that this school is a regular public school.

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