The Unpleasant Hills Panera


The management of the Pleasant Hills Panera in the southern suburbs of Pittsburgh has caused an unnecessary ruckus by attacking a worker for having the wrong faith.   As the Hemant Mehta noted in his Friendly Atheist blog, Tammy McCoy was fired for not believing in the right god.

 According to a federal lawsuit  just filed against the company, she was taking a break during a shift last May along with General Manager Lori Dubs and Assistant General Manager Kerrie Ann Show (spelled “Kerri” in the lawsuit) when the latter asked her about her faith. McCoy answered honestly. Things went downhill from there.  Show made a face and immediately said, “You’re going to hell.” Dubs, standing nearby, vigorously nodded her head in agreement…

A couple of days later, on or about June 2, 2020, the plaintiff asked Show when the work schedule would be posted. Show told the plaintiff, “Your hours are being cut until you find God.” She reiterated that the plaintiff needed to “find God” before she would return the plaintiff to her previous schedule.  […] By July, she was told to put in her resignation notice. When she asked her manager why, the response from Dubs was, “I don’t like you.” Then McCoy was fired. Oh, and by the way, her husband who worked at the same location was also fired… even though he had nothing to do with any of this.

It is an outrageous intrusion into a person’s right to believe or not believe as they see fit.  It makes one wonder what other religious views are required to work in the “Unpleasant Hills“ Panera.  Let’s hope that the courts do what is right.  It would also be proper for the Panera Corporation to speak about the need to remain neutral in the religious views of its workers.

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Montrose School District doesn’t have a prayer


It was good to hear that the Montrose Area School District, located in Susquehanna County, Pennsylvania, choose to stop its practice of injecting religion into each school board meeting.  The district, which borders the New York state line in eastern Pennsylvania, north of Scranton, had the inappropriate practice of opening every meeting with a recitation of the Lord’s Prayer, following the Pledge of Allegiance.

Fortunately, a concerned community member alerted the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) about the intrusion of religion into a public school event.  FFRF then sent a three-page letter to Superintendent Christopher McComb, alerting the district to the unconstitutionality of beginning official district meetings with prayer, especially when students are present.  You can read the full letter at https://ffrf.org/images/MontroseSchoolBoardLETTER.pdf.

As FFRF stated, “More than 60 years of U.S. Supreme Court decisions have affirmed that religious ritual and indoctrination are inappropriate and illegal as part of school-sponsored events, FFRF emphasized that it is coercive, embarrassing and intimidating for nonreligious citizens to be required to make a public showing of their nonbelief or else to display deference toward a religious sentiment in which they do not believe, but which their school board members clearly do.”  The school district should also be aware of the growing unaffiliated population, which the Pew Religious Landscape survey puts at 22.8% of the U.S. population, as well as 21% in Pennsylvania, being religiously unaffiliated. 

After receiving the letter, Superintendent McComb informed FFRF via email that “this practice has ceased and will no longer continue.”

If you become aware of other school districts that have ignored past rulings on this matter, be sure to complain and consider reporting district to one of the national freethought groups or to a local group, such as the Pittsburgh Freethought Coalition at https://pghfreethought.org/.

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Not the Center


Perhaps you caught the Super Bowl ad from Jeep that implied we are all Christians. The Freedom From Religion Foundation had an informative response as to the why that was a terrible message:

FFRF censures Jeep’s divisive Christian Super Bowl ad

The Jeep Super Bowl Sunday ad with Bruce Springsteen ostensibly encouraging Americans to find common ground has generated a lot of buzz. But, ironically, it flagrantly undercuts unity by assuming that Americans must all be Christians united under the repeatedly depicted cross.

That message is more than insulting. It actually perpetuates the Christian Nationalist narrative underpinning the Jan. 6 insurrection that this ad presumably was created to counter. Only 65 percent of Americans today identify as Christian, with religiously unaffiliated “Nones” standing at 26 percent. And even if 100 percent of Americans identified as Christian, that still would not make the United States a “Christian nation,” since our godless and secular Constitution ensures our government may not promulgate religion.

However, this point was evidently lost to the Italian corporation that owns Jeep and sought to religiously pander in a message on unity that actually further divides us. More than one-third of Americans do not bow down to a cross, and it’s impossible for us non-Christians to do anything other than take away from this ad that we aren’t true Americans.

The spot opens with a chapel and Springsteen’s narration: “There’s a chapel in Kansas standing on the exact center of the lower 48. It never closes. All are more than welcome to come and meet here in the middle.” The ad then shows the interior of the chapel with a wooden cross attached to the center of a red-white-and-blue plaque of the map of the lower 48 United States.

Springsteen’s narration continues: “Freedom is not the property of just the fortunate few. It belongs to us all. … It’s what connects us. … We need the middle.” Laudable words until the camera comes to rest on a large roadside cross.

The ad concludes with a shot of Springsteen outside the chapel, a cross in the background and then a shot of the chapel at sunset. Finally, there’s an image of the outline of the lower 48 United States, saying “To the ReUnited States of America.”

That geographical center of the United States is meaningless. It’s like saying that a word beginning with M is in the center of the dictionary. That Kansas “center” excludes Alaska and Hawaii. If you take all 50 states, then the center would be in South Dakota, close to the Montana border.

For the full reply by FFRF, see https://ffrf.org/news/news-releases/item/38456-ffrf-censures-jeep-s-divisive-christian-super-bowl-ad

In the meantime, the center of the US remains a moving dot in more ways than one.

Mean Center of the US Population by Year
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A Disgrace in the Tennis World


Sports and freethought issues rarely come into conflict, but there is a huge controversy in Australia that is brewing this week. Australian tennis player Margaret Court is due to be awarded the Companion of the Order of Australia, as part of Australia Day, a national holiday in Australia. Unlike Independence Day in the United States, which celebrates the separation from England every year on July 4th, Australia Day celebrates the 1788 arrival of the British Fleet in New South and the raising of the British flag in Sydney Cove. The day is marked with parades, fireworks and summer barbecues, as Australia is south of the Equator.

At the same time, Wikipedia notes that some human rights groups “refer to January 26 as Invasion Day, Survival Day, or Day of Mourning to observe it as a counter-celebration and advocate that the date should be changed, or that the holiday should be abolished entirely.”

Why this award is being given to Margaret Court on this day, very much adds divisiveness of the event. As reported by the New York Times, “Since retiring, Ms. Court’s legacy has been increasingly overshadowed by her intolerant views, and she has alienated many in the tennis world. … [Now] a Pentecostal minister, she has vocally opposed same-sex marriage, compared L.G.B.T.Q. education to the work of the devil and denounced transgender athletes.”

The awarding group, called the Council for the Order of Australia, has ignored the complaints and simply said “In a system that recognizes hundreds of people each year, it is inevitable that each list will include some people who others believe should not be recognized.” That response sounds like a poor excuse, given that the headlines around the sports world report:

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Steel City December Birthday


This fall, we have been highlighting birthdays of well-known atheists and humanists with ties to Pittsburgh, including Andrew Carnegie, as many readers might not have known he was a freethinker.

This month, we highlight comedian Anthony Jeselnik who was born December 22, 1978 in Pittsburgh and grew up just 11 miles south of the city in Upper St. Clair, PA. After graduating from high school in 1997, he headed to New Orleans to attend Tulane University. From there, he ended up in New York City, landing a job as a writer for Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, where his honed is comic persona.

He has continued his career with several specials, including “The Jeselnik Offensive” on Comedy Central, which aired for two seasons, and two comedy specials aired on Netflix – “Thoughts and Prayers” (2015) and “Fire in the Maternity Ward” (2019).

In 2018, he returned to Comedy Central with a deal that included a weekly podcast, “The Jeselnik & Rosenthal Vanity Project” featuring Gregg Rosenthal and Erica Tamposi of the NFL Network.

“I was raised Catholic. I rejected it later on. I’m an outspoken atheist now. People say, ‘Oh, it’s a negative thing to be an atheist.’ I don’t agree. I think it’s more optimistic to think that there is no God, no afterlife. I’m the only one in my family who feels this way.”

—Jeselnik, Parade magazine interview (July 2, 2013)

Thanks to ffrf.org for details about our Steel City notables!

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Freethought Takes a Stand in Congress


While Thanksgiving over for this year, it is still a good time to ‘Give Thanks’ to our Representatives in Washington, who are making a difference for everyday Americans. In particular, we can thank Rep. Jamie Raskin (Democrat from MD), along with Rep. Ted Yoho (Republican from FL), who brought House Resolution 512 to the floor, where it passed by near-unanimous support of 386-3. The three negative votes were all Republicans, Andy Biggs (AZ), Thomas Massie (KY), and Chip Roy (TX). Of the 39 who did not vote, all but six were Republicans. In terms of the Pittsburgh region, all Representatives voted YEA, except for … you guessed it … Guy Reschenthaler, who chose not to vote.

So, what is this text of this important resolution, which drew wide bipartisan support?

HR 512 called for the “global repeal of blasphemy, heresy, and apostasy laws.”

Whereas Article 18 of the International Declaration of Human Rights states that [e]veryone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance;

Whereas many countries continue to have criminal blasphemy laws and punish people who engage in expression deemed by the government to be blasphemous, heretical, apostate, defamatory of religion, or insulting to religion or to religious symbols, figures, or feelings, and such punishment can include fines, imprisonment, and capital punishment including by beheading;

Whereas blasphemy laws have affected Christians, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Baha’i, secularists, and many other groups, are inconsistent with international human rights standards because they establish and promote official religious orthodoxy and dogma over individual liberty, and often result in violations of the freedoms of religion, thought, and expression that are protected under international instruments, including Articles 18 and 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR);


Rep. Jamie Raskin argued forcibly that “Everyone must be able to practice the faith or no faith at all without the threat of government violence and persecution”. Rep. Raskin feels strongly about this issue, not because of his personal religious belief, but rather because of his lack of religious belief. Rep. Raskin is the co-chair of the Congressional Freethought Caucus, which “was established in April 2018 to foster science and reason-based solutions and to defend the secular character of government. “ It worth noting that Pennsylvania has one member in the Freethought Caucus with Susan Wild PA-7 in the Lehigh Valley. Let’s hope for more visibility and more members joining this important caucus in 2021.

Source: Wikipedia
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Steel City November Birthdays, Part 2


A number of freethinkers were born in November, including Scott Joplin (1868), Charles Schulz (1922), Randy Newman (1943) and Bill Nye (1955). Several freethinkers with ties to Pittsburgh were discussed last week. It is worth noting at least one more individual, while not born in Pittsburgh, he is well-known for his contributions to western PA.

Andrew Carnegie was born in Dumfermline, Scotland, on November 25, 1835. In 1848, his family emigrated to Pennsylvania, settling in Allegheny City, which existed as an independent municipality from 1788 until it was annexed by Pittsburgh in 1907. Located across the Allegheny River from downtown Pittsburgh, it is known today as the North Side neighborhood of Pittsburgh.

As noted in Wikipedia, Carnegie kept his distance from organized religion and theism. Carnegie instead preferred to see things through naturalistic and scientific terms stating, “not only had I got rid of the theology and the supernatural, but I had found the truth of evolution.

As pointed out in FFRF’s Freethought of the Day, in a 1905 letter to Sir James Donaldson of St. Andrews, Carnegie wrote:

The whole scheme of Christian Salvation is diabolical as revealed by the creeds. An angry God, imagine such a creator of the universe. Angry at what he knew was coming and was himself responsible for. Then he sets himself about to beget a son, in order that the child should beg him to forgive the Sinner. This however he cannot or will not do. He must punish somebody — so the son offers himself up & our creator punishes the innocent youth, never heard of before — for the guilty and became reconciled to us. … I decline to accept Salvation from such a fiend.”

It is not surprising that Carnegie’s wealth went to libraries and museums, which has enriched Pittsburgh in many ways, even today.

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Steel City November Birthdays, Part 1


It is good month to honor a host of atheist/humanists with ties to Pittsburgh.

George Seldes (1890-1995), born on Nov. 16 in NJ, became a cub reporter for the Pittsburgh Leader in 1909, earning $3.50 a week. He became night editor of the Pittsburgh Post five years later and was hired by United Press to report in London in 1916. Seldes was the first to report the link between cancer and cigarette smoking. He wrote 21 books, including You Can’t Print That! (1929), Can These Things Be! (1931), The Vatican: Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow (1934), Lord of the Press (1938), The Catholic Crisis (examining church ties to fascism, 1940) and Witch Hunt (1940), about red-baiting. Until his death at 104 in 1995, he was the oldest member of the Freedom From Religion Foundation. The 1996 documentary film “Tell the Truth and Run” featured interviews with Seldes and was nominated for an Academy Award.

Chambers Roberts (1910-2005), born in Pittsburgh on Nov. 18, was the chief diplomatic correspondent of the Washington Post from 1953-1971, where he wrote several influential articles about the Pentagon Papers, detailing deceptions during the Vietnam War. As a result, Roberts was named as a defendant in the case that made it to the U.S. Supreme Court for publishing the documents. In Aug 2004, he wrote “I do want to add a final word about the hereafter. I do not believe in it. I think that the religions which promise various after-life scenarios basically invented them to meet the longing for an answer to life’s mysteries.

Thanks to ffrf.org for details about these Pittsburgh notables.

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Disaster for the Supreme Court


The presumed nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett is the most dangerous step in a long chain of actions by President Trump.  In particular, it would be an absolute disaster for the constitutional principle of separation between state and church.

In a recent TV interview on ABC News, https://abcnews.go.com/Politics/supreme-court-favorite-judge-amy-coney-barrett-faces/story?id=73206743  the Director of Strategic Response for the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) Andrew L. Seidel reported

“There are serious and deep concerns about Judge Amy Coney Barrett’s affiliation with People of Praise and her past comments about the conflict between faith and law. Not only is her connection to this community and her previous writings fair to ask about, but senators have a duty to the Constitution to ask those questions.”

Seidel went on to says “any statement of loyalty to the organization — and possible covenant with its members — could threaten to supersede her oath to uphold the Constitution. How does the covenant interact with the oath that all justices take to uphold the constitution as the supreme law of the land? We need to know that.”

It has also been reported (https://www.vox.com/21456044/amy-coney-barrett-supreme-court-roe-abortion)  that Barrett has made a number of public statements on Roe v. Wade and abortion over the years. As a Catholic and member of the religious group People of Praise, she has said that she personally believes life begins at conception, and that Roe “ignited a national controversy” by deciding the issue of abortion by court order rather than leaving it to the states.

The Nation (https://www.thenation.com/article/politics/amy-coney-barrett-extremist/) cited numerous other cases  that put her at the far right end of the spectrum when it comes to judicial decisions. For example, she stepped up to review cases that were not on her desk, most notably with regard to legal issues regarding fetal remains and, as well as the requirements of parental consent on abortion. In both cases her rulings were overturned by the Supreme Court.   

If Barrett ruled like a devout Catholic all the time, that would be one thing. But she doesn’t. She rules like an extremist conservative all the time, and just uses religion to justify those extremist positions when it is convenient for her to do so. She ignores the moral and ethical underpinnings of her faith when they conflict with the cruel requirements of conservative dogma.”

Putting it another way, it appears that for Judge Barrett her personal religion comes first and the laws of her country come last. We do not live in a theocracy and our ability to worship or not worship, as one wishes, is a unique American right. It is particularly egregious to think that the most thoughtful, fair-minded, Justice that the court had with the Honorable Ruth Bader Ginsburg, would be replaced by the least qualified candidate for the court that we have seen in our lifetime, if not longer.

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Deep into Chopra


This past weekend I happened to turned on WQED to see what might be playing as PBS is known for providing thoughtful and informative shows. I did not realize that they were in the middle of their fall fundraiser and to my dismay the show they were promoting was by the New Age charlatan author, Deepak Chopra.

For those not familiar with his brand of snake oil, it well worth a visit to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deepak_Chopra, which highlights is misuse of scientific terminology and focus on untenable theories.

Chopra’s “nonsensical references to quantum physics” are placed in a lineage of American religious pseudoscience for which Chopra attempts to “legitimize these ideas that have no scientific basis at all, and makes them sound scientific. He really is a fountain of meaningless jargon” (Wikipedia).

There was a time when PBS was the provider of a rich source of informative programs. To this day, they offer high quality educational programming, including Wild Kratts, Odd Squad, Sid the Science Kid and other informative programs.

As for fundraisers aimed at adults, it is time to remove the scientific nonsense, beginning with Chopra, who has written that “No skeptic, to my knowledge, ever made a major scientific discovery or advanced the welfare of others.”

Astronomer Phil Plait said this statement trembled “on the very edge of being a blatant and gross lie”, listing Carl Sagan, Richard Feynman, Stephen Jay Gould, and Edward Jenner among the “thousands of scientists [who] are skeptics”, who he said were counterexamples to Chopra’s statement.” (Wikipedia)

“Research has shown that the best way to be happy is make each day happy”, Deepak Chopra. Source: Iamfearlesssoul.com.




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