The Freedom From Religion Foundation was featured in front page article last Sunday in the editorially conservative Tribune-Review. It was a remarkably neutral article that simply described what the organization was about. It talked about it is star-studded honorary board with a membership that include Ron Reagan and Julie Sweeney, but the focus was on Pennsylvania and its growing 673 members. It is these members that alert the organization of local state/church issues including:
• February 2010 — Challenges the Farrell High football coach in Mercer County for leading his team in prayer before games; school district agrees to stop the prayers.
• September 2010 — Forces Bellwood-Antis School District in Blair County to change the name of its Bible Club for middle school students.
• October 2011 — Challenges a Bethlehem restaurant’s efforts to give Sunday meal discounts to patrons who present church bulletins; restaurant cancels the deal a week later.
• January 2012 — Asks California University of Pennsylvania to stop plan to reduce the price of basketball tickets for church members. Upon advice of a university employee, had decided to offer discount to all comers.
• March 2012 — Successfully demands Lackawana County Transit System get rid of “God Bless America” signs on buses.
• July 2012 — Challenges Ellwood City Nativity scene that for 50 years was placed at borough building.
• October 2012 — Files federal lawsuit seeking to force New Kensington Area School District to remove Ten Commandments tablet from school property.
• October 2012 — Files federal lawsuit seeking to force Connellsville School District to remove Ten Commandments tablet from school property.
• October 2012 — Federal judge dismisses a lawsuit filed by the foundation against several state lawmakers who sponsored a resolution proclaiming 2012 as the Year of the Bible.
The article went on to say:
The Freedom From Religion Foundation does not pick its fights; it only responds to complaints from citizens, said its co-president, Annie Laurie Gaylor.
“I don’t know what is going on in Pennsylvania to put out that kind of fundamentalism. It’s something you would expect to see in the Deep South,” she said. “Our ultimate goal is to defend the First Amendment. We’re not picking on anybody.”
I am sure some of the headings in the article will raise local eyebrows: “Born of Abortion” refers to how the FFRF was an direct result of a desire to change the abortion laws in Wisconsin in the 1970s, while “An Unabashed Atheist” was Ron Reagan’s self description.
But perhaps the strongest quote as to why FFRF is needed in Pennsylvania came at the very end of the article, when Rev. Nelson Confer of Connellsville countered the good work that the Foundation does with
“We’re living in the last days, and we’re going to be attacked by Satan. I think if they would read the Bible and have God intervene in their hearts, they would have a change of mind,” Confer said.
The truth is that Dan Barker, co-president of FFRF and former evangelical minister, has read and preached the Bible cover to cover, which is what made him an atheist in first place. Perhaps more readers of the Trib will take Confer’s unintended advice and have a change of mind in the other direction.