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*********************************************************** WHY IS AN ATHEIST ORGANIZATION NEEDED IN THE U.S. TODAY? by Jon G. Murray *********************************************************** According to the best sociological polling information that American Atheists can obtain anywhere, from 7.5 to 8.5 percent of the population of the United States is either Atheist or agnostic. [Footnote: "Research Report: The National Survey of Religious Identification 1989-1990 (Selected Tabulation)," The Graduate School and University Center of the City University of New York, March 1991. These results were based on a telephone survey of 113,000 households in the continental U.S., conducted over thirteen months. ] The United States Bureau of Census now puts its estimate of Atheists alone at 9 percent. [Footnote: U.S. Bureau of Census, "Statistical Abstract of the United States: 1990," 110th edition (Washington, DC: 1990).] A minority as large as this (approximately 18,750,000 to 22,500,000 persons) certainly deserves equal time, equal rights, and equal justice under law, wouldn't you agree? Yet three states of these United States still have provisions in their constitutions that bar those who lack a belief in a "god" or a "supreme being" from holding public office or an office of public trust within the state. The states are Arkansas, South Carolina, and Pennsylvania. It was only the legal activity of American Atheists in the last fifteen years that corrected this imposed disability in the constitutions of four other states: North Carolina, ["Voswinkel v. Hunt" (1979)] Tennessee, ["Church v. Tennessee" (1978)] Texas, ["O'Hair v. Hill" (1978-84)] and Mississippi. ["Tirmenstein v. Mississippi" (1979)] On a national average, 25 percent of the privately owned land in each state is held by churches of one denomination or another. That means that Atheists must pay higher taxes on their homes to support religion, even though they do not share in religious belief. In fact, organized religion in general receives over one hundred billion dollars annually from these exemptions and other direct grants and special privileges from government. What is now the United States at one time went to war with England over the idea of being taxed without representation to support, among other things, the state church of that nation. Over two hundred years later, we still have Atheists excluded from public office in states where their tax dollars support the church. Although the legal disability of Atheists has been removed in four states, they still cannot openly run for office because of continued popular prejudice against them, much of which is enhanced by government. What can Atheists do? They can band together in a group and pool their resources, both monetary and intellectual, in an effort to make their voices heard collectively in a way that no individual voice can be heard. Atheists come in many shapes and sizes and political bents, but they all have their freedom *from* religion in common. Any one of them alone can easily be defeated both monetarily and psychologically by the religious community. *Together* they can stand firm and support an organization that can represent their interests through national and community public relations activities, much like an individual worker can magnify his or her bargaining power manyfold by forming a union with others. This is why an Atheist organization is needed in the United States today. American Atheists only asks you to agree on one issue -- your right to freedom *from* religion -- and lend your support to the maintenance of that right. Your individual autonomy is guaranteed in all other areas: political, moral, racial, economic. American Atheists, the organization, stands firm on three issues under the mandate of its constituency: 1. Your right to freedom *from* religion; 2. Your right to have your government adhere to its original promise of maintaining complete and absolute separation of state and church so that this nation will never become a theocracy (like present-day Iran); and 3. Your right to equal protection and civil rights under the law as an Atheist. We think that those things are worth uniting to preserve, don't you? WHAT DOES AN ATHEIST ORGANIZATION DO? 1. It collects and disseminates information, data, and literature on Atheism and related life-styles, and on all religions, to promote a more thorough understanding of them, their origins, and their histories. Traditionally, arguments and hard feelings have almost always come from misunderstandings among individuals and nations. Dissemination of information on Atheism can help the majoritarian religious community understand what Atheists think and why they think it, as well as how they live. That in turn can make it easier for the Atheists to gain recognition for their equal status in the community, and to help curb bigotry, the offspring of ignorance and misinformation. 2. It advocates, labors for, and promotes in all *lawful* ways the complete and absolute separation of state and church. This previously has been almost exclusively through litigation. Though that litigation was not always successful, it served as an educational tool to demonstrate to the general public the concern Atheists have for maintaining the right to freedom from religion. Strict separation of state and church, in all its many aspects, is a prerequisite to the continued free existence of Atheists. In a theocracy an Atheist has no rights. 3. It advocates, labors for, and promotes the establishment and maintenance of a thoroughly *secular* system of education available to all. Religion is, or ought to be, a private affair. The public school system is a place for learning, not an open forum for religious proselytization. If religion is to be taught, the place for it to be taught is in the home, the church, or a private parochial school. Teaching the truth *about* religion is one thing, indoctrinating students into religious behavior is quite another. No religion has ever been open to scrutiny of its dogma or history. 4. It helps develop and propagate a social philosophy in which -- instead of a god -- man is the central figure who alone must be the source of strength, progress, and ideals for the well-being and happiness of humanity. Human problems are all soluble by human effort. If all of the funds given to religion alone were diverted to the problems of here and now, we could all enjoy the concept of heaven on earth. 5. It promotes the study of the arts and sciences and of all problems affecting the maintenance, perpetuation, and enrichment of human (and all other) life. Science is probably responsible for more ideas and achievements that have made all of our lives just a little easier than any other discipline. Religion has traditionally been the antagonist of science, slowing its progress, yet begrudgingly accepting its achievements. Currently, science is again under attack by religion, most notably the "creationists," who would return the Genesis version of "god's creation of man" to our schoolrooms. Imagine what life would be like if science had progressed unfettered. 6. It provides a social forum for Atheists to share their life philosophies with individuals of like minds. This communication helps to provide the reinforcement and security of thought that we all, as humans, seek. Everyone likes to be accepted in his or her thinking by others, especially others in his or her peer group. Through national and regional meetings and events, American Atheists helps to provide Atheists with that needed social outlet often all too elusive for those of minority opinions. 7. It helps Atheists appreciate their rightful place in the community. Everyone contributes in some way, no matter how small, to the common good. Atheists need to be able to continue those contributions, at the same time being able to express their Atheism openly and without fear of prejudice. The national and regional leadership of American Atheists stands out of "the closet" and in the open for Atheism and takes "the heat" that might otherwise be directed at individual Atheists on the local level. American Atheists works toward the day when all Atheists can be open and honest about their views on theism without hesitation. AN ATHEIST ORGANIZATION SEEKS TO KEEP ITS MEMBERSHIP INFORMED, ON A CONTINUING BASIS, OF THOSE THINGS THAT AFFECT THEIR LIVES AS ATHEISTS: ** State/Church Breaches How your tax dollars are spent to further religion; First Amendment Establishment Clause violations, such as invocations at public governmental functions or erections of religious symbols on public lands; Preferential government treatment of religious institutions, such as exemption of parochial schools from integration and teacher certification requirements; First Amendment Free Exercise Clause violations such as required attendance at religious functions on the job, or statutory oaths for public service opportunities like jury duty. ** Religious Political Activity How fundamentalist religious groups plan to legislate their biblical morality to all Americans; How your elected officials bow to religious lobby groups exercising power far beyond their percentage of the vote; how religion affects our international policy with nations of other predominant faiths. ** Attack on the Public Schools The religious community's attempt to intrude itself into the public school system or undermine it in favor of a government-supported parochial system. ** Attack on Women The foremost opponents of equal rights for women across the nation are religious groups which seek to project archaic biblical standards on today's women. Major funding for the "pro-life" movement, dedicated to the abolition of freedom of choice with regard to abortion and the stifling of the dissemination of birth control information, is provided by major mainline churches. ** Attack on Science In over thirty states biblical creationism must be taught in science classrooms wherever evolution is taught. This is a result of fundamentalist lobby groups. ** Censorship Recent surveys point out that some 75 percent of the nation's educators believe censorship to be up during the past decade. Most of this censorship involves fundamentalist individuals or groups pressuring school officials. ACCOMPLISHMENTS OF AMERICAN ATHEISTS 1. Removal of religious ceremonies (Bible reading and prayer recitation) from the nation's public schools. This was done by the famous "Murray v. Curlett" [374 U.S. 203; 83 S.Ct. 1560; 10 L.Ed.2d. 844 (1963)] 8 to 1 Supreme Court of the United States decision in June of 1963. 2. Placement of Atheist material in the form of the "American Atheist" magazine, books, booklets, and sound recordings in public libraries across the country. It was necessary to take this issue to the federal courts where a precedent was laid to coerce public libraries which displayed religious periodicals to accept Atheist material. ["S.O.S., Inc. v. County of Mecklenburg," U.S. Dist. Court for the Western Dist. of North Carolina, 1978.] The Library of Congress now has an official classification for Atheism in its subject index files for the first time in United States history, due to American Atheists. 3. Production of the first openly Atheist magazine in the United States. American Atheists publishes a high-quality, forty-four-plus page magazine of Atheist news and thought. Widely distributed throughout both the nation and the world, it is a much-quoted prototype for many aspiring Atheist groups in other countries. 4. Production of the first "American Atheist Radio Series." That series ran from June 3, 1968, to October 15, 1977. At its zenith, these fifteen-minute, weekly broadcasts were featured on some fifty public and educational radio stations in numerous states. A one-hour, once-a-week, "American Atheist Hour" was a feature in Houston, Texas, on the Pacifica station KPFT-FM for over ten years. 5. Production and distribution of a half-hour, weekly "American Atheist Forum" series. This series of programs is now broadcast on major market cable access television systems in a growing list of cities. The first "Forum" program was aired in Austin, Texas, on July 22, 1980. Currently over 125 cable systems carry the program. Both the "American Atheist Radio Series" and the "American Atheist Forum" have been provided free of charge to the stations that air them as a public service from American Atheists. 6. Standing by as a "watchdog" organization to sponsor continuing litigation on issues of state and church separation. American Atheists consistently monitors and (now) occasionally litigates in response to many different situations around the country to maintain a "wall of separation" between state and church. Though not always successful, American Atheists maintains a high degree of presence in the nation's courts, never letting the legal community forget its obligation to maintain constitutional separation guarantees. 7. Maintaining an American Atheist Speakers Bureau of informed spokespersons for media, college, and university appearances. Atheist spokespersons are now widely accepted for appearances nationwide. 8. Formation of a membership group. Recognizing that Atheists need their own identity, derived from mutual concerns and from their evolution as proponents of freedom of thought, a national membership organization was formed. Local representatives of this strong national society of Atheists are slowly being recruited and trained to strengthen the national outreach. The aim is for Atheists in major cities to be able to engage in local activities in their area with other Atheists, backed up by a qualified regional spokesperson. 9. Establishment of an American Atheist Trust Fund. Now Atheists can invest in a permanent future for their organization. This fund for the future was transferred to a separate corporation as part of a general, legal reorganization of affiliated Atheist corporations under the umbrella of the American Atheist General Headquarters in May 1987. The Trust Fund goal is to raise sufficient funds for operation of the national American Atheist General Headquarters from interest revenues alone, leaving the principal intact. In the past, Atheist organizations have always derived their financing from one or two wealthy individuals, who dictated the policy of the group. The Trust Fund is designed to accumulate working capital from the rank-and-file supporter for the perpetual survival of American Atheists -- without dependence on large single sustainers, thus affording the group a wider latitude of operational options. 10. Establishment of the Charles E. Stevens American Atheist Library and Archives. Atheism has a long history, both in the United States and around the world. Preserving the written part of that history is the goal of the American Atheist Library. With some twenty thousand books and over one hundred thousand newspapers, pamphlets, and flyers from as far back as 1612, the American Atheist Library is the largest collection of Atheist material in the world. Strictly a research facility, the library is also a rich informational source for the "American Atheist" magazine, the "American Atheist Forum," and the American Atheist Press which is reprinting Atheism's principal intellectual works. 11. Establishment of a national American Atheist General Headquarters. No other Atheist organization has, historically, ever had a base of operations like American Atheists. The American Atheist GHQ is a 17,500-square-foot, modern office complex in Austin, Texas, from which various outreach programs are administered. The GHQ has its own in-house printing, folding and stitching plant, and radio, video, computer, typesetting, word processing, and direct mail facilities. It also houses the American Atheist Library and Archives as well as an extensive hard media clipping file on state/church issues worldwide. 12. Pioneering the "Dial-An-Atheist" programs. Continuing a program begun in late 1971 by the founder of the American Atheist Museum, Lloyd Thoren, American Atheists has established a series of telephone message services where the public can dial in and listen to a different, regularly changed, Atheist educational message. There are "Dial-An-Atheist" services throughout the United States, in addition to the "Dial-THE-Atheist" service located at the national American Atheist GHQ, featuring Dr. Madalyn O'Hair, founder of American Atheists. 13. Separating, in the public view, the notion of any relation between the political position of communism and the life-style of Atheism. This was accomplished by popularizing the term "American Atheist." Atheists no longer need to live under the dreadful stigma of the McCarthy era of our nation, when every Atheist was branded with the political label of communism. 14. Development of a diversity of Atheist leadership and spokespersons across the country. Atheist organizations that have gone before have been led by one charismatic individual. When that person died, the organization died with him/her. American Atheists has developed and trained many Atheist leaders both locally and regionally, as well as a number of articulate national spokespersons, so that it will not fall victim, as an organization, to the fate of those that have gone before. 15. Inspired the founding of an American Atheist Museum. In June 1978, the first Atheist museum in the Western world was opened in Petersburg, Indiana, the heart of the American Midwest. It was the site of the annual national Summer Solstice picnics for a number of years. The Museum was closed by its founder, Lloyd Thoren, for personal and financial reasons, in April of 1985. 16. Resurrecting out-of-print Atheist classics. Many of the best works on Atheism specifically -- and freethought in general -- were financed by independently wealthy Atheists through what are called "vanity" presses. Most often one hundred to five hundred copies were printed in hard cover. American Atheist Press, an affiliate of the American Atheist Library, is making all of these works available again in paperback, some in their entirety and some in serialized versions. 17. Establishment of United World Atheists (UWA) to stimulate communication and coordinate programs among Atheist and freethought groups from many countries. UWA is a loose affiliation of Atheist groups from such nations as France, Britain, Germany, Austria, Italy, Sweden, Finland, India, New Zealand, China, Russia, and Australia. Each group is guaranteed its autonomy, but pledges continued communication and desire to coordinate efforts in any area where identical principles of freedom from religion, freedom of speech, or freedom of thought are involved. UWA attempts to hold World Atheist Meets every three years in various locations around the world. Articles in many languages are freely exchanged among the journals of each of the organizations involved. 18. Annual National Conventions. Beginning in 1970, American Atheists have held a national convention each year. In order to accommodate persons living in different areas, these conventions have been held in diverse locations such as New York City, New York; Chicago, Illinois; Los Angeles, Sacramento, San Diego, and San Francisco, California; Tampa and St. Petersburg, Florida; Detroit, Michigan; Lexington, Kentucky; Dallas and Austin, Texas; Washington, D.C.; Salt Lake City, Utah; Somerset, New Jersey; Denver, Colorado; Minneapolis, Minnesota; and Scottsdale, Arizona. Each of these conventions features a foreign speaker, most usually an articulate representative of other Atheist organizations in other lands, notably England, Finland, India, New Zealand, Israel, Australia, West Germany, Austria, and France. The conventions have also been a forum for the development of Atheist speakers using their Atheistic approach to interpret their own disciplines. Awards are given each year for "distinguished service" to Atheism. The conventions have proven to be a high mark of conviviality and camaraderie for those whose pleasure it is to meet each year with persons of like mind and conviction. A bona fide American Atheist organization has been much needed in our nation during the last several hundred years. Many prior groups, flying under timid appellations, have risen and then fallen during the course of our nation's history. Sensing that now is the appropriate time for Atheism to come of age, to put down roots, and to flourish, the founder and leaders of American Atheists have now established another major institution in our nation -- one that has come to stay and, eventually, to be the dominant one in the culture of the future -- American Atheists. We invite you to join us. About the Author: Jon G. Murray, son of founder Madalyn O'Hair, has been the president of American Atheists, Inc. since 1986. *********************************************************************** * * * American Atheists website: http://www.atheists.org * * PO Box 140195 FTP: ftp://ftp.atheists.org * * Austin, TX 78714-0195 * * Voice: (512) 458-1244 Dial-THE-ATHEIST: * * FAX: (512) 467-9525 (512) 458-5731 * * * * Atheist Viewpoint TV: avtv@atheists.org * * Info on American Atheists: info@atheists.org, * * & American Atheist Press include your name and mailing address * * AANEWS -Free subscription: aanews-request@listserv.atheists.org * * and put "info aanews" in message body * * * * This text may be freely downloaded, reprinted, and/other * * otherwise redistributed, provided appropriate point of * * origin credit is given to American Atheists. * * * ***********************************************************************


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