Richard E. Wackrow / Empiricist

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FASHA in The News


Guest opinion:
Day of Reason highlights value of U.S. religious freedom

Billings (Montana) Gazette
Wednesday, May 6, 2015
(Also ran in daily newspapers
across Montana)

In 1952, during the McCarthy era, the U.S. Congress established the National Day of Prayer. According to the statute signed by President Harry S. Truman (36 U.S.C. § 119), “The President shall issue each year a proclamation designating the first Thursday in May as a National Day of Prayer on which the people of the United States may turn to God in prayer and meditation at churches, in groups, and as individuals.”
     Since that law was enacted, all U.S. presidents have performed that duty. And before that, national prayer observances had been declared at various times for various dates by nearly all our presidents. A notable exception was Thomas Jefferson, whose Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom was the precursor of the establishment clause of the First Amendment.

     For those of us prone to forget (including, apparently, our McCarthy-era congressmen, who later added the words “under God” to the Pledge of Allegiance), the establishment clause reads: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”
      To the non-religious who pretend to pray at community Thanksgiving dinners so as not to offend the sensibilities of those who think everyone is (or ought to be) a Christian, or who repeat or pretend to repeat the words “under God” while reciting the Pledge of Allegiance at local government meetings so as not to be treated as a pariah, the National Day of Prayer might seem innocuous enough. But it isn’t.

Excluding Americans
The National Day of Prayer is an exclusionary act that needlessly divides America. It segregates from the mainstream many good Americans: non-believers, people of minority faiths (including polytheists such as Hindus), and the religious who don’t concur with the concept of government-mandated prayer.
     In 2003, the American Humanist Association and the Washington Area Secular Humanists launched a website for the National Day of Reason, also to be held on the first Thursday in May. Its purpose is “to celebrate reason — a concept all Americans can support — and to raise public awareness about the persistent threat to religious liberty posed by government intrusion into the private sphere of worship,” and to inspire the secular community to be more visible.
      The National Day of Reason acknowledges the role of reason in everyday life, and its positive effects for humankind, whether in developing breakthrough technologies or guiding sound public policy. Science and reason, not prayer, discovered vaccines for small pox and polio, put satellites in the sky and men on the Moon, and have improved the extent of human knowledge and the quality of human life exponentially since we first stood upright.
     Article VI, paragraph 3 of the U.S. Constitution, says that, “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.”

Politicians parading faith
Yet as the 2016 presidential campaign unfolds, we anticipate the spectacle of politician after politician parading their faith before us.
     For those politicians who are constantly trying to prove how Christian they are; for those who confuse public expressions of faith with patriotism, competence, honesty and good intentions; for those who think the National Day of Prayer actually promotes religious freedom instead of monopolizing it for Judeo-Christians; and for those otherwise credulous enough to buy into this charade, I quote Matthew Chapter 6, verses 5-6:

“[When] you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. ... But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”



The Roberts Court,
the Establishment Clause
and Theocracy

Flathead Area Secular Humanist Association
May 2014

The May 5 U.S. Supreme Court decision endorsing opening prayers at public meetings is the latest nail to be pried from the wall separating church and state.
     The Roberts Court ruled that prayers that open town council meetings do not violate the Constitution even if they routinely stress Christianity (Town of Greece v. Galloway), thus overturning a 2012 federal appeals court ruling to the contrary.
     Writing the dissenting opinion for the Court’s four liberal justices, Justice Elena Kagan said the case differs from a 1983 Court decision upholding opening prayers because in that case the invocations did not involve public participation. The issue in Greece v. Galloway, on the other hand, was that predominantly Christian invocations are given directly to, and involve participation by, citizens.
     Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for the five conservative justices, said the prayers are ceremonial and in keeping with the nation’s traditions. Some of these traditions are:
     If you’re a Jew, Hindu or any other Non-Christian, you are well-advised to participate — or pretend to participate — in the Christian prayer to avoid being treated as an outsider or troublemaker by the political body involved, or by your fellow citizens who are Christians.
     If you are not religious, you must pretend to be so in order to be elected to public office. Americans vote for political candidates based on their religious beliefs, not on their records or the policies they propose. They mistake open expressions of faith for honesty, integrity, morality and noble intentions. And they won’t vote for atheists regardless of their qualifications.
     Christianist political bodies and electorates discourage public participation by non-Christians who might otherwise make valuable contributions to their communities.
     In a nation that is more religiously diverse than when the Bill of Rights was written in the 18th century, it is important to note that the Court’s decision will exclude or deter an ever-growing segment of our society from participating in the political process.
     Given the current leaning of our Supreme Court, the only practical difference between the United States and theocracies such as Iran, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Nepal or Tibet might well boil down to which holidays we celebrate.

This piece, in various lengths, appeared as a letter to the editor or column in several Montana newspapers.


Ethics not contingent on religion

Hungry Horse (Montana) News
Tuesday, January 1, 2013

I was amused by [Redacted]’s letter to the Hungry Horse News (Dec. 19) in which he stated that the underlying cause of the shootings of 26 adults and children at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut on Dec. 14 was a decline of religion in America. Moreover, I was personally offended by his self-righteous assertion that moral behavior is strictly contingent on adherence to the Judeo-Christian ethic.
     For starters, one does not need an imaginary friend to behave morally. Contrary to what [Redacted] says, nonbelievers do not automatically regard others as subhuman. Ethical treatment of each other (the Golden Rule) in fact preceded any religious belief. And moral behavior by both the religious and the non-religious, therefore, is not contingent on any religious dogma but rather on parental guidance and common sense.
     Theologically speaking, in fact, devout Christians — by virtue of Jesus’ “dying for our sins” — have no ethical imperative whatsoever. They can do as they like to their fellow human beings without fear of divine retribution (although in some cases certain ritualistic niceties, such as confession and “penance,” are required to avoid the “fires of hell”).
     [Redacted] apparently has forgotten that on Sept. 11, 2001, 19 devout followers of the very same God of Abraham that he worships hijacked four airliners and used them to kill 3,000 innocent people. (We’ll leave it to [Redacted] to tell us whether there was school prayer in the hijackers’ home countries.)
     And mysteriously, [Redacted] makes no mention of the religious beliefs of Sandy Hook shooter Adam Lanza and his mother. For the record, they both attended St. Rose of Lima Catholic Church in Newton, Conn., where several of his victims’ funerals were conducted. And Adam, in fact, attended school at the church for a time.
     On closer examination then, America’s religious “morality” isn’t about “doing unto others as you would have them do unto you.” It’s about public expressions of faith. Someone having the Ten Commandments displayed in his shop window or on the tailgate of his pickup truck tells me nothing about whether or not he would cheat me in a business transaction, run me off the road, poison my dog — or bomb an abortion clinic, beat a homosexual to death, sexually molest an altar boy, or massacre innocent school children.
     Finally, [Redacted]’s blatant insinuation that adherence to the “Judeo/Christian ethic on which America was built” is the only guarantor of ethical behavior is an insult to every Buddhist, Hindu, animist, atheist, agnostic, pagan or adherent of any of the hundreds of other non-Christian, non-Judaic or non-monotheistic religions practiced in this country. But as any student of current events or history can tell you, religion has never been about religious tolerance, has it?

A shorter version of this column appeared as a letter to the editor in the Kalispell Daily Inter Lake.


FASHA members Donna Harrison, Ed Rothfuss and
Randy Kenyon (left to right)

FASHA volunteers at
Glacier National Park
native plant nursery

Hungry Horse News
Thursday, June 25, 2015

Last week in Glacier National Park the birds were singing, a light breeze was blowing and a host of volunteers were trimming stalks of sedge in the Park’s nursery.
     “We’re just a bunch of atheists doing community service,” said Richard Wackrow with a smile.
      Wackrow is the president of the Flathead Area Secular Humanist Association, a self-described “non-prophet” organization of about 100 members.
     The secular humanists are not alone in their volunteerism in Glacier. The Park averages about 750 volunteers each summer season from all walks of life, Jessica Kusky, Glacier’s volunteer coordinator said.
     They complete a host of roles, including work on trails, citizen science research, backcountry patrols and campground hosts. The Apgar Nature Center, for example, is hosted completely by volunteers and wouldn’t be staffed without their help, Kusky said.
     “It’s the perfect example of how volunteers are critical to the Park,” Kusky said. “It wouldn’t be open without them.”
     A great way to volunteer in the Park is to work at the nursery, which has a volunteer day every Tuesday during the summer. The nursery tends to 30,000 young plants annually, which are used to revegetate disturbed sites, such as construction on the Going-to-the-Sun Road.
     The Humanist group volunteers at the nursery several times a year, Wackrow said.
     All told, volunteers donate about 60,000 hours of service each year.

Gathering of skeptics
raises plenty of questions

The Daily Inter Lake
November 6, 2014

Teachers, foresters, veterans, therapists and retirees: These are just some of the people who belong to the Flathead Area Secular Humanist Association.
     For Richard Wackrow, the Flathead’s “leading atheist,” the diverse turnout at the first “Skeptics in the Pub” meeting recently was a good sign for freethinkers in the valley.
     The association is a group of skeptics and freethinkers who question long-held beliefs in Western society and demand evidence for the claims.
     Chief among these is the questioning religion and believing in something with no evidence other than faith.
     “A skeptic demands evidence,” Wackrow said. “A skeptic doesn’t take things on faith.”
     The public meeting ... was conducted over beer and popcorn at Kalispell Brewing Co. More than a dozen members, who tended to be well-read but soft-spoken, turned out at the meeting to discuss what the word “theory” means and how ignorance of the term leads to political and religious chicanery over evolution, climate change and other hot-button topics.
     “Old wives’ tales” such as water witching also were discussed and widely derided.
     A “Skeptic’s Starter Kit” was handed out to new members and included links and ways to get started with research into some of the most prominent skeptics such as James Randi and Michael Shermer.
     Most of the members were raised in religious households before striding out on their own. Many now identify themselves as atheists.
     Jim Willett, a Vietnam Air Cavalry veteran member of the group who proudly displayed his political campaign buttons for Democrat candidates, was raised as a Southern Baptist before he left that faith.
     “I’m a freethinker,” he said. “I’m happy with the attendance at this meeting and I’m happy with the discussion we had.” ...
     [The] Flathead Area Secular Humanist Association is starting an outreach campaign for more members and is presenting a video series at the ImagineIf Library in Kalispell. The first of four videos has been run, but this Saturday, Nov. 8, the second video in the series will be screened at 10 a.m.
     In subsequent presentations, the “American Freethought” video series will cover the abolition and women’s rights movements, the mainstream vs. alternative press, and the rise of Roman Catholicism (the third and fourth installments will be on Nov. 22 and Dec. 6 at 10 a.m. in the ImagineIF Library basement).
     For more information about FASHA click here.


CFI president visits with FASHA
April 2014 / updated in April 2016

Center for Inquiry President and CEO Ronald A. Lindsay did some “missionary work” in Montana in April 2014, presenting the talk “The Necessity of Secularism” before the Missoula Area Secular Society on the 21st and FASHA on the 22nd.
     The talk was partially based on his book The Necessity of Secularism: Why God Can’t Tell Us What to Do, published in November 2014 by Pitchstone Publishing.
     CFI is the parent corporation of the Council for Secular Humanism and the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry. In 2016, CFI merged with the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science.
     Besides pursuing the interests of atheists and secular humanists on an international level, CSH provides support to local groups, such as FASHA.
     The Committee for Skeptical Inquiry examines claims about UFOs, Bigfoot, lake monsters, deadly alternative medicine, and the like — and religious claims, such as those regarding stigmata, the Shroud of Turin, and miracles.
     While in Montana, Lindsay had a dynamite interview with Montana Public Radio’s Sally Mauk.


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