While visiting my family in Memphis this past weekend, I happened to page through the Sunday paper looking for the section with the movie schedule. That's when the lead story in their local news section caught my eye: "Council prayers draw protest" (on-line headline is expanded). When I saw that it was the same organization that protested Toledo's prayers, I read the whole article.
Interestingly, the letters sent to the two city councils (Memphis letter here, Toledo letter here) are nearly identical when it comes to the prayer section. Memphis also does a 'Chaplain of the Day' program which draws the ire of the foundation.
The foundation has also targeted Tehachapi, CA, Turlock, CA, North Richland Hills, TX, and Philadelphia, PA, with the same letter and objections. All in the last month.
This is an organization of only 14,000 members nationwide, with headquarters in Madison, WI. It was incorporated in 1978 and led by co-presidents Dan Barker and Annie Laurie Gaylor, who are married. According to their IRS 990 form for 2008, they have roughly $6.5 million in assets and had income of about $2 million from grants, membership dues, contributions, interest and program revenue. Memberships range from $40 for an individual up to $5,000 for an 'After-Life' membership (one-time payment).
Since July of this year, they've issued 12 action alerts to their members, In 2008, they only issued five. In 2007, it was eight alerts and in 2006, it was nine.
I believe this organization is embarking upon a coordinated campaign to raise the awareness of their group. Now, that's probably what the members would want them to do, and they are keeping with the stated goals of their organization in doing so.
However, as a Toledoan, I resent being used as a pawn for their public relations efforts. And I wonder if other people feel the same way.
The Freedom From Religion website says that only 14% of the American public is non-religious, according to a CUNY American Religious Identification Survey conducted in 2001. Which means that 86% of the population has some sort of religious belief, with 77% identifying themselves as Christian.
Most city councils who have prayers rotate among various clergy members from all faiths. FFRF objects because the majority of the prayers offered by those clergy members are 'too christian' in content. Is it any wonder, since three-fourths of the population is Christian?
Here's an idea: If atheists want to 'be represented' in the rotation of 'prayers,' that's simple. Just ensure that 14% of the meetings have no prayer. In Toledo, that means 3 of the 26 council meetings would not have anything. This way, everyone, including atheists/agnostics would be represented. How could such an idea possibly 'offend' a nation that teaches tolerance for others' views and beliefs?
Somehow, though, I don't believe the FRRF would agree. From their website:
"(We fail to see why divine guidance is needed over such earthly matters, anyway.)"
They are not interested in being tolerant and inclusive of all views. They don't want any religious demonstration in any way by any part of government - no matter what other people think or want. And they're willing to sue to ensure their opinions and desires are the ones everyone must live by.
As I've said before - we have a prohibition in our Constitution against government establishing a religion. I know what the courts say, but common sense will tell you that government doesn't 'establish' any religion when it allows prayers from all faiths to take place prior to a meeting. And isn't 'atheism' a religion in its own way? Isn't rejection of a deity a type of 'belief' in and of itself?
The Constitution never guaranteed freedom from religion ... something this foundation fails to acknowledge. And since they are likely to pressure politicians into agreeing with them, we will all have to live by their beliefs instead of our own.