How Atheists Are Turning ‘Religious Freedom’ Laws Against Religion


Think Progress - For almost a year now, the nation has been locked in almost constant debate over various state and federal versions of the Religious Freedom and Restoration Act (RFRA), a 20-year-old law that was broadened by the Supreme Court in 2014 and has since been embraced by right-wing politicians and pundits — especially religious conservatives. But in an unusual twist, an atheist activist is galvanizing support for a legal campaign to use the federal RFRA to remove the phrase “In God we trust” from U.S. coins and paper bills.



Michael Newdow, who unsuccessfully sued to have “Under God” removed from the Pledge of Allegiance in 2004, published a guest post on the The Friendly Atheist blog last Friday outlining a new initiative to challenge the decades-old policy of printing the religiously themed American national motto on U.S. currency. He explained that while courts have dismissed claims that the phrase violates the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution — which prohibits Congress from passing laws that establish one religion above others — his new legal argument is rooted in RFRA’s stipulation that religious activity cannot be “substantially burdened” without a “compelling government interest.” The government’s interest in emblazoning currency with “in God we trust,” Newdow argues, is suspect.

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Combating Ignorance and Superstition: Berkeley's "Origins” Course

By Frances Huang with Mark Kolsen

In 2012, Pitzer College introduced the first secular studies program in the United States. Directed by sociology professor Phil Zuckerman, the program offers several courses - and a major - enabling students to understand secularism from a historical, philosophical and sociological perspective. The program attracts many different students; during an interview last year, Zuckerman said the program attracts its fair share of theists, who usually develop a more nuanced view of what it means to be an atheist (for more see)

 However, as Zuckerman admitted, Pitzer’s groundbreaking program has one major shortcoming: it lacks courses devoted to scientific cosmology. That shortcoming, however, is being addressed at UC Berkeley, Pitzer’s neighbor to the north. “Origins: From the Big Bang to the Emergence of Human Beings,” a Big Ideas Course I took last semester as a Berkeley freshman, offers a wonderful overview of both scientific cosmology and evolutionary biology.

During the first part of the course, students learn about the formation of the universe and the origin of the elements, which were created by nuclear fusion inside stars. They understand why, as Carl Sagan famously said, we are all made of stardust. Students also learn the five key theoretical steps required for the origin of life: the making of building blocks, restricting these building blocks to a certain environment, separating the inside of the cell from the outside, replicating the cells, and harnessing the energy.

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Invisible Atheists: The spread of disbelief in the Arab world.

By Ahmed Benchemsi

New Republic - LAST DECEMBER, DAR AL IFTA, a venerable Cairo-based institution charged with issuing Islamic edicts, cited an obscure poll according to which the exact number of Egyptian atheists was 866. The poll provided equally precise counts of atheists in other Arab countries: 325 in Morocco, 320 in Tunisia, 242 in Iraq, 178 in Saudi Arabia, 170 in Jordan, 70 in Sudan, 56 in Syria, 34 in Libya, and 32 in Yemen. In total, exactly 2,293 nonbelievers in a population of 300 million.

Many commentators ridiculed these numbers. The Guardian asked Rabab Kamal, an Egyptian secularist activist, if she believed the 866 figure was accurate. “I could count more than that number of atheists at Al Azhar University alone,” she replied sarcastically, referring to the Cairo-based academic institution that has been a center of Sunni Islamic learning for almost 1,000 years. Brian Whitaker, a veteran Middle East correspondent and the author of Arabs Without God, wrote, “One possible clue is that the figure for Jordan (170) roughly corresponds to the membership of a Jordanian atheist group on Facebook. So it’s possible that the researchers were simply trying to identify atheists from various countries who are active in social media.” 

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Liberia Conquers Ebola, but Faces a Crisis of Faith


NY Times - Now, it is officially over. The Ebola outbreak has ended in Liberia, the World Health Organization announced Saturday, an enormous milestone that seemed impossibly far off last year when dead bodies blocked roads and the sick prayed for ambulances that never came.

Deasprately, the country is trying to rebuild just about everything, from its health and education systems to its economy and international image. 

But in the dim hall of the United God Is Our Light Church, its generator turned off to shave costs, the congregation has been trying to repair something more fundamental: its spirit. 

The large circle of plastic chairs inevitably drew attention to the low attendance at Friday morning prayer, a monthly gathering intended to bring together a church torn asunder by Ebola. Three, four, sometimes half a dozen empty seats separated the attendees from one another.

Like many people here, church leaders often denied that Ebola, a disease new to West Africa, was real. At an emergency meeting last July, the Liberia Council of Churches, the country’s main group for Christians, described Ebola as divine punishment for acts of homosexuality and government corruption.

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By Mark Kolsen


By international standards, Americans are poorly educated.  Their ignorance extends beyond the oft-reported low math, science and social science scores achieved by high school students (See, for example). Adult Americans know relatively little about their own political system or other cultures (see, for example).   

They know even less about scientific cosmology or evolutionary biology (See, for example). In personal matters, where one might think Americans would know more, they are equally hapless.  Americans are laughingly ignorant of their own sexuality (See, for example).  

A comedy series could feature Americans’ responses to more complicated questions, such as “Which factors predict a successful relationship?” or “What is the best predictor of your child’s social-economic status”?


Given that only Italians--90% of whom call themselves “Catholic”-- are more ignorant than Americans, it could be persuasively argued that a religious Weltanshauung is a primary “cause” of ignorance.  If a human assumes that the universe was created by an omnipotent and omniscient god, and that god still intervenes in human daily life, then that human has donned blinders to real knowledge.   Why read, why learn, when you have the Bible, the word of god?

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Egypt without God? Atheists collect signatures to form a secular party

A Gallup Institute study in 2012 said 30 percent of Egyptians are atheists. (AFP/File)

According to Al-Watan newspaper, Egyptian atheists have launched a campaign on Facebook to collect signatures for a party that they would call the “Egyptian Secular Party," which would include secularists, atheists and liberal thinkers. It would also be committed to defend freedom of belief and atheism, and work on removing Egypt's Islamic identity from the Constitution.

Co-founder, Mahmoud Awad told Al-Watan that there are four kinds of atheists in Egypt. “There are those who believe in the existence of God but not in religion, the agnostics who only doubt the existence of God, the indifferent ones who do not care to know if there is a God or not, and those who neither believe in God nor in religion,” he explained.

Hisham Auf, the representative of the founders, said they aim to collect 5,000 signatures from 10 different governorates to submit an application to the Political Parties Affairs Committee.

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Media freedom in Europe needs action more than words

This article is part of a series on the state of media freedom across the globe, ahead of World Press Freedom Day published by Index on Censorship

By Paco Audije / 1 May, 2015

As we approach World Press Freedom Day, the right to freedom of expression will again be celebrated as an inalienable European value across the continent — by the public, the media and politicians alike. But to many, this will mean little more than engaging in a well trodden mental routine. We hardly consider the difficulties that freedom of expression faces in practice.

In the first part of 2015, more than a third of journalist killings in the word took place in two European countries; France and Ukraine. If it is true that Europe’s reactions to the Charlie Hebdo attack — the majority of them very emotional — were salubrious, they simultaneously gave rise to ambiguous situations. Many of the leaders that will on 3 May reaffirm their commitment free expression, supported the same message by taking part in the historic march in Paris on 11 January.

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Why the Future of Religion Is Bleak

Religious institutions have survived by controlling what their adherents know, argues Tufts Prof. Daniel C. Dennett, but today that is next to impossible

By DANIEL C. DENNETT - April 26, 2015 / published by WSJ

 Religion has been waning in influence for several centuries, especially in Europe and North America. There have been a few brief and local revivals, but in recent years the pace of decline has accelerated.

Today one of the largest categories of religious affiliation in the world—with more than a billion people—is no religion at all, the “Nones.” One out of six Americans is already a None; by 2050, the figure will be one out of four, according to a new Pew Research Center study. Churches are being closed by the hundreds, deconsecrated and rehabilitated as housing, offices, restaurants and the like, or just abandoned.

If this trend continues, religion largely will evaporate, at least in the West. Pockets of intense religious activity may continue, made up of people who will be more sharply differentiated from most of society in attitudes and customs, a likely source of growing tension and conflict.

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