Hold onto your hats.
On August 2, 2017, Grand Junction City Council will become the first city in Colorado, and one of the first in the nation, to host a Satanic invocation at a council meeting.
Hold onto your hats.
On August 2, 2017, Grand Junction City Council will become the first city in Colorado, and one of the first in the nation, to host a Satanic invocation at a council meeting.
President Obama is trying to calm the fears of people abroad about a Trump presidency, while here at home Trump is stoking public fears of his presidency by his appointment of Steve Bannon a his “chief strategist.”
Who is Steve Bannon?
You might want to sit down before you read this.
Steve Bannon is the executive chairman of Breitbart News, a far right wing commentary website known for championing views of the “alt-right,” a white supremacist fringe ideology that has raised alarm bells for its chest-pounding, misogynistic, race-baiting, and anti-Muslim positions. Breitbart and the so-called alt-Right oppose multiculturalism, immigration, feminism and have a strong disdain for diversity. Breitbart News has actually carried articles with headlines saying “Birth Control Makes Women Unattractive and Crazy,” “The Solution to Online ‘Harassment’ Is Simple: Women Should Log Off,” “There’s No Hiring Bias Against Women in Tech, They Just Suck at Interviews,” and “Bill Kristol: Republican Spoiler, Renegade Jew.”
After David Litsheim, owner of Seeds of Revolution at 241 Grand Ave., started reading growing numbers of first-hand accounts on social media of racist assaults and bullying after the election, he wanted to find a way to address the problem. With help from Bryan Wade, Litsheim designed a highly visible T-shirt that will serve as a symbol telling people “If you are being intimidated or fear for your safety, come to this person because they are safe.”
The campaign mimics a similar campaign that sprang up in the United Kingdom after Donald Trump’s election. Brits have started wearing safety pins on their lapels to symbolize anti-bigotry, anti-violence and safety.
Adding to concerns about the growing undercurrent of bigotry, hatred and intolerance that runs in western Colorado, this unidentified Grand Junction-area woman cut loose with a racist rant towards a Latino family in the parking lot of the Mesa County Health Department on Monday, August 1.
The family expressed concern about a dog that was left in a hot car in the parking lot. The temperature that day was in the mid to high 90s.
One of the Latino family members filmed the woman’s rant as evidence in case the woman harmed them, then posted the video on Facebook, where as of August 4 it had gotten over 360,000 views. It’s also posted on YouTube.
The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel ran an article about the incident and the video in today’s paper.
So far, the woman engaging in the racist rant has not been identified.
UPDATE: Here is the ranting woman’s response after the video went viral. She claims she is hispanic herself so could not be racist.
This 30 minute interview on KVNF Radio with Cidney Fisk and her parents about their experience with the Delta County School District was broadcast July 19, 2016. Host Ali Lightfoot interviews Cidney, her parents and Delta County School District officials about the religious speakers the school routinely brings in, other incidents of proselytizing occurring within the district, and the retribution Cidney faced from her teachers and counselors after voicing her opinions about that and what Cidney perceived as the district’s misguided financial priorities: Click this link to listen to the interview.
In a landmark action towards welcoming diversity in our community, at its Wednesday, May 4, 2016 meeting, the Grand Junction City Council will officially declare May 2nd through May 8th, 2016 “Grand Junction Pride Fest Week.”
The Delta County School District is in serious need of help.
The recent exposure of the extent of Christian proselytizing in the Delta County school system has not just raised eyebrows locally, state-wide, nationally and internationally. It has encouraged Delta area residents to come forward with their own personal stories of proselytizing and discrimination in Delta public schools and their workplaces, and how it has affected their lives.
The Delta County School District (DCSD) has approved the distribution of atheistic, secular and Satanic literature to middle and high school students throughout Delta County on April 1, 2016, and will carry out the literature distribution on behalf of the groups who have applied to do it.
A locally-produced brochure about atheism called “It’s Okay to Not Believe in God” (pdf), the Satanic Children’s Big Book of Activities and other literature critical of the Bible and Christianity will be distributed to Delta Middle School (DMS) students if the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) gets their way.
Three groups — the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Western Colorado Atheists and Freethinkers and the Satanic Temple — have all submitted literature to Delta public schools for approval for distribution in an effort to get Delta County Schools to stop distributing Gideon Bibles to students during class time.
Yet another incident of inappropriate proselytizing was reported in a District 51 school late last month. The parties spent the last few weeks working to resolve it. An update was just recently available. Following is a description of what happened.
On December 31, the father of a Lincoln Orchard Mesa (LOM) Elementary student contacted Western Colorado Atheists and Freethinkers (WCAF), a western slope group that advocates for separation of church and state, about an inappropriate incident of proselytizing involving his child that occurred at LOM on November 20. The student is 8 years old and in the 3rd grade.
According to the parent and child, here is what took place:
LOM students were taking their regularly-scheduled lunch break in their school’s lunchroom on Friday, November 20, 2016. The student at the center of the incident was sitting at a table chatting with friends in the lunchroom, as was usual for kids at lunch. During the conversation, the student shared with her friends that she did not believe in God. A friend who heard the comment immediately went to a nearby lunchroom assistant named Jody Payne and told her that her friend did not believe in God. Ms. Payne went over to the table and told the student, in front of her friends, that “God created everything” that she “needed to, and should believe in God.”
“We are mindful that this 21st century brings a new diversity of citizens. We must strive to make our government sensitive to the values of Americans with minority views, whether religious, political or otherwise.”
— The City of Grand Junction’s website
“During the invocation, you can sit, stand or leave the room.”
That’s what Grand Junction’s mayor tells citizens who would rather not have to worship Jesus Christ at the City’s public meetings. The statement assumes someone is going to be offended by the Christian prayers that come next.
But Council is okay with offending some citizens because Christianity has long been the preferred religion of City Council, and they use their taxpayer-funded public meetings to flaunt it.
The truth is there is a stark contrast between what City Council says publicly about its attitude toward religious diversity and the lip service it pay towards actually respecting religious diversity.
An attorney with the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF), a national organization that acts to protect the principal of separation of church and state, sent a letter (pdf) January 6, 2016 to Delta County School Superintendent Caryn Gibson and Delta County School Board President Pete Blair warning of the potential legal consequences of continuing to ignore the ongoing proselytizing and harassment of students over religion in Delta County schools.
FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel wrote that the on-campus Gideon Bible giveaway a student documented in Delta Middle School’s library during class hours on December 18, 2015 violates the U.S. Constitution. School Superintendent Caryn Gibson has tried to defend the giveaway by saying the district’s “open forum” policy for non-curricular literature distribution permits the bible giveaways.
But Seidel lists three reasons why the District’s policy doesn’t provide legal cover for the bible distribution.
“First,” Seidel writes, “[I]t is unconstitutional for public school districts to permit the Gideons International to distribute bibles as part of the public school day. Courts have held that the distribution of bibles to students at public schools during instructional time is prohibited.” Seidel cites two significant U.S. court rulings that have upheld this principle.
“Second, even when distribution of religious materials is done passively — from a table of some other fixed location — courts have ruled that distribution may be unconstitutional,” he writes, citing 2009 8th Circuit Court case Roark v. South Iron R-1 School District.
“Third,” Seidel writes,
“…if Delta Schools maintains this passive distribution policy and continues to assert that it allows the Gideons to prey on other people’s children, we [will] formally request permission to distribute FFRF literature in March. We will also contact other potentially interested organizations, including the Satanic Temple, to alert them to this unique opportunity. We already have local volunteers willing to set up the distribution.” [Italicized emphasis appears in the original letter.]
Western Colorado Atheists and Freethinkers, a western slope secular advocacy and church-state watchdog group, is among those ready to distribute literature to Delta Middle School students. The group recently created a colorful, new age-appropriate brochure about atheism titled “Its Okay to Not Believe in God!” (pdf) which they are eager to deploy in schools with open forum policies, like Delta County’s.
FFRF has confronted these kids of in-school bible giveaways and “open forum” policies before, and won.
On June 12, 2013, FFRF sued the Orange County, Florida school district over a very similar “open forum” policy the district cited in response to protests over an in-school bible giveaway similar to the one at Delta Middle School. When FFRF asked to distribute its own literature at the same school, and the Satanic Temple asked to distribute their childrens’ coloring book and fact sheets, the school district refused to distribute their literature. FFRF then sued the district. The Orange County school district spent two years and $86,000 trying to contest the lawsuit before finally giving up and voting in February, 2015 to ban distribution of religious materials of any kind in District schools — the very remedy FFRF had originally asked for.
Seidel lists other religious violations reported at Delta Middle School, including the school making all students watch a religious play about the baby Jesus (even students who protested it), and a teacher named Mrs. Charlesworth, who in December, 2014, reportedly told her students she was Christian and that “people who aren’t Christians are the bombers.” When a student protested the statement, Mrs. Charlesworth said she felt “it was her duty to teach the class about Christianity” and then harassed and ridiculed the student in front of the entire class. When the student’s parent contacted the school about the incident, the school “investigated” and concluded Mrs. Charlesworth didn’t do anything wrong, but immediately moved the student to a different class. The student reported that other teachers at the school have continued to harass her, including a drama teacher, Mr. Dunham, who according to Seidel’s letter “runs or ran the ‘Children’s Ministry’ at the Thunder Mountain Church of Christ in Delta.”
Two DMS teachers also reportedly lead students in prayer in one of the school’s classrooms every Wednesday morning, offering free doughnuts to lure kids to attend the sessions. Mr. Dunham is also one of the teachers who regularly leads the on-campus student prayer sessions.
FFRF told Delta County School officials that if true, all of these allegations amount to constitutional violations, and asked for a prompt reply about how they intend to correct the violations and prevent them in the future. WCAF has also written to the district superintendent and the Delta County School Board notifying them of the problems with proselytizing, religious harassment and peer bullying occurring at DMS as a result of their apparent endorsement of Christianity on campus, and warning that these are violations of separation of church and state, but have only gotten a canned response from the superintendent saying district policy allows Gideon Bible giveaways.
The parent of a Delta County, Colorado middle school student is reporting some of the most overt violations of separation of church and state yet discovered to be occurring in western slope public schools.
The parent’s child attends Delta Middle School (DMS) and reported to her mom on Friday, December 18, that her social studies class went to the school library with their teacher, Mr. Michael Long (firstname.lastname@example.org). Once in the library, Mr. Long “announced to the class that there were free bibles available” and students “could pick one up off of a table located in the doorway of the library and take it home.” A student who noted this was a violation of separation of church and state in a public school, took a photo of the bibles on the table and sent it via text to her mother, pointing out that the table was located where students had to walk around it to enter and exit the library.
The student who did not take a bible was confronted by her classmates about why she didn’t take one, and they started shaming her for not conforming to Christian beliefs.
After finding out bibles were being distributed during school time with the endorsement of a social studies teacher, an outraged parent contacted DMS Principal Jennifer Lohrberg (email@example.com) to protest the overt endorsement of Christianity on school property and during school hours. Principal Lohrberg insisted the bible giveaway was all in accordance with school policy, and sent the upset parent a copy of Delta County School District’s policy governing posting and distribution of non-curricular literature. (pdf)
One must only read the Delta County School District’s policy, though, to see DMS bible giveaway violated the District’s own literature distribution policy four different ways.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation has sent a letter to Colorado Mesa University President Tim Foster urging him to end the practice of allowing Gideons International to hand out bibles to students at on-campus graduation ceremonies.
A group of students who are about to graduate from CMU’s nursing program have protested an administration plan to have Gideon Bibles offered to students at their December 11 pinning ceremony at Moss Auditorium. Program instructors indicated to the nursing students that the bible giveaway was a non-negotiable part of the ceremony. Later, under pressure, program staff held a mandatory vote on it by email only, a method that would allow them to identify the dissenting students.
A newly-published Pew Research poll shows a significant drop in the number of Americans who still believe in God, but it also shows plenty of Americans still believe in God.
In 2014, Pew surveyed over 35,000 American adults, and compared the results to a similar large survey they did on religiosity from 2007. The results show a sharp reduction in the number of people who say they believe in God, pray daily and attend church regularly, particularly among millenials. The share of U.S. adults who claim to be “absolutely certain” God exists dropped from 71% in 2007 to 63% in 2014. Of Americans who continue to believe in God, though, a declining number say they believe with absolute certainty. In 2007, 79% of people who believed in God were “absolutely sure” their God existed. In 2014, that number dropped to 74%.
As the U.S. goes, so goes Colorado’s western slope as well.
According to the 2014 study, overall more Americans than ever openly identify as religiously unaffiliated. Taken together, religiously unaffiliated U.S. citizens now account for 23% of the adult population, compared with just 16% in a similar poll taken in 2007.
Western slope residents are similarly becoming more open about their lack of belief, and increasingly seeking and finding others of the same mind.
Since 2007, the number of western slope groups providing fellowship, advocacy and recreation specifically for non-believers has boomed. They include Western Colorado Atheists and Freethinkers (formed in 2007 and based in Grand Junction), Humanists Doing Good in Fruita, Humanists, Atheists, Freethinkers and Agnostics – Montrose (HAFTA Montrose), which formed in 2014, the San Juan Secular Society in Ridgway and Durango Skeptics and Atheists. There’s even an atheist dating website for Glenwood Springs.
The increase in openly secular residents in western Colorado has led to more challenges of religious incursions into the public square, like Bible studies and church promotions in public schools, and prayers at city council and county commissioner meetings.
Mesa County residents blocked an armed Islamaphobic uprising from materializing today by gathering at a Grand Junction Islamic Center with enthusiasm, lots of free cookies and plenty of big, handmade signs promoting peace, love and diversity.
The anti-Islamaphobia rally was held to counter the so-called “Global Rally for Humanity,” an armed protest against local Muslin residents that right-wing gun nuts had planned. Similar protests aimed at intimidating U.S. Muslims were planned in 20 cities nationally; Grand Junction’s was to be one of them.
But thanks to strong, organized opposition, the Islam-hating rally pulled it’s Facebook event announcement page and never materialized.
Waves of residents who abhorred the idea of Mesa County being known as a hotbed of Islamaphobia attended the peace rally, which went on all morning and into the early afternoon. They held up signs on I-70B stating a need for a more diverse, loving western Colorado. Many cars honked as they went by and gave a thumbs-up to the event.
In one brief incident, four right-wing Islam-haters did show up, but all they did was make some rude gestures, call the group “delusional,” take a selfie with rally participants and then leave. Otherwise the group was completely successful in blocking the planned armed demonstration of hatred against Muslims that was to take place.
Congratulations, citizens of 21st century Grand Junction. You’ve showed that the culture is at long last really changing here, and it has already changed enough that political sanity can occasionally prevail.
A fringe right-wing Mesa County group that planned an open-carry protest October 10 in front of a Grand Junction mosque was forced to back down after a counter protest that was quickly organized via social media at the same place and time drew far more participants than the Muslim-hater event.
The larger (national) anti-Islamic group “Global Rally for Humanity,” which organized the protest at the mosque, was formed by a combination of the Oath Keepers and Three Percenters*, two radical, militaristic pro-gun, fringe right-wing groups that Mother Jones magazine calls “the Tea Party’s military wing.”