Category: Ethnic/Minority

Groups Seek to Distribute Atheist and Satanic Literature to Delta Middle School Students

The Satanic Temple's Children's BIG BOOK of Activities

The Satanic Temple’s Children’s BIG BOOK of Activities

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.

More Proselytizing Reported in District 51 Schools

Proselytize definition

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.”

Will Grand Junction City Council Finally Respect Religious Diversity in 2016?

“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

“We say this in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.” — City council members bow their heads during Christian prayers at a public meeting at City Hall, September 2, 2015

“We say this in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.” — City council members bow their heads during Christian prayers at a public meeting at City Hall, September 2, 2015

“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.

Freedom From Religion Foundation Warns Delta County School District About Illegal Proselytizing

Gideon Bibles piled on a table at the entrance/exit to the Delta Middle School library December 18, 2015

Gideon Bibles on a table at the only entrance/exit to the Delta Middle School library December 18, 2015

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.

In-School Proselytizing is Not Permissible

“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.]

WCAF's new brochure for kids, "It's Okay to Not Believe in God"

WCAF’s new brochure for kids, “It’s Okay to Not Believe in God”

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 Sued Over Same Issue in Florida, and Won

FFRF has confronted these kids of in-school bible giveaways and “open forum” policies before, and won.

Jime Charlesworth, the Delta Middle School teacher who told her class "people who aren't Christians are the bombers."

Jime Charlesworth, the Delta Middle School teacher who told her students “people who aren’t Christians are the bombers.”

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.

Mr. Dunham, Delta Middle School drama teacher

Mr. Dunham, Delta Middle School drama teacher who leads prayers in a school classroom every Wednesday morning, using free doughnuts to lure kids to the prayer sessions

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.

Next Move is on Delta County School District

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.

 

Delta Middle School Pushes Bibles on Students During Class

Screen Shot 2015-12-18 at 8.17.32 PM

Delta Middle School Principal Jennifer Lohrberg

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 (michael.long@deltaschools.com). 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 (jennifer.lohrberg@deltaschools.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)

DMS Violates Its Own Literature Distribution Policy, Multiple Times — And Denies It

Gideon Bibles piled on a table at the entrance/exit to the Delta Middle School library December 18, 2015

Gideon Bibles piled on a table at the entrance/exit to the Delta Middle School library December 18, 2015. (Photo credit: DMS student)

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

Freedom From Religion Foundation Weighs in on CMU’s Graduation Bible Giveaway

GradBThe 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.

As U.S. Becomes Less Religious, Secularism Grows on the Western Slope

Don'tBelieveFinalFinalBoardA 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%.

Rapid Growth in Non-Believers on the Western Slope

As the U.S. goes, so goes Colorado’s western slope as well.

AxialTiltAccording 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.

Planned Islamaphobic Rally Fizzles in Face of Opposition by Peaceful Mesa County Citizens

Anti-Islamaphobia rally particpants in Grand Junction today had plenty of signs indicating how they felt about an armed rally by Islam-haters that was planned for the same spot, but never materialized

Participants in Grand Junction’s Anti-Islamaphobia rally had plenty of signs indicating how they felt about an planned protest by armed Islam-haters that was supposed to be held in the same spot, but never materialized

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.

Anti-Islamaphobia rally participants hold signs in Grand Junction

Anti-Islamaphobia rally participants hold signs in Grand Junction

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.

RealPatriotsIn 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.

Islamophobic Mesa County Group Gets Pushback

RallyAgainstA 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.”

Western Colorado Atheists & Freethinkers Booth a Hit at the G.J. Farmers Market

WCAF's "Atheist Quiz" is always a hit at the downtown Grand Junction Farmers Market

WCAF’s popular Atheist Quiz is always a highlight of the downtown Grand Junction Farmers Market, and the only booth that offers passers-by a knowledge challenge

Western Colorado Atheists and Freethinkers (WCAF) again hosted their highly popular booth at the Main Street Farmers Market in downtown Grand Junction on Thursday, 9/24.

So far, WCAF’s has been the only booth at the Farmers Market to challenge people’s knowledge and sense of fun by offering a short and always-entertaining Atheist Quiz.

People seem to love it, too.

Wonderful Indian, Tibetan and Nepalese Restaurant on Orchard Mesa

Namaste Nepal, one of the terrific new restaurants in Grand Junction that add diversity to the cuisine available in town now

Namaste Nepal, one of the terrific new restaurants in Grand Junction that add diversity to the cuisine available in town now

Calling all local food lovers: If you haven’t tried this place yet, you should: Namaste Nepal is a new Indian, Tibetan and Nepalese cuisine place on Orchard Mesa, in the strip mall just west of the True Value Hardware. It just opened in early spring, 2015. The food is absolutely delicious, the prep extremely quick, and the owners are extremely gracious, kind and accommodating. They have a lunch buffet, too. Some of our favorite dishes so far include the lamb boti saag (lamb cubes in a creamed spinach sauce), the shrimp pakora appetizer (shrimp dipped in a garbanzo bean flour batter and deep fried), vegetable samosas (a savory pastry stuffed with lightly spiced peas and potatoes), and the onion kulcha (Indian tandoori oven bread stuffed with onions and fresh cilantro). Namaste Nepal is super-fast for take-out, invariably having orders ready in just 5-10 minutes. Easy parking right in front, too. They recently acquired some new patio furniture so you can eat outside. It’s very quick to get there from the east or west sides of town using the Riverside Parkway. To see their menu, click here. 

Culture Shift: Drag Queens Come to Grand Junction

Grand Junction drag queens

The CD’s Drag, Grand Junction’s first professional drag queen troupe

While Caitlyn Jenner has been grabbing all the headlines, it’s been almost overlooked that Grand Junction has been experiencing some gender-bending of its own.

Grand Junction now has its first professional drag queen troupe, The CD’s Drag and Jewell Case, LLC. The troupe is another indication of a slow but steady culture shift going on in this formerly conservative area of Colorado, and for that reason alone it’s surely something significant enough to talk about.

The troupe currently has five members, although usually only two or three perform at any given time. The group’s founders and lead performers are Coco Jem Holiday and Donatella Mysecrets De’Ore, and the supporting members are Livvi Dior, Onyx Reign and Delilah Delight. With a total of five entertainers now in their “Jewell Case,” the CDs have enough so they can have coverage in the event that some can’t make it to a gig.

Historic First: Montrose, CO Atheists Protest “National Day of Prayer”

Atheists protest National Day of Prayer in Centennial Plaza, adjacent to Montrose City Hall

Smiling atheists protest National Day of Prayer in Centennial Plaza, adjacent to Montrose City Hall, while religious people hold hands and bow their heads in prayer in the background.

For the first time in history, secular citizens in Montrose, Colorado turned out to protest the town’s “National Day of Prayer” event.

Each year, Montrose holds a public prayer event to commemorate the “National Day of Prayer.” This year’s event was at 5:30 – 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, May 7, 2015 at Centennial Plaza at South First Street and Uncompahgre Ave. The plaza is adjacent to the Montrose City Hall.

As people gathered in circles to hold hands, bow their heads and pray to a god or gods, secular citizens sat peacefully nearby, holding signs that said,

Do you believe:

A snake talked?

A bit of fruit conferred knowledge?

Disease is caused by demons?

Witches exist among us?

God watches you, even in your bedroom?

Then you don’t have a case for calling Atheists “strange!”

and

If prayer actually worked, then

NO ONE would die of cancer

POLITICIANS would get wisdom

WORLD PEACE would come

Reason works, magic doesn’t!

 

and

There is no GOD in the Constitution. Thank you Washington, Madison, Jefferson and Franklin

Atheist Billboard Graces I-70 Business Loop at Easter

WCAF's billboard graces I-70 Business Loop right in front of Hobby Lobby, which sued the federal government to deny its female employees' coverage for contraception due to the company owners' personal religious beliefs.

WCAF’s billboard graces I-70 Business Loop right in front of Hobby Lobby, which sued the federal government to deny its female employees’ coverage for contraception due to the company owners’ personal religious beliefs. (Photo Credit: JT)

A new digital billboard is up on I-70 Business Loop in Grand Junction, Colorado, supports people who don’t believe in God by reassuring them that they’re not alone. The board was put up by Western Colorado Atheists and Freethinkers (WCAF), the area’s first secular group. WCAF was founded in February, 2007, to give western Colorado atheists voice in a part of Colorado where religiosity has historically dominated the culture and people were afraid to admit they didn’t believe in God.

WCAF billboard

WCAF’s billboard on I-70 Business Loop, just west of Chick-Fil-A. It reads, “Don’t Believe? You’re not alone,” and lists WCAF’s website at WesternColoradoAtheists.org.

“If you had told me 25 years ago a day would come in Grand Junction when a big, glowing atheist billboard would be up on the main highway into town on Easter weekend, I never would have believed it,” said Anne Landman, Board Member at Large of WCAF. “But times have really changed here. We’ve had a huge amount of support for this board. It’s all right now to be an open atheist in western Colorado, and that’s what WCAF is saying with this board. It’s fine not to believe in God. Lots of people don’t, and if you don’t, you’re joining a fast-growing number of people in the U.S. who don’t.”

WCAF meets regularly twice a month and invites people to visit its website at WesternColoradoAtheists.org for information on meeting times and locations.

Beware How Voter ID Laws are Portrayed in the News

When will media report on the fact that Voter ID laws are really designed to prevent certain voters from accessing the polls?

When will media start reporting that Voter ID laws are, in fact, designed to make it harder for certain voters to access the polls?

Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) is taking the New York Times to task for portraying the attack on voting rights in the U.S. as little more than a partisan disagreement. According to the NYT, Republican-enacted laws to shorten early voting periods and force voters to show identification cards are designed to prevent voter fraud, while Democrats say such fraud is nearly non-existent and these restrictions are a Republican effort to disenfranchise poor and minority voters.

But the Times failed completely to report on the actual facts pertaining to the issue of voter fraud in the U.S.

On many occasions Republican politicians have actually admitted that voting restrictions are, in fact, aimed at disenfranchising Democrats. Additionally, no Republican has ever been able to show that any American election was stolen as a result of in-person voter fraud. Not one.

Moreover, academic studies show voter fraud is practically nonexistent in the U.S.

Law professor Justin Levitt since 2000 has tracked down and analyzed “every specific, credible allegation that someone may have pretended to be someone else and the polls, in any way that an ID law could fix.” He found only 31 incidents over 15 years and over more than a billion ballots cast. Most of the incidents were due to voters misunderstanding the voting eligibility rules or making mistakes filling out registration forms. Levitt concluded that “There is almost no voting fraud in America,” and “The only reason Republicans are passing these laws is to give themselves a political edge by suppressing Democratic votes.”

Despite this, the New York Times failed to state that voter restriction laws are, in fact, an ongoing effort by Republicans to disenfranchise voters and gain an electoral advantage. Rather, the paper reports on the issue as though it is merely a disagreement over the facts between Republicans and Democrats.

Source: Jim Naureckas, Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, March 9, 2015, “Voting Rights Shall Not Overcome NYT Reporting Like This”

Energy Expo Protesters Shame Organizers over Fringe Speaker, Demand More Focus on Clean Energy

Crowd of protesters at Grand Junction's Energy Forum and Expo 2015

Crowd of protesters at Grand Junction’s Energy Forum and Expo 2015

A crowd of people rallied outside Two Rivers Convention Center in Grand Junction today to protest Energy Expo speaker John L. Casey, who lectures on climate change but does not have any qualifying degrees or peer-reviewed publications on the subject. Casey is known for pandering to the belief popular among the tea party fringe that global warming is a massive scientific fraud perpetrated by the U.S. government and the United Nations. YouTube videos of Casey speaking before tea party groups in Florida show him to be a fear monger whose talks devolve into race-baiting and instilling fear in ILoveSciencehis audiences. He warns people to lay in a year’s supply of food to deal with food shortages he predicts will occur in a coming ice age, and tells them to be ready to defend their stored food supplies from urban minorities whom, he says, will try to beat them up and kill them to get it.

Colorado Mountain College on Energy Expo: “We are not hosts of the event”

CMCRachel Pokrandt, Dean of the Rifle Campus of Colorado Mountain College (CMC), says she didn’t know anything about the Energy Expo’s speaker program and the school is not a host of the event, despite being listed as a host on the event’s promotional materials.

“We never agreed to be a host” of the event, Pokrandt said. She says the event organizers “Really did represent us quite horribly.”

Pokrandt says CMC just has a small booth at the event, which they have rented annually for the past 10 years, to educate people about their solar, biofuels and other programs.

“We don’t want to be connected with that type of speaker,” Pokrandt said, referring to Energy Expo speaker John L. Casey, who speaks on the topic of climate science despite having no degrees in climatology and never having published any peer-reviewed research on the subject. His talks typically start out with charts, statistics and scientific claims, but by the end of his talks, he devolves into fearmongering and racist statements.

Videos posted online of Casey’s talks show him speaking before tea party groups. He says anthropogenic climate change is a scientific fraud perpetrated by the U.S. government and the United Nations. He says global warming is over, that sun entered a period of “hibernation” in 2007 and the earth is now entering a prolonged period of cooling that will lead to an increase in earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. Casey further says this cold phase will cause the world’s food supply to diminish and people will need to lay in a year’s supply of food and be ready to flee to the countryside and defend their food stores from urban minorities who, he says, will start beating and murdering people to get their food supplies — after government food stamp programs can no longer sustain them.

Pokrandt said that in the past, the Energy Expo and Forum has been “fairly level” in regard to balance in the types of speakers they’ve had, and between renewable and non-renewable types of energy, but that unfortunately due to the circumstances this year, CMC may have to withdraw its involvement from the event in the future.