On Monday night the Tucson Atheists Meetup.com group met at the Denny’s on Speedway. We meet there on the third Monday of the month at 7:00 PM. It was an eclectic mix of regulars and new people. Roughly one half of the attendees were women. The oldest attendee was mid-70s, while the youngest is below the legal age to drink. A couple never believed, but most came from a religious background. Two members were former Muslims. It was a pleasure to see five current students from the University of Arizona attending and three of them were women. We currently have 627 members and 11 organizers. Five of the organizers are women. The secular/freethinking community in Tucson is a diverse group that reflects the heterogeneous nature of Tucson. It is important to hear these facts, particularly when all that is heard about the freethinking movement is that it is dominated by old white males. Once in a while it is good to get the word out that there are many other people in the movement besides the old, white males and that they are also in positions of leadership.
There are times when it seems all the news is bad. It seems to run in cycles. At the meeting, we have a segment in the program called “Atheist News.” Normally, we have three or so news items of interest to the attendees. On Monday, we had three news items—2 current and one 50 years old.
The first news item was about an Atheist Monument that was being installed in Florida. It is touted as the first Atheist monument on government property as it is located in a “free speech” area in front of a court house in Northern Florida. The “bad news” is that the American Atheists were not able to get the recently installed 10 Commandments monument removed. Our consolation prize, the “good news,” is that we were able to erect our own ¾ ton Atheist monument right across from the offending ten. The American Atheists monument contains quotes from the Treaty of Tripoli, Madalyn Murray O’Hair, Benjamin Franklin, and John Adams. The quotes remind the observer that the government was in no way founded on the Christian religion, that Atheists are interested in reducing suffering during this life, that religion should be self-supporting with no help from the “civil power,” and that the U.S. Constitution was not a “God inspired” document.
The second news item was about the failed amendment to add non-religious military chaplains to the military. The amendment failed in committee and it also failed when introduced by Rep Jared Polis (D-CO) to the entire house. The vote failed 274-150. The “good news” is that the amendment got 150 votes! Also, for us Arizonans there is further “good news.” Five of our nine representatives voted for the amendment. Voting for the amendment were: Sinema, Pastor, Grijalva, Barber, and Kirkpatrick. Voting against the amendment were: Franks, Schweikert, Salmon, and Gosar.
The third “news item” was about something that happened 50 years ago. Fifty year ago on June 17th in 1963, the U.S. Supreme Court issued its decision in Abington Town School District v. Schempp, 374 U.S. 203, barring bible reading in public schools. The case, brought by Ed Schempp and his family, challenged a Pennsylvania law requiring that “at least ten verses from the Holy Bible shall be read, without comment, at the opening of each public school on each school day. The good news was that the 8-1 decision helped start the American Atheists during the same year. The bad news is that it’s been 50 years and we still have a long way to go.