By Andrew L. Seidel
Freedom From Religion Foundation
Here at the Freedom From Religion Foundation, we get rivers of crank mail every week. Some of the prime examples are featured in our paper, Freethought Today, which all members receive. They include unedited gems such as:
I pray you children of Satan burn in HELL! I would do anything possible to Destroy you creatures! –Thomas Greene
EVEN THOUGH I HAVE A FOOLS MOUTH I SHALL BEAT YOU INTO HEAVEN!!! YOU AND YOUR COMPANY LLC IS A FUCKING JOKE…I BET YOU SQUAT TO PEE AND THE WOMEN HAVE MORE HARE ON THEIR FACE THAN HEAD..BUT GO KICK PUPPIES AND SUE SCHO OLS OR C HURCHES YOU FUCKS AND PLEASE DON’T BOTHER TO WRITE BACK OR TO RETALIATE… I WILL POST THIS MYSELF ON HUFFIGTON POST… PEACE OUT — Chuck Robertson
The cranks do have a fondness for caps lock. I think it makes them feel like they are shouting at us:
a hymn for your chief lawyer – HYMN, HYMN, FUCK HIM — D. Nadom, Linmon, Calif.
YOU are scared, atheist, satanic, liberals!! YES, religion DOES belong in our schools, idiots! Not religion, but CHRISTIANITY. You lose, homosexuals, and whatever other mentally ill lifeforms make up your disgusting ranks. — I Love Jesus, Lake Placid, Fla.
We need you out of schools, see no good in your group. IN GOD WE TRUSH. — Bruce Clark
You get the point.
We don’t usually respond. It’s unwise to feed the trolls. But today is an exception. Today, in the interest of education, I’m going to respond.
Every school board in Kentucky, Tennessee, West Virginia, Indiana and Ohio received a letter from FFRF explaining that the First Amendment prohibits public schools from taking students to Ken Ham’s new ark park. Ham explicitly said that the ark park’s sole goal is to “Ark direct people to the Word of God and the gospel of Jesus Christ.” The Constitution doesn’t allow the government to proselytize schoolchildren or send them to places to be proselytized by pious hucksters like Ham.
Apparently, Bill Clift, a member of the Caldwell County School Board (Ky.), did not take kindly to this simple legal explanation. He sent us this email:
As a member of our local school board, I take great offense to FFRF attempting to force their beliefs upon local school boards. As noted, you have 200 members from the state of Kentucky which is a very minuscule number of Kentucky residents. As a matter of fact, that is fewer people than voted for me in the last school board election. I was elected to ensure that the children of our county received the best education possible according to our local morals, ethics, values and beliefs!!! I will not sway in those local morals, ethics, values and beliefs because a group such as yours from another state or any other entity that attempts to dictate to the citizens of American how to educate their kids. –Bill Clift
Most of that is wrong. One thing is right: he was elected to ensure children receive the best education possible. It’s in that spirit that we respond to Mr. Clift here. Let’s dig in, shall we?
As a member of our local school board, I take great offense to FFRF attempting to force their beliefs upon local school boards.
I’m not convinced taking offense to something is relevant outside of the uniquely burdensome standing requirements courts have imposed to keep state-church plaintiffs from litigating cases, but it’s certainly not relevant when you’re offended by something that isn’t actually happening.
FFRF’s letter to Caldwell County schools explained the state of the law. It explained what the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution requires of school boards, not FFRF’s beliefs. It referenced quite a few court decisions interpreting that amendment, most of them by the Supreme Court. If Mr. Clift is offended by the separation of state and church, he should take it up with Thomas Jefferson. And James Madison. And George Washington, Ben Franklin, John Adams, and the other Founding Fathers that gave us a secular government.
Clift then ridicules FFRF’s “very minuscule number of Kentucky residents.” I do wish more Kentucky residents would join FFRF. We’ve got a strong, active state chapter that has been opposing and monitoring the ark park since its inception. Had more people joined and supported, who knows what the opposition could have achieved.
But more to Clift’s point, when interpreting the First Amendment, numbers are irrelevant. It exists to protect the minority from the tyranny of the majority. The Supreme Court put it nicely:
The very purpose of a Bill of Rights was to withdraw certain subjects from the vicissitudes of political controversy, to place them beyond the reach of majorities and officials, and to establish them as legal principles to be applied by the courts. One’s right to life, liberty, and property, to free speech, a free press, freedom of worship and assembly, and other fundamental rights may not be submitted to vote; they depend on the outcome of no elections.
The court wrote those words when the government tried to force schoolchildren to stand and say the Pledge of Allegiance.
But since Mr. Clift puts a lot of emphasis numbers, here’s one for him: 35%. And here’s another: 44%. According to Pew, nationally, about 35% of millennials—born after 1981, i.e., his students—are nonreligious and about 44% of millennials are non-Christian. That means there are about 35 million millennials who don’t believe in the absurdities Ham is hawking.
Clift almost gets the next sentence right. It starts off promisingly, “I was elected to ensure that the children of our county received the best education possible . . .” Yes! Yes, you were. And that does not include indoctrinating them into religion. It does not include subjecting students to the monumental ramblings of a man who cannot tell fact from fiction. Sadly, Clift veers off the “best education possible” as he concludes:
. . . to ensure that the children of our county received the best education possible according to our local morals, ethics, values and beliefs!!!
Does the multiplication table or quadratic equation vary depending on one’s local morals? Do local values alter basic chemistry or physics? Of course not. Math, science, reading, English, American history—none of these change based on your locale. Or rather, none of this should change. We’ve all seen what Texas is doing to textbooks and how the central concept of biology — evolution — is treated in some areas. But facts are facts wherever Mr. Clift may be.
I will not sway in those local morals, ethics, values and beliefs because a group such as yours from another state or any other entity that attempts to dictate to the citizens of American how to educate their kids. –Bill Clift
I understand what Clift is going for here, but when you consider what he’s railing against, it has the opposite effect. Clift is trying to stand firm against the evil atheists commanding him to do, well, I’m not sure what exactly we’re supposed to be commanding. This doesn’t just miss the mark. This is a boomerang that sails wide of the mark and returns to hit Clift in the face.
FFRF was simply explaining what the First Amendment to the United States Constitution requires, which means that Clift is arguing Caldwell County, Ky., has “morals, ethics, values and beliefs” that contradict that hallowed document. Our godless Constitution doesn’t mention any gods and only mentions religion to exclude it from the government and vice versa. Its only mentions of religion are exclusionary. Whatever Clift’s local values and beliefs, I would’ve hoped they wouldn’t be opposed to our country’s founding deed. Sadly, he’s arguing otherwise.
FFRF is committed to ensuring that students’ rights are not violated by Ken Ham or any public schools. If your school is considering a trip to the ark park, report it to FFRF. If you’re an attorney that would like to help FFRF stop violations in Kentucky or wherever you’re licensed, contact us here.
FFRF is a national nonprofit dedicated to keeping state and church separate and educating about nontheism. We depend on member support, please join today.