Civil Liberties group, spooked by the word 'atheist', rejects humanist donation

Civil Liberties group, spooked by the word 'atheist', rejects humanist donation April 1, 2010

THE American Civil Liberties Union of Mississippi has rejected a $20,000 gift  from the American Humanist Association intended to finance an alternate prom replacing one cancelled by a local school district after a lesbian student demanded that she be allowed to attend with her girlfriend.

Constance McMillan
Last month the Itawamba County School District in Mississippi sparked outrage by cancelling their prom rather than allowing Constance McMillen, 18, to bring her girlfriend as her date. The alternate prom is scheduled for May 8.
The AHA stepped in at once, offering ACLU, which was championing McMillen’s case, the money for one of several privately sponsored alternate events.
But, according to this report, Jennifer Carr, fundraiser for the Mississippi ACLU branch, wrote in an e-mail message to Roy Speckhardt, Executive Director of the humanist group.

Although we support and understand organizations like yours, the majority of Mississippians tremble in terror at the word ‘atheist’.

Carr added:

Our staff has been talking a lot about your donation offer and have found ourselves in a bit of a conflict. We have fears that your organization sponsoring the prom could stir up even more controversy.

After the Mississippi school board told Constance McMillen, the student, that she could neither bring her girlfriend to the dance nor appear in a tuxedo, the American Civil Liberties Union sued the Itawamba County school district on McMillen’s behalf. A federal judge ruled that her rights had been violated but did not require that the event be reinstated. (See this video report).
Speckhardt said he was “really shocked” to hear the gift had been rejected.

We’ve worked with the ACLU many times in the past so this really felt like a slap in the face to me.

He said the Humanist Association had also worked with the Alliance of Baptists and other religious organizations before and could not understand why Carr thought what she described as “these Southern Baptist types” would be offended by its gift.
Todd Stiefel, a member of the Humanist Association who donated the money with his wife, Diana, said he was:

Extremely disappointed in the ACLU. You’d think they would have learned a lesson from the very case they’ve been working on. The school board was trying to avoid a controversy by silencing a controversial minority, and now the ACLU is making the same mistake.

Kristy Bennett, the legal director of the ACLU of Mississippi, said in a telephone interview that the Humanist Association had attached conditions to its gift that the organizers of the event would have trouble meeting, among other issues.

Constance has had a lot of controversy around her over this, and in looking at the best interest of our client, I don’t know any more controversy would have benefited her.

The Humanist Association said it had placed virtually no conditions on the gift.

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  • Janstince

    Probably some Southern Baptist twat in the ACLU who doesn’t recognize atheism as a legitimate viewpoint and civil liberty. I’ve noticed a lot of people saying things like “The First Amendment guarantees freedom OF religion, not FROM religion.” I always just kind of stare dumbly at these folks and yammer about whatever comes to mind until they walk away in embarassment (I can do a pretty dumb stare if needed). But I’ve noticed that the ACLU is very reluctant to get into the state cases where states have banned atheists, in their constitutions, from holding public office. I don’t know if I just haven’t heard that the ACLU is involved or what, but they always mention the AHA and other atheist groups, but never the ACLU when those news stories pop out. Maybe I’m just reading the wrong stories, or maybe these folks are not quite as open as they pretend.

  • barriejohn

    Not as bad, perhaps, as the fundamentalists with whom I used to associate, who refused ANY donations or offers of help from “the unsaved”!

  • Broga

    They can accept or reject as they choose: they will still lose. The “panic” at the word atheist reflects a deep and abiding ignorance in the niaive and terrified inhabitants of fundamentalist USA. They do not know what is meant by “atheist.” They have been trained in fear without explanation; limited to selective readings of their bible; reliance on a gang of dumbfuck pastors who know when they are on to a good thing. They need bogey men to scare them: atheists; homosexuals; terrorists; muslims; anything that they do not understand. And they understand very little.
    What they also do not understand is the fragility, indeed the rotten and base on which they stand, and which can only be maintained by corrupt liars spinning fantasies about the great Fairy in the Sky myth.

  • Marcus

    If the boot had been on the other foot, I’m sure we’d have had a lot of Stephen ‘Birdshit’ Green types waving their arms around hysterically and whining that, because their offer had been rejected on the grounds of a perceived fear factor, they were being persecuted and victimised.
    A dignified withdrawal to the moral high ground is in order, I reckon.

  • chrsbol

    Constance McMillan
    The lesbian villain
    Wanted to go to the dance
    The powers that be said “No she and she”
    And were backed up by the ACLU branch.
    Marcus. Did you notice I have an image or half of one anyhow!

  • barriejohn

    Maybe it’s Americans Critical of Lesbian Unions, then?

  • Marcus

    chrsbol – as half images go it’s a very good on, mate. I’m hoping to find out how I get one of my own without having to call myself ‘Marcus3578635401’ or something equally mundane. There seem to be an awful lot of people out there called Marcus who thought about getting a profile for themselves before I did!

  • Angela_K

    The southern red-necks, and the fundies equate atheist = communist so the cowardice of ACLU is not surprising.

  • I’m still in awe over that statement. If they were truly worried about how people in Bumf*ck….er, Mississippi would react they wouldn’t be handling Constance McMillen’s case in the first place. This is just a slap in the face of atheists and humanists everywhere. The ACLU has greatly disappointed me.

  • The Humanist Association said it had placed virtually no conditions on the gift.

    That’s a long way from saying “…had placed virtually no conditions on the gift.” Why the deliberate non reply?

  • NeoWolfe

    The ACLU director was quoted as saying:
    “Although we support and understand organizations like yours, the majority of Mississippians tremble in terror at the word ‘atheist’.”
    I don’t understand, I guess, because humanists, even secular humanists are not atheists. While they are quite diverse, their core premise is that no god or gods interfere with the affairs of men, that our fate is in our own hands. Many humanist groups are splinters off established religious organizations:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Religious_humanism
    So I am left perplexed by how the word “atheist” and it’s possible stigma entered the equation. Wouldn’t it be more accurate to say that Mississippians tremble in terror at the words, “civil rights”?
    NeoWolfe

  • barriejohn

    I think that perhaps the majority of Mississippians tremble at the word “rationality”!

  • Apparently the ACLU has sent an apology, though it is not clear whether the donation will be accepted.
    http://www.aclu.org/lgbt-rights/aclu-apologizes-american-humanist-association
    ‘Dear Roy,
    On behalf of the ACLU of Mississippi, I would like to offer our sincere apologies for the inappropriate e-mail you received from a member of our staff regarding your generous offer to sponsor and donate to a prom for Constance McMillen.
    As I believe you’ve heard from the Mississippi Safe Schools Coalition, MSSC makes the final decision about which sponsorship related offers to accept. It was an error for our staff member to insinuate to you that our organization had that decision-making power.
    Furthermore, please understand that the sentiments expressed in the e-mail you received from our staff member do not reflect the views of our organization in any way. The ACLU of Mississippi is a stalwart defender of freedom of belief and expression for all, and we are appreciative of your commitment to protecting those principles, as well.
    Nsombi Lambright
    Executive Director, ACLU of Mississippi’
    David

  • Apparently an apology has been issued.
    http://www.aclu.org/lgbt-rights/aclu-apologizes-american-humanist-association
    ‘Dear Roy,
    On behalf of the ACLU of Mississippi, I would like to offer our sincere apologies for the inappropriate e-mail you received from a member of our staff regarding your generous offer to sponsor and donate to a prom for Constance McMillen.
    ‘As I believe you’ve heard from the Mississippi Safe Schools Coalition, MSSC makes the final decision about which sponsorship related offers to accept. It was an error for our staff member to insinuate to you that our organization had that decision-making power.
    Furthermore, please understand that the sentiments expressed in the e-mail you received from our staff member do not reflect the views of our organization in any way. The ACLU of Mississippi is a stalwart defender of freedom of belief and expression for all, and we are appreciative of your commitment to protecting those principles, as well.
    Nsombi Lambright
    Executive Director, ACLU of Mississippi’

  • andrea

    Has America become a nation of cowards?
    What became of the land of the free?

  • barriejohn

    The cat’s out of the bag, though, isn’t it?

  • ZarathustraMike

    Well, I’m an Atheist and a member of the ACLU! One of them has to go! And, since I can’t stop being who I am… and because the ACLU has demonstrated a marked bias against Athesits, I guess they’ve just told me they don’t want my support or my membership money any more, either. Bye-bye ACLU, don’t let the door hit your ass on the way out…You’ve done a lot of good in this country, but I just can’t abide by your Closed minds. And I’d bet, if you looked real hard, a large percentage of your membership shares my religious convictions, or lack of.

  • sailor1031

    @Neo: Wouldn’t it be more accurate to say that Mississippians tremble in terror at the words, “civil rights”?
    That’s precisely it. Civil rights in the deep south are only for ‘christians’.
    Andrea; the USA has become a very PC place to be. It’s just that the PC varies from place to place. Plus the dumbing down of the educational system and the elimination from curricula of history and civics has resulted in a nation where ignorance and inability to exercise critical thinking means that a majority of the population have not read and do not understand the Constitution which is the foundation of civil rights here. These problems are especially serious in Mississippi which study after study has been shown to have the lowest performing education system in the nation.

  • NeoWolfe

    sailor1031 said:
    “Civil rights in the deep south are only for ‘christians’”
    A small correction, civil rights in the deep south are only for WHITE christians.
    NeoWolfe

  • Axel Grealy

    The ACLU are well known for their support of the religious over the support of common sense.
    They are indeed taking liberties with peoples liberty and deserve no support from secular or atheist organizations.

  • Axel Grealy

    As Nina Simone once sang: “Mississippi Goddam”
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AUR9yWzN3zc

  • sailor1031

    Neo: you are of course quite correct.

  • NeoWolfe

    Axel,
    Great link, I had never heard of Nina, nor am I a big fan of jazz, but, that song is a very refreshing flip of the bird to the white protestant hate movement in the deep south. Thank you for sharing that.
    NeoWolfe

  • If thay are afraid of the word atheist. Wonder if they’ll wet there pants at “Satanist” or “Pagan”?