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Freedom of Speech and Football

O say can you kneel? Free speech and football

By Andrew L. Seidel
Director of Strategic Response
Freedom From Religion Foundation

Freedom of speech is both a constitutional right and a core American value. As a constitutional right, it means the government cannot limit your right to speak.

Obviously, private employers aren’t the government. Private organizations can regulate the speech of employees and participants. This is bad news for those receiving tips at Cold Stone Creamery and has implications for the NFL players who choose not to stand during the national anthem. It’s also bad news for two students who were humiliatingly forced off their private, Christian football team, by their pastor coach for choosing to peacefully protest during the national anthem.

The government can regulate the conduct of its employees. In fact, the Constitution requires the government to regulate employee speech while they are on the clock—under the Establishment Clause government actors may not endorse religion while representing the government. Teachers in public schools don’t have a free speech right to preach to other people’s children because they are acting as government employees and bound by that clause.

But in most cases, the government cannot put speech demands on private citizens, including students in our public schools. The recent political push to force citizens to stand during the national anthem has bled into the public schools, where kids are beginning to emulate professional athletes and are becoming more politically aware as a result.

Piety and patriotism never mix well. Religion suffocates dissent, our Constitution enshrines it. Image via Shutterstock/Igor Stevanoic. Public schools, such as Parkway High School in Bossier Parish, La., are bound by the First Amendment’s Establishment and Free Speech Clauses. That means the school cannot punish a student for exercising his or her First Amendment rights, including the right to “take a knee” for the national anthem. (It’s nice to see the prayerful import of “take a knee” morph into something more secular and worthwhile.) If a school punishes such a student, it is violating the free speech clause of the U.S. Constitution. We’re looking at you, Parkway High.

The Supreme Court ruled more than 70 years ago in West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette that compelling a student to recite the pledge and salute the flag infringes upon a student’s First Amendment rights. The Barnette ruling was issued more than a decade before Congress divided “one nation, indivisible” by inserting “under God” into the then secular pledge. The court explained, in truly eloquent language, the limits on our government:

If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein.

Damn right. FFRF attorneys regularly quote this fine prose in our complaint letters. Those letters are often sent to protect nonreligious students who don’t want to stand for a pledge to one nation, under a god that they do not believe in.

The opposition to protests during the anthem will inevitably bleed into the public schools. This threatens nonreligious students who want to sit down for their rights and opt out of the pledge. If you or your child or a friend see this happen, please report it to FFRF legal using this web form. FFRF is here to protect the rights of these brave children.

FFRF to Texas officials: Prayer will fail Texans

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is discrediting the recklessness of Texas officials asking for prayers in the wake of Hurricane Harvey while declining legitimate aid.

In response to the catastrophe that has devastated Houston, Quebec’s Minister of International Relations Christine St-Pierre offered practical help: to send bedding, hygienic supplies and electrical equipment and crews to help the flooded city. Texas Secretary of State Rolando Pablos reportedly declined the aid, and asked, instead, for prayers!

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott likewise declared this upcoming Sunday to be a “day of prayer” for the state. According to media coverage, Abbott said that Texans will pray for people affected by the disaster and for those who helped. Reliance on superstition will not help the people of Texas.

As FFRF’s principal founder, Anne Nicol Gaylor put it: “Nothing fails like prayer.” It is irresponsible for Pablos to reject actual offers of assistance, and for Abbott to use his office to endorse prayer.

If prayer comforts religious people, by all means, they are free to pray. But, as President Thomas Jefferson noted in a Jan. 23, 1808, letter to Rev. Samuel Miller, it is beyond the scope of the executive branch to prescribe or even simply to recommend prayer. “Civil powers alone have been given to the president of the United States and no authority to direct the religious exercises of his constituents.” The govenor of Texas is doing precisely what the founding father and president precluded.

“The universe is full of unanswered prayers, the cemeteries are full of people who prayed to live,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “Wishful thinking cannot suspend the natural laws of the universe.”

The storm — which dumped an estimated 50 inches of water on Houston, resulted in at least 38 deaths and reportedly damaged 100,000 houses in Texas and Louisiana — will perhaps be the most expensive disaster in national history. As the 19th century’s most famous freethinker, Robert Green Ingersoll put it, “The hands that help are better far than lips that pray.” That’s why Nonbelief Relief, a humanitarian charity created by the executive board of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, did not pray, but gave $10,000 to the Hurricane Harvey Relief Fund.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a nonprofit membership organization that advocates for the separation of church and state and educates on matters relating to nontheism. It has more than 29,000 members, residing in every state of the United States including upwards of 1,200 in Texas.

@MarcoRubio – Silence your Bible Verses

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is taking Senator Marco Rubio (Fla.) to task for regularly tweeting bible verses.

Rubio uses the popular social media website, on which he has nearly three million followers, to communicate with constituents and keep them informed about his official duties as “US Senator for Florida,” as the account biography describes him.

Rubio is not tweeting “an errant bible verse or two, but more than 60 bible verses in three months. That’s enough verses to tweet the entire Book of Jude. Twice,” writes FFRF’s Director of Strategic Response Andrew Seidel, also a constitutional attorney.

“We have no issue with people reading and discussing the bible,” notes Seidel, “The road to atheism is littered with bibles that have been read cover to cover. But it is not for the government in our secular republic to promote one religious book over others or to promote religion over nonreligion. Doing so violates the Establishment Clause of the Constitution.”

In anticipation of Rubio claiming that this is his personal social media account, FFRF explains why that argument fails: “The private social media accounts of people who assume government office can become accounts that appear to speak for the government, unless these officers carefully distinguish their public and private roles. The @MarcoRubio account has not been scrupulous or thorough in this regard.” FFRF documents that @MarcoRubio is tied to Rubio’s identity as a government actor, and has almost exclusively been used to keep constituents informed of “Marco Rubio the Senator, not Marco Rubio the private citizen.”

FFRF’s letter lays out a compelling case, based on copious legal precedent, that government actors are not confined to making official statements only from one platform, and that Rubio’s personal Twitter account would be perceived by readers as primarily a platform to update Rubio’s senatorial duties.

The simplest solution “is to stop tweeting bible verses or any other religious message,” FFRF suggests. Either that, or Rubio can remove all traces of his public office from the @MarcoRubio Twitter account.

Adding a little religious authority to appeal to the good senator, FFRF concludes by suggestiong that Rubio might consider rereading Matthew 6:5-6, in which Jesus condemns public displays of piety.

FFRF, a national state/church watchdog, has more than 29,000 members nationwide, including more than 1,400 Florida members and a chapter, the Central Florida Freethought Community.

For the full news release see FFRF Rubio News Release.

God Bless America Sign Public Schools

Cherry Valley Elementary Elementary, part of Douglas County Colorado public schools, has posted a sign saying “God Bless America”. Cherry Valley Elementary Violation

Religious displays are not permitted in public schools. Courts have continually held that school districts may not display religious messages in public schools, including crosses, the Ten Commandments, bible verses, bibles, religious figures, portraits of Jesus, etc. even if privately paid for.

Cherry Valley Elementary principal Nancy Wortmann & Superintendent Erin Kane have been contacted by the local Freedom from Religion Foundation.

Here is a link to the Top 10 School Violations.

Pancake Breakfast

January 1st, 2017 from 10-12PM is a pancake breakfast at the Secular Hub. $8 for members and $10 for non-members. Great food and fun conversation. What a great way to kick off the new year with like-minded individuals! 

Winter Solstice Celebration

December 17, 2016 from 6:00 pm – 9:00 pm at the Secular HUB. The address is 3100 Downing Street #C, Denver, CO 80205

An annual celebration of the season, with the Secular Hub, Denver Atheists, Freedom From Religion Foundation, and other local secular groups.  Please bring a dish to share: hot dish, salad, dessert or something you love to make! Non-alcoholic beverages will be available for purchase.

For more details see https://www.secularhub.org/event/winter-solstice-celebration-2/?instance_id=1098