Blog #5 Published 12/12/2020
written by Dianne Post, Attorney, Secular AZ Legal Committee Chair

One random morning my housemate went out to work and found hanging on the door handle a plastic bag with a couple of books in it.  As she was in a hurry, she didn’t look at them but just put them inside on my side of the table and left.  When I found them, I also had no idea what it was as I had not ordered anything and it was too big to be campaign material. 

It was two books indeed, both from a Jehovah Witness sect.  The first was National Sunday Law:  A shocking glimpse behind the scenes.  Forces unite amid a stupendous crisis … by Jan Marcussen.  The first chapter alone had so many misstatements in it that it was hard to give anything credence.  They claimed no one helped Kitty Genovese which is an urban myth well shattered.  They claim crime doubles every 10 years when it has been dropping for 20.  And they make fun of people with an accent.  They do say they are against drugs, pornography and Trump for trying to collapse the separation of church and state, and they want a “humanistic model” of society.   But in that chapter, I learned that the two-horned beast was the U.S.  Next I learned that the beast identified was the pope (don’t ask me).  His problem was that he’s infallible and can bestow forgiveness both of which are traits only god has so the pope is putting himself above god.  That is a no no.  The beast is then described as “compromise,” and we learn that the letters on the pope’s mitre when treated as Roman numerals total – wait for it – 666.

Then comes the “dynamite.” But first he asks if you can even imagine Christians killing other Christians.  I think – haven’t you read the bible, or history?  It has happened gazillions of times.  But oh well.  The dynamite is that the seventh day is not Sunday but Saturday and the pope made Sunday the “holy day” against gods will.  They state that laws proclaiming Sunday the holy day and forcing everyone to worship on Sunday will take over the world.  I suppose if Christians take over the world that could happen but the Muslims worship on Friday and the Jews on Saturday and really, the pope changed the worship day to Sunday to differentiate themselves from the Jews, a sect from which they split.   

In The Human Cosmos:  Civilization and the Stars, Jo Marchant, a real live scientist looking at data, tells us that the seven-day week originated in Babylon around 1st century A.D. The first day of the week was Saturday so the seventh day would be Friday – which is what Islam uses.  So both the Jews and the Christians are wrong. 

The chapter on the mark of the beast makes absolutely no sense.  The mark is on the forehead, the frontal lobe, the brain.  The seal of god is the sabbath.  So Sunday worship is the mark of the beast.  And if you follow that, let me know how. The image of the beast is when the U.S. and the pope work together.  They must be having conniptions now with six catholics on the Supreme Court.  They do think that giving federal money to public schools is wrong and that if catholics take over the world the atrocities of the dark ages will repeat.  Happy to know we agree on something.  We also agree on climate change which is the global conflict to them. 

The author did tell one story that has me laughing still.  Paul is together with his friends on the dark part of the first day of the week – Saturday night.  This is a farewell get-together.  He preached until midnight, when poor Eutychus falls out of the window (Acts 20:9)          I had to look that up in a “real” bible and found:  On the first day of the week we gathered with the local believers to share in the Lords Supper.  Paul was preaching to them, and since he was leaving the next day, he kept talking until midnight.  The upstairs room where we met was lighted with many flickering lamps.  As Paul spoke on and on, a young man named Eutychus, sitting on the windowsill, became very drowsy. Finally, he fell sound asleep and dropped three stories to his death below.  Paul went down, bent over him, and took him into his arms.  “Don’t worry,” he said, “he’s alive.”  Then they all went back upstairs, shared in the Lord’s Supper, and ate together.  Paul continued talking to them until dawn, and then he left.  Meanwhile the young man was taken home alive and well, and everyone was greatly relieved.  

So they had a party, got drunk, Paul is a boring speaker, and the man fell out the window in a drunken stupor.  As often happens, the drunk person doesn’t get hurt, because he’s passed out.  So they think he is dead, but in fact he wakes up the next morning with a heck of a hangover.  Apparently, none of these people went to college, not that they had colleges back then!

The second book was called “The Great Controversy: Will two former rivals unite?” by E.G. Gates first written in the 1800s.  It was a longer version of the “Sunday” issue, a diatribe against the catholic church, and the fear that the Vatican and the U.S. will unite to overthrow all other religions. The Vatican and White House do resemble each other in architecture you know.  It’s basically his own delusional interpretation of bible verses and stories, and the progression of religion in the U.S., with lots of prince of darkness, demons, curses, evil, and satan who has been here all along but JC won’t be coming back for 6,000 years.  Since only 2,000 of those years have passed, we got a long wait.  I doubt we’ll make it.  After quoting one biblical massacre after another, he says Satan is a liar and murderer, and god hates rebellion.  Great set up for an authoritarian cult. The book ends with the statement that god is love.  Given the recitation of horrors in the book, it’s hard to buy that.  If it said love is god, it would make more sense.

This reminded me of a list I have gathered over the years from a variety of writers and books of other very strange beliefs from different religions. Some it turns out, have some credence to them then or now.  For example:   

Some 120,000 Zoroastrians believe the bodies of the deceased must be placed atop tall towers to be exposed to the sun and devoured by birds in order to avoid polluting the earth below.  This is actually not such a bad idea and has been brought up recently because we are running out of places to bury people and dumping ashes in a body of water pollutes it. 

Approximately 4.2 million Jains believe that priests should wear masks over their mouths to avoid breathing in and killing microorganisms.  If only people would wear masks, we would be out of this pandemic sooner.

Putting a dirty milk glass and a plate from a roast beef sandwich in the same dishwasher can contaminate your soul. This rule actually had a good reason when it started i.e. to prevent the contamination from unpasteurized milk from harming the meat.  It has of course gotten out of hand.

Some anti-science beliefs that remain popular are:

Fifty thousand Christian Scientists in the U.S. believe that diseases are not caused by  germs, bacilli, or viruses but by lapses of faith. 

Some 1.6 billion Muslims and fourteen million Jews believe in cutting the foreskins of baby boys in service of their faith.  The foreskin of a holy one may lie safeguarded in reliquaries made of gold and crystal and inlayed with gems–or it may have ascended into the heavens all by itself. So I suppose just in case your baby is going to grow up to be the holy one?

Some 4.8 million Jehovah’s witnesses are willing to deny life-saving blood transfusions to their dying children in the name of religion.

Believers can drink poison or get bit by snakes without being harmed. And they do not need to wear masks, they won’t get infected by a hoax virus, and they will be just fine.  Unfortunately, a lot of those are running around today prolonging the pandemic and killing people.

A holy person climbed a mountain and could see the whole earth from the mountain peak.  I guess that was when the earth was flat?

Then there are some beliefs that are just plain psychedelic:

An estimated 25,000 American Scientologists believe that humans are descendants of thetans, a group of omnipotent gods, and that our emotional problems are due to “engrams” in the brain created by trauma in prior lives on another planet. 

Mormons, who number around 14 million worldwide, believe that ancient Hebrews of America buried golden tablets written in Egyptian on a hillside in the U.S., and that they were later recovered and translated with the help of an angel.  Sacred underwear protects believers from spiritual contamination and, according to some adherents, from fire and speeding bullets.  Doctors and lawyers actually believe this! I worked with two who did.  One died of AIDS.  Maybe I should have shot him in his underwear and he would be alive today. 

Christians, no slackers, have the virgin birth, water turning into wine, a fig tree shriveling on the spot, and dead people getting up out of their graves and walking around with perfect bodies. Allegedly, Malcom X’s body was found in perfect shape in the casket eight years after he died so maybe!  Then there is Lenin still in his tomb in the Kremlin courtyard. 

A race of giants once roamed the earth, the result of women and demi-gods interbreeding. They lived at the same time as fire breathing dragons. Where did the women come from?  And where did they go?  I think we need a few right now.

A talking donkey scolded a prophet, and the prophet once traveled between two cities on a miniature flying horse with the face of a woman and the tail of a peacock.

Invisible supernatural beings reveal themselves in mundane objects like oozing paint or cooking food.

In the end times, the chosen people will be gathered together in Jackson County, Missouri. Buy property there now while it’s cheap.

Sprinkling water on a newborn, if done correctly, can keep the baby from eons of suffering should he or she die prematurely.  As we learned August 6 from a story in Detroit, if the person who baptizes you says the wrong words (“We baptize you …” instead of the church’s ancient formula, “I baptize you …”), the baptisms are not valid.  You are not a Catholic.  Father Hood, who before this had been a validly ordained priest, was shocked to find out he wasn’t a priest, a deacon, or even a Christian because the Deacon who baptized him said “We” rather than “I.”  Heavens to Murgatroyd!!  Three days later he was validly baptized, confirmed, received the Eucharist and in a week was ordained a deacon and two days later a priest again.  Thank goodness!  Roasting in hell is not a future to look forward to.

Not to pick on any particular religion because most of them have these kinds of beliefs, but here are some others for your enjoyment:

Evil spirits can take control of pigs.

A righteous man can control his wife’s access to eternal paradise.

Brown skin is a punishment for disobeying God.

[The Holy One] forbids a cat or dog receiving a blood transfusion and forbids blood meal being used as garden fertilizer.

There will be an afterlife in which exactly 144,000 people get to live eternally in Paradise.

Each human being contains many alien spirits that were trapped in volcanos by hydrogen bombs.

Waving a chicken over your head can take away your sins.

Just silly but harmless:

One religion with a billion followers worships a god with the head of an elephant and in the worship of another god, rubs clarified butter on a stylized phallus.

An estimated 2.7 million people believe in waving silk or paper streamers over someone in a rite of purification ,and that new-car owners should take their cars to a shrine to be prayed over and purified. 

Just plain creepy: 

1.2 billion Roman Catholics celebrate their faith by eating the flesh and blood of their heavenly savior through a spiritual transformation of bread and wine.  When certain rites are performed beforehand, bread turns into human flesh after it is swallowed. No cannibals wanted.

It’s all quite funny, until you realize that the Supreme Court wants to ensure that all of us are subject to the beliefs of one particular sect.  They just ruled that churches can ignore public health and endanger us all by holding large gatherings in the middle of a worsening pandemic.   That is no joking matter. I admit I cannot understand how intelligent people can believe these things.  But they are free to believe whatever they like. They are not free to impose those beliefs on me.  That is what I fear.  That is what I don’t respect.  I don’t have to give deference to people who won’t give deference to me.  That’s not respect; that’s abuse of power.  I don’t have to allow you to practice your beliefs when you won’t allow me to practice mine; that’s dominance and submission.  So don’t be fooled.  Don’t be afraid of people telling you have to  “respect” other’s beliefs. I don’t have to respect nonsense. Stand up and speak out about the need to respect freedom from religion as much as freedom of religion.


written by Dianne Post, Attorney, Secular AZ Legal Committee Chair

Every issue of the Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF) newsletter has at least two pages of “Black Collar Crime” that is a smattering of criminal and civil activity across the country against those of a religious order.  An example is one issue in November 2020 that revealed fifteen cases of pastors and church officials who were arrested and charged with crimes ranging from sexual assault of girls from 7 to 14, to the beating of a one-year-old, to shooting a wife in the head, to meth, to child pornography, and to embezzlement up to $22 million. 

In the “pleaded/convicted” section one 62-year-old man pled out to sexual penetration with an object to children 14 and 15.  Eight other cases were sentenced by a court.  One man got life for rape and three counts of sexual imposition of 10 women ages 18-81.  One got 10 years for sexual abuse of a 12-year-old.  One got 6 years for child pornography.  Another one got 200 years for making that child pornography including with a 6-month-old boy and a 9-year-old girl.  Two Amish brothers who were having sex with their sister when she was 12 and 13 got 15 years suspended after the 13-year-old had a baby by one of the brothers.  In addition, they got 5 year’s probation, 100 hours of community service, and a letter of apology.  I don’t even want to think of the hell her life will be and that of the baby while the two brothers walk free.

One got five years for four counts of molestation of children 15 and younger.  One woman who solicited sex with young boys got 12 years.  Another man got 5 years for 3 counts of molestation.  And another who was a volunteer at the church got 3 years for lewd and lascivious behavior with a child younger than 14.  

In a child abuse case tried only by the church judicial court, a priest was sentenced to a life of prayer and penance (I thought that was what they already had signed up for?) and cannot function as a priest.  So he gets early retirement to do what he agreed to do.

Eleven civil suits were also outlined.  Arizona features in a few.  The Diocese of Lafayette, IN and Diocese of Phoenix was sued by a Navajo plaintiff against a priest from Indiana who was transferred to Chinle after allegations of abuse in Indiana. 

Other lawsuits included those against the Diocese of Worchester, MA and a priest Mahoney;

The Diocese of Savannah, GA and a bishop Parkes; the De La Salle High School, Catholic Charities, Christian Brothers, Gandara, and estate of Langenstein; and the Diocese of Sendai, Bishop Hiraga in Japan.  In this case, the plaintiff was a victim of violence by her husband and had gone for counseling.  The defense attorney argued that the bishop should not be prosecuted because of the passage of time (1977) and the then priest might have thought sex was consensual.  Regardless of the passage of time, the rape will negatively impact the victim for the rest of her life.  Further, one cannot obtain consent when the positions of power (priest/penitent) are so divergent.  Consensual or not, aren’t priests supposed to be celibate? 

All Saints Catholic School and Diocese of Palm Beach was sued for failure to protect an ll-year- old.  And in Phoenix again, Brophy College Prep, Sinnerud,  Phoenix Catholic Diocese, and Western U.S. Jesuits were all sued.  After the teacher was thrown out of Brophy, he went on to teach in Omaha giving him further access to victims. 

Other civil suits included Atkins, Presbytery of NY and the French Evangelical Church, (a little variety from the catholics),  the Diocese of Haifax-Yarmouth, and the Diocese of Metuchen, NJ and two clergy there.

Four civil suits were settled.  The Diocese of Kamloops, BC had two different cases, Our Lady of Perpetual Help School and St James parish.  The Diocese of Boston settled for three priests. 

The Diocese of St. Catherines in Ontario settled for a priest raping two sisters.  The younger one turned him in finally but only after her 14-year-old sister had an abortion due to his rape.  What did they do to him?  He was transferred to another parish of course. 

The Diocese of Rockville Center has had 223 lawsuits of priest abuse that resulted in them filing for bankruptcy.  At least 3,677 people were abused from 1946-2014, more than half of them were 13 and younger, one-third were altar boys.  Payments per person thus far are averaging around $6,000. 

Many of course still seek to avoid paying for their crimes.  Malka Leifer was accused of 74 counts of abusing children at the Jewish Adass Yisroel School in Melbourne, Australia.  She fled to Israel and is fighting extradition to Australia.  

Paul West was found guilty in a class action in MS and each victim got $263, 000.  But he had tricked two impoverished Black men into taking only $15,000 each.  Their brother refused and got the full amount.  So now the other two are suing.  West was extradited from WI to MS to face the music. 

David Haas, a composer in the Catholic church, has been accused by multiple women of sexual misconduct.  Sabine Griego, a former Catholic priest, was awaiting trial in Albuquerque for assaulting 38 children when he died at 82.  Why people continue to put their children directly in harm’s way with serial sexual abusers I cannot fathom. 

An FFRF staff attorney, Ryan D. Jayne, published a report on November 16 called, “Vatican abuse report is far too little, too late.”  The Vatican released a 445-page report about a myriad of sexual assault allegations against former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick.  The report dates back to the 1980s and shows that church officials ignored the allegations, protected McCarrick, and some joined in the fun themselves.

Pope John Paul II knew at least by 1999 and promoted McCarrick anyhow.  Allegedly the current Pope Francis didn’t know about this until 2017 and then removed McCarrick.  In fact a priest had informed Monsignor in 1985 at the Diocese of Metuchen (NJ – see their name above) when he was assaulted.  Finally the church did an internal process in 2019 and McCarrick was punished by house arrest.  He was 90.  I doubt he planned on going mountain climbing or sky diving anyhow. 

This pattern of coverup continues.  A 2018 grand jury in PA found that two bishops covered up sex abuse by more than 50 priests over 40 years.  Another independent inquiry report found that child sexual abuse was swept under the carpet in the UK.  Jayne says, “No one could rationally deny that the church, for decades, if not centuries, has facilitated and perpetuated sexual abuse at an almost unimaginable scale.”  It almost feels like the church was set up for that very reason. 

What little was done to McCarrick was even resisted internally.  Officials in charge, especially the money people, want to protect reputations and bank accounts of themselves and their friends. Still no order has come down to report abusers to the police though their behavior is clearly criminal.  Governmental authorities collude as well still giving priests and pastors protection from testifying about confessions of abuse, not investigating (e.g. Colorado City where AZ authorities have run scared for decades because of the power of the Mormon church), and limiting the time that victims may sue.

The Boy Scout bankruptcy threatens to reveal a sexual abuse cult rivaling the catholic church.  On Nov. 17, 2020, the window closed for filing claims in the bankruptcy court.  They expected 30,000 claims.  As that number was soon surpassed, they estimated 60,000.  The final claims totaled 92,000.  The lawyer for the men said the abuse runs the gamut from the absolutely worst thing you can think of one human to do to another to “run of the mill” sexual abuse.  The Boy Scouts kept a hidden file of scout leaders they knew were molesters – though they didn’t report them or keep them from being leaders!  But many of those identified in the claims are names that were not in those files so the Scouts have had many more abusers than even they knew.  Still there are those who deny that child sexual abuse is real.  They deny it could be happening in their community.  They deny it could be happening to their child.  Hundreds of parents, teachers, coaches, and school administrator protected Larry Nasser who thus was able to sexual assault more than 250 girls for 30 years.  I am truly unable to understand the psychological conditioning that allows a parent to refuse to believe their own child about abuse and instead, put faith into an institution build solely on fantasy and power relationships – whether that is the church, the Boy Scouts, or their own family members. 

I Lost My Faith in a Chick-fil-A

Published on 09/03/2020 (originally published in 2019 on the Christian Post)
Written by Luke Douglas, Executive Director of the Humanist Society of Greater Phoenix

            If I believe in God and He exists, I’ve gained everything. If I believe in God and He doesn’t exist, I’ve lost nothing. If I disbelieve, and He does exist, I’ve lost everything. Therefore, a rational person who has any doubt should take the leap of faith just in case. I don’t know when I first heard about Pascal’s Wager, the argument for believing in God based on possible outcomes. It went on to be an enormous part of my training to defend Christianity in a secular and hostile culture and be ready always to give an apologia for the hope within me.

            Being a warrior for Christ was, without any hesitation, everything to me. I was homeschooled outside Molalla, Oregon with a strong emphasis on debate, the written word, and defending the faith. I don’t remember asking Jesus into my heart, but my parents say I was about four or five at an Easter Sunday service. What I do remember is that my entire childhood revolved around reinforcing and strengthening that commitment through a social life centered on church and a curriculum centered on Creation science. I was eight when I first heard the earth was 6,000 years old, which quickly became a central theological litmus test for whether one took God at His Word.

            It’s impossible to say when doubts first began creeping in. I remember spending hours on my knees in prayer, my entire emotional focus pinned on talking to God, only to hear nothing back. I would feel my stomach churn wondering if there was nobody there to hear me, then convince myself it was my fault that I didn’t believe hard enough, or that I was trying to connect with God on my own strength, or something along those lines. Then, I’d redouble my efforts to connect to God more strongly in worship, or in Bible reading. If I ever felt doubts, my focus was to study to show myself approved, a workman who need not be ashamed.

            So study I did. Delving into the Bible was never my weakness. Starting when I was 13, I memorized twenty-two books of the New Testament, all in KJV. I got some of my earliest public speaking experience reciting chapters of the Bible aloud in front of church, and it was only a matter of time before my pastor was mentoring me to teach and preach from the Word of God. I think I was fifteen when I started, and seriously considered the ministry as a calling throughout my teenage years. I never decided against it, really. I just had the opportunity to go to law school and thought I would get my seminary degree in my spare time. That way, I could be available whenever a congregation might need me to step into that role in the future while making a living in the meantime. So during my two summers of law school, I took seminary classes online, always aspiring to be an advocate for Christianity in the public arena.

            On that track, I learned there’s a funny thing about legal education. It requires you to argue for both sides of a case. The better you understand your opponent’s position, the better you will be at advancing your own. So in the interest of being the best Christian apologist I could be, I learned a fair bit about arguments for and against Christianity and took a strong interest in the work of the apologist who influenced me most growing up, Ken Ham. When he debated Bill Nye the Science Guy on the scientific legitimacy of creationism, I was about halfway through law school and organized a debate watch party, ordered pizza, and gathered my Evangelical colleagues to root for Ham together. So imagine how devastating it was to watch my childhood icon be so embarrassingly destroyed before my very eyes. Ken Ham brought faith to an evidence fight, and even my fundamentalist creationist eyes could see it. I resolved in that moment to learn more about evolution, astronomy, and geology so that, when it was my turn to debate the Bill Nyes of the world, I would do better than Ken Ham had.

            Armed with the ability and the will to research both sides of a case, I channelled my curiosity into philosophy, science, and ancient history to disprove alleged falsehoods in my belief system. In ancient history, I learned just how impossible it is to cram the entire Bronze Age into the time after Noah’s Flood around 2,300 B.C. Growing up I was taught that the pyramids, for example, were newer than that, with whole systems of pseudo-history developed to validate creationism at any cost. The more I tried to investigate, the more problems I ran into. If the pyramids were built during the Fourth Dynasty, I couldn’t just say they were built a little later. I had to push the date of the pyramids more and more recently to make room for earlier dynasties and somehow justify believing that every date recorded both in antiquity and by modern archaeologists was wrong. So wrong, in fact, that the only way it made sense was if all of academia were conspiring against the Bible. Starlight is another good example. Growing up, I was taught that starlight literally speeds up and slows down during transit across the universe in order to arrive from across the cosmos in less than 6,000 years. A simple course on physics, which was not prioritized in my secondary education to say the least, cleared that up without any difficulty. At some indistinguishable point along the line, my quest for effective counter-arguments for Christianity became a sincere search for what I believed myself.

            I won’t belabor the examples because plenty of good books have been written on point-by-point refutations of young earth creationism. I only narrate these instances to highlight that I had to make a choice. Could I modify my views of Genesis and keep the Gospel intact? In the end, I couldn’t make it fit. Not for a lack of trying, either. I just couldn’t separate creationism from the Gospel. My entire frame of reference for Christianity had Genesis as its foundation. If the creation story is unreliable, then why believe in the resurrection? If Noah’s Flood didn’t happen as described, then why believe Jesus was coming back someday? I say this with no disrespect for those who do reinterpret the creation account in order to let their faith evolve, but for me, I may as well have converted to another religion or to no religion at all because that was no further from my starting point. To bend my rigid faith was to risk shattering it entirely.

            Yet no matter how far I ventured into private doubts, Pascal’s Wager loomed large at a level deeper than rationality. I was afraid. I was afraid that if I were wrong, I would lose everything. I was afraid that my friends and family would disown me if I lost the faith that held us together. How could I countenance Christianity being false if all I could think about were the consequences? It was my journey in philosophy, so well prepared-for in my theological education, that took away the fear.

            I studied the Stoics. Their resolution in the face of anxiety was helpful in all the stress of doubting my faith, as they would go on to be in the depression of losing everything after deconverting. And it was my favorite Stoic thinker, Marcus Aurelius, who so profoundly answered Pascal’s Wager over a millennium before Pascal was born with a preemptive counter-argument that I call the Stoic Wager:

“If gods exist, you have nothing to fear in taking leave of mankind, for they will not let you come to harm. But if there are no gods, or if they have no concern with mortal affairs, what is life to me, in a world devoid of gods or devoid of Providence?”

            Essentially, don’t think about death worrying if there are gods or not. If there are, they will care how virtuous your life was. If there are not, you will have lived a virtuous life. If there are gods, how would you know whether they care how you live your life at all?

            This perspective, predating the prevalence of Christianity, lays bare by comparison some of the assumptions that Pascal makes. Pascal assumes that nonbelief is a choice, for one thing, rather than a disconnect. He assumes that willing oneself to believe, or at least try to believe, is something that God would want more than He wants honesty. If God would reward insincere faith but punish honest nonbelief, it begs the question first why God has such arbitrary standards and second why I would want to worship Him anyway. Pascal’s Wager has nothing to do with reasons to think God exists. It’s just a way of hedging bets for a desired outcome, and it assumes the Judeo-Christian God to be the only possibility one should consider when aspiring to those outcomes. Detached from those assumptions, the Stoic Wager became my preferred bet for any judgment day I may find on the other side.

            So in the end, I lost my faith in a Chick-fil-a.

            I was 23, working for a conservative state legislative campaign in central Texas in the summer of 2016. I’d been visiting churches, synagogues, Humanist meetings, and philosophical discussion groups of all types just to compare them in the search for truth. I had a copy of Spinoza’s book about comparative theology in my hand, continuing my faith journey over waffle fries in this iconic institution of Evangelical culture. True to form, the restaurant was playing instrumental-only worship music, providing just enough subtlety for a nonbeliever not to be offended by songs they didn’t recognize while a believer would know all the words. And so the songs played, and my head filled in the lyrics of my favorite familiar worship songs. My mind left the book I was reading, pulled toward the vivid flashbacks of every fundamentalist sermon, every apologetic talking point, every one of the thousands of King James Bible verses I had memorized, and in a flood of what I can only describe as turmoil, realized I had long since read all the philosophy and theology that I needed to make my decision.

I dropped my book, went into the men’s room, sat on the toilet, and bawled my eyes out for an hour and a half. It was over. I was an atheist, having been drug kicking and screaming by the evidence against every desire, incentive, and goal that I had set out with. It was all for nothing but to learn that my curiosity would not sleep until my desire to be an effective apologist left me with nothing to defend. I had wanted nothing more than to reinforce my faith, but willing myself to believe something that just didn’t make sense was no longer sustainable. So adrift on a sea of chaos, I called my then-fiance, who was doing missions work in Asia at the time, and begged her not to leave me as her faith insisted she would have to.

I lost an incredible number of relationships, either by their choice or mine. I lost my career in the politics of the religious right and took some time to reestablish myself as a progressive activist instead. I expected my entire family to disown me, which they actually didn’t. What many of them did instead was to become so controlling and condescending that I ended up being the one to cut them off. Other relationships changed as a result, arguably for the better. I think I’ve come to realize that many relationships are conditional. A friendship with Jesus, for example, is conditional on obedience (John 15:14). A relationship with a person that has shared faith at its foundation might be conditional or it might not. When you remove the faith element, you discover whether that person loved you for you or simply loved you for fitting a particular mold. It was agony to find out who was who. The whole thing was without a doubt the worst thing I’ve ever been through at the time, but in hindsight, the best thing that ever happened to me.

What I didn’t expect were all the new relationships. Old friends and acquaintances, and even family members with whom I had lost touch over the years of living away who, upon hearing about my journey, told me they, too, had lost their faith. The pews of America are emptying out, and even the ones that are still occupied are often filled by people who just aren’t ready to leave even though they may want to. If you’re reading this as a Christian and weighing your doubts, wondering if it’s worth losing everyone you know, I guarantee you that you know more secret atheists than you realize. My earliest support network after leaving the faith didn’t come from atheist or Humanist organizations. It came from old friends who confided in me about their nonbelief as we talked about the life after and where to go next. 

Where does one go next? For me, the sacrifice was more than just personal and professional relationships. It also left a gaping hole where purpose used to be. See, my whole upbringing’s teaching was that, apart from God, there would be no basis for morality, for purpose, or even for logic itself. If there were no higher power Whose nature exemplified right, there would be no such thing as wrong. The further removed I become from presuppositional apologetics, however, the less sense that whole line of argument makes. My morality post-Evangelicalism is driven by tough questions about maximizing happiness in a complex world. It’s driven by empathy for my fellow human beings, and the last thing that would help me be more moral is turning off my questioning mind in order to defer to a higher power Who allegedly answers (or has people who speak for Him answer) those gray questions in black and white terms. 

It’s a jarring realization, when your sense of purpose has been framed according to Christ’s call to be a witness, to realize that life just is. If I longed for a purpose to make sense of its chaos, I had to find that purpose for myself. It’s terrifying. It’s hard. And it’s mind-openingly more rewarding when I realize the only purpose I have is what I can find in a short life that, to my knowledge, is the only one I have. The brevity of that one life makes its every moment that much more precious.

            If I could help it, I didn’t want to make that journey alone. I’m active in the interfaith movement and wish nothing more than that every religion embraces the best, most forward-looking version of itself and continues evolving in directions that embrace evidence rather than denying it. For those who refuse to evolve, the future is only decline. This country is full of empty churches and pastors who’ve secretly lost their faith. It’s full of religious “nones” who now outnumber Catholics and Evangelicals, many of them having dropped a religious affiliation in their past. 

I can’t speak for anyone else who’s left Christianity or what they are looking for, but for me, the best community so far has been Humanism, starting around early 2018. I lead an organization of fellow freethinkers who volunteer together, advocate for separation of church and state, fight for equality for secular Americans, and dialogue robustly about thought-provoking issues where questions, not creeds, unify us. As we grow, we may just find a use for some of those empty churches after all.

            Now that I spend most of my days with people who have left or are still leaving Christianity, I’ve come to appreciate Pascal’s Wager differently. Never in any stage of my journey have I met a person who converted to Christianity because of Pascal’s Wager. But what I have encountered are countless instances of Christians who stay in the faith in spite of their doubts because of Pascal’s Wager. To someone who already experiences Christianity as their normal and sees nonbelief as the scary unknown, it is an apologetic tool that works as an incredible holding strategy. Evangelicalism, though, is on the decline. As fewer people each generation grow up with Christianity as their normal, the apologetics that have been fairly effective at keeping believers in will have to evolve if they want to move forward in an increasingly secular world.

Luke Douglas
Executive Director of HSGP

Luke Douglas is the executive director and general counsel of the Humanist Society of Greater Phoenix, serving as an organizer, advocate, and board member for the Secular Coalition for Arizona. As a former fundamentalist Christian, Luke’s personal journey brought him to the progressive movement with experience that spans the political spectrum on the campaign trail, the legislative gallery and the court of law. He holds a Juris Doctorate with a concentration in constitutional law and a Bachelor of Arts in communications.”

Can Lawyers Use Religious Exemptions to Public Accommodations Laws?

Dianne Post, Attorney

by Dianne Post, Attorney
Legal Committee Chair on the board of Secular Coalition for Arizona

On April 12, 2019, a man in west Phoenix, Arizona shot and killed his wife and two children, and then he drove to another location and shot and killed a man there. When the police stopped him he said that he had a sincerely held religious belief that in his church, not only would this behavior be all right, it would be mandated by God because the man thought the woman was having an affair with the other man.

This is where we are going with this movement to justify a religious exemption to public accommodations laws. And it is a movement. It is an attempt to change this democracy into a theocracy. As the court said in Washington v. Arlene’s Flowers, it is not about cakes or flowers any more than the sit-ins in the south in the 1960’s were about sandwiches and soda. This is about equality and fairness.  This movement is a betrayal of American values and the Constitution.

The Cover Question Was Can Lawyers Decline Cases?

I was asked by the Religious Liberty Section of the State Bar of Arizona to speak in their annual seminar at the State Bar conference on the issue of whether lawyers can decline cases based on their religious beliefs. The simple answer is of course lawyers can decline cases.  Lawyers are taught we should decline cases if we are not competent in that area; are too busy; can see that the lawyer and the client don’t fit; the potential client has hired, fired, and/or sued other lawyers; s/he is unreasonable in their expectations; the person won’t listen; the person doesn’t supply the lawyer with all the facts needed; if it’s late in the case; if there is a conflict of interest or if the case or client is repugnant to the lawyer. 

What a lawyer cannot do is refuse if the reason is a violation of the law, if to do so is to avoid the lawyer’s responsibility for taking pro bono or unpopular or repugnant clients or matters, or would harm the administration of justice such as bias and discrimination. 

Be mindful that lawyers have a higher standard to meet than others. The Preamble of our Rules of Professional Conduct reminds us that as representatives of clients, officers of the legal system, and public citizens, we have a “special responsibility for the quality of justice.”  The American Bar Association has proposed revising an ethical rule to include non-discrimination but that suggestion has met with much hostility. Only two states have passed it:  Vermont and Maine.  Arizona has tried it three times and failed. Yet the rule itself says in section (g) that: This Rule does not limit the ability of a lawyer to accept, decline or withdraw from a representation in accordance with Rule 1.16.

So clearly, lawyers can decline cases.  With all these ways of getting out of a case, if a lawyer can’t come up with a good argument, s/he should think about going into another line of work.  What we don’t need is a religious reason.  “The Bible tells me so” should not be a reason.

What’s the Real Issue?

So if being able to refuse a case is not the real issue, what is the issue?  The underlying movement here is to create a religious exemption to public accommodations laws. We’ve seen this attack across the country in a variety of public services. To create such an exemption would take us back to the 1950s when hotels, restaurants, department stores etc. could refuse to serve Black people. The Bible was the justification for the separation of the races as it is today for the attack on the LGBT community. 

These ideas are not just limited to the LGBT community but extend to women’s health care and Muslims. A woman in South Carolina wanted to be a foster mother and passed all the checks.  She was denied the ability at the last question. Why?  Because she was the wrong religion.  What was that religion?  Catholic.  Maddonna v. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

The appeals court in that case rejected the discrimination asserting that, “religious belief will not excuse compliance with general civil rights laws.”  The government may not grant special religious exceptions from a law when it would cause harm to others. 

In Oklahoma, a gun range owner put up a sign saying “Muslim-free” establishment. An Army reservist sued and though the owner took down the sign, he replaced it with one barring terrorists.  Fatihah v. Neal

The religious nationalists have a countrywide strategy and have brought cases across the U.S.  Many of the cases are in states where they know they will lose so they can control the narrative as the case is appealed up to the U.S. Supreme Court. 

In Cervelli v. Aloha B&B the business owner refused a lesbian couple because of their sexual orientation. The owner claimed the law did not apply because the business was in their home. The court said no, it’s a business wherever you choose to put it. They argued the right to privacy. The court said no, you invited the customer in and your actions deprive others of their dignity. The government has a fundamental interest in prohibiting discrimination. They argued violation of intimate right of association. The court said no that protects family relationships but you invited the customer in, they are not intimates but strangers you made guests. The owners argued it was their constitutional religious right because they were Catholic and that religion thinks homosexuality is wrong. The court said no, the State has a compelling interest that is narrowly tailored, it is against public policy, is a stigmatizing injury, and it survives strict scrutiny.

The Washington v. Arlene’s Flowers case was decided on remand June 6, 2019.  In this case, the flower shop owner knew the customer who spent about $1,000 a year in her shop was gay.  She sold him anything he wanted until he wanted flowers for a wedding which she claimed would violate her Southern Baptist beliefs on the basis that she would be endorsing gay marriage by selling him flowers.  She admitted that if she sold flowers to a Muslim or an atheist she would not be endorsing those beliefs – just gay marriage.  She was happy to take the money of a long-standing customer so long as he didn’t marry someone she didn’t approve of. 

The case was appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court who remanded it back after the Masterpiece Cake decision asking the Washington Supreme Court to determine if the decision had been contaminated by any religious animus.  On June 6, 2019 the Washington Supreme Court answered with a resounding no and reinstated the original decision.  The only animus here was toward the LGBT community.

But this type of religious discrimination is not limited to gays. Over the objection of an Orthodox Jewish community, a court in New Jersey in A Country Place v. Curto et al ruled that the swimming pool regulations that determined that women and men had to swim at different times and then gave all the best and most times to men was discrimination against women and could not stand. 

Even more dangerous is using religion to refuse medical care and treatment to women.

The federal Department of Health under the current administration has devised a new religious rule that will endanger millions of woman.  Under the rule, health care workers can refuse to treat patients under the guise of religious freedom. Such rules already exist so long as the patient is given notice and options. This rule would increase the people and organizations to which it applies, and would cover additional things such as payments, grants, contract, and insurance.  All a person or organization has to do is claim a religious justification and they can discriminate at will.   

Ambulance drivers could refuse to drive a person to the hospital. ER rooms could refuse to give the morning after pill to a rape or incest victim. A nurse could refuse to put in an IV for a person with AIDS. A clerk could refuse to sign in a Muslim or atheist.  The staff could refuse to adhere to end of life decisions of patients.

This rule imposes the religious dogma of some people on patients and violates the Hippocratic Oath to do no harm. The rule has been enjoined by the courts so far. But arguments of religious freedom are being used to attack non-discrimination laws, to evade child welfare laws such as in Colorado City/Hilldale on the Arizona/Utah border where Warren Jeffs ran his harem, deny health care and even, in Arizona, to kill people. 

None of this is new.  Blacks were denied admission into white hospitals at one time and often died before reaching a Black hospital.  A woman in Sierra Vista, AZ who was having a miscarriage was denied services at a Catholic hospital so had to be driven another hour to Tucson. Because the 211 helpline in Arizona had three calls about abortion in 2018 out of 265,000 calls, the legislature defunded it in 2019 at the behest of one person. So they hurt thousands of other people who need help to support the religious extremism of one person. 

Such discrimination was wrong before.  It’s wrong now.  Excluding any category of people from society because of some other group’s alleged personal belief is not democracy, justice, or ethical. Why do we seem incapable of learning this simple fact?

Ethics Rule Regarding Discrimination

Though there has been opposition to adding non-discrimination to the ethics rules of attorneys, some attorneys have been disciplined or disbarred for such actions.  In Michigan an attorney didn’t like the response of a young Black attorney so he called her a little girl, told her to know her place, and asked if she was a child.  But he wasn’t done.  He went to his office and on Facebook he asked why young Black women think they could get into a man’s face. He accused her of “angry Black women’s syndrome” but in fact he seems to have been guilty of “angry white man” syndrome or “oh no, someone’s gotten into my white, male privilege” syndrome.  He was disciplined.

In April 2019, in Hubbard v. Kentucky Bar Association an “angry white man” printed a photo of the opposing counsel and her partner from the internet, wrote on it “two pitiful fat ugly lesbians” and mailed it to her. That probably wouldn’t have gotten him much but then he lied about it in court, filed a retaliation complaint against the judge, and tried to talk another judge into running against that judge. This is the type of behavior women and people of color deal with every day. 

As recently as June 2019, an Asian woman professor of law sued Sturm College of Law in Denver for wage bias because she was making $30,000 less than the men though she had been there the longest and was tenured.  An ethics probe was launched in June 2019 against the district attorney in Nashville after he said that he would not protect LGBT victims in domestic violence situations because he doesn’t view their marriages as real marriage and that Islam and Muslims are evil. 

While many were disappointed by the decision of the U.S. Supreme Court in the Masterpiece Cake case – they just kicked the can down the road – they did make some very positive statements. 

            Our society has come to the recognition that gay persons and gay couples cannot be treated as social outcasts or as inferior in dignity and worth. For that reason the       laws and the Constitution can, and in some instances must, protect them in the             exercise of their civil rights. The exercise of their freedom on terms equal to             others must be given great weight and respect by the courts. At the same time,             the religious and philosophical objections to gay marriage are protected views and      in some instances pro­tected forms of expression. ….  Nevertheless, while those    religious and philosophical objections are protected, it is a general rule that such     objections do not allow business owners and other actors in the economy and in         society to deny protected persons equal access to goods and services under a             neutral and generally applicable public accommodations law.” 

Slavery was once justified by religion. Banning of Muslims is justified by religion.

LGBT discrimination is justified by religion, violence and discrimination, especially in health care, against women was and is justified by religion. These are facts not hostility to religion.

Where is the support for this proposition?

The recent public opinion poll by Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) reported found that 69% of Americans favor laws that would protect LGBT people from discrimination in jobs, public accommodations, and housing.  That has held steady for eight years. Nondiscrimination protections for LGBT Americans enjoy bipartisan support, with majorities of Democrats (79%), independents (70%), and Republicans (56%) reporting that they favor laws that would shield LGBT people from various kinds of discrimination.

Solid majorities of all major religious groups in the U.S. support laws protecting LGBT people from discrimination in housing, public accommodations, and the workplace.

While white evangelical Protestants (54%) and Jehovah’s Witnesses (53%) are least likely to support LGBT nondiscrimination protections, even among these groups support remains in the majority.

In 2018, 57% of Americans opposed allowing a small business owner in their state to refuse products or services to gay or lesbian people if providing them would violate their religious beliefs. Only 36% Americans support such a policy.

Majorities of Americans of all racial and ethnic groups oppose religiously based service refusals. Black Americans (66%) are most likely to oppose allowing small business owners to refuse service to gay and lesbian people based on their religious beliefs.  They experienced it and know what undergirds the idea – the inferiority and subordination of that group – and the harm from it. 

The next highest group that opposed such discrimination was Hispanic Americans (60%), Asian-Pacific Islander Americans (59%), people who are mixed race or another race (58%), white Americans (54%), and Native Americans (52%).

Majorities of most major religious groups oppose religiously based service refusals, including:  83% of Unitarian Universalists, 69% of Americans who identify with New Age religions, 68% of Jews, 66% of Black Protestants, Buddhists and the religiously unaffiliated, 61% of Hispanic Catholics, 60% of Muslims and Hindus, 59% of other non-white Catholics,  57% of Americans who identify with other religions, 55% of white Catholics, 54% of white mainline Protestants, 53% of Orthodox Christians, and 52% of Hispanic Protestants. 

A majority of Americans in 40 states believe small business owners in their state should not be allowed to refuse service to gay and lesbian people whereas opposition to nondiscrimination protections is concentrated in the South and based on religion. So who do the attorneys represent as they try to prohibit the LGBT community from the protections of the law? White evangelical Protestants (55%) and Mormons (54%) stand out as the only religious groups where a majority support allowing small business owners to refuse to serve gay and lesbian customers if doing so violates their religious beliefs.

For nondiscrimination laws in general, white evangelical Christian Republicans still support at 47% and non-white evangelical Christian Republicans support at 49% – so nearly half.  Half of a tiny sliver of people is trying to impose their beliefs on the entire population of the U.S. They should not be allowed to do so.


We all know this is about much more than lawyers refusing clients, bakers not baking cakes or florists not arranging flowers. It’s about historical revisionism trying to replace our democracy with a theocracy. Anything can be a religion – Branch Davidians, Scientology, Jim Jones People’s Temple and many others.  I know of a singer trying to make himself a religion and even a lawyer to get the tax benefits. Do you really believe that these people – no matter how bizarre and out of the mainstream their beliefs may be – should trump the law?

If they are allowed this excuse, we should be able to question them on their beliefs that we can’t now. Otherwise how do we know this is really a religious belief and not just bias or hatred? What’s really happening here is an effort to give special privileges to a narrow segment of white Christian mostly older males while stigmatizing other groups and refusing them equal protection under the law. It’s based on the patriarchal underpinnings of religion and the fear of losing power. We should reject it from the root to the branch.

                                                * * *

Introduction to Our Chapter

FFRF-VS Kickoff event 12/2018

by Zenaido Quintana

I am pleased to introduce our new website for FFRF-Valley of the Sun Chapter. Start-up of our chapter was completed in August after more than a year’s preparation which included pre-launch events featuring separate visits from FFRF co-President, Dan Barker and FFRF Director of Strategic Response, Andrew Seidel. Your response at those events was enthusiastic and encouraging so we completed arrangements for our chapter by applying for the IRS determination letter that allows for the deduction of donations to FFRF-VS from taxable income. Now that everything is in place, we are initiating our program to provide information on non-theistic and secular topics to help counter the faith-based misinformation that permeates our lives. The topics, dates, times and locations for these program events will be announced and publicized on this website and through our Meet Up announcements and social media.

Our program will feature events, presentations, articles, and blogs focused on informing you of topical issues that affect our lives and information on how to support or oppose them, as appropriate. We will use materials and media generated by FFRF, when appropriate, and provide original content to spotlight local initiatives.

Since its beginning in Wisconsin in 1976, the FFRF has grown to include over 30,000 members throughout the US and increasingly, beyond our shores.  It has grown by highlighting the benefits of embracing the reality of our existence and exposing the detrimental effects of persisting in adhering to fallacious superstitions. It has also exposed the errors, hypocrisy and malfeasance of clergy, destroying the myth of clerical moral authority. As the nation’s fifth largest city, and its largest capital city, Phoenix deserves, and now has, its own local chapter of FFRF.

While our program is dedicated to education and public information, as appropriate to our 501(c)3 status, like our National organization, a member of Secular Coalition for America, FFRF-Valley of the Sun Chapter is liaised with Secular Coalition for Arizona (Secular AZ). Since 2010 Secular AZ, a 501(c)4 political activism organization, has been the nation’s only state-level organization fully dedicated to lobbying in support of non-theism and secular public policies. We encourage our members and supporters who want to participate in political activism within our state to join and support the work of Secular AZ, it truly benefits all Arizonans.

 In 2016, the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) released its latest polls showing that “unaffiliated” or “Nones” had become the largest “religion” in the US, surpassing Catholicism and for the first time, Evangelical Christians. Most importantly, the trend lines for this unaffiliated group are climbing steeply, while all major religions are on a downward slope. Adherents of religious groups are quick to draw on facile and fanciful explanations for this phenomenon, but the fact remains that Americans are abandoning organized religion in ever-growing numbers. FFRF-VS is pleased to join the growing number of organizations in Arizona to offer fact-based alternatives to organized faith and to work towards a state government that understands and supports our rights to public policies that do not provide misguided privileges to religious organizations or adopts laws that force restrictions on the rights of Arizonans who do not share faith-based beliefs.  

Please join our initiative to educate Arizonans on the true facts of life and help reverse the faith-based track that our leaders and their religious allies have gotten us on. Your feedback, suggestions, and active participation will help us increase our influence and accelerate the long overdue changes we seek. Join FFRF now, your help will make a difference.