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Opening Remarks

The 25 National Convention of American was called to order by Ellen Johnson, President of the organization, at the morning session of Friday, April 2, 2020. This year’s convention, celebrates the theme of “Supporting Our Atheist Youth and Families,” and is intended to focus on the problems of Atheists in dealing with religious intolerance and discrimination.

Dave Silverman, State Director for New Jersey, presented opening remarks, and underscored the role of American Atheists in supporting our members in the fight for state-church separation and advancing Atheism in the culture.

Ellen Johnson followed, and began by introducing the various officers, State and Regional Directors, and members of the Board of Directors. She then discussed her own experiences, growing up as a second-generation Atheist now in the role of “soccer mom” and raising a family. She noted that most of the recent state-church separation cases were taking place in the public schools -- a fact that she attributed to “empty pew” syndrome.

“Since people are not going to church, religious groups are targeting the public schools in order to recruit new believers.”

She noted that there are constant legislative attempts to overturn Supreme Court rulings, especially MURRAY v. CURLETT, which ended prayer and Bible verse recitation in the public schools.

Johnson also attacked the notion of so-called “student-led” or “student-initiated” prayer.

“High school students cannot determine what is or what is not constitutional...”

One problems which Atheists and other students face in public schools is the growing activism of Christian student groups who often harass, intimidate, threaten and attempt to proselytize those who disagree. Johnson noted, for instance, that students who participated in athletic events were pressured into joining religious groups such as Fellowship of Christian Athletes, participate in the singing of religious songs in the locker room, and listen to ministers of other religious speakers during team meetings.

Ms. Johnson also discussed the problem of school choirs, and cited the Utah case of Rachel Bauchman, a high school student from Salt Lake City, who challenged her high school for using the Cappella group for religious proselytizing. Other problems:

-- The annual “See You At The Pole,” where God requires a flag pole and a group in order to pay attention to the plight of humanity. She read an excerpt from a piece written by Ron Barrier; “Prayer is an act of submission; prayer erodes critical thinking, and it undermines human volition.”

Johnson added that events like “See You At The Pole” is a ruse for Christian students to be seen by others while praying, “putting on a show” for the rest of the students. “These events may be ‘student led,’ but they are, in fact, outside-organized by groups that are using “See You At The Pole” and related activities as a recruitment ploy.” Johnson noted that student “Bible clubs” or “prayer circles” often become satellites of local churches and religious groups. She also questioned the nature of these clubs, and noted that they are different from legitimate student groups. “Since when does the chess club hold open meetings in the school lobby, like many religious groups do?”

Ms. Johnson concluded her remarks by discussing the current situation regarding the missing Murray O’Hair family.

(read the text of Ms. Johnson's speech)

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