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Jerseyana For Atheists

April 3, Morning Session

Conrad Goeringer, Associate Editor of AMERICAN ATHEIST MAGAZINE, spoke on “Jerseyana For Atheists,” and discussed some of the folklore and history of the area. He began by discussing the legend of the Jersey Devil, a hybrid beast which was an important early component of folklore in the Pine Barrens. He then discussed the “War of the World Hoax” where a young Orson Welles convinced an audience of radio listeners in 1938 that Martians had landed in Grover’s Mill, New Jersey, and were menacing the earth. Mr. Goeringer noted that according to subsequent studies like the Princeton Radio Survey, religious belief was an important component in those who uncritically accepted the veracity of the broadcast, and did not look for verification.

Goeringer then proceeded to a summary of the battle in Atlantic City and other coastal resorts over the issue of Sabbatarianism, Sunday closing laws which had been mandated by religious groups. He noted that industrialization, more disposal incomes and the rise of leisure and entertainment businesses “drove the final nail into the coffin of widespread Sabbatarianism.”

He then discussed the history of the United Secularists of America, an Atheist-secularist group founded in 1948 and headquartered in Clifton, N.J. Two members of the group, Donald Doremus and Anna Klein, initiated an early court suit to challenge prayer and Bible verse recitation in the public schools. Their legal effort brought the case DOREMUS v. BOARD OF EDUCATION OF BOROUGH OF HAWTHORNE (1952) to the US Supreme Court which rejected the plaintiff’s plea.

He closed by briefly outlining the history of the infamous trial of C.B. Reynolds, who was defended by Robert Ingersoll, “The Great Agnostic.”

(the text of Mr. Goeringer's speech is available here.)

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