COWTOWN REGIONAL ATHEIST MEET
September 10, 2020
The Cowtown Regional Atheist Meet was held on Sunday, September
10 at the beautiful Renaissance Worthington Hotel in Ft. Worth, Texas.
Conference visitors had a full day of interesting talks covering
everything from Atheist and state-church activism to the paranormal,
and the history of freethought.
Kudos to Dick Hogan, Randall Gorman, and John and Shelly
Hattan of the Metroplex Atheists. Congratulations, also, to Shelly for
becoming the new Texas State Director for American Atheists!
Dick Hogan welcomed everyone to the Regional Atheist Meet, and
underscored the need for Atheists to become active.
Randall Gorman talked about his activities which has included
picketing religious events and unconstitutional religious displays
throughout the area. Mr. Gorman told conferees that “whenever
religious groups put themselves out in the public square, they are fair
game for protest and criticism. It’s what is known as free speech.”
Randall discussed state-church violations in the Dallas- Ft. Worth area,
such as the official sponsorship of an Interfaith Conference by the City
of Ft. Worth. He noted that the mayor even opened the conference by
leading those present in a Christian prayer. Mr. Gorman also
mentioned the use of public money from the outgoing Tarrant County
Sheriff, who has raided jail commissary funds to finance a prison
John Hattan of Metroplex Atheists spoke about that group’s recent
activities, beginning with the “Save Our Constitution” rally held last fall
to protest “prayer disruptions” at high school football games. Other
demonstrations focused on the National Day of Prayer, which John
aptly dubbed The National Browbeat Your Legislators Into Endorsing
Your Color of Evangelical Protestantism. He noted that 49 of fifty
governors throughout the nation endorsed the NDOP event, with only
Jesse Ventura demonstrating the courage to abstain.
Shelly Hattan, new Texas State Director for American Atheists, then
spoke about the flap over Ten Commandment book covers being
distributed in the local public school system. Shelly and the group
immediately jumped on this issue coming out with their own covers,
and demanding “equal access” from officials. The district ignored their
plea until Metroplex Atheists issued a press release on the matter;
within hours of the story hitting the wires, the district relented. Covers
were distributed as various schools, and there was a range of reaction
from different principals.
Ms. Hattan also talked about the group’s various projects, including
participation last month in the protest against the discriminatory
admissions policy of the Boy Scouts of America. One favorite protest
sign was DO YOU NEED TO BELIEVE IN GOD TO LEARN HOW TO TIE A
Shelly and John also discussed what they have done right as
activists, and what needs to be improved.
Ellen Johnson, President of American Atheists spoke next and
presented a brief history of American Atheists beginning with the
historic 1963 school prayer case in MURRAY v. CURLETT. She talked
about the travails the Murray family endured as a result of their
outspoken opposition to coercive public religion, including harassment,
police beatings, legal and other threats, and finally being (literally) run
out of Baltimore, Maryland. For several years, the Murrays traveled --
always with the threat of legal extradition hanging over their heads --
first to Hawaii, then Mexico where Mrs. Murray obtained a teaching
job. When the legal charges were dropped, the Murray-O’Hairs
crossed back into the United States and settled in Austin, Texas.
There, they gradually re-built the Atheist organization they had
established and lost back in Baltimore. In the process, they achieved a
number of historic “firsts,” including yearly conventions; the
establishment of a permanent archive of Atheist books, pamphlets,
videos and other materials; the American Atheist Radio Series; the
American Atheists TV Forum; a press for the production of books and
other materials; a membership organization; a legal arm for
state-church litigation, and much more.
Ms. Johnson urged everyone present, including those who for any
reason might not agree with the “style” of American Atheists, to
nevertheless become active in the process of formulating public policy.
Roahn Wynar gave the first of two delightful and informative
presentations about Atheism, reason and pseudoscience. He noted
that pseudoscience is popular today and “dominates the culture”
because “Science is not the thing out there for everyone to look at...”
He discussed several reasons why we should worry about this
cultural predicament. He noted that the contemporary fascination
with pseudoscience tends to displace news about “real science” in the
media, has a negative impact on public support for science, and is a
financial drain which often can destroy families and present health
hazards. He then listed “warning signs” which indicate when a form of
pseudoscience is being presented. Purveyors of pseudoscience:
- Rely on the presentation of “factoids” and anecdotal evidence
- Show an indifference to valid criteria of evidence.
- Rely on publicizing a quantity of experiences rather than some kind
of verifiable evidence
- Often employ conspiratorial claims and language. “The government
doesn’t want you to know this...”
Pseudoscience, unlike legitimate science, does not progress. Mystery
is a permanent feature. Whereas the accumulated body of scientific
knowledge increases, pseudoscientific information does not.
Pseudoscience also invents a vocabulary which appropriates scientific
language, but without using the methodology of science.
In his second talk, Mr. Wynar -- a graduate research assistant in
Physics at the University of Texas -- discussed how many
pseudoscience themes appear to originate from the science fiction
literary genre. Items of belief such as matter transmitters, ESP, lost
civilizations, “vibrations,” parallel worlds, invisibility, time travel and
more all can be found in that style of writing. He also discussed quack
claims in the field of health. Contrasting quackery with legitimate
medicine, he noted:
Real medicine often involves scary, painful treatment with side
effects. Quacks claim gentle, trivial regimens which “always help,” and
never supposedly fail.
Authentic medicine has to employ complex models using
physiology, chemistry, biology and much more. Quackery involves
vague, easy to grasp models without verifiable evidence. As a result,
quacks use esoteric tools, magical devices, and emphasize soothing
Quacks position themselves as the “underdog” in a conspiratorial
scenario where they are combating a medical or scientific
Dr. Fred Whitehead, former Professor at the University of Kansas,
and noted author and historian spoke on “Freethought and the
American Frontier.” This began with a discussion of the Indian
uprisings at Acuma Pueblo, suggesting the early roots of religious
conflict in the New World and the forced proselytizing of the original
inhabitants by the Spanish. He then talked about interesting early
utopian experiments including the New Harmony community
established by Robert Owen, Scottish industrialist. Other interesting
characters who were frontier freethinkers included “Pitchfork” Smith,
an outspoken writer, publisher and agitator.
Dr. Whitehead also touched upon the Civil War period of American
history, and noted how General Sherman, General (and later
President) Grant, and others were deists or skeptical of Christian
religion. He pointed out that freethinkers had played a vital role in
pivotal events in the American experience. Other topics included the
German migration to the American Midwest, with its heavy influence of
Hegelian and freethinker ideologies. Other residue of atheist, heretical
and freethought impulses are found on everything from public
monuments (such as the “Naked Truth” statue at Compton Hill
Reservoir in St. Louis) to tombstones which boast quotes from
Ingersoll, or stone replicas of philosophical tomes by Voltaire and other
Dallas attorney Windle Turley spoke about his legal efforts on
behalf of children and others who have been victims of child abuse.
Turley, one of the nation’s leading trial lawyers, obtained a
multi-million dollar judgment against the Roman Catholic Church in
Texas in respect to a case involving a paedophile priest. He currently
represents dozens of plaintiffs in a suit against the Hare Krishna sect,
and regaled the RAM audience with the horrific stories of sexual abuse,
physical violence, harassment and mental torture inflicted upon these
young victims. Turley thinks that there are over a thousand such
victims today who were part of the sect’s “Gurukulas” or school system
which involved little in the way of useful education, and emphasized
mostly religious indoctrination and chanting.
Mr. Turley suggested that these allegations constitute an important
test of how the judicial system will balance the free exercise of religion
with the rights of youngsters. How far can parents (who often lost the
control over the education of their offspring by turning them over to
the sect) and religious leaders go in justifying their brutal treatment,
suggesting that it is protected under the mantle of First Amendment
Turley said that he has three goals in this current case: seeking
“validation” for the victims of the abuse to assure them that the
punishment they received was uncalled for, arbitrary and not in
response to any actions they may have carried out; money for their
schooling, training and mainstreaming into secular society, even
psychotherapy; and “have this and other institutions take heed of the
consequences of such abusive acts...”
Turley pointed out that many of the youngsters -- now grown adults
-- lack basic, everyday skills in interacting with others, obtaining useful
employment and exercising other social behaviors. Some have
committed suicide, frustrated by their inability to navigate the larger
Writer and investigative reporter P.A. Humphrey spoke on the
situation in Tarrant County, Texas, and outgoing sheriff David Williams
who used his law enforcement post to promote sectarian religion.
Humphrey exposed Williams while at the Fort Worth Free Weekly
alternative newspaper. Among the outrages: Williams persuaded
Tarrant County officials to hire a full-time chaplain and expand the
so-called “God Pod” within the county jail facility which uses a
religion-based rehabilitation program. The “Chaplain’s Educational
Unit” relied heavily on religious materials provided by the nearby
ministry of television evangelist Kenneth Copeland.
The Sheriff signed a contract which runs past his own time in office
for the “God Pod” minister. This individual works out of a private
apartment with funds and resources (including phones and computers)
from the County. The Sheriff also allegedly used his deputies and
other public resources to organize a gathering at a nearby “Cathedral,”
where local religious groups were rallying in his support. “Department
employees had been instructed to grab their spouses, kids, and
anyone else they could find and come on down to support the
sheriff...” Humphrey wrote.
Fortunately, Sheriff Williams will be out of office in November, and
both Republican and Democrat candidates for the post say they will
have to spend “months cleaning up the mess” he left behind.
Conrad Goeringer, Associate Editor for the American Atheist
Magazine spoke on “Charitable Choice, Faith-based Partnerships, and
the public funding of religion.” Mr. Goeringer began by discussing the
1996 Welfare Reform Act, which included a section requiring
faith-based groups now be included in considering contract awards for
social service programs. He noted that this provision and other
“partnership” schemes erodes the separation of church and state, by
making it easier for sectarian groups to obtain public funding while still
retaining their religious character and mission.
“We are on the verge of the largest transfer of wealth in American
history between the public treasury and the coffers of sectarian
religious groups,” said Goeringer.
He added that increasingly, what the public believes to be “religious
charities” are, in fact, funded with public monies and have little or no
effective oversight. Goeringer suggested that Atheists and other
state-church separationists need to get involved in the public policy
debate over charitable choice and partnership schemes.
Joe Zamecki in the book and registration room.
© 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000 by American Atheists.