Why Are Oklahoma Elementary School Students Taking Field Trips to a Zoo Run By Creationists?

If you run a public elementary school in Oklahoma that’s about 20 minutes away from the Tulsa Zoo, it would make perfect sense to schedule field trips there.

So why did the Skiatook Public Schools take children on multiple trips to the Safari Zoological Park nearly an hour away?

One difference between the two zoos is that SZP has a very unique mission:

We believe that all we see and know was created by GOD ALMIGHTY. Our mission is to show the awesomeness of our God in the individual wonder and uniqueness of all His creation. That He has revealed to us through nature and creation that we are more than an evolved matter over millions of years, but made fearfully and wonderfully in His image, with an eternal soul. That through the will of free choice man brought sin into the world, but by the love of God he redeemed man back to himself through the life, death, and resurrection of His son Jesus Christ.

Each person has a purpose in life being that we might help those who do not know or have not heard the gospel of Jesus Christ. Remembering that we will all take our last breath someday, and to live an abundant life with hope, knowing that God someday soon will make all things new.

It’s more than just a mission, though. According to someone who visited the zoo with the schoolchildren, they also preached Creationism:

“they spoke of God’s miracles, about how perfect God is, about the great flood, and tell students that god made all the animals.”

That’s only one of several church/state violations in the district, and the Freedom From Religion Foundation just sent the district a letter warning them of the legal troubles they could be in if they continue pushing God on the kids:

In addition, FFRF was informed that Marrs Elementary’s teachers have led students in prayer, specifically at a Veterans Day assembly last year. “Public school teachers and staff may not lead, direct, ask, or even encourage students to pray,” [FFRF attorney Andrew] Seidel informed the school, asking the district to ensure the prayer did not reoccur at this year’s upcoming assembly or any other school events.

Teachers at Marrs Elementary are also fond of emphasizing references to God in the Pledge of Allegiance and the national motto, according to the complainant family. The school has posted a framed “In God We Trust” display on every classroom wall, and one teacher sent students home with a copy of the Pledge of Allegiance to memorize, boldfacing the words “under God,” even though students are free to amend the wording or not engage in the pledge at all, Seidel wrote, citing court cases.

Who knows how long this has been going on, but it will hopefully come to an end now that the district knows people are watching.

“Graveyard of the Gods” in Texas Clearly Rubbed Someone the Wrong Way

Because it’s Halloween, a few campus atheist groups have been setting up a Graveyard of the Gods, reminding students that there are other deities besides their own who were once worshiped, believed in… and forgotten.

And whatever Higher Power you believe in will eventually join those ranks.

At Texas A&M University — Corpus Christi, the setup looked like this:

In their case, someone vandalized one of the signs by writing “He Reigns Forever” over the actual wording:

Despite that setback, it looks like it was a pretty successful event. It’s not the only one, either.

The Atheists, Humanists, and Agnostics @ UW Madison, who had a remarkable display last year, had a similar one today:

(via Amanda Supak)

The Secular Student Alliance at University of Louisville also set up shop:

(via @SSAatUofL)

As did the SSA at the University of Texas at San Antonio:

(via @SSAUTSA)

And the SSA at Dalton State (in Georgia):

(via @carazelaya)

And the SSA at the University of West Florida:

(via @carazelaya)

The Secular Student Alliance says this is now one of their most successful events nationwide:

… despite the ire that this event draws, Graveyards of the Gods has become one of the biggest events affiliate groups participate in.

If your group is interested in doing something similar, you can check out the informational packets right here.

Zealot: ‘Keep Apple chief out of Russia’

Vitaly Milonov, a St Petersburg city council member and fanatical follower of the Russian Orthodox Church, wants gay Apple CEO Tim Cook kept out of Russia.

Milonov asked:

What could he bring us? The Ebola virus, AIDS, gonorrhea?  … Ban him for life.

Milonov is known internationally as the author of a citywide ban on public images and demonstrations that call attention to LGBT issues, which was later expanded by President Vladimir Putin into a countrywide “gay propaganda” law.

In the past, he has expressed his beliefs that Russians are the victims of hate crimes committed by gays, that gay people rape children, and that actor Stephen Fry is a “bringer of evil” for opposing Russia’s anti-gay laws.

A while back, the posturing twit, who has a portrait of Orthodox Church leader Patriarch Kirill hanging in his office, said:

The church is the most important government institution, one that shapes the state. The church must not be in opposition to the state. It must nourish the authorities with its wisdom.

As a person who dares to call himself a Christian politician, I cannot be a hypocrite. I cannot be Christian at church, without being one at work, as well.

His “work” apparently includes breaking up gatherings he disapproves of. This time last year, he materialised at a Halloween celebration in St Petersburg to denounce the “Satanic” get-together which attracted ab estimated 1,000 people  as a slap in the face of the Russian people.

He railed on Twitter:

Satanist freaks have organized a witches’ sabbath near an Orthodox cross and a monument to fallen soldiers.


According to this New York Times report, Tim Cook’s declaration on Thursday that “I’m proud to be gay” made him the first publicly gay chief executive of a Fortune 500 company.

But Mr Cook isn’t just any Chief Executive. And Apple isn’t any company. It’s one of the most profitable companies in the Fortune 500 and ranks No. 1 on the magazine’s annual ranking of the most admired companies.

Apple had been attempting to broaden its sales in Russia, where its products, including the popular smartphone iPhone, are too expensive for the vast majority of the population, reports Bloomberg. The company currently holds eight percent of the country’s smartphone market, and the economic consequences of Cook’s revelation remain to be seen.

Cook wrote in a Bloomberg Businessweek op-ed:

While I have never denied my sexuality, I haven’t publicly acknowledged it either, until now. So let me be clear: I’m proud to be gay, and I consider being gay among the greatest gifts God has given me.

Congress Must Support Sexual Health Education

Eliminate funds for abstinence-only sex education and increase funds to help our youth make responsible decisions.

This Arizona News Station Found Only One Pastor Willing to Appear on TV to Speak Out Against Marriage Equality…

A local ABC reporter in Arizona was asking locals what they thought about gay marriage recently… and she found a couple people who just shrugged it off like it was no big deal, which is the right reaction.

Most pastors, who oppose marriage equality, refused to go on camera. (Were they ashamed? Because they should be.)

But the reporter found one pastor willing to talk to her.

Take a guess… Then watch:

I’m totally against it. I think homosexuality is disgusting.

In Pastor Steven Anderson‘s view, civil rights should be decided by majority vote.

You have to love, though, how, because all those other pastors refused to speak on the record, Anderson represents the anti-gay marriage side. You have two people off the street who support it… and one bigoted pastor who’s afraid of getting gay cooties. It just goes to show how there really are no good arguments to oppose it; only irrational fear and pure bigotry.

The Force Grows Stronger: BBC Says That 2,000 People in the U.K. Are Serious Followers of “Jediism”

It started as a popular inside joke among U.K. atheists: when asked to divulge their faith on the 2001 Census form, almost 400,000 non-believers — 0.7 percent of the population — claimed to be practitioners of Jediism. Yes, as in Star Wars.

Somehow, over the years, that little bit of mischief gave birth to an actual belief system with a real theology — for some. The BBC, quoting a Cambridge University researcher, says that there are currently about two thousand self-identifying Jedi in the country who are serious about their faith. They’ve developed

“ever-more complex doctrines and scriptures,”

… written by the Church’s founder, Daniel Jones.

What might have started as an intellectual exercise by fans adding to the movies and filling in the gaps, has become an attempt to build a coherent religious code. … The Jedi belief system is a patchwork quilt of Taoism, Buddhism, Catholicism and Samurai. … Often the ideas offer a simple dualism of good and evil, light and dark. …

Beth Singler, a researcher in the Divinity Faculty of Cambridge University, estimates that there are about 2,000 people in the UK who are “very genuine” about being Jedi.” … Jediism is not a joke for them but an inspiration. They don’t believe in “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away”, says Singler, quoting the opening text that fills the screen of Star Wars. “It’s somewhere between metaphor and literal truth.

A young video game journalist named Patrick Day-Childs helps run the UK’s Church of Jediism (there is no church building — this faith plays out almost entirely online).

The Church has 200,000 people around the world who are active online, he says, although not all are necessarily believers. Day-Childs first joined when he was 14 for a joke [he's 21 now] but he says the more he looked into it, the more it made sense. “I use it every single day of my life,” he says. It is both calming and inspiring. “It’s an actual religion, not just about fandom. At its absolute core it’s about helping people.”

For which you don’t need a religion, or any gods. And actually, Jediism is a non-theistic faith. Instead,

… [it] embraces technology and science [to appeal] to a new audience.

So geeks are drawn to it? No surprise there, I suppose.

For Mark Vernon, a former priest, psychotherapist and writer, the Jedi story has real power. “The reason it’s so powerful and universal is that we have to find ourselves. It’s by losing ourselves and identifying with something greater like the Jedi myth that we find a fuller life.”

Oh, those two thousand serious Jediists? That’s about the same number of U.K. citizens who practice Scientology.

Neither belief is worth a damn, but at least Jediism doesn’t fleece its followers the way Scientology does – nor is it dogged by accusations that it holds members captive who wish to leave, and/or who have mental problems.

However, considering that the Church of Jediism is registered as a for-profit company, maybe we just have to give it some time.

(Image via Shutterstock)

I guess if enough whisper, it gets loud enough to hear

The Toronto Star has interviews with eight women who were abused in various ways by Jian Ghomeshi, and here’s a personal story about the conspiracy of silence. Almost everyone knew about Jian, almost everyone whispered warnings about Jian, but no one would stand up and shout about Jian, so Jian thrived.

That’s depressing, the way it always works.

Workplace Worship?: New Seminary Course Could Be Master Class In Religious Discrimination

Sarah Jones

The Supreme Court in June handed down its verdict in Hobby Lobby v. Burwell, and, just as we feared, that ruling’s reverberations continue to be felt as the Religious Right adopts the cause of corporate religion. Now, Moody Theological Seminary in Chicago has introduced an initiative that appears directly inspired by the ruling – and motivated by a desire to encourage more business owners to introduce religion into secular workplaces.
Read more



Former Marine Banned from Daughter’s High School After Making Threats Regarding History Unit About Islam

Remember last week when a parent flipped out because his son was learning about Islam in history class?

It’s happening again.

This time, Kevin Wood, a former Marine, was furious because his daughter was being educated about Islam at La Plata High School in Maryland. And how dare she learn about what more than a billion people believe?!

It’s not a religion my husband believes in,” Kevin’s wife, Melissa, tells Yahoo Parenting. “My husband’s issues, and mine too, are that they’re teaching Islam, but they are not teaching the current events on Islam. They are making Islam sound like [its followers] are peaceful people.… He is not saying all Muslims are bad.”

It sounds more like the school is teaching the basic tenets of Islam so that students have a working knowledge of the faith. I’m also guessing the school does the same thing with Protestantism, Catholicism, Judaism, and a couple of Eastern religions, too.

To make matters worse, Wood threatened the school after learning that his daughter wouldn’t be given an alternative assignment. His wife explains:

He said, ‘I will bring down a sh*t storm on the school. I’m contacting the media, the newspaper, and contacting an attorney.’ He did not say he would come to the school and create a disruption.”

Regardless, the school issued a no-trespass order against him, just to be safe, probably poking the monster even more.

I said this before, but I have to say it again: This school is not preaching Islam. No one is trying to create converts. They’re teaching about the faith so students can get a better understanding of how certain parts of the world have been shaped by Islam and how the faith impacts current events. It’d be crazy not to give students this information.

And how bad do you feel for this guy’s daughter? Her ignorant parents are essentially forcing her to leave the classroom during this unit so she doesn’t learn about a really important topic. As if they can shield her from that knowledge forever. As if they’re doing her a favor.

I don’t know if her personal views align with her parents, but I hope she gets through this debacle with her own dignity intact.

(Thanks to Terry for the link)

Friday Cephalopod: Happy Halloween!

The Monterey Bay Aquarium is offering a selection of Halloween e-cards…and you can guess which one I’m sending to you!


SCA Morning Read 10/31/14

Moment Magazine - 10/30/2014
panelists; panelists; Moment Editor and Publisher Nadine Epstein; National Law In clockwise order: Moment Opinion Editor Amy E. Schwartz; panelists;

US News & World Report - 10/30/2014
…program is purely peaceful. Bishop Richard Pates, chairman of the U.S. Conference of CatholicBishops International Justice and Peace Committee,

The Washington Post - 10/30/2014
…support of a workplace equality bill before Congress, advocated for same-sex marriage in California and opposed a bill allowing discrimination
Care2 - 10/30/2014
…refused a Texas driver s license because she had changed her name through a same-sex marriagein California, wrote John Wright. Turns out the Texas…
San Diego Gay and Lesbian News - 10/30/2014
Poll: Majority of Americans don’t believe in anti-gay discrimination Twenty years after its introduction, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA)

Coastal Point - 10/30/2014
…of homosexuality from the new health curriculum, based on his own religious beliefs. He prefers an abstinence-only course that excludes even…

Member Orgs
Center for Inquiry - 10/30/2014
It is also home to both the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry and the Council for Secular Humanism. The mission of CFI is to foster a secular society…
Business 2 Community - 10/30/2014
…Freedom from Religion Foundation, evolutionary biologist and prominent atheist Richard Dawkins, and biology professor and author Jerry Coyne.

Jezebel - 10/30/2014
…Arizona has voted to remove the pages of a high school biology textbook that mention contraception and abortion. A school board in Arizona has…
Orlando Sentinel - 10/30/2014
most recently held in January, set off a series of lawsuits by an atheist group seeking to stop the practice. The Satanic Temple is a loosely-organized…
The Norman Transcript - 10/30/2014
…topic will be Is There a Difference Between Teaching the Meaning of the Bible in a Sunday School Class and Teaching the Bible in a Public School
MLive.com - 10/30/2014
…recent move by Jackson City Council to table a non-discrimination ordinance that would include homosexuals and transgender people into the ranks…

SCA Morning Read 10/31/14

< !DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD XHTML 1.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/xhtml1/DTD/xhtml1-transitional.dtd"> SCA Morning Read 10/31/14
PoliticsReligionDiscriminationEducationMember OrgsStates
Moment Magazine - 10/30/2014
panelists; panelists; Moment Editor and Publisher Nadine Epstein; National Law In clockwise order: Moment Opinion Editor Amy E. Schwartz; panelists;
US News & World Report - 10/30/2014
...program is purely peaceful. Bishop Richard Pates, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops International Justice and Peace Committee,
The Washington Post - 10/30/2014
...support of a workplace equality bill before Congress, advocated for same-sex marriage in California and opposed a bill allowing discrimination...
Care2 - 10/30/2014
...refused a Texas driver s license because she had changed her name through a same-sex marriage in California, wrote John Wright. Turns out the Texas...
San Diego Gay and Lesbian News - 10/30/2014
Poll: Majority of Americans don't believe in anti-gay discrimination Twenty years after its introduction, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA)
Coastal Point - 10/30/2014
...of homosexuality from the new health curriculum, based on his own religious beliefs. He prefers an abstinence-only course that excludes even...
Member Orgs
Center for Inquiry - 10/30/2014
It is also home to both the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry and the Council for Secular Humanism. The mission of CFI is to foster a secular society...
Business 2 Community - 10/30/2014
...Freedom from Religion Foundation, evolutionary biologist and prominent atheist Richard Dawkins, and biology professor and author Jerry Coyne.
Jezebel - 10/30/2014
...Arizona has voted to remove the pages of a high school biology textbook that mention contraception and abortion. A school board in Arizona has...
Orlando Sentinel - 10/30/2014
most recently held in January, set off a series of lawsuits by an atheist group seeking to stop the practice. The Satanic Temple is a loosely-organized...
The Norman Transcript - 10/30/2014
...topic will be Is There a Difference Between Teaching the Meaning of the Bible in a Sunday School Class and Teaching the Bible in a Public School...
MLive.com - 10/30/2014
...recent move by Jackson City Council to table a non-discrimination ordinance that would include homosexuals and transgender people into the ranks...

I Owe an Apology to the Freedom From Atheism Foundation, Though They’re Not Completely Off the Hook

The other day, I posted a video that tore apart a group called the “Freedom From Atheism Foundation.” I’ve had issues with some of the things they’d done in the past, so when I saw the video, it just seemed to fall in line with the thoughts I already had about the group. Because of that, I didn’t bother to check out the claims for myself… which is especially careless since I often tell other atheists to do the same thing.

The main charge in the video is that FFAF claims to have the support of several legal organizations, yet when the video’s creator Philip Rose contacted those groups, they were unaware that they supported such a group. Hell, they weren’t even aware of FFAF’s existence.

I never bothered to look at the page for myself… until after I made my post. When I saw it, I realized FFAF never actually says those legal groups support them; they’re merely linking to them as resources:

By Rose’s logic, having a blogroll means every website you link to endorses what you do… which would be crazy to suggest. FFAF isn’t doing anything wrong here. It doesn’t need the approval of those groups to link to them.

I also referred to the group as “Christian trolls.” I still believe they’re trolls, in a sense, trying to stir up shit when there’s nothing there at all… but it turns out they’re not all Christians. In fact, their admins include a Muslim and a Buddhist.

But it doesn’t mean they’re completely off the hook.

Earlier this month, Terry Firma noted an article that linked trolling and sadism called “Sadist Behind the Screen.”

When FFAF posted a link to that on Facebook, it looked like this:

Atheists who spend their time trolling religious facebook pages, comments sections, etc. were found to have personality traits related to sadism, psychopathy and Machiavellianism. Perhaps its time for these atheists to realize that they have a problem that needs to be fixed.

Basically, “sadist” was replaced by “atheist,” even in the headline — when the actual article didn’t mention religion or non-religious at all. Totally not okay to do.

I asked FFAF how they responded to that and an admin quickly apologized:

we 100% disagree with the changes one of our admins. made to that post. It never should have been done and FFAF apologizes to you and all atheists for that. As someone with atheist family members whom I love and who love me, I am particularly sensitive to stereotyping atheists. We regret that it was posted and wish it never had been.

Part of the problem, the admin explained, was that there are multiple people who have posting privileges and this particular post got through without any editorial oversight. The admin added that we should judge them on their overall content and not just one or two low-quality posts.

As someone whose site posts multiple articles a day, I somewhat sympathize with that… but I still oversee everything on here before it goes up. I edit everything, partly because I’m ultimately responsible for everything on here, even if I disagree with the opinions of my contributors. I’m not sure why someone can’t do the same thing over there.

Here’s another problem: Rose also mentioned in his video that, in correspondence with FFAF, they told him PZ Myers supported their group. If you read PZ’s post about them, though, he also calls them hypocritical and confused. He supports their right to exist and the idea that atheism, like religion, should be kept out of the public square… but not what they stand for. FFAF took his headline out of context.

All that said, it’s my mistake for mishandling the first issues I mentioned. My apologies for that. In cases like this, I don’t believe in deleting my previous post, but I will add an update so anyone who comes across it will come to this post instead. FFAF hasn’t convinced me to take them seriously yet, but I was wrong to use the endorsement issue against them and assume they were all Christians.

Yesterday, I asked Philip Rose for a response to that endorsement claim he made. I haven’t heard back yet.

Obstructionist tactics to block human rights groups from advising UN condemned by UN Special Rapporteur

The UN Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of assembly and association, has criticised repeated efforts to block human rights NGOs from being able to advise the United Nations.

Dignity in Dying demonstration next week in support of the Assisted Dying Bill

The campaign group Dignity in Dying (DiD) will be demonstrating outside Parliament next week on Friday morning 7 November (9am-1pm), to coincide with the House of Lords debate on the Assisted Dying Bill.