February 2016

Volume 15, Issue 2

Table of Contents

February 2016 Meeting

  • What:  "The Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) and its Dangers to Secular Society and Government"
  • Who:  Toni Van Pelt, President, Institute for Science and Human Values
  • When:  Monday, February 15, 2016, 6:30 to 9:00 p.m. (doors open at 6:00 p.m.)
  • Where:  BUCKMAN BRIDGE UNITARIAN CHURCH, 8447 Manresa Ave., Jacksonville, FL 32244. (From the I-295 Roosevelt exit, go north to the first traffic light, Collins Rd. Turn right. Go 400 ft. The church driveway will be on your right.)

Meeting Description

With increasing frequency, we are seeing individuals, businesses, organizations and institutions claiming a right to discriminate—by refusing to provide services to women and LGBT people and those who will be next—based on religious objections. These are the same arguments that were used in the 1960s to oppose laws requiring integration in restaurants because of sincerely held beliefs that God wanted the races to be separate. We saw religiously-affiliated universities refuse to admit students who engaged in interracial dating. Now the radical right is working to expand allowance of this discrimination for "moral" reasons. Imposing beliefs on others who do not share them goes against the very fiber and core of not just secular humanist values and principles, but American family values as well. Van Pelt will illuminate the history of RFRA and outline the damage it has done to date.

Meet the Speaker

Toni Van Pelt is co-founder, president,;/.'l
and Congressional lobbyist for the Institute for Science and Human Values (ISHV). She launched and directed one of the first public policy offices of the secular humanist movement in Washington DC, focusing on the importance of science, the use of empirical evidence as the basis for public policy, separation of church and state, secularism, and women’s and LGBTQI rights. She regularly presents on a variety of topics, including proposed federal legislation and regulations, human rights, how to effectively participate in federal and state government, how to lobby legislative bodies, and the United Nations Convention to Eliminate Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).  As a secular humanist and feminist activist, she serves on the board of the Institute for Humanist Studies and on many of the boards and committees of the National Organization for Women.

President's Message - Feb 2016

Shared Values

Earl Coggins

Have you ever been stuck between a rock and a hard place? I feel as if that’s what I'm going through, at least mentally. The rock in this aphorism is the position that freethinkers should be challenging irrational religious concepts, demanding they be subjected to the same scientific scrutiny and analysis as are all other truth claims. The hard place is the notion that freethinkers should be building bridges between religious progressives and freethinkers.

I feel as though I’m in that Stealers Wheel song, “Stuck in the Middle with You,” where Gerry Rafferty sings, "Clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right, Here I am, stuck in the middle with you." I’m not implying that I think the religious population of this country is made up entirely of clowns and jokers. Unfortunately, the religious clowns and jokers get on radio and television programs much more often than does the portion of the religious population who merely wants to live and let live and peaceably coexist.

I want to live and let live, too. I want to give peace a chance. I want harmony to prevail throughout the world, but here I am stuck in a world where more than a few people don’t want to do their jobs, or they want to discriminate against people with views differing with their views, all because it somehow conflicts with their religious doctrine. Some want their religious views entrenched within the laws of our country and their religion favored by our government. Others want to harm people in the name of their religion. Still more want to inject their religious views and dogma into our public school system. And yes, I know these are only the clowns and jokers, but they haven’t stopped pushing their agenda into our lives and won’t until we do something about it.

I had the pleasure of meeting a few people recently while participating in a radio show at WJCT 89.9 FM, the local NPR affiliate. The show was called Faith Matters. I was a little concerned about the title when I was first invited, but it turned out to be a great experience, and I made some new friends who share my mantra: live and let live and peaceably coexist.

The radio show was aired Thursday, February 4. If you missed it, you can go to the radio station’s website and find the recorded version of the show in a podcast at this link:


The show was hosted by OneJax Executive Director Nancy Broner and OneJax Board of Directors Chairman Kyle Reese, senior pastor at Hendricks Avenue Baptist Church. Two other panelists and I were tasked with discussing the previous 30 minutes of the show, where the hosts interviewed Mike McCurry, former press secretary for President Bill Clinton. McCurry has moved on from politics and has joined the faculty at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, DC.

McCurry and the OneJax hosts discussed how a person’s religious faith can or could influence the U.S. political process. It sounds dangerous until you hear McCurry’s caveat: The separation of state and church must be protected. When McCurry spoke about his faith being involved in politics, I felt he was referring more to his moral compass, which he claims is derived from his faith, than he was referring to anything else. I can’t fault him for wanting to bring civility, manners, and ethical behavior back to the political arena; and I am not going to get into a debate about where and how humans get their moral compasses. He wants to accomplish the same goals as do a lot of freethinkers.

Mike McCurry will be speaking in Jacksonville on Thursday, February 11, at Lazzara Hall, University of North Florida Campus, from 7 to 8:30 p.m. The event is free and open to the public, but you have to get tickets.  For details and tickets (click “Register Now”), visit:


Being on that radio show gave me hope. It gave me hope that there are a lot of people in this city and around the country who firmly believe there are no second-class worldviews and no second-class citizens. There were several generations represented among the participants and many worldviews, but we had one thing in common. We all want to work together to ensure that the Constitutional principles of freedom of conscience and the separation of state and church are working as designed by the framers of the Constitution. I still feel as if I’m between a rock and hard place, but I feel strongly that if freethinkers align with religious progressives, we could move that rock out of the way. We might just move mountains.

Membership Dues are Due the First of the Year

Judy Hankins, Membership Chair

Thank you

Renewals are coming in nicely, especially following our U.S. Postal mailing. However, if you are planning to renew or join but have not yet gotten a "round tuit," now would be a good time! Remember, also, the multiple levels of membership that are available. Your membership enables our presence in the community to continue.

To Join or Renew

All membership dues and donations are tax-deductible, and you will receive a letter from the treasurer to that effect for IRS purposes.

Honoring Charles Darwin

Fred W. Hill

Once again, freethinkers around the world honor the memory of Charles Darwin during the month of his birthday. We celebrate Darwin not because any of us believe he gave us holy writ, or had a special connection with any deity, or because he was a great political or military leader, but because of what he observed, what he speculated on, what he tested, what he discussed with other scientists, and, most of all, what he wrote based on his observations, speculations, and discussions. Because he challenged an ancient dogma that has proved to have been based on a house of cards—a well-protected house of cards, but one that always had a flimsy foundation, existing only in human imagination rather than reality. That house, of course, was creationism, the notion that everything was created by some perfect deity who requires that we constantly beg Him to change His mind on matters He supposedly pre-determined at the beginning of time (the particulars of the myth vary, naturally, depending on sect and interpretation of scripture). 

Darwin didn’t purposely set out to challenge that notion. As a matter of fact, when he set out on his famed five-year voyage on the HMS Beagle as a hired companion to Captain FitzRoy in 1831, Darwin himself fully believed in the version of that failed hypothesis still held by millions, maybe even billions, of people to this day. But for all his initial orthodoxy to conventional wisdom, Darwin was also open to new ideas as well as a keen observer. And while on that voyage, when he had opportunity to spend months at a time on land, exploring South America, as well as the Galapagos Islands, Tahiti, Australia, and New Zealand, among other stops, he saw many things which upon reflection did not support the ideas based on Hebrew lore of roughly 2,500 years ago, that the Earth was created a little over 6,000 years ago and that all species were specially created separately, thus being entirely unrelated to one another, and that no branch of any species could ever morph into another, despite variations visibly apparent within so many species, even our own. He found fossils of creatures that as far as he knew no longer existed but which bore some resemblance to those that still lived. He experienced earthquakes which significantly altered the landscape. On the Galapagos he found finches and giant tortoises that seemed to have distinctions on each separate island and were even more distinct from any finches and tortoises on the South American continent. It didn’t make sense that God would populate each nearby island with so many clearly varied but apparently related birds and reptiles. Not that Darwin took close notice at the time he was collecting specimens, labeling them, and sending them back to England for other naturalists to categorize. That came after he returned to England, after he had written a best-selling book about his voyage, and tried to make greater sense of his observations, taking in the speculations of other naturalists of the era, among a few, at least the ideas that the world was far older than a few millennia and that modern species evolved from other, long extinct species, although as of the early 1800s no one had yet come up with a hypotheses for how evolution occurred that stood up to close scrutiny within the scientific community.  

Some of the various finches Darwin found on the Galapagos Islands.

Yet it was a significant advancement for humanity that there was a scientific community that could speculate on ideas, collect data from around most of the world, conduct experiments, discuss in widespread correspondence, and publish papers promoting ideas that blatantly contradicted long-held religious beliefs, without fear of being arrested and imprisoned or even executed for blasphemy. Only a few centuries earlier, there was scarcely anywhere in Europe, or anywhere else in the supposedly civilized world, where it was safe to contradict lengthy, deeply-held dogma of any sort. Europeans had suffered through many devastating wars brought on by differences of opinion on passages of the same bible, not to mention slaughtered Jews for accepting only the older portions of that bible, and long engaged in wars with Muslims who were eager to violently spread the absolute “truth” of their own final and corrective sequel to that bible, and they in turn squabbled with each other over what was truly God’s will. Muslims were admittedly more accommodating to Jews and Christians who lived within Islamic-dominated regions, as long as they paid their taxes and peacefully accepted their minority status and, for a time, Muslims were far more advanced scientifically than were Christians of the same era; but that was already in the distant past in the 19th century. When Darwin published On the Origin of Species in 1859, while he knew to expect plenty of jibes from Christians who found any deviation from their bible-based dogma offensive, he did not have to worry that Queen Victoria, or any other authority in England, would order that he be arrested or burned at the stake. The United Kingdom and the other industrialized, western nations of the mid-1800s were still very regressive in too many ways: Slavery was still legal in 15 of the United States, and a savage civil war sparked by debates over that “peculiar institution” was to ensue; women and non-whites were restricted in many rights white men took for granted; aboriginal peoples in the Americas, Australia, New Zealand, and elsewhere were being slaughtered or forced to change their ways of life and move onto reservations; and so on. Still, enough advancement had been made so that scientific ideas could, in large part, be discussed freely and judged, at least by most other scientists, on their own merit as based on supporting material data or predictability that any other person could investigate or test, and not on how closely they adhered to any particular religious text, whether written three days or three thousand years ago.

Several years ago, Earl Coggins grew out his whiskers to honor Darwin and to help the FCFS celebrate his birth month. Will the real Darwin please stand up?

Darwin had been nervous about the response to his idea that natural selection accounted for the apparent fact of evolution, but only because he seemed to fear it might be rejected by the scientific community at large, because he hadn’t quite yet worked out every possible objection, an impossible task at any rate. And that the push came because a younger correspondent, Alfred Russell Wallace, expressed ideas that closely echoed those that Darwin had been fine-tuning for over 20 years, is evidence not of any mutual divine revelation but that their similar global exploratory experiences and observations had led to similar conclusions. The scientific community did not divide into devout Darwinians and Wallacians based on minute differences in their ideas. Darwin graciously allowed Wallace to share credit for the idea of natural selection and finally prepared a version of his book for publication. And Darwin never believed he had the final answer to everything, that his books were the final word and no one could possibly add to or make corrections to his work. The authors of the books that make up the Jewish and Christian bibles, and the Koran, along with Joseph Smith and L. Ron Hubbard and so many others may have convinced themselves, and far too many others, that they had the “final truth,” an answer to everything, but science does not, cannot work that way. Whatever individual scientists may believe, the scientific community as a whole understands it does not know everything but still strives for greater knowledge of the universe as it is, was and will be, based on available data and interpretation of it, not as any one text or person insists it is based on their unique communication with supernatural forces.
The first publication of The Origin of Species, as it was titled in subsequent editions, along with Darwin’s other books, particularly The Descent of Man and The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals, all represented significant advances in our understanding of the universe and our relationship with other living things–an admission that became accepted within the vast portion of the scientific community and, in the nearly 130 years since Darwin’s death, has been increasingly accepted by an ever-growing proportion of the general public of most advanced nations–the admission that humans are not a special creation of any deity, and we have no special status above any animal; but that we are related to every other living thing on this planet and that, like every other species, we are a product of evolution, not the purpose of evolution. Sadly, there are still too many nations where it remains very dangerous to deny ancient dogma, where gangs of religious thugs murder anyone who expresses any doubt of the dogma, or religious police will arrest and publicly execute the doubters. The right to free speech, for free thinking, for Darwin to publish his ideas, did not come from any God, but from ordinary people who recognized that the ancient dogmas might be wrong, that no one had absolute truth, and that no law should mandate that anyone should adhere to any particular belief about the supernatural. Or the natural world, for that matter. Since Darwin, many other scientists have made significant contributions to our knowledge of how evolution works, including the discovery of the genes and DNA sequencing that makes it possible.   And the work will continue as long as there is a civilization that supports the capacity and freedom to do so.  As a freethinker, I do not believe that anyone who has ever lived deserves sanctification, certainly not any alleged prophets or demi-gods who would eternally damn anyone who disagreed with them. But Charles Darwin is certainly someone I admire, not because he was perfect by any means, but because, despite his own fears, he was willing to challenge the ancient dogma he had been brought up to believe, not merely for the sake of doing so, but because he came to recognize that the dogma could not possibly be true. He preferred to share his findings that supported a more valid description of our origins than could be found in any holy book.  Happy Darwin Day!

Olive Garden - February 23

  • Where:  OLIVE GARDEN on Philips Highway, across from the Avenues Mall. Ask for us at the desk. The hostesses will show you to our room.
  • When:  Tuesday, FEBRUARY 23, 2016. Come any time between 6:00 and 7:00 for socializing. We'll order from the menu at 7:00 p.m.
  • RSVP:  E-mail CarrieRen@att.net (or call 904-268-8826) by Tuesday morning, if you plan to attend. This is a great way to learn more about the FCFS and meet members and friends. You do not need to be a member to attend!

State - Church Separation Update

A regular feature of the First Coast FreeThinker

In this feature, you will be kept apprised of the actions of the First Coast Freethought Society, the local AU chapters which include AU of Northeast Florida and the Clay County Chapter, as well as AU on the national level. If separation of state and church issues are important to you, we encourage you to first join the First Coast Freethought Society, then join AU!

Rising Above Fear of the "Other"

Merrill Shapiro, Trustee, National Board of Trustees, Americans United for Separation of Church and State


While journalist, radio and TV news pioneer Edward R. Murrow was responding to the "Red Scare" tactics of Senator Joe McCarthy in 1954, we would do well to heed the broadcaster's words with new ears.


“We will not walk in fear, one of another. We will not be driven by fear into an age of unreason, if we dig deep in our history and our doctrine, and remember that we are not descended from fearful men—not from men who feared to write, to speak, to associate and to defend causes that were, for the moment, unpopular.”
We cannot allow ourselves to be “driven by fear into an age of unreason!”  There is absolutely no reason to fear members of the Lesbian, Bisexual, Gay and Transgender communities. There is absolutely no reason to fear members of the community of Islam, the Mormon Church or those who do not believe that there is a god. There is absolutely no reason to fear the women and men of science who tell us the climate is changing, the world is four billion years old, or that disease is not “God’s retribution for our sins!”

Yet there seem to dwell among us, just such fearful people. They, themselves, seem to have been “driven by fear into an age of unreason." Is it reasonable to think that we can calm their fears? Is it possible for us to pull them back from their “age of unreason?” Can we reason with people who are ensconced in an “age of unreason?” How do we create a plan, a strategy, tactics to reach so many who seem to live in constant fear of the “other?”
In many circles attached to Americans United for Separation of Church and State, we search for these plans, strategies, and tactics. We have identified our shortcomings and even the chasm that separates “us” from “them." But perhaps you, dear reader, can help us with an idea, an insight, and angle not yet explored!

We know that we generally marshal rational and logical arguments as to why these fears are unwarranted.  And we know that the people we are trying to convince with those arguments aren’t the least bit influenced or even interested in rational and logical arguments.  Your thoughts are most welcome!
Two pieces of legislation in Tallahassee come to mind when speaking of “us” and “them” and “fearful men.”  Florida HB 43 provides that  â€œchurches or religious organizations, related organizations, or certain individuals may not be required to solemnize any marriage or provide services, accommodations, facilities, goods, or privileges for related purposes if such action would violate sincerely held religious belief; [and] prohibits certain legal actions, penalties, or governmental sanctions against such individuals or entities.”
The truth is that no “churches or religious organizations, related organizations,” or religious leaders can now be required to solemnize any marriage they wish not to solemnize.  Perhaps our legislators should consider a bill that protects all of us from being required to make purchases at CVS!  This legislation is as foolish as it is unnecessary!  It’s just a way to express fearfulness and to be mean-spirited toward those thinking about a same-sex marriage.

The second piece of legislation is Florida HB 401 that “provides immunity from liability for health care facility, health care provider, person, closely held organization, religious institution, business owned or operated by religious institution, or private child-placing agency that refuses to perform certain actions that would be contrary to religious or moral convictions or policies.”  Here, too, the legislature wishes to demonstrate its fear of members of the LGBT community and seeks permission to discriminate against them.  Suppose that behaviors such as serving people of color, or serving Mormons, or those of Irish descent, were “contrary to religious or moral convictions or policies” of businesses in your neighborhood?  Aren’t we better than this? 
Let’s help our friends and neighbors be better than this.  Let’s help them overcome the fear and prejudice that finds so many of our friends and neighbors “driven by fear into an age of unreason!”

Protesting against homophobia in Belfast, Northern Ireland.

OneJax Supports Human Rights Bill

Reverend Kyle Reese and Nancy Broner

[Editor's Note:  The following was published in the Florida Times-Union on February 2, 2016.  It is reprinted here with the kind permission of OneJax, an ally in the fight for freedom of conscience.]

Each day seems to bring another dramatic development in the march toward passing an updated Human Rights Ordinance in Jacksonville.  One thing has become obvious—whatever the outcome, there are some people who won’t be happy. It is unreasonable to expect all of the people to agree all of the time. But why is it so hard for people on either side of this issue to agree to disagree?
The answer, it seems, is that this legal discussion about equal protection under the law has been construed as an attack on religion and the beliefs many in our community hold dear.

As an interfaith organization that promotes respect and understanding among people of different races, cultures, and beliefs, OneJax envisions a future for Jacksonville in which it becomes an inclusive community. This does not imply that we all have to think alike or believe the same things in the same way. To the contrary, we celebrate the diversity of our city—the many backgrounds, cultures, faiths, and races. Diversity is a key component of all the great cities of the world, and Jacksonville should accept no less.

To those who feel that their faith is being threatened, we remind you that extending equal protections to one group doesn’t do so at the cost of removing them from another. You will continue to believe as you always have; while a marginalized group, which has been subjected to years of inequity, will be protected by the law. OneJax advocates and supports equality for all of Jacksonville’s citizens. We, and the many faith groups that support us, believe that this is the only way we can ever call Jacksonville “inclusive.”

The City Council is weighing a legal issue, not a religious one. And while we realize that a law cannot control hearts and minds, it will keep them accountable.

We urge the City Council to pass the Hazouri-Bowman-Love bill.

Nancy Broner, Executive Director
and The Rev. Kyle Reese, Chairman

Rabbi Joshua Lief, board member of OneJax, speaking at the Mayor's Community Conversation on the Human Rights Ordinance held last December at the Jacksonville Landing.

To Donate to the FCFS

Carrie Renwick, Fundraising Chair

The 2015 NPR Corporate Sponsorship fund drive is over and was successful thanks to you!  We will not actively seek funds until next summer's Annual NPR fund drive. However, donations are critical to the health of the FCFS, as membership dues barely cover operating expenses. If you want to see the FCFS remain strong and continue putting on events such as April's Freedom of Speech Panel Discussion, you might consider contributing before next summer's NPR fund drive. In addition to joining at a higher level of membership, here are two ways in which to contribute. Many thanks for your continued support.

 To Donate on a Monthly Basis

  1. Go to the FCFS website home page, http://firstcoastfreethoughtsociety.org, click "Join, Renew, Donate" where you will find a PayPal button to make an automatic monthly donation to our NPR fund. Automatic monthly donations via PayPal require you to have a PayPal account.
  2. Set it up through your online banking system..

To Donate on a One-Time Basis

  1. Visit the website, http://firstcoastfreethoughtsociety.org, where you will find the opportunity to contribute on our homepage.  You can pay via PayPal or with any major credit card (via PayPal).
  2. Mail a check payable to the FCFS to PO Box 550591, Jacksonville, FL 32255.
  3. Bring your contribution to a meeting or another FCFS event and give it to a board member.
Whichever method you select, you will receive a letter from the treasurer, suitable for your IRS records, acknowledging your tax-deductible contribution. Thank you!

For meeting details, location, and to RSVP to the FCFS Humanist Book Discussion Group - Jacksonville, join Meetup: http://www.meetup.com/humanistbookgroup/

Humanist Book Discussion Group - Jacksonville

  • When:  The first Sunday of each month. For time, visit Meetup group.
  • Where:  Different locations in Jacksonville. To learn where, visit Meetup group.
  • What:  Books planned for discussion:
    • March 6, 2016 - Topic for Discussion: Has the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) Gone Too Far?  Based on the book, God vs. The Gavel and the article, The Road To and From Extreme Religious Liberty, both by Marci A. Hamilton*
    • April 3, 2016 - Move Upstream: A Call to Solve Overpopulation, by Karen I. Shraggs
The March Humanist Book Discussion Group will discuss the various problems, from a humanist perspective, of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993, in its capacity to give legal shelter to acts that would be deemed crimes if they had not been committed by church officials or on the basis of an allegedly sincere religious belief, such as that parents should have the right to deny their minor children modern medical treatment in dealing with life-threatening diseases on the basis that they believe prayer is the better alternative despite all evidence to the contrary.  Further reading on the topic includes Robert Boston's book, Taking Liberties: Why Religious Freedom Doesn’t Give You The Right To Tell Other People What To Do. 

* This article is available in our previous newsletter, the November/December 2015 edition of The Humanist, or at http://thehumanist.com/magazine/november-december-2015/features/the-road-to-and-from-extreme-religious-liberty.  
To join the FCFS Humanist Book Discussion Group - Jacksonville MEETUP, click here:  http://www.meetup.com/humanistbookgroup/
Link to Book Review: http://www.icsahome.com/articles/book-review-god-vs--the-gavel-religion-and-the-rule-of-law 

For More Info:  Go to http://www.meetup.com/humanistbookgroup/ or contact Fred W. Hill at frednotfaith2@aol.com, or call 904-880-3887.

Humanist Book Discussion Group - St. Augustine

  • When:  7:00 - 8:30 p.m., the second Thursday of each month.
  • Where:  Clubhouse at a private condominium in St. Augustine (Anastasia Island).
  • What:  Books planned for discussion:
    • March 10, 2016 - Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age, by Sherry Turkle.
    • April 14, 2016 - A Briefer History of Time, by Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow
Renowned media scholar Sherry Turkle investigates how a flight from conversation undermines our relationships, creativity, and productivity—and why reclaiming face-to-face conversation can help us regain lost ground.

We live in a technological universe in which we are always communicating. And yet we have sacrificed conversation for mere connection.

Preeminent author and researcher Sherry Turkle has been studying digital culture for over thirty years. Long an enthusiast for its possibilities, here she investigates a troubling consequence: at work, at home, in politics, and in love, we find ways around conversation, tempted by the possibilities of a text or an email in which we don’t have to look, listen, or reveal ourselves.

Excerpt from the product overview at http://thepenguinpress.com/book/reclaiming-conversation-the-power-of-talk-in-a-digital-age/

Link to Book Review: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/10/04/books/review/jonathan-franzen-reviews-sherry-turkle-reclaiming-conversation.html
More Info:  Contact Charlie West at westjrcw@gmail.com for location, directions, and gate code.  We hope you can join us!

NOTE TO ALL!  Books may be found in the library, purchased from local book stores or online. The First Coast Freethought Society will receive a small remuneration from your purchase (at no additional cost to you) if you first go to http://firstcoastfreethoughtsociety.org and then click the link to Amazon.com for your purchase.

Now, our Correspondent in Thailand...

Xenophobia: From the Cave to the 21st Century

Steven Lance Stoll

[Sociologist Lance Stoll, long-time member and friend of the First Coast Freethought Society, is currently living and teaching in Thailand.  He shares his views from afar. —Editor's Note]
Watching the American political season from a 
far has been both enlightening and horrifying. The amount of ignorance, vitriol, and just simple lying and misrepresentation is truly staggering. The first election that I was fully conscious of was Hubert Humphrey against Richard Nixon. It was quite a dirty campaign in 1968, with the Republican ticket of Nixon and Agnew winning in a close election (both were later forced to resign due to allegations of criminal conduct—Nixon was pardoned, while Agnew was convicted, sentenced to probation and fined; neither was imprisoned).  But, it was really nothing compared to the nonstop lying hate fest that the Republican Party is exhibiting today.
At the same time, I'm living in a foreign country that is currently under martial law and is being run by the military. There is limited freedom, and people are being imprisoned for having so-called political meetings and for Facebook postings. One young college kid recently received a six-year term for a post on Facebook that supposedly criticized the king.  Of cou
rse, the authorities never revealed what it was he said. Merely stating that the king is a human being who is 88 years old and will die soon is considered grounds for imprisonment.   
But my issue today is not political.  My issue is social.  We know from books like Guns, Germs and Steel, by Jared Diamond, and other biological, anthropological, archaeological, and sociological data, that human beings have never been a very kind or cooperative species. In fact, we now know that actually we are more cooperative in today's world than we were in the days of our cave-dwelling ancestors. The fossil record shows that a higher percentage of people in the "olden days" met violent death at the hands of other humans than meet that end today. Among the most dangerous thing for our ancestors was other people...along with saber toothed tigers and the lack of food. In fact, it seems that xenophobia, the fear and hatred for strangers, people not of our group, was a basic survival mechanism for primitive man. The "other" meant competition for limited resources, perhaps limited women, and they meant confrontation and death.  They might take your resources, your women, your children, and they had little to offer in the way of cooperation. We didn't need big armies at the time, so small family units and tribes were sufficient for the lifestyles that humans were engaged in. Just like bodily parts that changed and adapted over evolution, xenophobia changed and adapted as the world of primitive man changed. So, allegiance to family broadened to tribe, to race, to religion, and eventually to country. But the basic distrust, hostility, and hatred toward the other that the survival mechanism of xenophobia had built into each of us remained.  

Aftermath of violence in Bosnia in the 1990s, where neighbors were turned against neighbors whom they may have known for decades but were somehow "different," resulting in just one of the great genocides of the last quarter century.

Just as body parts that were once thought critical and valuable to survival have lost their value and can actually hurt you, xenophobia has long lost its value and has instead become a hindrance to human progress. Biologists intuit that the appendix once emitted substances that made it easier for primitive man to digest raw meat. We learned to cook meat, and this function became less necessary until today, when the organ does nothing whatsoever to benefit the body. Without a working appendix, primitive people did not survive. Xenophobia is kind of like a "social appendix." When human beings were very primitive, xenophobia protected families from real and present dangers. In fact, those who did not have xenophobia probably didn't live to breed and didn't make it to be our ancestors. The primal fear of snakes and spiders is a similar "social appendix." Snakes and poisonous spiders were great dangers to primitive people: once bitten, certain death ensued. Those who were not frightened of these creatures and handled them got bitten, died, and did not reproduce. Those who had fear and stayed away lived and bred and became our ancestors.  This is still among the most common phobias today, although most of us have little exposure to snakes and spiders; and way more die from cars and guns, but few have phobias for those.
Today, very few people eat raw meat on a regular basis. With refrigeration, mass transportation, and the ability to cook meat, the need for the body to produce a special enzyme is no longer necessary. The appendix is an unnecessary evolutionary appendage which, in the years to come, evolution will probably eliminate. In the meantime, the appendix can kill you. If it becomes infected and bursts, you can quickly die from peritonitis. So, an organ once essential for human survival, now has no value and can actually kill you. I believe that xenophobia, particularly in our closely-knit, overpopulated and interrelated world, is detrimental to human progress. Working together against the man-made dangers of climate change, over population, and economic inequality is the only way to ensure that the future of human beings on this planet will survive and flourish. Xenophobia divides us, sets us at one another's throats, and has us living in constant fear, violence, and unhappiness.

The appendix:  an organ that in humans may no longer serve its original vital function, but remains a part of our anatomy that may be inflamed, causing intense pain and possibly death if untreated.

When I left America, probably among the most hate-filled, xenophobic societies there has ever been, I thought I was free of it. But that isn't true, of course. Xenophobia is human not just American. Here in Thailand, it isn't as angry and aggressive hatred as in the States, but we have few Christians and many Buddhists. Xenophobia is absolutely here in a vile fashion that undergirds the entire society. I've never seen a place where the color of your skin and the lineage of your family make such a significant determination to your future success. Light-skinned people of Chinese ancestry completely dominate this society, from top to bottom. It is everywhere—from the attitudes in my kindergarten classroom, to the highest levels of government and business. Sexism is also quite prominent, matter of fact, and seemingly accepted. The U.S. and Thailand are certainly not alone. Look all over the world and you find ridiculous hates and dehumanizing behavior against other races, religions, nations, tribes, genders. Xenophobia is rife among the religious like the Christians who are proud to tell you that all others who have ever lived will burn in hell for eternity, while only Christians get to go to the deity...this of course is the most vile and prolific of all xenophobic ideas and one which they have no shame or embarrassment proclaiming.
I used to have much more hope for humanity than I have now in my sixth decade. I’ve seen America produce and then murder Martin Luther King. I’ve seen the first African American president elected only to be badgered, ridiculed, and disrespected throughout his entire term. I see Christian extremism in America, Africa, and elsewhere, while Muslim extremism threatens the entire world. I’ve seen the greatest economic equality in human history in America in the early 1970s, only to see it destroyed in favor of the greatest economic disparity in human history, a time in the world where under a hundred families control more wealth than the bottom 4 billion people on the planet. Xenophobia, greed, and self-righteous religiosity are destroying human society. I have only a few decades left at best, I could just ride it out. But for the young, the future that we are leaving them is quite bleak. Human society has devolved in many ways to the tribal nature of our cave-dwelling ancestors. 
The practice of logic, reason, and justice is the only way to save humanity and provide for a long and fruitful future. Until xenophobia and bigotry are not tolerated in any form, whether justified by a deity or simply the color of one’s skin or the gender of the person one loves, humanity will continue its sad decline as a species.

About Our Newsletter, the First Coast FreeThinker

Information for Readers

The First Coast FreeThinker is published for all freethinkers and potential freethinkers.  Nonmembers and members may receive the e-mail version indefinitely.  Nonmembers may receive three hard-copy issues free, after which they must join the FCFS to continue to receive hard copy.  Members are entitled to receive hard-copy should they prefer.  The e-mail version is encouraged, as the newsletter is optimized for on-screen reading.

Readers are invited and encouraged to share our original materials provided they give credit to this publication.  The officials of the FCFS are not responsible for opinions or other statements expressed in this newsletter.  The FreeThinker is intended to convey ideas that stimulate thought and promote discussion on a variety of subjects.

Information for Contributors

We welcome submissions.  Articles, poetry, etc. should be e-mailed to Editor@firstcoastfreethoughtsociety.org.   Material must be submitted ELECTRONICALLY.   Submissions may be formatted in MS Word, in a text file, or cut and pasted into an e-mail.

The deadline for time-sensitive material is the THIRD SATURDAY of each month for the following month’s issue, but submissions are welcome anytime.

We prefer articles no longer than 1,000 words.  Longer articles will be evaluated in terms of whether their importance and degree of interest to our readers warrant publication. 

Subject matter must tie in with freethought or with the Affirmations of Humanism:  A Statement of Principles (found on our website).  All accepted submissions are subject to editorial modification.  Our style guide is The Chicago Manual of Style.  Authors (not the First Coast Freethought Society) are responsible for the accuracy of all quotations and for supplying complete references where applicable.

Several First Coast freethinkers attended the last Reason Rally in 2012 and here's notice of the next one, coming up on June 4, 2016, in Washington, D.C.  Go to http://www.reasonrally.org/ for more details.

About the First Coast Freethought Society

First Coast Freethought Society, Inc.
P.O. Box 550591
Jacksonville, FL 32255-0591

Statement of Purpose

The First Coast Freethought Society, Inc. is an educational, nonprofit, 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organization dedicated to supporting nonreligious persons in the Northeast Florida area and promoting a nontheistic approach to everyday life.


If you share our world view and would like to be a part of the FCFS, we encourage you to join.  If you are new, or if you are renewing and your contact info has changed, you can pick up an application or a brochure at a meeting, or you can download and print an application on our website: http://firstcoastfreethoughtsociety.org/cms/app and mail it in.


The FCFS meets the THIRD Monday of each month at the Buckman Bridge Unitarian Universalist Church, 8447 Manresa Ave., Jacksonville, FL 32244. 

Directions:  From the I-295 Roosevelt exit, go north to the first traffic light, Collins Rd.  Turn right. Go 400 feet. The church driveway will be on your right.

Meeting time:  6:30 to 8:30 p.m.  Doors open at 6:00 p.m.  Meetings are free and open to the public. 

Other Activities

  • Two monthly humanist book discussion groups, one in Jacksonville and one in St. Augustine. Current books are listed in each newsletter. For further details, visit http://firstcoastfreethoughtsociety.org/cms/bdg.
  • A monthly social and dinner at the Olive Garden. See details in each newsletter.
  • Secular Sunday in the Park - Coffee and conversation in the fresh air on a monthly basis. We meet the fourth Sunday of each month, 10:00 a.m. to noon, at Losco Regional Park, 10851 Hood Road South, Jax, 32257. See Activities section of the FCFS home page:  http://firstcoastfreethoughtsociety.org/cms/.
  • Dinners for Doubters (when scheduled).
  • The Dignity U Wear volunteer activity has been discontinued for the time being.  We will keep you posted.
  • Yahoo! Group for freethinkers. To subscribe, send a blank message to jaxfreethought-subscribe@yahoogroups.com).
For information on all these activities, please visit http://firstcoastfreethoughtsociety.org, or see the calendar of events at the end of each newsletter and on the website. You need not be a member to attend these activities!

FCFS 2015 Board Members

President - Earl Coggins:  904-521-5039
Vice President - Carrie Renwick:  904-268-8826
Secretary - Liz DuClose:  352-260-2880
Treasurer - Stephen Peek:  904-742-5390
At-Large - Herb Gerson:  904-363-6446
At-Large - Fred Hill:  904-358-3610
At Large - John Ruskuski:  904-419-8826

Other Appointments

Parliamentarian - Mark Renwick:  904-616-2896
E-mail Secretary - Carrie Renwick:  904-268-8826

Committees and Chairs

Community Outreach - Celia Abbruzzese:  904-982-8431
Editorial - Fred Hill:  904-358-3610
Finance - Stephen Peek:  904-742-5390
Fundraising - Carrie Renwick:  904-268-8826
Membership - Judy Hankins:  904-724-8188
Publicity - Carrie Renwick:  904-268-8826
Website - Mark Renwick:  904-616-2896

All FCFS personnel may be reached via e-mail at info@firstcoastfreethoughtsociety.org

March 2016 Meeting

Carrie Renwick, Program Chair

On Monday, March 21, Anthony Penna will tell us "everything you always wanted to know about the Affordable Care Act, but were afraid to ask!" Tony Penna, 63, is a retiree from a major health insurance company who came out of retirement to be a Community Organizer for "Get Covered America." Tony is an expert in the field, and I believe his talk will be pertinent and informative. For further information about Tony and Get Covered America, check out this Folio article: http://folioweekly.com/They-Have-It-Covered,7092.

Tony Penna (far right), FCFS March speaker, pictured with President Obama. Tony's comment:  "The kid from Brooklyn makes the big time!"  (Source:  Tony's Facebook page)


You can make a lasting impact on the future of
freethought and secular humanism in this community
…if you provide for the First Coast Freethought Society in your Will.

Your bequest will ensure that the FCFS continues to be a beacon for freethinkers
on the First Coast and remains a vital Voice of Reason in Northeast Florida.

Several options are available for establishing a bequest (specific, percentage, residual,
or contingent). We can provide the appropriate wording to you and your attorney,
depending upon your wishes. Or, just talk to your attorney.  Our EIN is 20-1462737.

For further information, contact
Carrie Renwick, PO Box 550591, Jacksonville, FL 32255-0591 or
904-419-8826 ● CarrieRen@att.net ● http://firstcoastfreethoughtsociety.org
All inquiries are held in the strictest confidence.

Northeast Florida Coalition of Reason

The FCFS is a proud member of the Florida Humanist Association.

Freethought Events on the First Coast

  • Thursday, Feb 11 - OneJax presents "Mike McCurry: Faith in Politics" at UNF, 7:00 p.m. (For details and tickets: http://www.unf.edu//eCommunications/display.aspx?id=75161980070)
  • Monday, Feb 15 - FCFS Monthly Meeting at Buckman Bridge Unitarian Church, 6:30 p.m.
  • Tuesday, Feb 23 - FCFS Monthly Social at Olive Garden, Jacksonville, 6:00 p.m.
  • Saturday, Feb 27 - Submission deadline for the FCFS March 2016 newsletter
  • Sunday, Feb 28 - FCFS Secular Sunday in the Park, Jacksonville, 10:00 a.m.
  • Sunday, March 6 - Jacksonville Humanist Book Club. (For details, location, and to RSVP, join meetup: http://www.meetup.com/humanistbookgroup/)
  • Thursday, March 10, St. Augustine Humanist Book Club, 7:00 p.m. (For location, directions, and gate code, contact Charlie West at westjrcw@gmail.com)
  • Monday, March 14 - JAM Session, 6:30 p.m. at the San Marco European Street Café (Date, time & place subject to change; please see http://www.meetup.com/jaxatheists/ for details.)
  • Monday, March 21 - FCFS Monthly Meeting at Buckman Bridge Unitarian Church, 6:30 p.m.

Directions to Monthly Meeting

Regular monthly meetings are held at the BUCKMAN BRIDGE UNITARIAN UNIVERSALIST CHURCH, 8447 Manresa Ave., Jacksonville, FL 32244. The address is Manresa, but the main entrance to the church is located on Collins Rd.

  • From I-295, take the Roosevelt exit. Go north on Roosevelt Blvd. to the first traffic light which is Collins Rd. Turn right onto Collins. Go 400 feet. The main entrance to the church is located on Collins Rd., on the right.  
  • Going south on Roosevelt, look for Atlantic Self-Storage on the left. This is the Collins Rd. intersection. Turn left onto Collins. Go 400 feet. The main entrance to the church is on Collins Rd., on the right. (If you come to I-295, you’ve gone too far, turn around, and you will turn right onto Collins Rd.)

See accurate map at this link: http://firstcoastfreethoughtsociety.org/cms/lib/fcfs_bbuuc_map.gif  (Please note, Google Maps, as well as other maps, may not be consistent with the actual street signs.)

Membership Application

Use this PDF form   to print the application and mail it in with your check, or join on our website.
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