November 2015

Volume 14, Issue 11

Table of Contents

November 2015 Meeting

  • What: November Monthly Meeting
  • Who:  Christopher J. Roederer, Ph.D., Professor of Law and Director, International Programs, Florida Coastal School of Law
  • Title:  “When the Government Should Shut Up: Religion, Abortion, and Confederate Flags”
  • When:  Monday, November 16, 2015, 6:30 to 8:30 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 on Collins.  Go 400 ft.  The church driveway will be on your right.)
Meetings Free and Open to the Public ● Plenty of Free Parking

Meeting Description

As a general rule, when the government is regulating speech, it must not discriminate against a given viewpoint.  However, if the government can convince a court that it is engaging in its own speech when it supports or condemns a given viewpoint, then the government largely escapes judicial scrutiny.

This paradox can be found in cases involving religious expression, religious displays, speech concerning abortion, and even speech concerning the confederate flag in the case of license plates.

Because of the problems that this raises for democracy, Professor Roederer will argue that, when possible, government should simply shut up in situations where governmental and private speech are too entwined. He will tie in cases that range from Town of Greece v. Galloway (establishment clause), through Casey and Rust v. Sullivan (abortion “counseling”), to Texas v. Walker (the recent case in Texas regarding the confederate flag on license plates).

Meet the Speaker

In November, we welcome Christopher J. Roederer, Professor of Law and Director of International Programs at the Florida Coastal School of Law, where he has taught Constitutional Law, International and Comparative Law, and numerous other courses, for the past 10 years.

He is also a Senior Research Fellow at the University of the Witwatersrand School of Law in South Africa and was a Fulbright Scholar there in 2012. He has written extensively on constitutional law, legal theory, and tort law. The majority of his scholarship focuses on the intersection of these areas of the law and their role in democracy.

Professor Roederer contributed significantly to the panel discussion titled, "Freedom of Speech: The Linchpin of a Free Society" that was co-sponsored by the FCFS, UNF, and Folio Weekly, presented this past April at UNF. It is a pleasure to have him as a speaker!

Carl Sagan Day, November 9, 2015

Fred W. Hill

All Hallows Eve having come and gone, along with All Saints Day, we are now into the holiday season.  In the month of November alone I, as civil servant, get three paid holidays—one to honor the veterans who have fought in our wars or at least served in our various military services and faced the possibility of being directly involved in some sort of armed conflict, as with myself, an enlistee in the U.S. Navy from 1991 to 1999; then there’s that day of feasting in which we are expected to gorge ourselves and give thanks to a deity reputedly responsible for everything that exists, including the belly ache that we might get if we indulge too much, although the devil is supposed to take the blame for that; and then, finally, the day after, popularly known as Black Friday, when retailers hope to have their best sales of the year and earn enough to clear any debts, and the rest of us are encouraged to go deep into debt obtaining consumer goods to shower on our loved ones in honor of the birth of our alleged savior. But then there is another day in November that isn’t an actual holiday that anyone can get paid for while not going to work and certainly isn’t any sort of holy day but, rather, is a day of observance and celebration of the life of someone who championed reason and science. Namely, November 9 is the birth date of Carl Sagan.

This year Carl Sagan Day falls on a Monday, a regular work day for most of us too young or not wealthy enough to have retired, although on this particular Monday those of us so inclined have the choice of attending the Monthly Jacksonville Atheist Meet-Up at the San Marco European Street Café or the Philosophy Slam at Jacksonville University (readers, you can use your favored search engines for more details on either event).  Sagan was an actual scientist, focused on various fields of study related to better understanding the universe as a whole, including the possibilities of life existing on other planets. His main claim to fame, however, was as a celebrated proponent of science through the public television series Cosmos and his numerous books and articles aimed at the general public, including potential future scientists. In a culture in which science is too often denigrated due to establishing the veracity of theories that are in sharp contrast with religious hypotheses about reality, and in fact thoroughly disprove those mostly ancient ideas, Sagan and other science educators have had their work cut out for them.

Still, despite the fact a leading contender to take over the Presidency of our nation in 2017 insists that evolution is a Satanic ploy to deceive us, their work has not been in vain. Based on a number of polls during this century, the percentage of Americans who acknowledge the validity of scientific facts, however provisional they may be, over religious dogma appears to have risen over the last 10 years from about 10 percent to nearly 20 percent and hopefully will keep rising as more Americans overcome religious indoctrination. Admittedly, the percentage of theists in the U.S. remains the highest in the industrialized, secular world, a depressing fact for those of us who would prefer that atheists and agnostics held the more dominant demographics and that politicians worked overtime to curry our votes than those of people who insist the world was created about six thousand years ago; and every species from the smallest microbe to the largest blue whales, along with every moon, sun and planet in the entire cosmos, was hand-crafted individually by god in unalterable forms. At least the number of the faithful who continue to believe that particular religious dogma, unsupported as it is by any evidence outside of the realm of human myth making, is also in decline.

In the wake of atrocities committed by religious fanatics around the world—murders at the Charlie Hebdo offices in Paris; murders of secularist bloggers in Bangladesh by machete-wielding “defenders” of Allah; the savagery of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria; the sentencing by a Saudi Arabian court of a secularist to one thousand lashes for the crime of expressing doubt of religious dogma—it is sometimes difficult to retain an optimistic outlook, apart from all that, in recognizing the escalating damage humans are causing to the ecosystems that support the major life-forms on our planet and without which even our own species will be unlikely to evolve fast enough to survive. Carl Sagan wrote about the horrific consequences of inhumane, dogmatic beliefs; about the potential long-term global effects of even a limited nuclear war, as well as the less severe—but still terrible—toll of smaller, conventional wars, such as the Persian Gulf War of 1991. His concerns about even the possibility of a nuclear war led him to take part in a series of protests in 1986 and 1987, as part of the Nevada Desert Experience, against nuclear arms testing in the U.S., which led to his being arrested twice.

Part of the protests against nuclear weapons testing that Carl Sagan took part in.

Yet, while not ignoring the ugliness and willful ignorance that blight our world, Sagan also exuded enthusiasm for exploring and understanding life, the world, and, yes, the entire cosmos as they are, and for sharing his discoveries with others. Even facing death, weakened by a rare blood disease, and despite having no faith in an afterlife, he retained an optimistic outlook on life, abstaining from despair or sinking to the desperation of false hopes.  Sagan wrote many articles on scientific topics for Parade (magazine), included as a supplement in the Sunday edition of many newspapers.  In one of his last, published after he had already been near death four times and a little over nine months before he died, he wrote,

“I would love to believe that when I die I will live again, that some thinking, feeling, remembering part of me will continue. But much as I want to believe that, and despite the ancient and worldwide cultural traditions that assert an afterlife, I know of nothing to suggest that it is more than wishful thinking.

“The world is so exquisite with so much love and moral depth, that there is no reason to deceive ourselves with pretty stories for which there's little good evidence. Far better it seems to me, in our vulnerability, is to look death in the eye and to be grateful every day for the brief but magnificent opportunity that life provides.” ("In the Valley of the Shadow," Parade, 10 March 1996)

Wishful thinking and avoidance of reality still dominate our culture, both in the U.S. and in many other nations, to greater or lesser degrees. Carl Sagan played a vital role in enlarging the light of reason by sharing his love of scientific exploration with so many people through his TV appearances and books and articles. We celebrate his life not because he was an alleged paragon of virtue or all-wise or never erred, but because of his achievements as a scientist, educator, and promoter of reason over dogma. His legacy lives on when we ask questions and seek legitimate answers based on a systematic evaluation of the available evidence, recognizing that some questions may never be adequately answered and declining to accept answers based solely on someone’s say so.  When, in other words, we engage in freethinking.

“…[H]e told me, very tenderly, that it can be dangerous to believe things just because you want them to be true. You can get tricked if you don’t question yourself and others, especially people in a position of authority. He told me that anything that’s truly real can stand up to scrutiny.” 

—Sasha Sagan, "Lessons of Immortality and Mortality From My Father, Carl Sagan," New York Magazine, April 15, 2014

Olive Garden - November 24

  • WhereOLIVE 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,  NOVEMBER 24,  2015, at 6:00 p.m. Social hour at 6:00. Dinner at 7:00. We order from the menu.
  • RSVP: E-mail (or call 904-268-8826) by Tuesday morning, if you plan to attend. You do not need to be a member to attend!

A Rabbi Amidst Freethinkers

Rabbi Merrill Shapiro

You have every right to ask “Why is a Rabbi, a devout Jew, a member of the First Coast Freethought Society?  Why is a Rabbi writing a column in the FreeThinker?
By the time you read this, it is likely that Rabbi Merrill Shapiro will have completed his third three-year term as President of the Board of Trustees of Americans United for Separation of Church and State’s National Board of Trustees. He will revert to being just a regular Trustee, one of 15 that guide the watchdog protecting the First Amendment rights of all the citizens of these United States. He will be replaced by Reverend Neal Jones of the Universalist Unitarian Church of Devon, Pennsylvania. 
Americans United for Separation of Church and State, AU for short, has a great many interests shared with freethinkers across the nation.  Yet AU is different from organizations like the Freedom From Religion Foundation in that it recognizes the power of those people of faith who share the dismay of freethinkers everywhere when the Religious Right feels that it has a role in shaping the policies of our government, a government we pay for, a government “of, by and for the people!”
A dozen years ago, newspaper editorials around the country lambasted AU as a “tool of Satan” standing in the way, blocking the free expression and recognition in the role of religion in forming and maintaining our nation and our freedoms.  It was wonderful that Board members could point out that our Executive Director, Barry Lynn, is an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ; that the Board President was a Rabbi; and that fully one-third of those 15 Board members are ordained clergy. 
Not only shared values brings a Rabbi to the First Coast Free Thought Society.  Shapiro often asks, “Who can find fault with an organization whose name includes the word, 'thought?'  There’s so little thought around, so little thinking. We need more freethinkers, not fewer!”

Religious skeptics and true believers who nevertheless agree that church and state should remain separate and religious dogma should not dictate secular law.

Most recently, Americans United for Separation of Church and State has launched Protect Thy Neighbor because we are seeing more and more attempts to use religion to discriminate and deny people their rights. For years we have been working in the courts, legislatures, and on the ground to oppose these attempts to abuse religious freedom. With Protect Thy Neighbor, we are devoting even more resources to win this fight. We are expanding our work in the state legislatures, Congress, and the courts so that no one is allowed to use religion as an excuse to refuse you service, deny you healthcare, or threaten your safety. We are protecting our neighbors.
Florida lawmakers have not given up on passing legislation that enables discrimination against the LGBT community. State Rep. Julio Gonzalez (R) has introduced a new bill that specifically empowers businesses, health providers, and child placement agencies to refuse any service to any customer if it would violate their “religious or moral convictions.”

HB 401 specifically references Florida’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), first passed in 1998, but builds upon it to ensure the use of religious beliefs to justify discrimination.

Florida State Representative Julio Gonzalez:  Promoting religious bigotry and discrimination against gays today, and perhaps against freethinkers tomorrow.

Here are the three main categories of discrimination it aims to license:

  1. Any health care facility, ambulatory surgery center, nursing home, assisted living facility, extended congregate care facility, or hospice is “not required to administer, recommend or deliver a medical treatment or procedure that would be contrary to the religious or moral convictions or policies of the facility or health care provider.”
  2.  Any person, closely held organization (small/family-run business), religious institution, or business owned or operated by a religious institution is “not required to produce, create, or deliver a product or service that would be contrary to the religious or moral convictions” of the person or organization.
  3. Any private child-placing agency is “not required to perform, assist in, recommend, consent to, or participate in the placement of a child that would be contrary to the religious or moral convictions or policies of the agency.”
In all three cases, the bill exempts the discriminating individual or organization from any liability for the refusal of service, and also ensures that such refusal “does not form the basis for any disciplinary or other recriminatory action” against them.
Let’s not remain silent!! Contact your state legislators and let them know how you feel about HB 401!!

Cartoon by Mike Ritter

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,, 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,, 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!

Guns in the U.S.

Michael Shermer

(This article is reprinted here with the kind permission of the author. —Editor's Note)

We’re better at killing Americans than our enemies are.

If your gut tells you that mass public shootings are alarmingly common, your gut’s right.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation defines a mass murder as four or more deaths during a single incident with no distinct time period between killings. By this definition, according to Northeastern University criminologist James Alan Fox, between 1980 and 2010 there were an average of 20 mass murders per year, or an average of one every 2.6 weeks.

Now it looks like that interval is shrinking. According to, there were 30 mass public shootings with four or more dead in 2014, and there have been 31 this year through the Oct. 1 tragedy in Roseburg, Ore., or one every 1.6 weeks.

No wonder President Obama feels like he’s repeating himself with sullen regularity in his post-shooting speeches.

Our gun problem of course extends beyond mass violence. In 2014 alone, for example, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recorded 11,208 people shot to death, 33,636 injured by gunfire and 21,175 who killed themselves with a gun. That’s a total of 66,019 people who were killed or injured by a gun, which comes out to 1,269 per week, 180 a day or 7.5 per hour.

Add up all the gun fatalities since 1970 (approximate annual average of 30,000, according to the CDC) and you get the staggering figure of 1.35 million dead, which is disturbingly close to the figure of 1.39 million Americans who have died in all wars since the American Revolution.

Perhaps this is the gruesome price of freedom. The 2nd Amendment guarantees us the right to own a gun, and the U.S. Supreme Court has upheld that right in two recent cases. But should you, dear reader, choose to own a gun?

Consider this finding from a 1998 study published in the Journal of Trauma and Acute Care Surgery: “Every time a gun in the home was used in a self-defense or legally justifiable shooting, there were four unintentional shootings, seven criminal assaults or homicides, and 11 attempted or completed suicides.”

In other words, the fantasy many of us have of facing down an intruder with a firearm is belied by the fact that a gun is 22 times more likely to be used in a criminal assault, an accidental death or injury, a suicide attempt or a homicide than it is for self-defense.

If you own a gun and keep it safely locked up and unloaded with the ammunition somewhere else (recommended by gun safety experts), do you really think that, in the event of a break-in, you could get to your gun, find your ammo and load it, engage the intruder, accurately aim and kill him, all before he takes your things? If you do, you’ve been watching too many movies. Go to a firing range and try shooting a handgun. It isn’t easy to do. It requires regular training.

If you own a gun and you don’t keep it safely locked up — if you keep it loaded and under your pillow, say — you might have a chance against an intruder, but you’re also setting yourself up for an accident. A depressed relative or perhaps a child could find the gun.

A 2009 study corroborated these findings. Conducted by epidemiologists at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine and published in the American Journal of Public Health, it found that, on average, people with a gun are 4.5 times more likely to be shot in an assault than those not possessing a gun.

But let’s go back to your gut for a second. What if you acknowledge the validity of the statistics above, but your intuition tells you that gun control laws just won’t work to reduce the carnage. Is your gut right? No, it’s almost certainly not.

For a 2013 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Assn., Internal Medicine, researchers mined a database of 121,084 firearm deaths between 2007 and 2010. Then they compiled a “legislative strength score” for all 50 states based on the number and force of their gun control laws, and divided the states into quartiles. As it turns out, the states in the highest quartile of legislative strength had the lowest overall firearm fatality rate, and those in the lowest quartile had the highest fatality rate. This correlation held for both homicides and suicides.

The authors were careful to note that correlation does not imply causation. But earlier studies have also found that the higher a state’s gun ownership rate, the higher its rate of gun-related homicides and suicides. Yes, people can kill one another and themselves with knives, ropes, lead pipes, wrenches and candlestick holders, but the data match the growing national intuition that guns are a major problem.

This opinion editorial was originally published by the Los Angeles Times online on October 6, 2015.

Additional Thoughts

Not surprisingly—given the heat generated by the gun debate in America—this op-ed produced a lot of mail.

First, let me assure readers that I am aware that there are lock boxes for hand guns that allow owners to store them safely and get to them relatively quickly for home defense in the event of a break in. Still, most likely you would need more than one gun in the home with the lock boxes positioned to be accessed relatively quickly wherever you happen to be in the event of a burglary, and of course you need to actually keep your guns stored in their lock boxes—or even get a lock box when you purchase the gun, which is not always the case.

Second, if you’re still not convinced that there’s a gun problem in America, since the October 1 mass shooting in Oregon that I wrote about there have been six more mass shootings through October 10, totally 6 dead and 20 wounded, bringing the 2015 total up to 300 for all types of mass shootings, and 31 that match the FBI’s definition of 4 or more dead. By the end of 2015 the average for mass shootings of any type will be 1 per day, and for the 4-or-more dead type the average will come in at around 1 every 1.5 weeks. No other Western country comes close to the U.S. in gun violence.

On the positive side, the Pew Research Center reports that the gun homicide rate is down 49% since the peak in 1993. The biggest plunge was in the late 90s, with declines less dramatic since 2000. The survey also found that, “The victimization rate for other violent crimes with a firearm—assaults, robberies and sex crimes—was 75% lower in 2011 than in 1993. Violent non-fatal crime victimization overall (with or without a firearm) also is down markedly (72%) over two decades.” Supporting my thesis in The Moral Arc that our brains are more geared to noticing short term trends of bad news while ignoring long term trends of good news, the survey also found that, “56% of Americans believe gun crime is higher than 20 years ago and only 12% think it is lower.”

Finally, my op-ed was primarily triggered by recent mass public shootings, but it is worth noting that between 1980 and 2008 these account for less than 1% of all homicide deaths. So if we want to reduce the carnage overall, the place to focus on is individual homicides.

Dr. Michael Shermer is the Publisher of Skeptic magazine, a monthly columnist for Scientific American, a Presidential Fellow at Chapman University, and the author of The Moral Arc. His previous books include: The Believing BrainWhy People Believe Weird ThingsWhy Darwin MattersThe Mind of the MarketHow We Believe, and The Science of Good and Evil.

You need to be a member of the FCFS Humanist Book Discussion - Jacksonville MEETUP GROUP in order to RSVP to attend book discussions, to be kept apprised of meeting locations and details, and to suggest books for discussion. We look forward to your participation! To join the Meetup: 

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:
    • December 6, 2015 - Animal Farm, by George Orwell
    • January 3, 2016 - Hollowed Out: Why the Economy Doesn't Work without a Strong Middle Class, by David Madland
To join the FCFS Humanist Book Discussion Group - Jacksonville MEETUP group, click here:

This time we'll be taking up the literary classic, Animal Farm, by George Orwell, first published in 1945.  The following is from the product description: 

Animal Farm is the most famous by far of all twentieth-century political allegories. Its account of a group of barnyard animals who revolt against their vicious human master, only to submit to a tyranny erected by their own kind, can fairly be said to have become a universal drama. Orwell is one of the very few modern satirists comparable to Jonathan Swift in power, artistry, and moral authority; in animal farm his spare prose and the logic of his dark comedy brilliantly highlight his stark message.

Taking as his starting point the betrayed promise of the Russian Revolution, Orwell lays out a vision that, in its bitter wisdom, gives us the clearest understanding we possess of the possible consequences of our social and political acts.

Link to Book Review:

For More Info:  Go to or contact Fred W. Hill at, 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:
    • December 10, 2015 - Heretic: Why Islam Needs a Reformation Now, by Ayaan Hirsi Ali.
    • January 14, 2016 - Demon Haunted World, by Carl Sagan
Continuing her journey from a deeply religious Islamic upbringing to a post at Harvard, the brilliant, charismatic and controversial New York Times and Globe and Mail #1 bestselling author of Infidel and Nomad makes a powerful plea for a Muslim Reformation as the only way to end the horrors of terrorism, sectarian warfare and the repression of women and minorities.

Today, she argues, the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims can be divided into a minority of extremists, a majority of observant but peaceable Muslims and a few dissidents who risk their lives by questioning their own religion. But there is only one Islam and, as Hirsi Ali shows, there is no denying that some of its key teachings—not least the duty to wage holy war—are incompatible with the values of a free society. 

For centuries it has seemed as if Islam is immune to change. But Hirsi Ali has come to believe that a Muslim Reformation—a revision of Islamic doctrine aimed at reconciling the religion with modernity—is now at hand, and may even have begun. The Arab Spring may now seem like a political failure. But its challenge to traditional authority revealed a new readiness—not least by Muslim women—to think freely and to speak out.

Courageously challenging the jihadists, she identifies five key amendments to Islamic doctrine that Muslims have to make to bring their religion out of the seventh century and into the twenty-first. And she calls on the Western world to end its appeasement of the Islamists. “Islam is not a religion of peace,” she writes. It is the Muslim reformers who need our backing, not the opponents of free speech.

Interweaving her own experiences, historical analogies and powerful examples from contemporary Muslim societies and cultures, Heretic is not a call to arms, but a passionate plea for peaceful change and a new era of global toleration. In the wake of the Charlie Hebdo murders, with jihadists killing thousands from Nigeria to Syria to Pakistan, this book offers an answer to what is fast becoming the world’s number one problem.

From the product overview at  

Link to Book Review:
More Info:  Contact Bill Stroop at for address, directions, and gate code.

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 and then click the link to for your purchase.

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!

Jacksonville City Council Prayer

In Jacksonville, we want to maintain momentum in our quest for diversity in City Council invocations.  If you would like to apply to give an invocation, write to the council member representing your district and request to be scheduled. If you know anyone who represents a minority religion or anyone who would give a secular invocation, please encourage them to participate. We want City Council invocations to reflect the diversity of our city!

Other Action You Can Take

If you'd like to help but giving an invocation is not an option, you can:

  • Encourage other groups to request giving an invocation;
  • Continue to monitor City Council meetings to see if there is a new trend;
  • Write to President Anderson in a positive tone, praising the inclusive nature of the last invocation and urging a policy of greater inclusiveness;
  • Contact Councilman  Crescimbeni, or other City Council member, to consider alternative possible courses of action, such as changing rule 1.106.

To Contact Council Members

U.S. Mail address for all members: 117 W. Duval Street, Suite 425, Jacksonville, FL  32202

Here is the link to contact info and districts for current City Council members; also, how to find your district.  Note, under Florida law, email addresses are public records. If you do not want your email address released in response to a public records request, do not send electronic mail to this entity. Instead, contact this office by phone or in writing.

District,  Name,  Phone Number,  E-mail Address

  1. Joyce Morgan (DEM)  904-630‐1389
  2. Al Ferraro (REP)  904-630‐1392
  3. Aaron L. Bowman (REP)  904-630‐1386
  4. Scott Wilson (REP)  904-630‐1394
  5. Lori N. Boyer (REP)  904-630‐1382
  6. Matt Schellenberg (REP)  904-630‐1388
  7. Reggie Gaffney (DEM)  904-630‐1384
  8. Katrina Brown (DEM)  904-630‐1385
  9. Garrett L. Dennis (DEM)  904-630‐1395
  10. Reginald L. Brown (DEM) 904- 630‐1684
  11. Danny Becton (REP)  904-630‐1383
  12. Doyle Carter (REP)  904-630‐1380
  13. Bill Gulliford (REP)  904-630‐1397 GULLIFORD@coj
  14. Jim Love (REP)  904-630‐1390
At-Large: John R. Crescimbeni (DEM) 904-630-1381 

For more details on FCFS efforts with the City Council prayer issue thus far, see the FCFS July 2015 President's Message, found at

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   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.

Now, our Correspondent in Thailand...


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)

I just completed my contract at the Chonburi Technological College and am about to make a big transition in my life here in Thailand. Life has been a series of transitions and I’m very pleased to make another!

After 30 years of working in sales, marketing and consultation I transitioned to being a university professor where I worked for 12 years in North Florida and Southeast Georgia. In 2014, I gave up on the racism, bigotry, and religious certitude of the American South and moved to Thailand to teach English. My initial assignment was to teach English in a technical college, kids 15 to 17, but from the beginning, I was teaching students from kindergarten to adults here in Thailand. With my contract expiring, my visa coming to an end, and my desire to remain in Thailand strong, I began to search for another position. I did my best to find a position at the local University, but have only been able to get part time work from which I can’t get a work visa, so I’ve had to seek full-time teaching work. 

In the interview that clinched my agreement, the interviewer, an American who has been working in Thailand for 23 years, asked me why I came to Thailand. While I didn’t go into my disgust with the ignorant Christians and the bigotry and gun toting violence in America as why I wanted  to leave, I did say because I wanted to help Thai people.  He asked me, "How much impact did you have on those 15 to 17 year olds at the technical college?”  I told him not much. The discipline there was so terrible, hardly anyone even listened to me for a year!  He was offering me a position as a full-time kindergarten teacher at a bilingual school, one of 66 schools in the largest private school chain in Thailand. He made the point that the impact on the 30 little lives that will be my students will be enormous and I’ll see progress every day.  This was enough to hook me…. I’m now going to be a kindergarten teacher!

Kindergarteners in Thailand

At the end of the month I begin as not just an English teacher but as a bilingual teacher of kindergarteners.  This means I’ll be teaching them math, science, social studies, and all of their subjects in English They also have classes in Thai from a Thai teacher. The entire school is bilingual and nearly all of the kids graduate from the school and go to university. They realize here in Thailand that the future for their success and the success of the nation is the ability to speak, write, do business and communicate in the English language. Their king has known that for a long time and he, himself, speaks perfect English and several other languages.

We are simply lucky as Americans that English has become the defacto universal language. Thai people refer to English as THE universal language. The ASEAN Alliance of countries has adopted American English as the second language of all of its member nations and the language that their inter-nation business is conducted in. The new military prime minister of Thailand is very much a proponent of learning and using English.  Many of the large Thai companies, such as Thai Airways, require their employees to be proficient in English and pass the TOEIC examination.  Many Americans, maybe most of us, would have difficulty passing this test!

Sarasas Chonburi School, Chonburi, Thailand

The politics of imperialism aside, the world has adopted English everywhere.  China now has more English speakers than there are people in the United States (350 million). English is the language of business, travel, diplomacy, and the media.  America created the internet and English dominates the way people the world over obtain information and entertainment. Thailand is a bit behind other countries in Southeast Asia in coming to this realization. Nearby Cambodia uses the American dollar and Viet Nam is gungho teaching English to children. Thailand is 9 of 10 in the ASEAN countries in its adaptation of English, but this provides a lot of opportunity to us expats here to teach the language. 

The impact of being able to speak English for Thai people is staggering. Their ability to get a better education, a better job, make more money, and have a better life is all enhanced by their ability to communicate in the English language. The ability of Thai people to travel is also greatly enhanced by being an English speaker.  Imagine how difficult it is to travel in the U.S. if you don’t speak English, and you’ll understand that this is now true the world over. You can always find someone who can speak English, but only in Thailand do people speak Thai, unless you find a Thai restaurant in other parts of the world! We take our language for granted, but when you are here and teaching English and see the hunger and desire and gratitude of Thai people, you understand the value and impact that speaking “the international language” has on the lives of average people. Thailand thrives on international business and international tourism, and English is crucial to her growth and success. I am very proud to be able to play a small part in that Thai future by helping my 30 cute little charges to learn English.

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: 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
  • 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:
  • 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
For information on all these activities, please visit, 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

December 2015 Meeting - Annual Human Light Celebration

Carrie Renwick, Program Chair

On Monday, December 21, we will be holding our Twelfth Annual Human Light Celebration in which we install 2016 officers, look to the past and future of the FCFS, celebrate the season, and generally have a great time. Time: 6:30 to 9:00 p.m., cash bar, order from a special menu (or the main menu if you prefer). Location: Bella Vita Italian Restaurant, 3825 Baymeadows Road, Jacksonville, FL 32217.  (No lecture at this meeting, just a party!)  

Please be sure to RSVP to me if you plan to attend.  (If no e-mail, please call me, 904-268-8826. (Leave a message if necessary.) An accurate head-count will greatly help Bella Vita serve us all in a timely fashion.


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 ● ●
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

  • Monday, November 16 - FCFS Monthly Meeting at Buckman Bridge Unitarian Church, 6:30 p.m.
  • Saturday, November 21 - FCFS October Newsletter Deadline for Submissions
  • Sunday, November 22 - FCFS Secular Sunday in the Park, Jacksonville, 10:00 a.m.
  • Tuesday, November 24 - FCFS Monthly Social at Olive Garden, Jacksonville, 6:00 p.m.
  • Monday, December 14 - JAM Session, 6:30 p.m. at the San Marco European Street Café (Date, time & place subject to change; please see for details.)
  • Monday, December 21 - FCFS Annual Human Light Celebration at Bella Vita Restaurant, Jacksonville, 6:30 p.m. Directions:

Directions to Monthly Meeting at BBUUC

Our monthly meetings are held at the Buckman Bridge Unitarian Universalist Church (BBUUC), 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:  (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.
Copyright © 2015 First Coast Freethought Society, Inc., All rights reserved.

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