September 2016

Volume 15, Issue 9

Table of Contents

September 2016 Meeting

  • WHO:  Frances V. Siver, MS, RDN, LDN; Coordinator of the ISPP Program, Department of Nutrition and Dietetics, Brooks College of Health, University of North Florida
  • WHAT: “Beyond My Plate: Nutrition Advice for a Long and Healthy Life"
  • WHEN:  Monday, September 19, 2016, 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. Go 400 ft. The church driveway will be on your right. For map click

Meeting Description

As we age, we would all like our "golden years" to be truly golden. Some ways that we can achieve this goal is to be aware of the body's changing nutritional needs, to learn about practical things we can do to slow the aging process, and to discover the dietary keys in reducing chronic disease. During this presentation, you will learn about science-based dietary changes that you can make to decrease your risk of chronic disease while, at the same time, potentially increasing your years of quality life. 

Meet the Speaker

Frances is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist with a Bachelor of Science in chemistry from the University of Florida, a Master’s of Science in Human Nutrition from Louisiana State University and most recently, a Bachelor of Science in nutrition and dietetics from the University of North Florida.   

Prior to becoming a Registered Dietitian, Frances worked as a researcher in the pharmaceutical industry and as an associate nutrition researcher at LSU. While at LSU she coauthored several papers concerning vitamin D, as well as conducted research in the area of chromium and insulin.

Currently, she is the coordinator for the non-degree seeking dietetic internship program (the Individualized Supervised Practice Program) at UNF.  In this role, she guides individuals on their journey to becoming successful and competent Registered Dietitian Nutritionists.  In the recent past, Frances has worked as a nutrition consultant for a local health care organization and as an adjunct instructor at UNF. 

Her interests in nutrition include the field of integrative and functional nutrition as it applies to inflammation and the aging process. 

President's Message - September 2016

Politics and Religion

Earl Coggins

Politics. Why is the word reprehensible to a lot of people? For many of us, the word conjures up mental images of snake oil salesmen, conflict, distrust, disingenuous claims, and embezzlement. Politics has never had a stellar reputation. It’s one of those things where seemingly we can live neither with it nor without it.

Religion has had a similar reputation, but primarily when mixed with politics, although I believe politics and religion are identical in numerous ways. Lots of mothers have told their children to avoid talking about politics and religion. The Democratic Party recently had a politics and religion meltdown. I’m thinking the mothers of the perpetrators of the meltdown are having that proverbial politics and religion chat right about now, if they haven’t already!

Every time I think society is getting comfortable with the presence of the Nones—atheists, agnostics, and people unaffiliated with religion—something happens to remind me I shouldn’t be so comfortable. This time that something is a rather perplexing chapter in both American politics and the struggle for atheists to gain respect as equals in society. My President’s Message for this month is about that perplexing aspect. Let’s start with the email below:

Date: 2016-05-05 03:31
Subject: No shit

It might may [sic] no difference, but for KY and WVA can we get someone to ask his belief. Does he believe in a God. He had skated on saying he has a Jewish heritage. I think I read he is an atheist. This could make several points difference with my peeps. My Southern Baptist peeps would draw a big difference between a Jew and an atheist.

The above email, grammar errors included, was sent by then Democratic National Committee (DNC) CFO Brad Marshall to then DNC Communications Director Luis Miranda and DNC Deputy Communications Director Mark Paustenbach.

Marshall resigned immediately after the scandal, along with other top-shelf members of the DNC. The “someone” mentioned in Marshall’s email is obviously a member of the press, and the person in question is obviously Bernie Sanders. Marshall’s intent was to set Sanders up for a fall, using atheism as a trap. It never happened, but it was proposed by a person in a high place, someone who should have known better. I believe it’s worth talking about. I have a feeling there are friends and members of the First Coast Freethought Society who are dismayed and angry at the DNC for allegedly favoring Clinton over Sanders and thereby ignoring neutrality rules set forth in Section 4, Article 5 of the DNC Charter Bylaws—all during the selection process of a Democratic Party nominee for President of the United States.

I wish I could talk about it, but as an officer of the First Coast Freethought Society, a 501(c)(3), it’s not my axe to grind in this forum. I am focused on atheism being used in a derogatory manner and how freethinkers should react to it. The Democratic Party rules are fairly straightforward on using religion in the way in which Marshall proposed, using it against Bernie Sanders.

Section 4, Article 1 of the DNC Charter Bylaws reads:

Establish standards and rules of procedure to afford all members of the Democratic Party full, timely and equal opportunities to participate in decisions concerning the selection of candidates, the formulation of policy, and the conduct of other Party affairs, without prejudice on the basis of sex, race, age (if of voting age), color, creed, national origin, religion, economic status, sexual orientation, ethnic identity or physical disability, and further, to promote fair campaign practices and the fair adjudication of disputes. Accordingly, the scheduling of Democratic Party affairs at all levels shall consider the presence of any religious minorities of significant numbers of concentration whose level of participation would be affected.

As an atheist, it was difficult for me to digest this story when it came out last month, courtesy of Julian Assange and his band of merry hacksters. To my knowledge Bernie has never come out as an atheist. It doesn’t mean he isn’t an atheist. It shouldn’t be an issue, but we all know it is. If I were a betting man, I’d say Sanders is nominally atheistic, but there is no need, in my opinion, to push it.

Sanders was asked on the Jimmy Kimmel show point blank if he believes in a god. Sanders dodged the question and said, “I am what I am and what I believe is that we’re all in this together and we should not be turning our backs on the suffering of other people.” I felt genuinely sorry for him when he was asked by Jimmy Kimmel if he believes in a god. Kimmel was applying the de facto religious test for public office to Sanders. It’s none of Kimmel’s or his audience’s business, and I wish Sanders had politely told him just that. Sanders did, however, do something that I have suggested we all start doing. Sanders told Kimmel what he believes in, instead of taking the bait and telling him what he does not believe in—a god.

As many of you already know, WikiLeaks released nearly 20,000 emails hacked from the Democratic National Convention’s computers. The release came just days before the Democratic National Convention. I’ve been told all of my adult life the Democratic Party is the people’s party, especially people who have been treated unequally. Women, gays, blacks, and non-Christians come to mind. Is Marshall’s proposal to use atheism as a way in which to smear a person’s political reputation an issue of concern, even though it was never carried out? I think it is. Should the actions of a few within a group be a reason to condemn the entire group? No, but it should be a reason to ask the group in question if a plan has been put it place to insure the offense cannot be easily repeated. Should we be wondering whether or not this was a truly isolated incident? I believe we should indeed be wondering.

An Op-Ed piece addressing this issue, "Democrats diss atheists, but still count on our votes," was published August 20 in the Miami Herald. It was written by Robyn Blumner, CEO of the Center for Inquiry. LINK for Miami Herald article. To hear the podcast, "Mythicist Milwaukee," with guest Robyn Blumner, click image at right.

Excerpt from article:

We are a growing and essential segment of the Democratic Party. About 69 percent identify as Democrats or lean that way, according to Pew. Atheists and agnostics give Democrats the margin of victory in election after election. Include the entirety of the “nones”—the one-in-five Americans who tell pollsters they have no religious affiliation—and we are the Democratic Party’s largest faith demographic.

I am not writing this piece to tell you what party or person to vote for, nor am I writing this as an exposé of the Democratic Party. I am writing this as an exposé of the plight of the nonreligious person, and especially the plight of the nonreligious political candidate in this country. As the President of the First Coast Freethought Society, I have a duty to share and discuss this type of information with our members and friends in order to assess its implications. The political party is not the issue here. It’s about atheism.

I believe we should all be focusing seriously on what Robyn Blumner said in her Op-Ed piece: “We’re tired of being taken for granted.” I also think we should be tired of the religion card being whipped out and waved in our faces as if it’s a wild card capable of winning any game or argument.

Contrary to what is written in our Constitution, there really is a religious test for office in this country. It may be a de facto religious test, but it is a test, and in some states it is a de jure religious test.

I used this  graphic to emphasize two points:

The first point is obvious. There are states with laws on the books meant as a finger in the eye of atheists running for public office. The anti-atheist laws in these rogue states can’t hold up in court, and some have been overturned; but their existence is a message to any aspiring atheist seeking public office, and the message is clear:  We will do everything we can to deny you your civil rights, your equality as a human being, and your ability to get your message heard.

The second point is South Carolina. It’s a great example of what one committed person can accomplish.

Herb Silverman, founder of the Secular Humanists of the Lowcountry in Charleston, SC, and also founder of the Secular Coalition of America, filed a lawsuit in South Carolina back in 1997 after his application to be a Notary Public was denied due to his refusal to swear an oath to a god. The South Carolina court ruled in favor of Silverman, but the State of South Carolina appealed, and the case ended up in the South Carolina Supreme Court. After an eight-year battle, the South Carolina Supreme Court ruled in favor of Silverman, although I don’t believe the law was ever taken off of the books.

Article 6, Clause 3 of the U.S. Constitution restricts any branch of government in the U.S. from enacting laws which require religious tests for seeking a public office, but there is no such law for voters who want to discriminate by disregarding any candidate who is not religious. The tragedy here is the conflation of the word religious with the word moral and the inference that atheism must therefore be defined as unethical or immoral.

A nonreligious person’s only recourse is to speak out as much as possible about being an atheist, an agnostic, or someone who is not affiliated with any religion. In other words—for atheists—get the atheist meme out into the public square. Tell the public what you believe in, not what you do not believe in. The atheist meme should include a narrative about atheists. Show the public their fears regarding atheism are unfounded fears. It’s happening all around us, we merely need to keep it going, and the First Coast Freethought Society is helping in that regard. Herb Silverman and other citizen activists are leading the way. We need to start a “Get behind Herb” movement. We need to stay with the fight. We need to remain vocal. We need to get loud. We need to let all of the political parties know we’re not going to take it anymore. Most importantly, we all need to be supporting one or more of the local and national organizations working 24/7, 365 days a year to promote our worldview as viable, friendly, ethical, science-mined, evidence-based, and deserving of a respected place within society.

Our numbers are large enough to garner respect, but our voices don’t match our numbers. While it is true that atheism and atheists are still facing an unacceptable level of disrespect in many areas throughout the U.S., it’s not an insurmountable problem. Part of the problem is a lack of visible and vocal opposition to discriminatory practices which exclude and marginalize the nonreligious segment of the general population. The disparaging and disrespectful attitudes towards the nonreligious, especially the nonreligious people who openly call themselves atheists, will linger and fester as long as we, the citizens at ground zero, do little or nothing to stop it.

I believe Margaret Mead hit the nail on the head when she said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

The national atheist, agnostic, humanist, and freethought organizations around the country are doing their part to quash the bigotry aimed at nonreligious people, but they need the help of local individuals. The Freedom From Religion Foundation is doing a phenomenal job. They do as much as or more than any national organization, but it’s local individuals like you and me who often bring things to a head by making phone calls, writing letters, staging protests, acting up, and giving nontheistic invocations at city council meetings. That’s right. Act up! Act out! Get your panties or boxers in a wad! Stomp your feet and make some noise! Let everyone know nonreligious people are just as good, just as smart, just as funny, just as compassionate, just as beautiful, artistic, moral, and ethical as anyone else!

It’s a fact that both the Democratic Party and the Republican Party cater to religious voters simply because religious voters make up a significant portion of eligible voters. Hence the "God bless America!" after each speech at both party conventions. There isn’t much to be done about it because candidates need votes, but trying to smear Sanders as an atheist is something I expected from other places within the American political landscape. Probably, the guy has been a socialist ever since his experiences as a young Jewish man working on a kibbutz in Israel.

I happen to know a few people who worked on a kibbutz in Israel as young adults. The experiences they have shared with me sound healthy, educational, and life-changing.

Smearing Sanders as a socialist would have been just as stupid as any other smear, but a lot more credible because after all, he has openly and publicly stated he IS a socialist, albeit a democratic socialist, and people are more afraid of socialism than they are atheism. So why atheism? It makes no sense if you need somewhere around 20 million votes to win an election, and those votes are right in front of you and leaning your way. Ironically, the Freedom From Religion Foundation had a billboard displayed in Philadelphia, PA, during the Democratic National Convention July 25-28. The billboard said, “I’m an Atheist and I Vote!"

I pointed out last month a statistic Robyn Blumner used in her OP-ED piece: Atheists and agnostics, a subset of the Nones, make up 7.1 percent of the American population. That stat equates to roughly 23 million Americans. It’s a large number of potential voters, especially for candidates worried about getting enough votes to win an election. The Nones as a whole make up 74 million Americans, but not all Nones are atheists or agnostics even though they are not affiliated with a specific religion. The Nones vote Democratic more than they vote Republican, so I don’t really have a definitive answer when asked why smear Sanders with atheism as opposed to smearing him with socialism, but I do have a hypothesis.

The socialism smear started way back when Sanders first revealed his intentions to run for President. But it didn’t stick. People actually started embracing what Sanders was saying, and he gained a huge following behind his message of the redistribution of wealth, the need to build a strong middle class, and the need to care properly for the poor and elderly. I feel strongly Bradley Marshall, while in the DNC, was looking for ways to instill fear in the minds of primary voters leaning towards a vote for Bernie Sanders. Socialism wasn’t going to get much traction as a smear. There are a lot of religious people who fear atheism, and for obvious reasons. An encounter with atheism is an encounter with doubt, and many doubters use logic and reason, along with science and evidence, as tools for uncovering fraud, mistakes, bad assumptions, and false conclusions. So an encounter with atheism is an encounter with a comprehensive fact-finding analysis of religious belief, and that scares the hell out of a lot of the faithful. They simply do not want to unpack their religious suitcase and subject it to an analytical examination with a scientific approach. It’s a huge fear for many of the faithful.

Marshall wanted to use that fear to his advantage. Sanders ultimately went on CNN and under interrogation, denied being an atheist. The media does a fine job of injecting a religious test for office into politics. No need for the government to do it.  Click the image to watch the CNN interview with Sanders.

I was hoping Bernie Sanders would respond to the email scandal by saying “I’m not an atheist, but maybe I should be, because if this scandal is the new norm for religious liberals, I’d rather be without the religion.” But alas, it didn’t happen.

Olive Garden - Sept. 27, 2016

  • 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, September 27, 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, call 904-268-8826, or RSVP on the FCFS Meetup, by Tuesday morning, if you plan to join us. This is a great way to learn more about the FCFS and meet members and friends. You do not need to be an FCFS member to attend!

A. Philip Randolph:  A Secular Civil Rights Champion from Jacksonville

Fred W. Hill

Within Jacksonville’s downtown sports complex, running between the Veterans Memorial Arena and the Baseball Grounds, is A. Philip Randolph Boulevard. When I worked at the old county courthouse on Bay Street, I regularly parked at the lot near the arena and drove on that boulevard nearly every day for years, sometimes pondering just who it was named for. Turns out A. (for Asa) Philip Randolph was one of the towering figures of the labor, civil rights, and humanist movements during the 20th century, who just happened to have spent most of his childhood in Jacksonville. 

Born in Crescent City, Florida, on April 15, 1889, early in the nearly 90-year period that discriminatory and segregationist Jim Crow laws dominated much of the American south from Texas to Virginia, Randolph was free but faced many obstacles intended to keep him, and anyone else who was not born to or at least looked and behaved like someone from the dominant class, down and subservient. Still, he found ways to overcome those obstacles, to pursue his interests and flourish, and then he worked to destroy those obstacles so that justice would be applied equally to all and no one would be restrained on account of their skin color, ethnicity, creed, or sex. 

His father was a Methodist minister but encouraged young Randolph to read a variety of books that broadened his mind, including the works of famed religious skeptics Thomas Paine and Robert G. Ingersoll. To escape the discrimination of the South, Randolph moved to Harlem in 1911, initially pursuing an acting career and founding a Shakespeare Society before becoming involved in the labor movement and other socialist causes. In 1917, he co-founded, with Chandler Owen, The Messenger, a literary and political magazine touted by the U.S. Justice Department in 1919 as "the most able and the most dangerous of all Negro publications."  Randolph praised the Communist revolution in Russia and initially supported Marcus Garvey’s Black Nationalist movement before coming to the conclusion that Garvey’s ideas were as bad as those of the Ku Klux Klan and were an obstacle to the goal of ending discrimination against, and lynching of, African Americans and bringing about a more just and racially diverse society, rather than furthering the existence of multiple separate and very unequal societies. Garvey described white people as devils that blacks should shun and never associate with, while Randolph believed in working for positive change and set about doing so. As described by Bill Daeler in "Profiles in Humanism" in The Humanist, Randolph militantly believed in achieving economic equality, a goal he pursued for not just African Americans, but for all disenfranchised Americans, including poor whites, Native Americans, Puerto Ricans, and Mexican Americans.” (See

A political cartoon (artist unknown) from an issue of The Messenger, that accompanied articles on economics and politics written by A. Philip Randolph (circa 1919)

Combining his goals to advance the rights and opportunities for African Americans and all working people, in 1925 Randolph helped found and was the first president of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters (BSCP), and fought a long legal battle against the discriminatory practices of the Pullman Company which happened to employ more black men than any other company in the U.S. during the late 1800s and much of the first half of the 1900s. The oldest and largest union group in the U.S. at the time, the American Federation of Labor (AFL), had mostly excluded blacks from membership and thus from any of the rights and benefits won for white laborers by the labor movement. But after a nearly-losing battle of over a decade, and significantly boosted by the enacting of the Railway Labor Act of 1934 (as part of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal), Randolph kept the BSCP going and in 1935, it was certified by the National Mediation Board (another New Deal agency created in 1934 to coordinate labor-management relations) and was accepted into the AFL. In 1937, the Pullman Company signed a collective bargaining agreement with BSCP that significantly increased the pay of the black porters, reduced their regular working hours, and mandated over-time pay for any time worked over those hours. When the AFL combined with the Congress of Industrial Organizations, which had been the second largest U.S. union, in 1955, Randolph was elected Vice-President of the merged AFL-CIO.   

Having attained prominence in the labor movement, Randolph also became a key civil rights activist, chosen as leader of the National Negro Congress in 1937, meeting with five U.S. Presidents to try to persuade them to use federal authority to end segregation and discrimination. Another hot issue Randolph agitated against was lynching—the murders, mostly by hanging, by white mobs of thousands of blacks and other racial minorities suspected of crimes or of insufficient deference to their white, Christian alleged superiors. Victims were murdered without even the semblance of a trial, and the perpetrators were rarely ever brought to justice—the few ever tried were routinely found “not guilty” by juries composed of their equally racist peers. First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt was a sympathetic advocate for Randolph’s causes, but the same President who had once stirringly declared, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself!” declined to speak out against lynching, fearful of sundering the Democratic coalition of northern and western progressives and predominantly southern bigots who remained solidly Democratic until soured by civil rights laws enacted in the 1960s. They subsequently defected to the Republicans who had by then mostly abandoned their progressive roots and adopted a strategy of appealing to disgruntled racist Democrats. 

In 1941, a frustrated Randolph informed Roosevelt that if he did not act to end discrimination, he would organize a massive demonstration for civil rights in the capitol of the “arsenal of democracy” itself. FDR made a bargain in which Randolph called off the demonstration and in turn, an Executive Order was issued creating the Fair Employment Act, barring racial discrimination in war industry jobs. Further agitation led to President Truman desegregating the armed forces in 1948, thereby ticking off Strom Thurmond and other Deep South Democrats enough for them to create the States Rights Democratic Party, aka Dixiecrats, in support of segregation and discrimination of blacks. Thurmond ran against Truman that same year, lost, and returned to the Democrats until, outraged by the Civil Rights Act of 1964, he joined the Republicans, distinguished by having one of the longest consecutive runs in the U.S. Senate, from 1954 to 2003, and for having delivered the longest solo filibuster, in 1957, against a civil rights bill, although he would later claim with a straight face that he was never a racist—he just opposed the alleged overreach of the federal government to enforce the U.S. Constitution and other federal laws when states or local jurisdictions refused to abide by them. An example of the obstinate attitudes Randolph and other civil rights activists had to fight against.

A. Philip Randolph meeting with First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt in 1937

The terribly slow pace of positive change, however, prompted Randolph to re-ignite his plan for a grand march on the national capitol. With Bayard Rustin, Randolph organized a coalition of labor, civil rights, and religious organizations that resulted in an estimated 250,000 activists participating in the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, in August 1963, and at which Martin Luther King, Jr., gave his famous “I Have a Dream” speech. Even after this event, through filibusters and other means, southern Democrats blocked President Kennedy’s efforts to get civil rights legislation passed by the U.S. Congress. After JFK's assassination, however, President Johnson who, as a Senator from Texas, had previously opposed civil rights in order not to offend the majority of his electorate, now did an about face and used his various means of persuasion to ensure that the Civil Rights Acts of 1964 and 1965 were passed, ending legal discrimination throughout the nation and starting the still-ongoing process of making bigotry less pervasive in our society.

A. Philip Randolph and Labor Leaders at the Lincoln Memorial at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, August 28, 1963

Through his organizational skills and decades of agitation, along with the fickle hand of fate, A. Philip Randolph helped change the United States for the better, to force it to acknowledge its deficiencies and do better at making the phrase “with liberty and justice for all” something more than a meaningless mockery of the social shackles and injustice too many Americans had to endure for far too long. In recognition of his efforts and achievements, Randolph was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1964 and named Humanist of the Year in 1970. Randolph apparently became an atheist as a young man and as an adult was not known to have been an active participant in any religion, although he was certainly willing to work with others of any faith or no faith for the common cause of racial equality and economic and social justice, founding the A. Philip Randolph Institute in 1965 to continue the work he recognized would never be fully complete but must be constantly strived for. In 1917, as the mission statement for The Messenger, he wrote, “Our aim is to appeal to reason, to lift our pens above the cringing demagogy of our times, and above the cheap peanut politics of the old reactionary negro [sic] leaders. Patriotism has no appeal to us; justice has. Party has no weight to us; principle has. Loyalty is meaningless; it depends on what one is loyal to. Prayer is not one of our remedies; it depends on what one is praying for. We consider prayer nothing more than a fervent wish; consequently the merit and worth of a prayer depend upon what the fervent wish is.”  Fifty-six years later, 1973, Randolph was one of the original 120 signatories to Humanist Manifesto II. Asa Philip Randolph died peacefully at the age of 90 in 1979, not nearly as famous as his assassinated colleague, Dr. King, but equally admirable as a veteran for the long struggle to get federal, state, and local governments all to support and defend civil rights for all and in advocating humanist values.  Certainly more than worthy to name a street after and to remember what he stood for if you ever happen to be driving on A. Philip Randolph Boulevard on the way to see a game or other event in downtown Jacksonville or even to stop, relax, and reflect at the nearby memorial park named for him.

2016 NPR Corporate Sponsorship Fund Drive Update

Carrie Renwick, Fundraising Chair

The purpose of our fund drive is to keep our National Public Radio announcements about the FCFS going strong on NPR member radio station WJCT, 89.9 FM.

Wrapping Up the 2016 Fund Drive

In wrapping up this year's fund drive, we'd like to thank everyone who contributed. We raised $4,865. While this amount falls short of our $6,500 goal, it is, nonetheless, a significant amount and will help keep the FCFS "on the air!"

REMINDER:  Donations for NPR are accepted year-round. If you feel so inclined, there's no need to wait until next year! All contributions are tax-deductible.
Thank you for your support!

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!

The Protect Thy Neighbor Project

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

I must confess, that while I very much support the Protect Thy Neighbor project of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, I saw the initiative as basically operating in Congress and in our state legislature, as well as in the courts, to protect our LGBTQ friends and neighbors from “attempts to use religion to discriminate or deny people their rights.”
I am very sorry to say that I now know better.
We’re not involved in just protecting rights, liberty, and justice. Older and wiser, I now know, thanks to the horrific events at the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, that we’re protecting the very lives of our neighbors of every stripe. 
The Protect Thy Neighbor (PTN) website tells us this:  "Americans United for Separation of Church and State 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."
But there is a great deal more. The efforts to discriminate and deny people their rights act as incubators for hate speech, for the most vile and heinous discrimination that takes its place beside the run up to the Holocaust and to the institution of slavery in the pre-Civil War United States. 
The efforts of a misguided few—some would call “Radical Evangelical Terrorists” or adherents to a “Mutant Christianity” or super right-wing individuals from all faiths, including Christians, Jews, and Muslims—to deny the rights of others has led to a hateful rhetoric that in turn leads to hateful actions such as the murder of innocents that occurred in Orlando. 
We cannot stand “idly by the blood of our neighbors” as the “voice of the blood of our brethren calls out to us from the ground!” The only proper response is to raise our voices with a message of acceptance, of caring, of concern, of respect and dignity with the ultimate goal of drowning out messages like those sent in Orlando. 

Some of our neighbors among the 59 people murdered in a hate-based terrorist attack in Orlando on June 12, 2016.

Raise your voice with mine!  Let’s raise our voices together!  Sign up for legislative updates and the latest updates on our efforts at

A New Group 
"Nocatee Freethinkers"

Calling all Nocatee residents!

A group of Nocatee residents has created a "Nocatee Freethinkers" Facebook page. It is a private Facebook group and can't be found by searching, so those interested should contact the leader directly at

The group looks forward to connecting with more Nocatee residents.

For meeting details, location, and to RSVP to the FCFS Humanist Book Discussion Group - Jacksonville, join 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 (see link below)
  • What:  Planned for discussion:
    • October 2, 2016 - Descartes' Bones:  A Skeletal History of the Conflict Between Faith and Reason, by Russell Shorto
    • November 6, 2016 - Saving Capitalism: For the Many, Not the Few, by Robert Reich
Sixteen years after René Descartes' death in Stockholm in 1650, a pious French ambassador exhumed the remains of the controversial philosopher to transport them back to Paris. Thus began a 350-year saga that saw Descartes' bones traverse a continent, passing between kings, philosophers, poets, and painters. But as Russell Shorto shows in this deeply engaging book, Descartes' bones also played a role in some of the most momentous episodes in history, which are also part of the philosopher's metaphorical remains: the birth of science, the rise of democracy, and the earliest debates between reason and faith. Descartes' Bones is a flesh-and-blood story about the battle between religion and rationalism that rages to this day.

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:  Planned for discussion:
    • October 13, 2016 - Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, by Yuval Noah Harari
    • November 10, 2016 - to be announced
100,000 years ago, at least six human species inhabited the earth. Today there is just one. Us. Homo sapiens. How did our species succeed in the battle for dominance? Why did our foraging ancestors come together to create cities and kingdoms? How did we come to believe in gods, nations and human rights; to trust money, books and laws; and to be enslaved by bureaucracy, timetables, and consumerism? And what will our world be like in the millennia to come? In Sapiens, Dr. Yuval Noah Harari spans the whole of human history, from the very first humans to walk the earth to the radical—and sometimes devastating—breakthroughs of the Cognitive, Agricultural and Scientific Revolutions. Drawing on insights from biology, anthropology, palaeontology and economics, he explores how the currents of history have shaped our human societies, the animals and plants around us, and even our personalities. Have we become happier as history has unfolded? Can we ever free our behaviour from the heritage of our ancestors? And what, if anything, can we do to influence the course of the centuries to come? Bold, wide-ranging, and provocative, Sapiens challenges everything we thought we knew about being human: our thoughts, our actions, our powerand our future.

Link to Book Review:

More Info:  Contact Charlie West at 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 and then click the link to for your purchase.

Why People of Faith Should Support Nontheistic Invocations

Bill Mefford, Faith Organizer, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, Washington, DC

[Article reprinted here, with the kind permission of the author.  NOTE:  Bill Mefford will be the speaker next month,  at our October 17 meeting. The title of his presentation is, “How to Talk to a Person of Faith About Church-State Separation, if You Have ToEditor's Note]

The biblical book of Acts tells a story about the Apostle Paul, known as the greatest church planter in the history of Christianity, walking through the streets of Athens and encountering people from diverse faiths and belief systems.
If you’ve read any of Paul’s letters, you know he was an intense and passionate man, dedicated to evangelizing as many people as he could. Yet, his approach to the Athenians, a people living in a pluralistic society, was not one where he set out to negate or repudiate the value of other religions being practiced.
Instead, he talked with—and even debated—some of the philosophers and leading thinkers. Paul didn’t denounce current religious beliefs but affirmed the opportunity to share what he believed. He didn’t try to force closing other religious or philosophical doors; he simply opened a new door for the Athenians to consider.
This is what evangelism should be about. This is why evangelism, as practiced by Paul, actually thrives in a pluralistic setting; a space where a number of beliefs—or the refusal to believe in anything—is allowed and encouraged to be practiced. And this is why it is mystifying to me, and I would argue it would be mystifying to Paul as well, that Pennsylvania’s House of Representatives (many of whose members I am sure are devout Christians) would refuse to allow people who hold nontheistic beliefs to offer invocations.
The Pennsylvania House of Representatives allows members of faith-based religions to offer invocations to open House sessions. For some odd reason, they are not giving this same opportunity to members of nontheistic groups as well, leading Americans United and American Atheists to sue.

The Pennsylvania House of Representatives should be willing to accept a nontheistic invocation. The House is engaging in discrimination, pure and simple.

An invocation is simply an opening statement that offers thoughtful and reflective ideas before a meeting or event of some kind. I have done this dozens of times. The practice of invoking means literally to beseech or earnestly call for something to happen. Commonly used at the beginning of meetings or events, invocations attempt to bring people together and help establish a mindset for cooperation and effective work.
In an age where many legislative bodies have become bitterly partisan, we need all of the cooperative spirit we can get! In the case of Pennsylvania’s House of Representatives, the proposed involvement of nontheistic people in giving invocations is a helpful reminder that government serves people of many backgrounds and if some are allowed to offer invocations, then all must be given that same opportunity.
So, here is a proposed invocation offered by one of the plaintiffs in the suit against the Pennsylvania House that is not being allowed to be shared:
Thank you for inviting me to speak today.

Our commonwealth was founded on the principles of tolerance, respect, and equality. As we gather, let us fully consider each citizen of this commonwealth as equals in the eyes of the law. May reason and rationality guide our decisions, and may those decisions be considered to be in the best interests of all of us.

We are a commonwealth of many different people working together. We are a commonwealth of Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Christians, agnostics, atheists and many, many others. We may disagree in many respects, but we can all agree here that our laws are the foundation of our civil society. To that end, I ask that those gathered here today remember that the reason that society works is the fair and judicious application of those laws discussed here.

To close, I would like to offer the words of Albert Einstein: “Nothing truly valuable can be achieved except by the unselfish cooperation of many individuals."

Thank you. 
Why would we not want this spoken? How is this something so appalling to the religious expressions of people of faith that it should be banned and not shared? In reality, there is much in this nontheistic invocation I find inspiring and encouraging. The Pennsylvania House would do well to not only allow this invocation (and others) to be shared, but they should earnestly seek to live up to the power of its promise.
The refusal to allow nontheistic people to offer invocations does not do anything to promote Christianity. Again, Christianity thrives when pluralism is practiced and embraced. And this means allowing all people to express their beliefs, or to express no belief, in whatever way doesn’t cause harm to anyone else.
When people of nontheistic beliefs are shut out of participation and are blatantly discriminated against, as is the case in Pennsylvania, it does no one any good. Indeed, it creates unnecessary harm. Discriminating against people with nontheistic beliefs is a denial of who we are as United States citizens and it is a denial of some of the best thoughts and practices from some of the most faithful followers of Christ.

Now, our Correspondent in Thailand...

Morality:  What Is It?  Why Is It Important?  Can You Be Moral without Religion?

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]
One hears so much about the moral superiority of the religious and Christians in particular and about the “fact” that one cannot behave morally without belief in a deity that I decided to explore this behavior. The first task is to define the term morality.

Google defines morality as simply the principles concerning the distinction between right and wrong or good and bad behavior. A code of ethics and ethical behavior is also mentioned. They suggest that morality refers to personal or cultural values, codes of conduct, or social mores. In sociology, we use the term mores to refer to traditions of the way a society behaves and attitudes it has toward a variety of behaviors. Unlike taboos which are never to be violated, mores are somewhat more flexible. Defined as such, morality varies depending on cultural traditions and definitions. Cannibalism was, and perhaps still is, morally acceptable in a variety of cultures over time.

So, for the rest of this essay we will define culture as based on the widely accepted western values of morality and moral behavior. The basis of Western morality does not derive from a religious perspective, instead it comes from the sociopolitical principles of Hammurabi whose code is, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Robert G. Ingersoll wrote in more modern times, ”This is my doctrine: give every other human being every right you claim for yourself.” These quite succinct and powerful credos make one agree with Arthur C. Clarke who said, “One of the greatest tragedies in mankind’s entire history may be that morality was hijacked by religion.” 

I think it is crucial to separate moral human behavior from the judgmental, invented prism of religious ideology and dogma. The notion and contention of the religious that morality is the exclusive domain of religion and can be discussed only in the realm of religion and the belief in a deity has no basis in reality. In fact, great thinkers like Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and others, have debunked this ridiculous notion by pointing out the huge variety of immoral acts perpetrated by and in the name of the deity. Harris even shows how one religion, Jainism, goes further than western religion in its moral perspective. In Letter to a Christian Nation, Harris wrote: “In the Mahavira, the Jain patriarch, surpassed the morality of the Bible with a single sentence:  'Do not injure, abuse, oppress, enslave, insult, torment, torture, or kill any creature or living being.'

"Imagine how different our world might be if the Bible contained this as its central precept. Christians have abused, oppressed, enslaved, insulted, tormented, tortured, and killed people in the name of God for centuries, on the basis of a theologically defensible reading of the Bible.”

In his work, Disproving Christianity and Other Secular Writings, David G. McAffee asks, "Would a just God sentence a morally good individual to hell for never having heard of him? And for that matter, would a just God expel a morally good individual to hell who has heard of Jesus, but simply finds no evidentiary reason to believe? According to any reasonable interpretation of Christianity’s key doctrines, the answer is a simple and firm 'Yes.' This is because, according to Christian dogma, it is impossible to be 'moral' without Jesus Christ; I disagree with this on a fundamental level.”

These are among the reasons that I became a freethinker and why the so-called logic of religious morality and the existence of a deity lost its appeal for me. So by way of introduction, let us agree that morality and moral behavior and religion need to be disassociated from one another. We’ll explore more of this issue in part 2 of this essay.

About Our Newsletter, the First Coast FreeThinker

Information for Readers

The First Coast FreeThinker is published for all freethinkers and potential freethinkers.  Non-members and members may receive the e-mail version indefinitely.  Non-members 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.

The FCFS Has Two Meetup Groups!

First Coast Freethought Society Meetup

To receive automated reminders of FCFS events and to conveniently RSVP, join our FCFS Meetup. Click:

I have been asked, "I am already a member of FCFS. Do I still need to register for Meetup?"

The answer is, "NO." Joining our Meetup will not impact your FCFS membership. We recommend that FCFS members join Meetup to learn of activities that might be posted there and not anywhere else. Also, Meetup makes RSVPing very easy..

For the present, our e-mail announcements and reminders will continue. E-mail distribution of the FreeThinker will continue. And members preferring to receive hard copy, snail-mail newsletters may continue to do so, as well.

Humanist Book Discussion Group Meetup

To attend the FCFS Humanist Book Discussion Group - Jacksonville, you DO need to join the meetup. For meeting details (times, locations, etc., to suggest books or articles for discussion, and to RSVP to attend), you need to join our Humanist Book Group Meetup. Click:

Joining these meetups is not only convenient and free, it provides for easy social networking with like-minded people. Additionally, high meetup membership numbers reflect a strong presence of freethinkers (including atheists, humanists, etc.) in our community, always a desirable goal.

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 2016 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:  904-887-3880
At Large - John Ruskuski:  904-586-7892

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:  904-887-3880
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

October 17, 2016 Meeting

Carrie Renwick, Program Chair

On Monday, October 17, we will welcome the National AU outreach specialist Bill Mefford, Faith Organizer, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, Washington, DC. Bill's talk is titled, “How to Talk to a Person of Faith About Church-State Separation, if You Have To…” I guarantee his talk will be timely, pertinent, and useful.  Also pertinent, see Bill's article elsewhere in this issue, "Why People of Faith Should Support Nontheistic Invocations."


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
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

  • September JAM Activities - Please see for details of the Jacksonville Atheist Meetup Group's many activities.
  • Tuesday, September 13 - JU Philosophy Slam, at the River House (on campus), 7:30 p.m.
  • Monday,  September 19- FCFS Monthly Meeting at Buckman Bridge Unitarian Church, 6:30 p.m.
  • Saturday, September 24 - Submission deadline for the FCFS October 2016 newsletter
  • Sunday, September 25 - FCFS Secular Sunday in the Park, Jacksonville, 10:00 a.m.
  • Tuesday, September 27 - FCFS Monthly Social at Olive Garden, Jacksonville, 6:00 p.m.
  • Sunday, October 2 - Humanist Book Discussion Group - Jacksonville (For details, location, and to RSVP, join meetup:
  • Thursday, October 15 - Humanist Book Discussion Group - St. Augustine, 7:00 p.m. (For location, directions, and gate code, contact Charlie West at
  • Monday, October 17 - FCFS Monthly Meeting at Buckman Bridge Unitarian Church, 6:30 p.m.

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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