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Atheists demand State Representative apologize

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Guest Post from Brian Fields - Co-Chair of Secular Coalition for Pennsylvania

HARRISBURG, PA, January 20 -- Despite the claims of bill sponsor Rep. Saccone, atheist groups in Pennsylvania strongly oppose HB 1728, the "In God We Trust" bill that seeks to force public schools to display a discriminatory and unconstitutional religious message. So do many liberal Christian (and other religious) groups because it is an encroachment on the Constitutionally-mandated separation of government and religion.

On Sunday, January 19th, 2014, CBS 21 (WHP, Harrisburg, PA) aired a program called "Face the State with Robb Hanrahan." During this program, Rep. Saccone claimed that "the head of the Pennsylvania Atheists" (a non-existent group) came to him after his last rally offering support for his bill. However, he never identified this person by name and no atheist group leader, to our knowledge, attended that event. We ask Rep. Saccone to name this leader, as we cannot imagine an atheist group leader supporting this clearly divisive bill.

In addition, Rep. Saccone misrepresented the bill as "bipartisan" - indeed, it did pass the Education Committee, but with only two exceptions (one Democrat and one Republican), the vote was directly down party lines.

It's absurd to claim that this bill includes language that is "inclusive." "In God We Trust" does not represent anyone who does not worship "God." This includes Buddhists (who do not have a god), Hindus, and many other religions. It also includes atheists, who do not worship any deity. In the program, Rep. Saccone claimed that atheists can make "God" be "whatever god that they worship in the form of maybe it's [sic] materialism or something else in life that they look at [sic]." This shows an ignorance of atheists generally and is offensive to us specifically because of the misrepresentation of our community as "materialists" or the assumption that we would feel worship is a positive activity. None of us have a "God" to trust, thus this motto does not represent us.

Rep. Saccone knows that there is strong opposition to his bill. His presentation on the program includes gross misrepresentations of our community at the least and we feel he at least owes us an apology. Rep. Saccone should talk to the atheist and secular community to learn our positions before actually representing them to the state at large.

This bill is divisive. It misuses classroom resources such as money and education time. This bill promotes a specifically religious message. Contrary to what Rep. Saccone claims, nothing in his "In God We Trust" bill is remotely patriotic. It also creates a strong impression that the government supports a particular idea of a "God," which is not permissible under the First Amendment. Because of the latter, if passed this bill will likely be challenged in court, adding court costs to the list of expenses that our already cash-strapped school districts and ultimately the taxpayers would have to bear.

Many additional people in the atheist community cannot sign their names below because, sadly and angrily, they fear personal and professional repercussions from their public support of non-religion. Their situation aptly demonstrates the divisiveness of HB 1728.

We respectfully request an apology from Rep. Saccone for misrepresenting the atheist community and equal time from WHP 21 to represent a secular perspective of HB 1728.

Sincerely,

Brian Fields - Newville, PA - President, PA Nonbelievers and Co-Chair,
Secular Coalition for Pennsylvania
Darren Smith - Center Valley, PA - Vice President, Lehigh Valley Humanists
Paul Tucker - Dillsburg, PA - Organizer, Dillsburg Area Freethinkers
Margaret Downey - Pocopson, PA - Founder and President, Freethought Society
Stephen Hirtle - Pittsburgh, PA - Steel City Skeptics organizer
Timothy and Tina Havener - Lock Haven, PA - Organizers, PA Wilds
Freethought Society
Shannon and Linda Turk - Wrightsville, PA - Organizers, PA Nonbelievers
Staks Rosch - Philadelphia, PA - Coordinator, Philadelphia Coalition of
Reason
Cathryn Smith - Lebanon, PA - Director, PA Nonbelievers
Janice Rael, Organizer, Philadelphia Atheists Meetup
John Murray – Pittsburgh, PA – Organizer, Pittsburgh Atheists Facebook Meetup

Please check out the Atheism 101 series for frequently asked topics.

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