Normal Bob Seal Daily Harold article
April 22, 2003

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No Easter, no Passover, but atheists convene all the same

At a deeply religious time, when most Christians celebrate Easter, and Jews observe Passover, the American Atheists host their national convention at Indian Lakes Resort in Bloomingdale.

"It was a double-header weekend," says Frank Zindler, director of the American Atheist Press, acknowledging the twin religious significance of the weekend.

But don't read too much into the decision by the national atheist group based in New Jersey. The timing should not be construed as a religious or political statement, assures Zindler, a science writer and author.

"We've discovered that ever since the time of (American Atheists' founder) Madalyn Murray O'Hair, Easter is the time you get the absolute best group rates at hotels," Zindler chuckles. With nearly 300 atheists from around the nation and other countries converging in the DuPage County suburb, group rates matter.

Convention speakers included serious academic types such as scientists, professors and a Fulbright Scholar. But the group also welcomed the inflammatory, irreverent comedy of writer "Normal Bob Smith," who operates a "Jesus Dress Up" Web site that allows guests to paste a variety of outfits (including a dress, bunny slippers or a diaper) on a cartoon Jesus hanging from a cross.

The latter seems at odds with the less-antagonistic atheist philosophy posted at "An Atheist loves himself and his fellow man instead of a god. An Atheist accepts that heaven is something for which we should work now - here on earth - for all men together to enjoy. An Atheist accepts that he can get no help through prayer, but that he must find in himself the inner conviction and strength to meet life, to grapple with it, to subdue it and to enjoy it. An Atheist accepts that only in a knowledge of himself and a knowledge of his fellow man can he find the understanding that will help to a life of fulfillment."

This year's convention, which concluded Monday with a god-forsaken national board meeting, marked the 40th anniversary of the historic 1963 U.S. Supreme Court decision (Murray vs. Curlett) that took forced prayer out of public schools.

That court's ruling certainly didn't squelch the debate about religion and government during the past four decades. We still bicker about whether we are a nation "under God."

People who read my columns supporting the legal move to drop the words "under God" from our Pledge of Allegiance often assume I'm an atheist. I am not. I'd complain just as much if the majority wanted to add the words, "one nation, under no God" to the Pledge of Allegiance.

I consider religion, or the lack thereof, to be a private matter, and not something for governments to decide. I like to think we have a different philosophy from Saddam Hussein, who proclaimed a national belief in a supreme being by writing "God is Great" on the Iraq flag.

While Zindler says life since the 1963 court decision has improved for many atheists in this country, "at the same time the dangers have grown."

For every advance made in the name of atheism, religious factions escalated their efforts to keep or add God to the public stage, Zindler says. The entire First Amendment is under attack, he says, and "we're sort of at the hydrogen bomb stage."

Zindler points to a new poll showing 14 percent of Americans are "without religion." But he also notes that George Bush has had success getting taxpayers to fund "faith-based" initiatives, and make missionaries part of the plan to rebuild Iraq. He concludes: "The intrusion of religion into the governmental public area is greater than it ever has been."


Daily Harold
Posted April 22, 2003

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