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On Friday, June 25, the Atheist Community of Austin returned to MonkeyWrench Books to celebrate the 35th Anniversary of the Stonewall uprising, historically seen as the beginning of the modern gay movement, when drag queens and their supporters resisted a police raid of a gay bar in Greenwich Village known as the Stonewall Inn for two consecutive nights, June 27-28, 1969. (The event also could have been called "Lawrence v. Texas 1," as the next day, June 26, was the first anniversary of the Supreme Court decision that decriminalized private homosexual conduct between consenting adults.) We used the occasion to acknowledge acclaimed author and fellow atheist Gore Vidal, a major figure in gay history both before and after the historic rebellion, and a noted critic of religious extremism, particularly its attempts to constrain human freedom, thought and pleasure. At our event, we screened a controversial movie adaptation of Vidal's novel, Myra Breckinridge (1970), a camp classic starring both Raquel Welch and Rex Reed in the title role, and featuring none other than Mae West in a legendary comeback. The screening drew familiar faces as well as new people, who had the chance to hear about ACA's activities and goals. Also, three of them officially joined ACA as members for the first time that night. ACA thanks all of those who attended the event or told others about it, and especially thanks MonkeyWrench Books both for use of the venue and for assistance with the publicity. The store, a volunteer organization run by a collective, is located at 110 E. North Loop (aka 53rd St., just west of Avenue F).

On Monday, June 14, in the case Elk Grove Unified School District v. Michael Newdow, the US Supreme Court has allowed the phrase "under God," which Congress inserted into the Pledge of Allegiance fifty years ago, to stand for the time being. The Atheist Community of Austin co-filed an amicus brief on behalf of Michael Newdow, a fellow atheist whose challenge to the theistic reference was upheld by a lower court. The separation between church and state, as set down by the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, has been an important issue in the matter.

However, the Supreme Court's 8-0 ruling against the lower court's decision was largely the result of a technicality, with the Justices' actual opinionsdivided. Writing for the majority, Justice John Paul Stevens, joined by Justices Anthony Kennedy, David Souter, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Stephen Breyer, argued that Newdow, who challenged the current Pledge on behalf of his daughter, lacked the custodial standing to bring the case, siding with only one of the objections in the amicus brief filed by Sandra L. Banning, the child's mother and also a devout Christian. (The Counsel of Record for Banning was attorney Kenneth W. Starr, the former US Solicitor General under President George H. W. Bush, and also the former Independent Counsel in charge of investigating President Bill Clinton.) In a dissenting opinion, Chief Justice William Rehmquist, joined by Justice Sandra Day O'Connor and (in part) by Justice Clarence Thomas, said that Newdow had the right to bring the case to court, but that the words "under God" do not violate the Establishment Clause; Justices O'Connor and Thomas wrote their own separate opinions as well. Justice Antonin Scalia had recused himself from the case.

A useful guide to the case can be found at the website Restore our Pledge of Allegiance. Amicus briefs in support of both sides can be accessed here, including Banning's overall position. One can also read the amicus brief co-filed in support of Newdow by the Atheist Community of Austin, Seattle AtheistsSecular Coalition for America, and Institute for Humanist Studies.

At the Supreme Court's own website, one can also examine the oral arguments that were presented before the Justices in this case on March 24. Here Newdow himself addresses the issue of standing with the argument that Banning can raise their child as she wishes but that the state itself has no business promoting religion. He notes that "there's a crucial difference between government speech endorsing religion, which the Establishment Clause forbids, and private speech endorsing religion, which the Free Speech and Free Exercise Clauses [also from the First Amendment] protect." Newdow's argument distinguishes Banning's parental involvement from the state's interference, but the Supreme Court's decisionnevertheless dismisses Newdow's standing on custody grounds without taking a position on the government's promotion of a monotheistic entity.

Still, by declining to rule on the constitutionality of the theistic reference itself in this election year, majority opinion on the Supreme Court has left open the possibility for another student, or another student's parent, to pursue a similar case in the future. The Atheist Community of Austin will continue to report on, as well as support, challenges to the current Pledge of Allegiance on the principle of church-state separation.

On the first Sunday of every June, the Atheist Community of Austin has a booth at the Texas Pride Festival, sponsored by the Lesbian/Gay Rights Lobby of Texas as part of its Texas Pride Weekend

The yearly event at Fiesta Gardens gives ACA members an opportunity to meet other gay and gay-friendly people and to catch up with gay and gay-friendly friends, talking to one and all about our organization's activities and goals. The five religious fundamentalists protesting outside the gates this year also provided yet another reminder about the importance of church-state separation!

The relevance of a secular society to equal rights and individual liberty was also addressed on that day's edition of The Atheist Experience. Co-host Keryn Glasser and producers Steve Elliott and Joe Rhodes had just arrived from the Festival to do our live television program, which begins at 4:30 pm each Sunday. Other ACA members continued to run the booth and enjoy the event, where over a hundred other local organizations also participated.

We, the Board of Directors of the Atheist Community of Austin, resolve to condemn the interference of religious beliefs in the question of same-sex marriage. We are unaware of any compelling secular arguments against same-sex marriage, and in accordance with the principle of separation between church and state, no citizen may be denied any right because of the religious beliefs of others. In its recent decision affirming the right of any two consenting adults to marry, regardless of the gender (Goodridge et al. v. Dept. of Public Health et al.), the Massachusetts Supreme Courtnoted, "Simply put, the government creates civil marriage. In Massachusetts, civil marriage is, and since pre-Colonial days has been, precisely what its name implies: a wholly secular institution." Religious prohibitions on homosexuality are irrelevant here: Marriage is a concept of civil law, and while religious figures can be authorized by the state to perform marriages, no religious ceremony is required to validate a marriage. Whether in Massachusetts, in San Francisco, here in Texas, or elsewhere in the United States, we the Board defend that institution against any attempt to impose religious strictures on it, particularly ones that impinge on individual liberty and equal rights.

The Board of Directors of the Atheist Community of Austin voted on December 14th to oppose the efforts of groups that try to impose the restrictions of their religious beliefs on the health care of the general population of Austin. Specifically, the Board addressed boycott threats made by a religious coalition led by the Texas Contractors and Suppliers for Life against companies involved in the construction of a Planned Parenthood facility in Austin known as The Choice Project.

Board member Allan Campbell stated, "The proposed clinic would be a vital asset to our community by providing women's health exams, contraception and abortion services." These important services have already become less available to poor or uninsured women due to the influence of Catholic Church doctrine at Brackenridge, Austin's public hospital. Now, a minority of religious extremists are waging economic blackmail in an attempt to stop the construction of the Planned Parenthood clinic that would provide health care services that the majority of Austin residents consider valuable.

Religious doctrine must not be allowed to affect the kinds of medical services available to all Austin residents. The ACA Board joins hands with other activists and organizations that promote free choice in health care for all residents, not just those who can afford private doctors and hospitals.

Atheist Community of Austin

The Atheist Community of Austin is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization dedicated to promoting positive atheism and the separation of church and state. The ACA serves the local Austin community through outreach programs, providing informational resources and various volunteer activities. In addition, the ACA serves the community-at-large through free online portals including informational wikis, regular audio/video podcasts and interactive blogs.

We define atheism as the lack of belief in gods. This definition also encompasses what most people call agnosticism.

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