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The "Pledge Protection Act" (HR2389) states:

"...no court created by Act of Congress shall have any jurisdiction, and the Supreme Court shall have no appellate jurisdiction, to hear or decide any question pertaining to the interpretation of, or the validity under the Constitution of, the Pledge of Allegiance ... or its recitation."

While the bill passed the House (260-167) it's unclear whether or not it is likely to pass in the Senate. Opponents claim that this bill, if it becomes law, would be a critical blow to judicial independence. Congress has the authority to limit the jurisdiction of federal courts, but that power must be exercised cautiously or the judicial system can become crippled. 

Stripping the federal courts of jurisdiction on specific issues can result in contradictory and inconsistent rulings as individual state court rulings will have ultimate authority. Stripping the Supreme Court's jurisdiction over questions of Constitutional validity undermines the very purpose of that court and prevents them from revisiting previous rulings. In addition to impacting the jurisdiction of federal courts, this bill ensures that religious and nonreligious minorities have no legal means of defending their rights.

Rep. Zach Wamp (R-Tenn) spoke in support of the bill, stating "We should not and cannot rewrite history to ignore our spiritual heritage." As one ACA member pointed out, "Apparently only the re-write of '54 is acceptable." One wonders if Rep. Wamp is familiar with the history of the pledge...

In 1892, President Harrison proclaimed that a pledge written by Francis Bellamy (and published in the magazine "The Youth's Companion") be included in school ceremonial observances of Columbus Day. In 1924, the pledge was edited, changing the words "my flag" to "the flag of the United States of America." In 1940, the Supreme Court upheld a school district's requirement that students salute the flag and pledge allegiance to it. That decision was challenged and reversed in 1943, with the court ruling that obligatory recitation of the pledge was a violation of the free speech protections afforded by the First Amendment. Congress officially recognized the Pledge of Allegiance in 1945 and passed a law stating that no one could change its words without congressional approval.

If the story of the pledge had stopped here, Rep. Wamp's comment might almost be valid. However, in 1954, President Eisenhower requested that Congress add the phrase "under God" to the pledge. Congress approved that change, providing us with the current version. It is particularly ironic that they chose to insert an incredibly divisive phrase directly before the word "indivisible".

The existence of the phrase "under God" isn't problematic for all atheists. For some it's beneath concern or even an unfortunate but acceptable tradition. For others it represents a much bigger problem. Regardless of your personal position on the significance or constitutionality of the phrase, this bill is a serious threat. It isn't simply an attempt to protect the cherished "pet phrase" of the majority, it is an attack on the very structure of our judicial system - it's an attempt to avoid, by majority edict, a question of Constitutional validity.

Our Constitution exists to protect the rights of the minority from the whim of the majority. Judicial independence is critical to that end and this bill attempts to undermine that authority.

I urge all concerned members to contact their Senators and insist that they oppose this bill. If this bill had been made law in 1941, we'd all be forced to recite the pledge despite our free speech protections.

It's time that our elected officials stand up to support the idea that the freedoms and rights provided by our Constitution exist for everyone and not simply to protect the opinions of those in the majority.

No law should be shielded from Constitutional scrutiny and no just law should need such protection.

-Matt Dillahunty

President, Atheist Community of Austin

SHARE! YOUR HEART AND HOME

Atheist/Agnostic Host Families Needed For International Atheist/Agnostic Teens 

Atheist and/or Agnostic HOST FAMILIES– with or without children- are needed to host international teens from Western Europe. The students are 15 to 18 years old and will attend the high school closest to their host family’s home. The host family will provide a bed, meals, as well as friendship, understanding, and a genuine desire to share the American way of life with these youngsters. The students speak English, are covered by medical and dental insurance, have spending money for their personal expenses, and will arrive in AUGUST for enrollment in their new high schools. 

Interested families are able to review the student’s applications and can call Yvette Coffman at the SHARE! Southwest Office at 1-800-941-3738 for more information. 

The SHARE! High School Exchange Program is sponsored by ERDT, a non-profit educational foundation.

Every eight weeks the ACA has a blood drive at The Blood & Tissue Center of Central Texas on 4300 North Lamar Boulevard. Each drive is on Saturday at 10 am. The schedule throughout 2007 is:

  • November 25, 2006
  • January 20, 2007
  • March 17, 2007
  • May 12, 2007
  • July 7, 2007
  • September 1, 2007
  • October 27, 2007
  • December 29, 2007

Dates for 2008 are:

  • February 23, 2008
  • April 19, 2008
  • June 14, 2008
  • August 9, 2008
  • October 4, 2008
  • November 29, 2008

If you are interesting in participating see their FAQ and make sure you are eligible to donate. Feel free to drop by for moral support even if you aren't eligible.

The ACA is making ripples! We're having an impact on the world through our various efforts. The Internet is certainly helping to make that possible. Let's take a look at some of the things we've done in recent years:

Looking back to 2004, one of the ACA's more notable accomplishments was our participation in a "friend of the court" brief for the Supreme Court in the Michael Newdow pledge case. While his case was thrown out on a frustrating technicality, he will likely be back before the Supreme Court on the pledge issue in the next few years. Perhaps we can re-file the brief for that case when it happens. ACA member Jeff Dee was a major contributor to the brief on the ACA's behalf.

A number of our members have also testified before the Texas State Board of Education to try to improve the textbooks used in schools throughout Texas. We like to think our testimony in 2003 helped keep Intelligent Design out of the biology textbooks under review that year. Unfortunately, in 2005 the health textbooks were already censored of much of the contraceptive information before the state reviewed them. They've gone to press as "damaged goods", as far as we're concerned.

One of the cool things on the Internet is an audio syndication mechanism called "podcasting". Our Atheist Experience TV show and Non-ProphetsInternet Radio show have been podcast for a number of months now. Both shows are easily found in well-known audio syndication hubs and both now have an international audience. The Atheist Experience has had kudos from as far away as England and Canada. A recent note from American Samoa have us a little taste of atheist life there. Letters to the Non-Prophets have come from Canada, Scotland, and Australia. A universal theme to these letters seems to be a sense of amazement at just how crazy those religious nuts are in the US. We agree with them! And that might be why they like our shows so much. Another common theme is that they love what we're doing and they wish they could join us for dinner! Both of these shows are high caliber efforts that rival much of the other atheist media out there. We're lucky to be host to these excellent programs.

Atheist Eve is a monthly cartoon by ACA member Tracie Harris that is carried on the ACA web site. ACA member Don Baker lends an idea here and there to the strip. Atheist Eve was picked up in November 2005 by the Icelandic site Vantru. Her strip appears here, though you'll have to know some Iclandic to read the page. Vantru, which means disbelief in Icelandic, is an Iceland-based group promoting the separation of church and state in their country. Sadly, in Iceland there is no notion of separation of church and state. And, according to Vantru member Hjalti Runar Omarsson, the Icelandic constitution states that the state must "support and defend" the Evangelical-Lutheran National Church--the state church. This is despite the fact that over a quarter of the population doesn't believe in Gods. We certainly hope that Tracie's humor translates to Icelandic to help bolster the esprit de corps among atheists there. 

More recently, by Freethunk.net, a freethinker humor web site run by Jeff Swenson has picked up Atheist Eve. Jeff is a cartoonist himself who saw the need to bring together other cartoonists under the same umbrella. He came up with the nonsense word Freethunk to refer to all freethinking entertainment that could be considered part of the new, emerging pop culture--from net radio to comics to fiction. There's certainly enough of us freethinkers to warrant a good humor site. Check out Atheist Eve and a host of other cartoonists featured there. Freethunk is gathering momentum and we wish them well.

Other ACA members have had an impact with their writing efforts. Many of our members have web logs, or blogs. Russell Glasser's Kazim's Kornerhas excellent postings concerning atheist issues. Lately, Russell has been busy with his graduate school classes, so he's not writing quite as frequently. Don Baker has his Christianity Meme web site, where he looks at Christianity from the perspective of memetics.

ACA member David Kent had an article published in the November 2005 issue of Freethought Today, the publication of the Freedom From Religion Foundation titled "The Lethal Mix of Religion and Torture" concerning the long association between religion and torture. Don Baker wrote the February 2006 feature article for Internet Infidels, titled "ID, Gaps, and Vats", a tongue-in-cheek look at the intelligent design movement and the logical consequences of intelligent design theory. While these are widely viewed publications, we have a handful of ACA members who have had publications, such as letters to the editor, which are read by hundreds to thousands of people.

If you know of anyone's efforts we've missed, send us an e-mail and we'll give them credit.

We had our yearly ACA Board elections at Brick Oven Pizza on May 7th. This year, we elected offices of President and Vice President, instead of two co-chairs. The offices of Treasurer and Secretary were filled from the at large board seats at the May 14, 2006 board meeting. The electees were:

  • President: Matt Dillahunty
  • Vice President: Don Baker
  • Secretary: Steven Elliott
  • Treasurer: Joe Rhodes
  • At large board seats:
    • Keith Berka
    • Chuck Clark
    • Mark Loewe
    • Don Rhoades
    • Joe Zamecki

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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