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The Atheist Community of Austin is dismayed by the passing of Proposition 2, the amendment to the Texas State Constitution concerning same-sex marriage. The amendment was proposed and championed by Christian conservatives who framed the issue as religious, despite the fact that same-sex, state-granted marriage is a civil rights issue. The State of Texas has never been in the business of sanctifying marriage. Christian conservatives successfully marshaled the votes of believers who were misinformed and manipulated with fear about what was at stake with regard to marriage. 

In denying the contractual rights of a minority of Americans, Christians have used their religious beliefs and sheer numbers for the purposes of religious persecution. America is a constitutional republic where the rights of minorities are not appropriate subjects for majority votes. The US Constitution is on the side of same-sex relationships for both equal protection (14th amendment) and the free exercise of their religion (1st amendment). We predict that when prohibitions against same-sex marriage are successfully overturned on constitutional grounds, as were interracial marriage bans in the 1960s, religious conservatives will cry “judicial activism” and persecution of their beliefs. Despite their shrill claims, the religious liberties of conservative Christians have never had their rights threatened by the possibility same-sex marriage. In contrast, minority religions have been adversely affected by same-sex marriage bans through the tyranny of the majority. Religious freedom is a founding concept of this country, but it has been trampled upon.

The benefits of marriage should be available to all consenting adults who desire marriage and who are willing to undertake the rights and responsibilities of marriage. The poorly written amendment is vindictive toward a minority of Americans and their children. Far from being “pro-family”, the passage of the amendment will harm the children of gays and lesbians, and it interferes with their earned benefits. The amendment weakens the Texas economy by making it more difficult for Texas business to attract skilled workers. Legal challenges over the vague wording of the amendment will likely waste millions of taxpayer dollars.

The Atheist Community of Austin encourages Christians and other believers to examine their collective impact on the world and focus their attention on issues that are truly disruptive to our nation and the world, such as government corruption, education of our children, addressing poverty and health care, and care for the environment. While fomenting hate is a means of mobilizing the vote and reelecting conservative politicians, it does nothing to improve the world.

See the ACA's official statement on same-sex marriage issued March 8, 2004.

The last week of August, the world watched in growing disbelief as life in New Orleans spiraled downward into a nightmare of filthy water, abandoned bodies and desperate citizens pleading for help. Much has been said of the nation’s disappointment in the official response, however, Americans of all stripes, including atheists, are generously contributing to front line relief organizations in an outpouring of support for our Gulf Coast neighbors. The Atheist Community of Austin is now accepting donations that will be passed along to disaster relief organizations such as the Red Cross. Here’s how you can help: * Write a check payable to ACA, and note “Katrina Relief Fund” on it. - Mail it to… Atheist Community of Austin PO Box 3798 Austin, TX 78764 - Or bring it to the meeting this coming Sunday at Crescent City Beignets * Visit http://www.atheist-community.org/donate/ and make a donation to the general fund through PayPal. Send an email to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. (without the X) indicating you wish your donation to go to the Katrina Relief Fund.

ACA will pass 100% of this money along to organizations that are both worthy and sufficiently secular. This is something we can do together as a community, and feel good about it.

Congratulations to the new Board of Directors, which will sit for the first time on June 12. Our current co-chairs, Jeff Dee and Steve Elliott, will continue in thier positions, as well treasurer Don Rhoades. Joe Rhodes will take over as secretary and Jeff Dee as archivist. The board will include returning Directors Don Baker, Russell Glasser and Ashley Perrien, with new members Chuck Clark, Mark Loewe, Arval Bohn and Keith Berka. 

Besides the election, we voted to affiliate ourselves with American Atheists, the Council for Secular Humanism and the American Humanist Society.

Since December 26, all of us have been bombarded by news and pictures of one of the worst natural disasters in modern history. The death toll from the Boxing Day tsunami continues to rise, and aid organizations are scrambling to get resources into place for what will be a prolonged and expensive recovery effort.

Austin atheists are pitching in to help. 

ACA's Tsunami Relief fund drive began at the January 2nd meeting at Cresent City, and will run until February 10th, ACA's birthday. 100% of the money collected will delivered to Oxfam, a highly respected relief organization.

Those wishing to contribute may do so by seeing treasurer Don Rhoades at an ACA meeting, through PayPal (http://www.atheist-community.org/donate.php), or by sending a check or money order to -

ACA PO Box 3798 Austin, TX 78764

Please indicate that your donation is for Tsunami Relief.

Over the past few years, Mynga Futrell and Paul Geisert, with the assistance of such prominent thinkers as Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett, have been calling on atheists to identify themselves as brights, but it never has caught on nearly as much as its proponents had hoped. But in just the past few weeks, another term has achieved far more popular circulation, "the reality-based community."

In his article, "Without a Doubt," published last month, author Ron Suskind brought the term into print, perhaps for the first time. He attributes it to an unnamed senior presidential adviser, who defines it as people who "believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality." Recalling his conversation with the aide, Suskind writes, "I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism."

The first week in November has been a less than encouraging time for that community.

In the presidential election, a few atheists found valid reasons for preferring the current incumbent to any of his challengers (the Democratic candidate as well as several third-party and independent alternatives), but many secular people and even some religious moderates have been concerned about what George W. Bush alternately has done and has promised to do in order to court religious fundamentalists in this country--deferring to religious strictures against stem-cell research, reproductive access, and equal rights for sexual minorities, and also providing direct federal assistance to religious groups. None of the above has been particularly heartening for people who believe in scientific research, advances in health and medicine, personal liberty, or the very wall of separation between religion and state. In a statement released Wednesday, November 3, Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, is quoted as saying, "The Religious Right is already crowing about providing Bush's margin of victory. The movement's leaders expect to be handsomely rewarded for that. The culture war may go nuclear."

Beyond the incumbent securing another four years in office, eleven states featured ballot initiatives that asked voters to deny same-sex couples the right to marry; on Tuesday, November 2, the initiatives passed in eleven states. Since the Massachusetts Supreme Court protected that right late last year in its state, a debate about same-sex marriage rights has raged on across the nation. In late September, the leadership of the US House of Representatives tried, albeit unsuccessfully, to block its legality anywhere in the country by asking its members to vote on a constitutional amendment, which the president openly supported. And back in February, San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom briefly sanctioned civil marriages between same-sex couples in his city, until they were stopped and invalidated by the state of California. After Newsom made his bold move, the Board of Directors of the Atheist Community of Austin weighed in on the issue with a resolution in March, announcing its opposition to applying religious strictures to what is legally a secular institution.

Across the nation, the latest victories by religious fundamentalists seemed complete by Wednesday, November 3, but in Texas, the struggle continued through Friday.

A final vote on high-school health textbooks by the Texas State Board of Education (SBOE) still was scheduled for Friday, November 5. The proposed textbooks have been controversial because of their failure to provide medically accurate information about contraception.

The Texas State Board earlier held two public hearings on the textbooks. Health educators and medical experts, who oppose the textbooks, came out in full force for the hearing on July 14. Fundamentalist Christian groups, who support the textbooks in the name of "abstinence before marriage," dominated the hearing on September 8. While other textbooks also were being considered this year, the two hearings focused solely on the proposed health textbooks for high-school students.rnrnConsequently, the Texas State Board's initial meeting on Thursday, November 4, took an unexpected turn when SBOE member Terri Leo of District 6, arguably the member most aligned with the Christian right here in Texas, expressed contention with health textbooks proposed for students in the sixth, seventh and eighth grades. She faulted one textbook series for failing to include gender-specific language when discussing sexual attraction and asked that revisions specify that such attraction is explicitly and exclusively for the opposite sex. In the process, she referred to the lack of specific gender references as "asexual stealth phrases." She claimed to make her objections on the basis of Texas law, specifically the state's Defense of Marriage Act, which denies same-sex couples the right to marry (although it says nothing about the right to desire). After Leo voiced her objections, Don McLeroy of District 9 asked that the publishers refer explicitly to "husband and wife" when discussing marriage instead of "partners." He tried to justify his recommendation by pointing out the initiatives against equal marriage rights for same-sex couples that had been passed by voters in eleven states two days earlier. By Friday, November 5, publishers had agreed to include definitions of marriage as between a man and a woman in addition to using the phrase "husbands and wives" instead of "partners" when referring to spouses. Yet Mary Helen Berlanga of District 2 expressed reservations about these revisions, saying that the Texas State Board's political interference set a very bad precedent. Her colleague David Bradley of District 7, another supporter of the religious right, had made motions to pass all the textbooks, except for the high-school textbooks, with all the latest revisions to which the publishers had agreed, but Berlanga offered substitute motions to approve the books without those revisions. However, Berlanga only picked up the support of three of her colleagues, Renee Nunez of District 1, Joe J. Bernal of District 3, and Mavis B. Knight of District 13. Those four are the only Democrats currently serving on this elected body in a state where the Republican party effectively has been taken over by Christian fundamentalists. After Berlanga's substitute motions failed, Bradley's won decisively.

Then the Texas State Board finally voted on the high-school health textbooks, which were approved thirteen to one. Knight provided the sole dissenting vote.rnrnIn a press conference immediately afterwards, Samantha Smoot, executive director of the Texas Freedom Network, told reporters, "This is a sad day for Texas teens. Four million teenagers will rely on these textbooks for information that is accurate and up-to-date. Instead of doing the responsible thing and providing high school students with life-saving information about sex and health, the State Board of Education has left them to fend for themselves and get information from each other and sources like the internet and MTV."

Randall Ellis, executive director of the Lesbian/Gay Rights Lobby of Texas, also was there to comment on the Texas State Board's dogged insistence on exclusively heterosexual terms for describing relationships. He suggested that the publishers' compromises result in textbooks that will be alienating to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered youth.

In any event, the issue of separation between religion and state remains underacknowledged in mainstream political discourse, and the extent of its stakes often has been minimized. Ironically, the only group that comes close to appreciating its full implications are the country's religious fundamentalists, who choose to oppose it. Where does that leave the rest of us?

In televised debates, the president's Democratic challenger, US Senator John F. Kerry of Massachusetts, said that he would not want to impose his own Catholic faith on other citizens, including "atheists," an explicit reference to nontheistic Americans by a national politician that is shocking because it is so seldom made. But on Wednesday, November 3, the Senator ended his concession speech with what he described as a prayer: "God Bless America."

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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