Freedom From Religion Foundation Fails To Intimidate In Oklahoma

water towerTodd Starnes of Fox News has reported on a water tower in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma that has roused the ire of atheists in another state.  The Freedom From Religion Foundation, a Wisconsin-based atheist organization, routinely inserts itself into matters in other parts of the country in an effort to get anything it deems to be tied to religion removed from public property.  The new water tower in Broken Arrow is the latest target of their indignation.

Fox News – The city council in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma was in a bit of a pickle.

The city was in the middle of a growth spurt and needed high ground to build a one-million gallon water tower.

But the property they needed was owned by the First Baptist Church. So they made a deal with Pastor Nick Garland and the congregation.

“We donated the land and the easements for the tower,” Pastor Garland told me. “In kind, they said they would paint our name on the water tower.”

“Our people are very generous,” he said, referring to his congregation. “We want to be good citizens as well as good Christian folks representing the kingdom of God.”

“We’re in the business of talking about Living Water and this (deal) provided water for a community and water for our church and water for a whole new area of the city to develop,” the pastor said.

But it turns out – a gaggle of perpetually offended atheists, agnostics and free-thinkers from Wisconsin took issue with the deal.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation fired off a sinister letter to the city – warning that the inclusion of the church’s name on the water tower violates federal law.

“At some point that name is going to have to come off the water tower,” attorney Andrew Seidel told television station KTUL. “The water tower is in fact, government owned, and on government land. And as such, it can’t be advertising for any religion.”

Seidel accused the city of promoting the Baptist religion.

“The Supreme Court has spoken very clearly on this, and it has said the government can’t promote one religion or church over another, or religion over non-religion,” he told the television station.

Well, the good people of Broken Arrow don’t appreciate a bunch of out-of-town atheists causing trouble. And the city’s attorney politely told the Freedom From Religion Foundation that the church’s name is going to stay on the water tower.

“It wasn’t intended to endorse any sort of religion; it was simply to recognize them for the land contribution. It was a contract,” City Attorney Beth Anne Wilkening told television station KOTV.

Pastor Garland told me the church is grateful for the way the city has handled the controversy.

“They stood up for us – against the Freedom From Religion Foundation,” he said. “They have been very gracious to us.”

I’ve been writing about the Freedom From Religion Foundation for a few years.  They have made it their mission to eliminate any semblance of what they deem to be government-sponsored religion or religious activity.  In their  ‘2015 Year in Review‘ they proudly boast of their successes.

FFRF logged just under 5,000 requests for help to end state/church violations from the public! (All complainants received educational responses.) FFRF’s five staff attorneys, with intern help, sent out 1,186 formal complaint letters to public officials in 2015, achieving a whopping 241 total victories (with more to come). That total doesn’t include follow-up letters, open records requests, or mass mailings, such as 420 letters to Wisconsin superintendents regarding vouchers.
 
Top 10 states (with the most state/church violations): 1. Texas 2. Florida 3. Alabama 4. Illinois 5. Wisconsin 6. Missouri 7. Oklahoma 8. Ohio 9. California 10. Georgia
 
Top 10 issue areas: 1. Violations in public schools. 2. In God We Trust. 3. Miscellaneous. 4. Religious Displays 5. Nativities 6. Crosses 7. Funding 8. Government Prayer 9. Legislation 10. Legislative Prayer
 
FFRF had 180 school victories, including halting: prayer or praying faculty in 40 public school; school board prayer in 5 districts; 12 bible distributions on school grounds plus removing 22 religious displays from public schools. FFRF removed 5 crosses from public property; 7 other religious displays from public property (including “Jesus Loves You” sign in Hawkins, Texas).
 
Five victories stopped public funding of religion (including city sponsorship of a Gospel Fest in Jonesboro, Ga., and rescinding of a $3,000 grant from Covington County, Ala., to a Baptist ministry).
 
Among notable victories:
• Portland schools stopped school concerts at the Grotto (Roman Catholic) shrine.
• University of Florida added a Thomas Paine quote to a new building.
• Norfolk State University included a secular message at its Founder’s Day event.
• Coral Springs and Deerfield Beach, Fla., dropped invocations from city meetings.
• Chanute Schools (Kansas) removed a Jesus painting from a public school.
• “Bible Man” was ousted from Grundy County Schools, Tenn.
 
FFRF’s legal team issued a “pray to play” exposé condemning more than 25 public universities for allowing football coaches to impose their personal religion on players by hiring Christian chaplains. The report, released in August, involved more than a year of work and research by Staff Attorneys Andrew Seidel, Patrick Elliott and interns.
The atheists at the Freedom From Religion Foundation need to be reminded that the First Amendment provides for freedom of religion, not freedom from religion.  But in spite of this, all it takes is some threatening letters and apparently they will get results from wimpy government officials and school administrators.
 
I’m pleased to see a city here in Oklahoma telling the FFRF to go jump in a lake.  With the limited funding they have, the FFRF is only able to file a handful of lawsuits each year.  Most of their successes come from threats and intimidation so if more people would respond to them as Broken Arrow has there would be nothing they could do about it.
 
Until atheists and those who do have a religion but hate Christianity can go out in public and see absolutely nothing having to do with religion I have no doubt that the FFRF and other such organizations will consider their work to be incomplete.  I cannot help but pity the people who devote their lives and occupations to such a cause.  Theirs is a losing battle no matter how much success they think they have.  Some will understand that assessment; some won’t.
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