CSH Goes into Action to Defend Religious Liberty
in the South
by John Gaeddert
The following article is from the Secular
Humanist Bulletin, Volume 19, Number 4.
After Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore lost his court fight last fall to keep his 5,300-pound graven granite image of the Ten Commandments in the Alabama Justice Building, some of his supporters staged an eight-day, five-state rally, allegedly in support of “religious liberty.” In actuality, the “Save the Commandments Caravan” supported government endorsement of their own religion, thereby threatening religious liberty for all.
The “caravan,” complete with a full-sized model of the monument (dubbed “Roy’s Rock” by local critics), staged Ten Commandments rallies in a number of cities, including one (organized by Sadie Fields, leader of the Georgia Christian Coalition) in front of the gold-domed Georgia Capitol in Atlanta. That rally got widespread media coverage and included pandering remarks from a number of politicians, including Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue.
But they did not go unchallenged. Immediately afterward, thirty or so lovers of religious liberty gathered around the same microphone for a counterprotest, organized and led by the Council for Secular Humanism Southern Director (and former executive director) Dr. Ed Buckner.
As Buckner noted in a press release, written and circulated in advance of the rally by John Gaeddert and Kevin Christopher for the Council, the second rally was “not a protest against religion”; it was “a polite, civil protest by all who cherish religious freedom, whether as religious or as nonreligious people.”
The rally was sponsored by the Council in collaboration with the Atlanta Freethought Society, Citizens for First Freedoms, the Georgia Chapter of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, and the Alabama Freethought Association (a chapter of the Freedom from Religion Foundation). The protestors included Buckner, his son, Michael, at least a few Christians and Jews, and secular humanists and freethinkers from Georgia and Alabama.
Buckner led off the speakers and moderated the program. Other speakers included Ray Knisely, Bill Burton, and Sue Garland of the Atlanta Freethought Society; John Elliott of the Greater Atlanta Interfaith Alliance; Patricia Cleveland, Hank Shiver, and Alice Shiver of the Alabama Freethought Association; Jeff Selman of Cobb County, Georgia (defender of science and evolutionary theories from creationist attacks); and Larry Darby, Alabama state director for American Atheists.
The media showed up in force, including five or six television crews (from local affiliates of all the major networks, as well as CNN) and print reporters from the
Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the Associated Press (Dick Pettys), and the
Macon Telegraph. At least three local channels ran footage, as did Fox News. Many newspapers ran the Associated Press write-up, which quoted Buckner and named the Council, including the
Kansas City Star, the Augusta Chronicle (Georgia), the Gwinnett Daily Post (Georgia), and
Newsday, as well as papers in North Carolina, Texas, Ohio, Minnesota, and Pennsylvania. All the publicity focused on the Council as a leading defender of religious liberty for all.
John Gaeddert is assistant director of communications at the Center for
Inquiry–International. Ed Buckner contributed to this report.