Mississippi Atheists Group at Atheist Nexus

Even though there are more atheist-related events and meetups occurring in Mississippi than many of us realize, there are still many Mississippi atheists who live a distance from such activities. For those of you who fall into this category, I'd just like to remind you that there is a Mississippi Atheists group at Atheist Nexus. Admittedly, it hasn't been as active as it could be. I know I don't remember to visit it as often as I should. Still, it isn't a bad place to visit for some discussion. And besides, Atheist Nexus has grown so much that there are all sorts of interest groups on virtually any topic one can imagine. Hope to see you there. You can find me at http://www.atheistnexus.org/profile/vjack.

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Gulf Coast Heart Walk Details

The Gulf Coast Heart Walk is coming up in a little less than two weeks. Here is some additional information about the event, provided by Jennifer Rhodey, Assistant Director of the Greater Southeast Affiliate Gulf Coast Area:
Thank you so much for your participation and support in the Gulf Coast Start! Heart Walk. We are all really excited about this year’s event and we’ve been hearing lots of great things from our teams over the past few days! With the Heart Walk only 2 weeks from this coming Saturday we want to be sure we are sharing as many event details with you as possible. Team Captains, please help us spread the word by sharing this information with any of your team members who we may not have email addresses for!

Hopefully you have heard the news: the 2009 Gulf Coast Start! Heart Walk will take place at the Gulfport VA site! Located on Highway 90 between Courthouse Road and Hewes Avenue, this site enables us to still walk down historic Second Street.

Very limited parking is available onsite so please make plans to carpool with your teammates if you intend to park at the VA. Parking is available in the CTA parking garage located in downtown Gulfport. We will have shuttles running between the garage and the Gulfport VA all morning and we strongly encourage people to park there.

We ask all participants to respect the areas of the VA that are under construction by remaining out of and away from all buildings. Please leave any caution tape/barricades/etc in place; this is there for your safety. As always, pets are not allowed at this event. Please leave your furry friends at home.

Additionally, this year we will not have company signs in the gathering area in front of the stage. As our walk has grown over the years (we’re expecting 7000+ walkers Oct 3rd!!) we have found it increasingly difficult to accommodate that many people safely while also having the signs. We recommend that you make a plan with your teammates before walk day about where and when you will all meet up at the event.
You can find information on the Great Southern Humanist Society's team here.

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Church-State Violation in Memphis

Memphis SkylineImage via Wikipedia

While perusing Friendly Atheist this morning, I see that the Memphis City Council's practice of allowing a “Chaplain of the Day” to open their sessions with sectarian prayer has been noticed by the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF). I am glad to see the FFRF getting involved in this unfortunate church-state violation.

As Hemant (Friendly Atheist) notes,
People ask why they should support atheist organizations. This is why. It’s a powerful moment when a group’s staff attorney can instill the fear of no-god in a city or state government :) FFRF has the Constitution on its side. Memphis has a god. I’ll take FFRF every time.
Bravo! Here is some information from the FFRF about how you can help.

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Musings on Education in Mississippi

Marks, MississippiImage by John Edwards 2008 via Flickr

One of the things I've been wondering about our state recently is the root of the hostility to education. I don't mean the politics involved or even the reluctance to properly fund it - these are problems in many areas. No, I mean the public attitudes toward the importance of education and the pride some people seem to take in their lack of formal education. I don't have any answers, but I will offer a tentative guess about one possible factor.

I wonder if at least some of the hostility to education in Mississippi is that it is perceived as a condemnation of who we are. If education is thought to be merely a way into making us more like people outside of Mississippi, it seems reasonable that it might trigger a negative emotional reaction. Nobody likes to be told that they are deficient in some way. Could promoting the value of education be interpreted by some as just such an insult?

I'm not suggesting that your average Mississippian takes pride in ignorance. Some certainly do, but I'm not suggesting that this is widespread. I just wonder if anything that triggers latent feelings of inferiority (e.g., describing our system of public education as "failed") might prompt defensive and even hostile reactions that make it difficult to solve the problem.

In the university environment, I have certainly encountered hostility and anti-intellectualism from students. It is generally presented as close-mindedness to new ideas (e.g., evolution) and seems to have a component of fear. Some students have expressed their perspective that they view higher education as nothing more than a ticket to a high-paying job and that they have little interest in learning anything. It seems like they are afraid that learning might lead them to change their worldview, something that some clearly find unacceptable. Naturally, this poses a great obstacle for some students, including some who would probably thrive if they could overcome their blocks.

What helps to keep me going are the handful of students who genuinely want to learn and who are able to break through the various barriers which restrain them. Unfortunately, it seems that many of them have no intention of remaining in Mississippi when they graduate.

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A Memorial

Eight years ago, an extremist, hate-filled anarchy swept through our world as religious terrorists motivated by the dark depths of a barbaric anti-humanistic dogma murdered loving families, men, women and children and caused unquantifiable suffering to scores more.

The attacks of September 11, 2001, were the worst assault on America in our history and upon the global ideals of peace, diversity and human liberty which were then put to the test of consistency.

Like many others on that fateful day I can distinctly remember exactly where I was, driving north across the Popps Ferry Bridge heading home from the busy midnight shift tour at the police department while listening to two DJs going on about some pilot who accidentally crashed a small airplane into one of the Twin Towers in New York City. As I routinely passed by the Biloxi Fire Station at Riverview Drive, I recall the slow shift in the tone of their amused credulity as it became known that this was actually a fully loaded jet liner, that the building was on fire...and that people were actually dying.

As thoughts of disbelief were still racing through my head, I parked the car in the driveway, unlocked the front door to my home and instead of heading off to bed, went immediately to the family room where my mother-in-law was watching the news. I remember standing there speechless as the surreal aerial scenes showing the billowing smoke and the swirl of activity were slowly absorbed into my mind. I kept thinking, rather naively in hindsight, that the fire would soon be out and a complete explanation from the mayor would be forthcoming in a couple of hours.

Then, on live television, I saw another plane slam into the second tower sending flame and debris out the other side. I understood then and there that boundless hate could manifest into the reality of our physical world.

For the next few hours I found myself entranced by what I saw as the announcers echoed the same voices of disbelief. The rest, in my mind, was near endless footage of people covered in gray soot, some fire fighters barely escaping the debris as the first tower fell and then the second tower just melting back into the earth as if in slow motion over and over again.

The various segments were repeated so many times that I became unsure which were actually in real time until an announcer said there were unconfirmed indications that another plane was missing and that the Pentagon was on fire.

The mere concept of the intensity, intention and full dedication to such a grotesque plan made me physically sick as I realized we were all witnessing yet another historical marker by which to assign despair and to recognize the very lowest depths to which other human beings could fall out of a blind obedience to selfishness, fear and dogmatic absolutism.

In all, more than 3,000 real people were dying, including over 70 fellow police officers and 343 firefighters who responded to the familiar impulse of the call to help others that particular shift as I watched from the serenity of our home in Biloxi while my newborn son, Connor, was sleeping peacefully through it all.

The indefinable and unquantifiable significance of that stark dichotomy still lives with me to this very day.

After all was said and done, it was discovered that many countries lost citizens in the attacks on the World Trade Center Towers, the Pentagon and in Pennsylvania, where the “missing” jet had crashed into a field that day.

While certainly an American tragedy, it was also a tragedy for the entire human species with utterly no rational justification or explanation, none whatsoever.

Eight years on, it is still important to express to everyone who holds our human existence as something wondrously rare, special, to be continually cared for and protected, that we must never forget what hate, fear and ignorance bring into all of our lives regardless of race, creed, faith, philosophy, gender, political affiliation, class, age or nationality.

If we believe that boundless love, hope and humane ideals can also exist and manifest into the reality of our physical world, then we are compelled to take a moment to honor this day, September 11, to solemnly remember all who were taken from us in those moments and to renew our most heartfelt and sincere oath that we will not only endure through these events but we will prevail for the greater good of our human family.

September 11 Memorial

My personal heroes

In Valor there is Hope.

Steve Schlicht
Biloxi MS

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An Open Letter to Biloxi Public School Administrators: President Obama's Message To American Children

Dear Dr. Tisdale, Principals, Teachers, Administrators and all,

As a parent of three children attending Biloxi Public Schools I encourage you to support the President of the United States Barack Obama by showing his important educational message to American students in our public school system.

I fully understand the polarized political landscape we find ourselves in currently, but to support the notion that our own president should be rejected is in direct contradiction with American and pedagogical interests.

School administrators like you set and enforce policy and curriculum in school districts every day and there is no "a la carte" option for parents to reject exposing public school children to strictly defined educational efforts.

That said; I can only reiterate that this is our own nation's leader expressing the benefits of education and encouraging words of support.

Here is a summary of President Obama's speech:

Be good, be responsible for your own actions, stay in school, pay attention, put in hard work, turn off the gaming systems and televisions, we're in this together and don't give up even when things are difficult, you can do it for yourself, for your family and for your country.

I am sure you will agree that these are wonderful concepts and values that should be taught in school and no one should fear or reject such an expression simply because they are from President Obama.

Simply put, students are motivated by role models and successful leaders.

This message proactively encourages this motivation and it is offered by the most successful leader currently in the world.

An American president addressing American school children about staying in school should not ever be censored.

When American parents fear allowing their children a brief look at the president while in school, then something has gone very wrong, but when school teachers and administrators allow the option of rejecting a message about the importance of education from a sitting president then a bigger problem is being perpetuated, one of approving a negative view of our president via representative authority.

Whatever you decide, this entire exercise will be an important lesson for all of our children about just how divided and polarized this country has become and how far away we've moved from the value of respect and civility even in disagreement.

Each student will come to realize that this incident itself is history in the making and their parents, their teachers and their school administrators are fully participating in it along with them in real time and are setting the examples for our future generations.

Thank you for your time and consideration regarding this important matter.

Sincerely and respectfully,

Steve Schlicht

Jindal Violates Church-State Separation

The Interfaith Alliance logo.Image via Wikipedia

I'm sure you've heard by now that Louisiana Governor Piyush "Bobby" Jindal has been traveling to several churches throughout his state by helicopter and asking taxpayers to pick up the bill, $45,000 so far. According to The Advocate,
In May, June and July, there was rarely a Sunday when Jindal did not fly a taxpayer-funded helicopter to church services in a remote part of the state. Two aides usually accompanied him along with his security detail and pilots.
Why is this a problem for which Jindal should be held accountable?

By regularly visiting churches in order to make political speeches at taxpayer expense, Jindal is breaking the law. He is ignoring separation of church and state and has been called out for doing so by the Interfaith Alliance. This is a prominent Christian group that deserves credit for standing up for church-state separation in this case. Quite simply, they are asking Jindal to reimburse Louisiana taxpayers.
If you were traveling to these churches to worship with the various congregations, you should have paid your own expenses to get there as did the other worshippers. If you were traveling to these churches for the purpose of sharing your personal faith and encouraging faith in others, state funds absolutely should not have been used to pay your expenses. Indeed, in that instance, your state-funded actions were a violation of the United States Constitution's promise of religious freedom which has been a critical contributor to the vitality of religion in our nation. If you were traveling to these churches for political purposes, you should not have been there in the first place, regardless of who funded the travel.
So far, Jindal's office has made it clear that they have no intention of reimbursing taxpayers. I hope our friends in Louisiana are able to turn up the heat on Jindal and that the national media continues to consider this important story worth their attention.

H/T to Friendly Atheist

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Freethinkers Forum in Hattiesburg

USM! To the Top!Image by wonderfully complex via Flickr

Those of you in the Hattiesburg area who have been wondering why all the action seems to be in Jackson or on the coast finally have a reason to celebrate. There will be a Freethinkers forum at 7 p.m. on Sept. 24 in the Liberal Arts Building, Room 303, at the University of Southern Mississippi's Hattiesburg campus. This forum is held on the fourth Thursday of each month. For details, call (601) 583-1453. I will see if I can find some more information too, but it certainly sounds promising.

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