Jehovah’s Witnesses and Church/State Separation

Excerpts from the article:
Public reaction to Gobitis v. Minersville School District bordered on hysteria ….. Some vigilantes interpreted the Supreme Court’s decision as a signal that Jehovah’s Witnesses were traitors who might be linked to a network of Nazi spies and saboteurs. In Imperial, a town outside Pittsburgh, a mob descended on a small group of Witnesses and pummeled them mercilessly. By the end of the year, the American Civil Liberties Union estimated that 1,500 Witnesses had been assaulted in 335 separate attacks. In the wake of all the violence against Witnesses, three Supreme Court justices—William O. Douglas, Frank Murphy and Hugo Black—publicly signaled in a separate case that they thought Gobitis had been “wrongly decided.” When Barnette reached the Supreme Court in 1943, Harlan Stone, the lone dissenter in Gobitis, had risen to chief justice. The facts of the two cases mirrored each other, but the outcome differed dramatically. Most important, in ruling that Witness children could not be forced to recite the pledge. The “very purpose” of the Bill of Rights, wrote Justice Robert Jackson, was to protect some issues from the majority rule of politics. “One’s right to life, liberty and property, to free speech, a free press, freedom of worship and assembly, may not be submitted to vote….Fundamental rights depend on the outcome of no elections.”

What does “free exercise thereof” mean?

Amendment I
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

Here is the “free exercise thereof” explained:

all religions

I am not sure it’s that simple BUT it is a cute photo.   How do we reconcile it when the religious views clash?


John Stuart Mill quote

Yet so natural to mankind is intolerance in whatever they really care about, that religious freedom has hardly anywhere been practically realized, except where religious indifference, which dislikes to have its peace disturbed by theological quarrels, has added its weight to the scale. In the minds of almost all religious persons, even in the most tolerant countries, the duty of toleration is admitted with tacit reserves. One person will bear with dissent in matters of church government, but not of dogma; another can tolerate everybody, short of a Papist or an Unitarian; another, every one who believes in revealed religion; a few extend their charity a little further, but stop at the belief in a God and in a future state. Wherever the sentiment of the majority is still genuine and intense, it is found to have abated little of its claim to be obeyed.

You can find the complete essay at the link:

Forward from the First Coast Freethought Society

There is and has been a lot of buzz and discussion going on in and around the City of Jacksonville to get the Human Rights Ordinance amended to include the LGBT folks. Jacksonville’s struggle over the HRO was even featured in the New York Times.  New York Times article at this LINK

I know we have and will continue to support this needed amendment to the HRO.

There is another area where the City of Jacksonville has been less than inclusive: invocations at City Council meetings. The First Coast Freethought Society is gearing up to get a freethinker into the rotation to give an invocation at a City Council meeting. The FCFS needs the support of all of the Humanist/Atheist/Agnostic/Freethought/Sk­eptic organizations in the city to make this happen. Please send the letter I have included below to the Jacksonville City Council. If the City Council receives lots of requests for a freethinker to give an invocation at one of the City Council meetings, it will be a lot easier to get a freethinker on the calendar and in the rotation to give an invocation.

HERE is what AU has said about atheists giving invocations at city council meetings.

The buzz and discussion about inclusiveness is a giant wave going through the City of Jacksonville. We need to ride that wave right into the City Council chambers. I urge you to please send the below letter to the City Council and please urge others to do the same.
Earl Coggins
President of First Coast Freethought Society, Inc
Loyal member of Americans United for Separation of Church and State

[your name and address]


Councilman Jim Love
Office of the City Council
117 W. Duval St., Suite 425
Jacksonville, FL 32202

Re: Invocation Request

To the Honorable Jim Love:

There are several humanist/freethought/non-religious organizations in the City of Jacksonville, including The First Coast Freethought Society (FCFS). FCFS is a local educational organization with approximately one hundred dues paying members. FCFS has been in existence since 1998. One of the FCFS’s objectives is to educate the public about the need for inclusiveness,including the non-religious members of our community.

In the recent Supreme Court decision, Town of Greece v. Galloway, the Court emphasized that a government’s prayer practice must be “nondiscriminatory” and it must make reasonable efforts to include invocations from all members of the community, regardless of their faith. In fact, the completely open selection process was crucial to the prayers being upheld: “The town at no point excluded or denied an opportunity to a would-be prayer giver. Its leaders maintained that a minister or layperson of any persuasion, including an atheist, could give the invocation.” (Town of Greece, N.Y. v. Galloway, 12-696, 2014 WL 1757828 (U.S. May 5, 2014)) Therefore, excluding a particular faith group from consideration is unconstitutional. (Pelphrey v. Cobb County, 547 F.3d 1263, 1276 (11th Cir. 2008)).

In light of these facts, it is clear that local government meetings should include Humanist/Atheist/Agnostic invocations as well as those from any other religious minorities. I respectfully request that you give the FCFS the opportunity to offer invocations at your meetings. Earl Coggins has submitted the official request that a member of the FCFS be included in the rotation of invocation speakers.

The number of U.S. adults who do not identify with any organized religion is growing. The percentage of Americans who are religiously unaffiliated – describing themselves as atheist, agnostic or “nothing in particular” is 22.8% according to this article at

With 22.8% of the U.S. population identifying themselves as unaffiliated with any religion, the FCFS’s request presents an opportunity for the Jacksonville City Council to demonstrate that it seeks to celebrate diversity with its actions and does not discriminate on the basis of religion. Additionally, you will be providing your Humanist and other non-religious constituents with a voice and an equal opportunity to be included in the ceremonial portion of business meetings on a regular basis.