Boys & Girls Club of the North

Fundraising for the BGCNorth will continue until the end of the Month. We have received a grant of $1,000 from the Non-Belief Relief fund (NBR) of the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) in support of this effort and want to increase the total donation we can make to the BGCNorth as much beyond that as possible. We are asking all GRAF members and friends of GRAF to consider making a contribution to GRAF for this effort. You can send your donation check made out to GRAF to our Treasurer:

Julie Legg
43854 Nature Ave.
PO Box 67
Palisade, MN 56469

Helping the BGCNorth get off the ground this fall is one of the most direct actions we can take as a service organization to this area of Minnesota. You can learn about the BGCNorth mission by visiting their website at:

Please give this serious consideration and help us make a big impact.

Darwin Day 2017

Sunday, February 12th is the official Darwin Day in celebration of the birth of Charles Darwin, one of the most important figures ever in science. We are planning an event in commemoration of this day, but we’ve set it for Tuesday, February 14th at 7:00 PM because we will be using facilities at ICC and they aren’t open on Sundays.

We will be showing a video that explores a small piece of the mountain of evidence that is explained by the theory. The video is titled “Great Transformations” and covers the notion of transitional species in the process of life evolving on our planet. A prime example will be the wolf-like creature that evolved over time into giant creatures that exist only in our oceans, the whales. It also looks at the common ancestry that all life on the planet shares, no matter how different it seems. For example, a fruit fly and a mouse sharing a gene which is responsible for the development of eyes in both organisms. This single gene can be switched from the mouse to the fly during embryological development and still produce a normal eye. Evolution doesn’t start from scratch when a new species begins to appear. It works on what exists and kind of “improvises” from there. In the far distant past, the gene for eyes appeared and it has been used over and over again in countless species. The embryological environment with multiple genes in action determines how the gene for eyes is expressed in each case. Shared ancestry indeed.

The video runs a bit over 50 minutes and we will try to generate some discussion afterwards and maybe even some debate over the contents of the film and the theory of evolution in general.

Join us on Tuesday, February 14th on the campus of ICC in Wilson 120 at 7:00 PM. This event is being sponsored by the Philosophy Club at ICC.

Darwin Day Announcement

Good news — the Itasca Community College chapter of the Secular Student Alliance is once again active!  And they want to commemorate Darwin Day (February 12) by showing the film “Inherit the Wind.”  The film is based on a stage play which in turn is based on the Scopes Trial regarding the teaching of evolution in schools.  The names have been changed, but it is pretty easy to discern who each character is meant to represent — Clarence Darrow, William Jennings Bryan, Scopes, and so forth.  The film is well done and is informative and thought provoking as well as entertaining.

Just one wrinkle — they will be showing it at 7:00 PM, and, since the 12th is a Thursday, this conflicts with the GRAF weekly meeting.  But I don’t see this as a problem.  We can just move our location to ICC (room to be announced), and those who wish can retire to a more Dionysian hangout after the film.

I will pass any forthcoming information.

Something is afoot

I’ve been in an email conversation with Nathan regarding the Secular Cafe and our need to make some changes in what we do, when, etc. Nathan has indicated that a minister that he knows in town has expressed interest in having a public discussion with a panel made up of both religious and non-religious members. The panel would be moderated in some fashion and would be held at the minister’s church rather than in a more secular location like the library. At least this is the plan as I understand it based on feedback from Nathan. I’ve have suggested that I meet with the minister before we go any further so I can better assess what outcome would be expected from this activity and whether it would be consistent with our mission.

My hope is that the minister would not try to turn it into a debate and Nathan is of the same mind. He says the pastor isn’t planning on a debate either. However, it’s not clear what the role of the moderator would be or who would act as the moderator. That is something to be clarified. At this point it sounds like members of the panel might make prepared remarks on some topic that could be very general or rather specific; nothing has been decided or discussed on that as yet. The moderator might then entertain questions from the audience and direct those to who ever seems appropriate on the panel and might also seek to limit the length of comments or replies or make sure that the speaker stays on topic. It would also be necessary to keep audience members from making speeches or preaching rather than being specific.

If this can be organized, it would be a very visible step into the light for GRAF and put us more squarely on the “radar” for the religious community. If it went well, I would hope that we could arrange similar events at other churches and make a stronger case that we can share in goals with the religious community.

Based on my reading of current blogs and viewing recent videos, a shared interest ought to exist in maintaining a secular society and acting to reinforce the separation of church and state. While that may seem in opposition to the religious agenda, it shouldn’t be that way. We need to remember that the separation goal is for the protection of the churches as well as the non-believers. We both have a vested interest in keeping any particular faith from gaining an upper hand in setting government policy or in gaining permission to advance their particular beliefs against those of all the others. I think some churches lose perspective on this as they get caught up in the certainty that their’s is the only true faith and the only real christianity or whatever. Enlisting them as partners in advancing the separation issue would be a significant step and interesting if we can win any of them over to our side in this argument not because they have to give up their faith, but because they have to defend their right to have it as we have to defend our right to have none. Maybe we lose track of the importance of this for the faithful as well.

At any rate, I will post any updates on this effort as they become available. I haven’t met with the pastor yet, but will keep trying to make that connection until I hear that the deal is off. Post your thoughts and comments on this.

Secular Cafe 2

The second Secular Cafe is on the books for next Tuesday, May 13th. That’s a week from today. It will be held in the library starting at 7:00 PM. The topic is “The Ethics of Belief”.

It is often expected that beliefs will influence actions although sometimes we expect people to recognize that the actions associated with their beliefs might not be acceptable. In those cases, the belief might be set aside, but the believer might struggle for a time reconciling their action and the belief. At other times the belief might not require any action at the present and the believer might not need to face the question of whether the action and belief raise problems.

When push comes to shove, all beliefs probably entail a need to consider whether the actions required mean that the belief needs reconsideration or defense. What if there is no evidence to support your belief? Can you justify any action in that case? What if you choose to make no effort to gather credible evidence that your belief is true? Are you morally culpable for the harm that might arise from your failure to investigate?

The questions to consider are extensive and the problems are real if unsupported beliefs go unchallenged or unsupported. This discussion could make for a lively debate. I’m hopeful that Nathan Bergsted’s efforts will help bring some from the believing community into the conversation.

Help the Secular Student Alliance Raise Funds for Doctors Without Borders

On Monday, May 5, the ICC chapter of the Secular Student Alliance will be hosting a water balloon toss for charity.  Instructors Drew Davis and Brian Vroman have volunteered to be targets of opportunity, though the rumor is that they are much quicker than they appear.

The event will be held in the outdoor ICC courtyard from 3:30-4:30.  Cost is $3 a toss.  All proceeds will go to Doctors Without Borders, one of the most reputable charities on earth.  GRAF members are certainly welcome to participate!

Obituary for a Real Bastard

On March 19th of this year, Fred Phelps, founder of the Westboro Baptist Church, died.

Reactions to this news have been mixed; some have been overjoyed, others merely elated.

I thought we’d go from here into a look at Phelps’s actions in life.  He is the founder of the aforementioned church, consisting primarily of roughly 60 members of his own extended family, which has recieved the hatred of the world in general due to its policy of protesting the funerals of soldiers in the US military, proudly exclaiming their deaths to be punishment from God for the US’s policy of allowing gay people to exist.  Apart from being controversial, in and of itself, it got him a place on the UK Home Office’s list of people banned from entering the country.

But let’s talk about his lesser known work; like how he was banned from practicing law when, while working as an attorney, he commited perjury on a case he had filed on his own behalf.  And why not speak of the lesser known family man that was Fred Phelps, and how he is estranged from 4 of his 13 children due to beating the living shit out of them.

Yes, two of Phelps’s children were even taken into protective custody after marks of abuse were found on their bodies, and they would have stayed in protection had Phelps not intimidated the Topeka police into giving them back.  In a funny sidenote, we only know this much because he sued the Topeka Public Schools over this matter, meaning the records were never destroyed.  One cold Christmas Day, upon learning that his son Nate had stolen a few bulbs for Christmas decoration, Fred beat his child into medical shock.  He encouraged husbands to regularly slug their wives (one parishioner even calling on him for bail after being arrested for this) and three of his children report that Mrs. Phelps had been shoved down the stairs at least once.

Fred was a lover of many things: Fred Phelps and the Westboro Batist Church; and a hater of many, many more.  Such things include gay people (duh), Irish people, the USA, Lady Gaga, NASA (for not believing in Young Earth), professional basketball (Probably for being predominately black), the KKK (for thinking him too extreme), Jews, Conservatives (not anti-gay enough), atheists (duh again), Alpha Centauri, Barack Obama (for being the Anti-Christ), Santa Claus, Jesus (wait, what?) and pretty much everything else not listed under things he loves.

He’s dead now, and will surely be missed by no one as he completes his journey and becomes nothing more than an all-you-can-eat worm buffet.

Not so fucking holy now, are you Phelps?

The Secular Café

Secular Café to be started in Grand Rapids

The Itasca Community College Secular Student Alliance and Grand Rapids Atheists and Freethinkers are hosting the first ever “Secular Café” in Grand Rapids. This will be a meeting to discuss and debate secular ideas and the role of secularism in society. The café will take place at the Grand Rapids Library in the community room on Wednesday, March 19, 2014 starting at 7:00 PM. The topic for the first café will be “Is religion a good or bad thing for society in the 21st century?”  Participants of all persuasions are welcome, but decency, respect, and common courtesy are expected. For more information contact Ken Eck at 218-360-3353 or by email at



Well, thanks to help from Growly Bear, Hobgoblin, and a longtime SSA member, we were able to sign up about a half dozen new members today. That might not sound like much, but it is enough to have a viable organization. So the ICC chapter of the SSA is back — Hurray! I’m sure there will be plenty of opportunities for collaboration between the SSA and GRAF. Maybe we can even have our third annual soul auction. Or, if that has run its course, there are other things we can do, I’m sure.