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Pa. group is a home to the skeptical

April 22, 1997

By LISA GRAYBEAL

Staff Writer, Waynesboro

WAYNESBORO, Pa. - In a town that supports more than 50 churches serving 24 denominations, a new group is forming whose members challenge religious beliefs in favor of scientific-based knowledge.

Organized by Waynesboro residents L. Granville Laird and Carl Silverman, Freethinkers of Waynesboro, or FREEWAY, is open to atheists, agnostics, humanists and other religious skeptics in Franklin and surrounding counties.

"We're not a radical organization by any means," Laird said. "We want to be a source of information and open discussion for the community."

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Concentrating on building up membership, Laird and Silverman said their goal is to simply provide a forum and support network for those who may feel isolated in their beliefs.

"We don't intend to convert anybody. We just want to offer at least one place where people who think differently can meet," Silverman said, who is culturally a Jewish American but has never believed the religious aspects of Judaism.

Besides providing a forum for discussion, Laird said the group will act as "watchdogs" in the community, upholding separation of church and state and First Amendment issues, and tracking political decisions.

The two organizers talked about forming a group a year ago after Silverman protested the distribution of New Testament Bibles by The Gideons in Waynesboro area elementary schools during school hours, without parental notification and with a Gideon member present.

In response, Silverman asked to distribute an atheist pamphlet called "God Is Just Pretend."

The school board, after much controversy, eventually adopted a policy allowing outside organizations to bring materials to schools during open houses in the evening, held once per year in each school.

Laird, who said he's earned the reputation as the "town atheist" and has been called "the devil himself," explained that he believes it is improbable and impractical to even consider it a possibility that a higher power exists.

"We don't base our beliefs on a 2,000-year-old book," Laird said.

"Evolution is a theory, but it's also a fact. Christianity is neither. It's a belief. It's a superstition," Laird said, who was a member of his family's Presbyterian church and a singer in the church choir until the age of 13 and considers himself well read in the Bible.

Citing commercialized religious holidays as an example, Laird said he's noticed that society is "getting away from the Bible."

Instead of observing Christmas, Laird said he and most other atheists celebrate the solstice, the birth of the new sun. At Easter, atheists recognize the spring equinox.

"Atheists don't kill, rob, or steal. We're as moral as anybody else," Laird said, who plans to promote family and political values through the organization.

Several local clergymen declined to comment about the group.

For more information, call Laird at 1-717-762-6164 or Silverman at 1-717-765-4291, or contact them through the Internet at (sofrank@atheism.org).

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