President Obama mentions “atheists, and agnostics” in his 2014 Proclamation of Religious Freedom

Mar 1, 2014


Discussion by: neurol

President Obama January 16, 2014: "…Today, America embraces people of all faiths and of no faith. We are Christians and Jews, Muslims and Hindus, Buddhists and Sikhs, atheists and agnostics…"

http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2014/01/15/proclamation-religious-freedom-day-2014

In the past (including his 1st inauguration address and last year's Proclamation of Relgious Freedom), he has only mentioned "nonbelievers". This is the first presidential reference to acceptance of "atheists" and "agnostics".

How come we don't get capitalized? but, hey, we're making progress…

55 comments on “President Obama mentions “atheists, and agnostics” in his 2014 Proclamation of Religious Freedom

  • Fine. Uncapitalize “jews, sikhs, buddhists, hindus, muslims, and christians.”
    In reply to #1 by BanJoIvie:

    Cool! But why should we “get capitalized”?



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  • 3
    Katy Cordeth says:

    In reply to #2 by neurol:

    Fine. Uncapitalize “jews, sikhs, buddhists, hindus, muslims, and christians.”
    In reply to #1 by BanJoIvie:

    Cool! But why should we “get capitalized”?

    Those are all proper nouns. Atheist isn’t, and doesn’t require a capital.



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  • … progress. it’s what we expected from this president of the u.s.a. he has done all ATHEISTS and AGNOSTICS all around the world, not just in the u.s.a., proud.



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  • 5
    David R Allen says:

    When a future President of the USA starts his speech as follows, we know might be getting close to a rational world.

    We are atheists and agnostics, Christians and Jews, Muslims and Hindus, Buddhists and Sikhs, …



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  • 6
    SaganTheCat says:

    we’re making progress…

    I disagree

    nonbelievers is far better than “atheists and agnostics”. while I might identify myself as an atheist, I prefer to be lumped in with anyone who has no time for superstition. fine to subdivide religious into their various little dance-routines(e.g. muslim inverted dying fly or catholic hand-juve)/snack-preferences (crackers or animals that died screaming)/hat-choice/whatever, the subcategories of nonbeliever have no political significance, whereas the combined lack of intereset in dogma has great significance.

    I would accept this if within the list of religions he included Jedi, Pastafarianism, Apple Mac user….

    i don’t need my atheism capitalised either

    further to this real progress in my eyes would include the president doing a little impresion of each group he identifies

    i suspect i may be on my own there though



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  • Guess I’d prefer:
    “…Today America embraces people of all faiths and of no faith. We are Atheists and Agnostics, Skeptics and Freethinkers, Humanists and Naturalists, christians and jews…”



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  • Capitalizing is neither here nor there. But how about deists?. It seems to me that they are perhaps a significant group. But not covered by any of the religious groups, or agnostics or atheists. Nor are they strictly “un-believers”. Am I wrong? , . .



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  • In reply to #8 by catphil:

    Capitalizing is neither here nor there. But how about deists?. It seems to me that they are perhaps a significant group. But not covered by any of the religious groups, or agnostics or atheists. Nor are they strictly “un-believers”. Am I wrong? , . .

    You are wrong. Deist was a term that was popular when the country was founded — most of the men that founded the country such as Jefferson and Madison were deists — but I’ve never heard anyone in modern America refer to themselves that way nor to my knowledge are there any organizations of deists. Probably if you look hard enough you can prove those statements wrong, the US is such that if you look hard enough you can find some people somewhere that believe just about anything, but it’s not a major group. Wiccans and Satanists for example are far more prevalent than deists and I don’t think they got mentioned either. Actually if Obama did include Satanists it would be fun to watch the heads of the people on the right explode, they already think he’s the Antichrist anyway.



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  • 10
    Steven007 says:

    E.O. Wilson had an interesting comment on his brand of deism:

    ‘On the question of God, Wilson has described his position as provisional deism. “I tend to believe that religious dogma is a consequence of evolution. Religious belief and the firm adherence to itโ€”and the intense dislike of apostates, people who abandon itโ€”has a very important biologic origin, probably through natural selection, namely the cohesion of the group and the persuasion of people to be more altruistic. So in my view, most dogmas concerning the creation are myths of creation and are not believable. They’re just different from one religion to another,” biologist E.O. Wilson, co-author of the new book The Superorganism, says in a Q&A with the St. Petersburg Times. “When the question comes up, ‘If it’s not true, why does practically everybody believe in God?’ the answer is that it’s true in a Darwinian sense. That is, it provides cohesion, it provides personal peace and rites of passage, and it promotes altruism, which are all invaluable and necessary for the survival of human societies.” When it comes to whether he personally believes in God, Wilson says he’s “willing to consider the possibility of an ultimate cause. But we haven’t really come close to grasping what that might be.”‘

    In reply to #8 by catphil:

    Capitalizing is neither here nor there. But how about deists?. It seems to me that they are perhaps a significant group. But not covered by any of the religious groups, or agnostics or atheists. Nor are they strictly “un-believers”. Am I wrong? , . .



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  • 11
    SomersetJohn says:

    In reply to #2 by neurol:

    Fine. Uncapitalize “jews, sikhs, buddhists, hindus, muslims, and christians.”
    In reply to #1 by BanJoIvie:

    I already do, most of the time, also god, mohammed, jesus and most undeserved terms of respect for the faithful. Slips of memory do not infer unwarranted respect, merely the inevitable infirmity brought on by creeping decrepitude and real ale.



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  • 12
    Zeuglodon says:

    In reply to #9 by Red Dog:

    You are wrong. Deist was a term that was popular when the country was founded — most of the men that founded the country such as Jefferson and Madison were deists — but I’ve never heard anyone in modern America refer to themselves that way nor to my knowledge are there any organizations of deists. Probably if you look hard enough you can prove those statements wrong, the US is such that if you look hard enough you can find some people somewhere that believe just about anything, but it’s not a major group.

    Deists are probably in the religiously-unaffiliated-but-spiritual category, considering that deism posits that a god is an agent that brought the universe into existence, but otherwise doesn’t interact with it, and most of the woolly conceptions of spiritualism fall into that category. It’s basically relegating “god-did-it” (or “god-might-have-done-it”) to physics, as opposed to biology or human society. Whether they would explicitly call themselves deists or not is another matter. Just look at Steven007’s Wilson quotation for an example.



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  • 13
    catphil says:

    I don’t want to hijack this particular thread to insist on the question of deism. But it appears to me that there are many people who (like Wilson- aptly quoted by Steven 007-, possibly SJ Gould) do not want to reject ( or say that they reject) “provisional deism” . Although I don’t have any data to contradict Red dog, I suspect that many , including myself ( and Einstein! ) , find themselves in a social environment where it is expedient to avoid using a word like “atheism” which is equated by many to Godless=immoral. ( basically the same situation as 98% of US politicians) .So the term “deist” is used in polite social intercourse to accept the possibility of some prime mover pre-big bang actor called “god” who/which is so perfect that he (He/she/it?) does not intervene -does not need to – in human affairs any more.
    Reverting to Obama, may be an all encompassing formulation his speech writers could consider is ” christien, jews, etc and those who do not follow any particular religion ” wiutd revering



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  • 14
    Katy Cordeth says:

    In reply to #11 by SomersetJohn:

    In reply to #2 by neurol:

    Fine. Uncapitalize “jews, sikhs, buddhists, hindus, muslims, and christians.”
    In reply to #1 by BanJoIvie:

    I already do, most of the time, also god, mohammed, jesus and most undeserved terms of respect for the faithful. Slips of memory do not infer unwarranted respect, merely the inevitable infirmity brought on by creeping decrepitude and real ale.

    Your habit of refusing to capitalize these characters’ names as some sort of show of contempt for them strikes me as awfully similar to the Christian convention of using an upper case letter at the start of God-related personal pronouns: Jesus says He wants me for a sunbeam; it is His will that I follow Him.

    Unless you’re E. E. Cummings you don’t get to mess around with the orthography of our lovely language in this way. There’s enough of that sort of thing nowadays because of textspeak; let’s not add to it.

    God, Jesus, Mohammed et al receive a capital because those are their names and that is how English works.



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  • 15
    David R Allen says:

    Are there any America TV Producers reading this blog. It’s time. It’s time for a SitCom with an atheist lead character. The rest of the cast is detailed above in Obama’s speech.

    A high school senior. Good looking teenage boy. Call him Christ-o-pher. Christian. On the football team. Going out with the cheer leader daughter of the town fundamentalist preacher. Over the series, through interaction with a science teacher and an arts teacher, starts to doubt the god myth. He starts to ask questions. He starts to ask, “What if this is wrong” and considering the consequences. Another young teenage character. Not cool at all. Who is an atheist, slowly at first has contact with our hero, and engages in interesting conversations. They form a bond. The super jock and the nerd.

    As the series goes on, our hero starts to question religious dogma. Starts to pose smarter and smarter questions to his christian teachers, his parents, and the parents of his girl friend.

    Finally, he comes out as an atheist. The series then gets a bit darker, and focuses on the consequences suffered by our hero as the town ostracizes him. Kicked off the football team etc. But there is a constant underlying theme exposing the idiocy of religious thinking. Intelligent design. A blond Jesus. The subjugation of women. The comparison and contradiction of the thousands of gods. The hypocritical fundamentalist preacher, racist, misogynist, corrupt town councillor. The affect on US Foreign Policy, like the spread of AIDS in Africa because the US aid is tied to christian “Family Value”. The unquestioning support of Israel where the rapture is due.

    Religion has enough silly stuff to sustain about five series on tellie.



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  • 16
    Nick_In_Detroit says:

    Red Dog:
    When I hear the term Deist, I think of people that claim a spirituality but reject religion. Seems to be a very broad group. This is why the term is gaining popularity again.



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  • 18
    keyplayer88 says:

    Spirituality and religion are human constructs, they exists only in the mind. Belief in external ‘agents’ or spirits amounts to religious belief.

    Cut away the superstition and spiritual means to be ‘aware’ of the physical wonder that surrounds us, not a personal relationship with an invented deity, but a direct connection with existence. Where is there not spirituality in that? Spirituality then, is ‘in’ us, it is our minds that bring spirituality into the universe. All great art, music, literature, science, forges connections with the physical universe that enlightens and moves (stimulates) people. This living connection between mortal beings and their surroundings is all that is needed for spirituality (internal) to exist.



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  • 19
    Darth Vader says:

    In reply to #5 by David R Allen:

    When a future President of the USA starts his speech as follows, we know might be getting close to a rational world.

    We are atheists and agnostics, Christians and Jews, Muslims and Hindus, Buddhists and Sikhs, …

    I think we are getting there all right. If I remember correctly (and I may be wrong) he did mention Hindus along with Christians and Muslims in his inaugural speech. So now, a few years down the line, he has just added a few more of the minorities, and is sort of going from the more populous to the less. just a matter of time before we come in first….



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  • 22
    Stuart Coyle says:

    In reply to #16 by Katy Cordeth:

    Unless you’re E. E. Cummings you don’t get to mess around with the orthography of our lovely language in this way.

    I think you meant e. e. cummings. ๐Ÿ˜‰
    I learned a new word today ‘orthography’. Ta.



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  • 24
    brown dwarf says:

    David, that is a brilliant idea. You should have started a new discussion with it. What is the most popular sitcom or soap that a storyline like that would have the most impact in?
    In reply to #17 by David R Allen:

    Are there any America TV Producers reading this blog. It’s time. It’s time for a SitCom with an atheist lead character. The rest of the cast is detailed above in Obama’s speech.

    A high school senior. Good looking teenage boy. Call him Christ-o-pher. Christian. On the football team. Going out…



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  • Agree, David. Please send this in as a new discussion under either “Atheism”, ” Education”, or perhaps RDF will start a new discussion setting “Entertainment”.
    In reply to #26 by brown dwarf:

    David, that is a brilliant idea. You should have started a new discussion with it. What is the most popular sitcom or soap that a storyline like that would have the most impact in?
    In reply to #17 by David R Allen:

    Are there any America TV Producers reading this blog. It’s time. It’s time for a S…



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  • In reply to #17 by David R Allen:

    Are there any America TV Producers reading this blog. It’s time. It’s time for a SitCom with an atheist lead character. The rest of the cast is detailed above in Obama’s speech.

    Have you seen Anger Management? They almost allow Charlie Shean’s character to be atheist. He admits to being an ex/lapsed Catholic and it fairly bitter about the experience. However if you want some true atheist characters try Sheldon Cooper in the Big Bang Theory. He really lays into his mother’s beliefs. It seems there may be some hope for America!!



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  • 28
    Katy Cordeth says:

    In reply to #29 by naskew:

    In reply to #17 by David R Allen:

    Are there any America TV Producers reading this blog. It’s time. It’s time for a SitCom with an atheist lead character. The rest of the cast is detailed above in Obama’s speech.

    Have you seen Anger Management? They almost allow Charlie Shean’s character to be a…

    It’s not a sitcom but Hugh Laurie’s titular character in House was an atheist. Mind you, he was also a drug addict and a misanthrope. I suspect Laurie’s own atheism informed his portrayal and if the show’s producers had cast an American actor in the role, the irascible medic’s atheism would never have arisen. Good old Hugh.

    Given his private life, I’m not sure I would want tiger-blood Charlie โ€“ “winning!” โ€“ as the face of atheism on prime-time network television. There’s a list here of fictional atheists and agnostics. Sitcom nonbelievers include Homer Simpson (I’m not so sure about that), Dr Cox from Scrubs, Family Guy‘s Brian Griffin, and a couple others.



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  • 29
    David R Allen says:

    In reply to #30 by Katy Cordeth:

    In reply to #29 by naskew:

    In reply to #17 by David R Allen:

    Are there any America TV Producers reading this blog. It’s time. It’s time for a SitCom with an atheist lead character. The rest of the cast is detailed above in Obama’s speech.

    Have you seen Anger Management? They almost allow Charl…

    Thanks for the list. I wasn’t aware of any atheists / agnostics on TV, but then again, I haven’t seen any of the shows mentioned either. Too many good shows on TV stations without adverts. Good old ABC in Australia.



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  • 30
    Modesti says:

    “In the past(…), he has only mentioned “nonbelievers”. This is the first presidential reference to acceptance of “atheists”… “

    Doesn’t he knows that atheists ACTUALLY ARE nonbelievers? Atheist means opposite of theist! Well done for trying, but Mr. Obama, but You are ignoramus, and this is very offensive to nonbelievers. It shows that You do not know what are You talking about, but merely repeating the words that someone else told You. Sad.



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  • 31
    steve greene says:

    We need no capitalization, as we are not arrogant enough to believe we are the special chosen ones. If we move beyond our ego self image, to a place where we are not any more special than any other aspect of life in the cosmos, then the need to capitalize our names and beliefs vanishes. Capitalization of nouns traditionally indicates a “special person, place, or thing” and since atheists and agnostics realize their authentic place in the structure of known life, they are better poised to dismiss the necessity of capitalization. Christians do indeed believe they are special, chosen by their deity to be saved for eternity, thus they need this capitalization to reinforce their insecurities and fears. We should be pleased that we are not amongst the arrogant who seek artificial psychological enhancement to support fragile egos and socially dependent brains. We are independent thinkers, existing outside the suffocating box of our dogmatic cultures. It is better to walk our road alone and uncapitalized, than follow the blind masses consumed by self importance and the need to rule others. Let us rejoice in our “lower case” status ๐Ÿ˜‰



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  • Has anyone seen hbo’s true detectives? Matthew mcconaughey character is brilliant. It appears almost as if Dawkins himself wrote the script. Lol. I hope this one makes it into the mainstream.



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  • 34
    Moderator says:

    Done. Well spotted!

    In reply to #35 by Fouad Boussetta:

    How come president is spelled “preident” today in the title? Please correct.



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  • 35
    suite144 says:

    Yes, atheists, agnostics and humanists are all good titles but do they actually describe who we are? For example, a ‘theist’ is a person who believes and worships a supernatural deity etc.. But a ‘non-theist’ is exactly the opposite, a person who does not believe or worship such deities etc. Therefore, when someone asks you about your faith or belief simply state you’re a ‘non-theist’. Then let them look in up in the dictionary.



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  • 36
    catphil says:

    In reply to #37 by suite144:

    Therefore, when someone asks you about your faith or belief simply state you’re a ‘non-theist’.

    I think we are all groping for a socially acceptable, non offensive terms that allows for day to day non-confrontational interactions: I have found “secular”. “humanist “, “rationalist” even “deist” ,of some use



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  • 37
    neurol says:

    Yeah, our group argued for months over (alphabetically) “agnostic, atheist, bright, freethinker, humanist, naturalist, skeptic”. It’s all good. We may not agree on what to call ourselves but we do know what we believe and what we don’t.



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  • Personally, I would prefer the term “Non-believer” for the following reasons:

    1: The title “Atheist” (at least in my experience) carries with it a preconceived and inaccurate picture of who I am.
    In all actuality everyone is an Atheist in that they do not believe in at least 1 form of mythology or superstition.
    I do not believe in any of them. I am an Atheist.

    1A: Many religious believers have an inaccurate perception of Atheism and view it as its own religion (of sorts).
    In reality: Being atheist does not make you part of some larger, global set of believers. Nobody was born with a
    belief in a monotheistic god. The natural state of the Human animal is to have no religious belief system.
    Since that is the case Atheists can not be part of a group; as it is religious believers that have splintered off and
    away from the original whole. Calling ourselves “Atheists” gives the misimpression that we have chosen a particular
    set of beliefs. We do not share this in common with believers, and, should avoid offering that impression.

    2: I can’t think of any other form of Non-belief that does not have some negative connotation.
    *Flat-Earth Thinkers
    *People that believe the Moon landing was faked
    *People that think Elvis is alive.
    *People that don’t believe in modern medicine.
    All of these forms of disbelief make the proponents look silly and uneducated. The term “Atheist” offers the impression
    that we are part of a specific group of non-belief. It would be easy for fundamentalists to lump non-believers in with the
    uneducated and willfully ignorant.

    3: “Non-believer” accurately describes my natural state and what I believe is true.



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  • 43
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  • I agree, BanJolvie, why don’t you start one? I started this one almost 2 months ago.
    In reply to #48 by BanJoIvie:

    I’m starting to wonder if there will EVER be any new discussion topics posted.



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  • 49
    BanJoIvie says:

    In reply to #49 by neurol:

    I agree, BanJolvie, why don’t you start one?

    It’s not a question of somebody just starting one. The site administrators review all the proposed topics and only post a few. They have said in the past that they receive many more proposals than they could ever post. I assume therefore that the recent dearth is not due to a lack of submissions.

    I started this one almost 2 months ago.

    Really? It wasn’t posted until two weeks ago. I think that illustrates my point, that it is the admins who control when new discussions appear, not the users.

    …Admins?

    …Hello?



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  • I submitted this topic for consideration on Jan 17… It got posted Feb 17… and then reposted Mar 1 after a typo was corrected?!? Oh well…

    Look for one I submitted today on the “old” and “new” Cosmos series under “Science”… Let’s see how long that takes…

    Administrators? Hello…

    In reply to #50 by BanJoIvie:

    It’s not a question of somebody just starting one. The site administrators review all the proposed topics and only post a few. They have said in the past that they receive many more proposals than they could ever post…

    I think that illustrates my point, that it is the admins who control when new discussions appear, not the users.

    …Admins?

    …Hello?



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  • In reply to #39 by neurol:

    Yeah, our group argued for months over (alphabetically) “agnostic, atheist, bright, freethinker, humanist, naturalist, skeptic”. It’s all good. We may not agree on what to call ourselves but we do know what we believe and what we don’t.

    The problem with this and I refer to the OP post

    America embraces people of all faiths and of no faith

    In trying to be politically correct, this statement really means that now people of a faith get even more rights to trample on those who want to not be a part of it. This solves nothing and makes it worse.This makes it ok for them to stick creationism in school books and call it science instead of theology.

    People of Faith = People who pretend to know something they don’t and want others to also pretend

    I dislike being referred to as a person of no faith !! I would like to be referred to as a person who is not pretending to know something they don’t.

    Today, America embraces people who pretend to know something they don’t and people who don’t pretend to know something they don’t.

    When you put it that way like it should be, does it not sound crazy to embrace that shite and preach that we all should embrace ignorant delusional people who pretend to know something they don’t.
    Why not just say leave your god at home so we can all get along and live in peace without being bombarded with pretense and gullibility ?



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  • 52
    XFR Stone says:

    In reply to #11 by SomersetJohn:

    In reply to #2 by neurol:

    Fine. Uncapitalize “jews, sikhs, buddhists, hindus, muslims, and christians.”
    In reply to #1 by BanJoIvie:

    I already do, most of the time, also god, mohammed, jesus and most undeserved terms of respect for the faithful. Slips of memory do not infer unwarranted respect, me…

    I only capitalize because it’s correct grammar and I just can’t bring myself to not do it.



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  • neurol: “…why don’t we get capitalized?”

    I would hope we never are. That would mean we have jumped into the pit like the rest. “atheist/ism” and “agnostic/ism” are not formally constituted collectives; nor should they ever be, since on that day we too become a religion. Personally, because I don’t need the bluster, I’m proud of the lower case.

    Aside from that, President Obama’s words were verbal. The real question there is, whether the two words capitalized or not in his transcript, just as they have not been by those who reported on his speech. The question, in other words is: exactly who was it, behind the scenes, who employed the lower case?



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  • XFR Stone: “…because it’s correct grammar….”

    Umm… sorry, but no. Per my previous post, unless you’re starting a sentence with it, it isn’t. There’s a difference between (and only for instance): “follower” and “Follower; “fan” and “Fan.”

    Would you say you were a “Non-believer?”



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