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Morgan Christian's freedom from religion squelched by bike ride organizers

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The separation of church and state has reared it's Constitutional head on a northern prairie bike ride: Morgan Christian, a St. Paul atheist, has been "disinvited" from riding in the the 500-mile CANDISC (Cycling Around North Dakota In Sakakawea Country) bike tour because he had the temerity to suggest a local pastor abide by the Establishment Clause in the First Amendment.

The ride is a state-supported event. Christian's beef grew out on an experience in last year's ride. Before he and fellow riders tucked into a turkey dinner in Turtle Lake, Bill Oliver, the Turtle Lake Baptist Church minister, led a prayer. Christian ( you have to enjoy the irony of that name) saw the prayer as state-sponsored religion.

Oliver's recollection in the Bismark Tribune:

"The guy was a little obnoxious, but I could see his point. I just stood there. He got it off his chest and I was fine with that. I figured he was entitled to his opinion and I'm entitled to mine," Oliver said.

Oliver said it was Christian's combative attitude and tone that were offensive, less to him than to someone who overheard the exchange and then word of it got around."

Christian told the newspaper that he's enjoyed his past rides on the CANDISC. But he did sound like he was spoiling for a fight, though.

Christian said he was just standing up for himself. "I don't think I raised my voice all that much. Whether I appeared agitated, I don't know," he said.

He admitted he didn't help matters the next morning, while gearing up for the final day's ride, he muttered loud enough for Nelson to hear, "What's it gonna be next year, 'CANDISC for Christ, or Mohammed on a roll?'"

When ride organizers saw Christian's name on this year's roster, they sent him a letter telling him to stay home.