FFRF wrote to Maury County Public Schools (Columbia, Tenn.) in July 2012 regarding a trailer from WellSpring Christian Church that was permanently parked next to the sign for Spring Hill Elementary. The church uses the elementary school for worship services on Sunday. FFRF Senior Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert wrote that it "is inappropriate for the District to permit advertisement of religious organizations or churches, especially a permanent advertisement, on school property. Even if allowed to rent District facilities to churches, a public school should not allow for any activity that would give the appearance of promoting or supporting religion." She asked that the trailer "be removed or displayed only during the church's actual rental time . . ."
An attorney for the school district responded on July 19 that "The church has been informed that this trailer, along with any other advertisement it utilizes, may only be upon school grounds immediately before and during the time in which the church utilizes the school facilities."
Earlier this spring, FFRF received a complaint from a New York resident who reported that one of the science teachers at Public School 76 Queens (a NYC public school) displayed a cross on the wall next to the blackboard. This display also included the words "love god."
FFRF Senior Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert wrote to the principal of the school on May 8, 2012, that "it is well settled that public schools may not advance, prefer or promote religion." She added "courts have continually held that school districts may not display religious messages or iconography on the walls..." Markert asked the district to "take immediate action to remove the cross..."
On July 18 the principal responded that "the item has been removed."
The Freedom From Religion Foundation has stopped a violation in which soldiers were being forced to mow Catholic Charities' lawn.
FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel drafted and sent a letter on July 5 on behalf of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, and also signed by American Atheists, objecting to using U.S. soldiers to support Catholic Social Services of Augusta. The Regimental Noncommissioned Officer Academy’s Advanced Leader Course (ALC) at Fort Gordon, Ga., ordered soldiers to “provide area beautification support to the Catholic Social Services.”
FFRF’s complainant has assured Seidel that the “program with Catholic Social Services has ceased.”
A graduating senior contacted FFRF to report that East Limestone High School in Athens, Ala., had scheduled an official graduation invocation and benediction, in which te student leading the prayer asked everyone to bow their heads and pray. The invocation and benediction were listed in the graduation schedule.
The student complainant, who identified herself as an atheist, noted she was offended at being told to pray at her graduating ceremony: “I just felt uncomfortable, and it seemed like our school was publicly supporting the faith of the majority in my school.” FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel pointed out in his June 4, 2012 letter that Supreme Court precedent has explicitly “ruled prayers at public school graduations an impermissible establishment of religion.” Seidel also pointed out that these prayers alienate the one in four nonbelieving Americans under the age of 29.
After writing two more follow-up letters to the Limestone County Board of Education, FFRF was told by the superintendent on Aug. 21 that the schools “have been informed of the law and have taken appropriate steps to ensure that religious prayers will not be scheduled or endorsed as a part of the graduation ceremonies or any other school sponsored events.”
A member contacted FFRF regarding an invocation included in the 2011 commencement ceremony at Field Local Schools in Mogadore, Ohio. This prayer was listed in the official program and given by the class treasurer.
FFRF Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert wrote to the superintendent: "The Supreme Court has settled this matter — high school graduations must be secular to protect the freedom of conscience of all students." Receiving no response, FFRF followed up on July 2011 and again in February 2012.
In a March 27 letter the attorney for the school district wrote that "Field High School will not have prayer at graduation ceremonies and has enacted policies prohibiting prayer at graduation." The letter included a copy of the newly enacted policies which specifically state ". . . school officials may not mandate or organize prayer at graduation nor organize religious baccalaureate ceremonies." The school district confirmed in late August that no prayer was scheduled for the 2012 graduation ceremony.
FFRF was informed that a staff member at the college sent an email to all district employees via various faculty and staff listservs inviting them all to join a prayer at the pole event. The email advocated for Christian prayer and contained several New Testament verses. The staff member also used the following as his email signature: "BY GRACE ALONE THROUGH FAITH ALONE IN CHRIST ALONE."
FFRF Senior Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert wrote to the chancellor at Peralta Community College in Oakland, Calif., April 4, 2012, over inappropriate religious proselytizing via work email. Markert noted in her letter "that statements of college employees — even emails sent to faculty and staff listservs — are attributable to the school" and that "no public school employee may urge religious points of view on coworkers or other employees." Markert asked the college to "take appropriate steps to ensure no employee is inappropriately utilizing state resources to push a religious agenda."
General Counsel for the college informed Markert on Aug. 22 that the employee who sent the email is no longer sending out emails with religious content and was instructed to remove the religious quote from his email signature.
FFRF ended a church bulletin discount at Las Banderas Mexican Restaurant in Valdosta, Ga., giving 20% off of food for customers who brought in a church bulletin.
The restaurant owner agreed to end the discount and remove the promotion from the restaurant website. FFRF Staff Attorney Stephanie Schmitt complained on Aug. 16, 2012, and received a phone call from the owner on Aug. 22.
On behalf of a local complainant, FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel wrote to Dougherty County School, Ga., on May 23, 2012, to point out numerous constitutional violations by an area representative of Fellowship for Christian Athletes, who gave post-game prayers to Westover and Dougherty High School football teams in Albany, Ga.
FCA rep Bill Cox would gather the team and coaches around him and tell them to kneel. Prayers included: “Thank you most of all for the sacrifice Jesus made on the cross for us,” “Thank you Lord Jesus for dying on the cross to save us from our sins,” “we thank you most of all for Jesus Christ who died on the cross 2,000 years ago.”
Dougherty Superintendent Joshua Murfree replied on Aug. 23 that Cox “is not connected to the school system in any way.” “His activities are inconsistent with the practices of the school system, and I have issued instructions that, because of his activities Mr. Bill Cox is not to be permitted to come upon school property or to attend school-sponsored functions.” The superintendent “reiterated to our athletic employees our practice of not permitting prayer at athletic functions. . .”
FFRF contacted four separate Florida agencies on May 4, 2012, including the Department of Consumer Services, the Department of Revenue, and the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, asking them to investigate what appeared to be a “scam in God’s name.”
The problem involves a Florida policy allowing drivers to purchase specialty license plates for an additional fee. That fee goes to the organization that develops the specialty plate to meet some charitable purpose. These plates feature universities, endangered species, sports teams and “god.” The “In God We Trust” license plates are supposed to “fund educational scholarships for the children of Florida residents who are members of the United States Armed Forces, the National Guard, and the United States Armed Forces Reserve.” But FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel that the “In God We Trust Foundation” had collected over $630,000 and distributed nothing to the children.
After being sent several follow-up letters, the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles wrote FFRF on August 27: “Our department is aware of the alleged non-compliance regarding the distribution of funds from sales of the In God We Trust specialty license plate. As this is an on-going investigation we are not at liberty to divulge related information.” However, the Department did state that there was “an active investigation into the distribution of funds from sales of the In God We Trust license plate” and that “our department has not distributed any funds to the IGWT foundation… money collected from purchases of license plate is being withheld until [the] matter is resolved.” One less scam in the name of god.
DAN BARKER and ANNIE LAURIE GAYLOR are co-presidents of the Freedom From Religion Foundation and co-hosts of Freethought Radio. A former minister and evangelist, Dan became a freethinker in 1983. His books, Just Pretend: A Freethought Book for Children and Losing Faith in Faith: From Preacher To Atheist (1992) are published by the Foundation. His newest book, The Good Atheist: Living a Purpose-Filled Life Without God, was published by Ullysses Press in January, 2011. His previous book, the autobiographical Godless: How An Evangelical Preacher Became One of America's Leading Atheists, was published in 2008. A graduate of Azusa Pacific University with a degree in Religion, Dan now puts his knowledge of Christianity to effective freethought use. A professional pianist and composer, Dan performs freethought concerts and is featured in the Foundation's musical cassettes, "My Thoughts Are Free," "Reason's Greetings," "Dan Barker Salutes Freethought Then And Now," a 2-CD album "Friendly Neighborhood Atheist," and the CD "Beware of Dogma." He joined the Foundation staff in 1987 and served as public relations director. He was first elected co-president in November 2004.
Annie Laurie was also editor of Freethought Today from 1984 to 2009, when she became executive editor. The paper is published 10 times a year. Her book, Woe To The Women: The Bible Tells Me So, first published in 1981, is now in its 4th printing. In 1988, the Foundation published her book, Betrayal of Trust: Clergy Abuse of Children, the first book documenting widespread sexual abuse by clergy. Her 1997 book, Women Without Superstition: 'No Gods, No Masters'is the first collection of the writings of historic and contemporary women freethinkers. A 1980 graduate of the UW-Madison Journalism School, she was an award-winning student reporter and recipient of the Ken Purdy scholarship. After graduation, she founded, edited and published the Feminist Connection,a monthly advocacy newspaper, from 1980-1985. She joined the Foundation staff in 1985. She has been co-president since 2004. She co-founded the original FFRF with Anne Gaylor (see below) as a college student. Photo: Timothy Hughes
FFRF President emerita
ANNE NICOL GAYLOR is a founder and president emerita of the Freedom From Religion Foundation. She served as executive director from 1978 to 2005, and is now working as a consultant to the Foundation. Born in rural Wisconsin, she is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin in Madison. She owned and managed successful small businesses and was co-owner and editor of an award-winning suburban weekly newspaper. A feminist author, she has done substantial volunteer work for women's rights (including serving as volunteer director of the Women's Medical Fund). Under her leadership the Freedom From Religion Foundation has grown from its initial three Wisconsin members to a national group with representation in every state and Canada.
Director of Operations
LISA STRAND is director of operations of FFRF. She has more than 25 years of experience in nonprofit (primarily association) management, including 15 years as executive director of the Wisconsin Library Association. She is married with a daughter, as well as two cats, a guinea pig and an untended garden that will someday be beautiful.
REBECCA S. MARKERT attended the University of Wisconsin at Madison and received her B.A. in political science, international relations and German in 1998. After graduating from UW–Madison, Rebecca spent one year working as a legislative fellow at the German Parliament in Bonn, Germany. In the fall 1999, she returned to the United States and began working as a legislative correspondent and assistant to the chief of staff for United States Senator Russ Feingold in Washington, D.C. In 2002, she returned to Madison, Wisconsin, to work on Senator Feingold’s 2004 re-election campaign. After the campaign, Rebecca attended Roger Williams University School of Law and received her Juris Doctor in 2008. She joined the Foundation staff in October 2008.
Rebecca is the Freedom From Religion Foundation’s first staff attorney and primarily works on Establishment Clause cases. She is a member of the State Bar of Wisconsin, Dane County Bar Association, and is admitted to practice in the United States District Court for the Eastern and Western Districts of Wisconsin.
PATRICK ELLIOTT, the Foundation's second staff attorney, hails from St. Paul, Minn. Patrick received a degree in legal studies and political science from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2005. He attended the University of Wisconsin Law School and received his Juris Doctor in 2009. While in school, Patrick took an interest in the First Amendment and constitutional law. He joined FFRF as a staff attorney in July 2010, after working part-time for the Foundation since February. Patrick is a member of the State Bar of Wisconsin, and is admitted to practice in the United States District Court for the Western and Eastern Districts of Wisconsin.
ANDREW SEIDEL graduated cum laude from Tulane University with a B.S. in neuroscience and environmental science and magna cum laude from Tulane University Law School, where he was awarded the Haber J. McCarthy Award for excellence in environmental law. He studied human rights and international law at the University of Amsterdam and traveled the world on Semester at Sea. In May of 2011, Andrew completed his Master of Laws at Denver University Sturm College of Law with a 4.0 GPA and was awarded the Outstanding L.L.M. Award. He has written a book on International Human Rights Law and his essay on the role of religion in government and the founding of our nation placed second in the FFRF's 2010 graduate student essay contest. Andrew is a former Grand Canyon tour guide and accomplished nature photographer; his work has been displayed in galleries in Colorado, Texas, Florida, Louisiana, and Maryland. He joined the FFRF staff as a constitutional consultant in November 2011.
ELIZABETH CAVELL received her B.A in English from the University of Florida in 2005. After college, Elizabeth spent a year as a full-time volunteer in AmeriCorps*NCCC. She attended Tulane University Law School and received her Juris Doctor in 2009. After law school, she worked as a deputy public defender in southern Colorado. She joined the Foundation as a staff attorney in January 2013, after working for the Foundation part-time since September 2012.
BILL DUNN is the editor of Freethought Today. He has a degree in history and mass communications (journalism emphasis) from the University of South Dakota and has worked as a reporter, copy editor and editor in South Dakota and Wisconsin since 1980. Bill joined the Foundation staff in July 2009. He has two daughters, Kaitlin Marie and Jamie Lee.
KATIE DANIEL is the bookkeeper/executive assistant/staff baker at FFRF. She was born in California and has lived in Pennsylvania, Alabama and Missouri. She moved to Madison in 2005 to attend UW-Madison and graduated in 2009 with a BA in Gender & Women's Studies and a Certificate in LGBT Studies. Unlike many of the Foundation's staff members, Katie is religious and considers herself a practicing Wiivangelical.
PHYLLIS ROSE is a retired library administrator from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She has been volunteering 3 afternoons a week at the FFRF office since 2000. A Lifetime Member, Phyllis provides oversight, clerical and editorial support. Phyllis serves as an officer on the Foundation's governing body.
WENDY GOLDBERG a retired attorney, volunteers one day a week. She has archived and indexed not only FFRF's many lawsuits, but maintains archives of legal letters of complaint over state/church violations, advises on many matters, and provides clerical and editorial support. Wendy is FFRF Secretary.
Bios start top left. Photos: Brent Nicastro, Lalla Ward
The Freedom From Religion Foundation is delighted to announce the formation of a new FFRF Honorary Board of distinguished achievers who have made known their dissent from religion.
The FFRF Honorary Board includes Richard Dawkins, Daniel C. Dennett, Ernie Harburg, Jennifer Michael Hecht, Christopher Hitchens, Susan Jacoby, Mike Newdow, Katha Pollitt, Steven Pinker, Ron Reagan, Oliver Sacks, M.D., Robert Sapolsky, Edward Sorel and Julia Sweeney.
“We are so pleased that these outstanding thinkers and freethinkers have agreed to publicly lend their endorsement to the Foundation, and its two purposes of promoting freethought and the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause,” said Dan Barker, Foundation co-president.
Ron Reagan, media commentator, describes himself in a radio ad he taped for FFRF as: “Unabashed atheist, not afraid of burning in hell.”
Richard Dawkins, probably the world’s most famous contemporary atheist and a distinguished evolutionary biologist, is Oxford professor emeritus. In his blockbuster book, The God Delusion, Dawkins writes: “The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction.”
Rebecca Newberger Goldstein, author of 36 Arguments For the Existence of God: A Work of Fiction and a research associate in Harvard’s psychology department, is FFRF Freethought Heroine of 2011. Goldstein is a 1996 MacArthur Fellow (the “genius” award). She has taught at Barnard and in the Columbia MFA writing program and the Rutgers philosophy department. She’s been a visiting scholar at Brandeis and at Trinity College in Hartford.
Julia Sweeney, comedian and actress, is writer/performer of the play, “Letting Go of God”: “How dare the religious use the term 'born again.' That truly describes freethinkers who've thrown off the shackles of religion so much better!”
Daniel C. Dennett is Austin B. Fletcher Professor of Philosophy, Tufts, and author of the bestselling book about religion, Breaking the Spell. In a newspaper article about his nonbelief, Dennett once wrote: “I’ve come to realize it’s time to sound the alarm.”
Katha Pollitt, “Subject to Debate” columnist for The Nation, author and poet, has spoken out regularly and energetically as a freethinker, in such columns as “Freedom From Religion, Sí!”
Steven Pinker, Johnstone Professor of Psychology, Harvard, is author of The Blank Slate: “I never outgrew my conversion to atheist at 13.”
Oliver Sacks, M.D., the compassionate neurologist and bestselling author, describes himself as “an old Jewish atheist.”
Jennifer Michael Hecht, poet, historian and author of the acclaimed Doubt: A History and The End of the Soul, told the FFRF 2009 convention audience: “If there is no god — and there isn't — then we [humans] made up morality. And I'm very impressed.”
Edward Sorel, satiric cartoonist and irreverent illustrator who is a regular contributor to The Atlantic, The New Yorker, and whose caricatures have been exhibited at the National Portrait Gallery, has been a Foundation member since the 1980s.
Mike Newdow is working pro bono to challenge such violations as the addition of “under God” to the Pledge of Allegiance. He told the U.S. Supreme Court during oral arguments: “I am an atheist. I don't believe in God. And every school morning my child is asked to stand up, face that flag, put her hand over her heart, and say that her father is wrong.”
Robert Sapolsky, a neurologist, Stanford professor and bestselling author, once suggested FFRF put up a sign at its conventions: “Welcome, hellbound atheists.”
Ernie Harburg, a retired research scientist, is president of Yip Harburg Foundation and co-author of Who Put the Rainbow in the Wizard of Oz? Ernie has dedicated his retirement to furthering the lyrics, music, memory and progressive views of his freethinking father, the lyricist Yip Harburg, author of classic songs such as “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” and of Rhymes for the Irreverent, recently republished by FFRF.
Susan Jacoby, bestselling author of Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism, and program director of the Center for Inquiry-New York City, told FFRF convention-goers in 2004: "[President] Kennedy had to speak about his religion because he was suspected of insufficient dedication to the Constitution's separation of church and state. Today's candidates are suspect if they display too much dedication to secular government."
Christopher Hitchens, the iconoclastic journalist, is author of the bestselling God Is Not Great: “Since it is obviously inconceivable that all religions can be right, the most reasonable conclusion is that they are all wrong.”