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 FFRF. Other books include Godless (Ulysses Press, 2008), The Good Atheist: Living a Purpose-Filled Life Without God (Pitchstone Publishing, 2011), Life Driven Purpose: How an Atheist Finds Meaning, Pitchstone Press (2015) and GOD: The Most Unpleasant Character in All Fiction (Sterling Publications, 2016). 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 FFRF’s musical CDs, "Friendly Neighborhood Atheist," "Beware of Dogma,” and “Adrift on a Star." He joined FFRF's staff in 1987, serving as public relations director. He was first elected co-president in November 2004, speaks widely and has engaged in more than 100 debates about religion.
Annie Laurie Gaylor, a third-generation freethinker, co-founded FFRF with her mother Anne Gaylor as a college student in 1976. She served as editor of Freethought Today, FFRF’s newspaper, from 1985 to 2009. Her book, Woe to the Women: The Bible Tells Me So, first published by FFRF in 1981, is in its 4th printing. In 1988, FFRF published Betrayal of Trust: Clergy Abuse of Children, the first book documenting widespread sexual abuse by clergy. Her 1997 anthology, 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 University of Wisconsin-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 first joined the FFRF staff in 1985. She has been co-president since 2004. In the late 1970s, her student protest ended commencement prayers at the UW-Madison. She has been plaintiff in or overseen many state/church lawsuits and actions by FFRF. Dan and Annie Laurie have appeared on a variety of TV news shows, including “Oprah,” “O’Reilly,” “Good Morning America,” Univision, CNN and FOX news segments, CBS Evening News and ABC World News Tonight.
Photo: Timothy Hughes
FFRF President emerita
ANNE NICOL GAYLOR was a founder and president emerita of the Freedom From Religion Foundation. She served as executive director from 1978 to 2005, and worked as a consultant to the Foundation. Born in rural Wisconsin, she was 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 did 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. Previously, she was the Executive Director of the Wisconsin Library Association. She has 25 years of experience in nonprofit organizations, both as a staff member and volunteer leader, including having served as board president of the Wisconsin Society of Association Executives and the Community Action Coalition of South Central Wisconsin. She has a B.A. from the University of Minnesota. Lisa is married with a daughter, as well as three 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.
SAM GROVER received his B.A. in philosophy and government from Wesleyan University in 2008. He first worked for FFRF in 2010 as a legal intern while attending Boston University School of Law. In 2011, his article on the religious exemptions in the Affordable Care Act’s individual health insurance mandate was published in the American Journal of Law and Medicine. After receiving his J.D. from Boston University in 2012, Sam worked as a law clerk for the Vermont Office of Legislative Council where he drafted legislation on health care, human services, and tax issues. He returned to work as a constitutional consultant for FFRF in the fall of 2013. Sam has written a paper on counterterrorism and the law that was published by the Memorial Institute for the Prevention of Terrorism in Oklahoma City and has traveled to southern Africa to work under Justice Unity Dow of Botswana’s High Court.
MADELINE ZIEGLER graduated magna cum laude from the University of Wisconsin – La Crosse in 2011 with a B.A. in English Literature and Political Science. She attended the University of Wisconsin Law School and received her Juris Doctor in 2014. She has worked at FFRF in some capacity since May 2012, starting as a legal intern/extern, and currently works as a legal fellow.
RYAN JAYNE received a B.A. in philosophy from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Honors College in 2007. After graduating, Ryan taught piano and chess lessons while working as a financial advisor until 2012, when he began law school at Lewis & Clark in Portland, Oregon. In law school he focused on intellectual property and animal law, serving as an associate editor for the Animal Law Review at Lewis & Clark and co-founding the Pacific Northwest’s first Secular Legal Society. Ryan graduated cum laude in 2015, began working with FFRF in January of 2015, and became a Diane Uhl Legal Fellow in September, 2015, specializing in faith-based government funding.
WHITNEY STEFFEN is FFRF’s Legal Assistant. Whitney is a Madison native who graduated from University of Wisconsin-Madison with a B.A. in English in 2011. Whitney received a Paralegal Post-Baccalaureate diploma from Madison College in 2014 and previously worked as a paralegal at a small law firm before coming to FFRF. She enjoys watching the Wisconsin State Senate and Assembly from the galleries, reading, and spending time with her four cats.
ALYSSA SCHAEFER is FFRF’s Program Assistant. She graduated from The George Washington University in 2014 with a BA in International Affairs, concentrating in Security Policy. A native of Wisco, she recently moved back to Madison from the east coast. In her free time Alyssa enjoys traveling, exploring the great outdoors, live music, and lazy Sundays with her cat Lola.
PJ SLINGER is editor of Freethought Today. A Green Bay native, he has a journalism degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and has worked as a sports reporter, news reporter, copy editor, web editor and photo editor in newspapers in Marshall (Minn.), Mankato (Minn.) and Madison (Wis). Prior to coming to FFRF in 2015, he worked for 15 years at The Capital Times in Madison. He has a wife and three kids.
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.
LAURYN SEERING is the publicist, assistant webmaster & communications coordianator. She was born in Wausau, Wis. and studied abroad in Nagasaki, Japan. Lauryn graduated from the UW-Stout in 2012 with her BS in Professional Communications and Emerging Media, concentrating in Technical Communication & International Studies. Lauryn moved to Madison in 2013 and enjoys reading about space stuff, biking and creating art at coffee shops.
LISA TREU is our Director Of First Impressions at FFRF. She comes to us after working in broadcasting for iHeart Radio in Madison, Wisconsin. She hosted various radio programs for fifteen years. Lisa and her husband ran their own Birdhouse/Birdfeeder manufacturing company called Northwoods Mfg., Inc. during the 1990’s where she had her own line of decorative birdhouses that she designed and painted herself. Lisa is the wife of Harry and is the mother of twin daughters Katrina and Karinthia. In her spare time she enjoys reading, painting, gardening, feeding the birds, getting silly with her daughters and lounging with her two cats.
AMITABH PAL is the Communications Director of FFRF. Prior to joining in February 2016, he was the Managing Editor of The Progressive magazine for more than a decade. He was also the editor of the Progressive Media Project, an affiliate of The Progressive that sends out op-eds through the Tribune Wire Service to hundreds of newspapers in the United States and other countries. Pal has appeared on C-SPAN and BBC and television and radio stations all over the United States and abroad. His articles have been published in school and college textbooks in the United States and Australia. Pal teaches a course at Edgewood College in Madison, Wisconsin. He has a Master's in Journalism from the University of North Carolina and a Master's in Political Science from North Carolina State University.
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 Jerry Coyne, Robin Morgan, 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.
- Jerry Coyne, Ph.D., professor of ecology and evolution at the University of Chicago, is author of the popular book 'Why Evolution is True' and the blog of the same name.
- 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.”
- 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.”
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.”
- 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."
- Robin Morgan, feminist pioneer, global activist, author of the groundbreaking "Sisterhood is Powerful" and more than 20 books, was formerly Ms. Magazine editor and consulting editor. She is the co-founder of the Feminist Women's Health Network and Women's Media Center and currently hosts "Women's Media Center Live" the radio "talk-show with a brain."
- 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.”
- Steven Pinker, Johnstone Professor of Psychology, Harvard, is author of The Blank Slate: “I never outgrew my conversion to atheist at 13.”
- 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!”
- Ron Reagan, media commentator, describes himself in a radio ad he taped for FFRF as: “Unabashed atheist, not afraid of burning in hell.”
- Robert Sapolsky, a neurologist, Stanford professor and bestselling author, once suggested FFRF put up a sign at its conventions: “Welcome, hellbound atheists.”
- 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.
- 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!”
- 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.”
- Oliver Sacks, M.D., the compassionate neurologist and bestselling author, describes himself as “an old Jewish atheist.”