Students at Lakeside High School (Ashtabula, Ohio) will no longer be forced to stand during the Pledge of Allegiance, thanks to the Freedom From Religion Foundation.
FFRF Staff Attorney Stephanie Schmitt informed Superintendent Joseph Donatone of this blatant First Amendment violation via an April 13 letter of complaint. She pointed out that some faculty members required that students participate in the pledge against their will. "Students have a constitutional right not to be forced to participate in the Pledge of Allegiance or to be compelled to stand for its recitation," advised Schmitt.
Schmitt added that students should not be singled out, told they must stand, or otherwise be penalized for following their freedom of conscience.
Donatone promptly replied to Schmitt's letter on April 19: "We can assure you that we recognize our students' right not to participate in the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance and we have directed our staff accordingly."
The Freedom From Religion Foundation has put an end to a Douglas County (Douglasville, Ga.) judge's inappropriate use of county resources to promote the Christian message.
The judge was using county supplies to collect new and used bibles and distribute them to "persons around the globe who do not have the resources to get bibles." She also solicited the bibles through the county newsletter and collected the bibles at the courthouse. FFRF Staff Attorney Stephanie Schmitt took issue with this flagrant violation. Schmitt sent an April 13 letter to Douglas County officials: "This use of County resources to solicit and distribute Christian bibles violates the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution. The sole purpose of the judge's endeavor is to benefit a religious organization — the Christian church."
Schmitt noted that the judge's actions also violated the Georgia Constitution. The law advises that "[n]o money shall ever be taken from the public treasury, directly or indirectly, in aid of any church, sect, cult, or religious denomination or of any sectarian institution."
A secretary for the Chief Magistrate promptly responded to Schmitt with positive news. During a phone conversation the secretary confirmed that bibles will no longer be accepted/delivered to the courthouse. She added that there will not be any more advertisements for the fundraiser.
FFRF Senior Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert sent a Feb. 17, 2012, letter of complaint to an Oklahoma City post office after a local complainant reported an egregious violation.
One of the postal workers distributed proselytizing Christmas messages in the mailboxes on his route. In her letter, Markert pointed out that this violated not only the Establishment Clause, but postal regulations.
Manager Kreg Stockstill responded April 11, apologizing for the inappropriate action and confirming that the office had “addressed all concerns raised with a thorough investigative process and ha[d] taken all corrective action as needed.”
Hagan Elementary School in Williston, N.D., will no longer permit representatives of Gideons International to distribute bibles to its youngest students.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation took issue with a particularly egregious situation that occurred in a fifth grade classroom. Students returning from music class found bibles placed on each of their desks. The teacher then led the class in a discussion of the bible. "It is unconstitutional for public school districts to allow the distribution of bibles during the school day. Courts uniformly have held the distribution of bibles to students at public schools during instructional time is prohibited," wrote FFRF Staff Attorney Stephanie Schmitt in a letter of complaint to Superintendent Viola LaFontaine.
Schmitt maintained that Williston Schools may not allow Gideons or any other religious groups, to enter school property to distribute religious literature, or to engage in bible discussions.
In an April 9 response letter LaFontaine affirmed, "Please be assured this will not happen again and bibles will not be distributed in any of the Williston Public School District #1 Schools."
The University of Wisconsin Hospital in Madison, Wis., will no longer allow Gideons International to unlawfully distribute bibles on public property, thanks to the Freedom From Religion Foundation.
FFRF Staff Attorney Stephanie Schmitt sent an advisory letter to UW Hospital President and CEO Donna Katen-Bahensky on March 22: "Permitting members of the Gideons or other bible distribution organizations the privilege of passing out their religious literature in the entrance of a state-run hospital constitutes blatant state endorsement of these Christian publications." A local complainant noted that security officers regulated the area in question, but claimed they were unable to take any action because it was in "a public space," even though it was by the main hospital entrance. Many of the security officers stated that "they were getting a lot of complaints" and admitted to being upset about the situation.
"A hospital entrance should be free from such distressing obstacles to ill patients and their worried relatives. Because of this undesirable result and the serious constitutional concerns that exits, the best policy would be to prohibit the distribution of any non-approved materials on the UW Hospital campus," noted Schmitt.
Katen-Bahensky sent a positive reply to Schmitt on April 9: "In re-eduating our Security Department on the non-solicitation policy earlier this year, we did discover that there had been some confusion with respect to the Gideons, but that confusion has been clarified. All solicitors, including members of the Gideons, will be asked to leave the area if they are soliciting there." FFRF had protested the practice on behalf of patients and staff, for many years.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation has persuaded the City of Mt. Juliet (Tenn.) to stop promoting "the Great Easter Bash."
"The Great Easter Bash" was a Christian event set to take place on April 7 in a public park. The City of Mt. Juliet Parks and Recreation Department was the designated host, with Friendship Community Church as a co-sponsor. As host, the city advertised the event on the department's webpage and on mass distributed postcards. FFRF Staff Attorney Stephanie Schmitt took issue with this blatant blending of government and religion. She wrote to Parks Director Jay Cameli on April 4: "While organizing and encouraging citizens to attend family-friendly recreation is a laudable goal, advertising and co-sponsoring an event with a church constitutes government endorsement of religion and alienates those Tennessee residents who are not Christian and who are non-religious."
Schmitt received confirmation on April 6 that the city wisely removed all information about the Easter event. The parks department "removed the city logo, as well as all references to the 'City of Mt. Juliet' on the printed materials that will be distributed at the event." Employees were instructed to treat the event as they would any other.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation has pre-empted any future Cleveland State University-sponsored "Faith & Family Day" from taking place on school grounds.
FFRF Senior Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert wrote to CSU President Ronald Berkman on March 13 over the university's inappropriate endorsement of "Faith & Family Day." The event took place on Jan. 7, 2012, during a men's basketball game. The event was promoted using a logo consisting of numerous Christian crosses. "This promotion of religion, particularly Christianity, by a publicly funded university is inappropriate and unconstitutional," wrote Markert.
Markert pointed out that when a publicly-funded college "holds an event promoting a specific religious viewpoint, that statement sends a message that people adhering to certain religious beliefs are favored members of the community."
A representative of the university responded to Markert via a March 26 letter: "Immediately upon being notified of this, all posters, flyers and marquee messages within the Wolstein Center were removed... I am satisfied that appropriate steps have been taken to ensure that there will not be any future advertisements or promotional events sponsored by the university that will in any way suggest that the university endorses religion or any religious preference."
The Freedom From Religion Foundation has put an end to an inappropriate and unnecessary church bulletin discount at the Fisherman's Quarters II in Asheville, N.C.
Fisherman's Quarters II habitually offered a 10% discount to church-going patrons. This particular promotion was at the top of the list on the restaurant's website along with its other discounts. FFRF Staff Attorney Stephanie Schmitt initially wrote to the restaurant owners on Oct. 17, 2011: "Fisherman's Quarters II's restrictive promotional practice favors religious customers and denies customers who do not attend church as well as nonbelievers the right to 'full and equal' enjoyment of Fisherman's Quarters II."
After receiving two additional follow-up letters, a representative of the restaurant verified that the unlawful practice would change. He maintained that the offer would be amended to apply to all patrons.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation ended an inappropriate and unnecessary use of employee email at the Harris County School District in Hamilton, Ga. Prior to FFRF's involvement, the school district allowed "principals and other leadership staff to send emails to their subordinates which include bible passages." One particular email correspondence took place between an elementary school principal and the school district's director of transportation. Theses emails contained "relevant" bible passages intended to "guide" the recipient.
FFRF Staff Attorney Stephanie Schmitt wrote to Superintendent Craig Dowling on March 15: "No public school employee may urge religious points of view on students, parents, or employees. This includes bible verses and talking about 'following God.'"
Dowling responded to FFRF's complaint on March 23: "The Harris County School District will take such action as it deems appropriate regarding such communications to fulfill its responsibilities to avoid the advancement of religion and remain neutral in respect thereto," added Dowling.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation has prevented a local minister from delivering another pregame prayer over the loudspeaker at Madisonville-North Hopkins High School in Madisonville, Ky.
A minister delivered an invocation over the public address system at the Region 2 Boys Basketball finals on March 6. A local complainant informed FFRF that the minister issued a Christian prayer, even after FFRF warned the school about illegal school prayer last fall. FFRF Co-Presidents Dan Barker and Annie Laurie Gaylor sent out a statewide memorandum to all Kentucky superintendents prior to the 2011 athletic season. Senior Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert followed up with Superintendent James Stevens in a March 12 letter: "As was made clear last fall, it is illegal for a public school to organize, sponsor, and lead prayers at public high school athletic events."
An attorney for the school district responded to Markert on March 20: "We have conducted an investigation into this matter and we are aware of the federal law which has been established on this issue. We appreciate your reiterating it to us and we have taken steps to ensure compliance with federal law on this issue. Superintendent James Lee Stevens will address this issue with all Principals and District level Administrators at the monthly administrators' meetings and will ensure compliance with federal law on this issue."
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.
LAURYN SEERING is the publicist & assistant editor at FFRF. She was born in Wausau, Wisconsin and has also lived in Nagasaki, Japan. She graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Stout in 2012 with her B.S. in Professional Communications and Emerging Media, concentrating in Technical Communication and International Studies. She also received a double minor in Journalism and English. Lauryn moved to Madison in January 2013 and enjoys reading about astrophysics, basking in the sun like a turtle and creating art at coffee shops. Lauryn is a practicing Pastafarian.
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.
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.”