The Freedom From Religion Foundation has helped to remove an unlawful religious quilt display from a public hallway at the University of Florida.
A large religious quilt display hanging in a hallway shared by the veterinary department and the department of aging and geriatric research said "all creatures great and small/the Lord God made them all." This religious endorsement prompted a concerned student to contact FFRF. Staff Attorney Stephanie Schmitt wrote a letter to university president Bernie Machen on March 1, 2012, noting that "when a publicly-funded college... posts a statement promoting a religious viewpoint, that statement sends a message that people adhering to certain religious beliefs are favored members of the community and that people who have different religious beliefs or are nonreligious are outsiders in their community."
"Such a religious message offends Florida's underrepresented minority religious population," added Schmitt.
The associate vice president, in a June 29 response said that the quilt was left behind when the veterinary department changed buildings, that she anticipates "removing it from its current location" and does not "have plans to display it at this time."
FFRF was contacted by a curious researcher in November 2011 who “wanted to look up religion statistics and tried www.census.gov,” the U.S. Census website. The census stopped collecting religious statistics in 1936, but provides links to “more information.” These links included the Hartford Seminary and the Glenmary Research Center (GRC). The link to the GRC in fact linked to Glenmary Home Missioners, a Catholic missionary organization “dedicated to establishing a Catholic presence in rural areas and small towns of the United States where the Catholic Church is not yet effectively present. Glenmary missioners strive to proclaim and witness to the Good News of Jesus Christ and the power of God's love, mercy and justice.” GRC “supports and assists Glenmary Home Missioners by providing applied research to Glenmary leadership, individual missioners, Church leaders and the wider society. The GRC operates under a mandate from the Glenmary Executive Council.”
FFRF attorney Andrew Seidel wrote Dr. Robert Groves, Director of the Census Bureau, a letter on May 22, 2012: “The Glenmary website provides little statistical information and, given the goals quoted above, it is clear that demographic research takes a backseat to winning converts.” Seidel argued that by linking to the GRC, “the U.S. Census Bureau appears to be endorsing Christianity, and specifically Catholicism.” A statistics hound himself, Seidel made a secular suggestion: “There are numerous other organizations and studies the website could mention in place of this proselytizing sectarian one. The Pew Forum on Religion & the Public Life provides a significant amount of excellent information on religious affiliation, demographics, regions, beliefs and practices, and even individual topics. This would provide citizens with more information and eliminate the appearance of religious endorsement.”
After numerous follow ups and phone calls, the Census’ Web and Social Media Branch reviewed all the links to religious information — and as of July 2, removed them all. Accepting Seidel’s suggestion the Census now links to the Pew Research Center. See the new page with the link to Pew at http://www.census.gov/prod/www/religion.htm.
The South Dearborn School Board (Ind.) will no longer open its monthly meetings with a prayer, thanks to the Freedom From Religion Foundation.
A concerned school district parent informed FFRF that school board officials began each monthly meeting by reciting the Lord's prayer. These meetings are open to the public and often include young students from the district. Staff Attorney Stephanie Schmitt sent an April 20, 2012, letter to School Board President Daryl Cutter: "It is beyond the scope of a public school board to schedule prayer as part of its scheduled meetings." She added that federal courts have consistently struck down prayer by school officials in a public setting.
Schmitt wrote that "opening school board meetings with a Christian prayer discriminates not only against nonbelievers, but also against any non-Christian attendees. Parents and students should not be made to feel like outsiders when attending meetings."
An attorney for the school district responded on July 3: "In response to your letter of April 20, 2012, the School Board has discontinued the prayer at meetings."
A restaurant in Blue Ridge, Ga., will no longer offer a preferential discount to church-going patrons, thanks to the Freedom From Religion Foundation.
On a sign posted next to the cash register, Blue Ridge Mountain BBQ offered and promoted an illegal 10% discount to customers who presented a church bulletin on Sundays. The sign also promoted free meals for pastors who dined with a paying customer.
In a June 26, 2012, letter, Staff Attorney Stephanie Schmitt warned the manager that the restaurant was in violation of the Civil Rights Act and that “it is illegal for Blue Mountain BBQ to discriminate, or show favoritism, on the basis of religion.”
On July 5, FFRF received confirmation that not only had the sign offering the church discount been removed, but it had been replaced by a framed copy of FFRF’s letter of complaint.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation has stopped a teacher in the Clear Creek Independent School District (League City, Texas) from passing out class materials with inappropriate religious messages on them.
The teacher had been handing out lessons with a variety of bible quotes and references printed on them. FFRF Staff Attorney Stephanie Schmitt wrote to Superintendent Greg Smith on April 30, 2012: “It is unconstitutional and completely inappropriate for a public school teacher to promote his religious beliefs in the classroom.”
Clear Creek ISD’s General Counsel Sheila Haddock responded positively on July 9, saying that the lessons were unauthorized supplemental materials. Haddock informed FFRF that she and the school principal had talked to the teacher multiple times, and that she “explained the constitutional implications of his actions.” She also said that she had met with the Secondary Social Studies Coordinator “in an effort to reinforce this important message to all instructional staff district-wide.”
The Freedom From Religion Foundation has halted illegal prayer before Henrico County Board of Supervisor meetings in Henrico, Va.
Henrico County officials decided to drop the 25-year-old tradition on July 10 after the group received a letter of complaint from FFRF Staff Attorney Patrick Elliott, as well as an objection from a local concerned citizen.
Joseph P. Rapisarda, the Henrico County Attorney issued a statement: "The Board was beefed on the legal ramifications of having a sectarian prayer. After careful consideration, the Board decided to end the practice of having an opening prayer, effective immediately."
"The Board compounds the violation when the prayers are to Jesus and/or most of the officiants are Christian or Christian clergy. Sectarian prayers make religious minorities and nonbelievers feel like political outsiders in their own community, and show an unconstitutional governmental preference for Christianity over other faiths and for religion over non-religion," wrote Elliott in a July 12 letter to Chairman Richard Glover.
Elliott pointed out that the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals has consistently struck down prayers to Jesus and this would likely be the case in Henrico. Elliott added that county officials are free to pray privately, as long as it's not on taxpayers' time and dime.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation ended an inappropriate use of official email by a government agency employee in Alabama.
An employee of the Alabama Medicaid Agency used her official email account to send out an email asking recipients to help ban a supposed upcoming film depicting Jesus as a homosexual. Her email included a quotation from the bible and urged recipients, “Let’s stand for what we believe and stop the mockery of Jesus Christ our Savior.”
FFRF staff attorney Stephanie Schmitt sent a letter to the agency commissioner on June 20, 2012. She argued “it is grossly inappropriate to include religious references in an email from an official government employee.” Schmitt also pointed out that this action was against the Alabama Information Technology Policy regarding email usage.
In a July 13 response, acting commissioner Stephanie McGee Azar agreed that this employee violated the policies of the agency and “appropriate disciplinary action” was taken against her. Azar assured FFRF that all agency employees were reminded that “state email systems shall not be used for conducting any religious or political activities.”
Thomas County School District, Ga., will no longer allow bibles to be distributed in its schools, after receiving a letter of complaint from the Freedom From Religion Foundation.
The principal at Thomas County Middle School announced over the intercom on March 20, 2012, that representatives from The Gideons International were in school and would be distributing bibles to students. After receiving a complaint about this from an unhappy parent, FFRF Staff Attorney Stephanie Schmitt informed Superintendent George Kornegay, Jr., in a March 23rd letter, “It is unconstitutional for public school districts to allow the Gideons to distribute bibles during the school day.”
In a July 16 letter of response, Kornegay wrote that the school district would comply with the Constitution, and bible distributions to students “will not occur in the future in the Thomas County Schools.”
Seven months after the Freedom From Religion Foundation first protested a city nativity scene, the Ellwood City Borough Council (Pa.) has agreed to uphold the First Amendment. The council voted down a proposal on July 16 that would likely have brought the nativity back to public property, through a lottery system allowing a lone display in front of the municipal building during December. The lottery would have discriminated against non-residents.
On behalf of local complainants, FFRF wrote several letters in December. And in late December, the council voted to move the nativity to private property. After things quieted down, the council formed a “Nativity Committee” dedicated to replacing the nativity. The Nativity Committee wrote what one reporter called “a convoluted, complicated, constitutionally bereft proposal that slaps a figurative ‘SUE ME’ sign on the borough’s back.” The council voted the proposal down 4-3 this week, despite ministerial support.
“The invaluable help of FFRF member Stephen Hirtle contributed to the victory. Often having area residents with the courage to take a stand will make all the difference. Stephen, we salute you,” said FFRF Co-President Dan Barker. Barker thanked FFRF Staff Attorneys Patrick Elliott and Andrew Seidel for their hard work in ending this violation.
Hastings Area School District in Michigan refrained from including a prayer in their 2012 high school graduation ceremony after receiving a letter of complaint from FFRF.
For at least the past 10 years Hastings High School has included an illegal invocation in its official graduation program and selected a student to lead the prayer.
FFRF staff attorney Stephanie Schmitt wrote in an April 13, 2012, letter, “The Supreme Court has settled this matter — high school graduations must be secular to protect the freedom of conscience of all students.”
In a July 17 reply, Superintendent Todd Geerlings assured FFRF that, “there were no prayers said at the Hastings High School graduation ceremony on May 25, 2012.”
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.
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. She joined the foundation staff as a student clerical employee in September 2008 and started as the full-time bookkeeper in 2009. Unlike many of the Foundation's staff members, Katie is religious and considers herself a practicing Wiivangelical.
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 ANNA 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 manages FFRF's online social media presence, works with news outlets by writing and sending press releases, and frequently updates the website among other things. 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. Her role models include Carl Sagan, Oscar Wilde and Hayao Miyazaki. Lauryn is a practicing Pastafarian.
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.
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.”
- Oliver Sacks, M.D., the compassionate neurologist and bestselling author, describes himself as “an old Jewish atheist.”
- 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.”