Football coaches at Hoover High School (Hoover, Ala.) will no longer engage in pre-game locker room prayers, thanks to the Freedom From Religion Foundation.
FFRF Senior Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert wrote to Hoover City Schools Superintendent Andy Craig on Jan. 6 to alert the school district that such prayers are unconstitutional. “By leading and participating in prayers, the coaches are sending a message of exclusion to nontheists on the football team and to those believers whose religion is not being professed during these locker room prayers,” Markert added.
FFRF received confirmation from the school district’s attorney on June 4 that coaches would not lead prayer or arrange for other adults to pray before football games in the future.
Lewis County Intermediate School (Hohenwald, Tenn.) will stop teachers from handing out religious materials in the classroom.
A local parent contacted FFRF after his fifth grade student came home with a bible and a permission slip for summer vacation bible school on separate occasions. FFRF Staff Attorney Stephanie Schmitt wrote to Director of Schools Benjamin L. Pace taking issue with these unconstitutional violations. “Public schools have a constitutional obligation to remain neutral toward religion,” Schmitt wrote in a May 23 letter. “When a school distributes religious literature to its students, it has unconstitutionally entangled itself with a religious message, in this case a Christian message.”
Pace responded on June 7, saying the district would re-visit materials that had been sent out and assuring FFRF that “we are ever aware of the constitutional protection of religious freedom.”
The Freedom From Religion Foundation successfully persuaded a post office in Huntersville, N.C., to remove a Christian cross from behind a customer counter.
A local complainant noticed that the post office displayed a wooden, half-foot tall Latin cross behind its customer counter, on a prominent shelf, clearly viewed by all postal patrons. Senior Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert wrote to the Huntersville postmaster on March 16, 2012: "This cross display violates post office regulations and the U.S. Constitution and must be removed immediately."
Markert pointed out that U.S. postal regulations prohibit the display of religious symbols, other than stamp art on postal property. She added that "no court of final resort has ever upheld the government's permanent display of a Latin cross on public land as constitutional."
The postmaster informed Markert on June 12 that "the cross has been removed."
Byron Nelson High School (Fort Worth, Texas) will no longer mix prayer with school-sponsored assemblies, thanks to the Freedom From Religion Foundation.
FFRF Staff Attorney Stephanie Schmitt sent a June 1, 2012, letter to Superintendent Karen Rue outlining significant "constitutional concerns" brought on by an end-of-the-year assembly. A prayer was delivered during this special event, which was scheduled to honor the senior class. A local complainant told FFRF that school officials had full knowledge of the prayer before it was given and that the assembly was mandatory for all students.
"It is unlawful for any school-sponsored event to open with prayer. FFRF asks that you immediately take action to ensure that future assemblies do not open or close with prayer," wrote Schmitt.
An attorney for the school district replied to FFRF on June 18: "The District has recently provided its administrators and educators with in-service training over a variety of issues, including those addressed in your letter." He added that the district staff was specifically trained on the "'do's and don'ts' of religion in public schools."
Students at Gloucester City (N.J.) Junior-Senior High School were spared participation in a church-hosted baccalaureate service, thanks to the Freedom From Religion Foundation.
FFRF was contacted by a complainant whose daughter was told that she could not opt out of the religious performance and that if she missed rehearsal or the ceremony, it would affect her grade. Senior Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert wrote to Superintendent Paul Spaventa on June 11, two days before the service was scheduled: “No student should be forced to participate in the baccalaureate or suffer a failing or lower grade because they, in good conscience, cannot perform at a religious event.”
The school district’s solicitor replied on June 19, informing FFRF that after they received the letter, district personnel told all students that participation in the service was optional and that their grades would not be affected if they did not attend. He assured FFRF that “in the future a similar procedure will be used by the School District to ensure that only individuals who volunteer will participate in any type of Baccalaureate Service.”
Although the kids may be out of school, the Freedom From Religion Foundation knows that the Constitution doesn’t take a vacation.
Hazelwood Elementary School’s Summer Program in Haywood County, N.C., includes gardening crafts and games. However the school also scheduled trips to Vacation Bible School at a local Baptist church this year and in years past. The school arranged to allow transportation of students to a Baptist church to participate in Vacation Bible School for morning activities for a week (June 18-22, 2012), even after a shocked parent had complained and been assured it would not happen. Staff Attorney Patrick Elliott objected to the school’s entanglement with a bible school in a strong letter to the district’s superintendent, Anne Garnett. In his letter, Elliott explained that the school’s summer programming, including its registration forms, program handouts, and advertisement on the school website, all served to “facilitate student recruitment for religious indoctrination.” In citing legal precedent (including FFRF’s victory in Doe v. Porter), Elliott concluded, “The school’s promotion and coordination of a religious program is unconstitutional and cannot continue.”
An for Haywood County Schools wrote on June 21, “I have advised the Superintendent and Principal of Hazelwood Elementary School that in my opinion the coordination and advertising of a Vacation Bible School with a summer school program is improper. Though the Haywood County School System takes pride in complying with all laws involving religion, this matter unfortunately occurred.” The Superintendent “will implement plans to assure that future summer program . . . will not coordinate or advertise Vacation Bible School activities.”
Students at Horace Elementary School (West Fargo, N.D.) will no longer be forced to perform religious music after receiving a letter from the Freedom From Religion Foundation.
Grades 3-5 at the school put on a program that included seven songs with strong religious themes, including “Jesus Take the Wheel” and “Long Black Train.” Senior Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert wrote to the school on June 8, explaining that “teaching these very young and impressionable students pervasively Christian music in a public school violates the First Amendment.”
Superintendent David Flowers responded June 25, saying that he agreed the concert had been inappropriate and that the district would be reviewing guidelines about religious music with the music staff in the fall.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation got two illegal church advertisements removed from Lexington School District One in Lexington, S.C.
Lexington School District One rents district facilities to local churches for worship services on the weekends. Forts Pond Elementary School had a permanently installed sign advertising worship services for United Tabernacle of God, IHPC. This sign was attached to the ground with wooden stakes. Another sign was positioned at Pelion High School and was displayed on weekends. This sign advertised worship services for Redirect Church. FFRF Senior Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert wrote to Superintendent Karen Woodward on June 5, 2012: "It is inappropriate for the district to permit advertisement of religious organizations or churches, especially a permanent advertisement, on school property."
Markert noted that even if it is permissible to rent district facilities to churches, a public school should not allow any activity giving the appearance of promoting or supporting religion.
The school district sent a positive reply on June 25: "We were unaware of the sign at Forts Pond Elementary School. Thank you for pointing it out. It has been removed. We have also clarified with Pelion High School that the sign for Redirect Church is to be posted only on Sundays, the morning of the service."
Bret Harte Union High School (Angels Camp, Calif.) will stop distributing student contact information to St. Andrew’s Catholic Church, which was using the contact information to solicit student attendance at its annual baccalaureate.
A Bret Harte student contacted FFRF after receiving an invitation to the baccalaureate at St. Andrew’s. FFRF staff attorney Andrew Seidel wrote Bret Harte Union High School District Superintendent Michael Chimente, taking issue with this constitutional violation.
In his June 18 letter, Seidel wrote that the school’s conduct “would lead any reasonable person to believe that the government is endorsing a particular religion – Catholicism in this instance – and religion over nonreligion.” He further reasoned it was “shocking that a school, entrusted with the care, education and protection of minors, would give children’s information over to an organization known to harbor and shield sexual predators.” Seidel emphasized that the “Stockton diocese, of which Angels Camp is a part, has a sordid history of priests sexually abusing minors (at least 10 priests have been accused of sexual abuse of minors, two recently fled to Ireland)” including “one of the most notorious cases of a priest raping children ... Oliver Francis O’Grady, [who] confessed … to abusing at least 25 children.”
On June 26, Seidel received a call from Mr. Chimente assuring FFRF that Bret Harte would stop distributing students’ information to religious institutions, including St. Andrew’s. Mr. Chimente further assured FFRF that he would be more vigilant in upholding the Establishment Clause.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation has put an end to the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base's practice of placing bibles in medical center waiting rooms.
Prior to FFRF's complaint, the Wright-Patterson Medical Center on the Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio, displayed Gideon bibles throughout its surgical unit waiting room, a government-run facility. FFRF Staff Attorney Stephanie Schmitt wrote to facility management on April 27, 2012, that "providing such material to patients and guests sends the message that they are expected to want to read the religious publications and that the hospital endorses the message found in the material." She added that "government-run hospitals have a constitutional obligation to remain neutral towards religion."
Schmitt noted that if a patient desires to read religious material during their hospital visit "they can bring their own."
A local resident informed FFRF on June 26 that all bibles have been removed from the surgical unit waiting room.
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.
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.”