In a motion filed today, the Freedom From Religion Foundation, the American Civil Liberties Union, and the ACLU of Indiana are seeking summary judgment in a lawsuit challenging an annual nativity performance at an Indiana public school.
Each December for nearly half a century, the Performing Arts Department of Concord High School in Elkhart, Ind., has planned, produced, and staged several performances of a large event called the "Christmas Spectacular." One element has remained largely unchanged: School officials ensure that each show closes with a 20-minute depiction by students of the story of the birth of Jesus Christ. Through 2014, during this segment, students at the high school portrayed "the Virgin Mary, Joseph, the Three Wise Men, shepherds, and angels, while staff read passages from the New Testament," notes the original complaint. Read the lawsuit here.
In December, a federal judge issued an injunction against the live nativity, ruling that the version performed for nearly 50 years was an unconstitutional religious endorsement. The plaintiffs' motion for summary judgment challenges the nativity enactment as it was modified during the 2015 "Christmas Spectacular," where the school substituted mannequins in place of live student performers. FFRF and the ACLU note that this modified nativity scene is no more legal or appropriate than the original show. "There is simply no support for the proposition that the constitutionality of a religious display or performance turns on a governmental entity's decision to employ live bodies," note the plaintiffs in their motion. Both versions exist solely to promote Christianity during a school-sponsored performance in violation of the U.S. Constitution.
While public schools may recognize and celebrate the secular aspects of winter holidays, they may not endorse or promote religious beliefs. Nor may they use school functions to coercively subject students to religious messages and proselytizing. But that is precisely what the Concord Community Schools system has done. The brave plaintiffs—a student who participates in the Performing Arts Department, three parents who have attended and will attend the event in order to support their performing children, and FFRF, a nonprofit membership organization devoted to maintaining the separation of church and state—are entitled to a permanent injunction barring all versions of the nativity enactment.
While Concord High School changed its performance in 2015, it did not cure the constitutional violations.
"Concord's argument that it has alleviated any appearance of religious endorsement through its passing references to Hanukkah and Kwanzaa is belied by the facts," notes FFRF Staff Attorney Sam Grover. "In reference to Hanukkah, the school corporation gave a 35-second introduction about the holiday and then had its chamber strings perform an entirely instrumental version of 'Ani Ma'amin', which is a Jewish piece, but not one that pertains to Hanukkah. For Kwanzaa, the introduction was 38 seconds and the song that followed was in a foreign language. By contrast, the portion of the show dedicated to Christmas lasted over 20 minutes and included nine devotional pieces, seven with English lyrics."
FFRF wants people to realize the problems caused by the introduction of religion into public schools.
"Generations in Elkhart have been misled by their school system to believe that it's OK for public schools to promote Christianity," says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. "The death threats against our plaintiffs and attorney and the community hostility are a direct result."
The Freedom From Religion Foundation is dedicated to the separation of state and church, with 23,700 members nationwide, including more than 300 in Indiana.
FFRF has brought the suit in conjunction with the ACLU of Indiana and the national ACLU. Attorneys on the case include Sam Grover and Ryan Jayne of FFRF, Gavin Rose of the ACLU of Indiana, and Daniel Mach and Heather L. Weaver of the ACLU. FFRF v. Concord Community Schools, Case No. 3:15-cv-00463, is in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Indiana, South Bend Division.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation has had an ex-con proselytizer barred from a Florida school district.
"After a national atheist organization issued a complaint, a Fellowship of Christian Athletes employee was permanently banned from Hillsborough County public schools, and all public high school sports coaches will be required to undergo special training next week," the Tampa Tribune reports.
Hillsborough County Public Schools had allowed a Fellowship of Christian Athletes representative, David Gaskill, who has a criminal record, to interact and proselytize with its students without restriction. Gaskill had been involved with the district's sports programs since at least 2014 and appeared to be the schools' sports chaplain.
"Public school sports teams cannot employ, even on a voluntary basis, a spiritual leader or chaplain for their teams because public schools may not advance or promote religion," FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel wrote to Jeff Eakins, superintendent of Hillsborough County Public Schools. "Furthermore, it is illegal for public school athletic coaches to lead or allow someone to lead their teams in prayer."
FFRF had asked that Gaskill be immediately disallowed from Hillsborough schools. There are serious privacy issues when schools let outside adults pose for "selfies" and pictures with students, including with their arms draped around shirtless students, FFRF contended. The schools also permitted Gaskill to meet with students in "intimate locker room" settings with no other adults present. Seidel's letter mentioned several examples and contained dozens of photos and posts that Gaskill had published on Facebook.
"This is one of the worst violations by the Fellowship of Christian Athletes that we've ever dealt with," Seidel said. "The schools have given Gaskill complete, unsupervised access to proselytize other people's children."
The school district swiftly reacted.
"We have suspended the Fellowship of Christian Athletes access to school campus, games and activities until they undergo a required training," Alberto Vasquez Matos, chief of staff for the Hillsborough County Public Schools system, wrote back to Seidel. "High school coaches will also attend a mandatory training outlining policies and procedures when working with community organizations and volunteers. Additionally, Mr. Gaskill will no longer be permitted on district campuses, games or practice."
FFRF truly appreciates the school district's bold and decisive response.
"It's a matter of real concern that such a person was given free access to students," says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. "We're satisfied that Hillsborough County Public Schools took immediate remedial action when we alerted the school district."
The Freedom From Religion Foundation is dedicated to the separation of state and church, with 23,700 nonreligious members nationwide, including more than 1,200 in Florida and a chapter in the state.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation is celebrating a Tennessee city's decision to allow an atheist invocation without interruption.
Back on Jan. 11, when Aleta Ledendecker delivered a secular invocation before the Oak Ridge City Council, she was cut off a little more than two minutes into her delivery. The minimum set time for such speeches is three minutes.
FFRF wrote to the City Council requesting that Ledendecker (an FFRF member) not be discriminated against and that she be allowed to redeliver her full invocation on some other occasion. The best solution, however, FFRF stressed, is to end the practice of legislative prayer altogether.
"Prayer at government meetings is unnecessary, inappropriate and divisive," FFRF Legal Fellow Ryan Jayne wrote to Oak Ridge Mayor Warren Gooch and the City Council in January. "The city of Oak Ridge ought not to lend its power and prestige to religion by inviting religious leaders to give prayers. The prayers exclude the 23 percent of adult Americans, including more than one-in-three millennials, who are not religious."
But if the Oak Ridge City Council insisted on having prayers at its public meetings, FFRF contended that the nonreligious and members of minority religions must be allowed to participate equally, too. It is illegal for the City Council to give less time to citizens because they are nonreligious or since a City Council member dislikes their message, FFRF said.
The Oak Ridge City Council heard FFRF's request loud and clear, recently informing the nontheistic organization that it was changing the process for selecting the invocation speaker and that Ledendecker would be invited back.
"Formerly, the city permitted the Oak Ridge Ministerial Association to designate who would give the invocation at the beginning of each Council meeting," City Attorney Kenneth Krushenski wrote back to Jayne. "Going forward, the city clerk, Mary Beth Hickman, will be responsible for this task."
FFRF cheers the change.
"Our preference is for no prayers at all at the City Council meetings," says FFRF Co-President Dan Barker. "But if there are to be prayers, then everyone should be treated equally."
The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a dedicated to the separation of state and church with 23,700 nonreligious members nationwide, including almost 300 in Tennessee.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation is strenuously objecting to public schools in three states that have either made trips or are planning visits to the so-called Creation Museum.
Brookville High School in Dayton, Ohio, is coordinating an outing to evangelist Ken Ham's literalist tribute to the scriptures this Saturday, April 30. Big Beaver Falls Area School District in Beaver Falls, Pa., has approved a high school field trip to the site. And Jackson City School, a school in Jackson, Ky., has already undertaken a visit to the venue.
The "museum" is a Christian homage to creationism with an explicit mission "to point today's culture back to the authority of the Gospel and proclaim the gospel message." At the location, there's a diorama of a human and a dinosaur together, implying that they existed simultaneously. Each display contrasts science with a literalist interpretation of the bible.
"Public schools may not advance or promote religion," FFRF Legal Fellow Madeline Ziegler writes to Nicholas Subashi, legal counsel for the Brookville Local Schools. "Bringing students on a field trip to a religious venue is a blatant promotion of religion."
Such trips to sectarian institutions also exclude the non-Christian and the nonreligious, FFRF maintains. The fact that participation or attendance on these trips is voluntary is not a valid defense, since courts have summarily rejected arguments that voluntariness excuses constitutional violations.
The religious content of the Creation Museum would not be permitted if taught directly at these schools, since the U.S. Supreme Court has struck down the teaching of "scientific creationism" in public schools. And federal courts have consistently rejected creationism and its ilk in public schools. The organization of an educational trip to a venue propagating a creationist viewpoint therefore doesn't make sense.
FFRF is asking the school districts to cancel their upcoming trips to the Creation Museum and to refrain from scheduling and planning any such trips in the future.
"This is an outrageous misuse of our public schools, which exist to educate, not to miseducate and indoctrinate," says Annie Laurie Gaylor, co-president of FFRF.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a state/church watchdog organization with 23,700 members nationwide, including more than 700 in Pennsylvania, more than 600 in Ohio and almost 200 in Kentucky.
Check out all that Pittsburgh has to offer
By Kim and Stephen Hirtle
FFRF is bringing this year's convention to Pittsburgh, Pa., on the weekend of Oct. 7–9, a city that has been garnering national and international attention for its quality of life and unique features.
Recent accolades for Pittsburgh:
- Listed as one of the best places in the world to visit (Travel + Leisure).
- Rated as the No. 1 food city in 2015 (Zagat).
- Offers America's most stunning views (USA Today).
- Listed as the "coolest American city you haven't been to" (Huffington Post).
Pittsburgh, with a population slightly more than 300,000, is also known for having more bridges than any city in the world, including Venice. The three main rivers — Allegheny, Monongahela and Ohio — join downtown at Point State Park. Two inclines (funicular railways) dating back to the late 1800s take tourists and commuters up the side of Mount Washington, just as they did when steel was the main industry.
Downtown Pittsburgh, where the FFRF convention will be held, is known for its striking and varied architecture, notable restaurants and cultural amenities. The Andy Warhol Museum (named for a Pittsburgh native) and the Carnegie Science Center are just across the river on the North Shore. The Carnegie Natural History and Carnegie Art Museums are housed together, a short taxi or bus ride away, in the Oakland neighborhood, which is also home to Phipps Conservatory and two world class institutions: the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie-Mellon University.
Across the street from the Cathedral of Learning is the Carnegie Natural History Museum, known for one the largest collections of dinosaur fossils in the world, including the Diplodocus Carnegii, named in honor of Pittsburgh native and freethinker Andrew Carnegie.
For those seeking outdoor activities, there are bike rental locations downtown, with bike trails throughout the city and along the rivers. Kayak Pittsburgh operates on weekends in October, just a short walk from the hotel, and for a modest fee, you can get out on the Allegheny River for an hour or two of exercise with excellent views of the skyline and stadiums.
FFRF visitors are encouraged to check out Market Square, a large European-style plaza surrounded by 14 restaurants near the hotel.
Those coming to the conference a day early will have the opportunity to visit Fallingwater. Considered to be the most iconic of all of Frank Lloyd Wright's designs, the house was built on top of natural waterfall.
Stephen Hirtle is chair of the FFRF Executive Board and professor of Information Science at the University of Pittsburgh.
After the tour of Fallingwater, there will be a reception from 3-5 p.m. with workshops and complimentary appetizers. Friday dinner is on your own. The formal program begins at 7 p.m. Friday, ending with complimentary dessert and hot beverages. The convention resumes Saturday morning with an optional Non-Prayer Breakfast at 8 a.m. The morning program starts at 9:30 a.m. After a two-hour lunch on your own, the program resumes at 2 p.m. An optional dinner banquet will be followed by evening speaker/entertainment. Annual meetings of the membership and the state representatives are Sunday morning, ending by noon.
Photo: Courtesy of the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy.
Friday, prior to the start of the convention, FFRF is hosting a tour of the impressive Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Fallingwater site. The $40 ticket includes admission to Fallingwater and round-trip coach bus transportation. There is also an optional, although highly recommended, box lunch available for $12. (The cafeteria is expected to be too busy to accommodate FFRF on this tight schedule.) The 43-mile route to the captivating Fallingwater is through scenic Pennsylvania countryside during the most beautiful time of the year. Buses depart from Wyndham Grand every 30 minutes beginning 7:50 a.m., with returns beginning 2:10 p.m.
Extra rooms have been set aside at the Wyndham Grand for FFRF members for Thursday night for those interested in going on the tour. FFRF will provide tour times, tickets and other information with mailed convention registration confirmation.
Important Visitor Guidelines
- Fallingwater is a fragile environment. To help protect Fallingwater and its collections, all group tour registrants must adhere to these Fallingwater policies:
- Only small wallets and handheld cameras are permitted on tour. Please leave all larger backpacks, purses, camera bags/equipment, and other cumbersome items on the bus.
- Eating, drinking and chewing gum are prohibited in the house while on tour.
- Smoking, including the use of electronic cigarettes, is only permitted in the parking lot. The rest of the Fallingwater site is a smoke-free environment.
- Visitors are asked not to touch the woodwork and collections or to sit on or touch the furnishings.
- Cell phones and other electronic devices must be turned off while on tour.
- Photography is not permitted during one-hour guided house tours. Exterior photography for personal use only is welcome. Complete photography guidelines are available upon request.
- Children under 6 years old, including infants and toddlers, are not permitted on house tours.
- Fallingwater is a carry-in/carry-out facility. We ask that you take your trash with you when you leave.
The tour involves considerable walking and there are challenges on site, including 100 steps (not all at once) and uneven gravel paths on a 1/4 mile walk from the Visitor Center to the house. If you have concerns about mobility, vision or hearing challenges, please read the following details.
For more details about getting the most out of your visit, please see the Fallingwater website .
Check back soon for updates! Register today!
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.
CALLAHAN MILLER graduated with honors from the University of Wisconsin — Madison in 2014 with a B.A. in Sociology and Legal Studies and a certificate in Criminal Justice. She received a Distinction in the Major for Legal Studies and is a member of Phi Beta Kappa and Alpha Kappa Delta. For the majority of her time as an undergraduate, she was a leading member of UW’s ground-breaking Atheists, Humanists, and Agnostics student organization. She joined the FFRF team as an official staff member in January of 2015 after having previously been an intern and intends on going to law school herself in a few years.
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.”