The Freedom From Religion Foundation, the American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Indiana filed a federal lawsuit today, challenging an annual live nativity performance at Concord High School in Elkhart, Ind.
The complaint notes that for several decades Concord High School has organized a "Christmas Spectacular" each winter. Every performance, of which there were five last year, "ends with an approximately 20-minute telling of the story of the birth of Jesus, including a live Nativity Scene and a scriptural reading from the Bible. During this segment, students at the High School portray the Virgin Mary, Joseph, the Three Wise Men, shepherds, and angels."
FFRF, a non-profit membership organization dedicated to defending the constitutional principle of the separation between state and church, has brought suit on behalf of its 23,000 members, including more than 360 in Indiana and a local family. Jack Doe, a student at the school, is a member of the performing arts department. Attendance and performance at the Christmas Spectacular is mandatory for students enrolled in the performing arts department.
Attorneys for FFRF and the ACLU argue in the complaint that the nativity performance and the reading of the biblical story of the birth of Jesus are, of course, "well-recognized symbols of the Christian faith. Their presence at the Christmas Spectacular is coercive, represents an endorsement of religion by the High School and the School Corporation, has no secular purpose, and has the principal purpose and effect of advancing religion."
"FFRF is suing to ensure that nonreligious and non-Christian students are able to fully participate in their school's winter concert," explains FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. "The nativity represents the pinnacle of Christian belief and its most holy day. This spectacle would be appropriate at a private Catholic school, but is a blatant and egregious promotion of religion in a public school setting."
“While public schools may recognize and celebrate the secular aspects of winter holidays, they may not endorse or promote religious beliefs and they may not use school functions to coercively subject students to religious messages and proselytizing,” said Heather L. Weaver, Senior Staff Attorney for the ACLU. “Incorporating a live Nativity scene and scriptural reading into a public school concert clearly violates the law.”
A video of the 2014 Nativity performance can be viewed here.
FFRF has brought 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. Judge Jon DeGuilio, a President Obama appointee, has been assigned to the case.
Statement by Annie Laurie Gaylor and Dan Barker
Freedom From Religion Foundation
The Freedom From Religion Foundation has written nearly 60 letters to various police and sheriffs' departments since late July, responding to complaints by local citizens shocked at seeing "In God We Trust" decals popping up on official police or sheriff vehicles.
One such complaint was received from Childress, Texas. Our letter to the police chief there received widespread news coverage, The New York Times. So has the sheriff's derisive reply to us: "Go fly a kite."
We'll proudly "go fly a kite," and it will say "In REASON We Trust."
Seeing a chance to pander, Texas State Rep. Chuck Perry has now asked the Texas Attorney General for an opinion on the constitutionality of "In God We Trust" on police vehicles:
"We are in the middle of a spiritual battle in American right now, with the issue of religious liberty front and center. I am proud of Childress Police Department for standing strong."
The attorney general's opinion is a fait accompli. We all know what the attorney general will rule: Congress adopted "In God We Trust" as a motto, therefore it's not only fine, it's patriotic for the Childress Police department to place it on its vehicles.
Piety or faith are not and should not be synonymous with patriotism. But godliness has been equated with good citizenship since this unconstitutional and misguided law passed in 1956.
The motto "In God We Trust" very obviously excludes the nearly quarter of "We the People" today who identify was nonreligious. Our numbers include members of the police force and sheriffs' departments — one of whom has contacted FFRF because he's so offended at having to drive around in a vehicle espousing a religious viewpoint that disrespects his own opinions. Other citizens have contacted us, fearful the nonreligious will become profiled, targets, especially those of us who sport irreverent bumper stickers on our cars.
Childress Police Chief Adrian Garcia first announced the decision to add the message on the force's Facebook page, just as he later dissed FFRF on it. A news article noted that a local man's two-word post, "Bad move," was deleted five minutes he posted it, and then he was blocked. He told the Amarillo Globe News he saw other posts criticizing the decision, but they were also quickly removed.
"They're the police for the entire community, not just the Christians," Douglas Messer said. "I happen to know that there are a fair number of atheists in that town that would feel discriminated against."
So we don't just have endorsement of god belief by a police force, but now censorship and government suppression of dissenting views.
U.S. police forces need to quit impersonating the God Squad. Police don't answer to their personal interpretation of "God's law" — but to our civil laws. Police take an oath to uphold our godless and entirely secular constitution. It's as inappropriate for them to sport a godly message as it would be to put on a decal saying "God Is Dead" or "Mohammed is the only true prophet." Imagine the outcry if those words were spreading like wildfire on law enforcement vehicles!
It's impossible not to suspect that this "God Squad" craze is more about circling the wagon than a sudden interest in promoting the national motto. FFRF first got complaints in July and August, as the headlines were dominated by outcries against police shootings of defenseless African Americans. Wrapping oneself in a mantle of piety's a great way to deflect criticism.
Our message to phony police chiefs and sheriffs is the same as to phony politicians: It's time to get off your knees and get to work.
Our country is becoming more diverse. The winds of change will lift our kite, "In Reason We Trust," very high.
A 4,743-pound granite monument dedicated to "ATHEISTS IN FOXHOLES and the countless freethinkers who have served this country with honor and distinction" was installed today, Oct. 6, at the Freedom From Religion Foundation's new offices in Madison, Wis.
The Atheists in Foxholes monument will be dedicated on Friday, Oct. 9 at 10:30 a.m. during the by-invitation-only grand opening of the renovated Freethought Hall downtown. Vets in attendance will be encouraged to pose for a photograph.
The monument, made of the same South Dakota granite that Mount Rushmore is carved from, is more than 7 feet high, reflects the long windows that are part of the original 1855 building and provides a focus for the new Rose Zerwick Memorial Garden and Courtyard adjoining Freethought Hall's new entrance. A teak bench opposite the display provides a spot for reflection.
The monument text concludes with a pacific plea: "Presented with hope that in the future humankind may learn to avoid all war."
About a quarter of FFRF's membership are vets or in the military, as is true for the military as a whole.
This is FFRF's second Atheists in Foxholes monument. The prototype, which was carved by World War II veteran Bill Teague, is nestled in piney woods next to FFRF's southern Freethought Hall near Munford, Ala., which is overseen by its chapter, the Alabama Freethought Society.
FFRF worked with Pechmann Memorials, which also carved the patio pavers — bearing donor names and slogans — surrounding the monument in the cozy courtyard space.
"FFRF deals with so many state/church entanglements regarding all branches of the military, where substantial incursions by aggressive evangelicals have been made. This monument not only honors nonreligious veterans, but serves as a reminder to our nation that — contrary to that tired, old, untrue cliché — there are indeed many 'atheists in foxholes,' " said Annie Laurie Gayor, FFRF co-founder and co-president.
FFRF's 38th national convention takes place this weekend in Madison, starting with the Friday morning grand opening, and moves to Monona Terrace convention center in the afternoon. Keynoter Ron Reagan will speak Friday night. Registrations can be taken at the door. For more information, phone 608-256-8900 or click here.
In a secular coincidence, a monument to the Ten Commandments placed at the Capitol grounds in Oklahoma City, which was found unconstitutional by the state Supreme Court, was removed yesterday.
Watch video clips of installation. Thanks to FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel for the video and photographs and Publicist Lauryn Seering for compiling the video.
Photograph: FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor & Dan Barker.
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, Life Driven Purpose: How an atheist finds meaning, was published by Pitchstone Press in 2015. 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 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.
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. She was born in Wausau, Wis. 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.
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.
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.”