The Freedom From Religion Foundation welcomes the recent decision of a Florida school board to issue a notice to a charter school.
FFRF had warned the Duval County School Board in January that the Seacoast Charter Academy seemed like a thinly disguised religious establishment.
The institution, which was run as part of a private Christian school for almost 20 years by Bob and Connie Cenac, became a kindergarten-fifth grade charter entity in 2011 for financial reasons. Seacoast Charter Academy retains the same administrator and some of the same teachers. It rents property from a Cenac-owned company with decisions made by a Cenac-controlled board. Bob and Connie Cenac's daughter, Marla Stremmel, has been the administrator of both schools.
There was also a reported state/church violation in the school. Seacoast Charter Academy hosted a Veterans Day program inside Seacoast Christian Academy's auditorium. This auditorium, which features a large Latin cross at center stage and lots of religious iconography, is used for Seacoast Christian Academy's chapel services, so it serves the same role as a church.
Utilizing a chapel for public school programming is inappropriate and unconstitutional. Public schools must remain neutral with regard to religion. It is a fundamental principle of jurisprudence that a public school may not advance, prefer or promote religion.
In a Jan. 22 letter to members of the Duval County School Board and School Superintendent Nikolai Vitti, FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel had asked that the school district look into the violation and also "ensure that there are no other constitutional violations occurring and that all staff and faculty understand their responsibilities in a secular charter school."
Vitti responded in early February.
"District staff visited both sites (charter school and private school) to determine the validity of your claim," he wrote on Feb. 3. "A district default notice has been delivered to the charter school. In addition, the district will further review the concerns while evaluating the charter school for potential contract renewal." The default notice warns that "continued defaults may jeopardize the contract, or any future renewals" of the charter.
"We're pleased the school district investigated and issued the default," said Seidel. "Both the district and FFRF will continue to monitor these schools."
FFRF has a national enrollment of 23,000 nonreligious members, including more than 1,000 individuals in Florida.
Tens of thousands of people will gather at the Lincoln Memorial June 4, 2016, to show the world that reason, science, and freedom of belief are vital to Americans. Reason Rally 2016 is a celebration of fact-driven public policy, the value of critical thinking, and the voting power of secular Americans. The Freedom From Religion Foundation is co-sponsoring this event (view additional sponsors below).
"The goal of Reason Rally 2016 is to show the presence and power of the nonreligious voting bloc, and to put reason back at the forefront of our public and political discourse," said Lyz Liddell, executive director of Reason Rally 2016. "We want to excite and empower attendees about that message so they take it back home and apply it at the local and state levels."
Participants will be joined by top-level scientists, entertainers, activists, and atheists who share their concern about the lack of critical thinking in public policy — NASA planetary expert Carolyn Porco, comedian and activist Margaret Cho, renowned evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, and many more.
"If you told me there would be a major national event, where the largest number of nonreligious people ever to assemble will gather, and proclaim that they are concerned about the bold incursions of religious belief into the governance and future of our country and the principles on which it's built, then I would surely make a point of being there," said Porco, who is well known for her work on NASA's Cassini Project to Saturn. "So, am I going to the Reason Rally in DC on June 4? You bet I am!"
Non-believers are on the rise, and facts — not faith — are becoming more important to voters. A 2015 Gallup Poll found that among those between the ages of 18 and 24, 31% claim no religious affiliation. In the 45-49 age group, 16% are unaffiliated. A Pew study found that almost half of American adults do not care if a presidential candidate is an atheist.
Reason Rally 2016 will showcase the presence and power of the nonreligious voting bloc, and the desire of this significant bloc of voters to put reason at the forefront of our public and political discourse.
"The religious have too much power in this country, and they're vastly over-represented in Congress," says Julia Sweeney, SNL alumna and a speaker at the Rally. "So, let's stop the magical thinking. Let's have a rally that shows the force of those who embrace Reason and Science over Divine Guidance. We're here — we don't have fear — and we want to be counted for what we are: a real political and social force! Also, we like to have fun."
Attendees will have the opportunity for fun. A pre-party and after-parties, a Sunday mini-conference, and several VIP events will be held during the four-day event.
It will be a Voting Bloc Party that captures the feeling of community and celebrates the increased power of non-religious voters. Two days of lobbying, on June 2 -3, will precede the gathering at the Lincoln Memorial and put that power into action. Visits to all 535 congressional offices are planned.
Everyone who supports good sense in government is welcome, for one day or the whole celebration. Visit the website, http://www.reasonrally.org for more details, to volunteer before or during the event, join the lobbying effort, or sign up for the conference and other special events.
Speakers and Entertainers
Highly respected scientists, civil rights activists, musicians, comedians, and bloggers, devoted to the cause of science-based public policy, will be on hand to provide intellectual stimulation and entertainment. More will be joining in the coming days.
- Carolyn Porco, leader of NASA's Cassini Project to Saturn, is a planetary scientist who specializes in planetary rings and their interactions with orbiting moons.
- John de Lancie, an actor, singer, and comic, is best known for his role as Q in the "Star Trek" series.
- Cara Santa Maria, a biologist, is co-host and contributor to many science shows.
- Maryam Namazie, a civil-rights activist, is spokesperson for Fitnah, the Movement for Women's Liberation.
- James Randi is a magician who unmasks pseudoscience and faith healers.
- Yvette d'Entremont, the SciBabe, is a chemist and forensic scientist who fights against pseudoscience, using social media and humor.
- Killah Priest, a musician who started out as an affiliate of the Wu-Tang Clan, has worked with Ol' Dirty Bastard and GZA, infusing much of his work with religious references.
- Eugenie Scott, former executive director and current chair of the advisory council for the National Center for Science Education, combats the teaching of creationism.
- Paul Provenza, director of the movie "The Aristocrats," is a comic, skeptic and was emcee of the 2012 Reason Rally.
- Lawrence Krauss, a Ph.D. in physics, is a strong advocate for science-based public policy and a proponent of scientific skepticism.
- Kelly Carlin, daughter of the late comedian George Carlin, writes for movies and TV.
- Richard Dawkins, world-renowned evolutionary biologist and author of "The God Delusion," is an outspoken advocate for rational inquiry.
- Margaret Cho, comedian, is an advocate for LGBT and an outspoken source on issues of race.
- Julia Sweeney, comedian and alumna of SNL.
Major Sponsors include:
- American Atheists
- American Humanist Association
- Center for Inquiry
- Freedom From Religion Foundation
- Richard Dawkins Foundation for Science and Reason
- Secular Coalition for America
- Stiefel Freethought Foundation
Also lending their support to Reason Rally 2016 as Minor Sponsors are:
- American Ethical Union
- Atheist Alliance of America
- Black Nonbelievers, Inc
- Camp Quest
- Ex-Muslims of North America
- Foundation Beyond Belief
- Freethought Society
- Hispanic American Freethinkers
- Humanist Society
- Military Association of Atheists & Freethinkers
- Recovering from Religion
- Secular Student Alliance
- Society for Humanistic Judaism
- Sunday Assembly
- Washington Area Secular Humanists
In what should be a slam dunk, the Freedom From Religion Foundation is asking a number of Illinois public high school coaches to stop praying with their students at basketball games.
It has recently come to FFRF's attention that coaches and staff of Altamont High School, Dieterich High School and Pana High School have prayed at competitions with their teams. A photo confirms this practice, which has been reported to be recurrent. In the case of Pana High School, the basketball team's Facebook page (apparently school-endorsed) states, "We are thankful for God giving us the opportunity to show others His love. Win or lose, we are all victorious because of His love."
It is illegal for public school athletic coaches to lead or participate in prayers with students. FFRF is asking for assurances that this won't be repeated.
In a number of cases over the years, the U.S. Supreme Court has struck down school-sponsored prayer in public schools. It has done this because prayer in such instances constitutes a government endorsement and advancement of religion, which violates the First Amendment.
Public school coaches must refrain not only from leading prayers themselves, but also from participating in students' prayers. It is unconstitutional for public school employees to join in the religious activities of their students, even as silent participants in student prayer circles.
"The basketball coaches' conduct is unconstitutional because they endorse and promote religion when acting in their official capacities as school district representatives," says FFRF's Legal Fellow Ryan Jayne in a Feb. 9 letter to the three school districts. "When public school employees acting in their official capacities organize and advocate for team prayer, they effectively endorse religion on the district's behalf."
We ask that the three concerned Illinois school districts launch an immediate investigation and take action to ensure that district employees do not engage in a flagrant violation of the First Amendment by praying with students during district athletic programs.
FFRF has a national enrollment of 23,000 nonreligious members, including more than 700 individuals in Illinois.
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 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.”