"Speak of the Devil," a two-act comedy drama about "The Great Agnostic" Robert G. Ingersoll (1833-99), was presented in February at Theatre NOW New York in New York City.
The actors' impassioned performances had the audience listening intently, laughing and applauding. The dramatic reading, the first in the company's 2015 Raw Reading Series, was made possible through the sponsorship of the Freedom From Religion Foundation and the Yip Harburg Foundation.
"Speak of the Devil" was written in the early 1970s by the late Richard F. Stockton, an Ingersoll scholar, and revised in 2011 by Marsha Lee Sheiness. His widow, Irene Stockton, is an FFRF Life Member. The play brings to life the conflicts, joys and difficulties experienced by Ingersoll as he spread his freethought philosophy through oratory and voluminous written works. Its director is Robert Kalfin, founder of New York's Tony Award-winning Chelsea Theater Center.
The play is moving toward full production in the near future, with the goal of reaching as many new audiences as possible. The creative team is reaching out to individuals and groups for donations to make this possible.
Theatre NOW New York is a nonprofit that facilitates the creation and development of new works and the "reimagining" of previously produced works through productions, readings, workshops and work-in-progress presentations.
Contributions to help spread Ingersoll's crucial message are tax deductible and can be made at ffrf.org/get-involved/donate/. Email with questions and comments.
Four moments that made Ingersoll
Richard Stockton (1932-97) on the four moments in Robert Green Ingersoll's life that shaped him, the first being the death of his father John, who was a Congregationalist minister:
"Despite their opposing religious views, the old revivalist on his deathbed asked Bob to read to him from the black book clutched to his chest. Bob relented, took the book, and was surprised to discover that it wasn't the Bible. It was Plato describing the noble death of the pagan Socrates: a moving gesture of reconciliation between father and son in parting. The second event was Bob's painful realization that his outspoken agnosticism not only invalidated his own political career but ended his brother Ebon's career in Congress, as well. Third was the exquisite anguish of seeing his supportive wife Eva and his young daughters made to suffer for his right to speak his own mind. And fourth was the dramatic tension of having to walk out alone on public stages, in a glaring spotlight, time after time with death threats jammed in his tuxedo pocket informing him that some armed bigot in that night's audience would see to it that he didn't leave the stage alive."
Ewan is the recipient of a new FFRF student activist award, which includes a $1,000 cash scholarship. The generous donor, who prefers anonymity, writes: "In the 21st century, with so much scientific advancement, I hope all humans are able to reason and think critically. We don't need an invisible 'super being' to tie up our freedom of thought."
By Ewan McCartney
My name is Ewan McCartney. I'm in the eighth grade. I attend public school in Seattle. I am an atheist and I also have autism.
I would like to thank the Freedom from Religion Foundation for helping me. I have sat out the Pledge of Allegiance since the fourth grade. I have several issues with it. Among my issues: I think the "under God" part violates the separation of church and state, and I don't like saying "liberty and justice for all" when we still oppress so many groups of people in our country.
The principal at my school caught me sitting out the pledge and was adamant that everyone should participate. She said it was disrespectful not to participate. I did a bunch of research and wrote her a letter explaining why it is every student's right to decide for him/herself if they want to participate in the pledge.
The principal was uncooperative and condescending to me, so my mom and I contacted FFRF. Attorney Andrew Seidel helped me a lot and we got the situation resolved (with a letter from the school district's lawyer saying that I am correct and the principal is wrong — yay!). I cannot thank Mr. Seidel enough for his help.
When I am not arguing about my right to free speech in school, I am active in local politics, mostly with regard to education and human rights. I testify every chance I can get in the state legislature (and complain to any elected official I can convince to listen to me) about better funding for public education and closing the achievement gap in our schools.
I have also volunteered extensively on various "freedom to marry" campaigns. I am an ordained minister with the Universal Life Church and am available for all your gay wedding needs!
The Michigan Association of Civil Rights Activists (MACRA), co-founded by FFRF Life Members Holly Huber and Mitch Kahle, successfully complained in March on behalf of parents concerned about religious intrusion in public schools.
Kahle wrote a letter to the principal of Daisy Brook Upper Elementary about allowing bible classes. Kahle said Fremont Public Schools Superintendent Ken Haggart told him the district did transport children to a nearby church for bible study during the previous school year but switched this year to holding monthly bible study in the school gym at lunchtime to save money. About a third of the school's 150 children attended the class.
Haggart told WZZM that the school has returned to its original arrangement in which students are driven off-campus to churches. Haggart told Kahle that the school district won't provide transportation.
Haggart clarified his statement that "as of this point, all clergy will have been permanently banned from Fremont Public Schools and that no organized religious activities will again take place on school property while school is in session, if organized and run by adults." He said in a second email to Kahle, "I wanted to let you know as well that Fremont Public Schools neither encourages nor discourages participation in any religious program. By saying 'clergy are banned' we are referring to the offering or conducting of religious instruction classes. In the event of school tragedies, or needed counseling, or for clergy who have children attending FPS, or other use of the facilities, they are of course welcome to visit our schools."
MACRA also complained about two adults unlawfully leading students in Christian prayer at Cross Creek Charter School in Byron Center. "Clergy and adults are forbidden from participating in any voluntary, student-initiated religious activity that takes place on school property during school hours, including during lunch and recess periods," said Kahle. "Release time is not an opportunity for teachers or administrators to circumvent long-established laws prohibiting organized religion in public schools."
Cross Creek Principal Joe Nieuwkoop told mlive.com that the adults were not school employees, but stressed that "student religious groups or gatherings led by adults will not be allowed to hold meetings during school and/or instructional hours. However, students may organize prayer groups, religious clubs and gatherings before or after school to the same extent that students are permitted to organize other noncurricular student activities groups."
MACRA complained in February about Hudsonville Public Schools letting students attend bible club in a recreational vehicle in the parking lot during lunch hour. The district responded that it stopped the practice and told Bible Club Ministries International-Western Michigan to comply with state law.
In a related case MACRA is involved in, the Grand Haven Tribune reported that a group called Citizens of Grand Haven filed suit April 1 against the city in Ottawa County Circuit Court to contest a city council ordinance in January that resulted in removal of a Christian cross from public property on Dewey Hill. The suit claims the council's removal of the area as a public forum gives the appearance the city "is hostile to the cross as religious speech."
Although Mayor Geri McCaleb voted against the ordinance change, she said public entities dealing with groups like MACRA have to be aware of what they do with taxpayer dollars.
Councilman John Hierholzer, who voted for the change, said the city has already spent $12,000 on the issue without going to court.
FFRF sent a letter of complaint and records request March 30 to Iron Mountain Public Schools in Iron Mountain, Mich., after the school district allowed speaker Bob Lenz to use a presentation during school hours to recruit students to attend a later religious event at a church.
Lenz is part of Life Promotions, which is based in Appleton, Wis. He employs a common evangelical method to recruit public school students to religious programming, giving a supposedly secular presentation during the school day where he passes out fliers advertising pizza, prize drawings or other incentives to attend a religious event later that evening.
At an auditorium event during the school day March 2, Lenz gave a talk touted as "a positive message of hope and encouragement," accompanied by an illusionist. Lenz says he has been speaking to public schools for over 30 years.
"Students are a vulnerable and captive audience, and Iron Mountain High School allowed Lenz to take advantage of the students' captivity to recruit them to come to a Christian event later that night," wrote Senior Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert.
Lenz brags on Facebook about the percent of students who returned for the religious program and the number who "received Jesus" after a March 9 presentation in public schools in Girard, Kan.
A promotional video for Life Promotions claims that America's youth are experiencing a "spiritual poverty," lamenting that less than 18% of youth attend church regularly. The video also takes a tone-deaf attitude toward poverty, asking viewers, "Did you know many of America's youth are among the poorest in the world?" with a graphic of a person holding out a bowl. The hungry person is then "painted" over, as the narrator announces, "Not a physical poverty, a spiritual poverty!"
"This is very callous, given that 16 million U.S. children live below the actual poverty line," noted FFRF Co-President Dan Barker.
FFRF sent letters March 25 to five more public universities that inappropriately employ religious leaders for their basketball teams. The letters follow a March 24 letter and records request to Wichita State University in Kansas. WSU informed FFRF that it was investigating the chaplaincy.
Louisville coach Rick Pitino has allegedly appointed his friend, Fr. Ed Bradley, as "unofficial chaplain." He reportedly travels with the team, sits with coaches on the bench and leads the team in prayer before games, at halftime, after games and while the team travels.
Many university chaplains, including WSU's Steve Dickie, are associated with Nations of Coaches, a religious group that provides "character coaches" and chaplains to basketball programs. The group's website shows a graphic with a whistle with a cross on it, and bible verses abound on its website. "Nations of Coaches exists to impact coaches and all whom they influence for the glory of God," says the group's application.
The University of Maryland employs Pastor Donnell Jones as a chaplain. Oklahoma University lists Scott Thompson as its "character coach." Both are associated with Nations of Coaches.
The University of Virginia employs Brad Soucie as director of player development. Soucie and Assistant Coach Ritchie McKay have been together since their time at Liberty University, an evangelical Christian school founded by Jerry Falwell. Soucie recently spoke at a church about the "significance of men finding their identity in Jesus instead of success, work, or any other source." (It was announced April 1 that McKay was returning to Liberty to be head coach.)
Kansas University also has a chaplain, Wayne Simien. Simien quit the NBA to pursue a "passion . . . for Christian ministry and youth athletics," and has said his goal is "to impact the lives through sports and with the message of Jesus Christ."
"Public school athletic teams cannot appoint or employ a chaplain, seek out a spiritual leader for the team, or agree to have a volunteer team chaplain because public schools may not advance or promote religion," Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel told the schools.
FFRF Co-President Dan Barker noted that giving these chaplains secular titles compounds the violation by blurring the line between a legitimate position and an abuse of that position to "[help] basketball players learn how to love God," as Dickie put it.
One in three Americans under the age of 30 identifies as nonreligious, FFRF pointed out, making it very likely these chaplains are imposing their religion on students who are not religious and just want to play basketball.
FFRF also requested financial records and policies relating to religion in athletics from all of the colleges.
FFRF is calling on the governors of Connecticut and Virginia to take the lead in repealing their states' versions of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. While thanking Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy and Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe for speaking out against Indiana's RFRA law, FFRF points out that their states also have objectionable RFRA laws on the books.
Malloy banned state-funded travel to Indiana, saying, "We cannot sit idly by and do nothing while laws are enacted that will turn back the clock." Connecticut's RFRA law is even broader than Indiana's in that it bans any "burden" of a person's exercise of religion without a compelling governmental interest, instead of requiring the burden to be "substantial." FFRF sent him a letter April 1.
McAuliffe invited Indiana businesses to come to Virginia, where, ironically, there is also a RFRA law in place. "The executive order you signed to protect state employees from discrimination is an excellent start. But it does not protect all citizens. The fact is, your state has had a law nearly identical to Indiana's in place for eight years," wrote FFRF Co-Presidents Annie Laurie Gaylor and Dan Barker in their letter to McAuliffe.
"The Religious Freedom Restoration Act is now used not as a shield, but as a sword by the religious majority and corporations to discriminate against minority groups," charges FFRF.
By Annie Laurie Gaylor
When my mother-in-law Pat Barker's eyes were opened to religion after a lifetime of devout fundamentalist belief, she poignantly told my husband, Dan: "I'm so glad I don't have to hate anymore."
"You don't have to hate anymore" could be the slogan of the movement known by the hashtag #boycottindiana.
No one should hate in the name of religion. But certainly no one should be allowed to legally discriminate in the name of their god. Bigotry is not divine. No state should pass a law, like Indiana did in early April, which grants religious citizens and corporations license to break laws they feel go against their religion, such as anti-discrimination laws protecting gays.
Indiana passed a state version of the 1993 federal law, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, that brought us the Supreme Court's infamous Hobby Lobby ruling last year, setting women's contraceptive rights back half a century. In that ruling, the right-wing, male, Catholic bloc on our Supreme Court ruled that corporations have "religious rights" that can be "offended" if employees don't follow their boss's religion, and that supersede the rights of women.
Clearly, it's time for Congress to overturn the federal RFRA, which has seeded RFRAs in almost half of our states. If it's not in your state yet, watch out — it's coming soon.
Thanks to corporations that are more caring than Hobby Lobby, Indiana has become the focus of national consciousness raising and consternation. The NCAA released a statement: "We are especially concerned about how this legislation could affect our student-athletes and employees. We will work diligently to assure student-athletes competing in, and visitors attending, next week's Men's Final Four In Indianapolis are not impacted negatively by this bill."
Organizations such as the Gen Con gaming convention and the $4 billion software company Salesforce threatened to move operations out of Indiana.
Every hour, it seemed, another city or state joined the boycott, including the mayors of Seattle, San Francisco, Portland and the governors of Connecticut and Washington. Celebrities such as George Takei and Audra McDonald have decried the law.
Tim Cook, the head of Apple, noted "something very dangerous [is] happening in states across the country. . . . America's business community recognized a long time ago that discrimination, in all its forms, is bad for business."
FFRF knows that these laws are bad for business, women, LGBT rights and true religious liberty.
It's heartening to see the public concern over passage of the Indiana Religious Freedom Restoration Act. But we also need to channel that concern against the 20 other state RFRAs and the granddaddy that inspired them at the federal level.
FFRF with several children's advocacy groups submitted the only amicus brief in the Hobby Lobby case (written for us by Marci Hamilton) asking the Supreme Court to overturn the federal RFRA.
It's time to repeal it. Let's have no hate in my state — or in these United States.
Editor's note: After the firestorm of controversy, Gov. Mike Pence (who once described himself as "a Christian, a conservative and a Republican in that order") signed a quickly revised bill that critics said still falls short of providing equal protection to all.
This op-ed was originally published March 12 in the Brainerd, Minn., Dispatch and is reprinted with the author's permission.
By Amy LaValle Hansmann
I recently read a guest opinion piece that seemed to make the case for religion as a necessary tool for moral behavior.
As an atheist, I often hear that there can be no morality without the absolutes of the Bible (or any other holy book). However, I've found that morality can be quite easily boiled down to one simple piece of guidance, which is commonly referred to as "the golden rule."
While the phrase "do unto others as you would have them do unto you" can be found in some form in the Bible, I'm confident that we as a species could have figured this one out on our own. It's really quite simple. Why, as an atheist, don't I run around murdering people? Because I have no desire to do so, and even if I did, I am equipped with empathy and can understand how that action would hurt someone else. Why don't I go around driving my car at 100 miles per hour when I feel like it? Because I'm aware of the danger that puts not only myself in, but my fellow humans as well should I happen to crash.
I have had no trouble raising children without the mandates of any religion. They are simply taught to use the empathy and compassion they were born with to treat other people with respect and kindness. If they wouldn't like someone hitting them with a stick, then why would they go around hitting someone else with one? It's not a terribly difficult concept to understand, even for children. In fact, when I look around at the world today, I see a direct correlation between the people committing the worst atrocities against humanity, and religion.
I get together regularly with a group of atheists, agnostics, and "freethinkers" as some people prefer to call themselves, and they are some of the kindest, most generous people I've ever had the privilege of knowing. And the interesting thing is, they aren't "good" because they are trying to earn their way to heaven, or win favor with a deity. They are good because they genuinely care about their fellow human beings, and want what's best for everyone. We have evolved as a species to care about each other. It's the only way we can survive. If we didn't have that sense of built in empathy, we would have become extinct long ago.
I think it's far nobler a pursuit to really wrestle together with questions of ethics than to evade our responsibility and just parrot edicts that were written down thousands of years ago. It's too easy to not have to really think about the consequences of our actions when we can just point to a book and say "but God said so."
In no other realm of understanding is faith seen as a good way of knowing anything about the universe. We don't understand math because we take it on faith. So why should we stop wondering at the many mysteries the universe still has for us to find answers to?
Leaving it to faith is giving up, and deciding that we don't need to seek any further understanding of our lives. In my opinion, that stance does not get us any further as a species. It only leaves us standing still; unable to progress and make life better for everyone.
Amy LaValle Hansmann founded the Brainerd Area Atheists & Freethinkers four years ago "to help connect all the freethinkers in my small town who are feeling isolated because of their lack of belief." In her blog "Liberal House on the Prairie," she describes herself as a progressive mom living in the "real America" and adds, "I do have a job, but it's not an interesting one (smiley face).
This column was first published March 19 at AlterNet and is reprinted with the author's permission.
By Wendy Thomas Russell
Coming out of any proverbial closet can be hard. For those of us who have hidden part of our identities from people we know and love, finally revealing that thing can be daunting. Fear and anxiety, no matter how ungrounded, have a way of clutching our hearts.
When I decided four years ago to write a book aimed at secular parents, I knew that it would require that I disclose my atheism to my friends and family. My own parents were comfortably secular themselves, which no doubt made the task a whole lot easier. But I had plenty of other loved ones who felt strongly about their faith and would surely be offended or uncomfortable with my stance — not to mention worried about my daughter's eternal soul. So I definitely felt that sense of coming out of a closet.
I took a few days to send a bunch of e-mails and make a few phone calls. And while no one disowned me in the process, the revelation did hurt some people I love, at least a little. And that made it hard.
But now, four years later, I can candidly say that, for me personally, being "out" has been one of the most surprisingly gratifying choices I've ever made. Here's why.
1. It turns out I really enjoy shattering people's assumptions. I don't fit the media's stereotype of a non-believer — who does, right? — so it's nice to be able to spread the "good word" that atheists, agnostics and other "nones" are just as likely as the next guy to be engaging people, good parents and involved community members. I particularly enjoy slipping my atheism into conversation with religious people who already know and like me; it forces them to confront any stereotypes they might have. Always a good thing.
2. I like religious people more now. When I was closeted, it was way too easy to sit back and become preemptively resentful. I sometimes felt a little pissed that others were "free" to share their views while I had to keep mine to myself. I assumed, as many do, that people's reactions would be negative if I were to inject my views into these conversations. But once I was out — and because I only brought up my atheism in truly neutral ways, not as a point of conflict — the reactions from religious people have been overwhelmingly positive.
Some quietly disapprove, sure. But, in my experience, religious people have been, outwardly, very lovely about my lack of belief. (As lovely, incidentally, as I am about their belief.) They don't insult me or shy away from me. They don't avoid the subject (well, some do, and that's okay!) or make snide comments. They don't try to change me. And with every positive experience I have, I am more open and less judgmental of "religious people" myself. I find that the more open I am about myself, the better I feel about the people around me.
3. I'm setting a great example for my child. Not believing in God is nothing to be ashamed of, but being open about our disbelief does — I believe — require a bit of finesse. We ought not just blurt it out in anger. We ought not invoke it as a weapon. We ought not talk about it excessively just because we "can." I don't want my child to ever feel ashamed to share her beliefs with others, whatever those beliefs turn out to be, but I also want to be a good role model for how to go about it without being a dick.
4. I'm opening the door for others. You wouldn't believe how many people in our day-to-day lives consider themselves nonreligious, and the look of refreshment on their faces when you open the conversation can be priceless. It's like the floodgates open. There's this whole, rather fascinating aspect of your life, and theirs, that can be tapped for great conversation. By being open myself first, I'm showing others that it's okay to make the first move. In fact, it can make friendships, and maybe life, even better.
Not believing in God is not like being gay, lesbian or transgender. Sharing your "religious affiliation" with others is not required to live a normal, healthy, happy life. Unless you choose to be an activist (or a secular-parenting author), you probably don't adopt behaviors that make you stand out as secular. You might not even know where your friends fall on the religious spectrum, or want to know.
There are lots of reasons to come out as a nonbeliever. There are lots of reasons not to come out. All of us must weigh myriad factors before making that call for ourselves, not the least of which is our proximity to the "bible belt." But if you're on the fence, and face no heart-crushing consequences to doing so, I urge you to open that door a crack. You might be delighted by what you find there.
Wendy Thomas Russell has spent most of her career in Southern California, writing and editing for newspapers, magazines and other online and print publications. Her new book is Relax, It's Just God: How and Why to Talk to Kids About Religion When You're Not Religious. Her "Natural Wonderers" blog ("Raising curious, compassionate kids in a secular family") is at patheos.com/blogs/naturalwonderers/. Her website is at wendythomasrussell.com/. She lives in Long Beach with her husband and daughter.
FFRF Staff Attorney Sam Grover sent a letter of complaint April 2 to the Pittsburg [Texas] Independent School District after learning that Pittsburg High School head baseball coach Tommy Stewart reportedly conducts bible study with players after practice each Wednesday and punishes those who don't attend with 20 minutes of running.
FFRF's complainant reported that Stewart shows religious videos, including the movie "God's Not Dead," and that practice uniforms have "With GOD all things are possible" printed on them.
Before FFRF had even written the district, word of the complainant's objections were reported by local media. Superintendent Judy Pollan sent a message of support for Stewart to staffers, writing, "We are blessed to have a man who feels called to work with our boys as they make the transition into manhood. I WOULD MOST CERTAINLY RATHER BE REPORTED FOR DOING SOMETHING GOOD RATHER THAN DOING SOMETHING BAD."
Pollan warned that FFRF "is the same [group] that caused White Oak and Mt. Vernon problems," and chastised the local complainant for "hid[ing] behind the camera and not show[ing] her face." She concluded her email with a bible quote: "Fret not thyself because of evildoers, neither be thou envious against the workers of iniquity. For they shall soon be cut down like the grass, and wither as the green herb."
According to Co-President Dan Barker, "FFRF is pleased to report it has experienced no withering as of today and is prepared to alert the police should anyone attempt to 'cut down' its 'workers of iniquity.' "
Barker added, "It shows the extent of the problem that the superintendent, instead of taking corrective measures against the coach, compounds the violation by misusing her public authority to espouse her personal beliefs. This public school district's promotion of religion turns Christians into 'insiders' and the rest of us into 'outsiders,' and that is unacceptable."
Pittsburg's native sons include U.S. Rep. Louie Gohmert and Carroll Shelby, auto designer and racing driver.
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.
KATHERINE PAIGE graduated magna cum laude from Wichita State University in 2010 with a B.A. in History, Political Science, and French. She attended law school at the College of William & Mary where she received her Juris Doctor in 2014. Katherine became FFRF’s first Legal Fellow in September 2014, specializing in faith-based government funding.
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 since May 2012, starting as a legal intern/extern, and currently works as a law clerk and legal publicist.
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.
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.
DAYNA LONG is an administrative assistant at FFRF. Originally from Illinois, she attended the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where she received a degree in English. She has been with FFRF since July 2013. She spends her free time volunteering for the Wisconsin chapter of the National Organization for Women. She also enjoys reading, cooking, and admiring her beautiful 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.”
- Oliver Sacks, M.D., the compassionate neurologist and bestselling author, describes himself as “an old Jewish atheist.”
- Robert Sapolsky, a neurologist, Stanford professor and bestselling author, once suggested FFRF put up a sign at its conventions: “Welcome, hellbound atheists.”
- Edward Sorel, satiric cartoonist and irreverent illustrator who is a regular contributor to The Atlantic, The New Yorker, and whose caricatures have been exhibited at the National Portrait Gallery, has been a Foundation member since the 1980s.
- Julia Sweeney, comedian and actress, is writer/performer of the play, “Letting Go of God”: “How dare the religious use the term 'born again.' That truly describes freethinkers who've thrown off the shackles of religion so much better!”
- Christopher Hitchens, the iconoclastic journalist, is author of the bestselling God Is Not Great: “Since it is obviously inconceivable that all religions can be right, the most reasonable conclusion is that they are all wrong.”