Volusia County Schools, DeLand, Fla., remedied state/church violations after getting a Feb. 5 letter from Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel. FFRF received a report that Spruce Creek High School in Port Orange let a church leave a trailer with a church ad on it in a school parking lot all week. The school also scheduled its senior honors awards program at a Baptist church.
Chief counsel for the district responded that the trailer would be removed entirely or have its message covered during the week. The district will use a secular location for the awards program in future years.
Staff Attorney Patrick Elliott wrote the Ankeny, Iowa, Community School District on Feb. 11 about a football coach illegally praying with his students. “We ask that you ensure coaches are not leading, organizing, inviting, encouraging or participating in prayers with their teams in the future.”
Superintendent Bruce Kimpston responded April 16 that the district provided guidelines to all high school activity directors to give to coaches: “Ankeny CSD respects the separation between government activity and religion. While we are grateful for any assistance our sports teams may receive, we understand that sponsoring religious practices is not an appropriate school function.”
The Tea Area School District, Tea, S.D., will end its practice of holding a mandatory kindergarten screening at a local church. In an April 9 letter of complaint, Staff Attorney Patrick Elliott wrote, “This practice forces parents and children, who may be of varying faiths or none at all, to enter a Christian house of worship in order to be screened to attend public school.”
Superintendent Jennifer Lowery replied April 29 that the screening would be moved to a district facility.
Students in the Cleveland, Okla., School District will no longer be subjected to bible distributions and harassment from teachers about religion.
FFRF received a complaint that a teacher at Cleveland Intermediate School read aloud to the class from a bible. When the complainant’s child asked her to stop because “not everyone believes the same thing,” the teacher allegedly refused because it was “her personal reading material.” The teacher later reportedly singled out the student, saying she bet the student didn’t know a certain bible verse. The school principal and another man also handed out bibles to students as they left school.
In a March 30 letter, Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel detailed the problems with the school employees’ conduct: “Public schools have a duty to ensure that ‘subsidized teachers do not inculcate religion’ or use their positions of authority to promote a particular religious viewpoint.”
In an April 7 response, Superintendent Aaron Espolt said the bible distribution was done without his knowledge, adding that future distributions would not be permitted. In addition, the administration addressed bible reading with the teacher, which Espolt said would “prevent any future incidents.”
The principal at Greenbrier Elementary School, Evans, Ga., will no longer make teachers participate in the Pledge of Allegiance to “set an example” for students.
“The Supreme Court ruled over 70 years ago that compelling participation in the Pledge of Allegiance was constitutionally impermissible,” wrote Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel in a letter to the district. “Employees should not be singled out, rebuked or otherwise penalized for following their freedom of conscience.”
Columbia County Schools Superintendent Sandra Carraway responded soon after, informing FFRF that the district “recognize[s] and support[s] our inability to compel anyone to participate in the Pledge of Allegiance,” and would educate the principal on the law.
A Solano, Calif., County supervisor will no longer officially participate in a prayer breakfast. Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel wrote Supervisor Linda Seifert on April 1, objecting to her participation in the Vallejo Prayer Breakfast: “It is unlawful under the First Amendment for a government employee to attend the event in an official capacity or to place official government seals on publications of the event.”
Seifert responded April 6, saying she would not authorize the use of her title and the county seal as a sponsor or participant in future prayer events.
After FFRF objected to inappropriate religious references at a public school assembly in Branson, Mo., the district has taken steps to ensure future assemblies will be religion-free.
Last October, Branson Junior High School hosted a “character assembly” sponsored by the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. A former football player offered to pray with students, told them to give all their problems to Jesus and handed out football cards with a testimonial about how God and Jesus had helped him through difficult times.
Staff Attorney Patrick Elliott wrote the district March 27: “Providing a school assembly with religious content by a Christian speaker gives the appearance that Branson Public Schools endorses that speaker’s religious message.”
Superintendent Doug Hayter responded April 3 that the administration discussed policies regarding neutrality toward religion with the school principal and would “review these guidelines with our entire administrative team to ensure knowledge and full compliance.”
Lincoln High School in Manitowoc, Wis., took down sexist prom posters sponsored by a Catholic health care provider and a “crisis” pregnancy center after FFRF Staff Attorney Sam Grover sent an April 29 complaint letter.
The poster featured a silhouette of a girl in a dress made out of words suggesting supposedly desirable qualities for women, including “quiet, gentle and classy.” The Crossing of Manitowoc County, a Christian anti-abortion group, and Holy Family Memorial, which offers faith-based health services and is operated by the Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity, sponsored the poster message.
The complaint was picked up by national media, with many stories pointing out the poster implied that girls who had sex had no character and would no longer embody qualities named in the poster. Senior Kelsey Schindl met with Principal Luke Valitchka to ask if she could put up posters countering the “shaming” message but was refused.
“The insinuation that if you do have sex, then you don’t have any character any more is a horrible message to send,” Schindl said. “I’m not endorsing teen sex, but you’re not a bad person if you do and you’re not a bad person if you don’t.”
Grover wrote, “When a school district allows a private religious organization to advertise on the walls of its school, it entangles itself with the religious message being advertised. As it stands, Principal Valitchka appears to have denied students the right to advertise a message on the same topic as the religious advertisements currently on display solely because their message is an opposing viewpoint.”
Manitowoc Public School District Superintendent Marcia Flaherty responded April 30, denying that the posters were religious but confirming they were taken down.
The Los Angeles Unified School District removed church advertising from school grounds after Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel informed the district March 6 that four permanently posted signs at University High School on Texas Avenue near Santa Monica Boulevard violated the Constitution.
"When a school permanently displays a banner on its property advertising a church, it has unconstitutionally entangled itself with a religious message, here a Christian message," Seidel wrote.
FFRF's local complainant reported on March 27 that the banners had been removed.
Gator Freethought and Humanists on Campus, two student groups at the University of Florida in Gainesville, sent a letter to university President W. Kent Fuchs in support of FFRF's April 13 objection to a bible verse inscribed on a new business school building.
Heavener Hall has a bible verse on an archway reading, "He has shown you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your god. Micah 6:8."
In an April 23 letter, the two groups said, "We, as students and staff of the University of Florida, feel that the quote promotes Judeo-Christian beliefs over all other beliefs on campus, and that this alienates members of the University of Florida community, such as ourselves, who do not hold the same beliefs and encourages discrimination against ourselves and other individuals of different faiths, creeds and beliefs."
The organizations, which have about 45 active members total, requested the verse be replaced with "a more secular, encompassing inscription."
"It's wonderful to see students standing up for their rights and taking an active interest in upholding the Constitution," said FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel.
The university told FFRF on April 15 that it was reviewing the complaint.
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.
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.”
- 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.”