James E. Yates Jr.
James Everett Yates Jr., 72, Taylors Valley, Va., died unexpectedly Jan. 29, 2015, in Spartanburg Regional Medical Center in Spartanburg, S.C.
He grew up in Tazewell, Va., graduated from high school in Tennessee and attended Chandler Technical Institute in Willoughby, Ohio, Automation Institute in Cleveland, East Tennessee State University and Steed College in Johnson City, Tenn.
He worked in data processing with General Electric and spent most of his career with CSX Railroad. A part-time musician, he played saxophone with several well-known local groups.
Survivors include five children, Tracy (Steve) Lineberry, Draper, Va.; Stacie (Brad) Glaser, Palmer, Alaska; Keith (Paige) Yates, Riner, Va.; James Thomas (Chloe Anne) Yates, Damascus, Va.; a sister and two brothers; 15 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren; and his fiancée, Mary Wooten, Campobello, S.C.
"My father was a strong voice for FFRF and very much believed in everything you stand for (I do as well)," Keith Yates wrote. "Thank you for everything, but most of all thank you for bringing together all of the minds of reason."
FFRF offers sincerest condolences to Jim's family and friends and thanks for his support of reason and the foundation.
Atheist activist Roy hacked to death
Atheist activist Avijit Roy, 42, Atlanta, was hacked to death with machetes Feb. 26 in Dhaka, Bangladesh. He and his wife Rafida Ahmed, 45, who was seriously wounded, were returning from a book fair.
Roy, a Bangladesh-born U.S. citizen, had received multiple threats from Islamic fundamentalists. Ahmed and Roy and six other expatriate Bangladeshis in 2001 founded Mukto-Mona, a secular website.
Roy and Ahmed were in Dhaka primarily to visit his elderly mother. News reports said the assailants are believed to belong to the extremist group Ansarullah Bangla Team. Roy was pulled from a rickshaw and killed.
Religious Marine's conviction upheld
The U.S. Navy-Marine Corps Court of Criminal Appeals upheld on Feb. 26 the court martial conviction of Monifa Sterling, an active-duty Marine stationed at Camp Lejeune, N.C., for disobeying an order to remove three signs with a bible verse from her desk.
Sterling's job was sitting at a desk with a computer to resolve issues with base "smart" access cards. She had taped copies of Isaiah 54:17 ("no weapon formed against me shall prosper") to the computer and monitor and her inbox.
She testified she posted it in three places to represent the Christian trinity. The court rejected Sterling's free exercise and RFRA defenses: "[W]e reject the appellant's invitation to define 'religious exercise' as any action subjectively believed by the appellant to be 'religious in nature.' "
Egyptians sentenced for blasphemy
Egyptian student Sherif Gaber, 22, was given a one-year prison sentence Feb. 16 for contempt of religion related to his activities at Suez Canal University in 2013. Teaching staff and fellow students reported him for positive posts about atheism on Facebook. A retrial that could increase the sentence to over two years will be scheduled soon.
Gaber told Daily News Egypt his troubles started when he challenged a science teacher for calling for gays to "be crucified in the middle of the streets." While jailed, he was beaten by guards, who administered electric shocks. He lives alone in an apartment.
In January, student Karim Al-Banna was given a three-year sentence for blasphemy. He was accused of using Facebook to publish articles that "belittle the divine," with his father collecting information against him.
Atheist website blocked in Turkey
Al-Arabiya reported March 4 that a Turkish court in an Ankara suburb blocked access to a website for Ateizm Dernegi (Atheist Society), the country's first atheist association, ruling it was an "insult to religious values." The court said the group was engaged in "activities likely to disturb public order."
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in 2014 suggested a link between atheists and terrorists.
Court agrees judge out of line
The 6th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals on Feb. 13 affirmed a $734,000 damage award to Michigan state court deputy administrator Julie Pucci, who sued in 2007 when her position was terminated after she lodged official complaints about Judge Mark Somers expressing his religious views while performing judicial duties. It also affirmed the award of $416,000 in attorneys' fees, Religion Clause reported.
A federal court ruled in 2011 that Pucci's complaints involved matters of public concern and were made in her capacity as a concerned citizen by approaching the State Court Administrator's Office.
Government prayer bill loses 8–7
On Feb. 23, the Virginia Senate General Laws and Technology Committee narrowly defeated on an 8–7 vote a bill to authorize prayers at all state and local government meetings. Richard Bell, R-Staunton, sponsored the bill, which passed 69-30 in the House of Delegates. meetings.
The bill was supported by the conservative Family Foundation of Virginia but opposed by Baptist and Jewish groups and the ACLU of Virginia.
ISIS sacks Iraqi museums, libraries
According to a report Feb. 26 in the UK Daily Mail, ISIS forces in the northern Iraq city of Mosul sacked museums and libraries to rid them of all non-Islamic content. Video posted on an ISIS Twitter account showed ancient statues being destroyed with sledgehammers and power drills.
"The Prophet ordered us to get rid of statues and relics, and his companions did the same when they conquered countries after him," one man says on the video.
Religion Clause noted that terrorists blew up the Mosul Public Library, with its collection of Iraqi newspapers for the past century and maps and books from the Ottoman Empire. "This comes a month after terrorists loaded 2,000 secular books from the library on trucks to be burned because the books supposedly promote infidelity and call for disobeying Allah."
Destruction was also reported at a Sunni Muslim library and Christian church libraries, with alleged death threats to anyone trying to hide books.
Lawyer wants God off court bench
Nicholas Gelfuso, a lawyer from Providence, R.I., filed a federal lawsuit March 4 challenging the inscription above the bench of the Rhode Island Supreme Court, "Non Sub Homine Sed Sub Deo Et Lege" ("Not under man but under God and law"). Gelfuso alleges the statement violates the First Amendment proscription against established religion and endorses a "particular religious viewpoint" with which he does not agree.
Diana Hassel, a constitutional law professor at Roger Williams University, told GoLocalProv.com that the U.S. Supreme Court has upheld the constitutionality of "ceremonial deism" meant to solemnize an occasion or institution.
Florist invokes Judas, refuses to settle
A Washington state trial court ruled Feb. 18 that the owner of a Richland florist shop violated state equal protection laws by refusing to sell flowers for a man's same-sex wedding ceremony. The court rejected free speech and free exercise claims by owner Barronelle Stutzman, 70.
"The law is clear: If you choose to provide a service to couples of the opposite sex, you must provide the same service to same-sex couples," said Attorney General Bob Ferguson, who offered to settle the suit for a penalty of $2,001.
Stutzman turned the offer down the next day. "You are asking me to walk in the way of a well-known betrayer, one who sold something of infinite worth for 30 pieces of silver. That is something I will not do."
FFRF and its Metropolitan Chicago Chapter placed their third set of friendly but thought-provoking billboards that feature the diverse faces and "testimonials" of Chicago-area atheists, agnostics and freethinkers.
Eleven "Out of the Closet" billboards went up in December. Three more featuring groups of freethinkers, including Chicago Black Skeptics, went up after New Year's.
A final batch of seven went up in early March, mostly in northside neighborhoods. One features a smiling former minister, Rich Pope of Northfield, proclaiming "No magic. No miracles. No imaginary friends."
Three represent couples. Jenn and Ben Zalisko note: "We found love in an atheist community!" Ray Belmonte and Rick Scuch, who are both physicians and atheists, have a plainspoken message: "Religion is a collection of man-made fairy tales." Their dog, Rufus, is also pictured.
Alexandra Lafaurie and Melinda Dunker of Chicago, both consultants and freethinkers, ask: "Find it hard to believe in God? You're not alone."
Cheryl Purnell, a Chicago graphic designer who identifies as a freethinker, says "Freethought and adventure are my allies!"
Youth is represented by student Viven Castillo, who declares: "This happy heathen is good without God."
"No gods. Just human goodness" is the message of retired Glencoe veterinarian Allen Cosnow.
"Although nearly 20% of the population today is nonreligious in the United States, many Americans have never knowingly met an atheist or agnostic," said Annie Laurie Gaylor, FFRF co-president. "We're proud to introduce our Chicago-area members and their viewpoints to their community. Freethinkers have an important message to contribute to society — that reason, not dogma, should prevail, and that freedom depends on keeping religion out of government."
Since debuting the "Out of the Closet" campaign in Madison, Wis., in 2010, FFRF has taken it to Columbus, Tulsa, Raleigh, Phoenix, Nashville, Portland, Spokane, Sacramento, Cleveland and Akron.
Make your own "virtual billboard" or upload a short freethought video statement here: ffrf.org/get-involved/come-out-of-the-closet
FFRF Staff Attorney Sam Grover sent a complaint letter Feb. 23 to Superintendent Tracy Caddell of the Eastern Howard School Corp. in Greentown, Ind., about statements Caddell made to the Kokomo Tribune about how the school district is mostly Christian and how schools strive to teach "Christian values" without Christian doctrine.
The article also quoted choir instructor Karol Evenson: "Before a concert or a show that we do, we always stand in a circle and pray. Most times I lead it . . . and sometimes a student will step up to do it." She also noted that the annual Christmas program includes a nativity scene enacted by faculty members.
"It is irrelevant that Ms. Evenson claims that she has never received a complaint about these religious practices," Grover wrote. "The Constitution is specifically set up to prevent government actors from treading on the rights of underrepresented minority groups."
High school teacher Peter Heck talked in the story about two religious quotes on his classroom walls. One is a quote misattributed to President George Washington that contains historical inaccuracies.
"We imagine that as a history teacher, Mr. Heck will want to correct this embarrassing mistake for his students," Grover wrote.
Liberty Counsel, a Religious Right law firm, contacted Caddell after seeing FFRF's complaint. Grover wrote a follow-up letter to inform the district how Liberty Counsel often misrepresents the law and claims its legal services come at no cost to public entities, when in fact, school districts can be on the hook for considerable legal fees when they lose court cases.
Contact: Mayor of Slidell, La.
Violation: The mayor hosted a religious community breakfast with the theme "A Call for Prayer and Unity." At least eight different speakers delivered prayers.
Contact: St. Tammany Parish Public Schools, Covington, La.
Violation: At the religious Slidell community prayer breakfast mentioned above, which took place during the school day, the Clearwood Junior High School band performed, the Slidell High School JROTC presented the colors, and Salmen High School Assistant Principal Raymond Morris spoke.
Contact: Town of Oyster Bay, N.Y.
Violation: A nativity scene was maintained on a public park lawn.
Contact: Volusia County School District, DeLand, Fla.
Violation: Spruce Creek High School rents space to Thrive Community Church, allowing the church to park a large trailer with an ad for the church service in the school parking lot all week.
Contact: Borough of Bergenfield, N.J.
Violation: The borough displayed a crèche and a menorah in Borough Hall.
Contact: Benton School Board, Ark.
Violation: The district was considering adopting a bible class that presents the bible from a sectarian and biased perspective.
Contact: Tennessee Senate
Violation: The Senate opens its sessions with prayer.
Contact: West Central School Corp., Francesville, Ind.
Violation: A West Central High School teacher showed her class the evangelical Christian movie "Fireproof," and a plaque near the school office displays the Ten Commandments.
Contact: Jones County School District, Ellisville, Miss.
Violation: Northeast Jones High School refused to let a secular student group form.
Contact: Tiffin City Schools, Ohio
Violation: A Columbian High School teacher was promoting a Christian club for which she was the adviser.
Contact: New Hampton School Board, Iowa
Violation: New Hampton High School's choir holds an annual "church tour," performing at several area churches. In addition, the choir often performs "In This Very Room," which includes the refrain, "For Jesus, Lord Jesus, is in this very room."
Contact: Michigan State Police
Violation: The police appoint volunteer chaplains, giving them the honorary rank of captain, which "afford[s] all the courtesies of that position." Chaplains are reimbursed for on-duty expenses.
Contact: New Mexico Department of Public Safety, New Mexico State Police
Violation: The DPS appointed a person with secular counseling qualifications to the position of chaplain.
Contact: City of DeLand, Fla.
Violation: DeLand's city seal depicts a cross.
Contact: Louis A. Johnson VA Medical Center, Clarksburg, W.Va.
Violation: The center displayed a religious sign.
Contact: Ankeny Community School District, Iowa
Violation: Ankeny High School's football coach prayed with players.
Contact: Independent School District 318, Grand Rapids, Minn.
Violation: A teacher at Robert J. Elkington Middle School holds "Prayer Time" in his classroom every Monday morning and posted a flier for the event in the school hallway.
Contact: City of Holts Summit, Mo.
Violation: The Board of Aldermen proposed a veterans monument that would include an engraved bible quote.
Contact: Fountain Lake School District, Hot Springs, Ark.
Violation: Fountain Lake High School uses an Internet content filter that censors websites with information about minority religions.
Contact: Kentucky School District, Fort Knox, Ky.
Violation: Track coaches at Fort Campbell High School conclude practice by leading the team in prayer while the students are instructed to hold hands and bow their heads. Football coaches organize and lead prayer, regularly selecting a student at random to lead it.
Contact: Deer Valley Unified School District, Phoenix
Violation: Sierra Verde Elementary School planned a fifth-grade field trip to the Phoenix Liberty Festival, held at a Christian school in Phoenix and organized by a Christian organization called "We Make History," which has the goal of converting children to Christianity.
Contact: San Jose Unified School District, Calif.
Violation: A Willow Glen High School teacher showed the evangelical Christian movie "Courageous" to his class.
Contact: City of Glencoe, Ala.
Violation: The city flies a Christian flag at City Hall.
Contact: Middle Grove C-1 School District, Madison, Mo.
Violation: A girls basketball coach facilitates prayer in the pregame huddle and before and after practice. Group prayers are held at many school functions, such as back-to-school dinners, school picnics and within classrooms.
Contact: Lauderdale County School System, Ala.
Violation: Brooks Elementary School hosted a bible distribution, and Killen First Baptist Church has been allowed to evangelize to students at Brooks High School band practices.
Contact: McDonald's restaurant, Lavonia, Ga.
Violation: The restaurant offered a church bulletin discount.
Contact: U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs
Violation: Various VA centers only sell religious books.
Contact: Morris County Board of Chosen Freeholders, N.J.
Violation: The county's Historic Preservation Trust Fund has awarded millions of dollars to churches since 2003.
Contact: Volusia County Council, DeLand, Fla.
Violation: The council appropriated $350,000 to repair and maintain a church.
Contact: Jefferson County School District 509-J, Madras, Ore.
Violation: The Good News Club was permitted to park a trailer at Warm Springs K-8 Academy during school hours to hold religious instruction.
Contact: Easton Area School Board, Pa.
Violation: The board was considering adding prayer to its monthly meetings.
Contact: Winnebago County Child Support Agency, Oshkosh, Wis.
Violation: A county employee had a religious email signature.
Contact: Ogle County Board, Oregon, Ill.
Violation: The board was debating allowing a new statute to be placed at the War Veterans memorial at the county courthouse that includes a Latin cross.
Contact: Bells City Schools, Bells, Tenn.
Violation: Bells Elementary School's holiday concert opened with a prayer, and students sang songs referencing Jesus.
Contact: Killeen Independent School District, Texas
Violation: Clarke Elementary School first graders who chose not to participate in the Pledge of Allegiance were disciplined.
Contact: Blount County Commission, Maryville, Tenn.
Violation: The county seal includes an image of a church captioned by the word "RELIGION."
Contact: Octorara Area School District, Atglen, Pa.
Violation: The district hosts recruitment assemblies for the Boy Scouts of America at elementary schools during the school day.
Contact: Seminole County Public Schools, Oviedo, Fla.
Violation: Stenstrom Elementary School allowed East Pointe Church to post promotional signs on school property.
Contact: Knox County Public Schools, Knoxville, Tenn.
Violation: A church flier was placed in the mailbox of every teacher at Green Magnet Academy.
Contact: Hinds County Board attorney, Raymond, Miss.
Violation: The county tax collector's publication "The Fair Report" included a "Scripture of the Month."
Contact: Forsyth R-III Schools, Mo.
Violation: Forsyth High School allows a youth pastor at First Baptist Church to sit with students at lunch, distribute church brochures and encourage church attendance.
Contact: Lebanon R-III School District, Mo.
Violation: An Esther Elementary kindergarten teacher read her class a story about Jesus and the "true" meaning of Christmas and distributed coloring books with a nativity scene.
Contact: Sacramento County Sheriff's Department, Calif.
Violation: The department partners with Law Enforcement Chaplaincy Sacramento.
Contact: Mid-Del Public School District, Oklahoma City
Violation: The Epperly Heights Elementary School principal regularly discusses God and Jesus with students.
Contact: Pinellas County Schools, Fla.
Violation: The district allows a religious ministry into middle and high schools to teach an abstinence-only program.
Contact: Chicago Public Schools
Violation: A Greeley Elementary teacher promotes WyldLife, a Christian club dedicated to "introducing adolescents to Jesus Christ and helping them grow in their faith."
Contact: U.S. Postal Service, Mount Pleasant, Texas
Violation: "In God We Trust" was displayed on the post office's wall.
Contact: Dayton Bureau of Motor Vehicles, Ohio
Violation: The BMV lobby displays signs containing "God Bless the USA" and "One Nation Under God."
Contact: City of Bayard, N.M.
Violation: City offices close on Good Friday and Easter Monday.
Contact: National Park Service
Violation: A Latin cross is displayed atop Castle Rock in Modoc County, Calif.
Contact: Julesburg School District RE-1, Colo.
Violation: Julesburg High School graduation ceremonies include prayer.
Police Chief Jeremy Clark suddenly resigned his position in Searcy, Ark., after a federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms task force searched his home March 3. FFRF had complained several times, starting in 2013, to Clark and other officials about Latin crosses in front of the city building pictured above, but he refused to remove them after first claiming none were ever there. Clark said at the time, "Christianity is part of our police department."
According to KTHV News, a residence owned by Clark is part of an arson investigation. Authorities are also looking at possible violations of firearms and controlled substance laws and an allegation of abuse of power.
Mitch Kahle and Holly Huber, FFRF Lifetime Members, have made several notches in their state/church separation belts since moving home to Michigan 16 months ago from Hawaii, where they had lived since 1992 and founded Hawaii Citizens for the Separation of State and Church.HCSSC was involved in dozens of high-profile controversies there.
Their new group is the Michigan Association of Civil Rights Activists. Mitch provided a rundown of recent activism successes:
• We forced the city of Grand Haven to remove a 50-foot steel cross and a huge annual nativity scene from Dewey Hill. Both the cross and nativity had been in place on public property during Christmas since the 1960s.
• We also forced two public school districts, Fruitport and Grand Haven, to evict a pastor-led bible club ("Freewater") that was operating during lunch hour.
• MACRA also forced Ottawa County to remove a sign promoting biblical scripture from Hager Park in Jenison.
• Most recently, MACRA forced Hudsonville Public Schools to evict Bible Club Ministries International from three public schools.
"We have been contacted by more parents and are currently researching other Michigan schools where illegal and unconstitutional religious activity is reportedly taking place on campus while school is in session," Kahle said.
The Center for Inquiry-Michigan invited Huber to speak March 11 at the Women's City Club in Grand Rapids on MACRA's work.
Kahle was FFRF's 2011 Freethinker of the Year for convincing the Hawaii Senate to drop prayers to open legislative sessions. He and a colleague successfully sued state officials for assaulting them in the Senate during their peaceful protest.
Name: Kristin L. Martin.
I was born: On a lazy Sunday afternoon in July.
Family: I have two parents and an older sister.
Education: I'm currently a law student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. I received a bachelor of fine arts in painting from UW-Superior. (Go Yellowjackets!)
My religious upbringing was: On paper I was raised Methodist, but my Maronite mother made sure we got to Greek Orthodox services now and then. This was just as confusing as it sounds.
How I came to work as an FFRF legal intern: I'd been aware of the FFRF for a few years but didn't know they accepted legal interns until I joined the Secular Law Students Society at the UW Law School.
What I do here: I write letters that aim to stop Establishment Clause violations.
What I like best about it: I'm learning so much about the landmark cases that have shaped the way the Establishment Clause is interpreted and enforced. I'd say the best part is gaining an understanding of the specifics of the law.
My legal interests are: I'm interested in modern constitutional issues like privacy in electronic communications and GPS data, the role of atheists in American society and finding an appropriate balance between state and federal powers.
My legal heroes are: I've met some amazing women on the UW Law School faculty who have not only motivated me, but inspired my curiosity.
These three words sum me up: I could probably just be summed up by two words: "What's next?"
Things I like: Painting, my rescue greyhound Zero, old globes.
Things I smite: Windows 8, air travel, horror movies.
FFRF is urging the Wisconsin Legislature's powerful Joint Committee on Finance to investigate rampant school voucher fraud and to end the disastrous voucher experiment altogether.
In a Feb. 16 letter from Staff Attorney Patrick Elliott providing detailed analysis to legislators, FFRF noted that in the recently expanded voucher system, 100% of the state-funded schools are Christian and 73% of students attend Catholic schools.
Gov. Scott Walker's budget proposal would lift the 1,000-student cap on vouchers, opening the floodgates to funding religious schools with public dollars.
The letter highlights reports of significant fraud in the Milwaukee voucher program, noting that more than $139 million in the last 10 years has gone to schools that were subsequently barred from the program. Some schools, like Washington Du Bois Christian Leadership Academy, shut down abruptly amid claims of fraud, leaving families scrambling. Elliott said the Milwaukee program "serves as a warning as to what happens when taxpayer money is given to private, mostly religious groups that are not answerable to taxpayers."
"It matters what is taught in taxpayer-funded schools," Elliott said. Some voucher schools utilize fundamentalist textbooks that promote unscientific claims and revisionist history, and teach secular subjects with a biblical view of "absolute truth."
While public schools are governed by publicly elected school boards and are subject to open meetings and records laws, taxpayers have no means to monitor the voucher schools that they fund.
Elliott urged legislators to investigate the many significant problems with the current system: "As it stands today, reports of fraud are unconfirmed because, reprehensibly, the state has never conducted a comprehensive investigation. Current and former voucher school employees have rung the alarm bell but the state has ignored the overwhelming evidence of mismanagement, defrauding of taxpayers, and a deficient education provided to vulnerable students."
Elliott also charged that Walker's proposal violates the provision in the state constitution barring funding of religion.
"Voucher schools were sold as an experiment to 'save' students from failing public schools," said FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. "The politicians aren't even pretending that is the case anymore. This is a brazen attack on public education."
In Madison, more than 12,500 students are eligible for free or reduced price lunch, which means they would be eligible for vouchers under Walker's budget bill. Almost half of students in the Madison Metropolitan School District could leave it at public expense, Elliott wrote. "How can our public school system continue to operate if untold numbers of students could leave for religious education, taking corresponding state funding with them?"
"The state should provide a sectarian-free public education system and end its alarming experiment to allow church-run schools to siphon taxpayer funds. Please remove all funding of voucher schools from the state budget," he concluded.
About 1,300 of FFRF's 21,500 members live in Wisconsin.
FFRF was chosen from more than 8,000 charities to be in Reddit's top 10 and receive an $82,766 donation. Reddit, a social networking and news website, decided to donate 10% of its 2014 gross ad revenue to 10 charities selected by users. Over 80,000 users voted.
Reddit partnered with Charity Navigator, a nonprofit that evaluates charities, to vet potential awardees. (Charity Navigator rates FFRF an "exceptional" 97.06 out of 100 with four out of four stars.)
Others in the top 10 receiving a similar donation were the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Planned Parenthood Federation of America, Doctors Without Borders USA, Erowid Center, Wikimedia Foundation, Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies, National Public Radio, Free Software Foundation and Tor Project Inc.
"We're so pleased to be in such illustrious company," said FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. "FFRF strives to do for the secular movement what charities like Planned Parenthood, Doctors Without Borders and NPR do for their respective fields. We're honored that Redditors recognize our contribution."
"The Internet is one of the few places some atheists feel comfortable being open about their atheism," said Co-President Dan Barker. "This award is an honor, but also a symbol that secularism is gaining strength and acceptance wherever ideas can be freely exchanged."
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.”