FFRF wants a New Jersey borough to get rid of its unmistakably religious seal and motto. The official seal of the borough of Clayton depicts a church and a Latin cross, with the accompanying motto reading: “A Great Place to Live and Play, Work and Pray.”
The inclusion of a cross and church on the official seal and the declaration that the borough is a great place to pray violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, FFRF asserts.
The borough’s logo signals an endorsement of Christianity and prayer.
“Federal courts have ruled that similar seals violate the Establishment Clause,” wrote FFRF Legal Fellow Madeline Ziegler in a letter last September to Clayton Mayor Tom Bianco. The borough responded to FFRF that the seal and the motto were nothing more than a reflection of its history, citing no law to back up its assertions. Ziegler contends in a follow-up letter that such an argument is untenable.
“The federal courts have consistently held that religious symbolism on official city seals is unconstitutional, even in the face of claims that the religious portions are in some way historical,” Ziegler writes.
Thanks to 248 donors from 42 states plus Puerto Rico, including 26 who sent $1,000 and whose name will be credited on the new base along with the Freedom From Religion Foundation, FFRF has raised more than $30,000 to restore the 1911 statue of Robert Green Ingersoll in Glen Oak Park in Peoria, Ill.
Ingersoll, a Civil War colonel and famed 19th-century "infidel" orator and author, built his early career as an attorney in Peoria, where he met his wife, Eva. He served as Illinois' attorney general from 1867 to 1869.
Peoria Secular Humanist Society Board member Ken Hofbauer was instrumental in setting the project in motion by contacting the Peoria Parks Department. The statue, sculpted by Fritz Treibel, and the base will be restored this summer.
FFRF is objecting to top Indiana state officials taking part in a Christian foot-washing ceremony in their official capacities.
Employees from Gov. Mike Pence's office, as well as Lt. Gov. Sue Ellspermann and her staff, sponsored and participated in a "foot-washing" ritual during office hours at the Shepherd Community Center in Indianapolis. Pence made an appearance at the center, too, shortly after the ceremony was completed. The rite was deeply religious.
Sonna Dumas, director of the school associated with Shepherd, "a faith-based ministry," commented to the Indianapolis Star that "the teachers told students about the biblical origins of the tradition in preparation for the event."
The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that government offices may not appear to endorse religion, FFRF reminds the governor. The governor's office may not spend taxpayer money on religious ceremonies, including paying employees to participate. The office's endorsement of religion — and of Christianity in particular — turns non-Christian and nonreligious Indianans into outsiders in their own community.
As it is inappropriate and unconstitutional for government officials to sponsor and participate in religious rites, FFRF is seeking assurances from the governor that his office will not engage in this again.
FFRF is asking U.S. Rep. Jeff Miller of Florida to stop using taxpayer money for religious indoctrination.
Miller's office issues an official weekly "Miller Newsletter" that often explicitly promotes his Christian faith.
"Christmas is a time to celebrate the birth of Christ and for giving thanks to God Almighty for sending his Son to save us," reads a newsletter from last December, for example. "In Luke 2:10-11, the shepherds learned of the birth of Jesus, when the Angel said to them 'Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.'"
In addition, Miller's newsletter often makes erroneous claims about the separation of state and church, stating, for instance: "It was not the intent of the Founders' to keep God out of the government, but to keep the government out of the church."
FFRF is calling on Miller to refrain from disseminating his religious perspective in a newsletter paid for with public money.
Government officials may not use their government office or resources to further their religion, FFRF asserts.
FFRF, with local member Andrew DeFaria, is suing the city of Santa Clara, Calif., to remove a gigantic cross from a local public park.
The lawsuit was filed April 20 in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, San Jose Division.
The 14-foot granite Latin cross at Memorial Cross Park that FFRF and DeFaria are suing about officially commemorates a 1777 Spanish Catholic mission. The prominent Christian edifice was donated by the Santa Clara Lions Club in 1953, with the city maintaining the cross and the park ever since. FFRF contends that the city's decision to accept the cross and its subsequent display and maintenance "amounts to the advancement of religion," specifically Christianity.
FFRF Senior Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert first complained in April 2012 to the city's then-mayor, Jamie L. Matthews. The city indicated two months later that it looked forward "to resolving this matter in an expeditious and responsible manner."
In the past three years, on at least 12 occasions, Markert and other FFRF employees have followed up on the status of the cross's removal. But the city's only action to date has been to remove a sign reading "Memorial Cross Park."
DeFaria, who lives in Santa Clara, has encountered the cross at the park. "As a nonbeliever in any religion, he finds the cross on public land objectionable," the lawsuit says. DeFaria now avoids the park, and even the street on which the park is located, so he won't have to encounter his city's endorsement of the Christian religion.
FFRF and DeFaria are asking the court to declare the city cross in violation of Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, as well as the No Preference Clause of Article I, § 4 of the California Constitution.
"It should not be necessary to sue over such an obvious and blatant establishment of religion," says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. "We waited four years for the city to act in good faith and divest itself of this unconstitutional endorsement of religion, and were left with no recourse but to go to court."
FFRF v. City of Santa Clara is being litigated on behalf of FFRF by David J.P. Kaloyanides, with FFRF attorneys Rebecca Markert and Madeline Ziegler serving as co-counsel. The defendants are the city of Santa Clara, Santa Clara City Council, Mayor Lisa Gillmor, Vice Mayor Teresa O'Neill and other members of the council.
A bible-foisting judge was sanctioned by Texas State Commission on Judicial Conduct for making a man write bible verses 25 times a day as part of his sentencing.
Last July, Judge Randall Rogers from Smith County, Texas, decided that the best punishment for Josten Bundy, who punched an ex-boyfriend of his girlfriend, was to marry his girlfriend, get counseling and write bible verses.
If Bundy declined to the probation rules, he would be sentenced to 15 days in jail.
Bundy was told to write Proverbs 26:27 ("If a man digs a pit, he will fall into it") 25 times a day.
Bundy did comply with the marriage injunction and ended up marrying his girlfriend.
FFRF filed a complaint with the commission and Americans United for Separation of Church and State sent a letter to the judge.
"After a thorough review and investigation of the issues you raised in your complaint, the commission voted to issue the judge a private sanction," Seana Willing, executive director of the commission, said in the letter. However, FFRF was not allowed to see the details of the sanction.
FFRF thanks the commission.
"In our secular constitutional system, courts should not be forcing people to act according to biblical precepts," says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor.
Thanks to efforts by local activists and national freethought groups, including FFRF, the Chino Valley Town Council in Arizona voted unanimously April 12 to drop prayers from governmental meetings.
In December, a local resident expressed dismay about the councilor-delivered invocations always ending "in Jesus' name." In response to the complaint, Councilmember Lon Turner on Jan. 8 publicly declared he would continue to pray in Jesus' name, claiming that the citizen's request was an attempt to "tread on" his religion and "freedom of expression."
FFRF Legal Fellow Madeline Ziegler wrote letters on Jan. 14 and Feb. 10 objecting to the practice.
Although originally promising there would be no invocation while controversy was discussed, Mayor Chris Marley at the following meeting personally conducted the invocation, reading a "disclaimer" that the prayer was his "personal belief." Local Rabbi Adele Plotkin, who had attended the meeting on the understanding that there would be no Christian prayer, audibly protested and was removed from the council chambers.
The council decided not to change its practice, with Marley declaring the lack of action was "drawing a line in the sand in defense of freedom of religion and free expression."
Ziegler sent another letter after these antics: "It is alarming that the members of the Chino Valley Town Council do not understand that you are acting as the government at Town Council meetings, and not as private individuals."
According to a new analysis of a decades-long survey, twice as many Americans said they did not believe in God in 2014 compared with the early 1980s, and five times as many said they never prayed.
The study, led by San Diego State University psychology professor Jean M. Twenge, found the percentage of Americans who believe in God or prayed reached an all-time low two years ago. Americans were also less likely to describe themselves as religious, attend services or believe the bible is divinely inspired.
The results stemmed from analysis of the General Social Survey, a poll of 58,893 Americans from 1972 to 2014.
While Americans are generally more secular, there was one discrepancy within the broader results: Researchers saw a slight uptick in belief in the afterlife.
"It was interesting that fewer people participated in religion or prayed but more believed in an afterlife," Twenge said. "It might be part of a growing entitlement mentality — thinking you can get something for nothing."
Majority in Norway don't believe in God
A survey from the Norwegian Monitor shows that nonbelievers in God now are higher in number than those who do believe.
Nearly 40% of respondents said they did not believe in God, more than the 37% who answered "yes" to the same question. Another 23 percent said they did not know.
The survey, which was mailed to 4,000 Norwegians, denotes the first time that nonbelievers outnumber the religious. Two years ago, the number of believers and nonbelievers was equal. When the question was first asked in 1985, 50 percent said they believed in God while 20 percent did not.
The survey also showed that women are more likely to believe in God than men and that faith in God is stronger among the old than the young.
No religion for more than half in Scotland
A survey published by Scottish Social Attitudes shows that more than half of the 5.4 million people living in Scotland have no religion.
The 52 percent of unaffiliated Scots represents a 12 percent jump from 16 years ago.
The proportion of people who say they belong to the Church of Scotland — the Presbyterian Church that for so long dominated almost every aspect of life in that country — has fallen dramatically, to just 20 percent, down from 39 percent of the population in 1999.
'No small violations of the Constitution'
Douglas Marshall was the plaintiff in FFRF's federal court victory that forced the city of Warren, Mich., to allow him to put up a "Reason Station" in the City Hall atrium to counter a longtime prayer booth. He also was previously a plaintiff in the FFRF's 2011 case against the city of Warren over censorship of FFRF's Winter Solstice sign. Douglas graduated from Tri State College in Indiana and served in the U.S. Army for two years. He retired in 2005 as a marketing analyst in the trucking and logistics industry.
Douglas' speech, edited for space, was delivered on Oct. 10, 2015, at the FFRF national convention in Madison, Wis.
By Douglas Marshall
As shown in the recent Pew Study, America is becoming more diverse in its religious beliefs and there is an increase in those who do not believe in any deity or religion. This causes many of the religious to try to insert their beliefs in the public arena. They do this because they can see that membership is dwindling and feel that they need to make America a theocracy in order to maintain their dominance. Public officials assist this by giving public space to the favored religious group to grant the authority of the governmental unit to that religion. Public school teachers add creationism to their science classes, read bible passages in class, pass out religious literature, promote clubs like the Good News Club or add religious songs to seasonal presentations.
We must be on the watch for violations of the First Amendment's separation of church and state at all times and challenge them whenever they appear.
A secular nation
Our country was not established as a Christian nation, but as a secular nation. Many of our Founding Fathers were revolutionaries with deist beliefs. They saw the problems that official religions bring and wanted to make sure that those problems would not be tolerated in this new country.
The First Amendment to the Constitution states, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof ," and the 14th Amendment, "No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States." The First Amendment forbids laws (rules or privileges) respecting religion and the 14th Amendment conveys that along to state and local governmental units.
As citizens, it is our responsibility to support our government and its underlying Constitution if we want to live under that document. It has been noted by someone "that if we lose our freedoms it will not be in a big slash of a sword but by many small cuts which we ignore at the time." The Christians and offending parties will complain that we are nitpicking and if these violations offend us, we should just close our eyes, look the other way and remain quiet. I reply that there are no small violations of the Constitution and that every one must be addressed.
I was confronted with a situation in Warren, Mich., where I live. The city was giving space in the city hall atrium to a religious group to promote its religion. When I complained about this establishment violation, I was told that the area was a free speech area open to all, and it would be a violation of the church's right to speech to deny them access. At that time, in the spring of 2009, I contacted FFRF Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert, who wrote a complaint to the city and received a similar response. It was that initial involvement that caused me to join FFRF.
I then asked about the availability to have similar access, I found that I needed an insurance liability policy in the amount of $1 million and an additional $10,000 in medical insurance to which I would need to add the city and Downtown Development Authority on as additional insureds. As an individual, I have no need for general liability insurance, so the cost of such insurance would be prohibitive. Also, the city had an unreasonable charge for the whole atrium, which they wanted to apply to displays by individual residents, but waived for churches and nonprofits. Confronted with these obstacles, I was unable to challenge the violating party with my own speech. Two years ago at the Freedom From Religion Foundation convention, I met with Staff Attorney Patrick Elliott and asked if FFRF, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, was willing to add me, the city and the city's Downtown Development Authority to its insurance policy for a Reason Station. Once I knew that I had the insurance requirement covered, I was able to make my application for a display.
Ready in advance
From the start, I knew that the city was only using the public space story as justification for allowing the violation of the Establishment Clause, and I suspected that my application would be denied out of hand. Believing that this would be the case, I contacted the local ACLU in advance to determine what its response would be if I was denied use of the facility by the city. The ACLU would not make any commitment prior to something happening, but stated it wanted to know if my application for equal access was denied. I also contacted the local representative of Americans United for Separation of Church and State for its assessment and was advised that it, too, wanted to be notified if my application was denied. Now that I had contacted these three organizations and was sure of my legal standing, I was ready to present my application for the space.
Because Patrick Elliott of FFRF had obtained copies of the church's application for me, I was able to duplicate the application of the Prayer Station for my Reason Station. When the time was appropriate, I sent in my application for a Reason Station by certified mail. As I had expected, a week later I received a letter from the mayor stating that my application was being denied. As a bonus, the mayor stated the application was being denied because I was an atheist and a member of the Freedom From Religion Foundation.
The mayor knew this because we had been to court before over the solstice display a year earlier. This was perfect; the city was denying my right of speech 1) because of my religious views and 2) because of my membership in the Freedom From Religion Foundation. The denial was clearly a violation of my religious rights, my right to speak and right of association as stated in the First Amendment, and denial of equal protection under the law as stated in the 14th Amendment.
When I received the letter of denial, I was ready and emailed all the documents to FFRF, Americans United and the ACLU. I knew that the Freedom From Religion Foundation was behind me, but it did not have a local attorney to handle the case. Americans United was the first to respond with a letter to the mayor and city within four hours from the receipt of my complaint. About a week later I received a call from the ACLU to interview me to make sure that I was honorable and that I was involved based on principle, as opposed to looking for personal gain. Within about three weeks from my email, I had all three organizations offering to represent me and I was able to coordinate the three organizations to work together with an additional local attorney on my case. I signed an agreement for these organizations to represent me. I believe that this was the first time that all three organizations have worked together on a single case.
One of the things that I have done in working on this situation was to always remain polite when dealing with government officials and anyone involved. I always kept my temper in check, never raised my voice, and always said "Thank you" or "No thank you" in all my dealings. This did not stop the city from claiming in its response to the lawsuit that the real reason I was denied the use of the space was that I was an obnoxious, threatening person and only wanted to create a disturbance. One of the penalties with challenging an Establishment Clause violation is that the religious establishment and governmental unit spread all manner of things as a reason to discredit me. These unwarranted accusations were later discredited in the deposition portion of disclosure, leaving only the original reasons as stated in the mayor's letter.
The mayor, during interviews with reporters both immediately after his rejection letter and also after I filed in federal court, compared atheists, FFRF, and by extension, me, to Nazis and the KKK. In the last few years there have been many comparisons to Hitler or Nazis by various individuals in our country. My feeling has always been if a person compares an opponent to Hitler or Nazis, he is just publicly stating that he has no knowledge of either and has nothing else to justify whatever he is proposing or defending. The comparison did hit the news, and, after the initial news reports, the mayor backtracked.
When I sent in my application for the Reason Station I was sure that the mayor would reject my application. At the time it was the best thing that hecould have done for me. I was in no position to buy the necessary items such as easels, tables, chairs, signs and table displays. I did not have a group of people organized to staff the Reason Station at that time. Had the mayor approved my initial request, I would have been unable to buy all the necessary equipment and did not have a group of volunteers to staff the table. Without any of this, I would have been hard-pressed to set it up myself and staff it for the long run. The mayor's rejection and lawsuit gave me the publicity to obtain volunteers and, upon victory, the money to buy the equipment.
City gives in
In settlement talks demanded by the court, the city capitulated on my demands and the only thing that I had to give up was that the main sign would only say "Reason Station," but that there would be no restrictions on what was on the table for display or distribution. Even with the city paying all legal fees and damages, I was amazed that the mayor was claiming victory. Sometimes solutions happen speedily, others take time. I first complained about the Prayer Station in April 2009 and was not able to win a victory in court until this year.
The downside to asking for equal access is that once it is won, I must provide and staff the display. FFRF has supplied non-tracts, issues of Freethought Today and other materials for the Reason Station. My U.S. representative and a senator had supplied copies of the Constitution and state representatives had supplied Michigan's Constitution. I have used some of the damages to provide signage, table displays and other equipment required. Hopefully, if my table displays are designed properly, sooner or later the city will determine that the city hall atrium is not an appropriate place for discussion as to whether or not a deity exists. The true meaning of the Reason Station is that 1) It takes away the governmental endorsement which the Prayer Station had previously had; 2) It puts atheists in public view so that citizens can see that we are ordinary people, and; 3) It lets other atheists, who are in the closet or feel alone, know that they are not alone.
Reason Station opens
After a minor correction required in the insurance certificate, the city approved my application for the Reason Station. On the first day we had about eight visitors to the display, all of which thanked us. On the second day two other atheists stopped by specifically to thank us for our efforts in getting the Reason Station in City Hall. Some of these people have gone on to become volunteers. Another woman, who described herself as a regular Christian who attended weekly church services, stopped by to thank us for all our efforts in setting up the Reason Station. There is rarely a day in which someone does not stop by to thank us for being there. A few weeks after opening, a lady from California in the Detroit area on family business specifically drove to Warren to visit the Reason Station and thank us all for being there. So many have stopped and the response has been so positive, that I feel rewarded for all the time and work it has taken to start the Reason Station.
The first day of operation was April 28, 2015. On that day, we were using a card table of my mother's — which was over 60 years old — and a variety of folding chairs. There was not much room for all the material that we had to display. Later, one of the volunteers set up a staffing format on Volunteer Spot so that all the scheduling is done via the Internet. I have created a business card with the staffing website which I give out to prospective volunteers. They can handle the commitment themselves or they can email or phone me and I will handle it for them. I would eventually buy a portable six-foot display table, new lighter chairs, and a portable two-wheel dolly to help in moving the display items. When I ordered the easel for the sign, I also ordered smaller easels to be used as table displays.
Table display quotes
On the first day of operation, the table display was a quote by Benjamin Franklin. Starting on the National Day of Prayer, we had a table display with Matthew 6:5, which we used the rest of May. Other than the staff at the Reason Station, few seemed to get what Matthew was referencing. In June, we added a Thomas Jefferson quote to the table displays, and also started having two table displays with the second one being Epicurus. In July we replaced Epicurus with a statement by Marcus Aurelius. Recently we have added a Susan B. Anthony statement. Eventually I hope to have different table displays for each month of the year. I am planning to have the "Let Reason Prevail" solstice verbiage in the atrium this solstice holiday season.
At no time have I ever wished to promote my views on the existence or nonexistence of a deity. Although I am not ashamed of my opinion that there are no deities (based on the lack of evidence), I do not broadcast my views except when asked or confronted.
I have no issue with what anyone wants to believe, or their right to meet in churches or their homes to discuss and practice their beliefs. If people want to put up signs on their lawns or purchase billboard space to expound their beliefs, it causes me no harm. As Thomas Jefferson said, "It does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are 20 gods or no god. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg." I do have a problem with people who want to use government facilities to promote their religious beliefs and add the implication that the government endorses those beliefs and practices. The only reason I asked for a space for the Reason Station is to take away that governmental endorsement of a religion.
I need to thank the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Americans United, the ACLU and all the attorneys for making the Reason Station possible. Most of all, I want to thank the volunteers who staff the Reason Station for all their time and effort. Without those volunteers, all the work in getting the Reason Station would be for nothing, as they are the Reason Station.
Finally, if we want to live in a country where we have freedom of conscience and the right to express those opinions, we must remain alert to any violation of those rights. We need to be First Amendment warriors challenging violations of the Bill of Rights whenever they occur. Remember, there are no small violations of the Bill of Rights, and if we want those rights, we cannot close our eyes to the violations.
This speech and Q&A session occurred on Oct. 9, 2015, at FFRF's 38th annual convention at Monona Terrace Convention Center in Madison, Wis.
FFRF Co-President Dan Barker introduced Jeremiah Camara, who produced the film, "Contradiction," a documentary on black freethought, humanism and unbelief:
How many of you saw the movie this afternoon, "Contradiction"? Wasn't that a wonderful movie?
Jeremiah Camara is a writer and an award-winning poet. He's the author of the books Holy Lockdown: Does the Church Limit Black Progress? and The New Doubting Thomas: The Bible, Black Folks, and Blind Belief. He's the creator of the very popular YouTube series "Slave Sermons."
He's based in Atlanta, where he lives with his wife of 26 years. Jeremiah has won several poetry awards and he's performed poetry at the prestigious Apollo Theater. He's the author of a collection of poetry called "Smoke and Haze," dealing with social injustice. He's notably the producer of this film "Contradiction," which explores how faith in a supernatural creator is affecting society, particularly among African-Americans.
So, come on up Jeremiah.
By Jeremiah Camara
Wow, we wouldn't even be here if Jesus would have just stayed a carpenter, you know what I mean? The bible never made sense to me — especially the part, where it said that God made the world in about a week. I know that was a lie.
My wife, when we met, said she was an atheist, but I didn't believe her because the first time she saw my body she just said, "Oh, my God." The first time I saw her, I was like, "Lord, have mercy."
I was born and raised in Cincinnati. I didn't really come from a religious family, to be honest. We went to church, but I really didn't have that opposition at home that a lot of blacks have. My parents were behind me 100% in everything that I did. My mom, she's 87 years old now and she's like, "go get 'em." I'm just so glad that I have a mom like that who's in my corner.
I did manage to go to church quite often — I was seeking this spirit. I wanted to fall out and pass out and speak in tongues and all that kind of stuff. But every time I tried to speak in tongues, it just didn't work. I just kept saying, "Yabba dabba doo." It never worked for me.
I get kind of fiery sometimes when I speak, so they call me the reverse preacher. I actually preach the opposite of what you think with my emotions, but I learned that in the black church. There is a lot of entertainment there.
You all have seen me with this glove on. It's Dan's fault, actually. I have a pinched nerve in my hand and it's all because of Dan, because I'm an aspiring pianist.
I said, "Dan, can you spare some time where I get in there and play some on the piano?"
He said, "Listen man. I got three things, the three most important things for becoming a pianist. He said, "The first thing is practice."
I said "OK."
He said, "The second thing is practice."
I said OK.
He said "But the third thing is practice."
And I kept practicing and practicing, and I wound up getting a pinched nerve in my palm. So hopefully you don't mind, I'll just give you a fist bump. We can get on with the Q and A.
Audience member: We saw your movie this afternoon. It was wonderful. In this context today, there's a lot of like-minded people who certainly were enjoying the film and took it the way I'm certain you intended. What is the response of either some of the people that are in the film, whose words are being used? They don't come off looking all that well. Or when you showed it to communities or in places where you don't have a like-minded group of people, what kind of reactions do you get from this type of film?
Jeremiah: I think that the most surprising thing so far was the lack of backlash. And I think the reason is because in order to defend yourself, you have to know a little bit about your religion and they don't know anything about it. One person, she came up to me, we had like 400 people at our premiere, and she said, "You just made all Christians look stupid." I didn't debate them in the movie, I just let everyone talk. And one guy in New York said, "Don't make me look like a fool." You did that. I didn't really make you do anything.
No one has really challenged it. We've reached out to the church community and they won't have us, of course. And a couple of the prominent preachers in Atlanta, they've seen the film. But they won't touch it because they know that if this gets in the hands of their parishioners, they'll say "Wow! This stuff does make sense." And so they just keep it away from there. It's been received positively for the most part. But as a writer, a filmmaker, an artist and aspiring pianist, I'm not always the best at the business behind it because I'm busy making it. I can use all the help that I can get and I say that everywhere. But it's true because, if you notice, it just takes one person to see the film.
One lady asked, "Have you been on NPR?" I would love to get it on NPR so that everyone can know that there is a segment of African-Americans that doesn't believe this stuff.
As I travel around the country, you would be shocked at how many black people don't believe this stuff. But they're in the closet with it and it's just, "Hey, I'm going to lose everything if I come out with this. My wife, my mom, my family — they're going to ostracize me." So it's just a deep fear. But once you present this stuff, people look at this and say, "You know this makes a lot of sense," but they'll have this cognitive dissonance.
Audience member: Could you talk more about the money and how these wolves exploit the black community all the way back from the Civil War to the present?
Jeremiah: I'm going to bring up something a little more current and one of the things that broke my heart and almost got me out of this business. I've been doing this for 25 years. I was into this before a lot of this stuff was going on. But what happened recently, this year, almost made me give it up.
I call it the Harriet Tubman business that I'm in. Harriet Tubman said "I could have freed more if they only knew they were slaves." But what just happened this year with Creflo Dollar (we call him Klepto Dollar). He asked for $65 million. He wound up getting $70 million for a plane. And the street that he's on in Atlanta is a street called Old National Highway and this street is crime-ridden. And you get a plane so that you can go out and preach mythology around the world. But there is no way to measure who you've reached or what the effect of them being reached is going to have on society. There's no way to measure it.
And I thought about all the elderly people who could've got their mortgages paid. I thought of the science and math academies that you could have built with that money. I thought about the young men — African-American men — who have felonies, who are now disenfranchised for life. Let me tell you, I did a lot of things when I was coming up as a teenager. I just didn't get caught. I'm no better than a lot of the young black men who have felonies and will never get an opportunity. And so you hold this against them for a life. Look at all of the training that $70 million could help make, produce, create. Just so much besides a jet plane. I was so disappointed; I almost said, "To heck with it" and went into the medical marijuana business.
Dan called me and said, "I want you to come out." I wasn't going to pass up that opportunity. Your feedback from the movie has really inspired me even more. So I think I'm going to stay with this Harriet Tubman business a little bit longer.
Audience member: The black churches are involved in a lot of social activism. They work with jobs, with justice. They were front and center in Missouri's expansion of Medicaid, trying to get that through. And in the Ferguson commission, they're working with officials on that. How do we keep that activism without the religion?
Jeremiah: Dan, John, chapter one, verse one. Right? You know that by heart and I can answer that question. "In the beginning."
Dan: "Was the word."
Jeremiah: I'm going to translate. "In the beginning was the word." In the beginning — that's going to be a tough job and this is why in the beginning, as far as African-Americans in this country, was the church.
"And the word was with God." And the church was with blacks and blacks were with the church. "And the word was God." And the church was the black community. You see where I'm going. There was no separation.
And everything that we've ever gotten, all the steps that we've made, was because of the church. So this is how it is perceived in the black community. So when you take that away, you pretty much take everything away. Now, you'll take the social aspect away from it, but my experience in being out of the church is so liberating. It feels so good to know as opposed to just believing. In fact, our ancestors would have been eaten alive if we believed there wasn't something lurking behind those bushes as opposed to knowing that a predator was behind those bushes. Belief can get you in trouble. And I'm just free now. I would take that over the social aspect any day. Take a lot of people that you go to church with, they just put on airs.
I remember one time I was with my church community and they're so judgmental. Christians are some of the meanest people out here. I was sitting there and they looked over, we were at a restaurant, and there was this guy drinking a beer. You know the slogan of Miller; the can says Miller High Life. And he looked at him and he said, "Look at that. If he only knew what the high life was." I just saw the whole charade and all that kind of stuff.
Audience member: My husband and I were just overwhelmed with your film. We're really very impressed and were wondering how long it took to do this. What is the oldest picture you had and what is the newest picture?
Jeremiah: Wow. It took 18 months to do. The oldest picture that I had was probably that Praise House. When the missionaries were from Europe and they were in Africa, that went way back to the 1800s. The newest one, I can't recall what the newest one was.
Audience member: What are you working on now? What are we going to see next from you?
Jeremiah: I don't know. I may do some comedy. I've been praying about it but I know God is not going to answer my prayers. Here's his son, on the cross, crying out for help and he said, "To hell with him," so I know he's not going to help me out. He has all these mansions in heaven but let his son be born in a filthy manger. What kind of father is that?
So, I don't know, but we'll see. I'm in between projects right now but I've got to do something because I have a creative itch. Thanks for coming out, and I am looking forward to coming again.
Go to jeremiahcamara.com to see more of Jeremiah's work.
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 FFRF. Other books include Godless (Ulysses Press, 2008), The Good Atheist: Living a Purpose-Filled Life Without God (Pitchstone Publishing, 2011), Life Driven Purpose: How an Atheist Finds Meaning, Pitchstone Press (2015) and GOD: The Most Unpleasant Character in All Fiction (Sterling Publications, 2016). 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 FFRF’s musical CDs, "Friendly Neighborhood Atheist," "Beware of Dogma,” and “Adrift on a Star." He joined FFRF's staff in 1987, serving as public relations director. He was first elected co-president in November 2004, speaks widely and has engaged in more than 100 debates about religion.
Annie Laurie Gaylor, a third-generation freethinker, co-founded FFRF with her mother Anne Gaylor as a college student in 1976. She served as editor of Freethought Today, FFRF’s newspaper, from 1985 to 2009. Her book, Woe to the Women: The Bible Tells Me So, first published by FFRF in 1981, is in its 4th printing. In 1988, FFRF published Betrayal of Trust: Clergy Abuse of Children, the first book documenting widespread sexual abuse by clergy. Her 1997 anthology, 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 University of Wisconsin-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 first joined the FFRF staff in 1985. She has been co-president since 2004. In the late 1970s, her student protest ended commencement prayers at the UW-Madison. She has been plaintiff in or overseen many state/church lawsuits and actions by FFRF. Dan and Annie Laurie have appeared on a variety of TV news shows, including “Oprah,” “O’Reilly,” “Good Morning America,” Univision, CNN and FOX news segments, CBS Evening News and ABC World News Tonight.
Photo: Timothy Hughes
FFRF President emerita
ANNE NICOL GAYLOR was a founder and president emerita of the Freedom From Religion Foundation. She served as executive director from 1978 to 2005, and worked as a consultant to the Foundation. Born in rural Wisconsin, she was a graduate of the University of Wisconsin in Madison. She owned and managed successful small businesses and was co-owner and editor of an award-winning suburban weekly newspaper. A feminist author, she did substantial volunteer work for women's rights (including serving as volunteer director of the Women's Medical Fund). Under her leadership the Freedom From Religion Foundation has grown from its initial three Wisconsin members to a national group with representation in every state and Canada.
Director of Operations
LISA STRAND is director of operations of FFRF. Previously, she was the Executive Director of the Wisconsin Library Association. She has 25 years of experience in nonprofit organizations, both as a staff member and volunteer leader, including having served as board president of the Wisconsin Society of Association Executives and the Community Action Coalition of South Central Wisconsin. She has a B.A. from the University of Minnesota. Lisa is married with a daughter, as well as three cats, a guinea pig and an untended garden that will someday be beautiful.
REBECCA S. MARKERT attended the University of Wisconsin at Madison and received her B.A. in political science, international relations and German in 1998. After graduating from UW–Madison, Rebecca spent one year working as a legislative fellow at the German Parliament in Bonn, Germany. In the fall 1999, she returned to the United States and began working as a legislative correspondent and assistant to the chief of staff for United States Senator Russ Feingold in Washington, D.C. In 2002, she returned to Madison, Wisconsin, to work on Senator Feingold’s 2004 re-election campaign. After the campaign, Rebecca attended Roger Williams University School of Law and received her Juris Doctor in 2008. She joined the Foundation staff in October 2008.
Rebecca is the Freedom From Religion Foundation’s first staff attorney and primarily works on Establishment Clause cases. She is a member of the State Bar of Wisconsin, Dane County Bar Association, and is admitted to practice in the United States District Court for the Eastern and Western Districts of Wisconsin.
PATRICK ELLIOTT, the Foundation's second staff attorney, hails from St. Paul, Minn. Patrick received a degree in legal studies and political science from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2005. He attended the University of Wisconsin Law School and received his Juris Doctor in 2009. While in school, Patrick took an interest in the First Amendment and constitutional law. He joined FFRF as a staff attorney in July 2010, after working part-time for the Foundation since February. Patrick is a member of the State Bar of Wisconsin, and is admitted to practice in the United States District Court for the Western and Eastern Districts of Wisconsin.
ANDREW SEIDEL graduated cum laude from Tulane University with a B.S. in neuroscience and environmental science and magna cum laude from Tulane University Law School, where he was awarded the Haber J. McCarthy Award for excellence in environmental law. He studied human rights and international law at the University of Amsterdam and traveled the world on Semester at Sea. In May of 2011, Andrew completed his Master of Laws at Denver University Sturm College of Law with a 4.0 GPA and was awarded the Outstanding L.L.M. Award. He has written a book on International Human Rights Law and his essay on the role of religion in government and the founding of our nation placed second in the FFRF's 2010 graduate student essay contest. Andrew is a former Grand Canyon tour guide and accomplished nature photographer; his work has been displayed in galleries in Colorado, Texas, Florida, Louisiana, and Maryland. He joined the FFRF staff as a constitutional consultant in November 2011.
ELIZABETH CAVELL received her B.A in English from the University of Florida in 2005. After college, Elizabeth spent a year as a full-time volunteer in AmeriCorps*NCCC. She attended Tulane University Law School and received her Juris Doctor in 2009. After law school, she worked as a deputy public defender in southern Colorado. She joined the Foundation as a staff attorney in January 2013, after working for the Foundation part-time since September 2012.
SAM GROVER received his B.A. in philosophy and government from Wesleyan University in 2008. He first worked for FFRF in 2010 as a legal intern while attending Boston University School of Law. In 2011, his article on the religious exemptions in the Affordable Care Act’s individual health insurance mandate was published in the American Journal of Law and Medicine. After receiving his J.D. from Boston University in 2012, Sam worked as a law clerk for the Vermont Office of Legislative Council where he drafted legislation on health care, human services, and tax issues. He returned to work as a constitutional consultant for FFRF in the fall of 2013. Sam has written a paper on counterterrorism and the law that was published by the Memorial Institute for the Prevention of Terrorism in Oklahoma City and has traveled to southern Africa to work under Justice Unity Dow of Botswana’s High Court.
MADELINE ZIEGLER graduated magna cum laude from the University of Wisconsin – La Crosse in 2011 with a B.A. in English Literature and Political Science. She attended the University of Wisconsin Law School and received her Juris Doctor in 2014. She has worked at FFRF in some capacity since May 2012, starting as a legal intern/extern, and currently works as a legal fellow.
CALLAHAN MILLER graduated with honors from the University of Wisconsin — Madison in 2014 with a B.A. in Sociology and Legal Studies and a certificate in Criminal Justice. She received a Distinction in the Major for Legal Studies and is a member of Phi Beta Kappa and Alpha Kappa Delta. For the majority of her time as an undergraduate, she was a leading member of UW’s ground-breaking Atheists, Humanists, and Agnostics student organization. She joined the FFRF team as an official staff member in January of 2015 after having previously been an intern and intends on going to law school herself in a few years.
RYAN JAYNE received a B.A. in philosophy from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Honors College in 2007. After graduating, Ryan taught piano and chess lessons while working as a financial advisor until 2012, when he began law school at Lewis & Clark in Portland, Oregon. In law school he focused on intellectual property and animal law, serving as an associate editor for the Animal Law Review at Lewis & Clark and co-founding the Pacific Northwest’s first Secular Legal Society. Ryan graduated cum laude in 2015, began working with FFRF in January of 2015, and became a Diane Uhl Legal Fellow in September, 2015, specializing in faith-based government funding.
ALYSSA SCHAEFER is FFRF’s Program Assistant. She graduated from The George Washington University in 2014 with a BA in International Affairs, concentrating in Security Policy. A native of Wisco, she recently moved back to Madison from the east coast. In her free time Alyssa enjoys traveling, exploring the great outdoors, live music, and lazy Sundays with her cat Lola.
PJ SLINGER is editor of Freethought Today. A Green Bay native, he has a journalism degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and has worked as a sports reporter, news reporter, copy editor, web editor and photo editor in newspapers in Marshall (Minn.), Mankato (Minn.) and Madison (Wis). Prior to coming to FFRF in 2015, he worked for 15 years at The Capital Times in Madison. He has a wife and three kids.
BILL DUNN is the editor of Freethought Today. He has a degree in history and mass communications (journalism emphasis) from the University of South Dakota and has worked as a reporter, copy editor and editor in South Dakota and Wisconsin since 1980. Bill joined the Foundation staff in July 2009. He has two daughters, Kaitlin Marie and Jamie Lee.
LAURYN SEERING is the publicist, assistant webmaster & communications coordianator. She was born in Wausau, Wis. and studied abroad in Nagasaki, Japan. Lauryn graduated from the UW-Stout in 2012 with her BS in Professional Communications and Emerging Media, concentrating in Technical Communication & International Studies. Lauryn moved to Madison in 2013 and enjoys reading about space stuff, biking and creating art at coffee shops.
LISA TREU is our Director Of First Impressions at FFRF. She comes to us after working in broadcasting for iHeart Radio in Madison, Wisconsin. She hosted various radio programs for fifteen years. Lisa and her husband ran their own Birdhouse/Birdfeeder manufacturing company called Northwoods Mfg., Inc. during the 1990’s where she had her own line of decorative birdhouses that she designed and painted herself. Lisa is the wife of Harry and is the mother of twin daughters Katrina and Karinthia. In her spare time she enjoys reading, painting, gardening, feeding the birds, getting silly with her daughters and lounging with her two cats.
AMITABH PAL is the Communications Director of FFRF. Prior to joining in February 2016, he was the Managing Editor of The Progressive magazine for more than a decade. He was also the editor of the Progressive Media Project, an affiliate of The Progressive that sends out op-eds through the Tribune Wire Service to hundreds of newspapers in the United States and other countries. Pal has appeared on C-SPAN and BBC and television and radio stations all over the United States and abroad. His articles have been published in school and college textbooks in the United States and Australia. Pal teaches a course at Edgewood College in Madison, Wisconsin. He has a Master's in Journalism from the University of North Carolina and a Master's in Political Science from North Carolina State University.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation is delighted to announce the formation of a new FFRF Honorary Board of distinguished achievers who have made known their dissent from religion.
The FFRF Honorary Board includes Jerry Coyne, Robin Morgan, Richard Dawkins, Daniel C. Dennett, Ernie Harburg, Jennifer Michael Hecht, Christopher Hitchens, Susan Jacoby, Mike Newdow, Katha Pollitt, Steven Pinker, Ron Reagan, Oliver Sacks, M.D., Robert Sapolsky, Edward Sorel and Julia Sweeney.
“We are so pleased that these outstanding thinkers and freethinkers have agreed to publicly lend their endorsement to the Foundation, and its two purposes of promoting freethought and the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause,” said Dan Barker, Foundation co-president.
- Jerry Coyne, Ph.D., professor of ecology and evolution at the University of Chicago, is author of the popular book 'Why Evolution is True' and the blog of the same name.
- Richard Dawkins, probably the world’s most famous contemporary atheist and a distinguished evolutionary biologist, is Oxford professor emeritus. In his blockbuster book, The God Delusion, Dawkins writes: “The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction.”
- Daniel C. Dennett is Austin B. Fletcher Professor of Philosophy, Tufts, and author of the bestselling book about religion, Breaking the Spell. In a newspaper article about his nonbelief, Dennett once wrote: “I’ve come to realize it’s time to sound the alarm.”
- Rebecca Newberger Goldstein, author of 36 Arguments For the Existence of God: A Work of Fiction and a research associate in Harvard’s psychology department, is FFRF Freethought Heroine of 2011. Goldstein is a 1996 MacArthur Fellow (the “genius” award). She has taught at Barnard and in the Columbia MFA writing program and the Rutgers philosophy department. She’s been a visiting scholar at Brandeis and at Trinity College in Hartford.
- Ernie Harburg, a retired research scientist, is president of Yip Harburg Foundation and co-author of Who Put the Rainbow in the Wizard of Oz? Ernie has dedicated his retirement to furthering the lyrics, music, memory and progressive views of his freethinking father, the lyricist Yip Harburg, author of classic songs such as “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” and of Rhymes for the Irreverent, recently republished by FFRF.
- Jennifer Michael Hecht, poet, historian and author of the acclaimed Doubt: A History and The End of the Soul, told the FFRF 2009 convention audience: “If there is no god — and there isn't — then we [humans] made up morality. And I'm very impressed.”
- Susan Jacoby, bestselling author of Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism, and program director of the Center for Inquiry-New York City, told FFRF convention-goers in 2004: "[President] Kennedy had to speak about his religion because he was suspected of insufficient dedication to the Constitution's separation of church and state. Today's candidates are suspect if they display too much dedication to secular government."
- Robin Morgan, feminist pioneer, global activist, author of the groundbreaking "Sisterhood is Powerful" and more than 20 books, was formerly Ms. Magazine editor and consulting editor. She is the co-founder of the Feminist Women's Health Network and Women's Media Center and currently hosts "Women's Media Center Live" the radio "talk-show with a brain."
- Mike Newdow is working pro bono to challenge such violations as the addition of “under God” to the Pledge of Allegiance. He told the U.S. Supreme Court during oral arguments: “I am an atheist. I don't believe in God. And every school morning my child is asked to stand up, face that flag, put her hand over her heart, and say that her father is wrong.”
- Steven Pinker, Johnstone Professor of Psychology, Harvard, is author of The Blank Slate: “I never outgrew my conversion to atheist at 13.”
- Katha Pollitt, “Subject to Debate” columnist for The Nation, author and poet, has spoken out regularly and energetically as a freethinker, in such columns as “Freedom From Religion, Sí!”
- Ron Reagan, media commentator, describes himself in a radio ad he taped for FFRF as: “Unabashed atheist, not afraid of burning in hell.”
- Robert Sapolsky, a neurologist, Stanford professor and bestselling author, once suggested FFRF put up a sign at its conventions: “Welcome, hellbound atheists.”
- Edward Sorel, satiric cartoonist and irreverent illustrator who is a regular contributor to The Atlantic, The New Yorker, and whose caricatures have been exhibited at the National Portrait Gallery, has been a Foundation member since the 1980s.
- Julia Sweeney, comedian and actress, is writer/performer of the play, “Letting Go of God”: “How dare the religious use the term 'born again.' That truly describes freethinkers who've thrown off the shackles of religion so much better!”
- Christopher Hitchens, the iconoclastic journalist, is author of the bestselling God Is Not Great: “Since it is obviously inconceivable that all religions can be right, the most reasonable conclusion is that they are all wrong.”
- Oliver Sacks, M.D., the compassionate neurologist and bestselling author, describes himself as “an old Jewish atheist.”