Lauryn Seering

Lauryn Seering

%250 %America/Chicago, %2014

Pulpit Freedom Sunday Action Alert

This Sunday, Oct. 5, is the annual so-called "Pulpit Freedom Sunday." This event, organized and promoted by the Alliance Defending Freedom, a Christian Right legal group based in Arizona, encourages pastors to abuse their tax-exempt status and openly endorse or oppose candidates for office from the pulpit.

FFRF wants to take the opportunity to remind the public about the IRS regulations with respect to political activities by 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organizations and encourage its members to report any illegal activity.

As you may know, FFRF sued the Internal Revenue Service in late 2012 to compel it to enforce its own regulations barring tax-exempt 501(c)(3) nonprofits from engaging in partisan political activity. Earlier this year, this case was resolved because the IRS agreed to resume doing its job by investigating tax-exempt churches that engage in illegal electioneering.

So long as Pulpit Freedom Sunday, and any other electioneering by churches during this election season occurs, FFRF remains committed to seeking IRS investigations into this illegal activity. Members who become aware of this activity should send FFRF a violation report with information, including the church's name, the pastor's name and any other information that documents illegal campaign activity. This would include transcripts of sermons, pictures of political signs on church property and copies of church publications announcing endorsements of particular candidates for public office.

IRS regulations specify that 501(c)(3) organizations, which include churches and other religious organizations, are prohibited from "[participating in or intervening in] . . . any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for public office." Revenue Rul. 2007-41, 2007-25 I.R.B. (June 28, 2007). While leaders of churches or religious organizations may express their opinions on political matters as individuals, they are precluded from making "partisan comments in official organization publications or at official functions of the organization."

This means churches:

• Cannot endorse or oppose candidates for public office.
• Cannot make any communication — either from the pulpit, in a newsletter, or church bulletin — which expressly advocates for the election or defeat of a candidate for public office.
• Cannot make expenditures on behalf of a candidate for public office or allow any resources to be used indirectly for political purposes (e.g., phones for a phone bank).
• Cannot ask a candidate for public office to sign a pledge or other promise to support a particular issue.
• Cannot distribute partisan campaign literature.
• Cannot display political campaign signs favoring a candidate or a party on church property.

Churches and other 501(c)(3) organizations may engage in nonpartisan campaign activities, primarily consisting of voter education. Thus, they may organize and coordinate nonpartisan get-out-the-vote and voter registration drives; sponsor nonpartisan candidate debates or forums, so long as all legally qualified candidates are invited to appear and wide spectrum of issues are covered; educate all candidates on issues of public interest; and create legislative scorecards or voter guides. All of these permissible activities must be done on a nonpartisan basis. A 501(c)(3) entity should not even tacitly express favor or disfavor of a particular candidate.

FFRF also often receives queries from its members about referendum or ballot initiatives occurring in their states. One such current measure is Amendment 1 in Tennessee, which is an anti-abortion amendment to the state constitution. Churches have been active all across the state lobbying and urging their congregants to vote "yes." While they have a right to do so under current IRS regulations, this activity can cross the line when certain factors exist.

IRS regulations only allow 501(c)(3)s to engage in issue advocacy or lobbying so long as it does not function as political campaign intervention. The line is crossed when the lobbying becomes an indirect way to support or oppose a candidate for public office. Permissible lobbying can become illegal political campaign intervention when:

• The statement expresses approval or disapproval for one or more candidates' positions and/or actions.
• The statement is delivered close to the election (which is now).
• The statement makes reference to voting or the upcoming November election.
• The issue addressed has been raised as an issue distinguishing candidates for a given office.

Tax-exempt 501(c)(3) nonprofits are afforded a special privilege in our country. If an organization chooses to be tax-exempt under 501(c)(3), it forfeits the right to engage in political campaigns. Churches and other religious organizations are free to give up tax-exempt privileges in order to engage in electioneering if they so choose, but they cannot abuse their tax-exempt privilege and remain tax-exempt.

During Pulpit Freedom Sunday and the rest of the midterm election season, keep an eye out for illegal campaign activity by churches and other religious organizations. FFRF has a detailed FAQ on churches and political activity, which provides information on reporting violations.

1andrewbb

Yesterday, the Friendly Atheist, Hemant Mehta, wrote about the Jewish practice of kapparot. Kapparot coincides with Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. Hasidic Jews grab a chicken by the wings and swing it around their heads three times to transfer their sins to the bird. According to the Jewish Encyclopedia, while swinging the birds, the soon-to-be-redeemed supplicants chant, "This be my substitute, my vicarious offering, my atonement. This cock [or hen] shall meet death, but I shall find a long and pleasant life of peace!"

If you know religion, you should know what comes next. The bird is ritually slaughtered. The slaughterer is vicariously redeemed—cleansed of all sins. Participants and PETA estimate that 50,000 chickens are slaughtered in Brooklyn alone. The bird carcasses are supposedly donated to the poor, though they are often thrown in the trash. [WARNINGThere is video evidence of the birds being thrown away, but it is disturbing. It shows bloody, dying birds on the ground, and trash bags full of dead chickens being thrown in a dumpster. It also shows the actual killing of the birds.]

It's hard to watch that video and hear the constant screeching of terrified birds and not be sickened. As I watched it, I wondered what Christians would think. Do they realize that Christianity is Kapparot on an even grander scale? Jesus is nothing more than the scapegoat for Christians. He died for your sins. I often joke that if you don't sin, Jesus died for nothing. But in all seriousness, the idea of vicarious redemption through human sacrifice is—to my mind—the most immoral religious idea. That our guilt and liabilities can be piled onto an innocent living being is disgusting in itself. That our guilt is expunged by extinguishing that innocent life is nothing short of barbaric.

This patently immoral doctrine is a total refutation of personal responsibility. You are not beholden to the people you've stolen from or who you've lied to—you're forgiven because you accept your role in the execution of an innocent.

But this is what Christianity requires: reverence for the sacrifice of an innocent. Christianity reveres the scapegoat, the sacrifice, the kapparot chicken. The snuffing out of an innocent life is reason enough to loathe this immoral doctrine. But that a guilty person has somehow atoned for their transgressions by killing that innocent is worse. This is the doctrine of two wrongs making a right. Minor "sins" are forgiven by admitting your part in the murder of an innocent.

Jesus, if he lived, died for nothing. His death cannot absolve anyone of his or her mistakes. The world would be better off if people would stop piling their sins on the innocent and simply accept personal responsibility for their mistakes.

[Legal note: In 1992, The Supreme Court upheld animal sacrifice as a religious ritual in Church of the Lukumi Babalu Aye, Inc. v. Hialeah, 508 U.S. 520 (1993). The Court relied on the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, the same law that Hobby Lobby used to impose evangelical Christianity on its employees. To read more about RFRA's problems, see here.]

The Freedom From Religion Foundation has told the Rowan-Salisbury (N.C.) School System it must immediately drop unconstitutional elementary school-level bible classes. The national state/church watchdog, with more than 21,000 members, including about 550 North Carolina members and a chapter, the Triangle Freethought Society, is awaiting response to an open records request to determine the extent of the violation

In addition to weekly sessions of physical education and art classes, the school district’s youngest students attend a bible class. FFRF received a report about one such session in which the teacher presented the bible as literal fact, including teaching a 7-day creation, giving students examples of “God’s plan” that “clearly” showed the universe was created with a purpose, and supposed examples of the bible predicting scientific discoveries, among other inappropriate teachings inculcating biblical beliefs. 

Local churches fund the bible teachers through nonprofit groups set up specifically to promote bible classes. Under firm Supreme Court precedent, such outside funding does not relieve the school of its obligation to ensure secular education, FFRF noted. 

Staff Attorney Patrick Elliott sent a letter to the district on Sept. 24 calling the classes “flagrantly unconstitutional,” pointing out that the Supreme Court had struck down similar classes in 1948 in a landmark case in which the facts “could hardly be more similar.” 

“It is appalling that the District would take away from instructional time to indoctrinate children in Christian dogma,” Elliott said, calling on Rowan-Salisbury School System to put an immediate moratorium on the elementary school bible classes involving “young, impressionable elementary school students.” 

Elliott wrote that the district’s ill-advised decision to offer elementary bible classes calls into question the legitimacy of the bible classes also being taught in the middle schools and high school. FFRF is asking the district to thoroughly investigate all such classes. 

Elliot headed off any justification that students can apparently be excused from the bible classes, writing that “suggesting that children who do not wish to be subjected to religious activity at their school should be segregated from their classmates is reprehensible.” 

“Parents should not be required to excuse students from constitutional violations, and segregating students based on religious beliefs, or lack thereof, is not a way to get around prohibitions on religious activity in public schools,” he continued. 

FFRF Co-President Dan Barker noted that FFRF resoundingly won a federal court case before the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals in 2004, challenging similar weekly bible classes in Rhea County (Dayton), Tenn. “It’s absolutely shocking,” Barker said, “that 66 years after the Supreme Court’s McCollum ruling, we would still see such a flagrant violation imposed on such a young captive audience.”

FFRF Co-Presidents

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, The Good Atheist: Living a Purpose-Filled Life Without God, was published by Ullysses Press in January, 2011. 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

See Dan's bio »
See Dan's online writings »

See Dan's Debates »
Contact Dan »

See Annie Laurie's bio »
See Annie Laurie's online writings »
Contact Annie Laurie »

FFRF President emerita

Anne Nicol Gaylor
Photo by Brent Nicastro.

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.

Slideshow of Anne Gaylor & FFRF activism
See Anne Gaylor's online writings.

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.

FFRF Legal

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.

FFRF Staff

JACKIE DOUGLAS is the office manager at the Foundation. She graduated in 2002 from the University of Wisconsin-Stout in Human Development and Family Services. Jackie is happily married, owns a home on the east side of Madison, and has a black cat named Lucky.

SCOTT COLSON, technology manager, webmaster and production editor, is a 2007 graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, who majored in philosophy. Scott joined the Foundation staff in May 2008. He enjoys playing bass, talking politics or economics and brewing beer.

KATIE DANIEL is the bookkeeper/executive assistant/staff baker at FFRF. She was born in California and has lived in Pennsylvania, Alabama and Missouri. She moved to Madison in 2005 to attend UW-Madison and graduated in 2009 with a BA in Gender & Women's Studies and a Certificate in LGBT Studies. She joined the foundation staff as a student clerical employee in September 2008 and started as the full-time bookkeeper in 2009. Unlike many of the Foundation's staff members, Katie is religious and considers herself a practicing Wiivangelical.

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 is the publicist & assistant editor at FFRF. She was born in Wausau, Wisconsin 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.

FFRF Volunteers

Phyllis Rose
Foundation officer and volunteer Phyllis Rose.
Photo by Dan Barker

PHYLLIS ROSE is a retired library administrator from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She has been volunteering 3 afternoons a week at the FFRF office since 2000. A Lifetime Member, Phyllis provides oversight, clerical and editorial support. Phyllis serves as an officer on the Foundation's governing body.

FFRF Honorary Board

honoraryboardmembers

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!”

In Memoriam 

  • 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.”

FFRF is a non-profit, educational organization. All dues and donations are deductible for income-tax purposes.

FFRF has received a 4 star rating from Charity Navigator

 

FFRF privacy statement

AAI-LOGO

FFRF is a member of Atheist Alliance International.