The City Council in Wadena, Minn., voted unanimously Nov. 10 to no longer place a nativity scene in a public park after getting FFRF letters of complaint. Wadena, a city of about 4,000 residents 160 miles northwest of Minneapolis, annually placed the nativity in Burlington Northern Park.
"The city's display of a Christian message in the city's premier park unmistakably sends the message that the city endorses the religious beliefs embodied in the display," wrote Staff Attorney Patrick Elliott in the first letter to the city last January.
Mayor George Diess told KARE News that "when something is put up that many years, it becomes a tradition to the city." Board members expressed concern about a potential lawsuit.
The council meeting was packed with backers of the religious display. The city will turn it over to a ministerial association.
Many residents in and around Port Neches, Texas, have come together to defend and support a cross that sits in a public park after FFRF requested that the city remove the Christian symbol.
The white 10-foot-tall cross, located in the city's Riverfront Park, has been there for 45 years. But tradition and length of time don't matter when it comes to the Establishment Clause of the Constitution.
"We ask you to remove the cross from Port Neches Riverfront Park immediately or direct the display to be moved to a more appropriate private location," FFRF Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert wrote in her letter to Mayor Glen Johnson on Nov. 5.
"The government's permanent display of a Latin cross on public land is unconstitutional," the letter states. "The inherent religious significance of the Latin cross is undeniable and is not disguisable. No secular purpose, no matter how sincere, will detract from the overall message that the Latin cross stands for Christianity and that the display promotes Christianity."
Johnson said he's received calls from many people angry with FFRF, according to a report by KFDM in Port Arthur, Texas.
A prayer vigil was held in the park by cross supporters, but nonbelievers tried to diffuse the situation. "A letter signed by 'your friendly Port Neches atheists, agnostics and other non-Christians' was left at the cross along with cookies, asking to find an amicable solution," KFDM reported. "Members of Midcounty's Atheist and Agnostic Group say they found the letter torn up after the vigil."
Port Neches resident Sheila Ackley told a reporter, "We stand united to fight for what our beliefs are. They're our beliefs. It's our constitutional right to do so. If we don't stand for it, it's no more. It won't be long and they're gonna take our churches away. It won't be long and they're not gonna allow us to have our bibles. I was placed on this Earth by God to fight for Him and over my dead body."
There is also a group making and distributing small crosses for residents to place on their lawns.
FFRF took the Elbert County clerk and sheriff to task in Kiowa, Colo., for constitutional violations. Responding to a public officials' group email about how clerks opposed to same-sex marriage should deal with license issuance, Clerk Dallas Schroeder wrote how he had hung a religious poster where "There is no way to miss it if you are in for a marriage license."
Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel called out Schroeder in a Nov. 20 letter to members of the email group, which consisted of several county clerks, a state senator and state representative.
"According to the email chain, some clerks or employees are uncomfortable issuing marriage licenses to gay couples," Seidel wrote. "Hopefully you all know by now that you must issue licenses to gay couples whatever your personal religion."
Seidel also took issue with the poster bearing a verse from 1 Corinthians. "Mr. Schroeder is displaying words from his religion's holy book to issue a religious warning to all citizens in a government building. This is unconstitutional."
Elbert County Sheriff Shayne Heap contributed this to the discussion: "These conversations are initiated to pervert the truth and do whatever is necessary to get the results you want," Heap wrote. "I'm going to get back to work and I'm going leave the cross in my office, the Bible on my desk and I support the clerk's constitutional rights."
Cheyenne County Clerk Patricia Daugherty sent out the first inflammatory email Aug. 7: "I have a delilma [sic] in my office that I wish to get a little feedback on. In my office, everyone has personal objections to issuing same sex marriage licenses. . . . Am I the only office with this delima [sic]? What is your plan?"
Schroeder answered Aug. 9: "I pray for all the clerks across this country who have been made to make a terrible decision. I pray for our state legislators for them to use God's Holy Bible as a guide to govern. Prayer is the only thing that will change the downward spiral our country is in."
Schroeder told the group this story: "I talked with a local artist, who is also a Christian, and he created a beautiful poster which I have had hanging for about a year. There is no way to miss it if you are in for a marriage license. It is a picture of a bride standing on a hill with the groom walking up the hill to meet her. . ."
Schroeder wrote that he bought the poster with his own money, so in his mind it's legal. "I am not denying anyone service. My thought process is that they have to see the poster and if they choose to violate God's written Word, then that is on their head. I have warned them."
Seidel said who paid for the poster is irrelevant. "If anything, it proves the point that Mr. Schroeder is abusing a public office to further his personal religion."
Several other clerks have responded to FFRF that they either refused to hang the poster or have since removed it from government property.
The La Crescent (Minn.) City Council unanimously voted Nov. 23 to move a cross and star off city property that have been lit every season to celebrate Easter and Christmas, after FFRF contacted them about the constitutional violation.
Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert sent a complaint letter last July after getting a complaint from a La Crescent resident. The Lions Club owned and maintained the display, but it sat on city land.
According to WXOW, the plan approved was to light the display through Jan. 10 and then move it off city property. A yet-to-be-formed private group will sponsor and maintain the display in the future on private property.
"Most wars are fought over religion and we didn't want to have a war with this situation," La Crescent Mayor Mike Poellinger said. The Lions Club will apparently relinquish control due to association rules prohibiting support of sectarian matters.
FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor hailed the city's thoughtful action. "We are very pleased to hear the city of La Crescent will abide by the constitution and divest itself of this unconstitutional endorsement of religion," she said. "It's nice to see reason, and the Constitution, prevailing."
In what amounts to good news for secular parents and nonbelievers, children who grow up in nonreligious environments appear to be more generous than those who are raised with religion, according to a new study.
More than half of all Americans think that belief in God is required to be moral, but the results of the study published Nov. 5 in the journal Current Biology "contradict the common-sense and popular assumption that children from religious households are more altruistic and kind toward others," the authors wrote.
The study, which surveyed 1,170 children between ages 5 and 12 from several religious backgrounds in the U.S., Canada, Jordan, Turkey, South Africa and China, found that the kids from nonbelieving households were more likely to share with their classmates and less likely to endorse harsh punishments for those who pushed or bumped into others.
The generosity scores for Christians and Muslims were basically the same, but the scores for the nonreligious children were 23% to 28% higher. It was also found that the more religious (any religion) the family, the less altruistic the child.
An analysis by Phys.org says "the results might be explained in part by 'moral licensing,' a phenomenon in which doing something 'good' — in this case practicing a religion — can leave people less concerned about the consequences of immoral behavior, the researchers say. They also come as a timely reminder that religion and morality are not one and the same."
The numbers seem to be moving in the right direction for nonbelievers.
A survey recently found that the number of U.S. adults who believe in God, pray daily, or regularly go to church all have declined in the past several years.
The Pew Research Center surveyed more than 35,000 people in its 2014 Religious Landscape Study, a follow-up to a similar one done in 2007.
According to the study, the decrease in religious beliefs is due in large part to the increase in "nones," those who say they do not belong to any organized religion. The biggest jump among the "nones" was among those in the millennial generation, which is roughly described as those who were born between the early 1980s and the early 2000s.
The percentage of U.S. adults who say they believe in God dropped from 92 in 2007 to 89 in 2014. And those who responded that they are "absolutely certain" God exists dropped from 71% to 63% over the course of the two studies.
The religiously unaffiliated ("nones," not to be confused with "nuns"!) now make up 23% of the adult population, up significantly from the 16% in 2007. One-third of the "nones" say they do not believe in God, which is up 11 percentage points since 2007.
While the "nones" have grown since the last study, they have also become less religious. The share of "nones" who say religion is "very important" to them has fallen 3%, and those who say religion is "somewhat" important has fallen 4%.
Nearly two-thirds of the "nones" rated religion as "not too important" or "not at all important," which is up from 57% in the 2007 study.
Singing hymns and chanting, hundreds of residents of a small Mississippi town gathered on the street before a council meeting in early November to defend the city's pervasive religious park decorations. FFRF sent a complaint letter Oct. 19 about the unconstitutional displays.
"Before Tuesday night's board of aldermen meeting, downtown Collins quickly began to feel like a church," said television reporter Candace Coleman of WHLT in Hattiesburg in a Nov. 4 story. "Hundreds of people crowded the street to speak out against a complaint the city received from the Freedom from Religion Foundation."
Bettie D. Robertson Memorial Park is filled with life-size or larger religious displays. Included are three large Latin crosses, a statue of Jesus carrying a cross next to a lighted New Testament verse, a large globe with the "City of Collins" on a banner above a picture of Jesus, a display depicting Jesus walking on water suspended above the lake, a mural cut-out of Jesus hanging from a tree, a small chapel with a cross atop it (with angels next to it) and a nativity scene.
The displays, many of which are lighted, are up all year. The nativity scene is unveiled in December. The sheer number of religious displays in the park is the most FFRF has ever encountered in one case.
FFRF Staff Attorney Elizabeth Cavell sent the city (pop. 2,500) a letter on behalf of a local complainant: "Citizens of all faiths and no faith have an equal right to use city parks without being surrounded by symbols promoting any one religion. A city cannot have a 'Christian' park."
Dozens of Collins residents spoke at the city meeting in favor of keeping the displays up, apparently not realizing that the Constitution's Establishment Clause is not based on majority rule.
One woman told WHLT that non-Christians should more or less just ignore the decorations. "All they have to do is go through the park, not notice those figures and say, 'Well, that's a silly old man standing in water or a man carrying a cross on his shoulder,' " said Dot Donovan of Collins.
Another Collins resident said the city welcomes everyone, except apparently those who are offended by religious displays. "Everybody is welcome here," said Vickie Mooney. "We love everybody, but if you are offended by the way that we do things, then you can just leave."
FFRF is awaiting word from the city on what it plans to do about the displays. Collins Mayor V.O. Smith said he has no plans to take them down but said he's speaking with attorneys in case FFRF would pursue a lawsuit. Stay tuned.
Name: Lisa Miller Treu.
When and where I was born: Plymouth, Wis., June 24, 1964.
Education: Random Lake High School, 1982; Trans-American Broadcasting School (now the Madison Media Institute), 1982-83.
Family: Husband Harry and twin daughters Karinthia and Katrina, 18.
My work background: I started on-the-air broadcasting in 1983 at WRKR-FM in Racine. In 1986 I moved to Madison, where I was on the air at WIBA-FM for 15 years on and off. I also started a woodworking manufacturing company called Northwoods Mfg. Inc. with my husband. The customer base included Home Depot, Eddie Bauer and Blain's Farm and Fleet.
We closed the doors to Northwoods in 2000, when I went back to WIBA. I also did print, voice-over and television ads in the Madison area with companies such as Lands' End, Hilldale Shopping Center, East Towne and West Towne Malls, Fox's Jewelers, Rocky Rococo, American Family Insurance and more.
How I came to work for FFRF: I met Dan and Annie Laurie in 2009 as the Director of First Impressions for iHeartMedia in Madison, where they record their weekly radio show, and we became fast friends! It was such a joy to see them each week, and they always stopped to visit with me. Then Dan included me in his book Life Driven Purpose and gave me an autographed copy. After reading it, I knew that my life had a new purpose and that was to be more involved with FFRF.
What I do here: Director of First Impressions and whatever I can do to help the Foundation get the message out.
What I like best about it: All the knowledge that I've gained and all the people that I work with.
What gets old: What I call the "Bubba calls." They usually start with "Can I ask y'all somethin'?" and end with them telling me that I am going to hell.
I spend a lot of time thinking about: The world that I brought my daughters into and what they have to face in the future.
I spend little if any time thinking about: What's on TV.
My religious upbringing was: Catholic.
My doubts about religion started: In first grade when Sister Andrienne yelled at me in front of the whole class for turning around in church. I told her that the little boy sitting behind me was pulling my hair. She said that was no excuse, that Jesus suffered for our sins and to be respectful of the altar in the front of the church. The little boy was not punished. It was my first taste of religious hypocrisy.
Things I like: Music (most of all), books and caring for my cats, Jasmin and Shadow, who also answer to Jazz, Shads or Tuna!
Things I smite: The Beltline and drivers who cut you off or don't wait their turn to merge into traffic.
In my golden years: I hope to share my days with my husband and daughters, gardening, reading and staying healthy.
I wish you had asked: Who are the people that inspire me? My husband, my daughters, John Lennon, Peter Gabriel, Yoko Ono, Annie Laurie and Dan.
An invasive species is defined as "not native to a specific location and which has a tendency to spread to a degree which causes damage in some respect upon exposure." You could say that sounds a lot like Gideon bibles in a bedstand drawer.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation thinks so, and is making a major consumer request to the hospitality industry, asking it to be more hospitable to non-Christian and nonreligious clientele by offering "bible-free" rooms.
Gideons International is "exploiting hotels and motels to proselytize a captive audience," FFRF has informed the American Hotel and Motel Association.
In early December, FFRF sent a letter to a number of companies, including Wyndham Worldwide, Intercontinental Hotel Groups (Holiday Inn), Choice Hotels International (Quality Inn), Hilton Worldwide, G6 Hospitality (Motel 6), Marriott International, Best Western, Carlson Rezidor Hotel Group (Radisson, Carlson, Country Inn) and Starwood Hotels and Resorts (Sheraton).
All told, the 15 companies contacted are responsible for more than 33,000 hotels in the U.S. and more than 4.1 million rooms internationally.
"Those who must read the bible every day will surely take precautions to travel with their own copies. The rest of us deserve a break from mindless evangelizing when we are on vacation," wrote Co-Presidents Dan Barker and Annie Laurie Gaylor on behalf of FFRF's 23,000 nonreligious members.
"Many of your guests are freethinkers — atheists, agnostics, skeptics or 'nones' — who are deeply offended to be charged high fees only to be proselytized in the privacy of their own bedrooms. Not only that, the bible calls for killing nonbelievers, apostates, gays, 'stubborn sons' and women who transgress biblical double standards," FFRF noted. As an organization whose members embrace reason and science, FFRF would prefer placement of Charles Darwin's "On the Origin of Species" to the invasive Gideons (though the letter doesn't request that).
FFRF does ask the hotel industry to follow the lead of Gansevoort Hotel Groups, which, to provide a friendlier environment, removed religious materials from guest rooms but provides such materials upon request. Many boutique hotels have likewise stopped serving as a conduit for Protestant missionaries. Travelodge (UK) removed bibles from more than 500 hotels last August "in order not to discriminate against any religion."
Thanks to Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel for his research help.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation and its member David Steketee filed a lawsuit Nov. 30 in New Jersey state court suing the Morris County Board of Chosen Freeholders and other officials. The suit challenges public grants of tax dollars to churches to repair or maintain places of worship.
Steketee, a taxpayer in Morris County, is contesting grants to churches by the board's Historic Preservation Trust Fund. Since 2012, the board has awarded more than 55% of its total Trust Fund assets to churches — more than $5.5 million. It's believed that 2014 and 2015 grants haven't yet been fully disbursed.
FFRF and Steketee are specifically challenging:
• Allotments to the Presbyterian Church in Morristown, which has been allocated more than $1.04 million in public funds since 2012. The church's 2013 construction grant application specifically notes that funding would allow "continued use by our congregation for worship services."
• Allotments to the St. Peter's Episcopal Church. Its 2014 grant application states that a distribution from the fund would ensure continued safe public access to the church for worship, [and] periods of solitude and meditation during the week."
The board didn't respond to FFRF's February 2015 complaint letter about the grants. Steketee testified June 24 before the board and again on July 8 asking it to follow the federal and state constitutions and discontinue the grants. Freeholder Hank Lyon has also objected to the practice.
The grants violate plaintiffs' rights under Article I, Paragraph 3 of the New Jersey Constitution, guaranteeing: "nor shall any person be obliged to pay tithes, taxes, or other rates for building or repairing any church or churches, place or places of worship, or for the maintenance of any minister or ministry, contrary to what he believes to be right."
These grants deprive Steketee of his constitutional rights, also in violation of the New Jersey Civil Rights Act, N.J.S.A. 10:6-2(c).
"Although preserving historic Morris County buildings is an appropriate use of taxpayer funds, the New Jersey Constitution must trump any other considerations regarding the distribution of public funds to churches, places of worship, or ministries," FFRF's legal complaint alleges.
The plaintiffs seek a declaration from the Superior Court of New Jersey, chancery division of Morris County, that grants of taxpayer funds to churches, places of worship and ministries disbursed within the past two years violate the New Jersey Constitution. They seek a preliminary injunction, later to be made permanent, requiring the defendants to rescind the challenged grants and enjoin them from offering such grants to churches in the future. Nominal and actual damages are sought for Steketee, and the plaintiffs seek attorneys' fees.
"It was an axiom when our secular republic was founded that no citizen 'shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever,' to use the historic words of Thomas Jefferson," noted FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. "Tax dollars should not be subsidizing religious worship. That's what many immigrants to this land came here to escape."
The lawsuit is being handled by attorney Paul S. Grosswald. FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew L. Seidel and Diane Uhl Legal Fellow Ryan Jayne are co-counsel.
FFRF also thanks its former Legal Fellow Katherine Paige for her work on the case.
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.”