The Freedom From Religion Foundation’s ad featuring Ron Reagan describing himself as “an unabashed atheist” has been rejected for airing by CBS, not only by “60 Minutes,” the desired placement, but for any CBS TV show.
The ad aired last May on both “The Daily Show” and “The Colbert Report” on Comedy Central.
A CBS agent indicated that the ad was rejected “for words and tone.”
The celebrity endorsement features the son of President Ronald Reagan, self-described as “a lifelong atheist,” plugging FFRF:
Hi, I'm Ron Reagan, an unabashed atheist, and I’m alarmed by the intrusion of religion into our secular government. That’s why I’m asking you to support the Freedom From Religion Foundation, the nation's largest and most effective association of atheists and agnostics, working to keep state and church separate, just like our Founding Fathers intended. Please support the Freedom From Religion Foundation. Ron Reagan, lifelong atheist, not afraid of burning in hell.
The rejection came as a shock, since FFRF aired a 30-second spot on national CBS in 2012, rebutting Rick Santorum’s remarks dissing candidate John F. Kennedy’s pro-state/church separation speech before Houston ministers in 1960. That ad was accepted to run on “The CBS Evening News” as well as “CBS Sunday Morning.”
“It appears that if a public figure makes a simple declarative statement in support of state/church separation, FFRF and atheism, it’s too hot to handle for CBS,” said FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor.
“It seems that excess gas, erectile dysfunction and other intimate bodily functions, not to mention ads wherein political candidates viciously attack each other, are acceptable,” added Dan Barker, who co-directs FFRF. “But the plain-spoken, witty and slightly irreverent remarks of a well-known figure identifying as atheist are too much for the delicate sensibilities of CBS’ censors.”
“Why are atheism and freethought still treated as socially unacceptable, even though fully a fifth of the population has no religion today?” Gaylor asked? “If anything should be socially unacceptable, it ought to be blind deference to religion.”
Reagan is an FFRF honorary director who received the Emperor Has No Clothes Award from FFRF in 2004 and gave an acceptance speech at the 2009 national convention in Seattle. Read the speech.
As liberal as his famous father was conservative, Reagan stopped going to church when he was 12 and has publicly stated he's an atheist numerous times.
The New York Times asked him in 2004, in an interview that ran three weeks after his father died, if he'd like to be president. "I would be unelectable," Reagan said. "I'm an atheist. As we all know, that is something people won't accept.”
Here’s what FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor in response to hasty advice in the New York Times’ Sunday column, Social Q’s:
Dear Mr. Galanes:
As founder of a state/church watchdog which has dealt with overt proselytizing in our public schools for more than 35 years, I was truly shocked by your tone deaf advice to a Michigan teacher (9/28/14) concerned about being invited to pre-school day staff prayer. More than 65 years of firm precedent has been set by the Supreme Court to protect the freedom of conscience of young, impressionable students from religious indoctrination and ritual in our secular public schools. It appears a public school principal has emailed teachers inviting them to gather in a classroom before school to pray. This teacher sought help from you: “I don’t feel articulately welcome, or comfortable that my principal and staff are holding daily religious meetings, even if students are not present.”
While it’s true, as you noted, that “teachers are free to exercise their First Amendment right to pray at school, as long as students are not present,” it’s also true that a zealous principal crosses the line if he or she schedules pre-school prayer for teachers. This takes on the appearance of a staff event, making insiders of the prayerful teachers and outsiders of others. We take countless complaints by public school teachers about Christian settings being chosen for in-service days complete with Christian prayer to open them. Our staff attorneys stay busy ending illegal prayer by coaches, at football games, at graduations, at school honors events, even pre-K classes involving children as young as 4! We also take many complaints about school boards inflicting Christian prayers on parents, the public and students who attend such functions, which sets a tone of defiance of secular education.
In a climate where commitment to the law, secularism and freedom of conscience is under constant assault, we believe your callous advice to a non-believing teacher to “attend a session . . . a few moments of quiet contemplation sounds good to me” was a slap in the face. Nothing fails like prayer — it’s preposterous to imagine a deity, if s/he existed, would be listening to the daily prayers from teachers at one public school, much less acting on such daily demands. We believe in in keeping our eyes open, heads up, getting off our knees and getting to work.
A national state/church watchdog has called on the superintendent of Gallia County Local Schools in Patriot, Ohio, to recall and replace a 2014 elementary school yearbook whose cover features a large Latin cross inscribed with the word, "Believe."
The Freedom From Religion Foundation, which has 21,500 members nationwide, including 600 in Ohio, wrote Superintendent Jude Meyers on Sept. 26, asking him to investigate and take action over a state/church violation that is "beyond comprehension" at Addaville Elementary. The horizontal arms of the cross on the bible-like cover carry the word "Believe."
"The inclusion of the Latin cross, which is the preeminent symbol of Christianity, on a public elementary school yearbook is illegal," noted Rebecca Markert, senior staff attorney for the Madison, Wis.-based advocacy group. "It is beyond comprehension that public school officials would have allowed this publication to be printed with sectarian religious imagery and then distributed to young elementary schoolchildren."
"Religion is a divisive force in public schools," Markert added. She said school sponsorship of a religious message sends the ancillary message to nonadherents (in this case any non-Christians or nonreligious students) that they are "outsiders," and an accompanying message to adherents that they are "insiders." More than a quarter of the U.S. population either identifies as nonreligious (20%) or practice a non-Christian religion (5%).
Markert listed a number of Supreme Court cases and other judgments against religious devotionals, messages or iconography in public schools. She noted that whether or not the yearbook was published by the district or a private entity is "legally immaterial."
Said FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor: "What makes it especially shocking is that this involves such a young and impressionable group of students. The cover of this yearbook would be appropriate at a Catholic or sectarian school, but it's an egregious violation in our secular public schools, which must equally welcome students of any or no religion."
Longer window for Establishment Clause
In Tearpock-Martini v. Borough of Shickshinny, the 3rd Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals held June 23 that certain Establishment Clause claims are not subject to a statute of limitations defense. At issue was a sign on municipal property in a Pennsylvania town (pop. 838): “Bible Baptist Church Welcomes You!” It has a directional arrow with “1 BLOCK” on it and depicts a gold cross and a white bible.
A neighbor sued. The district court held that her claim was barred because the statute of limitations started when the sign was posted. The appeals court ruled that state statutes limitations don’t apply to claims challenging a still-existing display.
Gay marriage advances in Utah, Indiana
The 10th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in Denver on June 25 struck down Utah’s constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage in a 2-1 decision. It’s the first time a federal appeals court has struck down a gay marriage ban since the Supreme Court’s decision last summer. The decision can be appealed to the Supreme Court.
Also on June 25, U.S. District Court Judge Richard Young in Indianapolis struck down Indiana’s ban on gay marriage.
“It is clear that the fundamental right to marry shall not be deprived to some individuals based solely on the person they choose to love,” wrote Young.
A statement from Indiana’s Catholic bishops decried the decision, saying it ignores the “fundamental and natural truth of marriage and opens its definition to the whims of public opinion.”
Judge’s discrimination ruling upheld
The Colorado Civil Rights Commission on May 30 upheld an administrative law judge’s earlier ruling that Lakewood baker Jack Phillips discriminated against Charlie Craig and David Mullins by refusing to make them a wedding cake in 2012 because of his religious objections.
The Denver Post reported that the commission ordered Phillips to submit quarterly reports for two years to show how he’s changing his discriminatory practices. He must also disclose the names of any clients he turns away.
“Not all of life is fair,” Phillips said after the decision. “I will stand by my convictions until somebody shuts me down.”
ACA mandate gets more court action
The 6th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals denied on June 11 the Michigan Catholic Conference’s request for a preliminary injunction to exempt Catholic charities from the contraception mandate of the Affordable Care Act. The 3-0 decision includes a similar challenge to the ACA from the Middle District of Tennessee filed in Nashville.
“The court sided with federal officials, who argued the actions required of the charities under the law were actions they regularly take to avoid providing insurance coverage for contraception, and therefore did not represent a burden to religious freedom,” MLive.com reported.
In Eternal Word Television Network v. Burwell on June 17, an Alabama federal district court denied the Catholic media network’s challenges to the ACA’s contraceptive coverage mandate, ruling: “Legally (if not morally) speaking, there is a world of difference between a law that compels EWTN to provide contraceptive coverage directly and one in which the government places that burden on someone else after EWTN opts out.”
In Colorado Christian University v. Sebelius on June 2, a Colorado federal district court granted a preliminary injunction stopping enforcement against the school in Lakewood of the mandate compromise as it applies to coverage for drugs, devices or procedures that may destroy a human embryo or fertilized egg.
Religion Clause reported the court held that completing the exemption form for coverage directly by the health plan’s third-party administrator imposes a substantial burden on the school’s religious exercise.
In Dordt College v. Sebelius on May 21, an Iowa federal district court granted a similar preliminary injunction to Dordt College (Christian Reformed Church) and Cornerstone University (Baptist) to stop enforcement of the mandate.
The court said it planned to wait for the U.S. Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision to issue an opinion.
EEOC sues over ‘Onionhead’ religion
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission announced a federal lawsuit June 11 in New York alleging United Health Programs of America Inc. of Syosset violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination based on religion.
EEOC alleges United has coerced employees to participate in religious activities since 2007. The practices are part of a belief system that the defendants’ family member created and calls “Onionhead.” When employees balked at taking part or did not participate fully, they were fired, the suit says.
Onionhead (“Peel it, feel it, heal it”) is promoted through the Harnessing Happiness Foundation, which acts as an unofficial church entity.
Private schools seek voucher advantage
Six new religious private schools will be added to Wisconsin’s voucher program in 2015, the state Department of Public Instruction announced May 20.
According to The Associated Press, about 3,400 students applied to receive a taxpayer-funded voucher to attend private and religious schools in the second year of the program, more than triple the enrollment cap of 1,000. The six new schools are in Appleton, Bonduel, Sheboygan, Menasha-Neenah and Fond du Lac.
Of the eligible student applicants, 75 percent are already paying to attend private school. If they’re among those randomly selected to get the voucher, taxpayers will pay for their private school education. The overwhelming majority of vouchers are going to students at parochial schools.
In Raleigh, WRAL reported May 14, the North Carolina Supreme Court stayed Superior Court Judge Robert Hobgood’s February injunction that has stopped the state from holding a lottery to award taxpayer-funded vouchers for students in private schools. About 5,500 students have already applied for “Opportunity Scholarships,” annual grants of up to $4,200 per child.
The North Carolina Association of Educators and the School Boards Association have filed separate suits against the law. About 2,400 vouchers were to be awarded for the 2014-15 school year.
Judge upholds denial of Jesus Tattoo ad
Would this ad make you run toward or screaming away from Christianity?
U.S. District Judge Sam Cummings ruled May 29 in favor of the Lubbock Independent School District in its case against Little Pencil, a Texas company that sued the district earlier this year for rejecting its Jesus Tattoo ad, which the district said was proselytizing. David Miller, a Lubbock businessman and former Texas Tech administrator, founded the company to promote Christian beliefs through the media.
The Arizona-based Alliance Defending Freedom, an evangelical law firm based in Arizona, represented the company. The district refused to allow the ad on a stadium Jumbotron because of its religious content and because the district code of conduct calls for all tattoos to be covered.
Neb. mayor goes off on Omaha atheists
Why was the city of La Vista, Neb., promoting and hosting a Faith and Freedom Day event, Omaha Atheists board member Robert Fuller asked Mayor Douglas Kindig on May 25, the day it was held? Kindig later publicly responded: “Take me to fucking court because I don’t care. Minorities are not going to run my city.”
Secular groups protested June 2 at City Hall and asked Kindig to “publicly explain his offensive comments.” A Baptist group came to support him.
“I hope we get some visibility for concerns of nonbelievers and religious minorities,” said atheist Tom Gray.
Police said it was La Vista’s first-ever protest.
Godly judge gets appeals reprimand
A Catawba County [Newton, N.C.] trial judge was reprimanded June 3 by the state Court of Appeals for injecting religion into a defendant’s sentencing. Superior Court Judge Richard Boner told Max Earls, who was sentenced to 45-55 years in prison for sexually abusing his children: “I think children are a gift of God, and I think God expects when he gives us these gifts that we will treat them as more precious than gold, that we will keep them safe from harm the best as we’re able and nurture them, and the child holds a special place in this world.”
Boner quoted from Matthew 19 and told Earls he’d have to answer someday to “another judge far greater than me.” His sentence was upheld.
Name: Claudette StPierre.
Where I live: Franktown, Colo. I was born in Long Beach, Calif., in 1963, near the end of the baby boomer generation.
Family: My husband Pat and our three dogs and one cat. I have two sisters and a niece and nephew. Fortunately, we are all freethinkers!
Education: I graduated with a bachelor’s degree in nursing in 1986 and have been practicing in the area of pediatrics my whole career, the past seven years as a nurse case manager at Children’s Hospital Colorado.
How I got where I am today: I was raised Catholic and attended Catholic school through 12th grade, always questioning the validity of many of the tenets of the religion. I read [Bart Ehrman’s] book Misquoting Jesus about 10 years ago, which was a turning point even though I was no longer a follower of religion at the time. It solidified my disbelief in religion.
Where I’m headed: I am now very passionate about the separation of church and state and hope to continue to advocate for this issue in my community. I also would like to see atheism “normalized” and help others understand that we are just regular folks.
Person in history I admire: Carl Sagan, a passionate supporter of science.
A quotation I like: Margaret Mead’s “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world.”
Favorite things: Gardening, dark chocolate, red wine!
Pet peeves: Using unsupported facts and fake science to support an issue.
My doubts about religion started: When they told us in Catholic school that it was a sin to eat meat on Friday, but you could eat fish. My mom said when she was a child, they ate fish to support the local fishermen. Umm, who was right? Mom, of course.
Before I die: I would like to visit all the museums in Denver.
Ways I promote freethought: I am out of the closet when it comes to my atheism. If religion comes up in conversation or situations, I take the opportunity to educate others about what an atheist is and that we are part of society. I don’t make any apologies about it.
I am also president of FFRF’s Denver chapter.
Proselytizing teacher told to stop
A public high school teacher will no longer urge students to attend church in Fargo, N.D. A local complainant reported that a teacher told students there is a “meaning behind Easter” and that “You all should go to church.”
Staff Attorney Patrick Elliot wrote a letter to Fargo Public Schools on April 25, explaining that urging students to attend church is unconstitutionally endorsing religion.
The school district’s attorney promptly responded and said that the district took disciplinary action and placed the results in the teacher’s file: “Fargo Public Schools strictly forbids their employees to proselytize.”
Post office removes ‘Smile! God loves you’
A post office in Cleveland, Ohio, will no longer display a “Smile! God Loves You” sticker near the service counter after a local complainant contacted FFRF. Staff Attorney Elizabeth Cavell sent a letter to the post office manager April 17, asking for immediate removal of the religious symbol.
The Postal Service replied April 25: “The ‘God loves you’ sticker that you mentioned in your letter has been removed.”
Bible quotes halted in Arkansas school
Cutter Morning Star High School in Hot Springs, Ark., will no longer include religious quotes and references in the school’s daily announcements. A parent reported to FFRF that the emailed announcements sent by a school employee often included quotes from the bible such as “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths. Proverbs 3:5-6.”
On March 20, Staff Attorney Patrick Elliott sent a letter of complaint to the superintendent: “You must make certain that staff members are not unlawfully and inappropriately indoctrinating students in religious matters.”
On May 15, the superintendent responded that the matter was resolved a day after getting the complaint. Staff were instructed to stop emailing bible quotes.
Ohio school to stop church graduations
Marlington High School in Alliance, Ohio, will no longer hold graduation in churches starting in 2015. FFRF received a complaint that the school was scheduled to hold its commencement ceremony at The Chapel in Marlboro (“a Bible church”) on June 1.
Senior Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert sent a letter to the superintendent Feb. 17: “[I]t is unconstitutional for a public high school to force, compel or coerce its graduating students, their parents, teachers and other members of their families or friends, to violate their rights of conscience at a graduation ceremony.”
On May 8, the superintendent responded: “While it is not possible for the district to find an alternate location for graduation [this year], I have spoken to the Board and they have agreed to find a secular site for the 2015 graduating class.”
Court: cross was ‘completely inappropriate’
A customer service desk in the Austin, Texas, Municipal Court will no longer display a cross. Senior Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert sent a letter March 6 to the presiding judge, explaining that the Latin cross is indisputably a religious symbol.
FFRF received a response from the court May 16: “[T]here had been a cross given as a gift from one employee to another and it was placed in an inappropriate place. The situation was strongly addressed with the employees. I do not think it was an intentional display but a careless placing of a gift. Regardless, it was completely inappropriate.”
Subway rescinds church bulletin discounts
Four Subway Restaurant locations will no longer offer a 20% discount to customers who present a bulletin from churches in Escanaba, Mich. Staff Attorney Elizabeth Cavell sent a letter to the restaurant owners about the civil rights violation.
“Your restaurant’s restrictive promotional practice favors religious customers, and denies both customers who do not attend church as well as nonbelievers the right to ‘full and equal’ enjoyment of Subway. Any promotions should be available to all customers regardless of religious preference or practice on a non-discriminatory basis.”
FFRF was notified May 23 that the church bulletin notice was removed.
Baptist rec team warned in Texas
Howe Independent School District in Howe, Texas, took action to stop proselytizing during an annual Field Day event for fifth- through eighth-grade students. A concerned parent contacted FFRF that the Field Day was being organized through Dallas Baptist University, whose stated mission is “to provide Christ-centered quality higher education.”
Staff Attorney Sam Grover sent a letter informing the district that giving Dallas Baptist University Recreational Teams access to impressionable students is a constitutional violation.
On May 15, Howe Middle School’s principal replied: “It has been communicated to the Dallas Baptist Recreation Team leader and will be communicated with the team Friday morning that they are at the Howe Middle School Field Day to lead the recreation games for our students and not to proselytize to our students or promote Christianity during the Field Day activities.”
FFRF’s complainant later thanked FFRF and noted that “the Field Day went without any issues.”
School washes hands of baccalaureate
George Washington High School in Charleston, W. Va., will no longer coordinate and fund a baccalaureate service for graduating seniors.
FFRF was contacted by a concerned student after the school sent two mailings to seniors describing the service as a “worship experience.” The mailing said a teacher was supervising student planning and sought donations, with checks made payable to the high school. A formal invitation was also sent to students, with the envelope mailed from the school. The invitation announced the date and time of “a service representing all walks of faith.”
Staff Attorney Patrick Elliott’s letter of objection said: “The school’s role in sending letters to seniors from the school, collecting and disbursing funds for the service, and allowing a teacher to coordinate the service, signals to a reasonable graduating senior or parent that Kanawha County Schools endorses the religious messages espoused at these services. To avoid the perception of school sponsorship of religious practices, a public school should take measures to disassociate itself from the activity. This means that no public school employee can be involved in the organization, planning or coordinating of baccalaureate services. Public schools may not collect and distribute funds for the service and send mailings to students about the service.”
On May 13, the school’s attorney replied: “The school made an additional announcement last week that the baccalaureate was not a school-sponsored function, attendance was voluntary and whether or not a student attended would have no effect on anything at the school. . . . I believe having a member of school faculty involved and running money through the school accounts was done to assure the parents that everything would be handled properly. Nevertheless, these practices are going to stop, and the account will be closed at the end of this school year.”
The school will also stop mailing baccalaureate invitations to students.
‘Expelled’ expelled from classrooms
Science students at Adams Central High School, Monroe, Ind., will no longer be watching a documentary movie promoting “intelligent design,” a theory put forth by religious fundamentalists to counter evolution. Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel first wrote the school district about it on behalf of a local complainant in October 2013.
The movie is Ben Stein’s “Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed,” which has drawn FFRF’s attention since its 2008 debut. FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor panned the movie mercilessly after seeing it on its opening weekend and accurately predicted the future:
“Even though ‘Expelled’ isn’t exactly an overnight blockbuster, the harm is in its half-life: the DVDs to follow, those half-truths, untruths, manipulations and distortions available forever to stir up contempt for the scientific method and community, atheists and progressive thought.”
The late film critic Roger Ebert called it “cheerfully ignorant, manipulative, slanted.”
FFRF was informed that two Adams Central biology teachers were using the movie as well as teaching from “Icons of Evolution,” a popular creationist textbook. “Evolution, like gravity, is a scientific fact,” Seidel wrote. Teaching that there is a scientific controversy about the validity of evolution is akin to teaching astrology with astronomy or alchemy beside chemistry.”
A school attorney promptly responded. In his letter, Adam Miller wrote it “would be a disservice to students” to not mention the “controversies” and added, “Hitler and the Nazis [sic] claims of Aryan racial superiority are clear abominations of Evolution and Darwinism.”
After Seidel’s follow-up letter, Miller still denied that creationism or intelligent design were being taught or that there was any “hidden agenda” on one particular teacher’s part. “However, I directed that he should not show the movie ‘Expelled.’ . . . [W]e appreciate your organization’s concerns and will continue to monitor the situation.”
Is pointing out Jewish criminal behavior bigoted?
Joan Reisman-Brill, who writes “The Ethical Dilemma” advice column at TheHumanist.com (and is an FFRF member who contributes to “Ask a Skeptic”), shares a recent Q&A.
I am an atheist from a Jewish background. When I go through my copy of Freethought Today (the newspaper of the Freedom From Religion Foundation), I find myself skimming the “Black Collar Crime Blotter” section (a listing of religious leaders charged with crimes) looking for the Jewish entries — maybe three out of about 75 listings each month — and showing the juiciest ones to my wife, who is, alas, a practicing Jew.
She says doing this makes me anti-Semitic. Other Jewish acquaintances have called me that or even worse — a self-hating Jew — whenever I take issue with the religion’s beliefs or practices. I don’t in my heart believe that’s true, but then I’m not sure what those terms really mean, so perhaps they do mean me.
— Just Pointing Out Crimes, Not Inventing or Committing Them
Dear Just Pointing:
When you get your alumni magazine, do you zero in on the years you attended and the people you knew, and pay little to no attention to the rest? When you read wedding announcements or obituaries, do you look for names you recognize and ignore the others?
This is the same thing: You are picking out the stories you relate to because they are closest to home — the religious home you were raised in and still share with your spouse and people you associate with. I doubt you’ve been spraying swastikas on your wife’s pillow, barring Jews from your social life or discriminating against them at work, so I don’t think you qualify as an anti-Semite. We’ll get to self-hating in a moment.
I believe these terms aim to chill criticism of things Jewish and tamp down internal disputes — rightly when the criticisms are false, inflammatory or hateful, wrongly when they shut down acknowledgement of genuine issues. Just as the Catholic Church has systematically hushed up reports of pedophiles, there is a code in Judaism that prohibits making incriminating statements to outsiders.
It’s understandable that a group with such a history of persecution wouldn’t want to air its dirty laundry (and thereby provide ammunition) to the general public, which according to a recent survey [commissioned by the Anti-Defamation League] is very anti-Semitic. There are Jewish factions that apply those terms to each other, depending on which side of an argument they are on.
And in some extreme sects where members are required to report crimes to their rabbi and not to the police or the U.S. courts, the community will shun those who disobey and speak out about the crimes, while supporting those accused of the crimes (even if they may be guilty).
I think the term “self-hating Jew” is a projection by Jews who are not altogether comfortable with their identity themselves. A self-hating Jew would be someone who was embarrassed by or hid his own Jewish identity and discriminated against others for theirs. Some apply the term to any Jew who disavows Judaism in favor of another religion or no religion, but I disagree.
If a Jewish person (or formerly Jewish person) comments on something amiss within the group, that action doesn’t reflect on the commenter (other than demonstrating objectivity) as much as the derogatory label reflects on the one doing the labeling. To stoop to the same juvenile and irrational level, consider “It takes one to know one” and “I’m rubber, you’re glue.”
I’ve never heard of people who blow the whistle on pedophile priest cover-ups referred to as self-hating Catholics, but if a Jewish person argues that synagogues have no right to block public sidewalks in front of their buildings for holiday celebrations, he’s apt to be called a self-hater.
So just take the high road and continue to call ’em as you see ’em, and let others call you whatever enables them to turn on you while turning a blind eye to what you’re criticizing. As you note, it’s not just one group that earns entries on FFRF’s crime blotter.
Every group has its predators and frauds. But how the groups address or suppress that determines whether they are interested in cleaning house or just circling the wagons around their problems while pretending none exist.
Bart Ehrman, FFRF’s newest recipient of its Emperor Has No Clothes Award, is a professor in the Department of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He accepted the award May 2 at the Raleigh mini-convention. He writes “The Bart Ehrman Blog” and is author of many books, including Did Jesus Exist?, Forged: Writing in the Name of God — Why the Bible’s Authors Are Not Who We Think They Are, and his newest, How Jesus Became God. All three can be ordered at ffrf.org/shop/.
After Bart’s acceptance speech, artist and FFRF Lifetime Member Scott Burdick taped an in-depth interview, transcribed here:
BE: I’m Bart Ehrman. I identify as both a humanist and an agnostic.
SB: And are you openly agnostic?
BE: What do you mean, openly?
SB: Do people know it? Does your family know it?
BE: Am I in the closet? Aha! Yes, I’m quite openly agnostic. Everybody knows it.
SB: So writing books about it means you’re open?
BE: Well, if anybody reads my books they know I’m an agnostic, yeah.
SB: I find it interesting, having read most of your books, how you talk about that you weren’t always an agnostic.
BE: No, I started out as an evangelical Christian. I got interested in biblical studies because I was actually a fundamentalist as a late teenager. That got me interested in the bible. But as I developed my scholarship through graduate school, I realized that my beliefs about the bible were completely wrong, that the bible’s not some kind of inherent revelation from God.
And so for years I’d become a liberal Christian. I still went to church, I still believed in God, but I didn’t believe the bible was the inspired word of God. But after many years of being a liberal Christian, I finally became an agnostic for reasons unrelated to my scholarship, reasons having to do with why there is suffering in the world, if there is a God who is in control?
I, for years, had thought about it, had read what the biblical authors said, what theologians, philosophers said. I got to the point where I just didn’t believe it anymore. So I just acknowledged at one point then that I’m probably an agnostic, and that’s what I’ve been for maybe 15 or 16 years.
SB: Sounds like it was a very gradual process.
BE: It was. I’ve heard people say that I went from being a fundamentalist to being an agnostic because of problems in the bible. That’s completely wrong. It was a very long process. I was a very open-minded liberal Christian for many, many years. It was really the problem of suffering that ended up creating the big issue for me that led me to acknowledge that I am an agnostic.
It’s very interesting being an agnostic scholar of religion. I’ll begin by explaining what I myself mean, by this term that I’m using, that we all use all the time, the term “agnostic,” because over the last 18 months or so I’ve come to think it means something different from what I used to think.
What I used to think was that agnostics and atheists were two degrees of the same thing. When I first declared myself agnostic, I was amazed at how militant both agnostics and atheists can be about their terms.
Every agnostic I met thought that atheists were simply arrogant agnostics. And every atheist thought that every agnostic was simply a wimpy atheist. Two degrees of the same thing. When someone will say “I don’t know,” the other will say they do know. I’ve come to think that they are not two degrees of the same thing but are two different things.
Agnosticism has to do with epistemology — what you know. Atheism has to do with belief — what you believe. I actually consider myself to be both an agnostic and an atheist. I am agnostic because if somebody says to me, is there a greater power in the universe? My response is, “How the hell would I know!? I don’t know!” So, I’m an agnostic.
If somebody were to ask me, do you believe in the god of the bible? Do you believe in a god that interacts with the world, who intervenes in the world, who answers prayer? Do you believe in the supernatural divine being? No! I don’t believe it! So, I don’t believe, so I’m an atheist. But — I don’t know. So I’m an agnostic. And since I’m a scholar I prefer to emphasize knowledge rather than belief. And so, I tend to identify as an agnostic.
SB: Were there any issues with coming out to your family? Were they very religious?
BE: When I was an evangelical Christian, most of my family converted to evangelical Christianity in my wake and so, hah! When I left the Christian fold, they did not leave with me, and so they’re still there wondering where I went.
SB: So, you’re an evangelical agnostic, I guess.
BE: When I was an evangelical Christian I believed in converting everyone to my point of view because I thought if you didn’t agree with me you were going to roast in hell. I was very evangelistic. I’m not evangelistic as an agnostic because it certainly doesn’t matter for somebody’s afterlife — because I don’t believe there is an afterlife.
I’m not that interested in people converting to what I think. What I’m interested in is getting people to be more thoughtful about whatever they believe or don’t believe. So I’m not interested in converting, actually.
SB: You talk in your books about how many people become ministers and learn these same facts from the bible but seem reluctant to share that with their congregations. Why do you think that is?
BE: Well, pastors learn the kind of material I teach in seminaries and divinity schools, if they go to a mainline denominational school. If they go to a fundamentalist seminary, of course, they don’t learn this, unless they learn it in order to attack it. An evangelical school wouldn’t teach this kind of material, but Lutheran, Episcopalian, Methodist and Presbyterian seminaries teach this kind of material.
And yes, when the people who go through that training become pastors, they tend not to tell their congregations. I think it’s because they’re afraid to make waves. They don’t think that people will be welcoming of it, they don’t think people are ready for it. There are some issues of job security. They want to keep their job, so they don’t want to ruffle too many feathers.
But I think it’s too bad because churches have education programs, and it’s a pity that people aren’t getting educated. There are adult education programs in most churches. But they don’t actually get educated, they sit around and talk about other issues. They don’t talk about the things that most people are interested in, which is what does one think about the bible, what does one think about theology?
SB: Do you think though that they may feel that this may put too many doubts in people’s minds?
BE: Possibly. I think pastors tend not to be in the business of generating doubt. [As] professors at universities, that is our business. Our goal is to get people to think. But pastors don’t generally see that as their goal, and so they tend to shy away from these various issues that would cause problems for people.
The result is they’ve got parishioners who really don’t know anything about what scholars are saying about materials that they are most interested in, which I think is a real pity.
By. Don Ardell
There are many days that will live in infamy alongside Dec. 7, 1941. Just two obvious examples are Nov. 22, 1963, and Sept. 11, 2001. If asked, I would also list May 5, 2014, as a date certain to live in infamy.
That’s the day the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 in Town of Greece v. Galloway that it’s constitutional for local governments to host prayers at official meetings.
Someday, a secular Supreme Court will override this dreadful decision. Our Constitution is godless. It is not hostile or friendly to religion. It is simply neutral. Our founders met centuries ago at a constitutional convention that included no prayers. A separation was established in the Constitution between religions and governments at all levels. This was deliberate. The founders knew from their experience in Europe that religious matters were divisive, that disparate sectors of the population did not want to be governed by or included in the religious dogmas and rituals at odds with their own religious beliefs, or absence of such beliefs.
Freedom from is as important as freedom of religion, and these two freedoms require governments that are neutral in matters of a religious nature. Yet today, politicians and many influential allies enthused with church-based sensibilities have introduced, at every level of government, elements of the predominant form of religiosity — namely, Christianity.
My views are the same as Robert Green Ingersoll’s, who in one speech said: “Improved Man will not endeavor, by prayers and supplication, by fastings and genuflections, to change the mind of the Infinite, or to alter the course of nature; neither will he employ others to do these things in his place.” In another he said that “all prayers die in the air that they uselessly agitate.”
Consider this partial list of areas in which violations or influences are rampant:
• Religion in public schools and universities (e.g., creationism, school prayer, bibles/religious texts in curricula/student religious clubs and religious distributions, music, Pledge of Allegiance, displays, events and evangelism during the school day and use of facilities by church groups).
• Faith-based programs and other subsidies of religious institutions.
• Tax exemptions for churches and clergy.
• School vouchers and government subsidies of religious schools.
• Official prayer, religious displays and ceremonial religion at government events and meetings, religious displays on public property, religious mottoes, pledges and resolutions.
• Governments-sanctioned discrimination, religious exemptions (military, prisons, housing, health care facilities, etc.).
• Church involvement in elections/lobbying and ballot initiatives and U.S.-Vatican diplomatic relations.
• Marriage, reproductive justice and other privacy issues.
A course of action
These violations will not cease owing to the good will of Christian and other religious elements. Secular Americans have to make known their desires for adherence to separation of religion and government at every level and in social and other interactions. Doing so need not be confrontational; constructive requests for governmental neutrality should be sufficient to slow and hopefully reverse a steady drift toward theocracy. Secularists have many allies in the religious communities who share their desire to keep religion and government apart.
This requires, as a first step, that more Americans be aware of the nature, rationale and history of separation of church and state. Local officials should be reminded that they may not legally use their authority, public funds or government property to promote religion, despite the fact that a majority presently approves of religious intrusions.
The Greece decision has energized many secularists to actively resist further Christian incursions into public life, and to do more about those already in place. To foster specific protest about government prayer, FFRF has designed a contest, the purpose of which is to show that government prayers are unnecessary, ineffective, embarrassing, exclusionary, divisive or just plain silly. The thinking is that if more citizens protest prayers, the likelihood increases that they will stop sooner rather than later.
Anyone interested in the contest need only sign up or otherwise gain a chance to appear at a council meeting or other government function and deliver a secular, instructive invocation. The goal of the contest is to educate everyone about why we have, or should protect what we are entitled to have — namely, separation of church and state.
Giving an invocation is a real wellness act of freedom-seeking, as well as the patriotic thing to do. If you are planning such a thing, I thank you in advance for your service.
Below are transcripts of secular invocations recently entered into FFRF’s new Nothing Fails Like Prayer contest. The individual deemed to have delivered the best “atheist homily” or secular invocation before a governmental body will receive an all-expense paid trip to FFRF’s annual convention, to open the gathering with the winning “invocation” of reason, freethought, etc., and receive a $500 honorarium.
Entrants must provide a video and transcript. All eligible entrants will receive a certificate suitable for framing.
Ted Utchen, Wheaton, Ill., City Council, 6-2-14
Let us rise each morning, and strive each day, to do only that which brings happiness and joy to others, and avoid doing things that cause others hurt and pain. Let us use our minds and our reason to foster behavior based on the mutuality and reciprocity inherent in human relationships, and let us always respect the dignity and worth of each other. And let us, above all, love one another, not to obtain rewards for ourselves now or hereafter or to avoid punishment, but rather always to bring each other contentment and peace. So be it.
David Williamson: Kissimmee, Fla., Osceola Board of County Commissioners, 6-16-14
Through the millennia we as a society have learned the best way to govern the people is for the people to govern themselves. Today, in this tradition, we travel from our homes and businesses across the county; citizens, staff, and those elected converge on this chamber to work as one community united and indivisible by nearly every measure. Each of us arrives as individuals with unique ideas and experiences but all with a need or, in a spirit of goodwill, to fulfill the needs of others.
Citizens request assistance and offer their concerns and we are ever grateful for their interest and for their trust in the process. Staff provides invaluable expertise in their particular field and we truly appreciate their continued service. Elected officials listen, debate, and choose the path forward for us all out of a sincere desire to serve and honor the people of Osceola County while shaping its future. We all offer our thanks in that often thankless task.
When we leave this chamber this evening, let us carry with us this same spirit of service and goodwill tomorrow and every day that follows.
This is how we assemble to serve and to govern, ourselves.
Robert Ray, Oak Harbor, Wash., City Council, 4-4-14
Thank you, mayor and council members, for this opportunity to provide an inspirational start to your meeting. Normally, you would bow your heads for an invocation in this chamber, but I am going to ask that you raise your eyes and think about a few things today.
When this body comes together to govern, they do so with the consent of the citizens of Oak Harbor. Oak Harbor is a very diverse community with many different views and opinions.
My secular humanism, which is to say reason and science, leads me to believe that we as humans can meet the challenges of these differences and create a society with less dissension and leave a better, more equal culture for future generations.
It is incumbent upon this council to make the best decisions for the community. In this regard, I ask that you use reason, wisdom and empathy in your deliberations today. To take into account the implications your decisions will have now and in the future. We should all plant an acorn, even though we may not live to hear the wind rush through its leaves or the joyous laughter of children playing in the comfort of its shade. We plant the seed for the benefit of future generations.
In the words of Bertrand Russell, in order to do our part, “One must care about a world one will not see.”
David Suhor, Pensacola, Fla., City and County Commissions, 2-13-14/9-9-12
Mother, father, gods of ALL people,
we come today in our humble way to shape a small part of your creation
Gathering to a task, in your diverse and glorious presence,
together we invoke your unique blessings and your life essence
May the efforts of this council blend
The justness of Allah with the wisdom of Odin
May Mithra the everlasting ground them with the grace of mother Gaia
May Yahweh forgive their shortcomings and Beddru foresee their salvation
And we praise you, Jehovah of Christ, Huītzilopōchtli and Ba’al
for the sanguine sacrifice that frees us all
And for the bounty of reason, science and logic, we thank the ONE deity
none of us knows, that of humanist, atheist and agnostic
Divine love, lead us, enlightened by Buddha and Eshu, empowered by Thetan spirits
that we may govern with the wisdom and the good of ALL gods of our nation
PLEASE impart our humble congregation
with prudence, prosperity and peace this day
and so we pray. Amen.
Tim Earl, Portage, Mich., City Council, 7-23-13
Thank you once again for inviting me back to give this invocation on behalf of the nonbelievers in our city.
As you gather here today to see to the business of our city, I ask you to consider whom you are here to serve. Not a deity, but the diverse population of Portage. This includes not only Christians of many sects, but also Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Wiccans, nonbelievers and others.
As Aristotle said over 2,000 years ago, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Our community is made stronger by the presence of different cultures, traditions and viewpoints. The freedom each of us enjoys to follow our own spiritual path with no government interference, established by our constitution over 200 years ago, has served as a shining example for the rest of the world and has contributed to the astonishing success of our nation. When we forget or ignore this principle of inclusion, we turn our backs on the wisdom of the founding fathers and tarnish their legacy, weakening our society in the process.
We don’t have to respect each other’s views. But we do have to respect each other’s right to hold those views and practice their beliefs without fear of persecution, as long as it doesn’t infringe upon the rights of others.
But the differences between us are really not that significant. Nearly every religion claims that its holy book serves as the basis for human morality, and yet they’re remarkably similar. Even atheists, with no holy book of our own, share many of the same values as believers. Whereas a Christian may value all life as a gift from God, an atheist values life just as much because he believes that it’s all we have, and all that we’ll ever be. In the end, our goal is the same: to enrich the lives of others and make the world a better place for everyone. It’s our common humanity, not ancient texts, that unites us all and guides us to treat each other with dignity and respect.
And so I ask you to consider that common humanity as you deliberate tonight.
Because in this chamber, it doesn’t matter what Jesus would do, or Buddha or Muhammad, or even Jefferson or Lincoln. What matters is what’s best for the citizens of Portage today and in the years ahead. Let that be the principle which guides your decisions.
Justin Vacula, Wilkes-Barre, Pa., City Council, 6-12-14 [excerpted]
I asked to provide a secular invocation at the start of council meetings to provide an alternative to the government-led Judeo-Christian prayer offered by Councilwoman Maureen Lavelle which begins each meeting.
The council refused my request to offer an invocation at the beginning of the meeting, but allowed me to offer a secular invocation during the public comment period. I lament that decision to continue exclusionary prayer led by government officials at public meetings.
We come here to do the business of local government. Government officials have pledged to improve the quality of this community and are entrusted with doing so.
As we gather, we are reminded that although we have differences we are linked by our common humanity. When we work together to move our community forward in a spirit of mutual respect and common decency, we showcase what is best about our community, our state and our nation.
We embrace many traditions and represent many demographics. We are Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, humanists, atheists, agnostics, Wiccans, pagans, unaffiliated, uncertain and so many other things. We are young and old and everything in between. We represent many races and nationalities. We identify as libertarian, liberal, progressive and conservative.
To be sure, we do not agree about everything and we often feel fiercely protective of what we do believe. But there is one thing on which we all agree. We share the goal of making our community the best place it can be. We unite here today with that noble aim and common purpose.
Let informed reason, evidence, and argument inform discourse not only at council meetings, but also in all aspects of our lives. Demand good reasons, arguments and evidence when people present claims. Thoroughly consider perspectives of those with whom you disagree.
For if we happen to discard our cherished beliefs, we make intellectual progress. While it may be difficult to admit being wrong or break away from tradition, changing our beliefs so that we perceive the world more accurately is a huge benefit, a sign of growth and maturity.
It is my hope that we challenge ourselves and others to improve our quality of life. It is my hope that respect, when deserved, is extended to others. It is my hope that good argument, evidence and reason guides the decisions of all within and outside of this room. Thank you.
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
FFRF President emerita
ANNE NICOL GAYLOR is a founder and president emerita of the Freedom From Religion Foundation. She served as executive director from 1978 to 2005, and is now working as a consultant to the Foundation. Born in rural Wisconsin, she is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin in Madison. She owned and managed successful small businesses and was co-owner and editor of an award-winning suburban weekly newspaper. A feminist author, she has done substantial volunteer work for women's rights (including serving as volunteer director of the Women's Medical Fund). Under her leadership the Freedom From Religion Foundation has grown from its initial three Wisconsin members to a national group with representation in every state and Canada.
Director of Operations
LISA STRAND is director of operations of FFRF. She has more than 25 years of experience in nonprofit (primarily association) management, including 15 years as executive director of the Wisconsin Library Association. She is married with a daughter, as well as three cats, a guinea pig and an untended garden that will someday be beautiful.
REBECCA S. MARKERT attended the University of Wisconsin at Madison and received her B.A. in political science, international relations and German in 1998. After graduating from UW–Madison, Rebecca spent one year working as a legislative fellow at the German Parliament in Bonn, Germany. In the fall 1999, she returned to the United States and began working as a legislative correspondent and assistant to the chief of staff for United States Senator Russ Feingold in Washington, D.C. In 2002, she returned to Madison, Wisconsin, to work on Senator Feingold’s 2004 re-election campaign. After the campaign, Rebecca attended Roger Williams University School of Law and received her Juris Doctor in 2008. She joined the Foundation staff in October 2008.
Rebecca is the Freedom From Religion Foundation’s first staff attorney and primarily works on Establishment Clause cases. She is a member of the State Bar of Wisconsin, Dane County Bar Association, and is admitted to practice in the United States District Court for the Eastern and Western Districts of Wisconsin.
PATRICK ELLIOTT, the Foundation's second staff attorney, hails from St. Paul, Minn. Patrick received a degree in legal studies and political science from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2005. He attended the University of Wisconsin Law School and received his Juris Doctor in 2009. While in school, Patrick took an interest in the First Amendment and constitutional law. He joined FFRF as a staff attorney in July 2010, after working part-time for the Foundation since February. Patrick is a member of the State Bar of Wisconsin, and is admitted to practice in the United States District Court for the Western and Eastern Districts of Wisconsin.
ANDREW SEIDEL graduated cum laude from Tulane University with a B.S. in neuroscience and environmental science and magna cum laude from Tulane University Law School, where he was awarded the Haber J. McCarthy Award for excellence in environmental law. He studied human rights and international law at the University of Amsterdam and traveled the world on Semester at Sea. In May of 2011, Andrew completed his Master of Laws at Denver University Sturm College of Law with a 4.0 GPA and was awarded the Outstanding L.L.M. Award. He has written a book on International Human Rights Law and his essay on the role of religion in government and the founding of our nation placed second in the FFRF's 2010 graduate student essay contest. Andrew is a former Grand Canyon tour guide and accomplished nature photographer; his work has been displayed in galleries in Colorado, Texas, Florida, Louisiana, and Maryland. He joined the FFRF staff as a constitutional consultant in November 2011.
ELIZABETH CAVELL received her B.A in English from the University of Florida in 2005. After college, Elizabeth spent a year as a full-time volunteer in AmeriCorps*NCCC. She attended Tulane University Law School and received her Juris Doctor in 2009. After law school, she worked as a deputy public defender in southern Colorado. She joined the Foundation as a staff attorney in January 2013, after working for the Foundation part-time since September 2012.
SAM GROVER received his B.A. in philosophy and government from Wesleyan University in 2008. He first worked for FFRF in 2010 as a legal intern while attending Boston University School of Law. In 2011, his article on the religious exemptions in the Affordable Care Act’s individual health insurance mandate was published in the American Journal of Law and Medicine. After receiving his J.D. from Boston University in 2012, Sam worked as a law clerk for the Vermont Office of Legislative Council where he drafted legislation on health care, human services, and tax issues. He returned to work as a constitutional consultant for FFRF in the fall of 2013. Sam has written a paper on counterterrorism and the law that was published by the Memorial Institute for the Prevention of Terrorism in Oklahoma City and has traveled to southern Africa to work under Justice Unity Dow of Botswana’s High Court.
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.
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.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation is delighted to announce the formation of a new FFRF Honorary Board of distinguished achievers who have made known their dissent from religion.
The FFRF Honorary Board includes Jerry Coyne, Robin Morgan, Richard Dawkins, Daniel C. Dennett, Ernie Harburg, Jennifer Michael Hecht, Christopher Hitchens, Susan Jacoby, Mike Newdow, Katha Pollitt, Steven Pinker, Ron Reagan, Oliver Sacks, M.D., Robert Sapolsky, Edward Sorel and Julia Sweeney.
“We are so pleased that these outstanding thinkers and freethinkers have agreed to publicly lend their endorsement to the Foundation, and its two purposes of promoting freethought and the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause,” said Dan Barker, Foundation co-president.
- Jerry Coyne, Ph.D., professor of ecology and evolution at the University of Chicago, is author of the popular book 'Why Evolution is True' and the blog of the same name.
- Richard Dawkins, probably the world’s most famous contemporary atheist and a distinguished evolutionary biologist, is Oxford professor emeritus. In his blockbuster book, The God Delusion, Dawkins writes: “The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction.”
- Daniel C. Dennett is Austin B. Fletcher Professor of Philosophy, Tufts, and author of the bestselling book about religion, Breaking the Spell. In a newspaper article about his nonbelief, Dennett once wrote: “I’ve come to realize it’s time to sound the alarm.”
- Rebecca Newberger Goldstein, author of 36 Arguments For the Existence of God: A Work of Fiction and a research associate in Harvard’s psychology department, is FFRF Freethought Heroine of 2011. Goldstein is a 1996 MacArthur Fellow (the “genius” award). She has taught at Barnard and in the Columbia MFA writing program and the Rutgers philosophy department. She’s been a visiting scholar at Brandeis and at Trinity College in Hartford.
- Ernie Harburg, a retired research scientist, is president of Yip Harburg Foundation and co-author of Who Put the Rainbow in the Wizard of Oz? Ernie has dedicated his retirement to furthering the lyrics, music, memory and progressive views of his freethinking father, the lyricist Yip Harburg, author of classic songs such as “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” and of Rhymes for the Irreverent, recently republished by FFRF.
- Jennifer Michael Hecht, poet, historian and author of the acclaimed Doubt: A History and The End of the Soul, told the FFRF 2009 convention audience: “If there is no god — and there isn't — then we [humans] made up morality. And I'm very impressed.”
- Susan Jacoby, bestselling author of Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism, and program director of the Center for Inquiry-New York City, told FFRF convention-goers in 2004: "[President] Kennedy had to speak about his religion because he was suspected of insufficient dedication to the Constitution's separation of church and state. Today's candidates are suspect if they display too much dedication to secular government."
- Robin Morgan, feminist pioneer, global activist, author of the groundbreaking "Sisterhood is Powerful" and more than 20 books, was formerly Ms. Magazine editor and consulting editor. She is the co-founder of the Feminist Women's Health Network and Women's Media Center and currently hosts "Women's Media Center Live" the radio "talk-show with a brain."
- Mike Newdow is working pro bono to challenge such violations as the addition of “under God” to the Pledge of Allegiance. He told the U.S. Supreme Court during oral arguments: “I am an atheist. I don't believe in God. And every school morning my child is asked to stand up, face that flag, put her hand over her heart, and say that her father is wrong.”
- Steven Pinker, Johnstone Professor of Psychology, Harvard, is author of The Blank Slate: “I never outgrew my conversion to atheist at 13.”
- Katha Pollitt, “Subject to Debate” columnist for The Nation, author and poet, has spoken out regularly and energetically as a freethinker, in such columns as “Freedom From Religion, Sí!”
- Ron Reagan, media commentator, describes himself in a radio ad he taped for FFRF as: “Unabashed atheist, not afraid of burning in hell.”
- Oliver Sacks, M.D., the compassionate neurologist and bestselling author, describes himself as “an old Jewish atheist.”
- Robert Sapolsky, a neurologist, Stanford professor and bestselling author, once suggested FFRF put up a sign at its conventions: “Welcome, hellbound atheists.”
- Edward Sorel, satiric cartoonist and irreverent illustrator who is a regular contributor to The Atlantic, The New Yorker, and whose caricatures have been exhibited at the National Portrait Gallery, has been a Foundation member since the 1980s.
- Julia Sweeney, comedian and actress, is writer/performer of the play, “Letting Go of God”: “How dare the religious use the term 'born again.' That truly describes freethinkers who've thrown off the shackles of religion so much better!”
- Christopher Hitchens, the iconoclastic journalist, is author of the bestselling God Is Not Great: “Since it is obviously inconceivable that all religions can be right, the most reasonable conclusion is that they are all wrong.”