FFRF was informed that a classroom in Southside Elementary School in Pulaski, Tenn., displayed numerous prominent images of Jesus and crosses. FFRF sent a letter on Dec. 17 to Giles County Superintendent Timothy Webb explaining that teachers may not promote religion in the secular classroom.
“Public schools have a constitutional obligation to remain neutral toward religion,” FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel informed the district.The schoolteacher has “unconstitutionally entangled the school itself with a religious message, specifically a Christian message. To avoid continuing to violate the Establishment Clause, we ask the teacher to remove the crosses and images of Jesus from her classroom. ”
The school district replied on Dec. 19, 2013 to FFRF’s request to take the religious images down by issuing a memo to the principals and supervisors of Giles County School District.
“(Staff Attorney Seidel) who sent the letter on behalf of FFRF, after citing several Supreme Court decisions, stated that the law required that public schools not promote or prefer religions. The situation mentioned in the complaint has been addressed. Please remind your staff of the federal requirements in matters such as this.”
The district assured FFRF the religious symbols would no longer be displayed in the elementary school classroom.
FFRF was informed that an elementary school secretary in Sanford, Fla., will no longer be collecting or coordinating Good News Club permission slips after a complaint was sent on Jan. 24.
Child Evangelism Fellowship of Central Florida had distributed registration forms to Geneva Elementary School students, promoting the Good News Club. The registration form directed students to return forms to the school’s secretary.
FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel sent the letter outlining why a public school may not endorse or provide preferential treatment to Christian groups:
“Despite the appropriate disclaimer, students might presume that Good News Club is sponsored by the school because of the apparent role of school personnel in facilitating the club’s activities by collecting registration forms. While the Child Evangelism Fellowship of Central Florida is entitled to host meetings, there are limitations on adult involvement.”
The Seminole County School Board’s attorney responded on Jan. 28 reporting that the District agreed the Good News Club held the responsibility for collecting the forms, not a public school employee. The school has ceased coordinating the permission slips.
A teacher in Rusk, Texas, will no longer be displaying religious iconography after FFRF was contacted by a concerned parent of a Rusk High School student. The poster read, “I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God the salvation of everyone who believes. Romans 1:16.” The bottom of the poster added, “This poster is illegal in 51 countries.”
FFRF Staff Attorney Elizabeth Cavell illustrated in a Dec. 13 letter why it’s illegal.
“While it is certainly not illegal to own or privately display such a poster in the United States, it is illegal for the poster to be displayed by a public school teacher, acting in her official capacity, on District property.”
It is not a violation of the teacher’s free speech or free exercise rights to require her to remove the religious poster, Cavell added, because she is exposing students to this religious iconography solely because of her position as a public school teacher.
On Jan. 9, the district replied with a letter saying that the poster has been removed.
“Additionally, the high school principal reminded the staff of the separation of state and church with regard to their choose of posters and/or displays in their classrooms.” RISD Superintendent Scott David informed FFRF. “All campus principals and departments directors will be reminded of our constitutional duties as public school employees with regard to the separation of state and church.”
Lewis Center for Educational Research Academy for Academic Excellence (AAE) in Apple Valley Calif., will no longer hold its graduation ceremony in a church. According to the complainant, AAE has held past graduation ceremonies in churches where crosses, bible verses and other religious symbols had been on display.
Addictionally, AAE held a baccalaureate at a second church, advertising it on AAE’s calendar and listing the school’s vice principal as “coordinator.” Many school officials, including the principal, attended.
FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel sent a detailed letter to Superintendent Thomas Hoegerman explaining why religious spaces are unavoidably religious and legally problematic:
“Temples, mosques, and churches are holy to the adherents of the religious orders that built them. Their exclusive purpose is worship and to spread the message of that religion. The government has no business and no power to ask citizens of many faiths or no faith to enter the place of worship of one particular faith. Religious faith and worship is an intensely personal choice. The government cannot make attendance at a secular schools’s secular graduation ceremony contingent on entering the holy ground of a particular religion.”
Regarding the baccalaureate, Seidel wrote: “School staff participated in the religious ritual with their students, required the student band to attend, and gave out secular awards for public school performance to students. Students receiving awards were forced to submit to a religious ceremony they may not agree with, or forgo their award. This type of coercion is unseemly and unconstitutional.”
After an exchange of letters, the Chief Academic Officer of AAE assured FFRF in late November, “Earlier this month, the AAE held a grand opening ceremony of our new gymnasium. It is anticipated that both ceremonies will be held in the new gymnasium in the future, thus removing any potential First Amendment issues. The previously named ‘baccalaureate’ has been renamed to reflect its intent, which is issuance of senior awards and scholarships.”
A student at Southwest Middle School in Orange County Fla., will no longer be coerced into reciting the Pledge of Allegiance.
After refusing to stand for the pledge, the student was taken aside by a teacher and told by the school’s attendance dean to stand and recite the pledge of allegiance or face reprimand.
FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel’s Nov. 20 letter read, “Faced with the choice of either reciting the pledge or being punished by the school, this student has relented, but now only recites the pledge out of fear of being punished. Students should not be singled out, rebuked, told they must stand, or otherwise penalized for following their freedom of conscience. It is illegal to reprimand a student for choosing not to stand during the recitation of the pledge.”
The Orange County Public School District sent a letter to FFRF on Feb. 18, “After a thorough investigation into the matter, the District has provided Southwest Middle School administration the applicable School Board policy pertaining to the pledge as well as a memorandum previously prepared by District General Counsel in efforts to ensure Southwest Middle School is complying with state law and School Board policy.”
The student sent an email response on Jan. 25, “I am so thankful for your help. Thanks to you, I’m now able to sit during the pledge without punishment!”
FFRF has a lawsuit against the Orange County School District regarding literature discrimination.
FFRF was informed that a classroom in Bernard Campbell Middle School in Lee’s Summit Mo., displayed a religious poster prominently on the wall facing the students. The poster read, “Blessed are the people who know the joyful Sound! They walk, O Lord, in the light of your countenance. Psalm 89:15.”
FFRF Staff Attorney Patrick Elliott sent a letter to Superintendent Dr. David McGehee on Feb. 20, explaining why advancing, preferring, and promoting religion in the classroom is divisive and unconstitutional.
“When a schoolteacher places religious posters in the classroom, she unconstitutionally entangles the school with a religious message. It is also a usurpation of parental authority — parents have the right to direct the religious, or non-religious, upbringing of their children.”
The Lee’s Summit K-7 School District district contacted FFRF on Feb. 21 reporting that the poster had been permanently removed from the classroom.
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 two 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.
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.”