The Paso Robles School Board decided not to start including prayer in its meetings after the Freedom From Religion Foundation sent the board a letter of complaint.
Upon learning the board was considering instituting invocations, Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel wrote Board President Katy Griffin a letter, noting that the school context is different from the context of other government prayers, such as at city council meetings, the Supreme Court has deemed constitutional.
“Students and parents have the right—and often have reason—to go before or participate in school board meetings and deliberations. Fully 70 years of firm Supreme Court precedent bars religious indoctrination and rituals from public schools for the express purpose of protection of the rights of conscience of impressionable school children,” wrote Seidel.
FFRF’s complainant emailed Seidel on Dec. 10 to report that the board voted at its Dec. 9 meeting not to start their meetings with an invocation.
The Marin County Athletic League, which includes public and private schools, will no longer allow a Catholic school to impose prayers on public school attendees thanks to the Freedom From Religion Foundation.
Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel wrote a letter Feb. 25, 2014, to the Tamalpais Union High School District, which participates in the league. Justin-Siena Catholic High School, another league participant, regularly had a priest offer a prayer before games held on their campus.
“It is completely inappropriate for official Tamalpais Union High School District athletic events to compel public student athletes to participate in or show obeisance to religious exercises at the behest of a private Catholic school,” wrote Seidel.
Marin County Athletic League Commissioner Susie Woodall responded on Dec. 3, informing FFRF that the Catholic school was prohibited from engaging in organized prayer prior to athletic events.
Aberdeen High School, Wash., pulled out of the Festival of Lights at The Grotto in Portland, Ore., after receiving a letter from the Freedom From Religion Foundation.
The Grotto is a Catholic shrine dedicated to Mary, and the public school choir was scheduled to perform in a church replete with Christian iconography. The venue, a private religious group, charges an entrance fee, which it pockets.
FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel sent a letter to Aberdeen superintendent Dr. Thomas A. Opstad on Nov. 24, warning the district, “Taking public school students to a church, a place covered with religious iconography, is an endorsement of that church’s religion.”
Opstad responded on Dec. 2, saying that he had looked into the matter and decided that the choir would not be attending the festival.
After receiving a letter from the Freedom From Religion Foundation, the City of Rice will not include religious symbols on newsletters.
The city’s Spring 2014 newsletter included a cross image next to the notice that the city’s offices would be closed on Memorial Day. “Including a Christian cross with the announcement of the Memorial Day closing excludes any non-Christian or non-believing veterans. It perpetuates the myth that there are no ‘atheists in foxholes’ and that the only veterans worth memorializing are Christians,” wrote FFRF Senior Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert.
An attorney for the city wrote Markert on Dec. 2, reporting that the city would be careful about the use of religious symbols in the future.
Olentangy High School stopped allowing employees to institute prayers at school-sponsored events thanks to the Freedom From Religion Foundation.
The coach of the Olentangy High School Girls Cross Country team invited a student to deliver a prayer at an end-of-season banquet. “It is unlawful for any school-sponsored event to include prayer,” said Senior Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert in a letter sent Nov. 20, 2014.
“Prayer occurring as part of a regularly scheduled annual event sponsored or even co-sponsored by the school certainly leads ‘an objective observer, acquainted with the [prayer to] perceive it as a state endorsement,’ ” wrote Markert, quoting a Supreme Court case.
Superintendent Wade E. Lucas responded on Nov. 25, stating that he agreed that the coach’s solicitation of a team prayer was unconstitutional, and would “take steps to monitor and ensure that appropriate distance is maintained by our coaches.”
Elementary school faculty in the Whitfield County School District, Georgia, will no longer teach their young students religion thanks to a letter sent by the Freedom From Religion Foundation.
FFRF received a report from a parent whose Antioch Elementary School kindergartener was informed that Christmas was “Jesus’s Birthday” and that “Jesus is the reason for the season.” A project in the child’s class involved making a nativity scene from construction paper while a teacher read students the story of the biblical nativity. When the parent contacted the school to complain, the solution offered was to remove the student “whenever anything religious was brought up,” and to ask the parent what she would to do with the child “when they do activities for Easter.”
Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel sent a letter to Superintendent Judy Gilreath on December 23, 2014. “Public schools have a constitutional obligation to remain neutral toward religion. When District staff assign children the task of making a project depicting a religious story, read students the nativity story, and tell students that Christmas is ‘Jesus’s birthday’ and that Jesus is ‘the reason for the season,’ the District has unconstitutionally entangled itself with a religious message, specifically a Christian message,” wrote Seidel.
Gilreath responded on January 5, explaining that she met with the Antioch principal and “made her aware of the complaint and the legal restrictions concerning teaching of religion in a public school.” She instructed the principal to speak with the teacher who did the nativity project to “make sure she understand she is not to celebrate religious holidays with her students.”
Zeeland Public Schools, Mich., will not allow Gideons to distribute bibles on school ground in the future thanks to the Freedom From Religion Foundation.
On Oct. 17, Gideons International representatives distributed bibles to students, a parent informed FFRF. A teacher reportedly told students she would like each one to take a bible home.
“There is no excuse or justification for this practice. It is unnecessary, offensive, and illegal,” wrote FFRF Staff Attorney Sam Grover. Grover continued, citing a Supreme Court case: “Even if the students are not forced to accept these bibles, the school sends a clear message to the children in its charge who are nonadherents ‘that they are outsiders, not full members of the political community and accompanying message to adherents that they are insiders, favored members of the political community.’ ”
Assistant Superintendent Jon Voss responded Dec. 22, saying they agreed Gideons should not have been allowed on school property to distribute bibles. Voss said the district would make it clear to all building administrators that “third parties without a connection to the school – like Gideons – are not allowed on school property to distribute information to our students.” Voss also said the district would contact the Gideons directly and let them know they would not be permitted on school property in the future.
The Maryland Department of Natural Resources has ended a partnership with the Boy Scouts of America, which discriminates against atheists and agnostics, as well as LGBT adults.
The DNR previously had an annual charter agreement with the Baltimore Boy Scouts in which the DNR agreed to conduct a scouting program in accordance with the Boy Scouts’ policies. “The DNR cannot continue to sponsor this discriminatory program,” wrote Staff Attorney Patrick Elliott in a letter to the DNR on Sept. 24, 2014.
The DNR responded on Dec. 22, informing FFRF that the charter agreement had expired and would not be renewed.
Thanks to the Freedom From Religion Foundation, teachers and church groups will not be permitted to lead religious events at Athens Elementary School in Athens, Ala.
In 2013, a local church group was permitted to lead a “See You At The Pole” gathering, a Christian prayer event, at the school. The school’s athletic coach reportedly led students in prayer at the event.
Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel sent Superintendent Trey Holladay a letter on Oct. 9, 2013, noting that public school employees “must refrain from actively participating in religious activities while acting within their governmental role to avoid any perception of government endorsement of religion.”
“It is especially inappropriate for churches to be granted access to elementary school students, who are made a captive audience at an age when they are particularly impressionable and intellectually incapable of making their own decisions regarding religious observance.”
An attorney for the district responded in December, informing FFRF that no See You At The Pole events had occurred since FFRF’s letter.
After the Freedom From Religion Foundation lodged a complaint, staff at the Haskins Learning Center in Pratt Unified School District will not lead students in prayer.
FFRF received a report that before a school-wide Thanksgiving lunch, the school’s principal asked everyone to bow their heads and a teacher delivered a prayer.
“The District should make certain that teachers in its schools are not unlawfully and inappropriately indoctrinating students in religious matters by encouraging them to engage in prayer or by praying with students at school activities,” wrote FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel.
An attorney for the school district sent FFRF a letter on Dec. 18, saying he “[did] not disagree” with FFRF’s account of what happened at the lunch, continuing, “It is now acknowledged that prayer offered by staff members of a public school entity may not be appreciated by all students and parents, and it is not anticipated that this will occur in the future.”
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.
KATHERINE PAIGE graduated magna cum laude from Wichita State University in 2010 with a B.A. in History, Political Science, and French. She attended law school at the College of William & Mary where she received her Juris Doctor in 2014. Katherine became FFRF’s first Legal Fellow in September 2014, specializing in faith-based government funding.
MADELINE ZIEGLER graduated magna cum laude from the University of Wisconsin – La Crosse in 2011 with a B.A. in English Literature and Political Science. She attended the University of Wisconsin Law School and received her Juris Doctor in 2014. She has worked at FFRF since May 2012, starting as a legal intern/extern, and currently works as a legal publicist.
KATIE DANIEL is the outreach and donor relations manager 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. She loves baking for her coworkers and 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.”