Lauryn Seering

Lauryn Seering

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Freedom from discrimination in Madison

Anita Weier was honored as Freethought Heroine for introducing a historic ordinance to make "nonreligion" a protected class in Madison, Wis. The ordinance passed with no dissent on March 31. Weier, former assistant city editor for The Capital Times, is an FFRF member who served as an alderperson for two terms (2011-15).

By Anita Weier

I decided to add "nonreligion" as a protected class in Madison's Equal Opportunities Ordinance because the ordinance already protected religious people from discrimination, so it seemed only fair and equitable to protect the nonreligious.

A protected class is a group of people whom city officials believe needs protection from discrimination in housing, employment or public accommodations. Madison's ordinance now lists 27 protected classes, including sex, race, color, national origin, citizenship status, age, handicap, marital status, arrest record or conviction record, sexual orientation and others.

I believe that discrimination against atheists and other nonreligious people is widespread, affecting employment, public school practices and selective price discounts. In Paris, 12 workers for an atheistic publication – Charlie Hebdo – were murdered. In Madison, the Freedom from Religion Foundation now does not publicize its address because of threats.

Discrimination continues

A major study, "Atheists as 'Other,'" published by the University of Minnesota in 2006, revealed that "atheists are less likely to be accepted, publicly and privately, than any others" from a long list of marginalized groups. The study looked at attitudes toward groups such as immigrants, racial minorities, gays and Jews from the 1960s to the present, and found that every group had made great strides in social acceptance except for atheists. More Americans would disapprove of their children marrying atheists than any other class.

Locally, some businesses have offered discounts to those who show a church bulletin. The Freedom From Religion Foundation also has encountered refusals by companies to make T-shirts, print brochures or post bill- boards. Last year a television network refused to air an FFRF TV ad made by Ron Reagan.

Therefore, I believe that atheists, agnostics and humanists need to be protected when applying for jobs and housing and using public accommodations.

As you know, the Religious Right has assumed substantial control over our state and federal governments, a situation that leaves the nonreligious in a perilous situation. For instance, South Carolina's state law requires "that the president of the University shall not be an atheist or infidel." Texas prohibits religious tests for public office, provided the person "acknowledges the existence of a Supreme Being." Atheists running for public office do not tend to "out" themselves.

Atheist parents have been denied custody of their children because of atheism in several states, including Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Pennsylvania, South Dakota and Tex- as. Imagine the furor if this had been done to parents because they were Jewish or Mormon.

Writing the ordinance

My first step in amending the ordinance was working with a city attorney to make an official proposal. I made a mistake in using the word "atheist," which raises more ire among some than terms such as "agnostic." Also, I realized that nonreligion could protect more people. So I amended my proposal.

I also faced a time crunch, since I would be leaving the council in April 2015, having decided not to run again. Frankly, because of dislike of atheists, I would not have introduced this mea- sure if I were running for re-election.
I waited until January to present the measure because I did not believe that the Christmas season would be a politically favorable time.

My amendment was first submitted to the City Council, which referred it to the Equal Opportunities Commission for a recommendation. The EOC in turn referred the proposal to its Employment Subcommittee. That committee approved the amendment with no opposition, though two members abstained, saying that their employers might not like their name connected to such a proposal.

I encountered more opposition at the Equal Opportunities Commission, where the vote was 5 in favor, 3 against and one abstention. Opponents tend to be religious people.

Then I started explaining my amendment to my fellow City Council members. I was very encouraged by immediate support from many, including a relatively conservative alder (for liberal Madison). Ultimately, 14 of 20 council members signed on to cosponsor the measure, which I believe took some political courage. After testimony by five atheists and the Freedom From Religion Foundation, the council approved the amendment unanimously on a voice vote. Though no one voted no or abstained, a few were silent.

I was surprised to find that my amendment was a first, that no other localities had approved such a protection. I am extremely proud of our City Council for setting this important precedent.

WeThePeople
Click here to watch the ad. 

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is launching a new ad campaign on the "Rachel Maddow Show."

The spot starts airing tonight, Tuesday, Feb. 9, and will be running periodically as funds allow on the popular talk show, which is broadcast weekdays at 9 p.m. Eastern time.

The commercial depicts the famous lines delivered by presidential candidate John F. Kennedy to the Greater Houston Ministerial Association in 1960: "I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute . . . where no religious body seeks to impose its will directly or indirectly on the general populace."

FFRF urges viewers to "restore respect for America's secular roots." The ad makes this appeal: "Help the Freedom From Religion Foundation defend the wall of separation between state and church. Join us at FFRF.org. Freedom depends on freethinkers."

"In this election year, we want to remind America that to be elected in the past, presidential candidates had to pledge allegiance to our secular Constitution," says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. "Today, unfortunately, there seems to be a de facto religious test for public office."

The 30-second spot is accompanied by a piano rendition of "America the Beautiful" recorded by FFRF Co-President Dan Barker. The ad concludes with the strains of "Let freedom ring" and the image of a Lincoln penny with "In Reason We Trust" replacing "In God We Trust."

FFRF debuted the TV ad in 2012 on MSNBC and CBS.

Buzz Kemper narrates the commercial, and it's produced for FFRF by John Urban Productions.

Freedom From Religion Foundation is urging Kentucky Gov. Matthew Bevin to cancel a Governor's Prayer Breakfast scheduled for Tuesday, Feb. 16.

The event is problematic in many ways.

The First Amendment prohibits government sponsorship of religious occasions. Yet, the breakfast and a link to sign up appear on the governor's webpage, and the state seal is seen on the invitation. Moreover, Bevin sent out an official email on Jan. 29 inviting all state employees for the gathering.

"By sponsoring a Prayer Breakfast, which calls Kentucky citizens to prayer, you abrogate your duty to remain neutral," says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor in a Feb. 5 letter to the governor. "This event sends a message that the governor of Kentucky prefers and endorses religion over nonreligion and more specifically the Christian faith." 

Gaylor points out that this alienates a significant portion of Kentuckians who are nonreligious (400,000, according to a 2008 survey) and non-Christian.

The framers of the U.S. Constitution didn't pray during the four-month constitutional convention that adopted the godless and entirely secular document whose only references to religion are exclusionary. FFRF calls religion divisive, especially when mixed with government. As James Madison wrote in the Federalist Papers, "A zeal for different opinions concerning religion ... have, in turn, divided mankind into parties, inflamed them with mutual animosity, and rendered them much more disposed to vex and oppress each other than to cooperate for their common good."

The Kentucky governor is also misappropriating his power, FFRF avers. Alexander Hamilton wrote that the Constitution gives the executive "no particle of spiritual jurisdiction." Yet, Bevin is utilizing executive authority to organize a religious assembly. His deployment of official email for a prayer violates the state's own guidelines, which prohibit emails "advocating religious or political opinions."

"It is unconstitutional to use government resources, such as the Kentucky.gov website, official state email, and the state seal, to endorse religious rituals and solicit attendance by state employees," says Gaylor. "This not only lends the imprimatur of the governor's office to prayer and a Christian event, but it also abuses your civil and administrative authority. State employees will feel they must support a religious event, regardless of their personal thoughts or reservations, to get ahead or stay on the good side of their boss."

FFRF is urging the Kentucky governor to immediately cancel the gathering. The organization is calling on Bevin to remove the breakfast from the governor's website, and to delete any official mention in the event's promotion. It is also asking for an apology to go out to all state employees.

FFRF has a national enrollment of 23,000 nonreligious members, including in Kentucky.

FFRF Co-Presidents

DAN BARKER and ANNIE LAURIE GAYLOR are co-presidents of the Freedom From Religion Foundation and co-hosts of Freethought Radio. A former minister and evangelist, Dan became a freethinker in 1983. His books, Just Pretend: A Freethought Book for Children and Losing Faith in Faith: From Preacher To Atheist (1992) are published by the Foundation. His newest book, Life Driven Purpose: How an atheist finds meaning, was published by Pitchstone Press in 2015. His previous book, the autobiographical Godless: How An Evangelical Preacher Became One of America's Leading Atheists, was published in 2008. A graduate of Azusa Pacific University with a degree in Religion, Dan now puts his knowledge of Christianity to effective freethought use. A professional pianist and composer, Dan performs freethought concerts and is featured in the Foundation's musical cassettes, "My Thoughts Are Free," "Reason's Greetings," "Dan Barker Salutes Freethought Then And Now," a 2-CD album "Friendly Neighborhood Atheist," and the CD "Beware of Dogma." He joined the Foundation staff in 1987 and served as public relations director. He was first elected co-president in November 2004.

Annie Laurie was also editor of Freethought Today from 1984 to 2009, when she became executive editor. The paper is published 10 times a year. Her book, Woe To The Women: The Bible Tells Me So, first published in 1981, is now in its 4th printing. In 1988, the Foundation published her book, Betrayal of Trust: Clergy Abuse of Children, the first book documenting widespread sexual abuse by clergy. Her 1997 book, Women Without Superstition: 'No Gods, No Masters'is the first collection of the writings of historic and contemporary women freethinkers. A 1980 graduate of the UW-Madison Journalism School, she was an award-winning student reporter and recipient of the Ken Purdy scholarship. After graduation, she founded, edited and published the Feminist Connection,a monthly advocacy newspaper, from 1980-1985. She joined the Foundation staff in 1985. She has been co-president since 2004. She co-founded the original FFRF with Anne Gaylor (see below) as a college student. Photo: Timothy Hughes

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

See Dan's Debates »
Contact Dan »

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

FFRF President emerita

Anne Nicol Gaylor
Photo by Brent Nicastro.

ANNE NICOL GAYLOR was a founder and president emerita of the Freedom From Religion Foundation. She served as executive director from 1978 to 2005, and worked as a consultant to the Foundation. Born in rural Wisconsin, she was a graduate of the University of Wisconsin in Madison. She owned and managed successful small businesses and was co-owner and editor of an award-winning suburban weekly newspaper. A feminist author, she did substantial volunteer work for women's rights (including serving as volunteer director of the Women's Medical Fund). Under her leadership the Freedom From Religion Foundation has grown from its initial three Wisconsin members to a national group with representation in every state and Canada.

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

Director of Operations

LISA STRAND is director of operations of FFRF. Previously, she was the Executive Director of the Wisconsin Library Association. She has 25 years of experience in nonprofit organizations, both as a staff member and volunteer leader, including having served as board president of the Wisconsin Society of Association Executives and the Community Action Coalition of South Central Wisconsin. She has a B.A. from the University of Minnesota. Lisa is married with a daughter, as well as three cats, a guinea pig and an untended garden that will someday be beautiful.

FFRF Legal

REBECCA S. MARKERT attended the University of Wisconsin at Madison and received her B.A. in political science, international relations and German in 1998. After graduating from UW–Madison, Rebecca spent one year working as a legislative fellow at the German Parliament in Bonn, Germany. In the fall 1999, she returned to the United States and began working as a legislative correspondent and assistant to the chief of staff for United States Senator Russ Feingold in Washington, D.C. In 2002, she returned to Madison, Wisconsin, to work on Senator Feingold’s 2004 re-election campaign. After the campaign, Rebecca attended Roger Williams University School of Law and received her Juris Doctor in 2008. She joined the Foundation staff in October 2008.

Rebecca is the Freedom From Religion Foundation’s first staff attorney and primarily works on Establishment Clause cases. She is a member of the State Bar of Wisconsin, Dane County Bar Association, and is admitted to practice in the United States District Court for the Eastern and Western Districts of Wisconsin.

PATRICK ELLIOTT, the Foundation's second staff attorney, hails from St. Paul, Minn. Patrick received a degree in legal studies and political science from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2005. He attended the University of Wisconsin Law School and received his Juris Doctor in 2009. While in school, Patrick took an interest in the First Amendment and constitutional law. He joined FFRF as a staff attorney in July 2010, after working part-time for the Foundation since February. Patrick is a member of the State Bar of Wisconsin, and is admitted to practice in the United States District Court for the Western and Eastern Districts of Wisconsin.

ANDREW SEIDEL graduated cum laude from Tulane University with a B.S. in neuroscience and environmental science and magna cum laude from Tulane University Law School, where he was awarded the Haber J. McCarthy Award for excellence in environmental law. He studied human rights and international law at the University of Amsterdam and traveled the world on Semester at Sea. In May of 2011, Andrew completed his Master of Laws at Denver University Sturm College of Law with a 4.0 GPA and was awarded the Outstanding L.L.M. Award. He has written a book on International Human Rights Law and his essay on the role of religion in government and the founding of our nation placed second in the FFRF's 2010 graduate student essay contest. Andrew is a former Grand Canyon tour guide and accomplished nature photographer; his work has been displayed in galleries in Colorado, Texas, Florida, Louisiana, and Maryland. He joined the FFRF staff as a constitutional consultant in November 2011.

ELIZABETH CAVELL received her B.A in English from the University of Florida in 2005. After college, Elizabeth spent a year as a full-time volunteer in AmeriCorps*NCCC. She attended Tulane University Law School and received her Juris Doctor in 2009. After law school, she worked as a deputy public defender in southern Colorado. She joined the Foundation as a staff attorney in January 2013, after working for the Foundation part-time since September 2012.

SAM GROVER received his B.A. in philosophy and government from Wesleyan University in 2008. He first worked for FFRF in 2010 as a legal intern while attending Boston University School of Law. In 2011, his article on the religious exemptions in the Affordable Care Act’s individual health insurance mandate was published in the American Journal of Law and Medicine. After receiving his J.D. from Boston University in 2012, Sam worked as a law clerk for the Vermont Office of Legislative Council where he drafted legislation on health care, human services, and tax issues. He returned to work as a constitutional consultant for FFRF in the fall of 2013. Sam has written a paper on counterterrorism and the law that was published by the Memorial Institute for the Prevention of Terrorism in Oklahoma City and has traveled to southern Africa to work under Justice Unity Dow of Botswana’s High Court.

MADELINE ZIEGLER graduated magna cum laude from the University of Wisconsin – La Crosse in 2011 with a B.A. in English Literature and Political Science. She attended the University of Wisconsin Law School and received her Juris Doctor in 2014. She has worked at FFRF in some capacity since May 2012, starting as a legal intern/extern, and currently works as a legal fellow.

CALLAHAN MILLER graduated with honors from the University of Wisconsin — Madison in 2014 with a B.A. in Sociology and Legal Studies and a certificate in Criminal Justice.  She received a Distinction in the Major for Legal Studies and is a member of Phi Beta Kappa and Alpha Kappa Delta.  For the majority of her time as an undergraduate, she was a leading member of UW’s ground-breaking Atheists, Humanists, and Agnostics student organization.  She joined the FFRF team as an official staff member in January of 2015 after having previously been an intern and intends on going to law school herself in a few years.

RYAN JAYNE received a B.A. in philosophy from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Honors College in 2007. After graduating, Ryan taught piano and chess lessons while working as a financial advisor until 2012, when he began law school at Lewis & Clark in Portland, Oregon. In law school he focused on intellectual property and animal law, serving as an associate editor for the Animal Law Review at Lewis & Clark and co-founding the Pacific Northwest’s first Secular Legal Society. Ryan graduated cum laude in 2015, began working with FFRF in January of 2015, and became a Diane Uhl Legal Fellow in September, 2015, specializing in faith-based government funding.

FFRF Staff

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

ALYSSA SCHAEFER is FFRF’s Program Assistant.  She graduated from The George Washington University in 2014 with a BA in International Affairs, concentrating in Security Policy.   A native of Wisco, she recently moved back to Madison from the east coast. In her free time Alyssa enjoys traveling, exploring the great outdoors, live music, and lazy Sundays with her cat Lola.

PJ SLINGER is editor of Freethought Today. A Green Bay native, he has a journalism degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and has worked as a sports reporter, news reporter, copy editor, web editor and photo editor in newspapers in Marshall (Minn.), Mankato (Minn.) and Madison (Wis). Prior to coming to FFRF in 2015, he worked for 15 years at The Capital Times in Madison. He has a wife and three kids.

BILL DUNN is the editor of Freethought Today. He has a degree in history and mass communications (journalism emphasis) from the University of South Dakota and has worked as a reporter, copy editor and editor in South Dakota and Wisconsin since 1980. Bill joined the Foundation staff in July 2009. He has two daughters, Kaitlin Marie and Jamie Lee.

LAURYN SEERING is the publicist, assistant webmaster & communications coordianator. She was born in Wausau, Wis. and studied abroad in Nagasaki, Japan. Lauryn graduated from the UW-Stout in 2012 with her BS in Professional Communications and Emerging Media, concentrating in Technical Communication & International Studies. Lauryn moved to Madison in 2013 and enjoys reading about space stuff, biking and creating art at coffee shops. 

JAKE SWENSON started as FFRF’s first graphic designer in 2015. He was born in Rockford, Illinois, and graduated with a degree in fine art from the University of Wisconsin–Stevens Point. He enjoys music, cycling, photography, traveling, and coffee.

LISA TREU is our Director Of First Impressions at FFRF.  She comes to us after working in broadcasting for iHeart Radio in Madison, Wisconsin.  She hosted various radio programs for fifteen years.  Lisa and her husband ran their own Birdhouse/Birdfeeder manufacturing company called Northwoods Mfg., Inc. during the 1990’s where she had her own line of decorative birdhouses that she designed and painted herself.  Lisa is the wife of Harry and is the mother of twin daughters Katrina and Karinthia.  In her spare time she enjoys reading, painting, gardening, feeding the birds, getting silly with her daughters and lounging with her two cats.

ELEANOR MCENTEE has over a decade of experience as a nonprofit bookkeeper and is very dedicated to nonprofit organizations.  In her free time, she journals, spends time with her cats Steven and MacNcheez, and rides her Harley all over Wisconsin and more!

AMITABH PAL is the Communications Director of FFRF. Prior to joining in February 2016, he was the Managing Editor of The Progressive magazine for more than a decade. He was also the editor of the Progressive Media Project, an affiliate of The Progressive that sends out op-eds through the Tribune Wire Service to hundreds of newspapers in the United States and other countries. Pal has appeared on C-SPAN and BBC and television and radio stations all over the United States and abroad. His articles have been published in school and college textbooks in the United States and Australia. Pal teaches a course at Edgewood College in Madison, Wisconsin. He has a Master's in Journalism from the University of North Carolina and a Master's in Political Science from North Carolina State University.

FFRF Honorary Board

honoraryboardmembers

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is delighted to announce the formation of a new FFRF Honorary Board of distinguished achievers who have made known their dissent from religion.

The FFRF Honorary Board includes Jerry Coyne, Robin Morgan, Richard Dawkins, Daniel C. Dennett, Ernie Harburg, Jennifer Michael Hecht, Christopher Hitchens, Susan Jacoby, Mike Newdow, Katha Pollitt, Steven Pinker, Ron Reagan, Oliver Sacks, M.D., Robert Sapolsky, Edward Sorel and Julia Sweeney.

“We are so pleased that these outstanding thinkers and freethinkers have agreed to publicly lend their endorsement to the Foundation, and its two purposes of promoting freethought and the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause,” said Dan Barker, Foundation co-president.

  • Jerry Coyne, Ph.D., professor of ecology and evolution at the University of Chicago, is author of the popular book 'Why Evolution is True' and the blog of the same name.
  • Richard Dawkins, probably the world’s most famous contemporary atheist and a distinguished evolutionary biologist, is Oxford professor emeritus. In his blockbuster book, The God Delusion, Dawkins writes: “The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction.”
  • Daniel C. Dennett is Austin B. Fletcher Professor of Philosophy, Tufts, and author of the bestselling book about religion, Breaking the Spell. In a newspaper article about his nonbelief, Dennett once wrote: “I’ve come to realize it’s time to sound the alarm.”
  • Rebecca Newberger Goldstein, author of 36 Arguments For the Existence of God: A Work of Fiction and a research associate in Harvard’s psychology department, is FFRF Freethought Heroine of 2011. Goldstein is a 1996 MacArthur Fellow (the “genius” award). She has taught at Barnard and in the Columbia MFA writing program and the Rutgers philosophy department. She’s been a visiting scholar at Brandeis and at Trinity College in Hartford.
  • Ernie Harburg, a retired research scientist, is president of Yip Harburg Foundation and co-author of Who Put the Rainbow in the Wizard of Oz? Ernie has dedicated his retirement to furthering the lyrics, music, memory and progressive views of his freethinking father, the lyricist Yip Harburg, author of classic songs such as “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” and of Rhymes for the Irreverent, recently republished by FFRF.
  • Jennifer Michael Hecht, poet, historian and author of the acclaimed Doubt: A History and The End of the Soul, told the FFRF 2009 convention audience: “If there is no god — and there isn't — then we [humans] made up morality. And I'm very impressed.”
  • Susan Jacoby, bestselling author of Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism, and program director of the Center for Inquiry-New York City, told FFRF convention-goers in 2004: "[President] Kennedy had to speak about his religion because he was suspected of insufficient dedication to the Constitution's separation of church and state. Today's candidates are suspect if they display too much dedication to secular government."
  • Robin Morgan, feminist pioneer, global activist, author of the groundbreaking "Sisterhood is Powerful" and more than 20 books, was formerly Ms. Magazine editor and consulting editor. She is the co-founder of the Feminist Women's Health Network and Women's Media Center and currently hosts "Women's Media Center Live" the radio "talk-show with a brain."
  • Mike Newdow is working pro bono to challenge such violations as the addition of “under God” to the Pledge of Allegiance. He told the U.S. Supreme Court during oral arguments: “I am an atheist. I don't believe in God. And every school morning my child is asked to stand up, face that flag, put her hand over her heart, and say that her father is wrong.”
  • Steven Pinker, Johnstone Professor of Psychology, Harvard, is author of The Blank Slate: “I never outgrew my conversion to atheist at 13.”
  • Katha Pollitt, “Subject to Debate” columnist for The Nation, author and poet, has spoken out regularly and energetically as a freethinker, in such columns as “Freedom From Religion, Sí!”
  • Ron Reagan, media commentator, describes himself in a radio ad he taped for FFRF as: “Unabashed atheist, not afraid of burning in hell.”
  • Robert Sapolsky, a neurologist, Stanford professor and bestselling author, once suggested FFRF put up a sign at its conventions: “Welcome, hellbound atheists.”
  • Edward Sorel, satiric cartoonist and irreverent illustrator who is a regular contributor to The Atlantic, The New Yorker, and whose caricatures have been exhibited at the National Portrait Gallery, has been a Foundation member since the 1980s.
  • Julia Sweeney, comedian and actress, is writer/performer of the play, “Letting Go of God”: “How dare the religious use the term 'born again.' That truly describes freethinkers who've thrown off the shackles of religion so much better!”

In Memoriam 

  • Christopher Hitchens, the iconoclastic journalist, is author of the bestselling God Is Not Great: “Since it is obviously inconceivable that all religions can be right, the most reasonable conclusion is that they are all wrong.”
  • Oliver Sacks, M.D., the compassionate neurologist and bestselling author, describes himself as “an old Jewish atheist.”

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