Proselytizing Texas teacher silenced
Arlington Independent School District in Arlington, Texas, will no longer allow a teacher to proselytize students after a complaint was filed by FFRF.
A concerned parent of a student at James Martin High School reported that a teacher, who is also a local pastor, used valuable time during a world history course to proselytize. The teacher reportedly told students that the stories of the bible are historical fact and that the bible is “about the only information we have” about any ancient civilization and said the first six weeks of class would rely heavily on “the Hebrew history book.”
The teacher also told students that “carbon dating is wrong,” posted a portrait of Jesus in the classroom and spent parts of several class periods complaining about Supreme Court decisions concerning prohibition of religious indoctrination in public schools and how he gets around the ban.
Staff Attorney Sam Grover sent a complaint letter Sept. 10, pointing out the obvious violations. The school responded Sept. 16: “AISD takes your letter and its contents seriously and has begun an investigation.”
The complainant told FFRF on Sept. 22 that the problematic content was removed from the classroom and that the teacher “has not been proselytizing recently.” FFRF pulls plug on loudspeaker prayer
Wise County Public Schools in Wise, Va., will no longer allow school-sponsored prayer before football games. The prayer was delivered before each home game over the loudspeaker by a member of the clergy.
On Sept. 18, Staff Attorney Patrick Elliott sent a letter to remind the district that school-sponsored religious messages are illegal and divisive:
The superintendent responded the next day: “We have addressed this issue and will resolve it immediately.” The game later that day did not include a prayer over the loudspeaker, a complainant told FFRF.
Notary publics need not be believers
A notary public education program in Raleigh, N.C., will no longer let an instructor misinform students. A student who took the course contacted FFRF to report that students were told several times that they “must believe in God to be a notary.”
On Sept. 5, Staff Attorney Elizabeth Cavell sent a letter to the Department of the Secretary of State: “[The instructor] may mistakenly believe that Article 6, Section 8 of the North Carolina Constitution requires notaries public to believe in God, but this section is unconstitutional and should not be presented as current law. If any instructor . . . is informing applicants that belief in God is a requirement to be commissioned as a notary public, this is a serious constitutional issue.”
The Supreme Court issued a unanimous decision in 1961 in a case brought by the late Roy Torcaso, an honorary FFRF director of FFRF, against requiring religious tests for public office, specifically involving a notary public oath.
On Sept. 16, the DSOS replied: “[The instructor] has been informed that the provision disqualifying any person from holding a public office for denying the being of Almighty God is not congruent with the U.S. Constitution and is therefore not applicable to notary applicants in North Carolina and should not be taught. Although this specific provision of the constitution is not germane to notary education, we have taken this opportunity to make sure each of our instructors understand that it is not applicable to notary applicants.”
Prayer stopped at Pa. board meetings
The school board in Mercersburg, Pa., will no longer conduct prayer at meetings. Staff Attorney Elizabeth Cavell sent a complaint letter Sept. 8, noting: “The Third Circuit Court of Appeals, which has jurisdiction over Pennsylvania, has definitively held that school board prayer is unconstitutional.”
The board president responded Sept 24: “The Tuscarora School District Board of Directors will no longer open their monthly meetings with prayer.”
Texas email worship invites stopped
The Office of Public Affairs at the University of Texas Health Northeast in Tyler has stopped sending system-wide email invitations to employees to participate in bible study events at the Hurst Chapel.
A concerned employee contacted FFRF to report that the emails were signed “From the Office of Public Affairs.” In contrast to the bible study invitations, an email that promoted a Weight Watchers meeting contained the disclaimer, “This program is not in any way supported, endorsed, or managed by UT Health Northeast, other than allowing the meetings to take place on campus as a convenience to our staff. Participation in the program is entirely voluntary.”
It was additionally reported that employees were invited to attend bible study sessions in lieu of performing their normal work.
On Sept. 4, Staff Attorney Sam Grover sent a letter of complaint: “While it may be standard practice in some hospitals to offer patients and their families access to a nondenominational chaplain for spiritual counseling, there is no reasonable justification for a public university-affiliated hospital to provide its employees with access to worship services during the workday.”
On Sept. 24, FFRF received word from the complainant that “Chapel services are still going on every week, but the emails promoting them have stopped.”
FFRF lowers boom on flagpole prayer
A superintendent in Toledo, Ohio, who used Twitter to promote a religious “See You at the Pole” event will no longer be permitted to do so.
A complainant informed FFRF that the superintendent “tweeted” Sept. 24 that “Courageous students will be praying at Whitmer’s flagpole at 7am. I will join them, it will be an amazing way to start the dsy [sic]!!”
On Sept. 26, Senior Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert sent a letter of complaint to the district about the Whitmer High School event: “When the district’s employees participate in the religious events of students, they unconstitutionally entangle the district with a religious message.”
On Oct. 1, an attorney for the district responded: “I have discussed with [the superintendent] the possible appearance of religious endorsement that can arise from both messages and personal participation in certain student activities, and I believe that our discussion will inform his future approaches to his involvement.”
Faux history tracts get heave-ho
Valley View [Texas] Independent School District will no longer let a middle school teacher give students religious handouts. The history teacher distributed tracts about the Declaration of Independence published by the National Center for Constitutional Studies, a social conservative group that promotes religion under the guise of teaching American history.
The NCCS website includes a list of reasons to oppose same-sex marriage and has articles making egregiously false connections between the Constitution and the bible.
Staff Attorney Sam Grover sent a complaint letter Aug. 29. The superintendent responded Sept. 10 that “VVISD intends to fully protect the rights of all our students and will do everything possible to replace the objectionable materials.”
S. Dakota football prayer grounded
Aberdeen Central High School in Aberdeen, S.D., will no longer let its football coaches engage in pregame prayers. Staff Attorney Patrick Elliott sent a letter Sept. 24: “The coaches’ apparent organizing and obvious participation in a team prayer constitutes an unconstitutional government endorsement of religion.”
On Sept. 29, the superintendent replied, “All members of the administrative leadership team and coaching staff have received follow-up correspondence which instructs them not to organize, encourage, or participate in student prayer at any event sponsored by the District.”
Second coming of Ohio Jesus shirts
Akron Public Schools in Akron, Ohio, has once again told football coaches to stop wearing religious T-shirts. In 2013, FFRF filed a complaint after Buchtel Community Learning Center staff wore shirts stating “God Rules Buchtel Athletics” and “Jesus Is My Hero.” The district reported taking swift action but the shirts resurfaced in September with the football team.
Senior Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert reminded the district Sept. 25 that coaches, like teachers, are restricted from certain religious activities and expression while acting in their official capacities.
A school district representative responded Sept. 29 that a church donated the shirts: “I will be forwarding them a letter explaining that the T-shirts they are donating to the school’s athletic program violate the Akron Board of Education’s dress code policy.” The board also met with coaching staff that day “to discuss the prohibition of wearing religious T-shirts.”
The board thanked FFRF for bringing attention to the issue and said it will be an agenda item at an upcoming district-wide meeting with all athletic staff.
Coach’s meal prayer off the menu
Eustis High School in Eustis Fla., will no longer let a football coach require prayer before team meals in the school’s cafeteria. FFRF received a complaint that the coach would often call upon players at random to offer prayers with the entire team. FFRF also raised concerns about a local resident promoting prayer events at school on an unaffiliated Facebook page titled #PRAYWITHEUSTIS.
Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel sent a letter Sept. 11 to detail the violations. An attorney for Lake County Schools responded Sept. 12: “Be advised that we are aware of the pitfalls of any coach promoting organized prayer and direct our coaches accordingly. Any misstep that might have occurred at a meal involving [the coach] has been corrected and we do not expect it to occur again.”
As to the Facebook prayer promotion, the district denied have any knowledge of it “until we received this correspondence, [so] be advised that we are appropriately dealing with that situation as well.”
Church ads on school fence removed
Elk Grove Unified School District in Elk Grove, Calif., took down signs promoting a church after a complaint was filed by FFRF. Signs reading “Answers-Church.com” with pictures of a Latin cross enclosed in a light bulb, were posted at Harriet Eddy Middle School. At least two signs were displayed on the school’s chain link fence.
Answers Church rents the school on weekends (as allowed by a misguided Supreme Court decision) but displays its signs throughout the week.
Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel sent a Sept. 3 letter: “If the church wishes to advertise its services on school property, it may only use school property during the time it has rented the property — on Sundays. It must put up the banners no earlier than when the rental time begins and take them down when the rental time ends.”
On Sept. 11, the district agreed, “[O]ur protocols allow for the sign you reference to be displayed only during the time of the event, such as when the Church has been approved to use the facility, and is not to be placed on the property beyond those times.”
The city is the site of the famous Elk Grove Unified School District v. Newdow case brought by Michael Newdow in which the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals ruled that the words “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance are an endorsement of religion and therefore violate the Establishment Clause. (Sadly, the case was later thrown out by the Supreme Court on standing.)
Schools head breaks prayer chain
Dave Knight, superintendent of schools in Medina, Ohio, broke the prayer chain at A.I. Root Middle School, the Cleveland Plain Dealer reported Sept. 19. “Public school staff can’t use district resources, including email, to promote prayer, especially when the principal, a person in a position of influence, is involved,” Knight said. “When it comes to separation of church and state, it’s very clear.”
The chain was supposedly started to comfort staff members and students facing illness or other problems. Knight said it’s fine to send an email “to keep a family in your thoughts and prayers,” but when a principal sends a message calling for a prayer chain that “systemizes it, a teacher could feel it wasn’t voluntary to participate.”
Several teachers complained about the prayer chain email that was sent Sept. 8 and was included in a staff newsletter.
Knight added, “I have seen this type of issue grow into divisiveness and put a school in the middle of a debate between liberal and conservative beliefs. I’m a man of faith who wants good for all, but I’m also a firm believer in separation of church and state.”
Coach suspended for football prayer
A high school football coach in Tempe, Ariz., was suspended for two games in late September for encouraging and participating in prayer at Tempe Preparatory Academy, The Associated Press reported.
Headmaster David Baum said Brittain told players to lead the team in prayer before and after games. He’s coached for 12 years at the public charter school.
Baum told a reporter that Brittain “is a man who likes to pray, and I don’t object to that. Just, he can’t do that with our students. That’s the only prohibition.”
Baum said Brittain joined students in prayer “in view of everyone. I think I preserved the religious freedom of our students, who have to have the liberty to be able to practice or not practice their religion on our campus, without interference by adults.”
The Freedom From Religion Foundation announces that three activists will share its inaugural “Nothing Fails Like Prayer” award this year, reserved for activists who succeed in giving secular invocations to counter governmental prayer.
Following the Supreme Court’s injudicious decision “blessing” sectarian prayer last spring, FFRF called on atheists, seculars and other freethinkers to ask for equal time to give secular invocations. In September, after placing 14 entries on YouTube and allowing the secular public to vote, FFRF announced the winners:
• FFRF member Dan Courtney, for his historic invocation before the Town Board in Greece, N.Y., site of the prayer litigation resulting in this year’s unfortunate Supreme Court decision.
• FFRF Member Tim Earl, who’s given three secular invocations before the Park Board in Portage, Mich. The former Navy lieutenant commander is a member of the board.
• Amanda Novotny, Brookings, S.D., who is president of Siouxland Freethinkers and works to increase the visibility of nontheists in South Dakota. Her invocation was before the Sioux Falls City Council.
The three winners are scheduled to deliver secular invocations at FFRF’s national convention in Los Angeles on October 24-25 and received $500 each and a plaque.
All other entrants were mailed a commemorative “Nothing Fails Like Prayer” certificate as a thank-you and keepsake.
The contest continues until governmental bodies are persuaded to pray on their own time and dime, or until the Supreme Court overturns its Town of Greece v. Galloway ruling. New entries received will be considered for the 2015 convention award.
So unbow your head, open your eyes and give your local government a piece of your secular mind! To be considered for the award, those giving secular invocations must submit an official entry, supply a video and a transcript of their remarks. Read the contest rules at:
The Freedom From Religion Foundation has awarded and congratulates the 21 currently enrolled college student winners of its annual essay competition. Entrants were asked to write about “My atheist/unbeliever ‘coming out’ story” in 700 to 900 words. Read the top-placing essays on pages 11-15. Winners are:
• First place, Michael Hakeem Memorial Prize ($3,000): Bijan Parandeh, University of Illinois-Chicago.
• Second place ($2,000): David Andexler, Duquesne University, Pittsburgh.
• Third place ($1,000): Reem Abdel-Razek, Onondaga Community College, N.Y.
• Fourth place ($750): Audrey Gunn, Concordia College, Minn.
• Fifth place (tie, $500 each): Marcus Andrews, Ohio State University; Keith Greer Milburn, University of Memphis.
• Sixth place (tie, $400 each): Aaron McLaughlin, University of Iowa; Anvita Patwardhan, University of California-Berkeley. FFRF also awarded 13 “honorable mentions,” with each receiving $200:
• Nathan Hume Stevens, University of Oregon.
• Chris Holder, University of Montevallo, Ala.
• Joe Magestro, University of Wisconsin-Whitewater.
• Marina Esposito, Grand Canyon University, Phoenix.
• Jennifer Wilson, St. Olaf College, Minn. • Eric Duran, University of North Texas.
• Jessie Warme, University of California-San Diego.
• Harrison Slater, Pennsylvania State University.
• Benjamin Carton, Lesley University, Mass.
• Jenny Cox, California Polytechnic State University.
• Alexander Andruzzi, University of British Columbia.
• Blake Allen, Louisiana State University.
• Anna Bridge, South Dakota State University.
FFRF extends special thanks to Dorea and Dean Schramm in Florida for providing each student who is a member of a secular campus group with a $100 bonus. The award total of $12,550 reflects the additional $100 bonuses.
“Our student scholarships are among FFRF’s most important endeavors and outreach to the next generation of freethinkers,” said FFRF Co-President Dan Barker. “All too many scholarship programs reward orthodoxy, but FFRF rewards students for critical thinking and for being willing to make known their dissent from religion.”
The late Michael Hakeem, a sociology professor whose bequest endows the competition, was an FFRF officer and atheist known to generations of UW-Madison students.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation told the Rowan-Salisbury [N.C.] School System it must immediately drop unconstitutional elementary school-level bible classes. FFRF is awaiting response to an open records request to determine the extent of the violation.
In addition to weekly sessions of physical education and art classes, the school district’s youngest students attend a weekly bible class. FFRF received a report about one such session in which the teacher presented the bible and seven-day creation as literal fact.
Local churches fund the bible teachers through nonprofit groups set up specifically to promote bible classes. Under firm Supreme Court precedent, such outside funding does not relieve the school of its obligation to ensure secular education, FFRF noted.
Staff Attorney Patrick Elliott sent a letter to the district Sept. 24 calling the classes “flagrantly unconstitutional,” pointing out that the Supreme Court had struck down similar classes in 1948 in a landmark case in which the facts “could hardly be more similar.”
“It is appalling that the district would take away from instructional time to indoctrinate children in Christian dogma,” Elliott said, calling on the district to put a moratorium on the classes involving “young, impressionable elementary school students.”
Elliott wrote that the district’s ill-advised decision to offer the classes calls into question the legitimacy of the bible classes currently being taught in the middle schools and high school.
FFRF Co-President Dan Barker noted that FFRF resoundingly won a federal court case before the 6th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in 2004 challenging similar weekly bible classes in Dayton, Tenn., area schools.
“It’s absolutely shocking,” Barker said, “that 66 years after the Supreme Court’s McCollum ruling, we would still see such a flagrant violation.”
FFRF, which was at the center of a high-profile lawsuit against the Internal Revenue Service over illegal church electioneering, warned that the seventh-annual “Pulpit Freedom Sunday” that was held Oct. 5 deliberately incited church pastors into flouting the law. All 501(c)(3) nonprofits, including churches, are prohibited from engaging in partisan politicking in exchange for the privilege of tax exemption. FFRF’s federal lawsuit charged that political violations by churches were being selectively ignored. FFRF took the IRS to court in November 2012. After being given assurances this summer that the IRS has authorized procedures and “signature authority” to resume initiating church tax investigations and examinations, FFRF agreed to drop its suit.
FFRF criticized the Alliance Defending Freedom, which is behind Pulpit Freedom Sunday, for treating church pastors like pawns. ADF, which calls the event a “strategic litigation plan,” reported revenue of more than $50 million last year.
About 1,500 pastors intentionally violated the law this year, the Wall Street Journal reported. That’s similar to the number in 2013.
“Rogue pastors who endorse from tax-exempt pulpits are playing dirty pool,” said Annie Laurie Gaylor, FFRF co-founder. Such an abuse creates an unfair election advantage. Donations to politicians are not tax-deductible, but donations to churches are. Imagine if tax-exempt churches — which don’t have to file financial returns with the government like all other 501(c)(3) groups must — were allowed to openly engage in partisan politics? Church congregations could become political machines, and political donations could be ‘money laundered’ through tax-deductible church contributions.”
FFRF Co-President Dan Barker added, “Pastors are free to endorse from the pulpit, but then their churches need to give up their tax exemption.”
U.S. District Judge Lynn Adelman’s order granting the joint motion for dismissal by FFRF and the IRS left open FFRF’s ability to renew its lawsuit if the IRS reverts to previous inaction.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation appears to have scored another victory for secularism in a public high school, after Madison County School District in Danielsville, Ga., announced it will either modify or remove an overtly religious monument at the Madison High School football stadium. FFRF became aware of the monument after a complaint was reported by a resident who is affiliated with the athletic program.
The monument was unveiled Aug. 22, and currently sits at the team entrance to the field. It features the school’s logo alongside two New Testament bible verses carved on the stone: Philippians 4:13 (“I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me”) and Romans 8:31 (“If God be for us who can be against us?”).
Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel sent a letter Aug. 28: “Courts have continually held that school districts may not display religious messages or iconography in public schools.” He also noted that religious monuments have the potential to cause religious divides.
On Sept. 24, an attorney representing the district responded: “The Board is currently investigating options available to it regarding the monument, including, but not limited to, removal of the monument or modifying the monument in some manner.”
FFRF sent a letter Sept. 2 to Joseph Olchefske, president of Calvert Education Services in Hunt Valley, Md., about inclusion of religious material in mandatory assignments used in public schools’ virtual (online) curricula. It was brought to FFRF’s attention by 8-year-old Florida student Emarie Wakefield and Rachel Spiller, her mother.
A complaint letter was also sent Sept. 2 to the superintendent of Lee County Schools in Fort Myers, Fla.. The school district supervises Emarie’s online instruction, which uses the Calvert curriculum, including an assignment called “Let’s Read a Poem.” One poem (actually a hymn) is titled “God be in my head” and starts “God be in my head, and in my understanding” and concludes with “God be at mine end, and at my departing.”
Other selections were misattributed and very age-inappropriate, FFRF noted, including passages from the Song of Solomon, the most notoriously erotic book of the bible with its thinly veiled allusions to oral sex such as “he feedeth among the lilies” and “his fruit was sweet to my taste.”
Superintendent Nancy Graham had told the family in correspondence that some school staff told her “separation of church and state” is not in the Constitution and is not a legal standard. FFRF noted that the Supreme Court has used the phrase to interpret the First Amendment as far back as 1878. Graham also misinterpreted the Establishment Clause. In his response, Calvert CEO Richard Rasmus denied any intent to promote religion and claimed content was chosen for its “literary, cultural, historical or other educational value.” He closed with, “We appreciate the professional manner in which you have raised your concerns.”
FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel rebutted the claim of nonreligious significance in a response to Rasmus and again decried the “shoddy scholarship,” writing, “In light of your response, we must contact the organizations that have accredited Calvert materials and provide them with copies of this letter and ask them to revisit your accreditation. Of course, if you wish to provide assurances that these four ‘poems’ will be removed, that will prove unnecessary.”
In his Sept. 25 response, Calvert CFO Todd Frager wrote, “We have removed the selections in question. We will remove the digital text immediately and we will no longer print the selections going forward. Feel free to call me with any additional comments or concerns.” FFRF is proud to announce a $1,000 student activist award to Emarie and to share what she wrote about her experience:
My Little Voice
By Emarie Wakefield
(with help from Mom)
When I was interviewed by the local news station about my objection to prayers (as well as bible passages and misauthored prayers being passed off as “poems”) in my public virtual school’s curriculum, many people had a lot to say against me. Many people said I wasn’t old enough to have a voice, an opinion or freedom. I’m little, so I’m just learning about history, but so far I haven’t found an age limit on freedoms.
Lincoln didn’t say “conceived in liberty for those who are over school-aged.” I know this. I had to recite the opening to the Gettysburg Address. The First Amendment isn’t only for grown-ups.
I live and grow in a humanist home. I’m taught every day that my little voice makes a big difference. I know that some people are told they are too little to speak up, but in my home I’m taught that when I see something wrong, it’s my job to speak out loud to change that.
I’m proud of my freedom as an American. Since I do not believe that there is some being in control of everything, I know that it’s going to be me that has to do the work to get things done. It’s the job of all of us. We have to work together as a big team to make this planet a better, kinder and happier place to live. No one is going to magically fix it for us.
If I had just stayed quiet and “did the homework I was told to do,” then what about the children that came after me that weren’t told that freedom belongs to them, too? Others can do as they are told when their freedoms are being taken from them, but as for me and my little voice, we’re off to big places.
When a lot of those little voices come together, it gets too loud to ignore. Humanity, come with me. Let’s do big, wonderful things, because even a little voice is equal under our laws. That’s a self-evident truth.
I have so much gratitude to the Freedom From Religion Foundation for this scholarship, because education makes little voices louder.
Rachel Spiller writes:
This is incredible news! We are elated! We did, however, eventually remove Emarie from the Lee County School system. It became more and more apparent every day that no one was actually reviewing the materials that were being passed on to our children in the Lee virtual program.
Every day there were serious “mistakes” in their online testing and otherwise that made us realize that to leave her in this curriculum would be disregarding our parental responsibilities. We are currently doing home education while we assess our options. You’d be surprised at what Emarie endured during the press coverage of this. Of course there were “trolls” that even went so far as to say that they hoped she died, but there were many amazing strangers that encouraged her. One such example was Jonathan Mann, a musician well-known for turning Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s Hobby Lobby dissent into a song. He wrote a song called “Ignore the Trolls” for her, and the blog SheKnows also did a wonderful piece. Please feel free to point to a Facebook “public figure” page that we administer for Emarie: facebook.com/EmmieOutLoud/. We started the page because she hoped to encourage other young people to become involved in volunteerism. (Her nickname is Emmie, and she chose “OutLoud” after a Coco Chanel quote: “The most courageous act is still to think for yourself. Aloud.”)
Emarie is also outspoken on LGBT rights and volunteers by my side at the LGBT community center in our area (pridecenterswfl.com/), where she sometimes leads anti-bullying youth rallies.
Emarie is also involved with a charity called “Pushing Daizies” that raises money to send low-income children to art and music camp. She also participated in the “No One Else Can Play Your Part” campaign for World Suicide Prevention Day.
Her first taste of activism was when she, by her own choice and will, decided to march with the Occupy movement in Birmingham, Ala., when she was 5. She woke me that morning and told me we had to go to the march or ”the people with all the money and resources will win.”
It was a long march on those tiny little legs, but she did not complain a single time. She can still lead the Occupy callback chant to this day and is proud to have taken a place in democracy.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation 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.
FFRF, 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, FFRF senior staff attorney. “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 schoolchildren.”
“Religion is a divisive force in public schools,” Markert reminded the district. More than a quarter of the U.S. population either identifies as nonreligious (20%) or practices a non-Christian religion (5%).
She noted that whether or not the yearbook was published by the district or a private entity is “legally immaterial.”
FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor commented, “The cover of this yearbook would be appropriate at a Catholic or sectarian school, but it’s an egregious violation in our secular elementary public schools.”
The district contacted FFRF to indicate it would ensure that the Parent Teacher Organization would be told it could no longer use a religious cover for the yearbook. The district said the PTO was responsible for printing the book and that the cover did not have district approval.
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 law clerk.
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.”