The Corsicana Independent School District in Texas will no longer let Gideons International distribute bibles. Students from the Fellowship of Christian Athletes were allowed to skip class in order to assist with the distribution, and students who did not accept the bible were reportedly told that “they would go to hell.”
Staff Attorney Sam Grover wrote the district’s superintendent explaining FFRF’s objections to the unconstitutional practice.
The superintendent responded June 2 that the district “intends to ensure compliance with the law” by banning future bible distributions.
The baseball coach of the Reagan Rattlers baseball team at Ronald Reagan High School, San Antonio, Texas, will no longer lead the team in the Lord’s Prayer at games. Staff Attorney Sam Grover sent a letter to the district June 1 about an incident FFRF was alerted to.
“The Fifth Circuit, the controlling Court of Appeals in Texas, has specifically held that coach involvement in prayer at practices and games is unconstitutional,” Grover wrote.
The district’s attorney, Ricardo Lopez, wrote back promptly to say that the district would ensure that coaches and staff members would no longer lead prayer “at any time prior to, during, or after baseball games.”
Prescott, Ariz., Public Schools has ended its practice of including invocations and benedictions at Prescott High School graduation ceremonies. Staff Attorney Patrick Elliott wrote the district May 27 after FFRF received word that the public high school had prayer as part of official graduation ceremony program.
“A prayer taking place at a ‘regularly scheduled school-sponsored function conducted on school property’ would lead an objective observer to perceive it as state endorsement of religion,” Elliott wrote.
The district responded June 3 that “the District does not intend to include prayer as part of any school-sponsored events in the future, and appropriate administrators will be so advised.”
Dixie County Schools ordered removal of classroom posters that proclaimed “Dixie County High School — God Can Do Innumerably More Than We Can Ask or Imagine,” after getting an FFRF complaint about the display at the school in Cross City, Fla.
On Nov. 12, Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel wrote to the district about rampant religious promotion at the school, including adult-led organized prayer, teaching creationism, bible verses on display and religious bullying. The district corrected those violations swiftly but failed to remove several of the religious posters.
After Seidel wrote again on April 10, the district agreed to remove the last of the religious posters.
Nevada’s Clark County School District will update its teacher handbook and reinstruct teachers not to promote their own sectarian beliefs to students. On May 21, a teacher at Victoria Fertitta Middle School in Las Vegas played the Christian movie “Amazing 3D Adventures: The P.U.S.H.” for students during instructional time. The message of the movie is to “Pray Until Something Happens” and features a religious rodent protagonist attacking a reasonable reptile.
The movie “teaches students that planning, foresight, and determination are less important to success than the belief and obedience to a god,” wrote Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel on June 5.
On June 15, the district assured FFRF that the school would take steps to remind teachers they are not permitted to proselytize students.
Two California school districts have promised to take steps to ensure teachers will not use district resources to promote religious events after getting letters from FFRF.
A teacher at Modesto City Schools’ Downey High School used his district email address to coordinate and advertise the Modesto Area Educators’ 7th Annual Prayer Breakfast, a privately sponsored religious event that took place at the school. A teacher at Sylvan Union School District’s Somerset Middle School also promoted the event with a district email address.
Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel wrote to the districts June 12, explaining that “statements of school employees made using official resources are attributable to the school. This endorsement of a Christian event offends the nearly 30% of American adults and the 37% of California adults that are non-Christian.”
Modesto City Schools responded June 16, promising to enforce its “acceptable use” policy and to review the policy to ensure employees comply with the Constitution. On June 23, the Sylvan Union School District assured FFRF that it would remind its staff on proper use of district technology.
Pender County Schools in North Carolina will put a stop to the classroom display of bible quotes. A Topsail Middle School teacher in Hampstead wrote bible quotes on a dry-erase board in his classroom, in full view of his students, and changed the quotes on a weekly basis. A concerned parent contacted FFRF.
“Religious postings are strictly prohibited in public schools,” wrote Staff Attorney Patrick Elliott in a May 28 complaint. “Matters of faith, or absence of faith, are best left outside of the classroom.”
FFRF received a response June 18, stating that the district provided staff with guidelines for selecting appropriate quotes and will further provide staff with “training on compliance with First Amendment principles of religion in public schools.”
Bartram Trail High School in St. Johns, Fla., will stop illegal athletic prayer and will no longer show a religious video to students. A student reported to FFRF that the school’s football coach was participating in student-led prayers and that the school had shown students a video on safe driving that was “absolutely infested with Christian messages, bible verses and talk of prayer.” The video featured a local student who had been injured in a driving accident and credited prayer as the secret to his recovery.
Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel complained to the St. Johns County School District on April 30. The district promptly commenced an investigation and informed FFRF on June 26 that both issues would be corrected. The school’s football coach now understands that he cannot pray with players at school functions, and the school assured FFRF that it will not show any videos promoting religion.
Bethel High School’s Naval Junior Reserve Officer’s Training Corps in Bethel, Conn., has taken several steps to keep religion out of its instruction. A concerned student reported to FFRF that a mandatory military ball included prayers said “in the name of Jesus.” Students were also forced to recite a statement that included the phrase “May God grant me the strength to always live by this creed,” and a classroom displayed a “God Bless America” poster.
Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert wrote a complaint letter June 15 regarding all three issues.
Attorney Rebecca Santiago responded June 29 and said future military balls would not include prayers, the “God Bless America” poster would be removed and that students would not be required to recite a religious creed.
The city of Bayard, N.M., will no longer close its doors on Good Friday or Easter Monday. A resident reported to FFRF that city offices, the public library and the municipal court were closed in 2014 on Friday, April 18, and Monday, April 21, “in observance of the Easter holiday.”
Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert wrote to the mayor Feb. 27: “Easter is neither a federal holiday nor a New Mexico state holiday. It is unconstitutional and inappropriate for city offices to close for this Christian holy day.”
The mayor responded June 1 and agreed to remove the days from the city’s holiday schedule in future years.
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
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 and legal publicist.
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.
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. She was born in Wausau, Wis. 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.
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.
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.”