The Freedom From Religion Foundation, has scored another victory for secularism in a public high school. The Madison, Wis.-based group has 21,500 members nationally, including over 400 members in Ga.
Madison County School District in Danielsville, Ga., 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 local resident who is affiliated with the athletic program.
The monument was unveiled on Aug. 22, and currently sits at the team entrance to the field. The monument features the school’s logo alongside two prominent 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?”
FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel sent a letter on Aug. 28 informing the district of the divisive and illegal nature of the monument:
“Courts have continually held that school districts may not display religious messages or iconography in public schools.”
Seidel also noted religious monuments divide teams: “This divisiveness is heightened by the particular passages displayed, ‘If God be for us, who could be against us,’ literally turns the student body into 'us' and them'—into Christians and everyone else. The import is clear, if you are not Christian, you are not a Red Raider.”
On Sept. 24, an attorney representing the district informed FFRF that, “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 Co-President Dan Barker called this one of the more egregious violations FFRF has encountered in a public school.
The American Humanist Association announced on Sept. 25, that they were also protesting the monument.
The nation's largest association of nonbelievers is calling on U.S. Reps. John Boehner and Nancy Pelosi to withdraw their invitation to Pope Francis to address Congress, in part over the pope's actions to harbor a Vatican official accused of sexually preying on minors.
The Madison, Wis.-based Freedom From Religion Foundation, a national state/church watchdog with more than 21,500 atheist, agnostic or freethinking members, has previously contacted two mayors asking them to withdraw the red carpet to the pope based on the constitutional separation of religion from government. FFRF contacted Green Bay (Wis.) Mayor Jim Schmitt after he invited the pope to make a "pilgrimage" in 2015 to a local Virgin Mary shrine, and St. Augustine Mayor Joseph Boles, who invited the pope to celebrate the "birthplace of Christianity in the New World, specifically Catholicism."
Today FFRF sent a letter to U.S. Rep. Nancy Pelosi and Speaker of the House John Boehner, asking them to rescind their joint invitation to the pope, issued in March. If he accepts, Pope Francis would become the first pontiff to address U.S. lawmakers at the U.S. Capitol.
FFRF Co-Presidents Dan Barker and Annie Laurie Gaylor objected on "compelling and cogent" grounds that such an event would blur the lines between religion and government. They quoted America's first Roman Catholic president, as candidate, saying: "I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute, where no Catholic prelate would tell the president (should he be Catholic) how to act." They cited the "exorbitant price tag" such an event would incur for the American public, and the appearance of preference for Roman Catholicism over other religions, and religion over non-religion.
But they also lodged vigorous objections to the invitation, given Pope Francis' decision to harbor papal nuncio Archbishop Jozef Wesolowski, 66, who stands accused of using impoverished Dominican Republic minors for sex.
FFRF cited the New York Times' expose revealing the Vatican's protection of this personal envoy of the pope. The article by Laurie Goodstein, which appeared in the Aug. 23 edition, detailed criminal accusations against Wesolowski, who served as papal nuncio in the Dominican Republic beginning in 2008. The posting included access to a beach house.
"Despite Pope Francis' assurances of 'zero tolerance,' and his vow that 'There are no privileges' for priests and bishops who violate children, actions speak louder than words," said Gaylor, who, in 1988, wrote the first book calling attention to priest and minister predators of minors, Betrayal of Trust: Clergy Abuse of Children.
The Vatican moved swiftly and secretly to muzzle the scandal involving the papal nuncio, she charged. The leader of the Dominican Church, a cardinal, personally carried evidence of the allegations to Pope Francis, who secretly recalled Wesolowski. The Vatican and Dominican Republic church authorities failed to follow the church's own policies requiring them to report suspected sexual abuse of minors to criminal authorities. The Vatican then provided diplomatic immunity when both the Dominican Republic and the nuncio's native country of Poland sought extradition.
Only on Tuesday did the Vatican place Wesolowski under house arrest.
The specific allegations include preying on impoverished youths as young as 11. The papal envoy is accused of trading medication for sex with an epileptic boy in need of treatment, beginning when he was 13.
FFRF respectfully urged the Congressional pair to rescind the invitation and instead "call for hearings into severing ambassadorial ties to the Vatican, and investigating the Vatican Embassy's alleged role in covering up systemic Catholic crimes against minors."
The Freedom From Religion Foundation has awarded and sincerely congratulates the 21 currently enrolled college student winners in its annual essay competition. Currently enrolled college students were asked to write about the topic, "My atheist/unbeliever 'coming out' story" in 700-900 words. There were eight winners in the top six, with ties for fifth and sixth places. FFRF also awarded 13 "honorable mentions" this year.
The late Professor Michael Hakeem, a sociologist, was an FFRF officer and active atheist known by generations of University of Wisconsin-Madison students, whose bequest endows the college essay competition.
- First Place ($3000): Bijan Parandeh, University of Illinois-Chicago
- Second Place ($2000): David Andexler, Duquesne University
- Third Place ($1000): Reem Abdel-Razek, Onondaga Community College
- Fourth Place ($750): Audrey Gunn, Concordia College
- Fifth Place: ($500): Marcus Andrews, Ohio State University
- Fifth Place: ($500): Keith Greer Milburn, University of Memphis
- Sixth Place: ($400): Aaron McLaughlin, University of Iowa
- Sixth Place: ($400): Anvita Patwardhan, University of California - Berkeley
Honorable mentions each receiving $200 are:
- Nathan Hume Stevens, University of Oregon Eugene
- Chris Holder, Unviersity of Montevallo
- Joe Magestro, University of Wisconsin - Whitewater
- Marina Esposito, Grand Canyon University
- Jennifer Wilson, St. Olaf College
- Eric Duran, University of North Texas
- Jessie Warme, College of the Canyons & University of California San Diego
- Harrison Slater, Pennsylvania State University
- Benjamin Carton, Lesley University
- Jenny Cox, Cosumnes River College & California Polytechnic State University - San Luis Obispo
- Alexander Andruzzi, University of British Columbia
- Blake Allen, Louisiana State University
- Anna Bridge, South Dakota State University
"We consider our student scholarships as 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."
FFRF earlier this summer awarded $10,250, to a total of 16 college-bound high school graduates. Next to be announced: FFRF's annual essay contest for graduate/older students. The top winning college essays will appear in the October issue of Freethought Today, FFRF's newspaper, and honorable mentions will run in future issues.
FFRF would also like to extend a 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 total of $12,550 in awards reflects the additional $100 bonuses.
Check back in February 2015 for the guidelines to next year's essay contest.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation is urging the Ocala (Fla.) Police Department to cancel a "Community Prayer Vigil" scheduled for tonight, Wed., Sept. 24. Police Chief Greg Graham posted a letter on police letterhead to the department's Facebook page on Sept. 18 exhorting citizens to attend the vigil. Graham called a recent series of shootings in the area "a crisis that . . . requires fervent prayer and your presence to show unity and help in this senseless crime spree that is affecting our community."
FFRF, the nation's largest association of freethinkers (atheists, agnostics) based in Madison, Wis., with 21,500 members, representing more than 1,000 members and a chapter in Florida, works as a state/church watchdog.
"Calling upon citizens to pray is coercive and beyond the authority of any government. Citizens should not be made to feel offended, excluded, or like political outsiders because the police department, which they support with their taxes, imposes religious ritual on them," wrote FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel in a letter to the police department today.
Graham told the Ocala Star Banner that the vigil would be "an opportunity to show solidarity in our community, that we are not going to tolerate people who are going to go out and victimize innocent people." Seidel responded, "It is not necessary to endorse religion to achieve these aims. A secular community gathering could achieve these exact goals without excluding a significant portion of the citizens the OPD is sworn to protect."
FFRF cited a 2009 scientific study showing that homicide rates are higher in more religious nations, and noted that the most religious states in the United States have the highest rates of societal ills such as poverty, infant mortality, and violent crime. The letter also cited a 2006 study that showed prayer had no effect on those recovering from surgery. "Prayer is the ultimate cop-out, the admission that the prayer-giver is giving up and transferring personal responsibility to an invisible, absent being," wrote Seidel.
The letter also strongly objected to the official patches, declaring "GOD BE WITH US," worn by Ocala police officers. The unconstitutional phrase is Ocala's motto and appears on the city seal. FFRF sent a separate letter to Mayor Kent Guinn protesting the use of this religious phrase as the city motto.
Seidel pointed out that variations of the phrase appear numerous times in the bible and Catholic liturgy, and that Nazi soldiers wore the German version of the motto, Gott mit uns, on their belt buckles.
FFRF further called for the department to end its chaplain program. "Given that chaplains are organizing this unconstitutional prayer vigil, the OPD is already clearly failing to properly limit the chaplains from imposing religion," wrote Seidel. He also noted that it is discriminatory to provide "free, on-the-job" religious counseling to religious officers or members of the public, while failing to providing secular counseling for those who are nonreligious or nonChristian.
FFRF asks the Ocala Police Department to cancel the vigil "or convert it to an entirely secular event where all OPD citizens are welcome, regardless of their religion or lack thereof," to replace the religious patches and to discontinue the chaplain program.
The vigil is slated to be held tonight at 6:30 p.m. in Ocala's Downtown Square.
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.
KATIE DANIEL is the bookkeeper/executive assistant/staff baker at FFRF. She was born in California and has lived in Pennsylvania, Alabama and Missouri. She moved to Madison in 2005 to attend UW-Madison and graduated in 2009 with a BA in Gender & Women's Studies and a Certificate in LGBT Studies. She joined the foundation staff as a student clerical employee in September 2008 and started as the full-time bookkeeper in 2009. Unlike many of the Foundation's staff members, Katie is religious and considers herself a practicing Wiivangelical.
BILL DUNN is the editor of Freethought Today. He has a degree in history and mass communications (journalism emphasis) from the University of South Dakota and has worked as a reporter, copy editor and editor in South Dakota and Wisconsin since 1980. Bill joined the Foundation staff in July 2009. He has two daughters, Kaitlin Marie and Jamie Lee.
LAURYN is the publicist & assistant editor at FFRF. She was born in Wausau, Wisconsin and has also lived in Nagasaki, Japan. She graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Stout in 2012 with her B.S. in Professional Communications and Emerging Media, concentrating in Technical Communication and International Studies. She also received a double minor in Journalism and English. Lauryn moved to Madison in January 2013 and enjoys reading about astrophysics, basking in the sun like a turtle and creating art at coffee shops. Lauryn is a practicing Pastafarian.
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.”