Lauryn Seering

Lauryn Seering

%291 %America/Chicago, %2015

We can and we must make fun of faith

ALG white headshot high resBy Annie Laurie Gaylor 
Co-President 
Freedom From Religion Foundation

"You cannot provoke. You cannot insult the faith of others. You cannot make fun of the faith of others."

So chided Pope Francis yesterday in Manila, speaking after the terrorist murders of the staff of the French satiric magazine, Charlie Hebdo.

While claiming he wasn't blaming the victims, that the violent attack wasn't justified, that's precisely what the pope was actually saying.

"Provocateur" appropriately is a French term. "Provocative" is what the best freethought writers, social critics and cartoonists strive to be. Think of some of the greatest provocative freethinking writers or humorists: Voltaire. Thomas Paine. Mary Wollstonecraft. Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Mark Twain. Ambrose Bierce. H.L. Mencken. Bertrand Russell. George Carlin. Richard Dawkins. Christopher Hitchens. Ayaan Hirsi Ali.

The pope, who's been greeted with adulation for sounding a bit more human than his papal predecessors, has to date done nada to reform Roman Catholic doctrine. While telling church colleagues to quit obsessing over abortion, gay marriage and contraceptive messages, Pope Francis has yet to soften, much less rescind, the church's obsession over banning abortion, contraception and marriage equality globally. He's nothing but window-dressing.

Obviously, it's fine for religion and its various holy books to provoke and insult others. Think of the insults to women within the covers of the Hebrew and Christian bibles and the Koran, which are handbooks for women's oppression. Think of the barbaric injunction declaring homosexuality an "abomination" and ordering the death penalty for it: "their blood shall be upon them" (Leviticus 20:13). Think of the provocations in the Old Testament, shared in common by the Jewish, Muslim and Christian religions, which openly and often call for killing heretics, nonbelievers and apostates.

Yet Pope Francis dares call violence in the name of God an "aberration"?

One of the biggest myths on our planet is the assumption that if it's religious, it must be good. Those of us who make known our dissent from religion are constantly being told not to criticize or offend, to shut up. Or else. The only weapons of irreverent humorists are jokes, as New Yorker cartoon editor Bob Mankoff pointed out. Now we're being told it's natural for a joke against religion to be met with assassination.

We have the right and in fact the duty, like the child in the fairy tale, to proclaim that the Emperor has no clothes.

In response to the terrorism against Charlie Hebdo, Steve Benson, the Pulitzer-Prize winning editorial cartoonist for the Arizona Republic, drew a cartoon with a new variation on Voltaire's famous pledge.

The terrorist in Benson's cartoon is saying: "I may not agree with you, but I will defend to your death my divine right to kill you."

That's telling it like it is.

Green Forest High School, Ark., will no longer include prayers at school-sponsored events thanks to efforts by the Freedom From Religion Foundation.

At a Veterans Day ceremony, a Green Forest teacher led a prayer. Staff Attorney Sam Grover sent Green Forest Public Schools a letter on Nov. 25, protesting the unconstitutional prayer. “While it is laudable for Green Forest High to organize an assembly to honor veterans, it is unconstitutional to allow any religious message or prayer to be party of a school-sponsored event,” wrote Grover.

An attorney for the school district responded Dec. 10, saying the school had assured him none of its staff would lead a prayer at a student assembly in the future.

The Paso Robles School Board decided not to start including prayer in its meetings after the Freedom From Religion Foundation sent the board a letter of complaint.

Upon learning the board was considering instituting invocations, Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel wrote Board President Katy Griffin a letter, noting that the school context is different from the context of other government prayers, such as at city council meetings, the Supreme Court has deemed constitutional.

“Students and parents have the right—and often have reason—to go before or participate in school board meetings and deliberations. Fully 70 years of firm Supreme Court precedent bars religious indoctrination and rituals from public schools for the express purpose of protection of the rights of conscience of impressionable school children,” wrote Seidel.

FFRF’s complainant emailed Seidel on Dec. 10 to report that the board voted at its Dec. 9 meeting not to start their meetings with an invocation.

The Marin County Athletic League, which includes public and private schools, will no longer allow a Catholic school to impose prayers on public school attendees thanks to the Freedom From Religion Foundation.

Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel wrote a letter Feb. 25, 2014, to the Tamalpais Union High School District, which participates in the league. Justin-Siena Catholic High School, another league participant, regularly had a priest offer a prayer before games held on their campus.

“It is completely inappropriate for official Tamalpais Union High School District athletic events to compel public student athletes to participate in or show obeisance to religious exercises at the behest of a private Catholic school,” wrote Seidel.

Marin County Athletic League Commissioner Susie Woodall responded on Dec. 3, informing FFRF that the Catholic school was prohibited from engaging in organized prayer prior to athletic events.

Aberdeen High School, Wash., pulled out of the Festival of Lights at The Grotto in Portland, Ore., after receiving a letter from the Freedom From Religion Foundation.

The Grotto is a Catholic shrine dedicated to Mary, and the public school choir was scheduled to perform in a church replete with Christian iconography. The venue, a private religious group, charges an entrance fee, which it pockets.

FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel sent a letter to Aberdeen superintendent Dr. Thomas A. Opstad on Nov. 24, warning the district, “Taking public school students to a church, a place covered with religious iconography, is an endorsement of that church’s religion.”

Opstad responded on Dec. 2, saying that he had looked into the matter and decided that the choir would not be attending the festival.

After receiving a letter from the Freedom From Religion Foundation, the City of Rice will not include religious symbols on newsletters.

The city’s Spring 2014 newsletter included a cross image next to the notice that the city’s offices would be closed on Memorial Day. “Including a Christian cross with the announcement of the Memorial Day closing excludes any non-Christian or non-believing veterans. It perpetuates the myth that there are no ‘atheists in foxholes’ and that the only veterans worth memorializing are Christians,” wrote FFRF Senior Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert.

An attorney for the city wrote Markert on Dec. 2, reporting that the city would be careful about the use of religious symbols in the future.

FFRF Co-Presidents

DAN BARKER and ANNIE LAURIE GAYLOR are co-presidents of the Freedom From Religion Foundation and co-hosts of Freethought Radio. A former minister and evangelist, Dan became a freethinker in 1983. His books, Just Pretend: A Freethought Book for Children and Losing Faith in Faith: From Preacher To Atheist (1992) are published by the Foundation. His newest book, 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

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

See Dan's Debates »
Contact Dan »

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

FFRF President emerita

Anne Nicol Gaylor
Photo by Brent Nicastro.

ANNE NICOL GAYLOR 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.

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

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.

FFRF Legal

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

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

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

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

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

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

KATHERINE PAIGE graduated magna cum laude from Wichita State University in 2010 with a B.A. in History, Political Science, and French. She attended law school at the College of William & Mary where she received her Juris Doctor in 2014. Katherine became FFRF’s first Legal Fellow in September 2014, specializing in faith-based government funding.

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

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.

FFRF Staff

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

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 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

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.

CHARLOTTE STEIN is waiting to welcome you into FFRF’s new building as the organization’s front desk receptionist and administrative assistant. A lifelong dairy enthusiast and badger lover, Charlotte graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2011 with a BA in Political Science and French, and certificates in Global Cultures and European Studies. Before moving to Morocco to volunteer for the US Peace Corps in 2012, Charlotte embraced her atheism and began working at FFRF. Since returning from North Africa in 2014, tanned and multi-lingual, she has been writing, biking around Madison’s lakes, and consuming lots of fried food. She is no longer tan.

FFRF Volunteers

Phyllis Rose
Foundation officer and volunteer Phyllis Rose.
Photo by Dan Barker

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.

FFRF Honorary Board

honoraryboardmembers

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

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

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

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

In Memoriam 

  • Christopher Hitchens, the iconoclastic journalist, is author of the bestselling God Is Not Great: “Since it is obviously inconceivable that all religions can be right, the most reasonable conclusion is that they are all wrong.”

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