A summary of legal complaints sent by FFRF legal staff since the last issue of Freethought Today. (ISD is Independent School District.)
Contact: Hardin-Jefferson ISD, Sour Lake, Texas
Violation: After receiving a letter from FFRF about a teacher-run Christian club in an elementary school, the teachers wrote an “open letter” to parents asking them to pray for the club, The letter said the club would now be student-led but urged parents to encourage their children to share with the group and told parents to contact one of the three employees to “avoid conflicting speaker scheduling.”
Two district classrooms have crosses on their walls, the high school’s football games open with prayer and the school song includes the line “and when the year is over, God bless our school.”
Contact: Waller ISD, Houston, Texas
Violation: The district’s high school had a poster in its library entitled “The Bulldogs’ Prayer.” The school also solicited faculty to advertise a “Bulldogs Cure for Cancer” T-shirt with the word “Faith” on the back.
Contact: Habersham County Sheriff, Ga.
Violation: The sheriff’s Facebook page regularly posts religious messages, including a lengthy prayer posted on Sept. 11 and misattributed to Thomas Jefferson.
Contact: Chester County Commission, West Chester, Pa.
Violation: The county’s holiday display includes a nativity and a menorah among other decorations. FFRF urged the commission to include a local freethought group’s “Tree of Knowledge” display.
Contact: Council on Law Enforcement Education and Training, Ada, Okla. Violation: Course instructors and materials repeatedly promoted religion and a belief in God. Contact: East Whittier City School District, Calif.
Violation: Teachers at East Whittier Middle School and Granada Middle School participate in weekly bible study classes with students during lunch.
Contact: Clinton County R-III School District, Plattsburg, Mo.
Violation: Clinton County R-III Middle School’s principal writes bible verses on the whiteboard in his office and places a bible on his desk in full view of students and visitors.
Contact: Poudre School District, Fort Collins, Colo.
Violation: A Laurel Elementary School kindergarten teacher had a picture hanging on her classroom wall with a bible quote, “I will praise you for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Psalm 139:14.”
Contact: Yukon City Council, Okla.
Violation: The council voted to display “In God We Trust” in the council’s chambers Contact: Clinton Public Schools, Madison County Schools, Pearl Public School District, Miss.
Violation: These schools participated in a swim meet which opened with a Christian prayer facilitated by meet organizers.
Contact: Seminole County Attorney, Fla.
Violation: A county employee in the Water and Sewer Billing Department sends messages to county residents from her county email with a bible quite in her signature, “Thank God for everything, be Grateful. 1 Thessalonians 5:18.”
Contact: Texas A&M University, College Station
Violation: The university began broadcasting prayers over the loudspeaker at football games and also includes prayer at graduation.
Contact: Mayor of Huntington, W.Va.
Violation: The mayor organized a prayer event to end addiction, releasing a video asking local religious leaders to join him in prayer.
Contact: Mansfield City Council, Texas
Violation: The council denied a local atheist the opportunity to give its invocation.
Contact: Madison County School District, Fla.
Violation: A private religious event occurring at the district’s high school was extensively advertised on the grounds of Madison County Central School.
Contact: Cranston Public Schools, R.I.
Violation: Western Hills Middle School students were given a story entitled “A Mustard Seed that Threatened Imperial Power,” presenting the biblical account of Jesus and his apostles as factual, and a game titled “The Medieval Church,” which quizzed students on the origins of Christianity as presented in the bible and Christianity in the Middle Ages, while ignoring historical events like the Crusades that would portray Christianity negatively.
Contact: Naval Base Kitsap, Bremerton, Wash.
Violation: The base’s pinning ceremony, which was mandatory for all officers being promoted, included an invocation and a benediction.
Contact: North Georgia State Fair, University of Missouri volleyball, Mellow Mushroom restaurant, Ala.
Violation: These entities offered church bulletin discounts.
Contact: Poplar Bluff Public Schools, Mo., Thomas-Fay-Custer Unified Schools, Okla.
Violation: Schools broadcast loudspeaker prayers before football games, and the Poplar Bluffs Senior High School team has two team chaplains.
Contact: Iowa Law Enforcement Academy
Violation: The academy included opening and closing Christian prayers at its graduation ceremonies.
Contact: Round Rock ISD, Texas
Violation: Cedar Ridge High School’s internet filter censors websites with information about atheism and certain minority religions as promoting “alternative beliefs,” while granting access to other websites promoting religious ideas.
Contact: Liberty County Elections Supervisor, Ga.
Violation: The Registrar’s Office, which served as the early voting location in Liberty County, displayed bible quotes behind the voter check-in counter.
Contact: Chilton County Schools, Clanton, Ala.
Violation: A bible was prominently displayed in a glass case near the principal’s office at Jemison High School, bible quotes are displayed on banners throughout the school’s hallways during special events, and a teacher regularly displayed bible passages in her classroom.
Contact: U.S. Attorney for the District of Maine
Violation: Assistant U.S. Attorney Margaret D. McGaughey, when asked to identify common trends in the profiles of criminal defendants, said, “There was no religion.” She explained that religion “instills moral values in early childhood” that “tend to stick with a person throughout their life.”
Contact: Mesa Public Schools, Ariz.
Violation: Mountain View High School’s marching band dedicated a performance to the military that involved rows of Latin crosses.
Contact: Indiana Academy, Muncie
Violation: A teacher sends regular emails to students promoting a weekly bible study and other religious events like See You at the Pole and a Christian charity drive. She was directly involved with the bible study.
Contact: Valdosta City Schools, Ga.
Violation: Pinevale Elementary School displayed a Ten Commandments poster in its library. Contact: Paris School District, Ark.
Violation: Paris Middle School allowed Gideons to distribute bibles to fifth graders, announcing the distribution as part of its morning reports.
Contact: Fauquier County Public Schools, Warrenton, Va.
Violation: A substitute bus driver at Grace Miller Elementary School passed out fliers promoting a church’s services and events.
Contact: Washington Department of Licensing
Violation: The department’s personalized license plate application prohibits plated deemed to be “blasphemous.”
Contact: Evansville Vanderburgh School Corp., Ind.; Anniston City Schools, Ala.; White Oaks ISD, Texas; Camas School District, Wash.
Violation: Coaches led athletes in prayer and/or participated in students’ prayers.
Contact: Homewood City Schools, Ala.
Violation: Football teams have a team chaplain that leads prayers and sometimes delivers a sermon. Church representatives are permitted to circulate around lunchrooms and recruit students. A Christian club organized by a teacher meets weekly. Students who arrive at school before classes are required to congregate at the club, which operates essentially as a church, with a youth pastor leading a worship service.
Contact: Walker County Board of Education, Ga.
Violation: This school board prays at their meetings.
Name: Rebecca Markert.
Where and when I was born: Green Bay, Wis., 1976.
Education: B.A. in German, international relations and political science from the University of Wisconsin-Madison (1998); J.D. from Roger Williams University School of Law, Bristol, R.I., (2008).
Family: I live in Verona (just outside of Madison) with my husband, Mike, and our two children, Dexter, 3, and Audrey, 1.
How I came to work at FFRF: By chance. I was graduating from law school and looking to live in Madison and came across a job posting on a legal jobs board. I thought it would perfectly fit my love for constitutional law, separation of state and church and the ability to work on federal issues.
What I do here: A lot. I’m the senior staff attorney, so in addition to state/church complaints (for issues like crosses on government property, mayoral prayer breakfasts, Good Friday closings, electioneering by churches and religious groups, religion in public schools and holiday displays for the 1st, 2nd and 6th federal appellate circuits), I manage the legal department, assign projects, train attorneys and hire interns and clerks. I put together all the administrative policies and protocols to make FFRF’s legal team work more cohesively and efficiently.
What I like best about it: Working in constitutional law. There are not a lot of lawyers who ever get to work in this area and I get to do it full time. I also love working with FFRF members and seeing how my work directly effects change (hopefully for the better). And the tea. FFRF has some amazing tea.
What sucks about it: Victories that look like losses. My first case involved a nativity scene on the courthouse lawn in 2009 in Manitowoc County, Wis. We were thrown out of court before reaching the merits of the case, but the nativity scene never returned to the courthouse again. During litigation, a church offered to place the crèche on its lawn, where it’s been on display ever since. Victories like that don’t make the news!
I spend a lot of time thinking about: How wonderful life is now that Dexter and Audrey are in the world. And how I’m never going to have the time to see everything in my Netflix queue.
I spend little if any time thinking about: This was a hard question to answer, but NASCAR and soccer come to mind.
My religious upbringing was: Roman Catholic.
My doubts about religion started: I don’t remember an exact time or event, I’ve always been skeptical. My parents never discouraged questioning, or critical thinking for that matter.
Things I like: Hugs from my kids and hearing them laugh, the Green Bay Packers, watching baseball, summers in Madison, the Fourth of July; the National Mall in D.C., going to movies at the theater, Spotted Cow beer from New Glarus Brewing, traveling and Diet Coke. Things I smite: The death penalty, concealed carry and stand your ground laws, the lack of high-speed rail running through Madison, misusing the apostrophe and anything requiring audience participation.
In my golden years: I’ll hopefully be debt-free from my student loans and be able to be a snowbird, spending summers in Madison and winters in Arizona or North Carolina.
The Covington County Commission in Andalusia, Ala., voted unanimously Nov. 6 to rescind a $3,000 appropriation from taxpayer funds to the Covington Baptist Association for a men’s ministry whose purpose is “to get more men to church.”
The vote was in response to an Oct. 27 complaint letter from the Freedom From Religion Foundation protesting the flagrant constitutional violation. FFRF represents more than 21,500 members, including 200 Alabama members as well as its longest-lived chapter, the Alabama Freethought Association.
The commission voted Oct. 8 to appropriate $3,000. Katherine Paige, FFRF legal fellow, sent the commission a second complaint letter Nov. 7 after learning that Commissioner Harold Elmore might ask to renew the grant to the ministry under the guise of funding building renovations.
Paige investigated property records and learned that Elmore was an incorporator of the Judson Baptist Church, which owns the building and runs the ministry. Elmore serves as church deacon and is one of the Covington Baptist Association’s four trustees.
“The commission cannot escape the grant’s religious purpose, and Commissioner Elmore’s involvement raises serious ethical concerns under Alabama law,” wrote Paige.
“The grant had, and would still have, a religious purpose: funding a Christian men’s ministry,” said Paige. At the Oct. 8 commission meeting, Elmore was asked if the ministry was for Baptists only. He replied, “No, it’s just a men’s ministry. If any denomination wants to attend, we don’t even claim to be a denomination, that’s what it’s for, just trying to get folks to accept the Lord.”
Any further donation would be “tainted with the religious purpose of the first grant and the men’s ministry,” FFRF noted. “Alabama law prohibits public officials from using their official position to obtain personal gain for themselves or for any business with which they are associated,” said Paige.
FFRF also resubmitted a records request, which it had dropped after learning the grant had been rescinded.
“The Covington Baptist Association and the Judson Baptist Church are free to conduct their men’s ministry, but the government may not support or fund it or their buildings,” concluded FFRF’s letter. “We assume this matter is dropped, but in the event the commission chooses to readdress the issue and provide support for this ministerial endeavor, FFRF will be inclined, at the very least, to submit an official complaint with the Alabama Ethics Commission.”
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 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.”