Name: James Downard.
Where I live: Spokane, Wash.
Where and when I was born: Spokane, Sept. 22, 1952.
Family: Two sisters and a brother still living, plenty of nieces and nephews far and wide.
Education: B.A. in history, Eastern Washington University.
Occupation: Former inventory/supply worker, now retired (on extremely inadequate Social Security).
How I got where I am today: Muddling along one day at a time as best I can, trying to enjoy myself but not making a nuisance.
Where I'm headed: In my TIP (Troubles in Paradise) anti-creationism project, I hope to help limit anti-evolutionist popularity. The initial PDFs and links are online at www.tortucan.com, a very much no-frills page so far.
The TIP project is a methods-based ("follow the sources") approach that bypasses the usual and often distracting "religion vs. science" fistfight in order to to pull the rug out from under the anti-evolutionists. Sound documenting of sources is something they can't do at all, let alone well enough to win, so it seems a good idea for us to play those cards right off the bat.
Person in history I admire: Stephen Jay Gould, as prickly a "paying attention to details" guy as ever there was, and whose ideas (from spandrels to NOMA) have sparked my and others' thinking. For example, my pocket definition of religion ("a neotenous spandrel sustained as a Scorched Earth defense") owes a lot to Gould's concepts and terminology.
A quotation I like: William James, sent a questionnaire in 1904 about religious beliefs of prominent persons and their dependence on "the authority of the bible," replied succinctly: "No. No. No. It is so human a book that I don't see how belief in its divine authorship can survive the reading of it."
These are a few of my favorite things: Music (classical and otherwise), movies (and their music), studying science and history in many forms, designing an amusement park (my grand and obviously unbuilt "Nat Park" plan that had as brief blip of "fame" in our local KSPS public TV's 1990s documentary "Memories of Natatorium Park.") They still air it around the Fourth of July.
These are not: People who seriously think things like anti-evolutionism are good science and the people who (knowingly or not) elect them to boards of education or state legislatures or Congress. I devised the "Tortucan" concept to account for how people can so easily do those sorts of things (search on youtube.com for "tortucan" videos).
My doubts about religion started: I was raised in a family of very much ex-Mormons, where there was no religious upbringing or discussion of religious matters whatsoever. My mother (very politically conservative but also very nonreligious) went ballistic when she found out that our first-grade class was marched once a week to religious instruction at a Spokane church. She thought public school was where you were supposed to get educated, not indoctrinated, and pulled me out immediately. I spent the time reading on my own at school while the class dithered away the hour at the church. But she did send us all to Sunday school, just so we'd be exposed to it and could make up our own minds (none of us became converts from the experience).
We were living in California by the time I was dispatched to Methodist Sunday school in the early 1960s, which didn't last long. I was summarily asked to leave (much like Carl Sagan's fictional Ellie Arroway in Contact) for asking too many questions about the biblical flood (my dinosaur collecting and encyclopedia reading having had its baneful influence on me already).
The big mistake they made at Sunday school, though, was giving me a nice Revised Standard Version of the bible, complete with a plethora of bottom-of-the-page cross references. That's how I first spotted that the Davidic genealogy of Joseph listed in Matthew didn't match the one given in Luke. I notice that not all bibles make the mistake of putting cross references right there for people like me to follow up more easily!
Before I die: I would like to enjoy at least a bit of whatever posthumous fame I may have earned.
Ways I promote freethought: Over the years, I've become active in the Spokane Secular Society and the Inland Northwest Freethought Society, the latter now an FFRF chapter. I've helped organize and staff the annual Darwin Day display at the downtown RiverPark Mall. I'm also the atheist blogger on the award-winning Spokane Faith & Values website (www.spokanefavs.com) where my "Ask an Atheist" button gets plenty of traffic.
The big thing on my plate is the online anti-creationism project, which has expanded to cover over 35,000 sources (including over 13,000 technical science works aimed at "flattening" over 6,000 anti-evolution sources). Nothing on this scale has existed before. Those who want to help the TIP baby grow and thrive can find a link at www.tortucan.com/ because I can't quite do it alone (it takes a secular village sort of thing).
I'm also on Facebook and Twitter, where I've been usefully applying TIP methods to short-circuit anti-evolutionists.
A Religious Right scheme to "plant a church in every school" was one of the topics covered in a Jan. 31 segment of MSNBC-TV's "Melissa Harris-Perry Show," featuring FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor and Katherine Harris, author of The Good News Club: The Christian Right's Stealth Assault on America's Children.
FFRF's complaint over such an entanglement at Apopka High School in Orlando, Fla., was reported by Harris in her Jan. 14 article in The Nation headlined "The movement to put a church in every school in growing."
The Venue Church, which operates inside three public schools in Orange County, Fla., has as its goal "To plant a congregation in every Central Florida school zone in the next 10 years." FFRF, which has an ongoing federal lawsuit over bible distribution in Orange County Public Schools, has repeatedly complained to the district about a number of problems.
The church vows it will never own its own building. Its motto is "Partnering with schools and communities to serve students and families to gain the privilege of sharing the love of Jesus for eternal impact."
FFRF complained, among other things, about Todd Lamphere, Venue's co-founder and pastor, being designated as the school football team's "chaplain" (as well as chaplain of its bowling team!). The district subsequently renamed him "life coach" and continues to justify Lamphere's active school presence, which includes organizing "mission trips" for students.
Harris and Gaylor debated the topic with a Methodist evangelist.
By Jennifer Wilson
My parents raised me with a profound respect for science but not with religion. My physicist taught me that there are certain laws of nature that the universe abides by, and even though we cannot understand everything, these laws exist and allow us to survive.
My respect for science has never led me to belittle religion or those who believe. It simply allows me to justify a world in which the answer to "What is the meaning of life?" is just as easily nothing, as it is God, nirvana or the number 42.
I had a Catholic friend in junior high who tried to pique my curiosity. She talked about religion a lot. I only mentioned my nonbelief when I was asked what church I went to. When we were 14, out of the blue, she told me that I could come to Mass with her anytime and said, "I pray for you a lot because I'm worried that you're going to go to hell."
The sentiment came from her heart, a place full of compassion for others, but I was taken aback. In my head I told her she should save her prayers for people who actually want them, but aloud I just said, "Thank you, that's very thoughtful."
Whether it was by telling me about Jesus Christ in the middle of an abortion debate or trying to debunk decades of scientific inquiry while discussing creationism, my classmates found ways to poke the atheist within me.
The vast majority of students at my small Lutheran college in Minnesota are Christians. I was hesitant to attend because of that, but I felt at home on the campus, the academics were rigorous and the financial aid they offered was stellar.
Three problems faced me: biblical studies, theological studies and ethical studies requirements. One day in my first-semester class called "Bible in Film," the professor did the unthinkable: He asked those of us who believed in God to raise our hands. I was the only one who didn't. He then asked me to justify my nonbelief.
Two weeks into college, in a room full of strangers (and my roommate), I froze up, unable to justify myself or even ask the simplest of questions as a rebuttal: "Why do you believe in God, professor?" For the rest of the semester, my peers met my opinions with glares of disdain and immediate counterattacks.
That first semester was rough, but I've become more confident in expressing my opinions. I've used my nonbelief to instigate discussion rather than argument.
I've always been an atheist, and I always will be, no matter how many of my peers poke at the atheist within me, trying to stamp it out.
Jennifer Wilson, 21, was born in Geneva, Switzerland, and lived in France the first eight years of her life but considers Lawrence, Kan., her hometown. She's a senior majoring in English and mathematics at St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minn. She wa awarded $200 for this essay.
The National Labor Relations Board ruled against Pacific Lutheran University’s claim that it’s exempt as a religious institution from NLRB jurisdiction. The decision allows contingent faculty (non-tenure track) to unionize at the school in Tacoma, Wash., reported the Chronicle of Higher Education in December.
A 1980 U.S. Supreme Court case, National Labor Relations Board v. Yeshiva University essentially barred full-time faculty at private colleges from forming unions. But the board ruled it had jurisdiction because the university “does not hold its petitioned-for faculty members out as performing any religious function” and that it had failed to prove that full-time contingent faculty members exercised managerial authority.
FFRF and its Metropolitan Chicago chapter put up 14 freethought billboards in Chicagoland in December and January, with six more scheduled to be placed in March. Eleven went up in December and three in January. (All are shown here, along with Evan Kane's on this issue's front page. Billboards featuring "Friendly Atheist" Hemant Mehta and Tom Cara, chapter director, were featured in December's Freethought Today.)
Bob Elmore, photographer and chapter board member, commented: "As Tom Cara might attest, there isn't much I wouldn't do for the cause of FFRF, and providing some decent photos of the billboards was a true pleasure. We're all really proud of Tom's commitment to furthering the message here in the Chicago area and look forward to recruiting more new members who might respond to our efforts and aren't afraid to show their true colors."
One billboard was somehow deemed "offensive" by a landowner whom Clear Channel was leasing space from and had to be moved to a different location. It featured Alan Wagner and his message, "I put my faith in science."
"It's hard to believe someone would be that offended by a slogan that says that," commented Cara.
FFRF, which has more than 800 Illinois members, debuted the "Out of the Closet" billboard campaign in 2010 in Madison, Wis. Chicago is the 12th city for the campaign.
An Ohio complainant writes to recount how it paid to complain about a religious display encountered Dec. 4 at the Louis Stokes Veterans Hospital in Cleveland:
“I am a veteran from 1968. While walking toward the gift shop called the Patriot Mart, I was saddened by a display outside the mart. Tables were set up selling the usual veterans T-shirts and hats, but there was also a table set up selling Christian hats and license plate holders. The hats carried such messages as “God’s Army,” “Jesus Is My Boss” and 10 other pronouncements that Christianity and veterans were one and the same. No other religion was represented. To me it was a blatant act against the Constitution. I kept wondering how the Veterans Administration could be so unaware that this was against the law.”
After emailing FFRF Staff Attorney Sam Grover on how to proceed, the complainant called a VA patient representative. Assurances were given that the vendor was operating against policy. A follow-up email:
“I returned on 1/29 . . . and was happy to see all religious articles were gone. Vendor was selling only military connected clothes and trinkets. The patient rep. had done her job and I was glad I was able to keep religious endorsement off public space. My next mission will be to oppose the nativity scene being displayed on my local town’s public square.
FFRF urged members to get involved with state/church issues in their areas by contacting local officials to put forth the secular viewpoint:
• The Clark County Board of County Councilors in Vancouver, Wash., is considering a proposal to post "In God We Trust" in the county's main public hearing room. "A lot of times we drift away from it," said Councilor Tom Mielke, who suggested the display.
• Mayor Lupe Ramos Watson of Indio, Calif., decided to end the Indio City Council's practice of opening meetings with a prayer. "We need to respect all beliefs and absence of beliefs," she said, reported in The Desert Sun. Councilman Mike Wilson has strenuously opposed the change. FFRF urged members to thank the mayor for a courageous stand.
• Two Mississippi state representatives, Tom Miles and Michael Evans, are proposing to make the bible the state book. Miles said that since Mississippi has a state bird, a state flower and even a state toy, it should have a state book, reported The Clarion-Ledger.
• New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo stopped by a Sunday service at Mt. Vernon's Grace Baptist Church on Jan. 18 to announce the creation of the Office of Faith-Based Community Development Services. The office's first effort will be a $50 million grant program.
• Ohio recently unveiled plans for Community Connectors, a program that provides funds for local networks of volunteers and organizations to mentor students in disadvantaged schools. Superintendent of Public Instruction Dr. Richard A. Ross, whose department is charged with administering the program, added an unnecessary requirement: any organization that wants to participate must partner with "a faith-based organization."
Feeling the pressure from FFRF and others, the state "clarified" its requirement to include "organizations whose mission is based on the belief that every child's life has a purpose."
"The change doesn't clarify anything, it just makes the program's requirements more confusing," noted FFRF Legal Fellow Katherine Paige. "The principle that our lives have a purpose is distinctly religious, and 'values' is usually code for Christian Right values."
"This is just as absurd as it would be to require all faith-based organizations to partner with atheistic groups that believe there is no cosmic 'purpose of life,' " added Co-President Dan Barker. FFRF continues to monitor the situation."
Boards say no to meeting prayer
Concord [Calif.] City Council meetings will stay prayerless after the council's two-person Policy Development Committee on Jan. 12 declined to forward a council member's proposal to start meetings with prayers. The council had stopped praying about 40 years ago.
Councilwoman Laura Hoffmeister and Mayor Tim Grayson agreed prayer is divisive, reported the Contra Costa Times. Hoffmeister recalled that when the council allowed prayer in the 1970s, the proceedings often devolved into a "three-ring circus."
Hoffmeister added, "I think it's a slippery slope. There are just too many issues about who might or might not be allowed or might be offended."
Concord resident Roylen Stack told the council she opposed prayer. "Are we going to allow Druids to come in and speak? There are a whole bunch of things that people believe in."
• • •
The Easton [Pa.] Area School Board voted 5-4 on Jan. 13 against starting meetings with prayer, reported the Express-Times. Solicitor John Freund said 3rd Circuit appeals decisions are clear: Prayer will open the district up to legal challenges.
"My issue comes back to the legal issue," said board member Robert Fehnel. "The last thing we need is more controversy."
The district was ordered to pay $385,000 in fees and damages last year to students who won a legal challenge that let them wear "I Heart Boobies" breast cancer awareness bracelets.
GAO notes drop in IRS charity exams
A Dec. 17 U.S. Government Accountability Office press release said that Internal Revenue Service budget cutbacks have led to a steady decline in the number of charitable organizations audited. In 2011 the examination rate was 0.81% compared to 0.71% in 2013. Examination rates in 2013 for individual taxpayers and corporations were 1% and 1.4%, respectively. (1.4 percent).
The Exempt Organizations division of the IRS is responsible for making sure religious institutions comply with the law. FFRF sued the IRS for failure to enforce the law against church politicking. Last August, U.S. District Judge Lynn Adelman granted a joint motion for dismissal but said FFRF could renew the lawsuit if the IRS reverts to its previous inaction.
Greece elects atheist prime minister
Alexis Tsipras took his oath of office today in Athens. He said he promised to uphold the Constitution and look out for the welfare of Greeks. Tsipras is an atheist, so he refused a religious oath — the custom in this Greek Orthodox country. He's the first prime minister to do so.
News story, "Greece's Left-Wing Prime Minister Takes Charge"
National Public Radio, 1-26-15
Wisconsin FFRF member Ken Proulx, who is 90, notes, "The pope was saying it's wrong to kill in the name of God. Why, the Catholic Church got where it is by killing people, with a history as black as the ace of spades. In Spain alone, 25,000 people were killed during the Inquisition."
Ken counts among "the best years of my life" his public school education in a one-room schoolhouse in the Midwest, where the teacher paid him 50¢ a week in 1935 to be "janitor" and keep the woodstove fed and cleaned.
"The worst years of my life" were spent in parochial school in the third and fourth grades. Ken called it "an injustice" and still remembers the sharp sting of the nun's pointer on pupils' hands.
Name: Matthew Stark.
When and where I was born: New York City, Jan. 27, 1930. I lived in New York until I went to school at Ohio University in Athens, Ohio.
Where I live: My wife, Terri, and I have two homes, one in Minneapolis and the other in Fort Myers, Fla. We're snowbirds.
Education: Two degrees at Ohio University: English and B.S. in education, 1951. I earned a master's in educational psychology in 1959 from the University of Minnesota at Minneapolis and a Ph.D. in educational administration and counseling, Western Reserve University, 1963.
Occupation: In my first post-graduate job, I recruited, trained and supervised advisers to students in dorms, as well as to the fraternities and sororities at the University of Minnesota. I immediately changed the "house mother" title, with their agreement, to "house directors." Labeling them "house mothers" was insulting. I developed programs where they could take any course they wanted for free.
I stayed at the U of M as adviser to Students' Extracurricular Activity, reporting to the dean of students and president. We developed programs to involve students in extra curriculum, including for extra credit. Then I set up the Office of the Coordinator of Human Relations Programs. Martin Luther King Jr. and I developed a program where students at University of Minnesota were trained by me and others to go down South to Montgomery, Selma, etc., live there and work with black and white people positively concerned about race relations. I met Dr. King through the ACLU and was his legal liaison.
When I retired from the university, I became the first paid director of the Minnesota Civil Liberties Union (1973–87), after having serving as volunteer president. I did what executive directors do: I dealt with the media, schools and colleges, etc. I was either the plaintiff or recruited plaintiffs for litigation and recruited lawyers to do volunteer work for the MCLU.
Person in history I admire: Donald G. Patterson, head of the psychology department at the University of Minnesota, and one of the main founders of the Minnesota Civil Liberties Union, and Earl Larson, now a federal district judge, also involved in the original founding of the MCLU.
These are a few of my favorite things: I love to fish, walk in the woods and around the lakes in the Twin Cities. I've done a lot of fishing in Canada and Minnesota. I love to sit with my friends in a tented area outside, enjoying the lake and sunset, talking and drinking cold beer.
These are things I smite: Teachers at public schools who impose their religious views on their students. The most serious problem we're facing in this world is overpopulation — the Earth cannot sustain the millions upon millions of people living on it.
A quotation I like: Coined myself: Civil liberties are essential if we're going to have a democracy.
My doubts about religion started: When I was a kid. My family was primarily Unitarian. I was astonished by what I read and saw about religion and how people I liked were treated because of their diverse religious views, or their sexuality. It always bothered me.
There's a book written by Dick Hewetson [a longtime FFRF state representative] about the MCLU and my role in it: History of the Gay Movement in Minnesota and the Role of the Minnesota Civil Liberties Union.
Ways I promote freethought: I have and will continue to support public education and my belief that all students ought to go to public schools. I support organizations with which I have fundamental agreement, such as FFRF, and I think what you guys are doing is absolutely wonderful.
I helped take cases to keep religion out of government as director of the Minnesota Civil Liberties Union. I'm proud of being grand marshal in the Twin Cities Gay Pride Festival in 2008 and to have received a variety of local, educational, humanist and atheist awards.
I was always extremely interested in separation of church and state. When I was in public school, they had the kids praying, so I blew the whistle as a student. Later in my life, when I came across FFRF, of course, I was absolutely delighted. I worked with Anne Nicol Gaylor and even sent FFRF a check to help put up a portrait of her in the new lobby!
By James A. Haught
Did you know that nearly all 50 states have religious preambles affixed to their state constitutions, in brazen violation of the First Amendment's decree that government cannot dictate supernatural faith?
Some of these holy declarations date back to the 1700s. They're little-noticed, because hardly anyone reads state constitutions. Yet they exist as official government proclamations.
Four states (New Hampshire, Oregon, Tennessee and Virginia) don't use preambles but include "worship maxims" within their constitutions.
Court challenges to them could fail, because judges often pretend that governmental religious declarations aren't actually religious. For example, after members of Congress pandering to religious believers branded "In God We Trust" on money and inserted "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance, federal courts shrugged off these church-state breaches, saying they're merely "ceremonial deism" with no "significant religious content."
In May, the Supreme Court said it was OK for the town of Greece, N.Y., to open council meetings with prayers exalting "the saving sacrifice of Christ on the cross." Five conservative justices ruled that such invocations are merely "ceremonial." (Perhaps, privately, they understand that public prayers are meaningless lip service that nobody believes.)
Any intelligent person can see that official government decrees of supernatural belief are gross constitutional violations. Court rulings to the contrary are absurd, almost comical.
If anyone wants to tackle the holy preambles and worship clauses in the 50 states, I wish them god(less)speed. Here's an alphabetical list of the relevant clauses:
Alabama 1901: We the people of the State of Alabama, invoking the favor and guidance of Almighty God, do ordain and establish the following Constitution.
Alaska 1956: We, the people of Alaska, grateful to God and to those who founded our nation and pioneered this great land.
Arizona 1911: We, the people of the State of Arizona, grateful to Almighty God for our liberties, do ordain this Constitution.
Arkansas 1874: We, the people of the State of Arkansas, grateful to Almighty God for the privilege of choosing our own form of government.
California 1879: We, the People of the State of California, grateful to Almighty God for our freedom.
Colorado 1876: We, the people of Colorado, with profound reverence for the Supreme Ruler of the Universe.
Connecticut 1818: The People of Connecticut, acknowledging with gratitude the good Providence of God in permitting them to enjoy.
Delaware 1897: Through Divine Goodness all men have, by nature, the rights of worshipping and serving their Creator according to the dictates of their consciences.
Florida 1845: We, the people of the State of Florida, grateful to Almighty God for our constitutional liberty.
Georgia 1777: We, the people of Georgia, relying upon the protection and guidance of Almighty God, do ordain.
Hawaii 1959: We, the people of Hawaii, grateful for Divine Guidance, establish this Constitution.
Idaho 1889: We, the people of the State of Idaho, grateful to Almighty God for our freedom, to secure its blessings.
Illinois 1870: We, the people of the State of Illinois, grateful to Almighty God for the civil, political and religious liberty which He hath so long permitted us to enjoy and looking to Him for a blessing on our endeavors.
Indiana 1851: We, the People of the State of Indiana, grateful to Almighty God for the free exercise of the right to choose our form of government.
Iowa 1857: We, the People of the State of Iowa, grateful to the Supreme Being for the blessings hitherto enjoyed, and feeling our dependence on Him for a continuation of these blessings.
Kansas 1859: We, the people of Kansas, grateful to Almighty God for our civil and religious privileges.
Kentucky 1891: We, the people of the Commonwealth of Kentucky, grateful to Almighty God for the civil, political and religious liberties.
Louisiana 1921: We, the people of the State of Louisiana, grateful to Almighty God for the civil, political and religious liberties we enjoy.
Maine 1820: We, the People of Maine, acknowledging with grateful hearts the goodness of the Sovereign Ruler of the Universe, and imploring His aid and direction.
Maryland 1776: We, the people of the state of Maryland, grateful to Almighty God or our civil and religious liberty.
Massachusetts 1780: We, the people of Massachusetts, acknowledging with grateful hearts the goodness of the Great Legislator of the Universe, in the course of His Providence, an opportunity and devoutly imploring His direction.
Michigan 1908: We, the people of the State of Michigan, grateful to Almighty God for the blessings of freedom.
Minnesota 1857: We, the people of the State of Minnesota, grateful to God for our civil and religious liberty, and desiring to perpetuate its blessings.
Mississippi 1890: We, the people of Mississippi in convention assembled, grateful to Almighty God, and invoking His blessing on our work.
Missouri 1845: We, the people of Missouri, with profound reverence for the Supreme Ruler of the Universe, and grateful for His goodness.
Montana 1889: We, the people of Montana, grateful to Almighty God for the blessings of liberty.
Nebraska 1875: We, the people, grateful to Almighty God for our freedom.
Nevada 1864: We, the people of the State of Nevada, grateful to Almighty God for our freedom.
New Hampshire 1792 (Part I. Art. I. Sec. V): Every individual has a natural and unalienable right to worship God according to the dictates of his own conscience.
New Jersey 1844: We, the people of the State of New Jersey, grateful to Almighty God for civil and religious liberty which He hath so long permitted us to enjoy, and looking to Him for a blessing on our endeavors.
New Mexico 1911: We, the People of New Mexico, grateful to Almighty God for the blessings of liberty.
New York 1846: We, the people of the State of New York, grateful to Almighty God for our freedom, in order to secure its blessings.
North Carolina 1868: We, the people of the State of North Carolina, grateful to Almighty God, the Sovereign Ruler of Nations, for our civil, political, and religious liberties, and acknowledging our dependence upon Him for the continuance of those.
North Dakota 1889: We, the people of North Dakota, grateful to Almighty God for the blessings of civil and religious liberty, do ordain.
Ohio 1852: We, the people of the State of Ohio, grateful to Almighty God for our freedom, to secure its blessings and promote our common welfare, do establish this Constitution.
Oklahoma 1907: Invoking the guidance of Almighty God, in order to secure and perpetuate the blessings of liberty.
Oregon 1857 (Bill of Rights, Art. I. Sec. 2): All men shall be secure in the Natural right to worship Almighty God according to the dictates of their consciences.
Pennsylvania 1776: We, the people of Pennsylvania, grateful to Almighty God for the blessings of civil and religious liberty, and humbly invoking His guidance.
Rhode Island 1842: We the People of the State of Rhode Island, grateful to Almighty God for the civil and religious liberty which He hath so long permitted us to enjoy, and looking to Him for a blessing.
South Carolina 1778: We, the people of the State of South Carolina, grateful to God for our liberties, do ordain and establish this Constitution.
South Dakota 1889: We, the people of South Dakota, grateful to Almighty God for our civil and religious liberties, establish this.
Tennessee 1796 (Art. XI): That all men have a natural and indefeasible right to worship Almighty God according to the dictates of their conscience.
Texas 1845: We the People of the Republic of Texas, acknowledging, with gratitude, the grace and beneficence of God.
Utah 1896: Grateful to Almighty God for life and liberty, we establish this Constitution.
Vermont 1777: Whereas all government ought to enable the individuals who compose it to enjoy their natural rights, and other blessings which the Author of Existence has bestowed on man.
Virginia 1776 (Bill of Rights): Religion, or the Duty which we owe our Creator, can be directed only by Reason, and that it is the mutual duty of all to practice Christian Forbearance, Love and Charity towards each other.
Washington 1889: We the People of the State of Washington, grateful to the Supreme Ruler of the Universe for our liberties, do ordain this Constitution.
West Virginia 1872: Since through Divine Providence we enjoy the blessings of civil, political and religious liberty, we, the people of West Virginia, reaffirm our faith in and constant reliance upon God.
Wisconsin 1848: We, the people of Wisconsin, grateful to Almighty God for our freedom, domestic tranquility.
Wyoming 1890: We, the people of the State of Wyoming, grateful to God for our civil, political, and religious liberties.
James A. Haught, longtime editor of the Charleston Gazette in West Virginia, is the author of the 2010 book, Fading Faith: The Rise of the Secular Age.
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 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.
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.
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.”