Name: Elizabeth Cavell.
Where and when I was born: New York, N.Y., in July 1983.
Education: B.A., University of Florida; J.D., Tulane University Law School.
Family: Spouse, Andrew Seidel; son, Oliver; and Moose, our dog.
How I came to work at FFRF: I worked as a public defender in Colorado after law school. After a couple of years there, my husband Andrew had an opportunity to work for FFRF so we moved to Madison. I took the Wisconsin bar exam and was working part-time providing legal support at FFRF when the former intake attorney left to take a job at a local firm. I was hired to replace her.
What I do here: I am the intake attorney, which means I supervise the processing of complaints by our administrative assistant. I also process incoming complaints myself. I speak with complainants who contact FFRF about potential state/church violations, assess each complaint and assign complaints to attorneys for further action when appropriate.
I also handle my own substantive caseload, which includes complaints involving governmental "In God We Trust" displays, public parks, post
offices and civil rights/public accommodations complaints.
What I like best about it: Working with my friends, practicing constitutional law and screwing with the government.
What gets old about it: The daunting volume of complaints, working with limited resources and people threatening to kill us.
I spend a lot of time thinking about: Places I'd like to travel, how to better myself, home improvement projects.
I spend little if any time thinking about: Sports and fantasy sports.
My religious upbringing was: Catholic. I attended Catholic school until my family moved to Florida when I was in fifth grade.
My doubts about religion started: I was never very engaged with religion as a kid. Homilies never made sense to me, and I never felt socially or intellectually connected to my church, but I was expected by my family to participate in the rituals and sacraments.
Like many Catholics, hypocrisy and abuse made me lose all respect for the church. And like many Catholics, as an adult I did not practice Catholicism in any way. Once I was in college and law school, reading the religious skepticism of others, I gave up any religion.
Things I like: Summer in Madison, visiting new places, laughing with my husband, narrating my dog's thoughts.
Things I smite: Bullying, violence and corruption.
In my golden years: I hope to be traveling with my husband or living at my future beach or lake house.
City Hall in Warren, Mich., got a lot more reasonable on April 28 thanks to activist and FFRF member Douglas Marshall, who was finally allowed to set up a "reason station" in the building atrium after a legal battle for equal treatment.
For years, the city let volunteers at a "prayer station" inside City Hall distribute religious pamphlets and offer to pray and discuss their religious beliefs with passersby. Marshall submitted an application in April 2014 to city officials to reserve atrium space two days a week for a reason station, where he would offer to engage in philosophical discussions with those who expressed an interest in a secular belief system.
But less than two weeks after it was submitted, Marshall's application — although nearly identical to the one submitted by the church sponsoring the prayer station — was rejected by Mayor James Fouts. In his rejection letter, Fouts accused Marshall of "intending to deprive all organized religions of their constitutional freedoms or at least discourage the practice of religion." (Fouts called FFRF "un-American" after FFRF sued him and the city in late 2011 over a nativity scene.)
Noting that the atrium was established as a public forum, FFRF, Americans United for Separation of Church and State and the American Civil Liberties Union filed suit on behalf of Marshall in July 2014. The suit was settled in February, with the city agreeing to treat nonbelievers and believers equally.
The reason station will be open and staffed from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays. On opening day, about eight people expressed interest, Marshall said. "One lady thanked me for my persistence. One man said he was glad we were there and said he specifically came to welcome us. A few others came up and stated that they were also nonbelievers."
Local and major media, including the Detroit Free Press, covered the opening. Linda Jackson, 74, told the Free Press she stopped to pray but said, "It's a public place. I guess all are welcome, whether they believe Jesus is the reason or they don't."
After the Freedom From Religion Foundation sent letters to 26 Oklahoma school districts about illegal bible distribution, state Attorney General Scott Pruitt went on the offensive (you can take that two ways).
Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel's February complaint letters objected to letting Jamison Faught (son of state Rep. George Faught) and other Gideons International members distribute bibles to fifth-grade students during the school day. FFRF educated the districts on the law and advised them that if they continued to allow third-party distributions, FFRF would seek to distribute its literature.
Faught had bragged on Facebook about being allowed to distribute bibles "at every school in McIntosh, Okmulgee and Ofuskee counties except one or two. Last year, the Checotah principal not only personally took us to each classroom, but he helped us hand them out!"
In response to the letter, several schools ended their open forum policies, with at least one superintendent confirming he did not know the Gideons had been allowed into the schools. Gideons typically operate by deliberately avoiding superintendents and school boards, seeking permission from lower-level, less-informed staff.
In his response letter April 14 to superintendents statewide, Pruitt smeared FFRF and trumpeted false claims about government's hostility toward religion.
"Schools have a right to enact neutral policies that allow all viewpoints on religion to thrive," Pruitt wrote. "As the Attorney General of Oklahoma, I will not stand idly by while out-of-state organizations bully you or any other official in this State into restricting the religious freedom the Founders of this country held dear."
Seidel responded to Pruitt the next day, informing him that several districts contacted by FFRF already had such policies, but decided to "revisit the wisdom of these forums" after FFRF asked for equal time.
"It is obviously far easier for an Oklahoma student to get hold of a bible than it is to get hold of criticisms of the bible, which FFRF will seek to pass out in every public school forum that is opened under your offer," Seidel wrote. "If the goal of the Oklahoma Attorney General's Office is to allow public schools to be used to distribute atheist messages, then this is a brilliant idea."
However, he added, "FFRF prefers that public schools focus on education rather than serve as a venue for divisive religious debates."
It's not the first time Pruitt has smeared FFRF. Last year, in discussing the Internal Revenue Service's inaction against pulpit politicking, he claimed FFRF "is unabashed in its desire to destroy" free speech and the First Amendment's free exercise clause.
ELEANOR MCENTEE has over a decade of experience as a nonprofit bookkeeper and is very dedicated to nonprofit organizations. In her free time, she journals, spends time with her cats Steven and MacNcheez, and rides her Harley all over Wisconsin and more!
DAN BARKER and ANNIE LAURIE GAYLOR are co-presidents of the Freedom From Religion Foundation and co-hosts of Freethought Radio. A former minister and evangelist, Dan became a freethinker in 1983. His books, Just Pretend: A Freethought Book for Children and Losing Faith in Faith: From Preacher To Atheist (1992) are published by the Foundation. His newest book, Life Driven Purpose: How an atheist finds meaning, was published by Pitchstone Press in 2015. His previous book, the autobiographical Godless: How An Evangelical Preacher Became One of America's Leading Atheists, was published in 2008. A graduate of Azusa Pacific University with a degree in Religion, Dan now puts his knowledge of Christianity to effective freethought use. A professional pianist and composer, Dan performs freethought concerts and is featured in the Foundation's musical cassettes, "My Thoughts Are Free," "Reason's Greetings," "Dan Barker Salutes Freethought Then And Now," a 2-CD album "Friendly Neighborhood Atheist," and the CD "Beware of Dogma." He joined the Foundation staff in 1987 and served as public relations director. He was first elected co-president in November 2004.
Annie Laurie was also editor of Freethought Today from 1984 to 2009, when she became executive editor. The paper is published 10 times a year. Her book, Woe To The Women: The Bible Tells Me So, first published in 1981, is now in its 4th printing. In 1988, the Foundation published her book, Betrayal of Trust: Clergy Abuse of Children, the first book documenting widespread sexual abuse by clergy. Her 1997 book, Women Without Superstition: 'No Gods, No Masters'is the first collection of the writings of historic and contemporary women freethinkers. A 1980 graduate of the UW-Madison Journalism School, she was an award-winning student reporter and recipient of the Ken Purdy scholarship. After graduation, she founded, edited and published the Feminist Connection,a monthly advocacy newspaper, from 1980-1985. She joined the Foundation staff in 1985. She has been co-president since 2004. She co-founded the original FFRF with Anne Gaylor (see below) as a college student. Photo: Timothy Hughes
FFRF President emerita
ANNE NICOL GAYLOR is a founder and president emerita of the Freedom From Religion Foundation. She served as executive director from 1978 to 2005, and is now working as a consultant to the Foundation. Born in rural Wisconsin, she is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin in Madison. She owned and managed successful small businesses and was co-owner and editor of an award-winning suburban weekly newspaper. A feminist author, she has done substantial volunteer work for women's rights (including serving as volunteer director of the Women's Medical Fund). Under her leadership the Freedom From Religion Foundation has grown from its initial three Wisconsin members to a national group with representation in every state and Canada.
Director of Operations
LISA STRAND is director of operations of FFRF. She has more than 25 years of experience in nonprofit (primarily association) management, including 15 years as executive director of the Wisconsin Library Association. She is married with a daughter, as well as three cats, a guinea pig and an untended garden that will someday be beautiful.
REBECCA S. MARKERT attended the University of Wisconsin at Madison and received her B.A. in political science, international relations and German in 1998. After graduating from UW–Madison, Rebecca spent one year working as a legislative fellow at the German Parliament in Bonn, Germany. In the fall 1999, she returned to the United States and began working as a legislative correspondent and assistant to the chief of staff for United States Senator Russ Feingold in Washington, D.C. In 2002, she returned to Madison, Wisconsin, to work on Senator Feingold’s 2004 re-election campaign. After the campaign, Rebecca attended Roger Williams University School of Law and received her Juris Doctor in 2008. She joined the Foundation staff in October 2008.
Rebecca is the Freedom From Religion Foundation’s first staff attorney and primarily works on Establishment Clause cases. She is a member of the State Bar of Wisconsin, Dane County Bar Association, and is admitted to practice in the United States District Court for the Eastern and Western Districts of Wisconsin.
PATRICK ELLIOTT, the Foundation's second staff attorney, hails from St. Paul, Minn. Patrick received a degree in legal studies and political science from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2005. He attended the University of Wisconsin Law School and received his Juris Doctor in 2009. While in school, Patrick took an interest in the First Amendment and constitutional law. He joined FFRF as a staff attorney in July 2010, after working part-time for the Foundation since February. Patrick is a member of the State Bar of Wisconsin, and is admitted to practice in the United States District Court for the Western and Eastern Districts of Wisconsin.
ANDREW SEIDEL graduated cum laude from Tulane University with a B.S. in neuroscience and environmental science and magna cum laude from Tulane University Law School, where he was awarded the Haber J. McCarthy Award for excellence in environmental law. He studied human rights and international law at the University of Amsterdam and traveled the world on Semester at Sea. In May of 2011, Andrew completed his Master of Laws at Denver University Sturm College of Law with a 4.0 GPA and was awarded the Outstanding L.L.M. Award. He has written a book on International Human Rights Law and his essay on the role of religion in government and the founding of our nation placed second in the FFRF's 2010 graduate student essay contest. Andrew is a former Grand Canyon tour guide and accomplished nature photographer; his work has been displayed in galleries in Colorado, Texas, Florida, Louisiana, and Maryland. He joined the FFRF staff as a constitutional consultant in November 2011.
ELIZABETH CAVELL received her B.A in English from the University of Florida in 2005. After college, Elizabeth spent a year as a full-time volunteer in AmeriCorps*NCCC. She attended Tulane University Law School and received her Juris Doctor in 2009. After law school, she worked as a deputy public defender in southern Colorado. She joined the Foundation as a staff attorney in January 2013, after working for the Foundation part-time since September 2012.
SAM GROVER received his B.A. in philosophy and government from Wesleyan University in 2008. He first worked for FFRF in 2010 as a legal intern while attending Boston University School of Law. In 2011, his article on the religious exemptions in the Affordable Care Act’s individual health insurance mandate was published in the American Journal of Law and Medicine. After receiving his J.D. from Boston University in 2012, Sam worked as a law clerk for the Vermont Office of Legislative Council where he drafted legislation on health care, human services, and tax issues. He returned to work as a constitutional consultant for FFRF in the fall of 2013. Sam has written a paper on counterterrorism and the law that was published by the Memorial Institute for the Prevention of Terrorism in Oklahoma City and has traveled to southern Africa to work under Justice Unity Dow of Botswana’s High Court.
KATHERINE PAIGE graduated magna cum laude from Wichita State University in 2010 with a B.A. in History, Political Science, and French. She attended law school at the College of William & Mary where she received her Juris Doctor in 2014. Katherine became FFRF’s first Legal Fellow in September 2014, specializing in faith-based government funding.
MADELINE ZIEGLER graduated magna cum laude from the University of Wisconsin – La Crosse in 2011 with a B.A. in English Literature and Political Science. She attended the University of Wisconsin Law School and received her Juris Doctor in 2014. She has worked at FFRF since May 2012, starting as a legal intern/extern, and currently works as a law clerk and legal publicist.
CALLAHAN MILLER graduated with honors from the University of Wisconsin — Madison in 2014 with a B.A. in Sociology and Legal Studies and a certificate in Criminal Justice. She received a Distinction in the Major for Legal Studies and is a member of Phi Beta Kappa and Alpha Kappa Delta. For the majority of her time as an undergraduate, she was a leading member of UW’s ground-breaking Atheists, Humanists, and Agnostics student organization. She joined the FFRF team as an official staff member in January of 2015 after having previously been an intern and intends on going to law school herself in a few years.
BILL DUNN is the editor of Freethought Today. He has a degree in history and mass communications (journalism emphasis) from the University of South Dakota and has worked as a reporter, copy editor and editor in South Dakota and Wisconsin since 1980. Bill joined the Foundation staff in July 2009. He has two daughters, Kaitlin Marie and Jamie Lee.
LAURYN SEERING is the publicist & assistant webmaster. She was born in Wausau, Wis. and has also lived in Nagasaki, Japan. She graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Stout in 2012 with her B.S. in Professional Communications and Emerging Media, concentrating in Technical Communication and International Studies. She also received a double minor in Journalism and English. Lauryn moved to Madison in January 2013 and enjoys reading about astrophysics, basking in the sun like a turtle and creating art at coffee shops. Lauryn is a practicing Pastafarian.
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.
LISA TREU is our Director Of First Impressions at FFRF. She comes to us after working in broadcasting for iHeart Radio in Madison, Wisconsin. She hosted various radio programs for fifteen years. Lisa and her husband ran their own Birdhouse/Birdfeeder manufacturing company called Northwoods Mfg., Inc. during the 1990’s where she had her own line of decorative birdhouses that she designed and painted herself. Lisa is the wife of Harry and is the mother of twin daughters Katrina and Karinthia. In her spare time she enjoys reading, painting, gardening, feeding the birds, getting silly with her daughters and lounging with her two cats.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation is delighted to announce the formation of a new FFRF Honorary Board of distinguished achievers who have made known their dissent from religion.
The FFRF Honorary Board includes Jerry Coyne, Robin Morgan, Richard Dawkins, Daniel C. Dennett, Ernie Harburg, Jennifer Michael Hecht, Christopher Hitchens, Susan Jacoby, Mike Newdow, Katha Pollitt, Steven Pinker, Ron Reagan, Oliver Sacks, M.D., Robert Sapolsky, Edward Sorel and Julia Sweeney.
“We are so pleased that these outstanding thinkers and freethinkers have agreed to publicly lend their endorsement to the Foundation, and its two purposes of promoting freethought and the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause,” said Dan Barker, Foundation co-president.
- Jerry Coyne, Ph.D., professor of ecology and evolution at the University of Chicago, is author of the popular book 'Why Evolution is True' and the blog of the same name.
- Richard Dawkins, probably the world’s most famous contemporary atheist and a distinguished evolutionary biologist, is Oxford professor emeritus. In his blockbuster book, The God Delusion, Dawkins writes: “The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction.”
- Daniel C. Dennett is Austin B. Fletcher Professor of Philosophy, Tufts, and author of the bestselling book about religion, Breaking the Spell. In a newspaper article about his nonbelief, Dennett once wrote: “I’ve come to realize it’s time to sound the alarm.”
- Rebecca Newberger Goldstein, author of 36 Arguments For the Existence of God: A Work of Fiction and a research associate in Harvard’s psychology department, is FFRF Freethought Heroine of 2011. Goldstein is a 1996 MacArthur Fellow (the “genius” award). She has taught at Barnard and in the Columbia MFA writing program and the Rutgers philosophy department. She’s been a visiting scholar at Brandeis and at Trinity College in Hartford.
- Ernie Harburg, a retired research scientist, is president of Yip Harburg Foundation and co-author of Who Put the Rainbow in the Wizard of Oz? Ernie has dedicated his retirement to furthering the lyrics, music, memory and progressive views of his freethinking father, the lyricist Yip Harburg, author of classic songs such as “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” and of Rhymes for the Irreverent, recently republished by FFRF.
- Jennifer Michael Hecht, poet, historian and author of the acclaimed Doubt: A History and The End of the Soul, told the FFRF 2009 convention audience: “If there is no god — and there isn't — then we [humans] made up morality. And I'm very impressed.”
- Susan Jacoby, bestselling author of Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism, and program director of the Center for Inquiry-New York City, told FFRF convention-goers in 2004: "[President] Kennedy had to speak about his religion because he was suspected of insufficient dedication to the Constitution's separation of church and state. Today's candidates are suspect if they display too much dedication to secular government."
- Robin Morgan, feminist pioneer, global activist, author of the groundbreaking "Sisterhood is Powerful" and more than 20 books, was formerly Ms. Magazine editor and consulting editor. She is the co-founder of the Feminist Women's Health Network and Women's Media Center and currently hosts "Women's Media Center Live" the radio "talk-show with a brain."
- Mike Newdow is working pro bono to challenge such violations as the addition of “under God” to the Pledge of Allegiance. He told the U.S. Supreme Court during oral arguments: “I am an atheist. I don't believe in God. And every school morning my child is asked to stand up, face that flag, put her hand over her heart, and say that her father is wrong.”
- Steven Pinker, Johnstone Professor of Psychology, Harvard, is author of The Blank Slate: “I never outgrew my conversion to atheist at 13.”
- Katha Pollitt, “Subject to Debate” columnist for The Nation, author and poet, has spoken out regularly and energetically as a freethinker, in such columns as “Freedom From Religion, Sí!”
- Ron Reagan, media commentator, describes himself in a radio ad he taped for FFRF as: “Unabashed atheist, not afraid of burning in hell.”
- Oliver Sacks, M.D., the compassionate neurologist and bestselling author, describes himself as “an old Jewish atheist.”
- Robert Sapolsky, a neurologist, Stanford professor and bestselling author, once suggested FFRF put up a sign at its conventions: “Welcome, hellbound atheists.”
- Edward Sorel, satiric cartoonist and irreverent illustrator who is a regular contributor to The Atlantic, The New Yorker, and whose caricatures have been exhibited at the National Portrait Gallery, has been a Foundation member since the 1980s.
- Julia Sweeney, comedian and actress, is writer/performer of the play, “Letting Go of God”: “How dare the religious use the term 'born again.' That truly describes freethinkers who've thrown off the shackles of religion so much better!”
- Christopher Hitchens, the iconoclastic journalist, is author of the bestselling God Is Not Great: “Since it is obviously inconceivable that all religions can be right, the most reasonable conclusion is that they are all wrong.”