Due to FFRF’s intervention, Manierre Elementary School in Chicago, Ill., relocated its kindergarten graduation from a church sanctuary to its banquet hall.
On June 10, FFRF Staff Attorney Sam Grover, acting on reports from a concerned community member that the ceremony was to be hosted in Moody Church, wrote Chief Executive Officer of Chicago Public Schools Barbara Byrd-Bennett. Objecting to the location’s religious iconography, he stated that “this practice creates the impression that Manierre Elementary, and by extension the District, endorses the Christian religion,” and thus contravenes the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. Grover also expressed concern about this inappropriate message being foisted on extremely young and impressionable children.
The next day, school attorney James L. Bebley replied that, “the school has arranged for the captioned ceremony to be moved to the banquet hall.” And “at our administrator training this summer, we plan to address again the prohibition on the use of religious sites for public school events.”
Inappropriate religious material, brought to the FFRF’s attention by a concerned individual, has been removed from the official website of the township of Watersmeet, Mich.
The bible quote, accredited to Mr. Jesus Christ, which we will politely refrain from quoting again here, endorsed a belief in heaven, sin and Jesus.
FFRF Senior Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert wrote Township Supervisor Mike Rogers on June 16 to relay the information that “Courts have continually held that townships may not display religious messages.”
Rogers agreed moments after receiving the letter to remove the quote.
Graduation ceremonies in Perry Local School District, Massillon, Ohio, will no longer be held at the Faith Family Church. From now on, students wishing to participate in one of life’s most momentous occasions will not be excluded from doing so.
FFRF Senior Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert wrote to Superintendent Martin J. Bowe on Feb. 17, informing him that “It is unconstitutional for a public high school to force, compel, or coerce its graduation students, their parents, teachers, and other members of their families or friends, to violate their rights of conscience at a graduation ceremony.”
Bowe’s May 15 reply reported that the Board has “agreed to find a different site for the 2015 graduating class.”
Onaway Area Community School District in Onaway, Mich., will no longer invite speakers with a proselytizing agenda.
Matt Fradd — who describes himself on his website as “a Catholic apologist and speaker” — was invited to give a presentation to Onaway High School students on the subject of abstinence on April 29. According to his website, his presentation “challenges audience members to open their minds and hearts and embrace the Church’s teachings on human sexuality.” Students were reportedly told, “Romantic love is impossible without chastity.”
FFRF Senior Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert wrote Superintendent Rod Fullerton on May 20, citing constitutional concerns over the religious content in the assembly. “Public schools may not advance or promote religion,” she noted, adding that regardless of the motives of the school, inviting such a speaker “gives the appearance that Onaway Area Community School District endorses the program’s message.”
Replying on June 18, Fullerton assured FFRF that the school “had no intention of violating any laws with this assembly” and that it “will not be participating in this type of assembly in the future.”
An advertisement for Vacation Bible School in front of the Caraway Public Library in Caraway, Ark., has been removed. The sign, an electronic, scrolling text marquee, promoted a bible program for children at a local church.
FFRF Staff Attorney Patrick Elliot wrote to Mayor Barry Riley on June 13, noting that the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment mandates government “neutrality between religion and religion, and religion and nonreligion.”
Elliott suggested, “The best policy would be for the city to disallow such advertising.”
Mayor Riley responded on the same day that, “The message on the sign has been removed.”
The Freedom From Religion Foundation sent a letter today to Theodore Nickel, of the Wisconsin Office of the Commissioner of Insurance, protesting his decision, as reported by some media outlets, to stop enforcing a state law requiring insurers to cover contraception as part of health plans if they have “religious objections.”
According to a report by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, agency spokesperson J.P. Wieske claimed to be “federally pre-empted” by the Supreme Court’s ruling in the Hobby Lobby case.
“If the reports are true, this is a phony excuse, and a decision that Wisconsin women must not tolerate. This state agency most certainly is not ‘federally pre-empted.’ The Hobby Lobby ruling has no bearing on state law. Inviting insurers to violate a state law is not only irresponsible, but is an egregious attack on women’s rights and reproductive health,” said FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor.
FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel noted in his letter to Nickel that Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc., “hinges on the Religious Freedom Restoration Act [and] . . . does not apply to state law and state action.” Seidel further notes, “The Wisconsin legislature mandated contraceptive coverage in June of 2009, before the Affordable Care Act.”
“It is curious, some might even say hypocritical, to claim that there is a federal preemption issue with Wisconsin’s contraception mandate,” Seidel wrote. “Gutting mandatory contraceptive coverage is not required by the Hobby Lobby decision, as any staunch states’ rights defender must know.” FFRF requested that the Office of the Commissioner of Insurance “immediately rescind this misguided action.”
The Freedom From Religion Foundation salutes President Barack Obama for doing the right thing today — by not caving to the ugly demand by many religious leaders of various denominations seeking the privilege to discriminate against gays and lesbians while receiving federal contracts.
This morning the president issued an executive order prohibiting federal contractors from discriminating against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender workers, and prohibiting discrimination based on gender identity in federal employment. Obama took matters into his own hands after the House failed to act on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), which was passed last November by the Senate with strong bipartisan support.
“It’s a fact that the only organized opposition to gay rights and non-discrimination against LGBT citizens is religious,” said FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor.
“Those host of religious leaders who urged Obama to exempt them from the executive order — for the express purpose of shunning gays and lesbians while working on the public dime — ought to be ashamed of themselves,” added FFRF Co-President Dan Barker, a former evangelical minister. “When my mother, a former fundamentalist, left religion, she told me how happy she was that ‘I don’t have to hate anymore.’ It shouldn’t be socially acceptable to be bigoted for any reason, much less in the name of religion.”
Religionists who contacted Obama included Rich Stearns, president of World Vision, Rick Warrens, Catholic leaders, priests, rabbis, evangelical leaders and Christian college presidents.
FFRF maintains that the federal government and recipients of federal programs will benefit by weeding out discriminatory would-be contractors.
Obama’s being targeted for this action by many theocratic groups. If you’d like to thank him for putting people above dogma, here’s how to contact him:
Please click here to send a message directly to the White House urging President Obama, using the online comment form.
Or phone the President at the White House comment line now: 202-456-1111.
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 two cats, a guinea pig and an untended garden that will someday be beautiful.
REBECCA S. MARKERT attended the University of Wisconsin at Madison and received her B.A. in political science, international relations and German in 1998. After graduating from UW–Madison, Rebecca spent one year working as a legislative fellow at the German Parliament in Bonn, Germany. In the fall 1999, she returned to the United States and began working as a legislative correspondent and assistant to the chief of staff for United States Senator Russ Feingold in Washington, D.C. In 2002, she returned to Madison, Wisconsin, to work on Senator Feingold’s 2004 re-election campaign. After the campaign, Rebecca attended Roger Williams University School of Law and received her Juris Doctor in 2008. She joined the Foundation staff in October 2008.
Rebecca is the Freedom From Religion Foundation’s first staff attorney and primarily works on Establishment Clause cases. She is a member of the State Bar of Wisconsin, Dane County Bar Association, and is admitted to practice in the United States District Court for the Eastern and Western Districts of Wisconsin.
PATRICK ELLIOTT, the Foundation's second staff attorney, hails from St. Paul, Minn. Patrick received a degree in legal studies and political science from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2005. He attended the University of Wisconsin Law School and received his Juris Doctor in 2009. While in school, Patrick took an interest in the First Amendment and constitutional law. He joined FFRF as a staff attorney in July 2010, after working part-time for the Foundation since February. Patrick is a member of the State Bar of Wisconsin, and is admitted to practice in the United States District Court for the Western and Eastern Districts of Wisconsin.
ANDREW SEIDEL graduated cum laude from Tulane University with a B.S. in neuroscience and environmental science and magna cum laude from Tulane University Law School, where he was awarded the Haber J. McCarthy Award for excellence in environmental law. He studied human rights and international law at the University of Amsterdam and traveled the world on Semester at Sea. In May of 2011, Andrew completed his Master of Laws at Denver University Sturm College of Law with a 4.0 GPA and was awarded the Outstanding L.L.M. Award. He has written a book on International Human Rights Law and his essay on the role of religion in government and the founding of our nation placed second in the FFRF's 2010 graduate student essay contest. Andrew is a former Grand Canyon tour guide and accomplished nature photographer; his work has been displayed in galleries in Colorado, Texas, Florida, Louisiana, and Maryland. He joined the FFRF staff as a constitutional consultant in November 2011.
ELIZABETH CAVELL received her B.A in English from the University of Florida in 2005. After college, Elizabeth spent a year as a full-time volunteer in AmeriCorps*NCCC. She attended Tulane University Law School and received her Juris Doctor in 2009. After law school, she worked as a deputy public defender in southern Colorado. She joined the Foundation as a staff attorney in January 2013, after working for the Foundation part-time since September 2012.
SAM GROVER received his B.A. in philosophy and government from Wesleyan University in 2008. He first worked for FFRF in 2010 as a legal intern while attending Boston University School of Law. In 2011, his article on the religious exemptions in the Affordable Care Act’s individual health insurance mandate was published in the American Journal of Law and Medicine. After receiving his J.D. from Boston University in 2012, Sam worked as a law clerk for the Vermont Office of Legislative Council where he drafted legislation on health care, human services, and tax issues. He returned to work as a constitutional consultant for FFRF in the fall of 2013. Sam has written a paper on counterterrorism and the law that was published by the Memorial Institute for the Prevention of Terrorism in Oklahoma City and has traveled to southern Africa to work under Justice Unity Dow of Botswana’s High Court.
KATIE DANIEL is the bookkeeper/executive assistant/staff baker at FFRF. She was born in California and has lived in Pennsylvania, Alabama and Missouri. She moved to Madison in 2005 to attend UW-Madison and graduated in 2009 with a BA in Gender & Women's Studies and a Certificate in LGBT Studies. She joined the foundation staff as a student clerical employee in September 2008 and started as the full-time bookkeeper in 2009. Unlike many of the Foundation's staff members, Katie is religious and considers herself a practicing Wiivangelical.
BILL DUNN is the editor of Freethought Today. He has a degree in history and mass communications (journalism emphasis) from the University of South Dakota and has worked as a reporter, copy editor and editor in South Dakota and Wisconsin since 1980. Bill joined the Foundation staff in July 2009. He has two daughters, Kaitlin Marie and Jamie Lee.
LAURYN is the publicist & assistant editor at FFRF. She was born in Wausau, Wisconsin and has also lived in Nagasaki, Japan. She graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Stout in 2012 with her B.S. in Professional Communications and Emerging Media, concentrating in Technical Communication and International Studies. She also received a double minor in Journalism and English. Lauryn moved to Madison in January 2013 and enjoys reading about astrophysics, basking in the sun like a turtle and creating art at coffee shops. Lauryn is a practicing Pastafarian.
DAYNA LONG is an administrative assistant at FFRF. Originally from Illinois, she attended the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where she received a degree in English. She has been with FFRF since July 2013. She spends her free time volunteering for the Wisconsin chapter of the National Organization for Women. She also enjoys reading, cooking, and admiring her beautiful cats.
PHYLLIS ROSE is a retired library administrator from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She has been volunteering 3 afternoons a week at the FFRF office since 2000. A Lifetime Member, Phyllis provides oversight, clerical and editorial support. Phyllis serves as an officer on the Foundation's governing body.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation is delighted to announce the formation of a new FFRF Honorary Board of distinguished achievers who have made known their dissent from religion.
The FFRF Honorary Board includes Jerry Coyne, Robin Morgan, Richard Dawkins, Daniel C. Dennett, Ernie Harburg, Jennifer Michael Hecht, Christopher Hitchens, Susan Jacoby, Mike Newdow, Katha Pollitt, Steven Pinker, Ron Reagan, Oliver Sacks, M.D., Robert Sapolsky, Edward Sorel and Julia Sweeney.
“We are so pleased that these outstanding thinkers and freethinkers have agreed to publicly lend their endorsement to the Foundation, and its two purposes of promoting freethought and the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause,” said Dan Barker, Foundation co-president.
- Jerry Coyne, Ph.D., professor of ecology and evolution at the University of Chicago, is author of the popular book 'Why Evolution is True' and the blog of the same name.
- Richard Dawkins, probably the world’s most famous contemporary atheist and a distinguished evolutionary biologist, is Oxford professor emeritus. In his blockbuster book, The God Delusion, Dawkins writes: “The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction.”
- Daniel C. Dennett is Austin B. Fletcher Professor of Philosophy, Tufts, and author of the bestselling book about religion, Breaking the Spell. In a newspaper article about his nonbelief, Dennett once wrote: “I’ve come to realize it’s time to sound the alarm.”
- Rebecca Newberger Goldstein, author of 36 Arguments For the Existence of God: A Work of Fiction and a research associate in Harvard’s psychology department, is FFRF Freethought Heroine of 2011. Goldstein is a 1996 MacArthur Fellow (the “genius” award). She has taught at Barnard and in the Columbia MFA writing program and the Rutgers philosophy department. She’s been a visiting scholar at Brandeis and at Trinity College in Hartford.
- Ernie Harburg, a retired research scientist, is president of Yip Harburg Foundation and co-author of Who Put the Rainbow in the Wizard of Oz? Ernie has dedicated his retirement to furthering the lyrics, music, memory and progressive views of his freethinking father, the lyricist Yip Harburg, author of classic songs such as “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” and of Rhymes for the Irreverent, recently republished by FFRF.
- Jennifer Michael Hecht, poet, historian and author of the acclaimed Doubt: A History and The End of the Soul, told the FFRF 2009 convention audience: “If there is no god — and there isn't — then we [humans] made up morality. And I'm very impressed.”
- Susan Jacoby, bestselling author of Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism, and program director of the Center for Inquiry-New York City, told FFRF convention-goers in 2004: "[President] Kennedy had to speak about his religion because he was suspected of insufficient dedication to the Constitution's separation of church and state. Today's candidates are suspect if they display too much dedication to secular government."
- Robin Morgan, feminist pioneer, global activist, author of the groundbreaking "Sisterhood is Powerful" and more than 20 books, was formerly Ms. Magazine editor and consulting editor. She is the co-founder of the Feminist Women's Health Network and Women's Media Center and currently hosts "Women's Media Center Live" the radio "talk-show with a brain."
- Mike Newdow is working pro bono to challenge such violations as the addition of “under God” to the Pledge of Allegiance. He told the U.S. Supreme Court during oral arguments: “I am an atheist. I don't believe in God. And every school morning my child is asked to stand up, face that flag, put her hand over her heart, and say that her father is wrong.”
- Steven Pinker, Johnstone Professor of Psychology, Harvard, is author of The Blank Slate: “I never outgrew my conversion to atheist at 13.”
- Katha Pollitt, “Subject to Debate” columnist for The Nation, author and poet, has spoken out regularly and energetically as a freethinker, in such columns as “Freedom From Religion, Sí!”
- Ron Reagan, media commentator, describes himself in a radio ad he taped for FFRF as: “Unabashed atheist, not afraid of burning in hell.”
- Oliver Sacks, M.D., the compassionate neurologist and bestselling author, describes himself as “an old Jewish atheist.”
- Robert Sapolsky, a neurologist, Stanford professor and bestselling author, once suggested FFRF put up a sign at its conventions: “Welcome, hellbound atheists.”
- Edward Sorel, satiric cartoonist and irreverent illustrator who is a regular contributor to The Atlantic, The New Yorker, and whose caricatures have been exhibited at the National Portrait Gallery, has been a Foundation member since the 1980s.
- Julia Sweeney, comedian and actress, is writer/performer of the play, “Letting Go of God”: “How dare the religious use the term 'born again.' That truly describes freethinkers who've thrown off the shackles of religion so much better!”
- Christopher Hitchens, the iconoclastic journalist, is author of the bestselling God Is Not Great: “Since it is obviously inconceivable that all religions can be right, the most reasonable conclusion is that they are all wrong.”