FFRF Staff Attorney Sam Grover sent a letter of complaint April 2 to the Pittsburg [Texas] Independent School District after learning that Pittsburg High School head baseball coach Tommy Stewart reportedly conducts bible study with players after practice each Wednesday and punishes those who don't attend with 20 minutes of running.
FFRF's complainant reported that Stewart shows religious videos, including the movie "God's Not Dead," and that practice uniforms have "With GOD all things are possible" printed on them.
Before FFRF had even written the district, word of the complainant's objections were reported by local media. Superintendent Judy Pollan sent a message of support for Stewart to staffers, writing, "We are blessed to have a man who feels called to work with our boys as they make the transition into manhood. I WOULD MOST CERTAINLY RATHER BE REPORTED FOR DOING SOMETHING GOOD RATHER THAN DOING SOMETHING BAD."
Pollan warned that FFRF "is the same [group] that caused White Oak and Mt. Vernon problems," and chastised the local complainant for "hid[ing] behind the camera and not show[ing] her face." She concluded her email with a bible quote: "Fret not thyself because of evildoers, neither be thou envious against the workers of iniquity. For they shall soon be cut down like the grass, and wither as the green herb."
According to Co-President Dan Barker, "FFRF is pleased to report it has experienced no withering as of today and is prepared to alert the police should anyone attempt to 'cut down' its 'workers of iniquity.' "
Barker added, "It shows the extent of the problem that the superintendent, instead of taking corrective measures against the coach, compounds the violation by misusing her public authority to espouse her personal beliefs. This public school district's promotion of religion turns Christians into 'insiders' and the rest of us into 'outsiders,' and that is unacceptable."
Pittsburg's native sons include U.S. Rep. Louie Gohmert and Carroll Shelby, auto designer and racing driver.
By Andrew L. Seidel
FFRF Staff Attorney
The Liberty Institute, a Texas-based theocratic legal group founded in 1972 as the Free Market Foundation. released its annual "Survey of Hostility to Religion in America." Ironically titled "Undeniable," it's full of misinformation, twisted facts and erroneous conclusions.
My friend Rob Boston at Americans United helped debunk several of the stories that the institute has used previously, but I don't want to focus on the hundreds, perhaps thousands, of factual errors in their ponderous 400-page cut-and-paste job. Instead, I'll just point out that its fearmongering shows what and who scares them. Liberty Institute is terrified of, and perhaps a bit obsessed with, FFRF and the great work we do.
The timorous survey mentions FFRF 420 times in 393 pages. On top of those 420 mentions, it references our website 185 times. Thanks for all the hits! Our friends at the American Civil Liberties Union come in second with 260 mentions.
The survey came on the heels of an institute release listing its top "five foes": FFRF, Americans United, American Atheists, the American Humanist Association and the ACLU. Then the American Family Association — the $30 million hate group — released its "Bigotry Map" and rudely left our hardworking friends at the Center For Inquiry off the map. The map had to be puffed up to scare AFA's donors, so the group included FFRF and AU chapters and even college atheist groups.
You have to hand it to them, they really know how to name things. "Liberty" Institute, "Undeniable" and the Survey of "Hostility to Religion" in America. They simply choose the word that best represents the opposite of their intent. Big Brother and the Ministry of Love would have been so proud. Only in the warped mind of an evangelical Christian law firm does upholding the separation of state and church amount to hostility. They need to feel persecuted, even if they aren't.
And because Christians are (for now) the majority in this country, vastly overrepresented in government and used to exercising their privilege without being challenged, the institute scraped together this glorified Internet search. It's clear that they envy FFRF's effectiveness.
If you look at their website, they claim to have won 90% of their cases against secular groups. However, Liberty Institute has gone up against FFRF precisely once in court. That was the case of the Jesus portrait in the public school in Jackson, Ohio. FFRF and the ACLU won, and the school district, which unfortunately made the mistake of listening to religious demagogues, ended up paying nearly $100,000 in legal fees.
So, at least against FFRF, they've lost 100% of their cases. But why let facts get in the way of mythology?
The Freedom From Religion Foundation filed a second lawsuit March 24 against Franklin County, Ind., after the county denied its application for a seasonal display about the Bill of Rights on the courthouse lawn in Brookville. FFRF is represented by the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana and its Senior Staff Attorney Gavin M. Rose.
FFRF previously sued over an annual nativity display prominently placed in front of the courthouse. The county subsequently passed an ordinance declaring the courthouse lawn a public forum, where, it claimed, any citizen could put up a display with the right paperwork.
FFRF maintains that the county's practice of putting up a nativity scene every year prior to passage of the ordinance was illegal and is still pursuing its original federal lawsuit.
The Thomas More Society, a conservative Catholic legal group, has stepped in to represent the county. Jocelyn Floyd, associate counsel, claimed in a press release, "A public forum, such as the Franklin County Courthouse lawn, is open to speech from all citizens on any topic, religious speech included. If people disagree with a message being proclaimed in a public forum, the proper response is to apply and put up their own display as well, not try to shut down the displays of other citizens."
"That welcome message apparently doesn't apply to atheists," noted Annie Laurie Gaylor, FFRF co-president. "When FFRF applied to place a charming display celebrating the Dec. 15 'nativity' of the Bill of Rights, we were rejected. The county cannot create a public forum only for Christianity or majority views."
Similarly, when the Satanic Temple applied to place "an artistic three-dimensional sculpture" mounted on a wooden platform, its application was denied. FFRF, with the Satanic Temple as co-plaintiff, is asking the court to allow the displays.
FFRF complaint stops teachers' prayer
Two Prattville Primary School teachers in Prattville, Ala., will no longer lead students in Christian prayer during the school day. FFRF received a report that one teacher led at least six classes in prayer while students were in the hallway on the way to lunch.
Staff Attorney Sam Grover sent the Autauga County School System a complaint letter Nov. 24. The school board's attorney responded Feb. 27 that FFRF's concerns had been "specifically addressed with the two teachers mentioned" and did not anticipate a continued problem.
'Rogue speaker' out in Nebraska
Elkhorn Valley View Middle School, Elkhorn, Neb., will ensure that future school assemblies are free from inappropriate religious content. Staff Attorney Patrick Elliott sent a letter of complaint March 2 about a Dec. 8, 2014, assembly about drug and alcohol awareness at which Pastor Servando Perales invoked God and Jesus many times.
FFRF's complainant summarized the message her child received as, "If you don't find God, then you'll be a drug dealer and a criminal."
Superintendent Steve Baker responded the same day, agreeing that the assembly had been inappropriate, claiming that it "went astray as the result of a rogue speaker." Perales will not be invited back, Baker said.
Good news: Gideons get left behind
Jefferson County School District in Madras, Ore., will no longer allow the Good News Club to park a trailer at Warm Springs K-8 Academy. Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel wrote to the district Feb. 16 after learning that the school board allowed the club to promote religion during school hours on school property. The Child Evangelism Fellowship states that club is to "evangelize boys and girls with the Gospel of Lord Jesus Christ."
An attorney for the district answered March 3, forwarding a letter the district sent to the club to inform it that allowing the trailer on school property was unconstitutional.
• • •
After FFRF received a report that Gideons International distributed bibles to students at Holly Hill Elementary School, Enterprise, Ala., Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel wrote a March 18 complaint letter.
"It is unconstitutional for public school districts to permit the Gideon Society to distribute bibles as part of the public school day. Courts have uniformly held that the distribution of bibles to students at public schools during instructional time is prohibited," said Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel in a March 18 letter to the district.
Enterprise City Schools Superintendent Camille Wright responded the next day, saying she had notified all principals not to allow Gideons to distribute bibles on school grounds.
K-Life Ministries no longer welcome
Sheridan County School District #2, Sheridan, Wyo., will not let representatives from K-Life Ministries, a Christian youth organization, visit students during the school day. The group, based in Branson, Mo., is known nationally for insinuating its members into students' space at lunch tables to discuss personal religious beliefs.
Superintendent Craig Dougherty responded March 9 to Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel's Nov. 12 complaint letter: "You can be assured that K-Life representatives will not be allowed into the public schools during lunch to proselytize, talk to students or pass out literature."
Letter remedies Okla. religious violations
Chandler Public School District in Chandler, Okla., has resolved several constitutional violations after getting a Jan. 30 complaint letter from Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel, who wrote to object to reports about school-organized prayers at football practices and other athletic events, as well as a teacher giving religious explanations for scientific matters and proclaiming the teacher "did not believe in science." Crosses and other religious items were also being displayed in classrooms.
Superintendent Wayland Kimble responded March 9, saying the issues had all been resolved and that he did not foresee them resurfacing.
Bible verses by principal silenced
Principal Dan Noll, White Oak [Texas] High School, has stopped his practice of reciting bible verses during morning announcements over the intercom. The district originally doubled down after getting Staff Attorney Sam Grover's complaint letter March 5. White Oak ISD Superintendent Michael Gilbert wrote in a statement that he was fully aware of the practice and, "we have not (in my opinion) violated anyone's rights and/or subjected anyone to undue stress. Bible studies and scriptures are allowed in schools." Gilbert's recommended response to FFRF was, "I'm sorry you feel that way. I will be praying for you and your staff daily."
Gilbert reconsidered later, however, according to a March 15 article in the Longview News-Journal. It quoted Gilbert saying that Noll's "thought for the day" would remain a part of morning announcements but added: "It will consist of material intended to encourage students to consider positive choices in their daily life and plans for the future. The thought for the day will come from a variety of sources and will not include chapter and verse from Scripture."
'You're a sinner' video plug pulled
Palm Beach County School District in Florida has stopped making students watch a motivational speech by Christian evangelist Nick Vujicic. Boca Raton Middle School had required all students to watch one of Vujicic's speeches. He also spoke at several other schools in the district.
Vujicic's organization, Life Without Limbs, encourages visitors to its website to "become a Christian" and "understand and accept that you are a sinner." The district reportedly also showed videos of his presentations to preschool and elementary students and had plans for future events.
Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel complained in a March 9 letter. An administrator responded March 16 that the district would "immediately cease sharing this video with our students."
FFRF ends prayer at Ohio athletics
The St. Clairsville High School spring sports banquet in St. Clairsville, Ohio, did not include prayer, unlike its fall banquet, thanks to a Jan. 5 complaint letter from Staff Attorney Sam Grover. He sent the letter after learning that the St. Clairsville-Richland City School Board president reportedly led a sectarian invocation and benediction at the fall banquet.
FFRF's complainant reported March 18 that the spring banquet had no prayer or mention of religion.
Church signs off L.A. school fence
Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel sent a March 6 letter objecting to letting a church permanently post signs on the fence of University High School in Los Angeles. Vintage Church had been permitted to keep signs up around the clock for at least two years.
FFRF's complainant reported March 20 that the signs had been taken down.
Christian WyldLife not oxymoron
A Chicago Public Schools teacher who regularly promoted weekly religious club meetings to students during instructional time will no longer be allowed to do so. A Greeley Elementary School teacher promoted meetings of WyldLife, a Christian club that meets in the school's gym after the school day ends. WyldLife is sponsored by Young Life, an organization dedicated to "introducing adolescents to Jesus Christ and helping them grow in their faith."
The teacher also regularly invited students to bible study with his wife and other adults.
"A public school may not sponsor or provide preferential treatment to a Christian club," said FFRF Staff Attorney Sam Grover in a complaint letter. The district responded that it advised the teacher he could not promote the club or bible study during the school day. In addition, FFRF received word on March 25 that all staff had been issued guidelines regarding religious clubs.
FFRF has produced two 30-second TV ads to air in Madison, Eau Claire-La Crosse and a few other Wisconsin markets, raising the alarm on Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker's unprecedented bid to expand vouchers to send children to religious schools at public expense.
"We have a sense of urgency to inform the public about the disastrous consequences, if Walker's voucher expansion is adopted," said FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. "We must end Wisconsin's failed voucher experiment, not expand it."
The first spot explains: "Our public schools are under attack by Governor Walker. He wants to take money from our public schools and use it to support someone else's religion. Your tax dollars shouldn't fund religiously segregated schools. Nearly half of our state's students would be eligible for vouchers under Walker's scheme. Vouchers are bad for children and bad for education. Help us stop Walker's brazen attack on our public schools."
The second ad (quoting a Wisconsin Supreme Court decision) says: "There is no such source and cause of strife, quarrel, fights, malignant opposition, persecution, and war, and all evil in the state, as religion. Let it once enter our civil affairs, our government would soon be destroyed. Let it once enter our common schools, they would be destroyed." It concludes, "Stop Governor Walker's disastrous proposal to expand vouchers for religiously segregated schools."
The ads started airing April 6 on the 6 p.m. and 10 p.m. news broadcasts for two weeks on WISC-TV, the Madison-area CBS affiliate. FFRF also scheduled them locally during CBS "Sunday Morning" and a few other news programs for two weeks.
The ad takes viewers to ffrf.org/stopvouchers to encourage them to contact legislators using information from the Web page.
FFRF notes that Walker's recently expanded statewide voucher system has resulted in a system where 100% of the state-funded schools are Christian, and 73% of students attend Catholic schools.
It seems certain that not-so-reverend (or revered) Rick Warren is no intellectual match for ex-reverend Dan Barker.
Christian pastor Warren's best-seller, Purpose Driven Life, starts with a single-sentence paragraph: "It's not about you." God planned your life, he claims, before you were born. "You don't get to choose your purpose."
Former minister Barker, now FFRF co-president, turns Warren's sad worldview right-side up in his new book, Life Driven Purpose: How an Atheist Finds Meaning (April 2015, Pitchstone). "It is about you," his book starts. "When it comes to purpose, it is about you and no one else."
Life Driven Purpose, with an eloquent foreword by philosopher Daniel C. Dennett (author of Breaking the Spell and an honorary FFRF director) is the first book by an atheist aimed at the "inspirational/motivational" bookshelves. "We atheists are truly IN-spired," Dan says, "while believers are OUT-spired. They desperately seek their marching orders from somewhere outside themselves — a king, commander, lord or slave master — while we nonbelievers find and create purpose and meaning within ourselves."
Inner-directed purpose is the only true purpose, Dan writes. "Asking, 'If there is no God, what is the purpose of life?' is like asking, 'If there is no master, whose slave will I be?' "
Chapter 1, "The Good News," softly mimics the "inspirational" style of "psycho-faith" authors like Rick Warren and Joel Osteen, but comes to a novel conclusion: The truly good news is that there is no purpose of life. There is purpose in life. Nonbelievers have lived, and are living, immensely meaningful lives as they work to solve problems and meet the challenges that confront us in the real world.
The rest of the book returns to Dan's familiar writing style. Chapter 2, "Mere Morality," replaces C.S. Lewis' Mere Christianity with a superior, naturalistic moral philosophy. Chapter 3, "Religious Color Blindness," creatively probes the polarized mind of a fundamentalist believer. (You'll have to read it to discover how Annie Laurie Gaylor's misplaced hat sheds light on religious belief.) Chapter 4, "Much Ado About," is Dan's thoughtful answer to the question "Can something come from nothing?"
Summing it all up, the final chapter "Life Is Life" circles back to "meaning" by recounting personal stories from Dan's family. Thus does it replace the elusive "meaning of life" with the very real "meaning in life."
Life Driven Purpose flips so many religious precepts on their heads. You can see the real world much better, Dan says, by looking through the right end of the telescope. "A supernatural additive pollutes what is pure and precious in our species. We atheists simply refuse to be cheated of the good life."
Richard Dawkins, who helped with editing, calls Life Driven Purpose "a lovely book!"
Ordering from FFRF benefits the Foundation because Dan is contributing his royalties. You can order the book for $20 postpaid by U.S. mail from FFRF Shop, P.O. Box 750, Madison, WI 53701, or online at ffrf.org/shop, where prices vary slightly due to custom shipping. (Please indicate if you'd like it autographed.)
A Freedom From Religion Foundation "In Reason We Trust" sign was stolen March 28 from the first-floor Capitol rotunda in Madison, Wis. The sign features Thomas Jefferson with his thought-provoking quote, "Question with boldness even the existence of a god. . ."
FFRF Staff Attorney Sam Grover and Legal Intern Ryan Jayne (pictured) filed the permit application March 9. The sign was put up in the Capitol to counter Easter religious displays.
After contacting authorities, FFRF was given access to the security footage. On Saturday, March 28, at 1:13 p.m., three suspects were recorded removing the 20x30-inch sign and the easel it was propped on.
The suspects are two males and a female, all Caucasian. Footage showed a male struggling to remove the tape holding the sign to the easel. The other suspects joined shortly after and posed for multiple "selfies" on a cellphone camera. One male left through the Wisconsin Avenue exit and the other suspects left via the West Washington exit.
The stolen easel was a rental from the Capitol Police Department.
The theft is a Class A misdemeanor, with a fine up to $10,000 or imprisonment for up to 9 months. FFRF is offering a $1,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the perpetrator(s).
The city council in Madison, Wis., adopted on March 31 what's believed to be the nation's first city ordinance making "nonreligion" a protected class. The historic action extends the same protections to nonreligion as it does to religion.
Madison's equal opportunity ordinance now bans discrimination based on "sex, race, religion or nonreligion, color, national origin or ancestry, citizenship status, age, handicap/disability, marital status, source of income, arrest record or conviction record, less than honorable discharge, physical appearance, sexual orientation, gender identity, genetic identity, political beliefs, familial status, student, domestic partner, or receipt of rental assistance."
The ordinance change, which initially met a rocky reception, was proposed by outgoing Alder Anita Weier. Testimony of FFRF Staff Attorneys Patrick Elliott and Andrew Seidel appeared to convince a subcommittee to recommend approval to the council. Eventually, 14 members of the 20-member council agreed to sponsor it, and it passed by voice vote without dissent.
The Wall Street Journal reported it April 2 with the headline "In Madison, nonbelievers have religious rights too."
FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor hailed the proposal for its symbolic signficance. However, it also carries penalties of $100 to $500, and means the city's Equal Opportunities Commission can investigate complaints of discrimination by nonbelievers, Weier pointed out.
Weier, who describes herself as "not religious," told the Wall Street Journal: "Since religion is protected in our equal opportunities ordinance, in all its variations, I thought that nonreligion should be, too. I just think there is a general stigma about it. I don't think people should be afraid to say what they they think."
Elliott and Seidel testified with concrete examples of discrimination. Elliott noted ethnic festivals in Wisconsin give free entry to church-goers (successfully contested by FFRF) and told how a plaintiff in one of FFRF's lawsuits lost her job when her atheism became known. "Having worked to protect the civil rights of nonreligious persons, I can tell you that discrimination against atheists is widespread and an ongoing concern. It permeates into employment, public schools and even in discounts offered by places of public accommodation," Elliott testified.
Seidel noted that nonbelievers have been rejected as volunteers at soup kitchens and that several state constitutions forbid atheists to hold public office. "We see discounts to religious people, which effectively charge atheists a higher price for the same goods. Here in Madison, one store gave out free gallons of milk to Christians, while forcing atheists to pay full price. Schools block atheist groups from forming and filter out atheist and freethought websites," he said.
Seidel told the council: "If any group in this country needs protection, it's the one that is least liked and most distrusted. When it comes to voting for an otherwise qualified candidate, atheists rank below Jewish, Mormon, LGBT and Muslims. We fall 14 percentage points below a gay or lesbian candidate, simply because of our irreligion."
Chris Calvey, former director of Atheists, Humanists and Agnostics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, noted that even though AHA is one of the most successful secular campus groups in the country, many of its student leaders are afraid to list their volunteer work on their résumés.
FFRF Lifetime Member T. Kozlovsky referred to surveys and polls routinely showing that atheists and nonbelievers are the most distrusted.
Gaylor noted that secularists usually are on the defensive when going before local governmental bodies, such as protesting prayer.
Back in the 1970s, a very different kind of public servant, Anita Bryant, went before a government board in Dade County, Fla., seeking not to extend rights and protections, as Anita Weier is doing, but to take them away, Gaylor noted.
"Bryant's ordinance unfortunately led to a national movement to take away rights from gays. It's my hope that the adoption of this historic ordinance will seed other such ordinances to protect rights — nonreligious rights — around the country."
Name: Neysa Marie Dickey.
Where I live: As of 2014, Green Valley, Ariz., roughly from November-April; Bozeman, Mont., May-October. (I bought a condo last summer up there.)
Where and when I was born: Neenah, Wis., (then headquarters for Kimberly-Clark), Oct. 26, 1949; raised in Appleton, Wis.
Family: In Appleton, a brother, Pete; niece, Dawn; great-nephew, Dominic; former sister-in-law (love her as a sister), Emma. My husband, Skip Baese, died in 2010, so my only immediate (living with me) family is my 13-year-old cat, Boo. I've had her since she was 8. She's known variously as Boo, Boo-kitty, Boo-Boo, Ba-Boo-shka, Kitten-ca-Boo-dle, Bam-Boo-zler and the Boo-Meister.
Education: From the above, apparently not enough! B.A. in 1974 from Adams State College (now University) in Alamosa, Colo., in biology and environmental science, one of the first two graduates with that double major; endless training during 30 years with the National Park Service.
Occupation: Retired supervisory park ranger (Interpretation) for the NPS. Now I'm "occupied" with volunteering at an elementary school (Reading Seed program) once a week, theatrical productions, community chorus, reading, walking, hiking, traveling, weekly game night with "the gals," book club and other fun things.
Military service: None, but my brother was a conscientious objector back in the Vietnam days and finished his two years of service in Illinois children's homes. His action had such an influence on me, that, had I been drafted, I would've done the same.
How I got where I am today: This could take a while — as I understand it, it began billions of years ago. More seriously, it's too big a question, but it might be easier if I limit my answer to how I got where I am in my atheistic thinking.
That began in the First Congregational Church (before it merged and became the United Church of Christ) in Appleton, in confirmation class. To an emotional, hormonal, bright, questioning teen, so much of the bible made no sense, was contradictory and seemed like fairy tales. I witnessed a great deal of hypocrisy in the church. Luckily, we had a liberal, open-minded associate minister at the time, Bill Charland.
When I told Bill I felt I couldn't write the last assignment (a personal credo), he said I could write what I didn't believe. After that, I was probably more of an agnostic than an atheist for a few years, but since nothing intervened to "prove" the existence of a god or gods, I realized I was clearly an atheist.
Where I'm headed: Bozeman, in late April or early May. Arizona summers do me in. I love having three or four seasons in Montana and returning to Arizona for the mild winters.
Person in history I admire: Since [the guidelines don't let me] pick my father, Ed Dickey, I will go with two: Charley Scribner, my high school biology teacher, and Richard Dawkins, author of The God Delusion. Charley was a longtime summer ("seasonal") naturalist in Glacier National Park. It's hard to say, but I suspect (at least subliminally) he influenced my choice of college majors and my life's career. Dawkins? Read the book. And Charles Darwin fits well with my other two choices, don't you think?
A quotation I like: "It is good to tell one's heart." (Native American proverb on a refrigerator magnet I bought in an airport.)
These are a few of my favorite things: The northern Rocky Mountains, waterfalls, New Zealand, writing, acting, singing, hiking, Boo, wolves, owls, open-minded humans, laughter, languages, accents, limericks, UpWords, playing UpWords with BFF Susan, family and friends.
These are not: Mixing of church and state (surprise!); poor grammar and spelling, especially in letters filled with typographical or other errors from supposed professionals (education administrators, bankers, etc.); rotten and/or aggressive drivers; people who mispronounce my first name (rhymes with Lisa) after they've been told the correct pronunciation several times.
My doubts about religion started: See above. Somewhere along the line, I came across a copy of Freethought Today. I thought the atheist equivalent of "I'd died and gone to heaven." Here were like-thinkers, mentors, role models, activists, folks who understood my struggle. I felt as though I could breathe. That's not when my doubts started, but when they solidified.
Before I die: I'd like to feel joy and contentment with my everyday life and feel hope for the planet.
Ways I promote freethought: Mostly with my words and actions, having long ago come out of any closet I might have been in regarding my atheist status. I write letters to newspaper editors and other entities reminding them of the need to follow the U.S. Constitution and to be open and accepting of all people, regardless of religion or lack thereof. Every year I send out a winter solstice poem summarizing my year.
I wish you'd have asked me: What national park areas I worked in. They were (current names) Great Sand Dunes, Colorado; Timpanogos Cave, Utah; Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota; Rocky Mountain regional office, Denver; Dinosaur National Monument, Utah-Colorado (where I met my husband); Pacific Northwest regional office, Seattle (now merged with the San Francisco office); Grant-Kohrs Ranch National Historic Site, Montana (a lesser-known treasure); Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming-Montana-Idaho (we lived in the park at Canyon).
You also could have asked how did you get your name? My parents were looking in a book of baby names when my mother was pregnant with me. Neysa is the Slavic form of her name Agnes. We weren't Slavic, but my parents liked the name, so she was Agnes Marie and I am Neysa Marie. Also at the time, there was an illustrator for McCall's and other magazines, Neysa McMein, who was a member of the Algonquin Round Table, and Mother liked the name from her, too. Ironically perhaps, she died about five months before I was born.
A 30-second TV spot recorded by Ron Reagan for the Freedom From Religion Foundation has now been banned by the three major networks: ABC, NBC and CBS.
However, FFRF has run the ad on CNN in late March and early April to great success, welcoming hundreds of new members and hearing from thousands of interested viewers. The ad says:
Hi, I'm Ron Reagan, an unabashed atheist, and I'm alarmed by the intrusion of religion into our secular government. That's why I'm asking you to support the Freedom From Religion Foundation, the nation's largest and most effective association of atheists and agnostics, working to keep state and church separate, just like our Founding Fathers intended. Please support the Freedom From Religion Foundation. Ron Reagan, lifelong atheist, not afraid of burning in hell.
FFRF is also airing the spot on day-after rebroadcasts of "The Daily Show" through the spring.
The ad debuted on May 22, 2014, on Comedy Central's "The Colbert Report" and "The Daily Show." FFRF next tried to place the spot on CBS' "60 Minutes." Last fall, after months of delays, CBS rejected that placement and banned the ad from any national CBS show. Recently, ABC and NBC also rejected it.
NBC first offered to accept it if "not afraid of burning in hell" was deleted, then even decided against that.
"We'd never agree to censor Ron's punch line," said Annie Laurie Gaylor, FFRF co-president. "Imagine these national networks being so afraid of a little irreverence."
FFRF also ran the ad in select metropolitan cities on the finale of "Cosmos" last year after Fox refused to air it nationally, citing a policy against "advocacy" ads. Even major metropolitan CBS stations have refused it.
Although the networks may be panning the ad, CNN viewers gave it rave reviews:
"Where have you been all my life?" (Andrew, Johns Creek, Ga.); "That is literally the best commercial I've ever seen!" (J.T., Akron, Ohio); "This is the best thing that has happened to atheism since Richard Dawkins!" (Jane, New York City); "That's an extremely superior and wonderful ad. Wow!" (C.D., Vancouver, B.C.); "Best ad I've ever seen." (J.S., Fallbrook, Calif.); "I'm excited about what you do!" (Mike, Cleveland, Tenn.); "I'm a 95-year-old lifelong atheist. That's a long time!" (Gainesville, Fla.); "I thought I was the only atheist in America!" (E.Z., Elmhurst, N.Y.); "Brilliant!" (Ron, Nevada).
"The censorship of this ad and of Ron Reagan's 'unabashed views' by so many major networks really shows the heavy hand of religion upon this country and its power to suppress freethought and even the mildest criticism of religion," said FFRF Co-President Dan Barker.
FFRF encourages freethinkers to speak up on social media with the #NotAfraidofBurninginHell hashtag.
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.
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.”