Lauryn Seering

Lauryn Seering

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Prayer at School Board Meetings

The school board at my child's school is praying before school board meetings. Is that legal?

No. Public school boards are an integral part of the public school system and must not advance or endorse religion. School boards cannot schedule prayer as a part of their meetings, invite local clergy to give invocations, or engage in religious ritual at any time during school-sponsored board meetings.

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The Supreme Court, or at least the five all-Catholic, all-male conservative majority on our Supreme Court, elevated religious belief above the law in the Hobby Lobby decision earlier this year. Last week, Justice Antonin Scalia, a member of that male Catholic majority, spoke at Colorado Christian University and stated what could only be inferred in the Hobby Lobby decision: that religious people are special and deserve special treatment. Among other things, Scalia said

  • "I think the main fight is to dissuade Americans from what the secularists are trying to persuade them to be true: that the separation of church and state means that the government cannot favor religion over nonreligion,"
  • "... to say that's what the Constitution requires is utterly absurd."
  • "Our [the court's] latest take on the subject, which is quite different from previous takes, is that the state must be neutral, not only between religions, but between religion and nonreligion. That's just a lie. Where do you get the notion that this is all unconstitutional? You can only believe that if you believe in a morphing Constitution."

Fortunately, the Hobby Lobby decision was interpreting a federal statute, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (which everyone should ask their senators and representative to repeal), not the Constitution. But Scalia's recent comments are about the Constitution. His views are both terrifying and flawed.

The Supreme Court has explicitly rejected the idea that the Establishment Clause only prohibits sectarian preference: "this Court has rejected unequivocally the contention that the Establishment Clause forbids only governmental preference of one religion over another." Abington School District v. Schempp, 374 U.S. 203, 216 (1963). The best expression of this came nearly 30 years ago. In 1985, the court wrote: "At one time it was thought that this right merely proscribed the preference of one Christian sect over another, but would not require equal respect for the conscience of the infidel, the atheist, or the adherent of a non-Christian faith such as Islam or Judaism." Wallace v. Jaffree, 472 U.S. 38, 52 (1985) (note omitted). This is the erroneous view Scalia clings to and which the court repudiates:

But when the underlying principle has been examined in the crucible of litigation, the Court has unambiguously concluded that the individual freedom of conscience protected by the First Amendment embraces the right to select any religious faith or none at all. This conclusion derives support not only from the interest in respecting the individual's freedom of conscience, but also from the conviction that religious beliefs worthy of respect are the product of free and voluntary choice by the faithful, and from recognition of the fact that the political interest in forestalling intolerance extends beyond intolerance among Christian sects—or even intolerance among 'religions'—to encompass intolerance of the disbeliever and the uncertain." Wallace, 472 U.S. at 52-54 (emphasis added and notes omitted).

The high court refuted Scalia in the first real Establishment Clause case 67 years ago. The First Amendment "requires the state to be neutral in its relations with groups of religious believers and non-believers." Everson v. Board of Educ., 330 U.S. 1, 18 (1947).

In Texas Monthly, Inc. v. Bullock, the court overturned a sales tax exemption for religious and only religious literature. Justices Blackmun and O'Connor explicitly stated that the "government may not favor religious belief over disbelief." 489 U.S. 1, 27-28 (1997) (separate opinion concurring in judgment). They were refuting Justice Scalia.

In Schempp, the wonderful victory that friend-of-FFRF Ellery Schempp achieved 51 years ago, Justice Goldberg wrote: "[t]he fullest realization of true religious liberty requires that government ... effect no favoritism among sects or between religion and nonreligion." 374 U.S. at 305 (1963)(Goldberg, J., concurring).

The court put it bluntly 55 years ago, "We repeat and again reaffirm that neither a State nor the Federal Government can constitutionally ... pass laws or impose requirements which aid all religions as against non-believers, and neither can aid those religions based on a belief in the existence of God as against those religions founded on different beliefs." Torcaso v. Watkins, 367 U.S. 488, 495 (1961).

Not only do Scalia's views contradict virtually every major Establishment Clause case, they also fail to account for the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. It declares that no state shall "deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws." In other words, our government and our laws must treat all people equally regardless of their belief.

Justice Scalia often tries, as he did here, to claim that his view is that of the framers—the original view. But again, he's wrong. The framers agreed on Article 6 ,Section 3 of the Constitution, which prohibits any religious test for public office. During the North Carolina ratification debate, future Supreme Court Justice James Iredell, said: "(I)t is objected that the people of America may, perhaps, choose representatives who have no religion at all, and that pagans and Mahometans may be admitted into offices. But how is it possible to exclude any set of men, without taking away that principle of religious freedom which we ourselves so warmly contend for?" Jonathan Elliott (Ed.), Debates in the Several State Conventions on the Adoption of the Federal Constitution, vol. 4 194 (1836).

Iredell's point, and the point made by his black-robed successors, is that genuine freedom of religion requires the right to dissent, the right to be free from religion. And if the government can favor religious belief over a lack thereof, the people are not truly free because they are not truly equal.

Scalia is breathtakingly wrong. But what else can you expect from a man who believes, literally, in the Devil: "I even believe in the Devil... he's a real person"? 

Eustis High School in Eustis Fla., will no longer permit a football coach to require prayer before team meals in the school’s cafeteria. FFRF received a complaint that the coach would often call upon players at random to offer prayers before the entire team. FFRF also raised concerns about a local citizen promoting prayer events at school on an unaffiliated Facebook page titled #PRAYWITHEUSTIS.

FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel sent a letter on Sept. 11 to the district advising them to cease school-led prayer before football meals. Seidel warned the district that if the #PRAYWITHEUSTIS event was school-sponsored in any way it must be cancelled:

“If this event is school-sponsored it is illegal. . . Permitting events like #PRAYWITHEUSTIS to take place on school property, in connection with a school sanctioned event ‘sends the message to members of the audience who are not Christian that they are outsiders, not full members of the political community and accompanying message to adherents that they are insiders, favored members of the political community.’”

An attorney for the Lake County Schools district sent a response on Sept. 12: “Be advised that we are aware of the pitfalls of any coach promoting organized prayer and direct our coaches accordingly. Any misstep that might have occurred at a meal involving [the coach] has been corrected and we do not expect it to occur again. As to the Facebook advertisement that you provided that came from a private citizen who has not contacted the school regarding her promotion and which was unknown at the school until we received this correspondence, be advised that we are appropriately dealing with that situation as well.”

Elk Grove Unified School District in Elk Grove, Calif., took down signs promoting a local church after a complaint was filed by FFRF.

Signs reading “AnswersChurch.com” with pictures of a Latin cross enclosed in a lightbulb, were posted at Harriet Eddy Middle School. At least two signs were displayed on the school’s chain link fence. Answers Church rents the school on weekends (as allowed by a misguided Supreme Court decision) but displayed their signs throughout the week. Beliefs espoused at the website include, “There shall be a bodily resurrection of the dead, of the believers to everlasting joy with the Lord and of the unbeliever to judgement and everlasting conscious punishment.”

FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel sent a Sept. 3 letter informing the school of its constitutional obligation to remain neutral toward religion:

“If the church wishes to advertise its services on school property, it may only use school property during the time it has rented the property — on Sundays. It must put up the banners no earlier than when the rental time begins and take them down when the rental time ends.”

On Sept. 11, the district agreed, “[O]ur protocols allow for the sign you reference to be displayed only during the time of the event, such as when the Church has been approved to use the facility, and is not to be placed on the property beyond those times.”

Elk Grove is the site of the famous Elk Grove Unified School District v. Newdow case brought by Michael Newdow, in which the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled that the words "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance are an endorsement of religion and therefore violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the Constitution when recited in public schools. (Sadly, the case was later thrown out by the Supreme Court on standing.)

Akron Public Schools in Akron, Ohio, has stopped football coaches from wearing religious T-shirts once again. In 2013, FFRF filed a complaint with the district after Buchtel Community Learning Center athletic personnel and faculty wore T-shirts stating “God Rules Buchtel Athletics” and “Jesus Is My Hero.” The district reported taking swift action but the T-shirts resurfaced this September with the football team.

FFRF Senior Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert reminded the district on Sept. 25 that coaches, like teachers, are restricted from certain religious activities and expression while acting in their official capacities for the school: “These coaches were working with public school students at a regularly scheduled school-sponsored activity. Thus, they cannot wear religious T-shirts.”

The Akron Board of Education responded on Sept. 29: “Upon further investigation into these T-shirts, I have become aware that they were being specifically donated to Buchtel CLC by one of the churches in the Akron area. . . I will be forwarding them a letter explaining that the T-shirts they are donating to the school’s athletic program violate the Akron Board of Education’s dress code policy.”

The board had a meeting with the football coaching staff on Sept. 29, “to discuss the prohibition of wearing religious T-shirts” and to remind the football coach of his “duty to continuously enforce theses rules with his coaches.”

The board thanked FFRF for promptly bringing this issue to their attention, adding that, “We are taking immediate action to instruct our coaching staff to refrain from wearing any type of religious T-shirts. Because new coaches are continuously being hired into new positions throughout the district, we have placed the issue of wearing religious T-shirts on the agenda for the upcoming district-wide meeting of all coaches and athletic directors.”

A school board of directors in Mercersburg, Penn., will no longer conduct prayer at meetings, thanks to a complaint sent by FFRF. FFRF Staff Attorney Elizabeth Cavell sent the letter on Sept. 8, informing the board members that praying before meetings is divisive and unconstitutional.

“Calling upon Board members, as well as parents and students of the school, to pray is coercive and beyond the scope of our secular school system. Board members are free to pray privately or to worship on their own time in their own way.”

The letter noted, “The Third Circuit Court of Appeals, which has jurisdiction over Pennsylvania, has definitively held that school board prayer is unconstitutional.”

The Board President Superintendent of Tuscarora School District responded on Sept. 24, informing FFRF that, “The Tuscarora School District Board of Directors will no longer open their monthly meetings with prayer.”

The N.C. Notary Public Education Program in Raleigh, N.C., will no longer allow an instructor to misinform students. A student who took a notary public course contacted FFRF to report that an instructor repeatedly told students they “must believe in god to be a notary.”

On Sept. 5, FFRF Staff Attorney Elizabeth Cavell sent a letter to the General Counsel of the N.C. Department of the Secretary of State to remind them that the U.S. Constitution prohibits any sort of religious test for public office, including notary public:

“I am sure the DSOS recognizes that a belief in god cannot be required in order to obtain a notary public commission (indeed we are informed this information is not in the notary handbook.) [The instructor] may mistakenly believe that Article 6, Section 8 of the North Carolina constitution requires notaries public to believe in god, but this section is unconstitutional and should not be presented as current law. If any instructor in the Notary Public Education Program is informing applicants that belief in god is a requirement to be commissioned as a notary public, this is a serious constitutional issue since the DSOS controls the education and commissioning of notaries public in North Carolina.”

The Supreme Court issued a unanimous decision in 1961’s Torcaso case (brought by the late Roy Torcaso, an honorary director of FFRF) against religious tests for public office, specifically involving a notary public oath.

On Sept. 16, the DSOS replied: “We have reviewed the pertinent provisions of the North Carolina Constitution that apply to notaries public with [the instructor]. [The instructor] has been informed that the provision disqualifying any person from holding a public office for denying the being of Almighty God is not congruent with the U.S. Constitution and is therefore not applicable to notary applicants in North Carolina and should not be taught. Although this specific provision of the constitution is not germane to notary education, we have taken this opportunity to make sure each of our instructors understand that it is not applicable to notary applicants.”

Aberdeen Central High School in Aberdeen, S.D., will no longer permit its coaching staff to engage in pre-game prayers before football games.

After a complaint was filed with FFRF, Staff Attorney Patrick Elliott sent a letter on Sept. 24 to inform Aberdeen School District that this practice violates the Constitution:

“The coaches’ apparent organizing and obvious participation in a team prayer constitutes an unconstitutional government endorsement of religion. A reasonable member of the Central High School football team would certainly perceive such a prayer ‘as stamped with [his or] her school’s approval.’”

On Sept. 29, the superintendent replied, “All members of the administrative leadership team and coaching staff have received follow-up correspondence which instructs them not to organize, encourage, or participate in student prayer at any event sponsored by the District.”

Arlington Independent School District in Arlington, Texas, will no longer allow a teacher to proselytize students after a complaint was filed by FFRF.

A concerned parent of a student at James Martin High reported that a teacher, who is also a local pastor, used valuable time during a world history course to proselytize. The teacher told students that the stories of the bible are historical fact and that the the bible is “about the only information we have” about any ancient civilization. The teacher informed the students that the first six weeks of class would rely heavily on “the Hebrew history book.”

The teacher also told the students “carbon dating is wrong,” and posted a portrait of Jesus in the classroom.

The teacher’s u webpage additionally demonstrated blatant intent to teach the bible as historical fact, listing Moses and Jesus as “historical characters.” The webpage included links dubbed “advance training videos,” including the 2009 animated movie The Ten Commandments, which depicts the biblical story of the life of Moses. In the classroom, the teacher reportedly taught how Joseph became a slave in Egypt as if it were part of an accurate historical record and had students reenact a conversation between Moses and the Egyptian pharaoh. During a unit on Egypt, the students extensively covered the “ten plagues” of Egypt.

The teacher also spent parts of multiple class periods complaining about Supreme Court decisions against religious indoctrination in public schools, and how the teacher gets around such prohibitions.

On Sept. 10, FFRF Staff Attorney Sam Grover sent a strongly-worded letter to the district, explaining why religious indoctrination in public schools is an egregious violation of the Establishment Clause:

“Teachers have access to a captive audience of students due to their position as public educators. The District has a duty to prohibit religious proselytizing by teachers in the classroom.”

The school responded to FFRF on Sept. 16, “AISD takes your letter and its contents seriously, and has begun an investigation.”

On Sept. 22, the complainant informed FFRF that the problematic content was removed from the classroom and that the teacher “has not been proselytizing recently.”

The Office of Public Affairs at University of Texas Health Northeast in Tyler, Texas, has stopped sending system-wide email invitations to employees to participate in bible study events at the Hurst Chapel after receiving a letter from FFRF.

A concerned employee contacted FFRF to report that the emails were signed “From the Office of Public Affairs.” In contrast to the bible study invitations, a system-wide email that promoted a Weight Watchers meeting contained the disclaimer, “This program is not in any way supported, endorsed, or managed by UT Health Northeast, other than allowing the meetings to take place on campus as a convenience to our staff. Participation in the program is entirely voluntary.”

It was additionally reported that the employees were invited to attend these bible study sessions in lieu of performing their normal job duties during work hours.

On Sept. 4, FFRF Staff Attorney Sam Grover sent a letter explaining why promotion of these study events is discriminatory and unconstitutional:

“While it may be standard practice in some hospitals to offer patients and their families access to a nondenominational chaplain for spiritual counseling, there is no reasonable justification for a public university-affiliated hospital to provide its employees with access to worship services during the workday. . . Calling upon staff to attend religious worship services is coercive and beyond the scope of a state-run hospital. Employees are free to pray privately or to worship on their own time in their own way.”

On Sept. 24, FFRF received word from the complainant that “Chapel services are still going on every week, but the emails promoting them have stopped.”

FFRF Co-Presidents

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

See Dan's bio »
See Dan's online writings »

See Dan's Debates »
Contact Dan »

See Annie Laurie's bio »
See Annie Laurie's online writings »
Contact Annie Laurie »

FFRF President emerita

Anne Nicol Gaylor
Photo by Brent Nicastro.

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.

Slideshow of Anne Gaylor & FFRF activism
See Anne Gaylor's online writings.

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.

FFRF Legal

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.

FFRF Staff

JACKIE DOUGLAS is the office manager at the Foundation. She graduated in 2002 from the University of Wisconsin-Stout in Human Development and Family Services. Jackie is happily married, owns a home on the east side of Madison, and has a black cat named Lucky.

SCOTT COLSON, technology manager, webmaster and production editor, is a 2007 graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, who majored in philosophy. Scott joined the Foundation staff in May 2008. He enjoys playing bass, talking politics or economics and brewing beer.

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.

FFRF Volunteers

Phyllis Rose
Foundation officer and volunteer Phyllis Rose.
Photo by Dan Barker

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.

FFRF Honorary Board

honoraryboardmembers

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!”

In Memoriam 

  • 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.”

FFRF is a non-profit, educational organization. All dues and donations are deductible for income-tax purposes.

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