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.”
Valley View Independent School District in Valley View, Texas, will no longer allow a Middle School teacher to give students religious handouts.
A history teacher distributed tracts to his students after teaching them about the Declaration of Independence. The tract was published by the NCCS and included a link to the NCCS website. The National Center for Constitutional Studies is an overtly religious organization that promotes religion under the guise of teaching American history. The website is both religiously and politically charged and includes a list of reasons to oppose same sex marriage. Articles on the site additionally draw egregiously false connections between the Constitution and the bible.
FFRF Staff Attorney Sam Grover sent a letter on Aug. 29 warning the district that schools may not advance or promote religion:
“Teachers have access to a captive audience of students due to their position as public educators. The district has a duty to regulate religious proselytizing in the classroom.”
On Sept. 10, the superintendent responded that they were looking into alternative pamphlets to distribute in the future and, “. . . VVISD intends to fully protect the rights of all our students and will do everything possible to replace the objectionable materials.”
Wise County Public Schools in Wise, Va., will no longer allow school-sponsored prayer before football games. The prayer was delivered before each home game over the loudspeaker by a member of the clergy.
On Sept. 18, FFRF Staff Attorney Patrick Elliott sent a letter to remind the district that public school sponsored religious messages are illegal and divisive:
“Not only is the District endorsing these prayers by allotting time for them at the start of football games, but it is also providing ministers with the public address system needed to impose these prayers on all students and community members at the football games.”
On Sept. 19, the school’s superintendent informed FFRF that, “We have addressed this issue and will resolve it immediately.” The football game later that day did not include a prayer over the P.A. system.
The Supreme Court has ruled that both clergy-led prayer and school prayer before football games violate the Constitution.
A superintendent in Toledo, Ohio, who utilized the social media site Twitter to promote a religious 2014 “See You at the Pole” event will no longer be permitted to do so.
A complainant contacted FFRF saying that the superintendent posted a message to his Twitter feed on Sept. 24 which read, “Courageous students will be praying at Whitmer’s flagpole at 7am. I will join them, it will be an amazing way to start the dsy [sic]!!” This gathering was presumably part of the annual Christian event, “See You at the Pole.”
The Washington Local Schools website lists a posting for the 2012 Whitmer High School “See You at the Pole” event: “Students, parents, staff and community members are invited to gather to pray for a new school year and for staff, students, parents and communities all across the U.S.A.”
On Sept. 26, FFRF Senior Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert sent a letter of complaint to the district:
“When the district’s employees participate in the religious events of students, they unconstitutionally entangle the District with a religious message. This alienates nonreligious students, teachers, and members of the public whose religious beliefs are inconsistent with the message being promoted by the school.”
On Oct. 1, an attorney for the district responded: “I have discussed with [the superintendent] the possible appearance of religious endorsement that can arise from both messages and personal participation in certain student activities, and I believe that our discussion will inform his future approaches to his involvement.”
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 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.
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.”