An assistant principal at Andalusia Middle School in Andalusia, Ala., will no longer be allowed to “witness” to students.
FFRF received a complaint that the assistant principal regularly proselytized students in his office. He used a social networking site to advertise the message that the school conducts prayers to Jesus before sporting events and that he personally witnesses to students and encourages bibles in his office.
FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel sent a March 4 letter to Superintendent Ted Watson explaining why these are serious and egregious violations of the Constitution:
“It is not a violation of [the assistant principal’s] free speech rights to require him to stop the practice of proselytizing students in his office. [The assistant principal] is exposing a captive audience of students to this religious message because of his position as public school assistant principal. Religion is a divisive force in public schools.”
Seidel’s letter informed the district that it is illegal for public schools to organize, sponsor, or lead religious messages at school athletic events, and that the distribution of bibles on school grounds is unconstitutional even during non instructional time.
Superintendent Watson responded on March 24, saying the principal had admitted to overstating religious activity at the Middle School, “I assure you that we do not hold teacher, administrator or student led Bible, Koran, Torah, or any other religious studies in our rooms or offices. I will also assure you Bibles are not distributed at Andalusia Middle School nor do we have teacher, staff or administrator led prayer at sporting events.
“[T]hank you for making us aware of this situation,” the District added. “It has facilitated a review of the law as it pertains to the establishment clause within our school system. We strive to teach our students to be law-abiding citizens and it starts with the example we as adults set.”
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Eleven friendly and thought-provoking billboards featuring members of the Freedom From Religion Foundation and its chapter, the Northern Ohio Freethought Society, are going up this week around Cleveland and Akron in a month-long campaign to introduce area atheists and agnostics to their communities.
The billboards feature the faces of local atheists, agnostics and freethinkers along with their personal freethought “testimonials.”
Marni Huebner-Tiborsky, chapter director, is pictured with her husband Mark Tiborsky on a billboard at Harvard and East 17th in East Cleveland. They note: “We are awed by nature, not the supernatural.”
Mark Tiborsky commented: “We just want to let other nonbelievers, or those on the fence about their religious belief, know they’re not alone and that the local nontheist community is both welcoming and growing.”
Artist and humanist chaplain Miguel Moore’s billboard, featuring his smiling face and his words, “Freedom comes from within, not without,” is found at Broadview and Brookdale in Parma.
“Doing good is our religion,” say Roni and Elliot Berenson of Chesterland, octogenarians who describe themselves as “Grandparents . . . Atheists.” Their billboard is at West 25th and Erin in Cleveland.
Roni Berenson is well-known in the area and nationally as an activist for social justice, world peace and secular humanist causes. She became a freethinker at age 16 after escaping the Holocaust in her native Germany.
Students with the University of Akron Secular Student Alliance are featured on two billboards in Akron. Craig Bauman, Austin Morgan and Anderson Friess note, “You are not alone” if you “question everything.” Their board is at East Exchange and Goodkirk in Akron.
Three other students, Tommy Panek, Shamari Fields and Austin Meredith, are featured on a billboard at Case and Kent Street in Akron, declaring: “We don’t believe in any gods.”
Chapter activists participating in the campaign include Sam Salerno of Lakewood, a bricklayer and an atheist who says about himself, “Not immortal, just a caring mortal.” His billboard is at West 117th and Berea Road, Lakewood.
Dave Huntsman of Peninsula, an aerospace engineer, notes on his billboard, located at Rocky River Drive and Rockland in Cleveland: “I believe in science, reason and secular values.”
“Atheism motivates my activism. The world is in OUR hands,” advises Sharon Woznicki, of Lakewood, who identifies as “Animal advocate, feminist, volunteer . . . atheist.” Sharon’s smiling image and message can be viewed at Scranton and Train Boulevard in Cleveland.
Pharmacist Eric Tawney of North Royalton identifies as “Kind. Compassionate. Good. Fair. Just. Humane. Atheist.”
A “loving family of atheists” are pictured on a lavender background with mother Joanna and her toddlers Willie and Channing. Joanna’s message? “Life is naturally beautiful and meaningful.”
The “Ladies of Northern Ohio Freethought Society” are in a group shot at East 18th and Carnegie in downtown Cleveland with a woman-affirming message: “We are united and growing in secularism.”
FFRF, a state/church watchdog based in Madison, Wis., is the nation’s largest association of atheists and agnostics with more than 20,000 members, including about 550 members in Ohio. FFRF debuted the “Out of the Closet” campaign in Madison in 2010 and has taken the personalized campaign to Columbus, Tulsa, Raleigh, Phoenix, Nashville, Portland, Spokane and Sacramento.
“Research shows that atheists and other nonbelievers are still at the bottom of the totem pole when it comes to social acceptance. One of the reasons is that even though at least 20% of the population today is nonreligious in the United States, many Americans have never knowingly met an atheist,” said Annie Laurie Gaylor, FFRF co-president.
“This campaign introduces the Cleveland and Akron community to the atheists and skeptics in their midst. Taking a cue from the gay pride movement, our campaign invites other nonbelievers to share their views and ‘Come out of the closet.’ ”
Location of billboards and featured “models”:
- Broadview and Brookdale, Parma: Miguel Moore
- East 18th and Carnegie, Downtown: Ladies of NOFS
- Harvard and East 176th, Cleveland: Mark and Marni
- St, Clair and East 38th, Cleveland: Joanna Polisena
- St. Clair and East 200th, Cleveland/Euclid: Eric Tawney
- Scranton and Train Blvd., Cleveland: Sharon Woznicki
- West 25th and Erin, Cleveland: Roni and Elliot
- West 117th and Berea Road, Lakewood: Sam Salerno
- Rocky River Drive and Rockdale, Cleveland: Dave Huntsman
- East Exchange and Goodkirk: Akron SSA students
- Case Avenue and Kent Street., Akron: Akron SSA students
E.C. Reems School of Technology and Arts in Oakland, Calif., has concluded an investigation into a religious assembly and now agrees it was “inappropriate.”
A complainant contacted FFRF with information regarding a religious assembly which included kindergarteners as young as four. The assembly was intended to honor classmate Jahi McMath, a 13-year-old girl declared braindead after a tonsillectomy went tragically wrong. Her religious parents insist Jahi is not braindead. At the assembly, 250 young, impressionable students were given purple T-shirts emblazoned with the words ‘#TeamJahi” and “Keep Calm and Pray On.”
According to a local news report, “The academy’s chief operating officer Lisa Blair said she has tried to honor Jahi’s family’s wishes by telling students that their classmate may still be alive, even though doctors say she is legally and clinically dead.”
Futhermore, Blair was on record saying, “Most kids are Christian here, and they believe that if you continue praying there’s always a possibility. The students understand the debate. They’re just choosing spirituality over science.”
FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel sent a letter to the Board of Directors, calling for an investigation into the assembly and informing the district why public school employees cannot ask students to pray:
“What happened to Jahi is a terrible tragedy and all hearts go out to her suffering relatives and friends. No child’s life should be cut short before it can truly begin. But such tragedies are not an excuse to violate the Constitution. Public school employees cannot tell students that, if only they pray hard enough to a particular god, their classmate will come back to life. Public school employees cannot force their personal religious beliefs on students.
“Public school employees cannot distribute, ask students to wear, or themselves don religious T-shirts instructing everyone to ‘pray on.’ We understand these shirts were donated, but public school employees distributed them in a public school at a school function, and it is our understanding that those employees encouraged students to wear the shirts and set an example by wearing the shirts themselves.”
On March 14, the District sent the findings of their investigation. It concluded that:
“Ms. Blair acknowledged that statements attributed to her [in a local newspaper] were accurately reported. . .
“Ms. Blair, however, does not believe that the article accurately reflects the assembly itself. . . However the District found that the statements made by Ms. Blair were inappropriate and the decision by administration to distribute shirts to the School was inappropriate. . . School administration will receive training regarding requirements for compliance regarding religion in public schools.”
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.”