For the second year in a row, the sign by the Freedom From Religion Foundation's Metropolitan Chicago chapter was vandalized in a city park in Arlington Heights, Ill. The solstice sign, along with a large "A" (for atheism) light display, was erected to counter a nativity scene on public property in North School Park, in what the city has deemed a public forum.
"It seems there is no peace, good will to all in Arlington Heights," said FFRF Co-President Dan Barker. "This is not just a heckler's veto, it's an attack on free speech in a public forum that is supposed to be open to all. This vandalism says the park belongs only to Christians — everyone else is an outsider."
Additionally, the Chicago chapter was part of a Chicago Coalition of Reason banner that was also vandalized over the past weekend.
The five-foot-tall scarlet A was added this year, after a solstice banner was slashed to shreds a year ago. The accompanying metal sign was vandalized. It depicted a small graphic showing the "nativity" of the Bill of Rights, whose anniversary is Dec. 15. Admiring Founding Founders are gathered around the Bill of Rights document in a crib. It also contained a required disclaimer and language explaining the freethought point of view.
Tom Cara, chapter director, noted: "I have contacted the Park District to let them know of the damage and encourage them once again to cease this public forum due to the divisiveness of religious displays on public property."
Cara reported the crime to the police, which is minimally a misdemeanor. Because FFRF's nonreligious message was targeted, the act also qualifies as a Class 4 felony under Illinois' hate crime law. FFRF is offering a $2,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the perpetrator(s).
The Chicago chapter additionally was part of a Chicago Coalition of Reason banner that was also vandalized over the past weekend.
FFRF and its chapter have also erected a display to counter a more than life-sized nativity display that has dominated Daley Plaza in December for years. FFRF and its chapter have placed an 8-foot lighted red "A" (the emblem of the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science, standing for atheism and agnostism), and a charming, large banner depicting the "nativity" of the Bill of Rights.
FFRF, a Madison, Wis.-based national state/church watchdog with over 21,500 members nationwide, has over 800 members in Illinois.
The 43-foot cross atop Mount Soledad, a prominent public park in San Diego, has long been ruled unconstitutional, but political maneuvering has kept the government from dismantling or moving the cross. Last week, the U.S. House of Representatives voted to transfer the public land on which the Latin cross sits to the Mount Soledad Memorial Association. This is just the latest maneuver by the government to circumvent the Constitution.
The U.S. Senate is expected to vote on the measure any time this week. Please take action immediately! Scroll for contact information or read more about the case below.
The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled the cross unconstitutional in 2011, and the Supreme Court declined to review the decision in 2012, letting the appellate opinion stand. The lawsuit actually began in 1989 when Philip Paulson, a Vietnam vet and atheist, first sued. Paulson, who became FFRF's first Atheist in Foxhole awardee, originally won his case in federal court in 1991. FFRF State Representative Steve Trunk, a Lifetime FFRF Member and also a Vietnam vet, atheist and FFRF Atheist in Foxhole awardee, joined the case when Paulson was dying, ensuring the continuation of one of the longest-running Establishment Clause cases in U.S. history.
The current cross was put up in the 1950s, but earlier permutations were erected at least by the 1920s. Actor Gregory Peck recalled in a memoir how the KKK set fire to a wooden cross on Mount Soledad in 1923 after a black family rented a house in the town's outskirts. After litigation began, the government conveniently dubbed the cross a veterans memorial in a post hoc attempt to justify the cross. For decades, sunrise Easter services have been held there.
The federal government currently owns the land after taking it over in 2006 from the city of San Diego, which faced fines of $5,000 a day if it did not remove the cross. The city made two previous attempts to transfer the cross to the Mount Soledad Memorial Association, neither of which passed muster in the courts.
Please immediately call, email, or fax your two senators and ask them to vote against this measure. Contact information for senators may be found here.
Use your own words or cut and feel free to paste any wording below. If you are an "atheist in a foxhole" (ongoing military or veteran), please be sure to add that.
As a nonbeliever/atheist/agnostic, I oppose the scheme to circumvent the courts and the Constitution by transferring historic and valuable federal land to a private entity in order to "save" the Mount Soledad cross. Federal courts have repeatedly held the 43-foot-tall Latin cross on public land to be unconstitutional.
The government's continued machinations to preserve this cross on the most prominent spot overlooking San Diego demonstrates endorsement of the Christian religion. Belatedly dubbing a Christian cross display to be a veterans memorial sends the exclusionary message that the government only cares about the service or deaths of Christian soldiers — not Jewish, Muslim, other non-Christian and nonreligious soldiers. The nonreligious is the fastest-growing segment of the U.S. population, today at one in five Americans. Nearly a quarter of the current military identifies as nonreligious. That's a lot of veterans and U.S. citizens to exclude. The Senate represents and serves all citizens, including those of us who do not believe in a god. Please demonstrate neutrality for religion and respect for those of no faith and minority faiths by voting against this inappropriate land transfer.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation will place a "Bill of Rights nativity" Monday, Dec. 8, in the Florida State Capitol in Tallahassee proclaiming the Winter Solstice as the "true reason for the season."
The prominent state/church watchdog, the nation's largest association of freethinkers (atheists and agnostics), is placing a two-sided banner in the Florida Capitol on behalf of its more than 1,000 Florida members. The banner depicts a light-hearted nativity scene parody in which Ben Franklin, the Statue of Liberty, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison on bended knee, gaze adoringly at a copy of the Bill of Rights in a crib.
The FFRF banner honors Dec. 15, the anniversary of adoption of the Bill of Rights, as well as the Winter Solstice on Dec. 21 — the shortest, darkest day of the year — a natural holiday celebrated for millennia in the Northern Hemisphere.
This is the second year for FFRF's display. The banner went up in 2013 to counter a nativity scene in the rotunda. Last year, FFRF's banner prompted others to place irreverent displays, including a Flying Spaghetti Monster and a Festivus pole constructed from Pabst Blue Ribbon beer cans. After a denial last year, capitol officials agreed this year to let the Satanic Temple put up a display of an angel falling into hell, when the group threatened a lawsuit.
"We'd vastly prefer to keep religion — and irreligion — out of the seat of state government. The Capitol ought to be above the fray of religious divisiveness. But if public officials unwisely decide to permit religious public forums, then there must be 'room at the inn' for nonbelievers," FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor explained.
Last year's atheist invasion caused the Capitol to revisit their rules. Displays this year will be allowed up for one week only. Last year, all displays were permitted indefinitely. The banner will be displayed Dec. 8 through Dec. 15, FFRF's second choice of dates. FFRF has submitted a records request over the scheduling to ensure the state is playing fair.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation banner reads:
At this season of the Winter Solstice, we celebrate the birth of the Unconquered Sun — the TRUE reason for the season. As Americans, let us also honor the birth of our Bill of Rights, which reminds us there can be no freedom OF religion, without having freedom FROM religion in government.
The banner is the same as the one that was just placed in Daley Plaza by FFRF and its Metropolitan Chicago Chapter to counter religious symbols there.
FFRF thanks local FFRF member and activist Gary Wittenberger, who will be placing the sign.
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.”