Lauryn Seering

Lauryn Seering

By PJ Slinger

A former dilapidated mechanic shop and used-car store lot in Madison, Wis., has been transformed into a successful small village where former homeless people are now living in what are called Tiny Homes.

These homes, each less than 100 square feet, are built, maintained and paid for by volunteers and donors to Occupy Madison, Inc., a nonprofit organization.

Nonbelief Relief, under the umbrella of FFRF, has donated $12,000 to Occupy Madison Village for what, in essence, amounts to two additional Tiny Homes. Nonbelief Relief was incorporated in 2015, with FFRF as its sole member.

Each Tiny Home includes a kitchenette, small table, closet and storage loft, water storage system, heat, insulation and a bed.

The land, at 304 N. Third St., was purchased in May 2014 by Occupy Madison.

"We wanted to become a member of the neighborhood, not just come in and stake a claim to a piece of property," said Luca Clemente, Occupy Madison's vice president.

As with Habitat for Humanity, sweat equity is used to determine a person's ability to move into one of the homes. A person earns the right to live in one of the Tiny Homes after putting in 500 hours of work.

Since the residents who live in the homes are not actually the owners, they are referred to as stewards. Gene Cox is one of OM Village's success stories. Has been a steward since February 2015, but got involved in OM Village well before that.

"I just started coming out here to help," he said. "I was just living in a van, so I wanted to get out and do something."

Perhaps most importantly, with the stability that living in a home offers, Cox was able to get a job.

Cox said he definitely feels a sense of belonging, something that's impossible when you live in a vehicle.
"I like my neighbors. It's starting to feel like family," he said.

There is no time limit to how long a steward may stay in a given house.

"The assumption is that eventually they will become independent and will want to move on," Clemente said. "But we didn't want to set it up where once people had success, they were then thrown back out on the streets."

The next phase for the village is to construct a community kitchen and laundry area on the backside of the existing building where the wood shop and bathroom are.

The success of the Occupy Madison Village was surprising to some and has become a model for other cities to follow.

"There were no solutions to the problem of homelessness," Clemente said. "There was no place for these people to go. There is a severe lack of services. So we proposed our own solution. Then we were getting national and international attention in the media, and it seemed like everyone was watching. We're kind of a tourist attraction."

Nonbelief Relief is a humanitarian agency for atheists, agnostics, freethinkers and their supporters "to improve this world, our only world," said Nonbelief Relief Administrator Annie Laurie Gaylor.

Justin Scott
Waterloo, Iowa, City Council
May 2, 2016

FFRF Member Justin Scott, also a member of the Cedar Valley Atheists and Eastern Iowa Atheists, delivered the first secular invocation in Waterloo, Iowa, City Council history. He also accepted the mayor's issuance of a "Day of Reason" proclamation for May 5, 2016, for the city. See page 19.

Thank you, mayor and council members, for this opportunity to hopefully provide an inspirational start to your meeting tonight and do so from a minority point of view. My name is Justin Scott. I am a proud atheist here in Waterloo and I stand before you all humbly representing the Cedar Valley Atheists, the Eastern Iowa Atheists and the growing and vibrant secular community across Waterloo and Iowa.

The secular community is made up of atheists, agnostics, humanists, secularists and skeptics predicated on community without the aid of the supernatural. It is also committed to defending and strengthening the separation of church and state while promoting positive non-theism and critical thinking. Regardless of the label they identify with, these are happy, compassionate and productive members of our society and I am proud to be representing them in this chamber tonight.

Tonight, as our elected officials work to make the best decisions for the city of Waterloo and the residents who call it home, instead of closing our eyes and bowing our heads in prayer, let us instead keep focused on the serious issues that our city government faces. And as our elected officials take on these issues in their thankless positions, let us all embrace the indelible words of some of the most influential freethinkers, past and present, starting with one of the leading astronomers of our time, Dr. Carl Sagan.

And I quote: Every one of us is, in the cosmic perspective, precious. End quote.

Regardless of the issues that get deliberated by this body tonight and in the future, regardless of the accomplishments and shortcomings of this chamber, it's with the sentiment of Dr. Sagan's comment that this chamber should conduct its business tonight and going forward. Each of us in here and across this city is precious; no citizen is more important than any other.

Let this chamber keep in mind that with every yay or nay vote, precious lives of Waterloo citizens will be affected, hopefully for better, but some for worse. While coming to their decisions, this chamber should rely solely on reason, observation and experience, or what Robert Ingersoll, "The Great Agnostic" of the mid-1800s, referred to as the "holy trinity of science."

Let this chamber deliberate with the understanding that not everyone in the room shares the same values, the same life experiences or same religious beliefs. These differences can help to enrich these governmental tasks but only when they aren't used to limit or censor free speech, denigrate or treat certain groups as second-class citizens or promote religious belief over nonbelief or one religious belief over all the others.

Let this chamber keep in mind that, in every circumstance, the minority viewpoint is just as valuable as the majority one. The rights and dignity of all Waterloo citizens should be respected regardless of their race, gender identity, sexuality, religious belief or lack thereof, for the future and well-being of our great city is enriched only when its diversity is embraced and equality for all is held as a guiding principle. With this said, I appeal to this chamber to follow one of the many tenets of humanism that reads, "We are concerned with securing justice and fairness in society and with eliminating discrimination and intolerance."

Let this chamber never forget that even though their beliefs often inspire their decisions, many decisions have real-world implications so they should never be made in haste. Every decision made in this chamber should be the product of informed reason, inquiry and skepticism. As the 18th-century philosopher David Hume reminds us, "Reason is, and ought only to be the slave of the passions, and can never pretend to any other office than to serve and obey them."

Just as you've welcomed an atheist to take part in this invocation process for the first time, you are encouraged to build on tonight to make your government even more open and accessible to more people, which will help make it as inclusive as possible. Open your arms to other Waterloo citizens living in the shadows of a certain minority group; together we truly will achieve more and the experience will be much more rewarding.
In closing, I'd like to leave you with a thought from Thomas Paine, Founding Father of the United States and English-American political activist: "The world is my country, all mankind are my brethren, and to do good is my religion."
Thank you.

Cheryl Kolbe
Clark County Board
Vancouver, Wash.
April 5, 2016

Cheryl Kolbe is the president of the Portland Area Chapter of FFRF, which she started in 2013. She first learned about FFRF from its billboard campaign in Portland in 2008 and attended her first convention in 2009 in Seattle. In 2012 she was elected an FFRF state representative.

Please be seated during this secular invocation.

Let us think about trust. Trust is the firm belief in the reliability, truth, ability or strength of someone or something.

What do the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights and the Constitution say about trust? Trust isn't mentioned in the Declaration of Independence or in the Bill of Rights. Our Constitution references an office of honor, trust, or profit, a reference to executive branch positions, and trust connotes the idea of a public trust that accrues to the office holder.

Some quotes on trust:

Paulo Freire, a Brazilian educator: "The trust of the people in the leaders reflects the confidence of the leaders in the people."

Our president, Barack Obama: "If the people cannot trust their government to do the job for which it exists — to protect them and to promote their common welfare — all else is lost."
May we treat each other with respect and courtesy. May we listen, not just to give the person their turn, but to hear and think about the value of their viewpoint.
It is easier to trust people who are most like us. Yet, in government, the challenge is to build trust in your very diverse community. May we recognize that we have many varying viewpoints, and may we recognize which of those viewpoints are relevant to county business and which are not.

"In God We Trust" reflects the view of many people. Those of us, like me, who do not trust in a god or any gods, are not part of 'we' and have a very different view. I encourage Clark County, as you move forward, to be as inclusive as possible.

When conducting Clark County business, let us all demonstrate to each other that we are trustworthy. With trust in each other, may we build a stronger and better Clark County.
Note: In February 2015 Clark County councilors voted to prominently display 'In God We Trust' in the main hearing room. That display is now on the wall.

Elizabeth Murad
Martin County Board
Stuart, Fla.
May 3, 2016

FFRF Member Elizabeth Murad was a nun for 13 years before leaving the Catholic Church in 1971 and becoming an atheist. She lives in Florida.

On behalf of the Humanists of the Treasure Coast, I would like to thank Martin County commissioners for inviting us to deliver today's invocation.

Let's begin this and every meeting with hope, reason and compassion. Let's put aside our personal differences and work toward the greater goal of building consensus in Martin County. Let's not be swayed by personal biases as to race, gender, politics or any of the things that may divide us.

Let's seek to find areas of agreement and work from there rather than focus on our differences. Let our voices be strong but respectful.

We are a Christian, Jewish, Muslim, humanist and atheist nation of people. We are a secular nation, with plenty of room for all of us in our beliefs and convictions.
So let's avoid the pitfalls that seem to swallow up so many political bodies. Let's envision a county dedicated to the well-being of all of our citizens.

Finally, let's show the world, or at least Florida, that we can disagree without rancor, name-calling or denigration of other views.

Thank you.

I have been a longtime member of FFRF, but, alas, not lifetime. I have terminal pancreatic cancer. However, because I am an atheist, I am not the least afraid of death. It is just as the great Raymond Chandler called it: The Big Sleep. And I like taking naps!

I am an atheist for many reasons, starting with the great atheist philosophers and essayists who have come before us, including Bertrand Russell, Robert Ingersoll and Sigmund Freud, and of course, the "New Atheists," Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett, A.C. Grayling, Steven Pinker and many others. Gore Vidal's essay "Monotheism and its Discontents" in The Nation magazine several years ago greatly influenced me.

But I am also, and most importantly, an atheist because of the wonderful community you have created with your great organization and expressed so beautifully and articulately in Freethought Today. I love the work you do in fighting the encroachment of religion into schools and government. I love the intelligent speeches from your conventions. I also love the essays from students, which make me confident that the future is in good hands. I love perhaps most of all the letters to the editor, which tell of personal journeys people have taken to a life of reason and rationality.

Now I live the fullest life I can, traveling as much as possible, visiting friends and family and watching baseball and my favorite movies and TV shows. I am not in pain, my chemo sessions are now benign and I am happy. Death is just part of life that we all must face. Because I am an atheist, I will not go into that "Big Sleep" with any fear that some utterly cruel fiend, whom many irrational people worship, is going to send me to an eternity of torture, which so many other dying people still fear today, much as they have done throughout history. I feel immensely sad for those people who have such fear of "what realms may come," that the last moments of their lives will be filled with abject terror. My last moments will be filled with life, friends, family and love.

Anthony G. Arlen
California

Anthony was born Oct. 13, 1949, and graduated from U.C.-Berkeley and Hastings College of Law. He practiced in the Sacramento area for 34 years until retiring in 2014. He has a wife, two sons and two daughters.

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Sharing the crank mail

Here's another installment of the sampling of the mail we get at FFRF from some of our critics. All are printed as received.

Question: hi, i was wondering why, if there is no god, the world seems to be on the way to fulfilling the bibles prophesies. (i.e. one world government, the beast, etc,) what i'm mainly concerned about is not getting the mark of the beast. — Joe Makowski, Ohio

It's Only The Beginning: Fkd-up-asshole? Obama and his fkd-up asshole? "justice" department forcing the North Carolina governor (and every federally-funded university, college, school, even tax-exempt church, synagogue, mosque, and all other IRS-monitored non-profit businesses across America) to let so-called "transgendered transsexual" males sneak or barge into female restrooms, changing rooms, and open-shower locker rooms to molest, rape, then dismember terrified little girls might only be the beginning. Wait until they demand such perverts invade private residences all across the United States to do the same thing, imposing the tyrannical excuse of "non-discrimination" for "civil" "rights." — Delbert Frank

Freedom from atheists: You will be happier in Siberia — Liv, Nevada

East Liverpool High School: I recently read in our local paper about the FFRF threatening ELHS to remove the Lord's Prayer from graduation. I was part of the 2013 graduating class from ELHS, and I don't think that it is right for you people to dictate what the students can or cannot sing. I think that you need to butt-out, and leave it up to the students. This has not been an issue before. Mind your own business, no one is being hurt! I understand that it is a public school, and the school cannot force the students to participate. However, as a matter of fact, it is AGAINST The Constitution to prevent students from choosing to sing the song, and I dearly hope that they will choose to sing it any how. — Michael Trew, Ohio

You disgust me: I'm watching my local news in Jacksonville and see where you have decided to push back against Duval County Schools for allowing prayer at functions that involve the school system. You should mind your own liberal business in Wisconsin and stay out of my city. The paper you print your threats on should be red, the color of Hell because that's where you're going if you keep this type of nonsense up. This Country was founded on the principles of God, Faith in God and Country. If you don't like it then leave. Canada is just up the road, I suggest you start there.
— Ryan Pahlow, Florida

Despicable!: You people are nothing but a hate group. Your actions speak loudly on that fact. Why the heck do you go out and actively seek to bother people who don't bother you? You're not intellectuals or even intelligent in the basic sense for that matter. An intellectual is above attacking people, their faith and things that don't hurt anyone. Hatred exactly the same as the KKK or New Black Panthers.
— James Cook

Genoa High school: I just want you to know that you have awaken the sleeping giant in our community for those of us who believe in the cause of Christ. You KNOW that the constitution was not created to literally separate the government from the church but it was created to protect the church from the government AND ANYTHING THAT WOULDS SUPPRESS FREEDOM OF RELIGION. And you if you don't know this then you need to read your history books again as to why this Country was founded. You may try and remove everything that speaks to the cause of Christ in this Nation, but you cannot remove it from the hearts of people in this world. He has already won that victory. I do not believe that anyone in your organization finds hope or peace in your "freethinking" philosophy. That kind of peace and hope comes from Jesus Christ alone. — Shirley Braatz

Banning religious music: Having "Religious" Music banned from graduation is going against The Lord, who CREATED you for HIS purpose. If you don't like him, keep it to yourself. Religious music does not promote religion, it promotes a relationship with Jesus Christ, therefore Christianity is not a religion it's a founding faith in Jesus Christ, having a close relationship to him has lord and savior of your life. I am so disappointed in cults and antichrists trying to break that belief I believe in down. How dare you. That is blasphemy!!!! My heart breaks for you. Why would you want to bring down the creator of the universe who loves you doing that???? Huh? I'm so highly upset the way this world is turning into. If you would only think about his sacrifice for us, before banning that, you would realize how wrong you are and how right I am. It hurts me to see this kind of behavior! — Joshua Richardson

Constitution: I find it funny you claim to take people to court, public, when you are a minority, I will not only donate to lawyers to stop you but the 1st ammendment gaurentees me freedom of religion not from. You must stop stupid stuff,look at how we were founded And the seperation of church and state is not in the constutition — Matt Roberts

Idiots: You are all idiots taking God out of the school system. That's what's wrong with America! — Jason Carboni

Your agenda: I've read a lot of news lately about your group writing to places all over the world demanding the removal of Religious themes. This angers me intensely. Why do you insist on doing Lucifer's work? Do you really think Lucifer can be trusted? Do you really believe if you follow Lucifer's will, you will be rewarded in this life or the next? Millions have been duped by Lucifer and your group is one of them. Sadly, there isn't a Freedom from People with Low IQ's foundation, then people could just worship God freely without being worried about upsetting some atheists feelings. Oxymoron if I ever heard one. An atheist with feelings? yea, it' doesnt sound right, does it. — Jim James

port neches: dont know how yall think u won in port neches tx.basically the city bitch slapped yall in the face cause now the cross will be a permanent fixture in port neches park.yall need to go where ppl want yall we dont want yall down here — Paul Marshall, Texas

Please forward this to your attorney: You do not have a say on private property or in cemeteries. Cemeteries is considered private property by law nationwide. I will tell all local, national and worldwide media to ignore your want for media attention and do not broadcast about your org or your agenda. We can sue you for discriminating against Christians. That would hold in court nationwide. — Mike Palmer

By Dan Barker

He was "my only father," which is how I referred to him in the dedication of my book, Losing Faith in Faith. He died on the evening of May 13 at the age of 90. Dad's death occurred on Friday the 13th, which he would have appreciated, since he spent his final decades as a proudly non-superstitious person.

Our mom had died in 2004, but thanks to my brother Darrell and his wife Suzan, a geriatric nurse, Dad was able to live out his life at home in Shelton, Wash., his needs tended by a loving family to the very end.

Dad was a member of the Lenape Tribe (Delaware Indians), which had been Christianized by Baptists and Moravians in the 1830s. His family's memories involved regular church-going. His grandmother Lizzie's favorite song, while raising a large family in Indian Territory before and after Oklahoma statehood, was "Rock of Ages." Jack and Lizzie's son Herbert moved to California in the 1920s with his 18-year-old half-Cherokee wife Marie. Norman Secoyah Barker, the second of their four boys, was born the year of the Scopes Trial. (They knew how to spell "Sequoia," but preferred the Indian way of writing the name of the man who invented the Cherokee alphabet.)

Dad had played the trombone every day of his life since high school. You can see him playing trombone in some old movies from the 1940s, most notably in Irving Berlin's 1948 "Easter Parade," where Judy Garland puts her arm around him while singing "I Want To Go Back To Michigan (Down on the Farm)."

Dad was an original member of Hoagy Carmichael's band "The Teenagers," who played during Hoagy's "Something New" radio show on Mondays in 1945–46. Dad met my mother Patricia (Patsy) in a dance band. That was the night his brother Ray got sick and needed him to sub for him on the trombone. Norman accompanied Patsy while she sang "These Foolish Things," then made the not-so-foolish decision to get married in 1947.

After playing in Big Bands during the 1940s, Dad found religion in a big way. He threw away all his "worldly" records, went to bible school and became a church lay leader. During my teen years our born-again evangelical family used to perform and preach at California churches: I played piano, my brothers played trumpet and trombone, my Mom sang beautifully, and Dad preached and played the trombone.

Norman was an Anaheim City Police officer for 22 years. He says one of the high moments of his career was when he pulled over his mother-in-law for speeding through town. He gave her a warning and a smile.

Like my Dad, I went to bible school and ended up preaching the "good news" of hell for 19 years. When my parents got my 1984 letter of deconversion to atheism, they were surprised, but eventually both became atheists. Mom, a Sunday School teacher, was first to deconvert. She told a reporter that she was much happier as a nonbeliever because "I don't have to hate any more." Dad threw in the towel a couple of years later after some friendly theological back-and-forth correspondence between the two of us. In the late 1980s, a happy nonbeliever, he told a reporter: "You think it's hard being a Christian in today's world? Try being an atheist!"

Dad kept up his musical chops as long as possible. In his late 80s he bought one of those orange plastic trombones that weigh only 3 pounds and sound just as nice.

At the very end, Dad put down his instrument and said he was ready to go. He was suffering from Parkinson's. The days were becoming impossibly difficult. He had stopped eating and drinking. Darrell and Suzan took him to the emergency room where he was diagnosed as terminal and allowed to be taken home under hospice care.

After he was admitted to the emergency room, his eyes closed in resignation (or determination), a nurse came in and asked him, "Are you ready to go see the angels and Jesus?"

Dad opened his right eye and stared at her. "No!" he said firmly.

"Dad is an atheist," Suzan informed the nurse, who never said another word.
He died five days later, asleep in his own bed without pain.

Dad didn't believe in life after death. All he wanted was to be buried next to Patsy in Mountain View cemetery in Mesa, Ariz., near where they had lived in retirement for a quarter century.

There will be no funeral or formal memorial service. Sometime in the near future, Darrell and I and some close family members will bury his ashes next to Mom's grave. Norman and Patricia Barker, long-time supporters of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, are honored on the wall of tiles in the vestibule of Freethought Hall, the national offices of FFRF.
Twenty hours after Dad's death, I played in a jazz band in Baraboo, Wis. He would have wanted me to keep gigging. In his memory, as my daughters Glen (Sabrina) and Rebecca were listening, we played "These Foolish Things."

Dad was a constant positive presence. He was very smart and extremely talented. His ego was secure. Relaxed and happy with life, he felt no need to be ambitious or aggressive. He was quick with a joke or a pun, delivered wryly with a repressed grin and sideways glance. He rarely complained about anything, even when we thought he should be more assertive about wrongs he had suffered. He was genuine, humble and unpretentious, with a smiling sparkle in his eye that gave away the fact that he had life all figured out. Family, friends and music — that's all that mattered.

Dan Barker is co-president of FFRF.

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In memoriam: Beatrice ‘Betty’ L. Petz

In memoriam: Beatrice 'Betty' L. Petz
1929-2016

FFRF member Beatrice "Betty" Lorraine Petz died April 29, 2016. She was born on Oct. 24, 1929, in Firozpur, India, where her father was stationed while in the British Army.

She later moved to Scotland, where she lived until 1948 when she met her future husband, Ralph Eric Petz. They married on June 8, 1948, and were married for 50 years before Ralph died in August 1998. Betty lived in Winona, Minn., for 53 years, living in the same home before moving to Sugar Loaf Assisted Living. She was actively involved at the Winona Art Center, where many of her oil paintings were displayed. She also was a talented seamstress, cook, gardener and landscaper. Betty traveled extensively in her lifetime throughout the United States, Asia and Europe, and made frequent visits to Scotland, Ireland and England to visit family. She was known to family and friends as being spunky, intelligent, independent, with liberal views on religion and politics.

She is survived by daughters Diane Petz and Jackie Petz; and son, Bruce Petz and his wife, Jan Petz. She is survived by grandchildren Jon Scharmer-Weinberg and his husband Edje, Jeffrey Scharmer and his wife Joan, Jessica Pena, and Andrew Petz and his wife Sarah. She also has seven great grandchildren.

Betty's daughter Diane wrote to FFRF and wanted to take over her mother's membership. "My mother was very forthright in telling our family about her beliefs," Diane Petz wrote. "Over the years, I have come to appreciate her views. I respect all beliefs and also believe strongly that one's religious beliefs should definitely stay out of politics."

In memoriam: David Groethe, former FFRF Chair

1926 – 2016

Freethought Today is very sad to report that David Groethe, 90, who was chair of FFRF's Executive Board for more than two decades, died of cancer on March 30 at his home in Pine Island, Minn.

He is survived by his wife, Mary, also a longtime FFRF member and former FFRF state representative. David and Mary were very early members, joining FFRF in 1978, the year it went national. David retired from the board in 2013.

Born on Jan. 1, 1926, in Rapid City, S.D., David studied for two years at Black Hills State, then had a diverse career, most recently running a photo finishing lab in Sioux Falls, S.D. The couple remained active and traveled around the country in retirement.

He and Mary married on Feb. 5, 1971, a second marriage for both. They had six children or stepchildren, 10 grandchildren and five great-grandchildren between them.

"He loved FFRF. It was a big part of his life," Mary told FFRF. "Religion was one of the things that always bothered him. He needed the scientific method, not a belief system."

David and Mary were cheerful fixtures at annual FFRF conventions for three decades, often volunteering to staff FFRF book tables. David and Mary attended one convention with custom-made caps embroidered with "Out of the Closet Atheist." The caps were so popular that FFRF asked permission to use the idea for its sales catalog, where they are a staple.
"We'll miss David's enthusiasm, his chuckle and his practical good sense," said Dan Barker, FFRF co-president.

Set your sights on FFRF's convention

With the Reason Rally now in the rear-view mirror, it's time to turn your freethinking attention to FFRF's annual convention.

With some of the biggest names in freethought set to speak at the 39th annual convention from Oct. 7–9 in downtown Pittsburgh, you don't want to miss out.

And, of course, don't forget about the tour of Frank Lloyd Wright's architectural masterpiece Fallingwater on the first day of the convention. (See below for details.)
FFRF has again collected an impressive list of speakers to inform, educate, entertain and amaze you.

A keynote speaker will be Lawrence Krauss, the internationally known theoretical physicist, author and director of the Origins Project at Arizona State University and Foundation Professor in the School of Earth and Space Exploration and the Physics Department at ASU. Krauss has won numerous international awards for both his research and his efforts to improve the public understanding of science. He is the only physicist to have received the top awards from all three U.S. physics societies, and is the author of nine books including bestsellers The Physics of Star Trek and A Universe from Nothing. Krauss starred in a feature-length documentary called "The Unbelievers," which followed Krauss and Richard Dawkins around the world as they discussed science and reason.

He will receive the Emperor Has No Clothes Award from FFRF.

Another keynoter will be none other than Daniel Dennett. He, along with Dawkins, Sam Harris and the late Christopher Hitchens, have been called the "Four Horsemen of New Atheism." Dennett is co-director of the Center for Cognitive Studies at Tufts University, is the author of many books, including Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon. Dennett said the title of his convention speech will be, "Has the dam broken? Omens and worries."

The newest honoree to the convention lineup of speakers is Rafida Bonya Ahmed, a humanist activist, author and moderator at the award-winning Bengali blog Muktomona. She is the widow of Dr. Avijit Roy, a well-known writer, blogger, and activist who founded Muktomona as an online platform for Bengali-speaking freethinkers. Horrifyingly, Avijit was hacked to death by Islamic militants during a book-signing trip to Dhaka, Bangladesh, on Feb. 26, 2015, and Bonya was gravely injured. She has been working with international and local communities to help Bengali bloggers, intellectuals and activists. She was the keynote speaker for the mini-convention at the Reason Rally on June 5.

Other speakers include:

Jerry A. Coyne, professor emeritus in the Department of Ecology and Evolution at the University of Chicago, who has written 119 scientific papers and 150 popular articles, book reviews, and columns, and a trade book about the evidence for evolution — Why Evolution is True, which was a New York Times bestseller. His second book, Faith vs. Fact: Why Science and Religion are Incompatible was published in May 2015. Coyne plans to speak on the topic of "Evolution and Atheism: Best Friends Forever." He previously was honored with FFRF's Emperor Has No Clothes Award.

Susan Jacoby is the author of 11 books, most recently, Strange Gods: A Secular History of Conversion, which came out in March. Her articles have appeared frequently in the op-ed pages of The New York Times, including one in February, "Sick and Tired of 'God Bless America.'"

Jacoby is a previous recipient of FFRF's Freethought Heroine Award.

Lauri Lebo is an author, radio station owner and former reporter from Harrisburg, Pa., where she was the principal local reporter covering the Kitzmiller v. Dover trial in 2004-05 while working for the York Daily Record. She was featured prominently in the Nova documentary Judgment Day: Intelligent Design on Trial, both because of her coverage and because her father, who owned Christian radio station WWII-AM in Harrisburg, sided with the Dover school board in the controversy. After more than 20 years as a journalist, she left reporting to write The Devil in Dover, a book about the Kitzmiller trial and its effects on Dover.

Honoree Marie Schaub is the only named plaintiff in an ongoing case near Pittsburgh. She joined FFRF in 2012 to ask the New Kensington-Arnold School District to remove a 6-foot-tall granite monument depicting a copy of the Ten Commandments that is prominently displayed in front of the public high school her child was scheduled to attend.

FFRF Co-President Dan Barker will speak about his lawsuit against Congress and also about his new book, God: The Most Unpleasant Character in Fiction.

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 FFRF. Other books include Godless (Ulysses Press, 2008), The Good Atheist: Living a Purpose-Filled Life Without God (Pitchstone Publishing, 2011), Life Driven Purpose: How an Atheist Finds Meaning, Pitchstone Press (2015) and GOD: The Most Unpleasant Character in All Fiction (Sterling Publications, 2016). 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 FFRF’s musical CDs, "Friendly Neighborhood Atheist," "Beware of Dogma,” and “Adrift on a Star." He joined FFRF's staff in 1987, serving as public relations director. He was first elected co-president in November 2004, speaks widely and has engaged in more than 100 debates about religion.

Annie Laurie Gaylor, a third-generation freethinker, co-founded FFRF with her mother Anne Gaylor as a college student in 1976. She served as editor of Freethought Today, FFRF’s newspaper, from 1985 to 2009. Her book, Woe to the Women: The Bible Tells Me So, first published by FFRF in 1981, is in its 4th printing. In 1988, FFRF published Betrayal of Trust: Clergy Abuse of Children, the first book documenting widespread sexual abuse by clergy. Her 1997 anthology, 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 University of Wisconsin-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 first joined the FFRF staff in 1985. She has been co-president since 2004. In the late 1970s, her student protest ended commencement prayers at the UW-Madison. She has been plaintiff in or overseen many state/church lawsuits and actions by FFRF. Dan and Annie Laurie have appeared on a variety of TV news shows, including “Oprah,” “O’Reilly,” “Good Morning America,” Univision, CNN and FOX news segments, CBS Evening News and ABC World News Tonight.

Photo: Timothy Hughes

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FFRF President emerita

Anne Nicol Gaylor
Photo by Brent Nicastro.

ANNE NICOL GAYLOR was a founder and president emerita of the Freedom From Religion Foundation. She served as executive director from 1978 to 2005, and worked as a consultant to the Foundation. Born in rural Wisconsin, she was 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 did 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. Previously, she was the Executive Director of the Wisconsin Library Association. She has 25 years of experience in nonprofit organizations, both as a staff member and volunteer leader, including having served as board president of the Wisconsin Society of Association Executives and the Community Action Coalition of South Central Wisconsin. She has a B.A. from the University of Minnesota. Lisa 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.

SETH WRINKLE graduated with a B.A. in English Literature from the University of Oregon in 2010. Seth volunteered with FFRF as a legal intern in 2015 and 2016 and became the Foundation’s newest legal clerk after receiving his Juris Doctor from Lewis & Clark Law in July 2016.

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.

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 in some capacity since May 2012, starting as a legal intern/extern, and currently works as a legal fellow.

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.

RYAN JAYNE received a B.A. in philosophy from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Honors College in 2007. After graduating, Ryan taught piano and chess lessons while working as a financial advisor until 2012, when he began law school at Lewis & Clark in Portland, Oregon. In law school he focused on intellectual property and animal law, serving as an associate editor for the Animal Law Review at Lewis & Clark and co-founding the Pacific Northwest’s first Secular Legal Society. Ryan graduated cum laude in 2015, began working with FFRF in January of 2015, and became a Diane Uhl Legal Fellow in September, 2015, 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.

ALYSSA SCHAEFER is FFRF’s Program Assistant.  She graduated from The George Washington University in 2014 with a BA in International Affairs, concentrating in Security Policy.   A native of Wisco, she recently moved back to Madison from the east coast. In her free time Alyssa enjoys traveling, exploring the great outdoors, live music, and lazy Sundays with her cat Lola.

PJ SLINGER is editor of Freethought Today. A Green Bay native, he has a journalism degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and has worked as a sports reporter, news reporter, copy editor, web editor and photo editor in newspapers in Marshall (Minn.), Mankato (Minn.) and Madison (Wis). Prior to coming to FFRF in 2015, he worked for 15 years at The Capital Times in Madison. He has a wife and three kids.

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 & communications coordianator. She was born in Wausau, Wis. and studied abroad in Nagasaki, Japan. Lauryn graduated from the UW-Stout in 2012 with her BS in Professional Communications and Emerging Media, concentrating in Technical Communication & International Studies. Lauryn moved to Madison in 2013 and enjoys reading about space stuff, biking and creating art at coffee shops. 

JAKE SWENSON started as FFRF’s first graphic designer in 2015. He was born in Rockford, Illinois, and graduated with a degree in fine art from the University of Wisconsin–Stevens Point. He enjoys music, cycling, photography, traveling, and coffee.

LISA TREU is our Director Of First Impressions at FFRF.  She comes to us after working in broadcasting for iHeart Radio in Madison, Wisconsin.  She hosted various radio programs for fifteen years.  Lisa and her husband ran their own Birdhouse/Birdfeeder manufacturing company called Northwoods Mfg., Inc. during the 1990’s where she had her own line of decorative birdhouses that she designed and painted herself.  Lisa is the wife of Harry and is the mother of twin daughters Katrina and Karinthia.  In her spare time she enjoys reading, painting, gardening, feeding the birds, getting silly with her daughters and lounging with her two cats.

ELEANOR MCENTEE has over a decade of experience as a nonprofit bookkeeper and is very dedicated to nonprofit organizations.  In her free time, she journals, spends time with her cats Steven and MacNcheez, and rides her Harley all over Wisconsin and more!

AMITABH PAL is the Communications Director of FFRF. Prior to joining in February 2016, he was the Managing Editor of The Progressive magazine for more than a decade. He was also the editor of the Progressive Media Project, an affiliate of The Progressive that sends out op-eds through the Tribune Wire Service to hundreds of newspapers in the United States and other countries. Pal has appeared on C-SPAN and BBC and television and radio stations all over the United States and abroad. His articles have been published in school and college textbooks in the United States and Australia. Pal teaches a course at Edgewood College in Madison, Wisconsin. He has a Master's in Journalism from the University of North Carolina and a Master's in Political Science from North Carolina State University.

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.”
  • 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.”
  • Oliver Sacks, M.D., the compassionate neurologist and bestselling author, describes himself as “an old Jewish atheist.”

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