Lauryn Seering

Lauryn Seering

NKASDPicCropA three-judge panel in the Third Circuit Court of Appeals will hear oral arguments tomorrow in a challenge to a Ten Commandments monument in front of a Pennsylvania school. The Freedom From Religion Foundation and Marie Schaub, who is a parent of a student, appealed a district court decision last year ruling they didn't have standing to bring the case against the New Kensington-Arnold School District.

FFRF asserts that parents and students who have been impacted by the display of the Ten Commandments monument have standing to challenge it. In its brief, FFRF points out that the plaintiffs were forced either to have "contact with an unwelcome religious exercise" or assume the burden of avoiding such contact. The plaintiffs had encountered the 6-foot, 2,000-pound monolith while attending school events prior to enrollment. Schaub ultimately refused to enroll her child at the high school because of the the prominent monument in front of the school.

"Parents and students who have been injured by a school's religious practices must have access to the courts," said FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. "We look forward to this case proceeding so that the school will be welcoming to nonreligious students," added Gaylor.

"The first commandment alone, dictating which god students must worship, is reason enough to rule that the New Kensington school district has no right to impose it on students and their parents. In our secular nation, citizens are free to have any god that they like, as many gods as they like — or none at all," Gaylor added.

Last year, a similar federal court challenge by FFRF and local parents and students ended with a court decision in FFRF's favor and removal of an identical Ten Commandments monument from a junior high school in nearby Connellsville Area School District. 

The argument will be before Judges Smith, Hardiman, and Schwartz in Pittsburgh. Attorney Marcus Schneider will argue the case for the plaintiffs and Attorney Charles Woodworth will represent Americans United and several religious organizations in support of the plaintiffs.

Contact your Representatives today!

Please take a moment to contact your U.S. representative to urge their support of the Do No Harm Act, introduced today in Congress. FFRF applauds U.S. Reps. Bobbie Scott of Virginia and Joe Kennedy of Massachusetts for their leadership in seeking to reform a law that has protected religious privilege, at the expense of religious freedom.

The Religious Freedom Restoration Act, known as RFRA, is a super-statute that effectively amends every other federal law, including laws meant to protect citizens from unfair treatment. The Do No Harm Act would limit which laws RFRA applies to. For instance, RFRA would no longer allow believers to be exempt from the Civil Rights Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Violence Against Women Act, laws that require employers to provide wages and other compensation, or laws that require coverage for any health care item. The bill, if enacted, could undo damage by the Hobby Lobby decision by the Supreme Court in 2014. That decision allows employers and for-profit corporations to deny women workers contraceptive coverage on the basis of religious offense.

FFRF has been calling for the repeal of RFRA since the Hobby Lobby decision and working to get the discriminatory law struck down before that.

FFRF fully supports the adoption of this commonsense amendment. Religious freedom is already protected under the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The Do No Harm Act will bring us one step closer to restoring true equality, by preventing discrimination in the name of religious belief.

CONTACT

Contact your congressional representative today to voice your support for the Do No Harm Act. Personalize your statement if possible, or feel free to cut and paste the wording below.

I am writing as your constituent and a nonreligious citizen. For far too long, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act has been used not as a shield to protect the rights of underrepresented religious minorities, but as a sword. It has been used by the Religious Right to discriminate against women, LGBT individuals, religious minorities and the nonreligious. RFRA has become a legal loophole that allows for any person or corporation to discriminate in the name of religion.

That is why I ask you to become a cosponsor of the newly introduced Do No Harm Act, an act that would curb the damage RFRA is causing across the country. The Do No Harm Act is a commonsense bill to limit which laws RFRA applies to. For instance, RFRA would no longer allow believers to be exempt from following the Civil Rights Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Violence Against Women Act, laws that require employers to provide wages and other compensation, or laws that require coverage for any health care item.

Statement by the Freedom From Religion Foundation

The Freedom From Religion Foundation welcomes the introduction today of the "Do No Harm Act" to amend the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, known as RFRA. FFRF applauds U.S. Reps. Bobbie Scott of Virginia and Joe Kennedy of Massachusetts for their leadership in seeking to reform a law that has protected religious privilege, at the expense of true religious freedom.

Scott and Kennedy contend that RFRA is being used as a weapon against liberty rather than as a shield to protect religious freedom. RFRA has been invoked to undermine Civil Rights Act protections, limit access to healthcare, and refuse service to minority populations.

The bill would limit the use of RFRA in cases involving discrimination, child labor and abuse, wages and collective bargaining, access to health care, public accommodations and social services provided through government contract.

Scott said the law, since being adopted in 1993, "has been misconstrued as allowing the sincerely-held religious beliefs of one person to trump the civil rights of others."

"The right of Americans to freely and fully express our faith is sacred in this country," said Kennedy. "But in order to guarantee that liberty for every citizen, our system must ensure that my religious freedom does not infringe on yours or do you harm."

FFRF has been calling for the repeal of RFRA since the Supreme Court's disastrous Hobby Lobby decision in 2014. That decision permitted for-profit corporations to invoke religion to deny women workers contraceptive health coverage. Along with leading RFRA critic Marci Hamilton, FFRF filed an amicus brief seeking RFRA's repeal

RFRA is a super-statute that effectively amends every other federal law, including laws meant to protect citizens from unfair treatment. The Do No Harm Act would limit which laws RFRA applies to. For instance, RFRA would no longer allow believers to be exempt from the Civil Rights Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Violence Against Women Act, or laws that require coverage for any health care item. The bill, if enacted, could undo some of the damage caused by the Hobby Lobby decision.

"Religious freedom is already protected in our nation. That protection is called the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution," said Annie Laurie Gaylor, FFRF co-president.

LAUSDChatsworthChristianClub
The Freedom From Religion Foundation wants a number of illegal Los Angeles public school religious clubs to be investigated.

Last September, FFRF had drawn the Los Angeles Unified School District's attention to an unconstitutional bible club (the TRUTH Club), run by football coach Jesse Montes, at Sun Valley High School. The club is still operating with Montes' involvement, according to the school's website. FFRF received no response to its original letter. 

Now, FFRF has learned that there is a Christian Club convening every Friday at Chatsworth Charter High School. It is organized by Garrison Polsgrove, youth pastor at the Shepherd Church. (See image.) Polsgrove reportedly brings in free food to incentivize attendance, leads students in prayer, reads from the bible and delivers sermons. He has also been permitted to attend the school's open house to represent the Christian Club to community members and parents. Teachers have also participated in the meetings and promoted the club to students. FFRF Legal Fellow Madeline Ziegler contacted the school district in mid-May

The Equal Access Act prohibits school staff and outside adults from being involved in religious clubs. Religious clubs must be legitimately student-led, with school staff present only in a supervisory capacity and no outside adults in regular attendance. Staff also may not encourage students to attend religious meetings.

"School employees may not run or even participate in religious clubs in public schools, nor can they promote religious clubs or invite students to attend," FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel wrote to LA Unified School District Counsel David Holmquist in September. "Staff participation in religious activities at school leads any reasonable student to see the club's religious message as sponsored by the school." 

FFRF asks that the school district investigate both the Christian Club and the TRUTH Club. If the allegations are confirmed, the two clubs should be disbanded and the teachers involved appropriately disciplined.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is dedicated to the separation of state and church, with 23,700 members nationwide, including more than 3,000 in California.

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

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

See Dan's Debates »
Contact Dan »

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

FFRF President emerita

Anne Nicol Gaylor
Photo by Brent Nicastro.

ANNE NICOL GAYLOR 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.

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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