The Fayette County Commission in La Grange, Texas, will hold a public hearing at their Monday, Nov. 10 meeting to consider whether to continue closing county offices on Good Friday.
FFRF sent letters to County Judge Ed Janecka and County Clerk Julie Karstedt in April after a local complainant alerted FFRF that the Fayette County Courthouse and Clerk's Office both posted signs saying they would be closed "in observance of Good Friday."
"Good Friday is neither a federal holiday nor a mandatory Texas state holiday," wrote Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert in the letters. "By closing its government office, the County violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment because it not only promotes religion over non-religion, but also impermissibly favors Christianity over all other faiths."
FFRF sent another letter to the commission today in light of the announced hearing. Federal courts have struck down official Good Friday holidays, Markert noted in the letter, and the clearly religious motivation behind Fayette County's holiday makes this situation unlike cases where courts have upheld holidays as having a secular justification. In addition to being explicitly closed "in observance of Good Friday," one of the signs pictured Christian crosses, and the Schulenburg Sticker quotes Assistant County Attorney Harold Streicher as saying, "This is the culture that we live in, and most of our people would like to be off on that day."
Streicher also reportedly said, "Anyone who has an issue with the county holidays should come forward. That way they can say their piece at a public hearing." Take him up on his offer!
The Monday, Nov. 7 meeting will be held in Room 303 at the Fayette County Courthouse in La Grange at 9 a.m. FFRF's local complainant plans to give a statement at the hearing, and needs backup! If you live in the area, please try to attend this meeting and give your own testimony. Please also phone, fax or email your commissioner, identifying yourself as a constituent.
Others outside Fayette County, please contact members of the Fayette County Commissioners Court via phone, fax or email today or before Monday to voice your opposition to the county's favoritism of Christianity.
Read Markert's letter (linked above) for additional talking points.
Use your own words or cut and paste wording below. If you live in Fayette County, please be sure to indicate you're a local citizen.
[I am a citizen of Fayette County.] As a nonbeliever/atheist, I oppose the county's practice of closing its offices for Good Friday. Good Friday is a Christian holy day that has significance to no one but Christians. It is discriminatory to favor Christians by observing an entirely religious holiday as a government holiday, denying access to county services to all citizens in the process.
The Fayette County Commissioners Court should not include Good Friday as a county holiday in the future. Fayette County exists to represent and serve all citizens, including those of us who do not believe in a god. Please vote to keep county offices open on Good Friday.
County Judge Ed Janecka
151 North Washington St., Room 301
La Grange, TX 78945
Office Phone: (979) 968-6469
Fax Number: (979) 968-8621
Precinct 1 Commissioner
265 Ellinger Road
La Grange, TX 78945
Office Phone: (979) 968-3358
Fax Number: (979) 968-8621
Precinct 2 Commissioner
2339 S. State Highway 237
Round Top, TX 78954
Office Phone: (979) 249-3166
Fax Number: (979) 249-3906
Precinct 3 Commissioner
P.O. Box 393
Flatonia, TX 78941
Office Phone: (361) 865-3524
Fax Number: (979) 968-8621
Precinct 4 Commissioner
P.O. Box 423
Schulenburg, TX 78956
Office Phone: (979) 743-3250
Fax Number: (979) 968-8621
Botetourt County, Va., ceased sponsorship and promotion of a trip to a Joel Osteen Ministries event in North Carolina, after receiving a letter from the Freedom From Religion Foundation.
FFRF Staff Attorney Patrick Elliott contacted the county Sept. 26 after learning it was helping to coordinate a community trip to see Joel Osteen, a televangelist and senior pastor of Lakewood Church in Houston, the largest Protestant Church in the United States. The county was also promoting the trip on its website. “We respect the importance of government coordination of community events and trips, but holding religious events specifically for a Christian subset of citizens is inappropriate and unconstitutional,” wrote Elliott.
The county removed the event posting from its website.
After a letter from the Freedom From Religion Foundation, the Clinton County School District (Mo.) erased bible quotes from a school administrator’s whiteboard at a district middle school.
In a letter of complaint sent Oct. 8, FFRF Staff Attorney Patrick Elliott informed the district, “Courts have continually held that school districts may not display religious messages or iconography in public schools.”
The school district’s attorney responded on Oct. 10, informing FFRF that the bible verse had been removed from the whiteboard.
Gallia County Local Schools (Ohio) will no longer endorse religion on the cover of its yearbooks, after a protest by the Freedom From Religion Foundation.
The PTO of Addaville Elementary School printed and distributed yearbooks for students with a large cross bearing the word “BELIEVE” on the cover. FFRF Senior Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert wrote to the school district on Sept. 26, 2014, informing the district, “The inclusion of the Latin cross, which is the preeminent symbol of Christianity, on a public elementary school yearbook, is illegal.”
An attorney for the school district forwarded Markert two letters sent by the superintendent to parents of Addaville students, in which the district explained that they were “strictly prohibited by law from endorsing any religion and from displaying any religious message or symbol,” and that the yearbooks were therefore inappropriate. The superintendent also wrote the PTO, saying, “in the future, the PO must refrain from displaying any religious message or symbol in publications that are or appear to be sponsored by or associated with the Gallia County Local School District.”
The University of Missouri agreed that a church bulletin discount offered as part of a volleyball ticket promotion was inappropriate, after receiving an Oct. 16 letter of complaint from the Freedom From Religion Foundation.
A university employee informed FFRF that the University of Missouri volleyball team offered free admission to its Sept. 28 game to anyone with a church bulletin. as part of “Faith and Family Day.”
FFRF Staff Attorney Elizabeth Cavell wrote to the university’s athletics department to inform it that the discount violated the federal Civil Rights Act, as well as a similar Missouri statute, which provides that everyone has the right to full and equal enjoyment of places of “public accommodation,” including sports arenas. “The University of Missouri’s restrictive promotional practice favors religious customers, and denies nonbelievers and other customers who do not attend church the right to ‘full and equal’ enjoyment of the arena,” wrote Cavell.
Cavell also pointed out that since the university is a public institution, the discount and the “Faith and Family Day” raises Establishment Clause concerns as well.
Director of Athletics Michael F. Alden responded promptly the next day, informing FFRF that the discount was “not consistent with our department’s practices and that we stopped the promotion from being carried out as described in the materials.”
Football coaches at Cape Henlopen High School in Lewes, Del., will no longer lead their players in prayer or participate in students’ prayers, after receiving a letter from the Freedom From Religion Foundation.
FFRF Staff Attorney Elizabeth Cavell wrote to the Cape Henlopen School District on Oct. 8, after receiving a report that the high school football coaches participated in their students’ prayers, as well as a photograph of the head coach participating in his team’s prayer circle. “While students may wish to engage in prayer on their own, school staff, including coaches cannot participate in or encourage such religious activities,” Cavell informed the district.
In an Oct. 17 response, Superintendent Robert S. Fulton told FFRF he had discussed the matter with the administration and football coach, and “employees, including coaches, will be reminded of laws involving the Separation of Church and State.”
The Freedom From Religion Foundation sent a letter of complaint Oct. 7 to the Manchester Police Department (Iowa), prompting the department to remove a religious poster prominently displayed in its lobby. The poster began, “The LORD is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in him and I am helped. Psalm 28:7,” and continued with a list of the Beatitudes.
Staff Attorney Patrick Elliott wrote, “The Manchester Police Department should not be using the power and authority of the government to impose any religious belief onto the community members who work at or visit our office.” He noted that the suggestion that “The LORD is my strength” is “a proselytizing statement of religious belief with no secular purpose.”
FFRF’s local complainant called Elliott on Oct. 21 to report that the poster had been removed.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation has ensured that adults will no longer participate in student religious activities at Bath High School in Lima, Ohio.
FFRF Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert wrote to Bath Local Schools on Oct. 16 after a local complainant forwarded a media profile of the high school’s “team chaplain,” who, along with coaches, participated in prayer with students. “It is illegal for a public school to organize, sponsor, or lead religious prayers at public high school athletics,” wrote Markert. “It is also inappropriate for a public school to offer religious leaders unique access to befriend and proselytize students.”
Superintendent Dale Lewellen responded Oct. 23: “I recognized that the constitutional line may have been crossed and have taken appropriate steps to ensure it will not recur. Religious proselytization and/or participation by staff in their school capacities are not consistent with my aim to comply with applicable constitutional and statutory requirements.”
Greater Albany Public Schools in Oregon will no longer give preferential treatment to the Good News Club over other after-school groups, thanks to a letter from the Freedom From Religion Foundation.
The district partners with community organizations for early release day programs, including a community program, Boys and Girls Club, and Good News Club, a Christian organization. FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel formally complained on Sept. 11, pointing out that the website linked directly to Good News Club’s registration forms, but did not link to other alternative organizations. Only Good News Club’s forms were sent home with students the first week of school and made available at schools. Good News Club forms were turned in to the school office.
“By extensively coordinating the Good News Club’s signup, the District is providing a benefit to the Good News Club that it does not afford other secular programs, indicating District endorsement of the Good News Club’s Christian message,” wrote Seidel.
The complaint was forwarded to FFRF from its Portland chapter. Cheryl Kolbe, chapter president, informed FFRF on Oct. 29 that the website had been modified so that parents and guardians were instructed to contact Good News Club directly as they directed for other groups, making the District’s policy even-handed.
Administrators at Azle (Texas) Independent School District cancelled a ministry-affiliated assembly scheduled for Oct. 29, after being contacted by the Freedom From Religion Foundation. The assembly was to be put on by a group, Seven at Schools, which is affiliated with the religious ministry Youth Alive North Texas, a “strategic outreach organization that maintains the vision of reaching every student in every school across the region and beyond with the life-changing message of Jesus Christ,” according to its website.
Despite the group’s claim that the assembly would have no religious content, a Seven at Schools representative told FFRF’s complainant that the personal stories in the presentation “would include religious themes, including discussion of God.”
FFRF Staff Attorney Sam Grover sent the district a letter on Oct. 28 asking the district to ensure the presentation would be secular. “Though teaching students about things like character building, substance abuse, peer-pressure, and bullying is a commendable goal, allowing a youth ministry access to your student body gives the appearance that the District endorses those speakers’ religious messages,” wrote Grover.
Acting on the advice of counsel, the district took even stronger action to ensure its students would not be proselytized and canceled the assembly entirely, according to local news reports. The Seven at Schools representatives gave a religious talk to Azle community members at a local church that night.
DAN BARKER and ANNIE LAURIE GAYLOR are co-presidents of the Freedom From Religion Foundation and co-hosts of Freethought Radio. A former minister and evangelist, Dan became a freethinker in 1983. His books, Just Pretend: A Freethought Book for Children and Losing Faith in Faith: From Preacher To Atheist (1992) are published by the Foundation. His newest book, The Good Atheist: Living a Purpose-Filled Life Without God, was published by Ullysses Press in January, 2011. His previous book, the autobiographical Godless: How An Evangelical Preacher Became One of America's Leading Atheists, was published in 2008. A graduate of Azusa Pacific University with a degree in Religion, Dan now puts his knowledge of Christianity to effective freethought use. A professional pianist and composer, Dan performs freethought concerts and is featured in the Foundation's musical cassettes, "My Thoughts Are Free," "Reason's Greetings," "Dan Barker Salutes Freethought Then And Now," a 2-CD album "Friendly Neighborhood Atheist," and the CD "Beware of Dogma." He joined the Foundation staff in 1987 and served as public relations director. He was first elected co-president in November 2004.
Annie Laurie was also editor of Freethought Today from 1984 to 2009, when she became executive editor. The paper is published 10 times a year. Her book, Woe To The Women: The Bible Tells Me So, first published in 1981, is now in its 4th printing. In 1988, the Foundation published her book, Betrayal of Trust: Clergy Abuse of Children, the first book documenting widespread sexual abuse by clergy. Her 1997 book, Women Without Superstition: 'No Gods, No Masters'is the first collection of the writings of historic and contemporary women freethinkers. A 1980 graduate of the UW-Madison Journalism School, she was an award-winning student reporter and recipient of the Ken Purdy scholarship. After graduation, she founded, edited and published the Feminist Connection,a monthly advocacy newspaper, from 1980-1985. She joined the Foundation staff in 1985. She has been co-president since 2004. She co-founded the original FFRF with Anne Gaylor (see below) as a college student. Photo: Timothy Hughes
FFRF President emerita
ANNE NICOL GAYLOR is a founder and president emerita of the Freedom From Religion Foundation. She served as executive director from 1978 to 2005, and is now working as a consultant to the Foundation. Born in rural Wisconsin, she is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin in Madison. She owned and managed successful small businesses and was co-owner and editor of an award-winning suburban weekly newspaper. A feminist author, she has done substantial volunteer work for women's rights (including serving as volunteer director of the Women's Medical Fund). Under her leadership the Freedom From Religion Foundation has grown from its initial three Wisconsin members to a national group with representation in every state and Canada.
Director of Operations
LISA STRAND is director of operations of FFRF. She has more than 25 years of experience in nonprofit (primarily association) management, including 15 years as executive director of the Wisconsin Library Association. She is married with a daughter, as well as three cats, a guinea pig and an untended garden that will someday be beautiful.
REBECCA S. MARKERT attended the University of Wisconsin at Madison and received her B.A. in political science, international relations and German in 1998. After graduating from UW–Madison, Rebecca spent one year working as a legislative fellow at the German Parliament in Bonn, Germany. In the fall 1999, she returned to the United States and began working as a legislative correspondent and assistant to the chief of staff for United States Senator Russ Feingold in Washington, D.C. In 2002, she returned to Madison, Wisconsin, to work on Senator Feingold’s 2004 re-election campaign. After the campaign, Rebecca attended Roger Williams University School of Law and received her Juris Doctor in 2008. She joined the Foundation staff in October 2008.
Rebecca is the Freedom From Religion Foundation’s first staff attorney and primarily works on Establishment Clause cases. She is a member of the State Bar of Wisconsin, Dane County Bar Association, and is admitted to practice in the United States District Court for the Eastern and Western Districts of Wisconsin.
PATRICK ELLIOTT, the Foundation's second staff attorney, hails from St. Paul, Minn. Patrick received a degree in legal studies and political science from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2005. He attended the University of Wisconsin Law School and received his Juris Doctor in 2009. While in school, Patrick took an interest in the First Amendment and constitutional law. He joined FFRF as a staff attorney in July 2010, after working part-time for the Foundation since February. Patrick is a member of the State Bar of Wisconsin, and is admitted to practice in the United States District Court for the Western and Eastern Districts of Wisconsin.
ANDREW SEIDEL graduated cum laude from Tulane University with a B.S. in neuroscience and environmental science and magna cum laude from Tulane University Law School, where he was awarded the Haber J. McCarthy Award for excellence in environmental law. He studied human rights and international law at the University of Amsterdam and traveled the world on Semester at Sea. In May of 2011, Andrew completed his Master of Laws at Denver University Sturm College of Law with a 4.0 GPA and was awarded the Outstanding L.L.M. Award. He has written a book on International Human Rights Law and his essay on the role of religion in government and the founding of our nation placed second in the FFRF's 2010 graduate student essay contest. Andrew is a former Grand Canyon tour guide and accomplished nature photographer; his work has been displayed in galleries in Colorado, Texas, Florida, Louisiana, and Maryland. He joined the FFRF staff as a constitutional consultant in November 2011.
ELIZABETH CAVELL received her B.A in English from the University of Florida in 2005. After college, Elizabeth spent a year as a full-time volunteer in AmeriCorps*NCCC. She attended Tulane University Law School and received her Juris Doctor in 2009. After law school, she worked as a deputy public defender in southern Colorado. She joined the Foundation as a staff attorney in January 2013, after working for the Foundation part-time since September 2012.
SAM GROVER received his B.A. in philosophy and government from Wesleyan University in 2008. He first worked for FFRF in 2010 as a legal intern while attending Boston University School of Law. In 2011, his article on the religious exemptions in the Affordable Care Act’s individual health insurance mandate was published in the American Journal of Law and Medicine. After receiving his J.D. from Boston University in 2012, Sam worked as a law clerk for the Vermont Office of Legislative Council where he drafted legislation on health care, human services, and tax issues. He returned to work as a constitutional consultant for FFRF in the fall of 2013. Sam has written a paper on counterterrorism and the law that was published by the Memorial Institute for the Prevention of Terrorism in Oklahoma City and has traveled to southern Africa to work under Justice Unity Dow of Botswana’s High Court.
KATHERINE PAIGE graduated magna cum laude from Wichita State University in 2010 with a B.A. in History, Political Science, and French. She attended law school at the College of William & Mary where she received her Juris Doctor in 2014. Katherine became FFRF’s first Legal Fellow in September 2014, specializing in faith-based government funding.
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.
KATIE DANIEL is the bookkeeper/executive assistant/staff baker at FFRF. She was born in California and has lived in Pennsylvania, Alabama and Missouri. She moved to Madison in 2005 to attend UW-Madison and graduated in 2009 with a BA in Gender & Women's Studies and a Certificate in LGBT Studies. She joined the foundation staff as a student clerical employee in September 2008 and started as the full-time bookkeeper in 2009. Unlike many of the Foundation's staff members, Katie is religious and considers herself a practicing Wiivangelical.
BILL DUNN is the editor of Freethought Today. He has a degree in history and mass communications (journalism emphasis) from the University of South Dakota and has worked as a reporter, copy editor and editor in South Dakota and Wisconsin since 1980. Bill joined the Foundation staff in July 2009. He has two daughters, Kaitlin Marie and Jamie Lee.
LAURYN is the publicist & assistant editor at FFRF. She was born in Wausau, Wisconsin and has also lived in Nagasaki, Japan. She graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Stout in 2012 with her B.S. in Professional Communications and Emerging Media, concentrating in Technical Communication and International Studies. She also received a double minor in Journalism and English. Lauryn moved to Madison in January 2013 and enjoys reading about astrophysics, basking in the sun like a turtle and creating art at coffee shops. Lauryn is a practicing Pastafarian.
DAYNA LONG is an administrative assistant at FFRF. Originally from Illinois, she attended the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where she received a degree in English. She has been with FFRF since July 2013. She spends her free time volunteering for the Wisconsin chapter of the National Organization for Women. She also enjoys reading, cooking, and admiring her beautiful cats.
PHYLLIS ROSE is a retired library administrator from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She has been volunteering 3 afternoons a week at the FFRF office since 2000. A Lifetime Member, Phyllis provides oversight, clerical and editorial support. Phyllis serves as an officer on the Foundation's governing body.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation is delighted to announce the formation of a new FFRF Honorary Board of distinguished achievers who have made known their dissent from religion.
The FFRF Honorary Board includes Jerry Coyne, Robin Morgan, Richard Dawkins, Daniel C. Dennett, Ernie Harburg, Jennifer Michael Hecht, Christopher Hitchens, Susan Jacoby, Mike Newdow, Katha Pollitt, Steven Pinker, Ron Reagan, Oliver Sacks, M.D., Robert Sapolsky, Edward Sorel and Julia Sweeney.
“We are so pleased that these outstanding thinkers and freethinkers have agreed to publicly lend their endorsement to the Foundation, and its two purposes of promoting freethought and the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause,” said Dan Barker, Foundation co-president.
- Jerry Coyne, Ph.D., professor of ecology and evolution at the University of Chicago, is author of the popular book 'Why Evolution is True' and the blog of the same name.
- Richard Dawkins, probably the world’s most famous contemporary atheist and a distinguished evolutionary biologist, is Oxford professor emeritus. In his blockbuster book, The God Delusion, Dawkins writes: “The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction.”
- Daniel C. Dennett is Austin B. Fletcher Professor of Philosophy, Tufts, and author of the bestselling book about religion, Breaking the Spell. In a newspaper article about his nonbelief, Dennett once wrote: “I’ve come to realize it’s time to sound the alarm.”
- Rebecca Newberger Goldstein, author of 36 Arguments For the Existence of God: A Work of Fiction and a research associate in Harvard’s psychology department, is FFRF Freethought Heroine of 2011. Goldstein is a 1996 MacArthur Fellow (the “genius” award). She has taught at Barnard and in the Columbia MFA writing program and the Rutgers philosophy department. She’s been a visiting scholar at Brandeis and at Trinity College in Hartford.
- Ernie Harburg, a retired research scientist, is president of Yip Harburg Foundation and co-author of Who Put the Rainbow in the Wizard of Oz? Ernie has dedicated his retirement to furthering the lyrics, music, memory and progressive views of his freethinking father, the lyricist Yip Harburg, author of classic songs such as “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” and of Rhymes for the Irreverent, recently republished by FFRF.
- Jennifer Michael Hecht, poet, historian and author of the acclaimed Doubt: A History and The End of the Soul, told the FFRF 2009 convention audience: “If there is no god — and there isn't — then we [humans] made up morality. And I'm very impressed.”
- Susan Jacoby, bestselling author of Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism, and program director of the Center for Inquiry-New York City, told FFRF convention-goers in 2004: "[President] Kennedy had to speak about his religion because he was suspected of insufficient dedication to the Constitution's separation of church and state. Today's candidates are suspect if they display too much dedication to secular government."
- Robin Morgan, feminist pioneer, global activist, author of the groundbreaking "Sisterhood is Powerful" and more than 20 books, was formerly Ms. Magazine editor and consulting editor. She is the co-founder of the Feminist Women's Health Network and Women's Media Center and currently hosts "Women's Media Center Live" the radio "talk-show with a brain."
- Mike Newdow is working pro bono to challenge such violations as the addition of “under God” to the Pledge of Allegiance. He told the U.S. Supreme Court during oral arguments: “I am an atheist. I don't believe in God. And every school morning my child is asked to stand up, face that flag, put her hand over her heart, and say that her father is wrong.”
- Steven Pinker, Johnstone Professor of Psychology, Harvard, is author of The Blank Slate: “I never outgrew my conversion to atheist at 13.”
- Katha Pollitt, “Subject to Debate” columnist for The Nation, author and poet, has spoken out regularly and energetically as a freethinker, in such columns as “Freedom From Religion, Sí!”
- Ron Reagan, media commentator, describes himself in a radio ad he taped for FFRF as: “Unabashed atheist, not afraid of burning in hell.”
- Oliver Sacks, M.D., the compassionate neurologist and bestselling author, describes himself as “an old Jewish atheist.”
- Robert Sapolsky, a neurologist, Stanford professor and bestselling author, once suggested FFRF put up a sign at its conventions: “Welcome, hellbound atheists.”
- Edward Sorel, satiric cartoonist and irreverent illustrator who is a regular contributor to The Atlantic, The New Yorker, and whose caricatures have been exhibited at the National Portrait Gallery, has been a Foundation member since the 1980s.
- Julia Sweeney, comedian and actress, is writer/performer of the play, “Letting Go of God”: “How dare the religious use the term 'born again.' That truly describes freethinkers who've thrown off the shackles of religion so much better!”
- Christopher Hitchens, the iconoclastic journalist, is author of the bestselling God Is Not Great: “Since it is obviously inconceivable that all religions can be right, the most reasonable conclusion is that they are all wrong.”