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2008 Year in Review

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FREEDOM FROM RELIGION FOUNDATION YEAR IN REVIEW 2008

FFRF Grows to 13,000 Strong!

Two years ago, the 2006 Year in Review reported that the Foundation had reached nearly 8,000 members. As of early December 2008, our membership is now 12,874 with an additional 600 supporters.

FFRF now has more than 900 Lifetime Members. The Foundation Executive Council earlier this fall formalized FFRF’s de facto policy of treating Lifetime Memberships as untouchable, by creating an Endowment Fund (FDIC-insured), to further safeguard the Foundation’s future. The interest only will go back into Foundation activities.  Future Lifetime Memberships will go into the Endowment Fund and members interested in longevity may also earmark donations or bequests for this Endowment.

FFRF is also pleased to announce that we have seven “After-Life” Members ($5,000 level), a membership level created for those who wish their memberships to live on after them!

5th Year of 4-Star Charity Status

Charity Navigator, the largest independent evaluator of charities, for the fifth year in a row, awarded the Foundation “our coveted 4-star rating for sound fiscal management.”

“We are proud to announce Freedom From Religion Foundation has earned our fifth consecutive 4-star rating for its ability to efficiently manage and grow its finances. Only 3% of the charities we’ve rated have received at least 5 consecutive 4-star evaluations, indicating that Freedom From Religion Foundation executes its mission in a fiscally responsible way, and outperforms most other charities in America. This ‘exceptional’ designation from Charity Navigator differentiates Freedom from Religion Foundation from its peers and demonstrates to the public it is worthy of their trust.”

Combined Federal Campaign

The Foundation was accepted for the 2008 Combined Federal Campaign, after meeting the Campaign’s rigorous criteria. This means federal workers will have a choice and be able to donate a portion of earnings to a freethought and state/church watchdog!

Billboard & Advertising Campaign

This fall Ron Reagan was kind enough to record a radio commercial for FFRF heard over The Ron Reagan Show on Air America:

“I’m Ron Reagan, an unabashed atheist, and I’m alarmed by the intrusions of religion into our secular government. That’s why I’m asking you to join the Freedom From Religion Foundation, the nation’s largest and most effective organization of atheists and agnostics, working to keep church and state separate. Phone 1-800-335-4021, that’s 1-800-335-4021 or visit the Freedom From Religion Foundation at ffrf.org.

“Ron Reagan, lifelong atheist–not afraid of burning in hell!” FFRF has previously run radio ads recorded by Rachel Maddow, Janeane Garafalo, Julia Sweeney, and Laura Flanders, among other radio personalities.

A kind and generous East Coast member contributed $10,000 a year ago and challenged other FFRF members to add to her gift so that the Foundation could run an ad in The New York Times. Thanks to many generous members, the Foundation was able to run a full-page ad in the front section of The Times on Sept. 9, 2008 (reprinted in reduced form in the October issue of Freethought Today), which has brought in hundreds of new members, as well as donations to the Legal Fund. One new member wrote us, “I have been waiting for something like this all my life!”

We received a similar response from the Foundation’s well-placed Seattle billboard, saying, “Imagine No Religion,” with many other heartwarming responses. Touchingly, a woman in Southern California, after learning through TV coverage of the “Imagine No Religion” billboard briefly up in Rancho Cucamonga, wrote: “I applaud your organization for accomplishing something I never thought would happen in my lifetime. It was for me a moment that equaled my coming out in the first place and it was great to have my 16 year old daughter sitting next to me while we watched it on TV. I even shed a few tears.”

In addition to the Seattle billboard (paid for entirely by a 27-year-old FFRF member!), the Foundation placed billboards in Chambersburg, Penn., (also generously underwritten by a local member), suburban Atlanta (with donations from members and the Atlanta Freethought Society), Columbus, Ohio (underwritten by a Lifetime Member), Denver (with the help of a local scout and several generous donors), Phoenix (where the Phoenix Atheist Meetup Group, Humanist Society, Libertarian Atheists, and FFRF members raised more than $1,600 with a pool party), Des Moines, Iowa (with donations from area members and the Iowa Atheists and Freethinkers), Harrisburg, Penn. (with help from FFRF members and the Capitol Area Pennsylvania Nonbelievers), and Colorado Springs. Billboard companies are being contracted with in San Francisco, Portland, Sacramento and Little Rock, Arkansas for mid-December. San Antonio debuts a billboard on Dec. 8. “Reason’s Greetings” billboards are up in Madison, Wis., and Olympia, Wash. Most postings generate major news stories and TV coverage. A color photo of FFRF’s “Beware of Dogma” billboard was prominently displayed in the Wall Street Journal in November. By the new year, we will have been in at least 13 states . . . that leaves about 37 to go!

PR & Campus Outreach

In the past year, Foundation co-president Dan Barker, who is also public relations director, appeared on 23 college campus, did 4 debates (bringing his total to more than 65 debates), gave 14 additional speeches to other groups, and spoke to several high school classes, as well. Dan’s debates included “Christianity vs. Atheism” with Dinesh D’Souza at Harvard, and another debate at Tufts. Dan, author of the Foundation’s bestseller, Losing Faith in Faith: From Preacher to Atheist, has a new book out, Godless: How an Evangelical Preacher Became One of America’s Leading Atheists (Ulysses Press), which is attracting lots of campus attention and booksignings.

Other campus appearances by Dan on behalf of FFRF were at Stanford, Boston University, Bates College (Maine), 4 University of Wisconsin campuses, Northern Michigan University, University of California at Berkeley, Davis, and Santa Barbara, University of Washington-Seattle and Pullman, Sacramento State, and University of Illinois-Champaign/Urbana. He also spoke at the University of Alberta-Edmonton and University of Calgary, and University of Paraiba, Brazil. Since late October, Dan has spoken at more than a dozen campuses, and participated in a standing-room only debate on the reliability of the bible, attracting more than 800 at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse.

Many campus appearances were coordinated by the Secular Student Alliance. Thanks to generous Foundation donors responding to special project appeals to “Send Dan Barker Back to School,” the Foundation is currently able to underwrite Dan’s transportation and housing costs and offer Dan as a speaker to about 100 SSA campus affiliates. Many appearances are part of regional tours. Dan has high praise for the student organizers, whom he calls “smart, motivated, enthusiastic, generous activists happy to be working to promote reason, science and humanistic morality. To borrow an old cliche, there really is hope for the future!”

Among other interesting outreach was Foundation co-president Annie Laurie Gaylor’s first invitation to speak at a Roman Catholic Church (her friendly neighborhood Catholic adult education group), where the priest quipped that the good news was that a record audience had showed up, but the “bad news” was it took an atheist speaker to do that! Both Dan and Annie Laurie do countless media interviews.

Radio & Broadcast

Freethought Radio, the Foundation’s weekly hour-long radio show since 2006, is broadcasting to 20 cities via Air America on weekends, and also streams live from airamerica.com 1-2 p.m. Eastern on Saturdays. Madison, Wis., is the studio of origin but Freethought Radio is heard at various times in New York City, Los Angeles, Seattle-Tacoma, Columbus, Ohio, Atlanta, Albuquerque, Dallas, Detroit, Juneau, Monterey-Salinas, Missoula, Mont., Portland, Palm Springs, Raleigh-Durham, Reno, Rapid City and Syracuse, among other locations. It also broadcasts 8-9 p.m. Eastern Saturdays on XM Satellite, Ch. 167.

There are more than 10,000 podcast subscriptions, and the shows are archived at ffrf.org/radio/ for permanent access. Guests within the past year included Richard Dawkins, Julia Sweeney, Eleanor Clift, Philip Pullman, and many journalists, authors and freethinking activists, including FFRF members involved in local controversies. Hint: If you find the wait between issues of Freethought Today long and wish for more news, tune in Freethought Radio, which specializes in timely news commentary, makes use of news “sound bites” and even a little music! “We purely love doing radio, being in weekly contact with so many fascinating guests, and being able to offer timely commentary on the news,” says Annie Laurie. If your Air America affiliate is not yet carrying Freethought Radio, please ask your station’s program director to carry it. The Air America contract is not exclusive, so Freethought Radio is also available to be played over other stations–so let your favorite local stations know!

Coming next year–a half-hour weekly TV show, FFRF’s first TV foray since the 1980s. The Foundation is firmly committed to reaching the public at large, not just “preaching to the nonconverted.” Stay tuned!

Litigation

FFRF’s three new lawsuits are unusually interesting. We have two challenges of National Day of Prayer proclamations: one federal lawsuit naming the president, Wis. Gov. Jim Doyle and Shirley Dobson, as director of the National Day of Prayer (NDP) Taskforce, which is conveniently housed in her husband’s Colorado Springs Focus on the Family fortress; the second NDP challenge filed in Colorado state court against Gov. Ritter. The lawsuits challenge the “hand-in-glove” relationship between public officials and the Christian-right NDP Taskforce, which dictates the content and themes of the National Day of Prayer every May 1. The third and latest lawsuit, filed on Nov. 27 in federal court in Los Angeles, is suing the City of Rancho Cucamonga for censorship involving its officious interference over FFRF’s “Imagine No Religion” billboard. The billboard company removed FFRF’s billboard after being up for less than a week, reportedly after the city phoned to complain.

The Foundation’s cases include a federal lawsuit against the City of Green Bay over a blatant nativity scene violation, with ongoing negotiations; an important federal challenge of religious endorsement by Denver public schools; an ongoing case with the indomitable Mike Newdow, suing in New Hampshire over “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance with a New Hampshire FFRF family; a school lawsuit contemplated in South Carolina and several others to be launched soon. The Foundation is planning to refile a crucial challenge of state sponsorship of Lutheran denominational juvenile detention ranches in North Dakota, which bar nonChristian worship onsite and punish teenage inmates for nonparticipation in religious classes and worship.

The staff, including new staff attorney Rebecca Kratz, is hard at work responding to as many state/church complaints by FFRF members and the public as possible. We try to negotiate and end violations without going to court wherever possible. A new Frequently Asked Questions link on state/church separation is up at ffrf.org, still under construction but check it out at: http://ffrf.org/faq/

Student Awards

In its continuing outreach and encouragement to young freethinkers, the Foundation awarded $9,200 to winning student essayists in its 2008 college and high school senior competitions. Winning essays were published in Freethought Today. The 2009 guidelines will be announced in February. The Foundation also honored Julia Cicci, an ROTC cadet, with the Thomas Jefferson Youth Activist Award of $1000, endowed by a West Coast couple, and Webster Cook with the Dixie (Ruth) Jokinen Memorial Student Activist Award of $1000, endowed by Board member Richard Mole. The Foundation added $1000 in Webster’s case. Webster has expenses involved in appealing his impeachment from his public university’s student senate, after the Catholic Church went after him for attending a mass but not swallowing his communion wafer!

National Convention

Despite the bad timing of a convention which took place right after the stock market began its crazy careening this fall, 500 people from nearly 40 states enjoyed a stimulating October weekend in the beautifully windowed ballroom of the Hyatt Regency Chicago. The convention recognized many worthy state/church and freethinking activists.

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