2007 YEAR IN REVIEW
A Busy Year for FFRF!
The Freedom From Religion Foundation has experienced unprecedented growth, increasing membership by 50% in the last year. This year the Foundation launched three new lawsuits, won one federal lawsuit, and had a case before the U.S. Supreme Court that attracted many new sympathizers. FFRF's weekly radio broadcast, Freethought Radio, went national this fall, and now airs on many affiliates of Air America network around the nation, a first for freethought! FFRF has just launched a jaunty new billboard campaign, asking drivers to "Imagine No Religion" or warning them to "Beware of Dogma." Our upbeat 30th annual convention was our largest to date, attracting a lot of coverage, energy and more than 750 participants to hear a provocative line-up of authors and activists.
FFRF Reaches New Membership High
As of the last week in November, FFRF's membership is more than 11,600, with an additional 550 nonmembers who subscribe to Freethought Today. The Foundation, long the nation's largest membership group of atheists and agnostics, has doubled its size in the last two years!
FFRF's Freethought Radio Goes National
In a media coup this fall, the Foundation brokered a weekly program on the national Air America network in October. This marks the first time ever a freethought radio show has gone national. After broadcasting to audiences in Madison, Wis., for a year and a half, Freethought Radio, hosted by Foundation co-presidents Dan Barker and Annie Laurie Gaylor, is now released nationally on weekends from Air America to its stations and its satellite channel. If you have an Air America affiliate in your area that is not yet broadcasting Freethought Radio, please keep asking them to!
Freethought Radio has interviewed bestselling freethought authors Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, and Philip Pullman, and personalities such as Julia Sweeney, Janeane Garafalo and Ron Reagan. It also features a variety of activists and newsmakers, such as FFRF's young member, SPC Jeremy Hall, who has been threatened with "fragging" for suing the Pentagon for discrimination against his attempt to form a freethought group on his base in Iraq. The show claims a tiny portion of the public airwaves for "the rest of us," to promote freethought and state/church separation. Dan and Annie Laurie update listeners weekly on state/church developments in "Theocracy Alert." Freethought Radio is more than a podcast "preaching to the unconverted." We are going to the mass media to counter the relentless 24/7 din of the religious right, and to place a positive spotlight on freethinkers and the First Amendment.
Taking Reason to the Roadside with Appealing Freethought Billboards
In October, FFRF debuted its first billboards, saying "Beware of Dogma" and "Imagine No Religion," against a mock stained-glass window background. A 48x14-foot version of "Imagine No Religion" went up in suburban Atlanta for the month of December, thanks to donors there. A smaller "Imagine No Religion" billboard is going up for six months starting in December in Chambersburg, Penn., initiated and paid for by a generous local FFRF member. FFRF's goal is to keep FFRF's three 48x14-foot reusable vinyl billboards in continual use somewhere in America. FFRF members can help by scouting out good locations in their areas, checking out local leasing companies and, if they wish, by donating to the billboard fund.
Supreme Court Decision & Many Other Legal Adventures
FFRF's case before the U.S. Supreme Court dominated the first half of 2007. The Yale Law School Supreme Court Advocacy Clinic with principal attorney Andrew J. Pincus represented FFRF pro bono and submitted its brief, with Richard Bolton as attorney of counsel. Many fine friend-of-the-court briefs were submitted on FFRF's behalf.
Although FFRF lost its right to sue the executive branch over the creation of faith-based offices at the White House and Cabinets in Hein v. FFRF, FFRF did win the plurality opinion, as The Los Angeles Times pointed out. FFRF had 4 justices solidly in our camp, whereas the bloc of 5 Roman Catholic judges against us--Roberts, Alito, Scalia, Thomas and Kennedy--was divided. Although Kennedy, the swing vote, defected to the majority on FFRF's right to sue, he refused to vote to outright overturn the precedent of Flast v. Cohen, which permits taxpayers to sue over Congressional actions which violate the separation of church and state. The Hein decision says federal taxpayers do not have the right to challenge executive branch violations not explicitly authorized by the legislative branch. The unjust decision means our country has a constitutional separation between church and state, but no way to enforce it in this and many other instances. The punchy dissent, written by Justice Souter and signed by Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, and Stevens, noted: "If the Executive could accomplish through the exercise of discretion exactly what Congress cannot do through legislation, Establishment Clause protection would melt away." The Establishment Clause is in for a rough ride in the Roberts Court.
One of the first casualties of Hein v. FFRF was FFRF's strong lawsuit against the State of New Mexico for establishing an outrageous Christian dominionist "God pod" in a women's prison in Grants, N.M. FFRF withdrew the lawsuit in July, after the judge said he would rule against the right of FFRF's state taxpayers to sue. FFRF hopes to challenge religion programs funded by tax dollars in prisons with prisoner plaintiffs in the future.
This fall, FFRF brought suit in Colorado against a school district that has adopted a policy encouraging children to engage in an hour a week of religious devotion. With Michael Newdow and parent plaintiffs, FFRF is a co-plaintiff in a new federal lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the words "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance in New Hampshire. Oral arguments at the appeals level are scheduled for early next year in FFRF's important national challenge of the Veteran Affairs' use of "spiritual inventories" and invasive faith-enhanced medical care for inpatients and outpatients. This will be the first FFRF case to "duke out" the restrictive parameters of the Hein v. FFRF decision. FFRF also filed a federal suit this year over North Dakota's longstanding contract with a church denomination to provide most of its juvenile detention at church-run facilities explicitly forbidding nonChristian worship!
FFRF's major legal coup in 2007 was ending the first chaplaincy for state workers ever set up in the nation, in which a pastor was hired by Indiana to bring "faith into the workplace" for state employees in the Family and Social Services Administration. The state abolished the chaplaincy and fired the chaplain this fall, ending the lawsuit.
Outreach to Campuses, Elsewhere
Dan Barker is working with the Secular Student Alliance, thanks to donors who contributed to FFRF's college outreach campaign last spring. This fall, he made two week-long tours in California and Texas, speaking at a dozen campuses to secular and freethought student clubs. More campus tours are planned for 2008. Dan and the Foundation welcome this opportunity to meet students. "I am so impressed by the bright and committed students I've met at campus freethought groups," says Dan. He also visited campuses in Minnesota, Ohio (where he debated a priest), Wisconsin and Dublin, Ireland (where he debated theistic philosopher Richard Swinburne).
Dan has appeared at more than 30 public events in the past year, telling his story of "preacher to atheist," participating in debates, performing concerts or giving speeches about the Foundation and state/church separation.
Dan appeared in Washington, Iowa, Alabama (for the Lake Hypatia "Glorious Fourth" celebration) and Minnesota. He also participated in the first international French-speaking African freethought conference in Yaoundé, Cameroon, in January, representing FFRF and American nonbelievers.
Media coverage for FFRF in 2007 was phenomenal, starting with a national Associated Press story by Ryan Foley that ran just before the Feb. 28 oral arguments in FFRF's Supreme Court case. That wire story brought in thousands of e-mails to the Foundation, two-thirds supportive. An in-depth major profile about the Foundation and its history by reporter Doug Erickson ran in The Wisconsin State Journal. On the day of the hearing, USA Today ran a feature and a sympathetic editorial, "Government by Law, not Faith," appeared in The New York Times in favor of FFRF's right to sue. On the morning of the oral arguments, the Foundation's website was so flooded--fielding 400 hits a second--that it temporarily crashed!
Coverage of the oral arguments appeared in national wire stories, C-Span, CNN, major newspapers and many other venues, blogs and internet publications. A story, filmed at FFRF's office and radio program, ran on CBS Evening News. ABC World News, in a piece by TV correspondent Dan Harris, ran a major story on March 4, over what Harris called "the increasing assertiveness" of atheists in America today. An interview with Dan and Annie Laurie, filmed at the foot of the steps of the Supreme Court, opened and ended the broadcast. FFRF added 800 new members in 2 weeks!
The Chronicle of Philanthropy ran a major profile on the Foundation by Debra Blum on May 17. The unfavorable decision by the U.S. Supreme Court brought editorials in support of FFRF's position by The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times, and by several columnists. The decision and its ramifications continue to be debated and covered, with a piece condemning the Supreme Court's decision appearing as recently as Nov. 12 ("Wronged by the Court's Fine Print," Sheila Suess Kennedy, associate professor of law, Indianapolis Star).
The Foundation's national convention, along with the Foundation's two new billboards, "Imagine No Religion" and "Beware of Dogma," generated a second national AP wire feature story in October. The Foundation's many actions, complaints and lawsuits around the nation attracted local, regional, state or national stories and media coverage, including several major articles in The New York Times.
The Foundation awarded a total of $9,000 in scholarships to nine college-bound high school student essayists and nine ongoing college students in its two annual essay competitions.
The Foundation's Thomas Jefferson Student Activist Award of $1,000 was given to high school student Matthew LaClair, at FFRF's 30th annual convention. That award is endowed by a California couple. The Ruth "Dixie" Jokinen Memorial Student Activist Award of $1,000, endowed by board member Richard Mole, went to Emma Martens, a 17-year-old high school student who leads a regular walkout of students at her high school to protest the recitation of "under God" as part of the Pledge of Allegiance.
Fourth 4-Star Charity Status Rating: "Exceptional"
Charity Navigator, the largest independent evaluator of charities, again this year awarded the Foundation its highest "four-star" rating, for the fourth year in a row!
"We are proud to announce the Freedom from Religion Foundation has earned our fourth consecutive 4-star rating for its ability to efficiently manage and grow its finances. Only 5% of the charities we've rated have received at least 4 consecutive 4-star evaluations, indicating the Freedom From Religion Foundation outperforms most charities in America in its efforts to operate in the most fiscally responsible way possible. This 'exceptional' designation from Charity Navigator differentiates the Freedom From Religion Foundation from its peers and demonstrates to the public it is worthy of their trust."
30th Annual Convention
The Foundation had a record 750 registrations at its upbeat 30th annual convention,Oct. 12-14, 2007, in Madison, Wis. Interest was so high the Foundation had to move from its hotel venue to the Monona Terrace convention center to accommodate the audience.
All convention speeches are reprinted in Freethought Today.