- FFRF Member Sues Warren MI After Censorship
- FFRF sues Orange County schools over literature discrimination
- FFRF sues florist in Rhode Island for refusing flower order for Jessica Ahlquist
- FFRF and parents seek removal of Ten Commandments monuments in front of two Penn. public schools
- FFRF sues IRS for preferential treatment of churches, which are exempt from filing fees, filing Form 990
- FFRF, students, bring suit over graduation and school board prayers
- FFRF challenges Catholic shrine on Big Mountain
- FFRF v. Lew Parish Exemption (US District Court Western District of Wisconsin) (Sept. 13, 2011)
- FFRF Sues Colorado Governor Over Prayer Proclamations
FFRF member, Douglas Marshall, is suing the City of Warren, Mich., after his request to install a “reason station” in the atrium of City Hall was rejected.
The City allows a local church group to run a prayer station in which volunteers distribute religious pamphlets, offer to pray with passersby, and discuss their religious beliefs with people who approach the station.
In April 2014, Marshall submitted an application to city officials to reserve space in the atrium for his “reason station” two days a week. Marshall wished to set up a station that is similar in size, structure and function to the prayer station – a folding table and chairs with literature on display and available to the public – except that his station will offer information and opportunities for discussion from a non-religious perspective. The station would be operated by Mr. Marshall and other volunteers. Less than two weeks after it was submitted, Marshall’s application was rejected by Warren Mayor James Fouts because Marshall’s belief system “is not a religion.”
Marshall is asking the court to declare the City’s denial of his request to reserve and use the atrium space a violation of his First Amendment rights and to enter preliminary and permanent injunctions requiring the City to allow the reason station.
Mr. Marshall is represented by attorneys from FFRF, Americans United and the ACLU. The lawsuit was filed in the Eastern District of Michigan on July 23, 2014. The case (No. 14-CV-12872) has been assigned to Judge Marianne Battani.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation filed a lawsuit June 12, 2013, in U.S. District Court in Florida against the Orange County School Board in Orlando for censoring distribution of freethought materials while allowing unfettered distribution of the Christian bible. Plaintiffs are FFRF, its Co-Presidents Annie Laurie Gaylor and Dan Barker, and David Williamson, who heads the Central Florida Freethought Community, an FFRF chapter. While opposing literature distribution in public schools by outside groups, FFRF, its chapter and other area secular groups decided to counter a bible distribution by handing out nonreligious literature. The legal Complaint lists dozens of factual examples of how secular materials and secular volunteers were treated differently from the bible distributors, including prohibition based on viewpoint discrimination of much of its literature.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation is suing a Rhode Island florist in Superior Court in Providence for refusing to deliver FFRF's order of a dozen red roses to Cranston teen Jessica Ahlquist after she won a court case in January 2012. FFRF alleges Marina Plowman, owner-operator of Twins Florist in Cranston, denied FFRF "full and equal access to public accommodations by refusing to
fulfill a flower order on the basis of religion (non-belief), in violation of Rhode Island General Laws." FFRF filed a previous complaint in January 2012 with the state Commission for Human Rights. A preliminary investigating commissioner determined in October that "probable cause" existed to believe that Plowman violated state law. The parties could have engaged in more conciliation with the commission, but the defendant chose to move the matter to Superior Court. FFRF has asked for a jury trial.
The defendant told a TV reporter at the time, "It's my freedom of speech. I refuse orders when I want and I take orders when I want."
FFRF filed a similar complaint with the commission about Flowers by Santilli's refusal to fulfill the order. Flowers by Santilli chose pursue mediation through the commission. Attorney Katherine Godin of Warwick is FFRF's local counsel in the lawsuit.
Legal Complaint, Jan. 25, 2013
FFRF and parents of children in two Pennsylvania public schools filed suits in September to remove Ten Commandments displays in front of the schools.
FFRF and two parents filed the first suit on Sept. 14, 2012, against the New Kensington-Arnold School District (Pa.) to challenge a six-foot-tall Ten Commandments monument in front of Valley High School. FFRF wrote to the District in March of 2012 requesting the monument be moved because it violated federal and Supreme Court precedent prohibiting the display of the decalogue in public schools. District officials defended the monument and refused to move it.
FFRF and a student's parent filed the second suit on Sept. 27, 2012, against the Connellsville Area School District (Pa.) in a challenge to a Ten Commandments monument in front of the District's junior high school. Plaintiffs FFRF and a parent of a student seek a declaration that the display is unconstitutional and an injunction requiring it to be moved, nominal damages and attorneys' fees and costs.
After FFRF objected, the Connellsville district initially indicated it would move the monument. Following intense public pressure, the school board voted on Sept. 12 to "delay any further action concerning moving the monument from its current location . . . until further notice and pending further legal action."
FFRF's complaint states that the continued presence of the Ten Commandments on district property is an unconstitutional advancement and endorsement of religion. The Connellsville case was transferred from Judge Cathy Bissoon on February 25, 2013 to Judge Terrence McVerry in the Pittsburgh Division of the Western District of Pennsylvania. FFRF's case against the New Kensington-Arnold School District is also before Judge McVerry. The suits will likely be joined into one. Pittsburgh-based attorney Marcus Schneider represents the plaintiffs.
Defendant's Motion to Dismiss (12/3/12)
Plaintiffs' Response to Motion to Dismiss (1/8/13)
Defendant's Reply (1/14/13)
Opinion Denying Motion to Dismiss (3/7/13)New Kensington-Arnold School District:Complaint (9/14/12)
News Release (9/14/12)
Order Granting Use of Pseudonyms (11/30/12)
Defendant's Motion to Dismiss (11/16/12)
Plaintiff's Response to Motion to Dismiss (12/14/12)
Second Order Granting Use of Pseudonyms (12/19/12)
Opinion Denying Motion to Dismiss (1/22/13)
FFRF sues IRS for preferential treatment of churches, which are exempt from filing fees, filing Form 990
The Freedom From Religion Foundation and its North Carolina chapter, Triangle Freethought Society, are suing the Internal Revenue Service for giving religious groups preferential treatment.
Under IRS regulations, all 501(c)3 non-profit organizations must file an onerous annual Form-990 — except churches. The Form 990 requires detailed reports on revenue and functional expenses, activities, governance, management, how groups fulfill their mission, and what proportion is spent on programs, management and fundraising.
FFRF and Triangle Freethought spend thousands of dollars each year to complete the 990. We have to track all our money and show the IRS where it all goes. Churches and other religious organizations do not have to file this form, do not have to track their funds, do not have to publicly report their funds, and do not have to pay accountants to complete the form.
The "preferential treatment of churches" directly benefits churches, while discriminating against other non-profit organizations, "solely on the basis of religious criteria."
FFRF and one of its South Carolina members filed suit on May 30, 2012, against School District Five of Lexington and Richland Counties challenging a district graduation prayer policy. The policy allowed prayer by a vote of the graduating class. Matthew Nielson, an Irmo High School senior at the time, was the lead plaintiff.
A district policy titled "School Ceremonies and Observations" set guidelines for benedictions and invocations at graduations and athletic events: Use of prayer "will be determined by a majority vote of the graduating senior class with the advice and counsel of the principal." The school facilitated a vote by students and the graduation ceremony on May 30, 2012, contained a prayer.
Two other Irmo High students joined the suit June 11, 2012. FFRF and the students, represented by local counsel Aaron Kozloski, asked the U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina, Columbia Division, to declare the district's policy null and void, enjoin it from further school-sponsored graduation prayers and to award damages, costs and attorney fees. On Nov. 16, 2012, the plaintiffs amended the suit to also challenge prayers before Board of Trustees meetings.
The District and the plaintiffs subsequently settled the graduation prayer issue once the District rescinded its prayer policy in August of 2013 and paid the plaintiffs’ attorney fees.
On August 7, 2014, the plaintiffs filed for summary judgment on the issue of prayer at school board meetings. "A school board is not the same as a state legislature or a city council," the brief states. "Rather, it is by design and activity created solely for the governance and operation of a public school system. As such, school board prayers are scrutinized for constitutionality under tradition Establishment Clause jurisprudence.”
Judge Cameron McGowan Currie presides over the case.
FFRF filed suit in U.S. District Court in Montana, challenging the Forest Service's decision to renew a special permit for a "shrine to our Lord Jesus Christ" on federal property in the Rockies. The Knights of Columbus, a conservative Roman Catholic men's club, has placed a devotional shrine on Big Mountain near Whitefish Mountain's Resort Chair Two in Flathead National Forest, in violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the Constitution. On June 24, 2013, U.S. District Judge Dana Christensen issued a ruling granting summary judgment for the Defendants.
Read News Release
FFRF filed a notice of appeal on August 22, 2013. The case will be heard by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.
Amicus Briefs filed in support of Government:
The Freedom From Religion Foundation, with plaintiffs Annie Laurie Gaylor, Anne Nicol Gaylor and Dan Barker, filed a nationally significant federal lawsuit in Madison, Wis., on Sept. 13, 2011, challenging tax benefits for “ministers of the gospel,” commonly known as “the parsonage exemption." FFRF seeks a declaration that the federal statute creating the parish exemption, as administered by the IRS and the Treasury Department, violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment by providing preferential tax benefits to ministers of the gospel. FFRF requests the court to enjoin the allowance or grant of tax benefits exclusively for ministers of the gospel under the litigated act. The individually named plaintiffs, either currently directors or retired directors of FFRF, currently receive a housing allowance designated by FFRF's governing body, yet do not qualify for the housing allowance as they are promoting non-belief, rather than religion. In fact, Dan Barker is an ordained minister who previously was able to utilize the housing allowance and exclude such payments from his taxable income.
Ministers, who are paid in tax-free dollars, also may deduct their mortgage interest and property tax payments. Under federal law, allowances paid to “ministers of the gospel” are not treated as taxable income. “Ministers of the gospel” may uniquely claim these benefits, so the statutes convey a governmental message of endorsement, unconstitutionally favoring religious employees and institutions over all others. The exemptions permit clergy to deduct from their taxable income housing allowances furnished as part of compensation. The unique benefits to clergy date to 1954, when Congress amended the tax code to permit all clergy to exempt their housing costs from their incomes taxes. U.S. Rep. Peter Mack, author of the amendment, declared:
"Certainly, in these times when we are being threatened by a godless and antireligious world movement we should correct this discrimination against certain ministers of the gospel who are carrying on such a courageous fight against this foe. Certainly this is not too much to do for these people who are caring for our spiritual welfare."
“The income taxation of ministers of the gospel under the general rules that apply to other individuals would not interfere with the religious mission of churches or other organizations or the ministers themselves,” the legal complaint maintains. The statutes are not an accommodation of religion, therefore, but a subsidy.
Defendants are Jacob Lew, U.S. Treasury Secretary and John Koskinen, Internal Revenue Service Commissioner; who are all providing tax benefits only to “ministers of the gospel,” rather than to a broad class of taxpayers. (When originally filed in 2011 defendants were Timothy Geithner and Douglas Shulman). FFRF withdrew its previous case, filed in October 2009 in federal court in Sacramento with 21 federal taxpaying FFRF-dues paying plaintiffs, following the Supreme Court's 2011 decision on taxpayer standing in the Winn Arizona tax credit case. FFRF has refiled with plaintiffs who have been directly injured by the preferential law.
U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb, Western District of Wisconsin, issued a strong 20-page opinion and order on Aug. 29, 2012, permitting FFRF Co-Presidents Dan Barker and Annie Laurie Gaylor and President Emerita Anne Gaylor to pursue their challenge of the 1954 law. The plaintiffs receive part of their salaries designated for a housing allowance. Yet they do not qualify for the parish exemption as they are not "ministers of the gospel.” The government contested their standing to sue, but Crabb wrote that “there is no plausible argument that plaintiffs could make that they qualify as ‘ministers of the gospel,’ so it would be pointless to require plaintiffs to jump through the hoop of filing a claim to prove that they are not entitled to the exemption.”
Legal Complaint (Sept. 13, 2011)
FFRF won the case in Federal Court on November 21, 2013.
The federal government filed notice on January 24, 2014, that is is appealing Judge Crabb’s ruling.
Oral arguments will be held before the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago on September 9, 2014.
Amicus Briefs filed in support of Government:
Foundation for Moral Law - Amicus Brief
Liberty Institute - Amicus Brief
National Jewish Commission on Law and Public Affairs - Amicus Brief
Alliance Defending Freedom - Amicus Brief
Church Alliance - Amicus Brief
Amicus Brief filed in support of FFRF:
Center for Inquiry - Amicus Brief
The Foundation, with the help of Denver-area members and plaintiffs, filed suit on Nov. 12, 2008, against Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter Jr., for showing governmental preference for religion in issuing National Day of Prayer proclamations in tandem with the National Day of Prayer (NDP) Task Force.
The Foundation filed the lawsuit in state court in Denver, both on behalf of four named plaintiffs and its more than 400 Colorado members. The lawsuit seeks to declare Day of Prayer proclamations and dedications by Gov. Ritter in violation of the Religious Freedom clause of the Colorado Constitution, and seeks an order enjoining him from issuing further such proclamations. The Complaint notes that not only has Ritter issued official National Day of Prayer proclamations, but he appears to have aligned himself and the State of Colorado with a national observance called Reign Down USA, an evangelical movement that promotes prayer, ostensibly for restoration of the nation.
A unanimous three-judge panel of the Colorado Court of Appeals ruled on May 10, 2012 in FFRF's favor: "A reasonable observer would conclude that these proclamations send the message that those who pray are favored members of Colorado’s political community, and that those who do not pray do not enjoy that favored status.”
On May 20, 2013, the Colorado Supreme Court granted Gov. Hickenlooper's petition for review. The court will decide whether to upold the appellate decision, which held that FFRF and four of its members have standing and that the state constitution disallows the governor's "Colorado Day of Prayer" exhortations.
Case No. 08-CV-9799