The Freedom From Religion Foundation is sending an important election-year message to the good people of Mississippi. A highway billboard in Tupelo stresses to Mississippians: "God Fixation Won't Fix This Nation."
The message is going up on July 1 on a digital billboard at the intersection of Main and Gloster in the city and will remain there for a month. FFRF is a state/church watchdog group with 24,000 nonreligious members nationwide, including almost 100 in Mississippi.
FFRF's billboard message is very appropriate for Mississippi. The state is the most religious in the country (tied with Alabama), with 77 percent of adult Mississippians saying that they are "very religious," according to the Pew Research Center. At the same time, it consistently ranks at or near the bottom in quality of life. A recent survey found it to be the worst state in the country to live in, with "the lowest annual median household income and the highest poverty rate in the nation," as well as the lowest life expectancy.
"We lose sight of human needs when we fixate on gods," says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. "When we have faith in ourselves, we won't need faith in gods."
This is FFRF's first billboard in Mississippi, underwritten by a lifetime member of the organization who resides in Tupelo, but prefers not to be identified. Even though Mississippi has a pattern of violations of the constitutional separation of state and church, FFRF membership has been low, and the organization hopes with its Mississippi billboard to also draw the attention of freethinkers living in the state.
"We welcome with open arms any nontheists living in Mississippi," adds Gaylor. "Groups like ours provide comfort and solace to folks whose nonbelief can make them feel like outsiders in their own communities."
A religious public school marquee was quickly taken down after a Freedom From Religion Foundation complaint.
Morristown Jr./Sr. High School in Morristown, Ind., posted "MAY GOD BLESS YOU" as part of its 2016 congratulatory message for its graduating students. Public schools may not endorse a religious message, FFRF reminded the Shelby Eastern Schools Corporation.
"The Establishment Clause of the First Amendment prohibits government sponsorship of religious messages," FFRF Legal Fellow Ryan Jayne wrote to Shelby Eastern Schools Superintendent Robert Evans. "The U.S. Supreme Court has said time and again that the 'First Amendment mandates government neutrality between religion and religion, and between religion and nonreligion.'"
FFRF asked that the "MAY GOD BLESS YOU" message be removed from the school marquee.
The school district responded immediately to FFRF's request.
"Thank you for bringing this to my attention," Evans emailed the day after receiving Jayne's letter. "The marquee will be changed promptly."
FFRF hails the quick turnaround.
"It's nice to see a school district rectifying its misstep so quickly," says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. "However, public schools should know from the get-go that religious display signs are never appropriate."
The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization dedicated to separation of state and church, with 24,000 nonreligious members nationwide, including more than 300 in Indiana.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation and its Cleveland chapter are mounting an impressive 14-by-48-foot message to the Republican National Convention: Keep church and state separate.
That message on a highway billboard comes from an unexpected source: President Ronald Reagan. "We establish no religion in this country . . . Church and state are, and must remain, separate," he said in the quote featured on the billboard.
The board is going up this week in Cleveland on Interstate Highway 71 north of 480 and will remain up for a month. FFRF is a state/church watchdog group with 24,000 nonreligious members nationwide, including more than 600 in Ohio.
Reagan made the remarks in a speech on Oct. 26, 1984, to the Temple Hillel leaders in Valley Stream, N.Y.
The quote, in full, reads:
"We in the United States, above all, must remember that lesson, for we were founded as a nation of openness to people of all beliefs. And so we must remain. Our very unity has been strengthened by our pluralism. We establish no religion in this country, we command no worship, we mandate no belief, nor will we ever. Church and state are, and must remain, separate. All are free to believe or not believe, all are free to practice a faith or not, and those who believe are free, and should be free, to speak of and act on their belief."
FFRF, a nonpartisan nonprofit, will also be taking a message to the Democratic National Convention.
"The RNC needs to be reminded that our nation is predicated on a godless and entirely secular Constitution," says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. "The fate of our Establishment Clause hangs in the balance of the election. We're not voting for the next president—we're voting for the next Supreme Court justice."
Marni Huebner-Tiborsky, the director of the Northern Ohio Freethought Society, a chapter of FFRF, agrees. "This billboard couldn't be any more timely, and is definitely needed to remind our political leaders and the public that political campaigns should stick to a secular platform, where real change can happen," she says.
FFRF wishes to thank Loren Miller, a chapter member, for suggesting the Reagan quote.