Outreach & Events - Freedom From Religion Foundation
Lauryn Seering

Lauryn Seering

Tens of thousands of people will gather at the Lincoln Memorial June 4, 2016, to show the world that reason, science, and freedom of belief are vital to Americans. Reason Rally 2016 is a celebration of fact-driven public policy, the value of critical thinking, and the voting power of secular Americans. The Freedom From Religion Foundation is co-sponsoring this event (view additional sponsors below). 

"The goal of Reason Rally 2016 is to show the presence and power of the nonreligious voting bloc, and to put reason back at the forefront of our public and political discourse," said Lyz Liddell, executive director of Reason Rally 2016. "We want to excite and empower attendees about that message so they take it back home and apply it at the local and state levels."

Participants will be joined by top-level scientists, entertainers, activists, and atheists who share their concern about the lack of critical thinking in public policy — NASA planetary expert Carolyn Porco, comedian and activist Margaret Cho, renowned evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, and many more.

"If you told me there would be a major national event, where the largest number of nonreligious people ever to assemble will gather, and proclaim that they are concerned about the bold incursions of religious belief into the governance and future of our country and the principles on which it's built, then I would surely make a point of being there," said Porco, who is well known for her work on NASA's Cassini Project to Saturn. "So, am I going to the Reason Rally in DC on June 4? You bet I am!"

Non-believers are on the rise, and facts — not faith — are becoming more important to voters. A 2015 Gallup Poll found that among those between the ages of 18 and 24, 31% claim no religious affiliation. In the 45-49 age group, 16% are unaffiliated. A Pew study found that almost half of American adults do not care if a presidential candidate is an atheist.

Reason Rally 2016 will showcase the presence and power of the nonreligious voting bloc, and the desire of this significant bloc of voters to put reason at the forefront of our public and political discourse.

"The religious have too much power in this country, and they're vastly over-represented in Congress," says Julia Sweeney, SNL alumna and a speaker at the Rally. "So, let's stop the magical thinking. Let's have a rally that shows the force of those who embrace Reason and Science over Divine Guidance. We're here — we don't have fear — and we want to be counted for what we are: a real political and social force! Also, we like to have fun."

Attendees will have the opportunity for fun. A pre-party and after-parties, a Sunday mini-conference, and several VIP events will be held during the four-day event.

It will be a Voting Bloc Party that captures the feeling of community and celebrates the increased power of non-religious voters. Two days of lobbying, on June 2 -3, will precede the gathering at the Lincoln Memorial and put that power into action. Visits to all 535 congressional offices are planned.

Everyone who supports good sense in government is welcome, for one day or the whole celebration. Visit the website, http://www.reasonrally.org for more details, to volunteer before or during the event, join the lobbying effort, or sign up for the conference and other special events.

Speakers and Entertainers

Highly respected scientists, civil rights activists, musicians, comedians, and bloggers, devoted to the cause of science-based public policy, will be on hand to provide intellectual stimulation and entertainment. More will be joining in the coming days.

  • Carolyn Porco, leader of NASA's Cassini Project to Saturn, is a planetary scientist who specializes in planetary rings and their interactions with orbiting moons.
  • John de Lancie, an actor, singer, and comic, is best known for his role as Q in the "Star Trek" series.
  • Cara Santa Maria, a biologist, is co-host and contributor to many science shows.
  • Maryam Namazie, a civil-rights activist, is spokesperson for Fitnah, the Movement for Women's Liberation.
  • James Randi is a magician who unmasks pseudoscience and faith healers.
  • Yvette d'Entremont, the SciBabe, is a chemist and forensic scientist who fights against pseudoscience, using social media and humor.
  • Killah Priest, a musician who started out as an affiliate of the Wu-Tang Clan, has worked with Ol' Dirty Bastard and GZA, infusing much of his work with religious references.
  • Eugenie Scott, former executive director and current chair of the advisory council for the National Center for Science Education, combats the teaching of creationism.
  • Paul Provenza, director of the movie "The Aristocrats," is a comic, skeptic and was emcee of the 2012 Reason Rally.
  • Lawrence Krauss, a Ph.D. in physics, is a strong advocate for science-based public policy and a proponent of scientific skepticism.
  • Kelly Carlin, daughter of the late comedian George Carlin, writes for movies and TV.
  • Richard Dawkins, world-renowned evolutionary biologist and author of "The God Delusion," is an outspoken advocate for rational inquiry.
  • Margaret Cho, comedian, is an advocate for LGBT and an outspoken source on issues of race.
  • Julia Sweeney, comedian and alumna of SNL.

Major Sponsors include:

  • American Atheists
  • American Humanist Association
  • Center for Inquiry
  • Freedom From Religion Foundation
  • Richard Dawkins Foundation for Science and Reason
  • Secular Coalition for America
  • Stiefel Freethought Foundation

Also lending their support to Reason Rally 2016 as Minor Sponsors are:

  • American Ethical Union
  • Atheist Alliance of America
  • Black Nonbelievers, Inc
  • Camp Quest
  • Ex-Muslims of North America
  • Foundation Beyond Belief
  • Freethought Society
  • Hispanic American Freethinkers
  • Humanist Society
  • Military Association of Atheists & Freethinkers
  • Recovering from Religion
  • Secular Student Alliance
  • Society for Humanistic Judaism
  • Sunday Assembly
  • Washington Area Secular Humanists

In what should be a slam dunk, the Freedom From Religion Foundation is asking a number of Illinois public high school coaches to stop praying with their students at basketball games.

AltamontandDieterichprayerIt has recently come to FFRF's attention that coaches and staff of Altamont High School, Dieterich High School and Pana High School have prayed at competitions with their teams. A photo confirms this practice, which has been reported to be recurrent. In the case of Pana High School, the basketball team's Facebook page (apparently school-endorsed) states, "We are thankful for God giving us the opportunity to show others His love. Win or lose, we are all victorious because of His love."

It is illegal for public school athletic coaches to lead or participate in prayers with students. FFRF is asking for assurances that this won't be repeated.

In a number of cases over the years, the U.S. Supreme Court has struck down school-sponsored prayer in public schools. It has done this because prayer in such instances constitutes a government endorsement and advancement of religion, which violates the First Amendment.

Public school coaches must refrain not only from leading prayers themselves, but also from participating in students' prayers. It is unconstitutional for public school employees to join in the religious activities of their students, even as silent participants in student prayer circles.

"The basketball coaches' conduct is unconstitutional because they endorse and promote religion when acting in their official capacities as school district representatives," says FFRF's Legal Fellow Ryan Jayne in a Feb. 9 letter to the three school districts. "When public school employees acting in their official capacities organize and advocate for team prayer, they effectively endorse religion on the district's behalf."

We ask that the three concerned Illinois school districts launch an immediate investigation and take action to ensure that district employees do not engage in a flagrant violation of the First Amendment by praying with students during district athletic programs.

FFRF has a national enrollment of 23,000 nonreligious members, including more than 700 individuals in Illinois.

PanaandAltamontprayer

Currently, "The Boy Scouts of America maintain that no member can grow into the best kind of citizen without recognizing his obligation to God." BSA formally discriminates as nonreligious boys and their families, officially excluding atheists, agnostics and nonbelievers from membership. Social disapproval prompted BSA to drop a similar ban on membership against gay Scouts. But BSA persists in stigmatizing those who use reason and critical thought to evaluate religious claims, rather than relying on faith, tradition or authority.

To earn this badge, based on the Richard Dawkins' "A," help disprove BSA's bigotry against the nonreligious and its misguided claim that nonbelievers cannot be good citizens. Learn about secularism and the rich history of dissent from religion.

Because this "badge" is intended to protest BSA policy, you likely will not be able to go to your typical merit badge counselor to demonstrate you have completed the requirements. Please ask a parent, guardian, sibling over the age of 18, teacher or other adult in your life to serve in this counselor role and to sign the form attesting that you have completed the requirements.

Note: FFRF will also offer this badge to other freethinking boys (or girls) who may have decided not to join BSA because of its discriminatory policy, but otherwise would have wished to take part in Scouting activities. This badge will reward you for critical thinking, and be a freethought keepsake.

Requirements

1. Read the Scout Oath, which says you will do your best "To do my duty to God and my country," and suggest how it could be rewritten to be more inclusive. BSA policy formally states: "The recognition of God as the ruling and leading power in the universe and the grateful acknowledgment of His favors and blessings are necessary to the best type of citizenship and are wholesome precepts in the education of the growing members." Explain to your counselor what you think is wrong with this statement.

2. Do TWO of the following:
a. Interview a veteran or current member of the military who is not religious, and ask about their experiences as an "atheist in a foxhole."
b. Interview three individuals who are not religious. These could include family members, students, teachers or activists in the freethought movement. Ask these individuals why they reject religion and what their experiences have been as a nonreligious individual in a society that stigmatizes nonbelief.
c. Select two nonreligious individuals from U.S. or world history who have contributed to social or moral progress. Find out about their accomplishments and discuss whether their absence of religious belief was relevant to their accomplishments.
d. Read the U.S. Constitution. Discuss with your counselor the references that exclude religion and why you think the U.S. framers thought it was so important to adopt the world's first godless and entirely secular written constitution.

3. Activism. Engage in some form of secular or freethought activism of your choice, Do one of the following:
a. Attend a secular convention, speech or event, staff a table for a secular organization, write a letter to the editor on freethought or state/church separation, or submit an article about freethought or state/church separation for your student newspaper.
b. Speak up if you hear atheism being derided or misunderstood, or if you hear such erroneous claims as "America is a Christian nation" or evolution attacked. Defend nontheism or the secular underpinnings of the United States in some public context, whether in class, at lunch with friends, a public event, etc.
c. Join and participate in secular student club (or if one doesn't exist in your school, apply to start one).
d. If your local governmental board regularly opens meetings with prayer, ask to be allowed to give a secular invocation and deliver one. (Be sure, if you choose this form of activism, to also enter FFRF's Nothing Fails Like Prayer contest!)
e. Sit down during the religious U.S. Pledge of Allegiance at your school or otherwise protest or challenge the religious pledge (in a nondisruptive manner).

4. Choose one the following:
a. Research the history of the Pledge of Allegiance and how "under God" was first added. Discuss with your counselor how it makes you feel to be asked to take a religious pledge at school.
b. Research the history of "In God We Trust" as a relatively new motto and how it gradually was placed on U.S. coins and currency along with the secular motto, "E Pluribus Unum." Discuss with your counselor how it makes you feel to be excluded as a nonbeliever from the nation's motto.
c. Research the song "God Bless America" (originally written in 1919 for a character to sing in a musical by the secular composer Irving Berlin), and how it makes you feel when you have been at a school, sporting or other event where this is played, or when you've otherwise encountered this slogan.

5. Do one of the following:
a. Watch one of these movies: Monty Python's "Life of Brian," "Contact," "Religulous," "Letting Go of God" DVD of the play by Julia Sweeney or any version of "Inherit the Wind," then discuss the merits of the movie's treatment of religion or atheism, and your reactions.
b. Learn and perform John Lennon's "Imagine" by instrument or voice. Discuss what the lyrics mean to you.
c. Read a biography about an author, artist, scientist or other famous individual who was not religious. Discuss this individual's contributions to the world.
d. Visit a museum that teaches about evolution, or design an experiment to test a religious claim, such as the power or prayer to change the physical world. Or discuss with your adviser the validity of untestable claims (such as Russell's celestial teapot or the existence of invisible mythical animals).

6. Write and submit a 200-300 word essay. Choose one of two following themes and write a persuasive essay about why BSA is wrong to claim "that no member can grow into the best kind of citizen without recognizing his obligation to God."
a. Select a nonreligious person or secular organization, either current or historic, whether it's someone famous or someone you know personally, and explain why you believe they were or are "good without God."
b. Write why you are "good without God" and/or why you are a good citizen without believing in a deity, including at least one or two reasons why you are a nonbeliever. You may wish to add how it makes you feel to know that BSA regards you as an undesirable member.

Submit your essay and this form from an adult attesting that you have completed the requirements, which should include your full name, mailing address and contact information, to:

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
(Your application and identity will be held in confidence.)

RESOURCES

BOOKS

  • Appleman, Philip. Darwin. (Norton Critical Edition)
  • Appleman, Philip. Darwin's Ark
  • Barker, Dan, The Good Atheist
  • Barker, Dan, GOD: The Most Unpleasant Character in All Fiction
  • Barker, Dan, Godless.
  • Barker, Dan, Losing Faith in Faith: From Preacher to Atheist
  • Boghossian, Peter. A Manual for Creating Atheists
  • Dawkins, Richard. A Devil's Chaplain
  • Dawkins, Richard. Climbing Mount Improbable
  • Dawkins, Richard. The God Delusion
  • Dawkin, Richard. Unweaving the Rainbow
  • Dennett, Daniel. With Linda LaScola. Caught in the Pulpit: Leaving Belief Behind.
  • Dennett, Daniel. Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon.
  • Gaylor, Annie Laurie. Woe to the Women: The Bible Tells Me So
  • Gaylor, Annie Laurie. Women Without Superstition: No Gods – No Masters. The first anthology of women freethinkers
  • Green, Ruth, The Born Again Skeptic's Guide to the Bible
  • Harris, Sam. The End of Faith
  • Hirsi Ali, Ayaan. Infidel
  • Hitchens, Christopher, God Is Not Great
  • Konner, Joan. The Atheist's Bible
  • Lindsay, Ronald. The Necessity of Secularism
  • Mehta, Hemant. The Young Atheist's Survival Guide
  • Morgan, Robin. Fighting Words: A Toolkit for Combating the Religious Right
  • Russell, Bertrand. Why I Am Not a Christian
  • Smith, George. Atheism: The Case Against God.
  • Stanton, Elizabeth Cady. The Woman's Bible
  • Sweeney, Julia, "Letting Go of God" (DVD)
  • Paine, Thomas. The Age of Reason
  • Pinn, Anthony, Writing God's Obituary

Once again the Freedom From Religion Foundation is offering students an essay scholarship competition in 2016, giving away more than $30,000 in cash prizes to the winners.

Three separate school-level competitions (high school, college, graduate/mature student) will feature a total of four different essay contests.

FFRF offered its first student competition in 1979, added a separate contest for college-bound high school seniors in 1994, and then in 2010 launched a contest for graduate/"older" students (ages 25-30). This year, FFRF will be sponsoring two parallel contests for college students — one to engage freethinking students of color, the other with a general topic open to all.

Awards are: $3,000 first place, $2,000 second place, $1,000 third place, $750 fourth place, $500 fifth place and $400 for sixth place. Several $200 "honorable mentions" may be awarded at judges' discretion.

In the William J. Schulz High School Senior Essay Competition, students are asked to select from one of these two topics: "The challenges of growing up a freethinker" or "Why Boy Scouts of America should welcome atheists and nonbelievers."

In the Michael Hakeem Memorial College Essay Competition, students can choose either "Why I am a freethinker" or "Why I am a freethinker of color." Each of those will have their own set of winners.

And in the Brian Bolton Graduate/"Older" Student Essay Competition, essayists will write about the timely "Why God and Politics/Government Are a Dangerous Mix."

Please publicize FFRF's important outreach to the next generation at your local high schools, colleges and universities, and to the students in your life.

For full rules, eligibility and deadlines, please click here.

A bill is making its way through the West Virginia Legislature that would give legal protection to any person (or corporation) who chooses to discriminate or otherwise break the law in the name of religion. A vote is likely in the Assembly tomorrow.

You are aware of the U.S. Supreme Court's Hobby Lobby decision that allowed corporations to exercise their so-called "religious conscience" in order to restrict employees' access to contraceptives. This bill would extend the Hobby Lobby decision to West Virginia.

HB 4012, misleadingly titled the West Virginia Religious Freedom Restoration Act, is meant to exempt religious citizens from generally applicable laws. It effectively legalizes discrimination in the name of God. The bill is before the House, awaiting a final vote as early as Thursday.

The proposed bill will essentially tie the state's hands, nullifying any neutral, generally applicable law that conflicts with a person's or corporation's religious beliefs — unless that law is "in furtherance of a compelling governmental interest" and is "the least restrictive means" of furthering that interest. This is an extremely high bar for a law to meet.

CONTACT

Contact your state representative to let him or her know your strong opposition to the bill.

TALKING POINTS

Personalize your statement if possible, or feel free to cut and paste the wording below.

I am writing as your constituent and a West Virginia taxpayer to oppose HB 4012, the so-called West Virginia Religious Freedom Restoration Act. It would exempt any person or corporation from all generally applicable laws on claim of a religious objection. When the Legislature designs a law to apply to everyone, it does so for good reason. HB 4012 applies an exemption to all laws, rather than requiring the Legislature to deliberate over the merits of a specific religious exemption. This bill would create a legal loophole for any person or corporation who wishes to discriminate in the name of religion.

The Constitution already protects the free exercise of religion. This bill is simply a tool to legalize discrimination. The federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act, on which HB 4012 is based, has already damaged the rights of women to obtain contraceptive coverage. I would hate to see West Virginian businesses use this law to discriminate against gay people, atheists and religious minorities, or any other minority group.

HB 4012 would also be bad for business. A similar bill that passed in Indiana last year is estimated to have already cost the city of Indianapolis $60 million in lost tourism revenue. 

Codifying HB 4012 into law in West Virginia is simply bad policy.

Religion has recently sundered Arizona.

Three times in the past few days, the Freedom From Religion Foundation has learned about the divisiveness of government prayer in that state.

First, the Phoenix City Council laudably opted for a moment of silence, as FFRF has advocated for years (after a not-so-laudable emergency measure to avoid an invocation by the Satanic Temple). Its meeting dragged on for hours, with scores of citizens commenting passionately on the issue. 

Next, the Legislature prohibited any invocations that do not call on a higher power. Arizona state Rep. Juan Mendez delivered a historic atheist invocation to the Statehouse in 2013. (FFRF presented him our Emperor Has No Clothes award for this brave act of open secularism.) Mendez gave another secular invocation in 2014. But this year, he was banned from doing so because his opening remarks would not address a higher power. This clearly violates the U.S. Supreme Court precedent (Town of Greece v. Galloway) that allows government prayer but only if minority faiths and atheists are heard, too.

Finally, FFRF is getting reports that at a Feb. 9 Chino Valley Town Council meeting, the mayor ejected a rabbi who protested the mayor's prayer "in Jesus' name." FFRF had written on behalf of local complainants to the Town Council on Jan. 14 explaining that the prayers were illegal and divisive.

According to local media, Mayor Chris Marley initially promised to stop delivering prayers, but then changed his mind and gave a Christian invocation. He initially read a "disclaimer," claiming the prayer was only his personal belief. Rabbi Adele Plotkin started to complain. Marley warned she would be removed if she continued, so she stopped. After Marley ended his prayer in Jesus' name, Plotkin stood up and loudly protested. Marley had a police officer remove the rabbi from the room. So much for free speech and petitioning the government for redress of grievances.

The divisiveness of mixing religion with government is no surprise to FFRF. We get thousands of complaints every year — nearly 5,000 last year — from citizens around the country who are alienated and ostracized when their government endorses one religion over another or religion over nonreligion.

Christian prayers at government meetings alienate non-Christians, but they also violate one of Jesus' teachings from the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus condemns public prayer as hypocrisy: "And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men." Matthew 6:5-6.

Jesus' point is simple: People who wear their piety on their sleeves are hypocrites. Government officials are free to pray at any time — before, during or after their meetings. But that is not enough for some, who misuse their office to promote their personal religious views. In the process they denigrate themselves, their office, their community, their religion and, according to the bible, Jesus himself.

Government prayer has been divisive since the beginning. As Harvard Law Professor Noah Feldman points out in an article for Bloomberg View, it has no place in government.

Officials need to get off their knees and get to work.

Two parents have joined an October lawsuit challenging an annual nativity performance at Concord High School in Elkhart, Ind.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, the American Civil Liberties Union, and the ACLU of Indiana filed the original suit on Oct. 7, 2015, along with a local parent and student.

For several decades, Concord High has organized a "Christmas Spectacular" each winter. Every performance for the public, of which there were four in 2014, "ends with an approximately 20-minute telling of the story of the birth of Jesus, including a live Nativity Scene and a scriptural reading from the Bible. During this segment, students at the High School portray the Virgin Mary, Joseph, the Three Wise Men, shepherds, and angels," notes the original complaint. Read the lawsuit here

Attorneys for FFRF and the ACLU argue in the complaint that the nativity performance and the reading of the biblical story of the birth of Jesus are "well-recognized symbols of the Christian faith. Their presence at the Christmas Spectacular is coercive, represents an endorsement of religion by the High School and the School Corporation, has no secular purpose, and has the principal purpose and effect of advancing religion."

A video of the 2014 Nativity performance can be viewed here.

Jack Doe, a student at the school and a plaintiff in the original lawsuit, is a member of the performing arts department, and John Doe is his father. On Monday, concerned parents of two other Concord High School students who also participate in performing arts have become plaintiffs as John Noe and John Roe. (Attendance and performance at the "Christmas Spectacular" is mandatory for students enrolled in the performing arts department.)

The new parent plaintiffs are also seeking anonymity in order to protect their families from the vitriol and open hostility the Doe family has received. This includes a death threat that was sent to FFRF in December, targeting Staff Attorney and co-counsel Sam Grover and a family that some have speculated is the Doe family.

"I will make it my life's mission to one day (in the next weeks, months or even years) when you think this is all done and forgotten about, to find you and the [redacted family name]," reads the email. "I will cut you into pieces and feed you to the fishes in the Elkhart River (Please note that I will enjoy this)."

The missive ends on this note: "Do yourself a favor, and believe me, when I say: NO ONE WILL STOP ME!"

U.S. District Judge Jon DeGuilio issued a temporary injunction on Dec. 2 barring the school from holding the nativity pageant with student actors. Read the ruling here.

In addition to adding two new families as plaintiffs, the updated complaint challenges the nativity enactment as it was modified during the 2015 "Christmas Spectacular," where the school used mannequins in place of live student performers. FFRF and the ACLU note that this modified nativity scene is no more legal or appropriate than the original show. Both versions exist solely to promote Christianity during a school-sponsored performance in violation of the Constitution. The updated complaint can be seen here

"We had hoped the school district would simply do the right thing and adopt a neutral stance toward religion as it is required to do under the Constitution," says Grover.

"We are grateful to the new plaintiffs who have joined and strengthened our case, despite the backlash in the community," says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. "This controversy shows how divisive it is to bring religion into our public schools."

FFRF has a national enrollment of 23,000 nonreligious members, including more than 300 individuals in Indiana.

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