Outreach & Events - Freedom From Religion Foundation
Lauryn Seering

Lauryn Seering

11ingersollAn illustrious Illinois freethinker is being restored to his pedestal.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is delighted to announce that, with the help of 238 generous donors from 43 states plus Puerto Rico, it has raised the money to refurbish a historic statue in Peoria to America's most famous "infidel," Robert Green Ingersoll. Private donations have paid all the costs to renovate the 1911 statue that is owned by the city of Peoria.

Thanks to the successful fundraiser that FFRF organized, the statue has been restored a year ahead of schedule. The project cost about $27,000. The Peoria Park District will hold the dedication in Glen Oak Park, Peoria, Ill., on Ingersoll's birthday, Aug. 11, at 10:30 a.m. The plaque on the new base will cite Ingersoll's famous lines:

"Happiness is the only good. The time to be happy is now. The place to be happy is here. The way to be happy is to make others so."

FFRF is sponsoring its own dinner party for Ingersoll friends and aficionados in Peoria the night before. Speakers will include descendants Jeff Ingersoll, who directs the Robert Green Ingersoll Memorial Committee, and R.E. ("Elliott") Ingersoll, a professor of counseling psychology and faculty member at Cleveland State University who has been featured on TED Talks and is a musician. He'll provide the entertainment, along with FFRF Co-President Dan Barker, who has put to music several memorable Ingersoll poems and orations.

Also briefly speaking will be Center for Inquiry's Tom Flynn, FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor and Margaret Downey, with the Memorial Committee. Attendees include Ingersoll enthusiasts as far away as Florida. Learn more or sign up here

Ingersoll, a Civil War colonel and attorney who served as Illinois' attorney general, was thrust into national fame in the political field, then as an eloquent orator and fearless freethought advocate. In an era without sound amplification, Ingersoll could attract crowds as large as 10,000 and commanded major speaking fees. Friend to four presidents, he was a rising political star, until he began lecturing as a nonbeliever. Once asked how much his significant library cost, Ingersoll replied that it probably had cost him the presidency. He has been dubbed Peoria's "most famous citizen."

Ingersoll was born in Dresden, N.Y., in 1833, and launched his career in Peoria, where he met his wife, Eva, whom he praised as "a woman without superstition." A celebrated family man, he and Eva had two daughters. Eventually, Ingersoll moved to Washington, D.C., New York City and a mansion in upstate New York. Many biographies memorialize Ingersoll, including Professor Orvin Larson's work, "American Infidel," reprinted by FFRF

The original dedication of the 1911 statue by Italian sculptor Fritz Triebel was attended by 6,000 individuals, including Ingersoll's widow, daughters and grandchildren, and was covered by The New York Times. Donors from all states had contributed.

"We do hope to 'seed' more statues to Ingersoll in the cities he lived in," says FFRF's Gaylor.

FFRF thanks all of the donors, including 16 who contributed $1,000 and whose names will appear on the new base of the statue. It is also grateful to Peoria Humanist Society's Ken Hofbauer, who brought the statue's condition to the city and FFRF's attention, Jeff Ingersoll of the Memorial Committee who helped fundraise and work with the Peoria Park District, and Zenos Frudakis, a sculptor who helped arrange the foundry work at Laran Bronze, Philadelphia.

View flyer showing condition of statue prior to restoration.

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FFRF takes its message to DNC

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Don't ignore the power of the secular voting bloc. That's the message the Freedom From Religion Foundation is taking to the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia.

A striking 14-by-48-foot billboard bearing the images of four millennial voters that proclaims "I'm an atheist and I vote" is already up on I-95 north of I-676.

The "models" are actually FFRF employees or members: Patrick Elliott, a staff attorney; Sarah Lewis, a graduate student; Andrew Seidel, a staff attorney; and Callahan Miller, FFRF's legal assistant who is entering Harvard Law School this fall.

Thirty additional "I'm an atheist and I vote" ads will be displayed on MetroLight street-level kiosks in front of parking garages in downtown Philadelphia in tourist areas.

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The secular quartet is representative of the rising power of the "Nones" — the one-third of young people today who identify as secular and religiously unaffiliated, says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor.

Overall, a quarter of the population is nonreligious, Gaylor adds, "but we have to pinch ourselves to know we atheists and agnostics even exist in an election year."

Gaylor notes that both parties go to great strides to appease the Religious Right and to woo religious voters. Many seculars are unhappy over the inevitable religious invocations to open both conventions, and the ubiquitous "God Bless America" to end political speeches, not to mention political forums routinely conducted in churches.

FFRF earlier this year released a major survey of 8,000 registered voters who are nonreligious, revealing that the country's seculars want to see more support for civil rights, women's rights, LGBTQ rights, abortion rights, the separation of state and church, and action on global warming.

FFRF had a very different billboard up in Cleveland during the Republican National Convention, featuring a quote by GOP icon President Reagan: "Church and state are, and must remain, separate." The sign received a great deal of coverage by outraged representatives of the Religious Right, who were angered over an unrelated controversy involving rejection of an ad for "God's Not Dead 2" by a company in the Cleveland area. The corporation that hosted FFRF's billboard was not the same entity that rejected the ad for the movie, but that didn't stop the hysterical reaction.

FFRF is hoping for a positive response in Philadelphia to its election-year message by the city that birthed our nation's "godless and entirely secular Constitution," Gaylor says.

A congressional bill that seeks to limit enforcement of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) against voucher schools must be foiled immediately.

On June 20, Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., submitted an amendment to an appropriations bill that will, in part, establish the Department of Justice budget for 2017. The amendment to the Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies Appropriation Act (H.R. 2578) would prevent the DOJ from investigating discrimination claims made against publicly funded voucher schools. 

The amendment is Johnson's response to a Department of Justice investigation from 2011-2015 into discrimination against students with disabilities by Milwaukee voucher schools.
Disability and civil rights groups charged that voucher schools discouraged students with disabilities from participating in the voucher program and were forced out of schools that they were admitted to.  The proposed amendment would prevent Justice Department funds to be used in the future to investigate voucher schools for violations of the ADA. This means schools receiving public funding will effectively be allowed to discriminate against students with disabilities. 

Voucher students attend overwhelmingly religious schools, with more than 90 percent of voucher students in Milwaukee, and 100 percent of students in the separate statewide program, attending a parochial school.

As these institutions receive significant public funding, they must not be granted ADA exemptions. The threat of discrimination by religious schools is significant and the DOJ needs the freedom to investigate meritorious complaints. The proposed amendment does not alter the provisions of the ADA; it merely attempts to prevent enforcement. Johnson and voucher advocates seek to allow taxpayer-funded private schools to discriminate on the basis of a child's disability.

CONTACT

Please contact your senators to voice your opposition

TALKING POINTS

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

I am writing as your constituent. Sen. Ron Johnson has submitted an amendment to the Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies Appropriation Act (H.R.2578) to prevent the Department of Justice from enforcing the Americans with Disabilities Act against private voucher schools that receive public funding. I urge you to oppose S.Amdt.4775 to S.Amdt.4685 to the Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies Appropriation Act.

In states with voucher programs, many schools are almost entirely populated by students on government vouchers. This amendment, if passed, would give private religious schools all of the benefits of government funding and allow them to discriminate against children with disabilities with impunity. Please protect students with disabilities. Do not let voucher advocates create a backdoor exemption to the ADA by stifling enforcement of the law.

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