Outreach & Events - Freedom From Religion Foundation
Lauryn Seering

Lauryn Seering

%291 %America/Chicago, %2016

It pays to complain

FFRF member Dr. David Schultz reports that the Secular Student Alliance at Nicholls State University in Thibodaux, La., recently got the university to eliminate prayer from commencement ceremonies.

Schultz is on the board of directors of the New Orleans Secular Humanist Association and faculty advisor and sponsor of the SSA at Nicholls State.

Here is the story in his words:

"The SSA recently had a surprising win. Nicholls State University, like all other state universities in Louisiana, has had prayers at its commencement exercises — an invocation and a benediction. The prayers were regular given by a Catholic priest or a Protestant (usually Baptist) minister.

"Last fall, the president of the SSA (Sarah Barrios) sent a letter to the president of Nicholls State asking him to consider broadening the diversity of sectarian prayers given or to eliminate prayer entirely out of respect for those of other faiths and those of no faith.

"We were surprised and very pleased to see that at the commencement exercises last fall there was only a moment of silence. No prayer. On returning to campus in January, Sarah had a letter from the president's chief of staff thanking her for her suggestion and stating that they planned to remove prayer from the commencement exercises.

"The response of the university was a surprise to everyone. We're in a very religious area. A large number of our students come from sectarian high schools. We have a St. Thomas Aquinas Center and Baptist Campus Ministry on the university's property.

"I've griped to sympathetic faculty members about the religiosity that has been a part of the campus culture since its beginnings and the common response has been something like 'You have to realize where we are.'

"We're excited that the SSA, only in its third semester at Nicholls State University, has already attracted attention and made an impact on the academic culture at the university."

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In memoriam

Manfred 'Dick' Koehler 1933–2015

FFRF member Manfred G. "Dick" Koehler, 82, died at home in Slinger, Wis., on Dec. 23, 2015. Born in Grosskmehln, Germany to Max and Ida Koehler, Manfred spent most of his life in Wisconsin, including the last 27 years in Slinger.

He grew up in Milwaukee and attended the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and also served in the U.S. Army.

He retired from Sigma-Aldrich at 55, which meant he could spend more retirement time with an active role in his grandchildren's upbringing. He babysat them while the parents worked, helped with school work and attended their sports games. He also attended many concerts and programs.

Manfred's wife Helga died in 2013.

According to his obituary, "His post-retirement interest in clocks led him to a basement full of tick-tocking, musical and moving Black Forest clocks and the moniker 'Mr. Cuckoo.'
"Everyone will miss his strong presence, his love of sports (golf and basketball especially), his thoughtful comments and his keen sense of humor."

Memorial donations may be made to FFRF, P.O. Box 750, Madison, WI 53701 (http://ffrf.org/donate).

David I. Berkman 1934–2015

FFRF member David Berkman, 81, died on Dec. 31, 2015. He was a college professor, teaching mass communications at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, among other universities. He wrote a column called "Media Musings" for a Milwaukee alternative paper called the Shepherd's Express. He also hosted Wisconsin Public Radio's "Media Talk" show for 13 years.

Dave was a liberal, a civil rights activist, and a free speech absolutist, and served on the state boards of the ACLU in Connecticut and Wisconsin.

A member of the National Association of Educational Broadcasters, he advocated protecting Public Broadcasting's independence from political threats. He loved reading, politics and argument.

He is survived by his wife, Margarita Dusek; children, Linda Turner of New York City, Elena Sullivan of San Diego, Calif., and Neil Berkman of Berkeley, Calif., and grandchildren.

%291 %America/Chicago, %2016

Secular invocations

Aleta Ledendecker
Oak Ridge (Tenn.)
City Council
Jan. 11, 2016

Here is the full transcript of Aleta's invocation. The mayor of Oak Ridge cut her off in mid-sentence when she still had more than 30 seconds to go.

Good evening, council of Oak Ridge.

As I solemnize these proceedings, I want to acknowledge the service of the council members and share appreciation for their willingness to be a part of the governmental process. We owe a debt of gratitude to those who take on the burden of public office. Thank you for your service to the citizens of Oak Ridge.

Now, let us not bow our heads, but hold them high with eyes open so that we may keep them focused on the issues facing Oak Ridge in order that they may be considered with reason and compassion.

When this body comes together to govern, they do so with the consent of the citizens of Oak Ridge. Oak Ridge is a very diverse community with many different views and opinions. I urge the members of the City Council to face the future and their civic duties with full recognition of their responsibilities to all the citizens of Oak Ridge. I urge you to maintain our trust that you will recognize and serve equally the growing diversity of your constituents with favoritism toward none. Realize that this growing diversity encompasses not only many religions, but a growing contingent of those who have no religious affiliation, the "nones."

This community is made stronger by the diversity within it. Over 200 years ago our Constitution established a principle of inclusion as a shining example for the rest of the world, which has contributed to the astonishing success of our nation. When we forget or ignore it, we turn our backs on the wisdom of the founding fathers and tarnish their legacy, weakening our society in the process.

It is incumbent upon this council to make the best decisions for the community — the entire community. In this regard, I ask that you use reason, wisdom and empathy in your deliberations today, taking into account the implications your decisions will have now and into the future.

As this new year begins, remember that in honor of separation of church and state, no deities need to, nor should be invoked at the openings of your meetings. Doing so gives the appearance if not actual governmental preference to one group of citizens over others. The council is a civil body not a religious one, so should recognize that secular authority in government is not only sufficient, but preferable. James Madison, founding father and 4th President said it well:

"And I have no doubt that every new example will succeed, as every past one has done, in showing that religion & government will both exist in greater purity, the less they are mixed together."

Mayor and council members I appreciate the opportunity to offer an inspiring start to your meeting.

Now let this honored council proceed with its business, remembering also to honor all of its constituents, while upholding the principle of separation of church and state. Thank you.

Aleta is an FFRF Life member and secretary of the Rationalists of East Tennessee.

Peter D. A. Wood
Leon County (Fla.) Commission
April 28, 2015

Words matter. As we gather here today, like many Tuesdays, we stand ready and eager to unite and conduct business as usual. Most meetings use this time to begin procedure with prayer. To some, prayer is a staple of public works. To others, it is a deviation from what our government is constructed to do. Whatever side you may fall on, what we say and how we say it can have implications that extend beyond our immediate surroundings.

Thoughts matter. We all have our convictions, some of which are identical, others which conflict and contradict. That secularism, atheism and even non-Christian belief systems are overwhelmingly underrepresented in Leon County should worry all of us. That today this history changes is cause for optimism.

Actions matter. Rather than bow, fall prostrate, or look inward to connect ourselves to the heavens, let us focus on the one tangible reality we all know and share: each other. Whether we agree with one another or not, it is through cooperation and sacrifice that this county churns, burns and thrives. Ask yourselves: Why are you here, and how do you care to express this motive? Through what you say? How you think? What you do? Today I open our County Commission meeting suggesting we reassess what unity is so that our community can truly grow strong together. E pluribus unum. For it is out of many that a unified voice comes into being.

Peter D.A. Wood is a PhD candidate at Florida State University. Raised in Davenport, Iowa, Peter volunteers for Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Big Bend, is treasurer of the Secular Student Alliance at FSU, and serves as a board member for the Center for Inquiry's Tallahassee community. His essay, "Religions are responsible for their unclear teachings" earned him a fifth-place award in FFRF's 2015 Brian Bolton graduate college essay contest.

After a successful (but chilly and damp!) Reason Rally in 2012, the event will be heading back to Washington D.C., this year.

The latest polls show that the percentage of people who don't care about a candidate's religion is increasing and that "Nones" outnumber the U.S.'s largest religious denomination (Catholics) by several percentage votes. Nones are also a growing segment of the under-45 population — who are key voters! That growth is a great accomplishment for those who support separation of church and state, critical thinking and just plain good sense.

We'll all have the opportunity to celebrate that victory — and build our power as a voting bloc — by attending the nonpartisan Reason Rally 2016 at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C., on June 4. You'll hear great speakers and entertainers, and get the chance to lobby members of Congress.

"In this historic place, we proclaim our dream of a future where people are free to express rational and reasonable views without the fear of reprisal, retaliation or retribution!" proclaims the ReasonRally.org web site.

Speakers will include Richard Dawkins, Johnny Depp, Kelly Carlin, Paul Provenza, James Randi, Julia Sweeny, Cara Santa Maria, Lawrence Krauss and Eugenie Scott, and a host of activists, musicians and performers.

Major sponsors include the Freedom From Religion Foundation, American Atheists, American Humanist Association, Center for Inquiry, Richard Dawkins Foundation, Secular Coalition of America and Stiefel Freethought Foundation. FFRF and other sponsors will be visible with booths on Saturday and have a brief opportunity at the mic.

The Reason Rally itself is a day-long event, but there will be a variety of other events over several days from Thursday, June 2 through Sunday, June 4. The coalition of groups putting on the Reason Rally has reserved room blocs at centrally located hotels.

Thursday and Friday will include Lobby Days, in conjunction with the Secular Coalition of America. Some pre-rally evening entertainment events are being planned, as well as a Sunday post-rally event.

It's a Voting Bloc Party for those who believe that public policy should be made based on scientific evidence, not religious beliefs. Join us, and bring your friends!

For more information, go to ReasonRally.org. Freethought Today will carry updates.

%291 %America/Chicago, %2016

Peter D. A. Wood

PeterD.A.WoodLeon County (Fla.) Commission
April 28, 2015

Words matter. As we gather here today, like many Tuesdays, we stand ready and eager to unite and conduct business as usual. Most meetings use this time to begin procedure with prayer. To some, prayer is a staple of public works. To others, it is a deviation from what our government is constructed to do. Whatever side you may fall on, what we say and how we say it can have implications that extend beyond our immediate surroundings.

Thoughts matter. We all have our convictions, some of which are identical, others which conflict and contradict. That secularism, atheism and even non-Christian belief systems are overwhelmingly underrepresented in Leon County should worry all of us. That today this history changes is cause for optimism.

Actions matter. Rather than bow, fall prostrate, or look inward to connect ourselves to the heavens, let us focus on the one tangible reality we all know and share: each other. Whether we agree with one another or not, it is through cooperation and sacrifice that this county churns, burns and thrives. Ask yourselves: Why are you here, and how do you care to express this motive? Through what you say? How you think? What you do? Today I open our County Commission meeting suggesting we reassess what unity is so that our community can truly grow strong together. E pluribus unum. For it is out of many that a unified voice comes into being.

Peter D.A. Wood is a PhD candidate at Florida State University. Raised in Davenport, Iowa, Peter volunteers for Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Big Bend, is treasurer of the Secular Student Alliance at FSU, and serves as a board member for the Center for Inquiry's Tallahassee community. His essay, "Religions are responsible for their unclear teachings" earned him a fifth-place award in FFRF's 2015 Brian Bolton graduate college essay contest.

%291 %America/Chicago, %2016

Aleta Ledendecker

1ledendeckerOak Ridge (Tenn.)
City Council
Jan. 11, 2016

Here is the full transcript of Aleta's invocation. The mayor of Oak Ridge cut her off in mid-sentence when she still had more than 30 seconds to go. 

Good evening, council of Oak Ridge.

As I solemnize these proceedings, I want to acknowledge the service of the council members and share appreciation for their willingness to be a part of the governmental process. We owe a debt of gratitude to those who take on the burden of public office. Thank you for your service to the citizens of Oak Ridge.

Now, let us not bow our heads, but hold them high with eyes open so that we may keep them focused on the issues facing Oak Ridge in order that they may be considered with reason and compassion.

When this body comes together to govern, they do so with the consent of the citizens of Oak Ridge. Oak Ridge is a very diverse community with many different views and opinions. I urge the members of the City Council to face the future and their civic duties with full recognition of their responsibilities to all the citizens of Oak Ridge. I urge you to maintain our trust that you will recognize and serve equally the growing diversity of your constituents with favoritism toward none. Realize that this growing diversity encompasses not only many religions, but a growing contingent of those who have no religious affiliation, the "nones."

This community is made stronger by the diversity within it. Over 200 years ago our Constitution established a principle of inclusion as a shining example for the rest of the world, which has contributed to the astonishing success of our nation. When we forget or ignore it, we turn our backs on the wisdom of the founding fathers and tarnish their legacy, weakening our society in the process.

It is incumbent upon this council to make the best decisions for the community — the entire community. In this regard, I ask that you use reason, wisdom and empathy in your deliberations today, taking into account the implications your decisions will have now and into the future.

As this new year begins, remember that in honor of separation of church and state, no deities need to, nor should be invoked at the openings of your meetings. Doing so gives the appearance if not actual governmental preference to one group of citizens over others. The council is a civil body not a religious one, so should recognize that secular authority in government is not only sufficient, but preferable. James Madison, founding father and 4th President said it well:

"And I have no doubt that every new example will succeed, as every past one has done, in showing that religion & government will both exist in greater purity, the less they are mixed together."

Mayor and council members I appreciate the opportunity to offer an inspiring start to your meeting.

Now let this honored council proceed with its business, remembering also to honor all of its constituents, while upholding the principle of separation of church and state. Thank you.

Aleta is an FFRF Life member and secretary of the Rationalists of East Tennessee.

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