Outreach & Events - Freedom From Religion Foundation
Lauryn Seering

Lauryn Seering

FFRF legal staff sent a wide variety of complaint letters in December, including the following. (See sidebar for Christmas and crèche complaints.)

Contact: Cherry Creek School District, Colo.
Violation: Teachers at Pine Ridge Elementary School hung two religious displays for Veterans Day: a "God Bless You" bulletin board and the poem/hymn "Lord, Guard and Guide."

Contact: Palm Beach County Commission, Fla.
Violation: Commissioners take turns saying prayers at meetings, typically asking citizens present to rise for the invocation.

Contact: Texas A&M University, College Station
Violation: The college broadcasts prayers over the intercom at every Corps of Cadets meal.

Contact: Wicomico County Public Schools, Md.
Violation: Northwestern Elementary School described Mardela Springs Wesleyan Church as its "official Faith-Based Partner." Students reportedly know the church's pastor as the "school pastor," and the church started an evening kids' program at the school through which "many children have been introduced to the Gospel and have given their hearts to Jesus."

Contact: Akron Public Schools, Ohio
Violation: A teacher at Buchtel Community Learning Center started and runs a religious club at the school.

Contact: San Juan USD, Calif.
Violation: A Spanish teacher showed a religious movie whose plot revolved around many aspects of Catholicism.

Contact: Oxford City Schools, Ala.; Cartersville City Schools, Ga.; Craven County Schools, N.C.
Violation: The districts hosted bible distributions.

Contact: Seminole County Schools, Fla.
Violation: Students at Lawton Chiles Middle School were presented with four cards to choose from to send cards to soldiers. One included a bible verse and another depicted a nativity scene.

Contact: Laurens County Schools, Ga.
Violation: Schools in the district regularly organize prayers before athletic events.

Contact: Brownwood Police Department, Texas
Violation: The department employs a police chaplain.

Contact: Vallejo City USD, Calif.
Violation: Superintendent Ramona Bishop appeared in her official capacity in a promotional video for a Christian dominionist group.

Contact: Clairton City School District, Pa.
Violation: Football coaches at Clairton High School engage in postgame prayers.

Contact: La Porte ISD, Texas
Violation: La Porte Junior High was scheduled to hold a choir concert in a church.

Contact: Mobile County Public School District, Ala.
Violation: A Semmes Elementary School teacher's Thanksgiving study guide included overly religious descriptions of the holiday.

Contact: Marshall County Schools, Ky.
Violation: Benton Elementary School gave parents an ad for a religious program with school forms.

Contact: Frontier Central School District, N.Y.
Violation: Big Tree Elementary School's principal regularly discusses religion at school-sponsored events. Past statements reportedly included, "We need more prayers in our school," and, "I run Big Tree as a Christian school."

Contact: Pennsauken Public Schools, N.J.
Violation: Pennsauken High School featured religious content, including prayers, hymns and a religious speaker at its senior awards ceremony.

Contact: Sheridan County School District #2, Wyo.
Violation: K-Life, a Christian youth group, circulates in school lunchrooms to proselytize and advertise K-Life.

Contact: Joshua ISD, Texas
Violation: A cross hung on the wall of the ninth-grade campus building.

Contact: Newton County Commissioners, Ga.
Violation: The commission approved a religious display that included the Ten Commandments.

Contact: City of Barberton, Ohio
Violation: The city's offices close on Good Friday.

Contact: Bartow County Schools, Ga.
Violation: Euharlee Elementary School showed students a Christian film.

Contact: Cleburne County Public Schools, Ala.
Violation: An eighth-grade teacher assigned her students two religious books.

Contact: Okaloosa County School District, Fla.
Violation: Ruckel Middle School held a choir concert in a church sanctuary. The pastor addressed the audience and introduced the program.

Contact: Pratt USD 382, Kan.
Violation: Staff at the Haskins Learning Center distributed gifts to students with tags quoting the John 3:16 bible verse.

Contact: Moore County Schools, N.C.
Violation: Pinecrest High School held a soccer team awards banquet that began with a prayer for all students and attendees.

Contact: Wakulla County Commission, Fla.
Violation: The commission was considering a proposal to add "In God We Trust" to its chambers.

This speech was given on October 24, 2014, at FFRF's 37th annual convention at the Biltmore Hotel in Los Angeles.

DAN BARKER:
For a long time, FFRF has been offering the "Emperor Has No Clothes" award to prominent people who tell it like it is about religion. It comes from the Hans Christian Andersen story about the naked emperor who pretended he was wearing clothes, and the young boy who was unafraid to say, "He's got nothing on!"

Today we're very honored to present this award to an internationally known paleoanthropologist. He's worked in Ethiopia, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan. For the past 40 years, he's conducted field and laboratory research. You might know Donald C. Johanson as the discoverer of the fossil Lucy.

Lucy, the first discovered member of Australopithecus afarensis, thought to be a distant ancestor of modern humans, was dated to 3.2 million years ago. Five years ago, I had what was very close to, or maybe parallels a religious experience, when I was in Times Square at the Discovery Center where Lucy is on display. I was the only one in the room, looking at what I thought was my great-great-great-great-grandma. I got goose bumps.

Donald is now the founding director of the Institute of Human Origins, an evolution think tank at Arizona State University. We've been inviting him for many years to our convention to speak, but it always coincided with some expedition he was going on. We have limited copies of his beautiful book called Lucy's Legacy: The Quest for Human Origins.

He's an ardent freethinker and nonbeliever. We're excited to be featuring Donald in an upcoming FFRF educational ad in Scientific American.

[Presenting award]: Thank you for telling it like it is, and saying that the emperor has no clothes.

By Donald C. Johanson

Thank you so much! Wow, we're really here. What a wonderful introduction. I was sitting over there thinking, "Who's he talking about?" You know, often I go to a sold-out crowd and they all think that Don Johnson [the actor] is coming to speak. They don't read very well.

I was thinking that I haven't read the fine print on what it means to agree with and accept this [award], so I thought I would bring it up at the beginning and ask that if I have a born again experience, do I magically see clothes on this sculpture?

This has been a very important part of my life, the study of who we are and where we come from. It has immense implications, philosophical and otherwise, everything from medicine to how we look at and treat one another.

I truly believe in understanding the deep roots of humanity, and the very simple fact that we now know it is based on an "out of Africa" experience, is vital to knowing who we are.
For so many years, beginning in 1856 with the discovery of the Neanderthal skull in Germany, all these white European males got together and figured out that Europe was the finishing school for humanity. Well, that's all, as we say, ancient history.

A guiding principle for me throughout my career has not necessarily been discovery-driven, to find a specimen, although I did, on the 24th of November, 40 years ago. Somebody asked me, "What's the big difference between you and Lucy?" I said, "Well, when I look at Lucy, she doesn't look a day older."

As I was saying, it wasn't necessarily that I was hoping to make this colossal discovery of a creature that has become pretty much an icon in terms of paleontology or paleoanthropology, but it was to understand our place in nature. The book that launched my intrigue about where we've come from was a book entitled Man's Place in Nature by Thomas Henry Huxley, who was a tea-drinking buddy of Charles Darwin.

They often sat and noodled on the question of human evolution. I can see them in Darwin's garden in Kent while they discussed how they were going to bring this shocker to the Victorian world of Great Britain, that we actually descended from the apes. Darwin, as you well know, was very reluctant to do that because he didn't want to upset the household, as his wife Emma was very religious.

And he only said that light would be thrown on the origin of man, until 1871 in his Descent of Man, when he articulated a number of scenarios for that. I read Man's Place in Nature and realized the importance of this subject, for which paleoanthropology wasn't really a moniker until the late '50s or so. I realized that we have a remarkable record preserved in Earth's geological strata that connects us with the past, with each other, and I think very importantly, connects us with the natural world.

We know, every single one of us in this room, who the creator was — Mother Nature. I will have much more to say about that as we get into this discussion.

Dinosaurs 'left behind'

Someone said, "What was the most surprising thing about discovering Lucy?" I said, "Well, nobody even knew she was missing."

I've also been asked to comment on why I'm an atheist. I've always been an atheist. I didn't have to be converted to atheism. I went to church when I was about 12 years old. I remember it distinctly in Hartford, Conn. Some friends, who were Scandinavians, too, convinced me. They said, "You should come to the Svedish Lutheran Church here on Sunday to see vat they are talking about."

So I got up unusually early, disturbing my mother, who said, "Ver are you going?" I said, "I'm going to church." She said, "Vat are you doing that fer?" Anyway, I went to church and came home, and then she said, "Deed they ask you fer money?" I said, "Yeah, they did."
And she said, this little uneducated housekeeper from Sweden who immigrated when she was 16, deciding the New World was where everything was happening, "The first thing they'll do is control you, then they will instill fear in you, and then they will take your money."
So at about 11 or 12, I went to see my mentor, who was a German anthropologist (big surprise) whom I'd met one day, and he gave me a short course in comparative religions, how every society has, does and will have some sort of creation myth. Of course lots of them were much more intriguing than a virgin birth or Noah's ark — how'd you like the job of cleaning the poop up on that? — or original sin.

The thing that alarmed me most about Noah's ark was that if this creator and Noah were such wonderful people, why did they leave the dinosaurs behind?

I began to realize that believing in a creator being — someone I couldn't see, someone who's keeping track of me, someone I'd be afraid of — was really not my cup of tea. I was much more of a freethinker, as we say, and as I went through high school, I had a very adequate education at a public high school, which we should all bring back.

I lived in Berkeley for years, and my favorite bumper sticker said, "If you think education's expensive, try ignorance." During my education, I began to really understand that if I were to believe in this mythical creator — you know we only had one choice, right, since the downsizing? If you lived in Greece, we'd have a whole bunch of gods we could have prayed to, but now, with cutbacks and so on, we're down to one — that I would have to unfortunately totally reject my objectivity and logic and leap into total fantasy.

I just couldn't see the benefit of that.

A grand theory

As we all know, if someone in the church doesn't know, they say, "Therefore, God," and I say "I don't know, let's find out." Science is such a rewarding, creative and charming way of looking at the universe. So why do people so resist evolution, the grand unifying theory of biology?

Think about this. Bring it up at the next astrophysics talk you go to when they explain the origins of the cosmos and string theory and particles that go faster than the speed of light so that they're younger when they extinguish than when they were born. You go home and think that it was all very logical and someone goes, "What was the talk about?" You say, "Well, I just, I don't know exactly." They're trying to figure out the grand unifying theory of the universe, right? It's a pretty big question.

Yet a retiring Englishman who went off on a five-year boat cruise once figured out the grand unifying theory of biology. The robustness of the "theory" of evolution is that: The same tenets that Darwin suggested and proffered in the middle 1800s are still the core ideas of biology. If Darwin were sitting in the back of the room and I mentioned DNA, he wouldn't have a clue. He didn't know things were inherited. He observed and interpreted and understood how important that elusive thing natural selection is, and how powerfully explanatory it is.

I suspect most people just don't think. I don't want to be too anti-clerical or anti-church; I respect people's beliefs and I don't try to destroy them. I understand that if you were born in X culture, you believe in X god, and if you were in Z culture, you believe in Z god, and so on. Before I knew about FFRF, I used to say that we have freedom of religion, but not freedom from religion in America.

Darwin, if he were alive today, would probably be very happy with this poster ["In Reason We Trust"]. I want you to support science and reason. So take God's name off our money we all worship and replace it with "In Science We Trust." I don't think we'll do that, but we do need to get God's name off our money. There's no question.

The anti-science aspect of religion is what bothers me most intensely. It's personified in this cartoon: "Welcome to church, you won't be needing that [your brain] in here." Just take this brilliant organ out that has evolved over 6 million years of natural selection, that happens to put us at the pinnacle of intelligent life on the planet, in the solar system, and maybe even in the universe, to be so bold.

In whose image?

I think we have been given the wrong name by the Swede, Linnaeus, who called us Homo sapiens, meaning "wise man." You read the same newspaper stories I do — people shooting people on high school campuses, etc., etc., going after people with axes in New York. We are wise men? We are still a work in progress, a long way from where we should call ourselves human.

A more appropriate name would be Homo egocentricus. Whom do you think about most of the time? Come on admit it, even as an atheist, it's yourself. We think about ourselves. We think about our parents, grandparents, children, grandchildren, maybe five generations of time. But the Earth is billions of years old; life is 3.5 billion years old on this planet. We believe that we're the pinnacle of evolution, that everything was designed to make white European males.

There's something very impersonal to most people about natural selection. It isn't touchy-feely like a god that creates us in his image. Who'd he look like? You? You? You? We created him in our image, obviously, not in his image.

You often see, and sometimes even television documentaries go at this from the wrong perspective, that Darwin is dead. No argument with that. He is dead, I agree. Evolution is just a theory. Right, you know what? Isaac Newton is dead, too. But gravity ain't going away, even if his ideas were called the "theory" of gravity.

I regularly lecture at colleges, universities and museums. It's always interesting to say, "Raise your hand if you believe in evolution." And you know, there's a certain percentage that do. I say, "It may all surprise you that I don't believe in evolution" — there's this big sigh of relief — "any more than I believe in gravity." It doesn't take belief; this is a fact. If you let something go, it's going to fall to the ground. You don't have to believe in gravity, it is a fact.

In biology, going back to Darwin, I think it was Dobzhansky, the great geneticist, who said that "In biology, nothing makes sense except in the light of evolution." Evolution is a fact, it's not good, it's not bad, it has no moral compass. Just like gravity, it doesn't care if your grandmother's favorite Dresden china falls to the floor in the middle of an earthquake (which we could have any minute here).

Evolution doesn't care if tens of thousands of people die of Ebola. Ebola doesn't kill you because you're a bad person or some kind of deviant. It kills you very simply because you don't have a resistance to Ebola. Those who live through Ebola who had no medical care probably have a resistance to Ebola. I've never heard anybody say, like with sickle cell anemia and malaria, let's go find out why those people didn't die from Ebola.

From my perspective, I think that a scientific strategy, especially a biological one, with a full understanding of natural selection, gene recombination, mutation, etc., and a more aggressive approach to Ebola, would have gone much further than we have come thus far. But the West, which has the ability to do that, was fiddling away while Ebola was burning its path through western Africa, decimating people and setting its sights on places like Europe and North America.

Human beings care. That's one of the marvelous exciting things about us. That's also why I love dogs. They care, too, but we care because of our family values, because of our moral compass, because we are human beings and because we are alive. We so often forget what that means.

Richard Dawkins, my distinguished friend, says essentially, "We are the lucky ones because we're going to die." Why are we going to die? Because we were born. If there were two genes' difference, you would not be you. You would be someone else.

We need to cherish that, and we have to understand that this is an exciting opportunity to be alive and not sit around and worry about some omnipotent being keeping score to decide whether we're going to end up in eternal ecstasy or unending damnation. As I say, how could he have time to keep score on each one of us? He's so damn busy helping people sink 6-foot putts in Arizona and get extra points in football games. He doesn't have time to keep track of us.

The problem is that people's prayers don't get answered. Why? Well, here it was in The New Yorker [cartoon]: "God finds all the prayers of mankind in his spam folder." We now have an explanation.

One of the things about natural selection, which we all grow up learning, is the survival of the fittest. I was taught by my mentor at age 13 that it's really the elimination of the unfit. If you think about it, that's a better way to look at it.

The problem with natural selection is you can't weigh it, you can't see it, you can't buy it from Edmond's Scientific, it doesn't come in the color blue or in G flat major. It is that fact — one cannot see it, we can only see the results of it — that makes people so reluctant. They have to see a guiding hand or a guiding force that they can imagine or pray to.

Bad rap for atheists

Atheists, and I guess there are a few in this room, get a pretty bad rap, very often. Religious people accuse us of lacking morals, having no family values. Well, unless I'm reading the wrong newspapers, I don't recall any atheists out there beheading people, stoning women or burning people at the stake.

We're accused of not being spiritual. Look at that earthrise over the moon. Does that move you, does that touch you? Does that excite you? Walking home where I live most of the time now, in San Francisco, feeling the heavy fog caress my face at night, watching nesting birds and chicks born in a window box, these are moments of great inspiration and great spirituality. Our world is filled with endless moments of inspiration, real inspiration, available to each and every human being endowed with a conscious brain created by evolution. We need not rely on creation myths for inspiration.

Atheists are accused of not playing fair since we don't teach creationism in science class. Well, if you're going to teach creationism, why don't we teach astrology with astronomy? In medical school we'd have to teach witchcraft along with medicine, and alchemy with chemistry. Where's it going to end?

OK, you American Airlines pilots, today we're going to discuss the flat Earth. You get on a plane in L.A., you're hoping to see the Metropolitan Opera in New York, and the pilot believes in a flat Earth? You'll never get there.

Our main duty in getting to one of the core issues of what I'm talking about tonight is to reawaken a "reverence" for the natural world and our place in it. [We have a duty] to respect the creativity of the true creator, Mother Nature, to protect her, to take seriously our responsibilities as the most creative, but also the most destructive species that's ever lived on Earth.

The future is in our hands, and it is time that we stop turning our back on the natural world and start listening to her and working with her.

The Creation Museum [in Petersburg, Ky.] is one of our favorite places. Where else can you witness the science of cavemen cavorting with their favorite pet dinosaur, Skippy, 5,000 years ago?

Is this a time warp and we're back in the Dark Ages or something? This is lying, cheating, deceiving, warping and perverting people's knowledge. To make what? Money. How much money does the Creation Museum make at the same time it destroys young peoples' opportunities to look at the world through an open mind. That's what upsets me probably more than anything else about the museum.

Of course I thought I'd show you the great breakthroughs in science, from Marie Curie to the great accelerators and how much has been accomplished in religion. Well, part of my mission in life has been to educate people about the fossil evidence for human evolution.
A born-again, Francis Collins, asked me to give the single most important talk that I've given in years, on Darwin's 200th birthday, at the National Institutes of Health. He's deeply religious and is the head of the National Institutes of Health. What was most interesting about that morning when I was given 20 minutes to talk about 6 billion years of evolution — I spoke very quickly — was the tea time. Collins, whom I knew and had debated, and I had a huge interchange where he said, "Well, there are just some things that science can't explain." I said, "Yes, then it's not science."

Yet he in his liberated world invited me to give one of the keynote speeches. But the most important part of that exposure was the tea, when a couple of real scientists with white coats and nametags and all that came over. They said, "We just wanted to tell you how much we enjoyed your talk. We had no idea there was this much evidence for human origins. Because all we do is peer through these electron microscopes at microscopic things; we don't look at the big picture. Thank you for coming here and helping us understand who we are, where we come from and why we should be so grateful to be human."

That was unbelievable satisfaction.

Finding Lucy

This is the first shot [slide projection] of Hadar, Ethiopia, that I saw in 1972. It was a spiritual moment for me, looking out on these vast badlands, heavily dissected, eroding, layer after layer, rich in fossils. I was still at graduate school at the University of Chicago and this to me was — we shouldn't use that word "epiphany" — but it certainly was for me.

Tonight I was asked to say a few words about it, and it will only be a few words. You see me in the background, much thinner than I am today. My graduate student, in the foreground, is doing all the work. I was walking back to my Land Rover, glanced over my right shoulder and saw a piece of arm bone from an elbow, that little fragment of bone which allows you to flex and extend your arm, was the first piece of Lucy that I recognized.

I knew that because of all the studies in graduate school, anatomy, osteology, the study of bones and all that. And we were rewarded with this 3.2 million-year-old skeleton that picked up the popular moniker of Lucy, after "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds," which came from the Beatles tape that was playing that evening.

This woman on the expedition said, "If you think it's a female, Don, we should call her Lucy." I said, "Excuse me, I'm a Ph.D. We don't give cute little names to our fossils."
Well, you know what happens when the genie is out of the lamp. The next morning: "Are we going back to the Lucy site? Do you think we'll find more of Lucy's skeleton? How old do you think Lucy is?" She became an individual and now she is iconic. Some people think she's the dinosaur in Chicago, Sue [a T. rex discovered in 1990 in South Dakota].
Lucy is really the poster child for paleoanthropology and human origins. When you read about new fossil finds, they're either younger than Lucy, older than Lucy, more complete than Lucy, not as primitive as Lucy, or whatever. So this was a remarkable discovery for me. It launched an incredible 20-year series of expeditions. We now have over 400 specimens of Lucy's species, Australopithecus afarensis.

It also stimulated scientists, mostly young scientists, as it always is — the silverbacks like myself are more reluctant to change — to develop new methodologies and ways of understanding, examining and studying these specimens. She did play a very important role beginning in 1974.

And if you go to the Creation Museum, there she is. She's a four-legged, quadrupedal knuckle-walker. This is because of Dr. Ham. I don't know what he got his doctorate in, may have been one of those things you get at Sears [Dr. of literature, Liberty University].
There ain't no way that Lucy was walking on her knuckles and forelegs. A child goes in, sees this and is impressed by it. The child doesn't know one way or another.

My grandchild, Brendan, went to the California Academy of Sciences — he's 3 years old — with his father. His father says, "Let's take a picture next to Lucy, the thing your grandfather found." He refused to get his picture taken until I came and stood next to it. He knows that Lucy walked upright, doesn't bother him. It doesn't bother him that she's very old. He thought it was so neat that she came from apes.

It's terribly important that we don't shut these minds down so early. The longer you have a mind that is shut down the more time there is to develop and reinforce bigotry.

Make real sacrifices

Here [in a cartoon] he's saying, "Look, it's not personal, it's religious." There have been so many sacrifices in religion — burning at the stake, beheading people, stoning people to death or ripping their hearts out and eating a live pumping heart (if you're an Aztec) — what's that left us with? A bunch of dead bodies.

It didn't do much to stop the volcanic eruption, the drought never ended, it didn't dispel the locust invasion, did it? No, it did nothing. Yet you're going to be surprised that tonight I'm going to propose that all of us begin to make some real sacrifices.

What might those sacrifices be? Clean up the oceans. Quit throwing everything just because it disappears into oceans. Stop overfishing species that you hope will forever be present and available to you. When was the last time you saw orange roughy on a menu? Twenty years ago, and now it's gone.

Make some real sacrifices, sacrifices to Mother Nature, who will, unlike the false gods to whom we have made sacrifices, reward you. I guarantee that. Clean up the oceans, and you will live a healthier life. You will reduce the carcinogenic toxins that pollute our fish and poison us. Clean up our air, reduce carbon emissions and make a sacrifice. Buy a car that doesn't go as fast, that doesn't look as jazzy. Find alternate sources of power and build more efficient cars.

We will be rewarded with what? Healthy clean air with reduced pulmonary disease, and we'll all breathe a sigh of relief. I could go on and on about this, but I think you all get the gist. We live in a beautiful world.

Here [photograph] I was at Bryce Canyon not long ago. It is stunning to be out with nature. We're the fortunate ones, as I said. Each and every human being is, because we were born. It's our primary duty on this planet to be the guardians of its future for our children, grandchildren and many generations beyond that.

We need to stop being Homo egocentricus and start to become a more deeply contemplative species that makes decisions intelligently, not out of fear or self-interest and not because of how much money we're going to make. Make decisions that will help us regain the balance between ourselves and our creator, Mother Nature.

It's time, really, that as we look back on 4 million years of evolution, 3 million with Lucy. She is a link, not the missing link but one that reminds us of our link to the natural world.

Lucy didn't know where she was going; we don't know where we're going. She didn't know that her descendants would end up as Homo sapiens, but it's an interesting perspective to know that we are united by our past, that we have this commonality of beginning, that we undoubtedly will have a common future, and I think a common destiny globally.

The most important thing from here on forth is to stop acting as if there's some place else for us to move to. We are destined to be on, as my late friend Carl Sagan said, "this pale blue dot." Let's take those responsibilities seriously.

Thank you very much.

Proselytizing in Georgia, Minn., ended

Elementary school faculty in the Whitfield County School District, Dalton, Ga., have been instructed not to proselytize students. FFRF received a report from a parent whose Antioch Elementary kindergartner was told that Christmas was "Jesus' birthday" and that "Jesus is the reason for the season."

A project in the child's class involved making a nativity scene from construction paper while the teacher read the story of the nativity. When the parent complained to the school, the solution offered was to remove the student "whenever anything religious was brought up" and to ask the parent what she would to do with the child "when they do activities for Easter."

Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel sent a complaint letter to Superintendent Judy Gilreath on Dec. 23. Gilreath responded Jan. 5, saying that she met with the Antioch principal and "made her aware of the complaint and the legal restrictions concerning teaching of religion in a public school." She instructed the principal to speak with the teacher who did the nativity project to "make sure she understands she is not to celebrate religious holidays with her students."

• • •

Minnesota School District 197 (West St. Paul, Mendota Heights and Eagan) took swift action after being alerted by Staff Attorney Patrick Elliott to a constitutionally problematic situation. Representatives from two evangelical Christian organizations, Young Life and Wyldlife, were seeking to further increase their access to middle school students.

A job description for a Young Life staff associate claimed they had been "blessed with open arms from a new administration" and were looking for a staffer to "build a foundation and significant ministry" in the schools.

"It is inappropriate for public schools to offer Young Life representatives unique access to a student audience before the school day on school property," wrote Elliott. "While it is laudable that volunteers are willing to assist the school with monitoring students in the morning, any volunteers must not be identified as being affiliated with a religious organization and may not mention or promote their religious group activities."

The sperintendent responded promptly, saying she met with the groups' leader and told him they could not have a presence in the schools. "I was clear that under no circumstances may there be any recruitment of students to Young Life or Wyldlife, nor any discussion of religion or activities sponsored by Young Life or Wyldlife with our students."

Coach warned about soliciting prayer

Olentangy High School, Lewis Center, Ohio, stopped letting staff solicit prayers at school-sponsored events after getting a Nov. 20 FFRF complaint letter from Senior Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert. The girls cross-country team's coach had reportedly invited a student to deliver a prayer at an end-of-season banquet.

"Prayer occurring as part of a regularly scheduled annual event sponsored or even co-sponsored by the school certainly leads 'an objective observer, acquainted with the [prayer to] perceive it as a state endorsement,'" wrote Markert, quoting a Supreme Court case.

Superintendent Wade Lucas responded Nov. 25 that the coach's prayer solicitation was unconstitutional. He said he would "take steps to monitor and ensure that appropriate distance is maintained by our coaches."

City says brochure cross was careless

After getting an FFRF complaint letter, the city of Rice, Minn., will not include religious symbols on newsletters.

The city's Spring 2014 newsletter included a cross image next to the notice that city offices would be closed Memorial Day. "Including a Christian cross with the announcement of the Memorial Day closing excludes any non-Christian or non-believing veterans. It perpetuates the myth that there are no 'atheists in foxholes' and that the only veterans worth memorializing are Christians," wrote Senior Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert.

An attorney for the city wrote back on Dec. 2, saying that the city would be careful about using religious symbols in the future.

FFRF letters clip angels' wings

Gulf Coast Charter Academy South in Naples, Fla., removed a religious song from its repertoire after Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel sent a complaint letter Nov. 24.
Kindergartners reportedly learned a song about a child getting lost in the woods and being saved by an angel after kneeling and praying. The chorus was something to the effect of "I believe in angels sent down from heaven."

"The music described above has a devotional message and thus would be appropriate in a church setting but not in a public school," Seidel wrote.

An attorney for the school responded Dec. 1: "Thank you for your concern. This matter is being addressed and the song will be removed from all classes. We are also reviewing the balance of the curriculum to ensure further compliance."

• • •

The Arizona Department of Economic Security has discontinued use of a religious training video. A mandatory meeting for certain employees included a video featuring a comedian who talked about dying and meeting God. Agency employees were described as "angels with big white wings." The video included a prayer.

Staff Attorney Sam Grover wrote the department Nov. 17 about the illegality of the video: "As a government entity, DES has a constitutional obligation to remain neutral toward religion."

Training and Development Administrator Adele Cook responded Dec. 3 to say that the units using the video would immediately discontinue doing so, and "all agency training units will be directed not to use the video in the future."

Choir cancels gig at Catholic shrine

Aberdeen High School in Washington state pulled out of the Festival of Lights at The Grotto in Portland, Ore. The Grotto is a Catholic shrine dedicated to the Virgin Mary. The public school choir was scheduled to perform in the church. The venue charges an entrance fee, which it pockets.

Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel sent a letter Nov. 24 to Superintendent Thomas Opstad about the inappropriateness of such participation.

Opstad responded Dec. 2 that he had looked into the matter and decided the choir would not be attending the festival.

Athletic league says no to prayer

The Marin County [Calif.] Athletic League, which includes public and private schools, will no longer allow a Catholic school to impose prayers on public school attendees. Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel wrote a letter Feb. 25, 2014, to the Tamalpais Union High School District, which participates in the league. Justin-Siena Catholic High School, another league participant, regularly had a priest offer a prayer before home games.

League Commissioner Susie Woodall responded Dec. 3 to say that the Catholic school was now prohibited from engaging in organized prayer at events.

Calif. board votes to skip prayers

The Paso Robles [Calif.] School Board decided not to start including prayer at meetings. After learning the board was considering it, Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel wrote Board President Katy Griffin, noting that the school context is different from the context of other government prayers, such as at city council meetings.

"Students and parents have the right, and often have reason, to go before or participate in school board meetings and deliberations. Fully 70 years of firm Supreme Court precedent bars religious indoctrination and rituals from public schools for the express purpose of protection of the rights of conscience of impressionable schoolchildren," wrote Seidel.

FFRF's complainant emailed Dec. 10 to report that the board voted Dec. 9 not to pray before meetings.

Complaint stops prayer at assembly

A teacher at Green Forest [Ark.] High School led a prayer at a Veterans Day ceremony. Staff Attorney Sam Grover sent the school district a letter Nov. 25: "While it is laudable for Green Forest High to organize an assembly to honor veterans, it is unconstitutional to allow any religious message or prayer to be part of a school-sponsored event."

A school district attorney responded Dec. 10, saying the school had assured him none of its staff would lead a prayer at a student assembly in the future.

FFRF not answer to coach's prayers

Anniston [Ala.] High School's football coach will no longer organize and lead team prayers. After reading a local news report that Coach Eddie Bullock asked for a student "prayer leader," Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel wrote Superintendent Darren Douthitt on Oct. 31.

"We have informed our coaching staff that they cannot initiate a prayer by the embers of our athletic teams. It is also our plan to remind all faculty and staff of all our schools that they cannot initiate nor [sic] participate in student prayer," an attorney for the school district responded Nov. 17.

Oklahoma school art will be secular

Teachers in Chandler [Okla.] Public Schools will not create religious projects with their students in the future. Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel sent a letter to the district in 2013 after learning of an auction at which two items were religious art projects created by students: a poster with a bible quote, "Blessed are the pure in heart," and a poster that read, "Wash your hands & say your prayers cause Jesus and germs are everywhere."

After several follow-up letters, ­Seidel received an email Nov. 20 from the new superintendent, who said he did not anticipate the recurrence of the constitutional violation.

No more graduations in church

Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel wrote the Los Gatos [Calif.] Union School District last June about R.J. Fisher Middle School's graduation ceremony at Calvary Church.

Superintendent Diana Abbati responded Nov. 20, writing that the district would be moving 2015 graduation ceremonies to "a venue not affiliated with a religious entity."

'Finding Jesus' in school no more

The new administration of Worth County Schools in Sylvester, Ga., say there'll be no repeat of a religious assembly condoned by previous administrators. Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel wrote Superintendent Barbara Thomas on Jan. 30, 2013, after receiving a complaint that an assembly included the principal prompting a student to lead a prayer followed by a speech by a pastor who talked to students about "finding Jesus Christ."

After unproductive correspondence with Thomas, who stated that "it was the consensus of the Board [of Education] that no one's rights would be infringed" by religious assemblies, a new superintendent, Kay Smith Mathews, eventually responded Nov. 20. She stated she could not confirm that the assembly had occurred, but said she was "most concerned about this incident" and had discussed it with the district's principals and gave them guidelines about religion in public schools.

FFRF stands up for Nevada students

The Washoe County School District in Nevada distributed a memorandum reminding principals that students must not be compelled to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance.

After a student was ordered to stand for the pledge and to leave class after refusing, Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel sent a letter Oct. 22, 2013, reminding the district that numerous courts have consistently ruled "that students have a constitutional right not to be forced to participate in the Pledge of Allegiance or to be compelled to stand for its recitation."

The school district's attorney responded Nov. 24 that he had sent a district-wide memo about students' right to decline participation without harassment.

No more staff-led prayer at school

Staff at the Haskins Learning Center in the Pratt [Kan.] Unified School District will no longer lead students in prayer. FFRF received a report that before a school-wide Thanksgiving lunch, the principal asked everyone to bow their heads while a teacher delivered a prayer.

After Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel sent a complaint letter, a school district lawyer responded Dec. 18, saying he "[did] not disagree" with FFRF's account of what happened at the lunch. "It is now acknowledged that prayer offered by staff members of a public school entity may not be appreciated by all students and parents, and it is not anticipated that this will occur in the future."

Pole prayer limited in Alabama

Staff and church groups will not be permitted to lead religious events at Athens Elementary School in Athens, Ala. In 2013, a church group was permitted to lead a "See You At The Pole" gathering, a Christian prayer event, at the school. The school's athletic coach reportedly led students in prayer.

Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel sent Superintendent Trey Holladay a letter Oct. 9, 2013, noting that public school employees "must refrain from actively participating in religious activities while acting within their governmental role to avoid any perception of government endorsement of religion."

An attorney for the district responded in December, informing FFRF that no similar violations had occurred since FFRF's letter.

Maryland DNR ends Boy Scout ties

The Maryland Department of Natural Resources has ended a partnership with the Boy Scouts of America, which discriminates against atheists and agnostics, as well as LGBT adults.
The DNR previously had an annual charter agreement with the Baltimore Boy Scouts in which the DNR agreed to conduct a scouting program in accordance with the Boy Scouts' policies. "The DNR cannot continue to sponsor this discriminatory program," wrote Staff Attorney Patrick Elliott in a letter Sept. 24.

The DNR responded Dec. 22 that the charter agreement had expired and would not be renewed.

Gideons banned from Michigan school

Zeeland [Mich.] Public Schools will not allow Gideons to distribute bibles on school grounds in the future. After an Oct. 17 distribution, a parent informed FFRF that a teacher reportedly told students she would like each one to take a bible home.

"There is no excuse or justification for this practice. It is unnecessary, offensive and illegal," wrote Staff Attorney Sam Grover.

Assistant Superintendent Jon Voss responded Dec. 22, saying that the district would make it clear to all building administrators that "third parties without a connection to the school — like Gideons — are not allowed on school property to distribute information to our students."

Voss also said the district would contact the Gideons directly to let them know about the ban.

Fire department deletes bible verse

The Reidville [S.C.] Fire Department removed a bible verse from its website after receiving an Oct. 17 letter from Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel.

FFRF had also objected to the department's employment of a chaplain. The department removed a photo of the chaplain from the website's "Members" section, while claiming the chaplain had "not been associated with our department for quite some time, thanks for your concern."

Michigan district cuts religious music

Breitung Township Schools, Kingsford, Mich., is diversifying its music selections. A parent reported to FFRF that the district's 2013 Christmas concert included many religious songs such as "Silent Night," "Joyful, Joyful" and the "Hallelujah Chorus."

Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor in a letter Dec. 19, 2013, wrote that "No religious song gives any educational benefit to public students for which an inclusive secular alternative cannot be found."
Superintendent Craig Allen finally responded in November, saying that the district would "ensure that there are a variety of songs from various origins to promote inclusion rather than alienation of non-Christian children." The district also decided to refer to the concert as a holiday program instead of a Christmas program.

Ohio schools end bible handouts

Mad River Local School District and Miamisburg City Schools in Ohio are no longer hosting bible distributions. Both districts had hosted a group called "Shoes 4 the Shoeless" that held events to fit children with new shoes, then directed them to a table where they were given bibles.

The group described itself as "a faith-based nonprofit" that "include[s] a Christian New Testament in every box of shoes [they] deliver."

Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert wrote to both districts, noting that bible distribution as part of the public school day is unconstitutional.

After FFRF followed up, both districts' superintendents responded Jan. 15. "We no longer hold these events in any of our buildings," said Mad River Superintendent Chad Wyen. During a subsequent visit from the group to Miamisburg City Schools, "no Bibles or New Testaments were distributed with the shoes and socks," said Superintendent David Vail.

The Inspirational Atheist: Wise Words on the Wonder and Meaning of Life is Boulder, Colo., author Buzzy Jackson's new book. Jackson, an atheist with a Ph.D. in history, also works as a researcher at the Center of the American West at CU-Boulder.

She includes a thoughtful insert in the book (which she originally wanted to title Chicken Soup for the Soulless) called "The 11 Commandments for Atheists." They are:

"Do not destroy what you cannot create." — Hungarian-American physicist and inventor Leo Szilard

"Do unto others 25 percent better than you expect them to do unto you. The 25 percent is for error." — American biochemist Linus Pauling

"Be hard on your beliefs. Take them out onto the verandah and beat them with a cricket bat." — Australian comedian Tim Minchin

"Try to leave the world a better place than when we entered it." — Michio Kaku, City College of New York theoretical physics professor

"A man's duty is to find out where the truth is, or if he cannot, at least to take the best possible human doctrine and the hardest to disprove, and to ride on this like a raft over the waters of life." — Plato

"You can resolve to live your life with integrity. Let your credo be this: Let the lie come into the world, let it even triumph. But not through me." ­— Russian novelist and historian Alexsandr Solzhenitsyn

"You cannot save people, you can only love them." — author Anaïs Nin

"To make others less happy is a crime. To make ourselves unhappy is where all crime starts. We must try to contribute joy to the world." — film critic Roger Ebert

"The best thing you can possibly do with your life is to tackle the [expletive deleted] sh*t out of love." — Cheryl Strayed, American author of the best-seller Wild

"Try to be nice to people, avoid eating fat, read a good book every now and then, get some walking in, and try and live together in peace and harmony with people of all creeds and nations." — Monty Python's "The Meaning of Life"

"There are far too many commandments and you really only need one: Do not hurt anybody." — Carl Reiner, actor, director, movie producer

"Over the past two years," says George Gold, "we have been petitioning the mayor of Chico, Calif., to be included in the invocation rotation. On Aug. 26, we received the official invocation schedule for 2015, and we have been invited to deliver an invocation on three occasions throughout the year. Our invocations will be secular."

Chico City Council
Chico, Calif., Jan. 6, 2015

Good evening Mr. Mayor, members of the city council:

I'm George Gold, coordinator of the Butte County Coalition of Reason, and I'm president of the Atheists of Butte County.

Rather than bowing our heads and closing our eyes in deference, we want to encourage you to open your eyes wide to face the reality that confronts us. We should do so without losing sight of our ideals and what we might achieve.

When this body comes together to govern, you do so with the consent of the citizens of Chico, a diverse community with many different views and opinions. This eclectic community, according to the Pew Research Center, includes 20% of the population living secular lives. In the city of Chico, that means for the first time ever, I'm here representing over 17,000 secular Chico citizens with this invocation.

Humanists, nonbelievers, agnostics and atheists by their very nature believe that we have the power to solve all problems within ourselves, amongst ourselves, through science and reason, and that by applying this science and reason with the strength found in sympathy and compassion, we can overcome any hurdle we encounter.

It is incumbent upon this council to make the best decisions for the entire community. In this regard, I ask that you use wisdom, common sense and empathy in your deliberations.

In your work here, take into account the implications your decisions will have now and in the future. Be reminded of the joyous laughter of children playing in the comfort of the shade of our trees. You are planting seeds for the benefit of future generations.

When there are problems, when there is debate, let us be accountable for our own actions. Let's not point to the shortcomings of others. Let us behave morally and judiciously.

Let's treat each other with respect.

When we need to find wisdom, let's look to the documents of government, the Constitution of the United States, the Bill of Rights, and yes, the First Amendment, which in one sentence provides for the separation between church and state. We might even consult our city charter for direction.

Let us open our hearts to the inherent dignity and worth of each person in our community. I hope we can appreciate and realize our differences of race and religion, and or lack of religion.

In the end we are all human beings. When we bleed, we bleed one of the four basic blood groups. Regardless of race, regardless of where we live, regardless of our political affiliations, whether we are rich or poor, and yes, whether we are religious or decidedly not religious, for in every single one of us, the color of our blood is the same.

In the face of adversity, we need not look above for answers, but instead we should recognize the proven potential within ourselves and in each other to overcome the many challenges that we will face in this coming year.

Our commonalities unite us, and I hope we and you can recognize our humanity as we get ready for the challenges of this new year.

We, the secular community, want to participate in our communities with a life full of inspiration, imagination and beauty. Each of us wants to live an honorable and ethical life. We hope each of you feels the same.

Some people say, I'm just a child of the '60s, just look at my long hair [lifts hat], oh, gone; my big black beard, oh, gone, but I suppose that it might be true. Nevertheless, my mantra has always been make love not war. Today, I guess if nothing else, I still believe — in that.

Thank you and Happy New Year.

FFRF member George Gold, born and raised in Sydney, Australia, is a computer systems engineer.

Steven Hewett, an FFRF Lifetime Member, will receive the 2015 "Atheist in Foxhole" Award at FFRF's national annual convention in Madison, Wis., the weekend of Oct. 9-11 at Monona Terrace Convention Center.

In January, the city council in King, N.C., settled Steven Hewett vs. City of King in Hewett's favor, agreeing to stop flying a Christian flag and to remove a cross from a kneeling soldier statue at a veterans memorial.

Hewett is a former police officer and Afghanistan war veteran with a Combat Action Badge and Bronze Star. He returned home from the service to find a Christian flag flying at the King Veterans Memorial.

The city in December agreed to repeal a policy under which a flag flown on one of several poles was selected for each week of the year by lottery. The policy, inaugurated after Hewett's first complaint, let people choose a preapproved flag representing their religion of choice or to fly no flag at all.

After the suit was filed on Hewett's behalf by Americans United by Separation of Church and State, a sculpture of a kneeling soldier with a cross was added.

Hewett, under a gag order earlier, is now free to talk about the controversy, which made him the focus of intense attack. North Carolina Lifetime Member Scott Burdick produced the documentary "In God We Trust?" about the state/church battle. (It can be viewed for free online.)

Locals rallied on behalf of the Christian symbols, waving a multitude of Christian flags and cheering speakers who "encouraged" non-Christians to move elsewhere. Hewett found himself battling the "Christian nation" myth as much as the state/church violations. He's had to take security precautions.

Early-bird registration

The convention formally opens Friday, Oct. 9, with an after-dinner program, but preconvention tours of the "reborn" Freethought Hall/addition in downtown Madison will take place Friday, followed by afternoon legal workshops and appetizers at Monona Terrace Convention Center, 1 John Nolen Drive. The program continues all day Saturday, followed by the Sunday membership and state representatives' meetings, adjourning by noon.

Hotel accommodations adjoin the convention center at the Hilton Madison Monona Terrace, 9 E. Wilson St. Convention room rate is $169 (king and double/double), plus tax; $189 king corner room and king/doubles lake view; $199 deluxe doubles; $219 king deluxe. Phone 1-866-403-8838 or 414-935-5941 (local number is 608-255-5100) and please be sure to mention "Freedom From Religion Foundation."

The cut-off is Sept. 7 while rooms last. The Hilton has also created a secure and private reservation website personalized for FFRF. Find link at: ffrf.org/outreach/convention/.
Additional rooms are being held at the Sheraton Madison Hotel, 706 John Nolen Drive (several miles away, close to the Madison Beltline.) at $139 (king and double/double), especially convenient for those who are driving. Phone 1-888-267-7077. Future issues will update the schedule and speakers and include the registration form.

Plan ahead not to be disappointed!

Listen to an interview with Steven Hewett on Freethought Radio (scroll to Jan. 24, 2015 show at ffrf.org/news/radio/).

A large Christian nativity scene on the Franklin County Courthouse lawn in Brookville, Ind., was removed the day after Christmas instead of staying up through at least mid-January, as has typically been the case for the past 50 years. The early removal came pursuant to a federal lawsuit filed by the Freedom From Religion Foundation and the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana in late December.

The county had also added a disclaimer to the crèche for what appears to be the first time.

The ACLU of Indiana, which is representing FFRF and its courageous local plaintiffs, Steve Kristoff and Renana Gross, sued the county Dec. 16, four years after FFRF first complained on behalf of local residents about the annual violation. The life-sized nativity scene was once even erected at the foot of a flagpole, attempting to tie religion to patriotism. FFRF kept complaining, with the county moving the religious scene even closer to the courthouse entrance in 2011.

Plaintiffs are represented by ACLU Senior Staff Attorney Gavin Rose. FFRF Staff Attorneys Rebecca Markert and Sam Grover are co-counsel.

The Thomas More Society of Chicago, a Catholic group, is representing Franklin County, which agreed to remove the nativity promptly in an agreement overseen by U.S. District Court Judge Tanya Walton Pratt.

In response to the suit, the county adopted on Jan. 12 its first codified policy for erecting courthouse displays. The policy specifies that "a permit for use of the courthouse grounds will be made on a nondiscriminatory basis and will not be based on the religious or political content" of a display.

Peter Breen, Thomas More Society special counsel, said, "With the enactment of this ordinance, the allegations of the lawsuit brought by the ACLU and Freedom from Religion Foundation are moot."

To that, FFRF had this to say: "Hold on just a minute, for Pete's sake."

Getting the county to adopt an official policy on displays is a victory, but it's not the only victory that FFRF hopes to achieve through its litigation. FFRF's claim that the county's continued, seasonal display of the nativity violated the rights of non-Christians remains a live issue in the case.

Litigation will continue on that issue in order to establish that the county violated the rights of its citizens and to better restrict what sort of involvement the county can have in endorsing displays in the future.

Moving forward will also allow FFRF to uncover just how much preferential treatment the county has given to the display and to depose Commissioner Tom Wilson, who ranted to a reporter last year: "If we don't start standing up for our rights, we're going to lose them. The atheists and the liberals are taking over our country. They are the ones demonstrating and doing everything, and we're the ones sitting back and doing nothing."
Wilson added, "Pretty soon, one morning we're going to wake up and our freedoms are going to be gone. We'll have a socialist government or a dictator telling us what to do."

Ever since FFRF's first complaint in 2010, locals have rallied by the nativity to support keeping Christian worship scenes at the seat of county government.

"We are not a Christian nation, Indiana is not a Christian state, and Franklin County is not a Christian county," said FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. "Government needs to stay neutral and should not be turning Christians into insiders and the rest of us into outsiders."

The discovery phase of the suit is under way and should be completed by early April.

The case, No. 1:14-cv-02047-TWP-DML, is in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana, Indianapolis Division.

%291 %America/Chicago, %2015

Saying goodbye to Robert Nordlander

Robert Nordlander, 1932–2014

The Appleton Post-Crescent, a Wisconsin daily newspaper, called Robert Nordlander, who died at 82 on Dec. 11, 2014, "likely the most prolific letter writer in Post-Crescent history." In fact, wrote Larry Gallup in a reminiscence about Nordlander, the paper inaugurated a "one letter per month" policy in Bob's honor.

"With us, Nordlander's most frequent topic was his atheism, which put him at odds with many of his readers," Gallup added.

"We first got acquainted with Bob Nordlander as a result of his freethinking letters to the editor to The Capital Times in Madison in the 1970s," recalls Annie Laurie Gaylor, FFRF co-president. "Bob was one of our earliest members, joining FFRF before we went national in 1978, and was a regular at our earlier conventions held mainly in Wisconsin."

He was a board member (state representative) of FFRF for many years, and coordinator of FFRF's Atheist-Freethought Library for the Blind, devoting many hours of volunteer work reading books and issues of Freethought Today.

When the Internet came along, Bob took to it with a nonreligious passion, sending regular emails on religious and freethought topics to a large list of subscribers. "I will miss those daily nuggets in my inbox," says FFRF co-president Dan Barker.

He was born June 17, 1932, in Neenah, Wis., the only son of Swedish immigrants. He lived in the area all his life. His obituary said his only biological family are cousins living in Sweden. He earned a B.A. in history with minors in political science, Spanish and French at the University of Minnesota and taught English, Spanish, history and French at various schools. He also ran as a Democrat for the state Assembly and on the Socialist-Labor Party ticket for the U.S. Senate and lieutenant governor.

In a "Getting Acquainted" piece published in Freethought Today in March 1984, Bob, a Korean War veteran, noted he served "four inglorious years in the United States Air Force," where he wrote a history of the USAF flight Test School still in print. Bob was a great debunker of myths, including the myth that there are "no atheists in foxholes."

He wrote that his first memory of religion was going to church and seeing "a very angry man in the pulpit who really scared the hell out of me."

A memorial to celebrate his life was held Jan. 17 at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship in Appleton.

"He'll be missed by us at FFRF, and his strong network of friends and organizations," said Gaylor.

Harold K. Lonsdale 1932–2014

Harry Lonsdale, 82, a prominent Oregon scientist, politician and philanthropist, died of heart failure Nov. 11, 2014, at John F. Kennedy Memorial Hospital in Indio, Calif. He was an FFRF Lifetime Member who had given $100,000 to FFRF's building fund.

A wing of the new Freethought Hall addition is being named the "No Hell Below Us" Harry Lonsdale Wing.

"We were so very sorry to learn of Harry's death and had been in correspondence to obtain his portrait for the wall and feature him in our 'Meet a Member' section in Freethought Today," said Annie Laurie Gaylor, FFRF co-president. "We were so impressed with Harry's achievements, reported in numerous articles about his life appearing in many West Coast dailies."

Lonsdale was born in Westfield, N.J., the son of a Sicilian immigrant mother and a Welsh father, earned a bachelor's degree in chemistry from Rutgers University and a Ph.D. from Penn State University. He served in the U.S. Air Force and was married three times and had two children with his first wife, Connie Kerr Lonsdale.

His company Bend Research, co-founded with Richard Baker, specialized in membranes and was bought out by a pharmaceutical firm in 1985. "He was a risk taker and entrepreneur. He left a secure career in Silicon Valley and came up to Bend and started a four-man research company, at risk, in 1975," said colleague Rod Ray, a former Bend Research CEO.

Lonsdale ran unsuccessfully three times as a Democrat for the U.S. Senate "[H]is candidacies had a big impact on Oregon politics in the 1990s," reported Jeff Mapes of The Oregonian. "And they turned Lonsdale into a determined champion of limiting the flow of big money into political campaigns."

"If you want democracy, work for campaign finance reform," Lonsdale said in a 2003 column in The Oregonian.

State Rep. Lew Frederick, D-Portland, credited Lonsdale for playing a major role in creating Oregon's "robust high-tech industry" while chairing Gov. Vic Atiyeh's Science Committee in the early 1980s. "They put together a plan that relied on the ingenuity of Oregon and an education system that supported that kind of innovation," Frederick wrote. "In fact, they were at least a decade ahead of their goals for the Silicon Forest."

Survivors include his daughter, Karen, and his son, Harold Jr.

FFRF is so grateful that this distinguished entrepreneur, activist and philanthropist rated FFRF and freethought high on his scale of causes.

“One of Georgia’s most charming cities” is how Swainsboro (pop. 7.600), which is between Atlanta, Augusta and Macon, bills itself. But its school district, Emanual County Schools, appears to have a most uncharming habit: inflicting daily prayer upon its captive audience of children.

“Jamie Doe,” a kindergartner at Swainsboro Primary School (motto: “Where Cubs Become Tigers!”) was singled out by the teacher after Jamie’s parents, “Jane and John Doe,” complained about daily classroom prayer. The Does pulled Jamie out of school by the end of the year.

Jamie’s first-grade sibling, “Jesse Doe,” was also subjected all semester long to pressure to pray. Jesse’s teacher said outright that Jesse’s mother was a bad person for not believing in God.
The parents are FFRF members who contacted FFRF for legal support shortly after the 2014-15 school year started. Letters from FFRF and complaints by the parents have not ended the violations. A lawsuit, as this goes to press, is being prepared for federal court.

The Establishment Clause violations were daily. Before lunch, Jamie’s teacher, Cel Thompson, asked students to bow their heads, fold their hands and pray, while leading the class in a “call and response” prayer: “God our Father, we give thanks, for our many blessings. Amen.”

In Jesse’s first-grade class, teacher Kaytrene Bright led students in this daily prayer: “God is great. Let us thank you for our food. Thank you for our daily prayer. Thank you. Amen.”

The parents contacted Principal Valorie Watkins in August 2014 to object to the prayers. Rather than stopping them, the teachers told the Doe children to leave their classrooms and sit in the hallway while the rest of the class prayed. Jesse reported that the teacher “used her mean voice” when instructing Jesse to wait in the hall. The teacher also unnecessarily singled Jesse out by telling the class that Jesse can’t recite the Pledge of Allegiance since it contains the words “under God,” although the parents had not discussed the pledge with the teacher.

When the Does renewed their objections a few days later, the principal said other parents who didn’t want their children to participate in prayer had been “OK” with the “solution” of leaving the room. The Does explained that was unacceptable, but daily prayers continued.

Jamie’s teacher next announced to the entire class that Jamie wasn’t allowed to pray to God, which resulted in Jamie being teased.

FFRF objected strongly in an Aug. 20 complaint letter, pointing to more than 65 years of Supreme Court precedent against religious devotions and proselytizing in public schools. Despite a promising reply from the district’s attorney, the school continued to organize Christian prayers. Eventually, the parents withdrew Jamie. Home schooling Jamie has substantially burdened Jane Doe, who has three younger children to supervise at home.

Pressure on Jesse escalated in December. Jesse’s science teacher encouraged Jesse to “make a good decision” regarding prayer in the classroom. Jesse’s physical education teacher likewise encouraged Jesse to begin praying. The teacher even held Jesse back from recess to talk about Bright’s views of God, explaining that God loves Jesse and made the world. The teacher indicated to Jesse that Jesse’s mother was a bad person for not believing in God. Around this time Jesse gave in and started participating in classroom prayers.

“It should not be necessary for FFRF to sue over such an obvious violation of specific Supreme Court decisions barring devotions from our public schools,” noted Dan Barker, FFRF co-president. “No child in our secular school system or their parents should be subjected to prayer or stigmatized when their parents speak up to defend the Establishment Clause.

But unfortunately, it appears a lawsuit will be the only way to protect the freedom of conscience of these young children.”

“If anyone needs a picture drawn on how destructive religion is in our public schools, this situation is a perfect example,” added Annie Laurie Gaylor, co-president. “The fact that such abusive practices are continuing in our public schools 53 years after the first Supreme Court decision against school prayer shows how important FFRF’s legal work is.”

FFRF is a non-profit, educational organization. All dues and donations are deductible for income-tax purposes.

FFRF has received a 4 star rating from Charity Navigator

 

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FFRF is a member of Atheist Alliance International.