Outreach & Events - Freedom From Religion Foundation
Lauryn Seering

Lauryn Seering

Judge Kendall Sharp of the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida has dismissed FFRF’s free speech case against the Orange County School District as moot because the district has agreed to let FFRF distribute all of the literature it had previously prohibited. In 2013, FFRF and its local chapter, the Central Florida Freethought Community (CFFC), sought to distribute literature in several public high schools after the district allowed an evangelical Christian group to distribute bibles. 

“We consider this a victory. The court has said that the school district is allowing all the materials that were initially prohibited,” said FFRF Co-President Dan Barker. “We disagree with how the court and the school district chose to handle this clear-cut discrimination, so we’ll likely be appealing on some issues, but overall, it’s a win.” 

The now-permitted materials include a pamphlet that the district had previously prohibited because it “argues that Jesus did not promote equality and social justice, was not compassionate, was not reliable and was not a good example.” Other pamphlets that discuss what the bible says about abortion and which, according to the district, “assert that God is hateful, arrogant, sexist and cruel” will now be allowed. As will Robert Price’s Jesus Is Dead, which the district originally prohibited because “[t]he claim that Jesus was not crucified or resurrected is age inappropriate for the maturity levels of many of the students in high school.” An odd claim given that the district allowed the bible. 

FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel noted that the forum is now open to all comers. “Satanists can distribute their literature, Muslims can distribute the Quran, and atheists can distribute books that criticize religion.” 

CFFC Leader David Williamson added, “We intend to give out a lot more literature to educate students about atheism and the importance of keeping religion out of public schools. We are even designing new materials specifically for students and families in Orange County.” 

From the beginning, FFRF and CFFC have maintained that Orange County should close the distribution forum. “The irony is that kids can get a bible anywhere. It’s the country’s most widely available book,” Seidel said, “but where could a Christian kid get a copy of Sam Harris’s Letter to a Christian Nation so easily? As long as the forum remains open, they can get one in Orange County Public Schools.” 

FFRF thanks David Williamson for being a courageous plaintiff along with FFRF Co-Presidents Dan Barker and Annie Laurie Gaylor. FFRF also thanks Steven Brady for his hard work litigating the case.

1algfreeblurBy Annie Laurie Gaylor 
Co-President 
Freedom From Religion Foundation

Cardinal Timothy Dolan wrote a facetious column titled "Thank You, FFRF!,” which ran July 3 in his archdiocese organ, Catholic New York. Why did he “thank” FFRF? 

Dolan writes: “I prayed, I hoped, that the notoriously anti-Catholic firebrands of the nebulous and anonymous ‘Freedom From Religion Foundation’ (FFRF) in Madison, Wisconsin, would once again, as they predictably had in the past, print a full-page, drippingly bigoted blast in the hospitable pages of The New York Times. ‘[T]here it was, on page A13, a whole-page sneer at ‘dogma’ and an ‘all male Roman Catholic majority.’ ” 

Is it bigotry to attack bigotry? If the Catholic hierarchy would quit attacking women’s rights, we could quit attacking Catholic doctrine. Far from launching an ad hominen attack on the “people on the court,” as Dolan claims, FFRF’s unspeakable “sin” is to simply state the truth. Our July 3 ad in The New York Times protesting the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby ruling, headlined, “Dogma should not trump our civil liberties,” had the temerity to point out: “All-male, all-Roman Catholic majority on Supreme Court puts religious wrongs over women’s rights.” Our ad’s only other — equally factual — reference to Catholicism was this sentence: “The Supreme Court’s ultra-conservative, Roman Catholic majority — Justices Roberts, Scalia, Alito, Kennedy and Thomas — has sided with zealous fundamentalists who equate contraception with abortion.” 

Women didn’t — and couldn’t — get a fair shake on a court that was carefully stacked against our rights by Republican presidents whose very party line imposes a judicial antiabortion litmus test. (I still hold out hope that Kennedy, as the overvalued “swing” voter, would not swing so far to the right as his Catholic brethren should they vote to overturn Roe v. Wade.) 

It’s personally gratifying that the Internet still reverberates with FFRF’s most famous full-page ad in The New York Times, run in 2012, titled “It’s time to consider quitting the Catholic Church.” (The Times made us rephrase the original headline, which was the much punchier: “It’s time to quit the Catholic Church.”) Dolan, of course, is president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which our ad directly criticized for declaring open war on Obamacare’s contraceptive mandate, and for placing dogma above humanity. 

It appears the delicate sensibilities of the Catholic hierarchy, accustomed as they are to obsequious deference, will never recover from such blasphemous treatment by atheist upstarts. They do not take irreverence lightly. They belong, after all, to the same institution that was behind the arrest, torture and execution in 1765 of a French teenager, Chevalier de la Barre for, in part, failing to doff his hat at a passing religious parade. This is the institution known for its auto-da-fes and its Inquisition, which still exists, by the way, in tamer form as the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. 

Dolan claims he wants to “thank the anonymous militiamen at FFRF for giving me yet another handout for my students when I give my next talk on ‘Anti-Catholic Bigotry in the United States.” 

You’re welcome, Cardinal Dolan. Although a pacifist who believes the pen is mightier than the sword, I’m far from anonymous. I wrote both the 2012 “time to quit the Catholic Church” and 2014 ads. We’re hardly “nebulous and anonymous!” Dan and I signed the 2012 ad, and it names 18 contributors to the ad! Read FFRF’s 2012 ad here

Dolan (and his apoplectic cohort, Bill Donohue) are, of course, shrewd to play the “Catholic bigotry” card. They’re smugly aware that most U.S. citizens don’t realize the imbalance on our current nine-member Supreme Court, where six of the justices are Roman Catholic — five appointed by a Republican president (and only three justices are women). One of the reasons most Americans don’t realize the Catholic-dominated composition is because media who dare point it out get baited as bigots. It’s clever of Catholic hierarchy to cry “bigotry,” since it deflects attention from their own bigotry and the Vatican’s global campaigns against civil rights for gays and reproductive and equal rights for women. 

CHURCH CONDEMNS CONTRACEPTION AS 'INTRINSICALLY EVIL'

Dolan bragged that he stopped reading the Times “years ago, on the advice of so many New Yorkers who warned me that the Church rarely gets a fair shake in those pages.” But apparently the Times took his attack seriously enough to devote its Saturday “On Religion” column indirectly to the topic of FFRF’s ad. Samuel G. Freedman’s carefully written column, “Among justices, considering a divide not of gender or politics, but beliefs,” notes the 5-4 split in both this term’s major state/church separation cases, Greece v. Galloway and Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores. 

Freedman writes that it is “compelling to consider the Catholic-Jewish divide. In both cases, five of the court’s six Catholic justices — Samuel A. Alito Jr., Anthony M. Kennedy, John G. Roberts Jr., Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas — formed the majority that espoused a larger place for religious practice in public life. All three Jewish justices — Stephen G. Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Elena Kagan — joined by one Catholic, Sonia Sotomayor, dissented on behalf of a wider, firmer separation. 

“What attention has been paid to the denominational nature of the decisions has too often echoed with America’s sordid history of anti-Catholic bigotry, the presumption that Catholic public servants take their orders from the Vatican. A recent advertisement in The New York Times by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, for instance, linked the court’s Roman Catholic majority to ‘to the growing dangers of theocracy.’ ” 

Freedman’s column about a court opinion on contraception never once states the obvious: that Catholic dogma (yes, Dolan, there’s the word again) expressly condemns contraception as “intrinsically evil.”

But the truly unmentionable 800-pound gorilla in the room is abortion, which the Hobby Lobby ruling is actually about, and which the Vatican is committed to banning worldwide. Roberts, Alito, and Scalia chillingly presaged the June Hobby Lobby ruling by bringing up abortion several times during Hobby Lobby oral arguments. Samuel Alito, in writing the court opinion, recognized that the issue is really abortion. Alito notes on Page 2 of the Burwell v. Hobby Lobby ruling: “The owners of the business have religious objections to abortion, and according to their religious beliefs the four contraceptive methods at issue are abortifacients.” He audaciously adds that it doesn’t matter whether or not the methods are in fact abortifacients — faith trumps all. 

This is not to take fundamentalists off the hook. Observant Catholics and fundamentalist Protestants, who used to kill each other over arcane differences over such things as baptism and the sprinkling of babies, are uniting to fight their common foes: secularism and women’s rights. But the Catholic Church is past master at this game. 

If Dolan and his bishops have their way, contraception would be banned, everywhere. Abortion, even to save a woman’s life, would be banned. We recently witnessed the horrific handiwork of the church. A young Indian dentist with a wanted pregnancy who begged to live, begged for removal of her dying fetus, instead died unnecessarily of blood poisoning, because she had the misfortune to miscarry in Galway, Ireland, where Catholic doctrine reigns supreme. Catholic doctrine places faith and dogma above humanity, and certainly above the rights and lives of women. Let’s hope Mr. Freedman of the Times will someday write a column about the truly sordid history of Catholic crimes against women.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation alerted the Hobby Lobby craft store chain a year ago about numerous distortions in its full-page July 4 ad featuring quotes supposedly showing the U.S. government is predicated on a god.

The company, founded and operated by preacher’s son David Green, didn’t correct or alter those misleading claims and quotes when it ran a similar ad this July 4 in hundreds of newspapers.

“This disinformation campaign is not benign,” said Annie Laurie Gaylor, FFRF co-president. “The ‘crafty’ owner of this national chain has not only sabotaged the contraceptive mandate of the Affordable Care Act, but is using his considerable fortune to establish a bible museum in Washington, D.C., intended to promote the ‘Big Lie’ that America is a Christian nation. David Green has also commissioned a slanted bible curriculum that he intends to force into our public schools. It’s time to call Hobby Lobby out for its irresponsible misrepresentations.”

FFRF called for a boycott of the chain last fall after the Supreme Court took its appeal. In late June, the all-male, all-Catholic majority of the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Hobby Lobby is exempt from the contraceptive mandate, based on Green’s claim that his religious rights are offended if women employees use company insurance for methods of which he disapproves.

“Hobby Lobby’s quotes are meant to give the false impression that the U.S. is a Christian nation and that our nation ‘trusts in God,’ ” noted FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel, who meticulously researched the quotes. His commentary appears on FFRF’s interactive Web page

The Web page contrasts the Hobby Lobby quotes with the original quotes. “But, just like Hobby Lobby’s god, the quotes aren’t very trustworthy. They are wildly inaccurate in some cases,” Seidel said.

Hobby Lobby’s baldest attempts to rewrite history are in quotes about two atheists, which make them appear religious or complimentary of religion. Its misleading quote of Achille Murat, whom its ad describes as “a French observer of America in 1832,” is edited to make Murat seem pro-religion, when in fact he was criticizing religion’s racist and proselytizing goals.

Similarly, Hobby Lobby grossly mischaracterizes a Supreme Court case that upheld a provision in freethinker Stephen Girard’s last will and testament leaving $2 million (about $43 million today; who says nonbelievers aren’t generous?) to start a school for educating orphans, so long as “no ecclesiastic, missionary, and minister” held any position in the school. Hobby Lobby falsely calls this a “unanimous decision commending and encouraging the use of the Bible in government-run schools.”

Seidel asks: “If Hobby Lobby can’t be trusted to quote fairly from historical documents, how can it possibly design an objective bible course for public schools?”


FFRF ran 24 full-page ads last year, headlined “In Reason We Trust” and celebrating America’s “godless Constitution,” in daily newspapers around the country seeking to balance previous July 4 Hobby Lobby ads. Twenty-five ads were planned, but the news daily in Oklahoma City, where Hobby Lobby is based, censored FFRF’s ad. View the ad here.

Gaylor noted that it’s not possible to compete with Hobby Lobby’s scale of advertising. According to Forbes Magazine, Hobby Lobby has $3.3 billion in sales and 555 stores nationwide. This year, FFRF instead reacted to the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby ruling with a full-page ad in The New York Times on July 3. View the ad here.

“Don’t shop at Hobby Lobby. Your money is being used to work against contraceptive rights, to undermine secular education and to lobby for a Christian nation,” she said.

AndrewSeidelBy Andrew Seidel

FFRF Staff Attorney

“The point is, that any Catholic in public office, his first commitment has to be to his faith…” — Bishop Thomas Tobin, November 23, 2009 on Hardball

The day the Freedom From Religion Foundation ran its full-page New York Times ad —criticizing the “all-male, all-Roman Catholic majority” on the Supreme Court for putting “religious wrongs over women's rights” in the Hobby Lobby case — Cardinal Timothy Dolan facetiously thanked FFRF.  On the other hand, an apoplectic Bill Donahue, representing the Catholic League, blustered. Finally, we’d allegedly given them something to feel persecuted about. Dolan “prayed” and “hoped” for more fodder for “talk on Anti-Catholic Bigotry in the United States.” His expectations, or perhaps his faith, blinded him to the point of the ad.

The Brothers D portray our ad as an attack on Catholics instead of Catholic dogma as our ad’s large headline, “Dogma should not trump our civil liberties,” indicated. Our ad notes that the Hobby Lobby majority consists of every male Roman Catholic on the high court. This is a fact. Six justices — Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, Anthony Kennedy, Samuel Alito, John Roberts, and Sonia Sotomayor — identify as Roman Catholic. There is excellent cause to question the impartiality of any truly devout Catholic justice on an issue such as access to birth control.

These beliefs are required by Catholic law. As I pointed out earlier in a blog post, “Bill O’Reilly is not a Catholic, and neither are you,” Catholic Canon law explicitly and rather appallingly requires “a religious submission of the intellect and will must be given to a doctrine which the Supreme Pontiff or the college of bishops declares concerning faith or morals . . .” Canon 752. Supreme Pontiffs have made several declarations unequivocally condemning birth control and contraception. Ergo, Catholics must submit to this doctrine, even if it means an AIDS epidemic kills millions of Africans.

To call yourself a Roman Catholic means something. It means that you believe certain things and follow certain rules: You believe that a cracker becomes human flesh and that consumption of that flesh is a holy communion with god. You must submit your intellect and will to this nonsense as surely as you must submit to the other Catholic teachings. If you don’t believe that magic words change the atomic and molecular makeup of matter, you’re not Catholic. If you think that cannibalism is distasteful as opposed to divine, you’re not Catholic.

Accordingly, Justice Scalia believes in the literal, corporeal existence of the Devil: “I even believe in the Devil… he’s a real person.” FFRF’s ad suggested that justices’ dogmatic adherence to Catholic doctrine may have implications for their ability to judge a case. If Scalia believes in the Devil because “Hey, c’mon, that’s standard Catholic doctrine!” why should we not think Catholic doctrine on birth control might impact his Hobby Lobby decision?

Roman Catholic Church actually demands that Catholic judges obey Catholic law when deciding civil legal issues. For instance, Pope Pius XII addressed the Union of Catholic Jurists in 1949 and “outlined the obligations of Catholic civil judges under ecclesiastical law. The Catholic judge, he said, may not issue a decision that ‘would oblige those affected by it to perform . . . an act which in itself is contrary to the law of God and of the Church.’ The judge ‘cannot shirk responsibility for his decisions and place the blame on the law and its authors.’ ” Leo Pfeffer, Church, State, and Freedom, 258 (Beacon Press, Revised Ed. 1967).

So, if the Catholic Church requires that a “religious submission of the intellect and will,” even for civil judges acting in a civil capacity, and the Supreme Pontiff has declared contraception immoral, do we have grounds to question the impartiality of justices who self-identify as observant Catholics when their decision effectively imposes Catholic dogma on private citizens?

Yes, we do. Dolan, in his gleeful attempt to seize martyrdom, and Donahue, in his emblematic rage, fail to understand the simple suggestion in FFRF’s ad: that a Catholic might actually think like a Catholic. If that’s what passes for anti-Catholic bigotry these days, no wonder Dolan was praying for more fodder for his lecture.

When Justice Sotomayor dissented in Hobby Lobby, she violated the teachings of her church, and I respect her all the more for that. She held her civil duty (and in all probability her womanhood) above the out-dated and barbaric teachings of the Catholic Church. Clearly, Catholics are capable of serving fairly and impartially in any civil role, as Sotomayor proves in this instance. But the Catholic demand for total submission places the justices in the untenable position of choosing between their duty to country or their religion. FFRF merely points that out.

Bishop Tobin, who’s quote opens this blog, actually provides the solution: “ . . . if your faith somehow interferes with — or your job gets in the way of your faith . . . you need to quit your job and save your soul.” Would that Scalia, Alito, Kennedy, Roberts, and Thomas had the scruples of Sotomayor . . . or even Bishop Tobin.

Statement by Annie Laurie Gaylor

Co-President

Freedom From Religion Foundation

The ink was scarcely dry on the infamous Supreme Court Hobby Lobby ruling — allowing bossy religious bosses the right to veto women employees’ contraceptive choices — when a number of religious representatives wrote President Barack Obama seeking yet more “religious privilege.”

In a July 1 letter, they made a particularly ugly request in seeking the privilege to discriminate against gays and lesbians when doing business with the government. An earlier letter sent to Obama on June 25 and signed by more than 150 conservative religious groups and leaders, included an election-year threat that “any executive order that does not fully protect religious freedom will face widespread opposition.”

The July 1 letter was organized by Obama insider Michael Wear, “National Faith Vote Director” of Obama’s 2012 campaign, who worked in the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships in Obama’s first term. (A lesson in why public officials should not court theocrats.)

Piously describing themselves as “religious and civic leaders who seek to advance the common good” and buttering Obama up for his “commitment to human dignity and justice,” these theocrats seek to advance the “common bad,” to injure human indignity and to inflict injustice in the name of religion.

The groups, while feeding mightily at the public trough, proudly and openly lobbied Obama to be excluded from his promised executive order barring discrimination against gays and lesbians by companies receiving federal contracts and funding.

Religious groups and denominations have long been the enemy of gay rights — the only organized enemy. There exists no reason other than religion to discriminate or to oppose marriage equality. The bible plainly and revoltingly states that if two men have sex with each other, “their blood shall be upon them.” (Leviticus 20:13)

Paul states that men who “burned in their lust one toward another” or women who go “against nature” are “worthy of death.” (Romans 1:26-32) While the biblical passages on homosexuality would scarcely fill a biblical page, that has not tempered their messages of bigotry, hate and vengeance.

While many more liberal denominations are rapidly reconstituting themselves to accept gays and lesbians, they, with one or two exceptions, are all Johnny-come-latelies, who shifted toward social acceptance of the LGBTQ — when it was clear they themselves would become socially unacceptable if they continued to side with homophobic fundamentalists and the Catholic hierarchy.

Nevertheless, I’m pleased to report that more than 100 liberal religious leaders signed a July 8 letter to Obama urging him not to exempt religious groups from his pending executive order.

My mother-in-law, Pat Barker, who shed fundamentalism after Dan left the ministry and who died in 2004, made a very poignant observation, so poignant that Richard Dawkins picked up on it when he wrote the introduction to Dan’s book “Godless.” Dawkins noted that Pat, when interviewed about her loss of faith, told a reporter how happy she was that “I don’t have to hate anymore.”

Imprisoned by their faith, Wear (the head of Catholic Charities), Rick Warren and many other signatories of the letter still hate and are proud of it.

They lovingly congratulate themselves on what they perceive as their protected right and duty to refuse to work alongside and hire gays and lesbians. In their upside-down logic, they believe it is religious groups that would be “ostracized” by an anti-discrimination federal rule. The June 25 letter is more direct, boasting that discrimination is a “religious freedom.”

If an entity wants to discriminate based on religious taboos, then it can, but concedes its right to do so in my name and yours, using tax dollars. They can be as hateful, discriminatory and ugly as they like, but not on the public dime.

Yes, as Mr. Wear writes, “There is no perfect solution that will make all parties completely happy.” But there is a perfect solution for bigotry: Stop funding it with tax dollars. Mr. President, don’t try to make bigots happy — do what is right.

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