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.
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.
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.”