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Madison, Wis.

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May 2 – 3

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October 24—25  , 2014

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Los Angeles, Cal.

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What's Wrong with the Ten Commandments?

This nontract is available at the FFRF shop

Critics of the Christian bible occasionally can score a point or two in discussion with the religious community by noting the many teachings in both the Old and New Testaments that encourage the bible believer to hate and to kill, biblical lessons that history proves Christians have taken most seriously. Nonetheless the bible defendant is apt to offer as an indisputable parting shot, “But don’t forget the ten commandments. They are the basic bible teaching. Study the ten commandments.”

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Is America A Christian Nation?

This nontract is available for sale from FFRF's shop

The U.S. Constitution is a secular document. It begins, “We the people,” and contains no mention of “God” or “Christianity.” Its only references to religion are exclusionary, such as, “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust” (Art. VI), and “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof” (First Amendment). The presidential oath of office, the only oath detailed in the Constitution, does not contain the phrase “so help me God” or any requirement to swear on a bible (Art. II, Sec. 7). If we are a Christian nation, why doesn't our Constitution say so? In 1797 America made a treaty with Tripoli, declaring that “the government of the United States is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion.” This reassurance to Islam was written under Washington’s presidency, and approved by the Senate under John Adams.

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In God We (Don't) Trust

For an overwhelming part of U.S. history, America's motto was purely secular, "E Pluribus Unum" (From many [come] one). E Pluribus Unum was chosen by a committee of Jefferson, Adams and Franklin. Many Americans mistakenly assume our founders chose "In God We Trust" as the motto, but nothing could be further from the truth. Our founders were committed to a secular government. For most of U.S. history, our money was likewise free of religion.

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FFRF keeps contesting Arkansas violation

searcy crosses

 

The Police Department in Searcy, Ark., appears to be doubling down on its efforts to inject religion into government with the addition of another Christian cross on its lawn.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation first notified then-Police Chief Kyle Osborne about the violation in March 2013 after a local citizen complained to FFRF. Since then, city officials have stonewalled the Madison, Wis.-based group that advocates nationwide for state-church separation.

On January 29 FFRF senior staff attorney Rebecca Markert, sent another letter to City Attorney Buck Gibson, following up one sent Jan. 16. "It has come to FFRF's attention that a second cross has been erected on the lawn of the city of Searcy Police Department." A photo (above) shows the crosses side by side.

As noted in FFRF's Jan. 16 press release, current Police Chief Jeremy Clark first claimed last May that he'd found "no such display." In December, he admitted there was a cross but claimed it was a moot issue because it was near his “private entrance.”

"We write again to request that you move the additional cross as well and any other crosses that appear on the lawn of the Police Department," Markert said in her Feb. 3 letter.

FFRF also sent letters Jan. 16 to Clark and Mayor David Morris about public comments attributed to them that were reported in the Daily Citizen newspaper.

Morris called Searcy (a city of about 23,000) a “Christian community,” and Clark reportedly said, “Christianity is part of our police department.”

FFRF Co-Presidents Dan Barker and Annie Laurie Gaylor took issue with both of those statements. "As mayor, you represent all Searcy residents, including atheists, Jews, and other non-Christians. In other words, you were elected to represent the entire city, not just Christians."

News reports said St. Paul United Methodist Church placed the first cross on city property in 2011.

The latest letter asks for a written response from the city so the local complainant can be assured the law is being complied with.

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Future Conventions

38th Annual National Convention - 2015
Weekend of October 9-10, 2015

Monona Terrace Community and Convention Center
1 John Nolen Drive
Madison, WI 53703

39th Annual National Convention - 2016
Weekend of October 7-9, 2016

Wyndham Grand Pittsburgh Downtown
600 Commonwealth Pl
Pittsburgh, PA 15222

All guest rooms are $159.00.
Individuals may go online to register, or call 1-888-317-0197 (central reservations) or 412-391-4600 (hotel direct) and refer to the Freedom From Religion Foundation to get the group rate.

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Feds appeal FFRF’s parish exemption win

The federal government filed notice Jan. 24 that it's appealing the Freedom From Religion Foundation's significant federal court victory declaring the "parish exemption" unconstitutional. Under the 1954 law, "ministers of the gospel" don't pay any taxes on salary designated as a "housing allowance."

U.S. District Judge Barbara B. Crabb for the Western District of Wisconsin issued a strong, 43-page decision on Nov. 22 declaring 26 U.S. C. § 107(2) unconstitutional. The case is FFRF, Annie Laurie Gaylor and Dan Barker v. Jacob Lew, Acting Secretary of the Treasury Department and Daniel Werfel, Acting Commissioner of the International Revenue Service.

The appeal will go before the 7th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in Chicago.

The law allows "ministers of the gospel" who are paid through a housing allowance to exclude that allowance from taxable income. Ministers may even use untaxed income to buy a home and deduct interest paid on the mortgage and property taxes — known as "double dipping."

The clergy benefit costs the government up to $700 million a year in lost revenue, and benefits not just ministers but their employer churches, which can pay ministers less because untaxed income goes further.

Christianity Today found that 84 percent of senior pastors receive a housing allowance ranging from $20,000 to $38,000 in added (but not reported or taxed) salary.

"I agree with plaintiffs that §107(2) does not have a secular purpose or effect," wrote Crabb, adding that a reasonable observer would view it "as an endorsement of religion."

At the time of the federal ruling, attorney Richard L. Bolton, representing FFRF, noted: "The Court's decision does not evince hostility to religion — nor should it even seem controversial." However, the decision set off "shock waves" in the clergy network.

Clergy are permitted to use the housing allowance not just for rent or mortgages, but for a wide range of home improvements, including maintenance and repairs. They may exempt from taxable income up to the fair market rental value of their home, particularly benefiting well-heeled pastors.

The 1954 bill's sponsor, Rep. Peter Mack, argued ministers should be rewarded for "carrying on such a courageous fight" against a "godless and anti-religious world movement."

All taxpayers are burdened by taxes, Crabb noted. "Defendants do not identify any reason why a requirement on ministers to pay taxes on a housing allowance is more burdensome for them than for the many millions of other who must pay taxes on income used for housing expenses."

Gaylor and Barker, as co-presidents of FFRF, are the primary plaintiffs. Crabb agreed they have standing to sue and are injured because FFRF designates part of their salaries as a "housing allowance," but they are not lawfully able to claim the same benefit "ministers of the gospel" are accorded.

"The clergy and churches have become accustomed to privileges and prerogatives from our secular government which are not only unconstitutional, but which don't play fair. The rest of us should not have to pay more taxes, because clergy don't pay their fair share," said Gaylor.

Barker, a former minister, now heads the volunteer Clergy Project, which helps clergy who have changed their minds about religion leave the pulpit. Barker said he knows hundreds of former ministers who agree with FFRF that "the housing exclusion is an unfair and unwarranted boost from the government and should be abolished."

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is sticking to its guns that an unconstitutional Latin cross must be removed from the lawn at the Police Department, in Searcy, Ark.

FFRF first notified then-Police Chief Kyle Osborne about the violation in March 2013 after a citizen complained to FFRF. Since then, city officials have stonewalled the Madison, Wis-based nationwide group that advocates for state-church separation.

Another complaint letter went out Jan. 16 to City Attorney Buck Gibson to update him on the situation. The department failed to respond to the March letter, so a follow-up was sent. Current Police Chief Jeremy Clark claimed in a May 7 letter that "I have found no such display."

FFRF’s local complainant confirmed the cross was indeed still on display, and on Nov. 20, sent Clark another letter. He replied Dec. 2 that it was a moot issue because the cross was near his “private entrance.”

FFRF Senior Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert, in her letter to Gibson, cited multiple court cases relevant to the issue. She noted that Clark's contention that he has a private entrance somehow immune from constitutional scrutiny "is absurd and has no basis in fact or in law. The Searcy Police Department cross is not on Chief Clark’s private lawn," and is readily visible from the street.

Markert added, "FFRF renews its request that Police Chief Clark immediately remove the Latin cross from the lawn of the Searcy Police Department and/or direct the display be moved to a private location. If the chief is partial to the cross, he can certainly move it to his lawn at his own home. Once again, we ask for a response in writing so that we may inform our Searcy complainant of the action being taken by the city in this matter."

FFRF also sent letters Jan. 16 to Clark and Mayor David Morris about public comments attributed to them that were reported in the Daily Citizen newspaper.

Morris called Searcy (a city of about 23,000) a “Christian community,” and Clark reportedly said, “Christianity is part of our police department.”

FFRF Co-Presidents Dan Barker and Annie Laurie Gaylor took issue with both of those statements. "As mayor, you represent all Searcy residents, including atheists, Jews, and other non-Christians. In other words, you were elected to represent the entire city, not just Christians."

To the police chief, they wrote, "Your department strives to 'perform our duties and responsibilities with pride, faith, hope, and dedication to our core principles and values as expressed in the Constitutions of the United States of America and the State of Arkansas.' . . . Making public statements that stress the Christian atmosphere in the department is insensitive, and alienates citizens who adhere to minority religions or who do not believe in any faith."

According to Clark's predecessor, St. Paul United Methodist Church placed the cross on city property in 2011.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation has contacted the Office of the General Counsel of Oakland Unified School District in the wake of complaints it received over the proselytizing nature of a recent assembly at E.C. Reems Academy, Oakland, Calif., intended to honor Jahi McMath.

FFRF, a Madison, Wis.-based state/church watchdog, has nearly 20,000 nonreligious members nationwide and about 3,100 in California.

Jahi, the 13-year-old girl who has been declared brain dead after a tonsillectomy went tragically wrong, was a student at the charter school, which serves mostly disadvantaged children.

"What happened to Jahi is a terrible tragedy and all hearts go out to her suffering relatives and friends. But such tragedies are not an excuse to violate the Constitution," wrote FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel in a joint letter to Laura O'Neill, Office of the General Counsel, and Brian Reems, board president of E.C. Reems Academy.

FFRF is calling for an investigation into the assembly, attended by students as young as kindergarten, during which Principal Lisa Blair said "she tried to honor Jahi's family's wishes by telling students that their classmate may still be alive, even though doctors say she is legally and clinically dead," according to KNTV reporter Lisa Fernandez's story. FFRF has been informed that an investigative meeting reviewing the situation here will be held by EC Reems as a result of its letter.

"Students responded with an outpouring of faith," reported Fernandez. A death certificate has been issued.

Blair told the reporter, "Most kids are Christian here, and they believe that if you continue praying, there's always a possibility. The students understand the debate. They're just choosing spirituality over science."

Clearly, it's Blair who's choosing spirituality over science, said FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor, who maintains the children are too young to "understand the debate."

One of Jahi's friends, who attended the assembly, told the reporter, "The school told us that she's not officially dead yet. And we should keep her in our prayers. I still hope, and God has the last say-so."

FFRF's detailed letter of complaint said it's inappropriate for school staff to distribute 250 T-shirts to students saying "Keep Calm, Pray on" (also emblazoned with #TeamJahi") to students at the assembly. The letter said staff should be told not to wear the shirts during instructional time.

FFRF dismissed any argument that the assembly was voluntary. It involved young children, and students shouldn't have to excuse themselves from an assembly to honor a classmate in order to avoid inappropriate religious content.

FFRF wants appropriate disciplinary action and for the action to be part of the record when the charter school application renewal is examined, along with assurances that religious beliefs will not be further injected into the school day.

"The school is inflicting trauma upon tragedy by suggesting that it's within the power of Jahi's classmates to resuscitate her," FFRF charged.

"It's unscientific, unethical and irresponsible to suggest to a captive audience of impressionable, grieving students that wishful thinking can suspend natural laws, and even raise the dead."

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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