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Another FFRF solstice banner disappears

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A Winter Solstice banner placed by the Freedom From Religion Foundation in a public park in Manassas, Va., was stolen over the holidays.

FFRF received a permit from the city for its "Let Reason Prevail" banner to counter a nativity scene. It was placed by a local supporter on Dec. 19 in Nelson Park next to a crèche. A report was filed with police Dec. 29 after the banner turned up missing. Zip ties attached to the posts were all that were left.

It was permitted to be displayed through Dec. 31.

FFRF is offering a $1,000 reward for information leading to the successful prosecution of the person or persons responsible.

It was the fifth time in December that an FFRF solstice banner was stolen or vandalized. All told, 12 banners were placed.

Another FFRF banner, "Keep Saturn in Saturnalia," wasn't allowed to be posted in Pitman, N.J., even though the Knights of Columbus was allowed to put up its "Keep Christ in Christmas" display without a permit.

More is here on FFRF's efforts in placing nonreligious displays last year and how religious "First Amendment grinches" are apparently upset by it.

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FFRF banner gets censored in Pitman

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From left: Sean Cunningham, Shelly Colanduno, Matt Newcomb and Jason Shainline.

"Keep Saturn in Saturnalia" is the message the Freedom From Religion Foundation would have liked to share with Pitman, N.J., residents this holiday season, but the group was stonewalled by borough officials. The state/church watchdog was unable to obtain a permit, even though the Knights of Columbus was allowed to reinstall its "Keep Christ in Christmas" display on public property without a permit.

"This is either a violation of the Establishment Clause of the Constitution, or a sign that needed a permit — and without a permit, the borough is showing favoritism to a Christian organization," said FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel.

Seidel added that both he and local members of FFRF were given the runaround by numerous borough officials.

FFRF thanks local members and freethinkers (pictured above) for standing up for the First Amendment in Pitman and attempting to raise FFRF's banner. 

The Freedom From Religion Foundation filed a federal lawsuit yesterday challenging the Internal Revenue Service’s preferential treatment of churches in applying for and maintaining tax-exempt status. The IRS exempts churches and certain other religious organizations from paying expensive application fees and filing the onerous annual Form 990 required of non-church non-profits. FFRF and Triangle FFRF v. the IRS [view lawsuit here] was filed in U.S. District Court, Western District of Wisconsin. 

FFRF, a national state/church watchdog with more than 19,000 nonreligious members, and its chapter, the Triangle Freethought Society (Triangle FFRF, N.C.), are challenging the preferential application and reporting exemptions given to churches.

FFRF and its chapter are tax-exempt 501(c)(3) nonprofit organizations that paid fees of several hundred dollars in order to apply for tax-exemption, and must annually file the annual Form 990.

The IRS requires non-church tax-exempt non-profits to file “detailed, intrusive, and expensive annual reports to maintain tax-exempt status, but such reports are not required for churches and certain other affiliated religious organizations,” the complaint notes.

“Why should churches be exempt from basic financial reporting requirements? Equally important, why would churches not wish to be accountable?” asks Annie Laurie Gaylor, FFRF co-president. “Having tax-exempt status is a great privilege, and in exchange for that privilege, all other groups must file a detailed report annually to the IRS and the public on how we spend donations.”

“The unfairness of this is so overwhelming,” says FFRF President Emerita Anne Nicol Gaylor. “Churches are allowed to play by different rules.”

The Form 990 requires detailed reports on revenue and functional expenses, activities, governance, management, how groups fulfill their mission, and what proportion is spent on programs, management and fundraising.

The “preferential treatment of churches” directly benefits churches, while discriminating against other non-profit organizations, including the plaintiffs, “solely on the basis of religious criteria,” FFRF’s complaint asserts. This “results in obligations imposed on secular non-profits, including the plaintiffs, that are not imposed on churches.”

FFRF asks the court find the church exemptions a violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, and the equal protection rights of the due process clause of the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. FFRF seeks to enjoin the IRS from continuing to exempt churches and related organizations from the application and annual reporting required of all other non-profit organizations under §501(c)(3).

This is FFRF’s third ongoing lawsuit against IRS practices involving preferential treatment of churches.

In November, FFRF filed a high-profile lawsuit seeking to enforce the IRS’ non-electioneering code against churches. In late August, U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb ruled that FFRF and three of its directors have standing to proceed in a challenge of the 1954 “parish exemption” act of Congress. That law, enacted to reward ministers for fighting what the law’s author, U.S. Rep. Peter Mack, called “a godless and antireligious world movement,” permits “ministers of the gospel” to deduct payment designated as a housing allowance from taxable income.

All three lawsuits were filed in U.S. District Court, Western District of Wisconsin, and were brought on behalf of FFRF by attorney Richard L. Bolton.

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Wichita Public Schools in Wichita, Kan., is revising school policy after receiving a letter from the Freedom From Religion Foundation.

FFRF Staff Attorney Stephanie Schmitt wrote to Wichita Public Schools Superintendent John Allison in a Nov. 8 letter. Two staff members at Wichita West High School had bible quotations in their official district email signature. Schmitt said the religious endorsement was offensive and unconstitutional and she recommended that the district inform the staff not to use government resources to push a religious agenda.

Wichita Public Schools General Counsel Thomas Powell responded to FFRF with a Dec. 7 letter which said the email situation will be addressed along with the separation of church/state in the revisions of school policy.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation enforced the Constitution at East Poinsett County High School in Lepanto, Ark., by successfully ending the pre-game prayer that was said over the loudspeaker by a local pastor.

FFRF Staff Attorney Patrick Elliott wrote to Superintendent Michael Pierce on Nov. 19 to address the school's Constitutional violations. Elliott wrote that the district should take action to end school-sponsored prayer. “Public high school events must me secular to protect the freedom of conscience of all students,” Elliott wrote.

Pierce replied with a Nov. 27 letter which stated that in order to stop the prayer the district had informed the press box volunteers at the football game and the school board members at their Dec. 10 meeting that the prayer has stopped.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation has put an end to unlawful bible distribution at Park View Middle School in Boydton, Va.

Officials at Park View Middle School sanctioned illegal visits from Gideons International. These men were able to distribute bibles on school property to unsuspecting middle school students. A local complainant reported to FFRF that a teacher even went so far as to tell students "don't forget to get your bibles," as they boarded the school bus.

"Public schools have a constitutional obligation to remain neutral toward religion. When a school distributes religious literature to its students, even passively, it has unconstitutionally entangled itself with a religious message, in this case a Christian message," wrote FFRF Staff Attorney Patrick Elliott in an Oct. 26 letter to school district superintendent James Thornton.

Thornton responded to Elliott on Nov. 7 saying that all school personnel had been contacted and informed of the school district's policy toward religion in schools. In a memo to staff Thornton advised: "If the purpose of the activity is not secular, if the effect of the activity is to advance or inhibit religion, or if the activity involves an excessive entanglement, then the activity is unconstitutional and will not be permitted."

The Freedom From Religion Foundation has persuaded the town of Century, Fla., to halt a proposal to put a nativity scene on public property.

FFRF took issue with the town of Century's planned erection and maintenance of a nativity scene at the town hall back in July. Town of Century Council President Ann Brooks initially told reporters "we all want a manger scene," and said that the council had been budgeting funds to purchase such a display. In a July 20 letter to Brooks, FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel pointed out that "not all Century residents want a manger scene."

"There are ample private and church grounds where religious displays may be freely placed. Once the Council enters into the religion business, conferring endorsement and preference for one religion over others, it strikes a blow at religious liberty, forcing taxpayers of all faiths and of no religion to support a particular expression of worship," added Seidel.

A Dec. 6 news story in the North Escambia confirmed FFRF's victory: "The Town of Century has declared their nativity scene as surplus property and will sell it to the highest bidder, months after an attorney for a Wisconsin group that represents agnostics and atheists sent letters to the town claiming that a nativity display on public property is illegal."

The Moanalua High School Music Department (Honolulu, Hawaii) has canceled an unconstitutional concert in response to a complaint from the Freedom From Religion Foundation.

For four years Moanalua High School had been partnering with New Hope Church to put on a holiday concert. Students and families alike had to purchase tickets from the church and several complainants reported that they had to attend a church service before they were allowed to buy the tickets. The church even promoted the "special relationship" between itself and the school on its website: "Kick off the Christmas season with this great concert featuring Moanalua High School's music department, friends from New Hope and surprise special guests." In a Dec. 3 letter to the Hawaii State Department of Education Superintendent Kathryn Matayoshi, FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel pointed out that "all payments are made to New Hope Church, not the school." And that past concerts included prayers and proselytizing by New Hope's pastor.

"It is inappropriate for a public school to promote a Christian organization. If Moanalua High School Music Department continues to raise money for and perform with this Christian church, it shows that the district has an unlawful preference not only for religion over non-religion, but also Christianity over other faiths," wrote Seidel.

Matayoshi contacted Seidel on Dec. 3 to tell him that the concert had been canceled.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation has held the Cedar Park Police Department accountable for having an unlawful Latin cross on the police seal and badge. The organization also took issue with the city's "Police Chaplain," especially since he drove a vehicle with a police seal and the words "Chaplain, City of Cedar Park."

FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel wrote to Mayor Matt Powell and the Cedar Park Council on July 5, 2012, urging them to remove the cross from all official city paraphernalia. "The display of a Christian cross on a police chaplain's seal violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. . . City Chaplains serve the entire police force and city employees, Christian and non-Christian alike. By displaying a Christian cross on the chaplain's seal, the city alienates adherents to religions other than Christianity. . ."

Seidel pointed out that FFRF also questions the appropriateness of a chaplain program altogether. "Not only are city chaplains inappropriate, they are unnecessary because unlike prisons or the military, the government is not burdening anyone's religious practice."

In a Dec. 6 phone call with the city attorney, Seidel learned that the police badges, cars and shirts will no longer feature a Latin cross by the end of January.

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.