FFRF wired $20,000 to Bangladeshi physician and activist Taslima Nasrin in March to help her relocate to the U.S. Nasrin, FFRF's 2002 Freethought Heroine, has long been the subject of Islamic terrorist sanctions called fatwas. Since 2004 she had lived in India after having been forced into exile from Bangladesh in 1994.
Nasrin had appealed to the humanist community for help after her friend, Avijit Roy, was brutally hacked to death on the streets of Bangladesh and his wife was severely injured. After Roy's death, two other atheist bloggers were murdered with machetes in Bangladesh.
"I vividly remember Taslima telling an international atheist conference in Germany three years ago that she was 'a woman without a country.' She told us the freethought community was her country," said Annie Laurie Gaylor, FFRF co-president.
"Our community will need to be prepared to give emergency help as we increasingly see atheists and critics of religion persecuted, imprisoned and slaughtered," Gaylor said at the International Atheist Conference in Cologne, Germany, in publicly announcing the grant May 24.
"Taslima Nasrin is targeted for death," said Dan Barker, FFRF co-president. "There are at least 13 nations where you can technically be put to death for espousing atheism."
Nasrin arrived in Buffalo, N.Y., in late May with the assistance of the Center for Inquiry, which is similarly involved with safeguarding secular activists threatened by religious extremists.
Norma Briggs, 79, Oregon, Wis., a longtime member of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, died April 30, 2015, during a sunset tour of her garden after falling and failing to regain consciousness.
She was born Norma Lynne Jones in Romford, England, near London, on June 5, 1935, to Florence Evelyn Lucas and William Albert Jones. She experienced evacuation during World War II. Her parents divorced when she was 2.
Norma enrolled in a girls boarding school in Kent at age 11, excelling academically, playing tennis and lacrosse. She met her future husband, Michael Briggs, in 1954, at the University of Exeter in Devonshire. They married on June 30, 1956, in a civil ceremony in Romford. Norma completed her B.A. with high honors in English. Mike earned a master's in teaching.
They moved to the U.S. in 1958 so Mike could do graduate work at Duke University. Norma worked as a recreational therapist and earned a master's in social work from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill in 1962. In 1962 they moved with their two daughters to Nigeria, where Mike joined a Ford Foundation team to set up a national library and Norma ran a pre-kindergarten program from their home.
They moved to Madison, Wis., in 1966, when Mike accepted a position as African Studies bibliographer in the Memorial Library of the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Son John was born in Madison in December 1966. Chukwumah Udeh joined the family during the Nigerian civil war, graduating from Edgewood College and earning his M.D. from the UW Medical School.
As a social worker, she conducted a federal study on the lack of women apprentices in skilled trades and worked as executive secretary for the Wisconsin Governor's Commission on the Status of Women, which developed historic reforms. Norma later directed the Equal Rights Division of the Wisconsin Department of Labor, Industry and Human Relations. She entered the law school at UW-Madison in 1981, embarking on a two-decade legal career, most of it as a solo practitioner and later in partnership with Mike.
In 1989, Norma represented Anne Nicol Gaylor and the Women's Medical Fund in a successful lawsuit forcing state Attorney General Donald Hanaway to withdraw Wisconsin's name from a Supreme Court amicus brief calling for the overthrow of Roe v. Wade. The Women's Medical Fund was co-founded and administered until March 2015 by Anne Gaylor, then FFRF president. Hanaway was forced to write the Supreme Court a letter withdrawing the state's name from Webster v. Reproductive Health Services.
Norma had a teaching certificate for the Royal Scottish Country Dance Society, and was active in the society's John Muir (Wisconsin) Branch for almost 40 years, teaching children's classes and mentoring other dancers. She was also an expert Scrabble player. She and Mike were active in politics and feminism.
She died during a sunset tour of her garden after falling and failing to regain consciousness.
Survivors include her husband, Mike; their children, Carolyn Briggs, Helen Mueller, Marian Mead and John Briggs; and five grandchildren.
A gathering of family and friends was held June 6 at the Fitchburg Senior Center, followed by a potluck dinner at Norma and Mike's home in Oregon, Wis., preceded by a "wander in Norma's garden."
"Besides being so grateful for her legal representation in the Hanaway case, we knew Norma as our former neighbor. She even served as our attorney in the closing of our house," said FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. "She was a wonderful hostess and an exceptionally talented gardener, moving from our block with its small parcels to the country where she could garden and landscape to her heart's delight — and the delight of everyone who saw her gardens."
Norma will be immortalized on a paving stone soon in the new Rose Zerwick Memorial Garden and Courtyard. She and Mike generously purchased a paving stone to support FFRF's building expansion. Among the groups which the family designated for memorials is the late Anne Gaylor's Women's Medical Fund, Box 248, Madison, WI 53701, wmfwisconsin.org, a 501(c)(3) charity.
"Our warmest condolences to Mike and his family. We, and the world, will all miss Norma so much," added Gaylor.
Norma's family suggested that Donations in her memory may be made to the Women's Medical Fund, Box 248, Madison, WI 53701
“To me and many others, Jesus is not a religion, Jesus is in every religion across the globe,” Will Rogers, mayor of Hawkins, Texas, told KLTV in early June. “He’s in Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism.”
To Rogers, Jesus is “the most Googled and most popular man in the world.” The mayor, who owns a coffee shop next to a “Jesus Welcomes You To Hawkins” sign on city property, spoke out after getting a June 1 letter from FFRF Staff Attorney Sam Grover about “inflammatory and inappropriate” government endorsement of religion. Imagine the public’s reaction to a sign saying “Mohammed Welcomes You To Hawkins’ or “No God Welcomes You To Hawkins,” wrote Grover.
Students in the high school shop class built the 18-foot-wide sign, which was put up in 2011 before Rogers was mayor of the town of about 1,300 people. He was part of the community group that requested permission to use city land for the sign. Rogers said the city council has debated leasing the property that the sign sits on to a private party. That would not cure the constitutional violation, especially given the sign’s history, Grover said.
It replaced a First Baptist Church marker after representatives of the dozen or so area Christian churches agreed the Jesus sign represented everyone, reported KLTV.
Not everyone agrees. The Big Sandy Hawkins Journal quoted a “local Christian” who wished to remain anonymous: “The sign is showing favoritism and speaking where the Bible is silent. It is presumptuous to assume Jesus welcomes anyone to anywhere but church, especially to a specific town on Earth.”
Rogers said he thinks Hawkins could win in court. That’s not at all likely, Grover said, citing multiple cases in which appellate courts have ruled otherwise.
The council heard input from both sides at its June 15 meeting. One man who wants the sign to stay said, “I say come and take it, baby. Draw the line.” An atheist said, “It doesn’t matter what the majority says, we live in a constitutional republic. The constitutional republic is there to keep the majority from becoming too powerful.”
Before the meeting, Rogers told KLTV, “If you don’t believe that Jesus existed, then he would be fiction. If he’s fiction, and you want to remove his name from everything, then you have to remove every fiction name from across the country.
That means we couldn’t say ‘Superman welcomes you to town.’ ”
The council voted to survey the property to see if the sign is in fact on city property.
Anne Nicol Gaylor, 88, principal founder of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, died June 14 at a hospice in Fitchburg, Wis. She was hospitalized May 30 after a fall in her independent living apartment in Madison.
Anne and her daughter, Annie Laurie, then a college student, formed FFRF in 1976 with a Milwaukee friend, John Sontarck. Anne served as president until 2004, when Annie Laurie and her husband Dan Barker became co-presidents. FFRF has gone from a small local organization to being the largest association of freethinkers (atheists and agnostics) in North America.
Anne lived long enough to enjoy FFRF’s growth to about 23,000 members this spring and its major building expansion. The first event at Freethought Hall’s new addition belatedly celebrated her 88th birthday on Feb. 13.
Proving that atheists do indeed run charities, Anne also co-founded the Women’s Medical Fund with FFRF member and chemistry professor Robert West and the late Peg West in the mid-1970s. The fund is considered the oldest continuously operating abortion-rights charity in the U.S. and has served well over 20,000 indigent women in Wisconsin. She handled WMF calls personally for 40 years, retiring as volunteer administrator in March. Anne married Paul Gaylor, who became FFRF’s chief volunteer, in 1949. He died in 2011. The couple’s four children — Andrew, twins Ian and Annie Laurie, and Jamie — survive her. Her granddaughters are Sabrina Gaylor, 25, and Lily Gaylor, 13. Survivors include her daughters-in-law, Lisa Strand, Nancy McClements and Carrie Gaylor; a son-in-law, Dan Barker; a brother, Tom Nicol, of Minnesota; and her dear friend since high school, Isabel Regan.
Anne’s tombstone in the Nicol family plot in Sparta, Wis., will read at her direction: “Feminist – activist – freethinker.” She requested no memorial service. A full “In Memoriam” feature will appear in the August issue.
The New York Times and Associated Press reported her death, and it was on the front page of the Wisconsin State Journal, which called her “one of Madison’s most controversial public figures and a person of national prominence.” In the story, Robin Morgan, former editor-in-chief of Ms. magazine, called her “one of the great ones in the women’s movement. Her integrity was always bracing, inspiring, magnificent.”
Tributes were pouring in as of press time. Go to ffrf.org/news/news-releases for the press release and scroll to June 15.
Donations in her memory may be made to the Women’s Medical Fund, Box 248, Madison, WI 53701, or to the newly created Anne Nicol Gaylor Memorial Scholarship, to reward freethinking feminists, Freedom From Religion Foundation, Box 750, Madison, WI 53701. Both groups are 501(c)(3) charities. The Women’s Medical Fund is all-volunteer.