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Lauryn Seering

Lauryn Seering

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FFRF demands a cake for ex-Muslims

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is asking a grocery chain to bake a freethinking group a cake.

A Wegmans outlet in Fairfax, Va., refused to decorate and sell a cake to the Ex-Muslims of North America. On May 31, the organization's staff emailed the Wegmans bakery in Fairfax and requested a cake to celebrate the group's third anniversary. The caption was to read, "Congratulations on 3 years!!" and the cake was to feature the group's name and logo:

1ExMuslims

But when the group's staffers called to confirm the design and status of the cake, they report that a "rude bakery associate" denied the request, calling it "offensive."

The organization's initial attempts at getting an explanation from Wegmans were unsuccessful. Finally, an employee called the group back and explained that the cake was declined because the store did not want to advocate "one way or the other." The worker said that the store has "a lot of employees who are Muslim," and that "employees may not know what this stands for."

Unlike the blatant discrimination some Christian bakeries have shown to gay and lesbian Americans in the name of religious freedom, this appears to be discrimination against customers' lack of religious belief, since Wegmans essentially refused to serve a group of nonbelievers. It raises serious concerns under federal, state, and local civil rights laws.

"First, the Civil Rights Act states, 'All persons shall be entitled to the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, and accommodations of any place of public accommodation,'" FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel writes in a letter to Daniel and Colleen Wegman, CEO and president, respectively, of the chain. "Second, refusing to provide a service to a group because of their former religious beliefs or current lack of religious beliefs violates state civil rights laws. And, finally, the Human Rights Ordinance of Fairfax County makes it 'unlawful for any person or public accommodation to discriminate against any person.'"

Even setting aside the legalities, the chain's discrimination is plain wrong. The cake was not for Wegmans, it was for the Ex-Muslims of North America. It wasn't denigrating a religion, and there is no need for Wegmans to construe the cake's message for employees about its meaning. Plus, Wegmans' behavior suggests that leaving a religion is offensive, reinforcing the stigma the 23 percent of Americans who identify as nonreligious face in this country.

"Apostates from Islam are regularly ostracized by their communities and families—simply for no longer sharing a belief," says Muhammad Syed, the president of Ex-Muslims of North America. "Our mere existence is considered offensive to some, and we face threats and abuse on a regular basis. It is a shame that an American business is choosing to mirror this sentiment."

To remedy the situation, FFRF is asking Wegmans to fulfill the original order without charge and educate its employees on their duty to serve patrons without discrimination.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a nationwide nonprofit organization dedicated to the promotion of nontheism and the separation of state and church, with 24,000 members, including more than 500 in Virginia.

Nonbelief Relief is making major donations to help with the Orlando tragedy and to assist Bangladeshi nonbelievers.

Its latest round of grants include $10,000 earmarked for Orlando and $35,000 in aid of Bangladeshi freethinkers.

Nonbelief Relief is a new humanitarian agency created by the Freedom From Religion Foundation to enable charitable donations by nonbelievers. It seeks to remediate conditions of human suffering and injustice and also aims to provide assistance for individuals targeted for nonbelief, secular activism or blasphemy. 

"We nonbelievers are just as charitable as religionists, but have simply lacked the infrastructure to pool money to charity," says Annie Laurie Gaylor, Nonbelief Relief administrator and Freedom From Religion Foundation co-president. "These donations are done in the name of atheists, agnostics and other freethinkers."

Nonbelief Relief's Orlando donation is to the Human Compassion Fund. The Fund, via the National Center for Victims of Crime, funnels all money directly to the family victims of mass casualty crimes. The goal is to raise $7 million for the victims and the families of the Orlando nightclub massacre. All donations earmarked for the Orlando fund go directly to affected individuals and families.

In Bangladesh, travel and relocation stipends were wired recently to seven endangered bloggers who are on hit list as secular activists. "The Islamic extremists are ready to kill us all," writes one of the recipients.

The Bangladesh aid was prompted by the fact that at least 13 nonbelievers have been executed by Islamist terrorists in Bangladesh, including six freethinkers murdered through April of this year. (Rafida Bonya Ahmed, widow of Avijit Roy, who was killed in an attack last year that Ahmed barely survived, will be speaking at the FFRF convention in Pittsburgh in October.

"Dhaka now feels more dangerous than a war zone to me," one of the Bangladeshi nonbelievers has written to Nonbelief Relief.

In other aid, Nonbelief Relief is giving:

• $10,000 to the World Food Program USA, under the United Nations, to aid famine victims in South Sudan, a hunger hotspot. Conflict in South Sudan has displaced more than 1.8 million people in the last two years. Nearly 2.6 million people are experiencing emergency levels of food insecurity. Last year, Nonbelief Relief gave $20,000 to the World Food Program for food relief in Syria.

• $10,000 to directly sponsor one volunteer for the coming year for the Humanist Service Corps, administered by Foundation Beyond Belief. In 2015, that foundation launched the first international volunteer service program guided by humanist values. Volunteers support Songtaba, a women's rights organization working to end gender-based violence and discrimination in the northern region of Ghana. The grant is a basic living stipend for the full-time volunteer.

To donate to campaigns like these, please earmark your donation to FFRF for "Nonbelief Relief." FFRF's online donation form has a designation for Nonbelief Relief, ensuring your donation is deductible for income-tax purposes. 

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"Donations to replenish Nonbelief Relief would be very much appreciated so we can continue to serve people in the name of freethought in a world full of great need," adds Gaylor.

HondoTXsign

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is objecting to religious highway signs that greet people when they enter a Texas city.

Signs proclaiming "Welcome — This Is God's Country Please Don't Drive Through It Like Hell — Hondo, Texas" are displayed prominently by U.S. 90, at the city borders.

"It is inappropriate for the city of Hondo to display religious signs that convey government preference for religion over nonreligion," FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor writes to Hondo Mayor James Danner. "The display of the religious message 'This Is God's Country' on public property violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, which prohibits public bodies from advancing, supporting, or promoting religion. It is also needlessly divisive, since it sends the message that nonbelievers are not welcome in the city."

Besides, what the city of Hondo is trying to convey through the signs could very well be misconstrued. It needs to find an alternative way to promote safe driving.

"Some people may want to flee 'God's Country' faster than hell," Gaylor adds. "Hondo officials could actually be encouraging drivers to speed with such signs."

FFRF is asking the city of Hondo to immediately remove these signs from public property and refrain from displaying any messages that endorse religion in the future. In a similar instance, the city of Hawkins in Texas last year had to get rid of a public "Jesus Welcomes You to Hawkins" sign after FFRF challenged it.

FFRF is a national organization dedicated to the separation of state and church, with 24,000 nonreligious members nationwide, including almost 1,000 in Texas.

NewmanAcademy
The Freedom From Religion Foundation is raising red flags about a publicly funded Texas charter school chain.

Newman International Academy, which has frequently breached the constitutional wall separating state and church, operates a number of charter schools in Texas. In August, it is opening up yet another one inside Walnut Ridge Baptist Church in Mansfield. The charter school sponsor is Saint Servers International, a Christian organization run by the Rev. Lazarus George, who is the husband of Newman International Academy founder Sheba George.

Sheba George is an ardent evangelist. On a website for her proposed Newman George College, George explains that she has a "longing for the strongest spiritual revival the world has ever known." She goes on to elaborate that she "has a strong devotion to the Lord, a gracious spirit toward everyone coupled with a no nonsense, no spiritual compromise attitude." It appears that George's desire for a spiritual revival has warped her treatment of Newman International Academy in constitutionally impermissible ways.

For instance, under her leadership, Newman International Academy has adopted a blatantly religious school song:

May God bless our school
As we march to our tomorrows
And stand tall today with
Love, Faith and Hope
We rise to build our nation
With wisdom, statute and favor,
May God bless our school
Today and forever.

The Academy also promotes and endorses religious events in its schools and on its website. Its 2015-2016 calendar includes a school holiday on March 25 for Good Friday, an explicitly Christian holiday, a See You at the Pole event that the Academy described as "a day committed to global unity in Christ and prayer for this generation," and a schoolwide assembly for the National Day of Prayer. The Academy has also promoted a baccalaureate service for graduating students.

"Courts have consistently held that schools may not demonstrate a preference for religion over nonreligion by endorsing religious messages," FFRF Staff Attorney Sam Grover writes to Commissioner Mike Morath of the Texas Education Agency. "Newman International Academy's school song contains a direct appeal to 'God' to bless the school. This communicates an unambiguous preference for religion over nonreligion and Christianity's 'God' over the god or gods of minority religions." 

Publicly funded charter schools, like public schools, have a constitutional obligation to remain neutral toward religion, FFRF points out. Newman International Academy can either receive state funding and operate as a public charter school entity subject to constitutional restrictions on religious promotion, or it can choose to operate as a private Christian school and not receive state funding. But it cannot operate as a state-funded religious institution.

FFRF is requesting the Texas Education Agency to outline the steps it is taking to ensure that Newman International Academy either complies with the U.S. Constitution or no longer receives state funds.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with nearly 24,000 members across the country, including almost 1,000 in Texas.

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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