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Lauryn Seering

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Judge Kendall Sharp of the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida has dismissed FFRF’s free speech case against the Orange County School District as moot because the district has agreed to let FFRF distribute all of the literature it had previously prohibited. In 2013, FFRF and its local chapter, the Central Florida Freethought Community (CFFC), sought to distribute literature in several public high schools after the district allowed an evangelical Christian group to distribute bibles. 

“We consider this a victory. The court has said that the school district is allowing all the materials that were initially prohibited,” said FFRF Co-President Dan Barker. “We disagree with how the court and the school district chose to handle this clear-cut discrimination, so we’ll likely be appealing on some issues, but overall, it’s a win.” 

The now-permitted materials include a pamphlet that the district had previously prohibited because it “argues that Jesus did not promote equality and social justice, was not compassionate, was not reliable and was not a good example.” Other pamphlets that discuss what the bible says about abortion and which, according to the district, “assert that God is hateful, arrogant, sexist and cruel” will now be allowed. As will Robert Price’s Jesus Is Dead, which the district originally prohibited because “[t]he claim that Jesus was not crucified or resurrected is age inappropriate for the maturity levels of many of the students in high school.” An odd claim given that the district allowed the bible. 

FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel noted that the forum is now open to all comers. “Satanists can distribute their literature, Muslims can distribute the Quran, and atheists can distribute books that criticize religion.” 

CFFC Leader David Williamson added, “We intend to give out a lot more literature to educate students about atheism and the importance of keeping religion out of public schools. We are even designing new materials specifically for students and families in Orange County.” 

From the beginning, FFRF and CFFC have maintained that Orange County should close the distribution forum. “The irony is that kids can get a bible anywhere. It’s the country’s most widely available book,” Seidel said, “but where could a Christian kid get a copy of Sam Harris’s Letter to a Christian Nation so easily? As long as the forum remains open, they can get one in Orange County Public Schools.” 

FFRF thanks David Williamson for being a courageous plaintiff along with FFRF Co-Presidents Dan Barker and Annie Laurie Gaylor. FFRF also thanks Steven Brady for his hard work litigating the case.

1algfreeblurBy Annie Laurie Gaylor 
Co-President 
Freedom From Religion Foundation

Cardinal Timothy Dolan wrote a facetious column titled "Thank You, FFRF!,” which ran July 3 in his archdiocese organ, Catholic New York. Why did he “thank” FFRF? 

Dolan writes: “I prayed, I hoped, that the notoriously anti-Catholic firebrands of the nebulous and anonymous ‘Freedom From Religion Foundation’ (FFRF) in Madison, Wisconsin, would once again, as they predictably had in the past, print a full-page, drippingly bigoted blast in the hospitable pages of The New York Times. ‘[T]here it was, on page A13, a whole-page sneer at ‘dogma’ and an ‘all male Roman Catholic majority.’ ” 

Is it bigotry to attack bigotry? If the Catholic hierarchy would quit attacking women’s rights, we could quit attacking Catholic doctrine. Far from launching an ad hominen attack on the “people on the court,” as Dolan claims, FFRF’s unspeakable “sin” is to simply state the truth. Our July 3 ad in The New York Times protesting the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby ruling, headlined, “Dogma should not trump our civil liberties,” had the temerity to point out: “All-male, all-Roman Catholic majority on Supreme Court puts religious wrongs over women’s rights.” Our ad’s only other — equally factual — reference to Catholicism was this sentence: “The Supreme Court’s ultra-conservative, Roman Catholic majority — Justices Roberts, Scalia, Alito, Kennedy and Thomas — has sided with zealous fundamentalists who equate contraception with abortion.” 

Women didn’t — and couldn’t — get a fair shake on a court that was carefully stacked against our rights by Republican presidents whose very party line imposes a judicial antiabortion litmus test. (I still hold out hope that Kennedy, as the overvalued “swing” voter, would not swing so far to the right as his Catholic brethren should they vote to overturn Roe v. Wade.) 

It’s personally gratifying that the Internet still reverberates with FFRF’s most famous full-page ad in The New York Times, run in 2012, titled “It’s time to consider quitting the Catholic Church.” (The Times made us rephrase the original headline, which was the much punchier: “It’s time to quit the Catholic Church.”) Dolan, of course, is president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which our ad directly criticized for declaring open war on Obamacare’s contraceptive mandate, and for placing dogma above humanity. 

It appears the delicate sensibilities of the Catholic hierarchy, accustomed as they are to obsequious deference, will never recover from such blasphemous treatment by atheist upstarts. They do not take irreverence lightly. They belong, after all, to the same institution that was behind the arrest, torture and execution in 1765 of a French teenager, Chevalier de la Barre for, in part, failing to doff his hat at a passing religious parade. This is the institution known for its auto-da-fes and its Inquisition, which still exists, by the way, in tamer form as the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. 

Dolan claims he wants to “thank the anonymous militiamen at FFRF for giving me yet another handout for my students when I give my next talk on ‘Anti-Catholic Bigotry in the United States.” 

You’re welcome, Cardinal Dolan. Although a pacifist who believes the pen is mightier than the sword, I’m far from anonymous. I wrote both the 2012 “time to quit the Catholic Church” and 2014 ads. We’re hardly “nebulous and anonymous!” Dan and I signed the 2012 ad, and it names 18 contributors to the ad! Read FFRF’s 2012 ad here

Dolan (and his apoplectic cohort, Bill Donohue) are, of course, shrewd to play the “Catholic bigotry” card. They’re smugly aware that most U.S. citizens don’t realize the imbalance on our current nine-member Supreme Court, where six of the justices are Roman Catholic — five appointed by a Republican president (and only three justices are women). One of the reasons most Americans don’t realize the Catholic-dominated composition is because media who dare point it out get baited as bigots. It’s clever of Catholic hierarchy to cry “bigotry,” since it deflects attention from their own bigotry and the Vatican’s global campaigns against civil rights for gays and reproductive and equal rights for women. 

CHURCH CONDEMNS CONTRACEPTION AS 'INTRINSICALLY EVIL'

Dolan bragged that he stopped reading the Times “years ago, on the advice of so many New Yorkers who warned me that the Church rarely gets a fair shake in those pages.” But apparently the Times took his attack seriously enough to devote its Saturday “On Religion” column indirectly to the topic of FFRF’s ad. Samuel G. Freedman’s carefully written column, “Among justices, considering a divide not of gender or politics, but beliefs,” notes the 5-4 split in both this term’s major state/church separation cases, Greece v. Galloway and Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores. 

Freedman writes that it is “compelling to consider the Catholic-Jewish divide. In both cases, five of the court’s six Catholic justices — Samuel A. Alito Jr., Anthony M. Kennedy, John G. Roberts Jr., Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas — formed the majority that espoused a larger place for religious practice in public life. All three Jewish justices — Stephen G. Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Elena Kagan — joined by one Catholic, Sonia Sotomayor, dissented on behalf of a wider, firmer separation. 

“What attention has been paid to the denominational nature of the decisions has too often echoed with America’s sordid history of anti-Catholic bigotry, the presumption that Catholic public servants take their orders from the Vatican. A recent advertisement in The New York Times by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, for instance, linked the court’s Roman Catholic majority to ‘to the growing dangers of theocracy.’ ” 

Freedman’s column about a court opinion on contraception never once states the obvious: that Catholic dogma (yes, Dolan, there’s the word again) expressly condemns contraception as “intrinsically evil.”

But the truly unmentionable 800-pound gorilla in the room is abortion, which the Hobby Lobby ruling is actually about, and which the Vatican is committed to banning worldwide. Roberts, Alito, and Scalia chillingly presaged the June Hobby Lobby ruling by bringing up abortion several times during Hobby Lobby oral arguments. Samuel Alito, in writing the court opinion, recognized that the issue is really abortion. Alito notes on Page 2 of the Burwell v. Hobby Lobby ruling: “The owners of the business have religious objections to abortion, and according to their religious beliefs the four contraceptive methods at issue are abortifacients.” He audaciously adds that it doesn’t matter whether or not the methods are in fact abortifacients — faith trumps all. 

This is not to take fundamentalists off the hook. Observant Catholics and fundamentalist Protestants, who used to kill each other over arcane differences over such things as baptism and the sprinkling of babies, are uniting to fight their common foes: secularism and women’s rights. But the Catholic Church is past master at this game. 

If Dolan and his bishops have their way, contraception would be banned, everywhere. Abortion, even to save a woman’s life, would be banned. We recently witnessed the horrific handiwork of the church. A young Indian dentist with a wanted pregnancy who begged to live, begged for removal of her dying fetus, instead died unnecessarily of blood poisoning, because she had the misfortune to miscarry in Galway, Ireland, where Catholic doctrine reigns supreme. Catholic doctrine places faith and dogma above humanity, and certainly above the rights and lives of women. Let’s hope Mr. Freedman of the Times will someday write a column about the truly sordid history of Catholic crimes against women.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation alerted the Hobby Lobby craft store chain a year ago about numerous distortions in its full-page July 4 ad featuring quotes supposedly showing the U.S. government is predicated on a god.

The company, founded and operated by preacher’s son David Green, didn’t correct or alter those misleading claims and quotes when it ran a similar ad this July 4 in hundreds of newspapers.

“This disinformation campaign is not benign,” said Annie Laurie Gaylor, FFRF co-president. “The ‘crafty’ owner of this national chain has not only sabotaged the contraceptive mandate of the Affordable Care Act, but is using his considerable fortune to establish a bible museum in Washington, D.C., intended to promote the ‘Big Lie’ that America is a Christian nation. David Green has also commissioned a slanted bible curriculum that he intends to force into our public schools. It’s time to call Hobby Lobby out for its irresponsible misrepresentations.”

FFRF called for a boycott of the chain last fall after the Supreme Court took its appeal. In late June, the all-male, all-Catholic majority of the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Hobby Lobby is exempt from the contraceptive mandate, based on Green’s claim that his religious rights are offended if women employees use company insurance for methods of which he disapproves.

“Hobby Lobby’s quotes are meant to give the false impression that the U.S. is a Christian nation and that our nation ‘trusts in God,’ ” noted FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel, who meticulously researched the quotes. His commentary appears on FFRF’s interactive Web page

The Web page contrasts the Hobby Lobby quotes with the original quotes. “But, just like Hobby Lobby’s god, the quotes aren’t very trustworthy. They are wildly inaccurate in some cases,” Seidel said.

Hobby Lobby’s baldest attempts to rewrite history are in quotes about two atheists, which make them appear religious or complimentary of religion. Its misleading quote of Achille Murat, whom its ad describes as “a French observer of America in 1832,” is edited to make Murat seem pro-religion, when in fact he was criticizing religion’s racist and proselytizing goals.

Similarly, Hobby Lobby grossly mischaracterizes a Supreme Court case that upheld a provision in freethinker Stephen Girard’s last will and testament leaving $2 million (about $43 million today; who says nonbelievers aren’t generous?) to start a school for educating orphans, so long as “no ecclesiastic, missionary, and minister” held any position in the school. Hobby Lobby falsely calls this a “unanimous decision commending and encouraging the use of the Bible in government-run schools.”

Seidel asks: “If Hobby Lobby can’t be trusted to quote fairly from historical documents, how can it possibly design an objective bible course for public schools?”


FFRF ran 24 full-page ads last year, headlined “In Reason We Trust” and celebrating America’s “godless Constitution,” in daily newspapers around the country seeking to balance previous July 4 Hobby Lobby ads. Twenty-five ads were planned, but the news daily in Oklahoma City, where Hobby Lobby is based, censored FFRF’s ad. View the ad here.

Gaylor noted that it’s not possible to compete with Hobby Lobby’s scale of advertising. According to Forbes Magazine, Hobby Lobby has $3.3 billion in sales and 555 stores nationwide. This year, FFRF instead reacted to the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby ruling with a full-page ad in The New York Times on July 3. View the ad here.

“Don’t shop at Hobby Lobby. Your money is being used to work against contraceptive rights, to undermine secular education and to lobby for a Christian nation,” she said.

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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