MADISON, WIS. – Tuesday, February 16, 2016 – Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF), the largest freethought association in North America, today launched its 'I'm Secular and I Vote' campaign to engage millions of non-religious voters and ensure the voices of the fastest-growing minority group in America are heard in the 2016 presidential election.
FFRF today also released results of a recent survey of nearly 8,000 secular voters to help educate the public about their beliefs.
The campaign will include outreach to voters across the nation through FFRF chapters, a national TV ad buy this month focusing on the separation of church and state, paid digital media ads, efforts to mobilize students on college campuses, and coordination with the nation's other major freethought associations as part of the June 4, 2016 Reason Rally in Washington, D.C.
"Since President Obama was first elected, the number of religiously unaffiliated adults in America has grown by nearly 20 million," said FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. "Still, most candidates and media outlets focus their time on traditional religious groups, so we're taking action to be more vocal and coordinated as a demographic that should not be ignored."
A major Pew Research survey recently found 23 percent of the U.S. population is now religiously unaffiliated, with 19 million new adults since 2007 classifying their religious affiliation as atheist, agnostic or nothing in particular, a trend Pew says is being driven primarily by young adults. A third of Millennials now identify as non-religious.
"Much of the movement away from religion in America is being driven by Millennials, many of whom will be voting for the first time this year," said FFRF Co-President Dan Barker. "We need secular voters to be vocal about their beliefs, or lack thereof, while rejecting efforts to push religious dogma on the nation."
FFRF will be working with its 23,500 members, 20 chapters across America and through secular student alliances to encourage supporters to register to vote, attend and speak out on secularism at political events and submit op-eds to local and campus newspapers. FFRF also launched a student essay contest with thousands of dollars in prizes, and will distribute "I'm Secular and I Vote" buttons, T-shirts, bumper stickers and educational material across the country.
FFRF is a nonpartisan and educational nonprofit organization, which does not endorse candidates for office.
NEW SURVEY RESULTS ON SECULAR VOTERS
From June through December 2015, FFRF conducted a survey of its 23,500 members with nearly 8,000 respondents participating across the nation. The survey found 96 percent are registered to vote, which is more than 20 percent higher than the population at large. Seventy-two percent reported having a college degree or higher.
When it comes to political affiliation, 70 percent declined to affiliate themselves with one of the major political parties, and more than 20 percent identified as independent voters. Thirty-six percent described themselves as progressive or liberal.
In addition to supporting the separation of church and state, respondents listed civil rights, women's rights, reproductive freedom, environmental protection, marriage equality, and death with dignity among their top concerns.
"Our survey shows that secular voters are highly educated and independent-minded," said Gaylor. "Many appear to be waiting for a candidate who acknowledges them as a group and speaks forcefully about keeping religion out of government."
- Wisconsin State Journal: Madison Group Mobilizing Atheists During Presidential Election
- The Nation: It’s Not Trump Versus the Pope, It’s Trump Versus Secularism
- The Isthmus: The Secular Vote
- Tikkun: Calling Secular Voters to Make Ourselves Known to the Politicians
- The Blaze: New Poll and the Secular Plan to Harness Political Power
Why is FFRF announcing this campaign now?
We think the timing is perfect with the presidential primaries heading South and candidates pandering to Bible Belt voters. While the media focuses relentlessly on religious and minority voting groups, we need to inform them that secular voters are actually the largest-growing minority group in America.
Do you see secular voters lining up behind any particular candidate? And would they ever support a Republican?
Our recent survey of 8,000 secular voters shows that they are highly independent and would be open to any candidate who acknowledges them as a group and commits to keeping religion out of government. Seventy percent decline to affiliate themselves with one of the major political parties and more than 20 percent identify as independents.
While it's true that the largest group of seculars (36 percent) call themselves progressives or liberals, candidates from all sides of the political spectrum should be reaching out to this growing group of potential voters.
How do you reach secular voters since they aren't in churches or other easy-to-find places?
In today's digitally connected world, you don't need to go to a church to reach voters. Millions of secular voters are engaging on social media and we are reaching out to them through our campaign. We are also involving our 23,500 members and 20 chapters across the country and connecting with secular student groups on college campuses.
What do you recommend candidates do to reach these voters?
Secular voters are now the largest untapped voting demographic and candidates shouldn't be afraid to openly ask for our vote. The first thing would be to acknowledge our importance as a group, which no candidate has done yet.
Visiting college campuses provides a great opportunity for candidates to connect with thousands of young Millennial voters who are leading the drive away from religion in America. Candidates should regularly acknowledge that the nonreligious (who are a quarter of the adult U.S. population and a third of Millennials) are valued citizens and a part of the American fabric. They should be clear about their commitment to the separation of church and state. They should also talk about solutions to issues that these voters are concerned about, such as women's rights, contraceptive and abortion rights, marriage equality and climate change.
Some say secular voters and organizations are too fractured in their efforts to have a big impact. What are you doing to get others to join you in these efforts?
Ninety-seven percent of the members of the Freedom From Religion Foundation are registered voters. They are politically engaged and should not be taken for granted. However, our movement certainly needs to do more to define the common issues of secular voters and to encourage secular candidates to run for political office.
But we also need to remind the mainstream media to cover our concerns. The message of our campaign is very positive and fits in with the goals that other secular groups are trying to accomplish leading up to and during the June 4, 2016 Reason Rally at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. This is all about voter engagement and education, and we will certainly be aligning our messages and efforts with the other groups as part of these efforts.
What is your position on candidates who profess that belief in a higher deity is relevant or necessary to running for public office?
While FFRF is nonpartisan and doesn't endorse or oppose individual candidates, we can point out that statements like those could be very damaging to a candidate in the general election. The number of religiously unaffiliated adults in America has grown by nearly 20 million since the last time we had an open presidential seat. Secular voters now outnumber most traditional religious demographics and we could swing the election if we vote in big enough numbers.
Where will your ads run and how much are you planning on spending on the campaign?
We don't release our ad budgets. However, we can tell you that we have TV ads starting to run on MSNBC, some billboard messages going up this spring and around the time of the political conventions, and a paid digital media campaign to help make our "I'm Secular and I Vote" message go viral.
With the death of Antonin Scalia leaving a vacancy on the Supreme Court, President Obama has the chance for a pivotal nomination to swing the court back toward reason and civil rights. The Freedom From Religion Foundation — and the nation — have been crippled by the 5-4 "anti" bloc on the Supreme Court since Sandra Day O'Connor stepped down. For the sake of our country's future, Obama must reclaim our court.
But even before most citizens had even learned of Scalia's death on Saturday, U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was promising to obstruct any attempt to fill the empty Supreme Court seat. McConnell said, "The American people should have a voice in the selection of their next Supreme Court justice. Therefore, this vacancy should not be filled until we have a new president."
"What disrespect for the American majority that elected Barack Obama to be our president. Twice," (as a letter-writer to the New York Times put it today).
Already many Republican members on the Senate Judiciary Committee, which will be responsible for reviewing Obama's Supreme Court nominations, scrambled in lockstep to echo McConnell. Senator Chuck Grassley, Judiciary chair, claimed such willful obstruction is "standard practice over the last 80 years," despite the fact that Justice Anthony Kennedy was confirmed by the Senate in 1988, an election year. A judiciary staff member arrogantly tweeted: "What is less than zero? The chances of Obama successfully appointing a Supreme Court Justice to replace Scalia." Senator Ted Cruz, who sits on the committee, said the Republican-controlled Senate should ignore any nomination sent by Obama to Capitol Hill.
The dominant, ultraconservative bloc of the Supreme Court has not just halted progress, but has often turned the clock back. Look at the court's decisions in Hein v. FFRF, Arizona Christian School Tuition Organization v. Winn and Greece v. Galloway. The hostile majority on the court has had a chilling effect on Establishment Clause law, and has directly impeded FFRF's efforts to uphold the constitutional wall of separation.
So much hangs in the balance. And it's vital to our cause that the current president make that nomination.
Help make a fuss over the intent to hijack the Supreme Court nomination. Timely letters to the editor and social media comments will influence public opinion. There is no procedure to force the Judiciary Committee to hold hearings. The public must demand this.
Please also contact Grassley, head of the Judicary Committee, to protest his anti-democratic actions, and ask your own state senators to pressure the committee.
Contact Senator Chuck Grassley, Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and your two U.S. senators now to demand action!
• Senator Chuck Grassley
135 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20510
(202) 224-3744 (D.C. office)
•Your state senators
Locate your senators and their contact information
• If you have time, contact other members of the Judicary (please especially be sure to contact your senator if he or she sits on the Senate Judicary Committee).
Republican Senate Judiciary Members are: Senator Orrin G. Hatch, Utah; Senator Jeff Sessions, Ala.; Senator Lindsey Graham, S.C.; Senator John Cornyn, Texas; Senator Ted Cruz, Texas; Senator Jeff Flake, Ariz.; Michael S. Lee, Utah; Senator David Vitter, La.; Senator David Perdue, Ga.; Senator Thom Tillis, N.C.
Democratic members are: Senator Patrick Leahy, Vt.; Senator Dianne Feinstein, Calif.; Senator Charles Schumer, N.Y.; Senator Dick Durbin, Ill.; Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, R.I.; Senator Amy Klobuchar, Minn.; Senator Al Franken, Minn.; Senator Christopher A. Coons, Del., and Senator Richard Blumenthal, Conn.
Feel free to cut and paste any of the talking points above or below
Dear Senator ___:
As [your constituent and] a believer in the democratic process, I'm dismayed and appalled over the announced intent of some senators to openly hijack President Obama's right to fill the vacant Supreme Court seat. The Constitution calls for the president to nominate a replacement and for the Senate to expeditiously consider that nominee. To actively obstruct the nomination process is an injury to the will of the American people who twice elected Obama, and would be a crippling blow to our country's legal landscape.
The reason given for delay is spurious and hypocritical. President Reagan nominated Anthony Kennedy to the Supreme Court and the Senate confirmed him during the 1988 presidential process. In his announcement, Reagan explained why filling the vacancy expeditiously was important, noting that we need to "join together in a bipartisan effort to fulfill our constitutional obligation of restoring the United States Supreme Court to full strength. ... I look forward to ... prompt hearings, conducted in the spirit of cooperation and bipartisanship."
I urge you to do everything within your power to restore the Supreme Court to full strength and to encourage your fellow senators to do the same.
A bill currently in the Mississippi Assembly would consecrate the bible as the state's official book.
Amazingly, state Rep. Tom Miles has introduced House Bill 840, designating "The Holy Bible" as the "official state book." Even more shockingly, he's found nine co-sponsors.
Miles claims, "We are not trying to force religion on anyone." But that's precisely what his absurd and unconstitutional legislation — effectively declaring a state religion — would do. In our country, citizens are free to embrace any religion or "holy book" we like, or none at all. The state must stay out of the religion business.
Please contact the bill's sponsor, Rep. Tom Miles, and cc the nine co-sponsors and your own state representative.
Rep. Tom Miles, D-Forest
400-F, State Capitol
400 High St
Jackson MS 39201
- Find your member's contact info here.
- More about HB 840 here.
Personalize your statement if possible or feel free to cut and paste from below.
I am writing as your constituent and a Mississippi taxpayer to oppose HB 840, to grant the bible the status of our state's "official book."
Legislative preference for one religion's "holy book" over others would create a hostile environment for nonbelievers and those who prefer other religious teachings. HB 840 sends a message of Christian endorsement and disparagement of nonbelievers and non-Christians, turning them into political outsiders. The Mississippi Legislature has no authority or right to determine what is "the holy word of God," or if there is a "holy word of God," or whether there is a "God" at all.
Our nation is not founded on religious belief or a scripture, but upon secular principles laid out in a godless Constitution. The U.S. Constitution grants sovereignty not to a deity or a 'holy book,' but to 'We the People,'" and explicitly separates religion from government.
HB 840 is a terrible idea.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation is urging a Florida public high school to remove a pastor acting as school chaplain.
The Vero Beach High School football coach, Lenny Jankowski, employs a team chaplain, Pastor Joe Moore, to preach to his players. The team's football players and cheerleaders participate in game day prayer breakfasts at a local church, which often include ministers preaching to the football players and cheerleaders with football coaches in attendance. In addition, Moore seems to have access to the school's other teams, especially the baseball players.
A video posted to the Central Florida Fellowship of Christian Athletes Facebook page promoting the Indian River County Fellowship of Christian Athletes (of which Moore is director) indicates multiple breaches of the constitutional wall separating state and church.
The video begins with a photo of Moore praying with the Vero Beach High football team while coaches, including Jankowski, join in. It then shows Moore leading a prayer at a game day prayer breakfast.
In the video, Jankowski talks about offering Moore a position at the school.
Moore "thought about it for 30 seconds or so and accepted the position, and really from there he has taken it and run so much farther than I ever imagined," Jankowski says. "It has since turned into just an unbelievable deal; I mentioned about 43 sports teams, at all levels sub-varsity and varsity."
The context indicates the position referenced in the video is likely football chaplain at Vero Beach High. Jankowski, also the athletic director for the school, suggests that Moore has access to the other sports teams. He states that Moore is considered full time, and the football team's staff photos support this.
Assistant football coach/head baseball coach Bryan Rahal explains how the baseball program has also utilized Moore as a chaplain. Moore is given access to the team at baseball games and is allowed to be in the dugout with the team. He leads the team in prayer before baseball games. The players have reportedly even refused to take the baseball field without praying because they have become so accustomed to Moore delivering prayers.
"Public school football teams cannot appoint or employ a chaplain, seek out a spiritual leader for the team or agree to have a volunteer team chaplain, because public schools may not advance or promote religion," says FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel. "Furthermore, it is illegal for public school athletic coaches to lead or allow someone to lead their teams in prayer. The Supreme Court has continually struck down school-sponsored prayer in public schools."
Jankowski's and Rahal's conduct is unconstitutional because they are endorsing and promoting their religion when acting in their official capacity as school district employees. They represent the school and their teams when they act in their official roles as head coaches of their respective teams. Therefore, they cannot lead their teams in prayer and they cannot employ a chaplain to lead team prayer, either. When a public school employee acting in an official capacity organizes and advocates for team prayer, the person effectively endorses religion on the district's behalf, adds Dan Barker, FRRF co-president.
FFRF is asking the Indian County River School District to immediately initiate an investigation, discontinue the "team chaplaincy" at Vero Beach High, and refrain from employing a "team chaplain" for any of the district's sports programs. It is asking that Moore's relationship with schools and employees be severed and that Jankowski and Rahal be reprimanded for violating clear constitutional strictures.
FFRF is a national state/church watchdog organization with 23,000 nonreligious members, including more than 1,000 individuals in Florida.
Click here to watch the ad.
The 30-second commercial aired on the show last night (after being pre-empted by election returns Tuesday), and returns tonight. It's scheduled to run about 9:52 p.m. Eastern. FFRF will air the commercial as funds permit periodically during the election season as a reminder that candidates are running for secular office, not "pastor in chief."
The commercial depicts the famous lines delivered by presidential candidate John F. Kennedy to the Greater Houston Ministerial Association in 1960: "I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute . . . where no religious body seeks to impose its will directly or indirectly on the general populace."
FFRF urges viewers to "restore respect for America's secular roots." The ad makes this appeal: "Help the Freedom From Religion Foundation defend the wall of separation between state and church. Join us at FFRF.org. Freedom depends on freethinkers."
"It's dismaying to see how much ground we've lost," says Annie Laurie Gaylor, FFRF co-president. "In 1960, when JFK made his famous remarks, a candidate had to pledge allegiance to our secular Constitution. Today, a de facto religious test for public office has been imposed."
The 30-second spot is accompanied by a piano rendition of "America the Beautiful" recorded by FFRF Co-President Dan Barker. The ad concludes with the strains of "Let freedom ring" and the image of a Lincoln penny with "In Reason We Trust" replacing "In God We Trust."
FFRF debuted the TV ad in 2012 on MSNBC and CBS.