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Lauryn Seering

Lauryn Seering

Deana Weaver

Pennsylvania Senate
April 15, 2015

Thank you for welcoming something different into your day. It is an honor for a constituent to be given a voice before this governing body.

In recent months, religious beliefs have been at the forefront of a heated national debate.

We are fortunate to be citizens of the country founded and formed to recognize the importance of the individual, where no one shall be made to hide, or justify, his or her personal beliefs, and where no government shall impose a singular religion on its citizenry.

Where there are misunderstandings, we may engage in conscientious and respectful dialogues to assuage fears. I am humbled to represent a portion of your diverse constituency. This raises the question, can atheists pray?

A prayer can be meditative — seeking the inner strength to face difficulty and challenge.
A prayer can be solicitous — seeking to bring a benefit or relief of tribulation to oneself, a loved one or to strangers.

A prayer can be a direct appeal to a higher power. So, let us pray
That we may use our power to lead with compassion and understanding.

That we remain tolerant of others, regardless of differences in religious beliefs, gender, race and sexual or political orientation.

That we treat one another as we wish to be treated.

Let us pray for open minds, and for the strength to overcome preconceived judgments. Let us learn daily and consider wisely.

Let us be mindful of our one diverse human family with common values and needs.
Let us work toward clean air and water, safe neighborhoods, strong schools and a viable economy with sustained employment opportunities.

Let us provide for well-trained and equipped firefighters, emergency responders, police and military. Let us never forget their sacrifices.
As we forge ahead, toward the common good of community, may we all benefit from the enduring power of diversity.
Thank you.
Deana Weaver, a member of the Dillsburg, Pa., Area Freethinkers, was raised in a Methodist household "but by age 14 recognized hypocrisy and social attitudes of which I no longer wanted to be a part. I volunteered as a hospital candy striper on Sunday mornings to avoid my parents' church attendance requirement."

Her parents signed a waiver allowing her to enlist at age 16 in the U.S. Army. She left for active service after high school graduation in 1977, serving for four years and for 10 years in the Army Reserves.

Deana said she has pleaded with lawmakers "to refrain from applying their personal religious beliefs to legislation — very frustrating conversations."

Linda Stephens
Town Board, Greece, N.Y.
Oct. 20, 2015

Good evening. I would like to thank Supervisor Reilich and the Town Board members for allowing me to deliver the invocation this evening. I am a member of Sunday Assembly Rochester, which is a secular congregation popularly known as an "atheist church." Sunday Assembly welcomes nontheists of all stripes, including atheists, agnostics, humanists, freethinkers and other like-minded people.

On a personal note, I am sometimes disappointed with the quality of the invocations given before the Town Board meetings, including the atheist ones. For that reason, I sought help with this one tonight. I hope you find it acceptable.

The town of Greece is a big town. Nearly 100,000 people live here, many different kinds of people. Sometimes this can present problems, but more often than not, it's a source of our strength. Greece residents do not all think the same way or believe the same things. Yet, it is important to remember that we are all linked by our common humanity and our shared origin. When we work together to move our town forward in a spirit of mutual respect and common decency, we showcase what is best about our community, our state and our nation.
The residents of Greece have diverse beliefs. We are Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, humanists, atheists, agnostics, Wiccans, pagans, Sikhs, and that's not all. We are straight, gay and transgender. We are young and old and everything in between. We are of different races and nationalities. Some of us are liberal, some of us are conservative, and some of us are a bit of both.

It is not surprising then that we do not agree about everything. And we often feel fiercely protective of what we do believe. There is great passion in our beliefs, and rightly so.

But there is one thing on which we can all agree. We share the goal of making our community the best place it can be. We unite here this evening around that noble aim and common purpose. Thank you.

FFRF Life Member Linda Stephens, a retired public school librarian, was the atheist plaintiff in the Town of Greece v. Galloway Supreme Court decision, and with co-plaintiff Susan Galloway received FFRF's 2014 Freethinker of the Year award. Her invocation is modeled on one developed by Americans United for Separation of Church and State for its Operation Inclusion project. Sunday Assembly Rochester is a godless congregation that meets monthly.

Zachary Moore
City Council, Keller, Texas
Aug. 18, 2015

Mayor Matthews and council members, on behalf of the Keller Humanists and the Keller Interfaith Alliance, I'd like to thank you for this opportunity to help memorialize this meeting tonight.

As the council gathers here to make decisions on behalf of the people of Keller, I ask you to lift your heads, to open your eyes and open your hearts.

Let us remember the words of the prophet Isaiah, who imagined a kingdom of peace where "the wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together; and a little child shall lead them."

Let us remember the children of Keller tonight, who will be returning to their studies next week. What we do here as citizens prepares the way for our children, and the children of our neighbors, to lead us into the future. Let us build for them a city of peace and prosperity, of hope and opportunity. Let us instill in them the values of equality and liberty, help them celebrate inclusively the diversity of our community.

Let us show them, through our decisions here tonight and moving forward, that we seek to bring about a peaceable kingdom, where adversaries become companions, and where fear is replaced by love, right here in Keller.

Thank you for your service to the people of Keller.

FFRF member Zachary Moore, who has a Ph.D. in molecular biology from the University of Cincinnati, has given three secular invocations to the Keller City Council, with a fourth canceled (see sidebar). Zachary, former executive director of the Fellowship of Freethought Dallas and coordinator for the Dallas–Fort Worth Coalition of Reason, is currently executive director of Keller Humanists, treasurer of Camp Quest Texas and a Foundation Beyond Belief board member.

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FFRF legal victories

Bible class discontinued at Alabama school

Blount County School District in Oneonta, Ala., did not offer a bible study elective class for the 2015-16 school year after FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel lodged a complaint about the unconstitutional class.

The class was taught by a teacher and a local Baptist pastor. Class topics included "How we got the bible; Doctrine issues and how they apply to the bible; How to find Christ in the Old Testament — How the Old Testament relates to the New Testament." The translation used in the class was described as providing "the most recent evangelical Christian bible scholarship."

Seidel quoted the 1948 Supreme Court case McCollum v. Board of Education, in which the court wrote, "Here not only are the state's tax-supported public school buildings used for the dissemination of religious doctrines. The State also affords sectarian groups an invaluable aid in that it helps to provide pupils for their religious classes through use of the state's compulsory public school machinery. This is not separation of Church and State."

The district's attorney, Donald B. Sweeney, Jr., informed Seidel on Sept. 2 that the class was discontinued for the following school year.

Classroom prayers nixed in North Carolina

A teacher in the school district of Perquimans County in Hertford, N.C., will no longer be permitted to lead her first-graders in prayer after FFRF contacted the district and informed it of the constitutional violation.

Susan Jordan, first-grade teacher at Perquimans Central School, previously led her class in prayer every day before lunch. "Public school teachers may not lead, direct, or ask students to engage in prayer," wrote FFRF Staff Attorney Patrick Elliott on Sept. 2. "The School District of Perquimans County has an obligation under the law to make certain that 'subsidized teachers do not inculcate religion,'" wrote Elliott, quoting a Supreme Court case.

The school district's attorney, Richard A. Schwartz, promptly informed FFRF on Sept. 4 that the superintendent had investigated FFRF's allegations and met with the teacher. "School officials are confident there will not be any further problems," Schwartz said.

No prayers at school employee meetings

FFRF has ensured that prayers will not be given during future mandatory faculty meetings in the Montgomery Independent School District in Texas. The school district had brought a Christian pastor to give a prayer at an Aug. 18 employee meeting, and the dean of academics also offered a prayer.

"Federal courts have held that mandatory meetings for government employees cannot promote religion," FFRF Staff Attorney Sam Grover wrote. "This type of religious endorsement unfairly isolates non-Christian and nonreligious employees and could also be perceived as workplace harassment."

A response from the superintendent on Sept. 8 said that the district "has addressed these incidents with the appropriate personnel and have taken steps to be proactive in training our administrative staff on the complexities inherent in protecting the constitutional principle of separation between church and state."

Teacher kicked out of religious club

A teacher at Colonial High School in Orange County (Fla.) Public Schools will no longer have a leadership role in CONFRA: Hispanic Christian Action, a religious club, following involvement into the issue by FFRF.

FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel wrote the district on Aug. 27 about the teacher's conduct. She posted on Facebook in Spanish: "I'm super happy and grateful to God because it pleases Him to use me as His instrument, placed in my heart to open a CONFRA at the school where I work . . . For the first meeting I invited 14 young leaders to start and they all came."

"As you know, the district cannot allow its faculty to form religious student groups, or to participate in religious exercises with students," Seidel wrote.

In a Sept. 8 response, OCPS attorney John C. Palmerini told FFRF that the teacher had been informed that she cannot participate in the club's activities.
Texas school's social media secularized

Staff at the Lake Dallas Independent School District will no longer promote religion on official school district social media pages after FFRF contacted the district regarding the issue.

A student reported to FFRF that the school district's Twitter feed had re-tweeted a prayer. "Public schools have a constitutional obligation to remain neutral toward religion," FFRF Staff Attorney Sam Grover reminded the district. "The district must make certain that it does not unlawfully endorse religion, either in the classroom or through social media."

"From this point forward, I will ensure that staff is better educated in the subject through more thorough professional development sessions and public school law sessions," wrote Superintendent Gayle Stinson in a Sept. 14 response. "Our goal is to provide an inclusive environment for all students."

Last Supper has last day at Kansas school

After FFRF protested, Haysville Public Schools in Kansas removed a print of Leonardo Da Vinci's "The Last Supper" from the cafeteria of Nelson Elementary School.

"As you are certainly aware, the display of religious messages in the school setting violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment," Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel wrote to the school district. "When a district promotes religion over nonreligion, it impermissibly turns non-believing students, parents, and staff into outsiders."

Donna L. Whiteman, attorney for the school district, informed Seidel on Sept. 14 that the print had been removed.

Graduation prayer taken off the schedule

At the Iberia High School (Mo.) graduation in 2015, a reverend gave a heavily Christian invocation and benediction. Thanks to the FFRF, this constitutional violation will not recur.

"The Supreme Court has settled this matter—high school graduations must be secular to protect the freedom of conscience of all students," wrote FFRF Staff Attorney Patrick Elliott. "It makes no difference how many students want prayer or wouldn't be offended by prayer at their graduation ceremony. As the Supreme Court has said, 'fundamental rights may not be submitted to vote; they depend on the outcome of no elections.'"

The Iberia R-V School District published a statement on Sept. 10 acknowledging that, despite the opinions of the board members and administrators, it was obligated as a public entity to "follow the directives of the Supreme Court." The district also noted its duty to be a good steward of its funds, and not use taxpayer funds on unnecessary lawsuits.

No more prayer at 'Super Fun Day'

Future "Super Fun Day" events, Special Olympics-style events held at Neal High School in Brewton, Ala., will be free from prayer after FFRF contacted the school district. At the 2015 event, students, staff, volunteers and participants were asked to bow their heads while a prayer was given in Jesus's name.

"It is unlawful for any school-sponsored event to include prayer," wrote FFRF Staff Attorney Sam Grover in a letter to Escambia County Schools Superintendent John J. Knott. "The district has a duty to remain neutral toward religion. By including prayers at an event sponsored for its own students, the district abridges that duty and alienates the one in three young Americans who are not religious."

On Sept. 15, Superintendent Knott informed FFRF that he had directed that future district-sponsored events were not to include scheduled prayer.

School employees don't have to hear prayers in meetings

Prayer will no longer be included in employee meetings in the Dickinson Independent School District in Texas after FFRF sent a complaint letter to the school district.

A district employee informed FFRF that a mandatory teacher in-service training included Dickinson High School principal Billye Smith asking all employees to stand while she prayed.

"Federal courts have held that mandatory meetings for government employees cannot promote religion and specifically that school districts cannot include prayer during teacher in-service trainings," wrote Staff Attorney Sam Grover on Sept. 3.

An attorney for the school district informed Grover on Sept. 16 that the district has advised all campus administrators that leading prayer at staff meetings is unconstitutional.

Illinois school district ends school board prayer

Because of a letter sent by FFRF, Teutopolis Community Unit #50 Board of Education will no longer open with a prayer.

In a letter sent Aug. 28, Staff Attorney Sam Grover wrote, "It is beyond the scope of a public school board to schedule or conduct prayer as part of its meetings. Federal courts have struck down school board practices that include this religious ritual."

Superintendent Bill Fritcher, who often led the prayers, responded on Sept. 15, the entire body of his letter reading: "Teutopolis Unit #50 will discontinue starting school board meetings with a prayer."

Religious posters removed from classroom

A religious poster has been taken down from a sixth-grade teacher's classroom in Texas after FFRF contacted the school district.

A teacher at River Valley Intermediate School in Woodway, Texas, had a large poster in his classroom reading "In God We Trust," which also included a bible verse and a proselytizing advertisement: "If you would like to know Jesus as Lord and Savior, call Need Him Ministry at 1-888-NEED-HIM."

"The District violates the Constitution when it allows its schools to display religious symbols or messages," wrote FFRF Staff Attorney Sam Grover in a letter to the Midway Independent School District. "A poster promoting Christianity violates this basic constitutional prohibition by creating the appearance that the District prefers religion over nonreligion and Christianity over all other faiths."

"The poster in question has been removed from the classroom so that the biblical verse and proselytizing advertisement noted in your correspondence can be removed," wrote Superintendent George E. Kazanas in a Sept. 21 reply.

School officials done with National Day of Prayer

FFRF has ensured that Georgetown Independent School District in Texas will not send administrators to participate in the Georgetown National Day of Prayer in their official capacities.

After explaining that the National Day of Prayer is a sectarian Christian event founded by Billy Graham, FFRF Staff Attorney Sam Grover wrote, "Government officials can worship, pray and participate in religious events in their personal capacities. But they are not permitted to provide credibility or prestige to their religion by lending a government office and government title to religious events."

On Sept. 23, Superintendent Fred Brent assured Grover "that the District is committed to following the requirements of the First Amendment when it comes to the separation of Church and State," and said that the administrator did not know he would be expected to speak at the prayer event. "I can assure you that if the District is invited to attend this or similar events in the future, and we do send someone to attend, it will not be in a leadership or participatory role as a district official," Brent said.

Florida school adds freethought quotes

FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel sent a complaint letter last April to the University of Florida at Gainesville about a biblical quote inscribed at the newly erected Heavener School of Business. The quote chosen by donor James W. Heavener from Micah 6:8 says, "He has shown you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you?"

Now the public university has announced it will add three quotes from secular sources to be part of an "ethical portal" highlighting the importance of ethics in business. One quote chosen, from freethinking deist Thomas Paine, was suggested by Seidel: "My country is the world, and my religion is to do good." ("The Rights of Man" 1791)

The two other quotes were contributed by a faculty member who teaches ethics:

• "To restrain our selfish[ness], and to indulge our benevolent affections, constitutes the perfection of human nature." (Adam Smith, "The Theory of Moral Sentiments" 1759)
• "Wealth is evidently not the good we are seeking; for it is merely useful and for the sake of something else." (Aristotle, "Nicomachean Ethics")

The portal includes a plaque that states, in part, "Scholars and students of ethics derive universal ethical principles from a wide range of sources, secular and religious, whether or not any particular scholar or student ascribes to religious beliefs."

FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor commented, "In an ideal world, there would be no religion or irreligion inscribed on public university property, but we think this compromise is acceptable, given that the biblical engraving was a fait accompli. We extend our appreciation to the university for its thoughtful response. Many people do not realize that Adam Smith was a freethinker in his own right, saying in 'The Wealth of Nations' that 'Science is the great antidote to the poison of enthusiasm and superstition.' "

Texas students freed from praying more

The Frisco (Texas) Independent School District removed a display reading "Pray more, worry less" from the Roach Middle School front office after getting Staff Attorney Sam Grover's letter Sept. 11.

The district informed FFRF on Sept. 25 that the display was removed from public view.

School steered toward religious neutrality

The Avon (Ind.) Community School Corp. has taken corrective action regarding an inappropriate religious assembly that students were required to attend.

A Sept. 9 assembly titled "Stay In Your Lane" was mandatory for Avon High School sophomores. Two speakers from the group "Steered Straight" told their stories of recovering from drug addiction, stories that were laced with religion.

One speaker told students, "Someone wanted me on this Earth" while pointing to the ceiling and discussed angels watching over him. The other said, "I pray to God that you get this message." The wife of one of the speakers also reportedly told students that "God has a purpose for you."

Staff Attorney Sam Grover's Sept. 17 letter noted: "Steered Straight's Facebook page has several spiritual posts that should have alerted the district to the potential religious nature of [the] presentation. Regardless of the motives of the presenters or those who invited them, allowing an organization access to your student body to promote a religious message gives the appearance that the district endorses that message."

In a Sept. 24 reply, Superintendent Margaret Hoernemann said the district would discuss separation of state and church with administrators "as a timely reminder of our commitment to remaining neutral toward religion."

FFRF ends longtime grotto violations

Several Oregon public schools will no longer be performing during a holiday chorale concert at a Catholic shrine. Local families alerted FFRF in 2013 about numerous public school districts that scheduled students to perform during the Festival of Lights event in Portland at the 62-acre Sanctuary of Our Sorrowful Mother, aka "The Grotto."

In his December 2013 complaint letters to 24 school districts, Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel said the issue is twofold: "They're taking students to a church, and courts have said schools can't do that. The second reason is that The Grotto is making money off the backs of public school children." The facility, run by the Servite Friars, charges for parking, money which goes to fund religious activities.

"The stage is also flanked by two religious statues, one on either side," noted Seidel. "Murals depict different moments in the life of Jesus, Mary and Joseph, the Via Matris or seven sorrows of Mary, and the massive center mural is named 'the Coronation of the Blessed Virgin Mother in heaven.' Visitors sit in pews marked with crosses and the building is crowned by a golden dome and cross."

Jollee Patterson, Portland Public Schools general counsel, sent an email to administrators in September: "Even if PPS singing groups perform songs from a variety of religious traditions, the strongly religious setting during the Festival of Lights could create a perception that the school is endorsing and supporting a particular religious tradition."
Of the 24 districts contacted by FFRF, it appears that five (Aberdeen, Bend-LaPine, Longview, Washougal and West Linn-Wilsonville) did not participate in the 2014 concert.

FFRF sent follow-up letters Oct. 23 to districts that have not complied.

FFRF curbs coach's religious comments

FFRF reminded the Kenmore High School football coach in Akron, Ohio, about school policies on the promotion of religion after his comments at an event at which the team received a gift of new uniforms.

A complainant alerted FFRF to Coach Kemp Boyd's religious comments such as talking about "honoring God with your abilities."

"These comments raise concerns about Coach Boyd crossing the constitutional line while he's acting in his official capacity as a public school representative," wrote Senior Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert in an Aug. 21 letter.

General Counsel Rhonda Porter replied Sept. 29, noting that she met with Boyd and reviewed school policies. "Coach Boyd assured me that he fully understands the importance of keeping his personal religious beliefs separate from his duties as a coach," Porter said.

Godly decals removed from sheriff's cars

The Houston County (Ala.) Sheriff's Office has removed Matthew 5:9 "Blessed are the Peacemakers" decals from patrol cars. Staff Attorney Sam Grover informed Sheriff Donald Valenza in late July that the display "undermines the credibility of the sheriff's office in the eyes of the nonreligious and minority religious citizens."

According to an Oct. 8 Dothan Eagle news story, County Administrator Bill Dempsey advised Valenza to remove the stickers. "Of course neither the commission or anyone here supports that request, however we contacted our liability insurance carrier and their attorneys said if we take this to court they said we're going to lose," Dempsey said. "The county would be looking at hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal expenses."

"We're disappointed the county is only doing the right thing to avoid a losing lawsuit, but are very pleased to secure this victory on behalf of our Houston County members and supporters," said FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor.

Americans United for Separation of Church and State had also lodged complaints.

San Diego libraries to stay open on Easter

San Diego public libraries, typically open on Sundays, will no longer close on Easter. "Easter is neither a federal holiday nor a California state holiday," wrote Senior Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert in a June complaint letter. "As a matter of policy, the library should remain open on Easter to continue to provide San Diego residents with library services, as it does on [other] Sundays."

Library Director Misty Jones notified FFRF on Sept. 29 that all San Diego libraries would remain open on Easter Sundays.

FFRF has responded to a letter from 47 members of Congress who claim it's constitutional for a public school's assistant football coach to lead team prayer, despite the school district ordering the coach to stop.

The congressional letter, which was sent to Bremerton (Wash.) School Superintendent Aaron Leavell and Bremerton High School Principal John Polm, states they are concerned "over reports that the Bremerton School District views Coach Joseph Kennedy's tradition of quietly praying at the fifty yard line after the conclusion of school football games as unlawful."

On Oct.28, the school district put Kennedy on paid leave after he defied the distict's order earlier in the month to not pray at midfield following the team's game.

FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel responded to the congressional letter by sending a letter to U.S. Rep. Randy Forbes and U.S. Sen. James Lankford, co-chairs of the Congressional Prayer Caucus, pointing out the legal errors in their letter defending Kennedy and coach-led prayer. All of the letter's 47 signatories are Republican.

"The Prayer Caucus's letter is misleading and fundamentally misunderstands the law," Seidel writes. "Several other federal courts have examined this precise issue and all have come down on the side of students' right to an education free from proselytizing and not on the side of a predatory adult seeking to use a position of power to impose their religion on other people's children."

Randy Dorn, state superintendent of public instruction, released a statement on Oct. 23 backing the school district's decision. "School staff exercising their right to silently pray in private on their own is fine. But leading a prayer isn't. School officials are role models; leading a prayer might put a student in an awkward position, even if the prayer is voluntary. For students who don't share the official's faith, prayers [sic] the official's public expression of faith can seem exclusionary or even distressing. What's more, that official could open the district up to a lawsuit."

Kennedy is now being represented by Liberty Institute, a Christian Right group based in Texas. In a letter to the school district, Liberty Institute claims that the postgame prayers are "private religious expression" and has announced plans to sue the district if Kennedy is not allowed to continue the prayers.

On Oct. 29, Kennedy went to the Bremerton football game as a spectator, and prayed in front of the bleachers after the game. According to Heather Graf of King 5 News, Kennedy will be "moving forward with legal action against the school district."

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FFRF protests Kentucky water tower cross

FFRF has objected to a cross atop the Wilmore, Ky., water tower. "It is unlawful for Wilmore to display a patently religious symbol such as a Christian cross on public property," said Senior Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert in a Sept. 29 letter to Mayor Harold Rainwater.

Markert informed Rainwater that FFRF successfully sued the town of Whiteville, Tenn., over its water tower cross. Ultimately, the town agreed to settle the suit, paying FFRF's costs and legal fees.

The Wilmore water tower is on the property of Asbury University, a Christian liberal arts college, but is owned by the city of Wilmore. When ownership was transferred from the university to the city 45 years ago, the school stipulated that the cross should remain.
Rainwater has vowed to keep the cross. "I'm certainly going to fight to keep it with everything I've got. I think it's symbolic of our town," Rainwater told the Jessamine Journal. "We won't take it down unless we're forced to take it down."

"The United States is not a Christian nation, Kentucky is not a Christian state, Wilmore is not a Christian town, and its water tower serves all residents regardless of religion," said FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. "Crosses belong on church steeples, not public water towers."

FFRF urges any Wilmore residents offended by their government's endorsement of Christianity to reach out to FFRF.

A Texas school district will no longer let the high school principal preach to students or be involved with a religious after-school club after getting a Sept. 28 complaint from FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel.

A lawyer for the Prosper Independent School District responded that Principal Greg Wright will no longer speak "in his capacity as District employee at future on-campus, student-led See You at the Pole events." Attorney Charles Crawford also said the First Priority Club will be "student-formed and led."

An earlier Facebook post by parents promoting the club said Wright is "beginning an organization for students called First Priority on October 7 that will meet twice per month in the auditorium. They will sing, pray and praise.

"It's like FCA, but some tend to believe FCA is centered more around athletes so Mr. Wright wants all students to feel welcomed at his First Priority meetings. He said this morning [that] Christian faith is an active faith. He's encouraging students to be proactive and make their daily walk with Christ a priority."

FFRF first received a report from a family in the district detailing how Wright preached to students at the school's Sept. 25 See You at the Pole prayer gathering and that Assistant Principal Rachell Grant displayed a Latin cross and a plaque in her office. The plaque said: "God didn't promise days without pain, laughter without sorry, nor sun without rain. But he did promise strength for the day."

In the FFRF letter, Seidel also asked the district to be wary of potential bullying: "We request that PISD clearly communicate to students and staff that any retaliatory action taken against district families they might believe responsible for raising state-church issues with the school will not be tolerated."

Crawford said the district will "continue to enforce its anti-bullying policies" and bar display of religious items.

FFRF will bestow a student activist award on the complainant, whose essay will be published in a future Freethought Today.

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Patheos hosting Freethought Now!

A blog by FFRF staff members titled Freethought Now! is being hosted by Patheos, a website dedicated to providing a credible dialogue on religion and nonreligion. Freethought Now! will be part of the Atheist Channel on Patheos, which hosts about 40 blogs, including Hemant Mehta's popular The Friendly Atheist. Patheos hosts more than 500 other religious blogs and is accessed by millions of readers every month.

Access the FFRF blog at

Some recent blogs are Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel's "Hobby Lobby, owners under investigation for looting artifacts," Staff Attorney Sam Grover's "Arizona's anti-abortion law leads schools astray," and Co-President Dan Barker's "Let's ask for bible-free rooms."

FFRF expects the new collaboration will increase its visibility and membership. Most Patheos traffic comes from social media. Some blogs get millions of hits a month. In addition to exposing FFRF's writing, activism and vision to a new audience, it will generate a modest income for our nonprophet nonprofit.

For now, our former blog site,, will host our archives and carry a link to the Patheos site. If you are signed up to receive notices of FFRF blogs by email, you will continue to receive a "teaser" of the blog that will take you to the Patheos site.

Nonbelief Relief, a new humanitarian agency for atheists, agnostics and freethinkers, has awarded its first grant: $20,000 to Doctors Without Borders.

The Nonbelief Relief board voted to give the grant after the Oct. 3 aerial bombing by the U.S. military of a Doctors Without Borders hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan, killing 22 people: 12 staff members and 10 patients, including three children. Another 37 people, including 19 staff members, were injured.

"The attack constitutes a grave violation of International Humanitarian Law," Doctors Without Borders noted, calling an it "attack on the Geneva Conventions" and a "war crime." It's seeking an unprecedented independent investigation by the International Humanitarian Fact-Finding Commission.

Nonbelief Relief is a venue for nonbelievers to give assistance as nonbelievers.
"We think it's important that it be known that secularists are just as charitable, if not more charitable than the religious, but have simply lacked the infrastructure to give as a united group under the banner of freethought," says Nonbelief Relief President Annie Laurie Gaylor, who also serves as FFRF co-president.

Others on Nonbelief Relief's board are Lisa Strand, FFRF's director of operations; Stephen Hirtle, FFRF's chair and professor at the University of Pittsburgh; and Madison, Wis.-area businessman and FFRF board member Jim Zerwick, who first proposed the donation.
FFRF is the sole member of the charity. Individuals and FFRF members may add their donations to Doctors Without Borders by designating an online donation for Nonbelief
Relief at:

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FFRF debuts atheist marquee

While most of the Christian churches in the U.S. (which number about 320,000) proselytize on marquees, secular groups haven't promoted freethought in a similar manner. But now, FFRF has debuted its prominent digital marquee as part of the Oct. 9 grand opening of its newly expanded Freethought Hall in downtown Madison, Wis.

"What the freethought movement has needed is a marquee of its own," said Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. FFRF will keep its marquee "upbeat and positive" while still forthright, unlike many church marquees that include lakes of eternal fire and brimstone, putdowns of nonbelievers or quips against equal rights for gays, atheists and women.

"We're putting freethought on the map," added Co-President Dan Barker, "and we want Freethought Hall to be a landmark."

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Meet a Wisconsin member

Name: Dawn Thom.

Where I live: Green Bay, Wis.

Where and when I was born: I was born in the town of Upham in Wisconsin over 80 years ago.
Family: Six lovely children, all college educated with good careers, nine beautiful grandchildren and two wonderful great-grandsons who make me laugh.

Education: I went to a one-room school during my elementary years except for one year in a two-room school. I graduated from high school and went to business college for two years.
Occupation: At retirement, after 21 years, I was an internal auditor for a bank.

How I got where I am today: I was a stay-at-home mom until the children were self-sufficient and then went back into the workforce. My employer used to say I should just turn my salary over to my college-age children as that is where the money went, even though they also worked.

Eighteen years ago, my then husband, who was Lutheran and head of the family in his eyes and the church's, wanted to teach me a lesson, so I was served divorce papers. His minister quoted the bible that women were not to speak and only ask their husband if they wanted to know anything. The hate in my ex's eyes as he said I belonged in jail and he would try to put me there, set the stage to extract myself from the area. I moved to my present city to be safe.

Where I'm headed: I have written three books, two on local history, now located in the Green Bay library historical section, and one on domestic abuse, which has been approved by Golden House, the Green Bay abuse center. I volunteered for hospice work for a couple of years, learned to fly little planes and kept up on politics.

At this age, it's a one-way trip, but I will end it, kicking and screaming all the way. I'm researching penal institutions, especially how communities and people treat felons who lack of housing and jobs when released, then show amazement when they reoffend. They have created the self-fulfilling prophecy of recidivism.

It has always puzzled me that most people judging someone for making bad choices are the most religious. So many do not have the empathy to reach down and give a hand to the needy. It is like they would soil their hands and not make it to heaven. Yet, Jesus is supposed to have said, "As ye do to the least of these, you do unto me."

Ideas for two new books are rolling around in my head, but I haven't been able to master the software needed. One would be on farm life in the 1930s to 1960s, the other about a young man incarcerated for 18 years after he made a bad decision at age 19 and the trials he has to overcome after release. Something always interferes, especially now with the hysterically funny politics.

My mother lived to be 91 and her brother to age 93, driving a car until he was 92. My father's sister was well over 100 when she passed. All three stayed mentally alert. My brother is turning 88, drives his own car, and he and his wife take care of their house with very few problems. Full steam ahead!

Person in history I admire: The strong women who have stood up for equal rights and had the strength to not back down. Many are "unknown" but have lent their courage to the rest.
A quotation I like: "Let me live in my house by the side of the road and be a friend to man. " (Sam Walter Foss, 1858-1911) "Your candle does not glow brighter if you blow someone else's candle out."

These are a few of my favorite things: Flowers, pets, people, traveling, cruises, jokes, music and playing the piano.

These are not: Rigid thinking, negative people, control freaks, especially the ones who use religion as a reason.

My doubts about religion started: Until I was 10, we went to a Congregational church with a lovely woman minister named Mrs. Lavis. Then we moved to my maternal grandparents' farm where the closest church was Lutheran, which my grandfather wouldn't attend, so we went to the United Brethren Evangelical Church. The first time I went to the church service, the ritual seemed normal until the minister started thundering how you could only be saved if you gave yourself to Jesus. Otherwise, you would go to hell. He looked and acted crazy. My eyes opened wide, I shrunk into my seat and clung to my grandmother. This was not religion as I had known it up to then.

The more I was forced to go, the more I resisted. But my parents insisted it wouldn't hurt me, so catechism was a must. I hid the book and did not study and knew only one answer when it came time to pass the test, which embarrassed my family no end.

Before I die: My bucket list starts getting shorter, and then other things pop up, so it is never-ending. Those two books are rattling around in my head just waiting to be put down in the computer. Traveling to see different cultures would be a lot of fun. I've outlived traveling companions. It would be fun to go to D.C. again and see the changes made in the last decades.

Ways I promote freethought: By my actions and discussing my beliefs in a rational manner (most of the time, not always calmly) with those who question or make uneducated remarks about beliefs that conflict with theirs.

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Meet our valuable volunteers

Linda Josheff

Name: Linda Josheff.

Where I live: Town of Cross Plains, Wis.

Where and when I was born: July 1946, Madison, Wis.

Family: Husband, Phil; children and spouses, Julie and Rob, Tess and Jeremy; grandchildren, Cameron, 19, Bailey, 17, Addison, 5; dogs, Bob, Annie and Maizie.

Why I volunteer for FFRF: I believe in the work that is being done here.

What I do as a volunteer: This summer I read essay submissions from students.

What I like best about it: Reading what these young people have to say. It pleases me to see the large number of responses and the thought that went into each entry.

Education: Madison Area Technical College, practical nursing program, 1966; MATC, associate degree in human service, 1985.

My day job is/was: Retired LPN with 35 years of nursing experience.

These three words sum me up: Funny, sentimental, impatient.

My freethought heroes are: Anne Gaylor, Christopher Hitchens, Margaret Sanger.

Things I like: Dogs, fresh air, reading, laughter.

Things I smite: Hypocrisy, the denial of availability of birth control for all women.

Sue Schuetz

Name: Sue Schuetz.

Where I live: Cross Plains, Wis.

Where I was born: Madison, Wis.

Family: Sons Steven and Gary, four grandsons, two daughters-in-law, two sisters, a brother and lots of great friends!

Education: Coursework at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison Area Technical College and Edgewood College.

My day job is/was: I worked 18 years for the Dane County Sheriff's Office. Now I enjoy being a very busy and engaged retiree.

Why I volunteer for FFRF: Because I believe in this important work and the amazing, inspiring people here.

What I do as a volunteer: Whatever needs to be done! For example, reading high school and college essays and helping with mailings.

What I like best about it: Being around like-minded people.

Something funny that's happened here: Realizing, every time I walk into the library, Charles Darwin is not a live person.

These three words sum me up: Energetic, creative, curious.

My freethought heroes are: Anne Nicol Gaylor, Annie Laurie Gaylor, Dan Barker, Andrew Seidel.

Things I like: Walking, reading, Wisconsin Public TV and Radio, being with my grandsons and friends and family, staying at my cabin and doing my artwork.

Things I smite: Barking dogs, wind chimes, pesticides.

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