A serious violation of the separation between state and church looms. Senate Bill 1274 was introduced July 10. This bill proposes that churches, synagogues, mosques, temples and other places of worship destroyed or damaged by natural disasters such as Hurricane Sandy should receive federal, financial aid. The Establishment Clause firmly prohibits our government from funding religions, including the construction and repair of churches. If passed this bill would give millions of dollars of taxpayers' -your- money to organizations which already receive substantial tax-exempt charitable donations.
Citizens should not have to fund a religion that they do not participate in! Call, write or email your senator telling them to vote NO on S.1274!
• The bill was assigned to the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs. Please contact the committee member chair, or your senator if he or she sits on the committee. (Phone, email and/or tweet). There are 9 Democrats and 8 Republicans.
Chair: Tom Carper, D- Delaware
• Contact your own senators. We encourage both phoning the D.C. office and following up with email or tweet:
You can track this bill yourself online (sign up here).
Please continue to respond in a timely fashion to news developments if this bill moves out of committee. It's helpful to send a letter to the editor about why you oppose such funding and to use social media or social networks or on comment sections at online news sources to influence public opinion.
Read FFRF's previous action alert over a similar bill this spring outlining the concerns and dangers.
Thank you for taking swift action to safeguard an essential principle of our secular government.
Statement by Annie Laurie Gaylor
Freedom From Reiigion Foundation
Florida Gov. Rick Scott apparently looks on public piety as the perfect "out" in response to the outcry over the not guilty verdict in the Trayvon Martin case. After avoiding a sit-in of peaceful African-American youths, then brushing them off with a short meeting, Scott called for a "day of prayer" on Sunday:
"Tonight, the protesters again asked that I call a special session of the Legislature to repeal Florida’s Stand Your Ground law. I told them that I agree with the Task Force on Citizen Safety and Protection, which concurred with the law. I also reminded them of their right to share their views with their state legislators and let them know their opinions on the law."
Scott added, “I also told them that I plan to call for a Statewide Day of Prayer for Unity in Florida this Sunday, July 21. We have a great state with wonderful, resilient people that rise to meet any challenge. While emotions run high during this time of grieving, it is even more important that we join together to strengthen and support one another.”
To see how hollow it is to invoke a deity as some sort of response to this situation, consider that George Zimmerman told Sean Hannity of Fox News last summer that his killing of Trayvon Martin was part of "God's plan."
The motto here at the office of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, coined by principal founder Anne Nicol Gaylor, is "Nothing fails like prayer." It's even on one of FFRF's popular bumper stickers. Prayer is the ultimate political cop-out. In this instance, it's merely a calculated nonresponse. Scott hopes to get African-Americans, traditionally considered highly religious, off his back. He thinks it will appease them and all of us who are disgusted by the idea of an armed vigilante chasing down and shooting a 16-year-old packing only Skittles and Arizona Iced Tea. By calling for a "day of prayer," Scott also apparently hopes to give the impression that this subject is out of his hands, beyond his control.
Although FFRF members hold a variety of views on gun safety, many Americans, religious or irreligious, are appalled at our nation's firearms free-for-all and the rising number of shootings. African-American citizens are still waiting, and waiting, for that overdue discussion on race relations, and what it means to live in a nation where if you're a parent you're afraid to let your child out the door if they're wearing hoodies, or might end up "in the wrong place at the wrong time" and be perceived as a threat by some paranoid, armed stranger.
Scott should realize many African-Americans will not be impressed with this red herring day of prayer. University of Pennsylvania professor Anthea Butler recently wrote: "As a historian of American and African-American religion, I know that the Trayvon Martin moment is just one moment in a history of racism in America that, in large part, has its underpinnings in Christianity and its history. Those of us who teach American religion have a responsibility to tell all of the story, not just the nice touchy-feely parts. When the good Christians of America are some of its biggest racists, one has to consider our moral responsibility to call out those who clearly are not for human flourishing, no matter what ethnicity a person is."
Evidence of the growing numbers of African-Americans making known their dissent from religion is shown by the Blackout Rally on Saturday, July 27, thought to be the largest rally of secular people of color in U.S. history, taking place in Flushing Meadows Park, Queens, New York. FFRF Co-President Dan Barker and I are interviewing Manisha Thomas, president of Black Nonbelievers, one of the rally's co-sponsors, on Freethought Radio tomorrow (listen here). Learn more about his historic rally.
Governor Scott — your day of prayer is nothing but a pitiful attempt to sidestep an important issue.
Contact Scott to let him know why you object to public officials calling for "days of prayer."
Office of Governor Rick Scott
State of Florida
400 S. Monroe St.
Tallahassee, FL 32399-0001
The Freedom From Religion Foundation, on behalf of its more than 500 Ohio members, is objecting to a religious design on a Holocaust memorial to be built at the Ohio statehouse. FFRF, a Madison, Wis.-based association of 19,000 atheists and agnostics, is a national state/church watchdog.
The design selected for the memorial, created by architect Daniel Libeskind, incorporates stainless steel rectangular structures with the prominent sacred religious Star of David in the negative space. Libeskind's justification for using an overtly religious symbol on government property was, "one cannot separate the Holocaust from the star."
However, semi-finalists Jaume Plensa and Ann Hamilton did just that.
FFRF Co-Presidents Dan Barker and Annie Laurie Gaylor sent a letter June 14, 2013 to former Ohio Senator Richard Finan, chair of the Capitol Square Review and Advisory Board, stating: "Either of Plensa's or Hamilton's designs would be preferable to avoid a potentially unconstitutional entanglement of government and religion. Therefore, the state, in choosing Libeskind's plan using a prominent sacred symbol, knowingly selected and endorsed a design with constitutional concerns."
Before the final design was selected, Finan voiced his concerns about the use of the six-sided star to the Cleveland Plain Dealer. "I think that the Star of David is a religious symbol, and religious symbols, we have been told on several occasions, are not permissible on Statehouse grounds."
FFRF's letter urges: "The monument could resemble numerous powerful war memorials across the U.S. which do not use any sectarian images, including the national World War II Memorial, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and the Korean War Veterans Memorial. Each is secular in nature and without religious reference, which offends no one and is respected by all. The lack of religious imagery within those memorial designs neither diminishes their significance nor detracts from the respect and honor shown for the victims of those conflicts."
FFRF points out that there were at least five million non-Jewish victims of the Holocaust, including gays, Jehovah's Witnesses, Roma Gypsies, the disabled and many others who are excluded by use of the symbol.
"To align the State of Ohio with one religion and its sacred symbol— even a minority religion for a worthy memorial— would dishonor the truest protection our country has against a similar Holocaust on our shores: the precious constitutional principle separating religion from government. Had there been a separation between religion and state honored and enforced in Germany, ensuring the government could not favor the dominant religion and persecute and scapegoat minority religions and other 'dissidents,' there would not have been a Holocaust."
This morning the Capitol Square Review and Advisory Committee approved the plan over Finan's dissent. Finan subsequently announced his resignation from the board. FFRF Board Member Joseph Sommer spoke against the religious design at today's hearing.
On May 13, a public school district in Muldrow, Okla., confirmed it had permanently removed Ten Commandments plaques posted in classrooms. The whistleblower was 16-year-old student Gage Pulliam, who is the recipient of FFRF’s new “Strong Backbone Student Activist Award,” a cash scholarship of $1,000.
After Gage contacted FFRF about this major constitutional violation, FFRF sent a letter demanding they be taken down. FFRF did not identify the complainant, following its usual policy to protect identities. But after students began fingering peers they suspected of contacting FFRF, Gage bravely came forward.
He and his family subsequently faced a strong backlash from the overwhelmingly Christian community of about 3,500 residents, including bullying of his younger sister and threats against him by other students. He and his family attended a school board meeting packed with angry Ten Commandments supporters. “I want people to know this isn’t me trying to attack religion,” Gage told a TV reporter. “This is my trying to create an environment for kids where they can feel equal.”
A New York FFRF member who prefers not to be named endowed the “Strong Backbone” award. The donor sent the $1,000 contribution as his own “80th birthday present,” specifying the award should go to a high school student who has “showed uncommon strength in standing up for his or her freethought sentiments.”
I was born in the Arkansas/Oklahoma region and have lived there all my life. My parents took me to church frequently when I was small, but I began questioning my faith when I was about 9.
I was allowed to ask questions and seek out answers, encouraged to think for myself and make my own decisions, and I am supported in what I choose. I now consider myself an open atheist and a firm supporter of equality for all people. I hope to continue fighting for the rights of all people and encourage others to do the same.
In the eighth grade I moved to Muldrow. I had noticed the Ten Commandments immediately, but was still very secretive about my atheism. I always had a problem with displaying them because it showed complete disregard for the law.
It wasn’t until recently that I got the courage to say something. I wanted to remain anonymous, but after fingers were pointed and threats were made to the wrong people, I told people it was me.
The community’s reaction was terrible. The kids at school no longer spoke to me, and people who used to be my friends just frowned when I looked their way. All anyone would do was point and stare at me like I was a monster.
People asked my friends how they could laugh or smile around me. I received several threats from kids but always indirectly. As a result, these students have made my last days as a junior the worst of my life.
The parents were different in that they would look at me with disgust and not even try to hide it. The students did not scare me very much, but the parents scared me more than I have ever been scared in my life.
At a school board meeting which my family attended, my father overheard a man sitting behind me say he would like to walk up and punch me in the face. While I was doing a television interview, I could barely concentrate because of the mass of people staring at me.
There has been an overwhelming amount of support from people around the world, and that support is what helped me through this entire ordeal.
The hate mail has all been the same — they tell me I am going to hell and ask me if I am happy about what I’ve done.
My close friends have all supported me and have told me that even though they don’t believe the way I do, they support me in what I did.
I am proud of what I did, no matter how many people hate me. The only thing I want is for people in this world to all be treated equally. And no matter if it takes my entire life, I will continue to do what is necessary to achieve that goal.
Read FFRF's Official Press Release here.
Calli Miller, a University of Wisconsin-Madison student, is the recipient of a $1,000 Catherine Fahringer Memorial Student Activist Award from the Freedom From Religion Foundation.
The scholarship recognizes Calli’s extraordinary contributions to FFRF and state/church separation as an legal intern volunteer during two semesters. Senior Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert says Calli has been a “stand out” intern. “Because of our small staff and voluminous caseload, we expect interns to be self-starters with the ability to work independently. Calli’s research and writing abilities contributed greatly to our work, and she was able to assist FFRF staff attorneys in obtaining several key nonlitigation victories, including egregious prayer violations in schools and before local board meetings. “Calli always conducted herself in a professional manner and contributed to lively discussions in the office and at staff social functions. I know that the legal staff, and the rest of the crew at FFRF, will agree that she truly will be missed,” Markert added.
Ever since I was in early middle school, freethinking was something into which I fell naturally, but I wasn’t really educated on the subject, nor was I an activist.
In fact, I didn’t even know that freethought activism existed until I began at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in the fall of 2011. It was then that I attended my very first Atheists, Humanists, and Agnostics (AHA) at UW-Madison meeting at the urging of my friend. I’ve been a member (and an officer) ever since.
Although fairly new to the freethought movement, I have had the luck of meeting a large number of awesome freethinkers. Through AHA, I have made some great friends, especially among the other officers. Together, we’ve held debates against one of the on-campus Catholic groups, hosted many weekly meetings centered around freethinking discussion topics and, most notably, founded the now-annual Freethought Fest held every year on campus.
Freethought Fest is a 100% free three-day conference with many speakers from all over the country. I feel very fortunate to be a part of the student group resourceful and innovative enough to bring the “large atheist conference” feeling directly to UW-Madison students.
It was at the urging of AHA Executive Director Chris Calvey that I applied to be a legal intern at FFRF. I am currently double majoring in sociology and legal studies at UW and have always wanted to go to law school.
Chris (correctly) thought that an internship at a nonprofit that paired my nonbelief and my love of law would be right up my alley. Thank god (pun intended) that he encouraged me to go for it — my time at FFRF was one of the coolest things I’ve ever done. Quite literally, every single person who works at FFRF is a quality human.
Being surrounded by people who were always cheerful, passionate and incredibly kind made for a great internship experience. Of course, I also learned a lot: My writing skills improved, I gained a far more comprehensive knowledge of constitutional law as it relates to the separation of state and church and I discovered just how badly America needs organizations such as FFRF.
It seems trite to say that “I will never forget my time at FFRF,” because that seems obvious. But I do know that the lessons I learned there won’t fade throughout the years. I would like to thank FFRF for generously granting me their Catherine Fahringer Memorial Student Activist Award. More importantly, I would like to thank everyone at Freethought Hall for their time and the knowledge they’ve imparted to me.
When I (hopefully — cross your fingers!) go to law school, I will carry my time at FFRF with me every step of the way and beyond. Thank you so much!
Nicole Jacobsen lives in Iowa and is completing her studies toward certification as a pharmacy technician. The case she writes so eloquently about is John Doe, Mary Roe and the Freedom From Religion Foundation v. Rhea County School District, which was filed in federal court in 2001. Nashville attorney Alvin Harris, an FFRF Life Member, ably represented the plaintiffs’ challenge of K-5 religious instruction for 30 minutes a week in three public schools during school hours by bible students from Bryan College (motto: “Christ Above All”). It was chartered in 1925 in Dayton after the 1925 Scopes “monkey trial” to memorialize William Jennings Bryan, the lead attorney arguing against the teaching of evolution.
Judge R. Allan Edgar ruled for the plaintiffs in 2002, writing “This is not a close case.” His decision was upheld in 2004 by the 6th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals.
In April of 2001, A. Roe was 10 years old. Living in Dayton, Tenn., she was faced by very few challenges in her life other than weekly spelling homework or the panic of making it home before the inevitable flicker of streetlights. In elementary school, A. Roe and her younger sister B. were taught many substantial life lessons: how to tie their shoes, to share with others, and once each week before recess, they learned how to accept Jesus Christ as their lord and savior. Impressionable as they were young, A. and B. brought home many of these lessons.
A. would pray to God every night that her peers would stop bullying her because of the Native American heritage that made her skin a little darker. During bubble baths, B. sang the catchy tunes she learned in school, her sweet voice singing, “Our God is an awesome God — he reigns from Heaven above.” The “Bible Education Ministry” classes that I sat through every Wednesday in my public school were in blatant disregard of my First Amendment rights, and as those laws were much beyond my understanding at that age, my parents sought justice for me and my siblings. I learned about Doe v. Porter, the lawsuit my parents eventually filed against the school board with help from the Freedom From Religion Foundation, not from my parents but from my peers on the playground. The moniker “A. Roe” was used to represent me in court, as well as to hide my identity to protect me from the Christian majority that was our God-fearing community.
Unfortunately for that little girl, her name was also her curse. Unbeknownst to my mother and father, my classmates were very much aware of my identity. While I was brought up to keep my mind open and my heart considerate, it seemed to me at the time that some of my peers were raised to believe that people who didn’t attend church and believe in God were sinners, and I was no exception. Just as my parents kept their lawsuit a secret from me to keep me safe, I kept from them the parts of my school day that involved my hair being pulled and my fingers being shut between locker doors. Girls who I thought were my friends called me names I wouldn’t repeat even at my age now.
While school board members and religious activists bashed my parents’ character in the local newspaper, their offspring exiled me with the same blind rage to the other end of an empty cafeteria. A. Roe was alone for bigger reasons than she thought she would ever understand. The fact that she was bullied daily to such a terrifying level over such grown-up issues was incomprehensible to her at the time. In 2004 my parents moved our family to Boone, Iowa, and eventually won the lawsuit for the amount of a single dollar bill. While I was occasionally made fun of for having braces, or blushing at the sight of a high school crush, it was nothing compared to the relief I felt by being able to finally identify myself openly as belonging to an atheist household without judgment. I celebrated my 22nd birthday in February as Nicole M. Jacobsen — A. Roe a distant memory.
However, when our family friend Dan Barker asked me to tell my story, it felt like it was just yesterday that I cried in a bathroom stall over religious intolerance I didn’t understand. I don’t condemn the wonderful people of my hometown or those who treated me poorly in the past. It’s quite the opposite; their memory has helped me grow as a person. I still keep in contact with some of those old classmates to this day, and it’s just another reminder to me that there is no right or wrong when it comes to religion. Peace is truly found in acceptance and tolerance of another, no matter what their beliefs.
A complaint from the Freedom From Religion Foundation cancelled two constitution classes, to have been based on videos and lessons distributed by right-wing religious groups, which were scheduled to begin this summer in Springboro, Ohio.
News outlets in Springboro reported on July 4 that the school board cancelled the not-so-constitutional constitution classes after action from watchdog organizations like FFRF and outrage from the community.
FFRF Senior Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert wrote to Dr. Kelly Kohls, President of the Springboro Community City Schools Board of Education, on June 26, requesting the classes be cancelled or made free of religious indoctrination. Superintendent Kohls is also the president of the local Tea Party.
Organized by the Institute on the Constitution, the class material and video instructors for the 12-week course comes from two right-wing Christian groups that falsely assert the United States is a Christian nation.
One of the instructors for the 12-week course is David Barton, who is not a historian, and has been discredited even by religious conservatives for spreading factual errors and misleading statements. His publisher pulled his latest book from shelves because “basic truths were just not there.”
The National Center for Constitutional Studies, a second right-wing Christian organization planned to put on the other course, a day-long seminar scheduled for August 3.
That organization backs up its propaganda that America is a Christian nation on the Founding Fathers’ choice of national motto of “In God We Trust.” In reality, “In God We Trust” was adopted as a johnny-come lately by Congress in 1956, a product of the McCarthy Era. The original motto — and the one supported by the Founding Fathers — was the secular phrase, “E Pluribus Unum” [Out of Many, One].
“Aside from the obvious religious bent to these presenting organizations, offering these courses is also troubling because much of the history purported by these instructors is inaccurate, false or misleading,” Markert stated.
This is not the first time FFRF fought to keep state and church separate in the Springboro School District. In 2011, FFRF stood up for science when the district considered teaching creationism in the schools.
This June, FFRF reiterated its call to the district to reject policies that will inject religion into the school. One policy, sneaked in under the guise of “controversial issues,” would allow the teaching of creationism.
Another policy would allow religious and political organizations such as NCCS, the Institute for the Constitution, and Hillsdale College — a private Christian school, access to students under the guise of Constitution Day. The policy would also require “In God We Trust” and “With God, All Things Are Possible” be posted throughout the schools in the district.
“These policies violate constitutional principles, particularly under the Establishment Clause, and we urge the Board to reject them,” Markert wrote.