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October 9-11, 2015

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Lauryn Seering

Lauryn Seering

Cedar Ridge High School in Round Rock, Texas, will no longer direct its charitable efforts toward a religious group. FFRF received word that teachers solicited students during class time to donate to Mobile Loaves & Fishes — Miracles on Wheels and offered a party for the class that donated the most. The group’s main activity is a “truck ministry.”

“It is laudable for CRHS to encourage students to become active, charitable and involved in their community by volunteering and donating, but the school cannot use that goal as an avenue to support a religious organization with a religious mission,” explained FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor in a letter to the Round Rock Independent School District. The school district responded May 14. While denying teacher involvement, it said “District administrators will remind all teachers to refrain from soliciting donations to student fundraising endeavors.”

The Alpine School District Board of Education, American Fork, Utah, no longer starts meetings with a Mormon prayer. Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel wrote to the district Jan. 13 to object to the illegal prayer. Courts have consistently ruled “It is beyond the scope of a public school board to schedule or conduct prayer as part of its scheduled meetings,” Seidel said.

An attorney for the board responded May 8 that the board has discontinued prayers.

Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission employees will no longer be allowed to plan a National Day of Prayer event on government time using the public dime. FFRF received a report that the employees plan an annual gathering held offsite during work hours. Planners reportedly advertised their office phone numbers as contact numbers for this year’s event and handed out fliers promoting it to other employees at work.

“Commission employees’ promotion and apparent coordination of this event at work using work resources poses constitutional separation of state and church concerns,” wrote Staff Attorney Madeline Ziegler in a May 4 letter.

Commission counsel responded May 7, agreeing it was inappropriate for employees to be thus involved and ensuring they’d be made aware of restrictions.

Kindergarten testing in Portage, Mich., will no longer take place in church. Previously, Woodland Elementary School held its mandatory screening at First Baptist Church, where religious pamphlets were reportedly distributed to students and parents.

Senior Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert wrote in an April 1 complaint letter, “It is outrageous and illegal for a public school to allow a church to proselytize 5-year-old students with religious materials at a mandatory school-sponsored event.”

The superintendent responded May 1 to say that the district was able to find an alternative secular location.

San Angelo Independent School District in Texas is taking steps to ensure a teacher who bragged about praying with students will follow the law in the future. Central High School teacher Julie Upton Schniers wrote on Facebook that she was “a teacher who prays with [her] team before every speech and debate tournament knowing they don’t all believe and knowing it could get [her] fired some day.”

She also wrote it was her job to subtly influence her students toward Christianity by “planting a seed.”

“Almost more troubling than the constitutional violation is the willful and blatant manner in which Schniers is breaking the law,” wrote Staff Attorney Sam Grover in an April 28 complaint letter.

The school district responded May 1, saying it was conducting an investigation and would “promptly take all remedial actions necessary to ensure compliance with applicable legal standards.”

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Baccalaureate stops (May 19, 2015)

Olentangy Local School District in Lewis Center, Ohio, distanced itself from a baccalaureate ceremony after getting a May 13 complaint letter from Senior Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert. An email invitation about the ceremony was sent to parents from an email address typically used to promote school events. It had no disclaimer that the ceremony was not school-sponsored and said to contact Olentangy High School teacher Linda Shank to sign up.

An assistant superintendent responded the next day to say that the district was taking steps to ensure employees maintained appropriate distance from the baccalaureate. FFRF’s complainant reported that further school announcements included a disclaimer that the baccalaureate was not school-sponsored and that students were no longer to contact school staff to sign up.

Shank, the teacher listed as the contact person, called Markert on May 19 and demanded to know the complainant’s name, a request Markert refused. FFRF carefully protects the identities of complainants, as it is allowed to do by law.

Fruita, Colo., Monument High School instituted a new policy on baccalaureates after getting a Jan. 28 letter from FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel. FFRF learned the school previously held a baccalaureate, organized by administrators and other staff, in the gym. At the 2014 ceremony, teachers reportedly read bible verses and spoke about the virtues of being Christian, with choir and orchestra students required to perform. Students were threatened with lower grades and told that failing to attend would result in having to perform all the concert music alone in front of the entire class.

“The District agrees that its schools and staff members should not sponsor, organize or require attendance at baccalaureate events in which prayers or other religious messages are recited,” wrote the Mesa County Valley School District’s attorney in an April 28 response. The new policy assures ceremonies will be conducted “in a manner that is fully consistent with modern First Amendment jurisprudence.”

The Freedom From Religion Foundation's 38th annual national convention, featuring keynoter Ron Reagan and many powerful activists and authors, will also revolve around the grand opening of the "reborn" Freethought Hall in downtown Madison, Wis.

Reagan, the "unabashed atheist, not afraid of burning in hell" featured in FFRF's TV and radio ads, will speak at Friday night's opening of the formal conference at Monona Terrace Community and Convention Center, 1 John Nolen Drive, on the weekend of Oct. 9-11.

The official grand opening of the five-story addition and renovation of the existing building is Friday morning, with a food reception and workshops in the afternoon.

Reserve hotel rooms now to avoid disappointment at the Hilton Madison Monona Terrace, 9 E. Wilson St., next door to the convention center. Room rates are $169 single or double. Phone 1-866-403-8838 (toll-free) or 1-608-255-5100. The group name is Freedom From Religion Foundation and the group code is FFRF. Book online at — go to the hotel site section, which links directly to reservations. The cutoff is Sept. 7, or as long as rooms last.

There are additional rooms at the Sheraton Madison Hotel, 706 John Nolen Drive, which provides a free shuttle to and from the convention center every half hour from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. Sheraton rates are $139 single/double/triple/quad. Make your reservations at 1-800-325-3535 and let them know you're with "Freedom From Religion."

You may wish to arrive Thursday in order to tour the "reborn" Freethought Hall Friday morning, which is six blocks from the convention center. An informal open house will be held from 9–11:30 AM. Please indicate if you plan to attend on the registration form, to help ensure FFRF orders enough refreshments.

Due to time and staff constraints, this will be the only time to tour during the convention.

Speaker lineup

Joining Reagan as confirmed speakers are:

Kevin M. Kruse, the Princeton University professor of history whose new book, One Nation Under God: How Corporate America Invented Christian America, is creating a lot of excitement. He recently appeared on NPR's "Fresh Air" with Terry Gross, and has authored or co-edited four other books. His White Flight: Atlanta and the Making of Modern Conservatism (2005), won several prizes.

Dan Barker, FFRF co-president, will also speak about his newest book, Life-Driven Purpose: How an Atheist Finds Meaning, an answer to Rick Warren's Purpose-Driven Life, and will autograph books. Dan, a talented pianist and songwriter who has recorded three music CDs for FFRF, will also entertain throughout the conference.

Douglas Marshall will receive a Freethinker of the Year Award as the local plaintiff in FFRF's most recent federal court victory, forcing the town of Warren, Mich., to permit him to put up a Reason Station to counter an ongoing prayer booth that dominates the atrium of his city hall.

Anita Weier will be honored as Freethought Heroine for introducing a historic ordinance to make "nonreligion" a protected class in Madison, Wis. Weier, former city editor for The Capital Times, served as an alderperson for two terms. Her "first of its kind" ordinance passed with no dissent on March 31.

Steven Hewett will be honored with FFRF's Atheist in Foxhole Award. The former police officer and Afghanistan war veteran returned home with a Combat Action Badge and Bronze Star, only to find a Christian flag flying at the Veterans Memorial in King, N.C. In December, following a long court battle taken on his behalf by Americans United, the city agreed to stop flying the Christian flag and to remove a cross from a kneeling soldier statue. Steven is a Lifetime FFRF Member.

FFRF staff attorneys will give a detailed presentation on their major accomplishments in ending state/church entanglements in 2015. Other speakers and honorees will be announced in future issues.

To receive an expenses-paid trip to the convention, persuade your prayerful local governmental body to let you to give a secular invocation, and enter FFRF's Nothing Fails Like Prayer contest (see details on page 20 or at The award includes opening a session of the conference with your secular words and a $500 award, plaque, transportation and accommodations at the convention.

FFRF will honor major donors who made possible the expansion of Freethought Hall at Saturday's dinner, which will also include the annual drawing for "clean money" (pre-"In God We Trust").

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Sharing the Crank Mail

Neither sunlight nor gloom of night stays the crank mailers from the swift completion of their appointed screeds, printed as received.

freedom: yel yor foundation is a bruch of shit you won"t even talk to someone with about you foundation you hang up if you dont want to tell the trueth it a joke every one of you should be shot for a lie you tell. — mike wells, liberty, kentucky

I saw you're commercial: I am appalled you're an atheist,I love Jesus,am on Twitter,Facebook got a few messages here they go!Jesus loves you!The Devil steals,kills,and destroy!He's defeated. — Kimberly Ferguson

ridiculous! Why dont you just give up your citizenship and join another country, because noone really wants you here. Get a REAL job and a REAL life like everybody else. Maybe that is just how stupid atheist are that they would actually send money to you! — Nancy Johnson

Freedom of religion: We do not go to your houses and tell you how to pray or not to pray so if you are offended you can just excuse yourself from the circle for a few minutes then return. WE ARE TH MAJORITY AND THE MAJORITY RULES! — Sammy Silly, Salt Lake City

Anonymous: Your organizations is absolutely rediculous and should not be in exist. Your countries constitution (u.s.a.) which allows you freedoms that you and your organization probably take for granted are founded on christian values. You are all lost in life and need serious help. I will be praying for your obsurd "beliefs" in "nothing". Thanks — Trent Heisler

Clown: Keep your non beliefs to your self. — Bozo D, Michigan

The Devil: I would like to know how a person can say they're not afraid of goin to hell and they obviously have never been there. ONE DAY,,"EVERY KNEE SHALL BOW & EVERY TOUNGE CONFESS"! — Rodney King, Corinth, Miss.

Don't worry about the Lambs: You good folks better start worrying about the real problem. Separation of Mosque and State. Most Christians are tax payers and support most anything that is good..even schools that indoctrinate their children to science with philosophical rhetoric to fill voids are that obvious. So, focus on the real problem, and not fanciful idea that some professor with degree's can explain the complexity of life. — Jack Matson Jacoby

Do you people treat Muslims the same way you treat Christians with your complaints? I guess not, because Muslims might actually show up and mame or kill you, right? Honestly, I wish great bodily harm and death would somehow befall you people. You well deserve a robust, full-throttled Muslim visitation. Good day. — James M. Baker, Indianapolis
Please help! Your going to hell unless you accept the sacrifice of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Go ahead, smirk and think you have nothing to worry about. — Gohen Tohell, Liberty, Rhode Island

Contact: You a trash orginisation that needs to be dissolved. GOD bless America. — GH

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Secular invocations

We call this morning to god, goddess, universe, that which is greater than ourselves to be with us here today. By the earth that is in our bones and centers us, may all here remember our roots and those we are here to represent. By the fire that gives us light and passion, may all here remain passionate about the work that must be done for the people of Iowa. By the air that gives us breath and logic, may all here find thoughtful solutions to the problems that are presented. By the water that flows through our blood and stirs our emotions, may all here draw an emotional intelligence which helps us see the inherent worth and dignity of every person.

We call this morning to spirit ever present, to help us respect the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part. Be with us and this legislative body and guide them to seek justice, equity and compassion in the work that is before them today. Blessed be, Aho and Amen.

Deborah Maynard, Cedar Rapids, leads the Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans and is a project manager for a private company. One Republican legislator turned his back during her invocation and several others came late to avoid hearing it.
Cheryl Kolbe

Board of County Councilors, Clark County, Wash., April 7, 2015

Yamhill Board of Commissioners, Yamhill, Ore., April 16, 2015

I invite you to take your seats and join me as I invoke reason. Reason: the basis or motive for an action, decision, or conviction, good judgment, sound sense.

R — Review the facts. Facts are verifiable. Facts provide crucial support for the assertion of an argument. Let's keep in our awareness that omission of some facts may foster misconceptions.

E — Evaluate the facts. Facts are only useful when we put them in context and draw conclusions. Albert Einstein is reported to have said, "It is not the learning of facts, but the training of the mind to think something that cannot be learned in textbooks."
A ­— Apply rational thinking. Poor decisions are often the result of flawed or incomplete thinking, not the absence of thinking.

S — Sometimes the best solution isn't our personal first choice. What are the consequences of the proposed solution? Will there be a negative impact on some of the members of this community?

O — Only by looking for better ways to solve our problems will we find the best solution. Another quote widely attributed to Einstein: "We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them."

N — Never start with an assumption. An assumption is a thing that is accepted as true or as certain to happen, without proof.

I invite residents and board members to use reason as you work together for the benefit of the community.

Cheryl Kolbe is founder and president of FFRF's Portland-area chapter. She retired from Portland Community College in 2004 as student systems support manager for enrollment services, with responsibility for software implementation.

Robert Ray
Washington House of Representatives
April 13, 2015

I would like to open this invocation by asking everyone look around you. Beside you, in front of you and behind you, is a person that is, in so many ways, the same as you. We may have different backgrounds and beliefs. We may come from different ethnicity and religions. But when it comes down to it, we are all sharing the same speck of dust floating through a vast and wondrous universe

Many have come before me in this chamber to speak of their faith. But I would, instead, like to speak of trust. Of trust in humanity, trust in the fundamental good will within people. Trust that we all yearn to make the world a better place. Trust that some can answer to a higher calling. A calling many of us have in common, that is to serve our fellow humans to the best of our ability. I have trust that everyone in this chamber has felt this or you would not be here.

With that being said. I also ask that you use your trust in the same way that I have described. Reach out to one another. Try to understand and have empathy with those you may disagree with. Make an honest attempt at compromise, for that is what our secular government is based on.

With today being the 272nd birthday of Thomas Jefferson, I felt I should honor his memory with a quote: "He who receives an idea from me, receives instruction himself without lessening mine; as he who lights his taper at mine, receives light without darkening me."
So I thank you for this opportunity to bring my message of trust, humanity and humanism into this chamber.

And I will end with this simple phrase.

E Pluribus Unum.

FFRF member Robert Ray is a secular activist and humanist celebrant. He's president of two humanist groups in northwest Washington and sits on the Humanists of Washington board of directors. In his "spare time" he works as an electrician and participates in the Society for Creative Anachronism.

Bernard Drumm, Gennadiy Gurariy, Ryan Davis

City Council, Sparks, Nev., June 8, 2015

(Invocation written by Bernard and Gennadiy and delivered by Ryan.)

I would like to thank the council for inviting me to speak here today. Let us bow our heads in prayer.

We give thanks and praise to you, whom in all your teachings, guide us in our lives and give meaning to our existence and endow these fine people here today to perform their duties to serve all of us. Thank you, Satan.

Now, I am not a Satanist, but ladies and gentlemen, I imagine that these words are making some of you rather uncomfortable. You probably feel that they don't represent you or further the cause of the citizens of Sparks.

I would now like you to realize that this is exactly how the secular citizens of Sparks, statistically 20% of your constituents, feel when an invocation of any kind is given in this room.

I stand before you today with the daunting task of representing these numerous atheists, agnostics and secular individuals. And while it may not be possible to speak for them all, I ask you to meditate on the following thoughts:

While the desire to be inclusive and respectful to others is something to be condoned, the reality is that we cannot represent all religions, all of the time, and thus the only truly fair way to represent everyone is to not represent religion at all.

The constitution of the United States, which all members here swore an oath to uphold, was founded on secular principles and was the first of its kind. One of the cornerstones of being American is the freedom of religion and the freedom from religion. The only way to ensure that this freedom to express our beliefs is maintained is to ensure that the government does not participate in any action that would endorse any religion or even the concept of religion itself.

When religious invocations are given in a government capacity, those of us who do not subscribe to such beliefs are alienated and not represented.

For people like me who are atheist, and others who are agnostic or simply secular, we invoke you to not use religious invocations in your meetings, which only deepens the divisions between us. But rather, focus on what all of your constituents, including the secular ones share. And that is the common humanistic desire to increase the happiness of all human beings. People like me can do this without religion, and likewise, those in government can do good without religion, too.
Thank you.

Bernard Drumm is a native of the Republic of Ireland who moved to Reno for a post-doctoral position at the University of Nevada after receiving his Ph.D. in physiology in 2012.
Bernard works primarily on researching smooth muscle contraction and has a passion for teaching science. He served as outreach coordinator for UN-Reno's Secular Student Alliance chapter and is now an organizing officer for the chapter group.

Gennadiy Gurariy completed his undergraduate degree in psychology in Ohio before moving to UN-Reno to begin a graduate degree program in cognitive neuroscience. He instigated the SSA chapter's discussion groups and continues to lead them as well as serving as the group's graduate president from 2013-15.

Ryan Davis is a Las Vegas native who moved to Reno in 2012 to pursue a double major in physics and mathematics. He is the chapter's undergraduate president.

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