The Freedom From Religion Foundation today contacted Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal, protesting his decision to override the Department of Natural Resources and return bibles to all lodge rooms and cabins in Georgia state parks. The DNR, appropriately, had removed the bibles after a guest complained.
FFRF Staff Attorney Elizabeth Cavell wrote a letter on behalf of FFRF's Georgia membership, as well as FFRF's 19,000 members nationwide, pointing out "Certainly, if a guest wants to read this religious text during their stay, they can bring their own copy."
"Permitting members of outside groups the privilege of placing their religious literature in public-owned and maintained state park cabins constitutes state endorsement and advancement of these Christian publications," Cavell wrote. "Such a practice alienates non-Christian park visitors," including the one in five adult Americans who identify as nonreligious.
In the event that the governor ignores FFRF's request, the national state/church group formally requested that one of its "bible warning labels" be placed on each bible in a Georgia cabin or lodge room.
FFRF's bible warning label, bearing a skull and crossbones, reads:
"Warning! Literal belief in this book may endanger your health and life!"
"We would prefer that the State of Georgia ensure bible-free rooms at state parks. But since the Governor's Office has announced its intention to promote one religion's teachings over other religions and over non-religion, we must insist that the State of Georgia provide our nonreligious group some equal time. Fifty million Americans are free from religion, and millions more follow other faiths which do not revere the Christian bible."
A misguided decision by a state judge in Texas, permitting public school cheerleaders to exhibit Christian bible verses and messages during high school football games, makes Christianity the official school religion in Kountze, Texas.
So contends the Freedom From Religion Foundation, whose letter in September 2012 challenging the religious banners set off the legal controversy in the Kountze Independent School District.
After receiving FFRF's letter, the district superintendent properly ordered cheerleaders to stop holding Christian prayer banners for football players to run through while entering the stadium. The cheerleaders, represented by a Religious Right law firm, then sued the school district.
FFRF was not a party to the lawsuit, but filed an amicus brief in the case. FFRF would like to challenge the religious banners as part of official football games in federal court if students, faculty or parents subjected to such proselytizing come forward.
FFRF called the decision by an elected local judge in a conservative state a foregone conclusion.
The four-paragraph decision by Judge Steven Thomas, 356th Judicial District, does not cite a single case, law or constitutional precedent.
"It's impossible to imagine a judge approving cheerleader messages saying, 'Atheists rule — God is dead' or 'Allah is supreme — pray to him for victory,' " said Annie Laurie Gaylor, FFRF co-president.
Typical Kountze banners read, "But thanks be to God, which gives us Victory, through our Lord Jesus Christ. 1 Cor. 15:57."
"The high school in Kountze is not a Christian high school, Kountze is not a Christian city, Texas is not a Christian state and the United States is not a Christian nation," Gaylor added.
"Proselytizing messages by cheerleaders representing the school, wearing the school uniform, at the official start of a public school football game, inevitably carry the appearance of school endorsement and favoritism, turning Christians into insiders and non-Christians and nonbelievers into outsiders.
"It's not only a violation of the law, it's a violation of good manners," Gaylor said.
"There was not even a bona fide case or controversy before the court concerning a violation under the Establishment Clause," commented FFRF Staff Attorney Patrick Elliott. "Both parties — the school district and the cheerleaders' attorneys — asked the court to issue an order allowing the display of Christian banners to continue. The lawsuit ought to have been dismissed because there was no case or controversy: both parties sought to display the religious banners."
Under a new school board policy, and in briefs to the court, Kountze ISD made clear that the banners are under district control and are "government speech." The district also expressed that it would like to see the religious banners continue to be displayed.
Both state Attorney General Greg Abbott and Gov. Rick Perry had inappropriately weighed in on the case. Abbott even called FFRF "menacing."
The Freedom From Religion Foundation is taking its objections to the annual National Day of Prayer to "pious politicians" in the seat of federal government, via a full-page ad in today's Washington Post.
"When we have faith in ourselves, we won't need faith in gods," is the homily of the national association of freethinkers (atheists and agnostics), working as a state/church watchdog.
The ad, headlined "God & Government A Dangerous Mix," runs in the Post's front section. It features images and words of two past presidents: John F. Kennedy ("I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute") and Thomas Jefferson ( "Question with boldness even the existence of a God").
FFRF advises prayerful public officials to "Get off your knees and get to work."
Congress adopted the National Day of Prayer at the demand of Rev. Billy Graham, and codified the date in 1988 as the first Thursday in May at the behest of other evangelicals. FFRF sued the president and won a historic federal court ruling in its favor in 2010, vacated later on other grounds. In that ruling, U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb wrote that in enacting the National Day of Prayer, "the government has taken sides on a matter that must be left to individual conscience." Last spring, a state appeals court in Colorado agreed with FFRF that the Colorado Day of Prayer gubernatorial proclamations are unconstitutional.
FFRF's ad warns: "There is no such source and cause of strife, quarrel, fights, malignant opposition, persecution, and war, and all evil in the state, as religion."
FFRF, the nation's largest association of freethinkers with more than 19,000 members, notes: "The U.S. president and elected officials have neither the moral nor the constitutional authority to exhort citizens to pray and to gather with others 'to turn to God in prayer.' "
FFRF adds: "Nothing fails like prayer. The solutions to humanity's problems won't ever come from above. It's time to place our best energies in making this world better, this world our paradise."
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Fourth-floor Addition (5 stories including lower level). Our cramped, crowded office will quadruple in space. (And, “hallejulah,” more than triple washrooms!). The mostly brick 4-story addition includes generous windows and:
• Auditorium (entire 4th floor) for freethought functions. Meeting space for about 150, including stage, AV accoutrements, high ceiling and chandelier, catering kitchenette and balconies.
• Roomy Studio for radio and TV recordings, broadcasts plus offices for future growth (3rd floor).
• Second-floor legal wing for our marvelously productive, growing legal department. The legal wing will provide offices, ample overflow, law library/boardroom and legal archives.
• An elegant 2-story lobby with security features will lead to additional administrative offices in the addition’s 1st floor. A portrait of Anne Gaylor, 86, will hang in the lobby.
• Busy clerical staff will enjoy a large, convenient mailing/shipping area in a well-lit, exposed lower level. We’ll more than double storage space (one of FFRF’s most intractable problems).
PHASE II: A third story beautiful library atop our original 2-story building, crowned with a charming cupola with windows on three sides — a historic nod, restoring an original feature to our 1855 building, one of the oldest in the city. The graceful 3rd floor library will have room for our 2,700 books plus new acquisitions. A spiral staircase will lead visitors to the cupola, providing a unique view of the Capitol (that’s a big deal here in Madison), large enough for 5-6 to meet or lunch in. We can’t wait — after nearly three years of stumbling blocks and delays — to move in!
Special Sponsoring Opportunities
Top Building Fund donors will be recognized in the lobby on a magnificent 14-foot floor-to-ceiling “silver” wall. Other major donors ($5,000+) will be inscribed prominently on an impressive lobby plaque. Small personalized handcrafted tiles in the vestibule and paving stones for the patio may be additionally acquired for a donation. (Please see enclosed brochure for visuals and details, while spaces last.)
Top donors may choose “Naming rights” for the Auditorium, Library, Legal Wing, Courtyard/
Garden Patio, Cupola and Studio. (Shows will “broadcast from the ‘Your Name Here’ Studio.”) Should a “secular angel” so “bless” FFRF with a baby grand piano for the auditorium stage, there will be a plaque affixed to it, among other sponsoring opportunities. Please phone us if you have any questions or for more details on “naming rights.” All donations will be recorded in a keepsake book. Let us know if you give permission to publish your name in our running tally in Freethought Today by checking the box on the donation slip or online:
Freedom Depends on Freethinkers!
The Freedom From Religion Foundation and its Florida chapter, the Central Florida Freethought Community, will be passing out atheist and freethought literature to students in Orange County Public Schools this Thursday.
The distribution of freethought literature is set for May 2, the National Day of Prayer. The distribution is in response to bible distribution in the public schools in February, in which evangelists at tables in about 11 schools were permitted to hawk bibles and promote religion.
The Orange County Public Schools demanded the right to vet the freethought literature. Last week the district announced formally that many submitted publications, including Sam Harris' book, "Letter to a Christian Nation" and an essay, "The Truth," by 19th century freethinker Robert G. Ingersoll, are being censored. Also censored: "Jesus Is Dead" a book by Robert Price, professor of philosophy and religion, "What on Earth is an Atheist," a book by Madalyn Murray O'Hair, "Why I am Not a Muslim," a book by Ibn Warraq, and several FFRF "nontracts," including "Dear Believer," "Why Jesus?" "What Does the Bible Say about Abortion?" and "An X-Rated Book."
Among the handouts which the public schools approved will be several nontracts published by FFRF, including "What is Wrong with the Ten Commandments?," "Ten Common Myths about Atheists," and "Why Women Need Freedom From Religion." A section from "The Age of Reason," a classic critique of the bible by Thomas Paine, and a brochure "Why Atheism" are being distributed by other secular groups involved in the protest.
A Christian law firm, Liberty Counsel, has bullied Collier County and Orange County schools into opening high school campuses for World Changers of Florida to distribute Christian bibles during the school day. A legal wrangle with World Changers cost Collier County $20,000 in fees when the county settled out of court.
FFRF and its chapter protested this egregious violation of the separation of state and church. After a protracted negotiation and many delays, the Orange County Public Schools finally approved a distribution of some nonreligious literature.
The distribution will take place in 11 high schools in Orange County:
Winter Park 9th Grade Center
Timber Creek High
Cypress Creek High
CFFC and other area groups will staff tables at these schools throughout the school day. The distribution is passive so volunteers will keep the tables neat, restock materials and ensure that students do not simply take a stack of materials.
"Predatory evangelical groups like World Changers and Liberty Counsel see public schools as a recruiting ground," said FFRF Co-President Dan Barker, who is traveling from Madison, Wis., to be present at several of the distributions.
"Public schools exist to educate, not to proselytize. Schools don't need to allow these distributions, but as long as they do, we will distribute our own nonreligious materials.
"The irony is that the bible, a bestseller that's rarely read, is X-rated, full of violence, obscenity and immoral conduct committed by or blessed by the biblical deity. Yet the government did not censor the bible, but instead found that innocuous comments by Sam Harris may 'cause a substantial disruption' to the school day."
The distribution is headed by CFFC President David Williamson, with FFRF attorney Andrew Seidel providing significant behind the scenes help. Other groups, such as the Secular Student Alliance, American Atheists, and the American Humanist Association, are also providing materials or volunteers.
FFRF called the school district's censorship of some of freethought publications illegal and is considering its options.
Help Freethought Hall Be “Born Again”!
FFRF’s building project will preserve Freethought Hall, FFRF’s home since 1990, and one of the oldest buildings in Madison, Wisconsin, while adding a handsome multi-leveled addition.
The expansion will:
• Quadruple space
• Give Freethought Hall a true Hall — a top-floor elegant Auditorium
• Accommodate current staff members, while creating work stations for many new staffers into the future
• Create an entire second story legal wing for our attorneys and legal work
• Add a sumptuous 900-square foot library
• Restore a charming "Above Us Only Sky" cupola
• Create a TV-radio recording studio
• Provide a large “No Hell Below Us” mailing/shipping area with easy outdoor access in exposed lower level
• Give us more storage — desperately needed!
• Ramp up security features
More Than Bricks & Mortar
This expansion will enhance the Freedom From Religion Foundation's capacity, work, visibility, prestige, outreach and future growth. This project will move FFRF — the nation's largest association of freethinkers (atheists & agnostics) — FORWARD!
(Click to enlarge)
As a major donor, you may choose to have a major wing or space named after you. “Your Name Here” (or “In Memoriam Name Here”) for Auditorium, Library, Legal Wing, Courtyard/Garden Patio, Cupola, Studio, or Baby Grand Piano. Please phone Annie Laurie Gaylor or Dan Barker at 1-800-335-4021 for more details on “naming rights.” Top Building Fund donors will also be recognized in the main lobby with name in 5-inch-high letters etched on magnificent 14-foot floor-to-ceiling “silver” wall of acknowledgment.
$5,000 and Up — Names of other major donors ($5,000+) also inscribed prominently for posterity in the lobby.
Other Sponsorship Opportunities
Name on Vestibule Tile (Tasteful handcrafted ceramic wall tile in entryway) $2,500 per tile. While space lasts! Order now! (Limit to name only.)
Name (or Message) on Paving Stone (in Courtyard/Garden Patio) $2,000 — While space lasts! Order now!
Name or Message on 12x12 Paving Stone. $1,000 — While space lasts! Order now! Name or Message on 6x12 Paving Stone.
Won’t You Make a Gift to FFRF’s “Ground Breaking” Expansion?
Freedom Depends on Freethinkers!
After the St. Johns County School Board voted recently against allowing high school graduation prayer in St. Augustine, Fla., a Colorado pastor is offering a $1,000 reward to the first student to flout school policy and break the law.
A state law enacted last year lets school districts adopt a policy allowing students to have an open forum/mic at any school event, including graduation, to deliver an "inspirational" message. The goal of bill supporters was to get prayer in schools under the free speech guise, and in fact, the bill's first drafts explicitly stated that, until it was pointed out that such a provision was clearly unconstitutional.
Gordon Klingenschmitt, a former U.S. Navy chaplain who operates Pray In Jesus' Name Ministries in Colorado Springs, says this on his website: "Our ministry is hereby offering a $1,000 scholarship to the FIRST high school student who prays either the Lord's prayer (Our Father...) or says a sincere prayer ending 'in Jesus' name,' on the school microphone at his or her graduation ceremony in St. John's County, FL school District #2."
No Florida school board has approved such a policy to date.
FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel had written a letter to the school district's attorney March 20 to outline potential problems with an open forum policy. "First, the school will lose all control over the message. Second, the nascent history of the putative policy shows an explicit intent to have prayer in school. The board cannot escape this history and the religious purpose puts the policy firmly in Establishment Clause, not free speech, jurisprudence."
Seidel added, "Once the board passes this policy, it will have no ability to police student speech. Students could seize the opportunity to talk about anything — sex, gay marriage, politics or religion. They could denigrate other religions and declare that only Christians will go to heaven, or that only Muslims, or Buddhists or atheists will have an eternal reward."
The school board that first approves such a policy "is asking for a lawsuit," Seidel said.
"The push to have this policy is clearly religious; in fact, the push is not for an open forum but graduation prayer. The supporters’ buttons call for 'Graduation Prayer' with praying hands next to a mortarboard cap and diploma. It also calls for 'Freedom From Atheism,' ” Seidel wrote.
In a story in the St. Augustine Record headlined "Lawsuit threat sways school prayer action," Board Chairman Tommy Allen said, “No other school district has adopted this. If we did adopt it, we’d have to stand alone. If we do adopt it, then it will take money out of the classroom to defend."