FFRF’s local complainant was driving by Benito Juarez Elementary in Anaheim, Calif., when he spotted this monstrosity parked right in front of the school.
Like Big Tobacco, religions follow the “Get ’em while they’re young” philosophy of marketing. In Anaheim, Calif., a Christian group is parking “chapels on wheels” outside of public schools to offer bible study.
According to the group’s website, it owns six of these eyesores and parks them at various schools in the district.
FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel sent a letter of complaint Nov. 9 to the district superintendent. Citing three previous court cases, Seidel explained that it is unconstitutional for the trailers to be parked on or near school property.
According to the Supreme Court, the only permissible relationship between a public school and a release-time class is when the schools “do no more than release students whose parents so request.” Keeping forms in the school office (see photo) and parking the trailer in a school pickup/drop off lane violates that stricture.
Seidel also informed the Anaheim Police Department and the city of Anaheim Code Enforcement Division about the trailer chapels, citing several ordinances the trailers are likely violating.
UW-Madison seculars get landmark funding
Atheists, Humanists and Agnostics (AHA), a secular group at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, is on track to receive $67,400 in student fees for staffing and programming next year. According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, it appears to be the first such university secular group nationally to get such substantial funding.
“Religious groups have been receiving this type of funding for years,” AHA President Chris Calvey told the Journal Sentinel. “It’s about time that secular students got the support we deserve.”
The university’s Student Services Finance Committee approved the request unanimously. Student fees generate about $39 million annually, and about $1.2 million goes to student organizations.
It appears to be the largest subsidy to any campus group of its kind in the country, said Jesse Galef, spokesman for the Columbus, Ohio-based Secular Student Alliance. “It’s pretty common for groups to have budgets of a few hundred dollars. This is something on a different magnitude entirely.”
In 2007, the student-run Badger Catholic sued the university for rejecting $35,000 of a $253,000 allocation because it had been earmarked for worship activities. The university lost, paying $500,000 in legal fees.
Badger Catholic is getting $116,000 for the current academic year.
AHA’s email list has grown from about 100 to 1,500 over the last three years.
Activists win out over nativity displays
A federal judge on Nov. 19 denied a Christian group’s attempt to force Santa Monica, Calif., officials to reopen spaces in city parks for private displays, including Christian nativity scenes. U.S. District Court Judge Audrey Collins denied a motion for a preliminary injunction to a Religious Right group.
Activists stopped a violation of nearly six decades involving 14 area churches, which dominated Palisades Park by erecting nativity displays in December.
The reform started three years ago when FFRF member Damon Vix put up a sign quoting Thomas Jefferson on one side: “Religions are all alike — founded on fables and mythologies,” and on the other, “Happy solstice.”
By 2011, Vix had recruited a local coalition to apply for display places, and the coalition scored a coup, winning 18 of 21 spaces. FFRF was proud to contribute its “Let reason prevail” solstice sign (which was mutilated but replaced).
Commandments monument at Oklahoma Capitol
A Ten Commandments monument was installed Nov. 15 on the north grounds of the state Capitol in Oklahoma City. It was paid for with $20,000 of private funds, according to the Tulsa World. Made of red granite, it’s 6 feet tall and weighs 2,000 pounds.
“I think under the very best of circumstances, it is of questionable constitutionality,” said Ryan Kiesel, American Civil Liberties Union of Oklahoma executive director.
Sabbath is misspelled on the monument as Sabbeth, which will be corrected.
Hobby Lobby denied religious designation
Oklahoma U.S. District Judge Joe Heaton ruled Nov. 19 that the Hobby Lobby chain must offer its 13,000 employees contraceptive coverage without a co-pay, as mandated by Obamacare.
Hobby Lobby had sued in September, citing conservative evangelical owner David Green’s personal religious objections.
Heaton ruled that “Hobby Lobby and Mardel [its partner company] are not religious organizations. Plaintiffs have not cited, and the court has not found, any case concluding that secular, for-profit corporations such as Hobby Lobby and Mardel have a constitutional right to the free exercise of religion.”
No rush to set up Florida student prayer
Not one Florida public school district to date has pursued plans to set up guidelines that allow student-led prayer. That’s despite passage of a law in March to let students offer “inspirational” messages, including prayer, at school events, even mandatory ones such as assemblies.
“We advised [school districts] against it,” said Wayne Blanton, executive director of the Florida Association of School Boards. “We told districts they’d be opening themselves up to litigation,” Blanton told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.
“If any school districts did, it would essentially be volunteering their time and resources to be a test case,” said Howard Simon, executive director of the ACLU of Florida.
Personhood initiative dead in Oklahoma
The U.S. Supreme Court on Oct. 29 declined to let a proposed Oklahoma “personhood” initiative that said life begins at conception be placed on the ballot.
Without comment, justices let stand a decision by the state Supreme Court that the proposed ballot question would put an unconstitutional ban on abortion, reported The Oklahoman.
‘Fatwa on your head’ bus ad nixed
The 6th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals ruled Oct. 25 that the transit authority in Michigan’s four southeastern-most counties could bar a bus ad that read, “Fatwa on your head? Is your family or community threatening you? Leaving Islam? Got Questions? Get Answers! RefugefromIslam.com.”
The American Freedom Defense Initiative, through its executive director Pamela Geller, tried to place the ad in 2010 and was denied. A federal judge ruled in favor of AFDI in 2011.
The appeals court ruled that the side of the bus, in this case, wasn’t a public forum because the transit authority rejected all political ads.
Geller called the opinion “tortured and twisted.”
Poll: Catholics disagree with hierarchy
In a poll released Oct. 25 by the American Civil Liberties Union and Catholics for Choice, 68% of Catholic respondents said universities shouldn’t be able to deny birth control insurance coverage.
About 77% of Catholics surveyed objected to pharmacies refusing to fill birth control prescriptions.
Substantial majorities also believe Catholics have no obligation to follow their bishop’s recommendation on how to vote and that Catholic politicians don’t have an obligation to follow official church directives.
Jewish colleges top religious Pell grants
Jewish colleges are among the leading religious institutions receiving federal Pell Grant funding, according to The Forward, a Jewish-American newspaper published in New York City.
Sixty-three of the 152 religious institutions that receive Pell grants are Jewish, U.S. Department of Education data reveals. the data shows. The Jewish schools collectively received 53% of the $84.5 million in Pell grant money that went to religious schools in 2010.
Of the top 10 Pell grant recipients, six were yeshivas, many of which focus primarily on Talmud study.
Judge tosses Muslim’s bacon lawsuit
In Lopez v. Wendy’s International Inc., an Ohio federal district court ruled Oct. 23 in a case in which a Muslim customer at a New York City Wendy’s restaurant sued. The plaintiff claimed he wasn’t adequately warned that the Asiago Chicken Ranch Club Sandwich contained bacon, which he claims the cashier didn’t mention as an ingredient when asked.
Religion Clause blog noted that the court dismissed the plaintiff’s Lanham Act claim on the ground that a one-time answer from a restaurant employee is likely not an “advertisement” and that there was no intent to deceive.
The village of Alsip, Ill., will not display a Latin cross on the village water tower this holiday season after receiving demands from FFRF to end the practice.
The annual display of an illuminated cross each December on its distinctive water tower brought a complaint from FFRF last December. Staff Attorney Patrick Elliott wrote that the display violated precedent by the 7th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, which has jurisdiction over Illinois. FFRF sent the village a reminder Nov. 6 about the illegality of the cross.
Mayor Patrick Kitching posted a letter on the village’s website during the week of Nov. 18:
“A tradition for almost 35 years here in the Village of Alsip is coming to an end. You will notice this year our holiday decoration on the West Water Tower (Holiday Cross) will not be erected nor [sic] lit. We have an organization out of Wisconsin, Freedom from Religion Foundation, who is threatening a lawsuit for having a holiday symbol that can be construed as a religious decoration. It is considered to be unconstitutional. Other municipalities have been brought to suit regarding this very same issue and have lost. We have chosen not to waste taxpayer dollars to fight a losing battle in court. The holiday cross will be replaced with a different holiday decoration in the future, however, I am not sure this process can be completed in time for Christmas of 2012.”
Kitching added, “I am very saddened by this and had hoped we would not have to change tradition, however in these economic times, the Village cannot afford to waste any tax dollars on a lawsuit that simply cannot be won.”
In years past, the illuminated cross could be seen by heavy traffic on Interstate 294. FFRF learned through a Freedom of Information Act request that the village Water Department installs and removes the cross each year.
The original installation of the cross, along with a decoration on another water tower, cost the village $3,200 in 2003.
Proselytizing teacher also big bully
A high school biology teacher in Cheektowaga, N.Y., a Buffalo suburb, removed religious displays from her classroom and will no longer proselytize as a result of an FFRF complaint. A student alerted FFRF after the teacher invited a guest speaker who promoted Christianity and used biblical quotes from Isaiah and Judges. There were also four posters with bible quotes in the classroom. The complainant also noted a cross painted in a hallway.
Senior Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert sent Superintendent Dennis Kane a letter June 7. Kane said in a June 22 reply that the cross in the hallway and religious posters had been removed. He said the district discussed the student’s concerns with the teacher.
The student complainant reported that the teacher showed a copy of FFRF’s June 7 letter to her class on June 12, the last day of school, disclaiming responsibility for her actions. The teacher also attacked the student anonymously, saying whoever had complained to FFRF lacked integrity and character and was on the same level as a student who had cheated on the class’s final exam.
Markert responded to the teacher’s inappropriate handling of the situation with a June 14 letter to Kane. “Bullying is rampant in schools. Teachers should strive to conduct their classes in an inclusive manner so that students can participate fully without compromising their own personal beliefs.”
Kane responded Sept. 11 that the teacher’s conduct was addressed and she was directed to not discuss religion in her classroom.
FFRF closes book on bible handouts
FFRF stopped Gideons International from distributing bibles to fifth-graders at Central Elementary School in Magnolia, Ark. Before FFRF’s involvement, men from Gideons were scheduled to give a presentation to students and then present them with bibles.
“Courts have held that the distribution of bibles to students at public schools is prohibited,” wrote FFRF Staff Attorney Patrick Elliott in an Oct. 31 letter to Superintendent John Moore. Elliott added that districts cannot allow any group to distribute religious material during the school day.
FFRF received word Nov. 5 that the Gideons were not allowed to be on campus.
FFRF letter ends religious song
First-graders at Ada Givens Elementary School in Merced, Calif., will no longer be instructed to sing “God Bless America” in the classroom.
A district parent told FFRF that her 6-year-old daughter was being taught to sing the religious song in class. Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel wrote to Superintendent RoseMary Parga Duran on Oct. 17: “The first verse of ‘God Bless America’ ends with, ‘As we raise our voices in solemn prayer.’ A prayer conceived, hosted and advocated by a publicly-supported school does not pass constitutional muster.”
The school district issued a positive response Oct. 25: “The principal spoke to the teacher about the complaint and about the district’s policy regarding these matters. The teacher was very apologetic and stated she never intended to offend any of her students, or make them uncomfortable in her class. She immediately discontinued singing patriotic songs.”
[Editor’s note: “patriotic” songs?]
FFRF: Just say no
to drug prayer
The Cherokee County School District (Canton, Ga.) has stopped including religious messages on anti-drug ribbons during “Red Ribbon Week.” During a special drug prevention week, the district distributed ribbons to students that said “God answers prayers, drugs don’t.” The ribbons also depicted two hands praying.
After being alerted by a concerned parent, Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel wrote an Oct. 26 letter to Superintendent Frank Petruzielo urging him to “remain sensitive to the diverse religious and nonreligious views of students and staff. While the anti-drug concept is laudable, the injection of religion into the public schools is unconstitutional. Government actors must be especially careful to remain neutral on matters of religion in the public school context.”
A school district attorney replied Oct. 30: “[S]taff has been counseled to be more careful in the future in giving even an appearance of promoting religion.”
Football bible banners won’t happen again
FFRF received a local complaint after Stone High School cheerleaders held a banner with a bible quote at a football game in Wiggins, Miss.
Staff Attorney Stephanie Schmitt sent a letter Oct. 17 to Stone County School District Superintendent Gwen Miller. FFRF has contacted the district in the past about prayer at school-sponsored athletic events.
District attorney Sean Courtnal called FFRF on Oct. 22 to say the district took this violation very seriously and that it would not happen again. [Editor’s note: Till the next time it happens, when FFRF will again contact the district about flouting the law.]
School counselors leave religion at door
FFRF helped Cesar Chavez Elementary School in Oklahoma City rethink its use of religion in school assemblies and counseling sessions.
A local complainant witnessed several incidents at an Oct. 4 assembly. A third-party counselor was invited to speak to students after a bullying incident. The speaker described “what heaven looks like” and “how we get to heaven.” Even more egregiously, the speaker told students “the way they were acting was not going to get them into heaven.”
Counselors were also being forced to distribute fliers to students. One listed worship times at a church and a Gamblers Anonymous meeting schedule.
Attorney Andrew Seidel wrote Nov. 5 to Superintendent Karl Springer, urging the district to “refrain from hosting overtly religious assemblies” and religious flier distribution.
General counsel for the district told Seidel in a Nov. 9 phone call that the superintendent agrees “that their current policy on religion in the public schools is ‘clearly not enough for nonlawyers’ and they are going ‘to draft a new policy.’ ” She added that this will involve additional staff training.
‘First priority’: warn about religious clubs
Austin High School (Decatur, Ala.) teachers will no longer sponsor the First Priority Club, a Christian, noncurricular group that describes itself as a vision with a comprehensive plan of action to reach and disciple a generation with the message of Jesus Christ.
A photo caption in the local paper described the relationship between the school and churches: “Austin High School students, teachers and youth pastors join hands and pray at the closing of the First Priority club meeting Tuesday.”
Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel wrote Oct. 19 to Superintendent Edwin Nichols: “A public school may not endorse or provide preferential treatment to a Christian club. While students may organize religious clubs, we are concerned that FPC is not ‘student-inititated’ or ‘student-run.’ Students might presume that this Christian club is sponsored by the school because of the apparent role of school faculty in organizing club activities.”
Nichols responded in a Oct. 29 letter that he would “review with the teacher providing custodial oversight of this student noncurricular group and make sure that they understand their parameters as related to the legal ramifications cited in your letter.”
Pep rally prayers stopped in Texas
Ballinger [Texas] Independent School District no longer selects a student prayer leader during pep rallies as a result of a Sept. 18 letter from Staff Attorney Stephanie Schmitt. FFRF received a complaint from a Ballinger alumnus.
Superintendent Will Brewer in a Sept. 26 response letter thanked FFRF for alerting him to the violation and said that the district does not endorse religion and is reviewing the pep rally program. “Ballinger ISD employees do not request that students engage in prayer, privately or publicly, nor do they encourage or otherwise lead students in prayer,” Brewer said.
Football coach brags
he breaks the law
After receiving an Oct. 25 letter from Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel, Newton County Schools ordered a football coach in Covington, Ga., to stop leading students in prayer at practices and games.
Occasionally, FFRF receives taunting “complaints” from teachers, coaches and government officials intentionally violating the Establishment Clause. Rick Hurst, head football coach and athletic director at Eastside High School in Covington, wrote one such email to FFRF, defending another praying coach and happily thumbing his nose at the Constitution:
“I am a Christian first and a Head Football Coach in the state of Georgia . . . I have open prayer at my practices and before and after our games. If a player does not want to participate I would kindly excuse him.”
Unwilling to limit his bragging to constitutional violations, Hurst pointed out that we here at FFRF are probably going to hell:
“Here is the important question that I ask to ALL of you. What if your [sic] right about your idea of there not being a God? Well, that would be ok for all of us including myself. But, what if I am right about my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and you are wrong. I am still ok, but where does that leave you?”
The letter was signed, “Rick Hurst (A believer).”
Seidel sent a copy of the email to Superintendent Gary Matthews. FFRF received a copy of a Nov. 5 letter from Matthews to Hurst, chastising the coach: “Legal counsel for the Newton County School Board of Education has reviewed this matter and confirmed that your actions may violate federal law, including but not limited to the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution. Therefore, you must cease and desist these actions immediately.”
Another school board drops meeting prayer
There was no prayer before the Eastern Lancaster County (Elanco)[Pa.] School Board meeting Nov. 12, according to LancasterOnline.
The board decided to halt the practice after getting an FFRF complaint letter in August. The Anti-Defamation League of Philadelphia also pressured Elanco to stop praying.
Superintendent Robert Hollister notified FFRF after the October board meeting that Elanco would no longer open meeting with a board member leading a prayer.
“After consultation with our solicitor, it was clear that the district would lose the lawsuit,” Hollister told LancasterOnline in an email. “So rather than throw money away and simultaneously add fuel, cash, to the coffers of those organizations, the board made the logical choice to withdraw the formal prayer.”
Four other Pennsylvania school districts also agreed this year to stop prayer at board meetings after getting letters from Senior Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert. A fifth school board dropped prayer in 2011 after getting a warning letter.
FFRF thanks current interns JJ Rowling, Maddy Ziegler, Calli Miller, Sarah Eucalano, legal assistant Liz Cavell and publicist Katie Stenz.
Do the atheists in Wisconsin realize they’re going to hell?
Bill O’Reilly’s comment on FFRF’s legal victory in getting a nativity scene removed from public property in Ellwood City, Pa.
“The O’Reilly Factor,” 11-13-12
Under Orders should be in every rucksack for those moments when Soldiers need spiritual energy.
Endorsement by Gen. David Petraeus of a chaplain’s anti-atheist book subtitled A Spiritual Handbook for Military Personnel
Huffington Post, 8-17-12
OkCupid is the only free service that assists nonbelievers with specific advice, statistics and tests. Last December, self-identified atheist users were sent “12 Days of Atheist Matches,” and current members can take an “atheist test” to find those with similar levels of nonbelief. The site’s “Darwin Test” looks to match those with similar attitudes about evolution (sample question: Are most people a) good? b) evil?).
News story, “At OKcupid, being an atheist is a date-maker, not a deal-breaker”
Religion News Service, 11-13-12
Rabbis launch war on self-locking doors.
Headline on news story about an Orthodox “Yichud” prohibition meant to limit occasions of sin by men and women not married to each other
I’m moving to Australia, because their president is a Christian and actually supports what he says.
Post-election Tweet by Kristen Neel, 18, a Georgia Republican, apparently unaware that Julia Gillard, Australia’s prime minister (not president), is a female atheist who is politically progressive
Sydney Morning Herald, 11-8-12
One in 20 is a minimum. It might be one in 15, perhaps not as high as one in 10.
Des Cahill, Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology professor, on the number of Catholic priests in Melbourne he estimates from court records are child sex offenders
The Age, 10-24-12
Australians know, from the revelations that they’ve read in recent weeks, that too many children have suffered child abuse but have also seen other adults let them down. They’ve not only had their trust betrayed by the abuser, but other adults who could have acted to assist them have failed to do so.
Prime Minister Julia Gillard, ordering a federal inquiry into cover-ups of sexual abuse by persons associated with religious and state institutions, schools and community groups
Associated Press, 11-12-12
The Rev. Bill Effinger, pastor of Holy Name Parish from 1972 to 1992, took Adam under his wing in 1987 to help the boy consider a possible future in the priesthood. After two overnight trips, Adam stopped talking about wanting to be a priest.
News story, “Sheboygan [Wis.] family shares its story of priest abuse to help others come forward”
Wausau Daily Herald, 10-29-12
The ads that come up from the Republican campaigns sound like the letter.
State Sen. Tim Mathern, D-Fargo, on a letter by Bismarck Bishop David Kagan to be read in all North Dakota parishes that says abortion, euthanasia, embryonic stem cell research and same-sex marriage “are never acceptable”
Fargo Forum, 10-25-12
[C]ourts have held, and Texans believe, that cheerleaders are a special subset of students, and not just for the reasons dramatized in John Hughes movies and Taylor Swift songs. They’re not people who happen to be standing on the football field, exercising their right to free speech. They’re deputies of the school administration; they speak for the school, not themselves.
Op-ed, “Consider the cheerleaders,” on the controversy caused by FFRF’s complaint against stadium banners with bible verses
The Economist, 10-24-12
I thought, “Wow, there’s not someone watching me all the time? That’s a wonderful freedom!” So I shed that.
Rapper and foxhole atheist Greydon Square, on losing his religion as a student at Arizona State University
LA Weekly, 11-14-12
No matter what the title is, what the subject is, I’m using it as an excuse to tell stories.
Atheist entertainer Penn Jillette, on the release of his new book Every Day Is an Atheist Holiday!
Washington Examiner, 11-13-12
In her Oct. 3 letter (“Defend our monument”) on the Ten Commandments plaque at Valley High School, Helen Snyder writes that “Anyone who follows the good morals listed in the Ten Commandments is a good citizen. I wonder if our atheist friends have ever read them.” Her position is the exact opposite of the Founders’, who would find abhorrent any religious test for “good citizenship.” Religious freedom does not include the right to use the instruments of government to promulgate religion. This step-by-step intrusion of religion into official government activities, which include public schools, is paving the way for a Christian religious dictatorship in which atheists would be deemed “bad citizens.”
Amesh Adalja, Butler, Pa., letter to the editor on a case in which FFRF has filed a lawsuit
Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, 10-27-12
I read a lot of books about science and the history of religion. One of my heroes is Christopher Hitchens, who was a game-changing anti-religious writer — showing it up for what it is. I don’t understand why someone can spout their God stuff, but atheists have always had to keep quiet. Just because you have an opinion, it doesn’t mean it has to be respected unless it is supported by evidence. We live in the most exciting time in the history of the sciences. Reading about that is far more exciting than reading about a burning bush or a guy who builds an Ark.
Ryan Walkinshaw, executive chairman of the U.K. Gloucester pro rugby team
Daily Mail, 10-29-12
Nude Woman Who Was Shot Described as Religious, Caring, Modest
Headline on a story about a Florida woman, 42, shot to death when she showed up uninvited and naked with a gun at a private party and confronted off-duty police officers
Tampa Bay Times, 10-31-12
A high-quality person who has passion for football and cares about faith, family and football.
Interim head coach Bruce Arians, on what type of player the Indianapolis Colts are looking for to join the NFL team
NBC Sports, 10-31-12
It’s not wrong to have strong faith in whatever you believe in. I’m like George Carlin, I pray to the sun and Joe Pecsi because the odds of getting my prayers answered are still 50/50 but I can see my Gods. But seeing and believing have historically been two different things, and that’s fine. Just don’t bring it into the workplace where discrimination can occur.
Writer Josh Hill, “Colts may be discriminating against atheists in hiring practices”
The FanSided Network, 11-2-12
Lack of visibility for atheists and prevalence of deference to religious authorities has contributed to a generally passive and docile attitude that is too often mistaken for humility and for a virtue. This false humility, and the false arrogance that atheists are often accused of, reveal a system of values that has little respect for empirical and scientific evidence and too much undeserved respect for religions that are ostentatious about a moral superiority that they sorely lack.
Contributing writer Hiram Crespo, “Revising views on atheism”
Northeastern Illinois University Independent, 10-31-12
FFRF’s letter got this illegal Ten Commandments display removed.
Among many recent FFRF victories banishing religion from government was the removal of a very large, very unconstitutional Ten Commandments monument from the police department in Brandon, Miss.
A local resident was taken aback by the bible display and contacted FFRF. To the rescue came Staff Attorney Patrick Elliott, who told Mayor Tim Coulter in a Sept. 24 letter that “any reasonable observer would view it as an endorsement of religion by the city of Brandon. This display is unmistakably stamped with the city government’s approval, as it is prominently placed directly inside of the city’s most important government offices.”
Elliott cited a Supreme Court ruling that called the Ten Commandments an “unmistakably religious statement dealing with religion’s obligations and with morality subject to religious sanction.”
Residents have informed FFRF that the display was removed sometime in October.
An FFRF member sent this photo taken on Oct. 22 at the First Conservative Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Fla., as an example of church electioneering. There was also a Romney for president sign and one that said, “If you want to keep your job, pray the president loses his job.”
The Freedom From Religion Found-ation has filed a historic challenge by suing the Internal Revenue Service over its failure to enforce electioneering restrictions against churches and religious organizations.
Calling the lack of enforcement a violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment and of FFRF’s equal protection rights, the state/church watchdog filed the lawsuit Nov. 14 in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin.
A widely circulated Bloomberg News article quoted Russell Renwicks of the IRS Tax-Exempt and Government Entities division, saying the agency has suspended tax audits of churches. Although an IRS spokesman claimed Renwicks “misspoke,” there appears to be no evidence of IRS inquiries or enforcement action in the past three years.
Other news sources, such as The Associated Press, claim the IRS hasn’t been auditing churches since 2009.
FFRF is asking the federal court to enjoin the IRS commissioner from continuing “a policy of non-enforcement of the electioneering restrictions against churches and religious organizations.”
Additionally, FFRF seeks to order the IRS “to authorize a high-ranking official within the IRS to approve and initiate enforcement of the restrictions of §501(c)(3) against churches and religious organizations, including the electioneering restrictions, as required by law.”
As many as 1,500 clergy reportedly took part in a mass violation of the electioneering restrictions on Sunday, Oct. 7, notes the legal complaint, which also references “blatantly political” full-page ads by the Billy Graham Evangelical Association running on the three Sundays leading up to the Nov. 6 election.
“[I]n recent years, churches and religious organizations have been blatantly and deliberately flaunting the electioneering restrictions of §501(c)(3),” the complaint asserts.
FFRF has more than 19,000 members nationwide “who are opposed to government preferences and favoritism toward religion.” FFRF is a tax-exempt organization that “must and does abide by the electioneering restrictions of §501(c)3.” FFRF is regularly contacted by its members and members of the public over specific and general violations of church electioneering restrictions, and FFRF staff attorneys regularly ask the IRS to investigate such violations.
This non-enforcement “constitutes preferential treatment to churches and religious organizations that is not provided to other tax-exempt organizations, including FFRF,” the complaint notes. “Churches and religious organizations obtain a significant benefit as a result of being non-exempt from income taxation, while also being able to preferentially engage in electioneering, which is something secular tax-exempt organizations cannot do.”
This preferential tax exemption involves more than $100 billion annually in tax-free contributions to churches and religious organizations in the United States.
After news of the lawsuit became the No. 1 item on Reddit, an online social network, almost 70,000 people flooded FFRF’s website to read about the case. Unfortunately, the spike took down the site intermittently.
Attorney Richard L. Bolton, the litigator, who is with Boardman Law Firm in Madison, Wis., and has been working with FFRF for more than a decade, reported receiving almost 100 adulatory emails from strangers around the world, thanking him for his role in the case. Bolton said this is unprecedented in his experience as an attorney.
Biologist Jerry Coyne of the University of Chicago, author of Why Evolution Is True, wrote in his November blog, “We now get revenge: the FFRF sues the IRS for failure to enforce tax laws on churches,” adding that he considers FFRF “the most effective secular organization in the U.S. That’s largely because instead of hosting endless ineffectual meetings with the same speakers, or navel-gazing about internal divisiveness, the FFRF actually does something: through scrupulous monitoring of the government and judiciously filing lawsuits, the FFRF fights an endless battle against the brushfires of religious enthusiasm that threaten to incinerate our Constitution.”
Thanks to Coyne’s blog, which pitched membership, Reddit’s notice and other news stories, many new supporters have found and joined FFRF.
In addition to reporting the Graham ministry’s electioneering to the IRS, FFRF has sent more than 27 letters of complaint to the IRS involving other such violations so far this year. Recent complaints include:
• Green Bay Bishop David Ricken, who wrote an article on diocesan letterhead inserted in all parish bulletins about voting and choosing the president and other offices. Ricken warned that if Catholics vote for a party or candidate who supports abortion rights or marriage equality, “you could be morally ‘complicit’ with these choices which are intrinsically evil. This could put your own soul in jeopardy.”
• Peoria Bishop Daniel Jenky, who, in an April homily, sharply criticized President Barack Obama, saying Obama was “following a similar path” as Hitler and Stalin. Jenky said “every practicing Catholic must vote, and must vote their Catholic consciences.”
• Madison Bishop Robert Morlino, who wrote a Nov. 1 article, “Official guidelines for forming a Catholic conscience in the Diocese of Madison,” published in the Catholic Herald, spelling out “non-negotiable” political areas. “No Catholic may, in good conscience, vote for ‘pro-choice’ candidates [or] … for candidates who promote ‘same-sex marriage.’ ”
• A church marquee saying “Vote for the Mormon, not the Muslim! The capitalist, not the communist!” in front of the Church in the Valley in Leakey, Texas.
The federal lawsuit is FFRF v. IRS, (12-cv-818). The case is before U.S. District Judge William M. Conley. Tax-deductible donations to FFRF’s Legal Fund are gratefully accepted. Read the complaint, hyperlinked in FFRF’s news release, by scrolling to Nov. 14, 2012:
A sampling of letters and emails, grammar and spelling uncorrected, from people you might say are on the fence about FFRF’s work:
Haven’t you puppets of Satan learned your lesson yet? What do you not understand about DON’T MESS WITH TEXAS!! — Sally Chambless
Stay out of Texas, Nevada, Utah, Arizona and New Mexico. Heck, stay out of all 48 states. WI and CA dont count. — Johnathan King
keep your God hating out of Texas and AWAY FROM MY CHILDREN! You are horrible people and i can only hope god will wipe the earth clean from freaks like you!!!! — Stephanie Roberts
You heathens should rot in hell. You are all a disgrace to this country and no doubt lack patriotism and faith in the USA. Go someplace else and practice your depraved desires. — Ian Scott, Lake Forest
Texans believe in God. Take your athiest beliefs and stick them where the sun does not shine. — Steve
i hope you keven waldon and all your followers die a horrible death, you will pay for your actions. you are some of the lowest life forms on the earth. i spit on your grave.
You people must live under a rock. You are the lowest form of life on this earth.Do you slither out each day thinking how you can force your will on people? I’m sure you are slimey scum that really hate yourself and want others to join you under your rock, Slimey scum bags,I hope your spouse gives you AIDS. — Mike Pahl, Mt Home
FUCK YOU, BASTARDS AND SONS OF SATAN! GO TO HELL FROM WHERE YOU BELONG.
BURN, BASTARDS, BURN! — Thomas Greene, Clarksville, Tenn.
Taking out the trash
FREEDOM FROM ASSHOLES AND BLITHERING IDIOTS. Our goal is to round up all the liberals, fags, perverts, atheists, anarchists, secular stooges, victims of cranium void, those that are stuck on stupid, and the rest of the human swill soiling our country and ship them to anywhere but here. — Zen Ram
All Pulblic Prayer
When we pray, plug your ears, walk away, do a little dance or stand on your head. Build your own schools, restaurants and malls. Keep your taxes to fund your non religious community. We do pray. We will pray. If it bothers you, run! You need to go away and establish places where religious freedom is not allowed (build a compound). Your organization and all of those who feel religious freedom is wrong are guilty of committing treason. What a shame there is no prison that has a Zero tolerance for religion.
— Susan Voce, Madison
Stay the &^%$ out of PA
THIS COUNTRY WAS NOT FOUNDED ON MINORITY (WHINERS) RULE. I HAVE NO PROBLEM WITH YOU BEING AGNOSTIC. SCREW YOU ASSHOLES. — Greg Sensabaugh, South Park
Austin Texas Cheerleaders
Take that law suit hang out your ass like an anchor and chain aboard ship! — Arthur Windell, Caldwell
I love JESUS
your a retard and your wasting your life. SUCKS TO BE YOU — Sam Stevens
I hope when you sue that town in Texas for displaying religious freedom, you will lose. I hope that they squat over your atheist chest and take a fat dump on it. — Regards,
Freedom of Religion
If you are right about religion, you are going to buuuuuurn for your lies, desception and trickery. I hope you fall on your butt and there is a very very large and sharp stake underneath you. — Steve Smith
God is watching you Judas’ and you will surely be punished for denying his existence. Ignorant fools. — Phil Selfridge
I am OFFENDED!
All I have left to do now is to pray for you LOUDLY in every government funded place I am in. God BLess You. — Steven R. Phillips, Waukesha, WI
Name: Steve Salemson.
Where I live: In a condo on Madison’s southwest side.
Where and when I was born: Louisville, Ky., in 1943.
Family: One younger sister, two sons and daughters-in-law, three delightful grandchildren.
Why I volunteer for FFRF: I want to support the organization in addition to simply being a dues-paying member.
What I do as a volunteer: Help around the office with anything that needs doing.
What I like best about it: The fascinating people who work there.
My day job was: Associate director of the University of Wisconsin Press (now happily retired).
Education: Four years of music studies at the Ecole Normale de Musique de Paris, playing French horn in the Haifa Symphony Orchestra, B.A. in linguistics from Queens College (City University of New York), M.A. in liberal studies from Duke University.
These three words sum me up: Inquisitive, broad-minded, multilingual (fluent in English, French and Hebrew, somewhat less fluent in Macedonian and conversant in German, Spanish and Italian).
My freethought heroes are: Albert Einstein, Bertrand Russell, Joe Hill.
Things I like: Balkan folk dancing, biking, downhill skiing, Paul Robeson recordings, the Green Bay Packers, Schubert lieder and Mahler symphonies, doing The New York Times crossword puzzle every day, and almost any ethnic cuisine.
Things I smite: Xenophobes, cockroaches, the New York Yankees.
Name: Dan Nerren.
Where I live: Sand Springs, Okla., a Tulsa suburb.
Where and when I was born: Tupelo, Miss., 1948.
Education: B.S. in education, Southwest Missouri State University, 1971.
Occupation: Retired railroad worker.
Military service: U.S. Army, 1971-73, Wurzberg, Germany.
How I got where I am today: Life is much about unlearning incorrect ideas. Unfortunately, many people never see this. Few there be who have a sense of their own acculturation.
Person in history I admire: Carl Sagan.
A quotation I like: “For me, it is far better to grasp the Universe as it really is than to persist in delusion, however satisfying and reassuring.” (Carl Sagan)
These are a few of my favorite things: Playing piano, reading, volkswalking [noncompetitive, 5K or 10K outdoor walk].
My doubts about religion started: I spent the summer of 1966 working at a church retreat in New Mexico. I was exposed to many sermons. It was there that I began to question the whole scheme.
Ways I promote freethought: I’ve been a Foundation member since 1989. I’m active in a local Unitarian Universalist congregation, Church of the Restoration, so named to indicate the congregation’s desire to bring restoration to the Greenwood District of Tulsa. Greenwood was destroyed in the infamous 1921 race massacre in north Tulsa, where vigilantes took to the skies in aircraft to strafe the helpless black citizens below.
I was instrumental in founding the American Humanist Association chapter in Tulsa in 1988. I later organized an atheist meetup group and stay active in other freethought groups. My next project will be leading a Unitarian Progressive Book Club discussion group, starting with Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States.
Editor’s note: Dan also performed an invaluable service for FFRF several years ago by indexing and binding 10 years’ worth of Freethought Today issues. This is a tremendous resource for research and for the legal staff.
Dan Nerren’s secular invocation
On Thursday, Aug. 30, Dan Nerren treated the Tulsa City Council to a first — the first atheist “invocation” at a Tulsa council meeting.
For months the council had refused to stop praying to open its meetings, then eventually agreed to let previously excluded groups address the council. A local Americans United member asked Dan if he would give a secular address.
“I went to the Internet to see what was out there and soon discovered a secular invocation written by Andrew Lovley of the South Maine Association of Secular Humanists, which he had used to speak to his local governmental body. I adapted Lovley’s words to the Tulsa situation.”
The speaker is also expected to lead the Pledge of Allegiance. A TV reporter noted Dan omitted “under God.”
“Had he been listening carefully, he would have discovered another change I made to the pledge,” said Dan. “I closed the pledge not with ‘with liberty and justice for all’ but with ‘with liberty and justice its goal.’ Liberty and justice have not become a reality for many citizens. My son, watching from his home on the cable access channel, caught my change.”
In what could be called a sad commentary, extra security was in place for the meeting because it was announced beforehand that a godless person was giving the invocation. However, Dan said, “There were no problems, no protesters. Everything went smoothly.”
Let us open our hearts to the welfare of all people in our community by respecting the inherent dignity and worth of each person, and realize that our differences of race, religion and party affiliation are merely superficial. Our common humanity unites us all, and may we recognize that through our interdependence we share a common fate.
In order to achieve the greatest good as citizens of Tulsa, it is important for us to maintain an open mind, and honor and respect the human rights of each other. We should consider the benefit provided by differing perspectives, and be willing to question assumptions that serve only to obstruct our path to progress.
Rather than bowing our heads and closing our eyes in deference, we should open our eyes widely to face the reality that confronts us, without losing sight of our ideals of what we could achieve.
Through the prudent use of reason and compassion, we can ensure the success of this great city.
Lastly, we must remember that in the face of adversity we need not look above for answers, but instead recognize the proven potential within ourselves and in each other to overcome any challenges we face.