The Freedom From Religion Foundation will be making its mark next week as 880 of its members from around the country visit Portland to attend FFRF’s 35th national convention. Helping to celebrate the occasion are more than 15 Portland-area FFRF members or families who volunteered to appear on a set of myth-dispelling billboard campaigns timed with the convention. FFRF is launching its largest “This is what an atheist looks” campaign to date in Portland, also debuting a new slogan: “I’m SECULAR and I VOTE.” FFRF has leased three 14x48-foot bulletins and 12 EcoPoster (10-foot x 22.8-inch billboards), which will be appearing in a variety of Portland locations.
FFRF’s sell-out convention takes place Friday-Sunday, Oct. 12-14 at the Downtown Portland Hilton and Towers, 921 SW Sixth Avenue. The convention will open Friday night with award acceptance speeches by two student activists, and by the premier atheist intellectual, Richard Dawkins. The event continues Saturday with appearances by bestselling mystery author Sara Paretsky and “Letting Go of God” actress and comedian Julia Sweeney, among others.
“We were pleasantly surprised we had more volunteers than we could manage to use in the campaign. We wish we hadn’t had to turn anyone away,” said FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. She noted that the definitive American Religious Identification Survey shows that 24% of Oregonians identify as nonreligious, so these FFRF’ers have plenty of good company. FFRF thanks FFRF Life Member Steve Eltinge for taking the professional photographs, and all participants for making the PR campaign possible.
Michelle and Justin Atterbury will be pictured on a magenta 14x48-foot billboard saying “This is what an atheist family looks like,” with their toddler, Sylvan, and baby, Scarlett. Also on a 14x48-foot bulletin saying “This is what atheists look like” will be Roy Firestone, an engineer, and Karen Firestone, a Portland homemaker. Another couple, Heather Gonsior, drafter, and Shawn Swagerty, information systems director, appear on a billboard with the same message.
Appealing brothers Brent Mangum, a chemist and OSU tutor, and Tyler, a physiologist, are pictured back-to-back on a blue “This is what atheists look like” 14x48-foot billboard.
Other “This is what an atheist looks like” participants, each featured on their own billboard, are: Anita Brown, whose exotic cat, Wheely, also makes an appearance; Renee Barnett, a neurologist grad student and university teaching assistant; and Sonja Maglothin, an income auditor. Featured on bright blue “This is what an atheist looks like” billboards will be Dr. Peter Boghossian, a well-known philosophy instructor at Portland State University, who has an upcoming book, Against Faith; Mark Hecate, a member of FFRF who is I.T. director of New Avenues for Youth, and Scott Mullin, a filmmaker in Portland.
With the election so close, FFRF is also unveiling a timely billboard slogan, “I’m SECULAR and I VOTE.” The red, white and blue billboards feature the smiling faces of Lenora Warren, a retired Portland teacher; retired engineer Duane A. Damiano, a Life Member of FFRF; retired politician and novelist Caroline Miller; Paul Buchman and Marsha Abelman, both retired.
“With up to 19% of the U.S. population now identifying as nonreligious, when are politicians and candidates going to wake up to the changing demographics and start courting us? Secularists are looking for candidates who share a commitment to America’s foundational principle of separation between religion and government,” said Dan Barker, FFRF Co-President.
Barker, a former minister and author of two books, Godless and Losing Faith in Faith, will moderate a unique panel at the conference featuring four former ministers turned atheists, who are all part of The Clergy Project. Jerry DeWitt, a former Pentecostal minister, was the first “graduate” of The Clergy Project, a support group developed by Dawkins, Barker, Tufts Professor Daniel Dennett and researcher Linda LaScola, to aid ministers who have lost their faith and are looking for a way out of the pulpit. Joining DeWitt is Teresa MacBain, another new “graduate” who left the Methodist Church, as did annalise fonza. Robert Parham, a former Southern Baptist minister, will also appear.
No tickets may be purchased at the door.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation has once again qualified for inclusion in the Combined Federal Campaign (CFC).
The CFC is the only officially sanctioned program for soliciting federal government employees on behalf of charitable organizations. The CFC conducts annual campaigns in the workplace and allows federal employees to make donations through payroll deductions or other forms of payment to an approved list of charities. It’s part of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management.
The Foundation, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, was first included on the CFC list of eligible charities in 2008. “Federal workers had contacted the Foundation in the past, noting the many religious charities on the listing, and wishing there were a nontheist alternative,” said Annie Laurie Gaylor, Foundation co-president.
“We’re delighted to announce now again in 2012 that our activities throughout the United States, including the many scholarships we grant students, helped FFRF meet the rigorous eligibility criteria,” Gaylor said.
To the Foundation’s knowledge, it’s the only freethought group on the list, which includes hundreds of religious groups. All dues and donations to FFRF are deductible for income-tax purposes.
“Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc.” will appear in the listing of “National/International Independent Organizations” that’s published in each local campaign charity list in the early fall.
The solicitation period for 2012 campaign donations is Sept. 1 through Dec. 15. Deadlines vary by region. The CFC code that donors will use to designate their contribution to FFRF is 32519.
CFC donors contributed more than $63,000 to FFRF in 2010 and more than $88,000 in 2011.
Another way to give is via matching grant donations, which have become a significant boost to FFRF in recent years. Many companies offer to match (fully or a percentage of) their employees’ donations to charitable nonprofits. These matches multiply the impact of the initial donation to further FFRF’s goals.
Gaylor added, "It is recommended that all CFC donors check the box to include their name and mailing address (in addition to your email) with the donation. Donors will receive an acknowledgment from FFRF when we receive pledge notification (throughout the year). If you do not receive that acknowledgment, please contact FFRF to be sure we have been given your name and information about your pledge."
Charity Navigator gives FFRF its highest rating of four stars, which means “exceeds industry standards and outperforms most charities in its cause.”
This ad appears in Military Times.
Once again, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott has inappropriately weighed in on the wrong side of a Texas state/church controversy involving the Freedom From Religion Foundation. Last December, Abbott sent to a letter to Henderson County over FFRF's complaint about a nativity scene at the courthouse in Athens, Texas, attacking FFRF and offering support to the county.
Abbott sent a similar letter yesterday to the Kountze Independent School District calling FFRF, among other things, "menacing and misleading" for notifying the district about inappropriate religious promotion by cheerleaders at school events. The violation is bizarre even by Texas standards. As the Beaumont Enterprise put it, "For three straight weeks, high school football players in a small southeast Texas town took the field by bolting through large red-and-white banners that hollered the praises of Jesus Christ."
One typical banner read: "But thanks be to God, which gives us Victory, through our Lord Jesus Christ. 1 Cor. 15:57"
FFRF Staff Attorney Stephanie Schmitt wrote a Sept. 17 letter to Superintendent Kevin Weldon of the Kountze Independent School District, informing him that the practice runs afoul of constitutional principles. Schmitt cited a 2000 Supreme Court decision, involving a Texas case, which nixed formal student-initiated school prayers at sporting events.
Weldon responded appropriately by immediately halting the Jesus banners. A Religious Right group, the Liberty Institute, got a 10-day restraining order on Sept. 20 against the district, which has hired a law firm to defend itself. FFRF is readying an amicus brief in support of the district.
FFRF Co-President Dan Barker called it "strange and surprising that the attorney general would weigh in prematurely on a case before a court in his state based on what 'news reports indicate.' He is failing to recognize the difference between free speech, such as what fans might say in the bleachers, and government speech, such as what cheerleaders in uniforms say as representatives of the school during school-sponsored events."
"Just as it would be inappropriate for cheerleaders in school uniforms at official school functions to sport banners saying, 'Praise Allah!' or quoting Koranic verses, so is it inappropriate for them to misuse the podium the school confers on them and their school-endorsed status to promote Christianity and bible verses as part of public school football games," added Annie Laurie Gaylor, FFRF co-president. "We are grateful to the school district for respecting clear court precedent, and the individual rights and freedoms of a diverse community."
FFRF acted on a complaint from a member of the community. KFDM-6 News out of Beaumont interviewed high school students who agree with FFRF that the banners are inappropriate.
If the majority of the cheerleaders were atheists, asked Barker, would Attorney General Abbott support their right to hold up a banner insulting Christianity? "If he would not defend those students, why does he defend banners that quote a book that calls 5 million nonreligious Texans fools (Psalm 14 and 53:1)"?
Public schools are legally obligated to limit any team member's speech that excludes, denigrates or is obscene, since cheerleading chants and banners reflect approval and endorsement by the school. The government, its public schools and its representatives or its actors may not promote one religion over another, or religion over nonreligion at a public school event, FFRF says.
Read previous news release, Sept. 19, 2012